Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes Update 27 Months

I did it. 2015 Fitness Goal is crossed off the list.

For those of you that were following closely I was practically touching my toes in my 2016 year in review post.  Its hard to believe I've been at this for over 2 years now but my drive to improve mobility and movement function has not waned at all.  There is still such a tremendous upside to improving my mobility and movement and I guess it is going to take a while to undo all the damage from years of constant sitting.  In my previous update I mentioned that progress had stalled and I was pulling out the big guns and employing professional help in the form of the Gymnastic Bodies program front split stretching series .  I've been dutifully doing the 45 min once a week workout for just over 6 months now.  I also ended up starting the other two stretch series (middle split and thoracic bridge) as well just to round out the whole package.  If you think my front split mobility is terrible you should see my thoracic bridge.  So the good news is I've started to move the needle again but boy if I wasn't measuring everything and taking pictures I might question if I have had made any progress at all.  It took me a whole year to go that last 2 inches.

Updated graph (started Gymnastic Bodies around 9/30/2016)

Here is the last 6 months in pictures




A bit difficult to see any progress there, here are the close ups




This is not the end for me, I'll continue to follow the Gymnastic Bodies program, track my progress and see where it takes me.

PREV - 2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes Update 21 Months

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Body By Science - Can you work out just 12 mins a week?

In 2015 I read an interesting book on a particular strength building protocol that only required one 12 minute workout once a week.  Sounds too good to be true right?  It's called "Body By Science" by Doug McGuff.  I was intrigued as I'm always interested in maximizing my workout time and frankly always looking for ways to do less work in the gym but get the same results.

So I decided I would do a little experiment to see if this protocol worked at all.  I started this experiment on 12/14/2015 and the plan was to follow only this protocol for a whole year.  Going into the experiment I was probably in average shape strength wise for me, there was certainly plenty of room for me to get better.  But trust me my strength is not very impressive at all.  However for the sake of this experiment I did a few basic lifts to failure as a baseline strength test.

9 over hand pull ups
Bench Press - 8 reps of 135 lbs
Back Squat - 6 reps of 155 lbs

I think a small child could do better but for the benefit of my readers I've now published those numbers.  Luckily for me the number of people who will actually read this is minuscule.

So what is the magic formula to this protocol?  Well I recommend you buy the book if its something that interests you but basically it is a super slow set performed to complete and utter failure.  To get an idea of how slow you move the weight you basically move the weight as slow as possible without jerking the weight.  You then time your "Time Under Load" (TUL) and once you reach a certain time threshold you increase the weight.  You only do 1 set per exercise and to start you do the Big 5 workout: Chest Press, Shoulder Press, Leg Press, Pull Down and Seated Row.  You do all the exercises on the machines (you can use free weights if necessary it covers this in the book).  In particular Nautilus machines which I'll explain why in a bit.  You don't rest in between each set so you really do get done in about 12 mins.  And you only do this workout once a week.  To give you a better idea of what this looks like he is a video of a someone performing a typical workout.

Ok so I'm sure you're wondering does it work?  Can I really work out 12 mins a week?  Well to be honest I'm not entirely sure.  There were a couple of problems with my experiment.  First off I didn't use the correct machines, I just used the ones available to me at my gym which are the typical Cyrex machines.  The reason that Nautilus machines are preferred is that they feature correct cam profiles that vary the resistance in accord with the strength curves of the muscles being trained.  In other words the resistance is varied by the point in the movement.  For example when doing chest press your weakest point is typically when the bar is right to your chest and then the lift gets easier as you push away.  What the cam does is vary the weight so that the resistance is even across the whole motion.  Its the reason you might see some people benching with chains on the end of the bar as it will increase the weight as the chain comes off the ground.  Same principle, here is the cam profile for the Nautilus Bicep Curl Machine.

However here is the same cam on the biceps curl machine at my gym, a perfect circle so it doesn't vary the resistance at all.  And all the cams on all the machines at my gym looked like this.  

This meant my point of failure was nearly always the same points on my lifts the most difficult spots which I'm guessing is definitely not ideal for this type of training.

Also I had trouble making this my only strength based workout for the week.  I almost felt guilty working out for 12 mins and then hitting the sauna.  I did stay away from the squat rack and bench press but I had one day dedicated to muscle ups for my 2016 fitness goal so that involved quite a bit of pull ups and other mostly body weight strength stuff.  I was also throwing in some kettle bell work on those days towards the end of 2016.  So I completely failed at making this protocol my only strength workout.  I did however keep track of all my lifts and my TUL (Time Under Load) for each one.  I used 90 seconds of TUL as my point in which I would go up in weight.  So once I reached 90 seconds TUL I would move up.  Below are my progress charts for each lift.  I've thrown out the first 4 weeks of data.  I did this because I figured there would be some immediate gains from doing an exercise I wasn't used to and it took me a while to get the intensity to a point I thought was absolute maximum effort.  To further muddy the waters when my progress plateaued I took the books recommendations and split the big 5 workout into 2 separate workouts of 3 and 2 exercises.  So I was doing even less work and getting done in about 7 minutes and I was doing each machine once every 14 days.  I started this split on 4/19/2016.

For the graphs I converted each TUL result to a respective point in between each weight break.

Overall I got the most consistent gains out of leg press.  Shoulder press was the worst.  I plateaued on that from essentially Feb to Dec.  I dreaded shoulder press, it seemed as if I had to go deep into the pain cave just to maintain my current level.  If you would like to see the raw data for these graphs you can check out that here.

I then repeated my strength test at the end of the year.  Unfortunately back squat has been removed as I have what appears to be a mild double hernia so I don't do heavy squats any more (if you call 155 lbs heavy).  Pull ups is largely meaningless as I've been doing so much additional pull up training for the muscle up (plus grip strength).  That just leaves the bench press which is probably the best indicator anyway because the once every 2 week 1 set of slow chest press is the only focused chest work I've done all year.  If my data on the graph is any indicator I should see about a 25% improvement on my bench press reps, so 10 reps (I got 11 see below).

11 pull ups (+2 or 22.2%)
Bench Press - 11 reps of 135 lbs (+3 or 37.5%)
Back Squat - Didn't attempt

For the record the pull ups were not strict. I wish I had done strict pull ups for consistency sake but I just tried to repeat what I did before which was get over the bar at all costs legs flailing and all.  Of course there are tons of variables in this so even the bench press doesn't really mean that much but anecdotally the weight felt lighter and I knew right away I was going to do more than 8 after the first rep.  Honestly I was just happy I got stronger as I was taking a bit of a leap of faith on this and it would have sucked to train for a year only to get weaker.

So overall what do I think about this as a strength building protocol in a minimal amount of time? Well first off I think it works and will build strength and size, it is certainly not complete bs pseudo science from what I experienced.  There is actually a gym local to me in Indianapolis dedicated to this kind of training.  Is it the most effective workout on the planet?  I have no idea but if you're doing nothing and want a way to dip your foot in the pool without investing a lot of time then I think this is a great way to get started.  If you can't go to the gym once a week and do 12 mins I'm not sure what to tell you.  I think it could be especially effective for the elderly as it is a very low impact exercise because of the slow movement and maintaining strength is probably the number one strategy to fend off old age.  What have you got to lose when its only 12 minutes a week?

So am I personally going to keep doing the protocol?  I'm not sure I will continue with it in whole every week but I do plan to keep doing some super slow training somewhere in my workouts and keep track of course.  I think I'm going to take an 8 week break do some more traditional free weight work and then re introduce period blocks just to get a different muscle stimulus. The body is amazing at adjusting to stimulus inputs and I generally like to try to keep the body as confused as possible and not get stuck in a specific routine or set of lifts.  If I'm low on time I know I can always pull out the 12 min workout, its just another tool in the tool belt.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2016 Year in Review

Firstly Happy New Year to my 2 readers.

As for health and fitness its been a pretty big year for me.  Really the highlight and my most popular post was discovering I had Hereditary Hemochromatosis.  I'm planning to post an update but the short story is after 7 phlebotomies my iron is back to reasonable levels (50-150 is optimal).  I'll have to continue with the phlebotomies to keep my iron under control until I die but at a much reduced rate.

How about all my fitness goals?  Lets review shall we because so far I have a pretty poor record of completing any.

2014 - Run 3 miles in 21 minutes

Although undocumented on this blog I did have a goal in 2014 of running 3 miles in under 21 minutes (7 min/mile pace).  I had just started running again and that seemed reasonable at the time as I could run under 21 minutes when I was 12.  However I was only able to run 2 miles in 14 minutes that year but never 3 miles. 

I hurt my ankle for most of this year but got a few runs in at the end of year.  Best 5K - 22:43 7:20 min/mile.  I'll have a lot more on this next year but I've started training to put this one to bed in 2017.

Ah the saga of touching my toes, will have a full update at the end of March, but here is the end of year update.

It's only been a couple of months since I switched my goal to a handstand but I've started the handstand progressions.  Here I am doing a headstand, I'm up to 4 sets of 36 seconds.  Long way to go on this one still.

2017 - Complete the Indiana Spartan Sprint

So here is a goal I might actually be able to finish in a year.  Goal for 2017 is to complete a Spartan Sprint, specifically the Indiana Spartan Sprint on July 9th in Lawrenceburg IN .  Basically a 3-5 mile trail run with 20 or so obstacles.  If you would like to join me and start at the same time I have a team setup named "Hunter".  

 What's your New Years Resolution, goal for the year?  Let me know in the comments.

Friday, October 28, 2016

2016 Fitness Goal - Update Shoulder Extension

For the two of you that actually read this blog you might have noticed something.  What in the world has happened to my 2016 goal of doing a muscle up.  To recap here is my post from Feb with my initial attempt.

We are now at the end of October and I only have 2 months left to complete a muscle up.  I've still been doing strength training aimed at completing a muscle up once a week.  However I have not attempted a single muscle up since the initial attempt back in February.  And the reason is pretty simple my shoulder mobility sucks.  After talking to a trainer who cautioned me against it and also listening to podcasts with ex US team gymnastics coach Sommer, I've decided that the chance for injury in my current state of mobility is much too high.

Tim Ferris Podcasts with Coach Sommer

Basically my shoulder extension is terrible.  If you've been following my trials and tribulations with touching my toes I guess this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.  Also the fact that I've spent many years sitting and working on a computer, and driving a car with my shoulders hunched over it really shouldn't be a surprise to me either.  So my primary focus right now at least for this particular goal is fixing my shoulder mobility.  

And if you've been working in an office for a long time you likely have the same problem.  If you're curious where you stack up, simply stand straight up with your arms at your side and raise them above your head.  Can you get them to vertical or like me do they seemingly stop moving at a 45 degree angle.  Kind of a terrible picture but here is where I'm currently at and that is a huge improvement from where I was.

So what strategies am I using to restore my shoulder mobility?

Hanging.  I do a lot of hanging from bars, branches, whatever I can find.  Whether its at the gym or the kids playground I don't miss an opportunity to just hang.  This is a fantastic way to stretch your shoulders.  If you're just starting out start with your feet lightly touching the ground or on a box to support you and work your way up to a full weighted hang.  My goal for this is a 2 minute hang.  I've added about 30 seconds in the last 6 months and I'm at 1 minute 30 seconds for my best to date.

Supine Shoulder Extension. Sit down on the floor and place your hands palms down behind you as close together as is comfortable, then shift your hips forward and stretch the shoulders.  Watching TV is a perfect time to do this.

Notice that I can't get my hands very close together and I'm pretty upright still

Table Rocks.  Squeeze your shoulder blades and push your hips to the sky, or in my case just off the ground.

Gymnastic Bodies - Mobility desk workers table rocks

Notice how low my hips are still and this is an improvement from where I started.

Shoulder Dislocates.  Use a wooden dowel, pvc pipe or belt for this.  Start with a wide enough grip that it is comfortable to get up and over your shoulders.  Don't push it, over time you will want to start narrowing your grip.  Don't rush the progression, it feels a little disconcerting the first time you do it and start as wide as possible, get a longer dowel or pipe if necessary.

Notice how wide I have to grip the dowel just to get it over my head, I literally have one finger on the end.  I found my pecs were also incredibly tight on this exercise as well.  Lots of work to do here.

Wall Slides.  This is my go to shoulder exercise for breaks at work as it gets the fewest strange looks.

Finally I'm changing my 2016 goal from doing a muscle up to doing a free standing 30 second hand stand.  The handstand will also require shoulder extension so that doesn't change but should be a little more realistic and much less likely to incur injury than the explosive muscle up.  Also I think it is a good stepping stone to ultimately do a muscle up in the future.  I just started the handstand work so its highly unlikely I'll have anything by the end of the year but I'll post an update of the training I'm doing and where I'm at then.



Friday, October 7, 2016

2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes Update 21 Months

Argh its that time again.  Its been another 6 months since I updated my progress on touching my toes and frankly its not going that well.  Here is the progress graph, I have officially reached stall out speed.

If you missed them here are my previous posts on the subject

2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes

2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes Update

Here is the progress graph

March 2016 and September 2016

In all my current glory

Although compared to the end of 2015 it doesn't look quite so depressing

We moved houses over the summer so a lot of bands, rollers and other various contraptions were packed away in boxes for a while.  So I had been a little lax on continuing my exercises.  To compound the problem the slow progress has blunted my enthusiasm for painful stretches.  Because of the lack of equipment and the fact that our new house has a hardwood floors on the main floor I added some dynamic type stretching and movements that I could just whip out and do whenever.

Stiff Bear Crawl -  basically keep your legs straight and try to crawl small steps at a time

What it looks like in action

It definitely seems like I'm not getting much bang for my buck on the random stretching and mobility work I'm currently doing.  I don't really have a good plan or set rotation for improving my toe touch at this point.  It currently consists of random sessions when I have some free time typically in the evenings.  I'm still doing yoga once a week.  That all worked up until this point, so starting this month that is about to change.  I've signed up for an online gymnastics course .  Its an online training program called Gymnastic Bodies setup by ex USA gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer.  I've signed up for just the front split stretching series and it was $75.  It is 45 mins once a week and I have to say its pretty brutal.  As of this writing I've done it three times.  I'm hoping this will kick start my progress again with a more structured approach.  We will see....

PREV - 2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes Update
NEXT - 2015 Fitness Goal - Touching My Toes Update 27 Months

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Saffron Drift Tv

If you read my post on sleep you'll know how important it is to block out blue light in the evenings to fall asleep quickly.  Essentially exposure to blue light in the evenings will block the bodies natural release of melatonin and upset your circadian rhythm.  I counter act this by wearing these ridiculous looking blue light blocking safety specs putting them on around 8-9 pm.  They are only $9.

In fact I looked so stupid my wife suggested I get something a little cooler looking.  So I forked over $90 for these.  

She is much happier with how I look and since I wear them almost nightly its probably a fair investment.

However as I mentioned in my post on sleep you can buy a device that blocks blue light on your TV.  I personally still wear my specs as there are other sources of blue light but my wife likes to watch TV in bed and also has trouble sleeping at times.  So I got this device specifically for the TV in our bedroom to hopefully help her fall asleep with the TV on.  Its called the Saffron Drift TV.  It costs $100 and does not work with 4K and up TV's.  

Its about the size of a thick Iphone 6.  You plug your HDMI into the device and then use the supplied HDMI cable to run to your TV.  If you have multiple devices running to your TV you could use an HDMI switcher to run everything through the Drift Box.

You can set the device with a schedule of your sleep and wake times and the amount of blue light you want blocked and it will gradually adjust the screen depending on the time of the day.  You can also have it just ignore the schedule and block blue light always.  They recommend a target setting of anything under 3500K to help sleep.  I started mine at 3000K to see how the wife liked it.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how the picture looked.  Based on my experiences with wearing blue light blocking glasses I was expecting a really orange looking screen but it is much more subtle than that and honestly aside from a slight orange hue you really don't notice the difference that much at all.  Overall I'm really impressed with the picture.  Anecdotal evidence from the wife suggests she is sleeping better but the jury is still out.  It certainly can't hurt for those people that insist they need a TV on to sleep.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Monitoring your own health - Blood Glucose

If you asked me what is the one thing I can track myself to monitor my health it would be blood glucose.  This is a measurement of the amount glucose in your blood stream.  Its very simple to do yourself and is cheap.  No fancy blood tests, urine analysis, or scooping poop into a tube.  The simplest measurement is fasting blood glucose.  You simply fast for 12 hours and then measure your fasting glucose.  So eat dinner at 7pm and them measure your fasting blood glucose in the morning at 7am.

I use a ReliOn Prime meter from Walmart.  They are only $10 now and I like them also because the strips and lancets are very cheap, so the cost per reading is very low.

The reference range for blood glucose is 66-99.  However as I've mentioned before the reference range does not stand for optimal range.  Anything over 90 fasting is probably cause for at least more investigation.

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation now uses a fasting blood sugar of 90 mg/dl or higher as a biomarker of coronary heart disease risk. The Cleveland Clinic gets very concerned when they someone with a fasting blood sugar above 90 mg/dl. They try to intervene with exercise, diet and weight control.
Type 2 diabetes isn’t the only disease associated with prediabetes. A meta-analysis that included data from nearly 900,000 people found that those with prediabetes have a 15 percent higher risk of cancer, especially cancers of the liver, stomach, pancreas, breast, and endometrium. 
Fasting Blood glucose of 95 or higher have a more than 3X risk of developing future diabetes than people with a fasting of below 90 
However don't expect your doctor to say anything until you are at least prediabetic.  Diabetes is a very slow developing disease it doesn't just happen overnight.  It takes years to develop the insulin resistance.  Here are my results from a 2014 doctor visit.

As you can see not only am I not even optimal but I'm already slightly above range and not a word from the doctor on this.  A year later I had a result of 113 mg/Dl fasting.  That did finally trigger some comments from my doctor.

Here are the doctor ranges for prediabetic and full blown diabetes.

I think it is much better to take action before you are prediabetic.  Certainly much better than when you have diabetes.  It is much harder to reverse once you are at that point and very insulin resistant although not impossible.

Consider this fictional graph.

This clearly tells a story that your glucose response is getting worse and you are trending in the direction of prediabetes.  However these results are all within range.  The doctor will be more focused on the ranges and if you fall within them.  You need to keep an eye on your trend.  In the above scenario it is highly likely you will get the ok from the doctor but its clearly going to be a problem if you continue on this path.  Use a site like wellnessfx to input all your test results and you can then view them in a nice graph format on their dashboard and look for trends yourself.  I personally don't put my glucose results in there but use a spreadsheet as I have taken so many.  Below is all my data although lately I've haven't been taking many readings.

The blood glucose monitors themselves are not super accurate.  It is not uncommon for them to be off around 10%.   So if you're doing it yourself you will want to take multiple readings over days to get more of a trend than relying on a single entry.  Looking at my own results it certainly appears to be trending in the wrong direction and my results are certainly close to that prediabetic range of 100 - 125.

At least for 2016 YTD I'm trending down so it isn't all bad news.

If you want to get a little more technical and do more analysis above and beyond the fasting number, the next thing to do would be to take your post prandial readings.  Basically it means to take your readings after a meal to see what your glucose response is.  Typically you take it 1, 2 and 3 hours after a meal.  For your post meal 2 hour readings

Normal <140 mg/dL
Prediabetes 140-199 mg/dL
Diabetes >200 mg/dL

These aren't optimal you probably want a 2 hour post prandial < 120 mg/dL.

Here are all my 2 hour post prandial readings, obviously the amount of carbs in the meal is going to greatly effect the results.

So it looks like at least my 2 hour post prandial numbers look pretty decent.  I only have a couple that were above the 120 optimal threshold although I think the vast majority of these meals were pretty low carb.

Here is a closer look at my blood glucose throughout a typical day.  I stay low carb until dinner as you will see.

Breakfast - Coffee & Heavy Cream  (basically fasted)
Lunch - Sardines, Avocado, 3 eggs, Broccoli, Olive Oil, Mayo (avocado oil based)

Lunch Macros

Dinner - Ground Beef, White Rice, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Carrots, Cheese, Sour Cream, Blueberries

Dinner Macros

Here is my blood glucose throughout the day.  I measured it every hour and then every 20 mins for 3 hours after each meal (lunch & dinner).  Yes that is a lot of finger pricks.  I don't normally snack but I did have a spoonful of almond butter at 16:30 as I just wanted to see if there was any response to this type of snack and as I expected there was none.  I think its important to keep the area under the curve (blue area) for the whole day as small as possible.

Here I overlay the 2 post prandial readings so you can clearly see the different responses to meals with carbs and without.  My lunch which is low carb high fat barely even registered but my dinner which has many more carbs particularly from the rice and fruit has a much bigger response.

From the above graph based on my dinner I'm in the not optimal but not in the classic definition of pre diabetes as over 140 after 2 hours.  However it does also spikes back up to almost 140 around 2 hours 20 mins.

Another check is to get your your A1C measured.  Your A1C is basically a 3 month average of your blood glucose.  You can get your doctor to do it or Walmart has home kits for like $20.  For me its kinda of useless since I give blood so often for my Hereidtary Hemochromatosis it messes up my A1C readings.

For A1C
Normal < 6.0%
Prediabetes 6-6.4%
Diabetes > 6.4%

Again these aren't optimal, you probably want an A1C < 5.3%.  Also A1C is not that reliable for some people so it should just be part of an overall snapshot of information, don't use it as your sole data point.

So why do we care about blood glucose readings.  Well the main reason is for prevention of diabetes which is a pretty horrible disease and exploding in developed countries.  Also as mentioned earlier higher blood glucose (even non diabetic ranges) is a marker for heart disease and cancer.  Here are some diabetes numbers according to the CDC  in 2014.

Total:29.1 million people or 9.3% of the population have diabetes.
Diagnosed:21.0 million people.
Undiagnosed:8.1 million people (27.8% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed).

What this looks like over time is an epidemic in diabetes.

So what am I doing to try to improve my insulin resistance and bring my fasting glucose to a normal range?
  • Eating a lowish carb, moderate protein, high fat diet.
  • Saving my carbs for the evening hours
  • No processed sugars or carbs
  • No grains 
  • Very limited fruit, especially fruit that is high in fructose.  I go for more of the dark fruits like blueberries, blackberries etc.  
  • Exercise, weight lifting especially can decrease insulin resistance
  • Intermittent fasting
  • No artificial sweeteners
This is just what I'm doing and with very limited success so far it would seem at least for my fasting number.  I'm taking a wait and see approach as my iron overload from Hereditary Hemochromatosis could be part of the problem.  The liver and pancreas are major players in blood glucose and they both can be affected by iron overload.  Its probably why diabetes is one of the possible outcomes of HH.  This study suggests that iron overload is associated with insulin resistance.  So until my iron is at a normal level I might just be spinning my wheels on this.  I suspect i'll have to get my iron down and then have to reverse the insulin resistance over time.  I'll revisit this once my iron is under control but in the meantime I'll continue to take occasional readings to make sure I'm not slipping in the wrong direction.


If Your Fasting Blood Sugar is Above 90 You Are At Risk of Heart Disease

How To Prevent Diabetes And Heart Disease for $16

Why your “normal” blood sugar isn’t normal (Part 2)

Why Hemoglobin A1C Is not a reliable marker

Peter Attia's Use of a continuous glucose monitor

The Dawn Phenomenon (High Fasting Reading)

'Healthy' foods differ by individual

Physiological insulin resistance

4 Ways to Control Blood Sugar With Exercise