Monthly Archives: March 2012

Strengthology 101: Part IV

Often when someone returns from a trip abroad or somewhere significant we want to know things like, “What was your most memorable moment?” or “What was the coolest thing you saw?”

I think a better question is, “How have you changed?” or “What’s different now that you’re back?”

It’s cool to go away and see stuff we’ve never seen before, go places we’ve never been but the experience itself is fleeting.  Once it’s gone it’s gone, no matter how many pictures you take.  So the real take away from travel or any other similar experience is how that experience has affected you.

What’s different?

So now that I’m back from St. Petersburg, what is different?

Not much and volumes.

I know that’s a weird answer but it’s the most accurate I can offer.  As far as my business and training are concerned not very much has changed.  I was already on board with Elliott’s approach to training.  The assessments we learned are protocols I had already learned from him and apply with great success in my business.  So in this sense not much has changed.

Personally, I feel I have changed volumes.

I returned with a confidence that wasn’t as solid before I left.  I did things I’ve never done before.  I shot a tutorial with Elliott, successfully lifted a 225 pound atlas stone, flipped an 800 pound tire.  I was instantly recognized by my peers as a resource of value and knowledge.

Those of you who know me well, and know my story, know I’ve struggled with feelings of worth my whole life.  Strength and fitness have given me a huge boost in this area and helped me face some age old demons.

Strengthology is the next phase in that journey for me.

In the last post I mentioned the four layers of strength.  The third layer, psychosomatic, is the one that interests me most right now.

I have a  decent handle on the physical and the physiological.  I continue to train and as I do I refine my techniques and sharpen my skills.  Nothing is ever perfect, but perfection is always my goal.  I plan, I strive, and I achieve.
In my quest to correct my own imbalances I learned to abandon some exercises in favor of other more productive ones.

As a result of the Strengthology weekend I said a sad goodbye to the bench press.  My chest is too tight which encourages an anterior pull to my shoulders and a kyphotic curve to my upper back.  Eventually, if not corrected, this will lead to shoulder injuries.  Who wants that?

I’ve replaced my bench press with a military press and added even more work to my back and shoulders.  My current goal is to be able to press my body weight (245 lbs.) overhead.

The second layer is physiological strength.  I’m curious what 201 will bring with this.  For now I feel good about the strides I’ve taken.  I’ve eliminated all gluten containing grains and starchy carbs from my diet to great effect.  With the Emerson’s Acre project I’ll be able to supply my own organic produce and improve my family’s diet even more.  I’m looking forward to learning more about parasites and other aspects of gut health that affect strength and vitality.

201 promises to offer a host of tools to help help my clients realize just how important diet is.  Modern society has become so preoccupied with convenience and ease that we don’t even realize what we’ve given up in exchange.

Remember, everything has it’s cost.  Be aware of what you’re paying.

But what’s got me totally jazzed is psychosomatic strength, which I imagine will be covered in 301.  Psychosomatic comes from two words psycho and soma.  Psycho, we all know, refers to the mental, thinking, part of ourselves.  Soma is the body.  Psychosomatic then refers how our minds and bodies are connected.

That then leads to an obvious question.  How is this related to strength?

I’m glad you asked.

Our bodies reflect our thoughts.  This is most clearly seen in the slump shouldered posture of people with poor self esteem.  Emotion is also registered in the body.  Emotional trauma is frequently locked in the body and creates permanent postural distortions.

Elliott has been delving into a school of psychiatry referred to as  Bio-Energetic Analysis.  This school seeks to eliminate emotions trapped in the body through a process of charging and discharging.  When you get down into it this is some scary stuff.  The whole reason these emotions are trapped in the body in the first place is that they’re things you’ve been avoiding or didn’t feel safe to express.

There was a quote on the wall in Elliott’s old gym that read, “If you can’t, you must.”

It’s in this spirit I approach Bio-Energetic Analysis.  If the thought of bawling out trapped emotion on some shrink’s couch scares the piss out of me, then maybe it’s something I need to be doing.  If it’s not, I’ll know fairly soon, but I’m frustrated with all the other efforts I’ve made to alleviate my issues.  Granted, I’ve made some progress, but there’s more to be done.  My desire to improve exceeds my fear.

The fourth layer of strength is presentable strength.  This is the ability to take all that you’ve learned from the first three layers and share them with others.

Starting in college I became interested in Chinese philosophy.  Part of what I found so enjoyable about it was the way in which it’s often presented, as stories.  A common theme is that of the sage or wise man who retreats to the mountaintop to meditate or perfect his art or kung fu.  Essentially he removes himself from the world so that he can work on himself.  Once he’s perfected himself, or attained enlightenment, he returns to the village.  He comes back into the world so that he can share what he has learned.

The message is that perfecting yourself is not enough.  You have to share it with others.  In the Eastern tradition once you attain enlightenment you transcend this plane.  You basically meld with the universe and cease to exist as we currently understand it.

In Buddhism, they have what they call bodhisattvas.  The bodhisattva is like a saint.  What sets him or her apart is that they sit right on the edge of enlightenment, only a hair’s breadth from slipping over, but purposefully holding back, choosing to devote the rest of their lives to helping others.

If this sounds like self sacrifice then you’ve missed the point.  The bodhisattva spends the better part of his life focused inward, working on himself, removing weaknesses and becoming the absolutely strongest version of himself.  Working to help others then is a balance of all the previous effort and energy, changing the direction from inward to outward, and the final step in personal perfection.

I also used to watch lots of kung fu movies.  A common thread here is the opposite of what I just described.  In this scenario a a student enters the temple or apprentices to a master to unlock the secrets of self perfection.  Once he has attained mastery he opts to use his knowledge for personal gain.  He chooses the “dark side”.  Gone rogue with power he exploits others, kills people, steals and otherwise behaves badly.  A hero has to come in and set things right.

Life is not a movie, nor is it a parable or story.  It is complicated, rich and varied.  These archetypes, the hero who uses his strength for the benefit of others, and the villain, who uses his to benefit only himself, exist but not in the clear cut comic book images we recognize so easily in the movies.

Strengthology is a temple.  Elliott is a master.  Your life is your hero’s journey.  What are you going to do with it?

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Strengthology 101: Part III

It’s Thursday morning after the cert and my forearms are healing. It kinda makes me sad.

Stone loading does quite a number of the soft (virginal, in my case) skin of your forearms. I came home with two three inch long scrapes, badges of honor, that everyone wanted to know about.

“What did you do to your arms?”

I felt like Caine from Kung Fu after he moves the brazier to leave the temple, a dragon and a tiger permanently branded into his forearms. I had a mark that set me apart and spoke of my accomplishments. Oh well, that’s just ego and ego never lasts long.

What’s fortunate is that I carry things from this weekend that will never fade. The camaraderie I spoke of last time is something that’s not going anywhere any time soon. As we return to our lives we might not contact each other as often, immediate priorities come to take precedent, but all it takes is the effort. Send a text, an email, make a phone call and we’re reconnected. A bond has been formed.

The other thing that I carry from this weekend is knowledge. It’s funny, that’s the primary reason we went but it’s taken three blog posts to get to it. And that’s not to diminish its importance either. It’s just that there’s so much to be gained from a cert like this and the unexpected benefits are as notable as the expected.

And as expected, Elliott does not let you down. On Thursday, as I hung out in Elliott’s office, I was struck by all the books. Stacks and stacks of books on all kinds of subjects. Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions under a book on qigong by Yang Jwing Ming. Books on politics, economics, psychiatry, physiology, kinesiology all jumbled together in neat stacks on shelves and on the floor, everyone of them within easy reach, everyone of them well worn and obviously read.

A conversation with Elliott is a wild ride of interconnections. He truly is holistic. It’s not just some cheesy ad word he uses to broaden his audience. With wit and precision he can draw an undeniable link between childhood trauma and why you’re stuck in your dead lift. He understands how all aspects of our lives are connected and can even draw you the map to show you how.

If you’re wondering whether I’m going to go into detail about what was covered in the course, I’m not.

That’s proprietary information and if it’s important to you I suggest you make the next cert.

What I will tell you are the generalities.

If you’ve followed any of Elliott’s Strengthology stuff then you should be aware of “The Four Layers of Strength.”

Physical strength is only the first level. Beyond that lies physiological, psychosomatic and presentable strength. Each layer takes us deeper into ourselves allowing us to first identify and then remove our weaknesses. This not for the faint of heart.

A perfect example of this is a colleague from South Florida, a successful trainer with a growing business, a powerlifter and a strong Type A personality. Frequently this type of guy is a blow hard. He knows what he’s good at and that’s what he focuses on. He’s addicted to his own success and actively avoids failure.

Not this guy. Rarely have I seen someone so committed to improving himself. Every imbalance, every imperfection was noted, cataloged and recorded for future improvement. He was persistent, determined and aggressive, a warrior in every sense of the word. These qualities, usually found frightening in modern society, he aims inward. It’s his own weakness he seeks to destroy.

Outwardly he’s compassionate. He builds up everyone around him, not in the marshmallow soft, New Age way that has become the modern standard but with spine and spirit. In short he’s a leader. One who inspires those around him to greatness—through example.

And it is this quality that is Strengthology. Strengthology builds strength because it requires strength. Strength to look inward, face your fears, identify your weaknesses and then go after them.

After general introductions and the “get to know you” part we had a guest lecturer, a local chiropractor Elliott has been seeing who specialises in C-1 adjustments. C-1 is the very first vertebrae of your spine and it’s what your skull sits on. If it’s “out” it can affect your entire nervous system and consequently all aspects of strength and performance. See? Holistic.

After the lecture we covered some basic assessment techniques to determine if your or your client’s C-1 is out. Not all chiropractors do this type of work, so if you’re interested or want more information go here.

After that we went into the gym and got our hands dirty. Elliott showed us a comprehensive assessment system we could take home and begin using on our clients right away. I have been using it to great effect.

The assessment looks at the client from all angles assessing both structure and movement. Using these protocols we can identify imbalances and spot future problems before they happen.

Not one to send us off half cocked, he then showed us stretches and how to write programs that we could use to alleviate those imbalances and empower our clients to begin correcting them.

As trainers we truly are the front lines of the health care industry. We see clients before they go to the doctor, “Hey Dave, my shoulder hurts when I press overhead. What should I do about it?”

We prescribe the protocols (read exercise) that keeps them out of the doctor’s office in the first place. It only makes sense that we should be more acute in our assessments and empowered in our ability to affect real change.

This is what the first, physical, layer of strength in Strengthology is all about.

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Strengthology 101: Part II

Back row R to L: Tayler Locke, me, Alex Villegas, Kevin Sheerin
Front: Chris Barnard, Elliott Hulse, Zach Marcy, Steve Ashton

This is the second time I’ve been in St. Petersburg. Both times I’ve been struck by the people I met and the relationships I’ve built.

As a trainer and a massage therapist I’ve attended several certs and workshops hosted by a variety of experts, each with a substantial following. Never do I see the excitement and connection that takes place with Elliott’s followers.

It’s not just that we’re all in the same field and have similar interests. I have that with other trainers and therapists. At those certs we enjoy each other’s company but once the cert is over it’s over and we never see each other again. By contrast, I’m in contact with nearly everyone from my October trip and working on a project with two of them.

This time was no different.

I felt an instant bond with everyone at the cert. We were all excited about Elliott, the material he was presenting and all the commonalities we kept finding. Often the cert would find itself derailed from the agenda as some tangential topic had us all distracted and excitedly discussing.

As I sit in my gym on Tuesday I struggle to find just the right words to convey the sense of communion we all felt. In truth I don’t think I’ll ever give it justice.

Look at our photo again. Note the crazy grins. The open postures, the sense of strength and vitality. That’s not just Elliott. We all caught it and reflect it. And I think it’s safe to say it’s our deepest desire to give it a permanent home in ourselves, ultimately to share it with others.

It’s funny, the more time we spent together, both at the cert or at dinner, in our own conversations or in lecture, we found that despite our different paths, whether a 19 year old kid from Maine, who fought a heroic battle with obesity and won, an Irish professional gambler, looking for the soul and the substance of himself, or a successful gym owner from Miami, at heart we are all the same, each of us looking to become the strongest version of ourselves.

Elliott excites and energizes that in us.

Many of spoke of overcoming self doubt, of breaking the chains of our own making that hold us back and keep us from being all that we can be.

I won’t say that Elliott is immune to this. In fact I’m sure he’s had his share of struggles. The difference, the crucial difference, that he has and we seek to learn, is that he sees his internal struggles in the very same light he sees his external ones—mere resistance. As a strong man he knows the value of resistance. Resistance is the gift that makes us stronger. Without it there’s nothing to overcome. If we don’t overcome we don’t grow stronger. The most important of those last two words being the first—grow.

Growth is life.

Elliott is mad with life. No, not angry—mad, like crazy, exuberant, intoxicated.

So are we.

Pushing, striving, lifting, straining, yelling. Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” personified.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

                                        Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

“Not a bit tamed” and “untranslatable” we are AWAKE, alive to ourselves and the world. We relish in the company of others who share this.

We push ourselves and each other. In the process we all get better, again—the strongest versions of ourselves.

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Strengthology 101: Part I

The soreness is starting to settle in and with it a profound sense of accomplishment. I spent this past weekend with my mentor, Elliott Hulse, at his gym in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a wild ride of knowledge, lifting, brotherhood, alpha males and Ireland. The reason I was in St. Petersburg was Elliott’s Strengthology 101 certification. This is the first of several posts about this weekend. I’m eager to get this out so I will just let it flow, stream of consciousness style, and as such I have no idea how many parts this will have. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

If you follow me on Facebook you know of my love for Elliott and his work. I share his ideas more than anyone else’s and while I follow the work of many trainers, none has had the same impact on me and my work as Elliott.

If you don’t already subscribe to his newsletter I suggest you do so. I recommend the same for his YouTube channel as well. Elliott’s style is aggressive and often controversial. Clearly an alpha male, Elliott exhibits the highest expression of the alpha, what Cesar Milan refers to as “quiet dominance”. Elliott knows exactly what he’s capable of and since he knows he has no need to prove anything. Everything I’ve seen him do is done in the spirit of “Here’s what I think, take it or leave it.”

His primary audience is young weight lifters and fitness enthusiasts but his message is relevant to everyone. His mission? To help everyone he comes in contact with become “the strongest version” of themselves.

I arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida early on Thursday. By the time I had settled into my hotel room it was only 2pm. I quickly changed into my gym clothes and set out in search of his new gym. Elliott had moved from the original Strength Camp to a larger space and I was eager to see his new digs.

When I got there Elliott was editing another one of his Yo, Elliott! videos. This time a trans-gendered female (wait, is that right? Do you name the sex they were or have become? Confusing. Anyway, it was from someone who was a girl and is now a guy) had sent in a video question asking how he should train in order to appear more masculine. Not only was Elliott responding he was doing so in a genuine manner. In the world of powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman, who does this? You can see the video here.

While he worked I knocked around the gym hanging out and spending time with his assistant Chris Barnard, a very talented trainer, a former client of Elliott’s who played football for the University fo Miami and has designs on the NFL. Later while Elliott worked on getting his video equipment in order I worked out in the back alongside Chris. At first I thought I’d just follow Chris and do his workout, but once he started his plyometric training and I saw how he could jump, I decided I was on my own. Just so you know, white men can jump.

Luckily, Elliott came out after a little while. He has a strongman competition next weekend and he needed to work with the atlas stone. The atlas stone is a large ball, almost the size of most stability balls, made entirely of concrete.

Elliott came out, did a few stretches and promptly walked over to a 320 pound stone which he then lifted to a platform set somewhere around 50 inches off the ground.

Do me a favor. Read that again. In front of my eyes without any real warmup he just lifted 320 pounds to face height on his 5’8” frame. Again I ask you, who does this?

If you’re starting to notice a slight bit of hero worship here it’s not surprising. Most of us who attend these seminars are big time fans. We’ve followed his work for sometime, seen most, if not all, of his 417-and-growing videos and are proud to count ourselves amongst his supporters (currently reported to be over 300,000).

After Elliott had finished his single rep effort he turned to me and said, “Wanna try?”

Yes, I did.

After ascertaining I had never lifted stones before he sent Chris after the camera. And here I got my first big lesson of the weekend. Never pass up an opportunity to shoot a training video.

Elliott then proceeded to teach both me and the world how to lift stones. The most important thing to know about stone lifting? Pick it up. Put it on the platform. Sure there’s some technique, but the most important message? Pick that shit up.

He started me with a more modest 150 pound stone. It went up fairly easy. We then moved to the 225. That one? Not so much. I could get the stone to my lap, but couldn’t get it high enough from there to put it on the platform.

For the next fifteen or twenty minutes Elliott would do a one rep set with the 320 and I would try with the 225. After several failed attempts and much coaching from both Chris and Elliott he told me to go back down to the 150 and to lift it for a set of 5. Just to mollify my ego I did a set of 6. After that set I tried the 225 and…success!

This little experience set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

There is much more to write about from this weekend. Strengthology is all about becoming the strongest versions of ourselves. It’s more than just lifting, it’s about how everything about us from the state of our bowels to our thoughts and mental conditioning to our spinal alignments to how our emotions are sometimes locked into our bodies affect us and affect our strength.

Most of us don’t consider these things. As athletes we want to know how much to lift, how to lift it and how often to lift it. After that we want to know what to eat and when. That’s usually it.

I’m here to tell you there is so much more. Get ready my friends, I’m about to take you on a very wild ride.


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