Tag Archives: health

Worst Meme in Triathlon

Preface

Who crawled is not the point, it is “the crawl” itself and the meaning that has been attributed to it that is the focus of this post. From a business perspective the event known as “the crawl” was undoubtedly the best thing to happen for the Ironman brand and the Corporation. From a health perspective, I will argue that it is the worst thing to happen to the sport of triathlon.

“The Crawl”

In 1982, a college student by the name of Julie Moss had a senior project to complete in order to be able to graduate from Cal Poly. ABC’s telecast of the Ironman race from Hawaii (back then there was only the one original Ironman event in Hawaii) served as the inspiration for Julie to sign up, as she proposed the event as a study in physiology to her college advisor.

Back then, there were no sources for ‘how to’ train to complete an iron distance triathlon event.  With a nascent sport, there were neither coaches specializing in it, nor were there former athletes who converted into coaches to guide novices. In short, with no formal coaching, using a couple marathons as test events in the months leading up to the Hawaiian Ironman, Julie Moss completed the race but not before stumbling and staggering from exhaustion, ending with “the crawl” to the finish line. It was “the crawl” that was televised to the world, and was televised year after year, for years, and on occasion still makes it into the annual broadcast of the Ironman World Championships.

“The original Hawaiian crawl by Julie Moss set Ironman triathlon as a mainstream sport and launched the race as a must-do event in the minds of a generation.” IM website

Discussion

College is a period where most teenagers have their first true freedoms in life: freedom from home, from mom and dad, free to suffer the consequences of their decisions without a life line to dig them out.  That is part of what makes college or university life what it is, making decisions without the safety net of parents. As with all things that we are new at, few of us get all the decisions right the first time, and sometimes we make decisions which are simply irresponsible.

Julie Moss’ decision to compete at the Hawaiian Ironman was and should have remained as one of those “what was I thinking” college decisions, one never to be repeated (along the lines of partying the night before final exams). It should have served as a warning, a caution to anyone contemplating racing an iron distance triathlon that these events are not to be taken lightly, training is a must, proper preparation is needed if you do not want to end up crawling to and across the finish line.

Instead, the crawl became a defining moment in triathlon that led to the rise in popularity of the sport as the thought of an endurance event being so difficult that competitors are brought to their knees became an experienced that those watching, wanted for themselves.

It was a defining moment for the sport of triathlon as it changed the sport from one challenged by athletes, to an ‘experience’ pursued by thrill-seekers, a bucket list item for those willing to risk their well-being, their health by “winging it” in hopes that they too can cross the finish line. The risk of ending up like Julie Moss for thrill seekers is no risk: the story of a near death experience is exactly what they’re after. Whereas thrill-seekers are willing to “ER or PR”, true athletes are unwilling to take such risks. True athletes do not take such risks.

As a case study in business, the images of Julie Moss’ struggling to make it across the finish line are undoubtedly revered as pure gold in advertising and marketing. For those seeking to emblazon a corporate brand, a corporate identify into the minds of millions… this was and still is the jackpot.  It must still be recognized as a stroke of pure genius to re-frame what was nothing more than a student’s attempt to complete a college project into a metaphor for the struggle of life. To parallel the enormity of an iron distance triathlon and the obstacles and challenges we endure in life by suggesting that completing a triathlon is proof of your ability to conquer in life… must be a MBA course in itself in how to herd the masses into a meme.

What business would not want its brand associated with such a message? To own a piece of a brand that communicates that you are a winner? A conqueror of life? A champion? Who doesn’t want that? All it takes is a sizeable fee and crossing one of their corporate finish lines!

Its no wonder why Ironman races [the ones with easy courses] sell out in no time, or why triathletes get Ironman tattoos… its the message behind the brand: cross the finish line and you are branded a champ, a winner, a conqueror, not only of triathlon, but life itself.

Prior to “the crawl“, the Ironman was reserved for those who chose for themselves what it meant to cross the finish line. It was reserved for athletes. It was reserved for those who had a respect for the event, for themselves, for training, for competing, who respected the effect the effort would have on mind, body, and soul, who competed in the spirit of John Collin’s triathlon manifesto.

Post “the crawl“, Ironman became a magnet for thrill-seekers: those who think they are athletes because they complete or survive the event, failing to understand that the becoming occurs in the process of training over years and years, not in the fleeting moment of crossing some arbitrary line temporarily lit up with sponsor banners, spectators, and cameras.

Another byproduct of “the crawl” was that ill preparation, insufficient training, ambition, sheer excitement and enthusiasm were pronounced as “enough” to get you to the finish line. Crossing the finish line became all important, not how you crossed the finish line. Instead of advising years of preparation, individuals posing as coaches saw an opportunity to ‘sell’ iron distance triathlons to be within anyone’s reach, with as little as a few months of “training”. Why not? If a college student could take a stab at it, and after crawling end up not only celebrated but on the podium, well then… how hard can it actually be, right?

In the not to distant past, the good ol’ mid life crisis was solved by a Harley Davidson and a ponytail. Today, iron distance triathlons are the solution… having sacrificed health as a desk jockey in pursuit of fame and fortune, completing an iron distance triathlon has become the ticket to regaining an image of vitality, longevity, health, wellness, and anything else you want thrown in. Whether you achieve any of these is not the point, its looking as if you have that matters to thrill-seeking bucket listers.

With the fitness craze just starting in the ’80s, “the crawl” was the PED triathlon needed to vault it into the dreams of all those aspiring to the extremes of endurance sport, to the persona of athlete without having to put in the years and years of commitment, effort, dedication, sacrifice.

Echos of “the crawl” can be read online at triathlon sites today where amateurs ask pros what it would take to beat them (cause it cannot possibly have anything to do with training). The belief that “the crawl” instilled is that pros win because they have better equipment, more aero or hydrodynamic apparel, or their sports nutrition (i.e. adult candy) is more ‘dialed in’. With pharmaceutical and mechanical doping now verging on commonplace amongst age groupers, the reverberations of “the crawl” continue, echoing the desperation of the masses to regain the health of their youth, or at least look the part as ‘cosmetic health’ passes equally in our society for true health.

In fact, “the crawl” has perverted training to the point that proper training, training that builds unshakeable physiology and psychology and which takes years to develop is looked down upon. Its all about short cutting the process to a minimum. The mindset has been corrupted to where those who train least and still manage to cross the finish, irrespective of how, are the ones celebrated as champs. Training technique, training skill, gaining aerobic and anaerobic capacity through energy system development… has become the losers approach to sport.

As an athlete, a coach, and health professional it both saddens and infuriates me what the sport of triathlon has become. Being involved in the sport in its early years was a time when the joy of training was found in the simplicity of the challenge of excelling in three distinct disciplines. There was a child-like excitement at the opportunity to enjoy a new sport, to play in a new way. Now, to see the sport become a contest between credit cards – i.e. carbon fiber equipment – and impoverished training reveals a desolate landscape where the innocence and beauty of a sport has been strip mined for every possible ounce of profit. It should not be a surprise to anyone that the sport is losing participants and interest… how long could “the crawl” remain significant? Today, Ironman Corp is launching a reality series in hopes that it will revitalize interest, spark another wave of athletes. Will it?

As a parent, I believe the glorification of thrill-seekers is irresponsible. What are we teaching our kids?  That ill preparation, slogging through relying on NSAIDs and painkillers, suffering to glorify excessive effort has anything remotely to do with mental or physical health? That gambling with your health, rolling the dice on life are acceptable in the process of striving, achieving, and living? Its not just careless, its downright irresponsible for a generation to be so consumed with itself that it fails to realize the imprint they are making on those watching. You really think your kids admire you for coming home injured, ill, broken, ‘destroyed’ after a workout? Do you really think the medal matters when your kids just want to be with you, spend time with you, enjoy a bike ride or run at a reasonable pace where you can talk about life, enjoy each others presences, and the beauty that surrounds. If the medals are that important to you, don’t worry your kids will be sure to bury you with them when you pass on.

I believe the sport needs to return to its roots. Back to a time when equipment was secondary, and the basis of competition was identifying the athlete who was able to master all three disciplines, and able to deliver on any given day. It was the demonstration of sheer brilliance in physiological supremacy and psychological superiority that was the inspiration. It was a time when an athlete’s effort would leaving all those watching, and those competing motivated to seek a new level within themselves. It was a time when we played triathlon (as in the words of triathlon pro Eric Langerstrom).

Finish lines are sought after today as some sort of ‘holy grail’, that once obtained will release the finisher from their inner turmoils and distress, proclaiming to the world that they are ‘good enough’. It doesn’t. Its an illusion. An illusion sold because it profits business. Don’t believe me, then read the memoirs and the autobiographies of Olympians who stood on the podium crying not in joy but disappointment that with gold medal in hand while their national anthem played they remain unfulfilled, realizing their pursuit was empty from the start. Finish lines pursued with the wrong motivation always feel that way (problem is, if you don’t believe anyone telling you different, you have to experience it for yourself to awaken to the truth).

Think it was last year when CNBC polled to find out how much money was “enough”. Those with $1million stated $5million in the bank would be enough to feel safe and secure. Those with $5million had no plans to stop working as they responded $10million was needed. Guess how those with $10, $20, and those with $50million responded? Consistently, the need was for double of what was their current bank balance. Yet double was never enough when they got there.  How can the solution be more, if more never satisfies?

If you are not enough to start, there are not enough finish lines in the world to make you enough. Those that realize this after crossing a finish line, but are unable to accept it, deny it and either change sports claiming that triathlon wasn’t challenging enough, or live in denial. To avoid the lingering emptiness, upon completing one goal they immediately sign up for another and another hoping that next time… will be different. It never is.

Training, triathlon, sport in general are all beautiful when used and pursued properly, when the starting point is a search for enlightenment into oneself, as a form of self expression.

When abused, when pursued by thrill seeking addicts, sport becomes ugly. It loses its value as a source of inspiration, motivation, because turned into a battle of conquest, there never are winners.

There is an healthy way to train and compete, and there is most definitely unhealthy ways to train and compete.

Today, triathlon has become u-g-l-y, ugly and it has no alibi. It doesn’t need cosmetic surgery, it needs a fresh start, a do over where fun, play, learning, and training are the starting points, and where thrill-seeking is left to amusement park rides and bucket lists are for those who are dying, not living.

Reference and Links:

Self Harm: End Game of Mindless Training

Gutierrez: “I have been hospitalized 11 times because of self-harm”

By Adam Baker from Houston / Moscow / Toulouse (travel a lot); cut by user:Tekstman – cut from Stand, CC BY 2.0

Iván Gutiérrez is a former pro cyclist, was the U23 World Time Trial Champion in 1999, a 3x Spanish Time Trial (TT) champion, a silver medalist at TT Worlds, rode on the UCI WorldTour Team Movistar (2011-2014), competed in all three of the Grand Tours, including 10 appearances at the Tour de France.

The story of Iván Gutiérrez is not an isolated one. The list of pro athletes sharing their struggles with physical and mental challenges is growing, and the pace of growth is accelerating. Once upon a time, the life of pro athletes was once portrayed as a glorified existence which alternated between fame and fortune; now, the true extent of the strain and the consequences of the strain are being revealed.

In a courageous interview, Gutierrez opens up sharing the challenges he encountered in his years as a pro athlete including how at the age of 35 “facing his decline as a pro”, “he attempted suicide for the first time.”

Click here to link to full article @cyclingnews.com


If you train in a manner where you have been taught to inflict self-harm (i.e. endless amounts of mindless HiiT) then what happens when you hit an impasse in training or racing performance? If mindless HiiT training is what got you to this point, if mindless HiiT training is the process you have been taught as the rungs in the ladder that you climb in search of your potential, then its no stretch of the imagination that when reaching for the next level of performance, you will do even more mindless HiiT training.

If you have been taught that progress is made by inflicting greater and greater amounts of harm to yourself with the goal being  to learn to “take the pain”, then to cause yourself the ultimate pain… to destroy your reputation, your identity by cheating, by doping or by committing suicide is nothing other than an extension of this line of thinking.**

What saddens and infuriates me is that the typical coach today believes that the entire goal of being a coach is to hurt people, to inflict as much pain as an athlete can tolerate, and then push them to ‘take’ more. What passes as coaching today is not coaching, its ignorant individuals suffering with unresolved pains who believe that teaching others to suffer and endure pain (instead of healing those underlying issues) is the foundation of health, healthy exercise, of training for sport, for performance, for life. These coaches inflict onto others, the pain they refuse to heal.

Its the equivalent of an alcoholic trying to solve their problems by wanting everyone else to become an alcoholic. Its a drug addict who believes that if everyone else just did their drug, then all life problems would disappear. Its an exercise addict who gets their fix from HiiT and believes that everyone else’s health issues would be solved if they just shut up, grew a pair, and sacrificed themselves in a HiiT session… just like them.

To harm yourself, especially in the belief of “no pain, no gain” is not an indication of health or wellness, but the opposite: of mental impairment.

The fact that we encourage people to harm themselves, creating narratives around it to make it acceptable, reveals our collective mental dysfuction.

To harm yourself is unhealthy. It is not what sport is about, its not what training or competing, or pursuing your potential is remotely about.

The media feeds this frenzy for agony, disappointment, suffering, even despair by focusing on and repeating images of pain, while streaming narratives which should be reserved for periods of great societal tragedy, for times of mourning, not to describe athletes striving for a finish line.

Despite there never being a time when we had more access to health clubs, training facilities, to coaches, trainers, even to pro athletes, or information on the subject… as a society we are the sickest we have ever been collectively. We are the most medicated, most diseased, most overweight, most diagnosed and treated population ever to exist. Many look healthy, but their combination of pills, HiiT and protein shake smoothie routines have resulted only in cosmetic health as they suffer in silence with their physical, mental, and emotional ailments.

Its time we stop the madness, re-evaluate how we are training, and consider that although our intent may be appropriate, our approach is anything but.


There are two predominant schools of thought on training:

  • MINDLESS HiiT / EXERCISE ADDICT: train hard, then harder, then harder still with the goal to force yourself to hold a particular pace, to endure the pain of holding that pace, where success is measured by how long you can “take the pain”. It starts backwards, by the athlete identifying a pace they want to hold, and then trying to hold that effort for longer and longer periods. To force themselves to achieve, these athletes are taught that the outcome is binary: “ER or PR”, as in either you set a personal record, or you end up in emergency room from trying… anything else is a cop-out, a failed attempt, evidence of a lack of drive or willpower, with this metric applied universally to training and racing, to life.
  • MINDFUL TRAINING: train smart, then smarter, then smarter still with the goal being to learn the fundamentals of movement, upon which sport specific technique is built, with all aspects of movement which inhibit flowing fluid movement trained individually by gaining flexibility, mobility, then agility, balance, and coordination. It starts at the beginning, from the skill level, capacity and knowledge level of the athlete today, and builds up. These athletes are taught that the outcome of any effort is always a lesson which points to what else can be improved so that the process continues, unfolding in a never ending progression of discovery.

Athletes who are shown from the start that performance in sport is based on developing the skill to move the most efficiently, maintaining the focus on technique and encouraged to enjoy the process, to have fun and play, are the ones who rise to the level of legendary status.

Each sport has its handful of legends (e.g. Bruce Lee, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Chrissie Wellington). The fact that there are so few, points to how few truly train smart, mindfully. It also reveals how many fail to rise to their potential because they were seduced by the belief that to truly succeed they need to train hard, really hard, no I mean taste blood in your mouth hard.

Learning how to wound yourself, over and over again, physically, mentally, and emotionally is not training. That we fail to connect the resulting pain and disappointment with the pain that we self inflict is a testament to how mindless exercise, training, racing, sport in general has become.


** Autobiographies of pro cyclists who admit to doping all follow an eerily consistent pattern… an athlete who was stoically opposed doping in their early career (e.g. David Millar, Team Garmin) are applauded by their team manager and team doctor. That is, until they start to have difficulty in delivering results. In a depressive low typically after a string of sub par competitions, where the athlete is unable to conceptualize “hurting” any more yet knows that more is needed in order to meet the expectations of the team… all of a sudden, the team which stood by the athlete’s opposition to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) offers them a pill packaged and sold to the athlete as “help for them to recover”. In that moment the athlete bends, because to hurt any more without “help” is inconceivable to them.

When all you know is to hurt yourself, or when the joy that you initially found in sport is lost because the focus on results has become obsessive and hurting yourself to achieve those results is made acceptable by your coach, by your training partners… then PEDs, suicide… its all on the table because its just another form of hurting yourself.

When you have hurt yourself for so long that you are numb to it, then hurting yourself ultimately – as in where the consequences are career or life ending – do not register as irrational. They cannot impact one who has numbed themselves to the point that inflicting self harm has been normalized as “part of the job”.

On the other hand, read the autobiographies of those athletes who started, were trained, and remained in love with the sport because they were mindful of how they trained and raced and those are the athletes who in addition to enjoying consistent success in sport, are also able to transition to life after retiring from sport.

Are Desroches and Duncan Mad?

Last week Triathlon Magazine Canada posted on their Workout Wednesday installment, a session designed by 70.3 pro triathlete Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches. If you missed it, then here is the suggested workout (here is the link):

10 x 4 min as:

  • 10 seconds all-out, 50 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds all-out, 40 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds all-out, 30 seconds rest
  • 40 seconds all-out, 20 seconds rest

These were the follow up notes to go along with the workout:

  • This is an aerobic workout.
  • After each set, there is no rest.
  • Add a warm up and cool down as needed.

Alrighty then, let’s get something clear… (i) this is what an all-out effort looks like (below), and (ii) an all-out effort is the absolute furthest thing from aerobic training:

This is National Champ, World Cup Champion, and Olympian German track cyclist Robert Förstemann giving an all-out effort (approx. 1min averaging 700watts). This is what an all-out effort from an athlete who has stood on national and international podiums 22x looks like.

This is what Robert Förstemann looks like after giving one, just one all out effort…

To see the entire video, click here

Just let that sink in for a second.  That is what Förstemann looks like after giving one (1) all out effort. It does not appear to me that this Olympian is ready to deliver 40 all-out efforts in a row, not even with 50 whole seconds of rest Desroches offers in his workout.

If an athlete who has been training for over a decade, who has stood on the podium of international competitions innumerable times, needs to lie down after an all-out effort, then who is Desroches expecting the readers of Triathlon Magazine Canada to be? Machines?

Triathlon pro Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches goes on to suggest (his words not mine) that:

“No matter how fit you are, you can still do the workout.”

Say what? Anyone? Any fitness level? Novice athletes, brand new triathletes, athletes training for Try-A-Tri to iron distance events and all in between, anyone coming to Triathlon Magazine Canada for a workout idea can and should do this workout? An Olympian is on the ground trying to recover from one all out effort and Desroches advises that anyone can do his workout of 40 all out repeats.

Madness!

What about athletes returning from an injury, or who recently suffered an illness, or time off due to business or family issues? Anyone can do this workout? Anytime? No conditions, no risks?

Unrestrained madness!

Obviously Desroches has never heard of the J curve: that the risk of cardiovascular accidents rise exponentially with hi-intensity training. Why would Desroches offer coaching without taking the time to appreciate the risks to the well-being of individuals who trust that his workout is well thought-out, appropriate, and safe? Why would Triathlon Magazine Canada published coaching advice from one who is unqualified? Are the editors failing to perform their own due diligence, placing their readers at risk of fake coaching and fake coaches?

This workout is careless and irresponsible. I leave the reader to decide if it indicates incompetence and/or negligence.

This mindlessness led to the following comment submitted to Triathlon Magazine Canada, which was never posted… (surprise surprise)


Click to enlarge

At the time that this workout was posted, I was reading Jens Voigt’s autobiography titled “Shut Up Legs” (fyi… awesome book, especially for cycling enthusiasts), anyhow… on page 110 of the hardcover version Jens reviews one of the workouts that Bjarne Riis had him do: 40/20s, as in 40secs hard, 20secs recovery. Before Riis, such workouts were not part of Voigt’s training. The first time Voigt did a workout similar to what Desroches prescribes was a decade into his professional career.

Who is Jens Voigt? A former cycling pro who rode on multiple UCI WorldTour teams during a career that spanned nearly two decades. He raced the Tour de France on several occasions, and took the podium in stage wins a few times. To become a cycling pro Voigt put in thousands and thousands of kilometers during his early years (teens), continued to put in thousands upon thousands of kilometers annually as a pro, and on top was racing thousands upon thousands of kilometers annually. Voigt was no amateur, he was no neo-pro when he started such training.

Yet Voigt’s workout of 40/20s wasn’t all-out, during the 40secs Riis expected him to go hard, not all-out… and he was a cycling pro at the time.

Meanwhile, Desroches suggests that banging out all-out efforts for 40mins is appropriate for anyone and everyone.

It is this sort of mindless, ignorant, non-individualized coaching that infuriates me.

It is such incomprehensible disrespect and carelessness towards the health and well-being of a fellow human being that is unbearable to me.

To assume that the reader knows how to train, how to deliver an effort properly, how to do it while retaining proper technique, that training beyond one’s technique is incorrect no matter what effort level is called for, and worst, assumes that the reader is healthy enough without ever checking, without asking, and without listing any conditions or criteria is inexcusable.

Maximal, all-out, 10 out of 10, red zone efforts are not given the respect required despite the fact that training at these intensities poses a serious threat to those without a minimum level of health, and to those who lack sufficient awareness of their own body and its signals. They are called red-zone efforts for a reason… red is the colour of danger.

This sort of ‘all-out’ advice is coming more and more from those like Desroches who apparently seem to lack even a basic understanding of physiology, psychology, let alone pathology, yet feel obliged to dish out advice on training, diet, nutrition, injuries, rehab, and anything else since they have concluded that they are ‘experienced’ because they once had an experience, or because lo and behold they are registered as a pro athlete.


Triathlon Magazine Canada [TMC] wasn’t finished promoting madness (where is Mr Wonderful aka Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank when we need the madness stopped), in this week’s Workout Wednesday installment the editors of TMC posted this workout from someone who calls themselves a coach.

Yet again:

  • No explanation as to who this workout is appropriate, as in what is your ‘A’ race? Try-A-Tri, Sprint, Olympic, iron distance events? FYI.. no iron distance triathlete needs all-out sprint efforts of 10-30secs for races that the bike portions are hours long and 100% aerobic.
  • No explanation as to who this workout is appropriate, as in what is your level of fitness? Just getting started, novice, intermediate, top age grouper or pro level? There is not a single newbie, novice or intermediate athlete that needs maximal/all-out sprint efforts, even if they are doing sprint events.
  • The first sentence states: “this workout will test anyone’s limits”… hold on, is this a workout, or is this a test set? If its a test, there ought to be conditions as to how to prepare for the test. Physiological tests are supervised, never conducted without supervision because pushing an athlete to their limits is simply a set up for an emergency situation. If its a workout, then why is the effort anywhere close to the athlete’s limits?
  • The second sentence states (paraphrased): this is a standalone workout, or a workout which can be incorporated into a longer session. Hold on… Duncan says that “if you do it right, you will have nothing left to give”… well how can this workout be part of a longer workout if I will have nothing left to give? Which is it?
  • There is no identification of the risks associated with hi intensity training, namely injury, illness, nor any suggestions as to how to handle the effort, or how the effort should feel.
  • What if an athlete is returning from an injury or illness or time off from training, is this workout still appropriate?

If that wasn’t enough Duncan down plays the intensity of an all-out workout stating that ‘the efforts are short enough that they will not beat you up’. Really? Did you see the image of Robert Förstemann above? He kinda looks a little done, and all he did was one all-out effort. Duncan on the other hand has 18 all out efforts in his workout… as if that’s not gonna leave a mark.

Once upon a time, coaching had something to do with teaching, educating, raising the understanding and knowledge of athletes… no more.

Now its about trying to figure out how to hurt people.

The definition of coaching has been perverted to the point that the belief is that the one who comes up with the gnarliest workouts of all, is tops. It’s absurd.


You want generic, verging on random advice which encourages you to harm yourself? Well, there is most certainly loads of it online. And believe it or not, these ‘coaches’ are so bold that they will even charge you for the ‘training programs’ they offer.

You want to improve as an athlete, then find a coach who teaches technique, skill acquisition and the development of energy system capacity. Find a coach who wants you to achieve your goals, but not at the risk of injury, illness, or ending up as an exercise addict. Find a coach who wants you to become healthier in the process of pursuing your fitness goals.

You are an individual, give yourself the respect you deserve… unique individuals require individualized solutions, not prescriptions arrived by CTRL-C (copy), followed by CTRL-V (paste).

Stop asking, stop taking, and stop receiving advice from those who have no skin-in-your-game.

If your advisors are not accountable to you, if they are not willing to be accountable to you for the counsel they give… then find those who respect you enough to be accountable.

If you truly seek health, wellness, develop a team of trusted professionals in your community who you can hold accountable and who want to be held accountable for the advice they offer.

Take the time to build a long term relationship with a professional or a team of pros. In time, as they get to know you, and you them, the advice they will be able to offer will become more and more attuned to you. You will achieve outcomes impossible with generic online downloaded programs, where coaches can only guess at how you respond to their training, how you recover, how you execute skills and sport specific technique, and essentially are gambling that they won’t put you into an early grave or an hospital ER in the process.

Is VanderLinden Healthy?

Background

Stress is the basis for 80-85% of all diseases and medical diagnoses. We cannot eliminate stress in life, therefore it is the inability to manage the  stress of life that is the source of almost all major ailments, injuries, illnesses and diseases.

The corollary is that health is the ability to manage stress: physical, mental, and emotional stresses under varying circumstances and durations.  Health is a level of robustness, a type of flexibility that allows us to rebound from stress. It is a state of anti-fragility achieved by balancing training and rest, while developing and rehearsing strategies in preparation for the next time that we do engage a stress/stressor.

It stands to reason then that a professional athlete should be an expert in health as the entire focus of a pro athlete is to develop themselves to handle the physical stress of training, the mental stress of competition, of competitors, of juggling their sport organizations, sponsors, of home and work life, and the emotional stress of failing forwards in order to achieve their goals.

For a professional athlete to be unhealthy, to have failed at managing stress is a contradiction of states, its an incongruency. To be an athlete and to be unhealthy is to fail at the exact skill set that you are supposed to excel, to model. For a pro athlete to compromise or sacrifice health to achieve performance goals contradicts the very meaning of athleticism. To be a pro athlete means to be equally adept at planning and laying out appropriate timelines for goals, preventing over-reach, ambition, desire, and covetousness from taking over.

As a coach, to have an athlete who is unhealthy is to have failed in the role of teacher, mentor, advisor. It is to have overexposed your student to stress without appropriate preparation, with insufficient training and/or rest. It is to have demanded too much of your apprentice too soon.

I believe that we have forgotten what it truly means to be an athlete, what it truly means to coach.

To be an athlete used to mean pursuing your potential through exploration, learning, skill acquisition and development. Now the objective seems to be all about sourcing the short cuts which will deliver desired goals, where the attitude is anything goes, including the sacrifice, compromise, gambling and leveraging of health to cut the process to a minimum regardless of consequences and repercussions. We go so far as to call this approach active, healthy, balanced living.

As a health professional, a coach and athlete, I see swimmers, cyclists, runners, and triathletes all trying to achieve ‘healthy’ using this mindset, but instead of developing robustness, flexibility and capacity, they have become brittle, fragile, rigid, inflexible, chronically injured, ill, and overweight. Instead of gaining and enjoying freedom, they have become jailed and debilitated by their training and racing. The belief at the root of this dysfunction is that if we only try harder, push harder… the health which has eluded us will finally arrive.

Discussion

In a 2016 Triathlon Magazine Canada article, pro triathlete Alex VanderLinden shared that this summer he dealt with ” low energy, poor recovery, lack of motivation” and having some blood work done was informed that he had a B12 deficiency and low testosterone.

Pro athletes who are unhealthy tend to make it seem as if their issues are mere inconveniences, ‘flesh wounds’ as in the Monty Python Dark Knight skit, not an indicator of anything significant.

To be injured, to be ill, to be unhealthy is a state that a pro athlete cannot be in. It is no different than a bank going bankrupt… its not supposed to happen, banks are supposed to be impenetrable institutions, no different than the body, mind, and spirit of a pro athlete.

When things don’t go as planned, we should stop.  We don’t.
Instead we resume training, typically training even harder.

To progress, an athlete must honestly evaluate training, recovery, competitions, appraising the value of each and every aspect to adjust upcoming cycles. When an athlete begins to suffer pain, dysfunction, injury, illness, or ends up developing symptoms to a syndrome, or a full blown medical condition training should come to an absolute halt so that a thorough autopsy is performed to ascertain what went wrong.

In Formula One, Indy, and World Tour racing, the cars and bikes used by the athletes are routinely stripped down to the frame. Every screw is examined, regreased, and retightened exactly to spec. Cables and fairings are inspected, repaired or replaced, and engines or gears and chain are taken apart, then put back together. Nothing is left to chance, absolutely nothing.

Apparently we respect cars and bikes more than we respect ourselves, more than we respect our bodies, minds, and spirits because how often do you hear athletes taking such care of themselves? How often do you hear of coaches analyzing training and racing to such a degree to improve performance while preventing over-training, injury, burn out or blow out by their athletes?

Instead, we have set our narratives of athlete and coach precluding us from seeing what needs to be seen, preventing us from stopping. Our narratives as they stand now:

  • Athletes are models of health, of vitality, of physical, mental and emotional capacity.  To be an athlete is to be healthy.  Athletes achieve this health, by training. Therefore, to be an athlete is to train. It follows then that not to train, implies that you are not being an athlete, that you are not pursuing health or are not healthy since you are not training.
  • A coach is someone who is educated and experienced to train athletes, hence coaches are reservoirs of information and wisdom in how to achieve health: physical, mental and emotional well-being. To coach is to train athletes. If a coach is coaching, then their athletes are training. It follows then that athletes who are not training, are not being coached.

See the problem? These narratives preclude stopping, resting, recovering.  As a result, athletes cannot rehabilitate fully, cannot rest, recovery or heal completely, because not to train means not to be an athlete.  We have cornered ourselves where we cannot stop even when continuing on causes us pain, causes us injury, causes us illness… we are driving ourselves into disease and cannot stop because we are trapped in a negative spiral, a doom loop of our own creation.

We can be on a handful of medications, need regular medical appointments, require taping, bracing, medical grade compression stockings, receive regular adjustments, massages, and therapy, we can ever suffer a heart attack or stroke, but as long as we get in our training… because of these narratives, we are convinced that we are truly healthy.

In psychology, a state of contradiction is called: denial.

Bent on upholding that our lifestyle, our training, our coach, and our lack of recovery is healthy, athletes will injure themselves, drive themselves to extremes of over-training with the resulting physiological and psychological chaos written off as bad luck, bad genetics, or just bad timing.

Bent on upholding our narratives, by refusing to question the status quo:

  1. Training is never questioned, never doubted, never evaluated to ascertain if it is truly delivering desired goals without undesirable consequences;
  2. Coaching is never questioned, never doubted, never assessed to determine if the philosophy is capable of delivering desired goals without undesirable consequences; and,
  3. Rest, napping, sleeping, downtime, real recovery including appropriate pre-hab & rehab, total rejuvenation, full healing are all impossibilities because none exist in the narratives we use to define health, wellness, well-being.

As an athlete or coach, to have your training methodology questioned is one thing, but to have to consider your training methodology as wrong… well, that’s just not going to happen, and if it does happen then there will be no admission to being wrong.  Too much rides on being right despite the risk of harm that we refuse to admit ignorance or incompetence when it comes to our own health, hoping that ‘good intentions’ will insure us against unwanted side effects.

In psychology, the term describing the refusal to challenge and confront narratives, thus to live in contradiction (i.e. denial) is: cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance:  The mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.[1][2]  [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Cognitive dissonance regarding our health and the resulting lack of health is our new normal. How else do you explain the popularization of the adage “no pain, no gain”? We deny the deep pain we live in, we normalize inner turmoil to the point that we inflict harm to ourselves to override the divide, to deaden the inner conflicts we struggle with when we refuse to deal with our fears.

OVER-TRAINING in the best cases, DEATH in the worst.

Ask athletes or coaches if their athletes over-train, are over-trained and the reaction will be… get outta here, no way, never! There can be no such thing as over-training because by our own narratives over-training is synonymous with being over-healthy. No one would admit to being ‘over-healthy’ therefore over-training is an impossibility.

Physical injury, mental impairment, and emotional fragility should suffice as clues to an athlete and their coach that something is wrong. But nothing is ever wrong in a society where “no pain, no gain” is the reigning mindset towards life: you weren’t wrong, you just didn’t suffer enough, you didn’t try hard enough. Its a society where crawling across finish lines is heroic (instead of mindless), where inflicting and tolerating pain is a testament to manliness or womanliness.

Where does it end?

Stage 1 Over-Training ends typically with an injury, an impairment, or illness of some sort. If proper rest and recovery or rehab are provided, then the athlete can return to a balanced state, a state of being healthy, truly healthy, but these days the mindset is screw that, get adjusted, get taped, foam roll, wear compression clothing, add a brace, get a prescription, pop the pills, get back out asap to training as these imply health. Its cosmetic health, but hey, cosmetic health is good enough because at least you look healthy. As a result we skip Stage 1, and we speed right along into Stage 2.

Stage 2 Over-Training is marked by weight gain or weight retention due to increasing and/or unmanageable levels of stress and the subsequent flooding of cortisol into our blood. The availability of so-called sports nutrition products (i.e. candy for adults) gloss over the signs and symptoms of Stage 2 leading most to continue along, unaware of the damage they inflict to their physiology and psychology. The fueling with gels, sports drinks, and every other sugar laced product power the adrenalin-cortisol hyped workouts and state of mind, ushering the athlete onto Stage 3.

Stage 3 Over-Training starts with diminishing or negative returns from training as the credit account of health is nearly depleted, leaving nothing further to leverage. Stage 3 is when athletes start to suffer from issues such as metabolic disorders, food sensitivities and intolerances, hormonal imbalances, neuro-endocrine fatigue, arrythmias, anxiety, insomnia amongst other signs and symptoms. Whereas in Stage 2 athletes start to underperform in competition, in Stage 3 athletes start to dislike, even hate competing. The stress of competition simply overwhelms them, but being so far gone these athletes come to the conclusion that they are simply bad at racing, good at training, so they train even harder as a compensatory reaction. Stage 3 makes its presence known in a myriad of ways which is why it confuses athletes, coaches, even health care professionals: multiple signs and symptoms develop over a period of time dilute connections. Signs and symptoms pop up across all 3 dimensions: physical, mental, and emotional, and to further confuse the matter, pop up in combinations. Stage 3 asserts itself when the individual finally breakdowns, often ending up with a physical or mental medical diagnosis (a diagnosis that they fall on as a crutch to explain their condition, as opposed to realizing that how they have trained has resulted in this condition). In the worst scenarios, the individual never makes it to an health professional until after they suffer a heart attack, a stroke, fall into severe depression or worse, skip right to the final scene: dead.

I encourage all athletes to consider… if your training, if the coaching you are receiving is not moving you towards your goals and improving your health, then what is the end game of the path you are on?  Think about it now, before you end up any farther down the path, and hopefully long before you end up in an hospital Emergency Room.

Here are links to a series on the topic of Over-Training from the website breakingmuscle.com:

  1. Part 1 – Overtraining Can Kill You: The 3 Stage of Overtraining
  2. Part 2 – Overtraining Can Kill You: The 3 Stage of Overtraining

VanderLinden isn’t the only pro triathlete with health issues… fellow pro triathlete Cody Beals shared that he faced similar issues earlier in 2016, and now pro Matt Bach wrote an article on these exact same health issues. Question is how many more pros are there who are not healthy, but are training and racing as if they are? How many are pressing on like Monty Python’s Dark Knight believing that “tis only a flesh wound” and that they are fit to fight? For their own sake, and for the sake of all those that these pros serve as role models… I can only hope that they are awakened to the fact that they are hurting themselves by how they are training, that how they train is what is inflicting the damage. Health and returning to training and racing healthy is possible, but not on the path that they are currently on.


P.S.  An acquaintance shared that they heard of a young guy, 40’ish, a husband, a father of two who recently played a game of shiny. After the game he had an heart attack and died. What would we have said if he was 70? Likely, sorry, that is sad, but considering his age an heart attack is not entirely unexpected.  If he was 60 we would have said, oh, that is unexpected. If he was 50, we would be shocked, saying wow, that is young. So what do you say when a 40 year old dies of a heart attack? It says our definition as a society of health, of being healthy, of exercise, of being active and fit are wrong, totally wrong wrong wrong. It says that how we are pursuing health, fitness, performance is incorrect. Think about it. Know anyone who was too young to die?

Mindful Training vs Exercise Addict

It is recommended that both posts titled “Simon Sinek: Understand the Game” are read prior to this post as the addictive nature of aspects of our nervous system is important to grasp so that you can appreciate the significance of how the industry markets exercise to us, and why.


In general, we are not encouraged to train towards a goal mindfully. We are not encouraged to evaluate our starting point: our cardiovascular and respiratory capacity, our flexibility, our mobility, our skill level.  We are not encouraged to establish proper baseline measures against which to assess progress, to assess improvement in any real aspect of health, or function; instead we are told to pick a goal, preferably an epic event, then follow a plan which will take us to the finish line.

We are encouraged to create an addiction to exercise, not for exercise to be added as a balanced aspect of life. We are encouraged to over-reach and over-train all in the pursuit of finish lines, participant medals, and t-shirts, as if any of those are measures of wellness, function or health. We are encouraged to participate in sport, as if its an experience no different than wine tasting… something you casually do on a weekend with friends which requires no development of ability, capacity, or skill.

This is how dumbed-down training for performance, for the pursuit of health, of peak physical and mental function has become.

Its been dumbed-down not for your benefit, not to make health more accessible, more available, but for the sake of corporate revenue and profit.

The major sports product and service companies, from footwear, to apparel, to event management and so-called sports nutrition (i.e. candy for adults) have diminished sport telling everyone and anyone that a 10k, a marathon, a triathlon, a grandfondo, any and all finish lines are just on the other side of acquiring all the right training equipment, outfits, technology and tracking devices, and of course, all the sports nutrition your two hands can carry to the check out.

Training… oh, don’t worry about training, all that it takes is a few weeks where you train at your limit (hopefully without a resulting injury or illness) learning to “take the pain”. There is no technical instructional, there is no learning of skills; instead mindless all out effort has been branded “training”. If you aren’t coughing up or peeing blood… you ain’t trainin’.

The industry makes it sound like anyone can participate in any sport, and if you are not, then the final attack in their strategy is emotionally manipulating us to believe that our lack of participation is due to a lack of willpower, a lack of discipline, or evidence of inadequacy as an human being that holds us back. The corollary being that we will no longer feel inadequate and all our life issues will disappear if we only sign up for their event, wear their gear, use their equipment.

Consider the recent announcement by World Champion and 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist in the sport of triathlon Alistair Brownlee:

  • He announced that he will be training and competing in iron distance triathlons, moving up from the sprint and Olympic distance triathlons for the next two seasons. His goal is to qualify and compete at Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, but he believes that the two year time frame is likely too short of a time span to achieve that goal.

We are not talking about an athlete who is just starting out. This is an athlete who has been training since elementary school age, who has been competing at the highest level of sport for over a decade, and who has stood on the podium at Worlds, European Champs, and the Olympics, both as a Junior and Amateur athlete…

We are talking about an athlete who peaked for competing in Rio in an Olympic distance triathlon by putting in 35-40 hr training weeks, swimming 20-25km, biking 500-700km, and running 120km per week…

…and he doesn’t think two years is enough to prep properly for an Ironman triathlon.

Please stop there, re-read this point, and allow enough time for the significance of it to sink in.

How many who have spent the last decade or more sitting behind a desk and behind the wheel commuting 6-8+hrs a day, who have little background in formal training for sport, who have a ways to go to regain health let alone starting on fitness are sold that all it takes is a few months and you can… run a half or full marathon, race in a triathlon, or better yet complete an iron distance triathlon, or cycling grandfondo?

How many coaches are selling aspiring athletes that two years is more than enough time to prep for an Ironman? Really. Its not enough for Alistair Brownlee, two time Olympic gold medalist in the triathlon (London 2012 & Rio 2016), and four time ITU World Champion, but its more than enough time for everyone else? How exactly does that work?

How is it that pros who have decades of training under their belts, train as many hours per week that you work your job need years to prep while everyone else is packaged and sold that training and competing in sport is no different than packing a suit case and going for a cruise, or an overseas vacation? Just have the right luggage; that’s all it takes.

National & Olympic Swim Team Coach Paulus Wildeboer

The health and fitness industry are lying outright to you in order to monetize your fears, and turning profits to the tune of billions and billions of dollars in so doing. Meanwhile, you in an honest effort to become healthy have become addicted to excessive and insanely intense exercise at that, which after yielding some temporary positive results now leaves you jailed with unending aches, soreness, pain, injury, and illness. Plus, the all out efforts and subsequent days of discomfort add to a growing animosity towards the gym, fitness clubs, and the entire thought of training. It builds an inner turmoil fed by the guilt the industry sows to make it seem that if you don’t work out then you are inadequate because you obviously lack the willpower, desire, and ambition to drag yourself back out for another session of self inflicted harm.

So what do you have to do to keep it going?  We sign up for some extraordinary epic one of a kind event. An event that we pray will motivate us to continue to hurt ourselves day after day until we are healthy (or die trying).

The industry cares not whether you get healthy, all they want is to pry from you every penny you’ve got and once drained, drop you moving on to another whose fears of being overweight, obese, stricken by anyone of the lifestyle diseases (e.g. heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzhiemers, diabetes) or due to the desire to be identified as an athlete fall for their trap of “only 10weeks to look and feel your best”.

You have not been and you are not being encouraged to engage in mindful training.

Mindful training is where you regain flexibility, regain full function of all your joints, muscles, and with that mobility, leading to agility, balance, coordination, and dexterity. Mindful training naturally leads to an appropriate body weight, and retrains the mind to remain at peace, focused, and objective when stressed, and precludes getting injured or ill. Mindful training is not a destination, its a process.

Sport is about the beautiful movements that the human body is capable of creating, not mindless extreme effort.

The problem for industry is that mindful training cannot be sold in quantity. So the solution is to dumb-down training and competing in sport so that they can achieve sales quotas.

Mindful training comes from a caring, compassionate, knowledgeable and experienced coach and health professional, preferably done one on one, but doable in small groups.

Mindful training focuses on learning how to move, from which joint and muscle group to generate power, resulting in speed, endurance, and ease in movement. None of which can be done via Skype or by downloaded spreadsheet.

Mindful training does not depend on premium equipment, the latest technology, laboratory developed nutrition.  If it did, then why do Olympians arise from poverty? Hmm?

You have been encouraged to get addicted where your supplier and enabler is the health and fitness industry.

You want your health? Then break free from the mainstream definitions of exercise, of training, of competing, of nutrition, and especially of health.

Addicted living is not healthy living.

Find someone in your community who coaches healthy mindful training.

Those depending on HIIT (hi intensity interval training), bootcamps, Tabata, CrossFit or any other insanely intense and excessive form of exercise are selling short cuts to cosmetically change you to look healthy, they are not truly helping you to change to be healthy.

Find someone in your community who is teaching how to move, how to regain movement by acquiring skills in movement, and who will help you one on one figure out what is holding you back, what you need to do to get healthy, who are willing to walk with you each step of the way.

Find a sport or a performing art that speaks to you on a deeper level… it can be ballet, hip hop dance or jazz, or it can be any sport that you fancy. If its fun, if you are challenged by it, if you can commit to it, if it requires you to practice, to train, to learn, if you can start at an appropriate level and progress at your speed and skill, then its the right activity for you no matter what it is.

Simon Sinek: Understand the Game

When you have a moment over the holidays, I ask you to watch this talk, uninterrupted from start to finish. If it doesn’t alter the course of your life, then I am sorry, but I can assure you that the information within has already altered the way I think, the way I want to think, the way I want to be, act, and how I want to influence my children. I believe it will have a similar impact on you.

For whom is this talk relevant? If you live in the information age and want to live in it, in control, not controlled by it, if you have children and want them to grow up as independent, physically, mentally and emotionally healthy adults capable of contributing to society, if you are a kid and especially if you are a Millennial, then this is one talk that I believe offers the insight into the obstacles you are encountering and pose a direct threat to your health, your well-being, to your success in life.

Transcript (video time from 5:29 to 7:05mins):

“Alcohol, nicotine, gambling all release dopamine, its why they feel good and its why almost all addictions are dopamine based addictions. We also know that almost all alcoholics discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. You see when we are very very young the only approval we need is the approval of our parents. Then when we go through adolescences we make this transition where we now need the approval of our peers. Very frustrating for our parents, very important for us, but it allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate families and to the broader tribe. It is a time of high stress and high anxiety and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends.  Some people – quite by accident – discover alcohol and the numbing effects of dopamine, and unfortunately that connection becomes hardwired. Then for the rest of their lives every time they face significant stress they don’t turn to a person, they turn to the bottle. Now as I said before, we know that social media and smartphones release dopamine. We have age restrictions on alcohol, we have age restrictions on tobacco, we have age restrictions on gambling, but we have no age restrictions on social media and smartphones. Its as if an entire generation is going through adolescence and their parents have thrown open the liquor cabinet and have said “try the vodka, it’ll help you get through the teenage years.” That is what social media and smartphones do.”

“Understanding the Game We’re Playing” by Simon Sinek

A few points on addiction…

  • The issue is not whether or not we are addicts: if you are alive, then your nervous system functions and depends on the neurotransmitter dopamine, and as a byproduct of the addictive qualities of dopamine, everyone by default has the potential to be an addict, as addictive tendencies are innate to us all. The addictive tendency of any individual is the outcome of how they live out their core beliefs: core beliefs are expressed through the narratives they have written and repeated to themselves (consciously and subconsciously), and the behaviour patterns and habits they repeat and which rule their day, programming their physiological and psychological states (hence their ‘addictive-ness’).
  • To be addicted to exercise is no different than being addicted to anything else, the only difference is that society approves of an addiction to exercise, just as smoking and domestic violence were once socially acceptable addictions.  Just because society approves of it, doesn’t mean its right, or that its healthy. You may want to consider the fact that the collective we is known to change its minds rather frequently as to what is ‘in’, what is right, what is healthy.
  • Any addiction, every addiction is unhealthy, because by the definition of addiction it is to live unbalanced. The immediate impact of an addiction to exercise may be positive: weight loss, fitness gains, but if the addiction grows, then where does the addiction end? Body image issues, eating disorders, winning at any cost… where does the it end? Lance Armstrong once was a role model, til his addiction overtook him. Lance Armstrong was an hero, then he wasn’t.  There is no clear line in the stand, so no one, not one person has the ability to honestly state that they are in control when living addicted. The delusion of addiction is control: all addicts are ‘in’ control, that is until they aren’t.
  • I would encourage you to live healthy, by living in control, living in balance. I would encourage you to model for your children a life of balance, a life of control, so that they can grow up having experienced parents living in control. It is rather convenient to want your children to be ‘in control of their lives’, but for you to live a life of reckless abandon.
  • To live in balance, requires retraining daily behaviours, and rewriting narratives which are the lens’ through which we see life. Simple? Yes. Easy? Absolutely not. Worth it? You cannot even begin to imagine how worth it, it is.

A few points on gambling…

  • When the term gambling is used, most will think of a casino, a poker table, or the slots. These are indeed forms of gambling, but ‘games’ are not the only form of gambling. The way we drive can be a form of gambling: barrelling down the highway at excessive speeds, cutting off drivers, perhaps with a drink or two in us to lubricate our thirst for risk.  The way we handle ourselves professionally, we gamble with our licence, our ability to practice, to conduct business. Ever heard of ‘ER or PR’? What healthy adult of sound mind risks hospitalization in pursuit of a finish line t-shirt, medal, or selfie? Excessive insanely intense exercise performed in an attempt to burn extra calories, or to achieve an outlandish and unrealistic finish line goal are also forms of gambling… this time with your health, your life.
  • Want to function at a higher level?  Want to explore your potential, in business life, in home life, in sport? Then it starts with an honest appraisal of how you are living today. Addicted? Addicted to socially acceptable, so-called healthy addictions, or addicted to social no-no’s? Doesn’t matter, its all the same, just painted with a different brush stroke.
  • There is another path. It will likely require starting over, unlearning old ways, old habits, but the path – unlike that of addiction, of gambling – has no limits, because at no point does it risk you, your health or your life.

On being an athlete…

  • If you are addicted to sport, to exercise, to fitness, to smoothies and protein powders, to watts on a power meter, to a fitness app or tracker, to split times, to spreadsheets with data points tracking results, then I can assure you and can guarantee that you are not on the path that leads to your vast potential that is waiting to be unearthed.
  • Champions, consistent peak performers are in love with freedom, the freedom to move, to explore, to play, to learn, to have fun, to enjoy the hidden potential of their body and mind when unleashed from all earthly addictions.

It is not addiction that leads to exquisiteness and excellence, its absolute freedom from addiction that is the narrow path (the one less chosen).

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World [3]

Where do kids play?  Out in the real world.

Where do kids learn? Out in the real world.

Where do kids have fun? Out in the real world.

[At least they used to.]

 

Something happens along the way…

Where do adults play? In the lab.

Where do adults learn? In the lab.

Where do adults have fun? They don’t. They make themselves hurt & call it fun.

 

Ask a kid what is possible, and they [should] tell you anything.

Ask an adult what is possible, and they will likely tell you, it depends [on the lab results].

 

Along the way…

We stopped listening to ourselves, we stopped listening to our instincts, our gut.

We stopped playing, experimenting, learning for ourselves what works, what doesn’t work.

We started taking carte blanche what “experts” in a field say, holding what they say as an undeniable ‘truth’, ‘truth’ that applies wholly and directly to ourselves, without even a single question asked.

 

We left the real world believing its time to grow up and get indoors, to get into the lab. Yet in the lab, we have become jailed by academic theory, by experts in white lab coats, by self proclaimed experts, and experts who became experts only because it pays to be an expert.

We are convinced that we are not smart enough, not experienced enough, that we are simply not able to make decisions for ourselves to the point that we live blindly following what we are told to do by experts… eat this, drink this much, wear this, take this pill, this supplement, exercise this way, believe this, live this way.

There was a time experts and lab results were integral, then experts realized that their words have power, have control, so they sold themselves to the highest bidder. In exchange for their integrity, their credibility, their professionalism, experts sold their position of respect, of insight to say whatever the highest bidder wanted them to say.  If fat had to be demonized so that low fat food products could be sold, then an expert was found to perform the “research” to bring to reality this and every other boardroom developed corporate growth strategy. If high protein, low carb, supplement guzzling smoothie diets need to be sold to boost revenues, then an expert can be found to preach to the people to change their ways.  Is it actually good for you? Is it healthy?  Doesn’t matter. As long as corporate revenue and profit increase, the how is irrelevant: if lies need to be told, if research needs to be fabricated…so be it, our stock price went up, hurray!

Approximately 3,000 people died on 9-11.  Do you know that 16,000 people die annually in the US from opioid overdose.  Where is their moment of silence? Where are their monuments? People who in pain searched for help, for relief, trusted their health professional, only to end up dead. When the FDA sought to delist opioids, a deluge of lobbying from big pharma ‘changed’ their minds. So lets get this straight…

  • if Americans are killed on US soil by foreigners its deemed terrorism, but…
  • if Americans are killed on US soil by Americans, its deemed good business, because corporate revenues rose, because corporate profits grew?

Is that how it works?  This is what we have become? This is advanced Western society?

And we wonder why we are the sickest society ever to exist.

Its time to stop listening to experts.  Its time to leave the lab.  Its time to get outside.  Its time to get back out into the real world and find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t… for you, for your family, for you to achieve your life goals, to live the life you dreamed as a kid.


Articles on the Opioid Crisis in the US and in Canada:

The Seed That Started The Athletes Cloud

While my kids were growing up, I was also growing… but I wasn’t growing in athleticism, just the opposite, I was growing in girth. It was a time when life was moving at light speed. The kids were toddlers and were a handful at every moment they were awake. Work was a handful as the division I started had grown close to $4million in revenue, had a staff of 70+ health professionals and technicians, and had grown from the Niagara region to a territory spanning Hamilton, K-W, Burlington to Mississauga. It was shortly after the time we moved out of Toronto, in search of a neighbourhood which reminded Aimee and I of Bloor West Village when we were growing up. We ended up in south east Burlington where the kids could walk to school, play on the street.

It was during this time that one of my staff, out of nowhere, approached me and to this day I can still recall them saying to my face, “Mark, you are fat!” I remember that moment perfectly, and later that day the moment when I weighed myself.

What? 196lbs. How did I not see it? Where did it come from (as if I didn’t know)?

Long story short… that was the start to my journey towards regaining my health, but the path has not been simple and straight. My journey started no different than that of almost anyone who believes that their overweight-ness is limited to just 5 or 10lbs or perhaps an unimagineable 15lbs. I decided to get into ‘shape’ believing (incorrectly) that my issue was simply that I was out of shape.

Within the month I signed up with the Burlington Masters Swim Club (BMSC).  Again, like almost everyone realizing that they need to get ‘back into shape’, I looked back to a time that I was in shape… it was when I was swimming on the UofT Varsity Team (and it was the body that landed Aimee my wife, so I must have been awesome)!

Did I lose some weight swimming? Absolutely. I dropped down to 170lbs. Did I start to look like I was getting back into shape? Absolutely. I wasn’t sporting a paper suit like those I used to race in, but the jammers were definitely looking better on me. Within 6 months of being back in the pool, swimming 1:02 for 100m FR at EOMACs Semi Serious meet made me feel I was on track. Since swimming a bit worked, I figured that swimming a lot should work even better.  A few more lbs would be great to lose and why not break a minute for the 100?

After 4 more years of swimming, I may have managed to get down to 165lbs, and after committing the last full year to training in the pool 4x/week, plus additional dryland strength training sessions, plus additional hour long vertical kick sets I was ready to challenge the minute for the 100FR.  If I broke a minute, I figured that I was back!  Back in shape, healthy, in the form I was a decade or more ago (i.e. pre-kids, pre-marriage, pre-mortgage,…), proving that I could do it all, and all at once.

I swam 1:01.02 for the 100FR.

After what I believed to be an all out effort – to just shave a second – was painful. If that’s how hard I had to work to cut a second, then the effort to try and take off another second was unthinkable. The linear progression of a little giving small results, a little more giving bigger results, and all out giving max results… fell apart. It was a déjà vu moment running into the exact dead end I experienced training as a Varsity swimmer and as a triathlete, but now I wasn’t alone as my kids were running into the identical obstacle in their own pursuit of sport. If that wasn’t enough, the correlation with the lifestyles and histories of medically compromised patients I met working as a physiotherapist was far to similar to be sheer coincidence.

There had to be an alternative. I took to finding it. I believe I have.

Now, my training weight seems to be optimal in the mid to high 130s, and after a taper, a weight of 143 lbs felt just right at a recent competition.  Most importantly Aimee marvels at a six pack (on me, not in the fridge) that remains even while seated.

Now, pursuing a personal best does not demand a near death experience. It requires a relaxed effort, a focus on fun, on enjoying the moment, the effort of training that has been put in, the other athletes, the day of the event, and on digging deep inside in an healthy way to explore my potential, to experience a peak performance.

Before, there was no way I would have believed anyone if they had told me I was 50-60lbs overweight when I weighed in at 196. I would have laughed off risks of hypertension, heart disease, a stroke, or cancer because… well, come on… wouldn’t you, haven’t we all?

Before, there was no way I would have believed anyone if they told me that peak performance didn’t require an “PR or ER” effort, that there was an healthy way to train and to compete.

Today my journey is nowhere close to being over, and I don’t want it to be over any time soon.

My hope is to share my journey, sharing that “getting into shape” is not the solution, its just a dead end street, that pursuing fitness does not equate to nor necessarily lead to health. I want to share that being healthy requires the specific pursuit of health, and pursing health in an healthy manner.

P.S.  Thank you Alma. Not sure where I would be if I didn’t stop and feel your concern for my well being; if all I did was get angry and resentful at your words.

Why Do I Blog [Part Deux]

I blog because the mindset of “PR or ER” has been elevated to the point that it has become the point of participating in sport, the meaning behind sport, meanwhile it is nothing more than a vile perversion of the beauty, the grace, the artistry which is sport.

PR or ER

“PR or ER” translates to… giving an effort to attempt a Personal Record where ending up in the Emergency Room is an acceptable consequence.

I blog because todays prevailing mindset of “PR or ER” is not only unhealthy, it is an impaired mental state.

It is a state of delusion to believe that risking your health, your well being, that gambling with your life is somehow remotely related to health, to your potential, to peak performance, to sport.

I blog because fitness – in our pursuit of health and wellness – has been elevated beyond the point of offering health, to the point where it comes at the cost of our health, at the cost of our physical, mental, and emotional well being. How else do you explain the polarity of the most medically and technologically advanced society ever to exist being simultaneously the most obese, diseased, addicted, and medicated society ever to exist? Simple… our core values, our priorities are no longer consistent with our inner selves, with our blueprints, and by choosing to pursue the appearance of success instead, we have failed to realize that we have paid for fleeting accomplishments with our real health, with real relationships, our vitality, our joie de vivre, our spirit.

Because the narrative has become that sport is synonymous with combat.

I blog because believing that sport is a battlefield where you engage your competitors in melee warfare to prove your greatness is absurd. That sport is for the purpose of seeking out pain with the intent of proving your manliness or womanliness by enduring, tolerating more pain than anyone else is asinine.

Because novice, sport, top ranked age group and masters athletes, and even professional athletes need to hear or be reminded that sport is none of this bulls#!t, and pursuing sport in this manner leads to resentment, jealousy, envy, anger, depression, bitterness, hate of sport, of oneself and of anyone associated with sport, and in the worst case scenarios to suicide.

Because no honest champion, no consistent peak performer describes sport in such a manner.

Three time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh and member of “the greatest beach volleyball team of all time” describes sport as:

When sport is played the most beautifully, when you are in the flow, it feels like a dance. Things totally slow down, there is a rhythm to the game, a cadence, and you can kinda control the tempo: left – right – left with the approach and your arm swing is like a bow and arrow. I want to be dynamic… I want to have a smaller first step, and really explosive last two steps.  When I am jumping I go down to go up, and I use my arms and make it a full body movement.  Its all interconnected in everything head to toe.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Gold Within 2016, Gabe Spitzer Sports

I blog because the true nature of sport, the innocence of sport needs to be retold.

I blog because I want my kids, I want all kids to know and all adults to remember that sport is not about fighting, nor is it about thrill seeking, instead its about love: a love of connection, of flow, of meaningful movement filled with endless discovery. Its about falling in love with the journey. A journey which follows a rhythm, undulating to the beat of time which has no constraints, no restraints. Training arises from the desire to be one with the energy and the waves of competition where your competitors cause you to dig deep into yourself, deeper than you could on your own, all from the shared desire to simply ride waves of grace with ease, with joy, in the pursuit of entangling oneself and being entangled with others in the spark of life… that undescribable feeling of peace and tranquility you find when you are unified harmoniously with yourself, your purpose. It may be a fleeting moment, but I blog because the pursuit of that moment as finite as it may seem before and after, yet endless during, is truly worth pursuit, and being pursued with all of one’s heart and passion.

kerri walsh jennings2I see greatness at all ages and I want to be a gold medalist at age 38 and say, “see I told you its possible”.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Gold Within 2016, Gabe Spitzer Sports

I blog because I do not believe I have achieved my potential and because I believe that I and everyone else can experience purpose on higher and higher levels, at any age.

Why Do I Blog

After graduating from the UofT with a degree in Rehabilitation Medicine and having started to practice as a Registered Physiotherapist, I spent the next decade working with the elderly, specifically those residing in long term care facilities (aka nursing homes), and assisted living facilities (aka retirement homes/senior apartments).

I blog because… not once did I meet anyone living in any of these facilities who purposefully planned to end up requiring ANY level of assistance with their activities of daily living in the early or later years of being a senior.  No one planned to lose their drivers license, thus requiring help to get to appointments, to the bank, to get groceries; not to mention losing the independence and freedom of simply getting around.  No one planned to lose their flexibility, their strength, their endurance, becoming unable to keep up with the upkeep of their home, their yard. No one planned to lose their dexterity, their balance requiring help with their own upkeep. No one planned to have a fall that required surgery, total knee or hip replacement surgery that then decreased their level of function to the point that simple tasks were no longer simple.  No one planned to become overweight to the point that they became obese, impairing the function of their heart, their breathing, their other vital organs to the extent that it would require daily medical care. No one planned to end up with pain, nor believing that mild pains would become debilitating pain, that pain in one joint would lead to pains in other joints, that their pain would become unmanageable, that their pain would limit life.

Not one planned to end up in long term care or in assisted living, yet they all did.  In the vast majority of cases (i.e. 95+% of admissions) it wasn’t some rare or unknown disease that was impossible to prevent or foresee that was the cause of their admission, it was directly due their  lifestyle or its consequences.

Lifestyle Disease: dis-eases we cause ourselves, to ourselves as a direct result of our lifestyle choices, our daily decisions of how we live.

I blog because… everyone I met had one thing in common:  they all thought that they were healthy or living healthy in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.  They all thought that they were taking care of themselves, doing ‘enough’, making healthy choices in activity levels, their eating and drinking.

It doesn’t matter from what walk of life people came, I met people from all walks while working in care facilities: from former CEOs who were once titans in business, to legends of the music industry, to those who served in our Armed Forces, to business and health care professionals (even doctors and nurses despite all their knowledge), to those who lived simple.

I blog because… what people thought was healthy or was healthy ‘enough’… wasn’t.

If your definition of health today requires medications, ‘superfood’ smoothies, routine health or wellness appointments, intense sessions of exercise, dependence on braces, support and compression clothing, then compare your lifestyle to those living in care facilities:

  • Average # of meds taken by a long term care resident is 13.  This is not pills, this is medications prescribed, meaning that if 1 med is taken 3x per day, its counted as 1 med. How many are you poppin’ a day (e.g. anti-inflammatories, pain killers, blood pressure, sleep aides)? On your way to 13?
  • Average resident who is on blood thinners, who is at risk of clots, who has venous insufficency, and/or is bedridden wears compression stockings.  Yup, just like those marketed as “performance socks” to athletes, just like those worn by runners, CrossFitters, and triathletes.  Only difference being is that those in care facilities are usually white or beige, not funky neon pink. If you are healthy, truly health, would you really need to wear compression socks, especially while exercising?
  • Average resident has virtually every data point tracked… calorie intake, water input and output levels are compared, # of pills taken, their heart rate and blood pressure is taken on schedule, and when it is time to stand stand up, to walk, every step is counted to see if they took more than yesterday. Are you tracking your ‘health’ in the same way?
  • Average resident spends the predominant amount of time in their day sitting or lying in bed. Is that any different than your average day of sitting while you commute, sitting at your computer, sitting through teleconferences and meetings?
  • Average resident joins in to get some exercise by sitting in on a  wheelchair tai chi class, strength ‘n’ stretch class using weights or stretch cords, or takes a walk around the facility grounds.  Is that any different than your average amount of daily exercise?

Those who reside in care facilities are not healthy. If they were, they wouldn’t be living there.

If your lifestyle doesn’t come up significantly different than that of a resident in a care facility, then maybe you need to reconsider whether your lifestyle and choices are all that healthy.

Their health is being ‘managed’. Is that your goal? To be managed. To break even with your health? On the verge of pain, injury, burn out, break down or a disease, but good enough to keep it going another day? For what? Just to survive? What about thriving, not just surviving.

The average resident in long term care today had a better chance to have a healthy lifestyle in many cases when compared to your generation growing up.  When they were growing up…

 

  • Meals were typically made lovingly by mom at home, and were shared around the dining room table, along with family conversations about the days events. Meals were made from natural ‘real’ food, not pink slime, fillers, genetically engineered or fake factory foods.
  • Portion sizes were a 1/3 or a 1/4 of what is served today in restaurants and at home, and no one was starving as a result, few were overweight, and even fewer were obese.
  • Food products didn’t have to be enriched in order to make up for their deficient quality in vitamins and minerals, as fruits and vegetables were grown on nutrient rich soil, not barren wastelands that had to be sprayed and fertilized in order to yield.
  • Exercise did not have to be planned, because you walked or biked to and from school, and then right after dinner you ran back out to play, staying out late only racing home to desperately make it back before the street lights came on (so you didn’t break curfew).
  • Imagination was required to create games, to make up rules to figure out how to make this game of tag or capture the flag more challenging than the last.
  • Climbing trees and playing in the ravine didn’t require the principals permission, a game of soccer didn’t need a city permit.
  • Getting out of breathe was a normal part of play, never a concern over one’s well being. Falling down and scraping a knee wasn’t considered a medical emergency, you brushed it off and kept going because who wants to be out of the game?
  • The work day and its stress ended at 5pm, because there wasn’t technology to make it 24/7.
  • Dehydration was a non issue, no one carried around water let alone salt pills. If it so happened that you became hungry, you waited til meal time (as spoiling your dinner came with its own consequences). There was no snack time and again, few were overweight and even fewer were obese.

The average care facility resident grew up when being and living healthy was far easier, yet how many still ended up in a care facility?

Today I see age group athletes and masters athletes striving for health, exercising intensely, madly trying to burn calories, squeezing in fitness and performance into their life, as opposed to health being the priority. I see athletes straining to generate watts to improve a bike time, power to decrease swim or run splits, but few realize that they do not have the capacity nor conditioning to attempt such training, and what they are performing is not what is meant by healthy exercise. Hi Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is appropriate only if you have years and years of simple base training, only after you have transformed your physiology and psychology to handle the volume and intensity of training for competition. Completing any event, a 10k, a marathon, a triathlon, least of all an iron distance triathlon on next to no training is in no way any indication of health.

Today I see former National level athletes, athletes who went on scholarship to university, returning to sport as a masters athlete. Many return broken, having had to walk away from sport because they were pushed outside themselves to produce results, not for themselves, not on their timelines, but for others. They return hoping that they can once again find the joy that sport once brought them, but they struggle with inner conflicts, facing truths about dreams they did and did not accomplish, about their own met and unmet expectations, and those of others.

Today I see people doing loads and loads of stuff thinking that its all for their good, following the headlines of what food to eat, how much to exercise, what supplements to consume in order to be healthy, but the point is being missed.

Health doesn’t come from the outside in, you cannot buy it, you do not put it on like a pair of new kicks.  If you could, then how do you explain all those who I met that despite being abundant in financial wealth still ended up in a facility? There is no amount of financial wealth that can buy health, return you to being healthy.  We say… “if you don’t have your health, you have nothing”, yet we live believing that if we aren’t dead or at the hospital then we must be healthy.

Today I see people thinking that either they have their health because some aspect of their lifestyle has been sold to them as a ‘healthy lifestyle’ choice, or because they don’t think they need to worry about their health until later in life (e.g. youth will get them through), and if it so happens that something does happen… well, the assumption is that there will be time to get things right or that there will be a pill for whatever ails them.

Before I was hit by a car – while on a bike ride during 3rd year of university – I thought that life would go on for forever. You could not of convinced me that I was anything but invincible.

After I worked in care facilities I realized that everyone believes that life will go on for forever, convinced that they are immune, invincible, or that there would always be enough time to get things in order (ahead of any health problem arising too).

We may hope its true (that we are invincible or immune), but hoping is not a winning strategy: hoping for what is clearly not reality is delusional. To hope that a disease doesn’t take us down, hoping that what we are doing is enough, is gambling with our health and with our life.

I blog because…

I want to share that there is an alternative to hoping and to gambling.

I want to share the difference that I have found between those who do live healthy, stay and remain healthy, who continue to explore their peak potential, and experience peak performances across the spectrum of life.

I want to share that those who are health live differently, and how they live differently.  Those who are healthy work, exercise, eat and sleep just like everyone else, but how they do it is unlike anyone else; it is unequivocally different.

I want to share that what is packaged and sold to us on store shelves, in magazines, in pop-up ads online, and during commercial breaks is business. Business focused first and foremost on generating revenue and profit for shareholders. Whether their products or services are actually healthy, or yield health is secondary to quarterly sales.

I want to share that health is available to all, to anyone who wants to take their health into their own hands, to anyone willing to invest the time and effort and energy into themselves, into becoming healthy.

I want you to experience the difference in quality of life available to you. I am certain it will surpass anything you can imagine, as it has already surpassed anything I could have ever imagined.

Please visit the Blog Library for posts on topics ranging from biomechanics, on various aspects of training, on coaching, and for sport specific information.  Thank you for reading.