Monday, September 22, 2008

Sixes and Eights

Let's make it simple. The upper body -- arms and shoulders -- does two things: pushes and pulls. The middle body -- core, torso, trunk -- does two things: bends and twists. The lower body -- legs and hips -- does two things: stands and steps. That's it. Simple. Six big things the body does.

The muscleman magazines and protein supplement sellers and gizmo hucksters want you to believe it's about exotic movements and magic pills and hightec molded plastics. Hmm. We should have a question then. How does a baby learn to walk? Does it have standing days and stepping days and balancing days? And patented specially formulated megadose diets from the factory? And devices that twist its appendages into froglike contortions for some theoretical benefit?

Should we have leg days and arm days and chest days and back days? Yes we should, if we're the Frankenstein Monster, made out of discrete body parts that function in isolation and make no use of opposing muscles or cooperative neuromuscular functioning. So ... that would be a no. We shouldn't work out like that. It all sounds so scientific, but so did phlogiston. You learn to play the piano by playing scales and chords and melodies, not by hitting all the Cs on the keyboard every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And we teach our bodies to be phenomenally fit by doing constantly varied functional movements at high intensity, consistently.

The weightroom has its place. But why in the world are regular people attempting to do exotic bodybuilder movements? It's nuts. Are you a professional bodybuilder? No. Hardly anyone is, yet so many people are doing workouts that only the genetically gifted and the steroid users could possibly benefit from. Futility. People focus on the tiny little refinements before they have even a foothold on actual strength. They're doing things for their posterior deltoids before they can even do a proper squat. It's nuts.

So let's keep it very simple. If you think that weights are all you should be doing ... well, you'd be wrong. But if you insist on thinking that, then at least use effective movements. You only need eight of them. Eight. Only eight, for the six big things the body does -- push, pull, bend, twist, stand and step. Two pushes, either dips or bench press, and an overhead press. Two pulls, either rows or high-pulls, and an overhead pull (chins or pullups). Deadlifts and squats; do not do these without being taught how -- done properly, they are utterly safe; done carelessly, they are a trip to the emergency room. Lunge and twist -- again, these movements must be learned with the utmost care. Do not twist with weight. But "core" training, ab training, is only part of the picture. We'll talk about this some other time, maybe.

So there it is. Simple. If you can do it right, and with the discipline and intensity that it takes, you'd amaze yourself. But then again, if being a great chef were just following recipes, we'd all be fat and famous. Point is, there has to be talent somewhere in the formula. In this instance, it takes the form of consistency. But that's a topic for another time. In the meantime, be excellent.


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