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.