Making My Life Work Better

2019-11-27 16.58.34You’ll find a lot on my site about strength training. It’s a habit that’s served me well for 25+ years.

This year saw some changes. I went stale in my tried-and-tested program. I recognized my mojo was flat and wasn’t making much progress.

A few years back, a friend had done a backcountry ski program with Mountain Tactical. So I bought the latest version of that program, got to work and learned a few things. Currently, I’m using their in-season ski maintenance program. I’ll skip observations about the plans themselves and focus on general points that might apply to you.

How am I allocating my time and where is that likely to take me? Athletics, relationships, every single thing.

What is the purpose of your protocol? These days: (a) enough stress to get the benefits of exercise (cognitive & mood); (b) vanity; and (c) maintain my ability to ski & hike at a very high level.

With the MTI program, the sessions were so challenging that I needed to drop all other exercise. Dropping supplemental training probably seems obvious but, in my demographic, it’s common for people to do 1-2 extra sessions per day, and still think they are not doing enough!

The results were great. Even the nights with total exhaustion were “fun” => they made me feel like I was doing something.

Giving myself a full 24-hours to recover between sessions boosted my recovery AND reduced the mental stress of having to grind out a lower quality session when tired. It reminded me of my single-sport focus periods when I was an elite triathlete.

Within my training, I made a big demand on myself (for about an hour, 3-4x per week) then backed way off for the rest of the day. If you are finding, like I was, that all your sessions are blending into mediocre performance, with limited gains, then this tactic might help.

Seems obvious but it takes a lot of courage (for a compulsive exerciser) to back off. For example, I have a fear of weight gain and can use cardio to enable excessive eating.

Each one of us has blindspots. Mine are range of motion, quickness and coordination => fundamental components of high-level skiing. The program I bought contained box jumps, lateral jumps, side-to-side jumps, dynamic lunges, stretching and body-weight hip extension exercises. The act of seeking help gave me a nudge to do things I’d skip on my own. This works in our larger lives:

  1. Notice when your protocol stops working
  2. Seek expert advice
  3. Trim non-essential components

As an elite athlete, my “recovery” included 12-15 weekly hours of easy cardio. Easy cardio isn’t easy but that’s a different topic!

My easy-training hours have been replaced with walking, time with my wife and housework. This shift makes it easier (and more likely) to succeed within my larger life, which aims at a world-class marriage, thinking better and educating my kids.

What I value is reflected in where I allocate my time.

Attention Is Expensive

2019-10-18 07.31.22Let’s start with a story.

When I was younger, I never let a lack of knowledge prevent me from confidently sharing my theories about anything (this remains a weakness, BTW).

One day, I was holding forth and my buddy Jeff (board-certified orthopedic surgeon) chuckled and said, “I would call what you just said G-medicine.”

Later on, he took me aside and said, “Buddy, you know there’s a reason we go to med-school.”

He left it at that, which was a wise way to deal with an over-confident guy, who’s outside his field of competence.


I had some follow up questions about fasting and optimizing for one-rep max.

To address tactics, I need to step back and explain strategy.


Body, mind and spirit => What are you trying to achieve?

You need to know because attention, effort, willpower and thought are expensive.

So fasting, one-rep max, wherever you are focusing…

What is your payoff from your protocol?

Effort is expensive. Spend it wisely.


2019-11-02 06.03.09-1My philosophy is:

  1. Know your goal
  2. Keep the protocol simple
  3. Access believable people to tell you what’s required
  4. Use simple benchmarks
  5. Use habit energy to make life flow on autopilot

My protocol…

  1. No Zeros => remove days where I don’t train
  2. Get Outside the box and into nature => even if the box is a Gulfstream, or a boardroom, it remains a cubicle
  3. Seek Mastery => surfing, moguls, powder, swimming, sailing => moments of flow await!

Be honest with yourself. Is your physical life where you want it to be?

  • Work before work rate => Develop work-capacity before you do work-rate training. One-rep max is a “work-rate” benchmark that is certain to decline over time.
  • Don’t fool yourself => nobody fasts for health & longevity => we are either looking for an easy way to lose weight, or creating caloric “space” for binges.

Simple metrics let you create the habits that enable larger projects. Looking backwards over the last year:

  • < 10 zeros (days without exercise)
  • 15th year of stable body weight
  • 200+ days on trails or snow
  • 350+ days awake before 5am

I know I could be more, too much time is wasted on my smartphone.

I must remember that life is empty without connection. So be open to change based on painful feedback from my closest relationships => my wife and kids are brutally honest with me!


Higher Order Effects

I have empty space in my life so I can reflect on where my actions are likely to take me.

  • I have an addictive personality in a family tree with mental illness, addicts and eating disorders. Kinda indicates caution with self-starvation! Respect your history.
  • Be cautious with putting pressure on your spinal column, heavy lifts and explosive movements. Powerlifting injures can be for life. Respect reality.

Where are you likely to go with your protocol? You OK with that?

What’s the worst that can happen? You OK with that?


Fragilities

What is going to derail you?

My depression triggers are: poor nutrition, irregular sleep, alcohol, missed endorphins and excessive fatigue.

My entire life is a positive-feedback loop designed to keep me rolling.

Much of my “not do” advice is related to the risk of ruin. My depression triggers are defined as fun by my peers.

I need to be OK with saying “no” because… Depression isn’t fun.


Nature Has Useful Information, even if unpleasant

As you age it will be tempting to access Big Pharma to fool yourself, particularly if your self image is wrapped up in physical performance.

Before you act, consider…

What’s your competitive advantage? I think better, and choose slower, at 50 than 28. Taking myself to 11 with testosterone would GREATLY increase my error rate, across all domains. Not worth it.

My competitive advantage is taking the best ideas and integrating them via new habit creation. I can do this until I die.

Fatigue is information that guides me away from physical ruin => my mojo feels like it’s a tenth of where I was at 40, but my life is better because I am a better person.

Once again, overriding nature greatly increases my risk of injury. Injury can be the first step on a downward spiral towards depression/ruin. Not worth it.

Surprisingly, getting physically worse isn’t worse.


Anyhow, lots here.

When it comes to positive change: set a low bar, and do it daily.

I live near a cemetery, which helps me remember my expected value is negative infinity.

Death is an outstanding reason to be true to yourself.

Vision Sixty

2019-08-20 07.58.18Seven years ago, I asked my smartest pals to share their experiences with sabbaticals. It was a very useful exercise. Rather than a sharp, and sudden, sabbatical, I made a choice to change slowly. I gradually shrank my working life and replaced it with more family engagement.

Over the last year, I’ve been tapping my supervet buddies in a similar exercise. I am asking about their 50s => any lessons, any tips, how’d you find it?

2019-08-20 06.26.25The answers have been all over the map.

  • Everything gets easier
  • Worst decade of my life
  • Best years of my life

ZERO consistency in what people say, but clear themes when I look at what they actually do. They keep on, keeping on.

Despite what we tell ourselves, there is little practical decline through 60. Obviously, I’d be miles behind my 37-year old self in any sort of race. However, even in my sedentary pals, it’s more of a “slowing down” than a decline (in function). I saw this in the supervet athletes I coached. A clear, annual, decline didn’t start to happen until ~70 years old.

In comparing me-with-me, there’s very little lifestyle change forced upon us. The changes are more about coming to terms with “less.” Less vision, less skin tone, less aerobic capacity, less recovery capacity…

Middle age struggles tie back to seeking “more” => relationships, heart problems, injuries, dissatisfactions… the damage comes from the stresses of striving.

My happiest older pals have found a way to come to terms with what they have, and what they’re not going to have.

2019-08-20 08.53.10-1

If “more” is going to challenge you then it will be obvious (injuries, depression, a-fib, drama, binging, addiction).

I like to remind myself, “Reality is enough.”

My mind is ALWAYS spinning ideas for more. I pay close attention to how “more” makes me feel – exhausted, neglecting my family, worried I’m going to get caught out.

2019-08-17 09.20.59Get your winning done early and pay attention each time you taste a lack of satisfaction after striving.

Look deeper into your drive, passions and interests => what lies beneath your compulsions?

For example, I like spending time in forests – my speed of movement through the forest is something I track, but has no impact on my satisfaction.

What’s your gig? My gig is sharing a connection to nature with people I love.

The “lack” is deeper than the “more” we seek. I had to back off to find out that satisfaction was behind me.

2019-08-15 17.22.14How would you describe your desired outcome over the next 5-10 years?

Active, polite, easy-going, positive. These are the traits of my older pals that I enjoy spending time alongside.

Strength & Training Strategy at 50

2019-07-07 09.01.30Strength gives me better choices.

Specifically:

  1. Maintain muscle mass
  2. Challenge my connective tissue
  3. Strengthen my shoulder complex (to survive my inevitable crashes)
  4. Get the bio-chemical benefits from working large muscle groups anaerobically

2019-07-07 08.45.03

My base period needs to be longer: I was very consistent with strength maintenance across the ski season. As a result, I lost less strength than prior years. However, I was WORKED at the end of the season and my mojo stayed flat for a long time when I returned to more focused strength training.

Two, maybe three, “good” sessions per week: At 50, I go flat quickly! I need to be humble with the load I put into myself.

I split upper and lower body days: in order to do quality exercises, and recover, I split my workouts across the week:

  • Monday/Thursday – lower body
  • Tuesday/Friday – upper body
  • Wednesday/Saturday – plyo (~7 minutes total per day)

Very little sustained intensity: I lose a lot when I get sick and can’t train. Put another way, my ability to go training is more important than my training ability. A calendar of events would certainly push me to do more (likely for less benefit).

I go to the gym to be around people (even if I don’t speak to them!): the core of my program has been the same for 20 years. It would be easy to set it up in my garage. However, part of my “feel better” seems to come from the gym process. The most time-efficient setup isn’t always best.

My aerobic goal is “about an hour, every day.” I’ll go longer when I can hike trails with my wife or son. I do a bunch of walking on top of the aerobic exercise.

Learning to navigate the physical decline of middle age is a benefit of middle age.

The days that start with training are clearly better.

Pay attention to better.

2019-07-07 08.54.56

Chronic Endurance

2019-06-17 13.27.54A friend’s question gave me a nudge to flesh this out.

My pal asked, “am I damaging my health by pursing my endurance dreams?”

The science seems clear => you are very, very unlikely to screw up your health by exercising. Most everyone could benefit from exercising a little more often.

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However…

My demographic is different than the general public.

Call us the “screw the limit” exercisers.

What about us?

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I’m fortunate to have a group of endurance mentors that are moving through their 60s, 70s and 80s with many, many, many (!) years of chronic endurance training under their belts. Some of their hearts, and joints, are coming off the rails.

It’s tempting to “blame” exercise for their issues but that ignores the problems they avoided through exercise (high blood pressure not received, depressions not experienced, diabetes not developed, harmful addictions successfully managed).

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That said, whenever I find myself asking a question about excess, the fact that I’m asking is, in itself, part of the answer.

If you’re already exercising daily then you’re not going to find any doctor to advise you that you need to ramp that up by a factor of 2-5x.

…and you may find yourself reaching out to someone like me to get comfort that it’s OK to do a little less.

In doing a little less, but continuing to exercise daily, you will reduce your risk of ruin.

“Ruin” being the loss of the benefits from daily exercise.

Risk of ruin is what encouraged me to do less.

Immune system failure, bike crashes, lower leg injuries, death by avalanche/car accident… each is extremely inconvenient.

In doing less, I discovered unexpected benefits of eliminating chronic endurance => improved sex drive, better cognitive ability, happier joints, less cravings and additional muscle mass.

If you’re under 50, or pre-menopausal, then my benefits list will make more sense in a few years!

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What about that Tour de France study about longevity? (abstract linked)

While extreme, I’m not writing about Tour athletes.

Chronic endurance is about chasing podiums for decades after your elite career.

It’s not surprising TdF athletes live longer than their peers. The constitution required to get to the start line creates a special cohort.

A better cohort to review is “masters age-group champions” across 10, 20, 30, 40 years and compare them to “daily exercisers”.

There’s not much money to be made studying healthy people so I wouldn’t hold your breath on seeing my alternative study!

Frankly, I wouldn’t expect there to be much difference in longevity. You’d be studying two healthy populations.

Our findings underpin the importance of exercising without the fear that becoming exhausted might be bad for one’s health.

Lifespan isn’t the point.

Being exhausted is horrible for our relationships.

Look around and you will see that relationships are what we lack in later life, particularly if our favorite hobbies involve being alone… 😉

Quality of life and keeping a lid on my risk of ruin… that’s what interests me these days.

None of these benefit from chronic endurance.

 

Being Fifty

2019-03-23 14.56.18I expected a lot more physical decline!

The decision to phase out athletic competition was one of my best.

So much chronic fatigue is gone and replaced with healthier pursuits (strength training, human relationships, being-a-better-man projects).

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2019-03-17 08.11.54If I could give you one thing to achieve for your 40s then it would be to write down, how you get in your own way.

That’s one of the best things about getting older. The repeated mistakes make it obvious what’s going on.

Three post-it notes are enough for me:

  1. Don’t act on anger.
  2. Are you sure?
  3. What do you want to have happen? What do you think will happen?

All three are stuck to my computer monitor.

That’s my “what not to do” list.

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2019-03-13 16.07.22What about my “to do more often” list?

My 40s happened to coincide with the Great Recession, preschoolers, the death of my last two grandparents, a massive corporate insolvency and periodic unemployment.

Some years were better than others.

It took a decade to arrive back where I started:

  • A feeling of control over my schedule
  • Daily exercise: ideally, in nature
  • Teaching: kids, instead of clients
  • Seeking Mastery: skiing, instead of triathlon
  • Learning: how to think, act and be better

The core structure of my days, my values and what I enjoy to do… all are unchanged from my 20s.

What remains undone?

Strength Training – Base One 2018

My ideal ski day is… skin 3,000 vertical feet, ski back down before the resort opens, second breakfast, alpine ski 20,000 ft of bumps, lunch with my wife, and finish with 10,000 feet of steeps in the afternoon.

Being able to enjoy this day is the goal of my training.

My program is focused on range of movement, strengthening connective tissues and slowing the loss of lean body mass.

Four things from 2017:

  1. The plan worked – radical change isn’t required.
  2. I can gain muscle in my late-40s — train, eat normally, get jacked — we have been conditioned to believe strength loss is inevitable. Signs of decay are evident in my skin and recovery but my strength is hanging on. I’m fueled on real food, coffee and water – that’s it. Don’t even bother with vitamins.
  3. Acute soft tissue injury is my greatest risk – therefore, compound lifts, with full range of motion, are more important than putting up big numbers.
  4. My strength peaked four months before I started skiing a lot. A longer base period fits for injury prevention and a target of being really strong in September/October.

To keep me honest, I’ll keep you posted.

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Base One (36 Workouts)

  • Twelve of each session
  • Twice a week for six weeks
  • Split across the week
  • Twelve hours of time invested (Huge Return on Investment)

Lower Body

  • 4×25 squat #95
  • 4×25 leg press #140 (sled #118)
  • 4×10 single leg press just the sled
  • Leg ext 4×25 each side #20 alt by side
  • Single hip bridge each side 4×10 alt by side
  • Calves 4×25 alt by straight/bent knee

Upper Body

  • 4×25 pull downs (front)
  • 4×25 assisted dips
  • 4×25 sit ups
  • 100 push ups (for the day)

Plyometric Half Blaster (x5 on 30s rest)

  • 10x Air Squats
  • 5x In-Place Lunges (5x each leg, 10x total)
  • 5x Jumping Lunges (5x each leg, 10x total)
  • 5x Jump Squats

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My Endurance Corner articles on strength are here – the links will go down eventually as it’s an old version of the site – good stuff that helped me when I was a high-performance athlete