When I was very young I had one real ambition. I wanted to be strong!
I grew up in the eighties. It was the era when Arnie was becoming more popular; Action Man being the toy of choice, and He-Man the cartoon to watch, to top it off both my Dad and Grandad were really strong. This all had a huge impact. I realised soon enough that just hoping to be strong wouldn’t cut it and perhaps it would take much more than getting my Mum to make me spinach sandwiches if I were going to achieve my dream.
I first began lifting weights in my parents shed with a few crude weights. In the beginning I had no idea which exercises deserved my attention and trained far too heavy. I was getting strong but I knew I was barely scratching the surface of what these exercises could offer. I felt I was only getting trite, superficial benefits and doing something that really only resembled fitness. I was lifting a lot of weight, I even won a world title in powerlifting, but I felt underwhelmed with this shallow fitness encounter. These results seemed as feeble as the motives behind it. I wanted to get more out of it.
After all, who wants to be just ‘good enough’? Imagine asking your lover ‘how was it for you darling?’ and they reply ‘quite adequate’. Would you feel satisfied with your performance? I expect not.
For me, lifting was not just about heaving things up and putting them down, or chasing exercise highs. I knew if I could better understand the essence behind the exercises, then I could squeeze every last drop of what they could offer. I set about discovering the serendipitous, subtle, muted features that most people would miss.
Critically, I wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, I just needed to perfect it. I wanted to fine tune the exercises and find other applications that might not be immediately obvious. I knew I wasn’t going to make a revolutionary change (we’ll save that for gene therapy or some wonder drug); I was just playing an old game and making some new moves.
Now, it is easy to get carried away with this, fiddling with exercises and creating elaborate modifications. This quickly becomes featuritis and hairsplitting, and we start to find solutions to non existent problems.
I want to take lifting to a different level. Like going from a ready meal to a Michelin starred dish, from an image on a roadsigns to renaissance masterpiece. The same, but better!
I tried to learn all I could. There is no shortage of information out there, but it is usually garnished with just enough technical terms to pretend it is in pursuit of education and not entertainment. Whimsically asking questions when we are not in a position to understand the answer leaves us looking for self-affirming soundbites that only gives the illusion of knowledge.
‘For every complex question there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong’ -Mencken H. L. (1917, November 16) The divine afflatus. New York Evening Mail.
It is hard to know what is true or false, a fact or an opinion. Quite often it is a bit of all these things. A detail often gets looked at in isolation, homeostatic responses ignored and the results extrapolated and assumed rather than actually seen. This leads to very misleading forecasts and poor advice.
There is too much information that gets repeated or exaggerated, usually by some garish born- again fitness extremist, or the beefed up pseudoscientist, who uses too much jargon and too many buzzwords when they are in character.
This sort of cheap signalling doesn’t replace experience or a deep understanding. It is fitness but in a sort of secretarial capacity. This kind of regurgitation does not lead to innovation. It lacks the insight, richness and clarity we should expect from a true expert. The neat, tidy way they describe how you should train rarely marries up with reality or stands up to scrutiny.
What do we do about all the practices that the experts do not want to share? The wisdom that has no platform for it to be spread? The great methods that we know about, but are still waiting for the science to catch up with?
This is what I have spent my career finding out, not just from books, courses and coaching sessions, but also those candid conversations in the warm up room at a competition, the idle chitchat between sets at the gym. The missing magic that no-one bothers to bottle up can make all the difference. This at least that has been the case for me and my clients. I believe that this is what gave me the confidence to leave my gym instructor job and go it alone. I started in a small shed with a few loyal clients, and before long I was training over fifty people a week, and had trained and treated thousands of people, ranging from beginners and hobbyists just starting out, all the way through to professional sports people and international athletes. My little business outgrew my parents’ shed and now I own and run a commercial gym in Cambridge with my brother.
The fitness industry is filled with false promises of fast results to lure in those fair weather trainers who break at the first hurdle. Lifting is by no means a soft affair, and most sessions will be performed in less than ideal circumstances, be inconvenient, or have some of difficulty attached. The people I see coming into my gym every week are willing to put in the work, they are keen to learn, and they are really smart. I feel I owe it to these people, to give them the best advice I can and that is what I hope this blog will offer.
You should welcome fitness for what it is – A tool to improve your life, not something to rule it. This lifetime commitment should be rewarding, not punitive. The process should be liberating not restrictive. -The RP Fitness way.