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 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;

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.



* 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


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


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 (

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.