Monday, July 29, 2013

"Buy the ticket; take the ride." Training for health and longevity versus training for sport-specific fitness.

I am a proud CrossFitter, and, like a lot of you, I just got done watching the annual ritual of endurance and fitness called the CrossFit Games. It was a blast seeing athletes from all over the world throw down hard, day after day, in multiple workouts.

So what I am about to tell you may not sound like CrossFit-style advice:

Be careful out there. Understand your choices. There's a difference between training your body in a way that promotes health and longevity, and training in a way that makes you excel at a particular sport.

And CrossFit, in its competitive form -- whether that's the actual CrossFit Games or a local throwdown between some gyms in your area -- is most definitely a sport. Like a lot of sports, whether we are talking marathoning, weightlifting or playing football, you have to beat yourself up in a pretty sports-specific way to get really really good at it.

Sure, if what you *really* like to do is melt yourself down six days a week with CrossFit metcons that leave you splayed out on the floor gasping for breath at the end of every one, then go for it. Fun is important. And maybe that is your definition of fun. And, yeah, you can possibly become a pretty good CrossFitter training like that. If you then step up your CrossFit training, and start pulling some two-a-days, or putting in extra time on working various skill sets, you might even become *really* good at CrossFit. But here's the thing: don't confuse training to be a really good CrossFitter (or a really good marathoner, or a really good football player, or a really good weightlifter) with training in a way that promotes health and longevity. You may have left that goal behind a while ago when you stepped up your training to get really good at your sport.

Like I said, it's a choice.

When you head into intense, sport-specific training, you have entered the world of grinding yourself into bits to get really fucking good at something. And, if you do it right, you may very well actually succeed and become really fucking good at that sport. But you almost certainly will eventually grind yourself into bits in one form or another. Beyond a certain point, hard intense training takes its toll.

But it's a perfectly valid choice, as long as you understand that you are making it. When you reach the Training Crossroads -- where the sign points one way to health and longevity, and the other way to pain, sacrifice and *possible* sports-specific awesomeness -- you may think the latter path sounds too amazing not to try. Just understand that when you make that choice, you have parted ways with the goal of health and longevity, and headed for something more dangerous that comes with a cost.

Then there is the complication of the age factor.... That choice gets considerably more daunting and monumental depending on how old you are when you are making it. The workouts that twenty-somethings can handle on a regular basis and still be reasonably on a health/longevity pathway are considerably different than what the 35, 45 or 55-year-old can do and remain on that road. If those older folks do more than a couple/few metcon-style workouts a week, they may be headed into jacked-up cortisol and stress, wrecked sleep, and a path of diminishing returns that somehow got them sidetracked off the Road to Awesome that the twenty-somethings may be able to stay on.

Does that mean I am telling you, Mr. or Ms. older-than-30 not to do CrossFit? No. But, first, understand why you are doing it -- have a goal -- and, second, choose a frequency of CF that actually fits that goal.

There are a whole lot of smart people these days out in the strength and conditioning world -- like Dan John, Jason Seib, Robb Wolf, Jim Laird, James Fitzgerald, etc. -- telling you that the basic prescription for general health and longevity goes something like: eat clean, sleep well, manage stress and exercise smart. And they define "smart" exercise as something along the lines of: lift heavy a few times a week, do some sprints (or sprint-style short metcons) a couple days during that week and take a walk every single day that you can.

Note that the word "CrossFit" isn't in there, but also understand that the word "CrossFit" can be perfectly compatible with that strategy. You just have to do it right.

First of all, if health/longevity is your goal, make sure your CF gym has a strength bias. That means they don't *just* (or mostly) do metcons. They lift heavy too.

Secondly, if health and longevity is your goal, it is going to be the rare 30-y.o.-plus person whose *health* is going to benefit from more than three days a week of the CF grind. Sure, that person's CrossFit *performance* may get better and better, but is the grind of that -- and its toll on cortisol, stress, sleep and general health -- worth the reward? It's your call, and I wouldn't ever tell you not to do six-days-per-week CF any more than I would tell a marathoner not to run marathons. If that is what you truly love to do, have at it.

Just don't pretend that training at that level is making you "healthier." It probably isn't. It grinds you down. It can stall your fat loss and actually make you less healthy than if you backed off a little.

So what's the point of all this? It's what Hunter Thompson used to call: "Buy the ticket; take the ride." Pick your goal, and move toward it appropriately. And if that goal is basic health and longevity, there is a point -- and it may be a point that you have already passed -- where you put in more time, yet get diminishing returns on your goal.

The cool thing is that you can start to fix all that right now.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Petty tribalism helps no one, or why that WAPF hit piece on paleo is beyond stupid and ill-conceived

By now you may have heard that Sally Fallon at the Weston A. Price Foundation did a piece in the latest WAPF journal "Wise Traditions" that had a sizable chapter called: "Myth: the WAPF diet is like the Paleo diet." You can read the whole thing here.

You may also have heard that Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe devoted an entire episode of their Balanced Bites podcast to a rebuttal of that anti-paleo aspect of Fallon's piece.

Diane and Liz do a great job of going point by point through Fallon's article and shredding nearly every aspect of it. Fallon has, in essence, set up a straw man just to knock it down -- presenting an uber-narrow version of paleo that is, at best, already a few years out of date, and then going after it as if it is some sort of threat to WAPF principles.

But, really, Diane and Liz do so well at handling the minutiae of this mess, that I will just urge you to go check them out if a point-by-point smackdown/rebuttal is what you are looking for. Honestly, you ought to be listening to Diane and Liz anyway. They present a super-knowledgable and, get this, *flexible* approach to paleo/ancestral eating that is the envy of anyone not named Wolf and Everett. But they (and let's give credit where it's due to Diane for particularly ranting on this episode with abandon, whereas Liz chose her moments) particularly did really well this time around. Yeah, the humor factor that's been ruling their roost lately wasn't as prevalent on this episode, but it's well worth your while just on smarts alone.

So what do I have to add to all that? Just one thing, and it's more of a generality than an attack on any one aspect of Fallon's article. Here's my beef (and yes, I'm yelling):


Yes, the WAPF has a slightly different approach to food than traditional paleo. Hell, within the overall confines of "paleo" you can find a bunch of different approaches. There are intermittent fasters and carb-backloaders and low-carbers and paleo-treatmakers and paleo "police" and all sorts of permutations of a relatively simple (at its core) concept. And step just a few feet away and you run into the "primal" crowd and the Wheat Belly folks and, really, I hate to start quoting Rodney King, but....

Can't we all just get along?

Every one of our approaches is miles beyond the horror story of the standard American diet.

Fallon's article sounds like the dying gasps of a monarch whose kingdom is decaying around her. Apparently desperate to prove her organization's worth -- and let's be clear about something: I am (was?) a proud WAPF member and think the organization does very good things to promote what I will generally call "ancestral" eating and lifestyle, so I truly had no anti-WAPF ax to grind before all this -- Fallon has lashed out utterly inappropriately at the (relative) newcomer on the block, despite the (fairly ironic) fact that said newcomer is doing more right now to change more lives in a positive way through sensible eating than her organization is.

Or, as Diane Sanfilippo said, paleo is sending more people to check out WAPF than vice versa.

A lot more.

This type of "Look at me! I'm still relevant! Pay attention to meeeeee!" high-school-clique tribalism does nothing to further the overall goal that I thought we all wanted to reach: getting a whole lot of people healthier than they are.

So yeah, Sally Fallon, you should retract your anti-paleo statements. Your article was a petty, silly, ridiculous exercise in line-drawing and wall-building when we ought to be getting together figuring out how to fight The Man and all that.

WAPF does good things. So does paleo. Isn't that enough to make us get along?

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Tonight I think I'll walk alone. I'll find my soul as I go home."

Three competing takes on one song. The original, by New Order:


Moby's completely different, totally chill cover, with Laura Dawn on lead vocal:

And then, a live version by former New Order bass player Peter Hook, and his band the Light, who will be touring both of the first two New Order albums, plus the singles from that era, in the fall here in the U.S.

Hooky can't sing like Bernard Sumner, but I dig it anyway:

I heard the above two studio versions today and thought, "There's a blog post in there somewhere." But I'm busy as hell, so just listen.

No. Just.... no.

It's 7:15 a.m., already 80 degrees (27 in Canadian). Humidity is 74% The dew point is 70 degrees (Canadian 21) and no, I don't know what the fuck a dew point is either, but I know that when it's over 60 it is uncomfortable. And 70 is "ridiculous" bordering on "stupid."

I just looked up today's workout. Three-rep hex-bar deadlifts for strength. Nice (although I happen to like straight-bar better, but whatever). Then... a metcon involving sprinting, box jumps and toes-to-bar that sounds great for almost any other day.

But not today.

You start sweating immediately upon walking outside. I don't know anything about global warming, but, Christ, something is going on, because I never remember summers being this completely disgusting around here. We are stuck in a godawful 90s-with-dog-choking-humidity (Canadian 32-to-38-with-caribou-choking-humidity) death spiral every single day.
My point? Do what you want, but if my 50-yr-old self does that metcon today, I will spend the rest of the day crabby as I try to rehydrate/restore adequately.

I could sweat brushing my teeth on a morning like this.

Today, deadlifts, some weighted chins on the minute for ten minutes, and maybe a few miles of walking later, are enough. Play smart.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jim Laird, Robb Wolf and the basics of health and longevity

You know how I am always telling you folks to find a paleo-related podcast or two and really dig in? Well, once again, our fearless leader, our paleo boss, our guardo camino himself, Robb Wolf, has come through big time in the podcast department.

On episode 192 of the Paleo Solution podcast, Robb's manning the controls without the help of Greg Everett. Instead, his Big Strong Dude du jour is Jim Laird, a strength-and-conditioning coach from Lexington, KY, who runs an S&C business with Molly Galbraith.

I'll admit it. I never heard of Jim Laird before, but damn he knows his shit. Sometimes I want my podcast listening to cover weird, amazing, offbeat new topics; other times, like this week, I'd prefer that the smart people casting the pods just reaffirm the Big Stuff. This particular episode hits at least three of those big items:

1. Strength matters. Dan John will tell you that there is, metabolically speaking, nothing more important than having a big engine. And you get there by getting strong. Or, as Jim Laird said on this podcast: "The pyramid is only as strong as the base." Lift heavy. Walk every day. Hell yeah. Sure, CrossFit metcons and HIIT have their place, but they are not the basis of strength.

2. Our young athletes, and some of all ages, are getting too specialized on a year-round basis. When they do that, they end up out of balance and risking severe injury. Laird tells the story of the young pitcher who has already had a couple major arm surgeries because he never established proper core strength and threw the shit out of his elbow making up for his core deficits. Or there's the volleyball player who, in the offseason, keeps working on jumping all the time when she has been jumping all season. She needs to work on full-body strength when the season ends, not blow her legs and hips out.

3. People are killing themselves with shitty sleep, stress, chronic cardio, and overtraining metcons. Hmmm, where have I heard *that* before? Yeah, it's kind of my mantra around here. Jim Laird apparently is such a believer in that philosophy that he tells people to fix things in the order of: stress, then sleep, then food, and only *then* exercise. (And yeah, where have you heard *that* before?) In other words, his clients have to earn the right to work out. He might start someone out with a meditation and sleep protocol, then fix their food, and only start training them after two (or more) months of those other "repairs."

It's all about health and longevity for most of us, folks. And even you sports-specific athletes need to train cyclically so you don't grind your considerable talents into a nub.

If you have any interest in health/longevity-based fitness, you should listen to this episode. It's good stuff, and, unlike me, these guys are actually certified to give you these kinds of tips. Ha. Get on it.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and the demanding standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt"

I hope you are outraged that George Zimmerman ever confronted Trayvon Martin. As far as I can tell, he had no business following him, suspecting him of wrongdoing, or otherwise involving himself in the teenager's business. It's a godawful tragedy that the kid got killed. And yeah, there are racist overtones to the whole mess that ought to make you cringe.

As someone said somewhere, "I pray for a time when the George Zimmermans of the world offer the Trayvon Martins of the world a dry spot from the rain and a warm car ride home."

The whole thing sucks.

But I am not at all convinced that you should be outraged at the verdict that acquitted Zimmerman of murder or manslaughter.

Wait, what?

Yeah... let's discuss this rationally.

A law professor -- with a decidedly pro-prosecution bent to his thinking, by the way -- once told me: "You should think long and hard before you are *ever* outraged at a jury for an acquittal. It almost always means the jury did its job conscientiously and just found something missing in the prosecution's proofs."

Such is the lay of the land in a system of justice that demands the prosecution prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So much do we (justifiably) fear incarcerating the innocent that the system is tilted heavily -- by means of such a high burden of proof -- in a way that means that we tolerate "mistakes" that result in acquittal much more than we tolerate unjust convictions. If the jury believes the defendant probably is guilty, he goes free.

Yeah, you read that right. "Probably guilty" isn't enough for a conviction. There are even defense attorneys who have boldly begun their final arguments to a jury with: "My client *might have* committed this crime...." and then moved into an extended exegesis on the subtleties of just what "*beyond* a reasonable doubt" really means. It's a very demanding standard of proof.

And self-defense (in most states, including Florida**) is no exception: once the defendant urges acquittal by reason of self-defense, and the judge instructs the jurors on that defense, it is the prosecution's burden to *disprove* the applicability of the defense.

In other words, if a jury is 100% positive the defendant killed someone, but is unsure whether the defendant acted justifiably under principles of self-defense, in Florida (and most states) the defendant goes home with an acquittal, just like in any other situation where the prosecution fails to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, yeah, the jury could have thought George Zimmerman: (a) killed Trayvon Martin, and (b) probably wasn't justified in doing so, and the proper verdict would have still been an acquittal. The system is set up so guilty verdicts only happen when the jury is convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, of the defendant's guilt. In a self-defense case that means being convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant did *not* act in self-defense.

And the proofs in this case? I think it was a legitimately tough call between a conviction for one of the two homicide offenses and an acquittal. Zimmerman appears to have acted like an overly-confrontational rent-a-cop who baselessly suspected Martin of criminal intent. But then what happened? Did he approach Martin in a threatening manner with his gun drawn? Or did Martin throw the first punches unprovoked by any more than very harsh words? I have no idea. And what happened next? Unfortunately, I don't have any clear idea about that either.... And sure, I even have my strong suspicions that Zimmerman's bad behavior didn't end with initiating the encounter. But I really don't know.

And worst of all, the jury may not have had any better insight.

With eyewitness accounts either absent or conflicting on many critical details, I am unsurprised that they came back with a verdict that, in its purest form, is not a vindication of *anything* that George Zimmerman did that night; it's a simple "I don't know" or "I am just not sure" to the question "What happened?"

And, in a system where "probably guilty" is an acquittal, "I don't know" or "I'm just not sure" is too.

I hope Trayvon Martin's family finds peace. I can't begin to fathom their pain. And I hope the George Zimmermans of the world wise up and stop assuming the criminality of those who don't look like them. But in the meantime, while this crap is still going on, the burden of proof in a criminal trial is high for a good reason, and, as much as you can loathe what George Zimmerman did that night to start this encounter -- and despise the mindset that got him there -- think twice before you decry the verdict, or the jurors that rendered it. They were operating under a very stringent set of rules.

**By the way, a lot of ink, virtual and otherwise, was wasted in the press on the topic of so-called Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states, which loosen some of the rules applicable to self-defense in certain situations. A little-mentioned fact: George Zimmerman's defense team never invoked the Stand Your Ground doctrine. This case was tried under ordinary principles of self-defense, not Stand Your Ground.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Some of you are flat-out killing it (and I didn't realize how much I cared)

I pretty consistently run with this mantra on here that goes something like: "I really don't care what you do with your life." Hell, I am mostly a punk-rock/libertarian guy. I think you should run your own life and be skeptical about most things. Paleo? No paleo? Your call. If you have a question, I am glad to try to answer it. If you find something here to like, awesome; if not, your decision to move on and excise me from your personal blogosphere isn't going to crush me. Whatever, dude. Enjoy your time here. Or don't....

Easy, right?

But then, somehow, a few things converged recently to put a crimp in my "whatever" style. First, a gym friend asked me to check her daily food logs and make suggestions regarding some dietary tweaks toward some very specific goals. Yeah, I said I would do that. I was not at all sure I was up to the "job," but yeah, I said I'd try and help. My friend is nearly perfect paleo anyway, so it's not like I have to explain to her why she shouldn't eat gluten. She is *so* far past that stage that I doubt my helpfulness, but yeah; let's go, I said.

And then the couple that runs our CrossFit gym asked me if I would be someone off whom 30-day paleo challengers could bounce questions. Sure. I love that stuff. Let's do that too.

And then there is the most unexpected development of all: becoming some sort of paleo/ancestral spokesperson/dude promoting the value of meditation toward stress reduction. I mean, yeah, that's been a point I have stressed a lot the last couple years here, but I didn't know anyone was actually paying attention, and I certainly didn't expect to get invited to be on a podcast about it. And then, thanks to Kendall's Born Primal podcast, we started this 30-day meditation challenge.

Honestly, I thought the loudest sound I would hear in reaction to *that* idea was crickets. It's not that I don't know that you are all stressed. I just wasn't convinced *any* of you actually wanted to do something about it.

So.... It's like two to three *months* since my friend asked me to review her food for a *week*, and, while I am still not convinced she couldn't be getting all the same results on her own, she wants me to keep helping her. And I like doing it. And the gym thing.... That was great fun. No, everyone who did the challenge is not a paleo superstar, but I think a bunch of people learned a lot from me and others, and I got huge satisfaction out of helping them. Felt like I made a difference and all that....

And the meditation thing.... Yeah, I know.... Most of you couldn't give a fuck. And I'm really totally good with that. What is surprising the hell out of me -- actually "surprising" isn't the right word.... I think I mean "thrilling" the hell out of me -- is that there are a number of you doing this meditation challenge and actually digging the results. There are some people sleeping a lot better and generally feeling less whacked-out, and that is very very cool. The modern world is a cauldron of stressed-out crazy people. It feels really good to help even one person get a little farther back from the ledge.

So what's the point of all this? I don't know. I still don't care what you do. But I think here's the thing I didn't know: I really like it when you do the right thing and get good results, and I get *huge* satisfaction out of any help I give you toward getting to whatever your goal is.

My "whatever" has really taken a bit of a hit over the last couple months.

Worst (best?) of all, I kinda like it that way.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gig review: Flamin' Groovies, at Maxwell's, Hoboken, 7/7/13

Few bands get one good run. The Flamin' Groovies are on at least their third.

Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, the band had its first wave of success fronted by singer Roy Loney through their first three albums. Supersnazz (1969), Flamingo (1970) and, especially, Teenage Head (1971) swaggered with a Mick 'n' Keith vibe that had them quickly pegged as the "American Rolling Stones."

But Loney left after the third record, and guitar slinger Cyril Jordan brought in Chris Wilson to take over most of the lead vocals, along with second-guitar duties. With Wilson came a more British-invasion/power-pop angle and, after a string of singles, the Dave Edmunds-produced Shake Some Action album was released in 1976. More records followed in that same vein in the late '70s and early '80s. (And if you were smart, you'd dig up a copy of the the Sire Records comp Groovies' Greatest Grooves and bask in the singles from that era that you would otherwise work hard to find). But eventually, rock-and-roll hibernation took hold, as it almost always does.

Fast forward to the last couple years, when the Hoodoo Gurus convinced the Jordan/Wilson version of the Groovies, with original bass player George Alexander and a younger drummer along for the ride, to reform the Shake Some Action-era band for the inaugural rendition of the Dig It Up festival in Australia. (Sadly, apparently financial issues will mean that festival never makes its way to the U.S.). Great fun was had by all concerned and they vowed to do it again.

Fast forward once more to the legendary Hoboken, NJ club Maxwell's this past Sunday night. Maxwell's is closing at the end of the month. It is one of my very favorite places to see live music, and, despite staring down the barrel of a long ride up the New Jersey Turnpike on the Sunday evening of a holiday weekend, I decided the double-draw of yet another Maxwell's show plus the Flamin' fucking Groovies was too much to resist.

I'm so glad I went.

As expected, the setlist drew hard from the Jordan/Wilson years. Duh. And, despite the passing of years (the first album came out in 1969! Do the math.... These guys are older than you) the band rocked hard -- straight through both Wilson's and Jordan's sniffly colds that they, no doubt, picked up in England at a recent festival -- to deliver a killer set.

Highlights were a "First Plane Home" and "Yes I Am" that shimmered and jangled and rocked, and a "Between the Lines" that surprised me in its intensity. But the closing pair of the main set -- "Slow Death" and "Shake Some Action" -- were the kind of 1-2 knockout punch that most bands live their whole lives never to deliver. Stunning, dynamic and ... Wow, just wow. About 30 seconds into "Slow Death" I made sure to notch my "greatest moments I've ever seen onstage" belt. Damn, boys. Then the encore, "Teenage Head," was its Stonesy/Sticky-Fingers awesome self, and the creep factor of sixty-year-olds playing that one was at least diluted by Chris Wilson's quip as it began: "More like septuagenarian head, actually."

It was one of those "for the ages" gigs -- a classic, legendary band living up to its billing. Just one request, gentlemen: next time bring the show to Philadelphia.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Me, on a podcast; go check it out.

One of the things I am always encouraging paleo/primal newbies to do is to find a podcast or two that you dig, and sit back, kick up your feet and *learn*. There are a bunch of really good ones out there. There are even a few more that supply the listener with great info, but occasionally you might think a particular episode was recorded with two tins cans and a ball of string.

Well, the gold standard in casting those paleo pods is routinely set by Liz Wolfe and Diane Sanfilippo over at the Balanced Bites podcast, and by Robb Wolf and Greg Everett at the Paleo Solution podcast. But let me tell ya... Kendall Kendrick is also steadily and consistently kicking ass with her new Born Primal podcast. Kendall has a radio background, so no tins cans and balls of string here; plus she is a newly-minted Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and she knows her shit when it comes to ancestral health and food policy.

Well, recently, Kendall decided that I was so routinely headed here in Blogville into discussions about mind-body connections and meditation as a solution to stress that I was a potential podcast guest. A Facebook message or two later and she continued her (deluded?) mental state in that regard, and....we recorded an episode. Nice. It was fun.

Here it is. Or you can go over to iTunes and download it for free ("Born Primal podcast" is your search term.... Durrrr).

We talk about, well, everything, and how, you know, everything you do affects everything else, and how all that integrated-health/mind-body stuff that I am spieling about on a regular basis can, yeah.... change your fucking life.

Wouldn't that be nice? To change your life?

We even go on a bit about the notion of a Whole-30-style challenge, but for your brain. Like, what if you meditated every day for just 15 little minutes?

It's cool stuff. Go listen. (Or, y'know... don't. It's all just a big suggestion, kids).

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