Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague ritual.
–Words of Muad’dib
by Princess Irulan
This little gem is from Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert. I am working my way back through the series after realizing how much I missed during my first read-through years ago. I polished off Dune a couple of weeks ago as this is the current CFKT Book Club book. Last week I finished Dune Messiah. Now I am on to Children of Dune. I know what you’re thinking right now, and it’s not “look how cool Coach G is!” That’s fine. I can take it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I can always retreat in to my current escapist piece of fiction…
But when I read this quote I made sure to add it to my ever-growing list of quotes or ideas that I want to write about in a blog post. Paul Muad’dib Atreides has become emperor and is suffering from this terrible purpose that has taken over his reign and created a jihad that has spread out across the universe. He is beginning to lose control of it as it no longer fits with his original intent. We’ve all been there, right? We try to do something grand and ambitious, and it succeeds beyond imagination, but at some point it begins to grow stale – maybe even dangerously so.
I sometimes see this happening at Ktown. We started this grand experiment over 4 ½ years ago. It has actually evolved from an experiment to a full on gym business. We have seen amazing growth not only in our membership base, but in the service we provide and the results a lot of you have made for yourselves. But we have to be careful. A lot of the things we did early on because they were important have become trite, boring, and unglamorous.
For instance, take the warm-up. No seriously, take it. Do it. It isn’t there as just some hackneyed ritual. It is there to prime and prep you for the day’s work. Are we front squatting? I bet there is a very important piece in the warm-up that addresses thoracic spine mobility. Are we deadlifting? I bet there are some movements to help activate your glutes and hip musculature. Are we going overhead? I am willing to bet the coach that spent their intellectual resources coming up with a proper warm-up has added something in to facilitate that overhead movement, whatever it is!
The purpose of the warm-up was apparent to all in the beginning. You were brand new and didn’t know any better. You acquiesced to orders easier. You didn’t pout when there was a 5 min steady-state warm-up on the bike or erg. All you knew was what the coaches told you to do. But now, you think you know better. You know that the warm-up is really just this vague ritual that has stood the test of time because no one questioned its purpose.
Well, you’re wrong. Plainly and simply, you are setting yourself up for injury. But no one cares about injury! You all care about performance! So let me put it this way: you are setting yourself up to perform worse – not up to your potential. The warm-up has a purpose. Its aim is not lost on the coaches. Does it look similar a lot of the time? Yes. That might be because there are certain movements that are very effective at prepping you for other certain movements. Did I just blow your mind? No. You already knew that, you just needed reminding.
There are myriad examples of this happening in the gym. From racking all of your weights to throwing away your trash to progressing properly to listening to what the coach tells you regarding scaling and on and on ad nauseam. Let me give you one more before you open up your Buzzfeed tab.
Learning how to do a snatch well means learning how to do all of the components of the snatch well. Getting that first muscle-up requires you to get those weighted chest to bar pull-ups and strict rings dips. Being able to clean and jerk well means performing all of the “lesser” movements well – all the damn time. ALWAYS!
A good word for all of this is virtuosity. Virtuosity was an old wooden ship. For our purposes, virtuosity means doing the common uncommonly well. Take for instance a push-up or air squat (both of which were in your warm-up today). You see these movements almost every single day at Ktown. Are they more than just vague ritual for you? Do you do them correctly every time? Do you put care and thought in to their performance? I am willing to bet that if you answered no to any of those questions, your snatch sucks, you don’t lock your jerk out overhead very well, and you aren’t stringing muscle-ups together like a boss. That is because these two movements are the basis for nearly every single thing we do in the gym.
The air squat asks for deep hip, knee, and ankle flexion while maintaining an upright torso. The push-up requires you to maintain a neutral pelvis to spine relationship while extending your arm behind you. Both of these movements require an external rotation force in the ball and socket joints they utilize. Guess what else requires all this stuff: snatches, back squats, clean and jerks, pull-ups, muscle-ups, running, jumping, throwing, standing, sitting, and just EXISTING AS A HUMAN BEING! If you cannot take the air squat and push-up seriously and perform them well, you have no business expecting to improve anything else further up the movement continuum. Period. Dirty look. Arm crossing.
So next time you come across those boring, vague, ritualistic movements treat them with respect. Know that an entire hour is devoted to the minutiae of the push-up, air squat, and ring row during our very first On Ramp session. Understand that we do thousands of air squats and push-ups because they are the least technical, safest, and lowest stressor movements we can do to get better at everything else. If you think about externally rotating that arm at the top of every push-up, I bet one of my three dogs that you will not need to even think about it when trying to go for that 1RM snatch PR. You will throw that thing up over head and AUTOMATICALLY be in the safest, strongest position.
So do not let Ktown suffer emptiness of purpose now. Do not be one of those poor souls just going through the motions of ambiguous formalities. Be present in all of the rituals we perform at Ktown. There are purposes. We have a plan.
P.S. – I think I may even change the names of air squat and push-up to something more glamorous like “hip flexion and extension practice” and “best shoulder position preparation,” respectively.
P.P.S – Yes, I chose a quote that would have me compare Ktown to an empire.