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Training and confused realities

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Where there is money to be made, the confusion mongers will flock. The training, or dare I say it, “fitness industry”, is no exception. These marketing vultures are “skilled” however, in their tactics and sadly, as is commonplace in the age of hyperconsumption and hedonism, people are easily suckered in to the cauldron of sugar syrup and bouncy blue balls. Let´s take a look at 5 common fallacies, many of which are becoming so mainstream, that a fish finger is in danger of being accepted as a fish. It´s time to get aware and swim against the current.

1. Functional Fitness

Whoa, baby! a world full of function, imagine that! The “idea” that seems to becoming mandatory fodder for anyone “serious” about their “workouts” is corporate corn syrup. Suddenly, an entire industry has been formed full of rubber-coated tires, pink balls, adjustable rope and expensive tape. To be really “functional”, a pair of shoes, pitch-fork and strong will power just will not do! No! you have to join an expensive gym, buy the entire kit to say you have joined the expensive gym and kit your home out with expensive rubber shit that comes with a DVD! Functional fitness, they say, means buying into so much confusion, that by the time you decide which pair of florescent shoes your next workout demands, you´re so exhausted that you decide it´s more optimal to suck on the recommended zone recovery shake, with its “active” ingredients for progressive performance.

What it ought to mean: You see, to really “function”, we need to be mobile, strong and “antifragile“, to borrow from Nassim Taleb, and know what gets in the way of being this way. Complexity may have enabled us to put a man on the moon and replace hearts, but its also made us lose sight of the actual simplicity (not ease) of training; hard work and thoughtful utilization of all your energy systems. Functional does not mean being completely overwhelmed with needless “choice”. What is “new”, is usually just rebranded “old”. If you want a living incarnation of what to do, for you, check out rosstraining.com

2. “This amazing (insert any hyped product here) takes the guesswork out of your workout, bringing your performance to new and improved levels!”

What utter garbage. Salesmanship 101. Making people “believe” that their results have stagnated, or cannot be achieved unless they buy into the “latest and greatest” tool. You see, marketing folk prey on people´s gullibility, and their propensity to want to believe. Yes, it´s a legacy of the gospel of doom. Your life will not be any “better” with your new DVD set.

What it ought to mean: Look, performance, or “results”, whether it be fat loss, strength gain, hypertrophy or even the elusive “condition”, are predicated on people working hard on following a dedicated regime of energizing their mind and body through work and recovery. Many factors play into optimal performance naturally, but stripping away the unessential, the sugar-coated packaged commercial “must-haves”, lays out a manageable, tried and tested platform to work from. No single tool you´ve been duped into signing up for is going to take the place of diligent curiosity and hard fall-down-get-back-up work. On the contrary, the more clutter you surround yourself with, the greater the odds you´ll fall back into the chair and biscuit jar.

3. By strutting about in the same multi-coloured trainers, tights and runner tops as everyone else on the Instagram #awesome, I´ll give off the vibe that I am so committed to the “fitness” lifestyle

Well, I may be cynical, but there´s an ocean of difference between those that “workout” and those that train. For the commercial interests however, they´d rather the blurred lines, and lump everything into the category “fit is fun!”. In fact, they would rather you spend more time actually kitted out in their brands and letting social media know all about it, than actually doing the work. No pair of tights will make you lift those weights, and no thought of others thinking you actually lift those weights, will make you lift those weights.

What it ought to mean: Ok, I understand the allure of a new pair of shoes, and once had a pair of tights. But at the end of the day, surely your training should be about how you feel and perform both in and out of the gym? (aesthetics usually follow if you´ve got things in order) Ironically, if your image is so important, you´d benefit more by setting aside time to get your ducks in line, and then actually reaping the benefits from your #awesome IG selfies.

4. Training should be “fun” yo!

Well, let´s step back a little here. Is life a box of roses or does it continually throw sand in your face? Sure, you can find fun times in your training (heck, you should!), but with hard work, comes tough times and a fair bit of soul searching. It´s a process, like life itself. It´s a test and a mighty big paradox. Don´t let anyone tell you otherwise. Fun is the commercial sugarline to hedonism. If it isn´t providing an instantaneous flow of gratification, dish it and try something else. Your well-being isn´t a priority here sunshine. I have actually seen players in the “industry” selling their product as providing “all the benefits of traditional training, but only fun, without the hard work”. Don´t mix things up.

What it ought to mean: Once you manage to reappraise the way your training becomes a part of your everyday existence, the fun can by all means be an integral side effect (or, you can just gauge this by your hormones). Pull up your socks and chug some RedBull, then get back to the farmers walks. There are even ways of making them fun. Do them naked.

5. But remember, “moderation” is the key to success!

Aaggghhh. Can´t stand that M word. Firstly, because it´s used as an excuse for avoiding hard, consistent, thoughtful work and secondly, it´s the darling of the corporate world who thrive on a confused, apathetic, restless, hands-in-the-sugar-bowl public. To the commercial world (gyms included) M means avoiding the gym, as the ideal GloboGym membership scenario and losing focus on consistent programs by adding in external distractions. This M word needs some serious shake-up. It implies your training lifestyle is a burden. It is not. Distraction is.

What it ought to mean: Once you work out that a healthy training lifestyle is to be enjoyed and implemented each and every day, you will reconsider what moderation means for you. It could mean, for example, spending the day after a hard metabolic session, or an 8hr mountain walk, practicing some yoga and breathing sequences, some joint mobility, some journal updates, some squats, some gardening… whatever it is! anything but the slump in the chair with a bowl of sugar-pops kind of moderation. Where did that come from, and why do people associate this with moderation? Surely, a reassessment of the M word could result in something like 2 eggs instead of 4 not 2 steps forward, 4 steps back.

Summary

What´s the key takeout here? Question any claim that tells you how to take your training to “new levels”. The problem is, most of these claims are carefully crafted to tap into the inabilities modern society has to understand the difference between the quick consumer fix and years of diligent, persistent, experimental, reflexive work. Who do people think they are! Suddenly, centuries of empiricism becomes irrelevant and a can of sugar takes its place! Aristotle would have been aghast. A successful and progressive training lifestyle need not only be a solitary affair spent out in the rain lifting items you´ve found at the dump, day after day after year after year. Well… No, it can actually be a communal endeavor, with events, actions and innovations (and Facebook groups) to make your experience even more fulfilling. Each to their own. What I´m saying, is that training, like life itself, ought to be a constant learning experience you yourself ultimately have the final say in developing. Seek out people with real life experience and see what your take out can be. Maybe nothing, maybe some small aspect you can incorporate. But be vigilant and don´t let commercial interests steal not only your hard earned cash, but the most essential asset you have: your time and health.

Think. Eliminate. Move. Practice. Enjoy.

 

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(Grip) strength training with kettlebells – the 48kg Beast

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Kettlebells are not usually associated with pure strength training, but are so versatile that they can be used in conjunction with more traditional methods using heavy barbells, for example. Here, I list a few of my favorite exercises that can provide strength benefits when using heavier kettlebells, such as the 48kg “Beast”. Note that these relatively common and simple movements are useful for higher volume, lower weight training as well, and it’s advisable to build up a solid work capacity with lighter weights, before attempting to pick up heavier bells and focussing on strength. Start off with the 12kg or 16kg and work in a higher rep range (10-20) and gradually move up (20kg, 24kg etc) when you can complete these reps with the same form, on both hands. Don’t jump the gun with strength training, be patient, it’s a lifetime endeavor. Oh, and don’t attempt these with the 48kg until you’re completing at least 6-8 reps with the 32kg. The 48 is a wonderful tool, but doesn’t allow for any error, so be careful!

1. The 2-hand swing

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This has to be the kettlebell movement número uno and for good reason. It’s the first movement you should master, and the movement you should not let slip from you training routine. With heavier weight, really focus on holding your shoulders down and squeezed into your lats throughout the movement. Hinge at the hips, don’t dip down into a squat. Keep your spine enlongated and contract your hamstrings, glutes, abs and lower back at the bottom of the swing as you drive through with the hips. Remember, the arms should be relaxed, not locked out, as this can initiate anterior rotation of the shoulders, which isn’t good! As with any exercise using weights, the head should follow the alignment of the torso, in a neutral position, throughout the full range of movement. Never arch the chin up or dip it down. I use the 48 in sets of 10-12 reps as part of my grip strength training. Usually 5 sets. The sequence of movements is extremely important here, you need to familiarize yourself with the swing to know precisely when to incorporate tension, and when to relax. One arm heavy swings or hand to hand swings with the heavy KBs are great too, just make sure you chalk up and have strong fingers!

2. The suitcase deadlift

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Stand with feet about hip width apart and the kettlebell beside one foot. Keeping your back straight lower down with your hips and bend the knees grasping the handle. Keep the feet flat and shift your weight to the opposing foot as you drive up with your glutes and quads in one fluid move. Don’t let the lower back round. With heavy weights, you’ll need to adjust your alignment slightly to maintain balance, but aim to keep hips level. Single leg, offset strength movements are super beneficial, and very much underutilized. Remember that the body is never always following linear movements, so learn to strengthen not just your body, but your motor patterns which react to offset alignment.

3. One arm deadlift with 1-2 kettlebells

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Place both kettlebells between your legs and wrap your hand around both handles, which overlap. Squeeze tightly as you drive up using your quads and hips to a straight leg position. Keep your shoulder packed in, not allowing it to fall forward. Exhale as you come up. I find it easier to place the heaviest kettlebell underneath, in this case it’s the 48 with younger sibling, the 44. Of course this movement can be done with one kettlebell, with one or two hands.

4. One leg deadlift – contralatereal with 1-2 kettlebells

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Place the kettlebell(s) in front of your right foot with your left leg lifted off the ground behind you as a counter balance. Grip the kettlebells with your left hand and keeping your back straight, lift straight up. You may choose to lightly touch your left leg on the ground if you need the balance. But no weight is placed on the opposite leg. Note that there’s a slight knee bend but not excessive. Another version is the ipsilateral deadlift where you are standing on the right foot, and gripping with the right hand. Slightly harder, with similar challenges as the suitcase version. These single leg movements are great diagnostic indicators for imbalances, especially in the hips and ankles.

5. Racked squat

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Everyone should be squatting, not just for strength training purposes. Learn to get comfortable in a deep, rested squat by squatting in a deep rested squat position EVERY DAY!! The squat is a fundamental and natural human position that has been severely compromised by the sitting culture. Don’t contemplate, just squat! With heavy weight, ensure your back is kept straight with hips low and feel flat. Your knees should be tracking over your feet throughout the movement. You’ll need a fair bit of strength to hold the KB in one hand, so you may choose to use your opposing hand to stabilize the KB. Staying in the squat for time, is another great isometric position that will blast your grip, shoulders and thighs. Using two kettlebells in the double rack is a further progression with the squat. I like to use the weighted vest for squats, but found it tough holding the 48 in the rack!

6. Bottoms up clean

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One of my favorites. Handle facing forward, you line up like a normal one arm swing. The key here is to quickly engage your elbow with your lats and squeeze virtually the entire body at the top of the movement. Don’t let your arm disengage from your body, either in front or to the side. The forearm and wrist must be straight up and down and really tensed maximally. Try to hold for 2-3 seconds, then relax and let the KB drop down into the normal swing. This is a fantastic movement, really incorporating so many elements of strength, balance, timing, tension and coordination. Get used to completing 6-8 stable reps with light weight before attempting heavier. Once you’re proficient, you may want to try with two KBs, swinging either inside or outside your legs. Take your time, and learn how to bail out if you lose your grip at the top!  Another progression would be the bottoms up press. Obviously not with the 48! Or… anyone?

7. Figure 8

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With this exercise, you crouch slightly with wide stance, keeping back straight and trying to maintain a stable and solid grounding, so that the body takes the tension as it is transferred throughout the body. A great full body challenge this one, and another favorite for grip strength. You’ll note that I grip the handle in the corner, so as to make it easier in the transition behind the opposing leg. With the heavier weight, you’ll need to work hard at getting a flow on, nothing jerky. I aim for 6-8 rounds here each set. This one is surprisingly taxing on the back. So perhaps not straight after deadlifts! Great for dynamic finger strength, so major carry overs for pulling, hand balancing etc

8. Half get ups

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Ensure you have a strong overhead lockout with the kettlebell in a standing position before trying in a lying position. Bend the leg on the same side as the KB. Assist the KB up whilst lying on your back with the opposing hand. Don’t try and wrestle it into position unassisted. Not good. Once it’s stable, really engage your stomach and back and attempt to drive the KB skywards keeping your eyes locked on the KB. First come up onto elbow then hand trying to extend the distance between both hands. Hold 2-3 secs then controlled lowering back to elbow and to lying. Please use the opposite hand to lower the KB to chest, then roll to your side letting the KB to the ground. Do not lie flat and let the KB fall to the ground. Because this is a slow and controlled movement, use only 3-5 reps each arm. The locked position is maintained throughout the entire set. Once you are comfortable you can progress to the full Turkish get up.

9. Farmers walk

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Nothing more simple and more effective for strength and hypertrophy than lifting something(s) heavy and walking. Kettlebells are relatively convenient as they have nice uniform handles. I walk around the house, here with the 48/44, sometimes with a weight vest, sometimes up stairs, or just static holds for time. Sandbags, tires, barbells – use your imagination and get walking!

10. Extended range straight leg deadlifts

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I like to improvise with the stuff I have at home. Either with wide-stance straight leg deadlifts with the KB  or tire deadlifts standing on a block with reverse grip, again for extended range of movement.

Summary

These are merely a selected few staple exercises that I utilize heavier Kettlebells for strength training. There are of course many, many more, and no reason you can’t make up your own set of movements. As I mentioned at the start, work your way up to heavier weight training movements and get some help constructing a plan from someone experienced before you set out. Don’t just troll YouTube. For the majority out there, these movements can be utilized as part of a general strength and conditioning plan. For those already experienced with strength training, heavy kettlebells can be a great supplement to barbells. Personally, one of the noticeable benefits has been grip strength. Rarely does grip fail first when I lift barbells, climb trees, move tires, sandbags etc. I normally choose 3-4 of these exercises and perform 3-6 reps for 3-6 sets (per hand/leg). With the swings 10-15 reps for 5 sets and the farmers walk around the house, about 100m or 45 secs. Again, this is what works for me and my program. Your context will most likely be different. The 48kg will work for you, but treat it right. If you need a session or two with the 32 or a 24, no problem, the 48 won’t take offence. Like Bruce Lee said, take what’s useful, dish what’s not and come up with your own mojo.

This rep/exercise scenario with the KBs I combine with more explosive exercises such as sledgehammer strikes on the tire, tire flips, sandbag cleans, push-up variations etc. You may notice the weighted vest. This can be used for pretty much all the exercises as well as hill sprints, pull-ups, push-ups etc and for resting in the squat when reading, writing. Build up your strength and stamina before strapping one of these on, but when you’re ready, they are a great addition to your training arsenal. The one I have is a 30kg adjustable from Ompu, Sweden. High quality, with 30 separate pockets each holding a 1kg block so you can harden up over time.

With so many variables involved in strength training it’s important to know that no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach exists. Many programs have consistently worked, but all share a commonality in that you must work hard and quit with excuses. I like to keep things simple, and be consistent year after year. Most fall by the wayside however, and the so-called ‘fitness industry’ is there waiting with supple, moisturized hands to sooth the tears of apathy and offer a quick fix for 3 payments of $19:99. Start with an open mind, build resilience and a steely mindset and commit for the long haul. It’s advisable to proceed slowly, gain confidence with the movements, starting off with NO WEIGHT at all, then moving up. Progressions take time, strength is a lifetime investment. Let me know what you think.

Be patient. Be smart. Be curious. Be strong.

 

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Anthropology – wrestling life´s architecture of containment

ImageAs an anthropologist, life becomes embroiled in comparision. Everything must have an alternative context through which we can seek an empathetic or critical glance at a range of aspects relating to what it means to be human. In other words, things are not stable, but constantly in flux – our systems of thought, our political, religious, ideological processes of expansion or containment. We adhere to principles of non-adherance. We do this through a set of (fluid) methodologies which (we believe) enable us to contemplate humanity through holistic understandings. Long-term fieldwork, the sine qua non of the discipline, remains the tried and tested approach to the challenges of alterity, or what we can gauge by comparing the drastic or subtle nuances involved in fundamental human practices. We think, we move, we love, we fight, we create, we acquiesce, we are born, we die, we interact, we destroy, and we seek meaning through a variety of sources. This is what makes the human species so fascinating – different approaches to the mundane, different outcomes – or maybe not. Maybe the longue duree of evolution has become so daunting, that to us, this reflection and its acceptance, thrusts us into increasingly confined spaces where we seek solace in our fear of this awareness and the challenges life presents?

Yes, the anthropologist is the Leatherman philosopher. At once aware of diversity, applying a set of tools in order to unlock life´s mysteries, but always aware of the fragility of their construction, and the imminency of their potential reconstitution.

For most, reflection, and an openness to tackle such fundamental questions relating to ´what it means to be human?´ and ´how might things be different?` are challenges far greater than the confines of a sheltered life of fear or ´comfort´ provide. The great philosophers, stretching back to Plato and Aristotle, all knew this and most subsequent thinkers have sought (albeit in contrasting ways) to unravel these questions, and shed light on humanities´ desire to approach, but mostly avoid, their direct experiential appraisal through action (trial and error). In a contemporary setting, people shy away from questioning their beliefs, their choices, their actions out of fear for the apparent insecurities that will eventuate; What if s/he is not right for me? Is this career fulfilling? Do I believe in science and/or superstition? Is what I am putting in my mouth doing me more harm than good? Could a change in approach unlock certain anxieties that have prevented me from doing z, y or z? The list is endless – as are the possibilities we have for being more human.

People, again in a contemporary sense, reveal signs of what it means to be human, but from within the enclosed space of their anxieties. People are becoming caged animals, yet another tragic case of apes trapped in a sanctuary – made invisible by the ´freedom´of facebook profile updates telling ´the world´of their daring, their dexterity, their knowledge, and their visions through a photo of a plate of chicken and vegetables. People ´travel´ to the far corners of the globe (or the closest place with sun and cheap beer) for their ´experience´of diversity, unwittingly forging their further isolation through reinforcing unreflective dichotomies of ´difference´ – Oh, they we so poor, but all smiling. We helped them out by volunteering, showing them how they can escape poverty and now sponsor a family – it´s so great to be making a difference… etc. Yet back on safe ground, people climb back into their sanctuaries, slumping into their Ikea sofas, updating their profiles, filling themselves with sugar and HFCS, doing as the state tells them to do – reveling in the glory of wealth and hypermodernity.

ImageFreedom, as a fundamental instinct of the antropos, lies elsewhere. It is unbound. It lies not in a set of flow charts or indexes keeping us in a pseudo state of harmony – Oh how lucky we are!

Freedom exists outside any paradigms that cushion our increasingly flabby backsides and stress/diet-related illnesses. Freedom is a curiosity that leads to further awareness of our potentials as a species to live a life of co-existence in the vast glory of our global ecoscape. Freedom is not confined to those with the means to purchase a ticket to fly to the world´s ends. Nor is it limited for those severely inhibited by such structural constrains as war, and tyranny. It exists within a mindset and a moving body. Freedom is not an idealistic realm of the kombucha drinking yoga practitioner. Humans are but a minor aberration when seen from afar, at the mercy of our environments, garnished as we are, with this remarkable opportunity to participate in our stage in evolution. It makes acts of sloth, of adherence to commercialized ´wisdom´, to greed and ignorance of contrasting ways of life, to uncritical use of “better-worse”, “us-them”, or an early retirement of our exponential range of mental, physical and emotional capacities – all seem like such a slight on the winning lottery ticket we have been dealt to share in the vastness of our interconnected pathway. Our ancestors started to get things right, yet we´ve regressed.

Anthropology today works diligently at protecting this diversity, yet struggles to break free of its philosophical grounding in a world of Red Bull-fuelled instant gratification. The pregnancy of life´s meaning struggles to resonate when we turn to so-called scientific “truths” – uncritically rendered to us through multiple medias, states, and religious doctrines – each with their own projects of containment. You see, modern society is becoming constructed through an architecture of containment. We are being watched by big brother from all corners, whether we like it or not. Any attempts to stand outside the boundaries of “normality” will attract unwanted attention (and we´ll cease to get liked on facebook). This suits our further containment, despite our sanctuaries appearing in glossy magazines as expressions of our freedoms.

People need (a more public) anthropology. It remains stuck within itself however, an ironic isolation from the very tenants of the freedom and manifold it seeks to portray.

We can all be anthropologists. We don´t need an academic straightjacket. We are all indeed philosophers. There are no rules to this. We have it in us to seek knowledge, understanding and wisdom – but this only eventuates through an awareness and an openness to the fact that we are all unique, only as a species sharing the same planet, with similar desires for a “good life” – but lacking the tools to break free from our confined zoological warehouses.

Great people only become iconic figures because they dare to try (and fail) where others fear. Beautiful movement, creative thought, empathy, love, work, curiosity and our unique capacities to amaze lie alongside our ability to hate, our obesity, our prejudice and our constant social media updates.

It´s the process that separates the eventual outcomes.

We are all unique apes and we could all do with stopping our lazy-arse ways reflecting upon how things might and could be and getting stuck into the pathways that lead us ahead.

 

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Ido Portal – keep moving

Movement nutrition: you get good at what you do, and what you don’t do

IdoHuman evolution has, and will always be, about movement. Evolution requires complexity, and complexity requires movement. Those that don’t move, tend not to evolve as well. They shit the bed. Avoiding the approach of the poop-man, we were constantly reminded, requires nurturing the freedom providing our amazing capacity to move well. Few people however, seek to move, both figuratively and literally, outside their limited zones of comfort. Ido Portal is certainly an exception. Having spent the past years travelling far and wide seeking out knowledge from some of the world’s leading trainers, in order to improve my own game as both an athlete and teacher, the chance to work under the guidance of Portal and his assistants was one I had long awaited.

In short, Ido Portal has devoted his life to exploring movement. With a background in traditional martial arts, he moved about trying to find teachers of movement, but only came across specialists, who, despite imparting knowledge, failed to solve the myriad of elements that comprise movement education – scientific, nutritional, artistic, mental, biomechanical and so on. Portal now travels the world expanding upon a culture of movement. Some short clips of the complexities explored can be found here. I joined a group in Copenhagen who, in Portal’s words, were interested in this “bigger picture”.

Joined by his 2 pupils John Sapinoso and Odelia Goldschmidt, an eager group of mainly athletes, teachers, coaches and therapists experienced first-hand the ‘Ido Portal Method’. This post won’t detail this method, but will provide an insight into the philosophy of movement. We were reminded at the start, that the weekend would provide more questions than answers. I’ve gone away from courses with this feeling before, but not in the sense Portal meant. His teachings were complex, but this is a guy who has spent his entire adult life researching, and practicing, the intricacies of human movement. Being able to perform a strict one-arm chin up is not in any sense ‘easy’. His methods were challenging, but only in the respect that he never once led anyone to believe that beautiful capacities of strength and graceful movement came without years of hard work. Processes were broken down, from the preparation of joints, to the basic building blocks of hanging and pulling, to moving on all fours – in order to convey the process and complexity of movement freedom, and, if performing a one-arm chin/handstand, of bodily super strength. Throughout the demanding series of practical segments, Portal oozed his passion for perfecting form and not allowing us to move on too fast.

A large part of the weekend was as much a lesson is how to dig deep physically to unleash the creativity and complexity of the human body through natural movement patterns, yet I found myself intrigued by the philosophical insights provided into the way freedom might be approached in these hypermodern times. A slight interlude first. I’ve spent much of the past year reading the contrasting works of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard alongside the more contemporary neorealist approaches espoused by Sloterdijk and Latour. Part of this deeper introspection has to do with long-standing questions relating to the reevaluation and questioning of the meaning and purposes of ‘being human’. Whilst travelling to Copenhagen for the course, I was reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra, my alternative to a Lonely Planet city guide. This masterpiece, however challenging it is to read, is a vision of what we all have within us to define, create, and become the masters of our own existence. Through a highly metaphorical and parabolic style, Nietzsche asks why an encroaching spirit of nihilism has led the world into a state of crisis, an emptying of human meaning, purpose and essential value? The ‘free spirit’ or the Übermensch is a vision of overcoming the passive nature of an unreflective humanity – decomposing (as today) in a blur of YouTube, androgyny and high fructose corn syrup. This free spirit, and will to cross the bridges retaining the anthropos in this hot-tub of sugar-laced apathy, need not dwell in the mind but ought to resonate within the physical being.

For most philosophers, and indeed I must delegate this lack of motion to fellow anthropologists, the investigation into (post) humanism, past and present, has lacked any sense of an active, performative oomph. But, perhaps my diligent return to German thought (a mere aside I thought from the French poststructuralist hold upon my weary reading eyes of recent years) was meant to direct me to Peter Sloterdijk. Very briefly, this brilliant mind, in all his roguishness (Socrates was right – ‘wisdom-roughlook’ – ‘cheese&ham’) sees this transcendence of man Nietzsche prophetically called for, as taking place through training, work, physicality and performance. In other words, practice becomes the ‘athleticism of the incredible’ a repetition of exercises that shape a world in which we take responsibility for self-actualizing our potentials and freedoms, away from the temptations to continue to base life on a Facebook ‘like’ or a belly full of frozen spam (and the $19.99 solution). My reading may have a slight bias, but essentially, philosophers who remind us that we are products of what we do, and don’t do, are welcome downloads to this movers’ library.

Step up Ido Portal.

Ido2Marketing yourself as a proponent of ‘movement culture’ takes some follow up. Not like one who espouses his/her skills as a specialist (Yoga, Zumba, aqua-jogging, Nordic walking etc). Portal had clearly gone beyond the ‘course handbook, monthly newsletter and periodic group class’ mandate of many of today’s ‘trainers’ in the world of ‘fitness’. In fact, the detail and variety of insight into the body he provided, was beyond what I had expected. Again, I’m not sure some trainers dumb down their schpeel for ease of flow, or out of pure necessity. I found the anatomy and physiology detail extremely useful, not only in a practical sense, but in the way cognitive processes rely on various ques that one may or may not be aware of. I for one, like to know what’s happening (or not) with my body beyond feeling ‘ok’ or ‘crap’ and small details to concentrate on when standing upside down, or up on the rings are crucial to the process of mastering certain movements. Many fallacies were put to the test, in straightforward, no bullshit ways. Ideas about stretching, nutrition, deloading, programming, safety, intensity to name but a few were presented in ways that I’m sure the majority of the participants wouldn’t have come across before. I certainly found it refreshing to hear a coach talking about the resilience and creativity of both the body and mind, in regards to injuries, complexity and intelligence. Anecdotes were given from athletes and trainers to accentuate ideas, refute others. I appreciated hearing, as an undercurrent to most of the instruction, that it was our own responsibility to find out what works for us as individuals, as opposed to the constant ‘one size fits all’ approach commonly force fed in the boxed-in commercially-driven ‘fitness world’. These ideas were for people who wanted to train, not exercise. I’m just glad nobody asked the fateful question relating to ‘but is it still ok if we eat shit and don’t train much on weekends’? I can only imagine what the response would have been.

For those who have followed Portal on the interweb over the years, you can’t help but notice the air of confidence/arrogance in the way he responds to (mostly) cyberwarrior comments and questions. This could just be an Israeli thing I thought. On the contrary, I found Portal affable, humorous and fully geared to imparting understanding built up over years of research and practice.  To justify the fees and the almost ‘exclusivity’ of his services would require this, but like few others I’ve had the pleasure to work with (Steve Cotter immediately springs to mind) the level of professionalism and the take-out for me personally entirely justifies Portal as being someone you ought to seek out if you’re interested in the ‘bigger picture’ relating to movement. Like a number of the philosophers, stretching as far back at the Stoics through the Renaissance, the revolutionary 19th century, Enlightenment’s secularism and through to the critics of modernity today, Ido Portal seeks to confront the fear of possible freedom, and the instinct for growth, independence and durability. His movement culture, or ‘method’ may be seen as a new realm of physical perspectivism, one seeking to overcome the limits of dualistic thought between the mind and body. We may not all have the desire to move as beautifully as the human is capable of, or even reflect upon the destructive forces of inactivity and acquiescence to external forces. Yet, the perspective Portal gives is based upon movement, and the creativity and joy it can bring. The world is knowable, but conditional to certain interests – if we can place movement at the forefront of a new set of values for the human being, then Portal, like Nietzsche and his prophet Zarathustra before him, will have played his part in the creation of what we might become.

 

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Chelsea FC and the beast of 2012

2012 has been one of the most remarkable years in the long history of Chelsea Football Club. From the sacking of Villas-Boas to the unlikely Champions League triumph in Munich to the demolition of Tottenham in the FA Cup final, followed by court cases and disciplinary hearings to the most recent managerial change – the sacking of club legend Di Matteo and the hugely unpopular decision to appoint Rafael Benitez as replacement. For fans, the year has been a test of resolve – like the thrill of a carousel ride. One moment you feel the body and mind delivering instinctive signals of emotive joy, the next the vomit from the kid seated behind lands slap in your face. So what defines a fan?

The most recent decision to replace Di Matteo with Benitez has caused Chelsea fans to vent their frustrations and anger through social media outlets and throughout pubs and workplaces across the globe. Along with this frustration concerning the ‘disconnect with the support base’ comes discourse surrounding who and what is a ‘real’ fan. This debate is ongoing, and exacerbated during dramatic moments in a particular club’s history. Some feel the need to advertise their allegiance, as if seeking approval for an identity they constantly seek to reaffirm. Some plaster themselves with tattoos, some keep their away ticket programmes, some continually mock opposition supporters, others mock each other due to their comments on particular players. The list goes on. Let’s try to simplify this.

As the global game, football is often seen as a mirror on society. It reveals a passionate and emotive response – a release that somehow gains legitimacy if associated with the beautiful game. It is this ‘living’ engagement that makes one a fan, or a supporter. It enables people to identify with one another, and identify with the ‘other’. It is about separation as much as integration. Generations follow the same team and continue to seek a belonging that reinforces their role as a ‘true fan’. This emotive response however, is as divisive as it is integrative. Just like any aspect of lived reality in a social setting, be it within a family, a community, a club or a nation.

Having supported Chelsea since I used to walk about in the 80s with Kerry Dixon’s #9 retro Le Coq Sportif strip (full kit of course) I’ve had ample experience of the fan experience. Being the best team was oddly not the initial draw to the club, it was the swagger of the style. The players in the 80s (Pat Nevin and Dixon aside) were not particularly good, but they optimized the lion on the badge. These days, if not in the family, it seems kids pick their team based on success and commercial exposure. I’ve experienced the wave of new fans following Chelsea since the 90s when Hoddle, Vialli, Zola et al began to deliver some real chance of success to the club. And into the 2000s when the titles (and Mourinho+Abramovich) were delivered. I moved to London specifically to attend home and away games, doing all it took to survive each week until the next match took place. It was about participating in as many experiences related to the club that mattered. I felt the nerve of being caught in the wrong back street in Nottingham one grim November, the elation of witnessing my first FA Cup final victory, the misery of a cold night out in Southampton having lost my way, in more than one sense. I considered myself an active fan. Over the years, my views have mellowed.

Moving away from London, chances to see Chelsea live are limited to the odd excursion (most recently ending up among the Barcelona supporters in the top tier of the Camp Nou to witness us reaching the Champions League final). Still, from afar, one has access to all the games online. Like human rationality in general, I sense that supporters will forever be split between the ‘success-based’ and the ‘club-based’ camps. The former set of fans I find more frustrating to deal with, but perhaps it reveals deeper characteristics related to unease and short-termism. These are the fans that slag a player off one week, and revel in his success the next. These fans are the ones who tell us we must back a player or a manager ‘no matter what’, as failing to do so shows our disloyalty. These fans buy the merchandise, attend the games, popularize the social media sites, slag off the opposition and in many ways become the public face and voice of the club. These fans are the ones who told us to ‘shut it’ when we expressed our displeasure of having AVB and Torres drag our team down, only to come out later saying how relived they are that things have moved on (the latter shortly I presume).

Then there are the fans who perhaps don’t voice their support as loudly, but make up the spirit of what initially drew me to the club some 30 years ago, and continues to hold a firm grip upon me. The ephemeral nature of football support is a lesson on how to face challenges, suffer, revel in the glory, and wake up each day knowing it will not change. Your shirt will always be the same. It is a lesson in life, how knowledge is gained and filtered through a myriad of experiences. It is each to his or her own as to how one defines a ‘true fan’ or a ‘plastic’. I don’t particularly care, and certainly do not see a fellow wearing Blue as an automatic friend. It may well be a quick avenue to that, but I’ve met some of the most heinous individuals who are supporting our club. Also some of my dearest friends. Chelsea will always be a big part of me, and I will continue to learn from the experiences the great club throws upon me. But like any aspect of life, one has the opportunity to choose their level of buy-in, and call that their form of commitment. Just like a family, a career or a philosophy one lives by to experience their own set of emotions.

#KTBFFH

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Chelsea FC, Football, Sport, Thinking

 

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MovNat Trainer Certification London 2012

Ask most people what their main association with “training” is and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some will refer to fitness, conditioning or strength gain. Others for goal-oriented performance or weight loss/gain. Most will compartmentalize their associations with physical fitness to “the gym” 3x per week, or a run on sunday, or maybe a course learning about a new product that “best” achieves one or more of their goals. Few, if not any, will tell you their “training” is about optimizing movement patterns for the contextual demands of their environment. Enter MovNat.

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Philosophy

I’d been following this fledgling physical education system from its initial beginnings a few years ago, impressed by the way it represented so much of what was missing from the increasingly specialized (and confused/unhealthy) element of modern day training methodologies. MovNat was not representing anything new, it was merely establishing a framework for focussing training as a way of being, or as a condition that has always allowed our bodies and minds to thrive through an evolved sense of adaptability. This non-specialized physical sense of being, through natural movement, allows for an optimized condition for whatever task we may encounter, rather than focussing on specific targets of weight loss or strength, for example. But what is natural, as opposed to unnatural?

If something is unnatural, does that make it less effective in our daily lives? Of course not. Modern humans are continually evolving in so many ways, but more often than not, in specialized ways. We seek a career, a hobby, maybe a partner and routines that give our lives a structure that allows us to forge our own path. But do we do things efficiently? Is being “fit”, “healthy” or “successful” etc a sign of our effectiveness in achieving certain goals? Maybe we can learn how to be more efficient with our lives, understanding at the same time the factors that make things less efficient or effective. Maybe we need ques to help us become more aware of how much potential we have.

MovNat explores these, and numerous related questions by providing ideas for expanding our enormous potentials, primarily through the teaching of ‘evolutionary natural movement aptitudes’ that are imprinted within us. These principles that include various locomotive, manipulative and combative skills based upon balance, posture, timing, relaxation, tension etc are often lost upon our newly adaptive physical condition that requires far less natural movement than we need as functioning animals. We sleep, we sit, we drive, we sit, we lie down, we eat poorly, we slouch and in between we make the odd effort to physically exert ourselves thinking we are making a huge difference. Our lack of quality movement is interconnected with other realms of life such as the way we nourish our bodies through food, through friendships, connections and visions of an integrated human nature.

MovNat has not reinvented the wheel. MovNat does not ask for 3 easy payments of $19.99 for the ultimate answer to be send to your postbox. Ideas of efficiency and adaptability have slowly become eroded by the rapid onset of commercial, complex and specialized life pathways so many of us are drawn into. Our bodies often respond in ways we are visibly aware of, but often in elusive ways; stress, discomfort, fatigue, sadness and so on. Does MovNat suggest that we all turn the clock and drop all our modern ways for a return to small foraging bands in sparcely populated areas? Of course not! This will never be the reality, so why live with such romanticism?

The teaching of natural movement is intended to give us all the competency to perform a whole lot better in practical life situations. Not just in our living room or in a hot and crowded gym, but outside in our natural environment. We need to run, to carry things, to jump, to throw, and in some cases maybe even to climb and defend ourselves if faced with danger. Why not learn how to do these things efficiently, and become aware of non-physical aspects of our lives (nutrition, mindfulness, kinship etc) that can be improved at the same time? MovNat is not competing against any system, other than our inability to seek an awareness of our deeper human potentials.

London MovNat certification

So, as a lifelong practitioner of a multitude of physical pursuits and nature lover, the chance to learn the MovNat system and incorporate it into my own life, but also teach it was always appealing. The London trainer certification lasted almost 3 full days. Candidates from all over Europe were in attendance, mostly with a trainers background in various sports, some already incorporating natural movement training. Vic Verdier and Joseph Bartz were the instructors and provided a wealth of knowledge and experience in an organized, relaxed, and at times amusing way. Joseph has a background in parkour training, and provided numerous examples of incredible body control, strength and grace of movement that left us amazed. His teaching was clear, methodical and humble. You could tell he was about natural movement, and both he and Vic were the kind of guys you would want to have on the sinking ship.

Without giving away too many of the “secrets” (hey, it’s more than $19.99 you know!) the days were spend inside the East London Gymnastics arena in Beckton and at the local park beside. We went through the skills and techniques that are encapsulated in the foundations of movement, including running, climbing, lifting, crawling, balancing and carrying. Days were indispersed with some of the more theoretical and philosophical aspects of MovNat that taught us the essential nature of adapting our movement to the environment we encounter.

Basic skills were shown in their stripped down version (something that is seemingly lost in most modern training settings and among most trainers) and more complex and challenging variations. Vic gave very interesting short lectures about lifestyle elements that most of us were familiar with, but somehow felt happy hearing reinforced once again. What stressors you place upon your body, and you abilities to recover have enormous consequence. Practical application of movement skills was always reinforced. Why do something? What use is this type of movement? People need to be told over and over again why they are training a certain movement. And it shouldn’t be about being “cool” or not, it should be practical.

Of particular value was the testing day where we were put through various skills tests, as well as placed in a teaching situation where we were tested on our abilities to impart knowledge. This is an element missing from many training camps I have been to – what use is the knowledge if you cannot simply and effectively relay your underatandings to clients? None. We spoke about methodologies, class structures, and the inevitable questions about how to cope with “that annoying student who wants to get wiped out at each training”. We know that our weaknesses first must be assessed, then efficiently transformed through proper programming and implimentation. Many of the participants were highly skilled individuals, but we all had our shortcomings. As a trainer, we need to be made aware of this. Through my kettlebell training, I know how important breathing, tension, balance and relaxation becomes when working longer sets with heavier loads. Again, I struggled with the almost instinctive use of strength to overcome these deficiencies I have in my own game. But I am aware, and was made more aware during the course, and will continue my path towards efficient movement.

The way ahead

Our bodies are not designed NOT to move. We can all improve through an awareness of how our cognition is embodied within us and is stimulated in so many positive ways through healthy movement. Our bodily kinetic intelligence is slowly being eroded by technology, convinience, disease, laziness and a general confusion as to how we can optimize our health. In all but extreme cases, the answer lies not in medical intervention, but in a sense of awareness and willingness to get outside and move to the beat of nature. We must move away from a reliance on the logical and rational side of our being, towards experimenting with the unconscious and intuitive. We have the choice to adapt to our office chair or tv-stare, or to extend our incredible potentials to see things differently. Natural movement is a great start, MovNat is waiting for you.

Special thanks to all the great course participants who, despite different backgrounds, shared an obvious passion for natural movement. Humans are social animals, and you all showed how this is such an integral component of enjoying the benefits of sharing knowledge in a training environment.

For more information on MovNat training in Bergen or elswhere in Norway for your business, family or training facility, please leave a message and I’ll get back in touch.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Thinking

 

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Alexander Dale Oen 1985-2012

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Alexander Dale Oen jokingly told me that he´d happily have my calf muscles to improve his starts, even though they may cause some drag in the water. I was telling him how his physique would suit kettlebell sport, more specifically the snatch, with his long arms and explosive hips. After the Olympics in London, he said, I could teach him more about kettlebells, but until then his coaches wouldn´t be too happy. I explained some of the movements and could tell he was genuinely interested.

Dale Oen had recently returned from Shanghai where he was crowned 100m breaststroke world champion. We occasionally met at my local gym, shared stories, joked and had a mutual appreciation of the science behind training. When I last spoke to Oen, we briefly mentioned London 2012, where he offered to try and sort me out tickets to the aquatic centre. I´d followed his progress from a shoulder injury and he seemed quietly confident he would be back in top shape come July. Sadly, just last week on April 30th, Alex suffered a suspected cardiac arrest whilst at a national team training camp in the US, and died, aged 26.

For a small nation like Norway, Oen´s death came as a massive shock. Few athletes have made it to the top of genuine world sports, and his humility and humble roots made for an extra outpouring of grief. He had, the nation well remembers, dedicated his world title last year to the victims and families of the terrible tragedies tat struck Oslo and Utøya on 22 July. In Bergen, the town he was born in and raised close by, the feeling was one of losing its most illustrious son.

As one who has dabbled in sports psychology, I had a particular fascination with the mindset of those elite athletes who seemed to handle the enormous pressures of training and competition to make it to the very top. I once shared a coffee with Alex after training, having recently returned from Solomon Islands where I had been working with elite footballers. There were many ways those players handled pressures, and I was interested in finding common threads, using previous studies of elite rugby league players in New Zealand as further comparison.

Dale Oen spoke of his continuous search for movement patterns that could make him swim faster. Training hard was something he had always been used to, and enjoyed. But his recent rise to the top of world swimming was due to new discoveries which he was sure put him at an advantage over his competitors. I had heard elite athletes talking about “that something extra” before, and even though few had given me a clear definition of what that was, I assumed it was connected to an unconscious pattern of moving beyond conscious and habitual performance. The skills elite athletes posses are often expressed in effortless ways, almost as a transcendence of the self. I had pondered a lot on this so-called “zone”, and never wanted to bore or confuse the athletes I´d spent time with all the literature. I was simply interested in what the “feel” was like.

With slight, but continual changes in his training and technique, Oen told me that on certain occasions (usually in training) he felt so effortlessly fast. This wasn´t the case when he won the world title surprisingly. “Not the perfect race by any means”, he said. I asked him what was unique about world champions, and I sensed his typical modesty when he explained that some athletes simply had a better capacity to eliminate inhibiting movement and interference that would slow them down, at the same time as they had found an optimal balance of training technique, volume and ability to fire at a very important moment. Hard work, he added, was a necessity even for those with supreme natural abilities.

ImageWe spoke about other sports and joked about my experiences in Norway, and my lack of swimming ability. Could I become a world class swimmer without shaving my body, I asked?. “I know a good waxer in Oslo”, Alex replied. But what about my chunky legs?, I said. “Just enter the 50m, jump from the blocks so hard that you reach the end in one breath!”.

I sensed Dale Oen had reached the top not only because of his natural talent, work ethic, and top coaching apparatus, but also his open mind when it came to learning how to possibly go faster. “I´ve met swimmers from all over the world, and listened to the way they talk about training and preparation. There is no single way to train, or do anything well. You just have to keep thinking, keep doing things, and learn when things go wrong”.

Dale Oen was optimistic and excited about London 2012, just as he was about getting some food after our chat, and finding out about my ´secret´calf-training methods. We parted ways, and said we´d keep in touch. Sadly, it was the last I saw of Alex. I will remember him as a champion not just of the swimming pool, but of the human spirt. He possessed qualities of warmth, humor, humbleness and humility and was fiercely proud of his birthplace and nation. He will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to be touched by his presence, but whose legacy will last for generations to come.

 

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