24 May 2009


Periodization has been a very interesting concept to me recently. Mostly because it's been something I've been reading about a lot in fitness training manuals and books. I recently finished reading a book by Ori Hofmekler called Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat and I must say I'm really beginning to dig this biological stuff! He goes into the deeper details of fitness to the level of hormones and how our bodies are actually pretty damn balanced. I mean, it's very hard to get it out of whack unless you keep it that way chronically. It was quite interesting to finally really understand the biological processes that your body goes through that explains the reasoning for a zig-zag diet and how many extreme diets, like the low-carb diet are eventually going to come back and bite you in the ass. I've never been a fan of taking information at face value, I want to know why this information works before I'll truly believe it. I mean, learning about the mitochondria size of different muscle fibres and how they affect the ways your body burns fat is really interesting and brings a whole new level of insight into the ways I can design my own workout routines. Too often you see people say stuff like "oh I just follow this workout because it works", sure that's great, but eventually you're going to run into a brick wall because there are only so many generic workouts that'll work for you. Eventually you're going to get more and more specific with your goals and you'll have to work that way as well. Learning how different muscle fibres work and how they get trained has taught me to better understand why there are times when I'd feel like I had a blast working out and times when I'd feel fatigued at the gym. Woah :) Knowledge is awesome! I'm currently reading The Poliquin Principles and it goes into the finer details of things such as the science behind different speeds of lifting weights. It's awesome! I knew there was a lot to this point but most people are so focused on the exercise, they ignore the form!

I respect a movement's form because it ties into a lot of other things I do. My comedy requires a lot of body language and as they say, majority of your message gets communicated through your body, and only through a mind-muscle connection can you properly execute a smooth expression with your arms, legs, face, etc. The key here is to be as relaxed as possible so that you are in full control of everything. When you're under tension, it's harder to control things. It also ties into my drumming which always, always, always emphasizes on the idea of staying relaxed. Even at high speeds, the more tense you make your muscles, the harder it is for you to progress. Only through relaxation are you able to execute each movement properly and smoothly. At the same time, slow movements allow you to conciously notice the details of inbetweens. Just like when you watch a slowed down instant replay of a sports event, you get to see things you conciously missed (even if you subconciously noticed) and then really absorb everything.

I've slowly been noticing how my body isn't balanced physically. I'm not talking about the typical right arm stronger than left arm issue a lot of right-handed people suffer from, I'm referring to my level of flexibility. My left side is actually tighter than my right which in turn affects my posture as well as daily life. For example, for anyone who's bumped into me, you'll notice I almost always have a back-pack with me. I rarely ever leave the house without it because it contains my laptop and maybe a book, some snacks, my music (yay for big headphones!) and in the summer, a spare t-shirt and of course, my very, very vital water. Everytime I look into the mirror, I see my left-side strap lower than my right. As much as I balance the strap lengths, my shoulders seem lipsided. Yet when I'm standing straight without anything on my back, my shoulders are balanced. Then I started noticing my posture from different directions, most notably from the sides. It seems that due to the tighter chest muscles on my left side, my left shoulder leans a bit more forward than my right, thus causing an imbalance in my bag's weight. And so here I am constantly conciously reminding myself to force my left shoulder back a bit more so as to make it into a normal habit of mine. Muscle memory at work once again.

The more I dig into this, the more I'm noticing how my forearms are different too. I've recently been studying my left and right hand movements during drumming and my left hand is definitely a lot less flexible than my right and so I have to conciously force it to turn a bit more so as to stay in balance with my right hand. The joys of perfection. Sigh.

Going back to my title, periodization to many is the period of certain things happen, but to me it's a block that signals an expected time of a goal being achieved. It's like a period of time of going to work before you get your paycheck, I'm focusing on the paycheck so as to make each day seem worth treading through. Honestly, it's barely any fun watching your left hand do single strokes but I know as long as I work at it, by the end of a certain period, I should have matered the technique properly. And to be honest, my hand drumming speed has improved a lot recently through my single stroke practicing. Though I'm slowly feeling that I can't keep neglecting everything else :( Much like any training, the key is good for combined with holistic training that works everything. My biggest challenge is to better understand how long it takes for the Central Nervous System to usually recover from a tiresom training session before when I can train it again productively. So here goes another 10 days. By then, I should hopefully have moved onto the lovely double stroke rolls which my feet are dreading but have to master. Speaking of which, I think I'm going to hit the drums for a bit of practice. Especially since it's so darn gloomy and rainy outside, I don't want to think about the rest of the day :(.

So let's see how the next 10 days unfold, and how many of my goals I achieve! :D Charge!

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14 May 2009

Digging up the roots

So here I am in the middle of the night. Technically a day late for my Day 10 entry, but at the same time, I count my days from the time I rise to the time I retire. So I'm still on time :).

Recently, I've been going back to my roots and foundations and exploring whether or not I need to re-evaluate everything so I can further progress. I've noticed this necessity in my drumming, especially after I watched Benny Greb's The Language of Drumming. It's been a while and I'm still working on my single-strokes, pretty much the first thing any newbie drummer will learn to do. After all that research about muscle memory, I've been paying a lot of attention to the finer details of every movement I make. It's a tough test of patience but it does pay off. I can't wait to move into double-stroke territory.

My ankle has also healed pretty much 100% and I'm glad to say this has been the fastest recovery ever. Partly because I took care of it and followed the RICE guide although I skipped the ICE part but used one of those Japanese muscle pads (like Tiger Balm) and boy oh boy did that help! Also, I've been taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements so I'm guessing that contributed to the healing process pretty well, after all, it's good for joints and well, I hurt my joint. So with a healed ankle, I could finally work on my feet at the drums and I realized my feet progress is around 50% that of my hands. Like my hands can increase at around 40bpm each session, but my feet go at 20bpm/session. It also takes much more mental energy and concentration for me to keep my feet focused and disciplined so I can hit the mark of my metronome on the dot. For all of you drummers out there, I use the Boss DR-90 Metronome which has an in-built accuracy tester and I've kept it at the hardest. I mean, if I'm going to be practicing, I might as well do it right and perfectly. Like they say, perfect practice makes perfect. Not just practice.

Let's hope in the next 10 days, I can move on from single strokes and start with double-strokes!

Another thing I've been re-visiting is my comedy. I've been going back through some of my old bits and refining them. It's a very, very time-consuming process but the outcomes is worth it. One of my famous bits used to be good and now it's nice and tight. It's a great feeling when you know you've created an A+ bit that a lot of people remember you for. It's one of those signature bits :). I'm planning on going through all my other bits and watching my tapes, re-writing the wordings and making them tight, tight, tight! I'm talking machine-gun punchlines! Also, my goal for 2009 was to have a one-man show in English, which means I need a good 1-hour set. Right now I'm at a solid 15 minutes or a pretty alright 20 minutes if you include B-grade material. I recently got to watch Paul Ogata, who in my opinion has completely blown me away time after time and is the 1st live stand-up comedian I got to watch and ever since that has been a target I'm trying to achieve. It's great seeing him on stage and being able to speak to him off stage. He's a humble guy and as much as you ask him for advise, it comes down to one thing -- writing. And he's so right. I could read all the fitness magazines or listen to every drummer alive, but until I hit the gym or practice my drums, I'll get nowhere.

He said comedy is like a muscle you have to keep training and boy is that true. People don't get rusty for no reason, just like your body gets out of shape so does your mind. That's why I'm trying to go back to my beginnings and work from there again. The good thing is, having been there and done that before, I know what to expect and what to avoid, so it makes the process of progressing so much faster. It's like being fit once, and getting out of shape, oddly your body has a (different) kind of muscle memory that remembers the fitness level you were at before, and you can easily get back to that with a bit of training. It reminds me of my return from New York. I had put on a good 4lbs and oddly enough in a week's time I shed 70% of that new weight! Woah! I suppose it's like riding a bike, you might kind of need to warm up after not having ridden one for a long time, but it's a much faster process that it was when you first started learning.

I've also gone back to enjoying Buddha Bar music. No Phantom of the Opera for me for now. I've also been reading a lot of books on mind-mapping, hoping to find some awesome trick to improve them but in the end it seems I just have to go and map what's on my mind. I had made one on a large sheet of paper, but the speed of my thinking is much faster than the speed I can write at, I can at least type almost as fast as my thinking so that helps. I'm evaluating iMindMap to see if it fits what I'm looking for. I've found a lot of other mind-mapping software both open source and commercial but all of them looked too technical and seemed very creatively limiting. Tony Buzan talked about how we keep using our left-side of the brain and don't stimulate our right side enough because we often lack colors, images, sounds, etc. so I'm trying to make sure my right side gets strong too by incorporating all these into my mind maps. I've realized one limiting factor is my inability to properly draw what I see/think in my head. I've tried but it just doesn't work. I had talked about this being something I'm going to work at every night but I've come to realize leaving something to do at night is not a good decision because usually near bed time, I'm quite burnt out or exhausted mentally and being told to learn something that doesn't require just passive reading or watching is really not attractive at all and by this time my level of discipline has dropped too due to my low energy levels.

On a reading note, I'm currently ploughing through Beyond Brawn and so far the initial chapters are full of stuff I consider nonsense. Not saying the author is not good at delivering his message, I mean it's still I already know and it's basic motivation repeated in different words. I'm planning on following this book with Weight-Training Technique because I'm starting to get into much heavier weights and before I injur myself, it's best I make sure my technique is perfect. This is also the phase my imbalances will start getting exagerated, like my stronger/bigger right arm is more noticable now and so it's time I upped the level and really killed myself at the gym. The last time I had a leg day, I came out totally trashed, in a good way. Not "oh my goodness, I'm so tired I want to die" but "oohh, I can feel my legs are exhausted after a good, hard workout". I felt good. Which is often how I feel like at night after a long hard day of work, work, work and achieving!

So far going to the foundations has been helpful for me and may be good for you, maybe you should spend a few hours and re-evaluate the steps you took and make sure they were perfected before you progress even further. Heck, no one wants to climb back down a hill because they realized they left something at the bottom, right? At least not when you're near the top.

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03 May 2009

The price you pay for fun

Yes, I'm late for my Day 10 entry, but I have a valid excuse. Like I did a while back, I went camping and so instead of sitting at my computer, typing up my thoughts that have grown in the last 10 days, I was treading up the seemingly endless stairs leading to the top of a mountain in Mui Wo with some good company. It was lovely, it's been ages since I'd seen so many stars in the sky and heard nothing but the sound of the wind as I lay there on the uneven ground looking forward to my great trip the next day taking me to Discovery Bay. Of course, nothing goes so perfectly and halfway through setting up the tent, I sprained my right ankle in a little ditch on the ground and found myself lying there holding on to the injury, really upset because now I knew this injury is going to affect me in a whole lot of ways you couldn't imagine. For example, I'm a very kind of guy and now I'm going to be an on-the-guy type of guy, and now with this, I'm going to be a very oooonnn-ttthhheeeeee-gggggoooo kind of guy. The last time I sprained my ankle, everywhere I wanted to go would take me twice to three times as long. This is really not what I need :(. Well hopefully this sprain isn't as bad as last time, though previous injuries always mean the healing is going to suck more. Darn.

But on a brighter note, I'm home safe, I've managed to give myself a killer 13 hours of sleep to recover and the foot, well it's feeling better. To make things sweeter, I'm watching some drum performances from Modern Drummer 2008 and oh man, it is awesome! Speaking of drumming, I've decided to go back to basics once again and re-teach myself everything because I was reading an article about muscle memory and it finally made sense to me, how the masters differ from the typical players. You'll notice the same advice from all of them "Practice it slow.... really, really slow" and it used to always annoy me because I'd wonder "so when can I go faster?" There's so much confusing advice on the Internet now because you'll see someone tell you to practice something slow, then someone else will say, the only way to c condittion your muscles to go fast is to, well, practice until the speed you need to be at! Which makes sense! I mean, no sprinter is going to practice light jogging and expect to rip apart a 100m dash! The thing is, now that I've done so much more research about fitness, muscles, nutrition, etc. I've come to realize that the reason there is actually a lot of lacking information in terms of drumming. People tell you to practice slow, but no one stopped to say why. The reason, from what I can understand, is that slow is the way to go for muscle memory training. Slow allows your brain to see every nuance of a movement and accordingly write it down. Much like a teacher telling you something to write down in your notebook, he/she has to say it slowly, so you can record it down in time, every word, correctly. Once you've done that, when you go back and re-read what you wrote, you don't need to do it slowly, you can read at your own pace. Following that, is where the real development occurs, you start to learn to read faster, and faster. This is where everything differentiates, the person who wrote down the notes clearly and properly to start off with, can read them faster and faster, the person who scribbled or even left out a few words to start off with, no matter how fast they go, will always have the wrong sentence read.

Interesting. In fact, this takes me back to why this blog was even started. As you can see from the subtitle, this blog is for me to find connections between a lot of things I am passionate about. And in many ways, it has helped me a lot! I've always been a firm believer that everything in life is interconnected and so improving in one field, always has some sort of help to any other field, even if it's only a small amount. My learning more about fitness, muscles, nutrition, has in turn helped me better realize the mechanics behind drumming. I'm able to go and strengthen my muscles through more than just vigorous drumming/practice, but at the gym. A marathon runner doesn't just run, run, run run, they also have to eat right and also weight train to keep the body freshly stimulated and growing.

In fitness, there is a phase called the plateau where your body has got it, it's understood what you're trying to do and it's adapted to it. The body reduces the amount or even stops growing through the same stimulus because it's got it. It knows how to handle this now. And this is a good thing. But if our goal is to continuously grow, then it's not. In the same way I've come to realize, even with drumming, I can't keep doing the same thing and expect to grow. Sometimes I have to go to the basics, work on that, then go back to what I was doing, and I'll notice an improvement in it already!

With weight-training in the gym, there's a very important part that people often forget. It's rest. Your muscles do not grow in the gym, they grow out of the gym. The gym is for you to stimulate your central nervous system (CNS) and muscle fibres, then give them a chance to grow so they can handle the load, should it be given to them again. The same goes with my aim to train my muscle memory in drumming (please note, muscle memory in terms of fitness is different from that of learning techniques), I don't go all out the first time I'm learning something, because I've come to realize, there's a period of time my CNS takes before it can really learn something, and usually the next day when I come back to something, I realize I'm much better at it! I used to think "oh well, I just learnt it while sleeping" but now I know it's my CNS at work. In fact, knowing this, allows me to reduce the chances of myself getting fed up the day before when I feel like my progress is lacking or I'm greedy to grow faster.

I've found that when you know how things work, you learn to appreciate it better, rather than just say "oh, I don't know how it works inside the black box, it just does". Perhaps this is just me, I'm a curious person and constantly seek out information, but when I learn the truth, it usually helps a lot :). Now that I've learnt the science behind muscle memory, it motivates me to literally practice slowly. I don't do it because I should but because I know why I should.

Speaking of the CNS, I've been reading a lot about stretching your muscles/body and boy has this improved my flexibility! I used to just stretch my muscles and, well stretch because that's what I was told to do and I just stuck with it. Then I decided it was time I stopped and understood why stretching your muscle and holding it helps with flexibility. I mean, what's stopping my body from just allowing the muscles to stretch in the first place?! I mean, if I can make them stretch within 10 minutes, why not now? So I got my hands on the book Relax into Stretch and it taught me a lot of concepts about stretching, how it actually has to do with our CNS and why relaxing is so important. I realized that very often, I used to stretch in a non-relaxed state, like I'd put in effort while doing it, thus making me concentrate while stretching, when it really should be a relaxing event. I used to have heavy metal blasting into my ears while stretching but now I make it a point to play nothing but relaxing tunes like Akira Jimbo's Four Colors album. I've heard that album a thousand times and I'm still in love with it. Speaking of great bands/albums, I newly discovered this band called DGM and woah, their song Hereafter has completely blown me away. I really, really like these guys! And all thanks to the website MetalStorm which I visit daily to get my dose of new metal-related news, videos, reviews, it's great and exactly what I was looking for!

So why The price you pay for fun? Well, as you can see in this post, I've done a heck of a lot of research about the things I enjoy. It's a price I have to pay. A lot of people around me actually get annoyed at me when they see me borring lots of books from the library and always tell me I'm not focused enough, I really should specialize in one field and work towards it. As I've said before, I believe everything is interconnected and the only way to find new connections is to try new ways. This is the price I'm willing to pay, to enjoy my passions. I often consider it a problem, I even tell people, my having so many passions is a hassle. I spend hours each day working at them, while still trying to balance a typically normal life of, well, earning money. While people can find time to sit and channel surf, I'm stuck slaving away at my drum pad, or reading about why my CNS is not letting my hamstrings stretch fully. In many ways, I'm a victim of my own addictions.

But that's passion.

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