Saturday, November 27, 2010

Standing Desk = Success

I'm typing these words with the help of my fresh-off-the-assembly-line standing desk. I'd spent a little time daydreaming about what the perfect standing desk would be like and all it took was a quick trip to Home Depot and some help from my shop craft-skilled dad (okay, he did 95% of the work, but I'll take as much credit as I can). In all, the expenses totaled $15 and it only took a about two hours to put together, which isn't bad considering this was our first foray into the art of building standing desks. I'm quite satisfied with the finished product, although we are considering modifications to make it even snazzier.

The obvious question: why a standing desk? Simple answer: better posture, less pain. You don't have to search for long to find someone with lower back pain. Chances are looking in a mirror will show you someone with lower back pain. Anyway, sitting for prolonged periods of time will cause your hip flexors and erector spinae to shorten, which often induces anterior pelvic tilt and back pain. So the purpose of the standing desk is to a) reinforce better posture and b) to prevent you from sitting and worsening your posture. I know that some people claim that they work more efficiently at a standing desk, but I haven't looked for any research to support that claim (if you know of some, please share it with me).

I'll be bringing it with me back to school and maybe I might find a customer or two although, as any parent who has failed to get their kids to eat their vegetables knows, most teenagers aren't be overly concerned about the deleterious effects of prolonged sitting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fast and Furious Book Reviews (Long Overdue)

The Red Queen : Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

Rating: 4/5

Thoughts: The only reason this book doesn't get a 5 is because it can get heavy with the science at times. Sometimes it almost felt like I was reading a Biology textbook, but the momentary suffering was worth it. He uses sexual selection and the behavior of other animals to make some fascinating conclusions about human nature. It certainly does make you look at humans (and animals) in a different light. I highly recommend this book, but realize that there are some dense parts.

The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbably Dynasty by Adrian Wojnarowski

Rating: 5/5

Thoughts: I'm a sucker for a good sports book and this is one of them. If you like books like The Last Shot, Heaven is a Playground, or Friday Night Lights, you'll enjoy this book. You'd have to be a sports fan, but this is more than a sports book and I got more than I expected. It's an inspirational story and Bob Hurley embodies the notion of service in many ways (although he does have his shortcomings).

Open by Andre Agassi

Rating: 5/5

Thoughts: I don't read many biographies or autobiographies, but this was a book I had trouble putting down. He doesn't leave much to the imagination and it will raise some eyebrows. Right off the bat he confesses his hatred for tennis, which only his closest friends knew about before the book's release. There's a number of lessons to take away from this book and you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy it.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler

Rating: 5/5

Thoughts: I don't consider myself to be a "worldly" or "cultured" person, so this was a different kind of book for me. Hessler tells the story of the several years he spent in China during the 00's, during which he witnessed China's boom and all the affects that accompanied the boom. He has a good sense of humor and he blends history with his own experiences expertly. I was able to learn about China and actually enjoy myself (I never thought that could happen). People interested in international affairs or China will enjoy this book, although I enjoyed it without much interest in the topic beforehand.

Last Words by George Carlin

Rating: 5/5

Thoughts: I picked this one up on the recommendation of my English teacher. In retrospect, it seems odd that a teacher would recommend a book that spends a good deal of time discussing drug abuse... Regardless, it was an entertaining read and provided insight into the counterculture movement, the life of a comedian, and, duh, George Carlin. It's not a short book, but it is hard to put down. After finishing the book I watched some of stand up on youtube, which added some perspective. Almost anyone will enjoy this book as long as they enjoy gratuitous amounts of profanity.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Recent workouts and notes

7/1 Upper body
1A Floor/pin press 185 1x3, 165 1x7, 155 1x8
2A Standing 1-arm cable row 100 1x9, 10, 10
1B TRX bodyweight chin-ups Bill Desimone style 4x(close to failure)
1B Seated EZ bar military press 85 1x6, 8, 6
EZ bar curl 85 1x5, 75 1x7
Wheel rollouts 2x6
TRX core
Hammer curls 25’s 1x13

Notes: A lot of exercises and some new ones that I was trying out for the first time. It was a lot of volume, but I was gone for the weekend and didn’t have a true upper body workout for another six days. This was my first time going heavy with the pin press from the floor and it’s challenging. My max bench is 205 and I can hit 5 reps at 185, but I can attribute my use of the stretch reflex to that. The pin press forces me to start the concentric portion of the lift without the aid of the turnaround point. More challenging for me and I plan to continue using the exercise in the future in conjunction with standard benching.

The 1-arm cable row is making a comeback! Hadn’t done this exercise much before, but I like the feel because I can rotate my palm throughout the range of motion. I can’t do that as much with a dumbbell and certainly not with a barbell. I can load it up heavy and balancing hasn’t been much of an issue. I also “feel” it more on my right side when I perform the lift probably because of the mind-muscle connection. If I want to get torturous, I can always do some overload negatives by lifting the weight with both arms and lowering it with one.

The chin-ups and military press come from Bill Desimone’s videos on youtube. I’ve read about him in the past, but only recently have I looked into his work. His youtube page is a goldmine and I plan on purchasing his book soon. No bounce on the chin-up and the TRX allows me to move my palms freely in a natural, shoulder friendly motion. The military presses were nice as well. I don’t do much overhead pressing because I used to throw a lot when I was younger, but I figure I can add some in now.

7/6 Lower body
Sprints 10yd 1x3, flying 20’s 1x3
1A Bulgarian split squats 145 2x5, 1x8
2A Explosive step-ups 4x3
Contreras hip thrust 265 1x8, 275 1x10, 8
Band pallofs, TRX rollouts, Bill Desimone calves

Notes: Started the workout with sprints, which was a change of pace. I want to improve my speed, but they also serve to psych up the nervous system. I stole the flying 20’s from Kelly Baggett’s site. You start at a jog and then sprint 20 yards, so there is less acceleration than a sprint from a dead stop. Nothing fatiguing, but they put me in the right place to start the workout.

Weights continue to increase for the BSS. I knew on the first two sets that I had more reps in me, so I decided to push it hard on the third set. I still think I had more. Again, I paired the BSS with the explosive step-ups for the PAP.

The hip thrust keeps jumping higher and higher. I try to make modest adjustments in weight, but it’s clear I can handle more with this lift. Ideally, I’d like to be working in the 6-8 rep range. Every damn time I do these I know that the next day my glutes will be sore. I like that.

I hadn’t done calve training in forever, so did some bodyweight calve raises Bill Desimone style to finish the workout. I got a good pump, but I did not anticipate the DOMS. Every step I took for the next two days reminded me that I have puny calves. Note to self: do more calve training.

7/7 Upper body
1A TRX Desimone chin-ups 40 1x3, 45 4x4
2A Band pull downs 6x3
1B Dumbbell bench press 80’s 2x5
2B Standing 1-arm cable row 105 1x8, 9
Seated EZ bar military press 85 1x11, 9
TRX core, rows

Notes: First time going heavy with the Desimone chin-ups. I expected that I wouldn’t be able to use as much weight, but it wasn’t much of a drop off (5 pounds). If I have noticed any differences between a TRX chin-up and a normal chin-up (aside from the obvious), I think that the motion is smoother and there isn’t a sticking point as much. This is probably because the TRX allows me to rotate naturally.

I should stop super-setting pushing and pulling exercises sometime because you need the back muscles to stabilize during the push, but I am too damn lazy and it’s more time efficient. It’s also not the end of the world. Anyway, I hadn’t done any dumbbell benching for a several weeks, so I wasn’t sure what I would get. I was hoping for 6 or 7 reps, but I’m not sure I would have gotten them.

Increased by 3 reps on the military press!

I’m leaving tomorrow for a five day wrestling camp at BU and I’ll be bringing a fridge full of sweet potatoes, eggs, and coconut milk with me. I don’t plan on wrestling in college, but it should be fun and challenging at the same time. So someone might ask why go? I don’t have a solid answer for that. It will be my senior year of high school, so I kind of want to do well (I’ve been varsity all three years). On the other hand, I realize that it is high school sports and it shouldn’t matter at all. I like the sport, but will easily walk away from it when my season ends. So am I going to the camps for me or my coaches and teammates? A little of both, I suppose. Not very self-reliant of me. Oh well. I also want to see if my strength and conditioning work have had any turnover onto the mat. There is something satisfying about being able to physically man-handle somebody on the mat. Alternatively, it sucks to have someone else physically man-handle you, but I digress.

I have some projects that have been brewing in my head. Some posts will be forthcoming.

I’ll be back on Thursday.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Quick Musings

- Spent the weekend up in New Hampshire at our new condo in Sunapee. It's on a golf course, next to a lake, with tennis courts, basketballs courts, and hiking trails everywhere. I was outside a lot, got a nice tan (for the vitamin d, of course), and surprised myself with my golf game. I played well for not having hit a golf ball in a year.

- I cruised through Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Open." I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something to read. It's not just for sports fans. I'll have a more formal review of that and "The Red Queen" soon.

- I did some training over the weekend. One day I set up the TRX at the playground nearby the condo and did some conditioning circuits as well as some Bill Desimone-inspired chinups on the TRX. This morning I went on a barefoot run up the hill to the condo in the morning (it's very hilly out there). I did 1 minute intervals of work and rest. The hill helped with the forefoot striking. I think my form is improving, but I'm taking a gradual approach just in case. The workout itself was challenging, but brief. I still am on the fence about steady state cardio and will stick to shorter work intervals for now.

- I discovered yucca while in a grocery store on the trip up. It's a tuber, but there are some issues about cyanide content. It seems like you can eliminate the issue by cooking it, so I am concerned. Still, it's a staple in some healthy H-G societies. I'll look into the preparation more. The first few times I had it I just pan fried it in butter or coconut oil and sprinkled some cinnamon on it. It has less flavor than sweet potatoes, but I don't mind it.

Until next time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Training Updates

One of the issues facing me as I departed for Italy was how I would maintain strength and muscle mass over the course of 3 weeks without access to a gym. I brought my homemade TRX along for the trip (it weighs nothing), which proved to be a wise decision. Long story short, I came back to the states at approximately the same weight and leanness. I didn't do anything in Venice for the first 4 days, but when we moved to Florence I had more opportunities. A nearby park had a pull-up bar and I showed up once every other day with my TRX and went to work.

Lots of chin-ups, rows, push-ups, unilateral leg exercises, and tons of core work. Some of it was Crossfit-inspired training with a 21-15-9 race against the clock, other parts general sets and reps scheme, and some HIT thrown in there as well. This experience allowed me to fool around with TRX and I appreciate it more than before. I familiarized myself with a number of great core exercises and found ways to make simple bodyweight movements challenging. Still, it's not the only piece of equipment I'll ever need (as some people might argue). For the advanced trainer, having a weight vest to go along with the TRX is crucial because doing sets of 25 for the upper body might not deliver the desired stimulus. Can I use the TRX to leave me lying on the ground out of breath or with my core on fire? Sure, but it doesn't cover all the bases. It is still just a tool in a toolbox. Sadly, I think it has garnered a cult following and is being lauded as the second coming of JC. Nevertheless, it is a good piece of equipment and has its place in a training program.

I've had two training sessions since returning from Italy. Both have gone well and my strength levels are about where they were before I left. Monday was upper body and Wednesday was lower body.

1A Chin-ups bw+45 1x5, 50 3x5, 1x4
2A 1-arm explosive band pulldown 6x3
1B Floor press 165 3x6
2B 1-arm dumbbell row w/ thick grip 90 2x10
TRX work, band pallof press, explosive pullups

Notes: The floor press is a new exercise for me and I like it a lot. However, the way I have it set up is not a true floor press and is more like a pin press with with me laying on the ground. Without a spotter or a power rack I can't get the bar to a racked position at the top of the lift. Instead, I put the bar on top of two parallel "fitness steps." This is not ideal, as Eric Cressey discusses, because the scapula don't get set as well. I noticed this while performing the lift. I'll see what I can to correct the problem. Still, Christian Thibaudeau praises the pin press, so it's not all bad. The core work I did at the end was challenging, but the next day I was shocked to be so sore. It felt like all my ribs were broken and it still does a few days later. I had done the pallof press and Nick Tumminello's variations before, but not with bands. I stole the band idea from Tony Gentilcore' blog and I think I prefer it over using a standard cable. I'm going to be using those more and more.

Wednesday AM:
10yd sprint 1x3, Flying 20's 1x3
1A Bulgarian split squat 125 1x5, 135 2x5, 1x8
2A 1-leg explosive step-up 3x3
Bench hip thrust 235 1x15, 255 1x8
Landmines, band pallof presses, Turkish get-ups, weighted birddog

Notes: This was my first time doing BSS's with a barbell on my back. Previously I had held dumbbells at my side, which caused my grip to become a limiting factor. I felt strong on the lift and the weights should be jumping up quickly although my shoulders and wrists weren't fond of the exercise (made me wish I had a safety squat bar). Again, I paired a heavy lift with an explosive movement because of post-activation potentiation. It's a mouthful, but it does the body good. I also have been loving the hip thrusts. My glutes are dead right now. The weight continues to jump up and up. I might try some of Bret Contreras' explosive variations soon. I tried a set of snatch grip deadlifts, but it didn't feel right, so I stopped it there. It's supposed to be a great lower body exercise, so I'll look into the technique more. This was also my first time doing landmines, so I'm not sure how good my technique was, but it felt good.

I did a brief PM lower body session with the TRX. It was not intense because my AM session was way too much for a two-a-day. Still, I figured it couldn't hurt. I did some bodyweight BSS's on the TRX with a very slow eccentric and a five second pause at the bottom, which gave my glutes a good stretch and pump.

Today is upper body and then I leave tomorrow for New Hampshire. I'll be there for a weekend soaking up the sun, eating lots of dead animal flesh (in the spirit of July 4th, of course), and doing whatever else one does in that state. I've got more content coming soon: more thoughts on Italy, book reviews, and more good stuff.


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Fallacy of Italian Salad Dressing Part I

time with my friends hanging out, exploring cities, and the art was interesting as well. Okay, the art was phenomenal, but I won’t bore you with those details now. The trip gave me a new perspective on a society’s relationship with food. This is the first time I’ve immersed myself in a foreign culture and, while there are a vast number of similarities, there are some noticeable differences between the food culture in Italy and America.

As the title suggests, there is a discrepancy between America’s “Italian dressing” and the actual salad dressing in Italy. In fact, restaurants only ever gave us two things to put on our salads: extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. I imagine that if I had ever asked for “Italian dressing” I would’ve gotten a blank stare or a slap in the face. The salad dressing we most associate with Italy is nothing like what they actually use. Take a look at the long list of ingredients in Newman’s Own “Family Recipe Italian Dressing”:

Ingredients: Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil and/or Canola Oil), Water, Vinegar, Romano Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Salt, Contains 2% or Less of Garlic Powder, Sugar, Spices, Barley Malt Extract, Anchovies, Citric Acid, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Xanthan Gum, Paprika, Molasses, Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Onion Powder, Tamarind, Natural Flavor

The bulk of the 120 calories per serving come from the omega-6 -loaded vegetable oil. Enough has already been said about the ills of consuming excessive amounts of omega-6 so that it doesn’t bear repeating. Sure, some paleo die-hards will lament that olive oil has too many PUFA’s (1.3g of o-6’s per tbsp), but I think that few would disagree that moderate consumption of olive oil is fine. Furthermore, there is no doubt as to which salad dressing is the “winner” and I think the comparison between the two could make for a great stand-up joke.

More reflections of my time in Italy will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Back to Blogging (Briefly)

Just got back from school, so I took a little time to refresh the blog with some of the newsletters I sent out this spring. However, I will be leaving for Italy on Monday morning and won't be back for three weeks. I'll be in Italy to for an art history class, but it will be a cultural and culinary experience as well. I doubt I will have the time to write any posts, but I should come back with plenty to write about.

In the meantime I'll post my recent workouts since coming home. Yesterday was a short, fasted sprint session in my Vibrams at a nearby terf field with the focus on quality and not conditioning. It looked like this:

Brief warm-up
10m sprint x6
50m sprint x3
100m sprint x1

I hope to include more outdoor training in the future.

Today's workout was a typical free-weight workout. It might be the last one I have for awhile, so I went pretty hard.

1A Weighted chinups +50 5x5
2A Front squat 185 4x5, 1x7
1B Neutral grip, 1-arm military press 50 2x7
2B Bench hip thrust 215 1x12, 235 1x10
C Moving pushups with bands 2x8
D Standing 1-arm cable row with forced negatives 110 1x8 +2 negatives
Pallof presses, TRX (planks, bodysaw, rollouts)

It took a little over 75 minutes, which is long for me although today was a full-body workout. I hadn't done much heavy front squatting in several months, but the movement felt good. I still love weighted chinups and the hip thrust. The standing 1-arm cable row was a new exercise I was trying out. It takes a lot of core strength to perform well and I can do a few forced reps by using two hands on the concentric portion of the lift. The core work at the end was not too intense and I tried out a few of Nick Tumminello's pallof press variations. I still like the original the most. The lateral version felt okay and the vertical version put a lot of strain on my elbows.

On a more random note, I am reading "The Red Queen," which is about sex and the evolution of human nature. I'm about 80 pages through it and it is fascinating. It confirms some of my vague theories and I'm learning plenty more. I hope to keep reading that in Italy as well as a few others: "The Miracle at St. Anthony's," "Wherever You Go, There You Are," and some assigned books about Italian art.

Speaking of Italy, I'm not sure what I'll be able to do for lifting, but I'm bringing my homemade TRX with me in hopes I can find somewhere to use it. I'm also excited for the World Cup, which starts in a week. I'm not a huge soccer fan, but it's hard not to follow the World Cup in the US let alone Italy. Should be a great time and I'll be back with some posts soon enough.