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GUEST POST: Pregnant doctor-athlete - Ashley Kochanek Weisman, MD

I concluded that there was no convincing evidence to stop my rigorous schedule of emergency medicine night shifts, distance running, climbing, and skiing.
— Ashley Kochanek Weisman, MD

Special guest post today for you, reader! 

Ashley Kochanek Weisman, MD reached out to me a couple months ago with a heartening message about how my pregnant athlete material had resonated with her and had been useful through her three trimesters of skiing, climbing, and running. When she was in town for a visit a few weeks later we connected over coffee and it must have been something to overhear. We bantered about evidence on performance and pregnancy, she nursed her fresh babe, and she recounted some amazing pregnant ski trips as well as her fast return to training postpartum.

Ashley holds a BS from Yale and received her MD from Harvard. She now practices medicine as an emergency room doc in Western Washington. This brainiac also has a penchant for alpine climbing, backcountry skiing, and ultra running - as well as a brand new baby. She and I both approached our decisions about pregnant athleticism, birth, and postpartum using peer-reviewed science and our deep levels of self-knowledge. And guess what: as similar as our experiences as pregnant athletes might have been our choices about where and how to birth were quite different!

When I asked Ashley to write a guest post for this here blog I had no idea how funny it would be. Please enjoy her tales of the birth send and how she navigated her glorious ten months of blood doping through the lens of her scientific mind below. Ashley's deep trust in herself as an athlete and the evidence around pregnant athleticism are notable.

Brittany Raven


the author skiing in Hokkaido, Japan at 22 weeks pregnant

"I think this is the SEND!" shouted my dudela/climbing partner/husband Dan, “I can see his head!”

I started laughing, took a deep breath, and pushed out our son. Pushing was hard and counterintuitive: It involved relaxing the glutes, hamstrings, quads and abdominal muscles that I had trained throughout my rock, snow, and trail-filled pregnancy. The delivery wasn’t graceful but felt damn good; if labor was an undulating 50k mountain run, pushing was a 5.10d offwidth finish. Little guy nailed the birth canal couloir descent into the hands of a family medicine resident, coached by an attending obstetrician, with a senior nurse and nursing resident in the active audience. Now everyone was laughing.

On my chest was a healthy baby born in the most natural way my pregnant-doctor-patient-athlete could imagine—in a quaternary care hospital with a level 4 NICU amongst a throng of doctors, nurses, and medical trainees learning by doing, with lots of references to skiing and climbing epics, without anesthesia or analgesia or a doula. This is certainly not everyone's picture of natural, but it was mine. Like the rest of my patient-doctor-athlete pregnancy, the birth was an amalgam of evidence-based medicine, medicine with no evidence, and instinct-guided winging it, all taken with a beginner’s mind and openness to change.

I started pregnancy as an emergency physician, ultrarunner, climber, and skier, 100% confident in the medicine I had learned from my physician parents, medical school, residency, and years of clinical practice. I was ready to abide by science and obstetric and pediatric society guidelines to the letter of the law.  After my first positive home pregnancy test I dove into the medical literature to construct a list of dos and don'ts. Some recommendations were solid––don’t smoke or binge drink, minimize exposure to radiation or teratogenic diseases, get a flu shot, don’t gain too much or too little weight. Yet there was woefully little guidance on my definition of exercise--hours spent running, climbing and skiing––during pregnancy.

What do we know about pregnancy and exercise? By my best literature review, we know that healthy maternal lifestyles are good for moms and children. We also know that running does not lead to differences in birth weight percentile or gestational age. We know that pelvic floor muscle training in antenatal and postnatal periods can reduce incontinence. There is, however, no conclusive evidence showing significant reduction in gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or perinatal depression from maternal exercise.

 
the author's shadow while skiing in Crested Butte 6 months pregnant

the author's shadow while skiing in Crested Butte 6 months pregnant

 

I concluded that there was no convincing evidence to stop my rigorous schedule of emergency medicine night shifts, distance running, climbing, and skiing. I also appreciated the counterpoint: there was no evidence that this was better than taking it easier. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In the case of pregnant athletes, there is much we have not studied and many topics we have studied inadequately—tiny sample sizes, retrospective methods, and leading hypotheses. For example, Kuhrt et al’s 2018 study of running in pregnancy is titled “Is recreational running associated with earlier delivery and lower birth weight?”. They could have asked: what is the effect of pregnancy on birth weight and delivery or is running during pregnancy associated with any number of untested, more positive outcomes like fewer epidurals or C sections or shorter recovery times, or less incontinence due to stronger pelvic floor muscles? But they didn’t.

So, I signed up for a fall trail race to celebrate thirteen weeks and booked backcountry ski trips to Japan for week twenty-two, Crested Butte for week twenty-six, and New Hampshire for some third trimester nordic. I found an awesome obstetrician who thought this plan sounded reasonable and FUN (bonus: she came to our first appointment in a dress covered in little skiers). We agreed that we were in a largely data-free zone but also acknowledged the benefits and risks of my plan.

Benefit: I was starting pregnancy with a high level of fitness and a demanding job and continuing this level of activity would make me happy and keep me fit for postpartum adventures.

Risk: Trail running, climbing, and skiing can injure moms and fetuses. We can take measures to mitigate this risk but these pursuits are incontrovertible riskier than a brisk walk. I agreed. I CHOOSE regular doses of prenatal athletic euphoria (with added risk of injury) over the statistically safest plan (fall and exhilaration free walking). Nothing like pregnancy and parenting to make you eat your words. I was hardly “following guidelines to the letter of the law”.

As I continued to see pregnant patients and field questions (and criticism) about my pregnancy decisions and others, I realized that patient and doctors rarely lead lives of pure science or non-science. We choose practices from evidence-based medicine, experience, anecdote, faith, and instinct. Sometimes our decisions follow science but our next decision may disobey evidence and feel just as right. In my own delivery, I chose a very medicalized setting out of anecdote and comfort (I love hanging out in hospitals as a provider or patient) as much as evidence (delivering in a hospital is a safe, evidence-based choice). I chose NOT to have a doula against evidence and trusted my adventure partnership with my husband and years of experience with and faith in medical trainees. I chose no pain control based on my love of physical challenges and very modest evidence.

Back to full schedule of ER shifts and athletic objectives three months postpartum, my lived experience as a postpartum patient-doctor-athlete has shifted my thinking. When I meet a pregnant women or a parent in the emergency room or on the trail somewhere between science, experience, faith, and the summit, I think:  

  1. HIGH FIVE! Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and parenting are freaking hard and very fun. RESPECT, for anyone trying their best for their family.

  2. Check your biases at the door and listen. Medical choices in pregnancy and parenting are complicated and influenced by many factors (scientific evidence, absence of scientific evidence, anecdote, experience, the internet, mother-in-laws, and just about anything else). Despite beginning this journey as one of the most medicalized people out there, I made several choices based on faith in the exhilaration of mountain athletics and other choices based on science and was happier for it. My job is NOT to judge but to understand and help you be a kick ass pregnant athlete and backcountry parent.    

 

My name is Ashley, I am a runner, climber, backcountry skier, and emergency physician. This post represents my personal experience and opinion. This is NOT medical advice. Please consult with your truest self and your obstetrician or midwife before making your own decision regarding pregnancy and postpartum athletics.

 

sources:

Dhana et al BMJ 2018

Kuhrt et al BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018

Woodley et al Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017

 

 

read more:

Myth Busting Series

Endurance as a rite of passage

Postpartum climbing

Endurance and your hormones

the author doing what she loves: climbing

the author doing what she loves: climbing

Hey mindful movers,

My first collaboration with Meg was when she hired me to coach her through her recovery from HA (read more on that below). I loved collaborating with her as an athlete because of her deep knowledge of the physiology of endurance and her sincere dedication to getting her period back in shape by addressing her issues with chronic overtraining.

Meg is a functional nutritionist and mountain athlete based in Squamish, British Columbia. Finding her place in the performance wellness world at the intersection of what we eat, how we move, and hormone balance, Meg informs her client work with her long career as a midwife - she has caught hundreds of babies. Needless to say, Meg and I found a common interest in evidence-based wellness and performance coaching for mountain athletes.

Through the last six years of business here at MN, I have worked with so many clients who struggle with maintaining the health and vitality necessary for regular periods - especially clients who train for ultra-endurance events. For all those women who struggle and don't know how to change it, Meg and I have put together a guest post, collaborative coaching packages, and other resources for you.

I am greatly looking forward to ongoing collaborations with Meg and so excited to introduce you to her with this post. Enjoy.

Brittany Raven


meg hat.jpg

 

 

Happy Hormones for Athletes 

Guest Post By Meg Reburn BScH RM

 

 

 

The other day I was sitting around a campfire surrounded by a pack of rad mountain women. Naturally, the conversation went from, skiing, climbing, and running to poops, cake, and periods. These women had many things in common, besides the unanimous love of chocolate cake, about eighty percent of them had lost their periods at one point or another or had experienced menstrual irregularities, myself included. This got my wheels spinning: “WOW, everyone is having hormone issues WTF? ”

 

What went wrong?

Recently, I’ve been working with a number of women, mostly athletes, who have lost their period. Fuelled by my own struggles with HA (hypothalamic amenorrhea/secondary amenorrhea or loss of your period) my functional nutrition practice has morphed a bit over the years to focus not only on pregnancy nutrition, but also hormone balance, especially for female athletes. So, let’s dip our toes into the turbulent waters of hormonal regulation and explore this topic a bit further.

Not having a regular period or having periods longer than thirty-five days can signal that there are some pretty big imbalances going on in your body. Our monthly cycles involve a delicate interplay of many different hormones including sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone and the hormones that originate in the brain such as GNRH, FSH, and LH.

While there are SO MANY amazing benefits of being a female athlete that Brittany has talked about a number of times, female athletes are way more sensitive to hormone imbalance than their male counterparts. Physiologically, women are more hormonally sensitive to nervous system stressors than men and take a longer time to recover from these events.

When you think about this from an evolutionary perspective, it does make sense, it was the man’s “job” to hunt and chase lions using short bursts of maximum power and then cycling into total rest. This was stressful. From an evolutionary perspective, if women are under piles of stress the body surmises it is probably not a good time or safe place to add a new baby to the tribe, thus, ovulation and fertility shut down. (Cause let’s be honest, we don’t stop having sex especially in times of stress!) Both of these reactions to stress are adaptive given how we evolved as a species but can be problematic with all the stressful inputs we have in modern life.

As I mentioned before, mountain endurance sports, when done unskillfully, can have a similarly negative impact on a female athlete. If we continue training in an aroused nervous system state, our bodies interpret this as an environmental stressor and shuts down our fertility to compensate. As a quick nerdy run-down here are the body’s responses to inappropriate training:

  1. The body perceives training and/or sport as a stressor and produces cortisol (the stress hormone);

  2. If there are significant life stresses and/or this training is not balanced with rest, recovery, and properly-timed nutrition, cortisol levels never go down and you find yourself in a chronic state of cortisol domination;

  3. Chronically-elevated cortisol signals to the hypothalamus to down-regulate hormone secretion and as a result levels of growth hormone, thyroid releasing hormone, and gonadotropin releasing hormone all take a nosedive;

  4. Without GH you won’t get stronger or recover properly; without TSH your thyroid hormones go down making you tired and sluggish; and without GnRH your pituitary fails to initiate reproductive activity and signal the release of LH and FSH which are the backbone of a healthy menstrual cycle;

  5. Low levels of GNRH mean your estrogen levels fall, you stop ovulating and your progesterone tanks and then you have HA;

  6. Without proper sex hormones your risk of osteoporosis, and some studies suggest dementia, goes way up.

While this is the simple version, everybody regardless of gender is unique. We all have our own special needs for rest and recovery that can change from day to day and year to year. It’s also important to note, as we get older, we need more good ol’ R&R.

 

How to fix it.

  1. Proper nutrition is the CORNERSTONE of HA recovery and prevention.

  2. Properly-timed training, recovery, and periods of rest are critical. (Talk with Brittany about this one!)

  3. Stress-management techniques also help a ton but you can’t meditate your way out of HA, you need to eat and rest. Period (pun intended).

I’m an open book. If you want to learn about my very personal journey with HA you can read about it here. I also consult with athletes combining my decades of experience in nutrition, midwifery, and mountain athleticism; you can book a consult with me here. I work together with Brittany to help athletes plan custom training, recovery, and nutrition programs, so if you’re curious ask how we can all work together to keep you doing what you love while you stay healthy.

 

read more:

Meg's website

Menstruation doping

Why rest? By Lydia Zamorano

My first event on the power of the period!

Rest, Recovery, and Athletic Performance According to Your Element

Happy Friday readers,

In 2012 I was a full-time athlete and full-time desk job haver and I was out of balance. My gut was pissed after a recent trip to the Andes and Patagonia, my mind was mush because of my over-programmed life; I felt like I was constantly stealing time from one activity to give to another and I had no concept of self-care.

Upon discovering that I had brought yet another amoeba back from South America, I began seeing Dr. Liz for weekly treatments. Together, we applied every medical trick in the book to squash the little gut demons. Along the way, through our journey involving acupuncture, herbs, pharmaceuticals, counseling, and osteopathic work, I began to contact my internal balance point for the first time. Dr. Liz likes to say that once you get a glimpse of your balanced self it is really uncomfortable to be out of balance again and that certainly rang true for me.

The beginning of our treatments in 2012 also marked the beginning of this business and my slow transition away from my harried life in the city. My days of working hard at a desk job for a few years to save for an expedition, going on said expedition, and returning to the desk sick, tired, and broke were over; I was determined to find a permanent way to be in the hills while making time to grow a business and, eventually, to have a child. Together Dr. Liz and I discovered some amazing ways to work with my Metal constitution in order to bring my over-worked body into balance.

I will be forever grateful for her gentle, thorough approach and I'm so excited to share an informative guest post from her with you today.

Brittany Raven

PS: Be sure to listen to our audio interview!


Use the Wisdom of Chinese Medicine to Improve Your Training

Guest post by Dr. Liz Carter

A sure-fire way to up your training game is to learn more about yourself. Specifically, your own internal motivations, behavioral tendencies, and stressors. The 5 elements of Chinese medicine - wood, fire, earth, metal, and water - are the perfect tool for the deep introspection and growth that’s necessary for self-improvement.

Chinese medicine posits that we are reflections of nature and nature is a reflection of us, so it is possible to look to our natural environment in order to understand more about ourselves. If we are Metal, we’re like the mountains, if we’re Water we’re like a river or the sea. Pretty amazing, right? It’s even more amazing when you realize how accurate it is.

We each have two elements that influence and shape us the most (MN Note: I am Metal/Fire!), but we are able to access all five to a certain extent when we’re in a healthy state. The elements can show us so many things about ourselves, like how well we can go with the flow of life, why we’re awful or awesome and planning, and what kind of athlete we are.

How do you find out your elements? You might be able to tell what you are just from my descriptions in this blog! For a more professional option, you can see a 5 Elements acupuncturist who will diagnose and treat based on your elements. Make sure they are trained in 5 Elements, as the majority of acupuncturists are trained in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine which is not at all traditional, but that’s another discussion).

You can also check out my 5 Elements Personality Test that will tell you your two elements and provide you gobs of fascinating stuff about your core self, like what motivates and depletes you, what belongs in your life and what you need to let go of, and how to stay true to your foundational values. Use this link for $20 off.

 
 

All right, let’s get into these elements and what they mean for your performance and recovery.

 

Wood

Performance:

Wood elements are workhorses and generally very robust in terms of athletic ability. They’re naturally drawn to movement because it relieves this angsty, frustrated, irritable feeling they are the prone to (more than any other element), so they’ve most likely been physical or athletic from a very young age. Movement acts as their main coping mechanism for stress and they often prefer more intense forms of exercise in order to really break up their stagnant energy. Wood elements are very logical and great planners, so they can stick to routine easily (sometimes a little too easily) and they love problem-solving and new, intense challenges.

Rest and recovery ability: challenged

Wood elements are not good at rest and recovery. With movement as a primary mechanism for stress relief, they turn to it often, even when they’re depleted. There’s a lot in this world that causes them to be irritable and stressed -- crappy foods, environmental toxin exposure (fabric softener should be banned!), alcohol, people who don’t think in a logical manner, and more. Wood people can become addicted to movement as a result because it gives them such relief and if something feels good they may ask themselves, “Why would I stop?”

Pro Tips:

The key for wood is to find balanced movement because it’s very easy for them to overdo it and make themselves vulnerable to injury. They’re used to feeling invincible with movement, so they really have to stay in touch with themselves and their abilities and not get wrapped up in assuaging this daily irritation with movement as their only tool. It’s crucial that they explore other ways to generate movement in their lives, like journaling or creativity, and start reducing the mental, emotional, and physical irritants that cause their unrest in the first place.

 

Fire

Performance:

Fires love freedom and spontaneity, so they’re jazzed to take on new challenges in almost any realm. They’re very lighthearted, free-spirited people that like to collect experiences. They have a relaxed and casual attitude about life, which often means they’re excellent athletes. They don’t have preconceived notions about their abilities many times and they’ll try anything. Fires are definitely a “why not?” type of mindset rather than a “why?” type of mindset. The key for fire is fun. Something has to bring them joy and offer them connection to others for them to want to participate. Fires love to be around people (even the introverted ones) and get great joy from social experiences, athletic activities included.

Rest and recovery: detached

Fires tend to lose their ground easily. They get caught up in the moment, especially if there are other people involved, and they stop paying attention to their own internal signals. They’re the type who jump first and ask questions later. This can get them into lots of pickles, including massively overdoing it with training or events and injuring themselves. If they had stopped to consider the consequences for a second they could have averted the mess. But with their go-with-the-flow attitude they can usually recover gracefully and will absolutely love telling the crazy story later to their friends.

Pro Tips:

Fires have to stay grounded and in touch with themselves, otherwise they open themselves up to injury. If they’re chronically scattered, either on the trail they’re running or in their training schedule something’s bound to take a turn for the worse. Speaking of schedules, fires are not a fan. They feel stifled with too much structure, so a healthy training plan involves switching things up a lot and trying new routes and activities. While exercising, it can be helpful to set a timer every 10 minutes as a mental checkpoint to assess what’s happening in your body and make sure it’s still within your limits. Another way to ground is by communing with nature. If you’re running on a trail, stop at the large trees, feel their bark, take a moment to wonder and check in with yourself.


Earth

Performance:

Earth elements aren’t typically drawn to ultra-athleticism, but they can certainly be talented athletes. Earth enjoys comfort and nurturing others. So they often like to stay in their comfort zone and will only push themselves out of it if they’re doing it for someone else. So if a good friend is really into ultra running, maybe they’ll consider it. Earth is also very sensitive, in-tune with themselves, and grounded, so they can push themselves hard, but they’re not going to make progress as fast as other elements who might regularly push beyond their boundaries. Earth’s training would naturally include more down time and rest. Earth people are very uncomfortable with conflict so they generally dislike competition. They’d rather have everyone get along and they’ll extricate themselves from situations where people don’t.

Rest and recovery: good

Earth knows how to stay grounded and in touch with themselves. I mean, they are literally the ground in the natural world! So they understand how to rest, recover, and nurture themselves better than any other element. But athletic culture doesn’t really support these traits so they often don’t feel particularly welcome. They don’t need to be first or the best, just supported and in harmony with others.

Pro Tips:

Earth elements need to make sure they are training for themselves, not a friend or a trainer/coach. They need to feel good about what they’re doing for themselves, otherwise they’ll grow to resent the others they feel are pushing them too hard. In essence, they have to learn to speak up for their needs. And sometimes earth needs a kick in the pants to push themselves out of their comfort zone to make progress.

 

Metal

Performance:

Metal elements are very adept athletes from the structured, regimented, very focused perspective. They love details, planning, and analysis, so they’re the data nerds, tracking everything meticulously. Wood can do this too, but not usually to the same level. You need discipline, structure, focus, and determination to be a great athlete and metal elements have this in spades. They also have a very strong spiritual side and tend to find great meaning in the pursuits that deeply define their life. They have an affinity for beauty and aesthetics so being active outside in nature can be very soothing.

Rest and recovery: challenged

Metal elements can get very rigid and dogmatic about their schedule because structure is their comfort zone. They start paying more attention to their schedule than they do their own internal cues. They are also perfectionists, so they put immense pressure on themselves to stick to their schedule and make sure their data is trending the right way. Their determination and focus can blind them to what they actually need.

Pro-Tips:
Metal elements need to back off the internal pressure they put on themselves to achieve and allow for ups and downs in energy and training. We are not linear robots; the body has natural rhythms and we need to respect them. Metal elements have to learn to listen to their bodies rather than adhering to an arbitrary training schedule. In other words, if you’re tired, rest.

 

Water

Performance:

Water elements are drawn to extreme sports and adventure because they are thrill seekers. They really enjoy pushing their limits and finding that adrenaline rush. For a water, there is a deep-seated fear of their ability to survive, so they will push harder and harder to prove that they can. There are a lot of water athletes out there because the athletic mindset and community mirrors their natural tendencies. It builds them up and praises their extremeness, their love of competition, and their daringness. Water elements also seem to have massive energy reserves, like a wood, and can push beyond normal limits. All elements can do this, but water does this routinely and pathologically. At the base of all the bravado is fear and insecurity.

Rest and recovery ability: most challenged

Waters more than any element don’t know how to rest. They will push themselves to the brink of collapse. I’ve also seen other elements do this, but because water people live in the extremes, they tend to crash harder and take longer to recover. Water’s don’t want to admit their own limitations so they try to control their bodies. They are the essence of the “push through the pain” mentality of athletes because they truly believe they are the masters of their body’s signals.

Pro Tips:

Water elements have to learn to slow themselves down and listen. The body is wise and is always sending you information and you have to pay attention. You can’t always overrule it. Take a step back from the push and try slower activities. Let go of the fear that’s pushing you and embrace more calm and joy. Fear is our most powerful driver and has the strongest grip on water elements out of all the elements. But it can’t be turned on 24/7 otherwise waters will burn out and injure themselves. Work toward a sustainable practice with slower, more gentle and peaceful activities integrated in.

 

I hope this post gave you a little more insight into yourself and what you need for rest and recovery. As you may have noticed, most elements are challenged in their ability to slow down and recover. This difficulty is highly influenced by our own cultural biases and especially the athletic culture of pushing-doing-going-never-stop-until-you-die. 

When your elements are balanced, it’s much easier to disengage from these behavior tendencies (which are actually defense mechanisms) and toxic cultural influences and really get to the core of yourself and your own needs. When the slate is cleared, you start to see yourself in the mountains, rivers, trees, ground, and sparks of life surrounding you in nature and the universe.
 

GUEST POST: Should I run with a cold?

Greetings sniffly snouts,

Today we will hear from my longtime doctor and healing guru Dr. Liz Carter. Dr. Carter is a ND and acupuncturist based in West Seattle - if you're in the area you'll be well-served by scheduling a visit.

Dr. Liz is my partner in not only rebuilding my body after brutal expeditions and illnesses but a compassionate listener and communicator who has guided me in my decade-long learning process about my body. She and I have, together, learned what overtraining, adrenal fatigue, and thriving look like in my Metal constitution. 

So when I wanted the authoritative answer to my question I knew who to ask. I hope you're able to glean some valuable lessons and tools for self-examination from this post.

Brittany Raven


cold mountains, Pasayten, 2016

"Should I Run When I Have a Cold?"

This is a fabulous question! And I have a fabulous answer for you! Are you ready for it? Here it is: It depends.

Admittedly, that might not sound like a fabulous answer. But I’ll spend the rest of this post convincing you that it is, in fact, a fantastic answer and you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

On the surface, “should I run when I have a cold?” seems like a pretty straight forward yes or no kind of situation.

BUT

You are a unique, interesting, amazing individual who's part of this human race that’s made up of more unique, interesting, and amazing individuals. With all of our unique-interesting-amazingness, there is no ONE answer for everyone. One of my mentors told me early on that any good naturopath answers these type of questions with “it depends."

And she was right.

I’d be lying to you if I simply said “yes” or “no” to this question and walked away.

There are too many variables about you that I need to know first before I can answer your question, like: your health, your health history, your current immune state, your water intake, your regular exercise pattern, how easily you sweat, how often you have bowel movements, your energy levels, your constitution, your quality of sleep, your diet, your stress level, how this crazy election is affecting you….shall I go on?

This is why talking to naturopath outside of a medical visit (or inside one, ha) can be frustrating sometimes. It’s hard to get a straight answer from us. You think you’ve asked a simple question, and our heads start to spin with all the details about you we need to collect and coalesce in order to actually answer your seemingly straightforward inquiry.

Your question is the tip of the iceberg.

Beneath the water swims the complexity of human existence; what makes you you and not someone else. All the answers are there. We just have to discover how to tease them out. Eventually, we’ll arrive at a “yes” or a “no” for you, but the reasons behind those affirmatives or denials will be unique to your current state of being. And even with a “yes” or a “no”, there will be specific, individual instructions that go along with it, tailored to what’s the most beneficial for you.

 

Perhaps frustrating at first, but ultimately WAY more realistic and useful. Nothing is simple when we look at our bodies and minds in full because we recognize that everything is an interconnected whole. We can’t parse out certain symptoms that are annoying us, analyze them, and expect to get accurate results. But over time, as you get used to seeing your being as more than the sum of its parts, things start to become simple again. You learn to listen to yourself and what symptoms really mean (hint: they’re asking you to look more deeply at an issue, not to ignore or suppress it).

Obviously, we’re not in a medical visit right now, where I can find out in detail from you all of these personal variables. But I can give you some highlights. Some things to look for and listen to within yourself. That’s one of the ultimate goals of naturopathic medicine; to educate our patients enough about their own bodies and processes that they can care for themselves.You can take those first steps of listening to your body and start correcting the imbalance.

This self-knowledge leads to less fear and rash decisions around symptoms, and more understanding, compassion, and growth for one’s self. Really, we naturopaths kinda end up putting ourselves out of business if we’ve done our job well. I don’t mind. It’s one of the best rewards I get as a doctor when I see my patients become confident in managing and maintaining their own health.

So without further ado, let’s dive into how we answer our question!

 

There are two main factors we need to learn about.

1) What is your vitality like?

2) What is the strength of the illness?

 

Vitality

What is vitality?

In naturopathic medicine we have a specific definition and it’s one of our core philosophical principles regarding how we look at health and disease. We call it the vis medicatrix naturae, or translated from latin, the healing power of nature. The vis, for short, is how we describe your life force. It’s a similar concept to qi in Chinese medicine.

Naturopathic doctors believe the body can heal itself. The simplest way to see this happen is watching a cut heal. We don't consciously will the body to clot our blood and form a protective scab. We don’t tell it to begin an inflammatory cascade so immune cells are recruited to the area to stave off infection and start stitching the skin back together. The body is always striving to heal itself.

Intuitively, I think we know this makes sense. How else would the body keep itself in tact and functioning through all the little spills, bruises, and mishaps? Not to mention mental, emotional, and spiritual issues and crises that pop up. This is a complete 180 from the western medical paradigm, where we’re taught the body doesn’t have any idea what it’s doing and we know best. We cut and poke and medicate symptoms away. We dampen and destroy the body’s ability to communicate with us through pain killers, cough suppressants, a myriad of other medications and surgery. All this just to block out warning signs.

Symptoms are harbingers of what’s to come if we don’t stop and listen.

And we really, really don’t like listening. Because the body’s message is usually in direct conflict with want you want to continue doing. But we need to start listening. And it begins with understanding your own vitality.

We all have the ability to heal ourselves, but the capacity we have to do so at any given moment is our vitality. How fast can we heal a broken ankle? A cough? A stomach bug? A depressed or anxious mood? Doubtless throughout your life you’ve noticed that sometimes healing takes place quickly or more slowly. Of course, the type and intensity of injury has an effect, but the reserves your body has on hand to deal with these insults plays a large part as well.

A vital system heals quickly.

 

How do you tell how vital you are?

You ask yourself these questions and answer honestly.

How have I been sleeping?

We all know sleep is crucial to health and wellbeing. It’s the fastest way to heal. So if we haven’t been getting enough of it, we’re definitely drawing on our reserves. 

What’s enough? Eight to ten hours a night for adults.

 

What’s my energy level?

Have you been feeling tired and fatigued or well rested? We tend to push ourselves constantly, especially athletes, and we commonly want to ignore signs of fatigue. We dismiss it as a weakness we must overcome. Repeated long enough, this mentality can lead to a serious depletion of resources, decreasing your vitality and making it difficult for your body to fight off infection or recover quickly from strenuous activity. (MN note: Read more about overtraining here.)

 

What’s my water intake?

A good frame of reference for adults is to drink half your bodyweight in ounces per day. If you exercise and sweat, add eight to sixteen ounces for every hour of activity, depending on how intense it is. If you’re not peeing close to every hour, you’re not drinking enough water. Water cleanses our body. It flushes out inflammatory compounds and metabolic waste products.

And it acts as a delivery medium for nutrients. A lack of water results in a build of up waste products in the system. Your body has to devote more resources to cleaning them up, zapping your vitality.

 

How has my diet been?

This one is pretty self explanatory. Eat well, feel well. Eat crap, feel like crap.

 

How's my digestion been?

Digestion is a core process to our body. Without it working properly, even with the best diet, we’ll be undernourished.

Check in with gas, bloating, acid reflux, loose stools or constipation. All of these are signals that you’re not digesting properly.

 

What’s been going on emotionally?

Have you had major life changes happening? Has a major grief occurred recently that you’re still processing? Or a falling out with a friend or family member?

All of these issues, even though not physical, take a toll. They require energy to process and eventually grow and heal from.

Deep emotional patterns or restrictions should be considered in your journey into your own vitality. They are not something that can be pushed down and away or over and through. If ignored, they’ll continue to keep you in their grip, slowly depleting your flexibility and adaptiveness.

 

What has my stress been like?

How’s work? How’s school? How’s family life? What’s going on for you that causes you stress and how much of it is there? Is it manageable or are you drowning in it? Do you ever feel not stressed?

Many of us live with chronic stress daily. When it happens so often, it becomes the norm and sometimes hard to see. It’s still there, but we adapted as best we can because that’s what the body does. However, this adaptation takes precious resources and acts as a constant drain on your system.

 

Are there any major health issues I’ve had in the past?

Have there been major surgeries or traumas in your life? Chemical exposures? Long term medication use? Are there chronic or recurrent conditions that always pop up for you?

For instance, if you get a cold, does it always go to your sinuses first? Or make its way to your lungs quickly? These tendencies show us where the body might be struggling with a lower vitality. It often happens after years of suppressing symptoms with unnecessary antibiotics, cough medicine, fever reducers, and more.

Colds, flus, other pathogens will always prey on a weakened part of your system. The good news is if you listen to your body and allow it to heal itself naturally, your vitality increases. It’s able to throw off some of the accumulated crud and restore vitality to that organ system.

 

There are many more factors that play into vitality, but these questions represent a good core to check in with. Of course, we always have to take into account the type of sickness we’re dealing with and how it affects our vitality.

Strength of Illness

The same illness — virus, bacteria, fungus, food allergen — will affect multiple people differently. And sometimes totally differently. There is a constellation of symptoms that are usual with the common cold, like sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, congestion and cough.

Some pathogens are stronger than others and will evoke a more robust immune response in us across the board. Other illnesses, like the common cold, might be gentler than the influenza virus, but they can manifest in a very wide variety in people depending on vitality.  Some people will get off with just a sniffle and some light congestion while others with the same virus will develop a full-on hacking cough and fever.

A special note and a decisive answer: if you have a fever, DO NOT go for a run. Your body is using tons of resources to mount a strong immune response and you don’t want to drain away any of its efforts. Sweating is great treatment for a fever, but taking a hot bath to get your core temperature up and sweating that way is less draining than a run that provokes inflammation and steals resources for muscle recovery.

So, take stock of what your symptoms are and how severe they are. The more severe, the harder you are fighting. Go, body, go! This gets difficult if you’ve used suppressants or conventional cold medicine like Nyquil, Delsum, Advil, Tylenol, Aspirin, etc., as they are meant to dampen symptoms. It makes it much hard to tell what’s happening in your body.

AND

You’re now asking your body to fight TWO things. The pathogen AND the suppressant medication.

If you’re coughing, it’s because your body needs to get mucus out of the lungs in order to keep them clear. If you’ve got a fever, it’s because your body is mounting an immune response to help you get over the sickness. The faster that fever breaks, the faster you’ll feel better because your body has won the battle and is ahead of the bug at that point.

We want to support the immune system as much as possible, and sometimes physical activity is just the ticket!

Circulation is crucial to immune system function. The main way immune cells circulate is through the lymphatic system. It’s a passive system of vessels that are only pumped when muscles move.

So running and exercise are generally great for preventing colds, again, depending on vitality. But with an active cold, running isn’t always the right answer. After you’ve checked in on symptoms, the next question to ask yourself is where you are in the timeline of the cold.

 

There are three distinct stages:

Stage 1: Within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours

You’re just barely getting the hint that you might be getting sick. Your throat might be a little scratchy, you might be little congested. The symptoms that arise in this time period can vary greatly for people, depending on their vitality and the strength of the pathogen. Sometimes within a few hours you’ve got a fever and are coughing. But many times the onset of a cold is a bit more gradual and mild.

 

Stage 2: After twenty-four to forty-eight hours but before discharge

After the first twenty-four hours, or maybe up to forty-eight hours, things are really starting to set in. You’re definitely sick. You’ve got congestion, and maybe you’re coughing because there’s mucus dripping down the back of your throat from your sinuses. Your glands might be swollen, and you’re really starting to feel fully on crappy. And, if you’re going to develop a fever, you do so in this stage.

This is the time when your immune system is building a response to wipe out the invading microbe, but it hasn’t quite gotten ahead of it yet. The length of this stage varies, as it depends on how quickly your body ramps up the immune system and how virulent the microorganism is.

 

Stage 3: Discharge

The demarcation between stage 2 and 3 is discharge.

There’s sneezing, lots of mucus streaming out of your sinuses (or plugging them up), and possibly coughing up stuff that has settled in your lungs. At this point if you had a fever, it’s broken.

Your body is saying, “Hey, I’m done producing this massive immune response, let’s clean up!” How do we clean up? We move things out! Discharge is not very comfortable, which is why we suppress it with medication, but it is a super necessary part of the cycle.

You have to allow your body to get rid of the yuck if you want it cleared out. Suppressing these symptoms only prolongs the process and weakens the body, potentially leading to more serious conditions like a sinus infection, bronchitis, and pneumonia. There are lots of lovely natural therapies to help you get through this stage without hindering what the body is trying to do, but it’s still gonna suck a bit.

Sometimes a little discharge happens a little in the earlier stages, but the majority hits you after you’re starting to improve. Most of the discharge is the leftovers of your immune response. Its like confetti at New Year’s.  Lots of it is released at once, it has served its purpose, now it’s time to clean it up. And sweeping up confetti is kinda a giant pain in the butt.

The more discharge, the harder your body worked to win the battle. Be proud of that victory!

 

So, now that you know the 3 stages of a cold, what questions do you ask yourself before you head out for a run?

You check in with the vitality questions then ask these.

 

What stage am I in?

Knowing this will help you assess what kind of resources your body has to devote to physical activity. In some stages, it can be beneficial to get the circulation going, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Sometimes a walk is much more appropriate than a run.

I’ll generalize a little here. Do not go for a run in stage 2. Your body needs all the resources it can get to fight things off. A light walk to can be fine. This stage is crucial to you moving through your illness quickly and efficiently, so taking it easy, enjoying some homemade broth and soup, getting enough sleep and water, and resting is the perfect way to go.

Depending on the severity of the illness, it can be ok to go for a run in stage 1 or 3. Sometimes good, strong circulation in these stages helps to clear up symptoms more quickly.

In stage 1, an appropriately timed run can even stimulate the immune system enough that you don’t become full-on sick. But again, it all depends on the intensity of what’s going on in your body, and only you can make that call. It’s a delicate balance between supporting circulation to stimulate immune function and not draining resources your body needs to fight the bug.

 

Have I taken symptom-suppressing medication?

This greatly impacts your ability to fight off your cold and recover from it. I mentioned above that taking this stuff makes your body fight two battles: one against the cold and one against the medication. If you go out and overexert yourself, your body will be fighting three battles.

If you’ve taken symptom-suppressing medication, a light walk would be all the more strenuous you’d want to push things. Let your body recover before you push it more.

 

Do I really need to think about ALL OF THIS before deciding whether or not to run with a cold?

Absolutely. Internally, it just takes a few seconds to assess. Plus checking in with your gut instinct. What’s that adding to the picture?

Clear away all of the mental clutter of “I should” false obligations, training schedules, inspirational quotes about pushing through, and really listen to your body. What is it telling you? That it needs rest or that a light effort might be a good thing?

The stronger the symptom picture, the more likely the answer is yes to needing to rest. The lower the vitality, the more likely the answer is yes to needing to rest. The theme here is that you probably need some rest to recover quickly and fully. Take it easy on yourself for a few days and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your body can work with a full set of resources.

Remember, it’s always trying to heal, so doing everything you can to support it will lead to a much less painful process.

 

If you’re thinking of going for a run after checking in with yourself, how do you decide how far to go?

Take your average run length and cut it in half. Then cut it in half again. Really restrain yourself to do less. You want that punch up in circulation, but that’s it. Improving your circulation to increase your immune response is your ONLY goal for the run or activity you do. Not running a predetermined amount because your schedule says so.

If you start to feel fatigued, you’ve gone too far.

While you have an active cold, your goal with physical activity is to augment your immune response through improving circulation without draining your resources. This is a difficult balance, especially for athletes who are trained to push themselves beyond their limits all the time. Look out into the distance, see your limits, wave, and say, “hey, I’m good right here. I’ll see you later."This is not the time to push them. It’s a time to be gentle with yourself and your body. Respect its process and what it’s saying to you. Or perhaps yelling at you if you’ve got a nice strong immune response going!

If you listen to your body, you’ll recover much more quickly and be stronger on the other side than if you didn’t. The more you pay attention, the more you’ll hear. Listening in this deep and respectful way will improve your athletic pursuits on all fronts. The vis is inside all of us, gently guiding us along our path.

All we have to do is stop and listen.

GUEST POST: The Tao of Effort by Lydia Zamorano

Hey mountain movers,

I hope you enjoyed part one in this series by Lydia! Once you've finished reading part two below, I'm sure you'll be hungry for more resources on the art of effort and rest. Be sure to check out Lydia's resource page here.

Brittany Raven


grounding down, cr. Lydia Zamorano

Pushing our bodies is part of getting stronger. But if it's all fire all the time, we might fizzle out.

Sometimes if we go too hard and don't nourish ourselves properly with nutrient dense food and rest we start to plateau, or worse decline in efficiency and progress. And at it's height some people are even diagnosed with over training syndrome

One thing that I've used in the last seven years is a Taoist principle called the 70% rule. 

Rule is kind of a dirty word so let's say it's a suggestion.

The invitation is after we ascertain our true 100%, then we slow it down to about 70% on most days. You could make a ratio of once a week you go 100% and the rest you go 70%, or less or more than that.

Everyone has a different sweet spot. And if your athleticism is your career it might be different than someone who's a recreationalist. With this in place, there's potential for most of the time feeling energized and having reserves for all the other life stuff: like family, friends, work, growing your own food, being part of community or global initiatives.

I'm sure most of you already know a lot of this but I hope some of it can be useful to you.

Reach out if you like as lydiazamorano@gmail.com.

 


Yoga Anytime has a show called "Wait for It" Yin Yoga and meditation practices with Kira Sloane. There are also countless short meditations on there to get you started.

Try the Yoga For Athletes show with me as well and stay in touch about your practice. If you want to connect with me, I can direct you towards practice I think might be the most useful for your life demands and situation. 

For a complimentary month on Yoga Anytime, use the code "LYDIA".

GUEST POST: Why rest? by Lydia Zamorano

be strong then, and enter into your own body.
there you have a solid place for your feet.
— Kabir

Dearest readers,

It is with great esteem I present to you two posts by my (online) yoga instructor Lydia Zamorano on the topic of effort, yin, and her innovative injury prevention philosophy.

Upon doing some background research on Lydia to properly introduce her here I discovered a lot about her rich background. Informing her playful, reverent, nourishing instruction are multiple 200-500 hour teacher trainings with the likes of Richard and Mary Freeman and Angela Farmer. In addition to her impressive personal practice and education as an instructor, Lydia gives back to the community via work with victims of trauma and teaching meditation to children. In her spare time (she has spare time??) Lydia helps Patagonia build the stellar products we all wear and love.

I hope you enjoy this two-part series and are able to indulge in the work of yin this autumn season.

Brittany Raven


intentional yin al fresco, cr. Lydia Zamorano

You're a body mover.

Things that are in motion like to stay in motion. 

The bursts of joy that you get from rhythmic movement and dynamic stillness are something that you dream of each day until you're doing them. 

Me too. 

Then you get injured. 

And it hits you like a punch to the guts that you are going to have to be still and sluggish for a while. You might not want to admit that it might be a long healing process.

 

Been there. 

When I got injured in my twenties, I'd often give less healing time than needed (or maybe less than intelligent healing time) and continued to push through pain with big mountain days. It resulted in one of my ankles having a misalignment that still affects my whole spine. 

I have to work with it every day. 

 

Back then I was impatient. 

It wasn't until I started a restorative yoga and meditation practice that I was able to learn from injury, slow down, and see it as a process. I was also able to work with some of the deeper reasons for always needing a distraction.

If we can see the upside, when we're injured we can experience longer periods of forced rest. This can heal tiny micro tears in tissue and we can come back feeling stronger and ready to train harder. Rest is a crucial part of strengthening. Rumour has it, that it is when the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, we can truly restore and repair. 

Not only that, but we can work with patience, listening to our bodies, and learning new things that might not be in our default patterning. 

Resting is productive. Even uncomfortably long resting periods can be healing for our bodies. I know some climbers that take a month off a year to heal tissue, deeply rest and explore other parts of their lives. 

Here are some ideas for things to do while injured:

  • everyone's an artist. Whether it be writing, ceramics, painting, photography... explore learning about your creative self that doesn't include movement. (I think movement is artistry as well). 
  • start a meditation practice. Start with five minutes a day. The benefits could be far reaching and really support your athletic pursuits. (MN note: I've been enjoying Headspace's meditations)
  • if your body allows (like you have one wrist or one leg injury for example) start a home Yin Yoga (yogaanytime.com) or Feldenkrais (lots of great free stuff on youtube) practice. You can usually modify to leave injured parts out. Most of it is staying on the ground. Find creative ways to move that are different and increase mobility and blood flow. If you can gently move the injury without too much pain, practice moving it with micro-movements. This will ease up fascial restrictions that can come from immobility and bring healing fluid pumping into the area.*
  • cleanse your body with a fast, colonic, or cleanse. If you're not moving as much, you may have the time, space and energy to do a juice or candida cleanse etc. This could also enhance digestion and clear any fuzziness in your mind. 
  • learn. There are countless online courses out there. Maybe you have time to dig into something you're really curious or interested about, and that could potentially support your career. (MN note: try Coursera or Duolingo - both free of charge)
  • get body work. Craniosacral therapy, massage, acupuncture, physiotherapy ... etc. 

Reach out if you like as lydiazamorano@gmail.com. And be sure to stay tuned for next week's piece on injury prevention.

 


*Yoga Anytime has a show called "Wait for It" Yin Yoga and meditation practices with Kira Sloane. There are also countless short meditations on there to get you started.

Try the Yoga For Athletes show with me as well and stay in touch about your practice. If you want to connect with me, I can direct you towards practice I think might be the most useful for your life demands and situation. 

For a complimentary month on Yoga Anytime, use the code "LYDIA".

GUEST POST: How Chinese Medicine can inform your mountain movement

If my past posts have not been clear enough (post 1, post 2, post 3), Chinese medicine and massage are a key part of attaining and maintaining a functional athletic vehicle.

During this season of restoration and reflection, especially since I also happen to be in the postpartum period, the dai mai keeps coming up on runs and climbs. Alex Sollek, bodyworker extraordinaire at Nectar Massage + Bodywork, has prepared a primer on Traditional Chinese Medicine with a specific focus on the channel that makes us move.

I hope you enjoy this beautiful guest post - and be sure to schedule a massage with Alex if you live in the Seattle area.

Brittany Raven


Just as our own trajectory reflects the seasons’ cycles, so do our organs and meridians reflect certain qualities and play specific roles in our lives both emotionally and physically. Today I’m focusing on the Liver and Gallbladder and their lesser known partner, the Dai Mai, and their roles in our bodies’ movement. All the meridians contribute to motion in some way or another. There are twelve regular meridians, which span either from feet to chest or head or span from chest or head to hands. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), anatomical position is portrayed as a person standing facing forward with their hands raised straight up above their heads with their palms facing inward. This means that all the regular meridians are running directly up and down in a vertical fashion. In this way we are considered, in Chinese medical theory, to connect the heavens and earth. We become the point of contact. You might think of us like trees, feet rooted into the earth with our limbs ever reaching up toward the sun and sky. 

The Liver and Gallbladder meridians are a linked pair, one yin and one yang. Functionally I think they are important to all kinds of movement. Running, dancing, yoga, rollerskating as well as just day to day activities, driving, gardening, sitting at the computer, etc. The Liver meridian runs bilaterally from the big toe, up the inside of the leg, and into the torso up to the top of the head. The Gallbladder meridian starts at the outer canthus of each eye and zig zags along the sides of the head, to the base of the skull, down across the top of the shoulder, again zig zagging along the lateral sides of the body, into the gluteal muscles and down the outside of the legs to end at the pinky toe.

Though they are not the only meridians to span the length of the body, their zigzagging paths and internal/external nature make them key in our ability to move in diagonal and spiral like patterns. In their channels you can see a dancer stretching out her leg in front of her while she leans her head to the side, arms reaching out like tree limbs. You can see a child playing tag, ready to spring this way or that at a moment’s notice. You can see a runner bounding over a trail like a deer, attentive to roots, branches, and rocks, able to alter her steps to suit her terrain. 

It’s hard to think of the Liver meridian without considering the organ it is connected with. In TCM the Liver and all the other yin organs are thought of as their functional processes as well as the physical organ itself. The paired yang organs have their own functions but the corresponding meridians are more often noted and discussed in terms of physical symptoms and/or pain. And so we often look at the Liver organ and the Gallbladder meridian and how they work together to move our bodies through space. 

The Liver stores blood, ensures the smooth flow of qi, controls the tendons, and opens into the eyes. Looked at more closely:

• The Liver stores the blood when we are not being physically active and releases blood when we are. The blood nourishes our tendons and muscles while we use them, assisting them in fluid motion and functional flexibility. 

• The Liver ensures the smooth flow of qiThis is a wide ranging function that underscores everything from the pumping of blood through our veins to assisting the breath to maintaining appropriate levels of hormones and regulating menstruation. I think this must also effect us on a level other than just anatomy and physiology. In training, as we are striving to learn a new skill or better our technique, the Liver helps us to know when something feels right or if it feels off in some way. 

 The Liver controls the tendons. There are different views on this. Some think that controlling the tendons actually translates to controlling all the sinews; tendons, muscles and connective tissue. In this case the Liver has a great deal to do with movement on a very basic level. 

• All of the organs open into an orifice, in this case the Liver opens into the eyes. This does not necessarily relate to movement but it does play an interesting role. While the Liver opens into the eyes and can be used to treat vision or eye related symptoms this also means that the Liver is an organ of figurative vision. Our ability to envision a goal, dream up a plan, allow insight these are functions of the Liver as well.

As I mentioned before, all of our regular meridians are on a vertical plane, similar to a tree reaching up to the sky. But like the concentric rings within tree trunks, we need something to hold us together so that we are not just vertically inclined beings but have the ability to move out laterally in space as well. This is where the Dai Mai, or Girdling Vessel, comes in. Of all the meridians, regular and extraordinary (extraordinary vessels are for another post!), the Dai Mai is the only one wrapping the body horizontally. In a sense, it is part of what allows our meridians to move us directionally from point A to point B by gathering up all of the different meridians and giving them containment and structure. 

The Dai Mai wraps around our waist along the top of our hip bones and dips down along the inguinal line. It shares acupuncture points with the points on the Gallbladder meridian. It is also aptly called the Belt Vessel. As in all things we find we need balance with this containment. 

Here, if the Girdling Vessel is too tight we may feel as though our upper body and lower body do not connect. We might feel like we’re sitting in cold water or that our legs feel clumsy and cloddish. If the vessel is too loose, it cannot hold the other meridians firmly and help to guide the qi up the meridians, we might find Liver Qi not able to move as well giving rise to Liver Qi Stagnation. We might feel achy and sore in our upper back and shoulders or irritability with stomach issues. Our muscles might feel tight and dehydrated. Other circumstances might arise as well. Menstrual issues in women and pulled muscles (often the psoas, groin, or hip flexor muscles) in both men and women. When we’re in balance, the meridians work together and allow for a certain ease of movement. 

We can help ourselves by taking care of our Liver first and foremost and remembering to breathe, exercise, and relax our sinews to tend to our meridians. Ways to do this include having a cup of hot water with lemon juice in the mornings, working with the breath by breathing deep into the diaphragm and abdomen and feeling our ribs expand, by making sure we get adequate exercise AND adequate rest. You might also use visualization prior to training sessions, integrate long stretches or spiral stretches or yoga positions like Pigeon Pose or twists, or eat foods that support liver health. 

With this last one it can be good to check in with an acupuncturist, ND, or nutritionist for some ideas. If you like to do things on your own, Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford is a fantastic reference. 

So when you head out for your next run, walk, adventure, dance class, or when you stay in for a luxurious sleep in visualize these meridians in your mind and what sorts of movements they give you freedom to explore. 

Guest post: Do climbers need aerobic training? Part II

bleary-eyed on the descent from a single-push on Dragontail Peak wishing I'd taken up running already, 2010, selfie cr. Chad Kellogg

 By Mercedes Pollmeier

Last week I talked about the benefits of aerobic training, how it increases your capacity to do more work, recovers muscles from hard training days, and it can teach you how to regulate your breathing and heart rate while climbing. Because we are rock climbers, and not training to be a runner, the program will be different. The recommendations listed will be primarily for recovery from climbing or other strength related training.

So how do you start adding in aerobic training into your lifestyle? If you are anything like me, I hated running because I felt I was constantly in pain when I ran, mostly because I tried to beat or maintain my last running pace. Silly Mercedes. 

What I discovered was that I didn’t need to run at a high intensity every time I ran. I started running at an intensity that was slow and long, keeping my breathing constant, smooth and unlabored. You may have heard this term before “Long Slow Distance”, where essentially you can have a conversation while you run. This is the type of running you will do for recovery adaptations. Don’t feel like you need to go fast at all, and if you do, you won’t get the recovery benefits from the training.

I’ve been doing this program myself for a few weeks now and have been able to increase my speed and distance while keeping my heart rate low. This is the kind of adaptation you want to start with. Add one run (or aerobic activity) a week at very low intensity (easy breathing, low heart rate, around 75 to 80% of your Max Heart Rate) keeping it easy and long (between thirty to sixty minutes). Then you can add in another aerobic session if you have the time. Make sure to add aerobic training in at the end of a climbing session or after a strength training session. If you can’t do it afterwards, try to separate the aerobic training from your climbing or strength training by a few hours.

Of course, there is much more you can do with your aerobic training, and if you are getting amped about it, you can integrate one day of high intensity running intervals to train the other side of the intensity spectrum. This type of high-intensity training does not help recovery from training, rather it taxes the muscles more and is used to improve adaptations specific to strength and power, which is also beneficial for a rock climber.

 

Thank you, Mercedes, for contributing your wise words on the topic of recovery these last few weeks while I recovered from the baby event!

Brittany Raven


As Mercedes suggested in her piece, training strategy is key to your climbing performance. My coaching can help you develop an appropriate gait, assist as you strategize your limited time for training, and support your perpetual performance. 
If you have not already, sign up for coaching with me below. Whether you'd like to consult on a single topic or engage in the run-up to a significant run or climb, I'm here to provide support to your limit-breaking ambulations.

Guest post: Do climbers need aerobic training? Part I

feeling spry near the summit of Komo Kulshan, February 2015 cr. Joe Hoch

By Mercedes Pollmeier

Do you ever find yourself climbing up a route and you reach the crux, you make a few difficult moves and you start to huff and puff, and ultimately your heavy breathing leaves you falling off the route? Do you find yourself huffing and puffing on the approach to your climb, and feel a bit taxed before you even start climbing?

Those who climb mountains already know the importance of cardio and how it’s a major part of their training, however, for a rock climber, cardio is often forgotten.

There are several benefits for rock climbers to do aerobic training; it can increase work capacity, shorten recovery time between training sessions, teach you how to regulate your breathing, and control heart rate during training.

Just like strength training, cardio done right will increase your capacity to do more work, which means being able to do more difficult things over a longer period of time. Aerobic training increases the working capacity of the muscle by providing quick and sufficient energy to allow the muscles to contract over and over again. There are several adaptations that occur in the muscle from aerobic training, all which increases performance for a rock climber.

Low intensity running after climbing can increase recovery from a tough session. Running for about thirty minutes will consistently pump blood to muscles and tendons, repairing tissue damage as well as decreasing soreness.

Aerobic training also teaches you how to breathe rhythmically, and to control your heart rate and breathing rate during spikes in intensity, especially if you train with a heart rate monitor. However, this type of training needs to be intentional and done on a regular basis.

Finally, humans were first and foremost an endurance based species, hunting for food and constantly moving from one location to the next, so tapping into what is genetically engrained will undoubtedly unlock athletic potential.

Next week Mercedes will show you what kind of running to add into your week and when to do it.

Guest post: rest days

rainy rest day, Twisp River, 2016

By Mercedes Pollmeier

I have a lot of clients and members who ask me about what to do on rest days, and how many days they should be climbing. In my personal opinion, climbers will climb too much at a high intensity on a regular basis, and disregard the norm of rest and exercise science in other sports. Even with all of my training and knowledge, I have also been a culprit of binge climbing.  

When I was training for ABS Nationals a few years back, I had to “catch up” on my competition climbing and had a time crunch. I climbed at a fairly high intensity about five to eight sessions a week. This wouldn’t have been a bad idea if I had ramped up my training schedule slowly, over years of training. I put in about fifteen hours of climbing a week, plus did cross training and running. I was super fit by the time nationals came around, but it also resulted in elbow tendonitis in both elbows, and after the competition, I was totally wrecked and didn’t climb for about three weeks. (note from MN: Mercedes was overtrained)

The problem was that I didn’t rest enough. I did preventative exercises to keep my body in check, but it just wasn’t enough. Rest and recovery are essential, and now I know not to try and “catch up” on my training and rather just adjust to my current level of fitness and skill.

How much rest and recovery depends on how experienced you are, your current climbing, and fitness level, and how hard you eventually want to climb.

If you are not a pro climber, then I suggest not climbing more than three days in a row. In fact, two days on, one day off might be the most optimal ratio if you enjoy climbing and want to progress at a steady pace without getting injured. If you are fairly new to climbing, I’d suggest one day on, one day off. If you are feeling good and have been progressing well, three days on, one day off can help push you to the next level.

No matter which ratio you pick, you should vary up your training intensity. This means, don’t crush yourself every single climbing session. Change your intensity by climbing one day of steep overhanging, then the next day take a technical approach and climb slab and vertical. You shouldn’t be climbing to absolute failure every climbing day. Putting new and different constraints on your body is the best approach to adaptation and learning. (note from MN: learn how to track your training here.)

It’s not just about getting stronger, it’s also about learning new movement, becoming more efficient, becoming a smarter and more experienced climber. Take your rest days seriously, and do some things that you enjoy. Remember, we climb because we like to climb, don’t push yourself to the point where you don’t enjoy it anymore.

 

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Your keys to mindfulness and cultivating yin are here.

Your permission to chill out is here.

Body work trifecta.