August 19, 2017

Tough Mudder – Beaver Creek

Team BLW: Me, my wife, Molly and Greg Londo (the "W" participant, Eric Worthan is absent).

Early this month I joined one of my clients, Greg Londo, along with his wife Molly and my wife, Hope, for the 2012 Tough Mudder. Both individually and collectively, this was our first attempt at this type of endurance event—one that presents 23 obstacles scattered over a 12-mile course. The Tough Mudder is a different breed of “race” and, the Beaver Creek venue provided the opportunity for the race directors to provide an especially challenging course—the starting corral at the base of Beaver Creek, which could be accessed only after scalling an 10-foot wall (we each certainly caught a hint of things to come with that one), starts athletes out at 8,100 feet.

Our team, team “BLW”: Beatte, Londo, and Worthan … oh yes, the Worthan participant bailed, perhaps wisely electing to attend a “surprise” family event, a graudation, instead of facing the challenges offered by the Mudder event, rolled out of the Westin and headed up the mountain at 7:15 a.m., well in advance of our 8:40 a.m. start time. After checking in where we dutifully turned in our “death waivers,” received our race numbers (having them etched in semi-permanant ink on our foreheads), and our Dos Equis “free” beer wristband, we collected ourselves and made the obligatory restroom break prior to heading to the starting line. We watched as the first two waves, the 8:00 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. were realeased downhill (the only downhill on the course for the first 6 or so miles) and headed out to face the Tough Mudder obstacles. Once called to the starting corral, that’s when we faced the wall—get it, a wall that you had to scale before even getting to the starting line! Our wave consisted of approximately 200 other participants, and we were reminded of spirit of commaraderie that sets these types of events apart (the MC directed us that we would be unable to complete the various challenges on the course without enlisting the help of both our teammates as well as other racers, before leading us in an oath to put other racers before yourself)—this certainly proved true for me (thanks Greg … as well as the nameless others)! After some additional instructions (i.e., “Take care of yourselves out there,” … “Be smart,” etc.), we were also reminded of the “Wounded Warriors” that would be participating alongside us during the event and who would be the beneficiaries of a percentage of the money raised by our support of the Tough Mudder event. The National Anthem and we were off …

What followed over the course of the next four hours was a challenge unlike any that I had faced before. As we headed down the mountain away from the staring corral and onto the course, we joked as we jumped over a “speed bump”-type haybail, that we had only 22 obstacles left to go—FYI, the haybail was NOT one of the obstacles! Instead, the “real” challenges boasting names like “Trench Warfare,” “Shocks on the Rocks,” “Artic Enema,” and “Electroshock Therapy” would soon meet us. For the most part, we worked as a team, although Molly and Greg’s youth and conditioning allowed them to move faster than me and my wife. Greg is a veteran US Army Ranger and West Point graduate—those skills also served him well. We repeatedly relied on him to assist us in scaling walls … he graciously gave us all a boost, then he would propell himself up and over unaided.

I puposelly want to leave some of the details to the imagination; however, a couple of the obstacles are deserving of a bit of commentary. This is especially true of the electroshock challenges. Although I am a bit rusty on my physics principles (Is it amplitude or voltage that is modulated to allow you to receive a substantial, but non-lethal jolt?) several challenges along the course delivered significant electric shocks to participants. As our team approached the first “live” shock challenge we were unsure about the seriousness of the shocks that would be ultimately delivered. After hitting the mud, face down, and crawling under the barbedwire laced with electric tentacles (each carrying 10,000 volts) I at least had no doubt … the first shock hit me hard, I yelped, and felt seized as the shocks wrapped around my chest. You see, I was wearing a Polar heartrate monitor strap (I had listened to the warnings that those who had metal “in” there bodies should not complete the electroshock challenges and the thought had at least passed through my mind that wearing a HR strap was perhaps not a good idea—it was NOT), I quickly pawed at my chest while staying low to avoid getting zapped again and pulled the strap away from my chest. Relieved, I proceeded through the remainder of the challenge getting hit 3 additional times. I could hear my teammates shout as they got zapped … this first round was serious, one jolt sent my chin so hard into the rocks and mud that my chin remained bruised and tender for several days following the event! We survived … I surveyed the mood of our teammates and it was surprisingly upbeat! We made some off hand jokes about ECT therapy (electroconvulsive therapy) and how we each felt eerily better after beign shocked, but the truth of the matter was that we did. Needless to say, we worked espcially hard on the subsequent electrified challenges to avoid the shocks … more came, but far less than the initial round!

Many of the obstacles featured a water element—either as an integral part of the challenge or as a consquence for failing to complete the obstacle. Perhaps the best example of the former, was the “Artic Enima.” When I approached the large pool divided by a plank wall and noticed the two refrigerator trucks standing by, I figured this was going to be COLD. It was! A quick plunge off the deck into a deep pool of freezing water, another quick check of the divider to assess the depth that I needed to dive, down and under, only to emerge on the other side through layers of ice cubes, then up on a the other side and down a steep and slick set of stairs. Hope came through immediately behind me and also felt the chill … she emerged, descended, and staggered on down the mountainside toward me sputtering something to the effer of “Never, ever, again!” (exhibiting class signs of Stage 1 hypothermia).  We gathered up our team (this was something we repeatedly did both before and after obstacles) and assesed our general well-being … we were “good” … on to the next challenge. In contrast to where the water was THE challenge, obtacles, like “Funky Monkey,” “Twinkle Toes,” and “Hang Tough” all featured an icy pool where competitors would end up if they failed to make it across on whatever apparatus was suspended over the water. I missed the final haning ring on “Funky Monkey” and took another icy plunge (Molly and Hope joined me in taking a swim, with only Greg making it through without getting wet). We all managed to stay dry on the balance challenge “Twinkle Toes.” “Hanging Tough” resulted in another swim for all but Greg—way to go Greg!  What do they teach you in Ranger school anyway?

Other challenges scattered along the 12-mile course included steep and muddy ascents, scrambles across frozen and slick snow mounds, log carries, tunnel and tube crawls, cargo net climbs, and scaling high walls, among others. The log carry challenge presented competitors with the choice to carry individual logs or to tackle a “team” log. We elected to pair up and each husband and wife team carried their own log. Molly and Greg finished well ahead of us and I jokingly suggested that they had carried a log that was hollow inside (perhaps a lodge pole pine that had fallen prey to pine bettle infestation)—they assured me that their log was just as heavy and unrully as ours … good fun!

As suggested by the event promoters, the Tough Mudder course provided many opportunities to work both as a team and to support other competitors. We extended hands and pulled heavy bodies over obstacles, hung on the base of cargo netting in order to allow other athletes a better shot at getting up and over, and pushed and encouraged others up and across the steep and slippery snow fields. As for me, I would still be on the wrong side of the “Berlin Walls” challenge if it had not been for Greg boosting me up and over … thanks Greg! I can’t even commment about the assistance both Molly and Greg offered on the vegetable oil covered half-pipe near the finish!?

Participant queue up in order to run through the "Electroshock Therapy" which comes at the end of the Beaver Creek Tough Mudder.

As was our habit, we checked up before the final obstacle and elected to push through the final shock challenge, apptly named “Electroshock Therapy” (aptly named, see above) and emerged on the other side of the electrified mud pit with big smiles and reporting on the number of shocks that we had endured: Hope, “0” me, “1,” Molly, “1,” and Greg, “1”—it was over. We scrambled to the finish line to a mass of spectators and collected our Tough Mudder headbands and other SWAG (and our free Dos Equis beer).

8 Hours at Life Time Fitness and My “Urban Adventure”


In April I placed two long training days on my calendar, each designed to support my longer-term training goals (i.e., primarily to promote changes in my strength to weight ratio) and to provide new and different fitness challenges.  For the first, I constructed an 8-hour training day at Life Time Fitness-Centennial (consisting of 4 group fitness classes supplemented with 3 hours of self-guided activity), while the second consisted of what I like to call an “urban adventure”­—an 8-hour hike from my home to the heart of Denver and back.  I elected to share these quirky training days as a means to encourage creativity and new fitness challenges.  If it is possible to devote a day off (I know how rare these are), or even string together a block of a few hours, consider planning a workout that is very different from your usual routine.  Consider roping a friend or a relative into participating in the challenge that you select.  If you belong to a fitness club, tap into some of the resources that you don’t normally take advantage of and see what new opportunities exist to progress your fitness exist there.  Finally, don’t forget that the simple movement of placing one foot in front of the other is a readily available activity that works wonders on our base fitness and body composition—a fitness adventure awaits right out your door.  Good luck in identifying and accomplishing your next “physical challenge.”  What follows is what I came up with last month:

8-Hour Training Day at Life Time Fitness

Although I had hoped to begin my quest to walk the entire length of Denver’s High Line Canal Trail (see the 2012 edition of the “Guide to the High Line Canal“) … a pursuit that I had initially engaged my friend Tom Frederick to join me in, the forecast for our scheduled outing didn’t cooperate.  The weather was expected to turn cold and wet and Tom wasn’t having it.  Instead of giving up on the training day (one that had long been scheduled on my calendar—albeit having moved around a bit), I elected to design another type of physical challenge.  I crafted an 8-hour indoor training day at Life Time Fitness (LTF) and pitched it to Tom.  What I came up with is set out below:

A copy of the 8-hour training day schedule that I threw together to guide our effort.

Tom met me at the doors of the Centennial LTF club at 6:01 a.m. and we got right to it … you see, the on-line schedules for the Centennial club (the ones that I used to plan our day) had not been updated yet for April, and the Vinyasa class had moved up to 6:00 a.m (or perhaps I just read it wrong).  Note: I have included a copy of the current group class schedule, here.  After receiving accepting glances from Sasha from our position just outside the studio door (a very capable Vinyasa instructor at LTF), Tom and I joined the class already in progress.  Note: As a rule, I NEVER join a yoga class late … you may disagree, but it’s just good etiquette, but Sasha runs a bit more informal class and kindly welcomed us in!  We quietly found our places and moved into the “flow.”  Note also that this was Tom’s very first yoga class … not an ideal way to begin, but he did his best to follow along through the relatively fast-paced series!  Next, the pool.  We made a quick transition to the pool where I spent a considerable amount of time helping Tom with his freestyle before abandoning him with orders to, above all else, “DO NOT stop moving.”  I managed 2600 m over the course of the next hour before heading off to the spinning class.  After some liquid nutrition (I fueled on NutriBiotic rice protein shake blended with flax seed, almond milk, and blueberries) it was off to Angela’s “Studio Cycle.”  After making the necessary adjustments to get Tom set up on his bike, I settled in to an easy cadence and waited for the class to begin.  An uptempo play list, a cycling video on the big screens, and a few sustained climbs helped pass the time (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 168 bpm)—only much later did I learn that Tom shares my affinity for techno remixes (check out his picks, via YouTube, original remix versions of Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall: Part II” by Eric Prydz, here and here—both are close to the beats that propelled us through at least part of Angela’s spin class … note that, as Tom correctly pointed out, “the videos are a little crazy” but they will get you pointed in the right direction to finding more of Prydz’s work).  Another shake similar to the first, a quick change out of my cycling bibs and into shorts, and we headed off to “No Limits Circuit.”  Tom and I joined a group of 15  or so women (the class grew to over 25 by “go time” and included one other man)who were ready to do battle, “circuit style.”  Look, I have participated in these classes before … I know the scene and the routine … it usually goes something like this:  a group of extremely fit middle-aged women, lead by one of the fittest women on the planet (i.e., the instructor), brings this endurance athlete to his knees by challenging my anaerobic energy systems to their max while simultaneously revealing all the weaknesses in my ongoing endurance, strength, and flexibility training—I was glad to have Tom there for support.  However, it was not meant to be for Tom.  Despite my urging the he could, and SHOULD stay for the circuit class … after just 4 hours he had had enough!  I said my goodbyes to Tom and waited for the music, and the punishing, to begin.  The punishing came, delivered by Carrissa, the instructor and her regular “followers” … I survived, but it went exactly as predicted (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 177 bpm).  Drop in to a “No Limits Circuit” class just about any day of the week to see what I mean!  In the fifteen minute “break” I consumed another bit of liquid nutrition, knowing full well that it was unlikely to sit well with me and may even jeopardize my subsequent performance in the next class.  Next up, “Barbell Strength.”   As I went about collecting the items that I would apparently need for class, e.g., an aerobic step, a barbell with an assortment of weights, some smaller dumbbells, I discovered that a fellow endurance athlete and friend, Katie Loyd, was in the front row.  I visited with Katie for a couple of minutes and, after explaining was I up to, I assumed my place in the back row … I think she understood!?  (Katie is a veteran Ironman athlete and endurance aficionado.)  Funny, within minutes of starting the barbell workout I started to feel eerily weak—getting the appropriate amount of calories in was proving to be a real challenge through the first part of the day’s schedule.  As I worked through the initial barbell squat series I collapsed down onto one knee … seriously, right before I went “down” the lights starting to dim and the great to form around the edges of my vision—I had hit some sort of wall.  I was determined to continue, quickly recovered, and resumed squatting, all the while giving myself some serious self-talk like “You can do this!” … “Just shed some of the weight on the bar and keep going!”  For the remainder of the class I adjusted down my weights and things gradually turned around … it was still a challenge (and, as someone who teaches the finer points of weightlifting, I would suggest that you not use a “barbell circuit” class as your only reference for proper lifting technique … but if you have some experience moving weights around, these types of classes can offer a dose of variety to your routine).  My heart rate data for the “Barbell Strength” class: 113 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 154 bpm.  After class I consumed my final “meal” and headed to the treadmill (after a short visit to the on-site daycare to see how much Katie’s son had grown since the last time that I had seen him).  The treadmill (aka “dreadmill”) eagerly waited for me … a couple more hours of steady-state effort, as that was all that I could manage, and it would be over.  A little after 2:30 p.m. I called it a day and headed off to the locker room to enjoy the steam room and a shower.  At 3:06 I sent the following text to my friend Tom: “It’s over … that was crazy.  Thanks for showing up and participating (you could have done it)!”

“Urban Adventure”

I left my home shortly after 7 a.m., sporting my heaviest Vasque hiking boots, my Nathan lightweight hydration pack (essentially carrying only water, an apple, my phone, a visor, and some additional sunscreen—$20 and a credit card).  I accessed the Cherry Creek Trail behind my home and headed north.  The plan was to simply hike as far as I could between my departure time and 4 p.m.—I had originally contemplated and out-and-back route; however, as I worked deeper into my hike I committed to seeing just how far I could go.  I also carried my SPOT personal GPS beacon—a great little device that lets loved ones and friends (really whoever you allow access to you maps page) track your adventures … my wife enjoys coming “along” on my outings and she can use the SPOT map to get me out of a tough “spot” if the need arises (ha).  [I had hoped to share a screenshot of the SPOT map that I collected; however, it had expired from my account by the time put this post together.]  I shed some layers at Cherry Creek State Park and ate my apple, already beginning to feel the effects of some fatigue from this different mode of transportation (walking and running involve different movement patterns).  As I frequently ride the Cherry Creek Trail on my bike, I had anticipated much of what I would see on my adventure; however, I was surprised to encounter the following ant mounds … note that in each photograph, the ants had picked up some type of candy to dine on (you catch this kind of thing when you are moving at slower speed versus whizzing by on a bike).

   

Ants and candy (1) of (2).

Ants and candy (2) of (2).

My heart rate remained ridiculously low, around 70-90 bpm throughout my hike.  By 1 o’clock I passed into Cherry Creek North and had put over 18 miles behind me.  With my 2L hydration bag completely emptied, I landed at Whole Foods where I collected an assortment of items to eat and stocked up on fluids.  Let’s see … nearly six hours to get to Cherry Creek North … if I backtracked following the same route I certainly wasn’t going to make it home by 4 p.m.?  I had to come up with a new plan.

My lunch at Whole Foods: Water, carrot juice, kale & garlic salad, and a couple of rosemary grilled chicken breasts.

On my way in, I had noted the RTD buses and even stopped to check out the schedules at a couple of their stops.  Over lunch I used my iPhone to located the bus routes and schedules and I caught the bus heading to Nine Mile Station  (only slightly north of the Cherry Creek State Park) just beyond the Cherry Creek Mall.

The Garmin (a feature of Garmin Connect) player shows my progress (or, alternatively, click here):

<iframe width=’465′ height=’548′ frameborder=’0′ src=’http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/178951971′></iframe>

As I had an appointment that I had to keep at 5:00 p.m., I knew that I had to be home no later than 4:15 p.m. in order to shower, change, and make it—hence the “planes, trains, and automobiles” route on the way back (or, in my case, the city bus, hitched ride with a park ranger, and a taxi cab—I included a photograph of my Whole Foods lunch, bus fare, and taxi receipts as the lead photograph for this post).  Determined to put in as many miles in as absolutely possible, I walked from the Nine Mile Station deep into Cherry Creek State Park.  Again, after my vehicular excursion with a park official that I will leave unnamed but to whom I am extremely grateful (I hitched a ride as soon as I realized that I needed to get through the park in order to arrange a taxi ride to get me home on time), I landed on my feet and hiked out of the park while simultaneously arranging for a tax to pick me up at Valley Country Club (just to the south of Cherry Creek State Park).  In all, I logged better than 24 miles in a single day (just short of the marathon distance that I had hoped).  This was truly a LSD (Long Slow Distance) training day.  I simply concentrated on keeping my “heavy” feet moving (the reason that I selected heavy hiking boots over running shoes) and worked on training up my hiking/walking muscles.

I have included a slideshow of a few of the  other images from my “urban adventure” below:

 

 

USA Weightlifting – Beyond the Basics

Over the course of the last couple of years, I have dabbled in the Olympic moves (snatch, clean, and jerk) with limited success, frequently getting discouraged by the difficulty of these seemingly simple moves (I have preferred to read about these movement patterns rather than incorporate them into my ongoing training programs).  I mean you look at a clean, and you go, “Ok, I can move this bar from the floor to my shoulders.”  In practice however, it is much more difficult than it looks.  This year I decided to get serious and change from a bystander to a participant, no longer  content to look at movement “theory,” I wanted to begin formal practice.  To that end I calendared the USA Weightlifting, Level I – Sports Performance Coach Certification and made learning and teaching the “O-moves” (as they are affectionately know by those who run in weightlifting circles) a priority.  My rationale for wanting to learn more about these movement is fairly straightforward, these moves are “functional” in the broadest sense—they are ground based (as are the majority of sports and activities), they can offer a wide variety of clients an efficient workout with tremendous training adaptations (e.g., increased power, development of kinesthetic awareness, increased muscle fiber density, increased intramuscular/intermuscular coordination), and they introduce clients to fun and challenging movements—these reasons, laid out in the USA Weightlifting curriculum, are the very reasons I wanted to attend this certification course.  Over the third weekend in April, I found myself at Red Rocks CrossFit in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO.   Along with some 25+ others from both Colorado and a few from beyond Colorado’s borders, Paul Fleschler introduced both “theory and practice” and then took me way beyond the fundamentals as both an athlete and a coach.

Olympic reminders that adorn RedRocks CrossFit (many of these athletes have trained with Paul at his facilities or at the USA Olympic training center).

The Venue: Red Rocks CrossFit occupies an old trolley car building that offers the essentials and then some.  Power racks, barbells, and lots of bumper plates adorn the floors of a facility, that by both its design and decor feels “serious.”  From its high ceilings hang multiple iron rings and suspended braided ropes.  Rowing machines are the only “cardio” equipment (a frequent hallmark of CrossFit gyms).  But beyond all the necessary equipment, e.g., medicine balls, plyo boxes, PVC dowels, the thing that stands out and sets it apart from other CrossFit gyms are the large-scale tributes to the USA Olympic weightlifting athletes.  As it turns out, much of the equipment in use at the facility came directly from the USA Olympic weightlifting center, also located in Colorado Springs.

Paul Fleschler, a coach and trainer with 30+ years of experience, exuded enthusiasm for this “lifelong” sport.  Over the course of his career, Paul has competed at a national level, worked with Olympic and collegiate athletes (he was a strength coach at Indiana University in the days when Bobby Knight reigned supreme), and, like so many other coaches and trainers that I admire, he has managed to find a way to progress the health and fitness with the “everymen” of the world—average men and women who are interested in learning knew skills and increasing their fitness levels.  Oh, and I failed to mention that he represented the USA in the sport of weightlifting in the ’92 Barcelona Olympics (see more about Paul and his credentials here)!  At the outset, Paul affirmed what I have long believed, the Olympic moves should be a part of my training routine.

But you can’t just start with the clean.  One should walk before he or she runs.  And the progression of learning these hallmark O-moves, based on some 30 years of practice within the USA Weightlifting organization, begins with a general physical preparedness regimen (a general warm-up) followed by a minimum mobility assessment.  For the sake of expediency, I will pass over the details of a warm-up, just know that the completion of a comprehensive dynamic warm-up is a prerequisite for performing these movements well (as well as serving to reduce the possibility of injury).  The minimum mobility assessment, consisting of an overhead squat, straight leg raise, front squat (in “receiving” position), and an upright row with a PVC bar/stick provides a look at an athlete’s readiness to attempt the Olympic moves.  This short assessment identifies potential structural and flexibility restrictions that can be addressed with specific warm-up and even corrective techniques.  By way of personal example, I have tight latissimus dorsi muscles (upper back) and pectoral muscles.  I also perform the majority of my squat movements in the “low bar” position.  As a consequence, my overhead squat presents significant forward lean—not a problem if you wish to squat large amounts of weight, but a significant problem for getting in the proper position for the Olympic moves.  Add some decreased mobility in my hip joint and tight hamstrings and I have some work that needs to be done before I will be able to progress to higher levels of Olympic lifting!  My ongoing exercise prescription will be to work on progressing my flexibility and gradually transitioning to the “high bar” position back squat.

An overview of the weekend’s itinerary provides useful insight into how these moves are taught: Day 1: Two sections: 1) Understanding and Preparing for Weightlifting (introduction, objectives, rationale; safety and evaluation; and basic biomechanics, and 2) Learning and Teaching Techniques: Basic Exercises, Clean Related; Basic Exercises, Snatch Related; and Basic Exercises, Jerk Related and Day 2: Powers Assistance Exercises and Implementing Program Design (Day 2 also included an extended coaching session during which participants worked on the clean, snatch, and jerk movements).

Following a self-guided general warm-up, completion of the minimum mobility assessment, and dividing into small groups, we began working the progression for learning the technique of the O-moves.  First, up the “starting position.”  The starting position sets the stage for a successful moment.  As I frequently share with my clients in the weight room, “Sometimes how you start determined how you will finish!”—this is particularly true to the Olympic movements.  The keys to a good stating position are as follows: 1) all body levers are “tight,” 2) feet are straight (neutral) or slightly turned out, 3) the back is flat (or even concave), 4) the arms are straight (elbows are rotated out), 5) the head is up (again, neutral) and the eyes are focused straight ahead, 6) the hips are higher than the knees, and 7) the shoulders are in advance of the barbell.  Note: the weight is distributed evenly on the athlete’s feet prepared for the changes that take place during the movements (i.e., 1st pull: weight moves toward the heels, and 2nd pull: weight moves toward the toes).  Paul was “hands on” during the practical portions of the training (which made up more the 3/4 of the curriculum), rotating through each group and emphasizing certain critical points to the group as whole as needed.  In addition, Paul was assisted by three experienced assistant coaches, one of which, a 23-year-old female lifter, competes at the national and international level and narrowly missed an Olympic trial spot this year—she is about to begin another 4-year training cycle and dreams of representing the United States in the Olympics.  Each coach offered unique perspectives and cues to the moves that we practiced throughout the weekend.

Me, assuming the proper "start position."

By the lunch break of day 1, I  had performed LOTS of clean and clean related moves.  After lunch and another self-guided warm-up and brief work through a barbell complex, we attacked the snatch and snatch related moves.  But for the difference in the grip (the snatch features a substantially wider grip), these two moves share a great number of similarities.  Note: A surefire way to determine the proper width of the snatch grip is to use a jump rope.  The procedure goes like this: have the athlete stand with her back facing toward you, left arm extended at her side, with her right arm extended away from her hips at shoulder level.  Measure from the top of the left shoulder (the AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint) to the middle knuckle on the right hand—simply transfer this measurement to the bar.  (With the clean, the focus is moving under the bar to the receiving (aka “rack”) position, whereas with the snatch, the barbell moves on a trajectory over the head.  As with the clean, by the end of the day I had performed LOTS of snatch and snatch related, along with a good quantity of jerk and jerk related moves (the jerk features footwork where the feet split underneath the bar).  I said goodbye to my group and Paul, then headed slowly to my truck to make the trip back home to Denver.

Learning from Each Other:

The Level 1 course, in addition to providing instruction from high experienced coaches, facilitated additional learning and coaching opportunities within our small groups.  My group featured a standout named Grant Cahill.  From the moment Grant joined our group, sporting his well-worn Risto weightlifting shoes, I knew that there was something special about this 32-year-old.  Grant is a trainer who has been working through the CrossFit competition ranks, while practicing solo in his garage.  I learned a great deal from Grant as we all learned more about these movements.

Grant Cahill nailing a jerk, "spot on" just like he did on almost every movement that he practiced over the weekend.

Day 2 ushered in the power assistance exercises.  We initially focused on the snatch and clean pulling movements.  With these moves, the goal is to develop strength in the pull.  And, in the case of the Romanian dead lift (RDL), strength in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.  The power assistance moves also include overhead pressing and lower body squatting movements.  The overhead movements include the push press behind the neck, power jerk behind the neck, and the jerk behind the neck.  The squat power assistance exercises include the squat (the “high bar” back squat is implied here), and the single leg squat in two varieties: 1) the split squat and 2) the split squat with the rear foot elevated.  Each of the power assistance movements are designed to serve to improve performance in the O-moves.

Prior to the final practice session devoted to the clean, snatch, and jerk movements we discussed the essential components of program design.  As with endurance training and traditional resistance training, training for the Olympic movements should be both rational and periodized (note that I frequently make the argument that nutrition should be similarly periodized).  Using the lift related movements (i.e., snatch or clean), the overhead movements (i.e., snatch or jerk), the squat related movements, and pull related movements, a systematic training program can be designed to promote ongoing positive training adaptations—the idea is to manipulate the application of stress over time to elicit consist and ongoing training adaptations.  Paul and USA Weightlifting break the basic training macrocycle into a 12-week block that includes three 4-week periods.  Each 4-week period is respectively devoted to preparation, strength, or competition.  The volume begins high at a relatively low intensity in week 1 (the first week of a 4-week preparation training block) and steadily progresses, via an inverse relationship, to week 12 (the final week of another 4-week “competition”/peak training block) where the volume is low and the intensity is high.  Note also that the number of lifting (e.g., the clean, snatch, and jerk) versus strength related exercises (e.g., pulls, squats, and overhead presses), as well as the repetition count, changes across the 12-week cycle).  Every third week serves as an “unloading” week, where the athlete’s body recovers and adapts to the systematically increasing training loads.  The bottom line is that it is not sufficient to know how to execute the O-moves, the athlete must incorporate the moves into a rational training plan that will serve to consistently advance the athlete’s training adaptations.

Homemade lifting straps fashioned from 1" tubular webbing and athletic tape (used to increase grip with the pulling exercises).

Coaching Tips & Tricks: Olympic weightlifting, by definition, is an international sport.  Consequently, a well-appointed training facility will offer weights labeled in the international standard kilograms and and not US pounds.  Most of us are familiar with the standard conversion of kilograms to US pounds (i.e., multiply kilograms x 2.2 = US pounds); however, there is an easier way to get at the correct conversion in the weight room: simply multiply kilograms times 2 and then add 10%.  For example, 60 kilograms of weight equals 132 (120 + 12) pounds—simple as that!  Also, I discovered a new type of “strap” that can be fashioned out of 1″ tubular webbing (note that this is readily available from an outdoor store or climbing store, e.g., REI).  These straps help overcome the limitation of grip strength (especially in the pulling exercises where grip is frequently a limiter when lifting heavy loads)—note also that this is why the hook grip is preferred.  As Paul pointed out, these straps have the advantage over the store-bought variety since they will not tear as easily.  You know the ones that wrap around the athlete’s wrist and then double back through (see one example, here).  Approximately 18″ of tubular webbing folded over on itself and then joined at the end with athletic tape (this tape may need to be reapplied from time to time) will yield a durable pair of lifting straps.

The entire weekend was a complete success.  Paul provided a wealth of knowledge along with some great stories that served to add a richness and context to the material that we covered in the curriculum.  In addition to the great instruction by Paul and his assistant coaches, the course participants were similarly engaged and eager to learn.  As I left the gym on the final day, the comments flying through the air where uniformly positive.  Through their diversity as trainers, coaches, CrossFit’ers, and competitive athletes, my fellow attendees challenged and progressed my learning.  The bottom line is that the Olympic moves offer the ability to promote tremendous muscular and neuromuscular development.  The snatch, clean, and jerk, along with the related exercises, are challenging and can add variety to your workouts.  Want to know more?  Contact me and I will be happy to share what I have learned (we can learn more together).  Alternatively, make an appoint to see Paul or drop in at Red Rocks CrossFit for one of the monthly “open gym” days—you will be able to joint fellow lifters and coaches in learning more about these great moves (note the upcoming “open gym” days are as follows:  see the Red Rocks CrossFit page for additional information).  Find a local lifting club or a local gym where the Olympic moves are understood and taught: two gyms that Paul recommended include Flatirons CrossFit in (see Randy Hauer for learning the O-moves) and Front Range CrossFit (see Skip Miller for learning the O-moves)—in addition to working with Paul, I will certainly be drawing additional knowledge from these local resources!  For an active blog concerning all “happenings” in Colorado weightlifting, see here.

I have included the core curriculum of the USA Weightlifting progression in the slide show that follows (these slides will hopefully serve to get you thinking about how these movements should be approached, taught, and practiced).  I am extremely grateful to Paul Fleschler and USA Weightlifting for allowing me to include these slides here (note that Paul authored the USA Weightlifting, Level I manual).  Contact USA Weightlifting to learn more (perhaps even take a the Level I certification) … you will not be disappointed!

A review of the “basics”:

As an aside, the majority of this post was drafted at The Coffee Exchange, a quaint and well-appointed coffee shop that is located just beyond Red Rocks Crossfit on Tejon Street in the Springs (click here to view the Yelp reviews of this independent coffee shop).

 

 

You Don’t Need Me, Really … You Don’t!

From time to time I encounter individuals who, due to either their independent nature, lack of availability of funds to dedicate to formal training, physical location (i.e., they live in another state) or some other valid reason are unable are unwilling to engage me in a personal training relationship; however, they remain interested improving or progressing their level of fitness.  While I believe that there is significant value in working with a well-qualified personal trainer (I would not be involved in this business if I didn’t believe that to be true), I understand the wide variety of reasons and obstacles that prevent everyone from working with a professional trainer.  Personally, although I consider my own training sessions valuable “personal time,” I know that I will typically work harder and train more effectively/efficiently when working along side a professional.  I only half-jokingly share with my clients the following … “If I could afford it, I would ideally work out with a personal trainer every session.”  This same sentiment is held even the most elite professional athletes (see the WSJ article concerning Shannon Sharpe, who, due to his training expertise was essentially left to his own devises by trainers during his NFL career, now regularly employs a personal trainer to help keep his fitness up in his life outside the NFL).  But what should one do when circumstances or “reality” prevents the ideal?  Enter Todd Durkin‘s book: “The IMPACT! Body Plan.”  Although there are many quality, “self-help,” self-guided fitness books on the market, Durkin’s book stands out among the field of current offerings and is one that I consistently recommend to clients that are looking to (or forced to) work independently.

Durkin is a star trainer (he also holds his NSCA, CSCS credential) who has had the opportunity to work with star athletes (e.g., LaDanian Tomilson and Drew Brees, to name just two).  Note: The story of Durkin’s relationship and work with Drew Brees should provide hope to those who are looking to recover from injury: Durkin led Brees out of the funk brought on by a 360-degree torn labrum tear and torn rotator cuff (a severe shoulder injury) to a complete and Championship recovery.  Durkin himself recovered from an injury that ended his professional football career at the age of 25—it was this “Impact,” sustained on the playing field, that has fueled Durkin’s drive to help others achieve peak physical conditioning.  Durkin, like me, understands that physical conditioning can be leverage to achieve what I call our “highest and best selves” (I will submit that my Christian faith commits me to viewing my ability to train, and do all things, as gifts from God).  In Durkin’s view “[w]hen you are in the best shape of your life, eating right, sleeping well, and feeling great, that’s when you achieve an energy shift.  And your energy can be directed toward creation.  And you can create whatever you want.”   Sounds good, right?

Countless other “household names,” from the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jests, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and numerous “everymen/everywomen” have thought so.  With a singular vision to help them unlock their athletic potentials through planed and purposeful training Durkin has helped them achieve that higher level of physical conditioning.  Durkin’s book provides great insight into both his planning and his purpose—his creative methods can be followed in a stepwise manner to help you expand your fitness.  Durkin, through his “Impact!” program conveys the motivation, accountability, and know-how that can yield surprisingly good results.

I often tell my clients, especially those that are struggling with a particular goal (i.e., usually weight loss or body composition change), “I wish that I could do it for you, because I could guarantee you success!”   But I can’t—my clients are responsible for their own outcomes.  So are you.  An excerpt from Durkin’s book mirrors my sentiment and is worth sharing here—perhaps it will motivate you to take action:

“One of my mantras—and you’ll see in this book that I have a few—is “Ready, fire, aim.”  Most of us live by the mantra “Ready, aim … aim … aim.”  And we never fire.  You say that you want to start an exercise program, but you never do; you say that you want to hire a trainer and get into shape, but you never do; you say you’re going to get a better job, but you never do; you say you’re going back to school, reconnecting with the people you love, traveling to a long-dreamed-of local.  You never do.  That’s why I live by “Ready, fire, aim”—it forces me to take action even when I feel fear, or hesitation, or uncertainty.  This program is all about action.  I’ll give you the game plan.  You take the action.  I’ll motivate you.  Inspire you.  Coach you.  I’ll also hold you accountable.  But, folks, have no illusions.  You have to take action.  You need to be there for yourself.  You need you.”

Do you already put in your “time” at the gym or “time” on the road (e.g., running or cycling) or “time” in the pool (you pick the mode of activity that describes you), but frequently feel as though you are not making the gains that you feel that you should be making, or, worse still, have plateaued and are realizing no gains at all, perhaps even going backwards?  It may be time to enlist the help of a professional or find a resource that can help (perhaps Durkin’s book).  Many times we know that we need to train, so we train … but we may not know “how to train”—that is, how to train to achieve our individual goals (if we have goals at all?)  When my mind wonders at the gym, I look around and try to match up the people that I see working out with the goals that they may be training for: “What is he training for?”  “Why is she training that way?”  Frequently, I am unable to see the connection.  Don’t be that person … make your training time count, train for and achieve specific goals, get results!  Frequently, more “time” is not the answer!  I will suggest that Durkin’s book may be able to  help.  Durkin employs many of the same strategies, ones that I routinely prescribe and teach to my client-athletes (I call all my clients athletes), while emphasizing many of the fundamentals that are part of my own training philosophy!

I will hit the major points of  Durkin’s “game plan” and suggest that you “fire” and pick up a copy  (at the time of this review, you can get your own copy from Amazon for under $12).

A word about equipment (Durkin calls them cutting edge “toys”).  While Durkin provides substitutes to use in the absence of access to the supplemental equipment that follows, the “toys” WILL add additional results to your training (and add some great variety to your sessions).  TRX Suspension Trainer – an extremely portable, versatile, and “fun” training tool that uses your own body weight as the resistance.  Superbands – (I like the SPRI ones found here), used to perform multidirectional exercises and add resistance or assistance to exercises.  I frequently prescribe a TRX and SPRI bands to clients who travel frequently—extremely portable and offers a great workout almost anywhere.  Sport Cords (again, I prefer SPRI), Durkin calls these the “little brother” of Superbands—they are used in much the same way.   BOSU – used to create instability and progress a wide variety of exercises (challenges the core and increases balance).  Kettlebells (note that Amazon.com offers a wide variety of bells) – used to improve grip strength (which often limits performance of other resistance/strength movements) and allows exercises to performed through a great range of motion.  Most fully-equpped fitness facilities will have the majority of equipment that you need to follow the program to the letter (usually one will need to supplement with only a TRX system and a couple of Superbands).

The Plan

Prior to starting the 10-week plan, Durkin prescribes a battery of “self-test” exercises.  The overhead squat, wall slide,  hover plank, deadlift, pushup, single-leg balance touch, rack row, and the 300-yard shuttle run each serve as valuable measures of fitness and will serve as valuable  before and after metrics (do these)!  Repeat these same tests again at the end of the 10-week plan and see just how far you have come!

Durkin’s plan consists of following  seven phases of the “MUSCLE MATRIX” that are incorporated into three stages over the course of a 10-week training cycle.  This matrix includes a 15-station dynamic warmup, emphasizes joint integrity, places appropriate focus on core conditioning, strength and conditioning, adds power and plyometrics, specific movement training, and includes flexibility training.

An excerpt from “Impact” clarifies the value of the matrix: “The Muscle Matrix is a simplified system that utilized advanced training principles to deliver maximum results.  It combines training in different planes of motion (up and down, forward and back, side-to-side, diagonally, and with rotation), performing some exercises with only one arm or leg, and challenging your entire body in a diverse training environment.”

I could not agree more with Durkin’s statement that, “[l]adies and gentlemen, you need resistance training to get results in any program.”  Resistance training (adding weight, using bands, moving against any resistance) is essential to achieving enduring body composition changes and supporting improved fitness—it is essential!

Another excerpt of Durkin’s book drives this point home:  “Cardio burns the most fat.  Not true (emphasis added).  Resistance training burns the most calories overall.  When you do cardio, you’re burning calories during the activity.  With resistance training, you burn calories during the activity but keep burning them for up to 48 hours afterward.  This is knowns as excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the more well-known after burn.  Resistance training also jacks up your metabolism, improves insulin resistance, and shuts down the fat-storing enzymes in your body.”  [These are all very good things.]

The plan progressively moves you through “Stage I: Training Camp” (dedicated to learning the fundamentals), “Stage II: In Season” (four weeks devoted to “mastering” the moves and learning to apply advanced training principles like plyometrics, complex sets, drop sets, and eccentric training), and finally, “Stage III: The Playoffs” (here is where it all comes together, this final push moves you toward excellence).  Try this program, you will learn, you will improve your fitness, and you will have fun!

A word about nutrition:

Durkin encourages the reader to move toward “World-Class” eating.  This is sound advice and a terrific goal and Durkin offers eating strategies to accomplish it!  The familiar training adage, “You can’t out train a bad diet” is a staple in the training world—and it’s true.  What you eat and when you eat it is extremely important (the field of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics, that is, how food interacts with our bodies, even at the cellular or genetic level, is starting to come into the forefront of modern nutrition—food is fuel, food is medicine, and it has a tremendous impact on our health!  Durkin’s 1o Commandments work; furthermore, he has concisely outlined principles that I have long used to guide my own nutritional regimen:

  1. Get your motor started: Eat breakfast!
  2. Slow down!
  3. Fuel up before training.
  4. Refuel after training.
  5. Go wild!
  6. Remember that supplements are just that—supplements!
  7. Water your body.
  8. Keep a nutrition journal.
  9. Follow the 90-10 rule.
  10. Experiment with the IMPACT menu

Durkin correctly notes, “How you eat will help determine your ultimate success with the IMPACT program.”  I cannot agree more … give it a try!

As with all resources, I tend to “take the best and leave the rest.”  Durkin’s  10-week “body/mind fitness” plan requires me to leave very little.  Note that I personally completed 5-weeks of his program during my preparation for Ironman Cozumel and have scheduled the full 10-week program into my current year’s training calendar.  If you work out in Denver, CO and belong to LifeTime Fitness (either the Parker or Centennial clubs), and see me with my SPRI bands and TRX … chances are I am working Durkin’s plan, or incorporating some of his moves into my own routine—feel free to join in and share you own experiences and results with me!  I will encourage you to pick a copy of the “Impact” plan and work the system.  Durkin’s program applies resistance at multiple angles, with varying resistances, and at different speeds in a rational and periodized manner.  If you follow his program and train with intensity on a consistent basis, you WILL get results.

Durkin owns and operates Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA.  A world-class center that combines personal training, massage and bodywork, sports performance training, Pilates, yoga, nutrition, physical therapy, chiropractic, life coaching and more.

*Note: Don’t worry if you can’t come up with all the “toys” as Durkin offers substitute moves.  If you are a “road warrior” he also offers practical guidance on how to stay on track while you are away.

GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run (Abbreviated)

I “ran” ha .. again, I can’t help myself … across the flyer that is the featured image for this post in a local runner’s magazine in 2008.  Since that time, the flyer had been prominently displayed in my office where I frequently contemplated when I would get a chance to complete this epic event.  Finally, the TransRockies Run found its place on my “2011 Race Calendar” and I enlisted my new friend Paul Hardcastle to run with me (teams are required, at least as of the 2011 running, in order to complete the full event).  Training for the TransRockies was fairly straightforward.  I was coming off the the Run Rabbit Run 50-miler in the fall of 2010 and would use the off-season to focus a bit more on general strength and conditioning.  I would begin adding substantial miles in early-2011 and gradually build mileage in order to be able to endure the multiple back-to-back marathon-like distances that make up the TransRockies event.  As the start date approached, I eventually used a “free” TransRockies training program to guide my preparations (the 16-week “finishers” program shown below); however, I supplemented this program with significant resistance training.

 

The free training plan that I elected to follow to prepare for the TransRockies Run.

 

I generally left Paul to his own devices as he assured me that he was getting in his mileage.  And as the event neared, Paul was even working a personalized 12-week plan provided to him by McMillan Running; however, Paul was beginning to display signs that he wasn’t going to be up for this year’s run.  Paul had generally complained about knee pain during the spring, and by the first week of July was telling me things like, “my mind and body are willing … my knee just has other thoughts” when I inquired about his long runs.  I was concerned (both for Paul’s knee and the prospects for our being able to complete the TransRockies run); note that this was the same knee that burdened Paul with a DNF at the 2010 Run Rabbit Run event.  The problems with Paul’s knee continued and by the end of July I had confirmation that Paul would not be joining me this year.  Fortunately, I had been exploring my options with Joanne with the TransRockies team and she had advised me that I had two: 1) team up with a new partner as a “free agent,” or 2) convert to the RUN3 (the shorter, solo, 3-day event that covers approximately 60 miles, from Buena Vista to Camp Hale, CO with 8,600 feet of elevation gain) … I selected the later—Colorado Runner posted an article on the RUN3 here.  I was disappointed in not being able to compete in the 6-day event; however, with Ironman Cozumel looming, I felt as though the shorter event might better serve my other training goals for the year.  Also, Paul’s withdrawal allowed me to commit to save the full TransRockies as a “team” event with my wife—we are now both looking forward to running around in the Colorado mountains for 6 days when our children get a bit older!

My TransRockies Experience

I realize that I generally offer upbeat assessments, but  they are honest and I really enjoyed this run—to date I have recommended the full TransRockies event to many other runners.  Sadly, at the end of day 3 I was not ready to stop running (albeit I was extremely excited to return home to see my wife and children).  My times for the various stages reflect my determination to finish in good form but also my commitment to savoring the experience (primarily enjoying some of Colorado’s greatest running trails).

Stage 1: Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge – 20.9 miles, 2,550 feet elevation gain (Time: 3 hrs. 58 minutes, official results here)

Stage 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes – 13.3 miles, 3,250 feet elevation gain (Time: 3 hrs. 36 minutes, official results here)

Stage 3: Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale – 24.2 miles, 2,800 feet elevation gain (Time: 5 hrs. 17 minutes, official results here)

Note: Upon looking back at the results, I finished 13th out of 33 runners in the RUN3 men’s open division with 12 hrs. and 51 minutes of total running time—had I been following the daily results (which I did not), I would have found that less than 10 minutes separated me from a top-10 finish (10 minutes is nothing over the course of twelve hours of running)—anyway, official results can be found here.

I didn’t write while I was running the event; instead, I managed only to capture a few photos that I have set out below:

 

 

I have also included a video montage of all of the GoPro footage that I shot during the event:

 

Recommendations & Reflections

Recommendations:  This is an event of durability.  Prepare and train for running long distances on back-to-back days.  If I had a single piece of advice, even if it came at a cost of your total weekly training mileage, it would be to run multiple back-to-back long runs during each week of your training.  Also, if you are running the TransRockies event with a partner and have elected the tent camping option, get TWO tents.  The supported tent camping provided by the TransRockies staff is excellent, but the limitations posed by the large number of participants and the size of the available campgrounds allows for massive tent “cities.”  The quarters are already cramped and the thought of cramming two tired runners, along with all their gear, into a single tent should not be a pleasant one—pay the additional $$$ and get separate tents.  Also, don’t underestimate the shower truck: this is a luxury at the end of a hard day and bring along some post-shower, clean and comfortable clothes to enjoy the remainder of the day after you have cleaned up (really a special treat).  Finally, bring along sufficient supplemental calories/food.  I am NOT a picky eater (I am an omnivore); however, I perform at my best when I eat a “clean” diet.  Again the logistics of the TransRockies event challenged the food service providers along the way and, despite their best efforts to offer healthy and even a variety of gluten-free options, I was constantly hungry!  Pack some supplemental food (the concern about bears is real, but really, what are you going to do about this issue in a massive tentropolis?).  I was happy to be able to supplement my daily calories with multiple, calorically-dense Honey Stinger 20g protein bars (oh yes, and a hot fudge sundae in Leadville, CO and a cheeseburger with a beer provisioned by the guides at Nova Guides—a great reason to bring along some cash, I think the chess burger set me back close to $20, the beer was “free”).

Reflections:  Stage 1 was sandy and HOT.  As always, in Colorado you need to be prepared for just about every type of weather imaginable.  Also, if you are planning on running this event as a team, you need to operate as a one—I look back and recall the banter between two teammates as they attempted to finish stage 1: “I TOLD you we went out too fast.”  “Damn it … why don’t you listen” … “Oh, just shut up” was the reply—and it deteriorated from there (it really was sad), not pretty.  Such poor behavior stood in sharp contrast to other teams who dealt with the demands of the event (even serious injuries) in a supportive and uplifting way.  TransRockies involves individual, team, and group dynamics … it is important to work together at all three.  Stage 2 offered some of the best single track and the up and over Hope Pass was spectacular (I have provided a link to the Leadville/Twin Lakes region here).  The accommodations at Leadville allowed a good opportunity to eat more calories (hence my stop at the ice cream parlor) and reconnect with family (great cell coverage).  Stage 3 to Camp Hale offered a mix of terrain and I enjoyed the  longer stage … 24 miles of running.  I ran the better part of a mile with Dean Karnazes (aka “Ultramarahtonman”)—I had met Dean on Day 1 (see picture above) and had visited with him briefly over dinner the night before.  It simply worked out that we were able to run together for a bit and we discussed our athletic backgrounds and I inquired about the run that launched his career (I had read in a WSJ article that Dean, after a 15-year absence from running, had left out from a bar on his 30th birthday, only to run nearly 3o miles from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay in his boxer shorts and an old pair of shoes, using the $20 bill he carried to purchase Tacos as fuel—all true).  See: Finley, A., “The Cross-Country Runner.” The Wall Street Journal. April 21, 2001.  In all I had too many positive experiences along the way to count and I look forward to encouraging others to participate in this great event as well as completing the 6-day run with my wife some time soon!

View the complete details for all the TransRockies events here.

 

Highlights from the NSCA Endurance Symposium

Earlier this year I attended the NSCA Endurance Symposium at the NSCA headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO.  I have long-held a respect for the NSCA and have been a member since beginning my training career (I am also a candidate for the CSCS certification and expect to take the exam sometime of the course of the coming months).  I received notice of the two-day endurance-specific symposium from the USAT and jumped at the chance to attend.  Continuing education is frequently a mixed bag, i.e. some are great, some are o.k., while still others are nearly a complete waste of time.  The NSCA event fell solidly in the first category—it was great!  What follows are some of the takeaways that I found noteworthy:

Note: If you ever get a chance to visit the NSCA’s headquarters, do so—it is a beautiful training facility that is appointed to train athletes at the highest level.

The symposium featured four primary presenters: Benjamin Reuter, PhD, CSCS, *D, ATC; Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D; Robert Seebohar, CSCS; and Randall Wilber, PhD, FACSM, with Sam Callan providing only a short presentation on the current state of technology used to monitor training (e.g. HR, GPS, Smartphones, and power meters) along with the attendant issues surrounding data transfer and management.   You can view the complete bios of the presenters here.  In addition, participants were provided with an opportunity for basic instruction on a few of the fundamental, compound Olympic lifting moves, namely the barbell squat and power clean.

Benjamin “Ben” Reuter, PhD, CSCS, *D, ATC, presented “Introduction to Endurance Training,” and “Injuries and the Endurance Athlete.”  A couple of my takeaways:  First, Reuter correctly defined endurance sports as “specialized movement” that places specific demands an athlete’s structural and metabolic systems.  These structural demands are fairly easy to conceptualize, as specific modes of activity (e.g. swim, bike, and run) place unique demands on the athlete’s body.  Metabolic specificity is a bit more removed from the mind of the typical multisport athlete; however,  it should frequently be at the forefront of an athlete’s mind when training.  Specifically, Ben emphasized that while three different energy systems function to meet the energy demands (by way of review: phoshagen, glycolytic, and oxidative systems) and all these systems are functioning all the time, each contributes a different portion of the energy necessary required depending on the stress placed on the body.  I frequently reference this concept with my clients and attempt to have them visualize the three energy systems distributed along a sliding scale.  Each contributes a different proportion of the energy required depending on the specific stress/activity the athlete is engaged in during a particular movement or training period (e.g. the phosphagen system primarily contributes to a single resistance training repetition; cf. the oxidative system primarily contributes to the energy demands of a multi-hour run or bike).  An understanding of the roles these separate but interdependent energy systems play and then training with metabolic specificity can lead to training breakthroughs.   Second, Dr. Reuter reviewed the common contributing factors to movement impairment and injury: muscle length, as well as muscle performance capability at different lengths (that is, a muscle can be weak or strong at specific lengths), joint mobility/flexibility (or lack thereof), anatomical impairments, psychological impairments, developmental factors, and environmental factors.  Frequently an athlete faces one or more of these issues on an ongoing basis and, as a result, one or more of these factors often degrade the endurance athletes training and racing experience and outcomes.  In combating these issues, either singularly or collectively, one can improve his or her “endurance performance.”  Note: There is a difference in “endurance training” and “endurance performance” training.  I frequently explain the difference between the two to my clients by means of the analogy of comparing what the posture and running technique of a marathon runner typically looks like at mile 1 of a marathon versus what his or her posture and running technique look at mile 26 of a marathon—in most cases these two pictures are very different.  The marathoner who completes the marathon has arguably completed sufficient “endurance” training; however, if posture and technique are severely degraded from the start to the finish then perhaps the athlete did not complete sufficient “endurance performance” training.  The elements of “endurance performance” training typically include resistance, flexibility, and balance training (there are certainly others that I incorporate into the endurance performance training mix).  As Dr. Reuter correctly highlighted, a typical endurance athlete overemphasizes cardiovascular, pulmonary, and metabolic training and underemphasizes underlying biomechanics of the modes of activity that they participate in (e.g., the skeletal, muscular, and nervous system components of movement).

In my opinion, Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D was the star of the weekend.  Although each of the presenters made significant contributions, Rhea zeroed in on the benefits of rational, programmed, and functional strength training for the endurance athlete (an area of particular interest to me).  As with each of the other presenters, Dr. Rhea managed to illuminate some key points.  First, stress is stress—meaning that when designing any training plan, it is important to consider all of the program variables (i.e., resistance training can’t simply be added “on top of” an existing periodized endurance training program).  Ultimately, the reasoned application of stress provides the basis for any training prescription.  Second, Rhea exposed the longstanding fact that most studies that relate strength training and endurance performance go the opposite way from what might reveal a benefit to the endurance athlete.  Specifically, “most studies have merely looked at the interference of aerobic training on anaerobic properties [e.g., strength, power, and hypertrophy], fewer have examined the potential positive effect of these anaerobic modalities on endurance performance.”  Rhea, is a serious student of the literature, and he synthesized various research studies into a type of meta-analysis that revealed that among highly trained runners “strength training” (i.e., explosive and heavy load weight training) improves long-distance  running economy 3-8% (with a mean of 4.6%).   Note: similar efficiencies have been shown with cyclists and nordic skiers (where both specific biomechanic economy and muscular power improved).  Accepting the positive relationship between increased muscular strength and improved muscular endurance, the question becomes when to add the resistance training?  Base, build, and peak phases all provide opportunities to apply resistance training to the endurance athlete and, while the addition of resistance training may open the door to overtraining (this is most common in highly-trained athletes), additional research has shown that there is a corresponding decrease in common overuse injuries!  The application of any strength training program must be rational and tailored to the fitness and recovery capacity of the individual athlete.

Two key takeaways from Rhea’s “Program Design” and “New Updates on Prescribing Cardiovascular Exercise” that are worth highlighting.  First,  when designing a resistance training program for an endurance athlete, it is important to focus on movement patterns and not muscles—the key is to train specific movements that are most likely to translate to endurance sport activities (this is includes training both the prime movers and the associate stabilizers, thereby gaining both muscular endurance and postural/biomechanic efficiencies).  Rhea’s point translates well into a definition of the often used term “functional fitness.”  With permission, I have reproduced Rhea’s slide below:

Differences between functional and dysfunctional fitness (courtesy of Dr. Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D)

Accepting the distinction and focusing on “functional” training, subsequent program design ultimately should balance the overall training stress applied, include a variety of training stimuli, and the selection of specific resistance exercises should focus on sport-specific movement patterns, core stabilization (as this supports biomechanic efficiency in every mode of activity), as well as dynamic movement patterns.  Finally, the takeaway from Rhea’s “Cardiovascular Exercise” presentation will not make many of my multisport friends very happy.  This is because the conclusion that Rhea has drawn from studying the latest literature, as well as in his personal coaching practice, is that it is necessary to train with a much greater degree of precision when prescribing exercise intensity  than previously thought—simply piling on additional miles is not the answer and will not lead to the desired training/racing breakthroughs! (Note: Rhea is a principal in the development of a testing system, see Race-Rx).  The following two slides (again, reproduced with permission) highlight the essential points:

The all to common "add miles" approach to endurance training (courtesy of Dr. Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D)

The need for precision in prescribing training intensities (courtesy of Dr. Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D)

Robert Seebohar, CSCS presented “Nutrition for the Endurance Athlete.”  Although I have a had the pleasure of hearing Bob speak before (he presented at the USAT-Leve I certification that I attended in Seattle, WA), it was good to  hear Bob’s latest thoughts on athlete nutrition.  Note that Bob has an active coaching practice here in Colorado and his book “Nutrition Periodization for Athletes: Taking Sports Nutrition to the Next Level” is a concise and useful guide to customizing nutrition for optimum performance—it is in my library.  Additionally, I frequently refer clients who are struggling with nutrition issues to Bob as he is a valuable and experienced resource.  At it’s essence, Bob presents nutrition periodization as a means to “support the body’s energy needs associated with the different training volume and intensity stressors throughout the year to elicit positive physiological responses.”  In sum, I couldn’t agree more!  To dig deeper into Bob’s methodology purchase his book (add it to your collection) and visit his vibrant website, www.fuel4mance.com.

Along with his notable Qlympic credentials (a veteran advisor for athlete of five Olympic Games), Randall Wilber, PhD, FACSM used both science and “real life” experience to highlight some salient points in his presentations entitled “Overtraining: Causes, Recognition and Prevention,” “Altitude Training in Preparation for the Competition at Sea Level and Altitutde” and “Environmental Factors and Endurance Performance: Heat/Humidity and Jet Lag.”

Overtraining: Undoubtedly overtraining is a significant negative training response; however, there is a fine line between productive training, overreaching, and finally, overtraining.  The distinction between overreaching (the step just before overtraining) and overtraining is dramatic and significant.  Overreaching exhibits over the course of a few days (at most), is reversible with added recovery, and is a generally positive training adaptation necessary to improve performance; however, true overtraining is long term (lasting weeks or even months in severe cases), is irreversible with added recovery, and is a negative training adaptation that results in a performance suffers chronically and will serve to end an athlete’s competitive season.  Athletes that slip across the divide that separates overreaching from overtraining exhibit numerous performance, physiological, immunological, biochemical, and psychological symptoms.  These symptoms range from consistent decreases in performance compared to previous efforts or competitions to a persistent apathy and lethargy.  After reviewing the often complex symptoms and physiological models of overtraining (of which, I might, add Dr. Wilber identifies the endocrine system as the primary driver), he outlined 7 strategies to keep avoid falling into the overtraining trap.  (Dr. Wilber presented 5 models of overtraining: 1) glycogen depletion (chronic), 2) immunosuppression (elevated stress hormones), 3) autonomic nervous system imbalance, 4) central fatigue, and 5) elevated cytokines.)  Here are the strategies: 1) recognize the overtraining risk factors (note that many of the risks factors are associated with the personality type that of individuals that are commonly drawn to multisport/endurance endeavors, e.g., perfectionist, Type-A, or as I like to classify myself, “Type IA—a play on the slow twitch muslce fiber type, and excessive motivation, etc.), 2) rely on a scientifically sound training program (i.e., a periodized program that allows for sufficient recovery), 3) utilize detailed monitoring of training repines[s], 4) nutritional intervention (increase carbohydrates), 5) monitor biomechanical and biological markers, 6) application of specific training guidelines during systemic (providing the answer to the question, “Should I train when I am sick?”), and 7) recovery techniques (including passive rest).

Altitude Training: I can only hit the “highest” (ha) of highlights here, as the application of altitude training is an exceeding complex training prescription.  Dr. Wilber’s most fundamental point: everyone can benefit/achieve a positive training response from altitude training if it is carried out correctly.  Although I won’t go into the physiological details here, three important nutrients may likely need to be supplemented prior to and during altitude training; specifically: 1) water, 2) iron, and 3) carbohydrates, as each support energy production as the lower partial pressure of O2 results in the body’s hemoglobin molecules to be less saturated with O2.  Hydration is critical as respiratory H2O loss is magnified at altitude (cool dry air) along with urinary H2O loss (the byproduct of increased energy expenditure).  Sufficient iron levels are critical when training at altitude, as iron plays a critical role in energy production that is amplified at higher elevations.  Also, relative to training with metabolic specificity, carbohydrates must be increased when training at altitude to meet increased energy demands (they should be the preferred substrate when training at altitude).  Finally, Dr. Wilber provided the following answers to the four “million dollar questions” surrounding training at altitude: 1) What is the optimal altitude at which to live/sleep/train?  Answer: 6560 – 8200 ft.  2) How long does the exposure need to be?  Answer: 3-4 weeks at > 22 hrs. per day.  3) How long does the training effect last after returning to sea level?  Answer: 3-4 weeks, but the training response is highly dependent on the individual.  And, 4) Is simulated altitude (hypoxic tent/or other training aid) effective?  Answer: Evidence suggests so, but the necessary “hypoxic dose” must be obtained (it appears that this beneficial effect can be obtained in fewer hours per day, 12-16 hrs., but a higher simulated altitude must be used, e.g., 8200-9840 ft.

Environmental Factors: Heat/Humidity and Jet Lag:  Dr. Wilber again did not disappoint in bringing the science to two common training issue: 1) racing/competing in a hot and humid environment, and 2) racing/competing after a long flight.  Interestingly, the battle to racing at a hot and humid venue can be won even if you don’t live in a rainforest!  Dr. Wilber presented four strategies: 1) natural acclimatization (i.e., go to the hot and humid race venue and train there in advance), 2) pre-acclimitization (simulate conditions in advance of arriving at the race venue), 3) euhydration and thermoregulation (whereby fluid is preloaded, pre-competition and replaced, post-competition to keep the athlete’s body in a normal state of hydration), and  4) pre-cooling and cooling (use of ice vests, whole body COLD water immersion, ice packs, etc.).  Although it requires careful planning, an athlete can acclimatize  to these foreign conditions by following a relatively short program where both the training duration (up to 90 minutes) and training intensity (up to race pace) are gradually increased while simulating the race venue environment (note this is typically achieved by wearing additional layers of cotton clothing—cotton, not the pricey technical stuff that we typically train in, is in order here).  The goal of each of these strategies is to maximize performance while minimizing performance degradation or producing any of the specific types of heat illness (e.g., heat cramp, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or hyponatremia).  Our Olympic athletes, under Dr. Wilber’s care, follow a complex schedule to “align their bodies with their destination” (utilizing a sliding schedule of gradually adjusting the sleep-wake cycles and is supplemented by the use of artificial bright light exposure).  Of three variables that can be managed by the traveling athlete: 1) the time leading up to departure (e.g., the week prior), 2) in flight activity, and 3) post-arrival (the 1-3 days, or more, before competition begins; the “in flight” and “upon arrival” are the most critical.  Dr. Wilber reviewed the use of several ergogenic aids for the in flight leg, including compression hose/suits, nasal air filters (he personally recommended the use of the “Breathe Pure” brand), nasal saline spray, anti-bacterial hand gel, melatonin, prescription sleep sids (e.g., Ambien), the use of caffeine, as well as the timing and composition of in-flight nutrition—each can be used by an athlete to mitigate the negative effects of lengthy air travel.  The “upon arrival” time must also be managed to ensure solid performance.  As a general rule, Dr. Wilber suggested that high intensity training should be avoided for the first few days, while bright light exposure (assuming a substantial time in the air) should be administered.  Apparently, an athlete who has been exposed to potential jet lag may exhibit reduced fine motor skills and impaired coordination, thereby opening up an increased risk of injury.

At the end of each day’s presentations, attendees were treated to some hands-on experience in the beautifully equipped NSCA training center.  Technique and modes of teaching proper technique for plyometrics, physioball exercises, dumbbell resistance exercises, and barbell Olympic lifts to endurance athletes were presented and practiced.  These techniques and exercises were presented as a means to improve performance and injury prevention as it applies to endurance athletes.

One view of this extremely well-equipped exercise facility where the practical sessions took place.

I want to extend a special thanks to each of the presenters who shared their expertise and knowledge on these fascinating endurance sport topics.  For more information, please contact the NSCA.

A second view.

 

Shannon Sharpe and you? … and me?

The December 21st, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured the following article as part of its regular “What’s Your Workout” column: “Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym: After a Stellar 13-Year Career in the NFL, Shannon Sharpe Maintains a Severe Fitness Program and a Disciplined Diet.”  For those of you that may not know, the “What’s Your Workout” column appears regularly in the WSJ and highlights the workouts and fitness routines of a wide variety of individuals … stories that encourage us by revealing how other “real” people stay in shape.

I frequently reference the Shannon Sharpe piece to my clients as an introduction to the concept of physical and nutritional discipline, especially to those who are looking to make significant “lifestyle” changes.   The article and my attendant comments have been so well received that I thought it could prove useful to a slightly wider audience.

The article highlights five noteworthy points that I want to share: 1) Shannon plans his workouts in advance (e.g., sets out his clothes the night before); 2) he focuses on intense cardio exercises—Shannon obviously understands the benefits of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training—I have provided an excerpt from “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joel Friel, the “father” of heart rate training, see “Misconception #2,” that explains why this is important and the quasi-myth of the fat burning zone); 3) he has unshakeable discipline which has a way of influencing others (e.g., see the comments concerning Marino, Brown, and Esiason); 4) he devotes one day each week where he emphasizes cardio (an important part of developing a useful aerobic base); and, perhaps most importantly, 5) Shannon makes his nutrition a priority and his pocket book backs up this commitment—he has made a choice to purchase high quality food (i.e. average weekly food bill of $600); also, he understands the basics of metabolic efficiency/metabolism (eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day) and meal timing; note that he also avoids late-day spikes of insulin by utilizing low glycemic index carbohydrates and making sure that the majority of his complex carbohydrates are routinely consumed by noon).

 

From “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joel Friel

Misconception 2: To Lose Weight, Exercise in the “Fat Burning Zone”

The myth of the “fat-burning zone” has been around for a few decades now, and, like most myths, it has an element of truth to it.  It’s true that when you exercise at a low intensity your primary source of fuel is fat.  So why isn’t going slow always the best way to shed blubber?  Let’s examine what happens during exercise.

The body has two primary sources of fuel to use during exercise—fat and glycogen.  Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored in the muscles.  During aerobic activity both glycogen and fat are used simultaneously to provide energy.  At low intensity a greater percentage of fuel comes from fat, but some of the energy is also supplied by glycogen.  As the intensity of exercise increases—for example, going from walking to running—the body gradually begins to use more glycogen and less fat.  At very high intensities, such as long sprints, most of the energy is supplied by glycogen, with relatively little coming from fat.

Still sounds like slow exercise is the way to go, right?  Read on.

The confounding factor has to do with how many total calories are burned during low-intensity and high-intensity exercise.  When you are going slow, fewer calories are used per unit of time than when going fast.

Let’s say, for example, that there are two 150-pound people, each with 30 minutes to exercise.  One walks and the other runs.  Our walker covers 2 miles and burns about 200 calories.  Of these, 70 percent came from fat, for a total of 140 fat calories used.  The runner covers 3 miles in the same 30 minutes and consumes 330 calories, with 60 percent of them derived from fat—198 calories.

What is comes down to is this: Do you want a big slice of a little pie, or a small slice of a big pie?  While you’ll usually take the pie any way you can get it, the bigger the pie (the higher-intensity workout) is definitely the better for burning fat.

And there’s more.  For some time after the workout, perhaps a few minutes to a few hours, your metabolism is elevated above baseline levels.  Suet is melting away even though you are sitting at your desk.  The higher the intensity and the greater duration of the workout, the higher the metabolism and the more calories that are burned.  When it comes to counting calories, high intensity results in more calories expended than staining in the so-called fat-burning zone.

That doesn’t mean you should always exercise intensely.  When starting an exercise program, going slowly reduces the risk of injury.  Also, easy exercise days are needed after hard days, to allow muscles and other systems to recover.

Nutritional Discipline and the Glycemic Index

Shannon has made a commitment to his nutrition that he backs up with his time and financial resources.  Shannon tries anticipates life events (e.g., travel, work assignments, and family commitments, etc.) and takes nutritious foods with him.  He also emphasizes meal timing, spacing 5 to 6 meals out throughout  the day and, in his own words, tries “to get all my complex carbs in by noon.”  By utilizing lower glycemic index complex carbohydrates earlier in the day, Shannon effectively avoid the consequences of the blood sugar roller coaster ride that most individuals take every day.  Instead of spiking his insulin levels over and over through the day, Shannon gets his complex (or “good) carbohydrates in early in the day to fuel his active lifestyle and avoids the associated fat storage that results from bringing high loads of carbohydrates in late in the day.  Note that this is the opposite of what most individuals, instead, many Americans allow themselves to feed on a near constant supply of simple sugars (“bad” carbohydrates) throughout the day and then top it all off with a high carbohydrate (usually the processed white stuff) at the very end of their day—the consequences of this habit are visible our waistlines, hips, and buttocks … just look around!?

A Look at My “Food Ethic”:

The beauty of being both an observant and dedicated athlete is that you learn a great deal by trial and error.  I have developed a personal “food ethic” and an approach to nutritional excellence by referencing countless resources and through much trial and error.  However, recently I discovered a collection of books that fairly summarize what I have come to discover on my own.  If you are looking for some nutritional guidance, I can highly recommend the following resources: 1) “In Defense of Food” by Mark Pollan (there are many other titles that have shaped my food “ethic” but this is a really important work), Pollan’s mantra of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” resonates with me.  I will also recommend “Ultrametabolism” by Mark Hyman, M.D.  Although styled as a weight loss book, this book provides a healthy outline for increasing vitality and sports performance.  As for endurance sports-specific, check out Bob Seebohar’s book,  “Nutrition Periodization” (it has it’s value, although I don’t agree with everything).  There is SO MUCH information in this area (much of which is conflicting, contradictory, and/or confusing), but you have to just dive in and start building a nutrition foundation.  First rate nutrition, especially for those who are looking to move beyond the standard energy balance concept of “calories in versus calories out”  (which unfortunately, is the bedrock principle of managing body composition—new nutritional science continues to suggest that both what we eat and when we eat it impacts body composition), involves a significant investment of time, money, and self-discipline.

Note: There is no magic contained in these books; however, these titles, admittedly in there individually incomplete and sometimes inconsistent ways, provide a foundation for my current personal nutrition philosophy, particularly, a type of “food ethic” that I subscribe to and one that I hope that you find beneficial to your own pursuit of wellness!

I devote a considerable amount of time and financial resources to both food selection and preparation.  As a means of cutting down on the time spent in the market, I have compiled a couple of grocery lists that use to guide both my family’s and my clients’ shopping (as I cycle through nutritional periods, these lists cover both my more plant-based nutritional “periods” as well as those that include lean, organic animal-based proteins).  Remember, keep it fun … I always try to bring home one new food that I don’t eat regularly each time I visit the market (preferably one that doesn’t have a label on it or come in a box).  I hope that you find these lists helpful:

Grocery List for Clients

My Family’s Personal Shopping List

Shannon Sharpe Article, citation (I would have liked to have provided an active link to the article or provided a reprint; however, the the WSJ charges dearly for such access.  If you are unable to locate the article, please send me an e-mail and I will provided it to you via my WSJ account):

Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym.  (2010, December 21).  The Wall Street Journal.  (Western, ed.) p. (   ).  Or online:  Murphy, Jen. (2010, December 21).  Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym.  The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved March 31, 2011, from: http://www.wsj.com.

Snowshoe + Snow Mountain Bike + Nordic Skate Ski = Winter Triathlon

A selection of the rental skies available at Ski Cooper: the "Madshus" 185s were my weapons this year

Over the weekend I competed in the 3rd annual Aria Spa & Club Winter Triathlon.  Hosted at Ski Cooper’s Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, this annual event offers an excellent winter challenge and a great off-season training day.  The weather was perfect, the sun was out above a crystal clear blue sky and the snow was FAST!   This marks my second year of competing in this winter madness and the experiences from last winter really paid off.  Although nearly thwarted by I-70 ski traffic (I left my home at 6:00 a.m. and did not arrive in Leadville until 9:15 a.m.), I arrived at Ski Cooper approximately 1/2 hour before the starting gun (Bruce of Pedal Power  ALWAYS starts his races on time … this year was no exception).  After a quick run into the Nordic center to grab my rental Nordic gear, it was off to set up my transition area.  Snowshoes on feet with neoprene booties … check.  Mountain bike with helmet and gloves (AND tires set ridiculously low to 12-15 psi) … check.  Nordic ski boots unlaced and ready to go … check.  “Alright folks, let’s gather around” … Bruce calls the racers together at the starting run.  “3, 2, 1 … shoe!”

5K Snowshoe

The shoe course climbed quickly up groomed trail before splitting into a steady climb of single track.  The abundance of consistent snow throughout the winter offered a great base and the trail varied from packed steps to deep plunges through powder.  I quickly settled into a comfortable climbing rhythm and tried to keep my heart rate in the mid-130s (I let it drift upwards a few times), knowing that I needed to conserve energy for my weakest discipline—the Nordic skate skiing.  I kept a steady pace, only slowing to walk/climb the steepest sections.  I have included a short video clip of one of my walking climbs below:

 

10K Mountain Bike

After ditching my snowshoes and grabbing hydration along with a quick bite of solid food, I was on my bike and away (after the 10K hike-a-bike last year, I abandoned my clipless peddle system in exchange for big platforms … this made the transition faster and provided great stability out on the course).  I transitioned away from the Nordic Center and out onto the road leading to Ski Cooper.  The out-and-back course provided some really fast cruising at both the beginning and ending sections of the bike, as the course followed the snow packed entrance road.  Once on the Nordic trails, my bike setup hooked up and I made good time.  In stark contrast to last year’s first race, I rarely struggled for traction and made short order of the bike course.  See the Flip video I managed to shoot while cruising along on “Fish Flats”:

 

8K Nordic Skate Ski

The best comes last at these events!  I slipped into my boots and grabbed my skis with more confidence this year.  I had travelled to the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center earlier in the week to take a second skate ski lesson.  Unlike last year, where veteran athlete and instructor Roxanne Hall had guided me through my initial Nordic skiing start, this year I gained further instruction from Coach Don Quinn.  Don is a Nordic skiing master and an all around nice guy.  We reviewed the keys to efficiency on the skis: balance and a feel for the snow as well as the mechanics of the V1 and V2—we spent the remaining time working on general skiing and climbing (my weakness).  My time with Don paid huge dividends this year during the race.  Where last season I frequently had to remove my skis and walk, this year I skied the entire course!  Once out the starting chute for the ski, the course turned into a long climb (better than 3K uphill … as a guess).  I went anaerobic pretty quickly and did my best to conserve energy for the remaining 5K.  At the mid-point, this year’s course offered some welcomed downhill and I did my best to take advantage of the “free speed.”  I made good time and by maintaining a steady pace and focusing on the techniques Don had taught me earlier in the week I was actually able to overtake some other skiers.

I crossed the finish line (which, I might add, rests at the end of a steep climb) and nearly collapsed.  Unlike last year, where I finished second to last, the post-race party was still in full swing with competitors and families enjoying a BBQ on the deck of the Nordic center.  I will be planning to compete in BOTH of the winter triathlons next season … I think!? (the Street Swell Winter Triathlon takes place at the CMC campus, also in Leadville, CO, on February 19th, 2011).  I am also committed to devoting additional training days to improve my Nordic technique next season and am already researching the purchase of my own gear.  Another great Leadville event … I can’t wait for next year!

Gear Notes:

In addition to the terrific conditions and great weather, some gear changes also contributed to my overall improvement this year.  As I discussed in my early summary post that highlighted last year’s event, I once again elected to use Bontrager XDX TLR 2.4s mountain bike tires along with a container of Super Juice Tubeless Sealant and pressures set at 1 Bar (14.5 PSI)—again, just the right setup on the bike!  As an FYI, I save this tire setup exclusively for the snow!  I also abandoned my clipless pedal system (I use Crank Brothers titanium egg beaters on my MTB) and instead substituted a large platform pedal—this allowed for a reduction in my transition time (I simply transitioned directly from the snowshoes to the bike) and provided for quick dismount/remounts when the snow became sketchy.  A quick word about Nordic skate skis.  Based on my discussion with Don, select a true “glide” skate ski (not a “waxless”/no-was ski that you will quickly outgrow).  As far as the bindings, Don has skied forever on the SNS (Salomon Nordic System) binding and highly recommends it (note that the NIS:Nordic Integrated System and the NNN:New Nordic Norm exist as other binding/boot options).   At approximately 5′ 10” and 170 lbs., I ski  a 185-188 cm Nordic ski, with a poles in the range of 160-165 cm (a “rule of thumb” is that the pole point, when turned over on its end, should approximately rest under the chin).  As always, I relied on my Crescent Moon Gold Series 12 race/running snowshoes … they never let me down!

Bikram What?

—"Very hot and sweaty" after my 1st Bikram (hot yoga) class)

During the first week of November I participated in my first Bikram yoga class and I could not have selected a better studio: Yoga on 6th (now iLiv Yoga).  Self-described as a “warm, inviting space,” Yoga on 6th (located in the Cherry Creek Shopping District at the corner of 6th and Detroit) offers a wide variety of yoga offerings, including the very popular “hot”/Bikram yoga.  Although I had practiced other styles of yoga over the course of the last several years (e.g. Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga/Power), this was my first shot at the Bikram series.  How did I get here?  Well, to make a long story short, my sister (who lives in an uber-trendy area of Northern CA) was planning a visit for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  She had mentioned Bikram many times to me and had urged me to give it a go.  I am consistently encouraging my sister to experience new things and I wanted to reciprocate … I figured it would give us something to chat about over the holiday.  Not only did I find a great studio, but I had the good fortune to have Elizabeth Van Genderen as my instructor (a runner who uses yoga as a compliment to her running)—if you have an opportunity to catch one of Elizabeth’s classes you won’t be disappointed and will emerge as a better practitioner of the Bikram series.

Well, my first class certainly exceeded my expectations.  From the first moment I was challenged.  The room was heated to a balmy 105° and packed with yoga practitioners (alive with a great mix of students of all body types and levels of proficiency).  I have a confession to make, despite my attention to stretching and other forms of “self-care” I have the genetic flexibility of an icicle.  I followed E’s cues and went to my own space and attempted to cultivate “serenity without seriousness.”  The sweat came on quick and within the opening couple of series, the sweat was pouring off my body—by the end of the hour-and-half class I was drenched.  Repeatedly throughout the class I caught myself watching drops and rivulets of sweat pour of my appendages and running onto the floor … fascinating!

Following “Breath of Fire” and a final savasana (aka “rest pose”) I emerged from class with a bit of nausea that quickly passed and immediately lead to a sense of tremendous well-being—I felt energized and fully alive in an organic physical sense.

What follows is a review of the 26 Bikram poses and some of my personal reflections and challenges.  The Bikram series is split into an ordered succession of standing and sitting poses.  Note: I included the formal Sanskrit names as part of an intellectual exercise, as they simply passed by me during class … I simply wanted to add a bit of clarity.

No. 1: Standing Deep Breathing/Pranayama

An introductory pose, exposing the stiffness that I carry in my shoulders—almost all of my male clients (myself included) have significant restrictions in the shoulders, this pose serves to open that often restricted and, despite it’s large range of motion, unstable area. (Remember the thought, “What we gain in mobility in the shoulder joint comes at a cost of stability.”)  Although I don’t have any known restrictions in my neck, this pose also presents immediate challenges when attempting to keep the elbows level to the shoulders when exhaling.  A great pose to initiate focus and concentrate on 6-count breathing—serves to elevate body temperature.  This pose caught me a bit by surprise, as the veterans knew how to channel their breath and make a very vocal inhale and exhale sound … something for me to explore further.

No. 2: Half Moon with Hands to Feet/Arda Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana

A great core move that exposes limits in flexibility while providing strengthening to the core.

No. 3: Awkward Pose/Utkatasana

An alignment pose that offers tremendous strengthening potential for both the lower body and core.

No. 4: Eagle/Garurasana

What’s not to like about a pose named “eagle pose”—one of my favorites.  Provides a great balance challenge as well as targeted flexibility work for the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbow, and wrists (each areas where the multisport athlete typically exhibits restrictions).  I am currently unable to “wrap” my non-working leg, instead it stays in place above the knee.

No. 5: Standing Head to Knee/Dandayamana Janushirasana

Another fantastic balance pose.  Here, once again, I am currently unable to make the hand to ankle connection to achieve the full expression of this pose.

No. 6: Standing Bow/Dandayamana-Dhanurasana

Ditto on this … unable to connect my hand to my ankle (I am exploring this pose further by using a strap—I use this one because I like the name).

No. 7: Balancing Stick/Tuladandasana

In addition to developing concentration on balance, this pose has the added benefit of rapidly increasing one’s heart rate.

No. 8: Standing Separate Leg Stretching/Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Pashimotthanasana

This complimentary pose addresses the elevated heart rate and provides a great opportunity to focus on spinal alignment (this pose is a great compliment to many of the vertical pushing exercises/Olympic lifts that are frequently part of my resistance training routines).

No. 9: Triangle/Trikanasana

This pose offers a shotgun effect … it works the entire body; however, it appears to offer tremendous benefits for hip flexibility (a potentially beneficial pose for us runners).

No. 10: Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee/Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Janushirasana

This pose particularly challenges the muscles of the spine and legs.

No. 11: Tree/Tadasana

Another of my favorite poses … who doesn’t like finding a strong “tree-like” balance?  Bikram practitioners suggest that this pose helps one to develop grace … I agree.

No. 12: Toe Stand/Padangustasana

A pose designed to develop patience … that is an understatement as, at this early level of my Bikram practice, this expression is way out of my reach!

No. 13: Dead Body-“Corpse”/Savasana

A resting pose used between the sitting series that facilitates a drop in heart rate.  I personally feel that the real power of this pose come from concentrating on feeling the floor supporting the entire body.  There is tremendous benefit to coming in and out of the poses, at E’s urging, I tried to consciously alternate the direction that I moved in and out of savasana.

No. 14: Wind-Removing Pose/Pavanamuktasana

Provides a self-massage of the internal organs, especially targeting the liver and intestines.

No. 15: Cobra/Bhujangasana

A focused strengthening exercise for the spine.  I personally feel this is a great pose for cyclists.

No 16: Locust/Salabhasana

Another terrific pose for spinal strengthening.

No. 17: Full Locust/Poorna-Salabhasana

This pose offers a variety of hand variations that I explored during my initial class (very similar to a training exercise called the “superman”).

No. 18: Bow/Dhanurasana

I simply can’t connect to my ankles here.  This is a capstone pose that combines the development of the “cobra” and “locust” series into a final, full spinal compression.

No. 19: Sit Up

The yoga sit up is only indicated for those without pre-existing back issues.  This is a dynamic move that is simultaneously combined with two strong exhales in order to facilitate the clearing out of the lungs.  Like savasana, the sit up allows a transition between poses and I attempted to alternate coming out of the sit up on both the right and left side of my body.

No. 20: Fixed Firm Pose/Supta-Vajrasana

I am unable to get my butt to the floor … I have to use a prop here (i.e., a yoga block).  This pose offers great potential for increasing flexibility in my knees.

No. 21: Half Tortoise Pose/Ardha-Kurmasana

A relaxation pose that offers a significant challenge to the core musculature.  The challenge is to allow the knife edges of your palms to connect with the mat first … slowly lower using only your core.

No. 22: Camel/Ustrasana

A spine “healing” pose that certainly compresses the lower spine and associate internal organs (e.g., the kidneys).

No. 23: Rabbit Pose/Sasangasana

This pose creates a healthy tension between the hips and the heels.  When correctly expressed, there is almost no weight in the head.

No. 24: Head to Knee with Stretching Pose/Janushirasana with Paschimotthanasana

Wow, I know that you are not supposed to judge during your yoga practice, but I can hardly get my head past my hips, much less in contact with my knee!

No. 25: Spine Twisting Pose/Ardha-Matsyendrasana

A luxurious twist and compression.

No. 26: Blowing in Firm Pose-“Breath of Fire”/Kapalbhati in Vajrasana

Like the initial breathing series, this one caught me a bit off guard.  This is a dynamic and vocal series that challenges the core and facilitates breath control.

I really enjoyed my introduction to Bikram, this was in no small part due to the great studio and excellent instruction.  One can certainly debate the pros and cons of pushing flexibility in a heated environment, but I personally liked the challenge and the opportunity to push my flexibility a bit.  The 26 poses each offer significant challenges and I am looking forward to learning more.  At its core, all yoga offers an opportunity to develop and progress one’s kinesthetic/proprioceptive senses (I understand both the distinction between these terms and the controversy surrounding using these terms interchangeably).  The ability to appreciate and precisely discern the relative position of one’s body parts in time and space (whether or not they are in motion or not) is an advantage for any athlete.  I believe that there are tremendous benefits to be achieved by learning to control our posture, whether on the yoga mat, in the weight room, participating in our favorite sport, or simply engaging fully in the activities of life.  Like other forms of yoga, Bikram practice offers countless opportunities to make and progress the mind-body connections and progress our overall level of fitness.

Elizabeth Van Genderen (Bikram instructor at iLiv Yoga)

Teacher Highlight: Elizabeth Van Genderen (an instructor that I admire as she is constantly progressing her own knowledge base and bringing her “best” to those that participate in her classes).

Elizabeth Van Genderen began practicing yoga in 2000, being especially drawn to Hot Yoga for the physical benefits that she felt complemented running. Two children and five marathons later, she received her Hot Yoga Certification from CorePower in the Spring of 2008.

She continues her education on her mat by attending numerous yoga workshops, training: in Mysore, India with Sharath and Saraswathi Jois; senior western teachers Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, and Annie Pace; and Bel and Emily Carpenter (Bikram).  The treasures from practicing the Hot Yoga series continue to reveal themselves throughout her practice.

Elizabeth underwent knee surgeries on both of her knees in 2007, so she knows first-hand and speaks to the healing value of Hot Yoga, and the need for patience in our postures to ultimately allow for deeper openings.

Elizabeth creates an environment where postures are appreciated on a breath-by-breath basis. She strives to bring more awareness to the breath and to specific alignment throughout the series which she finds serves us in and out of the asana room.

Elizabeth teaches at iLiv Yoga located at the corner of 6th and Detroit on Mondays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m.

iLiv Yoga (6th and Detroit) in Denver, CO

Hot Yoga Studio Update: Since my initial class I have participated in Bikram classes on a nearly weekly basis.  Although I would certainly benefit from a  more frequent/dedicated practice, I am realizing benefits from these initial steps.  I am now promoting Bikram to my clients as a way to progress their strength, flexibility, and general well being.  I am appreciating the benefits of Bikram practice, i.e. the release of toxins, improved flexibility and increased range of motion, stimulation of weight loss, and development of additional muscle tone.  I have personally devoted this year to broadening my yoga practice as a supporting activity for both my endurance and hypertrophy goals.

At the start of ’12 (the first week of January), I learned that iLiv Yoga had emerged from the start of Yoga on 6th.  iLiv has built on the success of the former studio and upgraded its facilities (e.g., new paint, new furniture, an even “cleaner” feel).  Fortunately, Elizabeth continues to teach at iLiv and is devoted to her teaching practice at the new studio.  If you are one of my clients, please ask me to attend a complimentary class at this great studio.

Hypertrophy!?!?!?

Hypertrophy – to grow or cause to grow abnormally large, in this instance, growth as it relates to the size of skeletal muscle.

Increased muscle mass corelates to increased weight (all other variables remaining the same, i.e., percentage of body fat) and this is generally not a good thing for an endurance athlete.  However, I have started to expand my training goals and have set my sights on signficantly increasing my muscle mass.  There are several factors driving this new direction: 1) the birth of my children; seriously, I want to be strong for both my wife and my children (and, just so you know, there IS a physiological correlation between size and strength—note that there are many exceptions and variables that impact that correlation, so it cannot be stated as a truism, 2) I want to improve my physique and give myself the strength necessary to take on greater physical challenges, 3) I have devoted considerable time to the study of weight lifting techniques and biomechanics which I have applied to improve the health and vitality of many of my personal training clients, and 4) I LOVE lifting weights but have never given myself the permission to eat so as to encourage growth—well, those days are over starting now!

TBW % Fat %H20 Muscle BMR Body Age Bone
Week A 160.2 8.5 60.4 139.2 1894 12 7.2

 

Start of 7-week build phase (October 12, 2011)

A note about my starting metrics, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep good records.  I use an Ironman™ Tanita “InnerScan” (Model BC553) body composition monitor scale (a device that uses bioelectrical impedance analysis-BIA) to record my daily metrics on a daily basis, first thing in the morning, Monday – Friday (I give myself the weekends off).  Although BIA suffers from numerous drawbacks, e.g., affected by time of day, body temperature, hydration, etc., it does offer a useful reference.  For most endurance athletes, the bodyfat percentage as a comparison to lean muscle mass rules and, for best results, I recommend using skin fold calipers.  I will begin using calipers to monitor my progress in 2011.

I supplemented these metrics with measurements:

Neck: Chest:  Waist (at naval) Hips (feet together):
38.0 cm 96.0 cm 84.0 cm 97.0 cm
14.8 in 37.4 in 32.8 in 37.8 in

 

 

Thighs (10 in. above patella): Calves:  Biceps:
58.5 cm 37.0 cm 30.5 cm
22.8 in 14.4 in 11.9 in

 

Start of 7-week build phase (October 12, 2010)

As far as program design, I have elected to attempt a 7-week program (Weeks A – G) using a straightforward four day split: Day 1: Chest & Triceps, Day 2: Legs & Abs, Day 3: Back & Biceps, and Day 4: Shoulders & Calves plus “bonus abs.”  I developed a straightforward hypertrophy program that I have included at the end of this post.  Each session requires less than 60 minutes in the gym and each, with the exception of “Day 2-Legs & Abs,” is immediately followed by High Intensity Interval Training (HITT)—a 15-minute treadmill session, with 30-second high intensity intervals (to the point of breathlessness) followed immediately by 90-second recovery periods (slow jog)—”wash and repeat” for the entire 15-minute HIIT session.  Calorie balance will be key, I am estimating my starting daily caloric intake—DCI (NOT including my pre- and post-workout meals at 2400 calories).  By tracking my daily caloric intake (note that I use Training Peaks) as well as my daily expenditures along with my metrics, I will adjust the caloric intake up or down as needed.

I am continually researching nutrition and how it affects athletic performance.  The cutting edge nutritional science is emphasizing not only what an athlete eats, but also when the athlete eats it.  Nutrient timing plays a key role in maximizing the gains of both the endurance and the resistance training athlete.  Both must focus on fueling and recovery; however, resistance training athletes seeking to gain mass must focus on augmenting anabolic pathways, while simultaneously limiting catabolic processes.  Part of my personal exploration during this process will be giving myself the permission to eat sufficient calories so as to facilitate the anabolic/growth phase.  I have included the recipies of both my pre- and post-workout meals here: Pre- and Post-Workout Supplementation (again, these are NOT included in my total DCI).  Note that this supplementation (and corresponding diet) is a bit of a deviation from my personal “food ethic”—a clean organic diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins.  During the 7-week “build” phase, I will consume a true isocaloric diet (1/3 carbohydrates (low GI carbohydrates, coming in early in the day, with the majority coming in immediately after my a.m. resistance training workout, 1/3 lean protein(s), and 1/3 “healthy” fats).

Results at the end of 7 weeks are provided below:

TBW % Fat %H20 Muscle BMR Body Age Bone
Week G 166.7 9.1 60.4 144.2 1964 12 7.5

 

Note: I packed on 5 lbs. of lean muscle mass, with an increase of only 0.6% in body fat.

Neck: Chest:  Waist (at naval) Hips (feet together):
38.5 cm 98.0 cm 85.0 cm 98.0 cm
15.0 in 38.2 in 33.2 in 38.2 in
Percentage Increase: 1.3 % 2.0 % 1.2 % 1.0 %

 

Thighs (10 in. above patella): Calves:  Biceps:
61.0 cm 37.0 cm 33.5 cm
23.8 in 14.4 in 13.1 in
Percentage Increase: 4.1 % N/C 9.0 %

 

Note: DCI climbed as high as 3400 calories (higher cardio days required increased caloric consumption) as I continued to manage a few longer runs, moderate swims, and cycling sessions through the  build phase.

Daily resistance programs:

Day 1 Chest & Triceps

Day 2 Legs & Abs

Day 3 Back & Biceps

Day 4 Shoulders & Calves plus Bonus Abs

Results at the end of 29 weeks (an additional 22 weeks of training) are provided below:

TBW % Fat %H20 Muscle BMR Body Age Bone
Week 29 178.2 11.7 58.6 149.6 2000 14 7.8

 

Note: I packed on and additional 5.4 lbs. of lean muscle mass, with an increase of only 2.7% in body fat.

Neck: Chest:  Waist (at naval) Hips (feet together):
39.0 cm 99.0 cm 89.0 cm 102.0 cm
15.2 in 38.6 in 34.7 in 39.8 in
Percentage Increase: 2.6% 3.0 % 5.6 % 4.9 %

 

Thighs (10 in. above patella): Calves:  Biceps:
63.2 cm 38.5 cm 34.5 cm
24.6 in 15 in 13.5 in
Percentage Increase: 7.4 % 3.9 % 11.6 

End of 29-week build phase (May 8, 2011)

End of 29-week build phase (May 8, 2011)