Brilliance in the Basics at 150 mph
At this point I was merely along for the ride. The needle swept past 140 mph and I found myself unsure of what to do other than hold on and do my best to not death grip the handlebars. God decided he wasn’t taking me that day. So I stayed in it. I wanted to hit 150 mph. We were on the “QE” coming out of Saint Catherines. Brian and Jeff were way ahead of me; I can only imagine the speeds they hit. It wasn’t the bike that had me nervous; she was rock solid. If not for the wind trying to blow me off the back of the motorcycle, and the warp speed-like blur that should have been the surrounding cars and buildings screaming past, I wouldn’t have been able to tell I was going that fast. It was realizing that I had no idea what to do if something went wrong. I was no longer in control, and I’m not a big fan of luck. As the speedo returned to sanity and I started breathing again, I heard the screaming inside my helmet. I was so happy to be alive. I felt like I had just walked up to a sleeping grizzly bear, kicked it in the ass, and lived to tell about it.
That was on my 1986 Suzuki GSXR-1100G. I bought it off of the original owner in bone stock condition and with 7000 miles on it. That bike turned the motorcycle world upside down. Essentially a race bike with headlights and street tires, if you added a number plate and some safety wire and you could hit the track and win. The world had not seen a street motorcycle so singularly focused on going fast. And fast it was. Humor me and note the following stats. With a professional rider it ran the ¼ mile in 10.5 sec, did 0-60mph in 2.8 sec, and stopped from 60 mph in 102 feet while weighting in at 502 pounds with a full tank of gas. It did all that without a single computer or piece of electronic wizardry to be found on it.
Fast forward 30 years. Hair lines may have receded but performance from today’s fastest machines should have moved forward. Have the last 30 years not brought us an influx of amazing technology without which none of us can live? While the “experts” would have you think so, reality says otherwise.
The 2017 model GSXR posted the following performance numbers. It ran the ¼ mile in 10.44 sec, did 0-60mph in 3 sec, stopped from 60 mph in 128 feet, while weighing 445 pounds with a full tank of gas.
Hold on a minute; those numbers are pretty damn close. The 2017 machine bested the ’86 in the quarter mile by a scant 16 hundredths of a second, but was 2 tenths of a second slower going to 60 mph, and took 26 more feet to come to stop from 60 mph. And it weighs 57 pounds less. This thing also sports fuel injection, variable-valve timing, computerized launch control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes (ABS), cornering ABS, electronically controlled shocks, a slipper clutch, drive by wire throttle, and a rear wheel lift mitigation system. Jesus, one needs an engineering degree to ride it.
That new machine sure does have lots of tasty sounding bits on it that just have to make you faster. But the data shows the only thing it does faster is take more of your money.
In 1986 a GSXR would set you back $5,399 or $12,638 in 2019 dollars. A new GSXR goes for $14,999. What does that extra $2,360 get you? Not much, but it does put a lot more of yourmoney in someone else’s pocket.
All of this got me thinking about all the fitness and health specialists selling their must-have “stuff”. Never before in the history of fitness have we ever been bombarded with more must-have services and crap. On-line coaches and internet experts that have the latest and greatest training programs that guarantee power, speed, and strength. Soft tissue work and adjustments that promise increased range of motion and pain free movement. Specialty tools and equipment that you absolutely can’t do without if you want to recover and to perform better. Deep freeze chambers, power tools for self-massage, fancy boots that circulate cold water around your legs, and the endless overpriced sneakers that hold the key to your victory. It’s not unlike all the new technology available on today’s motorcycles. An “expert” is selling it to us; it has to make us bigger, faster, and stronger, right?
I started doing some research. With all the internet experts and their advanced training techniques, the deluge of performance and recovery services, and the latest in fancy, high-tech equipment, surely our performance must be drastically improved. I looked at Olympic weightlifting records, since so much of what we do involves those lifts. I wanted to compare the records from 30 years ago with the records of today. Bouncing around the internet I found an informative post that compared the historic Olympic weightlifting records to the current records.
When I looked at the authors comparison between the historical records and today’s, not much has changed. He correctly points out that only 6 of the 16 records from 1973-1992 have been surpassed. Further, when I added up the S and C&J to get a total, in 5 of the 8 weight classes that I compared, the historic totals are still greater than current totals.
That can’t be right, can it? We have all these amazing experts, practitioners, techniques, fancy equipment, and services. Why are the records not being smashed with regularity? Because much like the high tech gizmos available on today’s motorcycles, the majority of what is being touted at “must-have” in the fitness industry is complete bullshit. Success, increasing performance, and smashing records comes down to the individual, their commitment, solid nutrition, and sound training.
If I want to go faster on a motorcycle, I’d have a far greater chance of success by investing all my time and energy into developing my fundamental riding skills, rather than spending another $2,600 for ABS, launch control, and gee-wiz computer gadgets.
The same holds true in training. In a recent interview, renowned high school and collegiate coach, Wil Fleming, gave training advice to coaches who want to improve their programming, saying:
“A common mistake is to ‘think outside the box’ with all these
funky exercise variations and whatever new programming approach is popular at the moment. But I’ve found that
what’s most effective resides firmly in the box. You’ve got
to get the basics down and do the fundamental work right.”
In that same interview, Sean Waxman, a coach with over 25 years of experience who has produced several elite weightlifters to include national medalists, Pan Am and World Championship team members, and CrossFit Games athletes, when asked what the most important part of training is, said:
“I’m a big believer in practicing perfectly. That’s not because
I’m a nitpicker, but rather that during the flow state of
competition you draw subconsciously on patterns that have
been grooved thousands of times. That’s why I encourage my
athletes to guard their technique and focus on sequencing,
speed, and tempo during every practice session. This doesn’t
only impact the quality of that day’s work, but also reinforces
good habits in the long run.”
Take a look at Rich Froning’s training, the greatest CrossFit athlete in the world, with 6 championships to his name. If there was ever a guy that must have exotic training and equipment it would be him.
I grabbed a random week of his training looking for trends and for all the fancy movements with high tech gear that he must surely use.
Turns out his training was pretty basic. Over the course of 7 days and 18 WODs he did the following:
-6 AMRAPS, around 15 -20 min and consisting of 3 movements.
-7 “Rounds For Time”, between 3 and 5 rds and all of them couplets.
-1 “Chipper for Time”
-3 “EMOMs”, most involving weightlifting and a second movement.
-2 weight training sessions, each focusing on a separate, single movement.
When I looked at the movements he trained, they were equally mundane.
He did MU 4 times. After Muscle Ups, the bulk of his training was made up of basic exercises. Power Cleans, Pull Ups, Push Ups, and Sit Ups were done more than anything else. Christ, the guy even did air squats in a WOD.
It isn’t a complicated training program, fancy equipment, or endless "niche" experts that brought him his success. It was his personal commitment, solid nutrition, and continually hammering on the basics - brilliance in the basics! The combination of the three allow him to train and compete with near super-human intensity levels.
In a similar vein, 3-times CrossFit Games Champion Tai Clair Toomey is pretty low speed when it comes to recovery. Her recovery advice is Barny-style simple.
1. Sleep. Strive for quality sleep and get as close to 8 hours a day as possible.
2. Nutrition. It must be locked on for adequate recovery. This means quality, quantity, timing, and macro-nutrient split.
3. Hydration. Drink water. Drink a lot of water all day. Drink more than you think you need.
4. Mobility. Be consistent with foam-rolling and self-massaging your muscles. Do both dynamic and static stretching for your joints, daily.
Wait, what? No drills with special attachments, cryo-freeze chambers, fancy ice water circulation boots, or compression socks? How can that be?
Your adrenals aren't blown. Your metabolism isn't dead. Your thyroid isn't malfunctioning. Stop eating poorly. Stop boozing it up. Get your ass into the gym, regularly. Embrace the basics: learn to squat, dead lift, and press with proficiency. Strive to be able to move your body through space, well, and continually improve your push up, pull up, and sit up. Increase your range of motion. Warm up thoroughly and cool down every time. Stretch daily. Get lots of sleep. Drink more water. Address your weaknesses with focus and consistency. Concentrate on moving correctly rather than on how much weight you are moving. Pay attention to progress rather than achievements. You don't need fancy shoes. You don't need a complicated training program. There are no magic pills. There is no 30 day plan to salvation. There are no internet experts to make you a better version of yourself.
There is only you and your commitment. All the fancy equipment, high-speed recovery techniques, and health practitioners in the world can't replace your commitment to brilliance in the basics.
I still have my 1986 GSXR. She is brilliantly basic just like my training.