Monday, March 4, 2013

When Life Interferes...

I haven't been very active as a blogger lately... which is no coincidence, as I haven't been training much, and this IS a training blog!

To make a long, complicated story short:  my marriage ended in March 2011.  I  moved out at the end of that month.  At the end of November 2011 I moved again, this time to a different city, from which I commuted to see my kids.  I started a brand new career in a completely new field in which I had no experience whatsoever.

In May 2012 I moved again, to Grand Island, NY, which is the same state but 400 miles away.  I was in a very stressful relationship (no blame, just a tough situation).  I was tele-commuting, living 7 hours away from my children, and in a very tough relationship trying to make it work.  I failed.

In September 2012 I moved back to Brooklyn, NY - still 3+ hours away from my children, but the same job, and a great situation.  Started yet another relationship which continues, but with a woman who has 2 kids of her own, which adds a dimension of stress and strain.

I don't mean to whine - I'm ridiculously happy and have had ridiculously good luck in my recent life.  I have wonderful kids, an awesome job I love, and a fantastic relationship.  BUT it would be silly to pretend that my stress level has been anything other than through the roof the past 2 yeas.

I hope you, my reader, never goes through tough times.  However, the odds are that many of you will, at least occasionally.  Here's my advice regarding training during times of life duress:

1.  Don't overdo it.  Progress is possible, but slow, when you're under a ton of stress.  Give yourself permission to do light workouts, to have periods of stagnation, and to not push 100% during every workout. Your cortisol levels are already elevated, killing yourself in the dojo is not going to be productive, it will just lead to sickness, injury, and/or overtraining.

2.  Focus on Strength.  Say that, like me, you're 190 lbs, and between moves, working long hours, and so forth you don't have time to train properly - perhaps you only do 2 workouts a week, and you have to choose between cardio & strength.  Suppose you don't do any cardio, and only strength train, for 6 months.  You'll probably lose a chunk of your aerobic capacity - VO2 max, whatever.  Sad.  You'd have to train hard for a month or two to recover all that aerobic conditioning.

Now suppose that instead you kept up your cardio but cut back on the strength training.  You'd lose muscle mass, which would most likely lead to an increase in fat mass as your metabolic rate slowed.  You'd very possibly lose bone density as well, which would take a lot of time to get back.  Skip strength training for 6 months and if you're old enough you could be looking at a year to get back to where you were.

The adaptions from endurance training come much more quickly and max out much faster than those from strength and power training.  So if you HAVE to skip one modality for a period of time make it cardio!

Here's another tip:  Do at least 5 or so of every kick you know, full power, at least twice a week.  Kicks are hard on your body and the soreness will be crippling if you come back to training after not throwing any for a half a year (trust me!)

3.  Sneak In Mini-Workouts.  Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Whatever your ideal workout program is, you're very probably going to fall short of it.  Be happy that you're doing anything (remember, your peers are on a couch eating Doritos).  Do 2 minute kettlebell workouts if that's all you have time for (5 clean & jerks per arm, repeat 2X - 2 minutes for a full body workout).  Super short workouts done at high intensity can do wonders for maintaining strength levels without requiring a serious commitment of time.

4.  Work out at home.  Try to have enough equipment around your home or workspace to get those sneak workouts in - I keep a 54 lb kettlebell next to my desk and a chinup bar in the nearest doorway.  Total cost around $150, and I use them almost every day.

5.  Dynamic Stretching!  You can maintain your flexibility on a schedule of 10-20 front swings per leg and 10-20 side swings per leg every day, which probably takes a total of less than 3 minutes.  If you don't do this, and lead a typical sedentary lifestyle, your range of motion in the hips will drop faster than a Republican's credibility on gender issues.

6.  Stress is no excuse to eat crap.  The ironic thing about stressful times is that our ability to resist crappy food is lowered but the consequences of eating that crappy food is higher.  When you're stressed you're ever more likely to store excess calories as fat, you're going to be more inflamed already, and generally you'll suffer more from a bad diet than you would have otherwise.

I'm not going to pretend that sticking to a clean diet when you're super stressed is easy - it isn't.  I ate quite a bit of crap and put on some weight in the past 2 years (it's mostly gone now, it comes off when I'm happy!)  But you have to just work to minimize the damage.  Remember that you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet and workouts won't add nutrients to you - you have to eat well, at least most of the time, or everything will just get worse.  Being stressed is bad - being stressed AND inflamed AND fat is not better!

Take Home:  You might want to charge on, full steam ahead, when under serious life stress, but that's probably not going to happen.  If you can't, accept your limitations and at least minimize the setbacks so you're set to make huge progress when things settle down!


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  2. Hi Joe, glad to hear you're alive and well!

    Thanks for sharing your updates and lessons learned.

    As an aside - it seems hard to believe that it was 18 months ago that we spoke on The Applied Karate Show. Our discussion got me thinking, really thinking, about diet and nutrition.

    I took your advice and read Robb Wolf's book, and took the 30 day challenge. It was eye opening. I felt brilliant after the 30 days, and then gradually added a few things in, one-at-a-time, to see what would happen. The results were, to me, astounding.

    I now realise that I have a level of intolerance to some dairy and grains that I never realised. Nothing enough to be an acute intolerance, but enough that it left me drained and with low energy.

    I am now 85-90% Paleo in my nutrition. My weight is way down, energy levels are higher and I am as fit as I've been in many, many years.

    Really glad I took your suggestion to give it a try!

    Stay well.


  3. Des, I absolutely could not be happier! My life has also changed dramatically, and really the only portion of the "paleo" diet I'm 100% about is wheat. I actually think that in some ways things are harder for those of us with sub-clinical reactions. If food X makes you swell up so you can't breath and you need hospitalization you'll figure it out pretty quickly, but I've seen many people who eat enough of the foods that bother them that they end up just kind of "blah" and chalk it up to aging or whatever. I'm really glad you did the legwork to figure things out for you!

  4. So sorry to hear of your trials and tribulations, but kudos for rising above it all and pressing onwards with such a strong attitude. Your advice in this post is absolutely fantastic! Indeed, never let the perfect be the enemy of the good! First lesson back at regular training for me last night after a lengthy lay off due to illness and injury. I should heed your advice in the future and "keep my foot in the training door" a little more next time!

  5. Btw - ditto with strength, dynamic stretching - heck, all of your post! Excellent advice. And I also agree about the wheat!

  6. Thanks, Dan! Really, I don't mean to complain, life is good! And those are great points - first, a little training is orders of magnitude better than no training at all for maintaining conditioning when you get back (and preventing crippling soreness!) Second, take it easy when you DO get back - something about the body means that if you were strong & in shape, then are sedentary for a while, you maintain the ability to work hard when you come back, you just wind up in horrible pain afterwards :) And very sorry to hear about your injury, hope your recovery goes smoothly.

  7. In particular, I can attest that focus on strength is important during stressful, busy times. I have used this method over the last 10 years of problematic health and it has really worked. Even now, I can do 50 push ups no problem (despite a long lay-off). And that is without actually practising push-ups, but just doing a mild strength routine. I also do dynamic stretches daily - even when I'm not training.

    Btw, I strongly recommend slow kicks as an alternative (or in addition) to leg swings. They are harder to do, but the benefits are marked. I find they give you a better core stability and better long term improvement in flexibility (mostly because they focus on strength of the mucles - holding the leg up - as well as the dynamic stretch). For karate they also improve your technique and they are more "muscle specific". Last, slow kicks don't have the same potential for pulling your hamstring on cold days when you misjudge your tightness!

  8. Thanks for sharing this tips.=)

    A lot of people now are acting the wrong way during stressful circumstances.
    It's better to simplify our lives and minimize our commitments if we cannot handle it, or just take a break.

    Life is too short to spend with stress!

    Martial Arts Brisbane