Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grewal: Comeback 5.0

Most sporting comebacks feature a lot of hype and disappointing outcomes. Today’s Psyche entry is about one that’s so absurdly audacious that it’s almost devoid of hype. This morning in Nevada, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, Alexi Grewal, lines up for his first official professional bike race in 17 years. He’s 50.

I love comebacks even though I rarely expect much from them. It’s simple human nature to wonder how a retired sports icon would fare against the day’s young bucks. Generally, the answer is not as well as we’d like. And, even if predicted, these non-dominant outcomes often tarnish reputations. No one needed to see Ali get pummeled by Trevor Berbick, Jordan chalking up garbage time minutes, or Armstrong finish 67th in the Tour Down Under. But the idea of a comeback is hopelessly romantic. Society will never turn its back on an attempt.

I guess this is true of Grewal, too, if only in a very small way. A few companies have pitched him product, the community he lives in has been helping him financially, and there’s been a few articles written about him. But he’s hardly getting major press. I’m pretty sure there’s not a coffee table book in the works.

What makes Grewal’s comeback particularly inspiring is that it’s driven by love of sport. He’s not a bored billionaire who misses the limelight. The Texan probably makes more money in a day than Grewal’s made in the last decade. He’s just a guy who rides his bike a lot who got motivated to see how he’d stack up against today’s youth and decided to make whatever sacrifices were necessary in order to find out. How can you not love that?

Follow the action on Grewal’s blog, Back In Among The Wheels

Thursday, February 24, 2011

P90X: Muscle Confusion Two

This ain’t your granddaddy’s weight training program. It’s too early to explain just what they are, exactly, but one thing that comes to mind consistently while doing the mc(muscle confusion)2 resistance workouts is a line Tony says in the preview to one of the P90X resistance workouts, “It’s just good old fashioned weight training.” P90X mc2 decidedly isn’t that, so today we’ll preview its weight training workouts.

In fact P90X wasn’t really old fashioned either. One of the things that make it so successful is that its workouts are complex. It takes a while for most anyone to master it and that keeps your progression curve heading skyward. This, of course, is part of our overall strategy for the program. By creating some amount of what our marketing team coined “muscle confusion” your body keeps adapting, and this prolongs the period of time it takes before you master the program and start to plateau.

But compared to mc2, 90x is old fashioned. Not only have we designed workouts that keep you adapting longer, they also target laser-specific weakness in the body that occur across a broad spectrum of the population. In the most laymen of explanations, this means that your muscles will not only grow and get strong, but they will do it in a way that’s forcing your body to use them more effectively. So as your muscles grow they are also going to work better from a biomechanical perspective. This means, quite simply, that beyond just improving how you look you are going to get better at doing stuff.

The first time you go through these workout it’s going to feel strange to most of you. At times you’re spending so much focus on holding the various positions that you may hardly move any weight. As your balance improves so will your ability to move more weight but, more importantly, you’ll be moving it with a more harmonious kinetic chain. This you’ll notice in your movements as everything you do in your daily life that requires you body to move will become easier. It’s the kind of feeling that’s addicting in an “I never thought this was possible” sorta way. Once you’ve felt it you’ll never want to go back, which challenges us to keep coming up with new and better stuff.

If this seems like a brush over of nearly half of the program’s workouts, consider that it’s really all you need to know. Decide, commit, and you’ll succeed beyond what you realized was possible.

pic: sure granddaddy was big but could he move?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plyocide: Up Close and Personal

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Seriously, Plyocide is the best name for a workout I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure which one of our crew coined it but I wish it were me. Marcus’ first comment was “I haven’t had a chance to look this over yet but love the name.”

If you've got the One on One dvd you’ve got a pretty good idea of the moves involved but we’ve re-cut the workout so that you’ll hardly recognize it, and not only because Tony’s black eye has healed. Many of the movements to this workout came from a guy nicknamed “the dunkmaster” because he claims that he can teach anybody to dunk. Given that, along with the most perfect workout title ever, we felt a burden of responsibility to create a masterpiece.

I thought we had one on my first run-through, which was brutal. But we kept tweaking until we were sure, and this was confirmed yesterday at our first live showing of the re-mastered, re-edited Plyocide. Beachbody’s own Steph Saunders (Advice Staff Too on the Message Boards and creator of “the Saunders Cycle” in 90X Kenpo) stated, “I’d done the One on One version a few times and found it kind of light, but this utterly destroyed all of us.”

Plyocide, you’re now ready for your close-up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

P90X2 Core: The Opening Engagement

I’m not necessarily going to post these workouts in sequence but mc2 Core is going to be the first workout on the schedule. This will remind those who’ve done P90X Lean of opening with Core/Syn but this workout is even more applicable to the journey of this particular program.

To talk about what’s right with this workout I need to begin by explaining what’s wrong with us. We are out of balance, which is not just because we watch too much TV and don't exercise enough(I explained yesterday most injuries are due weakness in hip and shoulder stability). Our general lifestyle activities create imbalances because certain muscles in your kinetic chain take over movements that were once done by other, smaller muscles. The longer this goes on the worse it gets, and training can even exacerbate the situation by making the active muscles stronger, thus creating greater imbalances.

To combat this we’re changing the platform that you train on to create instability in order to force these forgotten muscles back into action. When you free these stabilizer muscles to fire it allows the muscles that were doing double duty to work more efficiently and, thus, your performance increases even before you’ve seen tangible muscle strength increase. Furthermore, for those only interested in how you look in the mirror, this forces your body back into the alignment it was born with so that you’re appearance will improve as well.

The keywords you’ll hear in this workout are open and engagement—especially if Steve Holmsen’s cueing rubs off on Tony (and they spend a lot of time together so this only makes sense). In order to keep your body stable you’ll be forced to engage areas that may be foreign to you, which is all designed around getting your body to open up. We tend to get smaller by doing the things that function as life and training the wrong way can exacerbate it more as you force your body to finish exercises without good form. As your muscles contract you get smaller, and our natural tendency is to continually force them at expense of our posture. So a cue you’re going to hear a lot about is staying open during a movement.

To answer a couple of inevitable questions: it’s called a core workout because you are learning to engage your core in every movement that you do. If you learn to properly engage you core, and stay open as you move, your body’s potential for improvement will dramatically increase.

The next inevitable question:is this going to get me pumped and force me to bring it? In a word: yes. While you do spend a lot of time balanced in precarious stances there’s plenty of resistance movement to make you sweat and even have you screaming to finish off sets. At least that’s how it is for me.

vid: boudering legend malcomb smith describes the importance of staying open.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

P90X2: Buying Into The System

One of my favorite things to do is structure a training program and watch it work. I guess this comes from my coaching days, where you lay out a big picture template for the program you’re in charge of and then try and motivate your players to buy into your scheme. It’s a different challenge from training an individual, where you’ll adjust everything on the fly based on how the training is going. To create an athletic program you need to create a system that works for a group. This is our challenge at Beachbody and I like to think we continue to get better at it.

Creating P90x was somewhat easy, at least from my perspective. Selling it was a whole other can of worms but that’s why my bosses all have marketing backgrounds. As the fitness guy I had enough experience in training different levels of athletes that I knew how the P90x structure was going to work before we tested it.

This doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. Our first test group tried to mutiny after 30 days when they weren’t getting the results they thought they should—or even would with more basic Power 90. I had to draw up some periodization graphs to confuse them enough that they’d stop thinking about it and just trust me. Luckily, while they were still harrumphing over it Tony said, “I’m with him,” which sealed the deal. Eventually, all were pretty ecstatic that they decided to buy into the system.

Structure is only one aspect of a training program. It’s the actual workouts that dictate the structure. But good workouts and faulty structure can lead to failure just as easily as great structure and bad workouts. It’s a bit like when you see a talented group of players fail because they’re on a team that lacks a solid system. Programs are all encompassing, which is why Beachbody doesn’t sell diets, workouts, or supplements as one-offs. We make fitness programs.

But mc2 is raising the bar and it wasn’t as simple to me as a basic periodizational structure. To get a handle on we should do this I spent a lot of time at P3, both consulting with Dr. Marcus Elliott, observing athletes and going through their progression charts to learn about common weaknesses that we could apply over a broad base. I also spent a lot of time with various physical therapists, including Mike Swan and my late friend Kevin Brown. Tony’s always working on his game as well and when he fell in with functional trainer/extreme skier Steve Holmsen –a marriage in kick-ass training heaven—he began thinking in the same direction. The resulting schedule came back with an a-ok from Carl and the ultimate typically understated approval from Marcus: “This makes a lot of sense.”

So here’s the overview, with a lot left out lest start thinking that you don’t need the guide.

Phase One: Foundation

Not foundation as in “base training” but as in your attachment to the earth. Working on the “you can’t shoot a canon from a canoe” philosophy the aim of this program is to build you from the ground up. You may think you have a good base from P90X but, I assure you, we are going to find some weak areas and improve them. The two major areas of weakness in the human body, which leads to probably 90% of sports injuries, are shoulder and hip instability. Solve this and non-contact injuries will virtually disappear.

Phase Two: Strength

This will feel more familiar to most of you as it’s similar in structure to P90X. The workouts, however, will keep your body evolving. Functional is the key difference as almost every movement is done from an athletic position designed to improve your body’s ability to move better.

Phase Three: Performance

Finally we’ll take what we’ve learned and target your engrams (neuromuscular patterns) to fire efficiently. At this stage we leave “do you best and forget the rest” behind. We’re now walking a razor’s edge of human performance. Push your body to 100% with perfect form. When your form fails, you’re done. The force loads are excessive but the philosophy here is that if you can’t handle force in a controlled situation you won’t be able to handle it when it’s forced upon you. Congratulations, whether you’ve ever played a sport in your life or not, you are now as athlete.

pic: the application of science; an evolution of scientific complexities whittled down to the only graph most people care about.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Previewing P90X2

Last weekend Tony Horton, Steve Holmsen, and I put the final touches on the mc2 workouts. Today we begin our cast rehearsals, where we’ll make sure we’re not going to kill anybody, leading up to our shoot in March. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to run through each of the new workouts and provide some insight as to what to expect in the new program.

Those of you who subscribe to Tony’s One on One series already have some idea of what to expect. That series gives you a great idea on the movements you’re going to get but the actual workouts have evolved a lot since then. We got quite functional in our warm-up and cool-downs, each movement was tweaked until we felt we were using the most modern applied science approach, and the sequencing is, to quote Arnold from Pumping Iron, “to a point. Wait when you see it.”

Back when we were designing P90X all we were trying to provide was a sequel to our basic training programs, like Power 90 and Slim in 6. We used athletic principles but it never occurred to us that real professional athletes were going to be using the program. Shoot, most people in the home fitness industry didn’t think we had a prayer of selling it to anyone. But with its success we’ve raised the bar of our target audience which, in turn, has allowed us to apply more cutting edge science to the program.

But you needn’t worry about it become sterile training lab. Tony’s leading the show and that means it’s going to be fun. Just because we’re applying some science doesn’t mean we’re checking personality with it. That's not how Tony rolls. Training, even at the highest levels, should be presented with panache if it’s going to breed enthusiasm. And P90X was successful because we, mainly Tony, made it accessible.

As an athlete, and all of you who’ve done P90X (even if you’ve never participated in a sport) are athletes, mc2 (name still pending) is going to greatly raise the bar. You’re going to feel better. You’re going to perform better.

Tomorrow I’ll begin by addressing the structure, and then I’ll take each workout one and one and describe why we’ve made it, what it feels like to do, and what you can expect it to do for you. I hope you’re all as excited as I am. As a trainer, the ability to create things like this for people is pretty much a dream job.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Winter doesn’t only mean snow, it means big surf. So why not mix the two? At least that’s the way skier/waterman/all-around badass Chuck Patterson’s brain works. And if you’re going to surf big, you might as well look for the biggest wave you can find. So here’s a pretty-friggin’-rad video about him skiing Jaws.

Jaws would figure for Patterson, who seems to have a larger-than-average affinity for sharks. For example, if you were out doing a bit of stand-up paddle board surfing and a couple of Great Whites circled you for half an hour what would you do? Now I love sharks but, still, I’d probably paddle in, be glad they weren’t hungry, and avoid that particular break until they found somewhere else to hang out. If you’re Patterson, however, you lament the fact that you didn’t have a video camera and paddle right back out the next day to see if they’re still around.

For your double-psyche-Friday viewing pleasure, here are two vids of Patterson, the definitive non-wuss. My friend Bob, who’s not one to throw out praise to humans indiscriminately, defined Patterson as thus, “those sharks are probably coming back everyday so they can tell their friends they had a Chuck Patterson sighting.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Strange Culture

I want to be inspired by two recent headlines that promise our government is taking a positive role when it comes to our health. I really do. And I was until I Roku’d a film recommended by Netflix when reality came crashing back down. While I’m sure there are people who work for government that are doing their best to make the world a better place, the bottom line is that we are living in an oligarchy. Money is what makes the world go round. Unfortunately, many of those with a lot of it are blinded by the sight of obtaining even more, making everything that falls into their wake of greed irrelevant.

Let’s start with the good news. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released Jan ’11, are now highlighting the merits of vegetarian and vegan diets. From the Huffington Post (or is it AOL/Huff Post now?):

The new guidelines sing the praises of plant-based diets: "Vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes -- lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality. Several clinical trials have documented that vegetarian eating patterns lower blood pressure."

This is good health news if ever I’ve heard some. Never mind that when George McGovern was put in charge of this task, back in the 70s, his research told him pretty much the same thing. When he tried to enact the changes, however, the meat and dairy industries lobbied to have him fired. They were successful and our food pyramid’s been championing way too much meat and dairy ever since. But, hey, better late than never right?

Next is an AP wire about Colorado considering adding more exercise in school. Given the last study I read on this, now a decade old, showed that kids in 2000 were getting approximately 23% less exercise than they were in the 70s all I can say is about time. Too bad it’s not a done deal. But with the testimony of their expert I’m sure it’ll happen.

"I like that. Going to recess is fun," said 9-year-old Nathanial Guzman, a 4th grader at Knowledge Quest Academy in Milliken, Colo. "Personally, I don't think our brains would work if we didn't exercise enough."

The proposals co-sponsor, Rep. Tom Massey, liked Guzman's endorsement. "Perfect, there's our tagline right there."

Which kind of reminds me of the scene in Aliens when the stranded little girl seems to have better ideas than all the specialists sent to study and/or kill the aliens and Wild Bill’s “let’s put her in charge” reaction. Yep, the kid’s right. Active kids are smarter kids. And how are the people running our school systems supposed to know unless the kid’s tell them?

Finally, in the film that spoiled my good mood, an artist/college professor is falsely accused of terrorism on the eve of his modern art exhibition’s opening that was going to show the dangers of allowing genetically modified foods to spin out of control without public knowledge. The government has spent millions of dollars to prosecute this guy, even it’s such a flimsy case that the defense attorney continually jokes about the absurdity of it.

At the film’s end, the case has dragged on for years but yet to go to trial because the government can’t find enough evidence—any real evidence—to convict him of anything. It seems obvious that the massive GMO industry is somehow behind the odd persecution. After all, they’re trying to force the entire European Union to eliminate the labeling of GMO foods so it’s not stretch to think that they could push the FBI around. And since they’ve got nothing on the artist it all plays out as more bizarre than scary. But we do live in a strange culture indeed.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Turbo Transition Diet

I wrote a simple-to-follow transition diet a long time ago that I often use at the beginning of serious training periods. I’ve been tweaking for a couple of decades and the latest version was just published here (the weird Star Trek transport-like photoshop oddity was not my concoction).

I find this diet is easy for a lot of people because you eliminate certain things from your diet each week but can otherwise eat however you like. It starts simple, with only the deletion of junk at your discretion. My theory is that junk is most people’s dietary white whale. Once it’s gone they find that diet is pretty easy to control. Most diets sabotage this by trying to do everything at once. The broccoli for M&Ms swap is an awfully big step that I find, more-often-than-not, leads to excuses for giving up. But when you just eliminate junk, but can eat absolutely anything else, it’s pretty hard to come up with an excuse to quit.

But I eat pretty well these days so I don’t need as gradual a transition. So for the next 50 day period of my winter training program I’m going to start a turbo-charged version, where I lump the first 5 weeks into one, spend most of time on week 6, and transition to a full raw food cleanse for the final push. It’s no coincidence that week 6 is the “if man makes it, don’t eat it” phase, coined by my buddy Jack.

Admittedly this was inspired by Romney and family unity, as her birthday challenge this year is to go raw for 34 days. Since I don’t want to go raw—or copy her—but also do something that makes it simple for us to eat together I’m allowing myself the modern invention of fire and the pretense that I’ve got a lot of training to do outside and it’s winter. So she can eat her soup to 116 degrees and I can leave mine on the stove to warm-up while I’m riding or running in a blizzard.

pic: beam me up or wtf?

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Art Of Cycling

I love learning new things. I love experimenting with training/movement/diet/scheduling. And I love my job, which has been bombarding me with all of the above with three new programs in development. I had a night recently where Tony Horton, Steve Holmsen, and I were in a hotel gym til probably 2AM on a Sat night working on new movements for mc2, after which I was up later transcribing it and, then again, 3 hours later because I had an epiphany about how to put it together. A couple hours after that the three of us were working on it some more. Great stuff, but...

It’s nothing like time out on the trails. I got my first mtb ride of the season in yesterday and, even after all these years, still find it amazing how 2 hours of playing on singletrack and slickrock can change your mind set. Training and theory and experimentation is all fantastic stuff. Dead interesting, and I feel very fortunate to be able to turn a passion into work. But it’s in the actual application of human movement in a natural setting that, at least for me, ties it together. Take away nature and you take away life, meaning, and a reason to co-exist and attempt to continue to improve.

Add a bike to the equation and it all starts to make sense. I think the bike is one of our greatest inventions. It’s the perfect synergistic hybrid of animal and machine. Moving through nature on a bike is nothing if not sublime. And with that drum roll, I present Danny Macaskill as Friday’s psyche.

I’ve presented this video before. My wife, who studies music, calls him Mozart on a bike. And the more I watch him the less hyperbole I find in her statement. Mozart was an unparalleled artist; doing more for the advancement of music in the three decades he composed than happened in the three centuries prior. He was simply gifted with something no one, before or since, seems to have been graced with. It’s not that he didn’t work hard; he was obsessed, so there may have been others who never tapped their talent. But most historians seem to agree that no one else’s gift for composing music has come close to Mozart.

Admittedly, this is pretty lofty praise to heap upon a young Scot and history may indeed show it’s exaggerated. But when you watch this kid ride, much in the same way as like listening to Mozart, you can’t help but feel that there’s something special happening. His bike seems like an extension of the man, which he wields like a superhero. Honestly, if this video had come out 20 years ago it would have been dismissed as special effects. Even today, I’ve had this video sent to me from non-cyclists in wonderment who ask whether or not it is real. So, without further ado, Mr. Macaskill, who has transcended cycling from sport to art form.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Jack LaLanne vs The New York Times


No matter how righteous we feel our fight is it wouldn’t be a fight without a nemesis and, even in his wake, Jack had his. So before we re-focus on the job at hand, mainly the development of P90X mc2, Asylum, and my own training and dieting experiments, let’s yield the floor, one more time, to my buddy Jack. Denis over at the Fitness Nerd MCs:

“This weekend, New York Times Food Critic Frank Bruni wasted space in an otherwise fine newspaper with this editorial on Jack LaLanne and his (negative) impact on American fitness culture.”

What, you might wonder, in a country with an obesity rate creeping towards 40% - that’s projected to double in the next 10 years - could Bruni be criticizing? Good question.

“That sense of failure you feel when you haven’t exercised in days? That conviction that if you could pull off better push-ups, you’d be a better person through and through? These, too, are his doing, at least in part. What he left behind when he died last week, at the toned old age of 96, was not only a sweaty culture of relentless crunching and spinning but also the notion that fitness equals character, and that self-actualization begins with the self-discipline to get and stay in shape. In the post-LaLanne landscape, it’s not the eyes but the abdominals that are windows to the soul.”

Obviously Bruni hasn’t spent much time in the Cincinnati airport, a oversight not missed by Faye,”If Bruni seriously thinks America is fitness-obsessed, he needs to walk away from all those fancy, Manhattan bistros he reviews and spend an afternoon hanging out at a Jack in the Box - maybe one next door to the gym at an ‘exurban strip mall.’”

The ‘Nerd then goes into some more depth, analyzing what might motivate Bruni to take such offense to a pursuit that’s not only good for you, but a foundation for our existence as human beings. Because Jack wasn’t about having six-packs or beating up the guy who kicked sand in your face; he was about being healthy and living life as humans were meant to.

The simple fact that Bruni misses is that exercise is not really an option. That society has made it one is an unfortunate mistake. Kids can grow up in front of a computer and television, eating food that’s been delivered to them, and get an excuse to skip gym class, should their school still bother to provide it. These kids, whose brains won’t develop properly without exercise, can then grow into underachieving adults who lack the energy to move their bodies. And this option is growing daily as we lose our grip on just what it means to be a human animal. But one trip through any Midwestern mall, southern city, most every public school in America, or any statisticians’ office will confirm that this is not going swimmingly for the healthy of humanity.

All mammals, of which humans are a part, need exercise. And not just so we can score an attractive member of the opposite sex to mate with—though that’s a big motivational aspect. Exercise is what makes the body work in harmony; to release the proper hormones that develop our brains and muscles, to eliminate toxins we take in from the environment, to keep our bones and connective tissues dense, to keep our heart beating strongly, etc. Without exercise our bodies literately fall apart and die.

Modern medicine, and drugs, can—arguably—slow this, or at least make it seems more natural. But given that we’re living in the first generation where children’s life expectancy—despite huge improvements in medicine—is less than their parents I see no platform for Bruni’s stance other than a personal vendetta against fit people ranging from when he was picked on as a child. Not exactly a pulpit in today’s society.

Jack LaLanne 1
New York Times 0