Intentional Community from Now What?

I’m sure all of us have this issue some days: today, I had NO interest in training. My gym, which serves the dual purpose of being a two-car garage, was nine degrees. Alice Lopez always gives us the temperature in Celsius and when she says it is “minus whatever,” it doesn’t make me excited to train.


It had been a long night with travel and a cough that only found itself just as I nodded off. No, I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to train.


But, it didn’t matter. Why? One of my greatest training tricks and tips is this: I have an Intentional Community. Sure, all of us know about training partners and the great ones in history from Arnold and Franco have always nodded to their training partner as a “secret to success.”

ICs are a bit bigger and deeper than training partners. First, it involves a lot more people. Each of us brings something and, honestly, the most important gift is “showing up.” Second, an Intentional Community is always welcoming more people to join in the fun.


Frankly, it is the new people who provide some much of the direction. Most of us in our current group have been training over a decade. Now, that is great, congratulations and cigars to all of you.


The downside of training so long is that one can easily forget the path. When a new person joins our group, we ask them simply: “what do you want to work on?” The answer can transform the next few weeks of training. Many people really want to learn and master the squat, but years of office work or poor training has made the basic movement either unwatchable or dangerous.


So, we all step in with our gifts. Sam Halpern is a physical therapist and might note that the person needs some of this corrective or stretch. Marc, her husband and nutritionist, might add several points about the basics of good habits that extend well beyond today’s workout. Mike Brown might then take the person aside and find the right regression for the squat from rocking on the floor to holding on to the pole and squatting that clears things up. And, this is just a typical day.


All of this can be done between sets of our lifting and general training. Very often, most of us will be doing the correctives and regressions that the newbie is doing because, simply, it is really a good idea.


Intentional Community training also has another boon: I have a lot of experience in the weightroom, but sometimes I am grouchy and tired. What I need to the youth and energy from my group to get my engine started. I like to offer them in return some positive feedback, some corrections and a general sense of “this all is okay.”


Originally, my first group started when I moved to California. Dan Martin, an East Bay firefighter, asked if we could get together some time and train. While the movers were unpacking boxes, I drove down to Coyote Point and we started a group. Between piles of goose poop, we stretched, strained and trained. We only met once a week, but all of us looked forward to that session.


When I returned to Utah, a group of young guys from the university asked if they could train with me twice a week. Soon, it was three. Now, it is five.


When I visit my doctor, he asked me if I trained. I said: “at least an hour plus a day.” He remarked: “I have to admire your discipline.” I was honest with him: I only get out of bed because there will be people showing up at my door waiting to train.


Intentional Communities also offer an additional advantage to those of us living (and often suffering) through the Information age: you get a chance to hear summaries of blogs, books, articles and movies throughout the training session. A typical day:


“Did you read that article on training adductors on website x? What a waste.” Mental note: don’t read it.


“This new book on habits and training is well worth a read.” Borrow it.


“I can’t believe how good this movie X is…I was stunned.” Might be worth a view.


Since we are all internet savvy and interested in the best and brightest tools for fitness, health, longevity and performance, we can share ideas across the whole swath of media, then get back to the squat rack.


I have been lifting since 1965 and, yes, you read that right. That’s a lot of six-week programs and crazy ideas and bad decisions. Of all the things I have done, NOTHING compares to the quality of having an IC.


Are there problems? Sure, a common one is this: we have some people training, for example, for a Kettlebell cert while these guys here are doing Mass Made Simple. I might simply be doing a 21-day challenge of this kind or that. So, we have to insure the equipment gets used in some kind of order. The upside is that most of us have squirreled away a few extra straps, bands, bells or wheels in our homes so we fix it by tossing more stuff in the pot.


My friend, Dan Martin, calls this concept “Virtual Stone Soup.” I realize now that most people don’t know this fine story, so here is a bland example:


“Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. The travelers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with just a little bit of carrot to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.”


Our communal training sessions are of this variety. We all bring tools from equipment to life experiences to sandwiches. We gather and train, work on issues and improve a little. We fall in love again with movement and muscle. We reignite our passion for “all of this.”


I have been training groups for so long that sometimes I ignore basic principles that I learned the hard way years ago. One of the keys to working in a group, especially in something physical, is to understand that you, and perhaps this is even literally true, become part of an organism. A group becomes a living being. You may have found yourself running “gassers” in a sport and realized that there is no way you would ever put yourself through this crap.


That’s why group training has such a big impact on your long-term success: you do things you might NOT do, even with the best intentions. And, we humans have this odd ability to handle more suffering if we do it in a group. Moreover, it also seems more fun. I have had people vomit on my shoes and tell me “thank you” for the opportunity to do the work.


For the record, today was one of the best workouts of my life.

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