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!



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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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!



Brains and Bikes!

Happy May!

Many of us around the state are enjoying some much needed amazing warm weather, and getting outdoors more and more as a result.

As many of you know, May is National Bike Month, which includes some awesome festivities, especially in conjunction to National Bike to Work Week (May 15-19). But did you know that May is also Mental Health Awareness Month?

Our friends at the Montana Rural Health Initiative are running a photo contest this month to promote mental health awareness. They want you to share through your photos what you do to improve mental health! There’s even a $50 Amazon Gift card for the winner. You can tag your Instagram photos @morh_rhi (detailed instructions are shown below) or you can submit via email at montanaruralhealthinitiative@gmail.com

Also, if you’ve gotten the jump on riding your bike into work, don’t forget to sign up for the Montana Commuter Challenge, happening right now and throughout the rest of the month.

I love that May celebrates both of these special areas of Wellness, because one certainly supports the other. The simple act of going outside and riding a bike on a beautiful day certainly can do wonders for our mental health. Be a part of it by joining these challenges!

may photo

Montana Moves Ski Training Video

Happy Ski Season everyone! This fall Montana Moves debuted a new Ski Training workshop. We were inspired by the workshop to make a supplemental video, and here it is, just in time for the season!

Happy skiing!

Montana Moves Ski Training from Montana University Sys. Wellness on Vimeo.


Disclaimer: Many exercises and drills demonstrated in this video are advanced, and include ballistic and high impact movements. Make sure you have a good foundation of general strength and conditioning before utilizing some of these movements. Exercise reps/times in the video are suggestions only. Reps/times should be based on the individual’s fitness level and training history. This video is intended to demonstrate individual warm-ups and exercises that can be utilized as part of a training program, it is not intended to be a stand-alone, guided exercise routine.

Putting the Giving in Thanksgiving

MUS Wellness wants to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who put the “Giving” in Thanksgiving this past week!

The Annual Can the Griz/Can the Cats food drive brought in over 400,000 lbs. of food and $230,000 to local food banks. Amazing.

Then, many of you did something healthy for yourselves and your communities by participating in a Thanksgiving Day race. Turkey Day running events recently overtook the 4th of July as America’s most popular race day, and some experts predicted that over 1,000,000 runners, joggers, and walkers would participate in 2016—making this Thanksgiving the biggest race day ever!

This Thanksgiving could be the Biggest Race Day Ever–RW

Many of these local races like Huffing for Stuffing in Bozeman, the Turkey Day Family Fun Run in Missoula, Burn the Bird in Great Falls, and Run Turkey Run in Billings help raise money for local food banks or community projects.

Here in Bozeman, we had a brisk but beautiful morning for the 10th Annual Huffing for Stuffing Race. MUS Wellness also sponsored an MSU team of 92 members, which was the biggest team in Huffing for Stuffing history! Nice work MSU!

MUS Wellness is making a donation of $460 on behalf of our MSU team toward the Gallatin Valley Food Bank.

Thanks to all of you who got out of bed early and braved the cold to do something positive for yourselves and your communities! And thanks to everyone who put the giving in Thanksgiving this year!

The Andrews & Stokes families representing the Wellness Team from MSU!

Winter is coming…and so is our next Webinar!

Winter is finally visiting Montana this week, which means fun wintry activities are almost here! It also means many of us move more of our formal exercise to the cozy indoor confines of the gym. Join our webinar tomorrow (11/15)—Gym Bloopers: Common Gym mistakes and how to avoid them—to learn how to utilize your time in the gym safely and effectively. We’ll also show some epic gym fails to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what your gym IQ may be 😉

Gym Bloopers: Common Gym mistakes and how to avoid them.  Hosted by Neal Andrews, MUS Wellness Exercise & Fitness Specialist. Tuesday, November 15th at noon.

We hope you’ll join us!

Riding in Comfort

As part of our Power Bite video series, Neal demonstrates different hand positions on standard drop handlebars, and talks about staying comfortable on your bike so you can ride longer and happier.

For those of you participating in our online incentive program, this video will be featured later this month along with a quiz, so you’re getting a head start!

Happy Riding!


World Records & Personal Bests

Although I’ve enjoyed having my life back this week, I’ve had a bit of Olympic withdrawal. I have to admit, I’m an Olympic junkie, and this year, I got my 4-year-old son hooked too. His favorites were Ledecky and Bolt. The kid knows how to pick a winner I guess.

I like the Olympics for many reasons—the sport, the spectacle, the competition—but I also find it inspiring to watch human beings that are absolutely in peak physical condition and laser-focused on their game. So much work has gone into what they do, that it’s hard not to share in the celebration of their triumphs and the heartbreak of when things fall short. It’s the familiar thrill of victory and agony of defeat.

During the 17-day Olympic Games, around 11,000 athletes competed, and there were 65 Olympic and 19 World Records broken or tied. This should hopefully put into a little perspective how hard it is to break a world record. On the other hand, I really enjoy seeing athletes who were excited just to set personal bests. Maybe they wouldn’t even make their event final, but they gave their best at the Olympics. That should feel good, regardless of where they finished overall. While World Records boggle my mind, I can still relate to the feeling of a personal best. All of us can.

While the chances are slim for us non-Olympic types to set a World Record, it always feels good to set a personal best, and that’s something that’s achievable with a little goal-setting and effort. Many of you have done just that during this month’s Montana Moves challenge through our MUS Wellness Incentive program, and, just like Olympians, we find you to be inspiring! Some of you shared your personal bests by posting on the site, and we wanted to list a few of those bests. Way to go MUS!

  • I have worked out every day for the last 30 days! Love to keep it going!
  • Most steps in a day
  • This month was a focus on personal best for stress. I don’t deal well with stress but I am focusing on meditation (another great challenge topic on here!), breathing and focusing on solving the problems I can and not worrying about those I cannot. This has helped decrease stress a lot! So much that I’ve decreased body pain and I feel a lot healthier! I also sleep better at night when not worrying so much!
  • On track with my workout plan, I have gone to the gym two weeks in a row, 4 days a week. This is my personal best.
  • Completed an entire week of alternative transportation to work!
  • This week I biked six out of seven days, commuting to work and running errands, totaling just over 60 miles for the week!
  • I set a record high step count this week and for the first time ranked first on my friends list!
  • Most days hitting over 10,000 steps and standing 1/2 a day at work.
  • Swam 2k without break
  • Hiked to the top of Lone Peak – a goal of mine for many years!
  • Yoga 6 days out of 7!
  • 1st place in my age group 5K today. Not my fastest time ever (great for hills and heat and altitude though) but never finished 1st.

As you can see from the list, there are many ways to set a Personal Best. Congrats to all of you who’ve hit one this month! If you haven’t, there’s still two more weekends to go for this challenge, plenty of time! But it doesn’t end this month. My wish for all of you is for you to always continue to strive for your best at every age and station of life!