Tuesday, June 29, 2010

30 Is The New 20

Today’s installment of the WFH will discuss lean muscle; the stuff women are always on about over at our message boards. Well, ladies, I’ve got something you might want hear. Any of you seriously worried about gaining too much muscle mass can fret no more. The key is to make 30 your new 20. Or maybe we should call this part II of things your trainer will never tell you.

We’re talking about repetitions, of course. If you’ve been following along you know I’m in the first phase of the Workout From Hell where each set of exercise is done to as close to failure as possible at 30 reps. This is more or less un-heard of down at your local Gold’s, and for good reason. It makes it virtually impossible to gain much size. Conventional iron head wisdom would say “why bother?” So I’ll answer the why, which isn’t going to change their minds. But it might change yours.

Let’s open with the big caveat; the reason you haven’t heard me recommending 30 reps for any Beachbody program over the years. Well, we do 30 reps for some things, mainly abs and other slow twitch areas of the body that are trained well with volume, but never for the prime movers as a sustained target. It’s because it hurts. It hurts and it takes a long time. It hurts, it takes a long time, and it doesn’t yield the type of results quickly that most people are looking for. At this point it no longer sounds like a good idea to me.

What 30 reps does is train your glycolytic energy system. As I said in an early post, the glycolysis is what allows a fast 100 meter sprinter to win at 400 meters. Essentially, it’s the system that uses glycogen and oxygen to recharge your body’s anaerobic (Kreb’s Cycle) system. I ran the quarter and we used to refer to something we called The Bear. The Bear lived in the “block house” (housed the track equipment) that was located at the last turn of the track. In the 400, The Bear attacked at the last turn and slowed you down. Unless, that is, your glycolytic system was firing on all cylinders. Then you’d kick home, passing a bunch of guys who looked like they suddenly had a bear on their backs because their anaerobic system was finished at 300 meters (about as long as you can hold your breath while sprinting) and their glycolytic wasn’t trained well enough to keep their fast-twitch muscles firing.

But life isn’t the quarter so why train this? Essentially because it’s another energy system and the more efficient your body is that better it will work in life. It will allow more progress during your other training, no matter what it is, that leads to better results long term. A strong glycolytic system would be particularly useful for the latter rounds of P90X and high-level programs like Insanity (your ability to do Insanity should improve drastically). Basically, the more efficient your body runs the better it utilizes nutrients and can improve at other things.

During 30 reps sets you can actually feel your system load change. The weight you use may seem impossibly light during the first 6-10 reps. Around 15 (or less later in the workout) you’ll start feeling it. At 20, the point where most traditional weight exercises end and about as long as your can reasonably hold your breath under duress, you’re muscles will begin to give out as you change systems. From then on it’s a fight to the finish (providing you’ve used enough weight which takes a little practice). If you do these sets correctly you’ll be dying (in my case screaming) to get your last five reps done.

There are two very important techniques to adhere to. First is form. Reps should not be rushed and form should remain perfect throughout the set. If your form falters you should stop. There is no benefit to finishing a set with bad form, and anytime you do you risk injury.

Secondly you need to breathe, perhaps both loudly and exaggeratedly. Deep rhythmic breathing is the key to every single set. Remember that you are working on an oxygen based system. The more oxygen your force into your system the better chance you are have of finishing. This seems silly when you hoisting five pound weights because you could do this easily, with no focus at all, in the beginning. But if you don’t breathe early in the set it will catch up to you and you’ll fail near the end. When you nail your breathing it makes the transition between creatine phosphate and glycolytic systems smooth. The sets then get easier and more resistance can be added on your next set.

You should not do 30 rep sets for very long. I’m doing a three week cycle and I’m tired at the end of week two. It’s hard, stressful, and you could simply not remain focused for much longer than 3 to 4 weeks. In fact, 400 meter runners spend very little time actually running 400 meters. They train both under and over and save that targeted distance for peak periods and races. It pushes your body beyond where you want it to be very often.

For anyone looking for a performance edge I would recommend a block of 30 provided you have a decent fitness foundation. You could incorporate it into any weight training program. I think a block of P90X targeting 30 would be awesome. Keep in mind is that your resistance workouts will take a long time so you’ll need to use the pause button. Also, I haven’t guinea pigged this one so, until I do, you’re on your own.

pic: i can’t say whether isabelle patissier ever did the workout from hell but climbing definitely targets your glycolytic system and she did plenty of that. the former world cup champion showing off the fashion sense that made her a late-80s pin-up girl.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The P90X Newsletter Archive

The P90X specific newsletter began in 2009 and we've got an indexed archive up on my site:

P90X Newsletter Archive

It's not too differenent from the normal Beachbody Newsletter except the content is often geared more towards graduate-level workout programs instead of any workout program. Topics may include anything about nutrition or fitness but you'll also find targets subjects customizing P90X, how to create hydrid programs with Insanity, Turbo Fire, 90X and any of our graduate programs, a how to use our workouts for sports specific training. If you don't find a subject you're looking for don't forget to look on our standard archive, which goes all the way back to 2000.

Beachbody Newsletter Archive

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shhh, I Have A Fat Burning Secret

There’s always stuff that works that no one wants to talk about condoning, like steroids and ephedra. I won’t say “won’t condone” because, often times, it remains as insider secret and kept for the greater public, often in fear of them abusing it. But not all of it is dangerous, especially if you know why it works and how to do it properly. Take what I did this morning for example: the Workout From Hell Back & Chest workout on an empty stomach.

No trainer would advise doing a WFH (or any kick-ass workout) without an ample storage of blood sugar (which converts to glycogen in your muscles and liver and fuel anaerobic performance). Hard training, sans glycogen, sends your body into a deep stage of the bonk. You have to push harder than you should and, in turn, do more muscular damage than normal (and brain damage, which runs on glycogen). While this sounds bad there’s a flip side—as there inevitably is—in that your body, being forced to the brink of its performance capability, turns to body fat for energy. This is cause for no great shakes as even the most casual athlete has probably heard that your body turns to stored adipose tissue for energy when its preferred fuel, glycogen, is kaput. But what most of us (trainers) don’t discuss is that this fat for fuel equation can be trained to improve. And nothing trains it as well as pushing it to the brink.

More conventional wisdom has us train this process doing low to moderate exercise on an empty stomach. In fact, it’s what you’ll hear from me all the time (in our Beachbody literature and elsewhere). And it works pretty well. But in the sports world we’re always looking for an advantage and it doesn’t work as well as trying to perform anaerobic intervals without any fuel.

If this sounds familiar it’s because there was just an article on the wires about this process and I blogged about it a couple of weeks back. But I didn’t get into specifics, which is why you shouldn’t do it if it works so well, or why I’m doing this right now.

First off, this is not a recommended training modality because, well, people have a hard time with moderating anything they think works “to burn fat”. And it’s definitely not the kind of thing you want to do often. Even then, when you do it the recovery process must be maximized or the damage you cause will outweigh the positive training effects. So let’s go over the rules:

First, you should only do this once in a while; max once per week and in cycles of no more than 4 weeks in a row. Next, you need to eat after your workout. This, more than any time I can imagine, is the slot for Recovery Formula or something similar. Whatever you choose you want 200 or so calories of something that digests rapidly. And then an hour later you should eat a small balanced meal to keep the recovery process going. Even then don’t expect to be at your best. If there aren’t a lot of typos in this post I’ll be surprised. And I certainly wouldn’t want to take a test or try and climb something at my limit this afternoon.

PS - read the comments if you're interested in more on this topic.

pics: more than any other group of athletes, climbers tend to get pushed anaerobically sans fuel and, hence, tend to get lean. in fact, older (and far less science-minded and more food deprived) climbers seemed like the most ripped of all.

WFH: Stabilization

While by far the easiest day in the rotation, day 3 is vital for both performance and non-performance. Stability work keeps injuries at bay but, if done correctly, will also free up your prime mover muscles to function more effectively. I dedicate my knowledge in this area to the late Kevin Brown, who taught me much more about stability training than I learned from books, classes, training rooms and medical offices.

He was an innovator in the field of “prehab”, which is addressing injuries before they happen. Sports programs that worked with him saw their non-contact injury rates mostly disappear. Most of his breakthroughs seem obvious once in practice, yet are overlooked by athletes the majority of the time. Over the years he would continually take something conventional and mildly effective and tinker with it until he found something more effective. Eventually he came up with a system that worked for any group of athletes no matter what their given sport.

While training with Kevin could get complex, the cornerstone of his system is simple. There are a few key movements he used that, when done regularly, keep your musculature balanced and greatly reduce the chances of injuring your knees and shoulders, the two hot spots in the athletic world. My stabilizer days feature these movements with a couple others adding for climbing specificity.

Hip stabilization

Hip Medley

A series of four exercises, done in successive 45 second sets, which target the gluteus medius. The benchmark is 3:00 with 5 pounds. Hard to explain so you’ll have to wait for video.

Windshield Wipers
The “my guys would rather get shot” exercise, again targeting the gluteus medius. Do 3 sets of 25 reps with a 10 second hold at the end. Again, you’re going to need video.

Shoulder stabilization
I do three sets of one exercise that targets the muscles of the rotator cuff region. It’s a standard move, sometimes called scarecrow, though I do it one arm at a time. I use both a theraband and a weight to keep the resistance constant throughout (the benchmark goal is 50 reps with 15lbs). The trick is that I push down on a stability ball with my elbow. This deactivates the deltoid muscles that tend to take over the movement, focusing the exercise onto the correct muscle group. Again, vids coming.

I do reverse write curls to work the extensor muscles in the forearm. 3 sets of 30.

The same bridge and plank series from the day before, but I’ll do three sets. The benchmarks are a 3 minute plank and 10 sets of one-legged bridge held for 20 seconds rotated back and forth.

TA muscle
Normally I add the exercise from the preceding day on stabilizer days as well.

I can mainly hit my benchmarks so I don’t always do these exercises. During this program, however, I will do them religiously and try and exceed all benchmarks. The stronger these muscles are the better and when you’re spending a lot of time doing other stuff it’s hard to focus on them. I find a few intense periods will give you some margin for error so you can safely slack off at other times.

pic: in the 80s we had lycra, which instantly increased both your range of motion and stabilization strength. it was subsequently banned from competition.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WFH: Back & Chest (and even some legs)

Lactic Acid Bath is the name of a New River Gorge sport route that was famous in the early 90s. But you don’t have to travel for such an experience. Just train your chest and back, in a volume workout, on the same day. Toss in a few sets for your other big muscle group and you’ve got a veritable pukefest in waiting.

Day 2: A step down in focus from day one but every bit as painful. Working two large muscle groups together is brutal, and today we throw in a third.

The Warm-Up

Because such light weight is being used I do not warm-up thoroughly. I generally do a bit of easy movement, some ballistic stretches, and then practice each movement to determine the weight I’m going to use, doing about 10 reps.

3 sets of 30 reps for 4 different exercises. 1 minute rest between sets.
Wide late pull-downs
Seated rows
Pronation pull-ups – done on rings
One arm rows

2 minute break

3 sets of 30 reps for 4 different exercises. 1 minute rest between sets.

Dips – I can’t do 30 dips so I’ve rigged a way to do dips from my knees.
Cable Flys – I use a band
Wide fingertip push-ups – These are fairly climbing specific. I’m on my knees and they still hurt at this point.
Diamond push-ups – I do these from Tony Horton power stands, on my knees, and at this point in the workout I’m dying from about rep 10 on.

Note: I try and hold a long stretch between each set. Bodybuilders claim this stretches out the fascia and will lead to more hypertrophy. At a minimum it counteracts all the muscle contraction by forcing the actin and myosin strands of your muscle cells apart.

I can’t do much for my legs right now because I can’t bend at the waist under duress. If I could I may change the schedule because I’m dying on the little that I’m doing.

Wall Squat – One set to shakiness with my low back flat on the wall. I will probably increase this to two and then three sets but it’s vital at this point not to put too much strain in the low back area.
One leg calf raises – 3 sets, each from a different angle: toe in, toe out, and neutral. This is somewhat climbing specific.
Tibialis Anterior exercise – I set to failure of form. I consider this a stabilizer exercise but do it here because it feels right. Back flat against a wall, feet about a foot’s length in front, raise the toes. Should be able to do 40-50 easily.

Again, I’m limited what I can do so I train core two days in a row. Today is easier.

Bridge – one set until form start to go- at least 2 minutes today, which doubles when you haven't done the above workout.
Plank – on elbows, back flat, to failure of form. 2 minutes or so at this point in the workout.This is a far cry from what I do when healthy but the point is back rehab right now.

pic: from the back in the day files, me climbing in mexico, sometime during the 90s.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

WFH: Shoulders & Arms

Hell hath no fury like a climber who can’t go outside on the longest day of the year. So instead of climbing the largest limestone wall in North America I’ve been hitting the WFH like a man possessed. I’ll go through each workout I do day by day. The first workout in the series is for shoulders and arms.

Training Overview

Each training block consists of a three day rotation, done twice per week with a day off after the second round, done for three weeks. The goal is to improve significantly each week. There is no recovery or transition week between each block because they are each so different it’s not necessary. Other than the workouts listed I hike daily and am doing a little (careful) climbing.

By far the hardest block is the first. It’s difficult for most people used to traditional weight training that generally consists of doing 15 repetitions or less. 30 reps shifts the energy systems stressed from phosphate to gycolytic. This transition is difficult and painful, like the difference between running the 100 and the 400. Doing 30 reps forces you to breathe in order to recharge your Kreb’s Cycle using oxygen. Theoretically you could do less than 15 reps holding your breath (though you would not want to). This is why Largo says “the difference between 20 and 30 reps is the difference between 5.8 and 5.12.”

Day 1: This is my hardest day. It's very climbing specific and takes a lot of focus, which is why it has top billing on the schedule.

The Warm-Up

You can get away with a lesser warm-up during this block than the others because the top end stresses are very low. However, I begin each arm day with a fingerboard workout that is climbing specific, so I warm-up thoroughly.

Hangboard (fingerboard)

The workout I’m doing for the first three weeks is described in detail here. It will transition during each block.

I take a short break after this part of the workout, maybe 5 minutes.

3 sets of 30 reps for 4 different exercises. Whereas Largo’s version of the WFH stresses doing simple isolation movements I’m doing more climbing specific movements when applicable.

I rest of approximately one minute between each set.

Front delt pull-downs – This is very climbing specific. I use an exercise band and do a front straight armed pull-down from full extension up all the way down to my waist. Feel this in your front deltoid area. Keep your core very rigid.
Lateral raise
Standing rows
Standing dumbbell military press, elbows in

I won’t describe traditional exercises. Look them up if you don’t know what they are.

3 sets of 30 reps of 3 exercises. I do tris before bis because I think the exercises are harder.

Overhead tri extension w/ band (cable) – forward
Switch-grip kickbacks – rotate hand position every other rep
Overhead tri extension with weight – straight up


Dumbell curls
Hammer curls
Reverse grip curls – works forearm extensors


I do this workout.

pic: more back in the day: wolfie, the late german powerhouse, training his famous shoulders and arms in the valley

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Workout From Hell For Climbing

After nearly a week I’m finding more merit in the WFH than I was expecting. Maybe it’s just because it’s so damned hard, but I’m enjoying my pumped up trip down memory lane. I also may be on to some type of breakthrough so this is going to be an ongoing series about doing a climbing specific WFH. For those of you not into climbing (most of you) there will be other things to learn in this experiment. In fact, it’s possible that the rep scheme for WFH might be appropriate for those of your trying to do X and get leaner. I’ve written an article on this here but my new training program could be the next evolution.

Essentially the WFH is three, 3-week blocks of training that target muscular endurance, followed by hypertrophy, followed by power.

The first block targets muscular endurance by having your work til failure doing 30 reps—yep, you read that right! If you do these reps til failure (or close—if you never fail on a set you’re not using enough weight). This is the “hell’ part of the program. These workouts are ridiculously long and hard. The plus is that it’s almost impossible to not have some sort of physical or mental transformations occur from the process.

The 2nd block targets hypertrophy, though the reps stay at the high end, 15, in order to limit muscle growth (since the whole concept promises that you won’t gain weight).

The final strength or power phase targets only 5 reps. Again, we’re looking to strengthen the muscles yet limit growth.

Due to the excessive nature of the program, especially the first training block, sports specific training must be minimized. But during my round I’ve altered Long’s version by adding more sports specific movements to target some of my weaknesses.

Essentially, my endurance-driven decade has caused me to regress in certain aspects of strength, especially when it comes to big muscle power. My ability to lock-off, do one-armed pull-ups, etc, has all gone way down. If I can improve this during the program, when my endurance comes back later my overall climbing ability should go way up-- theoretically higher than its ever been (of course age will come into play but still, we’ll see). Also, I was in my early 30s during my last round of the WFH, so that’s another aspect to observe.

Because of my injury I can’t do any strength tests at the moment so I’ll start just looking for improvements in body fat percentage (when I can do one-arm pull-ups and muscle-ups I’ll know my strength has improved). Currently, my body fat % is somewhere between 6% and 15% (using two different devices, which are always wrong). I’d say in reality its in between. The goal is 5% at 50. My weight is 173.

Tomorrow I’ll start describing the actual workouts.

pic: i know, the WFH isn't supposed to make you big, but you do plenty of screaming so i couldn't resist using a pic of one of the masters of the iron days, tom platz (who also taught my first fitness seminar)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beachbody Article Archive

Here’s an important reference tool; the Beachbody article archive that’s indexed by subject. Now instead of trying to track down articles with a search engine you can scroll through a decade of subjects in a matter seconds. The newsletter content has always been about responding to your questions. Over the years we’ve probably covered any subject you’ve ever thought about--well, at least pertaining to Beachbody workout programs and diets. Team Beachbody coaches, especially, should bookmark this page because you’ll use it with almost all of your customers. The more they learn, the less you have to actually teach them!

The Beachbody Newsletter Archive

Btw, the rest of my web site is evolving so don’t pay much attention to it yet. It used to be a big reference point but all the links died when we changed the Team Beachbody site. As more features are added I’ll let you know here, or you can sign up for my newsletter that will alert you about important news. Just send an email to:


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Workout From Hell

john long bouldering Pictures, Images and Photos

My damaged back has turned the summer plans upside down, with the upside being that I’m so limited in what I can do it will add some focus to my training. The last few days I’ve been testing my limits to see what I should and shouldn’t be doing. In conclusion, I’ve decided it’s time to dust off the “Workout From Hell.”

My buddy Largo wrote this workout program for a climbing magazine back in the 80s. While no one questioned its difficulty, it never became a part of the climbing lexicon because, frankly, it’s not very good training for the sport. These days it’s pretty antiquated as training for anything. In a world where symbiosis and functionality are king, it’s preaches isolation and iron so strongly that it conjures up black and white images of Arnie, Franco, and Muscle Beach.

Though dated, the program is not without merit (note above pic of a ripped Largo back in the day). Its graduated rep scheme that begins absurdly high and transitions to very low is great for targeting energy systems. And it’s even more intriguing given I lack mobility and can’t do complex movements. The lack of functionality doesn’t bother me because, when I’m healthy, I spend too much time playing and too little time training so my sports specific engrams (neuromuscular patterns) are firmly in place.

Of course I’m already very familiar with the WFH. I try everything. I began my first cycle of this program the day after I read about it. Back then we’d try anything to improve our climbing. Without resources like the internet we weren’t privy to why the Europeans had come out of nowhere to dominate the sport that we’d ruled for a couple of decades. It wasn’t due to the WFH but we didn’t know that, so I hit the gym with the fervor of an amphibious rodent being dropped into a bath.

Like Largo, the first time I did this I was so sore that I couldn’t reach my hands above my head to wash my hair, much less climb anything. And while it didn’t improve my climbing it helped my fitness. Over the years I tinkered with it. I’d do a cycle each year, in the off season, to build base fitness and avoid muscular imbalances. And while I’m not sure it was the most efficient tactic for my climbing only lifestyle, as I was doing back then, I think it will help with some weaknesses that I currently have and be good overall training for my current multi-sports lifestyle.

I’m not sure how much help the WFH is in the modern world. Something like 90x, for example, is a far more thorough training regimen. But some of its aspects can still help improve fitness, especially for those targeting specific weaknesses. And the structured repetition scheme, which never became popular for the masses, is pragmatic for sure as it directly addresses muscular endurance, hypertrophy (though Long misidentifies this phase, though it's a semantics error as he knows what it does), and power. My evolved version of the WFH is quite different than the original and I’ll post it when finalized.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Forearm Training

Unless you play baseball you’re probably not too interested in how your forearms look. However, strong forearms are more important than they appear. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, along with most finger, wrist, and elbow injuries stem from muscular imbalance in your forearms. This video shows a simple workout that can keep these injuries at bay.

In my series I add one more extensor exercise, which is driving your closed hands deep into the bucket and opening them outward. I think this is the most important exercise in the series for muscular balance. This simple 5 -10 minute workout, done a few times each week, is a great insurance policy against many common maladies. It will also, undoubtedly, help impress your colleagues at your company softball game.

My bucket is a gardening pot, wide enough for both hands to open next to each other, filled with 20lbs of rice. In the past I’ve used sand, which provides a bit more resistance. Either way, it’s a cheap and easy insurance policy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Morning Yoga

I re-injured my back mountain biking a couple of months back and have been trying to play through it. Finally, alas, I’ve been forced to deal with it head on and take some time off. Well, not off exactly, but focused. And the primary point of this focus has been on morning yoga.

Yoga and stabilization exercises were the cornerstone of my rehab last year. A year after the injury I felt as though I was 90% back. After my Mexico trip in March I allowed my focus to wane a little. I was still doing both but not with the same fervor. I wrenched my back a bit in a small crash but it was pain that I could deal with so I kept trying to perform and ramp up my biking mileage. The pain, however, has steadily increased to the point where it’s no longer possible that it’s residual. Something new is wrong.

My standard policy on most injuries is to rehab first and see doctors later. My theory is that the rehab is going to happen, one way or another, so you might as well try it first. This keeps me (and clients) out of the doctors’ office 9 times in 10. After a week it seems to be going well again.

I hadn’t been totally avoiding yoga but I hadn’t been doing actual classes or videos. As a trainer I usually don’t need these things. I know what I want to do and, in fact, almost always train harder when I’m alone and not doing a video. Probably due to my sports background I’m more intense by myself. My sets are more focused. I also concentrate better and, thus, recover quicker between exercises. This competitive nature has the opposite effect on yoga, where intensity is not the objective. Classes and videos slow me down, reduce the intensity, and increase its effectiveness. A lot.

Now, like all those months when I was acutely injured, each day begins with a yoga class (in video or in person). I’m going to keep this up until the pain is gone. I’m so much better than I was a week ago that I find it hard to conceptualize how I went so many years not doing yoga at all.

pic: romney in the canyonlands

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Does That Really Work?

My friend Ben, a firefighter, says guys at the station are always asking him if P90X really works. He usually just shakes his head, in amazement, and replies with something banal like “its diet and exercise, of course it works!” I guess people are trained by their television to think everything is a magic pill that’s probably nothing but snake oil. And, certainly, the infomercial world that’s been dominated by Thighmasters and psychic friends has done its part in perpetuating that myth. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: diet and exercise, assuming you’re following sound advice, always works.

Ben isn’t your average fireman. He studied pre-med, climbs, trains in jiu jitsu, and spends so much time doing off-the-beaten track activities that the guys at the station call him “the most interesting man in the world.” But that doesn’t mean his baffled demeanor comes from an Ivy League intellectual stance. When he was a kid basic health education was taught in school and, apparently, he was one of the few people who listened. Therefore he wasn’t nearly as surprised as most people are when I told him that all of our programs work. And each program works just as well as the next. That’s right, the test group for P90X and Insanity had pretty much the same stats as those from Rev Abs and 10 Minute Trainer.

This doesn’t mean the P90X isn’t more intricate than Project You or Slim in 6. It’s just targeted towards a different audience (one that requires more subtlety). Every Beachbody program, from Hip Hop Abs to Turbo Fire follows the same principle: diet and exercise targeted toward a specific group of people. And when you get that specific group to train hard and eat to support the exercise they are doing you get results. It’s a 100% fact. There’s no big trade secret, no miracle supplement or style of training; its simple human (animal, actually) physiology. Train hard and eat well and you’ll be as fit looking as a lion (or shark, gazelle, eagle, marlin, marmot… ). The only things in the animal kingdom that don’t look like fitness models are domesticated animals, whom we’ve also deprived of their simple life lessons from Health Ed 101. In fact, I guarantee you that when P90X canine comes out it will work every bit as well as Yoga Booty Kitty or Brazilian Body Gospel For Birds.

above: based on an idea from this photo, we're thinking that p90xII will allow you to do any training you want so long as you catch your own meals on foot. we are quite certain that this modern concept will revolutionize fitness.

The Big Blue

I've been writing a lot lately so here's a mid-week interlude that's purely for entertainment. Props to Reed for sending this video that combines two of my favorite things: freediving and climbing. Also note that the camerawoman is also holding her breath. Both beautiful and impressive.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Spartan Logic

It’s great when science confirms what we already know. Somehow, the thought of a bunch of folks wearing white coats, wielding test tubes, and nodding with approval gives us comfort. Denis over at the Fitness Nerd points this out in his latest post about whether or not when should eat before exercise.

I believe it was the ancient Spartans who first asked the question, "Should we have a small snack before we conquer Aigitida? Or is it best to pillage on an empty stomach? After all, while we want to be at our blood-thirsty best, we also wish to continue shedding fat, as to accentuate our glorious, hard-earned abs."

The study he’s citing is no great shakes, at least if you’ve been hip to sports nutrition over the last couple of millennia or read my blog. Essentially, researchers at the University of Birmingham concluded that it’s better to eat prior to intense exercise and not to eat for easier exercise.

To be fair the study’s provocative-ness goes a little deeper, concluding that some hard training on an empty stomach will help you metabolize fat better but not recommending it as a regular course of action because it exacerbates tissue breakdown and hinders performance (you bonk, in modern colloquial). This is pretty useful info; essentially that our bodies work in a negative-feedback loop so negative reactions generally cause something positive to happen. Running out of blood sugar stores (glycogen) is bad because we are forced to revert to adipose tissue (body fat) for energy. And while it doesn’t do as good a job, meaning performance drops and muscle tissue breaks down more rapidly, it’s a process your body can improve at which has benefits at the other end of the spectrum because you can work harder using stored fat and, thus, save your limited stores of blood glycogen for when you really need it. This is especially important for long events, like a bike race or, perhaps, storming across the country to Thermopylae.

When I talk about this process I often refer to an old experiment done with cyclist Chris Boardman that showed he could burn a much fat in three hours as it took the average person 18. This is somewhat common knowledge in the outdoor sports world, as one of the scientists point out:

"Science is finally catching up with what smart runners have always known," said Ron Maughan, a professor of sport, exercise and health sciences at Loughborough University in Britain. "If you have a long, hard run without breakfast once a week, that hard run will train you to burn fat," he said. "And for the rest of the week, have plenty of carbohydrates so you can train hard."

But since most Beachbody-ers are more interested in Spartan physiques than conquering Troy, here’s another tidbit for you. Daniel Kobbina, a personal trainer who also runs a martial arts school in London, said the method requires discipline — but it works.

"If you train on an empty stomach, you'll see that six-pack a lot sooner," he said.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Salt: The Empire Strikes Back

These are dark times in a galaxy of a food consumers worried about health. Last month, TSD reported that sodium recommendations were changing due to an outcry from the public. It was a new hope; government being spurred on by a public concern for personal safety. But empires aren’t afraid of little populist regimes and it appears Salt Vader has enlisted the dark side of the Force to change their minds.

“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.”

The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

Unfortunately, there’s more than taste at stake when we analyze proper nutrition. There is no question that high salt consumption is leading to thousands of deaths (health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year in the US alone) and millions of people becoming ill. The issue is that a huge industry is dependant upon us consuming salt--a lot of salt. And these people make a lot of money and, hence, wield a lot of power and will do their darndest to keep it that way.

The article, The Hard Sell On Salt, from the NY Times, is long and goes into a lot of depth. I suggest you read it. For those who won’t here’s the Cliff Notes version:

Most processed foods aren’t really food. They’re just amalgamations of chemicals that bind together that are flavored in a way that some scientists have figured out will cause you to crave them. For example:

As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.

“I really get the bitter on that,” the company’s spokeswoman, J. Adaire Putnam, said with a wince as she watched Mr. Kepplinger struggle to swallow.

They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.

The main addictive qualities of these foods come from salt, sugar, and fat; incidentally (or not) the three culprits of the obesity epidemic. There’s not much nutrition in these foods, which are fortified with a few “essential vitamins.” This may sound great on TV to kids but is done, essentially, to keep you from dying quickly. Real food has all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients you need to be healthy and doesn’t need to be fortified with anything.

The bulk of processed food is generally corn but can be the by product of pretty much anything because it’s been processed so thoroughly it’s simply a binder that is now devoid of any nutritional use it once had. So when you eat processed foods you eat some sort of unnatural balance of salt, sugar, and fat that enhances some empty calories that are fortified with some random vitamins. Based on this so-called logic the processed food industry is arguing that forcing a reduction in salt would just lead to an increase in sugar or fat. Health should not come into play because it’s not what consumers care about.

“We were trying to balance the public health need with what we understood to be the public acceptability,” said William K. Hubbard, a top agency official at the time who now advises an industry-supported advocacy group. “Common sense tells you if you take it down too low (salt) and people don’t buy, you have not done something good.”

So the industry argument is that people want to eat junk that will kill them so we’re beholden to supply them with junk and it’s unfair to ask them to change for the good of society. That’s like not feeding your child vegetables because they’d rather eat candy and then saying it was okay that they died of diabetes because it’s what they wanted. Except it’s not like that; it’s like doing that and then demanding the other parents follow suit because candy is what their kids really want to eat.

In closing, one corporate spokesman who did not give a name but was dressed in some type of black cloaked Halloween costume stated in a deep, breathy voice:

We do not yet realize salt’s importance. We have only begun to discover its power. Join me, and I will complete your salt training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.