Thursday, November 21, 2013

Snatch, Clean, and GET YOUR CHEST UP!!!

As I've probably stated too many times already, I am a USA Weightlifting coach and have taught a number of people how to snatch and clean and jerk.  The point of this article is to point out an often overlooked technical aspect of the snatch and the clean.

There are a lot of people out there teaching the Olympic lifts in a number of venues.  CrossFit, college weight rooms, powerlifting gyms, and personal training studios are all utilizing these fun and powerful lifts for strength and power development and competition.  However, I do see a lot of glaring form faults from time to time in the execution of these lifts that are easily fixed and make a huge difference in how much weight the lifter can move.

The most important aspect of the Olympic lifts is the powerful extension of the posterior chain.  This mainly originates from the hips and is often mistaken for a jump.  However, we don't want to move ourselves AND the bar, just the bar.  Driving through the heels as long as possible will ensure that more power is transferred to the bar alone.  Driving through the heels also ensures that our center of gravity stays over our heels and not our toes.  You can see that although all of these lifters are on their toes, their center of gravity is still over their heels.  This is because they aren't jumping.  Their heels leaving the floor is the result of violent hip extension.  Driving through the heels also keeps the bar close to the midline and allows us to exert maximal force on the bar with powerful hip extension.  Most people get this right.

However, in the teaching of the Olympic lifts, power cleans, and all other versions, something got garbled.  The idea that there is a powerful shrug at the top of the pull, in my opinion, needs to be put to bed.  Pulling your traps to your ears in a vertical position doesn't really do much at all for getting yourself under the bar.  It also tends to keep the bar path in front of you rather than straight up from the hips.  In addition, shrugging is not a motion connected to your hips.  Go ahead and shrug, did you feel it in your waist and low back?  Most likely not.  We don't pull the bar up to our shoulders (and beyond) so much as we pull our shoulders back rotating the chest up, and get the heck out the way.  Extending the hips AND pulling the shoulders back are the two parts of one powerful and complete posterior chain contraction.

And so, when coaching new lifters, or lifters going for heavier weights, I regularly give a version of the following cue:  Chest UP!!!  Sometimes its "throw your chest at the ceiling", sometimes its "pull your shoulders back", but I mean the same thing, get that chest up and out of the way.  This does two things: 1.  It adds more force to the bar simply through the magic of momentum and bodyweight.  2.  It allows the bar to travel straight up such that you simply get underneath of it instead of having to pull it into place at the top of the lift.

Next time you're cleaning or snatching and it doesn't feel quite right, have someone watch you and/or take a video.  If it doesn't look like the guys and gals in these pictures, try it, you might find you have a lot more power in the tank when you extend your entire posterior chain instead of just the hips.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Pregnancy, Fitness, Being Strong, and Realizing You Don't Have to Prove Anything to Anybody

I have to admit, I've been a little irritated lately.  Lots of pregnant women in the news these days doing things to "prove that pregnancy isn't a disease"   And they are doing things that I really wouldn't recommend a woman in her third trimester do.  Lifting heavy weights, running marathons, maybe there are some entering lumberjack competitions, I have no idea.

Pregnancy is just beautiful.  Period. 
And then there are those, like this woman in the Huffington Post Article, claiming that certain types of exercise practically guarantee a healthier pregnancy and easier delivery.  This is complete and utter bullshit.  I'll be frank, intense exercisers have their share of miscarriages and morbidly obese inactive people can have perfectly healthy pregnancies with two hour natural deliveries.  Your exercise program is not a guarantee of anything.

The truth is, exercise is good for you, even when you are pregnant.  And a good moderate exercise program will probably help you maintain your weight and give you more stamina in the delivery room.  What an exercise program, no matter how light or aggressive, will NOT do is the following:
1.  Make your hips big enough to safely deliver your baby.
2.  Eliminate risks of pre-eclampsia.
3.  Prevent placental abruptions.
4.  Counter any of the genetic or structural reasons you might "fail to progress" or need a C-section.
5.  Make labor any less painful.
6.  Prevent developmental disorders

I was very active in all three of my pregnancies.  I walked, lifted weights, moved heavy furniture, and sometimes I would run after my toddlers to, you know, save them from being squished by a car.  I once ran up 5 flights of stadium stairs to get cotton candy for my two year old when I was 8 months pregnant (yes, this was a "not smart" moment).  But, you try running up 5 flights of stadium stairs and you'll see that I was not really that badly out of shape.  And yet, I had two 29+ hour labors.  My only sub-12 hour labor was due to massive amounts of pitocin which I wouldn't wish on anyone.  And in case you are wondering, yes, labor hurts.  I did the hypnobabies program for two of them and it helped, but I still had a lot of pain during transition.

Being able to do cool stuff with your kids is awesome.
It also took me about 5-8 months to really have enough energy to start training hard again after each pregnancy.  I developed diastasis during my first pregnancy and so dealt with a lot of core weakness.  I dislocated both hips squatting with no weight one day when I was 8 weeks post-partum with my second so that caused a bit of pain for a while.  I was also breastfeeding and didn't get a lot of sleep.  My body changed drastically during those 5 years of being pregnant, post-partum, and breastfeeding.

And yet, I have friends who started running again as soon as they got the go ahead from their doctors.  I knew a woman who seemed to have reformed her six-back within hours of giving birth to her fourth baby.  I know many women who got right back in the gym and never looked back.  I also know women who had joint pain, hormonal changes, and such weak cores that their backs hurt too much to stand upright for over a year.  And that's not even addressing post-partum depression and its milder form:  the baby blues.  The baby blues are not just about depression, they can cause a lot of anxiety as well and this anxiety causes us to push and judge ourselves for not living up to some imaginary standard of what we thought we should be as mothers.

All in all.  Its hard.  And if you are a mother or about to become one, I'm proud of you for just getting through it.

Bottom line, everyone is different.  Just because runway supermodel mom can wear a thong two days after having her 7th baby doesn't mean you should be able to as well.  How we carry our babies, how our deliveries go, and how we recover is entirely unique to our bodies, our genetics, and how well we're cared for, both by ourselves and our loved ones, during this time.

Watching them get awesome at their
own stuff is even better.
So, if you are pregnant and wondering if you should take this time to learn how to powerlift, attempt a 100 mile trail run, or learn how to do gymnastics just so you can keep up with all your "peers" who are doing the same thing, relax.  Its okay.  You don't have to.   Having a baby is pretty badass in and of itself and focusing on what your baby needs and not what someone else's ego needs is pretty important.

So, back to the exercise part.  Not all pregnancies are planned so if this news is sprung upon you suddenly, well, keep doing what you're doing until you can't do it anymore.  And that pretty much goes for all of you.  But, I have a few caveats.  Do be careful in the second and third trimester.  Your body produces a hormone called relaxin.  This is to relax the ligaments in your hips so your baby can come out more easily.  It will also make your ribcage bigger and make you go up a shoe size.  Some of these things reverse with time, some do not.  But, if you're loading your joints with weight or ballistic movements, realize you may be getting a bit more stretch and stress than you normally would.  You can lift weights, but I would not be maxing anything out at this time.

Also, although your baby is pretty well cushioned, placental abruption can happen from falls.  My husband is an ER doctor and has seen it often enough not to discount this risk.  A full abruption means the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus.  You can imagine what happens next.

Additionally, if you're like me, pregnancy brings a great wave of uncoordination.  I couldn't really pick up anything without a 50-75% chance of dropping it immediately.  Complex weighted movements or anything requiring balance would have been a terribly bad idea for me.  They may not be a bad idea for others, but they were for me.  So, I tried to just walk in a straight line as much as possible and I lifted weights while seated or standing still.

Intense exercise brings with it an increased heart rate and increased body temperature.  Think about it.  You're not supposed to sit in hot tubs, so try not to cook the little guy by getting overheated in the gym.  And do we really need to get out of breath when supplying oxygen to the person who may one day be changing our diapers and feeding us gruel when we can no longer feed ourselves?  No.  You can give me all the reasons getting hot and out of breath for 30 minutes is a noble cause when you are 8 months pregnant, but I would never recommend it for any of my clients.  Why?  Because I believe it to be an unnecessary risk.

And then what about after baby comes?  We all want to get out of this weird deflated not-my-body fatsuit we've seem to acquired, but we need to think about what has happened to it:
1.  Your core muscles got devastated and you've learned to move without engaging it at all.  This causes an upper/lower body separation and that has to be fixed asap.
2.  You lost some muscle mass.  This is why you may be back to your non-pregnancy weight, but look squishier in the mirror.   (My kids used to like to play with my tummy skin like playdough, talk about an ego-smack.)
3.  You're probably really tired and a little stressed out from having a new little one(s) added to the family.
4.  Your joints are loose and not likely to firm up for about 5-6 months.

This is the stuff that actually matters.
Family.  Happiness.  Love.
So, what do we do?  Getting back into the gym and your old routines may simply not work for you right now.  You move differently, your joints are loose, and you've lost some structural support.  My advice as a three time mom and someone who cares, is to take it easy.  Don't wear yourself out right now, you've got more important things in your life, but that doesn't mean you can't start making some progress.

Taking baby out for walks in a stroller or in a sling of some kind is great for getting your aerobic exercise in.  And, they usually sleep, which is even better.  I would definitely not recommend doing any kind of situps or ab flexion exercises, but standing core work (with a support belt if needed) is a great way to get your core back into shape.  Medicine ball exercises such as Russian twists, ball slams, side throws, or just moving it around your body will teach your core to re-engage.  Once you can engage your core more readily, add in some pushups and squats.  Some bodyweight work or even light resistance training will help your core get back into shape.  Light kettlebell swings, windmills, and presses can start to get your hips and shoulders involved in your core stabilization.  Without restoring that core strength first, you're going to have a hard time doing anything else well.

There is a condition called diastasis where the rectus abdominus splits down the middle.  There is connective tissue holding it together, but it usually results in a pot belly and even a noticeable ridge when you engage your core.  This happens naturally when your belly expands and in most cases, it will resolve.  However, in some cases it does not and surgery is required to repair it.  Ab flexion exercises can make it much worse so if you suspect you have disastasis, ask your doctor.   Wearing a support belt during the day can help it come back together and prevent fatigue.  Do a google images search and you'll see how it can affect women post partum.  A lot of women feel they need to exercise that belly away, but if its diastasis, you can't.

So, in conclusion, don't believe the hype.  Try and get some moderate exercise during your pregnancy, but if you can't, no big deal.  We all can't be superheros, but like I said, just getting through that delivery with a healthy baby is a pretty big deal.  Be proud of yourself for that because you just got the best prize ever given out for anything.  Take it easy on yourself in the post-partum period as well.  Time will solve most of you post-pregnancy problems and taking a moderate approach to recovery will serve you better in the long run.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Course in Raleigh NC

My weightlifting club, Have Fun, Get Strong, #1321 is hosting a Level 1 Coaching course at CrossFit RDU on June 22nd and 23rd with Michael McKenna as instructor. I am hosting the course to raise money for my club to send one of my lifters, Diana Ceron, to the American Open.  Diana has recently returned to weightlifting after giving birth to her daughter.  As a 53 kg lifter, she had a total of 188 kg.  She is currently a 63 kg lifter with a current 166 kg total.  We hope to re-qualify her as a 58 kg lifter this fall with a goal total of 180 kg.  

If you have any interest in becoming a level one weightlifting coach, please consider attending!

Registration Link

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nutrition and Training: Common Sense Works Best

Training horses is all about focusing on what they need.  
There's so much on the internet these days about the right way to train and eat that I really have nothing to add.   In fact, the advice I give hasn't changed much in the last five years and I've only grown more resolute that its the best path to a functional healthy life.  Unfortunately, what I have to say is not sexy or exciting and it seems too simple to work.  Surely one must attack everything with great vigor and scrutiny to succeed at fitness and health, but the truth is, simple still works best.  Having trained horses for a number of years, I can honestly say that even with equines, focusing on too many things at once is stressful, diminishes performance and function, and increases risk of injury.

If your approach to diet and fitness is too complicated, how can you truly maximize the qualities that will give you the greatest benefit?  Whether your goal is body composition or performance, a solid strength training program, a sensible diet, and some aerobic base training is ALL you need in a background training program.  For those of you who play sports, practice on the field will take care of your conditioning and specific competition prep will prepare you for competition day.  Most importantly, but leaving out all the extraneous stuff that you think you need, you will recover better and can put more effort into improving those qualities you need instead of getting mediocre at a whole bunch of things that are less important.  The truth is, with a little bit of practice, a well trained athlete adapts quite well to any number of challenges mainly because that base training is already in place.  

Planning meals should not be overly stressful or affect your
personal relationships.  
I was at my kids elementary school the other day and got roped into helping out the substitute take the kids down to the lunch room.  It was a half day and so the kids were eating in the classroom.  At the back of the line on the way back to class, I noticed a few boys had nothing more on their trays than a pile of sugary snacks.  Rice Krispie treats, fruit snacks, and maybe there was a sandwich, but not much else.  Someone allowed them to purchase this.

I thought to myself, "Well, I wonder if anyone has bothered to tell their parents that they are doing this?"  But, then I had to wonder if the parents even knew this was a bad idea, would care if it was, or perhaps allowed the children to eat at home this way.

The thing is, as much as this horrifies me, it doesn't surprise me.  Diet is one of those things that gets horribly abused by most people and its not just by eating junk food.  Extremes in all areas are responsible for a number of problems.  And other than the junk food junkies, people will come out of the woodwork to tell you all about their disordered eating and it has "transformed their lives".  Ultimately, however, following a good healthy diet is not that complicated.

My approach to nutrition has always been a very simple, scientific process:
Write down what you are eating for a week; be completely honest.
Assess the calories and macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) for that week and determine if anything is deficient or in excess.
While continuing to track your diet, activity, and overall sense of well-being, slowly introduce changes week by week that will accomplish three things:

  1. Ensure your protein intake is adequate and not excessive for your needs.
  2. Ensure that your overall calorie intake is adequate and not excessive for your needs. 
  3. Replace processed foods with more natural and unprocessed foods that make you feel good.  

Its simple and it works.  It simply requires that you pay attention to what you are doing and consistently move towards a more ideal way of eating.  There are no "cheat days", we don't punish ourselves for enjoying a treat now and then, and we aren't so strict and obsessive that we offend our friends and neighbors.

The same approach works with training in a slightly different way.  It is still based entirely on observation, but this time, instead of tracking what you eat, you need to take an honest look at what your goals are and where your deficiencies lie.  Again, this is pretty simple with the definition of "tasks" being your daily routine or anything related to your sport:
Are you strong enough to perform your tasks and resist injury?
Can you perform your tasks for the desired length of time without fatiguing?
Can you hit all the positions required to perform your tasks optimally?
Does your current exercise regimen enable you to function better in every day life and keep you free from injury?

If you want to be like this guy, pay attention
to what you're doing now and minimize the
collateral damage.
What we're talking about here are the basic principles of strength, endurance, and mobility/flexibility.  The last one is the most important as what we do in the gym should enhance our lives, not require our entire focus and sacrifice our well-being.  This seems so simple, but in our current environment of extreme and specialized training regimens, the basic qualities of limit strength, aerobic base, and functional mobility are often completely ignored.  All three are necessary for good performance and quality of life.

It may be boring, but the most basic training programs consist simply of lifting weights and doing some sort of aerobic activity on a regular basis.  Occasional periods of high intensity work can boost performance, but unless you play a sport that requires intense conditioning, consider whether or not training at that level of intensity is going to make your life better.  A lot of folks disregard the basic approach because they don't know how to use this approach to make big gains across the board.  People often favor intensity in lieu of volume, but you need both to make significant progress without significant injury or setbacks.  Good technique and practice is a large part of this.

In my seminar group, Practical Strength for Trainers, we push the idea that simplicity and consistency will produce far better results than most other programs.  The truth is, it takes years, even decades, to develop one's strength and athletic potential.  We as human beings have a tremendous amount of potential that can be developed in a relatively short period of time, but this is simply our baseline.  It may surprise a lot of us, but in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn't be terribly surprising.

What does this look like? It can look like anything, but a very basic plan might look like this:
  • Monday: Squat, pullups
  • Tuesday: 30-45 minute jog
  • Wednesay: Bench, row
  • Thursday: 30-45 minute jog
  • Friday: Deadlift
  • Saturday/Sunday: Play, ie, be active and have fun

Both of my children can lift more than their bodyweight.
Most individuals, simply by learning good deadlift technique, can lift more than their bodyweight off the ground within a short training period of 6-12 weeks.  Within 6-12 months of training, more impressive feats can be accomplished.  The real impressive benchmarks start to show up in a 3-5 year period and beyond.  If all someone did for two years was squat, press, pull, carry, and do some form of aerobic training, he or she would probably be far stronger and more conditioned than the majority of folks trying every new program that tickles their fancy.  And the potential for injury would be far less.  This works for kids, athletes, senior citizens, ie pretty much everyone.

In conclusion, my main point here is that when it comes to training and diet, simple is better.  With a simple program running in the background, it becomes a lot easier to manage the rest of your life and whatever stresses come along.  If you decide to participate in a sport or train for a competition, you will have a significant base in place to work with and a fall back plan for after the season is over.  Routine may seem boring, but if you are interested in the progress you make and want to continue to make gains over the next few decades, your base training plan should be as routine as possible and your performance training plan should be as specific as possible.  Otherwise, you're just wasting energy and recovery.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How To Train for an Obstacle Course Race

Now that I've completed the Tough Mudder, I want to take the opportunity to go over what all of us did to get there.  There are a lot of ideas floating about on the world wide web as to how to train for one of these races and I've seen a lot of plans.  Many of which are overly complicated, too deficient in volume, too abundant in intensity, and mostly complete nonsense.  Many of the theories about training for these races fall in line with the philosophy that tired, sore, and possibly injured is the most effective.  The truth is, however, it is far more effective when you train in a way that improves your abilities without being chronically tired, sore, or injured and most importantly, is specific to your goal.  High-intensity, non-specific conditioning may feel like good exercise, but it is not any way to train for something specific.  Training is important, but smart planning and recovery is more important.

There are some very basic training principles that are common to all people and its not because some brilliant training guru came up with them.  Its because the principles are not about training, they are about how the human body reacts to stress and stimulus.  An understanding of basic physiology will tell you far more about how to train intelligently than all the training books in the world.  Understanding the principles of Adaptation, Overload, Accommodation, Specificity, and Individuality are necessary to develop a good training plan.  Ultimately, a good training plan is far simpler than we tend to think it needs to be.  That doesn't mean its easy, but it is not terribly complicated either.  If you have the time and motivation to train efficiently, there is very little you can't accomplish.  I'm not saying you can beat world records or make it to the NFL training camp, but for the average person, a lot of things may seem out of reach that really aren't.

I'm not going to give you a crash course in physiology right now, but I'm going to give you some basic rules that I follow when I develop a training plan.

1.  Segment your training so that you improve the qualities that take the longest to improve first.  For these races, you need aerobic base (from running) and full body strength.
2.  When training for the event itself, train specifically.  Practice specific skills, work up to specific distances, and condition yourself as close to race day conditions and demands as possible.
3.  Be willing to adjust the training as you go to accommodate individual differences.  

The first phase of segmented training is a Rehabilitation.  Not everyone needs this phase, but this if you haven't trained in while, are recovering from any injuries or noticeable imbalances, or are simply transitioning from another sport, activity, or competitive season. We also refer to this as the "Fix what's broke" segment.  Depending on your fitness levels and your goals this could take as little as four weeks and as many as twelve or more.

After Rehabilitation comes Accumulation.  This is usually the longest block and is when you improve the qualities that take the longest to improve to establish a solid base.  These are simple to identify for an obstacle course race:  strength and aerobic base. As I've mentioned before, for most beginners, doing pretty much anything will result in them being stronger and more conditioned.  However, doing pretty much anything will not necessarily keep them progressing past the "novice period" and it wont' really condition them to do much more than their specific activity.  Therefore, if you are weak, you need to focus specifically on getting stronger, particularly your ability to push and pull yourself vertically and horizontally through space.  Don't worry about climbing walls and crawling under barbed wire at this point.  If you are weak and deconditioned, you need to strengthen your entire body, particularly the muscles that support your major joints and your spine.  Simply strength training for this purpose will improve virtually all other aspects of fitness and help prevent injuries.  Strength training all your joints through a full range of motion will improve your strength, flexibility, postural endurance, balance, and coordination.  So, why waste time training with a bunch of different methods when one method will deliver the bulk of improvements?  Train for strength, leave the obstacle specific conditioning for later.  Squat, press, pull, and carry your way to a good full body strength base.  

And when we talk about aerobic base, we need it to be specific for the activity we are training for and an obstacle course race requires one to run.  So, you need to get out and run.  Balancing your running and recovery with strength training and recovery can be a bit of a challenge, but as long as you are willing to adjust your distances and intensity as you go, you should be able to sustain both during this base training phase.

Our training group for the Tough Mudder was made up of a lot of different fitness levels and abilities.  Although some of us ran together prior to the group training sessions, most of us were training on our own during the Accumulation phase to improve the qualities that we needed as individuals to do well with this challenge.  Since running was my largest deficit, I put strength training on the back burner and ran as much as possible.  I also train largely with barbells so when I did strength train, I added in a lot more body weight work such as pull ups, push ups, and dips.  My leg work consisted largely of squats, power cleans, and a lot of running.  It may sound strange that I include running as strength work, but for me, running on trails not only developed my aerobic capacity for running, it also helped me develop multi directional strength in my ankles, knees, and hips.  This was partly strength endurance for running, but also joint stability for injury prevention.  Being new to running, especially trail running, I had to be very careful during this phase of my training.

So the prescription so far is pretty simple:  
1.  Run until you have enough of a running base to cover the distance you need to run.  If your body doesn't know how to walk or run the required distance, you are going to have a hard time covering the required distance AND completing the obstacles.  
2.  Improve your strength to the point that you can push yourself vertically and horizontally through space using your arms and legs.  The degree to which you need to do this depends on your race.  If you have to climb a wall, a rope, or traverse monkey bars, having the strength to be able to sustain a flexed arm hang or do a pull-up may be necessary.  However, most of the shorter races do not have this requirement and the obstacles are designed such that you can use both your arms and legs to get over them.  

Once you have your base in place, its time to enter the Transmutation phase.  This means, race-specific conditioning.  This is where you will introduce obstacle specific skill work and combine this with your running efforts into a single workout.  The time it takes to get through this and the level of difficulty you'll want to include will depend entirely on your fitness level and the degree of difficulty of the race.  For the Tough Mudder, we wanted to be able to cover a distance close to the eleven mile distance of the race combined with obstacle stations that would specifically improve our skills for the race.  Notice I said skills and not strength.  During the Transmutation phase, you are not going to get appreciably stronger.  You will however, get much better at the skills you practice.  For example, when we started our 8 week Transmutation phase for the Tough Mudder, I could climb the rope with someone holding the bottom of it and I could get over the six foot wall with a little help.  By the end of the eight weeks, I could go up and down the rope easily and climb the eight foot wall by myself.  Its not because I got stronger, its because I got more coordinated.  Practice makes perfect. 

In addition to these very specific obstacle skills, I included some "non-specific" work as well.  The agility course and prowler push were added to enhance certain qualities such as proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, joint stability, and full body conditioning that would help us on the race.  The mud and the trails would require a great deal of physical awareness to avoid injury and the conditioning would help fight fatigue in the middle of the race.  We were not practicing in muddy conditions and we didn't really know what the terrain would be like so maintaining some exercises that would enhance our abilities to deal with uneven, slippery, or hilly terrain during the race was important.   

So, our goals for this eight week period were to improve our obstacle specific skills and condition ourselves for the combined running and strength efforts.  Now, perhaps it is our age, but all of us training together at that point were used to training in the gym rather intensely and we had all worked up to running at least ten miles by that point, but the first training session was brutal.  It didn't help that it was almost 100 degrees outside, but our first training sessions consisted simply of six obstacle stations with quarter mile runs in between.  This took us almost two hours to complete mainly because we were working on skill development and not on speed.  Over the next four weeks, we gradually increased our number of obstacle stations to fourteen while also increasing the distances we ran to a half mile between obstacles.  For the final four weeks, we stayed with fourteen obstacle stations, but gradually increased our first and middle running distance to two miles each such that the total mileage on our final training day was ten miles.  On our final training day, I also took out the nonspecific strength and skill work (prowler conditioning and agility work) and added in some extra crawling and sprinting.  This took us about three hours to finish.  

During this time, we not only worked on our obstacle specific skills and conditioning, we were figuring out what we were going to wear and bring with us on the course.  It may not sound like a big deal to crawl through mud, but if you've ever done one of these races, you know that mud is typically full of small rocks and you will come out of that mud with your fair share of abrasions.  Because our race was going to be in cooler weather, I decided to go with long pants and knee sleeves under my pants.  I also decided to go with a long sleeved shirt.  The long pants and shirt also help mitigate the bruising you tend to get from moving over obstacles in your bare flesh.  Basically, bare skin can tend to stick to wood and rope.  Instead of gliding over it, with a little bit of sweat and compression, you sometimes actually end up grinding your skin against the obstacle in a way that results in rather nasty bruising.  Lastly, as I had to find out the hard way, running itself can cause your clothes and skin to chafe you.  Chafing means that your skin gets rubbed raw.  This does not feel good, especially in the shower when soap and hot water are applied.   Therefore, if you are not strong enough to catapult yourself over the obstacles, you may want to consider protecting yourself. 

Finally, the last phase is Realization and this occurs at the end of the transmutation phase and includes the event itself or the competitive season if you play a sport.  The hardest thing about Realization is that this phase requires a lot of recovery.  As we transitioned to our last two weeks and hardest workouts before the Tough Mudder, a lot of us had to cut back on our training volume.  Some of us started to notice some more chronic aches and pains as well as some old injuries acting up.  Its important to pay attention to these things during this time.  At Realization, depending on the demands of your training, you are not only in the peak of your physical performance, but also tend to be a bit delicate and vulnerable to injury.  Between our last training session and the Tough Mudder itself, I didn't do anything other than aggressively stretch and go for some long walks.  

So, at the conclusion of all this preparation the Tough Mudder itself was not that bad.  We were able to go the distance comfortably and complete all of the obstacles with relative ease.  This was important because many of them had a bit of fear factor included in the difficulty.  The only obstacles we failed to complete were either hard for everyone, including the twenty year old freaks of nature, or greased with butter.  Being able to sprint up the last obstacle, a steep half-pipe, was quite an accomplishment after more than three and a half hours on the course and running eleven miles.  We were tired when we were done, but we were able to go the distance and enjoy the day which is the most important part.    

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goals and Plans

If you're like me, you're sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching Phineas and Ferb and trying to figure out what to write down as your goals for the year.  I would call these goals "resolutions", but resolutions don't get very far in this house so I prefer to set goals.  There are many goals that we all want to set in the beginning of the year, but the ones that I typically deal with in my practice are the diet and exercise goals, weight loss being the most typical.

These guys have to fit into my goal planning.  
When you set a goal, the most important next step is to come up with a plan.  Preferably a plan that supports not only your goal, but the other aspects of your life that can't afford to be displaced.  These include your job, your family, your health, and your self-worth.  This may sound simple, but time and time again, I see people sabotaging most or all of the above in pursuit of a goal because of poor planning.  How?  Well, change is difficult.  Changing our routine requires a change in schedule and priorities.  If we choose a difficult path to our goal, everything else in our life suffers.  And I don't think I have to tell you that this is not good.

So, specifically, lets talk about exercise and weight loss goals.  Most of us start off our new year one or more of the following:

  1. I want to get in better shape.
  2. I want to lose my love handles - gut -jiggly arms - cankles - etc. and/or all of the above.
  3. I want to exercise regularly.
  4. I want to lose X lbs.  

These are admirable goals indeed, but if you're going to stick to them you need an actual plan, and although it should primarily consist of "show up at the gym" and "eat less", this is not a plan.  Its a starting point.  So, first things first, figure out what your actual problems are.  They will include one or more of the following:

  1. I am too fat.
  2. I am out of shape and can't walk up the stairs, play with my kids, walk more than a mile, etc. without getting out of breath or being in pain.  
  3. I want to play a sport or participate in a competition.  
  4. I am in pain, I've lost my ability to do a lot of things I used to do, and I am becoming more sedentary as a result.  

I like sitting and probably do it way too much.
The next step is to figure out exactly what you are doing now.  This is the hard part.  We tend to underestimate both how much we eat and how much time we spend sitting every day.  We also tend to overestimate how much we sleep and how much we exercise.  So, the first thing you need to do is a complete accounting of your diet, sleep, and exercise habits.  You cannot make changes in your habits if you don't have an understanding as to what your habits are.  Going on a crash diet or joining a boot camp is a temporary solution and rarely deliver the long term results you really want.  So, to figure out where you are, take a few days and observe yourself.  Keep a diet journal, keep an activity journal (both when you exercise and how long you sit), and keep track of your sleep patterns.  Some revelations you may come up with:

  1. I only sleep six hours a night.
  2. I sit for more than six hours a day.
  3. I only go for a walk twice a week.
  4. I eat the majority of my calories in the form of bread.
  5. Most of my diet is processed foods.
  6. I am really hungry before bed.
  7. I don't eat many fruits or vegetables.  

So, now you have a general goal and an idea as to what your challenges are going to be in achieving them.  But, let me give you a bit of advice as far as prioritizing things:

  1. If you spent a lot of time sitting and get no aerobic exercise, you need to change this.  Go out and walk for 30 minutes a day.  This is good for your heart and will mitigate most of the major health risks associated with inactivity.  You will have more energy, it will assist your weight loss efforts, and it may improve your sleep habits. 
  2. If you want to lose bodyfat, your diet needs to be the primary focus of your behavior changes.  Exercise helps, but weight loss is primarily driven by dietary changes.  Get an online calorie tracker, keep a food diary, or join weight watchers.  You need to be accountable for everything you eat.  Don't try and make a large number of changes at once.  Pick one and once it sticks, choose another.
  3. Woods are nice, but you can walk anywhere.
  4. If you don't like the way your body looks naked (no matter how much you weigh) and/or are experiencing daily aches, pains, or weaknesses, you need to add some strength training to your regimen.  The truth is, everyone pretty much needs a strength training program, especially as we get older and start to lose our muscle mass.  Strength helps support our joints, resist injury, and keeps us mobile.  Improved muscle mass improves our metabolism and quite frankly, makes our bodies more attractive.  

All of the above should be included in some degree in a plan to improve one's overall fitness level.  If you want to take things a step further and start playing a sport or participate in a competition, find a coach, a training group, or at the very least, a source of credible information on how to get started.  I'm a big fan of making my goals center on something aside from myself.  In other words, I like to train for a specific physical challenge or competition because it clarifies what I need to do in the gym.  My goals this year are to compete in a deadlift competition, compete in the Highland Games at least twice, and run an 8k.  In the meantime, I'll be watching my waistline, but I've got a plan for each and every one of these goals.