Archive for February, 2008

Tabata… What the, Who the…??

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

tabata-bunny.jpgThe other day, I went out to crossfit class and did a typical crossfit style workout - a Tabata workout involving 8 sets of 20 seconds each of box jumps, squats and pushups, followed by 10 seconds of rest. 12 minutes of grueling intnsity.  After the workout, like usual, I was laid out on the floor for a bit, wondering what the hell I was doing to myself. “This is supposed to be good for me, isn’t it?” Well, is it? We all know that crossfit is a great way to get in shape and despite sometimes almost meeting pukie, once we really get moving on the crossfit road, we all see great results. But, in all honesty, can a 12 minute workout really be doing us any good? And what does Tabata mean anyway?! I set off on a quest to find out.

Unfortunately, figuring it all out means getting into the biochemical nitty gritty of things because at the end of the day, it’s all about the ATP. ATP (or Adenosine 5-triphosphate) is a molecule used by our cells for energy. When muscles contract, they use a significant amount of ATP. In order to produce ATP, our cells oxydise glucose which means that in order for us to move we require a good amount of oxygen. The O2 goes in through our mouth, to our lungs, into our blood, to the muscles that are moving where it oxydises glucose to create ATP, creating CO2 as a by-product that goes back into our blood, back to the lungs and back out through our mouths. And this is why we start breathing heavily when we workout.

For the most part, our aerobic system does all this for us - keeps our muscles energized. However, when we want to use our muscles maximally, we are limited by the aerobic system. We, as human beings, can only take in so much O2 and our cardiovascular system can only move the O2 around so quickly. The state at which we are supplying oxygen to our muscles at the highest rate our bodies can handle is called our VO2 Max. While our muscles can typically operate at levels requiring a substantial larger amount of oxygen, our VO2 max just can’t supply it all for us. So when we’re lifting really heavy or doing a high volume of highly muscular work, we quickly deplete the energy supplied by the aerobic system and look to our anaerobic system for further energy requirements for our muscles.

The anaerobic system creates the additional ATP by way of glycolysis or oxidative phosphorylation - two ATP synthesis methods that require energy packets pre-stored in our muscles. Unfortunately these energy packets are in limited supply which means that we typically have a maximum of around 2 minutes of maximal work during which time lactic acid builds up and causes that good ol’ burning muscle sensation. After anaerobic energy is depleted, fatigue will set in and max work is no longer possible. Any work from here on out will likely be mostly of the aerobic kind.

Ok - have I lost you yet? What it boils down to is that our bodies are only so efficient at using oxygen for muscular energy and we can therefore only keep up at a high intensity for a relatively short duration. If it weren’t for this constraint, we could run a 5k at 100m sprint speeds. But while we will likely never be able to run a 5k that fast, we are fortunatly able to increase our cardiovascular and oxidation efficiency through regular bouts of high intensity interval training (HIIT). By practicing workouts consisting of intervals of high intensity followed by rest periods, it has been shown that we can increase the ability of our cardiovascular system to transport oxygen to our muscles and increase the ability of our muscular cells to use the oxygen for ATP synthesis. In short, HIIT training can help us attain better endurance.

So this is where Tabata comes in. Tabata is actually the name of the Dr. who first described the 20 seconds of maximal work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Dr. Izumi Tabata of the Department of Physiology and Biomechanics at the National Institute of Fitness and Sport in Kanoya City in Japan conducted a study in 1997 to look for an ideal ratio of work to rest for interval training in order to keep someone in a VO2 max state, maximally stressing both the anaerobic and aerobic systems throughout the entire workout.  He found that the ratio of 2:1 was best and described the multiple sets of 20 seconds on, 10 off methodology. And while other ratios will strain the aerobic system, they won’t be able to top the anaerobic strain as well as 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest.

So there you have it. Tabata is the name of a guy who took interval training to the next level by suggesting the most efficient way to do HIIT and train one’s endurance levels. And with that, it makes sense why we crossfitters are subjected to the hellish workout every now and then. The Tabata is a short, intense workout that can have a significant impact on one’s overall fitness level.

The Elusive Muscle Up is Coming Out of its Shell

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

The muscle ups were hit and miss for a while there. I’d get one or two no problem one day and then the next, I’d have a world of trouble. This has been going on for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been trying to get in at least one good muscle up every day. Having the rings in my basement now makes that a little easier.

It turns out that my work is paying off. On Wednesday I managed to get 4 unbroken muscle ups in a row. It’s actually the first time that I’ve gotten more than one in a row without resetting my grip.

Here’s a vid of me making my PR, courtesy of Tracey.

Playing on the Rings

Monday, February 11th, 2008

So my rings have been installed in my basement for about a week now and despite daily use, they haven’t fallen down yet. I was unsure, initially, if I’d use them that much. Fortunately, however, any uncertainties can be laid to rest as I’ve been making regular visits downstairs in order to attempt a muscle-up or two or work on some dips and pulls.

Over the weekend I got my first at-home muscle-up. It’s a little more difficult on my home setup as the ceiling is only about 7 feet. In order for me to get a pull-up and then be able to get a dip without hitting my head, I’m forced to start from my knees. This makes it difficult to use the hip much in the pull. On Saturday, however, I managed about 5 MU’s throughout the day. Sweet.

Here’s a short flic of some of my time playing on the rings yesterday.

Food, food, food

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Food - breatharians may claim it isn’t needed, but for the overwhelming majority of us, there’s no denying that food is a critical part of life. Unfortunately, what we should eat to be healthy is a seemingly constant debate resulting in ever changing diet books and programs.

Trying to dissect the volumes of volumes of information is incredibly difficult for the average person. What makes it even more difficult for us is that none of the information is consistent and it seems that even the experts get everything wrong. If they can’t figure out what we should eat, then what’s a guy looking for a healthy diet supposed to do?

The answer is research, and lots of it. Over the last little while I’ve been reading all that I can on nutrition, attempting to not get stuck in the fads and one solution fits all kind of mentality. It’s difficult trying to make heads or tails of nutrition, but I’ve come across some great stuff that I thought I’d share.

While there are more and more “fad” diets coming out with books and all sorts of highly marketed material aimed primarily at sucking dieters dry of their hard earned cash, many of the more recent diet programs are incredibly closely related and for the most part, they follow similar principles. Atkins, Zone, Paleo, Glucose Revolution, South Beach and countless more diets all basically revolve around the idea of low carbs. While some of them such as Zone and South Beach mask the low carb idea around insulin or glycemic indecies, ultimately they paint refined, high density carbs as evil and prescribe significant amounts of protein and fat as a crucial part of the diet. Read on…

The Deadlift (and lower back pain)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

On Saturday morning, I did some deadlifts at a high intensity at 185#.  This is well below my max, but 72 hours later, my back is still killing me.  I suspect it’s just DOMS as the pain didn’t start until about 24 hours later, but I don’t doubt that I need to work on my form quite a bit as lower back pain is somewhat debilitating.

A really nice interview with powerlifter Eric Cressey is over on  Precision Nutrition.  Eric provides some good advice on technique and how the wrong technique can cause injury.  For me, I think I lift too much with my lower back instead of my hips.  Actually, I know that’s the problem.  For my next deadlifting session, I’m going to go lighter and work on form.

L-Sit on my Parallettes

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

I recently did a crossfit workout that involved a load of L-sit pull-ups. It wasn’t pretty. While I managed to do about 70 , the form was terrible and I had to drop my legs between each rep.

So I decided that I needed to work on my L-sit. The L-sit is a great skill to work on as it is one of the few exercises that has such a dramatic effect on lower abdominal and hip flexor strength. The easiest way to work on the L-sit is with a pair of parallettes.

Parallettes are essentially a small, portable version of the parallel bars. There are many schematics for building them on the net using PVC. They’re actually quite easy to put together and cost just over $20. I used the plans from Celtic Kane to make mine.

According to the drills and skills parallette training webpage, a good goal to aim for is to be able to hold the L-sit for 30 seconds. I’m nearly half way there… ok, probably not that close, but I’d like to be able to hold a nice L-sit for a significant amount of time by the end of 2008. However, having tight hamstrings or lower back muscles makes the L-sit more difficult. Unfortunately I fall into the unshockingly large category of men with near to no flexibility so my L-sit suffers.

To demonstrate, I’ve put together a short video of a few L-sits that I’ve done over the last couple of days since I built the parallettes, with some SIANspheric playing in the background.

A great resource for parallette training is the drills and skills homepage. Chock full of all sorts of gymnastics goodness.

The Rings Are In!

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

My rings came in a few days ago, shipped from I purchased the Classic Elite Rings as they are on sale for a pretty decent price.

I hung them up in the basement - used a couple of eye bolts and some clasps to secure them in place. Unfortunately there isn’t enough height to get in a muscle up (at least from a standing position), but there’s more than enough room to work on dips, pull ups and all that fun stuff.