Friday, December 11, 2009

What is a training practice?

I've literally spent most of my life in 'training'. First, training for competition gymnastics, then training for endurance sports that I didnt compete in near as much as I spent training for. Then bodybuilding which I did compete in quite a bit and the same with powerlifting. In my mind, I was always training for a competition, or a specific goal no matter how far off it was or long I thought it would take to achieve.

This was especially true during my "ultra" endurance years, as competitions were few and far between. But everyday I did my training I had very specific goals in mind. I didn't really care how long it took me to get there, I just knew if I didnt train as if I was going to compete I wouldn't go out the door.
Or, once out the door, when the going got tough, the weather got cold and wet or my will got weak I would cave and not push through.

This is what made my training more a practice than just sport training, or a workout.There was always something to get from my practice,some new piece of the puzzle, some new understanding of how my body or spirit worked, some new idea about the future goal or how to get there.
The competitions were as much about having legitimacy to all the hours I spent training as much as anything,lol.

I always told people I HAD to compete to justify the large amount of time I spent training and not making money.In truth I loved training( still do) way more than competition,which always seemed an artificial and inconvient disruption to my training practice.
More truth to be told , testing oneself( competition) reveals things that pure training alone can never reveal but that doesnt mean it's anywhere near as satisfying. But it's necessary. At least occasionally.

And I've always loved that space, that zone where you push yourself to new heights and instead of falling you fly. Sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively but you fly.
And almost nothing else feels like that. It keeps pulling me back again and again, for years now,just to experience the ecstasy of what feels like perfect and complete strength, or endurance or coordination or some combination of the above.
Where the internal editor, the critic, the judge, the censor is shut down and just the pure experience of pure movement is felt. It may take months of practice to get that moment just once but once had it is hard not to want again.And again. Simple, elegant beauty.Chasing God through physical effort.
But this too has it's price and the next step off a peak is always down.One just doesn't always know where the edge is until it's too late.

And then you are hurt and the new heights are replaced by new lows and the training that allowed you to push yourself further than you ever thought you could is replaced by REHAB and holding back, and resting and boring shit like that.
When you've flown enough anything else just won't do.
Til you can't walk and then you realize that walking can be flying too.It's just a different perspective.

So I've done my share of "rehab" training; stretching, foam rollering, thumping, chiropractic, stability ball training, etc.,etc,.etc.
And everytime after working my way from my current past high level of fitness or strength I have sworn I won't make THAT mistake again, that I will 'hold back' more.THis has been more apparent in the last couple years when I basically had one foot on the gas, and one on the brake in my training.Because if I didnt, if I pushed myself, if I let my body do what my mind said it KNEW it could do I would get hurt.And that's just no fun at all anymore.
After regaining so much of my lost function in the last year, especially, the desire to push myself
just a little bit more has gotten strong again. You forget the pain, the loss of basic functions, the fear.You want to soar again and as it seems so close, so doable you want to just take the foot off the brake and GO.

It always pisses me off when I see able bodied, uninjured people who don't want to use their bodies at all in any real way. It's like have a Ferrari in the garage and being too lazy to learn how to drive a stick shift.I would KILL to be able push myself as hard as I want to in the gym again, to scratch and dig and claw back to those heights again.But the price is too high and I know it now. It just is. But it still pisses me off to see people who have these wonderfully functional bodies that won't use them. Crazy.

So you enjoy the smaller workout and the ability to move without( much) pain and try to be greatful for what you have.
And then your back goes out for no descernible reason ,like it did right before the HKC and almost immediately after.
Ain't stress an amazing thing?

As I wrote in my snatch workout blot prior to the cert I had been very careful NOT to tweak myself, not to push the edge and I didnt think I had.But stress can catch up with you AND letting myself get dehydrated AND doing movements I know my spine doesnt like( two hand swings) ain't that smart.
It's just that I was feeling so good,lol.I thought I could do it all.
I could I just couldnt recover from it.

But there's nothing like having the feeling you have huge iron spike in your lower spine to let you know what's really important.
Yes I want to snatch heavy this week and damn, my Maxvo2 training was just starting to get where I wanted it to be I REALLY don't want to go back to 'light duty' rehab training. I really don't want to start over again.

What I really don't want, though, is for my back to keep me from doing what's really important in my life, doing my job as an instructor so I can take care of my family.
My real goal in my training, as it has been for a number of years is;
"to have a back of iron and legs that never quit",( my favorite kettlebell quote from Pavels first book, the book that started it all).

It's a stretch but as I wrote earlier the distance from where I am to my goal rarely deters me. I just see it as providing motivation for a longer period of time. Until I get it.
Since my back had been great for almost a year now I figured it was good, and that I could count on it, that I didnt' have to be so cautious. I was wrong.

And I also realized, as I was on the ground for the millionth time that day trying to ease the muscle spasms that coursed through my lower back, that I didn't have to stop training because I got hurt. I was training. Right now, on that floor, doing what I needed to do, not necessarily what I wanted to do. To achieve my goal, which was now not doing 200 snatches with the 24 kg or 60 sets of 8 in the max vo2, but standing and walking and working without this horrific pain. Of being able to move easily again, as I have been able to for so many months. TO do my yoga with my beautiful yogini wife and travel and teach all the new great things that are set to happen this coming year.

I will do 200 snatches in ten minutes with the 24 kg one day. I don't know when but I do know I can't push myself on too many levels similtaneously or things break. And that would be me.I don't like it but that's the truth and I have been too cavilier about my back and NOT doing enough of my prehab stretching and stabilization stuff. Just staying with the more fun, sexy stuff, the meat of the work. Oh well back to the floor.

And, as I said, it's all part of a training practice, just another section of it,as important as the heavy stuff, maybe more.The same principles and concepts apply, and as I release my back, as I regain stability, as I search for and find my 'new' center it's really the same as increasing any weight, or load or intensity.

And as I start over, again,I know it won't be long til I'm back to snatching and pressing again and pushing the edge a little and doing what I was doing a few weeks ago.But one can only handle so much stress and it all counts. It can come ALL from your training or ALL from your job or relationship or any combination of your life.Doesn't matter.When you fill your stress box completely up somethings going to give.So the practice is finding balance so you can continue to progress towards your goal.or goals.Sometimes it comes from a heavy kettlebell and sometimes it comes from bodyweight reverse hyper over a stability ball.

It's all training to me, which is my practice; searching for that zone, that place where I can soar, where what was impossible before is now effortless, where what was heavy is now light, what was pure pain is painfree.
I really cared about how much I could squat did I blew out my back and couldn't walk. Then I cared about walking. To be able to see the miraculous in the mundane is tough but take enough away and it all becomes very, very clear; what's really important. What's real.

So it's back to the gym tomorrow but not for max vo2. what I will be able to do I don't know but I will take it as seriously as I do my snatch training and make as much progress as I can that day.
That's all one can do.
The key is to keep doing it. No matter how many times you get knocked down.The only way not to get it is to quit.
I don't quit.


L. Wu said...

Good luck Rif... have you ever practiced with Esther Gokhale down the street on California Ave? I stopped by her studio to pick up some information today, and might do a 6-session class (there are free classes too! Mon / Tue next week).

You were the first person who told me about Z-health and I just got back from completing S-phase in Tempe AZ and that in combination with the Gokhale method, foam rolling (less so these days now that I do more targeted trigger point work in combination with active joint mobility), McGill's books and Kbell work have all given me tools to manage and reduce LBP.

In Z you learn about the pain neuromatrix, inspired by the work of David Butler and Lorimer Mosley, and also about opposing joints. In this case, the opposing joint to the lumbar is the thoracic spine, so integrating thoracic A/P glides (I know you have R-phase :) into a body position which is problematic (standing, sitting) can also help.

What's also not obvious about R-phase is that you can do it sitting, on the floor, holding on to something. If the name of the game is threat modulation, then simply lying on your back doing very gentle arm-supported R-phase lumbar circles can also help a lot (it helped me a lot at day 4 of S-phase).

Best of luck, you are always an inspiration =)


Mark Reifkind said...

thanks leslie, thats actually exactly what I needed to hear. threat modualtion, what an interesting concept,especially after going through what I did this last week.
no I havent worked with esther but nice to know about her.
I actually started doing arm circles again these last few days after not doing z for quite some time.very intersting stuff.each time I tweak, it seems it requires a different approach,whereas before it was pretty much the same correction. fun :))
good to see you have come so far and gotten so deep since I first worked with you.

L. Wu said...

Thanks Rif! =)

Z is such an interesting system, and I have been diving in as it were. I listened to all of the podcasts over the summer and watched most of the CK-DVD series a few months ago, and will be heading to T-phase in 2010.

It is fascinating how different your shoulders can feel after tweaks, and what I learned in R/I-phase is that once you start mastering standard arm circles you can and should start doing them with flexed elbows, and in anterior 45/posterior 45/lateral lunges, and at different speeds (since there are different mechanoreceptors at each speed).

I've been trying to explain why "opposing joints" makes any sense--why moving the t-spine can reduce pain in the lumbar or why R shoulder circles (in external or internal rotation, the opposite of whatever contralateral hip rotation is having issues) can help something on the other side of the body, and whether it's due to CPGs--central pattern generators--or the gait cycle (neurons that fire together wire together due to Hebbian learning), perhaps it makes sense that pain is an action signal to do something different (at least for chronic pain long after the original injury).

Perhaps it's the same reason why mirrorbox therapy works, but without mirrors and just the mirror of the proprioceptive mind, or just that the body wants us to move, and causes pain to minimize movement until the immobility is addressed. (If it caused pain in the area where there is immobility, you'd never move out of pain, whereas having the pain somewhere else at least offers a way out...?)

At first I thought Z was just about joint mobility but as we did more vision testing (oculomotor in I-phase and saccades / vergence / focusing in S-phase) I realized more about how important vision is in modulating threat. If you see a certain 6'5" Danish viking warrior some day soon, ask him how he liked the saccades at S-phase! ;)

Anyway, I'm doing well, learning and sometimes tweaking but generally getting and moving better. Best luck once more on your journey =)

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks again Leslie,

interesting how I've gotten more pertinent and relevant information from your last two comments about how z works than I have from talking to hi level z people in the last two years.
the main issue now for me is that I feel things have 'shifted' and I'm not sure where 'center' is. it's hard to try to balance things when you don't know where the middle is supposed to be :))

Laree Draper said...

Rif, great thinking.... I hear ya all the way.

Another thing to look at along the same lines as Z-Health (and perhaps Gokhale, I hadn't heard of her before) is Feldenkrais. I think you'd love love love the learning of the Awareness Through Movement classes. The joy of movement is intense in Feldenkrais work.

Where I'd start first in the San Jose area is:

Looks like they don't update their website... have to call for the adult class schedule. I know another class is the last thing you need to add to your life, but I'll tell you, I go once a week and it keeps me moving well as I spend the rest of the week at my desk.

Another option is mp3s. Here's a link with an overview and some links to Feldenkrais mp3 sites.

L. Wu said...

That's a tricky one Rif, I guess once in a while (every some years) our centers shift and sometimes I wonder if the question really is how long will it take for our heads to catch up! to where we are already heading..

Sounds like we could both use a good life coach right about now =)

snooze said...

Thanks for this, Rif. The training/competition part was great too, but you had me at "Ferrari". Too many people slouch on the sofa, complaining that they're stiff while we're on the floor giving a damn. Pardon my French, but sometimes the right word is just the right word. I struggle with a little lumbar thing, and I waver between terrific progress and rehab every few weeks when I try something new. Hearing the same story and such similar feelings from a world-class athlete and respected trainer is a relief. I don't wish injury on anyone, but I wish speedy relief and an extra helping of guts to anyone who sees that training and rehab differ only in degrees. That realization that came to you on the floor, I wish I had learned that earlier.

Jennifer said...

As usual, your words have snuck it at exactly the time I needed them. I always read and enjoy, but today I wanted to take time out to thank you again for the time you put forth sharing with all of us...many you don't even know. It truly does make a difference.

Mark Reifkind said...


thanks for the info.Things seemed to have 'shifted' back to normal yesterday after I did some swings, snatches and clubbell work before and after Tracy did her snatch test.
My basic rule of thumb is to try to reestablish normal movmement patterns as qucikly as possible. that seems to work fairly consistently as it did yesterday.I'm not 100% painfree today( sunday) but I'm close.Things aren't "shifting" around like they've been.
I just exceed structural limitations coupled with WAY too much stress, dehydration( which is always a killer for me)and doing movmements I know don't work for me.
thats why I went back to yoga yesterday and really got stretched out.I wasn't sure it would work but it did.
thanks for the info on feldenkrais, I've heard nothing but good things about it.
thanks for commenting and talk to you soon.

Mark Reifkind said...


it seems that as I make "progress" in stabilizing and balancing out my asymmetries things change in weird ways.the last few times my back went out, getting into extension was key to getting me out of pain,this time, strangely enough it is flexion! crazy.
the bottom bottom line for me is that with all my injuries, scoliosis and desire to keep pushing my limits to re achieve some basic abilties it's always going to be a crap shoot as to where that "edge of the cliff" is.
as far as life coaches go I would need someone who has some idea of what's going on, very specifically with me orthopedically in order for me to listen to them at all,lol.
thanks for all the comments and your tip on the thoracic glides helped a lot!

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks jennifer

it really does make a difference that I know it makes a difference to people that read my stuff,lol.thanks for the comments as well.

Mark Reifkind said...


thanks for commenting and being a competitive athlete and coach doesnt make one bulletproof.usually just the opposite as the desire to achieve can really make one find their 'limits' and that's rarely any fun after they are found and exceeded.
after injury one is always stuck between playing it totally 'safe'( as if there were such a thing- I can get tweaked sleeping) and trying to 'figure it out' and still make some progress; still try to be better tomorrow than you are today.
THAT's what makes an athlete an athlete to me and I don't know if that's 'removable',lol.
thanks again and good luck on yourjourney as well. I will peruse your blog, I see you've had some hard times as well.take care.

L. Wu said...

Pain is such a funny thing--researcher Melzack writes,

"The neuromatrix theory of pain proposes that pain is a multidimensional experience produced by characteristic 'neurosignature' patterns of nerve impulses generated by a widely distributed neural network-the "body-self neuromatrix"-in the brain. These neurosignature patterns may be triggered by sensory inputs, but they may also be generated independently of them. Acute pains evoked by brief noxious inputs have been meticulously investigated by neuroscientists, and their sensory transmission mechanisms are generally well understood. In contrast, chronic pain syndromes, which are often characterized by severe pain associated with little or no discernible injury or pathology, remain a mystery. Furthermore, chronic psychological or physical stress is often associated with chronic pain, but the relationship is poorly understood. The neuromatrix theory of pain provides a new conceptual framework to examine these problems. It proposes that the output patterns of the body-self neuromatrix activate perceptual, homeostatic, and behavioral programs after injury, pathology, or chronic stress. Pain, then, is produced by the output of a widely distributed neural network in the brain rather than directly by sensory input evoked by injury, inflammation, or other pathology..."

In other words, if strength is a skill, then being in pain is too! :-/

It is funny how the lower back will act up to get us to change something but some days it is lack of flexion, other days lack of extension, some other days lack of thoracic A/P glides or hip immobility.

One thing I learned from both Z & CK-FMS study is that it helps to have very quick assess/reassess, whether that's shoulder ROM, flexion, an ASLR or a FMS deep squat.

I remember you talking about shifting sands in your KB secrets teleseminar but it's amazing how after a single set of [snatches / get-ups / shoulder circles / pick your poison] you either move better or you move more poorly. For example, when most people do push-ups, it actually worsens their gait! I've been integrating assess/reassess into my own training, checking to see how different training methods affect shoulder ROM / FMS deep squat / FMS ASLR or whatnot within a session. If it doesn't help, I chuck it, if it does, then I do that more over time. Shifting sands, you said it!

L. Wu said...

Forgot to mention that I've started to not only integrate FMS-styled (of course FMS is not designed for self-assessment, although there's a modified FMS in Cook's _Athletic Body in Balance_) assess/reassess within a training session, but remembering that the FMS does not apply when you're in pain, trying to apply SFMA-styled assess/reassess to self-rehab.

I think the trick with any advanced athlete or coach is that we're so good at compensating, biomechanics / pain neuromatrix be damned :), with soft tissue work and stretching, strength and yoga, meditation and rest, that we can often assuage pain without fixing the underlying dysfunction.

Cook's FMS at least gives a small set of operators to test, and the SFMA seems to do something similar to more fundamental movements...

I know in my own Z / KB / foam / stretch practice it's easy to work away pain for a while, but fundamentally my body is trying to tell me something, and it seems as if an agreed-upon set of self-assessments makes it easier not to forget any big picture dysfunctions. It's just so easy to chase pain but forget about whether or not we can functionally move or not (Gray reminded us about this in the SFMA lecture)...

Would post a link to one of Gray's papers on SFMA but can't find it right now =)