Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dave Whitley's Lessons from the Old-Time Strongmen DVD

In case you might have had any doubt if Dave is the right person to talk about old-time strongman training, they'll be dispersed right away as the Iron Tamer starts with a real old time strongman performance with amazing feats like bending nails, straightening a horse shoe, rolling up a frying pan, tearing a deck of cards behind the back, just to mention a few. He makes it all look so easy, he is talking to you casually the whole time, he even makes jokes, like in a circus show, but be aware, he is dropping gems of wisdom right from the start. Just watch out for his definition of "luck" and what it takes to "bend your luck" :)

He'll also take you back in time and talk about performing strongmen's everyday life, organized mainly by their appearances, eventually several times a day (that's how they made their living), and how they managed to maintain and even increase their strength without negative impacts on their performance (many of them accomplished feats that put the best athletes of today to shame - daily!) - and that into high age, which is not the typical sports career today!

I absolutely love the R. W. Emerson quote about methods and principles he uses as a starting point and keeps returning to from time to time: "As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble."
When introducing him at the beginning, Rif mentions Pavel's answer to the question, how one becomes a Master Instructor: 'that's not really something you can apply for, it's something we recognize.' It might be a stupid analogy but this is what came to my mind when I heard the above quote: it's the same thing with methods and principles, there's a lot of schools that teach you methods, but there are very few that, like the RKC, also try to teach you the principles behind them, most of the time you just have to try and be smart enough to recognize them.

He'll help you to find your way in a Babel of trends and fads by directing your attention to the only handful of really relevant things, e.g.:

- The RKC definition of strength and a differentiation between technique as a specific set of skills and generating muscle tension as a broader aspect

- The principles of getting stronger are the same regardless of what method one uses, be it a barbell, a kettlebell, odd objects or even bodyweight exercises. If we look back in history and see what the most successful strongmen had in common in their training, the principles shine through, while differences appear on the level of the methods or equipments they used.

- There are really only two basic principles of getting stronger - or if there are more, they tend to fall into one of those two categories. To apply them in practice requires a strong focus but the rules to follow are, as the stories about Arthur Saxon, George Hackenschmidt, Slim the Hammer Man, Dennis Rogers or Joe Rollino and his 'Mr. Trevis' will also reveal, simple.

- A quick check on the lineage, the roots reveals a lot about what you should expect behind promising names like "functional", "core" or even "old-school" training - everybody can create a fad around a specific method but if it doesn't line up with those two principles, it'll go down just as quickly, unable to produce results in the long run.

He'll also tell you why, even if you find an authentic source, you can't just "copy-paste" whatever old time strongmen did: their "context" was way different back then. Modern lifestyle has brought about changes that create some underlying problems. Our ability to move well has deteriorated significantly in the past 100-150 years and we are trying to work our way around it, coming up with ways to successfully add fitness to dysfunction, inviting injury. There are some mentality issues going on as well, partly resulting from the above: today's training became something to "get over with" or to "endure", when measuring progress, focus has shifted from actual results to the amount of pain and soreness (no pain, no gain, uh?), and in general, the principles are outpowered by numbers, routines and getting a "workout".

He'll give you simple guidelines how to avoid those pitfalls and start "from zero" by re-gaining mobility first and adding stability next and how to implement the two basic principles in practice so you can proceed towards "hero" by building useful strength on a solid base. You'll get useful tips on exercise and method selection, programming and tracking progress, and some more crazy feats to wrap it all up: he does a get up with a kettlebell and a sledge hammer and he drives a nail through a board to pop a balloon with bare hands. Impressive, but inspiring as well - he walks his talk, and if you use his stepping stones, invest the time and put in the work, you can walk just as far.

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