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Fight FOR Your Life or Give Up? Retirement Age

So for those already turned off by this title, hold on! When you have a faster metabolism, your testosterone is more abundant, and you haven’t already been plagued with aging health conditions, the time to start is now!

Just like Retirement Planning for your finances, you have to do the same for your health. If you only start saving for retirement when you reach 40 or 50 years old, you will have a super steep hill to climb at the end of your journey. For some, quality of life healthwise will be severely deplenished as you get old because you refused to plan.

Your health can be easier to handle than finances for most. I’ve read of someone who only started becoming active when they reached 60. It’s never too late. But I wouldn’t wait. I think there is a point of no return, especially if your bones decay to the point where not much can be done. Also, if you get something like type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, or autoimmune disorder, then your ability to change your health becomes that much more difficult.

For me, my metabolism had a major shift when I reached my early thirties. In my teens and 20’s, I could eat whatever I wanted and still have 6-pack abs. I was super active and it seems I couldn’t get enough food, whether junk or otherwise.

When I reached 40, I knew something had to change. I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. But I still did it all wrong. I was under the misguided impression that you could fitness your way out of a problem. So I started running ultramarathons. It was such a fun journey because long runs like that are adventures. I saw so much wildlife. I smelled amazingly wonderful fragrances. I saw many eyes reflecting back at me when I ran in the darkness. I felt pains too because sometimes it doesn’t always go well. But it all contributes to a mental toughness that we need in life.

The problem with this is after a big run, I’d often be laid out for days. The cortisol screaming through my body triggered insulin, and that triggered lots of sugar cravings. So I loaded up on pizza, pasta, and sugar. At the time, that’s what endurance athletes did. It didn’t matter because of the thousands of calories I was burning on the trail. WRONG!

I was fit, but I wasn’t really losing weight. I still had belly fat that never went away. I got skinny arms and legs from swinging both millions of times. I’d swing my arms so much that my hands would swell. My feet would swell too. Many times, I’d just lay around and eat for days. When I would start back on recovery runs, a slight incline or hop up on the curb felt like a mountain. I wasn’t healthy at all. But the worst part was my back pain worsened.

I would get so weak after a long run that anything I did could throw out my back. I would pick up my dogs (that are very small) or twist to change a fuse in my car and my back would seize. I would sometimes go an entire month not being able to walk my dogs. There were nights when I had to crawl to get from the bed to the bathroom. It was really terrible.

At this 40 awakening, I also started CrossFit. That made me feel invincible. That is, until my back would go out. CrossFit during the week and then a long run on the weekend. I should have been super fit, but I wasn’t. I still had problems.

Not long after, I felt a stabbing pain under my right shoulder blade. It was like someone stuck a knife in me. I had gotten up to go to the bathroom. When I got to my bed, I dropped to my knees in pain. It was like a heart attack, but on the wrong side. I had my wife open the hatchback on the car and I crawled into the back. She took me to the ER. They did some tests but pretty much left me lying in the hospital bed for hours without doing anything. My chart said I had a history of back pain, so they didn’t investigate any further. They just prescribed muscle relaxants and hydrocodone for the pain. I went back home not feeling any better.

So I visited my doctor and he had a blood panel ordered for me. It revealed I had fatty liver disease. I mean, ME, an ultramarathoner and CrossFit’r. Then they ordered a test for my gall bladder where they inject dye into it and quantify how much was being released. My gall bladder was down to 26% functioning ability. That’s not good. So the surgeon’s office called to schedule my appointment to have it removed. I said "wait a minute. Let me get back to you."

I’m a researcher, so I started doing my research. There’s a gastroenterologist in the 1950’s who prescribed a diet that worked for his gall bladder patients. Later, they found it also worked for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases. As it turns out, it was a version of the Paleo Diet. So I jumped on it immediately. Within 2 weeks, I no longer had symptoms. I was pain free.

So in the hey day of my CrossFit days, I found a healthier way to live. I still got terrible back pain episodes, but otherwise I was feeling better. My fatty acids looked better too. Problem solved….NOT!

Meanwhile, I still had a fat belly. I could hardly breathe when I tied my shoes. I also felt like my body was getting tighter. So to improve my Olympic weightlifting, I started taking Yoga classes. I had printed out the Bikram 26 poses and kept it in my wallet. I would do that sequence every day. Eventually, I found a yoga studio that I really liked called Amara Yoga. I started there at the dawn of a New Year.

Now, being a CrossFit endurance runner, it was "go hard or go home" for me. I liked the beginner and restorative yoga classes, but I loved Ashtanga. The teacher was amazing. I also started taking Rocket Yoga. By that Fall, the teacher convinced me to take yoga teacher training. I was already a CrossFit level I trainer, so I was like, why not? I need more skills under my belt.

Yoga saved my back! I no longer had back pain. I could twist and contort into positions and never feel pain. It was a miracle. In running and CrossFit and most of exercise, you do things symmetrically. Everything is bilateral and you don’t brace your body properly. Yoga works in all planes and makes you hold them isometrically with the breath. I love yoga and teach it today.

But I still had a weight problem. I would go mostly Paleo, cheat on most weekends, and cheat badly on the holidays. I really wasn’t finding success in that area. I was riding this wave up to Christmas of last year (2020). I actually did pretty well over the holidays, but I was averaging 193 pounds bodyweight.

I can’t say that I only recently discovered Intermittent Fasting. I had been doing it off and on for a year. Some things I read say that’s why its Intermittent, you don’t have to do it all the time. Wrong! I started watching Dr. Berg and other videos on YouTube and they started talking about this insulin connection. Everything is about insulin. It drives most of the other hormonal processes, like cortisol.

So after going strong with not only Intermittent Fasting but Ketogenic dieting (Keto), the final step is being taken. I’ve lost 13 pounds without much trouble and am still going strong. My goal is to get to 176 pounds (80 kg) and hold there. Then I want to continue to lose bodyfat but gain muscle.

So this takes us back to my original premise. You too can make changes in midlife and later. But it becomes so much harder. Let’s say you think a healthy weight for you is 160 pounds, but you weigh 180. Testosterone declines in men AND women drastically from 30-50 years old. The best time to lose that weight is when you are 30, not 50. When you get to 60, some of the bone degenerations, tendon weakness, and other structural problems limit what we can do. If you were usually a runner, you can’t run anymore if your achilles tendon blows out. Or, if you fall and break a hip. Do it when you’re 30.

But, like Mark Sisson of the Primal Blueprint says, nearly all of our health is driven by diet. Diet first, then exercise is the icing on top. You cannot exercise your way out of a problem. Getting rid of sugar and carbohydrates is key. Insulin drives everything. This is something I didn’t fully embrace until now. But combining Keto with Intermittent fasting is key. It’s what makes fat-burning really work effectively.

The last point is that you have to stay aerobic to burn fat. Sisson calls working just above aerobic the black hole. You don’t even realize it, but it’s not good for fat burning. This is roughly 180 minus your age for heart rate. If you are 30, then that makes 150 beats per minute your maximum aerobic heart rate. This is the fat burning zone. When you go above, you trigger your fight or flight hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol triggers a cascade of stress hormones including insulin. Now, you are no longer burning fat, but you are burning sugar. You can run out of sugar in 15-20 minutes and then need glycogen stores to release more sugar. When you run out of that, you BONK. You hit the wall. But when you learn to use fat as your source of energy, you don’t bonk. Instead, you go for a long time without hitting the wall.

Don’t wait until you get too old to make healthy changes. You can still do it when you are 60 or 70, but don’t count on being healthy enough to make those changes. Learn about ketogenic eating and intermittent fasting. It’s the key to everything and isn’t very hard to do after about 21 days. You have to break your normal patterns that your body is hard wired to live. The biggest thing about intermittent fasting is that it eliminates night snacking and eating the worst meal of the day (breakfast!). Yeah I said it. Think of all the yummy breakfast food. There’s pancakes, muffins, scones, oatmeal, waffles, orange juice, and fruit. All of these foods are high in sugar or are easily converted to sugar. It’s all terrible for you. Its better to have a cup of coffee or tea and maximize your fat burning while in your fasting zone. When you adjust to it, you don’t even feel hungry anymore. After 18-20 hours of fasting, you may feel like you need to eat something, so you do. That’s OK. But if you can go longer, even better.

Unfortunately, there are many who just give up when they get old. They can’t see light at the end of the tunnel. It’s over for them (so they think). But diet is paramount. Not everyone can start a running program right away, but everyone can change their diet. Do it now! Ditch the carbs, eat plenty of healthy fats, and moderate your protein.

Quality of Life Changes

I keep making subtle changes to biohack my life. I’ll start with my top 3 changes if you are short on reading time.

1. Decrease training volume and intensity to lower cortisol levels.

2. Fasting longer.
3. Moving and playing throughout the day.

Many authors espouse these ideals, but its most centrally proposed with the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. I am currently reading Primal Endurance, which further codifies what I’m doing. When someone with a sub 2 hour 15 minute marathon time and has won Ironman length races, I trust what he says.

Here are some explanations:

1. Insulin is key, but cortisol is a big player in this as well. Cortisol is not a one-to-one balancer of insulin since they don’t necessarily affect each other. But, cortisol does trigger release of glycogen from the liver thereby flooding the body with glucose. When glucose is present, not a lot of fat burning happens. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It shouldn’t surprise you that running very hard, intense workouts, relationship problems, work issues, and general worrying about things all cause cortisol to be released. This in turn creates the glucose response (no fat burning), can cause heart problems, elevates heart rate, decreases ability to rest and sleep, and causes overall body achiness. Doing a majority of your exercise and play at 180 beats per minute (bpm) minus your age as a maximum heart rate is key. This keeps you aerobically burning fat. When you go over that, you trigger cortisol and glucose release and begin to find that anaerobic mode that is not fat burning. As a Fire Breather myself, this was a difficult transition. But since I’ve been training more aerobically at this lower heart rate, my body Governor is set to that heart rate. I did a CrossFit workout yesterday and was actually going pretty hard, but my heart rate didn’t exceed 120 bpm. That tells me this is working.

2. Research shows that the benefits of fasting increase with the length of time. I started out with 13 hour fasts. It wasn’t difficult at all to move to 18 hours. So I’d eat lunch at about Noon, then dinner, then start fasting again. When you eat 3-6 meals a day, your body physiologically begins to expect those feeding times. The Ghrelins (hunger hormone) will start to peak at those conditioned feeding times even if you are not really hungry. So transitioning to 13 hour, then 18, then 20 hour and longer fasts take ghrelin out of the picture. Instead, I am usually not hungry at all. I eat because I feel like I need the nutrition, but not because of hunger. Its one reason more meals and snacking are the worst possible ways to live life. I mean, you can always feel like you need a snack, right? Wrong!! You never need a snack if you eat nutritiously with low carbs. The best part of setting my fasting timer right after dinner is it eliminates night time snacking. Those are the worst hours for people who try to diet. Now, I’m not tempted in the least. If you eat nutritiously with low carb and increased fat, you are good to go throughout the night and long into the next day. And, breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day. In fact, it is generally the least nutritious of meals. People are prone to high carbs (muffins, pancakes, cereals, energy bars, oatmeal,…) and sugars (sugary toppings, syrups, jams, fruit). Yes fruit!! Fruit is good for the water and some nutrition it provides. But fruit is bad because it is full of fructose. You can read about that, but it is only processed in the liver and you have to be careful about that. Fruit should be consumed in minimal moderation. It would be better to eat eggs and animal protein for breakfast to stay in ketosis, fat-burning mode. But better yet, don’t eat breakfast at all. Just drink coffee or tea. Why not get the benefit of more fat-burning without eating breakfast?

3. People really don’t move enough in this day and age. We live comfy lives. And for those who are stuck in an office all day, going to the gym for an hour is not enough at all. Instead, we should move all day long. Having movement breaks or combining with a stand-up desk are good ideas. Make sure you move at least every 2-3 hours. It can be a quick walk, some yoga moves, or maybe play outside for a few minutes. Getting your face in sun especially at sunrise and sunset greatly affects cortisol and thereby lowering stress and increasing sleep. The more skin exposed to the sun the better. Walking or slow jogging (slogging) for 10-15 minutes at a time is a really good option. Tai-chi and yoga have the added benefits of breath practice that is known to reduce stress (cortisol). Reducing stress and getting enough sleep are the two major areas of stress reduction. Learning how to worry less is key too. Having a great night-time routine is important by eliminating blue light (screen time on TV, laptop, and phones), not eating, no alcohol, no intense exercise, and staying away from the news or activism. Don’t do anything that gets your heart racing. Don’t get into fights with people or arguments with your spouse or partner. Instead, sit by the fireplace with a nice book and a dog on your lap. Its the best thing you can do for your health and longevity.

Surprising Effects of Fasting

This all blows my mind. And as a point of reference, Agnus Barbieri of Scotland fasted for 382 days through medically supervised fasting. He was going to try a few days and see what happens; that turned into a week; then a month; then 382 days. When he reached his goal weight of 180 pounds, he stopped. And unlike Biggest Loser contestants, he found a happy weight of 191 pounds and that’s where he stayed. So for all the bunnies out there who think you have to graze all day, you’re wrong. One or two meals a day is better for you than 6 meals a day. Here are some facts:

-Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. The feeling of hunger goes away with more time away.
-If you have a surplus of body fat, you will actually not become catabolic while fasting. In fact, the opposite. Human growth hormone actually increases during fasting.
-Insulin is the key to losing weight and overall health. Packaged oatmeal, bran muffins, and other carbohydrate sources are great foods to eat to NOT lose weight. They only trigger more insulin and sugar release into your bloodstream. Insulin encourages fat storage, not fat burning.
-Cortisol is 2nd important for dieting. A person could be on the same restricted calorie diet with the same activities, but not lose weight. Stress (relationships, work, environment), lack of sleep, and not obeying circadian daytime cycles (here that night owls?)—it is short-circuiting your weight loss goals. Sleep, get your face in the sun at sunrise and sunset, walk, meditate, do tai-chi and yoga.
-Go hard or go home (NOT!!!!!). When I do a long, difficult run that wipes me out for days, cortisol is raging in my body. This triggers intense hunger and I sleep poorly. Going hard is counter to weight loss goals. Always remember, you burn sugar first, then you burn fat. If you workout hard for 25 minutes, likely only 5 minutes of that time is in fat burning.
-Low intensity activities like walking, light jogging, tai-chi, yoga, and playing will cause more fat loss than intense workouts. Why? You stay in the fat-burning aerobic zone, not the intense anaerobic zone. It is measured at a maximum heart rate of 180 minus your age. But really, if you can talk or limit exercise to breathing out of your nose is key.
-Autophagy—so if you’re not eating, where do you get your essential nutrients? This is where autophagy comes into play. It is literally eating your own dead cells and recycling them for reuse. Essential amino acids and minerals are reused. This also has a role in autoimmune and cancer health since autophagy has longevity benefits in those diseases as well. You reach autophagy after about 15-18 hours of fasting. The more days you can fast, the more autophagy. It creates efficiency in your body.

If you believe in the idea of evolution, then science only tells us that fasting works. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today. Our earliest ancestors went long periods without eating. Then they would harvest an animal and eat heartily. Our body has a mechanism that enables us to function efficiently when fasting. We wouldn’t be here today if that wasn’t true. Instead, our brains focus better and bodies have plenty of energy without food in our bellies.

New Revelations About Fitness

—at least for me.

Main points:
1. Anaerobic fitness elicits a cortisol stress response.
2. Fat burning happens almost exclusively aerobically.

In the past, I’ve actually been disgusted by a "not-going-hard" approach to fitness. I see ladies walking down the street cheerfully gabbing at each other. I see people who look like they are fitness walking while talking on the phone. I would run past people on trails with an elite attitude like "I’m getting more done than you are". Sidenote: I hate an idea of toxic masculinity. I say let men be who we were designed to be. But having said that, I know plenty of women who are go-getters just as much as men. I know some who are more competitive than men. But there is clearly a machismo attitude toward exercise. It’s either Go Hard or Go Home!

I’ve read the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and am currently reading Primal Endurance. I’ve slowly come 180 degrees from where I was. Mark is an elite performer of triathlons and marathon events. Yet he found he could train smarter, which meant slower in an aerobic zone and for a shorter amount of time, and still keep up with elite performers. How is this possible?

When you train yourself to exercise aerobically, it means you are moving at a conversational pace. So those ladies walking down the street make sense to me now. The Maffetone formula for an aerobic maximum heart rate (MHR) is 180 minus your age. So if you are 30 years old, that’s 180 – 30 = 150. That is your maximum aerobic threshold for working out. For many, that will feel like a snail’s pace. But for others, that will feel perfect.

Mark calls an uneducated guess at our MHR the "Black Hole". You really need to use a heart rate monitor to keep your heart in check. Otherwise, you may feel comfortable just above that zone and fall into the black hole. When you get above MHR, you shift from burning fat to burning glucose. When you use up available glucose in your bloodstream, your liver releases glycogen to create more glucose. So what does this mean?

Ever hear of "skinny fat". I always wondered how it is possible to toe the line at many running races and see so many fat runners. I mean, yeah, maybe they had just started running. But there are many who I see at a lot of races who are clearly either fat or even skinny fat. The reason? Cortisol! Cortisol is a hormone that is released when you are under stress. Anaerobic activities are a form of stress. So if you are constantly redlining your heart when you run, like pushing it to where you almost have to stop, you are not aerobic, but anaerobic. And the cortisol elicits insulin to in turn shift to burning sugar. So you could end up working out every single day (Go Hard or Go Home) and burn sugar and not fat. You turn into an anti-fat-burning slob.

Yes, there are times to go hard. Short intense workouts elicit a specific response that is the subject of another blog. But Mark says to do that once every 7 to 10 days. Otherwise, spend more time in the aerobic <MHR zone. He also encourages "play". That means frisbee, biking around the block, doing some yard work, or dancing. Have fun with living an unstructured, playful life. Never be sedentary for more than 2-3 hours. Those are the keys.

Personal Revelation:
A couple weeks ago, I went on my longest run in years. It wasn’t super long compared to my days of ultramarathoning. But it felt long. I really pushed it and felt good after. I was a little sore for a few days. What amazed me was the "stressful" physiological response. Since I’ve been Intermittent Fasting (IF) and working out mostly aerobically (<MHR), I rarely feel hungry. But after this run, I was famished. I still stuck mostly to my IF, I was ravenous. The other thing? My heart was racing. Since I wear a Garmin Vivoactive 3, I can see my heart rate in real time. So for 3 days after my run, my heart rate was elevated. Yes, I was probably burning more calories. But it also meant that my body was fighting something. I wasn’t totally relaxed. I also slept very terribly for 2 nights. I monitor that too. I usually have about an 80% rating of quality sleep. I was about 35% for those two nights. Lack of sleep also ramps up cortisol. My watch also measures stress, which is related to heart rate variability (HRV). I usually am at 10-20 at rest. But I was resting at about 50 (or 50%), which means I was at moderate stress even when sitting still. So long story short, that one long run that was above my MHR upset my body for 3 days. It had a negative effect on my health and my weight loss. I was hungry, sore, and physiologically not well. I never noticed that about myself. But it made me embrace these ideas even more.

Assimilation Efficiency of Food

The anabolic effects of eating certain foods can be compared based on how well assimilated they are in your body. Some foods do not assimilate well, so you will need much more to get the same effect. Here’s a breakdown from Dr. Berg.

Eggs 48% efficiency (48% of what you eat is converted to body tissue)
Meat – Fish – Fowl 32%
Egg white 17%
Soy 17%
Diary-Whey 16%
Spirulina 6%

How I Am Taking Over My Health

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve written. I’ve gone through some amazing changes with my health plan. I’d have to admit, if it wasn’t for this pandemic, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. I feel for those who have lost jobs and suffered during this time; but I’ve met positivity in my own life. Maybe some of that will rub off and give you ideas for yourselves.

Huge Influences for me in 2020:
[Preface — I struggled, dabbled, gave much thought, dismissed them, but came back to these people over time and now totally embrace their ideas. Give them a chance. You've gotta break through the┬áthick ice to get to the good stuff]
David Goggins – I read "Can’t Hurt Me" and Jesse Itzler’s account of when Goggins lived with him and trained him. This is monumental!
Jocko Willink – he has a saner approach than David and great guidelines for life.
Dr. Eric Berg – he is my fasting and keto resource. His videos are super helpful.
Mark Sisson – of the Primal Blueprint. I read his book and sat it aside not really planning to follow what he said. But over time, it gnawed away at me. Now I’m a total follower. This is especially useful for longevity.

There are definitely more, but these are 4 who came to mind right away. Give all of them a chance. What they say makes a lot of sense.

I’ll spend some time explaining the why’s and what for’s over time. Please ask questions if you’d like and I’ll explain. Here is what my day looks like now:

Daily Routine:

Wake 0515-0545 – I use the Sleep app to wake up when I naturally begin to stir. This sets my hormones on the right course and you don’t feel groggy.

Coffee – I wake by playing with my dogs, drinking coffee, and watching the news.

I make a small carafe of coffee. Since coffee can stimulate some insulin, I have learned to back off a little on how much coffee I drink. So I drink about 3 cups.

I also do my first Language program of the day. I’m also FASTing, so I don’t eat anything.

Work at 0630 sharp – Its easy since I telework. This is my most focused time of the day. I can get a lot done in the first hour or two of work.

Mid-morning walk – I do this after finishing coffee. I watch an educational YouTube that relates to my work. So I’m still working. I stay at a conversational pace, that is 180 beats per minute minus my age for heart rate. This is HUGE for me and a big change. To burn fat while fasting, you need to stay in this Zone 1 and don’t push the intensity. For many of us, that’s hard to do. But its super important for many reasons.

Electrolyte – then I drink 16 oz of water with Dr. Berg’s electrolyte mix. This is important while fasting since just plain water or coffee doesn’t provide the chemical mix to make muscles and mind function at their best. I will explore other electrolytes later.

Break Fast – I may do another quick walk before breaking my fast to maximize fat burning. For an 18 hour fast, it usually ends up at 1130am, for 20 hours it’s 1330. Much depends on my late afternoon workout. I prefer to eat at 1130 so I digest and have energy for my workout. Regardless, making this a keto lunch is best. However, it’s often about 8 oz of coconut milk, carb free protein powder, and a cup of mixed frozen berries.

Work – I work in the afternoon without any snacking whatsoever (very important!!) I drink a cup of green tea that has numerous benefits for mind and body. It also keeps me from an afternoon circadian trough.

Workout – I have guidelines for my MetCon WOD (metabolic conditioning workout of the day) every day of the week except Thursday. I usually combine strength and skill work either within the WOD or before or after the workout.

Hygiene – 1645 promptly! I also learned that soaps and shampoos have harmful detergents for your skin. The only places on your body that stink are your armpits and private parts since those are the odor centers of the body. So I shower once every 2 or 3 days and do a bird bath of odor parts the other days. I am probably saving water (and the planet, hehe) by doing this as well.

Cook Dinner 1700 – mostly keto. Seafood once a week. I try to do an Instant Pot recipe once a week too. There is a whole plan to my meals. I try to shut off my eating by 1730 at the latest. Then I can start my fast. What I have to remember to do is if I want a little snack, like a piece of dark chocolate, some cashews, or BBQ pork rinds, then I make sure I have it with my meal. Then I won’t crave that after I start my fast. I use the Zero app and when I start the timer, it’s Over. No more eating for the night.

Evening – watch TV, maybe finish my walking steps for the day to meet my goal, maybe some Yoga either online or in front of the TV, lots of rolling and stretching regardless.

Bedtime – promptly at 2030 and it never wavers. Even when I travel to a different time zone, I try to keep the same schedule. I read either with a red light backlight on my phone or with a red light headlamp. This reduces the blue light exposure that is a sleep killer.

Wow, that got longer than I expected. I plan to go into more detail of the "why’s" of all of this. It is super important for me to stay on this schedule and it is made a lot easier because of the lockdown. There are no outside influences that can change my schedule. It is life changing how these improvements have improved my quality of life.

Concentric/Eccentric Lifting

Since hearing some ideas from Julien Pineau of StrongFit and others about concentric loading during lifting, I’ve been experimenting with these ideas in my workouts. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve found.

We’ve known for decades that Olympic lifters in Bulgaria often train 6 days a week with 2 sessions a day. All this while the Western world talks about the dangers of overtraining. While not an easy program to follow, there is a reason why they can do this and survive. First of all, the book Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman will change your life. It goes way beyond squatting every day but into many other outside-the-box ideas. He and others have taken the Squat Every Day philosophy to the nth degree and have gone months and years of squatting every day. I myself have taken one to two months a year for the past 5 years of squatting every day. It does wonders for your body. You adapt super quickly and its totally possible to do that kind of hard work every day. You ask how?

The muscles in our body are made up of many types of fibers. If you think about striated heart muscle fibers, they were made to pump over and over throughout our lifetime. So overtraining the heart is not something we usually talk about. Muscles in our legs and hips are made to do amazing things. We were Born to Run as the book says. Endurance athletes have gone nonstop in 72 hour events. Yes, that’s probably in the realm of overtraining, but it tells you about what the body is capable of doing. You can squat every day and grow! And you can do that sustainably.

So back to the Bulgarian weightlifters—a part of their program was squatting. So we’ve explored that. What about all the heavy lifting they do with the Olympic snatch and clean & jerk? That’s the beauty of bumper plates. Being able to drop a barbell from overhead changes everything. Olympic lifting is largely concentric. The only part that might be eccentric is catching the weight and lowering into a squat. Actually, if you don’t go super heavy or just do "powers", you can completely avoid the eccentric load (lengthening fibers). The eccentric is where most of our soreness or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) occurs. The concentric can largely avoid DOMS. If you make it a study of kinetic energy, the ground is where the action potential is zero, whereas the highest point is maximum action potential with stored energy. But instead of lowering the weight in a controlled way, you drop it. This avoids the eccentric load completely. So this is the main reason why the Bulgarian method allows for such work volume.

So here is a summary:
1). You can Squat every day because of how leg and hip muscles work.
2). Concentric loading, like in Olympic lifting, reduces the possibility of DOMS.

I teach yoga and in order to teach yoga, you have to be able to demonstrate poses. If I do a lot of bench presses and pushups the day before a class, I could be so wiped out that I couldn’t even demonstrate poses. So I avoid chest work and eccentric loading the day before I teach. But what I Do, Do, is lots of concentric work. I no longer take a rest day the day before I teach. And its been amazing.

Here are some Concentric exercises that I do:
-Olympic lifting with no lowering of weight.
-Lots of strongman work–
-soft stone over the shoulder throws
-farmer carries and stone carries
-axle lifts with dropping
-One-arm Kettlebell lifts with assisted lowering (a little eccentric but OK)
-Pullups and drop with a mat underneath – no eccentric lowering
-Box jumps with easy step downs (little eccentric)

Some exercises I would like to add with more equipment are sled drags. You can pull a sled with arms or driving with legs. Pineau does this a lot. It can totally kill your body without a lot of after effects.

Conversely, in the days after I teach yoga, I focus a lot on eccentrics. This is where you throw in old-school bodybuilding negatives, partials, and other time-under-tension type movements. Soreness isn’t something that is necessary for growth, but it is an indicator that you’ve done some muscle breakdown. So I don’t mind being a little sore from those workouts.

What are some of the best eccentric movements?:
-lunges (I can almost guarantee I’ll be sore from lunges)
-dumbbell or machine pec dec flyes
-any curls focusing on the negative
-pullups, again focusing on lowering
-leg curls or hyperextensions

So the list above for eccentrics are also the types of movements that I avoid on my concentric days. The other advantage of concentrics is that you can do those movements prior to a competition. Then you don’t hit the starting line with soreness.

I hope this jogs your mind and let’s you think about exploring these ideas for yourself. You don’t always have to be sore for growth. But there is a time and place for soreness when you want it.

Michael-ish

Today, I’m doing a scaled version of the CrossFit workout called "Michael". You can look up the full variation. I often do variations of this since it is such a good fundamental workout for core muscle groups. And none of the muscle groups really interfere with other work that I do.

Here is the version I’m doing today.

4 Rounds for time:
Run 400-300-200-100m (begin each round with each)
40-30-20-10 reps of–
hyperextensions (or GHD extensions)
sit-ups (regular or GHD)

Working out withOUT soreness?

Some research has shown that soreness isn’t a necessary component of muscle growth. No pain, no gain has largely been debunked. However, some would say that people who say that want the quick fix or the little pill to swallow that avoids hard work to get what you want. We always need hard work for growth. So I’ll say instead, getting sore every workout shouldn’t be a parameter that you check off your to-do list when seeking growth.

Soreness can be caused by many different stimuli. But you can almost guarantee an eccentric component is part of the picture; maybe a big part of it. Just to refresh, concentric contraction of muscle is the muscle shortening phase. If you measure the extreme ends of the muscle tendon from insertion to attachment, that shortening can be physically measured as muscle contracts. Then, when you release the contraction, the eccentric phase is the lengthening of the muscle. However, muscles don’t completely relax while it is under load. It still puts out little myosin-actin bridges or micro contractions to lower a load with control. The lengthening, or eccentric contraction, is where most soreness occurs. It happens as you lower into a squat, as you release a barbell curl to full arm’s length, and when you lower a military press from overhead to the rack position. Sometimes you want to maximize eccentric contraction with tools like negative reps and partner assisted lowering with extra pressure. It has been a big part of old school bodybuilding forever. So yes, eccentric is still essential, but soreness isn’t always the desired outcome.

So, can we really avoid eccentric contraction in a workout?

The answer is an emphatic YES! Haha, I say that tongue in cheek because you’ll see where we still go a little eccentric at times. But here are a few ideas for eccentric work:

1. Sled drags – when you pull a sled horizontally across a surface, it is nearly 100% concentric. You never have to kinetically lower a sled from a high action potential (excerpt from my days of physical chemistry). It is always on the ground. Your quads and glutes are burning on all cylinders, but its all concentric. Yes, you still may get sore because it is really hard, but once you are trained for that kind of effort, you may not get sore anymore. Movements like Farmer Carries are close to this as well because you don’t pick up the weight very high and you lower it a couple inches back to the ground.

2. Olympic weightlifting – this is where tongue in cheek comes into play—yes, there is still a squat in Olympic lifting. When you catch a clean at the rack position and lower into a squat, that is eccentric. The same is true when you catch a snatch. But, what if you used a manageable weight that you caught either in a power clean or a clean where you don’t lower when you catch. Then, it would be almost all concentric. The key is dropping the weight. So if you are not in a gym that allows weight to be dropped and that doesn’t have bumper plates, you’ll be in a jam. Again, kinetic energy. From floor to overhead is concentric, but if you use any effort to lower the weight, it adds the eccentric. Let’s say you are doing power cleans. You clean it, then drop it, then do it again. Its a great workout without any eccentric contraction.

3. Throwing/lifting movements – a strongman atlas stone or soft stone lift is perfect! You can lift it to shoulder or overhead, then drop it. Med ball slams are pretty good too. Lift it and drop or slam it to the ground. Try a 30 or 50 pound ball 20 to 100 times and you’ll realize what a sick workout it is. And its nearly all concentric. You can also do a wallball drop. You can’t catch it or that will be eccentric. This is better for a heavier med ball. Do like a wallball throw to a mark on the wall or rafters, then let it drop. Clean it and then do it again.

You can get really creative with this. Basically, anything that starts from the floor (no potential energy) to some height (maximum potential energy), then drop it. That will most likely be concentric in your body.

When do you use strictly concentric lifting?

You use concentrics when you don’t want to or can’t get sore. I teach yoga classes and I need to be able to demonstrate poses to students. If I can’t do a pushup (chaturanga) or a squat (chair pose), I’m not going to be able to demonstrate. I can’t afford cramps either, especially in hamstrings or biceps. So, either I don’t workout the day before class, or I do concentric work instead. Also, maybe you are on a deload for competition; maybe you’re running a race on the weekend; or maybe you are working as a massage therapist or tire changer and you need to be able to function at work—-that’s when you use concentrics.

I hope this gives you something to think about. Have fun and keep at it!

Train smarter!!

The Goggins Effect

My YouTube feed is full of workout videos, lots of fishing, some travel, and motivational videos. And by workout, I mean Strongman, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, a little bodybuilding, yoga, Ashtanga yoga, animal yoga, and Tai-Chi. Yes, I end up watching a lot of Joe Rogan too.

If you subscribe to Joe’s feed, you’ll notice a lot of talk about David Goggins. Not only directly with David Goggins, but other people talking about him as well. But I was never very interested to watch. I mean, I would start and quickly change the channel.

To be honest, when I first started watching videos before YouTube or any social media, there were other venues to see such things. Often they were web pages, listservs, and bulletin boards. What turned me off about David Goggins was the same thing that turned me off about this video called "Every Second Counts". There was this brash guy who couldn’t talk without cursing every other word. Mind you, I was raised in a household that never cursed. When I got into the Army, there were guys who couldn’t say a single sentence without a curse word in it. It was just how they were conditioned to speak. I never felt the need to communicate that way. Even when I later became an Army Infantry Drill Instructor, it wasn’t something I had to do to be hard and get my point across.

But eventually, this guy on "Every Second Counts" broke me down. I started to see through the inflammatory language and get to his point. This man was David Castro. He has been the 2nd man-in-charge throughout the life of CrossFit. He was an ex-Navy Seal and instructor, so he has built this vocabulary over the years. Since I was also in the military, I gravitated toward what he was talking about; and it lead me down the path of CrossFit that I still do today. The actual video that hooked me was one called "Nasty Girls". It was a workout done by 3 ladies who got after it to the original tune Nasty Girls. They did cleans, strict muscle ups, and air squats, really killing themselves along the way. I was amazed at how they could do that. But that path is a whole other story.

As I circle back to David Goggins, all I could hear at first was the coarseness of his words. I couldn’t see through that and walls were built in my mind. But something finally broke through a month ago and I decided to give him a chance. Like my wife says, if there is good character development in a story, she can listen or watch a story or movie and be totally engaged. That’s what got me in his book. His book doesn’t start out about how great David Goggins is; it started at how broken he was. The story of his abuse as a child was my hook. I felt anxious and in pain as I read. And then I couldn’t put the book down. I ended up staying up 4 hours past my bedtime that night.

Mind you, I’m intelligent, but not necessarily a fast reader. Fortunately, I had some air travel ahead of me and that’s where I can read voraciously. I finished his book and let it settle into my mind for a while. Then I started watching Goggins Clips on YouTube and anything else I could find on him. When you go back to the broken boy, the 300 pound depressed man, and mental challenges of his intellect, it opens your mind to what he has accomplished in life. It goes beyond the physical into what the mind is capable of.

Since I have a history of ultramarathoning, backpacking, and even CrossFit, I really connected with what he was saying. I’m also a Yoga teacher. Believe me, more than any other practice in life, I feel yoga helps us deal with limitations. Either you are very strong but inflexible or very flexible but weak. Some people can bind into pretzels but can’t do an arm balance. Others can handstand for 10 minutes but can’t do a half lotus. It explores the limitations we put on ourselves and opens your mind. This is exactly what Goggins is getting at.

Goggins has reinvigorated my mind. And, in turn, my mind is changing my body. The past week has been amazing for working out. I’ve explored more of what is possible. But not only have I evaluated on paper what I’ve done, but how my mind has faced adversity. I won’t regurgitate all the ideas from Goggins book (though I probably eventually will). Let me just say its very profound. Its nothing like I’ve experienced before.

Give his book "Can’t Hurt Me" a chance. And if you’re like me, you can buy the "clean" version. I hear the audiobook is even more amazing. More to come on the after effects in my life.