***We interrupt our regular programming – Vascular Vindication or Cardiovascular Catastrophe? – for an important public notice.***
I have been loosely involved with the health and fitness industry for about 19 years at this point. Although pure training age doesn’t mean much in a world of knowledge seekers, I prefer to think I have accumulated, at minimum, a base knowledge of how to go about being successful in this “industry” in my own corner of the world. I have also come of age in a time when T-Nation took hold of a generation, health magazines have wavered in popularity, and the onset of social media as means of industry influence has evolved rapidly.
As with most of the people in my industry, I have mixed feelings about certain practices, both the physical practices and the sociological/psychological phenomena that seem to wax and wane repeatedly. Don’t flex your spine, wait no, Jefferson Curls are the bees knees! I should listen to viking metal while I lift, wait no, I don’t think one should need music to be able to lift! Bicep curls are useless, wait no, what if you’re in MMA? One specific shadow in the corner of the gym locker room has gotten me particularly frazzled over the years. It’s a syndrome, really. And it seems to be growing faster than imaginary lats or synthroid biceps ever did.
I call it internet expertise disease. IED for short. This little STD (social-media transmitted disease) is lurking in the shadows of every Facebook comment thread and online fitness forum, waiting to blow your argument to smithereens. The worst part is, you can catch this disease entirely on your own, in a bubble, with no interaction with other real live human beings. In fact, you’re probably more likely to catch this disease in a vacuum, since working with real people face-to-face imparts a certain level of immunity to the advanced stages of this disease (but only in certain phenotypes). I digress.
That, my friends, is exactly why I was hesitant to start a blog, especially one with any inkling of personal vulnerability or expertise-sharing. The internet is full of people who have decided that their X years of working out with X athletes entitles them to a badge from the fitness police. Maybe it’s because they have 5% body fat. Maybe it’s because they have a PhD. Maybe it’s because they’re older than you. Maybe it’s because they chose to teach people for a living. Maybe its because they participate in a circle-jerk that you don’t even know exists. Either way, they want you to think that they know more than you do, they are better than you, and that the internet is no place for you to share your thoughts, not on their watch.
So why, OH WHY, am I amusing myself with such cynical diatribe? Because today, I experienced the anti-thesis of this persona. I believe I may have found the exact person whose immunological blood markers we should extract, refine, and inject into every narcissistic fitness guarddog we come across. Let’s regress into a story, shall we…
As a few of you, my creepy online stalker friends, know, the last year has been an interesting one for my health. It’s been an amazing year, but a challenging one to say the least. Somewhere along the line, I figured out that certain exercises would make my blood pressure and heart rate sky-rocket for unbeknownst reasons, while others – seemingly harder exercises – would be fine. For some reason, kettlebell swings have recently come off the no-fly list. Hence, I travel around with my kettlebells in my car full time.
Paddleboard on roof, kettlebells in trunk, ukulele in the back. Man, it’s been a good summer.
On this particular day (the day of my writing this), I decided to swing by the beach (see what I did there?) for a quick hardstyle kettlebell workout and a paddle, before heading home to make dinner for my wonderful ladies. Since I had less than 20 minutes if I wanted to be frugal with my time, I decided that intensity would be the name of my game. So, I threw on some viking metal (see what I did there?), carried a 20KG bell over to the grass, and got to work. I decided on only 100 swings, split up into whatever sets my heart rate would allow, but they were gonna be tight, aggressive, and on-point swings. I was upright planking the bejeebus outta these kettlebells swings. Breathing: on point. Hip hinge: on point. Lats, abs, glutes: on point. Timing: on point. Not to brag (well, I am on the internet), but I know my way around a kettlebell swing, and today felt goooood.
So, imagine my glee when a very fit lady decided to walk over to my corner of the grass and inspect my form. Naturally, since I was looking like I could throw a 20KG bell into the stratosphere, she would be walking over to ask me for some pointers that she could use in her own training.
False. The first words out of her mouth were, “Do you mind if I give you a tip?”.
Now, three things simultaneously came crashing into my noggin. First was, “Just the tip?” but she didn’t seem like the type, aka an immature nincompoop, that would enjoy such a thing. I am happy to report that I swallowed that one (see what I did there? Alright I’ll stop). Second came a wave of sarcastic machismo, as this is often my go-to defense mechanism with those people whom I know the best. I was tempted to step back, with an exaggerated arm swoop and a bow to her majesty, followed by, “please sire, show me your ways.” Again, in an attempt not to become El Douchador, the mystical spanish king of the douchebags, I choked that one back with a little eye twitch and a grunt. Third came the slightly more socially acceptable and yet not so gracious thought process of
“Whatever; if I let her talk, she’ll just leave sooner.”
I am happy to say that none of these instinctual reactions ever escaped the inside of my cranium. All that emerged was a slightly punctate, “uh…sssssure” followed by my removal of my headphones and leaning in so I could listen. Now this is where the story gets really testy.
She then proceeded to give me the worst advice she could have possibly given me about kettlebell training.
She thought I should SLOW DOWN. Yes, you heard that right. She wanted me to use my arms more, and move slower, in more of a squat and less of a deadlift, so that I could pack on more slabs of arm muscle quicker. Why? Because moving how I was moving would be hard on my rotator cuff, and she had seen too many people shred their rotator cuff by doing kettlebell swings that way I was doing them.
Now, I should have prefaced this by saying that I am no kettlebell expert…but I am a certified kettlebell instructor. I formally learned the hardstyle system from Michael Hartle, right hand man to Pavel Tsatsouline himself. I don’t think there has actually been a week gone by in over 5 years that I haven’t picked up a kettlebell in the gym or clinic. Is it always perfect? No. But it’s certainly not bad. Any time it has been bad, I’ve known it’s been bad; enough years of practicing the same movements gives you a pretty good feedback loop for when you’re “on” and when you’re “off”, even by a little. I cannot count the number of people I have taught how to swing kettlebells over the years, not to mention hosting kettlebell courses and using them on the reg for rehab and mobility purposes.
So, what is a guy like me, with much more than average knowledge of kettlebells, the human body, and my own shoulders suppose to feel when someone like this lady offers to help? How does my huge ego feel? What runs through my head? More importantly, what happens to my blood pressure!? Well I won’t tell you what did go through my head, but I will tell you what SHOULD come out of my mouth:
Fortunately for me, I had the wherewithal to begrudgingly call forth a semblance of thankfulness in this instance. It was not easy; it did not come naturally; it certainly didn’t feel like what I wanted to do. Feeling and expressing gratitude certainly did not feel like the path my ego wanted to race down.
But I did it. I nodded appreciatively as she explained her reasoning, smiled and looked her in the eyes while she was losing me entirely, and said a heartfelt “thank you” when she finished and looked to me for assurance of understanding.
Now, why is this important for me to write about? If you take only one thing away from this article, make it this:
The world doesn’t need more experts. The world needs more people who want to help.
If more information were the solution, we’d all be billionaires with 6-pack abs. There is no lack of information out there, and more notably no lack of people looking to use this information to make themselves look like experts. What is lacking is a legion of people who care not about judgement, care not for recognition, and care not about correctness of every detail.
We, the health and fitness industry, desperately need more people who give a damn about people more than they give a damn about being right.
Because when you really want to help people, you’ll always be looking to find what’s “right” anyway. We need more people who are willing to leave their 3 kids in their mini-van to walk across a parking lot, introduce themselves to a stranger, and offer to help, with no expectation of reciprocity, popularity, or referral. We need more naive workout interrupters. We need more of the lady I met today on a beach.
So how did the story end? Despite my best intentions of making her feel good about the fact that she interrupted a workout mid stream, she looked a bit sheepish after her spiel. She says, “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have interrupted, I just saw you doing your swings and thought you might get hurt.” She followed this by staring at her feet and starting to walk away. In a panicked attempt to salvage the intentions of a fitness industry superstar in the making, I quickly interjected,
“No no no. You feel free to interrupt any time. And I mean ANY time. Thanks for your help.”
She smiled, walked back to her white mini-van with three screaming children waiting for their mom, and drove off into the haze, likely to never ever spend her time on Facebook showing off her abs, but extremely likely to help dozens of people who really need her help, horrible kettlebell form and all.
Thanks you, Naive Workout Interrupter Lady, for giving a damn about another human being.
Next time: Back on the genetics bandwagon…