Monthly Archives: June 2012

Fun

Sunday of the workshop, after spending a few minutes foam rolling out some of the kinks from the previous day’s work and exploring some movement meditation, Chip showed us a video.  It was one of those PBS local color documentary shows.  This one is called California Gold.  Our own local version is creatively named Discovering Alabama.

The particular segment Chip showed us was about the original Muscle Beach, which was not the Muscle Beach I thought I knew.  The Muscle Beach I was familiar with was a later incarnation that came after the first was closed down.  The one I was familiar with was the Muscle Beach of Venice Beach a realm of bodybuilders.  Guys like Arnold Scwarzenegger, Franco Columbu and Sergio Oilva would show up at this Muscle Beach Venice to train, draw crowds and impress girls.

This version of Muscle Beach was a wholly modern version complete with egos and self aggrandizement.  Bodybuilding had taken a dominant position in the Era of Me.

At the original Muscle Beach, in Santa Monica, bodybuilding, working out for the sole purpose of looks and physique, was viewed as an inferior practice.  In it’s original form Muscle Beach was a haven for gymnasts and acrobats and ability trumped appearance every time.

The video is worth checking out and I hope Chip brings it with him when he comes at the end of next month (have you registered yet?).  The host is a corny guy, with a bit of a Southern accent, and he’s interviewing some of the originals of Muscle Beach.  Sadly, most of these men and women are gone now, at the time of the video most were in their eighties, but a livelier bunch of octogenarians you’re not likely to find.

Here’s a sample video I found on YouTube.

The original Muscle Beach was a spontaneous occurrence.  It began with a small group of enthusiasts who would meet at the beach to practice hand balancing, tumbling, women tossing (my term), pyramid building and anything else they could think of.  Over time they began drawing crowds, eventually a platform was built and the crowds grew bigger and bigger.  Eventually the city shut them down.  This wasn’t a business, there was never a charge for admission, and so there was nothing to tax, but the large crowds required added security and civically it was deemed a hassle.

Which is a real shame, because for one brief, shiny moment one of humanity’s greatest assets found a place to shine–community.  In watching the seniors of muscle beach you can’t help but see that these people are a family, a tribe.

Again and again in the documentary you’ll hear stories of mutual support, enthusiasm and creativity.  The original Muscle Beach drew enthusiasts, not professionals, the difference being that these people did what they did just for the love of it.  They shared with anyone who cared to learn.  Their passion led them to become some of the most highly skilled gymnasts and acrobats, often far surpassing elite level Olympic and professional peers.  Why?  Because they were having fun.  That fun led to creativity, a playfulness, a child like quality that constantly asked, “What can we do now?” and “Where can we go from here?”

We all had this once.  When we were kids and we played, we made up all kids of stuff.  Competition was largely about exploration, urging each other to greater heights through opportunities of one-upmanship, not a desire for dominance and “in your face!”

If you come to the workshop, you’ll learn about Daniel Dumbrowski.  Dumbrowski studied the ancient Greeks and reveals that they took play very seriously.  Play was an essential component of Greek life and was sub-divided into three categories, frolic, competition and war.  Frolic is just what it sounds like, play for the sake of play.  Competition is how we used to compete, rule based play, sport for the advancement of both parties.  Now, all we know is war, winning at all costs, the ends justifying any means possible.

There is no creativity in war.

Clearly the Greeks saw the necessity of war.  It had it’s time and it’s place, but they also saw a need for balance, and fun and creativity were essential to that balance.

What do we do to ourselves when every workout is race to see who finishes first?  Remember when you were a kid and would “race” to see who could go the slowest?  Remember when your play was so engaging an afternoon would last forever and pass faster than the blink of an eye, all at the same time?  Remember when you had so much fun and you laughed so hard you were left a limp puddle on the ground consumed and exhausted with joy?  When is the last time you did that?

Don’t you think it’s time we found that again?

We live in an incredible age.  For the majority of us, life is not nearly as serious as it once was.  Survival is not our number one priority and we can relax into joy and life.  Why don’t we?  Are we so conditioned to crisis that we must manufacture urgency and stress in order to feel normal?

Consider:  In aboriginal societies that still follow a hunter gatherer lifestyle, think Kalahari Bushmen, the average “work week” is twenty hours.  That means in less than three hours a day all survival requirements are met; food, water, shelter.  The rest of their time is free to do whatever they wish.  Every so often I remind myself of this when I’ve just finished a 70 plus hour work week.  Sure, there are advantages to my modern lifestyle, but is the trade worth it?  Is it absolutely necessary?

I, for one, am seeking more and greater opportunities for play.  I’m tired of war.  I want frolic and competition, in it’s original sense.  If you want to play again I invite you to join me.  Have the courage to go against the grain.  Trade in today’s WOD for a free form frolic of movement and flow or maybe a little competition with yourself.

If you find yourself lacking in your play ability, if you freeze up in flow, wondering, “Okay, what do I do now?” consider our workshop.  Chip will be here July 28th and 29th.  Together we will explore a wide range of possibilities, expand our capacity for play and learn and laugh.  Who knows?  You might just rediscover what it feels like to be a lifeless puddle of joy.  Worse things could happen.

For more information about or to sign up for the workshop, click HERE.

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Better Before More

We live in a world obsessed with more–more money, more bling, more status, more friends, more clicks, more views.  It’s gotten to where our linear thinking has reduced us to a point where we can only think in terms of numbers, and as such, more is always better.  Quantity has trumped quality.

The best videos on YouTube are measured in terms of the number of views.  Your success as an individual is frequently measured not in the quality of your work but in what you can charge for it.  More money is instantly equated with a superior product, regardless of whether it actually is or not.

I started this mailing list as a way of reaching out to my clients and other interested people, but also as a way of promoting myself.  I may not feel the need to be the best, but I do feel the need to make a living–and feel good about what I’m doing while I do it.  I began subscribing to other lists to see how others go about marketing and promoting themselves.

In a nutshell, I’m doing it all wrong.  My posts are too long, I say too much, I don’t push the sale at the end and I don’t have enough subscribers.  Again it’s all about volume.

One of the lists I subscribe to seems to suggest that you have to sound like an asshole.  I guess the idea is to promote the idea that you’re cooler than your reader, thereby making him want you to like him, which prompts him to buy your stuff and thereby earn your attention.  Again it’s all about volume.  Who cares if you piss off ten people if you bring in twenty-five?  Just keep banging out content on a regular basis, flood them with quantity and don’t worry about the quality.

The truth is this works.  I know first hand several people who work much less than I do and make comfortable livings following this very formula.  “Come on Dave, no one really wants to read.  Keep your emails between 150 and 250 words and direct them to your sale.”

I don’t know why, but I just can’t do this.  Yes, I want to make sales.  Yes, I want you to sign up for my workshop in July and yes, there will be yet another plug at the end of this email urging you to do so, but before we get there I have to offer something of substance.

Today I’m asking you to take a look at how we value the numbers first and that maybe sometimes that’s a mistake.  Part of the huge success of Crossfit is that they recognized early on that we are obsessed with quantification and comparison.  The first thing you learn about Crossfit is that every workout is quantifiable and that they keep score, not only so that you can see how you’ve improved over time in the same workout, but so you can see how you stack up against everyone else.

As pack animals it’s very important for us to know where we fit in the pecking order.  This type of quantification makes it easy for us.  Ultimately that’s why we like the numbers, they’re an easy way to organize people and decide who is better than who.  Without the numbers these types of valuations require all kinds of subjective criteria that can quickly become relative and the waters start to get all murky.

Numbers are simple.

But there’s a problem–more is not necessarily always better.  “Better before more” is one of the quotes I took from Chip last weekend.  The idea was influenced by the likes of Dan John and Tommy Kono.  Dan John is an elite level strength and fitness authority with several books to his credit, including his latest, Easy Strength.  Tommy Kono is a Japanese-American, who in the 1950s was a world champion weight lifter.  He continues to coach and share his knowledge.

In terms of exercise, more is not better.  Consider; a workout calls for forty push ups, you’re relatively fit and able to knock out ten push ups with perfect form, however the prescription is forty so you continue to do push ups of diminishing quality.

When you’re done what do you have?  Ten high quality push ups and thirty sloppy ones.  What will have more influence over the overall quality of your push ups–the ten good ones or the thirty not so good ones?

Tommy Kono has said you become what you practice.  In the long run lots and lots of poor quality movements will only engender poor quality movement.  Poor quality movements lead to injury and ultimately this is the sin of high rep exercise.

This is not to say that you can’t or should never do high reps, but you should earn those reps.  Don’t practice a forty rep set of push ups until you can do forty push ups with high quality form.

How can this apply elsewhere in your life?  Where can you see that you’ve sacrificed quality in pursuit of quantity?  Do you sacrifice quality of life for the quantity of your paycheck?  Do you trade the quality of your friendships for more of them?

Ultimately, what you value, whether it’s more or better, is entirely up to you.  But ask yourself, are you aware of the distinction?  Is the choice you’re making conscious?

These are the questions we’ll be asking in July when Chip comes to Birmingham.  Since we’re beginning to understand that what happens in the gym is really  a reflection of our outer lives, consider this a rare opportunity to explore you.  Discover your own quality, it’s greater than you think.  Learn to think outside the box and see how it feels to free yourself from the artificial prison of numbers and quantification and explore the unbound territory or movement potential and play.

Sounds interesting?  Click HERE for more information and to sign up.

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Where Can We Go from Here?

If you train at my gym, you know about the white board where I list the week’s workouts.  In the bottom portion of this board I like to place inspirational quotes, little notes to myself and my clients to help carry them through their workout and the rest of their day.

For the last couple of weeks the board simply read, “You are awesome.”

That’s one I will eventually need to make permanent.  I’ll dedicate some area of wall space and have this painted onto the wall.  It’s a powerful message, one we don’t hear often enough and, even when we do, are slow to accept.

Over the next few weeks I will be cycling through a number of quotes and ideas I took from my weekend in Sacramento.  Chip’s  ideas have a lot of meat to them (Sorry, Chip–he’s a vegetarian) and deserve to be explored and given time to digest.

His central theme from the workshop and one of the driving forces in his training methodology is, “Where can we go from here?”

Simply put, this is the essence of exploration.

“Where can we go from here?” is a crucial step in the expansion of our movement capacity.  It’s the question that allows us to push boundaries and explore possibilities.  It removes the blinders of “I can’t…” and opens us up to ‘What if I…”

Each day we ended with a game of “Where can we go from here.”  Chip began the game by starting us out in a position, the first day it was simply standing, and then going around the room asking us each, one at a time, to modify the position, take us somewhere else, the next person would then modify the new position.

What followed was a fascinating exploration of movement and flow that was spontaneous and alive.  It was the perfect cool down after a day of working out and helped our bodies relax and let go of any residual tension left over from the working phase of our day.

Of course it shouldn’t be lost on you that this is also a perfect metaphor for life.  Exploring the possibilities shows you just how free you really are.

Don’t like your job?  Look around you.  Where can you go from here?  Look at your options, we all have them, too often we assume we don’t or think that the ones we see are too uncomfortable to consider.  Through the exploration of movement we learn places we once thought uncomfortable can actually be very comfortable, once we learn to relax into them and breathe.  The same can be said for your life.

Movement involves the interplay of the opposites, tension and relaxation.  Comfort is achieved by finding the perfect relationship between these two concepts in your body.  Your life involves many different interplays, polar opposites working in coordination.  Comfort in your life comes from the harmony or balance of these opposites.

Comfort in your job comes from the right balance of effort and reward.  How you define these terms is entirely up to you.  Reward could be your paycheck or the satisfaction of your work itself, a combination of the two or some other reward entirely.  It’s up to you.

Finding your own personal harmony that’s up to you, too.  Being able to explore, to consider, “Where can I go from here?” is essential to finding your own balance.  Continuing to ask that same question will help you maintain it.

My gym is a dojo.  In traditional martial arts, the hall or space where the art is practiced is called a dojo.  It’s a sacred space, a microcosm of the real world, where the battles of life are explored in practice, under controlled conditions and in safety.

My gym is the same thing.  Through exercise, movement and play we explore our struggles on all levels and gain a greater sense of our own strength and possibility.  “Where can we go from here?”  is the driving question that open us up to our own potential.

If any of this excites you, if the opportunity to explore your own awesomeness thrills, or even scares you, consider joining our two day workshop, July 28th and 29th.  Together, we can use the dojo as a launching pad to discover many of the possibilities of where we can go.  What do you have to lose besides, fear, insecurity and immobility?

Celebrate yourself, become the strongest version of you and join us.  For more information about the workshop and to sign up, Click HERE.

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Homecoming

Miss ya already.

When I got to work this morning that was the email from Chip that was sitting for me in my inbox.  He’d sent it the day before while I was in transit flying back to Birmingham.

My afternoon was spent reconnecting with my daughters.  We caught a late afternoon showing of Brave and then got burgers, sans bun, of course, and onion rings at Hamburger Heaven.  My wife, Samantha, is in New Hampshire for her own workshop and won’t be back until Friday.

This morning has been spent being welcomed back by fellow trainers, gym members and clients, everyone asking if I enjoyed my trip and looking for a little taste of how I liked the workshop or Sacramento.

It’s so nice to be loved and welcomed home.

It’s not without, I must admit, a touch of melancholy.  The Gathering of the Tribes could not have been a more appropriate name for this weekend.

I’ve spoken of this before.  The sense of connection you feel with a group of strangers who share the same passions as you is undeniable.  Once again, I’ve found more of my tribe.  What a gift it is to live in an age of such relatively easy travel.  That I can first find these people and then stay connected with them is such a blessing.

So I was touched by Chip’s email this morning.  The feeling is mutual.  I miss the people I met this weekend.  I miss the ease of our camaraderie and the feel of our enthusiasm, for each other and our work.

I’m also inspired.  For years people have told me, “Oh, Dave, you should really consider going out to California.  You’d really like it out there.”

For years I resisted.  I told myself it would be easy to be me in California, that it was a grander statement, a bolder move and made more of an impact for me to be me in Alabama.  That’s ego talking, of course, and I’ve never claimed to be beyond my ego, but now I’m inspired to be more than just me in Alabama.

I’m inspired to build a tribe.

You are invited to be a part of my tribe.  Heck, if you already get these emails you already are a part of my tribe.  I just now realize the importance of acknowledging that.

So, in light of that acknowledgement,  Welcome, to my tribe.  We are a loose knit community, many of us have never seen each other and may never, but we are connected nevertheless.

We are connected by our passion and our commitment to the elevation of humanity by elevating ourselves.  By becoming as Elliott Hulse so eloquently puts it, “The Strongest Versions of Ourselves” we help others do the same, by our example, by our instruction, by doing, showing and sharing.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” –Ghandi

“If you want to make the world a better place
Take at look at your self
And make a change” — Michael Jackson

That’s right, I just quoted “Man in the Mirror” and Mohandas K.  Feel the love.

So, if you’ve been paying attention of the last few weeks, you know where I’m going with this.

Chip will be here, that’s right, here, at Agoge Fitness Systems July 28th and 29th for a workshop.  You could be here, too.  Come see some of the members of your tribe.  Reconnect with your extended family and take one more step in your journey to “become the strongest version of yourself” and change the world.

To sign up for the workshop click HERE.  Rates go up after July 4th.

And to sign up to get this newsletter in your inbox, click HERE.

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Sacramento: Day 2

Sacramento is a sleepy town on a Saturday.

I was pretty wiped yesterday and fell asleep literally minutes after having sent last night’s post.  I slept a whopping ten hours (unheard of!) and woke at 5 am, local time, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Of course, my twenty something hosts were fast asleep, so I quietly showered, shaved and slipped out.  I found my way to the gym, parked my rental car and set out in search of a coffee shop.

Thanks to the two hour time difference I was able to consult with my good friend John Paul and resolve my wifi issue.  Thanks again, John Paul.

Then I just strolled the midtown area seeing what I could see.  Sacramento is flat.  That’s one of the things that reminds me of St. Pete.  It has has tons of trees, more even than Birmingham, and cool trees, too–stuff that we can’t grow, giant palms, birch trees and other stuff I don’t even know the names of.  It gives the entire area a really nice green glow.

We started around 10 am (sheesh, Californians) and did a mix of mobility, powerlifting and Olympic lifting heavily peppered with Chip’s historical commentary.  It was way cool and I learned a lot, and that’s all you get to know.  If you’re curious, if you want a piece of this smorgasbord of information you’ll have to come to the workshop in July.

What’s so cool about these types of events and what is so cool about this one and what will be so cool about the one in July is that they’re so unique.  The information is good, of course, it’s valuable and the way Chip and his top trainer Allyson present it is unique to their way of doing things, but it’s also available through their books and DVDs and a million other resources.  If you want the information it’s out there.

No, what makes these events so cool is the confluence of people they draw together and the synergy that’s created between the presenters and the people learning.

Chip and I talked about this yesterday.  He says he doesn’t want to be a leader.  I know I don’t want to be a leader.  A leader is constantly looking over his shoulder, making sure his followers are behind him.  How can you move forward when all of your attention is on the people behind you?

I’m way too selfish for that.  I want to move forward, but I would like some company along the way.

I like to think of Dax Moy’s concept of guru.  One who just sheds his own light and lets those who are attracted come to it, or not.

Chip wants a tribe.  And I admit, it is an attractive concept.  He wants to teach (i.e. shed his light) to attract students and peers, to share what he thinks is cool and empower those around him to do what he does–move, play, explore.

In a few minutes I’m meeting Chip and some more members of his Tribe to go play by the river.  After that we’ll go to dinner and tomorrow we’ll do more playing and moving and exploring.

You don’t have to just get this vicariously through me.  There’s an opportunity coming, just outside your front door.  I’m bringing Chip to Birmingham because we need a taste of Sacramento.  We need an opportunity to get outside ourselves, to drop our obsessions with appearance and unmerciful WODs and learn how to have fun again.

Chip mentioned a man named Stuart Brown.  Stuart studies play for a living.  He’s found that the absence of play is linked to sociopathic behavior.  So take this lesson, play is an essential component of your humanity.  Forget how to play and you forget how to be human.

So there you have it.  Come to our workshop or be the cause of the demise of the human race.  It’s your choice, no pressure or anything.

If you want to be reminded of the details, Chip Conrad, of Bodytribe, from beautiful, green and very laid back Sacramento, California, will be in Birmingham, Alabama July 28th and 29th.  Both days will be full of empowering movement, talk and exploration designed to push your notions of the gym, physical culture and what working out is really all about.  Come stand in Chip’s light for a while.  I think you’ll like it.

To sign up for the two day workshop click HERE.

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Sacramento

I just wanted to drop a quick note.

I’m here in Sacramento for the Bodytribe Gathering of the Tribes.  I got here about midday, went to see the gym and got to pal around with Chip for a while, he took me to a local Co-op to get some groceries and and I got to see a little bit of Sacramento.

I gotta say it reminds me a lot of St. Petersburg.

From the little while I did spend in and around the gym I can say it has an awesome vibe and the people drawn to Chip and his gym are exemplary.  I saw athletes of all ability levels training around each other, their love and respect for Chip and his gym was palpable.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.

On the downside, I’m having some hardware issue with my computer and my wifi is acting up.  I’ll do my best to get it fixed but I may not be as in touch over the next few days as I’d like.  Right now I’m hooked up via a cable at my host’s, Kyle, a trainer at Bodytribe, house.

I’m even more excited about the workshop having met Chip face to face.  We have lots in common.

Tomorrow is going to be a blast, but now I’m pretty tired and I’m thinking of crashing at the ridiculous hour of 7:15 pm local time.  Give me a break, I’ve been going since 2:30 am local time.  I’ll see more of Sacramento, tomorrow.

Until then,

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The Physical Sub-Culture

I am really starting to get excited about this weekend.

I’m travelling again.  I know, I know, I’ve been on the road a lot this year.  My motivations, as always, are both selfish and altruistic.

On my last trip, to the conference in New Jersey, many of the speakers talked about how, “It’s not about the money.”  The idea is that you do what you love, follow your passion and share your gifts and the money will take care of itself.  I believe that, but I also appreciated Zach saying that for many of us, “Right now, it is about the money and it won’t not be about the money until you have enough that it doesn’t matter so much.  Then you’ll realize that it really isn’t about the money.”

I’m very lucky.  When my father died last year he left me a sizeable inheritance.  Part of that has allowed me to not be “all about the money.”  I’ve been able to afford these trips and to take the opportunity to learn from whom I consider the great masters of our industry.  My goal is to able to process the knowledge I gain and share it here and in the gym with you.

Of course, I’m a heretic and as such I follow other outliers, but honestly, isn’t the edge the only place to be?

Part of me very much is “about the money.”  My inheritance was my father’s final gift to me.  It is of paramount importance to me that I do not waste it.  Right now, it’s acting like a pair of training wheels, allowing me to foray into this world of giving from my heart and serving from a place of passion and personal drive.  Whether it will work or not is still up in the air.  I operate on the, sometimes shaky, faith that it will.

If it doesn’t work, if I fail and these efforts do not pan out the way I hope, I will, of course, be really bummed out.  I know myself well enough to know that there will be, what we like to call here in the South, a “come apart.”  A depression of some length will most likely ensue and then, I’ll just have to get over it.  I have “babies to feed.”  I’ll do whatever I have to do to move on, regroup and do my best to get back on what I believe to be my life’s purpose, my path.

But that’s not happened and right now, things are looking really good.  Response is high and I’m going, by personal invitation, to the West Coast, to bring a little bit of Alabama, admittedly an irregular, uncommon and somewhat unique part of Alabama, to meet what I suspect will be an equally irregular, uncommon and unique group of people.

I’m going to Sacramento, California, my first time to Cali, by the way, to attend the Gathering of the Tribes at Bodytribe.  The Celt in me sings at the very idea of such a thing.  There is something incredibly profound and exciting about going to meet “your people,” especially when you haven’t actually met them yet.  Just knowing there are others out there that share my passions and enthusiasms stirs my blood.

The potential and opportunity for connections, new ideas and new friends makes all the expense and hassle of travel worthwhile.

Chip Conrad, the owner of Bodytribe, speaks often of Physical Culture.  That’s the over arching term used to describe gymnasiums, fitness clubs, strongmen, exercise enthusiasts and working out from back in the day, and I mean really back in the day, like your great grandfather’s back in the day.  This was fitness before it was co-opted into a multi million dollar industry that makes more money when you feel worse about yourself.

That’s a sad comment on the business and marketing, but it’s true.  Negative emotions and self perceptions will prompt you to spend more money than positive ones.  Which makes total sense if you think about it.  Why do I need to buy a extraneous product if I’m perfectly happy where and how I am?  I buy stuff like exercise gadgets, gym memberships and (gasp) personal training because I’m not happy with how I look (read: how I am).  In fact, I’m so unhappy, that I’ll fall, repeatedly, for unreliable hype for products that consistently do not deliver, in the hopes that one day, I’ll find that secret.

To be in the fitness industry and not fall into this line of marketing makes you deviant, subversive.  If your message is health, mobility, ability and letting appearances take care of themselves you are in direct defiance of the Globo Gym directive, “It’s your fault, if you don’t hate yourself enough, to do something about it.”

The reference above, just in case it was a bit obscure, is from the movie Dodgeball.  If you haven’t, I recommend you see it.

We can never go back to the good ole’ days.  Too much has happened, and not all of it has been bad.  There’s been much innovation and growth and it’s foolish to ignore that simply because it’s new, just as foolish as it is to ignore our history simply because it’s old.

The Physical Sub-Culture seeks to defy all conventions.  It’s members think for themselves.  Knowledge and applicability trump all else.  The bottom line is that if it works and is congruent with your goals and values it has a place at the table.  It just so happens that, for many of us, the old stuff not only works but is way cool as well.

So tomorrow I’m off to meet another master, to immerse myself in the Physical Sub-Culture, and to return yet again changed in some as yet to be determined way.  I’m excited and I hope by sharing that excitement I can encourage you to take a chance yourself, invest in your own transformation and join us in July, when Chip brings his heresy to Birmingham.  Come, join me on the edge, the view is awesome from here.

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