Going to the Heart of Things: Break the "Advanced" Mess Down to Its Essence

Posted on 04 May 2010 13:46

By Eric Troy

I complained about the misuse of quotes in fitness articles in my first Bad Fitness Article post. While writing the last post in that series I was thinking about the mess of programs and so-called advanced training techniques and this caused me to go all philosophical. So I wanted to see if I could use quotes in a useful and legitimate way to illustrate some of my ideas in this area. I called on two of my favorites and went from Bruce Lee to Emerson.

I'm sure you've heard a lot about advanced training methods. And you know the guy that does the advanced training don't you? You want to know what advanced training is? It's that training which is better than whatever you happen to be doing.

Yes, there are the needs of the beginner and the needs of the more experienced but the idea that there are advanced styles of training versus beginner styles of training contributes to the "fancy mess" that Bruce Lee always talked about:

"…most systems of martial art accumulate a "fancy mess" that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms (organized despair) and artificial techniques are ritualistically practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of "being" in combat these practitioners are "doing" something "about" combat." - Bruce Lee

Change terms like martial art and combat to terms like strength training and lifting and this statement provides one of the most valuable lessons you will ever learn.

When you "do the program" you are "doing" something "about" training. You are going through the motions of strength training rather than experiencing it. The idea that completing programs teaches us how to train is like saying that studying our multiplication tables teaches us how to multiply. I've seen so many "cramped" trainees that Bruce Lee's words are always ringing in my head every time someone asks "what program should I do?"

Understand his words. As you cling to theories and rote programs you are actually resisting progress rather than inviting it. Set patterns essentially build a wall around you that blinds you to the possibilities. Even well established classical theories of strength training are nothing more than "institutions" unto themselves, which, as Emerson1 put it, are the "lengthened shadow of one man". He also said "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Seems that Lee and Emerson, the East and the West, may have overlapped each other there.

Consider Emerson's views further.

"The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then?"

What then? You have become a true human being rather than a mere reflection of a story you have told yourself. You are not a mere construct of all your past actions, thoughts and feelings. This is an invention of the mind. It is not the mind itself. To free yourself to progress in your training you must free yourself from these stories.

photograph of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever think you'd get
training advice from
this guy?

photograph of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever think you'd get
training advice from
this guy?

Emerson wrote about the poor man who feels all the poorer upon viewing the great works of mankind. These objects seem to say to him, who are you compared to my greatness? I've seen trainees that look on the dogma of certain training institutions with the same attitude. And I've seen the training industry encourage them to do so. To feel inadequate, poor, servile and dumb to the wisdom of an authority figure is to look on the Statue of Liberty and feel "humbled" by it. Yet it is just an object and it is yours to judge. Just as with the 'expert and his programs' it is yours, as Emerson said, "to settle its claims to praise." That famous and oh so effective program is just a "thing" and it is ultimately your place to decide it's usefulness.

Stop stepping into another's house every time you train. It's your house. "The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home."

Even beyond programs there are "advanced training techniques". So-called advanced strength training often becomes a hodgepodge of these techniques performed one after another in rote fashion.

So I should do singles now but then what? Clusters? Waved sets? When you think do you say to yourself "I thought this thing so what should I think next?" No, one thought flows naturally to another and if you are truly free to progress in your strength then as Lee said "you must die to everything of yesterday. From the "old" you derive security; from the "new", you gain the flow."

All the schema you cling to, the constructs of your mind, are security blankets that you wrap around yourself as if to protect yourself from the monster under the bed that seeks to challenge you to grow and build a true human being. Thrust aside the blankets. Don't comfort yourself with routines but instead invite the monster up from under the bed and look it in the face without fear and judgement. The monster was there to push you forward all along. It is not a monster but your true potential. The constructs you clung to were the real monsters.

Most advanced training techniques use one central idea. Lifting a given (high) percentage of your maximum more times than you would using "normal" or less advanced techniques. So the main concept is simple yet the individual techniques are often couched in "theory". What the trainee needs to know about theory is that it is just that…theory. It's our best explanation for the time being. The problem is when we get too caught up in the theory about how a certain training technique works we begin to treat training like a math problem. One plus one should always equal two. I do this and this exact thing happens. Expectations can make our training like the "simulated combat" that Bruce Lee referred to where we expect our body to respond in a prearranged and choreographed way. When this fails to happen we are at odds with our training and become discouraged. Later on when we find out the science was, um, less than scientific, we are likely to turn in our weights for a McDonald's coupon book.

Strength training should not be like the "one step sparring" we find in American Black Belt mills. You push and your opponent, the body, pulls in a predictable fashion just like you have it written down on paper!

Sounds like I'm saying "expect the unexpected" I'm sure. Well I'm not. I'm saying stop clinging to expectations altogether and simply adapt and respond. That is, let yourself adapt and respond rather than sitting in judgement of your efforts and outcome. Sounds also like I'm saying reject science. Of course not. Science is a primary tool for making your training happen. But don't cling to it either. It's a tool not a security blanket. "Knowing is not enough; we must apply" said Bruce Lee.

Forget the theory. Clinging to theories of the whys and wherefores prevents us from letting our training flow. And advanced technique can be broken down to a simple essence and then looked upon as an opportunity to grow. Those people who make it their life's work to study the effects of strength training make it an academic exercise for the benefit of others to build from. For you the trainee training is not an academic exercise it is a building and growing exercise. Let go of the blue-print and embrace the building.

I know so many people who are caught up in their methods and ideas about training. I know some very scientifically minded people who are likewise caught up in science. To describe it the way I've become most fond of I'd say they are too precious about their tools. Getting caught up in your own head and visions is the way of the proverbial centipede who forgot how to walk.

This page created 04 May 2010 13:46
Last updated 19 Mar 2018 05:02

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