Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lifting in the 5th Dimension, Part Nine - Thomas Foote

 The Rope Trick

"In  the 5th Dimension," Path Finder lectured, "time and space are non-linear."

The old dude was in an unusually talkative mood. Having survived the journey this far, The Kid was becoming seasoned enough to trust his instincts a little. At present he was suspicious.

"Because time/space is more subjective here," Path Finder continued, "travelers tend not to be where they logically expect. Rather, one tends to be where one 'ought' to be."

"Rudimentary," The Kid commented. He didn't like the direction his guide's monologue seemed to be traveling. Neither did he like the direction he had been traveling physically. They had entered a region increasingly rugged and eroded. Long ago "the path" had become an extension of his guide's memory rather than a tangible trail. Presently, the going consisted of winding in and around rough gullies. While the horizon, when visible, was essentially level, the surface was a torturous maze.

"As I was saying, in the 5th Dimension a traveler seems to encounter what he needs," spoke Path Finder as he deftly picked his way. "One might almost expect a conspiracy the way lessons present themselves. That is, if one were paranoid."

Path Finder added some  private emphasis to his last statement by pausing just long enough to give The Kid a curious stare from under his heavy brows.

With this last comment, The Kid was no longer suspicious. He was sure! Even paranoids have enemies. Trouble lay ahead. The land had become ominous in itself, as if to match his guide's mood. The gullies had progressively grown into larger and deeper courses until a yawning canyon fell away just before them.

What The Kid saw made the pit of his stomach go cold. Some desperate fool had strung a rope from his side of the canyon to the far, opposite side. Each end seemed to be guarded at its base by huge beasts. On one side reared a mighty bull with a crescent moon suspended between its spreading horns. On the opposing bank crouched the figure of a great lion.

After an initial shock, The Kid could see that the beasts anchored the rope rather than guarded it. They were monumental statues, left by the ancients.

Now Path Finder's voice intruded.

"I hope you're ready for this," the guide conveyed with more than a hint of a doubt. Pressing on, he said, "What we are about to do requires strict attention. In the 5th Dimension balance is crucial."

In the shadow of the great bull, Path Finder seemingly stepped off into space. Actually, with his first step, he tested the rope's tension. Finding it acceptable, he proceeded . . .

"Whoa," called the distressed Kid. "Please!"

The old guide paused, one foot resting on the rope, and turned with a practiced calm. "Yes"" he inquired, raising one eyebrow.

"Do these," as The Kid spoke he indicated himself, "do these," he repeated, "look like the feet of a circus performer?"

Path Finder closed his eyes. He fought back a smile. Finally he spoke, measuring each word. "Have you paid no notice? Am I mistaken, or have we had several recent lessons?"

Tilting his head and squinting one eye, The Kid urged his memory into action.

"Well," he whined, "we have had some odd encounters. I'll grant you that much."

"Splendid," intoned Path Finder gravely, "now that your life depends upon it, please pay attention."

With this last comment, Path Finder continued to step onto the rope.

"To begin with you must compose yourself," he called over his shoulder. "To do this, take several deep, slow breaths," which he proceeded to demonstrate with elaborate, flourishing gestures. "Now," he said and flexed his knees several times, causing the rope to oscillate up and down slightly, "place your awareness here," and he patted his lower abdomen, "in the Hara." Turning to face The Kid he asked, "is this clear so far?"

Dumbly, The Kid nodded. It took all this strength.

"Excellent! Now, you must focus your attention on your feet. The soles, to be precise. Feel the even distribution of rope along the bottom surface. Now, visualize the flow of Ki originating in the Hara and streaming down, through your legs and along this rope." He emphasized the last word, "rope," with another bounce. "Considering the pressing nature of the circumstances, I suggest you remember the Power Glide." Again Path Finder glanced back to assure himself that his student was listening. The old guide took The Kid's fixed stare as confirmation. "Good, then let's proceed."

As The Kid watched the old man glide, one foot sliding in front of the other, he was reminded of a proverb. "While the boys throw stones at frogs in jest, the frogs die in earnest." This rope looked very earnest!

Now, on the far rim, Path Finder stood at the lion's feet and gestured for him to follow.

"Trapped!" he thought. With that in mind, he stepped to the canyon's rim and began to breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, as Path Finder had advised. Next, he placed his hands on his belly and tried to feel the pull of gravity against his center.

"So far so good," he allowed himself.

Slowly, he eased one foot out on the rope, which was thicker and more solid than he expected. Reluctantly, his other foot followed.

"Trapped and committed!" he stewed. With all his might The Kid focused his attention of the soles of his feet and tried to experience the pull of Ki energy. Again, as with the incident at the crumbled bridge, urgency worked its special magic on The Kid's consciousness.

"That cunning old fox," he thought with sudden insight, "he knew what he was talking about, after all."

The "balancing act" of The Kid works on two levels. First, the physical act of walking the rope required the esoteric skills previously encountered. The Hara, pranayama and the flow of Ki. Each of these skills are essential to performing exercises in the 5th Dimension. Secondly, the tight rope image acts as a metaphor for the more abstract concept of balance itself, which directed my thinking as I formulated my exercise routine.

The Path

My understanding of Taoism and its emphasis on harmony led me to create a split routine for lifting weights on consecutive days. The ancient Chinese mystics identified a fundamental principle form which the Universe could never deviate. They called it the Tao. After what I've said about world views, it shouldn't be too hard to grasp why translating words from ancient Chinese into English can give scholars headaches. For our purposes we'll say that the Tao is the Path of Nature (the Natural Way). The Taoist philosophers observed that the Path always seemed to be expressed as a combination of two properties.

These properties are known as Yin and Yang. The original imagery for Yin and Yang was "the dark and sunny side of the hill." The following list explores some of the attributes of each principle:


In a very simplified form, Taoism is a search for balance between these two principles of Yin and Yang.

A Split Routine

I wondered if I couldn't construct a lifting routine founded on this ancient concept of balance. Most experienced lifters are familiar with the idea of antagonistic muscle groups. In this scheme, the muscles are categorized as either flexors or extensors and operate in antagonistic pairs, such and the biceps and triceps muscles of the upper arm. In this example, the triceps extend the forearm as it contracts, while the biceps draws the forearm forward, as it contracts. Thus, a grouping exists such that two muscles with opposing functions work to complement one another's action. 

The Yin/Yang model seemed a natural for this balancing activity of opposing muscle groups. The two actions could be characterized as pushing (extension) and pulling (flexion). The act of pushing seemed to fit naturally among the attributes of the Yang principle, while the pulling seemed to have the receptive qualities of the Yin principle. Thus was born a balanced routine based upon the principles of Yin/Yang.

An experienced lifter knows he doesn't regularly want to hit the same bodypart two days in a row. Consequently, some people find it expedient to work their whole body three non-consecutive days a week. If you're really an iron-head, however, three days a week is just not enough, hence, split routines - - for example, chest, back, shoulders/arms legs; or upper body/lower body. I decided to try and differentiate between pushing and pulling movements, with the following results:

Pulling *Yin*/ Pushing *Yang*
1.) Clean/Bench Press
2) Deadlift/Centers
3) Bent Rowing/Squat
4) Upright Rowing/Press Behind Neck
5) Shrug/Dip
6) Curl/Calf Raise

Curiously, the routine almost made a distinction between the dorsal (back) and the ventral (front) processes of the body.

The principles of Yin and Yang apply to each repetition of each exercise, so that the concept of balance is central to each form. In any given exercise there is an active (yang) and passive (yin) phase. For example, in the bench press when one draws the bar to the chest the movement is receptive and accepting. This Yin phase is followed by the explosive, thrusting movement or Yang phase, as the bar is pressed off the chest and the arms extended. Dips, squats, rowing or whatever, it is easy to analyze the two phases of each form and see the intrinsic balance. In recent years negative reps (Yin phase) have received considerable attention. Given a basic feel for he Tao of lifting, such a "discovery" seems self-evident. Of course both phases are important, otherwise there would be an imbalance, a lack of harmony between Yin and Yang.

The Forms

The Yin Routine (Pulling)

1.) Cleans: This whole routine flows, and it begins with my favorite lift. The Clean will get your blood going, sweat flowing and heart pounding. You are going to get the bar to shoulder height, where you and it can rest. Don't accomplish this with a long, slow pull. Once you finish the first pull Blast It Up There! Timing is crucial, each movement critical (though of no great import), each muscle group must do its part in turn. If at first you feel clumsy and awkward, don't quit and don't give up. Over time you'll improve, and at some point in the near future there will come a workout where everything clicks in the correct order. Once this happens you'll get it, and will never forget it. 

How to:
- Plant your feet about shoulder width apart, toes out slightly.
- Grip the bar a little wider than your shoulders.
- Head up, back straight and flat, HIPS DOWN and close to the bar.
- Take up the slack and begin to accelerate slowly. I like to rock my weight back and forth a bit and wiggle my toes, feeling the pressure of the large part of my feet on the ground before I begin. 
- Once you complete the initial pull, accelerate, increase speed, get up on your toes shrugging and just before you reach peak of the upward vector give a final pull before diving under the bar and snapping your forearms. 

There are so many in depth tutorials on how to physically perform these movements. We'll just stick to what they don't deal with too much from here on in.

Meta-Movements (Clean):
 - Standing before the bar, bring your attention to your breathing. Feel the source and destination of breath as the Hara. 
- With feet planted; become aware of the pressure against the soles. This is your interface with gravity. Feel the solidarity of your center, the Hara.
- Dropping the Hara in close to the bar, visualize Ki energy flowing into the Hara.
- Wait for the pressure of Ki to grow. Feel the pressure mount.
- Focus: Bring your awareness to a single point in time/space. This is a moment of incredible intensity. When you FEEL it, let go! Always remember to exhale when you exert effort during the active (yang) phase, and inhale on the more passive (yin) phase. 

2.) Deadlift: This one can kill you! Then resurrect you from the dead. In many ways it is the embodiment of the Clean's antithesis. Where the Clean is a coordinated explosion, the Deadlift is a primal, slow simmer, bulging and brimming with energy filled bubbles most scintillating. A limit dead is slow poetry, seen from the inside by who but the few? Horton, that's who. Not Nick, but the beloved character of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Rosetta Stone,  co-creator of wartime's Private Snafu and known to those who knew and loved him as Dr. Seuss.

- Pranayama: begin deep breathing from the diaphragm.
- Feel your connectedness with the Earth through the soles of your feet. This sense of connectedness is felt in the Hara as the Earth's pull on your center. Drop the Hara as you grasp the bar.
- Ki energy, surging through your legs, originates in the Hara. Feel it press against the soles of your feet.
- Focus your attention on the equal distribution of power over the soles of the feet and slowly flow upwards with the Ki. 

3.) Bent Rowing: Each time you bent row you'll explore new territory. You learn new limits. You discover that you're not the same each day . . . each moment. You see that you are not alone, oh no, not you and the bar that becomes you, more and more with each and every rep. Sure, you can never step into the same exercise twice, Bra. Go get 'em and go with Christ. Buddha. All belief in the betterment of mankind that was, will be, and is at this very moment waiting to join your energy.

- Begin Pranayama before gripping the bar.
- Balance is very important, so focus special attention on the soles of the feet. Inhabit them!
- In this movement Ki flows to the Hara along natural lines of power. You should be able to feel the side by side positioning of your body mass (Hara) and that of the iron. In the Yin phase you will feel a continuous pull from the heels, though the hamstrings, across the bridge of your back and down to the bar.
- Rows can be performed dynamically with great power, or slowly with great control. Varying is not a no-no, isn't a negative thing, don't be afraid to be unafraid of being playful with the style you perform any given exercise in. Enjoy the pleasures of choice. There is more to what you are doing than simply succeeding in lifting the bar. Certainly, any child can ingest dirt from the Earth; it takes a man to understand the metaphor.
- Visualize Ki surging through your limbs during the active phase of each repetition. Since this is a pulling motion, feel the energy as it is drawn to the Hara. The key isn't whether or not energy pulses from the Hara, but that it pulses TO the Hara. Moving from your center is what counts.

4.) Upright Rowing: Slowly we are moving the emphasis in this routine, from the broadest, most inclusive forms, we have become more specialized and specific with this exercise. It is particularly suited to fantasy . . . the Viking ship you now row across uncharted waters . . . a moment in time repeating as the Sword is removed from that grip of the icy-fingered Stone . . . lifting those long-passed friends below from the darkness of death and the other side . . .

- Begin with Pranayama
- Focus on the soles of the feet, sensing the stability of your pose. Feel the Hara's pull against the Earth.
- Visualize the vertical flow of Ki, streaming upward through your body into the unimaginable distance. You will enter that flow as you exhale.
- As you raise the bar feel the Hara contract. Actually tense the abdominals. When the bar descends, let the Hara relax.
- Again, visualize Ki sweeping upwards through your limbs with the active phase of each rep.

5.) Shrugs: Shrugs are simple. A basic pulling move. And like all basic pulling moves they have the power to do so much in so many ways. Squeezing tension right out of the body and very soul are only two of the not-few this many-headed beast of pain and pleasure delivery can bring. Consider the 'bar-distance-traveled'/'feeling of extreme well being and vital aliveness' ratio with shrugs. That bar is only moving a few inches, remember. Yet those few inches, if the move is performed properly, can give and take so much. Quite simply put, shrugs are a miracle, a gift given only to lifters, to men and women all growed up enough to realize gifts given and welcome them. Long time no see, my good friend. Please do come on in, and by all means feel free to give your pal Trap Bar a call.

- This form is so pure it's a good opportunity for deep concentration. But then, what's not? You will breathe deeply through the movement.
- Pay particular attention to the power line which seems to extend from the bar to the center of the Earth. The bar and the Hara occupy the same time/space. Feel the pull through the soles of the feet as gravity draws your center toward the Earth's center.
- Visualize the vertical flow of Ki, rising above and beyond you with each contraction.
- As you exhale, feel the bar rising from the center of the Earth, not just from your hands. Realize from time to time just how hard you strive to believe your energy is not intimately interconnected with all things past, present and future. Ouch. I'm not just deluded, I'm a delusion of my own off-center making.

6.) Curl: This exercise seems to enjoy great popularity with everyone but me. Are you familiar with putting calf raises or ab work last in a workout, then deciding you've run out of steam by then and completely neglecting them? That's what curls are to me. A necessary evil tacked on at day's end much like brushing teeth before bed and the sweetness of dreams in other worlds. A tiny muscle group overwhelmed and bloated with its own popularity among the young and near-uninitiated. Great hidden areas of big-muscle-group involvement most certainly bring more satisfying rewards than any curl ever could. Chicks dig guys on the cusp of ascendance. Not biceps. Really. The scene is tragic, a blue day in our most favorite bestest woman's world following the sudden and unexpected death of a close friend. Do you make a muscle, flex your swollen biceps . . . or do you translate the flow, the striving, and the overcoming of pain only big movement lifting can bring to this situation? I rest my alienated and primal-naive case. And apologize to the original author of this work of genius for being so silly and intrusive.

- Breathe deeply and quiet your mind.
- Locate the Hara and its union with the Earth, through the soles of your feet.
- Visualize the rising flow of Ki.
- Focus on the instant.
- Let it go. As you exhale, contract the Hara.
- Visualize the roar of Ki energy coursing through your arms. It bursts from your fists on a flight into infinity. The streaming "water" causes your arms to raise and the bar travels unnoticed. (Get the idea?)
- Repeat the image with each rep. Try to bring as many senses to bear as possible, hear the roar, feel the surge, see the bursting stream.
- Apply what you learn through doing curls to your real exercise movements. 

Next ---- The Yang Routine (pushing)

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