The Urban Hiking Interview

In December 2015, I was interviewed by a Seattle newspaper about my Urban Hiking adventures, which I document on my Urban Hiking page.

The story was published in February 2016. It was an OK story, but it missed most of my responses. Which is fine. The story wasn’t about me. It was about putting down the cellphone and exploring. The newspaper uses a pop-up overlay window, so I’m not linking to the story.

The number one thing I was hoping to share didn’t make it into the story. It was the first answer below. I really want to stress that it was the speed traps aimed at hikers that pulled me out of nature. In my opinion, if you live in the city of Seattle and not on the Eastside, nature hiking isn’t worth it. Especially now. Bridge tolls, traffic and Johnny Law looking to take your money. Two hours of stress for one hour of peace? Not for me. You’ll find me in the city.

#1 Talk about the reasons you started urban hiking in Seattle

When I first moved to the Seattle area I started in the Bellevue area. Initially I did the hikes along the 90 corridor. They were fine, but I got tired of the speed traps law enforcement was setting up to extract funds from hikers going a few miles per hour over the limit. I never got a ticket. Instead I moved to Queen Anne and traded in my nature hikes for urban hike.

#2 To what extent do you use technology to help you plot courses and navigate? What are the benefits of not using those tools? Did you ever encounter any dangers or get worryingly lost?

When I first started urban hiking in Seattle I was just learning the city, so I brought along a GPS. It had a weak battery, so I didn’t turn it on that much and instead relied on landmarks. After a handful of hikes throughout the city, I stopped using the GPS completely.

It is really hard to get too lost urban hiking in Seattle during the day. We have numbered streets, large bodies of water, bridges and large markers such as the Space Needle and views of Rainier. The benefit of not using technology is you are forced to pay attention to your surroundings. You discover things along the less optimal routes that you might night see if you used a map application.

When I visited Bangkok, Thailand in 2009, I took off exploring the city without a map or any technology. I explored all day. All I did was keep track of how many minutes I walked in each direction and then used those times to reverse course and get me back to my hotel before nighttime.

#3 What have you discovered about yourself, the city and its people by hiking in town?

Unlike other cities I’ve lived in, I tend to run into people I know frequently on my urban hikes. I’ve learned to become more aware of my surroundings. Earlier this year when I was urban hiking through the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, I saw Carlos Santana exiting a store.

carlos-santa-haight

Using 23andMe to Pick the Best Diet and Exercise Plan For Fat Loss

It has been a while since I thought about my 23andMe account.

Back in April 2013, I shared my 23andMe health results and did a post on my ancestry. Yesterday I was tipped off to the post These 5 Genes Predict What Kind of Diet and Exercise is Best For Your Body over on Rockstar Research.

The premise of the post is that researchers have discovered that different people respond to different forms of diets and exercises at the gene level. And instead of digging through hundreds if not thousands of pages of research and references, the Rockstar post simplifies all that info into a simple flowchart.

For this post, I will use my data to see which exercise and diet is best for my fat loss.

23andme-gene-explorer

Browse Raw Data – 23andMe

My Data

  • rs4994 = AA
  • rs1042713 = GG

Result #1 = Only High Intensity Exercise Will Help You Lose Weight

  • rs1799883 = not found
  • rs1801282 = CG

Result #2 = You Will Lose 2.5X as Much Weight on a Low Carb Diet

Interesting.

My personal story is that when I did a lot of endurance running, I never got any leaner. Also the time I did lose the most weight was when I cut the carbs. Was it the reduced carbs? Or was it the increased protein in the diet? How much of a role does genetics play here? I don’t know, but this has my attention now. It is one more piece of the puzzle.

UPDATE

After the comment by Anemone, which states that not having the rs1799883 marker in your test results means you should test both paths. So here are more results:

  • rs1801282 = CG

Result #3 = You Will Lose 2.5X as Much Weight on a Low Fat Diet

Going down this path contradicts the previous result. The exercise recommendation remains unchanged. So unless I can figure out what my rs1799883 is, I don’t know if I am genetically more likely to lose fat following a low-carb or low-fat diet.

If you are interested in getting a 23andMe account, use this link and they give me a few dollars for each referral. 23andMe sign up  UPDATE OCT 21: The FDA has lifted the ban on 23andMe giving out health info. 

No Soy Friolento

Today I learned a wonderful word. From 10 Spanish Words That Have No English Translation:

 7. Friolento/Friolero

Someone who is very sensitive to cold.

Él es muy friolento y siempre pide que apaguen el ventilador. Since the cold affects him so much, he always asks them to turn off the fan.

I used to be friolento. I decided eight years ago I was tired of being cold all the time whenever the temperature dipped below 65 F (18 C). Inspired by Art De Vany, I proceeded to widen my temperature comfort range.

seattle-fall-space-needle

Photo by jpellgen

Probably the most helpful trick I used to increase my temperature resiliency was the simple act of wearing one less layer. If it is a coat day, wear a sweater. A sweater day, wear a thin jacket. A jacket day, wear a long sleeve shirt. A long sleeve day, wear a short sleeve shirt. Be a little bit uncomfortable.

The first few minutes of cold exposure is your body telling you it doesn’t want to do the work of warming you up. It wants you to do its job. Ignore that call for a 10-20 minutes every day and soon your body will be throwing heat.

You can take cold exposure too far. I have. But there is no need to. You don’t need to go too cold or too long.

The key to widening your temperature range is to first trigger cold exposure and then warm up quickly. Kind of like going to the gym. Get your workout done, then hit the showers and have some post workout nutrition. Don’t spend too much time on the stressor and don’t ignore the recovery.

I understand why old people are cold all the time. Besides muscle loss they have pampered themselves for decades by always being in a perfectly temperature controlled environment. In a modern society it is easy to always be warm. Heated homes, heated cars, heated seats, blankets, jackets and sweaters all there to keep us from even a minute of discomfort. But just like lack of lifting weights can lead to muscle atrophy, lack of a colder stimulus deconditions the body from being warm on its own.

The problem I see now is more than just old people that have become temperature wimps. It appears to be almost everyone. We live soft lives inside offices and cars. Even our gyms are temperature controlled. Close that window there might be a slight breeze!

65F-sunny-so-cold

In the post You Broke Your Own Metabolism, I go further. People aren’t just wearing jackets because they are cold. They are cold, because they are always wearing jackets.

Fall is here. Winter is coming. Leave your jacket behind. You’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll be better. Last year I sold my nice leather coat. I realized that since I had greatly widened by temperature comfort zone, it never got cold enough in Seattle to wear a coat. At 30F (-1 C), a sweater was enough.

I used to be friolento. ¡No más!

Maybe HIT Isn’t Enough?

I am a big fan of High Intensity Training. Nothing is changing here, but in the last year I have lost some conditioning and it is probably my fault. Before I say where things went wrong, let me go back to my first true HIT workout. It was in February 2011 from legendary trainer Greg Anderson at Ideal Exercise.

Unlike the Glitter Gyms, the temperature at Ideal Exercise was a crisp 61-62 degrees. I love it. Back when I was in Queen Anne at Prorobics, I’d open the window even in the dead of winter to drop the temperature in the free weight room.

I later learned from an interview with Dr. McGuff that 61 degrees was ideal for generating the most intensity. Intensity is not about increasing your core temperature and sweating off calories. Intensity is about recruiting maximum muscle fibers in a brief and safe manner. Weight training will increase your core temperature, so starting from a cool temperatures will allow you to be comfortable and not hot when lifting. Therefore you can direct more attention and energy into the weights.

So I took what I learned from Greg Anderson and returned to my Glitter Gym. Glitter Gym is the term I use to describe all the big corporate gyms with lots of lights, mirrors and shiny equipment. Basically all modern gyms are now Glitter Gyms.

The problem I ran into was that I quickly got headaches at high levels of intensity, because my gym was warmer. Because the intensity comes on so quick in HIT and it comes on faster when it is warm, I would get sharp immediate headaches. Over the years, I have resolved this problem by dialing back the intensity and increasing the volume.

For me the secret sauce of HIT is not primarily about intensity, it is about safety. By not getting hurt, one could on a long enough time horizon make more gains even if the workout was less than optimal. I strongly believe that most brotards under estimate the risk and duration of injury, especially as we age and the weights get heavier.

Enough background. I believe I’ve underestimated the volume needed to compensate for reduced intensity. Because I’m not hitting that deep level of failure at the hot gyms, just bumping up the volume to additional set or additional day at the gym has turned out to not be enough. I noticed this recently when I tried out the endless rope machine. It humbled me on just how unconditioned I had become. As the average temperature in my gym went from 68F to 71F (20C to 21.7C), my level of effort went down, but my volume stayed constant.

Dialing Up the Volume

The past few weeks, I’ve increased my volume from 2 sets to 5 sets for the major exercises. I’m still doing mostly machines at a slower tempo, but not the SuperSlow and not to failure. But this still might not be enough.

As much as I can complain to the gym, they will never lower the temperature. The temperature at the gym is not set for what is best for the patrons, but for the staff. It baffles me that a group of fit mostly 20 year olds need to wear layers of clothing in a 70F gym. I wear a tank top and get hot just doing warm up exercises.

Another View of Conditioning

I fully understand and appreciate the dismissive view of cardiovascular training from the HIT community. I’m on board with it, provided you can actually do true HIT at a cool temperature with a legit trainer. That is expensive and unrealistic for the vast majority of people wishing to get fit.

Regarding conditioning, I do believe there is a lot of differences in how conditioning is defined and how it differs from skill. I view skill in the context of a specific sport or recreation. By engaging in deliberate practice one can become “conditioned” to that sport. But if I am not a runner, why should I care to run? Or cycle? Or whatever your sport happens to be.

I am still a believer that if you don’t know what skills you will need, the best thing to do is to just show up with stronger muscles. My fitness mentor Greg Anderson wrote this:

Muscular strength is the single most trainable factor in endurance performance. It is the muscles that actually perform work. When strength increases, the relative intensity of any given task decreases.

If you don’t know if you will be called on to swim, hike, run, cycle, ski or climb, the best training course of action is to just get stronger. If however, you know what you need to do then it also makes sense to train that sport.

Dr. McGuff tells a story of two overweight soldiers that trained on a stationary cycle for a Physical Fitness test. While the rest of the unit was in better shape, when it came time for the test on the cycles, the overweight soldiers got the best times. Were they the best conditioned? Depends upon how you measure conditioned. Had these two been asked to run instead, they would have likely finished behind the rest of the unit who all had more general transferable levels of conditioning from being stronger. But on that day on those stationary bikes, those two soldiers demonstrated the highest level of conditioning.

General Transferable Conditioning

So recently I’ve been thinking about how to build a set of general transferable conditioning skills that don’t require the very high levels of intensity from HIT. And do it in a way that doesn’t compromise safety. My initial thought is to construct a higher volume, lower weight workout with low skill movements that match the 7 Primal Movement Patterns outlined in Paul Chek’s book How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! They are:

  1. Squat
  2. Lunge
  3. Push
  4. Pull
  5. Bend
  6. Twist
  7. Gait (Walk, Jog, Run)

paul-chek

The idea here would be the same in that I don’t know what skills I would need to demonstrate conditioning, as I have no sport, but whatever they happen to be these 7 movements would provide an additional foundation on top of weight training.

Maybe I am misguided here? Your thoughts?

A “Sitting is the New Smoking” Skeptic Spends a Year in California

For a few years we’ve been hit over the head with health stories that equate sitting as being as unhealthy as smoking. And I’ve been a disbelieving skeptic. My thinking was that efficient exercise that targeted fast twitch muscle fibers could prevent the atrophy of the muscles caused by sitting.

Stories that said even active people were at risk failed to make an impression on me, because I am aware of what the classic definitions of exercise are. Jogging on a treadmill or using momentum to knock out a few sets of weight lifting aren’t going to be effective at building and strengthening the muscles we put into disuse from hours of sitting.

I felt that if I took a HIT approach to targeting the glute muscles that I could spend minutes a day giving me a free pass to sitting hours. So I created an exercise called the Static Windmill and shared it in the post Merging Foundation Training With Hillfit. The exercise works. I still believe in it. It solves the atrophy problem, but I learned after a year in California that is only half the problem.

Driving is the Worst

When I sit for hours at a desk, I move my legs. I stand up. I fidget. On rare occasions will I freeze my position for more than an hour. Driving is the opposite. When I am in my hatchback, my movement is frozen. When I am on the road moving, there isn’t much I can do to vary my posture. I’m locked in until the trip is terminated.

During my year in California I drove a lot more than I was driving in Seattle. On February 26th, I shared these numbers on Facebook.

facebook-driving

Then I discovered all the cool city tours of San Francisco and I started driving even more. From February until the day before I left, I averaged 56 miles a day. This was not an hour in the car. It was HOURS in the car every day. Sometimes I was stuck in traffic. A lot of it was city driving.

Health Decline

The ten pounds I lost on the Fat Loss Bet prior to leaving was regained. I experimented with Food Reward and didn’t make any progress. At the same time I was tightening up my diet, I was increasing my driving.

I am no longer a skeptic to stories that talk about the reduced metabolic effect hours of sitting can have on your body. I experienced it. I do think doing my Static Windmill helped, but it was only part of the problem. The body wants to move. It doesn’t like to be trapped for hours in a car.

Not only did I gain weight, but I felt more lethargic. I felt rusty.

traffic light

Photo by Paul Clarke

Back in Seattle

I’m driving less now that I am back in Seattle. Not as less as I’d like, but the driving trips are shorter than the ones I was taking in the SF Bay Area. In Seattle, I am often taking 2-3 mile drives. In the SF area, many of my trips were 20-30 miles. Even the short trips were 7-10 miles.

My goal is to drive less. Leaving California was a huge first step in making that happen.