Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Workout Update - Week 3 and Existentialism

"Work is not man's punishment.  It is his reward and his strength and his pleasure."  - George Sand

If one can look past the possibly sexist connotation of the above statement (made all the more ironic by the fact that it was made by a woman), you may see an attitude which is not terribly common in our present day.  It reminds me of the story Martin Luther King Jr. tells about the streetsweeper.  About how a man who sweeps the streets should take to his job like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, so that when he died all who knew him would say he was the best street sweeper who ever lived.

People scoff at these sorts of notions today.  Work on it's own is not anything to be proud of, unless it leads to some sort of financial gain or advantage.  These ideas are furthered by the cliff notes version of Marxism that pervades on many college campuses, which advances the notion that those who labor are trapped in an endless cycle which they are neither aware of nor are they capable of escaping.  To many within the "educated" classes, a person who enjoys hard labor for it's own sake is provincial and quaint.  A sort of relic of a bygone era when brawn mattered as much as brain. 

If so, I am definitely a relic.  People have asked me how I can workout the way I do and still go to law school.  I tell them I do not understand the question.  The real question to me is how I could do law school if I did not push myself physically.  There is something about physical labor that is gratifying on a level that my intellectual pursuits cannot touch.  For example, I can write a paper about one of my many random pursuits, and submit it for publication.  Some people will love it, some people will like it, some people will hate it, and some will be entirely indifferent.  Someone will poke a hole in the methodology, someone will question my conclusions, and someone will debate my structure.  Oftentimes, the only reason someone even weighs into the discussion is so they can essentially establish "yes, I too have read a book."  Other times, someone jumps in to a discussion because they believe they have some incredibly unique perspective on the conflict in question that no one has ever heard.  They are normally wrong.  In the end, intellectual discussion can quickly become a cock-fight wherein there is nothing truly gained or learned by anyone.

These two are actually about to discuss 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' 

On the other hand, physical labor is definite, concrete, and not up for debate or discussion.  You run a sub 6 minute mile, finish a half-marathon, dunk a basketball, bench 300 pounds, lose 100 pounds, drop into a perfect BMI range?  No one can take that from you and no one can question it.  Your work has reaped a bounty which is not up for criticism or debate.  There is freedom and beauty in that which few things in this world can create.

No.  If it were not for my physical pursuits, I would not survive my academic pursuits.  Well now that we have that high-minded BS out of the way.....

Operation Big Ass Bench Press Update

 Initially, I was slightly skeptical about my plan on this lift.  Exaggerating the sticking point is an old time tested method which gets results, but the other phase of my plan was a bit more radical.  The first two times I did it, I was extremely disappointed that I was not tired.  I kept telling myself that the point was not to be tired, but to work on my muscle's power output in a very limited scope.  And as I discovered on Friday, it is working.  It is really working.  I bench pressed 235 pounds on a whim, which is a gain of 15 pounds in two weeks. 

That pace cannot keep up for long, but its an exciting gain to make.  Also, I think I know how I made it.  Today, after I did my 9 sets of 3 at 115, I decided to see what 185 lbs would feel like.  It felt like it was made of lead.  The reason for this, as it turns out, is fairly simple.  Those short, punching lifts recruit Type 2 fibers to work.  Those fibers use large amounts of energy and oxygen, and can only fire over limited periods of time.  Those 9 sets of 3 blasted them out, leaving only the more numerous but weaker Type 1 fibers to help. So when I unracked that 185 today, I was really doing it on fumes.

Operation Squirrely

This has been some tougher going, but its a great example of how you need to think when you are working out for a purely athletic purpose.

I knew from step one that this would require a sort of fundamental shift in my approach.  I used to use what I like to call the 'Carpet Bombing' approach to athleticism.  This essentially just meant that I was going to lift hard, heavy, and long, until my body was completely trashed.  This is not a very nuanced approach.
Pictured:  A lack of nuance

But as I have already documented this is incredibly physically demanding and time consuming.  Therefore, not really an option for me.  So I have been working more on my balance and flexibility over the last two weeks than I have raw power.  This has required a fundamental change in my thinking about how I measure the effectiveness of workouts.  Instead of making sure that I feel like death when I get home, I pay attention to how I feel when I come back to the gym.

When this sort of exercise does what it is supposed to, you feel lighter, bouncier, and quicker.  So far that is working, but I am not jumping any higher than I was when I started.  Considering my starting point, its probably understandable;  I don't get into the really serious stuff until the 5th week.  This is going to be harder to accomplish and I knew that coming in.  On the other hand, my running vertical off of one leg has definitely increased.  So that is something to keep an eye on.  Considering my past, I don't think that running vertical will ever get back to where it was at it's highest.  But you never know......

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