Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Food and Cancer Project

Over the past year and a half, I have watched four people deal with cancer.  Three of them died, one survived.

One of those was misdiagnosed multiple times; he had urinary symptoms similar to kidney stones, and his physicians did not decide that the problem was very advanced renal cancer until just months before the tumors took his life.  At my suggestion he made an attempt to adopt a plant-based diet but did not have the all-important support of his significant other.  In the meantime, his case was complicated by two or three botched major abdominal surgeries on the tumors that just drained the life energy from him.  He passed away about 4 or 5 months after diagnosis.

The second was diagnosed with a very rare, very aggressive, and essentially untreatable malignancy of the parietal pleura.  This cancer is linked to asbestos exposure and symptoms often do not present until the cancer has progressed to stage III or IV.  These patients have an average life expectancy at diagnosis of only 18 months.  This person I knew had a stage IV case when diagnosed.  I suggested a vegan diet, but he chose to follow a diet containing fish and other animal products.  Although he did get chemotherapy, he lasted only about 6 months.

The third was a prominent promoter of a meat-based paleo diet.  She was diagnosed with the cancer about three and a half years ago.  Since then, she attempted to treat her cancer with both conventional chemotherapy and with alternative therapies.  Despite my suggestion to eliminate animal protein, she chose to implement a high fat, meat-based ketogenic diet.  The original cancer metastasized to the brain and very sadly to me, she passed away early this year at a relatively young age – younger than me.

The fourth is still alive.  She has a recurrence of a previously treated cancer of a female organ.  At my suggestion, about 2 years ago, she adopted a vegan diet, although not as well-balanced as I would prefer.  During this time, she has also gotten conventional chemotherapy.   She is now on her second course of chemotherapy.  She is still working full time, and to the amazement of her oncology team, she has very little side effects from the very harsh drugs she is taking.  In addition, so far, it seems that the combination is working.  Her tumor markers are significantly improved at last check.  She is not out of the woods by any means, but she is so far seeming to do better than the other three.

Now, these are just anecdotes.  I don't mean to draw any conclusions from these three very different cases.  However, the difference between the third and fourth cases strikes me as very, very interesting.

I recommended vegan eating to these people because, as Dr. Rosa Aspalter, M.D. discusses on the Food and Cancer Project Blog and Website, we have good scientific reason to believe that consumption of animal protein promotes cancer partly because of its very high methionine content.

My friend Gordon Saxe, M.D., Ph.D., studies dietary treatment of cancer at U.C. San Diego where he is a professor of medicine.  He has published several papers in major journals providing some evidence that a whole foods plant-based diet can slow or reverse cancer growth.   The videos below provides a peak at his research.

As shown in the video below, the leader of the Food and Cancer Project, Dr. Rosa Aspalter, M.D. is a cancer patient herself. After adopting a vegan diet her tumor markers went below detection level and CT scan found that every tumor metastasis grew smaller or disappeared.  Now she wants to study this approach scientifically. 

As Dr. Aspalter explains, except for the vegan diet, other dietary approaches to cancer have little to no scientific support or, as in the case of the ketogenic diet, have significant hazards based on their nutritional composition.  We have a need for well-designed scientific study of the effect of a vegan diet on cancer treatment.  

Consequently The Food and Cancer Project is performing a study to determine the effect of a 100% plant based diet on cancer treatment and progression. The Food and Cancer Project is seeking cancer patients to participate in a proof of hypothesis (Proof of Principle) study.

Participants who have cancer can choose to eat either an omnivorous diet, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, or a vegan diet.  They will fill out some questionnaires during their participation. 

The purpose of this study is to find out if there is reasonable basis (proof of hypothesis) to pursue further clinical trials.  At present, this study is self-funded by Dr. Aspalter herself.  

Please pass this information to anyone you know who could benefit or participate.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Current Calisthenics Routine Part 3 | Handstand and Strength Routines

In previous posts I presented my daily limbering routine and my hip and squat mobility and stretch therapy routine.  In this post I present my handstand preparatory routine and my calisthenics training principles, format and current routines.

Handstand Preparatory Routine

Through 2013 and 2014 I worked on handstands primarily by doing wall handstands.  I progressed to the point where I could hold a brief handstand with one leg tucked, but when I started trying to do some single arm support work, I found that my shoulder girdle was not adequately prepared.  I already knew that I had shoulder issues due to previous injuries.  The mobility was improving in my left shoulder, but one day I tried some handstand wall walks and shoulder taps.  I found that I literally could not support myself on my right hand, but my left was capable.  When I tried to transfer my weight to my right, I felt as though my shoulder would collapse if I lifted my left hand.  

I decided I needed some expert guidance so I purchased Handstand 1 from  I was not able to adequately perform some of the shoulder girdle preparatory elements prescribed in the course, so I decided I needed to master those elements before going forward with handstands.  I am currently working on the shoulder strength and mobility elements prescribed in that course as prerequisites for doing wall handstands, and won't be doing wall handstands until I master them.

Combining this training with Fascial Stretch Therapy has greatly improved my shoulder mobility and stability, but according to the progressions in Handstand 1 from I have some other elements to master before I will qualify for practicing wall handstands.

Antranik has put together a comprehensive handstand tutorial that includes a section on shoulder mobility and strength.

If you want a gymnastics quality handstand while avoiding shoulder girdle, waist and wrist injuries, I highly recommend that you follow the progressions typical for gymnasts.  I think that many adults attempting to learn handstand need to develop shoulder girdle mobility and strength using preparatory elements before getting up on their hands (even against the wall) or else risk serious shoulder girdle injury.  

I do my handstand preparatory training thrice weekly, Monday and Friday before my full body strength routine, and Wednesday before my hip and squat mobility routine.  Currently this training consists of the following:
1. Wrist flexor stretch with shoulder in external rotation 1 x 20 sec
2. Wrist extensor stretch with shoulder in internal rotation 1 x 20 sec
3. Wrist flexor stretch in planche position 1 x 20 sec
4. Wrist flexor stretch with shoulders in internal rotation 1 x 20 sec

After these warmups I proceed to the following in four tri-sets, 

5. Prone shoulder flexion static holds with weight x 30 sec
6. Shoulder circumduction with weight  x 5 repetitions
7. Standing weighted shoulder extensions x 5 repetitions

So, I do one set of the flexion holds, followed immediately by the circumductions, followed immediately by the extensions.  I then go back to the flexions, and repeat the cycle 4 times. I rest as little as possible between the cycles.   The following videos I demonstrate the elements of this handstand preparatory routine.

As you will see in the prone shoulder flexion static holds video, my greatest challenge lies in achieving full shoulder flexion without arching my lower back i.e. while maintaining a posterior pelvic tilt.

Precision Calisthenics

On Mondays and Fridays I do my full body strength training.

I use so called high intensity training methods, as follows:

1.  Only one set of each movement
2.  Slow, controlled movement speed
3.  Full range of motion, emphasizing slow movement in the most difficult ranges of motion
4.  Move as quickly as practical (without resting) from one movement to the next
5.  Progress in small, manageable increments (either resistance/difficulty, hold time, or repetitions) as often as possible, preferably every training session

I call this Precision Calisthenics.  I use precise form, the precise amount of stimulation required to produce an improvement (i.e. one set), and a precise progression scheme that uses as precise increments of progression as I can manage to define.  

The following table shows the layout of my current routine with regard to end goals. 

Each routine is performed in the order listed from top to bottom of each column.  Each cell of the table names an end goal, e.g. 1-arm pull up, front lever, side lever, single-leg squat, etc. Elsewhere I have laid out precise progressive steps for each goal.  In any given routine, on any given training day, I will be performing the progression or step that I need to master to make another step toward the goal.

At time of this post, my routine contains these specific movements:

For example, I currently perform tuck L-sit pull ups as a step in progression to the 1-arm pull up.  When I master those – signified by correctly performing 5-6 repetitions in approximately 60-70 seconds – I will go to the next step in the progressions I have laid out.  

For upper body movements, leg curls, and bridges, I aim for about 60 seconds time under load, whether dynamic or static.  For squats and rise-on-toes I aim for 90 to 120 seconds of time under load, depending on the continuity of tension. 

In late 2014 I injured my right distal bicep tendon and broke or sprained my large right toe.  In 2014 I also re-injured my left knee (which I first damaged more than 40 years ago).  This set of injuries set me back a bit.  My right arm lost a good bit of strength and size because I was unable to pull my weight in pull ups until just this past week.  The large toe injury made push up and planche training difficult because I could not put weight on the toe in a plank position until about 2 weeks ago.  

In the two videos below I demonstrate the two routines.  Each video shows the whole training session, each of which takes about 15 to 20 minutes of actual exercise time.  I excluded transitions involving changing equipment or station, which adds 5-10 minutes.  When I add the handstand prep routine the whole training session takes 35-40 minutes on any training day.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

My Current Calisthenics Routine Part 2 | Stretch Therapy & Hip Mobility Routine

As I discussed in a previous post, I started my calisthenics journey with some significant deficiencies in my hip and shoulder mobility as consequences of previous injuries.  Consequently I currently devote a significant portion of my calisthenics training to correcting these deficiencies.

Since the beginning of this year, I have gotten a series of passive Fascial Stretch Therapy sessions from Pippa Frame.  These biweekly sessions have greatly helped to increase my shoulder and hip mobility.  Every session has resulted in noticeable improvements in my functional ability.  I highly, highly recommend FST and specifically Pippa to anyone who has long-standing joint mobility issues.

Aside from my daily limbering routine, I devote one of my three weekly structured training sessions primarily to hip and squat mobility.  In this routine I use the some of the principles and movements taught by Kit Laughlin's Master the Full Squat video series available for only $10 on Vimeo.  

I highly recommend this tutorial to anyone who wants to improve hip mobility.  The instructions are especially valuable to adults who are developing flexibility in ranges they may not have enjoyed since childhood.  Kit and crew have insights on this path not to be found elsewhere because they themselves only started developing their mobility and flexibility as adults.  

I do my calisthenics routines on Mondays and Fridays, and I perform my dedicated hip mobility/stretch therapy routine on Wednesdays, after doing my shoulder mobility and handstand preparatory routine (which I will present in my next post).

The following lists the components of my hip and squat mobility training sessions: 
  1. Ankle/calf stretches
  2. Sumo squat limbering
  3. Full squat limbering
  4. Lunge “box the compass” limbering and stretching
  5. Cossack squat limbering and stretching
  6. Baby Flop
  7. Piriformis stretches
  8. Frog/ adductor stretches
  9. Diamond stretch
The whole sequence takes 30-60 minutes.  I want to emphasize that I only do this intense stretching once weekly.  Kit Laughlin reports that in his experience, this is the best frequency for increasing mobility and flexibility without overtraining.  Intense stretching of this sort is essentially a type of isometric strength training; training too frequently will impair progress by interfering with the adaptation process.  

Below you will find videos showing me doing each of these stretches.  For detailed instructions I recommend that you invest $10 in Kit Laughlin's high quality Master the Squat video series.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Current Calisthenics Routine Part 1 | Daily Limbering Routine

I got a request from Marcus Nylund to give an update on my calisthenics training routine.   Check out his website.

I'm going to respond in several parts dealing with different aspects of my physical training:  first, in this post, I present my daily limbering routine; in the next post I will detail my once-weekly intense mobility/ flexibility training session and ancillary stretch therapy; and in the third post I will give the details of my biweekly high-intensity calisthenics routine.

Keep in mind that my current routine is based around my current goals, which are:

  1. Rehabilitate and increase the mobility of both my shoulder and pelvic girdles.
  2. Lay a solid foundation for handstand training.
My daily limbering routine addresses the first goal.  I invest about 30 minutes in this routine every day of the week.  This is a relaxed stretching routine that I do in the morning, before other activity.  I have

  1. Open blood flow and release stiffness from the night's sleep.
  2. Find out where I have increased or decrease muscle tension as a result of the previous day's training or work.
  3. Keep myself comfortable with going to the edge of my range of motion and gently relax into and slightly beyond that edge.
It is important that this routine is not strenuous.  I do not attempt to vigorously push beyond my current flexibility limits when doing these movements.  Rather, I ease up to the limit and then relax at that limit.  The purpose is to train the nervous system to accept that range of motion as a normal everyday occurrence.

Relaxed Limbering Series 

  1. Shoulder circles: 20-50 each direction
  2. Gravity drop (10s to 1 min)
  3. Downward dog (1-2 min)
  4. Parsvotanasana (1-2 min each thigh)
  5. Shoulder flexion with traction  (10s to 1 min)
  6. Butterfly pose (1-2 minutes)
  7. Piriformis release (1-2 minutes per side)
  8. Psoas lunge  (1-2 minutes per side)
  9. Full pike (1-2 minutes)
I often do the shoulder flexion between the shoulder circles and the gravity drop, and the butterfly and the piriformis stretches can be switched in order.  Otherwise I recommend performing them in the order listed, because each pose benefits from those done before it.  

These videos demonstrate the movements.