The Union Label: My personal experience

When I was going to college after years in the Army, I worked as a loader for UPS. It was a great job since it paid good money with a few benefits on the side. It wasn’t great working from Midnight to 5am, but I was young and pliable.

Since I was a wrestler in high school and the Army and having just gotten out of active service, I was a real go-getter. If you are someone working in the trenches, you know what I mean. I was put on a heavy load since I could keep up with it. What happens is boxes come down several hundred yards of conveyor belts as a certain speed. The flow can be constant or can dump on you quickly. Or it can trickle and even stop. Regardless, having you packages orderly down your slide and onto rolling rails makes life a whole lot easier. You have to double check the address to make sure it goes in your trailer. Then you meticulously load them in tight walls that don’t fall over. You are graded on how you keep up and the walls you make, as well as not allowing the wrong packages on your trailer. Sometimes, supervisors will "seed" your slide with a package that doesn’t belong. So you have to catch it or get a reprimand. I had to know all the zip codes that go to my slide. If I get called to work on another trailer, then I need to know that set of zip codes too. Its not rocket science, but its heavy physical labor under extreme heat and cold with mentally staying on top of addresses and the flow.

When you are on your probationary period, you are making the full amount of your paycheck. I mean, it was really good pay. It was much more than I made in the Army. I was also being evaluated and I got super high marks. I even won a steak dinner and a new jacket for my work. I was doing fine.

Then, that day finally came. I was off probation and earned my spot. But that also meant I had to pay Union dues. My paycheck dropped to about 20% for 3 paychecks since the Union gets their money first. It didn’t matter if you had bills to pay. And I paid more monthly after that. I wasn’t too happy about that. And I wasn’t informed when I signed up for the job that I was going to be forced into a Union.

Not only that, but it changed my work too. Like I said, I loved keep up with my flow. It made life easier for me. Then the worst happened. A senior worker came over to me and told me that I needed to slow down. He said I was making the other guys look bad. I kind of laughed and told him why I worked hard. Then he came back more sternly. He said he was the Union rep. He said "to slow down or else". Huh?

So I started talking around. Apparently, I had to be quiet and be careful with who I talked with. If someone was a Union snitch, they could report me. The guys I spoke with said suddenly a worker gets his car tire flattened or window broken out for non-compliance. They resort to more harmful violence after that. The Teamsters can put a lot of hurt on you if they want to.

The first car I bought was a Fiat X19. I was a stupid kid and bought something I couldn’t afford. Actually, I afforded the price of the car. Just not all the repairs. I could only get parts at the Fiat dealership and it was super expensive. Such a money pit. My Dad worked for Ford Motor Company most of his adult life. He always bought Fords. But he loved driving my little sportscar. Sometimes he took it to his work at Ford. That’s when bad things started happening. The Union saw a foreign car in the parking lot and started causing trouble. Even when I was driving, I was almost driven off the road a few times by big Ford and Chevy trucks. Detroit wasn’t kind to foreign cars and the Unions were largely behind it all.

Later in life, I was a professor for a big college. I was giving talks at USGA golf course association meetings. One of the talks was about what happened to a particular club in Chicago where we were, but apparently these incidents were pretty rampant. A big black limousine from Detroit would pull up to the entrance of the course. Guys in dark suits would call over the workers, who were often Mexican migrants. They were not so gently forcing them to join the Union. When they refused, then a huge inflatable rat was placed at the entrance of the club informing the public that non-Union workers were at this place. And it got personal from there.

Unions served a valuable service especially at the beginning of the industrial revolution. They protected workers from harmful conditions. A fire in a workers warehouse resulted in hundreds of deaths because fire exits were not present and there wasn’t protection for them. Same with steel workers and auto manufacturing. But when standards were improved, Unions became irrelevant. Its why so many companies outsource to developing countries; they don’t have unions over there. But they still want your Union dues, if not voluntarily, then by force. Then their fat cats can live off of lavish salaries taking vacations to resorts in the Caribbean. Its like taxing people for unequal representation. They get to decide what they do with your money. It is such a farce, much like our government.

People deserve the right to choose. They choose if they want to join the Union or not. It needs to be clear what the motive is. Yes, they may still form a purpose in society. But not at the cost of the people. Its the same reason why I want term limits for congress. There is no reason for career politicians. It should be real people representing us who understand our needs. Someone who has never made an honest dollar in their life shouldn’t be governing our lives. Its a failed paradigm for our society.

We the People!

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

As a real [unbiased] scientist, we use the scientific method to test hypotheses. We all have biases. Its difficult to avoid that. When we say we have an open mind, do you really think that is true? Its absolutely not true. We are all leaning one way or another in our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

So how can we self-check ourselves on our thoughts? The Scientific Method.

We can use this in all walks of life. We can use it in law, politics, and social sciences. Its not just for biologists, geneticists, engineers, physical scientists, and the like. Here is what you do (this is the Andy version).

1. Observe something – Whatever the phenomenon is, observe something happening. But keep an open mind about it. Actually sit and observe. The more time you spend observing the better. Watch from different angles, different times of the day, and close and far. Don’t allow too many thoughts creep into your mind. Just let it happen.

2. Ask questions – brainstorm all the questions you can think of. Let the thoughts flow freely. Ask with an open mind from many different viewpoints. If you feel strongly about something from your background, ask questions your detractors might ask as well. Ask from the point of a child. Ask from your grandparents. Ask from all ethnicities of people. Ask from an animal point of view.

3. Develop hypotheses – in your mind and with your biases, make a statement of what you think the problem is even before any testing. This is your primary hypothesis. Now, propose the complete opposite question. Let’s say something is caused by "rain", the your null hypothesis is "not rain". Then, if, from the questions you pondered in #2, came up with other possibilities, propose a few alternate hypotheses as well.

4. Test the hypothesis – in an ideal world, you would devise a replicated, randomized, repeatable experimental design to test your hypotheses. It would completely take out bias in observations. And it would be statistically significant with reduced standard error and significance to the reliability of the science (say 95% probability with less than 20% standard error).

5. State the conclusions – if the data isn’t significantly relevant, then don’t dissuade your facts with lies. This is done so often. It is super easy to make statistics very relevant and factual. But its just as easy to hide the facts. When I was studying quantitative genetics, I asked our authority on the subject who was well-published in the area. I asked, what is the best test to use for this study? He said, whichever one gives you the best results. Huh? That’s when I realized what a sham most of our science is. This is why you publish in peer reviewed journals with reviewers who truly take an unbiased, critical eye at your work. Good ole boys let things slide. And I’m sure it happens a lot. State your conclusions with the least amount of bias as possible. Be totally objective. Maybe you lose your million dollar grant in the process, but that’s the price for good science.

In politics, we assume guilt. Innocence means nothing. If we don’t like someone, then they are guilty. You believe any Tom or Mary who comes along before you believe the person you don’t like. That is not right. Its not scientific. And its totally biased.

When we talk climate change, what is the null hypothesis? The fact is, climate does change. It has since the beginning of time. But when you ask cause and effect, make sure you point in the right direction. Its funny that someone will point out, we are having record breaking temperatures so it must be from man-made global warming. This assumes that the Industrial Revolution of the early 1900’s slowly caused a catastrophic rise in temperature. But then you see that the previous record was 1912 or maybe evidence scientifically validated as before the 1900’s. This was before the Industrial Revolution. So if its a record temperature, how was the previous record set? We have so much information that sea levels reached the highest mountains at some point. That dinosaurs or other extinctions occurred from a vast warming period. And this was all before the Industrial Revolution. Cause and effect. What really caused the problem?

Take out the bias. Especially if you are a scientist. Yes, you know better than to make suppositions not based on fact. Never believe what you learn from the News or in a College classroom. Believe me, bias prevails. Instead, think for yourself. Remove your own reasons why you discriminate against those who are different from you. If you believe in truth, then find the truth. Science isn’t emotion based. Its fact based. So don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Don’t justify your cause with lies.

Side note: When I was working on my Ph.D., we always had multiple side projects. My lab was a working lab. Everyone helped with each other’s projects. And our advisor had a lot of pokers in the fire. I was given an opportunity to write up a research article on a project that most of my lab mates worked on. I said "sure". When I started to do the statistics, nothing added up. I told my adviser there was nothing significant to report. There was way too much error. He said "OK", then gave it to someone who was working on their Master’s degree without a lot of statistics background. Well, she published the article based on flawed outcomes and I refused to take any authorship on the paper even though I did a lot of work on it. It came down to ethics and professionalism. We are all faced with pressures all around to produce results that support a cause. Its up to our own truth that allows us to live with ourselves. That’s what matters in the end.

My Thoughts of a 10K Row

To be honest, this shouldn’t be a big deal. But it was. I used to run 6 hours at a time on a weekend and many hours during the week. A short jog was an hour long. But I haven’t done that in a few years.

I use a Concept 2 rowing machine, which is the gold standard for off-season crew teams and CrossFit athletes. They even hold Sprint competitions with this brand. If you ever want a superior piece of equipment that is super easy to maintain and it doesn’t take much space, then this is it. I think mine cost $900 a few years ago. Compared to a good treadmill, that’s chump change. I’ve been eyeing a TrueForm treadmill for a while, but not for $4K. This rower is well worth the investment. I have a Concept 2 Ski Erg as well.

I haven’t been rowing a lot. I sometimes use it as a warm-up or a "buy-in" for a CrossFit WOD. I often do it before Olympic weightlifting workouts since it covers the major muscles you use. I did a 10 minute row several days ago in anticipation for this 10K. But I wouldn’t say I’m well-conditioned on it.

I started out slowly. My heart rate monitor on the rower showed that I slowly crept up to 130 beats per minute (bpm). I was holding at about 26 strokes per minute (spm). I’m really fussy with my music. I need to make a rowing playlist that sets a beat at about 25 spm. I use the beats of the music critically for long rows. My grip never felt good this entire row. The numbers slowly lowered from 10,000 m to 8,000 m. Too slowly.

When I got 4K into the row, I started to feel it and wondered how I could continue at even the slow pace I was keeping. I never wanted to go below 2:30/500 m. I was now hitting about 141 bpm continuously with my heart.

When I hit the halfway mark, I almost called it a day. I thought, "a 5K is good enough and I got a good workout". Or, I’ll do a 5K now and then a 5K later. Naaah, I had already put off this row until later in the day. I had the same ideas at 6K and 8K. How could I keep going?

There are nuances to rowing. But, unlike most people think, your strength doesn’t come from your arms or upper back muscles. It is almost all legs, glutes, and lower back. Mostly legs. Legs are made to move for long periods of time; arms are not. Like Olympic weightlifting, the arms are just ropes attached to the handle. You start the pull with straight arms and basically let them go lax. Like limp arms. Then you sort of reach forward and let them go limp again with the pull. Its all about the legs.

The tricky parts that have to do with staying power involve your hip flexors and abdomen. You flex at the hip with every row to pull your body forward. So your hips get really tired. And, depending how far you lean back, you are doing a situp with every row. If you keep your shoulders over your hips, then not as much. But then, if you don’t open your hips and chest more, then you lose power with each stroke. So you do end up using your abs a lot (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus,etc.).

The funny thing I was playing with was my skull. Basically, when you row you are basically balancing a 10 pound bowling ball on your spine. But, if you lean your head back a little, you are using your head as bodyweight to assist the row. And if you tuck your chin coming forward, the same is true. Its not super dramatic but very subtle. I think its a source of power.

With 2K to go, I knew I could do it. But I really thought I’d quit there too. It means you still have almost 10 minutes to go. And keeping up the power and motivation isn’t easy. My heart rate climbed to 161 bpm and I was still going the same pace. Once I got down below 1K, 3 digits were easier to handle. And then I could push it the last 500m and 100m.

I was pretty exhausted right after. Much like a car accident, you don’t really know what you just did to your body. You have to just sit and evaluate. I tried to do some stretching to open up. But it was a hard slog out of the basement and up 2 flights of stairs to my Master Bathroom. On my way to the shower, somehow I turned on the water to the jacuzzi. A good Epsom salt soak was the trick. I felt pretty good after that. But I had a dehydration headache. Unlike running or biking, there isn’t an opportunity to take lots of fluids when you row. So I usually end up going dry. I kept drinking fluid while in the tub.

A day afterward and I wasn’t even sore. I could tell I was exhausted though, more like a central nervous system thang. I should have done a grip test because I’m sure it would have been low. This surely reignited my interest in rowing more. I’d love to keep up with what I gained from this day. Its good to set goals and I have one set for every week through April. So maybe this one shifts to the backburner. Its done, but not forgotten.

Update 2020

I can’t believe its 2020. When I’ve written it out, I have to double check myself. I wish you a Happy New Year if I haven’t already.

I finished Physical Therapy feeling a little beaten up. It was a wonderful experience that taught me a lot and I gained a lot of new strength. I know how to stabilize my shoulder better and will incorporate the exercises I learned into my workouts. However, I also lost a lot of strength in my chest and frontal shoulders. I was supposed to rest those places, so no bench presses, pec flyes, or overhead work. I still haven’t done much of any of that. I’ve done like 20 rep dumbbell bench presses with 20 pounds, which is super light. I’ve don’t light overhead work without going into full extension. And I’ve done more lat pullldowns where I stretch a bit at the top. Actually moving in those range of motions have helped tremendously. At the end of PT, I didn’t feel like I would heal and would end up needing surgery. But now I think I can actually heal.

I did I could with CrossFit during physical therapy, but wasn’t really feeling it. Now, I am totally feeling it. I scale way back on the exercises. The workout "Fran" is 21-15-9 reps alternating between barbell thrusters and pullups. I can’t do either of those exercises right now, so I modify. its been great: (21-15-9)

wall balls + lat pulldowns
plate or dumbbell thruster + ski for calories
goblet squats + ring rows

It is such a good feeling to feel the CrossFit burn without hurting myself. I have also been doing some of the other CrossFit girl wods. Instead of the regular (Rx) prescribed workout, I do (21-15-9):

back hyperextensions + light dumbbell presses
Romanian deadlifts with kettlebell + cable muscle ups (like a pulldown to tricep pressdown)

I also have spent a lot of time with Squats and have recently added more deadlifts. I was worried most about Deadlifts since my injury involves the long head of the biceps tendon connection to my shoulder labrum. But I’ve focused hard on deactivating my bicep when I pull. So heavy deadlifts have been nice. I just can’t bounce off the bottom; that hurts like crazy.

I’ve also set weekly goals. I pulled the entire stack on my close grip row machine. That makes me feel good. I’m also squatting heavier. My goal this week is a 10K row, which is going to hurt a lot. I’m really feeling good about my strength.

I still take it easy. Despite my aversion to cold treatment, I’m embracing the PT reasons for it. And since I can’t take ibuprofen or tylenol right now (another story), the cold numbs any pain so I don’t have to use medication. The other story is I’m flushing out my kidneys to get better numbers on my labs.

My biggest problem right now is Yoga. I teach yoga and its a problem when I have to demonstrate certain poses. I’m getting closer and more open, but my shoulder takes its toll. The rule from PT is don’t do anything that hurts. And some poses still hurt. I’m excited that I think I’ll be back to normal in a few months.


Don’t do this!!

I don’t mean to rip on anybody and I wouldn’t post this blogger’s name, but this is the perfect example of a poor pushup.

In my many years of life, I was once an Army Drill Instructor. I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of troops come into basic training who didn’t have a clue about a proper pushup. Now, mind you, my pushup has changed slightly over the years with yoga. But the principles are the same.

And yes, chaturanga dandasana (four limbed staff pose) is not a pushup. But for me, it is. When I do a CrossFit workout, it looks exactly like my chaturanga. Why develop a movement pattern and then change it for something else? Its just like my squat is the same across modalities. My Olympic weightlifting squats look very similar to a chair pose or goddess pose in yoga. Your movements and body alignment should be the same all through life. You don’t exercise or do yoga with an intention to be different.

So back to a pushup. In yoga, we talk a lot about external rotation of the shoulders. But its true for all of lifting as well. Mark Bell is an accomplished powerlifter who I’ve seen do a 900 pound bench press. He sells a stiff, flexible band that you wear around your arms just above the elbows. It draws your elbows together so they don’t flare out. Its exactly how I do chaturanga.

One of the oddest bones in the body is the scapula, the shoulder blade. It kind of floats out there on its own without many attachments to another bone. But if you’ve studied how many muscles connect to it, you’d be amazed. Most of our shoulder problems start with the scapula.

So what’s wrong with this pictured pushup? Almost everything. But if we start with the scapula, we call the problem "winging". If we had a 3D animation to pan around, we’d see her scapulae totally winged up. This means she isn’t engaging any of the muscles around the scapulae. The primary considerations are the serratus anterior (and other serratus muscles), rhomboids, middle and low trapezius, and the numerous rotator cuff muscles that protect the joint capsule. This leads to impingements, grinding of bone on bone around the shoulder, and too much pressure on the prime muscles involved. This can eventually lead to ruptures of any of these muscles, but especially tears of the labrum, rotator cuff muscles, and pectoral muscles.

What you also notice tangentially is her elbows flared out. I see often with new CrossFit athletes and yogis is tendencies to find more stability when they are weak. In bridge pose or upward bow, yogis will turn their feet way out and knees collapse to find strength. But I see this picture over and over when it comes to chaturanga. Another indication is how her palms turn outward. This is key in all yoga. Again, its a weakness issue. We encourage yogis to press into their hand, especially the palm of the forefinger and thumb. Its just like our cue to press into the ball of the foot. It encourages a midline strength.

Another major problem is head looking down. Actually, head looking down on its own isn’t inherently bad. When your head is in line with your spine, you are usually OK. But here, you can see it as a sign of weakness. In yoga, drishti matters for everything. Drishti is where you look in yoga. In Ashtanga Yoga, every pose has a drishti. Where you look matters. It tells where your spine should go and, in higher levels of yoga, where your energy is directed. For instance, when we squat, we don’t look down. Looking down encourages rounding of the spine. Instead we look up to counter the force of the bar on our shoulders encouraging a well-aligned spine. I find that when you do a pushup, its better to look forward or at least a few feet in front of your hands. When you look down, it can cause everything else to collapse.

This picture of me is of Phalankasana, or plank pose. Its an example how looking forward affects your alignment. Also, pointing biceps forward, elbows back, fingers straight forward, palms pressed into the ground, and engaging through the midline (uddiyana bandha). As you lower down, elbows hug toward the body. I read an article where someone said that’s not a good cue for yoga. But I strongly disagree. It follows every principle I know about good alignment.

I would encourage you to take a few pictures of yourself at different angles of plank and pushup. Ask yourself if you are broadening your chest, pulling shoulders back, and depressing your scapulae. It will save your body in the long run and you’ll find more strength. When you learn proper body mechanics, it transfers into all aspects of your life. And this quality of life carries you well into a ripe old age.

A New Year of Working Out

Despite my shoulder still healing, I have had some amazing workouts over the holidays. I’m so excited for this year. Its going to be the best year of my life for many things; but for my fitness as well.

I’ve already started integrating goals every week (see my recent post). I know far ahead of time what the goals are so I can prepare months ahead. But I’m starting to bring back old exercises and introduce new exercises.

Last night, I did a workout for 4 rounds that included farmers walks with a kettlebell in one hand. I need to do more asymmetrical and lateral work as much as I can. It wasn’t really hard because I used a relatively light weight. But once I get to longer distances with heavier weight, I know it will pay off. Asymmetrical work is so important for general fitness. We do so many things in the power sports symmetrically and for good reason. We are stronger and safer with bilateral movements. But for back health and functional fitness, its doing things one sided that really makes a difference. It helps us cope better with what life throws at us.

I am also going back to my heavy bag. Mine is very old and beaten up (literally). So I may be looking for a new one soon (maybe for my birthday? Hmmm?). Last night, I just did 50 push kicks without any break. It was nice to get into a rhythm and find power with each kick. But the payoff is in the hip flexors, psoas, and abdominals. Kicking also increases flexibility, balance, kinesthetic awareness, and rotational strength.

Another oldie that has been haunting me is wood chopping, like with an axe. For those of you in the know, this is a very tiring functional movement. And I need to chop my wood anyway. I picked up a cord of wood over a year ago and it has sat in a pile ever since. So I started chopping the other day to see if my bad shoulder could handle it. It went surprisingly well. And it sure gets your heart beating. You can mimic this with a sledge hammer or steel mace to a tire as well. Its such a great full body workout. I’ve made some nice fires in the fireplace too since then.

I am also ramping up my Animal Yoga practice. I’ve been working on midline stability anyway so this fits right in. I’m actually considering making an "Andy Yoga Method" that is a hybrid of my life’s learning. I’d love to integrate Rocket, Animal, Capoeira, Tai-Chi, Aikido, Karate, and other ideas into a single routine. When I develop a few sequences, I’ll share on my YouTube channel.

I hope you have dreams, hopes, and well-thought out plans for the New Year. If not, take one step. Don’t talk about it, actually take the step. It may be a physical step with your foot, or it may be a few minutes on a yoga mat. But take the step. Don’t linger. Do it now!