Here’s a link to a not-so-short preview of Neal Stephenson’s new book Termination Shock, coming out next month.

The preview is full of all the wonderful stuff that I’ve always loved about Neal Stephenson’s writing—characters that are weirdly oddball yet completely relatable, and the sort of details that speak to both keen insight and deep obsession. Just in the first few pages we learn more than a little about how royalty think, how to fly a jet, the ecology of feral hogs, and the madness that comes from the death of a young child. And I think the very next bit is going to be about the martial arts of northern India.

I have already pre-ordered it, and can’t imagine any Neal Stephenson fan who starts reading the preview doing anything else.

I saw The Secret to Superhuman Strength on the shelf at Amherst Books, and didn’t buy it because I was on the road and didn’t want to have to lug a hardback around for the rest of the trip. But now I just might have to.

“I live in a house of literary fitness freaks, and even for people who are supposedly good with words and who exercise all the time, Bechdel’s book contained real revelations.”

Source: It’s Time to Sweat It Out and Get Pumped With Alison Bechdel

I’ve long struggled to program my training, a task that is difficult because I want to get better at everything. I want to be stronger and faster. I want to have more endurance for running and more endurance for walking (which turn out not to carry over perfectly from one to the other). I want to maintain and deepen my taiji practice and my parkour practice. I want to learn rock climbing and fencing.

This isn’t a new problem for me. As just one example, back in 2013 I was considering programming training not organized by the week but perhaps in 9-day training cycles.

There are at least two problems that I’m trying to address. One is just fitting in training for each capability I want to get better at. The other is how to not break down under that training load (which involves at least fitting in enough recovery time, but other stuff as well).

During the pandemic I’ve done okay, by focusing on exercise. Although I tweak things pretty often, very roughly I’ve organized each week to include:

  • 3 strength training workouts
  • 2 runs (a “long” run and a “fast” run)
  • 1 HIIT workout
  • 2 rest days

That looks pretty good until you do the math and see that it only works for 8-day weeks.

Besides that, note that this excludes my taiji practice (which amounted to more than 5 hours a week back in pre-pandemic days, because besides teaching I was engaging in my own practice). It also excludes my long, slow warmups (which I’ve started calling my “morning exercises,” since I do them pretty much every morning before proceeding with my “workout” for the day).

The way I’ve been making it sort-of work is by doubling up how I think about some of the workouts. A “fast” run with sprint intervals is a HIIT workout, and a HIIT workout with kettlebell swings is a strength-training session.

Still, there’s no hope to make something like this work if I want to add in parkour, rock climbing, and fencing. Likewise, I know from experience that I need a full day to recover from a very long (14-mile or longer) walk, so doing one of those requires devoting two days out of the week to just one training session.

So, I’m left in a quandary. How can I get better at all the things I already do and add in some additional activities as well? (Just before the pandemic I’d started taking an aikido class; I’m sure I’d enjoy finding a local group that plays Ultimate Frisbee….)

Happily for me, Adam Sinicki (aka The Bioneer) has written a book that addresses exactly this issue. The book is Functional Training and Beyond: Building the Ultimate Superfunctional Body and Mind. It starts out talking about “functional training,” and about the history of “getting in shape” i.e. “physical culture.” Then it runs though all the most common training modalities (bodybuilding, powerlifting, kettlebells, crossfit, etc.), before proceeding to talk specifically about how to take the best from each one, and then how to program it all into a workout plan.

His thinking on programming is pretty straightforward: You don’t just add everything together. Rather, you look through all the exercises you might do and pick the ones with the most cross-over benefit relevant to your goals, and then build an exercise program out of those (and you sequence them correctly to maximize your gains in terms of strength, mobility, flexibility, skills acquisition, speed, power, hypertrophy, etc.).

I’m going to spend some time (and some blog posts here) thinking over just how I want to do that.

Recommended reading: The Baron of Magister Valley by Steven Brust 📚

I read The Count of Monte Cristo twice, the second time in an unabridged edition that suffered mightily from the author’s insistence that revenge required that the villains must be raised up to their highest height before being cast down, but also that those who had helped the hero must be cast down into the depths of despair before they could be rescued.

Brust’s novel avoids that flaw while providing a fabulous revenge story that links marvelously well into the Dragaera and the Vlad Taltos novels.

Highly recommended.