Switching from Dieting to Maintenance

This summer, I dieted for 4.5 months to see what it could do. I had decent results, but ones that were ultimately killed by 6 3-day weekends in a row in the Red River Gorge. At the end, I was a guilt-ridden, obsessive and frustrated individual who just wanted to have a normal relationship with food.

So, about a month ago, I decided to make the switch from dieting to maintenance without counting calories. The rules were as follows:

  • Eat strictly paleo 
  • But none of that "paleo" bullshit like using honey in the place of sugar and almond flour in the place of normal flour
  • No nut butters (I have a tendency to binge)
  • No adding oils when cooking - fats must come from meat / eggs / avocado. It's easy to go overboard with cooking oils.

In addition to these rules, I decided that I needed to re-learn intuitive eating. I've been working hard at eating only until I'm satisfied (and not even necessarily "full"). I'm teaching myself to eat when the hunger stops and not when I get that bloated-stomach-fullness feeling. Here's how I've been working on that:

  • I'll fill a bowl with a much smaller portion than I think I'll need, but assure myself I can come back if I need more 
  • I'll grab myself a bowl of something to eat and the second I don't feel hunger pangs, I put the bowl out of sight and keep working until I feel hungry again. 
  • I don't keep snacky foods around, just foods that I have to cook into a legitimate meal
  • I've been incorporating a lot more fat into my diet and significantly less carbs
  • I don't ever let myself get really hungry, because that's when I make bad decisions. So I eat when I'm at like a 6 out of 10 on the hungry scale, when my decision-making skills are still in check

What I've been noticing as a result:

  • I need a lot less food than I think to stay full
  • I panic a lot less about having enough food
  • I'm eating to make my body feel healthy and run efficiently, not to satisfy a craving
  • I don't crave sweets (WHAAAAT?). Or alcohol. Or carbs. I just want to eat healthy, protein-filled meals. It was crazy, but on thanksgiving I loaded up on turkey and didn't really even think about the sides. I wanted to stay on track, and didn't feel guilty or deprived. 

I guess I've learned so much from this diet. Who'da thought. 

Happy eating,

The Weak Machine

List: Jeans for Women with Huge Butts/Legs.

This is a little different from my normal content, but I think it'll apply to the type of people who generally read this blog.

Anyway, I've always wanted a list of jeans that would fit my abnormally large squatters legs and butt. So far, I've found two models that are particularly awesome (but I hope to add to this list in the future):

1. Prana Kara Jean

  • Tapered leg, but not too skinny
  • Super stretchy- the thighs stretch to fit while the waist is the perfect size. Stretchy enough for climbing
  • Longer inseam so you can cuff them and look like a proper climbing hipster

2. The Gap Legging Jean

  • Stretchy enough for everyday use (but not for climbing)
  • Slightly classier/more professional look depending on the wash/color you get
  • Skinny leg
  • Shorter inseam

If you know of other jeans I should try, leave a comment.

-The Weak Machine

Link: The Survey

Here's a cool article from Climb Strong about a survey they did of climbers. Of particular interest was the correlation between redpoint grades and static hang time, which gives some credence to hangboard workouts. More interestingly, it gives credence to hangboard workouts structured like Eva Lopez's, which are centered around edge hangs (as opposed to slopers, pockets). 


Smith Machine Crunches

I'm not a big fan of the smith machine. I'll admit, I was pretty elitist about it, even after I decided that I kinda maybe somewhat liked machines. You can't squat with proper form using one.

Then, I went home to my parents' house for a weekend and my dad happily announced that he had "gotten another squat rack" (I already have a squat rack). I nodded my head and smiled, then went on with my business. Later that day, I went downstairs to discover that he had not gotten another squat rack.

He'd gotten a smith machine

I shuddered as I looked at it, then resolved to ignore it while I did my real squats and other lifts of the day. 

Yet, as I sat between squat sets, I began thinking about how I'd been doing cable crunches at the gym as a way to exercise my core. 

Previously, I'd hated any sort of core workout.  Most core exercises make you do a thousand repetitions of some light weight until your core burns, but this doesn't follow the principle of progressive overload for strength. A thousand reps of anything won't make you stronger, it'll only give you better endurance. Plus, I'd been told that I'd get enough of a core workout from my squats, deads, and pullups. But with a cable machine, you could continue to add weight and make your reps low enough to actually build muscle.

Unfortunately, I had no cable machine at home, and therefore no way to do heavy weighted crunches. Holding a 45lb plate above my head was about my only option, and that would be incredibly awkward.

As I sat there for a bit longer, I had a breakthrough: SMITH MACHINE CRUNCHES!

Solution: weight up the smith machine bar. Lower bar to lowest setting. Lay on floor. Crunch while pushing up bar. Increase weight as needed.

Bam. Core workout.

Oh, and I've been getting more ripped abs as a result. I haven't really lost much body fat recently (5lbs at most), but here's a picture from a recent climbing trip:

Definitely have some abs poking through. Success.


Run Commuting

Well, my run hiatus officially ended this summer. After about a year of no running following running my very first ultramarathon, I decided I missed it and that it would be a good asset for my diet project. 

I was typically running 2-3 miles after work on days that I didn't go rock climbing. It added up to about 8 miles a week, max. It was nice to get out and listen to a few episodes of the Dirtbag Diaries while destressing from a day of sitting in an office. 

Then, about a month ago, school started up. I had to give my loaner bike back to my friend, and I was found bikeless. Fortunately, I took advantage of a local bikeshare program, so I wasn't without speedy transportation to work, class, and the gym. 

Unfortunately, a bikeshare program has all the downsides of, well, sharing your bike. In addition, the bikes get put away once it gets snowy and I'd be resigned to walking several miles a day between different locations.

My run-commuting look.

My run-commuting look.

Then, it occurred to me. I was already running in the afternoons in addition to my bike commuting. That's a lot of unnecessary mileage. Why not just get my running in by commuting instead? 

The perks seemed pretty good: get some exercise periodically through the day (my commutes average about a mile and a half, but I have a lot of them: run to work, run to the gym, run back from the gym, run home); not have to do a run at the end of the day; the time spent running wasn't that much longer than it would take to walk to the bicycle sharing rack, check out a bike, cycle to the shared rack near my destination, check it back in, then walk to wherever I was going - I could literally walk out my door and run to the door of wherever I was going. 

The downsides were also there: I'd have to run with my backpack; I'd be sweaty throughout the day; I'd have to pack extra clothes to change into once I got wherever I was going (I usually end up just staying in my running clothes, thank god my employers don't care how I look at work).

But that didn't bother me. I don't care about being sweaty and don't really care about looking cute. The worst thing, really, is the backpack. Fortunately for me, I have a decent REI backpack with hip, sternum, and compression straps. I cinch that thing down to ultimate dork level, and running with it feels pretty natural. The only thing that makes me cringe just a little bit is the weird looks I get from people as I fly past them on the sidewalks on campus. Oh well. I've decided I care more about getting my workouts in than what people think about me while I do them.

I like to think of it as preparation for my eventual fastpacking adventures in some remote, mountainous terrain. 

Happy running,

The Weak Machine

High protein, low-ish carb, low volume cutting / camping food

I've been on a spree of travelling over my long weekends now that I have Fridays off from classes and a weekly hours limit at my job. The last two weekends I've been climbing and camping out of town, and have the following three booked for the same.

I've also been dieting since June, and am attempting to stay on track over weekends. And while I'm fine with the occasional diet vacation, five 3-day weekends in a row of non-tracked eating would totally set me back.  Which brought me to the dilemma of how to eat healthily and count calories while camping. 

So, in breaks between projects at work, I sat down with a pen and paper and sketched out some ideas for 4ish meals per day. Here's what I came up with. Only a few items will need refrigeration, namely the ham and the sausage. But these I'll just store with an ice pack in a small container until needed. 

Contents Per Day (I'll be camping for 3 days, so the grocery list was these things x 3):

  1. Breakfast 
    1. 5 oz packet of salmon = 140 calories
    2. "Low-in-Carb" veggie wrap = 60 calories
    3. 1/2 small avocado = 110 calories
    4. Small tomato = 20 calories
  2. Lunch
    1. 7 oz chicken pouch = 245 calories
    2. 1/2 small avocado = 110 calories
    3. "Low-in-carb" veggie wrap = 60 calories
    4. Small tomato = 20 calories
  3. Snack
    1. 1 packet baby carrots (500g) = 175 calories
    2. Uncured Black Forest Ham (7 oz) = 175 calories
  4. Dinner
    1. Bear Creek soup mixes (I got tortilla soup and gumbo), 2 cups = 240 calories
    2. Chicken Apple Sausage = 480 calores (4 sausages)

Here's what it roughly looks like on MyPlate:

Obviously, you'll need to adjust based on your calorie goal. The macros for these meals:

  • 56g fat
  • 173g protein
  • 150g carbs

Not so bad. You could even cut down on the carbs if you took out the wraps, but I think these make the chicken / salmon a little more portable and palatable. 

Hope this helps anyone on a similar diet, or anyone who travels!

The Weak Machine





    Weight machines are fun

    As I was walking into the weight room today, a big sign confronted me with the fact that the free weights section of the gym was closed for approximately an hour for a Kinesiology class. I quickly went through the five stages of grief: denial ("maybe it's not actually closed?"); anger ("how could it be closed? how do I do deadlifts??? WTF???!"); bargaining ("maybe I can talk to the professor..".); depression ("my gains are going to shit, I'm never going to be strong..."); and finally, acceptance.

    At this point, I considered the option of either: running on the treadmill for half an hour, or going to the machines section of the weight room and going against my entire mentality for lifting. However, at the prospect of running without headphones while daytime TV was blaring on the screens in front of me, I decided to give the machines a try. 

    As I fought my repulsion toward machines and sat down at the lat pull, it occurred to me that this was probably a good time to work on things I usually didn't get to work on, like isolation exercises. 

    I quickly finished my first set and looked around the room. There were 30 or so machines and only two other people using them. I decided that it wouldn't be poor etiquette, then, to do a little circuit and maximize my time.

    Because of the efficiency of changing weights (with these machines, you pull out a pin and move it up or down a stack to pick a weight), I could do 4-5 exercises while resting from my first set of lat pulls. 

    In a time period of 20 minutes, I did 5 sets of: wide lat pull downs, leg curls, back extensions, "bench" press, and cable crunches. That was pretty cool. Then, in the next 20 minutes I did leg presses, flies, hip adductors and abductors, Usually, my workouts with free weights are 3-5 exercises long. On the machines, I was able to exercise more of my body in a shorter period of time.

    And, it was fun. Like, really fun. Walking to the gym that day was a slog; I was tired of my routine and feeling pretty down. But doing something different like working on my weaknesses and doing a lot of work was pretty cool. 

    I think my perspective on machines is changing a bit. I don't think they're the best for getting strong, and they'll never become my main lifts. But perhaps I'll slot a machine day into my routine from now on.



    Gear Junkie: Boreas Gear

    While this website is mostly about fitness, I'm also pretty obsessed with the outdoors. I also know that, if you were brought here because you like my climbing posts, you probably like the outdoors too. And with any outdoor enthusiast, there comes an enthusiasm for good outdoor gear.

    I wanted to write a post about this company because I've been watching it like a hawk this spring, and I haven't found too many other blogs mentioning it. Boreas Gear is a new company that makes backpacks and more recently, tents. The reason I think they're so awesome is because they have a huge emphasis on beautiful design; from what I've read, the founder was originally into conceptual car design.

    These days when you shop for a backpacking pack, you mostly find bags that are overloaded with features: straps, zippers, lids, loops, tie downs, cup holders, pockets, and other doodads. As an individual going into (cartographic) design, these ultimately ugly and unnecessary features are a huge turnoff when trying to choose a bag. Boreas approaches backpacks minimally and beautifully with backpacks that look like this:

    Boreas Buttermilks 40L

    Boreas Buttermilks 40L

    Simple, beautiful, and minimal. It's my style. I love it.

    However, here comes my gripe: there aren't many options for women. The two packs I'm interested in, the Buttermilks and the Sapa Trek, either don't come in women's sizing or are a frustrating off-white color that will undoubtedly look pretty terrible after being dragged around in the woods for a few weeks. 

    Depressingly, I've tried looking elsewhere to other companies to find a backpack that might reproduce the feelings I get when looking at Boreas' packs. There really aren't any. Which is very weird to me, considering just how many backpack companies are out there. 

    I'm hoping the company will wise up and bring out more options for women. In the meantime, I'll be scouring their Facebook/instagram/website in hopes that they get something out before I move into my truck next year. 

    You can find Boreas' backpacks here


    6 things I wish I knew before starting my cutting (dieting) phase

    I've been cutting (dieting, in bodybuilding terms) for about three months now. While I've made progress, it hasn't been stellar.  If I could go back in time to when I first started this diet, sit myself down and have a chat, here's what I would say:

    1. You're in this for the long haul

    There is no "I'll be ____ skinny and weigh ____ pounds by [date]". This is not a race. This will become your lifestyle. Stop worrying about little slip ups, vacation meals and what you're going to eat when you're with people who don't know you're on a diet. It's about the long-term trend, and micromanaging will make you stressed out and cranky.

    2. Carbs make you hungry

    Eating carbs, even from "healthy sources" like starchy vegetables, have the effect of filling you up in the short term but making you hungry in the long term. It has the paradoxical effect of making you hungrier than when you started (and more prone to bingeing on food that you shouldn't eat). Cutting down on carbs will make you a much happier dieter.

    3. After a month of dieting, re-calculate your daily caloric needs based on your results to date

    At the beginning of my diet, I used an online calculator to figure out how many calories I generally burn in a day. However, I now know that I overestimated how many calories I needed, thus slowing my weight loss.

    After a month of solid dieting, look at the last two weeks. How many calories did you eat per day? How much weight did you lose? Do some calculations:

    Take your total weight loss for the last two weeks in pounds and convert that to calories (3500 * each pound lost). If you divide that by 14 (two weeks), you can figure out how much of a deficit you've been eating per day from your maintenance level. If you know your deficit, than you can figure out roughly how many calories you need per day. For example:

    If you lost 1lb in two weeks, that means you ran a deficit of 3500 calories over those two weeks. Each day you would be "losing" 250 calories (3500cal / 14 days). If during those two weeks your intake was 2000 calories per day, that means the number of calories your body actually burns per day is around 2250 (and not 2500, like you thought). From here, you can reassess your daily caloric intake, setting it to 1800 instead of 2000 and staying on track with goals. 

    4. Ease your way into the diet, but keep improving as you go along

    At the beginning, I was afraid of this diet. Afraid to cut down on calories. Afraid to lower my carb intake. So I set meager goals and then sat around for two months wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere. What I really should have done was: 

    Start with a reasonable calorie goal. Maybe a 200 calorie daily deficit the first week (most people start around 500), then the next week try for a 250 calorie daily deficit. . Also do this with carbs. Start with something reasonable, like 200 grams of carbs per day. Every week, decrease that number by 20. Fill the gap in calories with protein or fat. It's really rewarding to be moving forward and seeing better progress every week rather than staying stagnant. 

    5. Artificial sweeteners are okay in moderation

    Yeah. I know you don't dig artificial stuff. It's not natural or paleo or whatever. I know you scoff at people who drink diet coke ad infinitum. But that honey and sugar in your tea makes you really hungry/craving sugar and it's not worth it. Even though this diet is long-term, it's not permanent. You can eat more naturally once your done. Just get through this for now. A little stevia makes your greek yogurt taste awesome without making you super hungry later.

    6. These foods are awesome for diets. Eat them:

    1. Plain greek yogurt. Tasty breakfast, even better with protein powder
    2. Salmon that comes in a packet. 2.5 ounces, 70 calories, super filling. Great with eggs.
    3. Eggs. More eggs. 7 a day. With all the fixins.
    4. Frozen vegetables. Specifically the "California Blend". Eat 5 cups with lunch and you won't be hungry after, I promise.
    5. This ranch dressing. This brand saved my life. 45 calories instead of the usual 210, and you can put it on anything to make it taste less bland. 
    6. Frozen chicken breasts. Cheaper per pound than fresh and you're just going to be putting them on salads anyway.
    7. Chicken broth/bouillon. Frozen veggies go well in chicken broth too. Good for adding flavor to bland stuff.
    8. 1% Cottage cheese. 80 calories for half a cup. Eat with carrots / cucumbers / tomatoes. Filling late night snack that's hard to binge on. 






    Go West

    Between climbing days while finishing my last semester at school, I often maintain my psych by heading out for a sunset run along the lakefront in Madison, Wisconsin. I queue up the latest yet unlistened Dirtbag Diaries episode, and while my stress ebbs out through my legs, my brain gets excited with renewed dreams of the outdoors.

    Like many of us in the outdoor community, I'm stuck between pursuing the "responsible" career path and dreaming of spending a life outside. Anyway, I was running the other day and came across a perfect quote that I think you all might find applicable.

    "The things that make me happy: alpine starts, desert sunsets, exposed ridgelines... are not things that my parents can easily explain to people they meet at parties. If I were a lawyer, an accountant, a father, or just a rabid Chicago Cubs fan... those are things that my parents could relate to their friends at dinner parties. I'm sure my dad never goes into work on Monday morning and says to the guys, 'well, my youngest son finally led that heinous offwidth line at Vedawoo he's been eyeballing since last summer.' I drive a 14 year old car with 180 thousand miles and about 50 dents on it. The replacement value of my outdoor gear is larger than my life savings. I own one tie and I've never owned a suit. In the hardworking Iowa where I come from, this is not what success looks like"

    Brendan Leonard speaking in "Go West", an episode of The Dirtbag Diaries

    Diet Experiments

    In June I started the first calorie-counting diet I've ever been on. It's been a journey, to say the least. A slow, agonizing, but enlightening journey.

    I wanted to lose 15lbs. The first 5 were pounds I'd gained in the last two years from literally eating whatever I'd wanted- late night binges on nutella, heaps of bacon, nightly desserts and chai lattes. The last 10lbs were an attempt to get to a bodybuilder level of body fat (15%) to see what it would be like to finally be super lean.

    Three months later and I've only lost about 6lbs, but I've learned a lot about how many calories I need to eat in a day, what kinds of macronutrients work the best for me, and what type of eating schedule promotes the greatest happiness while also providing weight loss. 

    First, I wanted to figure out how many calories I had to eat. My daily activity looks like this:

    1. Bike to work
    2. Bike to the gym from work
    3. Lift weights (1 hour), powerlifting style
    4. Bike back to work
    5. Bike home
    6. Climb (2 hours) or run (2-6 miles) or both.

    Being a not very sedentary person makes it rather hard to figure out how many calories you need to eat. How many calories does lifting for an hour burn? How do you factor your rest periods between sets / different exercises / intensity? It's all a little overwhelming at first.

    So, I ended up using the IIFYM Calculator to determine my total daily energy expenditure. It put me somewhere around 2500 calories a day if I chose the "Twice Daily" exercise option. I subtracted 500 calories from that number and set that as my calorie intake goal. 

    The second part of the diet was to start a Leangains approach to dieting. It's an intermittent fasting style diet that centers meals and specific nutrients around workouts. It's pretty popular with bodybuilders and powerlifters because the goal is to lose fat while maintaining or building muscle and strength.

    The basic idea is that you have a defined "eating window" during the day- usually 8 hours. Your biggest meal, and the meal that has the most carbohydrates, is eaten immediately following your workout of the day. You also focus on taking in enough protein to prevent muscle loss while eating at a caloric deficit.

    This seemed to suit me because I was never really a breakfast person anyways. When I was commuting to classes twice a week this spring, I'd have 3 days off a week. These days would usually start with me getting up at 8am, doing homework until noon, lifting, and then making "breakfast" around 1:30pm. So, fasting until 1:30pm didn't really seem that weird to me. It also meant I could eat like I usually did: big meals that left me feeling full. How hard would it really be to have willpower for a few hours in the morning?

    Every weekend I'd take a cheat meal, usually Saturdays, where I'd eat whatever I want and however much I wanted without worrying about how it was going to affect my weight loss. These have been key to keeping me sane: I know that once a week I can still eat out with friends or make the food I've been craving all week. It's also supposed to reset your body's tolerance to your diet so you don't plateau.

    I also didn't worry about the diet on vacation, which probably set me back a little bit, but I didn't want to be obsessed about food when I was trying to relax. The longer I do this diet, the more I know that I shouldn't set hard deadlines for when I'm going to be at "X weight," and think of it as more of a lifestyle. 

    However, about a month ago I realized intermittent fasting wasn't for me anymore. It didn't suit my lifestyle, and it threatened my ability to stick to losing weight. Here are the reasons why I stopped:

    • I get really cranky when I'm hungry. I was hungry in the morning, and hated having to wait to eat.
    • Even though I ate big meals, it's like my brain knew that I wasn't eating half the day. I'd eat a huge meal and be stuffed, only to feel mentally hungry an hour later.
    • I started to obsess about food. I have poor willpower when it comes to eating, and doing IF all day weakened my willpower such that I would occasionally binge during the week. Cheat days were horrible and I ate back most of the calories I'd lost during the week
    • During the fast, I'd get really cold and feel sluggish
    • It's hard to fast with other people that don't fast. Visiting parents and relatives was really hard when trying to fast and eat properly.

    I don't think these things are necessarily the fault of intermittent fasting- just that my body and my personality didn't jive with how it worked. I like a lot of the principles of IF, and once I'm done with this deficit I might experiment using it again a few days a week or to make up for a weekend of bad eating. 

    So now I've relaxed on IF a bit. I still only eat a light snack in the morning, but that snack reverses 90% of the bad effects of IF for me. I don't get cold, cranky, or obsessed about when I'm going to eat. I still eat my big lunch after I work out, but I don't feel like I'm waiting all day to eat it. 

    Unfortunately, the diet has been going really slow. I haven't nailed it down yet, but I think it's a combination of overestimating how many calories I burn daily and my intra-IF cheat days. Nonetheless, I'm getting better. Now that I've stopped IF, my cheat days have seriously declined in their binge-yness. I'm way less obsessive and that's a good thing. I was also able to take the data from my previous weeks of dieting and approximate how many calories I was actually burning (for those wondering, it's more like 2350 calories/day instead of 2500 a day. So I've cut down my daily intake to 1850 rather than 2000). 

    I've also honed in on the macronutrient ratios that are best for me. Lately I've been eating:

    50% protein / 25% carbs / 25% fat

    Which is a little crazy, protein-wise. The most I've eaten for protein on a given day was 250g, which is more than the 1.5g / body weight figure given for bodybuilders (which I'm not). 

    One important thing I found is that the lower the number of carbs I eat, the less hungry I feel all day. The second I eat something with a high glycemic index, I start feeling hungry despite having eaten enough calories.

    I realized this first when I was putting honey in my tea. I'd be full from my small snack, but after drinking tea I'd be ravenous. By trading out the carbs for protein (and occasionally, fat), I stay fuller longer. I'm working on making it even lower, but daily I usually take in about 80g of carbs. 

    I also started taking some non-bodybuilding specific supplements. In particular, 

    • Fish oil. I realized I didn't eat enough fish and didn't get omega 3's in my diet, so these contribute. They're apparently good for staving off depression and preventing inflammation
    • Matcha tea powder: lots of antioxidants, supposedly helpful for weight loss and great tasting in greek yogurt
    • Whey protein: great in greek yogurt and good pre-workout protein
    • Green tea: apparently good for weight loss, keeps the appetite down, and good for focusing at work

    I also found some staple foods that I can't live without when dieting:

    • Chobani plain greek yogurt: 130 calories in a cup, infinitely changeable (you can add so much stuff and make it so tasty!), and lots of protein
    • Frozen mixed vegetables: I eat like 8 cups of veggies a day. They're delicious and filling and I get my nutrient quota
    • Eggs: super filling. I eat about 7 a day, and they're cheap
    • Frozen chicken breasts: cheaper than fresh chicken and great for putting into salads and soup
    • Chicken bouillon: easy soup / flavoring for otherwise bland food (see vegetables)
    • Salmon packets: I get the small, 2oz Chicken of the Sea packets. Surprisingly filling, and only 70 calories
    • Fresh veggies: now that I eat cleaner, I crave these things. Tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, carrots, and cucumbers are staples. 

    One thing that I worried about at the start was that my workouts would suffer. They've actually been going pretty well. I don't know that I've gained much muscle, but my strength has gone up in my pullups and squats. Not amazing progress, but enough that I'm content in that department.

    And that's pretty much it. It's been a journey. I've learned a lot about how my body works, and what it doesn't like (I discovered I don't do well with dairy). I know that if I have to do this again, it'll be way easier next time. My goal for the immediate future is to not think about how long the process is going to take and just let it soak into my lifestyle.

    Hope that helps anyone who wants to try something similar.

    Cheers and happy weekend,

    The Weak Machine




    Six months later, and a One Arm Progress Update

    Ooh boy. It's been a long time. Here's what's been going lately.

    Three months ago, I moved away from home (and lost access to my wonderful home gym) to the city where I go to school. I've been using the school's gym, which, despite not being in my basement or being pajama-friendly, has some perks. These are:

    • An assisted pull up machine
    • Cable machines (as a love of free weights, this came as a surprise)
    • A real, non-sketchy dip station (mine was made of wood and is rather wobbly)
    • An accurate scale

    My move to Madison, WI also brought about an opportunity to fix my diet. The ability to go grocery shopping for my own food and not have bad food sitting around enabled me to meticulously refine my diet so that I was only having junk food about once a week. 

    With this change, I decided I wanted to lose some weight. I've never considered myself fat, but after two years of heavy lifting and not caring what I ate, I'd put on about five pounds of fat in addition to all the muscle I was gaining. Prior to moving away from home, I never felt like I'd have enough control to successfully complete a diet. Now, I had all the tools.

    In addition to my diet, I started focusing on lifting. Currently, I lift six days a week. Every day I do some form of pull up (I switch between weighted pull ups and one arm work), and do either squats, or deadlifts and weighted dips. 

    My weighted pull ups have been going really well. I've been throwing in some Smolov Jr cycles between regular old 5x5s, and I've seen my strength start to really improve again. 

    About three weeks ago, I decided to try out the assisted pull up machine to see how much assistance my one arm needed. I set the assistance to 35lbs and banged out 5 sets of 5 easily. I kept dropping the weight until I did a set of 5 with only 25lbs of assistance. I quickly googled a 1RM calculator on my phone and did the math (including my bodyweight in the calculation): it indicated that I was only about 10lbs away from doing a one arm pullup.

    This seemed too good to be true. Makes me wonder if the machine is really accurate, or if I'll have issues when my knees aren't supported on the machine's platform. Nonetheless, I remembered trying the assisted pull up machine when I was just starting pull up training and only being able to do a one arm with 70+lbs of assistance. Even if I'm not close to a one-arm, it means I've come a long way and I'm pretty excited about that. 

    I also did my first controlled one-arm negative the other day (and then I did one more right after). It's been about a year since I did my first one-arm lockoff, and now I can finally control the descent enough to call it a "negative". While they're too intense for me to add to regular workouts yet (my arms are fried immediately after), I'm psyched for when I'm strong enough to do a few in a row and add them to the routine. Here's the video of me doing one.

    Anyway, that's pretty much it for now. I've been running a bit while I've been injured from climbing, and it feels nice to explore the new city by foot. Will get to posting about the diet experience soon.

    Much love,

    The Weak Machine




    Skin Hardening Products, Holy Crap

    About a month back I purchased some stuff called Antihydral, which was originally created as a cream for people who had overly sweaty extremities. I had other hopes, however, than using the stuff as a replacement for chalk.

    See, I've been climbing for about four years, and despite climbing 3-4 times per week, my fingers never toughened up like the should have. I'd get about an hour into a bouldering session and my skin would hurt enough that I wouldn't want to climb anymore; it was just really painful to even touch holds. I'd tell the guys about my problem and they'd give me one of a few typical answers: "Oh, they'll harden up eventually" or "mine got really hard after I went climbing outside last year" or the simple yet infuriating "yeah, I guess my skin hurts every once in a while". Except, it wasn't every once in a while. It was every session. This predicament prevented me from climbing more than once every two days; I couldn't begin to think about climbing more than one day in a row.

    So, prior to a spring break trip to the Red River Gorge, I bought a tube of Antihydral to see how it worked out. The directions were pretty simple: apply, let dry, wash off. It came two days before we left, and I started using it immediately: twice a day, morning and night. I quickly realized that, prior to using Antihydral, my fingers would sweat like no other. Like, constant, visible sweat on the tips of my fingers. I've come to the conclusion that I have unusually sweaty, moist skin on my hands, and this is the reason my skin has always been so soft. However, Antihydral prevented that. A few days into the trip, I switched to just once a day, and by that time I was feeling great.

    It was like magic. I climbed every day. My only skin related pain was a splitter or two from sharp holds. My skin was starting to feel and look like a climber's hands should- tough, dry, and immune to pain.

    After the trip was over, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I immediately started going to the gym daily. My sessions lasted 3+ hours instead of 1. 

    I didn't ever feel like there was such a thing as a "game changer" when training for rock climbing; just hard work. This stuff was a game changer for me. I can climb multiple days in a row without a thought. My fingers don't stop me from climbing as long as I want to, and I can instead leave the gym because I'm bored and not because my fingers are killing me. 

    Now, that's not to say that Antihydral is perfect. It does have some downfalls. It comes in a small tube, and costs about $30 if you include shipping. To me, that's pretty expensive. And considering how much I need to coat my fingers, it goes pretty quickly. I anticipate that this tube would last me another month or two, if I gave it daily use. The cream itself is pretty messy: it's a whiteish-yellow paste that you smudge over your fingers and leaves a white residue on anything you touch. Some climbers say they sleep with it on; and while I have no doubt this is the best option, I wouldn't go near a clean bed wearing it. I usually applied it in the morning before climbing: I'd put it on, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then rinse it off. 

    A week or two of daily applications of Antihydral reminded me of my younger days, when I bought an extra strength antiperspirant called CertainDri for my pits. CertainDri is a roll on liquid antiperspirant that pretty much trumps all other antiperspirants. You'd apply it at night, it burns a little, and after a day or two, you literally stop sweating. Which had me thinking, what if I used it on my hands? So I rooted around in my medicine cabinet and found an old bottle of it, and tried it.

    My hands have literally never felt as dry as they did the next morning. Which was actually kind of interesting. It definitely worked better than the Antihydral, but perhaps a little too well. I definitely wished I was more careful when applying it, as the skin in the joints of my fingers felt a little crackly and slightly painful when bent. 

    The effects, however, lasted for a few days, unlike Antihydral, which I had to apply daily. After a day or two, it would wear off enough that my hands felt dry, yet moist enough to not crack or hurt.

    The perks of CertainDri are: it's low price ($5.18 at my local pharmacy in Wisconsin); it's non-messiness; and the fact that I probably only need to put it on every other night / every third night. 

    Both products are a lifesaver for me, and I'm pretty excited to see how I'll improve at climbing now that I'm not limited on quantity. So far, climbing daily has been awesome. My technique is way better from all the extra practice. I also feel like I can focus on one thing at a time, instead of feeling like I won't get a chance before a route gets taken down. And also, the pressure of performing well has gone down too, because, hey, I'll be back tomorrow anyway.

    Hope this helps all you excessive sweaters out there...

    The Weak Machine

    Eva Lopez's Blog

    I was recently linked to Eva Lopez's blog, creator of the Transgression hangboard that has been popping up seemingly everywhere lately. She's written quite a bit on finger strength training, and I'm excited to dig a little deeper into her posts. 

    Give it a look.

    -The Weak Machine

    Reddit Question: Advanced Weighted Pull Up Programs

    I few weeks ago I posted this question on Reddit about what I should do for an advanced weighted pull up program. I got some pretty awesome responses and I thought it would be helpful for anyone looking for ideas once they've hit a pull up plateau. The ideas posted within will be suitable for anyone who can do a pull up with 50% of their body weight in addition to body weight. 


    The Weak Machine

    New Diet Report: Vegetables, One Month In

    Prior to starting this new diet, I ate pretty healthy. A history of stomach pain, involving some hereditary ulcers, made that pretty mandatory. Basically, I didn't eat: fast food or soda, I drank little alcohol, was gluten-free, made most of my meals from scratch, and emphasized protein and good fats. My meals were generally centered around a meat; generally, lots of chicken and pork and occasionally a nice cut of steak. Add a carb to the meat (usually gluten free bread, tortilla chips, or quinoa) and I was good to go. 

    Then again, I loved dessert (and I still do), I drank tea with large amounts of sugar, and would often over-emphasize the carb part of my meals. 

    I tried the paleo thing for a while. The diet itself made a lot of sense to me. Whatever your impression of the diet, it's main tenets are pretty hard to deny: Don't eat processed shit; eliminate sugar except in its most natural forms (fruits and vegetables); protein and fat are really important, while carbohydrates not as much as we thought; whole foods are good.

    However, found it hard to cut out grains, sugar, dairy, beans, and soy from my diet at the same time. It was especially hard when I would spend 13-14 hours a day in another city going to school and working, and at that time, without facilities for cooking. 

    A month or two ago I realized how much I was sitting on a day to day basis. I still lifted four times a week and was climbing every other day, but I'd spend most of my days with classes sitting, from about 7:00am to 8:30pm. My legs protested; my hamstrings and butt would get incredibly sore and I would fidget incessantly until I could move again. I had recently quit my job at the running store, which meant I didn't spend 8 hour shifts every other day standing on my feet and scrambling around to get things done. 

    I was pretty paranoid that my fitness would go downhill, and started to feel really guilty when I indulged in less than healthy foods. My body image went drastically downhill, even though I doubted I'd gained any weight and I was stronger than ever. I wanted to make a change, but I was concerned that my failure at Paleo would just be a repeat affair.

    It then hit me that little steps were the key to making a diet last. I looked back on my history of managing what I ate, and realized that over the years I had slowly adjusted my diet to be more healthy. In high school I gave up soda, then soon after, fast food. I could still make disgustingly fatty or sweet foods, but I'd have to do it in the comfort of my house. My freshman year of college, I gave up gluten. At the time, this more targeted at helping my months worth of stomach pain, but had the added bonus of taking out a lot of empty carbs from my diet. Shortly before my NOLS trip to India, I began centering my meals around lean meats, emphasizing protein and fat over carbohydrates. 

    So, I decided to make a small change now. Nothing crazy, but enough to make a difference. I had four rules:

    My nearly-finished bowl of vegetables at work. 

    My nearly-finished bowl of vegetables at work. 

    1.  Replace all grains in my diet with vegetables
    2. Only one mug of tea per day
    3. Only one dessert per day (the horror)
    4. Do whatever the hell I want on the weekend. 

    So, I stocked up on frozen vegetables and started replacing all the gluten free bread, GF pasta, quinoa, rice, and tortilla chips. With regards to the tea and a nightly dessert, I realized that both of these things contributed significantly to my daily happiness and would make the failure rate of this diet much higher. 

    Basically, my meals all consist of a large bowl (2-3 cups) of 4-6 types of vegetables, and some form of protein. I usually cover the vegetables in olive oil or butter, a bit of salt, and some spices, then microwave them until they're cooked. I've found some favorite vegetables that I would have totally denied as a kid (there are TONS in the freezer section of the grocery store): sugar snap peas, lima beans, broccoli, carrots, and butternut squash. Among others I use are brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and sliced peppers. Occasionally, corn too if I want something sweeter, though I know it's technically a grain. 

    After a month of this, I can say it's been going pretty well. Frozen vegetables make an awesome, hearty filler that are easy to transport. On days with classes, I'll grab a quart-sized tupperware, fill it to the top with frozen veggies, and I won't have to worry about them unfreezing from 6:30am until whenever I eat lunch.  I don't worry about not having enough to eat anymore, which is really nice; the equivalent calories' worth of rice or bread would keep me full for an hour or two, tops. As for my gigantic bowl of vegetables, it usually takes me two-ish hours to finish and I'm left really satisfied. Not only that, but I've really started to like, and crave, vegetables too. 

    I've also found that I crave dessert less at the end of the night as well. I guess that means I tend to crave less sugar when I eat less sugar, which is kinda cool. And I feel less guilty about eating dessert when I really want it. But mostly, I've been eating less. Which is great, but I'm also just a little bit concerned that I won't hit my goals for lifting, as I won't have the calorie surplus that I used to have in order to build muscle. I'm hoping this isn't the case and that a healthier diet will better promote recovery. 

    Overall, I'm pretty excited about how this is going and I think I'll keep it up for a long time. 

    -The Weak Machine

    Advanced Weighted Pull Up Programs: Smolov Jr

    According to, Smolov jr. is: "a three week program that comes from the Russian squat routine known as Smolov. A big difference is it’s 1/5 as long and not nearly as taxing on your body. Another difference is Smolov jr. can be used on other lifts besides the squat, and is actually quite commonly used on the bench press. The majority of users report that they add 20-35 pounds to their squat or deadlift, and 15-25 pounds to their bench press(some even claim numbers up to 40 pounds)."

    Now typically, you won't find many people applying this kind of program to the pull up, because most people only do pull ups as accessory lifts rather than training theme extensively. 

    Reddit user psicicle, however, experimented using Smolov jr. with his weighted pull ups to awesome success. His report, on reddit, is here.  

    He does recommend having at least a 50% BW added weighted pull up before beginning, so that lower weight sets don't require removing weight.

    I'm really excited to experiment with this program over the next month. I'll post my results here when I'm done.

    -The Weak Machine

    My Butt Hurts

    After finishing my ultramarathon last May, I've been pretty much exclusively climbing and lifting. Unlike when I was running a lot, my lifting has become more leg focused. Lots of squats and deadlifts. Reached some pretty cool milestones too, like 2-plate deadlifts (finally... I always hated deadlifts), and a new squat PR of 5x215.

    Something I've noticed though, since classes resumed last September, is that the longer I sit, the worse my legs and butt hurt. Not necessarily after lifting (although I do get super sore pretty often), but in general. 

    I can't sit anymore. The other day I had roughly 10 hours of straight classes and work at my desk, and I'm pretty sure I freaked a dude out on the bus home by doing dips on the seat armrests when I couldn't take it anymore. 

    Suddenly it seems like a superpower for people to be able to comfortably relax in a chair for more than half an hour without having to alternate butt cheeks, do butt and hamstring-flexes to get blood moving, or to take fake "bathroom" breaks that are really just "stretch-my-hamstrings-oh-god-they-hurt-so-bad" breaks. Standing for more than just the transition period between classes feels like a godsend. 

    If I ever get a real job, a standing desk is looking like a must-have. 

    An Awkward Swole: Insecurity and Muscleyness


    It's weird to think that I would ever feel uncomfortable in my own body after lifting. Almost everything about working out to me is satisfying: the sense of tiredness, accomplishment, strength, and visible results in my body are the reasons it's something I do almost every day of my life. 

    Yet, while many women work out, few women work out in a way that puts on large quantities of muscle.

    Which is cool. I mean, I was a runner most of my life until recently.  I look up to a great number of exceptionally talented runners whose body type is the polar opposite of that of a bodybuilder. Climbers, even, are known for being tiny except for their hefty lats and forearms. 

    Yet, as I have been lifting the last year, I hardly ever see women who look like me, or train like me.

    It's weird. Where are all the buff women at? Are they concealed under winter layers, hidden in plain sight? Am I genetically gifted, do I just happen to build muscle really easily? Why don't women want to lift like I do? Does that make me weird/gross/awkward?

    Why do I feel so alone?

    For me, gaining muscle was never really a goal, it wasn't something I needed to feel attractive or satisfied with myself. But it just so happens that the best way to train for strength, when lifting, produces a large amount of muscle in the process. And I definitely wanted to be strong.

    To this day, I've enjoyed the benefits of being strong and looking strong. People complement me fairly often on my muscles. I usually say "thanks", and feel pretty good about myself for the rest of the day. But sometimes, really, I want to tell them how insecure it makes me feel.

    Yet, after someone complements you in passing, it's hardly the time to tell them how you wonder if you stand out, or if it makes you look unattractive, or if you'd be happier if you just looked normal again. I want to tell someone how I feel awkward in short sleeves, and how I get nervous when dressing for anywhere except the gym. That I really wished someone else looked like me, or at least worked out like me, in my social sphere, so I didn't feel like the only one.


    One-arm Progress Update

    Before I go on with the post, a friend of mine posted this video on my Facebook wall. I have to admit that, even though I knew I was supposed to be inspired, this video was kind of a downer for me. Because even though I have always been working on the one-arm pull up for myself, there was definitely the motivator of getting to be the first woman to ever post a video of herself doing a one-arm. But it definitely colored my experience, in that I felt like I was in a race against humanity to get a one-arm before any other woman. And ultimately, that wasn't what I wanted it to be about. I had to realize that I'm doing it for the challenge itself, and knowing that if I succeed, I'll still be in the 0.00001% of women who can. A day or two later and I'm not really all that bummed, and it's nice to know that I'm shooting for something that really is possible. 

    So in June I made a post that I'd finally gotten my first one-arm lockoff, which was a pretty big deal for me. I'd mostly gotten there through the use of my pulley and pull-up bar combo and a lot of assisted negatives and lockoffs. Whenever I achieve the next milestone in my one-arm goal, it always feels like things will progress really quickly from that point onward, and I get really optimistic about one-arm training. Queue the Rocky theme music, and I start dreaming about eventually posting a video of myself doing a real, genuine one-arm pull-up.

    And I'm always proven wrong. This summer was a summer of setbacks, including a month-long trip of no one-arm training and the proceeding month of (depressedly) trying to get all my one-arm fitness back. Fast forward to September, and I finally felt like I was getting back to where I was in June.  

    My training from there was a lot of assisted one-arm negatives, programmed in sets of heavy singles on the pulley. The problem was, I could do lockoffs, but I couldn't do a negative anywhere near slowly enough to be effective training. So I slowly worked my way from 25lbs of assistance to none, and last week, I finally did a one-arm negative, with no assistance, that I could be satisfied with. That is, four months after my first lock-off. It actually feels pretty good. Campusing while climbing is starting to feel very possible, instead of the mess of haphazard matching and swinging around that it used to be before I started training pull-ups. 

    Today I'm hoping to do, for the first time, a set of more than one proper negative in a row. Maybe eventually I can add some weight to my negatives, too. 

    Happy training,

    -The Weak Machine