Friday, July 23, 2010

The Tao Athlete

Only recently—as in the past six months or so—have I started paying attention to the bodybuilding coach Scott Abel. He's been around for a long time—I first became familiar with his name some 15 years ago when he had some articles about him (probably articles written by Greg Zulak) in MuscleMag International. And although I was somewhat familiar with his training concepts—I seem to recall that his "innervation training" was the first thing I heard about—I never really thought that he had anything revolutionary.

As with a lot of things in life, it turns out that I was dead wrong about him. Abel might just be the best bodybuilding coach out there. Now, when you first read his training programs, you probably won't think that—not until you understand all of the nuances and details that his programs entail; nuances and details that I am really just starting to grasp.

So, by all means, I would encourage anyone interested in bodybuilding to immerse yourself in studying—and then applying—his theories. (If you're into powerlifting, strongman, or other strength sports, then Abel might not necessarily be your cup of tea, but you should still study his techniques so that you can use the things of his that do apply to your strength sport.)

With all of that being said, the reasons above are not the reasons that I am doing this post. The reason is this: Abel is a very integral-minded bodybuilder—whether or not he even knows this himself. He seems to have a firm grasp of psychology—including some of the problematic psychological issues you will find among a large segment of bodybuilders—and philosophy. In the post below, he shows his grasp of that ever-illusive eastern philosophical idea known as the Tao.

I hope you enjoy what follows. I certainly did.

The Tao Athlete
by Scott Abel

I’ve taken some time out from writing my new book to address this months Blog topic about the Tao Athlete and the Tao in general. To give some background I will use myself as an example. I realized very early on in my bodybuilding pursuits that I was somehow different in the way I looked at bodybuilding than almost anyone I had come in contact with at that young age. For years I could never put my finger on it but I just knew that when I interacted with other bodybuilders, I just didn’t pursue bodybuilding in the same way or for the same reasons as my fellow competitors. That realization would follow me my whole career. It wasn’t until the last few years that I even became acquainted with the concept of the Tao athlete; and of course the Tao itself.

At one of my very first seminars I answered a question that would be most revealing over the next 20+ years. I was still in my 20’s and I was asked about motivation for a contest. I really had no prepared answer because I had been an athlete, even mentally my whole life, so the idea of being unmotivated or not motivated never actually occurred to me till that very moment. But my answer had some people shaking their heads. I said what motivates me is that my body is the house where my true self will reside for the rest of my life. Like any house, the more I like the surroundings and lack of clutter and the more clean and organized that environment, than the more likely I am to think more clearly and “be” a better me. That was my answer even way back then about motivation.

And the thing was, it was the truth.

Early on that is exactly how I felt about my training and workouts. Even then I had connected my spirit self with my athlete self. The Tao nature of that would become obvious over time. I was never comfortable identifying myself as a bodybuilder. My whole career, instead I saw myself as an athlete, who did bodybuilding. It was a difference that still exists today.

The Tao and the Tao nature is about the path, the fulfillment or filling you up from being on the path. It’s about YOUR path. It is unique. The Tao is about balance. It is beautiful in its context that it can be about pure devotion and commitment but at the same time not be about obsessive compulsive preoccupation with outcomes, or results or externals that take us off its path and away from balance. It is said even to discuss the Tao is to lose it. It’s kind of like trying to hold on to running water. It is a natural truth that you know only when you know it. Seek it and it cannot be found, live it, and you become just like that flowing water. There is no need to hold what you are part of, and what is part of you.

This is Tao, and at the same time, not Tao.

To read the entire post, go here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Best of the Web: 4 Hot Topics from the Beast

For the latest "Best of the Web" entry, I've selected an article from Christian Thibaudeau. Thibaudeau is a strength/bodybuilding coach who has written a ton of article for T-Nation. A lot of his articles are really good—as far as methods for building muscles mass goes, I would say that he's the most integral of all bodybuilding writers; he selects from various methods and incorporates them into a syncretic whole without just coming up with some wild mish-mash of training protocols that simply don't work. This article—"4 Hot Topics from the Beast"—is my favorite of his T-Nation articles.

4 Hot Topics from The Beast
by Christian Thibaudeau

1. Train Hard, Recover Harder

I've said it time and time again: The more you train without exceeding your capacity to recover, the more you'll grow and the stronger you'll get.

I'll go one step further and say that most people don't train hard enough to progress past the beginning of the intermediate stage. When they first start, they gain because any training represents a drastic increase compared to the hole they were wearing through the couch. But as soon as they get past the beginner stage, gains become exceedingly rare because now that their body is used to physical stress, it takes a lot more of it to force adaptation.

One of the reasons why these people fail to train hard enough to stimulate gains is out fear of overtraining (which is often just a justification for laziness).

Well, let me tell you this: True overtraining is exceptionally rare. In all my life as an athlete and coach, I've only seen two real cases of overtraining, and in both the guys were Olympians training over 30 hours per week under tremendous psychological stress.

In reality, most elite athletes train over 20 hours per week, with some even hitting the 40-hour mark. Not all of this is strength training; speed and agility work, conditioning, and skill practices are also on the menu.

Before you throw the doping argument in my face, I've seen a ton of young athletes who were obviously not on drugs follow that type of schedule. I've worked as the head strength coach of a sports academy where kids ranging from 12 to 18 would go to school from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, then train or practice from 1:00 to 5:00 pm every day. Their programs included daily strength work, agility training, and practices cumulating over 20 hours per week. None of them were overtraining; all of them progressed quite well.

Similarly, most high-level Olympic lifters train for three hours per day spread over two or three daily sessions. Heck, Canadian National team member Marilou Dozois-Prévost engaged in two sessions daily, each lasting two hours, and would often extend these to do additional jumping or gymnastic work... when she was 14!

The benefits of youth? Maybe.

But how do you explain the case of Marcel Perron, who at 68, would lift for two hours in the morning, sprint for 30 minutes before lunch, and train for two more hours in the evening? His partner, Emery Chevrier, who power cleaned 285 and power snatched 225 pounds at a bodyweight of 170 when he was 70, would do the same minus the sprints.

And on the practical side, I've known quite a few farmers who chugged along for eight hours straight day after day, doing work that'd bury the most hardcore gym enthusiasts, without overtraining.

The problem is that most people lack the recovery capacity and don't take the necessary means to recover properly.

The Barbarian Brothers, two of the hardest training bodybuilders mankind has ever known, said that there was no such thing as overtraining, only undereating.

Hot Topics

While not 100% accurate, they have the gist of it. Most people who think they're overtraining are simply under-recovering. While you can't make your body invincible to overtraining by pigging out, undereating, and especially undernourishment, can drastically reduce your capacity to recover.

Here are some things you can do to increase your recovery capacity:

To read the rest of the article, go here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Best of the Web: Heavy-Light-Medium System for Strength and Power

For my second entry in this "best of the web" series, I've selected one of my own articles. I wrote this one for the Dragon Door website.

I have chosen this entry not necessarily because it's the best of all of my articles, but because it's probably the one article that more lifters need to read. And they need to read it because they need to give its suggestions a try.

If you're not squatting and deadlifting at least double your bodyweight, and bench pressing at least 1 & 1/2 times your bodyweight; and if you're not comparably strong on a lot of other lifts, then you have no business using multiple-split training, or using bands and chains, or using steroids, or—well, let's just say you have no business doing any of the nonsense a lot of (so-called) lifters do. You save all of that stuff until after you've laid a very good foundation of basic training. And I have no doubt that the workout in this article is the best foundation that you can lay for future—and immediate—success.

Here it is:

The Heavy-Light-Medium System for Strength and Power

For many years now, I've felt that the best all-around system of training is the heavy/light/medium system. It's great for beginning strength athletes since it teaches them how to properly regulate intensity and volume (and how to handle 3 full-body workouts in a training week). It's also great for anyone interested in not just developing strength and power, but also developing the muscle mass to go along with it. Add in the fact that it's capable of getting lifters in great condition, and I think it's hard to argue against its effectiveness.

The best-known advocate for this style of training is probably Bill Starr, who made the system popular through his classic book "The Strongest Shall Survive" (published in the '70s), and in many subsequent articles for Iron Man Magazine. Of course, Starr didn't invent the program. Before his book was published, many bodybuilders and powerlifters from the '60s and '70s used it. (Some of these lifters did prefer a medium/light/heavy system of training, however, thinking it best to save the heavy stuff for the last training day of the week.)

The purpose of the article is to show how to properly use a heavy/light/medium system. Although many people advocate this program as a good means for gaining both size and strength (a search of the many internet forums should attest to this fact), I have found that many lifters don't understand how to utilize it correctly. Since I have trained many others and myself—usually either powerlifters or football players—using the system, I believe I understand its nuances better than most. I have also used this system for extended periods of time (as long as six months), which is something that needs to be done in order to really understand any training methodology.

What follows is a week of workouts designed for anyone that's new to this style of training. Pay close attention to all of the details, and read the training plan several times before you attempt the program. After I have finished going over the program in detail, I will offer a few pointers so that you can properly tweak the system based on your goals and your level of strength fitness.
To read the full article, go here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Best of the Web: Christian Mysticism of the Future

For a while now, I've been wanting to do a "best of" series where I post links to what I consider to be some of the best web posts/articles that you can find on the internet.

Lately, I've been very busy writing articles, and so my posts here on my blog have taken a bit of a back seat to the rest of my writing. But since I've found time tonight to sit down and actually do something here, I thought it would be a good time to start this "best of" series.

My first pick comes from Carl McColman's delightful mystical Christian blog Anamchara: The Website of Unknowing. The post is entitled "Christian Mysticism of the Future" and its my favorite of all of Carl's posts. (And he's written quite a lot.)

By the way, after you've read this, be sure to check out the rest of his site. His last few blog posts alone are wonderful reading.

Christian Mysticism of the Future

One of my gripes with Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence is that she provides little or no insight into where she thinks the church is headed during this period of emergence. I think everyone kind of gets it that post-modernity is a hinge time, where we’re after something that no longer works (modernity) and we don’t really know yet what it is we’re before. (as an aside, I figure it’s either going to be a new renaissance that will make the 15th century look like a dress rehearsal, or else it could involve environmental devastation and resultant trauma on a scale never before imagined. And it all really boils down to how effectively we can curb our appetites!).

Okay, well, I can hardly whine about Tickle’s lack of forecasting, if I don’t do a bit of my own. So I’m working on a chapter in my book that will explore my conjectures about the future of Christian mysticism. This is utterly un-scientific: I am only basing my thoughts on what I have seen and read and intuited. So feel free to disagree — but if you do, please post a comment as to why. I’d be curious to hear what other contemplatives sense about where the Holy Spirit is leading us.

But for now, here are the seven characteristics that I (currently) believe will shape the future of Christian mysticism:

  1. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly Trinitarian. I believe the success of William Paul Young’s The Shack is at least partially due to its lovely presentation of the trinitarian nature of God. Obviously, the Blessed Trinity has always been central to Christian theology, but I believe its importance will only increase, as a healthy alternative to monism and dualism — both of which have dogged Christian spirituality for too long.
To read the full article, go here.