Thursday, 26 November 2009

Get It On

It must be the time of year, but I have noticed the arrival of winter blues around me. Folks complaining of aching, of it being to cold, of being too old, of targets unmet and objectives unfulfilled. And then, the BIG question; "What's the point?"

First some basics:
A little reminder from one of my earlier posts on why I think we should train - "if we take care of ourselves it means we travel first class. If we abuse our bodies....well, we are going to find it pretty uncomfortable in cattle-class and the journey is long enough!"

Travelling first class is your birthright. Your ancestors did it. Outside of first class you travelled by digestive system. Modern life allows you to travel below first-class. Waaaay below. The destination is the same - although travelling in one of the lower classes may get your there quicker - if you are lucky. You don't want to be travelling in cattle-class for long.

Now some pointers:
1) F**k the scales. Get rid of them.
2) F**k sets and reps - just see them as a means of 'broadly directing' your training, but don't be a slave to them.

When we have an objective of lifting a given load, achieving a certain weight or completing certain sets and reps it is easy to set yourself up for 'negative feedback' where you end up focusing on your shortcoming against that target.

Survival in the wild had no such targets or goals apart from (and in no particular order):

1) Escape
2) Eat
3) Shag

Now lets look at that list - most of us can ignore objective one. We have all ticked objective two, and most of us should be nailing rule three at least some of the time (and to the non-monogamous of you, depending on how you are achieving '3', this might be related to '1').

So in terms of paleo goals - the goals that REALLY matter, we're all winners! And why wouldn't you be a winner - your parents were, as were ALL your ancestors. That is REAL feedback, NOT some negativity based upon the fact that you wanted to complete 10 reps and you only did 9.

Armed with this world view, you should now see that sets and reps are just a means of trying to ensure the randomness and variation in exertions that fate would bring simply in fulfilling those three paleo objectives. Nice and simple eh?

Now sure there is a time and a place to look at loads, RM Max, weight and stuff like that (without the visceral feedback of "Phew that was close/I've escaped" you need some handle on your efforts), but personally I think as long as you have discharged a bit of "grrrrrr" once or twice a week using a few basic lifts and sprints, you are getting it right.

Removing indicators suggestive of a kind of failure (sets and reps), you remove at least one source of negativity from your life. Such measures make it hard for you not to focus on some perceived notion of shortcoming, rather than allowing you to just 'be' and 'do'.

Of course outside of sets and reps, there are other forms of paleo feedback - these are to do with chronic measures such as "am I injured", "am I continually sick have prolonged colds" or "do I have my 'training mojo'"?

In this state you are not trying to micro-manage your body. You couldn't if you wanted to anyway. You are simply trying to recreate key signals from our evolutionary past and delegating the rest to the body below. We might not know explicitly what these signals are or were but if you have health and can fast comfortably for 24 hours on a workout day, then from a nutrition point of view I'd wager you are heading in the right direction.

For me, the ability to fast for 24 hours and train fasted is the single most plausible and credible support for paleo eating and how it should be defined.

This same paleo philosophy should encourage you to introduce novelty in to your workouts. By this, I don't mean to jump on to the latest fat-burning/hypertrophy workout using some crappy plastic ab-training kit. Simply think of the basic planes of motion and how you can engage them. This could mean replacing a military press with throwing rocks or handstands.

I will also mention the gaps between 1, 2 and 3. These are very important and should be filled with play, socialising and relaxing pursuits. Progress is rooted in health which necessitates patience. Grow your mind. Feed your soul.

Great Grandma Asclepius says that when I look at her I see an old woman, but inside, she still feels 18. As I get older I can appreciate this more an more. But whereas that 18 year old would sprint for a bus, leap a wall or climb a tree, and although in her mind Great Grandma Asclepius still wants to run for a bus or swim in a river, she is trapped in an un-able body.

That difference between that ambition/will, and what you are physically capable of, should be YOUR measure of your own physical health.

ADV expresses it best:"When the difference between the most you can do and the least you can do merges, you're dead."


Calvin said...

Asclepius---GREAT Post!!

~ Calvin

Marc said...



Personally I left the sets and reps behind a while ago. I enjoy my workouts much more this way.
As an example, I used to do a "ladder" for pull ups. Or perhaps 3 sets of 10 reps. Now, over the course of a half an hour workout, I just do 5-7 pull ups, interspersed the entire work out.
It's hard to explain, but my point is I just do as I "feel" on any given workout.
Again wonderful post!