Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why DHA/EPA of Omega 3's (like fish oil) are Anti-Inflammatory - Q&A with G.Fear, RD

Perhaps you've heard that one of the benefits of omega 3's like fish oil or algae oil is good for among other things, anti-inflammation. Some folks tend to blend things like glucosamine as well with fish oil to enhance anti-inflammation around joints in particular. Have you ever wondered why this stuff works or what the difference is between glucosamine, omega 3's and even what eric cobb refers to as Vitamin I, the NSAID Ibuprofen?

The following is part of a discussion with Georgie Fear, RD (of, author of the awesomely easy and tasty Dig In recipe book.

The discussion took place on Precision Nutrition's Forum a little over a year ago. (by the way, this exchange is typical of the kind of discussion at PN - here's more about Precision Nutrition if you're interested).

So, the question was to unpack fish oil, glucosamine and NSAIDS. To begin, so how are fish oils anti-inflammatory?
Georgie Fear:

Twenty-carbon long omega 6 and omega 6 fatty acids are metabolized in cells to eicosanoids, which are signaling molecules. Cyclooxygenases and lipoxygenases produce the eicosanoids from either arachidonic acid (omega 6) or eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] (omega 3). The eicosanoids derived from omega 6 fats are potently inflammatory while those coming from omega 3 oils are antiinflammatory.

Critical Bit for Diet: Because the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids compete for the cyclooxygenases and lipoxygenases, the balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fats in the diet will influence the overall inflammatory or antiinflammatory effect. Skewing the diet with more omega 3's and less omega 6 produces fewer inflammatory eicosanoids, becuase the omega3s outcompete the 6s for the metabolizing enzymes.
Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS, like ibuprofen) work similarly, by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase which converts arachidonic acid to inflammatory prostagandin H2. (Ever heard of COX 2 inhibitors, like vioxx? COX = cyclooxygenase) Acetaminophen (Tylenol) has less anti-inflammatory effect, and the mechanism(s) by which it reduces pain aren't totally known. I've read that it may also involve the cannabinoid system in the central nervous system, but I'm not an expert in that so I cant give much detail.

Glucosamine is totally different. It helps mainly with osteoarthritis because it is a building block for the gycosaminoglycans which make up the cartilage in joints. Taking glucosamine can help rebuild the cartilage and cushion joints where the layer has broken down. But as far as I'm aware it doesn't act so directly on the inflammatory cascade.

mc - so fish oil is competing for the Cyclooxygenases but NSAIDS inhibit their production. is that right? Also, on another point: NSAIDS have some icky side effects - in particular water retention. hate that.

Close, the omega 3's outcompete with omega 6s for the COX enzymes, while the NSAIDS inhibit the cyclooxygenases' activity altogether. (So the production of inflammatory eicosanoids is lessened. )

Of course there are more details, like COX1 vs COX2 vs COX3....hence all the different painkillers with different efficacies and side effects. The specificity of different drugs for each isoform varies.

Another anti-inflammatory group of compounds which can be obtained from foods are anthocyanins, thats what my PhD thesis research actually focuses on. I'll skip the mindnumbing detail, but the blue/purple compounds which give the bright colors to blueberries, blackberries, red cabbage, etc are also great functional foods for combating inflammation. And cancer, and diabetes...and cardiovascular disease......

There has been research done in which consuming about 10 tart cherries a day is equivalent to taking a daily aspirin. Personally, Ive seen remarkable benefits of eating fish (oil) and anthocyanin-rich foods in a few clients with rheumatoid arthritis. Not a scientific study, just my own experience. :)

mc so would you say tho that fish oil is going to "mask" an injury??

No I wouldnt say so. Fish oil does nothing to your pain perception, so its not like you will be fooled into thinking an injury is gone when it isn't. It may reduce the discomfort caused by inflammation such as swelling, and in some cases, inflammation actually makes the injury worse. So perhaps taking fish oils could reduce the severity of the injury. Somewhat like applying ice and compression to a sprain keeps the swelling minimal and it heals faster than if you never iced it. [mc -hmm on the ice analogy - a b2d article in the offing about what we really do know about ice or not...]

I'd say its more part of the healing process than masking an injury.

additional thought: anti-inflammatories don't shut off ALL inflammation, (that would not be good!) they just tone it down a bit.

Timing of ingesting fish oil?

The funny thing here is that fish oils don't work on such a short-term basis. Its not like taking them one day or not would make a difference that day. Fatty acids you eat all the assimilated into the phospholipid membranes of all your bodies cells- the downstream effects of the fatty acids are affected by overall fatty acid pool in your body (in this case the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio) - and that doesnt change in one day of taking or not taking fish oils.

So now you know! Taking omega 3 sources rich in EPA like fish oil is a Good Idea for healing and inflammation processing. For folks taking Algae Oil for omega 3 content, algae is higher in DHA than EPA. Work has also considered the effects of DHA on inflammation, and it's looking very good here too. Very new work considering DHA in the mix with EPA on COX2 in particular is strong. Likewise an article from the future (pub date 2010) equates DHA and EPA for their anti-inflammatory benefits. In other words, you can remain a vegetarian and get all these anti-inflam benefits.

Overall, another take away is that upping the ratio of Omega 3's to Omega 6's (eg eggs) may be a good idea for well-being.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Georgie Fear's Dig In: The new easy, fast, tasty, satisfying recipe book from B2D's RD on the go - prelim Review

How many people do you know enjoy eating but are not what you'd call drawn to the kitchen to create tasty nosh for nibbling? For whom a microwave is safe but a stove is one black box too far? Hands up anyone?

If you do know anyone that fits this description, finally there is a very cool, fast, easy, healthy and most of all wonderfully tasty, satisfying cook/recipe book for you - to give to them, of course. Tis the season. It's Georgie Fear's DIG IN.

Georgie is b2d's go to gal on nutrition. Her knowledge has informed critiques of certain diets and more recently opened up discussion on the role (or not) of additional food enzymes for digestion. In Dig In, Georgie shows she not only knows food science, but good food.

I stand amazed at her talent for seemingly seeing a neat can of something interesting on a store shelf and producing a super tasty recipe to include this item. And that's cool: Georgie does not shun the prefab when it's healthy.

Here's an example of Georgie goodness mixing up products:

Calling all nut lovers…..

You just might faint when you try this yummy product! If you love nuts so much you can’t decide between them, some one has developed a delicious answer! It’s called Nuttzo, and it’s a nut butter made from not just peanuts, but cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds hazelnuts, brazil nuts and flax seeds too. Talking about having it all! Nuttzo is made from all organic ingredients with just a touch of sea salt to bring up the flavor. The dose of flaxseeds make it a rich source of omega-3 fats, one that definitely tastes superior to fish oil! Adding nuts to your diet is a great way to get vitamins, minerals, protein and heart healthy fats that help keep you full. I say aim for 1 ounce of nuts, or 2 Tablespoons nut butter for your daily dose.

The crunchy pieces of nuts and flax throughout give Nuttzo lots of texture and crunch, and the jar is cleverly designed with an upside down label for easy stirring. It definitely has a more complex nut flavor than peanut butter, which brings a new side to classics like PB&J. I also used it to whip up some yummy pumpkin nut butter muffins, recipe below. (Now if I could only bottle the smell emanating from my oven…..) Until then, you’ll have to try some Nuttzo to enjoy it yourself.

I found it online, but unfortunately here on the East Coast it isn’t any stores, but you can find it all over California. Best of all, the small company is family based, and supports good causes such as Project Left Behind which offers love, nourishment and care for orphans around the world. If you’re interested in a very unique nut butter with a unique story behind it and a truly heartfelt cause, check out

nuttzo and muffins

Nuttzo Pumpkin Muffins

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups Splenda or sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 T canola oil

1/2 cup Nuttzo multi-nut butter


(1/2 cup chocolate chips, optional)

Spray a 12-muffin tin or use paper liners, and preheat oven to 350.

Mix all the dry ingredients (flour through Splenda) in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the applesauce, pumpkin, oil and Nuttzo and mix well. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, stirring after each addition. (If desired, add chocolate chips last). Divide batter between muffin cups and bake for 25-28 minutes, or until tops spring back lightly when touched.

Be sure to breathe deep and bask in the pumpkiny, spicy, nutty aroma.

The photos are Georgie's and they're fab. Every dish of every post, and every page comes with real-world, not photoshopped images of what you can expect from the dish.

And for a more strictly from scratch full meal deal, from Georgie's site, how about pot roast? With Georgie, it's SO MUCH easier than we might think:

This slow cooker meal requires very few ingredients and even less work! Meals this effortless feel like cheating. :) But I love ‘em. Using the slow cooker is a great way to cook cuts of meat, like top round, which are low in fat and can end up being too dry for other cooking methods. As an added bonus, the leanest cuts of meat can be among the most affordable, so it’s a win-win-win: get that slow cooker out if you’re lazy, cheap, or want to eat less fat. All three? What are you waiting for?

I put this together one night in just a few minutes, and kept it in the fridge until morning. Then, all I had to do was set the crock to cook on Low, and when I came home… I was welcomed by a delicious aroma filling my home, and a tender, flavorful beef dinner.

The first night I ate it with some plain cooked carrots, but by the second night I had a new idea: to soak up the flavorful broth (which reminded me of French Onion soup) I stirred in half a cup of barley, and let it cook for about 40 minutes. I’ll admit, that was one of my better ideas, because it was perfect. The barley added some whole grain goodness, hearty texture, and filling complex carbs to recharge me after a tough run.

Balsamic and Sweet Onion Pot Roast


1.75 lb top round beef (aka London Broil), trimmed of all fat

Montreal Steak seasoning, paprika, garlic powder

1 tsp canola oil

1 large sweet onion

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup water

Season beef on both sides with steak seasoning, garlic, and paprika. Heat the oil in a large pan until very hot, and brown beef on both sides. Slice the onion into thick rings, and place in bottom of slow cooker. Place meat on top. In a small bowl, stir together tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, and water. Pour over beef. Place lid on crock and cook for 6-8 hours on low.

If desired, add 1/2 cup barley for the last 30-45 minutes. (Stir it into the liquid.)

Makes 6 servings

Nutrition facts (without barley): 290 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 48 grams protein

How much easier can it get? As Georgie says of her inspiration for Dig In:

I wanted to make recipes that were interesting enough to make you want to eat them, without being so complicated that you don't want to cook them. I try to keep ingredients short, procedures brief. WHen I make muffins: it's dry stuff in one bowl, wet stuff in one bowl, add one to the other. Stir. Bake. I like streamlined, so if I dont think it makes a difference, say, what order you add ingredients, heck just chuck them in.

I'm not sure which is more inspiring: the simplicity of the ingredients lists/instructions, or the succulent-ness (is that a word?) of the images that accompany the recipes.

Lest folks think Georgie doesn't do vegetarian meals as well, there are LOADS of veggie friendly recipes. Indeed, if you're interested in the non-meat dishes only, there's a subset version, vegetarian only, of Dig In.

The Essentials: Just to really be clear on how straight forward (and dorm friendly) Georgie's recipes are, here's what you'd need if you wanted to make every recipe in Georgie's book, and few actually require a stove.

Measuring Cups & Spoons
Large Frying pan (1)
Sharp knife
Cutting board
Bowl/Plate to eat off of
Big mixing bowls (2)
Large baking dish (13x9)
Cookie sheet (1)
Can opener
Pot (for pasta, soup, etc)
Muffin Tin

See? ideal for either student dorm or busy profesh.

Gifts that Go Great Together. If you're thinking of gifting someone you love (or just care about) with this great book to help them get a little healthier, a little happier in their eating choices, you might want to add one of the utensils that may be missing from their kitchen, and tie it to a card with either the link to download their copy of the book OR you can also if you prefer, order a hard copy - fun for physical wrapping to be sure. Check the site: you will be amazed at how affordable this book is. For what's in it, i'm well surprised. When online ebooks sell for 39.99 for rehashing push ups you will be amazed at what good value (and price) this book is, and it's all original content (hint it's way less than 39.99).

Sharing the Goods It's a pleasure i find to be able to promote a great product, let folks know about stuff i've found to work really well, that you might find useful, too. When that product is from someone you've had the opportunity to connect with, that's even better, you know?

So let me help introduce you, as well, to a cool person. I mentioned in the title of this post that Georgie is a registered dietician - she's also a fitness trainer, published researcher and PhD student. If you'd like to learn more about how someone who seems to be rather busy with academics and job can find time to write up super recipes in such a gorgeous way, please take a look at my interview with Georgie Fear over at b2d's sister site for geeks who want to be healthy too, iamgeekfit

Let me know if you get this collection for yourself or for someone you want to see food empowered, and let me know what you think. In the meantime, consider not only getting Dig In, but adding a link to Geogie's site to your rss reader or mailer. There's new recipes all the time, and they're grand.


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Monday, November 23, 2009

Precision Nutrition Sale! The best source to Learn about figuring out the best Nutrition and Healthy Eating FOR YOU

This Wed., Nov 25, Precision Nutrition is having a sale. Mark it down. For folks at b2d who mayn't know, this is an approach to nutrition i recommend to folks who are new to thinking about food and health in a real way, who want to lose weight or gain mass, and are sick of dieting. PN is not a diet; it's a set of habits that by practicing them, you'll get to know what works for you with eating. So yes, i think it's a great way to learn about how a person individually connects with food and what will be successful for them with eating.

I was recently asked why i'm a fan of PN. This is what i said.

Baseline: Know Thyself I’ve written about this lately. Very few of us have any real baseline understanding of what works for us how in terms of the food we eat. We don’t really know ourselves with respect to food. Precision Nutrition is focused around eating habits first rather than calories.

That’s used as a vehicle to get to a place where we can know that first and foremost we’re consistently getting a basic set of required foods into us for a good nutritional balance. From there, we can use that basis as a platform from which to test other things.

Individual Responses to Food: how do you know? One of the big things tested for example is carb tolerance. So rather than saying starchy carbs bad, Berardi’s approach is: hold off starchy carbs to when we know they’re really needed – after workouts.

Do this regularly for a month so we have a clean slate, and then see what happens after that if you have some starchy carbs at other times. It may be that Person A can totally handle them but Person B cannot.

As a science geek, this get to a baseline then based on that knowledge, experiment makes so much sense. It’s a great way to get to know yourself with respect to food. I think we all deserve getting that self-knowledge around our nutrition. Otherwise, we’re simply lead by external proposals: starchy carbs bad; eat once a day, only eat fat from grass fed beef. Well ok, in what universe and for whom do these prescriptions make optimal sense?

So I used to be pretty religious about PN as a practice. Now, as said, it’s a really great way to get some core nutritional understanding about ourselves and to learn how to adjust foods for our goals.

Measurement GuideMonitoring Success. So many ways Another part of PN that I like is that it also spends quality time on how to monitor progress for body comp related goals.
This is no small thing. Lots of folks are trapped with just the scale and when we see it stalling or going the wrong way or whatever, we can freak out. Meanwhile there may be tons of good stuff happening: upping lean body mass, better girth measures, besides better health. This program has the best most thoughtful step by step guides for taking and charting those measures [the Results Tracker service makes it easy to chart all these measures too -mc]

And likewise, as I’ve said in reviews, its forum is filled with experts who participate in discussions. I'd pay for PN just to get access to that forum.

I don’t know of a better place to get answers to nutrition queries based on science and experience without being dogmatic. Along with the PN individualization guide, it was the folks on the forum during my initial foray into leanness that helped me work through what felt like stall outs. That was GOLD.

A number of folks I respect there have been exploring intermittent fasting or eating only when hungry, and so on. But they’re all doing it from this fundamental base of knowing themselves around food, and PN has played a role there.

Right now I’m going through my first ever bulking phase. Normally if I saw these numbers going up on the scale I’d panic. But (a) I know how to assess what of that is fat and what’s muscle progrees and (b) I know how to come back from this process. And that’s because of the approaches I’ve learned more at PN than doing various coaching/training certifications. It’s the full meal deal. And I haven’t even started about the expert training advice available there. (If you're interested though, here's a two part, very detailed review of PN)
So if this sounds good to you, here's what's on sale:
we're going to offer the Precision Nutrition System, including Gourmet Nutrition V1 and an all-access membership to our private Member Zone, plus a 1-year subscription to our Results Tracker program [usually 59.00 a year], and free shipping to the US and Canada [14USD]. All for $99.00. In other words, for the price of the PN system alone, folks also get a year's worth of results tracking AND and free shipping (US and Canada; we'll also take $10 off all international orders).
As said, for me, PN is the best foundational place i've found to learn about food, nutrition, eating. You can get as much into the science of it as you want, or just get help (just! ha!) on how to get lean and healthy, or HUGE like tank.

In other words, it's not a diet, it's an approach, support, knowledge - wherever you're coming from on your path with eating, PN will get you higher up and further in with excellent reality based support, knowledge, expertise. It's a fabulous resource. Check out the new page: it will show you all the components, including the vegetarian sensitive stuff to boot!

Let me know what you think.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Z-Health Essentials of Elite Performance Workshops: Hands on Z-Health Including Self-Assessments - way cool

Some folks have heard awesome things about z-health: it provides techniques to help us move better, move out of pain, move into efficient athletic performance, improve that performance to achieve & surpass goals. Cool. The usual paths to exploring Z-Health have been either via the R, I &/or S DVDs, a z-health trainer (here's a list to find one near you), or doing a Z-Health cert like R-Phase. Now there's one more and it is so way cool: the Essentials of Elite Performance Workshop

This 3day workshop that started (i believe) with Dragon Door acting as host for the past two years, only offered via DD and only once a year, that provided a three day overview of three core parts of Z-Health: R (dvds | review), I (dvds | review) and S (dvds | review), a day on each. Now Z-Health is offering these workshops, lead by founders Eric Cobb and Kathy Mauck, internationally.

For UK trainers, we are in the process to have the workshop REPS certified. In the US, i believe the process may already be complete of having the workshop listed for CEU's with the various sports certification groups. Will check.

The next one, i'm very pleased to say, is happening in London, Feb 5-7, 2010.
The one after that is Boston, March 5-7, 2010. There will be more (see the z-health calendar).

You can register by hitting the highly descriptive banner below, or using this link

What's Covered And Why Attend. This workshop is a fabulous way to check out the Z-Health program beyond the drills on the DVDs, get a hands-on check of your own practice if you've been using the DVDs - or a full, theory-meets-practice overview if you're interested in the performance benefits of the approach either as a coach or an athlete. There's stuff in here, too, that isn't covered in the certs. So this is more and other than a "best of" the Z-Health certs. It is a workshop in its own right, geared to give an athlete/trainer the theorerical and practical foundations for making our practice closer to that Perfect Rep i've spoken of before.

Indeed, at a recent Z-Health certification, we were told that even though we've gone through each of the certifications, attending this Essentials workshop is a Good Idea as there are a range of self-assessments taught that are unique to the workshop. Dang, there's more? There's more. So whether you're a trainer or an athlete there's material here to benefit everyone's practice. You can tell i'm jazzed about this, eh? And because already highly trained Z-Health trainers are encouraged to participate, you'll find yourself likely surrounded by folks who can help you get even more from the weekend experience with expert hands-on assistance.

Curriculum. The following if from the workshop page on the Z-Health site, to give you a sense of the curriculum.

Day 1 introduces the basic principles of the Z-Health system from our Level 1 Certification R-Phase (Re-education, Restoration, Rehabilitation).


1. How Z-Health targets the body's governing system, the nervous system for lightning fast results.

2. Neural training principles that will FINALLY help you sort out fact from fiction in the confusing world of fitness.

3. Dozens of dynamic joint mobility drills that can instantly create dramatic changes in your posture, strength, power, flexibility, and coordination

4. Ways to harness the governing law of human physiology, the SAID principle, to super-charge your training and results.

5. Powerful self-assessments for precise, on-the-spot decision-making to always know if a drill or exercise is the right one for you or your clients. [this is gold. period. it's also the heart of the z-health ethos: assess, test, re-assess. you need to know how to check if what you're doing is making a positive effect or not. With the focus on the nervous system, that response comes back immediately with the tools on how to evaluate that response -mc]

6. The neural principles that govern how your muscles, nerves, and joints MUST interact for truly effective and pain-free movement.

7. The six must-do high-payoff joint mobiity drills for everyone.

Day 2 shows you how to take the building blocks from R-Phase to the next level and beyond by introducing you to the principles of our Level 2 Certification I-Phase (Integration), which focuses on drills to remove the road blocks to your natural athleticism.


1. The Z-Health athletic movement template – your guide to athletic movement mastery.

2. Your body's Neural Hierarchy (visual, vestibular, & proprioceptive) and how problems in any of them can put the brakes on your strength and performance.

3. How your visual muscles function reflexively and how to use this information to make immediate gains in your strength, speed, flexibility, and mobility.

4. Visual and vestibular (balance) self assessments that will make your nervous system run like a fine-tuned machine. [this is a great component of the course -mc]

5. The seven essential balance training drills for real-world performance. [this is a great component of the course, and it has NOTHING to do with stability balls or bosus. you will be happily impressed. -mc]

Day 3 builds on the athletic movement foundation you established in I-Phase by focusing on precise sports mechanics essentials taken from our Level 3 Certification, S-Phase (Sports Phase).


1. The difference between your eyesight (20/20) and real-world sports vision skills.

2. 10 different sports vision assessments that will show you how to develop the eyes of a pro. [ok, this one is huge both for yourself to self check and for any athletes you may train from the very young to the elite. These simple checks can lead to profound and IMMEDIATE performance differences. no kidding -mc]

3. The Quickness Hierarchy and why there is more to your speed than just raw musculuar horsepower.

4. 6 biomechanical movements that will quickly become the foundation of your newfound sports speed.

5. 5 specific drill sets to help you master the mechanics needed for maximum linear speed and explosiveness.

6. Multiple ways in which you can utilize every drill you've learned to maximize your total body explosive power.

[each of the above speed associated suites is awesome. If you ever thought you were a slow person (me, hands up), these drills/techniques will help change your mind. I keep saying immediate, but really the benefits are that fast: do the drill, you get the blast off. IT's not muscular; it's technique. very cool]

But Wait! There's more. Really. So this is cool, right? Learn an awful lot of performance assessing/enhancing tools in 3 days. It does get a wee bit better. If you decide at the course that you want to get into Z-Health and certify, considerable %'s of your workshop fee, up to the complete fee, will get applied to the cert fees. The value of an already super workshop in its own right gets extended to support your education further. That's kinda cool.

And of course, like all Z-Health's products there's a 100% satisfaction guarentee. But just by way of context? The first time the workshop was offered, over 60 people attended and over 90% signed up on the spot to do ALL the certifications.

Ok, why am i waxing so enthusiatic about this workshop? Yes it's great that it's a sampler of big chunks of the Z-Health program, and the more people doing Z-Health the healthier and happier the planet. Yes it's a great way to get one's personal practice with Z-Health tuned, BUT because of its design, a person really DOES get the tools necessary right off the bat from this course to make huge transformations to their performance, and with the folks they may train. This is a full meal deal, real thing.

Now three days is just not enough to get into the depth of all Z-Health has to offer in any one of these areas. R-Phase for instance is a 6 day certification. But it's designed to provide such a super efficient tool box that a person just can't miss. And as said, the ratio of Z-Health trainers in the room to participants is so good that the quality of the delivery is just amplified.

This *needs* to become the workshop of choice for any trainer looking for excellent Continuing Ed credits. This *needs* to become the workshop of choice for universites to send their elite athletes and ALL their coaches to, to improve their programs immediately. That sounds like a rather bold claim, but especially if you are a trainer or coach, you'll get that after the first hour in the course. Likewise as athletes (and Cobb sees anyone who moves as an athlete), you'll see how the first technique presented will help open up the possibilities for progress.

Ok, the summary then is that the benefits of the course are not things you have to wait to try to see if they'll help. You'll get it immediately. At the speed of the nervous system. And that's cool, eh? Please, by all means, check it out (sign up :) ), and hope to see you in London or Boston in the New Year.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Retrun of the Kettlebell update 8 - Apocalypse Now of Medium Day and Rep Quality of Heavy Days

This Return of the Kettlebell Update reflects on the take aways from the last medium and heavy days in particular of the second week of the third long cycle block. I love medium days; i am striving to warm to heavy days, too, and may have found a way with the Perfect Rep once more coming to the rescue.

Medium Day Swet. It's getting colder outside and darker so much sooner. The heat needs to be thrown up for a bit an night to warm us up. Sometimes that exrta heat when doing the Long Cylce gets to feeling like a bit of a bikram studio - can't ask everyone else to freeze for my workoust - but the other night huffing and puffing into the zen of the swing and the dip and the open hand push press, towards the fourth ladder, i felt like i was seeing scenes from Apocalypse Now, with the Doors screaming and fire and sweat and the president of from the West Wing surfacing like a crocodile from the swamps to go after Marlon Brando. Surreal.

(cut to the middle of the above clip for the music to come on in)

Take aways from this session: i like medium days. They are my "just right" days. I get full 5*5 ladders in, feel taxed and like i'm practicing what i'm learning. They are less psychologically demanding than heavy days, and the main event takes somewhat less time, giving me extra cycles at the end to do some abs work.

Adding in Abs. Ab specific work may seem rather anathema to the hardstyle community but i've been talking with some power lifters and oly lifters about their programs and they find the extra core strength (yes i said core) let's them pull better. This may be so, so i'm giving it a go.

I do not have a pavelizer so i take one of mike mahler's fabulous tips to tip two kb's over on their sides and jam my feed against the kb's - 16's hit at just the right spot for me behind me ankles - and i janda from there with the breathing pattern of Bullet Proof Abs. Add in some more Bullet Proof abs, like russian twists with the kb and who knows? that might be getting somewhere.

Arms Emphasis. I'll share something else i've been trying after light and medium days with my arms quest, baesd on colleague and expert trainer Roland Fisher's suggestion to complement RTK: drop sets of biceps curls with overspeed eccentrics. These are relatively new, so too early to tell if they're haveing an hypertrophy effect but they are having a strength effect: i can do more sets before having to drop the load. If the speed drops, drop load. Using this metric, volume is going up.

Size? Likewise on the superficial girth measurement issue - 3 months into RTK more or less, it seems the size of my arms has evened out. There was about a quarter inch difference before between the left and right; now, they measure up pretty much even. That's kinda cool. Does anyone else think their non-dominant arm actually looks stronger or more defined than their stronger arm?

I think my left arm is also catching up with my right arm in strength from sticking with the stronger arm in all this doubles work. Both sides get the same amount of work now. Anytime i press the 20 on the right, i'm push pressing it on the left, and repping partials with the left. It's going to get there with the 20 too, just like last year getting the 16 on the left as well. Now that would be something to RTK long cycle with 20's. Hmmm.

Time and Breathing: ssshhhh on the hissss. Other places where i'm noticing improvements: speed to get through medium day ladders is going up. Time is going down - a bit. In particular i'm not huffing and puffing as loudly.

I've been trying to be more aware of my breathing volume - both kinds. Trying to get quieter and more efficient. I've been wondering if i haven't actually been wasting energy in overdoing my pressurizing breathing, and have been fascinated with what's happening when i try ONLY to quieten it down, not change anything else. That's the only deliberate adjustment i've considered and it does seem to be connecting with better movement efficiency - or it feels that way.

Hands Open. Continuing the hand position experiment, i gave the open/knife hand of Vasily Ginko pointed to by RKC TL Randy Hauer a go. Very nice. With the horns of the bells resting more firmly on the outside heel of the palm, there is a different muscle triggering happening as Pavel outlines in ETK. I can do the knife hand open for the 12's. With the 16's (heavy days) i'm more comfortable with the index finger looping lightly over the horn.

Heavy Day Clarity. And speaking of heavy day. Where i'm noticing improvement there: staying more solid in the clean. The bells feel like they are more under control coming into the rack. I'm not doing any more reps per 5 ladders yet, but the quality of the reps seems to be going up. And you know what? i'm ok with that? i'm ok with getting really good reps on heavy day and keeping fresh and getting faster before adding in more rungs.

Psychologically, setting myself the number of rungs i'm going to do at the start, and sticking with that, has meant the difference between a certain dread associated with heavy day (oh no, not the fourth rung), and a feeling of focused energy. And why not? I'm not really doing this to beat myself up, but to build myself up. Maybe that means i'm a bit of a psychological wimp. I think i can live with that right now, if that's the case. I *liked* the feeling this week of meeting my goals and just focusing on technique with a heavy bell and avoiding crappy reps, rather than feeling bad cuz i didn't grind out more than the last week's heavy day. Same number, better speed, shorter recoery, better reps. I have all the time in the world to get better at this - and add more rungs.

Less Chalk. One more way i've seen a kind of progress is that i seem to be going for the chalk bag less on even heavy days in the long cycle. Initially my hands were sweating so much the bells seemed constantly to be ready to fly from my fingers. And heh, going for the chalk bag is a few seconds more recovery between rungs. I still use chalk, especially on heavy days, but it just doesn't seem to be as much. Is that a sign of better fitness with these moves? Better conditioning?

Back in Action. Also in the news: my spine seems to be getting used to this double kettlebell work too. Before my back off week a few weeks ago, i felt i was aware of my lower thoracics in particular all the time (all the time between workouts) - in a way i hadn't ever been before. It wasn't pain i hasten to add, but it was definitely and unfamiliar sensation. Checking in with Zacharaih Salazar the the t-phase z-health cert, he assured me that this was part of the process and showed me some cool moves to open that up a bit. What i found is that just giving my back that week's break was fabulous. Sensation be gone.

Now two weeks back into it, just having finished up this long cycle block, i'm not getting that sensation/muscle awareness anymore. There's but a wee ghost of it. Neuro-muscular adaptation complete for this phase? Perhaps. It will be interesting to see how the pressing block goes, but still that's progress.

So this past long cycle suite has seen the first RTK block where i feel like i'm actually practicing the long cycle, at least a bit more, rather than learning the how to of the long cycle, RTK style. This sense doesn't mean there isn't room for tons of technique refinement and that the RKC II cert won't totally rip apart my form and rebuild it. But i guess the biggest plus is the sense a wee bit more of rhythm on each of the days: rhythm with the VPP, definitely with my middle days, and even with the heavy days.

When i write these posts i keep thinking about all the amazing things i'm finding in RTK and when i reflect(ed origitinally) on my experience with ETK (enter the kettlebell) i'm thinking "i wasn't having all these insights as i worked through ETK" - Maybe if you've just started with KB's and are doing ETK or have just done ETK you haven't either.

This lack of powerful insight is likely nothing to do with single vs double kb work per se (ie single kb just doesn't have as much to teach), but that, speaking for myself, i was just beginning to get to know KB's when i did ETK. I had neither the vocabulary nor the experience to consider these refinements. Last year's perfect rep quest series, working through a variant of Kenneth Jay's Beast pressing protocol was a beginning at exploring the single kb press work in the towards the perfect rep quest series.

This is a long way of saying that i'm seeing a return to ETK on the horizon - way down the horizon relative to where i'd like to get with RTK right now, but i'm curious to see if it will yield up some new insights coming at it this much further into KB practice. I'm particularly intrigued to be able to give Adam T. Glasses Press the Next KB size in a Month protocol a go. Maybe that one first, as the 24 still eludes me.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Raw and The Cooked of Enzyme Supplementation

Where's the beef on enzyme supplementation? Our pancrease creates gagillions of digestive enzymes; our guts are full of happy bacteria by the gigaorificzillions. So why do we need to add the expense of additional stuff? I admit i have a hard time with the push for enzyme supplementation. But what's the science?

Maybe maybe maybe in the case of a specific inflammation or digestion issue there may be grounds for proteolytic enzyme supplementation. But as a general rule? Likewise the argument that we need such supplementation because we eat cooked food and that destroys food enzymes making it difficult to get nutrients from the food? Surely there's good science to show the opposite is true?

So in such a state of quandry, who'm i gonna call? Why, RD and PhD candidate Georgie Fear of We looked at some common claims around enzymes, and Georgie put together the following points.

1. The common division [often seen on the web] of enzymes into "digestive", "food", and "metabolic" enzymes is arbitrary. Many of them do the same things. Proteolytic enzymes from papaya, for example (which you'd call a "food" enzyme), function in the same manner as proteolytic enzymes pepsin produced in the stomach. They all cleave peptide bonds. Similarly, collagenases (completely unrelated to digestion) are present in joints and other sites throughout the body. They also cleave peptide bonds to remodel cartilage and connective tissue, etc. So classify enzymes based on the source if you like, but it is only a simplification. This has no utility in actual science however, where enzymes are commonly classified by chemical process (example) or mechanism.

2. Claims that Cooked foods containing NO enzymes is a similar oversimplification, not that it matters, as I'll point out in #3. Cooking is a spectrum of exposure to various degrees of heat for various lengths of time. Enzymes vary in their heat stability, resistance to denaturation by acid, etc. To do RNA replication in the lab we use a polymerase from organisms that thrive near thermal vents (T. aquaticus), precisely because it won't be denatured even after many many cycles of heating and cooling. I'm not going to bother looking up individual food enzymes and their denaturation points, but suffice to say a blanched vegetable (cooked for 1 min) is different than one broiled for an hour. I'm sure different foods, cooked for different amounts of time and different temperatures, would contain varying amounts of enzyme activity.

(Why can't you use canned pineapple to make jello? Because it has natural protease activity. Hmm, survived the canning process didnt it?)

But I'm going to get to why it doesn't matter.

3. Why doesn't it matter that cooking supposedly decreases enzymes in food? Because you don't need any enzymes from food. It wouldn't matter if you intentionally destroyed every enzyme from every morsel you ate. Your body is wonderfully designed to efficiently digest and assimilate any and all digestibles you give it with its own enzymes. There are a multitude of enzymes used in the gut, starting with ptyalin right in your saliva which starts working as soon as you bite. The stomach provides acid and more enzymes (which are activated by the acid environment.) Upon proceeding to the small intestine, bicarbonate ions neutralize the stomach acid and activate yet another set of enzymes supplied by the pancreas, which function best at the higher pH. Further enzymes are produced by the small intestine itself. You have quite an array, you dont need any enzymes from your meals.

4. Food enzymes may not have any in vivo activity. Take papain from papaya for example, which some people think will help them digest protein. Optimal ph for papain activity is 6.0-7.0. Neutral. Not what you'd find in the stomach. Your own protein digestion is optimized work in that acid environment, and then continue at ph8.0 in the small intestine. I don't know if most plant enzymes will still be active after getting dumped in to the acid environment of the human stomach, but I'd guess that most would be denatured by the acid.

5 So-called Enzyme Limitation: in a proponent's paraphrase of Edward Howell's Enzyme Nutrition:
We have a limited enzyme potential. In other words, we do not manufacture an unlimited supply of enzymes. The more our body is required to make food enzymes, the less it makes metabolic enzymes.
Well that would likely fall under the "Completely wrong" category.
You also will not run out of heartbeats and die early if you exercise. This is based on the fact that enzymes are not themselves changed in their reactions, but can catalyze millions of reactions. Second, enzyme synthesis, activation, and kinetic activity are regulated. Enzyme production can be increased or decreased at the synthesis step. Many enzymes are also synthesized as zymogens, which need cleavage before becoming active. This also is a step for up- or down- regulation. Natural inhibitors or activators can further fine tune activity, you make both. Natural inhibitors keep enzymes from running rampant in the body, and coactivators/coenzymes also help keep enzymatic activity in check.

(Scroll to The Catalytic Activities on Enzymes are Regulated)

As for the second sentence, that's what polite company might call "complete garbage." Read about gene expression here for example

6. Supposed Enzyme Inhibitors action of raw seeds, etc
Another claim from Enzyme Nutrition proponents: "Raw grains, nuts, seeds, and beans contain enzyme-inhibitors. If they are germinated or properly soaked, the enzyme-inhibitors are neutralized."
Again, alas, wrong based on what we know in the science. Sprouting grains does cause dramatic changes in enzyme concentration and inhibitor activity, (in my experiments I carefully sprouted peas to isolate glucosidase, which is many times higher than before sprouting them). However, most enzyme inhibitors are not neutralized or destroyed by soaking. This is the reason why some foods are not safe to eat without full cooking (yes, boiling. Until cooked.) Soybeans for example contain many protease inhibitors, which will not be altered by a soak. Many other legumes and beans also shouldn't be eaten raw, because the enzyme inhibitors will make digestion difficult.

Granted, consuming raw beans would make for digestive trouble, but not all enzyme inhibition is bad. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (which are isolated from white kidney beans) are helpful to slow down carbohydrate digestion, which assists diabetics in managing blood glucose. Many protease inhibitors have medicinal uses for disease states.

Here's a well-cited article published in 2007 on deriving medicinal protease inhibitors from plants (note the author -mc).

7. Raw food isn't more easily absorbed or digested than cooked. In contrast, cooking makes many nutrients far more bioavailable. Carotenes and lycopene for example. If there is any item which we aren't capable of digesting, it's cellulose, since humans lack the enzyme to cleave beta linkages. Thus, carbohydrates with these linkages go undigested and we call it fiber.

My last point is that enzymes may be helpful for people with certain medical conditions, but none of these are "food enzymes". T Primarily - lactose intolerance (which occurs when your body doesn't make enough lactose) can be treated by taking exogenous lactase. People with cystic fibrosis or pancreatic diseases often benefit from taking supplemental digestive enzymes, but these also are not found in plants. Human (or bioidentical) enzymes do the job best. That's why we take extra human enzymes when disease restricts the production of our own. Its not a matter of eating more raw plants.

Evolution has created the human body with a well-organized and efficient set of enzymes to digest food as well as control myriad other processes.

It's important to consider the source of information proponents are quoting to back up their assertions about enzymes. Belief in the need to take in exogenous enzymes from food is evidence of someone who seems to be not best aware of recent biology. For reference, the popular reference that many proponents cite for backup, Enzyme Nutrition, was written by a person born in 1898 and published in the 1980s. A lot of research has happened since then in understanding food and enzymes.

Georgie Fear RD

Thank you Georgie!

By all means, please visit Georgie's site - often.

She has a new cookbook i'll be reviewing soon, and as a preview: if you want to eat well but don't feel like a suave chef in the kitchen, but you have a knife and a nuker - check out the cook book called Dig In. Served with smarts and love.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Food Inc.: the unbearable lightness of the food industry

Don't care if anyone ever says again there's no difference between organic and not; free range or not. I get that much of what gets labelled as free range is specious in the UK for instance, but we all really do need a cold reality check about food production in the West.

Food Inc delivers that view without taking us right to the sharp end of the air gun as did Fast Food Nation. With some basic knowledge about the production of animals, the way the FDA and USDA has been allowed to go toothless, the fact that at least in Europe GMO crops are actually labelled as such becomes something to hang onto and hold dear. The EU may have value after all.

If you haven't seen Food Inc., it's on DVD; now's the time. It's interesting without being bombastic. If you like Michael Pollen of the Omnivore's Dilema you get a lot of him, too. And again, with just basic info that's pretty compelling. Walmart though in the film turns out not to be the big(gest) villain. Nope, it's the laws of states that prohibit anyone publishing a photo of a food production lot at a plant where animals are kept. It's the change of seed practices in the states so that the One Big Seed Company with its GMO corn ensures that farmers can't harvest their own seeds for regrowing. That's patent infringement.

You think you're not eating GMO products? Think again: Arnie vetoed a bill that had been passed in the Cal. Legislature to have GMO/cloned products labelled as such. All the corn based products like Coke, chips, most stuff with soy product or corn bi-products is GMO corn.
13 companies pack 90% of all the meat in america. I could just go on and on.

Ok one more thing: the special relationship meat packing houses have with law enforcement about shipping in illegals to work in the plants and then busting the immigrants, not the companies, when there's a hint of a Union about to emerge. What synergies.

But the most powerful take away is that consumers do affect the system: the meat industry changed because of fast food. Fast food wouldn't have that power if people didn't buy it. Walmart has had to get rid of growth hormoned milk because of consumer demand. Amazing.

So let's ask our stores about the provenance of our food and opt out of the crap. Food Inc gives some pretty compelling rationales of why that's not just Right it's critical. Monocultures eventually crash and take a lot down with them.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Changing Foot of the Vibram FiveFingeres Wearer: Review of feet size change over time

I've been wearing Vibram FiveFingers (VFF's) for about a year now. Yup, a year. While the challenge of what to do out doors when either sub zero or wet wintery are still a mystery, wearing these shoes for this length of time has let me observe/experience an intriguing phenomena about which i've seen little (ok no) comment: feet changing size.

I'll say right now that i measure my feet by my second toe - happens to be the longest (tips on fitting VFF's here). Thus i have room in my VFF's in the big toe pocket. So much so that wearing the same size VFF's with or without socks was no problem. Initially. Something happened in mid may after wearing VFF's indoors from nov - march, and then just all the time from march - may. My vff's with sox started to feel small. On the right foot only and mainly pulling on the big toe. Where i'd had room.

I didn't know how to make sense of this. At a z-heath s-phase cert talking with DC Eric Cobb, i asked if one's foot size could change in shifting shoe types. Oh yes, he laughed. Great. Fortunately summer weather was coming and the sox could be dispensed with and the shoes were ok again.

Now it's getting cold, sox are coming back on and funny thing, the vff's (mainly the kso's) do not seem to be as tight now. Have they stretched out?

I asked z-health master trainer Zachariah Salazar at another recent z-health ho down - and a guy who's almost as footwear fanatical as i am - and he said that he's watched his feet change in both directions: as his shoes got flatter and more open, the feet got longer/bigger. But now, he says, as his muscles seem to be readapting in the feet again, they're pulling back in as his shoe size has come back down again. Perhaps that's what's happening with my feet - a re, re-adjustment.

Dunno. But it's interesting. I recently got to try on a pair one size up in the kso with socks. i'm sure this is what the current size *used* to feel like. time to think upping the size for winter wear - but they don't even feel that big without the sox. yup there's been a change in me, as the song goes.

Any other VFF wearers out there had any similar experiences?

Please post your foot size changing experiences.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Getting the Rhythm of the RTK Long Cycle Dips (i think): Return of the Kettlebell Update 7

This past Medium Day of Return of the Kettlebell was the Middle Weight Long Cycle day. Having been away from this for the past few weeks, i was curious to see if i could get back in the groove and what it would feel like. It felt GOOD. Why? i think i've got the rhythm of this sucker figured out - at least for myself. Why? i understand the double dip function better - i think - thanks to getting to spend some time with an champ Olympic lifter (and GS lifter) and z-health movement specialist Chris Hoffman a week ago, learning the clean of the clean and jerk, oly style. A revelation. It's amazing what the bar in front of one's face does to drive home how the dips in these moves are working. There's pretty much no move for move comparison between the C&J with KB's and one with an oly bar. But the rationale for the dips is pretty much the same, and that can be instructive.

So Phase 1 of smoothing out the Hard Style C&J - again - for me; your mileage may differ. Smooth swing up to the rack. Pavel talks about the importance of the clean all the time. Sara Cheatham has recently written about her experience of same. Last year i looked at how the clean had made all the difference for my work in the press.

The part of the clean i'd like to talk about though, is really the swing. It's feeling the double bells and arms and chest and hips move like a fluid unit when picking up the bells and getting the swing first back then up going. It's all connected, and, i might add, feels rather effortless. It was a joy and revelation to feel the smoothness of the down stroke go to the hike pass (described in Enter the Kettlebell if that's not familiar) and come up to the momentary rack/dip combo sweet spot. Once i became aware of that groove i started using it deliberately. I know i know it sounds obvious but there it was.

Phase 2 of effortless: connecting the up to the rack with the first dip.
From the cleaned bells comes the first dip. The dip down is getting the rocket fuel primed for the shoot up (to use a rough version of Pavel's RTK analogy). This loading by dipping down is taking some advantage of the elastic energy component of muscle. This is a pre-load. To be effective, that loading has to be turned around pretty fast, or the energy dissipates. So it's down then UP to get the bells moving up to the sky, taking off. And as they hit apogee, getting ready to go down again for the "jerk dip." Bone rhythmn can come to play here too where the hip and knee, and knee and ankle are working together to get the butt down, timed and coordinated with the load to make the most of the boost up.

Phase 3 of effortless: second dip - remembering "getting under the bar"
Pardon a digression that may not sound sensible if you haven't tried this with an oly bar. The clean is really different than the KB clean and it's a lot of fun. I encourage everyone to get with a trainer to give it a go. IT's a beautiful move. The main part of comparison - to me - is going from the clean rack to the second dip for the jerk. Again this is going to sound so basic to people who know this stuff, so forgive me for stating the well known like a revelation.

It's my understanding, in the oly clean & Jerk that the second dip is to get under the racked bar, so that (and here comes the "duh!" ) rather than pushing the weight overhead with our poor arms from the rack, a la a military press, we get down (way down) to get under the bar suspended in the air, to get an arm lock out under it, and then, voila, drive up with the legs. While the legs are going down the arms are straightening out and pushing the bar (nice bone rhythm). So dip one to power load and initiate the first stage of the rocket; dip two, as the bells are going up, to get an extra stage advantage getting under the bell. And this happens FAST because we're trying to beat gravity: we go down faster than the bell to maximize force coming back up under it to get it locked out standing up.

Time In the Rack and Depth of Dip
Two differences i've noticed with the KB/Oly C&J is time in the rack and the depth of the drop.
In the Oly C&J you can really pause in the rack before going for that second dip. In the KB version, we don't pause as long in the rack it seems. We move from a stable clean to the power drive first dip.

Another difference with the Oly C&J and KB C&J is that the second dip seems to be not nearly so low - which makes sense given the load differences and also again, we're not pausing under the load once our arms are straightening. We're getting down to get under but we don't stop under. We're generating more momentum, more stretched elastic component energy in this semi-dip to drive the bell up to full lock out. Still, the principles are the same with coordinating the dip down with the arms going up and then the next step the straightening up for the final hold.

As said, some of you may be saying what are you making a fuss out of? Yes you've just described what you're supposed to be doing in a C&J: getting under the weight so you can push more up than you can press. Yup, but sometimes seeing how similar but different things work help explain the model.

I'm currently C&J'ing the same weights i press. I don't really need to jerk these weights up. SO getting a sense mechanically of what their rationale is in a context where one CANNOT press the same weight one jerks for a 1RM is instructive. At least it has been for me.

I can now better take advantage of the physics where it IS necessary to understand what it's doing in what becomes more of an endurance / hyertrophy session (C&J'ing for reps as designed in RTK) than for strength/power of Oly lifting. This is likely pretty basic for folks well versed in both arts, but as said, for me: revelation. I like it.

And one may note the Hard Style C&J is thus z subtly different beast from the GS Long cycle where one does indeed rest and recover in the rack before dips. There's a difference therefore in the curvature of the thoracics, it seems, to hold the load and refresh, but not a huge difference.

Phase 4, power up: get up stand up, stand up
This actually seemed in some ways the hardest part of the move: once i had the bells up over my head, and locked out, i had to remind myself the fist few times to remember to finish the move by standing up all the way; it felt more comfortable to keep a bit of a bend in my knees when rep'ping, but no no, must get up and finish each rep. ta da.

Aside 1: grip
I was quite surprised by how much smoother this iteration through the cycle felt than the last time i did it. Even for the high rep rungs of the ladder. Definitely felt like i was getting to a more efficient movement (within hardstyle constraints).

And then i noticed it: my grip was different than it had been. Formally i had studiously practiced the clean up to the rack then fold the fingers into the bell against the handle. This time, i simply used a near fingerless grip for the press up rather than folding my fingers inside and against the handle. For me that seems to take less energy and just feels smoother.

After the sets were over i did some tests comparing the open grip to the folded fingers grip, and found that the open fingers (including loose thumb) worked the same muscularly, but again, less effort/energy on playing with finger positioning, and also felt like i was able to control the decent of the bell more readily.

I've been looking at the hand grips of various male and female GS master of sport holders, and it seems to be a personal thing: some do the fold; some do the loose grip. IF you note the grip of Scott Helsley in the vid above, you'll see something of what i'm describing with the open grip. I'm ok with that. Unless i learn of a specific reason to spend time reforging the grip to do the fold, i think i might just stay with this. We'll see.

Getting to the Bottom of the RTK HS C&J
So, in review, what happened in this session - it's the first time (3rd go through of the whole thing) where i've felt like i was starting to practice skills instead of learn new ones. Obviously each rep brings refinements, and i'm in no way saying i have all the skills for these moves. NOOOO. But what i am saying is that it feels like i'm moving past just the learning stage and into the practice stage. Things are starting to make sense. And the cool thing is when they make sense they feel far more powerful, smooth and effective. Which it to be preferred. Heavy Day next and i get to test if all this sweet talk about effortless form translates to the heavy bells for the long cycle.

Smiles everyone. Smiles.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vibrams FiveFingers Update: Airports and Running up that Hill - in winter?

Well, after months of successful walkthroughs through security at international airports in VFF's with no footwear removal requests, i finally hit an airport - Phoenix Arizona - where the staff said "those are classified as shoes; take them off" Is there no end to the in(s)anity? Is it ridiculous to see thin-soled foot wear as possible explosive material? is there a rationale for this? or have these folks jumped the shark? So just to note, at least one airport is catching wise to VFF's. Drat. What's your experience been? On the plus side more positive running experiences:

Of late i've been trying to gate my runs to be able to maintain breathing in through my nose throughout. I dunno, but they sure feel less stressful, easier, when this becomes the limiter for just transport runs (getting from a to b). Anyone else tried this? The pattern seems to go so well with the forefoot touch of VFF running

And what about hills and running up them? The VFF barefoot run pattern also seems to make hills less obdurate, smoother. I know that VFF is just enabling this style; it's not because of the shoes. I know i know. But. Without these i'd nay have discovered these changes.

As to those changes no doubt most of you have seen this comparison video on an evil treadmill, but in case not, here goes again.

Winter Wet and VFF Strategy?

I have a question as well: what are VFF faithful going to do for footwear when winter hits? Whether that's winter in Seattle/UK where the rain it raineth every day (and of personal interest), or in the Great White North where it's just dam cold (at least there are rubber footed snowshoe boots that can be brought to bear on city streets - effectively cheap moccasins with some tread). But what are you all doing? Post a comment and please let me know.


Thanks to Justin for the early alert about women's KSO Trek's making it to The Rest of Us in early 2010. If any gals have experience fitting the boys Treks, please share.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Not "Train Through Pain"?

Lately i've had the opportunity to listen to a lot of athletes talk about various injuries, ongoing problems, and how many of them have tried to "train through the pain." Probably we've all done it (do it). The way our nervous systems are wired, however, that's a sub-optimal response to pain that can often lead to more problems. This post is meant to be a quick look at some strategies on how to respond to a pain cue to get back in the game.

Who needs to "work through the pain"?
In a life and death situation, a person may need to work through the pain. The price of staying alive might be worth the potential long term cost of whatever damage is sustained.

A workout in a gym is not the same (is it?) Getting in a few extra reps so as not to spoil a set and "working through the pain" may have untold consequences for no benefit. Seriously.

Apparently we just don't know what the consequences of even a seemingly trivial injury can be for cascading through our systems and causing other issues. Knowing that there may be significant consequences when we break ourselves, we may need to ask ourselves: when there's pain, why not just stop and figure it out? why put our bodies at risk just to finish a set? who cares really, ultimately, if we get in 10 reps rather than 8? or 2?

I think a lot of this just-work-through-it comes from most of us not knowing what pain really is or not having tools specifically to respond to it appropriately. So i'd like to offer a little bit about what pain is, and some simple but effective pain response strategies.

Background A lot of the work i'm summarizing stems from pain research. Books like David Butler's Explain Pain, and the Blakeslee's the Body has a Mind of It's Own are super general references in this space. I was introduced to the following models/work on pain by Eric Cobb at the first Z-Health certification. When we focus on the nervous system, as Z-Heath does, and get that Pain is an action signal from the brain manifesting through the nervous sytem, we have a whole lot more tools to deal with pain as events.

Pain is in the brain, first and foremost, and it means Threat is caused by what we're doing. So CHANGE.
Pain is not what happens at the site of pain - like the ache in the wrist or the sharp pain in the back coming up from a poor lift. It's a kind of summation of a lot of information. We've all had experiences where a paper cut means nothing we ignore it and get on with our day, and other days where the same paper cut really HURTS and demands attention. This is because pain is not about the thing itself (the injury); it's about the whole system context of how our entire system is doing at that moment, including perceived threat. Yup, we can feel pain in response to the anticipation of something occurring.

Pain is not isolated; Pain takes place in the brain. It is an action signal; it's an event that is telling the body that something, somewhere is wrong (ie under threat) and to deal with it. We ignore it at our peril, and working through the pain like an ache in a rep is actually being stupid in a non life threatening situation.

Here's part of why.

In a tissue injury, nociceptors (things that detect noxious stimulus in the body, and that live particularly around joints and in muscle) get fired up and a whole chemical soup gets going around the site of trauma to deal with it. Incredibly, that response in and of itself can be pretty varied and doesn't mean there's PAIN yet. Based on whatever else is going on in the body, signals go up to the brain, and based on that context, the brain decides whether to signal or even surpress a pain event.

If the brain says this is pain, however, it means, for whatever reason, we need to attend to it.

Pain is a Threat Response - real or perceived. The nervous system is always on; it only checks a single binary condition: threat or no threat. The response to threat to the body is to respond to the area where there is threat. Often that's a kind of shut down sequence.

Consider what happens dramatically if we have an inflamed finger. The range of motion is restricted, right? Or sore quads from DOMS - range of motion and also power can often be restricted. We are being held back from injuring ourselves further in the current circumstances.

Pain becomes a clear action signal not necessarily to stop what we're doing but to change what we're doing (which sometimes does mean "stop" - temporarily)

If we decide to go ahead with that lift anyway, when the body is pulling muscular firing power away from the site and sending up pain events to say this is not a happy thing, then we're stressing our bodies out further which cranks up stressor chemicals, cortisol can get going and well, we're well far away from an ideal environment for performance, right?
It's a feedback loop for more shutdown, more pain: by working against ourselves we start setting up the body to act more to defend itself, while we're taxing it further and potentially injuring ourselves more.

I've spoken with experts about what's going on with people who say they trained through the pain and after awhile it went away. The consensus seems to be that in those cases (a) the person is actually most likely developing new movement patterns away from the site of pain (b) doing so sub-optimally at a potential cost to overly sensitizing those sites to future pain/trauma events. Similar people who "work through" pain will often also talk about the same kind of pain showing up months/years later as a now more persistent ache, or have other physical issues.

The costs of risking "breaking" ourselves in some way by working through pain are potentially complex. We really have no idea what might be the one seemingly trivial thing that can set up a cascade of events in our nervous system that will have repercussions. So even though we're very robust, and will adapt to almost anything, to ensure the robustness of the system it's really easy just to learn some strategies to respond to a pain/threat event.

Here's an analogy with stress. Stress or anxiety like we might feel before having to get up in front of a group of people and give a talk is an example of a threat response. Chemicals start to get released from the brain to get us ready for fight or flight. Often people who are stressed are encouraged to go for a walk or move and they report feeling better: we effectively start to use those chemicals for the purpose they've been stirred up - to move. The same chemicals (catecholamines) pretty much get fired up every time we work out and get our heart rate up. So they're not bad, they're just physical, and there is a physical response available. If we become aware of "getting stressed" - note the breathing responses etc and respond, we can quickly get back to normal performance.

Pain is a similar kind of response to threat - perceived or actual - and is an action signal. Again, often (not 100% of the time, but often) movement can likewise help both diagnosis that there's an issue and check if there's a good response to the action signal.

The right mobility can be an optimal response to the pain action signal
  • So first things first: never move through pain. If pain happens, stop and check. That stopping is a movement response.
  • Next, pending severity we can quickly check where the mobility around the joints where the pain occurs may be restricted. So sore elbow - how's the shoulder movement, wrist movement, elbow movement without load (it helps also to learn what the ROM of these joints is for yourself). If there's pain through everything, just frickin' stop.
  • Knowing some mobility work for the related joints, going through them where there's no pain, and rechecking range of motion - better worse no change - is again a great fast way to see how things are going. If things are improved awesome, you may want to try - gently - to see if the original move is ok, and if the load has to be reduced to move through the ROM without pain
  • Recheck regularly to see where the threat is
  • Move a bit as soon as you can without ever moving into pain.
By going through this simple protocol, we gain some fast insight into how to respond to the pain action signal, take care of ourselves, and be back to our routine way faster and stronger than bleeding out a few more reps through pain, that will set up the pain event cycle. yuck.

So, with all the athletes i work with, i recommend that at a minimum they consider making mobility practice a regular part of their daily routine. If you're interested in more of the details of why, here's an article. Likewise, if you haven't and especially if you're concerned about your performance goals, consider getting your movement in general and your specific ahtletic form checked by a movement specialist to make sure you're repping in good patterns.

Scenario of Pain Event Listening
SO let's say you're doing something that fires up a pain signal in the elbow or forearm.
You check your shoulder range of motion.
You can only get your arm up to the start of your ear - usually you're behind it. Something's wrong.
You do some opposing joint drills and recheck - your arm mobility is back to normal. awesome.
You recheck your form for whatever was hurting, remember your form: tall spine, good breathing, focus on open form, pain is gone, life is good again.

Yes it can happen that fast. The nervous system mechanoreceptors fire at 300mph. And with the SAID principle, we respond exactly and immediately to what we're doing.

Now there may be instances where the ROM does not come back; where the pain is acute when doing ANY ROM of the given move. That may be time to bag it. Rule no. 1: never move through pain because of all the above: upping threat, further shut down, more threat response chemical events etc. Related strategies are, when and as possible: reduce the range of motion of a movement that causes pain so you work outside the pain zone; reduce the load that brings on pain in any ROM.

An intriguing benefit of regular mobility practice is that, by practicing regular and better movement, better information is getting to the nervous system about where we are and what our options are, so there is a decreased incidence of injury and in no small part increased performance as well. Why? Mobility work helps us achieve the Perfect Rep - or at least efficient movement (discussed mid article here), which is the least likely to result in problems, because it also enables the best ROM from which to respond to the unexpected.

An example of mobility and connecting up nervous system communication we've talked about at b2d before is with the arthrokinetic reflex - a powerful example of what happens (1) with a threat response in the nervous system - when it senses even the slightest impingement - and how to fix that with self-mobilization and (2) how performance improves when connecting the neuro-reflexes in the body: here connecting eye movement with hip movement.

So why shouldn't we train though Pain, in brief?
We really don't know the extent to which a pain event can screw ourselves up for right now, or for some event in the future. Like a stress fracture in metal, it may be fine for some time, but it becomes a progressive site of deterioration until suddenly there's a potentially catastrophic break. By not stopping to deal with the pain, we set up a cascade effect of progressive responses in the body to get us to attend to the ever amping up signal. These further events have further costs on our performance. A way the body may deal with unattended pain is to bring on a compensation that will lead to other/new pains. Likewise, ignoring pain can also set up various sensitizations to pain that can trip the pain from a single acute incident to something that gets would up into our nervous system and goes chronic, also potentially harder to address. All in all, it's not nice.

Bottom line?
  • A pain event is non-trivial. It means something. So it's a good idea to listen to that signal.
  • At a minimum, never move into pain: reduce range of motion/load/speed as necessary (for awhile this may mean non-movement, but getting to possible movement is a good idea)
  • Mobility work like z-health rphase/iphase is a fabulous tool kit to be able to self-assess to respond to that pain event and get back to practice asap.
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