Friday, November 30, 2012

Interesting CrossFit Week

Next week, we are going to start a 10-12 week cycle focused on the Olympic lifts.  This weekend, our gym is hosting a regional competition,  Despite getting ready for both of those, our coach put together a very interesting workout schedule this week.

Basically, each day, we did one of the power lifts in a 5533-max sequence.  On Monday, it was back squats, starting at 70% and ending at 90%.  I lifted a little bit lighter than prescribed for reasons I'll mention below, but it was still a demanding workout - both mentally and physically.  Doing max reps - essentially going to failure - on that last heavy set is taxing.

After the back squats, we did a short and simple metabolic segment - 10 minutes of mostly light weights or body-weight work.

Tuesday, we did a similar workout with strict presses.  The exception was that after failing in the fifth set, we then proceeded, with no rest, to do max push presses.  I managed to get 5 strict presses and then 8 more push presses and my shoulders were not happy about that.

Then, another short workout after the strength workout.

The pattern has repeated all week.  Wednesday was front squats.  Yesterday was the bench press, but after failing on the fifth set, you did three assisted reps.  I managed 6 reps before failing, and on the third unassisted rep, my arms simply collapsed.  I was done.

Because I'll be skiing all weekend and I've worked out for six straight days, today is a rest day.  The movement tonight is deadlifts - one of my favorite lists.  But, trying to do max reps at 375 pounds would probably crush me for skiing this weekend, so rest is a good idea.

In the past month or so, I've been deliberately decreasing some of my higher weight efforts at the gym.  I started with the testosterone supplementation in late May, and after years of having low levels, I was shocked at how much of a difference I felt in the gym.  From June through September and even into early October, it seemed like I could get a PR every workout.  But, gains like this have to level out after a while, and I have been trying to be smart about avoiding injuries.  So, a little over a month ago, I made a conscious effort to dial back some of the heavier lifts.  I plan to continue that through the month of December, and then go back to pushing the weights a bit harder.

I am trying to be conscious that I'm using the supplemental testosterone because I have a deficiency in my body otherwise.  I'm not using it for purely anabolic reasons, with the goal of getting "huge" or outrageously strong.  If that was my entire focus, I think I'd be overlooking the other benefits of the medication, and trying to get something else from its use.

So, backing off for a bit makes some sense, especially as I transition into ski season.  After I've been on skis for six weeks or so, and the holidays are past, I'll go back to a more focused strength bias in my workouts.

This weekend, I'm training younger instructors at the mountain.  The group that I'll be working with is apparently a dozen or so high school aged girls.  I need to convey to them that what we do has value far beyond just their students, that doing it well helps the rest of the ski school in the future, and that a job that takes up your entire weekend for the entire winter is fun and exciting and worth doing well every single day.  In many ways, teaching ski lessons to children is way, way simpler than teaching other instructors how to teach.  But, I'm looking forward to the challenge.  And, we got a fair amount of natural snow at the mountain this week.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Skiing and CrossFit

After my last post, ultra-runner-extraordinaire Laurel commented that improvements in my skiing might be related to increased core strength from all of the CrossFit work I've done this year.  I've been thinking about that for a week or so.  I've even skied twice more since that post and Laurel's comment, which gave me more time to think about it.

Here are some comparisons to a year ago:

  • My weight is up but my body fat percentage is down.
  • My running mileage for the year is way down for the third consecutive year and this is my lowest mileage year since 1984.
  • I ran zero running races this year - the first time since 1984
  • My total workouts for this year are very close to last year, but the focus has been more on CrossFit and less on aerobic activity.  Two thirds of my workout days this year have included CrossFit.
  • My CrossFit workouts for this year have totaled 134.  My total for all of last year was 108, and I'll probably get to 150 or so this year.  
  • I am stronger than a year ago in all lifts.  This is probably due to both the extra work in the gym and the supplemental testosterone
  • I have spent way more time on stretching this past year than I have in many years - maybe since 2002 or so, when I was going to yoga 2-3 times per week.
In a totally non-scientific way, it appears to me that something about CF is the major difference in how I feel on snow.  I must also not forget that I moved to a much higher level "expert's" ski for this season, and that has certainly had an impact.

It is interesting that for many years, I thought that all of my running was preparing me well for ski season.  And now, heading into my 12th season as an instructor, I'm left wondering if that was all wishful thinking.

An article published in the WSJ this week has many of my running friends up in arms, because the article suggested that running a lot may have long-term detrimental effects on the heart.

There seems to be a particular way that interesting new studies are perceived by the net denizens:

1) I agree with the conclusion already.  No need to look any further.  I don't care if the study methodology is flawed because I know the conclusion is correct.
2) I disagree with it, and as an experiment of one who has seen contrary results so far, I can dismiss it.
3) The study was performed by a person with a bias, so it can be ignored.
4) The study was flawed, so I'll dismantle it or wait for someone else to do it.

Now, I don't disagree that there is a lot of poor quality science performed in the world.  And, I have my own biases, and I'm not immune to the four steps above.  What worries me is that we've become a nation of people incapable of critical thinking.  We think too much with our "gut" and not with our brains.

Over the last four years, I have drastically changed how I work out.  I have changed how I eat.  I've also addressed some key medical issues.  And my life is a lot different.  I have the records (workout logs and my blog) to go back in time and look at things.  And yet, I can only guess when it comes to cause and effect.  Those guesses are not immune from my personal biases.  Whatever my workout routine is right now, it must be the best.  Whatever skis I'm on, they must be the best.  Whatever my diet is right now..  Oh, never mind on that one; I'm still trying to get better.

I think we should all question everything.  Question every study.  Question every politician, every law, every policy.  But, we should find a rational way to do this, and I think that this is a lost art/science.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skiing vs. Running

This past Sunday was my first day on snow for the 2012-2013 ski season.  I spent the day in a group of 8 skiers, and all of them are very strong skiers and instructors.  I was on a new pair of skis and it took me a while to get comfortable with the skis.  But, I was very surprised by some comments I received from co-workers.  One person described my skiing stance and style as very relaxed.  This really surprised me, to be honest.  I tend to be way too static most of the time.

Another person, a mentor of mine, with whom I've skied hundreds of times, made positive comments about my stance and my turns.  It was the first day of the season, but he said I was skiing as well as he's ever seen me ski.  Then, he asked me how much I'm running these days.  I told him that I'm running very little, especially in comparison to past years.  After averaging about 1800 miles per year for 25 years, my mileage has really dropped off the last couple years.

This year is the first year I haven't done any running races since 1984.

At CrossFit, we spend close to 15 minutes every day doing a warm-up (the warm-up varies every day) that is highly focused on mobility and flexibility.  Plus, many of the movements at CF are very dynamic compared to steady state running.

In addition to the prescribed stretches at CF, I often add stretches to focus on ankle dorsiflexion, gastroc tightness, hamstring flexibility and hip mobility.  These are all areas where I think that a multi-decade running career has robbed me of flexibility.

It certainly doesn't hurt that I am very strong right now.  But, I am also more flexible than I've been in years.

My new skis are also much more an expert ski than the skis I've been on the past few years.  With some new features in the ski, plus a lot of structural rigidity and stability, I'm sure they have helped my skiing.

But, my friend commented that my stance is the best he's ever seen.  I was very upright and forward - a strong athletic stance.

Maybe it's early in the season and he doesn't have his eyes dialed in yet.  Maybe it was the new skis.

But, for years, I've been criticized (not in a malicious way) by co-workers for being too rigid, not relaxed, not flexed into the boots at the ankles, and not fluid in my knees and hips.  Sunday was different.  Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come - even better skiing this year than in the past.

Late in the day, we did two runs on an expert level trail that was essentially steep ice.  I know that the new skis helped here, but I skied terrain like this as relaxed as I have ever skied it.  In the past, after seeing that terrain once, I would have never voluntarily skied it again.  But, I did, and the second time was even more enjoyable and controlled than the first.

Hopefully, this is all a harbinger of a good ski season.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Colbert Report - Election Night

When I scored tickets to see The Colbert Report live on election night, I knew I had to go.  I'd tried to get tickets a few times in the past, but the servers always crashed and I never got any tickets.  But, amazingly, for the week of the election, the servers behaved very well, and I accidentally got two seats to a live broadcast.  Typically, the show is taped in advance, but a live show on election night sounded like way too much fun to pass up.

My son and I boarded the train only a couple miles from home on election morning.  I'd already voted that morning and been to the doctor's office.  Whatever illness I'd had for the prior week had settled into my lungs and I was coughing a lot.  I was honestly concerned that I'd be kicked out of the show if I coughed a lot during a live broadcast.

Our train trip to Manhattan was long (8 hours), but very comfortable and relaxing.  I tried to get as much election info as I could, but I knew nothing meaningful would emerge until after 7:00 EST.  We got to Penn Station around 6:30, walked a mile uptown to our hotel (very close to that crane that self-destructed during the hurricane), checked in, and headed out for some dinner before the show.

Since we were in Manhattan, finding decent food was not a problem and we had a really nice meal in a "gastropub" in midtown west.  I had a great salad, and bison meatloaf topped with a gravy made with Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout.  The mashed potatoes that came with the meat loaf were amazing.  My son's dinner was equally good and we were on our way to the studio by 8:30 or so.

By 10:15 or so, our phones had to be turned off.  So, just about the time that PA was called for Obama, and with VA and Ohio very much undecided, we lost contact with the outside world.  We were surprised by how small the studio was once we were inside.

Stephen Colbert's roots are in improv, and the staff really emphasized to us that the audience makes the show in many ways, and Colbert feeds off the energy of the audience.  They even sent out a comedian to warm up the audience.  Then, Colbert did a Q&A session, out of character, although out-of-character didn't seem far from the role he plays in the show.

The show itself was fantastic.  I got to see exactly what I'd hoped to see - his satirical character lamenting the loss of the election to the evil Obama.  It was genius.  During an interview with Andrew Sullivan, he even threw out the "we weren't conservative enough" and "I never really liked that flip-flopper anyway" story lines.  In 30 minutes, he basically previewed all of Fox News' story lines for the next week.

And just that quickly, the show was over.  We watched some returns on TV for a while, including the concession (it's hard for me to really call it a concession speech, but that's a different topic) and acceptance speeches.  Early the next morning, I walked to CrossFit Hell's Kitchen and got in a good workout.  The night before, not wanting to have to use the bathroom during the show, I'd vastly under-consumed liquids, and I was a little dehydrated for the workout.  I was even cramping a bit late in the workout.  After a shower and a cup of coffee, my son and I walked around Central Park for a while and we then walked down 5th Avenue to Penn Station.  We grabbed some pizza, boarded our train, and by dinnertime, we were home.

We both agreed that despite the whirlwind nature of the trip, it had been well worth the cost and time.

Since then, I've continued to recover from whatever illness got a hold of me over two weeks ago.  I'm still not 100%, but managed four workouts last week and tonight will be my third this week.

This coming weekend, Sugarbush opens for the season, and I'll have my first day on snow on Sunday.  I just got a new pair of skis yesterday and I can't wait to take them out for a spin.

Monday, November 5, 2012

One week later

I've probably forgotten everything I wanted to write about regarding Henry Rollins.  I did love his positive outlook on life and the likelihood of the human race fixing the world before we manage to destroy it. I loved some of the anecdotes from his speaking tours - discussions about raw conversations and sad conversations, where the humanity of the conversation simply transcended politics or race or religion or any other label that could be used.

I liked some of the information about his early days with Ian MacKaye and the genesis of the punk movement in the US.  My son is a huge fan of MacKaye, so he really appreciated these stories.

He urged everyone to vote.  Get educated if you aren't already.  My son is 19 and has no plans to vote tomorrow and I'm really disappointed in that decision.  I hoped Henry Rollins would sway him, but it's not going to happen.  I understand the cynicism that goes with being 19 years old.  But, I voted in my first Presidential election in 1980 at age 18, and I think I've only missed one election since then.  I got stuck at work very late in 1988 and never made it to the polls.

One particular anecdote about Austin City Limits, a poster created by a local artist, and the donation of money to the local Planned Parenthood office was hysterical.  Henry was essentially suggesting that given our country's political divides, some solid family planning in Texas might prevent that state from gaining any more electoral power.  But, the way he told the story was fantastic.

He talked for 2.5 hours and was never boring for a second.  I'd urge anyone to see him if you can.

I have been sick for a solid week now.  I am not close to 100%, and I see no way that CrossFit will happen tonight.

Tomorrow, my son and I leave for Manhattan, to see the Colbert Report's live broadcast on election night.  I have a reservation to work out Wednesday morning at CrossFit Hell's Kitchen, and that may be my next workout.

And right now, it's back to the grindstone so I can finish a huge amount of work before I leave for the next two days.

Please remember to vote.  It does matter, or at least I like to continue to believe that it does.