Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Just do it?" Or "Just say no?"

I'm sick.

What to do, what to do?

It's mostly been a head cold so far, but it's been a nasty one and has stuck around for 5-6 days. Hopefully it's gone before tests start next week. I've been feeling like I could sleep for a day or two at a time every time I lay down, but I feel better each time I wake up (whether that's a nap or a night of sleep). Which leads to my question, one that many of us have posed over time: Is it okay for me to exercise when I'm sick?

Most often I've heard the "above the neck" recommendation that if your symptoms stay above your neck and don't seem to move into your chest when you exert yourself it's fine to keep on exercising. I've always felt fairly good about this and have passed it on quite frequently. I've used this guide for the first 4 days of being ill, but it seems to me now that I just need rest so that my body can deal with its invaders. Modern medicine, despite all its bells and whistles, is really aimed at creating ideal conditions for your body to work its magic and heal itself. I know that may be disappointing to some of you, but look at it this way...I'm saying that you have an amazing body. And since exercise is definitely a stressor on your body, taking a few days off might let my immune system kick it up a notch.

I can't help but hear Joe Friel echoing in my head "it's better to be over rested than overtrained..." In a situation like this, it's definitely true. I'm in the middle of base training, no impending races or events. I'm not going to have any significant deficit in my performance come spring time because I took a few days off to recover in January. Although it means the ego has to take a knock or two as I admit to myself and the world that I'm not superman afterall. On the other hand, if I don't take the time off and keep myself sick I may see a significant deficit in my performance when my first Physiology test rears its ugly head.

That's it. Problem solved. Early to bed early to rise...

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Uni(que)cyclist Tackles Pike's Peak

That's right a Unicyclist named Mike Tierney climbed Pike's Peak last year. Doesn't that just make you feel like a wuss. Sometimes when I read these stories I don't know if I should be inspired, or if I should just go climb in a hole and give up.

I'm going to opt for inspiration. This is so cool.

Last year was the inaugural year of "Assault on the Peak" at Pike's Peak. From my understanding it's the first time that the road up to the top of Pike's has been open to cyclists. The climb was 18.5 miles long with a total of 6,360 ft elevation gain and topped out at 14,115 ft. That sounds pretty tough on a bicycle and this guy decided to tackle it on a unicycle.

Apparently, though, this wasn't Mike Tierney's first rodeo. He's ridden many a mountain on only one wheel including Mt. Evans, another infamous Colorado hill climb that rises above that golden 14,000 ft marker. Amazingly he finished 147 out of 326 starters. You can read his entire account here and feel his pain as he tells you about the wind, the dirt, the double digit steepness and about how great it feels to pass bicyclists on a unicycle. That's right, pass them. Seriously, this is the kind of guy I want to learn from when it comes to setting and achieving big goals.

Next time you're feeling like you haven't got enough in the tank, dig a little deeper and think about the amazing things you can really do if you're willing to try.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Friction is not your friend

During my off season training I have been doing some running from time to time, and I am reminded of what I learned during my triathloning days...

Chafing is EVIL!

Let's be honest, when it comes to endurance sports, friction is not your friend. You're body does a lot of repetitive movements and whether it rubs against your equipment or itself the end result is not a happy one. To guard against this there are many options...

1) Appropriate clothing. When I run, I wear compression shorts. They are a handy way to wear a relatively seamless garment so that what I am wearing doesn't rub my legs and leave me raw. Likewise I never wear sleeveless shirts because they rub at my armpit and shoulder. On a bike this means having a good chamois in your shorts...and (for those of you who haven't learned it yet) no underwear in your shorts.

2) Chamois cream. For cycling, there's also chamois cream if you care to deal with such a mess. The products range from Chamois Butt'r to DZ nuts and all of them are a bit weird to get used to at first.

3) Body Glide. I have never used body glide, but I remember its rise during my triathlon days. It's a great product from what I understand. It started in the triathlon niche because when you start riding or running while wet you're at a higher risk for serious chafage, but as with all products the off label uses have sky rocketed as the product becomes more widespread.

Sometimes, though, despite your best efforts you wind up wounded in action. For those days I haven't found anything better than Aquaphor. I think they know it too, because there are several race packets that I have found with samples of the stuff. These are highly coveted. You may not think you need it; but when you do need it, you won't want to be without it.

Until next time, I hope you can safely slip through those sticky situations and stay friction free. Good luck.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The January Challenge 2011

I have now completed over 1500 push-ups and just as many or more sit-ups during 2011.

Yeah, I don't know the last time I did 1500 of something either. That number sounds staggering, but it's a piece of my January Challenge. It's something I just made up, but sounded a lot like me to do it. I decided that I was going to do 100 push-ups and 100 crunches a day for the month of January. I didn't think about the fact that by the time I finish the month I will have done over 3000 push-ups and sit-ups. That's a lot.

I'm not writing this to beat my chest. Instead I want to give you the chance to join me. Don't feel like you have to make up for lost time and do the 15 days worth that have already passed. Just jump right in. And if you're not up to 100 for the day, change the number and keep going. My wife is doing 50 a day of each (Yes she got dragged into another one of my bright ideas, but she's enjoying the results already!). They don't have to be all done at once or in a row. I like to do half in the morning and half at night or work them into my workout plan for the day.

What's the point?-you may ask. Is there a reward? The point is to have a challenge. That means the number you choose has to be a challenge to you. Who knows, by the end of the month it might not be that difficult any more. That sounds like a pretty good reward to me.

I think the challenge next month will involve kettlebell swings, but I'll let you know in February. Until then, enjoy the ride.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I think I just saw Randy Savage at the YMCA...

Okay, okay, okay. So maybe it wasn't really him. But the guy there had the same perma-tannned, oily skinnned, bulgy-eyed, roided up look. And I'm 99.9% sure that if I had bumped into him he would have responded with something like, "Hey, watch it kid or else the BONE-SAW is going to break your twiggy little body in half!"

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Bad Plan is Better Plan Than No Plan

Yep, it's that time of year again. Time to figure out what I'm going to do with my life. Don't worry, I won't wax metaphysical or anything on you here. I'm talking about my training plan for the year.

Last year was my first real year of planning for the entire cycling season. In the past--2003-2009ish--it had always looked something like this....
1) Snow Melts, Craig goes outside again and starts running or something. (Remember that's can be as late as April in Minnesota)
2) School lets out, Craig starts riding his bike and sometimes triathloning as early as one week after school ends. (those June races were never too pretty)
3) Go like crazy all summer, usually facing the danger of burn-out sometime around the 3rd week in July while the race schedule has a lull
4) Peak in mid August (usually with high aspirations for the Turtleman Triathlon)
5) Go back to school in September and let the fitness slowly fade through the cold white months of winter.
6) Repeat steps 1-5.

So what made the big difference last year, you ask? A Christmas present, I tell you. No ordinary one at that. I got a copy of The Cyclist's Training Bible, by Joe Friel. It's a fantastic read and one of the best things I learned while reading was to make goals and plans for the season. Then structure my training plan around those goals. This may seem basic, but taking the time to actually sit down and do it is something that most of us never do.

The next part is the hard part. Learning from your results of the year before. That's where I'm at now and am trying to figure out how to layout this next year. The other difficult aspect is that I've now moved to Wisconsin and don't know the race calendar around here. I think that my main goal for the year will be to peak around the second weekend in July because that's when Superweek comes to town around here. I got to race in one Superweek event in Geneva, IL last year and it was lots of fun. We'll see if I can give it a go again this summer, maybe with a race in the Tour of America's Dairyland as an appetizer.

If you've never taken the time to make long term fitness goals or plans, do it. You won't regret it. Because the plan is aimed several months out, it's important as you go to evaluate it's effectiveness and tweak it as necessary. What's the worst that could happen, you learn something about yourself? After all, the only plan worse than a bad one is no plan.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Antioxidants: who needs 'em?

The name antioxidants implies that they are against oxidants. But why would you be anti-oxidant? Is there anyone out there who is pro-oxidant?

Let's start with the basics:

As your body works and metabolizes fuel (makes energy) it also produces reactive oxygen species, or ROS. Not to be confused with ROUS's (I don't even believe they exist). You may have also heard of them as Free Radicals. Your body makes them all the time during metabolism and when your metabolic needs increase when you are more active your ROS production increases too. Whatever the name is, most people agree that it is good to keep them in check. You see, generally your body oxidizes metabolites in order to break them down. Oxygen, as you may have inferred by the theme in naming here, is really good at oxidizing. The problem is when you have ROS attacking things in your body that they shouldn't attack...like your cells.

An antioxidant, then, is something that gets oxidized to stop your body from being damaged by getting oxidized. Some common simple antioxidants include Vitamin C and Vitamin E but there are many more that the body uses. In some ways it makes an antioxidant like a bodyguard taking a bullet for you.

The theory behind supplementing antioxidants is pretty sound, try and stop the dangerous ROS flying around by upping the number of body guards (antioxidants) in the system. But the proof is a bit lacking.

If we move on to the current evidence we see:

One study in Spain (M.E. Munoz et al. / Toxicology 278 (2010) 101–111) published recently, showed that there was a benefit for elderly exercisers whose body's natural defense mechanisms were a little worn out. But then again these participants were sedentary to begin with and the study was sponsored by the antioxidant drink that the participants were taking during the study.

Another study done by University of Wisconsin-Madison said the opposite, that perhaps helping your body deal with antioxidants stops your body from making other good adaptations to exercise. Most benefits from exercise actually come from stressing your body which includes the production of ROS. When you let your body recover from this stress, your body generally rebuilds itself as strong or stronger than before which is what allows for increased performance. Yet another more recent study in Germany echoed these findings by showing that exercisers who supplemented with antioxidants had less of an increase in insulin sensitivity than exercisers who did not take antioxidants. That means that antioxidant supplementation could actually decrease the effectiveness of exercise for managing Type 2 diabetes.

Finally, the idea of taking antioxidants as a daily supplement or in your multivitamin has lost a little bit of its credence since an article in JAMA came out that showed daily doses of antioxidant substances ranging from beta-carotene to Vitamin E may actually do more harm than good as a preventative measure.

The conclusion:

...a bit fuzzy. Antioxidants have reached craze status, this is confirmed by the fact that the word antioxidants has become a marketing catch phrase and is plastered all over everything from breakfast cereal to green tea. The science behind them is convincing, but as it turns out your body is pretty good at managing on its own.

Even in an event like an Ironman Triathlon, where there is a very significant increase in ROS production, healthy well trained athletes "experience no adverse health risks regarding oxidative stress" (Toxicology. 2010 Dec 5;278(2):211-6. Epub 2009 Sep 18). So for all of you endurance athletes out there who see Lance Armstrong drinking FRS in the commercials, don't be too quick to join the antioxidant party.

As with all fitness fads, it's best to give it a little time before following the crowd. That allows the scientists some time to straighten out the theory from the practice. And don't think the decision here is final. I'm sure it will be some time before this all really gets figured out and we stop going back and forth on what we think is best. Until then I'd say it's best to stick with what has lasted the test of time. Let your body do what it's been made to do by training regularly. It'll give you the jump on ROS you're looking for instead of dumping in extra unnecessary antioxidant supplements and relying on those to do the work for you. Then again, that's just my opinion and I'm no professional... at least not yet.

Monday, January 3, 2011


No cash for a personal trainer? No time to figure out what kind of exercise you should be doing? No problem.

I'm kind of a freak in that one of the things that I really enjoy is planning workouts and then actually doing them. Most people struggle with figuring out what they should do, how long they should do it, when they should do it etc. And if you get far enough to figure all that out it burns a lot of energy needed to overcome the exercise inertia that keeps you from going out and doing it.

Enter the FitDeck. It's a pretty nifty little idea if you ask me. A FitDeck is a deck of 30-50 odd playing cards designed to create a workout for you. There are all sorts of different kinds. Take the "bodyweight workout" set for instance. There are 50 different bodyweight exercises. You just draw however many you want to do and go to work on your very own circuit workout. Each card is intended to take about a minute of time. So in 30 minutes you could do a 10 exercise circuit 3 times or just do 30 different exercises. Pretty cool, eh? I thought so, I got a Pilates set for my wife for Christmas.

They have all different kinds to choose from, bodyweight, kettlebell, Navy SEAL, exercise ball etc. Even sport specific decks like Swimming, Soccer or Basketball. The guy who came up with the FitDeck is an ex-Navy SEAL so he knows a thing or two about being in shape. Most of them are designed around having minimal or no equipment which makes them even easier to use than if you had to bring it to the gym.

I'm all about making it easy to do a hard workout--if you know what I mean--and this makes it easy to do without needing to plan it out or find a trainer to figure it out for you. So if you need a little help getting your goals taken care of a FitDeck might just be the boost you need.

By the way, I'm not getting anything from FitDeck for writing this. I just thought it was cool