April Mix – Thursday Night Out

Image by: vasta

Haven’t been writing much lately…need to remedy that. Meanwhile, I have been listening to lots of music. Thought I’d share a mix of tracks that I’ve had in steady rotation lately. Feel free to download the mix here or listen using the embedded player below. Comments always appreciated and definitely post recommendations for further listening…

Track List:

(1) SebastiAn – Love In Motion

(2) 2 Bears – Be Strong

(3) John Talabot – When The Past Was Present

(4) Bad Lieutenant – Sink Or Swim

(5) Orbital – New France

(6) M83 – Midnight City

(7) Crystal Castles – Not In Love

(8) Porcelain Raft – Put Me To Sleep

(9) LCD Soundsystem – Someone Great

TXP: Rise Above

Words to Live By

This shirt came from my friend Doug at Rise Above Performance Training. Doug has been  a friend and supporter of S/E/E for a long time. He is always positive and ready to share ideas about fitness and physical training. Doug is all about, rising above the fray and helping people. Check out this blog post, where he gives away a free manual of circuit training programs.  Better yet, if you are in the Bay Area, follow these directions and head over to Rise Above and meet Doug in person.

stick me with a spork – I’m done

Doug is also a member of the brotherhood of titanium spork owners. This is the ultimate in high tech silver titanium-ware. Doug has his spork fastened with a tactical lanyard for extra security. Whether you’re at the kitchen table or sitting on the edge of a cliff, you don’t want to risk inadvertently dropping this kind of gear and losing it. Sure his spork helps him eat right, but boys and girls, if you want to grow up to be be big and strong like Doug don’t forget your daily dose of iron.

Life’s Too Short to Read Bad Books

Photo by: practicalowl

It took me a long time to learn this lesson. If I bought a book or picked one out from the library, I felt an obligation to read it, even if reading the book was not an enjoyable experience.  I had to train myself to believe that it was OK to put down a less than enjoyable book.

If within a few chapters the book hasn’t grabbed you, it’s not going to suddenly come alive in your hands. As long as I give the book a fair chance, then I have permission to put the book down and try another one. I don’t recall any Eureka moment, where I came to this conclusion. Rather, over time, I had to face up to the fact that Life is Too Short to Read Bad Books.

A bad workout plan or exercise regime should be treated the same way. Again, you have to give it a fair shot, like certain books some programs take a little commitment before they really get going. And, you have to pay attention and keep up with the plot. But, if you find that every time you’re going to the gym it’s a grind, it’s time to find another program. Seriously, like reading a good book before bed, going to the gym should be something that you look forward to. Life’s Too Short for Workouts to be Drudgery.

And, if you’re not mindful, drudgery can creep into the system. Here’s a personal example. Before I started reading and listening to conversations between people super serious about fitness and way smarter than me, I’d never heard of a back off week…lowering the training load for a block of time.

One such super smart person is Dan John. This fall I started experimenting with training inspired by Dan’s One Lift a Day program. Dan maps out a four week plan.  Each week the weights and reps change. What’s week four look like? Week Four: Off!

At first glance, week four was the weirdest thing about this program. I had never intentionally taken a week off. Once I decided to give the program a fair chance, a strange thing happened. Knowing that I was working toward week four, I worked harder during the other weeks.

To my surprise, during the first days of week four, resting felt natural. My mind and body welcomed the opportunity to forget about getting to the gym. Then, about five days into week four, I was really looking forward to cycling back into a new week one. So much so, that during ensuing turns through this cycle, I have had a couple of cheat days during week four, where I went to the gym to work on form or experiment with new exercises, nothing strenuous, just having fun in the gym.

Like a good book, this particular program has grabbed my attention and I am enjoying it to the fullest. Just as people have different tastes in books, they have different tastes in exercise and exercise programs. A backoff week may not be for you. Like my friend Nick Horton, you might be a Bulgarian at heart gradually pushing and adapting the body to new levels of stress every day…with No Days Off!

There is no accounting for taste, which is why I have adopted a general rule against giving books as gifts. I don’t want anyone feeling like they have an obligation to slog through a book that I thought they would love, but it turns out they hate. There is no excuse for not facing up to the reality that life is too short to waste your time on a joyless obligation to finish something that is meant to be enjoyable, but isn’t.

My advice, you can’t read them all, so don’t waste your time on books you don’t enjoy and given the wide variety of choices for exercise and strength training, don’t waste time on programs that don’t grab your interest or that have become drudgery.

Amazing Performance: Mick & Keith

Photo by Steve Wood

I love the Rolling Stones…not much of a confession, but there it is. For a period, as a teenager it was something that I wouldn’t admit. I credit an older student at the University of Texas for making being a fan of the Stones legit again, when he explained that you knew you were listening to rock ‘n roll if it still sounded good coming out of a torn speaker in the cab of a Ford pick-up truck with no A/C in the middle of a Texas summer. The Stones have more songs that meet this criteria than any other band.

2012 will be their 50th anniversary and that’s cool. People don’t want it to be cool, but it is. Mick, the clever conniving Odysseus and Keith the rebellious Achilles, were meant to be dead or gone home at least by now. Keith making it too old age is the greatest rebellion he’s pulled off (the Keith death watch began in 1973). Mick as a knight…Charlie Watts said it best – Anyone else would be lynched: eighteen wives and twenty children and he’s knighted fantastic!

Makes it hard to choose who’d you rather be Mick or Keith.

Fuck me – I love the Rolling Stones. God, I hope there is a 50th anniversary tour.

What’s any of this got to do with personal growth and physical training? Not much really.  Just keep in mind that Mick is the son of a Physical Education teacher and by all accounts takes good care of himself. Keith is Keith.  Immortalized by his battles with drug addiction, booze, and unhealthy excess.  Mick is 68 and Keith will be 68 later this month. They are undisputed heavy weight champions in a line of work that kills people at any age.  So, if anyone tells you they’ve got this shit figured out – That there is a right way to eat, drink, exercise, laugh, love, and live your life – You ought to know that they’re lying.

My Workouts – November

Photo by: mangloard

A New Routine

Finally back in the gym with a decent level of comfort in the shoulder.  I’ve been experimenting a bit over the previous four weeks and came up with a routine that I will be playing with.

It breaks down as follows: (1) Four days of work per week for three weeks. Week four is a rest week. Tues, Th, Sat, and Sun work for me.  (2) The first three days are focused on one major weight training exercise and a secondary training exercise (read as vanity, fixing a weakness, or fun exercise).  Day 4 is all about conditioning. (3) Each week the sets and rep count for the primary exercise change as follows – Week 1: 7 Sets of 5 / Week 2: 6 sets of 3 /  Week 3: 3 sets 5, 3, 2 / Week 4: rest. (4) I keep the secondary exercise at 3 sets of 10. (5) I end each session with 7 minutes of cardio (bike, jump rope, even the elliptical machine).

Right now, my major and minor exercises are:

Tues: Bench and Bat Wings and 7m of Cardio

Th: Rows and Hip Thrust and 7m of Cardio

Sat: Squat and Neck harness and 7m of Cardio

Sun: Travis tries to kill me with his conditioning workouts (stay tuned for a future post on this).

I’ve been consciously resting between sets (3m) and not rushing through these workouts.

Inspiration from failure

Inspiration for this set up came from a failed attempt at Dan John’s one lift a day program.  I really enjoy focusing on one lift during a gym session. However, I was having to schedule gym time at odd hours to make it there 6 days out of 7. I also found that on TKD days it was too much.  That is, I felt demotivated during one or the other session. So, I took his approach to reps and sets, picked three big (major) exercises that I was interested in and scaled back to 3 days with weights.  I added focused (minor) exercises that applied to specific areas I wanted to work on: bat wings to help with my shoulder, neck work to help with sparring, and hip thrusts for some extra glute work. I split minor exercises away from similar major exercises (no hip thrusts on a squat day or bat wings on a row day). And added a little bit of cardio at the end, thinking this might help with recovery.

Customize IT

This set up leaves plenty of room for customizing.  Not a fan of bench, then do a clean and push press instead. Prefer dead lifts to squats, no problem.  Mix and match as fits your needs. The set and rep changes eliminate boredom and there is room for fun and vanity with the minor exercises. The cardio is kind of new (I figure I get plenty with TKD), but I’ve been enjoying it. Measuring progress should be pretty straight forward as you just compare your numbers from the previous month or after the rest week, check your two rep max.

what do you think?

I’m starting my second four week session. The progress and my motivation on these workouts remain positive. Nothing’s perfect and I’m sure there are plenty of holes in the above.  Let me know if you see obvious errors that need to be addressed or have thoughts or comments for improvement.

Destruction and Creation in Sport and Physical Culture


John Boyd was an American thinker. The fact that he was an Air Force Colonel beloved by Marines gives you some idea of what a paradoxical character he must have been. As 40 second Boyd, he was the fighter pilot instructor at Nellis Air Force Base who could wax the tail of any opponent in less than 40 seconds. As an engineer, he developed the Energy-Maneuverability theory, which for the first time allowed the flight characteristics and capabilities of existing aircraft to be compared and the performance of prospective designs to be predicted. When he “retired”, his cross-disciplinary studies led to three major breakthroughs: Destruction and Creation, the OODA Loop, and Patterns of Conflict a “brief” that took Boyd a minimum of five hours to deliver and changed modern American military strategy.


DESTRUCTION AND CREATION is the foundation of Boyd’s theoretical work and it is this piece that I want to draw to your attention.  Destruction and Creation deals with the creative process in a fundamental way.  For Boyd, the creative process begins with an observation of existing domains (mental patterns or concepts of meaning).  Domains are made up of constituent parts. If we shatter the correspondence between each domain and its individual parts, we can keep the parts and discard the domains. From this pile of parts, we can select and coordinate items that fit together to create a new domain (provided of course, that we don’t reassemble them in a fashion that merely recreates previous domains).  Then, we test the new domain for soundness, as not all creative ideas are sound ideas when tested against observed reality.

Boyd used the following example as an illustration of destruction and creation, forging a new domain from constituent parts of existing domains.


You are on ski slope with other skiers — retain this image.

You are in Florida riding in an outboard motor boat – maybe even pulling water skiers — retain this image.

You are riding a bicycle on a nice Spring day — retain this image.

You are a parent taking your son to a department store and you notice he is fascinated by the toy tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads — retain this image.


Pull skis off ski slope; discard and forget rest of image.

Pull outboard motor out of motorboat; discard and forget rest of image.

Pull handlebars off bicycle; discard and forget rest of image.

Pull rubber treads off toy tractor or tanks; discard and forget rest of image.


Skis, outboard motor, handlebars, rubber treads.


What do we have?

Photo by: branewphoto

Examples from Physical Culture: MMA and CrossFit

The early days of MMA were a carnival freak show.  It’s primary purpose was to promote the Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu system by demonstrating that BJJ was superior to all other martial arts and hand to hand combat systems.  In creating a forum where practitioners of different combat sports repeatedly pitted their skills against one another, inadvertently, the Gracies created an event which shattered the domains of traditional martial arts and combat sports.

Over a relatively short period of time, you could watch the weaknesses and strengths of various traditional arts being exposed, broken down into their constituent parts.  The athletes added the skills, strategies, and training methods that were effective and ignored those that were ineffective. They synthesized new systems designed to make them more competitive. A new domain was born. MMA no longer refers to an event where a Judo practitioner competes against a Jiu Jitsu practitioner.  In fact, now, this idea seems ridiculous.  MMA is its own domain.

Over a similar time frame, CrossFit has had an impact on physical culture. The CrossFit approach breaks down various sports and associated training methods, then synthesizes workouts of the day which include aspects of callisthenics, resistance training, gymnastics training, Olympic lifting, sprinting, high intensity interval training, etc. The popularity of CrossFit has surged.

Observation and Instability

Boyd points out that even particularly stable domains are not perfectly consistent with observable reality. In fact, as we refine our observation, the mismatch becomes more glaring.  To resolve the error (in our mental pattern), we resort to analyzing (un-structuring) various domains. Opening up these domains gives us the constituent parts needed to synthesize a new domain.  As we test this new domain, our feedback will indicate whether or not our new mental pattern correlates well with observed reality.  Low correlation patterns are discarded, as they are not useful. If there is a high correlation, then the domain is relatively stable and the mental pattern is useful.  But, with further observation, even the slightest disparity between a particular domain and reality will lead to instability and the need to develop a new domain. Thus, as Boyd sees it, the process of Structure, Unstructure, Restructure, Unstructure repeats toward higher and broader levels of elaboration.  This is an elegant idea, which I hope I haven’t damaged too badly by my description.

We can see that this process took place within MMA at a fairly rapid rate and has since slowed. At this point, slight modifications are being made, but in general, as a sport, this new domain is relatively stable. (Note: Outside of the domain of sport, MMA has some obvious weaknesses. If the goal is to visit violence on another human being, then MMA training is not the most efficient system for this. If the goal is to defend oneself against real world violence, then the MMA practitioner will face the same problem encountered by martial arts film-makers through the years: What does the hero do, when faced with a gun or multiple opponents?)

As the above process dictates, MMA as a domain will be unstructured again in the future and resynthesized in a new form. My prediction is that this will be the result of fans demanding more entertaining fights. Something similar happened in boxing in the late 19th century, with the move away from bare knuckles and the adoption of the Marquess of Queensberry rules. (Here the social impetus was a move away from the base desire simply to win toward a greater emphasis on the importance of playing by the rules.)

The unstructuring process for CrossFit is progressing more slowly.  Part of this may be attributed to the fact that, at the higher levels, the community shuns those that question the methods within the domain.  Consequently,  key innovators leave the community to explore ideas outside of the CrossFit domain. Mark Twight, Mark Rippetoe, Dan John, Greg Everett, and Robb Wolf form a Who’s Who of notables with public splits from CrossFit HQ. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether CrossFit meets their stated goal of providing broad general fitness, as questions frequently arise about whether the program does more harm than good.  Think CrossFit induced rhabdomyolysis as the most publicized example. Remember, low correlation patterns will be discarded.

But, much as the Gracie’s inadvertently unstructured traditional martial arts, the CrossFit games may be the mechanism that kick-starts the process of unstructuring and restructuring CrossFit.  To better compete at the games athletes are tearing the CrossFit domain and other training domains down to their constituent parts and synthesizing programs that correlate to success in competition. For practitioners and fans of CrossFit expect a new domain to emerge.

Control Mechanism

Boyd concludes Destruction and Creation by noting how this process oscillates between disorder and order.  Unstructuring begins, because there is a recognized weakness in the current thought pattern as it relates to achieving a real world goal.  Left unchecked, unstructuring leads to higher and higher levels of disorder. However, because achieving a particular goal requires increased order, there is a necessary shift away from analysis toward synthesis of a new system.  This shift reverses the trend, away from disorder toward order. Paradoxically, then, an entropy increase permits both the destruction, or unstructuring, of a closed system and the creation of a new system to nullify the march toward randomness and death. For Boyd this paradox results in a harmony between destruction and creation that drives and regulates a dialectic engine. It is this engine that creates new mental patterns that allow us to shape and be shaped by our environment, whether that environment is on the mat, in the gym, or some other aspect of life.

Balancing the Stress Account: Advice From Nassim Taleb and a Navy SEAL

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.” ~ Mark Rippetoe. (Thanks Anna)

It’s 0300.  I just woke up and can’t get back to sleep. My shoulder hurts.  The dog is having trouble breathing.  The landlord called yesterday. He wants his apartment back. I have a full plate at work and new projects rolling in. But, that doesn’t keep the bureaucracy, in its stumbling rush toward austerity, from eliminating my position, which means a transfer is in the works. I’ve moved a lot in my life, enough to know that it’s hard work.

Contingency Accounts

I’m lying there awake and I’m a little bit pissed that I’m not taking better care of myself.  The borked shoulder and a joyless mechanical workout program already have me demotivated. TKD is temporarily moved to a less than ideal space, so making excuses for not going is easy. I’m not eating as much as I should. I just don’t have the appetite. Oh, and how is not getting enough sleep going to help?

As I’m gnawing away on this new problem, I remember reading a 2008 interview of Nassim Taleb.  At the beginning of the interview, the reporter explains that every year Taleb puts a few thousand dollars aside for contingencies – parking tickets, tea spills – and at the end of the year he gives what’s left to charity. The money is gone from day one, so unexpected losses cause no pain.

After reading this article, I created a contingency account (with my kids college funds as the charity of choice). Computer melt downs, emergency plumbing bills, unexpected car repairs, all became a lot less stressful, when the money was set aside in advance.

But, tonight I’m thinking of Taleb’s contingency account from a fitness standpoint. I  paid a lot into my fitness account over the last year.  I can’t get the sweat back, it’s already been spent building up reserves of strength.  One reason to build up those reserves is so they are there to pull from when you are sick, recovering from a traumatic injury, or pushing through an unusually stressful period in your life.  This thought reassures me in two ways.  First, I realize that I have the physical strength to get through this. Second, I know that missing the gym while my shoulder heals or because I’m too tired or stressed to go is OK for now.  When my shoulder is healed and my mind is clear, getting back to the gym and rebuilding that account is a priority.

With a Little Help From My Friends

There is another contingency account out there. The friendship account.  Give your friendship freely and it will pay you back when you need it most.  It sounds corny, but it’s true.  At home, in the office, on line.  From the Azores to Austin to Albuquerque to Alaska to Asia to Australia, friends and family came to the forefront. There was a telephone conversation with Mark, an email message from my Dad, chatting with Kevin, a picture posted by Matt, facebook comments from Amber and Anna, and dark chocolate from Kira.  Whether they knew what was going on behind the scenes or not, their support was and is a great source of strength.  This is a reserve account that we tend to forget about and may even neglect, but friendship really makes a difference when fate throws you a hard breaking curve ball.  Early in my career, I went to a very low profile retirement ceremony for a very highly decorated SEAL Master Chief.  He told me: At the end of the day, it’s not the adventures you’ve had or the things you’ve done, it’s the friendships you’ve made that matter most.

So, How Did It Turn Out?

The shoulder’s getting better. The dog’s on Clavamox (worked last time, so fingers crossed it works again).  We’ll ask our real estate agent to start looking for a new apartment. And, after a full court press by folks higher up the food chain than me, promises have been made to fund the position for the next 2 fiscal years (through Sep 2013).  This is long enough for Alex to graduate from high school and time enough for us to plan the next adventure. After a good night’s sleep, I finished this post, and now I’m going to the gym to do squats.