Why is strength important?
Strength is a critical skill when sailing.

Strength is a critical skill when sailing.

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

I’m sailing. I’m a sailor. I sail. I just let the boat do the work, that was my secret.

Actually, sailing a boat is pretty hard work. Pictured above is my friend Roberto working with his crew, Pete and Mark, getting the dingy ready for a dive. You may have met Roberto last summer when he was at the gym helping us build the cubbies and shelves. Every year Roberto charters a boat and invites friends on a working "vacation". We've gone twice (on our first trip, we took advantage of him being the captain of the boat so he could marry us) and are hoping to go again sometime.

That's about as dressed up as I ever get.

That's about as dressed up as I ever get.

Roberto has been spending the last couple of years working on a book that will be the definitive couch-to-sailing instructional guide. It's going to be something that allows you to safely charter and sail your own boat with your own crew of friends starting from scratch. We were invited to write the chapter on strength (I've always wanted to say "I wrote the book on strength"). Roberto understands the need to be strong on a boat, so it's an important part of his book.

Why be strong on the boat? Safety is the big reason - especially in bad weather. You need to maneuver the boat, move around the boat, and do that without falling into the water. Being strong makes that much easier. I noticed that on our second trip with Roberto, I was stronger and working on the boat was a lot easier. I felt more in control - I was at the helm in 12-foot waves while others were losing their breakfast over the side.

Being strong also helps you have more fun. There's lots to do to get a boat underway and you have to work hard just to get to your dive/snorkeling/swimming spot. You want to be able to work quickly so you can anchor and have fun, but you also want to have the energy left to have fun.

We've decided to reproduce the introduction the strength chapter of Roberto's book below. After writing it, I thought it was a great general purpose introduction on why you should be strong, and why strength training is the most important thing you can do to improve the quality of your life.

Why is strength important?

We assume that you recognize the need to be fit when sailing a boat. But what does it really mean to be fit? Commonly, there are ten dimensions used when measuring fitness: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, accuracy. All sports and activities have a different combination of the importance of each dimension (e.g., balance is pretty important on a boat). Specific skill practice will train the most important movements for your sport or activity, but to really progress beyond an beginner level, you need to be strong. Strength is the most important skill for everything. After specific skill work, your training should be centered around progressively increasing the force production of your muscles: getting stronger.

Looking at each of the dimensions of fitness below, we can show how getting stronger will progress you along all of those dimensions, and make you more fit overall.

Endurance is arguably the least affected by getting stronger. Endurance is the ability of the cardiovascular system to efficiently deliver oxygen to the body over a long time. However, if you've trained around people on a smart strength program, you will notice that they are breathing pretty hard after a heavy set of squats. Heavy strength work affects the cardiovascular system. In fact, most of the long-duration endurance that you see in sports like long distance running or cycling are biochemical adaptations that anyone can train, even if you are bigger and stronger than the typical participant in those sports.

Stamina is the ability for your muscles to apply submaximal forces for a long time. Imagine standing and working on a boat all day. If the force required for you to stand up and move around the boat all day is 10% of your total strength, you can do that for a long time before your muscles fatigue and you have to stop. But if you are stronger the relative strength to do the same jobs drops. If the same jobs require only 5% of your total strength you can go longer than you could before, increasing your stamina.

Flexibility is your ability to move your joints through their full range motion. Outside of very rare cases of extreme tightness there is no need to stretch beyond your regular range of motion. In the best case, by stretching, you are mis-allocating your training time for something that doesn’t really help you, and in the worst case you’re risking injury. Over stretched muscles can easily get injured, and they don’t work as well holding your joints in place. Proper strength training through the full range of motion (e.g., full range of motion squats) will ensure sufficient flexibility simply by going through the motions, and you’ll get stronger too.

Power is defined as force✕distance/time. That is, it’s the amount of force you can generate on demand. All else being equal, getting stronger will increase your ability to apply force, which makes you more powerful. Generally, how quickly you can turn on force, like jumping, is determined by your genetics. That is, no amount of training will make you more explosive. But by getting stronger you can easily increase the magnitude of your explosiveness. Your genetics determine how quickly you can move your muscles, but if that movement actually has more force behind it, you have increased your power output.

Speed is your ability to cover distance quickly. Think of running: to go faster you can apply more force to the ground, or you can move your legs faster. It turns out that everyone has a natural stride and it’s nearly impossible to have a dramatic effect in speeding up or slowing down your stride. So the only way reliably and consistently to go faster is to apply more force to the ground for each step. Getting stronger will make you faster. We have had great success with elite marathon runners by giving them a very simple strength training program to supplement their sport specific program.

We group Coordination, Agility, and Accuracy together because they all relate to your ability to control your strength. Coordination is about turning muscles on and off at the right time, agility is about the expression of coordination quickly, and accuracy is about how well you can reproduce that control. In the context of sailing, imagine running to the bow to grab a line and throwing it around a post when docking. You are using your coordination and agility to maneuver quickly across the boat (while it’s rocking) and then you need to be accurate to get the line out to the dock. If you are at the limits of your strength doing that maneuver, there will be more potential for error and you won’t be able to reproduce hitting your target with confidence. By being stronger, each of these movements is not hard for your muscles to reproduce regularly.

Balance is your ability to not fall down. There’s nothing really special about balance. Balance is simply your ability to keep your center of mass over your base of support, that is, you need to be strong enough to move your body weight (and whatever you’re carrying) so that it’s always over your feet. In the absence of inner ear problems, people fall down because they’re not strong enough to remain standing. On a rocking boat, you'll need to constantly be moving your center of mass over your feet, and you'll need to do it over a larger range of motion than on dry land. Being stronger will make your balance much better.

How do you get strong?

Well, you'll need to read the book for that...or just follow our programming. Since we believe strength is the core to everything we put a huge focus on it.

Michael Deskevich
If the gym is open, there's a coach available for you

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

We've noticed a trend in the gym culture lately that's been bothering us. We are often compared to a typical CrossFit gym, and while we may have come from that side of the industry, we are clearly not a CrossFit. The one thing we do have in common with those kind of gyms is that we have a fairly high membership cost (it's no $10/month planet fitness membership). It's unfortunate that we have to be less inclusive with our prices - part of it is Boulder rent - but most of it is that we pay qualified, talented coaches to give you all of their attention when you're there.

This used to be the model: cheap gym where you're on your own vs. expensive gym where you get quality coaching. But it looks like there's a new trend: expensive gym where they offer "open gym".

Open gym is an euphemism for come in, mess around, do your own thing, don't get hurt, but still pay us for the coaching. That's just not right. If you're paying the price for quality, personalized coaching, you should be getting that.

Most people who have visited us from the culture of open gym were originally a little put off that they couldn't just do what they wanted at our gym, but everyone has come to appreciate the attention from our coaches. We not only offer instruction on safety and proper form, but all of our coaches can write personalized programs for you specially for your goals - and it's all included in your membership! If the doors are open and the lights are on, we have a coach available for you. Don't settle for "open gym" while paying the high costs associated with a professional full-time coach.

Michael Deskevich
Nutrition and lifestyle made simple
The government makes it complicated and complex, we make it simple…I wonder if I should update this picture with my new found love for carnivory…

The government makes it complicated and complex, we make it simple…I wonder if I should update this picture with my new found love for carnivory…

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Our specialty is fitness through strength, but as I've said many times before, the gym is not the most important thing in your life, no matter how much I want it to be. Since we can't hold your hand the 23 other hours of a day that you're not with us, we wanted to give you a simple (warning: simple doesn't mean easy!) set of guidelines that can get you started in rounding out the other parts of your life that affect your health.

This is intentionally a one-size-fits-all kickstart. It should work for most people most of the time, but since everyone is a special snowflake, there are parts we might have to tweak, but only after you've given this an honest try. This is geared towards the average person who walks through our doors. If you are a power athlete or a marathon runner you will have different requirements, so be smart before you blindly follow this.

If you've been trying to dial everything in and want to take care of the big things first, this is a great place to start. Try it out for 30-60 days, see how you feel and then we can start tweaking after we see how it works for you.


When it comes to sleep and health, the more sleep, the better. Get as much sleep at night as you can get away with, at least 8-9 hours each night, and more if you can manage it. Your body is doing hard work while you’re sleeping, so don’t feel like you’re wasting time while sleeping! Naps are good too if your schedule allows.


It’s important to manage stress because your body won’t recover if it gets the signal from your brain that you’re in crisis mode. Relaxation techniques and meditation can be good tools to manage stress. Practice good time management and prioritize your activities. Make sure that the exercise you do is fun and restorative rather than a chore. Take long walks and get plenty of sun, and spend time with people that make you feel happy and supported.


You will need to eat - more than you probably are right now! It’s not just about quantity of food: focus on good quality foods and stay away from junk food. In general, choose foods that are both calorie-dense and nutrition-dense. Also stay away from inflammatory foods to avoid illness and injury.


For protein, eat quality meats, eggs, and seafood. The quality of your protein is important because it will make up a large portion of your diet. Aim to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass per day. This will work out to approximately at least half a pound of meat or 4 eggs at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Good sources include grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken, wild-caught fish and shellfish, and cage-free eggs. Sometimes you can’t get these good sources and are stuck with conventional versions, for example, when you’re eating at a restaurant or if you need to save money on groceries - then stick with leaner cuts because it’s the fats that are problematic in conventional meats. Avoid soy, products made with soy, and legumes, as they are inflammatory, can be difficult to digest. Soy also messes with androgens - never touch soy.


Eat as many vegetables as you like, raw or cooked. If you cook them, they don’t take up too much space and crowd out the protein! Whole fruits are fine, but avoid jams, jellies, and juices and other sugary drinks. For starches, stick to potatoes (avoid the skins), yams and sweet potatoes, other starchy tubers, and plantains. If you’re active and not overweight, white rice can be okay too. Don’t eat any grains except for white rice. It’s especially important to avoid anything made from wheat, as it is highly inflammatory. Whole grains and gluten-free substitutes are still inflammatory, and you should avoid them too.


Fat is not bad, but the quality of the fat you eat is important. There are many good sources of fat. Eat the fat in grass-fed and pastured meats. Use butter, avocado oil, coconut oil, and bacon fat to cook meats and veggies. Coconut milk is a great, dense source of fat - stir it into soups, stews, and curries. Olive oil is great for salads but avoid it for high-temperature cooking. Nuts are okay in moderation, but avoid peanuts. Avocadoes and olives are other good sources of fat.

Other Stuff

Including dairy works for some people and not for others. Many people find that cutting it out improves digestive, skin, and other health conditions, but some people are well-adapted to it. For mass gain, dairy can be very effective as long as it’s not causing you problems, so it’s up to you if you want to include it. If you do, stick to whole milk and full-fat dairy products, and source the best quality that you can (organic, grass-fed).

Keep your sugar intake low. Avoid obvious junk food like candy, cake, packaged foods, and fast food. When you splurge on a treat, make it something that’s actually worth it - good quality ice cream rather than junk from the checkout counter.

Don’t think of these food guidelines as being restrictive. Think of them as helping you eat the best quality, most nutritious, satisfying, flavorful foods. A steak dinner with potatoes and buttered vegetables, eggs and bacon for breakfast, fresh fruit - these are decadent foods made to be enjoyed. If you start getting frustrated or bored, see us for ideas!

Michael Deskevich
Big PRs last week! But I'm not surprised.

Yesterday, I reposted one of Amy’s old posts about being consistent in training and letting the results come slowly. That happened yet again last week. On the scheduled heavy deadlift day I had a few of my regulars not follow the prescribed program and instead re-test their deadlift. They had been coming in regularly for months, and I could see that when they were following the program, the weights they were using looked too light.

I wanted them to get a new max to base percentages off of. I knew they’d do well. One got a 50lb PR and another got 60lbs! And neither of those was a true 1RM. I called it after they started slowing down on their pulls. They likely had another 30lbs each in them.

That’s yet another example of consistent, quality practice at relatively low weights causing dramatic changes in strength. The prescription is simple: come in consistently, follow the program. Progress will be slow, but lasting. If you put the work in, you’ll be surprised what you can do.

Michael Deskevich
Diligence in training: What you can really accomplish

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Sometimes I suffer from impostor syndrome as a coach. Unlike other coaches and gym owners, I am not an accomplished athlete. I never excelled in a sport, and I don't currently compete at anything. I'm competent at most movements now, but I'm far short of talented - things just don't come very easily to me.

However, I think what I do bring to the table as a coach that better athletes cannot is this: I'm an example of what a normal person can accomplish with consistent effort over time. I can share my story, and you can learn from it. When I started seriously training more than 7 years ago, I was slow at everything and not particularly strong, I had poor balance and coordination, and I had no proficiency or even experience with the lifts and body weight movements we do. Over the course of several years, I worked really hard. I attacked my weaknesses, and I developed strength and skills. I learned how to do pull-ups, ring dips, handstands, box jumps. I worked doggedly on the Olympic lifts to improve my form and plugged away at the power lifts to slowly increment my maxes. I learned to row and to sprint.

I'm not bragging about this. In my best shape (which is not right now), I'm at best a mediocre athlete. But I'm miles from where I started, and the way I got there was simple - consistent, focused practice. And I would argue that no matter where you are starting from, that is how you can improve and gain new skills, even if they seem very far away.

More specifically, what did I do? I came into the gym 5 days a week. I did the workout that was programmed. And before or after that workout, I did skill work. I'd set a goal, for example, getting a pull-up. And every single day, I'd spend 5 minutes or so working on a progression to get that pull-up. My first kipping pull-up took 6 months of work. My first strict pull-up was a few months after that. My first chest-to-bar pull-up was even later. When I got a goal, I set a new one and started working on that. This is how you make progress. There may be impediments - old injuries, weaknesses, inadequate athletic background, psychological impediments. But every one of you can take this approach and make progress.

The reason I am in this business is because I saw how hard work could transform me into an athlete, and I wanted to make that happen for other people. I want every single person in the gym to bring all their effort to the game, and I want every single person to make that transformation, to grow in ability and confidence. I want it so, so much - but I can't want it for you. So here's a little smackdown:

1. Let's start simply - if you're reading this, but you haven't come in and signed up to work with us, that's your first step. (I know you lurker-readers are out there.) The first step is to walk into the gym, put your excuses aside, and make the commitment.

2. If you are a member but you're not coming in regularly (you know who you are) - and I mean at least 3 days a week but preferably 4 or 5 - recommit. Make a plan and don't let other crap get in the way of your training. We have morning, noon, and evening classes; find one that fits your schedule and make it happen.

3. If you're a member who is coming in regularly, it's time to start setting and attacking goals. Pick one or two things to work on, and talk with me or Mike or Jordan about a progression to do in your warm-up time. It shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes a day. For example, if you want to get a pull-up, you might start with static hangs, adding 5 seconds every day until you get to 2 minutes, then switch to negatives. If you want to master the overhead squat, you'll start with the pvc pipe, then go to the junior bar, the women's bar, and so on. Don't worry about mastering everything at once - pick one skill, and when you have it, go on to the next thing.

You CAN do this. You can do things you never dreamed of. Don't set limits on what you can be. You don't know what you can really accomplish if you only half try. When I look at each of you, I am envisioning a trajectory of progress - she'll get a pull-up, then she'll master push-ups, then she'll start going after the Olympic lifts; he'll master rowing form, then he'll get a solid handstand, then increment his power lifts.

At Barbell Strategy, we often talk about how our workouts are efficient, how they don't beat you down, how less is more. But smart training can still be serious, committed, diligent training. Commit yourself and see what you can do.

Amy Santamaria
Kettlebells weren't "invented", they're Lindy.

A crazy coincidence: I’m writing this post while watching the spelling bee and the word is ergodic which was spelled wrong and the kid was eliminated.

The spelling bee is the ultimate black swan event. There will always be a word that takes you out and you’re finished. The only way to win at the bee is survival. Don’t try to excel, simply survive. It is clearly a non-ergodic event!

How ironic to be eliminated in the spelling bee by misspelling ergodic!

What does that have to do with kettlebells (other than my annoying application of antifragilty to everything that I see?

I was talking to a member a few days ago about his visit to the doctor. Most of what he relayed to me I agreed with (and was actually told him before he spent the money to see the doc…). But after I started to like this particular doc, he told me that she said something to the effect of “I hate kettlebells, why would you ever do them? I wish they were never invented!”

Kettlebells weren’t “invented” they were discovered, and survived. The fact that they survived tells us that they are likely better than anything else. It’s the Lindy effect! I quote here from Wikipedia:

The Lindy effect is a theory that the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy.[1] Where the Lindy effect applies, mortality rate decreases with time. In contrast, living creatures and mechanical things follow a bathtub curve where, after "childhood", the mortality rate increases with time. Because life expectancy is probabilistically derived, a thing may become extinct before its "expected" survival. In other words, one needs to gauge both the age and "health" of the thing to determine continued survival.

Simply stated, that means that the longer and idea survives, the longer it will likely last. If you have to decide between two ideas or methods to implement and know nothing else, the best place to start is to choose the one that has been around the longest. If it were a bad idea, it would get filtered out over time.

I’m not an expert on the history of Kettlebells, but I do have many old-man stories from Randy, and here’s what I remember him telling me. (Maybe he’ll write some more blog posts on the history of kettlebells and their use.) In the grain markets of ancient Russia, you had to measure out 1 pood (16 kg) or 2 poods (32 kg) of grain for sale. So there were big chunks of metal with circular loops on them so you could hang them on the scales. These loops worked really well as handles and young men with nothing better to do started to test (and show off) their strength by doing silly things with the weights.

Over time, the good movements - the ones that were effective - stuck around and a whole training system and sport grew up organically around them. And once they proved that they were good for fitness in the military, it became a core part of the fitness culture.

So the kettlebell - and the smart training we do with them - is the product of a century or more of refinement and survival of the best ideas. They weren’t invented. Things that are invented have no time-tested proven success, no matter what the marketers want you to believe.

The Thigh Master was invented.

The Shake Weight was invented.

The Ab Circle Pro was invented.

Orange Theory was invented.

F45 was invented.

Crossfit…well, this is an interesting example of Lindy. The original Crossfit of the early 2000’s was pretty effective. Then the popularity exploded and they focused on games athletes and it got all silly - you guys know how much I make fun of it. But in the last few years, the popularity has sort of waned and the affiliates that are still around are starting to look more like good smart strength training, sort of (can you believe I said that?) Seriously though, Glassman does not hold an iron fist on how an affiliate works, they just buy the name with no quality control at all. This means you can get some silly places that get very bro-y and program all kinds of silly stuff. But then people get hurt and don’t come back. The better places will stick around. Give it another 20 years and whats left will look a lot like what we do.

The newest shiniest thing isn’t the best. You should look at what’s survived over a long time. And that goes for you tech-bros too! Don’t get distracted with the latest buzzword, that will change next week, but the fundamental computer science is always true.

Michael Deskevich
Ok, so what does L, M, and H mean?

Last cycle, I explicitly programmed percentages. This time I'm going a little less exact and just programming Light, Medium, and Heavy. Both have their benefits: percentages tend to make you go a little harder, vague L/M/H makes you reflect a little more on how you feel each day and your skill with the movement.

The trouble with percentages is that they mean different things to different people. For a novice, the percentage really is likely a percentage off of your true 1RM (PR or most you've ever lifted). But as you get more advanced, you need to start thinking about your percentage off of a training max (usually around 90% of your true 1RM). And with egos involved, sometimes it's hard to use a training max instead of a real max.

So this time, we'll go with the L/M/H rating. For kettlebells, what does that mean? Try to stick to a three bell range for everything. I've commonly seen these recommendations:

Average Strength Lady 8/12/16
Strong Lady 12/16/20
Average Strength Gentleman 16/24/28
Strong Gentleman 24/32/40

I mostly agree with that for the guys, but the gals at Barbell Strategy are way stronger and I think those recommendations are too light. Regardless, pick three bells to use all month. I'll be using the same set for both exercises, try that unless you have a large disparity between the exercises. Your "Heavy" can be pretty heavy since you'll never be doing more than a single with it. Your "Medium" should be a challenge, but something you'll never miss, and "Light" should be light - something you can to perfectly with every rep. If you're unsure, let's talk before you start.

And for the barbell...A novice can interpret that as 75%/85%/90%, I'll be interpreting it as 70%/80%/85%, I suggest that anyone who's been at Barbell Strategy longer than a year do the same. Of course, please allow day-to-day variance if you're feeling extra strong or extra tired.

As an added challenge, Blake has a nice way to select your weights. Once you reach 100lbs in any barbell lift, you're only allowed 20lb jumps. That means you absolutely must own a weight before you go up, because you have to go up by 20lbs.

Michael Deskevich
Kettlebell Triple Wave Starts Today

Waving the load - or enforcing smart variance in the load - is a key concept in smart sustainable programming. Americans tend to do it a little more planned - like the Wendler 5/3/1 which is a step cycle linear progression. The Soviets tended to be a little more decoupled with the volume and load.

If you look at the big picture, they’re more similar than they are different. The reason I tend to like the Soviet-style progression is that when programming for a class, I can’t guarantee that everyone will be there every day to follow the program. So having a little more variance in the day-to-day work means that you don’t miss a critical progression like you would in a typical American-style program.

This month we’re doing to do one of my favorite new progressions. I’ve done it a couple of cycles this winter and spring, and it was really easy to follow, didn’t beat me up, and I got stronger and better with the kettlebell movements. I’m calling it the “Triple Wave” progression and you’ll probably see a lot of this in the future.

The fractal self-similarity of the week-over-week, day-over-day, and set-over-set load is really cool. I tried to show that in the figure above. We have three movements (Double Clean & Jerk, Double Front Squat, and Barbell Deadlift) - those are represented by the three colors in the plot. The bars are the total “intensity” for the day and the lines within the bar are the total “intensity” for each set.

The “intensity” measure is a combination of volume (number of reps) and weight (fraction of 1RM). Increasing your reps or weight will increase this single “intensity” measure.

Cool things that you see in this figure: The total day-to-day intensity follows the “rule-of-three” where you don’t want increases more than three days in a row. Likewise the day-to-day intensity of each movement also follows the rule-of-three with each movement being out of phase with the others so that nothing too bad adds up in one day. Even the set-to-set intensity within a day follows the same rule. This lets you reach for a heavy single to keep your nervous system primed for heavy lift but you spend most of your time in that good 75-85% range where all the strength gains happen without crushing you.

Since we can’t train strength every day, our plan for June is to do the Triple wave every other day and on the off days we’ll get our AGT. This differs from my normal pattern where I put AGT in at the end of the workout. Now you’ll be able to have a focused strength day and then a focused AGT day where you can really keep the power up and not worry about being rushed.

Of all of my programs, this is one of the ones I’m most excited about. I hope you find it as fun as I did.

Michael Deskevich
Meta-book-review: The Sisson and the Barbell Strategy

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

A long time ago, before the gym even existed, we wrote a post explaining why we chose the name Barbell Strategy. It all boils down to our philosophy that you need to spend most of your time on the low (and I mean low) intensity base-building work with punctuated excursions into short, heavy, high intensity work. We don't really want to spend much time doing the moderately heavy, moderate volume work (à la CrossFit).

Last week I read a book review of Primal Endurance, written by The Sisson. I'm not cool enough to have received an advance copy of the book to do my own review (though I do buy the mayonnaise that's expensive enough that it has to be made with Mark Sisson's tears), so I'm doing a meta review of the book review. First, go read the original book review here.

You'll notice that the strategy that Sisson promotes is the Barbell Strategy, the same approach we take: accumulate lots of very low intensity base-building work with punctuated heavy work. Or as I like to say: Walk, Lift, Sprint (with the importance in that order). The key really is avoiding that chronic cardio where you're going hard enough to stress your body, but not hard enough to really make a change - it actually makes you sicker. This is where you get burned out and you don't want to face yet another WOD.

So where's all my long, low slow volume work? Other than our long Saturday rows, we don't really have anything specific programmed. But I have talked to some of you about doing this work on your own. I know some of you go jogging, some do yoga (maybe not my favorite), some go on long hikes with their dogs, and I like to do long walks on the weekend. In a normal hour-long S&C class, we don't really have the time for you to get the long, low volume in one of our classes; that's really extra credit you need to do.

If you're having trouble fitting the volume work into your life, I'm more than happy to give you extra work that you can do in the gym during our individualized programming hours. Work like this would look like fight-gone-bad-style work but very slow, non-stressful, and non-nauseating. I like to refer to this work as the bulletproofing work. Here's where you get your heart strong, get your biochemistry adapted, get your connective tissue stronger, even get more mobile. If you're looking to lose weight, get fitter, prepare for a 14er, adventure race, or even the Bolder Boulder, make sure you're getting your low-intensity volume in. Our S&C classes will take care of the strength, skill, and speed development that will build on your volume. (And make sure you are getting the intensity in the classes - those thrusters on Monday should have been really hard.)

It may be confirmation bias, but we're thrilled to see that Mark Sisson agrees with us. Now we just need to find a way to get an audience as big as he has...

Update: this really is just the A+A work we do. We’ve evolved our approach a little, but it is grounded in this kind of theory.

Michael Deskevich
Why I Don’t Use (Or Need) Sunscreen

Note: this article is copied directly from here at Tom Naughton’s blog. I normally would just link to it and leave it at that, but this is important and I don’t think enough of you click through. I hope Tom doesn’t get mad that I copied his words here (Tom, if you’re reading this, and you don’t want me to have copied your whole article, just let me know and I’ll gladly take it down.)

In my early thirties, I had a spot of skin cancer removed from my back. I was surprised at the diagnosis because I hadn’t sunburned my back since college, but the dermatologist told me skin cancer can show up many years after the sunburn that triggers it. I’ve never had another skin cancer, but I’m scheduled for a just-in-case visit to a dermatologist every 18 months or so.

During my most recent visit, the dermatologist informed me that the recommendation on sunscreen protection has been updated: we’re now supposed to apply SPF 50 sunscreen instead of SPF 35.

I responded to her advice by simply nodding. Truth is, I haven’t worn sunscreen in years. Back in the day, I slathered myself with the stuff because one of Woody Allen’s lines applied to me: “I don’t tan; I stroke.”

But after changing my diet and ditching the frakenfats in favor of real fats, I found I just don’t burn like I once did. I’m now the Bizarro Woody Allen: I don’t stroke; I tan. If I spend four hours doing farm work on a sunny afternoon, my arms and face get a little browner and that’s it.

Seeing how the change in diet changed my skin’s reaction to sunshine got me thinking, of course. Why would the sun be dangerous to humans in the first place? It makes no sense. We didn’t evolve indoors, and we didn’t evolve wearing SPF 50 sunscreen. We need sun on our skin to produce vitamin D naturally.

I also don’t remember skin cancer being a big issue when I was a kid in the 1960s. Out of curiosity, I went looking for information on rates of skin cancer over time. Here’s a quote from an article on sunscreens:

Americans are being diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, at steadily rising rates. According to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of new melanoma cases among American adults has tripled since the 1970s, from 7.9 per 100,000 people, in 1975, to 23 per 100,000, in 2016.

Hmmm … rates of melanoma have tripled since the 1970s, despite all those warnings to slather on the sunscreen. And what else has changed since the 1970s? … let me think for a moment … oh, I’ve got it: we’ve been ditching animals fats in favor of “heart healthy” vegetable oils.

That’s just an association, of course. But it’s one that makes biological sense. The fats you eat become the fats in your skin. If those fats never existed in the human diet and produce inflammation, well, go figure … your skin doesn’t function as it should.

I didn’t exactly find a wealth of literature on diet and skin cancer when I went looking, but what I did find is interesting. Take this study, for example:

Samples of subcutaneous adipose tissue were taken from 100 melanoma patients and 100 matched controls in Sydney in 1984–1985 and were analyzed for constituent fatty acids. The mean percentage of linoleic acid in the triglycerides of the subcutaneous adipose tissue (PLASA T) of these subjects was substantially higher than that in a similar group examined in 1975–1976. In addition, the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids was found to be higher in the melanoma patients than in the controls (p < 0.01), and there were significantly more controls than patients who had a low PLASA T (p < 0.01). Relevant literature is quoted and the suggestion is made that increased consumption of dietary polyunsaturates may have a contributory effect in the etiology of melanoma.

Fascinating. Compared to people just nine years earlier, people examined in 1984-1985 had substantially more plant oils in their subcutaneous tissue. (Hooray for “heart healthy” dietary guidelines around the world!) And the real clincher: the melanoma patients had a higher percentage of polyunsaturated fats, leading the researchers to conclude that increased consumption of dietary polyunsaturates may have a contributory effect in the etiology of melanoma.

In other words, eat your margarine and perhaps increase your risk of skin cancer.

There are also studies done on rats and mice, like this one and this one, demonstrating that hydrogenated vegetable fats and diet high in polyunsaturated vegetable fats accelerate the development of skin cancers, while omega-3 fats inhibit the process.

So after personal experience and a bit of research convinced me natural fats are a better protection against skin cancer, I stopped using sunscreen. I didn’t consider it harmful, just unnecessary.

Turns out it may be harmful as well. Here are some quotes from a recent article by Reuters:

The active ingredients of commonly-used sunscreens end up in the bloodstream at much higher levels than current U.S. guidelines from health regulators and warrant further safety studies, according to a small study conducted by U.S. Food and Drug Administration researchers and published on Monday.

The study of 23 volunteers tested four sunscreens, including sprays, lotion and cream, applied to 75 percent of the body four times a day over four days, with blood tests to determine the maximum levels of certain chemicals absorbed into the bloodstream conducted over seven days.

The study found maximum plasma levels of the chemicals it tested for – avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and in one sunscreen ecamsule – to be well above the level of 0.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) at which FDA guidelines call for further safety testing.

You know how every time a study demonstrates that statins have nasty side effects, we always see quotes from doctors telling us to continue taking statins because the benefits outweigh the harms, blah-blah-blah? Same thing here:

The results in no way suggest that people should stop using sunscreen to protect against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, researchers said.

“The demonstration of systemic absorption well above the FDA guideline does not mean these ingredients are unsafe,” Dr. Robert Califf and Dr. Kanade Shinkai said in an editorial that accompanied the study in JAMA.

Okay, maybe there’s nothing unsafe about elevated levels of avobenzone, oxybenzone and octocrylene floating around in your bloodstream. But I’m pretty sure my ancestors didn’t chew on avobenzone plants, so I’d rather not take the chance.

Eat natural fats and get some sun … but if you’re fair-skinned, build up your tolerance over time so you don’t burn. I think that makes more sense than slathering the biggest organ in your body with chemicals that seep into your blood.

And as usual, my thanks to all the previous the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committees for producing dietary advice that ensures doctors of all types – from cardiologists to dermatologists – will never run short of patients.

Michael Deskevich
No Sunscreen For The Summer!

Tom Naughton had a good anti-sunscreen article last week. I’ll link to that tomorrow. He reminded me of something I wrote for another blog back in 2011 or 2012 (actually, the original post came from Paleo-hacks - and now the CEO actually trains at the gym, so that’s kind of cool). So here’s my semi-incoherent ramblings from about 8 years ago on why I don’t wear sunscreen. Since then I’ve had 8 years in high-altitude-incessant-sunshine Boulder with no burns, so it does work.


Hey, I get to give another "chemist's view" on this!

Quick disclaimer: I'm only talking about mechanisms here and trying to extrapolate to the effects on humans. I'm making no representation about our evolutionary adaptations to handle things. I'm just talking about the underlying chemistry.

I'll start at the beginning: Light that we see comes in many different "colors", we call them "red", "blue", "green", etc. Ultraviolet light also comes in may different "colors", the terms physicists use are "UVA", "UVB", "XUV", "VUV" (the atmosphere absorbs all of the XUV and VUV, so we don't encounter that in the real world). Not all sunscreen absorbs all colors of UV. They generally absorb the colors of UV that cause tanning and burning (because that's the observable that people care about), but they don't generally block the higher energy UV colors that actually cause the cancer. Because the effect of that isn't marketable, no one would know it's happening.

Without sunscreen, your skin "sees" some UV colors and starts to "tan". The tanning is your body's natural protection against the higher energy UV colors that cause the cancer. So as long as you're not out long enough to get burnt (actual skin damage), the tan protects you against the bad stuff.

Strike 1 against sunscreen: it stops the good stuff that promotes tanning and lets through the bad stuff that causes cancer (that our tan would protected us against if it was allowed to form).

Strike 2 against sunscreen: The UV that causes us to tan is the same color of UV that is used in the formation of Vitamin D which also protects against cancer.

Now, lets say that there was a magical sunscreen that blocked 100% of all colors of UV, would I feel comfortable using it? No. Here's why:

Sunscreen works by "absorbing" UV rays. How does it work. Well it's generally a long poly-cyclic aromatic with lots of conjugated double bonds. The UV light is resonate with the electronic transitions of the conjugated states. When the UV light hits the sunscreen molecule, it promotes an electron into a higher state which actually breaks one of the double bonds. Most of the time the sunscreen molecule will then shed that extra energy it just absorbed as heat and reconnect that double bond. But sometimes it won't and you'll be left with a free radical. So, when you started, you put a reasonably harmless chemical on your skin (or else the FDA wouldn't allow it to be sold), but it's interaction with light turns it into a potential carcinogen just like PUFAs and PAHs.

Strike 3 against sunscreen: The act of doing it's job (absorbing UV) turns it into a potential carcinogen which is now slathered over your largest organ.

Personally, since I worked through these mechanisms, I've never used sunscreen again.

That enough chemist rant for now. I'm happy to add to it, just don't want to bore you to death just yet.


Other things that I’ve learned since that old rant:

  • Eat lots of Salmon and other red colored shellfish. The chemical that makes them red/pink (I forget the name) is protective against sun burn.

  • Start getting a base tan early in the spring - or in the case of the very rainy May we’ve had, start now. You don’t want to go out mid July and get a burn. You need to approach the summer with a good tan already started.

Yes, you really can get away with no sunscreen - even in Boulder!

Michael Deskevich
Tests, Homework and Other Delights

This article originally appeared on wildgoosefitness.com

The morning and noon class have been helping me out with an experiment. I want to know if I can make them stronger, more well rounded individuals. Starting January 1st of this year we have been measuring, testing, assessing ourselves trying to see if all the hard work is adding up to something good. So far the results have been exciting.

Over the course of the first week of this year my class regulars participated in a series of basic assessments designed to measure strength, power, mobility and work capacity. These assessments are simple things like a standing long jump and a kettlebell farmer carry, both for maximum distance.

I used the results of the first assessment to identify the most pressing weak spots and then suggested supplementary drills that the individual could do in addition to their normal training. We called it “Homework” and it was extremely simple. If their hips were tight in the squat they might practice a couple of prying goblet squats between work sets of the main lift, if a weak grip was the issue they might practice hanging from the bar. Every month or so I would reassess and see if the Homework was working. If it was I would look for the next priority for improvement, if not I would try another approach. Everybody in class keeps a detailed training log which makes progress easy to track.

We never practice long jumps in class or max out our farmer carries but when we finally redid the full assessment last month everybody had improved in both. In the initial assessment everyone jumped at least their height and several people jumped further. Twenty weeks later the average improvement was 14.3 inches! The farmer carry test involves picking up a pair of kettlebells and walking laps around the rig for as long as you can. Most of us use the 32 or 48 kg. Bells and the combined weight is right around body weight. The average carry improvement was 2.25 laps!

Other highlights of the retest include one person adding 9 push-ups to her 60-second max push-up test, another adding 5 laps to his farmer carry. The most improved was Matt from the noon class who added 21 inches (21!) to his long jump, 3 laps to his farmer carry and 2 pull-ups to his 30-second pull-up test. Matt’s homework mostly consisted of goblet squats and extra farmer carries. Nothing fancy.

There are a few things I take from all this: focus on the basics, write down what you do everyday and track your progress or lack thereof and you must measure! Any members that are curious about the assessments should come to one of my classes or schedule a one-on-one appointment. Meanwhile we will continue testing and retesting, focusing on building up our weaknesses each week and I can’t wait to see how far we can go by next year!

Blake Nelson
Holiday Schedule Monday

As usual, I forget there’s a holiday until the last minute. I’m not going to have evening class on Monday - you’ll all be too tired from the Bolder Boulder. You can still come in for the morning class with Blake - he’ll be there - unless he can’t get out of his house because it’s right on the Bolder Boulder course.

As always, we’ll keep the schedule up-to-date, so check there first.

I’ll still program Monday’s workout, you can cherry pick this week what you want to do.

Michael Deskevich
Make Strength Your Favorite

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

"Strong people are harder to kill...and more useful in general." This quote, attributed to Mark Rippetoe, is so overused in the S&C community that I tend to think of it as a bit of a cliché. It's often used in the context of fighting, training fighters, or training our warfighters.

However, I don't think that's the context Rippetoe originally meant when he said this, and I think that the real meaning is often forgotten, hidden by bravado and elitism. Strong people are harder to kill. Having muscles is critically important to your health and wellness as you age. Strong people have better metabolic health, better body weight control, and more resilience to stress and disease than those without much muscle mass.

If you get sick and you're stronger, you'll recover quicker, staying out of the hospital. For example, after controlling for age, stronger people have better outcomes from cancer treatments. If you end up in the hospital and you have more muscle mass, you'll get out of the hospital quicker (or have a better chance of leaving alive). Being weaker in the ICU leads to much worse outcomes for patients.

What's the most common reason older folks end up in the hospital? Slips and falls. A broken hip can easily kill a frail person. Why does someone lose their balance? It's because they're not strong enough to react to their own body weight getting outside their base of support. Balance really is just reflexive strength keeping your center of mass where is should be - there's nothing magic about balance, it's just on manifestation of strength. It's easy to get into a cycle of weakness leading to more injuries, and long stays in the hospital leading to more weakness.

Make this your year of strength. I'm not talking about packing on pounds of muscle to look ridiculous, I'm talking about getting strong. Stronger for your health, stronger for your quality of life. Keep progressing along our strength program, keep lifting more weight, and keep getting stronger to protect you in the future.

Michael Deskevich
Fluid mechanics and the right way to compute rowing effort

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Back in this post, I gave you a nifty chart to compute your speed at different percentages of your 2k pace.  I need to update that with the new and improved chart below.

The original chart was correct in terms of speed (500m split time). If your 2k time was 8:00 and you wanted to row at 80% of that speed, you'd need to have a split time of 2:30.  But that chart wasn't correct based on effort.

Back to weightlifting for a second: if you squat 200 lbs at a 100% effort, then a 160 lb squat is an 80% effort. That's because the work (F✕d) you're doing (and hence the energy you're expending) is proportional to the weight you're lifting. Effort and weight are very closely related in weightlifting.

For rowing, we noticed (and we should have thought of this sooner) our effort was non-linear with respect to our rowing speed. During Friday night's workout, Michael was the first to mention that he thought that the speeds prescribed were not matching his expectations, and he was the first person to say "non-linear".  That got me thinking, and when he was done with his interval, I told him the answer was obvious: energy is a function of the square of velocity: ½mv2 so the effort should scale as the square of speed, not linear like the original chart said. Luckily, Joe was listening to us, and since he actually is a fluid mechanic (nerd gym) he pointed out that drag goes linear with velocity in addition to the kinetic energy, so really the effort you're putting into an erg is proportional to the cube of velocity you're trying to maintain. 


What does that mean? If I tell you to lift twice as much weight, you have to expend twice as much energy (work twice as hard) to do it. If I tell you to row twice as fast, you have to expend eight times as much energy (work eight times as hard) to do it.  That is, it takes 33% more effort to row 500m in 1:48 than it does in 2:00 even though it's only 10% faster.  If you think about this, in a long race you want to keep your pace constant, why that is, is left as an exercise to the reader (or really a later blog post, that's enough math for today).

tl;dr: here's the new and improved chart that relates your 2k time to a 500m split as a function of effort - that's what we care about when we're programming anyway.

Michael Deskevich
If you're a grown-up, you can cook real food

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Every so often, I meet someone who says they just can't cook. And if you look at the stats, there are huge numbers of people who don't cook other than to grab something ready-made at the grocery store to heat up at home. This just shocks me. It blows me away. Taking responsibility for your health means eating real food, and the only way to do this is to learn how to cook (or have your spouse/partner/roommate cook for you). Restaurant food, takeout, and convenience foods are almost never healthy. Even if you order a salad, which is a pretty healthy option, is the meat grass-fed or pastured, and does the dressing use olive oil instead of a cheap (and inflammatory) soybean or canola oil? Are there lots of fillers like cheese and grains? And any restaurant or takeout meal is bound to be loaded with sugar and salt and some less-than-optimal fats.

Do I have you convinced that you need to cook your own food, at least most of the time? You may agree but you say you're just too busy to prepare healthy meals every day. Look, if you're an emergency surgeon in a war zone, maybe that's true, but I'm willing to bet that you're not too busy to cook. For most of us, it's just a matter of priorities. I have a 4-month old and a rather, ahem, challenging 4-year-old at home with me, a new business, and just a ton of random crap that happens. I'm sleep-deprived and emotionally exhausted. But I make 3 meals a day, every day. I scramble some eggs for breakfast and eat them with some berries. I heat up leftovers for lunch. I make a salad and some meat and maybe fry up or bake some sweet potatoes or plantains, or I make a stew or chili or curry. I buy the highest quality simple ingredients I can afford, I keep the fridge stocked, and I suck it up and make something every day, no matter how tired I am. If I know it's going to be a crazy week, I make extra and we eat leftovers for a few days. If you have 10 minutes, you can at least throw some boneless chicken in a pan and put it in the oven, and eat it with an apple and a handful of carrots. There are days where I wish I could just order a pizza, but I have removed that as an option, and so I find another way.

Any grown-up can cook real food. There are a million excuses, but if you want to be healthier and you're still eating takeout and convenience meals, you need to reprioritize. If you're looking for ideas on how to get started, talk to us. We love to help!

Amy Santamaria
Pharmaceuticals and Vegetables: Negative Side Effects

"Each year, about 300,000 preventable adverse events occur in hospitals in this country, many as a result of confusing medical information."

There is still confusion.

Part of the problem is that we think that pharmaceuticals will actually cure us so we don't ask the hard questions or weigh the health trade-offs. But very few, perhaps a vanishingly small number of drugs are actually magic bullets. One of my members turned me on to this podcast with medical philosopher Jacob Stenenga who argues that the FDA approval process for pharmaceuticals exaggerates benefits, underestimates costs and approves too many drugs that are not sufficiently helpful relative to their side effects.  http://www.econtalk.org/jacob-stegenga-on-medical-nihilism/

But at least the FDA requires negative side effects be published. 

So what about the nutritionists? It seems every day that some new survey study comes out showing how meat and other animal products are ruining our health and shortening out lives and that we all need to switch to a plant based diet to save ourselves and the planet.

But what about the negative side effects of a plant based diet? No one really talks about that. Like pharmaceuticals are supposed to be, it is a cultural given that veggies are good for you. But are they that good for you and are they risk free? Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? No one really talks about it, so no one really knows for sure. 

Plants want to kill you, bury you, then eat you.

Plants want to kill you, bury you, then eat you.

But, the fact of the matter is many plants have evolved sophisticated bio weapons systems to discourage consumption. Here is a half hour talk on that topic from the recent Carnivore Conference in Boulder by Professor George Diggs of Austin College.  Diggs teaches coursework (and written a textbook) on evolution and health and the current mismatch between the diet we evolved to eat and what we throw down our pie holes now. He is also a botanist and an expert on plant defense mechanisms.

One of things that plant based diet advocates don't seem to appreciate is that there are close to 60 toxins hiding in our vegetables, only about half have been thoroughly studied, but of those toxins many are carcinogenic. To rodents at least. Additionally, 99.9 percent of all the pesticides veggies eaters consume are the natural pesticides the plants produce as self defense. (Ames, Profet, & Gold, 1990) Stay with me: so even if you go organic, you are only shaving off .1 percent of your pesticide load. Is it worth the extra price, given that organic and conventional produce are nearly identical nutritionally?

Think you are getting nutrients from veggies? Mostly no: the nutrients in the veggies are intended for the veggies, locked into the indigestible cellulose structure and biochemically sealed off. No bio available iron or calcium for you, however it will contribute to causing or worsening kidney stones. (It's the cacium oxalate.) Sorry Popeye.

I wonder, how many thousands of adverse events from veggie consumption could be prevented with compulsory labeling of potential side effects? 


Ames, B. N., Profet, M., & Gold, L. S. (1990). Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences87(19), 7777–7781. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.87.19.7777

Randy Hauer
Free Kinstretch on Sunday

I’ve been pretty bad at marketing. But you know that.

Traci and Bridget are at the gym every Saturday morning for an hour of Kinstretch

Yes, it costs extra and it’s not part of the membership, but you should go. I know the few members who are regulars love it! And the constant practice - even once a week can make a huge difference in your mobility and strength.

If you want to try it out free this Sunday, they’ll be at the Lululemon at 29th street at 9:30 AM.

Go, enjoy Kinstretch. Wear your Barbell Strategy shirts so that all the new folks know where you’re from.

I wish I could go, but I’m doing an extremely nerdy thing on Sunday with all of the other Rail Fans in Wyoming.

Michael Deskevich