Thursday, November 19, 2015

Setting Fitness Goals

This subject has come up a number of times in the last few weeks.  When I get to talking with someone about their physical fitness and their gym routine, or their desire to start, the first thing I usually ask them is "What are your goals?"

Typically from women I usually get a reply like "I want to tone up and get more definition."  From men I get something like "I want to lose my gut and get more definition."  All the answers I receive are variations on this theme.

These are not goals.  They are simply vague statements of an indefinable desire.  Setting aside what I consider to be the Myth of Toning, along with other weight loss myths, there is nothing here for the individual to work with.  There is no way to measure success, and no way to track progress.  How will you know when you're "more toned"?  How much "gut loss" will make you feel like you've accomplished something?

This is literally what happens every time I ask someone about their fitness goals.  Every.  Single.  Time.  I have lost count of the number of times I've had this discussion with someone.  Every time, I have to explain what is possible, what is not possible, and give an example of what a goal is.

My girlfriend introduced me to the concept of SMART goalsetting the other day.  It's a tool for the corporate world, supposedly.  I've encountered it here and there, but not really had it explained to me.  Once I looked it up, it made PERFECT SENSE!  This is the perfect tool to explain to people what they're doing wrong when they say "I want to look more toned."
"S"-  The S here stands for "Specific".  The first problem with "getting toned", aside from the fact that it's a myth, is that it is not specific.  What is toned?  How can you define it?  If you want something aesthetically pleasing, how about saying "I want my lats to flare out like Batman's cape."  BOOM!  You just described a target area, and an effect you're looking for.  If you're like me and you want something more performance oriented, try this, which is one of my goals.  "I want to bench press 355 pounds."  What do you want?  Bench press.  How much?  355 pounds.  That's pretty specific.
"M"-  Make your goals something that you can "Measure".  In the case of Latman above, can he measure this?  Absolutely, by taking measurements at the beginning of starting his goal, and then once a month as he progresses.  Measurements tell you when you're making progress, and they reinforce that your training regimen is working.  Conversely, they tell you when you're back sliding and let you know that something you're doing is having the opposite effect.
"A"- Set your sights on something that is "Achievable".  Can I bench press 1000 pounds?  Maybe.  Science says most likely no.  Even a 500 pound bench would be pretty extreme.  If you set your goal up to be unattainable, you are setting yourself up for failure immediately.  That's it, you're done, there's no point in continuing.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot bench 1000 pounds.  I've failed, and I haven't even started yet.  I've bench pressed 355 before, so that's why I set that as my goal.
"R"- Make your fitness goal something that's actually "Relevant" to where you want to be on your fitness quest.  Is having a bigger bench press worthwhile to me?  Yes, because good upper body strength helps on my Army Physical Fitness Test, and it will help in other fitness related areas, especially pushing heavy things.  In this case, it's relevant to where I want to go.  Now, if I were to pick something like the pec-deck machine, that's not relevant.  I can't see any areas where the pec-deck helps me besides being good at the pec-deck.  If that's what you want, then fine.  That's not for me, and not for the people who ask for my help.
"T"- "Time Sensitive".  If you don't put a deadline on your goal, you have nothing to hold yourself accountable to.  5 years from now I could still be working on my bench, trying to get it up to 355.  That would be ridiculous, and I'd never do that.  We can see it all the time though, at the Globo Gyms of the world.  People go in there, get sweaty, but never seem to add more weight to the bar, or never seem to get slimmer or faster.  What are they working towards?  They don't know, they're just in the gym "working out".  As for me, my time is precious.  I want to have my bigger bench, and I want it by June of next year.  Tempus fugit, and all that.

Set yourself up for success by knowing how to set goals.  This also works in conjunction with visualization, and can be a powerful factor for success in all of your fitness endeavors.  See yourself achieving your goals, and see the powerful, fast, agile human that you've become as compared to the "you" of last year.  Combined with visualization practices, SMART goal setting is a great way to stay motivated and hungry for success, especially when what you really want to do is go down to the pub for happy hour and fish and chips.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eat Mancakes!

Recently, I was given a sample of a new product, by a friend, that is geared towards people who enjoy exercise, and may be looking for a way to diversify their protein source.  This product is Mancakes.

Mancakes are a dry, protein rich pancake mix.  Similar in nature to Bisquick, except Mancakes contain no gluten, no soy, no GMOs, and no added sugar.  Each serving contains 23g of protein, including the higher quality whey protein isolate, 19g of carbohydrates, and 9 grams of fiber. 

As someone who struggles now and then to eat a carbohydrate balanced meal, I can appreciate the fact that each serving contains 19 grams.  This is especially beneficial to anyone who likes to squat heavy and often, like I do.  I also like the fact that this product contains a decent amount of fiber, which seems like a component that is often forgotten about in the supplement industry.

I followed the instructions, using a half cup of unsweetened almond milk.  The dry ingredients mixed up very easily in my measuring cup, while I was heating my pan.  I greased up the pan and set it on medium heat.  I may have had the heat a little high, or I may need to try using butter instead of coconut oil, because the center of the pancake stuck to the pan.  I attribute this more to my cooking method than the pancake formula.  In just a few minutes, the pancake was completely cooked, so I put it on a plate and got ready to eat it.

This was the buttermilk Mancake mix, so I wasn't really expecting a lot of flavor, and to me, it didn't seem to have a lot.  It tasted like a pancake, so I'll gladly take it.  One pancake was quite filling, and certainly didn't taste bad. 

Overall, I think this is a good product for everyone, but especially for people who like to engage in intense physical activity on a regular basis.  I have my own personal recipe for pancakes that I like to use, but Mancakes are definitely a close second on that list.

I recommend that everyone who likes pancakes and likes exercise give Mancakes a try.

Their products can be found at  Check them out today!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Deadlifting from a deficit

The other day I made a post about how I was deadlifting with a deficit in the gym on my Facebook page.  I got a question from a friend of mine asking what I meant by "deficit".  Here is my best attempt at explaining.

A deficit with regards to the deadlift can mean that you are elevated in relation to the bar higher than you normally would be, usually with a platform of some sort.  It can also mean that the bar is lower than it would normally be in relation to you, usually by using smaller diameter plates.

I chose to go the lower in relation to me, and stacked my bar up with thirty-five pound plates instead of the usual forty-five pound plates.  I just wanted to change my deadlift up a little bit, and decided to go with a deficit for lifting.

Now to the why of the deficit.  The short answer is that it provides an increase in the range of motion that you have to move the bar through.  In the case of deadlifts, this can help to strengthen your lower back through a greater range of motion.  This can be of use for someone like me who has strong legs, but I tend to get stuck in the hole when squatting, or I have trouble standing the bar up after I've gotten it off the floor.

After crunching the numbers, the deficit I used was only about one point five inches, which doesn't seem significant.  However, it made three hundred eighty-five pounds feel a lot heavier than normal.  Adding a deficit to your deadlift can be a good way to target a weak area of your posterior chain, as well as just a way to change up the stimulus that you are using when doing deadlifts.  Typically, you see people use a raised platform, also about one point five inches. 

Adding a deficit to your deadlifts will most likely help you bust through a plateau, and so I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

An Oversimplified Debate: Women's Self-Defense vs. Teaching Society Not To Rape, Part 1

     The debate has been ongoing for several months now, before the newly crowned Miss USA, Nia Sanchez, stated that she believed that women need to learn to defend themselves from a rapist.  Those remarks really added fuel to the fire of a growing debate, that of the so-called "rape culture" versus those in this country who believe that learning to defend and protect oneself is a better avenue to deal with violence and sexual assault.
     The debate, between feminists and self-defense advocates, has grown and grown over the past few years, especially after the much publicized rape in Steubenville, Ohio.  That case, and the subsequent trial, has really helped shed light on the practice of victim blaming.  That is to say statements like, "She was asking for it being dressed like that.", or "She shouldn't have let herself get so drunk."  That is victim blaming, a practice that can be all to easy to fall into, for those who are unaware or willfully ignorant.
     The problem of discussing self-defense as it relates to rape and other forms of sexual assault is that it strays perilously close to blaming the victim for the attack.  Asking any of the forms of "What could you have done to prevent the attack?" is putting the onus for prevention on the defender, and not on the attacker where it belongs.  After all, every single one of us, male, female, young, old, black, white, everything in between, veteran, non-veteran, teacher, janitor, bus driver, lawyer, and even politicians have the right to go about our lives without being attacked by someone who is simply trying to use force to get what they want.
  Think about that for a minute, it is a basic human right to live one's life in peace and free from violence.  However, as much as I personally champion that ideal, and that universal right, there is another universal right that is just as important.  That is the right to use force and violence to defend ourselves.  Oddly enough, this did not make the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I think says a lot about the U.N.
     It is good, right, and well to teach men AND women, not to rape.  This means talking about what consent is, and what consent is not.  This means illustrating what sexual assault is, what rape is, and bringing these crimes out into the light so that everyone, men and women, can be given an opportunity to understand what rape and sexual violence are all about.
     I wanted to add a perspective to this essay that wasn't just me espousing my opinions, and beliefs.  At this point, there are probably a thousand blogs from men just like myself telling everyone what they should think about the debate of teaching men not to rape vs. teaching women self-defense.  So, I asked a couple of my friends, Karen and Lisa, both of whom are female martial artists, for their perspective on the debate.
   I'm talking about teaching women to defend themselves against an attacker.  It doesn't have to be a rapist, it can simply be an attacker with any number of motives.  The end result is the same.  As Karen said, "I get confused if people who are against teaching others how not to get raped are also against teaching: how not to get robbed, stabbed, assaulted."
      Lisa says, "Women also have the need to be able to defend themselves -- AND to know when to do it -- because that is the unfortunate reality of today's world, and we have to survive 'today' on the way to hopefully making a better world...As an only somewhat-related tangent to that, there are lots of other reasons besides 'not being raped' for women to learn some sort of self-defense."
     Self-defense training has much more benefits than just learning to defend against an attack.  "The point is knowing that you're willing and able to act decisively with whatever resources are at your disposal when the moment arises -- whether it's protecting yourself from an attempted rape, avoiding a car crash, facing down a wild animal, deciding how to handle an armed robber, etc. etc. etc. etc.", said Lisa.  
     Additionally, the idea of teaching men not to rape was considered valid by both women. "For the current state of affairs, everyone should be taught not to rape.", Karen told me.  "Men, women, children should be taught rape is bad. No means no. At any time. No one ever deserves rape or 'has it coming.'"
     "We have to do both. Men have the responsibility not to rape, and we (everybody, society as a whole, men and women alike) need to teach them that...And of course that doesn't even brush the surface of men raping men, women raping men, and so on.", stated Lisa.
     All three of us, however, agreed that teaching women to defend themselves is ultimately a positive contribution to the empowerment of women.  "...if we can't care enough about ourselves to actively take care of and protect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to care enough to do it?", as Lisa put it. 
     However, on the other side of the coin, another friend of mine, Carrie, brought up a good point.  Not every woman is going to have the ability, no matter how well taught, to be able to fight off an attacker.  "Because sometimes there are just no ways to overcome someone intent on raping you or there's some men that are never going to be taught.", was her stance on the matter.  "Not all women are capable of learning expert level self defense.  Nor are they equipped to be alert in their environment due to some kind of disability or distraction.  But I feel like it sometimes puts the blame on victims by teaching them self-defense, as in 'you didn't defend yourself enough.' On the other side, I sometimes feel it's condescending to men to simply say "don't rape" without discussing what rape is and how ingrained it can become."
     I absolutely agree that anyone who says  "you didn't defend yourself enough" is blaming the victim, and not the attacker.  That kind of behavior should not be tolerated, from any self-defense instructor, whether male or female.  Our job as instructors is not to blame the victim, or even put the onus of safety on our students.  Our job should be to help our students to understand that there will always be bad people in the world, who want to do bad things to them if they get a chance.  As such, the only person who can truly be responsible for their safety is the student themselves.  
     At the same time, we cannot ignore the realities of sexual assault and rape in our world today.  The statistics speak for themselves, in my opinion.  In addition to the numbers on sexual assault and rape, there is this little gem from  "8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. Of these men who committed rape, 84% said that what they did was definitely not rape."  That means that well over three-quarters of men questioned claimed that what they did was definitely not rape.  Which says to me that three-quarters of men in the United States are ignorant on what rape and sexual assault are.  Kind of a telling argument when it comes to teaching men not to rape.  Clearly we are not doing that as a society. 
     In my opinion, part of the problem of teaching self-defense to women lies in some of the instructors, who are by and large a male group.  Some of them are well-meaning individuals, who simply have no clue what it would be like "...if you lived only in a world where all the people were at least 8" taller than you, at least 50 lbs. heavier (muscle only!) and socially conditioned to be more aggressive than you...", as Lisa put it.  Some of them only want to gratify their ego so they can tell people that they "Teach women's self-defense classes."  The worst of the bunch just want to show off for a room full of women.  The best self-defense instructors out there, however, demonstrate a passion for helping everyone, not just women, learn valuable and potentially life-saving self-defense techniques

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Modern Army Combatives" Versus "Battlefield Combatives"

There are a lot of weaknesses in the Modern Army Combatives Program, and I think a lot of soldiers and leaders today recognize that.  I hear talk now and then of how the Army wants to scrap the whole program, which I think would be a mistake.  However, the MAC system certainly needs to be fixed and upgraded.

It has been a goal of mine for several years now to come up with a supplemental training and progression that implements things like wristlocks, armbars, and standing takedowns, as well as simple strikes and kicks that MACP does not include in the level one material.  Battlefield Combatives will also include techniques and strategies designed to kill the opponent outright, or disable the enemy long enough for the soldier to bring the primary weapon back into play.  These techniques should be easily taught, easily mastered, and able to be performed in full body armor, ballistic helmet, and with a rifle.

In my experience, having been level one certified, the level one material includes the ground positions of guard, inside the guard, side mount/side control, mount, and rear mount.  There is one sacrificial takedown, one defense against punches, and escaping the guard.  There are also a couple of chokes, and the straight arm bar from the mount.

I believe that there is too much emphasis on submissions in the level one material, and not enough emphasis on ending the fight as quickly as possible.  In Matt Larsen's own words, "The person who wins the hand to hand fight will be the person who's buddy shows up first with a gun."  Essentially what this is telling soldiers is "Hang on tight and wait for help to arrive."  As an infantry soldier myself, I disagree very much with this as a principle for any combatives system, let alone one that is supposedly intended to be used on the battlefield.

In addition, I have yet to see this material being taught with at least body armor on, let alone body armor and ballistic helmet, or body armor, ballistic helmet, and weapon.  While training solely in uniform is good for the introductory phase of training, once the soldiers know the material, the panoply of war must be introduced in order for the soldiers to understand the complexities of fighting with gear. 

Instead of taking the fight to the ground at every opportunity, a soldier should only go to the ground as a last resort.  Soldiers on the battlefield must be armed with techniques that allow them to demolish their opponent and remain standing victoriously over them, rather than wrestling them to the ground and being tied up in what becomes a wrestling match.

The emphasis on ground fighting robs a soldier of their mobility, which is a key aspect of combat.  If the enemy's partner shows up to the fight while the soldier is still attempting the submission as taught, the soldier at best may end up getting beaten badly before subduing both enemies, and at worst may be subdued himself and taken prisoner.

As well as sacrificing mobility, situational awareness also tends to vanish when an individual is engaged on the ground in a wrestling match.  In combat, this means that the soldier may not even realize when they are outnumbered and must beat a hasty retreat or break contact, another situation that can lead to a severe beating or being captured.  

Lastly, the modern United States soldier on the battlefield is bigger and stronger than his opponent, in addition to wearing body armor that protects vital targets from receiving devastating strikes.  This protection will be taken into account while I design the curriculum for Battlefield Combatives.  The soldier must still protect the face and keep the hands up while closing with the enemy, but the near invulnerability of body and head targets means that the soldier has a lot more margin for error when engaging an enemy and getting in a hand-to-hand fight.

I firmly believe that by including strikes, kicks, joint locks, as well as sweeps and throws, the current combatives program can be made more complete, and more effective for the battlefield.  All of this can be done within the current paradigm of combatives training, and soldiers can achieve great proficiency in one or two techniques with only two hours of practice, making them better prepared than they otherwise would have been under a system based solely on submission wrestling.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Teaching Children

Recently, during a trip to Alaska, I had an opportunity to spend some time teaching basic self-defense skills to a young child who was being bullied at school.  He is the son of a friend of mine who lives in Alaska, and after reading her post about bullying on Facebook, I offered to help.

This young boy is in 2nd grade, and initially I was a little intimidated.  After all, I've never taught someone that young before.  I remembered my experiences as a child with bullies, and how my parents tried to convince me that I could smash someone's nose if they needed it.  The idea was laughable.  I just couldn't conceive of myself punching and bloodying someone's nose, no matter how much they might deserve it.  My parents would tell you this is a far cry from the 2 year old who would bowl kids over without the slightest provocation...but I digress.

I did not want to repeat this mistake, or rather this oversight, so I looked for ways to make a connection with this young lad. When in doubt, turn to what you know.  And what do I know?  Heroic fantasy, and comic book characters.  Sadly, he was too young to know much about Conan, so that went right out the window.  Batman, however, was a different story.  Every 2nd grade boy knows who Batman is, even one who doesn't know much about comics.  The important part is finding a symbol to communicate intent.

What I mean by "communicate intent" is that I needed a way to tell this child how I wanted him to attack the kicking shield and standup dummy.  Kids know how Batman fights, he's ferocious, he hits hard, he hurts bad people before they hurt him, and he doesn't quit.

Every time I saw his intensity flag, I would remind him to kick and punch like Batman, and it was like shifting gears.  Kicks got harder, punches got faster, form improved overall.  During breaks, I would remind him that if he did get into a fight, he needed to fight like Batman, and not stop hitting until the fight was over.  I could also see that this boy did not want to really hurt people, which is commendable, but at the same time he did not want to be hurt.  As a friend of mind pointed out, Batman is allowed to hurt people.  By telling someone to fight like Batman, we help them unlock a part of themselves that is now allowed to hurt people, and that is huge.

This might sound like a terrible thing to say to a little kid, but I disagree, even if I am slightly uncomfortable with the idea of a child engaging in violence on such a level.  I would be doing a much greater disservice to him, and myself, if I had instructed him to punch them in the nose and let that end the fight.  That was the advice my parents gave me, and although well intentioned, it was not the best advice.  Fights rarely stop after one hit, and especially fights against multiple opponents. 

Therefore, I subscribe to what I call the Ender Strategy, from "Ender's Game", by Orson Scott Card.  In the book, Ender is a much smaller child and is confronted by at least three bullies, led by a larger ringleader.  He takes the only real option available to him, and attacks the leader, who is also the largest, with an all-out offense, not stopping until the other child is incapable of moving, let alone counterattacking.  I'm not subscribing to the idea that we teach children to kick their attacker while curled up in the fetal position...but at the same time there may be a time and a place for that, unfortunately, and it is important to remember that all self-defense situations are situational.

When I tell someone keep hitting until the fight is over, they will get it into their mind that the fight is over when they are no longer threatened, and not after they have landed their first punch.  This is also why I tell students after their initial attack, follow up with a minimum of three strikes, be they punches or kicks.  Even if the first attack puts the attacker on the ground, always follow up! 

Additionally, I had this child do punches and kicks while his sister assisted by holding him in a bear hug.  This is an important concept, especially when facing multiple opponents.  Again, just because someone has a hold of you from behind, does not mean the fight is over.

Batman doesn't stop until the fight is over, neither should you, anyone you train, or any children who are being bullied.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Beginning at the beginning

I was in the gym yesterday.  Contrary to popular belief, I'm not in the gym everyday, but I was yesterday.  I was doing some bench presses, and two of the guys were watching me.  I finished a set of 3, doing 275, and one of them remarked, "Congratulations, you can bench more than I can squat."  And it struck me, as it always does, as a peculiar observation.  I understand it was meant as humor, and possibly self-deprecating humor as well.  I have heard similar variations on that theme for a while, since I started lifting and learning about exercise and weightlifting.

I picked up my first barbell when I was 12.  And I promptly put it back down after doing three bench presses.  It was not an olympic bar, it was a "standard" sized bar, which might or might not weigh 20 pounds.  When I was 13 I started working out with the 10 pound dumbbells that were around the house.  At 14, I made the decision that I would go to the gym at school and work out.  Before I was allowed to go, however, I had to do some seriously heavy reading.  Dad made me before he would let me set foot in the gym.  How heavy?  Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach, Powerlifting: A Scientific Approach, and Unleasing The Wild Physique.  It took me a couple weeks, but it was fascinating stuff, and set the stage for decent strength gains and muscle development that summer.

I was somewhere between 130 and 150.  I don't remember exactly.  I do know, that with regular training, I was struggling to stay at 185 my senior year.  Regular, not constant, because I was also a regular teenager and what did I know about consistency and effort?

Fast forward.  How long?  About 19 years, since I turn 33 in July.  Am I strong today?  Yes.  Stronger than average?  Yes.  I am pleased with, and take pride in, that strength.  I'm closing in on a 500 pound deadlift, I can squat over 400 pounds, and bench press over 300, right around 315 right now.

Can you guess how much I started with, when I was 14 and really got serious about it?

The same as Mark Bell, Donnie Thompson, Louie Simmons.  The same as Rob Orlando, Doctor Frederick Hatfield, Lou Ferrigno, and all the guys who have some serious longevity in sports and weightlifting.

The maximum amount that I could use, and still do reps with good form.  Which, for me, was the bar.  Olympic, this time, since my school was so blessed.

So, in essence, I started at the same place as you, and some of the greats in lifting.  The difference is not the starting point, but how much time has elapsed since then.  Work, mathematically, is a function of time.  19 years is a decent amount of time, and if I'd been lifting seriously for those 19 years, I could probably be a competitive powerlifter or strongman.  I don't want to, though, and that's okay.  19 years, though, represents the amount of work that I've done to be stronger, and bigger.  It's not a point in my favor, except that it helped me reach my goals.  In the same vein, it's not a point against people who aren't as strong as me.  Some people come to enjoy lifting weights later in life.  Just recognize that it doesn't serve you to compare your lifts to my lifts, even if you've been lifting the same length of time.  Just like it doesn't serve me to compare with Donnie Thompson or Rob Orlando. 

What does serve our best interests is to recognize the amount of work that we have put in, and the gains we have made, and celebrate those gains and those triumphs.  To compare the "you" of today with the "you" of last year and recognize positive changes is a beautiful thing.

Seriously though, I understand that the comment was made in jest, and should anyone say something like this to me in the future, no hard feelings.  I just want people to think about it for a second.  A physical display of strength is only the tip of the iceberg.  What goes unseen is the work it took to put on that display.