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.

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