Monthly Archives: August 2012

What’s for Dinner?

Last week Kimberly Hartke published a piece on pellagra, wondering aloud if it might be the root cause of the upswing in public shootings and violence.

Pellagra is a vitamin B deficiency, symptoms include: fears, fatigue, depression, confusion, paranoia, hostility, rage and anxiety.  In the early part of the 20th Century the rural South was rampant with pellagra.  It is this, in part, which is to blame for the Southern stereotype of being slow, dumb and quick to anger.

Yesterday, my fellow Mental Meat Head, Jason C. Brown, re-posted an article from the Exhuberant Animal.  In it Frank Forencich touches on the high drama that surrounds the diet debate and our tendency to polarize our selves into factions that war over who has the monopoly on Truth.

Vegans and Vegetarians claim their lifestyle is not only healthy but humane and castigate all non-believers with the mantra, “Meat is murder.”  Carnivores and the relatively new Paleo movement counter “Wheat is murder” citing theirs is the original diet to which we are optimally evolved, anything less is an invitation to disease, sub par mental capacity and a general waste of available space.

Full disclosure:  I have spent a little time in each of these camps.

In college, much to my mother’s dismay, I embraced a vegetarian lifestyle and lived this way the two years I lived in Athens, Georgia.

Recently, I entered the Paleo camp, mainly as part of my ongoing effort to solve the dilemma of my waistline.  I enjoy my chops, steak and bacon and I do better on less grains than more, but I can tell when my body is craving carbs and I’ve learned it’s foolish to deprive myself of something my body says it needs.

Which brings me to my point.

I have met and worked with people who live very successful and healthy lives on a vegetarian diet, I’ve met near total carnivores who do the same and I know vegetarians and meat eaters who seem to always be sick or with a cold.

So what conclusions can we draw from all of this, seemingly contradictory, information?

Here’s what I get.  Nutrition is of fundamental importance.  If you’re not getting the nutrition your body needs it doesn’t work right and can go completely haywire, prompting us to behave in ways we otherwise wouldn’t, possibly with disastrous results.

The specifics of that nutrition is a highly individual experience, each one of us is slightly different, our needs vary based on a host of variables.

This may be a radical thought, but our taste buds evolved to direct us toward what we need.

Profit based food systems take advantage of how taste buds work and try to direct us based on their motives, not our nutritional ones.

My only dietary advice then is to base your diet on real food.  It it takes much more than a sharp knife and a good stove or oven to prepare, you might be better off giving it a pass.

Stay strong.


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Brad Hawley

I don’t know if you’re the praying type, but if you are, Brad Hawley and his family could certainly use your prayers.

On Monday, while training at a local Iron Tribe Fitness, Brad slipped from a chin up bar and landed on his head.  He was rushed to the hospital and had surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage.  At the latest report from his family, he is recovering but still having trouble breathing on his own.

I do not know Brad.  I have no direct connection to his family or to Iron Tribe Fitness.  I discovered this news via Facebook.  Iron Tribe is a competitor and I’ve been an admirer of their marketing for some time.  I keep tabs on them like I would any competitor.

Those who know me well also know I have been a critic of some of their methods.

I do not glibly write this post.  In fact, I’ve undergone a great deal of internal debate over whether I should publish my thoughts on this subject at all.  The last thing I want is to further my business at someone else’s misfortune.

Brad Hawley’s accident is a huge misfortune.  One that he and his family will be dealing with for some time.

Because I am not intimately acquainted with Iron Tribe I do not know what their internal processes are right now.  Through Facebook and online I see the outpouring of tremendous support.  Iron Tribe is to be commended for having formed such a tight knit community that readily jumps to one another’s support.

What I hope is going on is an internal reassessment of their methodologies and general approach to training.  Iron Tribe is no longer a CrossFit affiliate, but they began as one, and have brought with them some of the less desirable qualities of this successful affiliation of gyms.

My main criticism is the valuing of volume and work capacity at the expense of all else.  The exercises that CrossFit and Iron Tribe employ are not the issue.  Movement is movement and, depending on your goals, any movement can be valid.  Taking a complex movement and performing a high number of reps as quickly as possible, however, is a recipe for disaster.

My heart goes out to Brad and his family.  I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.  I hope that Iron Tribe is able, a year from now, to use this story as one of personal triumph and inspiration.

I also hope the coaches and mangers at Iron Tribe see this for the warning that it is.

I believe, as a coach and a trainer, I am responsible for what happens in my gym.  I set the tone.  I train my clients, not only how to perform exercises but to have an internal dialog.  Part of that dialog is learning to know when enough is enough and when to pause or even stop.

The purpose of your time in the gym is to build yourself up, not risk your life.

Stay strong.


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Neil Armstrong

My maternal grandfather retired from NASA at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama some time before I was born.  He was born in the early part of the Twentieth Century, walked to Chicago to find work during the Depression, and enlisted in the Army six times during World War II.  He was in his mid thirties and already a father.  My mother was born in 1948 after his return from the South Pacific.

Due to his previous employment and living in Huntsville, my brother and I were afforded quite a few trips to the Space and Rocket Center.  My favorite being the time my grandfather took me for Miss Baker’s birthday.  Miss Baker was a spider monkey, one of the first in space, and in 1959 one of the first to return from space.  Somewhere, I have a photograph signed with a paw print.

Like most kids of the seventies I was excited by space, rocket ships and space travel.  Not only did I grow up with names like  Starbuck, Buck Rogers, and Luke Skywalker, I knew of John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong.

Neil Armstrong’s passing was newsworthy enough to permeate my general news media block out, which, as far as I’m concerned, confirms the good sense of that block out.  If it’s important enough, I’ll hear about it.  Everything else is just clutter for my mind.

When I was in the first grade I received a blue ribbon in the science fair for my report and paper mache replica of Neil on the moon.  I don’t really remember what I wrote but that ribbon cemented my relationship with Neil, whether he knew it or not, we were buds for life.

Samantha sent me an obituary from Esquire magazine, written by Charles P. Pierce.  She pulled out this quote, saying, “Here’s what you have in common with Mr. Armstrong.”

“That was the great gift that he had — that great icy core of knowing that there was always something else to try, that a man can outthink his fate, on the spot, if he knows what he knows and when to apply it. There was in this guy a terribly fierce opponent for mischance.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not.  She is my wife and likely to be biased, but it’s is a quality I admire.  It’s what set men like Neil and my grandfather apart, a quality so elusive that we idolize those before us who had it.

Did I mention my grandfather walked to Chicago, Illinois to find work during the Depression?  Did I mention that he lived on a farm in Savannah, Georgia?  He enlisted six times during World War II before the army would take him, they finally began to run out of young soldiers.

More than losing men who know what it’s like to stand on the moon, I think we are losing men.  Boyhood is becoming interminable and we’re losing something much more valuable than the space race.

Stay strong.

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Lance Armstrong

Let me start by saying I don’t know the truth about this whole Lance Armstrong thing.  I suspect only Lance, and a select few of his crew, know the actual truth, but like everyone else I’m not going to let that stop me from spouting my opinion on the matter.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Lance Armstrong was stripped, yesterday, of his seven Tour de France victories.

By attempting to enter the Tour de France, once more, he reopened the statute of limitations in his drug inquiry and faced more investigation and court time.

He decided it was not worth the battle and quit, saying he would not fight the inquiry and thereby forfeited his victories.

Since then there’s been quite the buzz, both from fans and critics.  This morning I woke to a Facebook post expressing dismay and eight subsequent comments voicing their support for Lance and ire against the evil sports establishment.  Here was my reply:

“Really guys? If he was clean he would still be fighting this. Face it, professional sports at this level demands some form of doping. It’s the great hypocrisy of sport. I don’t blame him so much for doping (even though I think it’s cheating) as I do the soap box and outright lying to the public.”

Over the years I’ve had the chance to meet and work with athletes from a variety of sports at a variety of levels.  Steroid use, doping and other forms of enhancement inevitably find their way into conversation.

I know athletes who use, some who did and now don’t, and others who say they never have and never will.  What’s of general consensus is, it works.  What’s of debate — whether or not they should be used.

The “hypocrisy of sport” is as spectators we expect our athletes to perform at levels that demand enhancement.  We didn’t start doping, competition and the desire to win at all costs own that, but like any junky, once we got a taste, we wanted more.

Like modern day gladiators our athletes know that while their sport may be the vehicle of their success, pleasing the crowd is how they maintain it.  Many are willing to do that to the detriment of their own health.  Those who are not, we don’t even know about any more.

I don’t think Lance is a bad person.  LiveStrong has been a highly beneficial charity and I commend Lance for the work he’s done, the inspiration he’s provided to cancer sufferers.  I don’t blame him for doping.  Personally, I think it’s cheating, but I understand the realities of sport that demand it.

But, what about us?  What’s our need to build someone else up, to place them so high on a pedestal they can’t help but fall.

How would our lives be different if we became our own heroes?  Rather than waiting for someone else to come along and do amazing things, why not take initiative and be amazing ourselves?

Stay strong.


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Risk Analysis

There are no guarantees in life.

Most of us, especially those of us in the Industrialized West, have been raised in such security the concept of risk is an anathema.  We joke about how kids are raised today versus how we were.  The differences are really quite staggering.

I never wore a helmet when riding my bike, even though I rode BMX style on trails of our own construction.  My range of play exceeded the confines of my neighborhood, while I limited my daughters to the end of the block.

Why we are so much more limiting?  Certainly, my parents felt bad whenever we got hurt, but I think they recognized that this was a part of life and while they felt a personal responsibility to respond to whatever trauma had occurred they did not necessarily feel responsible for the trauma.

Now I think we feel responsible for the trauma.  “If only I had wrapped little Bobby in bubble wrap and confined him to the closet he wouldn’t have fallen and busted his head open.”

I saw a news article yesterday talking about how most Americans have forgotten there’s a war in Afghanistan.  I knew the war was going on, but couldn’t remember the last time I’d thought about it.  People are dying on a daily basis at the behest of my nation and I hadn’t given it a moment’s thought in months.


I think because it’s unpleasant, by most accounts a failure, and something you and I can’t do anything about.  It’s bad news and we don’t talk about it.

We don’t talk about it, because it’s unpleasant.  We avoid risk, because of the possibility of unpleasantness.  Is this what we’ve become?

Wasn’t the defining quality of humanity our ability to choose short term pain in order to achieve a long term gain?  Our current rung on the evolutionary ladder was achieved through risk, through embracing the possibility of failure and trying anyway, and accepting the short term discomfort of effort and strain for the “maybe” of a big payoff.

Is this the consequence of those cumulative payoffs?  Have we reached such a station of comfort that no further effort seems worth it?

Last weekend Samantha and I cleared a hillside around the garden that was overrun with poke weed.  Historically, in the rural South, the young leaves of a poke weed were cooked and eaten.  Poke is poisonous.  My goats won’t eat it.  In order to eat it it must be boiled multiple times, the water from each boiling discarded and replaced with fresh water.

I marvelled at how we came to know how to eat a weed that animals wouldn’t eat.  It then occurred to me that whoever learned to eat poke was starving.  Poke was the only thing available.

Our comforts are an amazing gift, they allow us time and space to invent and create in a capacity historically unknown, but they’re completely wasted if all they do is lull us into complacency.

Stay strong.

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Big Boy Training

For those who care about such things, body shapes are categorized into one of three types–ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph.  These are  arbitrary abstractions and you may not fit squarely into one of these boxes, but they indicate points along a spectrum that can be useful identifiers.  The ectomorph is the classic “hard gainer” or beanpole, a long, lean bodytype that has a hard time gaining weight or building muscle.  The mesomorph is of medium build who tends to build and show muscle relatively easily.  The endomorph is the bear, the “thick sister,” or the husky fella who’s “big boned.”

The Commercial Fitness Complex caters itself very well to the first two body types, but seriously under serves the third.  Cardio based exercise systems, and most of the default systems we turn to when we think exercise, are relatively easier for lighter body types.  Since their bodies are better suited for these activities they excel at them.  It should be no surprise then when the endomorph gets fed up with training that is not only hard but isn’t achieving her goals.  The result is an entire segment of the population living lives that fall short of their true potential.

It’s clear that a greyhound and a St. Bernard have two very different bodies and two very different strength sets.  We rightly expect the greyhound to run circles around the St. Bernard and the Bernard to be much stronger than the hound.  The idea of St. Bernard races, while funny, are ludicrous because it’s clear that speed is not the Bernard’s strength.

So, why, in fitness, do we immediately send the big guys to do more cardio?  The idea that their size is solely the result of excess calories that need to be burned off may not be entirely accurate.

The one place the big boy does flourish is the powerlifting gym where size can work to his advantage.  Often ecto and mesomorphic trainers who work with an overweight endomorph are amazed at her strength.  All too often, though, it’s dismissed, “Well she has to be strong to carry all of that bulk.”  They miss that strength is a primary attribute of the endomorph and through strength training and proper diet counselling real gains, both in strength and body shape, can be made.

As an endomorph myself, I struggled for years trying to make myself fit into a smaller man’s fitness.  I’d find myself wishing I was 5’8″ and 165 lbs.  How sad is that?  God gifted me with unique strengths and I wanted to trade them because of fashion?

Only when I began to embrace my gifts did they flourish and I found myself approaching the life, and look, I’d been chasing all along.

Here’s a lesson we can all learn, regardless of bodytype.  It’s foolish to try to fit yourself into someone else’s mould.  Take some time, get to know yourself and understand what you were “built for.”  Don’t fight your inner nature, embrace it and thrive.

Stay strong.

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The Demon

There is a demon every lifter must face before starting a training program.  It must be faced at the beginning and then again, in one form or another, as we continue to train.  Over time and with practice facing this demon will become easier, but it never fully goes away.

Those of us who have trained for a while know this.  We’ve made our peace, we understand the struggle and recognize its value.  This is an internal battle, one that can only be faced alone.  In the end, you either deal with it, or you don’t.

As an evangelist for Physical Culture, Self-Reliance and Personal Growth, I want you to win.  This is why I have a gym and I run it the way I do.  I don’t care about your six pack abs, your “extreme” endurance, or how much you can lift.  What I care most about is this demon and how you face it.

This demon has a name.  That name is Fear.

Fear takes many forms, but in the gym its three faces are Fear of Failure,  Fear of Rejection and Fear of Injury.

Whenever I talk to anyone about starting a training program I am confronted with Fear.  I hear, “I really need to work out, but I’m not in good enough shape to start.  What can I do to get ready?”

They never like my answer, a variation of, “Show up.”

This forces them to face Fear.  Extra steps, a pre-program, things to do before you start are ways of putting off Fear to delay the confrontation.

That delay has a way of growing.  The more we think we have to do before we start, the less likely we will.  As with most confrontations the event is usually much less than we’ve built up in our minds, but we’ll never know until we face it.

Now, here’s another truth.  This is not a one time battle.  Sure, the battle to actually walk in the door is usually the biggest, but once that demon is defeated, there are other, subtler, more insidious fears you’ll have to face.

“Get comfortable, being uncomfortable.”

Believe it or not, this can be done.  You can find comfort outside your comfort zone.  In order to progress and grow, you have to figure out how.

Whenever I face a weight I’ve never lifted before, Fear kicks in–Fear of Failure, Fear of Injury, Fear of Disappointing, others and myself.  An inner voice begins to question whether or not this is such a good idea.  I have no choice but to banish those thoughts.  If I don’t I won’t make the lift and my chance of injury is magnified.  It’s impossible to maintain a stable, upright posture when your mind is thinking negative thoughts.

Conversely, with strong, positive thoughts, my body reflects my mind and I am more secure in my lift.  In this state of mind I benefit, even from failure.

And so will you.

Stay Strong.

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