Monday, July 27, 2009

Current Training - Accelerated Muscular Development!

"But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." - Isaiah 40:31

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was able to get my training back on track after illness, injury and time off for various reasons.

Because of my busy schedule, I wanted a program that wasn't excessively time consuming each day and that encompassed all areas of training including a proper warm-up, proven resistance training techniques and a proper cool down. I also preferred a training program that consisted of no more than three resistance training sessions each week.

I began writing my own training plan that consisted of all of the above when I discovered a program that addressed everything I wanted and was already written - Accelerated Muscular Development (AMD)!

During the past three weeks that I have been using AMD, I have been pleasantly surprised to see a visible increase in my upper body development along with lower body fat levels.

AMD contains several different components that make it a well-planned training program. Let's discuss the various components of the program.

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), Mobility and Activation
Many training programs do not include this information. However, it is a very important part of the warm-up process to prepare the body for resistance work.

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a way to manipulate the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia) to help break up scar tissue and increase range of motion throughout the body for better movement and performance. A few minutes of "foam rolling" will make a tremendous difference in the quality of a training program.

Mobility refers to the body's ability to move properly and absorb forces and dynamic movements in the various joints of the body including the ankle, hips and spine. Performing a dynamic warm-up that includes exercises that improve mobility results in better posture, proper muscle engagement, fewer injuries, more strength and better, more fluid movements. This doesn't take much time, but it is highly beneficial.

Activation refers to "awakening" muscles that have become dormant as a result of too many activities that cause a shortened range of motion. Examples include sitting on the couch or in front of a computer and driving - Basically, any seated task or activity causes the muscles of the hamstrings, glutes and upper back/shoulders to shorten. This creates pain, a slouched appearance, forward head posture and tightness. By including exercises to activate these dormant muscles, we can regain a full range of motion.

Resistance Training - Undulating Periodization and EDT
A properly designed resistance training program should use a form of "periodization," or planning, in order to elicit consistant progress over weeks, months and years. There are different forms of periodization including linear, alternating, conjugate and undulating. Although all these methods can and do work, it has been proven that undulating periodization results in the best strength and size gains. With AMD, the main exercise movement during each day of training is based on undulating periodization in order to elicit the best size and strength gains possible.

Once the main exercise is completed, the trainee moves to the supplemental exercises. The supplemental exercises are based on Escalating Density Training (EDT) as popularized by Charles Staley. EDT consists of timed blocks of training where two exercises are performed back-to-back with as little rest as possible. This increases the "density" of the workout by allowing the trainee to perform a lot of work in a short period of time. The use of EDT allows the trainee to increase the amount of volume of work performed, thus increasing overall muscle size while getting some conditioning benefits.

The "Core"
When referring to the core, many people specifically mention the abdominals or the coveted "6-pack." However, the core refers to the musculature surrounding the torso, hips and pelvis which includes the abdominals, lower back, glutes, obliques and surrounding muscles.

A proper training program should include exercises that work the entire core in order to help stabilize and protect the spine through various torso movement patterns (flexion, extension, rotation, chaos or no movement at all).

AMD ends the resistance portion of the training program with the best core exercises to help strengthen the body and prevent injury.

Static Stretching and SMR
At the completion of the resistance training workout, AMD gives recommendations on specific stretching exercises and additional SMR. Static stretching is best when done at the conclusion of your training to help with recovery and to get blood flowing throughout the body. By ending the workout with more foam rolling, it also assists with recovery and helping to loosen any tight areas to help prepare the body for the next training session.

Fat Loss Strategies
An optional portion of AMD covers various methods to help with fat loss and conditioning. This includes various high intensity fat loss and conditioning exercises such as high intensity interval training, circuits or complexes, power clusters, sled dragging/prowler pushes and hill/bleacher sprints.

When performed twice a week, either directly after training or on the off days, these methods help to strip fat and increase conditioning while not taking up too much additional time. The key with these exercises is the intensity at which they are performed - and they work!

The above components of AMD make it one of the best training programs I've used. It is very comprehensive and contains separate books covering all of the above along with pictures and descriptions.

In addition to the above, I like that the workouts are short and intense. I also like that I can use a variety of exercises and implements in my training including barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight exercises, medicine balls, sandbags, the TRX Suspension Trainer and more!

If you're looking for a well-planned program that contains all the essential components of training, then I highly suggest picking up a copy of AMD and following it as written.

Once you use the 16-week program, you will be able to create your own workouts by using the templates and information contained within the system.

I'll post more updates on my progress in the next few months. After seeing changes in the first three weeks, I'm looking forward to the next three months!

Let me know if you have any questions about AMD! To get your copy, go HERE.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Precision Nutrition Informal Experiment: Testing Results!

"History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, 'Here is something new!' But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don't remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now."
- Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was selected to participate in the Precision Nutrition Informal 8-Week Training Experiment.

I said that I would report the results of the study, and here - with the help of Helen Kollias of Precision Nutrition, Alwyn Cosgrove and myself - are the results.

In this study, we asked three questions. Which of these three programs:

-would most effectively improve performance?
-would most effectively promote weight loss?
-would people find most fun, and thus, stick with the longest?


The Testing
We compared the programs based on two indicators: body weight and performance.

Assessing body weight was easy: Participants simply recorded their weight once a week during the study. By the end of the study, we had nine body weight measurements to compare from week 0 to the end of week 8.

Measuring performance was a little more intensive. Before the study began, and after it ended, everyone did the following five performance tests:

1. Maximal push-up test
2. Inverted row test
3. Standing broad jump test
4. Treadmill V-max test
5. Treadmill T-max test

Thus, at the end of the study, we had before/after body weight measures as well as before/after performance changes to compare between groups for the entire 8-week study.

Who Was in the Study?
On average, participants in all three groups were in their early to mid-30's, although we had participants up to 70 years old (see table 1).

Table 1 – Average age (in years) of participants
Steady-state cardio
N = 17
Male = 35 +/- 6
Female = 34 +/- 11
Combined = 35 +/- 9

Interval cardio (I was in this group - I turned 34 going into this study)
N = 23
Male = 36.8 +/- 8.
Female = 31.0 +/- 6.8
Combined = 35.0 +/-8.1

TRX group
N = 16
Male = 33.2 +/- 7.3
Female = 36.4 +/- 8.1
Combined = 34.6 +/-7.6
Note: Once the participants were selected to participate in the study, they were matched and assigned to groups (I was in the interval training group) based on gender, age, weight and training experience. This meant that the groups were very similar to begin with, so any measured effects should be the result of the training intervention rather than individual differences.

Our participants had an average of 9 years' exercise experience (I have more than 15 years' experience). These people knew their way around the gym.

A Few More Things…
We wanted to make sure that the results reflected the exercise program, not other factors. So we asked our participants to make a few sacrifices in the name of science.

First, although we didn't have any dietary restrictions for the participants, we did ask anyone who was currently on a "bulking" diet (weight-gaining diet) to exclude themselves from the study or modify their diet.

Second, the participants couldn't do any other physical activities except activities required for everyday life.

Finally, anybody who had specific, short-term performance or body composition goals (such as a 5k race or a figure competition) were discouraged from participating, as this program was a general, not a targeted, plan. And we wanted to measure what our intervention alone could do.

Study Results

What Happened: Weight Loss
Interestingly, those in all three groups lost weight. Indeed, after 8 weeks, the average weight loss was about 3.2 lbs with no statistical differences between genders or groups. In other words, although all groups lost weight, any apparent differences in table 2 below are likely due to random chance rather than real differences.

Table 2 – Average weight loss (in pounds) over 8 weeks

Steady-state cardio
Male = -3.4 +/- 4.4
Female = -4.9 +/- 4
Combined = -4 +/-4.1

Interval cardio
Male = -2.9 +/- 3.8
Female = -0.6 +/- 2.2
Combined = -1.8 +/- 3.7
*I actually gained 6lbs in the first several weeks but then lost a few pounds during the last few weeks showing a net gain of 3lbs at the end of the 8 weeks!

TRX group
Male = +4.2 +/- 5.1
Female = -1.1 +/- 3.2
Combined = -2.8 +/- 4.5

What Happened: Performance
Along with weight loss, every group improved their performance — often impressively. (High fives to Alwyn.) But there were no statistical differences between genders or groups; remember, they all did the same strength workouts.

Table 3 – Average change in push-ups after 8 weeks

Steady-state cardio
Male = +9.8 +/- 7.2
Female = +11.7 +/- 5.5
Combined = +10.7 +/- 6.3

Interval cardio
Male = +10.1 +/- 6.9
Female = +2.7 +/- 6.7
Combined = +7.9 +/- 7.5
*I increased my pushups by 4.

TRX group
Male = +12.4 +/- 9.4
Female = +6.2 +/- 3.5
Combined = +9.8 +/- 7.9

Table 4 – Average change in inverted rows after 8 weeks

Steady-state cardio
Male = +4.8 +/- 2.0
Female = +6.9 +/-6.5
Combined = +5.7 +/- 4.6

Interval cardio
Male = +5.1 +/- 3.8
Female = +2.9 +/-1.2
Combined = +4.4 +/-3.3
*I increased my inverted rows by one rep.

TRX group
Male = +6.8 +/- 4.5
Female = +2.9 +/- 1.6
Combined = +5.1 +/-4.0

Table 5 – Average change in broad jump distance (in cm) after 8 weeks

Steady-state cardio
Male = +6.2 +/- 6.5
Female = +5.0 +/- 3.7
Combined = +5.7 +/- 5.3

Interval cardio
Male = +4.1 +/- 9.4
Female = +6.4 +/- 6.9
Combined = +4.7 +/- 8.7
*I had a 3-inch gain.

TRX group
Male = +4.8 +/- 3.0
Female = 2.6 +/-4.4
Combined = +3.8 +/- 3.8

Table 6 – Average change in V-max (% grade at constant speed) after 8 weeks

Steady-state cardio
Male = +1.2 +/- 1.2
Female = +1.7 +/- 1.1
Combined = +1.4 +/- 1.2

Interval cardio
Male = +1.4 +/- 0.9
Female = +1.9 +/- 1.1
Combined = +1.5 +/- 1.0
*I increased from 7mph at 5% incline to 7mph at 7% incline.

TRX group
Male = +1.4 +/- 0.6
Female = +0.3 +/- 0.5
Combined = +0.9 +/- 0.8

Table 7 – Average change in T-max (in seconds) after 8 weeks

Steady-state cardio
Male = +128.0 +/- 156.4
Female = +193.4 +/- 145.3
Combined = +160.7 +/- 149.0

Interval cardio
Male = +80.7 +/- 123.6
Female = +0 +/- 43
Combined = +53.9 +/- 112.3
*I actually had a decrease of 60 seconds but it was at the higher incline (7% instead of 5%).

TRX group
Male = +78.7 +/- 118.9
Female = +37.4 +/-63.9
Combined = +60.75 +/- 98.1

Fun Factor
While there wasn’t much of a difference between groups as far as weight loss and performance, we noticed a huge difference in the study drop-out rate. Steady-state cardio had a very high drop-out rate, while the TRX group participants were most likely to finish the study.

Table 8 – Drop-out rate

Steady-state cardio - 80%

Interval cardio - 55%

TRX group - 35%

Most research labs never have this sort of dropout rate. Because subjects are paid to participate and because they have to report to real-life people, they finish what they start. However, because our Informal Experiments are unpaid and distance-based, it's easy for participants to blow us off.

Sure, a few will let us know if something happened to exclude them from finishing. However, many of them simply ignore our emails. Even if we were kind enough to send them a workout plan — or even a TRX suspension trainer. Shame, shame. But, no matter. This is what explains the higher drop-out rates seen in a study like this.

However, we're not sure what explains the higher drop-out rate in the steady-state cardio group. For starters, five people in the steady-state group dropped out the day they received their programs. We figured this was because they assumed steady-state cardio sucks (which it does not, when combined with a good strength program). Again, shame, shame.

Of course, injuries are another possibility. But we didn't get more emails from the steady-state groups saying they were injured. For the most part, any injuries were evenly distributed and mostly non-exercise related (for example, we got a picture of a bruised toe to prove a ladder accident story.) So we doubt that was the problem.

The final explanation could be — simply — that steady-state cardio is kinda boring. Not everyone loves the idea of walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes. (Personal trainers everywhere, are you listening?)


All groups saw equal improvements in performance and weight lost. At least, statistically speaking. If you ask me, these improvements were excellent. For example, after just two months following the prescribed programs, participants improved their performance by an average of 30%.

This is especially awesome considering that, on average, these people had over 9 years' exercise experience. Why does this matter? The vast majority of exercise studies use participants with no training experience (untrained). And anybody who has trained can tell you that in the beginning you get the biggest improvement.

And yet, in this study, people who had already been exercising for over 9 years saw up to 30% improvement in some performance measures (push-ups, inverted row and T-max) in 8 weeks!

Why No Difference Between Groups?
Now, you probably noticed that for push-ups, rows, broad jumps, and V-max, the group means were pretty similar. That’s not unexpected.

While there is literature out there showing the effectiveness of interval training and other types of conditioning exercise vs. steady-state cardio for weight and fat changes, there isn't really any data showing that with a properly designed cross-training program, we should expect differences in key performance variables.

The steady-state group did seem to have better T-max scores. Now, again, statistically, there was no difference between groups. However, if there were a slight trend toward a higher T-max, a surrogate marker of anaerobic threshold and aerobic fitness, we would expect the groups that spent the most time on the treadmill to do the best.

So, what's the take home? Well, around here, most of us do interval training and circuit training (similar to the TRX work) for our conditioning exercise because we find theses types of exercises more challenging, and far more interesting than steady state cardio work.

Maybe this type of training just brings out the masochists in us; we usually alternate between states of:
  • Trying to survive the work interval without flying off the treadmill or getting tangled in our TRX
  • Dreading the end of the rest interval, thinking, "Is there something wrong with my watch?"
But I think that's what most folks want in a workout: challenge. And fun.

So, while the performance numbers weren't really different between groups, something more important was: actually doing the workouts. Remember, 80% of the people in the steady-state group dropped out. 55% dropped out in the interval group. And only 35% dropped out in the TRX group.

As Woody Allen said, "80% of success is just showing up."

Weight Loss
Participants lost, on average, 3-5 lbs without changing their diets. And if you think this isn't much, think again. Resent research has shown that exercise alone isn't very effective without some sort of nutritional change. In fact, many studies have shown no change if a nutrition plan isn't implemented. Check out this article for more.

The simple fact that weight loss occurred in all three groups of experienced exercisers is very cool.

Why No Difference Between Groups?
Although many people have pooh-poohed steady-state cardio for the last few years, when combined with a solid strength training program, steady state cardio can help folks lose weight and improve performance.

That's right: steady state cardio + strength training has been used – with much success – by physique champions for decades. It works. As does interval work + strength training. As does TRX work + strength training.

Thus, we weren't surprised at all that there were no differences between groups in terms of weight loss or performance. After all, they did about the same total duration of exercise – 4 sessions per week; 2×45 min strength sessions and 2×30-45 min conditioning sessions. So, when total workout times were equated, why should we expect to see anything different?

Now, we don't have body composition data, as described above. Had we collected those data, perhaps we'd have seen more subtle changes in fat mass and lean mass.

But, truthfully, I doubt it. All three programs included a strength training program and a similar volume of exercise. We have no reason to believe more muscle would have been built and fat lost with any specific intervention.

The Bottom Line

Here's how to interpret these results:
When you equate total exercise time, as long as you're doing an intense, progressive strength + conditioning exercise program, you can feel free to choose whichever program you like best.

If you prefer steady-state work, add it in. If you prefer interval work, add it in. And if you prefer TRX style workouts, add them in. Indeed, in this study, participants seemed to prefer the TRX style workouts. They loved the diversity and intensity associated with this program.

Of course, to do these workouts, you'd obviously need a TRX suspension trainer. Here's how you can get one:

TRX suspension trainer

And once you have your TRX system, know that as long as you have a great strength training program, feel free to add in steady-state cardio, TRX circuits, and sprint intervals to your heart's content.


Alwyn Cosgrove's comments:

I was actually a wee bit surprised with the results.

All the studies published on body composition show weight training to be superior to cardio, and interval training to be superior to steady state.

So I was expecting to see a clearer difference - but I guess the strength program in addition changes everything. Or at least the way I designed it (with supersets and short rest periods) had an effect.

I didn't see the TRX program until after I'd written the strength program, so there may have been some interference as there was some overlap between movements.

The drop out rate surprised me too. Like the PN guys said - it's an informal experiment but there is a real-world take home message for fitness professionals there.

One of the very interesting things was that the TRX group demonstrated similar improvements in running performance as both the interval training and steady-state groups. Without doing any running! That's a pretty good result.

I'd also like to have seen a group that did my program only, to see what those results alone were.

Informally - Right now our number one body comp program is two days strength, two days metabolic (combo of intervals, BW, KB's and TRX). We tested it against resistance training and traditional cardio and it was more effective in terms of pure body comp numbers.

(We also just had a group of women go through a 4-week cycle of TRX only training)

Overall, it was very cool to be involved with JB, the Precision Nutrition team and Fraser, and I look forward to doing more work with them.



My comments:

I was also surprised that there wasn't a more distinct difference in performance between the three groups. As Alwyn mentioned, this may be due to the resistance training program that he designed.

Although some of my performance numbers weren't as high as the other males or the combined numbers for each group, they were all increases from the beginning of the program. Considering that I began training more than 15 years ago, those are some good improvements in a short period of time.

The fact that I gained weight almost as soon as I started the training experiment and for the first four weeks into the program is due to two things:
  1. I was performing less total exercise than what I was previously doing
  2. I had not reduced my caloric intake when I began the program
By the end of the eight weeks, my 6lb weight gain turned into a three-pound weight gain. I even lost the three pounds I had gained a few months later once I increased my training and continued to monitor my food intake and choices.

The biggest take-home point to this experiment is what Helen mentioned previously:

"When you equate total exercise time, as long as you're doing an intense, progressive strength + conditioning exercise program, you can feel free to choose whichever program you like best."

As I've said before, "Everything works. Nothing works forever."

When it comes to training, you have to find the things you enjoy doing but that also give you results. If you have plenty of time to exercise, then resistance training and steady-state cardio will work. If you are more time challenged, then resistance training and interval training or TRX circuits will work.

It all depends on your goals, the time you have available to train, your training experience, your compliance (fun factor) and your adherence to a proper nutritional program.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Costa Rica Mission Trip

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
- Matthew 22:36-40

I was part of a group of 10 from our church that traveled to Abangaritos, Costa Rica from June 20 - 27. Our mission was to help put a roof on a church currently being built for the approximately 1,500 people living in this remote area on the west coast of Costa Rica.

Although we planned on helping to put on the roof, we knew that there would be opportunities to share our testimonies, witness to people in the community, provide programs for the children and youth as well as attend regular church services.

However, our purpose in Abangaritos went far beyond what we were originally planning to do. It became evident almost immediately that we were there to fulfill God's special plan for Abangaritos that went far beyond what we thought we were there to do.

This was an amazing realization that was fulfilled not only through numerous answered prayers each and every day, but also by the talents and abilities he gave each member of the team to perform any task - no matter how great or how small - on a daily basis.

My eyes and ears were opened and my faith in God was increased each and every day when I was physically able to see, feel, hear, touch and experience God all around us. Seeing prayers answered, no matter how big or small, on a daily basis was incredible!

The fact that some members of the team would get together and talk about something one night and then see those things take place the very next day was a miracle. These answered prayers were not based on "luck" or "random chance" or any other human possibilty - they were only possible through God.

One such example was when we were told (the night before we were going to install the trusses on the church) that we would need at least 15 men in order to complete the task. We knew that there were several men from the church who would not be able to come that day because they had work outside the village.

We had prayed that God would bring us 15 men the next day. During that same prayer, we had also discussed that we wanted opportunities to witness to people in the community.

The very next morning, our team leader and mission leader said that we were going to go out and recruit men from the community to help with the trusses (answered prayer) and that we would witness to people in the process (answered prayer).

While we were recruiting men from the community, we had an opportunity to recruit a man (Liber) who was waiting for the bar to open at 9am. He said he would come and help us immediately (and he was also accepted Christ later that week). We also recruited another man (Wanner - Maria's father) in the community who did not have a job and had a family to support. He also agreed to come with us. One of the members of our team also witnessed to him and his family.

After we went into the community to recruit help, by the time we began we had EXACTLY 15 men (answered prayer). Not only that, but when people had to leave for various reasons, others showed up at the exact same time to keep 15 men consistently throughout the day.

Toward the end of the day when more people were needed to help finish putting up the last truss and help with clean up, there were 20 men. This was just one small example of how God answered prayers and fulfilled his plan through us and the people of Abangaritos.

Despite the incredible things we did each and every day, I always told our team members during our nightly debriefing session that I was completely satisifed with what I was doing but that I didn't know my purpose for being there.

I knew God had called each one of us on this mission trip for a reason. Throughout the week, I saw others fulfill their purpose. But I didn't know what mine was. But I was still happy, excited and content with each and every day that took place.

Throughout the week, I played with the children and participated in several of the children's programs. There was one little five-year-old girl that caught my eye early in the week. Her name was Maria and there was something about her that just filled my heart.

Throughout the week, Maria and I began to form a strong bond, but I didn't know why or what it meant. I was just drawn to her because of her beautiful smile, the sparkle in her eyes, her childlike innocence and joyful attitude.

On Thursday night after one of the children's programs, Stacey and I decided to give Maria a gift. We gave her a small necklace with a cross that we had picked up in Italy when we married two years ago. Her mother said that she would teach Maria how to take care of it so she would have it forever. Maria also gave Stacey a beaded bracelet that I took and wore the next day.

This is when I realized that my purpose for coming to Abangaritos was because of Maria, but I didn't know why. Friday was our free day and it was also the day we were going to pack up and head back to San Jose to prepare for our flight back home on Saturday.

During lunch, I felt compelled to write Maria a letter and have it translated to Spanish so I could read it to her before we left that afternoon.

In my letter, I said to Maria (this is a short summary):
"Maria, God called us to Abangaritos to fulfill his plan. He brought each of us here with a specific purpose, and I believe my purpose is you. I have come to love you as a father loves a daughter. I don't know if God will bring me back to Abangaritos or if he will bring you to America, but I know I will see you again - even if it's in heaven. I will never forget you, and I will pray for you and your family constantly. I know that God has many plans for you. Stay diligent in your bible studies and prayer. I will always love you. - Nate"
In addition to the letter, I had found one last stuffed animal from a huge box of stuffed animals that ProGifts had donated (THANK YOU AMY AND PROGIFTS!) that didn't get handed out the day before to all the children.

This particular stuffed animal was a teddy bear that I noticed before we had even left for Costa Rica. It was a beautiful white teddy bear that I really liked and wanted to keep. But I knew that it would be best to give it to a child.

The fact that this particular teddy bear was the only one left the night before we were going to leave was a sign from God. As this was the stuffed animal that I ended up giving to Maria the next day when I read her my letter!

When we were heading out of town and we saw Maria and her family, she was waving to me and had gifts for me. I ran out of the van and grabbed her and hugged her and told her that I loved her and thanked her for making me the gifts.Maria made me a picture frame with her photo, her name, a message that says "Jesus loves me" and little hearts and crosses. She had also made me a cross that said "Christ" on it and had her name. She also gave Stacey another bracelet when we told her that I had taken the one she had given to us the night before. In addition to those wonderful gifts, she had a letter for me.

I had read her my letter. I was crying so much because I still wasn't sure what my true purpose was and because I loved her and wanted to stay with her. I thought that maybe God wanted me to take her home with me. Maybe that was my purpose - as I came to love Maria as if she was mine. And I would have eagerly taken her with me.

Her mom told us that Maria was up all night crying and even when she fell asleep, she was still sobbing all night long. She asked her mom to write down the words she would speak because she was too upset to write a letter to me.

Her two-page letter was definitely an answered prayer for me, and it went like this (very short summary):
"I didn't go to school today even though I had a test because I was too sad that you were leaving. I have come to love you both as if you were my second family. I asked my mother and father if they loved me and they said yes. I asked this because if they said no, I would have gone to live with you. But they need me and love me and I must take care of them here. I love you Nate and Stacey (she spelled our first and last names perfectly - and no one knew our last name - another miracle). When you have a child, and you will have a child, I want you to name her Jaqueline Maria so that you will never forget me. I love you and will love you always."
The reason that Maria's letter was an answered prayer was two-fold: First, it let me know that I was not to adopt or take Maria home with me despite the fact that I wanted to so badly. Second, for those that don't know, I have never wanted to have children of my own. This has been a huge problem in my relationship with Stacey, as she has always wanted children.

Meeting Maria and reading her letter fulfilled my purpose of going on this mission trip. God used Maria to open my heart and let me know that I could love a child that much. God wanted me to experience that so I would realize that he wants me to have a child - a little girl whom we will one day name Maria Jaqueline.

Having my purpose fulfilled at the end of the week gave me such great peace. Although I was completely happy and satisfied in all that we did during the week, I knew there was more. I was also blessed to be able to see each day unfold before it actually happen.

This is a gift from God, and one that I was glad to experience. Throughout the week, there were things that I knew needed to be done or said. And each day, those things took place through members of the team. It didn't matter what it was. If there was something that I felt in my heart that needed to be done, I saw it happen through others on the mission trip.

Each day, I saw God work all around us. I saw him answer prayers. I saw what it was like to come to love people in the name of God just as he commanded. I saw a church roof get put on and a community come together. I saw just how much I could come to love a child. I saw my faith grow in leaps and bounds.

Being in Abangaritos, Costa Rica was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced through God. The lack of distractions and the closeness to God was truly incredible. Words cannot even begin to describe everything that took place and everything we saw.

I pray that God brings me back to Abangaritos. Not only to see the people that we met and help further his plan, but also so I can see Maria again. She changed my life forever, and I praise God for what he did.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Things Don't Always Go As Planned...

"You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail."
- Proverbs 19:21

I apologize for not posting as regularly as I had hoped the last few months. I have been extremely busy and haven't had the time to sit down and write blogs as frequently as I would like.

In my last blog, I talked about the TRX Suspension Trainer and how I planned on setting up my next phase of training using the TRX and weight training several days each week.

Unfortunately, that didn't work out as originally planned. After my first week into the new training schedule, I tore some ligaments in my left ankle playing ultimate frisbee.

A visit to the Emergency Care Center and follow-up visits with an orthopaedist confirmed the injury and the slow recovery time. I wore an airboot for almost a week and a half and then transitioned to an ankle brace while also icing it several times each day for the first two weeks (It's still sore and I have a limited range of motion - I've been trying to strengthen it ever since).

During the following week, I was only able to use the TRX a few times. The TRX worked great during this time, as I was still able to perform a full-body workout to keep in shape (I was even able to perform TRX lunges, squats and one-legged squats!). But I was unable to lift weights until a week later when I combined some weight training with more TRX workouts.

However, my training took a back seat the week after that as I flew to Abangaritos, Costa Rica as part of a one-week mission trip with our church (I'll write about this in my next blog).

When we returned from Costa Rica, I was going to write a new training program to help get me back on track. In the process of writing a new program and having meetings after work, I did not train that week as well.

That lead to a two-week period of no training as well as the previous six weeks of on and off training for reasons listed above. Also, it was during Memorial Day week that I had food poisoning causing me to miss a week of training - that was the beginning of when things didn't go as I had planned.

In the past six weeks, my training has not gone as planned despite my best efforts. I'm a very organized, disciplined and routined person, so when things don't go the way I want, it throws me off.

But I believe there may have been a reason for that, as God was trying to show me that no matter what plans I make, he is always in control. I think God was using my workouts as a way to grab my attention for several reasons.

I think he wanted me to see that I can adjust to changes in my routine whether it's due to illness, injury, low energy or for something much bigger - like completing his work in Costa Rica!

If you're like me and things don't go as planned, just remember that God is in control and that you can adjust to whatever it is that comes your way as long as you continue to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

And yes, things are back on track for me this week. I started my next phase of training - Accelerated Muscular Development - and it is going great! I'll talk more about this in a future blog as well.