Moontower #13


Ten years ago when I lived in Long Island City I discovered Crossfit. It maintains cult-like elements which allowed it to spread virally. If you have ever met an apostle who was still in the indoctrination phase you might have AMRAP’d your eye-rolling muscles. You could have done worse than snuck ketchup on their non-grass-fed burger. One thing you didn’t get to do, is get a word in during a conversation with a newly-converted. Blah, blah, WOD, RX, blah. My favorite parody of it never fails to amuse me.

Now for all the great comedic material its beacon generated, Crossfit did repackage and admirably bring awareness to timeless principles like functional fitness and eating real, unprocessed food. It’s rise coincided with the growth of Netflix health documentaries and Facebook. The influence of Crossfit can be seen almost everywhere. Many gyms and trainers are white-labeling Crossfit practices, creating unbranded classes and camaraderie with a mission of having members push one another to look and feel better,

Yinh and I were heavily influenced by our coach Vadim Noskov. I could say a lot about him but just imagine the respected people in your life who were wholly devoted to their craft, unyielding in their approach, and, yet, as teachers made you feel that helping you was the reason they woke up in the morning. That is Vadim. (He has no idea I’m writing this and I haven’t done more than exchange FB birthday greetings since I left NYC in 2012). One of the lessons that stuck with me occurred when a student asked if they could wear gloves during a pullup-heavy workout. While calloused hands were a CF badge of honor, Vadim’s objection to gloves wasn’t about some fleeting totem. Vadim replied, “If you were hiking on a ledge and slipped and had to catch yourself, would you be wearing gloves?”. Whoa, calm down, Rambo, it’s just pull-ups.


It’s not just pull-ups. The reason Vadim’s Socratic nudge sticks in my head didn’t crystallize until years later. It’s not just about preparation in the Boy-Scout sense of the word. It’s about preparing so that you are confident in your own flexibility. It’s not about “just-in-case”. It’s about, “the thing to expect is the unexpected”. The framing is subtle. I don’t assume X most of the time and have simple fallbacks in case of Y. It’s being ok that I don’t have a great sense of what the Xs are. And I’m at peace with that because my default value is pure flexibility. (I’m not pretending I live up to this btw).

I’ll give 2 examples

  • I have been intermittent fasting for 2 years. More cult-stuff. I was hardcore paleo for 7 years so we’ll see how long this fasting thing goes. I read Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat which gives a comprehensive survey of the research around IF. It’s my go-to rec for people interested in the topic. I’m not going to go into all the purported benefits. The truth is I don’t do it for the advertised benefits, many of which, I think, are speculative. Like most health ideas in the 20% bucket of the 80/20 rule, the signal to noise ratio is invisibly small. So why do I bother to fast 18 hours a day most days and 24 hours every 2 weeks? Because it’s empowering to discover a truth that you guys will vehemently deny. You have never felt biological hunger. I know you have used hunger as an excuse. “I can’t think right now”. “I can’t work out right now”. Your hunger is and always was psychological and associative. Biological hunger takes several days before it comes knocking. If you get in the habit of fasting, you will discover this on your own. And then you are free. Liberated from ever using hunger as an excuse. If fasting has physical benefits then that’s a bonus, but I’m more than satisfied with the unintended psychic benefit. The cold acclimation crowd will tell you a similar story.
  • Recently, I went to a strength coach who specializes in Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength approach to powerlifting. I’ve always leaned towards compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, but I wanted a proper form refresher. After all, injury is the most looming risk to being consistent. Coach Jeremy Tully at Bay Strength in Berkeley (who Yinh and I would both highly recommend) introduced me to the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale. The scale asks the user to handicap how many reps they have left in the tank for a given weight. So a typical workout might say do 3 sets of squats where the first set you use a weight that you could have done for 3 more reps, the second set choose a weight where you’d leave 2 reps in the tank and the final set, a weight that leaves just a single rep in reserve. This is fairly easy to calibrate (a handy input is how your rep speeds slow or not as you approach the end of a set). Contrast this to a workout that prescribes the weights explicitly. If you have a poor night’s sleep or eat poorly you may intentionally avoid the gym because you’re discouraged by the prospect of falling short of the prescribed weights. But when you use the RPE scale it allows you to adapt the weight to whether you are having a strong day or a weak day. The system’s design recognizes that no single day’s performance is important but it’s more crucial to go to the gym and be consistent. The good days and bad days will vary but the goal is to have the trend ‘up and to the right’. The RPE system gives you the mental permission to try without the tyranny of a minimum required score, which might otherwise have deterred you from the main goal — showing up. This little mental shift has reduced the pressure of workouts which means less workout anxiety and more consistency.

Vadim’s rhetorical question, fasting, and the RPE scale all defang your future excuses by liberating you from self-imposed psychic limitations. These little mind damns are blocking the flow of your progress by trapping you in stagnant pools of repetitive thoughts. This is a reminder that your biological ceilings are far taller than the imaginary ones you’ve trapped yourselves within.

(If you are near Montclair, NJ Vadim is at Noskov Fitness)

Climb Higher

  • Sticking with health a bit more, these podcast notes really resonated with me and form the 80% of a health 80/20 rule. Some of my favorite reminders:
    • Learn to associate food with its health benefitsBecome aware of all the things food provides for you aside from just the taste of it
    • Treat exercise like a skill. Go to the gym to “practice squatting”, “practice deadlifting” etc.
    • To lose weight – you want your metabolism to speed up. Nothing speeds up the metabolism or gets your body to burn more calories naturally like resistance training.
    • The best diet/workout program/etc. is the one you actually stick to
  • Twitter Hack: Tweetstorms are strings of tweets in succession (a single tweet is limited to 280 characters) usually explaining some concept. They are a class of content unto themselves, many of which would hold their own as blog posts or articles. The downside of linking to a Tweetstorm is that it’s not a single article. I use  to unroll a tweetstorm. To do that simply create an account and when you see a tweetstorm you like, simply reply to it with “@threader_app compile”. Once you do that, you will see that thread in your account as a post. I quickly used this technique to capture and highlight Erik Torenberg’s 29 tweet summary of George Gilder’s treatise on capitalism Knowledge and Power.

Last Call

  • Discover the most popular person in your town or where you grew up.
  • This online service helps you evaluate the value proposition of specific colleges.
  • Find “rapidly growing Google search topics – so you can find the next big thing!”
  • Instagram and a growing global middle class are causing a tourist crisis at famous landmarks.
  • Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul thinks buying a house is overrated. The thread should comfort renters. I agree with Jesse Pinkman.
  • Imagine a mother of eight having lunch with a new parent only to have the new parent lecture her on the importance of giving coconut milk to babies or gender-zero birth certificates. Matt Levine comically describes the investing equivalent happening to Warren Buffet.

From my actual life 

  • Zak finished kindergarten on Thursday so summer has officially started in our household. It’s always my favorite time of year even if it’s expected to be 102 degrees here today as I write this Sunday morning. Our school district for the first time will start school in the second week of August, so I expect summer to fly by even more than in the past. The reason for the schedule change, from my admittedly limited understanding, is to lengthen the portion of the school year preceding the state’s standardized tests. In other words, an attempt to artificially boost our district’s scores. SMH. I’ll keep the rant as an inner monologue.

Most importantly, happy start of summer to all of you!

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