Smoking a Joint

(How’s that for a post title??)

I bet that you or someone you know has, or has had, joint pain at some point in your training career. (I don’t care if you have only been with DNA for 3 classes – you have a training career!) Plenty of people show up with a history of knee pain. Shoulder and elbow injuries crop up in training, and occasionally someone gets a wrist or thumb issue.

Joint pain stinks because of its persistence – it nags and seems to take ages to go away, and rest and ice only help temporarily relieve the pain. What’s an athlete to do?

Check for a referral

Chances are that your joint pain is not originating in the joint. Pain (or other sensations) “refer” when the sensation originates in one place and is felt elsewhere. Reflexology is based on referral – pressure on different parts of your foot can refer to different areas of your body, thus causing or alleviating tension elsewhere.

Precarious balance

Even if you consistently train functional movements, muscle groups may develop unevenly, causing muscle imbalances that can pull a joint…out of joint. For example, tight pectoral (chest) muscles may cause shoulder pain if your lateral and trapezius muscles (in your back) are less developed or looser, and vice-versa.

The other critical pieces of the puzzle

You’ve heard us say this a lot, but you need ample protein and plenty of sleep for your body to repair itself. If you are surviving on a teeny portion of chicken and 6.5 hours of sleep each night, your body is lacking the resources it needs to rebuild itself. You need food as the building blocks, and sleep for hormone release and tissue repair. Don’t skimp – hit your macros, and get 7.5-8.5 hours of continuous sleep! (Sleep-deprived population caveat: new parents, women in menopause, etc. – do the best that you can!)

Troubleshooting the Top Three Joint Problems

1. Knees

Chances are that your feet are causing your knee trouble. If you are wearing bulky shoes, especially cushioned running shoes, your body has to fight for stability through all that mushy rubber. Your feet are designed to deal with stresses from a solid dirt surface, not a pillow. If you are a heel-striker when running, you’re sending a shock through your knee every time you land. Watch a small child run – they pick up their feet and fall forward! Even orthotics can cause problems by artificially positioning your feet.

Troubleshooting: Try flat shoes, especially for heavy lifting and running. For running, start easy – don’t run a 5K on the first day. Some people (moi) get to throw out their orthotics after 15 years, thanks to Vibrams. Give it a try.

2. Shoulders

As mentioned above, your chest muscles and back muscles are probably imbalanced. Most people have trouble activating their back muscles as actively as their chest muscles…after all, you can’t see them! Extra mobility work will help a lot, as will working those bent over rows and pullups. If you have been building 5 rep maxes, rewind and work technique at a lighter weight.

Troubleshooting: Ask a trainer about multidirectional band stretching, and practice it daily as part of your warmup or cooldown. Also try Mark Reifkind’s shoulder stretching tips, and make friends with a pain ball for pecs and your back.

3. Elbows

Pressure in your wrist can make your elbows hurt. Tennis elbow works that way, in fact. If you have been working on muscle ups, heavy bench, or even lots of pushups and have been putting a lot of pressure on your wrists (especially with flared elbows), you may have elbow pain as a result.

Troubleshooting: Take a break from muscle ups, or work bar muscle ups for a while to switch the pressure direction on the wrists. Lighten the load on bench pressing – rewind the weight and pay attention to the angle of your wrist as you lift. Straight wrists are generally better.

Finally, remember to pay attention to your nervous system. Activating your nerves better is a great way to tap into strength, and the neural aspect of the motor units in your body don’t get the respect they deserve. Explosive movements, such as tuck jumps, light thrusters, burpees, or jumping squats, and motion drills such as those taught in Z Health are good ways to prime your nerves for activity. Waking up nerves is a little abstract, but if you have ever felt an electrical storm in your lower back during “Fran,” you can appreciate the amazing power of nerves.

Don’t let a smoked joint slow you down – talk to a trainer for a plan to fix it!

DNA’s Client of the Month for July: Ernie C.

If you’re not normally an early riser, set an alarm one morning (after going to bed early, to get your 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep!) and come to DNA to meet the 5:30am crew. Our first class of the day is a tight-knit, fantastic bunch of athletes who are making great progress and setting the standard for the other classes to follow. Though many of them are worthy of distinction, only one could win our first Client of the Month award. Meet Ernie!


Ernie is not shy about his checkered past, and credits DNA with “saving [his] life.” He has tremendous

Read More

HOTSHOTS – 10 August 2013 @DNA

hotshots2We at DNA believe in giving back. Last year, we hosted the 31 Heroes workout in early August. We considered doing it again this year, but after the Yarnell Hill fire disaster on 30 June, we decided that we wanted to help some special people closer to home. Therefore, on 10 August at 7:30am, we will host the workout below. Entry donation is $20 per person, and all proceeds will be donated to the families of the HOTSHOT crew lost in June.

Check-in/warmup time is 7:30am, with the workout starting no later than 8am. We will NOT have other classes that day.


Teams of 5 (RX+: team of 3 or 4) — groups can be of mixed ability levels, except for RX+ who should all be advanced!

Complete the task list as a team. 45 min cutoff.

  • 19 rope climbs (scaled: halfway)
  • 19 stretcher carries 200m (2 team members carry 2 bars; bar weight scaled for each team)
  • 19 sandbag or med ball carries 400m
  • 190 pushups
  • 190 KB squats
  • 190 ab mat situps
  • 190 American swings


  • 19 burpees per team member (each person does 19)
  • Continuous carry: one object (TBA) must be carried at all times on the 400m loop, and every participant must carry it at some point during the workout. The object may not touch the ground.

Team members must work together to count the completion of the task list, and to ensure that everyone present carries the object at least once.

Optional: bring a DNA-approved breakfast item to share afterwards. “DNA approved” does not include donuts, unless they’re made with coconut flour, but does include fruit, quiche (no wheat), etc.


Entry donations will be accepted HERE or at DNA on the day of the workout. We look forward to seeing you there!



Tri, tri again

Two months ago, I signed up for the Firecracker Tri and decided that I was not going to train specifically for it. Now that I have more or less recovered from the race last Sunday, it’s time to evaluate the results.

I was probably more excited about Natalie racing in her first tri than I was about my own race. At 5:51am, my 8-year-old jumped into the pool and hammered out a 250m swim. She also had not been practicing lap swimming, and had never traversed a 50m pool before, but she did just fine and got herself to the transition with a smile.  I helped her get her shoes and helmet on, and away she went for a lap around the U of A. Her second transition was blazing – it’s easy when you just drop the bike and remove the helmet – and she ran her mile in under 12 minutes. She finished 4th (last) in the 7-8 females, but she beat a few 9-12 year olds and had a lot of fun! She was also thrilled to be allowed to eat bagel…(ick)



Individual sports are more fun with friends, and in the fuss of getting two sets of equipment to the transition area just before the cutoff time, I saw Gene McDougall from GTX. I’ve known him for a while – he’s a fellow

Read More

Level Testing

In June, we held a week of Level Testing, which served several purposes:

  • Assess the fitness level of our clients
  • Provide a challenge
  • Help you understand where you are on your fitness journey
  • Create some healthy competition
  • Collect some data

130619 Board

We defined the levels as 1: Novice, 2: Intermediate, 3: Advanced, 4: Elite.

David developed the standards over several years, and

Read More

Kudos!! You’re Awesome

I’ve been working on developing a recognition program for DNA clients, and have been on the prowl lately for special client accomplishments that deserve attention. On Wednesday, we asked for Client of the Month suggestions on Facebook.

You people are making this project really hard.


Too much kudos to hand out!!!

Congratulations on making it through Test Week – with flying colors. We had so many outstanding accomplishments this week, that picking just one person to highlight as Client of the Week or Client of the Month is impossible. Therefore, I am going to brag about a couple of feats from this week that really knocked my socks off, with the help of the trusty whiteboard. (I want to add more pictures of the athletes discussed here and will thus be stalking you with a camera next week!)

Let’s start with Monday. If you look closely, you’ll see that Bianca pressed 92.5 lbs, ran a sub-8:30 mile, and got 125 situps and 325 air squats. To my knowledge, 92.5 is the gym record for press for females at this time. Tawyna kicked butt in a different style with a 7:21 mile, 325 situps (how can you even do that?), and 110 squats – as Ernie says, she’s a monster! Oh yes, and the guys showed up too: Casey stunned us even more than usual with a 205 lb press, 5:26 run (!!!), 22 pullups and 325 squats, Chris ran a 5:37 mile, and look at Marcos – here’s a guy with two tiny kids at home who was just another unconditioned desk jockey last year, and now he’s running a 5:45 mile and pressing 155.

130618 Board

That’s just the start. I see little “PR” notes all over this board, and we could go on about all of your awesome accomplishments (especially all of the ladies repping out pullups), but I want to move on to neuro researchers Sara and Drew.

This dynamic duo have been working hard in the

Read More

Huevos, Cholesterol

We get a lot of questions from clients about different foods: what to eat, how much, when, and is food X on the plan? Some of our recommendations run against USDA guidelines (which are influenced by Big Agriculture, i.e., financially engineered; pardon the political statement but it’s true) as well as everything we have been taught about food since around 1990, and we understand when people are uncomfortable and confused. In this vein, some of you are concerned when we extoll the virtues of the Mighty Egg and encourage consumption of three of the little miracles at a time in a single scrumptious serving. It really okay to eat a lot of whole eggs, especially if you have high cholesterol?

The short answer is that (a) dietary cholesterol is not a bad thing (contrary to “conventional wisdom”) and (b) once you cut sugar, grains, and other pro-inflammatory foods from your diet, both saturated fat and cholesterol are fine to eat – in fact, they are quite healthy when your body is able to use them as intended. Egg yolks have all kinds of great health benefits, and eggs work better as a system – your body can use the nutrients in the whole egg more effectively than in just the white (I think there’s a protein and enzyme involved but for the life of me have not been able to find the reference for that assertion). Therefore, as long as you’re not having toast or orange juice with your omelette / scramble / frittata, it’s fine.

A more thorough answer requires an explanation of the role of cholesterol in the body, and the reasons for the demonization of cholesterol – what can go wrong. Brace yourself – here we go on a scientific excursion…

Cholesterol is a structural component of cell membranes, essential for brain growth, cell creation and repair, and is a precursor for vitamin D and numerous hormones, including cortisol (stress), aldosterone, progesterone, estrogens, and testosterone. In other words, it’s required for human (and animal) life, and plays a key role in regulating metabolism. Some plants and all animals contain cholesterol, but plant cholesterol is poorly absorbed. The liver regulates cholesterol levels in the blood by synthesizing cholesterol when levels are low, and converting excess to bile and bile salts (which can be excreted) when levels get high. Cells throughout the body synthesize about 80% of your cholesterol, and the liver makes about 20%. Your body synthesizes about 1g of cholesterol each day, and most Americans eat 200-300mg (more if you eat a lot of meat). Since the liver balances total cholesterol from all sources, synthesized or dietary, people who eat meat may produce less cholesterol than vegetarians, but they have similar total amounts of cholesterol. That’s why cholesterol-rich eggs and meat are not the sole culprit of high cholesterol; the liver can remove excess dietary cholesterol. Turns out that there’s more to the story.

Mr. Lipoprotein

You have heard of LDL (low-density lipoprotein, also erroneously called “bad cholesterol”) and HDL (often called “good cholesterol”). Chylomicrons and VLDL are other lipoproteins, which play roles in energy delivery. The liver turns used VLDL into LDL, which delivers free cholesterol (easily absorbed) to the cells, as well as triglycerides (energy) and cholesteryl esters (not easily absorbed). LDL particles may bind to an LDL receptor on a cell and deliver some cholesterol, or it may go back to the liver. LDL also returns the majority of excess cholesterol from cells to the liver. Meanwhile, the liver and small intestine produce HDL, which picks up some of the excess cholesterol at the cells and carries it back to the liver. To oversimplify, LDL is like UPS (pickup and deliver), and HDL is the charity donation pickup van for unneeded cholesterol.

Wait a minute, you ask; so LDL and HDL aren’t cholesterol? No – they carry cholesterol. Blood panels can count the LDL and HDL particles or the cholesterol content in the particles, called LDL-C or HDL-C. The actual LDL count, or particle number, is called LDL-P.

Atherosclerosis – artery plaque – occurs when LDL particles embed in artery walls, triggering an inflammatory (immune) response, which creates more room for more LDL particles. Research and research interpretations conflict on whether particle size or particle count matters more. One theory suggests that small, dense LDL particles, which tend to occur in insulin resistant people, are the ones that embed in the artery walls. Other evidence shows that number of LDL particles is the most important number, suggesting that the chances of LDL particles embedding in the artery walls simply increases when more particles are present. HDL counts don’t seem to matter, and drugs that increase HDL have been shown to be ineffective, whereas statins that lower LDL-P can reduce heart disease risk. It’s a lot cheaper and healthier to lower LDL-P with good nutrition.

Here’s where the toast comes in. Regular consumption of simple sugars such as those found in desserts, breads, pasta, corn products, and fruit juices (pina coladas too!) can lead to insulin resistance, which tricks cells into behaving as if they are not getting fed enough and need to store more energy. Your body responds by sending more triglycerides (lipids) to the cells via the bloodstream. Your lipoprotein particles, including LDL, will be loaded up with more lipids, leaving less room in the UPS trucks for free cholesterol. Therefore, your body has to send out more trucks to deliver the same amount of cholesterol. If the trucks are bigger, each one can carry more triglyceride and more cholesterol, but you may still need more trucks. The jury is out on exactly how this works, but the result is a higher chance of getting LDL stuck in your artery walls and an increased risk of heart disease.

One more point: research has shown that saturated fat doesn’t increase heart disease risk when carbohydrate intake is low. That’s why you can eat bacon with your eggs, but we don’t recommend toast or orange juice with them.

Congratulations if you made it through our little foray into blood biochemistry. It’s an emerging area and this post just scratches the surface of a very complex set of processes. From here, you can look at the interaction between the metabolic processes that involve insulin and leptin, as well as the impact of cortisol and the nasty effects of stress and sleep deprivation, but for now let’s just say that all of these processes are interdependent and you can make things significantly better or worse by changing your training, nutrition, sleep, and stress exposure.


This post was drawn from numerous studies and secondary sources based on the scientific literature. Bibliographies can be found in works by Taubes, and good old Wikipedia too. My apologies for being lazy about citing the sources.

If you really want to get into the science of cholesterol, check this blog post series by Dr. Peter Attia:

Nutrition: A Word about Philosophical Differences


You may get slightly different recommendations from our trainers about implementing your nutrition plan. We all subscribe to the same science, but emphasize different priorities. Here’s a comparison of two approaches to help explain why we may not all tell you the same thing. You can decide whose approach works best for you, and shop accordingly – you’ll still get great results.

David is a realist when it comes to food. He’s used to feeding a lot of kids, and understands that most people are on the go, need convenience, and aren’t necessarily aces in the kitchen. He simplifies the guidelines as much as possible and prioritizes the core concepts over the details – making sure you get the right foods and that you can make the plan work regardless of your job, family situation, and lifestyle. Bottom line: simple and effective, focusing on a feasible implementation of your nutrition plan. If you have a lot on your plate and aren’t interested in becoming a gourmet chef, Dave’s your man for food advice.

We love meat.

We love meat.

AJ is a foodie and likes to cook! She has sizable collections of spices and cookbooks, scads of kitchen gizmos, and feeds her family real food-based recipes from across the planet. She reads up on food production and pays a lot of attention to food quality, and the effect of different cooking methods (e.g., avoiding the microwave). Unfortunately, mass-produced food available now is very different from the real food of 100 years ago in terms of breeding and genetics, pesticide content, and often macronutrient composition, and AJ makes an effort to pick the most nutritious versions of each food, with the least added junk. She is a huge advocate of label-reading and education. Bottom line: thorough, with a holistic view for maximizing long-term health potential. If you are willing to make more time for food selection and preparation and want to nail the details as well as the main themes, direct your questions to AJ.

AJ is also a huge proponent of vegetables. They’re “free” (unlimited on Phase I) and delicious, and micronutrients matter too in the grand scheme. Organic are the best in terms of nutrient value. Dave is not a big fan; someone down the food chain at veggies and took in micronutrients, so you will get plenty from meat. If you hate broccoli, don’t eat it.

One concept that we all believe: you should enjoy eating, and food should not cause you stress. We want you to enjoy life and not let food get in the way. If it’s your birthday or a friend’s birthday and you want cake, eat it! If you love wine, enjoy a glass once or twice a week (after you finish your first 30 days)! If it’s college reunion time and you want to go back to your favorite bar and pound Schlitz until you can’t walk…well, you may have other issues, but go for it (and feel like death warmed over the next day…) If you are on vacation, have fun – eat what you like, though we guarantee that you will feel better if you can stick to clean eating 80% of the time.

Not a choice.

Not a choice.

P.S. None of us will clear you to eat at McDonald’s (even the chicken salad has a lot of sugar and other junk in it), and Little Debbie is off the list. Despite the caveat above about eating on special occasions, there is never a good reason to eat food that is closer to plastic or paste than its original ingredients. You won’t starve. Just don’t do it – your body will thank you.

Man Made vs. Real Food

At DNA, we advocate real diets made of real food. We have considered offering protein powders and other supplements, but we just don’t support the consumption of lab-made products. Many are toxic offer all kinds of health pitfalls; additives ranging from corn to artificial colors should not be in your body, and over time, they may lead to a range of issues, whether or not the FDA approves. Dyes have even been linked to ADHD in kids.

Vitamins are one controversial area; science explains why they don’t work, studies have shown no benefit, and they are usually delivered with corn starch and other nasty fillers. Vitamin D (needed for calcium absorption) requires sunlight for production. Drinking milk won’t do the job as the concentrations are low, and dairy has its own problems, especially commercial (not organic) milk. Each vitamin plays a role in the amazing system of your body, and real food generally has the best mix of the right chemicals to optimize your body’s function and composition.

Some people like the convenience of protein shakes after a workout. Many commercial varieties are packed with fillers and sugars, including corn starch, so if you decide to go this route, read the labels carefully. Even the “clean” brands have sweeteners. Here are the labels from Progenex (left) and Gold Standard Whey in Vanilla (right):


Both are sweet, triggering an addictive response that makes you want more sweetness. Gold Standard has a few chemicals, but nowhere near as many as Muscle Milk. What’s your best bet after a workout? Chicken and a sweet potato? Probably. (One of our clients used to swear by chocolate ice cream, but that’s another story.)

Fish oil may be one supplement that can actually do some good. Omega-3’s have a whole slew of health benefits, and few people eat enough fish to take full advantage. We assert that there is no single dietary silver bullet, as foods are rarely consumed in isolation and activity matters, but you probably can’t go wrong by taking fish oil tablets. By the way, Atlantic salmon is often genetically modified, unsustainable, and fed pellets that make it dietary garbage – like corn-fed, hormone-injected, stockyard beef, it should be avoided. Alaskan salmon is fine, and you should always choose wild-caught fish. But I digress.

Bottom lines:

  • Eat real food, choose organic sources whenever possible, and consider adding some fish oil.
  • Get sunlight regularly – go without sunblock for half an hour; it’s tough to balance vitamin D production with skin cancer prevention in Southern Arizona, so pay attention and don’t overdo it.
  • Always read the labels! If a product has more than 4 lines of ingredients and any are unpronounceable, it’s not a real food so you probably should not eat it. This rule goes for any supplements too.


Just Going For It


Back in the Day…

Once upon a time, I was a grad student and a member of the UA Tricats. My husband went to Qatar for 4 months, and I proceeded to race my ass off. I was a Cat 4 cyclist, a runner, a triathlete, and even did a bunch of splash and dash races – often more than once per week. I got pretty fast with all of those high-intensity efforts, but I was nowhere near as strong then as I am now.

In triathlon, I usually placed in my age group. Here’s my line from the Firecracker Tri in July of 2004:

  13    2 30 0212 JOHNSON      ANNE         0:13:36    0:35:05    0:23:18    1:11:59

That’s 13th of women, 2nd in age group, with a 13:36 swim (800m), 35:05 bike (12 miles), and 23:18 5k. Not bad.

I just signed up for Firecracker again, 9 years and 2 kids later with almost 5 years of CrossFit / Kettlebells and 3 years of paleo eating under my belt. I am NOT going to do any specific training for this race. None. Nada!! I will hit the water on July 7th with whatever swimming and biking I happen to do for fun between now and then, and we will see how I do against my 30-year-old self.

I bet she’s going down. My running is a small bit slower than it was 10-15 minutes ago, but I bet strength will do the job.

Have you tried racing your old self lately? I challenge you to give it a try! Pick a race you did ages ago, and just sign up. Don’t second guess. Just do it. Let’s make an unscientific group experiment out of it. Who’s in??

Page 4 of 9« First...23456...Last »