Leading up to today, I wasn't sure I wanted to write something like this. I wanted to avoid reliving some of the things that happened in the past. But on this morning of April 28th, something moved me to change my mind. I woke up and felt it was right to keep my brothers name alive. Afterall, "so long as they speak your name, you shall never die". So today, I will speak my brothers name and hope everyone who reads this will do the same.
The story begins on a Sunday two years ago. I was waiting for a childhood friend to arrive at the gym I was working at. He was training for an adventure race and needed a little guidance. I saw I had a missed call from my mother and listened to the voicemail. As I listened to the message, I knew something was not right. I felt it in my heart. My mind went immediately to my brother. I decided to call her back while I was waiting and heard these terrible words: "he's gone Chris. Ryan is gone". My older brother was found dead at the age of 29. The cause: apparent drug overdose.
Prior to his last few years on this earth, my brother had it going on. He received a teaching degree from Penn State University, was coaching wrestling at Saucon Valley, and he knew how to work a room. He was a great coach and teacher. Things were trending in the right direction and people in this small town were impressed. Unfortunately, white, middle class, rural towns like the one I grew up in are Ground Zero for the heroin epidemic. When did this happen...
Back in 1996 Purdue Pharmaceuticals released information on a new pill used to relieve pain. It was called OxyContin. Along with the release of this new "medicine" was a false proclamation that less than 1% of those prescribed this drug became addicted. In 1996, OxyContin generated 45 million dollars in revenue. In 2010, the drug generated 3.1 billion dollars. Hospitals over this time period were judged based on their pain scores. One doctor went as far as saying, "we started handing out pills like crazy". As time progressed, research proved that this drug was more addictive than initially thought. There was a crackdown on prescribing this drug. Those who were dependent now how to look elsewhere for the drug. Enter heroin.
Addiction is- more often than not- totally misunderstood. In our culture, there is a stigma and judgment cast upon those who struggle with substance abuse. I ask of you, before casting judgment imagine their despair. Imagine what it must feel like to believe there is no option. How can we expect people who struggle to step forward and ask for help when they feel misunderstood and shamed? Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. For those who have to watch a loved one go through this, it is one of the saddest things in the world. These are people that we love, after all. They need an environment of support, tolerance, and understanding. Every addict is a human being, a completely redeemable human being. Not everyone has to suffer the same fate.
For those readers who may think that this topic will never touch their life- I ask you to think again. When most of us drink our first beer or puff on our first joint, none of us imagine that we might be taking the first step in a journey that will lead us to a life of pain, despair, shame, and hopelessness. Nobody starts out with shooting heroin. It might be alcohol, the marijuana, then some pills, and before you know it, you find yourself exploring other drugs to satisfy your need. I know for a fact that when I drank for the first time, that thought never crossed my mind. And I am pretty damn sure it never crossed my brother’s mind either.
Ryan was one person who was always proud of me. I wish he was still around to see his younger brother as a business owner. He would have loved. Since his passing, there has not been a day where he wasn't the first thing I thought about in the morning. I miss him like crazy. He will always be remembered for the things we did together. The sports we played together. The fights we got ourselves into. The rap music we loved and listened to. And most of all, the time we spent together coaching wrestling.
About 10 years ago, I was a huge fan of the boxing reality TV show titled "The Contender". At the time, one of the trainers was talking with a fighter about putting pressure on the opponent by moving forward and throwing punches. The advise worked for the fighter and he went on to win the fight. One factor that played out in his favor was this: human beings sometimes falter under pressure.
We line in an age that is obsessed with success. There are an abundance of resources out there that outline a number of ways by which talented individuals overcame some sort of an obstacle to achieve success. This is well documented. What is not well documented is the other side of the spectrum. Those in which talented people sometimes fail...or choke...or panic...
When you first learn something, it is explicit in nature. You think it through, you perform the task in a slow and deliberate manner. But as you gain experience, get better at your task, or feel more comfortable with it, a new learning system takes over. Enter the implicit system. This is what some consider "motor memory". You essentially start to perform the task without thinking. Over time, you don't really even notice that you are doing what you are doing. It takes place outside of awareness. Under conditions of stress, however, the explicit system sometimes takes over. This is when you have to think about every little detail. Things that once felt natural now take time to decipher. You are back to being a beginner. That’s what it means to choke. You begin to think about every menial task. You will look slow, deliberate, and would not able to keep up with the competition.
Panic is something else all together. It is a physiological response done without thinking about the consequences. It is the opposite of choking. Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct. Panic is reversion to instinct. They may look the same, but they are worlds apart. Panic also causes something known as perceptual narrowing. This is when you obsess on one thing that you fail to take in all the perceptual cues that are made available to you. This reminds me of a quote from Drew Brees in his book Coming Back Stronger: "If you are worried about the mountain in the distance, you might trip over the molehill right in front of you". It is important to take in the entire landscape of the situation before performing the next task!
Next time you watch a sporting event and the announcers are discussing a "colossal collapse", try to identify what is really going on. Only those who care about how well they perform ever feel the pressure of the threat. The bodies response to stress will effect not only the implicit system but also the explicit learning system. The usual prescription for failure–to work harder and take the test more seriously–would only make their problems worse. Had he choked, he would have reverted to the mode of explicit learning. His movements would have become markedly slower and less fluid. He would have gone back to the mechanical, self-conscious application of the lessons he had first received. He would have looked like a novice. If he panicked, perceptual narrowing may have occurred which could lead to myriad of issues. Now, don't get me wrong, pressure is an obstacle that anyone can overcome. Be aware, be diligent, and understand that it happens to the greatest performers. Like John Maxwell once said, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn", and make an effort to not let it happen again!
Spring has finally sprung and for some of us, the competitive race season is in full swing. Unfortunately, so are some of those running related injuries. I want to take some time to discuss something that is prevalent in the world of female athletics. It is known as the Female Athlete Triad and it is a three-headed monster that debilitates female and their bodies.
The Female Athlete Triad is a health concern for active women and girls who participate in athletics. It involves three distinct and interrelated conditions: disordered eating (a range of poor nutritional behaviors), amenorrhea (irregular or absent menstrual periods) and osteoporosis (low bone mass and microarchitectural deterioration, which leads to weak bones and risk of fracture). Exercise alone does not put someone at risk for developing the Triad; however, an energy deficit, in which caloric intake doesn’t match energy expenditure, is a risk factor. Most likely the cause, disordered eating is where this cycle begins.
“Disordered eating” is a term that includes the full spectrum of abnormal eating behaviors, ranging from simple dieting to clinical eating disorders. It can be inadvertent, such as when an athlete mistakenly eats too little to adequately fuel her physical activity and her caloric needs for activities of everyday living. However, the most serious and the most difficult cases to treat involve athletes who are willfully restricting their caloric intake for the purpose of becoming thinner or leaner. When you combine poor nutrition with vigorous exercise, menstrual abnormalities can occur. Amenorrhea is often attributed to the hypothalamus turning off the reproductive system due to energy drain. When there is no "fuel" entering the body, the body will not function the way it was designed to. The prevalence of amenorrhea among athletes tends to be higher than for non-athletes. Athletes with prolonged amenorrhea are at increased risk for loss of bone mass as estrogen is necessary for the building of bone. If estrogen is not available due to amenorrhea, you will increase the likelihood of injury. If this process continues without recognition, osteoporosis (porous bone) may develop. This is a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue, resulting in bone fragility and increased risk of fracture.
This cycle begins with disordered eating. If you are working at a calorie deficit (this is when calories expended is greater than calories consumed) you will be at an increased risk of amenorrhea. When this occurs, you can see a significant decrease in bone mineral density. Stories of the aforementioned Triad are prevalent in every gym or training center. I have heard countless tales of women who are not getting their period while training for endurance races, or a women in her forties who broke her hip while training for a race, or others who continue training with stress fractures and don't understand (or don't believe) that their eating habits could be the cause for it all. So my advice for everyone out there competing in some races this season: FUEL UP! This is the one thing that can keep you healthy and on the road competing to the best of your abilities!
The words “I know it” are much more valuable than the words “I knew it”!
Thanks to master storyteller Erik Larson (author of one of my favorite books The Devil in the White City), the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania at the hand of a German submarine will no longer linger at the edges of American memory. I wasn't too familiar with this story and didn't realize the effect it had on the United States decision to abort their intention of staying neutral and enter the first World War. Of the Lusitania’s 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived; the total deaths was 1,195. Among the dead were 123 Americans. Over 600 passengers were never found. The question was posed prior to the sinking: If a British liner full of Americans be blown up, what will Uncle Sam do? Uncle Sam decided to get in on the action!
We often hear about how terrible events could have been averted by the tiniest of decisions and twists of fate. Like many other disasters that occurred over the course of time, there are tons of questions posed. Why wasn't the ship escorted by British destroyers? Why sail amidst the threats of the Germans? If speed was our strength, why was one turbine shut off slowing the ship down by six knots? And the conspiracy theorist believe the British chose not to do this by design. Winston Churchill, second in command of the British Navy at the time, wrote it was “most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores, in the hopes especially of embroiling the US with Germany…we want the traffic- the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still”. That "trouble" could coax the US into joining their cause. And Churchill desperately needed US assistance and may have been willing to lose thousands of lives to make that happen.
Of course, in the end there is always a certain level of hindsight bias. The Captain of the ship was questioned, and accused by some, of some form of wrongdoing. He made decisions based of the knowledge, or lack thereof, of his journey. Hindsight bias is a term used in psychology to "explain the tendency of people to overestimate their ability to have predicted an outcome that could not possibly have been predicted". In essence, the hindsight bias is often referred to as the "I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon". It is a powerful thought in hindsight but that doesn't help prevent these things from occurring. Mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, "Technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being". There are survivors and victims out there that explain after the fact that they “unconsciously” knew they were in danger. If they truly knew then what was the unconscious part? Our intuition knows more about a situation than we are consciously aware of. We have the very great advantage of foresight as human beings. Our foresight is developed through pre-incident indicators. These indicators teach us many things and need to be viewed as part of the incident. Some individuals bought tickets for the Lusitania but decided not to partake on the journey. They believed the risks far outweighed the reward and in this instance, they were right! Behavior is like a chain and the process starts way before the act. So I pose the question: Why do we worship hindsight and yet distrust foresight, which actually might make a difference in our lives?
I have been talking to a few people about this new program I have been working out so I will give as much detail to this program as possible here. The premise is simple: you will perform two exercises a day and complete six training sessions a week. The plan goes as follows:
Squat: 12 sets x 2 reps. On this day I am working with lighter loads and completing the rep at a high speed
KB Single Arm Clean & Press: I perform ladders on these days and will outline the progression below
Chinups: Currently, I do 55 reps a session, using a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown.
Track Workout: I have this routine outlined separately. It is tough and burns fat like a mofo!
KB Swings: I follow a 10-15-25-50 rep scheme. Progression below
Turkish Getups: Progression below
Deadlift: Work up to a 1RM on these days. This exercise changes every two weeks so we don't get burned out. Some other exercises used on this day are good mornings for a 3RM, back squats, and front squats. I stole this idea from the Westside Barbell program
TRX Rows: 5 sets of 12 reps
KB Single Arm Clean & Press: I perform ladders on these days and will outline the progression below
Loaded Carry: Pick up, push, pull or carry a heavy weight for 200 yards.
Fat Grip Pullups: I follow a 2-3-5 ladder rep scheme. Each week, I add a ladder. Once I get to five ladders, I add additional resistance.
Hill Workout: This is a natural progression, similar to how the track routine progresses.
KB Single Arm Clean & Press Ladder:
Week One: Perform 1 rep, 2 reps, and 3 reps on each arm. That is one ladder. Each session you add one ladder. So, on session two, you perform 1-2-3-1-2-3 for 12 total reps on each side. Once you are able to complete five ladders of 1-2-3, you will start back at one ladder and add a fourth rep. On session six, you will perform a ladder of 1-2-3-4. When you complete 1-2-3-4 for 5 rounds then you will add an additional rep and start back at one ladder of 1-2-3-4-5. The goal is to complete that for 5 rounds. It takes awhile to complete 5 ladders of 1-2-3-4-5 but I have seen an incredible strength increase during the process.
KB Swing Progression:
Session 1: 10-15-25-50
Session 2: 10-15-25-50 move up in weight and do an additional 10 reps
Session 3: 10-15-25-50; Move up in weight and do an additional 10-15 reps
Session 4: 10-15-25-50; Move up in weight and do an additional 10-15-25 reps
Session 5: 10-15-25-50; Move up in weight and do an additional 10-15-25-50 reps
I hope you see the pattern here...Continue moving up in weight until you complete 300 swings in a session
Turkish Getup Progression
Session 1: 1 rep each side
Session 2: 1 rep each side, then two reps each side for 3 total
Session 3: 1 rep each side, two reps each side, then three reps each side for 6 total
Session 4: 1-2-3-4 reps each side for 10 total
Session 5: 1-2-3-4-5 reps each side for 15 total
Now, this does not look like much when you first get going but as you progress through, the volume adds up. There is a natural "de-loading" that occurs when you start the ladders back over at one for the clean & press. As you can see, I have no horizontal pressing (bench press) in here. I have done tons of that growing up and in recent years that during this little phase of training, I am taking a little break from it. I do add some pushups into the warmup so I am not totally ignoring that movement pattern. Some days, you are going to want to do more than what the day calls for. You can always combine two days in one, perform two sessions in one day, etc. Just make sure you crank the weights up and make an honest effort to get stronger in each and every exercise you do. Combine that with the high-intensity track and hill workouts and you have a pretty grueling training program. For more details, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!