Thursday, May 23, 2019

Crystal Balls Do Not Exist

When I was in college, I had a professor with a background in play acting who liked to tell us:
If you want to make it to the high levels in this industry, you can't just show up every day. You have to show up.  Every day.
In his mind, there was a difference between showing up and showing up. Showing up is just walking through the door and existing in your office, punching the time card. Showing up is actually being there, putting on the best show you've got in you - as in, showing up the competition.

Put a pin in that.

A long time ago I watched a show (which Google tells me is called Sports Night), and there was a line in an episode that stuck with me because of what my professor said.
Casey: Technically, I have a plan.
Dan: What's the plan?
Casey: It's Napoleon's plan.
Dan: Who's Napoleon?
Casey: A 19th century French emperor.
Dan: You crackin' wise with me now?
Casey: He had a two-part plan.
Dan: What was it?
Casey: First we show up, then we see what happens.
At the time, I thought this combination was profound and I still sort of do. Just more in a quiet, respectful nod sort of way and less in a scribbling this on my trapper-keeper sort of way.

The actual quote attributed to Napoleon, as it turns out, is even better - On s'engage, et alors on voit. "We commit ourselves, and then we see."

Fitness forums are under a constant deluge of questions like this, from people who need the Wisdom of Napoleon.
  • I made a bet with my friend that I could bench 225 before the end of the year. Can I do it?
  • How much muscle would I gain if I did AwesomeGrasshopper's PAPAUALAPALAAA routine? (The A stands for Abs)
  • How quickly can I get abs if I do Wrathlete-X's $300 Ab Massacre routine?
  • What would happen if I took Arnold's Basic Blueprint and did 5/3/1 percentages for half the lifts, GZCLP for a quarter of the lifts, Conjugate for the remaining quarter of the lifts, and then also added Brian Alsruhe's conditioning on top of it?
  • Will it be effective if I add pull ups every other day?
  • Can I look like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys if I fast for four days a week and do keto the other three?
There are two answers to these questions, and they are the same for every one of them. The first is "Try it and find out". The second is "Fuck you".

MythicalStrength is fond of saying that most questions about training are really just asking for permission. I think it goes beyond that - I think they want to be able to say that someone else is responsible if they fail. If they fail, they don't want it to be "I made the decision to do this, and it was not a good decision", they want it to be "I got bad advice". (That's why Answer #2 is "Fuck you".)

And the reality of all these questions is that Crystal Balls Do Not Exist.

Questions like this, which amount to asking other people to predict the future, need to be answered with Napoleon's Strategy. You need to show up, then see what happens. Commit yourself (to trying something), and then see.

You can't know in advance "what's going to work". It might be the perfect plan... for a teenager with infinitely disposable time. It might be incredibly effective... but you hate it so you never work hard enough at it. Everyone I know who is strong and been at this for a long time says the same thing - They've tried a lot of different things. Some of them worked, some of them didn't. They liked some, they hated some. Some stopped working. Some didn't start working until later on.
Anything I've ever attempted, I was always willing to fail. [...] You can't always win, but don't afraid of making decisions. [...] You can't be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

With training, you have to be willing to commit to something without knowing in advance what's going to happen with it, really work hard at it, and find out what the results are - even if the results are "failure".

The other side of the coin here is that you actually have to show up. You can't just bleh your way through the thing. The "see what happens" part doesn't have any value if you don't try. We don't live in Waterworld where you can piss bad effort into a training plant and get delicious, muscley water out the other end. If what you put into your training is piss, you're just gonna get pissed later on.

Asking silly questions and being afraid of not getting it right the first time you try is a strategy for L7 weenies. Use the strategy of a conqueror. Show up, and see what happens.

Definitely don't think about how he ended up making a really dumb tactical decision, got his army frozen to death, and ended up imprisoned on an island though.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"Realistic Expectations" is a Dog Whistle, in That You Can Only Hear It if You Are a Bitch

List of situations where it matters if someone has taken steroids and not been forthcoming about it:
  1. They are participating in a competition which explicitly does not allow the use of steroids.
  2. They are using their physique to sell products, such as supplements or routines, with the claim it will make you look like they do.
End of list.

Of the things we get bitched to about on r/Fitness, the rule against slinging accusations of steroid usage at other users is around #3 in terms of frequency. Known colloquially as "The Natty Police" or "Angry Halloween Decorations", there is a cadre of young men on Reddit who, in the name of "Realistic Expectations", have taken it upon themselves to establish an unofficial Ocular Division of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Armed with knowledge of androgen receptors and FFMI, these unsung heroes soar through the skies, descending onto progress threads to save impressionable beginners from the shattering disappointment of "Unrealistic Expectations" - the stock-in-trade of Fake Naturals.

Photo: Natty Police Special Agent in the wild

At least, that's what they claim. The reality is less altruistic.

"(Un)realistic Expectations" is an appeal that comes up a lot when talking about Fake Naturals. The idea is that if you're a Fake Natural, and you share your progress with the world, people will be inspired and try to look like you and train the way you did. But they can't, because they're Real Naturals. No matter how hard they try, for how long, they will never look like you. This will make them sad, and they will be definitely, absolutely devastated and then definitely, absolutely give up.

I'm actually laughing right now.

Here's a thing I believe in very strongly - grit. Grit is a firmness of character or an indomitable spirit. To have grit is to take adversity, challenge, limitation, and failure in stride. This is not simply important for getting big and strong - it is a life skill. However, it's not an easy thing to develop or keep up with, so some people choose not to try at all. Instead of facing a hard world and deciding to become hard to match, they strive to change their world to be as soft as they are. That's a choice that everyone is allowed. I don't know why you would want to choose being fragile and weak over being resilient and strong, but you're allowed to.

But sometimes people can't make that choice in silence, own that they made it, and move on with their lives. That would be the right thing to do. They need external permission to make the choice, and external validation that it was the right choice. So they go out into the world like a Typhoid Mary, puking a bunch of sad bastard talking points trying spread their mind disease. They tell themselves that they are saving people from being hurt, but it's really just about poisoning somebody, anybody else so that they aren't alone.

There's an insipid lie inherent in caterwauling about "Unrealistic Expectations" - That not measuring up to An Impossible Standard is why this person gave up. The truth is much less forgiving - a person who gives up because someone else did the same thing better than they did has a fundamental anatomy problem. They have an Eeyore where their spine is supposed to be. They were never cut out to succeed and would have given up for a different reason. They had no grit. Successful people don't give up because somebody else is better. Successful people don't give up because they don't succeed immediately.

There's two sides of the coin that I want to distinguish here.
  • If you've already been indoctrinated into the Ocular WADA, I'm sorry to say that you're probably beyond saving, so please do the world a favor and just be honest with yourself - you are a sad sack that wants everyone else to be sad sacks with you. Stop telling yourself that you care about helping other people. You don't. It's okay to be a sad sack. People will still love you, probably. Just be a quiet one.
  • If, on the other hand, you're somebody who wants to get big and strong, and you're just starting out or still finding your way, and you run into people who talk about Unrealistic Expectations - IGNORE THEM. They are not your friend. They will only bring you down. Don't ever put a time limit on your own success and don't ever let cartoon donkeys tell you what you can or can't accomplish. Develop grit - it will be invaluable and irreplaceable. Don't be somebody who gives up on their goals so easily.
To wrap up, let's do a compare and contrast and think about which sounds more like something a successful person would say.

After I was finished with my bodybuilding career I wanted to get into acting and I wanted to be a star in films. Everyone had the same line, that it can’t be done. The rules said that actors with accents could not be leading men. I broke that rule. I didn’t care if no one in history had ever done it. I worked hard, and I became a leading man.
Anything I’ve ever attempted, I was always willing to fail. You can’t always win, but don’t afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself. 
How many times have you heard that you can’t do this and you can’t do that and it’s never been done before? I hear this all the time. If I had listened to these people, I would still be in Austria, up in the Alps, yodeling. When I was 15 years old and told people I wanted to be a champion bodybuilder, right away they told me it wouldn’t happen. You know something? I didn’t listen to them. I moved to America. I became a bodybuilding champion.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

No one OHPs over 225 without steroids.
his ab size confirms it. To have abs show, the person needs low body fat, but to get abs that big cant be done naturally.
yes that dude is juicing. But he easily could not have been on roids and gotten virtually the same difference in those pictures. Hardly flexing poor lighting/angles no pump on the left and everything going for him on the right. But he almost definitely was.
big, shredded, natural - Pick two.
- Fuckin' nobodies from the internet

Copying the Smart Kid's Homework

Opinion: There is no reason for most trainees to delve into programming principles or exercise and nutritional science.

Having been on the internet for twenty years and been part of more forums and communities than I can remember, I feel comfortable saying that Reddit, more than any other, seems to be a magnet for people who want to feel like they're smart and that they're being smart. I don't know why this is. I want to emphasize my use of the word feel there, because as anyone who has had some knob try to mic drop them with the name of a logical fallacy they found in that infographic from Imgur (you know the one) can tell you, it's usually less about actually being and more about the feeling.

For some people, feeling (and having others congratulate them for being) smart is very important to them. This is not entirely their fault, but it is a poisonous mindset that will frequently take their hand with a smile and a hug and then walk them directly into a pit. When they try to get into strength training or fitness, the sign over that pit is frequently "Doing Research".

Let's be clear: It's an important thing for there to be testing and understanding about the human body and its responses to various kinds of exercise through scientific study. It's important for there to be coaches with many years of experience with training people, trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn't, and building training methods from empirical evidence. Somebody should be "doing research". But that somebody is not you. For some people, it is a smart idea to blaze forward into the weeds, ingest a ton of information, and coalesce it into some kind of methodology or action plan. For you, that idea is stupid.

To illustrate why I think you're stupid for trying to be smart, here's an imperfect analogy.

Hearken yourself back to your childhood when your parents descended from on high and bestowed your very first set of Legos. Did the box contain a textbook on architecture, physics, or mechanical engineering? Did it contain a book on the concepts of building things out of Legos? Would you have known what to do with any of that if it did? Of course not.

If instead of the boxed set, your parents had dumped all the pieces onto the floor in front of your little drooling face, what would you have built out of it? Would you create the pizzeria your hungry plastic townspeople so desperately need? No. They would starve and die.

What if they had bought you the pizzeria, a pirate hideout, a fire station, a space ship, and a castle, put all of the pieces into one of those plastic storage bins, and set it down in front of you? Would you create a pizzeria, a pirate hideout, a fire station, a space ship, and a castle? Of course not. If you were able to process the six completely different sets of Legos all smushed together enough to make anything at all, it would be an irredeemable trainwreck.

What did the box actually have in it? It had a booklet with pretty pictures that told you, step by step, how to build your pizzeria. Because, like most eight year olds, you don't know anything. But that's the wonderful thing about Legos - You can build what you want no matter what you know, because they always come with that little booklet. You can build your entire Lego Metropolis based entirely on following instructions.

This is an imperfect analogy. I don't want to hear about it from a voice that comes out of your nostrils.

The point here is that there's a pervasive fantasy on Reddit that the most intelligent way to get started with something you're inexperienced with is to do the following:

  1. Create a firehose of as many opinions, articles, studies, blogs, and videos as possible - preferably from as many sources as possible - and insert it directly into your mouth.
  2. Swallow a few thousand gallons data and ruminate on it until you shit out the Perfect Action Plan for pursuing your goal which covers every possible base down to the most minute detail.
When you say it out loud, that sounds kind of stupid. But it's what new trainees do all the time because they never stop to think about what they're doing, and they don't realize that the real Step 1 of that process is this:

  1. Completely ignore that having little to no background, knowledge, or visceral experience is a hard barrier to properly sorting, filtering, understanding, and digesting what you consume.

So I repeat: There is no reason for most trainees to delve into programming principles or exercise and nutritional science.

My experience through several years of observation has been that trying to be "smart" instead of just painting by numbers usually ends in one of two ways - getting completely lost in the weeds and overwhelmed with trying to build a Nirvana Routine out of PubMed articles and dozens of different training philosophies and not starting at all, or creating a nightmarish chimera that looks more like you used a dartboard than your brain.

What most trainees need to do is stop trying to be smart themselves and just pick any one of the hundreds of smart kids they can find and copy their homework.

Another imperfect analogy: I'm a software engineer. If every bug I fixed or feature I added was something I created entirely from scratch, I'd never deliver on time and I'd be fired. At my company, my job is to solve problems and deliver on goals - not to be innovative - and this is frequently a matter of copying how other people did the same or similar things to what I'm working on. When my company can't receive money from customers that want to give us money, there is no one at any level of management that will congratulate me for taking a day and a half to write my own solution if I could have fixed it in a few hours because I used Google to find out how other people have already solved the same problem. It's somebody's job to pioneer new technology, but it's not mine.

This is a hard thing to accept. School beats it into you over and over that using someone else's work instead of doing your own is cheating or the dreaded plagiarism. But this has done you a disservice, because in much of The Real World, repeating work that other, smarter people have already done isn't admirable - it's usually wasteful and stupid. "Reinventing the wheel" is a pejorative for a reason. The idea that you always need to DIY things is poison.

This whole thing is particularly for novices, but I really think it applies to most people in general.
You can get really, really far into your pursuit of strength training by just copying somebody else's plan and busting your ass at it. Find a reputable coach and follow their Lego instruction booklet. It doesn't even need to be something you empty your wallet for. There's free homework laying (lying? I should have copied somebody's English homework I guess) all over the place.

And ultimately, the real trap in this thought process is overestimating how much your specific plan matters - especially when you're just getting started. Strength training isn't math homework with one correct answer - it's an essay. Lots of people are saying lots of things that are different without being wrong.

Stop trying to prove that you're smart. It's OK not to think sometimes.

Beginners: Think Less, Not More

Nobutada : Please forgive, too many mind. Nathan Algren : Too many mind? Nobutada : Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watching, mind the...