Friday, June 28, 2013

What I Think "Fitspo" Should Look Like

I don't train so that I can look good for the public. I don't train so that I can emulate the women in "fitness" magazines, that frankly look emaciated to me. I don't train because I'm worried about that "nasty" cellulite. 

I train because I'm a human with a body that can do incredible things. I want to maximize those incredible things. And the sensation of seeing just what this body can do, really pushing it, is amazing. 

Notice how she's just a body? Common theme in "fitspo". 
The thing with fitspo images I see, they focus on aesthetics. The bodies they use are still impossible goals for probably 90-95% of women. The women who are photographed are usually genetically predisposed to their structure, and many times, you're looking at fitness models who do extreme things to prep for a photo shoot. 

Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean they don't work hard. I used to follow Monica Brandt back in college, a fitness competitor and fitness model. She works her ass off for her physique. But when it came time to prep for contest or photos, there was a big cycle of deprivation and dehydration that takes place to get that lean, cut look. 

That is not sustainable no matter how mutantly awesome you are. 

Also, look at the bar bending.
I want to see more images with women DOING amazing things. Sure, there are yoga pics out there, with crazy handstand poses, but that will only appeal to people who really like yoga. We need to stop paying lip service to the "strong is the new skinny" mantra, and start walking that talk. 

Images are from FuBarbell, California Strength, and Kinetic Arts. If you want to see more pictures (and videos!) of women doing amazing, athletic things with their bodies, find them and like them on Facebook. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thoughts on SuperSlow Weight Training

Recently I've been hearing people wax poetic on SuperSlow weight training. Basically, you are doing REALLY slow reps, we're talking 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down, for a nearly 2-5 min set.

I was going to write a blog about SuperSlow training, talking about the claims it makes and seeing what the science says.

I just can't bring myself to read about it enough to write a well written article. So we'll go straight to my thoughts on it.

There is merit to occasionally doing slow negatives for hypertrophy, but if that's what compromises the whole of your programming, you're only going to get so strong. A well rounded athlete needs variety, and if you never move fast, you'll never be fast. You'll never be athletic.

Hard effort does not equate good effort.

If all you're worried about is not getting injured, fine. But that's not the route to optimal health.

No. I don't have references. But if you've studied muscle types and metabolic processes enough it's common sense. Granted, my world is the world of strength and conditioning with emphasis on strength. My primary goal isn't to make you look good naked, it's to get you healthier, stronger, and faster and to reap the aesthetic rewards that follow suit.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Training Update and Thoughts on Deloads

Last week I left you of with my nerves at doing a 5x5 back squat at 295 lbs. I did it, it was really effen hard. As the Monday 5x5 always is. However, the third set felt as hard as my fifth set usually does. So I know my body wasn't as recovered as it usually is.
Sweat makes you look swole. Don't fear the sweat. 
Tuesday my cleans (clean-front squat-clean complex) were kind of all over the place. The second clean kept getting away from me and my legs felt slow and heavy. I even bailed out of a 193 lbs clean at the end. I called it a day and did some push presses out of the jerk blocks. It's time to get my shoulders stronger.

Wednesday is when it really hit home that my body needs me to back off a little. I was slated to do my front squat triples, eight sets, at 245 lbs. [Insert massive complaint fest about front squat triples.] Triples usually look like squat - squat - sad rainbow. These, however, looked like squat - sad rainbow - rise from the crypt. They looked awful, they felt awful. I got through them. It was gnarly.

So considering my body is revolting a little, and my Mom is coming in to visit, what a perfect time for a deload.

I took all of Thursday off, after all, Mom was flying in and I needed to run errands and clean house for her.
300 lbs. Squatted for three. Super psyched. 
Friday I went to the gym like normal. For a typical week, I would have attempted 300 lbs for 8x3 in the back squat. I decided that I would just do one set of three at that weight. It felt good, not terribly heavy, but muscles were definitely complaining in ways they usually don't. I could have pushed through all eight sets, I had time and definitely have the energy for it. But then what would come of it?

So Friday I did my one set of three at 300 lbs. Monday I'll do one set of five at 300 lbs. Wednesday I'll do one set of three in the front squat at 245 lbs again. And Friday I'll be right back at it with 300lbs for 8x3 in the back squat. It's usually the volume that beats me up more than the weight on the bar, assuming I'm not pushing it to a one rep max.

What is a deload?

Most mortals need to back off their training occasionally to let their bodies heal. If you've been in the fitness game in any capacity for sometime, you've probably noticed how if you take a break from the gym, for any reason, you seem to be stronger when you come back.

Basically, while most people train and eat to maximize recovery and progression, you still need to give your body a break from the constant cycle of tear apart and build up.

When to deload?

There have been some research on how frequently strength athletes should deload. It seems that men needed to deload, on average, every four weeks while women could go a little longer, 5 to 6 weeks. Just from observation, I seem to fit that model, needing a deload every 6-7 weeks.

I can't for the life of me find again where I read this. It had to do with how women don't recruit muscle fibers are efficiently as men, and therefore, can generally train longer before a deload because we're not tearing these fibers up as quickly.

Regardless of science, many women find that doing four week cycles helps keep them feeling in tune with their menstrual cycles. Again, bodies and snowflakes and whatnot.

How to deload?

The common method I've seen with weightlifters is to basically keep to your training schedule (if Monday is a clean complex day, it's still a clean complex day) but the volume and intensity is reduced. The extra time is spend on accessory work, technical work, and the usually much needed myofascial release.
Beyonce usually has three reds on her deadlift. Deloading now and taking it seriously. 
A common mistake I see is that athletes will eat less during this time because their working less. You might not be lifting lots of weight, but your body is working hard to recuperate from everything you've done to it this far.

I also see a lot of athletes saunter in, give 50% to their "easy workouts" and saunter out in half the time they usually spend in the gym. As tempting as it is to get back home for The Daily Show (You shouldn't be up that late anyways! Go to bed!) spend almost as much time in the gym as you normally would do and get that self soft tissue work done! Focus on joints and muscles you might not regularly work on.

Go forth, get strong, be useful.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Weightlifting Belts!

I've seen a number of people posting about weightlifting belts, types, uses, and the ever debated "should you use them??"

Here are my two cents.

First, should you use one and when?

Your super novice lifter certainly doesn't need to be wearing one yet. They should be focusing on body control and movement perception, technique, and the like. You're probably not going to be wearing one when you do push ups, moving the couch over there, or riding a bike up hill, so if you have only begun start by letting your body figure out how to coordinate itself to handle weight.

If you compete, and you're pushing your limits, get a damn belt. It doesn't make you weaker, it allows you to actually get tighter by having something for your "core" to brace against. If you're scooting that couch over there, wouldn't you rather push your foot against a corner between the floor and wall rather than just against the floor?

What belts for what?

I have three belts, I use each for a different lift or movement type.

 Schiek Velcro Belt This one is popular in weightlifting. I only use this one to bench press. It's maybe the most comfortable belt to wear, but wearing one isn't about comfort. Since I'm not loading my spine in the bench like I do with my other competitive lifts, I want something to brace against, but it doesn't need to stay in place the same way. Plus, since you arch on the bench, I wanted something that wouldn't dig into my ribs and iliac crest. This fit the bill.

Altus Belt This one was $25 at a sporting goods store and lasted me four good years. It would still work fine, except I decided I wanted to be an Eleiko brand whore. The leather wore in nicely, and the back "support" area is shorter so it doesn't pinch my ribs when I clean. This belt treated me well.

Eleiko Belt  It's basically exactly like the one I had before, cost me $35 and looks sweet with mirrored aviators. Also, just wearing the name "Eleiko" on you anywhere ups your squat by 20 kg.

Inzer Belt I only use this one for deadlifting. Some people like it for squats, but I get the rib/ hip bone pinching and subsequent bruising. Plus, it's so thick on my squatty body, it's distractingly uncomfortable to even bend over the grab the deadlift, much less go into the flexion needed for ATG squatting. If you wear this belt doing the Olympic lifts, you will be made fun of. If you wear one of the other belts during a deadlift at a powerlifting meet, they'll probably label you a n00b.

How to wear and use a belt

I've read that you shouldn't cinch it, and there should be enough room for you to put and hand between yourself and the belt. I don't know if I agree with this. I don't want to distend my stomach anymore than I have to in order to brace against the belt. On the other hand, I don't think you should go corset tight, where you've got two assistants helping you get it as tight as possible. I just tighten as far as I can with my own two hands, no leaning against a rack, and it's done.

This next trick is key: push that sucker down on your belly. This isn't a fashion belt for your sweater dress, this WILL give you a muffin top and an enhanced FUPA, and that's okay. My coach Jesse taught me to push the belt down and breath out against it across my lower abdomen. What a different that makes!

This is one reason I can't use the cloth belts for anything other than the bench, they slide right back up. The leather ones stay in place much better.

Breath out against the belt? What does that mean? It means you take a big belly breath that fills your stomach and push that against your belt. This is anaerobic territory, so the fact that you'll be chest breathing to keep the belt in place doesn't matter all that much.

When to use a belt? 

I've heard a lot of things thrown out there. When your technique falters. Around 80%. Etc. I like to wait until I feel like I need it to be tight under a weight. You know that feeling, where you take a weight out of the rack and even if your back is straight, you can feel your core struggling. Ideally, as your PRs increase, the point where you need to put on the belt increases, too. On squats, I try to only put it on once I've reached my working weight as suddenly that weight feels 20 lbs lighter since I'm not constantly trying to steady myself under it.

I also never use a belt for snatching. No reason other than I just couldn't get used to the feeling. Maybe my snatches are still to light (duh, weakling).

Belt up and lift heavy shit! It makes you a more useful human being.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Healing and Training Update

Now I'm only seeing my physical therapist about once a month for a little while longer until I'm cleared to do it all. I'm back to static trapeze, bench pressing, shoulder pressing, but am still to take it SUPER LIGHT on anything like snatching and jerking. And he's talking nothing more than an empty bar for a while.

I had to beg him for some of that. I argued that by not going through full range of motion I'm just going to get tight in those neglected spaces. I CAN FEEL IT HAPPENING AS WE TALK. He rolled his eyes and basically said FINE! Keep it light.

The back squat linear progression I started in February doesn't seem to be slowing down. Last week I did 290 lbs for a 5x5, and then 8x3 at 295 lbs on Friday. We'll see how today's 5x5 goes, every Monday I've got tingly nerves until it's over with.

My clean technique has been shaky, and since I've only really been doing them on Tuesdays, they didn't budge much until a few weeks ago when something clicked. I did a heavy single at 213 lbs and the following week I did 200 lbs for a triple. I have no idea yet how I'll get that over my head.

Trapeze strength and coordination is coming back quickly, I'll use free time at San Francisco CrossFit to work on kips, pike throughs, pull overs, and the like. Also, just generally beat up my hands so they can take the abuse in class longer.

I started deadlifting again, also doing a linear progression for a while. Since I do them right after my back squats, I'm just doing 3x3, last week at 330 lbs. Slow but steady, if I can keep this pace I'll be in an awesome place for the November powerlifting meet.

I have only done bench a few times in the past month since I only recently got cleared for that. Did 95 for 3 sets of 8, and 115 for a set of 3 plus a drop set the following week. Not pushing it. Still feel weak in the bottom where the bar touches my chest.

In the coming weeks I'll have to take a hard look at my programming to figure out the best way to integrate everything I want to do without over doing it. In addition to weightlifting and powerlifting, I also signed up to compete in the Power Athlete Team Series with three other United Barbell coaches. So I have to get some sort of metcon conditioning in, I do NOT want to be the cement shoes of the team.

Happy training, y'all!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Experience with the Mirena IUD

Some might consider this to be TMI. Tough. It's a woman's blog and as a women, reproductive health definitely falls under a fitness consideration. Every woman has to take her cycles and preferred form of birth control into consideration when she trains or competes for anything. 

I also wanted to write this because when I did information searches there was so much bad and terrifying information out there. I get that one should be aware of the risks, but I think people only come forth and discuss issues when they are bad or go wrong. I suppose it's human nature to vent publicly when it's negative, and wax poetic privately when things go well. 

What is an IUD and what options are there?

IUD stands for IntraUterine Device. A small T-shaped device is placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy, either hormonally or non-hormonally. 

First there is the PARAGUARD, a copper IUD and the only non-hormonal option. The copper ions prevent sperm motility, impeding pregnancy, and lasts up to 10 years. Many sources say that your periods often get heavier and cramps worse with this option, but hey, no hormones! 

Then there is the MIRENA, a plastic IUD with a time release progestin medication. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus membrane to prevents sperm from getting to the egg, and thins the uterine lining so even if sperm get through, there is no where to implant. Lasts up to 5 years. Many sources say they experience lighter periods, less cramping, and sometimes the complete cessation of periods with this method. 

Just recently the makers of MIRENA released SKYLA, also a progestin time release IUD but this time it is smaller and lasts 3 years. Works the same. 

Why I chose the MIRENA. 

1) I'm a spazbot. I will not remember to take a pill everyday at the same time. I could barely remember to change out my NuvaRing on a regular monthly basis. I'm lucky I haven't had any severe side effects of this, other than some acne issues and irregular periods. 

2) I hate periods. I took both my pills and used my NuvaRing in such a way to either minimize the number I had or not have any at all. It didn't affect my ability to make weight at competitions, so whatever! 

3) There is no estrogen in MIRENA. As a strength athlete, I have to believe that extra estrogen is the antithesis of what I want to accomplish. Too bad there is no progestin/ testosterone combo out there. 

4) I get migraines with visual abnormalities.  That means using a BC method with estrogen puts me at a greater risk of stroke. Scary. 

5) My insurance doesn't cover SKYLA yet because it's so new. 

Issues that I was warned of (by doc and friends). 

First, every gynecologist that I saw basically heavily pushed me away from the IUD option. Anything but the IUD! You see, I've never had kids or been pregnant so my uterus is all small and it would be NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE to get the IUD in there. It will be so much more painful and you'll be much more likely to get a perforated uterus! You'll pay for a device ($800!) and then it won't fit! No way, anything but that! 

Then I met my current gynecologist, Dr. Sandy Spencer. I will refrain from waxing poetic about what a great doctor she is and what amazing bedside manner she has. You can look her up on Yelp, I'll be writing a review update there. She is based in San Mateo. 

Dr. Spencer's first words were "I think the progestin IUD would be a fantastic option for you! But here's what you need to know." Laid out the facts (no pregnancy shit) for me without the scare tactics. Turns out she's put IUDs in plenty of nullipara women. In fact, she teaches the technique to other. Score! 

I was also warned of how much it hurts. The procedure, no matter how much ibuprofen you take, is incredibly painful. Some women find the initial stages too painful to even have it inserted. Many women experience intense cramping after insertion, some so much they return after a few days to have it taken out. 

My experience. 

I'd like to say this: every woman's experience is going to be different. Mine might not be comparable because I'm part wolverine. Think I'm kidding? My surgeon and physical therapist were both shocked at how far healed I was at two weeks out of surgery. I can handle pain... if I even feel any. 

Being at the gynecologist is always unsettling. You're in a pretty vulnerable position in front of what is essentially a complete stranger. That much should be a given. There is the speculum and the cleaning process that is much like getting a really thorough PAP smear. 

And the rest, while yes it is uncomfortable and the sensations are sharper than a tickle, really weren't THAT bad. You get a paracervical block, which is just a local anesthetic. That is pinchy because, after all, a needle is injecting you. Definitely ask for the paracervical block. Once that takes effect in a few seconds, the sensations are of some sharp cramps, once when they measure your uterus and determine the placement and direction, and once when they insert the device. It was over so fast I actually asked, "is that all?" 

Afterwards, I had some mild cramping and discomfort, but in the essence of full disclosure, I had been dealing with gas cramps for a few days. (Damn you, delicious cheese!) I went home, laid down and dozed for about 2 hours and then felt like a million buck. Packed my stuff and when to the gym to get a workout in. 

Yes. Several hours after getting an IUD put in, I was feeling so great I went to workout. 

It went so well for you, why are you writing this?

Between dozing and the evening after I got my IUD, I browsed around the internet for various experiences. 99% of them were negative, the other 1% were informational. I could NOT find one blog or story or first person article about a good, uneventful experience. I had one. I think I should share it because just maybe there is someone in my position (young-ish, not interested in procreation, looking for long term options, never had kids, etc.) and I'd like them to know it really can be as easy as the product site says it is. Or easier, as in my case. 

Granted, its only been a few days. Maybe I'll develop cramps. Acne. Weight gain. But birth control properly used has never had that sort of effect on me. I make weight for sports all the time, on and off birth control. You just have to know how your body works. Snowflakes and whatnot. 

Thanks for your time!