Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Squatting heavy past parallel: is it safe? Uhhhhh....

There are better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than sitting in a hospital emergency room waiting to find out if you have a life-threatening blood clot, but, if you're the guy who might have that blood clot, there's actually, technically speaking, really no better way to spend your time than figuring that one out. And what does this have to do with squatting below parallel? Set yourself down, as Jed Clampett used to say. There's a story....

On a Sunday about two weeks ago, we took our dogs to one of those ridiculous "photos with Santa" canine events. I was fine with the concept for three of our four dogs -- it was a charity event, after all -- but Milo? He is afraid of everything, especially people he doesn't know. But my wife really wanted to try to get all four dogs in the pic. So we tried.

We failed. Milo hid underneath the bench that Santa and his helper are seated on. He's under there; I swear.

So we photoshopped him into the final product. You decide which edit is better.

Anyway, he was not calm. At all. But we got him back outside after St. Nick and the photos, and, as we were headed for the car, a woman who fancies herself very much the Dog Person tried to greet the lad. I told her this was a terrible idea, because he is afraid of everything, and we tried to walk away. But she, remember, is a Dog Person. Dog People, whom I otherwise love, have one personality flaw: they do not believe that any of the usual rules about dogs apply to them, because, after all, they are Dog People and understand the inner workings of your canine's brain better than you, the owner, do.

She caught up to us, offering biscuits to both Milo and the other dog that I had with me. Holly, the hungriest golden retriever in the world, gladly snarfed hers down. Milo, however, was unconvinced that this enthusiastic individual was not The Person That Will Eventually Kill Milo Because That's What People Who Don't Know Milo Try to Do (At Least in Milo's Mind), and he tried to get away. She came closer. He tried much harder to get away. There was flailing, and leaping, and looks of sheer terror. Leashes got tangled and, for a brief second, he was loose and about to bolt.

I went horizontal, tackled him and grabbed the leash. He was safe.

Now, when I say "went horizontal," you know what I mean. Hell, I know what I mean. In my head I looked at least this athletic:

But, let's be serious, I'm 52 years old. You should not be shocked to learn that my chest was not, in fact, the first thing to hit the ground. My right knee was. Interestingly, it took a few days to really start hurting. Then it really started hurting. Then lower-leg swelling started. It wasn't extreme to my eyes, but when my son, the third-year physical-therapy doctoral candidate, was visiting on that Friday night, he was concerned. He pressed on the swollen leg. A large indentation appeared and did not leave for many minutes. He said, "I hate to tell you this, and I'm not going to insist that you go to an ER at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, but first thing tomorrow you are going to call your doc's office and tell them that you have pitting edema in your leg and that I think you need to be tested for a deep-vein thrombosis (a.k.a., a DVT, -- a blood clot that can lodge in the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism). If you have one, it can't wait until Monday. Technically, this could kill you."

The next day, the doc complimented my son's diagnostic skills, and sent me immediately to the ER for an ultrasound with a similar warning that this issue could not wait another day. Six hours later, after the ER doc bestowed further compliments on my son's skills, and after I watched more ESPN sports documentaries than even I ever wanted to (god, those 1980s and 1990s Miami Hurricane teams were obnoxious jerks, weren't they?) , I got the verdict: I hurt my knee (I knew that) and it's draining fluid into my lower leg (I mostly knew that). But no DVT. Yay team.

So.... I still needed to figure out what was up with the knee. A couple days later, I got an appointment with a sports-medicine guy who specializes in knees. He was great. He seemed super-knowledgable about the troubled joint in question, and we shot the proverbial shit about CrossFit and the like. I got a diagnosis like this: "You strained, maybe even slightly tore, your meniscus, and it'll heal on it's own within a week or two. Just go easy on it. No weight-bearing exercises until it stops hurting, and take some ibuprofen at least twice a day until it stops hurting and the swelling is gone." And then I thought of a question: "Hey, while we are talking exercise and all that, what do you think of squatting below parallel?"

He prefaced his answer with: "Well, I want you to know I am a former powerlifter. You wouldn't know it by looking at me now [true, dat] but I was." Then, while demonstrating fairly awful mobility, he showed me an acceptable (to him) squat that didn't even make parallel, and he said, "And I hate to tell you but, unless you are competing, the risk of going below parallel just isn't worth the reward. You get slightly stronger that way while exponentially increasing the risk of injury. Squat right to parallel, but I don't see the point in going past it."

Shit. I was afraid he'd say that.

So I left wondering about all that. I then read a lot of viewpoints on the issue on the web.  I'm not going to cite to any of them, because, honestly, a couple minutes with your standard Googlemachine and you can find them all -- and leave as confused as I am about the right answer. But the competing points of view amounted to this:

1. What the doc said. The injury risk goes up a lot past parallel, and, unless you are a competitive CrossFitter, O-lifter or powerlifter -- and have to go past parallel for competition purposes -- there's not a sufficient reward-to-risk balance. Don't go past parallel.

2. All human beings should be able to squat past parallel. It's an essential movement. That changes a bit with a barbell, as opposed to an air squat, and, yes, there is an increased risk of injury if a heavy barbell squat is done wrong, but going only to parallel does almost nothing for your glute and hamstring development. It is totally quad-driven. For proper muscular balance, you need to squat heavy past parallel.

I'll be honest: I have no idea what the right answer is. Both make a fair amount of sense to me. But, based on a lot of conversations with my son the PT-to-be, who is also a skilled, strong CrossFitter, here's what I plan on doing: I'm going to keep squatting past parallel, but, in light of my age -- which has to matter in the equation, right? -- I'm going to be careful about moving too fast up the ladder in terms of weight, and I am going to put my knee wraps on from the outset of my squat sessions, rather than just putting them on when things go past 75% of my one-rep max, which was my former practice. I notice that I am so much more stable of a heavy squatter with wraps on, and so why not start off right away with that kind of stability? It can't hurt, right?

So that's my answer for now, and I fully reserve the right to change it at a moment's notice if contrary evidence/argument convinces me to do so. I also emphasize that, seriously, I have no fucking idea what the real "right answer" is. This blog is all about me muddling through and trying to find out what works for me. Not for you. If my quest for general injury-free strength and happiness influences your own, then that is awesome, but understand: I don't actually know any more about these things than anyone else. It's all about sensible experimentation, as far as I am concerned.

Reports on my success (or failure) may follow....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What if the president were paleo-friendly?

This is going to seem like a political post, an endorsement even. And, for the love of all that is good and right, believe me when I say that it's not.

(Seriously, I really don't know who I'd vote for in 2016 for president if the election were tomorrow. Last time, I voted for this guy, and, just yesterday, I said nice things about this guy's decision to form a 2016 exploratory committee. Yeah, I'm a bit of a political junkie, but as an observer, not an ideologue. My views are all over the political spectrum, depending on the issue).

But, when I saw that article by Dr. Mark Hyman about the wonders of combining the best parts of vegan and paleo eating -- something I do myself -- I got to thinking:

"Hey, wait a minute.... Isn't Mark Hyman Hillary Clinton's doctor?"

He is.

And, according to this article -- and this one too -- Dr. Hyman has convinced Bill Clinton to ditch veganism for a vegan/paleo hybrid. Hillary Clinton has been eating that way too.

Are you seeing where I'm headed here?

If the person elected president in 2016 were paleo, it seems like this:

would have a lot better chance of turning into this:

On one hand, my libertarian-ish instincts make me seriously question why the government is in the business of suggesting how people should eat, but when it seems like it's going to be quite a while before that stops, it'd be nice in the meantime if the suggestions were updated a bit to get off the grain/hidden-sugar train.

A paleo-friendly president might help that happen. Surgeon General Mark Hyman?

Food for thought, anyway.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Combining the best of veganism and paleo? It makes a lot of sense.

I have no beef with vegans. (You may see what I did there). Seriously, I've never been one to bait or harass the vegan community. I think most vegans eat like they do for principled reasons, and I also think that when their focus is appropriately on eating (mostly organic) vegetables and fruits, that aspect of their lifestyle is right on the money.

But I also think there is a solid place in a well-rounded diet for well-sourced animal protein.

That's why I like this article so much. It's called: "Why I'm a Pegan -- or Paleo-Vegan -- and Why You Should Be Too."

In the article, Dr. Mark Hyman lays out a compelling case for combining the best aspects of paleo and vegan food plans. In fact, part of the reason I like it so much is that it's exactly what I have been doing lately. I feel like I am right on target.

I've often explained my food choices of late as: "OK, so you know what a vegan is, right? I'm a no-wheat/no-soy vegan plus animal protein."

And, as someone who hasn't really liked the word "paleo" for a while -- because it just launches people off on a "caveman reenactment" tangent --  I applaud the effort to rename it (despite the name of this blog).

But, dude, "pegan" sounds like a person who consumes no animal products, and... is incontinent.

I opt for "pagan." And I don't care if it means something else. No one's going to seriously confuse the two. Or not any worse than what they'll do with "pegan," anyway.

The Pagan Drummer? I could attract a whole new crowd....

                                          (pic from Experience Life magazine)

Monday, November 17, 2014

A return to the Pickled Heron for a spectacular pork dinner

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a Philly restaurant called The Pickled Heron. I ranted. I raved. I still stand by the notion that the foie gras I ate that night is the single most delicious food item I have ever tasted. It was a very good meal.

But Philadelphia has a lot of great restaurants, and, somehow, amidst going to a lot of those other places, we only made it back to The Pickled Heron once -- in 2013 -- for another great meal. So the other day when I saw an ad for this:

I made a reservation for my wife and me. Date night? Pastured pork from Philly CowShare? Done up right in a myriad of ways by Daniela D'Ambrosio and Todd Braley, the very same two chefs responsible for that foie gras? Sign us up. We even got a spot at the vaunted 5:30 p.m. seating -- "vaunted" to us because we are old and 8:30 on a Sunday night seemed like a really late dinner with work looming the next day. (Sleep is paleo).

The Pickled Heron is BYOB (but they now accept your Visa and Master Card, unlike the cash-only operation they were when we first went there; have I mentioned the foie gras we had back then?), and I am good with that. We splurged at the liquor store on a $35 bottle of Amarone for which most restaurants would have charged someone else (because we would never spend that much on wine) $100.

And into the restaurant we went. Todd and Daniela greeted everyone with a little spiel about the wonders of Philly CowShare (and they must be nice bosses because the same funny dude who was our server in April 2012 was our server again last night), and into the first course we were launched....

It was called "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." There were three parts: head-cheese-filled croquettes, pork rillons on a small piece of semolina bread with mustard and a housemade trotter terrine with cranberries. I dig the nasty bits, so I loved it all, but particularly the first two items. The trotter terrine was also very good, but paled a bit in comparison to the other two. And the standout was the pork rillons, which took me briefly to a sunny hillside in my mind where I could gaze upon further memories of that foie gras. It was almost that good.

But, like a good first course ought to be, that was just a tame warmup for what followed: "Cider Braised Belly of the Beast." We both exclaimed, "Oh my god," on the first bite. I suppose that, in some sense, even a kitchen oaf like myself could find it hard to ruin pork belly, but this was so far on the "perfect" end of the scale that I can't even imagine making it myself. Daniela and Todd know their way around a kitchen.

"This one's called pork-crusted pork loin and, no, no one was drunk when this idea was made up. [Pause] I'm lying; of course they were." Server-dude then described the third course that he had put on the table. It was pork, wrapped in cabbage, wrapped in pork with corned-beef seasonings. And it sat on a plate with a "red-beet flannel hash" that exploded with flavor. You simply can't make this at home. You will fail in epic sorts of ways that will cause you to get drunk, but a drown-your-sorrows kind of drunk, not the celebratory one that must have followed (inspired?) the creation of this dish. This is why you sometimes go to places like The Pickled Heron and pay other people to make your food for you.

We were exhausted from all the deliciousness.

Dessert followed. Apple pie with a lard crust (from El Piggo, the real superstar of the evening) and a bourbon malted ice cream. Of course it was amazing.

In sum, they've done it again. The Pickled Heron has blown our minds with another meal. At the end of the dinner, we got to say hi to Daniela and Todd.  Of course they are absurdly nice people in addition to being talented chefs. (She said something like, "Yes! We know you. We follow you on Facebook! I love all your food stuff." I win!) And seriously, I've already placed a pastured-pork order this morning with PhillyCowShare. Everyone wins. Go eat at The Pickled Heron.

The paleo stuff:

Having made it this far through this post without making jokes that involve the words "pork" or "head," I feel somewhat obligated to continue this unexpected venture into maturity and instead address a question that the paleoistas amongst us might have. I think that question goes something like:

"What the hell, dude?"

Translated: some of you are likely pointing out that some of that meal wasn't very paleo.

Wellllll, sort of. Actually it was pretty paleo. And here's my deal with the parts that weren't: I wanted to eat them, and I eat whatever I want. It's that simple. I eat pretty close to a Whole30-style version of paleo at home these days. I never eat wheat at home (and almost never anywhere else either) and I have found that a number of things other than wheat bug the crap out of my stomach if consumed with any regularity. Lately those things have been dairy, coffee, black beans, tomatoes and red wine, so I hardly ever have them. But yes, I was pretty sure that the small doses I had of wheat and dairy and the not-so-small dose of red wine were worth it in terms of (a) having fun and (b) minimal hassle. So I ate every single thing on my plates. My wife ate every single thing on hers. This caused our server to say, "You guys are the ones I never have had to doubt during this meal."

And sure enough, by the way home I had enough of a burn in my stomach that some activated charcoal was my savior. (Seriously, it is the escape hatch from questionable food decisions).

As that wise man once said, "Buy the ticket; take the ride." Eat whatever you want; just know what you really want.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In the Age of Awesome, the troglodytes really stick out, or: Why I'm never flying US Air again

The New Jersey Turnpike is, traffic-wise, traditionally speaking, a portal to hell. The last few years? It's been a significant bit worse than that. See, there's been this widening project.

It's been a colossal undertaking. A 35-mile-long stretch of road that was six lanes wide was slated to be widened to 12 lanes. That meant clearing 70 miles (35 on each side) of obstructions, side roads, etc. Then came the real kicker: every bridge/overpass over the thing had to be torn down and a new one constructed at double the length.

Just think about that for a moment and let it all sink in.

Like I said, it was a huge project.

And it got finished early, for $200 million under budget.

The "new" road is spectacular. The other day I took a 100+ mile drive on it for work and, instead of the three(or more)-hour slog that I had gotten used to for that trip, I sailed through at top speed.

I see the whole thing as a testament to hard work, technology and the modern age. Serious congrats to anyone who was involved with that. We Garden Staters appreciate it.


Another thing I have learned to appreciate in recent months is a free phone app called Waze. It's, at first blush, "just" a GPS device, but its users input so much current data into it that it manages to stay, fairly spectacularly, on top of traffic conditions. As a friend says, "Waze don't lie!"

When my wife and I were recently in San Francisco, Waze guided us through traffic there seamlessly. One day we were doing a drive that I had previously done twice that week. I almost didn't turn on Waze because I had gotten used to the route. But I did anyway....

"What the hell?!!" I exclaimed moments later. Waze appeared to be taking us on an absurdly circular route waaaaaaay around the usual one. "Waze has lost its mind. I'm not doing that!"

I quickly learned that Waze had its reasons. My independent-minded/Waze-less route ran headlong into a sprawling street fair that had closed blocks and blocks of the Castro. It took me half an hour to extricate us out of the mess I had created and, at the end of the half hour, I got onto the seemingly circular path that Waze had first charted out for us.

Waze don't lie. We were "home" to the place we were staying with no problem, once I decided to accept Waze's sage advice.

So, in addition to saluting the hard-working folks involved in that gargantuan NJ Turnpike expansion, I'd also like to single out Waze for technological/yay-for-the-modern-age kudos. I've used it many times since, with never-fail results each time.


But before you think we're just about to form a drum circle and sing Kumbaya, celebrating just how awesome our little niche of history is....

Let me tell you about US Air.

You may have seen those Southwest ads, the ones about "no change fees." (I love flying Southwest, by the way).

US Air has change fees. 

But it's worse than you might think. And there is just no reason for it to be this bad.

Earlier this year, a relative of mine was headed to Europe for academic-study purposes -- basically a summer-abroad program. I was paying for said program and so, when I booked his flight, I did it on US Air despite having heard some horror stories about their baggage handling (particularly in Philadelphia). US Air simply had the best price and the only nonstop from Philly for the flight he wanted.

He got really sick with mononucleosis about a week before the trip. The whole thing had to be canceled. Any possible thoughts of toughing it out and going anyway were ground to a screeching halt by his doctor. "No way," we were told.

OK. So I contact US Air about canceling the flight and, presumably, getting a voucher that he could use for another flight some other time that he needed to fly. Here's what I was told:

He had one year from the original booking to rebook any round-trip flight, domestic or international. Cool. He had $1150 worth of voucher to do that. If the new flight cost more, he would have to pay the difference, and if it were less, he would lose the difference. OK. I get all that. There's a $300 "change fee" as well. I'm not thrilled, but OK....

I say to the US Air agent on the phone: "So, basically, because 1150 minus 300 is 850, he can book any round trip for $850 or less and he will be good?"

"Yes, sir," the agent replies.

Not really, it turns out.

So, moving forward to last week, my relative is running out of time to use his voucher. He needs to book a flight before the end of February. He doesn't really have many reasons to fly anywhere, but it turns out that he and his friends have figured out somewhere to go, and I volunteer to book his flight for him because I have all the original voucher info.

I book him a flight that costs 500-something. Cool. I figure 500-something plus the "change fee" will still come in way under $1150. Yeah, a few hundred in voucher will be lost, but whatever.

It turns out that US Air's already backward policy of charging a change fee at all is worse than I was told. It appears that they don't take the change fee out of the voucher. You have to pay that with real money.

I called US Air. They explained to me that, yes, this is their policy and no, nothing can be done about it, and yes, it will cost me 300 extra dollars of real money beyond the money that I have already paid them if I want to book that flight.

I book the flight. I pay the $300 change fee, with real money. Not from the $1150 voucher, because they won't let me.

I booked it because I felt bad for my relative. He had made plans based on my assurance that it was all going to be easily covered by the voucher. But...

Let me just take this moment to tell US Air that I will never, ever pay to fly your airline again. If you are the only airline flying from Philadelphia to a destination that I want, I will fly another airline through Reykjavik with a layover in Dubai if necessary. Your already greedy and senseless imposition of a change fee is bad enough, but refusing to apply voucher money to it -- money of mine that your airline already has in its pocket -- is a special brand of avarice.

Truly, I hope you lose all of your business to more forward-thinking airlines like Southwest.

So I raise my mug of delicious caffeinated beverage to you, the workers on the New Jersey Turnpike, and to you the app-developers at Waze, and yes, to you too, Southwest Airlines. You are shining examples of how we keep moving forward, despite the shuffling, stumbling, downright infuriating behavior of the troglodyte companies.

Like US Air. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Guest Post from Lisa Perkins, PrimalFit ICT. The Stubborn Fitness Professional’s Journey to Mindfulness: What I Learned From The Paleo Drummer’s 30-Day Meditation Challenge

A quick note from Steve: You might recall that I've previously had Skylee Robinson do a guest post on the wonders of floating in an isolation tank, and Jim Eaton told us all about his experience during a previous 30-day meditation challenge. So when I announced another meditation challenge during October 2014, I was happy that, once again, readers were interested in telling us about their struggles, challenges and triumphs with mindfulness. First up is Lisa Perkins, a trainer/coach from Wichita, Kansas whom I met this past April at Paleo FX in Austin. Thanks, Lisa!


I am a personal trainer and health coach with a master’s degree in library science and I positively adore research.  I listen to podcasts incessantly, subscribe to dozens of blogs, and read peer-reviewed journal articles just for fun.   I use resistant starch, brain enhancing nootropics, and a standing workstation as part of my lifelong n=1 experiment.  I know an inordinate amount about things like the gut microbiome, triggers for autoimmune disease, and the different ways men and women partition fuel during exercise.  You get the picture:  To say I love all of this stuff would be a huge understatement. 

Enter the proverbial monkey wrench:  My increasing awareness of a growing movement amongst health and fitness experts, as well as successful entrepreneurs, emphasizing the key role mindfulness and meditation play in optimizing health, fitness, and mental performance.

Ugh… I mean seriously??  Where did THAT come from?!

A little background:  I grew up on an island in Alaska in a predominantly male household.  Attributes such as physical agility and mental toughness were highly prized; self-reflection and emoting all over each other were most emphatically not.  Having grown up this way, it took me an inordinately long time to get behind the ‘lifestyle’ component of health – optimizing sleep, stress reduction, plenty of low level activity.  But I finally did. You know why?  Because there is scientific proof that these things play a role in our physiological health.  Therefore, I dutifully (if somewhat begrudgingly) don my blue light blocking glasses in the evening, sleep 8+ hours a night in a pitch black room, and take daily leisure walks.  These have been tough concessions for a hard-charging ‘sleep when I’m dead’ type of gal but I made them because the science dictates their importance.

With this in mind, imagine how duped I felt when I began to be aware of the groundswell amongst my beloved health and fitness experts espousing the need for everyone to sit down and ‘get quiet.'  I felt like I’d been blind-sided.  Seriously. Ben Greenfield, a bastion of tips on cold thermogenesis and foam rolling techniques, now starts his day with a five-minute gratitude journal.  Mark Sisson, my go-to guy on all things Primal, now cites meditation as one of the best ways to increase heart rate variability.  Lifestyle entrepreneur Lewis Howes, credits his mindfulness practice for enhancing his success and quality of life.  Even Men’s Fitness has jumped on the bandwagon, stating that, ‘from stress reduction and weight loss to increased energy and enhanced sleep, meditation could be your most powerful prescription to date.'

It sounds facetious to say, but anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have gone through the five stages of grief on this issue, spending most of my time in Denial-land.  Thanks to Steve Kirsch’s 30-day meditation challenge, I’ve finally reached the final step:  Acceptance. 

Before I made the decision to take up this challenge, I did what any biohacker worth their salt would do; delved into the research.  I needed to understand the science before I could fully embrace the process.  Based on my research, I’ve come (with a moderate amount of kicking and screaming) to the conclusion that there is ample scientific evidence to support the direct impact a mindfulness practice can have on physiological health (examples here, here, and here). 

Ok, no more procrastinating. Time to get started….

I’m not going to sugarcoat this.  This has been hard for me - probably harder than anything I’ve ever done.  I have NO problem obliterating myself in the gym but sitting down and focusing on box breathing was excruciating, particularly at the outset.  I wiggled, I wriggled, I heard every ambient sound within a city block.  However, thanks to the Meditation for Dummies Cheat Sheet, I was able to develop my own unique approach for establishing focus; first for less than a minute and now for at least ten.  The benefits I’ve experienced over the 30-day period?  Enormous.

According to Mindful Fitness, a company that incorporates mindfulness into traditional fitness practices, ‘Paying attention to the present moment without judgment or attachment allows you to live in the moment and awaken to experience. It nurtures clarity and enhances growth and transformation in all aspects of life, including health and fitness.'

I’ve certainly found this to be the case.  While I haven’t meditated every day as I intended, I’ve done it enough during this 30-day challenge to experience noticeable improvements in my capacity to cope with stressful situations, quiet my overactive brain, and feel more calm and centered overall.  My kids have noted a change in me.  Where before I would’ve flown off the handle about something silly like a pile of wet towels, I now am able to take a minute to process before reacting.  That is empowering and, dare I say it, life altering.

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, author of  A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, states in an article on that 'Mindfulness can be a great opportunity for us as a country, for all of us to develop this skill in some way, improve our performance… but there’s some fundamental things that are essential to that, and it’s the ability to concentrate, to relax, to be aware, and to cultivate and develop these skills; they’re going to improve your performance, regardless of what you are trying to do.'

I am now a believer.  I will continue to fine-tune my mindfulness practice, tweaking it to fit my individual needs and quirks (i.e., I recently had knee surgery so can’t sit in a lotus position).  I can’t see myself ever going back to my non self-reflective days as I believe I have just glimpsed the possibilities that can come from getting quiet and letting my mind Just Be.  Acceptance:  It’s a beautiful thing and I am grateful. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The "great-great-grandma's kitchen" test. Or how we've seriously lost the calibration on our "gross-out" meter.

The other day on Facebook, I saw a friend's wife note that in their kitchen at the time was a "cow's femur" marinating and a "cow's rotator cuff" in a crockpot. You real-food aficionados will immediately recognize the latter as bone broth cooking and the former as some sort of prep for later meaty deliciousness.

Oh, the reaction.... One person: "Ew." Another: "I'm not easily grossed-out, but...." On it went.

And I am sure -- because I've seen it happen -- if the original post had referenced how, instead, there was a frozen pizza and some processed cookie dough in the oven, the commentary would have been entirely of the "Yum!" variety.

Let me give you a clue: You are too-easily grossed-out. We've forgotten how to cook. And our tolerance for the "grossness" of what actually is just plain food is at an all-time low.

When your great-great grandmother made soup -- and what is bone broth but soup, anyway?** -- she didn't open a can of some crap and heat it in the microwave; she put some bones in water with some salt, pepper, spices and vegetables. She cooked it all day, and maybe all night too. It looked "gross" and it tasted like the nectar of the gods. When she had a "cow's femur," she marinated and slow-cooked it, and from that pile of meat and bone came something amazing. It was worth the wait.

Now, too many of us buy processed slop from the middle aisles of the supermarket, where the ingredient lists are so long that they just get ignored by the very folks -- the consumers - for whose benefit those lists allegedly exist. And we "prepare" meals so regularly by opening packages and heating up the contents that we have forgotten that real food isn't cooked like that.

So I propose something simple: the "great-great-grandma's kitchen test." If she wouldn't have cooked it, because she wouldn't have known what the hell it is, then you shouldn't either because it isn't real food. And if she would cook it, then it likely is nothing but real food. Gross? Maybe you need to recalibrate your sensibilities, buttercup. That's how real food is made, and that other stuff? It may not look gross to you, but it sure as hell is at the root of most of the obesity epidemic and the diseases of modern society -- most notably type-2 diabetes -- that great-great grandma wouldn't have recognized as anything more than lightning-strike rarities.

By the way, before you see this as some sort of pro-paleo rant, fuck "paleo." Other than the name of this blog, I have little invested in "paleo" perfection. What I fully support, however, is eating non-processed real food in a way that works for your body. If it's in a bag or a can or a package, it pretty likely doesn't make the real-food cut. Why? Because great-great grandma wouldn't know what the hell it was. Real food comes from real sources. It's messy and "gross" and requires some work to prepare.

Great-great grandma supports this message. Although she'd probably wash my mouth out with soap.

**Robb Wolf: "Bone broth? I just call it soup and it loses some of the mystery." 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The intersection of genetics and environment

We recently had a dinner involving some extended family members. The conversation ebbed and flowed as it often does. Somehow the topic of particularly gullible people came up, and my older son, now age 24, launched into the tale of a former classmate who was particularly prone to believing whatever she was told, but also decidedly non-curious about the world around her.

To give you but a small glimpse into just how unlikely she was to investigate the workings of the big bad blue orb.... this was a teenager (at the time) in the Internet age who thought that Alaska is an island. Why? Because she and her family had taken a cruise there, and, you know, after all, cruise ships go to islands.

Yes, really.

Anyway, the story, as my son told it, was that there was a high-school class trip to one of those amusement parks that also has a safari park attached. You know... the ones where the animals run relatively free and the customers drive through in a bus, observing the wonder of the African savannah and the like.

The non-curious girl said something like, "Oh wow! Look at the ostriches!"

This caused my son to launch into the following: "Ostriches! Awesome. They are really interesting animals, you know, because of the way an ostrich's life progresses. These ones are big. They must be very young."

"What do you mean? Very young?" she asked.

"Ostriches are the only animal that is born at full size. That's why their eggs are so huge.  They spend the rest of their lives actually getting progressively smaller until, by the time of their deaths, they are relatively small. It's almost like that movie about that Benjamin Button guy. I always figured the author of that book got the story idea from how ostriches are. "

Apparently she sat enraptured with the whole tale, buying into every word.

She then, over the next few days, learned the truth, mostly as a result of earnestly recounting the Amazing Facts About Ostriches that she had learned at the safari park, and facing the appalled reactions of others.

But that's not the good part of the story. Here's the good part. When Kevin retold the tale at dinner, someone said, "How.... OK, never mind how. Why in the world did you make up that elaborate story?"

His answer, pointing to me: "You're kidding me, right? I'm his son. And I learned long ago the comic value of the preposterous story couched as believable fact. This is the man who got me at age seven to eat a roasted-chicken dinner that I had no interest in by telling me the chicken's body was a baboon head."

So proud. So. Fucking. Proud.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Losing the forest for the trees. Or why you don't need any of that crap to start eating paleo.

The conversation often goes something like this....

New, or relatively new, person in gym: "Hey Steve, I hear you know a lot about paleo. I've been reading all about it. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Me: "Not at all. Go for it."

Newbie: "I mean... I'm not eating paleo yet. I'm thinking about it, but haven't taken the plunge."

Me: "That's cool. What's your question?"

Newbie: "Have you tried this bulletproof-coffee fasting thing?"

Now let's be clear.... the reaction that I have in my head to this question is not what comes out of my mouth. (My brain/mouth filter is fairly well-developed, or else I would frequently be getting punched in the face). I'm polite. But I assure you that my principal thought is: "Dude... seriously. Why are you focusing on the gimmicks and the tricks before you have even tried to get yourself to a clean 30 days or so? Before you have even really tried paleo at all?"

I know why this sort of thing happens. It's because paleo is Big Stuff these days. (Labron is paleo, after all). And Big Stuff equals Big Money, and Big Money equals products.

And really, there's nothing wrong with some products. They can be useful, like any other tweak to a paleo regimen once a person really gets going with clean real food. But that's the micro stuff, not the macro basics. Sometimes I fear that we are allowing newbies to get so distracted with the micro angle that they lose those basics in a blur of confusion.

It's pretty simple: you can (and should) start eating paleo product-free, and your trainer/coach/nutritionist shouldn't be steering you towards supplements and other gimmicks before you've even gotten yourself to a point that you can properly evaluate which one of those gimmicks/products might do you some good. That point can't possibly be until you've fully cleaned up your food for a month or so (at least). Let's not, for instance, worry about liposomal glutathione and whether it might be the secret key to happiness if you're still eating donuts regularly.

It's ironic that a lifestyle built on simplicity -- animal protein, vegetables, fruits, good fats -- and on shunning the vast majority of pre-packaged foods has turned into a product-filled minefield of distraction. And I suppose that it's to be expected. It's the nature of the food business. (Have you taken a look at the "gluten-free" aisle in the supermarket lately? It's a clusterfuck of Frankenfoods that just happen not to have wheat in them). But it's up to the trainers, authors and bloggers in this paleosphere that we live in to, well, fight the power, maaaan, and keep the new folks' eyes focused on the prize.

Regular people shouldn't be starting their paleo journey with that shit. And we shouldn't be steering them to it.

Back to basics.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Afghan Whigs live in Philly at Union Transfer, October 3, 2014

Band reunions/artist comebacks can take one of a few turns. Some bands return fat and flabby, missing all the old magic, just looking for a paycheck. Others manage to crank out credible, even reasonably compelling, renditions of the hits, but they fall flat when it comes to new material. And a precious few -- Superchunk, Mission of Burma, Ian Hunter and Bob Mould** come to mind as shining recent examples -- manage to rock the bejeezus out of the old songs and still release albums full of new material that pushes the artistic envelope even further.

Let's add the Afghan Whigs*** to that last group. I won't say that this Stereogum "ranking" of all seven Afghan Whigs albums is indisputably perfect, but it's a solid effort. And it justifiably places their latest record -- 2014's Do To the Beast -- firmly in the middle of a pack of mighty distinguished records. For years, ever since Congregation to be exact, the Afghan Whigs have been mining a rock/soul fusion worthy, when all cylinders are firing at their best, of comparisons to the righteous Motor City groovefests laid down by the likes of the Stooges, MC5 and the Dirtbombs.

But somehow I had missed that boat the first time around, so when I heard the reformed band was touring again to support the Beast record, I was all-in.

Based on their show Friday night at Union Transfer in Philly, I made a good call. Better late than never. These guys are on fire. Granted, guitarist Rick McCollum is no longer in the band from the glory days, but in his place are two guitarists and a multi-instrumentalist to make sure his sizable musical contributions to the band's classics are not lost in the shuffle. There are now six core players, plus an additional backup vocalist on many songs, and the mega-lineup provides an unholy thunder amidst a deep, tight groove that is truly staggering. The newest songs have a spark that the Beast album only hints at, and the old stuff? All I could say to a friend at the end of "Debonair" was, "Holy shit. That was ridiculous They are killing it." One minute -- on "Going to Town" or "John the Baptist" or "Something Hot," for example -- they seem to be channeling Funkadelic, and the next -- "Faded" comes immediately to mind -- they flirt with an epic/anthemic approach worthy of Quadrophenia. But even when the band goes all classic rock on you, there is an underlying soul that shines through. I'm not sure how many of the youngsters in the crowd recognized that the extended vocal/piano intro to "Faded" was, in fact, most of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street," but this concertgoer had his mind blown by the way the band seamlessly blended the end of the Womack classic into one of their own best to close the show.

For 100 minutes, the Afghan Whigs owned Union Transfer on Friday night. I hope Greg Dulli and company keep the fires of this reunion burning. They have earned the right to venues full of amped-up fans with shows like this one.

**Bob took enough of a break from releasing rock albums that his last few records/tours are worthy of the "comeback" label.

***You'll notice that I ditched my usual habit of linking to AllMusicGuide reviews this time around. That's because the AMG review of Black Love is so uncharacteristically off-the-mark that I won't send them the traffic on this one. (I'm sure they're crushed).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The return of "30 Days to Freedom'" a.k.a. a month-long meditation challenge for October? Let's do this.

You've heard me say it before: stress management is everything. Or it's nearly everything, anyway. Without properly handling your stress -- and note that I say "handling," not "eliminating" -- sleep and even digestion get wrecked. And when sleep and digestion are wrecked, exercise often becomes just another negative stress. On the flip side, get the whole deal -- stress management, sleep, food and exercise -- in order, and life suddenly seems a couple (maybe many more) levels of amazing.

Put differently, yeah, I can tell you to sleep like a teenager, eat clean food and exercise smart, and it won't mean a thing if you are a walking ball of tension most days. Or if you do that dreaded 3 a.m. worry wakeup and then can't get back to sleep.

So here's the deal. We've done this before. and that link and this one have even more links in them which explain the whole thing (and will even take you all the way back to answering baby-steps questions like, "Just how the f#%^ am I supposed to meditate? I hate it! My mind is too busy!").

But the basics are this: at least ten minutes every day for the month of October, sit down in a quiet place, and meditate. If you've done this before, or if you're just feeling like going the extra mile, make it 20 minutes, or commit to two sessions a day. Whatever works. This isn't a competition. Me? I am headed for a lot of two-a-days, but I also know that my schedule won't allow me to fit in two meditation sessions every single day. So I'll do the best I can. Again, it's not a competition.

It is, however, an opportunity for you to talk about the experience, whether it's on the Paleo Drummer Facebook page, here in the comments, or via a guest blog post here -- which a few people have done in past meditation challenges.

So, starting Wednesday October 1 (or, better yet, just start now), let's sit down, shut up and fix our heads, by managing stressed through meditation. It really is the path to a better everything. Are you in?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: Bob Mould Band live in Philly at the TLA, September 5, 2014

Bob Mould walked onstage last night with his bandmates Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster, grinned a little, leaned back and launched headlong into "Flip Your Wig" followed by "Hate Paper Doll." I kind of lost my shit a little.

Witnessing the recent rock and roll rejuvenation of Bob Mould has been nothing short of mindblowing.

The man is 53 years old, and he's bouncing around the stage like the same guy I saw with Hüsker Dü at an ironically-named ("The Opera House") warehouse-y dump in Philly in May 1985. And here's the thing: his current band may just be his best ever.

I'll fess up and admit that while I am a huge fan of Hüsker Dü, Sugar and Bob's early solo career, he lost me a little post-Sugar. I saw the Hüskers three times, Sugar once, and countless solo acoustic/electric shows into the early 2000s. But the post-Sugar solo albums were missing something to my ears. Yeah, they all (OK, I'm not counting his foray into electronica) had good songs, but their overall impact was just missing that thing-- we'll call it urgency -- that characterized everything the man ever touched prior to 1995 or so. Moreover, those solo shows? Yeah, I loved watching him tear into the classics, but, no matter how hard he ranted and raved and beat the living bejeezus out of his long-suffering guitars, he was all by himself up there; what he really needed was a band (maaaaaan).

In 2012, he finally got that band, courtesy of Narducy and Wurster. You may recognize them as the current live-show rhythm section of Superchunk, but before Wurster recruited Narducy for that gig, they had both signed on with Mould for Bob's Silver Age album.

To give you some idea of the seismic shift that Silver Age was, imagine if the Rolling Stones released Goats Head Soup now. Not in 1973 when it was a solid, but slightly flawed record. But right fucking now. Heads would explode all over the world. That's what Silver Age was like. It followed a collection of solo records that all had their highlights, but the distortion-drenched atavisms of SA were leaps and bounds beyond their immediate predecessors. It was right back to the glory days. This was a record that reeked of a Hüskers/Sugar hybrid. Dig this, for example:

In that song, and on the rest of that album, Mould is feeding off the energy of his new bandmates, and they, unsurprisingly are returning the awe and wonder of playing music with Bob Fucking Mould and revving things up a little more. It's a joyous/cathartic romp through power chords, pounding drums, vocal harmonies and urgent basslines. This year saw the same band release Beauty and Ruin. And the rampage continues:

And the live show that results? It's.... I'm not sure "fucking spectacular" begins to convey it. As I mentioned, they blasted through a couple Hüsker Dü songs to start. The set** that followed never let up. A large portion of Beauty and Ruin was played, some of Silver Age and a heaping serving of Hüsker Dü and Sugar songs. Hell, Bob even "rocked up" one ("Sinners and Their Repentances") from his first solo album, Workbook, to great effect.

Highlights? The entire show, start to finish. Really.

But if you make me pick a few, after the "Flip" intro, I'd say that "The Descent" and "Tomorrow Morning" were solo-album songs that were particularly crushing in their intensity. "Changes" had harmonies courtesy of Narducy that made even grumpy-looking Bob smile. "Hoover Dam" was, somehow, even better than the Sugar version, which I previously regarded as a near-perfect rendition. "Something I Learned Today" and "In a Free Land" made me wonder just how the hell Wurster keeps going at that intensity for an entire show.  And "Chartered Trips".... How do you make "Chartered Trips" into an even more perfect blast of everything ever? Add a coda with pounding drums and slashing chords. The set-closer that followed "Chartered Trips" was "Fix It" and, as much as I love that song, it barely registered with me after the roar that preceded it.

My mind is duly blown, gentlemen. I am back on board and will see this band every fucking time I get the chance.

(Next time in Philly, how about "Real World" with all of its glorious kerrang? That would up the ante even more, if that's even possible.)


Flip Your Wig
Hate Paper Doll
Star Machine
The Descent
Little Glass Pill
I Don't Know You Anymore
Sinners And Their Repentances
Kid With Crooked Face
Nemeses Are Laughing
The War
Hardly Getting Over It
Keep Believing
Come Around
Hoover Dam
Tomorrow Morning
If I Can't Change Your Mind
Hey Mr. Grey
Chartered Trips
Fix It
In A Free Land
something I Learned Today
Makes No Sense At All
Love Is All Around

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Food, barbells and thoughts on how your social class may play into what you do

A funny thing happened over in the much-wealthier town.

My older son (age 23) was routinely getting together with a friend [we'll call him Bob... not his name] to work out while both of them were off from school this summer. Sometimes they'd lift at my house, sometimes at Bob's parents' house. Sometimes they'd do sprints at the track, and maybe even work a kettlebell or a sled-drag into the day's effort. Less often they'd go for a run.

It didn't take long.

"You guys are back here lifting today? I thought you were going to Bob's house."

I was glad to see my son, but surprised.

"Yeah...." he replied. "It seems like we have a problem over there. It's not a problem if we use Bob's dad's rower in his driveway, and it's not a problem if we take our shirts off. Oh, it's also not a problem if we run all around town with our shirts off. So it's not an exhibitionist/ostentatious thing."

"So, what's...." I interrupted myself as I realized the deal. "No way! Let me guess: Bob's parents think weightlifting is unseemly and a little too, oh, pedestrian and blue-collar, and so they are good with everything until the barbell comes out? Then the neighbors might notice."

"It would seem so...."

"So there are people all over that town running and cycling. Hell, even Bob's dad uses his rower in the driveway. And this is no problem. But you've done something far worse, apparently. You've brought the lower-class sports to the properties of the rich."

"Yeah, apparently."

And then I read this article. It's an eye-opener called What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class.

And then I thought a little more about my own life. Outside of CrossFit, how do the well-educated people that I professionally interact with exercise? There are runners -- a lot of runners. Some triathletes. Some cyclists. There's a lot of long-distance cardio going on. There is, conversely, very little weightlifting going on among those folks, and even less if you confine the term "weightlifting" to mean "something full-body involving a barbell, not just isolation machines at a gym."

Then toss something else into the mix: low-fat dogma. You may have run across this article recently as well. The bottom line of it is an NIH study that showed low-fat eating regimens failing miserably next to low-carb/high-fat/no-caloric-restriction ones. It struck a nerve, not because I was surprised -- hell, it's like an ad for paleo/primal -- but because I wonder how it's going to play with the more upper-crust folks.

My own completely unscientific study of the high-income/non-weightlifting/heavy-cardio exercise crowd has most of them following a path of some sort of low-fat awfulness in their food. Usually there is a "diet," often accompanied with caloric restriction, guilt and a lot of time watching numbers on the scale. There is a tremendous amount of self-deprivation in much of it as well.

Yes, CrossFit is changing the paradigm a bit. It seems that if we can get the prep-schoolers into a CF box, and put a barbell in their hands, we often can get them off of skim milk, vegetarianism and soy burgers at the same time. But it's more of a struggle. Again, my own unscientific study of CrossFitters shows that the average cop/firefighter/tradesperson is more likely to quickly embrace (or, at least, not fight about) both the food and exercise component of a primal lifestyle than the better-educated, who will still be secretly doing long runs that they don't really like** -- but think are the "real" way to be fit -- and eating low-fat yogurt and "heart healthy whole grains" [sic].

And yeah, I'm a lawyer, former distance runner and former near-vegetarian who ate whole grains like it was his job and devoured more soy burgers than real ones as of just a few years ago. I never picked up a barbell until I was 46 years old. So don't see this piece as some sort of class-war Molotov cocktail tossed over the well-educated-guy's fence. I am one of those well-educated guys who wasn't doing any of this stuff optimally as of just a few years back. But because of that, I also see a little more closely what is going on with my peers in that regard. They are, on the whole, missing the bus on both diet and exercise. Part of it is from misinformation. But quite often there's something else going on there as well.

**This is in contrast to some distance runners that I know who actually enjoy it. More power to them. People should do things that make them happy. I just hate to see someone doing something he or she hates, grinning and bearing it for "health" reasons.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Deadlifts, doughnuts and happiness. A.K.A. Food is just food.

Earlier today, my CrossFit friend Cathy Innes deadlifted 323 pounds. Cathy is 62 years old. A 323-pound deadlift by a 62-year-old woman is elite-level stuff. That's awesome -- completely effing ridiculously awesome.

Afterwards, she posted a photo of a maple bacon doughnut with the following caption: "I earned this today with a 323 lb deadlift!"

After congratulating her on her deadlift, I gave her a little bit of shit.

No, not about eating the doughnut -- about the notion that she had somehow "earned" the right to eat it. What comes with that notion is the converse one as well: that if she hadn't done something extraordinary, it would be "wrong" to eat the "unearned" doughnut. What also comes with all that is the idea that one has to "earn" the right to eat anything.

And every one of those concepts is complete bullshit. More particularly, they are bullshit wrapped in a thick layer of guilt and shame that has no place near food.

If there is any one idea I would love for everyone in the fitness/health industry to embrace, and evangelize about, it wouldn't be a "way" to eat -- paleo, primal, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever -- nor a "system" of exercise. It would be a simple fact: food is food. It is neither good nor evil. It is not reward or punishment. Food should not be a currency that you use in transactions with yourself. It doesn't have a damn thing to do with sex, love, romance, guilt or shame. And nothing you do "earns" particular food for you.

You can eat whatever the hell you want. You are an adult. By reaching a stage of life where you are buying the food, you get to decide what you eat.

Yes, it will benefit you greatly if you figure out a way to eat that helps you feel great every day. And if you have fat-loss goals, certain food choices, if made consistently, are going to either help or hinder your attainment of those goals. But what is most important is getting to the point where you are making all your food choices based on a simple concept: "Do I want to eat that?" Because you should eat whatever you want to eat. The question is whether you really want it, and only you can make that choice.

Let's go back to that doughnut. Personally, I probably wouldn't eat it. Doughnuts don't really make me feel very good. The "benefit" of the delicious maple/bacony flavor is short-lived compared to the crappy bloated feeling that gluten gives me, so I choose not to eat it. But before you think I am trying to paint a picture of myself as St. Paleo, patron saint of clean eating, if that were maple/bacon ice cream, I'd be on it in two seconds. No guilt, no fuss, no muss, and right back to paleo food I would go afterwards. Because that's how I want to eat.

And the contrary choice would be just as valid. Because it's my choice. And I eat whatever I want.

But in neither instance, no matter what I did -- or didn't do -- that day, would I need to "earn" the right to eat that doughnut, or that ice cream. It's just a piece of food.

By the way, once I gently chided Cathy, she said, "You're right, Steve. I stand corrected. It was the best doughnut I've ever eaten."

Damn right. I bet it was.

No guilt. No shame. Eat what you want. Just figure out what you want and what makes you really happy. That's what you've truly "earned" the right to do.

The non-quantified self

I put together a band recently, because, really, this is what I do. It's hard work, and often -- but not this time -- a giant freaking pain in the ass. Bands are full of real people with distinct personalities, and distinct work ethics, and those people are crammed into tight quarters and they don't always mesh together well. In fact, the last few bands have fallen rather distinctly into the category called "fun for a little while and then... not so much." But the new one seems to be -- from a musicianship/quality/enjoyment sense -- taking names and kicking ass at a heightened level. This means I have to be on my A-game behind the drums. This also means that I have been playing on my own a lot more than in the previous six months in order to stay on top of all that.

It's been spectacular. There's a cliche that goes something like: "A bad day doing ____ is still better than a good day doing something dull." And for me that blank gets filled in with either of two things: drumming or hiking.

Why those two? I've thought about that one a lot, and I think I've finally nailed it:  it's because the "success" of the activity is measured in beauty (even in art), and there is what I'll call a distinct absence of quantification.

I've talked before (e.g., here and here) about how, when I turn a fun pursuit into a numbers game, it eventually sucks the joy right out of it. And it's been a long slow slog through that lesson because I am, at my core, a pretty competitive person, most of all with myself.

But I simply can't "grade" my performance at a band practice -- or during an hour playing drums on my own, or on a hike -- with a number. Each of those things runs deeper, or maybe the word is "simpler." The beauty is in the doing, not in reaching a particular destination.

I've told you before to "enjoy the ride," but I think I am, slowly, but surely, getting a real handle on what that means. And I say the "ride," rather than the "journey" because a journey implies a destination, and if a person doesn't reach the precise goal he or she seeks, there tends to be disappointment. (The missed PR in the gym or on the track comes to mind). The "ride" is more of a rollercoaster analogy, because no one's ever disappointed at the end of an amusement-park ride because it failed to take the passengers to a particular place. The joy of that enterprise is in the getting there, not in measuring whether "there" is the precise spot you wanted to be.

So how does this realization play into other things I do for fun -- like CrossFit and heavy lifting? As I've told you here, when I first stumbled upon the notion, I'm trying to quantify my exercise experience as little as possible. Sure, I know what weight is on the bar, but I'm not tracking my performance day to day or week to week. I'm just going in and doing as well as I can on a given day. I'm lifting weights, or doing conditioning workouts, like it's a process to be enjoyed, rather than a goal-directed activity burdened with a struggle between success and failure that comes down to numbers.

And if that sounds like I am trying to approach exercise a little more like it's like drumming or hiking, then yeah. That's exactly what I am doing. In fact, I'm trying to do it with my whole life.

You know... enjoying the beauty of the ride, not obsessing over the destination.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Zen and the art of, oh, everything....

It's one of my favorite punk-rock lyrics, and, yes, I've used it here before:

"Don't get tangled up trying to be free."
                               -- Fugazi

It was a little over a month ago that my sons and I were out in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, spending our days hiking and the rest of the time eating spectacularly well while watching more World Cup soccer than any of us could believe.

It was amazing, and a recurring thought came to me: "Why can't I always be this stress-free?" 

So I came home with a simple plan: try to live life in a "vacation state of mind." Not a "vacation plan of action," mind you. I can't go hiking every day, and ignore work responsibilities in favor of watching a lot of soccer. But it's the mental angle that I can try and preserve.

It began with food. I don't stress out significantly over paleo, but I have been known to make my food more complicated than it needs to be. So the first victim of metaphorical defenestration was so-called "bulletproof coffee." Why, I asked myself, had I turned my morning routine into a bastion of -- let's be objective here -- complete fucking weirdness by dumping quantities of butter and coconut oil into my coffee that seemed fairly obscene? I didn't really know. It was delicious, but I was running through sticks of Kerrygold unsalted like it was my job to eat dairy fat. 

Also, protein powder.... I still use it occasionally if I am in a jam post-workout and can't eat real food right away, but it had become the post-workout norm. Instead of just eating real food when I got home from the gym, I was pretending that I'm some sort of "athlete" and going for protein overload. 

I didn't do any of that nonsense on vacation. And I felt great there. I ate intuitively in the Eastern Sierra -- stuffing in more real food on days when the caloric demands of hiking were greater, and less when they weren't. And it's not like I was thinking about it, or planning it. I just -- get this -- ate when I was hungry.

With no thought, no plan, no stress. 

So for the last month or so, I've been just... eating paleo, when I'm hungry. It's not exciting, or gimmicky, or particularly sexy, but it is utterly stress-free, and easy. And delicious. I haven't been jonesing for butter in my coffee, or protein powder post-workout. My body seems to like moderation.

It also likes easy. And easy fits in rather nicely with another recurring thought I had on vacation: "Do you ever notice that Robb Wolf never suggests that you do stupid, weird, gimmicky shit?"

(You could sub a number of other folks into that thought besides Robb, by the way. Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, Diane Sanfilippo, Liz Wolfe....)

Then my thoughts moved on to exercise. I just posted about that, so I won't repeat it all here. But just as I wasn't "tracking performance" on my vacation hikes, why -- I asked myself -- was I tracking performance in the gym? So I just started going to the gym and exercising in a way that felt right that day. It's been unbelievably mentally freeing. Yesterday, instead of chasing a front-squat PR -- with all the accompanying stress of that plus the added "I suck" feeling if I were to miss it -- I just did multiple reps at a solidly heavy weight, and then even did a drop set afterwards at a slightly lower weight. It felt fantastic, with none of the pressure. On Friday, I knew I wanted to do some conditioning in addition to lifting weights, but sprints seemed like the order of the day instead of the barbell metcon that was programmed. So out into the street I went for some 400 repeats with rest in between. Again, it was perfect, for that day.

This gimmick-free/intuitive thought process even extends to my meditation practice. During the past few months, I had been exclusively using the EmWave2 -- a heartrate variability monitor/program -- to meditate. I liked it, but I wondered aloud, amidst all the other purposeful simplification that I was undertaking, whether, maybe just maybe, I was over-complicating meditation too. So I headed back to the basics, the Zen stuff: me, a floor, a pillow and a wall. It's spectacular. And simple.

I think it was Thoreau who said something like, "Simplify. Simplify." 

Or maybe it was Fugazi. 

Either way, I am digging it all immensely. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Scoreboard

Yesterday, I posted a Facebook status that went something like this:

"I am essentially positive that I am not mature enough to sensibly and rationally approach today's one-rep-max back squat at CrossFit Aspire. I am headed off to the garage for some nice calm ego-absent three-rep sets on my own instead.

Followed by a spectacular lunch of everything."

Lunch was delicious. 

This, however, is not about lunch.

It's about the rest of all that. 

I really enjoy lifting weights. I'm even okay at it; I'm pretty sure my deadlifts and farmer's carries are something that I am at least better than the "average" 52-year-old dude at doing. But recently, while I was dutifully logging the results of another day's lifting into our gym's online tracking system, I thought to myself, "I'm not a competitive lifter. Why, exactly, am I keeping score?"

There is this quirky little thing that CrossFit gyms started doing a long time ago -- referring to all their members as "athletes."

I'm a lot of things. I'm a pretty nice guy. I am a decent writer. I might just occasionally make you laugh. I am a damn good drummer. I'm an even better lawyer (but we still never talk about that here). But, really, I'm just not, by any stretch of the imagination, an "athlete." 

To be clear: Rich Froning? Athlete. Me? Not.

So, in keeping with the notion that I am just a guy who does CrossFit because he likes being in better shape to do all the other fun stuff in life, and not to "compete," I repeat, "Why, exactly, am I keeping score of myself?"

"To know when you are doing better!" you say. But... why exactly do I care about "doing better" on some absolutist scale? Lifting, to me, is something that varies wildly day to day. There's the day that a 405-lb deadlift is doable -- nearly easy --and another when 365 pounds screams, "You're done for the day, son." And usually that type of variance has to do with things like nutrition and sleep and stress and all those other health/fitness categories that we would never "keep score" at. 

I mean, really, does anyone keep track of sleep PRs? Does anyone post, "Fuck yeah. Beast mode! Ate more kale than ever today!" to Facebook?

So again, why am I keeping score of my lifting? There are days when pushing a little to lift a non-PR, but still-challenging, amount of weight is just as rewarding in a "I did the best I can do today" sense as nailing a PR. And, absent a scorekeeping obsession, maybe I would stop occasionally making foolish decisions to go harder than I should to.... beat my old "score." You know, the "score" that doesn't really mean shit in the rest of my life.

It doesn't make me a better person, drummer, lawyer, hiker, husband, friend or father if I PRd my deadlift. Or my back squat. Or my strict press (as if....). And it sure as hell doesn't make me worse at any of those things if I didn't. Remember, I'm not a "weightlifter." There is a serious difference between "a guy who lifts weights" and a "weightlifter."

And there is a serious difference between a competitive CrossFit "athlete" and a guy who does CrossFit just to stay fit.

This isn't to say that you should follow my leadership on this issue. You may have tons of reasons to keep track of your "score" in the gym. You, quite possibly, think this is the stupidest idea I have ever had. But I'm going to go with it for a while. 

And maybe, after three or so months of not logging my lifting results, and, instead, just doing the best I can do on any given day, I'll decide that keeping score has some kind of a benefit for me. But right now, I'm not seeing it. So, like every other aspect of my life, for the next few months when I grab a barbell, I'm just going to do the best I can that day, and move on. 

And enjoy the ride.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The lemming state of mind, or why there's a valuable lesson in "Crossing the Line"

There's an ESPN video about CrossFit called "Crossing the Line" that is circulating the blog/Facebook-sphere. Your reaction to it is, quite possibly, going to be governed by your opinion about CrossFit itself.

If you are a CF hater, undoubtedly you will find something to rant and rave about. "See! CrossFit is dangerous. Women and children (and possibly puppies), are being killed by overzealous, untrained Olympic lifting and crazy gymnastic movements."

And if you are a CrossFit devotee, you may be a little riled. "How dare you, ESPN?! Right in the midst of the CrossFit Games that you are televising, no less! Heresy! Where is your loyalty?"

I'm going to go against the grain a little....

As you may know, I love CrossFit. It changed my life. 

But that video doesn't have me annoyed, feeling defensive or otherwise wound up. I think there is a lot to like about some of it.

As I just recently told you with regard to food choices, I don't think you should be ceding any of your health decisions to others. Sure, get all the good advice you can, but, in the end, whether or not someone else is telling you to eat, or not eat, something, it is going to be you -- You! -- who has to put on the big-boy/big-girl pants at some point and make the call whether a particular food item is going down your own piehole.

Unsurprisingly, I feel the same way about exercise.

Just as it's a bad idea to approach food with the attitude of "Just tell me what to do and I will follow your instructions like a robot," that same mindset is going to cause trouble in a CrossFit gym.

"I'm following a list of rules on The Paleo Diet" teaches nothing but blind adherence to someone else's dogma that may or may not be right for your body.

The same is true of unthinking worship at the altar of CrossFit. "I'm doing whatever the CrossFit trainer says is today's workout even if it hurts me" just may (surprise!) get you hurt.

On that video is a guy who tried to beat his old PR of 30 straight toes-to-bar by doing 40. Not 31, mind you. He wanted to go straight from 30 to 40. In one shot.

If I told you that a guy with a 300-pound max deadlift tried to PR with a 400-pound deadlift, what would you think? "Durrrrr," or something similar, I imagine, right? But this guy is blaming the "culture of CrossFit" at least partially for his resulting injury from the same percentage leap in a toes-to-bar PR attempt. (And I know... he fell on the 31st one, but he was aiming for 40. In his head, a 33% PR seemed just fine, and that's lunacy. And yes, to his credit, he seems to have learned, and changed his subsequent approach to CF).

Look, there's no doubt that the competitive mindset in some CrossFit boxes is greater than others. Hell, I regard the gym that I go to as being full of smart trainers who care about the clients, and, still, I see people trying to do things -- often because their friends are encouraging them -- that are nearly guaranteed to get them hurt. Whether it's trying to do kipping pullups before you have strict pullups, or doing high-speed Olympic lifts even though your body is screaming, "No more!" there are a myriad of ways to royally fuck yourself up in a CF gym.

But a little good sense goes a long way. And that good sense needs to come from you, not anyone else.

Because this is your life, and you're the one responsible for it.

If you get the idea that I am virulently against "just going along" and being a lemming about almost anything, then yeah, you're catching on. And I don't mean contrarianism for its own sake. I mean just simply thinking for yourself. Just because everyone else is doing it makes it neither correct nor appropriate for you.

Something to consider: there is no sport called "High-speed Olympic Lifting" just as there also is no sport called "High-speed Powerlifting." If high-rep/high-speed snatches (or cleans or deadlifts or whatever) leave you in serious pain, this may be a sign that you should sub in another exercise that day. Or maybe always.

An example: I love deadlifts for strength, but I rarely do deadlifts in a metcon. If I try to do them at high speed, I lose the necessary tightness in my abs and lower back and it hurts. In fact, thanks to various non-CrossFit injuries, mostly drumming-related, I often don't use a barbell in a metcon. If I do high-speed overhead work, I leave the gym with an inflamed elbow and in a world of pain. I feel the same way about high-rep pullups for time. I'd rather do weighted pullups with good form for strength.

It's all -- like your food choices, or like, I dunno, life -- a work in progress. You test your limits and sometimes you surprise yourself. But other times your limits rear their ugly heads on what may be a more permanent basis. Maybe, no matter how hard you want it to be otherwise, every time you eat gluten, you feel like shit. I'd suggest maybe permanently backing off the gluten in that instance.

Somehow, though, the ego seems to take more of a hit when the limitation is exercise-oriented, instead of based on food. You see your buddy doing high-rep/high-speed deadlifts with ease in a metcon, but every time you do them that way, you can't walk without pain for three days. The answer really may be that they just aren't your thing, and that you need to sub in something else that will give you just as intense of a workout without the accompanying discomfort.

We aren't all made of the same stuff. That fact seems more palatable to the average person when considering food tolerances, so when your bestie orders double-cheese fries and you're lactose-intolerant and fries always make you feel awful, you have the good sense to pass on that magic. Or if not and you slip up, you "get" that the only person to blame can be found in the mirror. But when your CrossFit friend does 30 butterfly pullups and you don't even have one strict pullup, somehow you still feel the need to try to match her by doing what Greg Everett calls "kipping labrum tears." And then the "fault" lies in the "culture of CrossFit?"

Yes, you should choose your CrossFit gym carefully. Yes, there are all sorts of different skill/competence levels out there amidst the CF trainers in the world. I'm lucky, like I said; our gym is awesome.

You can can still get hurt at our gym. 

Unless it is very (very!) early in your CrossFit "career" when you truly know nothing -- and I'd argue that if you join a CF gym (or, hey, anything else in life...) really "knowing nothing," you should be doing everything you can to catch yourself up to speed with research on your own time -- if you get hurt by pushing far past your limits, the blame for that is on you. Not on the "culture" of CrossFit. Not on your trainer. Not on your friends.

Use your head. Put your ego away. Your successes, and your injuries, are your own. Don't just blindly follow someone else's plan for food, exercise or anything.