Posted August 26, 2014

10 Lessons on Fitness from Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on the novels, has taken the world by storm due to the gratuitous usage of nudity, brothels, beheadings, incest, corruption, nudity, plot twists, throat slits, nudity, and epic battle scenes, amazing sets and a stupid awesome opening sequence. It’s turned average regular folks into stark-raving Dungeons & Dragons resembling super nerds who’ve even started naming their kids and pets after characters and involving Renaissance-era speak in everyday vernacular. It’s even added new memorable quotes into common speak, such as “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” “Winter is coming,” and pretty much anything Peter Dinklage says.

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While many of the shows, which are based on an epic series of books still under construction by George R. R. Martin, build on themes such as loyalty, cunning, and strategic gamesmanship, these same qualities also play a massive role in other aspects of life. Fitness is one element of living where we could draw strong parallels, and sometimes really weak but somewhat connected parallels that connect just to make things look cool.

Today I’m going to outline 10 lessons you could learn from Game of Thrones and how they could tie in to helping you get more out of your fitness program. Fair warning, if you haven’t seen the shows, much of this will make minimal sense, but it will still be epic nonetheless. Also, there will be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen all the episodes, but this is no different than Twitter, other blogs, or you know, the books themselves.

#10: Always Pay Your Debts

When ever you work out, do some foam rolling, eat good quality food, or otherwise take care of yourself, it’s like making a deposit into your own health bank account. When ever you train to completely demolish yourself, go out drinking all night, eat crappy food, or don’t get enough sleep or water, it’s like making a withdrawal from your health. You only have so much to spare before your account is empty and you either get sick or something worse happens.

This doesn’t mean you should completely shun all of the bad things and only do the good things. That would be like trying to not spend any money on anything for your entire life. You could do it, but you would have to live in an ashram, grow your own food, and essentially live an isolated and very hard existence. Have some fun, but realize you will always have to repay these debts, much like the Lannisters.

For those times when you eat less than stellar, try to follow up the bad meals with some good ones involving quality protein and lots of veggies, water, and as minimally processed foods as possible. Workout with enough intensity to feel better when you leave than when you start, and do some mobility and foam rolling for a few minutes to repay your debts.

#9: What Deadlifts May Never Die

If only Theon Greyjoy had lived by this motto as a youngster, maybe his father wouldn’t have given him to the Starks as a captive when they were defeated all those years ago. He might have also fared better at the siege of Winterfell and not become the plaything of Ramsay Snow either, but that’s for another time.

In terms of expression of pure strength, interconnectivity of the entire system, and straight up aggression akin to Joffrey with a crossbow, the deadlift can’t be matched. You may never have to run across the countryside of Westeros to flee your enemies, but in a hand-to-hand combat scenario being stronger than your opponent can help overcome them, much like how the Mountain was able to literally crush the Red Viper, and how the real life Mountain crushed this 410 kg (over 900 lb) deadlift in preparation for the Worlds Strongest Man contest.

#8: Trust Your Advisors – Cautiously

Danaerys learned the hard way when Jorah, Lord of Friendzone, was found to be sending her movements to King’s Landing. He helped her a couple of times, most notably when the assassin tried to slip roofies into her vino, won a few battles for her, and generally creeps her out to no end.

This is similar to whom you should trust when it comes to info regarding health and fitness. For everyone who looks at research and gives advice based on the best research available as well as years of experience, there’s people selling cleanses and supplement “challenges” who only want a hand in your wallet. They look flashy and are generally not going to hurt you, but the flash and glitz may not give you what you’re after, and could potentially cause some trouble.

Some people have no idea what they’re doing, but they look good, which is all that’s necessary in the world of pictures and training videos. They might be leading you into the desert to wander aimlessly forever, until all of your gainz are lost.

#7: Winter Is Coming

In everyone’s life, there are moments that they need to be ready for, but are hard to anticipate. These could include small things like ensuring you can move a couch or a fridge for a friend, dodge a car that didn’t see you in the crosswalk, or find a way to fight off someone trying to mug or attack you or your family, or even preventing a fall while walking on an icy sidewalk.

Many training programs look at aesthetics versus performance or function. Being able to sprint, climb, crawl, roll, jump, push or pull as hard as possible, and change directions as needed can be a massively impactful addition to a training program, plus you look and feel like a ninja when you’re doing it.

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That and weddings could turn real ugly, and you’ll need to find a way to get the hell out of there.

#6: Joffrey was a Dick

King bastard Joffrey was a royal pain in the ass to everyone he came into contact with, be it Sansa, Tyrion, his own mother, or the odd butchers boy. He relished in showing dominance over everyone, and if he was challenged, he would sneak away and vow revenge from behind his kings’ guard or mothers skirt.

It’s sort of like being an Oilers fan. No matter what you do they’re just going to break your heart and wring you out every season. New York Jets fans know the feeling, as do fans of the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Raptors, and any Premier league football team managed by Steve Wigley.

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This one had very little to do with fitness, but Joffrey was still a dick.

#5: Work With What You Have, Not What You Wish You Had

The two most diminutive characters, Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark, each had a couple of kills to their names. They did it by playing to their strengths, namely being small and staying unseen until needed, and striking from a blind. Tyrion smashed a dudes face in with a shield, then chopped another guys leg off in a battle scene with his cute little suit of armour and all. Arya¬†forms a death list of people she wants to start picking off, and starts making some progress on that sumbitch, including the Hound (somewhat indirectly). Bran even finds a way to smash necks by doing that creepy mind meld thing with Hodor, and he doesn’t even have working legs!!

You may not be the biggest, strongest, leanest, or fastest person in the gym, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it your all and trying to see progress. The best in the world have some natural and occasionally some unnatural gifts to help them be the best, which not everyone has. That should never stop someone from trying. Everyone around you should be willing to give a golf clap from the effort and drive you have in the workout.

Well, everyone except Jaime. Foam rolling don’t help with that.

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#4: Khaleesi has a long title. Trainers should take note of this.

Whenever Khaleesi is introduced to someone, it’s essentially like telling her life story. Everything that’s wicked awesome goes into the title after her name, and takes about 5 minutes to go through everything in order. Can you imagine what that would look like written on a Starbucks cup? The baristas would hate your face.

If you’re a trainer and you’ve attained a bunch of small certifications, don’t make a big deal about them. You’re supposed to have things like CPR and First Aid, but that doesn’t mean they should go on your business card. Put formal education, stuff that qualifies you to work with specific people, and large internationally recognized and accredited certifications, otherwise your bosu and jump rope certifications will make your card a pretty crowded place.

Additionally, for the trainers and non-trainers alike, when someone asks “So how was your workout?” it’s not an invitation to outline the nitty gritty details of the exercises, sets, reps, tempo, neural drive, hormonal response, moon phase, or any number of other variables that went into the planning of the workout. They’re usually looking for more of a qualitative answer like “Really good. I feel awesome every time I do squats,” or “Sweet Baby Jeebus I think my trainer is trying to kill me.” If they get down with the sweaty details, go nuts, but not everyone swings that way. Keep it simple and classy.

#3: Meryn Trant had armour, and a big F#&king sword.

Skill and cunning will only take you so far when all other variables are matched. When two players of equivalent skill are on the field, the one with the most strength and aerobic power will be the one standing at the end. Endurance is your armour, allowing you to absorb punishment, whereas strength is your sword, delivering your ability to cause damage.

You need both to be safe and effective in any competitive scenario, and even in basic aspects of life. You can get by with only one, but it’s better to have both. If you have neither, you are vulnerable.

#2: Learn From Catelyn Stark and Just Do What You’re Told

How many times did Catelyn get an order to do something and then go and do the exact horrifyingly opposite thing of what any sane person would do? From freeing Jaime Lannister to capturing Tyrion while her husband is in service to the Lannisters (and who eventually loses his head for it), offering Robb to Walter Frey’s daughter, and abandoning Winterfell against Eddard’s orders only to see it sacked and burnt to the ground while her kids were presumably turned to S’Mores. Still, she got to see a vagina demon slay a king being guarded by a female¬†knight, and how many people can say that?

This parallels a program you receive, and then decide to start making illegal substitutions, changing sets and reps, flipping exercises around, and making a workout that’s pretty much indistinguishable from the original. I had a client who had a workout that involve 6 sets of deadlifts. 6. Only 6. He decided that he felt so good to do 9 sets. That’s a 50% increase in total sets. Amazingly, he pulled something in his low back on the 9th set.

This is like getting a recipe for a fish dinner, changing everything around and then being surprised when your chicken doesn’t look like the picture. Just follow the plan until you know what you’re doing, then change small things as needed as long as it doesn’t interfere with the master plan. It’s set up that way for a reason, even if sometimes it’s a bad reason. Just stick it out and see what happens.

#1: Everybody Dies

Everyone liked the Red Viper for a couple weeks. That’s how long he lived on this show. Ed Stark was the proverbial protagonist. He was dead before the end of the first season. Robb Stark? Gone. Direwolves? Gone. Tywin? Good riddance. Joffrey? Hell Yes. Cersei? Give it time.

Everyone will die. This shouldn’t be a shocker. There are no cures for death, but the life you live while here can make the difference between people talking about your life in stories for centuries to come or becoming a historical footnote of obsequity.

Living a life of monastic self control and focus on only doing and eating foods that are as healthy as possible isn’t necessary, and is a great way to miss out on a lot of experiences that may give your life a different meaning compared to not having them. Taste is a sense like sight and sound, and should be explored. Exercise is great, but there’s more to active living than the gym. Get out and hike a mountain, explore a section of the world only viewed through pages of National Geographic, and strike up a conversation with people you would otherwise avoid.

And while doing all of this, live a life that gives others something to talk about. Being average is so ordinary and boring anyway.

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