Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do We Really Need All That Stuff?

If you didn’t get everything you wanted for Christmas maybe it’s a good thing. As some motivation for negotiating the world recession in style, enjoy these “Lao Tsooians ramblings”(his description) from my brother, who resides in India. And Happy New Year!

Dear Steve,

At last the cool weather has descended on East India, and day after day sojourns away under the pleasant unchanging sunlight. I miss the wild drama and fauna of the rains, but the even cool temperatures are welcome still. The heartbeat of India are these two alternating seasons--the wild heat, rains, and storms of April to October, and the even, dry pleasantness of November to March. So many of its ancient cycles are based around it. For example, the Buddha and his followers would wander the country throughout the year as solitary mendicants, then in May they would gather at Varanasi for the "Raincloud of Dharma", 4 months of living together as a single mendicant community, followed by 8 more months of wandering. In Bengal the monsoon months peak in the heat at the end of September, when the whole city goes crazy in worship of Durga, the mother of the Universe.

On a personal level, one thing that has astonished me so far in my Indian sojourn is how each thing that I really need has been presented me as a gift. We have met a large variety of relatives and old friends, all of whom knew Ashna as a child and wondered who the lucky man might be. Each such meeting seems to end with a gift for both of us, and in my case I can't think of anything given me that has been useless. A variety of nice Kurtas and pajamas has kept me smartly dressed. From one family I received a beautiful hand-woven fine wool shawl that can be worn long down to the feet in lighter weather and in the current cold of Bengal's winter, wrapped tightly around the head and shoulders it makes an excellent sort of flexible sweater. For those Western dressy occasions like the Calcutta club, Atiya had a suit tailored for me from an old friend that contacted her out of the blue. Then due to the weight loss of the high quality fresh veg low sugar diet, and regular yoga, I've trimmed down such as that lovely blue suit Kay and Don gifted me years ago now fits ever so well again, so with my alternating blue and grey suits smarting the Calcutta club I get lots of nods of approval as "The one that won Ashna." Finally, when our old friends Evrim and Mary visited, they left us with a simple yoga mat, which allows us to do yoga on the dirtyfying roof. Simple gifts, but perfectly suited to one's simple needs.

This makes me wonder...is the passionate collectivism and shopping fever that so grips the industrial world necessary at all? Does one really need all this "stuff?" When I compare the life, mind, and advice of the "poor" here, such as our servants, who have to stretch every rupee just to handle the skyrocketing price of lentils*, these "poor" servants, in health and general well being, look much healthier and fitter than many of their rich salt lake masters whose houses are filled with things they rarely, if ever, use. Part of this is, of course, the virtue of hard work, which makes leisured folk look rather flabby in comparison, but it also is the general health of their inherited way of life. For example, there is a little fruit here called Amla, which rich people almost never eat (except us special ones of course!) but the poor eat it all the time. It’s like a hard little green golf ball that is incredibly sour at first, but by the time you finished it leaves your mouth coated with a strange substance that turns water into honey which coats your throat in sugary warmth all the way down. It turns out one of these little fruits also has the same vitamin C as 20 oranges. The villagers eat these often and traditionally ascribe it as a cure for just about anything. They only cost about 1 cent each, but the "enlightened" modern Indians hardly even know they exist anymore and think they are useless. What truly is useless?

As with everything I suppose it is that elusive happy balance, which demands an alert, critical, and above all evolutionary spirit to live happily amidst all this foolishness. I chanced across some Lao Tzu yesterday that spoke the spirit of all this to me.

To hold and fill a vessel to brimful
Is not so good as to stop before the limit.
Hone a tool to its sharpest state,
And its keenness cannot be long preserved.
A hall filled with gold and jade
Can hardly be safeguarded.
To show pride in one's wealth and high rank
Is to pave the way for one's own doom.
Thirty spokes converge on the nave of a wheel:
It is where there is hollow space
That the usefulness of the wheel lies.
Clay is molded into a vessel:
It is where there is empty space
That the usefulness of the vessel lies.
Doors and windows are hewn out to make a room:
It is where there is open space
That the usefulness of the room lies.
Therefore, while things are valuable
No things are what is useful.


In other words, in chasing things people mistake value for use, and in a world crowded with things, it is perfect usefulness that is really sought, not value. Since I'm so close to China, I'll brave adding a moralistic closing comment that the great sage must have forgotten;

Therefore,
Don't be so ready to fill the empty cup
Linger in the valley to more enjoy the distant mountain.
Doing so, one's heart becomes a river
Easily wends its way to Oceans of wealth.


Love,

B

* India's increase in business and transport structure has brought an unexpected curse--now its food produce can compete on international markets and much of its copious food production that used to be used up at home due to transport costs, now is exported, and the "poor", though lacking a roof over their heads or electricity nevertheless in previous years ate in a way that could be the envy of the rich in most countries. Now these poor folk are getting to the point where they cannot even afford that staple of India, the lentil and are really being ground down to substinance level by the huge inflation of staple food costs here. Imagine someone working 16 hours a day to earn 4 British pounds paying the same price for lentils as a Brit who earns 56 pounds a day at minimum wage!

--

Everything has its balance in the earth. Its not so hot as too keep us modest and not so cool as to keep us happy.-- Me

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ABCDE Diet

During this cycle of training I’ll be experimenting with something called the ABCDE diet. The only additions will be that I won’t be trying to gain mass, only some targeted muscle gains along with fat loss, and it will be vegetarian. For those of you interested in mass, Bryan Carney at Beachbody will be our guinea pig in that arena.

The diet was conceptualized over a decade ago by Torbjorn Akerfeldt, who tested it on himself while studying medicine in Sweden. The acronym stands for anabolic burst cycling of diet and exercise. It’s basically a periodizational diet plan that’s a bit of a hybrid of the two dietary strategies that I use to get results with clients: structured periodization (like the P90X diet plan) and zig-zag dieting (short periods of alternate low and high cal days, using for either gaining or losing).

My diet plans work. I had decades of anecdotal testing prior to Beachbody, followed by our message board community, “the largest test group ever assembled”. I didn’t invent my diet strategies, but have tweaked them over the years. I almost always get success but there are still a few gray areas. Akerfeldt’s theories could fill in these gaps.

In essence, his plan is a giant zig zag platform; two week cycles of both undereating and overeating. He claims this helps you gain mass without the common mass achiever’s side effect of associated fat gain that must be lost later. Whether or not this plan works as well as he states is still up for debate. After all, it hasn’t become a best seller and isn’t widely practiced.

What intrigues me are a couple of points of science that seem to be the missing link in my observations.

Basically, our genes control the expression of enzymes. These enzymes control every aspect of our metabolisms, including the activation of different pathways and the rate at which chemical reactions take place in our bodies. [Outside biochemical system enzymes are often referred to as catalysts.] Evolution has given our genes the ability to control the production of these enzymes as well as their activity level. Due to this fact, the body will be able to adapt to different food intakes as well as become prepared or "primed" for a future, sudden change in the diet.

This explains why periodizational dieting works (something that I knew from experience but didn’t have the science figured out.) And Akerfeldt has taken it a step further by noting that, in the same way we adapt to exercise, our bodies adapt to dietary change—specifically in about two weeks time. So by altering how you eat every two weeks you can, if done correctly, improve the efficiency of how your muscles cells utilize nutrients.

While Akerfeldt is interested in mass this theory should be applicable for anything you’d like to do when it comes to re-designing your body because a body in an adaptive phase is far more open to suggested changes. Since he is targeting mass, he combines the diet with something called “bag theory”:

The "bag theory" is not mine--it was developed by a scientist named D.J. Millward, a well-known researcher who has extensively studied the muscle-building process. His immense knowledge and research could help a lot of bodybuilders. Basically, Millward has observed three things: 1) the almost unlimited extent to which increased food intake can promote protein deposition during "catch-up growth" in malnourished patients, 2) both active and passive stretch will mediate anabolic and anti-catabolic influences, and 3) the cessation of normal muscle growth coincides with the cessation of bone growth.

There are "connective sheets" surrounding the individual muscle fiber [endomysium], bundles of muscle cells [perimysium], and the entire muscle [epimysium]. These sheets can be thought of as a series of "bags" acting to conduct the contractile force generated by actin and myosin in muscle fibers to the bone by the tendon.


Again, this has a practical application beyond mass. It’s essentially helps you get more nutrients inside of your muscle cells. Sure, that means growth, but it also means performance. In theory, this should enable you to truly spot train, or sports train, because you can choose to stretch areas where you’d like more muscular efficiency.

The vegetarian angle is simply to test my own theories about anabolic dieting and meat.

That’s enough for today. There will be plenty more in the New Year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scheduling


There are two absolutes when beginning any training program.

1 - You should write out a structured training program and try to stick to it.

2 - Don’t necessarily stick to it.

All programs should have a plan with some scientific basis. The science can be as absurd as you want, as I’m all about testing as it’s the best way to learn, but there should be a scientific theory about what you’re trying to do. If not, just go out and play. Writing a schedule should be somewhat painstaking because you’re trying to anticipate all of the possible scenarios and variables. Then, once your theories are soundly structured, you’ll want to do your best to follow it or you’ll never learn whether or not your theories work.

To stick with an entire program, however, should almost never happen. Besides life getting in the way the biggest program variable is your body’s recovery ability. If you aren’t recovered you should not stick to your schedule. If you’re always recovered your planned program was probably too easy. Therefore, build your schedule knowing that it will change. If you have time, plan what you’ll do to stay on track when the schedule goes awry.

Here’s my program through March. As iron clad as it looks now I’m certain I’ve overlooked something and that it will change. As we move into the program I’ll eventually present each individual workout so you can see what I’m doing.

The dietary component of this plan will be vegetarian. But it will be fully applicable to carnivores as well. It will also be revolutionary. Keeping in mind that revolutions don’t always succeed, follow my plan at your own risk.

For reference: HYP is hypertrophy, ARC is aerobic restoration and capillarity, MAX REC refers to muscle cell motor unit recruitment, or power, training, PE is power endurance (can be a number of different energy systems that will be based on the sport targeted), and Patxi days are massively long training days based on Spainish climber Patxi Usobiaga's insane training schedule.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

P90X...Y & Z


I’ve been writing a series of articles about how to customize P90X for various sports. I’d point you to the series but the archive pages aren’t up yet. I will as soon as they are. My next training cycle will be a part of this series. Even though I’m not using 90x (though I will use many movements from it and perhaps some workouts when I don’t have time to concoct my own) it will help you understand the principles, which are the same no matter what program you are adapting.

The first question I ask everyone adapting x towards another purpose is “what are your goals?” Without this it’s impossible to structure anything significant. P90x is a great foundation program. If you don’t have goals, just doing variations of it will keep you fit and ready for life’s encounters. With goals, however, your template changes because you must now focus on not only the activity(ies) at hand but also the different energy systems that will enhance your chances of reaching your goals. Training can vary from X-like to, well, not X-like at all.

One thing that’s a constant is a periodizational approach. All training programs address various systems one at a time. In my case, as you’ll see, it’s a bit different because I’m trying to train for three separate sports while also improving at another sport. To do this I’m using my experience at training for a single sports as well as my penchant for doing many different things that tax completely different muscle fibers and energy systems.

True training starts tomorrow, December 25th, 2009. The end of this round of training is April 1, at which time I want to have my strongest climbing base in 15 years, a good running base, and a decent biking base.

Since I’ll be racing with the Raramuri in Mexico in early March I NEED a sound running base—it’s a 48 mile race with, I dunno, 20,000 feet of elevation change, minimum, and it also includes a 66 mile “taper” that is a cultural exchange with The Running People that leads up to race day. I’m not going down to try and win, or even impress, the Raramuri. I’m just there for the experience and a chance to meet them. But I also don’t want to die, or come back injured. As my friend Jamil said, the Raramuri are “no joke” when it comes to running great distances fast. I need to have some miles under my feet.

My injury is not, nor will it be, 100%. Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m still in recovery. It’s going well, very well, but it’s also something I need to constantly moderate. But I’m now able to train at damn near 100% intensity. And as long as I keep my benchmarks constant I’m confident that recovery will continue.

That’s the announcement. The details will follow. The basic schedule looks like this. For you Xers, this should look familiar:

Block one: 3 weeks (focusing on hypertrophy and aerobic conditioning)
Transition/Recovery: 6 days
Block two: 3 weeks (focus on power for climbing/biking, and power/endurance for running)
Transition/Recovery: 6 days
Block three: Feb 15-27 (focus on power/endurance for climbing/biking and tapering for running
Transition: Feb 27-Mar11 (running in Mexico. Rest for climbing/biking. Heaps of running)
Block four: Mar 11-April 1 (power/endurance training for climbing/biking and running [speed work])


I’m also going to be playing with an absolutely cool, and hopefully revolutionary, diet theory. So stay tuned!
pic: in the new team kit and in need of earning it (http://www.ritteracing.com/story/)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Echo Wall

In need of a last-minute Christmas gift? I suggest Echo Wall, Claire Macleod’s award-winning film about her husband’s obsession to climb what is probably the hardest dangerous pitch on the planet. It’s a low budget affair but plot is one of legend. In stark contrast to “porn” format that defines most climbing films, Echo Wall is a human interest story that happens to be about climbing. It follows a man on top of his game who’s willing to risk everything, literally, in pursuit of a dream.

Echo Wall was released over a year ago but the climbing world is still coming to grips with it. This is because Macleod refused to rate the route of the film’s title. It’s obviously hard, since he solos an 8c (5.14b) sport route to prepare himself to execute hard moves in a dire situation. Given the actual ascent of the climb looks much harder than that, we’re left to guess about it. It’s also located deep in the high mountains of northern Scotland, with a frightfully long approach, and has a very short climbing season. Hot shot climbers from around the globe aren’t exactly lining up for a repeat. Planet Mountain recently sat down with Dave where he reflects on the route and how it has changed his life.

Echo Wall, Ben Nevis, by Dave Macleod

From the article,

It was interesting to see how others reacted to the route in the UK after I had done it. Mostly people were interested in the significance of the route - to find the correct pigeon hole for it. Is it E11? Is it the hardest trad route in the world? Did you nearly die on it? The best I could offer to answer all of these questions was ‘possibly’ or at best ‘probably’. In fact, to offer any answer at all felt uncomfortable for me because weak comparisons between routes that could be a little bit hard or a little bit easier could not be further from my reasons for climbing it. How many trad routes are there in the world with 8c or harder climbing in a situation where falling will be fatal and situated on a mountain with few days of good conditions? As far as I know, Echo Wall is the only one? But is this important? The level of commitment required was very high.

Ultimately it’s this type of thinking that sets the film Echo Wall apart. Macleod is an analytical climber who understands the physiology of his sport (he has a degree in it) and is steeped in its history. This perspective helps drive the film’s narrative(as well as their last, E11). He understands the significance of his objective, as well as the fact that moments like this are rare in life.

I was so lucky to find such a great outlet for my energy. It was really worth looking and looking to find it. When the right conditions are set up like this, so much flows from the connection of energy and inspiration. Even after the route, the experience kept producing new pleasures in making our film of the preparation and ascent with my wife Claire. Watching Claire push herself hard to make the filming of this possible helped me to raise my effort too. I hope we are able to find something like this again.

In the film we get to see Macleod’s mind transform as the route goes from pipe dream project, when he can't manage the individual moves, to a reality when he manages to toprope it. These scene where he makes the decision to lead it is gut wrenching. We can’t even imagine what’s going through his wife’s mind as she’s filming him but the thought is not comforting. Her words are withdrawn, tentative, as are his responses. But then we see another transformation and finally understand why his commitment is so crystal clear.

In the article, Macleod sums up his Echo Wall experience with, “I felt that people are only limited by deciding what they really want to do, not whether they can do it or not. It’s as simple as that. It’s great that a sport can teach such a powerful lesson.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Feats Of Strength

Anybody else think that feats of strength should be its own sport? It could be structured like a bodybuilder or fitness competition where the participants could perform any feat of strength they want--from caber tossing to Eastern Bloc circus moves, squeezing hand grippers--and judges can sort out which is the coolest. Right now, I'd probably vote for this guy.

Sports specific training is fun and all but it's stuff like this that give almost anyone pause. Winning races and setting personal records feels nice, but who wouldn't swap out most of their medals for the ability to do even one of these movements? This is probably why back in the Castle Years I can hardly remember the climbs I redpointed but can still recall, quite vividly, how impressive it was to watch Pukester rattle off pinch pull-ups in the rafters or see Belt do mono campus board moves. In fact, one of the fondest memories I have from my Yosemite climbing years was watching Dave Altman do a one-arm pinky pull-up with 30 pounds hanging from his waist. I'm tellin' ya, feats of strength would be bigger than NASCAR. And, if not, it ought to be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ils Sont Tous Dopeurs


I haven’t posted much about doping lately. After all, it’s the height of cycling’s off-season. In celebration of the Vuelta route announcement (won by an accused doper, but who isn’t?) here’s a pretty revealing article about what really occurs in high stakes sports. This guy, in fact, was only a second tier professional and, apparently, the pressure to dope began at even lower levels.

Doping Consequences: A case study with Joe Papp: by Myles McCorry

This is probably the most candid account of doping I’ve seen. Joe Papp doesn’t seem to be holding back. I’d love to hear more about the specifics but it’s interesting to hear how his doping came about,

Papp tells us of a hard to grasp paradox - that he doped not to earn money, but because he loved cycling so much, He wanted to keep cycling and that meant wins-- which is ironic that this love for the sport is exactly what puts the sport and the health of its athletes in jeopardy.

Still, we get more info than most ex-dopers are willing to part with, such as:

And on it went from 2001 to his near-death crash in 2006. Papp admitted to using nearly 100 different drugs including EPO, HGH, cortisone, insulin, thyroid hormone, anabolic steroids and amphetamines. He fell into a definitive program of cycling with substances - unaware of the dangers - or at least unwilling to see them. “When you have a doctor managing your doping program, the risks seem less tangible.”

And an uncompromising look at the reality of how to stop it,

He has put his hand up and said yes I did this and here are the life destroying consequences. We wish all young athletes to be aware of the lifelong opportunity cost of doping which far outweigh the short term gain of drugs Papp, somewhat despondently, admits, “I hate to say it, but a fear based education from an early age, if you dope you put the rest of your life in jeopardy is essential to making doping something that is again unconscionable for the next generation.”

All in all, a good read to keep you focused on your off-season conditioning because the fitter you make yourself the less the temptation to dope becomes. Okay, that last line is probably complete bullocks. But in the world of fear mongering at least the threat of death might give one pause.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monsanto: Not My Favorite Corporation

If you’re food aware you are probably well versed in the nefarious practices of Monsanto. They’ve been the unwitting stars of many books and films, including Food, Inc, Fast Food Nation, The Future of Food, and almost anything Michael Pollen writes. It seems amazing to me that the mainstream press is only now getting interested but, hey, at least they aren’t completely ignoring the company that is in control of what is arguably the biggest single variable about our future health. What remains to be seen is that if anyone is powerful enough to do anything about it.

Monsanto Squeezes Out Seed Business Competition, AP Investigation Finds

Here’s a tidbit:

With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Monsanto patents genes. Genetically modified genes to be precise. You can’t patent your own genes, because then you could own your kids. But if your kid happened to be Frankenstein you could now legally own him.

Here’s the quickie historical rundown. For more read the article and then start digging, perhaps beginning with the above films or books.

Back in the 70s our government in its infinite wisdom allowed companies to patent living things that had been genetically modified. This meant that companies like Monsanto could patent the plant seeds they were tampering with. Alas, if only our politicians had remembered their elementary school biology they may have given pause.

Plants, if you didn’t sleep through this chapter of class like everyone in Washington apparently did, breed by dispersion; their seeds fly through the air looking for a place to prosper. This means that if you genetically modify a plant and don't keep it inside it will eventually wind up sowing its seed with something natural.

The lawyers at Monsanto, who didn’t sleep through any class except ethics, apparently, saw this as one giant business opportunity. Because as soon as their patented corn would mingle with the neighbor’s natural corn they’d find a patent infringement get to work.

Since lawyers for multi-billion dollar corporations never lose to farmers, even those who’ve done nothing but farm the way their fathers did, and pretty soon Monsanto was forcing these farmers either out of business or to buy their genetically altered seeds. The latter makes them, essentially, indentured servants (another term from elementary school if you remember your Civil War classes) because they are forced to buy Monsanto’s seeds at whatever price they ask. Last year (you know, the one with the world recession that we’re still in), Monsanto raised their corn seeds by 25% and their soy by 28%. I’m sure their farmers are livin’ large.

So Monsanto now controls an industry of their creation. If we all decided we wanted to avoid genetically modified foods we might not have a choice for much longer. Most of us don’t right now. And even if you don’t believe in the possibility of a global scale disaster involving Frankenfoods (Monsanto’s seeds have been found in indigenous crops thousands of miles from the source), and believe that Monsanto is ethical enough to keep these foods safe, you’ve got to take pause when Monsanto prohibits genetically modified foods from being served to its executives.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stained Glass


For your weekend entertainment here’s a short video of the first female ascent of Stained Glass, in the Buttermilks. This is one of the most beautiful boulder problems I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect piece of rock that scarred only by a few tiny holds low down and a completely blank headwall below a finishing jug.

I first saw it, by chance, in ’94 or ‘5 whilst roaming through the boulders with my friend Kevin. We didn’t know if it had been climbed because we hadn’t heard of it and it wasn’t in any guide. It seemed improbable but we threw ourselves at it until our fingers looked like, well, the lass in the video. We found out later that it had recently been established by either local Tom Kleinfelter or Swiss bouldering legend Fredric Nicole. We were there to map the boulders for an article. Kleinfelter was insistent that we rate the problem no harder than V7 because he was afraid the old school locals would be offended if he tipped it as the hardest route in the area. In fact, it was much harder than anything there at the time. I still remember the caption, which was “sandbagged much? Kevin Thaw on Stained Glass, V7,” on the below photo (note "crashpad" of yore).
Now a solid V10, the video shows Aussie Tilly Parkins nabbing the first female FA nearly 15 years later. Amazing considering that it's a couple of minutes from the car in an absolute Mecca for elite boulderers. Congrats, Tilly!

Parkins adds, "One of the finest problems I've ever been on. I nabbed the ascent on my last possible shot (a bleeding finger and a plane leaving the following day!). Beautiful finish to a fantastic trip! Bishop is amazing...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Running, Coffee, & Cancer


Apparently I’m not going to be dying of prostate cancer anytime soon. Running and coffee have been two of my life’s cornerstones pretty much since I’ve been an adult, if not some time before. Now, according to two studies on nearly 50,000 men, that puts me into a very low risk group. But wait, there’s more!

Caffeine gets all the glory for coffee acheivers but that wasn't the catalyst here. "Caffeine in coffee doesn't seem to be the link, since the same reduction was seen for consumption of decaffeinated coffee," states the researcher, Kathryn M. Wilson, a research fellow in epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It has something to do with insulin and glucose metabolism. A number of studies have found that coffee is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes." But before you run off to grab a pound of Tanzanian peaberry wait, there's even more!

Wilson goes on to say that there is a clear relationship between the amount of coffee consumed and prostate cancer risk. "The more coffee you drank, the more we saw," is how she put it, to be precise, which bodes very very well for me. So you might want to make that two pounds. In fact, I think I’ll take a little run down to the coffee house right now.

You can read the entire article here:

Coffee, Exercise Fight Prostate Cancer

Friday, December 04, 2009

Home Improvement, Part II


All of my extra time lately has been spent trying to finish the garage. The last few days I've been setting up the wall of death, our 20' tall bouldering wall. The first problem I set on the wall is a replica of the one in this Malcolm Smith vid, which is a replication of the route Hubble. I'm fairly certain I'll never actually do this problem but it seems important to have things to aspire towards. Maybe I'll do a move or two if I train hard enough.

I haven't done this yet myself, but you can check out Smith's version against the actual climb in these two videos.

Steve McClure - Hubble 8c+ from ben pritchard on Vimeo.



I'm hoping to finish everything in the garage before the flooring arrives next week. Then it'll be time to get to some proper training.
dude, i finally got the venue i've been looking for.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Home Improvement

“This is like doing a big wall,” I said to Mike as the clock hit midnight and I just nailed my already bloody thumb with the hammer, again. We were tired, beat up, had an impending goal we couldn’t retreat from and the only way we were going to get there was to keep plugging away, move after move. “That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for a couple of days,” added Mike.

Sometimes life gets in the way of your plans. A few week’s back I got the call the temporarily changed mine. I’ve been trying to transform our disaster-of-a-garage into a training facility but haven’t been able to find the right contractor for the job. One of the Castle-crew, Mike aka Kid Dynamite, was the guy I wanted but he lived in Oregon. Fortunately, for me, the housing market in Bend is one of the worst in the country and the company he worked for had recently folded. Now he was playing Mr. Mom while his wife brought home the bacon. I offered up some work but there were logistics to sort. In early November he showed up with a truck full of gear and two weeks cleared from the schedule.

When climbing a big wall you never know exactly what you’re getting into when you leave the ground. Mike had his bike and hoped to ride in our state championship cylcocross race. I was training and hoped to send my project on or before my birthday. We began at a civilized pace; me doing my job and helping when I could, Mike working steadily into each evening but leaving a little time for socializing. After a few days he even managed a ride. Then we took a hard look at the schedule and things changed.
5th class painting

“Is this all you got?” screamed Mike towards the torrent of snow that was broadsiding us. It was Mike’s last night and we were in the zone, having been at this from first light to midnight for over a week. But, before he left in the morning, the roof had to go on the carport and we weren’t dealing with light and fluffy Wasatch powder. What began as rain had turned to sleet and then snow. Our footing was icing up but, hell, we’re climbers. We plugged away, frozen fingers manipulating power machinery in the dark. We doubted the unions would approve.

It was my birthday and this was the year’s challenge; to finish the carport (part of the deal for renovating the garage was providing a covered place for Romney to park). My parents were in town and it was a celebration of work. They were cleaning up. Lisa and Scott (my brother-in-law who worked on most of the project) were measuring and cutting boards that I was nailing to the rafters and Mike was cutting supports and adding details to the “White Spider”, Mike’s name for the 40 degree ice field we were creating (comes from the world’s most famous ice field on the north face of the Eiger). With one panel to go we had to call it quits because, if it were placed, we’d have nothing left to hang on to. In the morning we’d rig the roof and finish in safety but, for now, we’d accomplished the goal of getting all the work done that required Mike’s array of tools. We showered until the house ran out of hot water and then had the first lazy and relaxed meal of his trip.




The aftermath sure feels as though I’ve ticked a wall. I’m tired and beat up but have certainly lost specific fitness. But wall climbing does build base fitness, along with heightening your ability to suffer and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve always professed that you should only climb walls with good friends because things will always get ugly at some point and you want to be with people who can laugh with you about the absurd situation you’ve created. This was exactly the case. I’m happy to get back to my life, as I’m sure Mike is, but the little serendipitous epic we created was blast and I look forward to our next adventure.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CrossFit


Apparently I’m not the only one who feels “Crossfitters” are over the top. I mean, I do enjoy the vomit-inducing challenge that CrossFit can bring but, man, talk about a group of people who take themselves way too seriously. I know some educated people who understand the merits of Crossfit but most of the dudes you see spewing about it are about as informed as the crazy McCain rally lady.

In my research I’ve run across blog after blog of misguided Crossfit nonsense. The common sentiment seems to be that only they truly understand the meaning of training and human performance, pretty much like the bros in this video. What I always find most entertaining is when they’re using Crossfit to training for a sport but aren’t actually any good in the sport they profess to be training for. Instead of copping to the fact that, say, there might be a more effective way to improve, they chastise those who are bettering them at said event by boasting that they wouldn’t be able to hang down that the Crossfit gym.

My favorite example was a triathlete stating that none of the “wimpy little fuckers” passing him in a race “could dead lift shit”. It’s kind of like a restaurant critic condemning a taqueria for not making sushi.

I’ve been doing my own version of Crossfit lately, which is spending all of my spare time doing construction. The goal before the snows his is to build Romney a carport and turn the garage into a first rate training facility. In order to keep my weight down and balance out my training, I’ve been jack hammering concrete, hanging dry wall, digging foundations, hauling lumber and other great cross training movements until late into each evening. My friend Mike is in charge of the construction. He’s better at all those things than I am. He can also beat me on a bike. But who gives a shit? I’d like to see him do an 8 exercise Tabata and then jump out of a barrel. Now you must excuse me while I take my shirt off and cover my entire hands and forearms with chalk so I can shop for cool new board shorts on the net.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Big In Japan


For your Monday morning reading enjoyment I present:

How Japan Defines "Fat"

I don't really have much to crack wise about on this story. The article, and its comments, are an interesting discussion that shed a oddly-restrained light (for a comment thread anyway) on an important topic; you know, the one about America leading a world wide obesity epidemic that's spearheading a global recession and increasing the division between rich and poor that, essentially, could lead to the entire planet living in a third world state until we figure out how to colonize a new resource base to ruin.

Bravo to Japan for taking such a pro-active response to the problem. And before you write them off as being draconian and un-realistic, consider that the punishment is education. We'd do well to follow suit. Unfortunately, I think the only way our lobbyist driven government will allow that to happen is if Conagra, Monsanto, and Coca Cola are allowed to do the educating. And as we've seen from the way these people do business, that's hardly going to lead to a more enlightened public.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Got Stoke?


How far would you go to save your secret spots?

My friend Belt's movie opens tonight, in the surf capitol of Texas, and will be playing all weekend. You can also catch it in SoCal in Dec. Don't miss out!



If you're still waffling about catching the next flight to Austin, consider this is from the makers of Invasion From Planet C. For the latest, check the Stoke Films web site.

Now ask yourself, without the stoke is life even worth living?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Short Cycle


Yesterday I explained training cycles (muscle confusion) in general. Today I’ll lay out my plan for a short cycle designed to help me send a route in the next couple of weeks.

I’ll begin with an anecdote from the shed days. Back then we were really into training—and I mean really into it. Some would say that I still am but, though smarter (I hope), I don’t train with near the fervor that I did back then. We trained for climbing but, compared to a lot of people, we didn’t actually climb that much because we lived in an area that didn’t have much rock. So we trained like maniacs in long cycles and would only peak a couple of times per year. In fact, each year I would do almost all of my hard climbing during a couple of few-week-long peak phases. The rest of the year I’d kind of suck because I’d always be in the middle of some phase of training.

Contrary to us our friend Hans climbed all year around. He loved training, too, but because he made his living by traveling and climbing he was forced to climb more and train less. So he made up amalgams of what we were doing into more targeted short cycles, designed to give him mini peaks for events or competitions. As I began traveling more I began using these as well to try and peak for various objectives on the road.

Move ahead 15 years, give or take, and things really haven’t changed that much. You’ve got the Simpson types, who put in countless hours of training designed around peaking for a few weeks a year. You’ve got Sharma types, who “wake up, have breakfast, and go climbing…everyday.” And you’ve got people in between, like Salt Lake climber Steve Maisch.

Ben sent me an article titled Steve Maisch’s 4 Not-so-easy Steps to More Power (unfortunately no longer available on the web but check this pic to see how it works) that’s a great explanation of what short cycles are. Maisch begins the article stating that he has no background in exercise physiology but a lot of experience in trial and error. I’ll take this over someone with a lot of schooling and no experience any day, especially since Maisch climbs harder than any of us every dreamed of.

Essentially, Maisch came up with a system using 8-day training cycles that combine, on different days, campus boarding, system wall training, hangboarding, and bouldering using 4 by 4s. It’s a lot like what we used to do but more refined. To train for my route, I’m going to use this system, tailored to fit my goals.

Essentially, this system combines power and power-endurance training into one block. The more stressful power work happens on day one, followed by PE work the next day, followed by rest. To maximize gains you’d want to train these systems separately but, sans time, I’ll compromise maximal improvement for smaller gains.

I can climb the route now from the bottom to the last boulder problem. I can do the last boulder problem but it’s right at my limit. My goal is therefore to increase my power so that I can use lower threshold muscle cell motor units for the last section, while increasing my power endurance so that I’m less tired when I get there. Also, there’s a difficult boulder problem at the start, so increasing power will make this easier and leave more reserves for later.

Day 1 boulder for about an hour, campus
Day 2 4-by-4, 2 sets
Day 3 rest
Day 4 system wall, 2 sets, fingerboard 1 set
Day 5 4-by-4, 1 set
Day 6 rest
Day 7 rest
Day 8 do route

If one cycle doesn’t work I’ll revamp based on where I fail and keep trying until the weather craps out. But I’ve only got a couple of shots at it because these are very intense cycles of training and can’t be duplicated too long without a break. But that’s okay, because in a month (or less) I won’t be able to get to the route anyway.

As Johan Bruyneel said about Armstrong’s plan to win the Tour de France, “The plan was very simple. Making it happen was not so simple.” Now comes the fun part, the training.
vid: one of my favorite training videos showing an absolutely ridiculous training session with sonnie trotter. my old shoulders and elbows will never be able to take this kind of abuse but i find this absurdly inspiring nonetheless.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Muscle Confusion Explained


I finished cleaning, bolting, and doing the moves on a route in the Wasatch this weekend. I can do it in sections but linking them is going to take improvement. With winter around the corner I don’t have much time to improve as well as peak. It’s time for a short cycle.

One of the concepts that seems the hardest to impart to our P90X athletes is how (or why) to peak. Even though Xers tend not to consider themselves athletes because they lack a performance-oriented goal, it’s important to understand that all training at this level adheres to athletic principles. The entire theory of “muscle confusion,” as we call it, is based on periodization, or training in targeted cycles that keep your body adapting and growing, while minimizing the plateaus that happen in between.

All periodized programs are structured around some sort of peak. This is why most of our customers get the best results during the latter phases of our programs. It’s by design. In a less intense program, customized for less conditioned clients (like Power 90), the structure is less rigid because the adaption takes longer. The fitter you are the quicker your body reacts to training.

Most science shows that a three week on, one off, cycle of training is about as short as you can go to maximize the adaptive and growth phase so that’s what we’ve used in P90X (though we often recommend that certain individuals lengthen the training blocks). The idea is the halt the growth phase before a plateau happens, recover, then re-shuffle and add intensity in the subsequent training block. In X, the final block adds a week of high intensity, at which point we recommend a break before taking your final fitness test. This is where we’ve designed your peak to happen, about a week or more after your final hard workout.

The longer you have to meet your goal the more effective your training can be because you can focus entire training cycles (the 12 weeks of P90X is one cycle) on your weak areas and still have time to blend this new strength into your body’s system for performance (integration training). This is why athletes make their biggest changes in the off-season.

But none of this helps me. I’ve got a few weeks, tops, to train (foundation, adapt, growth phases) and peak (integration and recovery phases). This requires a whole different mindset about training, which I’ll explain tomorrow.

Friday, November 06, 2009

And You Thought Warehouse Stores Just Looked Depressing

I get depressed at the thought of my food options anytime I take a road trip. Turns out this trepidation is more clinical than I thought. In a new study out of England, researchers at University College London have discovered that people with a diet high in processed foods have a 58% higher risk of depression.

Processed food link to depression: research

The perils of road food in the USA are a thing of lore; satirized in films and literature almost anywhere you look.

Obama Drastically Scales Back Goals For America After Visiting Denny's
But if you’ve ever wandered in to a big box food chain you know that we have more to fear than AM/PM markets. At least 90% of the food options are these stores falls into the convenience category, basically because only things with preservatives fit the big box model of doing business. This is probably why most of these chains now also have a drug counter, so you can fill your prescription for the Zoloft you’re going to need because of the food you’re buying.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scary Or Not Scary?


If P90X has become so popular that it's now a Halloween costume, how come the obesity epidemic isn't dropping? Check out this email that went around the office today:

Subject: P90X is now, officially, part of pop culture.

Among the expected Michael Jacksons, Jon & Kates and Balloon Boys, this entrant showed up at a mutual fund company’s costume contest this morning. He calls himself “P90X Graduate” and it looks as if he didn’t finish the program.

Perhaps part of the clue is in his Hans and Franz like physique. Our society is obsessed with size and nary a day passes by when we don't get customers asking us how to get bigger. And even though Tony is a slim guy with muscles I think many of our clients see him as a version of the hulk in the same distorted way some women don't want to stop losing weight until they look like heroin addicts.

So if anyone shows up on your doorstep looking like this guy ask yourself, what would Tony do? Then give him an apple, and tell him it's Tony's favorite snack, because he ain't gonna look like an X grad chowin' down on Reece's.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Progression


Yesterday I tossed balance aside to have a Patxi day—2,500 moves in the gym. This was inspired by the film Progression. In particular, the segment of World Cup champion Patxi Usobiaga’s training, which appears anything but balanced.

I was actually referring to muscular balance, not lifestyle. As some my friends enjoyed pointed out, balanced lifestyles ain’t exactly my thing. I’m still testing out the Kevin Brown training system, daily yoga sessions, barefoot running, a new time trial position, and a chia and pinole laced diet. Now I’m adding 2,500 move climbing days and, I suppose, there’s nothing really balanced about that. If there were, my standing Beachbody’s lab rat might be endangered.

2,500 moves is a lot, especially in a gym. And since I have almost no idea what Usobiaga actually does I was making stuff up based on my experience with climbing specific training, knowledge of training in general, my years of specific training for other sports, and a five minute segment of him doing movements in the film. At some point it all started to click, and now I’m fairly certain that I’ve found a missing link for me when it comes to how to train for climbing. It’s going to take some time but, for a test run, it was one of the best climbing workouts I’ve had.

Obviously it’s not a missing link for everyone but, as Patxi’s livelihood depends on his training, I’m guessing he’s sharing his secrets along a similar vain as “The Lance Armstrong Training Method” book, which was/is a complete joke. The Texan’s training is no more revealed in that book than the history of the Bible in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I’ll hit him up, for sure, but am expecting to do a lot of my own research on this one.

Besides, I’ve got my copy of Progression. All you really need to train hard is motivation, and not many climbing films are inspiring as the latest film from Big Up Productions. Progression is a string of vignette’s showing climbers that are pushing the standards in various disciplines. It claims no lame ethical stance on the various pursuits, nor is it your standard sprayfest of climbing porn. It’s a well crafted, beautifully shot, story about the cutting edge of sport and where it could be headed in the future. Basically, it shows a bunch of people who’ve dedicated their life to pushing the boundaries of their sport and the limits of human performance. If you can’t get psyched about that, you’re not an athlete.

Download Progression here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Immune Boost


With the swine flu spreading through the west like a wildfire I’m glad I’ve got my Immune Boost. While my job is to evaluate and edit the products we make, or create a component of them, I rarely get to invent a entire product. The desire for an immune boosting formulation came from my bosses, Jon and Carl (mainly Jon on this one), but the formulation came from me. Because of this, I’m not going to have to deal with swine flu!

It’s not really magic, nor is the formulation really mine. As is the case with most things, there are people in the world who know more about herbs than I do. Luckily, I know a lot of these people. I consulted friends in the field, studied some science, and haggled with our lab until we had a formulation that was state-of-the-art. And while it’s not magic, exactly, when I remember to use it prior to times of stress, I never get sick.

Out my window I’m looking at snow. Yesterday I was running in shorts. This is a text book situation for when to start taking this stuff. But that’s just me. I’m not a supplements all the time guy. I’m situational; meaning my supplement intake varies along with my training. At times I take none; at others I practically live on them. I take immune boost during time of stress: flights, changing seasons, when my friends are getting sick, or anytime I feel run down and vulnerable.

This is not the only time to use it. Holistic science shows that it should be useful as a daily tonic. My stance has always been to try and not overdo certain things so that your body doesn’t adapt to them, saving their effects for times of need. It’s a theory based on science but every individual case is different. In this one, I could be wrong. Team Beachbody coach Tamara Kaye claims she hasn’t been sick since she began taking Immune Boost daily, which is now approaching two years. Guadajuko! Or, for those not versed in Tarahumara: cool by me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Balance


My entire training philosophy is now based around balance. I’ve always known about the importance of balance but my endeavors as a human lab rat have meant that I was pushing the envelope in one discipline or another, meaning that balance was something that I advised other people to seek. With my ability to perform threatened for keeps, I’ve finally begun to follow my own advice and, in the process, entered a new world where I’m soaking up info like a kid in kindergarten.

I’ve blogged about both yoga and the Kevin Brown Training system. I work in both of these realms daily. All other training, along with my usual climbing, riding, and running, is focused on foundation; merely keeping my engrams primed for the harder training that will follow, once I’m up to speed on all of my benchmarks.

Benchmarks are the cornerstone of Kevin’s training method. These are tests that gauge the strength of your stabilizer muscles. Until they are strong enough to work in harmony with your prime mover muscles, your body is at a high risk of injury. In short, this is exactly why major sports headlines are as much about injury as they are about performance. With all the technological advancement in sport, you’d think we’d get injured less. But it’s exactly the opposite. This is because we focus too much on the prime movers, the large muscles we see that are primarily responsible for our feats of strength, and not enough on the stabilizers that hold our structure together. Essentially, we’re getting so strong that we’re literally tearing our bodies apart.

All you need are headlines to understand how rampant the problem is, but Kevin has done a lot of testing and has scary data. One example: he tested participants at an elite soccer camp and found that less than 10% of the athletes weren’t at high risk of knee injury. These were athletes being coached and doing high level training. Imagine how bad those stats would be for the average weekend warrior who tends to focus on sexier training that graces most books and magazines.

When I told Kevin that I’d be following his program he scoffed, “yeah, for two days!” His skepticism is valid. I’ve known him for close to twenty years. I see him whenever I’m injured and follow his advice until I’m no longer injured, at which point I go back to pummeling myself. I like pain, suffering, and, as one of my friends put it, “chasin’ the hairy edge”. This training is slow, controlled, and pretty much exactly the opposite of what I do for fun.

It also feels kind of, um, dorky. When I asked my friend Bob if he wanted to join me in a hip medley, he looked at me as though I’d just asked him to catch a Bette Midler show. At our meeting a few weeks ago, one of the attendees, who trains military, just shook his head at one of the exercises and said, “I’ll never get my guys to do that. They’d rather get shot.”

It’s hard to look outside on a beautiful fall day and not venture into the mountains. I’ll still go, but instead of spending eight hours traipsing through the backcountry until I’m exhausted, I’ll just get a taste and then come home and do hundreds of slow easy repetitions with puny weights aimed at training every tiny muscle in my body, and follow it with yoga.

And while I yearn to feel the deep pain that prolonged suffering brings, I’ve got to admit that I feel good. Really good. I’ve been at this since July and my range of motion—that was worse than it’s ever been in May after recovering from my injury—is probably better than it was in high school. Along with daily yoga (which also focuses on stabilizer muscle strength), Kevin’s system uses the theory that strong stabilizers reduce the strain on prime movers. This freedom increases range of motion without increases in muscle flexibility (which helps too), and thus increases the muscle’s workload capacity.

My benchmarks are up to the high school level in some things, college level in others. Most people aren’t close to the high school level, and neither was I when I started. When I hit pro, I’ll begin to ramp up my other training. Assuming all of my personal testing goes well, we’ll hopefully have a way to get this info out to all of you by then.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Virtual Suffering...


...can almost be as good as the real thing. I’m adding a 24-hour solo race to my things-to-do list. In general I don’t like to race my mountain bike. I find it much more satisfying to just enjoy the wilderness. I’ve done Moab as part of a team. While fun, we all agreed that riding the same laps over and over pales in comparison to exploring new trails together. Watching this video held little interest to me; that is until things started to get ugly. Now I want that experience.

If you've ever wanted to do a 24hr solo event this is required viewing:

24 Hours of Moab

Suffering keeps life in balance. And while I don’t like all the time, I think finding various venues to test your mettle is important. Riding 24 hours never seemed difficult enough to be intriguing. Hard, sure; but nothing that extends you into survival mode. But seeing Josh Tostado as he realizes that he has to go out for another lap is inspiring. He looks absolutely devastated. And you have to consider that this is what he does all the time, and he’s still just shattered. It’s friggin’ awesome, and I am so in.

Thanks for Superhumanmag.com and Reed for sharing. Like me in January, Reed’s got some couch time to search for videos to in order to motivate recovery.

pic: it may not be suffering but riding though the night still must make you loopy. my line through what seems like a simple corner looks pretty tentative, but that guy behind is definitely not where he wants to be.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gina Kolata And The Art Of Saying Nothing


Today the NY Times ran an article deconstructing the time-honored exercise cool-down, finally deeming it unnecessary for most of us. The problem with the article, however, was that its deconstruction forgot to mention the primary reason most fitness experts include a cool-down: to speed up the recovery process.

Is the Exercise Cool-Down Really Necessary?

We’ve seen this kind of misguided analysis before. From the same author, in fact. In 2007 Kolata made the best seller list with a book claiming that our genes were making us fat. Never mind the right-in-front-of-our-eyes fact that there’s no way genetics could explain the massive increase in body fat percentage over one generation, Kolata’s son trained for a marathon and only lost 3 pounds. OMG, there just has to be a money-making hook in that story!

In the same vein, she’s now demystified the reason behind the cool-down, and deemed it useless. Except she hasn’t because she didn’t bother identifying that actual reason.

In what she does present, she still refutes herself by showing some science that a cool-down can be medically dangerous to avoid after intense exercise.

“If you are well trained, your heart rate is slow already, and it slows down even faster with exercise,” he (Dr. Paul Thompson) said. “Also, there are bigger veins with a large capacity to pool blood in your legs.”

So, well, most of us aren’t well trained. But what if we are? Most of us who begin any exercise program have a goal of being well trained at some point and then, well okay, we need to cool down.

But she means the rest of us. For all of the lazy, deconditioned masses, she states, “… it’s not clear what the cool-down is supposed to do. Some say it alleviates muscle soreness. Others say it prevents muscle tightness or relieves strain on the heart.”

“Ooo, ooo,” I say, raising my hand from the back of the room. “I know why we cool down after a workout!”

But, apparently, she decided that interviewing someone who might know the answer, like a trainer, would be counterproductive to her main point. So no one asked me, nor any trainer, or if she did she didn’t like what they had to say and omitted it. So I’ll answer her anyway and maybe someone will tell her.

The reason we cool down is to lengthen muscles that have been contracted during the workout. I mean, there’s the heart/blood pooling thing to avoid to but, as one of her cited experts stated, most of us do this anyway by showing, changing clothes, etc. But there’s a passel of good science showing the benefit of post-exercise stretching leading to increased performance. Apparently, it just didn’t fit into her sales pitch.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Born To Run


I recently had one of the more pleasurable reading experiences of my life. I read a lot. As you might imagine, much of this is fairly technical in its nature so it’s probably not too hard to knock my socks off. But I’m fairly well versed in the classics as well. And while I’m not saying this guy is Shakespeare, or even Hemingway, he certainly spins a good yarn. I admit that the four books I’d read previous were dreadful, so maybe it’s a right place right time experience. But from the time I picked up Christopher McDougall's Born to Run I was captivated to the point that if my flight had been longer I would have finished it in one sitting.

The book is about a bunch of things, but mainly running. I’ve recorded my disdain for such literature in the past but this is different. It’s written by a writer, not a runner. More and more the writings of “experts” are filling up our bookstores. What our publishers have seemed to overlook is that a good writer is an expert, who can write on any subject. I think it’s a disservice to the public to assume that just because someone has credentials in a subject they should be allowed to write about it. After all, would you choose the person who wrote ER as your emergency room doctor?

The main characters are a native Mexican people called the Tarahumara, or Raramuri (running people) and a gringo called Caballo Blanco. The story of Tarahumara is fascinating.

In Tarahumara Land, there was no crime, war, or theft. There was no corruption, obesity, drug addiction, greed, wife-beating, child abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, or carbon emissions. They didn’t get diabetes, or depressed, or even old: fifty-year-olds could outrun teenagers, and eighty-year-old great grand-dads could hike marathon distances up mountainsides. Their cancer rates were barely detectable. The Tarahumara geniuses had even branched in economics, creating a one-of-a-kind financial system based on booze and random acts of kindness: instead of money, they traded favors and big tubs of corn beer.

You’d expect an economic engine fueled by alcohol and freebies to spiral into a drunken grab-fest, everyone double-fisting for themselves like bankrupt gamblers at a casino buffet, but in Tarahumara Land, it works.


It’s also a story of the history of ultra-running, biomechanics, the shoe industry, and the evolution of human beings.

For example, you probably didn’t know that “runners wearing top-of-the-line shoes are 123 percent more likely to get injured than runners in cheap shoes...” and this is because we do things like build arch supports:

Dr. Hartman explained, “Blueprint your feet, and you’ll find a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries. Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. They beauty of the arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down, the tighter its parts mesh. No stonemason worth his trowel would ever stick a support under and arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure...”

And if I told you that humans evolved as the most-efficient endurance runners on the planet you’d probably think I was a looney, but read Born To Run and then come argue with me.

The book is not above a bit of hyperbole and often borderlines the Largo-ian “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” mantra for writers. But it never strays so far as to lose credibility. But do keep in mind that for anything to land on the best seller list it’s got to take a spin through the hype machine. For an example, watch the news piece below. While it does lay a nice hook for the story, Caballo Blanco himself states “I was NOT happy with that information...did me, the Raramuri, nor the canyons any favors...take it with a grain of salt.”


I was inspired enough to get in contact with Caballo Blanco himself, and will be running with the running people come March. You’ll get the straight dope then but, for now, I recommend finding a copy of Born To Run.

pic: scott jurek y arnulfo quimare en las barrancas de cobre, por luis escobar.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Action Direct

Think you're training hard enough? Well you're probably not training as hard as Rich Simpson was for Action Direct. Last month I posted video of Hubble. This month is the climb that usurped its title of "hardest route in the world", along with the story of Simpson's obsession to do it. Not only do we get to see some sick-hard training, but some of the travails in trying to tick something at your physical limit whilst on holiday. Great documentation from filmmaker Chris Doyle but, man, does it make me feel like a lazy uncommitted slob!

Obsession from Chris Doyle on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

You Can’t Fire A Cannon From A Canoe


I’ve spent the last week at a conference. Well, it’s more of a brain dump, actually. A good friend of mine has cancer and, with his future uncertain, rounded up his friends to put his state-of-the-art training system on the record. In attendance were Olympians, world record holders, college athletes, golf pros, coaches, trainers, filmmakers, photographers and writers. Even though most of us had worked with Kevin on some level, were more credentialed on paper, and had spent most of our lives in athletics, the common sentiment was that we were being given an entirely new blueprint for athletic training.

The title comes from one of the clich├ęs about stability training that seemed pretty appropriate because, until the base is solid, nothing works as efficiently as it should. The system we covered isn’t entirely new. It’s a hybrid of many popular systems based around core and stability training. But it was a lot more than Chek Institute stuff. Kevin’s philosophy is to identify the weak link in the system. Then, by strengthening the weak link, the process allows the strong links to do their job more efficiently. This results in improved performance prior to making gains in prime mover muscle strength (10% improvements in a few months prior to prime mover training seemed about average, which is off the charts).

What’s also revolutionary is that most of us tend to think of this style of training as injury prevention only. And, certainly, that is a big part of it. One of Kevin’s clients, a professional golfer, began working with him at age 14. He’s never had even a minor injury. The high school and university programs that have used his system (which is still evolving) have seen the instances of non-contact injury rates drop to almost zero. In a world where championships are won by the team who keeps the most players on the field, this is not an area to be discounted.

Perhaps the biggest upside is that the system is simple to implement. It doesn’t require expensive equipment or a trainer to supervise your every move. Most of us feel it’s going to change the way we train our athletes on a global scale.

I’m going to leave things a little vague for now. I’ve got 40,000 words to begin to edit and organize. We’re not sure where this will end up but you’ll be hearing a lot more about it here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jack LaLanne Challenge


Jack LaLanne week, as it should, culminated with a challenge. On Thursday night I got to meet Jack at a party thrown in his honor. As I told Denis, I don’t care one bit about meeting celebrities but, to me, Jack’s not a celebrity but a hero. I was pretty excited.

Jack LaLanne’s Birthday Bash

On Saturday, I got to do my own little Jack impression. Someday maybe I’ll muster up the motivation to attempt one of his actually challenges. For now, I’ll continue with my own personal multi-sport themes where I try and combine power and endurance sports.

I began the morning of Jack’s actual 95th birthday by doing 95 Jumping Jacks, After his signature move, I continued the warm-up with some Jack LaLanne yoga, which is more functional than traditional. For example, down dog and up dog are described as thus (from memory, so this quote won’t be accurate),

“This is what Happy (his white German Shepard) does before he chases a ball or runs around in the yard. C’mon, show us Happy…”

I’ve never heard Jack use the word yoga, but his old TV shows are rife with yoga poses turned into exercises. Then I did 95 reps of 9 of his more famous movements, including finger tip push-ups and chin ups. These seems so good to warm-up for climbing that I only did 70 reps before jumping on my bike for 95 minutes (which I spent doing climbing intervals to try and get my climbing totals for the day close to 9,500’). Post ride, I finished the exercises and heading up to a V9 traverse to attempt 95 moves with 9.5lbs strapped to my back.

En route I spent some time helping someone whose car was broken down. This resulted in that my objective had already gone into the sun. So I turned around to try another traverse, Merrill’s 5.14 (no name that I know of), that had been shaded when I drove by. But I was too late. As I began climbing the sun hit it. 95 moves at my limit, in the sun, with a 10 pound ball on my back, was more than a little tedious. I wasn’t very familiar with this route (though I am now). This caused more failure on the moves than I was hoping for (meaning lots of re-dos). Still, I was able to get all the moves but three or four (or five) of the 30-some move route. Not bad.

I was now hot, sweaty, and my fingers could barely grip the steering wheel. But that was okay because all I had to do was to run for 9.5 miles over two mountains. Romney dropped me off in my heat resistant garb (she was laughing at me and saying that I looked like a pirate) and I headed up Grandeur Peak in the afternoon sun.

Grandeur climbs over 3,000 feet in less than two miles and has almost no shade. We’d been having perfect air quality but a fire from somewhere had sullied the air. The combo had me pretty cooked near the top, when Mick called to fill me in on my proposed second half of the run. When I told him where I was he groaned and asked, “is it hot?” When I filled him in on my objective he said, “Wow, you’re having a big day.” Then I told him what I’d already done, and he just laughed.

Having Mick laugh is a little daunting. He gets up a four am most days and usually has a peak or two in the bag before I’m awake. We’ll often go climbing on these days and he’s never seems to be any worse for wear. And he’d just won a rugged 50 mile trail race in Moab. Yet, to him, what I was doing sounded “grim”. Awesome. Jack would love it.

I recovered somewhat on the descent into Mill Creek Canyon where Romney met me with a salad. The last part of my challenge was to eat 95 fruits, veggies, and legumes (Jack eats 10 different veggies every day). I’d knocked off a bunch with my morning Shakeology and a veggie sandwich. My next meal with a small box filled with everything in the salad bar at Whole Foods. Now, in no way, is this a normal sports food diet, but it worked just fine. My energy was good all day.

As it turns out, my next objective was a wee bit longer than I’d planned—like twice as far. So I was hoping for a good landmark to shoot for that would get me closer to the goal. Also, Romney and Beata would be joining me, and we weren’t geared up for 8 miles of game trails, so almost certainly we’d be turning around at some point. As serendipity would have it, we made a wrong turn that led us to an overlook. It was 2 miles (and 2,000-some-odd feet) to reach it. Perfect.

Romney was a trooper in support. She claimed to not feel good but didn’t complain much, except that she was very quiet. She made it through the run, and then began vomiting on our way to the taqueria, where she still managed to be good company as I polished off the rest of my veggies, which mainly consisted of various types of chili. My wife rocks.
pic: nothing at all to do with jack lalanne, romney hits one of the crux moves on her first 5.12
Back home, I drank a glass of red wine. Jack drinks red wine daily (“because the French outlive everyone”) and finished Jack week with some restorative yoga. The next day I actually felt decent. I learned that I was accepted into a race where I’d be running with the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, the famous Raramuri (running people), so I went for a long run on a perfect trail that I just happened to find, and spotted a cliff so large and steep that it could be the version of my own Echo Wall that I’ve been looking for. But these are other stories.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Feeling Old?


Check out this 74-year old. Apparently there are over 40,000 people in Japan that are over 100 years old, and I'm sure this has much more to do with lifestyle than genetics (do we even have an over 75 bodybuilding category, because this guy is nervous about moving up because the competition is so stiff?!). Culturally they eat a plant-based diet and a lot of fish. Plus, their snacks are so weird that it must self limit overindulgence. Regardless, this guy is an inspiration and a perfect fit for Jack LaLanne week.

Another perfect fit, as to just why Jack week is so important, is the ad before the vid, brought to us by Jimmy Dean sausage. Yahoo also released this and one-upped the Brits with an ad from Dunkin Donuts. How dare another country try and usurp our obesity title!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Preaching The Here And Now


On Thursday I'll be attending Jack LaLanne's birthday party. On Sat, I'll be doing a fitness challenge in honor of his birthday. I guess that makes this officially Jack LaLanne week. I'm still not sure what my challenge is going to be yet. 95 is a pretty big number to play with. In the mean time, I've stumbled on another great article on LaLanne. You know, the guy who claims he "spent a lot of time on the floor with your mother." This one is from Sam McManis at the SF Chronicle.

Raising the bar
At 88, fitness guru Jack LaLanne can run circles around those half his age


It may even top the article I posted last week for its entertainment value. LaLanne's story is inspiring. His personality is amusing. Here we get a glimpse of the catalyst the got him into exercise in the first place:

"I'd eat a quart of ice cream in one sitting, shove my finger down my throat, heave it up and have another quart," LaLanne said. "There's nothing more addictive on this earth than sugar. Not heroin, booze, whatever. It's much worse than smoking. Boy, I tell you, I had blinding headaches every day. I was mentally screwed up by sugar. I was psychotic. I was malnourished. I was always getting sick. I got kicked out of school. I wanted to die."

And on what it was like to eat healthy as teenager in a world where humans are like "walking garbage cans."

"They thought I was crazy," he said. "I had to take my lunch alone to the football field to eat so no one would see me eat my raw veggies, whole bread, raisins and nuts. You don't know the crap I went through, boy."

LaLanne invented a lot of fitness gear, exercise regimens, dietary practices, and opened one of the first fitness chains in the USA, which caused a lot of people to eye him suspiciously.

LaLanne said Bay Area newspapers, except for The Chronicle's Herb Caen, treated him like a "crackpot who doesn't eat meat and wants everybody to rupture something lifting weights." Few people joined at first, but one who did, restaurateur Vic ("Trader Vic") Bergeron, gave LaLanne some advice one day while getting a massage from him: Wear a tight T-shirt and strut your stuff on high school campuses.

Eventually people sought him out, apparently even Clint Eastwood as a 16 year old. This led to a career in TV, the place I first saw him as a kid. This appears to not have been exactly smooth sailing for him either.

A TV novice, LaLanne's initial reviews were not great. He heard those same old "crackpot" epithets, this time from newspapers back east: Women will look like men if they work out. That health food is bad for the body. On his very first show, Jack looked into the camera earnestly and said, "If man makes it, don't eat it." Then he took a loaf of Langendorf white bread, smashed it into a tight ball and flung it to the floor with a thud. "See," he said, "that's what it does in your stomach, too."

Langendorf, it turned out, was one of the show's sponsors.


It goes on from there, all the while referencing LaLanne's famous cultural diatribes, such as:

On the evils of sugar and junk food: "It destroys the B vitamins. It destroys your mind, affects your memory, your concentration. Why do you think so many of these kids today are screwed up? It's what they're eating. You know how much sugar Americans consume today in white flour, cakes, pies, candy and ice cream? Would you get your dog up in the morning and give him a cigarette, cup of coffee and a doughnut? How many millions of Americans got up this morning with a breakfast like that? And you wonder why people are sick and obese."

On whether people should consume dairy products: "Are you a suckling calf? No. Do you have two stomachs? No. Name me one creature on this earth, except for man, who uses milk after they wean. Why do you think so many people are fat and have heart attacks? Cholesterol! Butter, cream, cheese, ice cream, whole milk. They got these athletes prostituting their souls by posing with milk mustaches. Those guys ought to be thrown in jail."

On celebrity: "I hated it. I was just doing my job. Celebrities give me a pain in the butt. Some of the biggest bums in this world are Hollywood people. They're drunkards, do dope, don't exercise."


And finally, on life:

"Billy Graham preaches the hereafter. I preach the here-and-now."

the challenge of challenges: pulling 70 boats and people across Long Beach harbor with his hands and feet shackled, at age 70.