Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Product Review: Hylete Backpack

I have a bit of an obsession with bags. Backpacks to be precise. I don't like duffle bags and messenger bags. I hate feeling like I'm unevenly loaded, or holding one shoulder up higher than the other. Duffle and messenger bags also tend to bounce and scoot around while I'm wearing them, which gets annoying.

I bought the Hylete backpack about two months ago. I love it enough that it has replaced my ever so beloved Dakine Mission back pack as my day to day bag. I could sing songs about the wonder that is the Dakine Mission backpack, too. But it was small enough that I needed a separate bag for my training gear.

Dakine Mission backpack. Best general backpack. Ever. 

On to the Hylete backpack. This one is big enough for me to put my daily crap plus all my training crap into.

So on first glance they look similar enough, but let me explain.

1) It's big enough

For once the makers didn't limit the width of the backpack to the width of a hipster's back. People who lift heavy can lift heavy so you might as well make a backpack that you can really fill up with a lot of stuff.

2) Has expandable areas

The bottom unzips to a large compartmentalized pocket that can hold a couple of pairs of shoes. The middle zipper gives the front pocket about two extra inches to expand. I don't use these portions often, but when I travel, it's nice to have the extra space to compartmentalize things more effectively.

3) Single, large space inside

I'd say the biggest issues with most backpacks, the limiting factor for me, is that the main holding area is often subdivided for the purpose of better organization. I guess that's great if you use it for traveling to an office, but it puts a serious damper when you need to pack awkwardly shaped training gear like shoes, belts and the like.

4) Side pockets meant for shaker bottles

Need I say more? Those are even more of the awkward items that take up too much space in a conventional backpack and they usually don't fit in the side pouches added for normal water bottles.

All the stuff I carry regularly in my Hylete backpack.

So it's become my everyday bag. However, there are a few things I'd like to see changed if an update is ever designed:

A) The design of the shoulder straps are really, really rough. I'm usually in a tank top, so by the end of the day I'm grimacing as I slide the strap off my shoulder. 

B) The chest strap should be placed a bit higher. It squishes my boobs and is both uncomfortable and not so cute. 

C) It would be awesome if one of the mini side zip pouches could be reached while wearing the backpack. This is one feature of the Dakine Mission back that I grew to really love. I could reach back and pull the car keys out while walking to the car and without swinging the back pack off. 

D) I love love love that the main holding area is large and open, but I wish the webbing at the base of the side zippers wasn't there. I've been tempted to cut it out, in fact. I want to be able to fully open the space to more efficiently pack my stuff into it rather than slide, shift, and hold things in place. Particularly when it comes to fitting my multiple belts in there. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Second Strongman Event and National Qualifier!

This past weekend I took the four hour drive out to the Double Diamond Athletic Club in Reno to compete in the Northern Nevada Strongest Man. This was my chance to qualify for Nationals, as the next opportunity would have been immediately after Burning Man, and I'm sure we can all guess how that would go down.

Weigh ins were the day before, and we (training partner Jesse and myself) went to the wrong place first, but Gary Montoya, the promoter, was kind enough to stick around and let us show up five minutes late. My weight class cut off was 180.4, and I stood at 180.0 with my lightweight lulu pants and sports bra on. Phew! Time to eat!

The next day started off with the Axle Press for reps. As a middle weight woman, I was to press 140 lbs as many times as I can in 60 sec. Since I got my registration in first, I got to go last and knew how many presses I needed to take first in the event.

Coach Jon Andersen and I had already worked out a plan, where if I needed more than 9, I would do 7, put the bar down and rest a few seconds, then do what ever else I needed to take first. I'm so glad we had that game plan, because every woman that went before me, if they dropped the axle due to exhaustion, they bombed every press attempt after that.

Then came the deadlift, on tires at 275lbs. Since I took first in the axle event, I got to go last in the deadlift. The woman before me did 26 reps, and woman before her did 13. So there was quite a spread. I wasn't sure if I would be able to get 27, but I had to try. I ended up getting a very painful 23 reps.

After that was quick change over to the farmer's handles for 80 feet at 150 lbs per hand. I took this one for granted because it was so light. But as I was going I was second guessing how fast I could go without bouncing too much. And once I clipped my heel on the back plate as I started to open up my stride. Sprinting with heavy weight is something I'm going to have to practice apparently.

Then a bottle neck at the truck pull. For every other event there were two stations going, but there was only space for one truck at a time here. The women pulled a diesel duelie Dodge Ram with some big ass men in the back. My screw up here was that I've never worked with a lead rope before. When I got started and pulled on it, it took the slack out in tension and my brain interpreted that as the truck moving and I took a step. Only it was just rope slack and I got stuck and had to take time to reposition my feet and start again. Towards the end as I had some speed up, my hands couldn't move fast enough to grab the rope. I actually missed the rope and couple of times and let it go at the very end. Ugh.

After a loooong break as they went through all the men (I even got a nap in here), it was time for stone over bar. 60 seconds for max reps of a 180 lbs stone. I was to go third of four women in my weight class. I was one point ahead of third place and 2.5 points behind first. The only way I could take first here is if I took first in the stones and the person in first did really poorly and took third. Either way, I needed to get as many reps as possible. That ended up being 13, but I should have just gone for a 14th rep even if I timed our halfway through the rep. First place ended up tying me with 13 reps.

So there were definitely some places that I could have done better on the fly. And there are places where I will have to practice some specific technical work. Either way, I had a great time and per my now tradition, took a bottle of whiskey with me, some disposable shot glasses, and made some new friends after all the competition was over.

The winners of the middle weight class. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Here We Go Again: T-Nation and CrossFit Clickbait

I just saw this posted on Thursday through my Facebook feed:

The author's first mistake is to basically say that his definition as a philosophy major was this: "In college, I majored in Philosophy, and our roundtable definition of a sport was similar [to the Oxford dictionary]."

The issue I have here is the presumption that we should respect his relatively arbitrary characteristics of sport because he majored in philosophy. I took philosophy 101, as many college fish are wont to do, and it was the worst. 

He continues to say that most would agree that sport carries all of the following:

• Competition
• Athletic or physical prowess
• Entertainment value to participants and onlookers

Joy Sheppard - Figure Competitor
Okay, so far so good. I can agree with these parameters.

But then his application of the parameters dismisses bodybuidling as a sport on the basis that the competitors don't compare physical exertion or athletic prowess. Now, I'm not a bodybuilder, but I'd say that you're looking at the direct result of some serious physical exertion. They aren't doing their bicep curls on stage at that moment, but have you ever stood completely flexed, smiling, and doing such posing under lights and scrutiny yourself? Doubt it. It's HARD. I've not done it myself, but I do know a few people that have, and they work their assess off on that stage to present their hard work.

He goes on to explain that since CrossFit fits these parameters it most definitely is a sport. I agree. Okay, so if you train in a sport, then you're an athlete, right? Maybe you have to compete.

No, this guys goes on to explain why that just isn't the case.

Jon Anderson - Pro Strongman and Pro IFFB Bodybuilder

His bottom line reasoning:

"Bottom line, if you have a day-job but go to CrossFit, powerlifting or Olympic lifting meets on weekends and don't make a significant portion of your income from it, you have no business calling yourself an athlete."

What that means:

  • If you compete, even at a national or international level, but don't make money at it, you are not an athlete. 
  • If you are an amateur in any sport, and therefore by definition don't make money at it (Olympians, people), you are not an athlete. 
  • If you have a full time job that pays for your participation in competition, you are not an athlete. 
So this philosophy major, who is not an athlete, has decided unilaterally that unless you're a fucking PRO ATHLETE in a sport that has that level of sponsorship and income, you are not an athlete. 

Sorry, Kendrick Farris, three time Olympian, looks like you're not an athlete, you're just a weekend warrior because you coach and host seminars and don't make most of your income directly through training and competing. 
Courtney Walker - CrossFit Regionals Games Competitor
Sorry, Courtney Walker, you're not an athlete either. With no sponsorships, and only a modicum of income through NPGL game play, you're just an ex-athlete gymnast from UCLA. 

By this guy's logic, you're either a pro athlete or you not an athlete at all. No room for amateurs and n00bs here.

My qualifications for really being able to call yourself an athlete?

  • Compete in a sport with the intention of progressing. 
  • Train in a sport with the intention of competing.
  • And.... that's about it. 
For more on my thoughts about CrossFit and who is or isn't an athlete, you can read a previous blog of mine here

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hello again, old friend: Updates

Looks like I haven't posted since the end of May. That's two months now come and gone and a few things have happened in the meantime.

Deadlift Clinic at United Barbell

Who would have thought that I could talk so much about the deadlift? I scheduled what was to be a one hour deadlift clinic at United Barbell back in early June and ended up going at least 30 mins over. We discussed conventional, sumo, how I'd like to see them do touch n' go to preserve their backs in a WOD, and even some basic programming progressions with a short discussion of what effect different rep ranges have on strength and endurance.

Grandpa's Memorial Service

The following weekend I spent the weekend with extended family in Oklahoma City for a memorial service for my paternal grandpa Bob Newman. He had military honors for his service in WWII, and it was an intimate and wonderful ceremony.

Fourth of July

I taught the Holiday WOD's at both United Barbell and San Francisco CrossFit for the 4th of July. Got to do whatever I wanted, which means lots of partner work and sweating.

USAW Nationals

This was the biggest event in the stretch. My training had been great leading up to this competition: my snatch technique was finally clicking into place and I had reached a new post-surgery PR of 90kg. My jerk technique had disappeared for nearly a month and finally came back to me two week before the meet. I had started following the Cal Strength programming, since they program around the big meets that I would also be attending.

Despite all that, I only made my openers at the competition itself (83kg snatch, 105kg clean and jerk). The frustrating thing is that I wasn't even setting myself up for PRs in the snatch, not even close. I just let my nerves get the best of me. Also, my only-openers total would have been a medal in the 75 kg class, and while at 83 kg I'm quite a ways from that, it makes me second guess my intent of moving up in body weight.

On the bright side, I entered the meet with a 187 kg total and my openers gave me a one kilo bump to 188 kg. My only openers total also put me at 10th place in the super heavy weights, which I suppose isn't too bad.

California Strength Seminar

Two days, 16 hours, of Olympic lifting and learning technical details and teaching techniques from Dave Spitz and the Cal Strength Team. When we had a chance to go heavy in the snatch, I had 91kg over head twice, but just couldn't lock it into place. I also took this as an initial opportunity to start changing my clean pull technique to the "catapult" style with some eyes on me. I worked my way up to 100 kg in the clean and it made the weight feel lighter! Didn't get a chance to go further with it.

Coming up the weekend is my second strongman competition and my first sanctioned meet with a chance to qualify for nationals! I'm excited, nervous, and all around overly eager to get there and see how I do. Time moves so slowly!!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Of Course I Can Lift This: Gainz and Your Brain

I think I'm pretty lucky. I have a natural propensity to put on muscle. I was the muscular one when I was a dancer. I could hold my own against the guys in judo. And I could put on strength fairly easy in the gym.

And I've thought about this ever since I started dedicating myself to my college weight room: how much does the expectation of gains factor in to my actual gains?

Obviously, you can't just think biceps onto your arms or dream you way to a double bodyweight squat. And yet.... sometimes it seems that when I think of squats, my quads respond. When I am training with the mentality that "of course these rows will pack meat onto my back" it seems that the hypertrophy comes along faster than when I'm in the mentality of "well, I should probably do this."

How much do expectations affect your training outcome?

There was recently an article from NPR about how your perception of food can affect how your body responds to it. You can read it here. 

The jist of it is, if you don't think that the food you're consuming is particularly filling or caloric, your levels of ghrelin (a hunger promoting compound) doesn't subside as much as if you think you're eating SO MUCH FOOD. Even if the actual caloric content stays the same.

If that works so well for eating, why not for training.

So really, this is just a thought experiment, but...

I'm willing to bet that if two people busts their asses, and one person thinks "I'm awesome, strong, and just going to get stronger!" while the other person thinks, "Gee, I hope that was enough work. What if I don't make the gains I want?" you're going to see some different changes in the biochemistry of each person.

It could be anything from that mentality makes me choose heavier weights or higher reps or it could actually change the way my body responds at a biochemical level. Either way, that would be a pretty cool study to do if someone could figure out how to do it. Humans are so fickle, after all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I still recommend low carb to most of my new clients.

I was reading this article on Precision Nutrition about how low carb advocate, Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, went on a high carb diet experiment and surprised himself with the results.

I thought it was a really good article, and to me it drives home the point that the main factors to eatting healthy and keeping your weight in check is:

1) Keep your protein between 1g per kg of body weight and 2g per pound of body weight, depending on your activity level and recovery needs.

2) After that it's calories in and calories out. Calories are a unit of measure for energy, we could have as easily called it Food Joules. If you take in more than you need, like an over flowing gas tank, you can put on fat.

3) The rest is details, mostly for elite athletes (actually, for their coaches) to worry about.

So why do I recommend low carb to my clients and athletes? For a couple of main reasons.

People have a weird relationship with food.

In most cases this presents itself with either an inability to control their urges around high carb items (ice cream, pastries, cookies, etc) or an in ability to accurately gauge the amount of calories they're eating of these items in a sitting. Giving a hard and fast rule takes the decision making out of the equation and leaves their willpower energy for other things.

People have lost their connection to hunger cues. 

Almost everyone that comes into the gyms I work at are dehydrated and aren't getting enough sleep. Rather than reaching for a glass of water (which can also wake you up, topic for another time), they just register something as missing in their body. It must be food. They reach for a soda, donuts in the office kitchen, take a walk to the area restaurant. Same goes for sleep. People are connected to their jobs 24/7, and aren't getting their at least 8 hours of sleep. If you're coming to a CrossFit gym regularly, you'd better believe you need that 8 hours of recovery.

Again, the hard and fast rule of "no sugary, carby, bready things" can help guide people to new solutions for the 3pm slump. I hear a lot of people hitting that realization that their midday exhaustion can be cured with a large glass of water. Suddenly they're drinking water all day.

Humans have a limited amount of will power.

This isn't a dig, this is just a reality. If you're having to make food decisions right from the get go, do I want the croissant or the cereal, you're setting yourself up for being impulsive later in the day as your energy wanes. When people initially go low carb, they can often only think of a handful of meal options. Eggs and bacon for breakfast. Salad for lunch. Meat and veggies for dinner. A routine is set, habits are formed.

People lose track of their satiety cues.

The mindless eating (see above about "something is missing") usually results in people not even realizing they are getting full because of the constant grazing. Then they thinks they need these huge portions of food to reach satiety. When switching over to low carb, the high amounts of protein and fat usually help a person feel full sooner and for longer. People start to get a sense that they don't need that much food, volume wise, to feel full. Their sense of proportions starts to change.

In the end, it's mostly about habit formation and getting back in touch with your body's cues. 

By taking the decision-making part out of decision making, you can focus more on how these foods make you feel. Do you sleep better? Are you hungry less? More? Do you still get the 3pm slump? Are you always in a slump? I've heard it all from people who have tried low carb for 30 days, but in the end they all also have a better understanding of how they best work with food.

I don't promote low carb as a life long eating paradigm, it's a tool, a sort of reset, to reframe someone's thinking about food and their eating habits. After that, we usually have an idea of what steps to take next.

Monday, April 28, 2014

My First Strongman Competition!

I'd say that my first strong(wo)man competition was a success! It was a long day, with a lot of sunlight for a ginger. And despite there not being another heavy weight woman at the contest, I achieved my next goal: make some guys look bad. Ha!

You can see the total of my events here:

Axle: 183, 203, 223x
Medley: 28 seconds
Deadlift: 425, 475, 545
Stones: ??, ??, 170, 200x

I CAN'T WAIT to do it again! The next contest is in August and will be a bit more on the "cardio" side, with several AMRep in 60 sec events. Bring it!