Category Archives: Strength Training

As Nature Intended

Near the end of my Monday workout at Body Specs, one of the trainers and I began talking dirt.

Mud, more correctly.

As I was catching my breath after a particularly strenuous set, she (Rachel) asked me how I got into running. I explained how I’d started with occasional short runs, which eventually led to a half marathon, which started me on the slippery slope to the full marathon and beyond to the land of Ultra.

And *up* the slippery slope, too.

Slippery slopes go both down and up in the land of Ultra!

Rachel said she had no intention of following me down the ultra trail, but she did sign up for a Tough Mudder later this spring. And just as she no plans to start running ultras (which I completely understand) I will not be following her into that kind of event. Chacun à son goût, as they say, but a TM is definitely not to my goût.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, it’s one of a popular genre of events collectively known as obstacle races. These events combine running with various types of calisthenics and man-made obstacles to climb over, duck under, and crawl through. Here’s a sampling of typical Tough Mudder obstacles, courtesy of the Wikipedia article:

  • Arctic Enema – Participants plunge into a dumpster filled with ice water, dunk underneath a plank that crosses the dumpster, and pull themselves out on other side.
  • Electroshock Therapy – Live wires hang over a field of mud which participants must traverse.
  • Funky Monkey – A set of incline and decline monkey bars over a pit of cold water. The bars are slicked with a mixture of butter and mud.
  • Everest – Participants run up a quarter pipe slicked with mud and grease.

tough-mudder-pipe-crawl

Now I have nothing against getting dirty as part of a run. I’ve run several trail races where rain either before or during the event has turned the course into a slippery, shoe-sucking morass. My first trail 50K was a 6-hour slog following an all-night rain, and at some of the hills were impossible to climb without hand-over-hand grabbing of bushes and trees. I’ve even run through an actual swamp. Below is what happened when I stepped off the log I’d been dancing along.

DWD Hell - Deep in the Mud

I’ve run ultras in the rain, in 95 degrees and high humidity, and as of last month, in the snow. I’ve sweated buckets and frozen my tooshie. I’ve climbed piles of boulders and slid down ravines. I’ve flirted with hypothermia, bonked due to hyponatremia, and been sore everywhere a body can be sore. All with no regrets and every intent to keep doing it as long as I can or want to.

So why, you might reasonably ask, wouldn’t an obstacle race appeal to me? After all, trail race course designers make you run through tall grass, swamps, rivers, and up and down incredibly steep hills. Aren’t those obstacles?

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

But there’s a big difference between a muddy trail race and a Tough Mudder. The first is created by Mother Nature and the elements. The second is created by sadists with construction debris and garden hoses. And to me, that makes all the difference.

I like tackling a trail race as Nature intended. When I sign up for a trail race, I have no control over what conditions will be on race day. The trail could be dusty, hard as rock, soaked and slippery, or a paradise of soft pine needles. The uncertainty is part of the experience. It’s expecting the unexpected, as it were.

I may get covered in mud, but it won’t come about by dragging myself under electrified wire or sliding around flaming tires.

tough-mudder-burning-tires

Like Spartan Races, which I’ve written about previously, I find the concept fascinating but don’t really have the interest to participate. That said, I have yet to actually attend either a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, so I won’t be saying “never” just yet.

Best of luck, Rachel!

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P.S. For those of you hoping my title might mean the kind of run that, say, one might do at Run Woodstock, I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, you can read a couple of stories about my experience there. Here’s a post from 2012 (my first such experience) and one from 2014. Enjoy!

Are You “Spartan Fit”? Would You Want to Be?

NOTE: The following is a review of a dangerous book. If you’re happy with your life in every way, I advise you to avoid this post. And if you think you’re some kind of stud/ripping bitch athlete, the Surgeon General has determined that reading this book will be hazardous to your ego.

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YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

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When I got an invitation to review a new fitness book, I didn’t jump on it at first.

After all, the world is full of such books, and the basic advice is universal: Exercise toward your goal. Eat better. Sleep more. Drink lots of water. And so forth. Good advice to be sure, but nothing new under the sun. And the book was about obstacle races, which don’t appeal to me. But the person issuing the invitation was persistent, so I agreed and downloaded the preview copy.

I’m glad I did.

Spartan Fit cover

Spartan Fit! by Joe DeSena is a book aimed at making you exactly that. It contains a 30-day program to prepare you for competing in a Spartan obstacle race. But its true purpose is to challenge you to overcome your biggest obstacle, which is, of course, yourself. And you don’t need to run a Spartan Race to do that.

So what does it take to get “Spartan Fit”? Here’s DeSena’s simplest “training program” in Chapter 1:

Go outside right now and run as far as you can. Then do as many burpees as you can. Then run, walk, or crawl home. Eat whole foods, skip dessert, don’t get drunk, get some sunshine, take cold showers, lift something heavy, use the stairs, meditate or pray, find someone to love. Lights out at 8 p.m. There’s your program— go do it.

To me, that’s a Texas penitentiary, not a desirable way to live. So you might think I wouldn’t encourage anyone to read this book. But you should read it, even if you have no interest in Spartan Races, or running a marathon someday, or in pursuing any Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

It’s worth reading just for its stories. Like Jay Jackson’s fight for his life with a home intruder, or “The Barn Beast” attempting a 100-mile snowshoe race, or Steven Pressfield’s descriptions of life in ancient Sparta and how and why Spartan warriors became legendary for their ability and fearlessness in battle.

And for current and aspiring athletes, there’s lots more in here for you. Descriptions of typical Spartan Race obstacles. The “seven pillars” of the program (endurance, strength, athleticism, recovery, nutrition, mind, and code). Nutrition guidance and recipes. And throughout the book you can feel the intense sincerity of the author in trying to get you outside and do some living, dammit.

Rather than describe more of the book’s content, I’ll share how reading the book affected me and why I consider it to be distinctly different from other fitness books I’ve read.

In sum, I was awestruck, inspired, humbled, and terrified. All at once, more or less.

Awestruck by the incredible things the human body and mind are capable of, as evidenced by the stories in the book. Inspired, because I thought to myself, I could do some of this.

Humbled when I read through the 30-day program and realized that as fit as I am currently, I’d be absolutely obliterated by it. Pick up and carry a 115-pound stone? Not yet, thank you. And terrified, because I began to get the nagging idea that I just might want to try a Spartan Race someday.

But what got me so into this book? Here are three things I believe make Spartan Fit! different from the rest.

Training for adaptability. Spartan Race training is designed for competing in Spartan Races, obviously, but each race is different in the obstacles that the athletes will face. So basic techniques such as running, crawling, and lifting are stressed over specific challenges (such as climbing over a slippery wall).

Adaptability allows you to face any unexpected obstacle – physical, mental, whatever – that you may face in the course of your day. It’s like the jazz musician who doesn’t practice improvisations directly, but all the skills needed to successfully improvise. If I get nothing else out of this book, improving here would make it worth it to me.

Focus on simplicity. This training is meant to be done with things found all around us, or are readily available. VersaClimber in the gym? Run up that hill a few times instead. Kettlebells? Who needs them? Find a rock. Carry logs, drag tires, climb ropes, run and crawl through muck. That’s the essence of Spartan training.

Emphasis on training outside. DeSena points out that the original “gymnasiums” were outdoor athletic areas where the athletes trained together. He contrasts that with the “depressing dungeons,” air-conditioned, carpeted indoor gyms full of fancy equipment, and believes that the surfers on the beach would crush the bodybuilders in an obstacle race. So his workouts are outside, in any weather. And as a year-round, all-weather runner, I understand the benefits, and I agree with him.

Get outside and live, man!

Get outside and live, man!

And the book has already affected my life. This year I participated in the 22 Pushup Challenge – 22 pushups a day for 22 days (read about the purpose here). One day I forgot to do them. When I realized this the next day, I assigned myself the standard Spartan Race “failure penalty” of 30 burpees. Let’s just say I didn’t forget again. As much as I disliked doing them, I could tell how lots of them could make one that much stronger.

One more demonstration of how much I recommend this book; when the preview edition expired, I bought a copy. I suppose that’s really all I needed to say. But since I wrote the rest of this post anyway, guess I’ll use it.

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P.S. I was also provided with a discount code for a future Spartan race. If I ever use it, I’ll be sure to write about the experience here!

Does This Phone Make Me Look Fat?

I WAS TEASED YET AGAIN recently about when I’m going to get a smartphone.

And yet again I supplied one of my stock reasons (*) for continuing to use my Stone-Age flip phone.

I don’t deny smartphones are useful. On a recent trip to Colorado, my wife and daughter used their phones to navigate to restaurants, research bicycles, and take photos of our hikes and the beautiful mountain scenery. Occasionally they even used them to make phone calls.

At the top of Horsetooth Falls in Fort Collins, reached without any help from a fitness tracker.

At the top of Horsetooth Falls in Fort Collins, reached without any help from smart devices.

But as has become so apparent lately, it’s easy to get too absorbed in all this connectivity. And a new catch phrase has appeared to describe it: digital obesity. Like the term implies, it’s meant to correlate with the problem of physical obesity.

This article in Fastcoexist sums it up pretty well. (Excerpt condensed.)

The more people eat (and consume, in general), the better it is for those that provide food. That’s the point of the…food additives that every consumer unwittingly ingests every single year. These substances are the lubricants of over-consumption … That is the same principle that is happening when you use Facebook or your smartphone. The food industry actually calls this “cravability.”

A new kind of obesity is now looming with our information, data, and media diet. [T]here is already way too much of information available, and it is way too tasty, too cheap, and too rich. Not a single day goes by without yet another service offering us…more news, more music, more movies, more, better and cheaper mobile devices, and a seemingly total social connectivity. Many of us are likely to pig out like we’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Never before is so much information available at a moment’s notice. And it’s so easy to gorge on digital content that the rest of our lives can suffer. Time we used to spend interacting (in-person, I mean) with family and friends, or in solitude and reflection, is instead spent binge-watching Netflix or playing video games online.

And what about physical activity? The flood of data has carried there too. Smartphone apps, GPS watches, and fitness trackers give us real-time information on just about any vital sign or body function. But I wonder if people who buy data force-feeding gear actually benefit. Do they use the data to exercise more or exercise better, leading to increased fitness?

fitness-tracker-comic

My guess is that it depends on one’s attitude toward fitness. Just buying the gear isn’t going to turn a couch potato into a gym rat. They can even backfire when the information they supply is blindly believed, as this article describes.

My wife bought a fitness tracker and uses it to track her walking goals, such as 10,000 steps in a day. But it was part of her general plan to increase her fitness; she was already walking more and going to the gym. Her device is a support tool, not a change agent. And I use a Garmin GPS watch while running, but I can run fine without it (although I reflexively tap my wrist when I stop).

For me, exercise time is “disconnect” time. Running, cycling, Aikido, and gym workouts are my way to step away from the data buffet. (Believe it or not, I still print paper maps for my long bike trips instead of a nav app.) Disconnecting quiets my mind, allowing the subconscious to process the information I’ve taken in. Many people use meditation for the same purpose.

digital-obesity-quote-g-leonhard

Not owning a smartphone also saves me from some of the digital flood that creates Poke-zombies and distracted drivers. But my laptop supplies all the digital food I could want. Just reading emails would take up an entire day if I let it. And Quora is my favorite junk food – it has far too much interesting content to be good for me.

There’s more I could say, but for now I have to go. Can’t wait to find out if “an Imperial Star Destroyer is well designed from a military point of view.” Yes, that’s an actual Quora question, and someone provided a detailed answer. Check it out, if you dare – it’s addictive. You have been warned.

(Note to readers: thanks for stopping by my digital restaurant. I assure you my posts are non-fattening, and full of nutritious bits. And they’re organic, too. Honest.)

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(*)  These include high cost of data plan, fragility on trails, and lack of situational awareness, which is the one I chose this time.

Recovery Rewards, and the Spartan Penalty

“Jeff, you look five years younger,” Skip said to me as I walked onto the mat at Body Specs. “Your vacation must have agreed with you.”

It was my first day back from up north, and while I’d done some running and cycling, I’d also made myself get plenty of rest. Sleep does sometimes get shortchanged at home; there’s so damn much to DO!

Skip’s sentiment was echoed later by someone who visits our office about once a month. “You look good,” he said. “Your color is healthy.”

I knew I’d resumed my training routine too soon after Kettle Moraine, but hadn’t noticed any difference in the mirror. Sort of like watching kids grow up; it’s when you haven’t seen them for a while that you realize how much they’ve changed.

But I have noticed a difference in how I’m feeling. This month my energy and stamina are much improved. It really became evident last Wednesday. I started the day with a 6 a.m. 10K run, followed by a sweaty and reasonably brutal noon workout at Body Specs, then spent the afternoon and evening working Zero Waste at the T-Rex Triathlon. I left the park at 10:00 p.m. And I felt great.

Recycle! Or I'll EAT you!!

Recycle! Or I’ll EAT you!!

Saturday morning I ran 16 miles with PR Fitness. As it was my longest run in two months, I decided to go aerobic, with a target heart rate of 135-140. I should do most long runs this way, but it’s easy to get sucked into a faster group. This time I swallowed my ego and let the pack go on ahead. (It was hard. Really hard.)

Pace too fast 2

All went well until around mile 12, when my heart rate climbed to 145-150 and stubbornly remained there despite slowing my pace. May have been fatigue, dehydration, low blood sugar, or all three. But still a successful run. And man, did my post-race reward (a latte float with chocolate ice cream) taste good.

The energy rebound is coming just in time. For one thing, I’ll be starting Aikido again in September. And this month, I took up the #22 Kill Pushup Challenge, which is 22 pushups a day for 22 days. Any kind of pushups count, so I’ve been varying them. Skip helped me out on Day 1 by assigning me extension pushups. The photo below shows me in the middle of one. Trust me, behind that extended arm is a face full of pain.

Body Specs - extension push-up - cropped

I’ve also done decline pushups, five-finger (fingers extended, tent-style), and hands on wobble board. And yesterday I forgot to do them, so today I assigned myself the Spartan Race failure penalty:

Burpees 2These are called burpees. The penalty for failing an obstacle at a Spartan Race is 30 of them. Every time you fail an obstacle. Ooof.

Am I running Spartan Races, then? Not yet, but I was recently provided with an advance reading copy of Joe De Sena’s new book, Spartan Fit! in exchange for reviewing it and spreading the word about it.

Spartan Fit cover

Review to follow, but I will say you would benefit from this book if you’re interested in improving your ability to face life’s obstacles of any kind. Stay tuned!