lördag 16 februari 2013

Back to my roots - 2-Tickets-To-The-Gun-Show

This blog has been about kettlebells, crossfit, running, bodyweight, power lifting, olympic lifting, dancing, fighting etc. All things part of the current vougue in training. That is what my own training has looked like the past 6 years or so. Getting to know this kind of training has been a revolution for me. It has transformed my body and the way I think about training and physical culture. It has been good.
But lately it has been….less than satisfactory. I remember the same feeling from when I worked on my Masters thesis. I wrote my Bachelor quickly and passionately. Learned all I could along the way. Stayed up all night and vacuumed the internet for information and read every text no matter how distantly related it was to my subject. For my Masters I stayed with the same subject but went deeper and looked at it from another angle. It should have been easy. I already knew more or less everything. It should have been a smooth ride but it wasn’t. It went slow. It was a bit boring. There was more to say in the subject but I already knew the answers. For me there was nothing more to gain than the exam. All the questions were already answered. I didn’t need to do it. That feeling of unrest I felt while writing my Bachelors was gone. It was all calm.
I have sort of felt the same with my training lately. A bit bored. Not knowing where I wanted to go. I have also had problems with nagging pains and injuries. Problems with an elbow, straining my back, something in my shoulder. I needed something else. My body needed something else. A change of scenery.
 Kai Greene training arms

I will be 40 this year. Growing old(er) isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Hurting more easily. Healing slower. Harder to learn. Harder to build muscle. Stiffer. But there is of course a flip side to that coin. Knowledge. A certain calm. Perspective. I have always been slightly nostalgic. Looking back with a bit of bitter sweetness in my heart has been second nature. That has changed. I have a child and life has irrevocably changed. Life the way it was is a finished chapter. It is now something that I can look at without longing. I can look at what I was without sorrow that I have become someone else.
Doing that I have realized I few things about myself. That I like power metal, that I like to play guitar but that I don’t have to be the best there is. That I would like to live in the country side. That I like to build muscle. Yepp, that’s right. Build muscle.
When I started training gyms were small dark basements with faded pictures of huge guys in colorful even huger pants on the walls. There were no chains. The people that trained there were gym rats. If you showed up more than three times a week over a couple of months you were an accepted part of a small society. That was great. I do miss that. There were three day or four day splits. There were arm days and leg days (ratio 3:1usually). There were sets, reps, spotting the bench, cheat reps and pump. This was were I learned and started to love. It is where my roots are at.

Jon Bergqvist training arms

But talking super setting biceps curls and triceps push downs on arm day with your regular kettlebeller or crossfitter will give you nothing but contempt. Yes I have been one of them. I know all the arguments and I do agree with many of them. The infinite complexity of the human body can not be contained in and hacked up into a three day split. Everything is connected. Wanna be strong in the press? Mind your toes. Pain in your left knee? It might be your right wrist that is the problem. Isolation is not possible. True, true, true. But then again: ”The infinite complexity of the human body…”. That does not allow for only full body, multi joints movements. Not only for kettlebell swings, muscle ups and overhead squats. It also allows for concentration curls and z-bar french presses. In all its glory it allows for us to break out of any dogma if we have the will.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on facebook. Someone (Jon Goodman) trying a new revolutionary hypertrophy program for……yepp, arms. Only arms. A year ago I would have snorted at it and went on with my snatching but this time  it struck an old familiar chord in me and I decided to go full retard. To do the absolute opposite to what I have been doing the last few years (ok, perhaps not the absolute opposite, it’s still barbells, dumbells, pull-ups and dips, but you know what I mean). Said and done. Here I am now, on the last week of a 4-week arm program. The program is ”2-Tickets-To-The-Gun-Show” by DanTrink. It is arms three days a week and full body one time a week. It is an endless road of curls, extensions, pressdowns and presses. Everything is timed – a lot of time under tension – and everything is muscle contact and I absolutely love it. I have measured and photographed my arms for the ”before” picture and after next week we’ll see what the results are. My body feels great. No problems with my back and most miraculously my elbow is better than it has been for years. It was obvious that I needed change.  I have a feeling there will be some iron pumped in the close future. To quote Kai Greene:
Your mom is going to love you whether you have 24 inch arms or not. It’s up to you to get the 24 inch arms.”   

söndag 6 januari 2013

Isiah 59:3

If you have travelled through the virtual universe of functional fitness you probably have stumbled over more than a few photos of bloody hands. If not, just google kettlebell+hands or crossfit+hands. If there  existed a common symbol for this kind of training - whatever you call it - it would probably be a chalky, bloody hand. What's up with that? What are all these bloody hands saying?

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood 
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather 
The multitudinous seas incarnadine"

The bloody hand is quite a complex symbol. It's most common meaning is probably that of guilt, as in the quote from Macbeth above or as in Isiah 59:3. But to interpret all the bloody hands of the "iron fitness game" as symbols of guilt doesn't seem correct (unless perhaps if you are prone to really farfetched psycho-analytical interpretations, which I'm not). I think it has more in common with the other main way of interpreting it: as stigmata.

The stigmata is first and foremost a symbol of sacrifice. It is the symbol of God's sacrifice of his own son for the sake of humanity. It is therefore a symbol of what Ariel Glucklich call shared pain. It is pain suffered on behalf of others. To compare kettlebellers and crossfitters with Jesus is of course not only sacrilegious but also absurd - as anyone who has ever visited a crossfit box can bare witness to. The bloody hands we are talking about are hardly signs of sacrifice for a common good or a greater God. This kind of sacrificial symbolism is not uncommon in sports though. Players sacrificing themselves for the team or athletes going through years of painful training for the sake of their nations are common histories in sports mythology. These kinds of stories hardly exists in the fitness world though, since it is an entirely narcissistic world. Fitness, be it a sport or a hobby or a "way of life" is an entirely selfish endeavour. So, the bloody hands are not signs of a sacrifice for a greater good. They are shared though.

Our hands - as opposed to Macbeth's - are tainted by our own blood, not the blood of another. The blood comes from our own body and it is the result of injury caused by ourselves, not by others. The blood is not private though. It is not a symbol of shame but a symbol widely shared and displayed in social media and elsewhere. With our bloody hands we show to the world that we have inflicted pain upon ourselves and that we have endured it. One could make a comparison with the ascetic that uses bodily pain to discipline the soul but then again we rarely find anyone mentioning "the soul" within this discourse. The christian ascetic consciously broke down his or her body in order to school the soul. The body was regarded a filthy vessel containing the immortal soul. With the words of St. Bernard de Clairvaux: "The flesh (...) is no better than filthy rags". Some might argue that "breaking down the body" is exactly what the crossfit crowd and it's surrounding universe is doing but it is hardly the intent of it's members. Quite the opposite. The idea is building the body. Our bloody hands are the absolute negative of the ascetic's. They are a result of our concern for our bodies, not for our souls. 

"I'm so strong I don't have to sacrifice myself for humanity!"

So why do we display our bloody hands for everyone to see? If you belong (or belonged) to the RKC I think you have the answer right in front of you. It is a Rite of Passage. The rite of passage is a phenomenon as old as human history. It means passing from one status to another one through some kind of ritual. Historically this have usually meant passing from childhood to adulthood but there are also numerous examples of initiation rites into religious, military, academic and other societies. A common, albeit not mandatory, part of these rites are pain. To endure pain is to show dedication. It is a pledge of allegiance not only to the community you are about to be a part of but also to your self. "To have pain is to have certainty". 

Our bloody hands, willingly displayed, are then a part of a rite of passage. They are proof that we have shared the pain of the other members of the group we are aspiring to become a part of. It is proof that we are worthy but also a sign to others outside the community that we are on the inside. It is an ancient ritual in a watered down version. It is watered down since the passage isn't a given part of life and the gateway into society as is the case with circumcision or the Sun Dance practiced by native american indians. Neither is a ritual where one is welcomed into a community which one has been chosen by or have fought for. It is not being introduced to a community. Rather it is introducing ourselves. It entails no true sacrifice. It is an act of individualism more than of collectivism and being that, it becomes nothing more than a superficial use of a powerful symbol.