The Twisted Gardener is one of the coolest blogs on the web! There you can find musings on getting out of debt, training philosophy, faith, productivity and of course setting up a garden. The founder, Joe Robinson, is an intensely thoughtful, humble follower of Christ who hates the spotlight almost as much as he loves helping others. But, you know me, I dragged him out of his cave and forced him to answer questions. Enjoy!
How long have you been training at home?
About 12 years. I still do the YMCA, but that’s more about supporting the community (and the sauna, haha).
You won some powerlifting meets while in the U.S. Army. What are your best lifts?
- 625 Squat
- 350 Bench
- 525 Deadlift at a bodyweight of 175
- 525 Squat
- 315 Bench
- 500 deadlift. I no longer lift heavy on a regular basis, though.
A lot of home gym owners enjoy building out elaborate set ups but your gym is fairly simple and straight forward. Break down the equipment you have.
I mainly used simple, function-specific exercises for various sports my kids competed in so I could work out with them (bodyweight stuff, pull-up/dip bars speed work, etc.), along with the basic power exercises (squat/bench/deadlift).
Have you gotten rid of anything and regretted it afterwards?
Oh yeah . . . I can be a bit extreme and cleaned out a lot of stuff last year while getting debt-free, so I’m in the process of rebuilding…I’ll be starting over soon and am looking to add some RRR tools (Rest/Rehab/Relaxation) to what I hope will be a very archaic look.
You called a halt to major purchases while you and your wife were working to become debt free. What do you plan to add to your home gym now that you are debt free?
I’m going to rebuild my workout room in the basement from the ground up to make it look a little leaner and meaner; like I used to be, ha! I want to create a small set of stations to rotate through that are all about what our ancestors did to stay in shape— lift heavy things, sprint, lift yourself, endurance work and using your brain. Basically, before modernization, people didn’t ‘workout’ but they were in much better shape than we are, without the main diseases that kill us in droves— cancer, heart disease, diabetes.
It is ironic because a great deal of what we do in the gym is an imitation of the manual labor that our ancestors used to do on a routine basis. Blacksmithing, rowing a boat, carrying stones to clear a field or build a wall, pushing a plow all have descendants in today’s functional fitness routines. How do you integrate the work you do into your fitness routine?
I read a lot and, interestingly enough, a lot of stuff I integrate into my workouts come from survival stuff in books I pick up. I also try to turn gardening and yard work into workouts, wearing weighted vests to cut grass, overloading wheelbarrows and taking the uphill, long route, etc.
You remind me a great deal of an awesome guy named Bud Jeffries. You should check him out. So, when we first met years ago you were running a free strength and conditioning session twice a week in the evenings for youth wrestlers out of your garage gym. How did you start that up?
I was just trying to be helpful to the middle school wrestling team my son was on and ended up getting tapped as their strength and conditioning coach.
I remember that you were very creative in your use of everyday objects in training, pistol squats on top of two phone books to teach holding position when your opponent hits a single leg takedown on you. That’s what Ross Enamait calls low tech high effect and it’s a great example of safe, but challenging instability training. How did you come up with that?
It’s interesting that you noticed some of the similarity’s with Ross’ training. I have one of his first books at home and likely borrowed a lot of the core, stability and bodyweight exercises he utilizes in his boxing workouts. But to answer your question, I’m an avid reader and have borrowed from many experts over the years, as well as adapting on the go based on what I have lying around.
What other cool ways have you come up with to spice up training?
I live at the end of a hilly street and my driveway is also steep. Dragging sleds, flipping heavy tires and pushing weighted wheel barrows up the driveway and running hills in my neighborhood invoke some good (aka painful) memories, haha!
Nowadays you’re focused more on overall health and fitness. I still remember offering you a ride one day when I saw you at least twelve miles away from your house walking on a random road and it turned out that you were just out there getting in some conditioning. How long have you been doing that?
Ha, ha, one of the reasons I know we’re long lost brothers, nobody else asked me if I needed a ride and I was out there a ways, I occasionally just decide to do something different to shake things up and keep life interesting. Again, our ancestors sometimes tracked animals for miles on end just to provide food for their family. They weren’t exercising or trying to be ripped. And sometimes they had to climb a tree when the animal happened to be the hunter….on this note, look up the Hazda tribe in Africa who I wrote about in my blog under ‘The Last of the First’.
Is your goal fat loss, greater endurance or is there another reason you’ve gotten into that style of training?
The goal changes based on how I feel about the dude in the mirror at any given time. Right now it’s about reducing fat and being healthy. But it might change to being stronger and adding some muscle mass next quarter. I do know that focusing on only ONE Thing at a time (check out the book of the same name) leads to optimal results.
What was your starting weight and what do you weigh now?
I’m the same weight I was when I got out of the army at the end of 1996….between 175-180.
In January 2018, you said that you lost 4.8% of your total body weight. Do you attribute this to changes in diet, your endurance routine or a combination?
Mainly diet. What you ingest is 80% of your appearance, based on my experience. About 15% is tied to training and the rest is genetics. But I hate that excuse! I had let my weight get up to 187lbs due to really focusing on my bench press the previous year, which for me comes about more quickly when I pack on some extra weight to help with leverage.
You also mentioned that you were too lean in the face. Do you find that it’s harder for you to keep weight on now that you’re eating more home grown vegetables?
Not necessarily. I think I just lost weight too quickly and I was shocked at how skinny my face looked. I make sure to get plenty of protein and fat in my diet, even with all of the green beans, etc. from my garden.
Speaking of which, you’re heavy into gardening. In fact, you made a conscious decision to transform part of your lawn into something that in your words gives back rather than takes away— you grow vegetables for your family and your community rather than just having a lawn that takes money to maintain. What led to that decision?
I believe it’s the normal evolution of soldiers as they get older to look for opportunities to create and give, rather than to tear down and to take. If you read about the Spartan men, who are oftentimes considered the fiercest of all warriors, those fortunate enough to live to an old age usually became gardeners or councilmen who looked for ways to better the lives of those entrusted to their care. As you know from some of the work we’ve done together in the community, I also love giving back. Gardening, to me, is just an extension of that passion.
What are some easy ways for home gym owners who want to start to grow their own vegetables to ease into it? Do you recommend container gardening if someone lives in an apartment in a city for example or is it better for them to find some sort of co-op?
Absolutely! You seem to be one step ahead of me at all times, ha ha! Definitely container gardening….start small and ‘grow’ from there.
I took it as a personal challenge when I discovered from your blog The Twisted Gardener that Garage Gym Magazine isn’t your favorite fitness website. However, you did link an important article from your current favorite fitness site about the emotional and cultural benefits of being physically fit. I fit in that category of meathead that’s reasonably good at in the gym training but not necessarily adept at skilled labor. How do you go about learning new hand skills?
Sorry about that, ha ha! Chad’s is my favorite fitness site for his genre, but NOBODY nailed a niche like you did with Garage Gym Life. His is broader in scope, but yours is specific to something close to my heart. As for learning new skills, like a young cat I work with told me: “You can learn ANYTHING using Google and YouTube.”
Well at least I made it onto your blogroll! Ha ha! Speaking of The Twisted Gardener, how did you come up with that name and what’s your primary goal for it?
My wife actually thought up the name, oddly enough. I don’t know. I haven’t given much thought to that of late. I guess it’s just a place for me to share my meandering thoughts with friends who care about similar principles as we do.
So twisted refers to your unfettered, free flowing thought process? Nice. You believe in the value of meditation and a morning routine. What are your best practices for launching your day?
I’ve found that my best days are planned and come after the following morning routine: Early rise, meditation, gratitude, reading, prayer and journaling. Meditation has really helped me get my mind right, as has focusing on things I am grateful for at the start of each day. However, a word of caution: you can’t meditate yourself into being tough or strong. Success only comes about from ACTION. Meditation will help you get your mind right, but you have to get off your butt and do something to be successful.
How can people get in touch with you to ask about gardening, training or just follow what you’re doing?
http://www.thetwistedgardener.com/ is my blog for those who want to take a gander at my latest musings and trouble I might be getting into. I can also be reached at my email address of firstname.lastname@example.org