Wellchat Episode III

Episode 3. Cristin interviews Neal about his upcoming bike tour across Montana (The RAM), plus MUS Wellness news and upcoming events.

Here are the MUS locations Neal will be stopping by during the RAM:

  • Monday, June 26, Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell
    • 9:30am, Group Ride with Neal
    • 11am, FVCC Employee Meet & Greet. AT 144. Snacks provided!
  • Thursday, June 29, Great Falls College—MSU
    • 3pm, GFC Employee Meet & Greet. Snacks provided!
  • Friday, June 30, CARC, Moccasin, noonish.
  • Monday, July 3, Dawson Community College, Glendive, 9ish
  • Monday, July 3, EARC, Sidney, early afternoon

Undulating Periodization (i.e. Climbing a Mountain of Fitness via switchbacks)

Wow. What a title. A little wordy, but sometimes you just have to go for it. Hopefully you’re hooked and ready for me to drop some exercise science! If you’ve ever trained for anything, have aspirations to train for something, or are doing so now, stay with me till the end—amidst the science, this article has practical information that can help you stay healthy while working toward a big goal.

Periodization is a training term, referring to planned changes in exercise volume or intensity over time. Volume is the measure of how much exercise you’re doing, and intensity is the measure of how hard the exercise is. Usually, this exercise volume and/or intensity increases over time, with a goal to bring beneficial adaptations to the person training. These adaptations could range from getting stronger, to losing weight, to preparing for soccer season, to running a trail race, to riding your bicycle across the state. It just so happens that I’m doing the latter beginning in a few days, and have been formally training for this goal for the past 14 weeks.

As I come to the end of my training, I wanted to use the opportunity to talk about a couple of training concepts that can help you if you’re working toward a long-term goal. First, the concept of periodization is fundamental to exercise science, but actually owes much of its origin to a Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist named Hans Selye. Selye is credited with the idea of the General Adaptation Syndrome (or G.A.S. theory), which describes how the body (particularly the endocrine system) responds to stressful environmental stimuli.

The reason this theory is important to exercise scientists and coaches is because exercise, as far as the human body is concerned, is a stressful environmental stimulus. The act of exercise takes our bodies out of cushy, comfy homeostasis, and puts stress on a number of our body systems, depending on what we’re doing, how long we do it, and how difficult it is. If you haven’t exercised for a long time, and then do some intense exercise, you know what I’m talking about. Or, if you exercise all the time in a certain way, and then go do something totally different, you know what I’m talking about.

The G.A.S. theory consists of 3 events:

  1. A stress (In this context a bout of exercise)
  2. A negative response from the body (Fatigue, stiffness, soreness, inflammation, depletion of resources, etc.)
  3. An adaptation from the body (Gain of lean muscle tissue, improved motor skills, gain of muscular strength, improved cardiovascular efficiency, etc.)

A periodized training plan takes advantage of the magic of this cycle, which is the adaptation. Our bodies are amazing at adapting to acute bouts of stress, but there’s a caveat. There must be sufficient time and rest after the negative response in order for the adaptation to occur. Without enough rest and recovery, and given enough repeated exercise bouts, our bodies and even our minds can become worn down, worn out, and exhausted. Injury, burnout, and even illness often follow.

“Rest is where the magic happens…”

Periodization is also sometimes referred to as progression. One strategy to build-up, or progress exercise volume and/or intensity is just to keep adding more and more over time, in more-or-less a steady progression. This is called linear periodization or linear progression. For example, say a runner accustomed to running 20-miles a week decides to train for a marathon, and has a goal to work up to 55 miles a week. She decides to add 5 miles a week every week until she is hitting 55. This is an example of linear progression, and when you look at the graph below, you’ll see that it is aptly named. Linear periodization or progression is pretty straight-forward and logical, and it can work, but it is not without some risks and pitfalls. It’s like the old “straw that broke the camel’s back” analogy. Everyone has a breaking point, and at that point, the body just can’t handle the ever-mounting stress, and things fall apart. That being said, a linear progression is still a much better plan than someone just jumping from 20 miles a week straight to 55. Mistakes like that are made often among recreational athletes, and are usually not without consequences.

Training Volume3
Example of a linear progression. A runner adds 5 miles a week until she’s up to her training goal.

So linear progression is a better method than going straight from not-a-lot to a-whole-lot, but there’s still a best way. The best way minimizes risks and maximizes rewards, and it only requires a slight tweek or adjustment to the concepts just presented. What’s more, the best solution is rooted to the concept of allowing the body and brain adequate rest and recovery, and much research and practical application favors this training strategy. It’s called non-linear, or undulating periodization. Non-liner periodization does exactly what the name implies, training volumes and intensities undulate, both during the week (microcycle), and over the entire training program (macrocycle).

Let’s take a look at my macrocycle. Below is a graph of my weekly training, in minutes, over the past 14 weeks. For my training, I chose to measure volume in minutes instead of mileage, because when I rode on the indoor trainer or did a spin class during cold, wet spring days, then I wasn’t getting true miles (the bike just sits in the same place no matter how hard I pedal).

Training Volume
Cycling volume by minutes per week. The undulating pattern is by design.

Notice the peaks and troughs, and the overall trend over time. The training peaks provide extra stress to the system, and the troughs allow the system to recover enough to adapt (and hopefully not break down), while still keeping the overall volume on the up-and-up. Here’s the same graph with an arrow to illustrate the overall direction of the training volume, which turns out to be pretty linear:

Training Volume2
The non-linear progression still follows an overall linear trend, but the dips allow for extra rest and recovery. Think of a switchbacking trail up a mountain rather than a trail straight up.

Pretty cool, eh?

Another way I like to think of it is kind-of like switchbacks. A trail that just heads straight up the mountain would be like linear progression. If the slope is too steep, it can be very difficult, and it might break you at some point. But a path to the top of the mountain via switchbacks is a little more gentle.  Even the steepest of slopes can be managed with some thoughtful switchbacks. You’ll still get to the top, and you’ll hopefully be in one piece when you get there!

Finally, notice the graph climbed to its zenith a couple of weeks ago, and then begins to fall. This is called a taper, and it allows some really nice recovery to happen so that you feel fresh and fit when it’s go-time. This week, my final week before my ride, my volume will fall off even more. Personally, for big events like this ride or a long race like a marathon, I like for my volume to peak 2 to 3 weeks prior to the event, to allow for a full recovery and a peak performance. During the taper period, I also like to hold my intensity steady while the volume falls away. It’s like keeping the engine of a sports car revved-up, but not putting many miles on it.

There’s a fine line between optimal training and over-training. Over-training is a road to injury, burnout, dysfunction, and even illness. Whenever I set a goal and train for something, my first priority is to be healthy whenever it’s time to perform. Non-linear progressions help me get to the starting line healthy and confident. You don’t have to be a coach or exercise scientist to put these concepts into practice. If you’ve read this whole article, kudos to you! There was a lot of info here, therefore I will try to summarize simply:

  1. Your body and brain need the stress of exercise.
  2. Your body and brain need time to adequately recover from the stress of exercise.
  3. You will get better over time if you practice this model, and slowly progress volume and intensity.
  4. Be patient, trust the process, err on the conservative side, and meet your goal healthy and confident!

I’m ready to Rock n’ Roll!



How do you figure what is 20%?

In Episode 2 of the Montana Moves and Meals podcast, we discussed my first nutrition tenet: the 80/20 rule of moderation. This principle is meant to allow for some flexibility in one’s diet to include foods that we enjoy but that may not be great for us (the 20%), while maintaining a focus on eating for health (the 80%). By following this tenet, you lose the all-or-nothing approach to nutrition and the excuse that “the diet starts tomorrow!”

After we posted the podcast, I received the following question: “How do you figure what is 20%? 20% of the days? 20% of meals? 20% of calories?” Great question, and one that I felt deserved to be answered for everyone, not just for those who are comment readers.

First, determining the 80% vs 20% is really up to individual discretion. There are no hard and fast rules. But here’s my take:  I would say the percentages should be considered in the context of all of the food/beverage choices that you make over the course of a day. If you think about it, we make dozens of eating choices everyday – wheat bread or white? Salad or fries? Trail mix or chips? Milk or water? Opening the refrigerator door or not, etc. So, to follow the 80/20 rule, 80% of those choices are the healthy option; 20% of those choices are based purely on what you want.

I would judge the 80/20 breakdown over a day or even a couple of days as you might have entire meals that are mostly in the 80 or 20 category, but hopefully not entire days that are in the 20%. Determining the 20% doesn’t need to be an exact science; it’s more of just a basic guiding principle and reminder that most of our diet should consist of healthy foods, while still leaving room for foods that make us happy & satisfied. In fact, think broadly when considering this principle. Resist the temptation to categorize each and every food as good or bad, as it’s all too easy to extend this to a judgement about ourselves as good or bad for eating that food. We eat a variety of foods for a variety of reasons, and the food we eat has no bearing on our worth as a person. It does however, have a bearing on our health outcomes and health risks, and that’s why it’s important to prioritize healthy nutritional choices.

Hope this helps.

Happy Eating!



Crushing Challenges at Tech

…many of the best wellness initiatives are grassroots, with someone saying, “Hey, what if we…”

We recently had a couple of wellness-related self-reports from Montana Tech that we wanted to share with everyone. It looks like the Ore Diggers are just crushing challenges over in Butte, building healthy teams and workplaces in the process.

First, the Tech Human Resources office teamed up to tackle last month’s “Plant a Garden” challenge. If there’s one thing Butte is known for, it’s the long growing season…right? Not to worry, the HR team started their very own office garden! Looks amazing!

Meanwhile, across campus, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology has a group of regular walkers that incorporate campus errands to admin offices, the mail room, and the Mineral Museum. The walking group began with six employees in 2015, and has since grown to regularly include a dozen MBMG staff. If you’ve ever walked around the Tech campus, you know it requires some fitness, as there is not a lot of flat ground! Keep getting those steps and stairs MBMG!

tech walkers
The MBMG crew taking advantage of some lovely spring weather.

Thanks for sharing Tech!

If your department or team is banding together to create a healthier environment and better place to work, don’t be shy—please share it with us, so that we can share it with MUS. You might inspire others to follow your lead! Your Wellness team believes many of the best wellness initiatives are grassroots, with someone saying, “Hey, what if we…”

Be Well!

RAM Update

I’m less than a month away from my Ride Across Montana (RAM), and my excitement is building along with my nerves. My training is going well, and the logistics are coming together, but there’s always the self-doubt that comes along with the unknown. I’ve done a few mulit-day bike tours, but never one as long as this. On the other hand, it’s a ride, not a race. No one will have a clock on me. I just have to keep moving, and I’ll have plenty of daylight following the summer solstice.

So far, I’ve logged over 50 hours in the saddle in preparation, and I have a little less than three weeks to train hard before I shut it down and take a few recovery days before the ride begins on June 25th.

Here’s a list of MUS stops on my tour:

  • Monday, June 26th. Flathead Valley CC, Kalispell
  • Thursday, June 29th. Great Falls College MSU
  • Friday, June 30th. Central Agricultural Research Center MSU, Moccasin
  • Monday, July 3rd. Dawson CC, Glendive & Eastern Agricultural Research Center MSU, Sidney

We’re working on some informal meet & greets at each stop, so if you’re at one of these locations, I look forward to seeing you! More info will be forthcoming as the RAM approaches!


Here’s a few “training” pics. I’m really excited to share more from the road in a few weeks! Follow along right here or on the Montana Moves twitter feed!

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The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat

Well, we did it. We made a podcast. We’ve been talking about it for sometime now and we finally got it done! Let us know if you like it, give us some feedback, and we’ll make more! Have an idea for an episode? We take requests. Episode 1 is introductions and back stories. Even if you think you know us, if you listen you might learn something new.

Episode 1.  Neal Andrews & Cristin Stokes from MUS Wellness introduce themselves and the Montana Moves & Montana Meals programs in Episode 1 of their new podcast, The Wellchat.

Raising Mental Health Awareness in Montana

As a state, Montana generally does very well in terms of health rankings. According to a recent report from the Centers of Disease Control, Montana has an obesity rate of 23.8%, putting us 48th in the nation (that’s 48th in a good way), and we were one of four states whose obesity rate actually went down last year. Our state also ranks 47th in rate of diabetes and 45th in hypertension. Well done, Montana!

But there’s at least one area that Montana doesn’t do well, and that’s mental health. In fact, the mental health statistics for our state are dismal. In 2012, Montana ranked 3rd highest in suicide rate, with a rate nearly double the national average. We have had one of the highest state suicide rates for literally decades.¹ 

Unfortunately, mental health is often overlooked or ignored. In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s give mental health some of the attention it deserves.

A number of factors are thought to contribute to Montana’s high suicide and depression rates, including:

    • Social isolation. Our state is largely rural and the low population density can mean that people are left without needed social support.
    • Poor mental health infrastructure. A 2016 DPHHS report found that 55 out of Montana’s 56 counties were classified as areas with a shortage of mental health providers and resources.
    • Alcohol abuse. Binge drinking, underage drinking, DUIs, and alcohol-related fatality rates in Montana are all high compared to other states.² An estimated 30-40% of suicide victims have alcohol in their system at the time of death.³
    • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The further away from the equator a person lives, the more likely they are to experience SAD, which is a type of depression.
    • Stigma. Montana has a culture of independence and self-sufficiency. While these characteristics are helpful in many ways, for mental health, they can be devastating. A culture that discourages people from talking openly about problems often prevents people from asking for help or seeking out resources when needed. In addition, individuals living with mental health conditions face discrimination in terms of employment and housing, and are often stereotyped as dangerous and irresponsible.† According to the CDC, only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believe that other people are caring and sympathetic towards people with mental illness.‡

While public policy and advocacy can make an impact on mental health infrastructure and alcohol laws, it’s that last factor—stigma—that we should all take personal responsibility in helping to eliminate. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) urges us all to recognize that mental health conditions are not a result of personal failure or weakness, or a reflection of a poor upbringing.‡‡ The way we talk about mental health can make a big difference too in terms of reducing the stigma. See the infographic below for suggestions on how to discuss mental health in stigma-free ways.

Stigma freeFrom https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Take-the-stigmafree-Pledge/StigmaFree-Me

It’s also important to be open to mental health-related discussions, to recognize warning signs of potential problems, and provide judgment-free support and connection to resources for our family members and friends. Here are a few good resources along those lines:

Know the Warning Signs of Mental Health Conditions (NAMI)

Supporting a Friend or Family Member with Mental Health Problems (mentalhealth.gov)

How to Help in an Emotional Crisis (American Psychological Association)

One in five families in Montana are affected by mental illness, so even though many people are reluctant to talk about it, it’s something that many of us are living and dealing with. Remember that treatment exists for depression and other mental health conditions. Many of our campuses have top-notch counseling staff and facilities that are available and convenient for faculty/staff, and the MUS insurance plan offers four free counseling sessions with an in-network provider. We always encourage plan members to take advantage of this benefit, recognizing that optimal mental health is essential for holistic wellness. Even if you consider your problem or issue to be relatively minor, it can be incredibly beneficial to talk it out and get an outside perspective from a licensed therapist.

In addition, work/life balance, stress management, and taking time for hobbies or activities that you enjoy are key to maintaining good mental health. Remember to take a picture this month showing what you do to improve your mental health and submit it to the Rural Health Initiative’s photo contest!

Finally, if you or someone you know needs immediate help for a mental health crisis, call 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK. For a comprehensive list of local and national mental health resources, check out http://mtdh.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/?page_id=721



Introducing: The RAM.

“We’re really doing it Harry!”              —Lloyd Christmas

Cristin and I spend a lot of time talking about goal setting, and then how to apply healthy behaviors to help achieve the stated goal. It’s kind of our shtick. Every January, your Wellness Team practices what we preach by writing down some professional, personal, and athletic goals for the year. If I’m being honest, I probably get most excited about the athletic goals 🙂

This year, and I don’t know exactly where it came from, I had a crazy idea. You might call it a stretch goal, and I’m talking about a big stretch. But I wrote it down. As I like to say, “It’s not really a goal until you write it down.” After I wrote it down, I started talking about it to my close friends and family, and I was surprised by their excitement and support. Then I started thinking about it logistically. How would I do this? What would it look like? How much help would I need? Could I make it? Then I started training for it. And now, I’m saying it publicly, so it gets even more real.

This summer, I’m going to ride my road bike across Montana. (Yikes!)

I’m calling it the RAM (Ride Across Montana), and I’m really excited about the challenge and the adventure; and I’m especially excited to share it with you! I’m lucky enough to tour this amazing state of ours via automobile as part of my job, and there isn’t a spot I visit that I don’t enjoy. So why not go by bike, and connect some amazing dots?

I won’t give away all the details yet, but I will tell you that I will be crossing and visiting several MUS locations on my trip. There is also plans for a video, plus lots of photos and stories, which I’ll be sharing here and via twitter. Oh, and Going-to-the-Sun Road. Yeah. I’m riding that.

The RAM is happening in late June/early July. I hope you’ll come along for the journey!



Ergonomics Resources: Work should not hurt.

Our most recent webinar focused on Ergonomics and practical strategies to reduce or eliminate pain that can be brought on by work, particularly musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs.  We came away from the webinar with a lot of great resources that can help you improve your workstations/work environments in order to reduce or eliminate pain. If you have a coworker who is a pain, we cannot help with that one. Sorry. But be sure to check out the rest of these resources, including the webinar recording, in case you missed it!

http://www.vimeo.com/215532087 (Ergonomics Webinar—MUS Wellness)

Ergonomic resources from around MUS:

Take some time to make sure your workspace is working with you, not against you! A few simple adjustments can be the difference between living with pain or being pain-free!