Why old school?

Why old school?

One question I hear a lot, some might even call it a criticism depending on the context, is why I lean so heavily on old school movements instead of what is popular and mainstream. It’s a good question and to understand the answer you have to go back and question some of the assumptions along the way.

The first assumption to examine is one that is very logical – that the most safe and effective exercises would be the ones that would stand the test of time and would be the ones we’d focus now. Another way of looking at it would be that the unsafe, ineffective, inefficient, or superfluous movements would get dropped along the way. The reality is that exercises get dropped, but not for any reason that has to do with how good they are for you to do at all. A classic example of this that most people are blissfully unaware of is that the original Olympic lifts are not the snatch and clean and jerk as they are performed today. In fact, those two lifts have only been contested since 1972. The original Olympic lifts are the one-hand snatch, the one-hand clean and jerk, and the two-hands clean and jerk.

These one-hand power lifts are absolutely fantastic for building total body coordination, power, balance, and strength. To get into specifically why is beyond the scope of this article, but I’d also argue that they’re in many ways safer than their bilateral counterparts. And you don’t have to use as much absolute load to get the same training effect. You know why they were dropped from competition? Because contests took too long with competitors having to do both hands. Once they were dropped from contests, they naturally fell out popularity with everyone else. Plus, there’s an argument to be made that in the 60’s when bodybuilding really started to become popular these exercises that required tremendous strength but not necessarily muscular size fell out of favor.

In the same way a whole host of movements and exercises that are great for the individual have fallen out popular usage for reasons wholly unrelated to how good they are on an individual level.

The next assumption is that there is a best or perfect way to do exercises and this has been codified and disseminated and you can compare what you’re doing to the textbook and know if it’s correct or not. The result is that if you do a conventional deadlift it’s very likely that every asshole in the gym has an opinion on whether or not you’re doing it correctly and is likely to share it.

On the other hand, if you do a Jefferson deadlift they will assume you are doing a deadlift so far from correctly that they won’t bother to try to correct you.

But one of the things that I hope people take away from what I teach is that there really is no empirically correct way to do any movement. Every individual is different and your movement reflects that. Sure there can be generalities and common things that are usually true, but not always. With old school movements there is often more of a context for variability because no one really has an idea of what ideal should look like. Everyone I’ve ever seen bent press does it a little differently and none of them are wrong. This also ties into movements that have been bastardized over the years to make them easier to judge in competition, and those rules bleed into the form recommendations whether they’re good or not.

Listen, there are plenty of movements that have been forgotten for good reason. I’m not planning to bring back chest expanders any time soon. But if an “old school” movement is safe, effective, and it imposes stresses in the right places to achieve the training effect I’m looking for you can bet I’m going to use it and teach it.

A Freezer Filling Skill

On Wednesday morning I got up very excited to share this video with you. And then I checked the news.

Suffice it to say that I didn’t think it was appropriate to send out this video on the day of a mass shooting.

But here’s an uncomfortable truth: there’s a mass shooting almost every single day in the United States. 154 in 165 days. And that’s using the narrowest definition. It doesn’t even include the shooting on the same day in San Francisco where four people including the shooter died.

So either there’s never a good day to talk about how to use a rifle properly for hunting or precision sport shooting, or any day is as good as any other.

I sit at a weird place when it comes to guns and regulations. I’ve jumped through the BATF’s hoops and waited through almost year-long waiting periods to have a firearm or a part that meets some narrow and ridiculous set of criteria. I’ve also walked into a gun store and walked out with a handgun I could easily conceal when a convicted sex offender used a house showing to steal my social security number and I had no idea if he was coming back.

And yet in general I think it’s way too easy. I think we need a major re-thinking of gun policy in this country. In fact, if someone could wave a wand and round up all the guns in the country I’d hand mine over. That’s not going to happen, so we need to think really, really hard about making it aggressively difficult to buy firearms, unbelievably costly when you use one in a crime, and impossible to keep when you’ve already committed a crime that demonstrates you can’t be trusted.

That said, as long as firearms exist as a tool to be used for hunting and sport shooting I think it’s well worth learning how to use them properly. This video focuses on the skills you need to shoot a precision long rifle out to long distances, well past the typical 100 yards. If you’re a hunter it’s critical to be a competent shooter so that you can make a clean and ethical kill the first time every time. Even if you’re not a hunter, precision rifle shooting is a lot of fun. In the western U.S. there are great events that combine hiking, navigation, adventure, and difficult shooting challenges into endurance precision shooting events. And even if you’re just plinking steel, long distance shooting involves combining basic fundamentals of shooting with deep knowledge of conditions and even some math.

It’s hard to convey the satisfaction you get when everything comes together and you pull the trigger to hear the distinct “ping” of steel a couple seconds – or longer – later. Or, when you take an animal you’ve been hunting for hours or days and it drops in on the spot and you know you’ve filled your freezer for the next several months with the most natural free range meat there is.

In this Human Skill video I take my good friend Marshal through the basic setup to hit a target 300 yards – imagine three football fields – away. You’ll have to watch the video to see if he gets a hit on his first try.

While I’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg for precision shooting – like anything worth doing you could do it for a lifetime and not learn everything – these are the fundamentals you need to be able to shoot accurately at any distance.

I hope you enjoy this video, and I sincerely hope that some day soon we have more sensible gun laws in this country.

What does a coach even do?

What does a coach even do?

Due in part to my wide and varied interests I’ve experienced a lot of coaching over the years. From piano lessons to indoor skydiving coaching I’ve seen a ton of different techniques and styles. My wife, Jen Sinkler, in her capacity has a fitness editor for a decade has quite possibly attended more fitness workshops than anyone else as well as having played rugby at an elite level thus had dozens of different coaches. We’ve been able to witness and experience a LOT of coaching.

What you may think of when you think of instruction or coaching is someone telling you how to do something new to you. And sure that might be part of it. But there’s much more that a good coach actually provides:

Safety: When you’re stepping outside your comfort zone to learn something new or go somewhere you’ve never gone before you want to know that you’re safe. Sometimes that’s literal safety like knowing you’re not going to get hurt with a new movement (or by slamming into the wall in the wind tunnel like I’m always afraid of) and sometimes it’s a more general sense of trust that you’re in good hands and it’s okay that it’s uncomfortable because you trust you’re safe.

Communication: Telling someone something is not the same as communicating. To communicate the other party has to receive the message, and that’s not always the case. A good coach however is a master communicator, always honing the message and tweaking it based on their judgement of how well you’re receiving it. You can see this when you watch a coach repeat the same cues without any change happening – they’re not adjusting the message to make sure communication is actually happening. Communication also means you understand the big picture and intention behind what you’re doing, not just the motions.

Instruction: This is, in my opinion, the least important piece as compared to the other two. If you feel like, and are, in a safe environment for experimentation you will eventually figure out whatever you need to although maybe not as quickly. And without communication the instruction is useless. But of course a piece of coaching is the actual methods of instruction. Some are demonstrably visibly better than others. I’ve worked with coaches who have made something click in one session that has taken others multiple sessions to not even break new ground on. A good coach experiments with different techniques and methods until they find the best practices that work with most people, but they also keep all the other ones in their back pocket in case the usual tricks don’t work.

These are the biggest and most important things that a good coach provides. There are others, but you’ll find the common thread among great coaches is that they fulfill these needs first and then everything else is just the cherry on top.

I was thinking about coaching for two reasons. One is that I was doing some flying in the vertical wind tunnel last night and experienced some of the best coaching I’ve ever had so it got my gears turning about what made it that much better. The other reason is that I’ve been thinking about reviving a group coaching group I did a few years ago that got rave reviews. We’d focus on a building strength with some good fundamental movements as well as some cool old time strongman stuff and you’d learn how to structure your training (and mindset!) to PR every time you train. If that’s something you’d be interested in, just shoot me a super quick message on my contact form.

But first let me check one more thing…

I sit down to write. The cursor blinks on the page.

Nothing is coming to me.

Better make sure nothing life-changing has been posted on Instagram.

Wait I was writing. Back to typing and deleting. Can’t think of anything.

Pretty sure there will be some breaking news on twitter that’s important…

Damn I should be creating something. Back to writing.

OK but nothing has come to me so I should probably check cryptocurrency prices.

Fine I’m back to writing but a whole 15 minutes has gone by and I haven’t been able to come up with something so maybe today isn’t the right day. Maybe I should sit this one out and come back when I feel fresh tomorrow?

The battle with distractions from you doing something hard but worthwhile is never ending. I’m sure Picasso didn’t have Facebook and Netflix but I’d wager he was no less distracted by fair maidens and breaking news telegraphs.

Maybe these distractions stop you from creating something that is trapped in your minds eye, or they pull you away from long term slow endeavours like building a strong body or aesthetic physique. Either way they’re stealing from you.

While there are no true “hacks”, it’s worth experimenting with different systems to interrupt an unproductive pattern. I have tons of friends who have had great luck with and swear by GTD, the Getting Things Done system. Others do something as simple as using the Pomodoro technique when they’re in dedicated work times. I don’t think it matters so much what systems you use, rather that you have something that causes you to examine and focus on your behavior if your automatic habits involve too much distraction.

At the end of the day it comes down to asking yourself the same question often and repeatedly: “Am I creating right now?”

Because in the end that’s what matters. What you create. No one has ever been remembered for what they consumed. Consumption can have a place in creation to be sure, I get some of my greatest inspirations from reading, but that type of consumption can be directly connected to creation.

It’s not clicking yes on “Are you still watching?”

Be patient. Sit with it. Sometimes it takes more than 5 minutes of investing your time before you see the payoff. Sometimes you have to start writing nonsense or drawing doodles or just showing up to the gym to move something before the inspiration really kicks in.

So do whatever you have to do to keep the focus, and go make what you’re capable of.

The Greatest Press Ever

Let me tell you a quick story, but a sad story, a story about a lifter.

When this lifter was young and new he started out doing bench presses just like any good lifter would do. Also like many others, these bench presses started to hurt his shoulders. But hurt shoulders were macho and cool, and it was a badge of honor not to be able to sleep on his side so he wore his pain proudly.

Luckily our lifter was called to adventure, entered the cave, and returned to the normal world with an evolution of his thinking. This evolution lead to him mostly avoiding bench presses for the next ten years rather than suffering through pain that wasn’t worth it. But without bench presses whatever would our lifter do for upper body development?
Fortunately for our lifter there is the other B-lift: the bent press.

If you are not familiar with the bent press then I am gleeful that it is I who gets to share this special lift with you for the first time.

The bent press is a one-arm lift that involves lifting a weight overhead with little to no pressing movement at all. In fact, calling it a press at all is a bit of a misnomer other than you are in fact putting the weight overhead without using a quick lift motion such as in a snatch or jerk. The actual movement is a bit more like a corkscrew under the weight.

Now what is particularly interesting about the bent press is how much weight can be hoisted with it. In fact, I can have you putting a bigger kettlebell overhead than you ever have before the very first day you learn it.

In lieu of getting too deep into the explanation in text, I think this video will be most helpful:

A major point on this movement not covered in the video: in my experience the best way to train this movement is very heavy, for very few reps, and very infrequently. In fact, the single best way I’ve found is to simply work up to a single max lift, preferably increasing to a new PR each time (using a loadable dumbbell versus kettlebell) and then waiting a week or two before tackling it again. Obviously if you are just learning the movement a few more reps will be helpful, but I do not believe that this is a movement that benefits from lots and lots of reps of lower weight.

Until someone shows me another lift where you can put almost 400lbs overhead with one hand, the bent press will always be king of the upper body lifts.

How to Learn Faster Without Doing Anything

How to Learn Faster Without Doing Anything

I’ll just admit up front I may have been a bit hyperbolic. Then again, maybe not. Because really this is about how to speed up your learning when you’re not doing anything – actively practicing or studying.

There are a lot of ideas and suggestions available to speed up learning a skill or topic but most of them focus on the active part of learning, practicing, studying, or otherwise engaging with the learning itself.

But something that is just as important, if not more important, is what you do after the learning session to be able to integrate, utilize, and retain what you’ve learned. When I invest my time and money in coaching on a skill that I’m trying to improve I want to get as much out of my investment as I possibly can. These are a few things that I’ve found, and have at least some empirical support, that improve that process of integration so that the next time you come back you’re better than you were before seemingly without having done anything.

  1. Sleep. Sleep is without question one of the most important raw materials for cognitive performance, and it plays a critical part in learning. In a French study adults who went to sleep overnight between learning sessions retained ~30% more French-Swahili word pairs, and required fewer additional trials to learn the rest of them than the group that had no sleep between two learning sessions in the same day. I’ve found that even a short nap is enough to help integrate what you’ve learned. I’ve written about how to improve your sleep before, and I think if there’s one thing worth putting some focus towards it’s this.
  2. Walking. Besides being the most underrated physical activity ever walking is also a great cognitive enhancer. Steve Jobs was known to spend hours walking on the Apple campus, and took many of his meetings on walks. There’s something about walking that allows the brain to relax, wander, and freely connect dots that doesn’t happen under more strenuous exercise and doesn’t seem to happen in the absence of activity.
  3. Nootropics. Look I’m going to honestly tell you that I think most nootropics are bullshit. If you’ve paid any attention to the nootropics “story” you’ll know that the general line is that these are powerful “smart drugs” that the government researched and then gave up on because they couldn’t be patented and money couldn’t be made off them or some such nonsense. However, if I am spending a thousand bucks an hour to fly in the wind tunnel popping a few capsules of a nootropic is a pretty cheap way to *maybe* get a touch of neurological help.
  4. Floating. Sensory deprivation tanks, also known as float tanks, operate on a simple premise. If you can free up whatever cognitive load is being used by keeping yourself sitting or standing and taking in sensory inputs then you have more brainpower to integrate. They’re totally pitch black, usually sound deadened, and you float in a pool of saltwater that is extremely bouyant. You might think of it as extreme relaxation since you’re just floating in space with virtually no sensation. I personally enjoy it, and whenever possible I try to stick a float session around an intense learning session. It’s also fairly inexpensive. Here at home I go to Flotation Philly, but I’ve been to float tanks all over the country.

These are just a few little tricks that I’ve found to have a mild but noticeable impact on my ability to utilize and integrate a skill, movement, or information that I’ve just learned. Over time through the aggregation of marginal gains these small improvements can have a significant positive effect. And for the most part, they require no additional effort.