Sunday, November 23, 2008

Consistency, Simplicity, Elegance

I've been trying to maintain the status quo for so long that I've given up the idea of making new ground, because I'm always trying to continue to hold the ground that I've established. I end up wasting a lot of energy, because I work out hard and then I lose ground, all in a period of one or a few weeks.

So that's the challenge: consistency. I know I can do anything with persistence and consistency. But that's the hard part, not getting motivated in the first place, per se, but staying motivated, on the days that aren't going as well as I'd hoped. And when things get busy, putting in a workout just to put one in. That's the key. Don't get frustrated, take your time, stay consistent. It seems like I spent a lot of my twenties learning those lessons as they apply to writing and to exercise, and to work; so now it's time to apply those lessons to both staying consistent with exercise, with diet, and with working out. I don't want to make this too complicated, because it doesn't need to be. And that's okay. Things don't have to be complicated to work.

Take, as just one of many examples: the super squats program. Twenty reps of the squat, as hard as giving birth, are the basis of the program. The program also calls for dumbbell pullovers, to build the lats and ostensibly to "expand the chest". You want to know why this program works? Because it takes the biggest muscular structures in the body and forces them to do tons of work. You then stuff yourself with an excess amount of calories, focused on milk, which is a good,cheap source of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, and "miraculously" you grow. It ain't exactly rocket science, and I'm convinced that it doesn't have to be.

As Bruce Lee said, "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, add what is specifically your own." (I've heard this quote attributed to Mao Zedong, minus the "add what is specifically your own" clause, so I guess Bruce took that last bit seriously.) In every case, stripping out the inessentials: "It's not daily increase, but daily decrease. Hack away the inessentials." to quote Bruce again. But stripping out the inessential only gets you half the way there. If you strip your program down to squats, pullovers, and milk, you haven't gotten anywhere if you squat with the bar, skip the pullovers, and drink a pint of milk: the missing piece is kidney-shitting intensity. So what is specifically your own? That piece is hard fucking work.

So this year, I don't think that it's going to be so much a year about making up complex splits and rationales. It's going to be about figuring out what works, making it as simple as possible, and then pushing myself to the limit.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ross Enamait Books

I mentioned on here, quite a while ago, that I had ordered the Ross Enamait books and DVD. Though I haven't actually used any of the materials yet, I have to say that I'm very impressed with them. Ross is in incredibly good shape, and got there with a minimal amount of equipment. I highly recommend all three of his current works.

Pros: Inexpensive, both the books and the plans. An equivalent amount of information on the "open market" could easily run into the hundreds of dollars. A great value. Information on conditioning, strength, strength-endurance, and everything in-between. This is especially valuable for boxers, wrestlers, Mixed-Martial Artists, or other martial artists (or people who want physiques like these guys). The layout is clearly home-made, but this generally works for the production rather than against it. All of the manuals are spiral-bound, which is nice, because it lays flat where you can refer to it quickly on the floor while you exercise. A lot of my paperback books are absolutely torn up because of this, but I can see that Ross' manuals are going to last. The DVD is also clearly home-made, but the production values are absolutely fine for the layout, and as usual, there's a ton of info presented. The DVD is over an hour long and comes with a 100 page manual that has fresh content, for $25 right now. Which is an awesome deal. There are plenty of ideas for people who want to "tweak" their programs, and a couple of different examples of overall programs too. So great balance there.

Cons: Some (very, very little) of the info is repetitive. Ross uses the phrase "spice things up" a few too many times. There's no color in the manuals(but color's not really needed). The only model is Ross!

Finally, I have to confess that I am still working through Pavel's challenge of 200 24kg snatches in 10 minutes and a 1/2 bodyweight military press, so I haven't tried Ross's programs. I can't report with a final rating until I've actually done it, so consider my 10/10 rating preliminary. If I were starting all over again with no equipment and no knowledge, Ross is where I would start. Highest recommendation.

Check this out:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Kicking it Old School 8-bit Style

Adulthood has a lot going for it. I've been spending quite a bit of time playing all kinds of games for the NES that I never got a chance to when I was a kid, drinking beer and eating pizza. Delightful. Back to the days of enemies that spawn to a ridiculous extreme, passwords instead of saves, and simple to learn yet incredibly difficult games.

One good resource in this old-school quest has been this top 100 list from the gentlemen at Since most of these games can be had for somewhere between a dollar and 10 dollars from your local game shop or ebay, you can certainly while away the hours in style. And since my girlfriend has an NES that is in great shape, I don't have to buy some Chinese knockoff just to get my game on. Which is sweet.

I've been playing a lot of Ninja Gaiden. Great game, but practically impossible for a mere mortal. To get an idea of how hard this game is, there's an entire walkthrough for one level (6-2) on the game on Game FAQs. I, therefore, humbly leave you with one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

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The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi is an entertaining action/science fiction romp through one possible future. The characters are fun and not too serious, and the writing reminds me most of a young Neal Stephenson--which is good. He also runs into more hardcore space opera/alien territory without taking himself too seriously--which is also good. This is probably the best sci-fi I've read this year, but only pick it up if you're in the mood for a quick, breezy read that's fun and enjoyable and packed with action: it's more "sci-fi" than science fiction. Highly recommended.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Diet (part 1)

This is one of the posts that I promised a while back. I've lost about 25 pounds since this time last year and my measurements say that it's over 90% fat. (I have been using a simple waist-wrist:weight ratio. I know it's not hydrostatic weighing, but I knew my body fat was too high, and now it's getting lower). I know I'm stronger than I've been--especially in pressing and upper body pulling--since I have been since about 2003-2004 when I set a bunch of PRs. But now I'm significantly lighter. I'd like to introduce you to the dietary concepts that I think are important and worthwhile, that have enabled me to lose weight and fat while gaining strength.

These are:
1. Eat a lower carbohydrate diet.
2. Consider carbohydrate cycling.
3. Fast occasionally, intermittently, and randomly.

Eat a Lower Carbohydrate Diet

The one book that I think everyone who is trying to lose fat should read is "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. Most of the fat I have lost has been in the time since I read Taubes' book. Twice as much fat in less than half the time-that's four times the rate of loss. This is the kind of thing that you could sell on an infomercial, but it's all true: faster fat loss while retaining strength and muscle, much less hunger, and increased energy levels. I realize that I am one person and this is not a representative, scientific sample (how do you measure "increased energy levels" anyway?) but it does represent my experience.

OK, so I've had great results since reading Taubes' book. Why? The biggest problem I have had following lower carbohydrate diets in the past is psychological. The dietary zeitgeist of the last 25 years has been that all fat is bad, and protein is viewed with concern: being a vegetarian is not only healthy, it's somehow more ethically laudable than eating meats.

The problem is that eating a lower carbohydrate diet works. So you get a certain sense of dislocation and cognitive dissonance: as your diet is working, you're being told that it couldn't possibly be working, and even if it is, it's killing you. So you try to walk a fine line in between the two extremes: fat-free chicken, veggies and fish do not an appetizing diet make. We need some fat to feel sated. So we feel hungry all the time, and we slip off the diet. Or we do the Atkins' plan and eat a bunch of butter and cheese and saturated fats, we feel physically better, but then our mind starts hemming away with "You're clogging your arteries... you're going to die." So we mentally screw ourselves up, and find ourselves unable to continue working with the diet, even though all measurements show that it's working. I've had a couple of "realizations" where I thought "this can't be good for me" and that would basically end that.

Taubes lays this debate/cognitive dissonance pretty much to rest, by spelling out most of the research done on the dietary question for the past 200 years, then showing how the science got off track, and why the common "knowledge" became that fats would kill you. Anyway, I've posted too much text, it's time for a couple of links so you can decide if you like what he has to say or not. I've got a couple of videos. Excellent stuff, but I hope you have an hour per link and enough time to pay attention, at least to the audio.

Berkley, November 27, 2007

Stevens Institute of Technology, February 6, 2008

And you can buy Taubes' book here.

One note about the second link: it goes to Jimmy Moore's blog. Jimmy Moore annoys me, but he puts up consistently good information. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Also note that Taubes book is descriptive, not proscriptive. You're smart though, otherwise you couldn't have read his book, so you can figure out a game plan that would work. If you can't, I like the Protein Power and Protein Power Lifeplan as a place to start. There a tons of books out there that are proscriptive and lower carbohydrate.

Consider carbohydrate cycling

Once you've nailed down the basics of a lower carbohydrate diet, I would recommend looking into a carbohydrate cycling approach.

Basically, why I think this is a good idea is that it's psychologically satisfying. If you are on a diet, eventually you're going to want to eat ice cream, so it's a good idea to give yourself a few hours a week where you can eat whatever you want.

The best books I've read about this approach are the following:

1. The Metabolic Diet by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale
2. Natural Hormonal Enhancement by Rob Faigin
3. The TNT Diet by Dr. Jeff Volek and Adam Campbell

These books all deal with the tricky topic of losing fat without losing muscle, or losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, or gaining muscle without gaining fat. The traditional "wisdom" of bodybuilding is that you "bulk up", gaining muscle and fat at the same time, and then you "cut up". The problem comes when you put on too much fat in the bulk, and lose too much muscle in the cut. A carbohydrate cycling approach allows you to avoid this negative cycle.

I recommend the third book: it has the best proscriptive plans, but the least science and it's cheaper and more easily available. The other two have good (but less flexible) plans and much, much more science. Depends on what your wants/needs are.

I'm going to leave the third part of this post for later, as I've gone on long enough, and it's going to involve quite a few more hyperlinks.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Game Planning for the remainder of the year

I should be getting my new Kettlebell soon, and my theory is that I will be able to accomplish 200 snatches in 10 minutes with the 24 kg. While I don't consider this out-and-out mastery, I do think it would mark a significant improvement in my wind and endurance.

My idea at that point will be to begin incorporating some of Ross Enamait's finishers from Infinite Intensity and Never Gymless. I will be quite heavy on burpees, sledgehammers, and other kinds of work. My presses will continue in the "Enter the Kettlebell" fashion until I can press about 1/2 of my bodyweight. Due to the ease and convenience of dumbbells over kettlebells, I'll be buying a dumbbell handle once I'm ready to start working with weights over 40kg. At some point, I will probably get a 3 pood/48kg, but it's very much outside of the current budget. So I will stay with the military press/pullup schedule until I can press 110 lbs. At that point, I will proceed until I can do 20 straight pullups/chinups, probably by changing the focus of my workout slightly.

Meanwhile, I will develop my burpee skill until I can do the minimum 20 descending sets as described in a Completely Criminal Exercise Program. This has been one of my goals since I first read the article, and burpees are a nice mix-up from snatches--a pushing "finisher" vs. a pulling finisher. I may have to add in some more lower-body work to compensate for what I'm losing from the swings/snatches.

This would represent a good move forward in terms of upper body strength and wind. Added to my pulling strength, I will have a good base moving forward.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Grave Peril/Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by Grave Perilby Jim Butcher. I finished it in about a day, the fastest I have read any of his books so far. The action is brisk and unflagging, and the danger quotient is high. Dresden, Butcher's hero, is appealing as ever and creative in dispatching much more powerful (in terms of raw power) baddies than himself. The series, however, begins to stray somewhat from the private eye with magical powers initial setup into a more Shadowrunstyle. This isn't necessarily bad, as it's a natural progression from what comes before. This is my favorite book in the series so far.

Butcher keeps up the pace with the fourth book, Summer Knightby continuing some of the previous plot threads, but not taking up some of the more important ones. This leads to a feeling of this being a transition book: the previous book was so compelling that you just want to get back to some of those story threads. I am looking forward to reading the next book.

So far, I am very satisfied with this series.

Grave Peril: 9/10
Summer Knight: 8/10

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Workouts this Week (1/27/08)

Tough week, extra days off, but on my heavy day, worked up to 5 x (1,2,3,4) presses, so I'm graduating to the hardest version with this weight. 5 x (1,2,3,4,5). I barely got in my medium workout on Friday, so I'm running about a day behind.

Everything is progressing as planned, though.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Variety Tuesday--Workout 17

Rolled up a four. Gym Jones: opened up their workout for the day and I was like: WTF? I don't even know what those exercises are. I already got called back into work tonight, so I didn't have a lot of time.

... so I went back in time to Sep. 22 2005 and did top-to-top tabata push-presses: 35# for 4 sets, then a break, 3 sets, then a break, and finished with 5 sets. Worst set was 7, so we'll go with that.

Not bad, but I'm tired, work was exhausting today, so I ought to hit the sack. I still owe two book reviews, as I'm getting ahead of myself--my blogging's not keeping up with my reading.

Also to look forward to: some posts on my diet theories, reviews of my new fitness stuff, my progress to date, reviews of the video games I've been playing, some metrosexual man-care advice, reviews of the TV shows I've been Netflixing and more links to more things that I find interesting and amusing. I'm also wondering if people reading this are confused about what exactly I'm doing (just as I was confused by Gym Jones today), so there may be some clarifying posts. There will definitely be edits to old posts, as I consider everything to be a work in progress. So stay tuned.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekend Workouts and Fitness Game Update

Another week of Pavel's training. I have to say that this is pretty effective, as I hit a milestone on my hard day. Though I didn't hit all of my pressing sets (did only 32 reps total) I did hit 200 swings with the 20 kg bell in about 8:20. This is pretty impressive to me.

Today, I hit some snatches and presses. And I bought a ton of products.

First, over to Biotest where I picked up some Metabolic Drive, Hot Rox, and Chad Waterbury's "Muscle Revolution".

Then I picked up a new 24 kg/53 pound

I finished my mad purchasing spree with all three of Ross Enamait's products--the "Grand Larceny Pack (TM)". I heard about Ross through Lean and Hungry Fitness, a fantastic blog that isn't updated nearly often enough.

I plan on reviewing all of these products and getting back to you about them.

Fitness Gameupdate:

We remain in a dead lock:
Kaliden: 22
Parker: 21
Thalayli: 20

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Workouts 13-14

Workout 13: Wednesday
45 minute walk: too exhausted to try lifting.

Workout 14: Thursday
Medium day:
5 x (1,2) 32kg press alternate with close grip chins 5 x (1,2) (rolled a five)

Good workout. Almost done with my next book, review up soon.

Music: This American Life Episode 334: Duty Calls

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Workouts 9-12

Workout 9, Saturday

Heavy, more of the same, worked up to 5 sets x (1,2,3) reps + 6 minutes with the 20kg 'bell. 60 reps per hand plus 10 two-handers because I tore my hand a little bit.

Music: Kodo, Sai-so

Workout 10, Sunday
Light, and again, 5 singles with the 32's plus pullups. 4 minutes easy with two-hand swings, did sixty without much of a problem. Would have liked to work technique, but I think with a bit more training, I'm totally there for this "Rite of Passage" thing.

Music: Led Zeppelin, Mothership

Workout 11, Monday
Walked for 45 minutes or so, doing a quick and easy set of 6 pullups in the middle. Created a new pull up rotation during my walk that goes like this for each KB workout:

Roll 1D6 (one, six sided die)
1: Narrow pull ups (palms away)
2: Medium pull ups
3: Wide pull ups
4: Mixed-Grip chins (one palm facing, one away)
5: Narrow Chinups (palms facing and touching)
6: Medium Chinups (just wider than shoulders)

Workout 12, Tuesday
Variety workout: rolled a 12 and did a sledgehammer workout, 15 minutes of Shovelglove and 30 minutes of stretching and movement exercises. No music tonight.

Update on Fitness Game

Kaliden: scored 8 for a total of 15
Parker: scored 8 for a total of 14
Thalayli: scored 8 for a total of 13

Very close at this point.

"IV" by Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is probably the world's smartest Rock/Movie/Sports Critic. So what if he's probably the only one? Klosterman is all about drawing unexpected connections and critical thinking. He perfectly merges stoner philosophy with serious, mindboggling inquiry.

It's too bad, then, that IV has three parts, only one of which really brings these strengths to the fore. Part one features some pretty straight-forward personality profiles with Rock/Movie/Sports stars, while part three is a lukewarm novella with no real ending. Part two has all the strength in it: good article after good article, most of which (unfortunately) I had already read in Esquire.

So, basically, what this review is going to come down to are the following four points:

1. If you haven't read Klosterman, and you're 18-40 years old with a thorough grounding in pop culture, you should read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.
2. If you read, and liked Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, you should read IV in the following order: part 3 (optional) part 1 (good) and part 2 (great).
3. If you read and disliked Klosterman, you should be shot. Sorry.
4. If you liked Fargo Rock City and Killing Yourself to Live you should disregard my advice, as you probably already own this book in hardback. There are new essays in the paperback though, so you may want to check these out.

Part 1: 7/10
Part 2: 9/10
Part 3: 4/10

Overall, 8/10 and well worth the read.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Workout 8, Medium Day

4 x (1,2) 32kg press alternated with 4 x (1,2) pullup
7 minutes of 70-80% effort swings -- did 20kg for 65 reps per hand

Good workout. If these numbers translate, I'm getting pretty close to passing the "rite of passage" with the 20kg KB. After I do that, it's pretty much a done deal that I can do it with the 24kg.

Music: "The Matrix" Soundtrack

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Workout 7, Variety

I rolled a six today, which gave me windsprints/intervals. It's currently 32 degrees and my girlfriend already had dinner ready to go, so I did Tabata swings using a 12kg KB (light) and this Tabata timer.

My score was 13, where you take the worst set of the eight and count that as your score.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Workout 6, light day

A1: 4 x 1 32kg press
A2: 4 x 1 pull up
B: 20kg snatch, sets of 5. 50 reps per hand in 6 minutes (about 50%).

Music: Hatebreed, The Rise of Brutality

Monetizing Blog

At this point, I know I don't have an audience to appease. That's all right. This is probably the first and last time I'm going to talk about this.

Here's why I'm monetizing my blog:
It was easy.
I'm curious.
And it will give you, dear (future) reader, a way to purchase all of the products I'm talking about.

Now we all know that you can rock a google search as well as anyone, otherwise you wouldn't be here. So it's not like you have to buy through my links. But I'm only recommending products that I myself use, through retailers that I, myself, use. It's not like I'm a pro blogger or anything, but it certainly doesn't hurt. And if you're going to buy something anyway, might as well help Parker out, right?

Anyway. I consider this discussion closed, so if you think I'm being a shill, you can comment on this post.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Workouts This Week

M: Off
T: (Variety)
A1: Bodyweight Squat 5x5
A2: 32kg row (each hand) 5x5
(Warming up and regreasing grooves)
W: Off
R: (Medium Day--still regreasing grooves))
A1: 3x(1,2,3) 32kg military press (each hand)
A2: 3x(1,2,3) pullup (wide grip)
B: 6 minutes of 12kg swings @ 70%
F: 45 Minute Walk
S: Off (A lot of DOMS and a poker game delayed my Hard Day)
U: (Hard Day)
A1: 4x(1,2,3) 32kg military press (each hand)
A2: 4x(1,2,3) pullup (wide grip)
B: 2 minutes of 20kg swings @ 100% (about 27/hand)

My two roommates and I are playing the Fitness Challenge, with probably a baker's dozen house rules. I've chosen the more advanced of Pavel's "Enter the Kettlebell" workouts as a general template for my workouts. The two "Variety" workouts each week, I roll a pair of dice. The split works as follows:

M: very easy/off
T: Variety
W: Medium Presses/Pulls
R: Variety
F: very easy/off
S: Heavy Presses/Pulls
U: Light Presses/Pulls

Presses, Pullups, & Swings as defined in Enter the Kettlebell

Variety: roll dice (or choose)

Chance Dice roll Workout
2.8% 2 sandbag training
5.6% 3 Burpees/Prison Workout + rows
8.3% 4 W.O.D. from Gym Jones
11.1% 5 5x5 rows and 5x5 Squats
13.9% 6 windsprints/interval training
16.7% 7 bent pressing, windmills, turkish get-ups (various grinds)
13.9% 8 Grip training - beginner training (Clay Edgin)
11.1% 9 Heavyhands + rows
8.3% 10 W.O.D. from Crossfit
5.6% 11 beach workout + rows
2.8% 12 sledgehammer training

This gives the approximate chance of each workout. I tried to put things that I thought I could benefit from quite a bit (e.g. windsprints) in the middle of the distribution curve, and things that would be more of a variation (or really... just too hard to do on a regular basis) on the outside of the curve. I could probably rewrite this a little bit and write a whole freaking book off of it. You fill most of those books with exercise descriptions, anyway.

I got a set of "Perfect Pushups" from my girlfriend for Christmas, hence the "beach workout". Also, since I don't have rings, if the WOD from Crossfit or Gym Jones has ring pushups, I'll be subbing the perfect pushup. And the weird split is because I work four tens (four ten hour shifts) at work, so I try to hit two big workouts on the weekends. So there you go.

My diet is pretty basic. I have just under 15 more pounds that I'd like to lose--lost about 17 since March last year, basically with diet only--so I'll keep with what I've found works best for me: a TNT/Anabolic/NHE carb-cycling with a distinctly EVFit/Intermittent Fasting approach. What this boils down to is: low carbs about 90% of the time, with as much green vegetables as I want. One meal a week, I eat out and have whatever I want (carb loading) and I try to get a little fruit in there. Sometimes, I go hungry on purpose.

So I guess my diet's not so basic after all. I'll have to make a whole post on that sometime.

Anyway, I lost the first week of the exercise challenge.

Kaliden: 7 points
Parker: 6 points
Thalayli: 5 points

Also, there's a clear call for some links to help explain my workout and diet regime. So those are most likely upcoming--I might just edit this post or I might make a new one, haven't decided yet. And blogger ate my formatting, so it might be tough to discern the method of the dice roll thing. Oh well.

"The Thunderbolt Kid" by Bill Bryson

I don't know if I'm supposed to be the prototypical Bryson fan: for one, I'm under thirty, and I imagine that there's supposed to be a generation gap between Boomers and Generation Y. The problem is that he's so damned funny that it's difficult to describe to people what his writing is like. The best comparison that I can think of is the teacher that makes learning about things fun: he tricks you into learning about things. And you laugh out loud, more than once, when you read his books.

The Thunderbolt Kid is about Bryson's childhood in the fifties, and it really makes you realize how absolutely different, how transformed our little world has become in the last hundred years. His perspective allows a backward look with the two room farmhouse where his grandparents lived, the cavernous schoolhouse where he reads Dick and Jane books in elementary school, and the enormous theaters where he attends Saturday matinees. He compares these things to the miracles of technology that are sprouting all around him: the automobile, the atomic bomb, and the television set. You can't help but think about all the things that have come since then that have transformed life even more.

Really, though, Bryson could write about shopping for socks at Wal-Mart and it would probably be worth reading. Really, picking up any of his books is a ticket to a good time.