Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weight Loss: A Cyclist's Perspective



not fat?

Recently retired Bobby Julich is writing a column for that's more introspective than most of their rider diaries. His latest is on why cyclists gain so much weight and what they do to lose it. He skips a couple of subjects, such as why so many cyclists get fat when they retire (though the answer is obvious from his article) and what to do when you need to lose muscle mass. The latter, I suppose, isn't generally a problem because not many cyclists gain muscle mass in the off-season. But it's an issue for the recreational athlete or someone coming to cycling from another sport where you may have built up some unwanted muscle. These last two issues should be covered quite well as we follow Lance this year. That cross-trained body isn't going to help him in the alps and Bruyneel said last week that he needs to lose some muscle, which the above pics of he and rival Ivan Basso confirm. So that should be fun, especially considering Basso says he's fat and claims his power readings confirm that he'll improve 25% between now and the Giro.

While this story develops, here's a good perspective on what cyclists go through to get into racing form.

Battle of the Bulge

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Old Dog’s Old Tricks

Sometimes an injury can be a blessing in disguise. While I’m not about to call my back a blessing yet—especially given how painful life is at the moment—I will say it’s led to a advance in my training I haven’t seen in a long time.

My climbing peaked in about 1995. Since that time I’ve continued to climb and some aspects of my performance have improved. But like most sports, ultimately, the highest level one can reach comes down to motivation and effective training. And my climbing training has been practically non-existent. This is by choice as I’ve been focusing on other sports, but I do often wonder how hard I could climb now if I had the same motivation to train that I did in the early 90s.

This injury could lead to some exploration in those areas. As my bikes, skis, running shoes and climbing boots gather dust I’ve turned my attention to the only thing I can do: hangboard training. For those who don’t know, a hangboard is an apparatus that is mounted to a wall that’s littered with various holds you might find climbing. You use it by strategizing different schemes using these holds the same way you would design a program using weights. The goal is to improve contact strength, which is the ability to hang onto small holds.

They’re highly effect; and highly tedious. In vogue for only a few years, now they’re mainly seen in homes of people who want their friends to think they climb and in the corner of gyms for kids to play on. It is hard to justify standing in once place doing endless repetitions of hanging off your fingertips when there’s a gym full of routes to climb. Professional trainers will also tell you that a hangboard only trains you for one aspect of climbing. That aspect, however, is far more important than anything else. As Ben Moon put it, “the only thing that really matters is how strong my fingers are.”

“Technique is no substitute for power.” phil requist at @#$%! Video, circa 1991. note the elaborate contraption, called a forearm trainer, that was designed and built by phil

In 1990 I started a small business that forced me inside for about a year until it was running well enough for me to hire employees. During this period I made the biggest improvement in a single span of my climbing life. I did almost no climbing. I ran or biked in the mornings to keep my weight down and trained on a hangboard. The above quote, again from Moon, hung on the ceiling over the board. It was perfect. I couldn’t get outside so, even if wrong, it was the advice I wanted to hear. When I was again able to go outside my technique was crap but I miles stronger than I’d ever been. As my technique came around to where it was prior, my climbing level skyrocketed.

Since I’ve stopped climbing so much, finger strength is what I’ve lacked more than anything else. I can still figure out how to get up things, I often simply can’t hang onto the holds. If my psyche holds out—and right now it’s strong—this injury could be the beginning of a great season, even it it’s not the one I was planning for.

I wish I’d kept my training journals from those days. I used to graph my strength gains and was able to keep the graph pointed skyward most of the time. If my first round of training in any indication, I’m again headed in the right direction. It would be fun to go back and compare an aged climber to a young one.

I begin with a lengthy warm-up. 15 minutes on the bike (about all I can tolerate right now) or stairmaster, followed by a bunch of light weight resistance exercises to thoroughly warm all of my muscles. Then I hang each of the holds I’ll use in the workout without getting pumped. The warm-up has to feel like work. Any abridging increases the risk of injury.

The target of these workouts is hypertrophy, so I’m doing a lot of volume. Later, for power, I’ll do shorter, more intense, hangs. Right now it’s 5 reps of 10 seconds with a 5 second rest for each hold. 2 minutes between sets. I did one workout just getting used to hanging, then I began charting. Below are the numbers (total seconds hanging) for each workout on each hold, in progressive order.

Shallow 2: 20, 31, 33, 50, 46

Small slope: 30, 50, 46, 46, 50

Small pinch: 30, 50, 43, 47, 47

Small crimp: 44, 38, 41, 42, 44

Medium 2: 24, 25, 30, 36, 44

Big pinch: 50, 50, 50, 50, 50

Big sloper: 20, 34, 49, 50, 50

Slopey crimp pinch: 0, 39, 40, 44, 45

Medium 3: 0, 29, 36, 40, 41

Medium sloper: 0, 0, 0, 20, 35

Comparing like holds, I’ve improved during each workout at ratios of: 35%, 6%, 13%, 7%. The bigger increases came when I had an extra days rest. Counting increased volume my workout load has increased 140% in the last two weeks, which is off the charts. A lot of this has to do with engrams (neuromuscular patterns) kicking in so won’t continue indefinitely but it’s still inspiring. My next series adds weight, decreases the hang time, but increases the number of sets. I’ll post my progress when I’m done.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Recovery Formula

During my P90X postings last year I don't think I ever got around to discussing Recovery Formula. The last few weeks I've received numerous emails asking if we could replace the sugar in RF with stevia. This, I can only imagine, has come about with the marketing hoopla over no calorie sports drinks. I blogged a while back on "the world's most inane beverage" when I discovered that Gatorade was making a "low sodium" electrolyte drink. Since sodium is your primary electrolyte, I posed the question what could be more ridiculous? And they've answered; a sports drink with no energy. Amazing.

A quick lesson: calorie is a word we use for energy in the foods we consume. When we exercise we greatly increase the amount of energy (and electrolytes) we burn. Sports drinks were designed to replace things depleted while doing sports, which are primarily calories and electrolytes.

Marketers don't care about such pesky details. They are aware that people like new things, whether or not these things make sense. People like words like "no calories" and "no sodium" and, apparently, will buy them even if their goal is to buy something with calories and sodium.

Recovery Formula, as the name suggests, is designed to aid in recovery from exercise. This requires calories, among other things. I've written an article that discusses this process in laymen terms, and here it is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Good Year To Be Injured

It's interesting to see cycling getting so much press in early January. In normal years, I'd guess that I echo the average cyclist when I say that my interest in the Tour Down Under is mainly to take a virtual vacation to somewhere warm. It's far too early to gauge how a rider is going to go based on their performance, so fan interest is mainly to scout for up and coming talent. This race is huge for young riders who are trying to make the roster for big races in Europe later that season. The racing is always first rate but, mainly, I enjoy watching riders race with their jerseys open when 15 degrees F outside at home.

This year is different. With the return of the Texan the world has cast its eyes on Australia. As a cycling fan, it's all good. Now instead of scrapping for the odd highlight we can choose from a cornucopia of media options. Apparently, Versus is covering the race live on TV. I don't have TV, so I look to This web site has become invaluable. They scavenge the wires for various feeds all season long. If you're open to broadcasts in various languages, you never need miss a race. For the TdU, they have a handful of different length options for every stage. Here's a 7 minute recap (about perfect for a sprint stage) of stage one.

Stage 1 TdU

Another good option is They have free content and various packages you can buy. Two years ago this site was seriously fledging, covering pro races when possible but also streaming homemade training videos and the like. Now they've linked with Versus and other networks so that it's like a television network dedicated to cycling. For the cost of around a month of cable you can watch almost every important race on the calendar.

So thanks, Lance. At least I picked a good year to get injured.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dumby Dave

One of the things you do when you're injured is look for ways to stay psyched. For me, this has meant a lot of reading about climbing. I love climbing history and had a fairly extensive library of mountaineering books before I'd ever tied into a rope. Since I quit climbing full time haven't kept a close eye on what was happening. I have a lot of friends who are still doing things on the cutting edge, so I stay abreast to a degree. After three weeks of lying on my back, I think I can say I'm now caught up.

Some of the coolest things about the modern age are blogging and very small cameras and digital recorders that will shoot broadcast quality footage. Because of this, we are now privy to first hand accounts of what once was mountain lore. Most of the big name climbers have production teams following them around. The up and comers' have You Tube. The result is that you no longer need your imagination. There's a record of almost every ground breaking ascent of the millennia.

Of course, some people are better than others at this. My favorite of the bunch is Scottish climber Dave MacLeod's blog. More than any other region, the U.K. has always been keen on not just climbing, but the sport's history and , more importantly, how it gets told. The climbing pubs in Britain have always been filled with colorful characters that make up for its lack of monumental rock faces. For this reason it was always one of my favorite places to climb. MacLeod, a proud Scott, seems keenly aware of this as he chronicles his quest to push new boundaries as well as repeat all of the world's most difficult traditional routes. His blog is a thoughtful, funny, and inspiring. If you're at all interested in climbing, it's a fine way to spend a bit of down time.

Also, if you want a more straightforward account of Dave's climbing career, here's a piece written by Dougald MacDonald for Climbing.

above is a trailer for echo wall, the story of macleod attempting perhaps the most difficult traditional climb in the world. below is a bit of training.

"you're a crazy man, dave."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Lemonade

With the passing New Year, many of us have embarked on new ambitions. Those with even the slightest foresight tend to make some type of goal at the beginning of the year. Most of us never see these through but that's beside the point, really. What's important is that we make an attempt to improve. As long as this is happening, there's just no such thing as failure.

One of the most interesting aspects of life is that we never know what's going to happen. This is why most New Year's Resolutions fail. Something knocks us from our set routine and, poof, the pressure to succeed is off so we quit. Of course, when we allow this to happen we’re only hurting ourselves. Conversely, when we don't, success is assured. Goals are there to get us moving and their true importance is in the act of moving; not in achieving the quest.

This little piece of self-reflective drivel has arisen out of three weeks on the couch. I hurt my back training. When holistic practices seemed to be aggravating the situation I turned to Western medicine. Now the choice is whether or not to operate. Obviously, this has put a little dent in my plans for 2009. My current goal is to be able to tie my shoes.

While I’m optimistic about the upside this interlude has not lacked in non-Zen moments. I’m not very agreeable when I’m deprived of exercise. Just ask my wife. But being injured has opened a new world of learning and allowed me to re-focus on some different objectives. I’m quite certain that I’m come back from this whole escape fitter and stronger than ever. When life gives you lemons….

pic: one of these sides is not like the other. you don't have to look too close to see the herniation--it's a grey blotch under the large circle of the spinal column.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Exercise Versus Paxil

If you're on my blog, this is probably preaching to the choir. It's still funny though.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I've been grounded since the first of the year and trying to find a positive spin on the whole thing. Without going into much detail, I've injured my back. I first tweaked it doing one-legged leg presses. Despite being "careful", I exacerbated the situation skiing, running, and doing Crossfit workouts. After a long yoga session on the last day of the year it became so severe that I've hardly been off my back since.

Holistic treatments weren't improving it so I went western last week. I'm now trying all options to avoid surgery. Cortisteroids (yep, I'm a doper) have seemed to help a tiny bit and I've begun some excrusiatingly painful but--so far--slightly effective physical therapy. An MRI hasn't been done yet. I have a prescription for one but, as the doc said, they're a road map to surgery and I'm working on other options first. Steroids finish today. If conditions turn south it'll be time to look at pictures.
The docs seem to think I've a slightly rupured disc. My guess is a combination of a slight herniation being made worse by some misalignment caused by on overly tight periformus and a lot of scar tissue in the pelvic region.

I've been doing a lot of research as I have to occupy my time somehow. I can only work so much.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Great Article on Fasting

I've done a lot of fasting in my life. I've written a lot on it, too. This is one of the simplest scientific explanations about it I've seen. I gives you some science and minimizes the confusion. Here's an excerpt:

"Glycogen is necessary for thinking; it's necessary for muscle action; it's necessary just for the cells to live in general," says Dr. Naomi Neufeld, an endocrinologist at UCLA.

Neufeld says most adults need about 2,000 calories a day. Those calories make energy, or glycogen. Neufeld says it doesn't hurt — it might even help the body — to fast or stop eating for short periods of time, say 24 hours once a week, as long as you drink water.

"You re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar, so sugar becomes something you're less fond of taking," Neufeld says.

Eventually the body burns up stored sugars, or glycogen, so less insulin is needed to help the body digest food. That gives the pancreas a rest. On juice diets recommended by some spas, you may lose weight, but your digestive system doesn't get that rest.

Mark Mattson, a scientist with the National Institute on Aging, says that when we convert food into energy, our bodies create a lot of byproducts we could do without, including free radicals.

"These free radicals will attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, the membranes of cells," Mattson says. "They can damage all those different molecules in cells."

Fasting Article

If you don't want to read, there's also an audio link. Enjoy.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Best Year Ever

My wife just wrote a blog called Best New Year's Ever. I felt I should one up her. I try to live life with the rationale that whatever I'm currently doing is the best thing I've ever done. I probably don't always believe it but it seems counterproductive to live any other way. This year, however, makes a case that could be argued in court.

I began the year at my brother's wedding in India.

I found a lot to like in India, though not all of it lived up up to the books I'd read in my youth. 2008 began with an attempt at a big party, which turned into wandering the streets of Calcutta, and celebrating with some random locals.

The next day I was headed for Nepal. After about 30 hours of rattling through India, consuming only street food and chai, I witnessed my first sunset of 2008 jammed into a mini-bus with about 25 people whilst fighting a bout of dysentary.

Nepal suited me,

but I was excited to get back home, where Romney and I were about to surprise a lot of people with our bipartisan campaign, which commenced with a surprise ceremony in Switzerland.

Back at home, work was going well as P90X and Ten Minute Trainer became the two most popular fitness programs in the USA. As one of these programs creators, I then embarked on a blogging throughout my next round of X to shed light on some of the main questions we get on the Message Boards. Between this post in March, and this one in July, you'll find a lot of info about 90X you won't hear elsewhere.
Next, we got Beata back.

Who not only became a great companion for Tuco, but a great training partner for me. We promptly went out and stompeed the competition in a duathlon.

Our campaign then bought a new headquarters and commenced a series of victory parties.

If you shoot enough, you never know what you'll catch:
romney girls with a slightly out-of-character mick in the background.
mom and lisa with a highly out-of-character bob in the background.
josh, completely in character, enjoying a party.
We then began zipping off from one adventure to the next.

The popularity of 90x took us from a how to look good in a bathing suit company to how to get ready for a professional athletics career. We continually find more and more athletes using it to enhance their sports performance, but it was still a surprise when X's popularity landed a trip for (Beachbody President) Jon and I to the Olympics.

The fall lasted just long enough for a family-themed birthday challenge.

Then the snows hit, making it time to strap on the skis, make some goals for 2009, and concoct a new training plan.
tuco transforms into a wolf each winter.
Instead of resting on a successful 2008, Beachbody's got big plans as well. We just launched ChaLEAN Extreme and will take an attempt to ante up on 90X with Shaun T's Insanity. Shaun and I promoted it and his other programs and went in depth into how we're going to cure our obesity epidemic on Blog Talk Radio. Our interview took so long it cut into my socializing at our holiday party.
with jonathan gelfand, esq., and slim in 6 creator debbie siebers at the beachbody bash.
As the holidays rolled around, Romney and I were completely traveled out. We spent some fantastic family quiet time skiing, lounging, and running in the New Year.

If it was her best New Year ever, it was certainly my best Christmas.

Happy New Year! Here's to 2009.