June 22, 2017

Where I Have Been … Where I am Going

I frequently tell my clients that it is important to not let life events get in the way of their training and their ongoing commitment to a healthy lifestyle.  I understand all too well the implications of not doing what we all know is right, that is, eating right, engaging in regular exercise, and allowing for sufficient rest and recovery.  At various times in my life I have failed to heed my own advice and my general wellness and fitness have suffered accordingly.  At least to some degree, the past twelve months have been one of those times.

About this time last year, my wife and I set out on an earnest hunt to find a new home.  This proved to be an extremely stressful process, as we were determined to find a larger home (with the addition of Quinn and Laird we had outgrown our former digs) with access to better schools, etc., etc.  This, at least in part, explains my absence from contributing regularly to this blog.  Although I managed to maintain a healthy diet (for the most part … the pizza delivery truck visited our new home a  few more times than I would care to admit), the move and my changing responsibilities (having elected to spend more time with our children being a “domestic dad” while maintaining my training business and trying to establish myself with my painting as an artist—the new space allowed me to move my studio home) made a move away from high-volume endurance training a necessity.  Instead, albeit but for my somewhat crazy 2-hour-a-day walking quest (see below), the move and my new commitments have made me focus on more targeted and intense training in order to progress my fitness.  I am frequently surprised and a bit amused by how things work together.  The shift in my training focus over the last twelve months coincides with my discovery of some novel training programs provided by Coach Dan John (look for more on this strength coach in coming posts), my long-overdue reading of Dr. Phil Maffetone’s classic training volume entitled “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness” (Maffetone reaches the conclusion, that for many athletes, “less is more … less training usually produces better athletic performance,” and, finally, my election, thanks to some ongoing encourage from my wife, to look seriously at the CrossFit model—I am now a CrossFit Level I trainer!

Lest you think I have become a soft couch potato (I haven’t), I have provided a bit of a “recap” a couple of  40-day training periods that have occupied my attention over the last year.

40 Day of Walking

At the trailhead of my 40-day walk "course." (Just west of the intersection of Broncos Pkwy. & Parker Rd.)

At the trailhead of my 40-day walk “course.” (Just west of the intersection of Broncos Pkwy. & Parker Rd.)

The idea was simple and emerged, at least in part, from my reading of the words of Coach Don John (see my links to his various books—these will lead you to additional articles authored by John). It was designed to be a straightforward physical challenge: walking, at an athletic and deliberate pace, for 2 hours each day for 40 consecutive days.

I initially began this challenge on Thanksgiving Day morning.  Excited to begin something of my own design and to test a theory (although not new, I will attributed to Dan John) that “everything works … for at least six weeks.” I set out from my home and headed to the boundary of Cherry Creek State Park. The morning was bright and clear and although I had felt great when I started, by the turnaround I was feeling ill (chills, persistent nausea, etc., etc.)—I made it home in just over 2 hours only to be reduced to a heap by the early-afternoon—the Nora virus struck me and our household HARD (I have only half-jokingly shared with my family and friends that this sickness may have ruined me on subsequent Thanksgiving holidays for the next few years)—yes, it was that bad!

Effort renewed … after knocking off a full week for recovery, I began anew on November 30th.  I walked deliberately and consistently for 40 days, each session was held to a mandatory walking time of at least 2-hours. On several days I walked early in the mornings, while many more of these “walks” kept me out way into the night—the added scheduling demands of our recent move made my schedule very inconsistent but it had no effect on my determination.  All of my walks were solo with the exception to two: 1) on one occasion I ran into my friend Tyler Walton (Tyler literally ran into me—out tapering for his upcoming Phoenix marathon, and 2) I shared a snow-covered trail walk at Deer Creek Canyon Park with my client and friend Greg Londo.

But I was not “alone” as I used my iPhone to pass the time. In addition to walking a consistent route (this allowed me to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other without having to focus on navigation, footing, and traffic hazards), I used the time as devotional and “downtime.” Here again I developed a system that I adhered to each of the 40 days. I used the first 30-45 minutes to listen to an iTunes messages from the church that my family attends (see messages from Smoky Hill Vineyard here) while working through a variety of audiobook titles in the time that remained.

When asked by Greg what was the hardest part of this exercise, I informed him that it was the ongoing challenge of getting out and covering the mileage, day-in and day-out … even squeezing in these challenging “hikes” on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day!  This is so true about many things in life … showing up is frequently the hardest part.  And, the result of this challenge on my fitness?  Well, I purposely did not record any metrics over the course of the 40-days; rather, I kept this time unstructured and simply relied on the fact that, at a minimum, it has long been understood that walking is an activity that promotes health.

Why walking?  Walking provides a unique recruitment pattern and serves as an efficient mechanism to establish baseline aerobic fitness while offering numerous other health benefits.  Having competed in several “ultra” distance (i.e., 50-mile runs, multi-day stage runs, Ironman, etc.) events, I can personally attest to the special benefits that athletic walking imparts to the endurance athlete—walking frequently can allow for increased volume with a minimum of recovery.  A recent article in the IDEA Fitness Journal, entitled “Walking Extravaganza!”  (October 2013) bears out these and the other benefits of walking.  The article leads with what most of us already know: “[i]t’s simple, inexpensive and brimming with health benefits.  The scientific literature backs this up, concluding that the cumulative effects of walking can reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, help in the treatment of hypertension, improve insulin/glucose metabolism for the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes and aid in the treatment of some musculoskeletal disease.”  The IDEA article further addresses and “answers” some of the common questions surrounding the use of walking as part of a fitness prescription: 1) identifying the average adult walking pace at 2.8 miles per hour, a pace that naturally results in the use of fat oxidation as the body’s primary fuel source, 2) defining the often recommended “brisk walk” as a walk of moderate-intensity (noting that the actual pace will vary for each individual) while further identifying that a 100 steps/minute generally will equate to moderate-intensity, 3) describing the relationship between the addition of load (i.e., weight) and the walking modality—illustrating the load placement effects how “[m]uch of the energy cost of walking results from activating the muscles that control the body’s center of mass, 4) highlighting how, at least at slower paces, head-loading, walking with a backpack, or even carrying weights in the hand can offer energy-saving efficiencies, 5) explaining how the use of a weight vest can be used to vary intensity/energy expenditure, 6) identifying the inclined treadmill as another way to increase intensity while reducing the load placed on the lower extremities (cf. with increased pace), and, finally, 7) explaining the energy expenditure variance between walking and running (i.e., running generally results in 30% higher energy expenditure).  Most interestingly, the authors show how a walking program can be adapted to incorporate the benefits of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training).  Want to read the complete article?  Send me an e-mail and I will use my “client share” tool to give you access to the complete article.

An Extension of 40 Days of Walking: 40 Days of Strength

Taking even more from Coach John (actually from John’s nod to the legendary strongman Pavel Tsatsouline, who apparently challenged John with the following workout: “For the next 40 workouts, pick five lifts.  Do them every workout.  Never miss a rep, in fact, never even get close to struggling.  Go as light as you need to go and don’t go over 10 reps in a workout for any of the movements.  It’s going to seem easy.  When the weight feels light, add more weight.”), I simplified my lifting regimen and, by focusing on 5 basic moves, repeated them consistently without rest for another 40 days.  (Focusing on “the things I need[ed] to do rather than the things I want[ed] to do”—AND doing so while “always striv[ing] for a quiet head, efficient movements and sense of calm while training”—Dan John).   My modification of Pavel’s challenge proved to be another extremely challenging workout regimen, with even more of a “showing up” challenge.  I selected the following as my 5 movements: Deadlift, Bench Press, Bent-Over Row, Barbell Curls, & KB Swings (Russian)—the 40-day scheme allows for great variety.  Note that my focus was on improving strength, so I cut the rep scheme down to 5 repetitions for two sets; however, I used the KB Swings as my “metabolic hit” and increased the sets and reps to 2 x 50.  The results: Deadlift up 22%, Bench Press up 10%, Bent-Over Row up 15%, Barbell Curls up 17%, while progressing the kettle bell weights up nearly 50%.  This was workout proved to be a rewarding yet grueling challenge (it was simply NOT an option to miss a workout … to that end I joined a second gym located very close to my home in order to ensure that I could always get my workout accomplished—I was committed to do whatever it took to progress through the 40 days).

Where I am Going …

I am continuing to define my training goals as I work toward my 50th birthday (that milestone remains some 6 1/2 years off); however, I am a on a personal quest to set myself to up to maximize my fitness potential on a daily basis as I work toward the “50.”  As I begin to contemplate new training goals for the upcoming new year, I am find myself fixating on a couple of training guidepost exposed by none other than Coach John: “[s]trength training for lean body mass and joint mobility trumps everything else” and “the movements [I] am ignoring are the things [I] need to do.”  I will keep you posted on what my training looks like; however, I can give you a preview by highlighting my growing interest in both CrossFit and the application of the Olympic movements to my training regimen.