Friday, August 27, 2010

Get Psyched; Stay Psyched!

This week’s Friday psyche series is about, well, psyche. When you have it you find your answers. Life is ubiquitously good. In fact, I submit it can’t be bad because you realize bad shit is a natural part of life. Without it we struggle, no matter how simple our objectives are. I take exception with one aspect in the piece; that psyche is climbing’s own word (though we certainly use it more than most). I would argue that grandpa is psyched about his upcoming round of golf and your sister should be psyched for swim practice or she should find a different sport. But the sentiment that psyche is vital for success is true. Without it, nothing meaningful gets done.

Thanks to Deadpoint Mag for the article, Gregory for the vid, and Joe Kinder (who has a great blog) for the psyche.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why Train?

Climbing is easy. Training is hard.-Patxi Usobiaga

I’ve been training now for 10 weeks and looking at my stats, not much has changed. I weigh about the same. According to my scale my body fat is about the same. I currently feel tired, beat up, and yesterday I fell off a route that I do easily when I’m not training. Most importantly, since I began this program to rehab my back and it’s hurting as I type this, so you might think I’m a fool for doing all this work in the first place. If my back isn’t better, I’m not climbing better, and I can’t even oil myself up and pose anyone down then why, pray tell, am I bothering to train at all?

It’s a fair question and I have a very reasonable answer; it’s my job. I need to experiment if just to get a better idea about what works and doesn’t. That way when we film a program to sell we have a better understanding of why it works the way it does. Theory is great and all, but when it comes to training programs practicality is all that matters. We run our prospective programs through test groups and use those who succeed to market our products. But before we test a product on the masses we test it on me, and I use my experience to decide if it’s ready to test on a larger audience or if it needs to change.

But that isn’t the real answer. I trained like this when it wasn’t my job . It’s my passion, and has been so since I was a little kid. I like to see how training affects the body and I’m always looking for the next great secret. And even though some of my experimental training programs have worked and others have not it’s pretty safe to say that training as an overall lifestyle works pretty well. As I approach 50 I can look back and say that I’ve put my body through the wringer and it still works better than most. I’ve had a countless number of minor injuries but I’ve avoided major injury and never had a surgery. And while pushing my limits has resulted in overtraining, minor breakdown, mistiming a peak and countless other setbacks my body’s ability to perform, according to the Jack LaLanne age test , still pegs me at 29, the peak age for a human.

Countless hours are frittered away discussing training theory; what works, what doesn’t; is Insanity better than P90X?, Crossfit better than HIIT?, Mentzer’s “Heavy Duty” or Arnold’s “Encyclopedia”?, yadda, yadda, yadda.... You know what works? Exercise. Do enough of it and you’ll be fit. The rest is nitpicking.

But that’s not to discount the importance of training scientifically or even the merits of my modern version of the Workout From Hell. If you want to maximize your body’s ability to perform than you need to train it specifically. During the years I was climbing hard and training I improved systematically every year. Many of my friends, who didn’t train and only climbed, never improved. Their performance would vary slightly at times but, basically, they remained the same over the years. My performance would dip wildly throughout the year as I’d be training for a specific peak. The casual observer would see the non-training group climbing better most of the time. But during peak phases, the only thing that really matters to an athlete, my performance would improve more than theirs each year like clockwork. In a year or two it was hard to tell the difference but after 5 years of solid training my peak periods started to improve to the point where those guys didn’t want me getting near their projects. Training works, but you need to be regimented and patient.

Which brings me back to the WFH. I was fit to begin with, only injured, so I wasn’t looking for a lot of change in the mirror or on the scale. Intensity has increased as my workouts have become more movement oriented, causing new adaptation to occur and, hence, my feeling beat up. I strained a different muscle in my back but it’s minor and my actual injury seems fine. I was horrible climbing yesterday because I went straight after my workout to see how it would affect me. That it did means that my training is working. My upper body muscles are larger so my body fat scale is probably wrong (they are almost always wrong anyway). Power is always a challenge for me. I knew this final phase was going to create problems. But I’m both positive and psyched. I think it’s working. Sadly, I still can’t pose anyone down .

pics n’ vids: patxi, ‘my talent is being a masochist’ from the film progression and the posing master, ed corney.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shakeology & The GI Index

We’ve been doing a lot of lab testing on Shakeology lately to ensure it’s, as we say, the healthiest meal of the day. As there have been a lot of questions about the effect of the sugar in Shakeology we had it tested on the Glycemic Index (GI) scale and it came back with a score of 24, which is a number lower than most fruits and many veggies. For reference, sugary snacks generally score close to 100. Of course most of you probably have no idea what this means so I’ll explain it to ya.

A whole article on the GI index is a bit much for my blog so I wrote one for our newsletter and here it is:

Everything You Need to Know about the Glycemic Index

For my short attention span readers, all you really need to know is that if you’re not diabetic and you eat a diet that is mainly natural foods you don’t need to worry about the GI index. And it’s even less a concern if you exercise. It came about as a pop diet issue only because our nutritional habits have become so abysmal and that, at last count, close to 60% of Americans claim to do no exercise at all. Many people can’t even identify what natural foods look like and most convenience foods, whether they taste sugary or not, are high on the GI scale because they are so processed that all the things that naturally helped your body digest them properly have been removed so now natural sounding foods, like wheat and rice, can put you into a pattern of unwanted insulin spikes so unnatural that it can lead to diabetes. Anyway, all that stuff is in the article and we’re here to address Shakeology.

As a convenience food it’s a fair question to ask about Shakeology, especially since it contains some sugar (though not a ton—about 40 of its 140 calories). The sugar is in the formulation for two reasons. First is flavor. We had a hard time getting all of the 70 nutrients in Shakeology not to taste like, well, 70 nutrients. And no matter how healthy something is it’s not going to be very helpful if no one is willing to taste it. And sugar tastes good, so take a guess at what the hold-up for our version of vegan, sugarless Shakeology is.

The second is for nutrient transport. Most of our customers are on an exercise program, and mainly are on calorie-restricted diets. This combo can leave you in a glycogen-starved state where your overtrained and underfed body can catabolize muscle tissue for energy. Therefore, most of the meal replacement snacks we’ve designed have some sugar, which speeds nutrients into a depleted system quickly which aids recovery between workouts with minimal calories. If this sounds like rationalizing it’s because it IS rationalizing. It’s our job (in fact my job title is ‘director of results’) to ensure about products have some rational behind them. We find this make them work better, which lets me keep my job.

Anyway, while we are interested in efficient nutrient transport in all of our products each is designed for its own target circumstances. For something like Recovery Formula, we want it to be high on the GI index because you are only supposed to use it when your glycogen stores are empty and nutrients should be delivered as rapidly as possible. At all other times we want a more balanced mixture of ingredients to allow the nutrients to be absorbs without an insulin spike, and thus, why Shakeology has scored such a low number on the GI index.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Doc" Horton on Jim Rome

Tony stole the Jim Rome show for half an hour today, adding a breath of fitness and health to a show that I can't help but equate to the film Big Fan. Rome refers to him as Doc Horton, says he has "a PhD in Bringin' It" and is obviously very star struck with both the program and how fit Tony has kept himself at 52. I can't help but wonder how the audience of this show, generally thought of as poster boys for soda, cheap beer, convenience foods and all-you-can-eat joints will take his views on the importance of yoga and a vegan diet. Rome himself is 30 days into the program and enjoying it. Maybe he'll have some influence on his audience. We can only dream.

You can check out the interview here (you do have to wade through about 15 minutes of nonsense).

pic: perhaps vic in no cal will be our next success story.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Defining Strength vs Power

As I move into block III of the Workout From Hell the program is starting to divert from the original format. My goal at the beginning was to modernize an 80s program and the final round, 5 reps of old school weight lifting, doesn’t make a ton of sense with what we now know about training. So I’m combining the 5 rep strength phase with some dynamic power work. Before I go into what I’m doing I’d better begin with an explanation of the difference between power and strength.

Many text book s would define these as synonymous and to the average person they are. Power equals absolute strength, which is the maximum amount of force that your body can create. But in a training sense they are different. Strength is the force that you can create statically. Power is the force you can create dynamically. When it comes to sports performance these are different animals.

The traditional 5 rep to failure sets in the WFH would help with static strength. For some sports applications it might make sense to focus on this alone for a block but for climbing purposes it feels like wasting time. Using the principles of PAP training, I can use the strength training to begin my power phase, by finishing each of the sets with a power movement.

Power training, especially for climbing where you are stressing smaller upper body muscles dynamically, is very intense and dangerous (meaning easy to get injured). Using PAP principles I can use this next block of training to ease into my dynamic (integration) block by following my weight training sets with large muscle dynamic movements.

The only climbing specific dynamic movement commonly used is campus boarding, which is dangerous, so I’ve added a few twists to this. These are moves that I’ve either seen in other applications or made up myself. Therefore I’m experimenting with my exact workouts and I’m not going to post them now because I think I’ll tweak them so they’ll be more efficient over the coming weeks.

In general, however, here is what I’m doing:

I’ve changed the days so that I do pushing motions one day and pulling the next, followed by stabilizer and mobility work. I’m doing far fewer exercises and doing my compound movements. My push days include chest, shoulder, tris and pull days include back and bis. I do three ab/core sessions a week, an A, B, and a C.

Hangboard work is now 4 sets of three different grips. Each set is 5 second one-arm hang (the other arm holds a scale so that I can tell how much weight I’m taking off and how much I improve—or decline—each workout). I rest for 2 minutes between sets. I’m following some of my sets with a low-impact dynamic set on the campus board, but more this later as I experiment.

I’m continuing my rice bucket forearm sessions after any day that I train my fingers and I’m climbing, but not maximally, 2 days per week.

What started as an old school program has reverted to modern trial and error. I guess this is a homage to the 80s and early 90s as well, as that’s exactly what I was doing back then. We’re getting into the sink or swim of the program. Will I end up stronger or injured? Is this a lesson in what to do or what not to do?

pic: above: more wolfie and kurt; what's power to most is strength to them. we really don't know how long the held their one-arms, it could have been endurance. below we see gullich clearly in power mode on action direct, which for ages was the hardest route in the world. he's also defining the unwritten rule that singlets may only be worn by those who can do one finger campus moves.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Capacity For Strength

Super slow training is excellent for gaining mass. I gained four pounds in the last three weeks. But big muscle is not necessarily strong muscle. To get a positive net effect from these gains I’m going to need to teach these bigger muscles how to perform.

Society has a misconception about mass, thinking it automatically means athletic. But many big guys aren’t strong, at least in an efficient way. Hypertrophy training makes muscles grow but it doesn’t force recruitment of high threshold muscle cell motor units. So while a larger muscle has more capacity for strength, it needs to be trained differently in order to become strong.

All athletes need to do some sort of power training in order to maximize their physiology for sport. Even endurance athletes and those who don’t need to perform, like bodybuilders. These latter groups won’t target power because their goals lie in other realms but it needs to be a component in their training because muscular efficiency (power) increases its ability to be trained toward other goals. For example, distance runners who take a cycle to train power always see more improvement than those who train the same way all of the time. Ditto for bodybuilders who only care about size and not muscular performance. They will still benefit from some power training because it increases the capacity for more hypertrophy.

Power athletes are the easiest example to use to explain this because their sports are all about getting as close to 100% muscular efficiency as possible. What sets two powerlifters with the same size muscles apart? Technique and mindset, sure, but what about when these are equal? It comes down to muscular efficiency; the ability to fire every cell of every muscle. And the only way to train for this is to use explosive movements. At P3 last week Marcus said, “We don’t do any slow training whatsoever.” This is because it has no application for power sports, which is what they work with.

Here is a very simple example to understand. A friend of mine was an All American football player as a junior in high school. In order to “get better” he went on the juice and gained a lot of mass over the summer. He was huge and looked like a monster. But because he did not understand the importance of power training, and just assumed his large muscles would be stronger, he ended up getting slower. He lost a step in the 40 and went from All American to 2nd team All League and, hence, from a D1 scholarship to a D2 walk-on player. He did, however, look more impressive on the beach.

So now that I’ve spent a few months getting larger muscles, all I’ve effectively done is increased my capacity for strength. If I can effectively train these larger muscles to be as efficient as my smaller muscles were I’ll see performance improvement. Otherwise I’m just, to borrow Jack LaLanne’s term, a muscle bound charlatan.

pic: sometimes big is enough. wfh author largo puts his size to the test, hoping it's enough to intimidate a tribe of headhunters.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Post-activation Potentiation

I haven’t blogged this week because I’m studying something called post-activation potentiation (PAP) at my buddy Marcus’ training faclitly in Santa Barbara. You’ll be hearing more about Marcus, or Dr. Marcus Elliott, in the future as he’s signed on to help us create fitness solutions for every demographic (especially the highest level). Marcus and I have a long history, dating back to his undergraduate years when we were both spending most of our time experimenting with diets and training protocols. But more on this later. Today I want to introduce you to PAP because it’s going to play a part in our future programs.

PAP is revolutionizing the way we train athletes. It’s not yet popular in the US but Marcus (or Dr. Elliott for those of you who prefer white coat visuals) has been using it with great success on athletes at the highest levels. His training facility, P3 (Peak Performance Project), is only open to professional and high level athletes (and a few local extremely-lucky high school programs). His client list includes the Utah Jazz, Seattle Mariners, and many other professional, collegiate, and Olympic athletes.

An aside—last night there were some high schoolers training next to a few Olympians and I asked one of the P3 trainers if these kids had any idea how lucky they were. When I was a (rather obsessed) high school athlete I was doing all of my own training, most of it experimental, because our coaches new nothing about high-level training, nutrition, or supplementation. I can’t even imagine how different my career would have been with the minds of P3 behind it. The only downside is that I probably would have missed out on my human lab rat moniker if I didn’t have to figure out what worked (and didn’t) on my own.

Anyway, until a few days ago I knew almost nothing about PAP training. I actually had experimented with something very much like it (maybe I should add an of course here) but never made enough sense to me to test it thoroughly. But a group of scientists, including Marcus, has had amazing success training high level athletes with it. So much so that it's turning the way we train for peak human performance on its head. The gist of it is two fold. First:

“that prior heavy loading induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and force, which can last from five-to-thirty minutes”

and secondly:

“PAP intervention enhances the H-reflex, thus increasing the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle”

In laymen terms, this means that doing heavy lifting prior to explosive activity can actually help you fire higher threshold muscle cell motor units which, even even simpler terms, means that you will jump higher, run faster, or life more weight.

A good real world application is one P3 athlete who warmed up for a 100 meter race doing heavy squats prior to setting a PR.

It’s all very fascinating stuff and I’m like a kid in a candy store at P3. Between training sessions Marcus and I brainstorm about how to best lay this into the P90X template in the future. The coming months will be filled with revelations.

pics: above, me, marcus, and us ski team member/singer-songwriter bryon friedman watch the overachieving jazz kick some celt tail. below, p3 ain't your father's training facility. note dr. elliott in a background interpreting computer screen readings (to members of ucla's national champion softball team and their coach, the legendary lisa fernandez) of a dynamic jump test showing the subjects strengths and weaknesses.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Jens The Barbarian

Today’s edition of the Friday psyche series features Jens Voigt, one of the toughest bike racers in history. Jens has won a lot of bike races. Because he’s not a climber or a sprinter he has to do it the hard way, by attacking the peloton and riding alone in breakaway groups. For those who aren’t aware, the difference between riding alone and in a group is, minimum, a 30% difference. I once interviewed Judith Arndt after a 100k solo breakaway win and she said, “If you ride like this very often you will go crazy!” Yet that is precisely how Voigt makes his living. Whether or not you think he's crazy it's hard to not to gush in admiration. This guy defines panache.


"So then the broom wagon pulled up and was like, 'Do you want to just get in?' And I said, 'Oh no, I don’t need YOU!' But there I am with blood spurting out my left elbow and no bike. Finally, the race organizers got me a bike, but it was this little yellow junior bike. It was way too small for me and even had old-fashioned toe-clip pedals. But that is the only way I could get down the mountain, so I had to ride it for like 15-20 kilometers until I finally got to a team car with my bike.
Then, I still had to get up to the grupetto. All I can say is that that desperate times need desperate measures..."

Voigt had crashed out of the Tour the year before and was so determined to finish this year that “I would have ridden a horse.”

“Needless to say, I had plenty of time to come up with a fitting book of the day. It’s from the Disk World series by Terry Pratchett. In it, the protagonist is Conan the Barbarian, who is a 70-year-old who has just survived everything. At one point he, and his other old warrior friends capture this village, but then they find that they are surrounded by an army of tens of thousands, and his only reaction is, “Oh man, it’s going to take days to kill all these people!” And that’s the way I was today when I was lying on the ground. I just thought, “Oh no, I’m going to Paris this year, I’m going to Paris. There’s just no way you are going to get me out of this race for the second year in a row!”

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Curious Case Of Vitamin D & Why To Take Supplements

I got a lot of comments other day making me realize that I should blog more on supplements. I also need to do a better job explaining how they work. Using examples is often the easiest way explain things so today we’ll showcase the rising popularity of vitamin D as an example of why to take supplements.

The curious case of vitamin D is very simple. To live healthily our bodies require a certain amount of a bunch of nutrients. It’s pretty resilient, and can make do without things for a surprisingly long time but, at some point health begins to diminish without your vitals. Enter vitamin D, a “fat soluble” (meaning we can store it in our fat tissue) vitamin that’s essential for life and once was pretty much impossible to be deficient in since we get it from sunlight. All we have to do is spend a little time outdoors, soak up a few rays, and we’re golden.

There haven’t been many vitamin D famines in history. Historically you didn’t need to worry about it unless you were in a medieval prison, in which case you probably had more pressing matters. Even in cultures where the sun is gone for much of the year we were fine because we can store vitamin D in our fat cells. Nowadays, however, many people rarely see the light of day. Hmm, perhaps this explains the recent popularity of vampires in pop culture, but I digress. Even when we do venture into the elements we’ve often slathered on so much zinc oxide the sun hasn’t a chance to do its magic.

When you lack a vital nutrient, and then get it, the effects can seem wondrous. And this is why vitamin D is currently being coined a “miracle supplement.” The main reason for taking supplements is to replace nutrients that, for some reason, you are lacking. Given the bang-up job Big Food has done with destroying edible products and then serving us boxes of sugar “fortified with [random] essential vitamins” you can see their niche right away. But you should also be able to see that the better you eat the less need you have for supplementing your diet. Taking vitamin D is great if you need vitamin D. If you don’t you are wasting your money.

The biggest problem we have is deciding which supplements we need. Even if it were reasonable to have your doctor test for everything they could think there’s almost no way to find a deficiency without an acute symptom for them to target. This is why a multi-vitamin is highly suggested for most people and, especially those who are limiting their caloric intake. Taking a good multi-vitamin will ensure that you aren’t, at least, grossly deficient in most major nutrients.

Targeted supplements are harder to figure out. You need to analyze your lifestyle and try and guess what you need. If you’re on a training program it’s easier because everybody runs a similar template when exercising. You can anticipate nutrient losses due to exercise and plan for this, which is why sports supplements are popular. Once that’s done then you can then look for lapses in performance that will give clues to a deficiency, which you can then supplement for. Exercise is the great equalizer. Not only does it improve your health but it amplifies your health problems and makes it easier to figure out what is wrong, at which point you can fix it.

Supplement “results” are misleading. Marketers have spun them out of control with ridiculous advertising schemes, most of which are out right lies. Supplements only provide miracle results when you find something that your body is starving for a feed it that nutrient. They can help you perform better at functions you do, like exercise, which can improve your quality of life. This symbiotic relationship between exercise, your diet, and supplements is the most efficient way to get your body into peak condition. No supplement can do that on its own.

Someone thought Tony Horton was bashing creatine when he posted an article showing a 4% improvement, but 4% is massive. Most banned performance enhancing drugs don’t do much better than that. If you need to improve more than this then you need to exercise and eat better. But 4% at the top of your game is the difference between an Olympic champion and not making your Olympic team. The key is getting to the top of your game first, which takes hard work. No supplement will yield results unless you are willing to work for them. They are, as their name suggests, simply a supplemental part of your overall plan.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Don’t Wanna’ Look Small

I can’t wait to get back to playing outside but I’ve got to admit I’m enjoying my journey back into old school weight lifting. To me, it’s very hard to beat a day out in the mountains but being kept away from the things I love is adding to my psyche. However, working out to Pumping Iron everyday (not many weight lifting videos in my quiver) could be brainwashing me. My wife says she’s a little worried when she hears me screams from the gym like “I’m not satisfied… I’m gonna beat him!” and other iconic lines from that film like, “don’t wanna look small.”

I know, full well, that the Workout From Hell is not the most efficient way to train for climbing. Chris Sharma’s probably never lifted a weight in his life. But it’s the hand I was dealt, given my injury, and my plan is the make the most out of it. But just because it’s not the most effective plan does not mean it isn’t a good one. I’m quite certain that I am improving many weak points. Concurrently I’m losing some strong ones but that’s how training always works. The strong areas come back quick. The hope in all these shenanigans is that when those areas are brought back to speed I’ll be better than ever.

My plan with this WFH is to address as many weak points as I can fit into the schedule. So I’ve decided to prolong my 5 rep phase to include an extra 2 plus weeks of super-slow workouts. I’m still doing 5 reps (per the original plan) but each rep is 5 seconds in one direction and 5 seconds in the other. For a 5 rep set that’s 50 seconds, which is hypertrophy—even glycolytic—and not anything like power.

These super slow reps stimulate the body’s production of IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1). Because you’re contracting the muscle for the entire set its stressful training so the number of exercise sets I’m doing is much reduced. I’m doing six sets for the large muscle groups and 3 for the small. The weight I’m using is about the same as what I was using to do 15 reps. My warm-up is longer and more thorough (because set intensity is higher) and the time between sets is longer, now around 2 minutes and more focused on when I’m ready for a hard set than a set amount of time. The goal is to treat each individual set as if it’s your entire workout, then worry about the next one.

I’m doing this for two reasons. First is that I’m cool with a little hypertrophy. After two phases I’d lost a total of two pounds. And since I’m gaining a little muscle mass it’s probably from a leg atrophy as much as from fat loss. This will be good for climbing but I know that once I start riding and running again the legs will come back, so I’m fine with having a bit more upper body mass to help haul those legs around. This will hurt racing up hill but at 170 + pounds that’s never going to be my forte anyway. Also, since climbing movements are often slow—especially as you’re about to fall off—I think it’s important to train slow as well as fast. You need to be able to perform in both areas to climb your best: from nailing dynos to eeking out precarious balance movements. Also, adding this phase works with my work/travel schedule better because these workouts are easier to do in random gyms—no small matter.

pics: even if Jerry Moffatt did the hardest routes during the 80s most guys would rather have Wolfgang Gullich and Kurt Albert’s arms, and they weren’t too far behind.