These kids are ticking time bombs

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

Players are physically broken down by the time they reach the NBA:

In a series of studies in 2017 and 2018, a team of researchers working with the University of Wisconsin’s David Bell, a professor in its Department of Kinesiology’s Athletic Training Program and the director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory, found that while most youth athletes today believe specialization increases their performance and chances of making a college team, the majority of those who reached Division I level didn’t classify as highly specialized at the high school level. Jayanthi and a team of fellow researchers had reached a similar conclusion in a separate 2013 study. (The classification of “highly specialized” was granted to athletes who answered “yes” to the following three questions: Can you identify your primary sport? Do you play or train in that sport for more than eight months of the year? Have you ever quit one sport to focus on a primary sport?)

But while the upsides of specialization are unclear, there are few doubts about the downsides.

A separate 2016 study from Bell and his team found that 36% of high school athletes classified as highly specialized, training in one sport for more than eight months a year — and that those athletes were two to three times more likely to suffer a hip or knee injury.

Tennis faces a similar situation:

Players kept dropping out — that’s all Jayanthi knew for sure. It was happening at four prestigious national tournaments for elite tennis players ages 12-18. There, players who played more than four matches — often at least one per day over a span of four consecutive days — were more than twice as likely to pull out of the tournament before their fifth match for medical reasons than those who didn’t advance that far.

Soon thereafter, they examined about 530 high-level tennis players aged 12 to 18 in the Midwest. One of the first findings was the majority of these athletes — about 70% — had specialized in tennis, and the average age that they’d begun doing so was 10 years old. They also found that those who had begun specializing in tennis at a young age were 1.5 times more likely to report an injury than those who hadn’t specialized. One year later, they began what would become the largest clinical study of its kind, following about 1,200 young athletes — the average age was 13 and a half — across all sports in the Chicago area for up to three years. Roughly two-thirds of that group had visited local sports medicine clinics with injuries; the other third were uninjured and attended primary care clinics, largely for annual sports physicals. The goal: compare the injured to the uninjured, over a period of three years, and see what the numbers revealed.

Their conclusion: Those who were highly specialized in one sport (at the exclusion of other sports) and played it year-round were at a significantly higher risk for serious overuse injuries, such as bone and cartilage injuries and ligament injuries. How much higher of a risk? About 125%.

All because they thought they were on ‘roids

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Steroids work — in part because lifters expect them to work:

When someone goes “on,” they have been fully convinced that the drugs are going to make a huge difference in their training and their results. Those expectations are the critical issue though — those expectations are doing just as much work as the steroids themselves.

I’ll reference and expand briefly on two landmark studies regarding the placebo effect and steroids. If you’d like to look them up, here are the citations:

Ariel et. Al. (1972) “Anabolic Steroids: The Physiological Effects of Placebos,” Medicine and Science in Sports, vol. 4, 124–26.

Maganaris et. Al. (2000) “Expectancy effects and strength training: do steroids make a difference?” Sport psychologist, vol. 14, no. 3, 272–278.

In the first study, fifteen male lifters were put on a strength training plan, and were told that the ones who made the best progress during the first phase of training on seated shoulder press, military press, and bench press (researchers confirmed for being gym-bros in lab coats. Just saying…) would be chosen to use steroids for four weeks to evaluate their effects.

So, these guys trained as hard as they could for 4 weeks to get free, legal roids. The 6 guys who made the best progress gained an average of 11kg between the three lifts, and were selected for the “steroid” trial.

They were told they were being given 10 mg/day of Dianabol, but, in fact, they were given a placebo pill.

So, they made similar gains to the first phase, right? Maybe a little extra because of the placebo effect?

Nope.

They gained an average of 45 kg (about 100 pounds) between their three lifts. They didn’t report the breakdown per lift, but that’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 pounds on the bench, and 30 apiece on seated and military press. That’s in contrast to 24 pounds TOTAL in the first four weeks between all three lifts.

All because they thought they were on ‘roids.

Second example:

Eleven national level powerlifters were given a saccharine pill before they maxed on squat, bench, and deadlift. They were told that it was a fast-acting steroid

They immediately beat their old PRs by an average of about 4–5% (and since we’re talking about national level lifters, that means we’re probably talking about at least 50–100 pounds on their total).

They were given more sham “steroids” for the next two weeks of training, after which they maxed again. Except…

Five were informed that they’d been taking a placebo the whole time, while six still believed they were taking legit steroids.

The five who knew the truth regressed back to their old “pre-steroid” maxes. They couldn’t even hit the PRs they’d set two weeks before, even though they knew that they were drug-free for those maxes too! They didn’t just fail to make more placebo gains — they lost their initial gains as well.

This was in spite of the fact that they’d reported lifting heavier weights in the gym or doing more reps with certain weights during the two intervening weeks. They knew their training was going better, they knew they’d hit bigger lifts drug-free before, but they just couldn’t put up as heavy of weights knowing that they didn’t have drugs in their systems.

The six who still thought they were juicing managed to hit new PRs again!

So, from these studies, we see people who got “steroid-like gains” in spite of the fact that they never took steroids. They merely thought they did.

Now, obviously steroids do play a role. They do, absolutely, “work.” However, we have to keep in mind that they don’t just “work” via physiological mechanisms — they also “work” by altering peoples’ expectations.

America is losing its grip

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

America is losing its grip — literally:

When she was a practicing occupational therapist, Elizabeth Fain started noticing something odd in her clinic: Her patients were weak. More specifically, their grip strengths, recorded via a hand-held dynamometer, were “not anywhere close to the norms” that had been established back in the 1980s.

[...]

In a study published in 2015 in The Lancet, the health outcomes of nearly 140,000 people across 17 countries were tracked over four years, via a variety of measures—including grip strength. Grip strength was not only “inversely associated with all-cause mortality”—every 5 kilogram (kg) decrement in grip strength was associated with a 17 percent risk increase—but as the team, led by McMaster University professor of medicine Darryl Leong, noted: “Grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.”

Grip strength has even been found to be correlated more robustly with “ageing markers” than chronological aging itself. It has become a key method of diagnosing sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass associated with aging. Low grip strength has been linked to longer hospital stays, and in a study of hospitalized cancer patients, it was linked to a “an approximate 3-fold decrease in probability of discharge alive.” In older subjects, lower grip strength has even been linked with declines in cognitive performance.

“I’ve seen people refer to it as a ‘will-to-live’ meter,” says Richard Bohannon, a professor of health studies at North Carolina’s Campbell University. Grip strength, he suggests, is not necessarily an overall indicator of health, nor is it causative—if you start building your grip strength now it does not ensure you will live longer—“but it is related to important things.” What’s more, it’s non-invasive, and inexpensive to measure. Bohannon notes that in his home-care practice, a grip strength test is now de rigueur. “I use it in basically all of my patients,” he says. “It gives you an overall sense of their status, and high grip strength is better than low grip strength.”

Grip Strength vs. Age

Curious about what that all of that means for my own grip strength, I went out and bought a Jamar Hydraulic Hand Dynamometer, which is favored by clinicians. My strength rang in at nearly 62 kgs which, according to a chart of normative grip strengths in the Jamar’s manual, was above the mean for males 45-49, but not hugely outside the standard deviation. In that data, my age group did worse than the 20-24 age group, like you’d expect.

What was surprising was that my grip strength came in at 40 percent above a group of contemporary male college students that Fain measured last year. She found that a group of males aged 20-24—ages that had produced some of the peak mean grip strength scores in the 1980s tests—had a mean grip strength of just 44.7 kgs, well below my own and far below the same cohort in the 1980s, whose mean was in the low 50s. There were also significant declines in female grip strength.

I just dug out my dynamometer, and I may need to dig out my Captains of Crush grip trainers, too.

The numbers used to assess health are not helpful

Friday, July 12th, 2019

The numbers used to assess health are, for the most part, not helpful, but other, simpler metrics are:

The speed at which you walk, for example, can be eerily predictive of health status. In a study of nearly 35,000 people aged 65 years or older in the Journal of the American Medical Association, those who walked at about 2.6 feet per second over a short distance — which would amount to a mile in about 33 minutes — were likely to hit their average life expectancy. With every speed increase of around 4 inches per second, the chance of dying in the next decade fell by about 12 percent. (Whenever I think about this study, I start walking faster.)

Walking speed isn’t unique. Studies of simple predictors of longevity like these come out every couple of years, building up a cadre of what could be called alternative vital signs. In 2018, a study of half a million middle-aged people found that lung cancer, heart disease, and all-cause mortality were well predicted by the strength of a person’s grip.

Yes, how hard you can squeeze a grip meter. This was a better predictor of mortality than blood pressure or overall physical activity. A prior study found that grip strength among people in their 80s predicted the likelihood of making it past 100. Even more impressive, grip strength had good predictive ability in a study among 18-year-olds in the Swedish military on cardiovascular death 25 years later.

Another study made headlines earlier this year for declaring that push-up abilities could predict heart disease. Stefanos Kales, a professor at Harvard Medical School, noticed that the leading cause of death of firefighters on duty was not smoke inhalation, burns, or trauma, but sudden cardiac death. This is usually caused by coronary-artery disease. Even in this high-risk profession, people are most likely to die of the same thing as everyone else.

Still, the profession needed effective screening tests to define fitness for duty. Since firefighters are generally physically fit people, Kales’s lab looked at push-ups. He found that they were an even better predictor of cardiovascular disease than a submaximal treadmill test. “The results show a strong association between push-up capacity and decreased risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease,” Kales says.

You would think the drive to move to these new metrics would come from their effectiveness and efficiency:

This is driven in part by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which mandates that people not be discriminated against in occupational settings based on BMI or age.

This estimate caught my eye:

Granted, Joyner and other experts I heard from estimated that the number of Americans who can do a single push-up is likely only about 20 or 30 percent.

This broken gene may explain humans’ endurance

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

A “broken” gene may explain humans’ endurance:

Some clues came 20 years ago, when Ajit Varki, a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and colleagues unearthed one of the first genetic differences between humans and chimps: a gene called CMP-Neu5Ac Hydroxylase (CMAH). Other primates have this gene, which helps build a sugar molecule called sialic acid that sits on cell surfaces. But humans have a broken version of CMAH, so they don’t make this sugar, the team reported. Since then, Varki has implicated sialic acid in inflammation and resistance to malaria.

In the new study, Varki’s team explored whether CMAH has any impact on muscles and running ability, in part because mice bred with a muscular dystrophy–like syndrome get worse when they don’t have this gene. UCSD graduate student Jonathan Okerblom put mice with a normal and broken version of CMAH (akin to the human version) on small treadmills. UCSD physiologist Ellen Breen closely examined their leg muscles before and after running different distances, some after 2 weeks and some after 1 month.

After training, the mice with the human version of the CMAH gene ran 12% faster and 20% longer than the other mice, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “Nike would pay a lot of money” for that kind of increase in performance in their sponsored athletes, Lieberman says.

The team discovered that the “humanized” mice had more tiny blood vessels branching into their leg muscles, and — even when isolated in a dish — the muscles kept contracting much longer than those from the other mice. The humanlike mouse muscles used oxygen more efficiently as well. But the researchers still have no idea how the sugar molecule affects endurance, as it serves many functions in a cell.

Velocity is strangling baseball

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Velocity is strangling baseball:

Baseball’s timeless appeal is predicated upon an equilibrium between pitching and hitting, and in the past, when that equilibrium has been thrown off, the game has always managed, either organically or through small tweaks, to return to an acceptable balance.

But there is growing evidence that essential equilibrium has been distorted by the increasing number of pitchers able to throw the ball harder and faster.

[...]

The 2018 season was the first in history in which strikeouts outpaced hits, a trend that has accelerated so far in 2019. The ball is in play less than ever, with a record 35.4 percent of plate appearances in 2019 resulting in a strikeout, walk or home run. Teams are using an average of 3.3 relievers per game in 2019, just below last year’s all-time record of 3.4. The leaguewide batting average of .245 in 2019 is the lowest since 1972 and a drop of 26 points from 1999, at the height of the steroids era. The leaguewide strikeout rate of 8.78 per nine innings, also a record, is higher than the career rate of Roger Clemens.

[...]

Most, if not all, of this change can be traced back to the rising velocity of the fastball — the fundamental unit of pitching — from a leaguewide average of 89 mph in 2002, when FanGraphs first recorded data, to 92.9 mph so far this season. At the upper end of the spectrum, the shift is even more striking: In 2008, there were 196 pitches thrown at 100 mph or higher, according to Statcast data. In 2018, there were 1,320, a nearly sevenfold increase. In 2008, only 11 pitchers averaged 95 mph or higher; in 2018, 74 did. Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees and Jordan Hicks of the St. Louis Cardinals have both been clocked at 105 mph.

[...]

Here, via Statcast, are the slash-lines (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of MLB hitters in 2018 against four different pitch-speeds:

• Vs. 92 mph: .283/.364/.475
• Vs. 95 mph: .259/.342/.421
• Vs. 98 mph: .223/.310/.329
• Vs. 101 mph: .198/.257/.214

[...]

One seeming contradiction is that fastball usage, as a percentage of overall pitches, has been steadily decreasing, from 64.4 percent of all pitches in 2002 to just 52.8 percent so far this year. But that doesn’t mean pure velocity is any less effective — it merely indicates teams have learned to dole out fastballs in more effective patterns. The simple threat of a 99-mph fastball makes the 92-mph slider or the 90-mph change-up that much more effective.

[...]

In a 2018 study headed by former Red Sox trainer Mike Reinold, pitchers who went through a six-week velocity training program featuring weighted balls increased their velocity by an average of more than two mph but were “substantially” more likely to suffer arm injuries than those in the control group.

[...]

In 1893, when the mound was moved back 10 feet to its current distance, the change resulted in a 35-point jump in batting average and a 34 percent drop in strikeouts. By comparison, lowering the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969 resulted in more modest changes: an 11-point rise in batting average and a 2 percent drop in strikeouts.

Former NFL players live longer than the general population

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Former NFL players live longer than the general population:

One study from 2012 found that NFL players had overall decreased mortality as well as lower cardiovascular mortality than the general population. Another paper that year also found that overall mortality in NFL players was reduced, but did find that they had rates of neurodegenerative mortality that were three times higher than the general population.

They don’t live longer than other athletes, though:

Researchers looked at data from the NFL cohort, which was a database constructed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the ’90s and contains information on former players who participated in at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988. Weisskopf and colleagues then generated a comparable dataset for former MLB players. By then matching the 3,419 NFL players and the 2,708 MLB players to the National Death Index — which contains records and causes of deaths of U.S. citizens — the researchers compared mortality rates between the two groups.

The new work found that NFL players were about 2.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease and almost three times more likely than MLB players to die from neurodegenerative disease.

[...]

Among the NFL players in the study, far more died of cardiovascular disease than neurodegenerative disease: nearly 500 versus 39, respectively.

Jiemba Sands can move

Monday, May 20th, 2019

The oddly named Jiemba Sands has compiled his best Instagramwins and fails” into one YouTube montage and his acrobatic stunts into another:

Skip the ice

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Icing postworkout became practically mandatory after physician Gabe Mirkin coined the term RICE — Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation — in 1978, and its popularity continues today in marathon medical tents and professional locker rooms:

Ice is meant to slow blood flow, which reduces inflammation and pain. But, it turns out, that also can be counterproductive, as it inhibits the rebuilding of muscle and the restoration process. “Instead of promoting healing and recovery,” Aschwanden writes, “icing might actually impair it.” And that’s led to a growing backlash against icing, which even Mirkin has joined. Instead of rushing to the cold stuff, Aschwanden advises athletes to wait it out and leave time for the body to heal.

This isn’t a new discovery:

As early as 2006, exercise physiologist Motoi Yamane and researchers at Chukyo University in Aichi, in Japan, found that icing leg muscles after cycling or forearm handgrip exercises interfered with performance gains. Recently Yamane published a follow-up study at Aichi Mizuho College — again, using weighted handgrip exercises — that corroborates his earlier results: RICE is disadvantageous after training and messes with both muscular and vascular adaptations of resistance training.

Exercise physiologist Jonathan Peake and his colleagues at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia agree. They’re among the latest researchers to test ice baths on athletes. In a recent study presented as an abstract at the 2014 American College of Sports Medicine conference, the researchers put two groups of young men on a bi-weekly resistance-training program. The first group took ice baths after each training session (ten minutes in water at around 50 degrees), while the other group did a low-intensity active warm-down on a bicycle. It turned out that icing suppressed the cell-signaling response that regulates muscle growth. Three months later, the scientists found that the ice-bath group didn’t gain nearly as much muscle as the bicycle warm-down group.

Peake concluded that it’s probably not a good idea to be using ice baths after every training session, particularly when athletes are in season. In a parallel study presented March 30 at the Experimental Biology meeting, Peake also looked at muscle biopsies in a rat contusion injury model (researchers dropped weights on rats’ leg muscles to cause bruising). An ice bath on the bruised muscles was enough to suppress inflammation and delay muscle fiber regeneration. For the minor muscle injuries, icing was detrimental rather beneficial, prolonging the healing process that inflammation brings.

The two new studies hammer a couple more nails in the RICE coffin, according to Dr. Gabe Mirkin. He was the sports medicine doctor who originally coined the acronym, which stands for rest, ice, compression, elevation, in 1978, and has since quit recommending it to athletes. “We never rest or ice athletes anymore. RICE is fine for someone who doesn’t need to get back to training quickly, but it’s terrible for competitive athletes.” he said.

More movement, Dr. Mirkin says, as shown in Peake’s research, is the best way to speed up muscle recovery. The new research is an extension of a growing body of evidence over the last several years that now makes clear that the only advantage of icing muscles is for temporarily pain relief. “About all icing is good for is a placebo effect,” Dr. Mirkin says. “There’s no evidence that icing speeds healing or makes you stronger; in fact, it makes you weaker so you can’t do your next hard workout.

There’s never been a case of a runner dying of dehydration on a marathon course

Monday, February 25th, 2019

What to drink during exercise, and how much, is an ongoing debate among athletes and health professionals:

While daily water-intake recommendations vary (the National Institute of Health suggests that men consume three liters per day and women 2.2 liters), athletes are invariably told to drink at every opportunity. This hydration preoccupation — often prompted by science of limited rigor and fueled by marketing from sports-drink companies — has lead to people drinking even when they’re not thirsty, especially when working out. And according to Aschwanden, that could be a big problem. “The body is highly adapted to cope with losing multiple liters of fluid,” she writes.

In fact, the evidence cited in her book shows that drinking too much water poses a much greater risk than drinking too little. Overhydration can lead to blood-sodium levels becoming diluted to dangerous and even fatally low concentrations (a condition known as hyponatremia). This became a recurring problem, for example, at the Comrades Marathon — a famous 90-kilometer race in South Africa — after it added water stations for the first time in 1981. “There’s never been a case of a runner dying of dehydration on a marathon course,” recounts Aschwanden. “But since 1993, at least five marathoners have died from hyponatremia that developed during a race.” Drinking when thirsty, she advises, is the much better approach than wrought water consumption.

Your dominant frequency is how many times per second your brain pulses alpha waves

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Magnetic EEG/ECG-guided Resonant Therapy, or MeRT, aims to return a person’s brain to the beat of its natural information-processing rhythm, or its dominant frequency:

Your dominant frequency is how many times per second your brain pulses alpha waves. “We’re all somewhere between 8 and 13 hertz. What that means is that we encode information 8 to 13 times per second. You’re born with a signature. There are pros and cons to all of those. If you’re a slower thinker, you might be more creative. If you’re faster, you might be a better athlete,” Won says.

Navy SEALS tend to have higher-than-average dominant frequencies, around 11 or 13 Hz. But physical and emotional trauma can disrupt that, causing the back of the brain and the front of the brain to emit electricity at different rates. The result: lopsided brain activity. MeRT seeks to detect arrhythmia, find out which regions are causing it, and nudge the off-kilter ones back onto the beat.

“Let’s just say in the left dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, towards the front left side of the brain, if that’s cycling at 2 hertz, where we are 3 or 4 standard deviations below normal, you can pretty comfortably point to that and say that these neurons aren’t firing correctly. If we target that area and say, ‘We are going to nudge that area back to, say, 11 hertz,’ some of those symptoms may improve,” says Won. “In the converse scenario, in the right occipital parietal lobe where, if you’ve taken a hit, you may be cycling too fast. Let’s say it’s 30 hertz. You’re taking in too much information, oversampling your environment. And if you’re only able to process it using executive function 11 times per second, that information overload might manifest as anxiety.”

If the theory behind MeRT is true, it could explain, at least partially, why a person may suffer from many mental-health symptoms: anxiety, depression, attention deficits, etc. The pharmaceutical industry treats them with separate drugs, but they all may have a similar cause, and thus be treatable with one treatment. That, anyway, is what Won’s preliminary results are suggesting.

“You don’t see these type of outcomes with psychopharma or these other types of modalities, so it was pretty exciting,” he said.

There are lots of transcranial direct stimulation therapies out there, with few results to boast of. What distinguishes MeRT from other attempts to treat mental disorders with electrical fields is the use of EEG as a guide.

She’s convinced she’s having more impact on each individual

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Mainstream medicine doesn’t have a great track record:

After 12 years of practicing family medicine in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ronda Rockett was losing faith in her ability to help the majority of her patients.

Patient after patient would stream into her clinic with diabetes, weight problems, and heart disease. Rockett followed the medical guidelines, recommending healthier diets and more exercise. But despite her best efforts — even texting and emailing motivational follow-ups — many failed to change at all, either because they didn’t want to or didn’t have the means.

In 2013, eager to try something new, Rockett decided to quit medicine and close up her practice. What she did next, she says, is the most meaningful contribution to health care she’s made to date. She opened a CrossFit gym.

CrossFit is a high-intensity interval training and resistance exercise routine known for instilling a cult-like devotion among followers and promoting the low-carb diet. By the time Rockett opened a gym, she was already a devotee. Now age 51, she can do 32 pullups and deadlift 240 pounds. She attributes her fitness and lowered cholesterol to the program. And she believes she can help people make more substantive changes in their lives through CrossFit than she ever could practicing medicine.

“It’s exciting that I can treat and cure medical problems in the gym,” she said. “Just in the last week alone, I’ve gotten three different texts from people saying, ‘I don’t think you understand how much this has changed my life.’” Though she had 2,000 regular patients at her clinic and now works with just 70 regulars at her gym, she’s convinced she’s having more impact on each individual. Plus, she said, “This is more fulfilling.”

One continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

When I listened to the audiobook version of Endurance, I thought it definitely qualified as a “harrowing” tale. British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole did not go well, but modern endurance athlete Colin O’Brady‘s recent attempt to cross Antarctica, solo and unaided, has gone well:

Day 54: FINISH LINE!!! I did it! The Impossible First. 32 hours and 30 minutes after leaving my last camp early Christmas morning, I covered the remaining ~80 miles in one continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line. The wooden post in the background of this picture marks the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins. As I pulled my sled over this invisible line, I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided. While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced. I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey. I’m delirious writing this as I haven’t slept yet.

Colin O'Brady in Antarctica

There is so much to process and integrate and there will be many more posts to acknowledge the incredible group of people who supported this project. But for now, I want to simply recognize my #1 who I, of course, called immediately upon finishing. I burst into tears making this call. I was never alone out there. @jennabesaw you walked every step with me and guided me with your courage and strength. WE DID IT!! We turned our dream into reality and proved that The Impossible First is indeed possible. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela.
#TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

Should we be encouraging this?

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

I’m beginning to think men’s gymnastics should revolve athletes daring each other to do ever-crazier stunts:

Any idiot can train himself into the ground

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama discusses the importance of mentally disengaging from work and practice:

A group of German and US researchers conducted a study of 109 individuals. The setup was pretty simple, consisting of two surveys, spaced 4 weeks apart to see how participants’ mental and emotional states might change over time.

The researchers were primarily interested in the relationship between psychological detachment (our ability to disengage from work during our “off” hours — a key factor in greater well-being and performance), exhaustion (feeling fatigued, emotionally drained/overwhelmed, and unable to meet the demands of our work), time pressure, and pleasurable leisure activities (the degree to which we engage in activities that recharge our batteries and balance out our work demands).

There were a couple interesting findings that came out of the resulting data.

Exhaustion begets exhaustion

You would think that emotionally exhausted folks would be more detached and disengaged from work in their off-work hours. Paradoxically, the opposite seems to be true.

The data suggest that individuals who were exhausted had an increasingly difficult time disconnecting from work concerns as the weeks went by. The idea being, when we’re exhausted, we tend not to do our best work, which makes us feel less capable of meeting the demands of the situation, which makes us worry more and expend even more energy, effort, and time trying to make up for our sub-par work, which only keeps the cycle of worry/practice/exhaustion going.

To use a music example, when we have a big audition coming up, there’s a tendency to worry more about our level of preparation, which leads us to practice more, worry more, and obsess more, which in turn makes it harder to disengage, take a break, and recoup our energy outside of the practice room, so we can dive back in refreshed, recharged, and ready to do our most productive and focused work.

Indeed, someone recently suggested to me that while our instinct when behind in our work is to put in a few extra hours at the office after work to catch up, what ends up happening is that we get home late, feel even more tired and drained, get less rest and relaxation, and return to work tired yet again to repeat the cycle. Instead, she suggested that it’s more productive to go home early, get quality R&R, and go to work early the next morning, fresher, more productive, and more motivated to get things done.

Time pressure makes things worse

The other finding was that time pressure seems to make detaching from work more difficult if you’re already feeling exhausted. As in, exhausted folks find it increasingly difficult to mentally detach from work and get the mental/physical break they need when they feel like they’re on a time crunch.

This makes sense too, as the less time we have to prepare, and the closer we get to the day of a big audition, the more likely we are to worry, stress, and obsess about it, even when we’re not practicing.

[...]

As Olympic marathoner Keith Brantly once said, “Any idiot can train himself into the ground; the trick is working in training to get gradually stronger.”