Training Environments – Did the Hippies Have It Right All Along?
The concept of a good training environment is almost universally accepted as an important ingredient for success. Sure, there will always be guys like Mike Tuchsherer or Blain Sumner who get after it alone with no spotters and go on to the highest levels of achievement. But just about everyone else talks about the importance of environment being a key factor. A necessary factor. But what is it about environment that is so important? I will get to that in a moment but first I have always found it interesting that lifters (athletes in general) want both the science of why things work, while also keeping one foot in mysticism. Don't believe me? Often the same lifter who will detail the exact percentages, special exercises, rest intervals, loading parameters, use of virtual force loading and training methodics of their next Circa Max phase, will be the same guy/gal that wears "their lucky hat" on squat day. Based on their explanation of the Circa Max I can understand the science behind that but if asked about the hat they may say something like, "I just FEEL stronger when I wear it" or "It's my LUCKY hat." This is just a loose made up example but can you see the point? In this example, Circa Max = Science, while a lucky hat, deadlift dance or special shoes = Mysticism.What does this have to do with training environment? Ask the "why" question to anyone who says the "right" training environment is important and they will say things like, "If I see so and so lift the weight than I know that I can too" , or , "My group always pushes me to new PRs" , or , "Having everyone on the same page is really important." Sounds more like mysticism to me than science. So is there a science behind assembling with a group of likeminded people who are operating at a high level and pushing each other to reach the top? Did the Hippies have it right when they would say, "Good Vibes, Bad Vibes?" There is science supporting this and although the Hippies didn't have the instrumentation to prove it, they were right too. It has been said that “science can be viewed as the contemporary language of mysticism” (Thanks Dr. Joe Dispenza) and since knowledge can lead to greater understanding, which can lead to greater results, and since most training articles focus on mechanics or philosophies that have already been discussed for decades, let's delve into the phenomena of ‘Entrainment’, the concepts of ‘Constructive and Destructive Interference’ and how the usage of ‘Mirror Neurons’ are going to add pounds to your total!EntrainmentFor living things a broad definition of Entrainment would be the aligning of an individual's frequency, vibration or biology to that of the external environment. An interesting thing about Entrainment as a concept is it happens with inanimate objects as well. Like metronomes and grandfather clocks. In fact this phenomena was first discovered by the inventor of pendulum clocks about 350 years ago. Fill a room with a bunch of these clocks and even if the pendulums are all swinging at different tempos, over time some will slow down and others will speed up until they are all in sync. Think that is weird? Don’t believe it? Google "Metronome Entrainment YouTube" and watch 32 metronomes starting out of sequence completely sync up in perfect time in about 2 minutes. This is known as "mode locking" and several states of synchronicity are possible like equally out of phase synchronization etc. So, without going too deep on this, just know that when the objects are out of phase there is a vibrational exchange of information between the objects that gradually aligns the objects through resonance.Practical example –If you walk into any institution with an established culture and set of expectations you will have to entrain to that environment to be successful. When you walk into a commercial gym you are on your own. When you walk into Diablo Barbell there is a history of how we do it. There is a history of how well we have done it. There is a history of who has done it. There is an expectation on what your role will be while you do it. There is a system that governs the process. To date this has created 38 Elite qualified Powerlifters, 5 MMA World Champions, 3 National Wrestling Champions and scores of other athletes who earned scholarships, won at their sport, played professionally or just went farther than they ever thought possible. In the sport of Powerlifting we have had both the only woman to total Elite in 5 weight classes (Hillary Harper 165,181,198,148,132) and the All-Time greatest Masters coefficient for men (Dan Varela via 815 SQ, 600 BP, 655 DL @242 , 60 years old) both developed completely in house. We have had two of our men fight for the UFC title (Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez). We have had one of our Masters women compete at the CrossFit Games (Hylie Thompson). We have had athletes from football and baseball resurrect their careers and get back to the professional level. We have had scores of people rehabilitate themselves and overcome all types of physical limitations and injuries. Those are several seemingly very opposite things, how did it happen? The environment dictated it. Those people, those athletes had to meet the standards and expectations of the club. They had to earn their way and learn and apply the system. They eventually learned to train those elements to newer members. They became what they were not before.Constructive / Destructive InterferenceAgain, without getting too crazy into physics, Constructive and Destructive Interference (or just the principle of Interference) has to do with the superposition of wave amplitudes. Waves being energetic, vibrational or organic. When you have waves that are in phase you have Constructive Interference. Out of phase waves create Destructive Interference. The example most commonly cited for Constructive Interference would be if you dropped two stones of the same size from the same height into different parts of a pool of water, they are going to create waves. The force will ripple out from the center of where the stones landed in the water. When the waves meet, the amplitude of the resulting waves come together and essentially double in size. Therefore creating a stronger wave. If you did the same test but used different sized stones dropped at different times the waves will be out of sync to start. When the waves meet, the top of one wave will basically be cancelled out by the bottom of the opposing wave creating a net result of zero.Practical example –It’s a training day and the energy is high. Everyone is on point. You are excited to be there are and to get into the action. It’s like dynamite. The environment, the energy of the other people bring you up. You are contributing your energy as well and everyone can feel and feed off of that. It's the synergy that brings everyone up. Conversely, you walk into a room when everyone is distracted. Everyone is doing different things. No one seems to be particularly interested in what they are doing. Many are texting or playing with their phones. You are going to feel that, and it is not going to "feel" good. Humans are electromagnetic beings. We are always broadcasting at various wave lengths. There is absolutely something to the concept of good vibes and bad vibes, you can feel it. And, if you let it, that lowering energy can bring you down. Mirror NeuronsHave you ever heard the saying, "All things are possible in the presence of a master?" When we see an art or skill performed by someone at a high level (or at least better than us) we have an intrinsic ability to mirror that behavior or skill. Children do this all the time as part of the learning process before they are even predominantly using the frontal lobe of the brain. The definition of a mirror neuron "is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another." To simplify, think “monkey see, monkey do.”Practical example -I've noticed over the years that the lifters or athletes who can pick up on the nuance of the lift, the little details that are trained as a part of form or application tend to be the ones who gain the most mastery over their skill or respective endeavor. In the practical, I think of mirror neurons almost exclusively in the context of learning technique. Some of you may relate to being "visual learners."When teaching a complex exercise like the squat, I divide the lift up into the non-technical (this is where your hands go on the bar, this is where your feet go) and technical (external hip rotation, spreading the floor, pushing the knees out the whole time etc.). I like to think of this as isolating the challenge. For example if there are 10 technical elements of the squat that one must master, the easy ones should be able to be mastered on day 1. Most likely even the first try. Once you have been shown, it's not hard to know where to put your hands and feet. That should be a one or two time experience. Learning the nuance and coordination of external hip rotation, abduction and spinal extension all concurrently is much harder. This is where I believe mirror neurons come into play. In my estimation, in this context, it is the ability to duplicate an example of "form" prior to the development of the inter and intra muscular strength and coordination necessary to demonstrate at a high level.Putting it all togetherSo, is there an intersection where these phenomena collide? Is there a way to selectively use these concepts? I say yes. And a big part of this is choice. Unlike the clock and metronomes we can choose our environment. We can choose to change our environment. We can choose to change our environment energetically and pull others to their greatest potential. We can be present when learning and focus on the detail elements that separate the way the best perform and the way the rest perform. Here is a story from a very recent experience. We had a visitor show up at the gym unannounced. This is usually how this goes as I intentionally don't have a phone or a really great way to find us. The people who fit have a way of finding us. I will tell you in advance this guy was a perfect fit (Ken Gack - Brute Force Strength, Seattle Washington). Ken’s appearance even confused the others training that night as we thought he could have been any one of three prior Team Diablo members: Elite lifters: Steve Bartlett, Garrett Pirkig or Pro-Qualified Dalan Randa. Our guest enters the gym and asks if we take walk-ins. Not my favorite thing to do but this guy at least "looks" like a lifter. I asked him a few questions. I wasn’t really planning on doing anything, I was just going to let him use the gym and get his workout in. As I watched him bench I decided to ask if he wanted a little advice. As he was open to it I started going over some things that I thought would help his bench. Ken then tells me that his current bench is in the 500 lb. range. That’s funny, because to me he "looks" like a 700 lb. bencher. Not just in physique, but in his potential.When I am evaluating someone there are certain things I am looking for. How does the bar move across certain joint angles? What does their position and execution look like? What is their level of proficiency? How do they respond to external stimulus and correction? Then I start asking training questions. How do you organize your training? What special exercises do you do? There are about 30 questions that just roll through my mind and out of my mouth as I have been doing this for a long time. After the myriad of questions and answers, I thought, "Yep, 700 lb. bencher currently training like a 500 lb. bencher." Ken takes the corrections well and I could instantly see the range of motion change, the position of the shoulders and elbows change, the bar speed enhanced, there was increase in barbell control. Every set looked better and if I remember he finished a little heavier than he thought he would that night. The big take away from this is when the training was over he had a renewed excitement and saw a whole new field of potential that could be his. This is significant as Ken is a Masters lifter (48 years old) and highly qualified (World Champion, 6 times National Champion). This shows us that no matter the level of our experience or success we can always create more potential for our craft and our life.On day two, things really start to take off for Ken. He had given me a backstory by telling me this had been his worst training cycle he has had in years, maybe ever for a competition. In fact, 2 days prior to our meeting he couldn't even bend his knee, so he was a little uncertain if he would be able to squat at all that day. I'm thinking, "So what about the knee now that you know you can bench 700 lb. Let’s see what happens." As Ken was warming up, I began with another brigade of questions and the corresponding suggestions to correct technique.Man, this guy was a fast learner. He completely revamped his squat in a matter of minutes. Now the knee was working as well. Suddenly, building on the enthusiasm of the previous night, he started to believe. He believed and all of us could feel it. So here we go, we're going to get that squat! The plan was if he could hit 600lb that would be a big win based on the knee and how training had gone to date. After crushing 585lb I wasn’t even going to give him the option to go to 600lb. I just called for a quarter to get 635lb on the bar. He smashed it with another 30-40lbs left in the tank. This was done in wraps only, no suit. I asked Ken what he thought his goals were for his upcoming meet and he said a 705 lb squat. I think I countered with "I think you mean 804 lb." To me this guy is an 815 to 848 squatter just not currently doing the things in training that an 800+ squatter does. He is not eating the way an 800+ squatter does at age 48. His blood pressure and conditioning is not where it should be in my opinion. I think the training should be organized differently. He’s not thinking the way an 800+ squatter would be thinking. But I knew Ken was an 800+ squatter and during the warm ups all the way to the top set everyone in the room was thinking the same thing. Two of our female competitors, Elite Lifters Andrea Vitz and Denee Zah (both 500lbs squatters) saw it. As did Jeff Miller (1000+ squatter). In other words, we all held the higher belief or ‘vibration’ around Ken. This is because when we see someone who can learn like that and move like that, who isn't doing all the required training, we can confidently predict what the number should be based on the system that governs our training (the conjugate method). In short, Ken had to entrain to the frequency around him that created an expectation that was greater than what he walked in with. He became that which he was not before. As he was excited about the process and feeling rejuvenated at the prospect of new possibilities, he brought the energy that became synergistic with the energy in the room which amplified both waves (Constructive Interference). His focus, attention to detail and open mindedness allowed him to easily learn new ways of executing what he had been doing forever- in a matter of just minutes- using (Mirror Neurons). Too bad it was such a short visit. Ken was projecting something like an 1800lb total in the 105kg class. At Diablo, I realistically would see him with a 2200lb total based on my experience in helping to create that number in many other lifters. I hope you have enjoyed reading about these concepts, esoteric as they may have initially seemed to training.Ken saw and experienced a new potential. Here is the message I received from Ken upon his return home."Hey Ted, Andrea, guys, one of my lifters (from Finland) sent me the roster for the European Arnold. I had been going into this meet with no expectations for a lot of reasons. But something Ted said about taking on the champion’s mind set, coupled with the first really good squat session in a long time has gotten my head screwed on right. The rest of this cycle is going to be training to win. I can’t thank you guys enough for all the help and opening up your doors to me!"About The AuthorTed O'Neill is a sought after Strength Coach, Exercise Therapist, Life Coach, Relationship Coach and Business Consultant. His motto is "Every problem has a solution." As the Founder and Head Strength Coach at Diablo Barbell, he has developed 38 Elite Powerlifters and counting, 5 MMA World Champions, 3 National Wrestling Champions and successful athletes from many other sports. O'Neill is selectively available in any of the above listed professional capacities and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org