Your Fitness Truths Are Just a Story
Everything that has happened to you, from your childhood to the moment you started reading this article, is just a story. It’s nothing. It has absolutely no substance whatsoever. In order for you to even spend the energy on recounting any of it, you have to formulate your understanding of what it was, and then create a narrative around it to give it life again. Most of us are so dedicated to the story that we not only re-write what happens in our minds, but then follow through by talking about it, brooding over it, and in many cases, allowing ourselves to become prisoners to it.
Do your best to eliminate distraction and listen to your intuition; it already knows what is right for you.
Your Fitness Story
What the hell does this have to do with strength training and fitness? I’m glad you asked. There is not an individual reading this article who doesn’t have a goal that they are trying to achieve in their fitness. “I want to get stronger,” “I need to get leaner,” “I need to make it to Regionals this year,” and so on. I would venture to guess that nearly all of you, deep in the recesses of your soul, want this goal with every fiber of your being. But 99.9% of you have also created a story around that goal that has given you an out. An out if you fail. An out if you get injured. An out if you just aren’t there yet.
Perhaps even more insidious than having an out is forming a story around the reasons that you won’t make it, why you can’t get started, or how it’s a long shot, at best. You create reasons why you might not make it and actually fuel or guarantee an eventual failure. Perhaps you minimize the goal itself, because deep down you know you will not even try, and therefore shrugging it off will be easier when the time comes. No matter the set of circumstances around your goal, all of them are just stories: ones you have decided to believe.
Now let’s make something very clear. I’m not talking about major traumas in your life. For those of you who have weathered the storm of a horrific trauma, those events are a bit more than just a story. Those things have altered your worldview and made a permanent imprint in your nervous system that has shaped who you have become. Those folks need the attention of a professional psychotherapist, or a self-help master like Tony Robbins. But even people with those gut wrenching events in their past are managing something that is, today, still just a story. They just need some crafty software downloaded into their CNS that will de-bug the programming that is not serving them.
Your Created Reality
I studied for over six years with Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson. I’ve mentioned him over and over in other things I’ve written because of the indelible impact he’s made on my life. In fact, the idea of “it’s just a story” is one that he taught me. When you train in the environment that I did, when you learn from the type of man that I learned from, you quickly realize that your “reality” is one that you have created. Or it’s one that you have been taught decided that you were going to buy it, hook line and sinker.
One extreme example that can give you pause is the color of the sky. I’ve heard there’s a tribe in Africa who doesn’t have a word for blue in their language. Blue doesn’t exist to them. So what is the color of the sky to these individuals? It certainly isn’t blue. So if the sky is blue to us, and blue doesn’t exist to them, then what color is it? Are they wrong, or are we? Understand, the vast majority of what you believe has been taught to you by flawed, likely misinformed, well-intentioned people.
People have sold their dogma and pushed their respective agendas at us since we were small children. Your parents are the grand architects of how you think. In fact, if you think back on your entire set of values, ideas, and way of looking at the world, you can probably trace it back to one of your parents. That means most of your thoughts don’t belong to you. You are simply recounting something your parents taught you. Original thoughts rarely happen.
When you come to this realization, it can be quite upsetting at first. Over time, it becomes incredibly liberating. My reasoning? We don’t have many geniuses, gurus, or true movers and shakers amongst us. Most everyone, myself included, just regurgitate the things someone else taught us. But knowing this gives us the freedom to reject established norms. Conventional thinking, in a lot of cases, is not compelling or inspirational in any way. And the good news is, you don’t have to be a slave to it anymore.
The Value of Experience
What’s helped me in my career, especially in the last four years or so, is approaching my strength training and the programs I write for my athletes from this perspective. The more faith I invested in all the things that I read (from books to scientific journals), the more I realized how stifled my creativity and, more importantly, our gains were. Sure, science has done the work and the folks out there researching are providing a necessary function for the general masses. But I can tell you that experience has more to say for what is “true” than some overblown research study. Not allowing the powers that be to dictate right and wrong has accelerated my creativity and taken some of the shackles off my thinking.
A perfect example: Pavel Tsatsouline reached out to me a few years ago and asked me if I would do some pilot research on a new idea that was surfacing in the Russian literature. It was being reported that if you don’t work to “burn” (anaerobic glycolysis) in your training, you might protect the mitochondria and even develop it, along with the creatine phosphate shuttle mechanism in fast glycolytic muscle fibers. The Russians were saying that high concentrations of lactic acid in the muscles essentially blow up the existing mitochondria; and if you train in very specific way, you theoretically could increase mitochondrial density within the fast twitch muscle fibers. If this was true, we would be sitting on one of the biggest scientific discoveries in strength training for athletes, perhaps ever.
The challenge in testing the theory was that the group we were going to use for this experiment were freshmen football players who were red shirting during the season. So the way I decided to do this was test their running performance in a measurable fitness test (commonly administered to test baseline fitness for football) at the beginning of the trial. We then built a GPP lifting program and used kettlebell swings (programmed in a very specific way) as their cardio/fitness element. Here’s the catch: these individuals weren’t allowed to run for the four weeks of the experiment. Yes, I had to go to our head football coach and ask him (in the name of science!) for permission to pull them from every running session during the month-long trial.
It would be expected that their testing at the end of the four weeks would show a pretty dramatic drop off, but that was not the case. In fact, 100% of them shaved time off of their sprint trials, supporting Pavel’s suspicion. We are now sitting on a program that allows me to program their weight room time and increase their running capacities without having to beat their legs to shit running them all the time. This same program has been the basis for additional completed studies that are up for publication, most notably our qigong study.
Listen to Your Intuition
Many of you are younger lifters who have limited experience. You still need the blueprints from those folks who are leading the pack. I get it, I was you. But you are quickly going to realize that not everyone responds the same way to a given stimulus. We are snowflakes. One of my favorite things about CrossFit is their programming, which has been received in a very mixed way. They broke the mold of how we pseudo-experts have thought about programming and periodization. Yet, they are still getting results. And it was because someone was brave enough to say, “Fuck it, I’m going to do it this way.” Good on them.
Our world is filled with distractions. Some are there because they have been intentionally planted, and others are ones we create for ourselves. But everything we all know, accept and subscribe to are just stories. Compelling, exciting, spellbinding… but still just stories. Do your best to eliminate distraction and listen to your intuition; it already knows what is right for you. I encourage you to find your own way, try new things and blaze your own trail in your training, your spiritual walk, and your life.
More on the mentality of training:
Create something wonderful: