Archive | June, 2012

Road Trip!

25 Jun

I’m hitting the road late Wednesday night, bound for the Perform Better Functional Training Summit in Chicago.  I am so freaking excited.

I’ll be spending the weekend listening to such super-geniuses as: Dr. Lee Burton, Dr. Stuart McGill, Gray Cook, Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, John Brookfield, Thomas Plummer, Martin Rooney, Charlie Weingroff, Eric Cressey and Dr. Greg Rose.  Holy beans, it’s going to be amazing.

I’m taking my mom along with me for the ride.  She’s excited about all the shopping and sight-seeing she’ll be able to do while I’m at the conference and I’m pleased to have some company for the 8-hour drive (I just got so many books on tape out of the library – you have no idea).  We’re also taking in a Cirque Du Soleil show on Saturday night – I’ve never seen Cirque before, so I’m pretty hyped about that too.

On that note, I am way too amped up about my trip to write a coherent blog post.  Here are some links to people who have written awesome posts that you should totally read:

Neghar, with a great post on finding balance in your life and diet.

My new favourite person ever, John Romaniello, outlines his rules for living.

Alwyn Cosgrove gives a lesson about choices.

and finally, The Bloggess shares her wisdom on accomplishment.

I will have so much updating to do once I’m back from the conference – I promise to share all of the learnination (that’s learning and domination, together at last) upon my return.

The Most Undertrained Energy System

21 Jun

People in the health and fitness industry like to tell you how to live.  We really like to give advice about all sorts of things beyond the realm of exercise.  Why is that?  I think anyone in any part of the service industry will tell you that as soon as you embark on a career serving others, your job description expands beyond whatever your specialty is.  Bartenders are therapists, hairdressers are self-esteem coaches, and so on. 

So, here’s me telling you how to live again.  Mostly because, like everything on this blog, I need to hear it myself.

Sometimes life gets hard.  Sometimes we feel so caught up in the daily grind that we don’t know where one day stops and the next starts.  It stinks, and sometimes it is a challenge to get yourself out of the funk.  I love fitness, and usually it helps to improve my mood, but some days your training session feels like just another thing you have to do.

When life gets hard, often our default action is to find something that soothes us – eating a comfort food, watching TV, taking a nap.  Being soothed is important and, if nothing else, it calms us enough that we can tackle the next day.

But being soothed is only part of the solution.  Being soothed is passive – it’s a good tool to keep us functional, like foam-rolling or stretching, but it needs supplementation with vigorous activity.

My brilliant husband told me this the other day, when I really needed to hear it:

“What I think we both forget sometimes is that you have to train your joy as much as your arms or your crossovers. No input, no results. You have to ask yourself “does this make me happy?” Or if you’re doing something solely out of necessity, “Does this buy me time and space to do something awesome later?”  Sometimes when we’re tired we think we need to wind down, to do something numbing like Toddlers & Tiaras, or beer, or games, or reading until we can’t even focus. Occasionally we have to dig deeper and find energy to do something that’s not soothing but is uplifting. We have to exercise our capacity for joy.”

(We really don’t watch as much Toddlers and Tiaras as this blog would have you believe.)

The point is this:  Relaxing is great, but sometimes we need to be active in our quest for happiness.  We can’t just wind down when we’re sad, sometimes we need to wind up.  We need to identify those things that give us pure, unadulterated pleasure, seek them out, and be in the moment with them.  It’s no good for me to go on a walk to bring myself joy if all I’m going to do is worry about the list of things I should be doing instead of walking.  If relaxing, soothing activities are the foam-rolling of mental fitness, then joy-seeking is the anaerobic training.  You should be so consumed in your joyful activity that you can’t think of other things.  Let yourself laugh with abandon, revel in the beauty of small things, push your enjoyment threshold to its limit.

You’ll find that just like with aerobic and anaerobic training, the more joy training you do, the greater your capacity for joy will become.  Starting out, lots of people can’t even manage 15 minutes of steady-state cardio.  Starting out, it’s really hard to commit your full attention to being joyful – maybe it feels selfish, maybe it feels like there are more important things to be done.  It isn’t and there aren’t.   Like with any other form of training, start small and work up.  Those folks who said you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself were right.  The more we are able to feel joyful, the more joy we can spread. 

‘But Laura’, you say ‘I don’t know what makes me joyful’.  I struggle here too – it’s tough to know how to be happy.  We often think of happiness as this big, huge goal that will only happen if the stars align and things go perfectly our way.  But maybe happiness is like fitness – it doesn’t happen all at once.  You need a lot of little parts working together and each little part improves at its own pace.  Find the little moments that you can be truly joyful within, and go after them wholeheartedly, however brief those moments might be.

Still stuck?  Here are some things that bring me joy.  They may not be the same for you, but heck, it’s a start.

  • Watching my tiny dog run fills my heart in a way that I never thought possible.  She tears it up, and you can tell when she’s running that there’s nothing else she’d rather be doing.  I love that.  This isn’t her, but you get the idea.
  • Going to the zoo.
  • Roller skating, by myself, outside.  The rush of the wind, the smells of the city, going down hills.  It’s pretty great and it recharges me for derby.
  • Hiking in the woods, seeing the sun stream in through breaks in the trees.
  • Going to the Antiques Market and finding a really great deal.

That’s a start to my list.  How about you?  How can you exercise your joy?

What I Learned At: Atom Skate Academy

18 Jun

I’m going to be attending a whole bunch of conferences, camps and seminars this summer.  Each time I attend a new event, I’m going to break down what I learned here on the blog.

To start things off, I spent this past weekend in an arena with a bunch of hot, sweaty ladies at Atom Skate Academy.  It was hosted by the GTA Rollergirls and coached by Hockey Honey and Joy Collision of AZRD, and Scald Eagle of the Rose City Rollers.  There were skaters there from all over, from Moncton to Ann Arbor, and it was great to see newer leagues and newer skaters getting access to this kind of coaching.  The coaches did a good job of balancing the instruction for varied skill levels and adapted well to the last minute coaching changes they ran into.

Ten things I learned at Atom Skate Academy:

As a jammer coming up to the pack when checking your speed, don’t tomahawk.  Plow or hockey stop so that you can keep your eyes on the pack at all times. – Scald Eagle

What looks right flies right – perfect technique looks pretty and gets results. – Hockey Honey

A team won’t work if you don’t have the right personnel, even a team full of superstars will fail if everyone isn’t on board. – Joy Collision

When coming up the inside or outside line, balance on the foot that’s riding the line.  That way if you’re hit, you have a better chance of either staying in or re-entering without cutting. – Scald Eagle

The cutting minor (as a jammer) is never worth it. – Scald Eagle

Shared Biological Events (eating, sleeping, travel) are key when it comes to team-building. – Joy Collision

You cannot actively play offence and defence simultaneously – come up with a strategy that covers both bases instead and you will have way more success. – Joy Collision

One punch offence on a power jam – if jammer is struggling, try one thing one time to help her.  Don’t let the other team trick you into a race. – Joy Collision

Commit fully to your jukes, spring load and explode each time. – Scald Eagle

Be brilliant at the basics – that’s what translates as high-level strategy.  Really, it’s just being better at core skills than everyone else. – Joy Collision

How To Blow Off Your Workout (Without Derailing Your Training)

14 Jun

There are some days when we just can’t find the time to train.  It happens to all of us, even when we have a schedule.  Part of setting yourself up to succeed is accepting that there will be times when things go awry.  There will be days when, despite your best efforts, there just isn’t enough time between obligations to a training session in.

There are some experts out there who will say “There’s always time to workout!  You just don’t have your priorities straight!”.  I see what they’re trying to get at – for the sake of our health and longevity, we need to get active.  If there’s time to watch a Toddlers & Tiaras marathon, but no time to get in a workout, maybe you do need to look a little closer at your schedule.

That being said, maybe an hour of Toddlers & Tiaras is the only time in the day that you get to take a rest, turn off your brain, and unplug for a few short moments.  Far be it from me to take that time away from you.  We all need rest – mental, physical and emotional rest.

So, accept that it will happen and move on.  You are not going to be perfect.  Recently, Mark Fisher had an awesome post that said “When we let go of BEING PERFECT, we can start the important work of GETTING BETTER.”  Don’t let one missed day turn into two.  It’s easy for two to turn into three and snowball from there.  Part of why we slide back into the habit of doing nothing is discouragement, part is familiarity.  So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start at it fresh tomorrow. 

Another reason that we start to stray from our new training habits is that with each day that you miss a session, fitness moves a little further from the active part of your mind.  It gets filed behind the big project you’re working on, or the game that you have next weekend, or the million emails piling up in your inbox.  Bit by bit, it becomes less of a priority.  Coach Boyle recently posted that you only get one body.  Make sure that you keep the state of your body somewhere in the forefront of your mind.

How do you do that when you absolutely, positively cannot find the time to train?

Here’s how:  Trick yourself.

I’m not going to be all, “Here’s a quick 15 minute workout.  You’ll hardly know you trained at all.”  There are some days that you won’t find those extra fifteen minutes and trying to will just stress you out and make you feel worse about missing a workout.   What I am going to suggest is keeping fitness at the forefront of your consciousness by turning the things that you HAVE to do into bite-sized fitness chunks.

How to turn chores into fitness awesomeness: (I actually do all these things, so they’re totally not dumb)

Garden: Gardening is a great way to exercise.  Between raking, pulling and planting, you can get a full-body workout.  When pulling or planting, alternate between a (good form) squat and a full-kneeling posture, engaging the core.  Use both arms and keep your shoulder girdle set (shoulders in your back pocket, not shrugging).  When raking, use a lunge stance with one foot in front of the other, switch throughout.  Make sure to warm-up first and stretch following.

Walk the Dog: I have a tiny dog.  She loves to run.  When I walk her, we start out slow for the first couple of minutes, getting warm and getting our blood pumping.  After we’re warmed up, we alternate jogging and walking.  Mostly we jog until she finds something good to smell, walk to the next smell and then jog again.  By the time the walk is over, we’re both happier and fitter.

Clean the House: You can go through all of your basic movement patterns while you clean.  Squat when you need to get low, hip hinge when you need to bend over, push, pull, lift, carry.  Cleaning the house can work it all.  The key is to keep your posture in mind as you go room to room.  When you put stuff away, use proper squat or deadlift form to pick it up and fully extend to put it away – you can also apply this to doing laundry, or washing and putting away the dishes.  Extra credit: bust out the vacuum, especially if it’s an old heavy one.  Keep your shoulders set as you vacuum, and lift with your legs as you carry it up the stairs.

Shovel Snow: I do this every time I shovel.  My neighbours think I’m just a really inefficient shoveller. I shovel a strip and then run full tilt back to the other side of my driveway and do it again.  Shovelling intervals!  Hooray!  When shoveling, keep your posture, don’t let your back round, and use your legs to lift and throw.

Sit in an Office Chair: Most of us spend a lot of time in a chair.  We have to stand up at least a couple of times throughout our day.  When you sit and stand, why not box squat?  Bret Contreras teaches how here.  Look at the 1:00 minute mark, where he details a high box squat – use a wider stance and keep the tibia vertical.  Make sure to squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.  Only use a barbell if your boss is really cool.

Stand Somewhere: The days that we’re the busiest are also often the days where other people seem the slowest.  If you find yourself waiting in line, do some calf raises.  It’s a little thing, but it’ll keep your body on your mind.

Another thing that I have all my clients do is what I call a Seam Check.  Most of us have postural issues.  A lot of us have rounded shoulders from working on a keyboard all day.  Stand up and look at where your palms face.  Is it towards your back?  If so, you’re probably slouching.  Every time it comes to mind – pick your shoulders all the way up to your ears, pull them back and then slide them down (think of them going into your back pockets).  After you’ve done that, your middle fingers should line up with the seam of your pants.  Be careful that your chest doesn’t flare when your shoulders are pulled back, I like to add the extra cue of tucking your ribs in.   Seam Check = Better Posture.  BAM.

You may miss your training session, but incorporating little bits of fitness into your day will keep your body on your mind.  That’s the way to keep yourself on the track to long-term success.

These Boots Aren’t Made For Walking

11 Jun

Ladies, let’s talk about shoes.

I like shoes.  I’ve always been more of a sneaker than a high heel type, but there are times when I’ll bust out the big-girl shoes.  I like the way that they make my feet look (at first), I like the way that I think of myself when I’m wearing them.  What I don’t like is what they’re doing to my body.  Not even really to my body, but more to the bodies of women who wear heels daily. 

I’ve been reading a lot of research papers lately, trying to get my learn on, and I came across a couple of interesting studies about the effects of high heels as they relate to osteoarthritis.   Osteoarthritis and knee replacement surgery are much more common in women than in men, and these studies looked to draw a correlation between the pretty shoes and the not-so-pretty consequences.  Here’s walking in a nutshell: When you walk, the ground forces coupled with gravity and your bodyweight want to force your joints to bend one way or another.  To counteract this your muscles have to produce an equal and opposite reaction to keep you from collapsing on yourself. 

Long science-y story short, the first study concluded that walking in high heels increases abductor dominance (about 10%), causing the knees to cave in (science term: valgus).*  The second concluded pretty much the same, adding that if afterwards the knee is forced into a varus (knees out) position (so you don’t fall over), the loading will be directly on the medial surfaces of the knee joint.**  Not a great plan.   Both studies found that high heels are more muscularly demanding to walk in, and could contribute to joint degeneration and osteoarthritis.  Maybe those stilettos don’t look so appealing anymore.

Following up on the articles, I came across a number of fitness classes that cater to women who want to wear heels, teaching them proper posture, pelvic alignment and striding technique.  Fair play, some women are always going to wear heels and at least they’re being taught the best way to do so.   I hope that along with teaching women how to walk in their heels, these fitness professionals are also educating them about the possible long-term effects. 

As well, I came across what I hope is not a far-reaching fitness trend: The Stiletto Workout (for the love of your minds, don’t watch the whole video, a few seconds should give you enough of an idea).  Apparently, there are studios that teach whole classes in heels, cashing in on the whole fitness-for-women-should-be-sexy trend.  I’ll get into my feelings on that trend in another post.  Suffice it to say, I’m not a huge fan.  If you must wear them, there is a time and a place for high heels (preferably when you are mostly sitting).  THAT TIME IS NOT WORKOUT TIME.  Training is about feeling good about yourself, and maybe heels help you do that, but training is also about safety and there is no way that you will ever convince me that working out in high heels is the safest training method you have available to you.  Barefoot – great; training shoes – great; stilettos – no freaking way.

While we’re on the topic, it’s not just stilettos we should be worried about.  Recently, Sketchers settled a $40 million lawsuit regarding their Shape-Ups toning shoes.  Ads for Shape-Ups claimed that the sneakers toned muscles, improved posture, and encouraged weight loss, while reducing knee and ankle stress and back pain.  Last September, the FTC also settled with Reebok over similar claims about their toning shoes.  The FTC found that the claims were based on faulty science and that in independent testing, people did not lose weight just from wearing different shoes.  Score one for common sense.

The trouble is that with so much crazy health and fitness marketing out there, it can be tough to know what constitutes common sense.  And for beginners who are looking for anything to get them started on the path, toning shoes are an easy sell.  Sketchers still stands by its product and will continue to sell the shoes, just changing the advertising message.

We’re all grown-ups, and we can wear whatever we want on our bodies and do whatever we want while wearing it.  What I’m saying is before you strap on those strappy sandals, those precarious pumps, or even those EasyTones; give it a good think, consider your common sense, and make an informed decision.


*Heel height affects lower extremity frontal plane joint moments during walking, Barkema, Derrick and Martin, Gait and Posture, 2011

**Walking on High Heels Changes Muscle Activity and the Dynamics of Human Walking Significantly, Simonsen, Svendsen, Norreslet, Baldvinsson, Heilskov-Hansen, Larsen, Alkjaer and Henriksen, JAB, 2011

What Condition Is Your Conditioning In?

7 Jun

Off-skates Conditioning – The new, hip thing in derby?  Something we should have been doing all along?

Some benefits – It helps us to be faster and stronger on and off the track.  It helps us feel comfortable in our own skin, and gets us to know our bodies better.  It develops lifelong healthy habits that will (hopefully) stay with us post-derby retirement.

Some challenges – As with everything in derby, we all think we have the best answer.  And that’s because there are many answers.  Everyone has a different body, different challenges, different goals and a different attitude towards their derby skating.  Some skaters will embrace a 3-day a week, hour-long strength and energy system training program.  Some girls have a hard time managing an extra half an hour twice a week.  Some girls are injured, some have poor body-awareness or faulty movement patterns.  Can we train everyone the same way and expect the same results?  Absolutely not.  But, we can give basic guidelines and some common sense.

First, what is derby?  Not the info blurb that’s in all of our bout programs – what is derby biomechanically?  What does derby do to our bodies?  Here’s a video of the muscles targeted by roller-skating:

That’s lots, eh?  Basically the whole of the lower body gets involved in one way or another.  As well, we use our upper body to propel us forward and our upper body and core to stabilize.  We all know that skating derby is a whole body workout, so how do we train those muscles when we’re not on the track?  Look for information about off-skates fitness and you’ll see recommendations for yoga, for Olympic lifting, for pilates, for cycling, for the exact program that Team X is doing, or why Team Y’s program is way better/safer/more effective than Team X’s.  You’ll also see some pretty absolute statements:

“Derby is so quad-dominant that you should never squat.”  Okay, fair, derby is pretty quad-dominant in that we spend a lot of time in a squat when skating.  However, we also extend when we push, abduct and adduct when we crossover.  What we need to do is develop a balanced training program that addresses how much time we spend in a squatting position, only ever turning left.  Don’t forget your posterior chain: do your squats, but also throw in some bridges, thrusts and deadlifts to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.   Also, the best way to achieve a better derby stance and therefore a more stable stride and greater power in blocking is to learn proper squatting patterns.  The best way to learn proper squatting patterns is to squat.  True story.

“Since we skate full two-minute shifts in an hour-long game, we need to be training endurance.  Hop up on that cardio machine and go for an hour.”  Yes, we do need to work on our cardiovascular endurance.  Yes, there is a place and a time for cardio machines (or just cardio in general).  Is an hour on the treadmill the best use of your off-skates time?  Maybe not.  Derby is an explosive sport, with bursts of speed interspersed with periods of slow control.  We need to train both our aerobic and anaerobic systems to maximize performance.  If we train our anaerobic system (working hard enough to be breathless), we’ll increase our lactate threshold.  Lactate threshold is the point during exercise at which your blood lactate builds faster than it can clear, and your muscles fatigue (for more info, read this).  Training anaerobically will incrementally better your lactate threshold, which in turn will improve your aerobic performance.  Think of it this way, training aerobically only increases your aerobic abilities – you’ll have great endurance, but when you have to race to catch that jammer at the last minute, you may not have the gas.  Training anaerobically improves both systems,  you’ll have the staying power and you’ll be more resistant to muscle fatigue after your sudden bursts of speed.  So, if you want to use a machine, try some intervals at different levels of exertion.  Outside, experiment with hill sprints.  Again though, all types of conditioning are not for everyone right away.  Be honest about where you are at with your fitness, and start at an appropriate level.  If you are brand new to fitness in general, you can start with some steady state and gradually work in the intervals.  You’ll protect your body and by working progressively, you’ll set yourself up to win.

“Since derby is all about explosive movement and speed, all you need is plyo and sprint training.  Lifting weights will just make you bulky and slow you down.”  First of all, I have a serious hate on for the word “bulky”.  It is a word used far too often to discourage women from lifting weights and it makes me crazy, but that’s another post for another time.  Now as far as muscularity slowing you down – Here is my favourite picture in the world of champion speed skater, Apolo Anton Ohno.

photo courtesy of ESPN, The Body Issue

Is he pretty muscular?  Yep.  Does he use resistance training?  You better believe he does. Does his muscularity slow him down?  Um, no.  Resistance training can be utilized in a number of ways – for strength as well for power.  It’s all in the application.  For a lot of skaters without an athletic background, we just need to get stronger, period.

Gaining muscle mass helps our body in a number of ways: weight control – the higher our muscle mass, the more calories we burn at rest; increased strength – means increased stamina and better quality of life as we age; and the key one for derby: reduced risk of injury – building muscle helps to protect and support our joints.  Weight bearing exercise helps strengthen bones.  Unlike skeletal muscle, our tendons and ligaments have a poor blood supply and are slow to heal and adapt, resistance training helps to strengthen tendons and ligaments, making them more resistant to tearing.  All around, a pretty good thing.

Sure, do some plyo training if you are ready for it – but be safe and progress gradually.  You need to have sufficient leg strength before you are able to safely execute proper plyometric exercise (which brings us back to strength training…).  We’re not all ready for this just yet.

It gets mentioned a lot that downhill skiing is pretty similar to roller derby as far as the body is concerned.  This stands up – skiiers spend a lot of time in a partial squat, using their core and upper body to stabilize.  Here’s a great resource with some sample dryland programs.

There are tons of different ways to train off-skates.  There are different benefits to each training element.  What I preach is balance.  Take time to train holistically – strength train, train for power, and train your different energy systems, train your mind.   Our gains can only happen during our rest periods, so make sure you allow time for recovery.

The take-away here is that there’s no one conditioning program that will suit every skater (or outside of derby, every person looking to get fit, athlete or not).  Be wary of those who say there’s only one way to do things and that every other method is crap.

The best program is the one that suits your individual needs and challenges.

The best program is the one that you will stick to.


4 Jun

(I’ve been talking a lot about goal-achievement lately.  Seems that’s all you can talk about when you have goals that you’re trying to realize.  It’s like when you’ve decided what sort of new car you’re going to buy and then you can’t stop seeing that particular car on the road everywhere.  Anyway, here’s another goal-related post.)

Yesterday I went to a surprise 30th birthday party for one of my closest friends from high school.  Her younger brother organized the whole thing and got together a bunch of folks, some of whom hadn’t seen each other for ten years.  My friend was very surprised and the party went off without a hitch. 

I, too, recently turned thirty and got my share of surprises.

As I neared the day, it was like, ‘Surprise! You are seven years older than when you finished university and you have been treading water ever since’.  

It was like, ‘Surprise!  When you see people you haven’t seen since high school you have nothing new to say because you’ve done nothing with your life’. 

It was like, ‘Surprise!  Where has the time gone?’.

When you’re comfortable-but-not-happy, the time passes while you’re stuck in the daily grind.  I knew the way I was working, where I was working, was not going to not fulfill me day-to-day, let alone for a lifetime.  Sure, having a steady paycheque was great, but it wasn’t going to get me out of bed in the morning.  My chorus of idiots helped me along, ” It’s a bad job market, you’re lucky to have anything, not everyone can have a career that they love, at least you like the other stuff that you have going on”.

I was so painfully afraid of taking a risk that I declared myself happy enough with the way things are.

At the time, I was reading Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week, and in the book he talks about dream-lining – identifying your ideal life and mapping out how you’re going to get there.  There is a big part of this process dedicated to defining your fear.  The short story is that you are almost always giving up more permanent, more pervasive happiness for temporary, conquerable fear.  Read the book,  it’s a great kick in the pants.

We’re all afraid of something.  We’re bogged down in feeling sorry for ourselves because we’re not young enough or smart enough or rich enough or fit enough or courageous enough to just get on with whatever it is that we’re afraid of.

I could rehash Mark Fisher‘s post about getting past your fitness fears, but he says everything I want to say, with WAY more colourful (read: NSFW) language and unicorns than I ever could.  READ THIS.  Go on, I’ll wait.

We need fear.   Sometimes it keeps us from doing stupid things.  Fear shouldn’t keep us from doing amazing things.  When you can identify your fear for what it is, you take away its power.  Assign a value to the thing that your fear is keeping you from.  Is the potential disaster that you fear greater and more permanent than the potential value of taking that risk?  Likely not.

Once you acknowledge that you are afraid, and just f@#$ing do it anyway, you’ll be like, ‘Surprise! I had the tools I needed to be awesome all along!’.

Thirty was the deadline I needed to take control of my life.  Thirty is the year that I take that career into my own hands and try to make something of myself.  I am terrified, but thirty is the year that fear doesn’t stop me.  Thirty is the year that I have lots of new things to say to people I haven’t seen since high school.