Respect for the Beginner

 

It’s natural for us as humans to want to compare, rate and rank. Now, let’s say you’ve been boxing and training for about a year. You now crave a good training session. The next few days after class your body no longer feels like it was hit by a car and will revolt against you any moment. Another human tendency, and one of our less admirable ones, is to gain a feeling of superiority by comparing ourselves to those less skilled. Remember you will always be a beginner compared to someone else out there.

Thailand Lessons

In Thailand over the course of 4 months I lived in a room underneath the gym at Sitsongpeenong Muay Thai Camp. I showed up to Sitsonpeenong with a couple of decades of experience, in shape (but still fat by Thailand standards), and 20 fights under my belt. However, compared to many of the Thai 16 year olds there, who will already have close to 100 professional bouts at that age, I was a rank novice. Also, fighters in camps such as the one I was at are usually there because there is no other choice for them and their family. Despite sweating all over the place, being comparatively a beginner with motivations most likely perplexing to someone fighting for survival, I was never treated with anything but respect. I strive to, although not always successfully, to remember this lesson in humility and graciousness.  

Back to New York

So, back to New York and group boxing classes. Even though you are now finding a “groove” there will be times when your motivation begins to flag. You might know exactly what to do at this point. “Jab,” “cross,” “slip,” and “weave,” are now all part of your vocabulary. You have all the right gear, you have a gym community, your comfort level is higher, yet still sometimes you might find it difficult to make it to the gym. Take a moment and think how much more of a challenge it is for someone new. Someone who feels awkward, doesn’t know anyone, and isn’t speaking the language yet. 

It’s Takes a lot of Heart to Begin

There is a difference between knowing because you’ve experienced something and knowing because you have been told something. If you have been in shape before, or used to be an athlete, you have a tremendous advantage over a beginner. You truly know that the results can and will happen with work, fuel, rest. The true beginner is venturing into uncharted territory with their body. In many ways what they are do is the more than just difficult, it’s courageous. They deserve our respect.

The Bloody Toothbrush Analogy

Regular exercise should be a habit. I understand that’s in an ideal world. Here’s a quick question: If you had a %90 percent chance of dying tomorrow what habits would you still keep? You would probably still want clean teeth, I’m guessing at least. So, take this in mind: It is purported by the historian Herodotus that the 300 Spartans (those people Kayne thinks are the Romans) passed time before the battle of Thermopylae by doing calisthenics, even though they were confident of impending death the next day. I’m not saying that level of exercise habit is realistic for most of us. However, just maybe skipping a workout to wait for January 1st or because Christmas is two days away is bullshit (especially in comparison).    

I try to remember that I enjoy working out, I always have. More so than enjoying it I see it as a non-negotiable. Exercise, if not actual structured training, is in the category of brushing my teeth. Now I try to be objective and remember to many people physical fitness is less like that and say more like say my Spanish CDs that are sitting around and might get vigorous use right before the possibility of a trip but otherwise lay unused. I mean, I haven’t finished them, and I bought them when people actually bought CDs!

Now to the bloody toothbrush analogy, I’m sure that brings up a lovely mental image, but I’m using it to drive home a point: exercise is like brushing your teeth. Steady and consistent wins the day, NOT “Beast Mode,” “training INSANE,” or other such silliness. If you skipped brushing your teeth for 3-4 minutes a day for 10 days would you try and catch up with a 40 min session of vigorous brushing? Basically when an untrained person comes up to me and says “I just started exercising and I’m doing 2 sessions a day, I can hardly move, it’s great!” My initial reaction would be the same as someone coming up to me with a bloody smile saying “just brushed for 2 hours, no cavities for this guy!” Yes, because you’re not going to have teeth soon. 

It’s not glamorous to start with modest goals. Also, much like sleep, you cannot back log exercise. Regular exercise, even 3 times 15 minutes a week, is great. I understand It’s not always glamorous to start with modest and achievable goals. However, I always cringe someone who has not been running in years, and is usually overweight, tells me they will be running a full marathon in 2 months. But that sounds so much more alluring than just committing to adopting better habits and sustained improvement over a lifetime. Start small. Start smart. If you can’t access or afford a knowledgable coach use resources that are science backed. Also, as a general rule gravitate towards the advice of those who aren’t trying to sell you a machine or product (especially those that seem too good to be true). It’s not glamorous. However, it also shouldn’t be expensive or that complicated. Start with a routine that is above all sustainable for life and minimize your visits to the orthopedic surgeon. 

 

Measuring Progress Versus Constant Variation

In this blog post I’m going to specifically focus on strength exercises and providing a counter point to proponents of constantly changing them, i.e. the good ole “muscle confusion” crowd. Although I am going to discuss strength exercises what I’m saying holds true for conditioning and sports as well. I would assume Michael Phelps probably swims more than once a week. Do you think his muscles are “confused” when he’s in the pool? Whether it's Usain Bolt at the track, or Gennady Golovkin on a heavy bag, athletes strive to perfect similar movements day in and day out. The best of them also include some cross training to balance out their bodies and prevent repetitive motion injuries. If you want the body of a well conditioned athlete, you should probably train like one. 

YOUR SQUAT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT

Perfect is not attainable, excellence is - but we will never be truly perfect at anything worthwhile. You will never “outgrow” the barbell squat, deadlift, overhead press, pull-up, etc. There will always be tweaks to get more out of the core lifts and movements. You can always gain by having a coach look at your benchpress. Once you start doing these “simple” movements you realize how infinitely layered mastering them becomes.  The statement that you “never outgrow the basics” is universally excepted by athletes in sports. However, sometimes I see this being forgotten in the gym. What are the basics? Universally speaking the movements (notice I said movements NOT muscle) of the squat, hip-hinge, push, and pull. 

A REASON YOUR TRAINER MIGHT NOT HAVE YOU SQUATTING OR DEADLIFTING

Quick disclaimer, a trainee might not be ready for these movements. In this article I'm specifically speaking about in shape, uninjured, reasonably fit clientele. A good deadlift, loaded carries (the farmer’s walk for example), and a good squat are true fitness “game changers.” Silly things done on a BOSU ball are not, even if your goal is weight loss. Weight loss is a condition of more work being done than calories entering the body, and very few exercises cause the body to work more than these three for example. However, these exercises take focus to learn. To be honest, a lot of you (not “you” you but that collective “you”) have the attention span of a gold fish. It’s easier to keep a low-commitment client “entertained” if things are constantly changing. 

Also, squats and deadlifts in particular take an experienced coach to teach. Not just someone who is the “rep-counter/gym babysitter” type trainer. Also, like anything rewarding, there is risk involved. If a trainer is only concerned with just making sure you are there to keep paying for sessions, your workouts might primarily be comprised of only low-risk and lower reward “entertaining” exercises. I see the same thing being done with boxing training. Clients being taught choreographed pad-work routines before they are anywhere near fundamentally sound to keep them entertained.

WHEN TO USE VARIETY

Most well thought out training programs include a phase that is some sort of General Physical Preparedness(GPP). At the base of the training pyramid is a period of acclimation to training, the body should be challenged in different ranges of motions, differing energy systems and rep-ranges. Accessory work, ("what is accessory work?" is a discussion for another time), is a perfect time to include some variation to keep things fresh. Also, there can be variation with in the movement itself (goblet squat versus barbell back squat for example). Changing rep schemes and rest periods can also be manipulated to keep things fresh. 

IN CLOSING

Training needs some metric to gauge progress: how many punches you can throw in a minute, mile run time, bench/squat/pull/press numbers. There is a place for variety. However, if you are constantly chaining exercises and don’t have quantifiable numbers measure progress you will always be just “exercising” and never training.  

 

Fighting Hurt: Your Best is an Illusion

I want to talk about going into the ring not %100. Walking into a ring or cage with the only thing between you and another human being intent on doing you bodily harm being the skills you’ve developed. You might be leading up to this even thinking “I’m worried I’m not at my best” I’m here to tell you not to worry, because your best is just an illusion anyway. I have in two decades of being involved in different facets of the fight game never heard someone win or lose a fight and then say: “everything in fight camp was perfect.” As athletes and humans our perception of what should be our best and what reality is will often be skewed. 

Right from the start I’m going to simply say stop. Everyone loves to talk about how mental the sport is, especially pundits who’ve never done it, so make it mental. You don’t have permission to be concerned about minor physical inconveniences.  You’re a fighter not powerlifter or a sprinter who’s life is dependent on “meso” and “macro” cycles to fine tune your body to then participate in a highly linear and predictable sport. You signed up for asymmetrical contest with numerous variables that in its essence would be a crime in any another circumstance. 

While, I’m in no way advocating going into a fight without a solid skill-set or with a debilitating injury. I’m going to offer a few insights for those of you who are going into your first couple of fights with some aches or pains. I’m writing this primarily for people fighting with the goal of testing themselves, not monetary gain. You are most likely interested in proving that your skills will stand up to the test. Also, you probably want to be able to, even if it’s unspoken, own the credential of being a fighter. First off, if you want to be in our club pain is one of your first prices of admission.

So congratulations, you are doing something challenging and with what I’ll refer to as a “healthy amount of insanity.” Maybe not “insane” by 200 years ago standards when we still kicked the shit out of each other on a regular basis, and shot our neighbors over who’s livestock got to graze on what land.  But if you’re a man or woman in 2017 America there is a good chance you have never had to defend yourself against anything except hurt feelings. Many people are attracted to boxing and martial arts for exercise but then start to ask “does this work?” and can I measure up. Part of that crucible is not worrying about a sore wrist, slight cold, or cardio program that didn’t go according to plan. Take a moment and focus on all of your strengths. If your left arm isn’t %100 shift your metal focus to a positive aspect. Think about how it doesn't matter as much because your defense has been rock solid and conditioning is outstanding. Shift your mid-set to what you can control and the positive. 

So, now that we have that out of the way let’s move on to what being truly prepared means. If are about to fight someone, part of the training should be well “fighting people.” Although, I’m a big proponent of intelligent sparring and avoiding “gym wars,” this still isn’t golf. Forrest Griffen the former UFC champion says “…if you’re 100 percent coming into a fight, you probably didn’t train.” So if you are allowing the seeds of doubt to grow in your mind remember: “your opponent is probably hurt as well, if they’re not they aren’t prepared.” Go forth, have fun, punch people. If you get seriously hurt and your lawyer wants to contact me about it remember my official stance is all contact sports are bad. Also, my advice is for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken seriously be any human being. Cheers!  

 

Space Station Dilemma

One major obstacle to getting started exercising is the overwhelming amount of information out there. Especially to someone new, or already intimidated by taking a fitness journey, the amount of different exercises can be daunting. As a fitness professional I will tell you many of which are superfluous or ineffective. If there were only four exercises in the universe how much less confusing would it be to start training?  

One of the most common questions I hear from people (not clients just people looking for free advice) is a “what do I do?”  On a quick aside, if I don’t know you personally and you ask me this question the answer will always be: “you should buy a session from me, as in with money, because this is my job.” But I digress, the question above inadvertently illustrates one of the biggest challenges to a new trainee. Because there are so many numerous machines and exercises at your disposal one of the biggest lessons to be learned in the gym is “what you don’t need to do.”

 

One mental exercise I like in terms of exercise selection is what Coach Dan John refers to in his book Can You Go? As the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Not to be confused with the game theory prisoner’s dilemma, this is a scenario where you are allowed only three 15 minute workouts a week outside of your cell what exercises would the workouts consist of? 

Personally, I don’t like imagining being in prison. So lets reword this as “The Space Station Dilemma” you’re a brilliant scientist on a space station with access to the gym/gravity simulator only three 15 minute sessions a week. Well, I can tell you my own personal workout would be about three minutes of foam rolling and “smashing” with a lacrosse ball, a two minute dynamic warm up, 5 minutes of strength that hit the four universal movements every coach can agree need to be in a program. Those four main movements (notice I said movement not muscle)  being push/pull/hip-hinge/squat. After strength a 4 minute HIIT cardio session and a 1 minute cool down.

If you don’t have access to a coach, what I just outlined above makes for a great starter program. Of course paired with some individual tweaks and considerations for your state of health. ” I am not the first person to make this statement, but it bears repeating if you cannot immediately(and easily) identify an exercise’s purpose to your goals it should be removed.