Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Adrenal Fatigue: Fact or Fiction

Two articles poo-pooing on "adrenal fatigue":

Glenn Beck: Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue and Starvation

I'd rather not take a side on it. I just don't know enough. But here is my experience:

Back when I was new to being a trainer and coach, I was also doing the WellnessFX testing. My first test went smashingly, I learned a lot of interesting information about what my body was missing and how I could eat to fix it. Actually, I learned that my lifestyle had me doing a lot of things right.

We (me and the ManFriend) used this as a baseline to then start on our Paleo/Primal eating journey. We even hired a chef to cook our food for the week to make sure there was no chance of slipping.

I was also limiting my carbs at the time because I was trying to stay at 165lbs for weightlifting, and then I just knew that it was about limiting "bad calories". Bad calories were high glycemic index carbs and anything Robb Wolf called bad.

Then the second WellnessFX testing showed me as basically healthy, except for some markers of stress and potentially high cortisol.

"Well, I have been feeling anxious lately. And I don't sleep well," I told the nutritional counselor.

"It looks like your diet here is really good. But you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue. Here are some suggestions and supplements I would have you take to treat that."

So I listened and tried and told myself things were getting better.
--------------------

They weren't really getting better. Once I stopped the whole Paleo thing, the random anxiety and feelings of panic definitely subsided. But I was still being restrictive in my eating because I, again, just knew that certain things were "good" and certain things were "bad."

When I decided that I should stop trying to be 165 lbs for weightlifting and just get up to 180 lbs (the top of the middle weight class for strongwoman) I had more good effects. But, again, I was still being super selective about my food (particularly my carbs) because I just knew that carbs would make the bloat and inflammation come on.

Then I got tired of having a meh physique, and hired a nutrition coach to help me out. First thing? Up the carbs A LOT. Double what I was doing (160g/day to 299g/day). And in the first two weeks I lost two inches around my waist without losing any weight. Why? As she explained, when you restrict carbs too much, especially for people who train hard, you're going to see an increase in cortisol, which is a culprit for water retention and fat accumulation

(See also: lack of sleep, cortisol, and body fat.)

I would say that those experiences that led to a "diagnosis" of adrenal fatigue are mostly gone (constant sleepiness, needs for naps, random panic or anxiety). I still have anxiety around waking up when I set my alarm and get poor sleep on those nights, but now I fall asleep faster and wake up later in the night. I don't feel the need for midday naps like I did from earlier in the year. I even try to nap and I get antsy.

So is adrenal fatigue a thing? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure I didn't have it, and like many self diagnoses, is probably way over blown from what actually occurs.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Training Shift to Prepare for the Arnold

I haven't talked much about what's been going on in my own training as the realization that I'm actually going to The Arnold sets in. What also sinks in is that I have a huge discrepancy between what I'm good at (plant my feet and pick something up over and over and....) and what I'm bad at (pick something up and move my feet as fast as I can).

Also, I want to concurrently train my ass off and hide under a rock.

Now I'm trying to juggle not letting my Olympic lifts go to shit, while I get better at the strength and speed necessary to be competitive in Strongman. And it's certainly changed my approach to my event days on Sunday.

First thing I have to do is get my upper body stronger. So I've started a real basic linear progression with my strict press. I've learned through powerlifting that I have the bench multiple times a week if I'm going to make any progress on my upper body (Westside did not work so well for me there). So I do a progression where in one week at one weight I'll do 5x3, 4x4, and 3x5. If I make all my reps, I get to go up in weight the next week. I've moved my working weight slowly from 95lbs to a whopping 110 lbs so far.

I haven't talked much about what's been going on in my own training as the realization that I'm actually going to The Arnold sets in. What also sinks in is that I have a huge discrepancy between what I'm good at (plant my feet and pick something up over and over and....) and what I'm bad at (pick something up and move my feet as fast as I can). Also, I want to concurrently train my ass off and hide under a rock. Now I'm trying to juggle not letting my Olympic lifts go to shit, while I get better at the strength and speed necessary to be competitive in Strongman. And it's certainly changed my approach to my event days on Sunday. First thing I have to do is get my upper body stronger. So I've started a real basic linear progression with my strict press. I've learned through powerlifting that I have the bench multiple times a week if I'm going to make any progress on my upper body (Westside did not work so well for me there). So I do a progression where in one week at one weight I'll do 5x3, 4x4, and 3x5. If I make all my reps, I get to go up in weight the next week. I've moved my working weight slowly from 95lbs to a whopping 110 lbs so far. A video posted by Kristin Newman (@strength_geek) on Nov 11, 2014 at 2:28pm PST Yes, I can barely press 110lbs for a set of 5, but I can jerk more than 230lbs. Just add legs. Other than adding strict pressing, I'm doing a lot more deadlifting, mostly adding in the trap bar to practice a more upright position. I think I am more upright with a trap bar deadlift than I am with my squats. Fucking femurs. On event day, I'm being a little more "reckless" with my work. By that I mean, I'm not playing it safe anymore. Like I said, moving events are my worst, and on event day training I would be super careful and mindful about my positions, steps, grip, set up, etc. I wanted to make sure I got everything JUST right. But that also meant that I moved more cautiously and slower than I normally would. So now, I just grab the fucking handles/yoke/keg and take off. As long as the implement is on my body, I'm trying to accelerate. This means I drop stuff more often right now, but I'm getting a much better sense of where that edge is.
I haven't talked much about what's been going on in my own training as the realization that I'm actually going to The Arnold sets in. What also sinks in is that I have a huge discrepancy between what I'm good at (plant my feet and pick something up over and over and....) and what I'm bad at (pick something up and move my feet as fast as I can). Also, I want to concurrently train my ass off and hide under a rock. Now I'm trying to juggle not letting my Olympic lifts go to shit, while I get better at the strength and speed necessary to be competitive in Strongman. And it's certainly changed my approach to my event days on Sunday. First thing I have to do is get my upper body stronger. So I've started a real basic linear progression with my strict press. I've learned through powerlifting that I have the bench multiple times a week if I'm going to make any progress on my upper body (Westside did not work so well for me there). So I do a progression where in one week at one weight I'll do 5x3, 4x4, and 3x5. If I make all my reps, I get to go up in weight the next week. I've moved my working weight slowly from 95lbs to a whopping 110 lbs so far. A video posted by Kristin Newman (@strength_geek) on Nov 11, 2014 at 2:28pm PST Yes, I can barely press 110lbs for a set of 5, but I can jerk more than 230lbs. Just add legs. Other than adding strict pressing, I'm doing a lot more deadlifting, mostly adding in the trap bar to practice a more upright position. I think I am more upright with a trap bar deadlift than I am with my squats. Fucking femurs. On event day, I'm being a little more "reckless" with my work. By that I mean, I'm not playing it safe anymore. Like I said, moving events are my worst, and on event day training I would be super careful and mindful about my positions, steps, grip, set up, etc. I wanted to make sure I got everything JUST right. But that also meant that I moved more cautiously and slower than I normally would. So now, I just grab the fucking handles/yoke/keg and take off. As long as the implement is on my body, I'm trying to accelerate. This means I drop stuff more often right now, but I'm getting a much better sense of where that edge is.

Yes, I can barely press 110lbs for a set of 5, but I can jerk more than 230lbs. Just add legs.

Other than adding strict pressing, I'm doing a lot more deadlifting, mostly adding in the trap bar to practice a more upright position. I think I am more upright with a trap bar deadlift than I am with my squats. Fucking femurs.

On event day, I'm being a little more "reckless" with my work. By that I mean, I'm not playing it safe anymore. Like I said, moving events are my worst, and on event day training I would be super careful and mindful about my positions, steps, grip, set up, etc. I wanted to make sure I got everything JUST right. But that also meant that I moved more cautiously and slower than I normally would.

So now, I just grab the fucking handles/yoke/keg and take off. As long as the implement is on my body, I'm trying to accelerate. This means I drop stuff more often right now, but I'm getting a much better sense of where that edge is.

More updates and videos to come as the months progress!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Three Week Update: Nutrition Coaching with Joy Victoria

Even coaches need coaches, and I hired a nutrition coach. You can read about my introduction to it all HERE.

So now I'm looking at about week 3. Two and a half, kind of, since I got the macros on a Monday and it wasn't until mid-week that I was actually getting anywhere close to hitting the right proportions. But it's been a couple of full weeks now, and the numbers, logic, and intuition are getting easier and easier.
A sampling of macros from the last week. Mon-Thurs

Progress

My goal was to stay around 183 lbs and work towards recomposition. We all know that calories in and and calories out is the main key to weight changes, but to get started she put me on a maintenance diet to get me used to following rules. Since I would just eat when I was hungry, and therefore usually make not the best choices, this part was all about getting my habits to line up with my goals.

What surprised me was that things seemed to be changing even though I'm on a maintenance level diet. This is around 2650 calories divided up to 45% carbs, 35% fat, and 25% protein. My scale weight hasn't budged, which was expected, but my waist is down 2 inches, my thigh down 1 inch, and my butt and chest/back haven't changed.

It's like my body is thanking me for the surge of carbs.

Changes I've Had to Make

Protein
This one wasn't hard. At 166 g a day (0.9 g/lb body weight), I was already getting about that much anyway. Eggs, chicken, fish, milk, protein powder to fill it in. The hard part was how much of my preferred protein sources (salmon, steak, eggs) also come attached to significant quantities of fat....

Fat
This is where I had to make some changes I never thought I'd make. For instance, I drink a lot of coffee. And in every cup of coffee I usually put in about 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. THAT ADDS UP TO A LOT OF FAT! So now I use a fat free half and half. It's not quite as tasty, but I'm not cutting back my morning coffee runs. After all, I'm stopping at noon.

Out of the question.
Other changes I never thought I'd make and did:
 - Skim milk instead of whole milk
 - Low fat cheese
 - Removed nightly avocado
 - Using a combo of whole eggs and egg whites for quiche

Carbs
 This one was a big change, too. Since I was told to put the bulk of my carbs in the evening, I was trying to shove something around 250 grams of carbs into my facehole before bed. This didn't work. I decided to add potato to my morning quiche to make the number a little more attainable.

Even still, I'm having about 1.5 cups of white rice with my dinner, then finishing the night off with 2 cups of blueberry frosted mini wheats with skim milk for dessert. Dessert. I'm eating "dessert" of sorts!
A BIG part of my diet right now! 

The hardest part of all this is that you don't really get any one macro in isolation of another. My cereal has a little protein and fat in it. My protein powder has a little fat. My skim milk is carbs and protein. So I have to really plan my day out ahead of time and fiddle with the proportions to get it as close as I can. Then I have to commit to eating both ALL of this and ONLY this.

I had one off binge, and that was last night.

After a particularly heavy session at strongman training that both went really well and felt really really draining. I had other things I had to do on Saturday so I still had to cook on Sunday. ManFriend comes home and I get him to help me out with the food prep, but still. I'm exhausted and want to bask on the couch in my happy exhaustion.

So I think... "I've barely had any drink since I started this meal plan, I'm having a freakin' glass of wine as I cook!"

Which led to.... "WINE IS DELICIOUS! I'M DRINKING ALL THE WINE!"

Which then led to... "I'M DRINKING THE WHOLE BOTTLE OF WINE AND EATING THIS HANDFUL OF CHEESE!"

Classic story of feeling deserving of a "treat" and then things snowballing from there.

Friday, October 31, 2014

By Request: What does it mean to brace into a belt?

I'm sure most people have heard at least one of the following:

"Keep your core tight."
"Brace your core around your spine."
"Suck your belly into your spine."
"Draw your core in toward your spine."

In my previous article on the who, what, why, and how of using belts I mentioned that you want to brace your abs OUT against the belt. And I had someone ask me what that meant, as it seems a little counterintuitive considering many other cues we usually give and hear.

When it comes to body weight movements, planks and push ups, the way we think to brace the core is right along the lines of the above cues. But when we start lifting heavy weights, we have to think about creating even more tension in the core, and we do this through increasing intra abdominal pressure.

The fancy term for this is the Valsalva Maneuver. From the online Merriam Webster Dictionary:

:  a forceful attempt at expiration when the airway is closed at some point; especially :  a conscious attempt made while holding the nostrils closed and keeping the mouth shut (as for the purpose of adjusting middle ear pressure) —called also Valsalva


So you've probably done the Valsalva maneuver in an airplane or while scuba diving. But in the gym, the cues we use are "Take a big breath and get tight around it." 


You would never be cured to do this during handstands or planks. But I hope you've heard this for deadlifts, squats, and Olympic lifts. The reason this is so effective is this chest full of air give our core muscles something to brace around. 

What the belt does is allow this process to be even more effective. 
I'll usually use the cue of "breath into the belt" or "breath against the belt." So you're bringing air deep into the lungs, the belt is "in the way" and through this tension between your Valsalva breathing and the belt you get extra core tightness. 

Just as with the belt, I don't use the Valsalva maneuver with newer athletes. I'm not going to be taking someone to rep maxes within their first couple of months in the gym, so I generally want them tight and breathing intuitively. When they start asking me about how they should be breathing during a lift, and they almost always do a few months in, that's when I explain most of this. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When, Why, and How of Using a Belt for Lifting

I know I've talked about this before. A little over a year ago, I wrote about this, and you can read that  HERE.

Recently we were tasked with doing a three rep max in my class at San Francisco CrossFit. Jami Tikkanen, who does our strength programming, had us doing a gentle but consistent lifting program for the previous 6 weeks and now it was time to get a grasp of where we had progressed to.

At the beginning of the class, I pulled out my three belts and gave a quick spiel on when to start using a belt, why you should consider using a belt, which ones I like to use and which ones are popular with different people. Here is what I covered in a little more detail:

WHY?

Won't I get stronger/ won't my core be stronger if I keep lifting without a belt?

Not necessarily.

What a belt actually does is allow your core to brace against something, thereby actually creating MORE core muscle engagement than without a belt. That means your core can get stronger using a belt than not using a belt.

Now that your core is bracing against something and is better engaged (ie: GET TIGHT!) your body can put more focus on the task at hand, be that pressing, pulling, or squatting. That's a big reason that weights feel "lighter" when you put the belt on, bracing happens more fully and attention can be paid elsewhere.


WHEN?

Not for the beginner athlete. It's important for those new to training to learn position and proprioception and not rely on a belt to create that sensation for them.

And not all the time either. Even if you usually lift with a belt, it's good to lift without one occasionally and see if your strength gains are universal. For me they certainly are, and it's nice to test/know.

I tell people that they should start using a belt when they feel like they want to. They've progressed far past the point of a beginner's easy gains, and they are starting to feel the taxing nature of a consistent strength program.

Even then, I suggest they don't put on the belt until they are around 80-90% of their working weight for that session. I suggest this so that they both get the unbelted experience, and it's a nice mental relief when the belt goes on and the weights are already heavy.


HOW?

Tight. Not "cinch your body in half" tight, but you shouldn't have to distend you stomach at all to brace against the belt.

I suggest to first timers to hand tighten it around the smallest part of the torso, then push it down over the lower part of the stomach to make it a little tighter. Shove how ever much of a power belly you have over top of it.

If you're using a thicker belt, you might have to use a post to help get it undone simply because of how stiff they are. I never use a post with my thinner, more flexible belts.


WHICH ONE?
Side view FYI
Most women like the soft belts. The style by Schiek, above, is particularly popular. Because women have much less room between their hip bone and their bottom rib, and these belts are contoured, they won't pinch and leave bruises. Also, since they are a little wider in front than on the side, it feels like you have something more to brace against without digging into your stomach.
For those new to the belt game, this is the one I most often suggest. You can find it at nearly any sporting goods place for about $25. I bought one my first year of competitive weightlifting from a Sports Basement and it lasted me four years. When buying one, know that for weightlifting it can only be 4 inches wide in the back. This one, with the narrow front and side, should also not pinch ribs on short torsos and the leather gives some people feeling like they can brace better.
These are the types of belts you'll most often see worn by powerlifters and strongmen competitors. They are usually 10mm thick, very stiff, and the same width all the way around. Yon can get them in a prong style like a normal belt, or you can get the lever style (on the left) which allows you to quickly tighten and loosen. This one always leaves bruises on my hip bones and lower ribs.


Go forth and get swole!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: Using a Mirror




As a dancer I grew up constantly using the mirror to check my form and movements.

Now I work at two very well coached CrossFit gyms and there are no mirrors.

Between these experiences were gym, studios and dojos with various mirror having capabilities. Obviously, no mirrors in a judo dojo, that could get dangerous quick. Mirrors lines every wall of the student REC center and every 24 Hour Fitness I encountered.

Arguments For Mirrors

First and foremost, it's nice to see that your form is right when you execute a movements. Corners with mirrors are nice because typically you can situate yourself in a way to see your profile while not having to crane your neck. And let's face it, a neutral neck is obviously ideal, but doing a few practice reps with a turned or lifted head while at light weight isn't going to be a problem.

Several times, I've had to take an on boarding client to see their reflection in the window of a neighboring building. Sometimes, even after video proof of a wonky position, they can't make the right adjustments. Seeing the cause and effect in real time through their reflection makes things click.

Also, who doesn't like how their muscles look after a hard workout? It can be a rush. And you might say "Oh, I look terrible, my hair is all messy and I'm sweating every where," but just under the surface you're thinking, "Fuck yeah. I worked my ass off and you can tell!"


Arguments Against Mirrors

The obvious argument in CrossFit is that we aren't body builders and exercise isn't performance art. (Yeah, tell that to all those Insta-famous peeps.) You should be focusing on function over physique and not wasting you time gazing at your reflection.
Not a CrossFitter. 

And having taught ballet classes in the past, I can tell you that it can be tough to get student attention when they are futzing with their hair or clothes in the mirror. And even in my dance studios, they would hang a curtain in front of the mirror in the month or two before a performance to make sure you weren't too reliant on it.

There is also the expense associated with putting them in and replacing then WHEN they get broken. Any gym that has bumper plates (meaning the bars WILL be dropped) and medicine balls that are intended to throw are going to be a danger zone for any surface covered in glass. Why put that much money down on something that should only be used during the learning phase.


My Favorite Mirror Use Experience

I used to have a few clients at DIAKADI. What they did, instead of attaching mirrors to the walls, they had a few full length mirrors on rolling stands. So if you needed to use a mirror with a client for form check and teaching something new, you could roll one over. Then turn it around the the non-mirror side when done. You could even angle a couple of them so that the client could see themselves in profile for movements like hinges and squats.

They were generally tucked in a nook out of the way, or flipped around with the mirror towards the wall when not in use. Kept them from being distracting. I'd love to see more gyms implement this use of mirrors. It would certainly make it easier for some of our "proprioceptively challenged" clients and members to get what we keep harping on them to do.
Stop standing like an asshole!
Your rounded T-spine makes you look like a goddamn desk jockey!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Difficulties in Motivation: It's a Human Condition

Have you ever read Hyperbole and a Half?

If so, do you have her book?

Okay, good.

But what I'm really here about right now is our struggles with motivation, and I'd like to start with a comic strip from the above blog (which is, again, really amazing on so many levels).







I was reading this both laughing to myself and totally aghast. How was this absolute stranger so perfectly describing my issues with procrastination. For instance, I see everyday I go to the car that my registration is about to expire. I see the DMV reminder letter on my desk by the computer. And I don't do anything about it. It's not even a smog test year, I can do this online. The deadline passes, and now I have to go to the DMV. Or, actually, I wait until I get a fix it ticket. True story.

Then it struck me. The author writes about her struggles with motivation as though this self-destruction is unique to her. But I see it in myself all the damn time. And I bet other people do to, which is why this comic-blog is so popular.

We all have these absurdly easy things we feel we should do with our time. There are the things we have to do and just don't until the consequences are in our face. And how many of us totally beat ourselves up over these perceived screw ups? Each time we do that, beat ourselves up, it only going to prompt us to dive our heads into the sand the next time a similar "choice opportunity" presents itself.

I hear this negative self talk a lot:

"I totally screwed up over the weekend and ate all these pastries."
"I was terrible and didn't go to the gym like I said I would."
"I get so upset with myself each time I do____"

So give yourself a break. We're all in this together. So if you work with me as your coach or trainer, talk to me about it, let's have a good laugh at our human foibles, and then get back on track. Until next time.