Approach Life As You Would Approach Death

“Death is not sad; the sad thing is that most people don’t ever really live at all.” This is one of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Since I first read those words I have had the good fortune of talking to a few terminally ill people. If you’ve ever spoken to someone who knows they are going to die, you get the feeling that what they have to say is important.

In my article Sometimes Bad News is Good News I related my feelings surrounding a urine test that revealed protein – an indicator of kidney failure. The test turned out to be inaccurate so my life didn’t take the turn I thought it was going to but the experience impacted me. You gain a lot of insight into your life when you think that it is going to end.

I was lucky, my test was negative. Some people don’t have that good fortune and need to accept that their life IS going to end a lot sooner than they ever imagined. Last Lecture By Dying Professor contains a video about this subject. The video that is embedded at the top of the page contains a short version of Randy Pausch’s last lecture – this page contains the entire lecture and other information about Randy.

Lean Muscle Mass and the Older Individual

I remember my dad’s 60th birthday. We had a surprize party for him and we stayed up late playing guitar and having a few beers. We ended up in the garage so my mom could sleep and sometime around 4 AM my dad stood up saying “I don’t feel 60″. He jumped up, grabbed one of the rafters and started doing pull-ups. I think he managed 5 or 6.

I remember thinking that there was no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do 5 or 6 pull-ups when he’s 70 or 80 because I’ve never been a big believer that people have to decay as they age. Frankly, I think your body will continue to do what you get it to do until you die. Of course there have been heated debates with people who believe that muscle wasting is a symptom of aging.

Making A Strong Case For Building Muscle by Ellington Darden Ph.D presents some evidence that my belief is correct.

… researchers found that inactive men gradually lose muscle as they get older. But the athletes who continue to train throughout their 30s, 40s, and 50s, tend to keep their muscle mass stable. The loss of muscle was not age related, they concluded.

“We can see that the amount they have is directly related to the amount of time they spend exercising,” says Evans. He also referred to strength-training research in which 80- and 90-year-old men and women significantly increased the muscular size and strength of their leg muscles.

Life is long and even as the years continue to mount, the body continues to function as it always did. The key is to keep doing what you want to be able to do when you get older. This is important for EVERYONE. Start NOW to ensure that you will be able to as you get older.

Did you hear me? START NOW!

Feedback Destroyer – Mitigating an Automatic Response

The best way to stop someone from giving you feedback is to make the person regret giving it to you. The quickest way to do this is to attack the person and call their credibility into question because these things will evoke a visceral reaction in them.

I noticed myself almost doing this the other day. My Group Ex cycling team leader took my class and we team taught. After class I asked him for his feedback. He likes the way I teach and believes that I have a good handle on what I’m doing. He suggested that I verbally coach and cue the riding positions to help the participants find a more athletic position. My automatic reaction was to think “I did that” and then “I did it more than he did” then “who is he to say that?”

What do these thoughts indicate?

I did that” – this one really amounts to me interpreting what he is saying as an attack on me. My reaction was to assume his suggestion to do it more meant that I didn’t do it at all because I am not very good at instructing.

I did it more than he did” – this is the beginning of the personal attack on him. It is basically something like “I did it more than you, you are saying that I need to do it more therefore you really didn’t do it at all”. It draws his credibility into question and it starts to paint him as being a hypocrite.

Who is he to say that” – escalation the personal attach by belittling him; basically calling his qualifications into question so I don’t have to consider what he is saying.

In less time than it took to think it my brain had perceived and defended against an ego attack with no conscious input from me. The thoughts just presented themselves one after the other and in no time at all I had create the reason for not listening to what he was saying.

Fortunately over the years I’ve became more aware that I have these automatic reactions to the things I unconsciously perceive so I didn’t say or do anything other than listen to what he was saying and let the thoughts wash over me. I trust my team leader because I believe he is a good person who has my best interest at heart. He’s also a good instructor with good form and great fitness so his advice and feedback are both useful and honest; I know that it will help me and that is why I asked him for it.

Talking back to the automatic response:

I did that” – I did, I know I did because I remember doing it and I do it every class. I do it out of habit because I’ve been instructing for a while. However, there was nothing to indicate that more positional cueing would have had a negative impact on the class or that it wouldn’t have helped them out. In fact, more of it would have been a good thing. It’s good feedback.

I did it more than you did” – I don’t know if I cued the class more than he did but it really doesn’t matter. His feedback is good feedback – it isn’t good feedback because he or anyone else does it, it’s good feedback because it would have made the class better.

Who is he to say that” – who is he not to say it? He’s an expert so what he has to say about it is worth hearing. Even if the feed back was to come from one of the participants it would have been worth hearing. People have a sense of what has order and what is unnatural; you don’t need to be an expert to offer advice on ways to improve something. This is particularly true when receiving feedback about an experience. Anyone having the experience BECOMES an expert so their feedback is worth hearing.

This week I took his advice and cued more. I did notice an improvement in the performance of some of the participants. Their shoulders stayed back while their chest remained up and open. When I cued their posture towards the end of the tough tracks some of them seemed to respond and increase their effort. By remaining open to his feedback, I became a better instructor.

If you notice that you have a tendency to close off when people offer you advice or feedback, you may want to consider talking back to your automatic response in order to reprogram it.

Eat Food. Not Much. Mostly Plants.

Eat Food. Not Much. Mostly Plants. A great article by T-nation author TC outlines 11 important rules for eating in the 21 century.

The farming world is very different now than it was 50 years ago and we are eating a bunch of food that didn’t really exist a couple generations ago. As a consequence our bodies are turning into temples of illness.

These new foods and the illnesses they cause are not isolated to humans. Cattle have had their diet of grass replaced with grain and corn feed.

Cattle don’t do well on grains. It makes them sick and they then require antibiotics. Furthermore, it changed the fatty acid content of their meat. Whereas normally the grass-fed creatures had omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratios more consistent with wild game or wild salmon, the corn-feeding turned them into hoofed heart attacks in waiting, the ingestion of which slowly clogged the nation’s arteries.

But we can now buy eggs that have been enriched with omega fatty acids to make up for the lower levels of these in beef – too bad for the chickens that their diet now contains food loaded with fatty acids. No doubt we’ll fix this by changing something else in the food chain.

3. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

We all know this one. The periphery of the grocery store is lined with fresh food, food that rots, food that’s alive. Those are the most nutritious foods. Of course, the suggestion isn’t fool-proof as Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt is in the dairy case.

Rotting good, staying “fresh” for years in a box bad.

6. You are what you eat eats too.

As discussed earlier in this article, cows and sheep are meant to eat grass, not seeds. If they eat too many seeds, they get sick and require constant antibiotics.

A grass-based diet for farm animals means the meat, butter, or eggs you eat, along with the milk you drink, contains fewer omega-6 and saturated fats, as well as higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants.

9. Eat wild foods when you can.

Wild plants are richer in antioxidants than their domestic cousins. Since they have to defend themselves against pests and disease without the help of man, they had to get tough — develop a bevy of interesting and potentially healthful (to man) phytochemicals — to survive.

The rest of the rules are worth reading although they may make you somewhat cynical about our abilities to continue to fed ourselves.

Programmed For Consumption

I feel productive when I’m reading online. It feels like I’m learning. There is a sense that I’m doing something that will improve my life. It feels important.

I’ve talked to my friends about this and some of them report a similar feeling – if you are sitting in front of a computer reading or typing you MUST be doing something that is important. Facebook is as good an example this – it consumes a lot of time and feels like it is a worthwhile pursuit when you are doing it.

It turns out that we’re hardwired to seek out information because we find it rewarding. Lee Gomes’ Why We’re Powerless To Resist Grazing On Endless Web Data reveals some interesting new information about how the brain responsed to information.

Dr. Biederman first showed a collection of photographs to volunteer test subjects, and found they said they preferred certain kinds of pictures (monkeys in a tree or a group of houses along a river) over others (an empty parking lot or a pile of old paint cans).

The preferred pictures had certain common features, including a good vantage on a landscape and an element of mystery. In one way or another, said Dr. Biederman, they all presented new information that somehow needed to be interpreted.

When he hooked up volunteers to a brain-scanning machine, the preferred pictures were shown to generate much more brain activity than the unpreferred shots. While researchers don’t yet know what exactly these brain scans signify, a likely possibility involves increased production of the brain’s pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters called opioids.

In other words, coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.

We are almost helpless when it comes to our need to bring in information. We are born junkies for things that make us think. My morning ritual of checking email, my blog reader, and the weather network is a ritual because my brain pumps out the reward chemicals when I do it.

Does it do me any harm? I think so. In all honesty, I don’t think someone can consider themselves fully self-aware if they are addicted to chemicals; even if my brain is producing them, I’m still hooked.

I wouldn’t suggest that we stop using this reward mechanism to serve as the motivation for information seeking behaviors but I do suggest that we gain control over when we go looking for the fix and what we do to serve up that fix. Just because our brain rewards us for reading the latest celebrity gossip doesn’t mean that ingesting this information does anything to improve the quality of life.

What I Learned In 2007 – Eric Cressey vs. Patrick McKinney

Inspired by T-nation author Eric Cressey’s What I Learned In 2007, I decided to put together my own list of things that I learned in 2007 (note – Eric’s 2006 article was my first ever post so be sure to read this years version).

1) Gifted athletes do not necessarily look remarkable but there is something weird about the way they look when they train. A few weeks ago we did the athlete testing for SST’s 12 week football academy. There were a variety of assessment tests but the one that stood out to me was the penta jump. This is basically a standing long jump with 5 jumps instead of just one, all linked together in a fluid unstopping order. It is a skill, but talent does impact ones performance.

Many of the athletes performed unremarkable, which is what we expect to see at the start of the camp because many of them are untrained and are coming off of a month or two layoff from exercising. But one of the athletes, a 14 year old, look weird doing it. He seemed to float away from me when he jumped – each jump took him so much further down the turf than any of the other athletes. His distance way 6-8 feet longer than any one else in his age group. I wasn’t very surprised to see his sub 5 second result in the 40. He’s 14 years old and pretty small. I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll continue to improve as he grows pounds of muscle and gains more complete neural control over his muscle firing patterns.

2) Fish oil supplements eliminate most of the shoulder pain I experience when I’m lifting heavy. I’m both shocked and happy to have found this to be the case. There is practically no fire in my shoulders in the days following my chest / back workouts. There used to be pain that prevented me from sleeping and stopped me from training heavy in the summer. This is all but gone now, thanks to 6-10 grams of fish oil per day.

3) Great athletes embrace coaching, lifters tend to ignore it. How someone responds to feedback plays the biggest role in the quality of feedback that they get. The gifted 14 year old listens to all the advice and coaching that he is given and he continues to improve, and people continue to coach him. This isn’t surprising because people do not like to waste their time. IF someone isn’t going to follow the advice that is given to them, people learn very quickly to stop giving it to them. Personally I begin to disengage from a person after the first time they role their eyes and DON’T change their movement pattern – they can role their eyes, call me a prick but so long as they change their movement pattern I’ll keep coaching them.

When it comes to lifters most of them do not want to lift correctly. They lift the weight and not the movement. I look away a lot when I’m at the commercial gym because I don’t want to see someone hurt themselves and feel responsible from helping them. I’ll offer advice to a young lifter on the off-hand chance that they want to become better, but more often than not they don’t want to hear it. This is too bad for them and good news for Rachel because she’s going to be an athletic therapist and will have a lot of people to work on.

4) Energetic coaching is more important than knowledgeable coaching when it comes to working with young or inexperienced athletes. Young people don’t not have the movement inventory or body awareness that older people have because they have spend less time in their bodies interacting with the earth. Most athletic movements are going to be new to them and they are not likely to have the motor control to move their bodies in the way that is required in order to be performed the movement correctly. For this reason, advanced coaches are not going to be able to use their knowledge to facilitate improvements within this population. More importantly, given that it is frustrating to be bad at something, particularly when a coach or another athlete does it with ease, inexperienced athletes may find quitting an easier choice if they do not find any enjoyment in an activity. An energetic coach can help bridge the gap between a lack of experience and learning a new skill and will often help the young person find joy in an otherwise unrewarding experience.

5) Rotator cuff muscles are primarily fast twitch fibers and should be trained in the 7-10 rep range with fast effort and slower negative tempos. This one could have read – people should train their rotator cuff muscles. I started doing internal and external rotation exercises just after I started working at SST after the cause of my horrific posture was pointed out. While I am still imbalanced in this area, I’m catching up and standing taller than I ever have.

6) Steady state cardio promotes fat storage while high intensity interval training creates more EPOC that will result in greater fat loss over the long haul. I credit RPM with starting my brain thinking about this one. The choreography is interval based with exertion levels growing from comfortable to breathless. One of the things I found once I stopped trying to keep my heart rate at 150 was that I was more tired at the end of the workouts and couldn’t do so much riding. I also noticed that there is only have a finite length of time that I can get my heart rate above 160 and once this time is up I get too fatigued trying to bring it up there again.

As this relates to fat loss: you need to workout very intensely to promote fat loss, but you need to workout at various levels of intensity to get the most fat loss because it requires the most amount of energy to adapt to many different level of effort. Also, if you workout at just one intensity, your body will quickly adapt to make it more and more efficient to work at that level the next time. This means if you are working out at a level that requires fat as fuel, the body will adapt to store more fat to fuel the effort next time. If you keep it at a steady state, your body will become so efficient at working at this level that it will stop losing fat. Given that your activity level will not change, it is unlikely that you will alter your diet to account for this improved efficiency and will begin to eat a calorie surplus thus promoting fat storage.

7) Spell check and proof read your resume a number of times before you submit it. We initially passed on a trainer candidate because of the typos on his resume. I looked over his resume a week later and thought that maybe there was a good reason why the mistakes were there. When we chatted it was obvious that there wasn’t a good reason but that he was a good candidate. He did fantastic in his interviews and we hired him. He is a gifted trainer with a wonderful demeanor that allows him to connect with almost everyone he engages. I’m glad I called him because he is a real asset to the team and a good human being. But I almost didn’t take the chance because of something that is very easy to avoid.

The Most Direct Solution to Any Problem

Steve Pavlina’s The Most Direct Solution to Any Problem is a great article. He suggests that the best way to solve a problem is likely the most direct way to solve the problem.

Many problems will have multiple direct solutions, but often these solutions will be unsavory at first glance because they’ll require courage, self-discipline, creativity, or persistence to implement. But if we can somehow get ourselves to follow through, we know the solutions will actually work.

…Another example: Suppose you’re interested in starting a relationship with someone, but you don’t know how that person feels about you. One direct solution would be to simply walk up, explain your thoughts and feelings, and ask if s/he is interested in discussing the possibility of a closer relationship. This will take less than a minute to say, and regardless of the outcome, at least you know where you stand. Of course this solution may require a lot of courage to overcome the possibility of rejection, but it’s very simple and straightforward.

The article goes on to say that very often ones laziness or insecurity prevents them from taking the direct route, favoring instead the path of least resistance; which too often is doing nothing about the problem. But there is a saying that goes something like “if you have a problem and in three months you have the same problem, the problem is actually you.”

The Myths of the Squat

The Myths of the Squat and Bench Press – by Rob Wagner is a great read for anyone who as been forced to consider the injury potential of squatting ATG (ass to ground) and it is well referenced. It is worth mentioning that I have yet to receive a single citation from an ATG squatting nay-sayer about why full and deep squatting is bad from someone with healthy knees; they can be passionate detractors but lack any evidence to support their claim that it will destroy healthy knees.

Myth # 1. Squatting is bad for your knees.
Dr. Klein’s can take the credit for launching this one. Studies carried out over the past twenty years have rejected Klein’s findings. In a study that looked at the effects that full squats and half squats had on knee stability showed no change, over eight different tests for stability, when compared to a control group. To determine the long-term effects the same researchers looked at the knees of competitive powerlifters and weightlifters and found that powerlifters and weightlifters had tighter knee joints than the controls (Chandler & Stone, 1991). Another study found that the involvement of the hamstring in full squats plays a role in helping protect the anterior cruciate ligament (Manariello, Backus & Parker, 1994).

If you do squat and don’t go down very deep, you are limiting your growth potential as well as capping the sports specific performance benefits of the exercise for a few reasons:

  • If you squat through 50% of the range of motion, you will need to do twice the number of reps to do the same amount of work.
  • Partial squats either limit the time under tension (which is critical for hypertrophy) or force the athlete to move very slowly to achieve the time under tension. Slow movements tend not to be very sport specific.
  • Partial squats do not cause the same amount of GH release because they do not force the body to work as hard.
  • Partial reps do not improve strength along the entire length of the muscle belly so you will be weak once your knee flexes into the untrained range.

NOTE: there is a time and a place for partial reps if you have good knee integrity but the bulk of your squatting should be ATG deep. If you have poor knee integrity, deep squatting my not be the right exercise for you.