Meet The Newer Avocado – Part I: My Sob Story

In this first post of a series of 3, I share my sob story and my plan for rebooting this website. (Around 1.400 words, estimated reading time: about 7 min.)

I am the older and uglier avocado (MCU joke: check). I’m an academic philosopher by education, a wannabe cognitive scientist by circumstances, and an amateur competitive girevik by taste.

A couple of years ago, when my academic research was footing the bills, I began to blog about fitness on the side. Then academic research was not footing the bills anymore and I started a fitness-related small business. It was a great idea (ain’t it always so) but it was a hard sell (ditto). And that left me with little time for research and zilch for fitness blogging.

Early this year (2018) I enjoyed a temporary respite from the unpleasant need to work too hard for footing the bills. I could go back to academic research and fitness blogging on the side for a while. But short of being proactive it wouldn’t last long enough to yield something serious.

But I have a plan,  88% of which amounts to living a frugal life. The remaining 12% I leave to charity (other MCU joke: check). Yours. So like every beggar, I’m going to tell you my sob story (Part I). But like every good beggar, I can give you something in return. I’ll advertise it later (Part II). Then I’ll give a shot at parting you with your money (Part III).

My sob story

I started The Older Avocado in June 2016 and posted intermittently until September 2017. I posted the same half-assed crap as every run-to-the-mill fitness bloggers and their sister bro: decent training advice based on trial-and-error, common sense, and second-rate popular science. I sprinkled with some unimaginative navel-gazing for good measure.

Self-deprecating humor notwithstanding, this is just the hard truth about fitness blogging: most fitness bloggers have more serious business to deal with (selling supplements or training programs, lifting, or mixing discrete math & Sherlock Holmes).

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Consequently, fitness blogging or blogging, in general, has very low entry and maintenance costs: the readership has low expectations for quality and the authors have low expectations for readership figures. There is no incentive to actually improve either unless it helps your sales.

Here I go again on my own

I had nothing for sale, so I kept procrastinating on quality improvements and readership outreach.

But I had my pride and sometimes in late 2016 it took a one-two punch: an onset of sciatica and an Instagram troll with a Ph.D. in Physiology. Or so he said, but with a private profile, it’s hard to say. Not that it really matters, anyway.

I had already trained myself out of sciatica once (in 2008) with yoga and calisthenics. I took up lifting in 2014 and 2 years later it was back with a vengeance. The first time around I could work sitting and walk to the john. The second time I could not even sit, I’d have to crawl to the john, and I’d need help to sit on it. I could still wipe my own ass but it was a tall order.

It took me some time to figure that something was wrong with my grasp on the science behind my training. Nobody likes to admit that they are wrong and philosopher are no exceptions. But I eventually had to face this conclusion. And the maintenance cost of my self-confidence climbed exponentially.

Soon after that, I got a second serving from the troll. Long story short, I ranted on IG about some kids at my gym having no idea of what they did and he called me out as a ‘bro scientist’ because I had a Ph.D. in discrete math.

In retrospect, I deserved it, if only for some poorly chosen soccer jokes. I should have known that I’d better never joke about soccer. Anyway, under normal circumstances, I would have ended up with a bruised ego and a self-criticism session. But I was already fragile mental state due to sleep-deprivation  (I forgot to mention, the pain kept me awake, what a sob story!).  I began second-guessing everything, from my #-tag jokes to the training I put others through.

So I pushed The Older Avocado on the back burner, quit training anyone else but myself (if “making myself walk again without surgery’’ qualify as training) and got back to the science.

Although taken under duress, the decision was the right one.

Happy ending

Long story short, within one year, the sob story was over.

I had rehabbed myself successfully (again) through trial and errors with kettlebells, started a fitness company to rehab others, trained myself for a year (Dec. 2016-Nov. 2017) and my daughter for one month (Oct. 2017) to compete in kettlebell sport, and brought medals home.

Now, here’s the kicker: had I discovered biomechanics and kettlebell sport earlier I could have done away will all that crap. I’m an endurance guy, I should have started lifting with kettlebells in the first place.

Actually, I only started picking up heavy barbells because I was made believe that heavyweights would help my back more than yoga and calisthenics. It didn’t do anything wrong, and I built a decent deadlift in the process. But I was also sitting a lot and it caught up with me eventually.

The gross misconception that strength protects against back pain (passed onto me by doctors and physical therapists) can be dispelled by reading the first chapter of McGill’s textbook Low Back Disorders. (Stability and endurance are the keys, but that’s a story for another day.) And if you dig a little deeper the textbook’s reference list, you’ll find that McGill’s research indicates that kettlebell swings and snatches can actually heal your back.

Snatches for your back. (Hit me with #icanhazpdf on Twitter)

If you know your Google Scholar and follow the research trail (the “how to” will come soon in a forthcoming post), you’ll find research that replicates McGill’s results, with further evidence that, from a performance standpoint, 2-hand kettlebell swings (not a competition lift in anything) and 1-hand kettlebell snatches (one-half of kettlebell sport biathlon) are interchangeable. And here I had been building a 200kg deadlift 1RM to bulletproof my back, etc.

That taught me a hard lesson about doing my homework.

Self-Criticism and the 5-year plan

The transition from academia to fitness was another eye-opener. More people than I thought were buying into science-based fitness bullshit. And I was fighting it politely, one misconception at a time, on a daily basis. But that was a downhill battle and something else was necessary. I needed to take the fight to the science bullshitters.

Now, I’m an academic so I know about bullshitting (more on this about that in Part II). And lay people buy into academic bullshit not because they are dumb but because they are unfamiliar with how academia works. So, the first step of the battle plan was some good old self-criticism. No more bullshitting from my part. I was only going to talk about what I’d really know. After that, I could blow the whistle with a clear conscience.

By Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

I then formed a battle plan, involving stuff I’m an expert at (discrete math), stuff I could learn on the job (biomechanics), and some stuff I’d need a co-author for (continuous math, data collection, and coding). It was not a 5-year plan yet but it could get there.

All I needed was research funding because it would have been a full-time job, or nearly so. But there was none. And since I didn’t have savings to go on a crusade on donated time, I put the plan on hold.

Then in January 2018, my father died, and that’s a sob-story-for-real, and you don’t wanna know. But it temporarily improved my finances just enough to consider giving that battle plan a self-financed shot.

Provided I could make it a blitzkrieg.

Was the shot worth the risk? Yes. Not only would I exact the ultimate revenge on sciatica and the troll, I would also honor my father’s memory. A lifelong academic, he had not taken too kindly that I’d abandon discrete maths for salesmanship. My plan involved a shitton of discrete maths, and I’m better at it than at selling anyway, so I thought he’d appreciate.

To be continued in Meet the Newer Avocado – Part II: Analytic Fitness™

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