Sunday, December 31, 2006
By fifty the average person will have lost 10% of his or her muscle mass along with a corresponding decrease in strength, and by seventy this loss will have risen to 40%. The resulting decline in strength is the primary cause of the high incidence of accidental falls seen among the elderly. It also contributes to our institutionalization when motor skills become insufficient to deal with normal day-to-day living requirements. Furthermore sarcopenia is linked to increased tendencies towards obesity, glucose intolerance, osteoporosis, and the inability to regulate body temperature; all effects of having less muscle – the body’s most metabolically active tissue – present.
There are likely several factors contributing to sarcopenia: loss of nerve cells from aging or HIV causing the associated muscle cells to be lost as well, diminished hormone levels, an impaired immune system, or diets with insufficient protein, all inhibit muscle growth and contribute to its loss. But by consensus the primary cause of muscle loss is simply not using them. The old saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” applies here in spades. Even more alarming for women studies have shown there's a strong
correlation between sarcopenia and those who have lower levels of musculature to begin with. So the trick is to ‘bank’ some muscle when young and then maintain it by regular exercise as you grow older. Study after study has shown physical activity, with weight training of sufficient intensity being cited as particularly effective regardless of one’s age, is the key to reducing the rate of inevitable muscle loss as we grow older.
For me this subject is very relevant. Always skinny as a boy I gradually built up my body until by my early thirties I topped out at around 88 kilos or about 195 lbs. For me it was how my body moved and handled physical challenges which justified the extra work in its maintenance, though it clearly paid for itself in my social life. By my early forties, however, work and a decreased emphasis on dating resulted in my paying less attention to my training. Then my recent back problems. When I finally got back on track and recommenced regular exercise I was shocked to discover in five or six short years I’d lost all the extra musculature I had built up over the prior fifteen plus. I was right back at square one at the age of forty six. It is not a good feeling. In one of my life’s great ironies I’m back in the same sport where as a child I told myself, “wait until I get some muscle” and find myself nearly four decades later still saying the very same thing. Life, unfortunately, sometimes does come full circle.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
In a quick perusal of the internet it seems the standard recommendation is to aim for forty to fifty klicks a week. That’s quite a bit of running. If you run an average of 10k every time out it means running four or five times a week and, at least for me, that’s more than just fitness. Besides, running that much means you can’t do valuable cross-training in other areas. I even see articles which point out our bodies will start to burn stored fat after running more than ninety minutes, though it’s hard to see how that particular fact is applicable to people looking to lose weight. Trust me here, if you can schedule a 1½ to 2 hour run you don’t have a weight problem! Every kilometer run means about 60 calories burned (100 calories/mile). With around 3,500 calories in a pound of fat it’ll take sixty klicks running to burn away one of them away. If you ran a more reasonable thirty klicks a week you’d lose about a kilo a month, or over twenty pounds a year. For most people this amount of weight loss would make for a great year. Also don’t forget the other half of the equation is diet, which is another complete topic on its own. But for now consider just excluding soda pop, potato chips/fries, and candy bars from your diet. At roughly 150 calories each serving the average American consumes over 1,000 calories weekly from these three ‘foods’ or another pound of fat a month. That’s well over thirty pounds a year from some running and cutting out junk food. A final note for everyone to remember to walk. Walk instead of drive to the convenience store, take the stairs over the elevator, go for a walk around the block before going to bed; the extra kilometer or two each time will add up over a month to some real calorie consumption. It’ll save some gas too!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
The objective of swolf is to reduce your stroke count (think of your drives), or your time (think of your puts), or even better reduce both at the same time; and this similarity to golf is the reason for the name. The book uses a 50 meter free as an example so I adopted a slower version of it as my ‘par’ (imagine a local pitch & put course rather than Pebble Beach). I did nine ‘holes’ (reps) because, well because at this stage of my conditioning I’m not going to do eighteen of anything. My results for my first game of swolf were:
Golf's own version of swolf, and just as ugly.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Years ago I took up running competitively precisely because I had nothing on my hands. Articling finished I was casting about for a new challenge and eventually settled on running, inspired by my father’s ability. So at twenty three years of age I started running competitively; well, not at first, as it takes time to get up to the mileage necessary for someone to compete in track. It took about a year for me to reach a hundred kilometers a week, a process much more difficult and prolonged than swimming, which likely will take less than half that time to reach a similar starting point. My original intentions were to compete in my father’s events; the 800 through to the mile, but unfortunately my talents were insufficient for this. I never came close to approaching four minutes for the 1,500 much less this magical time for the mile, and failing a sufficiency of pure speed I consequently found myself dabbling in the longer distance steeplechase and 5,000 meters. Later on, in an effort to improve my tactics for these same events, coach entered me into the only 10,000 meter event I’ve ever raced. I felt a little out of place there warming up on the track. At a hulking 6’4” and almost 170 lbs I rather stood out amongst the typical 10,000 meter man, even discounting at twenty six I was now noticeably older than my average competitor there. As I warmed up a young crew cut man, probably a freshman from the local university, started conversing with me. I’m not really sure why he did so. Perhaps because of his inexperience he mistook my age for ability, perhaps being new to track outside of a school setting he was simply trying to be sociable, but he did and we exchanged a few words which continued as the race was called and we headed to the start line. As a ‘no time’ I stopped in the second alley and the boy threw me a quizzical glance as he continued to his seeded position. I couldn’t help myself, his unasked question was so evident I had to blurt out, “my 10k time is 33:23” and here the reader needs to understand: in men’s 10,000 meters the world starts at thirty something and goes down from there. The 10k being a road race means times will invariably be slower, but not that much slower! He literally did a double take with eyes wide. It wasn’t hard to read what he was thinking, because written all over his face was “G*d are you slow! Why are you even running?” In the race itself my new acquaintance kept right up with the race leaders until about the final thousand meters, where he faded badly lacking the strength to compete with the more mature males at that level. But he was young and he would get stronger and better. As for myself I finished more than a minute faster than my 10k best, a better time being somewhat expected of course. But it did little to assuage the damage his shocked look had done to my ego. All my time and the effort spent, and for what – expressions of sympathy? If the race I had just run had included the world’s best 10,000 meter runners the leaders would have been crossed the line with me over two kilometers behind, two kilometers! The next week at practice I told my coach I was leaving track and thanked him for his efforts. As much as I wanted to run like my father I had to face the truth – I just couldn’t. I simply had no talent for it and there were clearly better things to do with my life.
Of course balance has two sides. If this particular post is about first looking after the priorities in your life: your spouse, family, friends and career; it’s also about not letting all those little pieces of yourself you dole out to everyone else add up to everything you are. Set aside some time to train, take along some of your favourite music, and for an hour or so take care of yourself … each and every day.
A great example of the physique of an international 10k runner
Sunday, December 17, 2006
With an intention of swimming a 100 meter fly this coming February my attention has been fixated on trying to learn the stroke before I actually dive in on race day. There is still a question mark behind my ability to do so, but I’m gaining some confidence progress is being made. In the last stroke clinic we concentrated on one of my major fly weaknesses – coordination between my kick and pull; and then spent a little time on my weak dolphin kick (my second major fly weakness). So last night I devised and swam a workout which had fly as my main set.
Warm up: 300 free (3 strokes/breath)
100 kick (breast)
200 free (4 strokes/breath)
200 kick (breast/dolphin w/fins)
300 kick (free/dolphin/back all w/fins)
Sup set: 4x100 back on
Friday, December 15, 2006
Picture shows Amanda Beard modeling a Speedo Fastskin FSII. I’m not sure what’s more intimidating, the suit or Amanda Beard inside it. I’ll have to study it some more.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Luckily I had a massage session scheduled only a couple of days after my clinic. When I came in we exchanged the usual pleasantries and I told her about some minor soreness in my neck and shoulders but especially about my hips. A new complaint about something other than my back! After sizing me up on the table she dealt with my neck for a few minutes, and then ignoring my shoulders went straight to my hips. To assess them Carolyn “rolled” me at the pelvis, in a motion very similar to kneading bread, first one side and then the other. Once she had a gauge of my hip flexibility she decided my problem was best addressed by going to, where else, my lower back.
Her targets were my two quadratus lumborum muscles, flat sheet muscles anchored by the pelvis and the twelfth rib and extending like four fingers (quad meaning four) to the L1 through L4 transverse processes on each side of the spine. It’s a remarkably versatile muscle, as it acts as a prime mover (hips), a postural muscle (spine), and a respiratory muscle (lower rib for exhalation). If somebody before this had told me flexible hips mean better breathing I wouldn’t have believed them. My hips felt much more relaxed and the soreness was clearly reduced when I got off the table. It’s becoming an adventure to see where Carolyn will go to next – so many muscles needing work, so little time.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
A short anecdote from my life related to this topic. In an earlier blog My Early Swimming Career & Crystal Gardens I mentioned several names of swimmers I personally competed against as a boy, some of whom went on to represent Canada, including winning Olympic medals; but anyone who knew us back then would have immediately noted my leaving out the name of one of the best and brightest – Dale Long. Dale’s story is tragic. One of the top age-group backstrokers in the country he was warming up before a swimming meet in Port Alberni when he ran into the wall, literally cracked his skull and nearly drowned. One of the country’s elite junior swimmers nearly drowning in a pool crammed full with competitive swimmers – what irony! I, like always, was at my usual station during a swimming meet (in the showers keeping warm), and wasn’t there to see him being rushed away to hospital but I do have a vivid imagination. Dale never returned to competitive swimming, his career over at eleven, and this was the reason why I didn’t mention him when I wrote about quitting at twelve. But this particular anecdote is about an earlier time, when Dale was my teammate and holder of the Canadian records for 10&U backstroke over both long and short course.
Shortly after Dale set his records his parents requested he be given the same stroke instruction our club gave to our elite seniors, the ‘Nationals’, as befitting one of Canada’s top age group swimmers. This created quite a stir in our community. I really didn’t understand the controversy at the time. I did know Dale held a couple of Canadian records and swimming isn’t egalitarian – those who do well get more. Then again, my logic went, he wasn’t that much better, and wondered why this special instruction couldn’t extend to me, perhaps even to my sister and some of my teammates. Personally speaking the idea of getting stroke instruction was appealing, since it would be like belonging to the Nationals group, but it wasn’t a high priority for me. After all I was one of the best 10&U backstrokers in the country so I had to have a good stroke didn’t I? In the end the Club decided personal stroke analysis could not be extended to age group swimmers, and that included Dale. In response the Longs did something shocking … they left the team! Dale joined a small club only recently formed, the Juan de Fuca Coho. There was great animosity and bitterness over the defection, but in retrospect there’s little question I’d have done the same if faced with the Longs’ choice. The Coho’s had a professional coach with no national caliber seniors to train and therefore Alyward had the time to spend coaching his more promising age group swimmers. Our head coach at the time Gary Blondin had his hands full with the Nationals and Senior groups. The fracas left me with an indelible impression stroke analysis was reserved for elite senior swimmers of national caliber or above. Now thirty seven years later I’m finally getting the high level of coaching in these stroke clinics I was denied as a youth, and have been absolutely delighted by the results. Which for me raises a question: if a natural swimmer like me is attending every stroke clinic he can and asking for more, why aren’t all the other swimmers in Hyack Masters doing the same? Life holds many mysteries doesn’t it?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Well, first thing I see are my shoulders are almost level with each other, a distinct and obvious improvement. This was something I had thought I was seeing in the mirror and it’s most gratifying to see it show up in a formal pose. There does, however, seem to be a new problem as my left shoulder seems to be ‘compressed’ – as if I was holding it close to my body. This may be in part because my nephew taking the pictures was standing slightly off centre when doing so, but there’s definitely a problem there. Looking at it more closely the left shoulder also seems to be pulled back a little too. No apparent improvement in my lower back though. Based on my handles I still have a pronounced bend at the base of my spine.
Now looking at my back picture my problems aren’t just limited to my left shoulder, the entire left side seems to be twisted. The left scapula is very prominent, and you can see skin folds below the scapula on the left side. Apparently releasing my right shoulder has caused my entire left side to tighten up and pull/twist back towards the spine. I suppose something like this is to be expected after years of the body holding itself one particular way is changed over the relatively short space of a single month. I’ll have to discuss this with my massage therapist Carolyn and see what she says. In so far as my lower back the expected ‘jog’ doesn’t seem to be as pronounced as it was in the past. It’s excellent news if that, in fact, is what has truly transpired. Since I’ve definitely felt movement in my lower spine a positive outlook may be justified. The bulge on my right hand side seen on my front picture could be partly the result of my left side pulling back and twisting, rather than entirely due to a warped spine. Time will tell I suppose.
My side picture is also showing progress, clearly the result of losing four kilos of fat this past month. One can actually see some abdominal definition starting to show. Still, I’m about four to five kilos from my intended fat percentage and apparently it’s virtually all in my waist, likely most being intra-abdominal (visceral) fat located beneath my stomach muscles. In my opinion the rest of my body is fairly fat-free now, as mid-section fat is always the last to go. And go it will. Terrific progress, I’m very pleased with these results in just three months and look forward to continued gains in the coming year.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Warm up: 400 free pull
200 kick (100 board & 100 without)
Main set: 5x200 free on 4:00
Sup set: 4x200 back on 4:30
Current plans for my next meet this coming February (the English Bay Swim Club Meet) are to swim the 200 back plus the 100 butterfly and freestyle races. Of course this is entirely dependent on the event scheduling and how I progress, but my training over the next couple of months will be targeted at racing these three events.
And lastly, a snide comment on observing an unattended minivan in a no parking area as I left the Canada Games pool this morning. Apparently someone decided to save a few steps in an otherwise open parking lot before heading into the facility to exercise. I just don’t get some people.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Entering Nanaimo Harbour on the Horseshoe ferry run
My first race was the 100 breast, for me a throw-away event, so no real pressure on me other than a natural desire to do well. Even so, the time I set for this race is going to be around for a long time as I’m extremely unlikely to race this event again during this season. All I was hoping to do was come close to my target time and then rest up for my free and back races. Not helping was the discovery my psych time on the meet program was three seconds faster than I thought I had put down. Now I was concerned about embarrassing myself (again) by swimming too slowly. Yet the race itself went pretty well to plan, my intention to set a strong pace at the beginning (i.e. not fast!) and hang on to the end concentrating on technique. Started getting tired around the sixty five meter mark but by pushing the last twenty five I finished in reasonable shape. My time, surprisingly enough, was a couple of seconds better than my posted psych time. An excellent start to my day!
My second race was the 100 free. Here my plan was to swim a negative split – go out under control and then let it out the last fifty. The first fifty was fair though my swimming technique, especially my body’s streamlining, was poor. My head was bobbing up and down like a cork as I first looked ahead towards the wall and then tried correcting myself to look down at the lane line, only once there to wonder where that damn wall was and take a quick peek! I know my turns are atrocious so they tend to distract me inordinately. Of course ever so concerned about my turns, I almost missed my first, thereby ensuring I’d race absolutely paranoid about the remaining two. Swimming down the lane I wasn’t thinking about breathing, hand placement, my pull, or even about my kick; I was just thinking to myself, “DON’T MISS THE TURN! DON’T MISS THE TURN!” In the second fifty, abetted by increasing fatigue, my technique just disintegrated – my last lap seeing me throw out any pretense of style and efficiency and simply flailing as fast as I could. It wasn’t pretty. My time, however, was in the upper range of my target time, and I can take some very real comfort I have so very, very many things to improve.
My last race was the 100 back, the race to redeem my UBC fiasco. No little pressure here – getting ready to jump in I was wondering what someone must feel like getting on the starting block in the Olympics. Really, who needs competitors when I can do just fine psyching myself out! The race? Well, I didn’t butcher a turn at least (my teammates apparently beg to differ) but, like my freestyle, my backstroke technique was simply awful and I ran into the rope once. Ending really tired, actually surprisingly tired, my time was only a little more than a second faster than my UBC result so a very disappointing finish. Just not missing a turn should have meant more time off so I was actually slower in Nanaimo than at UBC. Later upon reflection I realized my lack of conditioning was partly at fault as I had swum two races in the preceding two and a half hours before, clearly adversely impacting my time. Plus I didn’t have Ian to bring me out in the first fifty at the right pace and so held back too much. Rather than beat myself up for not improving enough over two weeks I should take some solace my result was in range of my original UBC target time. If I had performed this well just two weeks ago at UBC I’d have been very pleased with the result. I just have to work harder and concentrate on my swimming technique more. I must push Brad for another stroke clinic soon.
As for my two teammates Damien had given himself the ambitious itinerary of 100 fly and the 200 IM, more of an exploration as he hadn’t raced these two events in years, and acquitted himself well. Joe, who had actually come down with a bad cold the evening before, did even better and set a personal best (Masters) in his favourite event the 50 free, as well as putting in good times in the 50 back and breast. All in all a good meet. The pool is fast and the meet was very well managed. I’ll be sure to go next year.
Before leaving I would be remiss, what with Christmas season in full play, if I didn’t give everybody who reads this the opportunity to experience the town of Nanaimo’s namesake treat, the Nanaimo Bar. This is truly one of the finest cookies you can make; the treat has an almost universal appeal, and taste is so good you can almost ignore the calories. In the Pacific Northwest it’s referred to as the ‘legendary’ Nanaimo Bar and you find it everywhere, wrapped in its ubiquitous plastic wrap, right next to the chocolate bars and other desserts. Simple to make too, be sure to try the recipe out!
Friday, December 01, 2006
Regards to my weight I’ve dropped 3½ kgs over the past month. I’m now down to 81 kg (178 lbs). Not particularly surprising as I was ill for a couple of weeks and have been working out nearly twice every day. Even so some regret as my fat did cover up my present paucity of muscle, some necessary camouflage I’m rapidly losing. It would appear I’m going to approach running weight before leveling out (shudder). Luckily Christmas is fast approaching! My two inch loss around my waist this month translates into a new body fat percentage of 15%, meaning four kilos of fat lost. Doing the calculations it means I gained roughly ½ a kilo in muscle; a worthy gain but after last month’s estimated 800 gram gain nothing to preen about. All estimates of course, it’ll take a few more months to establish my muscle growth in more accurate terms. Still, I am putting on muscle however slowly.