Monthly Archives: September 2012

Clean and Sober

Hey there,

For a good ten years I was a drug addict.  I was a “recreational user” for longer than that but by addict I mean I was daily user — for ten years.

I stopped seven years, nine months and 27 days ago.

New Year’s Day, 2005 ranks, along with the day Samantha and I snuck off and eloped and the days my three daughters were born, as one of the most important days of my life.  It was the day I decided I was bigger than my problems and that I didn’t need an external salve to make it through the day.

Samantha can tell you, the ensuing 30 days were rough.  Detox can be hard and I was not the most pleasant person to be around, but I made it through.

Having stayed stoned for ten years, clarity was a bit of a shock.  As an addict you get really good at talking to yourself and even more at lying to yourself.  I was the king of justifications and I thought while stoned I functioned just fine.

Thirty days of sobriety were enough to show me just how wrong I was.

When I finally did get a clear head I tried to distance myself from my past.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.  Those ten years are a long list of stupid risks and near misses that jeopardized everything I had in those days, most importantly, my wife and kids.

Recently I’ve begun to look back and reflect on those years.  The pain and the embarrassment is not so sharp, I can look at the things I did and, more importantly, why I did them.

The “why” stemmed entirely from my sense of self.  I was so convinced that I was unworthy I couldn’t even stand to be around myself.  I lived in a fog of depression and staying high made me feel better.

What I didn’t realize was there was a part of me that knew better.  There was a part of me that knew I was WORTHY, that I had VALUE, and that I was meant to SHINE but, in the cloud of drugs I lived in, it never got a chance to breathe.

When I finally did step out of that cloud, that part of me took off.  Within a year of quitting drugs I had a new career, a new car, a new house and a new life.  I reclaimed my wife and children who were slowly starting to slip away.

That part, that voice, that lives in me lives in you.  It’s the voice that tells you not what you should be, but what you ARE, even if you haven’t realized it yet.

Give that voice a chance.  You’ll be amazed at what happens.

To your perfect imperfection,

Dave

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Strengthology Lessons

Hey there ,
Yesterday I spoke about how we are all perfectly imperfect.  This was an epiphany I gleaned from my weekend in St. Petersburg at Elliott Hulses’ Strengthology Workshop.

The way this epiphany came, however, was not the usual flash of insight that is accompanied by excitement and a rush of good feeling.  In fact, it came up slowly, on my blind side, and when I first became aware of it, my first response was, “Aww, really?”

Elliott’s workshop was on what he calls the Fourth Layer of Strength — presentable strength.  It’s the ability to showcase your unique gifts and share them with others.

When we think of gifts, we really think super powers.  These are the things that other people have that we admire them for, with Elliott that’s strength and conviction, self confidence and not a little swagger.  He’s taken what was ostensibly a fitness business and grown it into a ministry of personal development.

Which is why we relate, I too am a minister of the soul, only I can’t quite pull off the swagger Elliott has.

The reason I fought this particular epiphany was that it held the realization that I had been trying to be something I’m not.  I was trying to copy Elliott, who’s sexy and has swagger.  In this sense, I’m not and I don’t.

Yes, I know I’m sexually attractive enough to have appealed to my beautiful wife.  We have maintained a very successful and loving relationship for twenty years, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking sexy in a mass appeal sense.  Mick Jagger is sexy, even though anyone who looks at him clearly has to admit — he’s butt ugly.

What I had to realize though is that not being sexy like Elliott is actually a strength.  What good would I be if I were just like Elliott?  He already exists.  How would I help anyone by doing what he does?  It’s already being done.

What’s not being done is me.  There is no one else out there just like Dave Hall.  No one can do what I do.

I am perfect in my imperfection.

If this is true for me, which it is, that means it’s also true for you; as you are, right now.

Don’t miss out on your gifts because they don’t look like someone else’s.  You be you.  By being you, you’ll find all kinds of swagger.  It’s the natural expression of a soul allowed to fully be itself, we’re all attracted to it.

So, embrace you.  Be you.

To your perfect imperfection,

Dave

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Perfectly Imperfect

As usual, I had a great time in St. Petersburg.  Elliott Hulse always delivers and this workshop was no exception.  I am, however, glad to be home.

Now that I’m home, I have work to do.

I faced some hard truths this weekend.  Whether he was aware of it or not, Elliott held up a mirror that showed a face I had been running from.  It was time to take a hard look and accept some truths.

Here’s a story:

A monk, having spent years of study and meditation approaches his master, “Sifu, what should one do when faced with frustration?”

“Encourage others.”

I’ve been doing this all along without even realizing it.  The core of my work is the message that you can be better.  You can have the things you want.  You can live the life you want.  Strength and fitness have been my vehicles to realizing this, but they’re not necessarily the vehicles for my message, because…

YOU ARE PERFECT JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.

There is nothing you have to change.

To have the life you want, you MUST start with this understanding.  If not, the trajectory gets all wrong and we miss our target.

Sure, we all have things we want to change, but we change them because we want MORE, because we DESERVE more, not because we are broken or flawed.  There is nothing to “fix,” only things to IMPROVE.

These are vital distinctions.

In his own subtle way Elliott reminded me of this.  He did this by reminding me of who I am, which, honestly, was the mirror I didn’t want to see.

I have a gift and an audience all my own.  Trying to be someone else is impossible.  It serves no one and only leads to failure.

So, to quote my new friend Teiko Reindorf, “I’mma do me.”  And, hopefully, by “doing me” I can encourage you to “do you.”

To your perfect imperfection,

Dave

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Give Up on Yourself

I ran across this quote while reading a post from Rannoch Donald yesterday.  As an aside, I’m trying to take more time to read.  I’ve let my own sense of urgency and need to make my business prosper take such precedence that I’ve become a bit of a bore.  To counteract this I’m going to start setting aside time everyday to just read.  What I read is irrelevant, it may be work related or just for pleasure, but I’m taking time to read and nothing else.  We’ll see how it works.  Here’s that quote:

“Give up on yourself.  Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect or a procrastinator or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself.  Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.” — Shoma Morita

I really like this guy’s style.  “Give up on yourself.”  What an opener.  What a way to shock you into paying attention.  Give up on myself?  I thought I was supposed to be doing the opposite.  I thought all of my effort was supposed to be on improving myself, getting ready for all the things I’m supposed to be doing.

No, all that is is stalling.  You’re just getting ready to get ready, or as we say down South “fixin’ to get ready.”

You’re as ready as you will ever be.  Just start.  “Begin taking action now.”  So what if it starts off wrong?  You can fix your aim along the way.  No one’s paying that much attention to you anyway.  They’re all caught up in their own stories and journeys.  It’s not as if they’ll notice.  And if they do?  Impress them with how you overcame the challenge of a false step or a misdirection.  The best part of every hero’s tale is the part when they stumble and fall and then pick themselves back up.

The labels you use to explain why you haven’t started — they aren’t you.  You are so much more than any one label.  Any imperfections you might perceive are still not enough to stop you.  Bruce Lee was near sighted and one leg was shorter than the other.  Muhammed Ali was denied his prime years as a boxer by the Boxing Commission.  No one is born perfect and every person of accomplishment has had something to overcome.  Even those who seem to have everything, born with the right genes, into the right families, for whom life just seems to roll over at their feet offering it’s belly to be scratched, will eventually have to overcome their own privilege.

“…[G]et started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.”  Your time here is limited.  You will die one day.  Don’t let your last thoughts in this world be, ‘If only I had…”  In the end, failure will never be as bad as having never tried.  You have things to do.  You came here with a purpose.  Your first job is to figure out what that is, but once you’ve found it.  It’s time to get to work.

Stay strong.

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The 10th Commandment

Dan John’s Tenth Commandment of Lifting is, “Know and love the roots of your sport.”

There is more to lifting than just lifting, despite our tendency to sometimes simplify the process.  “I lift things up.  I put them down.”  History plays an important role in what we do.  Knowing your history makes for a more complete experience and makes you less vulnerable to the snake oils and marketing ploys of the fitness industry.

History gives you a sense of perspective, without which you really have no sense of bearing outside the rituals of your own particular gym.  This can be as simple as having a sense of what is truly heavy.

I look for inspiration from those who lifted before the advent of performance enhancing drugs.  Turn of the twentieth century strongmen like Eugene Sandow, Louis Cyr, and George Hackenschmidt, not only possessed really cool sounding names, but set records of human achievement, some of which still stand today.

Knowing the achievements of those who went before me stops me from resting on my laurels and falling short of my own potential.

Studying the lifters and enthusiasts who came before me offers a smorgasbord of methods to explore.  Most of the great achievers of the past left a legacy, sometimes in the form of training journals, but in many cases books and manuals laying out their own philosophy of training, a trail for anyone who cares to follow.

There is much about the modern fitness industry that I do not cotton with.  History gives me a sense of what went wrong and why.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s, bodybuilding became a national craze.  It went from being an obscure and often misunderstood sport to a widely known and still largely misunderstood one.  This effect on the fitness industry still lingers today, shaping how the majority of us approach our workouts and view our goals in the gym.

At it’s core modern fitness is about looking better.  Originally, this was just a side effect of good training.  The purpose was ability.  The goal being not to look fit, but to be fit.

As one who struggles in an industry overrun with a philosophy that prizes form over function, history helps keep my enthusiasm alive.  Reading the words of giants who reflect my own thoughts buoys my spirit and adds fuel to the fire of my passion.

Even better, it lets me finds my place in a lineage.  My tribe now extends beyond space and time to include those who died long before I was born, the kindred nature of our enthusiasms the only ties we need.

I don’t pretend to be a historian of strength or fitness.  There are those who know their history much better than I, but I do understand the importance of that history and every once in a while, when I can set aside my frantic efforts to earn a living, I can relax into the knowledge and experience of my forebears, knowing that when I come back out I’ll be better for it.

Stay strong

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The 9th Commandment

Happy Monday, everyone.  I hope your weekend was as restorative as mine.

Continuing our series on Dan John’s Ten Commandments of Lifting, let’s look at the 9th Commandment, “Put the bar on the floor and pick it up a bunch of different ways.”

Chip Conrad, of Bodytribe, first brought this one to my attention, it’s his favorite, and with good reason.  This is the bedrock of creative lifting, and if it’s not already, should be the cornerstone of all Mental Meathead’s training rituals.

Yes, I said ritual, not routine, I’ll get to that in a minute.  First, Mental Meathead.  As a reader of these humble musings you, gentle reader, qualify as a Mental Meathead.  Before you become offended, though, let me explain.

Meathead has historically been used as a term of derision, a slur if you will, for those of us who are obsessed with the development of strength.  To the uninitiated this appears the ultimate vanity, time spent in the development of attributes no longer “necessary.”

Mental Meathead I chose as a term of my own empowerment.  I am a meathead.  I spend all day, everyday, in my gym, developing myself and helping my clients do the same.

Mental is a play on words.  First, is the literal, mental = mind = thinking.  We are thinking meatheads.  I’m not content to just lift weights, to blindly follow Westside Barbell or Wendler’s 5-3-1 or whatever program is top of the list at T-Nation.  I’m passionate about my development and weightlifting is my chosen vehicle, the aforementioned resources are all valuable and have their place, but as part of a discussion.

I think about what I do.  I experiment and I explore, hypothesize and experiment.  I play.

Which brings me to the other side of mental.  In British slang it means crazy, touched, “a little off.”  It is this unpredictable aspect, the mad scientist, the artist, the fool that I also want to bring into play, because in creativity true growth happens.

So, this is where the idea for Mental Meatheads comes.  I invite you to be a Mental Meathead, too.

Ritual.  Once again, this comes from Chip and may be the crux of what I’m trying to get across.  In his essay, Routine vs Ritual, Chip points out the usual term for an exercise program is a routine.  The problem is routines are stale, the same thing done in the same way over and over.  This isn’t growth.

Rituals are alive, they’re dynamic and imbued with significance.  If your training is about your own personal growth then your training cannot be stale, it cannot be routine.  By transforming your training with the significance of ritual, you breathe life into it.  It becomes dynamic, alive.

Dan John’s 9th Commandment is a great reminder of these principles.  Don’t obsess over the rules, they’re more like guidelines, anyway.  How many different ways can you pick up the bar?  Once you know the basics, understand the guidelines, use them as a launching pad for further creativity and development.

Stay strong.

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The 8th Commandment

The 8th of Dan John’s Ten Commandments of Lifting is, “You have to put the bar over your head.”

If we accept our previous supposition that training isolated muscles is a myth, on par with Nessy and the Sasquatch, then you can see how Dan’s 8th Commandment is so fundamental.  No other movement trains the entire body as effectively as taking a weight from the floor to overhead.

In many gyms this is verboten.  Much in the same way I described my grandfather’s response to his neighbor setting a field on fire, the response to inflated egos taking on more than they can handle is to remove the possibility of the threat entirely.  Therefore there are many gyms across America where if you starting pressing weight over your head the management will politely ask you to leave.

Martin Rooney has a very funny video on this subject, that if you haven’t seen I suggest you check it out.

In this spoof he talks about the overhead press, but overhead lifting also includes the push (or jerk) press, the overhead squat, the snatch and the clean and jerk, and most of their supportive exercises, not to mention older, more esoteric lifts like the windmill and the saxon bend.

So why did the overhead press get such a bad rap?  Martin alludes to it in his video.  Up until the seventies the overhead press was one of the Olympic lifts along with the snatch and the clean and jerk.  Historically, how much weight one could get overhead was considered an indicator of strength, each of these three lifts were a way to standardize how that weight got overhead.

It is human nature that once an achievement is made it must be exceeded, no matter what the venue.  My favorite example is rap music.  The early rap of the eighties and early nineties, while so angry and aggressive at the time, seems tame and even cute compared to what passes for mainstream rap now.

In weightlifting, records must be broken.  As athletes began attempting more and more weight in the overhead press form began to morph.  They began arching their backs more and more until eventually the overhead press began to resemble a standing bench press as the larger, stronger pectoral muscles came into play.

Technically this is not an overhead press, but it was decided that there was too much grey area in the judging of this lift, the strict disciplinarian was at a disadvantage to the more liberal lifter who would sacrifice form for poundage, often to the detriment of his lower back.

In the general world the removal of the overhead press was a sign that it was dangerous or inappropriate.  As it began to disappear so then did many of the other overhead lifts, frequently without asking why.

As physical culturalists it is our job to ask why, both “Why are we doing this?” and “Why are we not doing this?”  Don’t be afraid to ask why.

Stay strong.

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