Whether I’m trying to “get enough exercise” (as I tried to do for years), or trying to “fill my days with movement” (which I’ve realized is a much better way to think about my physical activity), training has been a constant. As someone who has only rarely trained as part of a group, or had a teacher or coach, a lot of my training has been solo training.

Often my focus was on endurance training: preparing for very long walks, foot races, or a 100-mile bike ride. I also did strength training. And my training often included skill training—Tai Chi, parkour, tennis (long ago), even fencing (one brief term in college).

Training by yourself is hard. It’s hard to motivate yourself to go out and do it, and it’s hard to push yourself enough to make good progress (and if you’re good at pushing yourself, it’s hard to know when to take time to recover instead). For skills-based training, it’s hard to learn those skills without a teacher or coach. And for activities with any sort of competitive element, such as tennis or fencing, it’s especially hard to train without a partner. This has been particularly acute during the pandemic, but really it’s always true.

And here is where Guy Windor’s new book The Windsor Method: The Principles of Solo Training comes in.

A lot of the specific information in the book is stuff I’ve figured out myself over the years: Some training is just about impossible to do without a teacher (learning your first Tai Chi form) or a partner (practicing return of serve in tennis). But for most activities, that fraction of the training will be much less than half of your training. Much of the rest of your training is either easy to do by yourself (strength and endurance training), or at least possible to do by yourself once you’ve learned the skill well enough to be able to evaluate your own performance (practicing a Tai Chi form, for example).

The key is to spend some time figuring out the entire scope of your training activities, and then think deeply about what category each activity falls into.

To the extent that your access to a teacher, coach, or partner is limited (as during a pandemic), emphasize the things that are easy to train solo (such as strength training and endurance training), then judiciously add those parts of the training that are advantaged by (or require) a teacher or partner as they are available.

What Guy Windsor adds to this sort of intuitive structuring of training is, as the title suggests, a method. He has systematized the structure in a way that makes the decision-making parts of the activity easier to do and easier to get right.

Perhaps even more important than that, he has taken a step back to talk about all the parts of training that aren’t just skills training for your particular activity. That other stuff—sleep, healthy eating, breathing, mobility, flexibility, strength training, endurance training, etc.—are actually more important than this or that skill, while at the same time being the bits that are easiest to train solo. If you’re stuck for a year with no partner, no teacher, and no coach, but you spend that year focusing on health and general physical preparedness, you’ll scarcely fall behind at all, and make yourself ready to jump into your skills training with both feet once that’s possible again.

I should mention that Guy Windsor’s book was written with practitioners of historical European martial arts especially in mind, but that scarcely matters. It is entirely applicable not only to practitioners of any other martial art, it is entirely relevant to literally anyone who trains in anything.

And, since many of my readers are fiction writers, I should also mention another of Guy Windsor’s books Swordfighting for Writers, Game Designers, and Martial Artists. When I signed up for his email list, he offered it as a free download for people who did so.

Being forced into purely solo training for 18 months has made me keenly aware of the many opportunities for non-solo training available here locally. There’s a local fencing club that I’ve had my eye on for some time, and our financial situation is such that now we could afford for me to join and buy fencing gear. Just today I searched for and found a local historical European martial arts club on campus—I’ve asked to be added to their Facebook group and joined their Discord. One of my Tai Chi students teaches an Aikido class with the Urbana Park District—I had started studying with him right as the pandemic began and got in two classes before everything was canceled. And, not sword-related, but cool and great training, is indoor rock climbing at Urbana Boulders.

Just as soon as the pandemic lets up for real, I’ll be doing some of those things.

In the meantime, I’m going over my solo training regimen, taking advantage of the insights that Guy Windsor provides in The Windsor Method: The Principles of Solo Training to figure out what adjustments I should make.

Jackie is scheduled for a hip replacement next month. To prepare for that, her surgeon wants her to target a fairly high level of protein consumption. To be sure she’s hitting it, Jackie has been tracking her protein consumption, and as long as Jackie was doing so, it was easy for me to do so as well. The results have been kind of interesting.

I did a bit of quick research, and determined that 0.7 g of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.54 g per kg of bodyweight) was a reasonable target. I got that figure from How to Build Strong & Lean Bodyweight Muscle by Anthony Arvanitakis, but I cross-checked that with the latest scientific, evidence-based recommendations, which say:

For building muscle mass and for maintaining muscle mass through a positive muscle protein balance, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) is sufficient for most exercising individuals, a value that falls in line within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range published by the Institute of Medicine for protein.

International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise

I had not been tracking my protein previously. Instead, after I started lifting pretty seriously 18 months ago, I had simply added a protein shake with around 25 g of protein after my workouts. My thinking was something along the lines of, “I’m healthy, so I must be eating enough protein, so adding 25 g after each workout will surely add up to enough protein to build some muscle.”

I’ve been kind of frustrated for pretty much that whole 18 months that, although I increased my strength a good bit, I did not actually build any muscle to speak of. And yet, until Jackie’s surgeon suggested that she increase her protein consumption, I hadn’t gone to the trouble of tracking my own. So, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t getting as much protein as I’d assumed.

By the formula, I ought to aim to consume right around 100 g of protein.

The first day I actually did the tracking, I only ate 88 g, even though I included a 25 g protein shake and 10 g of essential amino acids from another workout beverage, a discovery that was kind of daunting. It meant that on non-workout days I was probably only consuming 55–60 g of protein. Enough for basic health (almost exactly the RDA for protein for a sedentary person of my weight), but clearly not enough to build muscle.

So, I stepped up my protein consumption.

Hitting my target generally required:

  1. A somewhat more protein rich breakfast—either adding some meat to my usual 2-egg-plus-cheese omelet, or else eating a couple of big bowls of Magic Spoon cereal (not an affiliate link—I don’t eat nearly enough cereal to qualify for their affiliates program),
  2. My protein shake,
  3. A main meal of the day with lots of meat or lots of salmon,
  4. And then some extra peanut butter or cottage cheese, or something.

Doing that I found it easy enough to hit about 96–97 g of protein per day, although I actually only hit my 100 g target when my main meal included a larger-than-usual serving of meat or salmon.

That much food—enough to get close to 100 g of protein from actual food—ends up being really, really filling. I was probably only getting 55–60 g of protein per day from actual food. Now that I’m adding some extra peanut butter and cottage cheese, I’m probably hitting 75–80 g, but I can’t see hitting 100 without including that protein shake.

Getting a quarter of my protein from industrially produced edible substances (aka my protein shake) rather goes against my dietary rule number 1 (eat food), but I’m willing to let that rule slide with regard to a quarter of my protein as an experiment.

And as an experiment, as I say, it’s been kind of interesting.

The first interesting thing, as I’ve just described was how much I was falling short of my target, even adding a protein supplement.

The second interesting thing is how much better I’ve felt since upping my protein consumption by 15% or so. (That is, by 15% on days that I workout, when I was already drinking my protein shake. On days that I didn’t workout, and hence didn’t drink a protein shake, I wasn’t getting much more than 55–60 g of protein, so hitting 100 g on those days amounts to a 60–70% increase.)

After just a few days I noticed that I was feeling better, that I was recovering better from workouts (requiring fewer rest days), and that I seemed to be mentally sharper. Of course any of those things could be just the placebo effect, and in any case this is just an anecdotal report. But, since it is my anecdotal report, I’m taking it seriously, and am continuing to try to hit my 100 g per day.

All of which brings me to the title of this post.

If you’re familiar with bodybuilding, you’re aware that bodybuilders go through alternate phases of “bulking,” where they eat a caloric surplus to support building muscle, followed by “cutting,” where they eat a caloric deficit to lose fat and reveal the muscle they’ve built. This has always seemed unwise to me. Given my history of excess weight, I’m never going to do this on purpose. But getting 100 g of protein has proven to be quite difficult to do without eating a caloric surplus.

Because I track my weight as well, I’m able to look back over the past 19 days and see that my weight gain implies a daily surplus of 302 calories. That’s not untenable in the short term, but it’s not something I’m going to be willing to tolerate for long. It is, however, right in line with the bro-science recommendations for how to do a “clean bulk” (where you aim for just barely enough extra calories to build muscle.)

Still, it does give me an opportunity for some other experiments. My LDL cholesterol was a bit high at my recent physical, and I’m sure I could get it down by eating less fat. But since I was already limiting my carbs for other reasons, cutting fat as well would have put me into a caloric deficit. But now, with all this extra protein, maybe I can make modest cuts to my fat consumption, and bring my total calories into balance with neither excess carbs nor excess fat. In fact, I’m sure I could do that; the question is whether I can do that and still eat food (rather than industrially produced food-like edible substances).

I’m something of a tracker by nature, always interested in tracking and optimizing everything that I do. But even for me this seems rather a lot. I don’t think I can face actually trying to get the math right, to hit my protein target, keep my carbs low, and cut my fat enough to bring my calorie consumption in at a level that maintains my weight where I want it to be, all while eating food.

Currently I’m hoping that, if I keep eating lots of protein, and then try to limit my fats just a bit, I’ll get lucky and it’ll all just work out.

I’ll keep you posted.

I saw The Secret to Superhuman Strength on the shelf at Amherst Books, and didn’t buy it because I was on the road and didn’t want to have to lug a hardback around for the rest of the trip. But now I just might have to.

“I live in a house of literary fitness freaks, and even for people who are supposedly good with words and who exercise all the time, Bechdel’s book contained real revelations.”

Source: It’s Time to Sweat It Out and Get Pumped With Alison Bechdel

Ashleigh VanHouten’s Muscle Maven Radio interview with Andy Galpin had a really useful tidbit that has changed my mental framework for approaching training and recovery.

I already knew that adaptation follows stress, but depends on recovery. What Galpin said that surprised me was: You need to ask, “Will spending more resources on recovery allow you to train more?”

I’d never thought of it that way before. I had generally focused on how to train more—how to find the time, how to find the motivation. But I have a history of “getting serious” about my running or my lifting and then getting injured, which clearly means that more and better recovery would be key to being more successful.

I have dealt with this in the past from the training side: figuring that I need to find the sweet spot where I’m training enough to stimulate an adaptation, but not so much that I injure myself. I have not previous tried to deal with it by figuring that I could devote more resources to recovery, and thereby enable doing the amount of training that I want to do.

Galpin mentions the various obvious things that help recovery—better sleep, better diet, massage, etc. but skims over them to emphasize what he thinks is the important thing: Down-regulating. “The folks who can down-regulate post-workout the fastest get the best adaptations.”

Again, I had not thought of it this way before, but this makes perfect sense. Your workout should be up-regulating—putting your nervous system strongly into a sympathetic (flight-or-flight) state. But remaining in a sympathetic state once the workout is over is doing you no favors. The sooner you can get yourself back into a parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) state, the sooner you can start your recovery.

This is potentially huge. Getting into a proper resting state right after your workout has the potential to add hours a day to your recovery time, compared with remaining in a highly sympathetic state until later.

Galpin mentions breathwork as the most effective tool for down-regulating, and he didn’t seem to think it made much difference what you did (what breathing patterns you used, etc.). Or maybe he just thought that once you started a breathwork practice you’d quickly learn what worked for you. He mentioned Brian MacKenzie as a good place to start for learning about breathwork. I poked around there and found this free introductory course to breath work, which I’ve started watching.

The whole interview is good: Dr. Andy Galpin | MMA training, hydration, and taking ownership over your health. This stuff on recovery and down-regulating is mostly from about the 30-minute point through about the 45-minute point. Highly recommended.

When I was a kid or a teenager, my skin would heal from minor scratches almost immediately. A scratch (like from walking through brambles, which I did all the time) would heal up in maybe a day and a half or two days. Then, sort of all at once, when I was about 24 or 25, suddenly it took twice as long. I noticed it when I was living in Utah and hiked a lot in the mountains and deserts, and would get similar scratches, which would now take three or four days to heal.

I figured I was just getting old, and it would just keep getting worse. But it did not. Instead, it stayed like that for thirty-five years. However, just in the past year or two—since I reached my 60s—I’ve observed a fresh doubling in wound-healing times. Now a minor scratch takes a week to heal.

The surprise here is not that the speed of healing declines as one gets older, but the weird stepwise nature of the change—stability for decades, and then an abrupt doubling in time to heal.

I don’t know if that will continue. Maybe I’ll continue to heal at this rate until I’m 105 or so?

I’ve documented this largely for my brother, who once expressed appreciation for the fact that having an older brother gave him a four-year heads-up for this sort of age-related change. (I’m not sure he appreciates it as much now as he did in his 30s and 40s.)

I looked for some research studies as to whether my observation points to a more general phenomenon, but wasn’t able to find much. My brother found a study, which says in part:

The rate of epithelialisation appears to be different in older persons, but the magnitude of the delay may not be clinically important.

THOMAS, D. R. Age-Related Changes in Wound Healing. Drugs & Aging, [s. l.], v. 18, n. 8, p. 607–620, 2001. DOI 10.2165/00002512-200118080-00005.

I guess, as long as you do eventually heal up, the length of time it takes is “not clinically important,” but it’s still kind of a drag to be wounded for week(s).

The sort of scrapes that are now taking longer to heal than they used to.

For some time now I’ve been groping toward more “functional” workouts, focused on developing actual useful capabilities—walking & running, crawling, lifting & carrying, balancing, climbing, jumping, throwing, catching, etc. (This in contrast to workouts that focus on capabilities that enable those things, such as pull-ups and dips which help enable climbing.)

This introduces certain complexities into my workouts. Skills-based activities need to be practiced at the start of a workout, when I’m fresh enough to do them with the sort of attention that lets me improve my skills. Likewise, any exercise that involves heavy weights, and any exercise that involves complex multi-joint motions, also needs to be done at the start, to minimize the risk of injury. That’s all well and good, but you can only put so much of a workout at the start before you inevitably find yourself in the middle. And then, what do you put at the end?

Well, one thing you can fairly safely put at the end is MetCon (metabolic conditioning) activity. Today I tried out such a MetCon circuit, with an eye toward doing something similar after my more skills-based workouts.

Kettlebell, jump rope, slamball

The workout was circuits of:

  • Kettlebell swings (53 lb) x 25 swings
  • Weighted jump rope (½ lb) x 60 jumps
  • Slamball slams (15 lb) x 15 slams

I’ve done something similar in the past with 45″ work followed by 15″ rest (and then 2–3 minutes rest between rounds). Today I didn’t feel like fiddling with the timer; I picked those rep counts to hit about the same 45″ duration for each set.

I repeated that circuit for 4 rounds, which took just over 22 minutes. I followed it up with a short suitcase carry of the kettlebell—just one circuit of my patio slab with the kettlebell on one side, and then again with the kettlebell on the other side.

It was a good workout.

Now the question is, can I first do a more skills-based workout and then follow it up with a MetCon circuit, without exhausting myself? If I can make that work, I’ll be a little closer to designing the functional training program that I’m working on.

I just wrote a post about “superhero” workouts, mentioning Anthony Arvanitakis’s Superhero Bodyweight Workout which I did last year. I plan to do it again this year, and this post is about a handful of specific issues I had with the plan last year, and how I’m planning to rejigger things to deal with them this year.

There were a few exercises that I couldn’t quite do—not because I lacked strength or endurance, but just because there was a skill component that I couldn’t master quickly enough to go full-power through the 8-week training program. Here are the specific exercises I identified as ones I had trouble with:

  • Prone angels with weights: I’d never done this exercise, and found it quite challenging. Now though, I’ve spent the winter doing it without weights as part of my morning exercises, and I’ve just in the past couple of weeks started adding in weights. I think I’ve got this one sorted.
  • Superhero (i.e. one-armed) planks: Similarly, I’d just never done one-armed planks, so I needed to develop a bit more core strength for anti-rotation to be able to 30-second holds on each side. (This one I haven’t been practicing all winter, but I’ve just now checked and managed 20-second holds on each side. I’m sure I can get to 30 seconds in short order.)
  • Pike push-ups: Another novel exercise for me, where most of the issue was just not knowing how to do it. I started doing it about once a week along about mid-winter, and I think I can do it okay now (although I should probably get Jackie to do a video of me doing it so I can look and make sure I’m doing it right). 
  • Jumping lunges: This one I can’t do at all. For some reason, lunges were just not one of the moves I learned as a child. (Maybe my Phys Ed teacher thought they were bad for your knees or something.) Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn how to do lunges literally for years now, and have just barely gotten to where I can sort of do a wobbly lunge. I tried last week to do a jumping lunge (where you drop into a lunge and then jump into the air and switch your legs around so that you land in a lunge position with the opposite feet forward and back). It wasn’t as bad as a near-death experience, but it was not a success either. Fortunately, this exercise is always offered as an alternative to uphill sprints (preferred), box jumps, or burpees, so I can just pick one of those.

Besides those specific exercises, there are two other issues I had trouble with last time:

  1. Supersets of pull ups and inverted rows. There’s a logistical complexity here because (if you’re doing them with rings) you have to adjust the ring height very quickly. (Otherwise it won’t be a superset, but just two regular sets.) I’m trying to come up with a plan to address that either by getting more practiced at quickly adjusting the ring height, or else by finding a workout location with a bar at either pull-up or inverted-row height (so I can just set up my rings at the right height for the other exercise and switch between stations).
  2. Pyramids (both dip/push up and pull up/row). The first few times I do a pyramid (or ladder) workout, I find it pretty easy to misjudge where I’m going to reach failure, and the exercise is more effective if you don’t unexpectedly hit failure halfway through an early set—something that happened to me several times. This year before I start I want to do enough sets of these to get a good sense of what the right rep count is going to be, so that I know what I need to do to hit failure only during the last set.

Last year I started in late May (when Anthony released his latest version for the program and led the program). That was fine, but this year I think I’d like to start earlier in the spring—just as soon as we get reliably nice-enough weather for me to have some confidence I can put my rings up nearly every day.

It’s an eight-week program, so it would be nice to start around the first or second week of April. Then I’ll have my superhero body by the beginning of June.

Where I’m starting from