On Deep Fitness

finding flow in fitness

Here are some good things. 

Today, I rode my mountain bike for almost 2.5 hours and felt a deep sense of wellbeing and happiness. It dawned on me that there is a state of ease, one in which we can, in the words of former Olympic running coach Arthur Lydiard, “train, not strain.”

To be able to push your body to the point of effort while keeping something in reserve feels as though it creates energy. While that might sound like a silly statement violating the laws of thermodynamics, it’s just another way of saying that some exercise leaves you feeling better off after you finish than before you started. And the next day, you feel ready for more.

The opposite approach would be to adopt a “no pain, no gain” philosophy. I’ve done that multiple times, and the inevitable consequence has always been deep, accumulating fatigue, mental fog, trouble sleeping, and a sense of unease. 

Proponents of hard, “crash training” point to the improvements that it can bring if you follow it with periods of deep rest. While that might work for some people, in practice I found that my immune system usually suffered, and crash training would lead to my having to take more time off the bike than I wanted, and my overall fitness level would not increase in the way that I wanted. 

For me, training is about finding flow. That’s a potentially nebulous term, so I’ll tell you how I experience it. Flow is being able to read the contours of a mountain bike trail, with its roots and dirt and rocks, and then rise off the saddle and make coordinated efforts with my entire body to move up, over, and across the trail with a sense of ease. Flow is being able to process your environment, adapt to it, and move as required without undue struggle. Flow is always keeping something in reserve. 

(On the other hand, flow is not chasing a stopwatch, and it’s not chasing a number on a heart rate or power meter.)

It’s interesting to think of flow because it’s one of those things that can seem both effortless and elusive. When I used to train for bike races, I had some of the most painful and worst physical experiences when I’d prepared “by the book.” Back in the 90’s, that meant lots of interval training, sprints, and group rides, to the point that, after 10-15 hours of riding per week, my legs were fried. 

Granted, many folks reading this, perhaps yourself included, may not have the “problem” of doing too much lactate threshold training over the course of a week. But as I grew hungry to get faster, I realized that I wasn’t going to get there by doing what the bike magazines said I should do. I needed to look at the methods of the old school bike coaches and riders. I needed to find my own flow. 

Some say that a broken heart can be one of the best diet plans. I’ll agree with that, and also add that a broken heart can be a powerful catalyst for fitness if you harness it wisely. I recall the first broken heart I had, over a girl. 

I was 19. 

I took to riding my bicycle to get through the pain, and one hour rides stretched to two hours, and eventually up to five hours. I wasn’t trying to go fast. The motion of my legs and the feeling of my breathing was enough to make me feel better. I was taking classes at Bowdoin that Fall, as a sophomore, and I was able to fit the long rides around school. I didn’t go to parties. I just rode my bike. 

Even though I didn’t do any structured interval training, the time in the saddle began to do something that felt like magic. I could pedal with such low levels of lactate and at such high speeds that it felt like I’d discovered another level of fitness. I did a 100 mile group ride in the New Hampshire mountains and arrived more than 30 minutes ahead of the second finisher. For me, the effort had been predominantly fat fueled, although I remembered to eat a sugary snack every 90 minutes to keep my glycogen stores from dropping too low. 

Later that Fall, I entered a cyclocross race, rode off the front, and lapped most of the field on the way to victory. While that was a harder effort, it still felt like I was keeping something in reserve. 

It was an incredible feeling to have such a high level of fitness. Exercise was how I found flow. Once you experience that level of fitness, the memory of it doesn’t leave. You know that your body is indeed capable of extraordinary things. 

What brought a premature end to it that season was a knee injury that flared up, and a college health service that told me to stay off the bike and take ibuprofen. It didn’t work. And then, I experienced a rapid decline in both fitness and happiness as I turned to food for comfort and allowed myself to get wrapped up in the stress of trying to perform academically in an environment I didn’t particularly enjoy. Really, I wasn’t cut from the type of cloth that would do well at a place like Bowdoin. I went there and stayed mostly to please my folks. What I really wanted to do was try to go pro on my bike and then become a pilot. 

We all have our setbacks, and they help us grow. What I can reflect on now is what a useful tool BionicGym would have been had it been around then. I could have used it to preserve my fitness when I had my knee acting up from pedaling. 

My fitness was my source of sanity and strength. To be so fit that you feel deep reserves of endurance is to cultivate a sense of confidence and self reliance that puts you at ease with the world. You become less swayed by matters that might have vexed you before, like papers to write, jobs to do, meetings to attend, responsibilities to uphold. 

Speaking of endurance and strength, I had a chance to interview Kokhuyana Dahl, aka “Bru”. She is one of the most kick ass ladies with whom I’ve had the pleasure to speak, and she’s also a near fanatical believer in the power of BionicGym.

As an ultra-athlete, she used BionicGym exclusively for aerobic training over a period of several months. She was taking a break from running because she was suffering from terrible shin splints. (The shin splints were an artifact of getting surgery to be put back together again after the vehicle she was riding in hit an IED in Congo.)

Bru used her BionicGym for up to eight hours per day and had a lab-confirmed increase of VO2Max of 27%. For an untrained person, that would be a fantastic result. For a trained endurance athlete, such as Bru, that kind of improvement is usually only attainable through pharmacological means such as blood doping through transfusions or EPO. For Bru, the improvement was “all natural” and brought about solely through the use of BionicGym. 

Hey, thanks for reading. I know this more personal approach to the blog is a bit of a change. I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts around flow, endurance training, and Bionicgym. I was a BionicGym skeptic at the very beginning, right up until I had a chance to speak with Dr. Louis for an hour. After that, I knew he’d created something extraordinary, and the question became, “How do we help the most people possible with BionicGym?”

If you have BionicGym and you’re already happily training with it and seeing results, great. If you’re on the fence about it, or haven’t really committed to using it, keep in mind that it’s not a black and white world when it comes to exercise. BionicGym is particularly effective at burning extra sugar, and it’s the only form of aerobic exercise that targets your fast twitch muscle fibers first, making it a powerful training option if you want to consider it. I wish I’d had it when I had to take a break from cycling. Come to think of it, it would have also been perfect for when I was a stay-at-home dad and had to dramatically drop my training hours.

Either way, I wish you the best and hope to write and share more with you.

Take care,