Zenman's Blog:
Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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Stress - Recovery - Adaptation

Effective training is a lot like juggling three balls.  Our three balls are stress, recovery and adaptation.  Like juggling, there is a perceptive art to this.  Even with the best training program in the world, you must accurately perceive and evaluate your current state of readiness -  your response to the daily stresses you experience - to know what will constitute the most effective workouts for today.  

How do you evaluate your current state of readiness each morning, to make brilliant and appropriate workout choices?

We tend to identify athletic training exclusively as the workouts we perform - the long bike ride, the running intervals, the 100-yard swimming repeats.  However, the workouts provide only the stress component.  Without a balance of recovery and adaptation, we end up excavating a trench of overtraining, injury, illness and burnout.  When the trench gets really deep, it can be difficult to climb back out.  

I know the trenches very well!  I’ve experienced chronic adrenal fatigue syndrome (CAFS) more than once.  

Never again!  I’m a great juggler now!  

I keep those three elements in balanced circulation, and enjoy my multisport lifestyle without interruption.  I’ve also learned a tremendous amount about nutrition and supplementation from my Hammer “O’hana” - (that’s Hawaiian for “family”) - since those days of CAFS.  Hammer goes a long way in supporting me to enjoy a sustainable multisport lifestyle, but each of us needs an honest and accurate protocol for evaluating our readiness state each day.

Resting Pulse Rate

You can begin your daily readiness evaluation by measuring your resting pulse rate when you wake up.  There is no one perfect protocol for doing this - just make sure you are consistent in the way you measure it each day.  You can simply find your pulse on your wrist and count for 30 seconds.  Double that for a “beats per minute” (BPM) figure.  

Within a week or two, if you are training sensibly, you will determine a baseline figure.  Given adequate recovery, this is going to be a consistent value that is your lowest heart rate.  The morning after a hard day, if you are not fully recovered, you may find this value is 5 or more beats higher than your baseline.  That’s a clear indication that your most effective training for that day will focus on active recovery.

Sleep Quality

Quality and quantity of sleep can also be indicators of your stress-recovery-adaptation balance.  I may fall into bed exhausted after a stressful day (either from hard training or from other challenges in life), sleep for 1-2 hours, then wake up restless and sleep poorly for the rest of the night.  This is a clear indication that my cortisol levels are high, that I am struggling to recover and adapt.

Zenman’s Morning Ritual

For me, everyday begins with the same ritual:  I grate fresh ginger, add it to the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil.  I let it simmer as I begin to awaken my body with a few minutes of T’ai Chi Hip Warm-ups.  This easy exercise increases blood flow, stimulates synovial fluid in all my joints and effectively trains relaxed mobility.  

The capacity to maintain mobility in a joint while it is weighted is a tremendous asset to every endurance athlete.  Yup!  Hip Warm-ups every day - for over 30 years!

Next I do a 30-minute T’ai Chi form, usually with my eyes closed.  “Blind T’ai Chi” piques my proprioceptive awareness, first thing every morning.  

Proprioception is the most essential element in my craft as an endurance athlete.  Usually, after just 2-3 minutes, I feel a distinct gentle buzz throughout my neural system -  a deep internal massage - that I know as the flow of chi energy.  If I am mentally distracted (agitated) or physically scattered (fatigued), the quality of my energy is diminished.  T’ai Chi provides an accurate evaluation of my state of readiness.  

This daily 30-minute T’ai Chi practice is the most valuable investment I have made in my life.

When I finish T‘ai Chi, I turn off the stove and pour a large cup of ginger tea.  While it is cooling, I do one more Taoist exercise called Compression Breathing.  This practice is not well-known in the world.  It is a potent way of de-toxing the body.  

One should gain experience with T’ai Chi or Qi Gong first.  (For more on Compression Breathing and advanced Taoist practices, refer to books written by Mantak Chia.)  I’ve evolved my own system of compression breathing, focusing on nine distinct energy centers in my body.  I experience burning physical discomfort every time I do this practice - after all, this is a de-tox!  

This 15-20 minute anabolic practice provides me with even greater evaluation of my state of readiness.  When I am finished, my body is very warm and my bowels are ready for a quick trip to the bathroom.  (Not once have I waited in the porta-potty line at a race.)

I sit quietly for a few minutes, drink the ginger tea and listen to my body.  With this guidance and discernment, I make intelligent decisions in my workout choices.


I don’t claim that my morning ritual is superior.  It’s a consistent, patient process that enables me to simultaneously evaluate my readiness and warm-up.  It keeps me injury-free and healthy.  If you are consistent and patient, and invest just 20 minutes each morning to listen to your body through some mindful movement, and avoid being headstrong about what you “should” do, you probably enjoy the art of juggling your training as much as I do!

Originally published in Hammer Nutrition News, Issue 72, Nov/Dec 2010

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