Climb On!

For those of you who participate in our MUS Wellness Incentive Program, one of our annual challenges is called “Climb On!”, and the challenge is to climb 70 flights of stairs or more per week, which is the default goal setting on many wearable health trackers like Fitbit™.

There are several reasons to climb. First, it’s fantastic for our metabolism. Climbing stairs or hills utilizes the strong, large muscles in our legs and hips, which drives our metabolic rate over 200% of its resting rate, and that’s at a walk. At the same time, climbing develops strength, balance, and coordination in those same muscles, which comes in handy in many parts of Montana, especially when recreating outdoors. So don’t miss an opportunity to take the stairs, it’s an easy way to gain fitness!

Last year, we interviewed one of our employees and learned how she customized this challenge in a way that made her, dare we say, step up.

Jocelyn Larson is part of the MSU Bozeman Recreational Sports & Fitness Staff, and we interviewed Jocelyn last year shortly after the “Climb On” challenge had ended. We waited to post this video until now, to give a little extra motivation to those participating in the challenge, or getting back into a regular exercise routine now that school is back in session. This is a great example of how to take one of our Wellness challenges and tailor it to fit your goals and schedule. Enjoy!

https://vimeo.com/230040117

Training Seasons

“I’m always training for something.”

My dad told me that when he played sports as a child and adolescent, there were four distinct seasons: football, basketball, track, and baseball.  He, and many of his peers, played all four all the way through high-school. The sports just changed with the seasons.

These days, this kind of sport rotation is less common, with many competitive sports lasting almost the entire year. There is also more pressure for kids to specialize in a single sport at an earlier age in order to be competitive or perhaps even win a scholarship in college some day.

However, there is some evidence in the scientific literature that suggests that this paradigm has some potential pitfalls, and that the most important thing for youth sport development is not specialization, but rather proficiency in the more broad aspects of athletics such as sprinting, jumping, agility, strength, power, and cardio-respiratory fitness. Sadly, athletes that specialize too soon are often at higher risk of burnout and injury before they even reach their prime. Above all, it seems that having fun and developing an appreciation of the games we play might have the most bearing on longevity in a sport.

I think the same concepts can be applied to adults when it comes to physical fitness and exercise. Keep in mind, when I talk about training, I’m just using a word that means preparing. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to be in training. I’m always training for something, and personally, I feel mentally and physically best when my training seasons rotate.

For example, this year my training seasons have looked like this:

  • January/February: Training for MSU Master’s Mile. Training focus: strength and speedwork.
  • March-June: Training for Ride Across Montana. Focus: lots of bike volume.
  • July: Rest, recovery, and play.
  • August-October: Training for Montana Cup, my favorite cross-country race, and a couple of big hikes. Focus: trail running, hiking, speedwork, and strength.
  • November-December: Off-season/Ski Prep. Focus: general strength and conditioning plus sport-specific ski training.

For me, changing the training focus and stimulus every few months (with the seasons) keeps me fresh and motivated. I’m seldom bored or stale with my training. To be fair, it helps that I enjoy a lot of different activities, and I look forward to preparing for each one.

If you’re really into a single sport, that’s fine too. You can still change things up with cross-training and strength training. Athletes that play one sport usually divide their year into distinct categories each with separate training focuses:

  • Off-season: general strength and conditioning. High volume, low intensity.
  • Pre-season: Sport specific conditioning and skills. Moderate volume, higher intensity.
  • In-Season: Skill development, sport specific practice, competition. Low volume. Moderate to high intensity.
  • Post-season/recovery: rest, restorative activities.
    • Here’s a good example of a post-season phase from an elite athlete. One of my peers in grad-school was an Olympic distance runner. Every year, after his last track meet in the late summer, he would do nothing but play basketball for a month.  He was still being active, but he wasn’t in formal “run” training. He was just having fun and staying fit. After his month of play, when his cross-country season began in the fall, he was refreshed and ready to resume formal training.

I’m always training for something because it keeps me motivated and focused. What are you training for? Remember training=preparing. Pick your next season or event, put it on the calendar, and get after it. If you’re a hunter, you can start training now! If you’re a skier, you can start training now! If you want to drop ______ pounds by Thanksgiving, you can start training now! If you want to run a winter marathon in a warm location, you can start training now! The freedom to choose our goals and go after them is one of our greatest gifts.

Best wishes for your next season!

Neal

 

 

Running Relaxed.

I just put the final touches on tomorrow’s “Running Relaxed” webinar, and I can’t wait to share it! One could make an easy argument that my involvement with this whole Wellness thing has its roots in running. Finding a passion for running at a young age led to much self-discovery, many life-lessons, and certainly an interest in how our bodies work and perform.

During the webinar, as the name implies, we’ll be focusing on how to run more relaxed. I believe that a relaxed runner is a better runner, for several reasons. More relaxed runners:

  1. Waste less energy
  2. Run more comfortably
  3. Run faster, farther (because they’re comfortable and conserving energy—see #1 & #2)
  4. Inspire others to run, because they look good doing it

The neat thing is, many of the tips and principles we’ll discuss are applicable at any speed, so whether you’re sprinting or running a 12-minute mile, you can learn to be more relaxed, more efficient, more comfortable, and just plain good-looking. I hope you can join!

Neal

Everybody stay Cool!

Here’s an article we re-post around this time every year. When the temperatures go from mild to scortching in a hurry, it’s always important to review safety tips for exercising outside in the heat. Here are a few tips:

  1. Adjust your schedule. Try to avoid the afternoon sun and heat. In Montana, we have the advantage of lower humidity, and relatively cool mornings and evenings. Start the hike early, or if you can, save the run, walk, or bike till dusk—the sun still sets after 9pm, so there’s plenty of time to do a night session. Midday your only option? Head to a gym for a cool indoor workout.
  2. Hydrate! The most important preventative measure to avoid heat related illness is to stay hydrated.  Proper hydration means consistent fluid intake throughout your day. Waiting until you feel thirsty is usually too late! If you are losing a lot of sweat through exercise, consider a sports drink containing electrolytes and a small amount of carbohydrate during and/or after exercise in order to replace nutrients lost through sweat.
  3. Wear appropriate gear. Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and moisture-wicking clothes (shirt/shorts/socks) are must-haves when going out into the heat.
  4. Take it easy. Your body can and will adapt to the heat, but it takes time, usually around two weeks. So if you’re not used to the heat, lower the intensity and/or duration of your exercise to avoid exhaustion. If you feel like you’re overdoing it, set aside your pride and shut it down. Heat exhaustion is a serious condition and can take several days or weeks to recover from.

Want to learn more about heat illness?  The Mayo Clinic has a nice article about the warning signs, and more about how to avoid heat illness.  Click here to learn more.

Stay cool y’all.

Neal

P.S. I’ll have more RAM reports and photos soon. Right now I’m trying to get a little R&R!

RAM Report #2

Sunday, July 2, 10pm

Greetings from Glendive! Since my last report, we’ve had some long challenging days, but we’ve made it to the Yellowstone, and should be arriving at the North Dakota border sometime Monday afternoon!

The last few days haven’t been quite as “easy” as the first few. Longer distances, hotter temps, unfavorable winds, and the cumulative wear and fatigue have made the miles seem a bit tougher. Yesterday was particularly tough—a 130 mile slog from Lewistown to Jordan. I stopped at Winnett about 50 miles into the ride at the only restaurant in town, the Kozy Korner, apparently famous for its homemade pies. I opted for coffee and a bowl of Wilcoxson’s ice cream. It cost a whopping $1.50. Later, with about 30 miles to go and the afternoon heat bearing down on us, we found an oasis in Sand Springs that served real milkshakes. I know it’s circumstantial, but it might’ve been the best milkshake I’ve ever had. The milkshake, plus copious amounts of ice water and sports drink, saved the day. So I have to give credit to ice cream and milkshakes for getting me through Saturday. I know Cristin won’t mind in this situation.

To deal with the headwinds we’ve faced yesterday and today, my riding buddy Chris and I have been taking turns drafting off each other. We use mile markers, and yesterday, we switched on the even ones, for 2-mile intervals taking the wind, and then drafting. Today, we were so tired, and the wind so relentless, that we started switching every mile.

I know some of you have been participating in the “Solidarity Challenge” this week through the Incentive Program, and I want to say thank you! There have been several times when the going-got-tough that I’ve thought of those of you who’ve taken up that challenge, and I can’t wait to hear your stories!

Know it’s time to rest. My body has to muster enough energy to make it about 70 more miles. I’ll be making quick stops Monday at Dawson Community College at the Eastern Agricultural Research Center in Sidney, before finishing on the Yellowstone River in North Dakota! I be reporting as usual via Twitter (@montanamoves).

Fingers crossed for a tailwind!

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Neal

 

RAM Report #1

Greetings from Dupuyer, Montana!

It’s been a wild few days, but I can finally sit down at my laptop to jot down a few thoughts and share a few pics. The route I chose to ride across Montana hasn’t been front loaded with cell towers and wi-fi, but in a way that’s a good thing.

So far, my adventure has been better than I could’ve scripted, and has exceeded expectations. I still have many miles to go, but right now I couldn’t be happier. The first day of real riding turned out to be a lot harder than I expected. It was uphill, into the wind, and hot. By the time I had done 71 miles and arrived at McGregor Lake, I was fairly smoked. A nice meal and lots of water helped. Despite the less-than-optimal riding conditions, my journey along the Kootenai River and the Great Northern Railway was gorgeous.

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On Monday, I rolled into Kalispell via an outstanding shared use path created by Northwest Montana Rails to Trails.  A few miles outside of the city, I was greeted by an enthusiastic group of a dozen riders from Flathead Valley Community College. It was one of those perfect summer days for riding, and everyone was in good spirits—just excited to be outside, together, and having fun. As we arrived at FVCC, we were greeted by even more employees, and were able to hang out for a while and enjoy some coffee and snacks. I felt overwhelmed and very grateful. Thank you so much FVCC!

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I made it!

After stopping at FVCC, it was on to Glacier National Park. At GNP, I met one of my friends who would be cycling with me from the Park. Camping at Apgar, we had our first real weather event of the trip that night.  As I lay in my tent, I heard a few drops of rain.

“It will just be a quick shower that passes right over”, I thought.

Wrong. It poured, for at least 2 or 3 hours. It was a real soaker, but luckily the inside of my tent remained pretty dry. The next day was supposed to be a rest day, but we found out that Going to the Sun Road was closed to vehicles, but open to bikes. We also learned that the road was almost ready, and could open any time. I thought this was a golden opportunity, so we went for it. Instead of resting as planned, my friend Chris and I stared the journey up to Logan Pass.

It was incredible. That’s all I can say. That’s all we kept saying all the way up. Some variation on, “This is incredible” or “I can’t believe we get to do this”. If you’ve ever been to Glacier, you know that photos don’t do it justice, but I’ll post some anyway.

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Zero cars. What a place to ride!
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Almost to the top!

Finally, today we rode from St. Mary’s on the east side of the Park to Duyuper. Talk about some wind. Wow. Fortunately, the wind was at our back for about 80% of the ride and we were flying. For one 10-mile stretch, we averaged 26 miles per hour and weren’t even pedaling hard! Unreal. The fast time gave me some much needed bonus downtime this afternoon.

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Tomorrow it’s on to Great Falls College, where I’ll be stopping for another employee meet-and-greet at 3pm. If you’re in Great Falls, I’d love to see you there! My fingers are crossed for more tailwinds tomorrow!

Neal

 

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!

Neal

 

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!

Neal

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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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!

Neal