Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Bit.

In case it has somehow escaped your attention, Precision Nutrition is running a special whereby you get 10 guidebooks, the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook, and a 1-year membership to the Precision Nutrition site that gives you access to the member forums, e-books, articles, workout plans and Much! Much! More! all for one Low! Low! Price! of $99 USD. Honestly I have no clue how much this particular package normally would run you, but the price seemed reasonable to me so I went for it.

While I haven't received my guidebooks and cookbook yet, I did get immediate access to the members-only areas of the PN site, and so far I am impressed. The workout programs are designed by top people in the fitness industry, including Christian Thibaudeax, Alwyn Cosgrove, Craig Ballantyne, and Dave Whitley, and there are options for all levels from novice to pro.

Since I'm a kettlebell girl the Dave Whitley workout was the first one I downloaded, and as usual Dave does not disappoint. The first four weeks of the program are all get-ups and swings. It's not quite the RKC program minimum, but the concept is the same. The second four weeks are non-competing supersets, sort of along the lines of Turbulence Training but with kettlebells. There's also some interval training, with timed sets of swings standing in for the usual treadmill or bike sprints. The final four weeks of the program introduce some double kettlebell drills that are too advanced for me right now, so I will either modify or switch to a different program altogether.

If bodybuilding is what intrigues you the Christian Thibaudeax program is outstanding. It kicks off with 12 weeks of off-season training, then segues into 12 weeks of contest prep. It's advanced and it's brutal and I frankly can't be bothered, but for those who enjoy this sport and have the motivation and discipline to train this way it's an incredible option.

(Note: I have nothing but respect for bodybuilders. They work as hard for their results as any other athlete, and when I say that bodybuilding is not my thing, all I mean is that it's one of the many, many sports in which I do not aspire to excel or even achieve competence. It seems to me that looking amazing in a posing suit is every bit as valid a goal as pressing The Beast for reps or running a four-minute mile or pulling off 32 consecutive fouette turns without falling on your ass. Whatever motivates you, right?)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Eating Survival Tips

I am not a big fan of self-denial at any time, but especially not during the holidays. One of the lovely things about this time of year is the opportunity to enjoy foods that aren't readily available year-round. Often these foods aren't just delicious, they are family traditions that bring back happy childhood memories. Proust had his madeleines; I have my grandmother's Toll House cookies :)

So eat, bubbele! But be a bit sensible about it. Stop at the point of diminishing returns. Don't eat the whole thing if a bite or two is enough to satisfy you. As much as possible, try to serve yourself so you can control your portions more easily. Skip the dishes you don't especially enjoy. I personally don't care for candied yams or that Godawful green bean casserole that's made with canned cream of mushroom soup and Durkee crispy onion bits, I'm indifferent to mashed potatoes with gravy and most stuffings, and if I never have another Brussels sprout again it will be too soon. That's a bunch of calories saved right there!

If you're spending the holidays at someone else's house, offer to bring a dish and make it a healthful one. That way you'll be assured of having something you can fill up on without having to resort to the aforementioned candied yams and other things you'd just as soon not eat. You'll also find it a lot easier to control yourself around the foods you do love if you're not starving.

If you're the host it's even easier because you have complete control over what goes on the table. I usually canvas my guests beforehand to find out whether they've got food sensitivities I need to take into account, or dishes they absolutely must have to feel satisfied. My nieces, for instance, adore Stove Top stuffing. So if they're spending Thanksgiving with me I serve it. I don't eat it myself, but I serve it :) I also spend a lot of time looking through the November and December issues of Cooking Light for recipe ideas. What I like about Cooking Light is that the recipes almost never call for faux-food such as Splenda or margarine. Instead the holiday classics are lightened up via judicious reductions in the amount of sugar and/or fat, usually with no adverse effect on taste.

While I'm on the subject, here's another tip for holiday cooks: use the finest quality ingredients you can afford. If you're not willing to spring for real vanilla extract, make something else because the end result won't be worth the calories. Good ingredients mean good flavor, and good flavor means you'll probably be satisfied with less. Think about it: when was the last time you had a fat-free cheese that was worth bothering with?

While you're negotiating the holiday minefield, try to adhere to your usual diet as closely as you can on non-feast days. That'll do a lot to keep damage to a minimum. After all, the days when you're not sitting down to turkey and all the trimmings still greatly outnumber the days when you are! Unless you have an unusually large family and a ton of social obligations it should still be possible for you more or less to stick to the 90/10 rule during the 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Finally, do yourself a favor and do not weigh yourself the morning after a splurge. If you've overdone the carbs and sodium your weight may be up by as much as five pounds due to water retention. But it's just water, and it will be gone in another day or two if you get back on plan and keep hydrated. It's nothing to freak out about, but people always do, and as their trainer I get very tired of having to talk them off the ledge the day after Thanksgiving! So, really, for both our sakes don't even go there!!

In fact, I'm going to be proactive this year. If you make the mistake of weighing yourself tomorrow morning I want you to do 100 kettlebell swings for every pound you think you gained overnight.


Oh, and while you're at it, take a moment to be thankful this is even an issue for you. Worldwide there probably are going to be more people who go to bed hungry tonight than who don't, and not because they're dieting. We live in a culture of ridiculous, absurd, obscene, super-sized, Kentucky-Fried abundance, and while that's not necessarily good for us it's a problem millions of people worldwide would love to have.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recap: Training 11/16-11/22 (plus the usual digressions, random ravings, etc)

Actually, I'm going to begin my recap with Sunday 11/15. I ran a little 5k in Golden Gate Park and was quite disappointed with my performance in some respects but pleased in others. My overall time was a fairly dreadful 29 minutes and change, meaning I was running slightly under 10 minute miles on average. That would be a reasonable pace for a longer race, but for a 5k I would have expected to be a bit faster.

Here's where I went wrong: I started way too fast. I ran the first half mile in slightly over 3 minutes, and was completely gassed. My heart rate was through the roof and I had to slow way down to bring it under control. Unfortunately that was right where the race course got a touch hilly, and I never really felt I got a good recovery.

The problem was my training. I like to run on the beach. This is not a bad thing. When you run on sand you have to work a lot harder to push off, so you develop a lot of power in your legs. If you're a road racer it's overload training, which of course is quite useful. But if you do too much of it, you're going to use that same amount of power when you run on the road, meaning you're going to find yourself going very very fast. Not a bad thing if you can sustain it, but I couldn't.

So, if I were a serious runner what I would do in preparing for my next 5k is limit my beach runs to 1x per week, and do the rest of my running on the road, doing some longer runs to build endurance. But I'm not a serious runner, and if I'm on the road there's no chance of seeing dolphins during my workout so the heck with it ... at least until spring when the ducks in the park start having babies. I can run 4-5 miles in the park if I've got ducklings to look at :)

(I only do races that are fundraisers for causes I support. The race on 11/15, for instance, was a benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank. The amount of money I raise is the same however long it takes me to finish, which is the real reason I don't care that much about my time. It's mostly a matter of academic interest to me--as a trainer I like knowing what works and what doesn't, and why.)

I took Monday 11/16 as a rest day, then on Tuesday taught a 1-hour spinning class. It was endurance oriented, with 2 20 minute intervals at 75-85% MRH. I burned 501 calories over the course of the hour, which gives you an idea of the cumulative intensity. (That's a lot of calories for someone my age and size to burn in an hour!)

Wednesday I gave double kettlebell training a shot for the first time. It was ... interesting. I did 3 rounds of double kettlebell press 5x followed immediately by double kettlebell swings, 30x, using 12 kg kettlebells for both. After that I switched to double kettlebell press followed by regular 2-hand kettlebell swings with 18kg, and did another 3 rounds. Again, interesting.

The double kettlebell press was okay, but with the double swings I felt my form was way off. I can't for the life of me figure out how any person my size can do these properly. I felt I was initiating too low and not generating the power I needed, and it was just all wrong. So, no more of these until I can consult with an RKC.

I did, however, like the feel of swinging a heavier weight than 16 kg. But since I don't have anything heavier than that (are you listening, Santa Baby?), I tried affixing my "Kettlebell Buddy" to my 16 kg.

The Kettlebell Buddy is not a piece of equipment I recommend, and the only reason I own one is that I was new to kettlebell training when it first came on the market and was being heavily promoted by AOS/PerformBetter. For those who don't know, a Kettlebell Buddy is a 2-kg thingy that screws into the bottom of any AOS or PerformBetter kettlebell, and it's meant to make it easier to transition to a heavier kettlebell.

I certainly can't fault the theory--when you think about it, it's a bit ridiculous to go from, say, 4 kg to 8 kg, which is a 100% increase in weight, or even from 8 kg to 12 kg, which is a 50 percent increase. Even 12 kg to 16 kg--a 33% increase--is pushing it IMO. Intermediate sizes are very helpful but hard to come by ... and expensive. So the Kettlebell Buddy seemed to be a great solution, much like PlateMates which I do recommend.

The problem, of course, is that when you affix a 2 kg thingy to the bottom of a kettlebell of any size it suddenly stops acting like a kettlebell because you've completely altered the shape, changed the center of gravity, etc. You'd think this would be obvious, but as I said I knew nothing about kettlebells when I acquired my little 2 kg screw-in abomination.

So, anyway, don't make the mistake I did, not that any of you would. But if by some chance you did ... really I can't recommend using it for anything other than a paperweight. But if you want to try using it as intended, I suggest sticking with the squat and the get-up. These movements don't involve momentum, so the altered shape of the kettlebell is going to be less of a factor. I also didn't feel terrible using it for swings, which do involve momentum, because I didn't feel as though the altered shape of the kettlebell was forcing a change in form. I'm still not totally comfortable with it, though, and I don't really recommend it. Better to use a proper kettlebell and do more reps if going light or fewer if going heavy.

(The one good thing about my Kettlebell Buddy experience is that it's made me a somewhat better judge of kettlebells than I might otherwise be. Don't bother with anything that's not round or close to it, with no bumps, bulges, protuberances, flattened sides, or what have you. If you get such a thing it won't handle like a kettlebell, and your form will suffer as a result.)

Thursday I did one of Dave Whitley's 102 Kettlebell Workouts. This one involved 15 minutes of snatches, 12 R/L, taking rests as needed. I rested about a minute between rounds, and got 8 total rounds, so 192 snatches in 15 minutes using 12 kg. After that, 15 minutes of pushups (12) and pull-ups (5). I got 10 rounds. The pushups were no problem but the pull-ups were :)

Wednesday and Thursday were also ballet-intensive days: 90 minutes of class plus Nutcracker rehearsal. The show is a mess--we've had cast members dropping out in droves so we're going to have to rechoreograph Waltz of the Flowers and Party Scene. Goddess help us all, I'm probably going to end up being a Party Scene kid again this year, which will give the whole thing even more of a Trockadero touch than usual. Actually, "bratty teenager" is more like it. The cast is unusually short this year, and I can't pull off the illusion of being still in my Wonder Years if I'm taller than most of the "adult" party guests. But "gawky 15-year-old" I can just about manage :)

Then in Waltz--how to explain this?--the members of the corps are supposed to be lovely flower petals, while I am the messy pollen-shedding bit in the center :) That's how I think of it, at least.

Friday was another rest day--my arms were cooked from the pull-ups on Thursday!

Saturday I did a kettlebell workout intended to build upper body strength. I'm having a lot of trouble pressing and snatching 16 kg, so I did mostly assistance stuff aimed at helping with that. Lots of get-ups with the 16 kg, plus cleans, then windmills to help with my shoulder stability, followed by some high pulls and half snatches. I really think I'm close to making a breakthrough on the snatches at least. The heavy windmills really seem to help with arm and shoulder stability, which as always is my weak link.

Sunday I did 5 rounds of kettlebell snatches, 10 R/L; double kettlebell squats, 5; kettlebell clean & press 5 R/L, all with 12 kg. The idea was to do as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes, but since I didn't want to sacrifice form I opted for a somewhat leisurely pace. Basically, about 2.5 minutes of work to 1.5 minutes of rest.

And there you have it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Don't try this at home, or anyplace else!

Don't misunderstand me: I am impressed as hell that the guy in the video was able to perform these moves without killing himself or anyone else in the process. But as a workout I think this is pretty dreadful, and here's why:

When I'm putting together a workout for a client of any level, the question I am always asking myself is: is this the least risky way to get the job done? In my opinion it's simply irresponsible for a trainer to choose unnecessarily unsafe exercises no matter how "cool" they are. If there's a safer way to get the same training effect, that's what the trainer should choose for his or her client whatever that person's level of fitness.

Mind you, I'm not saying the trainer must avoid all risk. That's simply not possible. A training program always involves some risks. About the only way to be sure of avoiding an exercise related injury is not to exercise, and that's a risky course in itself. We all know the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle! Exercise of some kind is pretty much always the safer option.

But beyond that, it's negotiable. When it comes to program design I have very few hard and fast rules. What's unacceptably risky for Client A may well be the safest alternative for Client B. Just as an example, say Client A is a hypertensive gentleman of 58 who hasn't seen the inside of a gym since his college days, and Client B is a twentysomething who's been involved in sports consistently since his high school days, and is prepping for his first powerlifting competition. Both gentlemen have a stated goal of getting stronger, but their programs and the techniques I use with them are going to be completely different. I'm not going to be having Client A using heavy loads right away, because his joints can't handle it. And I'm going to coach him not to hold his breath during the concentric phase of lifting, because he can't afford the temporary spike in blood pressure. For Client B, however, heavy loads are a must, and the additional spinal stability he will get from holding his breath makes that the less-risky alternative for him.

Always be suspicious of a trainer who speaks in terms of absolutes!

That being said, it's hard for me to envision any set of circumstances under which a combination move consisting of a TRX suspended lunge segueing into a kettlebell snatch would be the safest option. In such an unstable position I don't see how it would be possible to generate enough power at the hips to perform the snatch correctly. Maybe with a very light kettlebell ... but then wouldn't it be safer and better and equally as effective to superset TRX suspended power lunges with kettlebell snatches using a heavy enough weight to challenge an advanced athlete? It might not look as cool, but who cares? The point is to improve the athlete's conditioning, not to make him put on a show for the amusement of spectators and the greater glory of the trainer!

What do you think?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Female Body Not-Such-A-Breakthrough-As-All-That

Don't get me wrong: there's a lot to like about Rachel Cosgrove's new book, The Female Body Breakthrough. If you're a twenty- or thirtysomething cardio queen who's tired of spending an hour a day on the elliptical with little to show for it, and you want to make some serious changes in your shape and body composition, you need this book. Rachel makes a great case for making a paradigm shift: giving up starvation diets and marathon cardio sessions in favor of weight training and frequent small meals.

Thing is, none of this is exactly a new paradigm. Some of it has been around so long that it has acquired its own set of critics and debunkers. In the chapter on nutrition, for instance, there's a reference to the thermic effect of food. This is something Tom Venuto talks about in Burn the Fat Feed The Muscle and The Body Fat Solution, and I think John Berardi discusses it as well in Precision Nutrition. Basically, it's the idea that every time you eat you force your body to expend energy digesting what you consume, thus stimulating your metabolism. Great if true ... but proponents of intermittent fasting such as Brad Pilon say it isn't.

Anyway, if you're a regular reader of this blog (or any other fitness blog for that matter) you probably already know most of what's in The Female Body Breakthrough. Metabolic resistance training. High intensity bodyweight conditioning sessions. No long slow boring steady state cardio. Meals every 3 hours or so, with protein at each meal. No processed foods. Et cetera et cetera et cetera, as the King of Siam would say.

What does set The Female Body Breakthrough apart from, say, The Body Fat Solution, The New Rules of Lifting For Women, and all the other excellent entry-level body transformation guides on the market, is that it's written by an actual woman with years of actual experience changing her own body as well as the bodies of her clients. Rachel Cosgrove is what I like to call a metamorph: someone who has gone back and forth from being a chunky aerobics instructor to an ultra-lean, muscular physique competitor, to a skinny-fat triathlete, and back again to the lean, toned look she currently sports. She's dealt with bulimia and post-competition binge eating, and she rides the hormone rollercoaster every month just like you do (at least if you're a premenopausal female.) She doesn't just know about this stuff, she's lived it in a way that Tom Venuto, Lou Schuler and the rest have not. To me that gives her some extra credibility. If you've got a skinny-fat cardio queen in your life who wants to make some changes, and you're looking for a fitness book to give her for Christmas, Rachel's just might be the one.

Don't bother, though, if your friend is indifferent to looking "hot." To me the biggest problem with The Female Body Breakthrough is that it presumes its readers are primarily interested in looking hot and sexy. A catch-phrase that's reiterated throughout the book is: Be A BITCH, "BITCH" being an acronym for Be Inspiring, Totally Confident, and Hot. The feminist in me finds this more than a little cringe-inducing. Not that I have a problem with women striving to Be Inspiring, Totally Confident and Hot, but I don't happen to believe that those qualities should be reserved to those who have attained a low bodyfat percentage. To me, being a BITCH--being confident, empowered and sexy--is all about what's happening between my ears. What my butt looks like in jeans has nothing to do with it..

Mind you, I don't really fault Rachel (I don't think she'd mind my calling her Rachel) for not fighting that particular battle in her book. Judging by what I see at the gym every day, she's got enough of a fight on her hands getting women off the treadmill and into the weight room. If she can succeed there, who knows--her readers may find they are so empowered by their strength gains and improved fitness that they stop worrying so much about what they look like to potential sex partners.

Now that's what I call a paradigm shift.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Metabolic Density Training With Kettlebells

Kettlebells and metabolic resistance training go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Like Fred and Ginger. Like vodka and ... more vodka :)

Of course I also love metabolic work on the TRX ... but sometimes the kettlebells just call to me.

Today was one of those days. I'd planned to do a metabolic resistance workout on the TRX, but for some reason the kettlebells were more alluring.

So, here's what I did:

12 minutes, as many rounds as possible:

TGU, 2 R/L x12 kg (I got 6 rounds--not bad!)

Rest 3:00

12 minutes, as many rounds as possible:

12 swings x 16 kg
5 pushups

(I got 15 rounds--again, not bad!)

In other news, I ordered Rachel Cosgrove's new book, The Female Body Breakthrough, from Amazon. I should be receiving it on Monday. In case it's not obvious, I reallyreally like the Cosgroves. I consider The New Rules of Lifting (Alwyn Cosgrove in collaboration with Lou Schuler) a must-read for fitness buffs of both genders, and my hope is that Rachel's new book will be similarly indispensable.

Once I've received the book and had a chance to read it, look for my review!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More HKC photos

Here I am doing a goblet squat. I have no explanation for the expression on my face. Maybe I was wishing the kettlebell was a 12 kg coffee cup?

Here I am attempting a shoe get-up.

Here I am getting my arm and shoulder externally rotated by Geoff Neupert, Senior RKC. Thanks, Geoff!

Again, I have no explanation for this picture, but I like it. I take my training very seriously, but myself? Not so much!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Cosgrove Cabo Vampire Workout

Today, for reasons that presently escape me, I decided it would be a good idea to do the Cabo Vampire Workout. This sweaty little bit of unpleasantness is something that Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove claim to have done on the beach in Cabo. Personally I don't believe a word of it. Maybe they think they did it, but that would be the mescal talking.

Seriously, this one was bad enough in San Francisco in November. I can't imagine doing it out in the tropical summer sun. I would end up in a puddle mourning my beautiful wickedness like the evil witch in the Wizard of Oz.

But then I'm not a Cosgrove.

Anyway, here's what it was:

Metabolic density training, 20 minutes:

10 TRX single leg squats R/L
10 TRX inverted rows
10 TRX suspended incline presses
10 TRX suspended lunges R/L

I got 7 rounds, although I wasn't keeping close watch over my time so I think I went a little more than 20 minutes.

superset, 3 rounds:

10 TRX swimmer's pulls
10 TRX sprinter's starts with power R/L (the original workout called for shuttle runs, but since I was training inside I substituted)

TRX suspended crunches, 2x12

Oh, and it's a vampire workout because it drains away all your energy. This is per the Cosgroves, not me, though I wouldn't disagree.

Also if by some chance the workout as written isn't miserable enough for you, you could always read New Moon during your rest periods. That'll suck out your will to live for sure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Weird workout day, even for me

It began with a short run on the beach. No dolphins today, but I did see pelicans of all things. They're common in the Half Moon Bay area a little further down the coast, but I've never noticed them in the city before. Maybe they were hoping to see dolphins?

The run went pretty well considering I'd beaten myself up pretty thoroughly the day before in ballet class plus rehearsal plus cycling. The cycling class was an intense interval training session that got my heart rate up to 171 at one point. Bear in mind, I'm 47. My estimated maximum is 179 according to the usual charts, which of course reflect averages, meaning that for 50% of the population they overestimate and for 50% they underestimate. I am in the latter fifty percent. In fact, my actual maximum heart rate seems to be about 190. This is strictly a genetic thing and not an indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness or lack thereof. But anyway, after hitting a high of 171 I was able to lower my heart rate to 106 within only 2 minutes or so. That's pretty good. Generally speaking an athlete should be able to lower his or her heart rate by 40 beats within 3 minutes of ending a workout. The quicker you can bring your heart rate down, the fitter you are. This is another reason to wear a heart rate monitor during your workouts: so you can track your progress in this respect.

Anyway, because I'd gotten my heart rate so high in cycling class on Thursday I wasn't sure how much of an effort I'd be able to put forth during my run, but in fact it went pretty well except for not seeing any dolphins.

A little later in the morning I hit the weight room for a little squat/bench press/pull-up action. The pull-ups went surprisingly well but I was weak as a kitten on the other two exercises. When I'm doing a low-rep strength workout I always throw in a couple of light specific-warmup sets so I can gauge how much it's safe for me to push it during the actual work sets, and I could pretty much tell when my back started complaining after 8 reps with only a measly 95 pounds that it was not going to be a good strength day. So I played it safe, focused on form and range of motion, and still feel as though I got a lot out of the workout even though I never used more than 145 pounds for my heaviest set.

I'm actually not totally committed to making barbell back squats a regular part of my routine again. Mike Boyle says they're not the best for building leg strength because they put the low back in a functionally weak position, so that it tires long before the legs do. I suspect that in many cases he is absolutely correct. What I'm not so sure about is whether the alternative he suggests--the Bulgarian split squat--is a better choice. His theory is that the BSS puts the back in a functionally strong position and the legs in a functionally weak one, so that it's the legs that'll give out first. This makes some sense to me, but at the same time I wonder whether most athletes have the balance and flexibility required to get the most out of the BSS. I think it's an absolutely wonderful exercise but it would never have occurred to me to use it as a replacement for conventional squats.

On the other hand, I'm always happy to test out a theory :) And I do love single leg training. Bear in mind that there's a thin line between love and hate here.

Anyway, after I finished the strength portion of my workout I did a few sets of 1-arm swings, then headed upstairs to an empty studio for some pointe practice. This was when I noticed that things were seriously amiss. I couldn't find my center and I couldn't pull up. The connective tissue in my ankles felt weak and "loose" for want of a better word. And I couldn't remember my choreography to save my life.

Then I remembered what day it was in my cycle, and all became clear.

Friday, November 6, 2009


In the interest of upgrading my diet some, I've been on the lookout lately for new and interesting foods that will give me the nutrients I need without completely repulsing me from a sensory standpoint.

Not every experiment has been a success. The powdered wheatgrass ... well, let's just say that it must be an acquired taste. Still, I could see it being a useful thing to have with me when I'm traveling and can't count on getting my usual 37 servings of veggies.

The kombucha drinks from Synergy, however, have been a big hit for the most part. A few of the flavors are a bit disgusting but I really like the Gingerade and the Trilogy (ginger, raspberry juice, lemon juice). They're tart, fizzy and refreshing. At least, I like them. My husband thinks they're too sour to be drinkable but then he likes orange juice, which I find to be unacceptably sweet. I have no idea whether there's any evidence substantiating the claimed health benefits of kombucha, but I certainly don't think it's doing me any harm so I plan to continue drinking it.

I'm also really liking nonfat Greek yogurt from Fage. It's thick, creamy and delicious ... and has 25% of the recommended minimum daily calcium requirement as well as 20 grams of protein per 1-cup serving. That's a lot of nutrient value for 120 calories! I like to mix in berries and sprinkle walnuts on top for a ''sundae" that's packed with anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids as well as calcium and protein.

Interestingly I find it a lot easier to eat well when my workouts are going well. I think it's because when I'm performing well I'm inspired to want to do even better the next time and I know that eating the right stuff will help. Or something like that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Workouts (plus a typically longwinded digression re: the relative merits of the tabata protocol and Viking Warrior Conditioning)

So far so good. I think my training plan is working in terms of including the variety I want/need without overtraining.

Here's how it has gone so far:

1. Sunday was my "Viking Warrior Conditioning" day, except that I can't really say for certain that I was following the protocol correctly because I haven't actually read Kenneth Jay's book. Hence the quotation marks. Whatever I did, though, seemed to hit the spot.

Cath, you asked whether I thought VWC was more effective than the tabata protocol. Honestly I can't say for certain since I'm not sure I've done either correctly. I certainly haven't done tabatas as per the study, i.e., 6 days a week for 6 weeks or whatever it was. And I tend to doubt that when I was doing them I was hitting 150 percent of my VO2 max, or whatever it was that the athletes in the study were doing, during the work periods. Elite athletes can do that, but most of us cannot. That's the thing about the athletes in the tabata study: they were all world-class speed skaters, not Joe or Jane Wellness Seeker. I don't think anyone has ever done a study to determine whether the tabata protocol's benefits extend to those of us who are just sort of your typical fitness buff. Anyway, I think Sandy's point was that VWC is more accessible to non-world class athletes (which of course is most of us) and therefore a better option for them.

I think there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that the tabata protocol as performed in gyms, bootcamps and CrossFit studios actually does yield considerable benefits. Certainly it's not a waste of time ... though possibly that time might be better spent doing VWC. But possibly not. Again, until someone does some studies determining the relative effectiveness of the two protocols as performed by athletes at the sub-Olympian level I really can't say which is a better choice for most of us. What I can say with some confidence, however, is that both protocols are good, useful, and well worth trying.

I think most of us have a tendency to overthink this stuff. If you're an elite athlete training for a specific goal it pays to worry about this sort of thing. For the rest of us what works best is just to pick something and do it.

2. On Monday I did a strength workout featuring deadlifts, incline bench press, and 1 armed rows. I was very conservative with my weights--too much so, really, because this is my first week on the program and I haven't been doing any of these exercises with any regularity for a while.

Also there were these idiot young men in the weight room who were also deadlifting, with too much weight on the bar and some of the worst form I've ever seen. My back hurt just looking at them! So I wanted to make a point of modeling perfect form in the hope they'd take the hint, but I'm not sure it sank in.

3. On Tuesday I did an unpleasant metabolic thing on the TRX:

1A: TRX suspended lunge
1B: TRX Suspended Incline Press

2A: TRX single leg squat (each leg)
2B: TRX Atomic Push up

3A: TRX Sprinters Start
3B: TRX Single Leg Chest press

4A: TRX Hamstring Curls
4B: TRX Inverted Row

5A: TRX Hip Press
5B: TRX Power pull

6A: TRX Hamstring Bicycle
6B: TRX Swimmers Pull

I performed each superset twice, 45 seconds per exercise (or 90 seconds in the case of the unilateral exercises, which sucked) with no rest between exercises and 45 sec. rest between sets. Then I finished with 1 set each TRX curls, tricep pressdowns, side planks, pendulums and suspended crunches My heart rate was a solid 75% of max for at least 30 minutes, and I burned over 300 calories in a little more than half an hour, which for someone my age and size is quite good.

3. Wednesday I went for a lovely run on the beach, and was rewarded with a glimpse of dolphins frolicking out in the bay. I think they were Pacific white-sided dolphins but they might possibly have been bottlenoses. There are about six species that frequent this area, but some are commoner than others.

I also had a great ballet class. I'm strong enough now that I can pull up on one leg into retire without assistance from the barre. I can only do it on one side, but that's okay. The other side will get there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Random Thoughts On "Cardio"

1. Cardiovascular conditioning is a critical part of any fitness program. What's the use of having strong glutes. lats and the rest if your heart is weak? It's the most important muscle in your body, and it needs to be kept strong! Some loss of cardiovascular capacity is inevitable as we age but with proper training a lot of that loss is preventable .... reversible, even. So, be sure your training program includes some sort of cardiovascular conditioning.

With apologies to Craig Ballantyne, just say "Yes!" to cardio :)

2. "Cardio" is any workout that's structured in such a way as to compel the heart to work at a certain percentage of capacity for a certain period of time. Many, many modalities work. If you like to run, you can run. If you'd rather use a stationary bike or elliptical, that works fine too. If you're like me and really don't enjoy that sort of thing, you can use kettlebell drills or bodyweight exercises or circuit weight training. Anything works as long as it elevates your heart rate to the appropriate level.

3. Peddling away on a recumbent bike at 50 rpm as you turn the pages of Us magazine and chat with your neighbors is not cardio. Don't kid yourself. At the risk of repeating myself, cardio is not a modality, it's a training effect. Unless you're working hard enough to elevate your heart rate to at least 65% of max, you're not performing cardio. I'm not going to say you're wasting your time because I tend to think any activity is better than none ... but you could certainly be putting your valuable time to better use. Put away the damn magazine, put on your headphones, and sweat a little. Save your tabloid-reading and socializing for the nail salon.

4. Get a heart rate monitor.

5. Don't assume that an impressive VO2 max is necessarily going to translate into outstanding performance in every endurance sport. You may have a heart of elastic steel thanks to your Viking Warrior Conditioning but it doesn't mean you can go out and compete in a triathlon without training for it. It's not enough to have a strong heart; you also need to prepare your other muscles to meet the particular demands of the sport. Lance Armstrong may be the greatest endurance athlete of all time, but almost 900 people finished the New York Marathon before he did. What held him up, obviously, was not cardiovascular weakness but failure to make the specific adaptations a distance runner needs.

6. If you choose to do some sort of cardiovascular training every day, be sure you cycle low, medium and high intensity days. If you try to do HIIT every day it won't be long before you simply can't elevate your heart rate to where it needs to be.

7. If you're a novice exerciser don't launch into HIIT right away. Follow a sensible progression, just as you do with your other training. If you've never done a barbell back squat in your life you wouldn't load up the bar with twice your bodyweight for your first attempt, would you? (Lord, I hope not!) You can do intervals--in fact, you should--but I recommend keeping them aerobic (75%-85% MHR, with recovery at 65%-75% MHR) at first.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Viking Warrior Conditioning

If you're a kettlebell person you already know all about Viking Warrior Conditioning. It's a conditioning regimen created by Master RKC Kenneth Jay (aka "the Dane of Pain").

This is not Kenneth Jay. This is my husband Paul. He's not into kettlebells at all, but he totally rocks the Viking look, don't you think?

Anyhoo, Viking Warrior Conditioning calls for alternating 15 seconds of explosive work with 15 seconds of rest. Usually the explosive work consists of snatches. Actual Vikings probably swing maces or something, but since Dragon Door doesn't sell those (although I suspect it's only a matter of time) most people just use kettlebells (12 kg for ladies and 16 kg for gentlemen I believe).
Before you start you test yourself to figure out what your cadence is (usually 6-8 reps per work set for snatches) and you stick with that cadence for the duration of the workout, which can be anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. Once you've worked your way up to 40 minutes you switch to a 36:36 protocol I believe, but since I haven't actually read the book don't take my word for it.

Anyway, I gave it a shot this morning, and it was interesting. Since I haven't been doing a lot of snatches lately I switched to 1-arm swings after nine minutes in the interest of not ripping up my hands. I probably should have switched to swings sooner, but the snatches felt really good and I didn't want to stop! Doing swings instead of snatches definitely lowers the intensity a notch since the kettlebell never comes overhead, but that's okay. The workout still felt plenty intense and challenging but never so much so that I felt I was losing control or using poor form. I went for 25 minutes, probably could have gone a little longer but I thought it would be better to stop before I reached a state of complete smokedness.
So, the grand total of reps for the workout was 108 snatches and 288 1-arm swings, all performed with 12 kg, or slightly over 10,000 pounds moved in 25 minutes if you like to think of it that way.

I think I've got my workout schedule figured out ...

with some help from Alwyn Cosgrove.

The general idea is lifted from a program he suggested on his blog a while ago. Day 1 is low volume lifting for strength. Day 2 is metabolic training on the TRX. Day 3 is HIIT. Days 4-6 are a repeat of days 1-3, except that you do different exercises on your heavy lifting day.

That's the Alwyn version, and I'm sure it works great, but since I'm also running 3x per week and cycling 2x per week I think that for me it would be better to substitute explosive kettlebell work for the HIIT. I'm thinking of following the infamous Viking Warrior Conditioning 15:15 protocol, but using mostly 1-arm swings instead of snatches for now. I've been mostly sticking with the HKC drills for the last couple of months, meaning that I haven't been doing much in the way of cleans or snatches, so my hands aren't as tough as they used to be. If I were to attempt a high-volume snatch workout right now I'd have ripped calluses before I was halfway through, and no one but myself to blame. So what I'm thinking is, I'll do snatches for as long as seems prudent, then switch over to swings, with a goal of adding a set of snatches every workout until my hands are toughened up again.

The suggested template for the heavy resistance training workouts is as follows:

Lower body: 1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps, 1 set of 1 rep, then lighten the load and do 1 set of 10 reps. Rest periods not specified, but with volume this low I'm thinking around 3 minutes between work sets.

Push/pull superset: 2 sets of 5 reps, 1 set of 10 reps, 60 sec. rest between sets

Kettlebell swings, 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps, half recovery.

I might try double kettlebell swings just to make things interesting ... but we'll see.

Alwyn doesn't specify what exercises are to be used on the heavy lifting days, but pretty obviously you'd need to include a squat, a deadlift, a vertical push (such as a military press or high incline press), a vertical pull (such as a pullup or pulldown), a horizontal push (such as a bench press) and a horizontal pull (such as a row).

I need to clarify that the resistance training protocol is meant to develop strength not size. I'm not expecting it to cap my delts or give me the beautiful symmetry of a physique competitor. Those are not my goals at the moment.

If they were, my training would look very, very different. I'd be lifting a minimum of 4 days per week, I would be doing multiple exercises per muscle group, and I'd be lifting mostly in the 8-12 rep range, with relatively short rests to maximize time under tension. There would be single joint exercises as well as big compound movements, and the workouts would likely last close to an hour.

This style of training works very very well if your goal is to sculpt a beautiful body, but it doesn't do a lot in terms of maximizing performance. It's certainly not inconsistent with performing well as my friend Wendy could tell you, but by itself it won't get you there. You have to supplement with functional training and cardio ... and that means spending a LOT of time working out. If you've got a high level of commitment to your physical goals, that's not a problem--but I'm lazier than that so I need to prioritize. And for me, looking fabulous in a bikini is just not that much of a priority these days.

Looking fabulous in pink tights, however ... well, that's another story. But that's mostly addressed through diet, darn it!