BOOK REVIEW: Plant-Based Sports Nutrition by D. Enette Larson-Meyer & Matt Ruscigno

Plant-Based Sports Nutrition: Expert Fueling Strategies for Training, Recovery, and PerformancePlant-Based Sports Nutrition: Expert Fueling Strategies for Training, Recovery, and Performance by D Enette Larson-Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is an updated and revised edition of a book previously called “Vegetarian Sports Nutrition.” The name change not only reflects the rise of veganism and other more restrictive diets, but also an increase in “flexitarianism” — or the reduction (but not elimination) of animal-based foods that is driven by health factors, by environmental concerns, or by a combination of both. One of the things I like about this book is that it offers a balanced discussion of how to meet the nutritional needs of athletics through a diet that is mostly or entirely plant-based. That is to say, it’s not trying to sell the reader on a particular dietary approach, and, therefore, doesn’t fall into the trap of pretending that the move is purely upside. Those trying to persuade readers of a given diet tend to overemphasize the studies showing the benefits of plant-based diets while neglecting to discuss the challenges to meeting dietary needs without animal-based foods – particularly if one has the substantial needs incurred by athletes. [Which isn’t to say there aren’t health benefits — and even performance benefits — to be gained, but thinking that one can make the switch without giving thought to the details is a bit naive.]

The book consists of fifteen chapters that take one from an introduction to the various forms of plant-based diets through specific dietary considerations (i.e. meeting caloric requirements, macro-nutrient needs, and micro-nutrient needs) and – finally – to practical matters of what to eat and how to prepare it. After an opening chapter that lays forth background information, chapters two and three deal in the related topics of getting adequate calories and getting enough carbs. Vegetables, after all, aren’t typically calorically dense, and so salad and steamed vegetables – while a beneficial part of a diet — aren’t going to meet the needs of an athlete.

Chapter four delves into meeting fat requirements. While carbs have come to be wrongly villainized in current fitness environment, there are some who are still working under the old “fat is the enemy” paradigm. In truth, one needs a diet that includes all three macro-nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Those on plant-based diets who don’t (or can’t) eat nuts and legumes can run into problems with getting enough fat. Chapter five rounds out the chapters focusing on macro-nutrients by exploring protein needs. This is the chapter many readers will be prone to make a beeline toward. Athletes who are considering a plant-based diet are most likely to be concerned that they can’t get enough protein. This is a contentious topic because vegan and vegetarian athletes often want to pull their hair out over what they feel is a great misconception. They say it’s no problem hitting protein targets on a plant-based diet, and — depending upon one’s sport and one’s body — that can be true. But for some it takes planning. (e.g. It’s true that one can get a complete protein by eating rice and lentils. The challenge is that if you do go about getting the 2 gms of protein per kg of body weight that some athletes require by just eating rice and lentils you are likely to find yourself becoming obese because those high-protein foods are even higher in carbs.)

Chapters six and seven shift into critical micro-nutrient considerations. Chapter six is about bone health, which is a greater concern with respect to some forms of plant-based diet than others. Chapter seven is about iron intake and absorption. One thing that I found very important and interesting in this book is the discussion of how foods and nutrients that one might think of only in terms of their positive effect can also have a negative effect. That is, some nutrients that we need in a given quantity will block the absorption of other nutrients if taken in excess quantities. Chapters eight and ten are about eliminating the need for multivitamins or other vitamin and mineral supplements. Another thing that I appreciate about this book is its emphasis on getting all of one’s nutritional needs through food. While it doesn’t take an iron-clad opposition to supplements, it suggests that one should first make great efforts to meet needs with food before considering any supplement.

Chapter nine is about timing of food and fluid intake for optimal performance. It’s one thing to know what to eat, but one must also know when to eat and when not to eat. Chapter eleven investigates common problems that are often attributed to food and fluid intake, namely cramps and inflammation. The part dealing with cramps was particularly informative, as I learned that much of what I’ve heard on the subject (and / or that is commonly believed) is either not well-established in the literature or is plain old poppycock.

Chapters twelve and thirteen are about building a meal plan to meet one’s requirements, and modifying the plan to cut or gain weight as necessary, respectively.

The last two chapters are about preparing meals to meet an athlete’s needs with plant-based foods. The penultimate chapter is more about the quick meals and snacks, and the last chapter provides a collection of recipes.

There are several appendices containing information about nutritional information and various approaches to building a balanced diet. There are also graphics including photographs, tables, and diagrams. I can’t speak to how effective these are as I read a review copy that was unformatted, but I do know they are frequent throughout the book.

I’d highly recommend this book for athletes, trainers, or coaches who are considering moving to a plant-based diet or who work with clients or athletes who are vegetarian, vegan, or otherwise eat a predominantly plant-based diet.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Modern Art and Science of Mobility by Aurlien Broussel-Derval & Stephane Ganneau

The Modern Art and Science of MobilityThe Modern Art and Science of Mobility by Aurelien Broussal-Derval
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book is designed to help athletes (and those who train athletes) increase mobility. The authors draw heavily upon yoga and martial arts drills (especially judo and jujutsu groundwork drills) in addition to the usual suspects of modern fitness – i.e. calisthenics, kettlebell, etc. It’s a visual book. The text is highly distributed toward the first half of the book. The heart of the book is pictures and descriptive captions of the exercises and practices described. This isn’t a complaint. I think there is sufficient discussion of the topics addressed and that said discussion was clear.

The book is organized into four parts, and — within each part — by anatomical region. The four parts are: Pain, Breathing, Movement, and Mobility. The section on pain offers many self-massage techniques, often using foam rollers or balls to counteract myofascial pain. I was particularly impressed to see an entire section devoted to breathing, and that it not only explored exercises to free up the diaphragm and intercostals (rib muscles) but also discussed issues such as the role of stress on breath. As mentioned the parts on movement and mobility are heavily oriented toward conveying exercise sequences graphically, and the chapters were oriented by parts of the body.

With a book that is so graphically-oriented, it’s important to mention that the photography, anatomical drawings, and diagrams are well done. The photos make it easy to see what is happening. It seemed to me that they used the right number of photographs to convey the movements involved, and they augmented these with arrows and lines to show direction of movement and alignments. It was usually quite clear what the movement was even before reading the captions. The photos are of varied sizes and orientations as needed to convey the exercise at hand. The anatomical drawings are clearly labeled.

I will say there were three exercises that I found troubling, but I gave the authors the benefit of the doubt as the book seems to be directed toward athletes. I don’t think these are things that will give most athletically-built people too much trouble especially when practice in moderation. However, as anyone may pick up such a book, I would be cautious of these three activities – especially if you haven’t been training in a while or are new. First, doing loaded lunges (i.e. barbells across the shoulders) with one’s knee way out forward of the toes. As the point of the book is mobility, I don’t have a problem with doing floor exercises on a knee this way, but that’s a lot of pressure to load onto connective tissue. Second, doing cobra (Bhujanga, or what they call “Sphinx”) with straightened arms and thighs resting on the floor. That almost always creates a sharp kink in the back with one spinal process prying into another. One can do Up-Dog (Urdhva Mukta Svanasana) with thighs off the ground or Cobra (Bhujanga) with your navel on the ground, but you shouldn’t confuse the two. Finally, they mention doing a roll up into shoulder stand. Unless you are extremely experienced, this is a bad idea because with the chin tucked into the chest there is very little room for error. Work up into shoulder stand slowly and easily. I will point out that this is what I noticed as a yoga teacher, individuals with other experience may see other issues, but I have some experience with the jujutsu drills and didn’t notice anything problematic.

That said, I thought this book was well done. The organization, explanations, and graphics were excellent and it will be a helpful resource for athletes working on mobility issues.

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BOOK REVIEW: Running Anatomy, 2nd Edition by Puleo and Milroy

Running Anatomy 2nd EditionRunning Anatomy 2nd Edition by Joseph Puleo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book explores anatomy (and to a lesser degree physiology) as it pertains to running, and shows how one can strengthen anatomy to increase one’s performance as a runner.

I will divide the book up into three parts, though that division is not explicitly made by the authors. The first three chapters discuss running fundamentals. Chapter 1 explores the nature of movement in running. The reader learns about the phases of the running gait and the muscle activation relative to said phases. The second chapter focuses heavily on the anatomy and physiology of the cardio-vascular system and the impact it has on muscle performance. Chapter 3 discusses external factors that can influence running performance such as air temperature, humidity, terrain, and altitude.

The second part of the book consists of the middle five chapters, and gets to the heart of the subject. These chapters investigate the role of musculature in running and show numerous exercises that can be used to strengthen said muscles as well as describing the activation of muscles in those exercises. Starting from the ground up, these chapters proceed as such: feet and ankles, legs, core, shoulders and arms, and chest and back. One might not think that the upper body is critical to running, but the authors demonstrate otherwise.The exercises selected assume the availability of a full range of fitness equipment: machines, free weights, as well as elastic bands and BOSU – though some bodyweight exercises are included.

The third part of the book explores some odds and ends that are crucial, but not covered in earlier chapters. Chapter nine explains how to avoid injuries. Running is an activity that offers plenty of opportunity for repetitive stress injuries because it’s an endurance activity involving iterated actions. Chapter ten explores alternative training programs (e.g. training in the swimming pool or on treadmills), and the pros and cons of such activities. The last chapter is about gear, and – not unexpectedly – much of it is devoted to shoes and questions such as whether one needs orthotics. It should be noted that the authors are firmly in the camp that favor footwear. (There are many advocates of barefoot running in recent years.)

There are many color drawings that show which muscles are activated by movements. The drawings are clear and effective. There is an index of exercises at the end that makes it easy to find various exercises.

I’d recommend this book for runners and trainers who are interested in how muscles can be strengthened and stretched to increase performance and minimize the risk of injury.

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BOOK REVIEW: Plyometric Anatomy by Derek Hansen

Plyometric AnatomyPlyometric Anatomy by Derek Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book performs two tasks at once. First, it’s a guide to the broad range of plyometric exercises and how they can be conducted safely. Plyometrics take advantage of a phenomenon in which rapidly stretched muscles contract more forcefully and rapidly. However, you may recognize them as exercises involving jumping and other explosive movements that are used to build power. (Power being the ability to generate a force in as short a time as possible. This is in contrast to strength — a measure that’s only concerned with the amount of force generated.) I would go as far as to say the book could be useful for many individuals who don’t need any particular insight into anatomy, but who want to learn to do a wide range of plyometric exercises. (That said, if you are said person, you may want to shop around because you may find the one or two drawings per exercise may not be adequate for your purposes, and you may discover you need more guidance if you’re new to fitness activities.)

Second, the book educates the reader about what musculature is used in each exercise, and differentiates the primary movers from the secondary muscles. The book provides a happy medium useful for coaches and trainers. It doesn’t get bogged down in the anatomical and physiological minutiae, but provides enough information for individuals who want to see what muscles are working without drilling down into depths of great precision.

The book consists of nine chapters. Of these, the first two chapters provide fundamental background information. Chapter one examines how and why plyometric exercises work in a general sense. Chapter two gets into more logistical issues such as what equipment is needed (e.g. hurdles and medicine balls), what surfaces are ideal for practice (no small issue considering the loads generated), and how training progressions should be formulated.

Chapters three through eight are the core of the book. These are the chapters that describe exercises as I mentioned above. The first of these chapters presents foundational exercises. Plyometrics tend to be physically intense and so many individuals will need to build capacity before moving straight into a full-fledged plyometric exercise regime. The next five chapters explore (in order): bilateral lower body exercises, unilateral lower body exercises, upper body exercises, core exercises, and combination exercises (e.g. exercises that combine jumps with sprints or medicine ball throws with jumps and so forth.)

Each of the exercise descriptions consists of five parts: an anatomical drawing showing the action and the musculature involved, a description of how the exercise is safely performed, a text list of the muscles involved (divided into primary and secondary muscles as is the drawing), notes exploring unique considerations for that particular exercise, and variations for those who need to make the exercise more or less challenging.

The last chapter investigates injury prevention and rehabilitation. One learns how to evaluate some of the more high-risk behaviors and misalignments that must be corrected for exercises to be done safely. One also learns how a swimming pool can be used to help athletes rebuild their capacity after an injury, as well as how rehab activities can be done out of the pool.

There are graphics throughout the book. For the most part, these consist of anatomical drawings. These drawings show the body in transparent form so that one can see the muscles involved in each exercise. There is a reference section at the end of the book.

I found this book to be informative and thought-provoking, and I’d recommend it for anyone who is seeking to expand their depth of knowledge about exercise science – particularly coaches, trainers, and teachers.

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BOOK REVIEW: Head in the Game by Brandon Sneed

Head in the Game: The Mental Engineering of the World's Greatest AthletesHead in the Game: The Mental Engineering of the World’s Greatest Athletes by Brandon Sneed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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There are many factors that influence whether an athlete can reach an elite level. Physical factors such as VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption) and musculature have long been at the fore in the minds of coaches and trainers, but they’ve never told the full story. There are athletes who have the muscles, lungs, and general physiology to dominate their sports who fall apart under pressure. One also sees the occasional athlete who is consistently good even though he seems puny by comparison to his peers. It used to be that mental performance was considered an endowed X-factor–you either had it or you didn’t. Coaches didn’t know how to coach for issues of the mind and often exacerbated problems with old school attitudes and approaches.

We’ve now entered a new era in which a bevy of techniques and technologies are being exploited to strengthen the mind and improve psychological deficiencies, just as gyms have always been used to build the body and combat physical deficiencies. These range from techniques of meditation and visualization that have been known to yogis and Buddhists for centuries to advanced technologies that have only become available in recent decades and which are constantly improving and being made obsolete. Sneed examines the gamut of these approaches as they are applied to improving performance in sports: from the meditative or therapeutic to the electronic or pharmacological. One no longer need give up on athletes who are great at their best, but who get the yips at the worst possible times. The performance of mediocre athletes can be improved and that of the best can be made more consistent.

Sneed has a unique qualification to write this book. He counts himself among the athletes who couldn’t reach his potential because of inconsistency rooted in psychological challenges. His willingness to be forthright about his own problems makes the book more engaging. His own stories are thrown into the mix with those of athletes from football, basketball, soccer, baseball, adventure sports, and mixed martial arts (MMA.)

The book’s 19 chapters are divided among four parts. The first part lays the groundwork, helping the reader understand the rudiments of how the brain works, doesn’t work, or works too hard for a competitor’s own good. A central theme is that the ability to analyze and train through the lens of neuroscience has removed some of the stigma that has always been attached to psychological issues in sports (not to mention the days when they were written off as weakness.) Much of the six chapters of Part I deal with assessment of the athlete’s baseline mental performance. The last chapter (Ch. 6) covers a range of topics that have been around a long time as they’ve been reevaluated through modern scientific research. These include religion, faith, superstition, meditation, visualization, and the immortal question of whether sex is good or bad for athletic performance.

The second part consists of five chapters taking on one fundamental truth: mind and body are not two disparate and independent entities. This section starts at the most logical point: breath. Practitioners of yoga (i.e. pranayama) and chi gong have known for centuries that breath can be used to influence one’s emotional state and level of mental clarity. Sneed evaluates the technology that is being used to help athletes master the same age-old lessons. Having laid the groundwork through breath, the section advances into biofeedback technology. There are two chapters in the book that deal with pharmacological approaches. One is in this section and it deals with legal (at least in some locales) substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, nootropics (alleged mind enhancing drugs), and marijuana. (The other is in the final part and it deals with hallucinogens.) There are also a couple of chapters on technologies used to produce or enhance desired mental states.

For most readers, the third part will be seen as the heart of the book. Having considered how to evaluate an athlete’s mental performance (Part I) and how to influence mind states by way of the body (Part II), this part explores the range of technologies that are used to exercise the mind in a manner analogous to working out the body. These technologies focus on a range of areas including improving the nervous system’s ability to take in information, process that information, and respond appropriately. Much of this part focuses on video games; albeit video games using state of the art virtual reality and which are customized to improvement of athletic performance. Some of the games are used to train general cognitive performance (e.g. Ch. 13) but others are specifically tailored to the game in question (i.e. Ch. 14.) Just as simulators are used in aviation, part of the advantage of these games is the ability to put players in progressively more challenging conditions.

The last part of the book was the most interesting to me, personally. [It’s also the part of the book that will be the most relevant and readable a few years down the road because it’s not as modern technology-centric as most of the book—especially Part III–is.] It’s entitled “The Spirit” and it explores X-factors to performance, but sans the assumption that these are endowments, but rather under the assumption they are trainable. The part has an important introduction that presents the research about how “soft” factors like gratitude play into outlook and performance. Then there are the Part’s three chapters. The first describes an experiment involving taking elite athletes into physically arduous conditions of the kind normally experienced by military special operations forces in survival training. The second tells the story of MMA fighter Kyle Kingsbury’s use of hallucinogenic substances (most intriguingly, ayahuasca, a powerful drug long used by Peruvian shamans.) Finally, the last chapter deals with sensory deprivation—a technology some will associate with the movie “Altered States” but which many athletes swear by.

The book has an extensive section on notations and sources organized by chapter. There are no graphics.

I enjoyed this book and found it to be informative. There are a number of books that explore the techniques and technologies of optimal mental performance, but this one develops a niche by focusing on the realm of sports and some of the technologies that are only available with the kind of deep-pockets seen in professional sports. The book is heavily weighted toward the technology part of the equation, which is both good and bad. If you’re reading it now (2017), it’s great because you’re getting an up-to-date discussion of the subject from the perspective of entities that are awash in money for tech. The downside is that this book won’t age well, at least not as well as it would if there was more emphasis on approaches that aren’t based on cutting-edge technology.

I’d recommend this book if you are interested in optimal human performance, and if you have an interest in sports, all the better.

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The Most Dangerous Combative Sport? Study Shows Boxing Beats MMA for Brutality

kangaroo_boxingA study by researchers at the University of Alberta found that while mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters are more likely to suffer minor injuries, boxers are more likely to suffer severe injuries like concussions or detached retinas. The study, to appear in the print edition of the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, involved 1181 mixed martial artists and 550 boxers who’d fought in Edmonton between 2003 and 2013. This was all fighters who fought professionally in that city in those two sports.

This finding seems counter-intuitive, given that so many more methods of delivering mayhem are allowed in MMA and the protection is less at least with respect to gloves.

Gloves may be an important factor. This isn’t a result from the aforementioned study, but it’s an idea put forth by MMA boosters. It goes like this, “Yes, the lightweight MMA glove offers less protection to the one being hit, but it also offers less protection to the hand of the one delivering the hit, and, ergo,  an MMA fighter is more likely to moderate his / her punches to avoid the (in this case ironically-named) ‘boxer’s break’ to the bones of said fighter’s hand.”

MMA style gloves on the left and 16oz. boxing gloves on the right

MMA style gloves on the left and 16oz. boxing gloves on the right (the same hand fits inside.)

 

I haven’t seen any rigorous scientific studies of whether the argument above has merit. There was a National Geographic Fight Science episode that made a comparison of gloves, but it was looking at a little different question. It studied how much force barehand, MMA glove, and boxing glove delivered to a heavy bag. Incidentally, it found minimal difference in force delivered between the two types of gloves, which at least might help to hush those who make a big deal about MMA’s “thin gloves.” However, this doesn’t tell us whether fighters put the same level of force into hitting a bony target when wearing the two types of gloves. Still a YouTube clip of the test is below for your information.

 

There are other explanations for why MMA fights might be less prone to cause concussions and severe head injuries. For example, there’s less time spent at an optimal distance to deliver strikes with maximal force. Once fighters are in close, there’s less room to get strikes up to speed. Once fighters are on the ground, putting a lot of body weight into a strike may be impossible. While submissions, whether chokes or joint locks, may seem brutal to the home viewing audience, it’s not clear that they result in major injuries to anything but the fighter’s self-esteem. (Though this might be an area that needs to be factored into studies.)

I’d like to see how muay thai compares to the two sports covered in the aforementioned study. I suspect it’s the only combative sport that might beat out these two. (All the nastiness of boxing, none of the close range grappling, plus elbows and shins to the side of the head.) Though, who knows?  Judoka do seem to land on their heads an unfortunate percentage of the time.

I’m curious about what you think about which combative sport is most damaging, and why?

FYI: The citation for the study mentioned above is:
Karpman, Shelby, et al. 2015. Combative Sports Injuries: An Edmonton Retrospective. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. To be published. Available on-line at: http://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/Abstract/publishahead/Combative_Sports_Injuries___An_Edmonton.99628.aspx. Last accessed: November 13, 2015

What Are Your Thoughts on “Dick Move Mondays” in a Dojo?

Going rogue with attacks

Gone rogue

So, the whole “dick move Mondays” concept may require clarification. First of all, some readers may be saying, “Every day is dick move Monday at our dojo.” However, readers who train at more orthodox schools may be wondering how such an apparently ludicrous idea would even come up. The idea’s origins are the result of seeking a martial art’s correlate to the “bad pass Fridays” that have been instituted in many basketball practices in recent years. On “bad pass Fridays” coaches give players passes that are catchable–but just barely. I’ll get into the scientific argument for this kind of training below, but for now suffice it to say that the idea is to have regularly scheduled instances in which the individual is taxed to his or her limits and forced to try to cope with worst case scenarios. While there needs to be some limitations for safety’s sake, I’ll argue that there’s some advantage to applying this concept from the sports science and motor learning literature to martial arts training. [Note: if your objective in practicing martial arts has nothing to do with being able to succeed in the context of a sporting match, an actual combat situation, or both (i.e. a situation in which an opponent is trying to clobber you and vice versa) then this isn’t really relevant to you. But feel free to read it any way.]

 

Here’s some low-down on the science. Historically, it’s been popular to teach / coach sports (and non-sport martial arts) using a “partial and blocked” approach. This method is extremely popular because: a.) it’s simple to organize and conduct practice sessions, b.) short-term growth is rapidly visible, and c.) it looks neat and tidy. “Partial” means that a particular skill (or even sub-skill) is extracted from the overall skill set of the activity at hand and practiced in isolation. This could be a throw, a strike, or a means of receiving or defending. “Blocked” practice means that one skill or sub-skill is practiced over and over again under the exact same conditions until it’s deemed time to move onto the next. “Whole and random” practice represents the opposites of “partial and blocked.” “Random” means that one drills a skill under an ever-changing situational context (e.g. one may still be drilling hip throws repetitively, but not against a static partner who’s standing in the same place–there’s movement and pushing and pulling, and possibly a few dick moves.) “Whole” practice simulates the actual event that one is practicing for–whether it’s a Muay Thai match or a parking deck brawl.

 

For a good explanation of the problems associated with blocked practice, watch the video by Trevor Ragan of “Train Ugly” that’s linked below. (fyi: “Train Ugly” is an apropos name for an approach that involves more “whole and random” practice because there will be more short-term failure and one won’t look masterful at what one is doing by the end of a practice session. However, long-term skill retention and the ability to integrate those skills and sub-skills into a more realistic environment is higher.)

As Ragan points out, the random approach requires one read the situation and environment and respond in a way that won’t leave one worse off. (I don’t like the word “planning” applied to martial arts because there’s never time to do any planning in the sense of using one’s conscious mind. However, I’d say reading is a very apropos concept, and there is a need to adjust to one’s context.)

So what would “whole and random” training look like in a martial art? First of all, one should realize that one doesn’t need to make every training session “whole and random” from the very beginning. In the beginning a lot of “partial and / or blocked” practice is necessary. The problem is that if one doesn’t ever move beyond that, one’s performance will be hindered. Second, all practice doesn’t have to be both whole and random; one can spend a lot of time with random drilling of a particular skill. One can drill a particular skill while moving around freely, applying counters, making timing more random, and making the approach less regimented. “Whole and random” practice in the martial arts involve sparring or randori. Jigoro Kano did a brilliant thing in making the techniques and practice environment safe enough that randori (free form) training became possible. For many years, I would have said that Kano Sensei made a system that was less “realistic” by paring out the dangerous elements of jujutsu. However, today I don’t see it that way. I’ve come to realize that the ability to train randori keiko actually added back in a great deal of realism. Who’s to say what the net effect on realism is. I certainly see the advantage over the old way in which one trained in a regimented fashion devoid free form components for years and then one day one went out on musha shugyō (warrior’s errantry) and may be the day you learned of a deficiency in your technique was the day you died.

So “dick move Mondays” is really a way to add randomness into training. One can’t ignore the reading portion of the attack because one never knows what whacky ass attack one’s opponent is going to come up with.

If you do implement “dick move Mondays” in your school or gym, you may want to review this instructional video by Master Ken because the “bitch slap” is sure to enter into your training.

[Disclaimer: Master Ken video included as farce. Readers are advised not perform any techniques suggested by Master Ken or his Amer-i-do-te practitioners.]

BOOK REVIEW: Faster, Higher, Stronger by Mark McClusky

Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from ThemFaster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from Them by Mark McClusky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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McClusky’s book tells us how advances in sports science and technology are producing a new class of elite athlete. More usefully, it discusses which practices of high-level athletes can reasonably be emulated by amateurs. One may think that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In this case, not so much. If shaving a hundredth of a second off your time isn’t going to affect your life’s course, there are many activities of elite athletes that simply aren’t worth the cost (in whatever terms.) For example, the loss of friendships due to rampant flatulence resulting from consuming large quantities of baking soda isn’t worth it if you just want a little bit stronger Sunday cycling ride. (Baking soda [sodium bicarbonate] counteracts blood and muscle acidification during exercise and makes it possible to keep moving strongly when fatigued would normally degrade performance. Incidentally, this practice has been shown to be effective only for events that last between one and seven minutes.) On the other hand, some of the lessons of sports science are relatively low-cost and high benefit, and might be just what one is looking for to improve one’s performance. (e.g. Replacing a pre-workout stretching routine with one of rolling out the muscles.)

Faster, Higher, Stronger consists of twelve chapters, each addressing a different aspect of the application of science and technology to sport, including: training methods, genetics, nutrition, recruitment, practice, performance enhancing substances (legal and illegal), elevation training, and the limits of performance.

One question that has always been of great interest is how much of a top athlete comes from his or her genes? In other words, can anyone can do it–given a willingness to work like a maniac of course. As with many other questions about heredity, it was once thought that there would be a precise answer to this question in the wake of the decoding of the human genome. However, the success of the human genome project showed only that the situation was vastly more complex than we’d imagined. It turns out that having certain genes isn’t the end of the story because there are many factors that influence which genes are expressed. Attempts have been made to put numbers to the influence of genetics. For example, one scientist is quoted as claiming that 50% of oxygen processing capability (i.e. VO2 max) is heritable. This translates to the fact that, while the average Joe has a reasonable chance of engaging in athletics at some level, only a 0.1 to 0.3 % can summit the pinnacle of elite level athletics.

In many ways, science has encouraged coaches, trainers, and recruiters to think outside the box—and to look beyond the traditionally engrained approaches. One fascinating story was that of how the British national rowing team held tryouts based only on height, with experience with the sport being not required. They ended up with a champion rower who’d first entered a boat only four years before. This is part of the evidence that controverts the once popular 10,000 hour rule that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell–though Anders Ericsson is more properly considered the father of the idea. It turns out that 10,000 hours of practice aren’t required for most activities if one goes about it right.

McClusky spends a considerable amount of space on the questions of what athletes should and shouldn’t consume. In emulating elite athletes many amateurs are working at cross purposes. This is readily seen with the issue of sports drinks. If you’re guzzling down a Gatorade or snacking on Cliff Bars after your run, you may only be ensuring that you continue to gain weight despite working out. On the other hand, you may decide that chocolate milk or beet juice are good choices for you.

I’d recommend this book for those interested in the heights of human performance.

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