Tag Archives: fit

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.

3 Beginner Tips for Diving into Ashtanga Yoga

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Someone once said “Yoga is for everyone, but Ashtanga might not be for everyone.”

There may be a little truth in that, but I mostly disagree. Ashtanga CAN be for everyone.

We are in a modern age of yoga. There was a time when you had to qualify or apply to study with a yoga teacher. The dynamics are a bit different today. If you want to practice yoga, you can. It is completely up to you. And I’m not just talking about beginner or gentle yoga classes. I’m talking about Iyengar, Ashtanga, or some other seemingly advanced practice. You just have to try and give it a chance. Here are my 3 tips for venturing into Ashtanga Yoga:

  1. It’s YOUR Practice
    For most yoga studios, we want you to practice with us. We aren’t going to push you away. We love that you try your best. Teachers love nothing more than to see progress. YOU make the choice to come to class and allow the teacher to guide you. Yes, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini,… are specific yoga styles with nuances specific to their practice. We are going to show you the style of THIS practice. But it is still YOUR practice. We facilitate and you do what your body says you can do. Eventually, you’ll find WHY we say to do things a certain way. But you should follow your own path to finding what works for you.
  2. Modify Everything!
    I have been practicing yoga for a while now and teaching for several years. But there is still a lot I can’t do and may never do. But I get the same benefits from the practice whether I modify a pose or not. So if you are new to yoga or to Ashtanga, your body will not be used to certain positions. But don’t judge yourself or be discontent about your place in your journey. You do what you do and all is fine. Nobody will judge you. A yoga teacher never judges you if you can’t touch your toes or bind yourself like a pretzel. They’ll help you wherever you are. Modify every single pose if need be. Just do what you can and have fun.
  3. Make It Enjoyable!
    I used to run track in high school and 5K/10K races since I was in the 6th grade. I knew exactly what to do, what to wear, and how to train. But when I began running ultra marathons later in life, everything changed. It seemed what I knew for 20 years was only about 10% similar to ultra marathons. It blew my mind. Ashtanga might blow your mind too. Ashtanga Yoga is different from anything you’ve ever done before. It is a very different culture. The “breath” is the first thing that jumps out at you. But as you delve into it, you realize how important it is. There are so many things that by your 5th or 50th class, a little light goes off and you say “Oh, that’s why!” But you find your way in your own time. Meanwhile, have fun. Be amazed by what your fellow yogis can do and don’t let it bother you if you aren’t there yet. I’m the last person who will get frustrated by not putting my feet behind my head. My body is different and that’s OK. What matters is that I’m growing in both mind and body.

Please don’t be afraid to go to Ashtanga and make it your own practice. You don’t have to do everything. Try out the poses and have fun. Ask the teacher for modifications or find something that works for your body. If you need to take child’s pose or just sit for a few breaths, do that. Soak up the experience and have fun. Its ok to laugh and feel the moment. You came to class and that’s what matters.

Historical Note: In the early days in Mysore, India, ayurvedic doctors would send people with debilitating diseases to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. The Primary Series, or “Yoga Chikitsa”, is called the healing series. If someone had a disease where they could barely move, he would help them into a pose and then have them breathe. That was their practice.If you are sickly, overweight, are weak, have scoliosis or diabetes,..then Ashtanga IS for you. Ashtanga wasn’t made for elite, uber qualified yogis only. It IS for everyone. It often healed them; and it may heal you too.

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.

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.

On The Edge

merman pose

This morning, I did a hard CrossFit workout. People who dislike CrossFit always point out how form breaks down as you get tired. That seems to be the biggest detraction from this form of high-intensity exercise. Truth is, they always show a video of a beginner who is still in the process of learning proper movement patterns. Yeah, you could say maybe they shouldn’t be doing an Olympic clean & jerk in the first place. But the same could be said for a simple pushup or air squat. All of it is interconnected. What I have found is that mid-way through a workout (WOD), I find a few form glitches just because I’m trying to move faster. But as I get really tired, my form actually improves. A single 135# clean & jerk starts to look like an attempt at 245#. I get set, focus on my pulls, and focus on form. Its the only way you’ll get the weight up. So form degradation is really not happening.

This leads me to yoga. The other day, I taught a Rocket Yoga class. At the end of 5 sun salutation A’s (surya namaskar A) and 4 sun B’s, I had them jump right into a forearm stand (Pincha Mayurasana) for 10 breaths. Usually, when I have yogis do harder inversions and arm balances, I have them rest in child’s pose first. Then they can focus on form and putting strength where it needs it. But we jumped right into it.

This could be done for any technical movement. It might be a difficult yoga pose, a heavy weightlifting movement, walking a slackline, or posing on a Stand Up Paddleboard. It makes you reign in the chaos of your mind, forget the lactic acid in your muscles, and makes you focus hard on the task at hand. So, after my hard CrossFit WOD this morning, instead of laying on the floor and bragging about the sweat angel I made, maybe I should do a handstand or forearm stand. Maybe I should do a set of slow, deep squats. Or balance in Chair Pose on a Bosu Ball. Then, I’m not only training my body, I’m training my mind. It is a true test of focus.

(pictured: me in Merman pose, a man’s version of mermaid. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Off the workout plateau

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Sometimes, a new piece of equipment is just what you need to bump you out of the ditch. I’ve had my 3rd day working out with this new trap bar that I bought off of Amazon. I’ve always been curious about it, but I’ve been a purist Olympic weightlifter and CrossFit’r for the past decade and was not very interested. I’m totally sold.

I’m using this as my warm-up for every workout. I leave it at 135 pounds and will do 10-15 deadlifts and a few shrugs to warm-up. Eventually, I’ll start to put some real weight on it and work in some sets. My body is already adapting to it.

I had mentioned a few posts back how bodybuilding has made its way back into my program. I’m probably doing too much right now, but I have some mandatory “active rest days” that help a lot when I teach yoga classes. I also keep to Ashiatsu massage every 3-4 weeks.

Here is my plan:
Warmup with light rowing, ski erg, or bouncing on a mini trampoline*
Trap Bar Deadlifts for a set of 10-15 emphasizing formCrossFit WOD including the bodypart emphasis for the day – goal is not to kill myself but to get my heart cranked up really high
Olympic Weightlifting with reps/assistance work on Weds & Sat, then heavy Thurs & Sun
Bodybuilding with Chest emphasis on Weds & Sat and Back on Thurs & Sun
Grace or Tabata Interval which is 30 reps of something or 8x 20 secs work with 10 secs rest*

*I used to be a runner from age 8 to 48. I injured my calf and it virtually ended my running career, which makes me sad. I’m using the trampoline barefooted to maybe get back into the running game.
*Tabata intervals are researched as the top way to increase cardiovascular health and performance. You can do almost anything. Wallballs, med ball slams, pushups, situps, pullups, push presses with a barbell, hand stand pushups, air squats, whatever!!

My next goals for the trap bar are:

  • Farmer carries around the block
  • Plyometric jumps
  • Overhead presses
  • More bent over rows
  • Lunges (?)
  • Heavy shrugs

 

 

Oh Those Bodybuilders…

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Without stereotyping myself, I’ve been into something called functional fitness for about a decade now. Actually, if you do sports, strongman, or anything that looks like training we did in the military, then you are doing functional fitness. You can pick apart the definition for functional all you want, but I’ve recently opened my mind to this more.

I love the performance based training that I do, but that kind of all-out training can be difficult to maintain without wearing yourself out both mentally and physically. In past months, I’ve adopted some of the old-school bodybuilding techniques that I was raised with. I’m really noticing tendencies and weaknesses from the training I’ve done. For instance, an incline dumbbell fly looks nothing like anything I’ve done for 10 years. You don’t have the benefit of leverage or momentum. Its just you and this crazy movement. I can feel tweaks in my shoulders where injury and weakness lie. And, I’m starting to feel that “pump” again that Arnold talked about in Pumping Iron. I’m not huge per bodybuilder standards, but I can feel that flush of blood into the muscles. It feels good…real good!

To tell you the truth, when I came to CrossFit, I was already pretty strong from bodybuilding and powerlifting. When they said to squat or deadlift, I was right there with everybody. When they said do pullups or heavy kettlebell work, I’m all over it. But when they said to do something for reps or something dynamic like box jumps or jump ropes, I wasn’t there at all. I was a top-fuel dragster that flamed out quickly. I wasn’t the stock car that was strong to a long-finish.

But what I’ve lost in finding a longer-lasting performance is the ability to strictly apply strength. I’ve lost what it meant to “feel” the muscle as it contracts. I mean, you really have to get your mind into the muscle itself. It feels really good to be in that space. And a great side effect is that my muscles are growing again.

Life is about balance. We try things, we learn, and we adapt. Find your place in life.

Be Nice to your Yoga Teacher

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And personal trainer too!

When I was in yoga teacher training, someone said that when you are in a yoga class, the teacher is likely the least wealthy (by money standards) in the room. This is probably true in most cases. Many yoga teachers I know are University students, small-company entrepreneurs, or some other transitional status. This is also likely the case for many personal trainers and other service professionals.

I am probably in the minority in that I have a full-time job as a scientist. But I also know this is all relative. I was teaching a class at a gym with a lot of older members and retirees. I noticed as I was walking to my 2004 Ford F150 truck a lot of BMW’s, Mercedes, and fancy Cadillac’s. So I was probably the poorest person in class that day.

Regardless of our social status, we provide a service to the community. For me, I see this service as a necessity. But in the context of worldly needs, it could be seen more of a pleasure than a need. I still see yoga as a need in that it maintains my health and mental state, of which I’d be a hot mess without it. I’d probably miss days of work from my bad back and I’d probably go a little crazy. So yeah, its a need for sure.

So be nice to your service professional. They care for you and want to see you reap the benefits of a healthy yoga practice.

Namaste!

Baby Steps to the WOD

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Mental barriers to working out are huge for most people. We are full of excuses.

  • I don’t have my clothes with me to workout
  • I’m sore. Maybe I’ll just rest today
  • I don’t have time
  • I’ll be too sore to function if I workout hard
  • I’ll just do this tomorrow instead

And these are only a few that I use myself. As a yoga teacher, I need to be able to demonstrate poses in classes I teach. If I wipe out my chest and can’t do a single chaturanga, that’s not good. So I structure workouts around that. Many of us have something that holds us back. Time seems to be the biggest hurdle.

These excuses are largely invalid. Instead of simply walking down the hall, lunge or hop down the hall. That is, if your colleagues don’t mind. Maybe do 50 squats or 30 pushups in your office or cubicle. That takes all of 1 or 2 minutes. Sit forward on your chair and lift your legs for a 1 minute hold. There really are no excuses.

I’m lucky that I have a very well-equipped CrossFit gym in my basement. I have everything from competition Olympic KG bumper plates, to Concept 2 rower and ski erg, to wall balls. There really aren’t many excuses for me NOT to workout. I could easily stroll down in my jammies or my work clothes and bust out a WOD. But why don’t I do that? Because my mind won’t let me.

So, this morning, I almost called off my workout. I teach Rocket Yoga tomorrow and thought, I really don’t want to be sore tomorrow. But you know what? I can make a WOD (workout of the day) that doesn’t affect my yoga teaching muscles too much. I was short on time, so this is what I did.

WOD 1: 5 rounds for time

  • 5 kettlebell swings 1.5 pood
  • 5 burpees

This was short and sweet and took under 5 minutes – and my heart jumped out of my skin. I rested less than 2 minutes and went to the next WOD.

WOD 2: 5 rounds for time

  • 5 pullups
  • 10 push press with 30 pound dumbbells

Again, this was nothing really. But I worked opposing muscle groups and got my heart pumping. Both of these WODs hurt. If something seems easier, then you go faster and it hurts just as much.

All together this took under 15 minutes. And I was sweating hard and was totally exhausted. But now I feel wonderful. It doesn’t take much at all. You just have to do it. Don’t even think about it. Don’t even pre-plan. Just get it into your mind that you’ll do something. And do it!!

Side Butt

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Wait! Before you run away. Listen to what I have to say.

Writers are inspired by what they are feeling in the “now”. And right now, I’m feeling very sore in my gluteus medius region a.k.a. the “side butt”.

One way we can divide human movement is in unilateral and multilateral movement. These aren’t exclusive of one another, but they are generalities useful for discussion.

Unilateral Movements (mostly)

  • road or track running
  • bicycling
  • most resistance lifting (Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, …)
  • other cardio (elliptical exerciser, rowing, …)

Multilateral movements

  • most sports (basketball, soccer, baseball, racquet sports, …)
  • trail running
  • yoga

I point these out because, for one, we may be deficient in our side butt muscles. Any time we have a deficiency, we compensate in other areas and this can lead to long-term problems and injuries. Secondly, if we do movements or sports that use side glutes, then it makes sense to strengthen them more.

There are numerous exercises that are commonly used to target the side glutes. Side leg raises either free or with cables/bands and side-wards running or bounding. These are great dynamic movements, but isometric and isotonic contraction that focuses on weight bearing may be more effective (which we do in yoga).

Yesterday, I spent a considerable amount of time in Warrior 3, dancer, side angle, and triangle poses. These are all incredible side butt poses, but the most incredible may be half moon (ardha chandrasana). Warrior 1 & 2 and many other poses target side glutes as well. I may be biased, but there is no better builder of side glute muscles than yoga.

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Pictured 1) gluteus maximus (posterior view), 2) gluteus medius, 3) gluteus minimus.

Muscles 2 & 3 help abduct the femur (leg opening) from your central axis. This helps stabilize the hip joint and adds considerable stability in movement. If you do squats and your knees turn inward, these are the muscles that help keep you knees in line with your feet. Its a major weakness in many novice and women lifters. Outer hip strength helps prevent injuries like hip dislocations and even knee and ankle trauma. It can also add fullness to your appearance in jeans or even a bikini (oh my!)

I never recommend that you do one pose for a bodypart or for a specific sport. There are no quick fixes. So I always say:

All yoga is good yoga

Our bodies are interconnected. And when you do yoga, it encompasses every little muscle of your body plus breath, balance, and mind. When you do Warrior poses, think about strength as you press into your feet. This engages those side glute muscles. And spend plenty of time in half moon pose as well.

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(yours truly doing a half-moon in the urban jungle)