Sunday, April 27, 2008

Buzz Kill

Over the course of the last ten years I've been slowly cutting back on my alcohol consumption. I've never been a big drinker, and even in college I limited my beer intake to weekends only. I used to drink for the usual reasons. I enjoyed the buzz, it helped me relax, it gave me courage when I needed it and it allowed me to escape from the "real world" for a little while. As health and fitness became more important in my life I began to notice that the buzz and escape just wasn't necessary any more. I had a party at my house last night and I drank non-alcoholic herbal punch mixed with Pellegrino all night. I'm not here to tell you that you have to stop drinking alcohol altogether, I just want you to look at why you drink and what the consequences are. 

Exercise is my buzz. Being ripped and strong gives me my courage. Cardiovascular exercise brings peace of mind and relaxation. I don't need some elixir or potion to escape anymore. If there's something amiss in my world I get busy conquering it, not escaping from it.            

Here’s some interesting information to help you understand how powerful a drug alcohol is. You make your own conclusions/decisions, I've made mine.

According to the CDC: ( sourced directly from

There are approximately 75,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation. In the single year 2003, there were over 2 million hospitalizations and over 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases, neurological impairments and social problems. These include but are not limited to:

  * Neurological problems including dementia, stroke and neuropathy.

  * Cardiovascular problems including myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and hypertension.

  * Psychiatric problems including depression, suicide and anxiety.

  * Social problems including unemployment, lost productivity and family problems.

  * Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, prostate and breast for women. In general, the risk of cancer increases with increasing amounts       of alcohol.

  * Liver diseases including:

     o Alcoholic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver which can progress to cirrhosis.

     o Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver that prevents this vital organ from functioning properly. This condition often leads to complete liver failure,        and it is among the 15 leading causes of all death in the United States.

     o Alcohol use by those with Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can cause the infection to worsen. Alcohol may also interfere with the medications used to treat HCV.

  * Other gastrointestinal problems including pancreatitis and gastritis.

 MADD reports:

In 2006, an estimated 17,602 people died in alcohol-related traffic crashes—an average of one every 30 minutes. These deaths constitute 41 percent of the 42,642 total traffic fatalities. Of these, an estimated 13,470 involved a driver with an illegal BAC (.08 or greater).

How much is excessive drinking?

Each country has a model or limit, either per day/week or both. The US has broken those limits into categories for men and women, but also makes recommendations for the elderly, young and those who fall into specific emotional or physiological categories. A “drink” is: One 12 ounce beer = 5 ounce glass of wine = 1 1⁄2 shots of 80 proof liquor.

USA: (for men) 4/day; 14/week (@14g = 56g/day, 196g/week) daily USA: (for women) 3/day; 7/week (@14g = 42g/day, 98g/week)

Daily consumption should not exceed 1/7 of the weekly maximum.

Obviously, governmental limits are for reference only. Each person is affected differently by alcohol depending on a wide variety of factors; each person must therefore take the responsibility to find out how alcohol affects them and what their personal limits are.


Alcohol is a stimulant. Alcohol, specifically ethanol, is a potent central nervous system depressant. Initially, alcohol can excite certain receptors in the body that react to euphoria, but if consumption continues, it ultimately has a depressive effect. 

Alcohol is fattening. Studies are inconclusive at best, but alcohol itself contains only 7 calories per gram. Some studies show actual weight loss due to increased metabolism while drinking, while others show increased weight gain due to carbohydrate consumption. 

Alcohol can be good for me. (Red wine argument) Alcohol should never be used to enhance a “healthy diet.”

"I’ve only had one drink. I can drive!" Basically all law enforcement recommends “if you drink, do not drive” Everyone reacts to alcohol consumption differently based on how much one has to eat, how fast one consumes the alcohol, how much you weigh and your tolerance to alcohol. There is no way to diminish the effects of alcohol except time. Coffee, water, juice etc. does NOT speed up the process; you simply become a well hydrated drunk.

College students spend more on alcohol than on textbooks. In California, it is estimated that one drunk driving arrest can cost the offender up to $10,000. Not to mention the danger and potential consequences of driving drunk. Job loss, productivity loss, property damage, fines etc. is estimated in the millions every year.

Can alcohol still be a part of your healthy life? It depends you. Does each of us need to give it the respect and consideration it deserves? Definitely! When we reach for a drink we're not thinking about statistics because in that moment we want to relax, escape, have fun, etc., etc. It can be fun in moderation, and disastrous otherwise. 

Simple test:  The next time you have a hang over, consider the damage you have done to your body - it hurts for a reason - then think harder about your specific drinking habits and adjust those habits accordingly. Hell, I'm not a complete bore. I still occasionally enjoy that ice cold beer with a home made plate of pasta and marinara sauce.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Shifting the Grid System

It's been a busy few months for me in BeachBody Land. We had our big MDB event in Anaheim, then straight to Maui to celebrate the top Team BeachBody coaches. Next was Philadelphia for our amazing sell-out debut of P90X on QVC. Most recently I was in Washington DC for our first ever Fitness Camp in that city, and a trip back to the city of brotherly love to meet with some of the players and coaches of the Philadelphia Eagles who are using P90X in the off-season. At each and every event I found people of all shapes, sizes, ages and athletic ability using P90X. How could this be? The popularity of this program has astonished me and everyone else at Beachbody. P90X was a niche product for Power 90 and Master Series graduates and for folks tired of wasting their money on gym memberships and expensive trainers. None of us ever thought it would get this huge. How are 62 year old grandparents and professional football players all getting results with a 90 day in-home extreme fitness program? It doesn't make sense when you first think about it. After the DC camp last week Mason Bendewald and I asked everyone what their "Ah-Ha" moment was. Seventy five percent said that they discovered that they were a lot tougher than they thought. This didn't surprise me because I hear that after every camp. Rick Burkholder, the Head Athletic Trainer for the Eagles was telling me that he and his players loved P90X because the eclectic combination of routines and exercises brought on plenty of "onset muscle soreness" but no joint and connective tissue pain and injury. The pace and speed of the weight baring routines forced users to keep keep the resistance low as they progressed through the program, for fear of burn-out and other side effects like vomiting. Ab-RipperX and the other calorie burning routines are atypical for football players so it forced them to use their muscles in new ways.

In the infomercial BeachBody President Jon Congdon talks about how the program keeps you "off balance" just enough so that you don't settle into a plateau. Most other programs stop working after awhile because the body falls into a pattern or grid. Once this happens the individual using said program has to start getting creative to break the grid. Shifting or breaking the grid is how you avoid plateaus and injuries. Most people aren't profession trainers or athletes so there's no way of knowing this, or even how to do it. The 12 different routines in P90X have a built in "Grid Shifting System" already. You don't need a Phd in exercise physiology to use P90X. All you need is a TV, DVD player, some weights or bands, a small space and a willingness and desire to find out what you're made of. A vast majority of the people using and sticking with P90X are learning that doing it "perfectly" is NOT the point. Not to say you can't become more efficient at using it over time (this is how you get stronger, more flexible and fitter) because each routine allows room for improvement. It's built-in design requires that you up the weight, increase your reps and range of motion. There's also a Lean, Classic and Doubles version to keep you on your toes round after 90 day round. Our good friend Mark Briggs (of P90X+ fame) is on his 13th round of P90X. This time he's rotating high rep-low weight/resistance days with higher weight/resistance low-rep days. Genius! P90X has been the number 1 infomercial in the country for weeks because the American public gets it. We are done being fooled and pandered to by companies that care more about their bottom line then your well-being. We understand and accept that the journey is long and sometimes hard, but worth it. The pendulum of laziness, depression, frustration and poor health is beginning to move in the direction of hope, happiness, clarity, purpose, fitness and good health. P90X is the tip of the spear for change and you're the people leading the charge.        

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More science regarding exercise and brain power


Exercise and Academic Success

April 10, 2008 

Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald.
Belgian Proverb

With schools in the United States cutting back on physical education in order to meet the goals of "No Child Left Behind", studies are starting to show that this is a move in the wrong direction. For example, a study involving 163 overweight children in Augusta, Georgia, reported in Education Week (February 13, 2008; supports the cognitive benefits of exercise:

"For that study, a cross-disciplinary research team randomly assigned children to one of three groups. One group received 20 minutes of physical activity every day after school. Another group got a 40-minute daily workout, and a third group got no special exercise sessions.

"After 14 weeks, the children who made the greatest improvement as measured by a standardized academic test and a test that measured their level of executive function — thinking processes that involve planning, organizing, abstract thought, or self-control — were those who spent 40 minutes a day playing tag and taking part in other active games designed by the researchers. The cognitive and academic gains for the 20-minute-a-day group were half as large."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Last Man Sanding

Crested Butte March 2008

This trip was, for me, a trial that tested my dedication mixed in equal parts with disappointment, despair, and profound joy. We arrived in Crested Butte to clear, sunny skies, huge mountain views and visions of epic steep and deep skiing. Steve and I roomed together and both of us arrived on Tuesday. We both had to leave home in the pre-dawn hours to make our flights but Steve arrived in time to get some afternoon skiing in, effectively poaching us all. We had a nice dinner and found that Tony would arrive late that night. He was kind enough to wake us up when he did. The game was on.

Day one was bright and sunny. The snow was relatively soft, but had definitely been affected by the sun. Steve provided his usual thorough tour of the mountain that included a short "hike" to the promised goods. The hike was really a long traverse through the woods on a sun-baked trail that we will hereafter refer to as the Trail of Tears, in deference to the suffering I endured. The surface along the trail varied from hard, grabby snow to mush, and it featured numerous compressions, sharp turns, and unexpected whoops. In addition, the aspect ensured that we experienced the full might of the sun, turning this seemingly harmless stretch into a steaming inferno, rife with hazards.

Intermittent along the Trail of Tears path were short steep climbs, that were navigated using a side stepping motion. Up we climbed, sideways, 8 vertical inches at a time. It was like taking a two-year old up the steps of the Empire State Building - the task before you looms large while the progress is measured in infinitesimal increments. Tedious seems the most apt description. Adding to the misery created by the poor unpredictable surface, tropical climatic conditions, and tedious progress was the elevation (over 12,000 feet), that could literally take your breath away.

At the top of the climb my well renowned patience had reached its limit. I was sweating profusely, had crashed numerous times, and wondered if the promise of epic skiing could possibly hold. In my own famously mature way I expressed myself with a round of verbal vitriol that would make a Riker’s inmate blush. I believe that the key, oft-repeated phrase was "F**k this Sh*t". My next move was equally distinguished; I proceeded to strip my clothing off down to my skivvies to cool down, both literally and figuratively. To aid in the process I added a "snow shower" to the routine, washing myself with the precious frozen fluid. My comrades patiently waited for me (no doubt laughing at the ridiculous juvenile scene), then we entered the bowl and shredded like the fiends we are. However, by the time we reached the base we were in full sun and again the heat was unmitigated. Again I had to strip down and take my frozen shower. Again the boys were patient with my particular peccadilloes.

By the afternoon Stan had arrived and the Fantastic Four were together again. All in all, we found some good snow and made the best of what we had. Tony was a star, regularly poaching my lines and beating me to the bottom. We skied the steep and the hard, the soft and the mushy. We attacked the most daring lines under the poorest of conditions. But after all we are old pros at this routine. All of our trips seem to start just like this.

The next day held the promise of snow, and sure enough the flakes started to drop, though with no real accumulation. Unfortunately, the wind also picked up and the Silver Queen lift was shut down all day, limiting our options. Also, the cold cloudy day turned yesterday’s mush into today’s hard pack. The snow was shiny, icy, and completely unforgiving. Each attempted turn was met with a withering chatter of edge steel on hard variable surfaces. Still, we persisted, though the day took its toll. By the afternoon, the sun was back out and we decided to end the day with some soft bump runs. Off we went flying through the bump field like madmen, in a kind of Chinese downhill. There were many good turns, some spectacular crashes, lots of incredible recoveries, and plenty of laughs. By last chair though, our group had been beaten up pretty well. There was soreness, fatigue and loose dental work.

Day three was bright, hot and sunny. The snow surface was as hard as ever and made for some very uncomfortable groomed sections that no edge could hold. No edge, that is, except for Stan’s edge. Stan proved to be a star in these conditions. He flew through hard bump sections, launching off the mogul tops and driving his tips into the next turn. It was an impressive show of strength and skill. Near the end of the day, as we scoped for a new line, Stan flung himself headlong into a steep section of trees. This was no marked run, or even a visible line, it was a cluster f**k. For reference, imagine skiing down a near vertical wall made of cinder block with numerous trees, rocks and irregular bumps so dense you could see no way to the bottom from the top. Stan hopped his way down, like a deranged billy goat while we watched in awe and sheepishly skied away, taking an easier line to the bottom. There could only be one name for this barely skiable line and that would have to be Pennington. I couldn’t help feeling that I might have followed him down that path on Day One when I was strong, but by now I was barely surviving the battering, chattering and skidding. My confidence was in danger and I feared a dramatic backslide was imminent.

In fact the team morale was rather mixed. Steve was enthusiastic as always, treasuring any day on skis with the boys as a sacred gift, regardless of the conditions. Besides, he is Mr. Smooth and never really struggles no matter how technical the line or how poor the conditions. Stan, being on fire, also had a great attitude willing to jump into anything, anytime, and shining like the star he is. Tony and I, however, were weaker links. The difficult conditions wore us down. After another climb up Trail of Tears (and the requisite stripping down and cursing), I felt bad for making everyone wait again and sensed some dissention in the group. It culminated in a stooge-like series of events. Tony had dropped a pole, so I tried to reach it and knock it towards him. As I maneuvered, my skis got caught up in Steve’s and I slid onto my backside as my right leg was pulled underneath. I felt my knee stretch beneath me to near the point of breaking. It was like the ubiquitous movie scene with the suspension bridge that gets overloaded. The rope supports start slowly tearing, strand by strand, as the hero looks on in horror. All I could think was that this was a miserable way to go down to injury. At least Theone got some air on her season-ending wreck. Fortunately, the pain quickly subsided and I was thankful for all the pre-hab work I had done in the off season. In gratitude, my next child will be named Plyo.

Tony and I shared a quick moment as we contemplated what else we could do. We could ski rock hard, no grip groomers, continue on the extreme path that was growing evermore dangerous, or we could quit. We rejoined the boys and had a quiet, somber lift ride to the top. We then finished the day with a solemn and completely sketchy descent down Banana Peel, in possibly the worst conditions I have ever skied. Avalanche debris would be an improvement over this.

At dinner that night Tony announced that he was going home early. He had many things to do and he had checked the forecast. The next day was supposed to be 43 degrees and raining. Rather than lose another day in his crazy-scheduled life, he decided to leave the following morning. Who could argue, the prospects looked bleak. Things could only get worse. I felt a tear in the group dynamic now accompanied by a sinking feeling. The adversity was taking its toll. I also worried about my skiing ability and wondered if I could rise to the challenges without completely losing my confidence.

That night a remarkable thing happened. Each night prior to this we would dine together and then get to bed to heal and prepare for the next day. This night was different. We had dinner but then went to Paul’s house in town for a get together. We had a bunch of laughs as Tony showed his incredible feats of strength and flexibility. The atmosphere was light, joyful, fun. It reminded me of earlier trips when we would spend each night hanging in the Peruvian or the Cliff Lodge, playing poker and name that tune. I went to bed that night laughing and appreciating the time we spend together by sharing the sport we all love, but also enjoying each other’s company. The group dynamic was revived, saved by ourselves.

The next morning brought an unexpected surprise. There was three inches of fluff on the ground and it was dumping hard. Tony was in a terrible spot; he had already changed his travel arrangements and now had to decide if it was worth changing them back to partake in the day. What would the day be like? Would it rain later, as predicted? Would the snow be chunky and hard underneath? In the end he decided to go and cut his already formidable losses. He was the first man down.

Steve, Stan and I ventured into the morning with renewed vigor. The mountain was empty and we found numerous untracked lines. My confidence was building as the snow conditions reverted back towards my favor. We hooked up with Todd, an employee of the resort who offered to be our guide. Our first run with him was a short hike near the Trail of Tears with two important differences. First, the fresh snow pack made the traverse easy, and second the falling snow made the tedious ascent exciting as we anticipated the reward. There would be no stripping down or cursing after this climb. The descent was pure butter; by far the best run of the trip. We floated through powder soft and light and the joy of the addiction slowly reasserted itself.

Stan had to leave just after noon for his four-hour drive back to Denver (in his stylie mini van). He showed a commendable level of responsibility by leaving in mid stream on a near epic day. I don’t know that I could have acted with the resolve he so bravely demonstrated. Nonetheless, he was the second man down.

Steve and I skied the rest of the day, racing for last chair only to be thwarted by mere minutes. It had snowed all day, accumulating over 6-inches and filling in our tracks as we shredded. We had a quiet dinner and reflected on our group, our lives, and our remarkable differences. We come from the corners of the country, with seemingly nothing in common but a love for skiing and a desire to excel and push ourselves to the limit. Somehow we get along famously, tolerate each other (OK you all tolerate me), and genuinely enjoy each other. It is remarkable and I feel lucky to share in the dynamic that makes the addiction so much more enjoyable.

Steve left at 5AM - third man down.

I woke to bright skies and light snow mixed with rain. I quickly got ready and braced for a dense, heavy snow pack fearing that the temperature had risen too high. I was pleasantly surprised to find 4-5 inches of new light fluff. The previous day was terrific but we had to be careful because the subsurface was hard underneath the fresh snow in most places. On this day there was no bottom. There was no chattering. There was no skidding or backsliding. I roamed all over the mountain shredding areas we had struggled with only days before. On this day, it was butter, smooth and easy. I launched all of the daunting rocks we had stayed away from earlier in the week. I reveled in my good fortune and felt my confidence grow with each huge turn, each drop, each high-speed descent.

At the end of the day I knew that there was one thing I had to do. I drifted over to Penningtons. I cranked up my music, and a song that fires me up came on. Blurry by Puddle of Mudd. It’s about resolving emotional confusion. I hopped up and down at the edge of the precipice as I mentally prepared for the drop and the terrifying "run" beneath me. My first turn was cautious, but as I felt the light snow give way, I looked farther down the hill. After a few more tight turns, I suddenly saw that there were no obstacles, there were only the openings between them. I felt the flow, the effortless drift from turn to turn; the feeling I live for had returned to me. I continued with precise turns and slithered down the wall as effortlessly as a snake moving through smooth desert sand. At the end of the pitch, I peeled off a huge arcing turn and glanced back up the hill. It was all so clear now - I was back.

I raced to the nearest cat track and gathered as much speed as I dared. I flew off the edge and launched upwards as high as I could go. I slowly brought my legs towards my chest, crossed my skis and drove my hands back towards the earth. In that instant, time froze. The moment lasted less than a second, but in that position I recalled the whole experience of the trip, not unlike your life passing before your eyes. I had gone from confident and unflappable to self-doubting and flirting with despair. At this moment I had come all the way back. The joy was fully regained, and in the next instant I alighted like a colorful mallard landing on a smooth clear pond.

I was the last man standing, and I wish you all could have been with me right then. Till next time my brothers. Remember you never get too old to ski, you get too old by not skiing.