"Conscious physical training is using the visible to mold the invisible."
-Dan Millman

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Large Loads, Long Distances...Quickly

In CrossFit we define fitness as the ability to move large loads, long distances, quickly.  Basically what this can mean is that a person develops the ability to move heavier and heavier weights, for longer times, and do it faster.  One of the unique aspects of CrossFit is taking this definition as a way to quantitatively measure the development of fitness.  Using this method a person can track their progress in a fitness program.  For example, if on January first I can do 15 kettlebell swings at 35 lbs. and I can do it in 10 minutes this is a measurable level of fitness.  Then on March 1, I repeat this workout and find that I can do 15 kettlebell swings at 53 lbs. and I do it in 7 minutes this is another measurable level.  According to our definition of fitness, I have become more fit.  Got it?  I have increased my ability to move large loads, long distances, quickly.

As a trainer it is always exciting to see clients succeed and reach, then surpass, fitness goals that they have set for themselves.  In this blog I would like to take the time to highlight one of my clients, Cristina Shaner.  Cristina is a perfect example of the practicality of the large loads, long distances, quickly definition of fitness.

Cristina started participating in Odyssey Outdoor Training in June.  When she first came to training she was already following the paleo diet and was healthy by most modern standards.  She was healthy, but had a low level of fitness according to the above definition.  She was able to swing a 15 lb. kettlebell but she could not do it very much, or very long.  Since that first day of training, Cristina has made great strides in skills and ability, and her level of fitness has increased tremendously.

Cristina has participated in consistent training, at least 2 times per week, for the last couple of months.  During that time I have watched with pride and happiness as Cristina ran up against her limitations and then broke those barriers down.  To mention just a few of her accomplishments, Cristina has increased the distances and speed of her running, and she has done it while at the same time learning how to run "barefoot style" in her Vibram KSO's.  She has greatly increased her skills on the kettlebells, becoming proficient with Russian and American swings, clean and press, clean and jerk, Turkish get ups and kettlebell snatches.  She has also graduated from her 15 lb. kettlebell and is now working with the 20 lb. kettlebell.  This increase in weight is accompanied by an increase in speed and duration.  In other words, we can actually measure Cristina's increased ability to move large loads, long distances, quickly.  Cristina has also moved from modified push ups to regulation style push ups.  This is a great accomplishment.

As a pioneer in the Odyssey Outdoor Training program Cristina has also broken out of the mold of what most people think of as fitness training.  Cristina has learned how to jump on and vault over picnic tables and parallel bars.  She has developed balance on objects of multiple heights and shapes.  She has learned how to do hill scrambles and descents.  She has climbed on trees, used logs for plyo jumps and developed Olympic style lifts with large rocks and other odd shaped objects.  Through this kind of training Cristina has had great fun in a constantly varied program while at the same time developing a broad based fitness level that prepares her to meet multiple, real life challenges.

So I send out a heartfelt congratulations to Cristina Shaner for the great accomplishments she has made in her training.  I look forward to continuing to work with her and watch her fitness levels and abilities grow.

If you are interested in taking your fitness to the next level while having fun in a challenging and constantly varied environment, Cristina and I invite you to come out and join us in our outdoor adventures!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Capoeira Adventure

Anyone who knows me knows that I am always on the look out for something new and exciting.  Whether it is a new physical activity, a new idea, new people, or new situations, I am always trying to push the envelop on my life and experiences.  My root guru Robert Anton Wilson divided human kind into two broad, loose groups: homo neophilus and homo neophobus.  Homo neophilus seeks out new experiences and new ideas.  Homo neophobus likes to stick with the traditioanl, the "tried and true" and the safe.  I definitely hope to continue to push forward as a homo neophilus!

It is in the spirit of seeking out the new and exciting that my wife Samaria and I attended a capoeira demonstration and Brazilian dance party at the new studios of Capoeira Evolucao here in Austin Texas about 2 weeks ago.  I have practiced various martial arts in my life but I had never seen or experienced anything quite like capoeira.  I had watched a few youtube videos of capoeira but those videos did not give a bit of justice to watching capoeira in person.

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that was developed and used by African slaves in Brazil to fight and defend themselves.  Many runaway slaves established strong holds against slave owners and the state and were able to defend their hard won freedom, and liberate other slaves through the use of capoeira.  Because capoeira was developed by slaves, they had to hide what they were doing since a slave owner would obviously not want his slaves to be practicing martial arts!  To hide what they were doing, capoeiristas (a capoeira  practitioner) combined their martial art with dance and music.  The history of capoeira is rich with legends and origin stories and I have only provided a rough outline here.  The interested reader can discover more detailed history on-line or through books.

I was blown away during the capoeira demonstration I watched.  The capoeirista were incredibly agile and fluid.  There moves displayed an incredible amount of gymnastic skill and a masters level of body weight control.  They would begin slow and then accelerate kicks and legs sweeps so fast that the opponent would have to duck and dodge with lightening speed.  It was incredible.

My wife has practiced capoeira in the past and was eager to take the offer of a free week of training that Capoeira Evolucao provides to interested people.  She came home from her first class bursting with excitement and physical exhaustion.  She quickly convinced me to come try a class and I am so happy that I did.

My first capoeira class took me outside of my comfort zone in multiple ways.  To begin with, the "warm up" consisted of about 30 minutes of pretty tough calisthenics and heavy duty stretching.  The calisthenics had me standing in a puddle of my own sweat and the stretching would have been challenging for a yoga student.  The actual capoeira training was about 45 minutes.  The techniques are complicated and extremely technical but the instructors broke them down into somewhat more easily worked sections.  I thought I had balance, coordination, accuracy, and flexibility but I almost immediately found the end limit of all of those things when trying to perform the capoeira training.  Another aspect of the training is rhythm, and all of the moves are set to music.  Some of the music was recorded but there were also musicians playing traditional drum and a stringed instrument called a berimbau.  I was surprised to find that I liked this part of the training.  I am not the most confident of dancers but I was able to lose some of that inhibition while doing capoeira.

When capoeiristas practice capoeira or spar, they call it "playing" capoeira.  I enjoyed this very much.  We were doing something highly technical and martial but the spirit was of play, fun, community, and friendship.  This was a great environment to train in.

Half way through that first capoeira class I had decided that like my wife, I too wanted to sign up for regular classes.  I am going to my third class tonight.  My body is sore, my mind is swimming with all the new techniques, and I can't wait to go do it again!

If you are looking for a new way to have fun with that fit body that you are developing through work in the CrossFit gym or Odyssey Outdoor Training groups then I could not give a stronger recommendation for capoeira and the folks at Capoeira Evolucao.  Find new ways to challenge yourself.  Take your fitness and the adventure of life outside of your normal, comfortable, routine and try something new and daring.  Go out and explore the world...and have fun doing it!


Monday, August 8, 2011

Product Endorsement-Vibram KomodoSport

I have been wearing Vibram Five Fingers for about a year now.  I started with the simple KSO model and the original pair of KSO's that I bought are still holding up despite lots of CrossFit and MovNat inspired training along with trail running, swimming, and just fooling around town in them.

Recently a friend of mine bought a pair of the Vibram KomodoSports and brought them out for one of our training sessions on the steep, rocky trails of Bull Creek.  Like me, he has been wearing Vibram Five Fingers for awhile and doing various forms of training in them.  At the end of our training session he proclaimed the KomodoSport to be the best functioning Five Finger he had worn thus far.  This meant a lot coming from a guy who has numerous pairs of different Vibram Five Fingers.

I had some doubts about buying the KomodoSports.  One of the things I like the most about the Five Fingers is that they come very close to approximate the feeling of being barefoot.  As someone who is working toward developing a more primal lifestyle and evolutionary fitness I like to go barefoot as much as possible.  When it is not possible or practical to go completely barefoot I like to slip into my Five Fingers.  They basically serve as a protective covering for the soles of my feet. 

The KomodoSport Five Fingers have tread on the bottom and a little more cushion than the KSO.  I was concerned about this because padding and tread is not what I am necessarily looking for in a barefoot shoe.  In short, I did not want to move in the direction of a high tech primal shoe.  This seemed like a contradiction to me. 

At the same time, I have been doing a lot more trail running, tree climbing, and jumping lately and my feet have been getting pretty banged up.  After 30 plus years of wearing heavily padded shoes, the relatively short amount of time I have spent in my KSO Five Fingers has just not been enough to toughen up my feet and prepare them for the rigors of training on trails and rocks.  I had to be open to the possibility that I needed a little bit of padding and tread...just a little.

So, with all this in mind I went out and purchased a pair of the KomodoSport.  Here is my short review:

The KomodoSport have the same snug fit that I have come to enjoy in the KSO.  When fitted correctly the feeling is like having a well fitted glove on the foot.  All the toes can move, the foot can bend and flex in all the directions that nature has designed it for.  Walking or running I feel very close to being completely barefoot...and that is the main point.

Regarding the padding:  I have taken my new shoes out for two runs at this point and one CrossFit workout.  In all 3 situations I was pleased with their performance.  On the road and in the CrossFit workout I did not notice much difference between the KomodoSport and the KSO.  The rear strap in the KomodoSport actually provides for a better fit.  I experienced less sliding in my KomodoSports and could get a more customized fit with the added strap.  When I hit the trails with the new shoes I was glad to have the added tread and padding.  I did not lose any of the feeling of feet in contact with the ground despite the added padding.  However, the added padding gave me a slight but significant protection from pointy rocks.  To be frank, I was no longer constantly be jarred by the pain of my feet hitting rocks.  After the run my feet were not bruised and sore.  At the same time I could feel the rocks, I knew when I hit them and how I hit them and therefore how to adjust my running accordingly.  None of the feeling was lost but the intensity of the rocks was dialed down a bit.  This is important to me because it allows me to train near barefoot, develop the foot and leg strength, as well as the techniques, without banging up my feet too badly.

Regarding tread:  On the trails I found that the tread was a bit better than the comparably slick bottom surface of the KSO.  I found that I felt a bit more confident in climbs, jumps, and quick side to side shifts with that added little bit of tread.  Is this in violation of some barefoot purist approach?  Perhaps, but I imagine my naked foot would have a bit more grip than the sole of the KSO and a bit less than the KomodoSport.  From a training perspective I think the added tread is a helpful way to work the techniques of quick, lateral shifts, jumps and climbs.

                                 (my wife loves her new pair of KomodoSports!)   

Well, that was a lot of writing to get to the point that I highly recommend the Vibram KomodoSport.  I am very happy with my pair.  I think they would be a great shoe for either a beginning barefooter, or a more veteran primal mover.  They combine comfort, function, and the best of modern paleo fashion.  Do your feet a favor and check them out.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adventures in the wild

If you have never heard of MovNat then check this link out http://movnat.com/ watch some of the videos, read some of the articles, and then come back to this post.

For about a year now, I have been interested in MovNat style training and primal movement.  There is a whole new movement in the fitness world that some call Evolutionary Fitness which encompasses much of this.  Without going into a whole lot of detail some of the basic ideas are that human beings are "designed" to be proficient at running, jumping, climbing, lifting, throwing, swimming, balancing, carrying, defending, and quadrupedal movement.  One of the fundamentals is that these movements should be rooted in functionality.  I think of it like this: it is great to be able to do 20 pull ups, but what functional use are those pull ups if I can not use them to actually get on top of an obstacle?  If my life depended on me being able to climb up and on top of something it would be meaningless if all I could do was get my chin above the ledge.  Being able to run 5 miles around a track is a good achievement but can I run those 5 miles on uneven surfaces, maybe wet surfaces or rocky surfaces?  Can I do it in the dark?  Lifting weights in the comfort of a gym, with symmetrical objects will make me stronger but does it translate into being able to use that strength when it counts?  Can I lift an odd shaped object, like a human being, and carry them to safety?

A program designed around the principals of natural movement attempt to build a human being that is not only strong and healthy, but also able to deal with all challenges found in the real world.  To quote the founder of MovNat, Erwan LeCorre, "You are not beach ready because your body shape looks good, but when you can run, swim, and carry someone out of the water."

So I have been exploring my own fitness program and attempting to develop a program based around natural movement and the principals of functionality in real world scenarios.  I started by going out to some of the beautiful, local parks in Austin and the rocky trails of the Greenbelt.  The first thing I noticed was that barefoot running is a completely different animal when there are obstacles in your path like rocks, logs, loose dirt etc.  It is also a different kind of running when you have to traverse inclines and negotiate steep declines.  Running on a trail that requires you to duck under and jump over things is a completely different experience from putting in a couple of miles on the track or around the neighborhood.

Plyometric jumps, or box jumps are a staple of CrossFit workouts.  This is an exercise where you jump up and down from a box repeatedly for a set number of repetitions.  I have done this countless times in the gym, on boxes of 30 plus inches in height.  Translating this movement into nature requires a whole host of skills that the gym environment does not necessarily demand.  Nature requires balance and accuracy.  Imagine a large rock or a tree branch.  How do you jump and land on these objects?  They are not symmetrical.  They do not have flat surfaces.  Chances are when you jump on a rock you are landing on a surface that is extremely uneven.  Jumping on a tree branch and your landing surfaces is uneven, and moving!  This kind of jumping requires the ability to land accurately and with balance, to be able to "stick" the landing or be able to land and move immediately to the next object.

Natural movement applications of climbing were and are an humbling experience for me.  Erwan LeCorre explains that in MovNat training pull ups are really just the first part of a climbing application.  I am pretty good at pull ups, both kipping and strict.  I can even get a few weighted pull ups.  But I found myself struggling to get on top of a tree branch.  I could pull my chin up to the top of the branch, but that was about as far as it went.  It was at this exact point that I realized my gym training just was not enough.  Pull up bars are nice and smooth, perfectly round, and a comfortable width.  Tree branches and rock ledges are not.

Luckily I have found some good natural movement training partners through https://www.facebook.com/groups/austinnaturalmovement.  The group is headed up by a great guy who has experience training with the founder of the MovNat method.  We get together twice a week for training sessions with people of all skill and fitness levels.  Through these sessions I have begun to re-learn the functional movements of the human body.  I really recommend this group to you if you live in the Austin area and are interested in this kind of thing.  You can also find us on MeetUp at: http://www.meetup.com/austinnaturalmovement/

We are also lucky to have MovNat instructor Clifton Harski coming to the Austin area in late October for a 1 day MovNat seminar.  The seminar is limited to 14 people and will fill up fast so I suggest you register asap.  I am registered and can not wait for the experience.  You can find more information here: http://www.eventbee.com/v/movnat1dayaustinoct30

The last thing I want to add in this blog post is the natural movement is extremely fun.  We spend so much of our lives being serious adults who have serious adult responsibilities.  We very rarely do things simply because they feel great and are great fun.  Even with our workouts we have a serious mentality.  We go to the gym because we want to lose weight, or reduce our blood pressure, or get stronger, or look better naked.  All of these are great goals but we should also seek the experience of cutting loose and having fun.  Exploring natural movement makes you feel like a kid again.  Essentially it is the kind of exercise you got as a kid: running, jumping, shouting, throwing things, shadow boxing, and climbing trees.  I think of it as recess for adults.  Wouldn't you like to go back to recess?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What are you looking for?

Let's face it, most people come to a fitness program for aesthetic reasons.  People want to shed a few pounds, they want to fit into that outfit from high school or college, they want to look good in a swim suit for the summer time...basically people want to look better naked.  That is the reason I began my fitness journey.  I was in my mid thirties and had the typical American male physique...I had the spare tire, the gut, and the man boobs.  When I first walked in to a CrossFit gym I told the head coach that I would do anything he told me to do if he could guarantee to get that fat off of me.  In about 60 days most of the fat was gone and my life had been completely transformed.

This picture is not a fake, these are the kinds of results a person can get with a clean diet (paleo/primal) and good physical training.  The methods work and it is actually quite easy.  But there is so much that is not shown in this picture.

Getting into a fitness program not only transformed my body it also transformed my spirit.  I began to rediscover what it really means to be a human being, to be alive.  When you let your health decline, when you follow the sick consensus reality of what passes for being alive in our modern western culture, you lose touch with the fundamental joy of being a human being.  There is joy in movement. There is joy in adventure.  There is joy in hard, physical activity and sweat.  There is joy in climbing, running, swimming, lifting, throwing and jumping.  There is joy in rolling in the grass.  We all knew this back when we were little children, when we were still wild, and undomesticated.  Erwan Le Corre http://movnat.com/ describes most modern people as "zoo humans".  I take this to mean that most of us are like wild animals who have been locked in cages.  We are no longer in touch with our natural instincts, desires, way of moving, or diet.  We are in the zoo of modern life and we are growing fat, lazy, sick and dull.

But hope is not lost, far from it.  Right outside of your front door is a whole world just waiting for you to explore and rediscover your true human nature.

My fitness adventure began as a way to lose weight, and look better naked.  My fitness adventure has transformed into a completely new way of looking at and living life.  I no longer think of a "beach ready" body in terms of how a person looks in a bathing suit.. Now I am interested in the ability to swim, to dive, to hold my breath, and the ability to help if someone gets in trouble in the water.  I no longer concern myself with the amount of weight I can squat or bench press.  Now I am interested in my ability to use that strength to seek out new adventures, have fun, and be helpful to friends, family, and strangers.  I no longer walk or run on tread mills, use weight machines or cardio theaters.  Now my training involves lifting actual objects, from dumbells, to kettlebells, to rocks.  I run on trails that have obstacles and beautiful scenery that requires awareness and engages my mind.  I climb trees, rocks, and ropes.  I seek adventure.

What are you looking for in your fitness training program?  It is a wonderful goal to lose weight and look good naked.  This is a goal that you can easily achieve through a paleo/primal diet and a constantly varied, high intensity training program.  But explore the possibilities beyond that initial goal.  What might your life be like if you could reawaken that beautifully wild, undomesticated being that is the original core of who and what you are?  What kind of life might there be outside of the confines of the zoo?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rituals of Strength

The rituals of strength, the smell of the dew on the grass before the sun has risen, the cool darkness of morning, it is worship.  The early morning alarm sound jolting fuzzy awareness from the warmth of sleep, the sound of water running in the sink, brushing teeth, making coffee, wanting to go back to bed, it is worship.  Moving the joints, stretching the limbs, increasing the flow of blood, the pumping of the heart, the sound of breath, it is worship.  First pull, first lift, first swing, first sprint, it is worship.  It is so early, so many people are still asleep, or dragging themselves into the shower, here on the field we sweat, we grunt, we doubt ourselves and our ability but we continue to move, to push, to pull, to lift, to throw...the sun begins to spray the first rays of light across the horizon, it is worship.  Covered in sweat, gasping for breath, body trembling, fully awake in ways beyond the boundaries of consensus reality, alive, really alive, really alive and breathing and human and aware and so fucking thankful to be awake, aware, alive...it is worship.  The rituals of strength.