N=1: The Inception Moment within our Tarantino Plot

N=1. A sample size of one: you.
You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own.
This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty.
We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

By Cody Burkhart

 

The Inception Moment within our Tarantino Plot.

Tick tock, tick tock. The seconds tick away.

Tick tock, tick tock. You feel the urge to gulp. You swallow, but you don’t take in a breath.

Tick tock, tick tock. Your diaphragm begins to spasm. You dig deep and don’t give up.

Tick tock, tick tock. Suddenly you get a “second wind” and can’t explain it. Riding the wave you go further.

Tick tock, tick tock. The pain builds, your body is screaming at you and the world… begins to close in around you.

Tick tock, tick tock. You gasp for breath and click stop on the timer.

When you first started your max breath hold homework, some of these steps may never have occurred. You may have gotten to the “gulp” phase and called it quits. You may have gotten freaked out by the chest spasms. Hell, the idea of a second wind in the middle of a breath hold is disconcerting enough for many people that they pull the plug out of astonishment. The funny thing about what you were challenged to do was this inert need for competition… engrained in us as animals. A fight for survival? Sure. More so, though, it’s the fight against those seconds ticking away on the clock in your hand. Silly how competitive we are, but thank goodness.

Your head says “Can I beat my previous time? Can I make it to the next 15-second threshold? The next minute mark? What are my actual limitations?”

This is exactly why the first week of the next experiment I want to embark on with you began with no goal and limited input. I simply said “max time” and your body read “challenge yourself to go farther every day.” What we did was let you feel out your body and also aided in the elimination of the headspace modifier of this activity. In the results of our first test, I mentioned that my mental fortitude is a likely impact on my five percent performance increase. This mental driver will always exist, but the more we do something the less overpowering this element can become.

As an example… I can get some massive gains out of an athlete who has never squatted before over the first cycle. Gains that seem inhuman. Much of the benefits come from actively training, others from the quality of the applied programming, and still others from motor patterning and the skill adaptations benefited by myelin. On top of all this, there is the mental acceptance of the “newbie” that what they thought was possible is far from what they actually have in the tank. As time goes on from here we start seeing plateaus… and the plateaus give zero fucks as to how much you mentally want to will yourself to that next level. At this point, it’s the applied methods (programming, timing, nutrition, and supplementation, etc.) that start to turn the tide. So… we had you breathe and played a sleight of hand: you thought we were continuing the diaphragm test for improving gas exchange in your body, but while the left brain was getting its rational rule set… the right brain was dreaming of its limits and chasing the numbers, the seconds, on the clock. By now you have likely found those limits on a rough order of magnitude.

I started my hold times at just over the 2minute mark this past week. I willed myself from 1:30, where I miserably wanted to stop, to over 2min on the first effort. Each day I since I have willed myself further and further. Until I got back to my current limit, not my lifetime PR. Respect the difference. You may have made even more massive leaps percentage wise than my 25% or less, but you are now likely at a point where fighting for inches, for split seconds, is all you can do. Now we can start learning and playing with what applications generate success and failure. Now we can see physiological adaptation instead of being hampered by the data skewing psychological buffering. Remember: your headspace controls your hypothalamus. To understand the physiological modification to the system, we need to first get the input from our hypothalamus (the fight or flight response) consistent. Controlling our experimental variables is a must if we want solid, applicable data on the back side.

Now, before we jump into the “Five degrees of separation” methodology for our next experiment, lets Tarantino this and jump back to key baseline knowledge hidden in the tick tock intro…

What’s with the gulp?

I am confident in assuming we all accept that our inhalation is trying to get necessary O2 into our bodies and our exhalation is trying to clean out the end result of waste CO2. While we have touched on energy cycles in previous posts and your middle school science teacher tried to give them substance to you once upon a time, it’s more likely that I can ask you what process creates oxygen from carbon dioxide in plants than I can ask you how the body produces CO2 from the oxygen we inhale. It’s a scary reality that we live in our bodies, but usually don’t understand how they really work. Don’t take this as a stab, the fact of the matter is it’s actually not a simple question to answer if you listen to a professor crank through it. And now… for the Inception moment within our Tarantino plot to clear this up:

First things first… Oxygen helps but is not a requirement for your body to produce CO2. This is precisely what we touched on with conversations of aerobic (oxygen rich) and anaerobic (oxygen less) energy systems. We use oxygen as an agent for combustion. Your head likes to see combustion as explosions and flamethrowers and so you may not believe we run on combustion, but this is because of the slow rate of the reactions occurring inside your body. Irony, however, proves this knowledge is already engrained in us:

If I told you to guess what happens to someone as they start working out when viewed through an infrared camera (the blue and red images), you could tell me that they would start blue and would start to turn red.

You probably participate in a “warm-up” before activity?

Heat stroke is a concern of training in hot environments.

The heat is coming from somewhere. Combustion is a chemical reaction in the presence of oxygen that creates heat and light. You are a combustion engine, folks. And, just like your car engine, oxygen helps light that candle. This is when you need to remember the basics of chemistry and the building blocks of our world: atoms and molecules.

Molecules are the combination of different elements. O2 is just two cool Oxygen atoms bonded together. Carbon dioxide adds a third, Carbon, atom to the fiesta. In simple terms, a carbohydrate molecule (glucose) is six Carbons, twelve Hydrogens, and six Oxygens: C6H12O6. A fat molecule is comprised of a glycerol (three Carbons, three Oxygens, and eight Hyrdogens) with a fatty acid attached to it (one Hydrogen, two Oxygens, a Carbon, and our particular fatty acid chain of atoms) that bond together to make a triglyceride and water. Proteins come in all sorts of flavors as well, with a base set of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen atoms (and sometimes Sulphur). The point of all this is you can see that hidden within every single one of our macro nutrients is Oxygen (as well as Carbon and Hydrogen). Breathe it in or consume it… either way it’s in our system and ready to rock.

From here, you likely know, or can at least make an educated guess, that Oxygen is fed to your cells and Carbon Dioxide is released, in turn. It is with open arms we welcome the cell powerhouse: mitochondria. Loosely put, the mitochondria are located in the floating jelly of the cell, cyctoplasm, of a cell and use particular enzymes to produce energy output, which is exactly why they are called the powerhouse. To do so, the mitochondria participate in the Kreb’s Cycle, also called the Citric Acid Cycle. Prepare yourself as we dive in because I’m going to ping pong around like Forest Gump, but I promise to tie it all together in the end:

 

Mitochondria, located inside the cell and suspended in the cytoplasm, is the powerhouse of the cell. The Kreb’s Cycle is hosted within the mitochondria (extended information and image available here).

In rough terms, the Kreb’s cycle is run off Acetyl-CoA (acetyl coenzyme A – an acetyle group attached to two Carbon atoms). Two molecules of Acetyl-CoA (A-CoA) input into the cycle produce waste H20 and CO2, while generating high energy particles (6 NADH and 2 FADH2) to run the cell and GTP that eventually produces further ATP. Along the way we see many enzymes react before the process completes its circle (eight if you are wondering). The circular nature is important because the first step of the process requires our fresh two-carbon molecule Acetyl-CoA to combine with the final 4-carbon molecule from the cyclic Kreb’s cycle called Oxoaloacetic Acid. In light terms, we toss more tinder onto the coals to start the fire back up. In terms for the other nerds out there:

  1. Acetyl-CoA bonds with Oxaloacetate to form a 6-Carbon citrate and our coenzyme is released
  2. Citrate becomes isocitrate via a dehydration and hydration process and goes through oxidative carboxylation, fancy way of saying it kicks off Carbon (that forms CO2) and Hydrogen (that reduces to NADH) to form a 5-Carbon Ketoglutarate
  3. The Ketoglutarate, with some sweet over-watch support from a CoA molecule, is stripped of another Carbon molecule and enzyme reaction produces a 4-Carbon Succinyl-CoA as well as ATP, NADH, and C02
  4. Succinyl-CoA loses its CoA fire-team member via another enzyme reaction to form a 4-Carbon Succinate and, as a bonus of this process, GTP (a high energy version of ATP) is created
  5. Succinate gets dehydrated by the next enzyme and becomes a 4-Carbon Furmate
  6. Furmate gets hydrated by yet another enzyme to form a 4-Carbon Malate
  7. And a final enzyme reaction dehydrates the molecule again to turn our Malate into the original 4-Carbon oxaloacetate

If you want to go ahead and memorize the steps, there you have them and I encourage you to chase what completes you. Big picture considered, however, I want you to see that this cycle produces Carbon waste that becomes Carbon Dioxide twice during the Kreb’s cycle. But… “what the shit is Acetyl-CoA and where did it come from?” Right? (And the super nerds – “hey you missed the fact that Kreb’s cycle actually converts Pyruvate into Acetyl-CoA first”… seriously you are taking all the fun out of my Forest Gump analogy) And so we bounce…

Before we get to the nerd concerns, let’s talk about those top end inputs and where we are going, again. As humans we suck in oxygen and stuff our faces with macronutrients (Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins). I made all this hub-bub about what makes them up and then just kind of walked away from it (if you think it makes me look crazy, try thinking like this every day and you will understand why no one understands my text messages). I was leaving it for later, in favor of taking a backwards approach to figuring out how our exhaled CO2 is produced from our Oxygen input. The Kreb’s cycle helped us see where the C02, that is eventually pushed out of the cell and carried via our blood stream to exit our bodies in our lungs (we will get to blood and gas bonding in a later post), was being made. So, onto the next:

The nerds were right to interrupt, but timing is, or so I am told. We showed how the Citric Acid cycle’s cyclic fire is fed by A-CoA tinder, we just didn’t talk about breaking the branches up to make the tinder. A new step emerges:

  1. 3-Carbon Pyruvate undergoes catabolism to form Acetyl-CoA (and boy is this a broad step)

Forewarning: while we went into depth of the Kreb’s cycle, we are going to save these other cycles for a later time and cover them just at a 30k foot view for now. The intent is not to overload you too much all at once.

 

Proteins, Polysaccharides (Carbs), and Fats each have difference paths to making the Pyruvate necessary to oxidize into A-CoA aka to feed the Kreb’s Cycle. Proteins get really tricky with Amino Acid Degradation because while some amino acids directly degrade to Pyruvate (what we need in our new step zero), others can degrade to many of the other carbon molecules we covered in the Kreb’s cycle. Protein can also harness the power of Gluconeogenesis where its Pyruvate variations can be converted into glucose when our body is running low on natural stores. This glucose, like the glucose formed from the carbs we intake, can undergo Glycolysis (oxygen not required) to generate more Pyruvate and energy. Lastly, fat undergoes beta oxidation such that fatty acid molecules are broken down in the cell cytosol (the jelly) to form A-CoA. Now we know how our macronutrients are forming CO2 in our bodies and how it’s possible to produce this CO2 without mentioning oxygen. The molecules themselves have the carbon and oxygen built-in to produce the waste gas in the Kreb’s Cycle. So why do we even worry about oxygen?

Wood can burn, but, with added oxygen, it can bonfire.

Oxygen is the oxidizer: the agent used to convert our Pyruvate into A-CoA inside the mitochondria to kick off our Kreb’s cycle. Without it our only remaining solution for energy is Fermentation of Pyruvate in the jelly (a long, slow and inefficient process in comparison). So our body got smart and decided to use what our atmosphere gave us and inhaled… letting Oxygen light its fire.

In its most basic form what we just proved was how our CO2 out is controlled by our O2 in:

C6H12O6 (glucose) + 6O2 (oxidizer) = (combusts to produce) = 6CO2 + 6H2O + heat (aka energy)

The rooms jars… you wake up from the dream, Inception moment over. How are you feeling? Ready to continue? Let’s…

Your body is producing CO2 as part of the wondrous factory going on inside the cells, largely from the Oxygen you inhale. As the levels rise, your body chemistry changes and chemoreceptors in the body pick up on this fact. It’s an early warning system. The cool thing is that your body has spare Oxygen stashed all over the place, so it still has some tricks up its sleeve. In “nice guy” mode it says: “hey, you should consider taking a breath, I’ll remind you… it uses this guy [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][GULP!].” But “La Resistance” must go on.

We fight the gulp and then our body starts to get a little more affront with its approach. We have spent weeks learning the benefits of the diaphragm and how little energy it requires to push/pull massive amounts of air… our bodies are way ahead of us and, struggling to keep up with the rising levels of CO2 and figuring out that its O2 reserves are plummeting, it starts to jump start our diaphragm. This is when the convulsing begins.

Tick tock, tick tock. Suddenly you get a “second wind”

At this point down breath hold road, body starts pulling the ace up the sleeve or should I say… up the spleen. This entire time the spleen has been holding onto a bonus reserve. The body tried gentle, it tried rough, now its straight into desperation. It spends its “life savings,” as it were in its attempt to save its life, to give you up to another 15% more high quality O2. The system can keep working and it feels alive again: the second wind. You become in-human in the most humanly way possible… brought back from the dead.

 

And then the train starts to go off the rails. The acidic environment change of the blood is troublesome and the brain, recognizing it’s the biggest consumer of glucose and (by everything we proved today with oxidation and combustion) therefore the biggest consumer of oxygen (20%), starts compartmentalizing… aka shutting down. The clock is running out and the lights are going dim. You start losing capacity to outthink your brain and its takes over. Either it knocks you out or triggers enough pain receptors to get your attention, either way it’s going to attempt to take a breath.

Most of us will never get to the point of a blackout, laying on our backs trying to set our previous PR, but in a real-life scenario you need to know what’s going on to stay alive.

this flashback approach brought to you buy Mr. Tarantino.

Cliffhangers are becoming all the rage with my blog and since Tarantino was such an inspiration, we might as well pay tribute to his favorite Grindhouse style and leave the resolution for the next post. A good story, though, leaves it really edgy on the way out. So, without further ado:

How well we react to this growing level of CO2 can be trained just like any of the other common signaling changes in our body. Uniquely enough (or not so uniquely after what we continue to learn) our ability to manage CO2 has been linked directly to positive health benefits across the board. This makes total sense because of all the process work required to effectively produce energy in our bodies. If we are good at managing the waste, the system doesn’t get gummed up. One test of your relationship with CO2 that you can perform on your own is the Control Pause Test (as part of the Buteyko method). It only takes a few steps:

  1. Spend 5-7min breathing normally, while sitting up
  2. On your final exhalation, hold your breath and start a timer.
  3. When you feel the first signs of discomfort (indicating that your CO2 levels are high enough to trigger your chemoreceptors) aka the gulp, take a breath and stop the timer.
  4. Compare your number to the following:
    1. 1-10s = Critically sick
    2. 10-20s = Sick
    3. 20-40s = Typical (modern) “healthy” state aka underperforming
    4. 40-60s = Good health
    5. Over 60s = Ideal health

 

Try it out and see where you stand. Think about ways that you can improve this function from what we have talked about so far. Start feeling out your body and working your way through the “Tick. Tock.” steps we have covered. Become more involved in your body and aware of its responses. Next week we are going to use all of these new found talents for processing how our body manages Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide to tackle a highly tested method (Apnea tables) and see if we can play “Innovator” with it and come up with a hybridized test program to boost our performance, yet again.

Inhale in.

Now exhale out.

Now inhale in, deep with the belly.

And hold….

N=1: Don’t Run with Scissors, Go Run with Lizards

N=1. A sample size of one: you.
You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own.
This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty.
We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

By Cody Burkhart

 

Don’t Run with Scissors, Go Run with Lizards

Today we begin our story in the jungles of Costa Rica…

Straight out of biblical reference, the Basilisk Lizard, often referred to as the “Jesus Christ” Lizard, is capable of running on water. It’s a pretty wicked thing to watch (and yes I’ve got you covered on that front, but it’s more than a cool display of a featherweight, speed demon: it’s a survival adaptation. Its dominant food source is winged insects, which have intelligently adapted over the years to be faster and more agile. Insects like the dragon fly (which has its own awesome repertoire of evasion skills) don’t hang out long. Ever tried to catch a butterfly? You can get lucky, sure, but most of the time you look like a crazy person trying to catch handfuls of air.

To adapt to its predatory needs, the Basilisk has evolved to have long toes on its hind feet that extend when they are in the water, along with flaps of skin between those toes, effectively increasing the surface area of their feet on the water. Their fast speed mixes with the splaying of these custom foot mechanics to produce pockets of air under their feet that generate sufficient lift to overcome the light weight of their bodies.

The result is awe-inspiring, but, even more, this adaptation is crucial to their survival. Either they adapted, or they perished. The cruel reality of being an animal. Funny thing is…

Human

  1. A member of the primate genus Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other apes by a large brain and the capacity for speech. (Definition from the free dictionary)

… you are, by definition, an animal as well. That large brain often comes with an even more massive ego: an ego that makes us forget that “adaptive” isn’t simply a two-dollar word for our resumés.

Adaptation is an interesting thing when you really think about it. While it is an organic process under the concepts of evolution, I don’t aim to make this about Creationism v. Darwinism (precisely why our good buddy the “Jesus Christ” lizard is the ideal candidate – insert your favorite “winky face” emoji here). Instead let’s examine the facts. Animals have a very effective tool toward the organic supply of adaptation… either they change to match the modifications of their surroundings or their genes, and skill sets, don’t get passed on. Why? Because “dead.” Humans, however, use that big noggin to think up innovative solutions instead of adaptations. There is a DISTINCT difference here folks. What do I mean? Let’s play animal v. human:

Cold Polar Bear? Extra fat and thick fur.

Cold Johnny? The winter collection at North Face.

Hot Kangaroo? Cooling of surface veins using their own spit.

Hot Sally? Industrial Big Ass Fan.

We look pretty smart. I mean,  it’s not like we can go Polar Bear because “Society” doesn’t condone anything but flat stomachs and six packs. And, if my massive pools of sweat from training are already problematic to people at my gym, heaven forbid I start spitting on myself in my next meeting while living on what appears to be Magma Fields, TX. But for S&Gs… let’s keep playing:

No water for months Camel? Internal storage tanks.

No water for months Sam? Um… dead.

If you were about to answer, “Bottled water” or “Humanitarian aid” you get a gold star for out-of-the-box thinking even though you get my point. Innovation is wonderful, but it has limitations and it also has accessibility issues. The entire point is that if your actual, physiological system isn’t providing the necessary change to solve the environmental condition of concern then you are, quite literally, exposed. And as Mike Tyson says:

“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”

So what does this seemingly nihilist point of view on human innovation have to do with our test and the analysis of the results of our diaphragmatic breathing protocol? Let’s play the game one more time:

Extremely low oxygen environment Trout? Buoyancy-providing swim bladder that is filled with oxygen released from hemoglobin when blood pH is lowered, reducing the workload required to stay afloat.

Extremely low oxygen environment Rhonda? Unconscious during a very inopportune moment.

We are full circle. Rhonda has a big problem and, as it turns out, we have some new knowledge that might just save her life. Along the winding path of our first experiment, numerous topics were covered regarding breathing and its relationship with the heart and our metabolic pathways. Juxtaposing Rhonda with the trout was no accident. It likely forced you to imagine Rhonda under water (zero oxygen is, after all, an extremely low value). Now, Rhonda could hold her breath and likely make it a couple minutes before blacking out if she stayed still, but chances are she is in a high workload scenario: aka “Panic.” Fear, and its physiological impacts, is something we will jump more into as we discuss the parasympathetic v. sympathetic nervous system responses that we dabbled in when we discussed the Hypothalamus, but for now let’s limit our view of the problem to the core of our test. If we could change the physiological backbone of Rhonda, we won’t be able to guarantee success, but we sure can increase the odds. As I pointed out last week, even 5% can be a big deal under the right circumstances.

By providing Rhonda, or yourself, with a more efficient metabolic system, more effective management of gas exchange, and a larger starting reservoir of oxygen – all made possible by training our diaphragm and applying its use to our training – we are creating an adaptation.

If I use innovation, I could use the miracles of modern society and provide her with pure oxygen for 30 minutes prior to her low oxygen spell and, plausibly, double her breath hold time. If we examine the world record times for static apnea (limp-noodle breath hold under water) we find an insane 11:54 record by Branko Petrovic squaring off against the mind-melting, pure-oxygen record from Aleix Segura of 24:03 (mind you, this came only 12 days after he previously set it at 23:09 in February of this year – looks like someone has some adaptation response all right). If we use this as our solution we simply just need to bring an oxygen tank around with us and breathe it for 30 minutes before every time we hold our breath. Easy peasy (he says, dripping wet with its over concentration of sarcasm).

If I instead work on adapting my body to be more efficient, I won’t suddenly halve my exposure risk with some 30-second training mask intervals or focused diaphragm breathing skill work in variant positions. However, just in teaching people how to breathe with the diaphragm properly in camps that I have run, I have watched people go from barely holding their breath for a minute to almost 3 minutes over the course of one exercise. With practice and application of the techniques I have, myself, even broken the 4-minute mark. This is where that large brain comes in handy. It has a significant processing power that allows it to assess the system surrounding it and start making physiological changes real-time. Otherwise, my whole college career in Colorado would have been an unrelenting episode of altitude sickness.

You may be scratching your head right now because I just, in many more words, said your body naturally adapts, which counters my whole original argument. It should, but moreso, it would if it wasn’t for the bare necessities.

The human body isn’t wasteful like we are. It has a discrete methodology to its madness. If it doesn’t make small physiological adaptations it will risk being damaged, but the guy wheezing next to you on your mountain tram tour, as he finishes his third Starbucks pastry, washing it down with a double shot venti, extra caramel sauce, pumpkin pie melted milk shake, is handling the altitude just well enough to survive. Toss in an emergency need to run, though, and my point manifests itself. Adapting can be a bare minimum scenario: the bare necessities. In fact, prior to the sustainable, physiological changes of long-term altitude acclimation, our body shortcuts the living hell out of the problem. It increases its breath rate (the return of our good friend hyperventilation), experiences vasoconstriction (turning off blood supply to non-essential functions), increases heart rate (managing the flow of gas exchange to make up for the quick breath and high pressure requirements of the constricted veins), and even starts to slow down digestion (good ole parasympathetic). Sounds awfully eerie considering what we found out in our test, doesn’t it? Almost like our test was designed to attack these same issues, teaching us how to overcome their natural occurrence as we begin to suck wind during our row intervals? Light bulb moment. Light bulb moment, indeed.

If we are simulating this exposure in our training, our body is going to have the same choices you have when dropped directly onto the top of powder on your winter ski trip to Steamboat: stay entirely in a negative-response, reactive state or start to improve its overall mechanics. That means if altitude acclimation can garnish me increased production of aerobic enzymes, increased numbers of mitochondria, and more dense concentrations of capillaries in my ever-so-crucial skeletal muscle tissue, just to name a few, and my test showed signs of my body reacting equivalently to our interval methodology… well, you don’t need to live at the top of the Rockies with the goats to promote adaptation, and you don’t need to train with a bag over your head. You can activate the intelligent design of your diaphragm and begin unlocking hidden powers that change the literal expression of your genes.

Train smarter. Meld the worlds of human ingenuity and biological adaptation. Don’t run with scissors, go run with the lizards.

Before we disband for the week, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t leave you with something to do: right now, unannounced (unless you are driving, operating heavy machinery, etc.), lay on the floor with a running timer and PERFORM A MAX TIME BREATH HOLD. Record your results. Then, throughout the week, continue to apply your interval training (2-3x) just like the testing environment. As an addition, focus on your diaphragm and breathing mechanics as often as you can. If you catch yourself in the car chest breathing, fix it. If you start rib cage heaving during your workout, diaphragm that shit. EACH DAY record how long you hold your breath in the same, laying-still configuration. Don’t forget. EVERY DAY. You will need this information when we jump off yet another cliff next week.

N=1: Five Percent

N=1. A sample size of one: you.
You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own.
This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty.
We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

By Cody Burkhart

 

 

Five percent. Doesn’t sound like much at first glance

 

Today we are going to get heady… in more ways than one. Might as well kick off the fun with a little nerdy dad-joke: my personal specialty.

What did my post row-interval pissed-off brain say to my nociceptor?

“You’re a real pain.”

Over the past week you have been digging into your test results, possibly collecting a few more data points to increase the quality of your experiment. You also probably got a few brief moments to gloss over some of the research topics I assigned as “speed dating” homework. We bought the yarn, studied the pattern, now let’s make us a quilt.

To begin fine tuning the analysis section I will refer back to my deltas that I posted last week:

 

The green column of distance variation pre and post the training mask interval testing was identified as our dominant measure. The intent in picking this measure goes back to the original question that put us on this path:

“If I strengthen the contractile function of the diaphragm, do I become super human or should we just let sleeping babes lie?”

I averaged a 348.5 meters per minute row interval over the four efforts on my baseline test. My resulting increase in row performance per interval (reminder: this is not considering any of my real-time data, but only compares where I started to where I finished in my re-test) was 17.75m. To solve for each of these all I did was add all my distances up for my baseline and divided by four, similarly I summed all my interval (green column) deltas from my post testing and divided by four. If I take the change I saw (17.75m), divide it by where I started (348.5m), and multiply by 100%… I will be solving for the percentage increase/decrease seen over the course of my experiment; in this case I saw approximately a 5% increase in my performance. There is nothing fancy about the math. There are tons of other statistical formulas we could run, but we are not trying to solve for pi to 100 decimal places here… we are trying to get a general grasp of what happened to our system (our bodies) by applying a new breathing tactic.

Five percent. Doesn’t sound like much at first glance. If I told you that you would get 5% off your next purchase you may not be moved to find this a considerable benefit on, say, your morning Starbucks. True, there are some of you that will run the numbers like me and see long term potential and become ecstatic for the 5%, but typically this could be seen as noise. When we talk about performance though, this is an entirely different story. If Usain bolt ran his world record 100m time from Berlin in 2009 (9.58s) the same 5% faster we wouldn’t just have a sub 9.5s human, we would have a 9.1s 100m bullet of a human soul. The same half a second decrease in the 100m time took over 50 years between 1956 with Willie Williams’ 10.1 and 2009 when Bolt hit his miraculous 9.58. Now, we are going to get plenty deep into the world touched on by David Epstein in “the Sports Gene” as it references technology’s hand in the improvement of human performance, but for now focus on the simple fact that 5% increase took over 50 years. Five percent. Doesn’t sound like much at first glance.

If I am trying to answer my base question with this organic progression of one of the most revered performance measures on earth, the answer is, certainly, “YES, diaphragm breathing for the win.” If analysis was that easy, you wouldn’t probably be cruising through this blog right now. The honest truth, however, is that it really is that easy. What isn’t easy is understanding if the connections we need to draw for this change, or any change that you might be experiencing from this or any other training method, are directed to our applied modification. What I mean by this is: did the training mask use increase my performance or was it the repetitive act of this new task or possibly the mentality I had during my baseline when I didn’t know what to expect v. my re-test when I knew what kind of consistent output I could manage? Fact is… I know, without a doubt, that I went harder on my re-test. I did, in fact, know that I could consistently hold a sub 1:30 500m split and not die by the final round in too terrible of a fashion. I also was in significantly more discomfort at the end of my fourth interval during my re-test than in my baseline.

If I left it here… you would walk away with “I knew there was a catch.”

Yeah, but I’m not the one who leaves it there because you have to also ask yourself the question: but what about fatigue from so many similar intervals of the same high intensity as a precursor to the re-test. I will tell you that I ran my baseline when I was sufficiently recovered to ensure there were no latent CNS fatigue issues or residual muscular deficiencies to skew my start point. The actual application occurred on back-to-back days… I came into the re-test practiced and timed, yes, but I also came in, effectively, more beat up. This is how the analysis game goes. It’s a rabbit hole of “well, wait, what about this factor’s influence on that factor?” This is why the addition of supplementary data can be highly beneficial.

Let’s take a look back at our toolkit of data: I had a decrease of my HR during and after my intervals as well as a lower saturation of oxygen. Considering we are talking breathing, I would be inclined to draw the immediate reaction that if I am getting more oxygen into my system during recovery, then wouldn’t my oxygen saturation rate show an increase when compared to my previous baseline? And since it doesn’t, wouldn’t that mean I wasn’t more efficient with my breathing? This assumes one tricky component that we can’t see: the levels of our CO2. Given that our SAO2 is higher than 95%, we are assumed to have normal neuron functioning, cellular oxygen supply to the muscles, and proper pressure. Fast check of our data confirms that we are in the clear, and definitely not below the 90% threshold that defines hypoxemia. How do we, know, then, if we are managing our CO2 better in response to our seemingly indeterminate results in oxygen levels in our blood? This is where the research side comes up to bat.

If the body doesn’t have enough CO2, that’s right I said NOT enough, bad things start to happen. If we follow the response of the negative side effects of clearing the off-gas CO2 from the energy pathway reactions in our body, something might just run into our data to help us out. Enter: hyperventilation. Go ahead… try it, we all know how. What happens? Feel like someone took your breath away when you are done? That’s because the over-breathing you just completed pushed more CO2 out than O2 in. The response of the body to the low levels of CO2 is vasoconstriction of the blood vessels to the brain and tightening of the airways. From last time we learned what happens to heart rate during vasoconstriction: it increases. Boom. I found my connection. I will know that I am over-breathing by the application of my diaphragm techniques, and that my drop in SAO2 is related to poor recovering breathing application, if I see a direct increase in my HR when compared to my baseline (and concurrently when compared to my decrease in SAO2 each interval). But, not the case. Instead my HR decreases as oxygen levels decrease and, overall, I am performing the extra workload at a lower HR demand. Supplementary data to the rescue.

I am not experiencing a CO2 fault, a concerning O2 decrease, and my heart rate overall is decreasing. The connections are starting to pan out between application of diaphragmatic breathing and performance increase. However, those of you who have dug deeper may blow the whistle here and throw out the “bull shit” flag for me using CO2 as an indicative measure to sew my story together, given the output time of my interval. By this I am referencing that efforts under 2min, but over :15-:30 access the fast glycolysis pathway of the Anaerobic system. This is that powerhouse system that uses a molecule of glucose to make a pair of ATP, some energy, and our friend lactic acid. Don’t hate on lactic acid, it’s just misunderstood… it’s actually the hydrogen ions (H+) that are reducing the affectivity of our muscles. Furthermore the accumulation of these ions in the blood slow down metabolism due to enzyme activity reduction. Slower metabolism = lower HR need. If I look at my results under this lens, I could say that I just had more glucose ready to get busy on my re-test day and that, no matter how I breathed, the results were going to improve because no oxygen was required for the pathway (i.e. Anaerobic = no oxygen).

Put down the pasta bowl you just whipped up in prideful celebration of proving carbs rule dominion over diaphragms. A brilliant scientist, Dr. Andy Galpin (while on our podcast), said it best:

“the metabolic pathways are much more like a paint brush of many colors, rather than an on and off function” (roughly translated)

I know for a fact that my heart rate stayed over 99 beats a minute throughout. This means, according to science, I stayed in tachycardia. Suddenly my fast glycolysis system was not being recovered, but I was sustaining a high stress to my system during a short recovery. Care to guess what efforts of over 2min but under 20min (my 18min test was no accident… it was informed preparation) fall under in the metabolic game of thrones? Slow glycolysis, an Aerobic function aka with oxygen. In slow glycolysis, lactic acid isn’t the waste product of the cycle, CO2 and water are via a combustion reaction. C02 levels rise, oxygen is used up, heart rate is down…. Hmmmm, could it possibly be that my breathing is keeping my slow glycolysis pathway active because of the sufficient levels of oxygen entering my body due to proper breathing dynamics? Consider this a bit… if your body knows it can’t get enough oxygen, do you think it’s going to lean on a highly oxygen driven energy system? And if my body knows it’s going to get more oxygen during the actual effort to run slow glycolysis in the background, then it can naturally, and confidently, secure the fast glycolysis pathway to perform at top output because it doesn’t have to continue running the non-renewable energy resource of local glucose in the muscles to recover. My body is becoming metabolically more adaptive. I can run the lactic acid levels and hydrogen ion levels up higher each interval because my proper gas exchange is going to run the recovery. Success is served.

Not every test will have these results. Not every test will succeed. You may have seen completely different responses to the stimulus than I did, but that doesn’t constitute a failure. If you are keto and you popped… perhaps you need to look at your protein and fat intakes more closely because your gluconeogenesis (producing glucose from non-carb substances) is not performing sufficiently. Perhaps you only saw increased performance, but at a cost of a higher heart rate. This is where inspection of your anaerobic threshold should be considered. You may have a low HR split to transition into fast glycolysis and need to recover longer from the heart rate spike of the workload.

Don’t become overwhelmed. One bite at a time is the best way to eat this elephant. The first bite was how to organize the data, the second bite was how to read it, the third was how to connect it… and, next, you need to apply it. Stay tuned, ladies and gents… this ride is only just beginning.

N=1: A Little Something for the Kids

N=1. A sample size of one: you.

You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own. This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty. We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

The Question: What is your objective?

The Baseline. What is your initial state?

Re-test v. Real Time.  How do you want to track your progress?

Supplementary Data. What extra information helps you draw deeper connections?

We have covered each (in case you are just joining us… you can catch up here) and are left with the Grand Poobah: The Analysis. As I said before, this is “the math stuff, the ‘how did it feel’ stuff, the biochemical stuff.  The stuff that starts to help generate understanding.”

I want to place emphasis on that final sentence.  Generate. We are not suddenly going to receive a parting of the clouds with rays of omniscient information raining down upon us (unless you have an incredibly robust subconscious brain).  We need to start fiddling with our data, throwing it on the floor in front of us, on a white board in the office or gym, or digitally into spreadsheets and plots.  Often times the pattern is right in front of us and we just need to help our brain connect the dots.  Right now, this is where you should be: a tally of data points over the past two weeks waiting for me to deliver you a golden key of an excel spreadsheet to unlock all the answers.  It may not be a golden key, but, as promised, you will find an attachment below to the spreadsheet I created. (A brief paragraph on how to use the spreadsheet is at the end of this post lest it become a foreign language to you and, therefore, unusable.).  So, what did the data show?  Not so fast… let’s give you some visuals to help out first.  These are the plots my spreadsheet will produce for you and your data (all dependent upon what you collected):

For reference:

Blue – Baseline Test

Orange – Day 1

Grey/Black – Day 2

Yellow – Day 3

Green – Re-Test

A bunch of colors, some crazy ass numbers, and lines that look like rockets fired in an old school MS DOS game. You may be overwhelmed at first, while others of you may be completely comfortable in this space. Either way, be open to what’s to come. First, a clarification. What is the R2 value next to each trendline? Well, trendline is your line of best fit: the guestimate of what your data points have in common. This line can be made by using many different mathematical equations from linear (does y=mx+b ring a bell) to power functions and exponentials. In statistics “R squared” is known as the coefficient of determination. The fancy words will say things its “main purpose is the prediction of future outcomes or the testing of hypotheses, on the basis of other related information” (Wikipedia, coefficient of determination). All that roughly means is that by displaying the R2 value, I can test out, essentially, how accurate of a guess my trendline selection is to the data set. The closer to 1, the more accurate the selected math model is to my data. Now, the point is not to go with whatever option from the menu gets you closest to 1, but, rather, to examine the different options and their coefficients as you gain an understanding of your experiment. You can start to see patterns that you may not have seen before and then you can start correlating them to what makes sense.

What does that mean? Let’s focus on an example:you take all your distance data from the rows and plot them in the excel spreadsheet. You notice you have an R2 value of 0.8 for roughly each data set using a 2nd order polynomial line of best fit (2nd order polynomials make one hump aka the parabola, 3rd order makes two humps aka an “S”, etc.) You decide to tinker with the trendline and change your baseline to a 5th order polynomial, giving you a much higher R2 value of 0.95. When you apply the same option to the rest of the data sets, however, you notice that while some increase, others decrease… one even drops below 0.5. While there are some case that using different trendlines within a single data set can help identify specific behaviors of a system, we typically don’t want to judge things based on different sets of rules. Double standards seem to cause all sorts of fun in the world. Don’t add to it with your mad scientist work. (If you don’t believe me try to tell a 5 year old why he can’t do something that you can do). Rather, I encourage you to except that one of the “big four” usually gives you the highest overall R squared value for all the data sets in your plot. Those “big four” are: linear, exponential, logarithmic, and polynomial (2nd order). If you want to get thick into the weeds, grab a statistics book or start chasing the dragon on the internet.

In the case of the data I collected, I felt comfortable keeping the polynomial (2nd order) parabola across the board for my data sets. How did I come to this conclusion? The same way you can come to a similar conclusions with your own data and any data you may test/analyze in the future. Consider what is happening in our base measure of distance: I am performing intervals at my max effort, but as each interval comes along I am going to get more and more fatigued. The likelihood of my performance being as high in the rounds to follow becomes less and less likely. I relate this to shooting a bullet at a target. If I shoot in exactly the same place but move my target to farther and farther distances between shots, I will notice that it may be dead on for the first 100, 200, maybe even 300yds, but eventually it starts to drop and then eventually it falls off. Just like me on the rower.

If you remember back a few weeks, I picked my interval distance because I knew I would reach the point where I stopped focusing on my rowing position and skill and start focusing, instead, on pure survival. I will assure you I went to my limit. The shear amount of pain my legs were in after the final round would have made for a great gif. I would walk like two steps and then lay down, roll around helplessly, then try to stand back up and walk… only to end up sitting in a nearby chair only five steps further. I even tried getting on a treadmill at one point just to move blood and found myself barely keeping pace at 1.2mph as each step suggested my legs might collapse under me. Know the limits, but make sure they know you aren’t afraid to test them a bit.

All recovery antics aside, this is the common projectile math of middle/high school physics class and we all have seen the image of a projectile path (the basketball shot arch) looking like a parabola. Since my performance, in my experience, would follow a similar slow reduction until sudden degradation process, the parabolic best fit seemed ideal. When I compared it to the other three in the “big four” across (and this is key) all my data sets, it also had the highest averages for my R squared.

I tested my hypotheses against the math and received confirmation. Sometimes you may not have your concept match the data. Sometimes the big four won’t cut it. Sometimes you have to throw out data points to get a really solid grasp of what is going on (this is exemplified in the deltas plot of my test vs my retest values… I removed the pre measure and post measure to see how my body behaved during the workload). It’s a game and, just like any game, you will get better at it the more you do it. You will also get better at it the more information you bring to the table on the topic. For instance, even though I may know how gravity works, without more research on its effects on orbiting bodies and studying Newton’s Laws of Motion, it will be hard for me to understand why the golf ball I just crushed is quickly making its way to Jupiter instead of coming back to the ground.

It’s examples like this that are driving the next move I will be making with you: I am not going to give you any answers this week.

This is not the analysis post you were expecting, I know. Sorry, I’m not sorry. Remember when I said the training wheels would be coming off? This is phase one. Rest assured, we will get into what all the numbers mean and you will have the breakout you want, but, for now, I want you to input your data, read a few topics, and start drawing some conclusions before I begin shoving my own brain propaganda down your throat. I want you to push your own limits. This way you can predict how you could do things differently for your own outcomes; remember my body may react totally different than yours and that’s the entire freaking point of this blog. Don’t just read my stream of words and be a “yes” man/woman, apply the concepts in their most basic form and empower your own understanding.

You have the excel sheet with examples above on how things will look when you are done. We also covered how trendlines worked to prepare you to read the information you are seeing on the screen. That’s the nuts and bolts of the hardware, but the actual components will require homework this week. To help, here is a list of topics to chase after and get acquainted with… you don’t need to marry the ideas, just speed date them and the ones you like the most can be taken out for dinner and a movie:

  • Energy systems and metabolic pathways
  • Lactic Acid and the difference between aerobic and anaerobic
  • Blood glucose and gluconeogenesis
  • Hydration and the pump mechanisms that move fluid into and out of a cell
  • Myelin and how it relates to skill development
  • Parasympathetic and Sympathetic responses in the body
  • Shared communication channels between the heart and the brain

There are literally lifetimes of data in each category above. Don’t try to become an expert. Try to find things that connect back to what your data suggests. If you were like me and saw a lower heart rate response from the intervals in your re-test as compared to your baseline… what could be causing it? What does it all say about why you did better or worse with the mask on? Does it have any relationship to why you stumbled around the gym with open consideration to rip your legs off your body instead of dealing with their implosion? If you didn’t test, look at my data and plots. Imagine they were your outputs… this is not about you all having done the test, but about figuring out how to read it and react to it.

When we meet again we are going to talk about overarching principles of the analysis and then we are going to start jumping into each one on its own, exploring the depth and breadth of what it has to offer, and see what other cool experiments we want to try by the time this is all over. To me, it’s not enough to learn a few things and say “hmmm, news to me” and move along. I want to slide into home plate in shorts, face first, screaming.

N=1: The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men

N=1. A sample size of one: you.

You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own. This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty. We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

By Cody Burkhart

“The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry” — Robert Burns

Today you are expecting to receive the fifth and final tier to understanding your own personal experiment: The Analysis. Unlike the future experiments we will be covering in this blog, I developed this one to be performed live with you instead of completing all the work in advance so that we can talk in-depth about what we are learning from the results. For this experiment, we would both be in the trenches together.

Then fate provided a misstep in my journey with the passing of a family member. The result was an inability to be around the equipment necessary to gather enough data points for the Training Mask experiment to demonstrate value added to our conversation. The silver linings, though, are where the magic comes from all this.

I will still keep my promise to deliver the analysis conversation, the excel spreadsheet, and my own data for you all to piggy back off of, but we are going to take a tangent in our journey to talk about something that often happens in life: the unexpected. We must be honest with ourselves and realize that there will be times that the rest of our life, outside our little human experimentation projects, presents scenarios that require quick adaptation. Adaptation may come in many forms.

Perhaps you forget your digital pulse oximeter at home on a testing day? I did that exact thing on my baseline test day for our training mask experiment and ended up driving all the way home and straight back while on a telecon just to pick it up. I could have, instead, elected to postpone my baseline. Yet another option could have been self-checking my HR using my two fingers and a clock. There are all kinds of options if we take a moment and examine the situation before letting it stress us. Each of these options comes with it its own risk-to-reward balance. By properly understanding how I built my experiment, though, I can make even smarter choices because I have a clear layout of my intent and impact of each, and every, element. For instance, had I elected to measure my own HR I would not have had my SAO2 data, but with only one missed data set I could still, likely, see the trend over time (benefits of deciding on a combination of my “Re-test v. Real Time”). Under the same investigation, I also could accept that the SAO2 was, simply, part of my supplementary data and was, by nature, not required to answer my initial question. I could still record the quantitative performance metric of my distance on each interval (remember I was rowing for meters) along with qualitative measures of how I feel during each session.

Analyzing the impacts above is just an exercise we can run on our experiment before getting started. It verifies that we have concise reasons for what we are doing and, justifiably, weight the importance of each component. At the same time, this exercise is also meant to keep testing fun and low stress.

This desire for reduction in stress is especially important in a case such as the one we are investigating. Why? Let’s engage you a bit… I want you to imagine the last time you were stressed out. What did it feel like? What did you notice? As Eminem would say “palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy; There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.” We can both agree you also notice the changes to your heart as it pounds on the inside of your chest like a caged animal; the blood rushing past your ears, its pressure making your mind fog over with thumps. That may all sound a touch overdone and cliché, but at the same time, it really isn’t. We know there are exact physiological processes going on that make my storybook tone accurate as to the intensity of stress and its changes to our heart.

This relates to our experiment because we know that we are examining implications of our diaphragm on our breathing. If breathing changes, then we are directly impacting gas exchange of fresh O2 in and toxin CO2 out, performed by pumping blood through our lungs’ alveoli. It’s accurate, under these connections, to see how our heart rate and breathing have a deeply personal relationship. Don’t believe me? Interactive moment of the day #2: Find your pulse right now. Start huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf and see if you notice any changes to your HR. The best part of our situation is that the same connections work in the reverse order: anything that impacts our heart rate impacts our breathing in return. Stress directly impacts the results of our experiment. Avoidance of stress through preparation, then, is crucial.

We could be done right there.

Many writers would be happy with the result to their reader: you learned that stress is bad for this test and maybe picked up some techniques to reduce it. Sounds like every self-help blog on the internet. This is not one of those blogs. I, instead, can only imagine that you are still wondering to yourself, “But Cody, what is the stress actually doing? What am I really trying to control by reducing my stress levels?” I wondered the same a few years back when one of countless positive message spinners in my life told me: “reduce your stress levels.” This is how the mind of someone immersed in the #nequals1 game gets: you don’t just want to hear it or feel it or understand it. No, no, no… you want all three.

I hate the “one thing led to another” concept, but this is a massive topic so we are going to define an origin for the sake of simplicity…

Our story begins as a camera chase scene behind a stress signal at it arrives in the hypothalamus: the body’s homeostasis “Grand Central Station.” This region of the brain has many functions including the link between the endocrine system and the nervous system by way of the pituitary gland. In synthesizing and secreting neurohormones (release hormones) to the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus can also control many metabolic processes and command pivotal tasks like fatigue, hunger, and the balance of your fluids and electrolytes.

Under stress, one particular homeostatic function directed by the hypothalamus is an increase in cardiovascular tone; a fancy way of saying, vasoconstriction: reduction in the diameter of blood vessels. Remembering back to our work with Boyle’s law, we determined that if pressure increased in our system then our volume decreased. This means that constricting the blood vessel, aka adding pressure to the system, reduces the volume of blood in the same length of vessel (think soda can vs. coffee can… similar height but vastly different volumes). By constricting peripheral vessels we keep more blood flow away from unnecessary tasks and redirect it to the big muscles required to get us out of danger. Examples of peripheral vessels affected include those provided to our skin, which is why you turn into Casper the ghost when you are in shock or people say you look pale when you are stressed out. Along the same lines as its ability to change the dilation of vessels, the hypothalamus goes as far as causing the chain reactions that manipulate the dilation of your airways to allow you to extract more oxygen with every breath.

Pause. Go back.

“Did he just say that I get more oxygen from every breath? Isn’t that helping to support improvements of breath on my body’s performance and recovery?”

Yes and yes, but… you had to know there was a catch coming. There is an optimal stress for performance, the whole “getting into the zone” element (we will be getting to in this more in the future with our research into the world of groups like The Flow Genome Project) is a great output tool. The “but” comes in over-stimulation. If we bring in stress from our day, it’s only adding to the stress of testing and the stress of our actual physical workload. All thanks to the fact that the more stress we build up and carry with us, the more our hypothalamus releases CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) and triggers ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) in the pituitary gland. Just by looking at these precursor hormones names you may already know the problem child. Can you guess what the pituitary and ACTH are telling the adrenal glands to dump into our bodies like it’s a store closing sale? That’s right… glucocorticoids: hormones that are responsible for glucose metabolism.

Oh… not what you were thinking? Perhaps you were thinking about, arguably, the most popular of this class of hormones: Cortisol. Take the arterial constriction properties of cortisol and mix them with the increased the heart rate caused by the epinephrine from the fight-or-flight response. Now we are trying to have our cake and eat it, too.

This is where the thumping begins to go from a nervous-ready state to an overwhelming “DEFCON 5”. Suddenly, I feel like I’m running in sand or lifting with a weight vest on via the culmination of many common systems acting in response to a threat, resulting in a massively higher heart rate over a long period of time (“you know, because hitting your red limiter continuously is a good thing and all,” he says, dripping with sarcasm). Why the massive increase? In order to move more blood through my body to handle the extra oxygen intake of my dilated airways, I have to overcome the reduction in total volume in each “inch” of my constricted vessels. If I have less blood in the vessel from my pressure increase (going back, back to Boyle, Boyle) but still have to increase my overall flow rate (the amount of mass – but let’s assume uniform density so we can simplify it to volume – moving through a specific point in a common length of time like one second) what major option does my body have up its sleeve? Your body turns to the engine and increases the heart rate. If I pump harder and faster, I can overcome the changes to my vessels.

Looping back to where we started, we identified that breathing is directly related to heart rate. With this in mind, if we see stress increasing our heart rate, without knowing anything else, we know there are direct impacts of stress also on our breathing and, therefore, our experiment. It is exactly why there was a silver lining to my stressful life event. In dealing with stress I can noticeably see the impacts to my mental clarity and my physical performance. I can hear my heart beat pounding through my chest and I can feel my breath pattern changing. I know the impacts can invalidate my test. Either I work to mitigate them or I fix my moment, lock it up, and get back at it later, when I am ready. This is the game I want to teach you to play: the one that doesn’t just accept a bad performance or an outlier data point as trash. This is the game that screams at you to dig deeper and find out what Alice knows.

It’s not about becoming a scientist. It’s about becoming the experiment. It’s not about dealing with your shit. It’s about learning from it … every day, every joy, every pain, every success and every defeat.

Now you are starting to get a taste of where we are headed…

As we head down this road, you, too, will collide with both small and large adversities. I say collide because, quite literally, impacts with these events will directly change your speed and direction in life. It’s why we call them life-altering events. You and I get to decide how to manage those deviations to our journey and, ultimately, we will also experience the fallout (consequences) of those management choices. I want to be transparent with you in this process because doing so builds your respect and trust. As part of this transparency, I want you to know that right now, I hurt. I am stressed. The pain of losing someone is immense. The past couple years has had a trend of loss for me, but it does not make this one easier. Fact is, the idea of saying goodbye to someone younger than myself, someone I loved, shared life with, and in whom I saw so many gifts and talents… it’s devastating. My hypothalamus has been on overdrive and the random places/positions I have “nodded off” into a micro nap today alone are just traces of the impact it is having on my body and my mind. I get to, however, decide how to mitigate these feelings of grief and disappointment. I choose to embrace her life and my own. I choose not to weep for how she left, but for how she lived. To not be mad at my own loss, but feel a warm embrace in knowing her pain is over. I will empower myself with action. I will take the things I wish I had said and give that knowledge to my own son and anyone who will listen. So if you are listening…

Love hard, it’s not easy. Laugh often, it’s contagious. Cry with your whole soul, it’s cleansing. Never take for granted the gifts you have to share with the world. Being a hero to one person means everything to them. Change a life. Let these kinds of thoughts dance through your heart and mind. They are the cures to the stress, the preventative maintenance to everything else in your day. The body does not work without the mind. If you are leaving yourself in pain, fatigue, and stress over the problems of the world it’s like leaving your command center full of non-essential personnel. Good luck trying to get anything worth putting your name on done under those conditions. And if you ask me…. If you don’t feel like putting your name on everything you do… I suggest you start re-examining your priorities. You can be lost and never even know it. It’s a big world out there.

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” -D.H. Lawrence

Mackenzie… this one is for you, little sis. I will cherish the moments we had, always. I love you.

N=1: The Compass and Map Test Matrix

N=1. A sample size of one: you.
You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own.
This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty.
We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

The Compass is more powerful with the Map by its side: A road map to building a proper test matrix

By Cody Burkhart

When we last left our hero…

You were left wielding some variations of diaphragmatic breathing protocols to see what effects they had on you; open-ended, no real rules, and simple solutions. Let’s assume, for the sake of progression, you have been spending the last week developing the skill of breathing with the diaphragm and are noticing some differences (not described as positive or negative – simply deltas from your baseline) in your training session via their application. You likely have this feeling inside of whether or not this skill set is improving the performance metric you are using to validate it against. A feeling in your gut.

The gut reaction: the kind of beautiful, sub-conscious calculations that your brain does every moment of its functioning life are the cornerstone of much research including work like Blink . But, what is that churning feeling deep in your center telling you about breathing? Can you trust it? Do you even know what kind of feeling you are looking for? Did other changes to your week, your day, or your mindset affect the outcome? Slippery slope. Slippery slope, indeed.

The best way to build confidence in your gut is to start infusing it with more data. Creating a proper framework for how to test, controlling that framework for repeatability and comparing your results to initial measurements are all part of the recipe to success in becoming your own experiment. My solution to this is simple, let’s build an experiment you can easily do yourself and identify the steps of the process along the way. You should leave with not only homework to start your first test, but clear guidelines to make more of them and break down any you may find in your exploration of the data mine that the world has to offer.

THE QUESTION

Science is not about being an expert of all knowledge as many people get suckered into believing. At the core of being a scientist, first, is being inquisitive. It’s all about questioning the world instead of simply accepting it as it stands. Empowerment v. Enablement. However, knowing where you stand in a self-discovery test, especially a test as open-ended as I left you in the last post on diaphragmatic breath practices, is not second nature… it’s a learned skill. Previously I asked:

“If I strengthen the contractile function of the diaphragm, do I become super human or should we just let sleeping babes lie?”

You may be asking yourself in retrospect, is “strength” the solution? Or are you simply kick-starting a more efficient activation of the innate response of the body to use the diaphragm as the primary air mover? This kind of cycle of questions can quickly become a spider web and is what gets most of us overwhelmed with science, let alone creating a genuine hypothesis and then testing on ourselves. That’s exactly what we don’t want. The ENTIRE point of this blog is to arm you with skills to test on yourself, not leave you frustrated and confused. That’s why you and I are going to build the first experiment together, lay it all out cleanly, get data together, and learn to apply that knowledge in an environment where we actually grasp the reason for our failures or successes.

Our first test is going to center around the Training Mask. That said, if you are not interested in picking one up just replace the Training Mask in this example with the Sandbag Breathing. As a refresher this is a simple supine breathing style focused on breathing with the belly as opposed to the rib cage. You might say “but the results with just breathing are going to be different than that of the training mask.” Are you so sure? How do you know what the response is going to be if you immediately close out all possibilities? This is the nature of the right question. It has to be broad enough to leave room for possibility, but precise enough that it can be tested. The point? Don’t get hooked on the exact tool used. Focus, instead, on the point of the tool, find a similar setup that aims to produce the same effect at the most simple form, and then be concerned with your own results and not the noise of anyone else around you.

Our question is based on using the diaphragm to breathe and whether or not actively applying that skill will cause improvements that might seem super human. I am electing to use a training mask to force breathing with the diaphragm because my own personal use of the TM has always forced me to engage my diaphragm out of more than just focused practice, but out of necessity. My question has helped me find a resource to use for a test, your resource can be different… it just has to always focus back on the question you are ultimately trying to answer.

THE BASELINE

So I have a “what”, but now I need a “how.” The hard part about “how” is that it’s extremely hard to define the results of my Darth Vader mask if I haven’t defined a starting point: my baseline. Without it, I will be stumbling in the dark with wherever I find myself in the end. Without an origin, I have no real concept of the delta or the change that I experienced in my performance. In proper use of a test, we aren’t training to train, we are training to evolve.

A baseline for this test, or any test, needs a set of initial conditions or data points. As in our example, I propose the use of total distance for a monostructural effort over an interval-based workout. I have chosen to record my max effort distance of rowing in meters for a specific number of rounds of my own comfortable interval length. My baseline, therefore, has a simple structure (complexity can be a killer), a rather precise metric for measuring my output, and leaves me lots of options for reusing it for other tests like comparing the use of sandbag breathing to that of the training mask that I will be using.

My workout looks like this:

4RDS:

1min max effort (meters) row

2min rest to recover

In simpler terms its:

SOME NUMBER OF ROUNDS:

(Some Time of Effort) performed at max effort (Recording Some Numerical Measurement) for a Monostructrural Activity

2:1 Rest/Work Ratio

The point of splitting it out like this is to get you to see how you can break apart any test you see out in the “big white cloud” of the internet and make it work for your constraints and your level. For instance, if a test says run five three-mile intervals and you can’t remember the last time you ran three miles in a straight stretch… an 800m or a mile will feel quite similar to your body. High practice breeds high skill… translated: work at your skill level and over time you can take on new explorations of your capabilities. This blog will never be about breaking yourself – rest assured I will engage you to push the limits but not by going ninety miles an hour into a concrete wall. This is about deeply sampling yourself and the world around you, so your baseline should be something you can repeat and feel comfortable in performing.

RE-TEST v. REAL TIME

Sometimes the baseline we establish is left untouched, pristine, and constant across a test plan. From here we can go off, immersed in our experiment, before returning to a re-test for an apples to apples. Another option, though, exists. I can choose to repeat the test through many sessions; tracking gradual progress and receiving more immediate feedback. Everyone has their preference and sometimes the nature of our test will direct us to a best option. Often we will even combine the two variations; that is exactly what I want to do for this test. I want to use a re-test to track my total change across the testing timeline, but also perform real time data collection by imbedding my protocol into the exact structure of my baseline test.

My example of generating immediate feedback for this particular test will be taking the first 30 seconds of my recovery period, of each interval, and breathe with the training mask on during this time. I will follow this immediately by breathing without the mask on for the remaining 1:30 of my rest. While this is not a strong dose, I provide you with a fair warning: those first 30 seconds with a mask on are going to make you want to break away from the protocol with haste. I challenge you not to; the dosing is often the magic in the sauce.

My real-time variation for testing the effects of the training mask overlaid on my baseline looks like this:

4RDS:

1min max effort (meters) row

:30 recovery breathing with training mask (set @ 6k feet)

1:30 rest to recover

Right here I have the foundation for a good experiment. I can perform my baseline and then perform the training mask workout 2 or 3 times a week for a couple weeks and have a nice chunk of data that will show the progression and effects of the training mask on performance and recovery. And, as I mentioned, I will even go further by adding a re-test of the baseline. This way I can really explore how much affect my dose of the training mask is having on my individual homeostasis (that innate kick-start we pondered about).

SUPPLEMENTARY DATA

I have an issue, though, and maybe many of you do as well: I like to over-achieve. My brain wants to ask more questions when I’m done than when I started. One way to really open up this channel of thinking, and springboard myself to further testing protocols, is by adding more methods for collecting other unique forms of data. It like the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.”

Coming prepared to gather more data than the minimum needed to answer our question is not at all required, but it can give us new insight into the actual effects of what it is our body is doing. There isn’t a perfect set of data you can gather every time in this uncertain world.  To get the right idea you need to look at the experiment and identify what knowledge you already have on the subject. In the case of our diaphragm test we know we are deep into the world of breathing. Breathing means bringing in O2 in and pushing CO2 out and, to do this, the heart is going to be in charge of moving the blood around to make the gas exchange at the lungs occur. So I would be logical in finding ways to measure some of these facts.

That said, I am going to enhance my data set by recording my oxygen saturation rate (SAO2) and resting heart rate (RHR) using a digital pulse oximeter. These measures will be added at the beginning and end of the total session, as well as a minute into my two-minute recovery period after the max effort. I’m not interested in bogging down the plan or muddying the water, so let’s look at how this changes our workout structure:

4RDS:

1min max effort (meters) row

:30 recovery breathing with training mask (set @ 6k feet)

[@ 1min post effort, Measure/Record SAO2, RHR]

1:30 rest to recover

[Measure/Record SAO2, RHR 5min after the end of the session]

Add in the re-test of the baseline after multiple uses of my training mask protocol and I am left with a sizeable chunk of information that I can sift through when the dust has settled.

THE FIVE DEGREES OF SEPARATION

Now, if you stumbled onto the conversation here, you might be like: “What in Dante’s First Ring of Hell is going on here?” Instead, we have gone step by step to get to the “Promised Land.” This process is opening up opportunity for us to reverse engineer any test.

Much like the fanciful game to idolize Kevin Bacon, I have proposed five tiers to any experiment that you need to look for to apply your own variation. The hope is that you can take a mind-numbing test protocol and simplify it with these tools in hand. Each of these were just covered, but let’s go back and boost long-term memory retention:

  • The Question

What is the test trying to answer? There is always a hypothesis at some level.

  • The Baseline

Set a start point. Deltas define results.

  • Re-test v. Real Time

Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other, sometimes it’s a mix-and-match. This important step helps you understand the premise of the data collected and how you might read the results or restructure future testing.

  • Supplementary Data

When diving into any rabbit hole, grabbing extra data can help find correlations; unforeseen outcomes become regular occurrences when you have more accessible information.

  • The Analysis

The math stuff, the “how did it feel” stuff, the biochemical stuff. The stuff that starts to help generate understanding.

Your brain may currently be calling to attention that we only talked about the first four layers. Rest assured, this is intentional. My goal is to give you concrete examples using our first test on how each of the sections works. So, before we can talk results, you and I have some data to collect and some n=1 testing to perform. For this reason, I will cover the analysis in the next post.

For now, I would love for you to participate along with me and openly share your results with the community. To entice you, I’m even going to make an excel spreadsheet to attach to the next post that you can use to quickly analyze your data. Nothing flashy, just something to help you sort through your data in the same way I will be sorting through mine: a practical application of the knowledge. If you roughly follow my protocol, I promise it will be easy to input your data.

Once we have the data, we can start to, not only, talk about the biological agents at play, but also identify connections to other topics that share common traits. This is when things will get really fun, when we get to chase performance like a cheetah to its prey. If we are successful in setting up our test matrix, you will be strapped up and ready for combat. Reader beware: there is no enablement here… the training wheels are going to be ripped off soon.

Now it’s time for you to go get busy on your homework and start making yourself your own metric for comparison, your own data set. From there we can start to tune your confidence in that gut feeling we introduced this post with by reinforcing it with physical results. As the Seuss says:

“You’re off to Great Places!  Today is your Day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!” — Dr. Seuss

Boyles Law and the Diaphragm: N=1

N=1. A sample size of one: you.

You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own. This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty.We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.
By Cody Burkhart

We have all seen a baby peacefully lying asleep, its little “coos” filling the air. While you may have likely never paid attention to the breath patterns of a little one with specific intent, I bet your mind’s eye can remember this visual image: a tiny belly filling up like a carnival balloon with each inhalation. Pause a moment… are you breathing with your belly? Or is your chest and shoulders rising as the air filling your lungs presses your rib cage up and outward as its expands to make room?  Not to burst your bubble… but that baby, you need to pay attention to what it’s teaching you.  He or she has not, yet, gathered all the bad habits you have and their diaphragm is working like a dream. That’s right… the diaphragm:

“A dome-shaped, muscular partition separating the thorax from the abdomen in mammals. It plays a major role in breathing, as its contraction increases the volume of the thorax and so inflates the lungs.”    –Google definition

The diaphragm

The diaphragm is one of those things that gets used an awful lot in conversations regarding the body and training because of that primary role in breathing.  What I see/hear more times than not, however, is a clear misconception of how the diaphragm actually works and what ways we can develop it.  The biggest issue becomes trying to wrap your mind around how the contraction helps to inflate your lungs. 

Often I hear this: “When you engage the diaphragm, the muscle pulls down and you can get more air into your lungs.”  This is both correct and incorrect because the mental image most people get is that you are just trying to engage the muscle to push down your organs in order to free up space in your thorax.  The issue with this is that it turns the active scenario of the diaphragm into a somewhat passive lens.  People begin to think that it’s like pushing a cubicle divider back: “the more I push it back, the more living space I have to enjoy the bliss of my work day.” While this helps people wrap their mind around the idea that activating the diaphragm can give them “more room” for more air… it takes away a concept of how the diaphragm works.  It, instead, turns the diaphragm into a boring wall with places to hang pictures of your kid.

To clarify this concept

Let’s relate your diaphragm to a syringe: simplistic in design, but beautiful in its application.  Your body, like the syringe, takes advantage of natural laws to increase the amount of air it can pull in through a concept called Boyle’s Law.  To explain this, replace every sliding wall or divider image you have had in the past with the image of a syringe.  A syringe has a very unique difference to that of a wall… it has a seal between the outer diameter of the plunger and the inside diameter of the tube.  This seal prevents air, fluid, etc. from leaking out the bottom of the tube.  Now, think about that syringe pulling fluid out of a vial… retraction of the plunger not only increases “space” for the fluid to fill, but when we pull the plunger back it actually pulls the liquid into the syringe.  This isn’t magic but, rather, follows a simple concept: Boyle’s Law.

Mathematically, this law is written as P1V1 = P2V2.

Where P is pressure, V is volume.

In words, it means that there is an inverse relationship of pressure and volume of a gas in a closed system. 

Essentially, Boyle’s Law means that if I don’t have any holes in my syringe (closed system), as I make more room in the syringe (pulling the plunger aka “moving the wall”) the pressure inside the syringe changes in the exact opposite fashion. So, if the volume goes up (more space), then the pressure goes down.  Due to the reduction in pressure inside the syringe, our system of the vial and the syringe wants to try and balance out its own Boyle’s Law: the two elements seek to balance out the pressure.  The result? Liquid flows from the vial into the syringe to reduce the difference in pressure.  This is the same process for air movement that is, basically, vacuumed into our thoracic/abdominal space and lungs via our diaphragm.  

 To grasp the raw impact of this effect, imagine how much work you would have to do in order to push liquid into the syringe if the plunger couldn’t move.  An incredible force would be needed and only a little bit of the plastic syringe would flex, which means a ton force over a short distance aka “a metric ton of work.”  But on the other side of the token, how easy is it to pull the plunger back in a syringe… I bet you can do it one handed?  Relate this back to your diaphragm, connected like a seal to your inner cavity… The principle is that you get more air movement for less work by properly using the diaphragm to breath, as opposed to forcefully expanding your rib cage trying to huff and puff like the big bad wolf with your lungs only.

This is the beauty in the design…

Your body takes advantage of natural laws to increase the amount of air it can pull in.  Now we can transfer more total air across our lungs’ capillaries on the exhalation, which directly correlates to removing more waste and CO2 from our bodies with every breath.  (More to come on this is a connected post, but for now a taste…)

Not only do you provide yourself with more oxygen to, say, stay aerobic under workload (keeping yourself from becoming anaerobic and burning your glycogen stores down like a 5-alarm fire), but you are also promoting recovery by eliminating toxins generated as waste due to your body’s general workload.  In fact, I’m sure there are countless infographics that proudly proclaim the following: approximately 70% of your waste is not disposed of via your porcelain throne, but through breathing.  The diaphragm isn’t just a wall – some partitioned space that you move to make more room for activities – it’s oxygenating your body, clearing waste, and all with very little energy required as your smart biology games with the rules of physics. 

So what to do?

Well… now that we have the training wheels off, let’s go run with scissors and see where we find ourselves.  It’s time for the first experiment…

If I strengthen the contractile function of the diaphragm, do I become super human or should we just let sleeping babes lie?

This is where you come in, this is the whole “getting dirty” part.  The thing about developing strength in the diaphragm, and adequate control of its functioning to a state where it becomes instinctual, is not a game of seconds.  It’s a game of deep practice, the kind Coyle can get behind.  You can dive deep into the billions of pages out on the web and find some really great information, and I encourage you to do so, but to get you started – and to introduce the first experiment we will be discussing – I want to give you some concepts to try out and test on yourself; help you become that n = 1.

Without further ado, here are three very different methods to work on your diaphragm control (all of which I have experimented with, in depth):

1. Sandbag breathing and Yoga breathing

This basic breathing style known as sandbag breathing is all about allowing your body (beginning in a supine position) to return to a natural state, like the sleeping baby from earlier, by having you focus on softening your abdomen and letting your belly (not your chest) rise and fall with your breaths. To make use of this skill further, is to start applying the same feel of breath you receive from the sandbag practice in basic yoga positions.  Don’t go out the gates with an intense balance posture; instead, work your way up through half and full lotus to warrior stances and squat positions.  The entire goal is to patiently let your body relax to engage the diaphragmatic breath in any position you face.  This is not an entire solution, however, because often we need core engagement in our positions to hold them. So… if you get extra frisky, go check out the fiesta over at diaphragmatic rib cage breathing next.

 2. Core development work

The diaphragm is really just one part to the four walls that the core built.  In developing each of them we create a stronger foundation for use of the diaphragm.  Maybe you have already spent lots of time developing breathing styles, but you still struggle with overcoming chest breathing because you do not have the stability of a strong core to maintain position and movement of the diaphragm.  For example, if I collapse forward in a squat, I eliminate the ability for my diaphragm to move; all I am left with is my lungs to expand my rib cage.  To correct this, spend time applying work and training of not just your diaphragm, but also of your Transversus Abdominis (The Corset), Pelvic Floor Muscle (Yes, men you have one too), and Multifidi (The Back Support). 

3. Training Mask application

Diaphragm training self-application is worth its weight. The TM turns normal inhalations into struggles of will and focus.  Whether that happens to you at the 3k feet or 18k feet settings isn’t the point; the goal is to strengthen the diaphragm and generate neurological timing.  As soon as you have to fight to take in air, your body overrides your desire to chest heave for the larger desire of getting its oxygen levels back to normal.  To do so, it, literally, forces you to start taking the biological brilliance to heart and pull with your diaphragm.  Easy applications include wearing the mask as part of your warm up routine or in the initial :15-:30 seconds of recovery from a sprint interval or lift.  In the former case, you tell your body to focus on using the diaphragm first to slowly create an instinctual response throughout the rest of the training session. In the latter, well… let’s leave some mystery and simply state that if you slam a training mask onto your muzzle after your next 400m sprint… you are going to learn some things about the beauty of breathing with your diaphragm.

Conclusion

That gives you a good place to start.  A little bucket of concepts to beta test in your gym space and home laboratories.  Don’t look at these as “The best 3 exercises to be an awesome breather” but rather as honest test cases.  Apply one, compare how you feel throughout the process of a few weeks, and assess it against the rest.  Combine what works best and throw the rest away.  There isn’t enough time in a day to do everything.  Become surgically honest with yourself. As Bruce Lee states:

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

This blog isn’t about being told what to do… it’s about giving you enough opportunities to experience yourself, and your interaction with the environment.  

N=1: You Are The Experiment

N=1. A sample size of one: you.

You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own. This blog is intended to help you improve your health and performance with information and research on new methods and parameters, and as a ground-zero for getting dirty.

We want to empower you to test things on yourself; to explore the possibilities and extract what works for you and what doesn’t. You may find that adding turmeric is groundbreaking in your life, but don’t just trust the tests or the guru. Be your own guru. Feel your body, respond to it, keep what is good, and discard what is bad. It’s that simple.

Chasing your performance limits.

We are going to chase the limits here. You will see us at our mad-scientist best. We are going to remind you of knowledge built off years of testing, and then we are going to try to break it. Nothing is going to be off limits. Lots of things will be complete failures. We may find solutions to problems we weren’t even trying to answer.
It’s going to be raw.

Scientist or not, you have likely seen sample sizes at one point or another in your life. A sample size, at its simplest form, is the number of items that a test was run on to generate enough data to make fancy stats; fancy stats that tell you what the general results were of the test and what can be expected of future application. Essentially, if I take 100 people and apply the same test conditions to each of them, I can say that my sample size is n=100.

My results of whatever is tested will likely yield some sort of pattern and average. If you read my results, you can have a good idea of what the effects will be if you, under the same conditions, attempted to apply the tested regimen to yourself. You will likely find yourself falling within the error band of the “normal” results. But sometimes… you won’t.

Your response to training.

You may respond highly to a specific program or stimulus. You may not be a responder at all. No one else has the same genetic make-up, environment, diet, training program, sleep schedule, etc. as you. We are all unique specimens and that is, by far, the most fantastic, and often most frustrating, component.
Rather than be confused about why you didn’t see the same results as the test group in the newest late night infomercial you stumbled upon to make massive gains, reflect, instead, on the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill:

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

We want you to become the optimist. Find the successes in the failures. Find the possibilities in the difficulties. We want you to start looking at experiments the same way you did as a kid when you were trying to make lava flows out of food coloring, vinegar, and baking soda: getting your own hands dirty and having fun.

All you have to do…

…is try what you want, when you want, on your own. Never take our words as the truth above all other truths. Let yourself be the proof in the pudding.
We are all unique. Test conditions are highly controlled; life is not.

This is the origin of n=1. You are the test bed. You are the lab rat. The results are your own.

Testimonial: Greg Myers Jr – the Barbaric Runner

The Barbaric Runner

Guest Blog Submission by: Greg Myers Jr.

“Hi, I’m Greg. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a runner, too. I’m also a husband, father, brother, son, Marine and, according to most, a good American. But, I was terrible at the second thing and barely recognizable at all the others while living my life as the first – an alcoholic. It wasn’t until I made things simple did I understand anything about life. It sounds silly, but I think it’s beautiful: If I’d never become the runner barbarian I am today, I’d be dead.

We were at Duke’s Hawaiian Barbeque in Huntington Beach, Ca. As an act of good faith – or sucking up, whichever you prefer fits – we were taking our commanding officer out to dinner on the first day of a port stop. I was wearing a light blue, 2014 Kobe edition Nike t-shirt, Van’s shorts, low-top Chuck Taylor’s and a ratty Chicago Bears cap. The rest of my party was in pants or jeans, a collared shirt and wore an overall “I need to impress my boss” look on their clothes as well as their faces.

I stood next to the supply officer. She looked professional, but she was born with a mouth missing a filter. Her conversation process went see, hear, put in brain, process and shoot out of her mouth. There was no vetting. We love her for it.

She looked at me, head to toe, and said, “You look like you fit in.” She wasn’t talking about the dinner party. She was talking Huntington Beach.

I’d heard it before, but never believed it. I was too insecure. That day, maybe for the first time in my life, I agreed.

I’m a barbarian. I belong where I say I belong. It’s a new way of thinking about life for me, but I love it. Most importantly, since I finished that last Corona Lite bottle two years ago, it works.

Running was how I did it.


Running is barbaric.

Society equates barbarism with acts of heathenism conducted to please the barbarian. Striking an animal on the head for meat is barbaric. Peeing outdoors is, too. A human employing a simple action with little to no advanced assistance for his or her survival or pleasure is barbaric.

It’s just like running. Barbarians are associated with evil. I’d label them simplistic. They specialized in the perfect execution of simple tasks paired with brute force and iron clad will to live. Survival was doing simple tasks to live and be happy. You know, a lot like running.

When that barbaric mindset takes over, transitions into a lifestyle and is employed in every aspect of life, your life changes. Running changed mine. It can change yours too.

You just have to find your barbarian heart.


I found my answer to life at the bottom of a bottle. It’s a cliché, but it happened. This isn’t a story about my disease, but it does contribute into my journey. This story is how I’ve eradicated character deficiencies in my life via several sources. I’ve discovered they always crash together and culminate in this nirvana I experience when I run and then I started using that same feeling in my life. I found my God, bettered my marriage, and became a father and a better person to everyone on this journey. I became a better person and found a better life through running. It’s simple, barbaric and I couldn’t imagine anything greater.

It wasn’t as easy as step one: put beer down. Step two: Put on shoes and run. Step three: enjoy better life. Changing your heart to change your life takes time – a lot. Just like getting better at running.

I was insecure and drowned myself in more self-induced anxiety than the President of the United States. I held grudges. I started conflicts just to one-up others. Let’s just go ahead and say that before May 28th, 2014 that I wasn’t a great person.

Instead of dealing with these issues in a healthy manner, I tried pouring alcohol on it to make it go away. I shut off the faucet, but the character deficiencies were still there, still looming and I made it seem they were out to kill me. I cried. I yelled. I did it in my car so no one would see me, but I did it. It helps I was driving down the barren CA-62 for work in the Mojave Desert so no one would see me, but I did it.

The only place I felt normal was running. I ran while my life was swallowed in booze, but I did it more to say “look at me, I run marathons” than I did it for myself. I was living my life for others until I started to make running about me.

There were other influences: my God, my family and my health (I lost 40lbs), but it always seemed to keep going back to one thing: my heart. It was starting to power me to places spiritually, mentally and physically I never knew existed or thought were unattainable. My heart was the source of all my power. It could never be better on display while running.

Yes, I got a lot smarter: more fruits and vegetables, paying attention to my body, run upright, 180 strikes per minute, land on the forefoot and every other fact any goon like me can find written or said somewhere. But there was one thing that changed you won’t find how to do in a magazine: I wasn’t cutting corners anymore. My heart wouldn’t let me. I was going to be the best runner I could. My heart wouldn’t let me do anything less.

I went from a drunk, 210lb 4:47 marathoner in 2013 to a 170lb 3:38 in 2016. That was the change on the physical level. What happened on the spiritual level has been unimaginable.

I don’t worry about what others are doing. I’m not running your race. I worry about what I’m doing. I’m running my race and I’d rather enjoy it versus worry about you. I concentrate on being positive in my running and it ebbs into the rest of my life. It turns out that doing good things for other people helps make them good people. Then, the world becomes a better place. All we need to worry about is running a good race.

I never let people or irritating tasks defeat me. If I can run 2,000 miles in a year and, at the time of this writing, run at least one mile for 227 straight days, I’m never going to let one jerk defeat me and make me have a bad day.

I’m human. I get in bad moods. But I get out of them quick. In running, I’ve found there is beauty in the world. If I’m in a bad mood, I just look the other direction.

The past is done. Learn from it, but move on. To quote Mary Englebright and every person on Twitter who has plagiarized her: “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” It’s impossible to run backwards in a race. Why would you do it in life? If it was a bad mile, learn from it. If it was a good mile, do it again. More importantly, always keep moving.

The best thing I learned is that life is simple. Simplicity doesn’t erase hard, but it will always remain simple. A marathon is nothing but one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. Complexity is only the compilation of a lot of simple things tied into one. Eat, train, and think right and you will have a good race. You will have a good life.

Maybe the barbarians weren’t such buffoons after all. Always keep moving, keep fighting and keep running. It will always get better.


The next night, several of us went out again. We just didn’t have any obligatory baggage. We were just out to have a good time.

One of my friends had an envelope with a congratulations card for his daughter. She was graduating high school that week and he was sending the card off because he couldn’t be there. Of course he would call and video chat, but he wanted to do one more heartfelt thing for her: send a card. It was endearing, beautiful and simple.

We elected for a taco shop with eight-dollar burritos and one-dollar taco Tuesday over another dimly lit and $30 a plate restaurant. The food was great, the conversation was better and the simple memory is one I’ll enjoy forever.

That night, I remember thinking to myself, burrito in one hand and coke in the other, that this is where I belong. I never would’ve learned that was possible if I’d never learned the right way to put one foot in front of the other, the right way, in running and in life.

It’s a simple and barbaric lifestyle.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Achieving Peak Performance: Your Mindset Matters

One of the most overlooked aspects of training for sport specific events (besides recovery) is mental preparation. Too often, I’ve seen a well-trained athlete fail to meet their performance expectations due to neglecting this training target.

When you embark on training for a marathon, triathlon or obstacle course race, every training checkbox has to be checked. Starting with a carefully laid out program accounting for your unique lifestyle is critical. Whether you’re competing just to finish or to stay healthy and fit, consistent training and recovery are key habits to create. After getting that down, most athletes stop there. They fail to look at the bigger picture.

Think about taking it one step further.

How does training for this event connect to your life? Who or what are you going to think about as the distance increases?

Recently, I addressed this mental dilemma with one of my long distance athletes. An “under-performance” in his first race of the season; a “low priority” race have you, we discovered that something needed to change. Headed into the weekend, he was beat down from a busy week of work and training that had not been his typical consistency. He showed up to the race late and had to rush the staging, barely being able to get his goggles set before the start of the swim. How do you think this story ends that day? Not so good, but still a PR.

Needless to say, we regrouped. After a lengthy coaching call and uncovering all aspects of the experience, I knew I could do better to prepare him mentally. I knew it was time to adjust his expectations … he knew it. Yet it wasn’t just the expectations, it was also his mindset entering the event. He had to dig a little deeper.

Performance is about mindset.

If you’re racing for just a PR, you’re not getting it. The first step in mental preparation is creating your mindset. Discovering the intrinsic motivation behind your training commitment and identifying it from the beginning becomes a make-or-break moment. Who or what are you racing for? How does this commitment make you a better human being?

 

Going out there because it’s something to check off your bucket list is going to leave you walking at the end of an Ironman event. What I’m suggesting is that you think deeper. What’s the point? You’re going to face your best self (hopefully not your worst) thirty-five miles into your fifty-mile ultra marathon, whether you like it or not. What are you going to call on? As your butt and legs are cramping at mile ninety of the Ironman bike leg, don’t you think you’ll need a mental boost?

How you approach training sessions matter.

Secondly, how you approach training sessions each day matters tremendously. You must stay positive and optimistic as you approach each day, develop rituals. Understand the performance goals for each workout are important, but they don’t dictate your mindset. Athletes who struggle seem to have high expectations of each and every performance. Never letting one bad day go. Unfortunately, approaching your training in this way leads to disappointment after disappointment. It’s your own fault. Train your mind to be positive. Look at each race as an experience. An experience you’ll probably never get again.

Personally, when I race these days, I think about the people who inspire me the most. Not just with my training, but those who push me to live a better life. The athletes I’m fortunate enough to coach and the exciting opportunities I have to keep growing professionally. What I know is, gratitude can cultivate the athlete’s mindset and our perception of everything matters. For me, the majority of my thoughts are cued to the people who are most important in my life. Like many of us endurance junkies, my wife has supported me at just about every endurance event. Waiting around on an Ironman course takes training in itself. These are the types of thoughts that keep me going, the deeper motivation to work my hardest. My best advice for you is to think about what truly matters as the distance gets greater and as your training progresses.

The results may surprise you.

Sharing this perspective with my athlete, he took some of my thoughts and executed at his last Olympic distance triathlon. Mind you this was his first Olympic distance, he finished in 2:45 blowing expectations on all three of his projected paces for each sport. His paces were almost faster than his first sprint, which is wild because the distance was almost double. Most likely this was a testament to his self-reflection. Where do you think his confidence is now?

What you can take from this is that your mindset matters. Create your mindset around the important things in your life. Apply it to game day and in your training sessions. When you begin to approach your workouts with positivity, you will dictate your own success.