Review: “Progress”

41M1+TKi2IL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Last week, on a three-hour flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, where I was going to meet my Dad to celebrate his 65th birthday, I read Progress by Chris Moore, the Barbell Buddha, from cover to cover. I could not put the book down, skipping my usual mouth agape airplane shuteye.

Moore is a former college athlete, competitive power lifter, writer and host of his Barbell Buddha podcast and Barbell Shrugged. The man is well versed in the world of strength training and has found enlightenment along the way in his diligent path of learning how to be stronger and happier.

The book has a unique voice and Moore is extremely articulate when it comes to boiling down his views on progress. With short chapters, well chosen quotes and personal anecdotes, he conveys to the reader in short to keep it simple stupid.

“Setting big goals is the easiest thing in the world to do… Crawling under the barbell, running laps or preparing a week’s worth of high quality meals is far less exciting. But you cannot arrive at your destination without those first steps.”

In addition to keeping it simple, Moore advocates a process of self-evaluation encouraging the reader with the following steps:

  1. Write down your goal. Don’t just think it, commit it to paper.
  2. Identify your motives. Know exactly what you are after and why.
  3. Visualize your success. See yourself achieving your goals.
  4. Focus. “If you only have one ass, you cannot ride two horses.”
  5. Take it step by step. Take your time. It’s not a race.
  6. Use what you got. Don’t make the lack of equipment, program or a coach an excuse for not starting.
  7. Work with your limitations. Know your barriers and adjust as needed.
  8. Get lost in the process. Take those first few steps and get in the rhythm.

While Moore finds inspiration from Buddha and takes a Zen-like approach to training, he is not a monk. He believes that a little vice is needed – for him that is the occasional tequila and a donut. Essentially, Moore recognizes that progress is a daily pursuit through habit and purpose. It is not something fleeting. Goals can be short-term, but the pursuit of being stronger, faster, happier is ongoing.

“What matters most is that you make your decision and then put a plan in place. With that, and a perspective that allows you to adapt and evolve along your journey, you are sure to arrive a higher ground.”

Moore finds solace in a barbell, but don’t let his weightlifting background be a deterrent from reading his tome. Anyone can find inspiration even if your journey doesn’t involve any kilos.

Review: “Embrace the Suck”

51CSYZ0oKpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_I am absolutely the target audience for Embrace the Suck, a memoir by Stephen Madden, former editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine, about his time spent doing CrossFit. He chronicles a two-year period in his life where he “immersed himself in the culture, diet and psyche of CrossFit” and share what he learned about himself along the way. The book should perfectly appeal to someone like myself who has been doing CrossFit for almost 5 years and has competed, attended camp, visited affiliates gyms around the U.S. and abroad, etc.  However, the book falls flat.

If the aim of the book is to provide a deep dive into CrossFit via one man’s experience, Madden fails to capture the heart and spirit of the sport and community.  Anyone who picks up the book that is unfamiliar with CrossFit will not takeaway much more than what they could have learned in health magazine and blogs. Further, Madden misguides people by harping on this false idea that CrossFit makes its a goal to push people to the point of puking. He writes, “I wear my Pukie the Clown T-shirt with excellent pride”.  It is like when the media focused on the hidden evils of the sport and that everyone is going to get rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo). No matter whether I have been training at a box locally or in Las Vegas or in Bangkok, I have never met a coach or athlete that encouraged anyone to push themselves to the point of causing physical harm to themselves. I am sure they are exceptions, but Madden makes it sound like the norm.

If then the book is to provide one person’s own story about how they tested their limits and conquered their fears, than Madden also lost me.  He recounts his youth and depicts himself as this unathletic overweight kid, but then tells us about how he started playing hockey in third grade and was a killer on the ice and later about his career as an adult as a cyclist. Maddens seems to want to play up this struggle he has of separating his current self from his image of himself as a “slow, fat kid”. I don’t want to discount or deny his own experience, but the narrative feels strained and gasping at straws to make it resonate with the reader and have the emotional impact he desires.

My favorite section of the book is when Madden travels to Allentown, Pennsylvania to attend the SEALFIT 20X Challenge with Mark Divine.  As SEALFIT describes, “20X event is a one day (12-14 hour) intensive delivered by SEALFIT certified coaches at CrossFit gyms and other training sites around the country. The purpose of 20X is straightforward and clear: to break down your inner limitations and immediately expand your definition of your capabilities as an athlete and human being.” Madden uses the experience to prove he is “good enough”. He and the other attendees are put through the ringer as they endure endless physical and mental challenges. It’s awesome and one can clearly understand why it could be life-changing. But then Madden comes out of left field and shares the following exchange after the hours spent in the mud, carrying rocks, running and being fatigued beyond belief:

“‘Madden?’ Divine is in front of me. ‘What’s the most important thing you learned this year?’

‘Love is the answer, sir.'”

Madden later echoes this idea that love is the underlying reason of why he was able to “embrace the suck” and push his limits at the conclusion of the book. The problem is, and while he might believe the answer to be very true to him, Madden did little to explain how he got to this thinking. He tries to say that all the ups and downs were buoyed by the support he received from his wife and children and gym mates and even his mother who encouraged him to play sports as a kid. But it just didn’t register. Perhaps if the book was more well written then I would have more empathy for this epiphany that he has. However, Madden provides little to the reader to give us reason to believe he didn’t know this the whole time.

Madden tries to be informative about CrossFit and the culture that surrounds it, but doesn’t articulate why the community is so strong and why the sport has proven to be more than a fad. And he tries to take us on this personal journey, but he does not lay the groundwork that makes us really care. The book is fine and is an easy read but I believe Madden could have done much better. He could have pushed himself a bit harder as a writer to produce something that truly inspires.

Review: “Level Up Your Life”

I have been following Steve Kamb via his very unique lifestyle website, NerdFitness.com, for the past 3-4 years.  Kamb has created a worldwide online community of “nerds” through his inspirational posts, nutrition guides and fitness resources. By way of hobbits, superheroes, stormtroopers and Harry Potter, Kamb makes everything from yoga to weightlifting to the Paleo diet more easily accessible to average Joes, especially those who often get caught up in the fantasy and escape of comic books, video games and movies and too often ignore what’s happening in real life.

redeem-LUYL-bookAs a devoted reader of the website, I was excited for the release of his first book, “Level Up Your Life”.  It is both a memoir and self-help book as Kamb explains how he used his own love for video games as a way to structure the change he needed to bring about it in his own life so that he could live better.

Kamb knows change isn’t easy and that it doesn’t come in big leaps and bounds. Rather, the key to successful long-term sustainable change in life is incremental. Think of the original Super Mario Brothers for NES – there were 8 worlds and each world had 4 levels that you had to complete before you ultimately could save Princess Toadstool from the clutches of the evil Bowser. As you progressed, the enemies and obstacles became tougher. However, you were better prepared because of what you learned along the way, like how to time your jumps and how to swim around fish.

“Just like in games, if we can find a way to make small improvements and recognize those small improvements in our day-to-day lives, it’s likely to increase our overall happiness.”

Whether you are trying to lose weight, learn a new language, travel the world or develop a new skill, Kamb advocates this idea of “leveling-up”. Take one step at a time but set clear goals of what you want to accomplish before you move onto the next level in your adventure. For example, if you are looking to drop your body-fat percentage, the first level might be eliminating processed foods from your diet for 1-2 months. Then after you have successfully completed that challenge, the next level might be reducing the number of alcoholic beverages you have each week. The change will happen but it won’t be overnight. Similarly, if you want to learn how to speak Spanish fluently, the first level might be to learn 5 new words per week and a more advanced level might be having a 10-minute conversation in Spanish each week with the ultimate goal of traveling through Spain and being able to converse with the locals.

The book is very approachable and a fun read. Some appreciation of nerdom is suggested as he references everything from Luke Skywalker to James Bond to Jason Bourne to Katniss Everdeen to illustrate his point. Kamb calls upon the reader to even go as far as to create their own character or alter-ego – think Clark Kent/Superman. He also classifies the different type of quests that we can embark on (i.e. physical, mental/spiritual, business, adventure, etc.). This is all part of the hero’s journey that he wants us to take so that we can grow and develop into our best selves.

“The goal is to present yourself with challenges you are capable of overcoming but which are still challenging enough to engage all your attention.”

Since I was so familiar with his website, the book wasn’t revelatory but rather a good refresher for me on Kamb’s thesis and approach. For the newbie, there is a lot of information to digest. The book is not intended to be read in one sitting but to be a resource that you keep referring to along your journey. I appreciate that throughout the book Kamb included stories of “rebel heroes” from his “rebellion” who were able to “level up”. He is also quick to show his gratitude for all the bloggers and writers that he turns to for inspiration.

The book successfully transmits to the reader the spirit of his website and helps you understand why he has been able to build such a large community of change.

 

Review: “The Rise”

Sarah-Lewis-The-Rise-coverLast May while on my trip to Nicaragua, I was having a long conversation on a lazy breezy warm afternoon with one of the group members, Cecilia, at the local surf shack. We were discussing Man Meets Goat and my personal journey over the past few years taking risks and learning to compete. It made Cecilia think about the book she was reading at the moment called “The Rise” by Sarah Lewis. Later that day she brought her copy of the book to dinner for me to take a look at. The author’s name sounded so familiar and it turned out I had seen her TED Talk and even blogged about it. Lewis spoke about the importance of the “near win” in our lives as a both a learning point but also motivation to continue striving for greatness.

Way too many months later, I finally have finished reading “The Rise”. It is very well written with a flowery prose that feels more like an extension of Lewis’s speech rather than a traditional tome. The through line of her narrative is the pursuit of mastery. She opens up the book with a prologue about attending archery practice with the women’s team at Columbia University. There she witnessed these athletes practice shot after shot as they aimed to not just hit the bullseye once, but to hit it over and over. Their mastery of archery will never truly be complete as there are so many obstacles to overcome (i.e. technique, wind, speed, angle, etc.) and so perfection is always just out of reach.

Throughout the narrative Lewis uses a wide range of human endeavors to illustrate her thesis. She speaks about Paul Taylor, a famous modern dance choreographer, Ben Saunders, an explorer trying to cross the North Pole, Samuel Morse, who despite his success with telegraph dedicated his life to his art, and many more.

Lewis highlights through all of these examples the importance of grit. But she also recognizes the role that failure plays in our lives and also surrender. One of the highlights in the story of Ben Saunders many attempts to reach the North Pole is his acceptance of what we can and cannot change in our lives. There are sometimes rocks in the middle of our path. We can either complain and blame the rock for not being able to move forward or we can force ourselves to adapt, create and be flexible enough to learn new skills and talents so that we can climb over the rock.

The book drifts from sport to art to even science. Based on a chapter in her book, Sarah Lewis explains in this short video the value of being a deliberate amateur who experiments, explores and plays:

Since finishing the book, I have already lent it onto one friend who is working with people in recovery and helping them understand the concept of mastery in our lives. I have also recommended it to my yoga instructor as the stories seem analogous to the practice on the mat of constantly working on a pose.

Lewis alludes to the painting that under close inspection reveals layers upon layers of paint from the artist’s unstoppable pursuit of mastery. Our lives are like that painting if we allow ourselves to keep adding new layers as we search for individual greatness.

Review: “The School of Greatness”

Who doesn’t want to be great? Who is truly happy when they settle for less? Even in our daily routines – at work, at the gym, at home – who doesn’t call it a good day when they know they did their best?

school-of-greatness-bookHow do you achieve greatness? Lewis Howes entices those of who strive for more with his recently published book called The School of Greatness. The premise poses the intriguing idea that with just 238 pages we could take a world-class course in how to live a great life. Perhaps hokey to the more cynical minded, but for dreamers like myself it caught my eye.

Howes is an All-American athlete who after suffering a career-ending injury and being dumped after moving across the country found himself broke of heart and broke of spirit laid up on his sister’s couch for months. But sometimes rock bottom points us to our peak, and he ended up getting back up, creating a multi-million dollar business and motivating thousands as a public-speaker and consultant.

In the book, Howes identifies eight lessons that he learned along his journey and through the many “professors” that he interviewed over the past few years on his podcast. I’ll provide a quick summary of each :

  1. Create a vision – Identify a specific vision with a clear set of goals to achieve your dream. Further, make that vision your new identify.
  2. Turn adversity into advantage – Let the challenges in your life be the motivators to pursue your dreams. Accept your failures and be grateful for them as they move your towards success.
  3. Cultivate a champion’s mindset – To be a champion one must think like a champion, which is rooted in a strong belief in one’s self. This belief is coupled with vision, focus, discipline and humility
  4. Develop hustle – You must embrace a burning desire to do what others are unwilling to do. To achieve your goals you have to work harder and smarter.
  5. Master your body – Greatness starts with the mind and the body. Sleep, nutrition and fitness are all keys to ensure that we feel good so that we have the energy to get what we want in life.
  6. Practice positive habits – Daily habits can make the difference. Make your bed, meditate, go for a walk every evening, read for 30 minutes each day – whatever the habit, commit to it.
  7. Building a winning team – Surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire. Cultivate strong relationships. Find the right mentor or coach. And cut those people who are not helping you on your path to greatness.
  8. Be of service to others – In addition to improving your own life, improve the lives of those around you – your family, friends, community and the world. Think outwardly to achieve greatness.

The book is easy to digest even as it gives you a lot to consider. Each chapter includes exercises to help put these lessons into practice. For me, it requires a second reading in which I force myself to dig deep and consider each lesson a bit more closely. However, the books works on just the surface level to challenge yourself to do better.

I have never listened to his podcast but definitely want to check them out now. My only surprise with the book was that his “professors” were not bigger names. Not to mean that insight can’t be gained from people of less renown but some of his examples – like his brother and a friend from high school – while impressive felt too shoehorned. Overall though it was worth the time and consideration and will be a book worth revisiting as I work through my goal setting for the year ahead.