Barbell Complexes?

There is a condition effecting the fitness world called bigorexia but this post isn’t about that. There are a dizzying array of tools, techniques, and products associated with maximizing your potential for athletic success or simply getting fit for short. Barbell complexes are one of those ways. So there are nearly infinite paths and nearly infinite means to using physical culture, considered a lifestyle intervention by modern medicine, to augment and support anything you might want to achieve with bodywork. Its unavoidable, you have to make your own choices.  Your doctor or therapist can’t do it for you.  Making that choice will take some time because its a matter of lifestyle its not a 2-, 6- or 12 week program. You have to continually examine not only your motivation but your capacity and life situation as well.

I’ve found it helpful to consider the different aspects of fitness that training can be tailored for. You can train to increase flexibilty, speed, power, strength and endurance for example but these qualities are synergistic.  As you train one you necessarily effect the others because these are expressions of a human body and not an ideal theoretical human body but your human body. So these are categories or templates for your mind like yin and yang or fire and water in TCM or relative and absolute in buddhist philosophy.  Though its not PC to say it, some bodies develop some qualities “better” than others.  For our purposes knowing this helps us to keep focused on our own personal experiment.  We can of course compare ourselves to others but simply acknowledging that there are genetic parameters as well as questions of time, commitment, experience and goals help us to focus on useful comparisons rather than overly broad generalisations about what we can expect from our efforts.

I bring this up because I spent a great deal of time looking at plans from the standpoint of “I want to develop this kind of body” so I need to train in the way that someone who has this body trains. Besides being absolutly superficial and vain, this approach has nothing to do with me other than my opinion about what looks good. This has potential dangers not only because of perceptual and psychological issues like bigorexia, anorexia and orthorexia nervosa, but we are doomed to fail because we don’t consider any other aspect of our life other than our will to submit (albeit temporarily) to Bruce Lee’s workout plan because we want to be ripped like Bruce Lee.

It doesn’t seem to matter if unlike Bruce Lee, we’re a 6’5″ male of German and Scandinavian ancestory who only has 3 hours a week available to train; has seven children and never trained a day in his life before coming to the conclusion that he has to get down to 5% body fat. The above example is crude and obvious but comparing our self and workout plan with others has subtler faults and the main one is, as I’ve already mentioned, lack of razor fine focus on what we are doing and the process  of making these changes a lifestyle so that we can make the benefits longstanding.

There are a lot of experts in this field it seems. Have a look at them all if you have the predilection.  Some are truly experts and that means you won’t understand a damn thing they say and some are profoundly real and authentic; maybe you can use their advice and maybe you can’t; and others are absolutely useless fakes, in which case you won’t understand a damn thing they say.

Traditionally shiatsu therapist prescribe hippie exercises from Do-in (dao yin), taiji, qi gong or yoga emphasizing qi flow and the feeling of a transclucent body full of light.  These exercises do work for emphasizing relaxation and for balancing posture, mobility and strength. These approaches evolved in a somewhat different context as western life today (strange and unique as that might sound) both philosophically and economically. Because we are so divorced from our bodies (sitting 12 hours a day and drinking 20 cups of coffee) we need work that will get our body to a place where subtle energetic work can actually do us some good.  I’m not saying we have the endurance of peasant farmers and the strength of a Qin soldier but I think its a lot to ask of the taiji form if all we do is sit on Facebook during the week and dance and party on the weekend. As far as qi flow is concerned I can’t really speak to that, the “mundane” benefits being enough for me right now.

Why do you want bodywork? Is that all that you need?  Would integrating certain other lifestyle changes into you daily grind have the synergistic effect of making you pop in all the right places? Are you willing to make a greater effort to focus on your own need for calm, and satisfy it so that the well is deep for others to drink from? Just don’t lose your patience.

Hippie Workouts

Gaining muscle mass and strength through resistence training is unfortunately a clearly advantageous strategy for improving health.  Why unfortunate? Because I’m a hippie.  Look, being born in 1962 in San Francisco genetically predisposed me to hippiedom. Resistance training? Ha! how about some qi gong or yoga man?  I don’t need a hard body, I want to keep my body soft. Luckily I played high school basketball in the era before Michael Jordan started resistence training.  Playing ball was hard enough without having to lift in the off season. So I was even an hippie athlete.  After 3 years of training to jump, run, and gun I was exhausted and ran as fast as I could to art school where the most physically taxing activity is “action painting.” Apparently, there’s is no limit to my prejudice and it cuts in every direction.

Fast forward 30 years and I haven’t lifted a finger to train my body hard at anything except partying (sound familiar).  Sure I road my bike a little, played a little golf (stupid game) and took long walks, but it didn’t do much for what researcher’s now call an organ of metabolism; my muscles.

Naturally when I reached my late 40’s my doctor said, “Hey, look, you suck.  You need to lose a bunch of fat or you’re going to have to take the first of many pills to come; and that, everyday for the rest of your life.”  I knew I would be taking all kinds of pills in my old age but I assumed it would be the hippie way; you know, vitamins, minerals, maybe a little spirulina.  “If I just eat a good ayurvedic cuisine and stay away from sausage I’ll be alright, won’t I?” So I ignored my doctor’s advice for a year or two and when I came back the next time (maybe just slightly heavier) it wasn’t just a joke anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the daoist and hindu yogic systems integrate resistence training and strength. Often we see what we need to see in the classic texts, that’s why they’re classic, they can be read throughout time and across classes and cultures. Scholars see something different in the texts than military men, who see something different than farmers. Because of my laziness, however, I could never see what I needed; strength and fitness having associations I was choosing to ignore.

But now we don’t need ancient texts to tells we should exercise, we have science.  I know science can be used for bullshit but bullshit is bullshit and science is well, science…anywhy I digress.

What is it that you might be ignoring about the whole(ness) of your life? Because I wasn’t saying to myself, “you need to get stronger” I didn’t understand that I was often failing because I lacked strength. Because I didn’t know I needed to be physically stronger not only did I not know this is what I needed, of course I couldn’t learn to get stronger and I couldn’t solve my strength related problems.  Few people were telling me I needed to be stronger either (not an excuse).  They would say things like, you need more “practice” or more “merit” or that I needed to have greater “purity and consistency;” all things that I could have interpreted to mean “more strength,” but didn’t.

This blog entry got me interested in muscle even before that faithful conversation with my doctor and lead me to a brief spate of bodyweight exercises before I slacked off and got fat again. So when I got the call to get thin or get sick I had a little experience in what it feels like to be more active, more fit, but this “knowledge” was incredibly deceptive.

Two of the most deceptive things about trying to get into shape as an older person or after a long lay off are lack of familiarity and lack of compassion. When I was a kid we played everyday and in summer, all day, every day and there were very few electronics to interupt that process other than radio and seven channels of television.  We were very familiar with our bodies because of our deep play.  When I moved on to high school athletics I was very motivated do well and I still was young enough to recover quickly.  (I started late with organized athletics and I was less trained than many of my peers, yet it still took three years to know, in my body, that I had burned out). We had a coach guiding (somethimes well, sometimes not so well) us so young athletes rarely develop a caring attitude for their bodies. They make up in youth for what they lack in smarts.

As an experienced athlete ages, there is significant moment when he has to develop a certain level of compassion for his body and how he trains it. If she doesn’t, she’ll spend more time hurt than training to improve.  Many older athletes naturally develop this compassion others don’t.  When you never did much athletics as a kid or had a super long lay off you lack both compassion and familiarity and that creates obstacles both physical and mental.

Be clear about your goals (as usual).  My goals were that I wanted to train the muscles in order to bring them back into the glucose storing business in order to bring my blood sugar down and I wanted to reduce my body fat percentage because I felt this would help me to control my blood sugar. I didn’t know the best way for doing this however.  In fact I still don’t know best way.  You could have your entire genome sequenced and do the exercises suited to your genetic parameters. You could shop on You Tube for the workout(s) that appeal the most to you and try them all. Or you could do what I’m slowly doing, which is to just start anywhere. DO SOMETHING! Do something and then keep track of what you’re doing. Keep records! You’ll need records in order to slowly winnow away what doesn’t work for you and your goals.

If  you’re over fifty like me, and time and testosterone are short you’ll have to be efficient. If you overtrain and hurt yourself then the recovery can be very long. (I tried to sprint without having developed a sufficient base, just cause I thought I could; I hurt my knee and had to recover for two years!) Having a handle on the program you decide to do will also help you to apply compassion wisely.  You’ll be able to distiguish the times to push harder from those times when you have to rest to make real gains.

Over time my interest in training has grown and developed and I have had some experience progressing toward both hippie and athletic goals. Few people want to improve both their sprint and their ability to sit in meditation like I do so I have unique needs. Strength has many different expressions. I wish you good luck in finding the information that’s just right for where you want to be and on your way I hope you can have a laugh as well…, So I guess this all just comes down to which approach is better for you.  Are you a jock or a hippie? Can you be 40% hippie and 60% jock? The important thing is are you getting results? So  Chris Jones, sometimes we need hippie workouts to get us to our own unique destinations.