Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eat meat, why not eat beast complete? Explore offal (like liver)

Do you eat meat? Ok, let's assume you've got the grass fed/free range thing down. Now, do you eat Liver? How about kidneys, heart, related giblets?
If not why not? Bad childhood aroma memories? Time for a taste sensation re-education.

After being vegetarian for a long time, and dealing with some health issues about 18m ago i think i started eating meat. It's not till this last month and reading T.C. Luoma's Zombie Diet article that i began to explore organ meat in the diet - memories of early childhood not withstanding.

What on earth has been keeping people away from this stuff? It's amazing!

If you're gonna eat meat, be complete. If you're gonna eat an animal, dam it EAT THE ANIMAL.

As Luoama writes in Zombie Diet about the nutritional value of liver, just for instance:
one may see "ox liver" as interchangeable with beef liver
Look at this comparison between the Vitamin C content of 100 grams of apple, 100 grams of carrots, 100 grams of red meat, and 100 grams of beef liver.
The apple has 7.0 grams of Vitamin C, the carrots have 6.0 grams, the red meat has 0 grams, and the beef liver has 27.0 grams.
Let's do the same thing with Vitamin B12.
The apple has no measurable B12 and neither do the carrots. The red meat has 1.84 mcg., but the beef liver has 111.3 mcg.
It's no contest.
And it's not much different when you look at other nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, Vitamins A, D, and E, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, and Vitamin B6 – beef liver beats them all almost every time. (bold emphasis mine - mc)
Choline is another good nutrient for the brain, recommended especially for pregnant gals,  and beef and chicken liver is high in this. More goodness.

I was in Paris at a conference when i started exploring this space. There is pretty much literally a butcher on every corner there. So getting liver - calves liver in particular [nutrition info]- and one shop was quite open about only having horses liver (!) - is pretty much simple. That's grass fed, too, natch.

Soaked in milk a few hours, sauted rare with tons of onions and shallots (and maybe some bacon), served with fresh greens and sweet potato, lots of spices, it's amazing. Super super tender, and so just oddly satisfying this is just not your mama's liver.

Today, rather than liver, it was lamb's heart (high in iron) and sweetbreads (high in vitamin c)  (this is the thymus/pancreas, not brains) [nutrition info]. Wow. That was lunch. and again, after eating this uber fast and lovely and easy to prepare food, i felt incredibly restored AND energised. And that without a morning shot of joe. What's in this stuff?

What's not to like? Fat? Cholesterol? Misinformation?
TO folks who are concerned about cholesterol and saturated fat: suck it up. No really, it's ok. Let us liberate ourselves from our "fat is evil" place and understand Balance. The move to liver being safe again - indeed healthy again - shows how our understanding of fat and food is improving.

First, eating dietary cholesterol doesn't increase cholesterol in our blood, and saturated fat is not bad. Saturated Fat does many good things. It's all about balance (overview on balancing fats here). If you're curious about cholesterol, take a peak at this article on cholesterol doing low carb eating.

I'm one with Michael Pollan about "eat less; mostly plants" - and if eating animals, let me add by extension, eat the healthiest types possible like free range & grass fed, and eat as much of the beast as possible. That includes the squishy bits. As Alison Ford writes
Although some people are still squeamish about eating offal, it provides legitimate social and environmental benefits, as well as the nutritional ones. Eating offal shows respect to animals, discourages waste, and fosters a more understanding and intimate relationship between an eater and his food. Plus, as many chefs have pointed out, much processed commercial meat—including ground beef, hot dogs, lunch meat, and sausage—is of indeterminate origin, but offal is impossible to fake—while it can be hard to know exactly what’s in a hot dog, there’s no mistaking that a kidney is a kidney, so you always know exactly what you’re getting. 
It feels GRRReat! Three things about liver and related offal: taste is awesome; nutrition profile is incredible - in fact unbelievable - but the biggest and most consistent surprise so far has been energy. I have not probed far enough into the goods to get why there is such satisfaction that's incomparable - stake doesn't do it; neither does carrot cake. What is with this stuff? Have you had that experience? we know there's saturated fat, true, and saturated fats seem to be higher in satiety (see this 2013 paper, for example) than other kinds of fats - especially monounsaturated, but heh, i've done high fat coffee and it doesn't have this feel. you know? So what's the nutrient profile that's doing this happy joy post prandial delight? Maybe its shock that offal is so un-offal.

If you eat meat, be complete: Give Liver and Offal a try 

free range chickies (source of image) - good to the last giblet
CAVEAT: winner winner chicken liver - not - While chicken livers [nutrition info] have much to offer nutritionally (and also lower on vitamin a, which is perhaps important if considering od'ing on liver - just remember to get as much vitamin d) I have had one poor experience with a recipe suggesting chicken livers could be cooked rare, like bigger animal liver. Do NOT take that advice.

 - or go ahead, try it, and see how long before you hit campylobacter -- you know how we have to cook chicken so it's not pink? same apparently with chicken liver. Here's a recipe that gets them cooked for about 5-7 minutes total (there's two times into the pan). You can also use a thermometer to make sure the innards are at a safe piping temperature (>70C).

If ya don't take this care, Let me tell ya, it's a very special type of reaction - great taste - horrible experience post eating. Again, maybe you'll be lucky and find undercooking chicken livers is grand. Me? i think i'll be making pate with well cooked chicken livers and go rare with other critters.  Pate Recipes Here's a Mark's Apple version of chicken pate.  And better (as it's blender based) a chicken paleo inspired version or two. irony: chickens are domesticated, so perhaps not paleo beasties? i'm just saying.

Cooking is FUN and CHEAP. This stuff is really straight forward to cook. It can all be done in a pan. A cast iron one if you like (i like).

Where else get this kind of vitamin and mineral and nutrient profile for this price? I'm shocked.

If you eat meat: why not get in on this amazing value - on every level of the term value: taste, nutrition, price, satiety and energy.

Feeling Groovy?
If you've started doing liver and associated organs and you feel jazzed and energised and satisfied after eating this stuff, please let me know. It would be great to understand why this is such an effect - assuming it's occurring in more than just me.

Related Posts:

Monday, May 20, 2013

International Coaches Day Today

Today is in the b2d universe, and perhaps it will go beyond, International Coaches Day.
Well why not?
Just taking a moment to celebrate the folks who have helped inform our practice, shape our experience. Some of them we've met and worked with; others we know through their work, but feel like it's had a personal impact.

Why not give them some space? Let's have some time just to remember who they are and what
specifically we think they've done to help shape our practice or our thinking about practice?

As i just wrote on the begin2dig page at facebook:

in physical culture, in terms of influence, i can think of a couple - including folks i've not met. A core is Clarence Bass.
What i admired about this person is that he trained as a lawyer but treats his body and be
ing lean as a sane and steady life progress. He steps up to compete, to self-test, and he engages both the literature and the people behind the literature. I wouldn't have encountered Pavel Tsatsouline without Clarance Bass. He's a kind of role model as well in terms of how he writes about his experience and practice in physical culture. Never met. That's cool, too...If you haven't encountered him, he's the guy to whom pavel dedicated Beyond Bodybuilding.
This guy was into lean and ripped for "normal" people way before it was cool; when John Berardi was thinking about Grad School, this guy had books for people wanting to be healthy, recovery well, feel good (look good).  He was also there on the web with a treasure trove of articles before most folks were thinking about their business model to create value with good content before asking someone to buy something.  By all means look through his site. You'll see he's the guy (for good or ill) who introduced the community to the Tabata protocol - the real one.

We've never met or connected, but yup Bass is plainly who i think of as similar goals for what i'd like to have b2d be able to offer for folks. Thank you very much Clarence Bass for walking the talk for decades, and showing that folks from any profession can ask good sound questions, develop expert practice and help others in the process.

Happy International Coaches Day, all.

Share this Coaches Day Tweet on Twitter coaches day post on twitter, and @ckshowalter suggests, use the tag "#coachesday"

Who are you celebrating today, this year? Are there two excplit things/reasons/ways you can think of that are aspects of what puts this person on your Coaches Wall?

Keen to hear. let's celebrate.


Related Posts
Coaching Approach: 9S
Remembering Shane Autry

Friday, May 17, 2013

Calling Something Easy or Hard: the Transfat of Teaching

Have you ever had someone try to teach you how to do something and then say (perhaps through gritted teeth) something like, "I'm trying to make this as easy as possible for you." Did that work? Have you ever had a teacher say "look this is really easy" or a coach offer a technique drill and say "here's the really simple way to tie this knot." How did you feel? Perhaps you only noticed if you found that that explanation wasn't experienced as particularly simple, or easy or fun? What about the corollary where someone asserts "this stuff is hard" - and you thought, um, no, it's boring, tedious and unengaging, but it's not "hard."

is the interface of the piano easy or hard?
(question paraphrasing bill buxton on design)

I'm going to suggest that this easy/hard thing is the transfat of the coaching/teaching world: developed with the best of intentions, it's still a cheap substitute for the real thing and yes, increasingly considered harmful. I'm going to propose that, on the "considered harmful side" specifically that describing concepts to be learned in a lecture or coaching session or seminar as easy or hard does not help learning. Indeed, it may even inhibit it.


I'll warn you ahead of time: i've found no research in pedagogy directly to say that framing something as easy or hard is problematic, but i hope you'll walk through the arguments with me and perhaps consider the value of exploring an alternative framing to easy/hard. I'll propose that below, too.

By way of context, two things, first, why talk about this subject on b2d? Since so many of us reading b2d either coach, teach, or find ourselves in learning contexts around health, fitness, wellbeing, it seemed appropriate to situate this particular exploration here at b2d.  Second, the easy/hard description itself. It's very difficult (dare i say hard?) to look at any kind of challenging situation, perhaps quite a bit in athletics, and not see the space framed as hard or easy. We all, it seems, have an easy vs hard meter  running in our heads. Perhaps this meter has something to do with safety/threat response and protection.

When it comes to teaching, however, I question the value of framing a learning concept as easy or hard when presenting it to learners. There's a number of issues i'm going to work through below, but by way of context, calling something easy or hard out of the box asserts that a concept, a priori, has almost a set learnable state.  Is that really ever the case? Consider the existential assessment of Math Class by Barbie circa 1991 (video below and CBC overview video here -  check out the "did you know" tab - what's great are the girl math students' responses to this - story ends at 1:42  but the whole thing is historically interesting. anyway...).

some may remember the 1991 Barbie Recall for the infamous "math class is tough" 

To unpack easy or hard in a teaching context, let me unpack an example that i heard repeatedly the other day when observing grad students give a guest lecture to undergrads. The number of times i heard "i'm making this as easy as possible" felt legion. And each time i heard it i got more and more distressed - though i didn't have a clear sense of why at the time.

So what's wrong with "i'm making this as easy as possible for you" - Here's just a few possibilities. It seems that framing has two particularly negative impacts on the learning experience for the student (though it probably feels great for the teacher):

On the personal side:
  • for good or ill, the "i'm making this as easy as possible" puts the focus of attention on us and our sense of personal greatness and "teacher as star" rather than on the material at hand and the students' needs. Look at what we've done.
  • related to the above, surely it's our job to make material accessible to the audience to whom we're delivering it - at all times. So why draw attention to our struggle? Are we looking for praise? we want to be loved? need a hug? right then? because dam it getting this lecture cost us, boy. 
On the Content side:
  • is being "easy" a plus? easy can be boring
  • what if the person doesn't get what you think is the "easy" explanation? does that mean the problem is with them?  
Let me drill into a few of these a little more

The Personal: Self rather than Student as focus of attention? 
There are all sorts of noble reasons to say "i'm making this as easy as possible for you"
There are likely at least two positively motivated intensions and one unforced error in this "easy/hard" framing - we'll take them in turn:
  1. One is: please be aware of how important this topic is; i wouldn't have put all these cycles into crafting this experience if i didn't think it was valuable - so please, really pay attention.  
  2. The other thing going on is a kind of faux empathy: boy i sure had a hard time with this so i'm going to make it easier for you so you don't go through what i went through. 
  3. Maybe it's just inexperience. 
1. I worked REALLY hard for YOU. While the motivation of the first two about care and diligence is understandable, its effect potentially is a sucker punch kinda move. It's still looking for love in all the wrong places.
Drawing Attention to the Performer's Process - example. To paint a big picture, consider a grade two teacher teaching students in math how to carry the one in addition. What would we think if the teacher said to the students "it's taken me two years to really figure out how to teach you this cool way to build up numbers ... i've finally figured it out how to make it as easy as possible for you" Would we find that inappropriate? After all, if that was such a challenge, perhaps this is not the best person to be doing this job? 
Or similarly, would we be surprised if Hilary Hahn in the middle of a magnificent performance said now, i really want you to get that i'm making this next bit as easy for you to hear as possible because it's full of difficult changes that you might miss if i don't enunciate these special parts. And oh yeah, this wasn't easy for me, either. It took my 6 months of practice to get this just right - so - i really want you to appreciate it. Maybe, on a DVD of the performance, that kind of discussion would be great in voice over, but do we expect it during the performance? What makes the DVD voice over appropriate and the performance not?
2. Supposed Empathy and the cost of mis-predicting?
Back to our case. While the material may have been a challenge  for the given presenter to summarise effectively, it may actually not be that problematic for the class or at least some of the people in the class - especially if prep'd right for that group. So who might we insult with our presumption? Especially if our prep hasn't been bulletproofed? In other words, someone might be having a "hard time" with the material as presented because the presentation isn't as clear as we assume it to be.  Oh dear.

One other tick that was hideous to experience was the guest lecturer rushing through material by seeming to engage the class: "what's X" the teacher asks. Two people give an answer. "Right" says the instructor "super easy; piece o' cake...ok what's Y..." same thing. I'm watching a bunch of students going er, no, not a piece of cake - i don't even know what you're asking. What was interesting to observe was the next part of the analysis by students now not focusing on the material because they're derailed. Some thought the instructor was a git; others thought the problem was with them. In either case, the students were no longer engaged in the material.

If what we present actually results in students feeling confused or slow, and we've just called it easy,  what have we done by asserting this is as "easy" as it gets? That the student is just stupid? Or conversely  that we are idiots? What might either do to students' sense of engagement and commitment? Is it facilitated or inhibited?

Is there, therefore, any pedagogically valuable reason to assert that material being presented for students to learn is a priori easy or hard?

3. The Rookie Unforced Error "Teaching is Tough!"

The unforced error i saw a lot of today was really a rookie mistake: a less experienced teacher/coach may fall into feeling,  wow trying to find a way to convey this hard stuff so it's easy for you is really hard, but i did it - i must totally rule! you are so lucky to have me as your teacher today.

Dude, that's just teaching. That's your JOB. As teachers/coaches, we're supposed to make the path clear to learn what needs to be learned at that time and in that place. And yes, that's what the best teachers do every class, every lecture, every talk, every coaching session.

It's work and there are skills - skills make certain parts of the task less challenging (dare i say easier) so other bits can be attended: just ask any starting out prof how long it takes to prep a course the first time they do it vs the fifth time (i did not say the second third or fourth).

It's this self-consciousness, this drawing a group's attention away from the material and to our process - this meta-teaching,  that kept being expressed in the classes yesterday, that painted the big ROOKIE sign that reads: 1) haven't had to do this teaching thing too much (rookie) (2) i like teaching (awesome! need more great teachers) or (3) i think i succeed in here because i make people like/appreciate me.

But is that meta-teaching where the learning we want to happen at?

Flow vs Hard/Easy
As an alternative to framing something as hard/easy, we might want to check if we have helped students achieve Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and colleagues developed the notion of Flow based on work to explore the propoerties of task or process engagement, (overview). The attributes of Flow are based around skill and challenge:
flow state as challenge vs skill (source) 

"Easy as possible" would be placed potentially at low skill, low challenge. According to Csikszentmihaly's research, that condition results in apathy. So is striving to make things as easy as possible an optimal strategy to create engagement for learning?

Finding Flow
I've thought sometimes it's not always possible to find flow when learning something new: sometimes we just have to suck it up and do the reps. But i've come not to believe that: that there is skill and flow in each rep if we give those reps the appropriate attention to wrestle from them what we need to learn.

If we go to the problems with a target, so we know what we plan to discover from each bit, we can get pretty flow-ish. The challenge there is that that kind of process takes time and attention, and sometimes we're in a hurry to get IT whatever the It is.

What i've found in my own practice is that if i'm too tired to bring that kind of attention to a learning task, i need to reenergise and maybe do something else, and come back. Rarely does rote dogged determination result in an "ah ha" But that's another topic - just suggesting that in my own practice flow can be developed for our path choices when we learn how to break something down for deliberate practice. This point as i've written about before is where a coach can really help with that process of assessment for attention.

Teaching for Flow
This isn't the place to go into pedagogical methods. Suffice it to say that good, experienced teachers have many reps at finding a good flow state in a class. They have taken time to reflect on pedagogy however and to explore techniques for engaging with students. Pedagogy is a considerable field of enquiry. They learn new skills. While some folks wing it, some folks actually consider formally what techniques help progress learning. They treat teaching as a professional practice and as an evolving approach. As pedagogical scientists they consider variables from room condition to gender to preparation to social background to the subject itself. Complex, eh?

The result of their diligence, however, is that students stay engaged. When they leave the classroom, the students are not thinking what a bravara performance by the teacher, but what they can do now that they couldn't do before.

It takes more work from the teacher to figure out how to do these things, but what we see watching their work is that words like easy and only if ever rarely used to describe the learning process, and few will draw attention to themselves instead of the material.

If you're interested in learning teaching techniques, talk with your favorite teachers, as you would seek out coaches; look to journals of same. There are so many models that challenge the notion of a lecture itself for optimal learning, for instance, that if we're in a lecture setting, we need to ask why: whose interests for what ends is it serving (universities are still largely lecture based).  And i'm not even talking about all these bits. Just about one phrase in a learning context. So let's get back to that.

Falling into Easy or Hard: Warning Signs for Confidence and Self-State
Despite the many variables of pedagogical practice, for the specific example of "i've made this as easy as possible for you" there are a few heuristics we've looked at that challenge the value of ever saying anything about easy or hard in any teaching environment.  In particular the key idea that would be "hard" to debate is simply that when teaching, the focus is the material, the students, the uptake,  not us and how hard we've worked to deliver what people are paying us to deliver, eh? Given that, and given the assumption that most of us teaching actually want nothing but the best for our students, we might be able to use falling into Easy or Hard as warning lights for our own practice

  1. - Red Alert/action item: mastery: when we hear ourselves saying anything with easy/hard in it in a teaching context, perhaps that's an opportunity to interrogate why we think we're going there. For who's benefit? And is that the best way to achieve the result we want, given the risks it brings? Most of the time going to easy or hard means we still have work to do, and we're not as comfy, as satisfied with that part of the material's delivery as we'd like to be.
  2. - Red Alert 2: take a break: if we're bailing to a meta-lecture, to talk about the process of this part of the lecture rather than the stuff itself, maybe it's time for a break; we ourselves need coffee or air or something, because we now have a new sign that we're falling off task, losing the plot. Maybe it is challenging material for us to track, so make sure our fuel levels are good to go.

In other words: if i feel i'm having a "this is hard" moment on anything - i know to check how rested, fuelled  energised i feel. IF i'm saying this is now easy, or "as easy as possible" (big "hard" undercurrents there), i need to check in what i'm trying to achieve by making this claim at this time.

OVERALL: reducing if not eliminating the transfat of teaching.
The question this post is asking beyond teaching is, in the main, to consider the concept of Hard and Easy. As the song about war goes, what good is it -  in teaching, in life in motivation? Yup, i suggest that Hard/Easy is the transfat of education  - it's the cheap substitute for finding the Real Deal of Challenge, Engagement, Confidence, Security, Mastery.  A little crap in our diets is probably not horrible, and given our lives, is from time to time perhaps inevitable  but i hope i've made the case for why reducing it (if not all out eliminating it) may lead to far better results.



ps this is not a perfect essay - it's been written in fits and starts as i can grab time - but was keen to get it out - which is the advantage of a blog over a formal research piece: it's a great place to put work in progress.

Related Posts

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Zen Manualist Coffee: Part 1 - roast your own beans.

is it a sign? what does it mean?? latte art readings
rather than tea leaves...a sort of automatic writing, perhaps?
i continue to explore the lacto path
IF you enjoy good coffee, such that your fave coffee place is because of the coffee not because of the ambiance per se, and if your a bit of a Manualist (i don't know what else to call it - someone who enjoys crafting a process by hand-ish - is there a term?) then here's something simple you can try: roast your own coffee beans.

Roasting one's own coffee rather sounds daunting, doesn't it? It turns out, it's not. And so i begin to wonder at all the hoopla and mystique around roasting and the oh so precious precious ness of it. Great packaging for a product, but ah c'mon! You may come to the same conclusion after the following "it can't be this simple" post.

or of course, there's instant...on the menu in some UK restaurants....

Step 1: get green beans and be as ethical and snobbish about it as you like, as you can pick beans from anywhere in the world.

Green beans stay fresh for YEARS. That seems a big plus. And getting sample packs of bunches of places lets one explore flavours, blends and roasts.

For bean sources:
In the US i keep hearing about Sweet Maria's. In the UK, i've found Rave Coffee.

Step 2: choose your roasting implement -
There's loads of how-to's on the web from using fry pans ( i wanna be a cowboy...) to amazingly crafted bbq rotiserie turned roaster. Just check out this page of roaster mods (who knew?)
4-7mins for about 100g fresh
roast coffee
One way to get into it - and you may have this implement for other purposes  - just use a hot air popcorn popper. No fuss; no muss. Super overview and video how to here.

NOTE: In the UK, here's one german made model Severin - that i've used for about 23 quid (amazon uk affil link).  You can drive these into the ground. If you're using them weekly, at 4-6 mins per batch, and do three batches - more or less in a row - that's pushing these little motors to the max - and they can fall over. They make very interesting noises when they do. I rationalise this by considering that a dedicated  home roaster now is about 300 quid, and i'm just not sure i'm ready to go there. Not quite sure.

Step 3: Load beans into roasting mechanism of choice
Here we see green beans loaded into a popper - usually take about 100g pre-roasted weight. Mark Prince gives a lovely overview of the popcorn popper set up approach here.
green water processed beans from an ethical, organic, free trade
all things wonderful, place in Guatemala. 

Step 4: attend as required
 (learn about first crack, second crack, temperatur, time and immanent flambĂ©)

Step 5: delight in bean roast
It's pretty cool to see the transformation happen, as beans go from green swirls, to yellow, to darker tan to what we recognise as roasted coffee bean color.

Post processing of beans from the spin cycle and just past
what's known as "second crack"
Interestingly, roasting beans do NOT smell like coffee. it's not an entirely enticing aroma. so the first flush of coffee joy may be mainly visual in observing that this bean transformation has actually taken place.

Step 6: put in appropriate off-gassing vessel for 18-36 hours pending preference.
Here's where the coffee roast aroma starts to happen, as the beans blow off the gasses from the roasting.

You can use a bag with a gas out valve (the kind of bags starbucks coffee come in - i got a bunch from Rave when i ordered the beans) or, one tip from the Sweet Maria's video tutorial above, get screw lid type mason jars and leave the lid slightly unscrewed for a day or two. And then either transfer to an airtight vessel to keep beans out of light as well, or just grind up for service.

Some beans - Guatemalan in particular  - seem to do better to be left alone for a week or ten days.

Step 7: Occasionally enjoy the aroma of the roast's progress 
It's fun after the beans have been bagged to squeeze the valve bag and inhale a bit to get an aroma for the colors of your coffee as they mature over the next day or so.. It's really happening, this wonderful chemical reaction.

Small story: in Paris last week for conference; found a coffee roaster in a wonderful wee market area (the shop is called "brulerie des turnes) - i'd run out of the coffee i'd roasted and ground for the trip (yes and i also brought a moka pot), so went to the shop asking for coffee that had been roasted two days ago - no sooner. Intriguingly this request perplexed the staff. Everyone else wants it just after it's roasted, they said. Oh dear. Well (and then my french failed me in terms of "perhaps they grind it themselves, or do they grind it here?)...Were these staff or owners? I was then perplexed: based on what i've learned (and inhaled) about "fresh roasted coffee" why would you grind coffee just after it's roasted?? Fascinating, oui?

And that's about it.
Just roasting beans is a pleasure. If you find you enjoy it, but don't like coffee, you have a very personalised gift you can share with friends.

If you do like coffee - you're in for a treat on multiple levels, from process to product. Really: you did that! Isn't that cool? And it tastes great.

For some insights into the next part of the process, grinding, scroll down to the end of this post on post processing trauma through manualist interactions (i'm grokking this term). You'll see several videos on cool ways to do manual coffee grinding.

I refer to this roasting process as part of a Manualist coffee "zen" - well ya know it just gives me delight - and perhaps any emotional experience is not particularly zen, but it sounds kind neat. Maybe it should be "delight coffee"??

Anyway, if you give this a go, please shout. Will look forward to hearing your experience.

We'll talk about using a wee espresso pot and about latte art, i'm sure, anon.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME (have some good ventilation) - and let me know - please - what you find.

you can follow me on twitter @mcphoo

Related Posts
Fat Tea
Possible Coffee Replacement Drink
Green Tea: good for more than what ails ya
Value of Reusable bits - like a tea infuser.

Monday, May 13, 2013

4 steps to Work Through DOMS Safely While Exploring Movement.

Ever had DOMS - you know - that really stiff/sore the next day or two (or three) after a workout that had a new twist to it? Ever wonder about working out the same muscles before that soreness is gone?

(If you'd like more on DOMs there's a two part story on delayed onset muscle soreness on b2d, referenced in Related Links, below).  

Never been this far out before - and guess where it was DOMsore, later...

TO address this query, here's a quick 4 step protocol to progress through DOMs that seems so obvious it's stupid. Indeed, it caught me this morning. Thing is, i'm now trying to practice catching this effect ("what is new today and where's its source?) deliberately in each work out.

We'll go over the general bits of what is the protocol, and an example of when to run it, and then we'll go through a worked example, this time with DOMS.

 What is New Today and Where's its Source? What Do i Know? What can i Learn?

This morning's trigger to the "what's new" is feeling sore in a new way in a new place - or in a place i haven't felt DOMS in some time. So that new thing is what i'm calling the protocol Trigger.

Trigger: I'm sore in a particular muscle group - DOMS sore.

The Protocol Response to the Trigger? Four parts: two at the start of a session; two at the end.

  1. explore: try the movement(s) we think may have set off the DOMS, and check which part of the movement feels most restricted (due to soreness, potentially)
  2. think: once we have the range restriction/soreness isolated - think back to what was NEW in that movement the last time we did it. Consider what part of that movement had EXTENSION (stretching out) going on. Question to consider: was this a new movement? or was this a new load? new number of reps? By how much on any of these parameters
  3. return: - make a note in our logs about the observations and then, later in the workout or at the end of the work out when done, come back to this movement just to find out if being all nicely warmed up provides access to the movement again.
  4. relax: consciously remind oneself to breath, to relax into this movement - our natural inclination if we've been sore and triggered something is to tense up to want to protect ourselves. The counter-intuitive cue to relax going into that "sore" range of motion movement may just help us becoming more efficient in this movement.

Worked Example: 

Background: Getting further in an Ab Wheel Roll Out. 

It's monday. Last friday in my workout i tried ab wheel roll outs - haven't worked these for some time. In fact i've been "working" them indirectly via a suggestion from Jon Hinds, developer of the awesome Power Wheel version of an ab wheel (can hook your feet in or use your hands. cool. hell). I'd asked Jon about getting to a standing ab wheel roll out, rather than from knees alone. He said, if you can do 30 knees to elbows (a movement shown in the clip below at about 15:10), then you can do standing roll outs.

 Jon, if you're listening, i tried it, i did three sets of those and no, that didn't result in a standing ab wheel roll out, but i do like the movement. Quad burner. oy. By the way, the whole practice session here with the Wheel is awesome - come back and watch the whole thing and git yerself a powerwheel.

Anyway, i did in fact last friday try the standing ab wheel roll out. Ended up dropping a knee to the mat on the way down, then when stretched out, getting the knee off the mat and rolling back up. Exhausting. Got three of those in.

And then i tried the ab wheel rollouts from the knees. What a surprise - i got full, nose touching to the ground extension in a way i hadn't thought possible before.

Here's how far i'd pretty much made it before:

mc doing an power wheel roll out in Feb 2013
that felt "deep" or extended. 
That may not look it but that felt super elongated. But with seeming effortlessness i was now going much further. Will show you in a minute.

And that evening, sitting laid back in a chair watching a movie, my upper ab area right under the rib cage went into such an awesome spasm/charlie horse/cramp that my gooodness that was incredible trying to think fast about what the complementary muscles were, whether to rub or stretch out or  breath or just hope to knock myself out.

My upper abs in particular have been having a DOMS experience since then.

Applying the Protocol

THis morning (we're getting closer to the example now), i have a session where i like to add in ab work and wanted to do some roll outs.  Here's the specific worked example of the above protocol.

Start of workout:
1. Explore - 
I tried the roll out and well, no, my extension was not getting to where i was on friday to be sure. In fact if felt like i was getting to about where the above picture goes and no further. And sore. oh yes. I then tried the knees to elbows and that was fine so thought, ok i'll do that.
2. Think
DOMS is about extension for the most part - what *part* of the roll out was new? That last bit of extension. What else about load/reps? Doing three sets of ten - so thirty bodyweight load of extensions in a new range. Interesting - that new part of the movement is where the soreness was. Makes a kind of sense, doesn't it. Interesting to note: a mere thirty reps (and then maybe those few standing-ish ones) set off this killer response. That's worth noting. If i don't want the DOMS next time maybe try half the reps in the new area.
End of Workout3. Return, end of work out.
Having done everything i wanted to do this morning, coming back to this roll out movement was a bonus. What i found is that i could do the movement, and my range of motion was back. I only tried sets of five. Cool. Reforming the movement when no longer super sore - good - more rebuilding the area. and not overloading my body - just reminding it, it's safe to go here.
4. Relax. Really. There is no spoon.
The biggest win of this session, the most potent insight for me is the difference in the movement quality when i reminded myself to relax. Not breath or go loose, but the cue for me was "relax" - i had visions of the muscle firing patterns of efficient practiced movement in my head - where only the necessary fibers are firing for as long as they need to fire, and only as many as are needed. I reasoned that perhaps by tensing in trying to protect myself, i was firing up more fibers than necessary and doing my movement no good in the process - tension, and too much of it, perhaps.
WOW, gang, wow.  Relaxing into the movement gave me greater depth, more fluidity and control and ESPECIALLY - less pain. The difference was really night and day.

Now, here's a vid of me doing ten reps after a couple of those sets of five - and please notice something after about the fifth rep: i thought i'd been saying relax to myself in the first five but in the last bunch i really thought RELAX - and i think you'll see that slight shift to deeper, smoother, more elongated.

You can find this and other b2d vids on

The above isn't perfect (the start position i'm going to try with butt down to keep whole back straight from knee to top of head, for instane), and perhaps it's more a feel than a see thing, but there is a depth difference, and there is a movement quality difference (i just may be keeping it all inside). What do you think?

Two takeaways from this DOMS-exploring protocol  - at least that keep showing up in my practice
  1. Do it AGAIN. It's OK. Just because we don't get a movement the first time we try it doesn't mean we can't come back to it. Failing at a rep is not the same as being toast for that movement. It often just means the pattern + control/strength hasn't come together yet
  2. Relax! - even when it seems counter intuitive - can yield incredible rewards in the performance of movement. i won't call it the performance of strength. I dunno about that here, and i'm not entirely sure how to apply this yet to my double 24kg Kettlebell press, but something's going on. After all i was able to do the movement both with tension and with much less, and i can tell you which version felt better in all levels from movement quality to pain level to range of motion. 
Time and again, do it AGAIN keeps showing up in practice success. Eg, the first time i tried a single leg pistol with a 24 at the end of a work out i had to diss my inclination to say well that's it - end of workout anyway, and say - try it again, maybe? That lead to my very first 24 single leg pistol. 

With DOMS, here, i've just been taught another counter intuitive lesson about relaxation to come back into a movement - when nice and ready for it - relax into the movement. 

Looking forward to checking that relax bit out in my next heavy pressing day 
That will be EXPLORE More, THINK about it - what i know about that movement in me, RETURN to it (without needing it) and RELAX into it - 

We've done this example with DOMS, but the "what is new; what's its source; what can i learn" protocol can be run with any new discovery in a movement.
- if you explore these concepts, please let me know what you find.

And remember: you can also:


Relate Posts:

DOMS part 1: what is delayed onset muscle soreness?
DOMS part 2: what seems to work to address DOMS?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

To Move is Human: 7 simple steps to get in shape - for life

Getting (back) in shape: How begin the begine? Have you experienced this effect when making a sortie into getting back into some kind of fitness space? You do your first workout, see what you can do, and are so gassed by it you think heck, you'll only be able to do this once a week - till you get stronger. Maybe once a year. Or maybe you feel you'll never go back; that was horrible. Totally understandable. Totally reasonable to think gosh so much for my plans to work out several times a week; i need to build up to that. So i'll work out once or twice a week instead. After all finding time to work out more frequently is a challenge, anyway.

source of photo

In the following post, i'm going to argue that a first order of business in any get in shape program is, in the beginning in particular, to think less about intensity (ie working out "hard" one or more times a week) and more about frequency (more TIME in movement is better). I'm going to make seven points about this daily approach to in-shape-ness, that build upon each other, as guidelines for the approach. One for every day of the week, perhaps:

  1. To move is to be human; practice being human as frequently as possible by moving as much as possible in a day.
  2. To sustain movement, create it as a habit. To create a habit - something done autonomously, effortlessly - takes thousands of reps - frequent "movement snacks" a la Frank Forencich helps get the reps up.
  3. To succeed, plan-ify: first, plan ahead; second, plan a plan b. Resilience is Plan B. 
  4. To continue, start lighter than expected and respect recovery. 
  5. To develop, keep a record. Records can be lightweight: what is sufficient to be useful?
  6. To understand, play. Taking time to explore all sorts of movement experiences is a huge win. 
  7. To thrive, include the brain in practice. Learn about the body; challenge the brain.
From Such Acorns, Mighty Practice and Strength Grows. Focusing on these principles or heuristics will enable one to build up any kind of health, strength, fitness, wellbeing regimen as one learns first how to build the time and second, how to keep adapting the particular practice within the time.
Fundamental: make the TIME for movement: practice doing that; then move within the time.

1. To Move is Human 

One thing people have in common who want to get in shape is lack of time under movement. We work at a desk or at a single machine; we move about in the house or work place a bit, but we're not spending deliberate time "in movement."

A first strategy of a workout program, rather than focusing on a specific activity like lifting a lot of weight or swimming the english channel might be the more mundane but powerfully effective target simply to "move more." Consistently. Daily.

For more reasons than we can count here, simply moving *more* than we do now is a potent target for just about anyone reading this post (including its author). From anecdotes of coaches to research about physical and cognitive practice, it seems the more we move, the happier we are in our performance, from body compoisition to intellectual performance. Yes, we perform more intelligently the more we move (the opposite is also true - so if we're sedentary for years at a time, we're not only not getting younger, we're getting stupid-er (see the Whitehall study)).  For the brain, movement with our heart rate elevated is very good. For body comp, it seems moving 5 hours a week minimum of movement/activity correlates with greater happiness about body shape (one ref on this topic).

If we accpet this premise to "move more" first, rather than "lift heavy" or "swim/run far" as our founding premise of wellbeing or of getting in shapeliness, then our strategy shifts from "i must get to the gym X times per week" to preparing for a sustainable movement practice. If it's daily, we need to be able to recover from it to keep doing it. Going crazy is not an initial option. Consistency and Persistence is the biggie. Please note, i do not mean get a cardio program (ie, lots of running or swimming or similar as opposed to lifting weights or sprinting or interval stuff). I mean MOVEMENT.

Practice Variety. Push ups are movements; dancing is movement. Walking is movement. Olympic lifting is movement. Throwing a discuss or frisbee is movement. Moving as many joints as possible in a movement is movement. The more variety of kinds of movement that we practice, it seems, the better off we are in terms of engaging not just our joints but our vision and balance systems as well. Moving harder and less hard also important. It seems we're wired for variety, hence the need to practice variety.

Daily Practice: I Move More. This focus on daily practice can be quite liberating. We have a whole ton of choice - of anything counts. Whether that practice is walking, running, going upstairs, skipping, mobility work, playing frisbee doesn't really matter: it's that we have said we will do SOME movement everyday and we do it. We'll look at how to ensure the practice leads to progressive development, in part 4, below.

2. Building up a Practice-as-Habit

REmember the body comp stat of 300 minutes a week to feel good about one's body?  If 300 movement minutes sounds a bit daunting for starters, that's understandable too. Change can be pain. No joke: changing patterns of behaviour is rewiring the brain. Change of established patterns takes work. And lots and lots of practice. So making it possible to get many reps in is another aspect of daily practice. We simply need the time to build the reps to make the change to sustain the habit, to do the re-wiring in the brain.

It's a fact that when we're stressed we go to what we've practiced most. If we've practiced being innert more than we've practiced movement, that's our likely go-to place when we often need the exact opposite: movement helps blow off stress (it's hormonal: fight or flight responses mean MOVE; when we don't move those signals keep coming on; move/exercise/get the heart up - we signal we get it; we're responding; the signals change; we feel better).

Thus, the first part of true and enduring get in shape work, it seems, is to accept it into our hearts as a necessary and good thing to do - that we see it as fundamental to be moving more - that that is the natural state; being so sedentary is not natural at all. We who neither reap nor sow. Nor hunt nor build. Living in the head, the digital ALL the time would not too long ago be perceived as a disease state, where our inertia would be pitied, and where if rich we'd be shoved up to the mountains to take The Cure.

So yes, no. 1: accepting that to be human is to move; and if we want to experience our humanness we may want to move a little more, (eat a little less). To move more, we need to habituate movement into our lives. That means lots of practice.

The next point deals with how to get all those reps.

No. 3 In the Plan is Perfection; in Plan B is resilience.

Plan for Success. One of the biggest reasons the best laid plans of mice and would be athletes fail is that we don't plan for success - most often because we don't know how. Here's a few tips to help get a new practice in gear. To paraphrase Martha Beck from the Four Day Win (uk | us), plan four days ahead, rather than leaping in at this moment. Give yourself permission to start your new movement program four days from now. Think,where might movement begin, not today, but four days from now? And with that question we can ask,  what road blocks can i anticipate? Knowing these, how make the path clear for day four, for say 20 mins. of action? Does that mean 4 blocks of five minutes each? two blocks of ten? to do what? Walk? do push ups? mobility work?

Block out the Time: Make a Promise to Yourself - and keep it. Plan ahead, write it down; talk with whomever you need to talk with who might need to know this is what you're doing so they know, this is what you're doing. To borrow from Steven Covey's First Things First (uk | us), why not put those times for movement practice into the calendar before the week starts?

When we make appointments with ourselves, Coveys' argument goes, we show respect for ourselves. We honour ourselves. That time becomes as important as appointments we set with anyone else. Covey also has this lovely notion that we can't say no to something until we have something to which we're saying yes. If we are committed to being human, and thus to movement; if we get that to move we need to make it a habit, and that to make a habit we need lots of reps, then finding the time to make movement happen in order to get those reps will be a natural YES priority. AND that movement practice will help us be more alive, more present and more successfully present in our engagement with others, as well.  Thus, our movement practice times are protected, scheduled and

Making the time to move also throws open many more options than any pre-canned workout program. Movement - rather than a workout program - lets us think about doing something that is natural every day. Some folks have a hard time initially with thinking about "doing a workout" every day. No kidding. That sounds daunting. But moving every day? what's the alternative? be innert every day? is that a desired state to NOT move daily? And yet, if you put a pedometer on many of us, that's exactly what you'll see: we move very little. So actually, it's often pretty easy to move more.

WHAT COUNTS as MOVEMENT?- Generally speaking ANY deliberate movement where we bring our minds to the fact that we are moving is better than not. So mobility work where we go through each joint in our body to explore range of motion (like r-phase and i-phase movement templates, links about these approaches, below), that's great for many reasons written about elsewhere.

Mobility Work Example:
Eric Cobb demo'ing cross body figure 8's in the z-health Neural Warm Up
 Combining some mobility work then with work that gets our heart rates above standing state - that's generally where even more goodness happens.

Validate Movement: Check Seated and Standing Heart Rates. That's easy to test: check your heart rate seated at rest for a bit; check it when standing for a minute or two. Check it after you've walked a bit; check it after you've walked up a flight or two of stairs - get some sense of your body's responses to movement.

Plan a Plan B: Resilience is having a back up plan

Something important to have within these spaces is what's a back up plan for an activity if the main one falls through? suppose it's raining and that scotches planned outdoor play for the day? what will put movement into that 30-60 minute slot in its place? Mobility work? bodyweight practice? what are the alternatives?

Having a movement plan B means we're rarely taken by surprise.  

No. 4 start lighter than expected and respect recovery

When going at something new - like a DAILY movement practice - find out what level of intensity can be sustained for daily practice - we have the rest of our lives - to get more intense. The focus of practice building is to build - in this case, to build skills and habits for a lifetime. And again, the biggie here is often preparing the way for the practice to happen,making appointments with ourselves, and then filling the time with the activity.

The Unbearable Lightness of Sustainability
When we start a movement practice, we can pick a small unit of time - say five minutes. We can propose to walk around the block at a pace where it's easy-ish to keep a conversation going, but not effortless. Let's say that that may seem, after that walk, to have been pretty easy - but
a) how long did it take?
b) what's our post-walk heart rate?
c) what's our heart rate a minute after the walk is finished?

If the goal was to move for five minutes, and the round block walk took five or likely more minutes, and the heart rate after the walk is above standing rate, and a minute later it's closer to standing rate, that is a huge success.

It's a huge success because
1) we scheduled it AND did it - check on keeping a committment
2) we learned something about ourselves in terms of walking pace for five minutes
3) our recovery heart rate shows we didn't over do it
4) we know we can do it again - we have a building block
5) we also have measures for progress:
- time taken to walk a specific distance
- distance travelled
- heart rate at close of event
- recovery rate inside a minute
- success rate at keeping a promise to ourselves

No 5. Progress means Understanding: Keep a Record

Especially while we are developing our practice, keeping a log means that we are keeping it real. A record is evidence that we are keeping our commitment; a record especially early on in practice helps us reflect on what works and what needs work. A record helps us craft deliberate intent. When we put something into words, we reify the practice: it becomes cognitive; it frames our attention. Going through intent to learn - making something new as cognitive as possible it seems - helps to craft it into something that can become - eventually - more reflexive. 

The above list of elements in No. 4 about date, time planned; time taken; heart rates - are all simple examples of what can go into a log. 

No. 6 - play: it's a learning experience  

Play is a terrific part of beginning a movement practice. As i'm arguing, we don't have to have a "workout program" from day one: we just need to plan to move more. Indeed, more exploration is better. More types of movement is better. Walking one day, doing push ups (off the wall or knees if full ones are not accessible), exploring jogging another, bowling another, frisbee another, swimming another, baseball another, lifting weights - it's all good and fine.

Plans: For many of us, though, we find it easier to develop a movement practice if we plan time ahead for what we're going to do. That's grand. A plan can be - kick a football around outside for half an hour monday; hack around playing squash with a friend for 45mins tues. Push baby in stroller for twenty minutes at a fast-ish clip twice on wed. Swing a light kettlebell for 100 reps total and do 100 wall push ups total for thurs. Take an olympic lifting class friday, recover saturday. Go for a long walk with partner sunday trying flexible shoes that pass the twist test. That's six days of mixed movement. And as long as we're checking those measures of time and heart rate, we have a really cheap way to see what progress we're making, like - i can do the round the block faster and with a lower heart rate and greater recovery this week than last week. That's progress. Time to look at maybe going a bit further or a bit longer. Or a bit harder.

running in uber-flexible xero shoes
Once we get to a place where we're compliant in moving daily - let's say 5-6 days a weeks - for a month, then i'd suggest game on for thinking more deeply about what skill we'd like to practice (walking is a skill, too: a learned action).

If we've already decided what our skill sets are going to be - say working with a kettlebell - then super. There are many approaches and schedules out there for practicing kettlebells. If these call for a three day a week schedule, grand. Since to Move is Human, and we want to be Human every day, what will we do on the other days to continue learning about how our bodies move, and to keep moving, to keep up a daily practice of Being Human?

The great thing about movement is we have so many options to find a skill practice that engages our attention sufficiently to keep us from being bored, to keep us engaged and improving. What will that be? Every rep is a learning opportunity: how do we engage our practice to feel like we're learning, doing, having fun?

(At least once in awhile) Get a Coach: I've said this before: everyone needs a coach. Once you've found something you enjoy, do yourself a favour and talk with folks for recommendations about a coach. Find out how to carry out the movements of your sport as effectively as possible. Find the smartest person you can with the best experience and manner. Engage with them about checking your technique. Excellent coaches will not try to do everything at once, but the right thing for now to let you enjoy your practice more. Each time you come back will be a retune to help you get that much further along. This is an affordable, effective way to reduce injury risk and improve performance and pleasure.

No. 7 Respect the Brain While Respecting the Body

One more aspect of building a movement practice is to learn about our bodies and brains and how one interacts with the other. For instance,
  • i've stated that we need to build up time in movement and need to get our heart rates up to a certain level. How come? What about time and heart rate is important?
  • I've also suggested that watching for improvements like getting more distance in in shorter time with a lower heart rate is a sign of progress. Progress of what?
  • I've also suggested that exploring many types of movement from game play on a field to lifting weights is good not just for our joints, but for our vision and balance, too. How's that?
  • And best, i've suggested that research shows exercise contributes directly to cognitive performance. People who move are smarter than those who don't. What's going on with that? 
By knowing some of those whats we can take control of our own movement practice. We can begin to assess intelligently what works for us and what may need work. We can also begin to understand the interplay of the various qualities of our movement practice and how we might want to tune them over time.

Never Surrender An approach many folks have is actually to trust someone else to put them through a "program" for x period of time to achieve a specific result. They tend to surrender to the other person the understanding of the process and trust them to get them from a to b, and that getting to B is a great thing to do. Maybe it is; maybe it isn't. How would we judge that beyond the claims of the packaging without having some grounded undesrtanding of how our body adapts to movement? And sure, it's understandable starting out: we just want a plan to get going and feel better. We want to believe There's a Program for That. This desire has helped sell an awful lot of fitness DVDs (like p90x, anyone?). That doesn't mean Programs per se are bad. But yes i will go so far as to say, just doing a program and not delving into what its assumptions are, and whether or not they're valid, is lazy. How many folks have accepted P90X's claim about "muscle confusion" for why P90X claims it is better than any other program? if you don't know what that claim is - really it's ok (though if you're really interested, a critique is linked below). My point is that we bring incredible skepticism to many product claims, but programs, especially when we like the sound of their claims (ripped in 90 days, for example), not so much it seems.

Learning more about how our bodies work is also really really good for our brains' health. After all, our
7th edition of
McArdle and team's 
Exercise Physiology
Great place to begin
exploring the what and
how of movement
brains are another part of our bodies. They need practice, too. Learning new things; exploring new domains is apparently a great way to keep them resilient. By learning about how different kinds of movement practice can develop different properties of the complex systems that we are, we exercise our brains and improve our wellbeing. We can test and refine a practice for ourselves to become our optimal selves. Work with a coach yes, but have questions, too.

Indeed, in my experience folks who build successful life-lasting, resilient movement practices also develop knowledge around those practices so they can (a) get off someone else's program that may or may not be effective for them over the long haul and (b)begin to build and explore and evaluate/test their own approach to movement and wellbeing.

In SUM: To move is human; to move more feels devine. 

To review:
1) to be human is to move. Movement works more than joints; it helps our brains; helps regulate hormones, related to how we feel; how we eat; how we sleep; how we engage with others.

2) To move more - that is change for many of us, and for a change to become not a change but normal, a habit, a part of our lives, we need lots of reps. To create the space for those reps to happen, we need daily movement practice - and since the more we move the more natural and human we are, moving many times within a day is optimal. More reps is both better for our bodies and helps create the change wiring, forming the habit.

3) To give ourselves the best chance of success with a new habit, like moving more, we are most effective when we plan our strategy in advance: what are we going to do, when? what do we need to address in order to make sure that time can happen/will not be put at risk? What is our back up plan if Plan A falls through? Plan, schedule and protect that time for ourselves.

4) To make sure we keep going with our practice, what we do has to be gaged to hit a level of effort that enables us both to make progress and not kill ourselves. We need - as part of our plan - to start lighter than we think we need and ramp up progress from there.

5) To make sure we are making effective use of our precious movement time, keeping a log lets us reflect on the success of our practice, as well as reality check whether it is what we think it is.

6) Especially when starting out - play / exploration - is an optimal course. Try out as many skills as we can. If we don't like something - like a ball sport - find out why - it may be a vision issue (can't catch? get a vision (not an eye) check). Even if we have a practice we particularly like, spice it up with variety of movement. That all gets back to point one: we move in many ways - make sure our movement practice moves like a human too.

7) To ensure we can "own" our practice, and engage our brains in our practice, committing to learning about what's happening in our bodies with our movement is a Good Thing, too.

If we follow these 7 points, we will "get in shape" - and more - we'll stay in shape for the rest of our lives. That's a bold claim, but also inevitable: we repeat what we enjoy. Finding a path that is stimulating, pleasurable, repeatable - it's all good. We may find periods where we move less and know we don't like it; we need to get back into moving more; we learn that's where our happy place is. If we have never experienced that yet, this is why it's important to start with consistency of movement, blend in fun and challenge to keep us engaged, sufficiently challenged and improving. This is why we have to make a commitment to ourselves to keep searching till we find a path that engages us.

Once we have something we're doing, or many things we're exploring, every rep is an opportunity to practice, to learn, to re-wire, to adapt, to get better to keep moving.  The more reps we find in a day, the more attention we pay to the quality and shape of each rep (hence a coach to ensure quality is entrained) the more we learn the faster the better, the smarter. It's just the way it goes.

Caveat: This 7 point approach to "move more" and get to moving at LEAST 300 minutes a week is not  a "minimal effective dose"approach - or what we might call not the best we can do but the least we can get away with.  The goal here is not to move the least possible to have a benefit - but to move as MUCH as possible, as to move is wholly human.

Quite frankly, i don't know how one would decide what a "minimal effective dose" of movement is.  And why do we want to try to find the least we can get away with rather than the best we can do for ourselves and so be our best for ourselves and those in our lives? Sure we have limited time, but few of us have explored deliberately how we might optimise our opportunities to move. Why not give ourselves that chance to explore that potential?

Full Motion: Herman Cornejo executes a seeming impossible
double tours en l’air as part of David Michalek's slow dancing project.

To get in shape, we just need to move more and better as we go.
To move more, 
Prepare, plan, commit, do, learn. 

Related Posts:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

M'eye New Workout Reset: eye work as active recovery

Two questions: Do you do "active recovery" as part of your workout practice? Do you include eye workouts as part of your practice? To the second question first: if you don't yet do formal eye workout practice, that may be based on a belief that our vision quality is fixed, or that change can only happen in the negative, and eyesight only get worse. Well why would this one part of the body be different than every other part where we are maleable/plastic and where deliberate practice helps performance? And if some stuff is fixed, there seem to be other parts of vision that are sufficiently cognitive and that can be improved through practice that our visual acuity can improve through work, given enough reps.

Indeed, here's a question: might glasses be seen as orthotics of the eye?
A critique of orthotics is that they use an appliance as a near permanent mechanism to address some "fault" in one's gait, rather than doing the movement work to address the issue (if it is an issue). The orthotic used this way assumes really that we are not plastic, that a chronic condition is fixed by perpetual appliance use; it is not imagined where the issue addressed at the foot by the orthotic may stem from and be addressed at another location or locations, and that chage is possible. Chat with someone with orthotics and see if they think their orthotics are temporary while they do work to improve their foot found issue or permanent. For b2d readers who may have done work to shuck the shodded way, can we imagine translating this way of thinking to vision work and self-spectacling. Can we now re-member our plasticity in vision. And will doing so make us stronger? Not just spiritually, but physically.

(aside - speaking of awesome plasticity -  one of the curators at MOMA, Paola Antonelli, giving a talk at a human computer interaction conference said some neurologists are going against the efforts to reduce phantom limb syndrome in order to use those limb sensations to help better connect with various new kinds of prostheses - a sort of cyborg plasticity)

Plastic Vision

If thinking about eye practice is new, let me tell you about how/where I put eye practice into my workout space: it's my new active recovery between sets.

A New Active Recovery

If you do strength work in particular and have longer recovery breaks between sets, what are you going to do? Some work suggests that keeping moving between sets - not just stopping cold - is a great idea; or likewise after some physical activity, do some kind of warm down to "recover". So called active recovery. The jury is out it seems on the benefits of active recovery: after a soccer match, active recovery didn't do much for elite women players (ref 1, below) but keeping the heart rate up between sets of resistance training seemed to help eliminate DOMS (ref 2, below). Not a huge endorsement of active recovery, is it?

There are two other articles in this space: one shows that blood lactate is cleared by active recovery - to which i say, so what? This article was written at a time when blood lactate was still thought to be in some circles a contributor to muscle fatigue (ref 3, pdf), and not actually as is more the view now (see anything by brooks), another muscle fuel, so clearing it, not such a big deal perhaps; muscle recovery is more about calcium leaking etc etc. And proof in the pudding: another study that looked at post match performance this time by guys playing rugby had no physiological benefit (ref 4)- it didn't harm performance but that's not the same as saying it benefited physiological performance. It  did have a psychological benefit, of helping athletes to relax in the post-whole-game context. Where i've been looking at active recovery is to explore this relaxation-as-recovery between sets when lifting weight. Especially on "heavy" days when my goal is more good reps; fewer fails on near max efforts.

Hence eye work. The main activity is in the eyes, and to have good eye responses means relaxing the eyes; relaxing the eyes seems also to have a soothing effect on the body, not to say relaxed to the state of cooked noodle, but toned down. It is to de-effort the body while deliberately practicing a skill, in this case, vision, which also requires de-efforting (overview of eye work relaxation practice here).

Prep for Next Rep. Eye work consequently seems super for real, between-set physiological recovery. Relaxing the eyes, getting clearer sight seems to correlate very nicely with readiness for next rep. I am keen to wire this up for repiration, muscle activation, heart rate etc, but raw checks, coupled with successful rep performance, and record of perceived exertion seem to suggest something good may be happening here.

What to Do?

So do what in the recovery break? My focus is on better faster focus at distance (seeing more clearly, consistently, faster, from further away). So what I do is hang up two different vision charts, side by side, scald for where I stand away from these charts in a room.

using an eye chart (c.o./ set up on an ipad when working out on the road.
personally, i find hanging up paper copies scaled for 7' and 10' more flexible
I'll do my set, log it, and then look at a chart (or more recently (a) try to look THROUGH the chart, past the letters and (b) NOT try to translate the glyphs to letters in my head. That is to avoid saying that's an D that's a C) during my recovery and often wait for the chart to come into focus. Spending on the workout, recovery may be 30secs to three minutes. I don't put a clock on this, but when I log my set, I have a button that I hit to time stamp the set, so I'm fascinated by how recovery is felt in my body seems to correlate largely with expected times.

Improving Performance

Eye movement can help improve focus/visual clarity, in that the movement seems to help bring a chart into better focus, faster. To trigger such movement, I'll look at a line on one chart and look at a line or letter on a line in the other chart, doing a type of saccades work, going back and forth. I'll also use orientation, so align myself side on to the chart, and turn my head to the chart. What I keep noticing is that my head position has an effect on what my eyes are doing. Surprise, eh? But it's not a consistent effect. Sometimes tilting my head back seems to improve focus; sometimes it doesn't. What I wonder is if the quality of focus achieved is related to how effectively relaxed or recovered I may be. I don't know why these differences. But there they are.

Many options, like many lifts; many ways to practice vision.

A quick note about vision practice. I'm describing one type, like one might work on few strength movements. There are a range of practices around vision like target acquisition, like practicing range of motion -- stretching the main six eye muscles by exploring focus change of near far or extreme ish ranges. Also Eric Cobb at a Speed course introduced a bunch of us to Contrast Sensitivity and more recently similar training of same. Yes there's even an app for that. I admit i haven't practiced with the app because i work out in a room that has daylight streaming in. In the UK, where it goes from cloudy to fleeting sunny, i do get quite a bit of contrast sensitivity work - no kidding - just from the dynamic lighting conditions both as time passes - so sun angle - and from changeable light conditions. If you want to see the difference light makes to visual acuity, give yourself a treat and make sure you try a snellen chart on white paper experience in bright sunshine. Amazing.

Pain and Gain?

Something I notice from time to time and don't know what's going on with this, is that as the chart comes into focus - so seeing better - there will actually be pain in the eye, like an eyelash poking right in or across the eye, and I have to close my eyes to recover. I hate this. I hate losing that clarity. What is that pain? Is it change? Is it not enough warm up? What is it? Why is it? Doesn't happen all the time, and I don't yet have a pattern for consistently invoking this (this is not eye strain by the way, and my eye exams are fine: no monster hiding in brain or eyeball). 

Long term change?

What I've noticed from eye work practice is that I can perform seeing better, more effectively because I've learned that if I give myself time to focus, I can often see stuff, at least for longer periods, sufficient to do sense making.

What has been interesting to see improvement is being able to read slides during presentations better. These are live tests of all sorts of things, from contrast to color to font effectiveness - as well as time: how quickly can i get a fix on the slide to read it before it's changed to the next slide? It's the fact that i have gone from not reading slides - letting them wash over me - to getting more from them - that gives me a sense that there is some cognitive adaptation occurring if not physical adaptation occurring. 

Amazement: i can see clearly now - at least for a moment.

What amazes me still is that in my practice, I have these moments of utter clarity, alignment, pure focus. It's a beautiful thing, and I see lines on the chart that are smaller than ever. Wow. Easily. For moments. What is that? It shows me that I can see well. It suggests to me that something is happening with my brain and vision to be sure. What's happening is still er, unclear, to me. But it does happen, and my naive goal is to have that happen more and longer.

Recap: Eye workouts as active recovery.

Recovery time in between workout sets seems tailor made as a space to carry out vision practice, whether this is for range of motion work, near far drills, or what i've been doing: working on visual distance/focus performance. 

Anyone, it seems, can do vision work and likely all of us can benefit from it, just as we do from active mobility. If you have 20/20 vision, why not go for 20/10? Or work on saccades speed?  Saccade work is in no small part about target re-acquisition - which in turn can be a big part of sport performance. Like running down a field and having to look away from that frisbee in flight and then re-finding it to catch it. Focus change speed is also a good one.

If you want to explore this space of recovery, why not hang up a few charts - change the space between them -  and use that recovery period between sets for doing some vision work?

Again, i've just touched on one aspect of vision training.  I'll be keen to hear what you discover after a month of practice, not only in your sets, but in your daily vision experience.


Andersson H, Raastad T, Nilsson J, Paulsen G, Garthe I, & Kadi F (2008). Neuromuscular fatigue and recovery in elite female soccer: effects of active recovery. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 40 (2), 372-80 PMID: 18202563 

Davis WJ, Wood DT, Andrews RG, Elkind LM, & Davis WB (2008). Elimination of delayed-onset muscle soreness by pre-resistance cardioacceleration before each set. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 22 (1), 212-25 PMID: 18296978

 Micklewright, D., Beneke, R., Gladwell, V., & Sellens, M. (2003). BLOOD LACTATE REMOVAL USING COMBINED MASSAGE AND ACTIVE RECOVERY Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35 (Supplement 1) DOI: 10.1097/00005768-200305001-01755

 Suzuki M, Umeda T, Nakaji S, Shimoyama T, Mashiko T, & Sugawara K (2004). Effect of incorporating low intensity exercise into the recovery period after a rugby match. British journal of sports medicine, 38 (4), 436-40 PMID: 15273179

Related b2d Posts

Vision clarity work: taking TIME to focus
Near Far drills: focus switching work
Eye Massage


Related Posts with Thumbnails