Friday, March 29, 2013

Sugar isn't just making you fat, it's killing you.

WARNING: This post is a little heavy on the science jargon. Important and interesting, yes, but if you don't have the patience for a little pop-culturified hard science you might want to skip this one.

Still here? Good. Lets do this.

This article was linked to on the CrossFit homepage and it got the gears turning in my head a little bit. There's a couple of issues here, although it's not exactly the authors fault. He found some solid information that is in fact very important and wanted to disseminate it to the general public. What I find troubling is the fact that this was news to him, or anyone.

Physiology lesson time, folks. Don't worry. I'll be gentle. Promise.

Insulin is one of the two main hormones that regulates your blood sugar levels. The other is glucagon. They essentially have opposite functions.

Insulin is activated when your blood sugar is elevated and it signals your body to take sugar and other nutrients out of your bloodstream, thereby lowering your blood sugar levels.

Glucagon is activated when your blood sugar levels drop, and it initiate the break down of glycogen (storage form of glucose in your muscles) releases it into your bloodstream, thereby raising your blood sugar levels. It also plays a role in lipolysis (breakdown of fatty acids) but apparently the exact mechanism by which it does this is still under debate.

This is pretty oversimplified but bear with me. Even at it's simplest level you guys should be able to see why this article is troubling.

So, we've got insulin. The main function of this sumb*tch is to regulate blood sugar levels. Thats point 1.

Then we have insulin resistance syndrome, or pre-diabetes.When the proteins responsible for recognizing insulin are over stimulated, their ability to achieve the same effect from the same amount of insulin is impaired. Think of it like alcohol tolerance - the more you drink, the more you need to drink to get buzzed. While the cellular mechanisms are different ultimately the effect is the same. The more insulin you use, eventually the more you need to achieve the same effect. This is point 2.

So now we have full on diabetes of which there are two types, 1 and 2.
Type 1 is genetic and basically the insulin factory (beta cells) in your pancreas just don't work. You can't produce insulin naturally so you have to monitor your blood sugar levels yourself and inject insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is caused mainly by lifestyle choices. As with anything involving the human body there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances but I don't have the time to address them all here.  A steady, high intake of sugar causes insulin resistance. Eventually it gets to a point where your body can not produce enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. Chronically elevated blood sugar leads to the production of a bunch of inflammatory cytokines (read: bad sh*t) and prevents the secretion of glucagon which makes losing weight that much harder. This is point 3

So. Insulin, blood-sugar levels and sugar consumption are all intrinsically, inescapably connected. This is a very brief overview but you can probably still see that this is the case.

This article, which was published last month, states that, "it’s not just obesity that can cause diabetes: sugar can cause it, too, irrespective of obesity. And obesity does not always lead to diabetes." Well. Yeah. No sh*t dude. That's like saying that alcoholism can lead to cirrhosis. F*cking really? 

On a side note it's totally worth mentioning that there is a gigantic body of evidence that most type 2 diabetes cases can be reversed through dietary intervention and exercise. Yeah. It really is that fixable. 

This all goes back to my earlier post on educating yourself. The human body is an incredibly complex, beautiful machine. We still don't understand how it all works but we have a pretty good grip on the basics. Manipulation of insulin/glucagon levels through dietary regulation of blood sugar can actually be a really powerful tool for burning fat and building muscle if you understand the mechanisms. Stimulating production of insulin isn't always a bad thing. It's all about balance. 

I just want to make one last point in conclusion. So, the fitness world has to some degree demonized carbohydrates of late. We're now finally getting into the frame of mind that we should distinguish between good and bad carbohydrates which is a positive shift from all carbs being bad. While the distinction can be difficult for some, in the language of this post the difference is incredibly simple. Bad carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to spike and cause immediate, significant production of insulin. These would be things like high fructose corn syrup or any other concentrated, simple sugar. Again, consuming some simple carbohydrates before or after a workout for the purpose of fueling yourself or causing a post workout insulin spike that accelerates recovery isn't such a bad thing, but that's another post for another time.

TL;DR Sugar can f*ck your world up if you're not careful and diabetes is bad. Thanks for reading. Cheers.

Todays Workout:
Dynamic Warm-Up - 10-15min

Deadlift 5x5 (80% 1RM)
Bench Press 3x5  (175,185,195)

Met con:
10 KB swings (1.5 pood)
10 Dips
10 Burpees
Rope Climb (1 ascent)
8 rounds for time

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seeing Red

Anger is a funny thing. It can drive you to do things you normally wouldn't even consider, enable you to perform feats you would have otherwise thought impossible. It causes actual legitimate physical symptoms, sets off chemical signaling pathways that lead to the release of adrenaline and other compounds that in the middle of your rage can make you feel unstoppable; it can make you feel like you could and should crush everything in your path. Anger can be addictive. Indulging that addiction can lead you to feel alive, shiningly, burningly, brilliantly alive.

Anger can also kill you.

I'm sure you guys have heard of the stress hormone Cortisol. A lot of sources of fitness information break down hormones into one of two categories: anabolic or catabolic. Anabolic means building, catabolic means breaking down. While this is a bit of an oversimplification it is instructive and for our purposes here, fairly accurate. Cortisol falls squarely into the catabolic category.

In general as fitness heads we tend to associate catabolic with the negative. It's not always the case and way back in the day it was actually an incredibly useful evolutionary adaptation.

Say you're a caveman, just walking along minding your caveman business. Maybe you're playing with a particularly nice looking stick you've found or, if you're a very lucky and badass cavedude, dragging a gigantic dead animal that you just killed the sh*t out of back to your domicile (read:cave). Suddenly, OH SH*T IT'S A GIGANTIC PREDATORY BEAST! Mr. Sabre-tooth smelled your prize and decided that rather than being a bad ass himself he'd rather just take your sh*t. Now clearly, Mr. Sabre-tooth is kind of a d*ck, but that's besides the point. What are you going to do about it?

This is where the infamous fight or flight response kicks in. Adrenaline is one of the main facets of this response, a compound that basically supercharges your nervous system and gives you the capability of performing feats that may otherwise seem, well, superhuman. Cortisol is actually another facet of this stress response. Despite being demonized in most modern health and fitness literature cortisol's purpose was/is to provide energy. You might be a badass cavedude but lets face it. You live in a world where literally everything is trying to kill you (no, not Australia, although that place is effing scary too). Feeding yourself on a regular basis is not always the most easily accomplished task. Luckily your body has some safeguards against this and has stored some energy from that big furry thing you made prehistoric bacon out of last week.

Cortisol's job, then, is to make this energy available to you and to do so quickly. Cortisol can actually help you burn fat under the right conditions. The problem is that it's job is to basically provide you energy by any means possible and if there's not enough fat to burn or not enough carbohydrate to start the fat burning process (the chemical reaction that burns fat require some energy from glucose to get going) cortisol sees all of your delicious, hard earned muscle and goes, "okay, I'll just use that."

Now, if you're my friend badass cavedude, you don't really care about your six pack abs and your twenty four inch guns nearly as much as you do about getting Mr. Sabretooth to f*ck off so you can go enjoy some more prehistoric bacon, or at the very least you know, not die. So to your cavedude-self, this cortisol response gives you the fuel to whip some sabre-tooth ass or, if you're a lover not a fighter, the energy to turn the f*ck around and get your flight on.

Fast forward to now. Most of us don't have to worry about fighting gigantic predators with knives for teeth and swords for claws. Yes, I understand your boss is a raging bag of d*cks but it's not really the same. The problem is that our body doesn't understand that difference. We still become stressed, we still  become angry, we still initiate this fight-or-flight response in minor doses on an almost daily basis. We flood our systems with cortisol but we don't actually need to take advantage of the process it's providing. By overstimulating its production we wreak havoc on our bodies. Fun stuff, right?

The point of me telling you this is two fold. On the one hand it is absolutely worth recognizing that in controlled doses with specific purposes, anger can be useful. It can be empowering and motivating. Sometimes when there's an obstacle in your path that seems insurmountable and you feel like it's going to break you, getting angry and hulking out can drive you to get past it.

Having said that, being an angry person is just not healthy. The list of metabolic and cardiac dysfunctions that can be directly attributed to a constantly angry emotional state is fairly substantive (here's a short article specifically on how it can affect your cardiovascular health). And believe me, it's also not fun. Being constantly consumed by an inexplicable burning rage is no way to go through life. It can cause you to destroy relationships and opportunities. It can make you destroy yourself.

Look, I've been there. Maybe we all have at some point in time but please, pleasepleaseplease, if you find yourself trapped in that cycle where it feels like anger is all you know, get help. It doesn't make you weak, it doesn't make you less than you were. It makes you human. One of the most important aspects of true strength is knowing when you need someone else. It's ok.

Becoming Invincible requires balance and as stupid and Zen as this may sound, it requires being centered. Mental well being is just as important to true fitness as physical strength. I'm not telling you to ignore your emotions, nor am I telling you to attempt to forcibly control them, I don't think that's healthy either. All I'm saying is that everyone has demons and rage is one that I am painfully familiar with. They mess with us, they bring us down and sometimes they can control us but we can all exorcise our own demons. I really do believe that.

Sometimes we just can't do it on our own. That's okay.

Even Batman had Alfred.

Happy to take any questions or comments. You know what to do. Thanks for reading.


Todays Workout:
CrossFit Open Workout 13.4

Dynamic Warm Up - 10-15 min.
Warm up sets of Deadlifts/Shoulder Presses 3/3, 2/2, 1/1, 1/1, 1/1, 1/1

Clean and Jerk 135lbs (95lbs for women)
Toes to Bar

3-3,6-6,9-9,12-12, continue adding 3 reps per set until the timer runs out.
As many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 7 minutes. Your score is the total number of repetitions performed. Ill be back to post my score later tonight.

The Aftermath:

I cracked myself in the chin with the loaded bar. Stupid but kind of hilarious. I didn't notice my shin was bleeding until I collapsed on the floor. That last picture? That's where I collapsed. My score was 52. I don't have anything to compare it to at the moment but I feel like it was a weak ass showing. Going to have to try it again later this week. I didn't puke...which leads me to believe I could have gone harder....we shall see. Have a good night, kids.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Educate Yourself Part 2 - Resources

I realized shortly after my last post of informational water-boarding that some of you guys might like a few solid places to get some information. I'm gonna drop a few links here to some sources I follow pretty regularly.

Elliot Hulse/ StrengthCamp - This dude has some serious lifting chops. He's a strong man competitor and all around beast. Just...look at him. He's also very well spoken and happens to know a lot about a really wide variety of training methodologies. Sometimes he gets a little esoteric and philosophical, even for me, but he has some really great videos with some very solid information.

CrossFit Journal - The CrossFit website in general is a pretty insane resource especially considering it's 100% free. I don't really agree with the gym's pay structures and their corporate philosophy but the reality is that a huge number of people involved with CrossFit culture are really well informed and on the cutting edge of what I consider true fitness. The CrossFit Journal lays out some really spectacular basics for every aspect of fitness from flexibility to proper just might have to sift through some BS to get to it.

Marke Rippetoe - This guy is the truth when it comes to lifting massive amounts of weight. While he is a bit of a pariah in the fitness world (had publicized falling outs with both NSCA and CrossFit) His program Starting Strength remains one of the most highly respected and effective methods of building serious foundational strength for heavy compound lifts. This link actually goes to a list of articles he wrote for the website T-Nation. If you're curious about Starting Strength as a program you can google it or if there's enough interest I'll do a post about it.

MobilityWOD - Ok, this is one of my new favorite websites. It's run by a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) which means that his knowledge of how the human body works is more complex than yours or mine will probably ever be. He has a ton of great articles/videos on how to maintain the structural integrity of your body. He also isn't one of those PT's who thinks the solution to every injury is rest. If you're hurt or lacking mobility, there's a good chance this guy has an entry to help you out. It may not help you get big and jacked, but staying injury free is key to becoming invincible.

This stuff should help get you guys started. Back soon with a new post. Now get out and get after it.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Educate Yourself

Sometimes the other people I see in the gym confuse me. Take the people on the treadmill last night. At one point during my met-con circuit I couldn't get a treadmill because no less than 14 people were using them to walk less than 3 mph (Yea I might have checked...). My own personal frustrations aside, sometimes I just want to ask these people, what exactly do you think you're accomplishing right now?

Okay, I will say that I admire them for getting up and doing something. Really. Any type of movement is better than sitting on the couch and everyone who recognizes that and does something about it deserves some respect. That being said, if you've already gone through the effort to take the biggest and often hardest step, why not make sure you're going to get the most out of it?

I understand. With all the websites and blogs and gym floor heroes out there spewing their bro science and questionable principles it's hard to to know what's right. Well. I'm here to help. (just ignore that I'm theoretically one of those blogs I just mentioned. It's fine.) A lot of people who don't really know what they're doing at the gym but think they do fall into one of these two categories.

On one end of the spectrum we have the gym goers who do the same thing every time they're there. It doesn't really matter what magazine gave them the workout or what website they pulled their information from, if you're doing it the same way every day you're doing it wrong.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the functional fitness nut jobs who seem to think it's necessary to stand on a Bosu while juggling kettlebells and hopping up and down on one leg. Seriously brah, I don't know what you read in Muscle & Fiction this week, but you've been eye-banging yourself in the mirror for the last half-hour so how do you not know you look ridiculous?

Think of it like this. You've got four bottles of wine (or tequila, or whiskey, whatever). Each one of them is individually extremely flavorful and quite potent. You should enjoy them individually to get the most out of each one. This "functional training" nonsense where you're mixing five exercises while hanging upside down from a rubber band and singing the rocky theme song under your breath is the metaphorical equivalent of taking all of those bottles, mixing them together and then watering them down. Sounds kind of silly and wasteful right? Well it is.

If you are doing the right movements you do not need to combine them to feel like you're exerting yourself. The intensity at which you are doing the individual movements should be enough to stress the targeted parts of your physiology in and of themselves. If they aren't, it is because you are doing the wrong exercises or using the wrong intensity. It really is that simple.

I workout 4-5 days a week on average but I never spend more than an hour in the gym unless I'm moving really slowly or I have some serious extra aggression I need to work off. Most of my workouts consist of 5 exercises or fewer. The things I do are not complicated. I squat, deadlift, clean, press, jump, run, twist and pull. That's...pretty much it. Every exercise I do can basically be fit into one of those categories...except maybe bear crawls. I f*cking love bear crawls.

I'm going to try as concisely as possible to give you an easy template for creating a resistance based workout. I'll address aerobic/cardiovascular conditioning in a later post.

Disclaimer: It is VERY important to note that before beginning any type of resistance training or exercise program you should be cleared by your doctor. Also, the guidelines I'm about to outline are specifically referring to a population of otherwise healthy individuals with no pre-existing history of injuries/medical conditions that would prevent or hinder their ability to exercise.

Here it goes:
Presses: Any exercise where you are taking a weight and pushing it away from your body such as:
Chest Press (and any variation thereof, barbell, dumbell, cable, resistance band, push ups, whatever)
Shoulder Press (and variations)
Tricep Press (and variations)

Pulls: Any exercise where you are taking a weight/form of resistance and pulling it towards your body:
Pulldowns (and variations)
Rows (and variations)
Pull ups/chin ups (and variations)
Curls (and variations)

Squats: Any exercise where you are flexing your knee and hip simultaneously and then extending them (incredibly basic definition forgive the ambiguity)
Back squat
Front Squat
Overhead Squat
Dumbell Squat
Single Leg Squats and variations

Deadlift: Any exercise that predominantly focuses on hip extension as the prime mover. Deadlifts and Squats are very similar yet significantly different...I'll do a post on their differences later because it requires more time/space than I can give it at the moment.
Barbell Deadlift
Straight leg Deadlift (or Romanian Deadlift depending on your preference for nomenclature)

Twist: any exercise that uses the muscles of your trunk/core to produce or (this is SUPER IMPORTANT) resist rotation.
Chops/Chop Lifts (and variations)
Rotations (i.e. on a cable, with a band)

Next, figure out how many days a week you want to do resistive work. Let's say 3, because if you are a beginner you'll probably get the best results with a 3x per week full body split. All you have to do is pick 1 exercise from each category. Ready, set...go. For example

Press: Bench Press 4x8
Pull: Pull Ups 4x8
Squat: Barbell Front Squat 4x8
Deadlift: Barbell Deadlift 5x5
Twist: Cable Rotations 3x15 ea. side

Now lather, rinse, repeat for days 2 and 3, taking one day off in between. See how simple that is?

Oh, so you want to lift 4 days a week you say? Ok then.

Instead of doing one from each category decide how you want to split it up. The most common way is upper/lower which would look something like this:

Days 1&3:
Upper Body
Pick 2 presses and 3 pulls and alternate them
i.e. for day 1
Bent Over Row 3x8
Barbell Bench Press 3x8
Parallel Grip Chin Up 3x8
Standing Overhead Dumbbell Press 3x8
Cable Lat Pulldown 3x8
repeat for day 2 with diff exercises

Days 2&4
pick 1 two leg squat variation and one single legged (or a lunge if you're feeling randy) and the same for deadlifts.
i.e. day 1
Back Squat 3x10
Single Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 3x10
Alternating Lunges w/ Dumbbells 3x10 ea leg
Barbell Deadlift 3x10

You could then go further with the variety by doing days 1&2 with heavy weight and low reps and 3&4 with light weight and higher reps. You could also theoretically do day 1&3 pushing (squats/presses) and day 2&4 pulling (Pulls and Deadlifts). Because why the eff not. Get creative with it. That's the whole point. But be reasonable. No juggling, and only sing the Rocky theme song before or after exercises.

The rep schemes I threw in here are fairly random because these programs are not designed with any real degree of specificity because I don't know you people and I don't know what your goals are. The point is to demonstrate the simplicity of coming up with an straightforward workout that is different every time you go in. Also, it is worth mentioning that some people might take issue with the order of exercises I listed. In general you should do your heaviest, most neuromuscular-ly taxing work at the beginning of your workouts (Think deadlifts, squats, or heavy anything). But again, I'm not really addressing that here.

Also, special note to my Crossfitters - Yea. I know guys. We'll get there. Don't worry. Just go talk about your Fran times and how crazy your last WOD was. I'll catch up with you in a bit.

I'm happy to answer any and all questions I can get to. You know where to leave 'em.


Todays Workout - Rest Day

Monday, March 25, 2013

Embrace the Suck

Ripped hands. Bloody shins. Hundreds of pounds. Handstand pushups.

Those were the highlights of my workout yesterday.

I don't really talk about my workouts with people in detail because I can't. It's not so much that people don't understand the mechanics or the exercises. They don't understand the drive. Why the hell would you put 350 lbs on your back? Why would you run, jump, twist, and stretch in every possible direction until you're nauseous and lightheaded? Why would you bring yourself to the point of breaking every time just so you can be sore and exhausted for the rest of the day and then wake up and do it all over again?

Simple. Because I f*cking love it.

We all workout for different reasons. Health, vanity and some type of functionality seem to be the three most common threads. Do I enjoy the way working out makes me look? Yes, of course. Do I appreciate the things that my workouts then enable me to do? Totally. Do I take note of my health compared to other people my age with similar lifestyles? All the time.

But those things alone just don't do it.

I love the pain. I love the hurt. I love the way it feels when my legs are shaking and my head is pounding and it feels like my body is going to give out before I can get the bar back on the rack. I love leaving the gym drenched in sweat, shaking and smiling.

Some of it's simply visceral. Intense workouts set off a cascade of chemicals coursing through your veins waking you up and making you feel high on existence. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug and combined with testosterone and growth hormone you've got a potent cocktail of all natural happy juice.

That... doesn't sound quite right...

Moving on. Some of it is mental and quantitative. I did this much of this exercise last week and today I crushed that record. I've been stuck on this weight for this many weeks and today I smashed through that wall. Steady, demonstrable progress is an easy way to feel accomplished on an almost daily basis. It's empowering in a way very few things are.

That, for me, is the last and maybe most essential part. Feeling empowered. The first time I picked up a weight when I was in high school my goal was very simple and totally ridiculous. I wanted to be superhuman. I wanted to run faster, jump higher, throw further and hit harder than anyone else. I was a little too jacked up on Superman and Batman comics to acknowledge that on my 5'10" frame it's unlikely I'll ever be the biggest, strongest or fastest guy around but I didn't think that way then and I still don't care now. I'm not competing with anyone but myself. Which is good, because I can be a bit of a sore loser. That being said, after I crush a workout that involves lifting literally several hundred pounds, I feel like a god damn superhero even if I skipped out on the neon spandex. ( depends on the day really.)

I have a fair number of clients all in varying states of fitness. At this point they've all been with me for multiple years and I genuinely like all of them for different reasons. One thing I would say that still frustrates the hell out of me about a certain group is their seemingly complete inability to shut up and embrace the suck.

Embrace it. Learn to love it. If you can't love the hurt, chances are you're never going to get quite where you want to be.

We all have goals, or, well, we all should. We want things, things that we don't have. To get where we're not requires action and change. It will never cease to blow my mind how many people think they should be able to achieve a significant change in their life without...actually...changing anything. On what planet does that make sense?

Well I'd like to go from this to this in six weeks. Did I mention I hate pain, pushing myself and eating healthy? Oh and i need to take 5 breaks an hour and drink 2 bottles of vitamin water every 30 minutes. What do you mean it's bad for me? It has vitamins!

F*cking really?

You're probably reading this acknowledging how ludicrous these statements are but be real with yourself for a minute. Have you ever quit before you finished what you meant to? Have you ever given up on a workout because it hurt and you were uncomfortable? I'm not up on a pedestal. I've done it too.

And I hated it every single time.

Look, it happens. It's ok. What matters is what comes next. What matters is what you do when you get back up. Embracing the suck is not about ignoring pain and being a stone cold BAMF. It's about not stopping. It's about not quitting. It's about never, ever staying down for the count. Embracing the suck is about acknowledging that what you're doing is going to be difficult and awful and at times your'e going to want to stop but you won't. Revel in the fact that you're doing something difficult and you're not going to let it beat you.

Oh, and for the record? Half-assing your way through a "run" on the elliptical for 30 min. 3x a week is not embracing the suck. I sincerely applaud you for doing something but no one ever achieved an entirely new physique while leisurely reading the latest issue of cosmo. Well, not outside of a surgeons office anyway.

That's my rant for today. A little longer than expected but I think it gets the point across. The truth is this: So you want something, huh? How badly do you want it? What are you willing to give up for it? Still going to try? Well, all right my friend. Time to embrace the suck. Cheers.

Oh right. The good stuff:

Sundays Workout:
15 min dynamic warm-up
Jump rope
Leg swings - hip flex+ext, adduction/IR+abduction/ER 10x
Air Squats 10x
Alternating Lunges 10x ea.
Bird Dogs 10x each side
Bridges 10x - Single leg 5x each side
Scorpion Tails 10x each side
Shoulder flex/scaption/abduction/d1 flex/d2 flex 5x ea. exercise ea. arm

Oly/Power Lifting:
Power Cleans 3/135-3/145-2/155-2/165-2/175-1/185-1/190-1/195-1/205(attempted. f*cker still eludes me...)

Back Squat:
W/u - 3/225,2/245,1/265,1/275,1/295,1/315
Work Sets - 3x5 285

Parallel Grip Chest to Bar Chin-Ups/Handstand Push-Ups Superset
5x5 ea. for time.

Mondays Workout: (Modified CrossFit WOD from 130323)
10 Kettle Bell swings (52.5 lb)
20 Toes-to-bar
Run 400m

3 rounds for time.

At some point I'll get to posting my diet. Today is not that day...