Wednesday, May 21, 2008


A few weeks ago, I had a fitness epiphany. I met up with some friends who told me some things, in ways both implied and specific, that pissed me off in ways I hadn’t been pissed off in years.

I’m not going to mince words here. Over the course of the past two years, for a variety of reasons, I’ve turned myself into a pussy. I haven’t been doing any of the things I know I need to do in order to make progress. I was eating like shit, training like a little girl, and deluding myself into thinking I was “hardcore” because I was a big fish in a little pond who could stack a bunch of plates on a bar and lift it a few times.

Big fucking deal. What difference does being moderately strong make when you look like shit and you’re stuck on the same lifting and running numbers for years at a time? Are you really doing anything right?

My friend Jim Wendler from Elite Fitness Systems nailed it for me. Here’s what he said:

“I’m very, very happy that I never had the fuckin’ internet when I started training. What that forced me to do was something that ninety-nine percent of the training population has forgotten to do, and that’s lift fuckin’ weights. That’s it. Because I had to sit, by myself, in a gym with no one else to train with, and guess what I had to do? I had to fuckin’ think.”

The internet is full of fantastic training advice from people who know exactly what they’re doing. If you know where to look and what to read, you’ll never need to pay a personal trainer for as long as you live. If you want to know where to look, feel free to email me and I’ll point you in the right direction. The internet is also filled with slapdicks who have no idea what the fuck they’re doing, but so are most gyms – including mine - so what’s the difference? That’s a topic for a different day, though, so let’s move on.

The problem with the internet, at least as I see it, is that without learning things in the way Jim describes – the way I originally learned them in my basement as a kid - we’re all capable of taking the good advice we’re given and warping it into something that doesn’t even come close to resembling the original product.

For a while now, I’ve had a problem with the concept of “infrequent training.” The idea behind this is to turn rest into a training methodic. You build muscle through getting the proper amounts of rest between sessions. You recharge your central nervous system (CNS) by taking days off between “hard” workouts. You keep yourself injury-free and able to come back stronger by taking “deload” weeks where you lighten your load or, in some cases, take an entire week off.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this method. In fact, it’s actually the ideal way to train. All of the above concepts are irrefutably true. The only way to make real progress as an athlete, or as someone who simply wants to get in better shape, is by getting enough rest between workouts. I know this is true because I’ve experienced it myself. It’s why professional football teams, by the time they get midway through a season, pretty much don’t do shit in practice after Wednesday. It works.

The caveat here is that you have to be working hard enough to earn these rest periods. I was lying to myself on this point. I was mailing in some seriously half-assed workouts three or four times a week, then taking entire days – and sometimes weekends – off because I claimed to be adhering to the “infrequent training” principle of resting my CNS. I was scheduling deload weeks once a month whether I needed them or not – and believe me, I didn’t need them.

This was a total crock of shit, because what I was doing was turning myself into a pussy who was able to rationalize not going balls-out in the gym by thinking I was taking the advice I’d gotten from the best in the world and running with it. Meanwhile, “taking advice and running with it” wasn’t what I was doing. I was turning myself into a mentally weak person who had a thousand excuses – disguised as “training science,” of course – for not doing the things I instinctively know are right.

Here are the steps I’ve taken to solve the problem. Be advised that I’ve been a fairly high level athlete in the past, which has helped me to learn my body and mind better than most people I see in the gym. The way I’m doing this is working for me, but it’s not for everyone. Some of it has no “training utility” whatsoever and is intended strictly to de-pussify my mind. That said, here’s what I’ve been concentrating on of late:

1. Conditioning: Without getting into any heavy science, I’m going to define “conditioning” as follows: the ability to do hard shit repeatedly for long periods of time. Essentially, I’ve been doing this “hard shit” until the point of vomiting just about every day for the past three weeks. I’m well aware that this is not the ideal way to go about doing things, but I’m training this way to benefit my mind rather than my body. Every day, when I’m on the way to the gym, I say to myself, “Self? What’s the thing you’d least like to do today?” Usually, this involves the use of the Prowler, so that’s what I do – back and forth, with short rest periods, until my legs go lactic and I end up puking water all over the place. This has gotten easier with time, which is precisely what I wanted to happen.

2. Nutrition: I have eaten “clean” for the past three weeks. During this time, I’ve lost 14 pounds of water weight – which is fine because I’m continuing to get stronger. I eat nothing but chicken, fish, vegetables and oatmeal – all organic when I can help it. I eat every three hours, and I cycle the amount of carbohydrates I take in based on what I’m doing in the gym that day. I love eating like this because I look different every morning when I wake up. People are already noticing.

3. Gym Habits: I’m back to being a lit fuse in the gym. I don’t talk to anyone from the time I walk in the door to the time I’m finished. I throw on headphones and a hat from one of the football teams I played for, and I just fucking go. I pace like a mental patient between sets, staring at the floor or at the exercise I’m about to do. People at my gym have gotten the message.

4. Setting Records: I keep records of every exercise I do, and I try to better them the next time I’m in the gym – whether it’s lifting more weight, doing more reps, or doing more conditioning. I’m taking my assistance exercises – the little shit – as seriously as I take the major stuff, trying to do better and better every time out. When I don’t get a record, I get pissed and I curse, loudly. This has made a huge difference. The extra conditioning has helped a lot because I’m not hanging on for dear life at the end of my sessions anymore. I feel myself getting stronger as the workouts go on and I’m actually getting something out of the latter parts instead of just going through the motions.

5. Motivation: Being an athlete has always been “my thing,” but I’ve felt, lately, that it’s been co-opted and taken away from me by people at my gym – and elsewhere - who feel they have the right to bother me while I’m training, or to interfere with my life to the point where I can’t train properly. I’ve been motivated these past few weeks by the feeling of taking back what’s mine, and it’s been liberating like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t particularly like Slipknot, but the song Snap is on my MP3 player. I love the part where they say the lines, “All I want is what’s mine…All I want is what’s mine…” over and over again. I save that one for when I need it.

Now, before you think I’m jumping into this too quickly and things will level off, you need to know that this isn’t being written by someone who's ever stopped training. I’ve been in the gym at least five days a week since junior high, and that was a long time ago. I’ll never stop doing this. In fact, I’m more likely to stick with doing things this way, and I’m more likely to quit if I think I’m being half-assed and getting nowhere.

Not giving your best in the gym – or wherever – is fine if that’s not where you want to apply yourself. There’s definitely something wrong, however, with lying to yourself and thinking you’re giving a hundred percent when you’re not. That’s what I was doing, and it’s just fucking weak.

Those days are over for me. On to better ones.