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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why kettlebell swings lead to ultramarathons



Look at all that sweet iron just waiting to be jerked.  And snatched.  And other dirty weightlifting words...

As many of you have read, I just completed a 50K ultra marathon at the Afton Trail Run a few short weeks ago. I did it after having done nothing but heavy weightlifting, and a bit of Crossfit for several months. And I still managed to beat my PR by about 15 minutes despite all my issues.

A lot of you afterwards expressed a good deal of shock and amazement that a few 15 minute strength training workouts could allow you to finish a 6 hour race. I wasn't the least bit surprised. This is my third race of marathon distance or greater using a similar protocol. And for all of them, strength training better prepared me than a traditional marathon training plan.

But why does a program like mine work? And how can you apply it to your own training even if you don't want to go full tilt and run 31+ miles?

Here's my answer. Note, this isn't necessarily THE answer. These things are still being researched by people
smarter than me. This is just the theory I came up with thinking about such things during workouts (usually
while panting in a collapsed heap on the floor).

What is fitness

Before we go too far into nerd stuff, I think it's important to define what fitness means to someone like me. Us Crossfit goons have a common saying about the program. We tell people it is all about "work capacity over broad time and modal domains".

What the f does that mean? Let's break it down. First, "work capacity" is simply that; your ability to do work. By work, I mean the physics definition. Force times distance over time (that is the formula right?  I got a C in physics). When you are running, you are doing work.

"Time domains" refer to use of the three energy systems in your body. Those are ATP, anaerobic, and aerobic. The ATP system allows for highly explosive movements that occur over a very short period of time. Like lifting your PR back squat, or sprinting a 40m dash. The anaerobic system is not quite as explosive, but helps maintain a high level of effort for several minutes. Finally, your aerobic system allows for sustained efforts at a low intensity. Like running.

"Modal domains" refer to the ways you use your body during exercise. Running, biking, weight lifting, etc are all different modal domains. And those activities all emphasize different fitness traits. Those traits are things like strength, speed, power, stamina, endurance, balance, coordination, and the like.

Note that time and modal domains are not independent of one another. Everything you do is some combination of the three energy systems. Studies have shown that even a highly anaerobic activity such as sprinting involves up to 20% of your aerobic system. Similarly, no matter how much Maffetone Method fans want to admit it, regardless of how slow you run you'll always use some of your anaerobic system. Also, every activity you do also involves a combination of the fitness traits I mentioned above. Some activities just involve more of some things than others.

General Physical Preparedness (GPP) versus Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP)

Not only does every activity involve a blend of energy systems and fitness traits, but your body really can't tell the difference between activities. Your body doesn't know if you are going for a run or doing 1000 air squats. It just knows that your body is doing work. That's why folks like Body by Science author Doug McGuff realized that you can get just as much aerobic benefit from weight training as you can from traditional cardio exercise if you do it right. So you can do a variety of exercises and still get in your cardio.

Runners think that they have to run all the time in order to be good at running. So that's what they do. Their training involves heavy doses of cardiovascular exercise. If you train to run by running, you are doing what is called Specific Physical Preparedness. That is, you are training the particular qualities that you need for a particular sport.

My program on the other hand emphasizes general physical preparedness (GPP). So I workout by trying to hit all the energy systems, and all aspects of fitness equally. Most of that work centers around high intensity interval training using a combination of cardio, weightlifting, and gymnastics movements.

How does that stuff help you run? Well there are dozens of studies showing that high intensity interval training has a profound effect on your aerobic capacity. Like I said before, your energy systems are all connected. And it turns out, exercising in the anaerobic threshold is most efficient. The Gibala study for example showed that 2.5 hours of sprinting intervals per week gave the same metabolic and aerobic benefits of effect as 10 hours worth of moderate intensity cardio. So while you folks are out running for an hour plus to train for an ultra, I'm lifting for 15-30 minutes and getting the same effect.  I'm also developing a lot more aspects of my fitness during that time.  While you're only developing your endurance, I'm working that plus my strength, stamina, power, speed, flexibiliy, coordination, and much more. 

Why you might want to train like this

Is there anything wrong with training for running by running? Absolutely not. It works for a lot of people. There's a reason why elite runners all use the same training plan. It works.

I also think that it's not the way to go for everyone. In particular, I don't think it's a great program for folks who have a low level of general fitness. Folks in that category will likely have poor strength, speed, and flexibility (among other things). They will find improved cardiovascular capacity with a running only program. They will also find themselves severely limited in their progress by the areas that they are weak in.

Not to mention, these are the people who are most likely to have muscle weakness, imbalance, or mobility issues that will turn into repetitive stress injuries once you subject your body to constant pounding down a single metabolic pathway. A GPP program will correct those issues while developing the same aerobic base as a traditional running program.

Also, I don't know about you, but I don't just want to be good at running. Nor do I want to run all the time. I want to do a lot of different things, and perform well at all of them. 

Does that mean beginners and the injury prone need to hang up their running shoes and buy some bumper plates? Not at all. Although I have decided to train almost exclusively with this method, you folks don't need to be quite as severe. My example should just go to show you that you don't need to run every day in order to meet your goals.

Be a balanced athlete citizens! Cheers!









Monday, July 16, 2012

Some Sandal Updates for 2012

2011 was a big year for huarache makers citizens. I spent most of it up to my eyeballs in little foot-shaped pieces of rubber. That year saw the birth of more new sandal companies than I think we'll ever see. Had I known it was coming, I would have bought stock in Vibram's soling material.

With all these sandals flooding the market, companies are constantly innovating (read: copying each other) to make the best performing, most comfortable sandal. The result has been a ton of choices for the consumer.

Here's what each of the major companies (Invisible Shoe, Luna, Branca, Bedrock, and Unshoes in no particular order) have in store for you in 2012.

Invisible Shoes

Invisible Shoes really hit a home run with their FeelTrue sandal, which is a soling material specifically designed to work as a huarache. They still carry their original huarache, which I actually prefer for some applications. But they don't have anything brand new for 2012. Which is fine. It's hard to improve on their current offerings.

Luna

Luna continues to be both the Cadillac of sandal companies (as in they create luxurious high-quality stuff) and the one with the most options. Luna has actually paired down their options to a core few: the Original, the Leadville, and the Leadville Pacer.

Though I miss all the neat and crazy stuff Barefoot Ted used to sell (like my personal favorite, the uber expensive and uber luxurious Equus), I do like that they have stuck to the stuff that works best. Their only really new offering is the Leadville Pacer, which is a slightly thinner version of the original Leadville.



Mostly what you'll find new at Luna is a lot of cool new customization options. Folks can now choose from either a light or dark suede footbed. You also have a choice of leather, hemp, elastic, or ATS laces. With the ATS, Luna has followed in the footsteps of companies like Unshoes and Bedrock and offered a strapping system for those who don't like tying their sandals.

I haven't tried them yet, but you can read my buddy Trish's review here.  I stole the above picture from her as well.

Unshoes

The big deal for Unshoes in 2012 was the Pah Tempe sandal. It's the only commercially available huarache that offers strapping that doesn't go between your toes. My friend Chris Van Dyke reviewed them on my site here.

Branca

Still the most unique sandals available in my opinion. Branca has stuck with the best parts of their product, and added a few tweaks to make an already user friendly product even more so.



First, instead of tying their sandals like you would a normal shoelace, Branca has added a cord lock for even easier adjustment. I tested these on the trails and can attest that they do a fine job of holding the laces to your feet.



Second, Branca has made their heel strap adjustable using Velcro. This is a good call again as I found the former elastic strap too tight and the leather strap too loose.


























Finally, Branca has attached the laces together for more comfort between your toes. I find either way comfortable, but I know some people found the old way uncomfortable.

Good work Branca!

Bedrock

Still my favorite trail sandals. They don't need to improve much on their design, but they did add a few new offerings.



First is their Earthquake sandal. It keeps the same basic design as the original, but adds a rubberized portion to the heel strap to make the fit more comfortable. I also find the Earthquake easier to slip on and off without adjustment.



As a few other companies were doing as well, Bedrock also began looking at options to allow you to run in sandals year round. So they also began selling Ninja Socks in early 2012. I tested these socks down to single digit temps this winter. Yeah...they work. My feet didn't get cold until about 5 degreesF. And really, at that point why are you outside in sandals in the first place?

So there you have it folks. Lots of new stuff for your sandal loving pleasure. Get out there in some funky footwear! Cheers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Better squats = better barefoot running

I have a few serious man crushes citizens. The first is with Jason Robillard. Especially when he wears these shorts.


I hope the feeling is mutual or I will be more crushed than when they discontinued Crystal Pepsi. I friggen loved that shit.  From the looks of it, I think it is...

The second is with the squat. It's the undisputed king of all exercises. It's a basic human movement that we naturally do from the time we're children. It has the ability to both increase your strength and improve your mobility at the same time. It makes women stick their butt out in your general direction on purpose (giggidy). And it's a pretty dang good assessment tool for the barefoot runner.

Now I'm of the opinion that for the most part, your average person doesn't need to do any kind of pre-training in order to be able to go out and barefoot run. I'm not a fan of foot strengthening exercises or any of that garbage. I think that the best way to transition to barefoot running is to go barefoot running.

At the same time I think that because us modern humans are a largely sedentary lot, many people come to the sport with a lot of mobility and strength issues. And those issues can lead to injuries quickly when beginning an exercise program. Especially a barefoot running regime, where you are using muscles you've literally never used before.

When I go onto chat forums like Runners World and the Barefoot Runners Society, I see hordes of postings on injuries like Achilles tendinitis, IT band syndrome, runners knee, and many more pop up every day. Most of the time, those injuries are caused by muscle tightness or imbalance. And a lot of it could have been discovered ahead of time with a simple assessment of mobility and strength.

When we talk about strength and mobility in your legs, it's helpful to think about them as a series of joints. A good functioning leg should have the following characteristics (from bottom to top):

Ankle mobility
Knee stability
Hip mobility
Lumbar spine stability (yes, I realize that this isn't part of the leg)

Want to nerd out on mobility stuff.  Read this article

Aaaanyway...squats have been used by trainers and other fitness professionals for years as a strength and mobility assessment tool. When a person has difficulty doing the exercise, their form generally breaks down at one of the joints listed above where one of those things are lacking.

What does a good squat look like? I could (and will eventually) spend a whole post on squat form, but here's a video on the subject



There are a million points to a good squat. For my purposes in this article, I think a barefoot runner needs to focus most on the following four:

Heels on ground
Knees out
Hips past parallel
Maintain lumbar curve

If you are unable to do one of the four things above, you have a mobility or strength issue in your legs that could affect your running. Here's how each issue relates to your running.

Feet don't stay on the ground:

If you can't keep your heels in contact with the ground, you have ankle mobility issues. Most likely, you have overly tight calf muscles or an artificially short heel cord. As I've said before, folks who lack range of motion in their ankles are at risk to develop Achilles tendinitis upon starting a barefoot running program. You need to spend some time stretching out your calves.

Knee issues:

If your knees knock around like Bambi on an ice rink, you have poor knee stability. The most likely culprit is a lack of quad strength. Not surprisingly, your quads also do a good amount of stability work while you are running. Weak squat knees will be weak running knees. And those with weak knees are prime to develop ailments like runner's knee or patellar tendinitis.

Can't go past parallel:

Those who can't get depth in their squats often have poor hip mobility or strength. The hip is a joint that needs to be simultaneously mobile and strong to function properly. You know who has notoriously tight and/or weak hips? People with IT Band syndrome. Not to
mention a host of other injured people. In my opinion most running injuries start from the hip.

It is especially important for barefoot runners to have strong and mobile hips (here's why), since we tend to suffer from more muscle-related overuse injuries.

Rounded back:

Even though it's not part of your leg, I throw it in there because posture is particularly important to a barefoot runner. Every barefoot running guru will tell you to start with a stick straight back. You can't maintain that unless you have good midline stability. And if you can't keep your core engaged during a squat to full depth, your midline sucks.

I'll give you one guess as to how to improve all of those mobility and strength issues at once.


What did you think I'd suggest? 100-Ups?

Yes, squatting with good form is the best medicine. I don't care if you back squat 300lbs one time, or air squat a thousand times. There is not ailment ailment for which the squat is not a cure. As squatting spreads worldwide, I expect it to usher in world peace. Hopefully it will also eradicate the use of skinny jeans (you have no excuse fellas...none!).



More squatting with better form will make you a stronger, more flexible, and more injury-proof runner folks. Running and squatting go together like Hall and Oates. Or beer and another beer.

Yes, this is another post telling you runners to do some weightlifting. Get used to it. I will preach as such until you all stop being such weak, inflexible bastards. This could take a while...

Get out there and squat citizens! Cheers!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Afton Trail Run 50K Race Report



I haven't been really big on running races this year citizens. Except for a couple of half marathons earlier in the year, I really haven't done anything serious. I even DNS'ed (did not start) a 50K earlier in the year so that I could go to Missouri to visit some friends (read: drink with some friends...priorities).

I started getting the race bug again last week. But I didn't want to do just any race. I wanted to do something that would really challenge me and put all this weight training slash not running stuff to the test.

What better than the home of the USA Track and Field championships, and one of the toughest trails in Minnesota. That's not saying a lot, because Minnesota isn't exactly a Mecca of trail running. But still...the Afton Trail Run has a tough course.

The race was held at Afton State Park, which is located along the St. Croix River Valley along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. If there is any place in Minnesota that actually has some elevation change, the border is where it's at. The course was a 15.5 mile loop with plenty of trail variety. It had everything from limestone fire roads, to singletrack, to wide open grass cross country skiing trails.  For you elevation junkies, there is 9,340 ft of change in altitute over the whole course.

Prerace



I had never run the Afton trail before as it is a little too far away from me. So I tries to pack a gear bag that would cover all the possibilities. We'd be allowed access to gear after finishing the first loop. So in addition to all the normal ultra essentials (sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit) I filled up the trunk if my car with trail shoes.

I ended up settling on bringing two pairs of sandals (my Invisible Shoe 6mm huaraches and my Bedrock sandals) and my Vibram Spydrions (my current favorite trail shoe...really late review coming soon). And since I was more concerned at the time about the weather (temps had been in the triple digits all week) than about banging up my feet, I decided to go with the Invisible Shoes.  I'm generally a no shoe kind of guy in the summer, and anything covering my feet makes me ridiculous hot.

For you gear junkies, here's the rundown on the rest of my stuff:

Shorts: Brooks Infinity II (ie shorty short shorts)
Shirt: Shirts are lame
Hydration: Gu Brew in my Nathan waist pack
Nutrition: S-Caps and aid station fare

I got to the race early so that I could scope out the scene prior to race start. Fair warning: if you show up to a race in huaraches and short shorts, you will get stared at. I didn't see anyone as dumb as me trying to rock sandals, but I did see several pairs of Spydrions and New Balance MT110s. That probably should have been a sign that I should change shoes. Then again, I'm usually the odd one at a race.

Loop One, Miles 1-6.75

There wasn't much fanfare at the start of the race. Just a dude with awesome dreds who stood on a stump and yelled "3, 2, 1, GO!". Then we all plunged down a hill for about a quarter mile and onto a fire road.



I knew after about 100 feet that I had made the wrong shoe choice. The road was incredibly rocky and rutted. I could already feel my feet getting banged up. I even thought about turning around and switching shoes. But with 200 runners barreling down the hill there wasn't any room.

After shooting the hill we came out into a limestone trail. Not as many big rocks here. If the rest of the trail was like this I could make it fine.

We climbed another hill of about equal size to the one we came down and continued onto a large grassy cross country trail. Even though temps had topped 100 degrees only a few days ago, that morning it was in the high sixties. There was a fantastic breeze coming across the field. What a great day for a run!



We shot down one of many singletrack plunges (aptly called "the ravene")  towards the first aid station and I discovered another way that huaraches would ruin my life that day. The downhills on this course were incredibly rocky and technical. My sandals were holding on for dear life as descended the hill as best I could.

I flew through the first aid station and headed out onto some more singletrack. This was one of two sections of singletrack on the course, and I ate that shit for breakfast. It was by far my favorite section of the race. I stopped worrying about my feet and started really enjoying myself. I found my trail legs and was feeling strong enough to run up some hills. 

Using that energy I flew through aid station two and back up into the grassy plain. Another great breeze and fantastic scenery. I was soaking all of that in and feeling really great about myself as I when I fell flat on my face. I had stepped in a huge mole hole and took a digger. I also twisted my ankle pretty hard, and it felt sprained. Awesome.

Hoping that I didn't have to DNF, I started running slowly to see if I could shake it off. My ankle hurt, but it was tolerable. I decided to see if I could make it to the next aid station.

Loop One, Miles 6.75 to 15.5

My ankle felt better the more I ran on it, but I could still feel a little pain as I bombed another fire road hill and headed over to the third aid station.



Got lots of comments on my sandals while I was there. The aid workers were apparently talking about me over their walkie talkies, so they were anticipating my arrival. Seemed like they were surprised that I was in such good shape. I stayed a bit longer than I should have talking (I'm a sucker for conversation), then headed out again.

Right after the aid station I climbed quite possibly the largest hill I've ever climbed in my life. Not the steepest, but it felt like it went in forever. Immediately after, I plunged down what seemed like the largest downhill I'd ever done in my life.

Again, the gravel roads continued to batter my feet, and the technical downhills royally sucked. But I was holding up fairly well. I felt really strong, and according to people I was running with we were keeping a pace for a sub-5:30 finish.

One such group I kept passing and being passed by was a Marine Corp medic and his wife. He kept making fun of my sandals, and I kept making fun of how he needed to stop at every restroom like a pregnant lady. Instant friendship. We decided to run together for about 6 miles or so.

We climbed two incredibly steep and long hills (one of which I discovered was called The Meat Grinder...excellent) followed by two mile long stints on a completely flat limestone trail flanked by a lake. After all the elevation changes for the past ten miles, I actually found this flat part more challenging. I couldn't wait to get back to some hills!

After the next aid station we hit the snowshoe trail. It was a very narrow singletrack flanked closely by weeds and brush. In some areas the brush was so thick that you felt like you had gone off the trail altogether. Again, I ate up the singletrack and was feeling really good about the second loop.

Then I started feeling a small cramp in my right calf. Nothing huge, but something to worry about down the road. I came into the aid station before the second loop and downed a whole cup full of salt and some bananas to try to stave it off.

Loop Two, Miles 15.5 to 22.25

This is the point where I should have changed shoes. Instead I just retied my huaraches and went down the hill again.

It was at this point that I realized how banged up my feet had gotten. The large rocks hurt even more the second time around. And my sandals were rubbing on my heel and giving me blisters. Bad, but nothing that I didn't think I could handle.

My second time coming up into the grassy plain was a lot different than the first. Instead of temps in the high sixties it was now in the high seventies with no breeze. I've been trying to acclimate to hot temps this year, but I still knew that the weather would beat me down over time.

I was still maintaining a good pace as I ran across the field. Then a big old cramp came up in my left leg and stopped me cold. I started really focusing on my electrolyte consumption to try and keep moving, but I was worried (again) that I might have to DNF.

The technical singletrack path down to the next aid station was slow going with my banged up feet. I had to slow down significantly to avoid rocks and roots. I approached the aid station and ate as much potassium and salt as I could find. I even dipped a banana in salt (which is a horrible idea by the way).



Here's a cool picture I found online of the "Africa Loop" singletrack. 

That seemed to work as I made it through the singletrack portion easily, and felt recharged heading back onto the grass. That was until about mile 19...where I cramped up again so hard that I collapsed to the ground. The knot in my calf was so big I thought it might grow a head and start talking to me. I had to walk for a good stretch after that.

Loop Two, Miles 22.25 to 31

I walked out the cramps and felt pretty good heading into the next aid station. The aid crew told me that they had nicknamed me "The Gladiator" because of my sandals. I didn't feel much like a gladiator, but my spirits were still pretty high.

Then it was time to climb the longest hill ever...again. I realized that I like point to point races much better than loops. At least there if an obstacle sucks, you only have to do it once. I on the other hand knew that this hill sucked...and that I had to climb two more sucky hills after that.

After the long hill I could tell that a combination of the heat, the condition of my feet, and my cramps were getting to me. I was reduced to a walk/run combination for the rest of the race.

I don't remember a lot of the rest of the race because I was in my pain cave. I do remember a guy trying to tell me about Jesus Christ at about mile 26. I couldn't get away from him because I was running at a snails pace. Hearing him talk also kind of helped with the pain. I thanked him for talking to me, but politely told him to take a hike.



Oh how I came to hate these gravel roads!

As I came up to the two hills of death, I had a lot of trouble climbing. The blisters on my heels made it hard to plant and drive up the hill. Not to mention that huaraches have shit for traction.

I talked with a couple wearing some Vibram Spydrions on the way up. The husband commented, "We might have been born to run, but maybe not in this crap". True story man...

I was pretty much a wreck by the time I hit the snowshoe trail again. The narrow singletrack was making my sandals slide all over the place and doing a number on my heels. My feet were burning with pain, and reduced me to a kind of power walk slash limp combo. But at least I had run through the cramping so much that it really didn't bother me anymore. Always look on the bright side right?

I came out of the singletrack I was reduced to walking again as the cramps were too much for me. I could see the finish line and looked at the race clock. Although I had been hoping for a time north of 5:30, at this point I was happy just to make it in before the nine hour cutoff.

The clock said 6:15. Holy shit!

It's amazing how your mood can affect your performance. A few minutes earlier I was throwing myself a pity party. Now my spirits lifted and I felt a ton better. I ran in the last quarter mile and finished with a clock time of 6:18.

As I crossed the finish line, I yelled "OUCH!!!" as loud as I could. One of the race volunteers replied, "Yeah, but it was a good book though, wasn't it?!"

Yup...that pretty much sums it up. And so ended the last ultra I'll ever run in sandals.

























Still looking strong you say?  That's because this is a picture from mile 15.

Some takeaway points:

1. Foot protection should be priority one for me in these races. My sandals
slowed me down considerably and led to my discomfort more than anything.

2. My weight lifting training worked splendidly to prepare me for this race. I was super strong on hills and never felt all that tired. If I had to add anything though, it would be more long trail runs in the heat to help with cramps.

3. I am glad I am stubborn or I wouldn't have finished this race. At the same time, stubbornly sticking to stupid decisions is a recipe for a bad time.

Even though it wasn't a great race for me, I'm already looking to up the ante.  I'm thinking 50 miles next time.  Cheers to ultra running citizens!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Balance Minimus Amp Review



I may have been out of the blogger game for a few months. But that doesn't mean I don't have a few aces up my sleeve. Time for some magic tricks.

Back in February I was fortunate enough to snag an early version of the New Balance Minimus Amp. The Amp is New Balance's version of a so-called "reduced shoe" in the same vein as the Merrell Mix Master. By "reduced", I mean that New Balance has taken their popular Minimus platform and added features to make it more appealing to folks who don't necessarily want to eat the whole hog when transitioning to minimal shoes.

I announced earlier this year that I would be experimenting with these kinds of shoes to see if they had any benefits. This would be my first such opportunity.

Let me tell you folks...I really like this shoe.



More than any other shoe I've tested for this blog, the Amp has the look and feel of a more traditional trail shoe. Everything about it is just a little more substantial; starting with the upper.


The upper is a thick but breathable monomesh with bands of supportive fabric over the forefoot in a similar pattern as other Minimus models.  You'll also find a similar piece of molded rubber over the toe so that you don't break a piggy on a rock or something.  The last of the shoe is the same as the Minimus Zero, so you can expect a similar fit.  That is, the Amp still is a little narrow for those with wide feet.  However, New Balance has begun to offer their Minimus models in wide sizes.  My information is that this shoe will be no different.



Another thing that remains the same as other Minimus models is the sockness liner. Super comfortable interior as always.  Possibly one of the most comfortable interiors of any minimal shoe out there.  The heel collar however has a bit more padding than I'm used to however. This caused me some blistering on my heel during longer runs.



The stack height of the Amp is similar to the original Minimus. It is 10mm at the forefoot and 14mm at the rear, for a 4mm heel to toe drop. This seems to be the typical height of shoes in the "reduced" category.

The Amp also has a few midsole features to beef up the protection. Most notably is a RockStop rock plate that extends all the way to the midfoot of the shoe.  Now the MT110 also has a rock plate, but I'd reckon that this one is much thicker and longer. 

Then of course...there's the cushioning. Not much. Nothing that you really notice in terms of squish factor. But enough to smooth out the ride.



The outsole of the shoe has the same podding as other Minimus models. However, the pods have more aggressive tread. The pods are also much larger, and many stick out over the edge of the shoe.

Does the extra tread equal extra grip? The Minimus line has notoriously poor grip. The Amp does a little better than it's predecessors, but is very average in comparison to other New Balance reduced shoes such as the MT110 or the good old MT101.

On the other hand, the larger podding gives the shoe more lateral stability. Folks transitioning to a more reduced shoe might appreciate that, as it means less stress on your ankle. I found it clunky and annoying at times. It's definitely something that seasoned minimalists will need to get used to.

Despite all these additions to the shoe, the Amp still feels very minimal in terms of weight. Like more recent Minimus models, material has been taken out of the outsole around the edges of the pods to reduce weight. The result is a shoe that weights only 7.7oz for a size 9 men's despite all the added features. I didn't feel much difference between the weight in the Amp and the original Minimus models (the MT10 and MT20).

Where I really felt the difference was in the feel of the shoe. The Minimus has never been much for me in terms of ground feel, and the Amp is no different. In fact, with the rock plate and cushioning, I couldn't feel much of the ground at all. On the other hand, I've always found ride on the original Minimus to be a little rough and choppy. The cushioning in the Amp smoothed out that action. It also kept my feet from hurting on longer outings.

Where does this shoe fit in the New Balance trail shoe line-up?  Well it certainly isn't as aggressive as something like the MT110.  It's more of a step up in terms of comfort and protection from the MT20.  And better in terms of functionality than the original Minimus.  More of an everyday trail shoe. 

Overall, I find the Amp a useful addition to my shoe armada. Though it isn't a true minimal shoe, it is a straight up comfortable trail shoe. The fact that it beefed up some minimal features went mostly unnoticed by me. New Balance did this in an artful way that seems to enhance the shoe rather than make it unnecessarily bulky.  I think it will impress new mininimalists and seasoned ones alike.  That's a job well done by New Balance in my opinion.

The Minimus Amp is currently set to be released sometime in July 2012.  Until then, go run some trails this holiday week citizens!  Cheers!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My freaky strength experiment



Strong for sure...but can you wipe your ass without assistance?

Why hello citizens...

It's been a while. What have you been up to?

That's cool.  That's cool...

Oh me? You know. The usual. Becoming an overnight success in everything I do. This time in the legal world with my kick-ass instant success of a law firm.

Oh yeah...and not running. Not a lick.

I haven't run more than a handful of times since October of last year when I wrote about the benefits of incorporating high-weight, low-rep training into your endurance training. My theory was that since most endurance athletes are about as powerful as a Toyota Prius, that incorporating that sort of exercise into your training would kick your performance into high gear.

I decided this winter to see if my theory would hold water. That, and I ran out of new shoes to test. If I can't wear a different minimal shoe every run I kind of lose interest. Anyway, here's how it went down.

The plan

Starting in October my training looked like this. For weight training, I essentially followed the prescription of the Starting Strength program developed my Mark Rippetoe. I squatted twice a week, deadlifted once a week, and alternated between shoulder presses and bench presses twice a week. For each exercise I completed 1-3 sets of 5 reps with very high poundages. And each week I would increase those poundages by 10lbs (5lbs for my presses). After each ultra manly lifting session, I followed those lifts with a short Crossfit-style workout emphasizing power and speed.

Okay, what I really ended up doing was following Crossfit Football the whole time. But it fit with what I was trying to do and I got tired of making up workouts.

Anyway, here's a sample week:

Monday: 3x5 back squats, 3x5 overhead presses, then 5 rounds of 1 minute dumbbell push press, 1 minute isometric GHD hold

Tuesday: 1x5 Deadlift, then 8 rounds of 2 power cleans and 3 broad jumps

Wednesday: rest

Thursday: 3x5 back squats, 3x5 bench press, then 50 reps body weight bench press and 100 reps evil wheels

Friday: 3x3 power cleans, then 3 sets max rep pullups

You'll notice the complete lack of running in that program. The most I ever did was a few 200m sprints when the workouts called for it.

The results

I got strength up the yang this winter citizens. I'm talking ridiculous, no neck, jean shorts, protein shake drinking, grunt while exercising, knuckle-dragging strength. Let's have a look shall we?!

My 1 rep max numbers in October 2011 (don't laugh...tall people can't put up big numbers...or at least that's the excuse I'm going with):

Squat: 185lb
Bench: 185lb
Deadlift: 300lb
Overhead press: 155lb

My 1 rep max numbers in June 2012 (8 months later for you non-counters):

Squat: 265lb
Bench: 235lb
Deadlift: 425lb
Overhead press: 170lb

That's right citizens. I can now deadlift a small recreational vehicle (like a Vespa or something). I am incredibly happy with the results from the program. I am stronger than I've ever been (ie moderately strong). And I look even more fantastic with my shirt off.

But MGBG?! What about running? If I don't run everyday won't I instantly become a windless, foot dragging sloth?! Relax all you endurance addicts. Weightlifting will provide you with just as much cardiovascular benefit as running.

Did I just blow your fricking face off with that one? I wouldn't have done all of this if it meant giving up my hard earned endurance. But I know that high intensity weight lifting provides just as much cardiovascular benefit, if not more, than running does.

Don't believe me? Well let me drop some science on your ass. Read this article and call me in the morning. I'd explain it all to you, but I'm busy being ├╝ber successful.  It's also a whole separate blog post.  Short answer, you'll be fine.

Just to show that I hadn't lost a step without doing any running, the day I decided to end my little experiment I ran the Med City Half Marathon with fellow barefoot freakies Andy Kline, Bob Nicol, and Katie Button-Swenson (who ran the half while very pregnant like a badass).

With my shirt off of course...for the ladies. 


Farmer's tans are rad.

The aftermath

The biggest thing I've noticed is that the parts of my running that I used to find challenging are now nearly effortless. Namely, I maintain higher speeds and run hills with considerably less effort.

The downside for you running junkies? No running. Big weights and running don't seem to play well with each other. At least not at the same time. At the beginning of the experiment I tried to run a few times (old habits die hard). But the heavy weights did a number on my legs and fatigued them to the point where I struggled with even short distances. That, and running long distances while lifting really heavy tends to burn the candle at both ends. You can really only make gains in one. So I felt like I was treading water for a while.  As soon as I stopped running altogether my strength gains really took off.

In fact, running while using heavy weights was so annoying that after running my half marathon I tweaked my program so that I could actually do some cardio this summer. Namely, I toned down the heavy weights in favor of more traditional Crossfit workouts to focus on metabolic conditioning. When I do any heavy lifting, I focus on Olympic lifts like the clean and the snatch (mmmm....snatch). Those lifts still allow development of strength (through dynamic effort) without taxing your muscles or central nervous system as much. Running is considerably easier nowadays. Not that I do it much, because it just isn't necessary.

Here's a sample of my workouts lately:

8 sets of 2 reps Olympic clean and jerk
Then 12 minutes of 12 reps push press, 12 pullups, 12 air squats

12 sets of 2 reps dynamic bench press
Then 21-15-9 of Deadlifts and thrusters

Again, what I noticed is that movements that I had trouble doing last year came relatively easy. Weights that were heavy last year I was throwing around like a kid's toy.

But was I faster? Not really. At least not right away. I came out of my freaky strength experiment not having lost any speed. But I didn't gain any either. Rather, what I noticed is a newfound ease of movement. I felt stronger (because I was...der!) and that quickly carried over to other aspects of my training. So I gained new levels of speed and endurance within a couple of weeks after resuming my normal workout schedule.

Other added benefits? My body seems to recover faster from my running, and has less aches and pains than usual. I also feel more resilient in temperature extremes as well as while going fast (ie I can put up with more shit).

All of this was somewhat expected. Not just because I'm awesome and brilliant. But I'm not the only person who believes that of the ten aspects of fitness, absolute strength has the most carryover to other aspects.

Full disclosure: I did gain weight during my freaky strength experiment. About 15 pounds to be exact. And not all of it was muscle. Making consistent strength gains requires you to eat a small horse worth of food every day. Although most of your strength will come from adaptations in your CND, you will gain some muscle mass...and some weight around your midsection. But hey, most people become lard asses around the holidays anyway. Now you can blame it on your workout regime.

Try this at home?

So why would you want to do something like this? Well besides the fact that you're a weakling, I've always recommended that you shouldn't maintain a high mileage running schedule all year round. Your body needs a break from the pounding it takes during the spring and summer. And for most people, running during the winter is a bitch anyway. So why not do something like this and actually come back stronger the next running season?

Cheers to lifting the big weights citizens!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Other random stuff I've been up to...



It hasn't been all work and no play for me lately citizens.  The great thing about being psuedo unemployed is that I can do what I want, when I want.  By the way, I like the phrase "psuedo-unemployed" better than saying "self-employed".  Self-employed is what everyone in court says they are when they are charged with  selling drugs....ALLEGEGLY!! 

So for today's quick Monday post I wanted to link a few things I've had brewing in the blogosphere.  First, I had a great time interviewing with Caity from Run Barefoot Girl about a week ago.  For those who have never seen the site, it's a blog dedicated to the stories of female barefoot runners and athletes.  Although I am not one of those, she was nice enough to talk to me anyway.  Topics range from Crossfit to barefoot running to paleo and other random stuff.  Here's the link!

Another thing I'm really excited about is a new blog project.  I know that several of you have been asking me to post more stories about working in criminal law and other lawyer randomnesss.  I've been shy about it because (a) I had a real job, and (b) those kinds of posts don't get a lot of traffic on a fitness blog.  Well, since the former is no longer an issue, I decided to give you what you want. 

So I created a new blog called The Barefoot Lawyer (yes, all barefoot bloggers must put "barefoot" in their blog titles).  There are a ton of legal blogs out there.  And frankly, they all suck.  My blog intends to make fun of those blogs as lawyers, corporate America, and whoever else I think is full of themselves.  And it will give you the same straight talk and no BS you come to expect from me about topics of importance today (you know...stuff that you don't want to read here).  And yes, the graphics suck (just like this blog...except for the header which is boss).  It's still under construction.  Get over it.

The first post is a funny one about What NOT to do if you get pulled over for DWI/DUI.  Check it!

Happy Monday citizens!

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