Monday, June 27, 2011

Countdown to Promotion: Penultimate Week

My promotion for sandan (third degree black belt) starts next Friday (July 8).  I wish I had another six months to prepare, or better yet a year, but I don't.  If you're new to the blog, here are the important details:  Promotions in my style are fairly rigorous physically (but not insanely so - we don't regularly hospitalize people during promotions or anything) and are taking place this year over a three day weekend.  I've been training since 1988, but I took a 12 year break from 1994 - 2006, and another year from late 2008 to late 2009, so I'm nowhere near as skilled as I should be.

Assuming you're trying to peak for an event like a promotion, a major tournament, or whatever kind of karate event you're participating in, there are a few things you should be doing.  Note that I'm going to assume that you: a) are not a professional athlete - no 3/day workout schemes here, I assume you have a real life that can't be put totally on hold; b) not a beginner - if you've been training for 3 months and you're testing for your first yellow stripe or whatever in two weeks, you need to just keep on training, not peaking; and c) not injured.  If you're hurt then you need to be dealing with that injury.

The first thing is to come to terms with what you can and cannot do in the last two weeks before a promotion.  If you've been training for years you're not going to get siginificantly better, skill-wise, in two weeks - you're not getting any better at kicking and punching.  You might be ablea to fix some technical errors of memory - for example, suppose you tend to punch with the wrong hand at a certain point in a kata - that's something you can work on, but if you just suck at something, you're probably still going to suck when the test date arrives.

You're also not going to get significantly stronger in two weeks.  Unless you are brand new to strength training (which you shouldn't be) neurological adaptions are slow to come by, and you can't build much muscle tissue at all in such a short time.  Getting stronger takes years, not weeks.

Your'e also not going to get much leaner in two weeks.  If you still have bodyfat to lose it's not going to happen now - putting yourself into a serious energy deficit at this point in time will leave you depleted and weak for your test, which is NOT how you want to present yourself.  If you're competing in a weight class event that's another story, but otherwise don't run yourself down by cutting back on food.

What you can do is improve your conditioning.  Maybe not by miles, but you still have time to add a few extra percent to your endurance while maintaining your skill and strength.  Here's what you have to do:

This week do some planned overtraining (sometimes called over-reaching).  Here's how:
  • Every day do a hard session of skill training.  Don't focus on any one thing - remember, you're not going to improve much.  Do a few reps of everything in your syllabus - every kata, every combination, etc.  This is the time to make sure there aren't any kinks in your skills.  You're not going to develop wicked spinning kicks now, but if you haven't done any in three months you can sharpen them up quite a bit.  If you want to devote some time to really focusing on one thing, like your punches, do it after the test.  If you are sparring keep the pace high but the contact very controlled - this is NOT the time to do hard full contact sparring (because of the injury risk).
  • Follow each skill session with a serious conditioning session.  As always, think in terms of doing high intensity intervals - work very hard for 10-45 seconds, rest, repeat.  Jump rope, sprint, do kettlebell swings, air squats, thrusters, burpees, bike sprints, etc.  Rotate your efforts - don't choose the same thing every day.  And don't do exercises that you've never done before - the soreness from starting swings for the first time can really hamper your efforts the rest of the week.  Also, do more than you think is probably good for you - really toast yourself.  And DON'T use karate skills for this part of your workout - don't do kicks until you're gasping for air.  It's bad for your kicks.
  • Do just enough strength work to maintain your strength levels.  Maybe twice this week do an even more abbreviated session than usual - and follow it with skill training and more conditioning.
  • If you can handle it, add a second conditioning session in the morning.  I try to get in a 4 minute workout - Tabata style sets of swings and thrusters with a kettlebell (Tabata protocol means 20s work/ 10 s of rest/ repeat).
  • Do light stretching every day.  You're not going to work yourself into a split for the first time, but you want to work near the limits of your range of motion for all your muscles every day to stay limber and help with recovery.
  • Eat plenty of clean food.  DON'T cheat by chowing down on ice cream and candy - instead eat plenty of protein and carbs in the form of meat, protein shakes, and starchy root vegetables - think lots of steak and sweet potatoes - to keep glycogen stores high and to improve muscle recovery.  This is NOT the time to try to trim off some excess weight - for two reasons.  First, cutting calories will hamper your body's ability to adapt to the training and make it more likely that you stay sore or get some mild injuries.  Second, if you managed to change your body composition now you'd throw off your balance and technique and you won't have time to adjust before the test.
  • Make a special effort to cut back on possibly inflammatory foods.  Even if you think you're okay with dairy, this is not the time to push it.  Cut back on dairy, grains like rice and corn (you shouldn't be eating wheat ever anyway), vegetable oils (again, you shouldn't ever eat them, but...) and peanuts. 
  • Do a TON of recovery work.  Foam roll yourself, use a self - massaging tool on sore spots (even better, get a massage or two, if you can afford them), sleep extra, eat more often (this is the week to be less than strict on your intermittent fasting schedule).
  • Supplement with creatine, beta alanine, and acetyl-l carnitine to improve endurance.  Will they help?  Maybe, maybe not, but if you have the money this is the time to splurge.  Remember, we're peaking!
I'll write another post about the last week before promotion, but the general idea is we're going to taper off our training a lot and give our bodies a few days to heal, recover, and adapt to all the training.  If you time it right you can come into your test in the best shape you've ever been - and that's pretty much all you can ask for.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summary: Blog so far

I've recently noticed (I know, I'm a little slow) a huge surge of traffic coming from Dan Djurdjevic's awesome blog (thank you very much!)  Welcome - the kind of people who read Dan's work are exactly my target audience.  For you new readers, and anybody else new to my blog, I thought I'd write up a summary of the key points I've been trying to convey.

KC Philosophy:

I began training in the late 80's.  I took a 12 year break and when I got back into training in 2006 I found that a few things had changed.  I was in worse shape (not as strong, not as flexible, with less endurance, less resistant to injury) at 35 than I had been at 21 - and I had never been what you'd call an athlete.  I had less time and energy for training - a family and a full time job can really interfere with two hour training sessions.  But, (and this turned out to be my saving grace), I was connected to a huge body of information about training that I hadn't had access to before, all thanks to the internet (thank you Al Gore!).

I've spent a considerable amount of time over the past 5 years reading and looking at books, magazines, blogs, websites, videos, and DVD's about diet and training - not just about martial arts training, but about training for athletes in all sports, and every minute of it was devoted to figuring out how that information could make me better at karate.  I learned a lot - I learned how to become and stay more flexible throughout the day, how to get faster and stronger, how to improve my health, how to dramatically improve my endurance, how to practice my skills, all without having to train more than a few hours a week.

It didn't take me too long to realize that not everybody knows all this stuff.  Plenty of wonderful karate instructors spend their time learning and teaching technique instead of poring over the latest research on VO2 Max.  Which is fine - I don't mean to criticize anybody's teaching.  I thought I had learned some things that could help other people - people like me, older people or people who aren't very athletic or don't have fifteen hours a week to train - become better at karate.  Not by showing them or teaching them karate, but by helping them train better so their karate can be better.

Nothing, or almost nothing, in this blog is original.  I stole every last idea from sources from Pavel Tsatsouline to Mike Boyle to Bret Contreras.  I've discovered no secrets, no ideas that you couldn't figure out yourself if you want to spend the hundreds of hours of reading to learn it all.  But if you don't have time for that, you can read my blog and hopefully get a few useful tips that will make your karate training more productive and more efficient.

Here's a summary of the key points I try to convey:

1.  Flexibility Training:

You should do two types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretchingStatic stretching means moving a muscle into a stretched position and holding it.  Think of things like sitting on the floor and leaning over a locked leg to stretch the hamstrings, or wedge your legs apart to stretch your adductors.  Dynamic stretching involves moving a muscle fairly quickly into and out of a stretched range of motion.  Think mae keage, or swinging your leg up and back, or up to the side and back. 

Do your dynamic stretching daily, preferably early on.  Do ONLY dynamic stretching before a workout unless you have an injury.  I like 2 sets of 10 leg swings to the front and sides per leg.  Do 3 sets if you're very tight or sore.

If you do any static stretching - which will gradually lengthen the muscle tissue - do it when you're cold (not right after a workout).  You can do it as often as you'd like, but you'll probably need at least 3 times per week to get any results.  And don't do it before a workout!

If you need better range of motion, say in your adductors so you can round/side kick higher, you have to build strength in the target muscle (the one that's holding you back) when it's stretched.  If your adductors are tight, get close to a split (as close as you can) adn draw your legs together - either pulling into the ground or actually pulling them together, sliding so you end up standing.  You can do various other exercises as well, but the point is to build strength in the stretched position - that's how you get the muscle to relax when it's being stretched so it doesn't restrict your movement.

2.  Skill Training:

When you try to get better at a skill (say, punching or kicking) you are making a neurological adaption - your nervous system is changing.  This process doesn't work the way, say, building muscle does.  Your nervous system learns new things best by practicing them well; and practicing them often.

That has several ramifications.  You want to practice your techniques as often as you can - every day or more would be best.  You want to practice most often while fresh.  At the end of a workout, if you're tired and drained, your technique will be relatively sloppy.  That is the wrong time to practice karate.  Instead, practice karate when you're fresh - even performing just a few minutes of drills several times a day - and save your endurance work for when you're tired.

That also means your workouts should start with a warmup, then dynamic stretching, then skill practice, then strength training, then endurance training - don't put the strength/ endurance stuff before the skill stuff or your technique will suffer.

3.  Strength Training:

If you're doing a routine you got from your typical personal trainer or the pages of a fitness/ bodybuilding magazine you're probably training wrong.  Karateka need explosive strength, not big muscles (although you will gain some size as you get stronger). 
  • Focus on workouts shorter than 45 minutes in length. 
  • Do exercises with enough weight/ difficulty that you can only complete 5 or fewer repetitions at a time (for example, don't do regular pushups if you can do more than 5 of them; work on one-arm pushups instead). 
  • Focus on movements instead of muscles - hip extension (kettlebell swings, deadlifts), knee dominant squatting (one legged squats), an upper body push (pushups, presses) and pull (pullups, body rows) and core (next bullet).
  • For your core do mostly exercises where you stabilize your core against a resistance - for example, a plank instead of a situp.  Do a ton of anti-rotation - holding your core stable while some force tries to twist your body - think one armed plank, medicine ball throw, etc.
Stay away from high rep work in the name of strength training.  If you can do 50 pushups, working up to 100 pushups won't make you stronger, just give you better endurance.  You're better off working up to 10 one arm pushups.

4.  Endurance:

Presumably you want more endurance so you won't gas out during sparring or intense kata practice.  Some people train for that by doing lots of LSD (long slow distance) - jogging, hopping on a bike or treadmill for long bouts of steady state "cardio" work.  Unfortunately, you'll get at best mediocre results from that type of training.

The name of the game is High Intensity Interval Training.  You need to work at a level of intensity so high that it really stresses your cardiovascular system.  Instead of jogging, sprint.  Instead of biking, do burpees.  That means you won't be able to keep it up for long - that's fine.  Just rest for a little while and repeat.  Over and over.  I don't know the best work/ rest time ratio - working 20 s, resting 10s, repeating is popular, I also like 15/15 - but the principle is to make the work very, very hard and not to do anything during the rest.  As you get in better shape don't extend the work intervals - don't make them longer - make them harder instead.

One other point:  you may be tempted to kill two birds with one stone and do your conditioning by working martial arts techniques until you're exhuasted.  For example, doing 500 side kicks.  Don't do that.  Why not?  Becasue if you're pushing your endurance close to its limit you're going to end up doing a lot of sloppy kicks - practicing bad technique.  You only want to practice kicks when you're fresh, then once you're getting tired, hammer away at your cardio with a non-skill movement like running or burpees or something else where you don't care about your skill.

5.  Diet:

I'm a big advocate of a roughly Paleo diet.  Put simple:  Avoid all grains (especially wheat, corn, soy); avoid legumes (beans); eat no seed and vegetable oils (corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, etc.); restrict any artificial and processed foods; limit dairy; and limit fruit and nut consumption.  Eat animals that are fed on the same principles - so eat only grassfed beef, pastured chicken, etc.  What can you eat other than meat?  Vegetables, fruit, root veggies (sweet potatoes, yams), some nuts and fruit, some dairy (preferably raw, preferably from grass fed cows).  Yes, you'll be eating a lot of fat.  Yes, it's okay.  No, it won't make you fat.  It might heal your gut and cure your arthritis, though.  This diet, which improves insulin resistance and lowers inflammation, will improve recovery, enhance your endurance, help you drop any excess fat, and make you healthier.

There are a lot of resources on the ins and outs of paleo eating both on this blog and in other places.  This diet has made huge differences in my personal health and fitness.  Many paleo bloggers lean towards the low carb end of the spectrum - I don't.  I find that my karate goes better if I eat plenty of carbs.  I just get my carbs from sources other than wheat, corn, and soy.  Meaning I eat plenty of sweet potatoes and rice but no bread.  Try it for 30 days and see how you feel!
That's a brief summary of the key points to improving your karate practice that I've discovered over the past 5 years.  I have posts up about all of this which cover each in more detail - if you're interested in more explanation of anything here please post questions to comments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Cheating" During Sparring

I imagine most karate schools today have some form of jiyu kumite - free sparring - in their training.  I'm sure it is emphasized in some places more than others, while the rules vary quite a bit from style to style.  I'm also sure that noboy has a "no rules" jiyu kumite.  (Why?  Becasue if you free-fought without rules your practice wouldn't last very long - nobody can take eye gouges, groin kicks, small joint locks, etc. all together without an unacceptably high rate of injury).

There is a fundamental problem with fighting with rules - no matter what the rules are, they change the way the game is played.  For example, in kyokushin, historically, punches to the face weren't allowed.  That significantly alters the stances used when compared to, say, kickboxing.  Kyokushin fighters held their hands lower, defended differently, etc.  Or compare an MMA fighter to someone fighting in a real no rules streetfight.  Look at their stance - often we'll see MMA fighters standing square to their opponent with legs spread slightly.  They do that to help defend against the takedown.  Do you think that stance would be as popular if groin kicks were allowed?  Or think about a BJJ guard.  I know that art was developed for streetfighting, but it really seems vulnerable to groin attacks.  Perhaps groin strikes weren't used by people fighting for honor on the streets of Brazil. 

Regardless of what "rules" are imposed, certain fighting styles will gain an advantage.  If you don't allow strikes to the head, nobody's going to fight with their hands in a high guard, up by their cheeks.  If everyone wears big gloves nobody's going to base their strategy on pressure point techniques. 

You have to figure out what game you want to get good at playing - do you want to have the skill set of a streetfighter?  A bar brawler who usually fights with a limited (but not empty) set of rules?  A kickboxer?  A point fighter?  A cage fighter?  I have nothing against any of those choices - I personally (for no rational reason) want the skill set of a K-1 f ighter, even though it's unlikely I'll ever step into a ring. 

Depending on what you want to be good at you may or may not be able to spar with those same rules all the time.  Even kickboxers don't really do ring-style kickboxing all that often - they usually wear headgear and extra protection for sparring purposes, at least a majority of the time.  MMA fighters do most of their sparring with extra protection as well (you see funny results from that - watch how lots of MMA fighters guard - they'll hold their fists in place up in front of their face.  Sadly, this works much better when you wear full boxing gloves, as they do in sparring, than with 4 oz. gloves, so they'll sometimes get hit, hard, and not know what happened.  I've seen Tito Ortiz do that a bunch of times.  The strategy that worked under the "rules" of big glove fighting didn't work under small glove, cage "rules.")

If you can't fight under the "real" rules (the rules of your chosen game) then you have to be careful.  It's natural to want to "win" while sparring. You want to score points/ tap out/ beat up your opponent. The problem is that sometimes the strategies that can get you a "win" in a sparring session (whether or not you keep score) don't make you better where you wnat to be better - in the "game" that really matters to you.

That's what I mean by cheating - not breaking the rules of the "game" you're playing, but taking advantage of those rules to gain an advantage.

If you want to be a good streetfighter but in the dojo you do kyokushin style full contact karate, then you have to avoid the temptation to "cheat" by leaving your groin and head exposed.  Covering those areas will make you worse at kyokushin fighting - because your target areas will be more exposed - but leaving them open will give you bad habits that won't translate well to the street.  If you want to be a cage fighter you CAN afford to leave your groin open, but you CAN'T afford a stance that leaves you vulnerable to takedowns, even if on that day you're training boxing.  You have to box with a wider, more square stance, ready to sprawl at any time, even though that makes for bad boxing.

I'm not arguing that your goal should be to be a better streetfighter or cage fighter or point fighter - only that you should pick something as your target and train accordingly.  Then, if you want to be a good cage fighter but you're in a school that does point fighting, resist the urge to "score" using little slappy hits, even if other people fight that way, and focus on only using strikes landed from a position and body alignment that would let you put real power into them.

In my style we exempt green belts from headstrike - we give them a sort of breaking in period where they have less to worry about while fighting.  Some of them fight with their hands held at chest level - and when fighting them it's easy to let one's hands drop.  I try to fight that urge - to keep my guard high, as if defending against a head strike, even when my opponent can't use one, so as to keep my habits sharp.  My goal is to be good at fighting my peers, who are allowed to punch and kick me in the head!

In short: do your best while sparring, but don't fall prey to habits that translate poorly into the domain you wish to master.  Even if you can "get away with" certain things while sparring doesn't mean you should - especially not if it's going to make you vulnerable in the type of fight you care about.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spirit Training

I"m not sure how common this is (though I suspect it is pretty common) but my style tends to get together for extra - intense workouts every so often in a large group setting.  We do it for the new year (Kagami Biraki), an annual beach training, an occasional black belt only training - maybe 2-4 times per year.  Not every person attends every workout, but if you're in the area you're expected to make it to most of them.

The workouts are ineveitably preceeded and postceeded by some social interactions, as people are gathering who don't normally train together, and usually some meeting type stuff - announcements, administrative stuff, etc.  Then the workout.

These workouts are not very technical - there are usually a lot of people involved with a broad cross-section of skills, and communication is often difficult due to the size of the group.  The goal here is not fine tuning anybody's technique.  We're also usually packed nearly shoulder to shoulder, so nobody's going to do much in the way of moving - think lots of punches, lots of blocks, lots of squats/ knees, lots of pushups and crunches, and lots of kiais.

If you're not a martial artist you might not appreciate how taxing it is to, say, throw a thousand punches into the air, but if you're really executing with full force that's quite a workout.  Obviously it's possible to pace yourself and kind of half-ass the whole thing, but we try not to.  After all, you're surrounded by your senpai - your seniors - and you don't want to be the guy slacking off in the middle of the group when everybody else is giving 100%.

Now if you're a regular reader of this blog you know I'm not a fan of marathon workouts.  Long workouts lead to two results - either you pace yourself, which means spending a lot of time practicing half speed techniques, or you don't pace yourself and wind up exhausted, which means spending a lot of time practicing sloppy techniques.  Either way it's the wrong kind of neurological programming.

So why do I go to these events?  There are a few reasons.  There's a social dimension to them, of course (funny story - I'm lined up, randomly, next to this guy who seems familiar.  I vaguely remember him having been around when I went for my nidan promotion four years ago.  I talk to him, and he agrees that we saw each other then, but he knows me from elsewhere.  Turns out he was a year ahead of me in high school and we were on the football team together!)  There's a certain amount of social pressure to show up - the seniors like it when you attend these events.  But there's also a useful training aspect to the workouts.

Training to exhaustion, if you do it right (and by "do it right" I mean put real effort into every technique - I mean don't pace yourself) you're going to get a few benefits.  First, you're going to practice executing technique while exhausted - there are compensations you have to make, and it's not going to hurt to be familiar with them.  Should that be a primary focus of your training?  Of course not.  But once in a while you should remember what it feels like to throw a knee when you're exhausted, and practice mustering up force in your techniques while gasping for air.

This kind of training has an effect on your spirit - your will.  Think about the euphoria people express after finishing their first marathon or climbing a mountain.  Some of it is probably endorphins, sure.  But you also gain confidence in your ability to push through adversity, to push your own body to extremes, to work at your limit.  Most of your training should be done when you're fresh, in short bursts, which is great for developing skill, but it doesn't tell you anything about your ability to push the limits of your endurance.

Making it through these workouts is a bonding experience and a confidence building experience.  There might be an endurance training effect, but I wouldn't swear to it - not if you're doing these things infrequently, which is all you should be doing.

Here are the secrets to benefiting from spirit training:
  • Don't pace yourself.  Really work - put everything you have into the first punch, even if you know that you'll pay for it later. 
  • Focus on technique.  Don't get too, too sloppy - you want to be sore afterwards but not injured.  You're not going to be crisp on kick #273 - but don't throw your back out either.
  • Sleep as much as you can the night before and after.
  • Double your protein intake for the two days after the workout.  I recommend my magic recovery formula - 12 oz. milk, 2 scoops MetRx chocolate protein powder (not the meal replacement, just the protein), Rice Krispies to taste, once or twice a day.  Any animal based protein will do.  Probably not a good idea long term, but for a day or two it really helps with recovery.  If you normally do intermittent fasting, don't schedule any fasts for the days after the workout.  You need to be in full anabolism to recover.
  • Double your fish oil for the same two days to control the inflammation.
  • A little bit is good; a lot is not.  If you run a dojo and you try to do these, for example, every Sunday, you're doing the wrong kind of training.  Your students will start to pace themselves, and if they don't, they'll deeply ingrain sloppy karate into their nervous systems.  In my style we do these at most maybe 4 times a year - which seems about perfect to me.
The leader of our style always exhorts us to show "strong spirit" during these events.  It took me twenty years, but I think I understand at least part of what he means when he says that. 


Friday, June 3, 2011

Posture Principles: Packing for Power

I just might have an unnatural fondness for alliteration.  I'm also a nerd for posture.  I think that proper posture is one of the underappreciated aspects of athleticism and of good martial arts technique.

Packing is a term used to refer to the appropriate alignment of a bodypart.  People might use it to refer to other things, but I've only seen the term used in two places:  the shoulders and the neck.  To my knowledge, the term "packing the neck" is very recent, and I only heard of it a few days ago from Brett Contreras' blog (which is one of my current favorites).  These terms come from the field of strength training, not martial arts, but I believe they are applicable.

What are they?

Packing the shoulder means drawing the shoulderblades backwards and together and down, towards the ground (if you're standing).  Pavel Tsatsouline says you should feel as if you're sticking your shoulderblade into your back pocket.  If you want a really nice feel for what this does to your shoulder, both in improving stability and power, do an overhead press with your shoulder packed, then try it with your shoulder hiked up near your ear.  You should feel a big difference in strength.

Note that this is quite different from the shoulder position used by boxers, who lift their shoulders when punching (on purpose) to protect the jawline.  I feel that a packed shoulder offers better transfer of power (from the hips), better handspeed, and better safety for the shoulder joint.

Packing the neck involves positioning the head properly.  You tuck your chin slightly, as if looking downwards, but pull your head backwards, to the rear.  Imagine you're trying to give yourself an exaggerated double chin.  You tuck the chin but pull up on the top of the head, elongating the spine.  For a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about look at pictures of Mas Oyama punching things, such as this one I pulled from this wonderful gallery:

You'll see a slightly similar position used in Muay Thai - chin tucked, head down, but they lower the head too much, hunching the shoulders and causing a power leak at the upper back.  They do it for protection - keeping the chin tucked into your chest makes you harder to knock out, which is the same reasoning that boxers use for elevating the shoulder.

Why pack?

There are, broadly speaking, two reasons I think the shoulders and neck should be packed when practicing martial arts (I'm not necessarily suggesting you should walk around with your neck packed at all times - this isn't that kind of posture - but you should do so when sparring or practicing fighting techniques). 

First, having a packed neck and shoulder put your body in the strongest, most injury- resistant position.  A packed shoulder is more stable (better supported) and less likely to incur injury or dislocate.  A packed neck puts your cervical spine in a good position for resisting forces, making neck injury less likely.  It also literally puts your chin and jawline in a better protected position, possibly preventing a knockout.  Think of what typically happens when someone kiais - how often does the chin lift and jutt out?  Now think about doing that while someone is trying to punch you in the face.  Not a good idea.

Second, a packed shoulder and neck are more powerful.  You will transmit power better through packed joints than through loose joints.  Don't believe me?  This is a simple experiment - punch a heavy bag with your chin up and your shoulder hiked up, then with both packed.  Or do some kind of pressing movement, with weight, and see how strong you are with and without packing.  I think you'll see my point.

Another interesting experiment is to do your pushups, pullups, or any other upper body exertions, with your shoulders and neck packed and unpacked.  I was shocked at how much easier packing my neck made my chinups and pullups.

To assist with packing, you might need to work on the strength of various muscle groups.  If your lats are weak and your traps strong you might have trouble maintaining packed shoulders.  If your neck extensors are weak you'll have trouble keeping your neck packed.  Do pulldowns, chinups, or dip holds (get into a dip position and hold it with arms straight for a period of time) to get better at shoulder packing.  For the neck I'll take a rubber band, loop it around my head, and press back against it for reps. 

Take home:  Try keeping your neck and shoulders "packed" whenever you practice techniques or perform strength movements.  Make that posture automatic enough so that when you hit things during sparring you maintain a packed alignment.  You'll be stronger and healthier!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

9 Steps of Paleo Adoption

Like grief and love, changing your diet has various emotional stages that one has to pass through.  Not everybody experiences each stage to an equal extent - some people breeze through one or more stages, while many get stuck, or arrested, at some stage.  In case you're wondering how far you've come and how far you have to go, here's a brief description of the process:

1.  Awareness:  It's hard to believe it now, but there was a time when you'd never heard of a paleo diet.  At some point you ran across Art De Vany's blog, or Mark Sisson's, or, God help you, Richard Nikoley's, and you became... aware.  You probably lumped it into the part of your brain where you store information about the grapefruit diet, that popular French diet, and a bunch of others that have come and gone over the years.  You've taken the first step towards a Paleo lifestyle.

2.  Skepticism:  Now you're hearing more about the Paleo diet and you have a knee jerk negative reaction.  After all, we aren't cavemen, are we?  Why should we eat like them?  Should we give up vaccines, cars, internet porn, and shaving while we're at it?  Are these people crazy?

3.  Tentative steps:  You've heard many reasoned, well thought out arguments in favor of the paleo diet.  Maybe you're coming from the low carb world and you're wondering if maybe mayonnaise shouldn't be the cornerstone of your food intake.  Maybe you've been living the low fat dream and are starting to wonder why bagels make you ravenously hungry.  Maybe you're reading more of the science and are wondering if maybe increases in intestinal permeability really could be causing an inflammatory response... 

Intrigued, you start cutting back on grains, even (gosh!) whole grains.  You cut seed oils out of your diet.  You stand in front of your freezer, throat tightening with grief, and carefully spoon the contents of your last pint of Ben & Jerry's into your piehole, sucking back every last drop, even the last few melted drops, salty and bitter with your own tears.

4.  Success:  Now you're cooking with gas.  Your food cravings have diminished.  You can see your toes without a mirror for the first time in years.  Your asthma/ arthritis/ acne/ erectile dysfunction/ whatever has cleared up and you feel good, perform better, and are healthier than you've been since a teenager.  You are once again a proverbial kid in a candy store, and your candy store is life.

5.  Anger:  You start to wonder why you spent 5, 10, 15, or more years stuffing yourself with whole wheat pasta and margarine (hopefully not together) on the advice of your doctors.  You think about obese/ sick/ diabetic/ dead family members who do or did the same, starving on a low fat, grain based diet as they got sicker and sicker, following the conventional wisdom to the best of their ability, all because the medical authorities are so deeply in the pockets of big agribusiness that they can't see the sun anymore.  You hear stories about impoverished hunter gatherers enjoying relatively good health and look around a mall and notice how rare good health is in America... and you get angry.  Really angry.  You start to give your baker the evil eye.  You spit on the sidewalk in front of your local Subway.  You might even drop a few f-bombs on your blog.

6.  Zealotry:  High on your newfound health and quality physique you now understand what needs to be done:  if the medical community, the government, and the conventional wisdom won't force people to eat the right way, it's all up to you.  You start by "suggesting" that co-workers and family members skip the bun and just eat the hot dog and casually e-mailing links to U.S. Wellness to your friends and neighbors.  Soon you're yelling at people for buying you a birthday cake, assaulting the guy who drives the Hostess delivery truck, and frothing at the mouth when your co-workers bring in boxes of Duncan Donuts to share.  You tell everyone within earshot - every last man, woman, and child, whether they're sharing your elevator or sitting in a stall next to yours in a public restroom - how they ought to be eating.

You have, in short, become an asshole.  It's okay, you're not the only one.

7.  Stall:  Your initial progress starts to slow.  Perhaps you're just eating too much food as your cooking skills gets better, or you've gotten all you're going to get from the reduction in inflammation.  Maybe your cortisol is high from eating too little food (gosh darn it, paleo food is satisfying!  It can be hard to eat enough!)  Whatever the reason, you're doing well... but not as well as before.  You might even be losing a little of your urge to proselytize as you realize that you might not, in fact, have ALL the answers (just most of them).

8.  Tinkering:  This is where you begin to add foods back in that may not be strictly paleo (some people start this stage early).  It starts with dark chocolate and often slides into raw dairy, modest amounts of sugar, then larger amounts of sugar, ice cream, and eventually... Rice Krispie Treats.  Oh, the horror!  At this point you might find that as long as you stick to a core paleo diet - mostly paleo, completely avoiding a handful of really harmful foods - you do okay.  And you remember just how delicious Rice Krispie Treats are (if you're not in this stage yet, then trust me, they are delicious - really, really delicious).

9.  Lifestyle:  As you settle into a long term eating plan you might find yourself continuing to tinker - trading one fat for another, eating more or less coconut, eating more carbs, having some white rice once in a while, maybe even drinking a Diet Coke when the mood is right.  If you're lucky (and disciplined) you stay close enough to an ideal diet to maintain the body composition you want and perform as well as you want without letting your health markers get too far out of whack.  You're also able to indulge, at least a little bit, in treats you had been avoiding like the plague - as long as you stay away from the Big Bads, like gluten.

So where do you stand along the 9 steps?  Post to comments if you think I've missed a step.  I'm somewhere around 6 still... but I've always been slow to mature!