So you want to Look Good Naked?

July 29, 2014

You wouldn’t start building a house by shingling the roof;  you would be smart to start with the foundation and progress from there.

The same goes for looking good naked…

“I look so good I’m gonna throw this disc around, naked.”

Don’t lose sight of the pillars of body composition.

It can be easy to get caught up in the nuances of nutrition and training and forget that in the big picture the fundamentals are what drives ones results through time.  So what’s important to keep in mind?

1.  Total caloric intake

Calorie intake through time (weeks, months, years) will determine the weight you find yourself at.

The concept is simple.  The challenge in day-to-day life is to be mindful of this and build habits that support your goals.

*This post is not about specific tactics or strategies to manage caloric intake (see the links below for follow-up reading).

The long and the short of it is that you ultimately need to find a diet that works for you / your lifestyle / your goals.

“You may not be able to see it, but there is a one-pound steak under this fruit”

An interesting note from the research:

The only consistent finding among fat loss trials on both ends of the low vs. high carb spectrum, is that adherence – the degree to which participants continued in the program or met program goals for diet and physical activity – was most strongly associated with weight loss.” (Pagato. 2013)

2. Total volume of training

The total cumulative weight you lift through the weeks, months and years will determine how your body looks.

Generally speaking, lifting more (volume) is better (so long as you recover from it).

Admittedly, there is a lot of nuance here left out with respect to training, as in there are certainly approaches that are more intelligent than others for reaching ones goals, but when you zoom out to the big picture (think years) the overall work that you do will determine your physique.

Train as hard as possible, as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible.” -Zatsiorsky

Please don’t take this as saying that you need to exert yourself like crazy every-time you are in the gym – if you are reading this and thinking you need to go absolutely destroy yourself at your next workout so that you puke and can’t walk then you missed the point.

So again, more is better with the giant qualification that you need to be able to recover from it. 

If you are reading this article and pondering what program you should do – remember, a shitty program followed is better than a perfect program untouched.  This is of course not optimal, but, go out and do something is the point.

That’s it for the pillars.   What else though? …

Do I have to lift weights?

Training carves the canal through which the river of calories shall flow” -Amir Siddiqui

Resistance training sits firmly at the top of the pile with respect to what will effect body composition most potently.  Ultimately one does not have to lift weights but it is certainly the most efficient and effective way to change how you look.

You can be an ultra-marathoner (expending tons of energy) and still look subjectively weak.

You can do yoga, running, swimming, and anything else under the sun but without some form of resistance training you will still likely be coming short of your potential.

This is not to say that any of these types of working out are “bad” or should be avoided (I am talking purely about body composition / how one looks).  There are a multitude of benefits to be had (tons of health improvements), standalone or synergistically, but with respect to lean muscle mass and overall looks – lifting takes the crown.

More reading…

Okay, so after reading this are you going to go back to your facebook feed and mindlessly scroll through it or do something of equal unimportance?  Hehe, I’m thinking you will.   How about you check out some of these these links to supplement what you’ve just read:

Alan Aragon – The Dirt on Clean Eating

Alan’s article expands on the themes of my post AND gives strategies and tips on how to achieve your goals.

Brian Wansink – Mindless Eating

Brian’s book can help you become a more mindful eater.

Chad Landers – Top 5 Reasons Your Diet Isn’t Working

Similar to Alan’s post (and mine here) – a simple overview of what to pay attention to.

Precision Nutrition Coaching

Looking for a coach to help you take care of this part of your life and help you establish healthy long term habits?  I would recommend this organization.  I am not an affiliate and do not get a commission from recommending them, I simply believe they are great at what they do.

Okay, your turn…

What can you do today to move towards your goals?  Go do that!

 


2013 Reflection: Favourite Books, People and Websites

January 1, 2014

Looking back at 2013 I realize there were a lot of ideas and people that captured my attention and caused me to look at the world a little bit differently.

The following are quick summaries of the books, ideas, people and websites that I found interesting, thought-provoking and worthwhile to pay attention to.

Books

I’ll start by saying that in past years the books I’ve gravitated towards have mostly been about self-improvement and spirituality.  Books that in reflection that probably tended to have had more style than substance (and I think that’s okay if that’s what can serve a person at the time).

Some of the following books and ideas below have helped redefine what these topics mean to me.  For instance – books that are on self-improvement that are simply cheer-leading (“you can do it!” type messages) aren’t doing it for me anymore, I want something with more substance (science/research/practical advice).  Further, my notions of spirituality that used to include a higher power have now been replaced with simple reverence for life (not to say I’ve ruled out a higher power – yet I don’t think the concept is necessary for living a “spiritual” life).  More on this below – including books that stood out to me that caught me by surprise.

(Note* links to Amazon pages [not affiliate] are in the book titles not the pictures below)

The Willpower Instinct

 

WillpowerInstinct.grid-4x2

 

The first “self-help” book on the list.  I hesitate to categorize it in the traditional self-help category because of the way it’s written – it is as much a treatise on the science of willpower as it is a practical guide for living better.  Kelly McGonigal does a great job of highlighting the latest research on willpower – what it is, how to improve it etc, all in the context of an easy to understand framework that gives immediate actionable advice.  If I had to pick one self-help type book from my collection for the best bang for your buck – this one wins hands down.

Power

 

41mD5sDYzjL

 

This book wins for the most divisive book/theme on my list (as evidenced by the amazon reviews).  In a nut shell it is a book that explores the idea that the path to success in life is not necessarily in line with what we are taught in school and that by embracing certain realities/truths and leveraging certain behaviours and traits we can accelerate ourselves along that path.  The main theme is Power (as per the title) but I found it to be primarily valuable in understanding the dynamics of persuasion, interrelations and self-promotion on a more subtle level.  I think the reviewers on amazon who rate it as one star are likely uncomfortable with the topic in principle and discount it immediately.  I found there to be a lot to learn and think about in this book.  I would recommend it to most anyone and especially to those fresh out of school who are entering the workforce as it could help take years off your learning curve and help give you the awareness to make it further in life, quicker.

The Belief Instinct

 

9780393072990_300

 

This book simply punched me in the brain and caused me to reevaluate my preconceived notions of spirituality.  In other words – before reading this book I was fairly confident that there is a higher power (because it “felt” true to me).  After reading this book (and delving into the topic further – see Sam Harris below) I am not so confident and have come to see that the research shows that the brain is hardwired for this type of belief pattern.  It might stand to reason that this loss of faith could have negative consequence on the mind and personality yet I feel just as “alive” (or more) and empowered to live a good life than prior.  In other words, confronting the idea that – this life might be it – was actually pretty liberating as it doubled-down my commitment to making the most of it while I’m here.

Will to Live 

 

Will To Live

 

This book wins for its all round bad-assery.  In a nut shell, survival expert Les Stroud details a number of famous survival cases from the past 100 years and provides his own summaries of the situations insofar as what he thought they did right, wrong, what the could have done differently, etc.  It is written in a very humble (appreciative of the fact that these are dire circumstances) and mesmerizing way.  It highlights the extreme will to live and ingenuity of a number of people who have had to face life or death scenarios.  If you have an inkling of interest in this area you’ll probably really enjoy this book and it may even make you more appreciative for how good we have it in our day to day lives as it provides an extreme contrast to everyday life.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

 

hadfield

 

This book caught me by surprise for how much I enjoyed it and the further interest it provoked (learning more about the Space Program in general and watching videos on YouTube, etc).  The book was a gift from my brother  and topic that I would have likely never delved into on my own.  It is a very interesting story that brings to life the path of one man as he goes from young man to commander of the international space station.  I found it entirely fascinating and really did a good job of bringing to light a topic that I had no idea I’d appreciate so much.  In short – what NASA and related space programs are doing is wholly badass.

An excerpt from the book:

“…and that’s when I notice the universe.  The scale is graphically shocking.  The colors, too.  What’s coming out of my mouth is a single word:  Wow.  Only, elongated:  Wwwooooowww.  It’s overpowering, visually, and no other senses warn you that you’re about to be attacked by raw beauty.”

What’s cool is Chris Hadfield became a social media sensation during his 6 months in space in 2013.  I’m just digging into some of his YouTube clips (which do a good job showing what it’s like to live on the space station) and enjoying them quite a bit.  With the help of his son and others they managed to produce the first music video from space, which has some clips and sights from the station.  Here it is if you are interested:

People

There are probably as many people whose ideas influence me as there are days in the year – however the following two people are at the top of my list this year for people who I enjoyed learning from most.

Brené Brown

 

brene-brown

 

If you’ve heard about Brené Brown before you know that she is a warm personality, a great presenter and a stunningly honest and open person.  Her work personifies courage and what it means to live a whole-hearted life.  To me it doesn’t come as a surprise that her TED talk is one of the most viewed in the sites history.  Her message on the power of vulnerability cuts straight to the core and I believe is very relevant in this day and age.

From her talk:

“…in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen – really seen.

Sam Harris

 

m-sun0324-harris

 

I’m not sure I even know where to start when describing Sam Harris.  To me, he epitomizes the pinnacle of intellectual honesty and reason.  His capacity to take on tough/taboo topics and elucidate on them is overwhelmingly powerful.  In the public sphere he is probably best known for criticizing religion (and if you follow his train of thought it’s hard not to agree), but to me his most touching discourses are on meditation, mindfulness and living life to the fullest.

People of faith might write him off on first glance yet I believe there is a lot of be gained from reflecting on what he says – and that some of his messages are actually compatible with what a religious person might put forth, such as:

There is “..nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.”

The following talk of his is my favourite and in my belief worthy of revisiting from time to time:

Websites that I love

Brain Pickings

 

brainpickings_250x250

 

I can’t recall exactly how I came across this website but I’m certainly glad I did.  In essence this website is a hub for captivating ideas and topics. It’s basically brain candy – bite sized reflections on a wide variety of topics.  It’s easy to get lost in the site but it is time well spent as it is usually very thought provoking.  The site also has a facebook page which is great too.

Greater Good Science Center

 

ggsc

 

Instead of summarizing the site in my own words, here is a description of this website/group:

The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.

Much like brain pickings it is a site that reflects on a wide variety of topics.  It is well organized and contains a lot of good content.  They also have a quality facebook page.

More to Come for 2014

 

Well that’s the shortlist for exciting books, people and websites for this year.  Let’s see what we can find in 2014.


How I Trained for a Tough Mudder and a Summer of… Not Working Out?

September 2, 2013

This is two-part post – how I trained for a Tough Mudder and a reflection on ‘taking a summer off’ from the gym.

Firstly – I’m “Not a Runner”

Let me phrase that another way, I can run, I just don’t do it regularly.  My first love is weight training and she’s a beautiful bitch who makes me come back for more and more.  Running on the other hand, aside from brief stints in the past 5-8 years where I’ve only really had like 2 summers where I did it consistently, ranks lower on my enjoyment list.

Mostly I’ve just used it as an adjunct to my regular routine – as a means to cut some body fat to look good in the summer.  I’ve personally got some great results from including a couple semi-intense sessions a week (4-5km as “fast” as I can do it, training at around 80-90% intensity).

3 Months Out – 16 km Race Coming Up

Since I’m by no means an expert on designing running programs I decided to outsource my routine creation to somebody I trust, someone with a solid background.  I ended up getting a program designed by Greg Lehman  whose resume reads Masters of Science in Spine Biomechanics, Doctor of Chiropractic and Physiotherapist, amongst other accreditation’s.  On top of that – he’s a cool guy to shoot the breeze with.  If you’re in Toronto and looking to get your body assessed and fixed up I couldn’t recommend him more highly.

The following program was what we came up with based on where I was at and the amount of time I wanted to put forth (I really only wanted to do as much as necessary).  Two things he said to me stuck with me as I trained – firstly, to my surprise he said casually that he thought I could go out and run a Tough Mudder the next day if I wanted – it felt good to have have that confidence rained on me!  Secondly, he said that the point of training for a race like this is to be able to run the race come race day, feeling 100% with no injuries from the training period.  In other words, no need to go overboard with training – just do enough to get the body ready and with an eye on how body is reacting (nip any injury in the bud with rest or appropriate intervention).

20130727_111143

So the way this breaks down on paper is:

For the first 6 weeks – 2 runs of around 5km each – with the caveat that these are not intense runs – just enough to get my body used to running again and start building my endurance.

Once I got to week 7 I was to begin lengthening the runs so they are 5-8km and add in a third run, which is a hill run, where at first I only do 20 minutes but as I progress through the remaining weeks try to increase the duration to up to 40 minutes.

So by all appearances this is a pretty “easy” training program with intelligent progression.  Did I follow it to a tee?  No – that would have just made too much sense.

I ended up doing one run and one bike session per week for the first 6 week period.  I found that my legs were getting beat up playing softball regularly and that hitting the stationary bike was a good alternative as it was less wear and tear.  In fairness, Greg said I could swap in the occasional bike session for a run because the endurance was still valuable.

As for the 2nd period – I would say I probably only really did about 60-70% of the prescribed training, due to a few factors, such as a minor hamstring pull a couple weeks out from the race and some unexpected social opportunities as well as probably a touch of laziness here and there.  In the end, during my training period I would say the longest I ran in one session was about 7 kms and probably close to 40 minutes.

The Race

The race was a great experience and my performance was beyond my expectations.  My endurance was where it needed to be, enough to push through the entire race and I never felt like I hit the wall.  The benefit of running a tough mudder type race is that you run intermittently and then reach an obstacle e.g. crawl through mud, jump over a wall, get electrocuted (lol), which allows your endurance to kind of reset as you’re utilizing a different energy system.

In the end it was a lot of fun and I’d definitely do one again.  The solitary training was extremely contrasted by the camaraderie and experience of running with so many other people.  Now I understand why so many people train with running groups – it’s very motivating and you can work off each other;  helping to inspire your pals when they need it and also be brought up by their energy when you need it.

20130706_141654(1)

A Summer of “Not Working Out”

A few factors lead to my decision to take it easy this summer when it came to the weight room.  A combination of: my gym closing its doors in early July, a week in Hawaii for work, many weekends away from the city as well as a vacation to Cuba, all collectively led me to decide that I wasn’t going to join another gym until September.

This was the longest break from regular weight training since I first started training over 10 years ago.

Now I didn’t completely stop as I was able to squeeze a few workouts in, some in Hawaii, some in Cuba and a couple times where I talked gyms into letting me have a day pass.  All told, I probably hit 20-25% of the volume I would have hit in the gym had I been going regularly.

How it Felt

The experience of purposely staying out of the gym had some interesting results.  Mentally it was kind of liberating to hang the boots up for a while and just chill.  I didn’t really realize it until many weeks later that it was so recharging – the right amount of downtime which has now morphed into a new desire to get back at it.

A Note on My Diet

I didn’t change my diet in any dramatic fashion during this time.  The only noteworthy difference was I consumed less starchy carbs because my activity level didn’t really call for it.  For the most part I follow a paleo-esque diet, rich in whole foods, but I don’t really worry about the militant restrictions some people follow on the same type of diet.  In other words, I eat beans, legumes, bananas, potatoes as well as consume coffee and alcohol.

Alcohol

I will be the first to admit that I enjoy adult beverages.  By most accounts I’d qualify as a binge drinker on average about one night a week.  I am aware of the repercussions of this and try to buttress against the harmful effects by eating healthy and otherwise leading a healthy lifestyle.  I’ll also admit that at times (Cuba) I let loose beyond my normal consumption and pay the price.  It’s like staring into the eyes of a lion – not sure if it’ll come attack you or whether you’ll be ok in retreat.  What I learned is it’s probably best not to tempt that lion because of the potential repercussions.  If you didn’t follow my metaphor – basically the lesson is be careful will things like alcohol and know and protect thyself.

How did it end up?

I thought that I’d get irritable and restless not being in the gym regularly, and while there was a touch of that it never got bad.  I think that if I didn’t do *anything* physically I would have felt like a mess, however I was still active in other ways.  In fact, since late May I have been taking part in the Global Corporate Challenge (through my work – also where I work) – which promotes physical activity in whatever form you personally desire.  Since then I have been averaging about 14,000 steps a day, or about 9 km’s of walking.  This has certainly helped keep me feeling really refreshed and energetic.

Body Composition

I was around 175 lbs at the beginning of the Summer (a weight that I’ve cruised around for a few years) but weighed myself yesterday and came in at 169 lbs – the lowest I’ve weighed since I was about 15.  I actually took a selfie because I was feeling/looking pretty ripped.  Noteworthy is the fact that the lighting certainly helps accentuate the cuts (I don’t always walk around with overhead lighting, or flexed for that matter).

20130901_151929A word on Habits

I haven’t looked like this everyday of the summer but I would guess that I’m usually about 1-3 days of slight adjustments away from this body at most times  The counter-intuitive thing that I’ve come to realize is that it has become easy for me.

On facebook today I saw a post from Brad Pilon that said:  “Hard work isn’t hard work when you enjoy doing it. Discipline isn’t discipline when it is routine and habit.”  I would echo that in my own experience, as the maintenance/practice of my diet has become so habitual that it doesn’t require any extensive mental resources, and the working out part is now second nature as well.  Even with a “summer off” I don’t feel any less able to achieve what I want.

A final note on Fasting

Intermittent fasting has been a useful tool for me to remain lean without any sacrifice of enjoyment.  As well, I’ve begun using it as a minor type of ‘therapy’ – in other words – purposely using it after any period of caloric surplus.  After a weekend away on the lake for example I have probably eaten more than usual as well as had some adult beverages – what I have done to counter this is a period of fasting immediately following such events.  For example, a couple times I have had a last meal on Sunday in the evening and then waited until dinner time the next day (a Monday) to have my next meal.  Inevitably I consume less calories that day and importantly give my body a break to repair itself as needed.


Nutritional Deficiencies – Fact or Fable?

June 29, 2013

What does the research say?

Deficiencies-graph

A good portion of the population is deficient in a variety of nutrients.

What Happens if you are Deficient?

From a physical performance stand point you won’t be able to operate at optimal levels or recover from exercise as quickly or efficiently.

From a health perspective – a near endless list of things can go wrong – from fatigue, to digestive issues, to sleep problems, to immune and hormonal issues – at its most extreme, susceptibility to various degenerative diseases goes up.

Fruits and Vegetables – Get Some (more)

Since fruits and veggies are good sources of vitamins/minerals/phytonutrients etc – it would be advisable to make sure you are ingesting them regularly (daily).

Aside from delivering all the nutrients – fruits and veggies are good as displacing foods.  In other words – if you are filling up on half a plate of broccoli, you are otherwise displacing something perhaps a little more unhealthy you might have eaten otherwise.

Variety

In order to get a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals it’s a good idea to mix up your intake.  Perhaps it’s time to experiment with fruits and veggies you’ve never tried before?

How to Make it Happen

I live by a pretty simple rule – at least 2 fruits a day and something green (broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, asparagus etc) with dinner.  In practice it’s typically more than this – but as a rule – this is a good starting point.

Let’s say you are shopping on a Sunday for the work week:  buy at least 10 pieces (or servings) of fruit and at least something green for dinner each week night.

Extra Insurance

Lately I’ve been making an extra effort to stack healthy shakes on top of my normal fruit and veggie intake.  There’s many whole food concentrates/extracts that can be purchased as extra insurance to your diet.  Here’s a picture what I have in my kitchen at the moment fruits and vegetables wise, including the various powders that I use to make my shakes.

kitchen

Putting it Together

The USDA finally moved away from the food pyramid towards a more user-friendly visual reference guide based on food proportions on a plate.  While not perfect for everyone it’s certainly a step in the right direction.  If you eat as they generally advise you’ll probably be healthier then most people.

usda

After a quick google search I came across somebodies crack at a similar breakdown that I really like.  As you may have noticed above the USDA plate didn’t really have much to say about fat.  This plate is in line with what what I consider to be balanced from a health and performance perspective.

idealplate

If you’re still a bit confused – here’s something else to think about.  While I don’t think there is one “best diet” for everyone – a general guideline based on the ideas purported from the “Zone Diet” is pretty decent.  In this diet one is recommend a near balance of all three macronutrient groups – so in other words you would get a respective third of your calorie intake from each carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Extra Credit

For those still with me and wanting to learn more – there are a couple experts in the field of nutrition who write and discuss solid research based advice for those wanting to learn more about health and nutrition.  Here are a couple samples of their materials:

Alan Aragon – The Dirt on Clean Eating

Lyle McDonald – Dr. Drew Podcast


It’s Not all Puppies and Rainbows; My Injury History and Resurgence

March 31, 2013

Over the years I’ve had some ups and downs in my fitness journey.  This post is a summary of my injury history, my subsequent decision to seek out the best professional help I could get and the “new” body I got resulting from my the work I put in.

Writing this post also gives me an excuse to insert my Body By Mitch training montage, an amalgamation of footage from the past few years:

My injuries have ultimately made me stronger

My first substantial injury, one that had lingering effects for a number of years, was sustained during high-school football.  It was mid-season in my senior year;  I started the year at middle linebacker and eventually pulled double duty as fullback because of injuries to other players.  During one game at fullback I was taking on a rushing defensive player who seemed hellbent on smashing into me as hard as he could every play.

I remember after the game a dull ache in my lower back and could tell something wasn’t right.  The next morning I was basically a hobbling mess.  I had sprained my SI joint.  The immediate pain and discomfort was helped a lot by chiropractic care but I would be plagued with recurring bouts of pain and dysfunction over the coming years as the injury flared up from time to time, never quite healed.

SI-joint

You can sprain this??

A note on Acute vs Chronic injuries

The injury to my lower back was a SI Joint Sprain.  This is what would be classified as an acute injury – one that is sustained from a physical trauma.  Falling down the stairs and breaking your leg would be an example of an acute injury.

Chronic injuries on the other hand are slow in their development and build up over time.  An example would be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome from being at a computer with poor posture for many years.

Interestingly, there’s another type of injury, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” type of injury, where an underlying chronic injury gets triggered into a full blown acute injury.  An example of this might be a torn muscle.  At first glance a torn muscle might be viewed as an example of an overload to the tissue, or in other words, an acute event.  However, there may be underlying dysfunction that has set the stage and increased the likelihood that an acute injury would happen.

So how else have I injured myself?

Shoulder Tendinitis

Just a few short years ago I started changing my approach in the gym from a classic bodybuilding type workout approach to more of a powerlifting styled workout approach.  For those who don’t know, the difference between these styles in characterized by the exercise selections and the intensity of the exercises.

While powerlifters usually focus on a small number of lifts (bench press, deadlift, squat) and focus nearly exclusive towards building strength, a bodybuilding type approach is more focused on aesthetic balance and using a wider range of exercises, and generally with less intensity but more overall volume.

BBvsPL

Bodybuilder vs Powerlifter

So I was on a quest to build my strength which involved a lot of heavy lifting.  This is where my ignorance got me into trouble.

In order to be successful at powerlifting in the long term, one must have a strong focus on technique and making sure that your lifts are done correctly for your body.  Little did I know that I was building up a chronic injury from improper technique.  My bench press numbers had never been better, 265 pounds at a bodyweight of 175, not a bad total for someone new to powerlifting.

Unfortunately my technique was pretty atrocious, and I was performing more of a neckpress then a benchpress (lowering and pressing the bar over my neck instead of my lower chest).  This technique combined with the weights I was lifting put undue stress on my shoulder.

The end result was an achy and sore shoulder that flared up any time I did a pressing movement.  A few weeks in physiotherapy and some corrective exercises and I was better.  But, no more neck pressing for me.  I learned that lesson the hard way;  it was time to learn proper technique if I wanted to stay injury free and keep progressing.

More frustrating injuries

For the next couple of years I approached weightlifting in a hybrid like approach, keeping strength as a main focus but never letting the aesthetic side be ignored either.   I was doing fine from a phyisque standpoint but in retrospect I was building up muscle imbalances and not paying enough attention to tissue quality (more on this later).

In a span of a couple of months in 2011 I managed to give myself upper hamstring tendinosis as well as sustain a type 2 adductor tear.

Upper Hamstring Tendinosis

Tendinosis is defined as an injury to a tendon at a cellular level.  Basically, where my hamstring connected to my glute was building up scar tissue (a healing response to injury) and experiencing stiffness/pain and lack of proper mobility.

highhamstringtendinopathy

This is where it hurts doc.

The upper hamstring injury was of all things, a hot yoga injury.  What I realize now is that not everybody’s body is designed or destined to be able to do every yoga move.  Unfortunately, I pushed too hard on certain moves that placed directed stress on the upper hamstring tendon.

A combination of too much strain to the one area over many sessions along with the fact that the heat was actually masking some of the pain sensations that I would have felt if it weren’t hot yoga, lead me to another chronic injury.  Unfortunately I wasn’t good at interpreting my bodies signals.

I don’t want to give the impression that hot yoga is dangerous, in fact I’ve gone back since and gotten much benefit from it.  Simply that one must pay attention to their own biofeedback (the sensations of their body) and make sure to pay attention to your own limits.

Adductor Tear

A couple months later I managed to tear the muscles on the inside of my thigh.  These muscles are very involved in sprinting and generating power for the lower body.  I was doing just that at the time – sprinting to first base in softball.  It was a sharp and immediate pain sensation.

pcsoftball

Check out the manliest softball jerseys in the history of sporting.

Something wasn’t right with my body.  I asked myself – why am I getting so many injuries in seemingly innocuous ways?

tornadductor

My leg was basically purple for a couple of weeks. This was the tail end of the healing cycle.

Time to seek out professional help.

The back-to-back injuries in 2011 caused me to step back and realize that I couldn’t continue as I was and needed to enlist some expert help.

Thanks to the reach of the internet and knowing about who’s who in the fitness community I decided that a gentleman named Eric Cressey was the ideal guy to help put me back together.  If you don’t know who Eric Cressey is – he is the equivalent of the dog whisperer for humans, but not for poor behavior, for movement biomechanics and performance.  He has carved a niche out for himself in the baseball world as the go-to guy for MLB players staying healthy and getting stronger.  He also takes on regular people like myself as clients.

I contacted Cressey Performance near Boston and booked a one-time evaluation.  On a Friday in October 2011 I drove 9 hours from Toronto to just west of Boston.  The next morning I was the first client booked into Eric’s schedule.  I was taken through a variety of different assessments to analyze how I moved and where I needed help.  From there I was given a comprehensive program to follow that would bring my body back into balance and set a foundation for healthy movement and increased performance moving forward.  It was like getting a prescription for a better body.

Jan 2012 001

Me (left) and Eric Cressey (right)- October 2011

What I learned

In any area of life I believe it is important to be able to take stock of your own situation, your talents and your limitations.  A coach or mentor can be extremely valuable in helping you to get where you want to be and often much quicker and without the pitfalls you might have encountered if you went at it on your own.  In my particular situation, it was a pretty easy decision to make to visit Eric and get his programming.

Since then, I have incorporated a lot more pre-workout warmup exercises and have taken my tissue quality much more seriously (regular foam rolling/massage).   It was really eye-opening how much of an impact proper warmups had on getting my body ready for training.

EC

This was the prescribed warm-up.

Lifting weights to an outsider might seem like a simplistic thing e.g. reduced to moving weights around and grunting.  In reality, and much like any other type of sport or physical activity at a high level, there is never-ending process of refinement and lifelong learning that goes into ones practice.

Whenever I’ve injured myself I’ve reflected on what it was like to be pain free and moving well.  It’s easy to take for granted the ability to move in a way the body is designed to, but when you compromise that ability you realize what a gift it is.  I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make myself injury resistant and strong for the future.

What you can learn from me

If you are an active person I encourage you to pay attention to what your body is telling you.  Pain and associated sensations are a sign that something is amiss.  As a general rule – don’t work through acute pain, you’ll only be doing more damage.

If you want to hit it hard in the weight room learn to monitor your tissue quality (buy a foam roller and work out your tight spots) and implement proper warm up techniques.  Chances are you are carrying around a lot of tension in your muscles.


Why You Should Eat More Fat

December 27, 2012

Sensationalist headline aside – I want to show you that there are many good reasons to make sure you are including (the right) fats in your diet.

Some people reading this may already have solid knowledge about the health benefits of fats, and if you already include ample fats in your diet then you shouldn’t necessarily increase your fat intake as this blog post title implies.  However, if you are in the opposite camp, in that you are somewhat cautious with fat intake, or outright fat-phobic, this article may help you understand the big picture better and give you some advice on how to adjust your diet to include fats for better overall health.

Interestingly, a recent Gallup poll illustrated that more Americans still believe that a low-fat diet is better than a low-carb diet.

As you can see below this trend is changing, albeit slowly.

GallupPoll

There is no reason for me to believe these numbers will not continue to move in the same direction.  It will likely take many years to undo the “low-fat is best” dogma that evidently still resides in most peoples minds.  Thankfully there are a lot of people working to show where we were collectively off the mark.  For more background, here is an article that gives some perspective:  The last days of the low-fat diet fad.

In any case, the point of this post is to highlight the health benefits of certain fats so you can make informed decisions about what to put into your body.  Without futher ado:

Why Fats Are Important

  • Fat is required to manufacture and regulate hormones.
  • For women in particular, fat helps with the regulation of hormonal cycles, including menopause and conception.  This also includes optimal thyroid function.
  • When natural growth hormones and testosterone are optimized you will see greater effects and recovery from your workouts e.g. more fat loss and increases in lean muscle tissue.
  • Fats are required for the proper communication of the neurotransmitters in the brain.  Fat provides the building blocks for myelin, the fatty insulating sheath that surrounds each nerve fiber, enabling it to carry messages faster.
  • Fat lubricates your joints, maintains healthy skin, and aids in the digestion process.
  • Fat helps the body use vitamins.  Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble which means that dietary fat aids in their absorption.

What Should You Eat – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Fats

Not all fats are created equal.  Some you will want to consume and some you’ll want to avoid.

As an overarching rule, aim for balance of fats in the diet – this would break down approximately into equal proportions of Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated and Saturated fats.  Don’t get too caught up in exact percentages, instead aim for variety and balance.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats:

  • olive oil
  • nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, etc)
  • nut butters
  • avocados

Good sources of polyunsaturated fats:

  • walnuts
  • pumpkin seeds
  • fish
  • fish oil
  • flax seeds

Good sources of saturated fats:

  • coconut
  • coconut oil
  • eggs*
  • animal meats*
  • butter*

* Better to consume these foods in a more natural state to avoid added antibiotics/hormones, e.g. free range animals raised on their natural diets.

The bad and ugly fats:

  • hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated fats and trans fats
  • most vegetable oils

In an effort to extend the shelf life of products and create cheap foods, humans have created a new breed of fats through a process called hydrogenation.  In short, this process involves treating vegetable oils at high temperatures with high pressure hydrogen gas, which results in additional hydrogen atoms being added to the fat chain.  In effect, the hydrogenation turns the oil into a new and harmful type of saturated fat (not the same as the naturally occuring saturated fats above) called hydrogenated or trans fat.

If you see hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or trans fats on the ingredients list of a product – run away!  These fats wreck havoc on our bodies and there is no nutritional need to consume them.  Hydrogenated or trans fats have been linked with:  cancer, diabetes, decreased immune function, reproductive problems, obesity and heart disease.

Foods that typically contain these fats are:  cookies, cakes, margarine, chips, doughnuts and deep fried foods.   More complete list here.

In short – most processed foods contain these harmful fats.  Once you start looking at labels you’ll be amazed.

As for vegetable oils, the reason they are included on this list is because of they are generally highly processed and include hydrogenated fats.  Oils to avoid are: sunflower, safflower, soya, corn, cottonseed, etc.  Vegetables cannot be pressed naturally to extract oil, as they have little oil on their own, unlike olive and avocado. They must be highly refined and chemically processed to extract their oils. Further, they go rancid rather quickly in your body after ingestion, causing inflammation.

Be careful what you eat!

Conclusion

Fat is essential in a balanced diet.  Consider the following analogy: try to think of nutrition as a three-legged stool where each leg represents one of the basic macronutrtients (protein, carbs, and fats).  If the diet is deficient is any one of these, that leg will be too short and the stool will topple over.  On the contrary – sufficient amounts of each will ensure a balanced diet and a balanced stool.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments section below.

 


Alone in Nature and The Power of Strangers

October 30, 2012

Last month I did something I’d never done before in my life –  I took a vacation by myself.

I spent three days hiking through Algonquin Park in central Ontario, taking in the surroundings and enjoying being alone in seemingly boundless nature.  Everything I needed for my trip I carried on my back;  from my food, to my shelter, to my personal items, my pack probably weighed north of 50 pounds.

Before the trip I spoke to a variety of people in my life letting them know about what I had been planning.  The reactions ranged from concern for my well-being (mother and girlfriend), to “what the eff bro,” to encouragement and mostly everything in between.  My sentiment when pressed to explain myself was generally along the lines of “I think it’ll be awesome!”

In the end it was a nice refreshing experience –  it was challenging, rewarding and fun at the same time.

I believe I have now distanced myself appropriately from Nature Deficit Disorder (yes, apparently it’s a thing).  For anybody reading this who feels an itch to get more nature in your life I encourage anything similar, whether that be a nice walk in a park to clear your head or if you’re as lucky as I am a few days away from it all.  Mind you, you may not be the type who can sleep deeply alone in the wilderness shared by bears and squirrels who sound like bears (because everything sounds like a bear at night when you’re by yourself in the middle of nowhere!).

I did manage to document the trip and put together a video.  I actually brought two cameras with me and ended up losing one off my pack along the way (more about that below under “The Power of Strangers”).

What did I eat to fuel myself?

Going into the trip I knew I was going to be exerting a lot of energy.   The challenge I was presented with was to bring in a lot of calories and keep the weight to a minimum.

My go-to trail food was a homemade trail-mix.  I put together a heaping bag of a variety of different dried fruits, nuts and seeds.  This served me well for the bulk of my calories (amongst some others bars, jerky and fruit).

For dinner I brought in a quinoa salad I made ahead of time that included red pepper, green onions and cherry tomatoes.  And of course meat.  I had a steak for the first night and chicken for the second.

and now …

The Power of Strangers

As mentioned above I brought in two different cameras and managed to lose one of them along the way.  One of the cameras was a basic point and shoot and the other was a wearable GoPro camera.

On the second day I had strapped the GoPro to the outside of my pack.  I didn’t take any trail footage on day one with it, as it was zipped away in one of the pockets of my bag and I hadn’t felt like stopping and digging around for it en route.  My solution for day two was to have it accessible on the outside of the pack for when I wanted to capture any cool footage.

Day two I planned on hiking over 15km’s to reach my next campsite.  I knew I had a big day ahead of me and when I left my site in the morning I put my headphones in and peeled out.  I was making pretty fantastic pace and my mp3 players shuffle mode was delivering all the right tunes.  A little over two hours later I decided to take a break and eat lunch.  It was at the moment I took my pack off that I realized the camera had detached from its harness (the harness was still attached but the camera had come off where it had been fixed).

Needless to say I was pretty bummed out.  I had covered a lot of ground and the camera could have fallen off my bag at any point over the past couple hours.  The path I was trekking was about a couple feet wide for the most part and at some points I was going over water.  I thought the chances of somebody finding my lost camera were pretty slim.  Not to mention at this point I was pretty much at the furthest point from the start of the trail, where presumably less people go to and to top it off the fall season was on its way and the leaves were beginning to fall off the trees.  But where there’s a will there’s a way!

From where I had been eating lunch I spotted a tree that would have had to have been seen by hikers going either way and I proceeded to post the following sign (including my contact info on sweet little tear-away pieces):

If you hadn’t guessed already, a few days after returning from my trip I got an email from the staff at the park saying that somebody had returned my camera with my contact info.  Sweeeeeeet!  I ended up sending them a prepaid envelope and they shipped it back to me.  The camera lives to see another day!

The power of a stranger came through (and my MacGyver note paid off!).

Strangely enough I actually have a couple more similar stories that involve lost items being returned under odd circumstances, but I’ll save those for another time.

At the end of the day I managed to have a nice getaway and my faith in everyday people was bolstered.  Pretty good deal I say!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: