Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tis The Season For Excuses

'Tis the season for excuses, is it not? "The Holidays" has come to include this autumnal ritual where people resign themselves to putting on 10 pounds and breaking all their good habits, then making New Year's resolutions to lose the 10 pounds again. The sheer elegance of the system impressed me, and I felt compelled me to share some of my favorite holiday gym excuses. Enjoy, and may your several upcoming holidays be happy and safe.

The Cold

I run with my dog, a short-haired breed with nails that curve downward if not tended regularly. I generally do his nails outside, which is inconvenient. And, running a short-haired breed in freezing temperatures is questionable at best. Honestly, my cardio suffers all winter long, right through the December Holiday 5K and the upcoming 4mi trail race in January, which must be scheduled explicitly to burn off gravy. What does not suck in the winter time is bundling up in my $7 Russell fleece and spending an hour in the squat rack.

The Food

I love turkey. I love football. Eating a turkey leg with my bare hands in front of a football game is a Christmas gift in itself. Fortunately, the lack of cardio and abundance of squats makes the winter feast days a prime bulking season. I put 12lb on my frame and 20lb on my squat last time I spent the winter under the bar. Then, my company has this annual Wellness Challenge in February where people get points for doing cardio, tracking meals, and losing pounds. So, I have an organized 4-week cut to get lean again once the weather starts to turn. Awesome!

The Fluffy Shame Of It All

You take just Thanksgiving week off, and you return to the gym with no stamina and no energy. Everybody else is quicker and leaner and oddly much younger after your three-day absence. The inertia of getting started is a deal-breaker for a lot of people, requiring that we internalize some truths about ourselves and our view of ourselves.

I'm too old, and I started too late. Gyms are full of 20-somethings, exercising like it's part of some elaborate mating dance. But for every man my age in the gym at 6am, there are a thousand more hunched over, stumbling into their day on ibuprofen and caffeine. I am forging ahead through my forties, outperforming the version of myself from my thirties. I am not challenging the 20-somethings; I am challenging time itself, like some gymno-physicist superhero.

This takes too long. Most people take 40 years to reach age 40, then want to be 35 again in 4 weeks. Change takes time and consistency. Chances are that you got overweight over a course of 10 years. You will not reverse all that physiology and build a new you in 3 months; think more like 3 years of hard-fought change and a lifetime of new habits. None of the reasons that you're in the gym today play themselves out overnight.

Everyone else is better than me. Yes, they are. I have accepted the notion that someone in this gym today can outlift me. I also have friends who are national and world medalists in their sports, whom I will never outperform, ever. The point of surrounding yourself with superior people is that you rebrand your inferiority as your room for growth. This is why trying to lose your fatness before going to the gym in front of the skinny people never works. Shame is bottomless. Acceptance is a foundation. I know I'm not the best, but I will never see myself as the worst again. There's simply no excuse for that.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Finally, it comes to this

I set the bells down in December of 2014 due to persistent lumbar back pain. I've trained Biathlon again this last month, hoping to compete at Great Bells of Fire in October. I think my longest Snatch set ever, with any bell, was some 50 per hand before my left arm went numb. This season of rehab helped me score 12kg/45+45/6' and 8kg:100+104/10' this month. That's after not snatching since 2011. I'm actually doing Snatch as a cool-down at the end of my regular workouts, on purpose.

Then there's Jerk. The first time I racked two bells mid-Summer, my lower back hurt. Over the last month, I've had to do twists and stretches between 3' Jerk sets and the rest of my workout. Today's 5' test yielded 40 reps (a good Jerk score for me), carpal tunnel pain in both hands, and lower back pain. My spine was actually popping and realigning itself during squats later, which was as ironic as it was unnerving beneath the bar. But, it underscored that I've been needing therapy work to undo one exercise so I could complete my other exercises.

I won't be returning to the Kettlebell Sport platform. I know that barely interests maybe a half-dozen people, but it's still important that I put these words in print. I'm 46 years old. I lift barbells and run trails and enjoy a variety of calisthenics, all without pain. I was never good enough to compete with 24kg bells, the international men's standard, and it's simply not for me anymore. I'll be unloading extra bells, keeping singles from 8kg to 24kg, and moving on with actually taking care of myself. That is our first priority in the gym, after all, to move and feel and be better.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I'm not certain how this was scored, but I believe we won

Park? Hot dog? Definitely the park!
Kilo and I did a fun run over the weekend at the Bark In The Park Top Dog Festival. The schedule included Ultimate Air competitions that I've seen on Animal Planet and displays from several pet adoption shelters. After the fun run, we got treats at every other table and this cute little frisbee that's in bitty shards at the house. Nonetheless, it was pouring rain and 56F, and attendance was thin. I didn't see more than a dozen dogs with families at the hour the events should have started, and we were all spectators.

So, I've seen Kilo get bored of ordinary jogging until there's someone to follow. I've seen him run half a mile alongside a perfect stranger. I thought running with a pack out in the grass would be great fun. There were pits and labs and hounds, all eagerly play-bowing and trading wild strings of slobber, but only one other obvious human runner with a happy-looking cattle dog at the starting line. The course was a simple 1mi path around the farm, which we were welcome to lap as many times as we wanted. I expected maybe two laps.

The boy took off at a gallop, pulling me by the waist. I stopped him once to pee and poop and let the pack catch up. Thank God for the water buckets and waste baskets at every corner; you don't know volunteers until you know volunteers manning a dog poop station in the rain. By the first mile marker, we had passed the crowd. I believe we finished first, not that it was timed or rewarded in any way. Kilo got pets and cheers and a little textile travel bowl that barely accommodated his muzzle. The lady and the cattle dog wheeled into a second lap, so I cheered Kilo back onto the path.

This was where it got interesting. We had resumed a little late, and the first quarter-mile was clear. By 1.5mi, we had lapped this festive little white foofie and started to reel in that cattle dog again. There was a brief exchange of greetings, canine and human, and Kilo pulled me on. He had no interest in running "with" the cattle dog; he wanted to outrun the cattle dog! We finished clearly out front on that second lap, greeted by more cheers and petting, and he was finally done.

I had no idea Kilo had such a competitive streak. He is his mama's boy. I'm sure the Dog Whisperer would have volumes to say about the whole thing. He's enthusiastically social, fearless, and tolerant within certain limits that he firmly defends. He clearly had the highest play-energy of the dogs in the fun run, matched only by this one enormous lab mix that wanted to wrestle in a familiar way (made its owner REALLY nervous) but couldn't run worth a darn. There was a blue pit bull terrier that wanted to play but wasn't allowed to join the run, which was a shame. It would've been hilarious to see those two dragging me laps around the field by a leash.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Goal #1, coming through

5 paragraphs, numerous articles linked for references, and some footnotes. Half about weight, half about shoulder.

Dan John has a famous quote, which he may have gotten from Dick Notmeyer: the goal is to make sure the goal remains the goal. I set myself a physical training goal this year, and it is gradually, glacially pushing other goals aside: put on 10lb of lean weight. My greatest failure these last few years has been squeezing goals like this in between scheduled kettlebell competitions. Unfortunately, none of my goals ever meet those deadlines. This year, the remainder of this year's goals are on indefinite hold behind #1.

First, I don't ever want to be feeble again. It gets hard to defeeble yourself after around age 30, even harder if you've been forcibly befeebled by injury or illness. In 2008, I lost 15lb in a week and took 5 months to put just 11lbs of it back on. Over these last two months, I'm a slightly fluffy 9lb bigger, doing weighted pullups and trail running twice a week to monitor the burden of the extra weight.

I had to learn to tolerate the bodybuilding-ness of this goal because it serves a good purpose. This article discusses how muscle size is the only long-term factor we can change to make continued strength gains. (1) This Dan John article proposes that middle aged people need hypertrophy. Lastly, there was a peer-reviewed study by Brad Schoenfeld comparing the effects of training short, heavy sets versus longer, middleweight sets. The muscle growth observed was roughly equivalent in the two groups, but the middleweight group needed significantly less rest and recovery. (2) I wish this were more widely discussed, frankly. I should have stumbled across this years ago.

Second, the last few weeks of this training has isolated an old problem in my shoulder, one I've lifted "around" in a compensating way. Get this: it's easier for me to do 20 diamond pushups without pain than 20 regular pushups. (3) So, I give up; it's time to regress all the upper body work and address this. It may take months or a year to pick up where I left off, but I'll never get beyond where I left off if I don't address this. All I know is that I've 30 years of posturing around that shoulder and 100,000 reps of crooked kettlebell work that I have to defeeble.

So I'm testing a few weeks of self-guided rehab before engaging my doctor. My doc is very sports-minded, and we have a great working relationship. I just don't want to pay for PT unless I absolutely need help. This shoulder article by Dr David Ryan goes into great detail and gave me a few great movements to start with. This morning's session felt positively spastic, like trying to get a football jersey over a sweater. I am so asymmetrical. Mark Reifkind said once, "rehab is training". It's important to remember that. There's no shame in feeling better and moving better, even without a better bench press.

I'm also squatting. That's going great.

(1) Brief practice daily and long practice twice-weekly both add up to thousands of repetitions and neurological mastery in the long term. A person's bone length and tendon attachment points are not modifiable by exercise and only cause a fraction of the difference among humans that they do between humans and other species. Studies show that strength champions differ greatly from laymen in muscle belly size, and that is the only factor we can actually change. 
(2) Read the fine article for more detail; it's legit. I don't need top-end strength for kettlebell sport. I also don't have a 4-post power cage to do top-end work safely, and I train alone in a backyard shed. I totally should be doing sets of 10, where I can see failure coming, instead of 1RM tests.
(3) Diamond = thumbs and optionally index fingers together, forming a diamond shape. DPUs move the load from pecs and delts to the triceps and are supposed to be harder. Ergo, I am stronger with my triceps than with my pecs and shoulders combined. My all-time best overhead press was 110lb, ugly, but I can do 20 bodyweight dips at 155lb.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A walk in the park

I recently discovered North Mecklenburg Park, which I had driven by a dozen times without taking a look. The park advertises 3.8mi of mountain biking trails. Well, this just had to be done, so the boy and I took a run Sunday afternoon.

So this park had streams with little wooden bridges, hills, and small jumps intended for mountain bikes but hilarious for the two of us connected by a bungie cord. At one point I got completely turned around and recognized a clearing we had crossed on our way in. We were almost back to the car, and we would not be reaching the far end of the park today.