Friday, August 23, 2013

CrossFit at 54

There was a competition underway when I first visited CrossFit St Paul; it had pounding beats, tattoos, (relatively) young people. Something new for an old guy. I felt dorky, but I'm good with that. I decided if I lasted a few months I'd have something worth sharing -- one old guy's experience with the relatively new fad of high intensity workouts.

Four months and one back injury later, I'm still at it. My initial exposure was misleading; I'm usually the oldest person in my regular classes -- but often not by much. There's one guy who might be about 60; he's a lot stronger than me. I'm getting used to the beats, and even wearing short socks and semi-fashionable gym shorts -- though my shoes aren't the right tech. Contrary to my initial impression my CrossFit classes are about half women.

So why did I start with CrossFit, how has it worked for me, and what's the downside?

I started because 50 is not the the new 40. It is same as its ever been -- early old. Among other things that means getting noticeably weaker from year to year. For me it also meant calorie restriction took as much muscle as fat. I need to keep up with my kids, so I needed a lot more exercise.

No problem -- I like exercise. Not running mind you -- I've not done that since undergrad days. Lots of other stuff though - cycling, swimming, nordic skiing, hiking, hockey.

Problem is my version of 54 comes with a lot of family obligations, not to mention (still and for the moment) a job. My life is good, but rich. The only thing I can cut out now is sleep -- and I need more of that. So I needed lots more exercise, but I had only a couple of hours to spare.

So that's why I took a look at CrossFit five months ago. Group psychology to drive effort, coach driven but cheaper than a private trainer, no contract, extreme variety, enough danger to keep me awake (more on that later), lots of sessions I can fit into a packed and variable schedule, facility directly on my weekly commute, engaging franchise owners - it was a good fit.

Ok, Andrew, it was also because you kept bugging me about it.

There was one other motivation - a big one. I didn't believe the late 90s reports that significant exercise delayed dementia onset, but the evidence has continued to accumulate. I suspect it's not as beneficial in humans as it is in animal studies, and I suspect it works better for some genotypes than others -- but it's all we have. Nothing else makes much difference. I need to keep my brain until my youngest is in college - 8 years from now. So moe exercise.

I did a private "on boarding" -- extra cost but it let me work around my schedule and my health status. I learned I was even less fit than I'd expected. After I joined the regular program I experienced three phases over 4 months. In the first phase I had remarkable muscle soreness, which led me to wonder about bursts of apoptosis. In the second phase my muscles did better, but I was limited by my poor endurance. In the third phase I was able to run a few miles for the first time in 30 years, and I was no longer always the slowest or weakest participant.

Sometime around the last phase, I had my first CrossFit injury - a back strain. I'm familiar with that problem, and the rehab routine went well. I'll get back to the injury bit.

I now do CrossFit twice a week; that's about as much as I have been able to safely handle. I currently need 3 days to heal between each session. Between sessions I do my usual 2 hours of bike commuting one day a week, 1-2 hours of inline skating with my #2 son, and 40 minutes of conventional Cybex workouts with my #1 son, focusing on back, abdomen and some base arm strengthening. Time spent with #1 son is considered family duty, so the new regime added about 2 hours to my week. I made that up by spending less time writing on my blogs, I manage my writing compulsion by microblogging with Pinboard, PourOver and

After five months, despite my back strain injury, St Paul CrossFit has worked well for me. I haven't developed much visible muscle, but I'm significantly stronger and I can handle more exertion. My weight didn't decrease until about month 4, since then I dropped 8 lbs and am close to my optimal weight.

The net effect is that physically I perform and feel more like I did at 44 than at 54. That's a big difference; if I feel at 62 the way I was at 52 I'll be content.

I'm not as keen on CrossFit as some but I enjoy the people, the exercise, and the game of staying within my limits. My two sessions a week are well worth the $135/month I'm paying; I'll probably go to three times a week when ice and snow stop my bicycle commute.

Which brings me to injury risk, and Jason Kessler's CrossFit experience ...

 Why I Quit CrossFit (Jason Kessler)

On my very first day of CrossFit, I threw up. It happened my second day, too. And the third. And pretty much all of the first month...

For the next three years, I squatted, pulled, pushed ...

… CrossFit was unlike any workout I had ever done before. It throws out the traditional-health-club model of machines and isolated exercises and replaces them with a whole-body approach rooted in the real world. Calisthenics, Olympic lifting, and gymnastics combine to form a workout that emphasizes ten basic physical skills: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, flexibility, stamina, strength, speed, coordination, power, accuracy, balance, and agility. Every day, a new workout (called the Workout of the Day, or WOD) is written on a whiteboard, and everyone in a class completes the same workout no matter what fitness level they’re at.

... Your typical CrossFitter wants to zap his fitness tank down to zero by the end of a workout. He’s not content to be just sweaty — he wants to collapse into a heap on the floor...

…. quickly amped up the frequency of my visits from three to four, then five days per week. Without even realizing it, I became that evangelizing asshole who makes people think that CrossFit is a cult...

… Not everyone gets injured to the point where he has to get knee surgery, but I did. I also developed a chronic shoulder injury that to this day, eight months after my last CrossFit workout, is still a constant reminder ... the penalty for not executing movements with perfect form, but I’ve come to believe that having perfect form 100 percent of the time is literally impossible...

Jason was lifting an awesome amount of weight but even for less ambitious athletes the injury risk is real - largely because of the focus on technique-critical Olympic style free weight lifting and on continuous improvement. At 54 I'm into managed-decline rather than improvement, but at 34 I'd have been tempted. CrossFit workouts are intense -- and I'm not sure five or even four workouts a week makes sense for most 35+ bodies.

My gray hair means I get gentle encouragement that I can use or ignore, but younger, keener people could get in trouble. I think CrossFit could do a better job of teaching early recognition of injury and ways to respond to it. Since we pay based on our use rate there is a bit of a perverse incentive at work here, but the St Paul franchise has added Yoga and other lower intensity programs that can round out 2-4 high intensity workouts.

For me the risk feels less than pickup hockey (head, knee, face, laceration) or serious downhill skiing (knees), but a bit higher than inline skating (head) or road biking (cars -> infrequent but serious injury). In other words, it's in the risk range I'm used to, even though it's higher risk than traditional gyms or high intensity Pilates. Honestly, for me, managing the risk is part of the appeal. I suspect as CrossFit evolves, however, there will be tracks that deemphasize the riskier weight maneuvers and more focus on early response to injury.

Will I still be doing CrossFit at 64? It seems unlikely, but it's not impossible. I'll let you know.

Update 9/23/2013

Still enjoying CrossFit and staying injury free, but I do wonder if our gym is a little atypical...

Getting Fit, Even if It Kills You - New York Times 12/2005

... For his first CrossFit session, he swung a 44-pound steel ball with a handle over his head and between his legs.. ... That night he went to the emergency room, where doctors told him he had rhabdomyolysis, which is caused when muscle fiber breaks down and is released into the bloodstream, poisoning the kidneys. He spent six days in intensive care.

... The short grueling sessions aren't for the weekend gym warrior. The three-days-on, one-day-rest schedule ... "Murph," a timed mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and then a second mile run. (A weighted vest is optional.)

Mr. Glassman, CrossFit's founder, does not discount his regimen's risks, even to those who are in shape and take the time to warm up their bodies before a session.

"It can kill you," he said. "I've always been completely honest about that."

... "If you find the notion of falling off the rings and breaking your neck so foreign to you, then we don't want you in our ranks," he said.

I rather doubt I'll be doing "Murph" in this life, and I like 1 day on, 2-3 days of something else. Good thing I've never run into "Coach" Glassman.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Americans traveling through Canada: Telecom 2013

It goes something like this:

  • Remove my personal (iPhone) mobile number from my work Google Voice (GV) account and set that number to forward all calls or SMS as transcribed text to my email.
  • Add my iPhone mobile number to my personal GV account and make GV the voicemail service for that number. Turn off call forward, set to forward GV calls or SMS as transcribed text.
  • Change iPhone GV app to use my personal GV account
  • Make Emily GV the voice mail for her cell, confirm her iPhone GV app is correct
  • Set home phone to forward to Emily GV
  • Pay AT&T $30 prorated for 80 min Canadian talk on my iPhone cell number (locked phone)
  • In Canada buy Virgin Mobile SIM & 1GB data ($30 or so) for daughter's unlocked 4S and make that a hotspot.

On return, undo all.

See also: 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Will Facebook become a local event and activity service?

Today I learned of a 3-4 year old local bicycling group aimed at families with children ages 6-13. I'd have jumped a this a few years ago, and even now we might join a ride -- though our kids are getting old for this group.

What's interesting was how I learned of the "Mill City Maniacs". I heard about them through Pedal Minnesota's Facebook page (interesting funding btw). That's how I learn about most of the interesting activities in the Twin Cities metro area -- through Facebook Pages for government groups, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and even commercial businesses. Even if Facebook did nothing else, these pages would keep me looking at it (until the video ads come online, then I may be done).

Which makes me wonder if that's where Facebook will end up.

I especially wonder that because so few of my friends and family post to Facebook. A few do (and I love reading your stuff!), but they are a tiny minority. I'm guessing that of the 400+ friends and family I'd like to follow on Facebook about 50 actively read FB and perhaps 10 post at least weekly. Over the past three years Facebook participation within my social network has been dwindling.

From what I read in geek circles, I don't think I'm unique.

On the other hand, the value of the Pages I follow has been increasing -- and many (but not all) of those organizations would pay Facebook modest sums.

It's not a huge business, but at scale it's a business.

I wonder if that's where Facebook will go.

Which will make the name anachronistic.

Apple and the 2013 tech world - in the doldrums

I was in an Apple Store yesterday with a burned-through seven year old power adapter cable.


Our much abused power adapter came with a MacBook purchased in November 2006 [1]. That MacBook runs Lion today; very slowly at first but with various tweaks and fixes it's become acceptable for undemanding tasks. [2] The MacBook is in turn newer than the July 2005 G5 iMac [3] my son used this morning for his MacKiev Mavis Beacon typing tutorial. That eight year old machine runs pretty well, we barely notice the slowly progressing 5 year old display discoloration.

Trust me, this is all relevant. I'm going somewhere.

At the app store I was told that Apple's policy is not to service anything more than six years old, regardless of recalls. The tech then gave me a brand new L-shaped power adapter which works well [4]. He may have been influenced by my very long purchase record [5].

I walked out of the store another happy customer, and I didn't look at anything. There was nothing there I was interested in.

Let me repeat that. There was nothing in the Apple Store I was interested in.

That has never happened before. I've also never had a seven year old laptop that's used every day.

It's not that I have everything Apple makes [7]. My new Kobo Glo is a definite compromise; I'd love a less costly iPad Mini, or perhaps an affordable iPad Mini retina, or even a thinner, lighter iPad retina at today's price. Alas, the things Apple makes that we don't already own aren't the things I want from them - or they're too expensive [8]. Gordon's Laws of Acquisition leave me nothing to look at [10].

This tech lethargy problem isn't unique to Apple. There's no tech hardware anyone makes that we really want or need [9]. And it's not just hardware, there's very little software on the market that interests me.

We are in a curiously quiet time for tech lust.

See also

- fn -

[1] It's interesting to scroll through posts around then, like my Feb 2007 posts. My blog posts then were more like my shares today.

[2] Mostly tweaks or fixes to Spotlight and Time Capsule backup, some Lion features disabled, some states not saved. I switched as part of the very (very) painful MobileMe to iCloud transition.

[3] Wow, that was a problematic machine. The heat / fan issues in the G5 iMac line were appalling, not to mention the epidemic of bad capacitors.

[4]  Has a thicker cord with more reinforcement. See also Apple's article - Mac notebooks: Reducing cable strain on your MagSafe power adapter

[5] Now somewhat inexplicably associated with a single AppleID (discuss), though he couldn't see it there. He had to use my home phone to lookup records.

[6] There are a lot of things I'd like to see, not least vastly better Calendaring and a faster, more useable Aperture, or better replacements for Google's tainted offerings. Problem is, they don't exist. I could probably make good use of an industrial video editing tool, but I don't have time to use one.

[7] I also have two modern Macs that will probably run OS X Mavericks fairly well. Eventually we'll replace the G5 iMac, but it's not like we're in a rush. I'm not even in a rush to get Mavericks, and I rather like the sound of it.

[8] Between the war with Samsung and China's rapid wage growth I don't expect prices to fall.

[9] Things seem even worse for Windows families. The only purchases I hear of are 15yos building gaming machines the way my generation assembled stereos.

[10] Ok, an Apple TV would be useful, but then I'd have to replace my 25 yo SONY CRT with the rabbit ears and the A/D converter. That's a historic artifact.

Sympathy for Economists

A good feature of teenagers is that they sometimes sleep in. So Emily and I can chat on a quiet Saturday morning about wearable tech (remember 1988?), and how 2013 feels a bit like 1997 or 2007 or 1923. The times when technological change seems to rev up again. To be followed, if recent  history is any guide, by yet another crash.

Which brings us to Economics, and especially to economists like Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman

I suspect that DeLong, and even Krugman, believe that the fundamental drivers of our economic instability are the simultaneous and related rise of both digital technologies and China and India (RCIIIT). Both DeLong and Krugman, have, at various times, written about the disruptive impact of "smart" robots (including robot/human pairings) and the related rise of 'mass disability'. Both, I suspect, share my opinion of the economic consequences of artificial sentience.

These aren't however, topics they can discuss in the context of models and mechanisms. How do you measure technological disruption? Economists still struggle to describe the productivity impacts of typewriters. Corporations can't make an internal business case for products like Yammer. We can't measure technological disruptions, and what we can't measure we can't model. What Economists can't model they can't discuss, and so they look through a keyhole into a dimly lit room and see monsters, but can't speak of them.

But the situation for Economics is even worse than that. There is a reason Krugman rants about economists who cling to models when all their predictions fail and yet retain academic respect. A discipline without falsifiability can be scholarly, but it can't be a science. It can't progress.

Economics thus lies between the Scylla of the monsters than can't be mentioned, and the Charybdis of the non-falsifiable.

No wonder Economists are dismal.