Beer has typically gotten a bad rap in the health and fitness industry. Outside of a few studies that show one beer a day can keep blood pressure down, it is generally accepted advice that one should not drink beer and expect to gain strength, lose fat, and add muscle.
However, beer has done so much for the world. In fact, it kept the human race alive during the plague. People who drank water were dying left and right, but those who passed on the water and chugged ale were just fine. The reason for this is that the water used in beer is boiled, but during the plague, they didn’t know that. All they knew was that the beer was keeping them alive.
And scotch, wow! Scotch changed the strength and conditioning world. Caledonian clubs were the first forms of strength training and the origins of this training centered around a bunch of large drunk clansmen saying, “Hey, watch this!” and throwing heavy stuff as far and as high as possible.
If you don’t believe me check out this in depth analysis on Highland Games by Jeremy P. Smurr.
When I was in college, I was a typical deviant young adult. I lifted really heavy shit, ate tons of chicken and tuna out of a can, and yes even indulged in the occasional adult beverage. Who am I kidding? I did my fair share of binge drinking. Now that I have lived to tell about it, I would like to tell you of three encounters with beer in hand that changed my views as a strength coach.
Keep in mind, when I was a senior in college there was this brand new thing out called Facebook; which was only available to college students. YouTube was not a household name. Cell phones did not have video capability and we were still paying to use them by minutes.
So there I was, 3 a.m., Labamba’s burrito in one hand and Mickey’s 40 oz. malt liquor in the other hand. This was my idea of a nightcap. Technology sucked at the time so I turned on the big boxy TV which had been left on CNN. I couldn’t find the remote so I continued to watch CNN as I downed my burrito and malted liquor.
This moment had a profound effect on how I looked at strength training. As I sat there the CNN anchor told a story that really made my jaw drop. The title of the story was: A 125 lb. soccer mom of three lifts mini-van off of toddler. Turns out, someone had backed over her toddler’s leg without realizing it. The soccer mom picked up the back end of this van and pulled her kid out.
Now I know you are thinking, “So what?” The front end of a van is the heavy part, right? That is what you were thinking; isn’t it?
Well, what about the fact that the mini-van is 200 times the weight of this woman who has never touched a weight in her life?
Fortunately for me, I had my physiology lab on Monday. I found a written copy of this story online and took it to the professor. She then explained to me that humans have the capacity to produce somewhere around 2,000 lbs. of force, or enough to lift about one metric ton.
She then went on to tell me that producing maximum force primarily has to do with removing inhibitions. She then provided this analogy, “You know, like when you give a girl a beer at a party hoping it will get you laid.” My jaw hit the desk. I couldn’t believe my professor had just used that analogy.
“Did I hear you correctly? Humans have the ability to lift a literal ton of weight?” I asked my professor. She concurred, and then reexplained the phenomena and once again compared it to getting laid. My mind was blown on so many levels. That day my CNS fascination started and continues to this day.
My professor made it seem so easy. If you can just remove inhibitions you can be as strong as my all time favorite strength athlete: ‘The Incredible Hulk”. My mind was blown once again!
From that point on, I have always viewed strength training as subtraction. Where most coaches are trying to give athletes strength, I am trying to take away things that are preventing them from being as strong as they are capable of being.
If humans have the ability to produce 2,000 lbs. of force, why do I need to add to it? It seems to me I just need to unlock it. Simply put, I just try to get athletes to take the brake off.
Train Like a SEAL
During the course of my training I met a former Navy seal. Having served our country already, he was older, seemed wiser, and would entertain me with SEAL stories. Oh, and by the way he was huge. He looked like the Rock before the Rock was the Rock, I am sure he had a Mexico City supply of supplements coming his way. But, because he was the biggest guy at the gym, he was automatically the expert in all things strength.
One day, he told me how when he was in the Navy they would train really hard then go to the local Irish pub, down a bunch of Guinness, and so much meat that the Vikings would be disgusted.
I will give you one guess what my diet consisted of for the next year. And guess what, all that canned tuna and Guinness helped me start packing on the pounds. And no, they were not all rock solid but I didn’t care, I liked being 250 pounds with big traps and an even bigger dead lift.
What this taught me was balance. I made a ton of strength gains, weight gains, and yes even lost some fat. It was not due to the clean eating, but rather the balance in my life. I may have been drinking too much, but I was lifting all the time and this provided balance believe it or not. The motto, “lift hard play hard” definitely applied to me. I wouldn’t suggest someone train as much as I did, or drink as much as I did, but rather I would like to drill home the point of balance.
I don’t know if any of you have been paying attention to the Rock, but there was a twitter pic of him eating like 50,000 calories or something crazy like that. Yet, he is still jacked, ripped, shredded, or whatever descriptive word you would like to use.
There is an equal amount of content on the web chronicling how dedicated to training the Rock is. The guy trains like a mad man.
Looking back on it, my life was actually pretty well balanced between work and play. The beer didn’t make me fat because I was always lifting heavy stuff. Just like 50,000 calories of pizza does nothing to make the Rock pudgy.
Of course, in a college town you are not going to drink alone. I always had plenty of friends around and plenty of laughs. I was really laid back, maybe too laid back for my parents’ liking, but nonetheless life was good.
Everyone reading this take note. When in your life have you been able to train twice a day, drink a beer most nights of the week, and read books for fun? Honestly, being a student is the most well-balanced life many people ever live. It is filled with fun, carefree social engagement, thought-provoking discussions, and if done correctly moving tons of weight.
Training ‘til You Puke
The final way beer has changed my training life actually involved only a miniscule amount of consumption. I did, however; learn this lesson just after college.
I must admit here to the world of the interwebz, there was a time in my life I intentionally trained people to the point of vomiting.
However, this changed with one simple analogy. I was at a conference and as many of you know, the best stuff is acquired at the dinner and drinks portions of these get-togethers.
One way or another the subject of training until puking was brought up. One “expert” who I really admired was the first person I had ever spoken to that said training to induce vomiting is just plain stupid. He followed by saying all you are doing is giving the body too great of a stimulus, one it cannot handle, and will not easily recover from.
He then went on to compare it to drinking alcohol. The analogy went something like this. If you drink just a little bit you don’t even notice the effects. If you drink just the right amount you feel great while drinking and fine the next day. You are essentially fully recovered. However, if you drink too much, to the point of vomit, you feel terrible and take a really long time to recover.
It may sound silly, but that made me really reevaluate the intensity of the training stimulus I prescribed for my athletes and clients.
The Final Word
I am not suggesting everyone start drinking beer. Of course Force Barbell doesn’t condone irresponsible consumption of adult beverages.
Rather, my advice is to lighten up a bit. Have a pint, train heavy, laugh and love with your friends and family. And you never know, in those moments where your guard is down and you are expecting nothing, you just might find something truly awesome.
Live Light, Lift Heavy