Saturday, April 4, 2009

Anger and power redux: a personal example

A very long time ago, working legs with my old friend and then training partner, Randy, we were wrapping up our quad workout with twenty-rep sets on the incline press machine. I had a lot of weight on the machine, somewhere in the range of 700 pounds (Randy did much more), and I was bummed about the fact that I had yet to make three sets of twenty reps with that weight. I'd finished the first two, but for three weeks running on the third I'd stopped after the twelfth rep. I finished the first two sets, got ready for the third, and felt myself give up inside.

I hate giving up.

I really hated it that day. I'd had it with myself. I sat in the chair, attached myself to the handles with wraps (which help you from squirting out under the pressure of the descending weight, because the weight your legs can move exceeds your grip, at least typically), and stared upward. I couldn't stand the thought of failing again, but the anger wasn't quite there. I started banging my head against the thin cushion covering the bench on which I was leaning. I kept hitting my head until I felt the fury in me grow beyond what I thought I could handle, and then I pushed up the handles and started doing the reps.

On the eleventh rep, doubt crept in, and I muttered an obscenity, hit my head a few more times against the cushion, and powered on.

I did twenty-one reps. I pushed up the last one so hard the plate against which my feet were pushing literally flew a few inches away from me. I slammed the handles into place and quickly stood.

I couldn't see anything but red. My ears were pounding. I dimly heard Randy's voice but could not understand his words. I later learned that he was telling Lee, a woman who was then training with us, that it would be a very bad idea for her to touch me just then. She wanted to see if I was okay. Randy was right; that would have been bad. As it turned out, my head was bleeding in the back from a small cut I'd given myself by banging on the cushion. It was worth it.

Anger can definitely give you power, at least in the short run and if you can control it. I don't recommend doing things like what I did, but I don't regret that one, either.


Because I fucking owned that set.

Anger and power

When I was lifting weights seriously, I always had my best days when I could tap into my anger. Most of my weightlifting friends were the same way. We generally agreed that when we could control our anger and funnel it into the lifting, we could move a lot more weight. None of us, though, would even try to quantify the effect, and a vocal minority, including my training partner at the time and old friend, Randy, felt that they did their best work when they were serene and centered.

A recent Sports Science episode, which an MMA site describes here, tried to gauge just how much power anger could yield. Their subject was the MMA fighter (and DJ), Houston Alexander.

First, they had a calm Alexander, his heart rate normal, hit a crash test dummy and measured the impact: 600 pounds of force. That, for those who don't follow such things, is in technical terms a shitload of force.

Then, Alexander's trainer took the fighter aside and talked to him, urged him to recall some bad things, including how he felt after a recent defeat, and helped him get furious.

Alexander hit the dummy again, but this time, he hit it much harder: 1,000 pounds of force. Alexander's heart rate was at 150 beats per minute, and adrenaline was coursing through his system.

Think about this: Just getting mad increased his power by two-thirds. Okay, this isn't great science, because it ignores warm-up effects, involves only one subject, and so on, but the point is clear: anger can amp you.

They did a final experiment in which they gave Alexander two shots of epinephrine (basically, synthetic adrenaline) and boosted his heart rate to 156 bpm. (Do not do this at home, boys and girls.) He hit the dummy again: 900 pounds of force.

Anger beat chemistry, at this time around

Though I have to say my money would be on chemistry if the people involved were willing to do a lot of damage to the subject, the demonstrable power of anger is impressive indeed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

ANTM: Epic fail

Sarah, who was the female I did not name in my previous guilty pleasure post, had planned to write a guest blog entry on why America's Next Top Model (ANTM, pronounced "anty em") is in fact a better show than The Ultimate Fighter (TUF, prounced "tough"). I told her I would surrender this virtual stage to her for that purpose, wrongheaded as it was, though I would reserve the right to insert editorial comments; it is, after all, my blog.

Then she backed down.

She couldn't make herself do it.

The reason? Two little words: Clay Aiken. Yes, the Clayster is going to help with an acting-oriented episode of ANTM. Sarah told me--and, yes, she gave me permission to name her here.

Nothing I could have written could have made my case more persuasively than Clay's presence did.

ANTM loses. End of story.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I can't drive 32

Bill has been kicking my ass in the MPG race. He's averaging over 50 mpg almost every tank in his Prius, while I, in my newer Prius, hang around 39 mpg. Competitive person that I am, I find this rather frustrating. Recently, we had to go on a local client call together, so I drove and he coached me--at my request--on improving my gas mileage.

That very short drive convinced me that I will probably never be able to match his mpg.

Bill orients all of his driving toward improving gas mileage. He takes off slowly, coasts whenever possible, stays at speeds that are giving good mpg readings (the car shows you graphically how you're doing) even when those speeds are under the limit, and doesn't worry about how other drivers react to him. As he jokingly said to me, in what has become a catchphrase in parts of our company, "I'm saving the planet!" At one point, he urged me to stay at 32 in a 35 because I wasn't going to be on that stretch of road for long. "35 is just a number some guy put on a sign," he correctly observed. "You don't have to obey it."

Yes, I do. In fact, I have to drive four miles above that limit--and the safe maximum of nine miles above the limit on highways.

I can't drive 32.

Bill owns me in the mpg race.

There's only one sensible solution: I need a Tesla S (or a Tesla roadster, if I had the money).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Guilty pleasure confession

I have a lot of guilty pleasures, far more than would fit in a single blog entry of any reasonable length. Tonight, though, marks the beginning of this season of one of them, so I thought I'd confess it here: I like the Spike TV reality show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

The show's premise is simple: Put 16 mixed-martial-arts fighters, eight in each of two weight classes, in a house for about two months. Have them train in teams, and at the end of each show have two of them fight. The winner advances in the contest; the loser has to stay in the house and train but is out of the running. The prize is a "three-year, six-figure UFC contract," which I assume means a guarantee of $33K a year for three years, for each of the weight-class winners. The show takes you up to the final fight, which airs later (in this case, in June) in a live event.

The producers create a certain amount of havoc, of course, by the way they structure the house: no TV, no books, no entertainment--but plenty of booze. As you might imagine, the testerone- and alcohol- and violence-fueled atmosphere leads to a lot of bad behavior, which I'm sure Spike sees as good television.

I watch the show for the training sequences and, most of all, the fights, but I do watch it. I like it enough that I record it each week and view it as soon after the recording as I can. I record very few shows and watch almost no live TV, so for me this level of TV show following is quite unusual.

I don't consider watching MMA fights to be a guilty pleasure, by the way; I can make a case for that. This show, however, definitely makes me feel a little guilty.

Now, I can and would argue that TUF is far less of a vice than most reality TV shows. A certain female I will not name is quite a huge fan of America's Next Top Model (ANTM), an example of a far less worthy guilty pleasure. She would argue that ANTM is the bomb, but she's wrong, pure and simple.

That said, if at the end of each episode of ANTM two of the model wannabes would put on five-ounce gloves, get into a cage, and whup the tar out of each other in the pursuit of a contract, the show's ratings would surely skyrocket--and I might give it a look-see.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What I owe Spider-Man

In 1966, I was eleven years old, and a great deal of bad shit was going on in my life. I didn't think I could handle it all.

My biggest and often only source of escape was reading. I read everything, including comic books, which I still love. In particular, I read superhero comics--Marvel, DC, and every other publisher I could find.

Along came issue 33 of The Amazing Spider-Man. You can find it in some Marvel collections, and you can also preview a few pages of it online here. Spidey is trapped under a collapsed building, and though he is incredibly strong, he's not strong enough to lift all the weight off him. He begins to fall into despair.

He doesn't, though, give up. Of course he doesn't; he's Spider-Man. I knew he wouldn't stop. Stan Lee's purple prose, though, convinced the young me that Spidey wasn't sure he could do it, that our favorite webslinger had to talk himself into going on, as he does in this passage (in which the em-dashes indicate pauses as Spidey struggles for breath):

Anyone can win a fight--when the odds--are easy! It's when the going's tough--when there seems to be no chance--that's when--it counts!
Reading it now, staring at the pages, I know the scene and writing are juvenile, purple, and actually rushed, but back then, it worked for me. My memory of reading it is still vivid. So is my reaction: If Spidey could lift a building, I could find a way out of my troubles (as I did), even if it took years (as it did).

This comic wasn't the only thing that kept me going; far from it. But this issue mattered to me. It still does.

So, I owe Spider-Man, and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and Artie Simak, and I hope never to forget the debt--or the lesson.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The mystery photo

I was flipping through some photos from my iPhone and found this beauty. Why I took the picture is clear: it's awesome. Who wouldn't want a photo of a shiny silver-sided pool table on a hideous shag rug, with a giant female head staring at everyone from the wall behind it?

Clearly, it was a must-have photo.

What I can't remember at all is where I took it. I have no clue whatsoever.

If you happen to know where this pool table sits--and why I was near it--please let me know.

And, if you own it, please invite me over to play. I need to see the rest of your space.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Almost but not quite

Duplicity is the kind of movie I want to like. I enjoy spy and con man plot structures, many romantic comedies work for me, I like Julia Roberts, and I very much like Clive Owen. So, I entered full of hope for the film.

Two hours and a bit later, I left having had a pleasant enough time, willing to say I'd enjoyed the film, but feeling, as I have been with most movies lately, that what I'd just seen never quite fulfilled its promise. Again, I enjoyed it--but I didn't love it, didn't ever fall totally under its spell, and really wish I had.

After some thought, I believe the problem boils down to the leads. Clive Owen played his usual role, which is a cool, distant, handsome and charming fellow. Unfortunately, Julia Roberts also played her character as cool and distant--and pretty and charming, of course.

The problem is, neither of them ever closed the distance between their characters. During almost all of their most intimate moments, they were far away. Only a few times did her justly famous smile reach out--to Owen and to the audience--and then all too quickly it vanished.

The plot is clever enough, mind you, and it's clearly set up for a sequel should this one do well enough. For me to give this leading team another try, however, something in the trailer would have to convince me that their characters cared at all about one another--something Duplicity all too rarely managed to do.


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