Back to Basics and Purple Cows

If you’ve been following along, you know I think my powerlifting coach is great and summer was challenging for us as individuals and as partners. The last strength cycle knocked me flat, literally. My left knee developed an awkward ache and tightness, I was too wiped to get accessory work at my big-box gym for the final ten days, and eventually I lay on the floor of the barn hoping I wouldn’t have to get up and squat anytime soon while we reflected on the mess we were. This cycle had been ambitious and complex with some form of each major lift on each of three days. In exchange for all of this misery, my maxes didn’t move.

After assessing the knee and figuring out it hurt on exertion, he offered “If you have questions about your knee, you should get it checked out.”

From the floor I reply “Why? All they are going to do is tell me to rest and ice it.”

Ain’t nobody got a co-pay for that. He also observed I was old and a woman and didn’t recover like a young man. “Differently,” he said. Yippee-kai-ay.

We laid off squats for a week. Prayer works.

I wasn’t the only one struggling with the programming. His weightlifting was suffering. Back in the barn, he made an announcement. “This was too complicated. I think I’m going back to basics. We will do one lift per day, a variation for strength and then another variation 5 x 5 for hypertrophy. It will be a hybrid cycle.”

We are now at Week 2 of the new plan with time and space to chat about Big Ideas instead of being exhausted and cranky and making small talk. Tonight’s topic was Seth Godin’s Purple Cows, giving people their pickles, and figuring out what makes a service provider unique. As part of a new hire process at a local barbell club he was asked to watch a TED talk by Seth Godin…

 

What is my coach’s Purple Cow?

There were somewhere north of 100 other exercise science graduates walking across the stage with my coach. There were maybe a half-dozen of those 100 who are as obsessed with building training spreadsheets, but still, a half-dozen this year and there will be another half-dozen each year. He prides himself on being highly technical and inhaling Russian, Bulgarian, and Chinese training programs while developing his own process. His Instagram feed is his teaching tool, full of training minutia, with the exception of just a few posts.  What is his Purple Cow? Can you tell? It won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who are destined to be loyal clients this thing makes him irreplaceable. I’m not telling him, as payback for squat days and not talking about the new A Star is Born until I see it. He’s not the only one who loves his process.

Developing self-awareness is the pre-cursor to the intimacy challenges of early adulthood. I like this Khan Academy video explaining Erikson’s psychosocial stages, but all I’m interested in today are “Identity vs Role Confusion” and “Intimacy vs Isolation”. Longer life spans and a relatively wealthy society have conspired to extend the time we are allowed to spend in adolescence/ “Identity vs Role Confusion” well into our 20s. Developing supple answers to The Big Four (h/t to Krista Scott-Dixon)

  • Who are you?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are you willing to trade?
  • What is non-negotiable?

allows individuals to move forward into intimate relationships conscious of what they have to offer as well as their wants and needs.

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What the heck is intimacy anyway? Let’s borrow this one from Weinbarger, Hofstein, and Whitbourne (2008)

Intimacy was defined as the potential to establish close relationships involving high levels of communication, closeness, and commitment.

[Without going full Bowenian (and you never go full Bowenian), spot me the idea when we say “closeness” we are talking about closeness-caregiving and not enmeshment, those icky relationships where the one partner is trying to manage the other’s feelings/solve their problems and personal boundaries are for people who don’t care enough.]

The Eriksonian definition of intimacy also defines modern marketing. Social media enables high levels of communication, perceived closeness, and commitment to a brand which expresses shared values and ideals or aspirations. Godin’s Purple Cow. Further, the more authentic the communication, closeness, and shared values, the more loyal the fan. From a psycho-social perspective, as a human, failure to stake out an identity independent of authority figures and peers expectations leaves the individual wandering in the wilderness looking for a tribe he can’t describe and feeling out-of-place and discontented at best. Using this psycho-social perspective, as a brand, failure to stake out an identity independent of the larger, undifferentiated market leaves a brand wandering looking for clients he can’t describe and feeling unnecessary or unappreciated at best.

My spouse tells it this way:

When we’re little, we’re playing in the sandbox and some new kid comes into the sandbox. We both like the sandbox and so we’re friends for now. If the new kid also likes the same flavor of Kool-aid, we’re besties. When we get older, the process is the same and we pretend it’s more complex. If you can’t decide if you like orange or grape flavor better, or all flavors are just as good, or if the flavor you think you like depends on what the last new kid liked, how can you find your True Besties?

My coach’s Purple Cow follows him everywhere, and for the moment, like Mr. Snuffleupagus, the Purple Cow is large and just out of view.

He asked me what my pickle was, as a client, but that’s another post because I think I misspoke.

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Transitions

The Shapely Ass Project is in full swing. We are now eight weeks deep into the Precision Nutrition curriculum, through the first round of hypertrophy and into a small strength cycle. My coach moved, so I lost my training space and joined a commercial gym this week. Losing the training space has been jarring for several reasons. First, the garage was the crazy safe space. Second, my routine was disrupted. Third, contact with my coach has changed. How do you handle mental, emotional, and physical disruption? His dog vomits every morning at the new house. I whine like a four-year-old. It isn’t pretty and some days I can’t tolerate myself, but the whining is slowing down as I settle in to our new reality. There is hope for the dog, too.

Why should the disruption of a routine be so disruptive to an adult? I don’t have any diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which would indicate a clinical difficulty with transitions.

Motivation is what gets you started

Making changes stick has several elements. First, we “harness the elephant,” or our limbic system, by appealing to emotion and creating a motivating feeling. Most people don’t overhaul their eating and movement patterns because they looked at a set of lab results, evaluated how far out of lab limits their various levels were, and decided those levels just wouldn’t do. It even sounds silly. The changes come after you look at a sky-high A1C and you react to the vision of not being able to play with your children or grow old with your spouse. Maybe you’re inspired by how you think you would feel completing an Ironman triathlon. Emotion gets us started. In my case, about a year ago I realized I needed to get back into the gym for stress management. I felt terrible and knew the gym made me feel better.

Next, we “direct the rider,” also known as the prefrontal cortex, by creating support systems and conditions that make the path as smooth as possible. The rider is what makes plans and choices and will take the easiest path possible. If our desired path is smooth enough, the rider will use the energy of motivating emotion to get us where we want to go. I made my path smooth by creating a set schedule and booking time with a trainer. There were no choices to be made on first two, and then three mornings a week. I was meeting AO at the gym. In fact, when we made the transition to three mornings a week, I paid for six months of training up front. This removed even more decisions from the queue and allowed each of us to not worry about our side of the relationship and focus on training for six months.

Imagine the strength of the habit created by the stress/anxiety – lifting – relief habit loop. For six months, three times per week and then five times per week for the last six weeks of the program, I knew I would start my day by generating enough endorphins to relieve my anxiety. In six months we missed three workouts.

In the new set-up, I lift alone in a commercial gym four times a week by following a spreadsheet shared in a Google drive. We meet for metabolic conditioning, or “metcon”, in a local park a few times per week. Because of the nature of the work, we chat less and are physically farther apart. It feels strangely lonely. The schedule is still variable, I’m constantly making decisions about when to work out and how to implement the workout once I’m in the gym, and even went to the wrong location to train one day. Before we were able to even structure this much, the ambiguity surrounding the transition was brutal because none of it was mine to resolve. The elephant is skittish and the rider is picking his way down a cliff face during an earthquake. All of my most functional cue-action-reward loops are blown to hell.

So, I whine like a four-year-old about discomfort and wet grass and ego challenges. His dog vomits every morning. Today was better than the first day and as we find our stride, the path will smooth and the elephant can keep charging ahead.

 

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