Maxwell Strength & Conditioning Blog

Enjoy a peek at the world through Steve's eyes as he delivers sermons on everything from training to peace of mind.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Buggery in the Park

After several rainy days, today's weather was absolutely splendid here in Sydney NSW -- which was great for me, because today I had a dedicated workout scheduled; however, the rain would have stopped me. Long ago I released myself from slavery to local weather and learned to embrace the elements, be it rain, sleet, ice or snow. Even better, this freedom includes the option of flying away from bad weather altogether.

While going outside in sunny, pleasant weather is never a bad idea, procrastinating until mid-day in Sydney Central Business District, then heading out to the public park at mid-day, is not so bright. At this time everyone -- and his brother and sister -- descends upon the park like a horde of super-animated hyper-zombies. While I give the Australians a definite A (for enthusiasm!) what passes for exercise is hard to watch. Granted, the Aussies are not unique in this -- I see it all over -- but today, in Sydney, I write the blog.

What is accepted as exercise these days is far from the mark.

People are simply writhing and thrashing about. I can already hear the collective voice in my head:

But Steve, isn't it better to go outside and do something instead of nothing at all?

I say: Nay! Brothers and sisters: In this case, nothing is better than something!

Herein my reasoning.

Exercise done in a haphazard, sloppy manner, will only -- can only -- result in pain and injury, and if the frequency is too high, potential overtraining. That is, if the word "training" even applies.

For all its shortcomings, at least doing nothing won't result in guaranteed acute injuries and insults to the body.

There is widespread confusion about what constitutes recreation and what constitutes exercise. I've fallen into this same confusion myself, because many of the more strenuous recreational pursuits produce an exercise effect -- and in some cases, these recreations are downright hard work. But just because something is hard doesn't mean it has any genuine exercise value. So, let's start by defining "exercise".

Exercise is:

  1. a dedicated, disciplined practice
  2. based upon the five human movement patterns
  3. wherein the involved muscle structures are loaded in a meaningful but measurable manner
  4. whereas the load or stress placed on these muscle structures is applied in a way that does not produce injury
  5. but in fact strengthens the structure in such a way to prevent injury
  6. true exercise is general, with low skill, while recreational activities are specific, and require higher skill sets

There is also a place for the isolation exercises, particularly in areas of weakness or imbalance, that falls outside the realm of the five basic movement patterns. In case you haven't read my material before, the five human movement patterns are as follows

  1. pushing -- vertical and horizontal
  2. pulling -- vertical and horizontal
  3. squatting
  4. hingeing
  5. rotation

Most people have tremendous difficulty with the hinge -- modern people can't hinge. There's a whole host of reasons why this is true, and most of those reasons have to do with sitting. Not being able to hinge means not being able to properly engage the posterior portion of the body, particularly the gluteals. Instead, folks are trying use their knees and low backs to do all the work. No wonder knee replacement surgery has over taken hip replacement surgery as the number one procedure of the baby boomer population.

What got my hackles up -- what motivated this blog -- was a remarkable situation I observed, which is very common around the world but I see it a lot in Australia. I witnessed a crime! Some people might call it a workout but it was criminal malpractice, or perhaps the perps might plead to negligence, if they can prove ignorance over knavery.

First of all, the guy administering the training was fat, provoking one of my core prejudices: I don't like fat trainers -- but that's just me. Fatness doesn't mean the guy doesn't know what he's doing, but it displays a lack of discipline, and this guy had 10kg of goosh hanging off his mid-section.

That loaf of fat aside, he was a large, imposing, fellow who, to the uninitiated, might seem impressive. All things considered, he was a big dude.

This guy was working with two middle-aged men, both woefully stiff, tight, and obviously desk-bound, with requisite forward heads, hyper-kyphotic spines, internally rotated shoulders, and other telltale signs of desk work. Add to that, these trainees were wearing extremely thick, over-engineered running shoes (that aren't even good for running!) Their shoes were so thick there's no way they could sense the ground beneath their feet. Further, it was painfully obvious both gentleman had very poor basic movement patterns.

Yet this trainer, this fitness authority, using focus pads, was attempting to teach them sophisticated punching and kicking patterns.

Such complicated martial arts skills cannot be taught when fundamental movement patterns are completely -- nay, even partially -- lacking. A trainer has no business loading poor movement patterns with weight, nor teaching complex skill sets. Any trainer with integrity knows that first, structural problems must be corrected, then, body weight skills must be mastered, before adding any resistance or learning sports skills.

As I turned away and finished a set of chin-ups on the high-bar, my ears again pricked up when I overheard the trainer announce:

Now, I'm going to show you some wrestling positions…

I whirled on my heel. What I witnessed next was the most awful attempt at a double-leg takedown in the history of ever. This guy's own personal wrestling skills were worse than those of an elementary school child. It was obvious he didn't have a clue regarding basic positioning, technique, timing, nor balance. Virtually everything he showed was incorrect. I wish an opponent would wrestle me like that!

Even more painful: watching the clients attempting to emulate his example. Barely restraining myself, biting my tongue, I chose to mind my own business. But that didn't stop me from writing this blog!

After observing that whole scene..and mulling it over a long time...What I've realized is this:

The guys wanted to train like MMA fighters. They'd probably seen the UFC, or something similar and maybe they admired the fighters' physiques. It seemed obvious they'd signed up to train with what they thought was an MMA-style workout, under the illusion that somehow they, too, would emerge looking like -- and acquiring the stamina and physique of -- an MMA fighter.

But masculine virtue cannot be taught -- only demonstrated.

Unfortunately, it was obvious these guys needed at least a dozen foundational skills addressed before getting anywhere near such sophisticated drills as striking and wrestling. First, they needed to learn how to move unimpaired. But I'm getting off my point -- that's a whole other blog, on training MMA.

What I see is, these guys are locked up in the office all day, and now they've managed to get outside and get some fresh air. It's reasonable that they want to have some fun, and get a workout at the same time.

They want to create something beautiful; they want to feel some bliss.

Here's the thing: they haven't laid down the necessary groundwork in order to benefit from such a workout. And there's this: they don't deserve it; they are trying to jump to the front of the line.

But hey, Steve, I thought you said we should have more play, and have more fun when you go work out?

That is absolutely true.

You've heard the saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? The Maxwell maxim is this:

All play and no work makes you a fool.

Look, are we fighting? I myself love to go out and play, while still enjoying some training benefit... but most guys don't work out like I do.

I do a minimum of two dedicated, muscle-loading workouts per week so that I can fully exploit my recreational, play-time activities. It's the exercise that makes my muscles stronger, and more efficient, so that I can more fully enjoy the benefits of my recreational activities, eg., running, crawling, climbing, jumping, sprinting, and wrestling.

In other words: Don't use recreation as a workout.

Work out so you can have more fun while recreating.

While recreational activities may confer many physical benefits, they are not true exercise. Exercise is what allows us to do recreate more efficiently and safely.

There's a fine line maybe, but if you're replacing dedicated workouts with hybridized, recreational activities, you're taking a step in the wrong direction. No amount of bicycling, tennis, basketball, rugby, soccer, cricket, jiujitsu, running, crawling, parcour, or swimming can provide the benefit of a dedicated, rational strength-training program. And by strength-training, I don't mean Olympic lifting, powerlifting, or girevik sport. Those are sports themselves, so not at all the best way to train for other sports or recreational activities.

The same applies with MovNat. While the concept of getting out and playing in the woods is really cool, and I enjoyed it at the time, the movements themselves are actually parcour-esque, and based upon... skill. The MovNat crowd makes the classic mistake of offering movment skills to develop strength and conditioning. What they should do is is dedicated strengthening exercises in order to better perform their skills.

Build strength with exercise so you can enjoy your play.

I repeat: While I love climbing and jumping et al, I understand this is no replacement for dedicated strength training.

Above I have related my dismay at the state of the industry, below I offer an example of a well-rounded routine, the kind I wish an intelligent authority had offered me, back once upon a time when I didn't know any better.

My favorite dedicated strength workouts are outdoors. I really enjoy push-pull workouts, with little-to-no rest.

  1. Open Chest Pull-ups
  2. superset with Pike Push-ups


  1. Chin-ups
  2. superset with Dips
  3. BW Rows (overhand grip)
  4. superset with Atlas Push-ups

All done at an outdoor gym at The Domain here in Sydney

For the legs, I did this:

  1. Modified Glute-Ham Raise
  2. 1-Leg Hip Thrust
  3. superset with Pistols

I finished with

  1. Single-Leg Calf-Raise
  2. Hanging Leg Raise
  3. and some Static L-Seats

The sets and reps vary, and I enjoy doing slo-mo training, but the whole thing took me less than 40-minutes

I usually stay within the same key exercises. I'll change up lower back and core movements.

In Strength and Health!

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