Friday, September 28, 2012

This is Hardcore

So I think I am going to wait before posting the pics. Though I am feeling pretty good, I need to 'cut' and honestly Chicago fucked me. Pardon the language but really it did. Also my buddy is traveling all all over God's creation in the coming week and if I posted it wouldn't be cool or fair - we travel a bit.

All that aside, I am happy as a clam. Let me put it this way though, things have gotten beastly. Protein, creatine and ridiculous weights. My standard bench is 210-230 depending on the day and I find it hard to exhaust that without a spotter. The hunger factor has increased and that has stopped me from stripping or cutting but then again I am kind of following a bodybuilder's schedule. I will get to that couple of weeks where I will cut but it isn't now. Shit, this stuff is like drugs (I can only imagine).  I have to cut myself off at 45 minutes to an hour on the hard stuff or I will be at it until I fall down. The truth is that I need some more cardio or HIIT (not a misspelling - google people google) and today was the first day I have done that in a long time (nice bike ride with the wife).  I need a ton more besides the ton I lift on a daily basis. Actually I lifted something close to 4-5 tons today with all the various angles I hit my chest with during the workout. Think about that for a second. That's pretty hardcore. It kind of freaks me out. That's why I don't think about it even when I am lifting.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012


So we are coming up upon the finale of my current experience.  Here are some of the things I have learned:

  •  When you work hard on your chest, your nipples retreat to your arm pits. Good for boys, bad for girls (Just guessing)
  • When you pound your larger muscle groups, people tend to talk to you slower.
  • I totally understand the whole body building culture now - it's like crack cocaine without the pipe or the needle.  In more unscrupulous circles - not so much.
  •  I have increased my physical mass without starving.
  • You have to eat like a beast to get the most out of you workout (your mileage may vary)

Pictures will follow. I promise.  This is not the end of it but just the beginning. I am now sub 20% fat and more than  85% solid mass consisting of  "f*ck you up"..  Ask my wife, I would imagine it is like sleeping next to a slab of lead.

  •  Max chest 275lbs
  • Max curls 60 lbs

It was a long way from here to there....

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Oryx and Crake

     I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.  It's a stunning piece of fiction. Her writing is silky, resonant. Her ideas are plausible, frightening. In fact, it is the scariest book I have ever read. I will be spending a great deal of time contemplating the implications. It is also the most dangerous thing I have ever read.

     I suppose I should give a synopsis of the book at this point but I don't want to spoil anything for you because I encourage you to read it. But for clarification purposes, I will state that it is merely a speculative fiction novel (the author's choice of description) concerning the end of the world brought about by the hubris of one man with the pseudonym of Crake. That is a rather simplistic view of the novel, I assure you, it is much much more. We are told the story from the point of view of Crake's friend Jimmy, his only friend in reality. I identified with Jimmy, poor poor Jimmy.

    The novel spun me off on thoughts about social engineering via science, what should we do and what we shouldn't do and is there truly a difference. Ethics are fuzzy when it comes to what some might consider progressive acts and this got me to thinking about a previous post; one that was about wheat and one where I have been personally elaborating and extrapolating about the implications of trying to "benefit mankind" via science.

    The sins of science are legion. There are the Tuskeegee experiments and the atomic experiments (which we didn't know at the time whether a nuclear explosion would destroy the atmosphere or not) just to name two out of many. Do not even get me started on things such as virus development. I am a big proponent of science but as we go farther along on some paths it becomes apparently clear that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

    During the last 30 years or more, scientists have been playing with the food chain. Why wouldn't they? They wanted to increase yields and make food more nutritious. In short, they wanted to cure hunger and feed the world, noble aims. They took wheat and made it "better"sometimes through genetic modification and sometimes through hybridization (a process not unlike what early humans did - just more efficient). Yields have grown and wheat has become more "nutritious" but there are side effects to this meddling. Celiac disease (an allergy to wheat gluten) has exploded and people have become more obese. Coincidence or effect? We are still trying to advance the growing of wheat. We are also funding studies to find out what our meddling has done to us.

   There have been experimental studies taking older strains of wheat like Einkorn that do not cause the same biological response that most of the wheat we consume today does. That is telling.  I have never been on the bandwagon for or against genetically modified foods. I had always thought that we had been modifying our food for thousands of years but there is a distinct difference: we are not allowing these strains to evolve though honestly evolution and adaptation are not necessarily the happily ordered and benign concept we think it is.  Evolution is messy, things fall off the map while others prosper, living organisms sometimes develop nasty side effects and traits from being pushed one way or another in their environment. Evolution takes time and makes changes with a certain panache, a smattering of chaos in the order.  But evolution does not employ biologists and profits do not grow through natural selection and accolades do not come from staying status quo, nor does evolution follow development timelines or hunger for monetary grants.

   Still we work incessantly to improve upon our world.  Well, we should but perhaps with some forethought and acceptance. I do believe that the "Five Stages of Grief" is one of the most important concepts to come out of the 20th Century. In addition, I believe that mankind is continuously going through this cycle. It is a major component of the human condition but we tend to skip over acceptance. We are fierce when it comes to accepting the things we find repellant like hunger and death. We have whole industries fighting the former and the latter but that is also part of our existence as humans. Every article I read about a scientist finding some type of Methuselah gene fills me with dread. We are not meant to live forever with swollen bellies and unmarked faces.We do not want to accept one day that we will die even if that means overpopulation and a scarcity of resources; we can figure how to fix that later, right?

   Does that mean I believe we shouldn't cure diseases and improve our lot? No, I believe we should but with caution. Do I also believe that certain industries cause disease intentionally so they can save us with an expensive cure? Not really but I do wonder sometimes. Do I believe we should try to stamp out hunger? Certainly. But one of these times we will miscalculate a "minor" side effect and we will all be the worse for it. Perhaps that has already happened but only time will truly tell. Perhaps, time is telling us now.

   Why I view Atwood's book as dangerous is that it really takes no position on such things - much to her credit. There is a definite outcome that she deftly extrapolates from events in the novel. The telling is so natural. Whether the author believe the outcome is negative or not, is questionable perhaps (especially after reading her comments after the book though I desperately want to believe her analog is Jimmy and not Crake). However, there are a great many people who believe like Crake that we should wipe it all out and start over again. Except, it won't be "us" starting over. We won't be here.

     It's funny how much I read on the internet concerning the self loathing of our species. Some think we should just disappear and let the animals take over because they are nobler. Animal behaviorists probably cringe at the stupidity of this thought process having seen what animals are capable of in their environments.  Insipid, supposedly high minded ideologies are inherently dangerous because they encompass the notion that they should press their will upon others because they are smarter, more intelligent. On the internet you see a lot of this, mostly borne out of insecurity or political mindlessness. But these visions are limited in scope and aren't as holistic as they should be. Maybe these same people would take up Atwood's novel as a blueprint, in some ways they don't have to because their actions already mimic what's in the novel.

     We need more books like Oryx and Crake, dangerous or otherwise, they speak to concepts not normally questioned or debated in our society. We need the Ray Bradburys and Rod Serlings, now more than ever. We need a presentation of higher concepts envisioned intelligently to their bitter end to save us from our folly and to ensure our future. The past 40 years we have lost that type of thinking in favor of simplifying concepts for entertainment consumption.  Atwood's book will have me thinking for a long time and that's a good thing.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Let It Grow

     My wife Christy has a blog about gardening here in the desert. She shares her observations on what plants work and what plants don't and what it takes to make anything grow in such an arid place. She has even roped me into the whole gardening thing.  The little kid in me jumped for joy last week when my pumpkins took hold. It's become a part of my life now. 

     Every morning when I wake up I go and water all the plants in the backyard, I watch how much they've changed from day to day. The bamboo can shoot up over a 24 hour period, by a foot in some cases, while other plants show more subtle changes. The twenty minutes it takes to check everything out is incredibly Zen. I can't think of a better way to start the day but there is a second part to my morning ritual.

    After I have finished my adventure in horticulture, I work out. A few hundred turns of a jump rope and several dozen reps on the free weights and I am soaked to the bone with sweat. I did this almost every morning and it was almost as meditative as the watering. But there was a problem, I was exhausted even before I started and I found myself splitting my workout into morning and evening just to get the effect I wanted.  While this is not necessarily bad (athletes call these two-a-days), I knew I was pushing it and pushing it can cause injury and burnout.

    Now it might seem that plant care and muscle building are two disparate subjects but they have more in common than I have ever thought. If you water a plant too much, the roots rot and the plant just dies. If you water too little, well I think that is obvious. If you water just right then you get growth. If you add some nutrients to the soil occasionally, you get bigger and stronger plants. You might have to water a bit more when you first plant so that the plant can adjust to the new environment.

    Well after my muscles adjusted to their new environment, I continued to "over water". I went through a week of being sore here and there and I knew from experience that it just wasn't a good thing to be sore all the time. Sure you can expect some soreness because that's how you get growth. As muscles are pushed and prodded they tear apart like string cheese. This damage causes your body to release its own personal Emergency Medical Techs (hormones and blood cells) to come and repair it all. The harder you push a muscle, the more time it takes for the repair to be finished. Not only do the body's EMT's repair the damage, they rebuild the muscles fibers and nerves in the area and add some reinforcement. I imagine they do this because they get really tired of doing this shit over and over and maybe if they overdo their job, they won't have to come back. Besides, they have other work to do besides building muscle, they have to take care of cuts and bruises.

   Now imagine being cut deeply on the palm of your dominant hand, you are going to go grab a tennis racket or a pick axe just as soon as you pop on a bandage, right? Of course not. But this was something I had to learn, I suppose. My muscles needed rest or else they weren't going grow, especially as the lifting gets heavier.  The key is to figure out how much rest or, in the plant analogy, how much water is needed to sustain growth. Also there has to be some calculation for how much nutrients the "soil" needs.  Well, there is one and it is the following: 1 gram of protein to 1 pound of body weight. It's pretty simple. We could go on about other nutrients but that is the essential one. Without protein as a nutrient, growth is very limited.

    I've always tried to follow through on the protein but now I make sure I space my workout days so that my muscles can get the full benefit of what my body is trying to do. At first, I worked a muscle group every other day or so. Now, I am working a muscle group every 4 or 5 days depending on how I feel.

   With plants, I have noticed that rain water is excellent for growth. I would stand under a drainage pipe if I thought it would do the same for muscles but alas it does not. At least, I think it doesn't. Hmmm something new to try.

    So I have passed the one month mark plus a week of this challenge and I am very happy with the results thus far. I can see muscle growth and I have become much stronger. So much so, that I have had to buy more weights in the last month, what I had wasn't cutting it. I have completely given up on weighing in because at this point it feels counter productive and the mirror always tells the truth anyway - if you let it.



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Children of the Corn

       Today's lesson is: History! I promise I will try and make it interesting. So with that being said, let's talk about corn. Okay, okay quit your moaning. Maybe I should have said corn, death and inadvertent revenge. Revenge always seems to spice things up.

      Our tale starts around the 1500's when the Europeans were still chummy with the Native Americans somewhat. Yes, there was such a point in history.  There was an important number of cultural exchanges that happened at this time. Earlier Europeans brought illnesses with them that the Native Americans had no natural antibodies for since they had never encountered the various germs and bacteria that caused them. The Native Americans, of course, reciprocated on a much smaller scale with things like parasites. By the time Europeans and Native Americans became trading partners 90% of the Native American population had died off due to earlier contact with the Spaniards (the pox blanket myth was just that). Stop for a moment and imagine that happening in America today. Imagine how the place would look after a hundred years or so. To later Europeans, all that cleared land (it didn't clear itself folks) and roadways just seemed like providence.  You must understand that archaeology was not the strong suit of early settlers.

     Now I said this story had an element of revenge and I will not disappoint. The Native Americans were able to get some measure of payback but not on purpose and it was most assuredly welcomed by the Europeans. What is this nefarious thing of which I speak? Corn. Yep, plain old corn and that was the problem. The corn was plain and for that very reason it caused death and illness for over 300 years. 

    Let's go back to the 1500's where a taste sensation were sweeping the European nations - corn. It was sweet, fairly easy to grow and it wasn't wheat. They just didn't have the variety of food stuffs that we enjoy today. Many Europeans ate just one thing all of the time; sometimes rice, mostly wheat. They weren't eating large turkey legs and shouting 'Huzzah!' at each other in their fine clothes. Meat was a luxury item most of the time. All of a sudden corn comes along and changes things. Those wonderful 'indians' had provided something more for the table albeit with a little early bioengineering. Somewhere in my head I imagine an aboriginal farmer holding up an ear of corn and screaming, "It's alive! Alive!" Corn was more than likely a grass type plant like wheat once was and through careful selection and mutation we got corn, glorious corn. Corn also gave a much greater yield than wheat so it was much easier to feed a family.

     The lower classes of Europe were happy and rejoiced in their new cuisine but then people started getting sick and dying. Sure people had fuller stomachs but they also had rotting skin, dementia and eventual death. It was so prevalent that the Italians gave it a name after the appearance of the afflicted skin - Pellagra which essentially means 'sour skin'.  I note here that I now wonder if 16th century Italians also got little blue pills from the Native Americans as well and that's how we got Viagra which, while sounding similar, is not really an affliction unless your symptoms last for more than 8 hours - please see a doctor.

    Corn is a perfectly fine food but it has a very low bioavailability which means it is not easily broken down by the body. The clever Native Americans always cooked their corn with lime juice which allowed the corn to become more bioavailable. By making the corn easier for the body to process, the Native Americans were getting the niacin they needed from their food. The Europeans decided that they really didn't need that silly Native American "Corn-ucopia!" or "To Serve Man" cookbooks when they adopted corn as a food staple. Thus, the Europeans died left and right or mumbled to themselves incoherently while smearing corn mush all over their naked bodies because they lacked niacin in their diet.

    In 1881 there were over 100,000 cases of Pellagra in Italy alone. Since there was no clever Ye Olde CDC to mobilize and study the cause of the disease people just kept on dying into the 1900's. An American doctor faced the disease epidemic that hit the south of these United States in the early 1900's. Hundreds of thousands were afflicted, mostly children. They were quarantined. But the good doctor accurately assessed that it was actually a dietary issue and not a communicable disease. No one would listen and he was ridiculed. Eventually, they did figure it all out (not until many people had died mind you) and that's why you don't hear some poor old soul at your office going around whining about 'Havin' the Pellagra' on a Monday morning. In some cases niacin is added to our food. It's actually good for you.

    So why have I written all of this? Well it would seem we did not learn our lesson very well. A number of years ago scientists were looking to get a better yield on wheat and make it more nutritious. Better wheat means less hungry people on the planet which is perfectly noble. Except we lost some bio diversity along the way in what we actually eat now. Today's wheat has the opposite problem of what corn once had for the Europeans - the damn stuff is fantastically bioavailable. It's incredibly nutritious. It's super wheat to the rescue! Well, um, there are side effects ya know like obesity, gluten sensitivity etc. The way most of the wheat we eat today was designed, cultured, modified or whatever is making us fat. Sure this is fantastic when you are in the middle of a famine but not so good when you are slapping a sandwich between your lips in your nice suburban home. And let's face it bread is our staple, it was at the bottom of our food pyramid. Wheat products are everywhere! So what to do? I don't think there are easy answers here. American wheat is highly prized in the world, especially in Italian pasta which is not a bad thing since such pasta uses durum wheat; very high in protein and not the 'common' wheat we consume in everything. It will be interesting to see if we take forever to react or come to terms with what medical research has found but until then I am trademarking the term Fatagra just in case.


Monday, July 30, 2012

How to Eat Fried Worms

     If you have never read the book 'How to Eat Fried Worms', I would highly suggest you do. As an adult it should be a fairly quick read. The basic premise is that a boy must eat fifteen worms in fifteen days. Yes, it is a bit disgusting but it is really funny and it also shows you what you can accomplish if you have enough drive. Sadly, this book is one that is often banned for some stupid reason. Now, of course, that will make you really want to read the thing but honestly there is nothing really offensive in the book; nothing lascivious or weird except the 'eating worms' part of it. Why am I talking about this book which many of you may have already read or will never have any intention of reading? Let me get to the point.

     You would think that the real challenge in the book would be eating worms everyday but that's not really it. The true challenge arises when he has to make sure that he eats that worm before midnight because if he doesn't he won't really be eating a worm a day and that messes everything up. I, personally, have found myself empathizing with the main character, Bobby, quite a bit as of late. With my new drive to be the best me I can be (read previous post), I try to squeeze in at least one workout a day. Some days it is very hard to squeeze everything in under the line. If it is a good day, I can squeeze a 20-30 minute weight session in the morning and 20-30 minutes of plyometrics or cardio in the evening or vice versa. During a very busy day I am happy to be able to pull off one of those and get some brisk walking in at work. Now there are days, due to time constraints and early meetings, I can't get the early set in and must pile it all up for an evening set.  The worst days are ones where there are early meetings and late obligations and these days find me trying to pound out as much as I can at around 10 o'clock at night. This is very bad jou jou.

     The rare but undesirable late workout has a very bad effect on me: my metabolism is so revved up that sleep becomes one of those things other people do. The good part? I get to catch up on infomercials. Yay for me. The worst part? After all that working out and not sleeping I have now succeeded in building muscle but have stopped all physical processes that cut fat. Sleep cuts fat. I should say that reasonable sleep cuts fat. Sleep also helps repair damage that happens after exercise. All that running, extending, weight training and box jumping tears muscle fibers. So when you lose sleep the body has less time to clean up the mess and rebuild itself in a stronger fashion.

    Now you think I would buffer this with perhaps a little more sleep in the morning but I have recently acquired the disease of waking with the first light just like my father and my aunts and uncles. I need no alarms, I am just wired that way now. It's fantastic! (where is the sarcasm tag???). So 5:45 or 6AM, I am up and at 'em, reading posts, feeding animals, mixing protein shakes and working out. Don't get me wrong, I like all of those things - mostly.  I will say that the workout is so much harder to get motivated for in the morning after a late workout. Now I could skip but it is the principle of the thing; I made myself the promise to eat the damned worm and I am going to eat it damn it.

    I guess the whole point of this post is that you should eat friend worms and wake up at dawn. Wait...uh no. The whole point is to get your sleep and to stay driven but mostly get your sleep. After a very busy week of running around I got 10 hours of miraculous sleep Sunday morning and the weird thing is that I felt I had just walked out of some fantastic slimming machine. That told me that my metabolism was up from building muscle and that my body had fed off my own fat like it was at an all you can eat buffet. I looked good and I felt good. It pays to let the sandman do his job.

   Next Week: 'Where the Red Fern Grows' and its impact on drop sets and interval training.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Eye of the Tiger

    So it has been a little over a year since I posted last. Life tends to glide by quicker than it should. It has been an eventful year; new job, changes around the house. I am still implementing all the things I learned last year but in a less extreme way. The main reason I hit the brakes a bit? I hated it. I honestly did. There was a point last year where I felt skeletal and out of sorts so I rebelled once winter came around. I went to the other extreme. As much as I hated feeling skeletal and worn out, the other end of the spectrum was now far worse. There had to be a happy medium right?

    Starting about three to four months ago, I reapplied the lessons that I learned last year and worked in a few more.  It has worked out well. "Well John, that is just great! Yawn! Snore! Good for you! Thanks for making me click to get here, I'll never get that finger movement back again, thanks a helluva lot!" Yeah, it's kind of boring. Boy loses lots of weight, boy gains back some weight, boy loses weight. Not exactly what I would call riveting news but something happened today that made me want to blog about all of this stuff again. A challenge! Well sorta, kinda, maybe.

    Today, my friend and I were having lunch at a fantastical place called Chino Bandido's - the perfect melding of Chinese, Jamaican and Mexican cuisine featured on 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives'.  Now my friend, who will remain nameless for reasons that I will explain shortly, was the perfect guide for the place. He has been eating there for perhaps decades and knows all the ins and outs. As we stood in line, he informed me that he had lost 15lbs doing P90X (awesome!). I have to say he looked really healthy since the last time I saw him which, in our terms, had been quite awhile; a month or even more.

    So as we ate our fantastic meal he told me he hadn't really told anyone. He wanted to keep it on the down low because when you tell people certain things they get a bit skeptical (my thoughts not his). Hence, the nameless friend. Now I will say, if he wants to disclose himself in the comments, he is more than welcome to do so. I can understand his feelings on the matter. When you try something that might seem trendy or a bit different you don't want people coming out of the woodwork to scoff or give you a hard time. I personally think P90X and other assorted 90 day challenges are excellent motivators. What I like most about P90X is that it is laid out for you in exacting terms but with some sense to it as well. You are getting great surefire advice and wonderful motivation that you can count on as long as you follow through with it. We talked also about the diet guidelines and they sounded great too.

   "Okay, okay, yeah you ate at a great dive and talked about work out plans and diets, SNOREARAMA!" Well yeah maybe to you but I love this stuff. I love learning and reading about this stuff. Often I have many chances to bore my wife with a new study or two I have read each week. Which reminds me, don't bring up studies about weight loss and diet to your spouse randomly, um-kay? They might get paranoid when all you are actually doing is trying to engage them in conversation. For the record, my wife needs no advice in this regard whatsoever which might explain the bored and puzzled looks she gives me.  It's like an elephant walking up to a cheetah and saying, "You know, if you lengthen your stride just so, you can run a wee bit faster. Oh don't thank me my swift footed friend, my advice is free of charge!'

    So I guess the truly interesting part of this whole post is that we, unnamed friend and I, are going to test our mettle a bit. Aha! Yes, a challenge! So here are the points of what we decided upon:

  • We will endeavor to make ourselves excellent physical specimens.
  • I will use whatever I have in my grab bag of tricks and unnamed friend will use P90X
  • There will be before and after pictures (not my idea but I grudgingly agreed - grudgingly)
  • First pic will be tomorrow morning (Saturday July 7th, 2012) but don't count on me posting it until we are done.
  • September 14th or so is the date of reckoning because, hell people, we have lives.
    Now how are we going to tell who wins? We don't. In the end, we'll both win. That's not to say we aren't going to be ribbing each other a bit or motivating each other on any given day. The one thing we noted is how good we feel when we are relatively healthy; assorted physical indignities just drift away. So really pushing through to September is just going to be the icing on the cake. Not only will we feel good, we'll look great.

    I put the next item here because honestly it is a motivator and probably the song that is played on the most MP3 players during a workout - ever! I am going to beat you Draco (since you must remain nameless and I hate typing unnamed friend over and over and over)! Wait, wrong movie. Well right movie, wrong sequel. I just can't make myself call unnamed friend Clubber Lang. If you have no idea what I am talking about in this paragraph, well, I really don't know what to say then - politely.

UPDATE: I had no idea it was Stallone's birthday when I wrote this today. Ha!