“Optimal sleep is the most anabolic thing you can do for your body.” Dr. Kirk Parsley, MD
Last week I wrote a blog post about some blood work that I had recently had drawn. I was shocked to see how I was trending in a very unhealthy direction internally. I was feeling poorly for a while but I just pushed through the fatigue because work had to be completed and we had a business to run. The realization that something was wrong came to me while I was teaching in Boston over the summer.
The evening after I taught at CrossFit Reebok One, I decided to go on a run on the Charles River. I enjoy running around new places as a way of seeing the sights and it’s typically a very stress-relieving activity for me. As I ran back toward my hotel I passed two guys and a girl walking a dog. I ran around them and as I passed them one of the guys yelled at me “Alright, you can do it man!” I immediately stopped, turned around and said “Are you fucking mocking me you skinny hipster?” He looked completely surprised and said “No, it’s a great night for a run I was just encouraging you.” I didn’t say anything after that, I just turned around and continued my run back to my hotel.
When I got back to my hotel I sat there and tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I literally just tried to fight a small group of hipsters walking their dog while engaged in an activity that was supposed to be stress-relieving. I’m not a violent person and for me to be so short tempered from a misconstrued comment was just not me. I had turned into an asshole but I guess sometimes it takes a near fight with a hipster to figure that out.
Two things needed to change: Stress management and more/better sleep.
When I ran my blood tests I initially decided I would change only 1 or 2 things to gauge the effect on my overall retest. As previously noted in last week’s blog, dramatic decreases in testosterone and increases in HbA1c as well as HS-CRP can be directly attributed to stress and sleep deprivation.
My plan was to force myself to sleep 7.5-8.5 hours every night. I also added in 3 minutes of mindfulness meditation everyday. This was really for stress management and to help keep my mind clear in both my personal and business life.
Within 3 weeks I noticed a huge difference. First, when I woke in the morning I actually felt rested and damn near jumped out of bed, even if it was 4:30 in the morning. My strength started to steadily increase and I was recovering twice as fast as than previously between training sessions. My productivity increased significantly with business and content creation. Most importantly, I wasn’t an asshole anymore. I didn’t have a short temper with my family and I hadn’t tried to fight anyone out walking their dog!
When looking at the changes I made, it’s pretty cool to see the difference. Here’s a partial breakdown of the poor biomarkers compared to where they are now.
July 2015 October 2015
Testosterone- 421 Testosterone- 576
HbA1c- 5.7 HbA1c- 5.4
HS-CRP- 2.6 HS-CRP- 0.5
From a performance standpoint, the most dramatic change is the over 150 point increase in my testosterone levels. That’s a huge jump just by increasing my sleep and working on mindfulness meditation 3 minutes per day. I would say sleep was the biggest reason that number increased as much as it did.
It’s crazy to think that something so simple like sleep can have such a dramatic effect on one of your most important performance hormones. It seems like common sense and it’s a really enjoyable activity as well. Why is it that people neglect sleep? The most common reason is being too busy or having too much work to do.
Like many of us I’ve been there, waking at 430am then working to 11pm and thinking I can just adapt and push through. I was wrong and the worst part is that you’re actually making yourself less athletic and productive by neglecting sleep.
Here’s my challenge for you: Try and get 8 hours of sleep for a solid week straight. If you haven’t been sleeping much you will be shocked at how amazing you feel.
In some cases it takes seeing the bad data to really get us motivated. I know it was like that for me; I had to get some pretty significant blood panel work before it really motivated me to make some much needed changes. If you’re not tracking your blood markers and you’re trying to live a high performance and pain-free life you’re missing a massive opportunity. You should be testing yourself at a minimum twice a year and really more like 3-4 times per year to accurately track your internal functionality.
“Experts often possess more data than judgement.” General Colin Powell
Everything is data-driven these days. We track things so we can make better and more accurate decisions. This makes a ton of sense if you think about it. If you don’t have great data to back up a decision you’re pretty much guessing.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about my blood test work results. This data I’ve been tracking for a few years now and was shocked when I saw the negative trend my blood data had taken. I retested my blood work on a Monday which was about 3 months after my last test. I typically recommend blood testing every 3-6 months to keep an eye on your internal data.
I’ll honestly be shocked if my data isn’t significantly better. I feel better now than I have in the past 18 months. Much of this I attribute to making much needed changes in sleep and training. The only reason I made these changes was because I saw the raw data in my own blood work.
If you don’t think full panels are necessary for you every 3-6 months, that’s fine. I would recommend that you at least look at these 3 blood biomarkers next time you have your annual physical with your physician. They will at least help you catch the low hanging fruit and keep you functioning at a high level.
Vitamin D- Researchers estimate that almost two-thirds of the population is deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is pretty important and has an effect on overall health, the immune system, bone density, muscle strength and recovery. That’s some pretty important reasons to want to make sure this one vitamin is at optimal levels in your body. Researchers have even shown that VO2max (a test of oxygen consumption that correlates with cardiovascular endurance) peaks when Vitamin D levels are above 50 ng/ml. When getting this vitamin checked, make sure you get a Vitamin D 25-hydroxy test. This is the most accurate way to test your Vitamin D levels.
Magnesium- “Magnesium is a co-factor in over 350 enzymatic reactions in the body. It is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle activity, heart function, temperature regulation, detoxification factors and improving insulin sensitivity.” Charles Poliquin
Magnesium is ultra important and the reality is that most of the foods we eat that should have magnesium in it, don’t. Many of the foods that are leafy green veggies have high amounts of magnesium. These veggies get the magnesium from the soil they are grown in and mineral deficiency is soil is a very common problem. It sucks, you can eat all the healthy green veggies you want and still be magnesium deficient. Knowing if your magnesium levels are low is step one to figure out if you need a supplement which most people do. Lastly, magnesium has a calming effect on the brain. For those of you that have difficulty with falling asleep, this could be the cheapest and safest way to help fix the problem.
High Sensitivity C Reactive Protein (HS CRP)- HS-CRP is a blood biomarker that is typically used to gauge someone's risk of heart disease. Most recently it’s been used as a gauge for global inflammation and to determine sleep deprivation. This marker is increased by a number of poor activities; eating a ton of sugar filled foods, having a sensitivity to gluten and pounding pizzas, or working at a high stress job can all increase your HS-CRP level.
Recent studies by sleep researchers reveals HS-CRP is a biomarker to track sleep debt. If you don’t sleep enough or you aren’t getting beneficial sleep this number will be elevated. We like to see our athletes under 1.0 and ideally closer to 0.5 on this test.
Getting your primary care physician to order these tests can be a bit difficult at one time. The problem is that you technically are supposed to be symptomatic for specific condition for your physician to justify ordering and insurance reimbursing for testing. Also, if you really want to keep an eye on your internal data, there’s no way you’re going to sweet talk your physician into ordering an in-depth blood panel for you 4x per year.
Stop guessing and start getting some tangible data on how well you’re really functioning internally.
The Front Rack is a position often utilized in CrossFit and is definitely required if you have Weightlifting ambitions. If you are into barbell training the front rack is a fundamental shape, that when achieved, can be a building block to establish many quality barbell movements, including the Front Squat, Cleans, Presses, Push Presses and Jerks.
Before the boys discuss fixing your front rack they talk about the recent flooding in Columbia SC where Coach Joe lives.
The front rack discussion first begins with why and how folks experience poor positioning with this shape and why limited positioning with this shape can negatively affect your performance. In particular we see limitation in the ability of an athlete to get into an optimal front rack because of over development of upper body musculature, limited external rotation and flexion in the shoulder.
According to Dr. Danny, the two areas of focus should be the shoulder and the thoracic spine. If your T-Spine is so lacking in ROM and a safe front rack cannot be achieved, athletes should look to the goblet squat. To break up areas of restriction in the T-Spine it’s also a good to promote extension by laying on a lax ball and getting some downward pressure. Joe also mentions Donnie Thompson’s tempering to strengthen the back and a way to gain neutrality in the spine. Dr. Danny counters with a discussion about paying attention to the rib cage and diaphragm.
The conversation then moves to the shoulder. In order to have a quality front rack your shoulder needs to do two things, flexion (bringing your arm straight up in front of you) and externally rotation (turning your palm up). When your shoulders have both of these movements you can not only take a wider grip with the bar, but when you receive the bar in the clean you are able to carry the load throughout the shoulder and chest, not hold the bar in your hands.
The boys continue their discussion about grip width and why taking a wider grip is more optimal but why you may want hold off to save your elbows.
Danny and Joe then provide insight on how to achieve more external rotation pre workout. Danny believes the best mobility drills look like the exercise you are trying to achieve. Joe then discusses using PNF as a means to gain positioning pre workout.
The segment is concluded with a discussion addressing why self maintenance is so important. Being aware of your body's needs is cheaper, quicker, and you end up learning more about yourself through the struggle.
Joe then end the conversation explaining why he advises novice athletes to work their front racks with an open palm. In Joe’s mind the benefit is forcing the athlete to utilize their legs to move the bar overhead, not the hands.
Check out these videos of techniques discussed in the episode.
Athletes Potential Videos
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Thanks for listening and remember, if you have a BODY you’re an ATHLETE!
Before we dive into the newest Podcast, don't forget: The Doc and Jock are hosting their first course this month. Learn all about the Snatch! See flyer below or sign up here!
Episode 32 of the Doc and Jock Podcast features Diane Fu of Fu Barbell and San Francisco CrossFit. Diane Fu tells all! Well, she answers our questions regarding Weightlifting and business systems! Diane was exposed to Weightlifting late in life and has used that to her advantage to put together an eclectic bag of coaching tricks.
As the conversation begins we dive into her early introduction to the Sport of Weightlifting, former USA Olympic Team Coach – Jim Schmitz. Interestingly enough, we find out how coaches back in the day used to trade tape to help their remote athletes.
Diane, “Keeps her ear to the Ground” and tries to listen to any coach willing to share their voice to “make the world a better place.” She doesn’t believe there are right and wrong ways to Weightlift, just different ways. Currently Diane is hanging around with Coach Wu Chuanfu (@wuchuanfu), the Singapore Team National Coach. Through Coach Wu, Diane is diving deep into Chinese Weightlifting Concepts.
Diane also comments on the positive aspects of CrossFit Weightlifting and Coach Burgener’s system. Mainly, that it has exposed a large amount of CrossFit athletes to Weightlifting Concepts.
Diane also discusses the use of the lats in Weightlifting, not as an Asian thing, but as a control thing.
As a coach who has had experience with many different international perspectives she describes what she believes to be the major differences, mainly that each has a slightly different idea regarding expressing power into a barbell. In the end they all just have a slightly different take toward solving the same problem.
Diane considers herself the peoples coach. She loves working with athletes who want to use Weightlifting as their means to achieve fitness not necessarily compete. Given the choice, between an athlete who is strong verse one who is mobile or moves better she choose movement and mobility, because strength can be built.
The conversation ends with a quick overview of the Rise Program Diane developed, along with Andrea Ager. Rise (https://www.codyapp.com/plans/rise-strength) is a guided 12 week structured approach meant for someone who has already been lifting but lacks strength, tempo and awareness in the lifts. Expect to pack some strength on those legs of yours, experience tempo or segmented lifting, and alternative movements toward developing strength.
The following are links to Coaches, Establishments, and great folks mentioned in this Podcast – be sure to tell them Doc and Jock sent you!
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” -Unknown or was it Jin?
I recently had a patient that drove in from Orlando to work with me for two hours. He’s had lower back pain for about 5 years and it started while he was in the Army as a medic. He didn’t sustain any type of combat trauma that caused the back pain. It literally started while he was doing a workout one morning. The workout involved kettlebell swings and he felt a pop in his back toward the end of the workout.
Fast forward 5 years later, and he still has back pain. He’s tried physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and even took up yoga in the quest to fix his back pain. None of these things worked so he made the 7 hour drive to Atlanta to see me (ironically driving was one of the activities that aggravated his back).
He showed up with a pretty classic presentation for back pain. Poor hip mobility, underactive posterior chain and really bad posture. We completed our evaluation and decided on a plan. First, we’d do some dry needling to the lower back and hips. This is a great technique for pain reduction. This allows us to work on things that would otherwise be painful to help regain strength and mobility.
Following a short bout of dry needling, we spent the rest of the time putting together a plan of what this individual needed to do everyday in order to fix his back pain permanently. We literally spent over an hour piecing together 5 exercises that I wanted him to do religiously.
So how did he do? Well I just got an email from him about a week ago that said he was able to sleep through the night and is virtually pain-free consistently for the first time in 5 years. We get a chance to help individuals like this all the time and in many cases help them get out of chronic pain permanently. So why did this guy have to drive from Orlando to Atlanta to see another physical therapist? The answer is that no one was teaching him, they were all just trying to fix him.
There are 168 hours in a week. Even if you went to see a physical therapist 3 times per week (the standard physical therapy prescription in many cases) that’s still 165 hours of the week that you are on your own. What are you doing in those 165 hours? Are you prioritizing sleep correctly to help with healing? Are you eating the right things and staying hydrated? Are you doing corrective exercises and mobility work? Are you getting out of bad positions as much as possible during the work day? Are you rounding your back every time you pick anything up off the ground?
Resolving long lasting and chronic problems comes down to compliance from you! It’s my job to teach you what you need to know and persuade you well enough to actually do it. If you’re dealing with a chronic issue and are sick of being in pain or avoiding certain activities, it doesn’t have to be that way. We see patients from all over the southeast just like you and they get better. They run 10k races again (the Peachtree race if you’re in Atlanta), they play with their kids without throwing their back out, they compete in local CrossFit competitions and they wake up in the morning without feeling like they have been hit by a truck.
At Athletes’ Potential we may be physical therapists but more than anything we are teachers. You have to learn how to take care of yourself. You have to be empowered with the right information to make huge long lasting changes.
If you’re in Atlanta or the southeast, for that matter we’d love to help you. Give us a call at 770-744-3146 or fill out the contact request below and we’ll talk on the phone to see if you are a good fit for what we do.
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.