battling personal entropy
Bench Press Benchmarks
135lbs – respectable female bench
185-225 – 99% of novices give up
225-275 – looks like you lift
275-315 – golf clap at local meet
405 – really strong, elite, juice, and/or fat
500 – stronk, elite, juice, and/or fat
600+ – geared lifter, elite, fat
— Sam K (@sam_gzstrength) October 30, 2023
I got 235 tonight. I’m especially happy about that because of how much I had to rehabilitate my shoulders from rheumatoid arthritis when I first started training.
We’ve now seen how almost every aspect of fitness is enhanced by increasing your maximal force production – increasing your strength. While some activities and sports require a higher amount of absolute strength than others, there’s no doubt that every single one benefits from increased strength. And we’ve also established that for increased strength, there’s no tool as useful as the barbell.
The squat rack in your local gym is probably unoccupied right this very moment. What are you waiting for?
Earlier this month, I spent a week traveling. Thousands of miles spent crammed into airplane seats or riding in an SUV over gravel roads made my hips and back hurt like hell. I realized that it’s been years since I spent so much time sitting. I stand all day at work, even when I eat. At home, I at least have more comfortable chairs to sit in, but even then, I still spend a good amount of time on my feet doing one chore or another. I have no idea how sedentary people can stand it. Are they not even aware of how uncomfortable they are? Anyway, for my birthday today, I gave myself the gift of a new squat PR: 395. We followed it with a hybrid of Bulgarian squats and one-legged deadlifts. My glutes are quite tender right now, but it’s a good kind of hurt. It’s the feeling of all that forced-seating trauma leaving the body.
Last Tuesday, a new personal record on squats: 390. Last Thursday, a new PR on the bench press: 225. Tonight, a new PR on deadlifts: 475. A perfect hat trick of powerlifting PRs in a row. I may have strained a piriformis muscle in the process, but the bards only sing of glory, not the piriformis. It was a week, take it for all in all, I shall not see its like again.
Epicurus thinks that if we’re honest with ourselves, though, it’s more that we want to want greater understanding, freedom from our phones, time to cultivate and maintain close friendships, etc. Or, to be more precise, we wish our desire for these things were more powerful than our desire for less important things. Epicurus might say, “Now, of course you want to walk out the door to enjoy the beautiful fall afternoon with your friends, and it’s in fact quite easy to walk out the door, but people often do not leave because they want to stay alone indoors on their phone more.”
— Emily A. Austin, Living for Pleasure: An Epicurean Guide to Life
Both authors reference research that demonstrates that, while exercise has a number of health benefits, weight loss isn’t among them; Dimbleby has a chapter titled “You can’t outrun a bad diet”, which underlines the fact that exercise increases food cravings, which prompt eating that undoes calorie loss. This has grown to become a bit of conventional wisdom over time, but the age-old advice to eat less and exercise more is hard to shake.
But what can you do? Van Tulleken suggests… just about nothing. He’s insistent that genetics, the presence of unhealthy food options, and marketing essentially hold fat people hostage. Ultra-processed foods, he argues, “hijack our brains”. Even his brief final chapter on trying to live without UPFs is positively fatalistic, mostly counselling people not to hold out hope. As is the fashion, he laboriously argues that poverty effectively prevents the impoverished from making any decisions at all.
In 2015, when Jurgen Klopp took over as manager of Liverpool FC, one of the major changes he made was to bring along a backroom staff, including a nutritionist and a conditioning coach. Such specialists weren’t entirely unknown in the sport, but, shockingly to me, they weren’t ubiquitous either. Multimillion-dollar athletes at the top level at their profession would still eat the equivalent of fast-food takeout after games, which itself was still an improvement over the not-too-distant past, when players often partied like rock stars. Anyway, Klopp, who had a background in sports science himself, brought a stereotypical German efficiency with him and his staff and set about raising the standards. The club would release promotional videos for the fans, behind-the-scenes stuff, showing the staff at work and having them describe their methods and goals. It was then that I realized I had a serious interest in nutrition and sports science. I couldn’t get enough of it. The Lady of the House suggested one day that there was a gym in town where I could indulge my interest, and the rest is history.
A couple years ago, I convinced my stepson to start doing a nutrition program, even if he didn’t want to train yet. He’s lost seventy pounds since then, without doing any exercise at all. It’s not even a diet, per se. You just learn how to combine the optimal amounts of protein, carbs and fat at each meal to achieve whatever your goal is. True, certain foods don’t fit within the meal plan. He hasn’t eaten pizza, ice cream, etc. in two years. But it’s not like you’re forced to eat nothing but salads. I have more possible variety in my own meal plan than I could ever make use of, plus, because I also train, I get a cheat meal once a week. Point is, it doesn’t really take superhuman levels of willpower and self-control. Best of all, it only costs twenty-five dollars per visit. I go in every two weeks to get my body fat and proportions measured. My stepson only has to go about once a month. Twenty-five, maybe fifty dollars a month, to have expert advice on how to structure your diet and adjust it if needed. Trust me, fellows, this is not esoteric knowledge or unattainable luxury.
I’ve often mused out loud that if I ever had the chance to meet anyone from Liverpool FC, I wouldn’t choose any of the players. I’d want to meet Klopp, of course, but also Mona Nemmer, the nutritionist, and Andreas Kornmayer, head of conditioning and fitness. Oh, for a chance to sit and pick their brains! Dreams aside, though, I still often marvel at the fact that here, in a small, unremarkable town in the middle of Virginia, for an insignificant amount of money, I can still get the benefits of a comparable level of expertise. I don’t blame individuals for not realizing how easy and affordable it can actually be to be fit and healthy. I do feel nothing but hatred for people who profit by promoting the fatalistic message that technology, marketing, genetics, whatever, have robbed you of your agency. We’ve always been constrained by “structural” forces, whether man-made or natural, but within those limits, there’s still enough freedom left to use. As Epicurus knew back in antiquity, though, the relevant thing is whether you actually want what you claim to want. Honesty and self-awareness are, as ever, rare commodities. We’d rather lie to ourselves and pay others to lie to us even more. Anything to avoid taking responsibility for our own lives.
For anyone who cares, after roughly 6 years of enduring mysterious and sometimes-debilitating knee pain and occasional sciatica I finally figured out the issue—entirely on a lark. X-rays, PT, dry needling, supplements, etc. all useless. Turns out it was always just hip tightness!
— Joseph M. Keegin (@fxxfy) April 12, 2023
Saw a gym guy doing that “one leg over the other lying down” hip stretch a few weeks back and thought “you know, I ought to try that.” Felt good, so I started including a pigeon pose kind of stretch too. Since then have been running, squatting, deadlifting, etc. with *no issues*
— Joseph M. Keegin (@fxxfy) April 12, 2023
Not a single doctor or specialist I talked to about this over the years suggested “you know maybe you should try stretching out your hips,” and my most recent PT was focused solely on the knee
— Joseph M. Keegin (@fxxfy) April 12, 2023
Anyway the lessons I draw from this are 1) nobody knows anything and everyone is guessing and 2) most problems are solved indirectly
— Joseph M. Keegin (@fxxfy) April 12, 2023
Tonight, I practiced doing squat walkouts with 405 lbs. I did a full squat at 385, but it wasn’t convincing enough to justify trying it with an extra twenty pounds on there. So instead, we loaded the bar at 405, and I just practiced stepping back into position with the weight on my shoulders, making sure my breathing and stance was correct, acclimating my nervous system to the feel of that weight, before replacing it in the rack. In the coming weeks, I’ll make an attempt at an actual squat with it.
Like any simpleton, I’m impressed by the significance of big, round numbers. 400, oooh! But the thing I’m really proud of is that less than four years ago, I couldn’t even do that with 55 lbs. I could hold an empty bar on my shoulders, but putting even a five-pound plate on each end put too much pressure on the rotator cuff in my right shoulder. I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in January of 2004, which itself was three and a half years after symptoms first appeared. My right shoulder was particularly affected — I had long since been in the habit of rolling it forward to ease the pain, since holding proper posture — chest out, shoulders back — was too painful. My orthopedic doctor had been talking about possibly doing surgery, involving drilling a hole in one of the bones. I don’t remember the details, but suffice it to say, it would have been a complicated procedure, and who knows whether it would have worked. In any event, other than the medication that eventually relieved my symptoms, the only rehab I got for my shoulder was one of those resistance bands, which I would tie around a doorknob in order to do rotator cuff exercises. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and I’m still in much the same state. I had no expectation that things would ever be different. That’s when I started doing actual work with my trainer. Within several months of that first aborted attempt, I was able to actually do real squats, to my complete surprise. And now look at me go!
I’ve worked through several other problems along the way (I refuse to call them “issues”). My adductor, piriformis, IT band, and ankle have all required patient perseverance at one time or another, as well as the services of a vicious massage therapist (I say that affectionately). Tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis have made appearances as well. At first, these setbacks were discouraging, but now I’m confident enough to think, “This, too, shall pass.” My philosophy has always been that of the tortoise: slow and steady will, if not “win the race,” at least get me to where I’m going eventually. I don’t fear those aches and pains anymore; I trust that they’ll fade with enough consistent effort.
I don’t distrust or blame doctors in general. If anything, in my own experience, their biggest failing was an overabundance of caution. In fact, I find it’s the alternative medicine types who tend to leap to unjustified conclusions in their haste to show up “mainstream” medicine. But when it comes to those mysterious, debilitating ailments that fall in the no-man’s-land between drugs and surgery, those things that we resign ourselves to enduring as the inescapable cost of aging, I’m firmly convinced from experience that the best thing you can do for yourself is attempt to make yourself stronger, whatever your limitations. You don’t have to become a powerlifter, you just have to challenge yourself, little by little. I’m telling you, it’s worth it.
A male powerlifting coach self-identified as a woman and broke a women’s benchpress record in protest of gender self-identification in sport.
Avi Silverberg performed the defiant act while the current record holder, a transgender male, watched.
— REDUXX (@ReduxxMag) March 28, 2023
My first thought when I saw this story, minus the part about it being done in protest, was, “Oh, no, not him, too!” I’ve enjoyed reading Silverberg’s site for a while now and was briefly dismayed to think that he would jump on this trend. Now, I can say bravo. We’ve seen in just the last couple of weeks that women’s attempts to boycott competitions that allow men to participate will be met with draconian punishment, so maybe it’s going to take women’s sports being completely overrun by men to finally bring an end to this lunacy. See you later, fellows, I’m going to go win some women’s powerlifting competitions and join the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
As a lifelong strength athlete, I have toiled in filthy gyms and basements to maintain my own physical condition. I would like to say that remaining “natural” or practising intense physical discipline offers some intrinsic reward. Unfortunately, it does not; it is a hard-to-follow path made more tortuous in my case by my stubborn unwillingness to take any effective shortcuts (even though the stem cell injections I received worked like a charm). But a resistance to emptying my wallet, and an aversion to some of the side effects from these drugs — cancerous tumours in the case of Ozempic — has hindered my route to body optimisation.
I think Bateman is far too pessimistic about our supposed future of rich Eloi taking advantage of gene splicing and anti-aging technologies to live utopian lives while we Morlocks live, suffer, and die like any other farm animal. Today’s rich people live lives of luxury that would have been unimaginable to even medieval royalty. Are they any happier, more well-adjusted, less prone to stupid decision-making? Of course not. Why is it going to be any different next time? Isn’t this just the photo negative of naive optimism, the idea that more money and technology will “solve” the human condition? I guess you could say I have faith in unintended consequences. Whatever we expect to happen once genetic editing becomes the norm, I suspect that the biggest impact will come from variables we haven’t yet considered. To me, the intrinsic reward of refusing to take shortcuts is the knowledge that those who take them rarely end up precisely at their intended destination.
Andres isn’t humbled by his natural advantage, as one might expect. Instead he has gloated about competing in the women’s category and insulted female powerlifters for poor performance in certain upper-body exercises.
“Why is women’s bench so bad? I mean, not compared to me, we all know that I’m a tranny freak so that doesn’t count. And no, we’re not talking about Mackenzie Lee, she’s got little T-Rex arms and she’s like 400 pounds of chest muscle apparently,” Andres said in a November Instagram video.
“I mean, standard bench in powerlifting competition for women, I literally don’t know why it’s so bad,” Andres crowed in the video. “My son, he weighs 45 pounds. His max bench is like 33. I’m legit seeing some women in competition who are doing something like 50 pounds, and I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand why so many women are skipping bench and focusing on everything else.”
Wow. The absolute balls on this bitch!
The temperatures are expected to attain ludicrous depths. Will I continue to go into the office when it’s one below? I will. See, if I don’t go to the gym, I immediately deflate. One day. That’s all it takes. Like a punctured balloon. If I don’t do my daily pushups at home at the end of the night I fear I will wake with al dente limbs.
He jests, but I, I put this scenario to the test. You see, I am currently sicker than hell. For the second time this month. Previously, the last cold/flu of significance was in March of 2018. Four and a half years without a serious sniffle, and now this! I’ve spent the last two days in semiconscious delirium, nodding off for an hour or so during a seemingly-endless expanse of meaningless time. Needless to say, I had only just started to recover fighting form at the gym before this latest enforced absence. I have a nutrition session at the end of next week. I shudder to think how much lean mass will have decayed into fat by then. It’s going to be a blue Christmas, my friends.
UPDATE: Looks like Santa brought me a positive COVID test for Christmas.