The Path Of The Righteous Man (Get Off My Lawn)…

Dear Graduate,

Well, you finished. You should be proud of all you have accomplished, and anxious to begin clearing your path. If you’re like many, you’ll be busy clearing that path before you ever begin defining it.

Of course your path be largely defined by the influence of others, whether you want it to or not. Ultimately, it is you who decides in what direction it will extend, and when it is to change directions, though you may not realize this until it’s too late. Remember, that path is not just to be aimed, but to be studied. This concludes my use of the term path.

On the occasion of your graduation some pretentious asshole will stand up and speak before your entire graduating class. He or she will offer words of caution, of optimism, and of inspiration. Because your parents and school faculty will be present, those words are likely to be tempered and sugar coated. I might use this platform to offer you some thoughts less sweet, which may help illuminate the road full of forks which you are about merge onto.

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Work, Bosses, And Co-workers…

The best job you will ever have is the one you just left, or the one you are going to next. Rarely will it be the one you are in right now. You may find yourself in some employment situations where you work for assholes, but love your co-workers. You may be in situations where you love your boss, and loathe your co-workers.

At some point these may intersect and you will despise everyone in your workplace. However, the winds may blow just right one day and you may find, if only for a moment, that you love everyone you work with. Enjoy those times, for they are as magical as they are rare.

Through it all, there will be times when you thoroughly enjoy the work that you do, but some of your time in the adult workplace will haunt you far beyond quitting time, and will disrupt your sleep on a regular basis. The older I get, the more I see this as being evenly balanced. Please remember though, that at the end of the day work is what we are here for, not retirement.

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Ultimately, if you can’t find a job that you love, or can’t learn to love the job you’re in, you may wish to create your own job and your own work environment. Of course even when one is self-employed, a job is still a job. Self-employment is no guarantee for happiness, but it can put you in better field position.

Relationships…

Above all things, life is about relationships. Little else in your life will matter more than the relationships you protect, except the ones you fail to protect, though you may not discover this until it’s too late. Appreciating the value of the relationships you maintain, and possessing the ability to understand why relationships so often change or deteriorate will be useful in finding your way in dark times and in light.

People, you will learn, are clearly beautiful. Just as clearly, they are complicated confusing, messy, and can be tiresome.   At some point everyone gets dirty, bruised, and ignored, and they will let you know it. That they will let this bleed into a relationship only makes them human, not disposable.

You may be married someday. If you are, that marriage may be wonderful, tolerable, or tragic. If it’s like many marriages, it will hold elements of all of these. It may also include divorce. Divorce, I have learned, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the marriage. Conversely, a sustained marriage does not necessarily state quality in a relationship.

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Before marriage and beyond, there will be other relationships. Many of these will start off with promise, but will quickly dull. Others may end with you never really knowing why they ended, and wanting for more. You may ask yourself at some point; how many soul mates does one get…? At best, that question can create knots in one’s stomach. At its worst, it can paralyze you to a point of emotional stagnation.

Marriage or partnership, if you are fortunate to find the right one, and are able to ride it out for the very long term, it will not be without your share of sacrifice and second guessing. In relationships, it is best to wake up each day and do what you believe is correct that you win the day, even if it contradicts what you did the day before. That ideal by the way, can be superimposed over just about any situation or dynamic in life.

Loss…

You will have friends and loved ones who will get ill and recover. You will also have will have friends and loved ones who get ill and die. Nothing can prepare you for the shock you feel when a friend or loved one dies unexpectedly.  There isn’t anything you can do to prepare for how to handle this when it happens, but it will happen.

When it does happen, use these instances as perspective to better appreciate your own life, and those relationships who remain in it. Disease and loss never make sense, but they can make you appreciative anything and everything else that much more.

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Money And Freedom…

There will be times when you have money, and you will feel an overwhelming sense of security that fits you like a warm cocoon – don’t get used to it because it’s not likely to last. Other times you will be broke, question many of your spending choices, and it will seem like the end of the world. It won’t be the end of the world, though it should be the start of a new behavior.

At best, money is a useful tool that is necessary to experience any level of personal freedom. Personal freedom though, as most people know it, is an illusion destined to distort and disappoint. Ultimately freedom means not doing the goose step down Main Street, and the proper use of money can help you avoid Main Street altogether – the road less traveled.

Lessons Learned…

There are lessons to be learned in every moment, every circumstance, and every conversation you will ever have. Of course, you won’t find those lessons if you are not looking, you won’t hear them if you are not listening, and you won’t benefit from them if you are not receptive.

Perhaps the most fruitful lessons you can hope to learn are those you will learn from watching others. Being a conscious witness to the joys, tragedies, triumphs, and misfortunes of others is often the best way to assure your proximity to them.

Creativity…

If you can incorporate some level of creativity into your daily work, or find some level of creativity buried within it, your life will surely be warmer. If there seems to be no room for creativity in your workplace, finding a creative outlet beyond he workplace will help keep you whole, if not sane – especially in difficult times. Creativity is a gift we all possess, but very few take the time to explore or to enjoy.

I am reminded of the most formative movie line I know, written by John Hughes for the movie, She’s Having A Baby…

“In the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, that I was loved more than I loved, and in the end, I realized that what I was looking for was not be found, but to be created.”

That this was recited by Kevin Bacon, makes it that much sweeter.

You will be the creator of every single one of your days. I ask you rhetorically, what kind of day will you create today, that will be acceptable to you tomorrow…?

Children…

I’ll suggest only one hard rule in all of this: If you go on to have children, please don’t shelter them from the realities of life. Expose them to the beauty in life of course, but don’t screen them from the harshness and messiness of it all. Expose your children to life as it comes and teach them, as best you can, how to accept it. Be honest with them – all of the time. Dishonesty with our children is the cause for more social decay than anything else.

Expose your children to who you really are without fear – regardless of how it may make you look in their eyes. Be humble when you are wrong, don’t gloat when you are correct, and when their names show up on caller ID, don’t ever let the call go to voicemail.

I wish you luck. Now get off my lawn!

Sincerely,

Still Learning

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Please check back n a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Dead Daisies.  Enjoy…

From Oddity To Commodity

Cleft Values…

The more available a commodity becomes, the less value it usually holds. Muscle seems to follow that axiom. At a time when lean muscle mass is more accessible and more prevalent than ever, I’ll suggest its value, in the way it is appreciated by its possessor and by those in the periphery, is on the decline.

In this era when round triceps and striated deltoids are the desired look for the 18-24 year old bro set, I liken muscles to cubic zirconia; readily available, the cheaper the better, fake is ok as long as it looks real, and at the end of the day it’s usually ill-used and underappreciated. Muscle has become a young man’s bobble.

What most attracted me to recreational bodybuilding in the 1970s was the rareness of human muscle as a commodity. The contrary nature of cleft muscle in a sea of otherwise ordinary beings was so compelling to me that I would build my entire life around attaining and preserving it. And because it has been a calling for me, I have never allowed myself to take it for granted.

It’s Time To Meat Up…

I currently split my workouts between my own studio, and a typical commercial gym in a nearby suburb. On any given week more quality physiques pass through that gym than existed in the entire city of Denver in 1977. That’s not an exaggeration. I see outstanding physiques on bros and buddies alike that would rival the competitive physiques at the highest levels in the 1970s.

Most of the physiques I see in this gym are not competitive bodybuilders. They are simply competitive followers, who wish to have what all the other young men have – even if they don’t understand what it does or why they want it.

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We first came to appreciate superhuman physiques with our superhuman heroes; Tarzan, Conan, and later on The Hulk, Superman, and GI Joe. Each new generation seems to have added a layer of muscle.

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Later on, superhero physiques with even greater proportions could be found in the ranks of the NFL, the UFC, and even the NBA became has become a domicile for action figures.

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Today ornamental muscle transcends sports. Actors, news anchors, and even comedians commonly display physiques that 30 years ago would have been considered out of the ordinary if not world class. Our social expectations have evolved that we equate muscle to male relevance. This often makes me wonder; what might we equate a lack of muscle to…? That question haunts me, ongoing…

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Earning Is Learning…

Clearly I’m not against the achievement or even the display of muscle. Cultivating functional and aesthetically pleasing muscle has been my occupation, my vocation, and the most grounding influence in my life. What it is that gives muscle a place of such esteem for me, comes down to a single word – appreciation. I appreciate the musculature of my body. Not just for how it looks, or how well it functions, but because I appreciate and enjoy the process of using and preserving it.

When I talk with young men in the gym I often hear of the pain, the suffering, and the long hours associated with making meat. Suffering…? Suffering is finding out your kids is dead. The tactile act of repeatedly extending and contracting my triceps, even to the point of a slight burning sensation is a luxury, but is nothing I grieve over. Long hours in the gym…? I’m done in 45-50 minutes. Pain…? My workouts help keep all those pains associated living everyday life at bay.

Despite my occasional suggestions otherwise, I regularly witness methods of exercise which defy science and logic, yet they have become central to the acquisition of muscle. The potential for physical and emotional injury seems to increase with every new bad idea. From excessive muscle overloading to squatting on a phisio-ball, there is much I just can’t reconcile with science, let alone common sense.

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Accidentally Jacked…

To me the biggest disconnect that I regularly see with young men and strength training is that they rely heavily, if not exclusively on blindly following others who blindly follow others, rather than exploring their own abilities as it relates to their physicality. They fail to connect their minds with their bodies.

Many of the young men I see boasting that meat-nouveau have attained it with little consideration for how they got there or what it’s really worth. In a frustrating irony, bad ideas, youth, and good genetics can still combine to create good results early on. A willingness to lean on extreme supplementation and pharmaceuticals can accelerate this process with even less thinking involved.

While youth, good genes, and drugs may combine to build a decent physique in the short term, to have intelligently pursued and acquired a lifestyle of well used muscle is a path of exploration worth knowing. For me, this quest has provided the foundation for all the subsequent intellectual journeys I have taken.

Possessing muscle in the long-term is a commitment that I’ll admit can sometimes be a burden. The dividends though, far exceed the investment for those willing to learn as they earn. I’ll also say that possessing muscle is a responsibility. It should be carried with dignity, used with respect, and displayed as art, not as something to be worn at spring break with a pooka shell necklace. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button in my head.

Oh, and there’s this: To this day, the biggest grossing private event held at the Whitney Museum Of American Art was to raise funds for the movie Pumping Iron. Today we can see comparable physiques in any gym in the country.  Sad…

Function Follows Form…

From Strength Comes Wellness…

I have dedicated much of my adult life to championing the utility of strength training. Not just as a means of making muscles bigger and prettier, but because I understand the values of wellness associated with it. Strength training provides benefits that few people recognize, though most everyone would appreciate them. In no particular order, these are among the leading values of strength training:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved balance
  • Enables better fat loss than cardio (please repeat that one over and over again)
  • Personal confidence
  • Enhanced strength outside of the gym
  • Slows down the inevitable loss of bone density

They key to maximizing these dividends is in being deliberate in one’s actions once inside the gym, and not just going through the motions.

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But Few People Care To Know…

A lack of optimal execution in strength training is the largest reason why people don’t obtain the benefits that come with lifting weights. Attention to proper strength training form can not only accelerate benefits, it can guarantee them. A lack of results and the related dings, pings, and injuries which can be associated with strength training done incorrectly, often lead to a state of disdain for the gym, yet people often continue to go anyway as something they feel they should be doing – because so many others are doing it.

Poor strength training form is so widespread that I often believe it will never be overcome as a cultural phenomenon. I will suggest that more than 90% of a gym population at any one time is working less than optimally toward their goals and related benefits, and in many instances they are working far below a fruitful outcome.

A generations deep copycat gym culture has assured that proper strength training form is scarcely utilized by the masses, leaving strength training’s greatest potential; to be a viable form of wellness as well as disease & injury prevention, largely unfulfilled.

A recipe for success, yes...?

A recipe for success, yes…?

What is most striking about the lack of attention people give to proper form with the weights is that it is almost exclusive to strength training as a form of exercise. In yoga and Pilates, for example, the underlying focus of any practitioner, be it in a class or done solitarily, is to master the form – regardless of how much time is involved in doing so.

Martial arts works much the same way. A good sensei will only advance a student who demonstrates exceptional form in a kata. If that form is not met, the student must return to practice and test again later.

In strength training though, the next step to advancement is usually nothing more than the ego based decisions  to add weight or increase repetitions regardless of form, because it is assumed that in strength training progress comes exclusively from more, not from improved.

A recipe for success, yes!

A recipe for success, yes!

There’s More Than One Way To Be Poor…

I see examples of poor strength training form daily, often to the point where I feel the blended emotions of sympathy, disgust, and frustration – simultaneously as I walk about my local gym. By far, the two most common violations I see are fast repetitions, and partial repetitions.

Fast repetitions: There is a widespread misconception that speed in strength training translates to explosiveness. On one level this is true, notwithstanding that of the many values of strength training, explosiveness should not be high on the list for the middle aged businessman or the new mother wishing to lose her baby weight.

When athletes train for explosiveness, momentum is an underlying element to their training. As momentum and force increase, the opportunity to become injured increases proportionately. Most athletic injuries are caused by forces upon musculoskeletal structures that exceed the structure’s tensile limits.  This means injury is caused by excessive force or excessive motion. What could be more excessive than repping out in the loose form that most people use when lifting weights…?

Partial repetitions: Though less dangerous than fast repetitions, partial repetitions offer little benefit with regard to strength and functionality. An unrecognized value in strength training is tendon strength. Tendons are where muscles taper, increase in density, and fuse muscle to bone. Having strong tendons offers joints better support. For balance, day-to-day agility, and functionality, having strong tendons is as important as having strong muscles.

Tendon strength can best be increased in the gym when exercises are taken through a complete range of motion. Partial repetitions keep load on the muscle bellies with minimum engagement of the tendons. However, when muscular extensions (negative reps) are complete, it is the tendon that bears much of the load prior to a subsequent contraction. These full extensions help strengthen tendons, offering joints more support outside of the gym.

Function Follows Form…

Despite the popular engineering edict to the contrary, in strength training function follows form. That is, the better form a group of muscles exhibits during strength training, the better they are likely to perform outside the gym where they are needed most. Ask me what I do for a living and my answer is simple; I teach proper form in strength training. Anything beyond that is secondary. A few basic concepts worth noting:

  • Range of motion = flexibility.
  • Eliminate momentum in a strength movement = reduce the chance of injury.
  • Concentrate on the primary muscles involved with a lift = create a greater awareness (intimacy) with one’s muscular skeleton.
  • Improve control of a weight in motion = improve the body’s command of itself.

Still, it’s simply enough for most to walk into a gym, do some pushing, some pulling, perhaps some bending and squatting, and do so in a haphazard fashion with the exclusive goal being to increase capacity or quantity.  To me this is similar to sitting down to a pricey meal and eating it quickly while washing down every bite with a swallow of a soft drink. What’s the point…?

Which makes more sense, this…?

Or this…?

To this day, before I add weight to any movement or attempt more repetitions, I always ask myself, “Could I have done that last set any better…?” Only if the answer is no will I attempt to increase my load or capacity.

The execution of proper form, in my opinion, should be the highest priority in determining improvement with strength training.

With Benefits Comes Enjoyment…

I hear regularly from people that they strength train because they feel they should or because their doctor suggested it, often followed by, “but I don’t really enjoy it”. If you fall into that category, please consider this: I take pride in teaching people to actually connect with strength training – often to a point where it becomes transformative and meditative – a necessary part of their weekly routine.

The perfect repetition, and all the benefits that go with it is anyone’s for the taking. It’s not always easy. Moving weights properly can burn at times, and there can be mild discomfort in the moment. I will suggest though, that on completion of a set – of a workout in this fashion, there can be an exhilaration and sense of cleansing that is just as powerful as yoga, Pilates, or going to church.

The singular repetition of a strength exercise executed in proper form, through a complete range of motion, and dialed into with absolute concentration, is as cleansing to me as a breath of fresh air. For that one moment, I am alone in a perfect state that transcends time. I am not even aware that there is a world beyond my repetition, let alone beyond my workout. That I get to repeat this state over again daily, weekly, and yearly, and to know that it comes with the benefits of improved wellness, is among the greatest gifts I have known as a physical person. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from the genius of Corey McAbee. Enjoy!