Chew your food. Notes from Power Athlete's symposium.
Confession. I never learned how to bench press in high school. There is a phase that most adolescent boys go through where sometime in high/middle school, you and your friends decide that the answer to being cool, meeting girls and all things wonderful and socially awesome would be solved by getting a good pump down at the Y after school. I missed this phase. It’s likely because I grew up on a farm where my mother was always the strongest person I knew. When I was about 10 years old, I remember she dropped a 1,000+ lb manure spreader on her foot and broke, crushed really, that foot. She “fixed it” by wearing a hiking boot for a month without missing an hour of work or once seeing a Doctor (not to mention she had to somehow single handedly lift that machine off her foot in the first place). It just didn’t add up that my buddies were the ones who understood strength or teaching me how bro-ing out would solve all my social foibles.
Fast forward to about six months ago, when I wanted to learn more about pure strength and power development. Fortunately, 15 years later, I have the training advantage of much smarter friends (sorry, high school) and so Justin suggested a Power Athlete program, aptly titled – “Jacked Street”. In learning more about what Power Athlete (formerly CrossFit Football) offered, I found out about their yearly gathering of strength and conditioning mad scientists, the Power Athlete Symposium, and signed up to attend along with Justin.
So, last week, off we went down to Austin, Texas to spend three days learning from some incredible minds around coaching techniques, motivation, nutrition and resiliency both for our own training and how to impart those on our athletes. There were lots of significant insights, stories, movement cues and explanations of methodology from Navy Seal Instructors, elite coaches, Olympians and of course those mad scientists. However, there was one line from a talk mid-way through the weekend that I felt best summarized the essence of the experience. Tucked away in a wide-ranging discussion between John Welbourn and Dr. Tom Incledon, Dr. Tom commented that the best diet in the world of grassfed meats, organic, multi-colored vegetables and probiotics could be derailed by one infuriatingly simple factor.
Not chewing the food.
By mindlessly and frantically housing our $35 locally raised, grassfed steak while we answer email, rather than taking time to chew and break down the food and allow for it to begin the digestion process in our mouth all those tasty and vital nutrients could simply pass us by. The “secret” here wasn’t more of a secret supplement or vitamin, it was the absolute most basic part possible in nutrition (and free). Chewing.
The world (and fitness) has become incredibly complicated and overrun with excess. Supplements are a multi-BILLION dollar industry. The rise of and demand for organic food has skyrocketed. Every 7 seconds, someone has a new workout, wearable, or hack (maybe all three!) promising fitness faster than ever before. For example, Oakley now makes sunglasses that will “coach” you through an integrated ear piece. For the first time in history, more people are dying or at health risk from causes related to over consumption of food than under consumption. 175 people per day die of drug overdose in America. Rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes continue to rise even as the fitness industry grows larger and larger with more gyms, more workouts and more advertised shortcuts flood our inboxes and social media. Our obsession with the next new thing, on top of the old new thing is literally drowning us.
What gives? George Carlin had a quote where he said that he didn’t think more technology is going to solve the issues that technology caused in the first place. He was correct. The answer is the basics and fundamentals. The answer is chewing your food and applying that concept to your entire life. It’s not sexy (chew with your mouth closed too, thanks Dad). It doesn’t increase the profit margins of the next great supplement. However, it works, and while the process may not be sexy the results are of the highest order and unquestioned (try not chewing, wait - please don't). This approach to food is a metaphor for our entire life. Do the common, uncommonly well, and you will build a lifetime of health.
New England Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick was asked that after all his success in coaching and championships won, what are his goals at this point in his storied career? “I’d like to go out and have a good practice today. That would be top of the list right now” was his response. Is practice cool? Do the fundamentals get you more Instagram likes? Is someone going to re-post your hollow hold or glute activation drills? No. However, what are the results of that practice and execution of fundamentals? Championships. A healthy and resilient body. A life absent of chronic disease and excellence in your relationships (and those are very, very cool results).
Next time you want the short-cut to the muscle up progressions, or to add weight when your squat mechanics aren’t sound, pause for a moment and remember – chew your food. Respect the process and find value in the difficult, long, road. The road that is true to who you want to be. Master the foundations of movement and build the body and community you want every day with how you move, the example you set and the journey of your training. I’ll still be working on that bench press.