Category Archives: Strength Training

Warrior Dash, 2012


Hey there ,

This past Saturday I drove north of Birmingham to the outskirts of Warrior, Alabama with my family and two intrepid tribe members to participate in this year’s Warrior Dash.

The Warrior Dash is a 5k obstacle course/mud run, this year’s emphasis was clearly on the mud.

For Ned, Paula and I this race was a good two years in the making. We had originally intended to run in 2011 in Tennessee but our plans fell through. Actually, I dropped the ball.

I had gone so far as to set up a training session on Saturdays several months in advance. I was taking all skill levels and the ostensible goal was that we would all work as a team. We would start together and we would finish together.

Unfortunately, my leadership skills just weren’t up to the task, more advanced runners were smoking the beginners on our practice runs and I wasn’t proactive enough to maintain a cohesiveness in the group. In the end I used the excuse of my father’s recent passing that spring to bail on the project entirely.

When Ned brought up this year’s race I was immediately reminded of last year’s failure. The fact that it was going to be local didn’t make it any easier to evade. Ned, oblivious to my reservations, forged ahead and registered his wife and himself for a two o’clock start. I stalled a week or two, long enough to miss the cheapest entry fee, and finally forked over my $65 for the race. After that I pretty much put it out of my mind.

There are many of my colleagues who preach the importance of competition. It can form the backbone to your training and provide a focus and direction essential to growth and development.

I have generally avoided competition. Not because I fear the event so much as I can’t stand the anticipation of the event. I can really work myself up into a lather over nothing. The worst I think was the jitters I would get before a jiu-jitsu tournament. I entered several of these out of respect to my instructor. Despite having fought all comers in practice three times a week for several years there was something about an official tournament that left me completely unhinged. My stomach would be in knots and palms would pour sweat. It was a supreme act of self control not to just walk away.

The Warrior Dash held a little of this, but it also held last year’s failure which held a greater prominence in my mind. I did not cultivate a team this year. I was running with Ned and Paula but we did not train together and there was nothing “official” about our association. We were just running together.

Leading up to the race I didn’t even realize I was nervous, until I was struck with diarrhea three hours before the race. Grateful that this had struck way before we got to Warrior I emptied my bowels and resolved not to eat again until after the race.

And the race went fine, despite cooler than anticipated weather and a little rain. We all wore the same style Vibrams and realized, given the muddy conditions, a bit more traction would have been helpful. But we were more than ready for the race and finished together in high spirits. The obstacles were fun as well as challenging and I was pleased to note that the kilt I wore worked quite well under the conditions. All in all we finished in under an hour and celebrated with giant turkey legs and beer amidst the praise and adulation of my wife and daughters.

And now I’m starting to think about next year. The success of this year, the joy of crossing the finish line as a team, has me rethinking the whole leadership thing and considering getting a new crew together to face the challenge as a team. My oldest daughter has expressed an interest and I’d really like to cross the finish line with her.

You’ve heard me tell you before about the power of failure. There’s a reason it stands out so clearly in our minds and the feelings associated with it are so strong. It’s so we’ll pay attention. Study your failures. Locked inside them are lessons. Lessons which when properly applied will ensure your future success.

Everyone falls. What separates the successful from the non is what we do after we fall. Don’t be afraid to fail, or if you are afraid, do whatever it is anyway. Then when you do fail, for eventually we all do, don’t run away from that failure. Look at it, study it and learn.

To your perfect imperfection,


Leave a comment

Filed under Empowerment, Fitness, Motivation, Movement, Perfect Imperfection, Personal Development, Personal Training, Recovery, Self Help, Strength, Strength Training

Guest Post — Rebecca Dobrinski

Hey there ,
Today I want to share with you a guest post written by tribe member Rebecca Dobrinski.  Rebecca is a regular in our kick boxing class and has provided me with the rare opportunity of allowing someone else to sing my praises.

I am Still Learning

That’s the interesting thing about life: we (hopefully) continue to learn. Whether it is a small fact or a new skill, we are presented with a wide variety of learning opportunities on a daily basis. I do my best to take advantage of these opportunities whenever they present themselves.

It was with this attitude that I decided to take the leap into Dave’s kickboxing class.

Although kickboxing for fitness had intrigued me since the Tae Bo craze, the thought of a more aerobic-style class continued to turn me off of trying it. Sometimes I think many of us children of the 1970s and 80s are still scarred by Jane Fonda and her legions of enthusiastic followers – I will skip over anything with the hint of an aerobics-style class.

After a few Facebook messages about this new class at Agoge, I dove in. At the least, I would be trying something new; at the most, I’d find something I really enjoy. I wanted to give it about three classes, something akin to that “good, old college try.”

And I am still there. It has been about a month now and, unless there is a major conflict with my schedule, I show up to class. What I like, and greatly appreciate, is that Dave approaches the class more like he is training us to be kickboxers. (Yay! No aerobics!) No, I will never be a professional kickboxer, but Dave’s teaching style is quite appealing.

Over the past month I’ve learned a few new things:

1. It can be incredibly distracting to have the bag move when you punch it. Yes, I know that is the goal, but when you are concentrating on the form of your left jab a moving target throws you off your game.

2. Jump roping is not as easy at 41 as it was at 11. Really, it is NOT like riding a bike. I may attempt the jump rope again later, but for now I dig using a giant tire as a mini-trampoline.

3. I am a bad ass. (see giant tire reference above)

4. Kickboxing is akin to dancing, and for someone who never really danced until her mid-thirties, developing a decent rhythm is a challenging skill.

5. Even someone who relies on her logical brain can wrap her nerdy head around an instinctual skill set.

The whole bad ass thing? Once you wrap your hands, something changes. I don’t know exactly what happens because it is not the same feeling when you put the gloves on, but once I wrap my hands it’s a whole new ballgame. It definitely reminds me that I am taking this seriously. And I love it.

I find difficulty in sticking to an exercise / fitness regimen that I do not enjoy. Well, it is not exactly enjoyment that my brain needs to keep coming back – I enjoy pilates and kinesis, but I have never stuck with more than a class or two. I need simply to feel better after, sore muscles for sure but it is mental as well. Walking does this for me; so does yoga. Now, I can add kickboxing to that list.

Really, I am a bad ass – see, I have the picture to prove it.

So, here’s the shameless plug — Kickboxing is Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5pm.  There are still a few spaces left.  Cost is $10 per class for members and $20 for members to be.  Buy a month in advance and not only do you become a member, you get a pretty good discount.

And, remember, you don’t have to be perfect to have fun.

To your perfect imperfection,


Like what you read?  SUBSCRIBE HERE!


1 Comment

Filed under Empowerment, Fitness, Martial Arts, Motivation, Movement, Perfect Imperfection, Personal Development, Personal Training, Strength, Strength Training

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness, Motivation, Personal Development, Recovery, Strength, Strength Training

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness, Motivation, Movement, Personal Development, Personal Training, Recovery, Strength, Strength Training

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness, Motivation, Movement, Personal Development, Personal Training, Recovery, Strength, Strength Training

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness, Motivation, Movement, Personal Development, Personal Training, Recovery, Strength, Strength Training

The 7th Commandment

The 7th of Dan John’s Ten Commandments of Lifting is “Keep it simple.  Less is more.”

This one resonates with me on so many levels.  When I first started training retention was first and foremost in my mind.  My whole approach to training clients centered around what would make them happy and keep them paying me every month.

As a result my training sucked.  Every day was a brand new workout, usually created on the fly, and I was all over the place.  My clients may have been entertained by a new movement every few minutes but they weren’t progressing and they certainly weren’t reaching their goals.

As I matured I came to realize that integrity as a trainer was more important to me than the simple retention of clients.  Which is a scary place to be, but it’s honest.  I began to see my client’s desire for something new every single workout was more a reflection of their own need for growth and maturity than it was a challenge to my creativity.  My job then was to educate them, show how even the most simple movement done with the right intensity and focus could become way more enriching than a continuous flow of movements never truly mastered.

I began to grow more confident in my knowledge and over time began to train my clients more like I trained myself.  Overtime I became confident that for my clients the workouts were anything but boring and within my self imposed framework was tremendous room for creativity.

Best of all my clients progressed and results began to appear.

So what does Dan’s commandment mean for Agoge Fitness Systems?

Keep it simple.  Our foundation must be built on basic movements.  Complex movements are worse than useless if they’re not built on a solid foundation.  The best coaches out there have a short list of basic movement patterns that they categorize all other movements into.

At present I am highly influenced by Bodytribe concepts, for us those movements are the six categories of push, pull, hip, overhead, spine, and spice.  Yes, as you begin to place movements into these categories we will see overlap and some are so overlapped they defy easy categorization, hence the spice category.

The idea is to begin thinking about movement in terms of it’s primary attribute.  In our weekly training we try to cover the entire spectrum evenly.

Less is more.  Our fitness world is overrun at present with more, more, more.  More speed.  More endurance.  More power.  We do more so that we can do more.  Only there comes a point when doing more actually renders us capable of only doing less.

However, if we focus on the basics, squat, upper body press and pull, and deadlift, and keep are reps schemes at a level supportive of growth, we find we can do more.  With the basics as our foundation we create a launching pad for greater abilities, more weight, more mobility, more endurance, more life.

Stay strong.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness, Motivation, Movement, Personal Development, Personal Training, Recovery, Strength, Strength Training