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In one of the more interesting experiences of my 25-year police career, I spent eighteen months as a United Nations cop in Kosovo. In an attempt to bring justice in the wake of a particularly vicious civil war, 54 nations sent officers to the mission. The US contingent were mostly older retirees from agencies across America plus a few guys in their late twenties or early thirties, many of whom were military vets or reservists. I was a former Marine serving in the Texas Army National Guard at the time.
One afternoon I was guarding a war crimes prosecutor at a courthouse. A judge’s security escort was also there, and I struck up a conversation with a couple of the American cops from her team. One was a former Ranger Batt Soldier who, like me, had never deployed to combat. As we wound our way through the conversation, he asked why I got into police work. I surprised myself with the answer.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Death wish, maybe? Actually, I think I became a cop because I never got into a war.”
The Ranger’s face lit up. He turned to his teammate and said, “See? I told you the same damn thing.”
I’ve reflected on that conversation many times in the intervening seventeen years. Why did I blurt out anything about a death wish? Did I really just choose law enforcement out of anger or frustration at never being the warrior I felt I was destined to be? And why would I compare police work to war anyway? Even then, years before I actually went to war, I knew there was a fundamental difference.
But I suspect – strongly suspect – that the Ranger and I aren’t the only cops who chose police work, consciously or unconsciously, because we’d never faced an enemy on the battlefield and assumed we never would.
I’ve had several conversations with cops who expressed such sentiments. One sergeant I met, a former Marine with decades of experience working high-crime neighborhoods, lamented the fact that he’d never had his “one minute of combat” in the Corps. This feeling isn’t unusual among cops. We should wonder what it says about us.
So let’s get some things into the open. As it turns out, part of the reflexive answer I gave in Kosovo was true; I did want to be in a war, ever since I was a kid. I grew up in the shadow of men who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam: a great uncle killed on Bataan, another who jumped with the 82nd in Europe, yet another who was a medic during the Battle of Okinawa. My Grandfather had argued his way out of a safe civil service job and into the Navy. My second cousin and several neighbors served in Vietnam. I measured my future self against the standard set by the war veterans in my life; today, I look back at my wartime actions and hope those men would have judged me worthy of standing among them.
I joined the Marine Reserve at seventeen, was ready and eager for war at eighteen, and then proceeded to sit out Panama, Desert Storm and Somalia. I used to joke “I saw a lot of combat in Desert Storm, because I was at home watching CNN.” At the end of my USMCR enlistment I was disappointed, bitter, and disillusioned. I felt I’d done literally nothing. A few months later I joined the National Guard, mostly for the experience of training in an Abrams tank. As a Marine who missed what I thought was my generation’s war, I didn’t expect the Guard to send me anywhere.
But about five years into my boring Marine enlistment, a company commander suggested I look into law enforcement. At first I couldn’t see it. I was 5’7” and maybe 115 pounds, and had always thought I was too small to be a cop. But the idea took hold; I started talking to cops, and every one told me not to worry about my size (although I was warned “Don’t let anyone get ahold of you”). Eventually I decided that not only was police work a viable option, I practically had to do it. And I’ve loved it for a quarter century.
So the question is, why did I consider police work a substitute for war? With the benefit of 25 years hindsight, I may have finally figured it out.
Perhaps I, and most cop/Soldier types, intuitively understand something that mystifies others. We get that human experience exists on a spectrum; on one end lie fear, rage, frustration, misery, hate, starvation, agony, extreme heat and cold, general suffering. The other end holds love, triumph, exaltation, adrenaline, and euphoria. The middle is comfort, routine, security, safety, protection, and freedom from privation. The average American aspires to a life in the middle, where they’ll never be scared, never exhausted, never too hot or too cold, never very hungry, and never in danger. But unfortunately for them, real life happens at the extremes. That’s where many members of the military want to live. That’s also where most cops want to live, for the same reasons.
Looking back, I have a hard time imagining feeling satisfied by a life without the hazards of police work. Much like combat, the experiences I’ve had on the street enriched my life (even the horrible, terrible, crappy ones). Until my 40s, the thought of life in the middle of the spectrum was anathema to me, because as a cop I lived for the chases, fights, dangerous in-progress calls, and general mayhem of patrolling high-crime areas. None of those extreme experiences were empty or pointless; I was happy to fight a wanted capital murderer because I felt, and still feel, that it was worth risking my life to defend my city. Not only that, I felt like I belonged in that crappy apartment complex that night, fighting a sweaty, smelly crackhead on the run from another state. I enjoyed it, because I enjoyed the extremes of life.
For the same reason, and in the same way, I generally enjoyed combat. My experiences under fire were exhilarating, exhausting, terrifying, euphoric, infuriating, and sometimes miserable. But they were life, at the extremes we were born to experience. I don’t think people were meant to live in the middle of the spectrum. I think humans thrive on conflict. I think struggle gives us purpose. I think the failing of a great many Americans is that they’ve been so safe for so long they no longer understand that conflict isn’t an aberration, extended peace is. Embracing and enjoying that conflict, whether on the street or in a firefight, doesn’t make us wrong, evil, or crazy. It makes us human, and connects us to countless generations of fighting men and women who preceded us. I think many cops would agree.
I’m not saying war and street police work are the same. They’re not. After my Iraq deployment I had to change my MOS from tanker to cavalry scout, and one of my cav scout school instructors was a police officer from my agency. He didn’t have a combat patch, and a student asked why he hadn’t deployed. He said, “I could have volunteered, but I didn’t see much reason to. I’m already a cop, how much different can it be?” I answered, “There’s no comparison. I work the same streets you do, and nobody is shooting machine guns at us or trying to blow us up with IEDs. It’s completely different.” But the emotional highs and lows can be very, very similar.
So I’ve made peace with it. I became a cop because I thought I missed my war, and I’ve pretty much enjoyed police work. Then I went to war anyway, and I pretty much enjoyed that experience too. And that’s okay. Because I discovered I didn’t have a death wish; far from it, I had a desire to live life to the fullest even if it meant I might die. After all, don’t we all want to Die Living?
Chris Hernandez is a former Marine Reservist, retired Texas Army National Guard Soldier, and longtime cop. He’s a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and served eighteen months on the UN Police Mission in Kosovo. Chris is a blogger, author of the military fiction novels Proof of Our Resolve, Safe From the War and Line in the Valley, and happens to be a pretty awesome photographer. He lives in Texas with his wife, kids and grandkids.
So you want to get stronger for climbing, to build enough strength to hang from a boulder’s face? Well, contrary to what you might be thinking, strength training isn’t what you need. Climbing is.
When I started climbing there weren’t bouldering gyms, there wasn’t YouTube, and there were 5.14s and v14s. And though, thanks to new developments in training, climbers able to do harder routes in less time, strength is probably less of a culprit than you might think. Don’t get me wrong, old stone masters used specific activities to get their strength to a high level but it certainly didn’t involve many of the crazy techniques you see some of the high-end climbers putting to use to raise the bar to new levels. In fact, I climbed my first 5.14 doing nothing but climbing,
But you’re reading this because you are different and need to train more specifically. So, before I start let me warn you of a few things.
First, connective tissue adapts much slower than muscle and has less perfusion than other tissues involved in strength activities. What does this mean? Simply, don’t rush or you’ll get an injury and end up taking time off instead of getting stronger and improving your technique.
Second. Tendons like consistency. This means that big changes in your activities, as well as abrupt shifts in your training and loads, cause damage that requires time to heal and compensate from/for. Progress gradually and you will see a lot of positive results. Progress too fast and ‘pop’ goes a finger.
Okay. So you’re ready to hang. The best place to start hanging is on a hangboard, which is a simple apparatus you can mount right in your home. Formerly called “doorjambs,” hangboards have exploded in popularity recently, meaning there are tons on the market. Most hangboards have a variety of holds and there has been some research on the types of holds best used to gain strength. If you can’t afford a Beastmaker, go to Home Depot, get a piece of wood, sand it down enough to not tear up your hands and slap it on a wall in your home or garage. The idea is to have an edge or series of edges that allow you to hang on and reach failure on the last hang of your last set.
When it comes to working with hangboards, the most widely used protocol is called the “repeater system.” To use the repeater system, set a timer on intervals to have you hang for seven seconds and rest for three. Repeating the cycle seven times. Once the “set” is done, rest three minutes and repeat two more times. Some people like to scale down as the sets go on, meaning they’ll do six hangs instead of seven on the second set, followed by five hangs on the third set. I prefer to be consistent with seven on, three off, as it’s easier to plan for.
Like most people who are brand new to climbing, you might not be able to hang for seven seconds on the largest of edges a hang board offers. There are a few solutions. First, just climb until you are strong enough to hang. If that’s not an option, use pulleys to take weight off until you can complete a series of seven-second hangs.
But while you focus on hand strength, it is imperative to continue to focus on technique. Because being able to do one finger pull-ups on a doorjamb and not climb v10 means your technique sucks. You will stand out like a Tesla at Sturgis.
Variety is King. But So is Consistency
Pick a number of holds to work on and mix them up. But stay within the framework of those holds. It’s best to have a large flat edge, medium flat edge, sloper, pinch, and perhaps three and two finger pockets. Start slow, perhaps with one set for the first week, two sets for the second and third weeks, three sets after that. Be sure to be consistent while also including variety. Take note of any strange feelings in the fingers and forearms after using less familiar hold types. Avoid hanging on single fingers until you’re ready to do that. “But when will I be ready?” You’ll know.
Our hands are very complicated mechanically. The muscles and tendons that control our ability to grip different types of things interconnect from our fingers to our elbows and interact in ways unusual to a standard flexor/extensor. What I mean by this is that often we’re using both our flexors and extensors to grip things. How we train ourselves to use our hands can lead to strength. Unfortunately, it can also lead to injuries. Take care and pay attention to how you use your hands and the muscles of your forearm for different holds and grip training exercises.
Take Care of Those Hands
Other than hanging, a good idea is to practice a limited number of prehab-type routines so you’re familiar with how to treat overuse. Elbow tendons can get overused and irritated easily. Once the irritation isn’t acute, it’s common practice to use negatives to train the tendons back to strength. If that doesn’t make sense, go see a physical therapist and pick up a copy of Jared Vagy’s book, Climb Injury-Free for a bunch of great ways to treat some of these hiccups.
Tendons and ligaments have poor vascularization and perfusion. In this department, hands are no different. One protocol that is massively helpful in the healing of the hands and one that is massively underused is akin to an ice bath. First, fill a bowl large enough to completely submerge the hands past the wrists with cold water. Then take a few ice cubes and plop them in. Finally, submerge the hands for fifteen to twenty minutes. Eventually, your hands will feel as if they’re getting warmer.
I would say focus on making this a part of your routine before things in your hands begin to tweak but that’d be hypocritical, as I often forget this therapy until my own hands start to hurt. The method is time-consuming, requires consistent practice and you might not feel the effects for several days. But it works.
Train to Your Level. Not to Mine.
I’d like to leave you with some advice that has served me well in a variety of disciplines. Just because you see the best in the world training a certain way, you can bet they didn’t train that way to get to be the best. There is an appropriate way to train at each level on your way to achieving your goals. We often see videos of people who are already at the top of their game or achieving success at a spectacular level but they probably worked their way from the basics upwards, gaining mastery of simpler skills on their journey. Just because you see a guy lifting a car to train today doesn’t mean he started his lifting career lifting cars. Don’t let that concept slip from your grasp in any of your endeavors. Start small and work your way up.
When I was in college and first getting into the strength and conditioning field, I was obsessed with trying to get stronger. I read almost anything I could find that promised to help me do that in the shortest time possible.
Somewhere in that process, I stumbled upon a strength program claiming to be based on how the Bulgarian Olympic Weightlifters in the 1980’s trained and won so many medals. Though I can’t remember the exact name of the program, the authors claimed the real secret to building strength was doing 2-3 short, high-intensity training sessions per day, six days a week.
At the time, it seemed reasonable enough to me. Maybe training non-stop and using massive volume really was the secret recipe for getting insanely strong?
I had never tried it before, so I figured it was worth a shot and I got to work. For the next 12 weeks, pretty much all I did was train… all the time.
The results? I actually got pretty damn strong!
All my major lifts went increased 30-40 lbs or more and I gained 5 lbs. No doubt, I was definitely bigger and stronger. In short, it worked.
Maybe the Bulgarians really did know what they were doing?
A different time, a different result
Fast forward about 6 years. I was now in my mid-20’s and was running my own gym. Truth be told, I was so busy training people every day and trying to build my business that I’d let my own fitness slip.
I’d been doing a fair amount of conditioning, but I felt weak. I had definitely lost muscle since my college glory days. I decided I needed to do something about it. So I dug through box after box in my mom’s garage until I found the old Bulgarian strength program.
I made a few changes that I thought would make the program even more effective and then got to work. Once again, I was lifting heavy 2-3 times a day, 6 days a week.
The results this time? Let’s just say they weren’t quite the same as before.
This time around, the program absolutely crushed me.
I got stronger the first few weeks… but it was all downhill from there. It wasn’t long before my joints started hurting and I felt sore and tired all the time. I did all the workouts and I trained as hard as I could, but it wasn’t anything close to what I would call “fun.”
By the time I got halfway through the program, I was sick of lifting weights altogether.
Why “training hard” can lead to failure
It took me many years to fully understand what went wrong the second time around, but I’ve since come to realize that it all starts with what I call “the intensity mindset.”
What is the intensity mindset?
Simply stated, it’s approaching fitness from the idea that the single most important variable driving your success and results is how hard you train.
This mindset quickly extends to thinking that if you’re not seeing the results you want, it must be because you’re not training hard enough.
Or, just as commonly, if you’re training hard and seeing some results, then training harder will lead to even better or faster results.
The mindset that intensity is what drives results and there’s no gain without pain has been around in fitness for a long time. But the rise of CrossFit, Tabata intervals, and boot camp classes in the last ten years has only ingrained it deeper and deeper into the fitness culture.
Unfortunately, there’s one big problem with the intensity mindset: it doesn’t work.
In fact, it often ends up causing more harm than good in the long run. I’ve come to realize (and I have proof) that it’s the single biggest reason so many people put in the work and yet ultimately fail to reach their health and fitness goals.
Let me explain…
It all comes down to energy
To really dive into why the intensity mindset fails, we have to start by talking about energy. Every single one of our trillions of cells needs a constant and unending supply of energy to function and keep us alive.
Everything from our brains, to our muscles, and even our bones all rely on ATP, the energy currency of the body.
While the need for energy is obvious and something most people understand, what’s much less clear is how training, stress and recovery are all directly related to energy and the results they see in the gym.
It’s because of this relationship that the intensity mindset is always destined to fail…
Why your Fitbit is a liar
One of the most important components of energy that’s come to light in recent years is that our body has a much more limited capacity to produce it than we realized. You see, most people believe that if they take more steps and are generally more active, it means they are burning more calories – i.e. their body is producing more total energy.
This idea has been repeated over and over again from pretty much every area of the fitness industry, from trainers and coaches, to nutritionists and everyone in between.
Move more, burn more. This is what’s known as the Additive Model of Energy Expenditure — which is just a fancy way of saying that the higher your level of activity, the more calories your body will ultimately burn.
This well-known concept is modeled in the graph linked above. You can see that “other” represents the amount of calories you burn at rest (your RMR) and PA stands for physical activity. In this model, the more physically active you are, the more total energy (calories) you burn in a day.
Although it makes perfect sense to think that this is the way the body works, more and more evidence is showing us that it doesn’t work this way at all. Instead, new research is painting an entirely different picture of metabolism and how our body adapts to different levels of physical activity.
In a research paper titled, “Constrained Total Energy Expenditure and Metabolic Adaptation to Physical Activity in Adult Humans,” researchers studied the physical activity levels and energy expenditures of five different groups of people living across the US and Africa.
Now, common sense among most of the diet gurus out there might tell you that the populations in Africa that lived a more traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle must have burned way more calories than us Americans because they were more active.
The research, however, found otherwise…
“People in less socioeconomically developed populations, including subsistence farmers and traditional hunter-gatherers, have total energy expenditures similar to those in more developed populations.”
The important thing to understand here is that the researchers didn’t just use a Fitbit, or some other accelerometer, to determine energy expenditure (calories burned) like most people would have to. Instead, they used a much more sophisticated technique called doubly labeled water.
This method provides a much more accurate gauge of how many calories your body is really burning because it’s measuring your metabolism, not just how many steps you take. When all the data was taken into account, a totally different view of the relationship between how active you are and how many calories you burn emerged—a model called the Constrained Model of Energy Expenditure, shown in the graph linked.
In short, what this model shows us is that our metabolism doesn’t work the way we’ve always thought that it did. It turns out that if we walk 20,000 steps in a day, we don’t actually burn any more total calories than if we walked 10,000 steps.
Instead, when we walk 20,000 steps, our body simply redirects energy from other biological functions to meet the demand – we’ll talk more about the specifics of that shortly.
Although it may seem crazy to suggest that people living in hunter-gatherer tribal societies don’t really burn more calories in a day than most Americans – when corrected for body mass – it’s what the research shows.
This new model of energy expenditure makes it clear that there’s an upper limit to how many calories we can burn in given a day. No matter how active we are, it turns out that our metabolism is ultimately limited in the amount of energy it can produce and thus the amount of calories we end up burning.
A great view of how this all works can be seen from looking at a similar study, titled “Increases in Physical Activity Result in Diminishing Increments in Daily Energy Expenditure in Mice,” where researchers looked at different activity levels and energy expenditure in mice using the same doubly labeled water technique.
The mice that were moderately active did, in fact, end up burning more calories than the mice that were couch potatoes. The highly active mice, on the other hand, essentially burned the same amount of total calories as the moderately active mice.
Again, this supports a model where our metabolism has its limits and the maximum amount of energy our metabolism can generate is much more fixed than we ever knew.
The importance of this new way of looking at energy and its relationship to activity cannot be overstated – it explains a lot.
The energy dilemma and why it’s so crucial to your fitness goals
Now that we know there’s only so much energy our body can generate in a day, let’s look at different processes in the body that are constantly demanding it. We can group these demands into three broad categories:
1. vital biological functions
2. physical activity and stress, and
3. tissue repair and adaptation
It’s important to consider that ultimately, it’s your brain and its complex computing power that decides where the energy you produce gets distributed.
Your Brain’s First Priority: keeping you alive
Out of the three categories of energy demands, your vital biological functions (the energy that vital organs like your heart, lungs and brain require) are obviously the most crucial to survival.
When any of these tissues don’t get the energy they need, well, let’s just say it’s quickly game over.
Because of this, your brain’s first priority is always going to be directing energy to these areas, since there’s an absolute minimum amount that your body needs to stay alive in a day. This number is often referred to as yourresting metabolic rate, or RMR.
Your Brain’s Second Priority: powering your activity and dealing with life stress
The second category, physical activity and stress, is the most highly variable from day to day, and it’s also the one we have the most control over. We can choose whether to work out or sit on the couch. We can take the stairs or the elevator.
While it’s fairly obvious that the more physically active we are, the more energy our working muscles and supporting tissues will need, what most people don’t fully appreciate is just how much mental stress also affects our energy distribution.
The critical thing to know is that any time we’re mentally stressed, whether it’s because of an upcoming work deadline or test, financial worries, family issues, or because the driver in front of you is going slower than you’d like them to, our body’s stress response is activated.
When this happens, stress hormones are released into our bloodstream, our blood pressure increases and our brain works to mobilize our energy stores. While this is exactly what you need when dealing with a physically demanding stressor, like working out (or being chased by a bear), it’s not so great when the thing stressing you out is a slow driver.
This is because after the driver moves out of the way, or your exam is over, or the bills get paid, and you’re able to relax, then your body then has to put back all the energy it just mobilized but didn’t end up needing. Moving all this energy around, from storage to the bloodstream and back again, takes a good amount of energy in and of itself.
Another way to think of it: Imagine a warehouse where the workers are constantly having to get big, heavy boxes down off the upper shelves, only to put them back up there again minutes, or hours later. It’s not the most valuable way for them to spend their precious (limited) time.
In other words, there’s a real biological cost to mental stress and it’s paid in the form of energy. In my experience, the stress of life is a lot more expensive and plays a much bigger role in fitness, or lack thereof, than most people ever realize.
Your Brain’s Last Priority: improving your fitness
The third and final category of metabolic activity that demands energy is tissue repair and adaptation. When you’re training hard and trying to improve your fitness, it’s absolutely vital that enough energy gets distributed here. This is the energy that’s used to rebuild muscle tissue to make it bigger and stronger, to create new mitochondria that improve endurance and even to make changes in the brain that lead to enhanced coordination and skill.
If your goal is to get the most out of your training, the crucial thing to realize is that the brain is only going to devote energy to building bigger and stronger tissue when there is enough left over after your other basic metabolic needs and physical activity demands are met.
Your brain is definitely not going to sacrifice any of the energy it needs to keep you alive just so you can lift heavier weights, run faster, or look better in a bathing suit.
“Recovery Debt”: where fitness goes very wrong
When you consider the limited nature of our metabolism and all the energy demands within the body, it should be easy to see how so many training programs built around the intensity mindset end up going wrong.
Looking at the different stages of the training process in the diagram below, the biggest thing that stands out is that training, recovery and the adaptations within the body that drive improvements in fitness all require a massive amount of energy.
The harder you train, the longer you train for, the more energy your brain has to distribute to your working muscles and other tissues. At the same time, repairing all these cells and rebuilding muscle, mitochondria, tendons, and trillions of cells to make them bigger, stronger and capable of greater endurance also takes a massive amount of energy.
Given that our metabolism can only produce a finite amount of energy in a day, no matter how much food you eat or rest you get, what do you think happens when you pile on three, four, or even five high intensity training sessions a week? What about when you couple all that training with the stress of daily life?
The answer is simple: you end up with what I call a recovery debt.
A recovery debt is what happens when you put a ton of stress on all the cells and tissues involved in training, without also giving them the energy they need for recovery and repair. You go in the gym, day in and day out, busting your ass and lifting weights, doing endless intervals, pushing yourself to the edge of fatigue and yet it never quite seems to pay off the way that it should, or the way that you thought it would.
What I’ve come to discover in the last few years is that the single biggest thing holding people back from reaching their fitness goals is exactly that: they are living in a constant state of recovery debt. I even have over 1.5 million heart variability data points from more than 15 thousand people that proves exactly this. (I’ll discuss that in more detail in the next article in this series.)
What the data shows is that most people are putting in the work but not getting the reward for one reason and one reason only: they are spending so much energy on training and dealing with the stress of daily life, that there’s just not enough left over to go towards recovery and rebuilding the body.
Remember, it’s the process of recovery and rebuilding that actually leads to improved fitness so when this doesn’t happen, the results just aren’t there, no matter how much effort may be.
The negative consequences of “pushing through it” — and how your body fights back
The truth is that this is what the intensity mindset inevitably leads to and why fitness fails so many people. If you start with the belief that the most important thing to driving results is intensity, then you keep adding more and more of it until your body can’t keep up.
You start to feel tired and sore all the time, but you push through it. You have nagging injuries starting to creep up, but you keep going anyway. Your strength and/or endurance aren’t really getting better, but you convince yourself it’s only because you’re still not doing enough. Work is stressing you out and you’re not sleeping well, but you think the best way to relieve stress is to sweat it out in the gym.
Sooner or later, if you build up a big enough recovery debt, the body starts to fight back. Changes in dopamine function within the brain drive you to want to eat more and move less. You lose motivation to go to the gym, or you get to the gym but you just can’t push yourself as hard. Eventually, you find yourself mostly just going through the motions.
This is the daily grind that literally millions of people are putting themselves through. They are putting in the work but not seeing the results, and the harder they work, the worse they eventually start to feel.
This is also exactly why I didn’t see the same results from the Bulgarian training program the second time around. I wasn’t in college anymore. I was working 60+ hours per week and dealing with the stress of running a business. The stress of life was taking a ton of energy away from recovery and my body simply couldn’t keep up.
Fortunately, over the last few years I’ve put together a whole new way to approach training and fitness in general. One that is more effective, built on the real science of how the body works, and one that starts with an entirely different mindset…
Recovery-Driven Fitness: a new model of training, eating, and living your life
The idea of building an approach to fitness around recovery instead of intensity isn’t one that I just stumbled upon by accident. It’s not a fad, gimmick, or just another empty promise or sales pitch. It’s also not just more same old advice to get more sleep or spend more time relaxing. As you’ll soon discover, recovery is so much more than that.
Instead, it’s an idea that stems from my nearly 20 years of experience in the fitness industry spent training people of all levels and abilities, talking to coaches, fitness professionals and researchers from around the globe. It also comes from using machine learning algorithms to crunch the numbers from my database (the largest in the world) of more than 1.5 million heart rate variability measurements collected over the last 6 years.
What my experience and the data both clearly show is that a new approach is needed, one that considers that results are driven more by the energy that’s put into recovery than just the intensity that’s put into training.
What is recovery-driven fitness?
In the simplest of terms, recovery-driven fitness is a new approach to how you train, how you eat and how you balance the stress of life that’s built around maximizing recovery rather than just intensity.
Recovery-driven fitness starts with the mindset that the most effective way to reach your fitness goals isn’t just by training harder, but by incorporating specific strategies and methods that help shift your body put into a recovery state.
It’s only in the recovery state that the body is able to focus its energy on recovering and rebuilding itself to be stronger and better than ever.
Getting started: the high performance recovery screen
To help you identify the key areas in your own program that may be taking energy away from recovery and keeping you from seeing the results you’ve been working for, I’ve put together a short High-Performance Recovery Screen for you to download now.
It only takes a couple of minutes to complete and it’ll provide you with an overview of the major components of recovery-driven fitness that we’ll be discussing in the coming weeks.Going through this process will help you sort through the most effective ways to improve your program using the recover-driven fitness strategies.
– Joel Jamieson
Nate Boyer only has twenty minutes. It’s early, 7:30am in Los Angeles, but Boyer has been working since just after five and they’ll need him in front of the camera soon. For a guy whose office was once a fishing boat, then a Special Forces unit, then a football field in the SEC and the NFL, working on a Hollywood television set is just another chapter in the life of Boyer, whose life story has taken some of the most interesting turns imaginable. From working alongside the U.N. in Darfur to partnering in charities with Jay Glazer and Super Bowl champion Chris Long, Boyer’s mission has been one aimed at unifying and lifting up those around him, whether that be through philanthropy, action or making Hollywood films.
You’re making a television show right now?
Yessir. You ever heard of Mayans M.C.? It’s a Sons of Anarchy spinoff. I’m on the set right now.
How did you get hooked up with those guys?
I read for a part and they offered me a recurring role in the show. That’s it.
How long have you been doing the acting thing? Is this something new for you or is it something that goes back to your childhood?
No, definitely not from my childhood. I moved out to San Diego after high school, worked on a fishing boat for a bit, then moved up to L.A. and was interested in the film and television industry but I had no idea how to pursue it. So I left for a while and then when I came back out here, after football was over, I used my GI Bill to take some acting classes and started doing it. I had an opportunity on the Madden video game series. They had a story mode that they cast me in. Then I did a couple of movies last year and some television shows and stuff.
This is after you were done with the Army?
Yeah. And after football, too.
So give me the quick rundown of your life. How you got into the military, your foray into football and now your endeavors in acting and Hollywood.
I was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, but was raised in the Bay Area. My dad is a racehorse veterinarian at Golden Gate Fields, which is right in between Berkeley and Richmond. I grew up in El Cerrito. After high school, like I said, I worked on a fishing boat for a bit. Then I moved up to L.A., worked a bunch of odd jobs. Then, in 2004, I went to Darfur to do some relief work. I volunteered in refugee camps for a few months. I kinda snuck my way out there. I wasn’t really with an organization. I just kinda talked my way on to a U.N. flight and got out to the camps, volunteered for a couple months. It was that time that made me realize that I wanted to join the military, to serve my country.
I got malaria the last week I was there and I was listening to the Second Battle of Fallujah on BBC Radio while I was laid up on this cot just sick as a dog. So I came back to the States and found out about the Army’s 18 XRay program, where you could come in off the street and try to be a Green Beret. It’s got a really high attrition rate. You go to Basic Training, Airborne School and then straight to Selection.
How long were you in the Army?
Ten years total. The last four of those were in the Texas National Guard when I was playing football at the University of Texas.
Did you play football in high school?
No. I never played football in my entire life.
So you never played football in your life, you go to Texas -- the most fertile football hotbed in the world -- you decide, ‘Fuck it. I’m walking on to one of the most storied football programs ever.’ Take me through that mindset a bit.
Man, it was always a dream for me to play ball. I had played other sports and football just never stuck for me and I kind of regretted that. It was like the girl that got away. I figured, at that age -- I was twenty-nine -- I wanted to go to a good school and try to play ball. So I applied to UT because they had an historic program, it’s a great school and Austin in a great town. Once I got in there, I didn’t apply anywhere else.
How long were you at UT?
Five years, total. I finished my bachelors and my masters. After my senior year, I played in the Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, South Carolina. There were a bunch of scouts there and they told me that I should give it a shot at the NFL as a long snapper.
Was that your position at Texas?
Eventually. I walked on as a safety but I moved to long snapper. So I came back out to Los Angeles, started training at Jay Glazer’s gym, went to a pro day and had a few teams following up with me. The last day of the draft, I signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent.
How long were you with them?
About five months, total. I was out there through training camp, played in one preseason game against the Denver Broncos in Seattle. Of course, it was raining. It was awesome.
I can’t think of any off the top of my head, maybe you know, but I’m sure there haven’t been many guys who never played football before playing major college ball who made it to the NFL.
I definitely never heard of any.
What’d you do after football?
Came back to Los Angeles and started a charity with Jay Glazer called Merging Vets and Players, or MVP for short. We bring together combat vets and former professional athletes and help them find purpose after the uniform comes off. After that, I started an initiative within Waterboys. Chris Long, who just retired from the NFL, is a buddy of mine. He started this initiative called Waterboys which brings clean water wells to East Africa through locker rooms and the fanbases of NFL teams. So he hit me up and was like, “Hey, I loved hearing your story. Would you be interested in helping us out?”
So I started an initiative with them where we bring wounded veterans and current and former NFL players together to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania together to raise money for the water wells.
There was just an NBA player that was in the news for that, correct? Charles Barkley pledged to give him $45 grand on the spot on live television.
Yeah, Malcolm Brogdon. He’s the main Waterboy on the NBA side of things.
So you have MVP, you have Waterboys. Any other philanthropic stuff you’re involved with?
I’m on a board here and there. I have a bunch of little things I’m involved with but those are my main things.
Take my through this new foray into acting. As somebody who didn’t grow up acting -- though, as someone who didn’t grow up playing football but made it to the NFL -- what sparked your interest in this world?
At the end of the day, I want to be a filmmaker. I want to have a production company to tell stories that need to be told. Important stories. Just being a part of that, I think film is a powerful medium. My whole focus is to be a unifier. We live in such a divided country that, if you can help people see the other side of an opinion in a way that’s not throwing it in their face, but more through experience, I think that’s the best way to gain perspective, to understand each other. So I want to be a part of those stories.
As someone who grew up in El Cerrito, which is in the hyper-liberal Bay Area, someone got involved in the military, and someone went to UT, which, despite being in a pretty progressive city, is still in Texas, how did that inform where you want to take this idea to unify people?
It definitely played a big role in it. Growing up in an area like El Cerrito but also in a relatively conservative family, I had that dichotomy. But also, my time spent overseas. In the Special Forces, you live with, train with and fight alongside host nationals. People with completely different religious beliefs and experiences, backgrounds, traditions, cultures, customs and all that stuff. And you have to learn to live with them, to work with them and understand that they believe certain things based on their experience. And just because I don’t agree with, believe certain things or even understand certain things, doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Most people in the world are just good people who are trying to do the right thing. We all want what’s best for our community.
What’s next for you as a creative, as a businessman, as a philanthropist?
I co-wrote a script about MVP. Sylvester Stallone’s production company picked it up. So we’re trying to get that made. It comes down to finances. But it’s about a Marine veteran who is living in a homeless shelter full of vets in East Hollywood. A lot of the guys in there were infantry, a lot of them lost brothers. And they’re just trying to sort things out. It’s based on real people and a real place. They call it The Barracks because it feels much more like a barracks than a homeless shelter in there. It’s just this family of guys living in L.A. -- talk about dichotomy -- and the main guy meets a former NFL player who lives up in the Hills and they have an unlikely friendship after they come to the realization that they have so much in common; their struggles, the loss of identity after their uniforms came off, the mission and those careers ending in your twenties or early thirties, if you’re lucky. So they help each other through some pretty dark stuff. But it’s also got humor, because a lot of what we do and who we are has a lot of dark humor. Trying to get that made, that’s my passion project right now.
Scaling in the Gym
I have coached at several gyms across the country, and everywhere you go, scaling is the name of the game.
As a coach, one of the most common questions I get asked is "do I do more weight and go slower or less weight and go faster." My annoying answer in most of these situations is "it depends."
The concept of scaling is often tossed around to make workloads or workouts accessible to all. Scaling is adjusting, but NOT always to make something more accessible. Scaling also takes into account tenets such as Athletic Capability (the most obvious one) and Training Adaptation (the less obvious one).
The concept of scaling in gyms generally manifests itself into three categories: Scaled, RX and RX+. The truth about training though is that everyone needs something a little different. However, when programming for a main floor, it is unrealistic to provide individual training for each athlete. The result being a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program that is “adjusted” within the Scaled, RX, and RX+ model.
The Value of Scaling in Training
If we take a deeper look into the value of scaling, we see that every training session can be tailored to fit a particular type of adaptation for each athlete.
Take for example someone who is starting a tactical athlete program. Day one of training wouldn’t be a 12-mile ruck with 75 pounds of gear; something more appropriate would be 4-5 miles with 45 pounds.
Scaling is doing the RIGHT movement based on your goals and desired end state.
For some, the end state is an hour at the box, and for others, it is a lifelong pursuit. Regardless, it leads to the identification of the difference between working out, training, and competing. These are three terms that are often misused synonymously and as such have skewed the way scaling is used. Commonly, people scale in whichever way allows them to place first on "the leaderboard".
If your strategy is to apply a competition mindset EVERY DAY to your workout or life, it will be as effective as doing a triathlon every day in preparation for a triathlon. Sounds silly, but we are guilty of this more often than is realized.
Scaling Life Appropriately with Sara Lee
Sara Lee, along with being an awesome and inspiring individual for many people, is a coach at Southwest Barbell and Fitness in Lawton, OK. Sara explains scaling the best when talking about her own struggle of crushing both life in the Army and being a competitive weightlifter:
"...I spent so much of the last year trying to RX+ my life. I believed I could balance a full-time job, coaching, writing programming, being a multisport athlete, traveling, and having a personal life. Never mind recovery in any respect, because only winners get sprinkles and I’m young enough my mind and body will be resilient with no attention. “False”. Like everything in life all the hustle eventually came back around to a full weekend napping on the couch because I was mentally and physically exhausted. Wash, rinse, and repeat...
Despite all the time being put in to each activity, I wasn’t getting better at any of them. It was like being in a perpetual maintenance phase with a few glimpses of positive progress, basically just enough to trick my mind into thinking what I was doing was working. Regardless, the last year was filled with a breadth of experience and one very valuable lesson. Trying to max out each aspect of my life was not necessary. I needed to do what all competitive people irrationally hate and “scale” my life. I needed to honor and accept that sometimes less is truly more when it comes to achieving intent. The concept of scaling doesn’t just take into account adjusting for weaknesses but genuinely being able to answer the question of "what is best for me right now?"
Training is designed to address weaknesses. It is a mindful practice of a technical skill that is requisite for success. If you find yourself in a position where you are mentally exhausted from your day then I encourage you to scale in a way that does not compound stress.
If you are ready to be present in your time and truly train, then I encourage you to scale in a way that will produce positive adaptations. You train every day in the gym, and your scale is your pathway to improvement. YES, this will mean that you may struggle a bit and not place as high on your whiteboard, but you are at least GETTING BETTER. The best athletes in the world don't spend their time reinforcing their strengths, day in and day out, they dedicate it to making their weaknesses as negligible as possible. Sara puts it the best when she says:
Let us take a moment to cut the bullshit. The real reason we like to “RX” our lives is for recognition. We all like the atta-boy that comes with doing something well.
The best will focus on what they need to do to make themselves perform better, NOT feel better. Sometimes this means ramping things up, sometimes this means cutting back; the best athletes SCALE appropriately.
Fitness and Movement Scaling at SOFLETE
The question of how or what to scale is a frequent conversation amongst the coaches at SOFLETE. While we cannot coach each one of you in person, use this small litmus test to develop your own appropriate scaling options and when all else fails...ask us.
- What is my limiting factor in doing a particular movement? Strength, technique, time...all three?
- If it’s strength, lighten the load to a manageable weight that meets the intent and can be performed as safe and proficiently as possible.
- If it’s technique, this is a tricky one. Sometimes you NEED a little bit of weight to provide the right about of resistance, lest you get that false positive of being able to muscle through a movement and think “I got it”. Remember you aren't just building strength or stamina here, you are also building neural pathways that “teach” your body how to do a particular movement. IF you aren’t proficient, EVERY BAD REP is a step in the wrong direction that will have to be corrected later.
- If it’s time, every workout has an intention and that intention ISN’T ALWAYS to finish. Look at your training for the day and choose a section that focuses on the area you want to improve. That way if work or life cuts in, you still achieved your purpose.
On the evening of June 10th, having been home from Air Assault for less than 2 days, I hit the road for 10 weeks as a digital nomad. My friend Evan, who’s traveling with me through this summer, had one last class session to attend at the University of Pittsburgh. From there, we left for Soflete Headquarters in Hillsborough. Brian and Doug, the guys behind and in front of the camera, gave us a rundown on our equipment for a few hours. Then they sent us on our way with camera gear, an outline of who we were to visit, and some gas money.
Our first scheduled stop was with Anthony Radetic. Anthony is currently a professional racer for Sea-Doo, after time in the Army as a Green Beret. An accident while attending flight school left him without the use of his legs. His racing career takes him all over the world, from his home in Alabama to Portugal and India. He’s still a relative newcomer to the sport, only having started within the past 7 years.
When we arrived in Florida,we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. Neither of us had any experience in motorsports at all. The only thing I knew about engines was how to change my oil. We immediately jumped in to help unload the trailer just enough to create a sleeping space on the floor, which was highly preferred to the front seat of my RAV4. Then we slapped down some backpacking mattresses and went to bed before a long day of racing.
Morning came early. We unloaded the ski out of the trailer with a 1,000cc ATV (this was the first time I'd ever driven an ATV). We surprisingly managed to get all the equipment out onto the beach without crashing into any cars or pedestrians. The amateur races were before Anthony's, and the shoreline was crawling with fans and other racers. A manatee in the water on the island actually delayed the race indefinitely. When it was finally time to get Anthony in the water for his race, it was a mad dash to get him set, followed by 30 minutes of racers zipping around the water at 70mph. Anthony’s cousin Eddie livestreamed the race and filled me in on the meanings of the different flags race officials waved. With the length of the course and the speed of the riders, it’s nearly impossible to determine who's in what place. Anthony found out that evening when the results were posted, that he'd achieved his goal.
The next day was even more rushed with two races in one day. Although it was slightly less hot, the races were nearly back to back, leaving little time for him to refuel and recharge, or even cool off after he peeled back the sweltering wetsuit and protective gear that riders wear. After trying to bring his body temperature down and refueling with some fruit, it was straight back on the water. Anthony found out during dinner that he had earned a spot in the top 10 for the weekend, which drew our time in St. Petersburg Beach to a close.
After leaving St. Pete, we were on the lookout for some activities to keep us going. While we had been busy, we hadn’t really been working to keep up any cardio capability. Much to our surprise, we found some mountain bike trails sans the gear-grinding sand. A fairly easy 3.5 mile loop turned into a 5 mile out and back when we reached a deeply flooded portion of the trail. The water was far too dark to see what was under the surface, even if you could see the Cottonmouths swimming across the top. However, it was a nice way to prep for what we had in store the next day.
The following day brought with it a high-speed tour of the State Parks that Florida has to offer. After a quick stop to the hospital (unrelated to our travel, we haven’t been that stupid yet), we headed towards Blue Spring State Park, the Winter Home of the Manatee. Blue Spring is exactly what it sounds like, a beautiful clear water spring that feeds into the nearby St. Johns River. A few hours of snorkeling allowed us to see teeming masses of fish, some upwards of 3 feet that looked like they could have taken a solid chunk out of me. That was just before we had to clear out of the water due to an Alligator just downstream. With an early end to our aquatic expedition, we jumped over to De Leon Springs to mountain bike in Chuck Lemmon Park. Surprisingly, trails here actually had features, deep drop-ins, ramps, and narrow passes on hills. Enough features that Evan is still pissed that I didn’t have a helmet on, but that’s another story. We ultimately covered 4 miles of trails; starting with an easier trail, Screaming Hawk, working our way up to the black diamond Raccoon Run. In a move that was probably better for my health, the park had closed the double black diamond, Wild Turkey, for mud washouts in a low lying area. We finished out the day with an unexpected shower at the bike wash station. Though this act would have no doubt upset the local constabulary, we just used the hose to clean ourselves after cleaning our bikes.
We’re currently in rural Alabama in the busiest McDonald’s I’ve seen in my life, on our way to stop back with Anthony for a day to ski some more. After that, we’re headed to the great state of Texas to climb and bike, as well as hunt with Roque Rodriguez. It’s been a wild first week on the road, sleeping on couches and floors as often as we slept in Walmart parking lots. If you’ve got activity ideas, or want to hang out along our Summer journey; send an email, DM the Die Living account on Instagram, stalk me down, or text my parents. If you’ve got a Die Living scheme to propose, we’re all ears. If you’re out making the most of your time, and embodying the Die Living ethos, we want to hear about it and come get a piece of the action.
"You look great!"
Lies, damned lies, and your relationship.
"Little white lies" are anything but and every lie is a threat to your relationships, whether they be with friends, family or business associates.
Big lies, little lies, white lies, not-so-white lies. Every lie is a damned lie because every lie breaches trust.
Let's take a very small thing and start with a common enough justification for the infamous “little white lie.”
Say your partner asks if those jeans make their ass look fat (or some similar question).
I’m betting you laughed a bit, or rolled your eyes. I know you reacted. Because you know, right?
It’s a trap! Except, really it’s not. Not if you know how to handle yourself, how to address the situation and how to avoid the “little white lie.” In fact, hard as it may seem to believe, this situation can lead to a bonding and trust-building experience between you and your partner.
But before we get into the happy ending, let’s look at what can happen if you choose the easy way out of this, the “little white lie” way.
You look at the jeans which hardly flatter the ass and emphatically assure, "They look awesome on you.” You know that’s not the truth.
They beam and buy the jeans. Then, as you do with new jeans, they wear them. They wear them a lot. And you don't find them flattering. They might have even been a bit of a turn-off, but you don't want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So you just live with it.
And so it begins. Every time they wear those jeans, you are consciously or otherwise reminded of your fib, and that makes you uncomfortable because you’re a good person and lying is shitty behavior. Right?
Just agree with me at this point. Trust me. I’m getting there.
In addition to knowing that you lied about how those jeans look, you’re also not as attracted to your partner in those jeans as you should be, considering you told your partner that the jeans look awesome while thinking the exact opposite. Thus, you adjust your actions accordingly.
It’s likely that your partner is not a total idiot and that somewhere deep down, they sense that something is not right. Your guilt at telling a lie, your slight lack of affection and attraction. All of the little things begin to add up.
What’s worse, is that if they eventually found out that you hated the jeans after they thought you loved them for so long, your partner would feel embarrassed, devastated, even betrayed.
I'm sure there are other effects as well, but remember, this was an easy example.
So why go through all of that, of all of the short- and long-term effects of your tiny little life when you could so easily just have spoken your truth?
“Honey, you know I love your body. I tell you all the time. And you have some very flattering jeans. These are not a pair of them.”
Defining the Relationship
Let’s talk about another time when many people are tempted to lie: Entering a new relationship, and the “talk” about expectations.
The gut-response is often to lie, to give a rote set of answers that you think the other person wants to hear, so they give (or keep giving) whatever it is you’re looking for from them.
Perhaps you once told someone, “Absolutely, I want to see where this goes and exclusively date you,” when you really wanted to see where it went while also dating others.
Were you really willing to box yourself in and give up those opportunities?
Were you really willing to make that promise and break it at the next opportunity, because you didn’t mean it, or they had no real “right” to ask that of you?
Why even take that risk when you could just as easily have said something like:
“Absolutely, I want to see where this goes and I hope we get to the point in our relationship where you and I are 100% about committing to each other monogamously.”
“Absolutely, I want to see where this goes, and I’m excited to share my polyamorous life with you.”
Sure, you might lose that person and what they mean to you. But you also maintain your authenticity and your personal power.
The upshot of what I’m saying here is that no matter how small, every lie changes the path of your relationship irrevocably. Even an apology or a "fix" only puts you back on course, it does not erase the error. It does not rebuild the trust you’ve lost. It does not give you back your honor.
Every lie does damage. No matter how big, how small, how mundane or how serious, all lies do damage to your relationships, to your sense of self, your honor and your honesty.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any situations in which you believe a lie within a relationship causes good?
In 1909, Matthew Henson planted an American flag at the North Pole. Claimed by many as the first to reach the pole, Henson’s trek alongside his colleague, Naval engineer Robert E. Peary, Henson’s achievement was extraordinary for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that Matthew Henson was an African-American explorer.
Born to sharecroppers -- or “free people of color” as they were once known -- in rural Maryland in late summer of 1866, Henson’s family was routinely terrorized by local factions of the Ku Klux Klan. The Civil War had just ended and, though his family and their community were considered free people, the KKK’s reign of terror forced them to move from rural Nanjemoy, on the banks of the Potomac, to Georgetown, then an independent community in Maryland adjacent to the nation’s capital.
Inspired by a speech by legendary orator and freed slave Fredrick Douglass, Henson made his way to the port of Baltimore at the age of only twelve, finding work as a cabin boy on a merchant ship which would take him to China, Japan, Africa and Russia. It was on this ship, the Katie Hines, that Henson learned to read and write, fulfilling Douglass’s challenge that young black boys and girls pursue education in order to fight racism.
In 1887, while working in Washington D.C., Henson met Naval engineer Commander Robert E. Peary. Learning of his seaworthiness, Peary tapped Henson as an aide for a journey to Nicaragua. It was along this trip that Peary, impressed with Henson’s skills on a ship, appointed Henson to be his first man.
Over the next two decades, the duo ventured to the Arctic several times, trading with Inuit, learning their language, while exchanging ideas and learning their skills. According to the Inuit, Henson, then fluent in their language, was the only outsider to that point who had mastered the use of a dogsled. He could build igloos and became an expert in surviving the harsh environs of the Arctic.
In August of 1909, Henson, Peary and a large team of Inuit, along with hundreds of dogs and seventy tons of whale meat, departed Ellesmere Island at the southern edge of the Arctic Ocean. By the time they reached the Pole, Peary was unable to continue the trek. Some said it was illness while others reported he had “frozen toes.”
He sent Henson ahead as a scout who, several miles and at least one extended backtrack later, planted the American flag at the North Pole, becoming arguably the first human ever to reach that point.
From child of sharecroppers in post-Civil War American to twelve-year-old world-traveling seaman to legendary explorer and landmark adventurer, Matthew Henson was one of the original members of the Die Living nation.
‘After every meal, I get extremely bloated with painful abdominal distention.’
‘I can’t eat without being nauseous all the time.’
‘I only poop once every few days.’
‘It’s normal for me to have diarrhea multiple times a week.’
NONE of this is normal.
These are only the more obvious digestive indicators that your gut flora is less than optimal. I write this, as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, who spent too many years in school pouring over textbooks and research articles. Despite all of this, I was not immune to this cycle. When I started opening up on the SOFLETE Performance Podcast about my struggle with maintaining a healthy gut flora, I was overwhelmed by the response from men and women who could relate to this experience and were searching for the root cause instead of a band-aid for their symptoms. In a series of articles, I want to start to unravel the mystery of gut health and how to get to the root cause to repair gut flora and intestinal lining.
Let’s Start with the Basics
The gastrointestinal tract spans the mouth to the anus, with everything in between. This complex system is responsible for transporting food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste. The gut flora, also referred to as the gut microbiota or microbiome, is a diverse community of trillions of organisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in your gastrointestinal tract. The gut flora is its own ecosystem and works to help our bodies maintain homeostasis. When the environment, food, and stress effect the ecosystem, it can cause a cascade effect of negative or positive changes stemming from the gut flora.
The gut flora is linked to a variety of other aspects of health that have nothing to do with digestion- like immunity and mental and emotional health. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Over 2,000 years later this still rings true that disease is very connected to the happenings in our gut microbiome, and the intricacy of how it works is still widely misunderstood. Numerous not-so-obvious, chronic diseases have now been linked to gut health including cancer, liver disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The connection for most of these disease states is still lacking research on what comes first- the chicken or the egg, but the association between gut dysbiosis (when the gut flora is out of balance) certainly exists.
Why Does it Matter?
The lining of the gastrointestinal tract, known as the gut epithelium, can either protect us from the external substances we put into our bodies, or it can allow harmful molecules to pass through into the bloodstream launching an immune response and damaging our bodies. This lining is comprised of a single layer of cells the thickness of a single human hair- that is all that separates the inside of your body from your gastrointestinal tract.
Under normal circumstances, the velcro-like tight junctions keep potentially harmful substance confined to the gut. When the barrier is comprised, ‘leaky’ or inflamed, these tight junctions open up and the body launches an immune response to protect itself against harmful substances seeping through. This immune response can end up actually damaging our other organ systems and tissues. This leaky gut syndrome, or increased intestinal permeability, is linked to many medical conditions including anxiety, depression, eczema, fatigue, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis- the list goes on and is constantly being lengthened with new emerging research.
The Complex Web of Culprits
The term ‘leaky gut’ is despised by many, but lets look past this unfortunate term for what it is- intestinal permeability allowing things to cross the intestinal mucosal cell lining. Then trigging an immune response that can breach the blood brain barrier, causing inflammation, triggering an autoimmune response, and causing malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies. It’s worth noting that these tight junctions are incredibly dynamic and open and close frequently in response to a variety of stimuli. Think of a slinky as the lining of your gut and how different movement, large or small, can cause the gaps or openings in varying degrees of severity.
There is a variety of reasons that leaky gut and gut dysbiosis can occur, and it can even be a combination of things over time starting with the way your mother ate while you were in utero and how you were born. A mothers diet and state of gut health during pregnancy will be the first thing to start shaping your own gut microbiome. During the birthing process, whether that is a vaginal birth or C-section birth, bacterial acquisition occurs. For those born via C-section, inadequate bacterial acquisition can be a contributing factor to leaking gut later down the line. In those first months of life, the length of breast feeding and transition to eating solid foods will also play a roll.
Environmental exposures like airborne matter and other pollutants we encounter throughout life may also contribute to increased intestinal permeability and altered gut function. Other environmental exposures possibly linked to leaky gut include arsenic, BPA from plastics, herbicides, heavy metals, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls used in manufacturing) and pesticides. Many of this is still debated in the science community and further research is need for solid standings based in science.
It’s not secret, the majority of American’s are chronically stressed and over-medicated. Both of which play a huge roll on what’s happening inside your gut. Chronic stress can alter bacterial composition of the gut, blood flow in the body, digestive secretion and gut permeability. Medications like antibiotics, birth control and even over the counter medications like antacids and NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen) alter gut health.
Current health, body composition and eating patterns are an obvious contributor to gut health and the possibility of leaky gut occurring. Food processing and food additives have become under the microscope and although future research is needed, all signs point to negative effects on gut health. Food additives include emulsifiers, gluten (yes, they add gluten to food products during processing), and organic solvents among others.
How to Fix It
If you are looking for a quick fix and easy solution, you can go ahead and stop reading here. The gastrointestinal tract and all its glory is still largely a mystery, and getting to the bottom of what’s happening in your body is like a puzzle at a vacation house missing half the pieces.
The first step to getting your gut health back on track is to find a health care provider that you trust and feel comfortable communicating all the gory details with. The modern health care system is set up to be reactionary and treat disease, usually elevating or masking symptoms, instead of find the root cause to heal and prevent future disease progression. A good starting point is to find medical providers that believe in patient centered care with a focus on the body as a whole. Integrative and Functional Medicine is just that. Most insurance companies have strict guidelines on what they believe is an appropriate course of action once a doctor gives you a diagnosis. To take charge of your health, it might cost you- so do your research. Most insurance companies will let you submit receipts and cover some costs. Be upfront with your medical care provider and plan out testing and a course of action that fits your timeline and budget.
Once you have found a medical care provider, the real work begins. Traditional lab work only scratches the surface the complexity of human health. Extensive blood work looking at micronutrients, hormone levels and other metabolic markers will be ordered- all tailored to what is going on with your body as a whole. Additional testing like stool samples and food sensitivity testing may also be ordered to understand what’s happening with your gut microbiome. Specific test like the SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) might be necessary. This why the guidance of a medical professional is necessary versus online mail in testing kits available to the general public. Your body and your health is crucial; pay attention to what it’s trying to tell you.
Stay tuned for the rest of this series where I deep dive into the various tests and treatments for these problems!
Brooke West, MS, RDN, LDN is the Lead Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for SOFLETE. Her areas of expertise are health and human performance, weight management, and integrative and functional nutrition.
When we think about gains, it’s easy for our minds to default to the weight room: 1RMs, WOD times or various other metrics that capture our physical progress from before to now.
With the rise of social media, advances in science and a better understanding of human physiology, looking great and discovering peak performance is a near-constant drumbeat in the background of many Americans.
From magazines in the checkout line, featuring greased-up professionals whose job it is to be fit to your muscle-filled Instagram feed, where everyone seems to be outgaining you every single day, there is a hyper-focus on all things physical. There appears to be a modern-day human propensity to see what our bodies can do, to strive to do those things well and to do them at least better than the person next to us.
As a result, pushing our bodies to the limit has become an endeavor that is both revered and idolized by many Americans.
Yet, for a swath of the population that whole-heartedly embraces the Die Living mindset -- those who push, who strive and who torture their bodies for physical gains -- many still timidly approach the notion of pushing the limits of their minds.
But investing in physical fitness without giving equal consideration to mental well-being is akin to skipping leg day. You grow unbalanced and less functional, thereby placing all improvements at risk.
I wonder then, what’s behind our reluctance to embrace what’s happening in our minds and spirits as we so eagerly improve our bodies. Are we afraid of self-awareness and insight or are such endeavors simply being poorly marketed to us?
The ability to control the mind is the crown jewel of discipline and the ultimate arbiter of human achievement—it’s what sets us apart from every other species on our planet.
You can travel the world and intimately know your body’s capacity but if you are a stranger to yourself, you’ll only ever live in half-measures. There’s the saying that everyone dies but not everyone lives. In much the same light, we must consider the fact that everyone thinks but not everyone knows.
So how do we get there?
In many cases, starting and maintaining a regular routine of therapy is the best way to go.
But maybe you’re feeling good emotionally. Maybe you smirk at the thought of therapy sessions. Maybe you think you’re perfectly in tune with your mind, your emotions and your spirit.
To that, I have to tell you what a mistake it is to assume that the best time to go to therapy is when something is broken.
What if I told you the best time to go to therapy is when everything is going great? What if I told you that therapy is not just for healing, it’s for discovering? When it comes to the mind and the spirit, you don’t strike when the iron is hot. You strike when it’s ice cold.
Many of us have never undertaken therapy before, which can be daunting, especially when it comes to where and how to find a provider. Much in the same way that it’s intimidating for someone who doesn’t exercise to lift their first weight or run their first mile, the beginning is often the hardest part.
There are loads of resources out there and wading through them is no easy process. For starters, here are a few excellent organizations and places to begin that are outside of the VA that are cost-free:
For more intensive options that focus heavily on addiction, PTSD, and depression, check out:
If you want to find a private, local therapist and are willing to pay out of pocket, you can begin your search here:
*some offer free phone or in-person consultations, take advantage of this!
An important caveat: the therapeutic alliance (i.e. the relationship or bond between you and your therapist) is highly predictive of positive outcome and improvement. You can and should shop around for a therapist. It is your right to have a good fit. If someone isn’t working for you, find someone else. Don’t assume that “therapy isn’t for me.” Don’t give up. Keep looking. Keep trying different fits. Do you stop wearing deodorant if a formula isn’t working for you? No. You go back to the store and choose a new one. This isn’t like doing curls in the squat rack. It’s okay to be selfish.
Just as important as finding a good therapist that works for you is understanding the process of therapy and just how glacially slow it can be. Now some of that will depend on the type of therapy received (i.e. CBT versus psychodynamic) and if it’s for something specific (i.e. PTSD versus self-exploration), but by and large, expect progress to be incremental.
There is no magic bullet, no cure-all, no panacea. Some things do work better than others but the expectation that you will feel good immediately is setting you and your therapist up for failure. Give it time. Take your time. Realize that it took a lifetime to get to where you are emotionally and that you won’t be able to untangle everything overnight.
Realize that, in the same way it takes time and effort to build muscle mass and strength, therapeutic gains are challenging to achieve and slowly won. Yet, even when the results aren’t readily noticeable, progress is happening.
We are willing to carve out time every day for our bodies, why not an hour a week for our minds, our spirits and our emotions? In the service of living your best life, what are you willing to give to get?
Ryan shows us where he finds his Zen when life seems to get too hectic and busy.
Muscular failure is a complex phenomenon that stems from factors just as varied as the very ones that allow muscles to grow and strengthen under the same stressors. Despite the complexity of the factors involved, it’s possible to take some simple actions to be able to push muscular failure out as far as possible to increase performance.
Failure or the point where muscles can no longer initiate or sustain a contraction is really just the end state of muscular fatigue building up to a state where where various physiological brakes get put on to stop further accumulation of fatigue.
The mechanisms of fatigue and failure are varied, but there are several distinct ones that are important to understand.
Mechanism: Muscles need fuel to contract and when the fuel runs out the muscle has to relax until it can be replenished. ATP is the actual fuel substrate your muscle uses for contraction, which is produced by the breakdown of phosophocreatine. This energy source doesn’t last long at all and can be completely exhausted inside of 30 seconds. At that point the body turns to glycolysis to generate more ATP from glycogen stored in the muscles to provide energy for up to a minute of exertion.
Solution: It doesn’t take PhD in sports physiology to understand that if you can maximize the available sources of energy you can extend the fatigue limits imposed by running out of fuel. While there isn’t much you can do to store more ATP, you can maximize the precursors by creatine supplementation. Creatine is the cheapest, most effective, and most well studied sports performance supplement on the planet (although caffeine would give it a run for its money) and maximizing creatine stores can increase production of ATP in time for those short bursts of maximal output before fatigue sets in. Further down the energy production cycle, ensuring your muscle glycogen stores are topped up by sufficient carbohydrate intake to support your activities is a close second in terms of pushing muscular fatigue out as far as possible.
Mechanism: After fuel depletion another key factor in muscular fatigue is the buildup of muscular metabolites. A long-held but recently disputed theory was that lactic acid (or actually lactate) buildup in the muscles was the cause of muscular fatigue. In reality, while there is certainly an association between increases in blood lactate and eventual fatigue or failure, the causal relationship between lactate buildup and fatigue has been debunked. In fact, lactate may have the opposite effect and may ultimately be ergogenic.
Solution: While you can’t directly manipulate lactic acid buildup through supplementation or anything like that, you can use monitoring and testing of lactic acid to help guide your training program. Lactate testers are relatively inexpensive and can be used to plot out performance levels for cardiovascular training.
Here’s a bit of fun physiological trivia. Typically with high muscular output you’re going to see an increase in blood lactate. But, given sufficient specific training it’s possible to actually buffer lactate faster than it’s produced while maintaining high force output. Check out this clip from a great episode of Fight Science featuring Randy Couture.
Mechanism: A second form of muscular metabolite buildup that is now thought to be one of the main biochemical causes of fatigue is the “leaking” of calcium in the muscle cells. While calcium is a vitally important chemical in terms of controlling muscle contractions, when it starts to leak out of the proper channels it weakens the ability for the muscle to contract.
Solution: Unfortunately this is one area where the answer for now is simply “train more.” While there may be some drugs on the horizon it will be a long time, if ever, before the knock-on effects of artificially muting the fatigue signals in muscle are understood well enough to know if it’s a good idea to do so or not.
Mechanism: As with most systems in the body the brain and nervous system maintains a high level of control. An interesting example of this as it relates to muscle fatigue is evidence that the intention of a task actually affects fatigue. In one study, participants were able to maintain a low-force output much longer when they were intentionally maintaining force rather than intentionally maintaining a joint position against a matched resistance.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16044306/)
Solution: One of the physiological priorities of the nervous system you see throughout functions of the body is to maintain survival. When things are dangerous, the nervous system puts on the brakes to prevent or reduce damage. So for performance while we certainly want to push that envelope of fatigue and failure, we have to remember that it’s there for a reason and the goal needs to be to expand it, not to circumvent it. The best way to expand it is to train within it. Training to failure is training to fail. There may be times when it’s appropriate, such as dedicated hypertrophy cycles or for physique athletes, but when it comes to the combat athlete where one more rep might actually be the difference between life and death you should always be optimizing for increasing fatigue tolerance.
Understanding the mechanisms of muscular failure can help you understand how to put together a smarter and more effective training program. As always in good training, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and no single factor is going to be worth more than a smart and comprehensive approach to training and recovery.
David Dellanave is a lifter, coach, and founder of The Movement Minneapolis in the Twin Cities. He implements biofeedback techniques, teaching his clients, ranging from athletes to general population, to truly understand what their bodies are telling them. He writes articles to make you stronger, look better naked, and definitely deadlift more at http://www.dellanave.com/
He holds several world records, including one in the Jefferson deadlift, and his alter ego, Dellanavich from Dellanavia, has a penchant for coaching classes wearing a weightlifting singlet and speaking with a (terrible) Eastern European accent. David and his wife, Jen Sinkler, currently reside in Philadelphia, PA having recently moved there on a grand adventure of reinvention. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
In case you don't already know, Kammok is a high-performance outdoor gear company whose main goal is to encourage people to spend more time outside. They just unveiled their first line of full-featured adventure packs and bags that accommodate any type of adventurous lifestyle. We're here to give you the inside scoop on their light-weight, sleek designs.
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I’ve been a city Police Officer for 24 years. Before that I was an infantry Marine. My hypochondriac mother and the father I had to persuade to stand for the national anthem were awful and I was lost and the Marines somehow seemed like a punk rock, anti-hippie, way for me to get the discipline I knew I needed. My parents were supportive as long was nothing was required of them. Despite the best efforts of my School of Infantry instructors, I never really had a burning desire to kill anyone or to experience combat, but when I got out I was far better prepared for adulthood and I did have a burning desire to be a law enforcement officer. I really wanted to be a Park Ranger and live in the mountains, but it wasn’t in the cards at the time. My second choice was city cop or state trooper, so I went home.
I was third generation in the city in which I grew up, once the shoe manufacturing capital of the country. I went to the same elementary school as my grandfather and father. By the nineties the factories closed and it really slipped into the darkness of the crack epidemic. Once there were four movie theatres on Main Street, in 1996 there were fourteen homicides.
Now I’ve been fighting crime for well over twenty years. I’ve seen people at their worst and, every once in a while, at their best. I like being a cop. But for me, none of it compares to nature. Sometimes hiking in a rainstorm with my dog, both of us swarmed by deer flies, is what I need to make me feel alive. In police work you get opportunities to help people but unfortunately that help is usually not enough. The problems are just too complex. There is no finished product. Maybe you lock up a bad guy, but it takes all of the stars to align to get a conviction. Our criminal justice system is the best in the world but it is not perfect. I very commonly hear the phrases “it is what it is” and “you can only do what you can do” from my colleagues. There’s only one phrase that I find more annoying than those two and it’s when you ask someone how they’re doing and they respond sarcastically that they’re “living the dream.”
In the wild, I don’t need to rely on a judge or jury’s verdict for personal fulfillment. My colleagues and friends seemed to have no interest in actually hiking to the top of mountains or Nordic Skiing in freezing temperatures, but I started taking pictures of the outdoors to share my experiences with others. As I got older I realized that if you don’t capture something it may not be there when you look for it later on. I think my photography is more about recording or memorializing moments in time. I find myself taking pictures all of the time now.
A few times a week, before I hit the streets, I go out into the bay and work on an oyster farm. The pay isn’t great. The conditions are unpredictable. There are hours of lifting, carrying, culling, and counting. But when the work is done there is a sense of accomplishment. I find satisfaction in hard work.
The farm crew is made up of very different characters but all of the oyster farmers on our farm and others know how lucky we are to live this life. Sometimes we’re the first ones to see the sunrise. Sometimes we are the only ones to look overhead and see an osprey with a fish in its talons. Sometimes it’s windy and pouring rain. Sometimes it’s freezing cold and snot is frozen to our faces. The tides are going to shift, the winds are going to shift and the seasons are going to change. Change and nature’s beauty are a given. It takes around two years of work to raise oysters to bring to market. A lot of things take place for a baby oyster (called seed) to grow to three inches to be harvestable. It’s a bit like putting bad guys in prison. Just like it isn’t as simple as catching a drug dealer selling fentanyl and putting him in hand cuffs you don’t walk out into the bay and retrieve full grown oysters. Oysters have to be provided with protection from predators, they need to be protected from the elements, they need a continuous supply of nutrient rich water. As they grow, we move them to different types of bags and cages to maximize water flow. Day to day on the bay is like being on an aquatic postcard. The bay is always teeming with life. Sometimes a prehistoric horseshoe crab will float by, sometimes a mischievous seal will come by and take a closer look. Even a bite from a rancorous crab is an interesting part of the day.
I was drawn into the Die Living Community when I lost my wife to cancer. I was thirty-eight years old, our daughters, ten and twelve. My wife battled gallantly for ten years. The four of us knew that we needed to squeeze a lot in and we knew that the roller coaster ride that we were on would eventually end. A lot can be learned when you are able to grasp the fact that time is a finite thing. The three of us never sat with anger or resentment when she passed away. We knew we had lives to live. We knew that time could not be wasted. One of the first things we did was organize a blood drive in my wife’s name. The bloodmobile had to send donors away because they couldn’t accommodate the outpouring of support that day. The girls are bright, compassionate, and hardworking young ladies now. I know their mom would be proud. I also know that we are in fact “living the dream.”
I found love again and my girls now have a young brother and an awesome step mom. I have suffered other losses. Any adult has. I understand that we all have to enjoy the calmof the trough between the waves. Bad things will happen again. But we’re going to Die Living. Semper Prorsum
The usual start of Appalachian Trail is at the Southern Terminus in Georgia. Since the trail actually begins at a bronze plaque on the summit of Springer Mountain at 3,780 feet, the first decision you make is whether to do the 8.5-mile approach trail. The approach trail is not a part of the official 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail but the Max Epperson Shelter at Amicalola Falls State Park where the approach trail begins is a place you will meet many other starters.
You can sleep there on the first night of your adventure. Purists hike the approach but many others choose to skip it. By Pennsylvania, if you are still on the trail, no one cares if you skipped the approach. You are legit for still being on the trail.
The trail in Georgia includes elevation changes between 2,500 and 4,500 feet, meaning you becoming “trail-hard” almost immediately. Georgia is often quite crowded, most especially in spring. Shelters tend to take a beating, as do the tent sites. If you are in Georgia in spring, be ready for extreme cold and rain. In my first March in Georgia it was twenty degrees and snowing.
Still, the Southern Terminus is the place most hikers wish to start. Many Trail hikers get a charge out of climbing down off Blood Mountain and arriving at Mountain Crossings, a storied gear shop that the Appalachian Trail actually passes through. Untold numbers of poor-fitting boots are replaced at this famous gear shop, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. Discarded hiking boots are nailed high on the walls around the entire circumference of the shop, giving the shop a one-of-a-kind and ever-evolving decor.
North Carolina follows, which is perfect if you love a challenge. You will hike over ninety-seven miles in the Tar Heel State, over several mountains that top 6,000 feet. Unique to the North Carolina leg of the Trail are high grassy balds. These treeless mountain summits are covered in thick swaths of grass. No one knows how these landforms got the way they are. One of the sights you see while up on the balds is the beautiful purple-blue crests of the Smoky Mountains. One glance and you’ll understand why they are called the Smokies.
All Appalachian Trail towns have these quirky and wonderful hostels in which to stay overnight. Each independently owned property has its own personality and is a very affordable stay. You will hear stories of amazing breakfasts, huge stacks of pancakes, savory eggs, biscuits and bacon. After several days of hiking on the trail, a stop for a hot shower, bed and a big breakfast is a huge treat.
There truly is nothing like hiking the Appalachian Trail, seeing the Eastern United States mile by mile, traveling under your own steam. There is so much good time for thinking and letting life happen out there. An entire long-distance hiking culture awaits you. Like all cultures of which you have been a part, there are crosses to bear and things to light you up and make you glad you joined this crazy band of boot-wearing, shelter-sleeping, and forest-breathing folks.
Trish Harris is professor and hiker living in North Carolina. Her list of planned treks includes the Pyrenees, The John Muir Trail, the Khumbu Icefall, the North Rim, the Compestela in northern Spain, the GR20. Just back from the Tour de Mont Blanc, she will be doing “trail magic” in April for northbound AT hikers.