My First Functional Workout

I closed on Saturday so I decided to do a full body functional workout. I did the following movements:

  • Tire flipping
  • Battle ropes
  • Farmer carries
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips
  • Keg press
  • Log press
  • Sled pulling

It was an energy systems workout so I used perceived exertion as the guide for how much work I should be doing. I did 4-5 sets of everything except the sled pulling. It took me about 45 minutes.

What I liked:

  • Most of the movements are new to me so it was easy to stay focused.
  • The keg and log press are a lot easier than Olympic lifting because I wasn’t afraid of banging my hips into the bar.
  • I got that lung burning feeling that I only get during the first hill ride or race of the season.
  • My heart rate went up very quickly.
  • The tempo of the workout is closer to that of trail riding than my usual weight training because pull-ups and dips do not work the entire body like tire flipping or farmers carries.
  • It was fun to really push myself that hard.

What I learned from it:

  • Battle ropes are brutally hard on the body and lungs – I was expecting the tire flipping to be the toughest aspect of the workout but after about 25 seconds of whipping the ropes I was “fall on the ground” tired.
  • A keg that is partially filled with water is a tough implement to hold overhead.
  • New and novel movements are a lot more physically taxing than well practiced movements with substantially more load.
  • It is possible to get a really good workout in a junk yard using “crap” so you don’t have to rely on state of the art equipment.

I was a little sore yesterday, particularly in my chest and lower back, but it felt good. I think I’m going to enjoy closing on Saturday’s a lot more now!

Long Steady Distance / Low Calorie Diets, Cortisol and Brain Aging

Last summer Tony agreed with me that I was probably killing myself with all the cycling I was doing. Soon there after I wrote Shortening your life by too much exercise to capture what I call the finite beat hypothesis – the heart has the potential for a certain number of beats and once these beat occur the heart stops working. It is a theory that seemed to make sense to me at the time.

In September when I started working at SST it became evident that the volume of cycling that I was doing was slowing my muscle growth because of the high level of cortisol associated with exercising longer than 45 minutes. Once I dropped down to one cardio session per week my lean body mass started to increase. If cortisol can have that dramatic an impact on lean mass creation what impact does it have on other body tissues?

A devastating impact.

Stress hormone may speed up brain aging outlines the findings of a recent study on an elderly population. The goal of the study was to determine if there was a relationship between cortisol levels and hippocampus size and neural density. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is implicated in memory and spatial awareness functioning. It has long been known that in most individuals, there is a decrease in hippocampus size as they grow older and, as a consequence, ones performance on memory and spatial awareness tasks decreases with age. However, this new study indicates that the degree of deterioration is related to cortisol levels such that those individuals who have higher levels of cortisol show greater impairment and the size of their hippocampus is reduced when compared to those individuals who have lower cortisol levels.

What are the practical implications of this finding?

If you want to keep your brain functioning at a high level for the duration of your life you need to decrease the amount of stress you experience. This doesn’t just mean psychological or mental stress, it also means physiological stress.

Steady state cardio sessions that last more than 45 minutes have been shown to increase cortisol levels as have intense resistance and strength training sessions of the same length. Limit the length of these to less than 45 minutes and if you can’t, make sure you consume some simple sugars during the sessions to mitigate the bodies natural cortisol release in response to a drop in blood sugar level.

Very low calorie diets or eating behaviours that include not eating for more than 4 hours in a row should be avoided as they will cause a release of cortisol.

You should eat within 20 minutes of waking to help lower the level of cortisol in your body – cortisol is very high in the morning because you have not been eating. The sooner it is reduced, the sooner the negative aspects of cortisol will be eliminated.

Remember that cortisol is a wasting hormone that causes your body to consume itself to maintain functioning. When cortisol levels are high very little of your body will grow and we now know that this includes your brain. If you want to maintain a high quality of life into your senior years you need to avoid activities that promote cortisol release when you are younger.

Working out vs. Training

I used to workout and I got pretty good results. I had a nice lean body and was more or less able to eat whatever I wanted. My friends would say that I looked good and I didn’t have any fear taking off my shirt.

Now I train and I get great results. My body is a work in progress. I can’t eat what I like anymore and I don’t listen to people when they comment of how I look. I take my shirt off to change and my girlfriend gets more out of the way I look than I do.

What are the differences between working out and training?

People who workout are trying to improve their appearance or some characteristic of their body. It could be to lose a few pounds, to lower cholesterol or normalize their blood pressure. In most cases there is an end point and once the individual reaches it, they can enter their maintenance phase and don’t need to workout as much.

People who train are primarily trying to improve their performance. They are pursuing something, a number or reps, a weight, a time, but they are after something that is slightly more objective than “looking good”.

Most people who workout do so fairly consistently. They do more or less the same thing every week e.g. cycling class on Monday and Wednesday, upper body weights on Tuesday, lower body weights on Thursday and whole body on Saturday. They do more or less the same exercises during these workouts and rarely change things up because they are happy to be improving.

People who train cycle through their exercises and change their programs when things stop working. They are not content with simply improving, they need to be improving as fast as their potential allows them.

People who workout do so primarily with moderate intensity. After their workouts they are glowing and look like they are full of energy. They’ll be able to laugh and joke right after and will probably have a shower before going home.

People who train look close to death after they finish. They will have given everything they have to their training and will likely be gasping for air, soaked with sweat and generally feel worse than they did when they started. They’ll be consuming a protein shake while trying to recoup enough energy to change and go home. Their energy level will be low for a while and they are not going to be joking or laughing.

People who workout feel less strongly about what they are doing. More often than not it is about feeling good in the moment and having fun. While working out may be an aspect of their identify, it does not define who they are. They workout based on their schedules. They’ll tell you that they workout and will often try to convince others to do the same. They may even invite others to workout with them.

People who train ARE their training. Their training takes over many areas of their life and is often the focal point of everything they do – training sessions determine when they eat, sleep, work and socialize. They’ll make you wait until after they have finished training and won’t try to convince you to train with them – if you aren’t already doing it you aren’t anyone they would want to train with.

People who workout get a lot of satisfaction from working out. Good enough is good enough. They won’t talk about achieving their potential because they feel they already are.

People who train tend to have fleeting moments of satisfaction. They may experience a high or bliss right after competition or achieving one of their goals, but soon thereafter they find themselves raising the bar and starting towards an even higher goal. They will never be happy with their performance and this is why they continue to train.

You Should Be Your Best Company

I used to dread being by myself. I became a distraction junky and remained in situations that were not good for me for too long. I wouldn’t do the things I needed to do unless I was with someone else – instead of going to the supermarket to buy good food, I would go to the nearest variety store and get junk food. I did this because there was less shame than walking up and down the ails pushing a shopping cart alone. I happened across an old journal entry from a few years ago – October 9th, 2004 – that marked the ending of this difficult period in my life.

It is Fall. There is that familiar leaf rotting smell in the air, it gets dark around 7 and it is kind of cold. 

I start at Goodlife on Tuesday. Monday is thanksgiving and I quit my Weedman job on Thursday and went camping at Albion Hills, staying at site 80 – our Hot August Nights spot.

Finally going camping by myself was great. There was a little weirdness to it at the beginning, but I guess I got used to it. I’m looking forward to doing it again and I wouldn’t rule out going to the Eastern Townships by myself.

Des made a comment “at least you didn’t have to entertain some girl so you could have fun” and it’s so true. Since I can do everything I want by myself that I use to need company for, getting into something that requires more effort or putting it on doesn’t serve any purpose. Go it alone and enjoy the company of others, but always remember life is a lot of fun NOW without her in it. If she is going to be in my life, it is because she adds to it. I always have a choice and I can choose me and live without them. It is good advice, the company of just me is good company. 

I don’t know why the switch flipped in my head that Thursday when I quit my seasonal Weedman job and went camping alone. I guess I was just sick of living a mediocre unfulfilling life of dependency on others. I remember when I paid for the site and the clerk asked how many people were with me and I said “just me” wondering what she thought about me being by myself. The thought didn’t last very long because she asked if I was going riding and when I said yes, she said have fun. There was a flash of awareness that I wasn’t the first or last person to check in my themselves.

That weekend marked the moment in my life when I stopped being a child and decided to face the world on my own.

Years later I’m able to see the significance of that weekend. My interactions with others are now lot more rewarding because I feel more at ease with them. I don’t fear the interactions ending because I do not dread being by myself. I have fewer friends now than I did before but my time with them is a lot more fulfilling and genuine.

Life got a whole lot better when I became my own best company because when you are at ease with who you are you can do everything you need to do.

The majority Is ALWAYS wrong, therefore DO THE OPPOSITE!

10 Important Lessons by Charles Staley was posted in a while back. There are some great lessons there but the one that resonated with me the most was his first:

1. The majority Is ALWAYS wrong, therefore DO THE OPPOSITE.

I consider this idea to be my central operating paradigm in life, and rarely have I found it to not be the case. Even if you apply this concept absolutely, across the board, without critical thought, to every aspect of your life, you’ll end up better off.

Here are but a few examples:

— The majority of people have no goals. Therefore, establish goals for yourself.

— The majority of people don’t train. Therefore, train.

— The majority of people think that seeing their doctor regularly is essential for optimal health. HAVING GOOD HEALTH HABITS is essential for optimal health.

—The majority of people don’t plan for their future, and end up unprepared for their retirement. Therefore, prepare for your future.

—The majority of people watch TV for several hours per day. Therefore, don’t watch TV.

—The majority of people spend many hours per day in a seated position. Therefore, spend more time on your feet.

It is an interesting way to look at things – doing what the majority do is a great way to be average.

It Could Take A Year

I took my RPM training about a year ago this weekend and started teaching group cycling classes a few weeks later. One of my brothers friends from university just happened to belong to the gym I teach at and I was able to convince him to take one of my classes. He had never taken one before and at the time he had been doing a lot of resistance and strength training. He had started lifting after his lower back disagreed with his dream of completing a marathon. After he stopped running he never found another appealing way to get his heart rate up and figured a cycling class may do the trick.

He liked it enough the first time he did it to come back and try another class. And then another and another. Over the first few months he took a lot of them and eventual stopped the weight training to focus on becoming a better rider. The body fat started to come off and he noticed that he had more and more energy. After about 4 or 5 months he bought cycling shoes and found that they made the classes more challenging and effective.

A few weeks later he finally had his first real break through on the bike. The moment is basically the same for everyone and it comes right when you think that you have nothing more to give and you suddenly find some reserves and push harder than you thought you could. It changed Clif as it changes many who have the experience. You go from being someone who is working out to being someone who is doing something athletic. It is a wonderful feeling and once you have it, your training is never the same. You have raised the bar considerably and each time you get onto the bike, you push harder than you ever thought possible.

I remember talking to him about the experience and finding a lot of validation in it. He is a determined guy who works hard but given that I had taken him to the edge and he had made the decision to push on, I realized that I could take other people to the same place and that maybe they would find the same thing within themselves to push on. Clif continued to go to class and work hard to find the training effect he was looking for. I thought the switch had flipped and that he was really enjoying himself. It turns out that I was wrong. His time on the bike was still really hard and that he hadn’t found it to be as rewarding an experience as I do.

Moving forward to last week. I taught RPM release 37 for the first time on Wednesday and after class Clif came up to me and said that he was actually enjoying himself now. He had become good enough at RPM to enjoy the classes. They were still hard work, but the work was fun in and of itself and not just because there’s the high feeling from doing something to improve your health. He told me that he “got it” and that coming to class was something he looked forward to and something we would miss if he wasn’t able to make it. It had taken almost a year for someone to find the joy in this, a brand new activity.

If you are just starting your fitness life take a lesson from Clif. While your health is going to start to improve immediately, it could take up to a year before you find the experience enjoyable. But it will become fun eventually and once it does, you’ll be doing it forever!