Working Out vs. Training

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Working Out vs. Training

Author: Ross Oberlin

Imagine, if you will, that you’re walking into your first day of a college course.  You sit down in your seat and to begin the first class, the professor hands out an exam.  “Ok”, you think.  “They just want to assess what we know on day one”.  And that’s fine, right?  They’re testing you to see what the class knows and determine the best course of action for educating you over the coming months.

But what if on day 2, you’re met with another exam.  And the same goes for day 3, day 4, and so on.

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How long would it take for you to walk down to the registrar’s office and ask for a refund?  For me, I think I’d be done on day 3.

And why would we be upset?  Why would we ask for a refund?  Because we didn’t pay to be tested.  We paid for an education and testing is only the means to confirm that we actually learned something during the course.

THAT is the difference between working out and training. 

Now, language matters here.  We have a clear definition of the difference between the two.  If you happen to “train” as we define it, but you just call it working out, that’s fine.  What matters here is intent.

Working out is a single, one off session.  It exists in a vacuum.  It doesn’t have context of larger goals that we might have.  Goals that can’t be achieved in a single session (ie; any goal).  Working out is just going to the gym and “doing some stuff” without a plan.  It’s honestly how a lot of folks approach their training, and it’s why they struggle to get the results they want.

Training means that every single training session exists in a larger context.  That they are all structured to reach a larger goal.  Training means having a plan when you go to the gym.

We’re not just training to get tired or sweaty. We’re training to get better, and even though it feels good to get tired and sweaty, we’re able to think bigger than that.

It seems so obvious when explained this way, but if we do an honest audit of our training program, many of us will realize that we aren’t following this thought process.  It’s hard to know what your training program should look like when you have big goals.  It’s even more difficult to know if you’re doing the right things, especially because if you’re wrong, it might take months before you realize it.

That’s why our individualized training and programming is so valuable to our members.  In addition to the coaching, community, and culture, folks like to know that we’ve not only looked far down the road in regards to their goals, but we’ve already walked that road ourselves.

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And every once in a while, we test.  We have a one-off session where we test and assess to see where we’re at.  It might be testing our strength numbers, or our conditioning, or a combination of things.  Once we’ve located “where we’re at” we continue to move towards “where we want to go”.

This is why rather than working out, we train.

This is why our gym slogan is: “Stop Working Out.  Start Training.”

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Food and Exercise: Enemies That Were Never Meant To Be

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Author: Abby Resek

A thought: we so often talk about food and exercise as if they cancel each other out. 

For example, have you ever read anything like: “Unless you have good, clean nutrition, all the exercise means nothing”?

Or thought to yourself while enjoying a burger or a bowl of ice cream, “I’ll have to burn this off tomorrow”?

Does reading those things now make you feel stressed out? Because it makes me feel stressed out. When we read things like this, or say them to ourselves, we’re approaching food as something we need to punish ourselves for eating (and, by extension, viewing exercise as that punishment). 

In a word, we’re talking about food and exercise as if they cancel each other out – as if one can somehow take away something from the other. Telling ourselves that exercise means nothing without ‘clean’ nutrition can leave us feeling hopeless – like moving and exercising is pointless unless we’re doing everything else perfectly too, so why even bother? As if when we train hard, or go on a run, or enjoy some yoga, and then eat a burger and fries, suddenly that work didn’t happen. 

Here’s the thing to remember: it did happen. Whenever you move or exercise, that’s meaningful and purposeful and helpful, regardless of what you do before or after. You moved, you exercised, you devoted time to yourself. In a word, you still did the thing!

And yes, there’s a science to nutrition and exercise: carbs are fuel, protein helps rebuild muscle after workouts. But step away for a minute from the ‘best’things to eat before or after a workout, and instead try to think about food as something that can help you when you exercise, not take something away. 

            Next time you sit down to enjoy a good burger or a big ol’ plate of fish and chips, instead of viewing all that good hearty food as a crime for which you’ll have to punish yourself (i.e. ‘burn off’), think about how it can help fuel you later. Maybe shoot for a heavy deadlift the next day. Or maybe you’ll feel fueled for a long walk the next morning. Or maybe just enjoy it, because it’s good food and it deserves to be enjoyed – and you deserve to enjoy it. 

            Similarly, be proud of yourself when you exercise. Exercise, after all, is not a means to cancel out the food you make. Instead, exercise converts all that good fuel into movement – it doesn’t cancel out that food, but makes it more beneficial. 

            The point is, when we view food and exercise as things that negate each other, we’re misunderstanding that relationship, we’re taking away from our own accomplishments, and we’re making it a lot more difficult to enjoy either to their fullest. Think about how the two can make each other better – because nothing tastes better than a sandwich after a long hike, and nothing makes a workout as enjoyable as some good fuel before and some tasty protein after. Because, in the end, exercise and food belong together. 

            

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Bane is Bad Ass. The Training Mask is Not.

Yes.

Yes.

No.

No.

Author: Ross Oberlin

Fitness marketing works and damn, does it work really well.

Earlier this week, I was coaching one of our athletes.  Smart kid, and one hell of an athlete, currently playing for a D1 Collegiate Football team.

In the process of a conversation about training, we started discussing pieces of equipment that are not useful, and I brought up the Training Mask.  He was surprised, and noted that he thought that was a really good piece of equipment and he had actually been considering buying one.

Save your money, bud. (80 bucks!!!)

I’m constantly reminded (although not enough) that because so much of my time is spent in a small circle of high level strength coaches, that I sometimes forget what is marketed to the general population.  Many of the coaches I spend time with are busy actually coaching.  They’re actually developing high-level athletes.  When we’re focused on that, we often don’t have the loudest voice in the social media landscape.

And that’s a big problem.  It leaves openings in the landscape for snake oil salesmen.

See, amongst the coaches that I consider peers, not a single one of them that I know of would advise their athletes to use the training mask.

But outside of that circle?  It’s a product that has a strong hype machine, complemented by the fact that it makes you look like Bane.  And since Bane is a bad ass, wouldn’t wearing these masks help make you a bad ass as well?

In short, no.

 

Let’s briefly breakdown the many claims made by the training mask, and why they’re not valid.

“Simulates training at altitude” – This USED to be the central claim that the Training Mask made. I don’t think they removed this claim for ethical reasons.  I think they had to because this claim is plain false.  With that said, their marketing images still impliy this, and there seems to be no effort to correct users of the product who still believe that’s what it does.

Training (but really, living) at altitude puts us into an environment where the change in atmospheric pressure reduces the concentration of oxygen in the air.  As a result, our body produces more red blood cells to transport more oxygen to our tissues to make up for, or buffer the lower concentration of oxygen in the air we’re breathing.

Once a person leaves elevation, they retain the increased level of red blood cells for a period of time (possibly for months).  The result is having increased endurance levels.  Our heart and lungs don’t need to work as hard, because our body is absorbing more oxygen per breath.  When you hear about ‘blood doping’, that’s an artificial way of creating this effect by adding blood to our system through an IV.

The reason the Training Mask can’t claim this anymore is because this isn’t what’s happening.  All the mask does is reduce the amount of air you’re able to inhale.  It doesn’t alter the amount/concentration of oxygen in that air.

 

“Improves Respiratory Compensation Threshold & Ventilatory Threshold” – Oooooh, big words! 

Respiratory Compensation Threshold = This is accepted as the point where ventilation becomes excessive in relation to the amount of CO2 volume.  Essentially, we can’t exhale CO2 as fast as we need to.  As of the posting of this blog, there is not yet a reliable method for identifying/measuring RCT.  And since we can’t yet reliably measure it, no one should be making claims about their ability to influence this marker.

Ventilatory Threshold = This is accepted as the point where ventilation becomes excessive in relation to oxygen volume.  Essentially, we can’t inhale oxygen as fast as we need to.  This is a more reliable marker to identify and track, but that doesn’t mean the mask improves it.

On the Training Mask website, there’s a single study that is continuously cited for these claims.  The study is on PubMed.  The abstract as well as the full study contains very specific, technical, and boring language, as any scientific study should.  It’s the sort of thing their average consumer wouldn’t be interested in reading.  Are objective studies good?  Is scientific review important?  Of course.

But does that study truly support the claims that it’s being paired with on their website? No.  It just doesn’t.  The claims on the website are worded in a way where they toe the line, and avoid flat-out lying, but the science just isn’t there.

 

“Hypoxic Environments stimulate increased Growth Hormone levels” – I love this one.  Yes, there is research that suggests training under a hypoxic environment (think: blood flow restriction training) can stimulate a growth hormone response.

But note what they’re NOT claiming.  They’re not claiming that their product can create this hypoxic environment.  They’re simply hoping that you’ll make the incorrect connection that their product can do that.

 

“Strengthens Respiratory Muscles” – This is the one claim that might have some actual truth to it.  By restricting the volume and rate of air you’re able to inhale, the mask may be able to resist and “strengthen” your diaphragm, intercostals, and other respiratory muscles.

But even if that is true, is it a good thing?  Is altering the balance and rhythm within our body and how it functions, especially for respiration -  a positive?  I’m not so sure. 

There’s plenty of good information and research on how to improve your quality of respiration and cardiovascular fitness without a mask on your face.  I’d much rather go for the low hanging fruit than drastically alter something that may not even assist me.

 

“So-and-so famous athlete uses it” – Yep.  And they’re paid money to use it – or at least wear it for a photo shoot.  And they were a great athlete before they ever wore it.  They won the genetic lottery, you didn’t.  You will not become them by wearing this mask.  Sorry.

 

This really comes down to a concept that’s so simple when explained, but immediately gets clouded when someone is trying to sell an image and product:

 

Maximum Effort vs. Maximum Output

What I hope we can all agree on is that wearing a mask that restricts your breathing makes it harder to do physical activities, especially ones under duress or fatigue.

Even under that environment, someone should still be able to give me “Maximum Effort”.  If someone struggles with that, I wouldn’t put a mask on them to help get them to that point.  I would talk with them to establish goals and motivations to find their “why” to help achieve maximum effort in training.

With maximum effort established, there’s still a bigger piece to the puzzle.  If there is any speed or power component to an athlete’s sport, which is almost every sport, what I really need to train is their “Maximum Output”. 

Maximum Effort + Maximum Potential = Maximum Output. 

Once an athlete is buried by fatigue, stress, and duress, their Maximum Potential is not possible, and no matter how hard they try, they can no longer produce Maximum Output.

Need to see this in a real world example?

Put two athletes on a field, and let’s have them run 20 yard hill sprints with a 90 second rest between sprints.  Both athletes are giving me Maximum Effort every sprint.  The one wearing a mask however, is unable to fully recover between sprints. 

While they’re still giving me max effort, they have dropped off from max potential and are no longer producing max output. 

The mask wearing athlete is no longer training Speed.  They’re no longer training in an environment that will get them faster.  They’re still training at max effort, but by putting on a mask that is driving fatigue, they’re training a different quality than they think they are.

 

This example can be displayed in both short, acute bouts of training, or longer ones as well.  In any instance, the mask will quickly rob you of your maximum potential, and you will be pulled away from getting more high quality, max output reps in.

This is why the training mask is not a useful tool.  Understanding the differences between these concepts (effort vs. potential vs. output) should help you to understand why.

Also, this whole thing was predicated on making us look cool like Bane, right?

BANE WEARS HIS MASK TO ADMINISTER VENOM/ANESTHETIC TO NUMB THE BRUTAL PAIN OF HIS PREVIOUS INJURIES!  IS THAT THE SAME REASON YOU’RE WEARING ONE!?

If you will die, or be in terrible pain without some sort of mask over your face, then please wear one.  If not, maybe you should just train hard, and not require a silly costume to get the job done.  The mental game is a big part of training and performance, I get that.  Wearing a mask that makes you feel bad ass might help your mental game.  But you can’t compete with the mask.  If it’s where your confidence was coming from, you’ll feel naked once competition time comes.

Invest in your mental game.  Meditate.  Visualize.  This will do for more for your performance than any mask ever can.

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Listening instead of Controlling

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Author: Abby Resek

I’ve started realizing how often I see the word ‘control’ when people talk about health, and especially about how we eat. The concept of portion control, for example. Control crops up in other, sneakier places too – like the idea of self control. Taking control of your body. This seems like a positive thing, and often it’s not coming from people who are trying to shame you – in fact, it’s usually people trying to describe the journey towards a healthier relationship between you and food, you and fitness. 

But I think there’s a problem here.

The land of self-control, the place people envision when they talk about self-control, might not be an inherently bad place. I think what we’re thinking about when we say ‘self-control’ is a world in which we understand our food and our bodies, and we know how to do what’s best for them. We’re not consumed by anxieties or behaviors that would seek to control us – rather, we controlourselves. And I can see why this seems like a good goal, and why, then, we use the language of ‘control’. 

But what happens when we’re in this world?  When we have negative behaviors? When we over-eat and feel uncomfortable, when we dig into that box of cookies we told ourselves we would absolutely not touch? We’re thinking about it in terms of control, and so when we’re not at an 'ideal' place with food, we think it's because we’re out of control. We think we are lacking in self-control, that these behaviors are a deficit or personal failure of some kind.   

And that’s what I think the problem is. When the goal is control, then anything outside of that is ‘out-of-control’. We think we need to have throttle our impulses, and in that we will find success. If we ‘let ourselves go’, if we ‘lose control’, we have failed. This becomes tangled up in our idea of self-worth, and soon enough we’re evaluating ourselves as good or bad people based on what we eat. 

So, when we’re thinking about food, I propose we should try to let go out ‘control’, and in doing so, let go of ‘out of control’ also. I think we should just redo this framework. Your body gives you cues – when you’re hungry or thirsty, when you’re full, when you’re tired. One of the hardest parts of being human is that we don’t always know how to listen to these cues. Seriously. I’m not going to say “Just listen to your body!” because for most people, what the hell does that even mean?The seemingly simple rule “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” doesn’t work when we live in a society that’s constantly interfering with our sense of need. It’s a frustrating oversimplification – I’ve seen that and I’ve experienced it. 

What I’m going to suggest instead, and I know this is a subtle difference, is that we try to listen to our bodies by using the language of listening to our bodies. What I mean is something like this. 

My class schedule on some days of the week is real long, and for a while, I tried eating a big breakfast to get me through until I could get home and have lunch. But, by the time I made it home, I was ravenous. I would eat huge lunch, and then feel terrible for the rest of the afternoon. I was completely stuffed with food, I was terribly uncomfortable, and I would wonder why why why do I keep over-eating? Why can’t I have a normal sized lunch when I know I'll feel stuffed and sluggish otherwise, why can’t I get a grip?

I realized it wasn’t actually anything wrong with me – it wasn’t an issue of self-control. I just needed a god damn snack sometime earlier in the day. So instead of “I can’t control myself when I get so hungry”, I tried to think “My body is asking me to give it food a little bit earlier”. I know, I know – eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full sounds so easy, but I understand it’s NOT. But – thinking in terms of self-control is not the way to fix this. When food is about control, you’re not eating because you’re hungry – you eat because you’re allowing yourself to eat. Food shouldn’t be a question of allowance or deservingness. A lot of our problems with food – with feeling bad when we eat certain things, with our endless frustrations – has less to do with what we’re eating and more to do with how we think and feel about food. So, I suggest we take a step back from what we’re eating, and try to focus instead on what our body is asking for. And I suggest we do this by changing the way we talk to ourselves.  

Our lives often aren’t constructed in a way that makes it easy for us to figure out what our bodies want from us. It’s often absurdly difficult to figure out. And what makes it harder is that there’s no universal answer. And, in some ways, I think this is what we’re looking for – we’re creating unreasonable plans for our eating schedules and diets,and getting frustrated when we can’t stick to them. I’m suggesting we do our best to take a step back, and take on the monumental task of listening to what our body is asking us for. 

Sometimes your body is telling you it needs a snack before lunch.

Sometimes it’s telling you that you’re not eating enough.

Sometimes it’s telling you that you ate a little more than it needed. 

Sometimes it’s saying thank you for eating all those wonderful vegetables. 

Sometimes it’s saying you really want a cupcake, so just eat the cupcake. 

There’s no shame in not knowing these cues, but there’s a lot to be gained from trying to learn. In a lot of cases, they’ve been buried by all sorts of societal factors – our work schedules, sleep schedules, family lives, how we grew up with food, how food and diets are advertised to us. Sometimes these are things we cannot change. What I’m suggesting here is, instead of controlling our bodies, maybe we could try to get to know them instead.  

 

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Learning to Appreciate Movement

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Author: Abby Resek

I’ve been trying to do more yoga recently. Sometimes I go to a class. Sometimes I use my favorite YouTube Channel. Sometimes I improvise a flow on my own. Sometimes I practice for about 5 minutes, and then end up sitting cross-legged on my matt for an hour with a cup of coffee and my laptop.

            Sometimes I end up a ball of sweat. Sometimes I don’t feel different at all. Either way, it’s worth the same: it’s allowing me to practice and appreciate movement for what it is, not what it does

            Let me explain. For most of my life, movement has been a means to an end. I ran because I wanted to participate in races and relays with my family. I started strength training to avoid pain. Then I was strength training to get stronger, or to lose fat. Or, long term, to have good posture and feel comfortable as I age. 

            I walked because I needed to get to the store. I biked to get to work. I climbed stairs because I needed to do laundry. 

            I started to realize: I was moving because I expected it to give me something. Because of this, I started to feel it weighing on me. If it didn’t give me the results I wanted – if I failed a deadlift, if I didn’t bike fast enough, if long distance running just didn’t feel good – I felt stress. Movement began to alternate between something I looked forward to, and something that was a source of stress because I felt like I should be doing it because I needed results. After a lift, I would feel inclined to sit in my chair for the rest of the day because I already did my work today, thank you. And, after feeling this stress accumulate and turn into something indisputably negative, I started to think perhaps I should be treating movement as an entity in and of itself. Something to be treasured and loved and appreciated, whether it provided anything tangible or not. So I started trying to practice yoga. 

            I don’t think there’s anything inherent in yoga that doesn’t exist in other movements – in strength training or running or walking or anything else – but what it did for me was provide a medium for movement where I didn’t have any goals or expectations. I was moving because it felt good – I was moving for the sake of movement. 

            I’ve been searching for that appreciation in other places. I find it in walks in the sunshine. In putting in my earbuds and taking my first step out the door. In stretching sore muscles in the morning. In squatting to the floor to pet my cat. In running as fast as I possibly can, then resting as long as I want. In feeling strong when I swing a heavy kettlebell. 

            This isn’t to say goals are bad – not at all. Strive for that heavy deadlift, reach for that pull-up, pursue that growth and change. What I’m suggesting, and what I’m trying to bring into my own life, is balance. Movement is often a means to an end, but it is also something wonderful without that. What if, while you were strength training, you took a deep breath and brought some of that joy to your squat, your deadlift, your bench press? What if, sometimes, you let your badass movements be enough, just by virtue of what they are? For those times you walk into the gym and you just don’t have it, you feel tired, you feel the struggle, take a step back. It is enough just to move. 

            Appreciate movement because you can, because it’s part of who you are. Appreciate it for what it does for you, the places it brings you, the strength it gives you, but remember that it’s something worthwhile not just for what it does, but for what it is.  

            

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