Friday, December 02, 2016

The Tao of Weights: function follows form

Dear A. J,

I have been reflecting on your recent performance on my weight training programme. You warmed-up on the bike and then did the sixteen exercises. In every case you were dismissive, repeatedly advocating "More resistance!", "Heavier weights!".

I observed, though, that you focused solely on hitting your performance target, usually 15 repetitions, despite in many cases only achieving this through the most intricate contortions in which you threw every part of your body at the exercise to achieve 'success'.

This relentless goal-centric performance is even stranger as I know you have studied martial arts, where the philosophy - the Tao if you will - is Wu Wei:
"Wu Wei (chinese, literally “non-doing”) is an important concept of Taoism and means natural action, or in other words, action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. Wu wei is the cultivation of a mental state in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life."
The point of 'pushing iron', as with all other exercises, is to develop specific muscles, tendons and joints. The form is all-important. Without it, random muscles and parts of the body engage in an unbalanced and uncontrolled manner. The body does not develop harmoniously and there is a risk of injury.

Let me say it again. In the first instance, neither the weights you are lifting nor the number of reps you achieve is the goal. The goal is to perfect the form. With dumbbells, where many muscle groups coordinate to achieve the exercise form, this takes a while. Use manageably small weights until the form is good, then slowly increase weights and reps.

In general you should do reps only until you lose the form, not up to the point where you cannot continue despite arbitrary contortions.

My final point. It's a mistake to approach an exercise session with external achievement goals in mind. Your objective is to do each exercise in a calm and measured way, taking care to observe the form, and focussing on your body's feeling to fine-tune technique.

Concentrate on your proprioceptive sense and you will discover whether the exercise is working the right muscles.

Next time, I urge you to be calm and unhurried - emphasise optimal process - and desired outcomes will follow.

Best regards,



PS. Bruce Lee quotes to ponder 😔.

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