A little while back, I trained a girl who was a few years younger than I am. Good kid. Wanted to get rid of some nagging back pains. She didn’t have any specific goals besides that so we stuck to reinforcing some basic movement patterns, improving posture, building a bit of overall strength, nothing fancy. At some point during a set of overhead presses, she said that it hurt. Me being the concerned trainer that I am, I asked her where she felt the pain and what type of pain it was. I thought of perhaps some lower back pain through an exaggerated backward lean during the movement, or perhaps her shoulder felt uncomfortable because she didn’t finish the lock out of the movement properly.
Apparently, she felt a burning sensation in her triceps (elbow extensors, the back of your upper arm). For a split second, what went through my head was “Well, obviously. It’s training. You’re exerting mucles.” I explained that any moderately heavy movement repeated often enough will cause ‘the burn’ in your muscles and that this is totally normal. Her response was “Ah, you’re one of those hardcore ‘no pain, no gain’ guys, aren’t you?”
I shrugged and we laughed it off, but it did remind me of something that I should never forget as a trainer and that people in general tend to forget. What may be obvious to us can be a completely new lesson for someone else. This girl had no idea of what ‘normal strength training’ was like so it was not fair of me to expect her to know this.
Considering this point might be a useful lesson for people to begin with, but there is another lesson to be learned here.
I tend to use caffeine as a pre-workout supplement for my more important workouts. Recently I’ve been experiencing a nagging, radiating pain during cleans. (For those not familiar with olympic weightlifting, it’s where you lift a weight from the floor to your shoulders while squatting underneath it to catch it. Here’s a short video of Lidia Valentin doing it. Looks cute? Yeah, until you realize she can lift close to 150kg/330lbs overhead.) The pain I have is not the burning sensation that is typical for moderately heavy strength training for a moderate amount of repetitions, like doing heavy sets of +-10 repetitions. The pain I have is not productive and is ideally not present, yet it comes with the territory… For me. I participate in competitions so I will occasionally lift maximally, may sacrifice form for a personal record and will occasionally injure myself. This is not something I will expect from my clients who “just want to get in shape” or anything. For them, this would be unacceptable and a phrase like “no pain, no gain” would just be stupid for them. In my case, I have a small competition coming up in a little more than two weeks. I could take a step back for a week or two to focus on getting rid of this injury, but that would mean skipping the competition or performing a lot worse than would be worth my time. Instead, I decided to just take acetaminophen with my caffeine before my heavier workouts until after the competition. So in this case, even training through an injury (which is normally considered stupid – and I tend to agree) is a case of “no pain, no gain”. This is completely different from the girl I trained a little while back.
So yeah, it’s great throwing around images of fitness models with phrases that glorify pain, sweat, ‘the burn’, never giving up and of course the “no pain, no gain” classic, but whether that mentality is appropriate depends on your situation, goals and priority. Prioritize consciously and keep both your ego and tough talk in check.
“Why tip toe through life only to safely end up at death?” – ?
Everyone and their mother seems to have a very clear opinion on drugs. It’s rare that I find someone who’s indifferent about it. I find that many people really lack proper knowledge on the subject, and I have a hard time wrapping my head around some people’s opinions when it comes to drugs, specifically performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). People talk about it “not being natural”, somehow thinking that diets, supplements and well periodized training regimens are natural. They say it’s not healthy, as they light up another cigarette. They say it’s “not fair”, as if it’s fair that we’re born with different genetics and are not all equally supported through government funding. It’s as if people base their opinion on emotion and social conditioning, rather than hard facts. (Then again, I guess that what makes us human.)
My first experience with drugs that I can remember would be when I was 9 years old or so. My mom and all her friends smoked cigarettes. A lot of cigarettes. Since they all did it, I wanted to try it too and my mom was happy to oblige. She gave me a cigarette, I gave it a try and my first response was along the lines of “AUGHHHHBLARGHAGHWHYYYYIMDYING”. I’ve had an intense disgust for cigarettes ever since. Good call, mom.
My second experience was when I was 14. Basically, everyone around me started drinking so I joined in. I got bored with it, hardly noticed any effects even when drinking a lot, didn’t like most of the types of booze anyway, saw people doing stupid shit when drunk and I quit drinking when I was 15. I’m 26 now and haven’t had a sip ever since then. I have no trouble with people drinking and I still appreciate the gesture when someone offers me a drink, I just don’t feel any need to drink.
When I got into strength training, I told people “I wasn’t going to use protein powders and creatine because I wanted to do it the natural way”. Little did I realize that daily life in our Western society has very little to do with “the natural way”, try as people might. “Natural” also has nothing to do with good or bad, even though many people like to believe the opposite. Think that chemicals kill? What if we extract chemicals from natural sources or produce them and use them to make medication to cure diseases that could maim and kill, 100 years ago? On the other hand, eat a few hands of bitter almonds and you probably won’t survive. Pretty words like ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ mean less than people tend to think.
Slowly realizing this, I did try a few supplements here and there. Some were a waste of money, some helped, some got me into weird situations. (For example, accidentally overdosing on a fatburner, or rather caffeine, causing me to throw up and having near-blackouts.) Then I got more and more into the world of strength training and overall sports, and found out how incredibly prevalent the use of PED’s (performance enhancing drugs) is. Always being told that it’s bad for you and unfair, I disregarded it as ‘cheating’ and ‘destroying your body’, without even knowing anything about it. When I actually read up on it, I found that it wasn’t as black and white as I thought. For starters, if you use caffeine, drink alcohol or smoke tobacco: you’re already using drugs. If you’re using painkillers: you’re using drugs. Every drug has its uses and its risks, and we should always keep Paracelsus’s famous adage in mind: “It’s the dose that makes the poison.”
I can’t recall where I read it, but someone mentioned that it’s not so much about ‘doing things the natural way’ as it is about ‘doing things the over-the-counter way’. Besides that, it’s not so much about factually improving health as it is about yelling a lot. Using aspirin once won’t kill you, but use it a lot and you can get stomach ulcers. Having your doctor prescribe you low-dosed testosterone injections can greatly improve pretty much everything in your body and your head, but use bigger doses like some pro-bodybuilders do and you better be prepared for the risks of some nasty side-effects.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pro-use nor am I anti-use. The current situation is not ideal (I daresay some of the anti-PED rules are bordering on arbitrary), but allowing all currently banned substances to be used could give the impression that it’s virtually risk-free and stimulate low-level athletes to get doped up when they have no business doing so. Despite not being pro- or anti-, I do value things like honour, respect and good, common sense. Seeing how many PED’s are used in every sport -from chess to cycling, from archery to bodybuilding- I’ve come to realize that since the 60’s, they’ve become an inevitable part of competitive sports. I do, however, have a slight disgust for people who try to substitute PED’s for hard work, dedication and patience. If you’re setting world records -in an environment where PED’s have become an ‘equalizer’, mind you, since pretty much everyone uses there- you will never hear me complain about your use of PED’s. If you’ve been hitting the gym for a year and are simply too fucking lazy to put in the work and decide to turn to a steroid cycle to add a few inches to your 14″ arms: fuck you. I don’t want to have anything to with that. When I’m talking about honour, respect and common sense, I’m not so much referring to ‘adhering to the rules’ as much as I am referring to ‘life’. This goes both in competitive sports and the world outside of it.
After giving this topic a lot of thought, I decided to look for drugs that could aid me in sports without resorting to banned substances. The first was caffeine for more alertness and -unless you use it a lot and build up tolerance- a very slight edge in terms of performance. I use it for competitions and my most important workouts. Unfortunately, several times when I would find a legal substance that would (based on science) improve your performance, it would be on the list of banned substances. At some point I came across a certain substance that seemed like a miracle drug, however… It was on the list of banned substances. It did lead me to something interesting though, something legal and not banned that I will expand upon in the future.
As for how to deal with PED (ab)use in competitive sports, John Kiefer has a good idea about what would really be fair.
“Rather than taking the best athletes from every country (or, as is common practice, poaching them from other countries and calling them yours), I think we should take a random, average cross-section of humanity from each nation. These “athletes” would then be forced to compete in designated events without any training. In fact, they won’t even be told what event they’re participating in until the day they’re scheduled to compete. It’s almost a lottery system of participation—like the Hunger Games, only far more embarrassing.
Let’s consider what the Genuine Olympics would look like. The American team would be comprised of sedentary, nearly obese “athletes.” Granted, they’d likely excel at aquatic events because they’d float well—and their senseless, aimless kicking would at least propel them to safety at the other end of the pool, alleviating the need for lifeguards (although the potential for sudden cardiac arrest would certainly be something we’d have to consider there).
Forget about gymnastics, though. It’d take hours for the American team to crawl over the pommel horse, much less vault it. They’d get winded walking from corner to corner on the floor exercise mat. And the balance beam? It’d have to be crafted from carbon fibre for strength, and titanium to provide a bit of give yet avoid shattering under the weight of our team.
England wouldn’t fare much better. Most of Europe would have trouble, although less so than their American counterparts. McDonalds and Coca-Cola could be sponsors (oh, wait…they already are), and Taco Bell would feed the Olympic village so everyone would be on the same diet and proper food choices wouldn’t provide an unfair advantage. Hell, let’s just slap Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew logos on all the uniforms—caffeine free, of course.”
I’ve always found it stupid that women trying to get stronger or more muscular in the gym get so much bullshit about ‘not getting too muscular’, ‘bulking up too much’ or even ‘looking like a man’. This implies three things that bother me.
People feel that their opinion is of any importance to anyone but themselves when in reality, it is not or it should not.
All strength training is concerned with nothing but aesthetics.
There is some sort of ideal or standard that women in general should look like.
The first point is something we see all too often and often best dealt with by ignoring it. It’s just people meddling and their opinions are generally not worth debating and their claims are generally not worth refuting.
The second point is important yet often not emphasized. Strength training has a plethora of benefits for both your body and mind like I have written before. This simple fact alone should be enough to shut most people up when criticizing women who train heavy.
That brings me to the third point which bothers me the most and is probably a special concern if women are in fact training for aesthetics (which they often are to some extent). Criticizing a woman for being too muscular or lean implies that women have to adhere to certain standards. Of course there are health aspects to consider in this topic, but a woman generally does not stand on stage with 9% body fat because of health. Unless she has some sort of disorder, she most likely makes a conscious choice to work hard and achieve something. A trophy, a physical feat, anything. No one does physically extraordinary things for health and a woman should not get shit thrown at her for making this conscious choice. I’m a bit of a conservative when it comes to masculinity and femininity, but I do believe that strength, personal growth and ambition are important for both men and women. Implying that a woman should stay weak, deconditioned and not visibly strong or anything of the sort is an insult to a woman’s dignity, an obstacle in making women healthier and -in the case of a man saying this- a disgrace to your masculinity. Strength plays an important role in the life of a man and a strong man is at his best with a strong woman by his side.
Personal opinion on what you find attractive? You have every right to have it and express it through the women you date and the pictures you masturbate to, but that is not the same as perpetuating insecurity and weakness in women through your stupid remarks. This attitude is no better than media stimulating insecurity in teenage girls regarding their bodies.
“Weak men absolutely demand that a woman stays weak as well. Demanding that a woman not have muscle or get strong is implying that you as a man need to exert dominance over the women in question and if you cannot exert that dominance, then she is unattractive to you. Does this sound like a strong man to you?” – Brandon Morrison
Here’s an article for those who want to improve their ‘conditioning’ to a decent level with minimum effort. You don’t need much strength, a strong base of endurance nor complicated techniques to be able to do this.
I don’t like complicated stuff. I don’t like regimens with 69 exercises for each muscle group with a precise 4-2-4 cadence done with 64.2% of your 6RM. Sure, programming is important, especially in advanced athletes, but sometimes you are better off by keeping things simple. I also carry an unbridled hate towards anything that resembles cardio, so when I do it, I want to get it over with as quickly as possible.
You want to feel more energetic and increase overall endurance? Well, I guess you could do complicated interval training on a bicycle until you fall off from boredom, or run for hours until you fuck up your knees. You could do a thousand things that would improve your conditioning tremendously, but once again: I like to keep things as simple as possible, so I decided to make up a very basic protocol with two-handed kettlebell swings that notably improved my conditioning (does that word even mean anything anymore?). I needed less rest between sets during workouts, I felt like my recovery was a lot better (less aches and pains) and I felt like I had more energy during the day. Ladies, take heed: my ass also felt like I could break bricks on it. I also experienced for the first time in my life what it feels like when your ass muscles are so sore that sitting on a hard surface is an
aggravating experience by itself.
What did I do? Just this:
Grab a light kettlebell and do 150 swings in as few sets as you can. Keep rest between sets at a bare minimum. Maybe 30 seconds max if you’re struggling.
If you can do all 150 swings in one set, progress to a heavier kettlebell for the following workout. If you can’t do them in one set, strive to do better every subsequent workout.
Do it two or three times a week, either after a workout or (what I did) on off-days or several hours away from your strength training (don’t forget your warmup).
That’s it. The whole protocol, each ‘workout’ taking up maybe 3 to 7 minutes in most cases, maybe up to 10 if you include a short, proper warm up. I have no idea how easy the gains from this protocol will keep coming if you do it for a longer period of time, but I worked up to 115 swings with a 32kg (72lbs) kettlebell in 5 weeks or so. (For reference: I believe my max olympic squat was a little over 150kg/330lbs at the time) After those 115 swings, I lay breathless on my bed for a few minutes, contemplating whether the pearly gates of heaven were hovering in front of me or it was just sweat oozing through my eyelashes.
Give it a try and let me know if you notice any interesting results. This simple protocol should keep you occupied and give you good results for at least a good few weeks.
For anyone who wants to read and learn from people whose writings I tend to devour with great pleasure, I decided to compile a (not very comprehensive) list of coaches/athletes/writers that have written a lot of interesting stuff I like, with a short description of what they write about and a few links to examples of particularly interesting writings. These are just a few out of many, and although I thought of writing down some literature for people to read up on, I know that the majority of the people here probably aren’t going to invest in books just like that anyway so… Here’s something to read online!
Nate Green’s website
Although this guy sometimes writes some interesting stuff about nutrition and training, his most interesting posts are related to ‘living a better life’. A bit vague, I know, but to give you a few examples:
“Appearances aside, I can guess that, like me, most of the guys have been raised on a steady diet of Hollywood morals, shallow friendships and romantic relationships, hubris, and high-fructose corn syrup. We’ve never taken the time to define what our values are.”
Timothy Ferriss’s website
A weird guy who, besides being a marketing/entrepeneuring expert, has a weird habit of experimenting on his body with all sorts of stuff. From perfecting his slow carb diet for fat loss to improving sex positions, from learning languages in record time to dealing with depression. He has written about so many different things that there are only few people that would not find something of interest in his writings.
“The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.”
Mark Rippetoe’s website
A strength coach, famous for his work with Lon Kilgore in writing books like “Starting Strength”:”a comprehensive resource on the biomechanical aspects of the most important exercises. He’s also fucking hilarious and his views on many training-related subjects are often refreshing.
Dan John’s website
A shotput, weightlifting and high school strength coach. Although he has some nice ideas about strength training, his articles and advice on the mental approach to life and training are why I love reading his stuff.
“People tease me about one of my key training principles: I recommend that you floss twice a day. (…) If someone asks me to design a multi-year training program that peaks with an Olympic championship or a Mr. Universe victory, but can’t set aside two minutes or less a day to floss, well, then why are we all wasting our time?”
Ramit Sethi’s website
Most of the things he writes are geared towards finances, entrepeneuring and career, but he always heavily emphasizes psychology, which is why I find his writings so interesting. The whole “habits and systems trump willpower” concept that I occasionally mention on Endure and Survive is one that I picked up through his writings. (note: this guy is definitely not the typical guru with your average finance tips)
To me, strength training is much more than working out. It’s not just a tool to look better, even though I think it’s fine if people train for that reason. It’s not just something to become healthier, even though I do value that effect of strength training. It can give you a lot more than that. (and in some ways, you could substitute many other passions for strength training as well)
Training is where we can focus on a very specific task at hand, finding relief from our daily stress as we lose ourselves in that one moment where we push our limits in order to get better, both mentally and physically.
Training is where every little bit of rage is safely let out, as we tap into the moments where we felt wronged. As we take the hurt that has been clawing at our feet until we can finally use it to our advantage and crush it beneath our heels during whatever heavy, painful or otherwise challenging exercise or drill we perform to reach our goals.
The process of training, especially when you’re immersed in a setting with competitive or ambitious athletes, can reward you with so much more than a healthier or better looking body. Training is where we learn about a lot of things. About turning destructive thoughts and emotions into strength. About finding balance between hard work and proper rest. About self restraint and patience. About camaraderie and rivalry. About setting priorities. About the importance of processes as well as results. About investing energy, time and money into something. About goal setting. About health. About respect. About ethics. About self-doubt and insecurity. About systematically and carefully dealing with setbacks. All things that we should learn about from our parents, peers and teachers since these subjects all have some carryover to our daily lives… Yet that is simply not realistic since we don’t always get into the situations where we learn about those things, nor is everyone around you experienced enough to teach you much about these subjects.
And one more thing, that I always repeat to myself whenever I start doubting myself or my abilities:
“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
People may find it weird that I always emphasize ‘getting stronger’. They usually do not realize that ‘getting stronger’ is not just about lifting more weight. It’s true that I value having a decent deadlift and squat to fight the deterioration of aging. It’s true that being strong helps you to protect yourself and those around you when it is necessary, regardless if it concerns a drunk person picking fights with you or a full blown zombie apocalypse. Although important, these benefits only relate to being physically resilient and able to exert physical force on stuff. (or people for that matter) I decided to write a bit on the mental side of strength training, with the help of Mahatma Gandhi.
Strength training will teach you how to focus. In some sports -archery comes to mind- you will even learn to be hyper-focused to somewhat of an extreme for a very short moment. There is, however, another aspect to being focused that I believe has a great carryover to the rest of your life. Most sports require some sort of focus in one way or another, but the world of strength training has become so polluted with weird hypes and commercial-yet-inefficient training methods that you will go through a certain process to learn more about your own training. You will learn to invest energy in what is important and discard all else, lest you become stagnant in your progress. The development of the internet in the last two decades has added to this, since everyone and their mother feels that their opinions on nutrition and strength training are somehow worth enough to share with the world. (frequently and sometimes to my frustration)
“It is my own firm belief that the strength of the soul grows in proportion as you subdue the flesh.” – Mohandas Gandhi
I have no idea when he said this, but considering he got killed shortly after WOII, it must have been a long time before the advent of the fitness industry as we know it, which came up in the 1970’s or so. Fitness seems to rely on a vague -and sometimes false- image of ‘getting thin, attractive and healthy’, and many people just go there to exercise and that’s that. Perhaps they’ll work for a sixpack to hit on girls, perhaps they’ll work up a sweat and lose a few pounds. Either is fine, but what these people are missing out on is what you can learn from the process. I have often heard something like what Gandhi said from people who took strength training seriously on a deeper level. Whatever the wording they used, it always came down to being more mentally resilient, staving off depression, releasing built up stress, having a better understanding of hard work and sometimes even learning valuable life lessons about self-restraint and self-love. Read Henry Rollins’ article called “The Iron” for a little more on that. It’s a 5 minute read, but a very great read. In it, he mentioned that “Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.” and I fully agree.
“When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Doesn’t need that much explanation. We usually stand in awe when someone is strong. Books and stories have been inspired by strong men and women for all of recorded history… But usually only when it is used in a good way. Men who abuse their physical capabilities are often evil, the bad guys. We call it heroic when physical strength is used to protect, shelter, save or simply aid. THAT is strength. It is the same in daily life, when we’re impressed if someone wins a contest or lifts ridiculous amounts of weight, but it often disgusts us however, when strength is abused in the form of putting weaker people down, beating up people in the streets in a drunk stupor or even in cases of domestic violence.
You know how they say that adversity not necessarily builds character but merely reveals it? Well, strength training helps with that. It puts you in a controlled, safe form of adversity. Much like how we enjoy roller coasters and love the kick we get from it. Even if we’re scared shitless… We’re not really, because it’s safe. I believe it works the same way with how strength training artificually reproduces a type of adversity that can reveal aspects of someone’s character. Not being able to trust people (your coach, for example), being stubborn, being lazy, having no self restraint, insecurity… I’ve seen all these things come by in people and that’s fine. Like I’ve said before, we all have issues, but I strongly believe that strength training helps in finding and acknowledging these issues while developing qualities like patience, willpower and the ability to focus.
The title is a bit misleading, since your ideal choice of exercises will always be dependent on your goals and abilities. The contents of this post are geared towards beginners and people with somewhat general goals that pretty much everyone will have to some extent. Read on to find out which movements I deem most important and especially why.
Although there are countless squat variations, all with their uses and limitations, I try to let everyone do at least some sort of squat movement. Besides overall strength and hip/leg strength, a proper squat at good depth can go a long way in preventing knee- and back issues by reinforcing correct movement patterns and maintaining hip mobility.
The deadlift is the most obvious example, but deadlift variations or even heavy kettlebell swings work wonders as well, for much the same reason as the squat. The difference being that the squat has more leg emphasis and the deadlift has more back emphasis (and slightly more hip emphasis). It also aids in teaching people proper mechanics to lift things in daily life, to maintain a proper posture and to learn how to use their trunk muscles to protect their spine.
The standing overhead press, military press and their variations are known for building upper body strength (more specifically: the shoulders), but they also aid in doing this properly when standing, thus requiring you to actively use your hips, abs and other trunk muscles. Another important point is that proper overhead pressing movements will maintain both your mobility and strength around the shoulder girdle, essential for shoulder health.
I always try to have the above three movements incorporated into every training regimen that I write for people. There are a few other exercises and movements that I usually have people do though. Not counting correctives or mobility exercises, I usually try to let people do some of the following as well.
Upper body pulls
Rows and pull ups add to overall back strength and may serve to reinforce proper posture and maintain shoulder (blade) health.
Bench presses, push ups and all their variations. They let you lift a big amount of weight with your upper body and thus serve little else than building mass and upper body strength. I rarely make this movement a priority, but it usually fits nicely with most people’s goals (that often revolve around building muscle mass and gaining strength anyway).
Power cleans or box jumps
Explosive movements are great for a variety of reasons. Not everyone will have the same need to learn these, but lifting heavy stuff onto your shoulders and being able to walk around with it is always a good skill to have in daily life. For that reason, power cleans are a better choice, but box jumps also help to make your back/abs/hips stronger. Power cleans can also be scaled more easily by adding weight. Box jumps, however, are a lot easier to learn.
Judo rolls, fall breaking, or even some fun exercises like spiderman walks. I’ve even had older people just lie down on a mat as fast as possible and come back up for 2 minutes straight. Harder than it sounds. The idea came from Dan John, who made a good point when he mentioned that not having any strength on the floor can be dangerous for old people. Being a bit limber and strong on the floor, easily getting up, breaking a fall… It sounds so easy when you’re young, but most people forget to maintain these simple but overlooked skills as they grow older.
There’s countless other exercises to pick from of course, but since everyone has at least some benefit from getting stronger and healthier, I always work with a solid foundation of the aforementioned movements. Isolation exercises, assistance exercises and other stuff are fine, provided that they build on said foundation.
I bought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography “Total Recall” a little while back, but hadn’t really gotten around to reading it until recently. I believe this book is a gold mine of valuable lessons and insights for anyone unwilling to settle for mediocrity. Here’s one.
“One afternoon years later we were taking turns doing squats at Gold’s gym in California. Even though Franco was stronger than me in the squat, he did only four reps and put the bar back. “I’m so tired,” he said. Just then I saw a couple girls from the beach come into the gym and went over to say hello. Then I came back and told Franco, “They don’t believe you can squat five hundred pounds.” I knew how much he loved showing off, especially when there were girls around. Sure enough, he said, “I’m gonna show them, watch this.” He picked up the 500 pounds and did ten reps. He made it look easy. This was the same body that had been too tired ten minutes before. His thighs were probably screaming “What the fuck?”
So what had changed? The mind. Sports are so physical that it’s easy to overlook the mind’s power, but I’ve seen it demonstrated again and again.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
I occasionally see strength training used as a metaphor for life in general. A well known example: “Squats are the perfect analogy for life. It’s about getting back up when something heavy pushes you down.”
Besides witty metaphors, I’ve found that the link between ‘being strong’ and ‘life’ is actually a lot deeper. You see, mankind is growing weaker and our quality of life is deteriorating.
I remember a discussion back in high school about what separates humans from (other) animals. Most people agreed that ‘culture’ was the answer, but somewhere in the years that followed I came to another conclusion. Animals, like our ancestors, adapt to their environment. I used to think that humans separated themselves from other animals by doing the opposite nowadays: we try to adapt our environment to ourselves. This is not just a long-term-theory-of-evolution-thing, we see it happening all the time. Animals go with nature while we change nature and do unnatural things all the time. I believe this has made us weaker.
Some will argue that this is not the case, a common point raised is that our life expectancy in Western society has gone up. There are a few problems with that way of thinking though. Our medical science is a big reason why our life expectancy has gone up so much in recent decades. This would not be such a problem if the quality of life remained high as well. Unfortunately, diseases run rampant and many old (and not-so-old) people are suffering from all types of ailments. Advances in science and changes in civilization have even helped the development AND spread of new diseases.
Another point is that our life expectancy has increased over the last decades, but mostly in Western society. Let’s take a look at the Japanese island of Okinawa. Until they were heavily influenced by Western standards in terms of lifestyle, they had the most people aged over 100 in all of the world. Their life expectancy was extremely high AND they had very, very, little of our Western diseases. However, their life expectancy went DOWN under the influence of other cultures. My wording was not entirely accurate here. Let me clarify with a specific example: “Okinawans younger than 50 have Japan’s highest rates of obesity, heart disease and premature death.” (quote taken from here)
Yes, genetics play a role in their exceptional longevity and health, that has been pretty thoroughly researched, but according to certain estimates, that is only a minor part of the equation. Physical activity, relatively low caloric intakes (compared to our overweight society) and a focus on a more natural way of living are supposedly way bigger factors. As for the quality of life thing? Way less cancer, way less osteoporosis and way less of pretty much every common ‘Western disease’. Click here if you want to learn more about that.
Still think its just genetics? There are other people around the world with great longevity AND little disease, like the Hunza, a mountain people from the Himalaya. Like the Okinawans, they lived lives where they were adapted to a natural environment. Now here’s the thing, something I hadn’t realized before in my earlier conclusion: WE STILL ADAPT TO OUR ENVIRONMENT, just like in the old days. The difference is that we now adapt to a mostly artificial environment. Result? Our testosterone levels have plummeted over the decades, diseases and other problems associated with weakness and old age in our society (osteoporosis, sarcopenia, diabetes, etc) are common and we’re collectively growing fatter and weaker.
No, I’m not a fucking hippie that wants to do everything the natural and healthy way. I’m not going walk around on vegan sandals, preaching to people that eating bread is bad and we should shun pharmaceuticals wherever we can. Au contraire, I’m more of a ‘live a little’ type of guy. But really, is it that hard to slightly moderate the bad stuff and get your ass off the couch, instead of letting your body and mind deteriorate over the years? Do whatever you like. Just take a look at the amount of old people wasting away in illness and realize that, despite genetics and other factors outside your reach, there is some degree of choice involved.