Monday, September 29, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: In the Zone vs Zone Out

One of the things I had to learn when I transitioned from dance to judo was how to get into a completely different mentality. As a dancer, being in "the zone" means that you are no longer thinking about the choreography or the beats, you're just being in the music and expressing yourself through movement. You no longer really see the audience, don't hear them, you're just existing. It's a sort of altered state I have yet to find the equivalent of.

I can't see you. (Yes, that's me.)
When I started doing judo, my first competitions were terrible. I went from a highly athletic endeavor where I knew what each step was going to be and could just disappear into that experience. Now I was doing something where being "in the zone" meant something else entirely. I couldn't disappear. I had to become one with the moment, but I also had to be aware enough to register what my opponent was doing and still hear my coach's voice amidst the din of the cheering teammates.

And I think that's a key difference in sport vs performance art. Being consciously tuned in versus being lost to the experience.

Yup. Me again on the left. 

When participating in a CrossFit class, it's important to try to strike the same balance.

Too often, I see athletes go the zoned-in-and-tuned-out route. They're just moving and moving and reps are flying by and not a word you say to them seems to get through. As a coach, it's frustrating to have to physically stop a person from moving, be it by stepping over their bar or blocking them from something, to break them of their coma and get needed coaching cues through. (It's even more annoying when the athlete takes these cues as a personal affront rather than me trying to protect their ass.)

To be effective in your workouts you want to be able to hone in your mentality to a certain degree. Experiencing every sensation would in a WOD would be a bit overwhelming, in a crowded class, with that construction happening outside, other athletes breathing, maybe talking or cursing. Making sure that you can still tune into the coach's voice will keep you on point for your movements so that "in the zone" experience will be safer.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Evils of Sugar? Or Just Another Scapegoat?

First there was Forks Over Knives, where the authors/ filmmakers try to convince us all to go vegetarian because it's so much better than a traditional diet of McDonalds and Twinkies. Something that should be a blatant false dichotomy, but based on some conversations I've had, apparently not.

So I'll just leave this good review right HERE that is less rage written than I would have done.

Now we have a new anti-some-food-group movie coming in through the pipe lines called FED UP. I see what you did there. We're all over FED, and now we're FED UP with it all.

Here is the trailer:

Let's go through some points I take issue with:

Calories don't matter

Thing is, they do. I'm currently convinced that people say that cutting calories doesn't work for them is because they either (1) go too low and end up having major binge sessions or (2) they aren't actually cutting their calories as much as they thing they are.

Several studies show that people are terrible at recounting and recording accurately how much they eat. Check out HERE, HERE, and HERE (video).

So people go on a low carb diet and are compared to a high carb diet. Low carb diets mean that they are eating a lot more fat and protein, which help them stay full longer, thereby decreasing their over all calorie consumption.

Calories do matter. For some people, going low carb is their way of controlling their overall calorie intake, and that's okay in my book. Break the cycle. Do what you need to do. But, going out and proselytizing that carbs are the enemy for everyone irregardless of situation isn't cool.

I'm not saying that lowering carbs is the end-all-be-all. Obviously all macros have a role in you achieving whatever your goals are.

Sugar is Addictive Like Cocaine

Here is the image they show in the trailer:

"Your brain lights up with sugar just like it does with cocaine or heroin. You're going to become an addict." Direct quote from the trailer why the above image is showing.

Of course there is no context to those images, because that would weaken their argument. What you're actually looking at is the pleasure center of the brain lighting up. It's the area with the highest density of dopamine receptors. It will light up in response to sex, too.

Here is a more complete picture. If you see on the right column, those that are addicted have less "hot" colors in the image, showing lower levels of dopamine receptors. These subjects will have to do more of their vice of choice to get the same level of satisfaction out of the experience. That's addiction. We're looking at a personality trait, some would say the effect of addiction as a disease, not something that sugar itself is instigating in you.

A recent study out of Edinburgh University says that the act of eating is what people can become addicted to. It's not the specific macro nutrient, but the act. And with fewer dopamine receptors, these people have to eat so much more to get the same satisfaction of a non-addict.

I think this shouldn't be a war on sugar. 

I was going to go on a tirade here about government subsidies, food company scientists, and social expectations about how "being too busy" to be active is a martyr badge of honor. Instead I'll end with these few points:

- I'd like to see a time when saying "I don't have time to workout" is as shameful as "I don't have time to shower/ brush my teeth."

- I'd like to see a time when government subsidies make meat and vegetables easier to afford rather than the sugar and corn used in processed foods.

- I'd like to see a time when people were taught from elementary school what a macronutrient is and what calories actually are.

- I'd like to see a shift from exercise and healthy eating as punitive, and rather as something we just do without thought.

I don't know what else to say now, my rage had dissipated.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Moar Hylete Review: Capri Tights and Tank

After finding myself loving the Hylete backpack, I decided I wanted to try out some of their clothing. So much thought was put into the backpack, I figured that the same attention to detail would be taken with the clothes as well.

I've also heard great things about the men's board shorts and I know some gyms have used the Hylete shirt as the base for their gym shirt. That speaks volumes. However, I hadn't heard much of anything about the women's clothes.

My first visit to the site made me a little sad when I noticed the sizing on the large women's shorts:

Notice the difference between the waist and hip measurements on the large size. Most strength athlete ladies I know have a much higher waist to hip difference. My booty is nearly 10 inches bigger in diameter.

So I moved on.

The capris, though, seemed to fit right along with my squatter's sizing. So I ordered the capri tights with the red piping and a heather red tank:

Impressed on First Feel

I received the pieces about 4 days later. The first thing I noticed was how nice the material feels. The tank was super soft without feeling thin or fragile. The tights material was thick and soft, too. The only surprise was that the Power Mesh along the side of the leg also run along the back of the hip. So depending on where the strip sits, you're either getting plumbers crack, the top of my underwear, or just low back.

I figure I'd wear them the next day.

A day of Wearing and Training

First the tank, because this will be short. It's a tank top. It can be hard to get a shirt when I'm the size I am, sight unseen. It's a hair looser than I'd like it to be, but a medium would definitely be too small. That's okay, I'm trying to get my shoulders and back bigger anyway. I'll fill this thing out. (Some people buy clothes smaller as inspiration. Not this lady.)

The tights were what I was interested in trying. The material was thick, and sometimes that means that it wouldn't be stretchy or comfortable. I was pleasantly surprised here, though. The tights went on just as easily as though they ere made of thinner material, nor did they feel like the bunched behind my knee or at my hip crease.

Me getting through a snatch workout in the capris and tank. 79kg singles. 

The wide waist band at first bothered me, it's pretty stiff. But that shit doesn't move. Not once during the day did I feel the need to pull it up in the back, or push it down in the front when I sat down.

The mesh on the sides is particularly nice right now, as it's the start of "summer" here in San Francisco. And the extra breathability is a plus. The down side? You can totally see the waist band of my underwear in the back panel of the mesh. So it's going to be either (1) don't care (2) buy underwear that matches my capris or (3) get nude colored underwear. The tank I wore was long enough that I never once worried about giving a panty-peepshow.

The seam around the calf was less stretchy than I'd like, but I only noticed that when I went to try to lift the bottom seem up over my knee. I have nasty, nasty bruises on the inside of my knees from strongman training and I wanted to put stuff on them. Otherwise, it didn't seem to cut in and certainly stayed in place.

In conclusion, 

I really liked the capris! I'll buy another pair, for sure. Now, I'm such a sucker for colors, I'd love to see a line that used a contrast color on the mesh panel. I'll probably get a different style of tank just because the material is so nice, too.


If you want to try out some Hylete gear, use promotion code KLN20 at checkout to receive 20% off your next purchase.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: Foot Contact with the Floor

Ever watch a ballet? Maybe on TV or the stage? Watched shows like "So You Think You Can Dance"? 

Those dancers can create this amazing illusion of weightlessness. They way the glide across the floor and suddenly they're spinning on a single leg or leaping over the heads of other dancers. Maybe they're spinning AND leaping. 

They're able to create this effect because they have mastered their relationship with the floor. If you watch each step they take, no matter how fast or slow, the articulation through the foot shows connection, a push through the floor, that allows them to rise above it so easily. 

Take a look at this video for an example, and really watch their foot contact with the ground:

Most people who don't think much about what their feet are doing as they are standing or walking around. If you ask someone to squat without any instruction, you often see them sit their hips down any which way and many will end up in what I call the "gargoyle squat."

So initially, we tell people to put their weight back in their heels. We ask them to spread the floor and spin plates with their feet. Many will take these cues to an extreme and lift their toes off the ground or roll their feet so the big toes pops up. These exaggerations are tolerated at the beginning so that athletes can become aware of differences in balance when emphasis is put on different parts of the feet. 

But as a person advances, you want to see them start to bring those exagerations back in and actualy use full foot against the floor to create movement. The balance within the footprint may change, but pressure is still distributed. Watch the lifter in the following HOOKGRIP video and see how her center of gravity changes through the lift, but as long as she is moving the bar up, the foot is pushing into the ground:

You can also often tell a person's body awareness by how they box jump. Even if you can't SEE them rolling their weight from their toes to support in the full foot. Many people still trying to figure this dynamic out land totally flat footed and you hear the smack with every landing. 

Thinking more about your foot contact with the ground, and working with gravity, can help you increase the quality of your movements. They can smooth out your steps in heavy carries, make your squats more stable, and increase the force you produce with jumps and the Olympic lifts. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Product Review: By Moxy Tights

You can't deny that these tights have some swagger at first sight:

I mean, LOOK at these! Not only that, but they are vouched for by Pat Mendes. Pat is an Olympic weightlifter who has been training in Brazil for Rio 2016. I'm a little biased, I tend to trust weightlifters over other athletes in clothing recommendations for the unique body proportions our training hands us.

Their page states the following:

I'd like to address some of the variables.

Stronger Fabric

I can't speak to the strength of the material, but I can speak to the thickness. And they're pretty see through. I first bought a men's medium (same size as a woman's large) and could see the side strap of my underwear easily. Never mind when I started to squat or bend over. So I exchanged them for a woman's extra large. Now I can still see the underwear strap, but I have to bend over a little to show it off. I guess that's better. Still don't plan on squatting in them.

3cm Wide Waist Band

Okay, I love this. The thicker band means it doesn't cut in. I hate when I sit down and the front of my tights cut into my stomach, so that solves this problem nicely.

Higher Cut in the Back than the Front

I wish that differential was greater. I found myself tugging up the back of the tights while I was sitting at a coffee shot between clients today, and pulling down my top because I was feeling a little drafty on my low back. What I like about Champion and Lululemon tights are that they are little higher in the waist and I don't to worry about looking like a plumber.

Awesome, but I won't be squatting in them. 

I got more compliments on these tights than I have on any pair from anywhere else. And it's not like they weren't comfortable! They totally were, but when I took time to stretch, I just made sure my derrière was facing away from any other people. So I won't be sending them back, but I think they'll be my "Monday Tights" since that's an off day for training.

I mean, look how sweet these tights look:


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: Movement Starts from the Trunk

I started my athletic life as a dancer. My mom put me in ballet and tap classes at the tender age of five. 18 years later I stopped dancing to focus my energies on judo, adding in capoeira and CrossFit, followed by weightlifting, and then strongman.

I truly beleive that my dance beginnings gave me the foundation to pick up new sports quickly and to be competitive in them quickly as well.

One part of movement theory that was taught to me right from the barre: movement begins from the trunk.

Every arm gesture should start in the chest and flow out to the fingertips. And every leg extension was to start from the pelvis and extend out to the toes.

Here is a video of the entrechat, a quick beat of the feet where you start in a closed stance, jump up and quickly beat your feet into cross each other and then land with the other foot behind. Actually, just watch the video:

Go on and try that yourself. I'll wait.
I'm betting it felt more like flailing? Were your knees straight? Were the feet switching as tight as the guy in the video? For most people with no ballet background, they tuck their legs and flail their feet around, and hope for the best.

That's because most people are thinking about their feel at the origin of the movement.

I want to challenge you to try it again. But now, you're going to jump in the air the same way you do for a double under: tall torso, long legs, gaze forward. Then, instead of thinking about flapping the feet, you're going to think about beating your upper, inner thigh together.

Try again, I'll wait.
I'm betting it wasn't great, but it was a much better attempt.

While that move might take quite a bit of practice and coaching to get as effortlessly as the man in the video, to point is that once you focus on originating the movement from closer to the trunk you can actually control it better than when you think about the end of our extremities.

Let's liken this to the overhead squat, or when you catch a snatch.

For many beginners, the balance is wobbly and they often dump the bar forward during the descent or when  standing. I honestly think it's because people are thinking about their arms, how awkward their wrists feel, and where their hands are in relation to their shoulders.

Many times as soon as I tell someone to "think about the support coming from your lats, under your armpits" or "you should feel the support in your back, around your shoulder blades" the bar locks into place. Then, as long as they have the shoulder mobility, they can suddenly support more weight.

So next time you're having trouble locking down a movement or support, try changing the way you think about it. Bring the movement or "energy" back to your trunk and see if you don't find better control.

1) Dem quads
2) His shoulders aren't shrugged up, and look as his lat flex. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Neutral Spines in Training vs Strongman and Powerlifting

I've been in and seen quite a few conversations about the importance of a neutral spine since starting my strongman training.

Almost everywhere you look, listen, and read, everything is telling us to never ever forget how important it is to keep your spine neutral in everything that you do. Everything. Always. And if you decide to bend that back, or accidentally bend at the stomach, your discs erupt into flame and your skull crashed down through your torso right onto your pelvis.

Standard squat diagram from Starting Strength

As I got into powerlifting, I started seeing variations on this known fact that would make internet gurus totally lose their shit. Namely, the curved thoracic during deadlifts and arched backs in bench pressing.

Left: flat lumbar and curved thoracic. Right: neutral spine. 

Then I got into strongman and you start seeing even more egregious examples of lifting and moving with non-neutral spines. In fact, a curved spine is built into the technique.

Pretty much every step of loading a stone involves a non-traditional spinal position.

Then after a instructional in service at San Francisco CrossFit with the other coaches, I got to talking to Nate Helming about using these moves to teach body position for other athletes. His question was, could we start with these types of moves on novice athletes to get them more aware of their body positions quicker than with traditional moves.

Global arches as seen in stone loading and pose running.

All of this has had me thinking a lot about it.

The final conclusion I came to is pretty simple. When you see a novice lifter round his or her back, it's usually a sign of the athlete lacking strength or proprioception for the movement. When an advanced athlete rounds his or her back, it's usually after years of training in a classical way, having learned body control in a number of movements.

Also, advanced athletes know how to brace under load and have pushed themselves to physical limits. They know those limits, how to approach them and when to back off. Advanced athletes have probably experienced their share of tweaks, soreness, and perhaps even serious injuries, so they know the warnings signs and when to stop pushing.

Slightly twisted under load, but progressively trained to do so, and definitely braced.

I personally wouldn't feel comfortable teaching these movements in any serious capacity to new athletes. Perhaps it's because I'm not a seasoned strongman coach, but I would not be able to tell if a new athlete is rounding their back because it's part of the technique or because they can't feel the difference between a hip hinge and "melting" down to reach an object on the ground.

So when someone online tries to get on a pedestal about rounded thoracic spines and hunched positions, generally I know they don't know what they are talking about. But with an athlete who hasn't yet hit a bodyweight squat, I'm not going to be teaching it either.