The thing you are not doing

Back in October, 2014, I was experiencing a very distressing problem with my health that completely derailed my training and my life for a few months. It turned out later to be something like a bone bruise and separation or dislocation of my right clavicle, along with costochrondritis, but at the time, it felt like a series of pre-heart attack chest pains, aka “exercise induced angina.”

I went to the doctor. My heart is fine, he tells me. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t having problems.

I had been doing my 45 year old’s version of 5/3/1 for nearly two years, and I was bored out of my skull. Every training session—often dark and cold or wet—it was me, alone, by myself at the gym. Every week it was squats, deadlifts, presses, bench-presses, and I would throw in some power snatches and power cleans.

It was the power cleans (doing scores and scores of them week after week) that had messed up my clavicle and chest. But it was all the other mistakes and decisions I’d made that prevented me from recovering from that injury and bouncing back. I had also let diet slide. I had let conditioning slide. I felt like I was in a slide.

In short, I was lonely, I was broken down a bit, and I was a bit of a mess.

Furthermore, I looked at my training, and couldn’t help but notice that on “5/3/1″ I had not made the gains I had fantasized about. The arbitrary numerical goals I had set for myself in the squat and deadlift—in truth they were other people’s goals for me, but I had owned them for several years—didn’t seem much closer. This wasn’t the fault of “5/3/1″ … it was undobutedly my fault. Obviously, I was doing things wrong. Maybe I was doing everything wrong. In any case I was ready for a change.

So, as I started trying to figure out how to evaluate my life and training plan, I remembered that Dan John had a book called Intervention, and I was figuring this: “I love Dan John, and I need an intervention in my training routine, and, maybe, just maybe, this book will offer that.” It seemed reasonable to assume so. After all, there was the subtitle: “Course Corrections for the Athlete and Trainer.” This seemed like the time for a course correction to me. If you’re lost, if you’re wandering, perhaps hurt, perhaps broken down, perhaps unsure of the future or of your goals, you need an intervention, right? So I figured, what have I got to lose? Dan John can intervene for me, and help me correct my course.

Click on Cover to Purchase on

Short story long: I bought and read the book. It was good. No, this is not the review of the book I have planned for later. I imagine that later I may put up a personal review, a sort of discussion of how the principles in his book have influenced my thinking about my “training.” I’d assess the book as someone like me might, someone not a professional athlete, working in a relatively low-impact “white collar” job, and well past where most optimistic estimates would put the mid-point of a likely life-span, a grown person about as strong as what John would call a “Big Blue Club” teenage athlete. But at any rate that’s another post.

But for now, in this post, I just want to offer one single pearl of wisdom from Intervention, and talk about how it got me thinking about where to go next.

Dan John’s wisdom is usually expressed directly, with Yogi Berra-esque economy and simplicity. On almost every page he’s dropping a gem or a shiny pebble of knowledge. But on my reading of the book one bauble in particular stuck out. It comes right at the end of the 13th chapter, about the seventh question (out of ten) in the trainer’s intervention inquiry: “What are your gaps?” The trainer asks the trainee about gaps, and obviously, gaps (or weaknesses, asymmetries, or, gasp, imbalances) exist in every trainee. Just as obviously, John expects that you should work on your weaknesses in a targeted way. If the trainee is willing to honestly assess this, then John is going to point the way forward by working on the weaknesses. But for the impatient, the person who can’t wait for a detailed assessment of what to do next and why John offers a simple, short statement:

What you are not doing is what you need to do.

The movements you are ignoring
are the things you need to do!

—Dan John, Intervention (Kindle location 1094).

For me, this quote spurred immediate insight.

I didn’t have to think about what I was not doing. I knew exactly what I wasn’t doing. Out of fear, embarrassment, avoidance of discomfort and pain, etc. I was ignoring: road work (running, sprinting), loaded carries, jumping, and also pulls, specifically, pull-ups. In fact, when I thought about it, there was one thing above all that I was most not doing: pull-ups (or really any pulls at all). [No, deadlifts do not count as pulls; they are hinges.]

I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with my training now, and I still don’t. But one thing was sure. I was going to build my strength up, and train the motion, and fix the pain and sorrow of my pull-ups. And that’s part of what I’ve been doing since then (though I have also been taking my time getting my whole act together; but that’s another ‘nother post).

More than that… upon further reflection I could eventually see that the things I wasn’t doing included psychological and personal things, like planning and executing shopping and meal preparation, like prioritizing sleep and health. There was also this matter of “exercise,” like getting my heart rate up, my breath working, and a sweat going for longer than a minute at a time. I’d been experiencing fear and anxiety because of my chest pains; but it was the psychological toll of ignoring things I know and believe are good for me that led to the anxiety. And furthermore, if I thought about it, it didn’t take a genius to realize that some of my pain, discomfort, and chronic issues were being exacerbated by not only the cardiovascular weakness but by the strength gaps I’d allowed to open up and grow. In any case, all this made me realize, another thing I hadn’t been doing was keeping my priorities straight.

Intervention: achieved. Priority realignment: in progress.

The Return of Training Board

Not very long ago my dad told me I was starting to look like James Gandolfini, because of the beard. But I knew it was because of my waistline. Now Gandolfini is dead. I don’t want to end up like him.

I stopped blogging here about two years ago. Things went fine for me without the blog in 2013. And in part of 2014.

But the last seven months or so have been kind of bad for my fitness and training, with regress in strength and conditioning capacity, and some physical pain and disability, and loss of mobility.

Does this have anything to do with not continuing this blog? I think it might.

I have come to the conclusion, for my own sake, and for the sake of my family, that it is time to return to keeping this blog.

But why?

I’ve always been ambivalent about blogging my fitness efforts. What is its purpose? Who is the audience? Why make your training log (“gym notebook”) a public, open page? Who cares about the fitness efforts of a middle-aged religion professor?

The answer that has worked for me, has justified this web-journal, is for me to tell myself: sitting down and making my journey open and public helps keep me accountable. So the audience is, ultimately: me. I am my own first and most sympathetic, and most critical, audience.

If you, dear reader, are not me, and yet you enjoy this blog, then, God bless you. You’re welcome to come along for the ride.

The blog used to be called “Training Board” and is now simply titled “Baldwin’s Gym Notebook.” It is written for the public, but I am not seeking fame, fortune, accolades, or anything other than a small corner of the great public forum of the internet, in which I can be permitted to share my own struggles in an open and honest way.

If what I go through means something to you, let me know. If not, don’t let me know. If what I do here bothers you, but you love me and support me (as a real life friend or family member) then actually, I want to know about that too. In that case, do let me know.

So, what’s going on with my training right now?

After a long interval (late September 2014 to the present in early March 2015) I have allowed my training to slide. It started with weird chest pains related to what I thought at first was cardiac disease! Turned out to be mechanical issues with my sternum and left clavicle. I am still struggling with daily chest pain, but the doctors tell me that it’s not deadly.

Then in November, my right forearm started to scream at me every day with debilitating “tennis elbow” (lateral epicondylitis). This causes pain in picking up even small and lightweight objects with my right hand. This too, is still a problem today.

These injuries were only part of what led me away from my training plan. In Fall of 2014 I was also on Sabbatical, and so I often skipped workouts on the premise that I was permitting myself to “rest” from serious training for a while. But this became a habit rather than a dispensation. So the (bad or unhelpful) habit is still with me today.

Upon going back to work in Jan 2015, I continued to permit my training to sit on the back burner. I told myself I was allowing myself to reacclimate to the pressures of work. But I haven’t reacclimated. If anything, things have deteriorated. Work gets harder and harder and as I let my physical fitness slide, I have less and less energy for completing all the tasks that are a part of my life.

So my training hasn’t recovered in this environment; it’s gotten less and less attention and energy from me. This spring, weeks started going by. My body started hurting me in a thousand little ways. My mobility and confidence decreased. And my weight, my weight and waistline increased.

That brings me to this very day. I have determined that I want to take my health, fitness, and body composition back into hand. It is time. Returning to this old blog, and renewing my use of it, that is a part of the plan.

I have abandoned all old goals. They no longer fit who I have become and who I want to be.

I have new, more personal, and definitely more vague and non-specific goals. Yet they fit me well. I am a forty-six year old male human being. A husband and a father first, a son, a brother, a member of a community. A homeowner. A citizen. A professor and a scholar. A busy busy man.

The new goals are as follows:

(a) maintain health, vigor and strength,

(b) train for movement and work capacity,

(c) maximize my physical and genetic potential for longevity, so that

(d) I can be a more reliable person of greater and greater integrity.

Along the way, my guide, at least initially, is Dan John. And even if even he, the ever humane Dan John, would not endorse my goals as goals, they are my goals. And I am going to keep the goals the goal.

Yo, coaches. I don’t need to be told that these vague goals are not real fitness goals. Buzz off. These are health goals, and they fit with the psychological situation I have found myself in these days.

My goal is not to squat 300 or 500 or anything like that anymore. In fact, I can’t fathom, at the moment, why anyone other than me would ever try to advise me as to what my goals should be. Or should insist upon how I should pursue my goals. I have rejected all dogma and doctrine. I’m done with monster military style training and other elite fitness nonsense. Chill. There are basic things that work.

To be sure, in my fitness journey from 2008 to the present I have learned a great deal from such “elite” and specialized styles, but I am not trying to do any of them at the moment.

Along the way I learned tons from CrossFit (2009-2010). I learned a great deal from USAW and Olympic Weightlifting, even becoming a Level I USAW coach (2011-2012). I learned so much from powerlifting and Jim Wendler, following a modification of his 5/3/1 program for at least two full years (2013-2014).

But now it’s 2015. I’ve been reading John, his books Intervention and Weight Loss Happens Monday. Both of which I will discuss in later posts. The program I will be following in days and weeks to come is inspired by the spirit and heart of Dan John, even if I know, deep down, that I am no Dan John.

As of today, I announce the following intentions.

1) Return to blogging about my health and fitness activities and ideas.

2) Keep a private food journal, workout log, and health record.

3) Plan meals and workouts on a week to week basis, and stick to the plan.

So, those are the goals, and those are my intentions.

Let the continuing evolution unfold. Thanks for staying tuned.

Been a while…

You can see it’s been around eighteen months since my last post.

I haven’t stopped working out. Life is busy and complicated. I’ve decided that a blog is not a useful platform for maintaining a training log, because it is not designed for quick searching or for quantifying things. An excel spreadsheet is a useful tool; a text editor is useful; keep it simple.

Anyhow nobody wants to read about every single rep of every workout in a blog. If you’re curious, you can follow my daily training elsewhere. I use Fitocracy to keep track of my workouts publicly, Strava to keep track of my mileage in my weight-vest walking, and Notational Velocity to keep track of everything on my laptop and phone. So I have my logs.

For training I’ve been running 5/3/1. I’m almost done with twelve cycles of 5/3/1. I’m kinda lazy though, and I admit there have been many weeks where I lifted only once. That’s why it’s taken me 21 months to complete 12 cycles!

I’ve changed a lot physically since my last post, in early 2013. In fact, in the past 21 months I’ve both gained and lost strength. Strength, I’ve realized, is a process and I am on the road. Also I’ve gained weight, and lost some too, but less than I gained. and overall I am stronger. But I am still not at all where I’d like to be. I figure, before I start cycle thirteen, I’ll post something here about what I’ve done, but I’ll just hit the highlights.

I had only one reason for blogging about my fitness endeavors—or tracking them online—and that was to create some small feeling in myself that I really am accountable for my own actions. Sometimes I like to think over things in a public way.

When I share the lessons and results of the training I’ve been doing over the past two years, I’m just going to lay it out there.

Surf Safari 2012

New Four Week Training Cycle begins today, July 1st, and extends until July 28th. Twelve MWF workout are planned, but the main point of the cycle is to surf as many times as possible.

Training plan is simple. Focus on doing triples. Deal with the equipment limitations of being at the beach, which are as follows: I have a jumprope, some rings, an 8 foot pull-up bar, 300 lbs of rusty Chinese iron, and that’s about it. I’ll do RDLs on Monday, Squats on Wednesdays, and Hang Power Cleans on Fridays, plus burpees, presses, ring dips, and chin ups every day. Like my last cycle. I will condition as I feel capable. But surfing could happen on training days or rest days and it will likely leave me WIPED. So no pressure. Not looking to set any PRs this month.

From a body recomposition perspective the point is to not lose ground, and to be more serious and focused than I was, for example, during the last week, this last “play week,” in which I may or may not have gained a pound or two, but during which I definitely didn’t treat myself well.

To that end I have devised three super simple rules that will help me maintain a weight in the 199-201 range, which is where I was at the end of my last cycle.

Rule 1: don’t eat after 8 pm or before 9 am. Duh. Just don’t do it. 7 days a week. Stop with the post dinner, late night snacking.

Rule 2: don’t watch TV or movies. Read instead. Don’t think this has anything to do with body recomposition? Well, my worst behavior around food and skipping sleep is all centered around watching TV late at night. So skip it.

Rule 3: sleep, motherf***er, you got to surf tomorrow.

summer solstice 2012 four week wrap up

Four weeks ago I announced a new plan for training and body recomposition, which I initially viewed as a “challenge” cycle (see “new four week cycle: summer solstice 2012″ from May 27th). I had great ideas for dietary self discipline in there, including: daily IF, weekly 22 hour fast, whole-foods Michael Pollan style eating, low alcohol, and more sleep. But I failed to keep to all of those ideas. At least I didn’t gain a lot of weight. Diet wise, the cycle turned out to be more of a regular old “maintenance” period.

Shorter Training Cycles: Thumbs Up

On the bright side, I did complete almost all aspects of my training plan and I feel good about it.

Having just finished this four week cycle, I can report at least some positive results. First off, I should say that I love love love my new approach to programming! It feels much more respectful to my aging body and easily distracted mind. I am speaking, of course, of my latest idea to keep training cycles short, and to optionally take rest or play weeks between cycles (see “the idea of a shorter training cycle”, also from May 27th).

By the end of four weeks of 3x per week of strength, auxiliary work, and conditioning, i.e. about 12 workouts and probably 9 conditioning sessions, I was burned out. But it was so meaningful and helpful to know that I could take a week of playing around if I wanted to (and would do so), and then would also be changing up my training routine for the next cycle.

I can stay focused on training for four weeks. I can make measurable gains. Then rest and recover, if needed. And then move on to something new, without losing sight of my larger goals, and benefiting physically and mentally from changing up the routine.

Summer Solstice 2012: Notes On The Work

My Numbers from May 27th to June 23rd, 2012
Summer Solstice 2012, The Data

My work this month was pretty good. I started out with a plan to drop about 7 pounds of fat, to move my body from 202 lbs (on the first day) to 195 lbs (on the last), but THIS DIDN’T HAPPEN. Basically, I flubbed the “challenge” part of the plan. I cheated, broke IF windows, and didn’t eat the vegetable heavy diet that I originally thought was so important. I also drank way more often than planned (3-4 times per week instead of 1). So, the challenge aspect died. Instead, I found myself settling for a quick “weight-loss” of about 2.5 pounds, and thereafter, maintenance.

Here are the numbers, etc., from the notes file I was keeping during the program:

Week I totals:

Highest Squat 230 (Total vol/reps/average: 3340/21/159)
Highest Deadlift 315 (3030/14/216)
Highest Powerclean 72kg (158.73 lbs)
Burpee Volume Total: 105 reps
Chin-Up Volume Total: 24 reps
Dips Volume Total: 15 reps
Press Weight and Reps: 70 lbs (2 x 35 lbs KBs) x 54 reps = 3,780 lbs.
Start weight (Sun): 202
End weight (Sat): 199
Average weight: 199.57
Dietary notes: kept to plan for the most part. Drank only on Memorial day.

Week II totals:

Highest Squat 235 (Total volume/reps/average: 3530 lbs/19/185)
Highest Deadlift 325 (5170/24/215)
Highest Powerclean 73kg (160.93 lbs)
Burpee Volume Total 3 x 5 x 8 reps = 120 reps
Chin-Up Volume Total: 22 reps. (-2 vs. week 1)
Dips Volume Total: 23 reps. (+8 vs. week 1)
Press Weight and Reps: 70 lbs (2 x 35 lbs KBs) x 11 sets x 7 reps = 5,390 lbs
Start weight (Sun): 200
End weight (Sat): 198
Average weight: 199.71
Dietary notes: got off track with IF at various times. Ate late into evening on 3 nights. Had some bites of processed foods and a taco lunch (tortillas, chips, etc.). Had a tremendous cheat night on Thursday. Did drink alcohol Thursday (Beer and Wine), Friday (Beer) and Saturday too (Liquor).

Week III totals:

Highest Squat 240 (vol/reps/avg: 3025/16/189)
Highest Deadlift: 345 (3495/15/233)
Highest Powerclean: 76 kg (167.55, less than 2.5 lbs from PR)
Burpee Total Volume: 3 x 5 x 9 = 135 reps
Dips Volume: 8 + 10 + 9 = 27 reps (+4 vs. week 2, +12 vs. week 1)
Chins Volume: 8 + 8 + 9 = 25 reps (+3 vs. week 2, +1 vs. week 1)
Press Weight and Reps: 70 lbs (2 x 35 lbs KBs) x 9 sets x 8 reps = 5,040 lbs.
Start weight (Sun): 201.5 (+1.5 lbs from week 2, -0.5 lbs from week 1)
End weight (Sat): 200.0 (+2 lbs from week 2, +1 lbs from week 1)
Average weight: 199.64
Dietary notes: not too bad the first half of week. Fasted a long day from Sat to Sun. Kept regular IF schedule Mon and Tue. Mostly good quality, non processed foods, but had Pizza for dinner on Sunday. Had alcohol on Tuesday evening, and ice cream too; also Wednesday. Alcohol again on Saturday evening… a lot. And cheated with crappy foods Friday and Saturday nights. The numbers don’t lie. In spite of pulling my average daily weigh in down slightly this week, the numbers probably show I’ve gained about a pound over the past three weeks, or they show that I’ve been eating very close to isocalorically.

Week IV totals:

Highest Squat 245 (vol: 3,125; 16 reps; avg: 195)
Highest Deadlift 325 (failed on 355) (but much higher volume: 6100/24/254)
Highest Powerclean: 78kg (PR!)
Burpee Total Volume: 2 x 5 x 10 = 100 reps. Skipped third day.
Dips Volume: 12 + 9 = 21. Skipped third day.
Chins Volume: 10 + 8 = 18. Skipped third day.
Press Weight and Reps: 3 x 3 x 9 x 35 lbs KBs ( 70 lbs) = 5,670 lbs
Start weight (Sun): 201 (-0.5 lbs from week 3, -1 lbs from week 1)
End weight (Sat): 200 (0 lbs from week 3, +1 lbs from week 1
Average weight: 199.86
Dietary notes: started off on Sunday in a bad place, hung over and overstuffed from the previous day. Ate light all day. IF’d into Monday. Monday did huge breakfast, skipped lunch, good dinner, but cheat eating into the night. Tuesday did bulletproof coffee, skipped breakfast and lunch, good dinner, alcohol, IF’d into Wednesday. Wednesday bulletproof coffee… ate light on Thursday and kept IF; bulletproof fasted most of Friday too.

As you can see from this, I managed to keep my average weight below that of my weekend weight. Basically what happened was that I lost control of myself on Fridays and Saturdays and tended to undo the good work I had done during the week.

One of the numbers that I didn’t keep track of in these notes was skinfold measure. This actually improved slightly during the month (see table above). But I think my love handles must have been growing, because my waist did not improve.

If I had kept more carefully to my eating plan and had SLEPT MORE, I think I would have been able to document better progress in improving body composition. Instead, I maintained.

Lifting wise, I did not accomplish as much as I wanted to, but I felt like I pushed myself hard and helped to build a foundation for pushing into the next cycle. I did get one true PR, on the last day of the cycle, when I pulled a 78 kilo power clean.

I can do better, and will, during the next cycle.

the idea of a shorter training cycle

Trial and error. That’s been my training plan and my coach. Really. Because although I have relationships with coaches, and I do a little bit of coaching myself, I just don’t pay anyone else to be my coach or to program for me.

To some ways of thinking, that leaves just me, as coach of myself. But that’s not accurate. Actually, my coach is like a force of nature. I am always trying things out, and often failing to get where I think I’ve planned to go. Because while I always have plans, they rarely work out. I keep making trials, and then wandering off the path in error. Or, I get pushed from the path by random happenstance and accident. I’ve learned to expect this pattern, and even to benefit from it. My coach is thus “trial and error.” He’s relentless. He always says, “do it again.” And he often says, “there is no try, there’s what you did, you’re doing now, and what you’re going to do. That’s all.” So I plan, and I attempt to do X, and do X plus or minus Y, and end up where I end up. It’s important to pay attention to that.

My thinking has changed lately. I’ve rethought the way I go about planning for myself. Over the past three years that I’ve actively pursued “training,” I’ve deliberated with myself about how to periodize my training and how to deal with the inevitable cycles and ups and downs that come when life and training intersect.

I’ve used “training cycles” as defined periods of 8-12 weeks of focused purpose in pursuit of defined goals. But what I’ve found is that a 2-3 month period is just too long. It doesn’t allow for the dynamic nature of life, for the changes that life often brings, without warning. Injuries, illnesses, unplanned events, lapses in discipline, etc.

Experiencing this again and again has taught me something important. It has taught me that I need shorter periods in which to try and remain focused. And so, what I’m thinking now is: I want to try out a year of shorter periods, periods of 3-5 weeks in length.

These shorter training cycles of 3-5 weeks will, I hope, allow me to accommodate life’s shifting forces better in my training. I can choose, ad hoc, to put different cycles back to back, or to repeat the same training cycles, or to add single weeks of rest, conditioning, testing, or rehab between cycles, as needed.

The first of these new, shorter training cycles begins today, Sunday, May 27th, 2012, and continues through Saturday, June 23rd, 2012. It is four weeks long. It will very likely be followed by a week of light conditioning (June 24th to June 30th), and then by a totally different four week cycle while I am in Oregon later this summer (July 1st to July 28th). Another week of light conditioning (July 29th to Aug 4th) will be followed by a third four week cycle (Aug 5th to Sep 1st).

I will discuss, in this blog, each of these periods as they arrive.

post injury: new program and new plan

Ok. I was plugging along in my own, slow, dimwitted way, making progress, hitting PRs, getting stronger slowly but surely. I’ve been all too aware of my problems, limitations, weaknesses, persistent injuries, aches, and pains, and my imbalances, but none of it stopped me. A broken arm has stopped me.

It’s been almost three weeks since my last workout. I broke my arm on Wednesday, July 27th and have been focused only on healing, and very light mobility work, since that day.

This upcoming week is the third week of my recovery; the third of about 18-20 weeks before I can really count on a healed arm. Dec. 1st is 18 weeks from the surgery, and only at that time I can resume weight training without concern about messing up my healing arm. Prior to then, to the extent that I use my arm at all, it has to be done with great care not to mess it up or over stress the break site.

For the purposes of maintaining a “training” mindset, I have developed a plan, of sorts, for diet and exercise. I’ve created a semi-public google document that anyone can look at if they want to and I can edit and tweak as I think about the program I want to do.

The basic plan is as follows. This is the first day of Week I. Every seventh week is a week off. Diet is a serious, whole foods, early neolithic type diet. 1x cheat days per week. I’ll be training super early 3x per week at the gym, mostly conditioning work. Plus a pretty mellow running progression, starting with really short runs 2x per week, and increasing to 3x per week, gradually increasing distance, over the course of a 12+ week progression. My friend Mike Peterson is going to be working out following some of the same training parameters as me, and so we can support each other.

I’m excited to begin anew, or more accurately, I’m trying to get myself pumped up and focused even though I can’t do what I want to do. To anyone who has any kind of interest in this process, thank you for your support. Anyone else, you know what you can do.

Supporters and friends, if you have good training ideas for me, with my one good arm, I’d like to see them. Leave me a comment, send me a message or drop a post via facebook, email or text me with your ideas. Thanks in advance.

Concerning the anatomy of the Radius and Ulna

Skeletal anatomy of the arm (pictured: right arm, with supinated hand).

Skeletal anatomy of the right hand.

Schematic (overly simplified) drawing of skeletal anatomy of the forearms.

So, because of breaking my left radius two weeks ago, I’ve been trying to educate myself about the treatment, healing, and rehabilitation of this particular injury. To my taste, no better source of information exists than the online Orthopedics textbook at Duke University, Wheeless’ Online. What I read there about the forearm and its osteoanatomy got me thinking about how the radius and the ulna function in various weightlifting, bodybuilding and powerlifting activities.

The radius is the bone that runs from the base of the palm beneath the thumb to the outside (lateral side) of the elbow. The ulna is the bone that runs from the base of the palm beneath the pinky to the inside of the elbow.

In neutral (hand shaking) position, the joints connecting the radius and ulna to the hand (on the distal ends) and the elbow (on the proximal ends) are turned 90 degrees (roughly) to one another causing the radius and ulna to form a triangle with the elbow, with the point at the hand (distal) end.

When the hands are supinated (palms towards the face) the radius and ulna are more or less parallel.

When the hands are pronated (palms away from the face) while the arm is bent, the radius and the ulna are crossed (nearer to the distal end).

When the hands are pronated and the arm is extended, the humerus rotates, and the radius and ulna make a triangle with the point at the elbow and the base at the hand.

The two lines never actually touch; the two pairs of joints at either end of the radius and ulna — either the medial and lateral epicondyles on the proximal head of the humerus or the scaphoid/radius luna/ulna joints of the carpal bones of the wrist — rotate independently and keep the bones apart.

All positions of the radius and ulna provide a truss-like structure to transfer power from the elbow to the wrist. The supinated grip, with its parallel bones forming a sort of rectangular plane, provides the most direct, lever-like use of the contracting force of the bicep. The neutral and pronated grips all form a type of tetrahedron, as the joints at either end of the two bones rotate around each other. These tetrahedral shapes are very strong trusses that can support enormous weights when locked out properly to the wrists and humerus.

I haven’t taken these thoughts much further, but they could influence various decisions about how to train athletes; for example, considering which exercises stimulate which joints, and the manner of stimulation, you could design substitutions for lifters suffering from various injuries or conditions (e.g. medial epicondylitis, aka ‘golfer’s elbow'; or lateral epicondylitis, aka ‘tennis elbow'; or a sprain or injury to either carpal joint).


Not personally training right now, as I try to heal up from the broken arm (2 weeks ago today), and surgery (13 days ago). But I met with Mike P for an initial training session this morning at ASC from about 6:15 to 7:00 am. This coaching business is going to be fun.

one of the many benefits of fasting

So, on Tuesday of this week, a rest day, I had an appointment with my physician, Dr. Joshua Bernstein, to do my annual physical exam and get my bloodwork run. I’ll report back in a couple of days when I get the results of the bloodwork and talk about how it compares with my last two reports, in 2010 and 2009. By the way, if you live in Asheville, I’ll put in a plug for Dr. B. Bernstein is a mensch; his approach to health, diet, and fitness is mainstream but no-nonsense and he quite apparently practices what he preaches, which is basically moderation and self-discipline. He’s athletic, lean, and seems to take care of himself in terms of diet, lifestyle, etc. I admire him. And although he is at best cautiously approving of the changes in my life that have been wrought by CrossFit and the Paleo/Whole-Foods/”Clean” approach to eating, at least he doesn’t give me shit for focusing on meat, veggies, and fruit in my diet. Duh. Anyway, that’s not what this post is about, it’s about the fact that, in order to prepare for the inevitable bloodwork that goes along with these sessions, I spent about 22 hours without eating, i.e. I fasted.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am, theoretically at least, a fan of fasting. In my everyday eating habits, I regularly use short duration “fasting,” aka “intermittent fasting.” Whenever my I.F. is “on,” I spend periods of 10-18 hours fasting every day. When I am being good and doing my daily intermittent fasting, I go without food from after dinner time or evening snack to either breakfast or lunch the next day. Also, I do my workout in the morning in a fasted state, except that I do use BCAAs before and sometimes after fasted training, per Martin Berkhan’s “Leangains” approach.

(There are times when I stop my I.F., and that is usually during periods where my sleep becomes really compromised by the demands of family life and work; in those cases I allow myself a bedtime snack and/or eat first thing in the morning; I still don’t eat before workouts though). I find that I.F. helps me stay lean and lets me get away with eating a wider variety of “paleo” no-nos including relatively small amounts of sugar and dairy (i.e. little bowls of ice cream) without giving room to overindulgence and binge-eating the way I used to.

Anyway, I have also had great experiences with longer periods of fasting, from 24-36 hours or so. These fasting sessions usually make me feel really good. But before this week, it had been months since I did a full day’s fast. I had been happy with I.F. and had not felt the need to do the extra work of self-discipline that it takes to plan and execute a full 24 hour or longer period without taking in calories. So I used the impending blood-test as an excuse to do a full day’s fast. Bloodwork should not be done, we are told, except after a minimum 18-hours of fasting, anyway. So I planned to go in to have the test with closer to 24 hours of fasting.

On Monday, I had my last meal in the hour before 4:00 pm, right after I finished my day of teaching (it was mostly fat and protein: I snacked heavily on chicken salad, almond butter and coconut flakes). And after that I had only water, and then, in the morning, plain coffee, until 2:00 pm when I went to Dr. B’s office. I had been fasting for about 22 hours at the time. And I didn’t manage to get a meal in me (a hot-bar takeout smorgasbord of spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, cabbage, chicken, and roast veggies) until 4:00 pm or so; so I spent a full 24 hours fasting.

I felt awesome throughout the period of the fast. I slept fine. On Tuesday I was energized and, although I was a little extra groggy in the first part of the day, I felt extra clarity and verve in the afternoon.

There are many physiological benefits of fasting, of that I have no doubt, the biggest of which is probably the fact that periods of not-eating can directly contribute to weight-maintenance or loss (this is the basic insight of Brad Pilon’s book, or diet theory, Eat, Stop, Eat). But for me, one of the more interesting benefits is psychological.

Psychologically, fasting helps me put food and eating in a better perspective. It is a great psychological boost to one’s efforts at self-discipline. The longer the period you spend without eating, drinking only calorie free water, tea, and coffee, the more obvious it becomes that we really are in control of what, where, and when we eat. Not eating won’t kill you. You can skip meals. You can choose when to start eating. And when to stop. And you can choose what to put into your body.

When I am coming out of a fast, I don’t crave “fast food,” or “crap”. I crave the foods that I consider healthiest; in my case, that’s meat and veggies. The point is that fasting puts you into a psychological framework of heightened awareness about your food choices. By choosing not to eat for a defined period of time, you increase and strengthen, going forward, your capacity to choose more carefully what to eat. In other words, not eating contributes to a healthier diet. It helps to renew and restore your self-discipline with food.

This is just one of the many benefits of periodic fasting. But it might be my favorite. It makes me realize again why fasting really is such a powerful spiritual tool.

Thus, in the future, if anyone asks me, “how can I lose weight?” or “how can I get control of my eating habits?” you can count on me to say something about the role of fasting. I would probably prescribe a three month protocol, with a 24 hour fast done one time in the first month, two times in the second month, and four times in the third month, combined with light I.F. throughout (10-12 hour daily fasts, i.e. 8-10 pm to 8 am).