Simplifying Solutions

Competitive ‘sophistication’ (rather, complication masked as sophistication)
is harmful, as compared to the practitioner’s craving for optimal simplicity.
~Nassim Taleb

It is vain to do with more
what can be done with less.
~William of Occam

ockham's-razorThe Sophists got a lot of unwanted attention from Plato. Scholarly studs prancing around ancient Greece, charging money to impart their knowledge, and much like modern day salespeople, politicians & lawyers, spinning their knowledge to make happy the hearts of the highest bidder.

Today we might call them Hucksters, Shysters, or maybe even Con-men, but back then, they were called Sophists. Somewhere in between, their name got lumped in with something the ruffians, rubes & commoners were conditioned to crave, Sophistication. What started as a simple idea became a complex notion, and if we’re not careful, we’ll suffer the complexities, confusions & cranial conflagrations of those collusions.

Every book from our fitness library, every magazine glossed with half naked torsos, every other post we find online tries to sell us the promise of some spectacular miracle workout or wonder supplement. Minimal time, maximal investment. If the program didn’t work, we didn’t try hard enough, or we gave up the day before all of our problems would have been solved. It’s always our fault.

The best & brightest lies are always some tweak of actual truth. That is what made the Sophists so successful, and that is why our consumer-culture continues to thrive. If enough coal is packed together, we’ll always be inclined to believe that there could be a diamond in the center. Unfortunately, there is just enough truth embedded in that belief to make it authentic & understandable. Fortunately, even the rarest compression of coal is absolutely worthless without a buyer.

Those nuggets of truth hinted at, alluded to & ambiguously referenced are meaningless without action. The workouts we’re served are needlessly sophisticated exactly because they’re intended to mislead, deceive & disappoint. Consumer culture thrives on the notion that if at first you don’t succeed, buy something else.

If we’re going to get stronger, if we’re going to inherit the power we were born to wield, our first & broadest step is to learn to do more with less. Minimalist mentality.

Isolation exercises tell us that we’re not as good as the next person. Forget strength, your arms must be as big as X in order to look strong. Your run was a sweet gesture, but it wasn’t as fast as Y.  Etcetera, etcetera . . .

Is that our motivation, inspiration, encouragement?

Whatever method we choose is just a tool, and a tool is only good as how we understand & use it. No tool is as complex as our own bodies, and no tool will help us simplify sophisticated processes as our Mind-Body connection. What are we doing and why are we doing it?

A barbell seems to be a simple tool, but it still has a lot of moving parts, a lot of links in the chain where something can & might go wrong. The singular nature of Kettlebells & dumbbells might seem even more simple, but poor movements can complexify our relationship with them and befuddle our results.

We tend to recommend the simpler movements for our workouts: the Deadlift, Squats, Kettlebell Swings, Pullups, Pushups, Loaded Carries, Running . . . the combinations of which can be as complicated or as simple as we wish. The movements themselves should be simple & fluid. If the effort to move well is greater than the force required to manipulate the load, we are doing it wrong.

Take time to learn the movements. The Deadlift looks simple, but a movement out of alignment can bring the body to a crashing & rehabilitory halt. Same for Squats, Swings, even Running.

Full-body movements, gestures & immersions give us the most result for our efforts, and no matter how we attempt to slice otherwise, are the simplest approaches to developing strength and realizing power. The trick is to not be tricked by the presence & promise of shiny objects. All of our potential comes from inside of us, through dedication, discipline & determination. No matter what tools we choose to use, the method of our success doesn’t get any more simple than that.

Stay strong, get stronger,


Maybe I’m Doing This Wrong

physical-culture-picThere’s this CrossFit place on the square in Marietta, and I had the good fortune of getting to Crase the place this past Saturday. They were kind enough to host the Tactical Strength Challenge from StrongFirst, and I was confident enough to accept. Nice layout, all the right weights in all the right places, kind & knowledgeable folks . . . and then me.

Here is where the goal is different from the intent. The goal was to reach a max Deadlift in three attempts, perform as many Pullups as possible from a bottom-taut, non-swinging position . . . the way Pullups are supposed to be done, according to Dan John, Pavel, and others in-the-know, and finally, as many Kettlebell Snatches as possible in 5 minutes. Ready . . . go!

The intent was to lift more than I did, manage more Pullups than I was capable, and do more Snatches than I realistically completed. Who said what about learning from their mistakes?

My training for this event began all hot & heavy back in February, when I first heard of it. The excitement was high, and the training was rowdy, tight & totally off-the-cuff. Too bad that there were so many days between hot & heavy and the day-of-event. Yes, that was me . . . burnt out before I arrived, and without enough steam to climb back on the fresh wave of excitement that rolled in under my board.

Well, this isn’t a sad story, not by any stretch. Turns out that the event location didn’t have a big turn-out for the event, which meant that I was able to drink down a whole lot of attention. At first this seemed like a bad thing . . . for instance, when I was accused of sandbagging after stating that I would be competing in the novice class. Ha! Uh, no, not by a long shot. I was there to learn as much as I was there to participate.

Deadlift technique . . . not bad, but with a few tweaks, I should be lifting a lot more. Despite what many people think when they see the Deadlift performed, it is a very technical lift, and to do well with it, you need to know a lot of technique. See how that works? Good, apparently I didn’t. Nothing said was going to help me that particular Saturday, but days after my head is still swimming with a swarm of meaningful cues & lessons learned as to where my intent failed to meet the goal. Fair & well enough! Self-coaching might not be my forte, after all. Is it anyone’s? Much like the joke about the attorney who represents him/herself in court having a fool for a client and an attorney.

Pullups, work on them. Often. Grease-the-groove, the stout voice says.

Ketllebell Snatches may have been my most prominent strength, but yes, there is always room for improvement . . . especially by missing my intent by a dozen.

What did I take from the experience? A lot more than I put into it. Fortunately the Judge didn’t pack me off to prison for my Crimes against Strength, but the message was clear . . . pick a plan, stick to it, and make sure the plan lines up with your intended goals. Oh, and getting a Coach might not be a bad idea . . . next TSC will be in October, and whether or not I swim or surf my way out of the water, I’ intend to arrive better conditioned & more properly prepared.


Getting Over the Hump

Sometimes it’s all we can do to get past a bad situation. We give our all just to get through to the other side and live to fight another day. Well, let me tell you a story about a little someone who might just inspire you to get over your hump and not just survive, but thrive.

Rocky was a little Italian boy who only knew how to solve problems with his hands. No one would ever call him smart, but it was often said that he had a lot of heart. He was a hard worker, but nothing ever seemed to go right for him.


One day he met the man who would become his mentor . . . but he met this mentor under circumstances that would not lead any rational minded person to believe that these two could come close. The mentor’s name was Apollo, and the two met in a ring, a boxing ring.

Watching the match, we can easily see why no one would consider Rocky a smart man. But, we can also see why it was often said he had a lot of heart. After an excruciating match, Rocky lost by a hair’s girth to Apollo, but they would soon rematch, which Rocky won just as closely as he had lost the first match, and things began to pick up for Rocky.

Things picked up so well, Rocky began to get soft over the years. Yes, once his edge made  him great, he let himself dull. This physical deconditioning didn’t matter so much since Rocky had everything he needed for a happy life.

Rocky and Apollo

One of his most cherished possessions was his friendship with his mentor, Apollo. This brings us to the pinnacle of Rocky’s hump he had to find a way over. Apollo had grown tired of feeling older, pampered by money and becoming soft. He did what any self-respecting man would do and found a way back into the fight.

Unfortunately, the fight Apollo strutted confidently back into would be the fight of his life, both of which he would lose in very short order. Another man, a younger, stronger & edgier man, named Drago, defeated Apollo and taunted Rocky from the other side of the hump.

Rocky’s  body might have grown soft, but his heart still held that dangerous edge that once made & kept him so successful. This is what happened next:

So, what can we learn from all this? When life gets tough, make a training montage. Just because Rocky goes to the coldest depths of Russia to train doesn’t mean that we have to dig that deep. No, a training montage will do.

Of course this montage, or any montage, doesn’t end there. We still have to lace up & step in the  ring. Even with a training montage that is second-to-none, Rocky still had to apply his strength & endurance to defeating the monstrous Drago.

Rocky vs Drago

Some people may object and say, Well MY monsters/demons/trouble aren’t as good looking as this Drago character . . . Will a training montage really work for me? The answer is YES, a training montage will TRULY work for anyone, whatever ails ya. Get back to work.