Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pull me up, Scotty.

A very popular topic amongst my running friends is cross-training. Crossfit seems to be the flavor du jour, and I believe that is for very good reason. It's built upon what I believe is a solid philosophy of interval circuits, and it is "open source" to meet the needs of the widest possible variety of fitness levels. My local gym, however, is a nearly 30-minute drive from my home and is crazy expensive! What's a lowly barefoot runner living on teacher pay to do?

Well, I have been slowly collecting items and evolving my garage into a training grounds to deal with my lack of overall strength without having to pay outrageous gym fees. My intention is to create a versatile space with the necessary tools for total-body workout of various designs while keeping costs way down and not taking over my parking/workspace. This is my favorite tool.
My hangboard is mounted on 1/2" plywood above the steps down to my garage. It's a perfect location where I can't help but see it every time I leave the house.
Wider shot from the garage entrance. Please ignore the clutter. It's quite a bit better now.
I've had my training board for a while, but I just put it up (with the help my my bro, Wesley) in our house recently. My lovely wife bought it for me for Fathers' Day a couple years ago, and it unfortunately sat after we moved. In the last six or so weeks, I have gone from a feeble two - maybe three - pull ups to a solid twelve dead-hangers. Since starting, I have seen consistent improvement in my overall upper body strength, shoulder development, grip strength, and core stability. Perhaps the area that I have seen the most drastic difference is my recovery: I can do sets of pull ups now where just a few weeks ago I would eek out three or four reps and that was it for the rest of the day...maybe two days. Push ups are also easier which I suspect is a result of both shoulder and core strength.

My training has consisted of simply executing as many good-form pull ups as possible every time I walk out the door. When I reach failure, I just hang there until my grip is exhausted. Sophisticated, I know. Every once in a while, maybe once/week, I have been integrating sets of pull ups into a complete workout. That's it. I have just begun trying some of the more advanced elements on the board: L-hangs and leg raises (core-specific workouts) and some of the smaller holds. I shall have an iron grip and a six pack!!! My goal is 20 pull ups before the Summer is over.

Oh, and I don't kip. Kipping is for losers. :)

Here is the link to the board I have. It goes for about $80 at which is retail. In my opinion, this is a much better tool than a pull up bar. It is more versatile, practical, and real-world applicable. I like it!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Next Big Thing - Products to get excited about: Part 1 - Skora

So, barefoot running as a movement is officially having a serious impact on major shoe design throughout the industry. "Barefoot" and minimalist shoes are now making up a significant percentage of overall running shoe sales in the U.S., and all indications are that the trend is only going to increase. The fact that some of the big boys (New Balance, Merrell, Nike!, etc.) are on board with increasingly minimal footwear is great news for gear junkies like myself, but I get really fired up by the smaller, innovative upstart companies that are pushing the envelope in innovation and design. I most recently reviewed the exquisite, ultra-minimalist Altra Adam and found a new favorite road shoe.

All the pretty colors!

With a market so newly-flooded with intriguing minimalist shoes, one may ask where a smaller company fits into the picture. Skora, a complete newcomer, appears to be aiming at becoming the Apple or Volkswagen of the running shoe world. Their product line, currently consisting of the asymmetrically-laced Form and the criss-crossed-with-velcro-straps Base road running models, boasts high-quality materials, innovative and unique designs, a "connected" running experience, and a fetching aesthetic. For a complete list of features, check out the tech section of Skora's website. The combination of these factors really sets Skora apart from the field, and their prices reflect it ($125-$195). If the shoes are as good as they claim, however, I believe the prices will prove quite reasonable. I would expect the Base to appeal greatly to the triathlon crowd which would put it in direct competition with another boutique-cum-heavy-hitter Newton. The Form is a bit harder to categorize, but its appeal to minimalists is already clear simply based on its zero-drop, proprioception-focused construction, which is still quite rare especially in such a neat looking package. I hope to be able to review one or both of the Skora models in the near future to bring everyone the full picture with a feature-by-feature breakdown. *fingers crossed*
Interesting marketing angle. Oddly enough, Skora's shoe might just be a preview of the future of running shoes - making minimalism the new normal. I dig it.
The two flagships. Note the prices.
One item that Skora has unquestionably gotten 100% right is the educational side of the running equation. Skora seems to have taken cues from the likes of Merrell and VIVOBAREFOOT by rolling out instructional materials that teach good running form. The fact that the majority of runners transitioning to minimalist shoes that have not run barefoot/minimalist before are going to have to drastically change how they run is embraced by Skora. Their method: "The Three Rs." They stand for reconnect, reposition, and rhythm.

Related anecdote: I remember being a teenager watching videos of skateboarders shredding a session down an entire city block and getting completely pumped to go ride my skateboard. As I matured, I recognized in myself a love  of watching videos of athletes doing athletic things athletically because it always motivates the heck out of me. Runners with strong form now top the list (followed by rock climbers/boulderers; I could watch that crap all day!). If you suffer from the same tendencies, here's a bit of motivation from Skora to give you that push off the couch. Enjoy!

For more info on form, products, and pricing, check out or