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


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


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 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.