Category Archives: Linguistic Traps

No good reasons to prioritize anaerobic training. At least 9 great reasons to do some.

A friend of mine recently asked for my thoughts on an article titled Nine reasons to prioritize anaerobic training over cardio. Leaving aside the issue that “cardio” is ill defined and often contains an anaerobic component (which means that it bugs me when people use the word), this is an extended version of what I answered.

My contention is that the article in question doesn’t actually give any good reasons to prioritize anaerobic training over “cardio”—by which I’m assuming the author means “aerobic training.” (For the rest of this article, I’m defining “aerobic training” in opposition to anaerobic training: “aerobic training” is training with no anaerobic component whatsoever).

Don’t get me wrong: the article gives 9 excellent reasons for why to include anaerobic training into your exercise routine. But I’m unconvinced that these are reasons for why to  prioritize anaerobic training in the sense of “if you only have time to do one of these two kinds of training, do anaerobic training.”

Simply stated, that’s not a good idea. While many may argue that I’m splitting hairs, consider what the effect of “why you should prioritize anaerobic training” is to a lay audience. (I believe that) the effect is “anaerobic training is better than aerobic training”. This raises an important question: if it’s good to prioritize anaerobic training, when exactly should we do aerobic training?

Although no training can be said to be “better than another” in a strictly metaphysical sense, aerobic training and anaerobic training each have their advantages. And it is when you consider their relative advantages over one another that the question I italicized above becomes so pertinent: the time to do aerobic training is in fact before and so that you can safely perform anaerobic training.

 So we return to the beginning: while anaerobic training is important and necessary and has its place, its place is auxiliary to aerobic training. This is why:

In my most popular article on the site, titled High-Intensity Fitness Culture, Explained in Systems, I discussed how the anaerobic system is essentially the emergency, high-intensity, powerful, dangerous, and rapidly-exhausting turbocharger that an organism uses to overcome an immediate threat to its existence.

While the anaerobic system is a critical system (worthy of development and training), there are costs to using it: anaerobic activity produces acidic hydrogen ions, which wear down the body. Those costs will become exacerbated insofar the anaerobic system becomes the dominant energy system in the body.

All of which brings us back to the aerobic system. What exactly, does the aerobic system do? Essentially, its function is to provide long-term energy to the body by oxidizing fats (combining fats with oxygen to provide energy), and to assist recovery from anaerobic activities by processing its main by-products: lactate and positive hydrogen ions.

Insofar as your anaerobic system is more powerful than your aerobic system, your body will have a more difficult time recovering from anaerobic workouts. This is a problem for those who gave given anaerobic training priority over aerobic training, and consequently possess anaerobic systems that are more powerful than their aerobic system can sustain.

The aerobic system also happens to be the system that the body uses for its upkeep and longevity. This is an issue for another article, but the reason is because “longevity” is essentially “long-term recovery”—in other words, the ability of the body to keep recovering for longer, before breaks down enough that it dies. (Here’s a hint you can use to reverse-engineer the content of my next article for yourself).

For the sake of clarity, let me reiterate what I discussed in paragraph 4: all the reasons given in the article I’m discussing are great reasons to do anaerobic training, all legitimate and grounded in extensive research. My contention is NOT that the reasons given in the article are somehow illegitimate, but rather that when they are cast as reasons to prioritize anaerobic training, they become (1) quite misleading to the lay audience and therefore (2) dangerous to those who take the article at its word(s)—the particular words in question being “prioritize over”—and naively follow them to their logical conclusion.

(I am NOT arguing that anaerobic training will become dangerous to those who take the words “prioritize over” to mean “modestly include” regular anaerobic workouts into their predominantly aerobic training).

Exercise, the fitness industry, and the pursuit of skill.

Most of the people that I know work out to lose weight, to put on muscle, or to get fit. Modern ideas about exercise and athleticism pushes us in that direction. The message is clear: workouts are a means to an end.

There’s a big problem with this. Weightloss and “fitness” are—and have always been—side-effects of more movement.

Just going to work out isn’t enough. Think about this: if you run a few miles, and your skill level (meaning the combination of experience, strength, and endurance) isn’t enough to sustain that distance, you’ll end up breaking your body. “Just doing more exercise” requires something very particular.

It requires developing more skill.

But a lot of the people that are out for a run or at the gym—they just want the weightloss. They’re not in it for the skill. That’s fine, and it’s certainly not their fault: a variety of media, driven by a powerful marketing machine, have impressed upon them that their self-esteem, social acceptance, and their health is subject to whether they exercise or not.

So they expend precious mental capital to get out there and go burn some calories. But what the fitness industry has not told them—what it relies on them to discover alone—is that movement opportunities are created by movement skill.

Think about it: most of our urban areas are an uninteresting environment, and vertical urban environments are impassable (and alien) to the majority. But to the traceur—the parkour practitioner? This is their playground. To the average runner, the highway, with gas stations every ten miles, means nothing. But for the ultrarunner, that same environment is nothing but potential.

The experienced ultrarunner, skilled and knowledgeable in the art of the running gait, can burn five thousand calories, and then go burn some more. Leanness (and fitness) is a by-product of the ultrarunner’s quantity of movement—but their quantity of movement is a direct function of their movement skill.

Movement skill always precedes quantity of movement. This puts the average gymgoer in a catch-22. Remember: they’re not in it for the skill—they’re just in it for the quantity. That’s what they’ve been told is important, and furthermore, here they are, at the gym or on the run, despite their interests and wishes. By focusing on weightloss or fitness (but not movement skill) as a fitness goal, they are quite literally compromising the achievement and maintenance of their stated goals.

Not all fitness goals are created equal—but not because some are worthier than others. In any skill in any domain of human activity, competence is a prerequisite for the achievement of any goal. Some goals are simply more conducive than others for creating the competence required to achieve a broader array of goals in that domain.

As movement expert Gray Cook said, “technique is always the bottleneck of limitation.”

Technique—skill—is the bottleneck goal. Without technique, the achievement of all other exercise goals (fitness, weightloss, or muscle growth) will be compromised.

We athletes and fitness enthusiasts must become ambassadors for this idea. The belief that the pursuit of skill is just one goal of many is flawed, and it militates against the athletic achievement of those whose only mentor is media. Skill, and not shoes, and not gear, makes you fast and powerful. Movement quality drives all sustainable increases in training volume. Until we internalize that, many of us won’t achieve our fitness goals, and we won’t understand why.

Runners: Let’s not confuse Efficiency with Optimization

We should always be careful, as runners and athletes, when shopping around for new data to help us develop our craft. We should be even more careful when this data comes in a convincing format—scientific research—and alarm bells should go off when that research isn’t put in context.

Recently, I went to take the Pose Method Level 1 coaching certification, which I wrote a pretty popular review about. With this post, I want to begin diving a little deeper into the subject, starting by addressing one of the major scientific critiques towards the outcomes of minimalist running, forefoot striking, and the Pose Method: that these techniques are less efficient than heel-striking—namely, that they use more energy across the same distance.

Well, do they? Perhaps. Most likely, in fact.

However, seeking sheer reductions in energy use may be missing the point.

Let’s take a popular sport as an example: mountain biking. One of the first things you consider when buying a new mountain bike is whether you want dual suspension, or only on the front. This is a classic trade-off: the dual suspension lets you go on more rugged terrain, but it also means that less power from every stroke goes into driving the bike forward.

A dual-suspension bike is less efficient than a front suspension bike. That’s it, right? Front suspension bikes are superior. It’s a done deal.

Well, no.

Before I go on, let me be quite clear about the argument that I’m making. I’m not saying that less efficient options are better. I’m arguing that different options can’t—and shouldn’t—be judged on efficiency alone. I’ve seen it at least a few times in the running community: the studies on whether the Pose Method lowers running efficiency are presented in one stand-alone sentence, as if by itself, and without regard for the scope and depth of functions that the human body must fulfill, efficiency means something.

Efficiency alone means nothing. The questions we should ask is: what is it getting us, and what are we sacrificing by pursuing it?

Let’s go back to the mountain bike example.

Adding that rear suspension increases the capability of the bike to interact with more rugged terrain. If you land from a high jump with a dual suspension bike, you’re less likely to break the frame—or yourself.

Not a mountain bike, but I'd say that Danny MacAskill's legs count as suspension 1 and 2.
Not a mountain bike, but I’d say that Danny MacAskill’s legs count as suspension 1 and 2.

You’ll see this across all systems: increasing the dynamism of any system (which means both its capability to interact and its rate of interaction) increases its ability to interface with other complex systems (i.e. the environment). In order for this to happen, a dynamic system has to be working with sufficient moving parts, all of which take energy to function. If we just focus on cost-cutting measures—what gets me the least energy consumption, all else aside—we’re going to be undercutting that system’s optimization at some point.

That certainly seems to be the case in human locomotion, as suggested by this study (also cited above).

We’re making a very specific—and very generalizable—trade by adding a rear suspension to the mountain bike: we’re reducing its efficiency in order to optimize it to the environment.

Lowering the efficiency, however, does not immediately mean that you’re optimizing something. In fact, it’s typical to find that if optimization drops below a certain threshold, so does efficiency. A bike needs intact tires to function well. You can’t be riding on the rims during a race and expect to be very efficient.

Optimization, although more costly in the immediate term, is more cost-effective than hard-edged efficiency over the long-term. What happens if the bike frame breaks? The amount of power that goes from your downstroke and into the ground drops to zero.

We all live in this compromise: we want to increase our efficiency, but not at the cost of optimization. Let’s use a gait example. Is it more efficient to shut off your gluteus maximus, hamstrings and quads while running? Probably—those muscles are huge. They’re consuming lots of sugar and oxygen in order to stabilize the pelvis and move it over the femur and the knee joint.

In addition, they’re mostly only active from contact to midstance. They’re the biggest muscles in the body, and they don’t even help you push off. Less efficient? Sure! Why not just let momentum carry your GCM—general center of mass—over your knee joint while keeping the hip extensors quiet?

Because your femur would summarily come off your tibia, and your patella would pop off and land somewhere on the ground in front of you. Once again, the efficiency of your gait would drop to zero.

I’m not making an argument for any particular method or stride type. (I believe those arguments are there to be made, once we have satisfactorily defined what we mean by “stride type,” but not in this post). The takeaway, as I mentioned above, is that in order to optimize something to the environment—say, in order to allow our body to remain in a configuration which can adapt its footfalls to variable terrain—we’re going to be sacrificing some raw efficiency.

Is forefoot-striking or Pose the best way to optimize the body? Well, that’s a different question.

UPDATE: In this article, “Pose” refers to excellent pose technique. (This was brought up by a concerned reader on a Facebook thread.) Indeed, all running and all movement is an alternation of poses (think about the kata in martial arts). For better or worse, the question remains in the scientific and running communities: is excellent Pose technique the best way to run? Many try to detract from it by saying that it is less efficient. I believe that regardless of whether it is or not, that line of argument largely misses the point.

Muscle strength and running economy — a “chicken or the egg” problem?

Runners are often told that strength training is integral to improving running speed and running economy. But there might be a little bit of a problem with this advice. I recently posted about a body of research that pointed to the idea that, for a variety of biomechanical reasons, weaker muscles in a trained runner correlated with a greater running economy (specifically at the calf region). The consensus was that running economy increased with achilles tendon loading, and decreased with calf muscle (gastrocnemius and soleus) activity.

More muscle means worse economy. A recent article in Runner’s World confirmed this, citing a study that found that running economy was related to the balance of strength between the anterior and posterior muscles (specifically, the quads and hamstrings). It was not, as most of us suspect, a function of pure muscle strength—overall, competent runners had weaker muscles than novice runners.

This brings up several questions. The first is, of course, how can weaker muscles make you run faster? The answer, I believe, is systemic, and our ability to find it hinges on what we mean by “strength training”—and how usefully we’ve defined it for ourselves. In the most basic terms, the strength of an individual muscle has little to no bearing on how the hip-leg-foot mechanical system will function in practice.

The power of this system—when power refers to how much force the leg can put out per unit of time—is much more a function of how well the parts move together, than how strong any individual part (or indeed, all of its parts) are individually. Someone endowed with extremely strong muscles that are all just slightly out of sync will have a completely rigid leg, not a powerful one.

It’s necessary, therefore, to make sure we all mean the same thing by “strength training.” Strictly speaking, the kind of explosive power (plyometric) training that a lot of runners do, which actually does develop hip and leg power, is “strength training”—but of the entire system. We need to be clear on what we mean by this to know if strength training will actually help us become better runners. Do we mean pure strength, or explosive strength?

The second question is more related to a practical matter, and is a consequence of answering the first. What are our reasons to train pure “muscle strength” in the first place? We’d better have them, given the above evidence that muscle strength correlates with low running economy. If we do prescribe a strength training program to runners, are we potentially hurting their running economy?

I don’t have an answer for this. Most of my training is either isometric or plyometric, and the few strength exercises that I do—such as barbell squats—are for balancing my body out, more than anything.

The third question is a matter of causality: why did the novice runners in the Runner’s World article have stronger muscles? To speculate about this, we have to return to the body of research mentioned above. The reason that weaker muscles correlated with greater running economy has to do with the biomechanics of particular bodies. One of the abovementioned studies looked at the ankle region of highly-trained runners, and found that runners who had longer heels (meaning a greater distance between the ankle and the heel) had poorer running economy and greater muscle power.

None of this is surprising, once you think about it. When the hip-leg-foot system pushes against the ground, it exerts force directly into the ground, at a perpendicular angle. To achieve this, the foot works a lot like a lever: the achilles tendon is connected to the end of the lever arm (the heel bone). When it shortens, the heel raises, meaning that the foot rotates downwards around the ankle—the fulcrum—allowing force to be exerted into the ground. Because every action has an equal and opposite reaction, force also travels in the exact opposite direction: into the calf, parallel to the calf bones.


Because of the properties of the muscle-tendon system, this results in a trade-off. If you increase the length of the lever arm—the distance from the ankle to the heel—leverage increases, meaning that the calf muscles have an easier time pulling on the lever and causing the foot to point.

However, this also means that the tendons work more like a rope and less like a spring: The elastic fibers that make up the tendon have to be aligned with the direction of force in order to store that mechanical energy. If the lever is longer, the achilles tendon is at a greater angle to the direction of force, and therefore less capable of storing mechanical energy.

In other words: greater leverage = less energy return. When your skeletal structure compels you to use your muscles more (resulting in stronger muscles), you also have less energy return, which is a critical component of running economy.

The reason that the novice runners in the Runner’s World article have stronger muscles may have less to do with the fact that they’re untrained and more with why they’re untrained. Perhaps one of the reasons is that they are not dimensionally prediposed to train running. Supposing this is the case, you might look at their bodies and find that they are built for leverage, not for energy return.

You might. A longitudinal—long-term—study would confirm this (or not). If the untrained runners started training, would their running economy get better? According to the abovementioned study, not really—or at least not completely: the study estimated that 56% of running economy could be accounted for by heel length alone. In addition, the runners they looked at were all highly trained (and had comparable running performance) and their running economy still varied by 20-30%.

(This also means that while longer heels contribute to a lower running economy, they do not necessarily contribute to lower running performance. The human body has many faculties, each of which contribute differently to performance. Energy return is only one of them).

One thing is clear: as a collective, we need to be a lot more careful with the advice that we give runners. As I mentioned above, what does “strength training” mean, and what exactly are we recommending that runners do, if we make such a suggestion? The skeletal mechanics of the body (let alone the possible interpretations of the phrase “strength training”) means that the same advice given to two different runners can have very different ramifications—or worse yet, none at all.

My view? Everybody is a runner. Nobody is “a runner.”

Perhaps the most important benefit of systems thinking, as it relates to our way of thinking, is that it lets us grasp the notion that a lot of things in the world that seem immutable actually aren’t immutable—they’re just kept that way.

“By what?” You might ask.

By a systemic structure.

One of the key concepts of systems thinking is that “events” are generated by patterns of behavior, which are in turn generated by a systemic structure. This structure is predicated on certain underlying principles—certain goals and ideas that cause the system to have that particular shape:


Our experiences of who is “a runner;” who has “a runner’s body type,” etc., are no exception.

Continue reading My view? Everybody is a runner. Nobody is “a runner.”

Systemic paradigms and their repercussions: the athletic phenomenon of “heel-striking,” and its origins in scientific reductionism.

It would be misleading to say that the philosophical currents that drive society affect our behavior and influence events. It’s much more accurate to say that those philosophical currents largely determine our patterns of behavior and generate those events.

The widespread and damaging athletic phenomenon of heel-striking is no exception.

(By “heel-striking” I refer to the global set of gait characteristics which results in the runner putting their weight on the heel of the landing foot ahead of the center of mass).

Systems thinking proposes that our “mental models”—our belief systems about the world—create the very fabric of society, and therefore the patterns of behavior that emerge. The repercussions that our worldview has on our thought, our social structure, and our lives, are vast, and they are powerful.

Continue reading Systemic paradigms and their repercussions: the athletic phenomenon of “heel-striking,” and its origins in scientific reductionism.

The benefits of developing a healthy, dialectic relationship with pain.

One way or another, most of us have an unhealthy relationship with pain. Either we’re scared of it, or we try to overcome it. In both situations, pain is the enemy. But our relationship with pain doesn’t have to be of enmity. If we understand it, it can become a great asset in training and in life.

This especially goes for runners: we’ve become socially conditioned to believe that running is just painful. According to society, when you run, pain is gonna happen anyway, and because running “is injurious”—it’s just that way—well, there’s no point in listening to it, to what it’s telling us about our bodies, and figuring out how to modify our running accordingly. Because running is injurious, our body will break at some point, so we might as well just wait until something happens and then go see the physical therapist.

But pain itself can help us guard against injury. We just have to get to know what it’s telling us.

Continue reading The benefits of developing a healthy, dialectic relationship with pain.

The irony of the “fitness” identity: a praise of CrossFit, and a critique of its founder.

CrossFit, in name and on paper, is an excellent form of exercise. CrossFitters achieve fitness through emphasizing the mobility and functionality of the body across many varieties of athletic skill. In my opinion, the most physiologically sound version of a human body is one in which its strengths and abilities are expressed alongside a capacity for sustained, safe, and healthy endurance running. CrossFit doesn’t emphasize the development of the “aerobic engine” necessary for that kind of endurance running. That may be my one complaint against the sport. That aside, CrossFit is as good as it gets.

As a runner, I live with the hopes of becoming fast, regardless of who’s next to me, or where I go in the world. Because of that dream, the training philosophy of CrossFit—and many of its exercises—have become a staple of my training. My simplest interpretation of the CrossFit philosophy is that a single-event athlete will be better at their best event if they are a multiple-event athlete. In other words, ability has to be cultivated across a breadth and depth of skills, for “fitness” to emerge. As the website says:

“By employing a constantly-varied approach to training, these functional movements at maximum intensity (relative to the physical and psychological tolerances of the participant), lead to dramatic gains in fitness.”

It’s there in the name: CrossFit.

Ever since hearing of CrossFit, I do more and more classic weight exercises such as the barbell squat—and have consistently made gains in speed, power, and endurance over “purer” runners. I’ve incorporated jumping rope as the ultimate plyometric and cognitive exercise: the amount of repetitions that you can put out during a jump-rope session do wonders in honing your body’s ability to exert force against the ground, and receive it safely.

CrossFit’s definition of “fitness” is the most useful I’ve ever heard of—or that CrossFit is aware of, too; it says it right there on the website. “Fitness” is defined as:

“Increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Capacity is the ability to do real work, which is measurable using the basic terms of physics (force, distance and time). Life is unpredictable (much more so than sport) so real world fitness must be broad and not specialized, both in terms of duration and type of effort (time and modal domains).”

This is a great definition. I can’t visualize a world where CrossFit practitioners would be anything but the supreme examples of health, if that philosophy (and this definition of fitness) were followed to the letter, and taken to their logical extreme. I’ll begin by breaking down their philosophy—(I’ll do the definition of “fitness” in a bit)—so you can see why:

Employing a constantly-varied approach to training. Taken broadly enough, this means that the concept of “training” can easily be expanded to encompass activities that aren’t typically known as “exercise.” Nutrition, for example. Developing the functional components of nutrition would be a boon to the athlete’s net power output. Seeking spiritual, social, and emotional health for their purely functional benefits, is perfectly encompassed under this philosophy.

I think back to Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, in which he quoted the kinds of advice that legendary track & field coach Joe Vigil would tell his athletes: “Do something nice for someone.”This is a varied  approach to training. And a coach like Vigil would only incorporate it because it helped take his athletes to another level of athletic achievement. (These kinds of “unorthodox” approaches are common across the 1% of the elite: Bruce Lee trained “breaking habits,” and when that became a habit, he would break that one too).

Let’s analyze the phrase “movements at maximum intensity, relative to the physical and psychological tolerances of the participant.” This phrase implies a systemic understanding, in which the athlete is not perceived to be a machine, but a person with a unique reality, a unique set of circumstances, that can influence their athletic output at any given time. This is a call to empathy for of the trainers, and a call to self knowledge for the athletes.

Let’s move on to the definition of fitness: “Increased work capacity across broad time and modal domain.” On the surface, this means that the athlete should have speed, power, and endurance.

But let’s look at the definition a little bit more deeply. Especially in conjunction with the phrase “relative to physical and phsychological tolerances,” I could easily argue that one such “broad time domain” is a lifetime. In other words, embedded within the very definition of “fitness,” as put forth by CrossFit, is the argument that health entails fitness: there must be health if the athlete will be “fit.” Under that definition, losing “fitness” because of a lack of health means that what seemed like fitness wasn’t fitness, but was instead a façade—a social performance of fitness that broke down under the assault of time.

Only in view of that impressive philosophy can this next part be so damn ironic. I recently read a New York Times article critiquing the obsession of Westerners with physical fitness. The article quoted extensively from an interview with Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s founder. The NYT article’s critique of the fitness craze centers around Glassman’s 2005 admission that CrossFit had become a breeding ground for an exercise-induced condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can lead to kidney failure. According to the New York Times article, Glassman viewed the rampant “exertional rhabdo” problem as part of CrossFit’s “dominance over traditional training protocols.”

This is absurd—and not only in reference to a “reasonable person’s” idea of fitness.

The idea that a dangerous kidney condition is a marker of fitness goes against CrossFit’s stated definition of fitness—the potential for increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Furthermore, persevering through exercise despite the onset of rhabdomyolysis is a serious breach of the idea that intensity should be measured relatively to the physical and psychological tolerances of the participant.

But wait! There’s more.

According to the NYT article, Glassman also wrote: “Until others join CrossFit athletes in preparing…the exertional rhabdo problem will be ours to shoulder alone.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Glassman’s writing reminds me of something I read in a book called The China Study, about the physiological effects of eating animal protein (specifically, of its contributions to cancer and heart disease). In that book, the authors quoted a physician saying that heart disease was the burden of man, and that only “the effeminate” would pursue other, healthier, avenues of eating to escape it.

In these two examples, these “experts” on health have structured their identity around the ill effects of their chosen activities! When the marker of being “a man” is heart disease, it becomes impossible for anyone subordinated to those social circumstances to seek a healthy lifestyle.

Similarly, if it is the presence of exertional rhabdo that makes CrossFit so “superior”—at least in the eyes of its founder—then the presence of rhabdo in the athlete quite naturally becomes the high watermark of achievement. In direct opposition to the stated philosophy and mission of his fitness empire, Glassman has set up a dangerous situation for his followers: if they haven’t suffered the ill effects of exercise, that means they haven’t been training hard enough!

The problem here isn’t CrossFit. It is the discrepancy between what CrossFit proposes on paper and what its founder touts as the “CrossFit identity.” This should serve as yet another reminder of the fact taht there is often an abyss between what a particular training regimen does for us, and what it is supposed to do. Often, the problem isn’t in how we follow it, but in how we don’t—or more specifically, how we overshoot.

If the reasons for which we overshoot are based on a set of social beliefs that we have created around us—that have long since been divorced of any knowledge of the world (or were never based on that knowledge in the first place)—we are treading dangerous waters. Often, we can’t even see them. Not when it counts. We might be able to laugh at those ironies over a couple of beers, but once in the gym, they will consume us and guide our efforts. If we have taken an identity upon ourselves, all of our exertions will be in service of that identity.

And if that identity centers around illness or overtraining, it doesn’t matter what athleticism we have cultivated as a short-term side-effect of our exertions. We will lose it.

We live and train in social systems. Often, those systems do no favors to the physical, psychological and biological systems on which our athletic output is predicated. Our identity—which is based largely on the demands of that social system—will shape our choice of exercises, the intensity, duration, and frequency with which we do them, and the efficiency of our rest and recovery. What’s on paper never reflects the reality of the situation. The social system, via our identity, informs the effectiveness of our athletic development. 

Let’s make sure that social system, and that identity (or lack thereof), is the right one.

UPDATE: For an answer to the NYT article critiquing “extreme fitness,” see this Outside Magazine article. I’d love to hear your thoughts and answers to any of these articles, and this blog post, in the comments.

Pain is NOT weakness leaving the body.

At one point or another, we’ve all been given those well-intentioned pieces of advice: push through it. Pain is inevitable. Not really, no. Pain is the body’s way of telling our conscious faculty—our “executive control”—that something is wrong. The sensation of pain happens so that we are aware of what is making us stop, so that we can consciously pick activities that won’t damage whatever is hurting.

Instead, we tune out the pain. We ignore what’s going on—and by doing so we become incapable of changing the conditions that led to pain in the first place. And the culprit is that well-intentioned advice: pain is weakness leaving the body.

Continue reading Pain is NOT weakness leaving the body.

The importance of a “Vision.”

These days, we find ourselves in a multitude of wars, literal and metaphoric. We are always fighting against something. Whether it is obesity, aging, injury or death, it seems that most of what we do is to try and stave off the avalanche of the inevitable. This battle cannot be won—and yet we fight it. But the reality is: we don’t have to.

When the majority of us lay athletes begin to exercise, we often do it to hold something at bay. Maybe it’s heart disease. Maybe it’s something else. In systems thinking, is often referred to as “Negative Vision.” We bring into our minds the image of what we don’t want to happen, and we exercise accordingly.

There are several big problems with this approach: first and foremost, we don’t have a mission in mind—something that we are driven to accomplish. For that very reason, we find whatever it is that we’re trying to outrun constantly nipping at our heels. That is a losing battle.

Continue reading The importance of a “Vision.”