Pluralism in Health and Fitness

This past weekend I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina for a weekend-long workshop with Yuri Marmerstein, a Las Vegas-based acrobat and handbalancer seen here:

Attending the seminar were CrossFitters, Olympic weightlifters, yogis, acrobats, handbalancers, gymnasts, and martial artists. We spent two whole days practicing handstands and learning basic capoeira. The whole experience was fantastic, not only because Asheville is such a vibrant and unique place, but also because my fellow attendees implicitly understood something that most people do not: Pluralism in Health and Fitness is a beautiful phenomenon to be celebrated, not a matter for argument. There are way too many health-related issues, causing numerous troubles for people (one of such: http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org/what-did-johnson-johnson-and-bayer-hide/).

Here’s what I mean. Have you ever seen or heard two people arguing about eating Paleo vs. Vegan? Or what about one person trying to convince another to do CrossFit vs. Yoga? What happens is that we tend to over-compartmentalize certain camps in the health and fitness world. Yes, I understand that at times there are real, genuine differences between certain viewpoints. However, there is also plenty of overlap among various “belief systems” out there, and sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to become aware of this.

Paleo or Vegan? Well regardless of what they might think about eating animals, I am willing to bet that both care about animal welfare, eat a ton of fruit and vegetables, and make food and nutrition a central part of their lives. Why not share some recipes, make some restaurant suggestions, or have a potluck? CrossFit or Yoga? Whether or not they choose on a barbell or shavasana, both groups prioritize their physical fitness, train to improve their strength and mobility, and do plenty of bodyweight movements for exercise.

Whether or not you think religious pluralism is a good idea, there are definite benefits to engaging with those in your community who may or may not practice the exact same habits that you do. My personal fitness journey has taken me from team sports in middle school to drum corps in high school and college to triathlon, yoga, and CrossFit as an adult. Nowadays a typical week involves a lot of gymnastics, some jiu-jitsu and muay thai, and a little bouldering. Throughout all these experiences I always learn something new from those who practice different activities from myself, and I always walk away with a better understanding of my own views.

If this post inspired you, then go out this weekend and try something new! How about a capoeira class, a sunrise hike, or cooking beef tongue? Just some ideas! Thanks for reading.

Review of Ben Musholt’s “Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia”

This past July I was on tour with my band in northern California when I came across an article on Breaking Muscle written by a Portland-based physical therapist and parkour athlete named Ben Musholt. The more I researched this guy, the more I liked him! A short list of his experience includes parkour, freerunning, gymnastics, martial arts, capoeira, trail running, snowboarding, and beyond. I greatly respect whenever a fitness professional is well-versed in multiple disciplines instead of just a single domain or speciality. Check out some of Ben’s skills from his American Ninja Warrior Regional Semi-Final in 2012 (ignore the title, the name is wrong):

I also learned that Ben was raising funds for an exercise encyclopedia he was planning to release in October called Mad Skills300+ pages of workout movements with over 700 illustrations on disciplines ranging from bodyweight to kettlebells to barbells and more? I’m in! I made a donation and have been eager to see the finished product ever since. Here’s the book trailer from Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia (available on Amazon here):

Having donated to the fundraising campaign, I was afforded the opportunity to read through an electronic copy of the book this past weekend, and in short, I love it! There are so many positives to how this book was put together. First off, in the Introduction Ben writes, “The broader array of movement skills that you train, the better athlete you will be.” Sound familiar? In my “What Are We Really Training For Anyway?” post I concluded something very similar: “Train to learn new skills, gradually and progressively, so as to become capable of and masterful in more complex movements.”

Second, this book achieves exactly what it set out to become: an exercise encyclopedia filled with brief descriptions and illustrations of movements; not some sort of esoteric treatise on movement philosophy. Because of that, Mad Skills is an invaluable resource for personal trainers, CrossFit coaches, martial artists, and athletes of any sport. Heading into the gym to do squats today? Check out Ben’s chapter on leg strength (aptly titled “Pillars of Steel,” love it!) to get some ideas of possible subtle variations on your routine. Or do you need some ideas on programming for your athletes? Ben includes an entire chapter on push-ups, so there’s no reason to stagnate, plateau, or get bored in your training anymore.

This book is also very comprehensive. It is quite a daunting task to set out and list all the possible exercise movements that are out there, and I can only imagine that it must have taken Ben years to compile all this information. Here’s a brief list of the variety of entries in Mad Skills: shadow box, ginga, cossack squat, plate pinch curl, bodyweight chest fly, zercher lunge, neider press, barbell sit-up, double KB windmill, KB bear crawl, sandbag overhead squat, plank push-up, breakdance push-up, handstand leg raise, cocorinha squat, precision jump, archer pull-up, towel drag, quadruped skiers, stability ball bird dog, fireman carry, scorpion downward dog pose, revolved side angle, rectus femoris stretch, levator and scapula stretch. Phew!

Lastly, the last chapter in the book, titled “Cooking it up,” is a very straightforward, to-the-point summary of how to construct an exercise program. Ben mentions general athleticism vs. sport specificity, sets and reps, variety, social support, recovery, and the bottom line, which is that “movement is the answer” and “just go play.” And it is important to note that throughout the book Ben is able to do just that: keep it playful. We’re talking about exercise people… moving your body and external objects through space because, in one way or another, we want to do it! As a resource to be referred to time and time again over the next few decades, I highly recommend Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia to all human movers.

Current Workout Schedule

Here’s an insider’s peek into what I will be doing in and out of the gym for the next couple months:

A good mixture of Olympic lifting, squatting, sprinting, straight-arm and bent-arm pushing and pulling, skill, variety, and fun. Inspired by the following: California Strength, Catalyst Athletics, Eat Move Improve (and Overcoming Gravity), Ido Portal, Dan John, Pavel Tsatsouline, Beast Skills, and CrossFit.

Lifts, Gymnastics, and Food

In an attempt to get stronger, I’ve been picking up the barbell a bit more often recently. Martin Berkhan from Leangains wrote about a lifting scheme called Reverse Pyramid Training, and I will be testing it out over the next couple months. Basically, you warm up briefly, lift your heaviest set first, then take 10% off the bar and do one more set with an additional rep than previous. My goals to start are:

  • Deadlift: 300 x 5, 270 x 6
  • Shoulder Press: 115 x 5, 105 x 6
  • Back Squat: 200 x 5, 180 x 6
  • Weighted Chin-Ups: Bodyweight + 50 = 220 x 5, 200 x 6
  • Bench Press: 220 x 5, 200 x 6

Progression here simply entails adding weight, adding reps, or both. Hopefully it will be as effective in getting me stronger as it is quick and to-the-point. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar led by Carl Paoli of Gymnastics WOD and Naka Athletics. Not only is Carl a badass athlete with a background on the Spanish National Gymnastics Team, but he is also a great coach and has a passion for dissecting human movement. (Think Damien Walters and Ido Portal.) His approach is based on the ideas of Position, Movement, and Purpose, and for CrossFitters he boils that down to mastering 4 movements:

  • Handstand Push-Ups
  • Pistols (one-legged squats)
  • Muscle-Ups
  • Burpees

Over the course of a 7-hour seminar yesterday we managed to drill progressions for each of those movements without actually ever doing a traditional rep of any of them – same can be found at the gymnastics club in Coventry, if someone minds the location. Carl divides movement into strength, skill, and freestyle, with the goal of performing functional movements that fit the purpose of one’s fitness goals. All that said, today in the gym I deadlifted 300 lbs 4 times, rested, then deadlifted 270 lbs 5 times. Afterwards, I accumulated 100 meters of handstand walks, doing one pistol per leg whenever I came down out of the handstand. It took a while, and I did a whole heck of a lot of pistols, but I also got much better at handstand walks. … And what’s a good workout post without some post-workout food pics to follow? Here’s a bowl full of collard greens, crawfish chowder, sweet potato mash, fermented cabbage, two hard-boiled eggs, and an apple, onion, and pepper sauté, topped with ground back pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg (quite a mouthful):

Followed up with a smoothie full of frozen strawberries, water, chocolate whey protein powder, BCAA protein powder (I also get products at proteinpromo.com/gonutrition-discount-codes/), bee pollen, and honey:

Yum! Enjoy.