The Thursday Thesis - 5/12/2019
Back in the 90’s I lived and worked in Kiev, the capital city of the former Soviet state of Ukraine. During the brutally cold winters in the city I started to train at a local gym to stay active when it was too cold to be outside for long.
I’ve always been a bookworm so I read everything I could lay my hands on about training and exercise, trying to shortcut my progress and build muscles I could show off on the beach at Gidropark when the summer rolled around, instead of hiding my puny torso under a baggy T-Shirt.
The books gave me an exercise plan and I did everything they told me to do, I did the prescribed 10 repetitions (reps) of each exercise, grouped into sets, which I repeated in accordance with the guidelines and training principles laid down by the experts, adding new routines and exercises from the articles in various bodybuilding magazines.
Every morning I’d climb the stairs to the gym, unlock the outer steel plate door and the inner steel-barred gate, turn on the lights and watch the cockroaches scatter before I changed into my gym baggies and hit The Iron. An hour and a half later it was all over and I’d go home to bed.
Day after day I trained my arse off in that little gym, spent a fortune wolfing down the supplements advertised in the magazines and stuffed myself with as many calories as I could stand.
I just did what everyone else did and got what everyone else got: bigger muscles, chronic fatigue, burnout and injuries. Looking back, I realise that what I believed was keeping me healthy was making me ill and hurting me.
Daft as a brush.
That was twenty-five years ago. But to this day there’s a purity and honesty about weight training that appeals to me: it’s just The Iron versus Me, and there’s nowhere to hide. You can tell yourself you’re strong, that you are indestructible and fearless – but The Iron knows better and it will always find you out. The Iron will always beat you up and tell you that you are full of shit, because The Iron never sleeps and The Iron has no Soul – it just keeps coming at you and it will always tell you the truth.
Now, as I return to The Iron I bring a different understanding of how to train. Gone are the 10 sets of 10 heavy reps, splitting the workout over multiple days with split routines targeting my legs one day, my chest and arms another, and my back on another day.
Also notable by their absence are the downsides of training – chronic fatigue, burnout and injury.
I’m training only twice a week, now: one heavy-duty routine which targets all of the major muscle groups for just one set of around 8 reps, and one routine where I am doing something I would have thought absurd back in those Kiev days – one single rep of each of 5 exercises, using only moderate weights, and each rep takes FIVE MINUTES!
Like most people, I thought it was BS to train one rep for 5 minutes – NOBODY was doing it, but the science behind it looks way more robust than the workouts in the magazines and bodybuilding manuals, which don’t talk much about rest and recovery, or mention the vast amounts of drugs used by pro bodybuilders.
And I’ve rediscovered the fun of challenging The Iron, but this time on my own terms. I’m getting more out of the gym than I’ve ever got before, but I’m putting a whole lot less time and effort into it. This is a much more sane approach than going Old Skool – spending hours in the gym and not ever really recovering from a session before starting the next one.
Minimum input, maximum output.
What I’ve learned from my research into the science of training and the Freaks at the fringes is that Conventional Wisdom is frequently wrong, and what works best is what works best for you.
A couple of cheerful gym rats have told me that 5 Minute reps can’t possibly work and that they can help me to train more effectively, but I’ll do it my way and we’ll see how it goes. If unconventional works, it’s a win. If it fails I can always return to doing things conventionally.
Maybe I’ll prove them wrong – we’ll see.
It’s just a test. In life, everything is a test, all knowledge is contingent – a best guess while I wait for more information with which to prove myself wrong and update what I think I know. Understanding that fact means that I’m always looking for better ways to train, teach, play, write and do business: in this mindset of ongoing curiosity, fun and adventure there is always something new to discover and explore.
It’s time to play.
© Neil Cowmeadow 2019
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