Ancient Gym

"What's the best gym that you have ever trained in?"

The Slippery Rock Barbell Club? World Gym of San Francisco? Cressey Sports Performance? The Bonny Lane Club? None of the above.

My childhood friend Keith lived approximately three miles up the road and through the woods from my home. His parents still live there, with a patch of huge boulders and rocky crevices less than 50 yards from the front door, and another similar "facility" less than one mile away.

How could anyone forget the remarkable features? I'm sure they have depreciated very little in thirty years, and I'm hopeful that a gym hundreds of thousands of years in the making will retain its wonder for a few thousand more.

The feel of the cool damp rocks and the smell of moss and wet leaves retains a prominent grip on the memory. Mountain laurel, ferns, hickory and chestnut trees adorned the areas immediately above and beside the crevices.

There were no instructions, no yellow lines or right angles. There were no rules, safety guidelines, competition, or thoughts on form.

But there was much training. There was jumping, climbing, lifting, carrying, and agility (chasing after and running from wildlife).

You have no idea what "speed and agility" training is until you've stirred up a nest of yellow jackets in rocky terrain. Some boulders were sloped enough to be navigated only with a heavy lean or on all fours.

Image result for PA yellow spotted woods salamander
There were crevices that often held snow into May, and in the summer were perfect air conditioners. Water lay at one end of these, full of tadpoles and newts. I recall one occasion of deadlifting (flipping a large rock) to reveal a few yellow spotted salamander.

Trees growing next to cliffs served as the perfect elevators between floors. Some rock walls were climbable. One, in particular, could be scaled only by use of a tree trunk that had been pushed from the forest floor above and wedged partway down a crevice.

For claustrophobia desensitization, the gym featured abutting boulders that formed a tunnel. A boy could get small and barely slide directly from one crevice to the next. I dreamt about being chased by a huge wolf and narrowly escaping through that crevice while the wolf peered through, knowing he would not fit. There was also a cave, perfect for hibernation, of which we had been warned. And so we took turns on who would peek in, risking their face being mauled by a bear.

And lastly, there were the leaps. There were leaps over narrow crevices of approximately 40 feet. A small jump is nerve-racking when the penalty of failure is possible death. There were drops from one rock to another, and long leaps over broad boulders. These offered a high degree of difficulty but little penalty of failure. This is how we learned about risk:reward in those days.

And the point of this jump/climb/lift down memory lane?

Keith had the opportunity to "train" nearly every day he was home. At most, I visited this facility once or twice per month. Keith outpaced me to the point that I could barely keep up with him. He was familiar with the pushing, pulling, climbing, leaping, and carrying, and he was fearless, strong, and agile.

We played nearly every season of sports together. Keith was always an inch taller, but he was also stronger and a bit faster. He could dunk a basketball, I believe as a sophomore, a full year before I even came close. Keith and I diversified in sports and in life. From what I know, he had a great soccer career. I do known that he was specifically recognized as having an extremely powerful leg.

It's as if he naturally, playfully drew ancient strength right from the soil, wood, and stone, and applied it to the modern world. And...to think that playground companies now design and construct fake boulders, with no right angles or yellow lines, with mild cliffs and crevices to explore...

This all came to mind while watching the kids play on the single fake boulder at Simpson Park in Mechanicsburg. I think we have a road trip coming...

 Simpson Park Single Fake Rock in mulch and curb, 2015


Ibuprofen and Caffeine

This may as well be the title for an entire blog or book about aging well as an athlete...

I wrote this essay while in a different state of mind. The experience was a valuable opportunity to see and feel the future. Thankfully, I'm feeling a bit better now. But I know where this ship is headed. 

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.     -Proverbs 22:3

I want you, young athlete, to go hard. Train with consistency and intensity. Have fun and conquer mountains in the gym and athletic arena.


Remember, there will be consequences to whatever you choose. So calm your hardcore self down and be smart. Tackling 3 WODs per day is HIGHLY likely to come at a cost. How do you want to feel and move in two and then twenty years? Find a guide who has travelled the path before you.

These are the drugs. I'm a user.

[Admitting there is in fact, a problem is a challenge for someone who has never taken an illicit or prescription painkilling drug of any form.]

Moderation is key, of course. It's only in the past three months that the tail has began to wag the dog. My arthritic right hip hurts, awakens me five times per night. A little help from those chemical friends allows me to push through with little thought. But then the hip hurts. The nights are long.

Chemicals prop up my interests as of late. They feed the ego and maintain the joy and persona for what, another few weeks or years?

Stop with the training and such? Do you know what it's like to be unreasonably strong? Have you ever been able to impact the ground hard, tumble, and roll with little consequence? To have seemingly limitless physical freedom in falling, jumping, climbing, and lifting, with a reputation for being able to do more? And what if you truly did it because you loved the process?

So if you are of the praying type, which I am, you may not want to pray for my hip to heal, which may allow me to finally get burnt with a "big" injury or grind down my other joints. You should probably pray for me to age gracefully and be at peace with a new place in the world. But of course, that is your call. Thanks for praying!

I know a handful of orthopedic doctors by name. I've spent hours seeing patients with them in their workplace. During one restless night, I saw the future.
- - - - -

The doctor sits down, shaking his head at me, the patient.

The X-ray looks bad. You're going to have to cut way back until your ready for a hip replacement.

Well, what do you mean exactly? I'm not asking for much.

Well how much would you hope for?

I like to be active outside and play with my kids and work for gainful employment. That and maintain a well over 500 lb deadlift.

That's a lot of stress on the body, even if it's just one repetition.

For years I've done that for at least 20 repetitions, almost every Tuesday.

And I've regularly squatted over 400 pounds.

For one?

For a lot. Sometimes twenty at a time.
The doc is not impressed. His look is confusion and disgust.

And what about impact on the hip?


How much?

Well, playing rec sports and sprinting and soccer with my kids. I like to jump on and over the picnic table and practice flips in the grass.  Close to 200 jumps on every Plyo-Friday.

Plyo what? You need to find a new hobby.

Yeah, we call it Plyo Friday and it's amazing...

In mid sentence the doctor calmly stands up and walks out of the room.

- - - - -

So for now, having thoroughly weighed the choices and the consequences, it's Ibuprofin and Caffeine. Someday soon I will wise up and bravely take what's likely to address the problem for a while. But perspective is one of the most bitter pills to swallow. No thanks.
Maybe I'll have some tomorrow.

But not today.


Training versus Showboating

You would think that all great training involves handstand push-ups, monster deadlifts, and backflips.

...But what does smart, effective training really look like?

The fitness and physical training world is full of good and bad information. I enjoy seeing videos of novel and plain spectacular feats of physical power, skill, and creativity. For example:

This type of video deserves a preface. Most physical movement that makes for an interesting video is not exactly "healthy" for you. And most appropriate exercises for improving health and performance does not make for a jaw dropping video.

"Hey - check out this killer prone horizontal glenohumeral abduction with scapular retraction."

Not much fun to watch:

So in the broad realm of videos that involve physical exercise, a simple label would be nice. The label should plainly define the activity as primarily for training or for showboating purposes. I have good reason to believe that athletes, laypeople, and even personal trainers often confuse the two.

Image result for show boatIt seems fairly straightforward. Training is to improve health and fitness toward some other end, such as wrestling, throwing a javelin, or sprinting fast. Showboating is done to display what your body is capable of right now. And yes, you can train for showboating. In fact, people often suffer injury when they try to emulate a showboat without appropriate preparation.

In both instances, the person involved hopefully has intrinsic motivation other than impressing strangers. But we will put that aside for now. Back to the main point.

This labeling is not easy because showboating versus training is a sliding scale. An activity may be legitimate training for one person but showboating for another. A backflip for a gymnast is absolutely training in preparation for their sport. A backflip for a soccer player is showboating.

The difference may be in degree. For example, a 315 pound dead lift is a legitimate training goals for a high school basketball player trying to gain some size and strength. But a basketball player trying to grow his dead lift from 400 to 500 pounds - well that's showboating. That's unless he is interested in changing his primary activity to powerlifting, in which case the 500 pound dead lift would be justified.

Showboating versus training may also depend on the current abilities of the athlete. A pitcher who is already throwing a 90 mph fastball may want to settle more on training for balanced stress and maintenance of stability and alignment. For this athlete, doing power cleans with heavy weight is showboating. But heavy Olympic lifts may be justifiable for a pitcher who needs to quickly add 5 or 10 mph to his fastball in the hopes of getting a look. The risk:reward is different for these two athletes. An average athlete can and should push the limit in training far more than the star athlete.

Jumping onto a metal box while holding extra weight - a truly stupid display of showboating by a valuable high level athlete.

So the best you, the trainer or athlete, can do in the end is ask yourself...

"Am I doing this for improved health and performance? Or is this showboating?"

I'm always for intelligent training. I see this literally transform the lives of athletes and what they pursue outside of the gym.  But there is also a time and a place for showboating. Don't confuse the two, because one of them is far more likely to elicit "whoos" or ruin you.

Labeling this showboating and not training...while I'm still able.