Charlie Martin, Late-Blooming Athlete: Week 1

Charlie has already done a fairly exceptional job of getting a handle on his life over the past 13 weeks; his documenting it on PJ Lifestyle has been a bit of a traffic hit as well. I wanted to pitch in: first, because I get all torn up from an underdog-coming-through story. (Seriously – I cried during City Slickers when the sporting goods salesman saved the calf from the whitewater rapids. “Stop! You’re a sporting goods salesman!” said Billy Crystal, desperate to keep his friend from danger.

But: “Not today!”, he answered. He dove in.

Not today, bro. Today, Charlie Martin saves baby animals from the rapids.)

Ahem. Second: I’ve kept on top of the developments over the past decade of exercise science, the most notable being that the majority of activities people are accustomed to doing at a gym are neither efficient means of getting fitter nor particularly safe. A typical trainer at a typical gym is now a terrible investment, both for your fitness level and because elite-level training information is freely available online. There is no substitute for an actual qualified trainer at a quality gym, both in instruction and motivation, yet you can do great things for yourself on your own, with a computer. Charlie’s PJ Lifestyle entries strike me as a good opportunity to demonstrate this; he’s agreed to be somewhat of a lab rat. (In terms of expertise, I am certainly not an expert trainer, yet I’ve been certified as a trainer, by Crossfit — the movement behind all of the past decade’s progress — and have been following the regimen for a few years. Crossfit has since added a written test to their certification process; I haven’t taken it yet. I’m just an enthusiast, and I believe a good person for demonstrating just how much great information is available.)

I have a few initial comments and suggestions regarding Charlie’s Week 13 entry. He writes regarding how he plans to document his exercising:

I still haven’t figured out a measure I’m very happy with for exercise. … The best I can think of right now is to measure two things: how compliant I am being, and the amount of work done, in thermodynamic kilocalories, which happen to be the thing we are used to measuring diet in anyway. For the weights part of the plan, I’m going to compute this as product of weight lifted times repetitions, which will give me kilocalories directly, as well as amusing conversions to horsepower, kilotonnes yield, and other perfectly silly conversions.

Far from being perfectly silly, Charlie is on the right track. Power output is absolutely the way to think about designing his workout program, and to measure his progress. Force x Distance / Time. In a nutshell, and I will get more detailed in later posts, Charlie just hit on most of what fitness actually means: work capacity at the various activities life might confront a person with.

Charlie also writes:

I don’t do boring well. I’ve got a million interests, I’m always many books and projects behind, and I can’t imagine spending seven to ten hours a week exercising.

Good. He doesn’t have to, and not just because he doesn’t want to be in elite shape. Charlie could get himself from where he is to elite shape in five or six hours a week, and that includes warming up, practicing, cooling off, etc. Actual time spent exercising per week need only be about two hours — at most.

More Charlie:

I’ve also been looking at various exercise plans, and I’ve learned at least one thing about them — there are even more determined, dogmatic, and argumentative people talking about fitness than there are talking about diet.

Still, there is some good new science, and the CrossFit folks have in general got what looks to me like a very good philosophy of fitness with decent science backing them. So as I’ve mentioned before, I’m at least using the advice of a CrossFit trainer, our own David Steinberg, to set this up. But I’m not using an official CrossFit routine, at least not to start.

Again, he’s right, and this is why Charlie is a good person to demonstrate this with: he’s a logic and science guy. He understands the difference between noise and truth; that all that matters is the numbers. It’s because of this that I expect him rapidly to get sold on Crossfit.

Here’s Charlie’s initial idea for an exercise plan:

A Sun Salutation yoga routine every morning.

One aerobic session using a Tabata protocol every day except Sunday. I’m going to mix this up among kettlebell exercises, martial arts exercises, and exercise bike.

Lift weights twice a week using the same slow-repetition routine I started in the first season. Basically the reasoning was good, my compliance was dreadful.

Either a yoga lesson or a Pilates lesson every week.

It sounds like Charlie kinda likes yoga and Pilates and martial arts, and that’s great — I just want him to look at these activities as sports, part of an active enjoyable lifestyle that he has never experienced before, and not as workouts.

These activities are not efficient ways of achieving fitness. Moving is better than not moving. But yoga and Pilates classes tend to run 60 to 90 minutes. Recall our “power output” measure of the efficiency of a workout — I’m sure you can all think of ways to create more power output than a yoga class in much, much less time, or ways to exercise that full 60 to 90 minutes with greater power output. Additionally, you can see progress in flexibility, balance, coordination, and a few other well-defined measures in much less time. Also, not everything those activities ask you to do is safe, injury-wise. (I will explain how to define “safe” in future posts.)

As for lifting, and what exercises you should be doing, and how fast: the logic and science answer derives straight from your genes.

Why do human legs look like that? Why does your foot look like that?

Short answer: we are all designed to raise and lower our center of gravity, to push things, and to pick things up off the ground. And walk, and run. Everything else is commentary.

In terms of lifting: I just described the squat, the press, and the deadlift.

For this week:

1. Do you have any old injuries, pains, etc.? Can you describe them?

2. Look up on Crossfit’s site for instructional information on the air squat, the press, and the deadlift, and then try to film yourself from the side doing a few reps of each of these. Use a broomstick or PVC pipe for the press and deadlift.

Warm up beforehand. The idea here is for you to familiarize yourself with the foundational movements of the human body, and to see your current range of motion on these.