Thursday, January 22, 2015


Monday, January 19, 2015

Tri-ed It Tuesday: My Experience With Hot Yoga at Infinite Yoga

I'm participating in Lakeshore Runner's Tri-ed It Tuesday Link-up.  Head over there to check out other great posts about new experiences!

The cold weather, a somewhat lighter schedule, and the off-season (from triathlon training) made me want to try Hot Yoga either at the end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015.  For some, it is really the ultimate workout (an actual quote I heard at the office).  The heat makes it easier to get deeper into the stretches, and you sweat more, releasing toxins from your body.  I figured I'd be OK as long as I pre-hydrated and kept a water bottle nearby.

Infinite Yoga had a great introductory offer of $25 for a week's unlimited classes.  I spoke to the director Karla, and she told me about the water they had available (no charge) to fill your bottle that is clean, but room temperature.  She compared drinking ice cold water in hot yoga to throwing water on a cooking grease fire.  I'm glad I listened, as the water felt cool when I drank it in class, and it was refreshing enough.

I managed to fit in 4 classes in the 7 days, all from the Signature Hot Series.  Here are a few notes I took:

  1. Day 1: Evening of Tuesday January 13th - Started off in corpse pose, then moved forward with core warm-up (variations on leg raises) into a fairly standard Yoga flow.  Lots of downward dog.
  2. Day 2: Noon of Thursday January 15th - More challenging.  My shoulder was bothering me, and the instructor did well to get us to engage our lats on many poses as well as stretch the shoulders out with eagle arms in various pose variations.  The instructor was very hands on and had great ways to make me aware of which muscles could and should be engaged on all the movements.  I struggle to keep my palms upward when lying in corpse pose - it doesn't feel comfortable - but she managed some kind of adjustment that made it so much easier? Who’d have thought that I can’t do “lying down like a dead body” properly.  Still, the discomfort of the heat made it difficult to find the peace and stillness that you want at the meditative part of the end of the lesson.  (Wore a Hoorag as a headband for the first half).
  3. Day 3: Noon of Friday January 16th. I struggled with side planks and had to keep a knee on the ground.  I use the blocks a lot and generally adopt the easiest, most beginner friendly pose variations just to get by.  
  4. Day 4: Noon of Monday January 19th.  Warrior II pose into a side bend.  Many, many Vinyasas (plank to upward dog or cobra, back to downward facing dog), even as a rest/restoration pose.  Shoulders felt very sore, even during simple things like the Warrior II pose.  My legs seemed to hold up better in poses like chair, and the Warrior poses when I’d load my weight onto the front leg, which is odd considering they were tired from cross-country skiing and running on the weekend.

Overall, I came across three different kinds of challenges:
  • New Poses like the inverted (downward) dog, which were unfamiliar and I needed to get used to.
  • Old poses that I had to enter from new positions/angles/situations e.g. Dancers pose starting from being bent over rather than standing.
  • Heat effects on the ability to hold a pose (a question of muscular endurance, or mental endurance?) and breathing. I needed blocks on poses I didn't think I would. I couldn't hold poses as long as I expected, and my shoulders or hamstrings would start to quiver well before I thought they should.

That last one sums up Hot Yoga for me. If you went running with a 40 pound backpack on your back, you would burn more calories and get stronger as a runner for the same time spent running, no question. The problem isn't just that it would be uncomfortable, it's also that it would be frustrating to not be able to run as fast or as far, due to the fact that you've purposely made it harder for yourself. I found every session to be a struggle, and I guess I figured it would get easier. I have to admit not needing blocks on the last day might have been a good sign. Though it was humbling to have to practice Yoga at a level lower than I would expect for myself given prior experience, Yoga is forgiving that way - it isn't competitive, and it makes it easy to accept whatever circumstances you happen to be in on a given day.

I do think that I put some good strength work into my shoulders and legs that should help them stay injury proof and help with endurance and stability. Fitting Yoga into a triathlon training schedule is advisable, but difficult; at least Hot Yoga gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of time (and sweat!) spent.
I took this picture in stealth mode, I figured photograpy might be frowned upon.

Infinite Yoga is a simple and clean facility. Nothing too fancy in the change-rooms (lockers would have been nice), though there are showers and a filtration machine on the water tap.

The hot room is large and spacious with adjustable lighting, so they can dim for the meditative beginning and ending to each session. The lobby has a warm, welcoming atmosphere that gets you in the right mood for yoga.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Five - Coming Soon

In an effort to keep some momentum in my writing and posting (I’m a little stalled on a Lightning Kid post), I’m going to do a Friday Five post with 5 things that could be their own posts - and probably will be in the future.  Rather than beat myself up about my inability to get a good, quality piece written and published this week, I’m going to give you this, the bastard love-child of a clip show and sneak preview/trailer.

  1. Cross-country skiing.  Finally there’s enough snow for us to do one of our favourite family activities in the winter.  I think the Chariot is coming to the end of its service life; it’s in fine shape - it’s just the boys are getting a little big for it.  I stated in my submission to Pavement Runner’s Best Photos of 2014 that we probably wouldn't be able to do running races as a family going forward.  It’s a bittersweet thought.

For cross-country skiing, which is more tiring than walking or running, we might have a bit of a reprieve.  Shark Boy can ski, he’s just slower than my wife or I which only makes sense. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

What You Don't Know About Sleep

Happy New Year! No year-in-review posts, no resolutions/goals posts, just something I've wanted to write about for a while, but it's taken some time to put the whole post together. Read on, if sleep is important to you, especially if you are or know a snorer.

I used to be an insomniac.  Insomnia can take many forms, but for me, it used to be hardest getting to sleep.  When I was a kid, my parents used to try to coach me to think happy thoughts, but little boys’ happy thoughts tend to be fairly exciting, not so much relaxing (I think I can see a pattern with Shark Boy’s night-time routine).  When I was older, I could easily let my mind race.

Nowadays, I don’t really have that problem anymore.  I’m able to think of relaxing thoughts, and frankly, I’m exhausted enough at the end of the average day that I can just drift off - happy thoughts are more like being on a hammock at the beach, for example.  I did learn a lot about good sleep hygiene in the interim though, and I’d consider myself about as big an expert as a layperson without formal training or certification can be.  Some top tips for higher-quality sleep include:

  • Keep the room as dark as possible.  Our body’s hormonal releases are triggered by light, so night lights, street lights shining in from the window, etc. can all interfere with that.  We have opaque black-out blinds in the master bedroom and the Lightning Kid’s room.
  • Similarly, try not to engage in any screen time immediately before bed - TV, computers, or even smartphone screens’ light in your eyes puts your brain in the wrong state for sleeping.  Reading is better, if you use an e-reader, try to find a night-mode where the ‘paper’ is black and the letters are white for less light into your eyes.  I once found a way to do this on my Kobo, but a software upgrade reverted it.
  • In fact, make sure your bed is only used for sleeping (and maybe one other thing).  TV in the bedroom is a definite and obvious no-no, but overall, the idea is to use Pavlovian conditioning to get your mind and body to equate being in that space with sleeping, and nothing else.
  • A hot bath is relaxing and appealing before bed, but if it’s too hot, it can make falling asleep difficult.  I’m a little guilty of this one sometimes.
  • Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with the body’s rhythms, so limit your intake.

Obviously all of these have to be varied according to personal taste, I really only include them here to show that I've done my homework when it comes to a good night’s sleep.  

I've been a snorer for most of my adult life.  In January of 2014, things got a lot worse, in that it got so loud that my wife and I couldn't sleep in the same room anymore.  I found an app called Snorelab and downloaded it to my iPad.  I wear a mouth-guard to prevent teeth grinding  (known as bruxism), and the other issue I started having was waking up with a dry mouth.  I mean, incredibly dry.  It felt like I’d spent a week in the Sahara.  So I tried playing with having a glass of water nearby to stay hydrated, running a humidifier in the room, and using a mouth spray to fight the dryness.  I also tracked the effect of my snoring.


I managed to reach “Epic” levels of loudness, and it put me in the top few percent of snorers.  Between that and the dryness of mouth, it was time to book a sleep study.  

I didn’t get an appointment till July of 2014, and when I did, I found the experience to be not too unpleasant.  Yes, I did have to get wired up in weird ways with something like 20 electrode pads all over my body, including my head and face, torso and legs.  While I was lying down, they had to do various calibrations where I had to move (or not move) and breathe (or hold my breath) in various ways.  It also meant having to call for help when I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night to get unhooked from the wires.


It took a few weeks to get the results, but when I sat down with the doctor at the sleep clinic I was diagnosed with a mild obstructive sleep apnea (which gets severe when supine, i.e on my back).  This means my breathing gets disrupted while sleeping, and to fight this, my body wakes itself (not always to the point of consciousness necessarily).  With these arousals (numbering close to 40 in total), there is also (in my case) “mild periodic leg movement disorder”, but more importantly, it reduces the quality of sleep and puts undue strain on my heart while my oxygen levels dip below 90% which is a sort of safety threshold.

  1. The first issue is important, because we all know that sleep is important and we all struggle to get enough in terms of quantity, but if the quality is poor, what’s the point?  Even on nights where I seemed to get plenty of sleep, I’d wake up tired.
  2. I don’t worry about my heart too much since there aren’t too many issues with it from a hereditary perspective and the fact that I get lots of cardio-vascular exercise, but I do think about all the times I read about heart-attacks in marathons and triathlons.  The victims are usually in good shape, long-time endurance athletes, so what happens? The blame is usually put on some undiagnosed heart-defect.  I searched Dr. Larry Creswell’s Athlete’s Heart website and though he has some articles about athlete's sudden cardiac death, I didn’t find much linking obstructive sleep apnea to these kinds of problems.  Still, it can’t be a good thing to keep on living with it.

I was hoping that the solution could be simple; a mouth guard that would alter the position of my mouth.  I already wear one for the teeth grinding, so no problem!  The solutions presented were:

  1. Surgery.  Very little chance of success.
  2. Mouth guard.  Chance of success was also not high and the cost would be in the thousands of dollars, not covered by the Ontario Health Care.
  3. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.  This has the highest success rate, and the Ontario government covers 75% of the cost.

I didn’t like idea of the machine as I thought it would restrict my freedoms (travel, camping, or even the ability to switch beds spontaneously), but I’d heard from friend (who suffers from a more severe obstructive apnea) that sleeping with one had been life changing and theree was a night and day difference in the quality of sleep he enjoyed.  Between that, the cost and the chance of success I pretty much had to give the CPAP a try.  I was signed up for a free trial for a month (which ended up turning into 6 weeks).

How the machine works is that it increases the air pressure in my airway inflating it a like a balloon a bit, so that the passageway doesn’t collapse and block the travel of air going in and out.  The machine needs to be loaded with distilled water (which humidifies the air going in), and I wear a mask over my nose.  While this is better than something covering my whole face, I still can’t really open my mouth while it’s running or it won’t function properly - and I can’t talk very well as the difference in air pressure affects my ability to get words out - it’s like a mild form of gagging.  Still, it’s comfortable enough when my mouth is closed, and the mask has utterly failed to frighten my children when they’ve seen me wearing it.  I’m actually able to fall asleep wearing it without problems, but I've noticed that getting back to sleep once I’ve gotten up due to one of the Lightning Kid’s wake-ups is harder.  It’s really a matter of habit.  I do seem to be better rested when I sleep with the machine, but it’s marginal, not a night-and-day difference.

In October, I went in for another sleep study while using a CPAP machine.  The machine I had trialled was actually an APAP machine; it automatically varies the air pressure during the night, to what is needed, rather than be set to one constant pressure.  The readings from the machine were downloaded to a memory card which I turned in before my second sleep study.  It was found I could get by with a constant pressure.  

For the second study I managed to fall asleep in 9 minutes (it took 13 the first time) and I had 19 awakenings, no breathing interruptions nor did my oxygen saturation sink below 95%.  I should also mention that using the mask eliminates my snoring and only makes a light, white noise that my wife doesn’t seem to mind.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Saucony Triumph ISO shoes

Disclosure: I was given a free pair of Saucony Triumph ISO for review purposes through Fitfluential LLC.  All opinions are my own.

The last time I wore a pair of Saucony's they were the Virratas, and we were in the throes of the minamalist shoe revolution.  I, for one, am glad to be on the tail end of that dark time.  I was excited to be trying out a more cushioning shoe... enter the Saucony Triumph ISO.

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on
Saucony wanted to produce a shoe that would stun its users; making a WhoaFace, as they've dubbed it.  I really liked the colours of the pair they sent me; too often shoes seem to be going for garish, loud colours (like the ones in some of their promotional shots which I'll share below).  These shoes, on the other hand let me put together outfits that make me feel like a superhero.

Even better than the look was how they felt.  It reminded me of the shoes I'd buy in high school, when it seemed like running shoe brands first started caring about technology and the feeling and experience of running in their shoes.

They felt incredibly light to run in, considering what a soft ride I was getting.  The topside (ISOFIT) must be very breathable, and will come in handy in hotter weather; unfortunately, the cold made me notice this feature very quickly.  I should probably play around with the lacing, as I think I could have used a little more motion control, which is weird, because that's not what my gait usually demands.

What I want the most out of a shoe is cushioning, and the Triumph delivers with its PWRGRID+ platform.  Impacts simply feel soft, without feeling like you've got a pillow wedged under your heel. It was most noticeable running downhill; I could really let myself loose on any downward slope.

The Triumphs held up well on sidewalk and gravel, I think they'd be optimal for road running in warmer weather.

Could a shoe make you make a WHOAFACE? Based on looks? Based on feel?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tried It Tuesday: Review of GoMacro Bars

Disclaimer: Through Raynforest, I received free product in return for writing a review.  All opinions are my own.

I'm participating in a link-up hosted by Sara of Lakeshore Runner, called Tried It Tuesday. Every Tuesday, people post about something new they tried, and for me this week, it's going to be the nutrition bars by GoMacro.

I don’t discuss food or nutrition that often on the blog, mostly because I'm not doing the cooking in our house, and I don't find it that interesting a subject to write about. That doesn't mean I'm immune to nutritional considerations - and if you remember this Friday Five post, I've not only put more thought, time and effort into strength training, but also considering my macro-nutrients especially protein (mostly to control my appetite between meals).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fitness Friday - #WorkoutHack: Dumbbell Doubles For A Quick Getaway

Disclaimer: I am not a certified fitness professional.  Please consult your doctor before undertaking a new exercise program.  Workouts on Iron Rogue are provided for inspiration and discussion.

You may remember from 2 weeks ago that I've been emphasizing strength training in the last little while.  The workout I've been using is based on the Muscle Primer workout from Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle by Tom Venuto.

The Muscle Primer workout is a whole body workout that Mr. Venuto prescribes for beginners to get ready for more weight-lifting.  I thought I would do it for 3 weeks then move on to workouts that were divided up into back/arms, chest/shoulders, and leg days. Unfortunately, that's not how Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is designed, and they recommend sticking with the Muscle Primer for 3 months (up to 6!) and that's doing it 3 times a week, when I've been closer to twice for the last 6-8 weeks.

I do my workouts at lunchtime at work, and lately there have been training courses, meetings, and a heavier workload getting in the way of my workouts.  One of my pet-peeves with weight lifting is how it can take longer if a particular piece of equipment (even a bench) is occupied by someone else, and how setting up weights on bars etc. takes extra time.  A few times I've wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is all the rage for time-efficiency and effectiveness these days, but I've been guilty in the past of grabbing a workout from social media (Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs), doing it once for kicks, then doing something new the next time - I often say I have fitness ADD (which is great for triathlon), and it works well for diversity of training and muscle-confusion, but not so much for seeing progress in terms of strength/power and/or technique.  So when I wanted a quick workout a few weeks ago, I decided to try and build my own, based on the muscle primer workout with the following principles in mind:

  1. Stick generally to the same strength exercises of the Muscle Primer workout; build the same whole-body strength
  2. Pair exercises in such a way that they can be done back to back; with little overlap between muscle groups, one muscle group rests while the other is working.
  3. Pair exercises in such a way that the same dumbbells can be used for both exercises without having to go back to the rack and seek out different ones.
  4. Use as little extra equipment as possible.
Here are the individual exercises:
  • Deadlift/Romanian Deadlift - These are great for posterior chain (used for going up hills).  I do Romanian Deadlifts when I'm not confident about the weight I'm lifting, and I think they're beginner-friendly for starting to lift.
  • Bench Press - OK, you need a piece of equipment here, but luckily between flat benches and adjustable benches, you can usually find something in a gym.
These two represent the exercises that I can do with the heaviest weight.  

  • Split Squats - These are like lunges without stepping forward (or back).  I'm not comfortable elevating my rear foot very much, but sometimes I'll place it on a step or even the foot rest of a piece of equipment (bench, rack).
  • Bent-over Rows -  These can be done single arm with a bench, but I prefer to stand bent over with weights in both hands (see pic).  They take the place of the lat-pulldown which I've been using for back strength when I have time for longer workouts.
Bent-over Row

  • Shoulder Press - I confess, I like doing this one on a bench with a backrest to support me and heavier weight, but when I'm doing the dumbbell doubles, I go a little lighter, more reps, and stand to engage my core for good form
  • Bicep Curls - I generally alternate arms.
These complement each other from a push vs. pull perspective.  The triceps are being used in the press, but they get to rest during the bicep curls.

Two-handed Tricep Extension

  • Two-handed Tricep Extensions - Dumbbell tricep extensions come in a dozen different flavours, but this is the one they use in the book, so I had no reason to change it.  Using both hands means I can grab a heavier weight, which can come in handy for doing the other exercise in this pair (see pic)
  • Calf Extensions with a Dumbell - I'm not in love with this one as I find most calf-exercises a little awkward.  On days where I have time, I break my own rules and use a machine (leg press).  Still, you can mount a weight on your shoulder and put your foot on any raised surface (provided you feel good about your balance).  I'm using a spin bike in the pic, but the foot of a bench or a step would be fine too.  Notice I put the weight on the opposite shoulder to the leg I'm doing the calf raise with.
Calf Raises

Now, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, so using the same dumbbells for each exercise might not make sense for everyone, however, I think I have a fairly typical build/strength profile (especially for a runner/triathlete) with more lower body strength than upper body strength, so I don't think these pairings are too "out-there."  Moreover, you can vary the reps you do as long as they stay between 6 and 15 (8 to 12 being even more ideal).

Here's how the numbers shook out the last time I did this workout:

  • Deadlifts/Bench Press (two 45 lb dumbbells, 12 reps)
  • Split Squats/Bent Over Rows (two 35 lb dumbbells, 10 reps)
  • Shoulder Press/Bicep Curls (two 20 lb dumbbells, 15 and 12 reps respectively)
  • Overhead Tricep Extension/Calf Raises (one 30 lb dumbbell, 15 and 12 reps respectively)
I did two sets of each: each "double" or pair twice. I tried to not stop in the middle of a double, and also not too much between sets. I rested a little between doubles, but not too much, usually just enough to replace the weights and grab new ones. The good news is the major muscles fatigued by one exercise never stopped me from doing an exercise, the only thing holding me back was getting gassed cardiovascularly, or needing to rest my hands due to lack of grip endurance. So while I'm not going to label this a HIIT workout (I wouldn't know the rules of what constitutes that exactly), you can see it will get your heart rate going well, while building muscle.

Official time from that "dress rehearsal": 14 minutes 36 seconds. I did 3 minutes on an elliptical (though I prefer a rowing machine - it was occupied) as a warm-up, and a minute plank on my way to the change-room. Iron Rogue Out!

What do you think? Do you love dumbbells?