Thursday, April 30, 2015

On getting fatter (yup, you read that right): the advantages of unadulterated mass

Recently a friend directed my attention towards what he thought must surely be a typo in the post where I announced I was finishing maximal strength training to reorient my training towards shot putting (intensification mode), as at the end of the first paragraph it could be read my next training block would focus on “speed and explosiveness, and getting as fat as possible”, Sure, he thought, I meant “getting as fast as possible”, as nobody in his right mind would, in this “image culture” we live in, pretend to gain weight unless he were in dire risk of malnourishment and about to die of hunger (either after a bout of anorexia or just being rescued from a Somali prisoner camp).   

Well, I’ll share with you what I shared with him, as for reasons that will become apparent (and which will allow me to show some original artwork by yours truly, as many readers think my drawing abilities do not go any further than the stick figures I used in my analysis of the poser clean last year). There was no typo, and I really intend to gain some weight, and I do not give a damn how that affects my overall look.

First with the reasons for weighting more. Since I was a very young shot putter, being not specially big (fat), I have noticed the fatter throwers tend to do better, even when being distinctly weaker (as measured, for example, by how much they bench press). The conservation of momentum (also known as Newton’s first law, or “the principle of action and reaction”) niftily explains why: if we consider the thrower and the shot at rest, their momentum is zero. After the shot separates from the thrower, it has acquired a momentum that equals the product of its mass (16 pounds for the competition shot, 14 pounds for the masters' –above 50- I’m training with) by its velocity (let us call it v, non-capital). Now, as momentum can not appear from nowhere, the momentum acquired by the shot must be equal (and of opposite direction, momentum being a vectorial magnitude) to the momentum “lost” (or gained in that opposite direction) by the thrower, which in turn equals the mass of the thrower (a paltry 94 kilograms, or 207 pounds) by his velocity. The velocity of the thrower is damn hard to increase, and essentially is limited by how fast his muscles can contract (and the lever system formed by those bones involved in the throw, which we can assume are all and every single bone between the little toe and the upper cranium). Bone length (and muscle insertion points) can not change, and the speed at which muscles contract is largely genetic and, again, darned difficult to improve, so for the duration of a training cycle it is safe to consider it constant.

The length of the put (how far the shot goes), in turn, is dictated by the height from which it is launched (again, given a certain technique, which in my particular case is refined enough not to tinker with it, a constant), the angle (equally constant for a refined technique, around 36-39º above the horizontal) and the speed. Bingo! We have the variable we can more easily influence to launch farther: more speed, more length traveled until the shot hits the ground. Now, given the previously mentioned conservation of momentum, the momentum of the shot will be equal to the momentum of the thrower (in this case, me), which can be expressed as:

M * V = m * v

Where M is my mass (94 kilos)
V is the velocity with which I move backwards (and downwards) after launching the shot (for simplicity’s sake let’s say it’s 0,71 m/s)
M is the mass of the shot (7.257 kilograms, or 16 pounds)
v is the velocity of the shot (unknown)

So:                                                             v = V * M / m = 9.2 m/s

If we assume the shot is launched at a height of about 1.82 m (6 feet) which is roughly my height (it separates from the hand when the arm is fully extended and the hand is a tad above forehead level), that speed should take it slightly above 10 m, which roughly sounds about right (I hope to be above 12 meters now, hopefully above 13 and inching towards 14, but I haven’t measured properly yet, so this sounds we are still roughly in the ballpark)

By the way, if you want to know where the 10 m comes from (and also learn a bit about shot putting mechanics) I can not recommend highly enough this (relatively) recent article, where they also explain why the optimal angle is the aforementioned 36-39º instead of 45º, which is the standard optimal angle for ballistic movements: biomechanics of shot putting

Given that you can not modify the shot’s mass (its regulated and checked by the judges in every competition), and the recoil speed is the darnedest thing to improve (although I also try, hence all the sprinting, jumping, skipping and whatnot I do these days), let’s have a look at what would happen if, keeping both magnitudes constant, I just gained 5 kg; for starters, the speed at which the shot leaves the hand would become:

                                                                      V = 9.7 m/s

So those extra 5 kgs on my frame give me almost half a meter per second additional speed of the shot. Now let’s look at how further that means the shot will fly: 11.21 m!!! or almost 1.2 meters more, an improvement above 10%.

I could even fantasize with gaining 10 kg (which would put me in a far chubbier category), which, everything else being equal, would allow me to send the shot close to the 13 m mark without having to gain a iota of speed.

Going from a relatively lean 94 kg to 104 is no small potatoes, specially with an active lifestyle which includes the real deal when it comes to keeping weight off (heavy barbell training). I would need to stuff myself with the most calorically dense foods I could find, as many times a day as I could, and that is not something I want realistically to do (also, the effects of such overstuffing in other health indicators, from heart condition to joints and mobility, are too steep). I already had to fight an uphill battle to go from a somewhat scrawny 89-90 kg a year ago to my current 94, and I do not really feel like fighting it again.

I can now hear you crying: but what about the abz, Vintage! Having visible abs is the be all, end all of every fitness enthusiast these days, and nobody in his (even more her) right mind would risk hiding them under an unsightly layer of disgusting blob… Well, I will let you in a little secret that may save you from years of unnecessary slaving in the gym: the ladies just don’t care that much about abs (or about physical appearance, for that matter), and we guys are looking more and more like a bunch of obsessive compulsive morons fretting incessantly about the size, striations and vascularity of our muscles, which happen to attract the attention exactly of the 0.0001% of the population that attend regularly to the gym for similar pursuits (overwhelmingly composed by other males, btw, so not much for a heterosexual there to look after). I know, I know, young girls have already been educated in the lies of the fitness industry magazines (another piece of shocking news: those magazines are not paid by the cover price the readers disburse –that doesn’t even meet the distribution costs- but by the supplement industry which uses them as advertising channels to convince the unsuspecting public they would be better off consuming every kind of useless snake oil) and surely they appreciate a well-toned, slim manly body.

Let me put it in graphical terms, then (which doesn't mean I'm going to recur to profanities, but that I'm going to do some drawings to illustrate my point). Every slob that starts lifting and reaches a minimal level of proficiency (let’s say being able to squat with a weight equal to his body’s on his back, deadlift a tad above that and bench press three quarters of it) automatically starts seeing himself in the mirror like this:

It may be a case of mild vigorexy, the effect of additional testosterone in his bloodstream or the psychological impact of feeling able to better move and keep and upright posture, but that is not really how he has started to llok like; that same lad, with that modest level of achievement, is rather seen like that by the opposite sex (and by the discerning members of his own sex):

Bummer! You may say. But probably it’s because the numbers he has put up are not that impressive in the first place, and moving such lowly weights is not conductive to some serious muscular development. So you decide to embark on a longer, more serious journey of physical improvement where you increase day by day the weights you lift, and judiciously adjust the sets and reps and auxiliary exercises after the first linear gains have been exhausted to keep progressing no matter what. So after slaving it for a few years (forget about months, every program that tries to sell you noticeable body composition improvements in a few months is blatantly lying) you get to move some respectable weights: twice you bodyweight in the squat, twice and a half in the deadlift and one and a half in the bench press. Now you have some noticeable muscle in place, and if you have eaten judiciously and kept your body fat percentage below 20% (which shouldn’t be that difficult) you may be objectively getting closer and closer to our first figure (however, if it is visible abs you want the body fat has to drop below 10%, which is an order of magnitude tougher and not that healthy to begin with). However, and here comes the bad news, this is still not how the ladies are going to see you now. The feminine sex has a particular distortion in their visual organs (aka eyes) that makes them perceive most muscular males under this guise:

So it’s a heads you win, tails I loose proposition. If you are in the iron game to impress the opposite sex, you are always going to get caught between the Scylla of wimpy and the Charybdis of beast (like in beauty and the same, but without turning into a charming prince at the end). How do I know? When I was in what I considered to be the best shape of my life my own mother told me that with that broad back, protruding traps and bulging biceps I looked “gross and unbecoming”… if even a mother’s love can’t see through a moderate layer of muscle, do not even dream that the amused look of the chick in the treadmill when you proudly display your physique in the gym betrays any kind of sexual interest, but rather is a sign of her judgemental opinion of you being probably vain, shallow, self-centered and most likely uninteresting. And loose any fear of hiding those hard gained abs, nobody gives a damn about them anyway.

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