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.


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.