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.

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

What I Learned This Year

2018-11-23 11.00.48

You’re probably going to feel different about that later.

I say that to myself, a lot.

And I never regret following what flows from it.

Namely…

  • Not acting on anger.
  • Resisting the urge to “say what I really think”

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2018-11-19 16.44.04I recharge in solitude, ideally in nature.

I seek to fool myself that the solution (to everything!) lies in withdrawing from society.

I counter this faulty thinking by saying to myself… “I know you feel that way right now but you’re likely to need help, at some point, over the next 20 years.”

If you’ve ever been in a bad relationship then you might have a similar thought pattern…

…thinking that the problem lies in all relationships, not simply the bad ones.

I don’t have a mantra to help you get past your pain but I can say that my marriage is a great source of strength, stability and happiness for me.

“Better” is out there and it’s worth looking around.

Put yourself in a position to meet someone who shares your values.

Try to make yourself into the person you want to meet.

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2018-10-31 08.09.49My BIG change for 2018 was waking up earlier, way earlier.

I’m up two hours before the rest of my household.

At first I used the time to surf instagram and drink coffee on the couch.

Eventually, I started going to the gym.

“Gym Days” are better.

Not easy.

Better.

+++

2018-11-07 16.18.42-1

Life is better when I’m stronger,

Even at 49.9 years old, I’m able to be stronger than just about all my peers.

Being stronger is available to you.

Four days per week, 30 minutes per day.

Results in… better!

+++

Get up early, lift weights, be pleasant to those around you and when you are thinking otherwise remember…

…you’re probably going to feel different about that later.

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.

+++

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

Tips for Getting Jacked 2017

Everything about my life is better when I am strong.

I wanted to pass along what worked across my six month campaign of Getting Strong.

#1 – the biggest change, and challenge, for an endurance athlete… cap your cardio sessions at an hour and drop all group training. No more than two cardio sessions per day but you can walk around as much as you like! This is the only way I save the mojo to truly push myself in the gym and get-it-done.

#2 – add plyometrics // the leg blaster program that I used is here – combine with traditional gym work (focused on squats and leg press) – total time investment for the plyometrics was 12 hours over six months – outstanding return on investment!

#3 – track total movements // my plyometric routines built up to 420 movements in 15 minutes – during base training, my traditional exercises were focused on getting to 100 movements per exercise (sets of 20-25 reps with short rest) – the total gym session would be 400-500 movements (during base/prep training) – I did best my splitting plyometrics away from lifting days.

#4 – use a four-day cycle // for example…

  • Base; Cardio; Plyo; Cardio
  • Heavy Legs; Plyo; Cardio; Cardio
  • Upper Body Blaster; Maintenance Legs; Plyo; Cardio

#5 – gains come from working the legs // my entire body benefits from improved leg strength. I didn’t focus on my upper body until I had been focusing on my legs for 20+ weeks. The upper body gains came fast from a month of adding push ups, burpees and the PT Pyramid.

Most my gains are hidden: better range of movement in my knees, improved energy and being able to toss my kids around.

It was a lot of fun and I ended this block feeling jacked, rather than exhausted.

Do It Right

I’m in Week Nine of my get strong journey.

I was reminded of a few things…

Do It Right – be an exemplar via action…

Look closely and you will see that the entire system has been set up for us to succeed – we don’t need to cut corners and we should remember our good fortune with every interaction we have with other folks

With regard to strength training… even starting seven months out from next ski season… it’s tempting to rush my prep!

The next lesson is a good way to prevent injury.Work Before Work Rate – as a coach I asked my athletes to show they could do, before we worried about what they were doing.

I’ll use my squats as an example…in maintenance a squat workout might look like 2×20 @ 100 pounds (4,000 pounds of work).

In my initial phase, I asked myself to “prove” I could get through 4×25 of an exercise and not be crippled with soreness in the next 48 hours.

So the goal of the first six weeks was to get comfortable with 4×25 @ 100 pounds (10,000 lbs of work). Within the exercise, as I gained comfort, I expanded my range of movement.

Add reps & increase range.

The 100 repetition exercises have been working for me so the week seven change was 5×20 @ 135 pounds with 1 minute rest between sets (13,500 pounds). The exercise takes about 12 minutes so my work-rate has come up naturally.

Why Bother – have a specific goal, keep a log, share progress – I’ve been at this game for a long time and still benefit from peer pressure and public accountability.

Create superior lower body power endurance, across my full range of movement with strong connective tissue.

So I can… ski all day, with anybody.

Fatigue Isn’t Fatal – Focused work generates fatigue.

Specifically, when muscularly-tired heart rate will be suppressed. Remember…

  • movement is more important than performance
  • use perceived effort, rather than pace/power/HR targets
  • be willing to slowdown
  • keep my mouth shut

Pick And Stick – the most common reason we fail… we are seeking to do too many things at once.

It is not possible to improve strength, become a better lover, lose weight, improve my personality, lower my marathon time, increase work flow productivity, get promoted at the office, increase my social network, improve my relationship with my kids, write a novel and give up chocolate…. at the same time.