Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ebola Precipitates the Zombie Apocalypse

It's as predictable as a Hollywood blockbuster.  Ebola reportedly created the first two recorded zombies.
Two Ebola patients, who died of the virus in separate communities in Nimba County have reportedly resurrected in the county. The victims, both females, believed to be in their 60s and 40s respectively, died of the Ebola virus recently in Hope Village Community and the Catholic Community in Ganta, Nimba. 
But to the amazement of residents and onlookers on Monday, the deceased reportedly regained life in total disbelief. The New Dawn Nimba County correspondent said the late Dorris Quoi of Hope Village Community and the second victim only identified as Ma Kebeh, said to be in her late 60s, were about to be taken for burial when they resurrected. 
I hope you have your supplies of water, food, first aid stuff, guns, ammo and melee weapons ready, because all your World War Z (the book, not the movie) fantasies are about to come true.

Coincidentally (or not), the latest season of The Walking Dead starts on 12 October.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Motorcycle USA Dynoes 2015 Indian Scout

I'm pretty excited about the 2015 Indian Scout.  The bike is strong evidence that Polaris has this latest incarnation of the Indian Motorcycle company dialed in, which is great considering Indian's prominence in American motorcycle history.

More importantly (to me), the Scout's engine appears to be a harbinger of even more exciting things to come.  I really think the Scout may usher in a new era of large-scale diversification in American-made bikes.  For years I've found it sad that Harley Davidson refuses to compete with the rest of the world in any segment outside cruisers.  And I was disappointed when Polaris decided to do the same thing with Victory.

Please understand, I love the fact that small manufacturers like Erik Buell Racing (EBR) and Motus are making the bikes Harley and Victory don't have the guts to make.  But small manufacturers lack the economies of scale that make great products affordable for us ordinary folk.  I just can't afford a Motus or an EBR for now.

Now that Polaris has Indian to take the traditional cruiser fight to Harley, however, Victory is free to branch out into non-cruiser bikes.  And the Scout's 1130 cc, narrow angle V-twin is the power plant that can finally make it happen.

Check out this dynamometer graph from Motorcycle USA.

Tue, 85 hp isn't all that impressive for an 1130 cc, dual overhead cam, four valve per cylinder V-twin.  Keep in mind that these numbers are taken at the wheel (after losses to friction through the drive train), and that the engine is in a relatively mild state of tune, as befitting a cruiser.

That torque curve, though, is beautiful.  From about 2,600 rpm to almost 8,000 rpm, torque remains fairly constant.  That is a very flexible engine.  There seems to be a lot of room for Polaris/Victory to adapt this engine to many different uses - from a cafe racer, to an adventure touring bike, to (dare I say it?) a 1200 cc, V-twin super bike.

Imagine a major American motorcycle manufacturer with an honest-to-goodness full line of street bikes that an ordinary Joe can afford.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Hand Grip Strength and Longevity

I wrote earlier that the Muscle Mass Index predicts longevity far more effectively than the far more commonly used Body Mass Index (BMI).  A couple days ago, the NYT published an interview in which Warren Sanderson, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Stony Brook University, explains that hand grip strength predicts longevity.
Hand-grip strength is an amazingly good predictor of future rates of mortality and morbidity, or sickness. It’s been measured for individuals in surveys across the world. We now have comparable data on about 50,000 people from the U.S., many European countries, Japan, South Korea, China. A substantial body of research suggests that this can be used as a reliable predictor of aging.
Here is the abstract from the study referenced in the NYT article.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: One use of clinical measures is the prediction of future outcomes. The purpose of this systematic review was to summarize the literature addressing the value of grip strength as a predictor of important outcomes. 
METHODS: Relevant literature was located using 4 bibliographic databases, searching article reference lists, and perusing personal files. 
RESULTS: Forty-five relevant research articles were found. The research involved both healthy subjects and patients; it tended to focus on middle-aged and older adults. The primary outcome addressed was mortality/survival (24 articles), but disability (9 articles), complications and/or increased length of stay (12 articles), and other outcomes were also examined. Low grip strength was shown consistently to be associated with a greater likelihood of premature mortality, the development of disability, and an increased risk of complications or prolonged length of stay after hospitalization or surgery. 
CONCLUSIONS: Given its predictive validity and simplicity, dynamometrically measured grip strength should be considered as a vital sign useful for screening middle-aged and older adults. 
It's frustrating that Prof Sanderson doesn't even bother to ask what seems to me an obvious question: why does hand grip strength predict longevity and morbidity so well?

Aren't researchers supposed to ask questions like that?  Isn't that a big part of research in any field?  And while we're at it; aren't such "why" questions a big part of journalism?  The interviewer didn't bother to ask the obvious question either!
635 lb deadlift at the 2014 CrossFit Games

Not that anyone asked me (when have I ever let that stop me?), but I think I know the answer, and it goes back to the Muscle Mass Index.

As a general rule, a person who is stronger overall will have more hand grip strength than a person who is weaker overall.

For example, a person with a 500 lb deadlift 1-rep-max has a far stronger grip than a person with a 200 lb deadlift 1-rep-max, because the deadlift requires the lifter to grip the bar to lift it off the ground.  But the 500 lb deadlifter's entire body is also stronger than that of the 200 lb deadlifter, because the deadlift employs pretty much every muscle in the body.  Consequently, the 500 lb deadlifter has greater muscle mass than the 200 lb deadlifter.

That's why hand grip strength predicts health and longevity.  It's not because fit, healthy people's hands are stronger than frail, sickly people's hands, it's because fit, healthy people's entire bodies are stronger than frail, sickly people's bodies.

Prof Sanderson, however, doesn't bother to ask the question, so he never arrives at the answer.  Instead, he makes the following silly - and potentially dangerous - statement.
Measuring hand-grip strength is very simple and cheap. We think every primary care doctor should have a dynamometer in their office. At every visit, the doctor could check grip strength for older patients. If someone was in the 45th percentile for their age and the measurements were stable, great. But if that person suddenly dropped to the 25th percentile, then that’s a sign that the doctor should look seriously at what might be going on. 
We view this in a larger context. There are going to be more measures than this one. We want to look next at measures of lower-body strength. It may very well be a measure that looks at how long it takes someone to rise from a chair. Then, we will have an upper-body measure and a lower-body measure, and we can compare the two in terms of how aging goes. We envision one day that physicians will have standard age-related tables for these measures and chart their patients’ progress, just as they do with height and weight for children.
It's silly because there is no need to measure upper and lower body strength separately.  A full-body lift, like the deadlift, measures the strength of the entire body simultaneously.

It's dangerous, because if doctors really did follow Prof Sanderson's recommendation and started testing their aging patients' grip strength, they'd also require their patients to do dumb things like squeezing hand grip strengthening devices to improve their health and longevity.  Again, the point is not that stronger hands = longer life.  The point is that stronger body = longer life, and it just so happens that stronger body also = stronger hands.

A far better test would be the deadlift, because it actually measures what matters - the overall strength of the entire body.  An even better measuring tool would be the squat, because it requires more mobility and flexibility than the deadlift.  A person that can continue to squat to depth well into old age will likely be far more independent, and therefore have far better quality of life, than one who can't.

Ideally, the test would be the CrossFit total - squat, press and deadlift.  However, that much testing is probably not necessary.  The squat or deadlift alone would do.  And if doctors adopted that kind of test, it would encourage a lot more people to train for full-body strength, which is the most useful thing a person can do to improve health and fitness in the long run.

Some will protest that the elderly can't lift weights.  It's too dangerous for them, they'll claim.  To these critics I say, watch this 73-year-old grandmother with a deadlift PR of 181.5 lb.

You can bet Ms Sandra would crush the hand grip strength test.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Scott Panchick's 500 lb Back Squat

Scott Panchick, three-time CrossFit Games competitor and 5th-place finisher in 2014, recently posted a video of himself squatting 500 lb, a new PR for him.

When you film a squat from a relatively high angle, looking down at the athlete, it's often difficult to tell if the athlete lowered his/her hips below the top of the knee, as they should.  Scott Panchick's squat dropped so low that its below-parallel depth was easy to see even from the relatively high camera angle.

Mr Panchick lists his weight as 190 lb on the CrossFit Games website.  A 263% body weight back squat is an impressive accomplishment, but the reason I posted this here is that I think this example - along with many others - contradicts some criticisms commonly leveled at CrossFit as a training regimen.

The most obvious is that CrossFit keeps people weak.  Clearly, Scott Panchick and all other CrossFit Games athletes are far from weak.  Yes, they are elite athletes, and therefore not representative of all people who train using CrossFit.  However, their programming demonstrates how pretty much anyone can train with CrossFit and get a whole lot stronger.  Mr Panchick's training sessions, like those of most CrossFit Games athletes, typically start with a weightlifting movement, followed by some high intensity conditioning.  Obviously, few of us would want to employ the level of volume or intensity they do, but if a person scales that kind of program to his/her ability level and progressively increases the load over time, that person could continue to improve for years, just as all CrossFit Games athletes have.

That brings me to the second criticism often leveled at CrossFit.  Critics often claim CrossFit only helps novices improve, and that improvement ceases after a few weeks or months of training.  Mr Panchick and other CrossFit Games athletes are clearly far from novices, and yet they continue to improve year after year, just as ordinary athletes of all ages in CrossFit gyms all over the world continue to improve year after year.  That wouldn't be possible if CrossFit only worked for novices and only for a few weeks or months.

Finally, I'll address one criticism that is accurate, but misses the point.  Many who see Mr Panchick's squat will comment that if he focused exclusively on strength training, he'd be even stronger.  That is undoubtedly true.  It is also true that if a decathlete focused exclusively on the 100 m sprint, or the long jump, or the shot put, or the pole vault, or the 1500 m run, he'd be much better at sprinting, jumping, shot putting, pole vaulting or running 1500 m.  But then he could never hope to earn the title of "World's Greatest Athlete".

Likewise, the CrossFit Games does not claim to find the strongest on Earth, but "the fittest on Earth".  Fitness is a combination of ten components of which strength is only one.  It's the most important one, but it's still only one.  Were Mr Panchick to focus exclusively on strength, his competence in the other nine components would decrease.  That's fine for a power lifter who is chasing absolute strength exclusively, but not for an athlete who wishes to maximize fitness as a whole.

Mr Panchick comments on his Instagram video that he is also chasing a five minute mile.  Think about that.  Many people can run a five minute mile.  Many can squat 500 lb.  How many can do both?

As Rich Froning said upon winning his fourth straight CrossFit Games, "This stuff works".

Monday, August 18, 2014

Matt Chan Takes a Bad Spill

Talk about unknown and unknowable!  Multiple-time CrossFit Games athlete, Matt Chan, and his wife Cherie (one of the coaches at my Level 1 course) went on a seemingly benign mountain bike ride and Matt took a spill that almost killed him.

Check out the graphic scene at 4:15!

My favorite quotes from the video:
Cameraman: You're definitely the most jacked dude on Earth using a walker.
Cherie: That's what the nurses thought, too.
Cherie: My mother-in-law said, "This is why you guys do CrossFit, because when something like this happens - and you never know when it's going to happen - you can bounce right back, because you're so much stronger.  Look how much better he can support himself because his upper body is so strong."
You got it, Mama Chan.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bacon Powered Motorcycle

I love motorcycles, and I love bacon.  How did I not think of this first?

Source: Auto Blog
The machine started life as an EVA Track T800CDI diesel-powered motorcycle, hailing from The Netherlands, and a bacon-grease conversion was performed by the crew from CSE Engineering, who are accompanying the procession as it crosses the western half of the United States as part of a 12-person team that is filming and documenting the adventure
 Here's a series of videos on the bike's and its rider's adventures across the US.

Motorcycles and bacon - what could be better?