Thursday, March 29, 2012

Five years ago I was in terrible shape. At 5' 10" I was nearly 250 pounds. A flight of stairs was a serious obstacle.
The Author in Balad, Iraq circa 2007

I decided to make some serious changes. I started exercising, joined Wieght Watchers and set goals. I made about every mistake a person can make. After five years, I decided to write these occasionally painful lessons down. What follows is a list of things I've learned, from reading, talking with others and sharing, all filtered through my desire to self coach.

This is me today, the torque multiplier is no longer a problem.

So, from my health nearly costing me a military career to flipping cabers, here's my list.

Tulsa, 2010

1. Don’t buy in. It’s hard to stay objective, especially if you’re really excited about being in on the next big thing in fitness. Buying into one program, one tool or one training philosophy limits both your receptiveness to other ideas and your objectiveness about the results you’re getting. This is the biggest mistake people make. They think one program or magic device or rainforest berry extract will solve all their problems and give them the body of their dreams. When it fails they always look at themselves as a victim of genetics or lifestyle instead of a victim of advertising hype. Or worse, they blame themselves. Then they give up all together. There is no one single thing that does it all and there is no one single perfect program.

2. Don’t do too many things at once. You’ve probably heard of at least one program that claims you can be bigger, faster, stronger, last longer, out jump, out play, on and on, etc. etc. They never live up to it. Focus on what you need most. Are you in bad shape? Overweight? Concentrate on DIET, basic strength and endurance before you worry about developing the flactiod, its role in power production and the hundred other things in the muscle magazine you bought. Need to run faster? Find a running program. Need to be stronger? Use a strength program. Need both? Find something that balances them. Need to be a ninja, wrapped in a navy seal, combined with a marathoner, crossed with a powerlifter and topped off with a 45 inch vertical leap? Good luck.

3. Keep recovery in mind. Remember, you have to get enough rest to recover from EVERYTHING you do, not just your workout. Hitting the clubs until 2 a.m. isn’t recovery. Sleeping nine hours is. If your program AND lifestyle don’t account for this, it’s simply too much, too soon, too often. You will fail. Find a different program or different hobbies. You’re not Wolverine, you don’t recover faster than anyone else. Quit kidding yourself about this.

4. Don’t worry about a bad workout. Don’t worry about a week of bad workouts. Don’t scrap a program that was working because of a week of bad workouts. Worry about a bad month. Change things up if you hit two bad months but evaluate why it failed first. There’s a possibility that one simple thing could have fixed everything.

5. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. This reflects some of rule 2, however you can be way too complicated while trying to do one thing at a time. No one needs to do flat, incline, decline bench press, pec flies, skull crushers and tricep kickbacks in the same workout to build either size or strength. It’s actually detrimental to most people. If you can do 30 reps of that many upper body exercises then you didn’t use enough weight. You spent a lot of recovery capitol for little benefit. People do this all the time and get nowhere. Stop it.

6. DDSS. Don’t Do Stupid Shit. This should be obvious, but it isn’t. Breaking your leg is bad for you and negatively affects your training. Minor injuries are not quite as bad for you, but often have just as detrimental effects to your training. Especially if you don’t get them treated or try to push through them like most people. Use good form. Use sane weights. Don’t let your ego bait you into stupid competitions in the weight room. Let friendly games of whatever stay friendly. Stop being stupid.

7. Give up Elite and embrace not being so. Are you over 20? 25? 30? Yes? Are you competing on a world stage in the sport of your choice? No? Then I have some bad news for you. Sure, I’m a pessimist. Sure, I’m an asshole. Odds are though, I’d be doing you no favors by telling you that if you did some program cooked up by an NFL Strength and Conditioning coach and closed your eyes and wished really hard and practiced every day that you could be the next Vince Papale. What you’ll probably end up is disillusioned and back on the couch with a six pack and Doritos. You’re not an elite athlete. Train like a beginner, then train like an intermediate athlete, then maybe train like an advance one. But stop stealing programs from Olympic training camps. Once you do you’ll actually make some progress and have some real victories to celebrate and you might amaze yourself one day. Until you give up the fantasy of suddenly appearing on a world stage out of nowhere you’re doomed to repeat burn out after burn out. And for those rare exceptions that do make it, I would argue that on some level they understood and applied this.

8. Often the best program, and the best diet, is simply the one you’ll stick to. If you can barely live without bread, how well do you think you’ll do on the Adkin’s diet? Be honest about this. The momentum you lose from failing like this is awful. The same goes for programs, do you dislike running more than a mile? Why would you do Couch to 5K? Hate the big box gym scene? Why join one? This should be covered under Rule 6 but so many people waste time repeatedly setting themselves up for failure that it gets its own entry. If you quit doing it, it’ll never work. Find something you can do consistently.

9. Read books on the subject. Actual books. E-books are okay, but the point is that it’s a BOOK. People ask me about programs some times. It’s part of my job now. It’s not what I get paid for, but its part of my job. That’s all you need to know about that. I ask them where they got the program. If it comes from a muscle mag or a website that sells supplements you need to evaluate it very closely because it could be crap. If it comes from an internet forum post and isn’t stolen from someone else it’s invariably crap. If people have taken the time to have it published and the author isn’t famous for revealing a nice midriff and it doesn’t make you violate some of the first eight rules, it might be a good program. This isn’t absolute but it can be a damn good guideline. There’s a lot of information on the internet, but not all of it is good. In fact, most of it is crap. Be wary.

10. Don’t make your own program. This seems to contradict Rule 9, but not when you remember Rule 7. Yes, those books will educate you on programming and other things you should learn so you can spot a stinker program but they won't make you a coach. Reading a few books doesn’t make you a Rippetoe, Pavel or Dan John. Decades of experience as both athlete and coach does. I cringe whenever I hear someone say something like “XXXX Program is good but for someone in my situation you need to change…” What situation? You can’t squat? Learn. Can’t do this or that? Can you learn to? Are you injured? No? Don’t jack with the program. You’re not qualified to. It’s not necessary either. The only people who need a custom program are people dealing with a long term debilitating injury. Like a missing limb. Everything else can be taught, learned or fixed so you can do the program as written. It may take years and doctors, but it can happen. And you should make it happen. Those names and the programs associated with them are popular for a reason. Results.