Friday, January 31, 2014

14 Fitness Myths for 2014

New Year, new you? Maybe. But here are some of the more common fitness myths that I've encountered that could be holding you back. Apologies for delaying this to February, but I'm sure you're all still riding the New Year's high when you think about those resolutions anyway.

1. Crunches = Six Pack Abs

When did this misconception come around? And why do people still believe that simply doing crunches is the best way to go about getting a six pack. To be brutally honest, no exercise you do will get you a six pack. The best way to go about getting the tone and definition is by changing your diet first. The average guy needs to drop to below 8% body fat to see at least the outline of their abdominal muscles. Until then, it doesn't matter how many crunches you do or how strong your abdominals are, they're not going to show up. Which brings me to number two...

2. Abs = Core

No, no, and no. The abdomen is part of the core, however the core is actually comprised of the abdominals, abductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and most importantly, back.

Simply working the abdominals by doing crunches is the reason so many people get hurt. They believe that they're working their core, but in reality, they're creating imbalances. Focusing solely on the abdominals is the reason many people suffer from poor posture and back pain because the abdominals draw the gut in and the push the back out, creating a slouch and leading to all sorts of troubles.

3. Minimalism is the (only) Way

When Born to Run was published in 2009, it suddenly became this gospel of truth for runners. Now, five years later, sales of minimal footwear have tapered off, but the movement has cemented itself in the running world. And there are still those who drink the Kool-Aid and tell every person that they know that minimalism is the best and only way to run.
What they don't tell you is that minimal running doesn't decrease the impact your body takes, it merely shifts where that shock goes. Those running in traditional, high drop running shoes typically see more knee issues. Minimal runners shouted from the rooftops that they had finally found the solution to knee injury, only to discover later that they were having an increasing number of metatarsal injuries such as stress fractures. Do some research, test the waters, and decide for yourself.

4. Cardio = Lean and Ripped

For Joe Average, cardio is awfully appealing. It's not as painful as weight training and it offers a way to slim down and get in shape over the winter to present a lean and toned body for the summer beaches. But while Joe or Jane initially sees good results, they start to taper off, and eventually, even thought Joe or Jane are in great condition, that stubborn belly fat won't disappear, no matter how far they go. Their weight loss goes from a pound a week to nearly nothing, the minor fluctuations are easily explained by water weight.
See number one for the solution (kidding), in the mean time, let's get on to number five...

5. Intervals are for Serious Runners

This always astounds me. People are afraid to run fast. They think that long and slow is the best way to lose weight. And up to a point, it's great to be burning calories that way. But the thing about humans is, we're remarkably efficient runners. We have a number of physiological advantages that make it possible for us to theoretically run a hundred miles on our fat reserves at that long and slow pace. As a coach of mine once put it, "The point isn't to run slow. Hell, with two bad knees I could still shuffle my way to Estes Park going slow." Running over our aerobic threshold ignites our metabolism. This means that even after we stop running, our body burns more calories at rest, which in turn means that with the proper diet, you can burn that extra fat. Try adding some striders to the end of your long, slow runs.
6. Breads and Pastas are (still) Necessary

Yes, carbohydrates are necessary. But looking at new research, we've discovered that the best way to get the majority of our energy is through healthy fats. In fact, recent research has suggested that carbohydrates that are derived from grains and simple sugars are the leading cause of inflammation, i.e.: the reason our blood vessels constrict. While they are necessary, the best way to them is through fruits and some veggies, such as sweet potatoes, with the occasional bowl of rice thrown in. You wonder why the Japanese are living so long? Look no further than rice and fish, the healthy carb and the healthy fats.
Yeah, the USDA can flip the pyramid on its side, but the fundamentals remained the same, even though we do not need 6-11 servings of carbs.

7. No Carbs Are Better

Recently, we've seen a big surge in the paleo diet. In fact, that was the most searched diet term in 2013. Having had personal experience with the paleo, I can tell you that to the average person, the paleo is great (after the first two weeks). Let me give you a run down: No grains, basically no carbs what so ever. No legumes (including peanuts). No simple sugars. Fish, lean meats, chicken, limited dairy, lots of healthy fats and veggies. The idea here is that those grains and legumes are poisonous to us in their raw form and that we should only eat things that our ancestors would eat.
However, the paleo deprives you of carbohydrates. That's why it's rough for the first couple weeks, because your body is used to fueling itself from the carbohydrates and simple sugars. After that, it's pretty nice. In fact, I broke the 5% body fat barrier while on the paleo. However, as my mileage ramped up, I found that I kept bonking. See, we need some carbs. Certainly not the 300+ that we're told. What I didn't know at the time is that rice and sweet potatoes are allowed for endurance athletes. But if you're not doing crazy miles and want to lose some of that body fat, the paleo can be great.

8. We Need Stuff

We're told today that we need a lot of stuff. Particularly for a sport like triathlon. We need a special watch, a bike computer, aerodynamic hydration options, a fuel belt! Good Lord. In all honesty, we don't need any of that. The average triathlete is being bombarded by advertisements. If the pros use it, the age groupers should too. However, the vast majority of age groupers don't need that stuff. If you're just out to finish a triathlon, you don't need to save 20 seconds on a 40km course. Marginal gains are just that. Save hundreds, you'll swim/bike/run faster just knowing that in the back of your head.

9. To Do Something Well, Do It A Lot

Refer to my post regarding endurance here for more on this. The mentality needs to change here. Yes, there are certain people that can ramp up the mileage incessantly and not end up in the doctor's office, but for the most part, the mentality of doing a lot of miles is rarely scientific. Were it, we'd see a lot less injuries, but too often, we instead see people ramping up the miles too quickly and/or doing far too many at one time. The rule of thumb is: No more than 10% increase per week. Let's keep it that way.

10. Triathlons Are Hard/Scary

Triathlon is emerging as a new sport for people to try. I love nothing more than watching the kids' race before my wave because it's inspiring to see how excited these kids get over doing something they love. But when I talk to older folks, they're put off by it. "Oh, you do triathlons?" I can see what they're actually thinking is "You're insane."
That's sad to me. In all honesty, triathlons are no harder than sprinting the 400m. But for some reason, I know a lot of people who are perfectly willing to run a marathon, but not try a triathlon. They're very different, but they're both challenging in their own way. In fact, I would encourage everyone to try a sprint distance triathlon at least once. You'll learn some new things, become fit, and meet some awesome people. Let's make 2014 the year of the triathlon.

11. The Elliptical Is (still) Awesome
Anyone here watch Jimmy Tatro on YouTube? His videos are sort of niche videos, they're usually watched by the 16-25 male demographic, but I think quite a few of them are pretty hilarious even though I usually eschew that sort of humor. An excerpt from his video "Gym Etiquette" goes something like this: "I look at the ellipticals and I see girl, girl, girl, girl...and then that one guy."
Now, this isn't necessarily true, at least the part about just girls on the elliptical. I see plenty of guys at my college gym on them. But while the elliptical can be a great cross training tool (see: zero impact), I feel like a lot of people rely on it. Why? Simple, the elliptical is self regulating. You choose the pace. At least on a treadmill, you're urged along by the fact that your feet come precariously close to the edge if you slow down or start to doze off. I see girls at the gym all the time. They start out at a frenetic pace, and ten minute later, they're done. That's not cardio, that's not interval training, that's dumb. If you really want zero impact, go to the pool. Get a full body workout in.

12. Leg Day is Overrated
Clearly I spend too much time on YouTube. You're going: Really, mentioning two YouTube channels in one post? Yes, yes I am. BroScienceLife is run by a meat head named Dom, who makes all sorts of satirical videos regarding the gym life of a bro. And there's one dedicated to skipping leg day.
It's hilarious, at least to me. But I would never skip leg day. I'll be the first to tell you, I do next to zero weight training. As an endurance athlete, I find some beneficial, but 98% of my time is spent swimming, biking, or running. But fitness can be attained multiple ways. Why would you take away the biggest muscle groups, with the biggest potential and largest calorie burn by only working your upper half? Simple...

13. I Can Get This in 10 Minutes

If there's one thing that has stuck with me from the coaches I've had over the years, it's the mentality that you can't just sit around and expect results. You have to want to be better, faster, stronger. But look no further than Pinterest to see a million and one "Get this body in 20 minutes" workouts.
While these workouts may burn a quick hundred calories, what people need to know is that getting that body isn't about the workout itself, it's about the lifestyle. Are you cutting out the simple sugars, the salts, and the breads? Do you get 8 hours of sleep a night? Are you monitoring your calorie intake and adjusting it to your daily needs? Too often, I see people who these workouts and use them as an excuse to indulge.
Let me set something straight: I have nothing against these short, sweet workouts. A twenty minute workout is better than no workout but people need to be realistic when it comes to their goals. Want to drop 10 lbs. Probably not going to happen if you're just doing this workout without changing other aspects of your lifestyle.

14. Diets = Bland, Gross Foods

And finally, diets. People hear the word "diet" and immediately think "Ugh, SlimFast for breakfast again." No, no, no. A diet is way of eating, and the diets the industry is selling your are wrong. There are other diets besides the turn-breakfast-into-a-bland-shake diet. Try the paleo for a week. But regardless of what diet you choose, it should be filled with whole, natural foods, not those from a plant that were made by some machine.

 Guys, let's make 2014 our year. Let's get fitter, faster, and run longer, harder. Cheers, Logan

Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris First Impressions

My friends joke that I spend too much time shopping/looking at shoes. My response: The correct number of shoes to own is N+1 where N is the number of shoes that are currently owned. So with that in mind, and a pair of shredded Nikes in hand, I hit up to look for a new pair. I knew several things. I wanted semi-minimal, something I hadn't had in my lineup for a while. The long run space is taken up by my Newton Gravity. My pure minimal, off road shoe is the Skora Phase. My racing flat is the Adidas Adios 2. The last pair of semi minimal shoes I owned were the Brooks PureFlow 2, which I basically swooned over (you can read the full review here). But I really do enjoy trying new things and after looking around, I decided to give the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris a try.

Mizuno has entered the minimal market with two models, the Evo Cursoris and the Evo Levitas. The Evo Cursoris is a slightly softer, more cushioned model, while the Levitas is designed as racing flat with more cushion than the Wave Universe (one of the lightest shoes of all time at 3.1 ounces).
A lot of people have raved over this shoe, and after three shorter runs (3.2, 4.7, and 5.1) I can understand some of the hype. It is ultra soft. I mean, this thing is like the Nike Pegasus of minimal shoes. It's like running on a pillow. However, I have some gripes too. The heel, I've found, is rather loose and that alone has meant that I'm not quite comfortable running faster than about a 7:00 mile. I suspect that some of the issues in the Cursoris would be solved in the Levitas, so that may be the next shoe I buy.
As you can see, the Levitas has a heel cup, something I think that the Cursoris would really benefit from to lock the heel down. The other issue I had is the tongue and it's relationship with the lacing. The tongue is massive. With most shoes, this wouldn't bother me, but with the Cursoris it does because it's not sewn into the side. Combine that with some questionable lacing and you can have a nightmare on your hands. Is that a decisive issue? Not in my opinion. It is polarizing when it comes to racing. For example, I would say that this is a shoe that I would be comfortable running double digit miles in. And because it's so soft, it could potentially be an Iron distance shoe but because of those small issues, I wouldn't feel comfortable running a half to full marathon distance, even though the upper is perfectly comfortable. But take your time lacing the Cursoris up and it's a wonderful long run shoe. 

The Cursoris retails for $120 but is $49.99 on because it's been discontinued. If you're looking into trying a semi minimal shoe, I would highly encourage grabbing a pair before they're gone!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Speed or Endurance?

Let me preface this by saying that I'm no expert in either speed or endurance. I'm not a scientist, I'm a runner who was slightly below average in high school: seven runners per varsity/JV team, I was third on JV or tenth of fourteen runners. I did okay at triathlon, won my division on one occasion at a sprint tri where the bike was cancelled and there were five guys in the division, and placed 22nd of 53 18-24 men at Ironman 70.3 Kansas.

Basically, I'm Joe Average, using my experiences to try to impart little tidbits of wisdom to my readers, most of whom I assume are a niche group of crack athletes who read this and think how did this kid do as well as he did using this training method/tool/shoe?

Regardless, there's a constant debate over endurance. I titled this post "Speed or Endurance?" but I think I really meant something more along the lines of "Why the Endurance?" See, we as a sporting community (not just triathlon, cycling and running are both guilty to some extent) have gotten obsessed with our mileage. Cycling and running are different because there are other things you can do with both, like race track vs road, etc. But triathlon is three sports in an unvarying format, so it has become easy to assume that more mileage in all three is better.

In fact, in nearly every race I attended last year, there were kids two or three years younger than me gathered around talking about that last set, what their monthly/weekly/yearly mileage looked like. It was frankly ridiculous to hear a sixteen year old talking about running north of eighty miles a week while swimming 10,000 yards a day. Not many pros reach that amount of mileage. 

Here's where elementary physiology comes into play. Humans don't fully mature until around 23 years old. However, our heart and lungs continue to get stronger well into our thirties. That's why you see many endurance athletes peak in their late twenty to mid thirties. This is why you see many cyclists move from the track to the road, and many triathletes move from ITU, draft legal races to 70.3 and Ironman as their careers progress.

So why the mega mileage? Certainly, there is a minimum needed to progress as an athlete. For years I've adhered to a simple formula: For a 5k, I try to do 10x that distance in weekly mileage. For a 10k, 8x the mileage. For an Olympic distance triathlon, about 4x for each discipline. And for 70.3, I try to triple the mileage. These are the distances I race most often, I would recommend experimenting and seeing what works for you. The other rule I have in regards to that formula is that there should be a weekly longer workout to make the body accustomed to the demands of racing that distance and building cardiovascular strength.

I believe the reason that so many younger athletes are putting themselves at risk not only for RSIs like metatarsal stress fractures but also cardiovascular damage caused by over training is because we've cultivated this idea that more mileage is better. It quantifies our performance on both ends, if we do well, it was because of those "extra credit" sessions at the end of practice, if we don't, it's because we over trained. 

However, there's no need to endlessly pile on the miles. In fact, to be a successful racer at the 70.3 distance, the best thing to do isn't to train, train, train. The best thing in my opinion would be to wait a few years and fill your time racing the shorter distances. The debate shouldn't be speed or endurance. Both have their rightful place in the triathlon world, the key is finding out when each will get its turn.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Post New Year Consumerism and Why It's Not a Good Thing

I'm here to pick a fight. A big one. Because I'm honestly sick of seeing people swindled. I'm picking a fight with the corporations, the conglomerates, and the subsidiaries. The ones that are telling you, in your post-new-year-new-you resolution, that you need something. What is that? I don't know. It could be those new Nikes. Perhaps a new Polar GPS watch, that thing tracks cadence, heart rate, speed, distance, and a whole lot of other things that I don't really need to know. Maybe it's a new waterproof jacket that will repel rain, snow, sleet, hail, and possible a tomahawk cruise missile.

See, the new year used to mean something. When my parents' parents made resolutions to do something, they got up and did it. The didn't need a $500 Nike jacket to motivate them to go outside and run. No matter what they did, it was still going to be freezing cold. No, they put on another sweatshirt and some long socks and went out and ran.

Now, the new year is the last hurrah for companies who started their holiday marketing in November. But I want to make this point in a round about way. Let me begin with a question: Why is running so attractive to us? Is it because it's easy? Maybe, running can be as easy or as difficult as you care to make it. Perhaps because it makes you fit? Running is one of the, if not the, most popular and prevalent physical activity.

Just one of many examples that Nike uses every year to rope in consumers.
I would argue that the answer is none of the above. Certainly those are factors in people choosing to run. But the reason that most people choose to run is because running is simple. It requires no mechanical devices, nothing more than a pair of shoes and some sort of active wear. Yet we're bombarded by Nike, Adidas, and Garmin telling us that we need a reflective jacket, a MiCoach, and a GPS watch just to run.

But this, this consumerism, is taking away from a beautiful sport. And beauty is found in the simplicity because, according to da Vinci, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." I love that: the ultimate sophistication. It is so very true. He also once said that the human foot is "...a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." We don't need this stuff. What we need is fresh legs, not fresh gear. Fresh foods, not fresh from a factory. In that we can rediscover the beauty of sport and that is my New Years Resolution.