Epic Workouts of All-Time History!!!

Have you heard about the brutal spectacular creative fun miracle workouts they do over at Club Awesomefit? You know, where they have those circuits?

assisted power cleans with 300% body weight X 3,
directly into upside down ladder climbs X 3,
then resist mid-sized SUV as it rolls down hill X 90 feet
then jump rope on one leg while juggling 20-pound kettle-bells X 2 minutes
then 200 meter sprint against fire hose spraying electric eel water
finish it off with the "core" exercise that expert trainer guy in Utah calls "The Bloody Turd" X  2

rest 52 seconds then repeat, oh, say...um,...X 7.

It's some wild, cray z stuff.

Seriously though. I remember the time when we squatted and chin-uped and rowed and over head pressed some challenging heavy loads for multiple sets of 6 to 10 reps for about 40 minutes and then exhausted, went running over hill and dale and in the Yellow Breeches (stream) for another 45 minutes. I remember when two others and I Farmers Walked 170 pounds for over 1.5 miles. Then there are these little "ditties" we do called 500 days...

Yeah, I've done some epic work outs. But...[the whole point of this writing is the BUT...]


Really, the 99.9% of us do not need to engage Enormous Brutality of Vomit and Utter Desolation 3 times per week (or even once per week) to obtain or remain in fantastic shape and condition. Here is why pushing your body to the absolute limit can in fact do more harm than good.

1. You won't keep it up. 

By definition truly Epic workouts are, well, EPIC. You simply cannot keep that up for weeks and months. Some other aspect of your life WILL suffer. And if you don't burn out mentally, your body will reveal the truth. You will be chronically tired and crabby. Studying or vacuuming the house or playing freeze tag with the kids will be monumentous feats of will. The blessing of exercise will be pure black dread. Your body will break down with injury.

2. You achieve less than you think.

There is definitely a time to crush your body, mind, and spirit with pure misery in absurd doses of effort. Epic workouts demand and megafy mental fortitude and physical conditioning. But notice that I didn't say "produce strong mind and body." Epic workouts are far from the best way to truly improve strength - strength in terms of your ability to generate more force and/or to properly control body segments during functional movement.

How are you supposed to learn and ingrain more healthy and efficient movement patterns while suffering physical exhaustion? How are you going to improve your limit strength when your body is simply struggling to survive second-by-second self inflicted torture?

Thin guys (and gals), how do you expect your muscles to tear down and then supercompensate by doing only a few heavy reps and then grinding away on a rowing machine, track, or stationary bike 3 or 4 days per week? Death Circuits typically give your mind and body insufficient time under tension to evoke much strength gain and drastically cut into your ability to recover from all physical activity.

If you're training to increase size or strength, then focus. A program that is properly designed with size and strength emphasis will provide plenty of conditioning effect. But don't expect to be an elite endurance king while you pack on 10 or 15 pounds of muscle. It's just not happening.

Or go ahead and learn the hard way like me, spinning your wheels for a good six years until you understand that you need to train hard and smart.

Along those same lines...

3. You teach the brain that endurance comes first. 

This strength-endurance is desirable if you're primary interests involve mountain climbing, Crossfit type competition, or a Spartan type obstacle race and you can already easily move your body weight with your upper body (as in rope climbs and chin-ups).

But low reps of powerful movements (weight training and plyometrics) with ample rest between sets are far superior for improving the physical and neurological properties of what we call "explosiveness." You wouldn't try to learn any skill like proper pitching or jump shot or high jump technique while in a state of exhaustion. And so you should treat squatting and sprinting and jumps etc. with the same regard.

No matter what other training tools they use, "slow footed" athletes simply will not increase their running speed if they fail to include relatively short distance, all out sprinting efforts in a state of minimal fatigue. Repeat sprints done with sloppy running technique and little rest periods at 87% effort (in order to merely survive the workout) will not turn an average athlete into a speed demon.

Those short duration workouts that emphasize power over efficiency do not have that epic feel to them. But then again, it is in fact MIGHTY epic to throw an 87 mph fastball, to dunk a basketball, to jump over 4'6", or to explode off the starting block. Epic work outs really don't help you with any of that. If you're not yet able to easily do body weight pull-ups and dips and you can't squat or jump very well for one rep much less 80 reps, then you probably need less grueling grinding and more training of the brain for explosive effort.

I didn't learn amateur gymnast skillz at the age of 36 while in state of exhaustion:

In summary, this is not a call to be lazy and call it working out. Plain hard work is always called for and often in short supply. There is also a time and place for Epic Workouts, but they can easily be misused and abused. Sometimes it's fitting to remember the words of Kanye.

'Cause when you try hard, that's when you die hard. 


fitness and faith weird dream

In the dream I carried Claire (my one year-old) in my left arm and led my wife and other kids through a set of tall heavy double doors.  We were eight minutes late for the 5:30 session or service or ceremony or whatever was about to begin. I was relieved that the greeters and associates had left their posts in the lobby. We were free to roam and observe.

We made our way forward and came to a great hall, at least 100 yards wide and so long that I couldn't even see the far wall ahead. A small sign on the left said Worlds Gym. One on the right simply said Church. I froze to watch for what seemed like a moment but was probably much longer. From what I could tell, people were readying for a ceremony to begin.

There was no official division or designation between the two halves of the great room. People were free to occupy either side, but most seemed to stay relatively put. The density was greatest near the far right and left walls, and gradually decreased to a fairly wide desolate strip extending down the middle of the room. Only a few people wandered over that carpeted fissure. Every now and then a person or entire family would march firmly and directly from one side to the other, but the middle was otherwise barren.

Next I watched the ceremonies, each side with their own rites and rituals, music and behaviors. There was much to behold. The typical attire of the left consisted mostly of lycra, bare skin, and performance gear. The more modest and attractive attire on the folks to the right was stuffy and confining. I saw a young man on the right become red in the face from tearing the inseam of his pants while bending over to reach for his rambunctious toddler. An attractive middle aged women on the left stepped on and off a scale four or five times.

Most people remained facing their near wall, having practically no interest in the events taking place in the other half of the room. Many cheered a leader or speaker preaching the way to good health, good fortune, and happy living. I heard each make mention of purpose and sanctification.

Bursts of shouting and excitement came from the more zealous members on each side. Some wiry teenagers on the left pumped their firsts and chest bumped. Apparently something good had happened, but I missed it. Whatever happened was done and over, and after the celebration they just stood there awkwardly. A young man on the right genuflected and knelt in silence in close proximity to a black woman dancing with both palms held high.

Only skeptics and curious wanderers peeked over a shoulder to see what was happening on the other side. A few brave souls wandering about the fissure gathered near the middle with their faces to the far unknown wall so as to keep watch on both left and right. That seemed like a reasonable place to start, so I walked slowly near them so as to eavesdrop on their conversation.

They we're having a debate of sorts, all appeared more humble than the zealots. One lady pointed out that the older members on the right seemed happy while those on the left seemed to be in drudgery. Someone else asked the question of each leaders motives.

Then one in the group noticed me lingering around eavesdropping. He turned to me in a somewhat dramatic fashion.

"Excuse me, may I help you?"

And then I woke up.


Gym Quitter

Today I came across a scrap of paper while looking for a tape measure in my toolbox.

It was a training diary (well, of sorts) from 2005. I scribbled out the resistance and reps implemented with my new training gear. For about $1200, this consisted of:

LA Sea of Chrome
1. A "rack" - with 4 sturdy uprights and two cross bars for spotting yourself. This also includes a chin-up bar, a stand for dips, and a low/high pulley attachment.
2. An adjustable bench.
3. A barbell and 300 pounds of plates.
4. Two fairly junky adjustable dumbbells.
5. A chin-up/dip belt to add resistance to those movements.
6. An old but sturdy stationary bike. Ugly green, of course.
7. An old CD player.

I've added more weight and some other gear here and there, but even today the home gym is little more than that.

Ah, 2005, the year I quit traditional gyms. I learned a TON through that process. The first major lessons being:

1. No b.s. I've elaborated on this concept some here and here:

I Pick Things Up and Put Them Down 
The Best Time to Train

Yeah. No excessive talkers, unsolicited advice givers, grunters, women marketing butt floss, and other typical bullshit that goes on in big commercial gyms.

2. I finally got stronger! I was 28 then. The resistance and reps listed on that scrap of paper are unimpressive given the fact that I had already been training HARD for about 9 years. I mean, most of the working weights that I used then are what I use now for my first or second warm up sets.

The real reason that I got stronger is because training at home limited my options and thus focused time and physical resources on what really matters in training: PROGRESSION.

I previously lifted 3 to 4 days per week at a gym in Harrisburg and played intense street (basket)ball at least two days per week. With the home gym, it wasn't long until I was weight training only 2 or 3 days per week because the workouts were so much more intense that I needed extra recovery days.

No more seated leg extensions. No shoulder abduction machine or pec dec. No more this, no more that. These days I've settled on a "main stay" program that has me lifting just two days per week for about 1 hour. I see progress like never before. That's what cutting out the fluff and wiser recovery will do for you.

3. The social aspect of training is critical.

Descending to your own basement by yourself at 7 p.m. or a.m. on a dreary Wednesday in November to do battle with a "big" exercise that nearly freakin killed you last week is just plain TERRIBLE. I cannot under emphasize the importance of having others to go into battle with you, to encourage and inspire and showboat with you.

I trudged to the basement solo for close to a year before inviting a brother from basketball over. Best. Idea. Ever. I've forged some truly meaningful friendships and really gotten to know every person who's trained with me on a regular basis. I've witnessed people change mentally and physically. And importantly, we really kicked some ass.

4. This is not for everyone.

Driving yourself into the floor with minimal variation in a select few exercises is super effective AND efficient.  But it's not for anyone who constantly craves something new or feels that they really do need a whole warehouse full of high tech chrome gear to achieve anything. It's not for the semi serious person who just wants a decent calorie burn, "pump," or goes to the gym with the mindset of "getting in shape for swimsuit season."

But it is for busy parents and professionals who have 30 minutes tops. It's for any person who views that walk down stairs as a mind and body and spirit pilgrimage to known territory with uncharted potential. It's for the brave soul with butterflies in his stomach, eager to square up against something that nearly flattened him last week and take on .5% more. It's for the person who wants not just a big bench press or sick abs, but to walk up the stairs as a different person.

But yeah, abs are a decent side effect...


The New Measures of Fitness

There are 5 traditional components of physical fitness:

1. Cardiovascular Fitness
2. Muscular Strength
3. Muscular Endurance
4. Flexibility
5. Body Composition

Sounds nice? Well I think that delineating these into separate compartments is pointless when it comes to how well the body functions.

the "Sit and Who Cares" test
I mean, it's the year 2012 and college students are still taught how to perform the Sit & Reach test. Meanwhile, our ability to sit on the floor and reach past the toes has practically no bearing on how well we actually move when reaching and running and lifting and sitting.

And really, who cares if you're 3 percent body fat but can't easily reach both arms overhead or make a lateral cut without buckling a knee?

Why, goodness why, do so many people still think that completing a marathon is THE holy grail of fitness? I've worked with many who have a cardiovascular system capable of delivering massive volumes of oxygenated blood to the top of a Red Wood through a crazy straw but have not the strength or controlled mobility to reach to the ground without their spine weeping.

So you think I'm a big strength guy? The bench press is completely unimpressive. You want to lay on your back, drop weight onto an air inflated chest, and bump it up into a four inch lifting motion? That's like the opposite of fitness. Haven't we all seen huge barrel chested gorillas who could lay down and press a car from the ground but not catch up with a baby toddling toward the street?

And as much as I love dead lifts as a total body measure of strength and mobility, I've seen too many mega lifting tanks who probably couldn't jump over the barbell if they tried. [Plus heavy dead lifts just don't lend themselves well to higher repetition ranges.]

Yoga is cool. Maybe it's fun to do. I don't know, I haven't spent much time in it. It's great to be able to stand on one foot while putting on your socks, which would actually make a decent measure of balance-strength-flexibility. But I doubt that yoga trains or captures the body's ability to control body segments when dealing with momentum and gravity at the speed of regular life.

What if there are even simpler and better ways to boil the relevant principles down to a minimalist set of fitness tests? While hand stand push ups and power cleans are pretty awesome, we need simple tests that are fairly low on risk and skill demands. So may I propose:

The New Measures of Fitness

Jumping. Vertical jump is good, but tuck jumps are even better because they require more timing, coordination, trunk strength, and flexibility. If you can tuck jump over 4 feet, you are one adequately strong, powerful, flexible, physically fit cat who could probably complete a marathon without much undue training.

 Pull Ups. I don't care about the size of your chest or arms or your body composition. Those things will have taken care of themselves once you can use just the upper body to pull yourself up from a dead hang. If you can do 5 pull ups with 25% of your body weight added, you are one strong person with far better than average body composition.

20 Rep Squat. How much weight can you squat 20 times? Take all the time you want but each squat must be of sufficient depth and you can't rack the weight. Let me tell you that there may be no better test of strength, stability, total body range of motion, stamina, and GUTS than high rep squats.

For example, if your 20 rep squat score is low because you can't reach sufficient depth without racheting and straining, then you probably lack core strength, good thoracic posture, and/or hip or ankle flexibility and you don't HAVE to test all these things separately.

If you can squat 1.75 X your body weight for 20 solid reps, you can do just about anything. Hiking or lifting or swimming or biking or generally being awesome will come easy when you've spent time working on sufficient posture and strength and stability etc to be able to safely push yourself on squats.

If you think I've missed a specific test of cardiovascular fitness, then try a hard set of 20 rep squats. Okay, well, you could include the mile run or the "beep" test if you still think necessary. But in almost every facet of life, I'll go with the person with a better 20 Rep Squat over the person with a better time in the mile run. 

better than sitting on the couch, yes, but...

learn to squat!