Monday, May 27, 2019

The Natural Law of Guidance - By Adam Piggott

Guest writer, Adam Piggott, helps Cappy out for this Memorial Day week.  Visit his blog and podcast at Pushing Rubber Downhill.

"The Natural Law of Guidance"

One of the hardest challenges about traveling for work is the difficulty in finding a suitable gym so that I don’t fall behind on my lifting schedule. I’ve been powerlifting now for about three years and at the age of 47 you discover that your gains have a habit of dropping faster than Triggly Puff shot out of a cannon at a fairground attraction if you miss a few sessions. So I’m very happy with the lifting gym that I discovered down here in Louisiana. It’s well set up, the people are friendly, and the music selection shows a definite bias towards tunes from long hair 80s power rock bands.

I’ve gotten to know some familiar faces at the gym in the short time that I’ve been here. There’s the guy who makes a lot of noise whenever he does a lift; the girl with the long straight hair who always wears the same lime green outfit; the guy in his seventies who would be in amazing shape for someone in his twenties; and there’s the three young guys who I have dubbed, the three musketeers.

The three musketeers are undoubtedly new to the gym world. They’re new because they don’t know what they’re doing and it’s painfully obvious. They’re around the age of 19 from the look of them, although it’s hard to really tell these days. There’s the fat one with the scraggy beard, the thin one with the scraggy beard, and the one without a beard who pretends that he knows what he’s doing. The trio move from one exercise to the next under the direction of the beardless one. They perform an exercise with varying degrees of ineptitude, although the fat one tends to drop a set here and there. This process is repeated as they do a continuous circuit of the gym.

I admire the fact that they are still hard at it after three weeks; the toughest part about coming to the gym is the act of turning up on a continual basis. But they won’t last much longer for the simple reason that they are doing it wrong. And if you’re doing it wrong you’re not really going to get anywhere, which means that eventually you will give up.

I am in the best shape of my life at the moment, and this is a guy who rafted professionally for 15 years. I have gone to the gym off and on my whole adult life and therein lies the problem. Off and on doesn’t count for shit; it’s consistency that counts, and the only way that you achieve consistency is by doing it right. And the only way that you do it right is by seeking out an industry professional and getting some guidance.

So my approach to the gym for most of my adult life has been stupid, and if there’s one thing that I really hate it’s being caught out as a dumb-ass. It’s ironic because on the one hand I will sigh and roll my eyes at someone who wants to get into a raft with no experience and take off and paddle the Yukon River. If they ask my advice I will tell them to take a goddam professional with them. I will then give them a list of very good reasons as to why this is a very smart idea. They will then thank me for my advice, go and do it by themselves anyway, and get eaten by bears on the first night.

But on the other hand when it comes to my own actions I’m more or less as dumb as the rest of them. I’m not dumb enough to think that I can scuba dive the Mariana Trench without some help, but I am on the same level of stupid when it comes to doing other stuff. Like lifting weights, or buying a house, or divorcing my wife.

Like I said, I took to lifting in a serious way a little over three years ago, but it was only about three months ago that I finally bit the bullet and paid a professional to fix my core lifts. I did this because I had plateaued out and I wasn’t seeing any more gains on any of my lifts. With just a couple of one on one sessions with a really good trainer I’ve increased some of my lifts by 25% in just three months. My bench press is now double the weight that I was doing when I was 30. There’s just one word for that:


If I had done what I’m doing now at the age of 18 I’d probably look something like The Rock right now. Because progress begets itself as success becomes intoxicating. But most people don’t progress because they’re stupid, and I am as much at fault as anyone. I am highly skilled at several disciplines and in all of them I have had professional guidance. But the disappointing thing is that I did not understand the correlation earlier in my life. The sooner that you learn the basics of a discipline through expert guidance then the higher the chance that you will make good progress and become an expert yourself. After all, what is the point of doing anything if you don’t aim to be the best out there? Beating everyone that has gone before you is as good a starting point as any.

The most frustrating thing about this is that you cannot instil this knowledge in other people. They have to come to the realization themselves. That is why it is so incumbent on fathers to guide their children correctly from an early age.

A few days ago the three musketeers were doing their stuff right next to me. They were attempting to do the standing shoulder press, a core lift which was good to see but they were doing everything wrong. At one point I was concerned that one of them was going to suffer an elbow injury. Finally I couldn’t help myself any longer, and in an off-hand way I asked them if they were following a specific program.

The leader of the three answered me. “Yes sir, we are.”

“What program are you following?” I asked out of genuine interest as nothing that they were doing made any real sense from a lifting perspective.

“My mum wrote it out for me, sir.”

I stared at him. “Your mum wrote it out for you?”

“Yes, sir.”

I resisted the urge to ask him what his father had to say as I didn’t want to open a potential can of worms. So on his phone I showed him one of the more popular lifting programs that are available and which I thought would be a good fit for them. I said a few words on the importance of technique and I explained how they could use the app on the site to track their progress and then I let it go and I wished them luck.
They thanked me and we all got back to our separate routines. A couple of days later I saw them in the gym again. They were still more or less making it up as they went along. I didn't’ interact with them, I had given it my one and only shot. But now I know that they’re definitely not going to get anywhere and that they’re wasting their time. They’ll get frustrated and quit and it will be one more thing that they’ll suck at, one more thing that they tried and failed.

But it never has to be that way. All you have to do is to realize that you need some guidance and then go get some. The problem is that you can’t reverse that order. You can’t receive guidance when you’re not open to it and then somehow follow it. My bad. What did I think I was doing screwing with the laws of the universe like that? I must be stupid.


Anonymous said...

What type of expert would you seek out to help you perfect your lifts? Asking seriously because I feel like most "personal trainers" may not have this knowledge.

vok3 said...

The sentiment here is laudable in a certain sense, but completely counterproductive in execution.

"After all, what is the point of doing anything if you don’t aim to be the best out there?"

The FIRST thing I learned leaving high school was that the world is full of people who are better at everything I'm good at, and that this is true for nearly everybody. You quite literally CAN'T be "the best". The position is taken.

The people who actually are "the best" are very rare, and for 99.7% of us, trying to be "the best" means putting a tremendous amount of effort into extremely diminishing returns and likely not ever reaching that "best" point or anything like it. Now if your goal is to find out how close or far from "the best" you are, fine - but that's not what he is saying. And it's also not something anybody can afford to apply to "anything" - maybe a handful of things in life, once each. Really testing your limits on something is a serious investment of time and energy, for years each time.

You do these things not because you want to be "the best" but because you like doing it or want to do it, and you improve to the point where you decide further improvement is more trouble than it's worth, and you start putting the time into something else. "The best" has nothing to do with it. If you ARE the best, in your local area? - hey, great. But you're not in the Olympics, are you? No, of course not. You might be the biggest fish in a carefully selected small pond, and there's nothing wrong drawing satisfaction from that - but never forget that there's a lot more than your pond out there, and there's always a bigger fish, and therefore "the best" CAN'T be your motivation, because it is a totally self-defeating and futile one.

Whatever it is, do it because you like doing it, not because you "need" to compete. Compete if you're lucky enough, genetically, to be a contender, but don't worry about it if you're not.

For example, on the topic of gym training. I did have expert guidance. They put my photo up as the guy who had most improved over a three-month period. And after a year I stopped because I was bored out of my fucking skull with those stupid machines. Stacking firewood? Digging ditches? Hiking the backwoods on a humid July day, or in the dead of winter? Sure, that's fun. I like it all. Gym? Gym can go fuck itself. I'll never go back to one of those places, and I lose nothing by it.

Or the rafting thing - no, better yet, mountaineering. Seen those photos of Everest? With the 600 people all waiting in line along the crest leading up to the top, and the headlines about a dozen dead? "They need expert guidance! They're dying because they're refusing it!" No, and no. They're dying because they're social media whores looking for a way to feel good about themselves. It's got nothing to do with mountaineering. How many of those people climb K-2? Zero. They're not failing and dying because they refused advice, they're failing and dying because they're engaging in an activity that is categorically different from the one on which they are being advised. Same goes for any "extreme" sport.

vok3 said...

A few more thoughts -

It isn't expert guidance that determines success. It's inborn interest. Unless they're deliberately competitive with a specific purpose and goal in mind, they don't want a know-it-all hanging over their shoulder the whole time, pushing toward some arbitrary standard. Those guys aren't training right? Yup, and that means 1) they're curious enough to mess with it a little before moving on, 2) they certainly don't care enough to put in dozens of hours of deep research and hard-charging competitiveness, 3) you can't, and shouldn't try to, make them care when they simply don't want to, 4) figuring out what one cares about and what one doesn't, learning from failed projects as well as from successful ones, is part of growing up.

He seems to think these guys are failing. No: they're simply not meeting standards he's defined - him, not them. But they ARE drawing lessons from this, which will be far more useful to them in future life than would meeting some arbitrary standard for reasons they themselves didn't come up with.

"That is why it is so incumbent on fathers to guide their children correctly from an early age."

Meaning what? "Expert" micromanagement while pushing the kid toward some competitive standard and making the kid hate what was, originally, supposed to be just a way to have fun and get a little exercise? In the context of the rest of the piece, that's what it sounds like. And this, from a guy who has no kids of his own and, from what I've gathered, had a rather troubled family in childhood. And now he's telling other people how to raise their kids?

Frenetic Zetetic said...

Lmao at everyone proving the point of this post by missing it completely and getting hung up on the details (Just like the DnD game post Aaron just made).

Most people genuinely believe shit is just random and any effort = solid effort. Then when it doesn't work out, they deduce luck is the deciding factor, instead of realizing that "luck" is essentially just probability bending through repeated, disciplined CORRECT ACTION.

Hence, guidance.