The Handstand - It’s All in the Wrists

I’ve been working on my hand balancing for while now. It’s better - a little bit anyway. Unfortunately I think one of the missing gaps at the moment is weak wrists.

The wrists unfortunately take the majority of the burden of keeping the body upright. If you begin toppling over knees first, there is only so much you can do, but if you fall backwards (towards the back of your head), you can put pressure on your fingers to stop yourself from going over… as much as you can anyway. Thi causes some extreme work for the wrists. Wrist flexibility and strength are key elements to the handstand.

wrist_flexibility1.jpg Training for wrist flexibility is fairly straight forward. The York Hand balancing course (circa 1950) shows the following diagram for working on this diagram for some simple wrist flexibility work. Hold the fingertips and pull the wrists backwards. Easy peasy. Fortunately you can do this whenever, without any special equipment (or any particular situation).

What about working on wrist strength? Squeezing the hand shut is one method for strengthening the wrists. Stress balls are an inexpensive tool that can be brought to work or used in front of the TV without much focus. Winding up a towel and squeezing that is even less expensive. Alternatively, grip strength equipment can be purchased at most fitness stores. Are they worth it? IMHO, probably not.

Another somewhat inexpensive tool for working on wrist strength can be built fairly easily. It consists of a simple wooden dowel, some rope and a weight. I fashioned one of these this afternoon in less than 15 minutes.

Take a 1 - 2 inch thick wooden dowel, and drill a hole through the middle. Sew a 4 foot rope through it and tie a knot at the end of the rope so that the rope can’t fit back through the hole. Then tie up a weight (or two) at the other end of the rope. To use this tool, simply wind up the weight and wind it back down. Working on this magnificently simple piece of equipment a few times a week will give you some serious forearms.

Random Handstand - Crissy Field in San Francisco

Sonya recently had a conference in San Francisco so I decided to tag along with her to do some site seeing. What a great city. So much going on. Down by Crissy Field, near Golden Gate Bridge, the paths and beach were filled with people running, biking and playing. It’s just such a lively environment. Anyway, I decided to join in on the liveliness with another random handstand shot with the bridge in the background.

Deadlifts - Not Necessarily a Spectator Sport for the Queasy

I did deadlifts last night. Worked on my technique more than anything, but pushing my max lift a little higher. My form on the way up is fine, but on the way down I can’t help but lose to a rounding of the shoulders. While on lighter loads there’s no problem, once I hit around 275#, my shoulders start rounding on the way down.

That’s one thing, but once I hit around 300#, after I let the weight down, I get seriously woozy and need to take some deep breaths and put my head down. The thing about deadlifts is that they seriously tax the CNS (central nervous system - those billions of neurons from the brain through the spinal chord) from the heavy vertical weight on the spine. Plus the heavier you go, the higher your blood pressure goes. In fact, although not very common, it isn’t unheard of for one’s body to cope with the high pressure by blowing out a blood vessel, causing a bloody nose. Don’t believe me? Check this video out (I don’t know who he is, but it’s obvious he’s a strong dude - in this clip, he’s lifting 765lbs!) :

Now That’s a Little More Like It

Now that’s a little more like it.  Today I managed a 265# squat.  I think I had a little more in me, but I didn’t want to push it too much.  So no more benching more than I can squat - that was ridiculous ;)

My Max Bench Press and my Not so Max Squat

invisible bench press
see more crazy cat pics
Last night the local crossfit WOD was 3-3-3-3-3-3-3 bench presses, working our way up to our max.

The good news is that I managed a max bench of 215lbs! that’s over 40lbs beyond body weight. The bad news is… and I’m extremely ashamed to say this, but during our last crossfit total, I maxed out at a 205lb back squat. Huh? Yep - that’s right, my max squat was 205lbs and my max bench press was 215lbs. In my eyes there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

I have a feeling (and I hope) that my max squat wasn’t really my max - it was just hovering around where I though my max would be relative to the other guys doing the total with me. On my next total, I think that I should be able to do at least a 250lb back squat as a 1 rep max - hopefully even beyond that. Grrrrr…. It kinda makes me a little PO’d that during the total I didn’t try harder. Grrrr….

Where Has All the Low Carb Food Gone?

While diets like Atkins or Zone or South Beach are labeled as “fad diets” by many people, truth be told, many people enjoy great success at not only losing weight by following carbohydrate restricted diets, but vast empirical evidence suggests that going low carb can lead to better overall health. However, Canadians looking to live the low carb lifestyle are faced with a dilemma.

This weekend is my wife’s birthday. We’re having some family over for dinner to celebrate and I thought I’d take the opportunity to bake a big batch of low carb savory macaroni and cheese. The catch, of course, was that the recipe called for low carb elbow macaroni and bread crumbs. Easy enough, I thought. But after scowering half a dozen grocery stores, I was empty handed.

Faced with this problem, I looked to the Internet (as always). It turns out that I wasn’t the only one looking for some low carb pasta to no avail. Dreamfields seems to be the popular low carb pasta brand in the US, but while once sold in Canada, it is no more. Turns out that you’d be hard pressed to find any low carb products in Canadian grocery stores.

In 2003, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency made amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations, setting requirements for nutritional content and diet related health claims on food labels. Specifically, restrictions were put in place on labeling products as low carb or variants thereof. Just as grocery store shelves began getting stocked full of low carb food items, companies began pulling the items out of the Canadian market. The obvious reason - if you can’t advertise the benefits of one food item over another, then why bother even making it available in the first place.

So what are we to do? Fortunately there are options. The Low Carb Grocery, based in Toronto, has a fairly inexpensive mail order operation going on. And they have it all, including Dreamfields pasta. But if you’re looking to cook something soon and don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for your food to show up in the mailbox, you’re forced to really look hard to find something that will meet your low carb needs.

I finally settled on Catelli’s Smart elbow pasta which is a white pasta that supposedly tastes unlike the whole wheat kind but has all the fibre benefits making it the lowest net-carb white pasta that I could find. I also found a loaf of Dempster’s whole wheat bread that contains only 7 grams of carbs per slice. In fact, Dempsters was daring enough to advertise this on their packaging despite the regulations (in 2008, further amendments were made to the legislation such that companies are now allowed to advertise the carb content on food labels, so long as there are no other words involved).

But here is the crazy thing about all these low carb label restrictions. They exist, apparently, because of the lack of scientific evidence that low carb is a healthy lifestyle. Fine - despite the fact that I (and many, many others) think opposite, a fair argument can be made of that. But what about the thousands of labeled low fat or prebiotic items for sale? Not only does scientific evidence fail to find these things healthy, empirical evidence is turning up suggesting that low fat diets are actually bad for your health. So why isn’t labelling things as low fat equally restricted??

At the end of the day, it seems that government bodies sometimes feel it necessary to restrict society from making mistakes. Unfortunately they’re just like you and me and many times not only do their priorities get screwed up, they just get things plain wrong. However, with the low carb thing, enough empirical evidence does exist today that I think some further amendments should be made to the legislation to allow a reasonable use labeling to suggest low carb so that companies can begin selling their low carb items in Canada again outside of the rare specialty shops.

Interview with Gary Taubes on Good Calorie, Bad Calories

Last year, CBC Radio show Quirks and Quarks interviewed Gary Taubes, the controversial scientific writer and author of Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease. Here is said interview:

Taubes discusses the hypothesis of how the unjustified adoptation of low fat dieting throughout the medical world has caused the obesity pandemics that we see today. Very interesting and definitely worth a listen.

Nutrition Thoughts

This post is a major ramble… Apologies in advance if you’re looking for anything coherent.

If you don’t eat well, you will never completely reap the rewards of working out. In fact, not eating well can physically set you backwards, completely negating any potential gains from the gym. We take eating for granted so often, but nutrition is key to our health and well being and truly sets a base from which other aspects of our lives can either flourish or flounder.

But as I’ve said before, it’s not necessarily easy to make good nutrition choices all the time, nor do we necessarily know what good nutrition choices are. In the practical sense, we don’t really need to keep track of every morsel that we put in our mouths. We don’t need to weigh every ounce of chicken or spinach to eat healthy. In fact, it’s completely fine to indulge on ocassion without feeling guilty. We need to consume food, but we should never let what we eat consume us.

Good nutrition in 6 words: Avoid sugar, refined or processed food. Stick with this and you’re well on your way to eating healthy.

Supplement your diet. It’s nearly impossible to expect to get all your required nutrients through eating food alone. Vitamins help greatly with this. Don’t be afraid of protein powder - it isn’t just for hardcore body builders. Get lots of Omega-3’s. Fish oil!

Preparation makes eating healthy so much easier. Buy big tubs of mixed greens and use heaping handfuls as the base for you lunch. Top it with chili, chicken, bacon, egg, cottage cheese, tuna or some other high protein food source. Add some more veggies and you’ve got yourself a good meal.

Make large batches of food for dinner, on the weekend, and freeze portions for later. Make lots of left overs. When you’re not prepared, you are more likely to choose an unhealthy meal. But when you’re in a pinch, don’t feel guilty for eating a burger. Try not to load up on bagels.

Go to the bulk food store and buy lots of nuts. Buy loads of nuts and seeds. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, soy nuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, pecans. Also grab some dried cranberries and dried apricots and you’re set for snacks. Combine several cups of smashed up nuts and seeds with some whole oats and honey and artificial sweetener and bake and make your own cereal.

Watch the video linked here: Notice the pyramid. Remember the pyramid.

Yoga Heart Acrobatics

As part of my all encompassing quest to be fit, I’ve taken up a Saturday morning yoga class. My wife convinced me that it might be a nice change of pace. And it was. I’ve been seriously enjoying it. But I’ll get more into that in another article. This one’s intended to be a shorty.

While surfing some yoga video clips on YouTube (there are a lot of good ones available… lots), I came across a demo of AcroYoga. As the name suggests, it blends the asanas of yoga with the aerial gymnastic wonders of acrobatics. A juxtaposition seemingly fit for only the strongest yogi’s and yogini’s, but is a marvel to watch.

Shake up your chakras and check out part 1 of the demo yourself below. It was apparently videoed during a LuluLemon Yacht party. Boy, those sustainable apparel folk know how to party. Part 2 can be found here.

Tabata… What the, Who the…??

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

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.

Ring Training - Playing on the Rings

So my gymnastics 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 and other ring training exercises.

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. Definitely need some more ring training though =P

Here’s a short flic of some of my time working some ring training exercises yesterday.

Food, food, food

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)

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.