Thursday, December 22, 2011

If Donny Doesn't Inspire You...

I get it. Donny is a beast. He's genetically made for the sport of weightlifting. He's amassed technical skill and mental fortitude over years and years of training. While it can be awe inspiring, sometimes people see that and think "Cool, but not me so... whatever."

Well here is a guy that arguably has very little in his favor: he's blind and still made it to the World Championships in Paris for weightlifting.

Don't need sight to do a snatch or clean and jerk? Try doing it yourself with your eyes closed, or perhaps crossed. Not easy, huh?

Donny is Bigger Than You

Donny Shankle is many time National Champion, has attended the World Championships, and this year also participated in the Pan Am Games. He trains hard over at California Strength in San Ramon. I don't think I've ever heard him complain, whine, ask why he needs to do something, or push back ever. He just works hard and doesn't take a miss as an answer.

Watch, be amazed and be inspired.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

SFCF and UB and HIIT

Acronyms are fun!


So starting in the new year I'll be observing and hanging out at San Francisco CrossFit and will start taking on clients, helping with the on ramps and strength classes. I'm very excited to get in with a group of coaches that really know their stuff in so many areas. The opportunities to learn will be endless.


I can start training clients at United Barbell - CrossFit SOMA NOW! I'll be out of town next week, but in January, I'll be all over that shizz. UB is a sweet little gym with an awesome community of both coaches and members.


I love HIIT training. And I particularly love using a blend of CrossFit methodology and HIIT style intervals. I found this neato infographic on the awesomeness that is HIIT.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This should be good!

Krista Scott-Dixon, the genius behind Stumptuous has a new, FREE e-book out called "Fuck Calories." You can get it HERE.

I have downloaded it, but I haven't started reading it yet. Her style is colloquial and sassy. It's intelligent without being pedantic. In other words, I think it will be a really fun and informative read.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Scale Lies

On the left is a beauty contest winner Chloe Marshall, weighing in at 5'10" and 180 lbs. On the right is me, at 5'8" and this day I was 174 lbs. Her BMI is 25.8, mine was 26.5, which puts us both in the overweight category, and me even more so. In an article about this beauty contest winner, she explains that she does what she does to promote healthy body images for women, and to show that self esteem shouldn't be tied to looking like a model in a magazine.

Wait, healthy body image? As the Old Spice man might say, "Look at her, now look at me." Who do you think is trying to promote healthy body image, and divorce people from caring what the scale has to say?

Where is this rant going?

Train like you mean it and throw out your scale.

Unless you are competing in a weight class sport, if you are in the gym, working up a sweat, and putting the right foods in your mouth, it's probably time you got rid of your scale and either get a tape measure or body fat calipers.

If you train hard, lift heavy, and hit that HIIT training hard, it's highly likely that you won't lose weight right away. Usually, though, your pants will fit looser, you'll have to tighten your belt, and your arms and legs will get tighter.

Weight can change fairly drastically day to day, especially for women because of our hormones. If you drink alcohol one day, the dehydration will make you seem lighter. If you gorge on carbs one day, the water retention will make you seem heavier. But none of these readings accurately reflect any true measure of health.

Muscle is the best thing you have for longevity.

Study after study is coming out now that the best indicator for longevity and quality of life is fitness. Increased bone density means fewer fractures and less worry about osteoporosis and osteopenia (which, yes, men can get too). Muscle mass help increase your insulin sensitivity since muscle has insulin receptors and is the only place, other than the liver, that glycogen can be stored without being turned into fat.

How do you reap these benefits. Well, through strength training and HIIT conditioning, of course! These training methods will also make you denser (read: toned) and potentially heavier than you are now.

Muscle makes you useful.

Being strong is a great way to get free pizza and beer. How? Because you'll be the one friends call when they are going to move and they can't handle their couch all on their own. And helping a friend move always means compensatory feedings.

I guess I should also say, USEFUL muscle makes you useful. Because no one cares if you can bicep curl their dresser. Can you deadlift and farmer's walk with it?

Lift Big and Eat Big

Training hard means your metabolism is moving light a freight train. It's not the muscle itself that increases your metabolism, it's the heavy lifting and intense conditioning that puts on the meat and keeps the calories burning long after you leave the gym. (More on the muscle =/= high metabolism later.) And that means the occasional slip up isn't going to cost you the way it would if you spend all your time on the elliptical or treadmill.

Okay, I've kind of left my original argument, which is healthy body image should not be tied to weight, but to health and fitness. There is more than skinny vs. curvy, paper vs. plastic. So stop obsessing over the scale.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Want to get mad? Watch "Killer at Large"

I'm currently watching "Killer at Large", and I have to say that it's just making me mad. In a good way, not because it's wrong, but because of the awful ineptitude of our society to take care of the obesity epidemic.

It's on Netflix instant play if you want to check it out.

They point out that the California budget to feed criminals is greater than the NATIONAL budget to feel grade school students. Seriously. They highlight cases where high schools have gotten rid of vending machines and parents protested and stood outside the school property fence line and handed candy and soda to their kids during lunch breaks.

When Sesame Street decided to have Cookie Monster promote more healthy eating, there was picketing outside the studios, with signs reading "No to Carrots, Yes to Cookies!" Who are these parents? And what is their BMI?

(I actually take issue with the BMI measurements, but that's a rant for another time.)

For another interesting take on the school lunch food issue, visit The Lunch Tray written by a mom who volunteers on a parental board for school lunches in the Houston ISD.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My 2011 American Open Experience

It didn't go down great.

First, it was the weekend after Thanksgiving, which I spent in Houston with family I don't see often. One might ask why I didn't just see my family for Christmas instead? Not an option, as my dad works on a seismic boat 5 weeks on / 5 weeks off and he was to be in country for Thanksgiving, not Christmas.

Holidays also usually mean I'm exposed to children, and children are walking petri dishes.

So as tradition would have it, after I return to California, I'm knocked on my ass by a nasty cold. Fever, chills, achy muscles, phlegm everywhere. Cancelled appointments. Cancelled training sessions. When I tried a final heavy day, I mostly succeeded in constantly coughing, blowing my nose a lot, and missing everything I tried to put over head. Awesome.

Still. I'm part of a team, and no matter how I do, I'll earn points for the team. There is no backing out now.

My lift day is on Sunday, which TOTALLY SUCKS because all my teammates are done Friday night. That means I get to watch them relax, eat, and drink and be jolly for two nights while I'm supposed to be amping up my focus and tapering down my training and calories for weigh ins. It's almost enough to convince me to drop back to being a 69kg lifter. Hell, I was a 63kg judo player once upon a time, why not?

I still don't feel 100% come competition time, and it shows. We take what should have been a no-brainer weight for my snatch, 73kg, I miss it twice. On the third attempt I think "Fuck this" and just power snatch the thing. I don't know how high I caught it, but I was told it basically looked like a muscle snatch. 73kg is too light for me to be missing.

Now I'm so amped from the snatches on top of not feeling great that I start getting dizzy. Which is weird because it's not like I had to do much cutting this time around to make weight, so it's not lack of food or water that's giving me problems. To avoid any further dizziness setting in, we start with a no-brainer clean and jerk of 90kg, and end with 94kg. Also because I'm not feeling well, I power clean all of them. I'm not going to squat in this condition if I don't have to.

Afterwards, I lay on the cold ground for a while which is the best feeling in the world at that time. Then I get a beer, drink said beer, and fall asleep on the chairs in the spectator section.

Oh well. Time to get healthy (I'm even driving to work for a week) and get back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Knees and ACLs

As women, we are already more prone to ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. This is in part due to our hip and knee structures and to the still misguided belief, even among some sports coaches, that lifting heavy isn't for women.

 Because we're built for reproduction, our hips are set wider and this causes our legs to assume an inward angle at the knees, called the Q-angle, and it's several degrees greater in women than men. Because of this, during squats, deadlifts, pivots and jumps, women's knees tend to roll inward to a greater degree. In sports where there is a lot of acceleration and/or cases for impact (think basketball and soccer), this inward rolling and rotation puts the ACL at vulnerable position. If an athlete hasn't built up the proper support strength around the knee and hasn't been drilled on knee position relative to hips and feet, you're looking at a high rate of ACL injuries.

Unfortunately, you still hear, particularly in high school, coaches of women's sports shy away from putting their athletes through heavy lifting programs due to the fear of women getting bulky or losing speed and flexibility. Of course we all know that's poppycock.

There are several way to cue knees out during squats, deadlifts and jumps, and this is important for both men and women. A mental picture I've heard used several times to to imagine that your feet are on plates and you are trying to rotate those plates out from the hips without actually moving your feet. Keeping that tension in your hips throughout the movement should help keep the knees moving out in the direction of the feet.

I find that many times the rolling in of the knees seems to happen at the ankles. If the plate imagery doesn't work, I'm telling my clients to try to keep the pressure on the outside of their heel and midfoot, letting them know their arches are collapsing and ankles are rolling in. Usually one of these cues works and after a few session of cuing and poking at them, they start to make it a habit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hip Angle for a Flat Back

Each new person I've worked with so far has needed some help with maintaining a flat back, and for many, it seems that the cue "hips back" or "stick out your butt" work really well. Check out the illustration below:

Where the spine attaches to the hips does not rotate like your knees or shoulders do. So, if you want to have your back maintain that neutral curvature, you're going to have to tilt the hips in the direction that you're moving.  When you bend down to grab a bar for a deadlift or clean, you're going to have to adjust your hip tilt forward to maintain that lower back curvature. Cues to consider are trying to point your tail bone up or pushing your booty back. Ultimately you're using your spinal erectors to keep position.

Just another way in which working out can fuel a lot of raunchy jokes.

Anyway, being able to maintain this proper pelvic tilt is also important in maintaining back  position in overhead moves where over arching in the lower back often occurs. In these cases, many people are allowing their hips to roll forward. Here it's important to think about maintaining normal distance between your ribcage and your hips.

Have fun and stick your butt out! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I just found a gold mine of medical seminars intended for the public, all made available through UC San Francisco's Mini Medical School for the Public program.

Search and be amazed:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Humility and Accomplishment

This is my article inspiration for today: Olympian to CrossFit

My take away was something I had been thinking about during training sessions recently, how humility paves the way for accomplishment. And you can make some real predictions about a person's success at any given task by they way they handle each.

I'm going to take a particular example from one of my clients. When we first started working together, she was terrified of jumping on the 8 inch box we had, and claimed to possessed no explosive power or athletic ability. I took her through some progressive workouts, and she attacked them all, not caring if she failed or not. A couple months later, she jumps on 18 inch boxes and can back squat 155 lbs. And while she might glare at me during a metcon, she beams at what she did when it's over.

Some other people take a task given to them, try a few times, feel awful and say "let's move on." There are people terrified of failure, they beat themselves up, and whether they know it or not, sell themselves short because trying 100% might mean failing 100%.

First, you have to have the humility to attempt a task at 100% effort and fail. If you want to eventually get somewhere you haven't gone yet, you have to admit that you're not there and you want to be. That takes humility and courage.

So get back to the gym, put your ego in your gym bag for later, and start working.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Continued Education and Issues with Authority

This post isn't really about fitness. More of a rant about myself.

I love to read. And I love to learn. I have lots of strength training and nutrition books, texts, manuals, what have you at home. And I follow several sites on the same topics. You'd think that getting my Continued Education Units (CEUs) would be quick and easy.

Except it's not. Why? Because I have to. And therefore, my procrastination habit kicks into full gear. Plus, I just don't like being TOLD what I have to do.

Not proud of it. I have two months left and 5 credits to account for. I'd better get cracking, I studied too hard and am too proud of my CSCS to let it lapse. :P

Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning New Skills

I was reading THIS ARTICLE on "My Athletic Life" and came across this quote in an interview:

"Bill Starr said “Success breeds success.” Look for drills and exercises you can do successfully and build on top of them. If I wanted to squat 500 lbs., I wouldn’t load up a bar with 500 lbs. and try to squat it – I’d fail. What I would do is start off with 100 lbs. and build up from there. Don’t just try to do a handstand repeatedly and fail – look for drills that you can do successfully."

There are people that want to jump to the endpoint immediately. If they can't kick up to a handstand in the first couple of tries, or fall off the rings as soon as they try to jump up, they think, "I can't get this, let's do something else."

Most of us have probably been out of school for a while, but if you think back real hard, you probably remember that to eventually get through algebra, you had to learn basic arithmetic first. The same slow build of mental skills translates to physical ones. It's a matter of progressively building upon small steps and introducing your body and brain to new ways of working together.

So step back, take a deep breath, and try again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What does that work?

Since I work at a commercial gym, where most workouts consist of back & bi days and the like, I often get the question, "What does that move work?" My answer is usually "your core, your arms, your back, your balance, your coordination, your proprioception, etc....." and the looks I get in return are either of confusion or of someone seeing the light.

So I thought, maybe everyone should be asking themselves that question at the gym. And I think the answer for at least 80% of the moves you do should have at least three components to it. If you ask yourself "what does this move work?", and all you can think of are "umm... the calves..?" you're probably wasting your time. (Outside of rehab specific work.)

I'm not saying that the occasional vanity lift is a bad thing, but it should be put in when you happen to have extra time, after you've done the real work. We're all really busy, and the moves that will get you in and out of the gym quickly are also usually the moves that are "functional" and get your heart rate up faster.

Hell, I'll admit it. I do bicep curls once in a blue moon. Just because I think biceps look nice. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Catch Phrase: Use the Core

Despite all the talk in magazines, fitness sites, shows like "Biggest Loser" and such about using the core, strengthening the core, core this, core that, I'm convinced that people still don't REALLY know what that means.

Some years ago I remember being told that using your core meant that you suck your belly button in towards your spine. This advice led to countless people sucking in their gut, not activating their back or obliques, and either breathing shallowly or not breathing at all.

All to often I meet someone who wants to "train their core" only to find them doing lots of crunches, leg raises, V-ups and the like. These exercises have their place, but it goes to show that with the ubiquity and the commercialization of the term, "core" has simply been boiled down to mean "six pack muscles".

It might sound silly, but I like to think of the "core" as the "muscle corset". It holds your body in tight, it keeps your spine from bending around, and it helps to transfer pushing power from your legs to your upper body, whether you're holding weights or not.

In this context, think of where a corset holds you. Not just your six pack muscles, but also the obliques, and spinal erectors. They ALL come into play when you need to hold your spine straight, and an over emphasis on the six pack abdominals leaves you in an uneven and unstable position.

Easiest workout to train all the core muscles together: planks. Even if you can do thousands of sit ups, if your other muscles aren't up to snuff, it's going to be tough.

More advanced core workouts: doing exercises with weights overhead. Overhead squats, overhead lunges, or just walking around with weight overhead. I prefer this to doing stuff on bosu balls, because we primarily live on stable ground, so this action is more transferable to real life activities.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The See-Food Diet

I've had clients as me what I eat or what my diet looks like. They know that I'm a competitive athlete. I give one of two answers depending on what I think they need to hear.

One answer is basically me giving the Paleo diet spiel. Saying how I try to focus my eating around meat, fruits, and vegetables, and since I'm very active, I make sure I eat enough and spread it out, timing my macronutrients for when my workouts are. I tell them I stay away from grains and anything processed, save whey protein and the occasional protein bar.

But then I give the real answer to those that won't see it as dietary release:

I eat a see-food diet. I see food, and I eat it.

I'm on my bike for an hour or more a day. I lift heavy weights for 2 hours several times a week. I'm on my feet, demonstrating moves, doing all that trainer stuff. I have to eat a lot to stay strong. So basically, I eat whatever I want.

The key word there is WANT. I don't want to eat crap. I want to eat things that help me perform better, that satiate me and won't cause me to crash in an hour or two (I have to eat fairly often as it is). I think things like steak, chicken, and salmon are tasty. I think that most burgers and fried foods are not.

I wasn't always like that. When I went off to college I wanted to eat crap and processed shit like every other kid did. For me, pasta, potatoes, bread, or rice were side dishes to meat, not a salad. It wasn't until probably senior year when I really got the idea of what eating clean meant.

It's been 7 years since college. It's been 7 years of learning about nutrition, how to cook, and changing and solidifying my culinary tastes. So when I say that I eat what I want, it's because I don't want to eat crap.

Still, I can't tell just any one that "I eat what I want."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sources of Intensity

I'm not talking about training intensity, which refers to how heavy one is lifting on a particular day. I'm talking about mental intensity, and where that comes from. I had a bit of an intensity epiphany the other day.

In the past I was always able to rely on external sources for training intensity:

1) I had a heavy handed coach that I disliked.

2) I had a training partner who was really strong and always nipping at my heels.

3) I trained in "the dungeon" which has a very serious atmosphere.

With all these things around me, I didn't have to dig very deep to find the intensity needed to make the big attempts and approach the heavy weights. And let's face it, you need a sort of intense abandon to make those big lifts. You have to be able to drive with everything you've got and trust that you're body is going to do the right thing and the weight will land where you want it.

Then I changed coaches, and several things changed:

1) Instead of intense abandon, I had to train with a measured focus as he changed my technique, built up my strength deficiencies, and worked out old habits.

2) I found myself in a place where I like my coach, my gym is fun, and my teammates are fun.

3) I lift quite a bit more than any other woman, and some of the men, that I train with.

Basically I had lost most of my sources of external intensity. And it showed. In my level of distraction, in the weights that I lifted, in the drive I had as months wore on.

But last week, something clicked. I learned of three other girls that will be competing in my weight class at the American Open. Three girls that have not been in my weight class, or in weightlifting competition at all. And they are all strong.

That day, I told myself "You're still the MoFo Newman. You can't keep lifting like you're learning. You're done learning and you need to be done pussy-footing around."

That day I had the best training session I had in months. Months. Then I can back the next week and took attempts at weights I hadn't touched in more months. Not weeks. Months.

Reminds me of a favorite quote I have: "People gravitate towards being a pussy. Remove the pussy, son."

I don't know what, if anything, will come of this. But at least I know I've giving it a fair shot.

Monday, September 26, 2011

MSN Article on CrossFit

Does CrossFit Live Up to the Hype?

It's a meh article, really. They only went to one CrossFit facility as far as I can tell. But the main thing I have a problem with is the suggestion to try the workouts on your own.

No, you probably shouldn't do that.

Even CF gyms with bad instructors at least HAVE instructors that will give you the basic idea of how a movement should be done. For instance, learning a snatch from some article is just not going to get you anywhere but will get you some jacked up shoulders.

Grand Ideas

I don't think I've written anything in about two months. Basically, since I started my job at World Gym. I've had all sorts of grand ideas about how this was going to really go down. I love this job, don't get me wrong, but I think it's going to have to be realized in small steps.

Grand Idea #1: A blog that clients could follow.

I thought that things would get busy much slower than they have. That's what everyone warned me about, having patience for things to get full. Well, it didn't happen that way, and rather than taking my time to write up things I've noticed, learned, or experienced, I'm trying to catch up on workouts, naps, and finding time to eat.

Grand Idea #2: Follow a plethora of interesting fitness and nutrition blogs.

Again, I figured that I'd use my down time to follow up on some "self directed education." Thing is, finding good blogs to follow is harder than I thought. There is a lot of information out there, and much of it is either bunk or "duh" stuff. And that takes longer than actually reading the articles on blogs I do follow. So far my list has about 8 blogs that update enough to be considered following.

Grand Idea #3: Create Awesome Athlete Machines

This still is my goal. But I think I'm going to have to be more realistic about it. I only see these people 2 or 3 times a week, and I have no way to account for what they do between visits. In all reality, my 2-3 hours a week with them can only influence them so much. So in all likelihood, only one in 15 or 20 clients will actually have an epiphany moment where they decide "I'm really going to do this" and clean up their eating, and initiate themselves into a more physical culture.

Grand Idea #4: Watching clients will serve as inspiration to fuel my own workouts.

In addition to what I said above, it's actually tiring to watch and cheer clients on. I'm not really much for being a cheerleader, but I do pay very close attention and am constantly on top of them for technique or urging them to push just a little further. And if my own energy is lacking, and if I'm not on top of my own nutrition, that just wipes me out.

So much for grand ideas...

I still have small goals. For instance, I have my caloric intake under control. Now I need to update my nutrient timing. I AM following some really good blogs. I do get to kind of "show off" my lifting skills at a commercial gym, where a girl deadlifting over 150 lbs is a site, which is pretty good inspiration to get those lifting shoes on.

But mostly, I'm still adjusting and I keep on keeping on.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Be Shiva

I had the lucky opportunity to meet with Kelly Starret of CrossFit San Francisco and the writer of The Mobility Wod. I've had shoulder issues plague me during my two years as a lifter. Unfortunately, my last coach was of the mentality "take more ibuprofen", "tape it up tighter", and other such "suck it up" mantras rather than making me figure out what's going on.

I'm a skeptical person. It took a NASM PT to force me to start using a foam roller (oh, it actually works). Unfortunately, he failed to recognize that my knee pain resulted form HUGE quads and a near total absence of hamstrings... (he cited uneven hips and spine curvature, which does run in my family. I'll be back to that.)

Luckily, my coach is also extremely skeptical about new fangled things. He was finally convinced by my training partner to visit Kelly for his hip issues. When we saw him next, Coach was like "You are ALL going to visit Kelly for ANYTHING you have wrong." Well, okay.

Be Shiva

I after nationals, I had an appointment to see Kelly about my shoulder. Shoulder was priority #1,2, and 3. Then I wanted my hip looked at. Most of the hour was spent putting my shoulder through some serious discomfort and pain. He stretch my shoulder against planes that it hasn't moved through in a long time. He dug into muscles I didn't even know I had. He pushed the humerous back into the shoulder socket then dug into the surrounding tissues some more.

At one point I had to even ask to take a break from the digging. Kelly had found a knot of muscle under my scapula that wasn't even allowing it to sit flat where it was supposed to. However, when all was said and done, I could actually pull my shoulder blades back and down with little to no effort. When I raised my arms overhead, my right arm was significantly further back than my left arm, which I could still see in my peripheral vision.

I was instructed to always carry myself with my shoulders back and down, not squeezed, but engaged. So now my motto is "Be Shiva", as in the above picture of the Hindu god. Notice how his shoulders are down and back, not hunched forward like "lunk head"? That's where both athletes and goddesses should carry themselves.

So to everyone out there:

1) Eat Right
2) Sleep Right
4) Be Shiva

And if something is off, go see Kelly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Favorite Blog for Weight Training Women

Frist, some good news: I finally got my PASSING scores from my CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) exam!

I have to admit, I was really nervous about this. I basically crammed 18 text book chapters of coaching, fitness and conditioning information into my brain in about two weeks. It took me about a month to get through the first 4 chapters when I was trying to study while at my last job.

When I took the practice test I only passed by a narrow margin. And since I didn't show particular weakness in any one area, and I didn't have time to re-study everything, I had to just go into the test nervous. But that's all over with and all worth it!

Onto Today's Topic


I discovered this blog when I was in graduate a school, before I was introduced to CrossFit. It was a godsend to me, the articles perfectly spelled out how I felt about weight training as a woman and put a humorous spin on some of the things I ran into at the gym (trainers telling me "you shouldn't train that hard" or men telling me I'll never find a boyfriend with muscles like that).

I've sort of re-discovered it in the past couple weeks as I peruse fitness blogs in my post cramming haze. I recently covered the Planet Fitness ad that makes fun of "lunk heads" and doesn't allow grunting in the gym. I came across Krista's take on the ad, and it reminded me why I love this website:

Do you lift things up and put them down?

I encourage you to read that post, check out the linked videos, and peruse some of her other blog entries.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Creatine Supplementation

Everyone has heard of creatine. It was popularized by Mark McGuire (go Houston!) and credited for his enormous muscle and strength gains. Unfortunately, well, we all know what he eventually came out to be using...

Before I get into my diatribe about creatine use for athletic and strength gains, I want to emphasize that no amount of supplementation is going to overcome a bad diet. You don't have to be a bastion of Paleo perfection, but if you subside on Big Macs, clean that up first.

1) Overview

Creatine helps with workouts by providing a quick source for energy replenishment. The use of creatine will be most evident during workouts that involve short bursts of energy, as seen in anaerobic training and bodybuilding. They will also be more evident if your workouts tend to go longer than an hour.

2) Intracellular Action

Creatine is stored in the cell's cytoplasm as creatine phosphate. During anaerobic work and the initial phase of any exercise, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is used for energy through the removal of a phosphate to create ADP (adenosine diphosphate). ATP stores are used in about 5 seconds of work.

To resupply the cells with ATP quickly, the phosphate in creatine phosphate is transferred to ADP, which is now usable again as ATP. This process of ATP restoration is referred to as the phospholytic cycle, and is depleted in about 15 seconds, so it is only useful for short, powerful bursts of energy.

After the creatine phosphate and ATP are used, enzymes in the cell take the free standing phosphates and reattach them to the expended creatine and ADP molecules. This process takes about 5 mins to full completion, which is why you'll often see powerlifters and Olympic lifters take several minutes off between maximal lift attempts.

3) Typical Protocol for Use

By increasing the amount of creatine in your muscles, you can increase the amount of time you have to complete a power movement. Also, with more creatine in your system, since some is excreted with each round of phosphate metabolism, you can usually keep you work capacity up through longer workouts. We're not talking super human capabilities, but when you're a strength / power athlete, each extra rep gets you closer to your goal.

Most short term studies use 20 g a day for a week of creatine monohydrate and see significant results. Study of loading and excretion show that when supplemented with 20 g per day, maximum levels are reached in 5-7 days. This 20 g is spaced out through out the day, definitely with doses before and after a workout.

After the 5-7 days of loading, most people are well supplemented with 5 g or less. There are body weight charts out there, where you can calculated exactly how much you need based on lean body mass, but with pure creatine monohydrate being relatively cheap, I'd recommend just sticking with the 20 g for loading, and 5 g for maintenance.

It is also recommended that once cycles on and off. Supposedly, some can develop a resistance to creatine supplementation if it is used constantly. Most often recommended is 8 weeks on, including the loading phase, and then four weeks off. You shouldn't see a drop in strength during the off phase, only perhaps a small decrease in capacity. These aren't steroids, after all.

4) Detriments

First, for those in weight class sports, be aware that most people see an increase in body weight when they are on creatine. It can cause water retention in the muscle cells simply through the osmotic gradient created by extra "stuff" in there.

Second, some people experience some gas and GI tract annoyances. Get a monohydrate that looks more like a fluffy white powder than course crystals for one. Secondly, if you experience this, try to divide up the doses to smaller doses throughout the day.

Third, You really need to take this with a high glycemic liquid. Grapefruit juice is often recommended. I don't like the taste of it, so I'll do half grapefruit and half orange juice. I've also heard half grapefruit and half grape juice works well, too. Insulin acts as a transport hormone to "push" the creatine into your cells. (Also, if you are border-line insulin resistant, you might find yourself to be a "non-responder" since insulin can't work on your muscles like it should.)

Good luck and happy lifting!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just Show Up

This weekend I proved the adage "you can't win if you don't play." My training was just starting to become more stable, and I was feeling confident in the gym. However, I've only done two meets in the past eight months, so my competition confidence was shaky at best.

Despite hitting 80kg in the snatch and 95kg+ in the clean and jerk solidly several times in training, I only managed to make my openers at 76kg and 93kg at the Nationals. However, I showed up and made a total. And guess what? It got me a bronze medal in the snatch and the total. I lifted poorly, but with the right calls made by my coach, it turned out to be my day after all.

I could blame my poor showing on all sorts of things; I'm changing careers, the travel is rough, there were people there I'm less than friendly with, etc. But what it comes down to is that outside the 2-3 hours I spend in the gym, I'm not treating myself like an athlete.

My competition mentality shows my lack of recent competing has left me rough around the edges. While I take my vitamins and supplements, they don't make up for a poor diet. I don't do the extra work that keeps the body running smoothly (foam rolling, stretching, mobility), and I don't always insist on the right sleeping conditions.

This was a bit of a wake up call. I need to go to every meet that I can, even if I don't peak for it. I need to treat myself like an athlete, and put that ahead of some distractions I've accumulated, namely being lazy. I know that once it is put in my daily routine I'll be good to go, it's making the initial change that's hard.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Defense of Peaking

Through my normal blog and website perusal, I was directed towards this particular article trying to lambaste peaking for competition.

You can find the article here

I'll give you a moment to read that if you are so inclined...

Done? Just overall, I think it's a poorly put together article. It would help in the future to get the assistance of someone used to writing argumentative claims, such as a lawyer or scientist.

Warped Idea of PRs at the *True* Elite Level

First, let's talk about how often PRs come around at the elite level. I'm not talking CrossFit "elite", I'm talking about Olympic athlete elite. When you're a specialized athlete of international caliber, PRs don't come around that often. You can't expect that just because you peaked, how ever it is that you peak (there are several schools of thought on this), that you're going to make a PR.

Our internationally competitive athletes are working at the very edge of human abilities. Every 1/100th of a second shaved off, every rep squeezed out, every extra inch can be make or break. It's a constant interplay between training hard, training smart, and not over doing it. Athletes at that top level might not make but one PR in year.

On top of that, so much going into making competition day work for you outside your gym preparations. There is nutrition, sleep, mentality, travel, etc. Peaking is just one aspect of competition preparedness used to increase the likelihood of a great performance.

Wonky Statistical Analysis

As a trained scientist, I read statistics with a highly critical eye.

So what if the Olympic shot put gold wasn't the season's best? So what if the the Ironman's time could have created a 70% winning streak? This isn't an argument against peaking, this is just stating numbers. Since his stance isn't clearly laid out, it looks like he is making the assumption that people only peak for one event in a season.

First, people peak multiple times for multiple competitions. They might not peak at all for "training meets" and some peaks might be abbreviated for less important meets. But comparing performances across a season doesn't prove peaking doesn't work. It actually doesn't really say much of anything.

As said before, peaking is one aspect of preparation. Likely, someone is going to actually perform their best with less pressure and less travel, neither of which one typically finds at the big meets. But peaking can help the non-local athlete have some extra help to overcome home turf advantages, or whatever the case may be.

No References to Results with Other Methods of Preparation

To try to support his statement that consistency is better, he references the triathlete McCormack, saying if he just did his personal best from 2006, he would have won 100% of this time rather than the 50% of the time he did when trying to peak. This is making the assumption that one can hit a personal best whenever they want, without peaking.

Again, this shows poor understanding of what it means to peak, and what is actually reasonable to do at such a high level. Likely, McCormack peaked for that second place finish performance, and likely he would have to peak to attain it again.

What he needs to show are top level competitors (not CrossFitters) that put on excellent shows time and time again without peaking for them.

Hyperbole: Can't Stand It

Leave bad hyperbole for the politicians and the pundits.

First instance: "We never hear a coach say, 'I figured he could do 41 reps because he’s done 35 in training.'” (pg 4)

What does this have to to with peaking? One will peak for a performance in hopes of eeking out that one extra rep, not to attain super human abilities. One would peak for a combine and expect to hit what they have in training and hope to hit a little more.

Second instance: "Can you imagine a United States Marine arriving in Afghanistan out of shape but telling the rest of his platoon that he’ll be in shape by the end of the war, when it matters?" (pg 5)

When you're in a physical job, day in and day out, of course you stay at your best level of manageable fitness. This goes for military, law enforcement, and fire fighters to name a few. This is not the same as getting at your absolute best attainable performance for a finite, and usually rather short, period of time. Apples and oranges, people.

All in all, this was a half baked article, at best.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Only a Weightlifter...

*would ask "does this make my butt look big?" and hope the answer is YES!

*holds the steering wheel with a hook grip.

*would be offended when asked "how much do you bench?"

*thinks doing over 5 reps is doing cardio.

*seriously loathes "cardio."

*does a squat when trying on clothes just to make sure they really fit right.

*uses the Valsalva maneuver when moving furniture.

*hears questions about if they have to compete in a bikini (because people still don't know what we do).

*makes fun of people who do the lifts in rapid succession as "conditioning work."

*would be offended at being called skinny or thin.

*thinks you can train only with the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat and be awesome at everything.

*thinks an hour in the gym is a short workout.

*has holes on the thighs of their workout pants.

*has clavicle calcification bumps.

*can repeatedly squat hundreds of pounds, ass to ground, and refuse to jog across a parking lot.

*uses pedicure products on their hands.

What else have you other weightlifters noticed that makes us all a little wacky?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Intensity Centers Me

As far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as a runner's high. I've run miles upon miles, and never felt good about it. To me, running isn't meditative either. I have a mind that wanders, dreams, and constantly thinks. Nothing about the long, slow training takes my mind away from all that and therefore, nothing about it I find relaxing.

Same with yoga and pilates. Sitting in a position and holding it, focusing on breathing, does nothing to quiet my head. I guess my brain multitasks too readily, but no matter the difficulty of the pose or the depth of the stretch, I'm not taken out of my head.

What I need is something intense, something that requires the kind of presence that, if not there, would cause whatever I'm attempting to fail miserably.

I'm sure this started as a dancer. Dancing is like stylized living, you have to absolutely be in the moment and not just feel but project what the dance is supposed to mean for it to work. You can't be thinking about that test or review coming up, you can't think about the fight you just had, you can't even be wondering about how the choreography is being taken by the audience. You just have to BE in it.

This is why I'm attracted to sports like judo and weightlifting. If you let your mind wander for a split second, you're going to get thrown or lose the lift. Your concentration must be on task at all times. No room for extraneous thoughts.

I  find that life is constantly bombarding me with things to solve, consider, decide on, plan for and the only way to get away from that is to do something that requires all of that to be pushed aside. I would highly recommend, if you find yourself unable to get away from life's constant demands, finding yourself something a little harder to pull away from it. Be it a new sport you can lose yourself in, a bootcamp, or some sort of group exercise, do something that for just that time, you focus only on yourself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tofu: Not all it's cracked up to be

This came to mind recently. My boyfriend and I were discussing potential menus for a potential chef service. Since we both have schedules that leave us exhausted at the end of the day, and usually don't eat dinner until 10pm or later, we were looking into food alternatives from cooking huges batches ourselves, to using a weekly persona chef.

As we discussed food we like and dislike, the topic of tofu came up. The chef originally offered up the option since I was talking about how I want to stay high protein and clean with food. The boyfriend thought tofu would be a viable option, whereas I had other ideas.

I've heard so much marketing mucky muck about soy being this awesome source of protein and a clear nutritional winner. Honestly, I have other ideas. 

It's Processed

Yes, you can make your own tofu, and you can make your own soy milk, but that isn't what you're buying at the grocery stores. That stuff is processed and it has additives. And many of the very things that are supposed to make soy good for you, such as vital amino acids, are denatured during this processing.

It's More Than Just Protein

First you have phytoestrogens, which are basically plant based chemicals that can act like estrogen in the body. Anyone who has had breast cancer are warned about soy containing products due to this and studies have suggested that it can affect testosterone levels in men.

On top of that, most soybeans grown in the US today are genetically modified. Personally, I'm a little torn on whether I care if something is GMO or not, but I know a lot of people care a great deal. Not only that, but from a moral stand point, most GMO seeds put farmers at a financial disadvantage. (See the documentary "Food, Inc" for the sad state of farmers today.)

All Things in Moderation

As with all things, moderation is key. People have tried to tell me that "Asians eat a lot of soy!" After studying in Japan and having dated a few Asian men (of varying degrees of "Asian-ness"), that's not exactly true. I like to snack on edamame with my sushi, and drink some miso soup now and again, but I would never make either a staple of my diet.

Friday, July 1, 2011

You Aren't Going to Get Bulky

Dear Women,

You're not going to get bulky. It's just not going to happen. I'd like you to take a look at the picture of Natalie Burgener below. She competes in the 63kg (136 lbs) weight class and has snatched over 100kg (220 lbs). She would never be mistaken for a football player.

You can bet that Natalie here trains everyday, possibly twice a day, with weights heavier than most of us would imagine using. I compete at 75kg, and have never even attempted to snatch or clean and jerk what Natalie can do on a regular basis.

What enables her, and can help you, lift incredible loads without looking like it is a matter of workout programming. Most strength athletes don't do isolation work and rarely do more than 5 reps at any given weight. At 5 reps and less, people first adapt through better muscle fiber recruitment, meaning that your body learns to coordinate itself within a muscle better so that all the fibers can work together to complete a task. Untrained people new to lifting will see marked increases in strength without seeing much change on the scale or in muscle size for this reason.

After the neurological adaptations peak, strength starts coming slower through hypertrophy, or increase in muscle tissue. If you keep your reps at this lower end you focus your adaptations on what is called myofibril hypertrophy, whereas bodybuilders and those looking to put on mass tend to work in the 8-10 rep range to get at sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

While both types of muscle growth happen regardless, you and tilt the scale towards one or the other by manipulating your reps. Myofibril hypertrophy means that cell adaptations focus more on creating more contractile tissue to be able to handle the loads required of it. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy means that more sarcoplasmic reticulum is created around the contractile tissue to get more nutrients and signaling chemicals to the fibers so that muscles can better handle the greater volume of work required of it. Myofibril hypertrophy tends to tilt results towards tighter, stronger muscles, whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy tends to create rounder, fuller muscles.

Let's say you have someone trying to get you to do exercises in the 8-12 rep range anyway. You still shouldn't worry about getting huge, because there is that pesky little hormone we all have called estrogen.

To the left is a picture of a natural bodybuilder, meaning she takes no anabolic hormones. I'll agree that her look is hard, but realize that many bodybuilders dehydrate A LOT to get that super tight look. If she was hydrated and not cutting out all fruits to be super lean, you can bet she'd just look like a really toned athlete.

My point is, most people aren't in the gym two hours a day, six days a week. That is the kind of dedication you need to attain the look at left. For the rest of us who want to get a good workout and look great in less than an hour three times a week, you're going to have to pick up those heavy weights!

Various and Disjointed

Just a few announcements that revolve generally around fitness and health.

I love this website. While I think the intent is for people to use this to lose weight, I love that I can track macro and micro nutrients. There is a huge database of food, totally search-able, and you can add custom foods as well, like my Muscle Milk. I also love that, since I'm a creature of habit, I can have it copy over my foods from another day and just enter the modifications.

There are also tabs where you can track your activities and it counts roughly how many calories you're expending. There is also an iPhone app for it, but apparently not one for Droid. Poop.

World's Gym

I've made my decision, and I'll be starting as a personal trainer at World's Gym (16th and De Haro, in Potrero Hill), starting on July 19th, the day after I return from Nationals.

They are in the midst of transitioning from having outside private trainers to using only in-house trainers, so I feel like I'm coming on board at a good time. Plus, they have three shiny, new lifting platforms, which I KNOW I'll be using for myself and with clients who want to get stronger and more athletic.

USAW Competition Uniform Changes

Now here's something that has a lot of people up in arms, the costume rules have changed to allow full body covering.

Originally, you could not have the elbows covered so the officials could easily look for press outs overhead. Also, there had to be skin exposed on either side of knee wraps to make sure one wasn't wearing support gear and also so the officials could better see that legs were straight at the completion of a lift. All that has gone out the window.

Here's what I'm interested to see: at local meets, she wears loose pants and a loose t-shirt. That isn't going to be allowed, the unitard under the singlet must be skin tight. Also, it's been found out that at local meets, rather than weight in with other women, she just tells officials what she weighs, and that ISN'T going to fly at Nationals. Basically, she "qualified" while disregarding rules of the sport, even the new rules.

It could be an interesting weekend.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Busy, and Too Much Sleeping

I haven't posted in a while because with the exception of Monday, I had an interview everyday last week. Interviews, even when you know they are going to go well, are exhausting. So I'd end up falling asleep afterward, and dragging my groggy self to evening training. Here's my interview run down:

Gold's Gym

I've always put Gold's a step above Bally's and 24 Hour Fitness, simply because of their association with The Governator. A gym chain that support the bodybuilding lifestyle, even if it since dissociated with The Arnold, still will retain that sense of hard work = results.

This interview went great. The head of the PT department that interviewed me and ran me through the training practical really knew his shit. I could learn a lot from him. On top of that, he was energetic and a little goofy, which I am too and love to find kindred spirits in such a way. They offered me a job on the spot, but I had other interviews to take and CSCS scores to wait for.

World's Gym

They weren't even advertising for an opening, but when I saw they had platforms (plural!) and CrossFit classes, I had to send an inquiry. Luckily, they got back to me pretty quick. They have a three interview process, and after the first one I was unsure about the "on ramp" to becoming a full time trainer. But at the second interview, it was further explained to me what they do to help a new hire get on their feet.

After meeting the owner, I definitely had a change of heart. He gets so excited about working out, about the training program he's putting together, and about his gym and the program they offer, you can't help but be affected by the enthusiasm. If I were to pick a gym to work at based on where I would take my own membership, this would be the place.

Did I mention they have three shiny new platforms?

Crunch Fitness

They also have a tiered interview process. An initial face to face, a practical, then, and this threw me, another at the location they would most likely put you. All through the first two, I was thinking this was the location and these were the people I would be working with, and since I'm evaluating them as well as they are evaluating me, hearing that they'd put me elsewhere gave me a double take. Out the window goes my evaluation.

Apparently they'd want to put me at a location where they have lifting platforms, kettlebells, and the like based on my training style and certification background. While I'm sure that the location is more inline with how I'd want to train people, I feel a bit disjointed having gone through two interviews and still not actually knowing what the working conditions, place and personalities, I'd be in.

My Own Training

I have about three weeks until nationals, and my shoulders are acting up more than normal. I thought that perhaps I could do something about that and followed some things on Kelly Starrett's Mobility WOD website. Only maybe I did something wrong, did the wrong exercises, or things are supposed to be weird afterward. Either way, now both of my shoulders are creaky, and the bad one even worse than before.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Paleo Firestorm!

First, I fixed the commenting so that it's easier to leave a comment. Thanks, Jenny, for alerting me to that!

It seems that my last post on Paleo set off quite a debate between two fellow athletes, both of whom are excellent judokas, weightlifters, and all around athletes. Both have done their reading, studying, and discussing with a multitude of people. Both are adamantly defensive of their position on nutrition.

Nutrition and training for athletes can raise the passions of people the way discussions of religion and politics can. You can find research to support pretty much anything you believe in (unless your belief is a diet of table sugar, Crisco, and and a multivitamin). And as with religion and politics, we often read and discuss our views with like minded people. Birds of a feather and what not.

As an athlete, I know what kind of diet has worked very well for me. It's not strictly Paleo, I call it Paleo-ish. I feel like Paleo is a good starting point for most people, and depending on your individual chemistry and sport, you tweak it as needed. Athletes are usually pretty in tune with their body's reaction to food and supplements.

So I want to know, how do other people tweak their diet for optimal performance? What resources do you use to keep up to date on the latest research?

Friday, June 17, 2011

I WANT to go Paleo, but..

I WANT to go Paleo. Really, I do.

I think it's a fantastic method of eating. If you cut out anything processed, and focus your food on plants and animals, you can't help but eat clean. I think the Paleo food prescription is more descriptive and defined than simply saying "eat clean." Eating Paleo will ensure you don't eat crap or get confused, because it either is food or isn't.

Paleo makes sense. We share 98% of our genome with chimpanzees. How do they eat? They're omnivores, so it's lots of plant matter, some small mammals, occasional eggs, and insects. The genes that differ in us deal mostly with structure: our jaws and larynx shape that allow speech, our muscle type, our larger brains, our upright skeletal structure. Very little, if any, of that genetic difference is involved in digestion and metabolism, we'd be better served eating insects than the stuff we call "food" today.

But I'm weak and like my food freedoms...

Have you ever explored, perhaps dabbled in religion, left it, then tried to go back? I have (duh, I'm from Texas). It's hard. You initially give it a whirl because you want to improve your quality of life. Then you fall off the train for whatever reason. Then something inspires you to try again but you've gotten used to the freedoms. Especially having given up certain freedoms, they are all that much sweeter to have back.

Any sort of serious lifestyle diet is similar.

Not saying you have to be some zealot to do Paleo. I was pretty Paleo (with the addition of milk after judo practice) for much of the time I did CrossFit. I was in the gym for an hour a day, doing judo four times a week, capoeira twice a week, plus the occasional rock climbing at the gym. I recovered fast, constantly had energy, was six-pack lean, and continually made progress in strength and speed. My diet undoubtedly had a hand in being able to handle all of that.

But then I fell off the wagon. I moved to California and began competing in weightlifting. When I moved up a weight class, I realized at the level I was training, I could eat nearly anything I wanted and not put on excess fat. And while I KNOW that cleaning things up could really assist me in recovery and progress AND vanity, being on this see-food diet is really fun.

So, I'm going to take a whack at it. I'm going to try to get back to the diet I had as a judo player (Paleo plus milk). I'm reading The Paleo Diet for Athletes, and while I'm upset it's primarily for ENDURANCE athletes, it has some good information in there.

Here's to attempts, in life and the weight room.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Even Anaerobic Athletes Shouldn't Smoke

I've noticed this weird trend of weightlifters smoking. The excuse is that since they are anaerobic athletes, they don't have to worry about the damage to their aerobic capacity. Trust me, there are plenty of other reasons not to smoke, and I'm going to tell you a few of them here.

Epoxides and DNA Adducts

An epoxide is an incredibly unstable three atom ring, consisting of two carbons and one oxygen. This formation is created by any combustion of organic matter, and this includes cigarettes and automobile exhaust. With cigarettes you are inhaling this molecule directly into your lungs.

As I've said, this a highly unstable molecule, and it reacts with molecules in the cells of your entire respiratory tract. Esophagus, bronchi, aveoli, it is going to react with proteins and DNA. And when it reacts with DNA, creating adducts onto the nucleic acids, you can get copy errors during replication for cell division.

Now sure, there are only a handful of genes where these copy errors are going to cause major issues, but is that a lottery you want to play?

Tar Blockage and Cilia Death

We all know that there is tar in cigarettes. I have no idea why it's there, what goes on in the production process that creates this. But you get that crap into your lungs, and effectively close off small sections of your lungs, filling up aveoli and coating the lungs.

Plus the noxious chemicals kill off the little hairs, called cilia, in your lungs. These hairs help move blockages out of the lungs, such as mucus when you're sick. Kill these off, and you can no longer clear out physical blockages. That tar is going to just sit there.

COPD and Emphysema

These are illnesses that have been introduced recently and could largely be eliminated if people just stopped smoking. How many are looking forward to rolling an oxygen tank around with them when they are 60?

Social Stigma (my opinion)

Okay, this one is my opinion, so you can stop reading here if you want.

When I see someone light up, I automatically lose some respect for them. Thing is, no one starts smoking because they think it's good for them. No one starts because they are trying to better themselves. I've heard it's a "stress reliever". So are a lot of things that are far less detrimental.

People do it because they see some one else do it, some group they are in or want to be a part of does it, or they are trying to not be something (rebel, if you will). In other words, peer pressure. A lack of character strength. That's what I see when a person lights up: weakness.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Knee Pain

I want to address something that, whether you're active or not, is going to affect you at some point or another: knee pain.

Even if you're not particularly active, think about how you move through life. How do you usually get out of a chair? How do you walk up the stairs? I address this a little in my blog post on squatting. We do a lot of things loaded up on our toes. As such, we are giving our quads little workouts all over the place, and largely ignoring our hamstrings.

This is even more evident when someone starts working out, or takes up a sport. Because we're already so used to having our weight forward, we automatically learn new movements with our weight forward.

Try to Get Some Balance Back

Before you head to the doctor or physical therapist, I challenge you to try some exercises to strengthen the hamstrings, and try to change some of your daily movements to reinforce them. Instead of spending money on appointments, therapies, and medications, spend some time gaining balance and naturally correcting the knees.

Romanian Deadlifts

Start this one without weight and make sure you can feel the hamstrings working first. Put your hand behind your head (like many do for crunches). Shift your weight way back into the heels. Keeping your back in its neutral S curve and a slight bend in the knees, push your hips back as far as you can without falling over, and bend at the hips.

When you bring your back just past parallel, or you can't maintain your back S curve, you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. If you can't, shift your body weight and hips back further, and check the curve of your lower back. Don't blame flexibility, I used to be a dancer and and can feel it at this point.

Once you feel that stretch, really focus on squeezing those hamstrings to pull your body back up to standing. Do a few like this, without weight, to get used to the movement and feeling.

To add weight, hold onto anything, heavy books, jugs of water, etc. Hold your weight in front of your legs, and as you bend forward (with the hips pushed back!) the weight should just skim along the front of your legs. I want the weight in front over the feet, not clasped as the chest, so that the work is focused on the hamstrings and not on lower back leverage (that's another workout entirely).

Daily Movements

As you get used to feeling the hamstrings working, start to focus on using them in other situations. When you stand up out of a chair or climb stairs, drive through the heels and think about squeezing the hamstrings the extend the hips. If you're squatting down, say putting things away in a cupboard, try to put those heels down early and drive through them to finish standing up.

Of course, the longer the knee pain has been going on, the longer it might take for you to regain the muscular balance needed to reduce the pain. Even if you decide to take a medical intervention route, still try to engage the hamstrings more as adjunct therapy.

Some Other Things You Can Do

Reverse Hyper - You lay your chest on the pad, ankles between the rollers. You use your glutes and hamstrings to pull up on the swing arm, and try to pause at the top without arching your back.

Glute-Ham Developer

As the name implies, you hit can hit the hamstrings with it.

Variation One- Adjust the pad so that with the feet between the rollers, the pads hit your thigh just below your hip. Hang your body down, keep your back tight and in a neutral S curve, and raise your body up to parallel by pulling against the rollers with your heels. The shape of your back shouldn't change during any point.

Variation Two - Much harder. Adjust the pad so that your knees are just on the inside of the curve's peak. Starting with your body parallel, pull with your heels and raise your body from the knees up to a kneeling position.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chicken Eggs!

I scramble eggs or make an omelet almost every morning. It got me thinking...

Eggs have had this crazy past with the health industry. Good for you one minute, bad the next. The fact is, they are an easy source of complete protein, as are all animal products. And if you're vegetarian, they should be an important part of your diet.

Yolks? Whites?

While it's true that the yolk is where the vast majority of the cholesterol is contained, that doesn't mean that you should shun them entirely. First, absorption of dietary cholesterol hovers just under 50%. Second, the yolk contains a slew of fat soluble vitamins, such as A, E, D, and DHA ("good" fat).

That said, of the around 200 mg of cholesterol in a yolk, assuming you absorb 100 mg of it, you don't want to over do it. I would recommend using one yolk for every 3-4 eggs you cook, the rest just the whites.

Organic? Free range?

The problem with an "organic" label on animal products is that it usually just means that the animal was fed organic grains, and depending on the type of label used, no antibiotics. There there is the "free range" label, but that just means the chickesn have access to a yard area. Usually chickens aren't put in this "free range" environment until adulthood, where they are already used to the enclosed, cramped quarters of a hutch and rarely go out.

Chickens are supposed to forage for seeds and insects. If you really want the best eggs, you want to look for the label "pasture raised". This means, from the time a chick is born, it is allowed to run around outside and it gets it's nutrients through foraging. Exercise AND nutrition! (This goes for chicken meat as well.)

So crack some eggs and stop skipping breakfast, people!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Workout Mantras

While perusing through an old fitness folder on my computer, I came across these gems. I had these rules/mantras taped up on the inside of my gym locker in grad school. I read these before my workouts (I regularly followed the Seal CrossFit workouts) and reminded myself that in the gym, the weights don't fight back (in judo, they do).

I don't post these to scare. I post these to show the kind of maniac I am.

Spartan's Rules of Training

1) Lactic acid is the Spartan's friend. The Spartan knows the value of anaerobic failure, and actively seeks it out. If he falls on his face, he waits only as long as necessary to move again before he continues.

2) The Spartan takes no breaks between exercises, unless it's to shove a non-Spartan out of the way.

3) The Spartan runs. He does not use Stairmasters, or stationary bikes, or ellipticals. He runs.

4) When the Spartan cannot run, he walks. When he cannot walk, he crawls. When he cannot crawl, he has failed.

5) The Spartan hits big muscles, like the back, the pectorals, the quadriceps and the glutes. He knows this means he is building functional muscle that will assist in the destruction of his enemies and in firing the production of testosterone (of which the Spartan has more than the average man).

6) By contrast, the Spartan does not waste much time on small muscles. They will grow as the result of functional exercise that hits the big muscles (see above). For example, the bicep is only useful in that it assists with chin-ups, and scaling enemy fortifications. Anything else is vanity.

7) The Spartan abhors cables and machines. This is for two reasons. First, to activate stabilizer muscles, the Spartan must depend on
himself to balance the weight, not a machine. Second - look up the adjective "spartan" in the dictionary: "strict and austere." You
should be able to do a Spartan workout in a FOB.

8) The Spartan fears only one thing: his workout. The enemy pales in comparison to his workout. If he doesn't fear his workout, it isn't hard enough.

9) Puking is acceptable. Quitting is not. If he gives up here, he gives up in battle. This is unacceptable.

10) So nature abhors a vacuum, so the Spartan loathes missing a workout. A Spartan can complete a workout in his grandma's basement, a hotel room, or in a city park.

11) If the Spartan is not in pain during his workout, he is wrong.

12) The Spartan never cheats. He maintains proper technique throughout his training, because he knows that smooth is fast, and that he will be mocked mercilessly for "girly pull-ups".

13) The Spartan knows the value of the basics: the push-up, the pull-up, the chin-up, the sit-up, the squat, and the dead-lift. He also knows the importance of variety, and seeks out different techniques mixing up the above.

Theo's Ten Commandments of Lifting

1. Thou shalt not use machines.
2. Thou shall not annoy the lifter on the platform.
3. Thou shall lift a weight from the ground to overhead.
4. Thou shall use full body movements and rarely isolate a muscle.
5. Thou must squat.
6. Thou shall lift explosively.
7. All freaks should stay at 24 Hour Fitness.
8. True weight lifters shall isolate themselves from the fitness industry
9. Thou shalt not use lifting gloves
10.Thou shalt strike down anyone caught reading a magazine while in the gym

Friday, June 3, 2011

Marathon Training Made Me Fat (Part II)

Now I want to talk about some misconceptions about aerobic endurance training and give some suggestions to make your endurance sessions more effective for weight loss and improving cardiovascular fitness.

You Can Eat Anything on a Long Run Day

While running for an extended period of time will burn off a lot of calories, the metabolic upswing will only last a few minutes after activity ceases. You have,at most, a 30 minute window to eat food and have it used by this higher metabolism, particularly in the case of carbohydrates. Use this time to replenish your glycogen stores and eat some protein to avoid excess catabolism of muscle.

The problem I encountered was my fellow runners thought that for the rest of the day, they could consume whatever they wanted. There is a calorie deficit you can fill, but if you don't eat a balanced diet after the metabolic window closes, you're going to get the same insulin spikes and fat retention as anyone else.

Endurance Running Burns More Fat

This one started as sound science and has been extrapolated beyond. It's true that the lower the intensity of work, the greater the use as fat AS A PERCETAGE of calories burned. This also means that sitting on your couch burns nearly 100% fat, but the total calories burned is also really low. Higher intensity work uses calories mostly from glycogen stores, and also burns more calories in total.

The best explanation I heard was from another fitness profession who said:

It's the difference between offering 80% of my money versus 40% of the money from someone like Bill Gates. I think most people would take the second offer.

Carb Loading Before the Race

There is such a phenomenon as carb loading, but I've seen and heard of people gorging themselves the night before a race to accomplish it. Effective carb loading occurs by increasing your daily carbohydrate intake by about 600 g for the four days leading up to the event. Daily intake, not intake all in one meal. This will, in conjunction with training taper, increase your muscle and liver glycogen stores.

Runners Don't Need Resistance Training

When I was marathon training, my coach told me that I shouldn't be doing weight training as it would decrease my flexibility. A properly executed and comprehensive lifting program shouldn't cause stiffness, and if you've never weight trained before, it can actually increase flexibility since proper technique aims for a full range of motion.

Using resistance training to increase muscular endurance can help with movement efficiency, injury prevention, and muscular imbalances. While I highly recommend throwing in some strength and power work (1-5 reps heavy weights), mostly keep the work around the 12-15 rep range with medium to light weights.

Suggestions to Kick Up Your Training a Notch

To change things up, get some sprint power (good for the final stretch of the race), and give some of your session a metabolic boost, have one out of three or four sessions contain intervals, circuits, or fartleks.

Fartleks are where you do your normal running/jogging pace, then intersperse sprints within. For instance, you run three miles around your neighborhood, then sprint between every other light post for around 5 sprints.

For circuits, set a circular path around a track or neighbor hood, somewhere between 400 and 800 meters. After each run, do a series of sit-ups, push-ups and squats as fast as you can. Repeat 4 or 5 times through.

Intervals are simply setting a shorter distance, say 400 meters, running it as fast as you can, and giving yourself 3-5 minutes to let your heart rate get back to normal. As your conditioning improves, cut the rest to 2-3 minutes so you're just shy of complete recovery.

Happy Running! Just don't expect me to join. :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marathon Training Made Me Fat (Part I)

My personal experience with doing a marathon was pretty eye opening in learning how my body reacts to different types of training, and how my mind and attitude react to different types of challenges.

Here in the first part, I'm going to talk about my personal experiences. In "Part II" I'm going to discuss some misconceptions about endurance training and suggestions on how to kick up your runs a notch.

I've always been something of an anaerobic athlete. My solo dance performances were never longer than about 3 minutes, judo matches were on and off (like interval training). Same with capoeira. The closest thing to endurance I had ever done previously was run three miles (once, just to see if I could) and rock climbing occasionally.

Then I Moved to California

I signed up for Team in Training for 3 reasons:

1) A friend at work wanted to do it (but bailed on me later)

2) I'm super competitive and wanted to prove that any shmoe can do a marathon.

3) Team in Training is a good cause

As to number 2: I got tired of hearing people talk about marathon running like it's some mecca of fitness and something to inspire awe. As though endurance runners are bastions of health (Have you seen Olympic marathoners? Really?), and being the jerk that I am, I was going to prove them wrong.

First thing I learned: when I get into the competitive mindset, even if it's just against myself, I can push myself through things that, frankly, suck. I have always hated running. I'm heavy and dense, it pounds on my joints, and I find it horribly, horribly boring. Despite the constant pain (seriously, constant pain), I would push myself through 5 to 10 mile runs over hills and rough terrain. Because that's what coach said to do and I'll be damned if these other sissies do it and I don't.

I also learned that my body does not lose weight with aerobic endurance training. Some people seem to do great and are happy with the results of running or cycling, those people also seem to like those activities. Which makes me question, are we naturally inclined to like activity that our bodies are best suited for?

In the end, I completed the marathon. My physique was still somewhat athletic because I never gave up the weights (I was a CrossFitter back then), but I weighed somewhere around 160 lbs and softer than I was as a judo player. Now I'm 165 to 170 lbs (depends on where I am in training and competition) and leaner than I was running.

If you can lose weight and look great running, more power to you. I'm gonna stick with the weights.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Using a Foam Roller

I've seen an uptick in the use of foam rollers among people of all activity levels. This is fantastic! Even if your activity consists of sitting at a desk most of the day, you're going to get knots and tightness that will eventually cause back and joint pain. Get a foam roller!

What I also often see are people just rolling up and down the roller. Kind of makes me think of how Egyptians used to move large bricks. This is a start, but won't give you the most benefits.

Get More Out of It

Proper foam rolling is going to take more than a couple of minutes. Pick a place on your body that's particularly tight. First step is to roll up and down the tight muscle and determine where the really tights areas are, and generally assign them a "pain level" between 1 and 10.

Roll onto one of the the higher numbered areas and hold. This is where some deep breathing techniques can come in handy (and for me, pounding fists on the ground). Try to breath out and relax into the knot or tight spot. When the number has come down about 3-4 points, roll to the next spot and repeat. You'll find that your muscles will learn to release faster and faster as you get used to doing this.

Roller Options

Generally, it's your first time doing this, you'll want to start with a softer roller (usually white foam rollers), then move to the tougher ones (usually the black foam rollers). If you're ready for some real work you can get one with a PVC core. I've seen these with various diameters and foam thickness to really pin point where you need work done.

Another option to hit smaller muscles, is to use a lacrosse ball or two lacrosse balls taped together:

My janky taping job of lacrosse balls.

You use these in basically the same way, but these are really great for those hard to reach knots in your traps, under your scapula, and in deep in the spinal erectors.

Happy Rolling!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Prioritizing Recovery

We all know that recovery is vital to improvement. We also know that stress can impede recovery and cause catabolism of vital tissues (namely muscle and bone). On a more personal note, I'm going to document my recovery from a job that put me over the edge in stress, quitting that job, and hopefully a return to what I was capable of before.

I thought I had found my perfect (desk) job.

I was trained to be a research scientist. Lab burnout during my PhD program (I ran away screaming with a Masters degree) left me wanting the confines of an office and a desk. After a stint of unemployment, I found what I thought would be the perfect job for me: market research for the pharmaceutical industry.

Thing is, marketing is very competitive. And as a relatively small company, there was ground to gain, connections and accounts to secure, and competitive deadlines to make. Despite growing and hiring new employees, I found myself working evenings and weekends, losing sleep over work, waking up in the middle of the night and in the morning with a racing heart, and feeling on edge all day at the office.

This is not how I want to live

It's one thing to work overtime if you get compensated for it, or if the work give you a sense of purpose. But for all the hours and stress I was giving to my projects, I couldn't help but wonder "Why? What am I doing all this for?" In the end, all this stress was just making pharmaceutical companies more money.

In addition to that, stress was severely affecting my workouts. As someone who puts her health as a major priority, and has been active since my first ballet class at 5 years old, watching my numbers in the gym decline, my energy and drive wane, and my general sense of "being present" plummet, I knew I had to make a change.

Putting in notice = Full night's sleep

I finally made the decision to quit and move in a new direction. Not without shaking hands, I put in my two week notice and began preparing my project groups to continue without me. The timing was right, my last day came at a time after projects were done or when they were coasting a bit and could handle the transition.

Outside the office, something changed. I slept through the night, woke up feeling refreshed, and in the gym, my squat numbers slowly started coming back. The day I put in notice, I made an 80kg snatch. Not great, considering my best is 91kg, but it had been a few months since I had gone past 75kg.

Of course, with renewed peace and the ability to sleep through the night, I became more efficient at my job. Knowing that it was all going to be over soon actually made it easier to roll with the punches and have a good attitude about things in general.

It's been four days since the end of my job.

Monday I put 10kg more up in my clean and jerk than I had in months. It's not that I slept more, in fact, I got up earlier to get a head start on my studies. Tuesday, while I didn't make any break through lifts, I felt as though I had more drive and energy. The exertion felt good instead of like simple exertion.

I'm excited to see how things will continue to progress from here. And it will be interesting as I embark on a new career path how it will affect me in the gym. I realized yesterday just how much I thrive on feeling like an athlete, and that is something I have to prioritize and fight for.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Addendum: Fish Oil

I can't believe I just posted an article about supplementation and forgot one of the most basic and important ones: fish oil!

Fish oil is great for your joints, cardiovascular system, and helps reduce total body inflammation from a variety of reasons. It's the closest thing we have to a miracle pill.

You want to look at the side of any fish oil bottle and see what the EPA and DHA concentrations are. Then take as much as needed to reach 3g of the oils combined. I've heard that the encapsulation process oxidized the fatty acids, so it's best to (gag) take it in liquid form straight from the bottle. Hey, it's for your health and performance!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Diet and Supplementation

I've heard it said that as long as you eat a balanced diet, you don't need extra supplementation. In a Utopian society, this might be true. And outside the discussion of what a proper diet is, isn't truly feasible.

The first problem is with the quality of the food that we take in. Most mass produced foods have been selectively bred to maximize production at the expense of nutrition. On top of that, our food is typically shipped from other states and other countries. And aside from the environmental impact, to ensure that the produce is ripe when it reaches the stores, it is often picked while it is still green. Not allowing fruit and vegetables to fully ripen while in the soil means, that it isn't going to produce all the beneficial chemicals or absorb all the beneficial minerals that it would otherwise.

The same can be said of our animal products. Animals are bred and fed to grow large fast, and are often pumped with chemicals to either grow faster of protect them from the living conditions that allow more animals per square mile to be raised.

You can eat organic and local, and you can eat pastured and grass feed animals. That helps A LOT towards getting all the nutrients in your diet that you need. It sill can't account totally for the state of the soil and the breeds of plants and animals that are around these days, but it does go a long way.

The other consideration you need to take into account is your activity level. The nationally set Recommended Daily Amounts (RDA) are for someone with a relatively sedentary life. If you are reading this blog, more than likely you are more active than your average person. In that case, you're going to need more than the RDA to attain optimum health.

So yes, you are going to need to supplement your diet. The first place to start is a simple daily multi-vitamin. They usually have 50-100% of the RDA for many things, this will fill in many gaps and your body will pretty much flush out what it doesn't need. These are cheap, and the drug store brands usually suffice.

Another necessity is an antioxidant. This is a huge area, with a lot of science behind it that will eventually be its own post. For now, a few that I recommend are Vitamin C, N-Acetyl Cystine (NAC), and a vitamin B complex (which has the added bonus of extra energy).

If you want to go beyond the basics, I recommend the book "Sports Nutrition Guide" by Michael Colgan. In this book, he details all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that athletes of various sorts need, how they help with metabolism and strength, and in what quantities one should have them (and if one can possibly have too much).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Are Kipping Pull-ups Cheating?

Simple answer: no.

Are they as effective as strict pull ups? Well, that depends. What are you trying to do? What are you ultimate goals? What are you trying to work on and get better at? I CAN say you shouldn't only do kipping pull ups. I can also say that adding them in like seasoning to your normal routine can be beneficial.

Kipping pull ups have been introduced (re-introduced?) largely through the CrossFit community, and since attaining wide spread use, it has become a point of contention between CrossFit enthusiasts and non-CrossFit followers.

Let's try to look at the issue in a non-judgmental, non-emotional way for once.

Kipping pulls ups are used for strength gains the way that running sprints is used for strength gains. Meaning, it will get you stronger, but it's not an efficient way to go about it. If you want to get stronger faster, you do strict pull ups. Need more? Hold a dumbbell between your feet.

What kipping pull ups can do is help the athlete focus on anaerobic endurance, speed, intensity, and coordination with a movement that is mostly upper body in nature. A strict pull up doesn't require any of these. Most people can't bust out 12 to 15 reps of strict pull ups really fast, and if you are trying to keep your heart rate up, this is what you want.

Caveat - there is a right and wrong way to do a kipping pull up. Done improperly because of poor coaching or a lack of strength can cause the dreaded SLAP tear. I personally wouldn't be comfortable letting someone do a series of kipping pull ups unless they had the strength to do at least one, unassisted strict pull up, chin over bar.

Correct Kipping Pull Up Methodology

I tried to learn to do a correct kip through video and articles. But it never really hit home until I went to a CrossFit level 1 certification.

1) The momentum starts in the shoulders, not in the hips.
This creates a much more stable rocking motion than the free swing that happens otherwise. Your feet/ankles should stay in about the same place as your body rock back and forth of the vertical plane of the pull up bar.

2) Pull down hard on the bar during the up swing, like your doing a lat pull down.
Where in a strict pull up, you're pulling from directly under the bar, in a kipping pull up, you're coming at it from an angle, and this is initiated with a hard pull with the lats.

3) Forcefully drive the hips forward and you pull the chest to the bar,
This was best demonstrated in the level 1 class by having us lie on the ground, kick our feet in the air and land in a bridge on your shoulders. Let your feet swing back to counter your hips coming forward.

4) Push away from the bar to continue the momentum.
Don't let yourself just drop back down. That will put a lot of strain on your shoulders, plus, you'll have to start the rocking again to get back up. Push away from the bar as you let gravity pull you back down, and continue the rocking through the shoulders.

5) Protect your shoulders! Don't go limp!
As you get tired, and as you think "Gee, I've got this down" it can be real tempting to let gravity play a bigger role and let yourself free swing at the bottom of the progression. Again, cue the dreaded SLAP tear. Always keep your shoulders and back engaged. And if you're getting tired, take a break! Getting injured proves nothing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dumbbells vs Kettlebells

A friend who wanted to start a home gym asked me if she should get kettlebells instead of dumbbells. This was my take on it:

Kettlebells are awesome. They add an extra dimension to your workouts that you just can't get with dumbbells. Having a handle offset from the weight's center of mass means there is a lot more coordination involved and you're activating a whole slew of stabalizing muscles.

That said, kettlebells can cost 2-3 times what a dumbbell of the same weight will cost. If you have little to no experience with kettlebells, you're not going to get as much out of them to be worth that extra cost. And frankly, you can replicate kettlebell exercises with dumbbells

Therefore, when putting together a home gym, I would recommend using your budget on a larger set of dumbbells with a greater variety of weights than on a few kettlebells.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking Care of Your Hands

There is a sort of perverse martyrdom that comes with some sports and the destruction of their hands. I've seen this primarily in judo and CrossFit, and even I've been sucked into the cult-like bravado of "I've worked so hard, my hands are THIS messed up!"

Then I started competitively weightlifting, and it was brought to my attention that this line of thinking wasn't just silly, it ran counter to your goals as an athlete. For each day that your hands are blistered, that callouses are broken, or that they hurt so much you can barely grip a bar, that's a day that you can't work at your prime and that your thoughts are not on simply achieving your goals, but on trying to achieve your goals through a self imposed obstacle.

Business studies have shown that multi-tasking only serves to lower the productivity and quality of the multiple things you're trying to set your mind on. Same goes for in the gym.

So here are some really simple ways to take care of your hands and decrease the frequency with which you're having to focus your mind on something other than your ultimate goal.

Reduce Chalk Usage

Chalk is meant to dry out your hands for a better grip, and this process will also dry out your callouses and make them more brittle and more prone to tearing. While chalk helps you grip the bar as you start to sweat and as weights get heavy and hands get tired, there is no reason for chalk during warm up sets or with lighter weights. And there is no reason for any more than a light dusting of chalk to dry up your grip. Excessive use of chalk no only leaves a mess where you are working, but causes excessive dryness and put your callouses more at risk for tearing and cracking. I used to use a rock climber's pouch with a hose-like ball full of chalk. Rolling that around in my hands provided enough chalk for a good grip, without coating my hands and leaving chalk all over the gym.

Corn Husker's Lotion

I'll be the first to admit, this isn't the most luxurious of hand lotion. It has no smell, and until it's absorbed by the skin there is a certain tacky quality to it. But it is super effective at making callouses very soft and keeping them soft for some time. I will use this after I've whittle down my callouses, and at a workout before I put chalk on my hands. Callouses have a tendency to dry out, and when they are dry they are far more likely to crack and tear. Keeping them soft and pliable, especially at the gym, is going to save you the strife of cracking and tearing in the middle of a workout. Even if a callous has already begun to pull away from your hand, using Corn Huskers can keep it from progressing before you can properly take care of it.


For most people, this simple device, $10 at most drug stores, is sufficient to keep callouses down. You don't want to get rid of your callouses, but if they get too thick, they're far more likely to tear off, and usually they tear off deeper than you want them to. You want to use the Ped-Egg either in the shower, or immediately after, when the skin is soft.

Callous Razor

For those of us (namely me) who get callouses like we're a prehistoric creature, sometimes the Ped-Egg isn't enough. I learned about these callous razors when I was a dancer and judo player and my feet were more hoof-like. They are designed with an angle and slight curve so they only take off very thin layers of skin, and once the skin reaches a certain curvature, it can no longer reach to shave more skin off. Used too vigorously, you can still cut yourself, and for many people it might take too much skin off, but I've found these to be a life saver. Again, only use after a shower when the skin is soft.