Treat hot with hotter

There’s an old Korean saying, “treat hot with hot”. The application is such: when you’re hot, as on a hot day, eat hot soup. Taking in something hotter causes you to cool down.

Doesn’t make sense? Try it.

This past Saturday, the temperature hit 105F in Los Gatos. Temperatures were rising in the days leading up to the weekend. It just so happened to be the week I started working on another backyard garden project.

I started trimming the outer leaves of drought tolerant plants and laying them as mulch over some dry dirt beds to prepare soil for vegetable growing. Fruit trees needed to be harvested, late summer seed to be sown, and spring plants cut and laid as ground cover. I’m using some ideas from Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution to rewild the garden.

Most days I was out working in the middle of the day, through to the evening. I was in full sun, with short sleeves or shirtless. From Monday through Thursday, I wore jeans. On Friday through the weekend, I resorted to shorts. I wore a hat that shaded my face and neck when it got too bright.

Each day started with a big drink of water, kettlebell swings and getups, and then another big drink of water. I usually planned out the general tasks, mostly doing the heavy cutting and hauling work in the beginning, and ending with fruit picking and planting toward the end. I sweated a lot. At times I felt a bit faint while working, but a moment of rest with some slow breaths helped me recover. Occasionally I went inside and cooled off, drinking water and looking up various gardening blogs.

I tanned, but didn’t burn. This may have been because I spread a little coconut oil on my skin. I also think that working under the sun in mostly standing and squatting positions will not lead to skin damage the way that laying out to “tan” will.

Because I was outside every day in the heat and the sunlight, I adjusted to it. When I was indoors, I didn’t need air conditioning. Previously intolerable heat became quite tolerable, if not comfortable. As a matter of fact, when we drove into town on Saturday, I realized that the AC in the car was actually causing my internal temperature to go out of whack. It felt hotter and hotter as the AC blasted against my skin. Turning it off and opening the windows to the hundred degree air actually helped my homeostasis normalize. I felt more comfortable.

Just like every other plant and animal on this earth, humans can adjust to changes in temperature pretty well. Just look at all the different climates humans have inhabited. The thing is now, so many people are in air conditioned rooms all day, every day, that they are not letting themselves acclimate to the natural changes in temperature.

There’s something about going with the seasons and melding in with the rise and fall of the heat. Just being able to work through a very hot day dispelled a lot of misunderstanding about a human’s capabilities. Sure, it’s vital to drink enough water when doing this. But even in hundred degree weather, a few gulps before, and then a few gulps a couple of hours later, was sufficient to keep me sustained and strong. Remember, too, that this was all preceded by thirty minutes of kettlebell training.

This is just an example. No need to deliberately put yourself through unreasonable conditions. Know that you have a body that can handle a lot. And let yourself feel the limits here and there. Try not to automatically reach for the AC when you feel a bit warm. Breathe, sweat, acclimate.

Yes, sweat. That thing that we all try to avoid doing. Its your internal climate control doing its natural work. It also helps you release stress. And it cleans your skin from the inside out. Find the time and the place where you can just let go and literally be yourself.

And yea, try some hot soup on a hot day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Playing

Moving through playing is more varied and inspired than routine exercise. A training routine develops you to become stronger in focused ways, but playing is an outlet for movement based on feel and natural sequences.

You might run a certain number of miles every day, but unless you run around with your dog on a field or play a sport or do some sort of randomized mode of running, you won’t really step and move and slow and accelerate in ways other than the straightforward path of the usual jog or sprint.

One way to do “sprints” without making it an uber-structured session is to just kick off the shoes on a field of grass, jog and shake things off for a bit, and get bouncy. As you make your way around the field, find little moments to make quick bursts of running, and then come back to a light jog or bounce. Go with your feeling, and make sure to stay on your toes more and keep the integrity of your entire body. Don’t make dramatic flails or lunges. Keep it all close and within your range. Stop running if you feel any twinges of pain or joint misalignment.

I bring up the topic of playing because I realize that people who don’t have an established background of sports or training most likely have played as kids.

I remember playing tag with my sister and the neighborhood kids. One person is “it”, and has to chase down and tap someone else to not be “it”. Then that new “it” person has to do the same to someone else. It was a hilarious game of running, dodging, laughing, and sometimes crying. Lots of moment to moment movement tactics too.

Don’t hesitate to play when you get the chance. Bust out the football or frisbee at the park, race your dog or your kids, or just goof off by yourself if you aren’t embarrassed. If you do feel a bit shy, just start off with some jogging steps, squats, jumping jacks, bounces, however you feel like moving.

The routinized training for strength and other physical building is great for getting you from point A to point B. It’s important, though, that you keep the integrity of your own movement patterns. With any exercise you utilize for strength building, you must use your own ideal positions and technique. But fitting yourself into specified exercises might lead you away from your natural rhythms, ranges, and strengths.

Play can bring back this instinctual ability to move freely and spontaneously. Since you’re focused on the game or the mood, and not the movement, you are more likely to move the way you are best able.

The connection between all of this is that play teaches us to move, training builds strength in those movements, and better movement allows for better play.

Live powerfully,

Steve


Check out these examples of great movers:

movnat.com

http://www.tacfitacademy.com/

Ido Portal

Lots of inspiration from:

Daniel Vitalis

When pain, no train

I came upon the stage of my weekly cycle where sleep deprivation and physical training fight for priority. I was tired on Wednesday morning but went ahead and trained, feeling some energy.

During my warmups I was out of breath. I chugged ahead anyway, deciding to do two handed swings as a deload from one handed swings. This went fine at first, although I was definitely much lower in swing output than usual.

Then, about three quarters of the way through the swing sets, I felt a pang in my outer knee. It was like tendonitis. Sort of aching and a little sharp. I tried to stiffen up at the knees to avoid too much movement. It went away when I stopped the set, and then came back with each set. It was definitely not just tightness.

I tested a getup and my knee felt fine, so I went ahead and finished my training session. At the end, I was pooped. It was strange to remember what it felt like after hard squat sessions back when I was powerlifting. Instead of the “recharge” sensation I had become accustomed to, this was definitely a “workout” – fine for one time trial, but not what I was going for in training sessions.

Looking back, I realize I was fit enough to do ten swings every thirty seconds, but I certainly was not fit to do that and then train for the following two days. My body was still recovering. Compounded with lack of sleep, I was in the red zone.

It’s not always possible to train on a full night of sleep. I do train hard on low sleep, knowing that I need to pay extra attention to rest and food afterward. However, I misjudged the impact of the full exertion of the time trial.

Moving forward, I’m going to need to take a day off if I’m sleep deprived following full physical output. The combination of these two conditions is dangerous. Sure, you may find yourself physically exhausted and sleep deprived in an emergency requiring full physical exertion. In lifelong training though, to avoid injury and to build strength steadily, this is not a healthy internal setting.

Needless to say, I will be taking a break from hard training for the next day or two. Getting as much sleep as possible, as much sunlight and vitamin C as possible, and mobilizing joints will be my priorities. Gentle activity like walking, squats, pushups, and planks will occur as usual.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Kettlebell swing cues reinforced by the pressure of a timed trial

Timing myself on Monday and going through the pressure led to some good insights on swings. Swings train the hip hinge under acceleration. It’s like deadlifting with quick changes in the speed of the bar. I’m learning to get into good positions and make precise movements quickly.

Doing 100 swings in 5 minutes means doing one set of ten swings every thirty seconds. Because there’s so little time to rest, I was going into most of the sets just short of panting. It was everything I could do to clear some head space and focus on form. This squeeze on leisure caused me to realize the few things that make swings effective.

I controlled the movement of the kettlebell almost entirely with my hips. My feet had to be firmly planted, my knees pulling out, and my glutes squeezing as hard and fast as possible.

To minimize loss of power from the ground to the weight, I had to keep my abdomen and torso absolutely rigid. This allowed more force from my hip hinge to transfer from the ground to the weight in my hand.

The weight bearing shoulder had to be packed and tight to hold the arm straight and minimize the arch of the bell. If my shoulder pulled forward, I would lose precious tension and feel myself slow down. Every fraction of a second counted, because the quicker I could do the swings, the more rest time I could get.

I also found that the harder and quicker I snapped with my hips, the more the bell would float. I always knew this when practicing, but it mattered so much when I could barely get enough air out of my lungs at the top. So I put more in to get more out.

Lastly, I saw how important it was to minimize. I tried to keep my free arm close and stiff. I keep my head firmly aligned with my back. I resisted excessive bending of the knees. Even my hip hinge was a bit smaller. Any looseness, any unnecessary flinging or flopping, would slow me down both in speed and in energy. Everything had to go toward the movement of the kettlebell.

Focusing on throwing the kettlebell forward but keeping a hold of it, as a mental cue, served me greatly. It was simple and it worked.

How awesome, that these tiny little details, every single one of them, were in the book I read to learn how to swing. And even though I practiced them, every day, sometimes these more than those, and other times those more than these, every single one of them just rose to the surface when it really really counted.

Hope this helps emphasize the importance of form and technique as you train in your daily practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Avoiding muscle fatigue and knots

There is a training method to avoid getting muscle knots.

Pavel Tsatsouline talks about the phenomena of avoiding knots by limiting strength training to maximal outputs. You’ve probably heard about slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers are small, weak, and activate slowly, but can work for very long periods. Fast twitch IIX are large and activate fast, generating high power for flashes of time. Fast twitch IIA is in between these two.

Basically, we all have muscles that shoulder handle a variety of tasks at a range of loads. You can push a two thousand pound car down the road for a short distance, and you can also text with your thumbs unendingly.

Strength training with kettlebell swings involves a small load with maximal force. It does not require a person to lift the largest possible weight they can lift. It also isn’t so light that the exercise can be done without end. There’s a balance. The muscle fiber most active during this sort of exercise is the fast twitch IIA.

“When your reps slow down, it is the best indicator your IIA fast fibers have had it, and slow type I fibers are doing most of the work” (Kettlebell Simple and Sinister).

The problem is that slow twitch fibers, when strained with too much load, can spasm. These fibers are located closer to the bone and deeper inside muscle fiber groups. The conclusion in S&S is that exercising beyond the point of maximal output puts these slow twitch muscles into exhausted spasms. Thus, deep knots.

I am currently putting this statement to the test over the past week with kettlebell swings. I have had a knot in my shoulder blade for a while. It comes and goes, particularly when I eat wheat. However, I found that some days it would come back even though my diet was clean. I thought it had something to do with my shoulder mechanics, but I couldn’t figure out how to address it.

Revisiting this concept of muscle fibers, I tried to modify my behavior during swing sets. It was a little tricky, because at first glance it seemed that I needed to give full effort all the way through to the last repetition. However, this meant that I was still doing ten repetitions per set. And on some sets, I would get tired on the last swings.

Then I tried to limit my swing sets to only the best swings. This was difficult at first, because I had to really tune in to the difference between maximal output and maximal effort. It was easy to fool myself into thinking I was generating full force just because I was giving full effort. But over time, I started to see the difference. If I noticed any slow down or reduction in force, I stopped.

Guess what? It’s working. My shoulder is feeling much more relaxed in the past few days, despite the fact that I’ve been doing swings, getups, and other exercises on a daily basis. The difference is that I’m stopping my sets short when my output decreases. This means that I’m doing fewer reps on many of the swing sets.

So I guess I was pushing a little too hard before. It’s going to take some time to get back to 100 swings, but I think it will lead to much better results.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

The beauty of oxtail, an easy training session, and why goals matter

The other day I made some simple stew out of grass fed oxtail from Alderspring Ranch. Oxtail is just the cow’s tail. If you haven’t tried it, you must. The beautiful thing about oxtail is that it is simultaneously fatty, tendonous, and meaty. It’s perfect.

It can be made with minimal ingredients – salt and pepper are enough, salt alone makes it delicious. I wish I took a photo of the dish, but I didn’t, and thus it’s not on Instagram. The hard part about making oxtail is the time. It takes about two hours to cook it down to the proper tenderness. Put the tail in a heavy lidded pot with water covering about three quarters of it, add seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce to a low boil or simmer. Wait one and half to two hours, until it’s falling off the bone. Simple.

The broth alone is to die for. If you’re eating grass fed oxtail, you have the most essential food in front of you. Good fats, collagen, and meat packed with micronutrients. Try it with white rice and a veggie dish, like broccoli or collard greens.

I had to temper my training load today. Woke up earlier than I wanted, and didn’t feel great. I think I’m getting over a little bug that’s going around. I took about 12-15 grams of vitamin C the day before and shook off the cough, but woke in the morning feeling a bit tired still.

So I did the usual warmup, five sets of goblet squats, hip bridges, and halos, and then started with two handed swings. I used the same weight, 24kg, as I wanted to see if I could handle it before moving down to 16kg. The first few reps were a bit of a shock, as my mind was really not engaged. I focused on making powerful contractions of my glutes and belly, and things got better. I proceeded to do a couple of two hand sets, then finished with one hand swings. I was working on maximal hip thrust, actively pulling with my lats on the down swings, and keeping the shoulders squared on the one hand swings.

Getups felt fine with the 24kg. I’m consistently doing ten sets under ten minutes, meaning I am ready to move up to the 32kg kettlebell. I’m waiting to establish a stable income before purchasing one, though. They are usually over $100. The time will come, so for now I am mastering the 24kg.

Goals matter because goals drive us. If you ask me, no physical training should take place without first thinking about the goal. It’s really easy to start something and then find that it’s not worth it. That’s because the effort to go to the gym, eat differently, and the feeling of being tired is hard to justify when you’re not getting closer to or hitting a target.

The type of goals I look for are long term. Losing ten or twenty pounds is a great goal. For how long? If this is something you would like to do for the rest of your life, we can start talking about how to do that. Then everything else makes sense. The struggle becomes meaningful, and more likely than not, the struggle lessens when the goal is long term.

I’m currently working on accomplishing the Simple goal of Kettlebell Simpler and Sinister. I know, I keep talking about this kettlebell stuff. The thing is, it’s what works for me now. Going to a gym is not feasible for me. Driving there and back, monthly fees, too many people, and not being able to train barefoot just aren’t worth it at the moment. Sure, there will be a day when I get back to deadlifts and squats.

With my goal in mind, I have a thing to train toward. If I get better at swings and getups with the 24kg, I know I can eventually take up the 32kg. I know what I need to eat, and how much, and what not to eat, to be able to recover and feel good enough to train again the next day.

This is a long term goal. I’m not going to get there in a few weeks, or even months. I’ve been going at it for almost five months now, and I probably have about the same amount of time before I get close. I’m not sure though. I do know that I will get there.

Whatever your goals are, they are good. They are right, they’re what you want, they’re worthy of achieving. Think deeply on them, believe in them, and commit yourself to achieving those goals.

Daily routines get you there. Pick things that are doable. Exercises that don’t exhaust you. Meals you can cook without a bunch of trouble. Things that don’t add more stress. But do this with your goal in mind. And just keep doing them.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Doing better instead of doing more

Atul Gawande, the famous physician author, writes in his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance about the consistent miniscule actions that make elite doctors successful. He talks about the mindset of absolute commitment to excellence. Very few physicians uphold the highest standards in their work, and the few who do live by that level of commitment.

This came to mind as I thought about doing swings and getups every day. It can get a bit mind numbing after months of doing the same exercise, over and over. The principles of technique, form, and strength before volume start to slip here and there. I start to get accustomed to doing all the reps, all the sets. Every so othen the most important aspect of strength training escapes me: to do each swing with maximal force and each getup with maximal attention to form, and to stop when that can no longer be fulfilled.

It’s a matter of integrity, too, I know. You have to be honest with yourself and admit when you don’t have the strength to finish a set. But I think before any of that, it’s this absolute commitment to excellence. Just like with diets, I think that strength programs are easy to start, hard to keep going. To keep going the right way, that is.

Pavel Tsatsouline insists in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister that each swing must be done with full force. At first this seems like a no brainer. Sure, I’ll do my best every time, why not? Then as the weeks and months pass by, I find myself trying to finish sets with some not-so-hot swings toward the end. What gives?

Pavel talks about this natural preference within us to sacrifice strength for volume. When we get tired, it’s our instinct to try to get it all done, even if it means suboptimal output to reach that end. I’d rather hit the ten reps with a few weaker swings at the end, then stop at six when I feel my strength going down. It’s a strong urge to accomplish or finish a task, that’s socialized or built into me.

The thing to train for is maximal strength. It doesn’t matter exactly how many repetitions and sets get done. Yes, there are basic numbers to follow, and this helps us understand the general volume that is needed to increase strength. But the real cores of training strength are learning to do the movements and then doing the movements with maximal force.

Most school systems teach us to finish all the problems, write a prescribed number of pages, read a set number of books, achieve a certain GPA. This is ingrained in most of us from around age five to around age 21. How do you get away from that in a world that actually rewards the quality of the output?

Maybe I’m getting too deep here, talking about the education system and sociology. But that’s my mode of thinking, that’s where I come from in terms of schooling. So to me it’s about thinking but also doing outside the box.

Physical training is one of the most basic places to start with conditioning yourself in any aspect of life. It’s physical, so it’s right there. To do it, you are involved not just with your body but with your mind. You structure your learning, you commit to repetitions in order to improve, and it’s all inclusive. I even think the soul gets something out of it.

So in summary, I’m trying to say that we can think about physical training as the practice of giving the best in order to make that best even better. Rather than sticking to our grade school habit of making the teacher happy and hitting all the numbers, we can play to nature’s true system of improvement through excellence.

We can take care to only give maximal effort, and to withhold from doing anything that is not so. This is hard. Very hard.

Live powerfully,

Steve


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A dip in strength

I felt a noticeable dip in strength yesterday as I trained with my kettlebell. A fluctuating sleep schedule, the sudden rise in temperature, and food were factors.

Personal trainers find it difficult to maintain their own wellness. While I don’t like to call myself one, I am training someone in strength and it is private training. The difficulty with this industry is that most people want training either before or after work. That means very early hours or later hours. For me it’s early, which I actually love doing, but I’m not getting up as early on my days off. So my sleep cycle breaks.

I started my training much later in the day today too, when my energy dipped a bit. I had a lot of sugar the day before in St. Louis style barbeque made by a friend, which was delicious, so I don’t regret it. But this did affect my energy level even more yesterday.

As I started my warm up exercises, I felt light headed. On the first set of swings I knew it wasn’t going to be a great session. I did my best to maintain technique and made it through most of the sets without issue, minus one. On the last rep of one of my sets, I lost focus and just felt the weight yank down on my arm. I didn’t get injured, but 24kg dropping is not a pleasant feeling.

Getups were fine. It seemed that my energy had a much shorter time limit. I could give full output on the first few swings, but then later in the set I felt my strength diminish. Right after each getup, my strength just left me.

Such is the downside to inconsistent behavior and environment. Although I’m not happy with my training session, I’m not disappointed either. Life brings days like this and I’m just glad that the worst to happen was a dip in training performance.

Some grass fed steak, lots of water, plenty of magnesium and vitamin C, and a good night’s sleep should do the trick.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Getups in the sun, and when to drink water

Training yesterday was great. There’s no better place to exercise with a kettlebell than on an open field under the big blue sky. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend it.

I love the sun, and I make sure to get some soak time every day. However, training under the direct sunlight is a different beast. It is draining, especially when you’re doing weight training. There’s just so much more going on, with the sweating, the heat, and the radiation all working on you. Not a bad thing, but definitely a situation to navigate carefully.

It was in the low 80’s by the time my wife and I got our gear to the park. Kettlebell getups require the practitioner to look directly at the weight during the first phase. Since the kettlebell is held straight up in the air, it may be very close to the sun around noon. I had to make sure to stay relaxed, breathe, and face as much away from the sun as possible.

Still, both us were getting a little wobbly here and there. It’s easy to get distracted at a park, when there’s people walking past, the sun in your face, and lots of trees and nice nature stuff to look at. With the kettlebell held up overhead, it’s critical to stay focused with the eyes and with the mind. Keeping your eyes focused on the weight, and on the horizon as you lunge to stand, makes all the difference in balance, form, and strength.

It helps to pick a spot near some shade. That way you can hop out of the sunlight during rest periods to stay cool. My wife does most of her swings in the shade, and getups in the sun where it’s drier.

Another thing to consider is when to drink water. I don’t drink any water during my training, because it distracts me. So I drink a good amount beforehand, and as much as I want afterwards. If you’re training outdoors, bring a full bottle of water in case of emergency. As long as you are relatively healthy, and drink plenty of water before and after, training without water breaks shouldn’t be a problem. There is evidence that early humans tracked prey all day, through the middle of the day, drinking water before and after the hunt (Lieberman, Daniel. The Story of the Human Body: evolution, health, and disease. 2013).

This session was a timed trial with the 24kg kettlebell. Here are my results:

  • 100 Swings: 9:19
  • Rest: 1:00
  • 10 Getups: 8:26

Goals:

  • 100 Swings: 5:00
  • Rest: 1:00
  • 10 Getups: 10:00

So I’ve got some work to do on swings. My main issue today was the sun. Going back and forth to the shade to rest took too long, but I needed a hat nearby to rest in the sunlight. Maybe I’ll do timed swings in the shade.

Live powerfully.

Steve

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Strength goals, taking breaks, and less sleep days

It was a beautiful morning in Los Gatos. It’s cooled down quite a bit from last weekend’s bake, and the bird songs are sharp through the cool sky. The sun is just glowing.

Did that sound like a radio station?

I didn’t get good sleep last night. Could be the new mattress we got, with the strong odor of plastic exuding from it. Or it might have been too much water drunk before bed.

Training today will be the usual. 100 swings and 10 getups with the 24kg. But it will also be different. I’m going to time myself. I’m not expecting to hit these numbers today, but ultimately I want to do the swings in five minutes and the getups in ten minutes, with a minute rest in between.

Energy is pretty good, my body feels a bit tight from suboptimal rest, but otherwise I am all here. Since I am using light weight in kettlebell training, I’m not as strict about resting 100% every day. Usually I get full rest by day three. It hasn’t been a detriment to my health so far.

Dinner last night was pork belly with lettuce wraps and white rice, Korean style. Used sesame oil and Himalayan salt as a dip, and Korean red pepper paste and fermented bean paste as another dip. Got all my vitamin C, magnesium, and kelp in as usual.

Eliminated (pooped) fully. Remember to eliminate, exercise, eat (Dan John).

This morning I’m having my usual grass fed butter coffee. Grass fed unsalted butter, C-8 MCT oil, chocolate powder, vanilla beans, cacao butter, creatine monohydrate. Sounds like a lot of stuff but I’ve got it all down to a routine, so it’s no big deal. In the interest of budget I’ve been using Colombian coffee beans from a local grocery store. Clean enough, no jitters or headache in the last several months of drinking it.

Wish me luck on the time trial.

Goals and Periodic Training

Last night I spent some time calendaring my goals. I mapped out a very general plan for the next year and a half, till January 2020. If you haven’t done this, try it. You see a clear picture of how long a specific exercise program is going to take. You also realize time is finite, and you can’t do it all. It’s okay, and I think I’ve been changing my approach to exercise.

Dan John (whom, you may have noticed, I have recently been studying and quoting a lot) says any serious athlete has months of training and months of no training each year. They also have years of intense strength training, and years of honing skills with less strength training. On and off periods.

For me, and anyone else in normal occupations and domestic life, the long breaks from training are just as important. As a matter of fact, maybe even more so because I don’t think about time off in a serious way. Training breaks give you time to relax, to scale back from maximum strength and to give room to develop skills. To paraphrase Dan, depravity leads to increase in performance.

I’ve noticed through my life that I unintentionally had very long periods of “inactivity” in between times of intense sports or weightlifting. After rugby season ended in college, I just stopped everything. No gym, no running, no nothing. I got busy with school, for one, and had a girlfriend who later became my wife, so maybe I was distracted by life’s bigger priorities. Same with powerlifting in 2014 to 2015. That was probably the most intense training program I’ve ever put myself through. Once I got done with the meet in March, I couldn’t get myself back to the gym for weeks.

So I’m going to intentionally build in long periods of “rest”. No weights, just light movement practices and maybe team sports here and there. I’m talking months here. If that sounds crazy to you, I’m with you. But I really want to explore this concept of loosening up for a while, and testing whether performance does increase in other ways. I’ll use sports and short runs as a measure of performance.

Takeaways

Spread your training goals over months, and create big down times in between. On a day to day scale, “exercise, eat, eliminate”. Enjoy the bird song.

Live powerfully,

Steve