Posts Tagged 'exercise'

Strain to Gain

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“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

The macho T-shirts could not be more incorrect.

What is intended as a powerful metaphor for working through obstacles has become a mantra inviting injury.

Pain is an indicator of danger — life threatening danger.

The truth is, the most effective tool for development is strain.

It is the adaptation to an uncomfortable stimulus which stretches us beyond current boundaries, not jumping to the next plateau before we are remotely prepared.

Pushing to the edge leaves us expanded, similar to the joint aches associated with a growth spurt.

In this manner, we move improve inch by inch instead of breaking in two.

Weakness leaves the body by degrees over time.

Strain tests and builds capacity. Pain exceeds it.

Variety Shows

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Switching things up is a key to peak performance in any arena — sports or entertainment, business or life.

The benefits of changing an established routine are manifold. When it comes to fitness, doing so is a necessity. The body is always searching for the most efficient way to perform a given activity.

In order to reach the sort of elite level we all seek (if only deep down), we have to unlock ourselves from the chains of a memorized — and therefore easier — program.

I have a hard time doing this.

I enjoy running. I get some miles in six days most weeks, testing my cardiorespiratory system and relieving stress, to a lesser extent. As much as I hate to admit it, such repetition can eventually do more harm than good.

I’ll get bored.

I’ll get injured.

Thankfully, I know better.

Yesterday, my brother, sister-in-law and I did our monthly measurements. This includes weight and waist-to-hip ratios, as usual, but I added another wrinkle for myself:

I decided to perform an experiment over the next four weeks and abandon distance running.

Early in the evening, I ran 1.56 miles in 9:38. Using math to project this across the traditional 2.4km test, I covered the appropriate distance in 9:12, averaging 6:08 per mile.

Why did I do this, you ask?

This set a baseline for me in terms of Maximal Aerobic Speed and VO2 max, a pair of intertwined indicators of a person’s ability to take in and distribute oxygen during exercise. Generally speaking, higher ratings equate to the ability go farther and faster.

I’m curious about improving fitness with less traditional endurance workouts, a concept I’ve read about but have yet to really attempt myself. I plan to use regiments based on building agility and speed while putting the heart to work. The idea is to create an all-around program built on the intervals I already use, substituting other exercises for out-and-out running to get the desired effect.

In short, I’m going to get back to basics.


Mountain climbers.



On April 10th, I’ll retest and see what variety shows.

Feeding the Horse

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Here’s a startling fact: exercise won’t help you lose weight.

Though we’ve been told otherwise for years by doctors and fitness professionals alike, it’s unfortunately a fallacy. It is logical to assume moving more and eating less will help us shave off pounds — the simplicity is difficult to argue with.

Our bodies just don’t work that way.

Sure, in the short term, we get a benefit from this unbalanced equation. The initial shock of extra activity without a matching rise in food intake causes the body to grab fuel from the most reliable source it has: excess body fat.

The quick disappearance of five or ten pounds is more from physiological surprise than the effectiveness of the new regimen, though.

Once the body recovers from the scramble to provide energy, it will adjust within (at most) a few weeks.

The endocrine system is finely-tuned to ensure survival however possible. By acting to accommodate varying conditions, stuffed or starved, it keeps the body going — whether we do so at an optimal level is a question for another day.

When push comes to shove, we either increase our intake or decrease our movement.

The body is designed with fail-safe mechanisms to make sure the calories in is as close as possible to calories used.

As a result, choosing to decrease portion sizes or skip meals altogether leaves us lethargic and groggy. As time wears on, we lack the pep to tackle our regular daily tasks, let alone hit the gym and slam some weights around. We naturally downshift to conserve energy for vital processes — the workings of the brain, heart and lungs, for example.

On the other hand, if we run 15 miles a day, we make sure to ingest enough to do so. The chemical signals for appetite ramp up our drive to find food. Regardless of how much we try to stay away from the fridge, we end up tearing through a buffet like the Tazmanian Devil.

This is unavoidable.

If we work like horses, we can (and will) get hungry like them, too.

This is Healthier

Four Weeks' Difference: 1/16 (l) and 2/13 (r)

Some things we have to see to believe.

Four weeks ago, I wrote a revealing post about my desire to shift my body composition in subtle ways by paying more attention to what I eat.

I gave up sweets and focused on eating more meat, seeds, nuts and leafy vegetables.

I decided to work out again — in the way I always told myself would be ideal.

The change is evident.

First and foremost — because I know you’re wondering — I did lose a fair amount of weight. I was 170 pounds when my brother, sister-in-law and I did “before” measurements on January 16th, four days into adopting the Paleo lifestyle.

I clocked in at 155 on February 13th, fifteen pounds lighter — a misleading number, for the record. A nasty case of stomach flu tore me apart that weekend, leaving me either in bed or on the toilet for the better part of 30 hours. After a snack early Saturday afternoon, I was unable to eat or drink anything until Monday morning.

It was Tuesday before I returned to full strength.

Dehydrated and starved, my weight skewed downward.

The next evening, after eating three meals more like my normal intake, the scale hovered at 160 — what I played soccer at in college. I consider this “unofficial,” as I stepped on the scale merely to reassure myself (as I said before, my intent is to be lean, not emaciated) and skipped taking other measurements.

Looking at the pictures, you’ll notice the differences in two spots, primarily: the face and abdomen.

A comparison of the jawline highlights the change: it is far more apparent on the right than left. Though it would be unfair to say I was chubby before, a distinct streamlining has occurred in a highly-noticeable area. This is why I advise anyone tracking weight loss to take up-close-and-personal facial photos — when the rest of the body seems to lag behind, those pictures tell the (encouraging) truth.

Now, notice the beltline. My waist slimmed by two inches, a portion of which must be attributed to my inability to take (or even sniff, really) a bite of food at the time. Still, the visual is telling: an increase in tone and decrease in, ahem, “softness” at the area most men stealthily begin packing on pounds after college.

Despite being very pleased, I have to admit the pictures tell a small part of the story:

  • Sleep feels deeper and more refreshing
  • Energy levels are more stable throughout the day
  • Meals satisfy appetite longer
  • Exercise recovery seems faster

This weekend, we decided to incorporate some of our old favorites back in. I had some pizza, a couple beers and some of the desserts I used to enjoy again.

The fast food was bland.

The fries turned my stomach.

The cookies were unbearably sweet.

I look forward to my next slab of meat and handful of baby spinach more all the time.

This is Not Healthy

Thread Barefoot

“How do you like them?”

“They’re great,” I reply, as they continue staring toward the floor.

“Doesn’t it hurt your feet to run in them?”

“Nope. I actually have much less pain now.”

I get a lot of quizzical looks.

As I go on to explain the differences switching to Vibram FiveFingers from traditional running shoes has made for my ankles, knees and lower back, most people I talk to keep their eyes locked on my toes.

I talk about the biomechanics of running as well as the structural integrity and strength of the human body. I’ve answered the same questions many times.

In the end, most shrug and say, “That makes sense.”

I bought my first pair of KSOs more than a year ago and will wear them for the rest of my running life.

The raving I do only scratches the surface of how much better it feels. I’ve covered hundreds of miles with minimal soreness (if any) in what had been problem areas, particularly my knees. The thin sole brings a sense of connection to whatever surface I’m on — I feel faster and more fluid.

The sensation has led me to wear my Puma soccer shoes around more often than anything else. Sure, I have some Nikes I throw on from time to time, but the low-profile of my Ligas comes closest to replicating natural movement.

I would even wear them if somebody puked in them.


There are two basic reasons making the switch has been beneficial:

1. In-born architecture
The feet are a marvel of engineering. Fully one quarter of the bones and about twenty percent of the muscles in the human body are at the end of the legs! Designed to disperse the weight of all the appendages and organs above, the feet handle tons of force with each step.

Modern running shoes have shifted most runners away from the strength of the foot: the arch. Due to heavy padding, most people strike the ground with the heel first, which puts the brakes on with each step and jars the body as far up as the lumbar spine.

Barefoot running emphasizes making contact closer to the ball of the foot, which — after some practice and strengthening — improves running efficiency.

2. Muscle tone
The support built into the average pair of sneakers diminishes the amount of work necessary for the body to maintain balance. Dozens of muscles work in concert to keep us upright, but locking them up in bulky shoes relieves the pressure on those proprioceptive — position-sensing — tissues and leads to weakness of ligaments and tendons. Conditions like plantar fascitis or fallen arches might result.

I can attest to the fact there are few more powerful wake-up calls than the first morning after running without the crutch of molded EVA underfoot. I limped around with sore calves for days.

That’s normal.

Muscles are supposed to ache when challenged in a new way.

With that in mind, I’d like to say barefoot running is for everyone.

The jury’s still out, though.

When something becomes a craze, it’s difficult to know what the long-term effects are. It takes years or decades to measure that effectively.

All I can say is it works for me.

All you can do is give it a try.

My Running Partner

In case you’re unaware, I love music.

As I’ve written lately about the rekindling of my romance with running, I’ve decided to take a moment to discuss what I listen to while stabbing the pavement with my feet.

My tunes are my running partner.

They exhort me to keep going and, occasionally, push me too fast. In addition to the solitude of a gentle afternoon jog through the park, having time alone with my MP3 player shuffling through my selections.

I have six exercise playlists.

Four of them are based solely on genre and pictured below. The fifth is a combination of the “Classic Rock”, “Nike”, “Rap” and “Rock” groups when I’m looking to work out to the greatest variety. The sixth is a set of prepared tracks, which are specific to the task of the day.

I’ve always found it easier to get going when I’m certain the rhythm keeps me charged up.

Apart from the occasional expletive–I’m looking at you, Dr. Dre–the lists are remarkably free of objectionable material.

How are we alike? In what ways do we differ?

Classic Rock: Favorites include "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin, "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix, "Under Pressure" by Queen (with David Bowie) and "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger

Nike Playlist: Inspired by music I've seen in ads and movies. "Extreme Ways" by Moby and "Ready, Steady, Go" by Paul Oakenfold are the heavy hitters here.

Rap Playlist: The one with the bad words, though "I Ain't No Joke" by Eric B. and Rakim, "The Projects" by Handsome Boy Modeling School and "Express Yourself" by NWA are all blameless.

Rock Playlist: Always good for a stress-burning angry run, "The Pretender" and "Come Back" by Foo Fighters, along with "Believe" by The Bravery head up this collection.


Running into God

On The Road Again

On The Road Again

It’s been four months since I went for a run.

Well, it had been until yesterday. Inspired by the fascinating book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall and the story of the Tarahumara (tah-rah-oo-MA-rah) people of northern Mexico, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs and began training furiously last November.

I’d set a goal of eclipsing my personal record of 5:15 in the mile on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve been an athlete all my life and enjoy exercise. I relish the feeling of pushing myself to the limits physically and mentally. I’ve had more than a handful of moments where I asked myself if I was going to die so, just as I always had, I went out and did what felt natural. My body would tell me when to stop.

The thing is, there’s a lot of learning that goes with running barefoot.

From the get-go, my body was completely in shock. I found out very quickly how undeveloped the stabilizing muscles in my feet and lower legs were. I shuffled around like an old man for a couple of weeks as they became acclimated to being used and eventually found a groove. My mileage pushed up and I began to feel like I was getting back into the kind of cardiovascular shape I’d been in before.

Then I injured my foot.

Yes, I’m a man.

No, I did not read the directions.

When making the changeover from Nikes to nothing, beginning on forgiving surfaces (i.e. not concrete) is highly recommended. In all my genius, I had been pounding pavement for six weeks and the little niggle in my left foot became a full-blown “hurting mother.” (Medical term.) I opted to lay off it for a while instead of pressing on to a stress fracture.

After fifteen or twenty days of healing, I was out of the habit and indulging in the holiday smorgasbord.

This brings us to yesterday. I decided to get back on the wagon when one of my best friends told me he’d dropped some weight. (No, we’re not competing for bikini season.) The long layoff had to end, as exercise may be the magic bullet to reduce the frustration of my day-to-day life.

I decided to try ChiRunning, having picked up the book at my local bookstore and read through it a few weeks ago. I will admit to some trepidation at the thought of changing my running style, focusing on moving my feet faster and landing differently.

I was mistaken.

The technique is built around “forms,” simple concentrations that aggregate to create an efficient and effortless stride for mile after mile. I chose to focus on cadence, the pick-them-up-and-put-them-down pace which is the constant in ChiRunning, a staggering 85-90 cycles (170-180 steps) per minute.

It was easier than I anticipated.

Using a simple beeping metronome MP3 I prepared using Audacity, I quickly got in sync with the proper rhythm and went for a few minutes. I took a breather for a couple, then began again, really absorbing the movement and programming it into my brain. I even switched over to my regular tunes for awhile and tested myself to see if I could maintain the “one-two-one-two” tempo.

It felt great.

Despite the fact my core must be strengthened, my legs seemed to melt away. I felt little in the way of knee or ankle pain I’ve had before. My muscles seemed more responsive and snappy with each step, like fatigue was a distant memory. I’m looking forward to putting some miles on this body again.

First time I’ve said that in way too long.

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