Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lives of Ease

Yesterday the snow gods blessed the Greater Grand Forks area with 4-5 inches of snow. As I've written about in the past, I often ride my bike to and from work for a number of particular reasons. I also choose to shovel my driveway when we get any snow, both because I choose to and because I do not own a snow blower. I'll often shovel the neighbors' driveways, time permitting, but often wonder to myself if I am doing them a favor... or disservice.

If I shovel my neighbor's driveway, I might be considered to be doing a good deed, helping deepen the sense of community we share with our neighbors, along with selfishly getting in my own great vigorous movement. On the flip side, I am taking away an opportunity for my neighbors to get themselves out of their houses and get in some healthy physical movement. Take your pick. I choose to shovel as much as my time allows.

Shoveling also, to me, is like a nice long walk, where I can contemplate among other things, the pitfalls and needs of humanity and the rest of the world. Unfortunately the real needs of humans are few in far between in our current culture, at least from a particular ethnocentric point a view.

As I toss the heavy snow into a pile, my thoughts go... "In this culture there is ever growing obesity problems and non-communicable diseases (although this is arguable through understanding social network science), fed by the decline in physical activity, among a host of other factors related to the human greed for efficiency that leads to a life of ease."

At this point my intensity of shoveling has increased (a little angry rage is like a potent ergogenic aid), and I'll usually get my awesome neighbor, an older guy of 70+ years in age who maintains enough youth to be shoveling his driveway, to yell some words of encouragement with a motivational fist pump. My thinking continues... "I am shoveling this driveway, not so much for the removal of snow as I am for the opportunity to get outside, in my neighborhood, and fight the diseases of sedentism."

But then ask myself the question,

"Why do people buy expensive snow blowers (or hire out to have someone remove the snow with their scraper attached to the front of pick up trucks), that slowly help to suck away at the ever-decreasing fossil fuels (sorry I had to throw the ecological side of this in to this, but it really is part of the bigger issue here)?

Because they are lazy?

Because having the biggest, most expensive snow blower is like a peacock showing off it's colorful spread? ("I have more money than you, thus making me more powerful!" (and fatter and physically weaker! Hahaha!!))

Because a person doesn't have enough time to shovel their driveway? Because it's so big, because they have a 4 car garage connected to a mansion of enormous proportions, and they have to spend all their time at their job to make all that money to pay for it? Ahh... affluence.

Or... because Aaron is shoveling his driveway, and he's a fucking jack ass, and I resent him! (That's cool too.)

Removing snow with ease using a snow blower (a machine for ease), to be able to drive our vehicles (another machine for ease) up as close to our houses as possible, so that we can get inside to where the thermostat keeps the interior of our homes at a cozy 70 +/- degrees at all times (god forbid we should ever expose our bodies to any other temperature), where we can cozy up on our couch to watch lots of TV shows of people struggling to lose weight, get chosen as the next music star, watch other humans sweat in a sport, or watch people struggle in choosing their future spouse... intermixed with advertisements of things we should buy to... uh???... why the hell do we need to buy that stuff anyway?... sorry I lost track of what was going on... hey what's this?

If we could only see this obsession with ease, maybe we could become enlightened enough to expose our selves to a bit of physical unease which we so desperately need.... but that maybe that's asking too much. 

Heck you can get the kids involved, if you have any. They love to be out in the snow. Bury them in the snow, with their head exposed so they can at least breath. And ultimately, if the kids are out and involved, they'll know what to do to make the experience worthwhile.

Or you maybe people are happy with a sedentary lifestyle, and kind of enjoy complaining about all its' ill effects. That's fine to an extent. I just hope others can see this life of ease is having effects on the world at large, and at some point something will have to give. The funny thing is, as I alluded to yesterday, our solutions to problems such as those related to our ecophysiology is always addition, thinking that we can save ourselves from ourselves."

I finish my shoveling snow and get back into my car, to comfortably drive back to work... where maybe I'll exercise again. Oh the paradoxes. We humans seem as stupid as we are smart.

*hat tip to Deep Zanzarakiya for the pic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Chokehold of Industrialism

Nassim Taleb wrote something on Facebook this morning that really resonated with me. He stated:

"The reason fasting in its various forms is not practiced as the best medicine is because industry has not (yet) managed to make a profit from it. Try to generalize this very, very simple point to other substractive treatments and you will understand what we got ourselves into with modernity."

I think he makes a very strong argument and presents a perspective we are blinded of by the culture we live in. We have been so enculturated that we can "build" and ultimately "buy" ourselves out of any predicament that it becomes damn near impossible to perceive any other way.

In a culture of over-abundance, the answer is almost always less, not more.

And so much of our thinking is driven by the impact of the industrial revolution - as health and fitness professionals often call their expertise of work the "fitness industry", as if health is something to be manufactured and has a price tag. Also, look at my first sentence of this paragraph and my word use, 'my thinking being "driven" (mechanical)', and 'the "impact" (a very mechanical term) of the industrial revolution'; mechanical things can be pieced together on an industrial assembly line.

It requires some effort of me to see these ways of thinking being vocalized in our speech, but once I do, I see the tremendous bias of our culture. Every supposed "new" idea coming out of this bias will almost always have to go through the perspective of our modern economy, similar to what Taleb remarked.

Yes it's semantics, but not just semantics, as our thinking and words influence meaning and a very specific approach. And it appears to me as if this particular "industrial" mindset is becoming dated; with potentially harmful consequences arising all around and within us, like Taleb alluded to in the quote above.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Squats and Chin-ups

I understand generalizations can be risky, but I've wondered if there was one... would tremendous squat strength and the ability to perform a high number of chin-ups (let's just say for squat 2 x bodyweight for males, and 1.5 x bodyweight for females; for chin-ups 15+ for males and 10+ for females) be one generalization that is a fairly honest assessment of athletic potential in a high number of other demanding endeavours?

This is not a question about garbage squats of half depth and bowed spines, or flailing chin-ups where a person grows their neck to the length of a giraffe and barely clears their chin. I am talking about true deep squats and chin-ups of which the person's chest touches the bar and the bottom position is indicated by full extension of the elbow. It's also not really about just two exercises - it's more about using those two exercises to display the two qualities: tremendous leg strength, and upper body strength and control. It also just so happens that using those two exercises help leg strength, and upper body strength and control.

Do you see athletes that have a high level of physical ability in squatting strength and chin-up ability that really lack ability in other qualities? Or do those two measures indicate some serious ability as far as athletic potential?

Another way to think about it is take an athlete who can squat a tremendous amount of weight, which indicates great lower body strength. Ok, nice. That same athlete can also bench press or even overhead press damn near as much. Cool. However, this particular athlete can not do 1 chin-up without going into convulsions. Not cool.

Again, take that same athlete and only change one thing from above; replace the bench (or overhead) press strength and replace it with the ability to crank out chin-up after chin-up, chest touching the bar every rep... now, at least in my mind, this is a freakishly different athlete.

In my experience, the ability to do those two things well says a lot about what an athlete's other abilities might be... I know, I know... this is sounding like I am trying to narrow things down to 2 movements and to say just use the "corrective strategies" to fix the squat, or fix the chin-up and you're going to be great. No, I am not saying it's just squats and chin-ups, but I think in the world of performance training, too much is made of having a bunch of "tools in the toolbox". The weight room was first a place to enhance athletic ability, but now it has become a second sport for many athletes (at least we as coaches have made it that).

Squats and chin-ups... just a thought. Someone could maybe market a new manual "Squats and Chin-ups; all you'll ever need".

Of course it's not quite that simple; just squats and chin-ups. But those two say a lot.