God is in the Detail*

May 26, 2015
Dennis.  Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978.

Dennis. Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978.

During the last few weeks, Jessica and I have spent about half of our daily training time focused on strengthening the little muscles that often get missed or “worked around” during the faster pace of a timed workout.

At least three days a week for the last month, we have started our day with a shoulder warm-up routine, called Crossover Symmetry. Several of the specialized coaches we consult suggested the routine as a way to improve shoulder mobility and stability. It takes five minutes to perform eight easy movements. Among other things, it addresses the inherent weakness of rotator cuffs and makes them stronger, less prone to injury. I already have found that I can use my shoulders more freely and with greater confidence—which is key to improving the gymnastics and weightlifting moves I do every day, and most noticeable when I am working with my arms overhead, practicing handstand walking and snatches.

Today, after that warm-up, and before we performed our “regular” Invictus assignment, we spent about an hour performing five rounds of just four little moves, five reps in every round: First, holding the top of a chest-to-bar for three seconds and then lowering in five counts. Second, another slow lowering into a ring dip. Third, maintaining the bottom of a dip on parallel bars for one minute (accumulated time, if necessary—and it was). Finally, slowly lowering into a deficit headstand position with a quick push up into a handstand (assisted by one another, accompanied by many laughs). Every rep was so strenuous that we couldn’t do more than 1-2 reps at a time, and we required at least 30 seconds of rest before we could get another. The work was slow, but the point is to focus on the hardest part of the pull up, the dip, and the push up, and to dig deep, even to squirm around, in order to find the position where dormant muscle power might be teased into action and new muscle memory might be formed.

Then, after completing our actual workout (multiple timed sprints on the rowers: more shoulder work) and lunch, we went to Waxman’s gym to weightlift. It seems that Sean is thinking about these little movement segments, too. I spent the better part of an hour jumping in place with a weighted bar in hand. The point of this exercise was to force me to focus on the precise pattern where ankles, knees, and hips were optimally angled while holding shoulders and chest high and taut, to achieve the highest jump, moving the bar off the floor no more than a few feet. I was finally allowed to perform a complete snatch, for which this movement is just a teeny (but critical) part, when I could consistently perform sets of perfect—as judged by Sean—jumps.

My shoulders were so thrashed by the end of the day that it was a struggle to drive my car home from the gym. But I am beginning to understand that mastery of movement is about breaking it into smaller parts, and isolating and improving the weak link, instead of skimming over the details and hoping for the best.

Lisa Lyon.  Robert Mapplethorpe, 1981.

Lisa Lyon. Robert Mapplethorpe, 1981.

* “God is in the detail” is a phrase most commonly attributed to the great modern architect Mies van der Rohe. But who said it first is a subject of dispute among linguists as is the question of who is in the details: God or the Devil. I prefer the former, which seems more positive.

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1 Comment

  • Reply v. Cathleen Cox May 28, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Another point in favor of your choice is that God* exists and the Devil doesn’t.
    * How one names – or doesn’t name – the transcendent is irrelevant. As Jung famously noted, “Called or uncalled God is always present.”

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