Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 Year in Review

It has been far too long since I last posted something here at Integral Strength.  For those of you who have enjoyed reading my blog over the years, please forgive my dereliction.  Hopefully, starting with this post—and God willing—things in 2017 will be different.

I usually don't make this blog too much of a "personal" thing.  At least, not to the degree that you see on many blogs.  But, I thought, "what the hell", maybe I can make more "journal" entries at IS, ones that are reflective of not just my physical growth—as in strength and muscular development—but ones that also reflective my personal growth: mental, emotional, spiritual.  Not just body, but mind and spirit (or even Spirit, if you will).

Don't worry, I have not stopped training, or even writing, since my last post, though both have been more haphazard than I would like them to be.

Writing first: I have been fairly hard at work on a memoir-esque book dealing with my life as an Orthodox Christian over the past 5 to 6 years, and, more specifically, my spiritual life as it has been influenced by Orthodox saints.  The tentative subtitle of the book would be something along the lines of "Living with the Orthodox Saints," or "My Life with the Orthodox Saints".  The Saints of Orthodoxy are a bit different than what you tend to find in the saints of the West.  They are ones defined more by a spiritual "interiority"—a life lived in the "cave of the heart", one of humility, asceticism (some of the asceticism is of an heroic extreme), and spiritual warfare.  This kind of ascetic spirituality produces a different kind of "person" than what you often find in western religion.

For me, personally, my Eastern Orthodox spirituality has allowed me to get through some of my struggles of 2016, struggles that have largely been physical, but have also allowed emotional pains to enter in because of the physical pains.  My writing has become a sort of spiritual therapy too, as I learn myself—not just teach—about the Orthodox saints.  And, trust me, the saints of the Eastern Church have a lot to teach modern western man, who has become more and more susceptible to psychological, emotion, mental, and spiritual ills than at any time in the west's past.

Training: Because of my physical health, my training has been more limited than it has been in any year before 2016.  Further down in this post, I will give you my current training "split", along with my plans moving forward.  (As a note, this will also include quite a few posts in 2017 dealing with "Training After 40—And Beyond!" sort of entries.)

I have trained significantly less in 2016 than in any other year that I can remember.  Yes, I did have the year—about a decade ago—when I had surgery for several herniated disks.  Although that year prevented me from training for almost six months straight, I trained consistently for the six months afterwards, and I was able to get back to hard, frequent, regular training—even if the training wasn't always as heavy as before—for many years after.

Year in Review

The BAD Stuff First

2016 started in one of the worst ways I could have ever imagined.  My beloved priest—Father Demetrius Edwards of Saint Gregory's Orthodox Church in Tuscaloosa, Al—passed away (or "fell asleep in the Lord" as we say in Orthodoxy) at the very beginning of the year.  I loved him like a father.  In fact, he was a father to me.  He was my spiritual father, and had become equally as dear to me as my earthly father.
Father Demetrius marrying me and my wife Tara

Starting in 2015, and even some in 2014, I had quite a few physical pains.  Severe joint and back pain, primarily, but also lethargy that increased as the months of 2016 progressed.  Father Demetrius was always there for me during these times, guiding me spiritually as my health declined.  With his death, I felt lost and bereft of the guidance I had trusted since becoming Orthodox in 2011.

For the first quarter of 2016, my health continued to get worse.  Extreme lethargy, combined with some extreme back, stomach, and chest pain.  Toward the summer, I got a little better once I had surgery to remove my gallbladder.  Apparently, it was so inflamed that it should have been removed at a considerable time prior to the surgery.  It was infected, which also caused me issues before and after the surgery.

I was hoping that the surgery would make things better.  And, yes, it did, in that it eliminated much of my pain.  But I knew that things were not "right", so to speak, with my health.  As the year went on, I developed more and more lethargy.  Some days, I could hardly get out of bed.  When I did, I would be exhausted with the simple act of showering, brushing my teeth, or putting on my clothes.  It affected my work—I have never been one to miss days of work in my "regular" job as an Industrial Engineer.  I have always valued a good, strong work ethic.  But there were days that I could hardly function, and would have to miss a day or two of work at a time, or I would often have to go into work late once my lethargy subsided.  On weeks where I did work my regular 8, 10, or 12 hour shifts, I was so exhausted when I returned home that it made training or writing damn-near impossible.

I am not going to lament my pain at length in these pages—I won't no sympathy, only prayers for those of you who believe (or know) that there is a Power That Knows the Way.  I will only say this: as it turns out, I have a severe neurological disorder that attacks my central nervous system, and this affects both my brain and my muscles, to greater or lesser degrees on certain days.  Some days, I feel perfectly fine, as if I could train for hours at a time, whether in martial arts, or when lifting weights.  Other days, simply moving my body is more laborious than a two-hour-long training session.

Now the GOOD Stuff

There is always a "silver lining", as they say.  My health has allowed me to enter into a deeper prayer life.  One that is marked by a deep, abiding sense of serene joy and peace.  My pain has been a gift, as simple as that.

My health has also allowed me to focus on training others during this time, particularly my sons and some of their training partners.  As I have always said on this blog, you won't learn much about training if you have only ever trained yourself.  This is the reason some of the largest, strongest, most muscular guys in the gym suck at training others.  What works for themselves, won't necessarily work for others.  Especially those not as genetically gifted.
My son Garrett doing a set of dumbbell curls

My son Matthew demonstrates his arm development after a biceps session

It's safe to say that my son Matthew is one of the biggest, most well-developed 17-year old bodybuilders you will ever see.  My son, Garrett, is not far behind him.  Garrett is not near as big, but he is "ripped" and "shredded".  He is also on his high school's track team, which is one of the most elite in the state, and runs one hell of a 100-meter dash.
Garrett's impressive back development can be seen during a set of barbell curls

Looking Forward

In posts to come, I will have several entries dealing with both of my sons' training styles.  Matthew is pure, old-school bodybuilder—get as massive as humanly possible, while also having the strength to boot.  Garrett is all about building the most strength and power as can be built, while maintaining a lean, good-looking physique.

Matthew will get back to writing some posts, on occasion, while I will write others dealing with his training.

Jared Smith—long-term contributor here—has had some life transitions which have limited his training, and his writing, but he has recently told me that he has some stuff in the works, and he would send me plenty of new material soon.  In addition—and this might be one of the most exciting things here at IS—Jared and I have co-written an article outlining a new, unique form of training we have developed that is specifically for building muscle.  It will be first in an on-going series between the two of us.  I think it will be both instructional, and entertaining.

My writing for 2017 will focus on four areas: old-school bodybuilding and power training (per the usual), training for the over-40 crowd, journal entries that outline my life as it pertains to diet, exercise, and spiritual practices, and, lastly, some posts that are pure integral philosophy.

2017 is going to be one for both erudite learning and bad-ass training here at Integral Strength!


  1. Happy New Year!
    Sorry for your loss my friend but glad to hear that good or bad you have some answers regarding your health.

    Im not at all surprised to hear that your health issues have resulted in a deeper and more insight relationship with the universe. Happy to hear that you will returning to writing (especially training for the more seasoned athlete). I only competed once in 2016 and that was on a whim with about a weeks notice. I am planning to more active in 2017 and will probably compete 4-5x. AAU is putting on a Super Total plus SM/FOS weekends here in June. If your unfamiliar with that Super Total is the Oly lifts plus the three Powerlifts, and a strong man/feats of strength. Im guessing super total on Friday, strong man on Saturday and Feats of strength on Sunday. ...I love you idea of doing all 3 as a "bucket list" kind of thing.I seem to remember you doing several hybrid training articles that had elements of Powerlifting strongman and bodybuilding. Regardless of my training I will be following along and hoping that health while an obstacle doesnt impede to heavily on your ability to enjoy a good beer and a heavy barbell from time to time!

  2. Jason,

    Sounds as if you have a good training plan for the coming year. I love those "hybrid" plans. They are the best out there for putting on muscle and strength fast.

    While my health has impeded heavy barbell training from time to time, thank God that it hasn't prevented me from enjoying a good beer (or 2 or 3 or...)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. C.S.

    I'm glad you're back and look forward to reading about you and your son's training as well as your spiritual insights. I have been praying for you.

  5. Hello C.S
    Glad you are back.We in Norway has been worried about you.Looking forward to new training program for the"over 40"

    Rune Haukelien

  6. Hey, C.S.Get well okay? Condolences to your loss. And yes we can all relate to that, we love to write and train- but sometimes "life" comes by but what we can brag about is we always come up and punch "life" in the face!

    Looking forward for a healthier year for you, my friend! My twitter is also waiting for your new updates I will surely heavily retweet your tweets, man! And looking forward for your old-school bodybuilding advise as well. I would like you to know that I mentioned you in my book which I recently published (after years of procrastinating!!) - that was the part where I told everyone where I learned the "squat first" protocol which - your ways never fade, they never die man!

    I recommend you connect with another friend of our as well, P.D Mangan - he's a 50ish guy as well and he has several research-based stuff on how to live healthier and delay the aging process - I just thought it will be helpful for you as well.

    Cheers mate!!


Feel free to leave us some feedback on the article or any topics you would like us to cover in the future! Much Appreciated!