Walking The Walk


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In training for the 26.2 mile Jimmy Fund Boston Marathon walk, you may recall that I had a dream.  In my dream, the event ended up being easier than our physically demanding twenty mile training walk.  Let’s see if it came true.

We set our alarms so we could get to Hopkinton by 5:30, the earliest possible start time.  We allowed ourselves barely more than thirty minutes to dress, stretch, eat (just me), apply sunscreen and vaseline, and make sure we had everything.  I had a hard boiled egg and gazpacho, and it felt rushed.

We trained so much in hot, humid conditions, I was anticipating a Mother Nature curveball in the form of a 50-60 degree day.  We would have been freaking out about what to wear.  Long pants or shorts?  Long sleeves, short sleeves, or layers?

We did freak out, but not because it was cold.  The temperature was forecast to perhaps hit 85 degrees (it settled in at 79) with clear skies.  We would know what to wear: our lightest weight sweat wicking shirts and shorts.  As much as I wanted (needed) a hat, I opted for a bandana.  When we walked for five hours, even a hat became uncomfortable.  We could dress to keep cool, but would it be cool enough?

Two full buses of walkers pulled out of Hopkinton High School before we could catch a ride to the starting line.  We got away in semi-darkness at 5:45. Steps taken before sunrise almost felt like they didn’t count because you couldn’t make out landmarks, only vague shapes.  It was like being on a treadmill in a dark room.

The first problem we encountered was with our sackpacks, lightweight shoulder bags for snacks and things that we didn’t want in our pockets.  We wore them backpack-style, but between their lightness and the speed of our steps, they flew around like balloons.  I was cinching the straps of mine every ten minutes to try to limit the movement.  I tried to wear it hooked on one shoulder but that was even worse.

The vegan spouse came up with the sackpack solution.  I would wear mine on the left shoulder, but with the straps going across my chest and back, and the bag resting on my right hip.  Now I had more control of it and easier access to it.  And access would be key because water, sports drinks, and snacks were positioned roughly every three miles of the course.

Having walked the twelve mile distance so often, the first half of the walk was uneventful.  I enjoyed walking through parts of Ashland and Framingham that I had never seen.  With the temperature warming, we tried to resist the temptation to get water or Gatorade at every opportunity.  Ten miles in, we got the emotional boost of some family support.  The only question was where we would meet up with them.  A text came saying they were at Dunkin’ Donuts.  But which one?  The one two miles back or one of a handful still to come?  We found them and it was awesome.

At the eighteen mile mark, we reached the lunch tent.  The idea of stopping is both appealing and terrifying.  The hardest part of the course awaits, and the streets of Brookline and Boston will be packed with walkers.  Our feet were starting to really feel the pounding they were taking.  Sitting now for even a few minutes could cause our muscles to tighten up.  Last year, the vegan spouse blew right past this stop, because she just wanted to be done.  We elected to stop and survived it.

My biggest fear from here on was not that I wouldn’t finish, but that I would have a sunburn to add to my pain.  I didn’t bother to put sunscreen on much of my face because it would just sweat off or get in my eyes.  I didn’t bring sunscreen with me, because when would I apply it?  And the sunny parts were outnumbering the shady ones.

But, within a mile or two of Heartbreak Hill, a sunburn took a backseat to a strain in my right calf.  I couldn’t pinpoint when it happened.  I think it kind of came on over time and just got worse.  Occasionally, I would reach down and grab at the leg in mid-stride, almost as if scratching a mosquito bite.  It wasn’t helping.

Luckily, Heartbreak Hill is not so much steep as it is long and I was able to manage it.  We even passed a few people along the way.  The vegan spouse said it was less congested than last year.

When we got to familiar territory in Brookline, I was limping noticeably.  We dialed the speed back and went with the flow the rest of the way.  We crossed the finish line a few minutes shy of eight hours.  The Boston Marathon gods even smiled on me and kept me from getting sunburned.

Looking back, a couple of things stick out.  First, after buying expensive socks to fit into my sneakers, I ended up doing just fine wearing two pairs of much cheaper socks and sneakers that fit.  Second, there are parts of the body that chafe that you don’t expect to chafe.

I have found that a lot of people are surprised we would attempt a 26.2 mile walk to support a cancer charity.  When we told them why, a few still didn’t understand it.  I can only say to those people that I took inspiration from my Dad, my mother-in-law, and two people that I never even met.

And I also took inspiration from a woman who stood in her driveway early in the walk, as night was becoming day.  She held a simple sign that said, “Survivor, Thank You!”  As we walked past, she said in the tiniest of voices, “Good luck, guys.”

I think the dream came true.


Stability Chop Exercise


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Stannding Stability Anti-rotational Chop Exercise


Abdominal training should include three groups of exercises to maintain the muscles that make up the core. These exercises engage not only the abdominal muscles but the hip and low back muscles as well.   The three groups are:

  1. Flexion exercises (trunk/hip/side)
    ex: sit-ups/reverse crunch/swiss ball side crunch

2.  Rotational exercises – ex: russian twist

3.  Stability exercises – ex: plank

When I am short on time or lack the energy for a full ab workout (yup, we all have those days), I always choose the stability exercises over the other two.
The main job of the abdominals is to stabilize the spine to keep the body upright. Abdominal stabilization exercises engage all the muscles groups discussed above. Stabilization exercises promote a strong and healthy core and are considered by many to be the best way to train the core.

The stability chop exercise can be done standing or kneeling at the high and low pulley positions. These exercises should not be confused with the rotational woodchop exercises (I will have a post regarding rotational exercises soon).

Equipment: cable machine, rope, (dumbbell or medicine ball can be used if a cable machine is not available)

Major Muscles Used: Torso (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, multifidus, quadratus lumborum)
Scapular (trapezius, rhomboids, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, levator scapulae)

Click on Pictures for larger size

Position: (High Pulley)  Attach a rope at the highest pulley position. Grab rope in an overhand grip. Take a step away from the cable station. You should be about arm’s length away from the pulley.  Stand or kneel so that your right side is aligned with the weight stack.  If standing, place feet in staggered position with inside foot in front of outside foot. Hands should be placed about 1 ½ to 2 feet away from each other with the elbows slightly flexed.  Abs are engaged and face forward but do not move throughout the movement. Neck and spine are in neutral. Glutes are engaged.

Movement: While exhaling and without moving the torso, pull rope past left hip. Inhale and (in a slow and controlled manner) return to original position. Perform to failure and switch to opposite side.

Position: (Low Pulley)  Attach a rope at the lowest pulley position. Grab rope in an overhand grip. Take a step away from the cable station. You should be about arm’s length away from the pulley.  Stand or kneel so that your right side is aligned with the weight stack.  If standing, place feet in staggered position with outside foot in front of inside foot. Hands should be placed about 1 ½ to 2 feet away from each other with the elbows slightly flexed.  Abs are engaged and face forward but do not move throughout the movement.  Neck and spine are in neutral. Glutes are engaged.

Movement: While exhaling and without moving the torso, pull rope past left shoulder. Inhale and (in a slow and controlled manner) return to original position. Perform to failure and switch to opposite side.

Common Mistakes:
– moving/rotating torso
– flexing the back
– using too much weight (if you have too much weight, your torso will rotate)


Without a strong core, gravity begins to take over and your spine will begin to flex forward. How do you want to age?  Please leave a comment…

Throwing Tb12 Some Shade – Nightshades That Is


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New England football fans LOVE him. The rest of the United States LOVES to loathe him. Feelings aside, you have to give Tom Brady props for his work ethic, focus and dedication to his sport.  A window into his training and nutrition regimen, which in part he credits to his success, can be found in his recently released book, The Tb12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.   For full disclosure, I have not read this book (it is on my list to the head honcho residing at the North Pole). Being from the New England area, Brady’s training and dietary choices have been well documented in the local media and are not new to many of us. One area of interest to me was his reported avoidance of a particular plant group called nightshades.  While Brady’s diet is considered by some to be extreme, I had wondered why someone so dedicated to health and wellness would forgo the nutrients provided by this certain plant group.  So, last year I started researching nightshades and here is what I found:

What are nightshades?
No one knows for sure the origin of the name nightshade, but speculation is that it stems from the fact that some of these plants prefer to grow in the shade and some flower at night. Nightshades are a part of the Solanaceae family.  There are over 2000 plants belonging to this family which includes weeds, flowers, herbs, fruit, trees, shrubs and vegetables.  Some nightshades are inedible and can be deadly if ingested. Others are edible and are often consumed on a regular basis.  For people with food sensitivities the edible varieties of nightshades are thought to be the culprit responsible for the magnification of inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune diseases and other conditions.

Some of the more common nightshades:
Potatoes – excluding sweet and yams
Peppers – hot, sweet and  bell
Spices – cayenne, paprika, chili, but not peppercorns
Berries – goji, garden huckleberries, ground cherries and cape gooseberries, but not normal gooseberries nor blueberries or strawberries or blueberries

Some of the major conditions thought to be heightened from nightshades consumption:
Arthritis/joint pain
Heart Burn – Gerd
Muscle pain, spasm and stiffness

The flowers, fruit, and foliage of the Salicaceae contain nitrogen containing chemical compounds called glycoalkaloids (capsaicin in peppers, nicotine in tobacco, solanine in potato and eggplant and tomatine in tomato). These compounds are believed to exasperate the conditions listed above.
Some nightshades (tomato) have low glycoalkaloids levels while others, especially the potato, can contain high levels.

Would I go Tb12 crazy and eliminate these foods? Spoiler: Yup!
I have lived with chronic pain for several years; the source of which I am unsure. Perhaps it is a result of my Raynaud’s (an autoimmune condition) or from the arthritis that set in after my discectomy.  Regardless, I have learned to live with this adversity. I rarely discuss it, acknowledge it or try to change it.

When I first read about the effects of nightshades on the body I have to admit I was skeptical. There is little scientific evidence that these foods actually improve, reduce or eliminate these conditions.  Most of the documentation comes from people’s personal experience. However, the possibility of eliminating pain can have a powerful pull.  It took some time, but eventually I decided to give nightshades a punt down the field.
Without changing any aspect in my physical activity or other nutritional regimen, here was how I tackled the situation (Belichick style – short and to the point):

1st Quarter:
– eliminated nightshades for a month
– changes in pain: some short-term relief but was it real or the power of suggestion at play?
Score: nightshades – 0, changes in pain – 3

2nd Quarter:
– reintroduced nightshades for a month
– changes in pain – NO changes, no increase/no decrease
Score: nightshades -7, changes in pain – 3

3rd Quarter:
– eliminated nightshades for a month
– changes in pain: NO changes
Score: nightshades – 14, changes in pain – 3

4th Quarter:
– reintroduced nightshades
– changes in pain – significant increase in pain
Score: nightshades – 14, changes in pain – 14

End game: (the 5th quarter in New England):
My analysis was that the results of this experiment were unremarkable. With the exception of the 4th quarter, I experienced no noteworthy changes in level of pain. However, the difference in the last quarter was significant enough (and strange enough, maybe a fluke?) to convince me to try this experiment again in the future.
There will be a “delay of game” due to the need for better preparation. Eliminating these foods was a tremendous challenge because they are so prevalent in a whole-food, plant-based diet. I have mentioned many times on this blog that the uses of spices (flavor) have been one of the keys to my success on a WFPB diet. During the winter months I will continue my research and spend copious amounts of time experimenting with nightshade free recipes in order to have a playbook ready for the next go round, I mean season. Stay tuned!

Have you experienced issues with nightshades?  Please leave a comment…


Fix Your Squat Form with The Goblet Squat


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Long before I became certified as a personal trainer, I mustered the courage to step into the weight area of a gym.  I had a lot to learn and received free advice from gym members and, ahem, Youtube.

One exercise that I received excessive direction on was the squat.  Well intended comments such as my spine flexed forward, my knees were positioned incorrectly, the squat rack should be used instead of the smith press and employ heavier weight began to reverberate in my head.  It wasn’t long before I became confused; no two pieces of advice were the same.

The comments and the voices in my noggin (are my knees overshooting my toes? am I tilting forward?, IS EVERYONE WATCHING ME SQUAT?) stopped once I discovered the goblet version of this exercise.
Here’s why:  The goblet squat naturally and instantaneously puts your body into proper form, is almost error-proof and is easy to master.  Those factors make it ideal for beginners and advanced athletes alike.  I still perform the goblet squat on a regular basis because reinforcing proper form can’t hurt!




NOTE : The goblet squat is similar to a yoga position called the malasana. Beginners may wish to start with the malasana due to its similarities to the goblet squat. The differences are that the yoga squat position is held longer and performed without weight.


Equipment: Dumbbell, kettlebell

Major Muscles used: Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Gastrocnemius, and Soleus.

Position: Hold a dumbbell or kettllebell against your chest. Hold the dumbbell vertically or the kettlebell by the handle. Feet are shoulder-width apart and toes point slightly outward.  Take care to align your knees in the same direction as your toes.  Pelvis, neck, spine and scapulae (shoulder blades) are in neutral.  Contract abdominals. Squeeze the glutes to make sure hips are squared. Feet are kept flat on the floor for the entire movement.

Movement: With the weight resting on your chest, inhale as you lower weight. The spine, neck, and scapulae are kept in a fixed position as you lower.  Keep the chest lifted, head in line with the spine (eyes look forward) and your weight resting in the heels. Elbows lead and point down as you lower and slide/brush past the inside of your knees. Elbows can push knees outward as you lower.  Exhale and extend knees and bring pelvis back to the original position. Follow through with the hips by squeezing the glutes.

Common errors:
– tilting torso forward
– toes/knees point forward
– goblet isn’t held against chest for the entire movement


Form, above all else, is the single most important factor in any exercise. Mastering the basics before moving to more complex exercises is the key to injury prevention and progression.  Please leave a comment…