Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New Posts in a New Location

Hi everyone! All three of you that read my blog! 

I've started a new website where all future blog posts will appear. 

You can find it at WWW.STRENGTHGEEK.IO!

Thanks for following along as I train, learn, and generally pontificate about my interactions with FITNESS! MODAL DOMAINS! STRENGTH ENDURANCE! PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD! MAXIMUM EFFORT BEASTMODE!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What I Learned - Perform Better One Day Seminar (Part II)

Two weekends ago I went to the South San Francisco Convention Center to attend the Perform Better One Day Seminar. Perform Better is perhaps best known as an fitness equipment and supply company, but they put on fantastic seminars. I'm considering going to the three day seminar in Long Beach, CA this summer instead of the NSCA weekend trainer's series this year.

Here is the second part of the series:

Dan John
Fitness for Everybody Else

This talk was about evaluating and handling the "everybody else" group. The aging athletes, or the inactive but motivated people. They differ by degrees, many needs are still the same, and he sums them up as:
 - Stretch what is tightening
 - Strengthen what is weakening
 - Keep all the tubes clean and moving
 - Live long & drop dead

Dan John: A legend in the strength and conditioning world.

He also emphasized that clients will, WILL, lie to you. For a few reasons. One is that they want you to like them and help them, and perhaps if they told you the truth about how awful their habits are, you won't be inclined to work with them.

But most importantly, they want you too see them as they want to be seen, not as they actually are. Many clients will come to you with the "this really isn't me" mentality, and it's our job as trainers and coaches to figure out how they see them selves and help them get there.

As such, Dan has come up with some questions for evaluation that get around many peoples' knee jerk reaction to lie.

1) Have them stand on one foot, either foot, for 20 seconds.
 - For some reason, and he sees this over and over again, if they can't do this, they need to be outsourced for a medical evaluation. There are many health issues that affect one's ability to balance on one foot, from inner ear issues, to effects of proprioception and strength.
Because people generally don't like being tested.
And even if you had this score, what would you do differently?
2) Two measurements: waist to height ratio and body weight.
 - The person's height should be twice their waist, and they should weigh under 300 lbs. (Don't start with me on powerlifters, this isn't the population we're talking about here.) If they don't pass either of these, have them get an evaluation from an eye doctor and dentist. Why? First, they're less intimidating than medical doctors, so they might actually go. Second, eye doctors can diagnose things like diabetes and heart disease because they are actually LOOKING at the vasculature in the eye. Dentists can diagnose various diseases based on the health of a patient's gums.

3) Three questions
   A) How many pillows do you sleep with?
     - Most people won't lie about this. Not how many do you NEED, how many do you use? Anything more than one means this will be a mobility client.
   B) How many colorful vegetables do you eat?
     - For some reason, Dan has noticed that if you add the word "colorful" to the question, people stop to think and give a real answer rather than the knee jerk "of course I eat vegetables" that is probably a lie.
   C) "Do you exercise at least half an hour a day?"
     - This one is tough because you often hear "well... what do you mean by exercise?" Housework? Walking to the store from the furthest parking spot? Coffee break stroll? So this one might not tell you as much as the others, but at least you've put the idea of getting movement wherever they can into their head.

4) Then Dan has three physical tests he uses:
   A) Two minute plank
   B) 100yd farmer's walk - using a trap bar loaded to body weight
   C) Standing long jump - should be able to jump their height

Using these results can give you the proportion of how to approach their training: mobility, strength, and body composition. Dan agrees with Coach Dos on most programming points: the movement are broken down into hinge, squat, push, pull, carry/crawl that you vary in weights, rep ranges, uni- and bilateral. It should be smart, but it shouldn't be hard.

For clients that need more work on body composition, you have to be careful giving nutritional guidelines. Never mind that the minimum wage guy at GNC can give the hard sell to some schmuck about what they should be putting in your body. Unless you're a registered dietician, giving too detailed a nutrition plan to clients is breaking the law. Makes no sense, but there we are...

So with them, you give them the guidelines:
 - Cut out added sugar
 - Cut out the "cardboard carbs"
 - Get rid of "FrankenFats" aka - Transfats
 - Eat your colorful veggies
 - Do something you are not good at. The more inefficient you are at an exercise, the more it will burn calories.

My Take Away:

Just because clients say things because they want to believe themselves to be who they see themselves as, doesn't mean we can't get some information out of them with some creative questions. Also, things just don't need to be complicated. Choose the basic human movements, give variation, get stronger, stay mobile.

Alwyn Cosgrove
Metabolic Resistance Training

So, honestly, it was a little harder to listen to this one. I was pretty distracted by his

After showing some studies that show traditional gym workouts with their long slow endurance and easy going circuit training don't make much of an effect on client body composition. In a study of 439 obese, post-menopausal women, they were divided into four groups with the following bodyweight change results: A) Diet only (-8.5%) B) Exercise only(-2.4%) C) Diet plus exercise (-10.8%) D) Control (-0.8%)

What you can see is that adding exercise was additive to the diet protocol. And it wasn't statistically significant between diet and control, whereas diet alone vs control was.

So are we fighting a losing battle here? I'm pretty sure we've all heard the phrase "you can't out run a donut" as a reason you shouldn't eat like crap just because you went for a jog. I've told people that you can't out train a bad diet.

Unless you can.

Alwyn believes in Metabolic Resistance Training - "a modification of traditional resistance training to maximize fat loss, by increasing caloric burn during the activity, and metabolic rate after the activity and long term."

This is where EPOC comes in. EPOC stands for Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consuption, which is the time it takes for your metabolism to return to pre-exercise rate. This could be very quick in the case of a lighter workout or slow endurance work. Or it could last for several hours when it comes to hard intervals and heavy lifting.

The best way to help clients lose weight is to increase the green area under the curve. 
Two papers that Cosgrove referred to (Heden T, 2011 and Schuenke at all 2002) how show that EPOC can last for 38 to 72 hours after a hard circuit set. So they're not saying the CICO (calories in vs calories out) is wrong. They're saying that we're not doing enough of the right things to maximize the calories out part of the equation.

And with the steady state cardio, why isn't it working? Does it trigger the person to eat more? Does it trigger the person to move less elsewhere, resting up after their exertion? Either way, the calories burned during steady state seem to be "made up for" elsewhere. So maximizing EPOC needs to happen for best results.

Cosgrove went through many studies and program designs that showed how these high intensity programs far, far out-shined traditional training programs. The caveat: it's brutal. This is the kind of training that you have to learn how to do and ramp up to.

My Take Away:

Awesome for my young clients, my clients who used to be athletes, and my clients who are in generally great shape. But guess what? Most of the people that come to me aren't in great shape and are usually a little older. That's why they come to me in the first place. I'm not going to ask a 60 year old woman who hasn't been active in years to do some of these protocols. I'm going to focus on general strength training, mobility work, and get the best "CrossFit-esque" circuit training in that I feel she can handle.

So that is the main limitation I see with the fervor in this. If you're too brutal to your clients, they will find reasons to not come back.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What I Learned - Perform Better One Day Seminar (Part I)

Two weekends ago I went to the South San Francisco Convention Center to attend the Perform Better One Day Seminar. Perform Better is perhaps best known as an fitness equipment and supply company, but they put on fantastic seminars. I'm considering going to the three day seminar in Long Beach, CA this summer instead of the NSCA weekend trainer's series this year.

Here is a quick summary of each presentation over two parts (the second part will come Thursday)

Robert dos Remedios
"Coach Dos"
Program Design Made Easy

"Programming and creating training programs is NOT science... it IS, however, a science."

This means that programming doesn't have to be hard or complicated. It does have to be smart, thought out, and put together always with your ultimate goal in mind.

Coach Dos was named Collegiate Strength Coach of the Year by the NSCA in 2006 and has worked at College of the Canyons for a long time. He gets many athletes through the program that have allowed him to refine his programming, experiment and figure out that, hey, this doesn't need to be hard, it does need to be varied, but it shouldn't be random.

He basically uses a plug-n-chug formula to choose movements, reps and variations. Since he only gets his athletes for 45-60 mins, he super sets his movements to make sure his athletes keep moving. A sample super set might be:

- Squat/Step/Lunge
- Pull
- Mobility

These movements won't interfere with each other, keep the rest time to a minimum, and the mobility piece in thrown in means there is some "catch your breath" time before hitting what might be a heavy squat again. One day you might squat, the next day you'll choose something unilateral like a lunge.

He also makes a point to alternate between high volume hypertrophy cycles and high intensity strength/power cycles about every three weeks. He found he made better progress this way and had less "ramp up" issues (forgetting weights for 10's vs 3's, extra soreness as things change, etc) for each compared to when the cycles were longer.

My TakeAway:

Basically that I should stop second guessing the way I pic accessory work for my powerlifters. Also, it gave me some ideas to progress my powerlifters. I particularly like the idea of putting mobility work into the super sets.

Brandon Marcello
Energy System Development

Honestly, I mostly chatted with Seth and Stevo through this presentation. I had only had two cups of coffee at this point in the day (I'm a five cups a day kinda woman) so paying attention here was difficult.

The jist of it was that we have three main metabolic processes that all run together to help us complete tasks at various intensities and lengths of time. There is often confusion when some people talk about "we're training our aerobic/anaerobic systems with this protocol" where people actually believe we're turing on and turning off our various metabolic processes with the things we do.

Different time points will favor different processes, but they are all always working to provide you energy to complete a task.

When you start an activity, any activity, you're going to use the ATP (adenosine triphosphate, what we use for energy) that is immediately available. All of your metabolic systems spin up to replace the ATP: creatine phosphate, glycolytic, and mitochondrial/Kreb's cycle. The first two are anaerobic and the last is aerobic.
ATP-CP referes to Creatine Phosphate

The creatine-phosphate system replaces your ATP quickly, but also taps out fast, since it takes a while for your creatine to become re-phosphorylated. Hence the 10-30 second window many graphs will show you.

Then you have your glycolytic pathway, that replaces ATP a little slower than creatine-kinase, but much faster than your aerobic system. This relies on your intramuscular stores of glycogen to work, but not on the presence of oxygen. (Side note: eat your fucking carbs!)

Then we have our Kreb's cycle, that take a little longer to spin up, thought he spin up starts immediately, but will consistently pump out ATP over the long haul with the presence of oxygen. This also has many implications for the use of long, slow endurance training for the recovery of strength athletes, but that's a topic for another time.

Then he went into the whole Heart Rate Max myth for a bit. You know that caclulation: 220-age = max heart rate? Well....

Lies. All lies. 
That number came about when two doctors were doing a study of how hard could heart disease patients work. According to a New York Times interview from April 2001, the doctors were just discussing the data prior to a presentation and said "Hey, it looks like the max heart rate is 220 minus the age." But they emphasize this data is from whoever came through the door and gauging maximum heart rate from people who aren't used to exercise is hard, to say the least.

"[The formula] was never supposed to be an absolute guide to rule people's training. It's so typical of Americans to take an idea and extend it beyond what it was originally intended for," said Dr. William Haskell in the interview.

All this leads into how he evaluates the work output and the adaptations in his athletes and clients.

The three grouping are all of the same athlete over time. The darker pink is a coefficient given to heart rate (physiological load) and the lighter pink is the number given to weight moved, or mechanical load. If you compare the first group of bars, with the third, you can see that the athlete moved the same amount of weight, or did the same number of reps, and his or her heart rate was taxed much less to do this work. Solid evidence of adaptation to training.

Marcello outfits his athletes with heart rate monitors that feed the information to a display so that during the session, so he can gather this information and assess how they are progressing.

How does all of this, energy systems, heart rate and adaptation, come together? This understanding helps him guide his programming. When setting heart rate targets, watching how athletes adapt, and choosing movements, weights, and durations for within a training session.

My Take Away:

Honestly, this part I didn't pay as much attention to. I like the idea of using the ratio between heart rate effects and mechanical load as a measure of adaptation. But I really don't think programming needs to be that hard for the vast majority of people. And I can asses how well clients are doing by timing key workouts and tracking top end weights.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ballet to Barbell: Line of Sight to Make Movement Happen

One of the cues I often find myself giving to members in my classes is "eyes up" or "look here," usually pointing somewhere specific.

The body follows the gaze.

That's why when you watch dancers, they spot somewhere specific. This does two main things:

1) It keeps the dancer from getting dizzy.
2) It allows the dancer to land facing exactly in the direction that he or she wants to.

If you've ever taken driver's ed, or taken the motorcycle safety course, the instructor will also emphasize to always look where you're going, don't look at the ground directly in front of your vehicle.

Same goes for horseback riding. I was always instructed to look at my next jump once I landed from the previous one. (Yes, I took equestrian lessons. In addition to ballet lessons. I'm so white I'm translucent.)

Same goes for lifting.

The area I see this most often is in the Olympic lifts. Most people in the CrossFit world have heard that your next should always be neutral. We certainly hammers this in during discussions around squatting, pressing, and deadlifting. But then we get to the dynamic, fast Olympic lifts.

Like pirouettes, the Olympic lifts are fast and you need to set your line of site so that as you start changing directions your body doesn't go somewhere it's not supposed to. And a constantly changing line of site because you want to keep your neck neutral is going to do just that.

Where you put your line of site is somewhat up to personal preference. I like to have my clean and snatch view straight ahead, where as my friend, Diane Fu, likes promotes a higher line of sight. But what you will never see is a high level lifter start his or her lift with their eyes on the ground.

So if you have an issue with jumping forward, landing on your toes, or generally having a hard time meeting the bar, focus your focus and see how it helps!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Self Doubt Stops All of Us Sometimes

To set the scene of why I've been thinking about this:

There are a couple of internet famous people out there that I follow and discuss with friends with near obsession. Not reverence, mind you. In fact, much of what they do disgusts me. But I can't help but have a certain amount of awe in how, despite all their short comings (and they have A LOT of them) they truck on with a lack of awareness to them and what seems to be a complete, unfounded confidence in their authority.

If you're reading this, you're not one of them. I've generally made a point to not be someone on their radar.

And I think about what I'm doing with what I have, and I can't help but think that if only (IF ONLY!) I had been raise with a little more entitlement, given a little less self awareness, and added a touch of narcissism to my life (outside my relentless pursuit of athletic competitions) I would be in a position similar to theirs. But at the cost of my soul, no doubt.

Grumpy Nietzschean Cat on Facebook

I could post more nekkid photos to accrue Instagram followers!
I could offer seminars that basically plagiarize what I've heard from real experts!
I could write e-books for $15 bucks a pop that sell half baked ideas and delete comments from anyone that disagrees!

I mean, I'm not going to do that. A quick few bucks now for a life of shame.

But sometimes we all get a little too wrapped up in the other side of things. Are we really good enough to try that perfectly reasonable venture that sits at the edge of our minds?

I know that sometimes I hesitate to write a blog post about a topic because I'm not a "true expert" in the field of whatever topic that I'm considering. But what is a true expert? If you talk to people, the smartest ones are usually the ones who while admit that there is so much more to learn and understand. The dumb ones are usually the most cocksure and adamant about their understanding.

It was really easy for me to write up blogs and musings on things five years ago when I wasn't in the fitness industry (I was still doing environmental consulting) and had 0 readers. It didn't matter.

Not that I have a lot of readers now. The average post gets 70-80 hits. Each post gets up on my Facebook page, so that's a pretty small percentage of the people I'm connected to there.

But it still gives me pause.

Then I read this lovely post, found through the wonderful site of, courtesy of my friend Steven Ledbetter.

A quote from the post:

"It is important to realize is that just because you are at Point A and someone else is at Point C that does not mean you are doing bad work. In fact, there is no bad work or good work. Just as there is no such thing as a rose seed that is a bad rose bush. There are just points in time and repetitions completed."

So, I know this is the time for resolutions, and I hate New Years resolutions, but that post gave me a kick in the brain. I'm going to write. And I may stick my foot and keyboard in my mouth at some point. But that's part of the learning process.

So go do that thing you're worried about being judged about. And fuck the haters.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Training Blahs - How I Recognize and Deal With Them.

About two weeks before my winter vacation, I was in a serious blah space about my training. I didn't worry about it too much. After all, this comes around for me every two months, give or take. And I've learned over time, through trial and error, that I need to heed the Blahs rather than fight through them. I'll come out ready to train harder at the other end.

I've had several people ask me about dealing with lapses in training.

"Are you going to find a gym while you're away to keep training?"
    Nope! I work my butt off and my body will be better for the break I give it.

"How do you push yourself through your program when you're just not feeling it."
    I learn to recognize what sort of mental space I'm in and act accordingly. This might include anything from "sucking it up", to doing something else entirely, to taking a few days off and watching Netflix.
Teh wates r soooo heavy! 

Wait, I don't always suck it up? Yes, I'm telling you that, even as a national level competitor in both Olympic lifting and Strongman, I don't always suck it up!

I actually often tell people "Only n00bz don't take rest days."

As an athlete, you need to give your body a break. Just as importantly, you have to give your brain a break, too! (Remember Monday's post about doling out motivation slowly?)

Let's not take this too far, now. 9 out of 10 times, I do suck it up. Usually I'm just feeling lazy or lethargic. Maybe I didn't sleep great the night before, or perhaps I'm still really sore from strongman training or a particularly tough set of squats. Then I just dive in, knowing that a little bit of work will make me feel better.

So how do I tell the difference?

Here, I've made a variation on a nutrition approach by James Fell called "Could I eat an apple?" From a Facebook post of his:

"I love apples as a tool against [mindless snacking] because of the simple "good" taste, but also because they keep well in the fridge. You never have to worry about not having them, because apples in the crisper can last for over a month.
So when you're tempted to eat, ask yourself this question: Can I eat an apple? If the answer is no, then you're not really that hungry and can do without eating. If the answer is "Yes, an apple sounds awesome right now," well, then, you know what to do."

My personal variation is, "Does doing a CrossFit class sound like a good idea today?" 

This isn't to knock CrossFit. I coach it, love coaching it, and got starting as a strength athlete through CrossFit. But let's face it, I'm a dedicated strength athlete now, and CrossFit just isn't my cup of tea. And I know I'm mentally burnt when I see a workout that is AMRAP 15 minutes with double unders included and I think "Man, I'd rather do that than these cleans and heavy squats today." 

And it's fun to join a class because the members know I'm a strength athlete and they get a kick out of me doing CrossFit and are often surprised when I start knocking out butterfly pull ups and handstand push ups. But it's not fun enough to do very often. 

It's the apple for my mental health litmus test. 

So I would encourage anyone who find themselves dedicated to a fairly serious training regime to figure out what their own "apple litmus test" would be. Some activity that won't hurt you, is fun enough and perhaps you've done in the past, but ins't particularly appealing unless you REALLY need a break from your regularly scheduled life. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year, New You?

Honestly, I hate that crap.

It's not like the turn over from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 is a magic portal to a new universe. We're still the same people with our awesomeness and our not-quite-perfect-nesses. Technical term.

So rather than making grad gestures all at once that will fall flat, lets focus on the little things that can make you feel better. A process that can last all year.

I'm going to focus on nutrition here for an example

There are a bunch of people that will do something extreme like the Whole30 starting in the new year. My issue with these challenges is they basically set you up for failure. They ask so much of you, so many habits to change, and in such a short period of time, you're not going to have the tools and comfort to have lasting change towards success.

Many people that do Whole30's also have these "YAY WE'RE DONE" dinner feasts with fellow challengers at the end. That's not a healthy mental approach to nutrition.

Try this to start:
 - Weeks 1&2 - Just track your food consumption. By merely tracking, often time people begin to lose weight because it takes the mindlessness out of the action.
 - Weeks 3&4 - Find 1-2 more meals a week that you can make at home. Whether that's making more for dinner and taking it for lunch the next day or adding in food prep to your weekend, find either a couple of dinners or lunches that you can make yourself. Keep tracking, and don't worry about calories yet.
 - Weeks 5&6 - Now start looking at macro nutrients. Most people don't get enough protein (0.5 - 0.8 g per pound of body weight, based on activity level). Find a place where you can add more protein. This can be meat, greek yogurt, tofu, whatever. This will help you feel sated for longer.
- Weeks 8&9 - Now start looking at over all calories. Is there somewhere you can add more veggies to boost volume and cut back on denser foods? Without touching your protein sources, ideally.

Notice the trend here. One smaller pice of the puzzle about every two weeks is added. Why every two weeks? First, because when we are gung-ho and want to make all the changes NOW, we tend to over exhaust our willpower stores. We want a little time for each to become something of a habit before we move on to the next.

Second, and this is only in my experience, when I'm making a change, the first week feels like a total clusterfuck. We're creatures of habit, and even small changes can rock our patterns. The second week suddenly starts to feel more natural.

I wound't shorten the time frame, but some people might need to wait three weeks before adding a new habit in. And that's totally fine! We're playing the long game here.

The same approach can be taken with fitness. 

Starting small, such as taking a walk once a week. Or maybe hiring a trainer but only going once a week. Once you start to feel stronger, the idea of taking that extra walk doesn't sound like so much effort. Maybe even appealing as recovery.

But remember to take it in small chunks. It's very very very easy to feel motivated to make too many too quick. Dole out your motivation like you dole out money from your bank account.

And by December, I hope you can look back and be really proud.

And now time for some shameless plugs. If you need help getting started on your fitness goals, both United Barbell and San Francisco CrossFit have excellent and caring coaches that will work with you. We'll meet you where you are and help you take the steps necessary to move towards where you want to be. 

No need to commit to CrossFit classes, we know they aren't for everyone. No need to commit to multiple sessions a week, get started at your own pace.