Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Overtraining - Stress Relief

So its been a while since I've posted anything and you might be wondering what I've been up to lately.  To be honest I've been doing nothing.  No seriously I've just finished taking a full 5 weeks off of any kind of training.  Why you might ask?  Well it all started when I was doing my aerobic base building back in june.  If you remember my post on the MAF method I was going to basically stop all anaerobic training like HIIT and weights and just concentrate on my slow running to try and build an aerobic base.  Something happened once I took out the anaerobic efforts, I started sleeping through the night again.  Let me back up a bit further, for about 2 months before that I had been waking up almost every night to pee in the middle of the night.  Typically it was around 4 am and I didn't think much about it.  I thought I was just drinking too much late at night, just getting old, who knows but I just didn't put 2 and 2 together.  Then when I started my MAF training the problem mysteriously went away and almost at the same time I read an article that basically said that it is not normal to get up in the middle of the night and is a sign of potential overtraining.  Since I had switched to just slow running and the sleep was better I continued on but then I had a week where I was just extremely fatigued around 5 pm.  I also noticed that I would sometimes get dizzy or light headed when standing quickly.  This is a symptom of a HPA axis problem, sometimes people call it Adrenal Fatigue.  That was the point where I decided I should just take an extended break from all training.

So basically I figured that I was over stressed, perhaps I had some cortisol dysregulation, but taking time off was just one part of my rest and recover strategy.  If you know me at all by now you will know that I typically go overboard when I'm presented a problem with my health.  Here is what I implemented.
  1. Quit all training
  2. Focused on sleep quality
  3. 3 meals a day, no fasting
  4. Increased carb consumption
  5. Quit coffee
  6. Meditation

First lets look at stress overall.  Your stress tolerance is like a bucket and it starts filling up from multiple sources.  Perhaps its poor diet, training, sleep, work, kids, Facebook, the list goes on and on but they all can contribute to your stress load and once your bucket is full and it starts to overflow things can start to go wrong.

  1. Quit all training - well duh captain obvious.  This is a big part of my personal bucket as I work out quite a bit and had been training hard up to the Spartan race in July.  However I wasn't about to just go sit on the couch and do nothing.  I replaced my workouts with walking in the sun, yoga and a little sauna.  I also continued my gymnastics bodies stretching routine.  At first I was just walking around the office building at lunch.  It was nice not having to go to the gym and it gave me a little more time to do things.  But it was almost too nice and I noticed that my desire to go to the gym started vanishing pretty quickly.  So I decided to keep up my routine of going to the gym at lunch, but instead of smashing some weights or running I would go outside where there are some nice trails and walk in the sun.  I would then stop at a bench and meditate for 5-10 mins (more on that later).  I would do the Yoga once a week and the sauna about 2-3 times a week but only for 10 mins.  The sauna is relaxing but it does still stress the body and if you have ever tracked your heart rate in the sauna you will know that it can get quite high (I've seen 120 bpm after 20 mins or so) so I didn't want to go crazy in there either.
  2. Focus on sleep quality - pretty simple you can read my post on sleep but I was paying closer attention to sleep quality and if I was waking up feeling refreshed and obviously noted if I had to get up and pee.
  3. 3 meals a day, no fasting - maybe some day I'll write a post about all the different kinds of fasting and the many benefits which is why I have and do fast occasionally.   But during a period of recovery is not the time to do it.  So 3 good square meals a day, you need to tell your body food is plentiful so don't worry about it.
  4. Increased carb consumption - wait, what, I know what you're thinking.  Increase the carbs???  This is really just for my situation.  I think in general most people should definitely cut back on carbs especially processed carbs and sugar.  However for me I already don't eat bread, pizza, sweets, cereal, pasta etc etc so I'm not getting all those carbs.  My carb sources are pretty much potatoes, fruit, starchy veg and maybe some rice.  I was probably around 100g a day of carbs.  Too low carb can be a stress on the body especially if you are doing a lot of anaerobic training.  I decided to bump carbs up a bit and especially on days that I trained anaerobically.  I don't know where I heard this but "You earn your carbs" pretty much sums it up.  If you are a cross fitter you might want to rethink that ketogenic diet.
  5. Quit coffee - pretty simple I stopped drinking coffee.  If I did have any cortisol issues not drinking any caffeine is advised.  Besides I went from never drinking coffee to a large cup a day pretty quickly and I think its good to reset from time to time.  I didn't drink any coffee over the 5 weeks and as of this writing I have just started drinking coffee on the weekends again.
  6. Meditation - I've played around with meditation quite a bit the last year or so but lately had fallen off the wagon.  The two apps I always recommend are Calm and Headspace.  This recovery period has gotten me back on the meditation wagon so I'm trying to meditate at least once a day for a minimum of 10 mins.  This time around I've been using Brain.FM, it uses sound wave frequencies to en train your brain to a certain state. I've found it is quite effective.  It is a subscription service and costs around $5 a month so if you're just interested in meditation maybe start with Calm or Headspace first.  However I also use Brain.FM at work as it has a focus option that I use when I'm coding.  It also has a sleep function that I haven't had a chance to try yet.  When I start training again I'll try to keep up with the meditation because if I can reduce stress I can in theory train harder.  Patience with my kids is also another benefit that I notice, it doesn't always work though ;).

Finally, I took a Dutch Test to make sure I didn't have any more serious Cortisol issues.  I'm also a sucker for any medical tests that can help me quantify myself.  If I had really screwed things up I could be looking at a year or more for complete recovery.  Dutch stands for Dried Urine Test For Comprehensive Hormones.  Basically you pee on some strips at different times of the day and they analyze those to get a proper Cortisol Curve for you.  Cortisol changes throughout the day so a single measurement is pretty useless.

My results were fairly normal and there is a ton more info in the full report including hormones like testosterone and estrogen.  You can see my metabolized cortisol is quite low and free cortisol is normal, this basically means I'm a slow metabolizer of cortisol.  This pattern points to a thyroid or liver issue, at least that's what the educational videos told me because I'm not a doctor.  I think I can safely rule out the thyroid and a poor functioning liver would line up nicely with my iron issues.  Perhaps it is possible that my iron overload is also causing my stress tolerance to be lower.  I'm not a doctor and I'm totally guessing but that seems totally logical to me.  I am still giving blood once a month for my iron overload and although my ferritin has now dropped to within normal range my iron saturation % is still quite high.

I'm hoping as my iron normalizes further and I'm assuming my liver function improves I'll be able to have a bigger stress bucket.

The five weeks are over and I feel pretty good right now, I'm sleeping well, I don't feel tired at all so I'm now ready to ramp up the training again.  No doubt I'll go from zero to full speed but now I'm going to be very vigilant for signs of over training and I need to listen to my body for signs that maybe I need an extra rest day.  To assist me with that I've started using the HRV4Training App - $10.

I'm not going to get into HRV right now as this post is already dragging on but HRV stands for Heart Rate Variability (its the measure of time between heart beats) and your reading in the morning can show you how stressed you are and if you're ready for a hard days training.  I have used an HRV app before but it required a heart rate strap and a 3 minute morning reading.  This just isn't going to fly when kids are waking up.  There is nothing more annoying for my wife than having crying kids and I have to lay there like a log for 3 minutes.  This is the first app I've seen that gets an accurate HRV reading from just the camera and it only takes a minute.  Maybe it's not as accurate as the strap and three minute reading but a reading I don't take is totally useless to me.

Finally I'm going to take 4 weeks off every year after my last spartan race.

Sock Doc - Cortisol and sleep

bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast - what-is-the-dutch-test/

garmaonhealth.com - Adrenal Fatigue tests you can do at home

marksdailyapple.com - 8 Signs you are overtraining

chriskresser.com - why you may need to exercise less

Selfhacked - Reasons your cortisol is low or high

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

2017 Fitness Goal - Indiana Spartan Race Recap

2017 Fitness Goal complete.  I completed the Indiana Spartan Sprint.  As you can see Elliot and Oliver also did the kids race.

I had an absolute blast at this event and I far exceeded my expectations as far as results go.  Here is the course I was looking at.  Perfect Slopes is a ski resort west of Cincinnati, Ohio

Before I get too far I have to give props to my amazing wife Shannon.  Since many of you are likely to get bored by my race recap I think its only fair that I give her a proper thanks right up front.  She has always fully supported everything I've done whether it was automobile racing, poker or this latest obsession of mine fitness.  And trust me when I say obsession, I tend to dive in head first with blinders on and my family ends up taking a hit.  Its not just the event itself where she has to take care of the boys while I'm running around but I do a fair amount of training.  I'm sure my wife is over me doing mobility and stretching seemingly every night.  I think at times she just would just like me to sit down for two seconds and not be sprawled out on a mat, rolling on a foam roller or sticking various appendages into ice buckets.  Although she might be embarrassed by her voice on some of the videos below it really feels good to hear her encouraging me and having my twin boys there.  One of the things I enjoyed most about this event was that the family could get involved as well, something that isn't possible without a supportive wife.  Thanks.

We got to the event with plenty of time before my 11:45 am start, checked in and got registered.  Boys looked thrilled to be there.

The Elite and Competitive Groups had already ran and I was one of the earlier groups in the afternoon Open heat.  It is basically everybody and anybody and there was an extremely wide range of abilities on course.  After the initial exuberance of the start had worn off I was definitely in the minority by going over anything over walking pace.  My basic strategy was to run very slow and steady and save my energy for the unknown obstacles.  When I say unknown I mean obstacles that I had no idea how difficult they were.  What I did discover is that I was pretty good on the downhill sections and I made sure I always ran the downhills as that seemed like a real waste of time if you walked the downhill parts.  If I did any walking it would be on the uphills.  Below is the start of my wave I'm in there somewhere.

I got through the first almost 2 miles pretty easily in about 31 mins, that included lots of hills, various walls, the monkey bars and the A-Frame.  The monkey bars were different heights so I almost missed one but once I got in a rhythm it was not too bad.  Smacking that bell at the end of the monkey bars was quite liberating.  I was a little wobbly over the top of the A-Frame as it is quite high up and I have a fear of heights.  Then there was a long downhill run to the Herc Hoist.

The Herc Hoist was down in the spectator area so this was the first time Shannon and the boys got to see me.  It also meant I had checked out this obstacle earlier and I was already worried it was going to be too heavy for me.  I had seen men much larger than me struggle with this obstacle.  I put my foot on the fence and used it as leverage to pull the rope down.  It was heavy and my pathetic body weight was not helping much.  I quickly noticed the familiar voice of my wife cheering me on.  The thought of my wife watching with my twin boys onlooking meant there was no way in hell I was going to drop this thing if it was physically possible.  It ended up going up pretty easily after that.

Next up was the barbed wire crawl which was up a hill.  It was long, maybe a hundred yards in length and the last 20 yards were being sprayed down by a large water sprayer so it was just a sloppy muddy mess.  The barbed wire is low enough that you can't go on your hands and knees.  You can take a small break in between the wires but you are basically doing a low military crawl all the way.  The other option is to roll sideways but I decided against that because it was uphill.  I think downhill this is definitely the way to go.  One aspect of the race I enjoyed was the camaraderie of the event.  During the barb wired crawl I spent much of the time next to a guy who was going the same speed as me.  He let me know when I was free of some wire that got caught in my shorts and I did the same for him when he got tangled near the top.  At the top we paused briefly to give each other a quick hand slap and then moved on.  All around the course there would be people helping each other over walls and up slip walls.

After the barbed wire crawl it was back downhill to the spectator area for the multi rig which in this case was about 10 gymnastic rings.

However I had watched this one earlier as well and they had raised the bell up at the end of the rings and a lot of people were struggling to hit the bell.  The best technique seemed to be to swing from one arm to another and get enough momentum to swing up and easily hit the bell.  As you'll see in the video this plan went quickly out the window when I ended up on one ring with 2 hands.  I traversed sideways from there but once on the last ring I could not muster the energy to get up to the bell and hit it.

This was my first failed obstacle and introduced me to burpee hell.  I was already tired and the 30 burpees really did a number on me.  I did get through them but in the relatively comical video series below you'll see how I looked as the 30 went on.

Right after that was the sandbag carry, up a hill, turn and back down.  If I had to guess I'd say the sandbag was around 50lbs.  It was certainly heavy for me and I just stuck my head down and focused on not stopping.  I certainly didn't want to put it down because getting it back up on my shoulder would have taken a lot of effort.  I switched shoulders on the downhill so I didn't have to drop it and wobbled back to the drop off point.

After that right back to running up the hills.  At this point I was walking the up hills, the rings, burpee, sandbag combo took a lot out of me.  By the time I got to the rope climb though I was in decent shape again.  The rope had no knots and I used the climbing technique I learnt at cultybraggan army camp in Scotland as a whee lad.  I didn't quite get the grip I would have liked from my feet and legs and had to still use a lot of upper body but I got up and down and avoided burpee hell.

It was then off downhill to the 7 foot wall.  I kept to my strategy of running the downhills and as flew past the people walking I approached the wall, as I saw people helping each over the wall I thought to myself how cool would it be to come flying in and just hop right over.  I ran in took one hop off the front of the wall, grabbed the top and pulled myslef to the top and slid right over.  I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself until I realized I had racked my family jewels on the top showing off.  The stomach ache I had carried me to the next obstacle the spear throw.

I had no idea what to do here but I grabbed the spear, pretended to aim, took a few steps and launched it like Daley Thompson trying not to get caught in the return line.

I got a "good throw" from the cheap seats as it veered left and clipped the outside of the target.  It has to stick in the target so 30 more burpees for me.  Lets just say compared to my early burpee form it was now starting to degrade greatly and I think honestly if it were being judged I'm not sure how many would have counted.  I did however complete 30 of some sort of weird ground humping motion.

I then came to a wall traverse.  The wall wasn't quite vertical but had a pretty steep angle to it.  I had the options of small chains, a few holes cut in the wall and plastic rock climbing style grips.  Fortunately I had watched a video on this one and he simply got his legs up high so his feet were on the wall and used the chains to hold onto, pretty simple.  

However back on the planet earth instead of unicorn land I had to quickly abandon the chain grip as I couldn't hold on to it.  I went with the holes and twice I almost lost it and my feet slipped off the wall.  However the thought of 30 more burpees was in my mind and this was right up there with the "your family is watching you" motivational inner talks.  I made it barely and I was flooded with relief when I hit that bell.

After that came the bucket carry, I had been dreading this one a bit especially after the sandbag carry.  However the course seemed quite short to me based on videos I had seen before.  I did put the bucket down once but had I known how close to the finish I was I probably would have just gritted that one out.  Still it wasn't too bad I was expecting about twice the distance.

Then on the back side of the course was a lot of mud and water and the dunk wall.  The hardest part there was trying to get up the slippery muddy slopes with nothing to hold on to.  Eventually I got to the slip wall that was right after a water crossing.  

This was the one obstacle that had lines at it.  You had to grab a knotted rope and climb up the wall.  However there were a few ropes with no lines, these were much shorter and you had to run and jump to grab one.  I went with the no line option and I was able to grab the rope and climb up.  The rope had knots in it that I used to climb up but right at the top I was out of knots and I couldn't reach the top.  I eventually wrapped the rope around my arm to stop from slipping off and I was able to grab the top and climb over.

Finally after another up hill run the final obstacle was a new one: the twister.  Well they were all new to me but apparently this one was new this year.  Its a bit like a corkscrew of handles that you try to traverse across.  See below the bar with the handles on it spins.

I got half way across and the grip gave out.  30 more burpees but with the finish line in sight they weren't too awful.


For Comparison sake here are the overall Elite winners

And the fastest times for my age group from the men's competitive wave

If I had been in the competitive wave I would have finished 11th/25 for my age group.  With no idea how I would fare I was really happy with that.  Below is my strava data of the run.

As I mentioned earlier the boys did the kids race.  They had a blast and I was a super proud dad as I wasn't sure how they would like it.  There were 3 different lengths of kid races so they had stuff for ages 4-14.  They did the 1/2 mile course for ages 4-8.

Ready to go



Kids barbed wire (net)

Oliver running

Elliot on A frame


We came, we saw, got our t-shirts, medals and a bag full of muddy clothes, mission complete.

I'm definitely hooked and I will certainly do this event again next year and maybe add one other race, we'll see.


2017 Indiana Spartan Sprint

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

2017 Fitness Goal - Indiana Spartan Race Preview

If you have been following my blog for a while you will know I like to pick a different fitness goal for each year.  This year I've picked one that is pretty binary.  Its not a metric I can work up to overtime but simply I either complete the Indiana Spartan Sprint on July 8th or I don't.  I think the hope initially was that I wouldn't have yet another goal that would take me 2 or 3 years to complete. Now I'm starting to wonder what I've got myself into.

So what the heck is a Spartan Race?  Its simply a running race typically over trail like conditions with usually lots of hills and a bunch of obstacles thrown in.  There are 3 lengths, Sprint, Super and Beast

Sprint - 3-5 miles 20-23 obstacles
Super - 8-10 miles 24-29 obstacles
Beast - 12-14 miles 30-35 obstacles

Naturally I've signed up for the easiest of the 3, the Sprint race.  Plus the Indiana Spartan race only offers the Sprint not that I have an inclination to do the longer events at this time.  At first I thought 3-5 miles with 20 obstacles sounded relatively tame, but once I started looking at the finishing times from last years event I realized it was going to be a bit tougher than I initially thought.  There are 3 classes Open, Competitive & Elite.  I'm in the Open class.  Here are the fastest times for my age group (45-49) from last years 2016 Indiana Sprint.

Class 1st 10th
Open 1:27:08 1:51:28
Competitive 1:27:08 1:51:28
Elite 1:04:08 1:15:32

Looks they might have combined Open and Competitive.  Ultimately the goal is just to finish first and perhaps 3 hours is a reasonable first time goal (assuming I finish).  I really have no clue what to expect time wise but I do know that it is going to be longer than I first imagined when I signed up for the event.  Oh and did I mention the penalty for an obstacle failure is 30 burpees.  I'm not sure if you have done a burpee lately but doing 30 of them once is pretty taxing in its own right.  Below is one burpee.

With my inexperience it is quite likely that I will fail a lot of obstacles and I could easily have to do 100's of burpees.  Read about this poor guy that DNF'd his Sprint race because he was crushed by burpees.

So what kind of obstacles are there going to be?  Its not always the same obstacles and they can add and change them as they see fit.  But here are some of the more common obstacles I will likely be encountering.

Cargo Net

Multi Rig

Atlas stone

I think its safe to say I'm going to struggle on all the strength based obstacles.  At 145lbs with a skinny frame I'm not really built for strength.  Don't worry so far I'm not that great at running either. I've worked a lot on grip strength as that can benefit me everywhere, but overall I think my failure rate is going to be pretty high.  I've come a long way on things like the monkey bars but shoulder mobility is still an issue.  I'm also going to likely miss things like the spear throw as I'm just going to wing that.  I threw a Javelin once 30 years ago so I'm going to pretend that will carry me through.  I also climbed a rope once at an army base in Scotland when I was 13.  I still remember the technique taught by the British Army back then and that's what I will be using.  Naturally I haven't actually climbed a rope since then.  Obviously I've been doing some burpees as I have to figure I'm potentially looking at doing a couple of hundred or so.  This last month I'm working on just my aerobic engine with one more session with my trainer which will definitely be anaerobic.  I'm continuing my grip workouts though and of course lots of mobility still with Gymnastic Bodies stretching series.

Here are the hills and terrain I will be dealing with.

Finally I made the mistake of watching the documentary "Rise of the Sufferfests" and it put a new perspective of what I might be in for.  Fortunately I won't have to deal with freezing water as I don't do well in the cold, of course I might change my mind when its the middle of the day in July. 

We will see how woefully unprepared I am.  I'm going to channel my inner Shannon "The Canon" Briggs, let's go Champ!

I'm signed up with a team (Midwest Justice League) as a coworker has a team that runs this event and this ensures we will start together.  At least there will be someone to drag my limp body to the finish if necessary.  Start time is TBA.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Aerobic Training - The Maffetone Method

If you read my year in review I mentioned there in 2017 I was going to try to put to bed one of my first fitness goals from 2014.  Run 3 miles in under 21 minutes (7 min/mile pace).  In 2014 the closest I got was 2 miles in under 14 minutes and I also ran a 5K at a 7:15 min/mile pace.  So how was I training at the time to complete this goal?  Well like most people I thought the best way to train was to go out and run as hard as I could for 3 miles, seems logical right?  I was running a race pace every time I went out, always trying to better my fastest time.  This means I was always putting my heart rate into an anaerobic zone and I was never actually training my base aerobic system.  Not only that but running this way for every run is putting a lot of stress on the body and putting it into a fight and flight response.  The body doesn't know if I'm out training or if I might be running from a tiger.

Long term this can have all sorts of deleterious effects on your body from your hormones to your thyroid and beyond.  I would also hazard a guess and bet that most people are training/running like this in an anaerobic state and not even realizing it.

Ok so lets back up a bit.  First what is the difference between aerobic vs anaerobic training.  In simple terms when you train aerobically you have sufficient oxygen to produce all the energy your muscles need to perform.  You can utilize fat as your energy source and can sustain this pace for long periods.  Anaerobic training is when there is not enough oxygen present and glycogen (carbs/sugar) is used as fuel.  Muscles will also produce lactate acid.  Another way to think of it is aerobic effort is like a marathon and anaerobic is like a sprint.  There is certainly some debate on how much of each you want to do but every expert talks about building a strong aerobic base and I was doing nothing to train the aerobic system.  This was a huge change in the way I was doing things.  So how do you train the aerobic system?  Enter the Maffetone Method.  The Maffetone Method is training at a specific heart rate to make sure you are in an aerobic state.  It uses a simple heart rate formula of

180 - Age = Aerobic Target Heart Rate

So for me

180 - 44 = 136

Basically you will never let your heart rate go above this number and always train at or below this number.   This pace should be easy, you should be able to carry on a conversation while you are running.  And boy was this an eye opener for me.  In order to train at this number when I first started I was at almost walking speed this immediately showed how aerobically unfit I was despite being "fit".  Keep in mind when you first start training this way you are gong to have to swallow your ego and exercise patience.  You will be getting passed by everyone in sight but its important you maintain your heart rate and keep plodding along.  You are likely going to have to walk up inclines but you must always adjust your pace to keep at or under your target.  Also I was extending the time I was training, think long and slow.

The great thing about this method is you can also quantify your progress in aerobic capacity.  All you do is periodically time how long it takes for you to complete a mile at your target HR.  We call this a MAF test.  Warm up until you are at your target HR then run the mile staying at your target HR and record the time.  Use the same mile each time, preferable on a track but if not just stay consistent.  I have a loop I do at the gym that is almost exactly a mile.  Overtime this number should come down.  You should be able to run faster but maintain the same HR, this is a good sign your aerobic engine is improving.  Below is my 1 mile MAF Tests.


Now as you can see despite using the MAF method for all my aerobic training apart from some initial progress I wasn't really getting anywhere.  The real wake up call was my first 5K run this year where I made no improvement at all after a full winter of training MAF and increasing my time and distance.  This was really disappointing as I was actually slower than 6 months ago.

7/31/20142 M14:007:00Training
8/31/20144 M31:107:47Ripple Effect
9/13/20145 K22:327:15Heart Walk
10/13/20165 K23:037:25Ripple Effect
11/24/20164.58M33:387:20Drumstick Dash
5/26/20175 K23:097:27Schools out 5K

I went back and listened to every Phil Maffetone interview on the Endurance Planet Podcast.  What I realized was I was doing it wrong.  You are supposed to build your aerobic engine without any other anaerobic input.  Basically he suggests doing the MAF method by itself until you stop seeing improvement, maybe 3-6 months depending on the person and then at that point you can start to sprinkle in some anaerobic work.  I kinda knew this already but what I failed to consider is that weight training is anaerobic.  I was still doing 2 heavy lifting days plus various gymnastics strength training mixed in on the weekends.  As you know I'm training for the Spartan Indiana Sprint race this year and I've got basically 2 competing goals.  I have to build strength and mobility for the various obstacles but at the same time become more aerobically conditioned to be a faster runner.  I was trying to do this all together and I was probably over training myself or at the very least hindering my aerobic training.  I've decided to commit myself to the MAF method and remove all anaerobic training including weight training for a bit and see if I can truly build that aerobic base with this method.  I only have 1 month until the Spartan Race so I don't expect much in that time but after that race I'm going to really commit to the MAF method and see if I can break that 22 min 5K barrier at the Ripple Effect 5K on 10/5/2017.  Hopefully I don't lose too much muscle over this base building period but I'll be taking my MAF test every week to access progress.  I will experiment with adding a very small amount of weight training and based on my MAF tests see if I can get away with that or not.

There is a very good FAQ for this type of training over in the Low Heart Rate Training Forum.  In there is shows what times you can expect for a particular MAF test time.  Here is the breakdown for a 5K.

MAFEstimated 5K Time

Based on this I would need to complete a MAF test of around 9 min/miles to achieve my goal.  We will see how I progress with my MAF test times and if that will correlate to a faster 5K pace.

Now you are probably thinking I need a fancy heart rate monitor.  Well yes and no but you don't have to spend a ton of money.  There are plenty of deals on Ebay if you don't want the latest greatest.  One word of caution, I have one of those newer running watches with the optical heart rate sensor built into the watch and in my opinion it is not accurate or consistent enough for this type of training.  I still use an external heart rate strap (Polar H7) that is paired to my watch (Tomtom Runner).  Garmin is another great brand in this segment.  Failing that just use the talk test, if you can't carry on a conversation while running you are going to fast.  Alternatively just breath only using your nose.

So based on this you might be wondering when do you go anaerobic in your heart rate.  Just add 10 for a rough estimate.  So 136 + 10 = 146.  If my heart rate is over 146 I'm probably training the anaerobic system.  The takeaway should be that the vast majority of your running should be aerobic and you should probably just slow down.  Running at my MAF heart rate also is frankly more enjoyable as you aren't trying to kill yourself with every run.


Aerobic and anaerobic exercise what is the difference?

Runners Connect - Aerobic vs anaerobic training

Richard Diaz Website

The Maffetone Method

nytimes - men is exercise putting a damper on your sex life

Endurance Planet - Podcasts with Dr Phil Maffetone

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.