Category Archives: bodybuilding

I’m Not As Sore

As a yoga teacher, I continually have to consider my activities outside of teaching in order to demonstrate poses effectively. I have certain days and times plotted out to workout really hard. This usually involves heavy lifting and a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) or two. Then I would have a few days to recover and allow the soreness to subside. I am no use to my students if my triceps cramp when I’m doing upward facing dog or my hammies seize during a forward fold.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and it makes me think about what I’m doing. Lately, I’ve felt the strength in my lifts has fallen. It all comes down to the squat for me. People like Travis Mash and Cory Gregory talk about squatting every day, and I’ve done that effectively in the past. So I’m back at it again. But its not only squats, its other exercises too.

Travis talks about younger athletes full of vigor and testosterone. They are able to get after it day in and day out. They still need a lot of rest and nutrition, but its easier for them to recover. For older athletes like myself, he actually says we should rest less, which is counter to current thinking. Instead, we need to do something every day. Maybe we don’t push the same intensity in a single workout, but we do heavy work every day. Its more about maintenance than actual growth.

My routine has really been working for me. I start with a warm-up, usually rowing, ski erging, or running. Then I go to squats. They may be back squats, front, overhead, Zercher, with chains, or any other variation. I don’t kill myself. I may do singles up to a max lift and stop. Or it may be a lighter weight for a set of 30. It may be a 5×5 of pause squats. The variations are endless. In between sets, I work on handstands and muscle ups on the rings. Then, I may do Olympic weightlifting or bodybuilding and try to finish with pulls, mostly with a trap bar.

The next day, I’m nicely toned but not really sore at all. I can jump right into it everyday. And I’m adapting to more volume each time. I’m learning I don’t have to kill myself and get sore all the time. Realistically, life gets busy at times and I take a mandatory rest day. But I don’t plan for rest days anymore. I just live instinctively. Try out this plan. But don’t sandbag your workouts. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to grow. You have to do the hard work.

Yoga is for Men too!

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Actually (and somewhat unfortunately), yoga started its first several thousand years as men only. But once it came to the Western world with ground-breaking pioneers like Indra Devi, the first Woman of Yoga, it slowly became more female dominated in the U.S. The Father of Modern Yoga, Krishnamacharya, accepted Indra as a student and she spread the goodness to China, Hollywood USA, Mexico, and Argentina. But her promotion of yoga was out-shadowed in large part by colleagues like Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar. If you read most texts like the Bhagavad Gita and other foundational yoga literature, it was a very male dominated arena. The last Century has seen major leaps and bounds with yoga, but mostly for women.

So, last night, I walk in to the studio and write down a few props on the sign-in sheet and I see 3 male names. Then, another man walks in for my class. I was like “hmmm, maybe I’ll have an all-male class for the first time ever.” The only other times I’ve had male dominated classes was when I offered karma yoga to the University of Illinois Army ROTC cadets and other Veterans programs. I would say that 100% of the time, I have mostly or all ladies in my classes.

In CrossFit, “mobility” reigns king in classes. And you see it in football and other athletics, but it doesn’t usually go by the name of “yoga.” The ideas of stretching and meditation go back 5,000 years with yoga, but somehow that moniker is frowned upon in certain circles. Maybe there is a male ego thing that prevents them from calling it something that is so female dominated in America. Images of designer leggings and brightly colored yoga mats don’t fit the jock mindset. Hopefully, those mental obstacles will change and we’ll find more acceptance in those communities. We find that history repeats itself over and over with these kinds of things.

When I first started running 5K and 10K races in the middle 1970’s, there weren’t many women runners. When a woman passed a man in a race, they say that you were “chicked”. It wasn’t super widely accepted to see women in races. You may recall images of the Boston Marathon where Roberta Gibb was denied acceptance to run in 1966 and was pulled from the course when she tried to jump in. It was a cultural thing that people (men) didn’t think women could run that far. Times have changed and we’ve even seen women like Pam Reed become the overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002, which is a 135 mile race across Death Valley in the middle of the Summer. But now, men struggle for the same acceptance in a woman’s world. Being completely confident in my manhood, I even ventured into other areas as well. I went to a pole dancing class a few weeks ago and was happily accepted among the 20 or so ladies that were in attendance. Nobody even looked twice at me. So I know how it feels to be in the minority.

Physically, men have more testosterone, on average weigh more, have bigger bone structures, and therefore more connective tissue and muscles. So it goes without saying that we need yoga so badly in our lives. I listen to many podcasts and read articles focusing on CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman sports where mobility is continually discussed. It aids muscle lengthening, recovery, and performance. But this need hasn’t translated to yoga as much as I’d like. It is that alpha male mentality that gets in the way. But the few men I’ve seen wander into studios, the attitude shift toward openness to try new things has been a bonus for their quality of life. And it never hurts to be around such beautiful people.

Try it, you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll even love it!

Old Habits, easy to break?

Yeah, when something major happens to you, to your body, to a loved one…old habits are easy to break. When you value your life and those around you, its not all that difficult.

For me, it was a heart attack, only it wasn’t a heart attack since it was on the wrong side of my body. I woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like someone stabbed me under my right shoulder blade. I laid there uncomfortably and decided to get up and take a Tylenol. When I stood up, I dropped to my knees and then to the floor seized in pain. I painfully groaned to my wife for help. She helped me get going and opened the hatch in the car and I laid in the back. We rushed to the Emergency Room. ER’s aren’t fun at all. The staff there seemed to be numb to pain since they see so much of it. I waited for what seemed like an eternity for someone to help me. I was triaged as a lower priority I suppose. I can’t imagine if I was really having a heart attack. I’d probably have to pass out or writhe on the floor for help. I was finally admitted to a room and waited even longer. The doctor came in and looked at my history. I have had chronic back pain, so he didn’t even really diagnose me. He just gave me something for back spasms.

So I followed up with my own doctor and I was diagnosed with a gall bladder attack. My wife had already had hers taken out, so that’s the direction I was headed (only I kept it, more on that later). They ran my blood work and I had lipids out of control (not the good kind) and fatty liver disease.

What is strange about this is that I was active. VERY active! I ran ultramarathons. I was doing CrossFit on my own. I did powerlifting. I felt I had all my bases covered.

What I didn’t have covered was my diet. I figured, I ran 6 hours at a time; I could eat what I wanted. I was benching 315 pounds and squatting 405. I was the epitome of health for my age. And I thought I had good genetics. My grandpa drank and smoked all his life and lived to his late 80’s. When we had chili at his house, it came wrapped in butcher paper and looked like a slab of fatty meat. Then it melted in the pan as you cooked it. I was rebellious in thinking that I didn’t need to diet.

So my reason for writing is not to tell you what I changed. I am trying to tell you that I needed to change my way of thinking about diets. I see others in the same predicament. I see some who only diet and don’t do exercise. The two go together. Before something bad happens to you, please make the changes in both diet and exercise. The right changes. I saw this commercial yesterday for a device that you stand on and twist side to side. I see juicing diets and other fads. Believe me, that’s not that way to go. Educated yourself and do the hard work of finding what really works.

More to come on my journey. I keep learning and this process keeps changing. Do something for yourself before the Old Habits are broken for you.

Everything is Mental

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I’ve read that a doctor can place a patient’s leg on their head with a straight leg while under anesthesia. The stretch reflex is not active and the body moves freely. That’s not to say there aren’t real obstacles to muscle length in an AWAKE person. I’m also NOT saying that a person is mentally weak if they can’t touch their toes. But it IS something to think about.

Many top athletes tell you that sport is mostly mental. Sure, you have to have genetics and good training to realize success. But you can’t get over the fact that how we perceive and make things happen is largely mental. I have books about ultramarathons where people run 100 miles or more in stage races. Even when their bodies begin to fail them, they somehow still manage to do amazing things. If you look at programs like the SealFit Kokura program, they put people through physical rigors akin to real Seal BUDs training. But the focus is on building mental toughness. You can be an All-Star running back at the highest level, but still fail these types of training. Why? Its a mental thing.

This comes around to my current diet. In our minds, we think we’ll die if we don’t have 3 meals a day. If we’ve always had meat-potato-veggie or hamburger-fries, then that’s all we know. A professor went on a convenient store food diet of Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, and other assorted junk food. He carefully monitored his calorie intake to be in deficit and ended up losing 27 pounds in like 3 months. That’s not to say his blood work and health didn’t take its toll. But it proves the point that calories DO matter! You can’t just eat clean and expect to lose weight. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Yesterday, I lived off of 621 kcals. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, but I’ve come to realize it is a mental thing. The biggest culprit in dieting is not necessarily the meals themselves. Its the numerous snacks that we constantly graze on throughout the day. That all adds up. I’ve lost 9 pounds and feel healthy as ever. The Fat Secret app is what has done it for me. I carefully monitor what I eat and how many calories I burn with exercise. I am roughly burning 2,000 calories more than I take in every day. I teach and do yoga, do about 20 mins of cardio, and do either CrossFit or Olympic weightlifting every day. And somehow, I’m not starving and my performance is still going strong.

Sure, I know there are physical things happening that are real. I know my stomach has likely shrunk so it doesn’t take much for me to feel satiated. My energy levels aren’t nearly as dynamic in amplitude (aka. no highs and lows). And I feel so much better. In the first week of my diet, I fasted most of one day and finished my day with half of a Little Caesar’s pepperoni pizza. It was SO yummy, though I wouldn’t make a habit of this. Lately, I keep saying I’ll reward myself with a Culver’s Burger or something like that. But I don’t need it. I’m too excited for my weight loss. Once I hit my goal, I’ll moderate and enjoy those foods again. But I won’t let my weight creep back up again…EVER!

Its mostly a mental thing

 

Burn the Fat!

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When I was a wrestler in high school, I could cut weight pretty easily. Not that it was easy, but I could do it. I kept my 6-pack through my 20’s without any trouble and I ate what I wanted. But skip ahead a few decades and let me tell you, it ain’t easy. I could fast an entire day and still gain a pound. For aging men, testosterone isn’t there at the levels that it used to be. And I empathize with many women post-pregnancy. Its a battle for sure.

I listened to a Barbell Shrugged podcast this morning. I haven’t even listened to the whole thing and I’m super stoked! They talked all about metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and other sciency things. They mentioned a study with women athletes where they found doing cardiovascular (aerobic) work following a heavy lifting session showed no positive effects. The podcast guest (sorry need to look up his name again) suggested we should split aerobic and heavy lifting sessions apart. This is true even for CrossFit athletes who tend to want it all in one fell swoop.

The reason is due to our use of energy systems. If we are using an ATP/CTP rich system that lasts only 10 seconds, we need to focus on carbohydrates to fuel the work. If we are doing low-intensity endurance work, we should focus more on a long-lasting, fat-burning system. In CrossFit, we do mix the systems, but it works differently from how you would think. Yes, the glycogen pathway is used for the heavy lifting part, but when you rest or lower intensity, this is when the fat-burning system takes over. But our bodies don’t adapt well to mixing the two together.

So then we come back to fat. I realize I’ve been doing it wrong. I eat BIG usually later in the evening thus abiding by my Warrior Diet (mostly Paleo) concepts. Then I do intermittent fasting most of my workday. However, this often fails because I run out of energy doing heavy lifts or CrossFit WODs in the morning or I start to get so hungry that I feel I need to eat lunch. So I probably undermine the benefits of fat-burning through intermittent fasting. To tell you the truth, as I get older, its harder to move faster and lift heavier earlier anyway. I’m much more mobile later in the day. So here is my new plan:

  • Dinner at night – protein- and fat-rich to encourage recovery, growth, and sleep
  • Sleep – monitored by my Sleep App for quality
  • Wake – walk dogs, coffee, & news; cardio (run, bike, ski erg, rowing)/yoga
  • Work Day – intermittent fasting, maybe having some coconut oil or peanut butter
  • Late afternoon – Carb/Protein shake, maybe rice, 1+ hours before workout
  • Heavy Workout – Powerlifting; CrossFit WOD; Olympic weightlifting (no cardio)
  • …repeat…

I look forward to seeing how this works for me. I think it will solve my fat-burning issues and will encourage more strength and growth.

The Correct Soreness

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It has taken me this long in my life to finally find the balance. When I was young, and even not so young, I thought I had to hammer my body into perfect shape through brutal means. I was doing the prescribed 100 reps of everything. I was running for 8 hours straight. I pushed the extremes…always. Even when I got into yoga. I always thought if I wasn’t sweaty and spent from Ashtanga or Power yoga, then it wasn’t worth my money to go to class.

It wasn’t until several years ago when I took yoga teacher training that I learned I could let go of my ego. And believe me, I had a huge one. It was all “Go Hard or Go Home” for me. I learned meditation. I learned the balance between Raja and Tamas to find the true center of happiness, Sattva. I found doing very hard, strenuous poses followed by Yin and Restorative poses brought you to bliss, or Samadhi. But this also bled over to CrossFit and my other pursuits. I stopped doing prescribed workouts and instead found my own way.

The key to CrossFit and high-intensity training is to find intensity over time. The time could be 2 minutes or 45 minutes. This was brought to light in the Olympics. I saw 200m sprinters completely exhausted after putting everything they had into their race. They were like top-fuel dragsters who put their bodies to the extreme. But you watch a 5K run and there is the same intensity. The same cup-full of energy is poured out more slowly, but the same effort is given overall.

When I went to the CrossFit Level 1 trainer course, they mentioned how intensity can’t be measured in sweat. One instructor said that in Atlanta with no air-conditioning in the gym, you can break into a full sweat just tying your shoes. Sweat doesn’t equal intensity. In some respects, I believe that soreness also is not a perfect indicator. Soreness is more linked to eccentric movement (lowering a weight or lengthening muscle). However, muscle soreness does indicate that you did something that caused micro-trauma to muscle tissue. So it does measure that aspect of working out pretty well.

The key to soreness for me is the right level of soreness. When I used to run ultra-marathons, it would take a full week for me to walk normally again, let alone run. It may take 2-4 weeks to find full recovery. I just listened to a podcast with Sara Sigmundsdottir, the CrossFit Games 2016 champion. She said it took 45 days to finally feel normal again after the Games. Extreme competition is admirable and its amazing to see what the body can do. But for most of us, that is way too much. As non-professionals, we need to live out our professional lives too.

I still vary the time periods from 2 to 45 minutes for my workouts. But most fall in the 5-10 minute range. I may do 2 to 4 different workouts of this nature in one session. If I’m doing strength or Olympic Weightlifting too, I may do a WOD as my warm-up for lifting. I may also tap into a 2 minute all out effort or Tabata Intervals (8 rounds of 20 second work and 10 secs rest). BTW, search for “Tabata Songs”. They are very useful for Tabatas. When I took high school physical fitness classes, they defined a mild soreness as being isotonic. It means that you have a nice tautness to your muscles as a result of exercise. You don’t have to kill yourself to get this feeling. But I believe you should feel something.

Here is an example from yesterday:
6 rounds for time
6 deadlift jumps with a trap bar with 111 pounds6 burpees
6 lat pulldowns on a cable machine

You don’t have to do 25, 50, or 100 reps of an exercise to feel the effect. To me, that is all about ego. If you want to grow and function in real life, let go of the ego. You’ll be nicely sore, fulfilled, and always ready for more.

Topside Squats

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My latest ideas come from listening to Mash Mafia podcasts with Travis Mash. They were talking about isometrics for powerlifting. For example, if you had two sets of pins in a power rack, you limit the upward progression like for a bench press. You don’t even need a lot of weight on the bar. You press against the pins and hold for a number of seconds. It simulates a max lift like no other. They were also talking about slow negatives, lowering the bar through a movement at a very heavy weight.

The one they got me to thinking was doing walk-outs on the squat with some astronomical weight. Feeling a very heavy weight on the bar and standing there for 10 or 20 seconds (or more) is quite an overload. Olympic weightlifters do this with jerk recoveries. They rack a bar so you are almost at full extension with arms overhead. You might start in a shallow split squat or power jerk position with your feet. Then you walk to lockout and hold as long as you can. It gets you accustomed to locking out heavy weight.

So here is my plan:
I have a goal weight that I want to squat. I’ll take my safety pins up as high as they will go on my rack. I’ll walk out with my goal weight and squat to the pins and push back up. I’ll probably only drop a few inches into my squat. But it will program my body to know what that kind of weight feels like. Over time, I hope that I can do 5-10 reps at that weight. Once I can do that, I’ll drop the pins another notch and go a little deeper. Eventually, I’ll take it all the way down to full depth and have my goal accomplished.

The hesitance I would have about this, which is why I’ve not done it before, is that your muscle memory would take away from squat depth and overall flexibility. So, to counter this, I’ll always finish with some A2G (ass-to-ground) squats for reps to make sure I don’t lose my depth. And, I’ll only do the topside squats one day a week. I’ll get the neuromuscular trauma and then allow for full recovery. Plus, I’ll still be doing Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit movements anyway, along with lots of yoga. So there is no fear of losing proper squat depth.

I’ll let you know how it goes.