Levers

I think I’ll focus an article on one of my favourite movements at the moment – Levers.  I have explained them briefly before but thought I might try a slightly more practical post!  There are several variations and types of levers.  Best of all there is a pretty steady progression through the various types, as I’m finding out.  For those who don’t know what a ‘lever’ is for calisthenics purposes, it’s basically a type of movement where you hold onto something and hold your body parallel to the ground.  The 3 fundamental ones are the elbow lever, back lever and front lever (variations generally relate to one of these).  I might try something different this time and provide lots of photos!

So first, the elbow lever.  This is the easiest of them all because you are able to rest of lot of your body weight on your arms.  Harder to do on flat ground, the way I started was on a dip bar (so if you overbalance you can stop yourself on the next bar, rather than fall to the ground! [yes I may or may not have face planted a few times haha :/]).  You grab the bar with your arms about waist width, palms facing outwards, like this: (Imagining my push up bars are whichever bar you are using)

Elbow Lever - Arm position[

Then jump up and hold yourself, and adjust your arms to line up your elbows just inside your waist if need to.  Now, you control yourself and bring your legs up while lowering your chest and head down, until your entire body is parallel to the ground.  It will probably be a little uncomfortable at first having your elbows dig into your sides, but it gets better.  You will need to lean your arms forward, so they aren’t coming straight up from the bar (note the angle of my arms in the pic below).  You will need to have a solid core foundation before attempting this.  Doing planks regularly I have found helped a great deal for working on this lever.  This is basically what it looks like:

Lever straight back

Note the line showing how you should be in a roughly straight line from your heels to your head.

At first you may be able to hold for a second or two.  That is great because you have the strength for it.  Try to get a photo or video or even someone watching as I found when I first begun I thought I was straight but I had a bend in my body.  From there you just practice as much as possible, holding as long as you can.  Soon you’ll get to 10 seconds easily.  Although I was practicing back levers concurrent to my elbow levers, I found once I hit a 10 second elbow lever I seemed prepared to start trying a back lever.

The back lever I found was the trickiest to start.  This is because, at least while training up to it, you begin with what’s called ‘skinning the cat’.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to harm any animals!  What this means is you grab a bar around shoulder width, and lift your legs through your arms and over the bar so you’re hanging upside down.  This is tricky because you need to arch your back and extend your legs out so they are not quite straight up.  Like this: (Pretending the gym rings are bars in this case)

Skinning the cat

From there, you will normally start with legs straddled as that decreases the difficulty.  You then focus on keeping your body straight and tensing pretty much every muscle as you bring your legs down and chest up.  It’s important to keep your body held straight – this is where a very strong core is necessary.  Once your body is parallel to the ground you hold as long as you can.  I’ve reached about a 5 second hold with legs together so far.  I will probably aim for a solid 10 second hold.  This is how it looks:

Back Lever

Finally, front levers.  I’m yet to achieve a complete one but I’m getting close.  So with this instead of putting your legs through your arms, you just bring them and your body straight up in front of you.  Now there’s a number of ways I’m going about training for this, through advice in person plus what I’ve read/seen online.  Generally I start with tucked lever holds.  The further your legs from your torso in this movement the harder it is.  So therefore doing a lever with your legs tucked is a good place to start.  From here you can start getting one leg out:

Lever progression

1 Leg Lever

Eventually you should be able to do a straddled lever.  Alternatively, you can do ‘lever reps’.  For these you basically pull your body up into the lever position, keeping your body completely straight.  This is incredible for working the lats, or wings to some people :).  Take note – this are incredibly hard and I do not recommend attempting a lever rep without strong lat and shoulder strength.  I will be sure to post a complete front lever when I reach it!

What I love about levers is you can have fun with them in different situations and locations.  Here’s two of my favourite:

Story Bridge Lever2Beer Lever

Of course it wouldn’t be a post of mine without a Socrates quote:

‘Did ya notice how the right leverage can be very effective ? What if I were to tell you that’s what your training, even your life, is about ? Developing the wisdom to apply the right leverage in the right place, at the right time’

Peace out

Advertisements

Mastery: Training Phases Part 1 – Beginner

I think it’s probably time for a Focus article.  I’ve decided to split this into a series relating to Mastery.  Mastery being the overall goal for ‘Focus’.  Now training is generally aimed toward sports, however the ideas I will be presenting in this article will apply to any chosen activity, whether it be a hobby, sport or anything.  This post will look at what I’ll describe as the first phase of mastery, beginner.  Which for our purposes means little to no experience in the chosen activity.

We have all been ‘beginners’ in something.  Sometimes we are beginners every single day.  I’d like you to think back to something you were a beginner at.  It could be a sport, it could be an art, it could be cooking.  Do you remember the first times doing it?  It was awkward, you had to really concentrate hard on every move, and quite often people quit after being frustrated and feeling like they’ll never ‘get it’.  However, this phase is unavoidable and is important for laying the foundations for the chosen activity.  But, by consciously realising this from the start, you can begin your training on a much better mindset.

When you keep in mind that you’re suppose to be bad at first, you can let go of insecurities and develop some patience.  With this, you can implement a strategy for mastering the basics.  To do this, it’s important to analyse your activity some more and find out what are the key fundamentals.  I’ll use futsal as an example.  The 4 basics of Futsal are passing, defending, dribbling and shooting.  So if I were to reset all my Futsal experience now, I could begin with just these four basics and train them.  By practicing just these, outside of the game, I will build the foundation to lead onto the next phase of mastery.  For me personally though, I developed everything I know through actually playing.  This has been fine because it’s always been fun and I had no idea what ‘practice’ really meant when I started.  However I can still use my knowledge now to reinforce the basics.

Now, the actual point of working on the basics is strengthen the neural pathways in your body.  I’ve touched on this idea briefly, but I’ll explain in more detail here.  I’ll use the wikipedia definition first: ‘A neural pathwayneural tract, or neural face, connects one part of the nervous system with another and usually consists of bundles of elongated, myelin-insulated neurons, known collectively as white matter. Neural pathways serve to connect relatively distant areas of the brain or nervous system, compared to the local communication of grey matter. ‘  Basically put, they are the reason you can move parts of your body.

The importance of them is that by using certain pathways over and over, your body will strengthen them.  A simple analogy is walking through a forest to a destination.  Over the years you travel to the same destination, slowly you’ll wear in a track through the forest, making it easier and easier to walk there.  However, if one day you venture off the track because you saw something interesting, you’ll be leaving your well worn in track and have the difficulty of walking through the dense forest again.  But if you continue regularly you will then develop a new track.

I wanted to explain this a little more to describe how you can use it to your advantage when first training.  But also how it can work against you.  So you start your activity and you suck.  That’s okay, find out what the basics are and practice them.  Before you start practicing them though, it’s important that you are practicing them correctly.  The way those pathways can work against you is that once they have become strong, they are difficult to rewire.  Using the above analogy, the forest will take quite some time to grow back over a worn in path.  So if you are incorrectly doing something, it can lead to bad habits.  This is what I unintentionally did to myself when I juggled my soccer ball in my younger years.  I was kicking it incorrectly from the start and when retraining recently I had to consciously rewire myself to kick correctly.

To summarise, when starting out find out the basics of the activity.  Next, learn the correct way of doing these.  Youtube videos are certainly great for this, however if you know somebody who can show you, learning from someone else in person will always be superior.   Then, it’s time to practice.  Forget about the actual activity itself, and just practice these basics.  After some time, what first felt goofy and awkward, will start to feel natural, just like walking does.  At that point, it’ll be time to move into the next phase, which will be revealed in the next post.

No Ordinary Moments

As I left off with on my last post, one of the realizations that Dan experiences in the Peaceful Warrior is that in life, there are no ordinary moments.  Now the idea behind this stems not from moments themselves but how we perceive moments in time.  I’d like to delve deeper into this idea in this post to explain a little more about what it means from the book’s point of view and just how it can make an impact on your life.

So Dan’s realization comes at a point where he is told to learn on his own.  Soc tells him to ‘sit on a rock’ and ponder, and not come back to him until he has something of value, something incredibly insightful to tell Soc.  It begins with him telling him all kinds of things like ‘the hardest ones to love are the ones that need it the most’ and in comedic fashion, from the movie, ‘you put the peanut butter on the bottom NOT the jelly’, and goes on for some time.  In the book, he thinks back to a time when he was doing some workouts in the park at uni and noticed some girls ‘admiring him’.  A few seconds later while he was putting on his pants he somehow fell over and everyone laughed at him.  He laughed along with them and carried on.  The point he realized now is when you go through life, the only thing you have is right now.  This moment.  It’s always this moment.  And the point is that as humans we place greater value on certain ‘moments’ over others.  What he came to realize that we should hold every single moment as high as the next.  Our moment of putting on pants is just as important as performing a double back flip.  Because they are, at their respective times, in the moment.  Which is when he came back to Soc and says ‘there are no ordinary moments’.  The idea ties together the whole ‘present moment’ mindedness.  The secret is in letting anything past and future out of your mind.  Maintain your focus always on what is happening right now, no matter what it is.  Because nothing else really matters, or even exists.

I know this probably sounds a little crazy, but when you see the bigger picture it makes a little more sense.  The entire point of our consciousness is to be ‘alive’.  But the problem is people are often not even living.  As described in the movie ‘the sad thing is people spend a whole life time not ever really being awake’.  We are concerned with that big event next weekend, or how their boss yelled at them 2 days ago, or that new car we want to buy.  The reason this occurs is the mind taking over our thoughts, and it has become such a natural instinctive reaction for humans.  Something has happened, or will happen, and we start wondering about it.  Did I say the right thing?  Will she say yes?  Did I nail that job interview?  The theme behind these thoughts are they are not concerned with anything real.  Events either have or have not happened and these thoughts run wild.  They are focused on the past or the future, both of which are illusions.

The key to living in the present is killing off these thoughts.  Because when your thoughts are completely aligned with what is happening to you this very moment, then you are truly living; living in the present.  That is when real appreciate of the world can begin.  But how exactly do you stop your mind wandering so much?  While I hate using buzzwords, you will truly require a paradigm shift.  In other words, a complete change in your fundamental internal balance and thought patterns.

While I’ve yet to completely control it, I’ve come to a point where I have a fairly strong hold on my mind.  I think there are several realisations necessary before tying it all together.  The first is to see just how pointless and insignificant our tiny spec in the Universe is.  Actually not see, feel how small we really are.  This first realisation opens up to your mind the possibility that what we perceive as being ‘really important’, is actually quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  It is our mind that decides something to be important or not.  Just step back and consider just how epic the universe really is and how even our lifetime is barely a smudge on the timeline of the universe.  By applying this to your day to day events, you can start to see things much differently.  That guy who cut you off in traffic , that waiter who was rude to you, even further – that lecture your boss gave you, you can start letting go of the things that you feel are incredibly difficult to get through when at all times you can feel just how little it matters.

Once you’ve gained a grasp on this, the next step is to add humour to everything.  Now you might think how is that possible?  Surely there are serious events that you can’t make fun of or laugh at.  And you’re right, I don’t mean make a joke of everything.  But, upon understanding that our ‘difficulties’ are so minuscule, you can begin to see just how pointless it is getting overly worked up about things.  Then we can actually find a little humour in everything in a kind of ironic sort of way.  It will be extremely difficult to grasp this concept but just remember it is all about being happy.

The third, and final step, is the realization of one important universal law: Change.  Meaning -nothing ever stays the same and you cannot stop change.  People can spend a life time trying to stop things from changing.  This is the most important realization.  Every event is simply change, nothing more, nothing less.  When you come to realise that you can begin to let go of held up thoughts about whether something was right or wrong, because their is no right or wrong, no good and bad – only change.  When we stop resisting change you can feel almost liberated.  And this ties into the spirit of nature itself.  When you consider things that happen in nature, like the winds blowing, or rivers flowing, or any other thing that takes place in nature, you can notice something.  Everything flows with nature, not against it.  The trees will bend with the wind, the water flows down the river.  The way we approach change should mirror nature.  Flow with it, not against it.  The less you resist change and the more work with it, the more streamlined your life can be.  That is where unhappiness is mostly stemmed from.  When we begin to look at things like this it can be amazing the effect on your mood and happiness.

The key to tying it all together though is to choose happiness, always.  Described in the book as an unreasonable happiness.  But in order to do this you need to break free from the illusions of your mind.  Realize that we are a tiny dot in the universe and ‘bend with the wind’.  Add a touch of humour to this and you can stay happy through anything that life can throw at you.  And remember that this moment, right now, is all we have, it’s all that’s important, and it can never be ordinary.  Whether you are washing your car, giving a speech, working out, eating dinner – each moment is as important as the next.  Anything you are doing right now, is all that matters.  Approach life in this manner, and you will have no ordinary moments.

It is written

The last couple of days for me have been quite incredible.  And it’s not so much what happened but how things happened.  I thought I’d just write a quick post about it all and tie in with a term known as maktub.  For those who don’t know, this word is used in Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist – which is an amazing book I would recommend to everybody.  But basically, it’s an arabic word that means ‘it is written’.  I’ve wanted a reason to write about this and I think I have one now.

The idea is that everything in this world – no, the universe – has been written.  For a more western analogy, it is akin to the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’.  More importantly though, is that everything is written by the same hand.  The deeper meaning of it all that every single moment in your life, every tiny and seemingly insignificant occasion, every major and overwhelming event – has all been written, and written for a reason.  When you look at your life this way, you could do two things.  First, you could ignore it, it’s all fairy tale stuff anyway right?  Or second, you could apply it to your life, and realise that everything you do has it’s purpose, and approach every moment in your life with 100% of your spirit.

Now, I’ll explain a little more about why this has come about for me in the last week or so.  At the moment I’ve been playing around on my GoPro, making soccer videos and other things.  So about two weeks ago I film a game and the team we played against were absolutely incredible.  I had never seen skills in person like that before – pro videos yes, not in real life.  Anyway after the game I talk to a couple of the guys and asked if I could put videos up because I thought they were really good, and they were really happy for me to do that.  So that night I put up just a quick video, because I didn’t have too much time to make anything bigger, here’s the video in question:

As you can see, that goal was ridiculous.  But anyway, moving on, I didn’t really think about it too much after doing this.  Since then two pretty incredible things have happened.  First, I saw the guy in the video the next time we played Futsal.  He thought the video was really good and has now offered to pay me to do more videos for him.  I couldn’t really believe it and was never planning on making money doing videos.  I don’t even know if I’ll be able to do good videos for him, but I’m excited to try and see where it goes.  Now the next part of the story is still a little unbelievable for me.  There were two brothers on that team, also really great players.  My best mate had a house cooling down party on Friday night.  It turns out those two brothers are good friends with my best mate and were there that night.  I am still spinning out at how small the world is.  But, more to the point we chatted heaps and got along really well, and they were quite impressed with the way I played and now want me to play A grade outdoor soccer with them.  Which first, is incredibly flattering, as a player I’ve never considered myself special, I just play with all my heart.  But, it is also really exciting for me and opens up so many possibilities for the future.

So, the point of my post today is not to brag.  The point is that the universe works in mysterious ways and it really is written.  Chance encounters with strangers can have such massive impacts on your life.  I’ve taken upon myself to treat every conversation with a stranger as important as a conversation with the king.  Because you just don’t know what someone has to offer you, or what you can offer them.  And if you are hostile or rude on first encounter, the door closes extremely fast.  I can think back to that Futsal game, and things could have gone completely different if I let losing the game get to me and let anger out.  By keeping a happy and cool attitude and played the game, that door not only stayed upon, but was almost inviting me in.  And so, while that is a very personal event for me, I wanted to make the point that if you put 100% into every moment of your life, you just don’t know what could happen, but I guarantee whatever happens will be much better than if you just ‘let things happen’ or treat others badly because you had a bad day at work or get impatient.  And I’ll finish with a sentence used in The Peaceful Warrior which not only relates so well to the topic of this post, but also serves as a lead on to what my next post will be.

‘There are no ordinary moments’

Exercises, Muscles, Weights, Body

I’d like to tone it back a little bit for this post and focus purely on different exercises or movements and explain a little in relation to different goals.  I’d also like to provide resources for anybody interested in more, because I’ve learned a great deal on all aspects of health and fitness from a very wide variety of sources, and I know there is an information overload out there and sometimes it’s hard to find the good stuff.  And to explain this I think I’ll use my own ‘timeline’ of exercise regimes to outline it all.  This may end up being a fairly long post but we’ll see.  Before I start I will state that most of this article is focused solely on strength gain and building muscle.  As far as the many components of ‘fitness’ as described in my first post is concerned, I have not touched on too many as this article has already gotten too long, I will do more posts on all the other aspects of fitness.  Progressive overload as you see it in this post, however, definitely applies to all areas of fitness.

Well, funny enough I first began with calisthenics, but not nearly to the advanced point I am now.  Before I really got into working out, I was using two books as a guide:  Your are your Own Gym and Navy Seal Fitness (http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Your-Own-Gym/dp/0345528581 and http://www.amazon.com/Navy-Seal-Workout-Compete-Total-Body/dp/0809229021/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374783260&sr=1-12&keywords=navy+seal+fitness respectively).  My fascination to these two books came from a natural awe I have for the special forces (both author’s being from the special forces).  The great thing about both these books, which I still apply to date, are that they are focused solely on body weight exercises.  The aim was to develop total body conditioning to the level of special forces personnel.  So it included exercises and programs to really push you to your limits, and then some.  The Navy Seal Workout was where I first really discovered what a pyramid workout is.  These differ from traditional sets, instead you start with 1 repetition of the chosen exercise, rest between 5-15 seconds, then do 2, rest, do 3, and so on up to a set amount, and then you come back down to 1.  These are incredibly tough and I highly recommend for anyone who wants a challenge or just to try something new.

So after a few months using these books as a guide, and developing a decent amount of strength (I couldn’t do a single ‘triangle’ push up in the beginning – push up with hands together), I wanted to expand.  About this time I was working out with my best mate a few days a week and I brought up the idea of turning his garage into a gym.  He thought it was a great idea, so over time we started buying bits and pieces – mostly second hand at incredibly good prices (a kilo is a kilo after all).  So by the end we had a good amount of weight, a bench press, squat rack and pull up tower with dip bar.  Basically, as I discovered, everything necessary to effectively train your body.  So I’ll go into a little more detail about this.

When I wasn’t training, I was reading.  I consumed every piece of knowledge on working out I could find.  At first I’d find something and think oh my god this is the secret or the must do thing.  After time, I started seeing trends in the things I was reading, common themes.  What I found to be the most important was this:  at the end of the day, what exercises or regimes you decide to do doesn’t matter, the most important thing is progressive overload.  Second to that, which actually ties in with it, is that muscle stimulation – regardless of the kind of exercise – is all that is necessary.  So, progressive overload and muscle stimulation – what does that really mean?  Basically, your workouts need to effectively stimulate the muscles you wish to build and the intensity should increase as time passes.

One of the biggest problems with the fitness industry is unnecessary hype surrounding particular exercises.  The junk you see in magazines about the ‘must do’ workout or the ‘secret to abs’ or ‘Get big like Hugh Jackman’.  It’s all sales talk and distracts people from the very simple process of building muscle.  The type of exercise isn’t really that important.  Getting the basics right first will then allow you to tailor you’re own workouts much more effectively.  If you’re unsure of what exercises stimulate which muscles, here is an incredible resource:  http://www.exrx.net/Lists/Directory.html.  This includes a great deal of body weight, machine, and weight exercises.  I’ll give a simple list of exercises that would hit pretty much every muscle in your body adequately (These more or less comprised the majority of my weightlifting):

  • Bench press
  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Pull ups
  • Chin ups
  • Dips
  • Shoulder press
  • Rows

Just these alone will build a solid foundation of total body strength.  But theres no cable flyes?  There’s no tricep extensions?  There’s no CURLS??  I’ll point out that this is a very general list that will, for the majority of people, hit enough of their muscles.  Now I will point out that this does not completely apply to bodybuilding on a professional level.  For them, they’ve surpassed the basic conditioning and their aim is about proportion and size.  In their case, they will need certain exercises that target muscles much more effectively.  However, for anybody beginning to work out, forget about finding the ‘right’ exercise, the ‘right’ workout plan and stick to the basics.  There’s no perfect exercise, no perfect routine.  Just find one, stick to it, progressively overload, and you’ll gain a great amount of muscle and strength.  For the beginning, don’t worry if someone says ‘but you need to do ‘x’ exercise to get big.  The best part is after this, you’ll have a much better understanding of it all and will be able to decide for yourself what other exercises you need or would like to implement.  The idea is to tailor what you do to your goals, not anybody else’s.

For me, I stuck to pretty much just those for almost a year.  I put on a decent amount of muscle and my strength skyrocketed.  But, to be honest, I got bored of the same old iron lifting (I did vary the exercises a lot).  My mind wondered.  And, as it would be, it wondered straight back to body weight.  Except, I learned just how far body weight movements can go.  Before I thought a push up was a push up and a pull up was a pull up.  I quickly learned just how much there is you can do and quickly fell in love with it all.  So I’ll explain a couple of things now that I’m currently working on for a bit of an idea.

First, levers.  Levers are basically where you hold your body completely straight either hanging from a bar or off the ground.  They require a great deal of core strength, but in a way that stretches throughout your whole body.  The progression of difficulty is generally – Elbow lever > Back Lever > Front lever.  The elbow lever is best done on a straight bar but can be done on flat ground but I first found it harder.  You place your hands about your hip width, and dig your elbows into your sides.  From that you lean your body forward, raise your legs and straighten your body, balancing on your arms.  Doesn’t sound like much but I guarantee on first attempt it will be humbling.  Here is an example, my very first completely straight elbow lever:

Elbow lever smily

It definitely looks pretty cool.  I’m very close to a perfect back lever, and front levers are still a little far off.  These are both performed hanging from a bar, a front lever you bring your legs and body up and parallel to the ground.  Back lever you put your legs through your arms and bring your body down to parallel with the ground (so your body in the back lever is facing the ground).

What has probably become my focus right now is the planche push-up, which I described in detail in my post ‘Mastering Bodyweight and Intrinsic Purpose’.  I won’t explain it all again but I will say I’m getting quite close, in fact here’s a latest progress pic: (Such a pretty face)

newest planche smily

At that point I haven’t quite got complete control of my body and it was starting to come down.  But that is pretty close to the normal starting position (arms need to be straight though), from then you come down forward until your chest is about bar height or even lower, then return to the top, keeping your legs like that.  I’d like to stress that A) I’ve built a very strong push up foundation before this and B) It’s taken a great deal of work on balance and core strength to get here.  But it IS possible for anybody to achieve.

Calisthenics style workouts are becoming increasingly popular around the world, arguably made famous by the ‘ghetto workout’ in New York.  Now, there are ‘street workout’ championships and various ‘crews’ around the world devoted to this stuff.  I believe the biggest one in Australia at the moment is the Bondi Beach Bar Brutes (https://www.facebook.com/BondiBeachBarBrutes).  These guys are great.  A friend of mine also runs his own home gym business here in Brisbane called Raising the Bar, which is tailored specifically to body weight exercises (http://www.raisingthebartraining.com.au/wp/)  This guy is incredibly strong and I’ve seen some things he can do and it’s amazing to see in person.  I can definitely see myself following in his footsteps in one capacity or another.

I think I should end it there before this gets way too long.  I just wanted to dive a little deeper into actual training itself and hope to show people that there are endless amounts of ways to train and keep fit.  It is only limited by your imagination.  The point is that I wanted to get across was that when you start training, or want to try something different, pick something and stick with it for a while, while applying progressive overload.  Don’t worry too much about the minor details or someone saying you should be doing something else.  You can decide that for yourself after time.  The key thing really is to choose based on your goals.  It is your body.  Your own goals should dictate what it does.

Inner Meaning

Well my last post ended up proving to be more profound than I first thought.  So I thought it would be a good idea to continue on with one of the important themes from that.  Being the idea of having an internal purpose.  Two reasons why I want to expand on that.  First, I have just finished reading the book that The Way of the Peaceful Warrior movie was based on.  And it was probably the most incredible book I’ve read to date.  Second, I guess I’d like to provide a little more insight into what having an inner purpose  really means, where it may come from and, through things I’ve learned through that book, how to apply it across your entire life, so that every day you are not only motivated, but happy.  Because happiness is really the secret to life.  And the key to complete happiness is inside you, and it always has been.

The majority of people are trying to find this key in everything but themselves.  They look in their job, they look in their partners, they look in their achievements, their wealth, their kids, even their workouts themselves.  Their external surroundings.  You hear it all the time, and you probably say the same thing yourself.  After watching the movie and the reading the book, I’ve come to realize that happiness is a choice you make, despite anything going on around you.  Now I can tell you’re probably thinking ‘but bad things happen, I got fired, I can’t find a great partner, I’m in debt’ etc etc.  But when you think of things like a promotion, new job, a great wife, you think happiness don’t you?  And that is the fundamental problem – we as humans, label things good or bad, right or wrong.  I’ve realised I probably cannot do justice to the experience learned from this book in one blog post, but I will try to highlight some key points and apply to the intrinsic purpose.

One of the overall points the hero of the book had to learn was that a warrior takes action.  The master says ‘the warriors acts, the fool only reacts’.  It is through action that the warrior finds happiness.  And that term also means the action of choosing to be happy.  Now, to apply this to your intrinsic purpose, I’ll try making a comparison to the reactive fool and the active warrior.  The fool will react to social cues such as ‘you’re overweight’ ‘Ryan Gosling is soooo sexy why can’t you have a body like his’ and so on.  So, they react by going on a diet, working out, getting fit and all the rest.  They really give it their all, idealizing this outside influence a la carrot and the donkey.  But it generally doesn’t last.  They are trying to live up to external ideals, that may not even be synchronized with what they really want.  And so it is very easy for them to give up, saying things like ‘I’m okay with my weight’ ‘I can’t possibly look like Ryan Gosling’.  And the cycle can often repeat.

Now, in comparison, the warrior will act for no other reason than the action itself.  The choice of action reflects the warriors inner purpose.  For example, Dan in Peaceful Warrior is a gymnast.  In the beginning, he explains to Socrates (Soc) how hard he trains to try making the Olympics and that is his dream.  Soc, in the movie adaptation, in very few words breaks him down.  Dan says, in a very assertive and domineering voice – ‘I train 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year’.

Soc: ‘Why so much?’

Dan: ‘Are you serious?  I’m a heartbeat from making the qualifiers’

‘Qualifiers for what?’

Dan (Smugly): ‘Well, you ever watch the Olympics?’

‘Nope’.  And that was it

Well, you’re probably thinking who cares if he doesn’t watch the Olympics because millions of people do.  But the actual lesson is profound.

Dan was using these outside influences to motivate and give purpose to his training.  He was ‘chasing gold’.  But it is all an illusion, those things cannot really bring you happiness, and it’s the act itself that brings you real happiness.  What happens when you receive your gold medal?  That single moment in time is quickly passed by and can then make you feel empty inside.  Try applying this to yourself now.  Think back to any achievement you received an award or trophy for, even grab that trophy and feel it in your hands.  How do you feel?  Does it make you feel happy inside?  Do you feel like your now doing what it was you won the trophy for?  My guess is it doesn’t really bring any feeling to you.  In the end, it’s a piece of metal.

In Dan’s case he naturally loved gymnastics so the act of doing is all that is really necessary.  Once he realized this, his training evolved.  He devoted, and I now follow this principle, each training session to the act of training for training alone.  It wasn’t focused on winning a prize or making the qualifiers.  Because these external forces are beyond your control and will come and go.  However training, in whatever it is you choose it to be, exists every single time you do it.  It cannot be taken away from you any more then it can be given to you.  It is you.  This can apply to any single thing you do in your life, and in this case, to properly apply it to your workouts, you need to shift your focus from any external motivation and look inside you for the reason.

For myself, I love Futsal.  And as a player, I have finally evolved the way I play in an incredible way, because I now play for the sake of playing itself.  It doesn’t matter to me if we win or lose, doesn’t matter if the ref makes bad calls or I get injured.  Where not so long ago I would get angry or try to start fights very frequently.  But none of that makes a difference now.  As long as I’m playing (playing is most certainly a form of training) I’m at peace, and I will choose to be happy no matter what happens.  So I want you try this in your own life.  Think of something you like to do, be it sport, a hobby, work, whatever it is.  Break it down.  Do you do it because you want to win, because you want money, because you want fame?  If so, try to step back and think why you actually enjoy doing it.  Doing this you will surely learn whether you are doing something because you genuinely enjoy it or if you are really only doing it for some reward or recognition.  If the former, try to forget any result and enjoy each time you are doing it for doing it alone.  I guarantee you will not only find happiness in doing it, you may also find that you end up achieving more than when you were focused on just that.

Mastering Bodyweight and Intrinsic purpose

As I described in my post ‘Working Out’, having a clear purpose for training each day is best form of motivation and inspiration.  I also hinted at my current purpose:  Advanced calisthenics.  In simple terms that means bodyweight movements.  In more detail, it means bodyweight movement that look impossible, and are very much impossible in the beginning.  Now this post was suppose to be just about my training at the moment, but as I was writing I felt there was a natural progression into a deeper look into ‘purpose’.

I thought I’d go into a little more detail as to what I’m working on, where I get my ideas from, and provide some examples of some things you may like to try yourself.  I don’t want to try convincing anybody that they should drop the iron at all, but you might find you really like some of these movements.  So my training has now evolved into a more open ended view.  I don’t think of ‘chest and arms’ Monday, ‘back and legs’ Wednesday and ‘Shoulders and abs’ Friday anymore (very basic example of bodybuilding ideology – not to be taken as a ‘serious’ routine).  Instead, I end up training between 1 and 3 times a day.  My primary focus now is on movements, not body parts.  In this way, I can, and do, train whenever I feel my body can take it (Listening to your body is essential for avoiding injury).

For example, one move I’m working on at the moment is known as a planche push up.  This is basically a push up where your legs do not touch the ground.  Yep, just thinking about it will make you think how is that even possible?  Well when I first tried, I almost faceplanted into the ground.  However, I’ve learned a bit more about it and different ways to train for it.  This move takes an incredible amount of core strength and upper body strength, so I work on them whenever I can.  Core work at the moment consists of L-sits and planks.  As for upper body strength, I tailor that around some of the other movements I’m trying to learn at the same time, to integrate them all together.

For direct strength relating to this movement, I work on ‘psuedo’ planche push ups.  This is the same kind of movement except your feet are on the ground, or elevated.  To distinguish this from a normal push up, you put your hands much lower than normal, down around your hips.  I use push up bars to help with this but on the ground you generally need to put your hands facing outwards depending on wrist flexibility.  In this way, you can progressively work on the upper body strength needed, increasing the difficulty by either placing your legs up higher or using a weighted vest.

Concurrent to this strength training, I will also do specific training, basically by just attempting to perform the move.  So I’ll push my legs up into the air and work on either holding myself on the top position as long as I can, or really focus on keeping my body tight and bringing myself down slowly.  I will upload a video of where I am at currently tonight.  But if you wish to see what I’m talking about, just Youtube ‘planche push up’, you’ll find endless amounts of videos.  My current resource for new ideas and training is by a calisthenics master in America called Al Kavadlo.  He has an incredible resource of videos and articles on his blog at http://www.alkavadlo.com.

So, because my training methodology has completely changed, and I’ve shifted the focus from hypertrophy into strength and movement training, I generally avoid fatiguing my body too much.  In this way I can do some form of training morning and night every day.  I cannot always push myself excessively hard, and some days I’ll just take it easy and work strictly on balancing and core work, but the point is I guess that with this clear purpose I have, I am always motivated to train.

I wanted to explain a little more about my training to make you think a little more about why you train and what you wish to achieve.  I briefly described goals that a lot of people have that are not a very good purpose.  The best example is to ‘pick up chicks’.  This is by far the worst reason to train, and it’s not just because of the vain aspect – working out is inherently vain – but that’s not a bad thing (by that I mean it is always about improving yourself).  Why this is terrible is the fact that working out, putting on mass, ‘shredding’ does not in any way guarantee increased attraction from the opposite sex.  And so what happens to someone with this purpose who after working out for a while, hasn’t seen any or much progress in that department?  They quit, because the purpose just isn’t even real.  The key point I’d like to make from this is that your purpose should be completely intrinsic, something from within you without any external influence.

These purposes are not only the most powerful, but also the most true to you.  However, it will often take a huge shift in mentality to bring about this.  What I mean by that is, often when you first think of working out, you think ‘yeah working out, it’s good for me, I’ll feel better etc etc’ but deep inside you actually don’t care enough.  And you set about training hard, you buy new equipment, and you really dive into it.  But, soon enough, you’re too tired to train, you had a bad day at work and want to just lounge around watching tv, and before you know it, you’ve stopped and you think ‘ah well I can’t continue now…’  This vicious cycle can repeat over and over for many people.  It is imperative to have a complete intrinsic shift.  And it is not easy.  However it can be the best thing you ever do.  This will in itself move your focus away from ‘oh man it’s 2 weeks into training and I’m exhausted’ to ‘I cannot wait til my next workout I am going to dominate it’.  Stop thinking of the pain, the hurt, how ‘hard’ it is, and think about what you are achieving and what you can achieve.  And what you can achieve is limited only by what you believe.