March 31, 2013 Comments Off
You get used to a pretty busy schedule of meetings at Microsoft. Either you let it get to you, or you adapt. I had adapted quite well. I had a full slate for the week, with a fairly important release coming up the next week, and meetings stacked up on most of my days. I had a late call for a “Skip-Level” or a meeting with my bosses’ boss. This wasn’t all that uncommon, and usually involved a bit of outreach from the higher management, a bit of chit-chat, and back to work you go.
So I completed my round of meetings in the morning, had the release drop prepped for a review later, and made my way over to the big bosses’ office. There was someone already in there, so I waited outside. After a bit, she opened the door, and asked me inside.
“Mark, thanks for coming. This is to inform you that your position has been eliminated at the company, and as of this moment your duties are finished.”
I was laid off.
I held the packet of severance information in my hand as I walked out. I was actually one of the lucky ones, I had two months for internal job search before I was terminated. But I was still in shock. I headed home. Then I had the pleasure of telling my wife that I no longer had a job. The look on her face made me want to cry.
Fortunately, and frankly accidentally, I had been prepared for this. I was not prepared to go out and market myself, I had a stale resume, and I don’t interview very well. I’m nervous talking in front of people, and twice as nervous talking about myself. But I had two things going for me.
First, my job for almost thirteen years has been about firefighting hot issues. Website failures, system failures, publishing failures. Big, high-visibility, high-pressure issues where vice-presidents were breathing down my neck and thousands of dollars were lost every minute. I could buckle-down and ride this kind of stress with no problem. I instinctively knew to hunker down and focus on working the issues. No blame, no anger, just resolve the problem at hand.
Second, I had my health. This might seem like an irrelevant thing, or something silly, but at the time if felt critical. From my weightlifting and kettlebell work, I knew that I was capable of pushing through personal suffering and short term pain for a goal.
It may sound silly, but knowing that I could focus and survive making 100 Kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes told myself that I could dive and survive interviews. No ifs, ands or buts. Most of physical exertion is mental at root. I knew that I could tap that experience and use it to my advantage.
I had to focus on the process forward, not blame backward. This meant casting aside the immediate self doubt that was creeping in, and focusing on what I knew I did right. I knew my job, I knew I was good at it. Now I needed to get out there and ignore the potential for failure to sell myself.
I was given access to a placement resource, and they offered classes on things like networking and negotiation. I attended everything I could. I cast a wide net on the internal search tools, and started contacting individuals on the teams that were up. I fixed my resume and sample works so folks could see what I did.
I ended up getting an offer from the first group that I met with. Lots was happening in parallel, but the first contact made me an offer. In the end, it will be a great advantage to move to this new team. But the path here was rocky, to say the least.
Our professional world draws on the personal, just as much as the opposite. A solid personal foundation serves us all well, and can’t be ignored. Physical exertion lays a foundation that can be called when you need it most. And in many ways, our mental state calls on the physical abilities that we have grown.
I landed well, but that outcome was not set in stone. It was earned. I have the support of many, including my wife, family and friends. I have the support of my co-workers, but I also have invisible support from my network of trainers and friends. Solid physical health gave me an edge on mental health. I can draw on all that when needed, and this was one of those needs.
Now I’m excited to move on to my new work, and thankful to all those who gave me a helping hand, whether they know it or not.
October 19, 2012 Comments Off
I fear Cancer. I had the distinct displeasure of watching my good friend Chuck slowly waste away and succumb to cancer, for no particularly good reason. My Father and Uncle both survived. My Mother-in-Law is a Stage 4 survivor.
I fear Alzheimer’s. For a time my grandmother thought that I was my father, and that My father was her husband. I got to see the confusion on her face and the pain in my father’s face. She was taken from us ten years before she died.
I fear Diabetes, joint failure, injury and sickness. We all see friends and family suffering from one thing or another. It is truly a rare occurrence to know of someone who is free from all disease or condition than the opposite.
But I don’t fear dying young. I have said before, and I think it is still true, that with the state of today’s medicine, it is very unlikely that Most of us alive today will die before our mind or bodies wear out.
That is perhaps the greatest thing to fear.
Think for a moment what that implies. Get a disease? There’s a drug for that. Failing organ? There’s a drug for that. Chronic Pain? There’s a drug for that. Clogged arteries? There’s a drug for that. You aren’t healthy but we aren’t sure why? There’s a drug for that. Potentially fatal drug interaction? There’s a –oh wait, shit.
Smash yourself up and we can sew you up. Things that would have killed us 20 years ago are routine to survive now.
But surviving isn’t living.
While nothing can guarantee a long healthy life, I look at my health like a game of poker. Every day, I have to push all-in. We all do, we have no choice. We put our lives on the line all day by crossing the street, stepping outside, picking up a trash can, everything. Hell, some folks bite it taking a dump.
We don’t control our bets, and we sure don’t control the cards on the table, so that just leaves the cards in our hand, our “hole” cards. And in that case, we have some options.
In real poker, I want aces. If I have a crappy hand, like 2-7 off suit, I won’t play. In life, we get to pick our “hole” cards.
We can choose to be active, strong and healthy. We control what we eat. While most everyone our in the world will argue about what the “perfect” diet or exercise might be, we all know what the worst is. We know that the standard, American, processed, sugary diet is killing us. The lazy, tired, sedentary life is killing us. We probably don’t need to be “perfect” but even being pretty good gives us all a fighting chance.
We hear in virtually every study that obesity is the primary marker for almost every disease of civilization. Eat natural food. Do some walking. Your weight will come down.
Congrats, you have pocket tens.
Start experimenting with your diet and find if you need lower carb or higher protein. Try different workouts. Build some muscle. Take some vitamins. Eat some Kale.
Push for Jacks or Queens.
If we are willing to give ourselves a shot, the benefit of the doubts, then we have a better chance of avoiding disease, cancer or injury. We have a better shot at healing faster when we do get ill or injured. There are not guarantees, the best we can do is improve our odds.
I’m pushing for aces myself.
October 12, 2012 Comments Off
We were watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel show the other day, and I was really hit by a comment that he said. The show was a tour through the Burgundy region of France, and if you have been to any part of France outside of Paris, you can really appreciate the beauty of the provinces. But Bourdain’s show is about Food, and also, his reactions to food. So this comment erupted after a tour of wineries, shops, all the usual places, and he and his traveling companion were in some side market, tasting vegetables from the region. After tasting some random – whatever, he said:
“If vegetables tasted like this in America, people would actually eat them!”
I was floored.
This comment reactivated ideas that had been swimming in my head for a long time since I have started eating a “Paleo” type diet.
I went today to get my Flu shot at Microsoft. It is one of the cool corporate benefits that we get, and they will also to a quick health screening as well. A mail get sent around to everyone to click a link that takes you to the internal wellness site, where you can pick a time to get your shot, and even take the spouse along for free.
When you sign up, the tool also walks you through a short series of questions about your health habits, do you exercise, how many hours, what do you eat, etc. The one that made me pause was, “Do you eat fatty red meat such as Hamburgers, Pizza…”
I stopped right there.
I’m not sure where you eat, but the last time I saw a hamburger, the “meat” was the smallest part of it. And most of the “red” on the last pizza I saw was sauce. The next choice was eating “Lean” meats such as chicken breasts. Third place is you’re fired.
My eating habits, of eating “fatty” cuts of meat that aren’t wrapped in a great blob of gluten isn’t even a choice. How about the quality of meat that I eat? Do they really think that the source and feed or hormone profile makes no difference?
If you have ever read any paleo blog or book, a common refrain is the poor quality of studies that claim the benefits of whole grains or the dangers of fats in the diet, when confounders in these studies wipe out any chance of getting valuable data. Calling Pizza a “Red Meat” happens often. Not controlling for food quality is common.
If you talk with someone who advocates a “Low Carb” diet, it will be uncommon to find two people who agreed what “low” exactly means. And virtually none of the studies out there, pro or con, state this clearly.
We frequently hear about how a ratio of macronutrients will give one he alt benefit or another, vs how many calories are needed per day. But does your body treat 100 calories of cake the same as 100 calories of spinach? How about 10 ounces of cheap, feedlot beef vs 10 ounces of prime, organic grass-fed bison? Are carbs the same in apples and bread? Is fat the same between Soy oil and avocado? How fresh are the ingredients?
If I buy a tomato from the store, even from the organic pile, and eat a slice, it’s pretty good. But its just a tomato. We get freshly picked tomatoes delivered each week ripened on the vine, and cutting into one release smells of the vine and soil, and with that I can remember being 12 years old, running in my grandparents yard and brushing against their tomato plants, potted in wine barrels, releasing that same smell when I hit them.
If the quality of food can impact my memories so much, how is that impacting my health? How is the lack of that quality impacting our health?
The whole concept of eating high-quality, clean, natural food is such a novelty in our culture now. We look to packaged, enriched foods and expensive drugs to make up for missing basics in our diet. We want simple, easy numbers to track (100 calories! 50 carbs!) so we can check them off of a list.
But our bodies don’t run on checklists.
We are what we eat. We are what our food eats. We are where our food grows.
Those are first principles. Eat real food.
After that, we can discuss eating more of one thing or less of another. But discussing and arguing over how much garbage and chemical by-product we should eat isn’t the answer.
Once first principles are correct, we can move to the next step.
September 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
I had a great discussion with Yulia this evening about exercise, health and food. anyone who has read anything that I write or post knows that I am obsessive about trying to be, at least, generally healthy. Growing up as a “skinny kid” I never thought about health growing up. I had a super-fast metabolism all the way through college, and didn’t gain weight, and even when I exercised a lot, never really built muscle.
So I never looked at what I ate. It didn’t matter. I ate entire cakes, drank endless beer, whatever. I just never gained weight. and the problem is that if you don’t get actually fat, you never think about if you are actually healthy or not.
Eventually, my metabolism shut down, or I became insulin-resistant, whatever you want to call it. and I started to gain weight. You don’t notice it when it creeps on slowly. But eventually you change from a 175 pound guy on your wedding day, to 240+ pounds several years later.
The chest and back pains come at no extra charge.
Whatever you want to do to correct this, it takes time, and persistence. Generally, things get worse before they get better. Starting to change diet, failing, and starting again are not easy. Add in the massive misinformation about what it takes to lose weight, then you need to start the process of gaining muscle. Being “Skinny-fat” is not any better than being regular fat. and changing diet will slim you up, but you need exercise to balance your fat percentage.
I started and failed at this many, many times before I figured out what started to work, and the effort to start was far greater than what it takes to now just maintain. It reminded me of the story of Enrico Fermi at the B Reactor in Hanford.
When firing up the reactor the first time, they loaded fuel according to the calculations made, then waited for the reaction to start. It would start, then die after a few seconds. They would try again, and it would die again. Eventually Fermi figured out that a by-product of fission kills the reaction as it starts. it takes more fuel to start the reaction, then once started, it doesn’t take so much to retain.
I actually remember being in a radiation suit, on a private tour of the B Reactor when hearing this story. We were standing in front of Fermi’s office, looking at the desk where he figured this out with a slide rule.
But the same principal applies is almost everything in life. Making major changes, whether in your job, or diet, or activities all need more effort to start than to maintain. We all have to follow rigid diet patterns to start a diet, and we will see ourselves get heavier first (we gain muscle before losing fat) then the weight comes down.
It is hard to get an exercise routine, or learn a sport. We fall, get hurt, feel sore, and have to practice complex moves for a long time before we get the benefit in strength, agility, or cool stories about being the best in something.
In so much, we have that same energy “hump” that we need to overcome to start something. But once past the hump, it can be hard to stop. You don’t want to stop, because at this point, the benefits are addictive. You gotta run, or lift, or eat the way that works for you. If you are staying in balance, and not burning out or getting hurt, it is a pretty amazing feeling.
But getting up the curve is really steep.
February 11, 2012 Comments Off
So I completed my Deadlifting cycle for a bit. That was a ton of fun. (Actually, if you add all the pounds moved, it was well over a ton, but that involves doing a lot of math, so I’ll just round down)
As I have written before, I use Pavel Tsastouline’s Power to the People protocol for Deadlifting. But I was able to have even more fun with this. Over the summer I had picked up Easy Strength by Pavel and Dan John. Easy Strength is an amazing book that details out how to understand and identify your goals for lifting and training, track progress, and set your programs to hit those goals.
I had read through it twice, and found a great protocol that I thought would fit my Goals (general fitness as opposed to sport specific) and it fit both my skills and equipment. The program worked out to be:
2-week Block Training (for a minimum plan of 10 weeks (5 sets))
Block 1: Single-arm Kettlebell Clean and Presses with Goblet Squats
Block 2: Power to the People Deadlifts
If you aren’t familiar with these these things, I’ll clarify.
Block Training is an old training method (very popular in the Former Soviet Union) where different exercise types are organized into Blocks, with a period of two weeks being the most common. You alternate the blocks over a period of several weeks before changing or moving to something new. Each block would differ from the others by either area worked (say, and Upper body block followed by a Lower body block) or it could differ by exercise type (in my case, a Pressing and Squats block followed by a deadlift block) You can run at a fairly high intensity as you recover from one type of work as you change to the other. Also, it lets you combine things in a way that keeps everything interesting.
Kettelbell Clean and Presses are surprisingly less common that I usually think. While kettelbells are very popular via Crossfit right now, most folks out there are just using them for swings (and typically the American Style over-the-head swing. – I follow RKC methods myself). I favor the C&P because when you are handling a large overhead weight on one hand only, then add the inherent eccentric balance of the Kettlebell, you turn an upper-body exercise into a whole-body lift. You need tight Glutes, core, and lats to achieve a good, straight lift, or you just wobble all over the place.
The Goblet Squat is one that Dan John promotes all the time as a way to dial in clean Squat form. Holding a weight out n front of your body, you pull yourself down into a low squat, with elbows resting on the inside of your kneecaps. It is very hard to get out of alignment with this exercise, and it really dials in great squatting form. The Kettlebell handle is a perfect alignment for the grip in a goblet squat, making it a perfect bookend for pressing sets.
With varying weights, this made my sets look like the following:
Single Arm Presses & Goblet Squats
Monday (16kg x 5, 20kg x 5, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Wednesday (32kg x 2, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Friday (20kg x 5, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Power to the People deadlifts
After a Kettelbell week I would see if I felt up to adding an extra set for each day. At the end of a lifting week I would dial back 20 pounds, then add 10 each day. If the set felt too hard, I dialed back a bit.
This progressed fantastically! By the last Kettelbell week, I could get in 5 solid sets, and I was on track to break through a deadlift of 300 pounds. A few days before my cycle completed, I racked up 285 pounds to the bar.
In proper form, I made two excellent pulls. On my third pull, elves snuck in and glued the weights to the floor.
I mean, the bar didn’t move at all.
I was at my body’s limit, so I cut it short. I was well past my Personal Record, I had finished 9 weeks of solid, intense training, made amazing gains, and had no injury. So when my body said stop, I listened.
I took the next two weeks to recover with walking and some light bodyweight. Then is is on to the next challenge…
January 27, 2012 Comments Off
When I first got the bug up my ass to quit killing myself slowly with the couch, and actually try to get in some kind of shape, I was not motivated by the standard new years resolution, but by the impending doom of MY 40TH BIRTHDAY! It was good motivation.
I had been demotivated from working out so many times in the past, usually because I never saw any results, or I got hurt. Needless to say, this sucked. So I did the thing any OCD-enhanced individual would do, I started reading.
I buried myself in magazines, blogs, books – pretty much everything I could find about effective exercise. Doing some prep work turned out to be a good plan. Through one of my chains of reading I found out about Kettlebells, and the assorted books by Pavel Tsatsouline. In Enter The Kettlebell, There is an entire chapter entitled “It’s Your Fault”.
This was terribly enlightening. The whole section is the opposite of the usual bravado that you read in any fitness writing, and is an admonishment to pay attention and not get hurt. I really hadn’t read that anywhere else, as an explicit fitness topic, and it is one of the things that has kept me buying Pavel’s books.
After that, one of the online friends through the kettlebell forums summed it up better in a single phrase:
“Don’t move into Pain”
Of course, the difficulty in following that advice, is that as you push yourself harder towards a fitness goal, it hurts. You are moving heavier weights, testing your endurance, and frankly, hurting.
It is a fine line between pushing yourself through the hard work, and not injuring yourself. And if you are new at it, it can be a very fine line. For me, fine enough where I ended up almost damaging a tendon in my elbow before I realized that this wasn’t just part of my lifting, but something was wrong. It ended up costing me three months of physical therapy to recover, and probably another three months of starting from scratch.
That was fine. It gave me time to focus and see the difference between stopping before the pain, which is there to warn you about getting hurt, and ignoring the suffering that pushing yourself to the limits causes.
Really, we are actively seeking out that suffering, and trying to drive through it. That’s what makes us stronger – both physically and mentally.
When I did the Livestrong Ride two years ago, it was my first time doing an organized ride of that size. it was 45 miles, of flats, hills, city and back streets. It prepped myself and trained for the distance, but the race day was miserable. It started cold, then once we were part way into the race, started to rain. It was sticky, oily roadspray, with cold, biting winds. my hands froze on the handlebars, and I was sore all over. My lesson to myself as I was on the road was that I could tell that while I was sore, tired, and freezing, I wasn’t actually hurting or in Pain. I was just suffering through a crappy ride. It actually cleared just a bit as I made it to the finish line.
I had nothing left in the end. I could barely walk to the car until I warmed up, but I felt great. The sense of reward and accomplishment was indescribable.
After that experience, I would add an addendum to my earlier advice:
Don’t move into Pain, but feel free to punch Suffering right in the cock.
December 22, 2011 Comments Off
One of the things that I really like about social media is the exposure you get to large groups of people normally you wouldn’t be able to interact with. In good times, this allows you to get information and feedback from people but you might find useful and interesting. And in other times, you get to watch them pick fights each other. This is one of those other times.
Two of the big groups I’m exposed to right now are the Kettlebell crowd and the Paleo diet crowd. In both of these groups are having big internal conflicts. Personally, I’m rather enjoying the show. I’m lucky enough to have some of the better minds in all these groups available to me on Facebook either as direct friends, or through their business pages. And for the most part, they’re a smart, professional group of people.
Currently, I’m trying not to take sides in the arguments. I’m still pretty much a novice in all these areas, and I am hoping to learn from these people. But after a while, you can start pick out the wheat from the chaff.
I can see the point of the arguments for both sides in these situations, and usually they simply have a difference of opinion, but generally are moving towards the same goals. In some cases, I can see where one side really has a difficult time explaining its point of view, and that makes me feel like they don’t know what they’re saying in the first place. Or that they are just BS’ing to gather attention.
I might be wrong, but if you don’t know where you stand in the first place, you probably shouldn’t be arguing. It might be fun to watch for the rest of us on the outside, but it ends up being a colossal waste of time and bandwidth. And worse, you look like a real dumbass after a point.
There have always been splits in the Kettlebell community, and this time looks to be not dramatically different. I think that’s fine. Most of the players are arguing more about form, and details, and they tend to be mostly polite and professional about it. I think thats fine. In the end, we are really just talking about picking up hunks of iron, and there can be many successful roads to the same destination in this area. most of these folks seem to get that.
The paleo crowd has been quite a bit different. Since this summer there has been a core argument between the argument of the “Insulin Hypothesis” (too many carbs raise insulin which triggers fat storage) and the now opposing “Palatability Hypothesis”
This palatability hypothesis supposedly says that if food is better tasting you eat more of it in this causes obesity. If you buy into the whole “well it’s all just calories” argument, then this works.
That seems to make sense on the surface, but from an idea like that, all we can really difficult conclude is, “eat really crappy food and then you’ll be healthy!” So far, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot said about what mechanism is happening (it’s complicated!) or how this is borne out by the evidence; whereas on the insulin hypothesis side, there’s a pretty large volume of writing about what this is and how it works. It might be wrong, and probably is to a certain extent, but at least we know what they’re trying to say.
As I’ve been following this across all the blogs and other media, watching the same small number of people over and over making the same arguments and I feel like they’ve never been very clear. This has frustrated the heck out of me. These are people who I’ve really respected before, and have really appreciated their writing, and now I’m left trying to effectively fill in the blanks on what they’re trying to say, because they’re so outrageously unclear.
If you can’t clearly state your hypothesis, then I suspect that you don’t really have one. It ‘s a bit like the Monty Python sketch with the guy selling arguments. It ends up as contradiction for contradiction’s sake. (I could be arguing with you in my spare time…)
But, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will be much clearer once there is some better writing and better arguments on this topic. But I just don’t have a lot of faith in that case. So in the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing right now. The way I’m eating, and the way I’m lifting, are working pretty good so far. And there’s always room for improvement.
That much will probably never change.
September 2, 2011 Comments Off
This has been mostly a light week for workouts. The deadlifts last week got up to 255 pounds, then I dialed back a bit. One of my first lessons from starting workouts is to go slow, muscles strengthen quick, but tendons much less so, and they heal even slower.
I’ll pick up next week with some new stuff and we will see how that goes.
I’ve also been biking to work a few days each week, that’s 3 miles each way, and that has been a lot of fun, and a nice addition to the workout as well. I finally managed to clean my chain, which made a much bigger difference in my ride than I expected. The bike is much quieter, and shifts soooo much better. It is still a total tank, being an old chromoly frame, with fat 700×38 road tires, but it takes the curbs and potholes well.
I’m glad we are finally getting some summer… in September.
August 20, 2011 Comments Off
Well, at the end of last weekend I managed to work my way over to my mom’s house and steal a stack of Olympic weight plates that my brother left in the back porch. Combining those with my own, I now have 325 pounds of weights for my Olympic barbell, which means…
Power to the People was one of the first books from pavel that I picked up, but I never had space or equipment to do deadlifts. It was a great book to have in any case, since half of the book is Pavel’s standard discussion on tension, strength, and muscle irradiation. Real fundamental stuff. But now I went back to the book and re-read the whole section of starting deadlifts. The big upside, as mentioned int this book and just about every book on lifting, is that deadlifts are a very natural movement and a safe one at that. You don’t have a bar over your head and the motion isn’t awkward and tricky.
For pavel’s program you combine two sets of 5 pulls each per day, with a set of overhead presses. the book offers a barbel side press, but I’m option for a Kettlebell Military Press instead, as it is a lot safer than swinging a 6 foot bar around inside the room.
Here are this week’s numbers:
These weights aren’t particularly heavy yet, but I am doing a slow progression to keep form and build up to some kind of a wave cycle later on. You can really feel the difference in this exercise vs a lot of the Kettlebell lifts, it is a whole body tension that is hard to do otherwise.
Of course, the massive “clank” as the weights hit the ground is a lot of fun too.
July 14, 2011 Comments Off
Our final room is done in the remodel. The Workout room (was the Wine Room) Did my first workout there last night. Most excellent.