No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Sleep, shoes, and shaving: an update

Posted by Ben on Thursday, May 21, 2009

I was going to feel badly about having been away for so long, but between most of that away time being spent at the beach engaging in all manner of debauchery and the fact that no fewer than a half-dozen other blogs I follow also posted recent “sorry that it’s been awhile” posts, I don’t feel quite so badly. Just a little. Maybe.

Anyway, a couple updates and housekeeping notes:

—I’m approaching a full month of no training, mostly due to the move and subsequent setup and general housework. I’m getting antsy, so training is set to resume in the next few days. There’s also a mini-challenge for the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) that I’m debating entering. I haven’t done a challenge in a long time, and considering the slight malaise I’m in right now, this could be a great jump-start for me, not to mention I’m hopefully only a few weeks away from installing a climbing rope and some playground rings.

—My IYCA materials are being submitted tomorrow. Bring on the post-name letters! (pending passing, of course)

—I’m shaving my head on Saturday, June 13. You might have a say-so in what happens. Details here (and to the right).

—I wore my “dress” shoes—really a matte black pair of low-cut, thick-soled Timberlands—to a graduation ceremony last week. Within ten minutes of walking around, both my Achilles and calves hurt in a not-good way, as if something were about to cramp or pop. I took them off and walked around for a bit. No pain. Stay away from the shoes!

—I spent a couple nights of vacation in a bed with disastrous results (read: walking zombie and odd hip and knee pains that had exactly nothing to do with the amount and types of food and drink I was consuming). I then spend a couple nights on the floor that was essentially concrete topped with outdoor, low-pile carpeting. No pain or movement problems, even in my deconditioned state right now. Stay away from the mattresses!

So, apologies for the hiatus. I have a TON of articles in my RSS reader to go over, so at least I have some fodder for more writing in the semi-near future. Maybe.


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Gimme shelter

Posted by Ben on Monday, May 11, 2009

A couple weeks ago, I went on my first mass-group motorcycle ride. I’ve had my Harley since July 2005, so it took nearly four years for me to ride with more than one other bike, and I’ve only done that twice that I can remember. I’m perfectly happy riding solo since that allows me to chart my own courses and timetables while not having to coordinate rest breaks and calls of nature. However, a mass-group ride had been one of the few things I hadn’t experienced on the bike, and since this particular ride was put on by one of my radio stations (and since I’d been invited on the previous five iterations), I finally pulled the trigger.

The weather was pristine if a little hot, the laps around Lowe’s Motor Speedway were surreal, and the pictures from the ride were great, not to mention a lot of money was raised for a good cause. That’s about all the good I have to say about it, though. Just before buying my motorcycle, I took an intensive rider training course from a local Harley dealer that went far beyond what is generally taught at community colleges and the DMV here, and I’m admittedly a borderline paranoid rider—hey, all I have between me and the next thing is a helmet and some minimally protective clothing compared to the seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, and every other gadget designed to idiot-proof regular cars and trucks.

With that course as my introduction to riding, I had the impression that the majority of motorcycle riders are at least nearly as cautious and observant as I am since we have to deal with the cluelessness of other drivers anytime we’re on the road. Instead, it seems that the majority of riders bring their four-wheel habits to two-wheelers, which made the actual ride that day a fairly stressful event, whether it was people not keeping speeds, not holding their formation lines, or not giving room for our law enforcement escort to pass (one officer ended up in an ambulance with serious though non-life threatening leg injuries). Let’s just say I’m all but done with anything that might involve more than a half-dozen bikes.

So, my impression of motorcycle riders was shot. It was a (most likely) one-time event that I can keep in the back of my mind and remember on rare occasions as needed. When it comes to health and fitness knowledge and practice, though, my assumptions are obliterated on a fairly regular basis, as if the moment I think things are either becoming somewhat sane or couldn’t get any worse, something happens that just blows my mind. Some examples:

KFC – Good thing they shortened their name to just an anagram, or the new marketing ploy wouldn’t work so well, but it has to be a good thing since Oprah endorses it, right?
—Wii Fit – I still don’t see how standing and leaning is considered a health benefit (especially if you’re cheating). BS testimonials are no help.
—Dance Dance Revolution – Speaking of video games, sure, you’re getting up off the couch, but how healthy is it for you to jumping and stomping on your heels (and you most likely will, thanks to deactivated glutes, foreshortened hamstrings, and overactive quads)? And you think your knees, hips, ankles, and lower back hurt now…
—Tracy Anderson –

Another case: a co-worker who, by most standards, is a fit and active person. He runs a three-to-five miles a few times a week, limits his calorie intake, and occasionally “lifts weights.” I’m not disparaging the guy—he tries and, for the most part, succeeds—but every now and then, when he asks me this or that about something health-related (usually nutrition), he’ll pull out some gem from the original food pyramid days with a measure of seriousness that he’s decided is the next step in maintaining or improving his fitness level, often contradictory to what I’ve found to be most beneficial (yep, chicken again, and yep, doing my weirdo foam rolling again).

Three words describe my understanding of people who still ascribe to long-outdated health guidelines like a carb-heavy, low-fat diet or three sets of twelve reps in circuit fashion on the numbered machines at the gym: DOES NOT COMPUTE. There’s just this sense of bewilderment at how what was once groundbreaking “knowledge” that has since been exhaustively refuted is still accepted as gospel. I fully admit that I live a relatively sheltered life. I do my reading and research and experimentation, I subscribe to various blogs and a couple journals, and I surround myself with like-minded people who both encourage and challenge my ideas on what it really means to be healthy. This has meant that I went from “lose fat at all costs” to “machine circuit warrior” to skipping the fundamentals to embracing the very basics of human movement. That’s not say I’m done—far from it—but I like to think I constantly challenge my own thinking to see if it’s still, ya know, valid. For example, I know I was sheltered in living downstairs from the office before the recent move; now I’m dealing with the same food prep and packing issues as other people who brown-bag it (more so since 99% of my commutes are on the motorcycle right now). Anyone else deal with this on a semi-regular basis?

Gah, I want to go lift something really heavy now. Instead, I’ll be doing some SMR and mobility work as scheduled since I haven’t done anything substantive in a few weeks, and I need to ramp up my conditioning a bit before jumping back in. Speaking of which…

Quick updates:
—The old/new house (hard to call a thirty-five year old house “new”) is going well. Lots of small-ish projects completed with many more to go. The romanticism of a reel push mower is gone, though—I can hack out the quarter-acre front yard well enough, but the acre-plus back yard is a different story altogether (read: ain’t happening), so I’ll be buying a gas-powered push mower and trimmer/edger next week. The back yard is plenty of workout that way, too.
—The hand laceration has closed up nicely, though there’s still some subcutaneous healing to be done, and the wound is nowhere near as elastic as normal. The blisters from the reel mower yesterday are a nice touch.
—I’ve been studying my IYCA Level 1 materials for a few weeks, but I’ve had no chance to block out four hours to watch the DVDs all the way through in one sitting, so I’m hopeful that this weekend’s beach trip will give me that opportunity. There’s really no reason to think that I won’t submit my exam by the end of the month. Then I can legitimately add some letters (and for-hire services) after my name :)

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Another magic pill gone bad?

Posted by Ben on Sunday, May 3, 2009

The thermogenic craze of a few years ago may have just officially come to an end. Caffeine wasn’t enough, and actual steriods (rather than all the stuff lumped into the “steroids” category by fearmongers and moralists) were/are really illegal and really dangerous in the hands of people who didn’t do their homework on how to properly use them. Enter the so-called metabolism boosters. Ephedra, yohimbe, even green tea extract, all marketed to make you think that you could still sit on your ass all day and still burn extra fat (to the exclusion of other tissues) just by taking these pills. As of Seven-Minute Abs wasn’t lazy—er, efficient enough, now exercise was completely unnecessary altogether. Pop a pill and RRRAAAAAAAWWWRRRR WATCH THE FAT MELT AWAY GET RICH GET LAID NOW!!!!1!11!!1!1 Or something along those lines.

Caffeine continues to be legal, embraced, and marketed in ever-growing fashion as the world’s most widely-consumed stimulant despite its addictive qualities identical to some narcotics. Yohimbe remains legal as the only non-Viagra variant shown to help treat impotence, which carries tremendous weight in public policy *rolls eyes*. Guarana is making a muted comeback in various forms after fizzling out from PepsiCo’s short-lived Josta drink. Ephedra is illegal in the US based on scant research, correlation interpreted as causation, and simple ignorance—yes, ephedra can CONTRIBUTE to heart problems… if you take SEVERAL TIMES the recommended dosage, fall into dehydration, and attempt to exercise intensely in hot, humid weather, but I digress. Spanish Fly is also illegal for similar correlative reasons. That literally leaves caffeine, which like alcohol is just as dangerous as other “sin” products, yet the moral majority has decided that this particular vice is okay (I won’t even get into the marijuana discussion here, but you can imagine where I stand on the issue). Energy drinks are now just a hodgepodge of caffeine, sugar, maybe some B-vitamins, and who knows what in those “proprietary blends.”

Hydroxycut has (finally) been officially recalled by the FDA. Of course, that means very little considering the “evidence” used to make that decision. Are you ready for this? Twenty-three reported cases—over the past few years—of liver problems and one—ONE—death only POSSIBLY linked to Hydroxycut usage out of over nine MILLION packages sold LAST YEAR ALONE. No causation has been publicly shown (to my knowledge), only correlations based on anecdotal evidence. Awesome. A friend of mine quipped, “Don’t forget that eight million of those nine million are frat boys. Drinking in excess isn’t the best thing for liver support in the first place.” Probably a little too generalized, but a good point nonetheless.

I’ve never used the stuff, but I have used ephedrine, a couple thermogenics from Biotest, and even Stacker. Hey, I was young(er) and naive, and while these things did literally give me some warm fuzzies and maybe a heart skip here and there, not only did I learn to minimize strenuous activity for a few hours after taking this stuff (talk about seeing stars), I also started with the recommended dosage and adjusted according to my reaction (at one point, I was taking one-quarter doses because I didn’t like how full or half doses made me feel), stayed hydrated since that was a suggestion on the product packaging, and otherwise eased myself into usage.

No reaction from Anna Nicole Smith’s estate so far. Rawr.

Posted in Issues, Nutrition | Leave a Comment »

Dealing with ouchies

Posted by Ben on Saturday, May 2, 2009

In a recent not-post post, I mentioned something about an injury. I haven’t worked out in about two weeks as every waking moment not spent at work since then has been devoted to moving except for a few hours when I was (a) trying not to pass out and (b) getting stitches. Monday before last, the first day of the move, was reserved for getting all the bigger-than-the-pickup-bed stuff moved in a rented truck, and that went off without a hitch. At the end of the day, though, I caught my hand on one of the dog crates and tore a lovely gash in my right palm, about an inch-and-a-half long and deep enough that the subcutaneous fat cells were clearly visible and teasing at escaping the wound, and the blood goes without saying (I’ll spare you the pictures). Fortunately, I didn’t cut into any muscle or other major connective tissues, and I managed to make it two days before breaking down and going to the hospital for stitches (free thanks to some connections, but still, second to my vasovagal response is my white-coat syndrome—I seriously get very mild panic attacks from just being in a hospital, which makes zero sense to me, just like nearly passing out from seeing blood leaving my body, but I digress). I can finally grip at full intensity with no pain again, and the wound site is almost completely healed up, so by the time I get back to training (hopefully in another week or so), all should be ready to go. I just need to figure out which tree branch is getting the climbing rope :)

Acute versus chronic injury

I’ve dealt semi-extensively with both types, and I mainly want to deal with acute injuries in this post since those are the sudden, unexpected ones that throw training into total chaos. Chronic issues arise gradually, sometimes imperceptibly enough that you think it’s an acute issue when it really isn’t, and usually in the form of most joint and ligament aches and pains—these get resolved through balanced training, some p/rehab work, and other corrective protocols. Acute injuries make everything else come to a halt so you can first deal with the immediate problem (first aid, see a doctor, etc) and then figure out how it affects your livelihood (where on your body is it, how severe, how long for recovery, what else will be affected).


After all medical care has been rendered, the first consideration is if you can you get around on your own two feet, and if so, how well? It’s pretty cool to see how, say, an upper torso or arm injury can inhibit your natural walking gait since you’ll try to remain upright and rigid to minimize movement and therefore alter your stride. I’ll give you two injury examples from my own experience: first, my recent stress fracture in my left foot made simple walking fairly painful, but I was able to hobble around well enough and deal with compensatory imbalances with SMR and removing any exercise that put pressure on the forefoot, meaning no running or jumping of any kind. It was painful and is still annoying but not debilitating and easily worked around in training. Second, a torn right hamstring put me on my duff for a couple weeks, and then it took a couple months of physical therapy to get back to walking without a hitch in my giddyup, and that says nothing about the lost strength and deformed musculature that is only recently returning to a (good) balanced nature, two years later. Obviously, if you have trouble simply making it to the fridge and back or maybe just breathing deeply (from injury, not corpulence), there just isn’t a whole lot you can do. That’s not to say there’s nothing you can do (try isometric contractions for time), but you’ll obviously be severely limited.

What can you do without increasing risks of contamination, infection, etc?

You just experienced physical trauma. Your body must deal with it. Give it a chance to do so, especially immediately after the event. Also, are you in a simple, breathable wrap that you can change as needed, or are you in a brace or cast of some sort? Think about your personal hygiene here. One thing that would’ve kept me from doing a major workout of any kind with my hand injury before it fully closed up was sweat. Granted, I did sweat a bit while moving (I changed the dressing once or twice a day), but nothing like I do during workouts, and with the additional, intensive movements, there was a greater chance of getting sweat, dirt, and whatever else in the wound, not to mention biological resources being diverted to other parts of the body instead of focusing more on the healing process. Plus, there was simply a decent risk of re-opening the wound with inadvertent pressure or striking on the hand. It’s just not worth it.

Had I been free to work out this whole time instead of moving, there would’ve been no pull-ups, no push-ups, no rowing, no kettlebell swings, nothing that involved the hands (let’s just say loading and unloading trucks was interesting for a few days). I would’ve been limited to lower-body and core work, which is perfectly fine with me, but different injuries require different training modifications. If my injury was more severe and long-lived, I was fully prepared to eventually do a 400-meter walking lunge, more squats, lots of planks and bridges, and whatever else I could do, which was a lot considering the location and nature of my injury, but only when the wound finally closed up. Patience, grasshopper.

What can you do without pain and without prolonging the injury?

This is something every athlete and fitness enthusiast deals with: returning to action too soon. Pain is not an accurate measure of what you should be doing or can do in the first place. Again looking at my two examples: with the stress fracture, I could still do a lot, just no running or jumping, and any attempts to do so have been so have been rudimentary to a point of near-infancy (baby steps anyone?). With the hamstring issue, after the initial couple days of continuous throbbing, the pain subsided somewhat when I was sedentary, but any kind of movement brought it back. Later, simple knee flexion and extension didn’t hurt, but walking did. Eventually, that got better, too, but my strength and balance weren’t fully recovered, so I was at a greater risk of (re)injury until I developed more bilateral balance between my legs. My point is to not rush right back into things the first day you feel better. If you think your fitness progress is slow when you’re healthy, progress coming back from an injury is comparatively molasses running uphill in January, but just suck it up and deal with it unless you want to remain in pain at best or on your keister at worst. Focus on rehab and regeneration as intensely as a normal workout, and you’ll recover that much more quickly. Plus, if it’s a muscle strain, enjoy the warm, massage-like tinglies of your physical therapist’s ultrasound treatment :)

What’d I miss? Lots. Light up the comments.

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Back and still breathing

Posted by Ben on Thursday, April 30, 2009

I’m alive and moved, for the most part. It took right at a week to get the vast majority of stuff loaded, driven, and unloaded from one place to the other, but with the exception of all my books and a couple odds and ends (nothing that needs moving immediately, just sometime over the next few weeks), everything is in the “new” place, albeit in mind-numbing disarray; however, enough progress has been made that it’s not a complete stress-out (read: I now have fresh undies as needed rather than resorting to some air and Febreeze). All told, I’ll still take a week-plus move in a few dozen trips rather than one massive load in one or two days anytime. Sleep has been short in quantity, and I’ve been so wiped out most nights that I just fell into bed instead of sleeping on the floor, so my sleep has lacked in quality as well (more just passing out than sleeping). I finally made it back to the floor the other night, which of course is great, but my body is having to get readjusted again. It’s slightly remarkable just how much worse I feel in general from sleeping in a bed compared to sleeping on the floor.

Also, I did my first mass group motorcycle ride this past Saturday. It was a great idea in theory, and it was a worthwhile charity group, but I seriously live in an insulated world (the basis for a future post here) in that I’ve only ridden with at most one other bike before, but I know how to ride in groups thanks to the Riders Edge course from Harley Davidson. I’ve always been under the impression that motorcycle riders are more intelligent, watchful, defensive, and generally safer than other vehicle drivers simply because there is much less room for error with a motorcycle, and I admit that I’m borderline paranoid when I ride (which has made me a much better car driver as well), but I learned that many (most?) bikers are just as clueless and ignorant as people in cars on the road. It didn’t help that nearly half of the ride were walk-up registrants, so our law enforcement escort was seriously understaffed, which led to one of the officers losing to an SUV as he tried to get ahead of the ride to block off an intersection (reportedly serious leg injuries but nothing life-threatening). Just too many people for too few escorts. Plus, one of the ride went down on an interstate for some unknown reason, whether it was a medical condition or simple dehydration. I’m all for riding for a cause, but I’ll almost certainly not be doing a mass ride again. Too much stress, too much stupidity, too much cattle herd mentality.

That said, I don’t have a meaty post for you right now, but I’m well into that post on dealing with injuries—I just need more time to get it together since it’s threatening to reach serial post status. Don’t get your hopes up, though—there’s nothing groundbreaking or even scientific about it, just more anecdotal rambling like before, but hopefully I can make some headway on it for the next few days at work (the only time I have to write since home time is spent containing the chaos) and at least get part of it published. Besides, I really want to share the gore and good times from my most recent random tweak :)

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No real blog this week

Posted by Ben on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Moving doesn’t lend itself well to much except for stress, keeping track of the coffee maker, a gauge on how well your training is serving you in everyday life, and (possibly) unrelated injury. As such, I won’t be doing any targeted writing this week unless I somehow find some time at work to do so, but when I return (hopefully next week), I’ll try to have some stuff on how to train around, with, and through different injuries since I’m now dealing with one that has ended all upper-body work for me for awhile. Nothing serious in the overall picture, but enough that I’m going to be limited to squats, lunges, and core work for a few weeks at least. Yes, that’s called a teaser. Yes, I know you love me.

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My, what a lovely tea party

Posted by Ben on Wednesday, April 15, 2009

By the time I post this, nearly all of you will have completed and submitted your tax returns, and some of you may be chugging Mylanta or Pepto after seeing your final numbers from last year, or at least after having spent countless hours logging receipts, matching up bank and credit card statements, and otherwise finding every loophole you could. I belong to the latter group (in activity, not chugging), though I finished all my stuff a month ago—after one year awhile back when I was part of the conga line of cars in the makeshift drive-thru at a nearby post office only minutes to midnight, I swore to never again cut it so close, and since then, I’ve consistently knocked out my taxes by mid-March. The (extra) stress of the April 15 deadline just isn’t worth the procrastination, and you’re talking to a master procrastinator.

In celebration of this day spawned by a wholly unconstitutional Constitutional amendment, and in light of all the recent and current protests against skyrocketing government spending, let’s talk tea. To be honest, I’m not all that well-read on the pros and cons of various teas, and it remains one of few beverages for which I haven’t really developed a discerning palette, unlike most beers, many coffees, a few wines, and even fewer liquors/liquers (I do just fine by Jack and the Captain, thank you very much). I’ve experimented on occasion with a few different types of tea over the years, but most likely, I’ve been doing the tea equivalent of comparing Folgers to Maxwell House; in fact, I have an acquaintance who regularly attends what seems to me like old-lady tea parties, complete with linens, hats, and so on, and she occasionally likes to inform me of just how uneducated my taste for tea is. Guilty; however, that’s not to say I don’t like a bourgeois cup or three every now and then. I keep some mass-market bags of green and black chai teas in my cabinet, and aside from a little honey, lemon, and/or milk, that’s about as fancy as I get with tea.

When it comes to health benefits, however, the debates and studies for pro- and anti-tea are as varied and passionate as those regarding coffee, recommended minimum amounts of water, and even carbs, to a degree (though I don’t think there are any more fervent fanatics as those at the far ends of the carb spectrum). I tend to fall into the same opinion about tea as I do about most things: moderation, a little research, and some experimentation. Tea is purported to ease stress, calm hunger pangs, and (temporarily) enhance mental functions. Several fitness/nutrition folks around the Interwebz frequently offer suggestions (Rob Cooper seems to be a regular, especially on Twitter) as to which teas to buy and try, and since my taste is apparently so un(der)developed, who am I to offer my own? In fact, if you’re a tea fanatic, please feel free to leave you suggestions in the comments below—I do want to expand my taste and knowledge of easily-procured teas (I’m not ready to get into presses and loose leaves and such just yet, though sun tea has been on the to-do list for a long time).


The hard-surface sleep experiment continues. I’m still in my sleeping bag on a hardwood floor, and though some nights my sleep doesn’t seem fully contiguous, I do feel like I’m getting deeper and more refreshing sleep. I also feel like I’m getting into a more natural sleep pattern—two or three different segments of deep sleep interspersed with some semi-consciousness, plus a strong urge to nap mid-afternoon. Obviously, the afternoon nap doesn’t happen with the work schedule, but I’m going to try it on days off if I’m not taking care of errands, chores, or dogs. I’ve been poking around for different bedding options that will allow for better ventilation and temperature regulation without costing, ya know, a lot (a raised-platform Japanese futon is still in the future, just the over-the-horizon future right now), but I’ll be experimenting with things I have on-hand in the meantime, starting with a REALLY thin “exercise” mat and maybe a light blanket. Stay tuned.

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Enter Sandman

Posted by Ben on Saturday, April 11, 2009

From the beginning of this blog, I’ve maintained an active disdain for traditional footwear, whether it’s sneakers, loafers, flip-flops, or (especially) high-heels. I’ve offered my own anecdotal experiences as well as links to various stories and articles trying to explain in every conceivable manner why 99.9% of shoes out there just plain suck and put your long-term health and mobility at serious risk. I will continue to fight that fight as long and as well as I can, but it’s time to take up an additional cause for the sake of our well-being, a cause I’ve long held suspicions about and experimented with yet continued to ignore for some reason, but some recent additional experience has finally gotten me over the hump, and I’m embarking on another lifestyle tweak to improve my posture, my performance, and my sleep.

I’ve spent the past few nights sleeping at the foot of my bed on the hardwood floor with nothing for padding except my sleeping bag. No, I’m not in trouble, at least not that I know of, nor am I hobo-ing around crashing at friends’ places (though with the way I’m banking vacation time at work, I might go for a week or four on a LOOOOONG Harley ride sometime this summer/autumn; check your calendars). This is nothing new for me—I went to college, after all—and without fail, every time I’ve slept on a very hard surface, I’ve experienced deeper and more restful sleep, less soreness or stiffness (in general as well as after exercise), fewer back and hip and shoulder issues (this latest round of sleeping on the floor has, so far, all but fully relaxed some rather painful trigger points in my shoulders without additional self-therapy), and a general readiness to wake up and move immediately rather than needing upwards of a half-hour to fully get my bearings, both physically and mentally. In fact, while I’m not ready to fully ascribe this development to my sleep changes, I’ve been dealing with what I thought was a stress fracture in my left foot for a couple months now, and after a few nights on the floor, there is significantly less pain in the area, much less than I’ve felt since the initial injury. I’ll report more after giving this thing more time to shake out.

Well, you might say, I just need to get a firmer mattress. Let me assure you that I have one of the firmest mattresses I’ve ever slept on, yet my sleep had become increasingly fitful (I’m talking over the course of several months, not just recently). Well, you might say, you should try some kind of stiff memory foam that’ll support you better. Okay, are you going to spend the hundreds or thousands of dollars to set me up? Besides, foam forms to your body’s weight as well as shape, and since most of our weight is—well, should be around our hips (meaning musculature, not fat), foam ends up sagging as much as a regular mattress. Well, you might say, maybe you need one of those adjustable air- or water-filled beds? I’ll iterate the cost comment and add the question: have you ever slept on an air mattress, especially for several nights in a row? There’s practically no way to keep those things from sagging during each night, let alone over the long term. Well, you might say, you just need a firmer bedding surface. Um, I have one. It’s called the floor, which is cheaper/free and better suited for our bodies. But, but, but how can you NOT sleep on a mattress, you ask? Well, aside from the potential toxins within, the question really should be: how have humans slept on mattresses for so long without countless cases and reports of neck pain, back pain, knee and hip pain, insomnia, excess ingestion of sleep aids, excess ingestion of stimulants—oh, wait, that’s already happening at a skyrocketing rate.

When it comes to all things “primal,” as many or most people would probably classify sleeping on the floor, a cruise around Mark’s Daily Apple is generally a good starting (and usually stopping) point; however, aside from a few articles on ideas for getting better sleep (all focused on diet, exercise, and a couple lifestyle tweaks) and one article that briefly mentioned the chemical hazards of mattresses, I was somewhat surprised that I didn’t find anything about bedding (that’s not to say it’s not there, but I just didn’t find it; hopefully Mark can set me straight if something’s been written about it). In pulling out to a wider Google search, I ran across an article by Patrick Clark—who that is, I have no clue—that hit on a lot of ideas I’ve mused over for years but never fully put together. (Note: the Bruce Bower article link in the Clark story is broken; the article can be found here.)

Bottom line: America, and most of the world that uses Westernized sleep habits (read: mattresses, artificial lighting, stimulants, etc), suffers from all manner of sleep disorders and subsequent physical and mental ailments that, for some reason, just don’t seem to improve; in fact, as our society as advanced, so to speak, our sleep has regressed, and don’t you know that there is a HYOOGE financial incentive to keep it that way. Every time you see an article with tips and tricks to getting better sleep, invariably it focuses on every thing in the world—from food to feng shui—except the surface on which you sleep, and isn’t that one of, if not the, most influential element of sleep? Of course it is; otherwise, how could all these bedding companies be charging—and getting—hundreds and thousands of dollars PER BED and seeing their bottom lines remain healthy? People are desperate for sleep, which is blamed for everything from bodily pains and poor test scores to hypertension and even death; yet for all the money and technology poured into sleep, we’re getting less of it. Yes, there are extenuating issues to address, such as diet and exercise, yet I’m willing to bet that even the most puritan of health nuts suffers from stretches of sleeplessness.

Of course, I can’t say any of this definitively since, as the Clark article mentions, “embarrassingly” few studies have been done when it comes to sleeping surfaces, and most anything supportive of non-mattressed sleeping is anecdotal—in my own experiences, I’ve slept on hardwood floors, low- and medium-pile carpet, and even asphalt (buffetted by thin wooden slats used to separate layers of bricks formed into cubes—I worked in a brickyard during the summer preceding my senior year of high school), all with great results, yet I went back to mattresses because, well, that’s just where you sleep, right? I mean, why WOULDN’T you sleep on a mattress? It’d just be weird not to. In fact, I mentioned this development on Twitter, in my training log, and to a co-worker, and all provided the expected responses: oh, you just need to try/change this, that, or the other; what kind of mattress/box springs/linens are you using?; doesn’t it hurt to try to sleep like that?; how do you sleep being that uncomfortable? Folks, I’m here to tell you, to preach, to pound, to proclaim, to proselytize about mattresses the same way I do about shoes—actually, think about the parallels. Both shoes and mattresses (and even food products, to a large extent) are ubiquitous and considered normal in our society. Both claim (rightfully so) vast technological attributes. Both continue research, development, and marketing to further develop those technologies under the guise of improving support and overall health (yet, oddly, this never seems to happen; otherwise, these companies would go out of business). Both command mind-bogglingly vast industrial complexes and financial structures that benefit from car maker-like product development (read: regular, predictable “new” models touted as superior to last week/month/year, so toss out what they swore was the end product of their efforts for this latest end product). Anyone starting to see some problems here? I sure as hell am.

This next step to weirdness isn’t a big deal for me since I already get a lot of comments on my Vibrams (speaking of which, I just ordered my “summer” pair a few minutes ago), but what if you want to try this out for yourself and wonder what other people might think? If you read my recent serial post on gymless fitness, the same mental hurdles must be addressed, but if you want a quick-and-dirty answer to people who ask, simply say that it’s where/how YOU sleep, not them, that they can think what they want, but they don’t have to do it unless they want to. Just because something isn’t “normal” doesn’t mean it isn’t ideal (I’ll refrain from saying “right”). Enjoy getting better sleep, having more energy, having fewer aches and pains, thinking more clearly, and generally living a more fulfilling life. Show those who poo-poo mattress-less sleep just how much better YOUR life is. A bold claim? Sure, but I’m not trying to sell you anything, though if I readily find the parts to a Japanese-style futon, I’ll be sure to pass along the source in case you want to go in that direction.

P.S. I couldn’t let a post with this title go by without its namesake.

P.P.S. ABC Financial, my former gym’s financial company, can kiss my pearly white, hairy ass. I just found out that they’re sending collection letters and making collection calls (to the wrong number) claiming that my account with them is past due (no shit, it’s cancelled and just paid the second of two termination payments, meaning it’s closed). This is the third billing issue I’ve had with them, each due to error on their part, yet I still have to deal with their crap. I swear, I think Comcast is running this outfit. At any rate, I have the emails we exchanged making this last transaction crystal clear, so I sent them a nastily-worded email demanding a cease-and-desist and included the text, senders, and dates of those emails as well as a thinly-veiled threat of filing a formal complaint with the BBB. I’m sure that part won’t do any good, but seriously, if you can help it at all, never get involved with ABC Financial. Mmmm… Sandman… dirt naps… yeah, that’s the good stuff.

Posted in General, Primal | 8 Comments »

The gym according to Dr. Seuss

Posted by Ben on Monday, April 6, 2009

I’m still a little fried from the serial post, so I’m boosting one from my friend John, who is the mind behind Mahler’s Monday Morning Motivators. Enjoy.

Stanley Lifts A Weight

I am Stan.
Stan the man.
Can you lift
the weight I can?

Can you lift it overhead?
Can you lift it with a dead?
Can you lift it with a squat?
Bet I can, and you cannot.

Can you lift it in the air?
Can you lift it anywhere?
Can you lift it, no he shrugs.
I can’t lift it without drugs.

Can you squat front, rear and hacks?
Do you know your one rep max?
Can you do a power clean?
Nope not on a Smith Machine.

Do your lifts impress the girls
Can’t do that with biceps curls.
The ladies just might notice you,
If you don’t lift just like they do.

Is your gym a place to play,
A stop within your busy day
Do you go there to be a jerk,
Or is it where you go to work.

When you go, what do you do?
I hope not just what comes to you.
And while you’re there don’t be a clown,
Lift weights and put that cell phone down.

Do you lift heavy, break a sweat?
‘Cause if you don’t you’re not there yet.
Can you get strong like Stan the man,
With some hard work, of course you can.

If you’re consistent, lifting weights,
And work real hard, and add some plates,
Then you’ll get strong, I know you can,
Like me, I’m Stan, I’m Stan the man.

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Never gymless (epilogue)

Posted by Ben on Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Part one: quitting the gym.
Part two: sympathy and confusion.
Part three: why I left.
Part four: newbies.
Part five: searchers.
Part six: pre-made programs.
Part seven: mental foundations.
Part eight: non-workout suggestions.
Part nine: workout suggestions.

* * * * *

(How does one have an epilogue without a prologue? Hmmm…)

So it seems a few people wanted some hand-holding in setting up their own bodyweight workouts and progressions and such. No problem. I won’t pretend I’m doing anything revolutionary or even original here (see: Milo of Kroton), but much like our dependence on shoes, grocery stores, and government bailouts—oops, a political slip—many/most of us have become too reliant on machines and weights and “stations” when almost all of it uses the exact same thing that bodyweight-only training uses for resistance: gravity. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to leverage your, um, leverage, but enough rambling from me… for now… shush :P

As I mentioned last time, I’ve put together my own training program based on a progression found here, which is great if you want to do a hundred push-ups (do NOT do the sit-up workout for reasons I also mentioned last time), but what about, ya know, everything else? Push-ups are great, and if done correctly, are arguably the single most impactful and beneficial upper-body movement you can do, but there’s so much more your body can do: pull-ups, rows, squats, lunges (which I’ll hopefully be adding soon), planks, bridges, and that’s just the in-place stuff. I’ve kept my workouts to in-place movements since I’m currently dealing with a stress fracture in my left foot, so any kind of running, jumping, or “traveling” movements are out for awhile, which of course hasn’t stopped me :)

This is going to get pretty mathy (yes, I just made that up), but hopefully it’ll make sense when I’m finished. I may—MAY—try to put together a spreadsheet that will let you just plug in your target reps (I’ll get to that in a minute), and it’ll spit out six/twelve/eighteen weeks of progressions from your starting point to your target. Anyway…

Step 1: figure out your (initial) target rep goal for each movement you want to do. Here are mine:

—push-ups = 100
—pull-ups = 50
—inverted rows = 50
—squats = 500
—front plank = 300 seconds*

(* It’s easiest to use seconds for any static holds due to the math you’ll be doing.)

Step 2: test your current max. My starting numbers were:

—push-ups = 15
—pull-ups = 5
—inverted rows = N/A (added these a few weeks after I started and just mirrored my pull-up numbers to start)
—squats = 60 seconds
—front plank = 60 seconds

If you can do these on separate days, great; if not, no big deal. I suggest doing them in the order of: pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and planks. If rows and lunges are in there, add them onto the end (in that order). That’ll be a long-ish test, and your later movements may not be your true maxes since you’ll be fatigued from the earlier ones, but don’t worry. The first few weeks are a feeling-out period anyway.

Step 3a: convert/scale the push-up program numbers to fit each of the other movements. This is where all the math comes in. The push-ups are easy since it’s all laid out on the website, so let’s go through what I did for squats (more than 100 target reps):

—target reps = 500; 500 = 100 (website target max) x 5
—initial test reps = 60; 60 / 5 = 12 (scales down the larger reps to something you can use with the website)
—suggested first-week progression = column 3 (initial test between 11 and 20 reps)

Now that you know which column to use, just multiply all the website reps by five to get your squat reps:

—Workout 1 (Column 3): 6, 6, 4, 4, max (7+)
—Workout 1 (scaled for squats): 30, 30, 20, 20, max (35+)

Step 3b: convert/scale for fewer than 100 target reps (I’ll use my pull-up numbers here):

—target reps = 50; 50 = 100 (website target max) / 2
—initial test reps = 5; 5 / 2 = 2.5 = 2 (rounded down; explained later)
—suggested first-week progression = column 1 (initial test less than 5 reps)

This means my first pull-up workout would be:

—Workout 1 (Column 1 scaled for pull-ups): 2, 3, 2, 2, max (3+)

Capice? Clear as mud? Smooth as sandpaper?

Once you’ve figured out what movements you want to do, the only other real consideration is how you’re going to split it up. I started out doing all four movements in a single workout, but when they started getting to be two hours long, I had to go to a two-workout split (now that I’m considering putting lunges in there, I’ll likely have to move to a three-workout split). I really would suggest keeping the entire workout to an hour or less; this includes warm-up, work, and cool-down. My two-workout split is simply:

—Workout A: pull-ups, push-ups, BW rows
—Workout B: squats, planks*

(* I do what I like to call rotisserie planks, meaning a rotation of holds (front, right, left for me; you can do whichever order you like), each at the specified time with the final max-hold set as a front plank only. Without going through all the math—you can do that yourself—if my first set time is thirty seconds, that means I do thirty seconds in a front plank, then thirty seconds in a side plank, then another thirty seconds on the other side plank, and then I take a rest.)

My three-workout split might be something like:

—Workout A: lunges, planks
—Workout B: pull-ups, push-ups
—Workout C: BW rows, squats

This is an unlikely split for me because I have to set up a set of rings for each upper-body pull, but you get the idea. Whatever you decide to include, and however you decide to split it up, keep two things in mind:

1. Make sure you leave enough recovery time between workouts, especially when similar movements are involved. For me, I know my legs take awhile to recover, so I’d want to keep lunges and squats as far away from each other as possible, which includes…

2. Make sure you do supplemental work as well. This includes SMR, mobility work, stretching, other p/rehab work, and general lifestyle activities (walks, bicycle rides, disc golf, pick-up sports, etc). Focus on glute activation, supine bridging, hip flexor stretching, thoracic spine mobility, shoulder external rotation, dynamic core work (perhaps on a physioball a la Core Performance), and so on. In other words, stay active and “uncurl.”

Some other general tips for this layout:
—Always round down when you do any scaling that ends in a partial rep count (see my pull-ups above). The point of this setup is to use the first four sets to “grease the groove” and get your body ready for the max-rep final set, so you don’t want to be totally sapped by the time you get there; however, you also don’t want to absolutely demolish that minimum number without making sure you move up in the progression next time.
—Don’t be afraid to NOT move up at the end of the week. I tried moving up each week, even after starting on the lowest rep count, and I still got waxed by trying to move on to the third week. Eventually, I decided to stay on whatever my current week was until my final-set max-rep efforts consistently blew past the minimum rep number listed. As long as you can maintain that number or even increase it by one at the end of the week, keep at it. There’s no need to try to jump up to the next level and get frustrated with it if you’re not fully ready.
—You don’t necessarily have to test your max-rep numbers every two weeks, even though the website suggests it. You’re essentially doing a max-rep effort at the end of each workout anyway, and while the idea is to test your max reps on a single set, you probably already have a good idea of what you can and can’t do just from the regular workouts, so you can progress however you like without the tests.
—Speaking of weeks, that doesn’t have to mean a Sunday-through-Saturday or Monday-through-Friday deal. I simply mean “week” as a “round” of three workouts for each movement. As of this writing, it takes me roughly two calendar weeks to get through a workout “week” because of supplemental work, general lifestyle activity days, and plain ol’ days off. The original setup can quickly become too much volume if you don’t work up to it, but hey, give it a shot. I’ve had to back off a couple times because I overreached a bit.

Questions? Comments? Snide remarks? Bring ’em.

Posted in Primal, Training | Leave a Comment »