Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Whole Food and Bifurcated Guilt/Pleasure: respecting the food chain by engaging the chain?

Whole Protein - Whole Food - and Personal Denial. Recently i was in france where i had the pleasure of going to a fish market each day to bring home fresh seafood for lunch. What gave me pause is dealing with entire creature corpses. That experience somehow changes one's sense of food a bit, doesn't it?

squid in the sea (image source
 Perhaps people who have hunted or fished their dinners are well familiar with this effect of holding something in one's hand that was so obviously alive and that must now be more or less dissected to be prepared for consumption. Makes one think about this notion of "whole food" perhaps in a somewhat different way.

Some of the catch at a fish stall looks no different than it does at the store: big steaks of halibut or salmon where there's very little in evidence that this was part of something resembling a fish, or to tell one slice from another beyond color. One vendor used the sword of the sword fish as a clever marker to indicate the cuts you see here are from guess what? a sword fish.

The rest of what's on offer at any of the fish mongers i visited however did look very much like the creatures themselves. Fish with eyes in front of their giant heads rather than at the side are some of the most disconcerting - looking very much like "what am i doing here? i never thought it would be like this" Very large snake like eels lie in buckets. Clams glisten and oysters piled up create entirely new if temporary rock formations. Are those shelled creatures still alive? Did that eel just aesphixiate? Does one bash it on the head?

WHOLE, WHOLE Creatures. While we brought home whole fish like brill - often one of the folks at the stall would have cleaned, gutted and beheaded the thing. The sense of whole creatureness was not quite as present. But then, i had the opportunity to bring home squids. This is a whole creature. I did not catch it - i do not know how it is made dead before being placed on crushed ice for sale, but it was certainly clear that this was the whole being. Eyes, body, mouth, tendrils. A carnivore perhaps itself. Did it aesphixiate? looking at fishing sites, they seem to suggest post catch just put the things on ice. So freeze and aesphixiate? I hate the enthusiam i hear in these sites suggesting it is "great fun" to go catch squid And then put them in a cooler. To aesphixiate. I dunno.  I digress.
squid home from the market

 Back in fwance, the fishmonger put three squid i've pointed out into a bag to take home. There they are. Hardly take up any space at all. Relatively cheap protein, fresh. Very whole.

As said i didn't catch these creatures but i am now holding them, whole, in my hands to prepare for eating. It suddenly felt solem, which i suppose only shows both how seldom i deal with whole whole food of the once animate kind, and how removed i am just generally from the whole food chain.

 Preparing squid has several parts - removal of the head lets one get at the body in order to remove a spine that is very much like a crushed clear plastic straw. With this removed, the guts are relatively easy to pull out with a finger from the body. The eyes and beak are also removed. Then the body is skinned, the fins removed to be scored a bit separately. The tendirls may likewise be prepared further - scraping off the suckers - and then the tube of the body is cut into the familiar rings seen in calamari.

squid unsquidded in preparation for cooking
 There is something salutory about breaking down a squid in this way. This whole thing was in the sea recently; now it's in my hands; on the cutting board, these rings no longer recognizable as what it was - now it's in the fry pan, the plate, me.

Consider the Source I don't quite have a handle yet on the whole experience here, but i do think handling truly *whole* food of the post-animate kind is important. Or let me rephrase - it offers an opportunity to get grounded: today i eat the fish; tomorrow the fish eats me?
 At least dealing with these squid, it was made very obvious to me what i was doing. Would that be different if that were the more visible case with the other omnivore acts?
little left to resemble the whole creature now
Animal Ignorance How many of us know anymore from what part of a pig is the meat cured for bacon? where on the cow is the part that become ribeye? It wasn't till i was doing anatomy that i got my god, i'm eating leg muscle. I don't know what i thought meat was, but it put the quads and hamstrings in a whole different light.
i'm not saying anything spectacularly new: Michael Pollan has written about distance of ourselves from the food supply and has, i think also written about the experience of taking a creature from field to table. I understand there are boutique butchers where one learns to break down a carcas - i'm not sure if one actually has to kill and clean the beast - because a carcass ready for butchery just doesn't look like an animal anymore - think all those sides of beef that get punched in Rocky. No doubt there's likely some kill to clean to butcher boutique in California if nowhere else. And good for them. Bet it costs a fortune too. The privilege of getting close to a process that was just normal to some of our elders.
Getting Closer to Real: mixed feelings. I guess from my experience, i'm finding that it's one thing to read Michale Pollan talk about the value of getting to know one's food directly - especially the mobile kind. It's another to actually have the whole thing in one's hands, unmaking it. I felt vaguely horrible taking apart the squid while simultaneously enjoying the process of preparation - of being able to understand the anatomy in order to preapre the meat. It's like sensing both a hot and cold tap both on and not blending - it's very odd. Makes the pleasure of the meal of a slightly different flavour.
I find myself looking for WHOLE proteins in a new way - and wanting to challenge myself - rather than let myself off the hook , as it were, - anytime approaching post animate food sources. Eat less with more care perhaps?

How 'bout you?

Saturday, January 26, 2013


For holistic long term health, wellbeing and feeling of effervescent joy, it seems that we need to include deliberate practice in five areas:

MOVEMENT - NUTRITION - RECOVERY - SOCIALISING - COGNITIVE PRACTICE. What do you think? ring true? Perhaps you've heard it here first - i've heard three and four of these points before, but this five point framing of what we need to be optimal may be new-ish? Wouldn't that be nice if b2d dug up something new?

In any case: we're pscysho-social-physical creatures, yes? That's our history, our trajectory up from the swamp, oui?

Amsa-dong Pre-historic Village,  Seoul Korea
So since we still have these evolutionary traces, that is, physical bodies that seem deisgned to run, and that mainly work best with social contexts rather than isolation, then to be healthy, it seems, we need to work all of them.  Including the brain and including social practice.

An intriguing thing to me is that these systems - move, eat, sleep, socialize, ideate - reinforce each other.

We can socialize around deep conversation (express idea density, discussed here); we can move around together - game play and engage in strategy (especially excellent for couch potatoes who also want to lose weight)  - play, move, socialize, skill/depth of practice - and of course eat and rest in between - maybe in groups.

Indeed, there's a truly fascinating book by Canadian scholar Stephen Cunnane called "survival of the fattest" (UK link || US link) that goes over the case that far from our brains growing as a result of tool use, our brains grew from play. And access to an easy shore-based food supply that made play possible. Theresa Nesbit pointed this book out to me, and i recommend it as a read (or interlibrary loan).

(Reminds me of tree planting - except we'd be too pooped to play games after a day of screefing. oh. and too pooped for deep conversation. so, maybe not tree planting.)

Inclusive 5-point Plan Practice?

My growing question from this five point holistic health guide of
Movement Nutrition Recovery Socialising Cognitive Engagement
is around how to put together our approach to holistic practice.

When we put our training plans together, do we plan as well how we will recover? How we will socialise? How we will work on idea density? If not, why not?

Brain in Motion? While we may have strategies for post workout nutrition, do we have them for sleep? How do we balance socialising and cognitive engagement?

For instance, do we deliberately seek out challenging conversation? challenging books?  (what Carole Goble calls "coffee" vs "wine" research paper reading for instance).

Do we practice various social skills like listening, empathy, active engagement? For introverts, this kind of practice is effortful, to be sure, but even extraverts can practice pulling back and being present to others. Or to learn the tempo of conversation and try to support the flow. And so on. Skills and practice everywhere.

Challenge? How build the whole piece? 

Movement. Certainly over the past while, i've been deliberate about physical practice - but not perhaps as thoughtful as i might be in terms of optimal, whole body training as opposed to strength goals.

Nutrition. Boy, this one i think i've done better in a holistic way than the holistic movement piece. Hmm. Hadn't thought of that. Why? maybe because food is so much more of a regular challenge. Every few hours: focus focus.

Recovery/Sleep. Now here's one where i think i know more than i consistently practice. I do know my best training results however have come when being religious about getting to sleep with hours before midnight spent in sleep, and getting up around 5:30 to work out (much easier in the summer than winter!) Much of any knowledge i have about sleep in particular and relationships of foods/drugs within sleep has been spurred on by sleep scientist Stephan Fabregas.

Socialisation. As said, for an introvert, this is an effort. But practice helps. Best book i've read on this practice? There's lots of stuff around influence, influencing people, listening, having critical conversations  All excellent stuff. Above and beyond anything, going back to a classic. Dale Carnegie. One tip that i haven't seen anywhere else: avoid contradicting anyone or criticising anyone. Oy! Now that takes practice.

Cognitive Engagement: Ideation.  Being an intellectual is dandy. I have no problem having a good sized vocabulary and using it. IT's my job. But where do i push out of my comfort zone? Kind of like knowing that if there's an exercise we don't like it's one we should likely do, cuz that exposes a weakness, i think working the brain is sort of the same thing: we have to push limits to affect

There are subjects i find really challenging. So this year i'm making a promise to find the best sources (for me) to develop practice in these areas. Like finding the right trainer, the right textbook or the right instructor - at least for me - is key to me getting something.

We may have felt like we didn't have a choice of instructors in highschool but alleluia we do now. The challenge is slotting in hours now for that practice as well as these other bits.

Reality Check: What's your H2 (Holistic Health) Ratio?

Something perhaps to try:
Check out how many hours a week we spend

  • in physical practice (with 5minimum being the ideal it seems for happiness in the bodycomp arena)
  • in rest/recovery/sleep  
  • in socialising/play
  • in deliberate attention to food prep and meals 
  • in deliberate cognitive practice
  • whatever's left (like work?)- when we're not doing any of these practices.
Just one week - let's find out what we count as restorative, and when we might also get what Frank Forencich of exuberant animal in Stresscraft calls "Movement Snacks" - and what might also be rest or play or cog practice snacks? 

Ratios See - i don't know what the ideal practice ratios are. We know about workouts for at least a sense of health satisfaction (5 hours minimum). We know at least about sleep that there is good research for us to have 7.5hrs a night). But Play? is is as many hours playing as working out? more? What about socialising? twice as much as working out? half? What about deliberate cognitive practice? 1 hour? 3 hours?

Scales Do we have other scales here? We can assess workout quality, and nutrition and sleep quality. How do we assess socialising/play/restoration qualities? Is vegging out with the TV after a hard day of work reasonable recovery? or would it be better health wise to read a book? or chat with friends on facebook?

So shall we get some data? 

Here's to Movement - Nutrition - Recovery - Socialising - Cognitive Engagement -

Let's start to find out what we have vs what we need.

Related Posts

Friday, January 18, 2013

b2d's Exploration of the Tao and How of We're Working Out - Interview with Al Kavadlo

Ever looked at YouTube to learn how to do some bodyweight movement like a one arm push up or a human flag? Chances are, if so, you've encountered the video series that begins "Hi. I'm Al Kavadlo and We're working out."  If there's a bodyweight move of interest, chances are high there's a wee Kavadlo video on how to get going with it.

YouTube Al: the familiar friendly face of I am Sparticus Kavadlo
These instructional vignettes have a recognisable set of signature elements: Al's smiling face as model and host; most often Tompkin Square Park in New York as the live, outdoor setting; a set of progressions on how to get from start to advanced form with the movement. The quality is consistently high; the videos useful, and usually leaves one hungry for more insight into these strategies. And as such, they're pretty unique. Unique in terms of breadth of a freebie web resource, and unique in the joyful style of presentation. There is no aloofness, no grr. And yet there's this awesome strength. What's going on here? 

Towards looking into this question, Mr. Kavadlo kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Initially, my questions were around the design rationale for Kavadlo's Raising the Bar DVD, but as i started to read more of AK's work, and chat more, this whole question of approach not just in terms of content but of the thinking behind the content came up.

This Piece in Not about Al Kavadlo. It's about the How of Al Kavadlo's Tao.

To that end, the following overview of the Kavadlo ouvre to date and interview in and around Raising the Bar is an attempt to look at some of these ideas that i'm framing as the presentation of the un grr of bodyweight work.

In the following, we're looking for the Al K un grr methodology by talking about Raising the Bar, We're Working Out, YouTube videos and the Progressive Calisthenics Certification that just got announced, but really, i hope what we're going to get at through all these what's is some of the why's that the joyful approach of al kavadlo resonates so well - at least with b2d - though it doesn't seem like any of us here are alone.

In particular, why i find Kavadlo's work important as a case study is for a bunch of refinements:

  • he's one of the first guys to bring bodyweight work to the Net
  • he's taken youTube as a particular kind of media (video, 3min max) and used it deliberately to showcase what he does - and just being on youtube - getting that that IS where the action is now for online presentation - is very compelling.
  • he uses filmic conventions to consider shot, framing etc - so he THINKS about presentation, right down to theme music
  • he and the environment and what he models are so tightly coupled so effectively its hard to imagine bodyweight any other way
  • he himself embodies a whole lot of what he models and so it cycles back into the production.
  • he uses this production for promotion yes, but promotion through education - what has been found over and over to be the succesful mode for selling online. 
  • the dvd/books/blog are a well-integrated extension of this "brand" with depth, passion, soul.

 So by the end of this post, you'll see a full on rough analysis to produce the Al Kavadlo Presentation Methodology. Hope you find it useful in your own practice.

The Philosophy of AK's Practice: Humility Before the Bar

In the process of doing this interview  i started to look at More Things Al - including going back to the book version of Raising the Bar, and reading his ebook on general training called (of course) We're Working Out. It's been an interesting process. I mean, really, who cares about what goes into making a fitness video? or what someone thinks about training?  If it's a good tool it's a good tool; it stands on its own; don't need no more. So why care about interviewing Al - not to ask about personal stuff but about professional stuff - and in particular the approach.

exploring personal limits:
marathoning in flats
The best i can come up with is, Kavadlo is doing some really interesting things in terms of use of media and approach/philosophy to fitness that resonates, while also being different. I mentioned this difference in the review, in particular about bodyweight work. That difference to me is about vibe - approachability. What i've noticed in a lot of the calisthenics videos on the 'Tube is that they are performance oriented with uber ripped dudes doing amazing things that are just completely inaccessible. Like c'mon. And then there's Al doing the same thing SMILING and saying - for free - here's how to do this. Performance vs Practice. Practice vs Performance. 

That smile Al has said is a signature. For sure, but that smile comes from an attitude A philosophy - at least it feels that way. And, i think - at least so far - before Al/We're working Out goes global as a brand and IT All Changes - is a humility.  Especially in the We're Working Out book - where al shares his philosophy of training and invites us to participate. That participation, by the way, includes running. Guess what? We're optimized for movement - running in particular, it seems. So good things happen when we practice that skill, too. Just saying - and increasingly folks i know in fitness are getting this: many are into sprinting but i'm betting that more and more are going to get that relaxed longer runs have a place for our selves too. 

Al comes across as a very human person who has gone through a process to find out what resonates with him, that is (i keep saying this) accessible and real, from finding his path in fitness to finding a path for becoming more expert in that practice

Al Kavadlo from We're Working Out - reflecting on going from a bodybuilder
focus to a lean calisthenics machine process - and where happiness lies.
The process Kavadlo unpacks is very simple -- and b2d readers will get how this approacht resonates with a b2d focus (for example here on rep practice): begin - begin with a doable rep. and then do the rep again, and do another rep, and do the reps do the reps, and keep doing the reps. It will all happen. It happens. It comes. 

Which brings us to the worked examples of the application of that philosophy - Raising the Bar, the book and the DVD.

Will it Blend? Making Use of the Kavadlo Corpus

So i have We're Working Out (WWO), Raising the Bar (RTB) the book, Raising the Bar the DVD - how do these work together, one might ask.

The Book - First off it's just visually pleasing. It's a fine ebook but it's an excellent looking physical
volume. The pics are great. These are done by Colleen Leung. The layout / design is by Derek Bringham. Bringham has done a lot of books with Dragon Door. He set the tone with Enter the Kettlebell - one of the best designed fitness books out there (never mind the content). But, combined with Al's vision and Leung's visuals, this thing works as a really nice coffee table book! So, here's a strategy: if you want to inspire your pals, get the hardcopy and leave it out where they'll thumb through it. I really really wish there were a combo deal where you can buy either the ebook or the physical book and get its analog/digital twin at half price. John du Cane, how 'bout it?

Al pals of Thompkin Square Park in RTB
Beyond the Coffee Table. For me the book has (slowly) become a go-to place for Kavadlo's thinking about the movements and approaches to them. The book features more contexts than the DVD in which a movement might be explored. The book includes others besides the Kavadlo bro's doing the moves. There are normal looking gals doing pull ups for instance (by normal i  mean they do not look like they were members of the US olympic gymnastics team - this to me is a plus to have us see that these moves ARE within the reach of humans if we practice). 

The book connects the philosophy of Al's WWO with the practice of the bar work.

For instance, we once again see that while hanging leg raises are the path to a six pack, eating real food - like veggies - is the only True Way to seeing them. That's another thing i like about Kavadlo's approach - staying healthy is part of this. doing healthful things is important. All of the processes can be achieved without supplements and eating reasonably, eating real food. We also see humility and humanness in RTB the book as in WWO: Al 'fess's up to an abs symmetry envy he's had of his big brother Danny.  

And two concepts of particular relevance where we see the Zen of WWO in RTB: beginner's mind - where challenging moves stay challenging and practice remains important; and getting to a place of Intestinal Fortitude - having to be able to commit to the process of adaptation - to make progress. 

The DVD - on the other hand - the DVD is, as per the afore mentioned review -  a great visual feast of modelled progressions and forms of a movement. It's like, let's assume the Tude is in place; now here's what practice can look like. 

In other words, the book gets more into head space and alternatives while the DVD models progressions. 

What are we Doing Here? Building Trust -  in a Difference

As said, i've been asking myself - who cares about a professional practice interview? If the tools are good, they're good. and i certainly think the DVD is great and the books are really nice complements for the head space needed to support the practice. 

And for those interested in the Al way there is WWO; al's own blog has a lot of articles  about his process. So what more do we need here?? 

Indeed, it's this plethora of material that's only built confidence around Al that he's got a nice approach to fitness - an approach that is DIFFERENT IN A GOOD WAY. The non-grr way. The Tao of UnGrr. Do you know what i mean? Do you like that, too? One doesn't have to get all butched up and matchod out to go demonstrate skill. One can smile, laugh, have fun. And be serious. 

The Significant Bit So this interview is trying to get at a little more of that process than is currently expressed in the extent material by and around all things AK - i hope i'm conveying why that process is an Interesting Bit (aside: there's this thing in coding about a significant bit, how that one binary switch turning it on or off makes all the difference. Kavadlo's flipped on an interesting, significant bit in his approach).

Look, it's maybe like this: there are so many ways to achieve the same ends - consider all the ways there are to get a pull up - all the programs  (here's b2d's own pull up 101 summary of half a dozen approaches at least). Anyone claiming to be different or have THE answer - well that's gotta just be greeted with some skepticism. So increasingly, i find that the rational behind how we present that process is where interesting things happen. 

In other words, how does communication of a process work that it lead to success for some group of people? And success in this case is multiple: first, it's helping to introduce people to and move them forward in a new kind of physical practice. Al's doing that in this bodyweight practice. Second, it's an attitude/approach. That is, the humility before the bar, as i'm calling it: one is not *special* - one has to show up. And Al keeps showing up. Walks the walk. You just can't fake these movements. And who has to go "grr" when you can do a Human Flag?? 

And Now, The Interview(s)

With the above context in place, let's get into even more thoughts from Al about his design rationale.

b2d: Many people have come to know your work through your YouTube vids, and i've heard you say on an interview that you get emails all the time about how to do a muscle up or a human flag etc. Can you take us through the process a bit about how long you prep a move before you video it, how you decide to do this? 
AK: High level moves like the human flag are always a work in progress. I talk pretty in depth about my journey toward the flag in these articles: mymadmethods, t-nation, blog
yes - it was the t-nation one that convinced me one assistance exercise for the flag would be getting lighter/leaner...

As for how long I work on a move before I video myself, I record my training just about whenever I can. It sort of allows me to be my own trainer. I don't usually make the video public until I can do the move somewhat decently though! I'm constantly refining my skills though. I sometimes watch my youtube videos from a couple years ago and see mistakes in my form that I didn't notice at the time. That's part of why I keep making new videos. I can do a lot of these exercises better now!
Raising the Bar  
b2d Raising the Bar the book gets to freeze frame some of that process of the practice. It also includes a variety of folks carrying out their bar practices. In both WWO and RTB, you talk about the value of having workout partners but not getting hooked on having a partner. In your own practice, what role do these other folks play in your workouts - do you connect with these guys regularly? do you say let's have a pull up a thon on saturday?

AK: Yes, there are a lot of regulars at TSP and we're always getting inspired by each other. Sometimes formal meet-ups are planned in advance, but usually you just wind up working out with whoever is around - though in the winter, there are a lot less people around! Here's a video of a big TSP meet-up that took place in 2011:

Cool. Another feature of the book for which a big thank you for spending many glossy pages on women doing pull ups. And right at the start of the book, too.  i'd like to see women doing one arm pull ups and hand stand push ups please - preferably people who do not have a gymnastics background - that is really bumming me out - that so many of these bodyweight icons all seem to have gymnastics backgrounds - doing it since they were kids. Phooey. 
AK: I'm really glad that you appreciate me including lots of women in Raising The Bar. I promise my next book will feature at least one photo of a non-gymnast woman doing a handstand push-up!
[mc quietly offers placeholder video...

b2d: One big question on overall approach: the book touches on many forms of the movements but does not get into many step by step developments of a particular progression.  What made you decide to take this approach of very light on the how-to? By way of comparison i'm thinking of the ten step program in convict conditioning (CC) for pull ups, pistols, etc - and your own involvement in that kind of approach in Convict Conditioning 2.
 AK: I chose this approach -- to go light on step-by-step specifics, --for a few reasons. For starters, I didn't want my book to be too much like CC, but more than that I wanted to convey to people that they should have the freedom to explore these movements for themselves. I like the idea of providing guidelines and loose structure rather than dogmatic rules. It's unfortunate that a lot of people see the CC steps as being a rigid set of rules that must be strictly followed, since part of what makes bodyweight training special is the exploration of movement. I know Coach Wade intended for the steps to be guidelines, but some people have misunderstood those intentions.
Speaking of rules, in your own work where you talk about training certs, you kinda neg the CSCS, saying in effect suck it up and pass the test then do what you want. Did you not find much of worth in that program/text? 
AK: I'm guessing you read my recent T-Nation piece on certifications, right? It's not so much that I am trying to single out the NSCA, but rather that I am trying to demystify the cert industry in general. The value of actual personal training experience exponentially exceeds that of the certification process, especially for certs that don't include any hands-on work.
MUSIC Ok, let's circle back to this a little later and move into your vids for now.  You have a fabulous and welcoming attitude in your We're Working Out vids. What inspired the name, the great music theme, and doing videos to reach people in the first place?
AK: As for my theme music, I write and record all my own music, which is great because I don't have to pay for licensing, but also because music has been a passion of mine since even before fitness. I've also been a into writing, photography and videography for a long time, so doing my blog, and making books and DVDs allows me to combine all of the things I enjoy most.
Can folks listen to your music elsewhere? does your theme tune have a name? (again - it's great the way that works with the clips - signature smile; signature tune - interesting instrumentation).
AK: My theme song was originally the intro to a song I wrote and recorded several years ago before I even started my blog. (Music has been an interest of mine since even before working out.) After the site was up I had the idea to use that riff as my theme music. I've since gone back and re-recorded an extended version of the theme which is the version you hear on the DVD and in my more recent youtube clips. I actually put some of my music up on iTunes a while back, including the full version of the song that wound up becoming my theme. Ironically enough, the song is called "Don't Want You To See Me."
You can also hear it in its entirely in this older youtube clip:
I bet most folks did not know about this OTHER creative side of your work. It adds to the sense of you and your style coming to working out, outside. 

SMILIN' STYLE This question about your style of presentation is a big differentiator.  For instance, i love watching the baraholics do their thing, but that's kinda how i feel - it's their thing, rather than an invitation to get to that place too. You have this "**WE*** part of we're working out. it's an invitation. across the nation... how did you develop that smile/approach??
AK: My smile has definitely become part of my signature. A lot of people think working out has to be this really serious thing but that mindset is a bit of a turnoff for me. There's absolutely a serious aspect to it, but I like to keep a lighthearted attitude because that is just my nature. Something I've often said is that to be successful in the fitness industry you have to embrace your personality and find the people you click with. Nobody is the best trainer for everyone. I'm catering to an audience in the fitness world that has been neglected for a long time. Working out isn't just for clean-cut muscle-head jocks and women who look like Barbie. 
good to know :)
As a kid I was a geek
GEEKs n' Freaks You mean you're no longer a geek?  and what kind of geek? what do you mean by "neglected" - you're thinking of whom?
Haha - I guess you're right - once a geek, always a geek! Though sometimes people don't expect it from my appearance, I am definitely still a nerd at heart. As for the neglected segment of the fitness industry, I'm talking about the geeks, freaks and weirdos. People who don't fit the textbook definition of "normal."
I  was also always bad at sports.

(aside: let's do some vision work together sometime, al…there's just no need for need...)
When you're bad at sports as a kid, you tend to get made fun of rather than being given encouragement or positivity.
or, hmm, skills training?
As I grew up, I was surprised to discover that fitness could actually be FUN. I'm just trying to spread that message.
Fun indeed. But also specifically bodyweight. You've likely noticed over the past maybe two years a growing trend towards bodyweight work. You've been ahead of the curve, would you say? What do you think is bringing folks back to body based skills for strength and conditioning?
I am very excited about the recent resurgence of bodyweight training and I'm grateful to be a part of it. There's definitely been a growing trend towards bodyweight exercise but it still hasn't totally infiltrated the mainstream. When you are into a subculture like the bodyweight community, it's easy to forget that it's still on the fringes. If you go into almost any mainstream gym it's still just a sea of machines and most of the people there will have never even heard of a muscle-up or a human flag, nonetheless be training toward one themselves.
hmm. it's really cool that you see that.

DVD MAKING OF... What's really interesting to note about The Raising the Bar DVD is that it is entirely your production - that's cool - and Dragon Door (DD) is mainly the distributor for you. How did that happen? there's  LOT of ways you could have produced and sold this vid - so why this one?

for some of the videographer geeks in the house, can you tell us about the euqipment you use for your we're working out vids? given your shiftlessness, for instance, where does the mic go??
Making this DVD was a fun process but also a tremendous amount of work. I actually had never intended to make a DVD - it always seemed like too much work and the written word has always been more appealing to me. I like making the youtube clips but they are all very short and the standards for production values tend to be lower on Youtube. So it's a much smaller production and less of a time commitment. However, Dragon Door President John Du Cane was really into the idea of making a DVD to go with my book Raising The Bar and I guess it wasn't that hard for him to convince me! Dragon Door has a great reputation and huge following. I feel lucky to get to work with them. Once John told me that he would let me have total creative control it became a very exciting proposal.
The Book Making Of That's excellent - would you like to talk a little bit about how the book happened? how you got hooked up with DD for that? maybe we can sell a few of these, too? love the photography.
I first got involved with Dragon Door through Paul "Coach" Wade. He liked some of the photos on my blog and asked me if I would be interested in modeling for the sequel (CC2) to his popular Convict Conditioning book.

Of course I jumped at the chance. I exchanged a few emails with John Du Cane as well around this time and told him about the book I was writing about pull-ups. He expressed interest and when the manuscript was done I showed it to John and he loved it. 
Then the DVD was shot on several different days over the course of close to two months -
wow! that's a long shoot
There was always with a week or so in between shootings. There was really no other way we could have done all those difficult moves as many times as we had to. I feel like we really crammed a lot of content into this DVD and I didn't want the form to suffer on any of the demonstrations so we had to spread it out. 
Danny Kavadlo Could i ask why you decided to team up with your bro for most of the moves? It works - though i'm hard pressed to think why it works to have you both replicate these moves (the windshield wipers looks great by the way) - what inspired this? 
Involving Danny in this DVD seemed like an obvious choice to me. Our personalities play nicely off each other and it's much more visually interesting to see two different people performing the moves.
Al and Danny - from RTB the Book
It's also good to see that different bodies might look slightly different while performing the same exercise, to give the viewer a bigger scope of reference. Plus I love getting to work with Danny - it's just more fun having him involved. Danny is a busy personal trainer in his own right, so schedule-wise he can't always be in everything I do, but for the DVD we made sure to get our schedules in sync to make it happen.
Makes sense. but wow! Even for a project of this size, that's a lot of coordination, focus, effort. And yet the feel stays very true to the youTube vids.  
Most of my youtube videos are just shot on a cheap little camera on a tripod. For the DVD I got actual camera people with better equipment! As for the sound, we couldn't use lav mics because we weren't wearing shirts, so we just had a mic a few feet in front of us and waited for patches of silence - which if you've ever been to NYC, you know can take a while. It was honestly a bit maddening trying to film the talking parts since jackhammers and car alarms keep going off. That's part of why I wound up doing so much voiceover. But hey, everything is a learning experience and I'm quite pleased with the end result, so it was all worth it!
It's super that it is outside - that's another big differentiator. it feels, again, real and fresh. Given the amount of effort, Is this DVD the first in a series? or what is on the ak horizon for reaching the peeps? 
As for the future, I'm getting close to finishing my next book, which is all about no-equipment bodyweight strength training. It's titled "Pushing The Limits! - Total Body Strength With No Equipment" and will cover everything from basic push-ups and squats, up to handstand push-ups, pistols, one arm push-ups and more. I'm not sure what the next thing after that is yet. There are several ideas kicking around in my mind, but I usually just try to take things as they come.


And now, let's circle back to certifications - while we were starting this interview the official announcement came out that you're leading a bodyweight certification with dragon door.  Progressive Calisithenics Certification (PCC). Let's talk about that for a moment. 

Ok questions: you're saying that the cert will require some challenge to pass.  Voila:


1. FULL SQUATS:                         40 reps
2. FULL PUSH-UPS:                     30 reps
3. HANGING KNEE RAISES:      20 reps
4. FULL PULL-UPS:                     10 reps
TOTAL:    100 reps


1. FULL SQUATS:                         40 reps
2. KNEELING PUSH-UPS:           30 reps
3. HANGING KNEE RAISES:       20 reps
4. AUSTRALIAN PULL-UPS:       10 reps
TOTAL:  100 reps

Does that include a within three months if you can do it and send in a vid you get the cert?? eg, the rkc has always had a snatch test and other assessments guarenteeing a 60% pass rate on the day with the three month buffer zone. Is this the same? 
The PCC will be a lot like the RKC in terms of the testing. RKC has the snatch test, PCC has "The Century" (details are on DD's site). And like the RKC, we will be giving those who cannot pass the century in person a chance to video themselves and send it in afterward. 
Ok another obvious question that needs to be head on addressed: how is this cert different than Convict Conditioning?  What would get someone to pay for this course if they've made progress with that program - or for that matter with your awesome DVD? how does this course fit into your own path for your work - such as the latest DVD raising the bar?  what will the differences be between that work and this cert program?
As for how the PCC is different than CC, the curriculum is much more inclusive than CC, which really only talks about 6 movement patterns. Even if you include CC2, it's still barely half of the total PCC curriculum, which includes things like front levers, back levers, muscle-ups, etc. I guess the closest approximation you can make is that the PCC curriculum combines content from the CC books as well as my books, but it will still go more in-depth than any of those materials. More importantly, however, is that it's an interactive experience! RTB and CC are great resources, but they can't actually tell you if your form is correct or give you cues specific to your situation. Also, since the course is designed with other trainers in mind, the PCC will go into great detail about how to appropriately teach and program these movements for other individuals. And of course, it's a chance for attendees to train with Danny and I in person and pick our brains during the Q&A session.
How does Paul Wade fit into the Al K world? you seem to have this thing down, al, about teaching progressions, so why bond with someone else?
Why would I join up with Paul Wade? Why wouldn't I want to join with him?!? CC is far and away the most popular book ever on bodyweight training and while I've made a name for myself on my own, teaming up with Paul and DD is one of those rare opportunities to combine our efforts and take things to the next level. I guess it's an example of the sum of the parts being stronger than each part on its own.
How many certs will you and Danny be leading in a year do your reckon? And women lined up to work with you? non-gymnast backgrounds?
 I'm not sure how often we are going to be offering the PCC - I guess that depends on how much demand there winds up being. My hope is that it will grow to the level of the RKC, but only time will tell.
Can we come back to the test for a sec? Can you help contextualise the century test with the goals of the cert? Realistically, someone just able to do that set is not likely to end the cert doing a human flag, and that's on the menu, so...
As for the Century, it definitely does not qualify someone to teach the human flag. The PCC cert and Century test establish a baseline level of competency in calisthenics - enough to qualify certified individuals to instruct beginners and intermediate level students. The more advanced moves will be in the workshop, as some candidates will be ready to learn them, but very few personal training clients are going to be anywhere near ready for moves like the flag and muscle-ups, so it isn't essential for PCC candidates to be able to perform them. It's kind of like how at the RKC, there might be a few people attempting the beast tamer of iron maiden challenges, but for most people the snatch test is plenty to convey competency in the basics.  
Ok. Thank you. A bit of a background question to wrap, if i may: i have to ask: what, no martial arts background? nothing wrong with that if there is - but if not - how refreshing.
I've dabbled in marital arts (a little Tae Kwon Do as a kid and a brief stint practicing Jiu-jitsu as an adult) but I never enjoyed those things as much as strength training and calisthenics (I discuss this in more detail in my first book). It's hard to nail down exactly what's so appealing to me about calisthenics. There are a lot of things about it that are very similar to martial arts - particularly the discipline and the direct cause-and-effect relationship between how much work one puts in and their skill level - but I've never been a violent or aggressive person and besides, martial arts are always so serious. Calisthenics is more fun and playful, which better suits my personality
And one more: why do you think it's great and fun to be able to do these bodyweight movements? what keeps you going with the lever and fingertip work and exploring moves? 
There's just something special and transcendent about calisthenics that I can't really articulate. 

The Un Grr Difference

After all of the above, that last statement might be seen as filling in the definition of irony, eh? Or possibly it's a bit of that zen in the kone sense of we're working out: discuss everything but the thing itself. For now.

There is a difference between the Who and [the What and the Way]. I make know claims here to know Al Kavadlo - not the intent here. As said, the focus has been to better see if i understand what the person is trying to explore and how the presentation of that WHAT communicates that Way. As said at the outset, while that's an interesting thing, the purpose here is not biography but methodology, and what informs that method. Why care? well, methods like skills are replicable. By exploring the components of a method, we may decide these methods are worth exploring further via replication/emulation in our own personal or coaching practice.

I really hope, therefore, this wee article has given y'all a sense of the Al Kavadlo approach, and why it's that approach (perhaps less than the thing itself) that feels so intriguing, captivating, delightful (and effective) about Al's bringing bodyweight work to the Net.

The Methodology of Presentation

Nice sentiment. But what IS then the AK methodology not of working out - a lot of that is already in WWO - but of re-presentation of work? - Here's a few of the significant bits:
  • walk the walk - demonstrably 
    • if your goal is to have folks able to explore pull ups anywhere, show pull ups anywhere.
    • If the goal is that anywhere is an opportunity for practice, show that.
    • if buddies play a role, show that
    • if being at ease and having fun is important, show that
  • Be true to your space
    • if you do your thing in a park, go demo in the park
  • Model progress
    • if you're opening the door for someone, demonstrate the completion but especially model a path to completion
  • Let the Movement reflect the You, too
    • if your style is joy, show joy in the movement. 
  • Humility before the Bar (or implement/technology of practice)
    • repeating the message constantly that these moves are not "owned" once and they're in the bag, but require constant practice
  • Respect the body
    • finding what works for you and then doing it - alot: al's thing is bodyweight - found after exploring/playing with lots of other stuff.
    • food: keeping it real food and hence lean
    • movement: endurance and absolute strength not so far apart - so running as a part of practice for instance is part of the WHOLE presentation package - with joy
  • Stepping Up
    • the videos themselves are a testimony to a public stepping up, but so is putting up in front of others who are likewise practicing. Not (necessarily) a competition, but a reminder that 
      • we can learn from others
      • be encouraged by others
      • encourage others
      • and keep ourselves honest
  • Attitude - of joy and honesty
    • this is sorta like let the movement reflect you - but it's also part of the pre movement. Al talks on camera, does voice overs explaining the approach. so the attitude in the movement is the same as in what precedes it.
  • Practice - getting in lots of reps - Respect the audience
    • Al talks about video'ing himself often for being his own coach; he's also done *lots* of youtube videos. Practice - doing it a lot - finding time to do it a lot - is a kind of respect for the audience.
      There are a ton of training vids - this practice of presentation is a key element - caring and working to make it effective from music to voice over to shots - is an undeniable (but often unperceived attribute of) what keeps us coming back, no?
mc repete apres le model du al k
with the
gal's first pull upprogress party
Working the Method/Skills - Deliberate Practice of Presentation. These components i've listed may at least be a good chunk of what we might call the Al K presentation method. While the individual bits are likely familiar to most of us, it seems to me that Kavadlo is the first person on the Net using these principles in a co-ordianated way to deliver content. The result is Kavadlo's presentation style, oui? BUT - by looking at this style, we can explore those components, and make decisions about adopting them.

Some of us do some of these things in this list unconsciously. If we grr about our practice, we likely grr if we teach it or when we show off. By stepping back and looking at method deliberately we can CHOOSE to focus on it and act on it. Al's smile, as he says, is his signature. It's certainly what keeps me coming back.

Those of us who do presentations - can we choose to focus on say that vibe that we use in the presentation and keep it in the demo? Or even simply become aware that that's something that can be constructed, created and practiced?

When doing the pull up photo that would become the poster clip for the gal's "my first pull up" progress party - i was definitely thinking (a) being in the environment and (b) expressing joy - this is fun (cuz it is).

That's on the in front of camera part of the presentation; there's also the practice of getting comfortable being on camera AND getting skilled up about some basic video editing, uploading, managing a youtube channel etc - because Al K does it all himself. These are are EACH method decision points: where do we want to put our practice cycles first if we want to communicate online, and in media that's delivered via an online space?

Working the Method. By way of comparison, consider tony horton of p90x fame.  If you know P90X, He hits a number of the above components, doesn't he? As a mental exercise to see how method works, one might ask, what would Tony need to add or change to demonstrate the full Al K method for presentation - and still be true to P90X? Is there anyone else you can think of in the presentation of knowledge space where you can check the AK methods of presentation? (We could get into an entire discussion at some point about whether/how coaches need to be able to model physically what they coach).

The goal here is not to say "here's how to clone Al Kavadlo" - but how to look at the methods that are so well done, and think of them as skills we might want to practice if and as we present ourselves/our thing - whatever that is.

To that end, here's a little more un grring bodyweight work with AK.

And, Post Post Script, Thank You 
On a personal note, one of the real gifts of Al's stuff? Inspired me to try moves i'd not have thought of exploring before (someone has to help get more images of women doing these moves, eh?...)

mc recently in Fwance - where now they not only kiss on main street
but do elbow levers in the park
where "nous faisons de la musculation" 

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Consider the Brain as Physical and the 22nd C Trainer may be a Warrior Teaching Nun

Our brains are physical. Like a leg, an eyeball, a heart.
Our brains are physical.
and really complex.
SO how do we train the physical brain?

Philosophia: how do you work out?
I'll suggest below that the physical brain requires three types of training: (1) physical (cardio vascular/mitochondria building related); (2) sensory-motor training and - wait for it - (3) deep, expert conversation. I'll make the case that this latter component has been demonstrated compellingly in a very long standing study on brain disease.

Some coaches/trainers are versed in type one training. Some folks carry out type 2 training -an example of this kind of practice is z-health, like i-phase, discussed in this overview. But what of type 3? of facilitating rich, complex language use, something pretty particular to humans but that has particular physical payoffs for brain function especially in later life?  Language as physical.

So this piece is an initial exploration of thinking about the brain as physical and the implications for practice and the professional practice of coaching/training holistic wellbeing/fitness.

Shall we stop the Brain/Body division in our Language?

The brain is physical
That to me is just wild - it's an integral part of a physical being - not where the body is an inconvenient attachment to the brain, or conversely where the brain has no real role in our workouts beyond keeping track of the number of reps we're at in a set.

So if the brain is a part of our body (yes) how do we train the brain for its physical well being? If we have cardio-vascular workouts what are ensephalo workouts?

How Train The Brain - For its Physical Well Being?

For some reason it is not initially easy for me to grok seeing the brain like the heart in terms of training. Let's look at this: i mean, when we think of our body, do we think of our brains as part of that, or as something separate from the body? As in, there's the brain and there's the body? How often do we hear that phrase? "The brain/body."

This separation of brain/body is likely not a good idea. When we make this separation, we tend to ignore that our brains need physical support, just like the rest of our physical being. If it's a wee bit of a challenge for you to see the brain in the same context as the heart or lungs, i get it. Maybe this will help: you might say well the heart and lungs benefit from aerobics - they thrive on blood and oxygen so exercise for the heart and lungs - makes sense.  But brain damage occurs from the deprivation of oxygen to the brain. Physical well being benefits the brain, too.

But it seems there are also some special kinds of practice that the brain's particular functions benefit from that are more cognitive than physical, BUT that have physical - both brain and body - pay offs. As we'll see - this special kind of workout may need those of us who coach to reconsider just how holistic are our approaches - we may not be as, well, smart, in our coaching as we may have thought we are?

So let's take it from the top again. Our brains are part of our bodies. And just like the rest of our bodies, they're plastic.That means they adapt; they can reshape and hold that new shape. And just like the rest of the body, the brain is a use it or lose it system. And just like the rest of our body, our brains benefit from working out.  But our brains seem to need *two* types of working out.
One: We usually think of our brains for our smarts, our cognitive performance. That cognitive performance simply improves by our activity level. If you really want to get into the research around this fact, take a look at the second half of this tech report called "burn the chair." My favorite take away here is that according to the results of a very large, compelling study (the whitehall cohort study), being sedentary over time does in fact make us stupid. or stupid-er. Movement is important for cognition.  Move; be smarter.  
Two: it seems from long term research looking at brains of nuns who have willed their brains to science  (work aptly called the Nun Study, overview from WIRED here) that idea density is related to the plasticity and resilience of the brain itself. Idea density is a now pretty standard psychological measure of the number of propositions used to express a concept. Roger Martin has a lovely piece from 1996 to explain the idea density concept.  
A bottom line from the nun study work: poorer/simpler language skills earlier in life seems to be strongly correlated to a significantly higher risk of dementia and Alzheimers. One of the ways the researchers saw this resilience was not just in the live, life-time testing of cognitive performance between the nuns, but also looking at their actual, physical brains, post-mortem. What they saw were brains that physically LOOKED like the brains were in a state of dementia, BUT many nuns showed no SIGNS of dementia.  The ones who did not seem to have had the higher idea density/richer language skills. 

In other words, language practice - not what we think of as a physical thing - builds physical properties / disease defences for the brain. At least we know about the disease defences now - but what else that is also "unseen" until post mortem - and plainly there's much we're not yet "seeing" in these disembodied brains - like how they can appear diseased but not perform as such? Basically: the abstract practice of language takes place in physical space - in the tissues of the brain - and has substantial benefit to whole person performance. WOW.

Personally, i would also like to know who of these nuns actually were the more physically active and how that maps to the results, too. Did they garden or did they play a field sport or ride a bike?  Would the same results around idea density be found with accomplished dancers, athletes or artists? Or is there something particular about language, for which our brains seem particularly adapted in so many ways (language centers specifically, for instance) that requires this particular skill to reduce these brain risks?

Nudging the Physical Brain via Intellectual/Cognitive Skills Practice

The suggestion from the ongoing results from the Nun Study (and there is tons of work since it started in 1986) when combined with all the work  in the physical / cognitive performance space overviewed in Burn the Chair suggests that we need good dolops of both physical movement and intellectual engagement (specifically in language) for the ongoing health of our brains, that very physical part of our bodies.

And like other physical practice, language skills/language expression can be practiced, too. We never stop adapting: we can get better what we practice physically and intellectually.  One way to practice nudging ourselves in language: we can go deeper into developing our expertise on a topic. We don't stop there; we re-present that information; we practice explain it.  The ability to express something at a more expert level is part of assessing idea density (pdf of paper).

Kandel's Principles of Neural
Science, new 5th edition,
 fabulous text
for beginner and expert
to look at this topic.
(US/ UK)
In wellbeing there are so many topics where we can go deeper into our knowledge of practice: nutrition, physiology, anatomy, neurology itself. Like picking an exercise program, we don't have to get the "right" topic, we just need to start.

And practice.

And perhaps step up from time to time.

We know how in physical practice, there are competitions: team challenges, individual lifting competitions, etc, where we can test ourselves from time to time? Same thing with intellectual work. We can do courses with exams; collaborate on paper writing, give a guest lecture for a class - or a group - we just need to  make sure there's a bona fide expert in the room who will be able to assess how credible we are, and how well we handle questions.

We can improve our performance in these scenario by getting our heart rates up before a performance/test and by sipping water throughout - but that's for another post.

The main thing - our brains are physical - need reps just like the rest of us; they just need - it seems -  two kinds: they need physical and cognitive stimulation.

How do we do that? Working the good ol' sagittal plane may just not be enough.

The Future of Physical Culture - includes the physical brain

The point of this post? In our physical training, we get very good about training a lot of the body. When we remember that we need to train all of it - including the brain, just like the heart and the lungs - we have a new opportunity and possibly requirement for pushing our practice to affect our brains physical wellbeing. That's amazing.

So in 2013, if we're coaches, how are we going to bring brain-as-part-of-the-body assessment into our client history? If we're coaches, how will we coach brain health? how coach improvement for idea density? If we are our own coaches, how will we develop a program to support this?

Some considerations for Holistic Physical Brain Training

Part 1 - Trad "Physical Health/Movement" Physical stimulation of the brain may mean both creating an optimal healthy environment for the brain - so movement works here.

Part 2 - More of the Brain Engaged -  But to start to get engagement with as much of the brain as possible - so that it does fire on all cylinders we may want to explore greater ranges of full on sensory stimulation: visual, vestibular, proprioceptive - this means working just the good ol sagittal plane may be missing greater brain engagement. In my experience, so far, Z-Health (faq) has the most developed systems for approaching this encephalo-aspect of brain as part of the body training. If you're not familiar with Z-Health, there's a swath of articles here about various aspects of the approach.

Part 3 -  As for those components of language enervation shown in the nun study to be able to overcome the physical deterioration of the brain that usually signifies cognitive deterioration, one might be tempted to say well that's the role of a classical education is it not? Where learning to think and to speak well, to converse intelligently is not a sign of snootery but in what we see here, physical resilience.  But if we're coaches we're not grades school teachers; and we're not ph.d's.

Hmm. Some of us are. That aside, imagine if we were - if not ph d's -  at least licensed professionals rather than weekend certified quacks that most of us are. But even that aside, what if that new licensed, registered profession took into account not just the physical training of strength or fitness, not just the sensory motor development of the brain/body connection, but also took into account this intellectual as physical development of the brain for our longitudinal health, not just the today look in the mirror health.

A good education indeed includes all these aspects. Perhaps we just haven't had all this physical evidence to prove and thus tweak the connections between these components, but it's overwhelming isn't it, that quality of life - of long life - demands it?

As coaches, how many of us really think long term about our clients? Or are we often forced to be politicians, to focus on the current term/session, rather than the lifetime of the client?

Nuns and Monks; The 22nd Century Trainer as Mendicant Warrior Teachers?

This last section has not been meant as a criticism of any individual or for that matter any current training qualification program: it's a critique of our practice. What are we really doing here? How are we trained to do it? What is acceptable to us as clients? If we can barely stand to work out on our own or with a trainer for an hour, what is wrong with us? If as a trainer we wants to minimize sessions to less than an hour what's wrong with us?

Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away, when education was important, the curriculum included physical and intellectual practice. Throughout history, the great innovators have been - i'm convinced - people who have been both physical and intellectual if not a bit spiritual.

Maybe if we were to create a profession - one where the trainer is as respected as the doctor or whomever is respected these days - the concept of trainer would disappear (and really what does that tell us that our culture has evolved a job like "trainer"? ) - and we would be back to educators. But instead of having a Physics teacher AND a PE teacher, what if they were the same? If students would have to know these subjects why not the teachers?

And as we moved through life, we would keep up our health and our intellectual practice that we learned in school - because school wouldn't be a prison or just a party,  but would be where we learned to feel the best we could possibly feel because we would know ourselves. We could use assessments whether EEG's of our brains during sleep or step counters or ph strips to understand ourselves and tune ourselves and our social encounters to be better. Converse, play an instrument, read, speak well, do science, do ourselves.

What can i say - i've seen cloud atlas, the movie: the future might be very interesting looking. Education may make a come back.

Ok, i'll stop there. THis article was going to be a review of health and wellbeing books i've enjoyed in 2012 - and then this happened.  Thanks for listening. will be keen to hear your thoughts.

A challenge? There are some challenges for new kinds of training/coaching for total body, total physical health that has to involve the physical brain - that training for physical brain well being is multi-sensoral and intellectual as well as physical. I've suggested that by the 22nd C we may get how to do this right in terms of professional practice and cultural figures that will initiate these practices for us. How do we get from now to then? Can we do so in less than 100 years? How do we contribute today?


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