“Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself.” – William Blake
Way back in my college football playing days, I could pull-off a fairly sweet standing backflip. No big deal on our team at that time, because in actuality, every one of our five starting DBs (we ran a 3/3 split if that means anything to you football old schoolers) could at least pull off a rudimentary version of the backflip. Kind of an odd coincidence I suppose, but nonetheless, such as it was.
Now our 5’9″ starting cornerback (one of the best natural athletes I’ve ever seen) could do multiple back flips, as well as a cartwheel hand spring to back flip, and well…hell, you name it — all manner of crazy, gymnastic, floor work stuff. And the thing is, he’d never taken a formal gymnastics class in his life; he’d simply mimicked what he’d seen others do. Or he just made stuff up on the fly, or on a dare. Oh, and at 5″9″, he also had the same effective vertical as me, which meant he played vertically like a 6’0″ DB — albeit, with a hell of a lot more speed 😉
The question you should be asking right about now though, is this: were we better football players because of this ability? Was there some kind of causation going on here? And was the backflipping wonder-kid better than the rest of us because of his superior backflipping ability? Something you ought to ponder for sure, in relation to your own training.
And why do I even bring this up? Well, because I see all manner of faulty causation/correlation associations in the training game. Eyes on the flashy thing, instead of focus on the target. Does being able to pull-off a backflip have anything at all to do with being a good defensive back? Of course not. In fact, many decent athletes of the same genetic predisposition that would lead them to excel in that position, given enough trial and error work, could easily pull this stunt off. Hell, even I, after numerous beer-brave “lap-flops” off the banks of the San Marcos river, could finally pull-off a decent dry land version. Although it could be argued that doing so did help my love-life (ahhh, college…) it did zilch-nada-nothin’ for my football game.
But let’s imagine an outsider looking in, someone attempting to find the “secret sauce” in our “highly specialized” training. “Ahhhhh” that person might say, “that must be it!”. “I can train hella good defensive backs by teaching them to backflip. Better yet, if I up the ante and teach them to pull-off floor work like a gymnast, I can produce spectacular defensive backs.”
What this person fails to realize is that the backflip is a simple, albeit rather unique, correlation among a group of fairly talented athletes of a certain height, weight, strength, explosiveness and “springiness”. What this person was not privy to witnessing was the endless hours in the weightroom blasting away at the basic compound and Oly-derivative lifts, sprints ad nauseum, the never-ending 7-on-7 drills and camps, and the hours spent dissecting film of opposing offenses.
Not once — not ever — did we perform backflips as part of our training. As a goof to break-up the monotony of training (and at the vein-bursting chagrin of our S&C coach)? Sure. But as a programmed essential? Please.
But look at the marketing potential here. Backflips are flashy; backflips are fun! Why be bothered by all that tedious hard work (borrrrrrring) when we can just cut to the chase?
Let’s be clear: just because certain freak-of-nature athletes can perform out of context circus-like acts in no way means that training to perform the said circus-like acts will make you a good (fill in any non-correlative sport here). How many Cirque du Soleil performers have traversed to the much more lucrative NFL? And along the same lines, how many World’s Strongest Man competitors have done the same? Now I’m certainly not saying that Cirque du Soleil or Strong Man are lame pursuits (anything but!), but simply that one has to train accordingly for the goal pursuit. Confusing causation for simple correlation will send you down rabbits holes the likes of which you may never fully recover.
This is along the same lines of the “swimmers’ body” fallacy. I can’t remember who originally described this scenario — Doug McGuff? Nassim Taleb? Art DeVany? — in any event, a spectator at a swim meet observes the physical traits of the meet finalist line-up and decides, quite erroneously, that he will begin training like a swimmer so as to achieve a “swimmers body”. Yoga enthusiasts play this card endlessly. That some yoga enthusiasts sport a stereotypical “yoga body” (long, “tone” musculature; not too bulky!) has much more to do with genetic luck-of-the-draw than any number of hours worth of downward dog.
Let’s be clear, part 2: hard (though sensible) S&C work, proper diet and dedication to craft, combined with favorable genetics, produces both great athletes and folks with favorable body compositions and proportions. If you’re looking for a “secret” that’s the only one you’ll find. No amount of “just revealed” exercises, magic $39.99 potions or Soviet gymnastic moves will move the chains for you. What does work? Dedication to the basics. Showing up. Years of sweat equity. Smart programming. The “boring” stuff.
Am I saying not to pursue whatever special athletic feat fits your fancy? Hell no, knock yourself out! Have some fun! But what I am saying is that those moves are no substitute for the hours of hard work required to cobble together a good athlete or finely sculpted body.
Unfortunately, I believe that hard work (and belief in hard work) is becoming a thing of the past. Buck the trend my friends, and buckle down, and get’er done.
Slayin’ some dogma
Thanks to the good folks at Mark’s Daily Apple for the recent shout-out in this fantastic article. Excellent tongue-in-cheek stuff, indeed. And don’t get your uni’s in a twist, barbell queens — it’s satire. And well pulled-off satire at that.
Limiting blinders. Dogma. Square pegs and round holes. Ditch all that nonsense, kiddos. Wag more, and bark less. Mary your goals properly with your Five Ts, and rock on. The key, from a health perspective, is to get some hella-intense, weight-bearing work done a couple of times a week. Do it with barbells and dumbbells, do it with a machine; hell, do it with boulders, I don’t care. But for your own health’s sake, one way or another, just get it done!
In the dogma-bashing spirit, here’s a machine-based throwdown for you. It’s called “the Jack“, in honor of Skyler and Sarah Tanner’s new bouncing baby boy, Jack.
By the way — what an awesome football name, guys. Put some pads on that boy already! 🙂
The Jack (rest-pause sets of 21):
A1 Hammer incline press: 230/ (12,5,4), (12,5,3,1)
A2 pendulum Hip Press: 500 x 21 (no rack rest-pause), 21 (no rack rest-pause)
A3 Nautilus pullover: 255/ (15,7), (8,5,4,2,2)
Cumulative time –
Round 1: 5:28
So what did I do the following day? You guessed it — sprints and bar work 😉 And the day after that? This little ditty:
A1 Squat cleans: 135/3, 185/3, 205/3; 229/1, 1; 234/1; 239/1; 244/1; 254/1; 229/1,1; power clean: 185/5, 135/10
A2 broad jumps x 3. Best = 8’6”
Choosing results and longevity in the game over dogma. Rock on.
In fitness, health, and ancestral wellness –