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The game of Survivor. Yes, I’m speaking of the television series. I am not ashamed to admit that watching the show is a guilty pleasure for my wife and I. If you haven’t watched it I recommend giving it a shot. It is like a living, breathing version of Facebook. If duck lips; open ended, cryptic pleas for help; and narcissism had legs Survivor would be its stomping grounds. It has been on for over 15 years and season after season places on display for the viewer myriad cards and characters of all persuasions. As disparate in appearance, background, and experience each of the contestants are, the show never fails to produce the same basic array of train wrecks. Without a doubt, you can find a version of each in any gym into which you might walk. And, at some point in my fitness journey I have been each one of them.

Here are the top 4 survivor train wrecks you do not want to emulate.

#4 – The Dehydration Guy

It never fails. At least one of them didn’t get the memo regarding the absolute necessity of water consumption. Male and female, big and small, young and old, the faces change but the result is always the same. One of them fails to consume enough water while continuing to push themselves, physically. In less time than it takes for a politician to change their mind they drop from dehydration.

92% of our blood, 22% of our bones, and 75% of our muscles and brain are water. Overall, it makes up approximately 75% of our mass. If you want to perform at the caliber you expect of yourself you must stay hydrated. Athletic performance starts to decrease noticeably with only a 2% of body weight loss of water. When looking at high intensity exercise (the stuff we do) performance decreases by 45% when dehydrated by only 2.5% of body weight. To put that in perspective for you for the average athlete that means being down 1 to 1.5 quarts of water. Trust me, many of you are sweating out that much in one 60-minute training session.

While I have certainly trained on days where I was a bit low on water, my time in the Marines quickly cured my of any habitual hydration issues. The Corps was pretty damn good about that. We were on a 20 miler in full kit. Most Marines were carrying 70+ pounds of gear. The North Carolina sun was in full effect and the humidity along the coastline was stifling. One of my Marines failed to adequately hydrate prior to the stepping off on the conditioning march. He was no longer able to keep up. In no time my First Sergeant had him on a stretcher and being carried by his fellow Marines of the same rank. Not bad for my young war-fighter, right? However, my First Sergeant, being a leader deeply concerned for the welfare of my Marines, needed to ensure that my devil dog was on the mend. At every halt he had our corpsman check his core temperature the most accurate way known, rectally. Trust me when I tell you the good ‘ol silver bullet convinced my Marine the value of staying hydrated. Drink water!

#3 – The Poor Nutrition Guy

Only slightly less annoying than the dehydration guy, the nutrition guy is the one who fails to consume food. Be it their highly refined pallet that precludes them from indulging on the local “mush” for the season, or their sheer ignorance of the ramifications of not consuming enough calories, every season has one. The drama that ensues from their malnourishment is always over the top and is as irritating as Obama’s foreign policy.

The necessity of eating to perform well is nothing new. It’s not good enough to eat unprocessed foods and hope for the best. Athletes must eat protein, carbohydrates, and fats in the correct proportions. In addition to the specific function each of the macronutrients serve, all of them are important sources of energy. Carbs are our most easily used, but least efficient energy source while fat is our slowest source of energy, but the most efficient. Protein is right in the middle between carbs and fats. We preach and live by the block system of nutrition (1 block of carbs = 9 grams, 1 block of protein = 7 grams, 1 block of fat = 1.5 grams). Do the simple math and it is easy to see that one should comprise 45-50% of their calories from carbs, 30-35% from protein, and 15-20% from fats. Doing so supports an active metabolism and thyroid health, healthy brain function, robust hormone production. Remember, anything put in the face, when not used immediately as fuel or used to build something, gets stored as fat. Humans are not able to store a lot of carbs and the body simply doesn’t store unused protein. That is one of the reasons athletes need to eat more protein and carbs than fats (that, and its higher caloric value). They both get used quickly. We store fat. If you are anything like me, you are really good at it. Therefore you don’t need to eat as much of it.

On my final deployment I found myself in Iraq for a second time. I was advising General Hatem of the famed 14th Iraqi Brigade. We spent many days together going from village to village, visiting the local populations in order to establish a coalition presence in what was most definitely bad guy country. General Hatem was a well-liked figure, and he liked to “show off” his Marine counterpart. Everywhere we went the local sheik would prepare a special meal for us. They highly respected Marines (rightly so) and sparred no effort to provide us with Pacha. Pasha is a sheep head, and I’m not referring to the fresh water fish. It is a whole, boiled sheep head with a full compliment of teeth, tongue, eyeballs, and brain. Once I got used to the grinding of my teeth against bone as I gnawed on the skull to rip off a slab of its fatty, rubber-like scalp, it became pretty palatable. The problem was the quantity. I was a 200+ lean, mean killing machine. I needed more food than a set of sheep lips and scalp provided. Carbohydrates and fats abound, it was the protein I was having a hard time getting enough of and I was paying for it physically. I quickly learned to ensure I had enough extra chow with me to balance out my meals properly so that I could perform well all day.

#2 – The Overconfident Guy

Every season there are a few players that think they are in control of the game. The more confident they are the more likely it is that they are the ones getting tossed as they are completely clueless about the lay of the land. It is humorous to listen to their supreme confidence at tribal counsel only to see their look of utter disbelief and confusion as they realize that the ringing in their ears truly is their own name being called.

It can be tempting to place greater emphasis on how much weight is on the bar rather than focusing on the mechanics and full range of motion of the lift. As ROM decreases the amount and quality of work being done plummets. Performance begins to take a nosedive. The lure of a heavier kettle bell, “because the other guy is”, clouds the judgment and has left many an athlete with a screaming lower back.

We were heading up to Canada for a tournament. I was on a hell of a winning streak. I was certain that I was the next light heavyweight champion of the world. Victories were coming by plenty of unanimous decisions and TKO’s. I trained with just a little less hunger, with just a little less desperation to be the best. I was no longer as intently focused on the quality of my training as I was with just showing up to put the time in. Regardless, I stood by my record. “It had to count for something”, I told myself. The stinging loss and shattered ego told me otherwise and reminded me that where the ego and reality fail to meet, disaster lays in wait. It didn’t take a second loss to get me back on track. That lesson has remained. I keep my ego in check, and I ensure that I am in tune with how my body is performing. Not everyday is going to be my best day. I have learned to train around those days.

#1 – The I Can’t Build a Fire Guy

In the game, Survivor, contestants are sent out into the wild with zero equipment and are expected to survive, unassisted, for 39 days. One would think after 15 years of this show being on that players would spend time perfecting things such primitive fire making skills prior to their departure. Amazingly, the majority does not. How that is possible, I often find myself thinking? Within days of their arrival they either turn into a useless heap due to massive dehydration or begin soiling themselves nonstop after being dumb enough to drink contaminated water. Both cases are equally satisfying to watch. Still, it begs the question, who voluntarily walks into the wild without being prepared? It is the same person that continues to perform movements with weights that far exceed their skill level.

It was 1997. I had completed my 5th (of 8 total) marathons and decided that it was time to do a triathlon. I hadn’t been in a pool in at least 10 years. I dove in for a few laps and confirmed that I didn’t drown. Knowing I was able to swim and perfectly happy with my stroke I was no longer concerned with the water portion; it was a sprint triathlon. I had only 750m of pristine Lake Erie water to navigate. It would be easy. It wasn’t an open water swim. The morning of the triathlon came and the sky was angry and grey; the beautiful and pristine waters of the mighty Erie were even more so. I don’t know how much time had gone by. I was dizzy from getting punched in the face with wave after wave and I was on the verge of vomiting from swallowing so much of Lake Erie’s giardia infested waters when I heard someone calling to me. I was hoping that I was heading in the right direction, had no real idea of where I was, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see anyone else. Frankly, I was surprised I was that far out in front of everyone. “Get in the boat”, I thought I heard someone shout from afar. I kept swimming. “Hey man, get in the boat, we are here to help you.” I picked up my pace and continued to make great progress going nowhere. “Hey buddy get in the boat” was shouted next. Splash – the lifesaver smacked loudly upon the choppy waters landing inches from my mouth, agape, through which I was searching for breath. I slowed my blistering pace in order to find out the reason they were trying to interfere with my swim when I was doing so well. “Come on man, we are going to bring you ashore.” “What are you talking about?” I gasped. The explained to me that I was actually heading in the wrong direction and that it looked like I needed help. I was flailing around in the water so violently, they explained, that it looked like I was drowning. That, and the fact I was headed in the wrong direction. They didn’t think they were going to get to me in time. After making it quite clear that if they tried taking me out of the water they, too, were going to need rescuing, and then convincing them to show me which way to the beach, I made it to shore; the third to last one out of the water. The bike portion (which I did on a steel-framed Diamond Back mountain bike with 2.75” knobby tires and bull bars) and the 5k run both treated me much better. I ended up with a decent top 10 finish for my age group.

In truth, I was lucky I didn’t drown. What the hell was I thinking doing a triathlon without improving my swimming technique? That experience made an impact on me. I joined a swim club and worked hard swimming 3 x week for 3 months. In my next sprint triathlon I took third overall and won my age group. The lesson is simple. Much like Survivor, if you want to turn up the heat you better be able to make a damn fire. If not, injury will pull you from your next challenge.

Dehydration Guy, Poor Nutrition Guy, Overconfident Guy, and Can’t Make a Fire Guy, I have been all four of them. Thankfully my stupidity came at a low cost while still teaching me valuable lessons. I challenge everyone reading this to do some introspection and determine if you are emulating any of the Survivor train wrecks. If you are, take steps to make the changes necessary. Sometimes a little education and effort is all that is needed. Often, it requires a more concerted and deliberate fight to place the ego in check, humble oneself a bit, and get back to basics. We are all in this for the long haul. Quality of movement is always of more importance than the quantity of what is moved. The moment one looses sight of that one gets reminded, very painfully, that injury gets a vote. Don’t let yourself get voted off the island.

Semper Fi, Coach Robby


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