Friday, April 29, 2011

Adventuring In Chad

"The real gold's not in the mountains. The real gold's south of 60. Sittin' in front of the boob tube, bored. Bored to death... How do you beat boredom, Tyler? Adventure."
-Rosie, Adventurer

For me none of this training that I do would have much meaning if I didn't take the body it's improved out for a spin in the natural world. With most of my pre-season training finished off, new workout programs in a can, and longer warmer days on the horizon adventure season is just ahead. Today's Friday psyche is just the sort of thing I'd be doing if I wasn't working so much. My adventures are more pedestrian; obtainable to anyone with some fitness and a couple of weeks of vacation time. But the spirit is the same. This one, however, makes much better video. Enjoy.

From climber James Pearson on UK Climbing:

"To cut a long and sandy story short, the trip was one I will remember for a long long time – simply incredible. After a day in the air, and 3.5 days driving through the sand, we got our first glimpse of an alien world, the most isolated from civilisation I have ever felt. An un-climbed land! It was hard to believe, but according to our guide (a climber himself, and one of only a few people guiding in this area, with 40 years desert experience) we were the first group of climbers to visit this place! There were spindly arches and towers in every direction, a virgin playground of your life's best FA's just waiting to be explored – the pictures hadn't lied.

In the 10 days we spent living in the area we climbed many routes, ranging from easy scrambles up sandy choss, to proud lines of patina topping out perfect towers. The crew from Camp 4 Collective were by our side the whole time capturing every ascent in glorious, jaw dropping beauty – the video and stills are some of the best I have ever seen.

The situation in Chad was thankfully a lot safer than I had feared, and apart from a few "minor incidents" our time in the country passed with minimal threat of mortal danger. The nomadic people of the Desert were some of the hardiest people I have ever encountered. To my ignorant eyes, this barren expanse offered nothing one could survive upon, yet these people somehow forge an existence out there, and seem to do so in relative comfort. They were usually very friendly and on a few occasions our camp was visited by wandering locals, bearing a gift of warm Camel milk - actually pretty good! What a place..."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Coffee Drinkers: The Force Is With You

I wrote a very popular post last year called The Dark Side of Coffee. As I pointed out then, nearly all research surrounding coffee (more than 20,000 scientific studies) is positive but I wanted to show that even something beneficial can have a down side. But the Jedi inside me has been forcing those dark thoughts aside with new research showing that not only does coffee help sports performance, stave off cancer and diabetes, it’s now looking after my heart.

A 2008 study of more than 26,000 male smokers in Finland found that the men who drank eight or more cups of coffee a day had a 23% lower risk of stroke than the men who drank little or no coffee. And a few other reports suggest the effect applies to healthy nonsmokers too. Researchers at UCLA and USC examined data on coffee consumption and stroke prevalence among more than 9,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. At a 2009 conference, they reported that the likelihood of stroke was highest among people who didn't drink coffee and lowest among those who drank the most coffee: 5% of people who drank one or two cups a day suffered strokes, whereas 2.9% of people who drank six or more cups suffered strokes.

"Not long ago, researchers thought quite the opposite about coffee and the heart", says Dr. Thomas Hemmen, director of the UC San Diego Stroke Center: "Coffee is fun and it tastes good, so people assumed for many years that it would be bad for you."

I’m about to head out climbing I think I’ll pour myself another cup of Good Morning America just to be on the safe side. As old Obi-Wan once said, the force is strong in this one.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Real For Real

Soccer is a departure from TSD’s usual fare but, as we are on the verge of major history, today’s psyche post is about the rise of the Real Salt Lake soccer club. RSL went into Mexico last week, where an American team has never won a match, and tied Monterrey 2-2. If it can beat or tie the same team in Salt Lake, where it has not lost in 34 tries—the longest streak in the world—it will be the first North American team to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup final. That would mean this little soccer team from the MLS would be playing against players and teams most Americans have actually heard of like AC Milan, Manchester United and, of course, their parent club Real Madrid.

When I moved to Salt Lake near the end of 2006 the club was a joke. So much so that when they played a friendly against Real Madrid that summer, the big team kicked the ball around like they were playing keep away from a bunch of school kids. The next year, during a long losing streak, the coach was fired and replaced by 34 year old star player Jason Kreis. The controversial move was resoundingly panned by those “in the know” but began to pay dividends only a short time later. Grant Wahl’s outstanding article, The story of RSL: A once-wretched MLS club is making history, covers this transformation in detail.

The first thing Kreis did, in the middle of the season, was fly to South America to recruit a player.

"What is most important to me with these guys is meeting them," says Kreis. "All that stuff stands out when you watch a DVD, but you have no idea what kind of person he is. Seeing his DVD was maybe 65 percent, but talking to him and looking in his eyes fills that other 35 percent. It might have been the other way around."

As he began changing the roster he also instituted a new offensive-minded philosophy, challenging his team to play “the beautiful sport,” as it’s called in Brazil. North American teams generally played a more conservative, defense brand of soccer because they felt we lacked the talent to play a Latin-style footie. At worst, this fast-paced attacking game is more fun to watch and fans responded, filling Salt Lake’s new stadium to capacity nearly every match.

Even more important is the team concept he’s instilled. The Team is the Star is Kreis’ motto, which he goes to great lengths to adhere to. RSL lacks a single big name player but has the deepest roster in the MLS.

If anyone steps out of line, Kreis is quick to intervene. "I don't think every professional athlete could buy into our philosophy as a club," he says. "Professional sports lead to big egos. We don't have room or time for that."

Whether you’re a soccer fan or not Wahl’s piece is highly worth reading. It’s the kind of rags to riches story American ideals were founded on, even if it’s about an activity we’ve been very slow to embrace.

Soccer may not be considered a traditional outdoor sport but in many ways it’s the most iconic one. It’s played in every country in every weather condition. In fact weather and conditions can be part of a team’s strategy. Various countries have built venues at high altitude, in areas of oppressive heat, or bitter cold, or wet, to gain an advantage. And it works. Bolivia isn’t a world power in football but even mighty Brazil rarely wins at in their 10,000’ stadium, where they recently trounced ex-World Cup champ Argentina 6-1.

RSL players wilted in the Monterrey heat last week and were thoroughly out played in the second half. But thanks to a miraculous open field save against one of the world’s most dangerous strikers followed by Javier Morales’ beautiful 89th minute equalizer they come back home only needing a draw if they don’t give up two goals. In April it’s rained or snowed almost daily. The forecast call for a high of 49 with a 50% chance of rain. Wilting likely isn't going to be a problem.

javier morales scored what may become one of the biggest goals in mls history

Unfortunately I’ll be en route to Tucson for a race on Wed. But somewhere in the desert I’ll find a sports bar and ask for a channel to be changed. I’ll most likely be looked at sideways. What sort of American doesn’t want to see NBA playoffs, NASCAR highlights, or the latest NFL draft prospects? One with vision might be my answer. Because if Real makes the World Cup final perception of North American football is going to change.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Game Day

One of my favorite activities is something my friends and I call sports days, where we try and fit as many activities as possible into a given day. They are a bit like being a kid, at least if you were a kid like me, when you’d spend your summer days moving from one activity to the next and wouldn’t stop until you were summoned for dinner. Most of my birthday challenges are glorified sports days (or sports weeks/months...).

Asylum’s Game Day workout is a condensed sports day. You pretty much take the hard bits out of many different sports and combine them into a ridiculously active one hour period. If you’re into sweating and grunting you could probably say that it’s nothing but fun.

It should be noted that the sport movements are more focused on, well, training than the actual sport. It’s not a lesson in how to play a sport; just in how to get fitter for it. To exemplify the sport I’m worst at in the workout is, once again, the one I’m best at in real life.

To conclude my review of Game Day here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for our newsletter that I hope captures the spirit of both Game Day and the entire Asylum program.

Child's Play

Hell Week was accepted, and perhaps even enjoyed, because it was preparing you to get better at a game. And Asylum is all about the game, the game of life. And the only thing that might make anyone think I need to be locked up is that it’s given me a glimpse back at my youth. In closing, I’ll leave you with an anecdote about youthening, as they say in Camelot. You can tell me if I’m insane.

My summers as a kid were spent outside. My parents, and pretty much the entire neighborhood, would throw their kids out of the house with instructions not to come back in until dark. Without video games or money we were pretty much left to make up stuff to do with what was in our garages. A day might consist of a football game, maybe some tennis, some pick-up basketball. We may head down the street to the school and jump over the hurdles or kick field goals, or head to the park for a swim. Afternoons would often feature a Little League baseball game, after which I’d often stay late to work on my hitting or pitching. Summer days would end, after dinner, feeling blissfully tired while doing my best to stay awake through The Brady Bunch.

My favorite moment doing Asylum, so far, was late in the Game Day workout while we were “playing” baseball. Baseball players have not always been a paragon of athleticism but, especially during those sports days, it felt plenty active. Asylum’s baseball movements are decidedly tiring and as I was delivering one of my many “pitches”, in my garage in a snow storm, I had an acute sensory overload of a summer’s evening. I felt the same warm fatigue those long days would provide. I could actually smell the grass, feel the setting sun on my shoulder, and hear my dad telling me to arch my back or keep my elbow up. And so, okay, maybe that is a little insane. But that’s an Asylum that I won’t mind visiting every so often.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Speed & Agility & Sandbagging

I was saving my review of Speed & Agility until late because I had something funny to write but, alas, we’ve editing a very entertaining sandbag out of the final program notes. I was probably the one who changed this but, after running through the workouts a bunch, I kind of wish I hadn’t. You may not, but I digress.

You see, Shaun used to refer to Speed & Agility as an active recovery workout. You do it on day one and, in many ways, it’s just as hard as anything in the program. As I’ve already pointed out, Shaun’s definition of active recovery can be liberal. Anyone finishing Speed & Agility and thinking that they just did the recovery workout for the program was probably going to feel as though this Hell Month thing was going to be literal. But this tactic can have a flip side in that if you respond to it positively your head will get more in the game, you’ll focus more in subsequent workouts, and get better results. But, as with all coaching philosophies, what works for one person doesn’t always work for another and this “scare tactic” may have been too much for some.

It should be pointed out that Shaun is technically right. Speed & Agility targets proprioceptive awareness and speed instead of explosive strength. For any of you whom actually have been through a football Hell Week will remember, there were parts of practice that were obviously for strength improvements, like where you hit each other, or sleds, or dummies, with a lot of force. Then there were parts, usually during “breaks”, when you did speed and agility drills that were often more painful than hitting because you had to move very quickly. This workout is about those “breaks.” And because its target is speed as well as accuracy you’ll most likely feel, like me, that there is no end to how much you can improve.

"you shoot a mean game of pool, fat man."

Sandbagging has a long and glorious history in sports. From the more overt examples, like pool hustlers, to nefarious, like the Black Sox scandal, to downright clever like last year’s Boston Celtics, hiding your clear agenda in order to facilitate an outcome is a tried and true component in sports. We don’t do much of it around here because, well, we offer training programs, not sports psychology. Both Insanity and Asylum, however, have a little bit of a get-into-your-head component. But next time you think the challenge is mean, or over-the-top, just remember that it might have been worse.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Asylum Prep Course

So you got all excited and ordered Asylum and now you’re nervous that you’ve bitten off a little more than you can chew. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of our success stories had no business ordering the program that ended up changing their lives. But they sailed into the storm regardless, got tossed around a lot and maybe ever capsized a few times but, eventually, they emerged from the tempest with flags still flying. If you’re one of those who are not afraid to stare down a hurricane I’ve put together a plan to keep you from being cast adrift.

In the interest of responsibility I’ll start with a disclaimer. There are easier programs that might give you better results. The hardest program isn’t always the best. Asylum is a graduate program, which means that you’re supposed to have a good fitness base before you begin. If you haven’t exercised in a while something like Slim in 6 or Hip Hop Abs is probably a better idea. Then again, the key component of success is motivation. Get psyched enough and you will find your own answers. If Asylum laid the hook, but you’re not quite physically ready, here’s a month long schedule that will help. And don’t worry, it won’t disappoint you by being too easy.

Program note: for best results do Relief after every workout (might be the best 20 minutes of your day)

Week 1
Day 1 – Speed & Agility
Day 2 – rest or Relief
Day 3 – Back to Core
Day 4 – rest or Relief
Day 5 – Speed & Agility
Day 6 – rest or Relief
Day 7 – Strength

Week 2
Day 1 – Speed & Agility
Day 2 – rest or Relief
Day 3 – Back to Core
Day 4 – rest or Relief
Day 5 – Speed & Agility/Over time
Day 6 – rest or Relief
Day 7 – Strength

Week 3
Day 1 – Speed & Agility
Day 2 – rest or Relief
Day 3 – Back to Core
Day 4 – rest or Relief
Day 5 – Game Day
Day 6 – rest or Relief
Day 7 – Strength

Week 4
Day 1 – Vertical Plyo
Day 2 – Speed & Agility
Day 3 – rest or Relief
Day 4 – Strength
Day 5 – rest or Relief
Day 6 – rest or Relief
Day 7 – Athletic Performance Assessment

Week 5
Start day one of original schedule.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“Secret” Benefits Of Creatine

I’ve been touting the benefits of creatine forever but it seems/feels as though it’s a supplement that’s moved beyond its heyday. This isn’t to say it’s become less effective. It’s because the supplement world is all about the flavor of the day. Never mind that it’s exceedingly rare for any supplement to live up to its initial hype, tried and true simply doesn’t make sexy copy. So I was happy to see a link to an article titled The Secret Benefits of Creatine Revealed in this morning’s mail, even if it began stating what many of us already know.

“When it comes to building muscle, creatine enjoys a relatively rare distinction amongst “performance enhancing” supplements: It actually lives up to its hype. Indeed, a recent review of 22 studies found that, when used in conjunction with weight training, creatine can boost strength gains by up to 8 percent.”

Next, it moved on to the “secrets”:

1 - makes up for lost sleep
2 - combats muscle pain
3 - turns back the clock
4 - recover faster
5 - optimizes a vegetarian diet

Okay, so if you dig a little these are basically variations on the same theme, recovering better, it’s still very topical information. I’m not so sure about the secret part, since the last tip is one we’ve been dishing out to vegetarians for over a decade, but it’s nice to dust off old information that’s still current. And, hey, if you spin it a bit you could say that because creatine’s been off the radar for a while it’s secret to a new generation. Sure, sure, and I’ve got a great deal on a time share to tell you about.

Anyways, even though this article is written in a somewhat over-the-top style that typifies Men’s Health, it’s still educational. And the bullet points are referenced by solid science so a little hyperbole is warranted. Finally, it’s nice to see a supplement still getting good press after more than 20 years of popularity, especially one I’ve been recommending.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It’s Not Whether You Win Or Lose...

In some sports overtime is referred to as sudden death, which is pretty much what happened to me on Sat. I’d done a hard brick workout (running and biking); that was pretty much a 100% effort and then decided, just for kicks, to follow it straight away with Asylum’s Overtime workout. Safe to say that I didn’t win the game, but at least I was in it.

Overtime is the shortest workout in the Asylum series. It was meant to be done after another workout, specifically Game Day (but could be added to any workout) when either is starts to become routine or you just feel the need to put the hammer down. Overtimes are generally shorter than the actual periods of a given game, too, but they are usually the most painful period. This is the thought process behind the Overtime workout and it doesn’t disappoint. You come out of the gate at full speed and don’t stop until “the game is over.”

For some of you it may be over before others, like it was for me. That isn’t true as I finished the workout but if it had been a game it would have been over long before. After about five minutes of Overtime things turn cruel as you begin a series of 100% explosive jumps. As I “exploded” (Shaun’s word, not mine) on the first of them I had nothing left to give. Directed to hang in the air and switch my legs I found that I could barely get into the air at all, much less switch my feet. I felt like BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette in the NCAA tourney during the second overtime against Florida when his shot stopped falling. “That’s it,” said the announcer. “The legs are gone. Game over.”

The cool thing about games, however, is that they never really end. Win or lose there’s always another one to play, which is pretty much the hook of playing sports. Like the saying goes, “it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game that counts”. We play games because we like to see ourselves improve. Asylum Overtime leaves plenty of room for that.

pic: kemba: more fun to win but the physical pain is the same either way.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sweet Relief

My latest hard block of Hell Month was five straight days of double workouts, which had my legs screaming so loudly that I found myself texting a middle of the night Facebook entry:

“Legs hurt so bad I can't sleep. Both terrible and great at the same time.”

The terrible part is obvious but it’s also great to have a tactile reminder that I’m back at hard training. Being totally exhausted to the point of pain makes me feel like I’m living life as it should be lived.
After two active rest days I’m nearly back to normal and ready to lay the hurt on again, thanks to Asylum Relief. I was honestly reluctant to give up my recent recovery modalities, foam rolling and neuro-integrated stretching, but since I’m testing Asylum it’s what I had to do. And it’s working just fine, in fact better than I was expecting. A combination of the three, along with some yoga, is going to be my regular recovery MO until something more effective gets discovered.

Asylum Relief is pretty much designed to be done daily. In fact it begins doing the same movements that you do at the end of every workout as a not so subtle hint (plus Shaun repeatedly reminds you to do it and tells you to have Recovery Formula after, which he wouldn't if you were only doing a recovery routine). It’s not scheduled this way in the literature but that’s only because we don’t want to scare people into thinking that they’ve got to train over an hour each day. But I’m quite certain that any time you commit to an extra 15 minutes of cool down with Relief you’re going to feel like it was time very well spent.

There’s an old cycling coach saying that goes, “If you don’t have time to stretch you don’t have time to ride.” Few follow this but I’ll bet that those who do are faster than those who don’t. And even if they aren’t they are certainly the ones who recover fastest, get injured less, and feel better in general. You can take that to the bank.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Asylum Strength

I love this workout. It’s a very boring thing to say but I can’t think of anything funny, sarcastic, or even clever to crack wise about. It’s one of those workouts that simply suits me. It’s hard but not in a “I’m about to dread this” kind of way (should be noted I enjoy pain because I’m sure many of you won’t agree). It’s just a solid total body workout that is the sort of thing I can almost always blend with my other sports specific training.

So what’s it like?

It follows the Asylum format of kicking into gear out of the gate with a very active warm-up. These warm-ups are the kind of thing that let you know if you should be doing this program. If you can’t complete the warm-up you aren’t ready. No reason to get frustrated, just use a different program to prepare. Remember it’s designed to be done post Insanity.

The workout consists of a bunch of functional-style strength movements that work every muscle group in your body. No matter which you are targeting each movement requires engaging your core from an athletic position. As the workout progresses form becomes harder to hold but remains the focal point of your concentration. It not so much about how much you lift as how well you can control each lift. The result is a balanced full body pump that has you feeling like... well... you just got stronger.

There’s also some variability for those of you without a pull-up bar. I’ve done the movements both ways and I don’t have a preference as the ground variations seems to work as well as the pull-up options. Ironically, however, the one place in this workout where I have the most room to improve is with an exercise called “rock climbers”. This is a move where you hang in a lock-off position and switch your grip back and forth for a full minute (or is it two? Felt like two)--and it come late in the workout. I’m not sure how well the cast did because I was too preoccupied to watch, but from what it sounds like I’m sure it laid the hurt on.

While this must be the dullest review of a workout I’ve ever written I think Asylum Strength will get more use than any anything in my Beachbody arsenal. For someone like me who does a lot of mountain sports--or, really, any weekend warrior whose sport provides a lot of cardiovascular fitness—it’s a perfect compliment.

pic: choosing between a plank row or 'rock climbers' (note lock-off position becoming compromised. yes, it's hard)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Asylum Vertical Plyo: "This Is Not Insanity"

Jack LaLanne used to have a challenge where he’d give $10,000 to anyone who could keep up with him exercising for an hour. In his 80s he was contacted by a journalist from a fitness magazine asking if he was still game. Jack said sure and told him to show up at his house the following morning. The next line was something about how old Jack looked “like my grandfather” and how the writer was going to feel bad taking his money. This was followed by, “Five minutes later I’m about to throw up, during the warm-up. The bet is over. (sic)”

And that’s how I felt during the warm-up of Vertical Plyo. I seriously had to slow my pace down so that I didn’t puke. In fact the only thing that was worse than the warm-up was the “active recovery” as Shaun called a series near the end when we were doing, among other things, one leg explosive hops, as high as we could get while landing on the same leg, for one minute per side. Active yes. Recovery?!

In between I spent most of my time in the air while attempting a bunch of super explosive moves using bands for resistance and targets for accuracy. However, if I’d been in the cast I would have spent it doing push-ups as that’s how Shaun would penalize them for losing form and landing outside the lines.

While it’s needless to say that I didn’t on sight this workout, I often found myself exceeding the cast and, on one occasion, even out dueling Shaun. But this in no way means that I mastered anything. Far, far from it. On every individual move I sucked compared to most of the cast, hence the push-ups. Compared to the height and distance Shaun was getting on his jumps I felt like an old man. Sure, I’ve got some decent aerobic fitness but my explosive capability bites ass. The competitor in me wants to do this more. No, make that; absolutely has to do it more.

I felt a little less feeble when Shaun says to the cast “this is not Insanity,” as if that program were some kind of namby pamby cardio workout instead of this puke fest. At least I’m supposed to be dying, right? Shaun even cops to failure at one point. But again, to me it wasn’t the dying so much as the lack of flying that showed how much work I need to do. I used to be a basketball player fer crissakes! There’s got to be some hops left in there someplace. And, damnit, I’m going to keep doing this until I find them.

This morning as I write this I feel an interesting pattern throughout my body. It’s similar to how I feel after doing PAP workouts. Something inside me is trying to change, or adapt. Long dormant neuromuscular patterns that have been lost through age and endless hours traipsing through the wilderness have been awakened and are trying to remember what they used to do. It’s a physiological fact that we lose fast-twitch muscle fiber as we age but I’d say workouts like Vertical Plyo can not only slow the process but reverse it to some degree. We’re going to find out.

pic: who says white men can’t jump? Image credit: Robert Beck/SI via Sports Illustrated (h/t Reddit)

Friday, April 01, 2011

If It's April These Must Be Cobbles

The Tour de France is nice and all but if you’re a bike racer, or a bike racing fan, April is the best month of the year. It’s a month of wall to wall one-day classics and the first two, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris Roubaix are the two toughest days of any bike racer's life--at least those who are fortunate (matter of opinion) enough to be selected.

Both races are over 250k and feature many miles of riding on cobblestones. In Flanders (Vlaanderen) you ride the stones on a narrow, twisting, and very hilly course that rarely allows the comfort of a draft in the peloton. In Roubaix, the cobbles are worse and there are even more of them--nearly 100k in total. Both races are absolutely brutal and given affectionately-sadistic nicknames such as The Hell of the North.

i was lucky enough to ride some of these roads a couple of years back.

This year is shaping up to be perfect—-at least if it rains because bad conditons are synonymous with the greatest spring classics. The two guys who’ve dominated the race over the last few years are both on excellent form, each having won a different semi-classic last weekend, as are a group of up and coming young talents all vying to take their place.

double winner (both flanders and roubaix)fabian cancellara absolutely dominating the field last weekend. last year he was accused of putting an engine in his bike frame. looks like it's still there.

Video Rai.TV - Rai Sport - Gand - Wevelgem, volata di Boonen
multiple times roubaix/flanders winner tom boonen showing he's still got it by outsprinting the youth last weekend at gent-wevelgem

For you nationalists, be sure and watch US rider Tyler Farrar of Garmin, who promises to be America's first ever one-day classics star. He's still a bit young but won the field sprint for fifth last year and it's his favorite race.

"Even the Champs-Elysées doesn't tempt him as much as the racing on the narrow streets in Flanders. "I already won stages in the Giro and in the Vuelta and I still miss one in July. I do have the ambition, but my favorite race stays the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Not only because of the parcours, but also because of the people, the enthusiasm, which is not comparable to anything else."

And don't forget Big George Hincapie, who's had Roubaix snatched from right under his nose many times. He's on the south side of his career but his form is peaking at just the right time. To count him out would be a mistake.

You'll be able to see them unfold live here on and, I'm sure, Versus will be carrying them too. Just make sure to get up early!