Veteran’s Day in China

Veteran’s Day, 2013

Veteran’s Day has always been an holiday that I have respected. When I was young, it was because of my family’s military background as well as the fact that I was simply a patriotic kid. I joined the military shortly before September 11, 2001, so every Veteran’s Day after that took on a newfound significance. The last three Veteran’s Days have been a bit different though. Continue reading “Veteran’s Day in China”

You Don’t Know How to Fix Yourself

Recently, a coach friend of mine for whom I have a lot of respect promoted an article about IT Band syndrome. This is an injury that I know is quite common amongst runners and I am pretty sure I have flirted with it myself in the past. At first I was excited to have another resource in my kit in order to provide quality training to anybody who I teach. However, instead of providing me with useful information I could pass along to clients or friends, this article nearly caused my head to explode with white-hot anger and frustration. The author is highly qualified and has a long list of capital letters behind his name, but he is providing information that is straight up harmful It is articles like this that ensure we remain forever injured and forever mediocre in our athletic pursuits.

First, I want to address what the article does well. Pages 1 & 2 give a great breakdown of the anatomy and function of the IT band. Even the most lay of laymen can understand and learn from these well-written sections. On Page 3 however, the article falls apart and falls apart fast. It is here that the author gives away the fact that they are part of the old wives club by committing an extremely pervasive and detrimental error: “the quadriceps muscles (those in front of the thigh that extend the knee) and the hamstring muscles located in the back of the thigh that flex the knee.”

 

If you think the quads are responsible for extension and the hamstrings are for flexion, you are an idiot.

 

NO. NO NO NO NO. This is the most common and most damaging misconception of the lower limbs. Everybody from the “bro-fessor” gym rat to the “highly-qualified” medical community seems to believe that the legs are simply a bigger version of your arms. Biceps flex the elbow and triceps extend it, therefore the leg muscles must do the same to the knee, right? NO. Seriously, NO. Why in all of mother natures green goodness would the muscles in the back of a human’s leg be so damn big if its only purpose was to flex the knee? Bringing my heel to my ass does not require all that junk in the trunk. For some reason, nobody seems to understand that the musculature on both sides – front and back – of the legs is active in extending the knee. Sure, the hamstrings and all those other posterior muscles do indeed flex the knee, but they MUST be active in extending the knee as well. You are actually contracting both the quadriceps and the hamstrings when going from the squat position to standing. Relegating the hamstrings and the rest of the backside system to only flexion leads to a long, sad, painful road to mediocrity and misunderstanding. I could turn this article solely into a discussion on the knee, but we’ll save that for a future post. For now, if you don’t believe me, go pick up Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength (Vol. III).

NOTE: I do not know Mr Rippetoe personally nor do I have any stake in his book or other fitness activities. I talk about his book a lot simply because it is the best damn book on strength and musculature that has ever been written.

So yeah, Page 3 of 10 and my head is already about to unscrew from my body because I am so damn angry about the damage this article is doing to us all. Moving on, the author can’t even get the unhelpful RICE adage correct on page 4. We are all familiar with Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation approach to injury treatment, but the only really useful part of that is Compression and the author completely leaves it out. WTF. Better yet, he replaces it with pills. RIPE? Well, the author doesn’t bring up Elevation either, so RIP? Exceedingly appropriate since the author seems bound and determined to kill your muscles.

Pain pills are bad. Generally speaking, “anti-inflammatory” sounds like a good thing to most people as inflammation is a result of injury and reducing inflammation should then mean a reduction in injury intensity. I simply don’t get this logic. Inflammation is blood rushing to the site of an injury. Blood flow is critical to recovery. Why on earth would you want to cut down this blood flow? Anti-inflammatories work by constricting blood vessels thereby reducing blood flow thereby reducing inflammation WHICH ALSO reduces the flow of necessary fuel and nutrients to heal and reduces the out flow of waste products from the healing process. That second part doesn’t sound so great to me. Worse yet, pain pills can do some serious damage to other parts of your body, especially your digestive system – a critical piece of the nutrient delivery puzzle. How can you heal when you reduce your ability to take in nutrients AND deliver them to the site that needs them most? I’m wiling to bet this author (and probably you as well, dear reader) has never thought this through. I want to address the rest of the problems inherent to RICE another day, but for now I feel it is my duty as a human being to spread this wisdom as far and as quickly as possible: Pain pills are bad.

 

Over-medicated

 

On page 5, the author recommends cross training in a sport that doesn’t aggravate an injury as a way to stay active despite IT Band syndrome. This I support. Unfortunately, this advice is tainted by more crap about RICE and by blaming running as an “aggressive activity.” What the hell does “aggressive” mean? I picture a runner with a scowl that is trying to stamp to death a long line of ants really quickly. Running is a great way to maintain muscle and joint health when done correctly…maybe this author had better reevaluate their running form before accusing the sport of a misdemeanor offense.

 

KILL ‘EM ALL

 

Next up, the author recommends physical therapy as a way to overcome IT Band syndrome (after plugging pain pills again, of course). Again, on face I agree with this advice. However, if a physical therapist recommends the voodoo that this author advises, such as orthotics, stretches, and phonophoresis and iontophoresis (look these up, they sounds scary as hell) before finally recommending corticosteroid injections, punch that PT in the face and walk out of their office with your middle finger held high. Don’t even get me on surgically sticking an arthroscope into the leg or surgically altering the size of the IT Band. The surgical option in nearly any therapy is not indicative of the wonders of medical science, it is indicative of the laziness in pursuing effective physical therapy. Proper PT requires life style changes and long-term, or better yet permanent, dedication to authentic movement patterns. This is not easy and doesn’t fit with modern instant gratification techniques, but it is the only path that leads to actual improvements in quality of life and health.

 

Needles don’t belong there.

 

How is this clown show not over yet? Next, under the heading “Next Steps” and “Prevention,” the author states an admirable goal: “to return to the level of activity enjoyed prior to the injury.” Again, I would agree if it were not tainted with talk of “footwear options…orthotics…stretching.” More voodoo. I agree that an athlete needs to analyze the root cause of their injury, but slapping one of these modern bandages on the problem will only prevent the system from becoming even weaker and being ever more prone to future injury. Creating this special universe in which we need to exist in order to conduct physical activity is bullshit. Nature gave us what we need, we just need to stop living and exercising in a bubble. My goal is not to return to the level of activity before the injury. My goal is to reach a higher level of quality in activity that will lead to a higher level of health in the athlete’s future.

Everything in this article on IT Band syndrome amounts to what I would consider mainstream “knowledge.” I put knowledge in quotes because it is simply stuff that everybody knows, but it shouldn’t qualify as actual knowledge in the way that we have knowledge on factual information. We learn much of these old wives’ tales and voodoo techniques in grade school and carry them into adulthood. Our modern education system also teaches this same stuff, thereby ensuring the next generation is there to keep the inertia going. To make matters worse, there is a massive fitness industry that “publishes” these “facts” in magazines and the government also advocates this same information. Given this onslaught, it is easy to see how extreme inertia builds up behind these ideas and we somehow all “know” that the knee is a bigger elbow, pills and surgery fix problems, and orthotics and stretching prevent problems.

This was a demonstration of just a little bit of critical thinking against one article. Basically nothing written by this author passes the smell test despite his impressive list of qualifications (MD, FACEP, FAAEM). The whole purpose of movematt is to call out articles like this that actually damage us, but to also provide the tools necessary to think through ALL awful advice. I will keep it coming, but for now, think twice about what you “know” of the function of the knee. Think twice before you pop a pain pill or consider medical options for injuries. Think twice about what a PT recommends to you. And finally, think twice about your post-injury goals.

I Love Push-Ups and So Should You. Part I

Remember how I love pull-ups? As it turns out, I also love to do push-ups. As with the pull-up, I would evaluate my ability as (well) above average and I’m willing to bet that you are pretty miserable at them. I’m going to follow the same general format as the pull-ups post, so let’s start with a definition of the standard push-up and then build a foundation. In addition to this foundation, I intend to question conventional wisdom surrounding the push-up.


Push-ups

NOTE: As with the pull-ups, this upper body strength work is NOT exclusively for men. EVERYBODY can benefit from being stronger. I have had several spectacular successes in the past training men AND women to be much stronger than they ever thought they could be. Again, I want to emphasize that becoming stronger does not lead to a “bulky” physique for women. Cupcakes do that.

On to the definition of the “standard push-up.” Put your hands on the floor, shoulder width apart, fingers pointing forward. Position your feet close together and get up into a plank with a flat back. This is the “up” position. Bend at the elbows and lower your chest to the ground (keep your back flat!). Some standards would like to see the elbows bend at least 90 degrees, but I think this is kind of hard to be honest about unless you have a spotter. I prefer to go low enough that my chest and chin brush the ground – that way I know for a fact that I have broken 90 degrees at the elbow. This is the “down” position. Simply alternate between up and down and you’re doing push-ups. Most all of us have experienced this at least a little bit in a PE class or something somewhere along the line.

That is the standard push-up. Going back to my previous assumption that you probably are not very good at push-ups, let’s dial it back a bit. The simplest way to accommodate a lack of strength here is to put the knees on the ground. There is nothing wrong with doing it this way; we all have to start somewhere. In fact, there is a great deal of honor and integrity involved when a person recognizes their weakness and insists on fixing them at the most basic level. Do not “add strength to dysfunction.” Learn to do it right, right now.

classic-push-up_push-up-variations

If what I have talked about so far is a significant challenge for you, stop here. Work on these basics until you get it right, then please come back and continue to advance. A solid foundation is absolutely essential to continuation training. I would say that being able to rep out 10 solid push-ups with a flat back and without significant shakiness is a bare minimum to continue.

If you can knock out more than 10 standard push-ups in a row, who cares? Seriously. The ability to do 100 push-ups in a minute has a certain cool factor, but ultimately lacks utility. There was a point in my life when I cared about being able to do such high reps, but that cool factor immediately fizzled when I simply asked “Why?” It is a useless skill. Let’s play a mental exercise: What is the push function of the human physique for? Does being able to move one’s body from the ground to slightly above the ground a whole bunch of times apply?

Let’s explore that push function. Why do we have it? Why would we want to improve it? As I have alluded to, there is little to no utility to being able to go from the down position to the up position over and over again. Why would you ever do that besides testing your ability to do that? Therefore, training to get better at standard push-ups only makes one better at push-ups. It becomes a self-licking ice cream cone. One with inherently limited use. So now what?

The push function of human strength has several uses:

–       To propel the body from one position to another

–       To arrest a face-forward fall

–       To throw an object

–       To punch

Arguably, there could be some use to lots of repetition when it comes to punching, but doing lots of push-ups trains the body for maximum efficiency. Punching needs power, not just efficiency. In fact, all four functions I mention require a great deal of power. Given how all real-world applications for the push function fall into the four abovementioned categories, and all four require power to be useful, let’s focus on power.

Starting with propulsion, you will never need to propel yourself arms length from the ground 100 times in a minute. So let’s just forget that standard opinion of push-ups as something to do over and over again in a short period of time. Can you push yourself from one precarious position to another? Probably not. Even the guy that can do triple digit push-ups will have trouble going from the prone position to standing or from a prone position in one spot to the prone position in another. Imagine having to reach across a ravine or something feet first, and then having to shove the rest of your body across to catch up. This will require a one-shot, powerful effort.

This same power harnessed in propulsion will be used to help you arrest a fall. Simply imagine running in compromised terrain and tripping. As you fall to the ground face first, you need to be able to put your arms out in front of you and slow your fall enough to not get a bloody nose. Again, efficiency is not the key to this maneuver, out right power is. If your arms are too weak to deal with your body weight falling at 9.8m/s/s, you’re going to have a bad time. You have to be able to channel all of your strength at one single moment and hopefully it is enough to preserve your beautiful mug.

1321_basketball-passingNext, consider the possibility that you will have to throw a large object. I’m not talking about throwing something overhand like a baseball, but let’s say a rock or a log of something of significant weight that will require a two-hand thrust from chest level – not unlike a pass in basketball. You may have to do something like this in order to get a heavy object across a gap, throw a large object off of yourself, or even throw an object offensively. Again, repetition is totally unnecessary and pure power will be more desirable.

Finally, punching. It is certainly possible that a confrontation that requires punching will require many punches, but again, unlike the standard, repeated push-up, each punch will require power and not just efficiency. If you are going to punch something, punch it like you mean it. I don’t know about you, but if I have decided that something is enough of a threat that I’m going to throw a fist, I want to disable it, not piss it off with quick, efficient thrusts. Punching is a whole different art in of itself that should be discussed elsewhere, but the point of the matter is that the standard push-up at high repetition simply does not apply.

Ok, enough rambling, let’s revisit the mental exercise from earlier. Why do we push?

outline700It’s not to do something useless like this.

This is a two-fold answer. First of all, we don’t push to get better at push-ups. Second, we do it do apply our strength and power to the four applications mentioned above. In either case, doing tons of the standard push-up – per typical misconceptions of how to train the human push function – simply has no utility. For now, dear reader, I want you to focus on gaining a strong foundation in the push-up. As I mentioned before, build that foundation and do a small amount with power and confidence. Once that foundation is built, we can move on to Part II and build some serious power.

I Love Pull-ups and So Should You. Part I.

This is my second attempt to write about pull-ups; Katy Perry rudely interrupted my last attempt (a transgression for which I still have not forgiven her). Anyway, I have to start by admitting that I love pull-ups. Seriously. It is likely my most favorite training exercise. Well, the pull-up and all of its variations, to be more precise. I’m even pretty good at them. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that you’re not. In fact, most people are pretty miserable at pull-ups, let alone any sort of advanced maneuver beyond the basic dead-hang pull-up. I would like to do everything in my power to help every single person out there to become more pull-up capable. In fact, I believe that if I were able to get even half the world’s population executing a few pull-ups with confidence, I will have done more for world peace than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton combined.

2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie FoucherNOTE: This blog post and all future pull-up related blog posts are NOT exclusively for men. Every bit of the following advice is just as applicable for women. Women tend to feel like the upper-body strength necessary to do pull-ups is out of their reach (hahaha…puns), but it is very much possible for a woman to pull-up as well as any guy. Also, pull-ups will not make women “bulky.” Cupcakes do that.

First of all, let’s define the pull-up. I’m sure there are varying professional opinions, but as far as I am concerned, a strict pull-up is done by putting hands supine (palms facing away from body) on an overhead object (usually a bar) and pulling the body up to the point where the chin is above the level of the hands. Most of us have done this, or at least tried, in some random gym class at some point in our lives. I intend to use this reference as a baseline to which we will build – and build from.

A very wise fitness guru named Gray Cook is famous for saying, “don’t add strength to dysfunction.” Simple yet brilliant advice. That being said, in order to build pull-ups, as with any other training, it is eminently important to develop a solid foundation. Since no kinetic activity is possible until the body comes into contact with a surface to work against, the grip would be the most elemental part of the foundation. This is usually where pull-up novices exhibit some serious weakness. There is hope however, as grip strength can improve dramatically pretty quickly. Grip strength comes from a combination of hand and forearm muscles, but if the whole body is hanging from the grip, there will be some action elsewhere in the kinetic chain as well, so let’s check out the whole thing.

ltexp_arm-or-hand-muscles_02While you are sitting here and reading this, squeeze your hand into a fist. You should feel and even see muscle contractions in your hand as well as your forearm. While these are the most obvious muscles to develop for grip strength, it is also important to analyze the biceps and shoulder muscles. At this point, I would recommend trying to take the biceps out of the equation as much as possible in order to save energy as tensing them won’t help you to stay in a hang and will only sap your overall strength. Don’t worry, we will still develop your guns soon enough. Try clenching your fist again, but keeping your upper arm relaxed. If you have never really trained for this before, it might be kind of tough. You are effectively training your brain to talk to your muscles – an exercise at least as important as training in any other sense. Work on this selective tension whenever you can, especially while reading www.FYMPlanet.com.

On to the shoulder. This is one complicated joint; there is a lot going on here with muscles, connective tissue, and bone. Let’s go from sitting and reading to actually hanging. If you grasp an overhead bar and contract nothing except for your gripping muscles, you are in a dead hang. The name should be pretty intuitive. Notice how your shoulder seems to elongate or separate – this is called “extension” of your shoulder joint. As long as this doesn’t cause pain (if it does, go see a doc), this is a good position to train for some grip strength. I would also recommend holding a hang with your shoulder fully engaged. That is to say, draw your shoulder joint back together and hold it. I like to call this hanging with an “active” or “contracted shoulder.” If this is difficult to visualize, try doing a dead-hang in front of a mirror while wearing a sleeveless shirt. You should be able to see your shoulder “separate” as you hang, and you should be able to see it come back together as you “activate” it. As with the lower arm strength mentioned above, dramatic strength increases will occur early on thanks to simply training your brain to work these muscles.

The rationale for training lower-arm strength in grip training should be obvious: your hand strength is what keeps you on the bar. If focusing on the shoulder muscles in hanging seems less obvious, simply do a pull-up motion (either on the bar or off) and pay attention to how many degrees of rotation through which your shoulder socket moves. Additionally, the pull-up is not the end-all of upper body pulling strength; there are more advanced and worthwhile exercises to come and they will require even greater shoulder rotation. Since the joint is so complex and is home to so much connective tissue, it is exceedingly important to develop it well in the very beginning.

deadhangAll of this considered, no matter what level you are on, it is time to train that grip with this hang. I consider myself intermediate to advanced in my pull-up capability and I still make sure to train hangs often. Try simply dead-hanging, try hanging with an active shoulder, and finally try hanging while transitioning between the two positions. For a novice, the transition may be difficult and may even lead to pain. If it hurts, stop and talk to a doc. Otherwise, vary the speed, the time of each hold and time between holds, and even vary between two-handed and one-handed hangs. As far as frequency, listen to your body. The untrained shoulder is easy to strain, so ease in to it and focus on quality. The trained shoulder is a very capable mechanism however.

In addition to training the grip from a hang, it is possible to greatly strengthen the grip by doing Olympic style lifts. Deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and so forth all involve using the grip to hold on to a weight while you move it around. Typically, at some point in training, the weight used in these lifts will be limited by grip strength, at which point your gripping muscles will have to develop to keep up. Combined with the hanging training mentioned above, QUALITY Olympic training can enhance grip strength tremendously.

_MG_7397

I emphasize QUALITY because Olympic training should never be approached without appropriate coaching. Improper training can lead to not only serious injury, but can ingrain improper form that can drastically affect every other aspect of physical training (refer to the abovementioned Gray Cook quote). Do not trust some hack Level 1 Crossfit “Instructor” or fall back on your or some “bro’s” high school football training, but rather find a serious coach (whom, yes, CAN be found in the Crossfit community) if you have no background on the subject. Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe is absolutely mandatory reading before you EVER think about picking up an Olympic bar (or pick one up ever again for those of you that have been training poorly all these years). Don’t screw with this. Seriously.

The total impact of both training methods is much greater than the sum of its parts, so try and get both in. One common mistake will significantly reduce the gains made in the grip department, both in Olympic lifting and in hanging: Gloves. Understand this: Gloves suck. Do not use them, you pansy. Glove-like accessories, such as wrist straps, also suck. They gather hand sweat and bar filth, are difficult to clean and therefore can spread disease, not to mention inhibit grip strength improvement. The fact that things are easier to hold on to while you are wearing gloves should be an indicator that your training is suffering and not be seen as a relief (i.e. a crutch). My hands are my gloves, as yours should be.

After a few weeks of this hang training and hopefully some Olympic training, a solid foundation for pull-ups should be in place. Even if you go from never having accomplished a pull-up to knocking out sets of 50, never stop training your hang. Hanging is useful (you never know when you will need to hang from a tree, a window sill, or whatever for an extended period), it promotes hand strength in other applications (punching, handshakes, chopstick utilization, etc.) and it keeps your shoulders strong (don’t be that person with the labrum tear). In the next chapter, we will go from hanging to actually pulling up. In the meantime, go find somewhere to hangout.

Hahaha….puns.

LG v. KP

I was in the middle of writing a post about pull-ups, but I have been distracted by Youtube. In an attempt to simply find some music to play while I wrote, I couldn’t stop myself from clicking to watch the new Lady Gaga video that was prominently displayed on the Youtube homepage.

First of all, you’re damn right I clicked it. Why not? While Lady Gaga does indeed contribute to the giant pop noise machine that grates at the mental well being of every minimally sentient person, she also has made some serious waves on occasion. While I dislike the majority of her music, there are a few tunes that I do legitimately enjoy plus I have a hard time hating on a woman who creatively pushes on society like she does.

This is her new single, Applause:

As near as I can tell, the theme is clearly self-aggrandizing while at the same time self-implicating. She admits to being there for the attention while at the same time parading her nearly naked body around along with other provocative imagery, for yet more attention. However, for her, celebrating adoration is a bit different than your average pop star. She enjoys a very interesting fan base both in their rabid following but also in that the “Little Monsters,” as they are called, overwhelmingly live on the fringe of society. This is important since the fringe has been on the frontline in the modern  fight for many social equalities, especially for the LGBTQA crowd. Lady Gaga’s pop icon status has helped push those movements with greater velocity. In all reality, Lady Gaga isn’t just a pop star and her fans aren’t just fans, it would probably be more accurate to describe all of it as a culture, and Applause celebrates the relationship.

Either way, the music has beyond-average complexity and uniqueness, her lyrics are at least mostly original, she exhibits a pretty solid range in her singing, and the imagery is her usual intensity. She even shows clear homage to David Bowie. This makes for an A+ song when compared to her mainstream contemporaries. I’ve decided I enjoy it. Good job Gaga, point.

Writing about Lady Gaga songs on FYMPlanet is not how I expected to spend my evening. Mostly because I never saw myself writing about anything Gaga related anywhere at any time. So what drove my motivation? Once the video was complete, a link for Katy Perry’s new single Roar showed up. I have things to say about this, but without further adieu, here’s the song:

And here is Katy Perry’s new single, Roar:

W.T.F.

Seriously, what fresh hell is this? Holy FSM, this is bad. So incredibly bad. Ask the rest of the FYMP crew, out of the three of us I certainly have the highest tolerance for crappy aspects of pop culture, but this is WAY beyond anything I could ever put up with. Christ on rollerblades, this song is terrible. The fact that it starts with that awful Apple ringtone circa 2007 doesn’t help its cause.

I remember hearing a commercial or something about his and how KP was on some crazy plan to rebrand herself and Roar was going to be the first step. There were 18-wheelers rolling around major cities with no purpose other than to serve as giant billboards for her new “ground breaking” sound.  I saw one of those things…it was a gaudy shitshow of gold and glitter and a trite attempt at tantalizing her fans. However, after watching the Lady Gaga video above, I was feeling kind of generous to our recent pop stars and figured that maybe KP had grown up a bit. Holy jeebus was I wrong.

Luckily, the only version of the song I could find was a lyrics video. While I agree, yes, being able to at least look at Katy Perry while she performs her typical post-Kissed a Girl garbage (yes, that old album of hers had some gems. Exhibit 1: You’re So Gay), I think it is important to really look at the lyrics. Literally 80% or more of the lyrics are simply clichés. Not even subtle or useful clichés, just straight up tired and even “creatively” spelled and signed (holy emoji, Batman) shit that you’d expect to find on one of those “Look how dumb this random Facebook person is, LOL!!!11!!” pictures that are so popular with the kids these days. Even the damn hook is straight up stolen from Foreigner. Eye of the tiger? Really? Yeah, I get it, you’re full of renewed vigor (to keep doing you, apparently), but you’re not even trying.

Anyway, in a world full of generic and uncreative pop divas like Miley Cyrus, Pink, Britney, Beyonce, Ke-dollar sign-ha, Nikki Minaj, Rihanna, Selena Gomez – and so on and so forth, Katy Perry promised something. It was supposed to be something new and reinvented and something we should prepare ourselves for. And she delivered crap.  Absolutely terrible and uncreative drivel. Lady Gaga just showed up as her regular weird-ass self and gave me a quality song with a video that was enjoyable even beyond her tits. Both of these women have found a formula that makes them wildly rich and popular, however one deserves a bit more respect than the other.

By the way, if you made it through the whole of Roar, I commend but do not envy you. Let me make it up to you with a video that I guarantee you will watch the whole way through:

 

Suffer No Mediocre Coffee

Recently I became aware of some serious deficiencies in my life regarding coffee. Not too long ago I was satisfied with my coffee consumption as I thought I was doing things the right way: get the dark roast and drink it black. This made sense to me as I personally prefer both my coffee and tea dark and bitter (just as I like my women, hey-oh!). My coffee usually came in one of two methods: Mr Coffee brand drip machine at home or the “Big Nasty,” the huge percolator at work. On rare occasion I’d buy coffee at Starbucks, in which case I was that jackass that refused to get on with their absurd size-naming conventions and just flatly demanded “large coffee, black.”

Little did I know, everything I was doing was wrong.

Well, not everything, but I’ll get to that. What I want to do right now is share the four-plus years I spent achieving coffee enlightenment in order to save as many people from mediocre coffee as possible. This is not to say I am about to provide home barista-level instructions, just high-quality, simple, and very enjoyable coffee. Water, tea, and coffee (and alcohol, but that’s for a different post) are really the only purely liquid drinks (smoothies and such are again for a different post) worth consuming, so it only makes FYMP sense to do it right.

Let’s just get straight into it. First of all, doing coffee right does not mean making it overly complicated. Big, expensive, shiny machines with knobs and gauges are completely unnecessary in the making of good coffee, so do not go out and invest in one of them. There are only three simple pieces of equipment necessary: A kettle, a grinder, and a French press. Not only are these items simple, they are all multi-purpose (as in beyond coffee), can all be acquired for less than $100 total for some pretty high-end versions, and take up maybe 0.1 square meters (about a square foot for those Imperial holdouts) of counter space.

  • The Kettle: I use a plug-in kettle that can boil water in a minute or two. These are super common throughout the world, but not so much in the USA. Many other cultures drink tea to an extent that a kettle like this is the only practical way to keep up, but even more locales need to boil their water every time simply for safety reasons. I live in China, so both.
  • The Grinder: Mine is an oblong shaped Krups grinder. I like the oblong shape because a circular grinder tends to take longer to complete the grind. The oblong versions kick the beans back towards the blades and get the job done very quickly. This is important because spinning the blade for too long can actually scorch the grounds and screw up the flavor. Besides coffee, a good grinder can be used on a variety of spices, herbs, and other things I’m sure.
  • The French Press: Sounds fancy, actually simple. It is nothing more than a vessel to mix the hot water and coffee, then filter the grounds from the coffee. Mine is so simple that I actually drink from it; I don’t even need an additional coffee mug (arguably the 4th and most versatile piece in this equation). I love my mug. A French press is super intuitive and easily available online or at any home store.

Now that the equipment is in place, here is the process. Again, the emphasis is on both quality and simplicity.

  • Set the water to boil
  • Put coffee beans in the grinder
  • Grind
  • Put the grounds in the French press
  • Pour the just-boiled water into the French press
  • Stir
  • Put the French press filter into the press and press the plunger down
  • Pour
  • Drink

That’s it. It all takes about 5 minutes and will create some amazing coffee. Adjustments in the amount of grounds, water temp, and steeping time can be made to suit, so experiment with it. It will be seriously difficult to go back to Starbucks after drinking such homemade goodness. And it is cheap. I drink about three to four cups of black coffee just about every morning, so basically a “venti” at Starbucks. If this costs $3, in 3-4 months I have made back my initial investment, plus a bag of nice beans. Not that I am really hurting for cash or anything, but I would rather responsibly spend my money (as in not give it away to a hulking multinational that does not need it) and I can invest my coffee expenditure into something worthwhile, no matter where I live. Even further, I can better control my own coffee waste, i.e. no paper to-go cups, coffee grounds are composted (notice the lack of a disposable filter in the above method?), and a much lower energy expenditure as compared to the huge powerful machines used at any coffee shop, let alone a chain joint.

Chances are pretty good that if you make coffee at home, you have grounds or even whole beans in the freezer right now. You may as well finish them off as you would normally, but after that it is time to step up your game, starting with the beans. First, let’s start with selection. The biggest thing that shattered my world when it came to bean selection was learning that “Dark Roast” is actually terrible. This whole time, I thought that dark roast meant stronger, more flavorful –and even manlier – beans. Nope. Dark roasting is simply the way that a bean seller masks the low-quality of a bad bean by cooking the ever-living bejeebus out of it. It kind of works like steak in that some cooking is necessary, but the more it is roasted, the harder it becomes to distinguish quality (and the less quality matters). Light roasts are actually best as lightly roasting beans is a signal from the bean grower/seller that the bean can stand alone in its flavor thanks to its quality, not because it was torched. I became suspicious while drinking coffee in Cambodia – most SE Asian coffees are of a super-light roast yet have a huge flavor range. This led to further research, through which I learned that our affinity for “Dark Roast” is basically a conspiracy of American coffee companies passing off crappy coffee as something delicious and desirable. Damn corporations.

After finally buying some good beans, now you have to store them. First of all, if you have coffee in the freezer, GET IT OUT OF THERE AND NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. Phew, ok. Anyway, coffee is flavored by the oil in the beans. Have you ever put olive oil in the refrigerator? It turns solid. Cold environments cause oils to turn solid. Science. While you may not be able to actually see the coffee bean oils congeal in the freezer, you are basically rendering them inert and thereby flavorless or dull by storing them in there. Room temperature is your best bet; freezing coffee for freshness is a myth. Next, you are going to need a suitable container. The bag that they come in is usually fine if you are confident you can seal it well, but with recent information about the nastiness of certain metal and plastic storage containers, I just stick with a sealable glass jar. These things have worked for hundreds of years, so why fix what is not broken. Simple. Finally, keep it out of the sunlight. Again, this is because of the sanctity of coffee bean oils and how they can break down and turn rancid when exposed to sunlight. This applies to your olive oil too, take it off the window sill and just put it in a darker corner or in a cabinet.

This entire change in coffee lifestyle can be done in one day, is more financially and environmentally responsible, is super simple and easy, and most importantly, leads to some damn fine coffee. Delicious.

I did mention however that I wasn’t doing everything wrong, so what was I doing right? Well, it comes down to one thing: always bet on black. Coffee is HEALTHY. I will never understand the universal belief that caffeine is simply a bad drug, should be avoided, and those that consume it are “addicts.” I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but as with just about everything consumable in nature, it is healthy IF CONSUMED IN MODERATION. Simple as that. Caffeine is the world’s most common and most studied drug, but is a drug nonetheless and can be overdone. Again, in moderation caffeine is GOOD. Too much is BAD. Beyond caffeine, coffee is rich with antioxidants and all that other goodness. So yeah, coffee is healthy, duh.

Anyway, off my caffeine pedestal and back to black: coffee is healthy when it is not used as a vehicle for the absurd amounts of sugar that most “coffee” drinkers consume. It might not seem like much, but even adding a single packet of sugar adds up. Single packet = 4g of sugar carbs. 1g sugar carb = 4 calories. Therefore, 1 packet = 16 calories. If I go back to my own coffee consumption at 1 packet/cup of coffee, that’s an additional 64 calories a day from sugar in my coffee. In not quite two months, that leads to enough additional calorie intake to constitute a pound of fat. That’s six to seven pounds a year. Granted real life rarely reflects this kind of math directly, it is still an indicator of how significant a seemingly negligible lifestyle variable can affect the body. Now check out Starbucks’ nutrition facts and you’ll see drinks that many people consume on a daily basis that beat my math by over a magnitude of ten. That’s nuts.

My point is that while I may not have been drinking as good of coffee as possible, I at least was not consuming the sugar equivalent of a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola each day. When termed as “2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola,” it sounds absurd, but that’s the math. Also, don’t forget that the rest of a person’s diet – especially an American’s – is already sugar-laden (with Coke!) so this is simply just a piece of the big fat puzzle. While there may be those additional antioxidant and caffeine benefits that Coke doesn’t have, that is still not a good excuse. Finally, don’t even think about “working it off.” Exercise plays a much smaller role in calorie burning than most people realize, so working off a sugar-heavy “coffee” is not really a thing, nor is “earning” one of these bad boys after a “solid workout.”

For some reason, it is just plain difficult for many people to accept just how bad coffee can be when turned into a sugar vehicle. Just drink it black. I understand that this may not suit many people’s tastes, but try it with good beans and the method described above. Maybe people just don’t like crappy coffee and actually do need to cover it up with dark roasts and pounds of sugar. That makes sense, but not getting fat or coming down with The ‘Beetus makes more sense. When coffee is made well and made with high-quality ingredients (something you should demand from EVERYTHING you consume), it can achieve a huge range of flavors that will suit just about anybody’s tastes. The worst thing anybody could do would be to make good coffee and then trash it with all of the extras. That would be like asking for a bottle of A-1 to help set off the flavor of a $35 steak at a professional chop-house. You may as well go back into the kitchen and slap the cook across the face (in the case of homemade coffee, you’d be the cook in this scenario…).

Just for fun, here is an interesting and super simple recipe for iced coffee at home:

  • ¾ cup ground coffee
  • 3 ½ cups cold water
  • Put the coffee in a large container. Add the water and stir well. Let sit for 10+ hours (overnight)
  • Credit goes to Thug Kitchen, you can find them on facebook

Enjoy your FYMP coffee!

Paleo is for Chumps

Seriously. Paleo is stupid, quit talking about it. Quit “being Paleo,” whatever the hell that means anyway; quite making “Paleo brownies” and quit getting sucked into the ever-stranger world of Paleo. Am I supposed to be capitalizing that word, “Paleo?” What’s the standard convention? You know what, I don’t even care. Paleo is not worth the extra effort to utilize the Shift key (except at the beginning of a sentence…not much I can do there).

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown of what it means to be paleo. “Being paleo” can refer to people or food, the former of which is one who eats the latter. It is a recent craze in diet wherein a person limits their diet to the items that would have been most likely (read: perceived to have been most likely; more on that later) consumed by our Paleolithic forbearers. The reasoning behind this limit is that, in the past, humans thrived and did not suffer from many of our modern illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. There are some critics that like to cite abysmal life expectancy rates from earlier time periods as evidence that being “paleo” might not have been all it was cracked up to be. However, the paleo faithful are quick to point out how infant mortality rates and the lack of intensive care for acute injuries skew those life expectancy rates from long ago – a rebuttal with which I agree. There is plenty of solid paleontology research that shows that if a person made it through their teenage years and didn’t get mauled by a tiger or otherwise suffer a nasty case of nature attack, they were likely going to lead a long and healthy life. And have sick abs.

The idea of shedding industrial food from our diets in order to achieve better health is a great idea. An amazing idea in fact. Quite frankly, I do not understand why or even how there is a debate in regards to the negative impact of modern industrial food on our health. Jamming tons of unrecognizable chemicals and poor quality nourishment down our maws is a two-fold, guarantee for poor health through “tons” and “unrecognizable chemicals and poor quality nourishment.” So, trying to reverse the damage that we’ve done to our food since the industrial revolution is good and is what paleo dieting hopes to achieve.

A great goal. However, past that is where paleo starts to suck. And by suck, I mean to suck people into its universe of fads, expensive labels and detrimental elitism. In fact, the paleo diet was labeled as ” founded more on privilege than on logic” by Ferris Jabrd in Scientific American. Jabrd, like me and several other “rogue” analysts, see some pretty serious fundamental flaws that prevent paleo from achieving in reality the lofty promises that it makes. Likely the most critically bad aspect of paleo is the idea of Grok. Jabrd does an excellent job of dismantling Grok, so I’ll just summarize briefly as the paleo crowd has an overly particular and unrealistic of who Grok is and what he ate. Basically, the idea of coming up with a “paleo diet” is absurd because there is no such singular diet:

Paleolithic diets around the world as much as their environments as can be plainly seen in the infographic above. However, paleo dieters seem to have a never ending list of ideas as to what rules apply to paleo. Obviously there are certain universalities, for example, despite all my research I still have yet to find an even pre-industrial, let alone Paleolithic society that had Froot Loops on the menu. But oh how the arguments over which nuts or beans or yoghurt or whateverthehell they’re debating that day get intense. In fact, let me share my favorite paleo story:

In February 2013, I was lucky enough to train with Vic Verdier on a MovNat retreat in Thailand for a week. It was awesome and I’ll be sure to put my review up soon, but for now, let’s focus on the food. Vic promised us three copious paleo meals a day and he wasn’t kidding, the food was great. I was intrigued since I had never given any serious effort to paleo yet I had heard good things. On morning two I believe, after I had finished a huge salad, about a dozen over-easy eggs and probably half my body weight in bacon, I figured I’d top it off with a bowl of fruit with yoghurt. And then it got real. When I returned to the table with my bowl, a pretty intense inquisition began over whether or not I was breaking a paleo rule of some sort. I mostly kept quiet and simply admitted to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.

After a few days, I had learned quite a bit about paleo and I came to a conclusion: Who gives a shit.

All that effort and stress just to eat healthy? I feel like that is kind of defeating the purpose. It’s really difficult to counter the argument that there is no such thing as a specific “paleo diet” and selecting or even combining multiple paleo diets from generations gone by is a fool’s errand. First, we have to way to conclusively know everything about any ancient diet, we can only know bits and pieces. Second, to simply write off any dietary habits or measures between today and the Paleolithic era is also to simply write off the amazing capability of the human body to adapt. We are undoubtedly the most adaptable creature on the planet. Seriously, I think only the cockroaches could compare…though I have to wonder what that parallel draws…

Again, here is another argument that is nothing new to the paleo faithful: genetic changes in some Northern European people have allowed them to process dairy well into adulthood as opposed to losing it in young childhood like most of the rest of the world. I’m sure the pro-paleo community has plenty of evidence and arguments to deal with this silver bullet, but the take away is ultimately that things are more complicated than most would like to believe – is lactose intolerance not possibly the most well-studied subject in the science of human digestion and we only just know figured out the whole Northern European thing? We have a long way to go.

It would be too easy (and too typical) to assume the paleo argument to be complete at this point as the paleo community has one last and very important contribution. Usually at this point, paleo’s finishing move is to implore that people simply remove as much industrial food and other non-paleo items from the diet as possible and then slowly reintroduce the natural items and see how it impacts the individual body. Basically, ditch the HFCS and legumes, but bring the legumes back if you want – under the auspices of close examination of its effects, if any. This, again, is a good thing. Paleo does have good things, but it is still for chumps.

This last positive aspect, the analysis part, is great but “being paleo” in order to accomplish that analysis becomes a contradiction and sets up the modern paleo dieter for some serious heartache and chump status. One thing that can be agreed upon in regards to paleo is that it is a label. No matter how you define it or how nebulous it ultimately is, it is still a label. By “being paleo,” an individual has in turn labeled themselves and acquiesced to these labels. By having a label, an individual has an instruction manual which gives them the excuse to excise critical thinking – kind of an important detail if you are going to do any sort of serious analysis.

Furthermore, how is Grok supposed to analyze what he eats according to the final paleo guideline above if there are so many rules in contemporary paleo-dom? With cookbooks, websites, coaches and whatever else is out there, there will always be a sense of guilt and/or lack of satisfaction for the hardcore paleo folks as there will never be anything they can do to actually fully pull off paleo. Better yet, all of those cookbooks, websites, coaches and whatever else all cost money. It’s ironic that the very same people that would immediately agree that big box gyms are only interested in money and not health are individuals who simply do not think of paleo possibly following the same model. The combination of guilt and/or lack of satisfaction pairs really well with the business model as it creates a rabid customer base. Rabid. Seriously, I dare you to run into a CrossFit gym and shout “paleo sucks!” as loud as possible. You’d be better off throwing a chair.

At this point, I think my analysis of paleo has been pretty much 50/50. It has some pretty good points despite its built in mental baggage and I would even say that if I had to, gun to my head, pick a single diet that I had to follow the rest of my life, it would probably be paleo. However, it is poorly defined and ends up playing the role of ultimate excuse for people that aren’t ready to fully think about their diet because it goes way beyond guidelines and establishes hard rules – something it should not be allowed to do. This leads to the constant and intense (and annoying) debates frequently had by its adherents. My final verdict is that those who want to be this technically undefined thing, to be paleo, are way better off than the average American but it comes at a cost.

Why label yourself with the sheep? Especially when that label is going to bring you pedantic debates, mental stress, and an assured spot at the table of an industry business model focused on money. It would be unfair to offer all criticism and no solution, so stay tuned for how I think about food.

 

PAJERO!

I’m going to step out of my wheelhouse a bit and talk about something that has nothing to do with movement. Well, maybe a little bit, but not in the fitness sense. Regardless, the real motivation was finding this little gem I wrote a few years ago to sell my truck as I was going through some old documents on the computer. It won’t make sense without any background though, so let me tell you some old war stories.

I moved to Okinawa, Japan when I was 21 years old. I stayed there for a very long time. Life on this sub-tropical paradise was amazing thanks to lots of sunny weather, some great friends, tons of parties, but most importantly the seemingly endless jungle wilderness to explore. If you’re not familiar with Okinawa, go look at a map real quick. Look for it south of mainland Japan and just northeast of Taiwan. Zoom in. And zoom in again. Okinawa is TINY. Yet somehow there wasn’t a weekend when I could not find some old two-tracks to go off-roading down or another secret dive site that a buddy had heard of and wanted to check out.

“Okinawa may be small, but it sure keeps itself well-hidden,” as a co-worker of mine put it. This was after I showed him a beach he had never seen despite the fact that he had lived in Okinawa basically forever. Now, while I feel I’m justified in my confidence as an explorer, no amount of such skill is solely capable of getting to these places. There are some tools of the trade beyond borderline-McCandless wanderlust and the ability to use a compass. The tool that most facilitated my exploration was my 1995 Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4. To say that I loved this truck would be a ludicrous understatement.

The Pajero was nearly perfect. While living in Okinawa, I was only allowed to have one vehicle, so it had to get me through my morning commute to work at least as much as it had to smash through trees and plow through sandy beaches. Somehow, in 1995, Mitsubishi stumbled on the perfect combination of practical comfort and sheer off-road badassery that has not been seen since. I still vividly remember the first time I truly loaded it up for a SCUBA expedition. Don’t get me wrong, I had dived quite a bit before this day and many times that meant using my Pajero to get me to dive sites, but this day was a true exercise in dedication to the sport. I loaded myself and two of my friends along with all of our gear and nine SCUBA tanks. This is a two-door, short-wheel base vehicle. Somehow, with folding one-half of the split back seat, I managed to load up well over three-quarters of a ton of meat, metal and neoprene for the most epic series of dives ever, way up on one of the most inaccessible north shores of Okinawa. Amazing.

By now you get it, I loved that truck. It was fun, practical, and supremely capable. I would have kept it forever (though nearly 7 years isn’t too shabby), but alas it was time for me to leave my sub-tropical paradise and move back to the United States. That was a hard move for lots of reasons, leaving behind my Pajero included. Of course I toyed with the idea of shipping it home, but that simply was not an option. Unfortunately I was the last of most of my friends to leave, so there weren’t too many people I knew at the time that would have been able to properly handle this beast (the only real candidate already had his own Pajero). The search for a suitable owner was on.

On Okinawa, there is a yard-sale site called Bookoo that many foreigners used. At about the same time as I was getting ready to sell my Pajero (by getting ready I mean dealing with it emotionally), I saw an ad for a 2004 Honda Prelude. I have to give the seller credit, he came up with a pretty entertaining and attention-grabbing ad. However, I felt like the hubris he intentionally displayed for his Prelude to be misplaced on such a mediocre car. Taking a cue from his style, I wrote an ad that was semi in response to his. I didn’t keep a copy of his ad, but I did keep a copy of mine and I intend to share it here. As you read it, there are parts that seem kind of out of the blue or a bit non sequitur – they are direct call outs to the other guy’s ad or things specific to automotive processing in Japan, so don’t think about it too hard. Anyway, here it is in all its original, unedited glory:

Word on the street is that the world’s manliest vehicle is for sale here on Bookoo, but it’s a..ahem..Prelude?? This only goes to prove the confused world we live in! Speaking of a confused world, when things get real dicey during the incoming Zombie invasion, do you want to get caught thinking “only if I could climb over these rocks and drive on the beach with the world’s greatest 4×4 system and save the life of myself and those close to me?” Of course not! That is where the PAJERO! comes in.

This truck (truly an understatement if one was ever made) laughs at ninjas as it establishes dominion over Mother Nature. Tom Selleck? Please. The overpowered 3.5L V6 and short chassis design eschews cheap ’70s mustaches and simply reeks of glorious, third-fist hiding man-beards like that of Chuck Norris. In fact, the Walker Texas Ranger himself may have used this very Pajero to scale mountain roads north of Nago and storm beaches in Miyagi and Uruma. Surely if that happened, he did it while roundhouse kicking the brains out of any ninjas, terrorists, or glute hammering gym rats along the way!

As with any man-machine, the Pajero does not waste time on cute amenities like TV screens and navigation systems (use a compass! it comes with one, by the way) but focuses on what is really useful. It sports adjustable suspension, both in firmness (it even has a ‘soft’ setting, just in case you need to display your sensitive side) and in clearance. Since when can you flip a switch and gain more than 2″ of suspension clearance!! Only once upon a time when Sports Utility Vehicle actually meant something. On top you’ll find a luggage rack that can handle any cargo and in the back you will find an integrated tool kit (first aid for people? Don’t make me laugh; if it can’t be fixed with an included wrench, is it worth fixing?).

The ’95 short-wheel base Pajero represents an end to an era; an homage to the Greatest Generation in form and function. General Patton himself would be proud to storm any beach in this beast. Likely, he would have done it with 2 other friends and more than 9 SCUBA tanks and all associated gear while finding his way to only the most interesting and secret dive spots on Okinawa. Many before me have complained how inaccessible this island can be, and to that I say “I beg to differ.”

JCI is good until February 2013 when it will once again confound Japanese authorities with its inability to quit and amazing capabilities to pass the test with flying colors over and over. Only because I am being forced off this island am I considering letting go of such awesomeness, but if you feel that you can handle taking the mantle of the sheer over-whelming majesty of the ’95 3500 V6 Pajero, give me a call or shoot me an email.

Interestingly enough, I actually received many more requests from people for me to write ads for them as opposed to wanting to see the truck. Unfortunately, mere days after I posted the ad, some punk-ass Okinawan kids smashed the passenger window while trying to steal my girlfriends purse. Luckily we were walking back to the truck at the time and basically caught them in the act, but they had already thrown a brick through the passenger window. Even though I wanted nothing more than to Homer Simpson-style strangle that kid, I had to admire his canon of an arm – he put a baseball sized chunk of brick through the window so hard that it crossed over to the driver’s side, dented the steering wheel and tore a huge chunk out of the plastic molding and the upholstery of the driver’s door. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t have been more than 13 years old.

Anyway, nobody was willing to buy a truck that was short of a window and had a passenger seat covered in glass. I didn’t have the time to invest in repairs before leaving, so I unfortunately had no recourse but to recycle the truck. Thanks to it being Japan, I received a sizable chunk of change for recycling it, in fact the amount was nearly comparable to what I was asking for the truck. Regardless, I got way more than my money’s worth out of it during our nearly decade long run. That was a rough day…a friend went with me to drop it off and I could barely hide my near emotional breakdown after I received my money and stamped receipt. I still think of that Pajero often.

The Badass Gardener

The gentleman you see here in this picture is crossing between a large ledge and the landing of a flight of stairs up to the second floor. Each floor in this building is a bit taller than standard height, so he is probably a solid 6 meters above the ground below. Every day he can be seen working outdoors, climbing heights to replace light bulbs, hanging out high windows to clean them, and pretty much anything else you’d expect a groundskeeper to do. He is considered exceptional by all of the students and staff in the building as he does all of these tasks casually, and because he is easily in his 70s or 80s.

It’s pathetic that he is considered so remarkable.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy is awesome. He’ll spend all afternoon bent over in the courtyard hand pruning the grass and still stand upright and cheerfully bust out a你好 (hello) to anybody passing by. It is – by definition – “backbreaking labor,” but he is completely unfazed. If I was to define fitness in terms of capability relative to one’s age, this man is the fittest dude I know. I hope that one day when I’m his age I have such high quality of life.

So, what’s with the pathetic part? He clearly deserves credit for his self-cultivated spryness. By nature of the word remarkable, it means that he is far and away the exception. It is pathetic that few people are like him; people of any age. When I walked by this scene of him returning from sweeping that ledge, a small crowd had gathered and were gasping and cringing as he walked across his little bridge. The facial expressions of his spectators ranged from horror to awe. His facial expression? The same casual yet jovial expression he wears all day long. I really think that if there was any way to somehow quantify the fear felt by his audience, it would vastly outweigh the amount of fear he has felt his entire, long life doing this type of stuff.

What was really obvious in his movement was that his lack of fear had a lot to do with the fact that he was supremely confident in his ability in the task at hand. He knew exactly how to move his body in a way that maintained his balance, even while carrying stuff, across the makeshift bridge. He also knew exactly how to move his body up onto that bridge and back down from the landing. He didn’t have to give it any thought, he just did it and he will undoubtedly do it or something like it again in the near future.

Does this make him exceptional? Unfortunately, yes. The vast majority of people lack that confidence; they lack the ability move their body in non-standard and potentially dangerous situations confidently enough to accomplish the task. Why do we lack that ability? Well, I already mentioned confidence, but the root of the issue is a lack of knowledge. Without the knowledge of movement, there is a lack of experience. A lack of experience translates into a lack of confidence which in turn becomes the lack of ability.

There is good news however. I know the gardener’s secret. He has spent his 70+ years on Earth constantly moving. He doesn’t take his body for granted, he uses it every single day. You will never catch him in the elevator and you’ll never catch him using gym equipment. He doesn’t have to practice crossing that particular bridge in order to confidently and competently deal with it, he simply has the complete toolbox of root skills that he can apply to any situation. Everybody that reacted to this picture with a gasp or a “wtf, old guy?” needs to seriously reevaluate their physical capability. He didn’t get to the point of such high capability at his advanced age by making it a goal to wow people, he just lived his life moving.

He has lived his life as a badass and we should all take a lesson.

Working Out Sucks.

Working out sucks.  Stop doing it.  Seriously.

That might sound like some odd advice from the section of FYMP that professes to be the physical well-being side of the house, but those three words are essential to be able to understand every blog post that comes after this. In the cartoon above, Calvin is confused not only why adults don’t play, but also the definition of “play” offered by his father. Calvin’s father is also in turn confused, and clearly disappointed, by his own explanation. I think it would be more accurate to replace the word “exercise” with “working out” as it is more conventionally used for what Calvin’s dad is referring to and elicits a more specific visual. That being said, working out sucks.

I exercise anywhere from three to seven days a week depending on the circumstances and I agree, working out sucks. How does that make any sense? Have I just come to terms with the Sisyphean task that is working out in order to achieve a level of fitness or a physique that I want? Hell no. I don’t work out. I used to, but over the years I’ve been giving it up in favor of what Calvin would more readily recognize as play. The best part about removing “workouts” from exercise? Exercise becomes fun again.

Just as in my previous post about running in pants, you’re probably suffering from a classic case of “you’re doing it wrong.” I’m going to play the same assumptions game and make a few guesses about what your workouts look like. First, there is a seemingly endless list of specialized equipment, starting with clothes, shoes, accessories (those gloves match your purse?), not to mention the seemingly endless list of extra tools you can buy (think late night QVC-style TV) and finally the numerous racks, machines and ‘bells of all sorts that can only be found in a specialized place. That specialized place is the target of my second assumption: after dressing up in a workout outfit, you probably got in your car and drove to a gym (if you ran or biked there, good on you, but you’re still doing it wrong). Third, once inside this workout facility, you likely engaged in the standard workout structure: warm-up, stretch, workout, cool-down, stretch more, leave. This workout structure likely has a name. Some of us old folks probably remember the Sweating to the Oldies-style regimens and nowadays the kids buzz on about Zumba, CrossFit, HIIT, The 300 Workout, and so on. That’s a list I would hate to ever have to make comprehensive (speaking of Sisyphus…).

But wait, there’s more! On to number four: chances are pretty good, especially if you’re of the male variety, there is some sort of supplement involved. That can include anything from pre-, intra-, and post-workout supplements, pills (or “tabs.” Ugh, stop saying “tabs.”), powders and anything in between. Raise your hand if you have some Breaking Bad-shit going on in your locker or kitchen; you’re not alone. Next up, many folks these days are finishing their workouts with logging. Lots and lots of logging. Who knows how people ever managed to do anything before smartphone apps, GPS, Nike chips in shoes, calorie in/calorie out websites, etc., etc., etc.  And don’t forget, Facebook. Raise your hand if you have ever created or witnessed a workout related post on Facebook; you too are not alone.

Did I leave anything out? There is indeed something missing from this party – fun. While not everything listed above is inherently bad, none of it sounds particularly enjoyable. Therein lies the greatest obstacle when it comes to establishing a fit lifestyle: you will naturally stray from things that are not enjoyable. The one piece of human anatomy that decides enjoyment level is the same critical piece of human anatomy that likely 99% of people who “workout” forget during exercise. THE BRAIN. This is critical so much that I’m going to go all caps-lock on it again. THE BRAIN. Now, I will readily admit that researching, memorizing, recording and analyzing all of the workout regimens, sets and supplements of many people who work out is nothing short of PhD candidate level academic rigor (I’ve been there), but that is absolutely not what I mean by leaving THE BRAIN out of the equation. Side note, in my head, every time I type THE BRAIN, I sound it out like I imagine an old-school zombie would.

So what do I mean by leaving THE BRAIN (ok, that was the last time, it’s been fun though) out of the workout? This is actually really complex in explanation, to the point that I intend to explain the brain’s function in different, specific aspects of exercise in many future posts. For now however, let’s simply take a broad look at how much the brain is involved in working out. The human body experienced thousands of years of survival and improvement in environments that were much less ideal than all of the artificial stuff that are found in workouts, as outlined above. The human brain evolved along with the body in those less than ideal environments. If countless and unsurprising psychological studies can effectively prove that nature (where our brains and bodies grew up over millennia) has many positive effects on our mental wellbeing, is it that much of a leap to think that “workouts” (effectively a 100% artificial activity, based on the above criteria) aren’t the best option? That maybe you’ve effectively removed the brain from the exercise equation? If we put our brain in a more natural environment there are marked increases in good feelings…maybe using our bodies to move naturally in that natural environment ought to make the brain happy as well.

Again, as I said, much more will come of this discussion, however let’s play another mental exercise. Start by checking out some nature. Go on a hike, do some trail running, climb (or attempt to climb) a tree. Anything. This is of course harder depending on where you live, but I defy you to come up with an airtight excuse for why you can’t even find a city park. Try moving in nature, without any specific and artificial assistance (some shoes and durable clothes may be a good idea…more on why in future posts) and just take note of how you feel afterward. Natural movement in a natural environment and then think about it. Leave comments below of your experience if you’re so inclined!

Running In Pants, Pt 2

When was the last time you ran?  I’m willing to bet that whether or not the answer is last night or last year or even last leap year, the circumstances were similar:  You were wearing running clothes, running shoes, and were at a running venue of your choosing.  Continuing with my assumptions, you were there to “train” and there was a warm-up and probably some stretching.  But there was one critical element missing:  Need.

Need?  What does that even mean?  I “need” to lose weight/get in shape/improve my cardio/prep for a race/etc etc etc.  Therefore, I “need” to run.  Yeah…that’s not how I would define “need.”  Even a Kenyan, running at an event of some sort, chasing a first, second or third place purse just to put food on the table still doesn’t “need” to run.  This is a classic case of “you’re doing it wrong.”

Fine, define “need” then.  Ok, here we go:  people need to run when they have to evade something trying to hurt or kill them, such as a predator or villain.  Or maybe a person needs to hurt or kill prey or even another person.  People also need to run when an environment has become dangerous, i.e. a volcanic flow or an earthquake has made it necessary to escape the current locale.  And hell, let’s just admit it, maybe people have to run just to get away from the damn police.  We’ve all been there, right?  Right?  ….ok, maybe only some of us have been there…

Either way, there is one commonality amongst all of the activities in the “need” category: there is little, if any, room for choice.  Interestingly enough, all of those needs are also scenarios that every other creature in the animal kingdom are faced with frequently (except for maybe the police scenario…I don’t think tigers have a police force, do they??).  Seriously, could you imagine if an animal had to meet the same criteria to run that modern humans do?  Put on special shoes and do special warm ups in a special place designed especially for such things?  Hunters would starve or hunted wouldn’t stand a chance.

When a lion knows there is prey nearby, it up and chases it down.  When a gazelle knows that said lion is out to eat it, it up and runs away.  No warm ups, no lacing of fancy shoes, no stepping out to the track.  Can you do that?  Probably not.  In fact, I’m going to guess that the idea of jumping out of your seat right now and sprinting down the block is a bit scary.  It really shouldn’t be though.

Let’s step back for a second.  I hope that you never have to run.  Be it out of survival or combat, we’ve worked hard for our modern world and should reasonably expect a degree of safety that makes such a thing obsolete.  However, there are two problems with that kind of thinking:  1. Shit happens.  2.  Your body is meant to be prepared for when shit happens.  This does not mean preparing for some abstract potentiality in an effort to survive a one-in-a-million possibility, but rather taking full advantage of your evolved self (more on this in upcoming posts).

Actual insight and recommendations on running will come in future blog posts, but in the meantime, treat this as a mental exercise.  Running shoes are a product of the 1970s, running programs from the 1980s and sweat-wicking material the 1990s.  Human beings needed to run tens of thousands of years before any of these inventions, so why is your running contingent on them?

 

Running In Pants

The Seawall of Kota Kinabalu

It’s 35 degree Celsius and 95% humidity in Malaysian Borneo.  I’m hungover and have a belly full of nothing but coffee.  I’m wearing long pants.  It’s time to run.

….

I’ve been desperately searching for some inspiration to kick start my first FYMP post and I think I finally found it.  I’m just going to get right into it:  four former coworkers of mine died in a military plane crash in Afghanistan a couple days ago.  While I was not personally close to these men, many of my close friends were.  It has also dredged up feelings held over from a plane crash a year ago, on which I did have close friends.

When I found out about the wreck, I was in the middle of planning a trip to Malaysian Borneo.  The tickets had been purchased, I was just doing the research to figure out what I was going to do there.  Needless to say, this planning was taken off the rails and was never really completed.  Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself getting shit-faced in a bar outside my hostel a few hours after landing in Kota Kinabalu.  This led to sleeping in (like, to 12:30 pm) the next day which led to feelings of depression for wasting my time here.  Overall bad.

Additionally, in an effort to justify my laziness, I busted out the computer in order “to write.”  Really that just turned into me surfing the internet under the guise of “research” for my first post.  I finally had to admit to myself that I was suffering from project saturation and going impotent in the face of it.  Deadlines are drawing near on a bunch of schoolwork and I have so much that I want to write about for FYMP that I was all thrust and no vector and getting nothing done as a result.  Further depressing.

I finally made a step in the right direction by putting the computer away and deciding to go for a walk.  Walking down the coast of the Sulu Sea, I spotted a Starbucks.  Yeah, a drip coffee is somehow the equivalent of US$3, but screw it, I want coffee.  With my hot coffee making me even sweatier than I already was walking around in this humid oven, I kept trundling down the seawall.  I started screwing around by balancing on the edge, jumping back and forth over the ditch, hoping a few rocks.  Nothing significant, but the additional movement along with the walk was helping me to get my mind off of stuff.

That’s when I suddenly recalled a technically inconclusive yet operantly encouraging study I read while doing “research” earlier in the day about brain activity during a walk through a city vice a park.  Basically, and spoiler alert, walking in nature is better for you.  Shocker.  This in turn led me to my self reminder:  Move, Matt.  I had also made promises to myself and others that I would MovNat the hell out of Borneo.  Next thing you know, the only thing I could think about was killing my coffee and finding a trash can.

I succeeded in killing the coffee, but couldn’t find a trash.  Of course I’m not going to litter, so screw it, I’m wearing adventure pants, I’ll just shove the trash in a pocket even if it is a bit wet with coffee.  That’s when I started going.  First it started as a slow jog down the actual wall of the seawall.  Then it grew in intensity and I found myself making a few leaps across some crags.  I kept reminding myself to keep my legs under me and not in front of me, especially since my Minimus and my socks were already wet (more on that in a future post).  That’s when I saw a sign for the wetlands preserve and decided to run there.

Long story short, I kept running.  Persistence style.  I had no idea where I was going and I let my goldfish attention span take over.  Up hills, down hills, ohheylookanotherpath, time to play a few minutes of pick up soccer with some locals, ohheylookstairs, and so on.  I was wearing my aforementioned “adventure pants” (long, cargo style) and a long-sleeved, button-down shirt.  But screw it, you don’t always get to choose when to run.

Finally, I made it back into Kota Kinabalu.  My feelings for my former coworkers and for all of the brave men and women who continue to do that job no less diminished, but a renewed appreciation for life gained.  The lesson I learned here is that no matter the specific circumstances, a little bit of movement can go a long way.  I ended up scratched, bruised, exhausted and so sweaty that I needed to take a shower with my clothes on (no way could they go without a wash), but I was in such a better place emotionally and mentally.  My contributions to FYMP will continue to explore this phenomenon and hopefully help as many people as possible improve their quality of life.