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Entries in fitness (19)


back squats: life's answer to most of your problems

If you know me personally and have talked to me for more than thirty seconds the subject of back squats probably came up. 

Indeed it was one of the saddest parts of leaving the United States for me two years ago: saying good bye to Olympic training equipment, a coffee can of chalk, and power cages. Gyms in Mexico generally look like something time warped out of the 1980's: strength training has not caught on there and most folks are varying forms of Cardio Princesses (and Princes), spending countless hours on ellipticals and treadmills wondering when they'll look like the airbrushed model on the front cover of whatever magazine lied to them.

A few days ago I finally pushed myself a bit too hard. Although I've been slowly ramping back up, the cocktail of adrenaline and creatine in my blood stream pushed me over my limits and I wobbled away with stressed knees. My glutes were so banged up I could relate to beta male prison inmates.

Tuesday I had the day off lifting, but walking back and forth to work (roughly one mile and change each way) had my legs feeling banged up in the non-good way.

I entered the squat rack today with some hesitation. Actually I first stared at it in dismay because some clown had slid the flat bench in there and was doing 1/4 ROM bench presses.

So after that interesting fellow got out of there I racked some lighter weights, and gave it a go.

I've heard people say that "my church is the gym" and although that sounds ridiculous, I would say that for me the power cage is a pretty miraculous place.

You need to focus when you're doing this stuff. You have a lot to worry about, and it all comes down to your ability to control your mind and body. Especially when you start getting near your upper limits, you are in 100% concentration mode with neurons firing all over the place taking care of pain tolerance, muscle activation, balance, and coordination. 

At heavier loads, your body is quite literally about to be crushed under hundreds of pounds. It's akin to having a refrigerator on your shoulders: screwing around time is over, now it's time to focus if you want to get out of this one alive. You need to be in an extremely narrow zone of concentration and in a really scientific way much of your power comes from your mind's ability to physically generate electrical impulses. The raw volume of electricity your mind can send into your body is an extremely large component of your strength. Weight lifting truly makes your central nervous system (a.k.a. your brain) better.

Adaptive changes can occur in the nervous system in response to training. Electromyography studies have indicated adaptation mechanisms that may contribute to an increased efferent neuronal outflow with training, including increases in maximal firing frequency, increased excitability and decreased presynaptic inhibition of spinal motor neurons, and downregulation of inhibitory pathways.

So not only do my knees and glutes feel better after some nice moderate back squats, but my mind does as well. It's not just about endorphins: peer reviewed research studies at this point have piles of evidence showing that resistance training can be just as effective as psychotherapy

If you're feeling blue, get in that cage with your shoes off and an empty bar. Slowly pack on the plates until you reach that zen'd out moment. It's cheaper than church, and everyone's invited.


call me johnny fitness-seed

If you've read my blog before you know I'm "into fitness". It's a fairly lame term to be honest: people who drink water every day aren't necessarily "into water". They are both basic component parts of a healthy and functioning human body. You can't expect to live very long if you don't ingest fluids, nor will you have many long and happy years on Earth if you body is out of whack. I hate to break the bad news to you but the human body was never meant to sit on its ass for a dozen or more hours a day. Your hunger was not meant to be constantly sated. Our genetics are that of a rough-and-tumble genome with incredible athleticism. Find some other animals that can do some of these:


  • Walk, run, and swim for miles at a time, consecutively. And while we might not be the fastest on the land or in the sea we certainly make up for it with flexibility of terrain.
  • Climb up a horizontal rock wall with only hand and footholds.
  • Carry enough force in a well placed punch to break bone, brick, and wood.
  • Climb up a rope (or a vine).
  • Balance on a single leg while load bearing.
  • Throw objects an amazing distance coupled with devastating accuracy. This in particular shows not only our physical prowess but also how our powerful intellect combines with it to perform target-motion-analysis on the fly. Lacking any formal education in physics, humans are genetically capable of calculating the complex math around hitting a moving target with a projectile. Accuracy comes with practice, but find any other being, blood or machine, that can do the same. 


One thing I've enjoyed about pursuing fitness in Mexico is that it's allowed me to go beyond basic tourist status. A lot of it is pure logistics: routinely working out on the same piece of real estate for a few times a week gives you a good vantage point. Normally we're moving through the places we visit. But when you workout in a public place over and over again, you stay put and the surroundings come alive around you.

When scouting for a good workout site, top billing goes to a strong horizontal bar capable of supporting me dangling by my gymnast rings. Last week I found an optimal location: the plaza in the middle of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. The crowd has been growing every day and today my fitness cup overfloweth with nearly thirty kids at top end showing me their chops with the rings and my jump rope. 

Health skills that can last you a life time aren't really taught in schools, and not a lot of parents pick up the slack. Kids don't know the difference between a carburetor and a carbohydrate, and I double dog dare most anyone to give me an accurate estimate of the amount of protein you've eaten today, in grams. 

So I'm really proud that some of the local kids are taking an interest in fitness and I think in the months ahead I'll start carving out a basic routine for the more committed attendees. I figure if the United States has indeed exported obesity, I'm happy that as an American I can help to export some of our culture's better angels.


my current workout system

Managing to stay fit with two kids, living on a sailboat in a developing nation, and holding a job has been... interesting. But like fitness everywhere it's about priorities. For awhile I'd wake earlier to dodge the heat, but then the mosquitoes would be out in force. So then I needed to go in peak tropical heat, dead noon. Then I got heat exhaustion and almost fainted. So now I drink some salt water before I go. In the end, it's all about how bad you want it and how much shit you're willing to put up with.

Anyway, here's my routine and I'm pretty happy with it. I feel it's pretty balanced and has been helping me on a lot of asymmetrical problems: chances are you're weaker on one side of your body than the other. Everything I have fits into a backpack and I spend maybe a total of two hours a week working out, which breaks down to about ~45 minutes every couple of days. Sometimes I get lazy/busy and stretch it to three days.

Pack light.As far as gear goes, I pack light. I'm much more comfortable with barbells and although I have some kettebells onboard, the ability to cover distance and go somewhere good is critical. In order of importance is my bluetooth speaker, gymnast rings, chalk, map 3500 backpack, jump rope, and water bottle. Not pictured is me in some sneakers, gym shorts, and T shirt.

Location is everything. I find a place that has a load bearing horizontal bar that I can toss my ring straps over. Anything that's 6' - 15' off the ground will work which is actually an awful lot of stuff. Playgrounds in particular are target rich environments. Screw trying to workout on the boat: it's ridiculous. Even active sailors spend ~90% of their time not underway. So grab your bag, get your ass moving, and put your time in.

Upper body push: ring dips and clap pushups. I hate doing high reps so these are a great combo for me. Ring dips are just freaky awesome in general and if you can do 30 pushups you won't be able to do half of that with claps. These are the muscles, bones, and connective tissue that allow you to push things around with your hands.

Upper body pull: front and back levers, and pullups. Pullups really don't need a video. These are the parts of the body that let you pull things with your hands. If you're just getting started with rings I'd recommend focusing on the support position and inverted (supine) rows.

"Core": I hate that stupid term, but I do some planks and the single leg Romanian dead lifts make my abs hurt so I figure that's helping. If you do a lot of full body exercises you don't need to really worry about doing "core" work. If anyone starts talking to you about "core" exercises just walk away from them. Or mug them and take their money because you can safely assume they're not that strong.

Lower body push: pistol squats, vertical jumps, split jumps. These are the muscles that let you jump, kick, and lift your body off the ground. I use the jump rope a lot too, but mainly because I feel like Rocky Balboa.

Lower body pull: single leg Romanian deadlifts. These awesome little guys should be in anyone's arsenal regardless of the fitness equipment that might be at your disposal. They are deceptively simple but require staggering amounts of single foot balance and motor control. Plus, they're the only bodyweight hamstring exercise I know of that only requires a floor. These are super important and you do not want to have funky legs where your quads are strong but your glutes (ass) and hamstrings are weak: knee problem central.

I'm always tweaking my exercises, in large part because I like new challenges and it feels nice to progress up the food chain of increasing complexity. Hopefully some of this will help some other fitness-minded person out there struggling with ideas on how to not turn into a blob of goo when sailing around in whacky locations.


my lower lats vanished

Today's workout started with a 6:30am to get started before the evil globe of death (a.k.a. the sun) arrived. Forty five minutes or so to do two sets of all this, kettlebell used is a 53lb:

In other news I realized that my lower lats (latissimus dorsi) have vanished. It's the sad reality that a kettlebell and body weight can only get me so far. However I will now laugh in the face of muscular weakness as I bust out my rings. However rather than using them simply for dips and pullups, we now enter a new chapter in not letting myself turn into a ball of goo:

 Fitness is hard in a third world country during pitch heat. Part time sailing, where you have access to a gym somewhat regularly, is a whole different ball of wax. Unless you're spending months at a time in 100+ degree heat with zero gym access, it's really hard to convey exactly how difficult strength training can be.


what a la paz'atively great day

Roughing it.Our immediate "let's get these things done in La Paz" list is getting short so last night and tonight Cora and I went off to reconnoiter. Two targets were high on our list: a place to exercise, and the general layout of our host city.

Last night we dinghied over to El Migote and explored an abandoned palapa. On the plus side it's got a roof and enough strength to support my gymnastic rings, but it was about 20 minutes to motor there and just like living in a city if you need to drive 20 minutes to get to the gym you're probably not going to go.

So instead we went down the malecon (mahl-eh-cone) today and found that the beach has a bunch of little palapas, is offset from the main street a bit, can have a dinghy beached easily, and is close to Rebel Heart's current position.

The bags are packed tomorrow to head to the "gym", which will consist solely of the 53lb kettlebell, a pad of leather, and some kicks for running around doing sprints in the sand. Oh, and my kick-ass sound system. So for any La Paz residents if you hear Tupac or Dre down on the beach tomorrow morning: sorry bros that's just how I roll. 

But for tonight half of our children are already asleep, the other is working on it, and things are good. I ended up reading all these horrible stories on wikipedia today and it sounds trite to say, but the difference between having your healthy family on a yacht in a tropical paradise and being all f'd up by circumstance or your own mistakes (or both) is a very thin line.

One car accident, one careless mistake, or a twist of fate through no fault of your own can seal you off from your dreams forever. 

For any of you readers out there that are in the mental, physical, or financial throws of trying to get a boat "out here", keep the faith and don't quit. It's not all peaches and cream down here but it is worth it. You've got the whole rest of your life to sit around not sailing.


some pictures paddleboarding with cora on my yolo board

We took off around 11 or so once the sun popped out, and shot down to Harbor Island. There's a little beach about fifty yards long with a kid's playground (she's not interested at all). She grabs the sand and throws it in the water, for half an hour. A few more photos over here, and I'll post a link to the (boring) youtube of a video I made as well.



great turkish get up how-to video

Lately I've been shifting a lot of my fitness towards kettlebells, simply because they're a lot more practical for the boat. The Turkish get up (or "get up") is arguabbly one of the most effective functional movements out there you can do, and it's perfect to do with a kettlebell. It looks deceptively simple, but even if you have a lightweight kettlebell, a dumbell, or even a cloth bucket with sand in it, you can make this work.


cora and her kettlebell

Just thought I'd post a cute photo of Cora and her little four pound kettlebell. I'm in the background doing a Turkish get up. I think when she can do a get up with me, I'll be one happy dad. I'm of course already a really happy dad, but this will just make me happier.




tips for a beginner paddle boarder (sup)

I've been rocking my paddle board for a while, now onto my second board after a nasty problem with my first. It's an activity I really dig, and you can look at it as a sport (there are tons of races), a leisurely stroll through the water, or a great way to catch waves (most boards surf great). In general though I've found a few tips that I thought would be helpful for anyone getting into paddle boarding.


- Not all boards are created equal. Cheaper boards have thinner finishes (that crack easier) and lack desirable features like vent plugs you don't need to think about. Cheap boards will require the vent plug to be removed and installed with a wrench, as where a better board will have a membrane that allows air to escape but water to not go in. No muss, no fuss. If you leave the plug in on a hot day, you can literally destroy the board through delamination where the fiberglass literally separates from the foam.

- The boards are huge. Even a "small" board will be about ten feet long, a "normal" is around twelve, and performance race boards are fourteen and more. Moving them around on land should be done slowly and carefully as it's really easy to smash them into things. Walking around with them in the wind can be really dangerous.

- Buy some Solarez because eventually you'll get some damage you need to repair. Solarez cures in a few minutes in sunshine so you can be in the water quickly, and it keeps water from getting into the board causing the foam to suck up moisture. Put the Solarez on the ding, put a piece of Ziplock bag over it, smooth the whole thing, wait a few seconds, pull the bag up. The repair will be pretty damn smooth and locked tight within five minutes.

- A "cheap" board will cost you around $700, a "nice" board is about $1500. This isn't to say that price necessarily dictates quality, but like most things the two tend to go hand in hand. An example of a cheap manufacturer is Tower, and nice would be Yolo or Naish.

- A good paddle is around $200. Carbon fiber, stiff. Read up on the "shaka" length for how long it should be.

- Consider a bag. They're expensive, around $200, but they protect your investment and if you whack a bagged board into a wall the chances of damage are much lower than if you smacked the board directly in. Plus if you leave the board out in the sun uncovered it will eventually fry the paint job and make the foam you stand on turn to dust.

- EPS foam, what 90% of the boards are made with, suck up water like a sponge. Once you get water in your board, it's pretty screwed. If you have a maintenance free vent plug (quality board), the only way you're getting water in is through a ding or crack. So make sure you fix those as quickly as possible.

Form / technique:

- Keep your lower arm locked forward. Basically you want to reach as far as you can with your lower arm and stick the paddle in the water as close to the board as you can, keep the lower arm straight, then pull yourself towards the paddle while "punching the air" with the high arm that is clutching the top of the paddle. Get the paddle out of the water before it's behind your feet.

- To remind yourself to reach as far as you can, keep your lower arm locked and push it as far out as you can (and twist yourself a bit so your shoulder goes towards it as well). In this position you have a fully extended lower arm. Keep the lower arm straight and locked until you're done with the stroke. If you're applying power your lower arm should be locked straight.

- You rarely paddle stroke for stroke on one side then another. Typically there is wind involved which will require you to be paddling maybe three strokes on one side for two on the other, or something similar to that.


- You can put toddlers on paddle boards. I put Cora on mine all the time, with her sitting between my legs. She's fallen in once and it was no big deal. A bigger problem is that they get much more wet than you will, and they also aren't huffing and puffing like you are. Here in the Eastern Pacific the water temps are typically in the low 60's so it's quite easy to get hypothermia even on a warm day. Give some consideration to warmth in addition to the obviousness of a good PFD.

- Technically a paddle board is a vessel so if you operate it in US waters you need a PFD (not necessarily worn), a whistle or other sound signalling device, and at night a white light sufficient to be seen and used in such a way as to avoid collisions. I never carry any of those but I might start, especially if I spend more time in the busy channel.

Physical body:

- It's a pretty good workout. It will take a while to get real calorie load estimates and much depends on the speed and conditions. Like running, there's a big difference between the calorie consumption of a 6 minute mile versus a 10 minute mile; the faster of the two consumes almost double the calories of the slower.

- You can alter your stroke but primarily this seems to work your forearms (you will develop an iron grip), triceps, chest, lower and mid lats, rhomboids, erector spinea, abs, and your general hip area. It's fairly full body but there are some areas (upper back and arms) that are being taxed far more than your glutes. Yes, your glutes are being used, but unless you are a complete wimp the work effort there is minimal compared to what glutes can really do.

- There is no "core" muscle. There are muscles throughout your body and people call the ones in the middle your "core", which to me is stupid. "Core strength" is up there with "tone" for nonsense fitness terms used by people who have no idea what the fuck they are talking about.

- You might get blisters and you will for sure get calluses. Four notes of wisdom for this. 1) Ramp up slowly and give your body a chance to adapt. 2) Keep your hands dry as long as possible. Wet hands are about 10x easier to get blistered and screwed up than dry ones. If they get wet, wipe them off the best you can on your trunks (hopefully your trunks are dry). If it's really snot conditions outside, consider gloves. Do not use gloves to avoid developing necessary calluses. 3) Keep some bandaids in your pocket so that if you get a blister or rip some skin you can do something about it. It won't work miracles, but you'll be glad you had something. 4) The "no popping blisters" rule is sort of bullshit and is pedalled by doctors who don't want people getting infections. I can dig that, but if you have a big blister full of goo, sterilize a needle and pop that thing. Don't be dumb and take care of it like you would any cut.

- Your feet might get numb. Moving your feet around seems like a really bad idea initially, but as soon as you can practice lifting the ball of your foot on your non stroke side. For example if you are in the middle of stroking on the right side, pop the ball of your foot up on your left so you're just on the left heel (and a flat right foot). Then do the same for the right foot when you're stroking on the left. You don't need to do this all the time and it can be risky when the board is flying around everywhere but doing it whenever you remember (every few minutes, for a minute or so) is a great way to keep the blood moving in your feet and prevent numb feet.

Other websites that can provide you with great information:



the point of fitness, i think

As a disclaimer, there are many people much more intelligent about fitness than myself, and I personally know several folks (and see many more) who can clown me all day in numerous aspects of physicality. This is my blog; I don't really talk about this all that often in person, so please x out the tab right now if this isn't your cup of whey.

In a previous post I talked about giving up barbells. That probably seems really miniscule to a lot of people, but remember that barbells are what basically got my fat ass in shape and made me not ashamed to take my shirt off, even in my own bedroom with my wife. They made me stronger, leaner, more confident, and more aware of my body. Find something that did all that for you and then take it away: how would you feel?

Everyone has their own reason for fitness. Body builders (which I'm not) are into border-line body modification, power lifters huff huge weight, and Olympic lifters snap incredible weights with technical moves that must be reviewed in split frame slow motion because of the speed they can muster. Some people are in it for vanity, others for health, and most a blend of several things.

For me, fitness is essentially about being able to live the life I want to live. It gives me a body that lets me climb mountains, hop on a paddleboard and zip around the harbor, go running with a friend, and yes, I'm going to a pool party tomorrow and although I won't be mistaken for a cast member of Jersey Shore I also might get a few smiling glances from the primarily gay male crowd. Beyond all that, I do strength training to build muscles which hopefully fends off injuries. Overall fitness slashes my chances of getting a host of ailments, and weights combined with running and enough calcium mean I'm doing as much as I can to keep arthritis at bay.

I want to be able to go running and lift weights with my daughter when she's in her twenties, and if she can smoke me athletically it's going to be because she earned it fair and square.

The point of fitness is not to sit around and squat more weight. You need to squat weight in order to be fit, but the real core of it all is to be able to live a long and healthy life, doing everything you want to the fullest. A body that responds as well as it can. You can't be 25 forever but since you're going to be 50 one day you have to pick if you want to be a broken down old man or a shredded beast. I'm giving up my barbell and switching to other activities, but it's part of the big goal which is enjoying life to its fullest. If you never leave the gym and stay within range of Olympic lifting gear your whole life, how much of the world can you really see? How much can you really do?