Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Be Strong and Be Real

I apologize ahead of time as I worry this blog often paints a picture of me being a grumpy, 'meathead' strength coach. It's just that writing can be very theraputic for me as James Pennebaker states in his book: "Opening up: the healing power of expressing emotions."

It scares me.

Scared of the frailty I see.

Scared of the lack of strength.

I see it way too often and I work with collegiate athletes, so it must be worse with the general population. It's not just a matter of moving a certain amount of poundage. Maybe it's the ability to handle one's own bodyweight. Do a pull-up? Do a push-up? But even more importanty, apply one's a best effort. Not give-up because it's sooo hard. (insert Big Pun's song here)

It goes far beyond the so-called "physical"... I, as a coach, honestly can't help a person if they don't have the 'strength' to help themselves. It really isn't a matter of the physical strength, because as I've said before, there are no weak people, just weak efforts.

A few of the lines I've heard from my perspective in my world:

"I am worried about dropping the weight on myself."

Really?! You have that little faith or confidence within yourself to be able to save yourself from dropping a weight on yourself. Nine times out of ten the person saying this is lifting a weight that is less than 25 lbs. (I find this to be a real insight into the 'inner' workings of that individual... it's not a matter of an outward, physical display of strength)

"I am scared I am going to break my wrist."

It's your bodyweight... and your feet are not vertical over your body, so it's not even your entire bodyweight. If it is that fragile, maybe a break would do your wrist some good. Word on the street is that broken bones heal to become stronger than before they were broke.

"It hurts my back everytime I do a push-up."

'Okay??? So what are WE going to do about it? Scrap the push-up? And why am I hearing about your back hurting 8 WEEKS into the training? I can only help those that want to get better. Let's fix that so you can do a PUSH-UP without your back hurting. If you expect to perform your sport, yet can't do a pain-free push-up, should you really be playing the sport???'

This isn't really a case of what is going on in what we call the structural components of the body, but more of a vast gap between the thoughts that one has and the outward expression of those thoughts, specifically the conflict between those two. What is it that you really want?! But I am not here to delve into the "deep" ends of the human mind.

These are just 3 of many things I hear at the start of each new school year. And... this is coming from collegiate athletes, who we assume are supposed to have some level of athletic superiority... or at least society would believe it to be so. Obviously there are sports like football in which the culture understands the value of strength (but many times only the 'physical' aspect of strength is understood as the sense of entitlement grows daily) and "most don't want to train like football players", but I digress... So what does this say for the rest of the population?

We are at a crux of physical frailty, and we don't know what is going to happen. The folks who are getting old and dying now, came from a generation where physical labor was still part of the norm. Not so with this generation.

What's being done about it?

What's being taught in PHYSICAL education classes? Are standards in physicality too "mean" to hold the kids too? Is it going to hurt Johnny's feelings too much? Are we being honest with ourselves and those we teach? Why is it so much different in other school subjects?

What are parents doing? I think young children are inherently 'strong', let's just not enable them to grow weak. Are we enabling this weakness to infect every part of our being? Because, I'll say again, strength isn't just about lifting a certain amount of weight. It is the STRENGTH to give it one's best effort. To not give-up in the face of a little adversity. We create such a dichotomy between the mind and the body, but are they really something seperate? Like I said, those that are in society that are DOING things or have DONE things, grew up in an era where a little sweat every day was the norm. They developed, if you will, both the so-called mental and physical strength. What are we developing today, or tomorrow; or what did we do yesterday? What did we do yesterday?!

* I think much of this goes back on culture and the praise of outcomes. Sports are a perfect example in which 10-15 years ago, it was a rarity to a high school game on TV. Now we are lucky to be able to flip through the channels and not see one. As a young high school athlete I had a dream of being on ESPN. Not so now. It's only worth it to do if it's on the "big time" or if you are the best. No time or patience for the process of everything. If I am not good immediately, why bother with consistent effort to improve. As I often tell the athletes I work with (mocking myself driving in my car, pulling up to the McDonald's drive-thru window), "I'll have an order of strength, power, speed, agility, and why not super-size that with some conditioning."

Check out Carol Dweck's research. Lot's of application for teaching/coaching.

I spend an inordinate amount of time each fall, sometimes well into the spring semester, trying to convince/motivate/inspire that applying a little effort goes a long way in a lot of things... and it takes time; both to change mindsets and for the improved effort to take effect and become better. It's not quite as easy as just applying a program/plan to the athletes and expecting greatness.

Improving something is very simple, it comes down to intent. If you have a real, honest intention to get better at something, it will happen; maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. The only real limiting factor is time, but if we plan well, there is usually more than enough time.

The question that needs to be asked is, "Are we being honest?" Honest with those we teach or guide? Honest, again, with ourselves? Should I lie and tell you you are something you're not? Say something is easy and happens fast? If it is easy and comes quick, great! But don't expect it.

And one side note/thought: I am not going to 'sugar' this... if you are in a sport that has some component of power and you can't squat (and I am talking the one and only way to squat: right) over 315lbs. for a male and 185 lbs. for a female, well, that may be a problem (and I would say those are generously low numbers). Now I don't know if those are magic numbers and if they hold in all cases, but let's get serious and understand the real necessities here.

We live in a culture that has the highest of the high in a lot of things, but that also means we will have the lowest of the low in many other things. Let's not let our health, let alone our strength bring it all down.

I guess this rant became more than just about strength.

Stronger, quite simply, is better than weaker.



Anonymous said...

Here here! (Or is it hear, hear?) Very good points in your blog!

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Thanks Mary! Thanks for dropping by my blog. Hope all is well with you and your family.

Tom Woodward said...

What's Up Aaron - just found your blog through Keith Norris at Theory to Practice. Really enjoyed this post. Echoes a lot of what I heard from Juan Carlos Santana in his interview with Underground Wellness that we're setting the bar WAY too low with the current generation. It's certainly an uphill battle to get people on the path to solid S&C levels, but definitely worth the effort.

I have a post in the works on this topic and I'll definitely be mentioning your post

Tom Woodward

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Thanks Tom, I appreciate the comments.

I agree, the bar has been lowered way too much. Time to start raising it back up.