Good Training

Last night I was watching videos of Laura Phelps-Sweatt, the strongest woman powerlifter and one of the strongest humans in the world, training with Gracie Vanasse, and it made me want to move. Problem was that it was 11 o’clock at night, so my options were limited. I call these “girlfriend pushups”:

Watching the video, I realize that I need to focus on keeping a neutral head position so that I don’t cheat off the last couple inches.

Here’s Laura and Gracie doing box squats. Laura stays well below her competition max of 670-775 pounds, so my guess is that she’s training for explosion (with more weight on the bar than my max record in the same weight class, plus green bands for progressive resistance):

Good Training

Since I deadlift heavy every other week and this was not one of those weeks, I took the opportunity to do some box jumps and single leg squats. These light deadlift weeks are probably the most fun I have in weight training.

Having mastered the highest box at the Gold’s Gym where I train, I’ve taken to buying notebooks four at a time to continue increasing the box height every week.

Doing the single leg squats on the overturned stability dome has really increased my balance over the months. I’m strong enough now to comfortably “surf” the DC metro, which is generally unheard of because the relatively modern transit system accelerates and decelerates very rapidly–much faster than the NYC subway, for instance. Maybe I’ll post a fun surfing video in the near future.

Good Training

Squatted yesterday. Of the power exercises that I do, the squat is the least intuitive to me. My squat max is well below that of my deadlift. I’m not sure what this means.

Tuesdays are also core day for me and my training partner/girlfriend Caryn Benisch. I usually superset back extension curl-ups with hanging vertical leg scissors. You can watch the latter below.

Good Training

Here’s another one. Just did dips and pullups today. Forgot, as I am wont, to record a lifetime pullup record of 115. But here’s a dip with 175 pounds on the dip belt at 160 lbs. bodyweight:

Good Training

The acts performed in these videos are the product of years of intense effort and application of knowledge. I hated the thought that the surpassing of these milestones would be lost to posterity so I decided to share them here. There are a lot of fitness bloggers who use their own personal records to motivate others (and to drum up business), so maybe somebody’ll see these and be inspired.

Pullups with 50 pounds of extra weight for 8 repetitions:

Dips with 95 pounds for 8 reps (my foot touches the ground only to serve as a signal to explode up–I don’t rest on it):

Uphill sprints in the snow with an 8 pound weight in my Camelbak:
The latter video was captured just this afternoon.

If you’re interested, the following bullets are some principles I follow in my weight training. If you’re not interested, you can skip to my observations about the difference between civilian and Marine Corps physical training principles in the last two paragraphs:

  • Train your mind and body to work as one unit by developing a winning attitude to match your physical accomplishments. Weight training is a source of drive and inspiration, never an occasion for whining. If you catch yourself thinking anything but positive thoughts about your ability to move iron, stop and replace the thought with an appropriately positive one. Visualize success. Maximize the ratio of your time spent around people who think similarly.
  • Understand weight training as a triad of smartly applied exercise, sleep, and nutrition. Muscles are traumatized during exercise and then rebuilt and strengthened during sleep using consumed protein as their building blocks. Deficiencies anywhere in the triad will show clearly in your results.
  • Train for explosion: Instant and total acceleration throughout the concentric contraction (up). My understanding is that the benefit here is not just from physical emphasis on the fast-twitch muscle fibers but also from development of the neuromuscular system to activate a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers at the outset of the contraction. This has paid off over the years so that after more than a decade of training on and off, I benefit from significant momentum to lift weights that my muscles couldn’t support at a slower speed. 
  • Also, slow throughout the eccentric contraction (down) to put the muscle fibers under load when their cross-section is the thinnest and they are the most vulnerable to damage. Again, muscle fibers are only damaged, never strengthened, during exercise. Given sufficient protein intake, the body rebuilds them stronger during sleep. The more stress the fibers are subjected to in training, the stronger the body will rebuild them during sleep (and given sufficient protein intake) in anticipation of future stress.
  • Train muscle chains to work as functional systems rather than training individual body parts.
  • Maximize valuable training time by combining sets of opposing movements. For instance, I completed the above pullups and dips as a “superset,” with a set of dips immediately following a set of pullups. In Optimum Sports Nutrition, Michael Colgan asserts that this practice also takes advantage of a momentary loss of reciprocal inhibition in which muscle contractions are met with tiny involuntary stabilizing contractions of the opposing muscle. The exhaustion of the opposing muscle in the previous set removes a tiny source of drag on your maximal output, allowing for each muscle group to be stressed further.
  • Lift heavy. This admonition is thrown around a lot but it’s not always fully explained. Broadly speaking, “heavy” means lifting a weight with which you cannot complete ten repetitions until you no longer have the strength to complete them with good form. The “cannot complete” part seems to be a major source of confusion for beginners. They sometimes continue repetitions only until they feel pain or boredom, at which point they are satisfied that they’ve done something. If you can complete ten reps, it’s time to add weight. You should always be striving to set a new personal record. When I’m returning to the gym after a hiatus, I’ll start out for a few months with supersets of 10-12 to get my connective tissues prepared for the stress ahead, then spend a few months doing supersets of 8-10, then I’ll move almost exclusively to large compound power exercises for sets of 2-8 for another few months.
  • Allow sufficient recovery and rebuilding by training muscle systems once per week. If you lift heavy and try to perform the same exercises with less recovery time, you’ll find that you can’t match your previous effort. Muscle spends a lot more time rebuilding than it does being torn down.

I’ve noticed over the years that civilians tend to neglect or underemphasize the mental aspects of training while the Marine Corps tends to do the opposite. So in civilian gyms you’ll see people completing what appear to be sophisticated exercises and programs while remarking throughout to their partner or trainer how weak they are, how much the exercise hurts, and how much they can’t wait to be done. They’ll check their phone and watch the gym television during their sets. They’ll walk up to a heavy set without taking a moment to collect themselves or psyche themselves out.

Conversely, the prevailing culture in the Marine Corps was remarkably cognizant of the mental aspect. “Heart” was a highly valued trait. Unfortunately, this valuation of “heart” was incorporated into a virulently anti-intellectual ideology that eschewed sophisticated (or, depending on whom you were dealing with, objective) knowledge. Ignorance of human biology was enforced under the presumption that “heart” could remove all biological barriers to physical accomplishment. I was commonly subjected to idiotic claims like “sleep is a crutch” and “chow is a crutch” that permanently crippled the physical performance of all who heeded them (including me when I was denied the choice). The result was a force largely comprised of Marines capable of fanatically motivating their underdeveloped bodies to a solid B performance. Glad to be training to my own drum these days.

Fighting Cancer With Inspiration


Ten year-old Morgan Platt was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June 2011. With the help of Hole in the Wall Gang, she shot the above music video (set to Katy Perry’s “Roar”) at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. She’s hoping the video will go viral to raise awareness for adolescent cancer treatment at the hospital and inspire others. Takes some character.

Supportive Internet Community for Lung Cancer

I stumbled across a forum run by the National Lung Cancer Partnership that publishes the inspirational stories of survivors. In the comments, one sees that current patients are able to reach out to individual survivors based on the particulars of their story.

Sometimes forums like this tend not to see much traffic, so I thought this was worth sharing. Below, survivor Elayne Klein shares her tips to those in treatment:

  1. Stay informed. Contact the National Lung Cancer Partnership for information or for answers to personal questions.

  2. Take one day at a time.

  3. Think about reordering your priorities. Put yourself at the top of the list.

  4. Try acupuncture during chemotherapy for nausea.

  5. If you have had surgery, massage your scar tissue

  6. Get a prescription for physical therapy. We tend to hunch over after surgery or radiation. Physical therapist help with breathing exercises to expand our lungs and show us other exercises that help increase our self confidence in our bodies.

  7. Try energy therapy like Reiki or IET(Integrative Energy Therapy) from recommended, qualified practitioners as often as you can afford…up to 2x a week. It helped me tremendously.

  8. Listening to guided imagery and affirmation CDs such as those by Belleruth Naparstek. Try these to reduce stress. I even used Belleruth to fall asleep.

  9. Ask your doctor about inhalers if you have difficulty breathing.

  10. Talk to your doctor about your mood. I eventually sought psychological counseling. When my kind pulmonary doctor asked me how I was doing, and I started to cry, he prescribed medication for anxiety and/or depression (lexapro 10-15 mg).

  11. Even when nauseous, try to focus on nutrition. Try making healthy energy drinks with a good blender.  I made breakfast out of: organic Kefir; organic greens like kale, Swiss chard; organic frozen berries; bananas; and add a scoop of whey (for protein).  It was easier to get down than anything else when I was nauseous especially knowing it was so good for me. I continued drinking it long after my treatment.

  12. Consider consulting an integrative medical doctor who specializes in cancer patients. My doctor recommended 20mg of melatonin, and it helped with sleep. He can recommend other safe things to take that will not interfere with your treatment.

  13. Try consulting a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor. I went To Dr. Wang when I had a recurrence scare two years ago. He mixed Chinese tea according to my symptoms. I still drink it twice a day.

  14. Avoid germs by carrying a hand sanitizer in your pocket or handbag and car.(A natural one is EOS without harsh chemicals). Wash your hands to keep germs away after touching counter, escalators, elevator buttons and the like. Use it after shaking hands to avoid catching colds/flu. You never know who has a cold and you don’t want one.

  15. Try to watch uplifting or comedy TV shows and listen to upbeat or relaxing music.  It fills your environment with positive energy.

  16. Exercise. In fact, my doctor gave me some good advice.  Get off the couch and get into the pool or walk or try restorative or gentle yoga. It’s good for your lungs and keeps up your strength and self-confidence.

  17. Let friends or family help with feeding and caring for you and your family. One friend planted flowers in my garden because I couldn’t. My daughter hired a personal chef over the internet so my husband could eat healthy meals when I couldn’t eat much or handle the smell of food.   As time goes on you will gain strength and be able to eat better and breathe more easily.

  18. Nap during the day when you can. Don’t forget purposeful rest periods.

  19. Ask your doctor or the National Lung Cancer Partnership about new treatment options and clinical trials now available.

  20. Consider connecting to your religious heritage and/pray if it feels right.

  21. Tell your doctor about any complimentary medicine approaches you choose. My doctor wasn’t always supportive but I explained that helped me feel hopeful and empowered.

  22. Make plans: enjoy a visit from friends, visit relatives, go to the movies, travel, find a pet.

  23. Begin dreaming of what you want to do or accomplish in your life.  It’s very important to move toward your dreams and believe in your future one day at a time.

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