Wednesday, August 29, 2007

P90X Week 1 Caveat

So I'm halfway through my second week on P90X and I realize my post detailing my first week's experiences left out one very vital component to the program. At the end of each strength based workout is a 16 minute torture session called Ab Ripper X. Thus this workout is done 3 times each week. Obviously the name is a sadistic play on "Jack the Ripper" and "The Grim Reaper" at the same time. First let me say that as a triathlete and someone who has been Rolfed, I think I have a pretty good idea of how to handle pain. But Ab Ripper X takes human suffering to a whole new level.

Basically in the 16 minutes necessary to finish the workout, you are challenged to complete a total of about 325 Ab/Core specific movements. Honestly some of this stuff I have never seen before. There isn't a single crunch in this routine. Most of the movements in some way require you to engage muscles connecting your core abdominals to your hip flexors and vice versa. Needless to say finishing the main P90X strength work and having that be my last 16 minutes is like facing a life sentence without hope of parole. And I'm sad to report that I am no better at mastering some of these movements than I was the first day I started doing them.

But in all fairness, these movements really do get quick results. I noticed a difference in my stomach after the first workout. But like all P90X workouts, you want to be very honest with yourself about your initial fitness level before starting. Throughout the session Tony Horton advises you to use modifications of the movements and/or to take breaks rather than push beyond yourself. And you really want to make sure you do this workout after you have thoroughly warmed up. This is one workout where, although short in duration, you want to go in with your eyes open and your game face on. "Bring It!"

Friday, August 24, 2007

P90X review Week 1

So I've started my P90X odyssey.

My impression of the program so far is pretty good. I firmly believe this is one of the best comprehensive strength building workouts I've done. I don't think you can beat it for the price of around $120.00. You do need some dumbbells or stretch bands and a chin up bar. So if you have to buy these items, the initial monetary outlay could top $250.00. But honestly after a week I think the money is well spent for what you are getting.

The workouts follow a pattern of muscle development, muscle coordination/recovery, muscular development. The first day starts out with a session focusing on the chest and back. Basically this is one full hour of various versions of pushups and pullups. There are 12 exercises in all. After the first round the exercises are repeated with the order reversed every two exercises. This looks like 2, 1, 4, 3, 6, 5 and so forth. The session is pretty evenly paced with water and stretch breaks. And the instructor (a guy named Tony Horton) keeps things moving along by challenging you to set goals for the number of reps you complete throughout the workout. You are also encouraged to write down the results so you can track your progress.

Day 2 is Plyometrics. There is really nothing to say about this workout other than you will feel this. Basically this was an hour of jumping. And landing. The sets are timed in 30 second and 60 second intervals. In this sense you could look at this workout as a fast twitch leg workout. What is also emphasized is hip rotation, waist twists and several forms of squats. Just like in day one, the movements all give you a real sense of integrating your core with all the moves. But just like the day before the entire hour is also very aerobic at an intensity that should see your body burning calories for the rest of the day.

Day 3 moves back to strength work focusing on shoulders and arms. The workout follows same format as Day 1. Because there were smaller muscle groups involved, this workout was not as physically taxing. But that isn't to say it wasn't challenging, because it was. And instead of repeating every two exercises this workout repeats every 3 sets. The exercises are pretty standard. You'll do curls and flys and tri extensions, all to close to failure as long as you can maintain form. Also just like day one, you will set goals and track your results for future workouts.

Day 4 is Yoga. I was a little skeptical about a yoga DVD from a guy who looks like he just got a botox injection. This is probably my own yoga snobbery coming out. I've been doing yoga for a couple of years now and know its many benefits. I just didn't think someone who came from a strength based fitness background would understand the practice. I also didn't think they would grasp the complexities of linking asanas for maximum results. I will say it here. I was wrong. The yoga in the P90X series is as good as any yoga class I've experienced. And not only is Tony Horton muscular, but he is really flexible. What this means is that he has done yoga and incorporated it into his own personal fitness program. That being said, just like all the other workouts in this set, the yoga is challenging. At this point if you have developed any stiffness or soreness from the routines, the yoga session should help you recover.

Day 5 is legs and back. This brings you back to the strength work. You won't need any weights for this workout although you could use dumbbells for some sets to add intensity. Honestly, the first time you do this workout, I wouldn't advise it. After the first thirty minutes my legs were quivering. There are so many types of squats in this workout it is almost unreal. From reading on the site I learned that this workout had been modified for the DVD from its original format. It started out as just a leg workout but the test groups felt it was too intense. The back exercises where added to allow the legs to have a break. Thank God for the test group. The workout will test those with even superior leg strength. Alternating between the back and legs is a good solution. At the end of the workout I was tired, but I wasn't trashed. As I found with the workouts from earlier in the week, my strength and aerobic capacity were being worked at the same time with functional, challenging movements. This is exactly what I wanted when I purchased these videos. I wanted to develop strength and do it functionally. After the first five days I knew I was getting exactly what I wanted.

The next two days are Kenpo and Stretching. I opted not to do the Kenpo in favor of a 5 mile walk. My legs were still recovering from the day before and I had wanted to ride my bike more than I wanted to do a video workout. But the stretching, like the yoga earlier in the week, was also very good. I got some relief from some muscles that had definitely been pushed to their limits.

One thing I will point out is that while the workouts are strength based, you will get an exceptional cardiovascular workout from each daily session. In fact after one week I can see that while the strength movements will challenge everyone, it is the cardiovascular component of each and every workout that will really leave you breathless and is probably equally responsible for the remarkable physical transformation this program promises. I want to stress that you should already be in pretty good shape before attempting this program. I can't emphasize this enough. If you are inactive and don't have a good base of cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength already, I wouldn't use these workouts as my starting point. They are extremely demanding. This is one of those times where the words "Buyer Beware" have tangible meaning.

Personally, I found the workouts very intense and engaging. They were similar to some shorter body weight personal workouts I had devised and was already doing, so I don't see boredom being a problem. What may pose a problem, however, is if you are a cyclist or a triathlete. For me these workouts while intense and highly aerobic only take up about 7 hours of my week. On average, I typically train anywhere from 9 to 14 hours which leaves me with a shortage. Because of this I decided to focus on the P90X program for the alloted 90 days and fill in any perceived training shortfall with my normal triathlon workouts. I think this will allow me to focus on the goal of building strength and endurance while also maintaining my swimming, biking, running technique. All in all though, so far, so good. I can't wait to start week 2 and keep pushing play.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Don't Call it a Comeback...

I've been here before. Some things are the same. But others so are different now. I think this was the first race (triathlon) I ever went to alone. At least as a competitor. I've been to races by myself as a spectator during off weeks, or when I was injured, to volunteer, or to cheer friends on. Because of this my earliest experiences of racing were really focused around friendship and community. And even now at my core, I think they still are.

A lot can change in almost five years of not doing something. People get married, they have kids, get more demanding jobs. They move. They get injured, burned out, or just lose interest in the sport. And triathlon was a sport that for all practical purposes defined us as friends and individuals. There really aren't that many people still racing from when I raced before. The feeling I have sort of reminds me of a time earlier in my life when I moved to Dallas for 3 months for a job. By the time I came back all of my friends were gone. Every single one. That was in just 3 months. When the horn sounded this morning, it would be almost 5 years. 5 years.
Standing on the boat ramp before the race, the cool morning water licking at my toes, I tried to let it all in. And then casually breathe it all back out. Just be with it, then release it, you know. There really wasn't much else to do. Here I was standing on the ramp before the start of my wave with almost 1000 strangers about to literally cast my body and my fate into the brown, stew colored water of the unknown. Silently, I prayed I would come out the other side wiser but otherwise unscathed.

Swimming you see is not my thing. I come from a background primarily focused on running. Running is pretty simple really. Just put one foot in front of the other and repeat as fast as you can. That's it. But swimming is so much about technique and rhythm and focus. And that's when you are in a pool with your own lane. Here you are swimming in a lake with sometimes as many as 100 people thrashing around you in water that you may be able to see to the end of your outstretched hand. This unfortunately, was not one of those lakes. The water in this lake was the color of mud. Assuming I handled the people trying to swim over and through me, got over the lack of visibility, and the sensation of weeds wrapping around my ankles in the shallows, there still would be the challenge of simply swimming in a straight line. Oh and I almost forgot, after the last turn when we head back to the dock, the sun would be shining right into my eyes. I would be swimming blind. Add to this scenario, I hadn't raced in any capacity, land or water, and the fact that I had only done a solid half mile swim once in the last 4 or so years. Did I mention swimming is not my thing?
It helps to have a plan for anything you do in life and triathlon is no different. My plan in this case was simple. Start out in the water away from the dock and in as close to a straight line to the first buoy as possible. Swim quickly but comfortably (saving some of my energy to fight for position) to that buoy and make a clean turn using the backstroke. Get around that buoy. Once around that buoy find some open water and cut loose moving from buoy to buoy until the last turn. Once around the turn find the fastest swimmer I could keep up with that also seemed to know where we were headed and follow them to the dock.

So I had my plan which made waiting on my wave to start that much easier. What happened when the horn sounded is another story altogether. That first two hundred meters out to the first buoy was more like a melee than a swim. I've seen a lot of the same grappling moves in MMA type fights. And the water for 2/3 of it was pretty shallow so I spent a good deal of time and energy swimming with grass wrapped around my feet and legs. So by the time I got to the first buoy I was too tired and stunned to backstroke around it so I simply breast stroked it instead. But once around the buoy I saw open water for the first time and took off for it like my life depended on it. I had a really good rhythm and stroke turnover going so I actually started passing people at that point. Then I hit the last turnaround. The sun was so bright, I had no idea where I was going. And from the looks of it neither did anyone else. So I was forced to do my own navigating which meant quite a bit more breaststroke. Finally I found the dock after what seemed to take forever. When I ran up the ramp and across the chip mat I looked down at my watch. That cannot be right, I thought to myself. According to my watch time, I just broke my previous best half mile swim time by over 3 minutes!! Whoa... Needless to say, if I could have stopped right there I would have. And honestly there was really no point in doing the rest of the race because nothing I did from that point on was gonna top that swim. Nothing.

In retrospect while I was standing on the dock worrying about the swim before my wave started, I could have tried to plan the rest of my race. At the very least I could have figured out how to use my new watch/heart rate monitor because the only split I would see that day would be my swim split. And a little more forethought about the bike might have gone a long way.
First let me say this. I love riding my bike. And I especially love riding in a triathlon/race environment. I like the aero position, and the sound the wind and the wheels make when you fly across pavement. I like the sensation of spinning the bike up to top speed and chasing down anyone who passed me in the swim. And for the first time in my triathlon racing career, this is not going to happen. Mostly because in the time since I've last raced, I have changed the fit of my bike. For those who might not know, bikes are peculiar things. Especially racing bikes. (Currently I am in the process of buying a new one largely because of the experience I had during this race). Over the past 4 weeks I've test ridden probably 6 different bikes. Before the first test ride the shop took my measurements. Just like the tailor did when I bought my first custom slacks and sports jacket. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. The better your bike fits, the more comfortable you are and the faster you ride while using less effort. Less effort is good because it means you have more energy to run later. I think it took me about 2 minutes to realize that between the changes I had made to my set up and just the time away from working out with any serious intensity, I was not in for a stellar bike split.

Translation? My legs hurt like hell. And I couldn't breathe. But instead of berating myself, I just rode as fast as my body would allow and tried to minimize the damage. For a good part of the first section of the bike this meant not riding in aero position at all, even though I was riding into a headwind. Fortunately for me, at some point my body clued in to the whole, "Oh yeah, this is a race thing... Let's go really fast!!" attitude and by the turnaround started reeling people in. So all the way back to the transition my speed was actually pretty high.

Earlier I might have mentioned that I came from a running background. This would indicate that running is "my thing." What I didn't mention was that while originally I was a relatively fast runner even coming off the bike, prior to this race I had only just started running 6 weeks earlier. It took me about 2 of those weeks to get to the point where I could run a mile without stopping. So by the time I showed up raceday, I was up to maybe 5 miles. But this was 5 slow miles. 6 weeks is not enough time to build a base and incorporate speed training. So I skipped that and just concentrated on running economy and strength. Thus another first. I didn't pass anyone on the first part of the run. Some of this was due to the fact that I stopped to use the bathroom in the first half mile. And this was also something else I could have thought more about on the boat ramp. In every first race of the season for as long as I could remember, I have always had to use the bathroom on the run. And I'm always confronted with the same question. "Do I stop and go so that I don't have to run stressed?" or "Do I hold it and run fast so I can finish sooner?" The answer usually depended on how I felt and what I had told myself before the race started. This time, I hadn't factored it in because quite honestly, I forgot about it. In retrospect stopping was probably a good call since off the bike my legs felt like crap anyway. So it was actually nice to relax for a few seconds before heading out to run again.

It took about a mile before I got the stiffness out of my legs and my stride opened up. For the most part I was pretty relaxed. I got passed a couple of times but didn't worry about it. I just focused on my own race and kept moving. A little before the run turnaround, something clicked again and I sped up. Sort of like on the bike and I came back several minutes faster than I ran out. Finishing was just a relief. I learned a lot. I learned about myself mainly. But I also learned how much had changed since I had last raced. And how much really was still the same. Triathlon is still a sport where people for the most part are really in competition with themselves and come face to face with their own demons. It provides a framework to see your own internal truth. The fact that everyone else shows up to go through that process with you is what makes the sport so fun and the people in it so special. Every weekend they race they are willing to put themselves to the test. And this is really what I was doing that Sunday morning. After so long a time away from a sport that had defined a large part of me and my relationships, I wanted to know if I had really changed. I started the day with questions. Questions about myself. About why I had raced before, and if I could race again? Who would witness this if I did? Would it matter? What I took away from that morning was succinct and simple. I didn't ever race before because I was fast or slow, or because it was cool. I raced because when I did it I was pure. Just like those moments when the bike or the run clicked and I wasn't hurting, or in the swim where I blew away all my prior expectations. When I race, there is just the moment, just me, nothing outside, nothing within. And I am this.