Category Archives: Fitness

My Paleo Adventure

A few weeks ago, looking for healthy recipes, I stumbled upon Melissa Joulwan’s site:  I checked out some of her recipes and was pretty much taken in by how tasty they all looked.  I was so taken that I dashed to the local bookstore and bought both of her cookbooks.   The family and I stopped for lunch and I picked out a few recipes I wanted to try.

Best. Impulse. Buy. Ever.   For real!

I spent Super Bowl Sunday prepping her chocolate chili.  Now, let me tell you, chili is a sacred food for me.  I take it very, very seriously.   Chocolate?  No beans?   So close to Scoville Blasphemy.    Then I tasted it.   My go-to chili recipe of nearly 20 years has been tucked away in the cookbook.  This is the new standard in the Gowden household.  THIS is what the guys will be eating on nerd days and beer tastings.  This is was will be stanking up the office.   This is pot full of delicious.

I also made a few of her spice blends, sauces and prepped stuff for the week.  I took her Moroccan dipping sauce with a veggie tray to the neighbors.   Every single vegetable was GONE before the chip bowl was refilled!

Her books have completely changed my kitchen!   We’re trying new flavors, new foods (Jicama!   Spaghetti squash!) and loads upon loads of vegetables.   Here’s what I really love; she’s not afraid to flavor her veggies.   So often recipes for vegetables are one of two preparation methods.  You have cheese/butter/high calorie sauces that negate a lot of the benefits of eating the vegetables.  Then you get the ultra-diet ‘don’t let oil anywhere near your veggies and learn to like their natural flavors.”   The books give you plenty of reasonable options for increasing your flavorful vegetable intake without adding a ton of calories.

I really respect that.  I bought this looking for ways to help us lose some of our winterweight.  Any doctor or dietician will tell you that if you want to lose weight, eat more veggies (as long as they’re not dipped in cheese or butter.)  I’m loving broccoli, asparagus and squash now.   Spice mixes (Ras Al Hanout…which I keep calling Ra’s al Ghul in my head) and light dressings make all the difference in the world.

Am I convert to the Paleo lifestyle?  No.  I love my coffee with cream in the morning, and with 2 little kids, pasta has to be on the menu at times.     I can tell you with no uncertainty that when we stick to the book’s recipes for 2, 3, 4 days at a time, we feel AMAZING.   Then the weekend comes, glass or 2 of wine, pizza, wings, pancakes….and the sluggishness is back in full force.  For the first time while trying to change my eating habits, I’m actually seeing a direct relationship between the fuel going into my body and my performance.   Same number of calories, just difference foods, and a marked improvement.

Listen, if you’re just looking for awesome vegetable options, go to her site now.   If you’re thinking about trying out the Paleo Diet, check it out.  If you’re a fan of chili….just go there now.   Believe me.


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PA Spartan Race: 2014 Thoughts

Sometimes, you need to sit on things awhile before you comment on them.   This year’s Palmerton Spartan Race is one of them.

IMG_1270Holy Crap on the Cracker!

One does not simply do a Spartan Race.  If you’ve done a Warrior Dash, the local YMCA mudrun, and a couple of benefit 5ks, you can finish a Spartan Sprint….but it will have its way with you.  Just being clear here…these things are tough.

This was my 4th race and  I knew what to expect.   Spartan Race has a ‘be prepared for anything’ attitude, and they mean it.   There’s always a new obstacle or 3, different layout of the course, and fun ‘challenges’ along the way…you know, like hiking for 2 miles up a double diamond ski slope.   You get to the top and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all downhill from there.  No, no it’s not.  It never is.  You’re going to descend through highly technical terrain, get wet, get muddy, scare yourself (if you’re lucky) and finish with the right to be REALLY obnoxious about it for at least a week.

Spartan Race, to me, has trouble balancing the “We want to get people off their couches” philosophy, with the “THIS RACE ISN’T HARD ENOUGH.  IMO DRAG A TIRE WITH ME” meatheads.   Some volunteers seem to want to mess with you, and they suck the fun right out of the race.   There’s one punk with a megaphone at the bucket o’rocks carry who was asking for an airborne bucket of rocks in his direction.  Then there were the volunteers yelling “You’re not going to do burpees on this.  You’re going to make it over, you can do it.”  They’re also cagey with the exact distance of the race.  Advertised as 3+ miles, I’ve been told everything from 4.9 to 5.5 miles.

None of the obstacles were THAT difficult.  I bailed on the rope climb because I was just SO tired.   I landed the spear for the second year in a row (my trick, just. throw. hard.)   The Hercules Hoist was a real challenge:  For a brief moment I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I’m disappointed there was no water slide this year.   The Tire Pull was fun.

I took issue with the cargo net monkey bars at the end.  You’re suspended about 10 feet over water (maybe 3 feet deep?) and mud.  Hand over hand it across the cargo net and ring the bell; then drop.    First, that’s a scary drop.  I wonder how many injured ankles came out of there.  Second: it’s one of the last obstacle in a very tough race.  It’s where the spectators are….you don’t want to fail in front of your family.  When I let go, I was mad at myself and Spartan Race.  Finally, if most people are failing the obstacle, AND the obstacle is at the end, maybe it’s not right for the homestretch.

I limped to the finish line thanks to some leg cramps.  Surprisingly, I saw a TON of people with cramps this year.   I emptied my Camelbak twice, had 3 GU packs plus electrolyte tabs.   I was greeted with a medal (1/3 of the Trifecta medal is attached this year), plenty of water, bananas, power bars, protein shakes and my lovely wife, daughter, and good friends Ed and Darlene.

Spartan Race needs to beef up their after-race party.   Props on the choice NOT to make the free beer Miller Lite (like last year.)   They have to give people a reason to stick around afterwards, though.  They need a better party/festival atmosphere.   For spectators, I’m told it’s brutal.  Once you check out the handful of vendors, there’s NOTHING to do.  For the price we pay, and the fact there’s a steep spectator fee, there really should be something more than  ‘watch out for the muddy people.’

Am I doing it again?  Of course.   That feeling at the finish line energizes you in a way you have to experience to understand.   I’m a Spartan, and that means something to me.











PS:  Check out my Spartan Race 2014 Video

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How I Train: New Ground

A few weeks ago, in this post, I discussed the hows and whys I work out at home.  I’m going to say right now:  I’ve never had George Lucas call me and say ‘Sean, come hang at the ranch for a week or two.”, nor has Tim Cook emailed me to say “Sean, I’d like to match your current salary +50% for 5 years, so you can focus on being an IOS developer.”  Bruce Springsteen has DEFINITELY never showed up at my house saying “heard you were a fan, mind if I crash on the couch for a few days?   Let’s throw a huge block party this weekend; I’ll play, and buy the beer.”  I doubt those things will ever happen.  (wink wink)


At the end of a chain of events I never saw coming, my lovely wife and I checked out a new Crossfit gym near our house.  We loved it.   That’s important…WE loved it.   With sandbags, I’ve been doing modified Crossfit for a few years.  I’ve read the pros and cons, winced at the meatheads on YouTube and the ones who can’t be EXTREME!!!! enough.  I’ve seen the average people make amazing changes.   I’ve always been open to it, but needed that push.  She gave me that push.

What did I see?    I saw a coach who walked us through each exercise and stressed form.   The workout was ‘Fran’, 21 reps of thrusters then ring rows (or pullups if you can do them), then 15 reps, then 9 reps….all for time.   I saw it modified in such a way that we both nailed the workout and we NEVER encouraged to take on more than we could.  In fact, it was suggested we do them with PVC pipe and not the barbells.   We decided to do the barbells.

I also saw a subtle psychological trick.  I do sandbag thrusters with an 80lb bag.  I had the 45 lb bar and looked for some 10 and 5 lb weights to put on it.   All I saw were ‘plates’, which I assumed were the standard 45lbs.   They weren’t!!  They were rubber, and some we 10 lbs.   They also had 15 lb bars that looks like 45 lb ones.   Once could grab 10’s and put them on the light bar and look like they’re lifting 135 lbs to an average gym goer.   It’s the illusion of putting up a lot of weight.   That’s powerful!!!!!   You walk into a gym, haven’t done the workouts; you’re nervous.   You don’t want to look like a newb.    If you’re putting up 35 or 55 lbs next to someone doing 135….and your bars look similar, you’re going to feel less self-conscious.

What didn’t I see?   The jacked up, over caffeinated, super shredded, ‘brah’s’.   I also didn’t see any 3/4 naked women with 2% bodyfat, parading and flexing.   I saw people that looked like us; hopeful, encouraged AND encouraging.  I didn’t see ANYONE push anyone to do more than they could do.  I didn’t see form sacrificed.   I didn’t see ANY unsafe activities.

Hey, I’ll be honest, I’ve been injured because of bad form.   I’m not going to encourage my wife to do ANYTHING that could hurt her.   If I see someone encouraging time or reps over good form, that’s it…done.

This is new territory for me.   I’m excited.   I’m doing this with my best friend; someone who’s going to inspire and motivate me.   We’re going to have something new in common, something new to talk about;  Changes we’re making together.

My training has taken a turn for the better.   There’s something new and exciting on the horizon.    I’m going to be tracking progress here.   If you’re curious about Crossfit, I promise to do my best to be an objective source.

And, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Cook and Mr. Springsteen, feel free to message me right here.


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How I Train Part 1: Sandbags

I joined my first ‘gym’, my HS boiler room, when I was 16.   I belonged to a gym in one form or another (college gym, YMCA, Fitness Center, etc) up till 3 years ago.   I was a tough break; I really liked the gym I belonged to, but I had a newborn at home and my wife and I were balancing work, family, etc…and working out became difficult.  Mind you, the TIME to workout wasn’t tough.  ANYONE can find 30 minutes most days to be active.  GETTING to the gym was the hard part.

So I started looking at home gym options.  I had to be able to do everything I did at the gym.   I had to have enough weight/resistance to build and maintain muscle.   It had to have a small footprint (not a lot of room in the house at the time.) It had to be ‘real’ equipment, no fads or gimmicks.  Finally, it had to be affordable; no $5000 supersystems with tons of specializations.

That’s when I found BruteForceSandbags.

It actually started with (kinda’ not safe for work…but solid fitness material.)   Their trainer was throwing around a sandbag and my interest was sparked.   Could this be the solution I was looking for?    I did some searches and ended up at Brute Force’s site.

Could I do everything I did in the gym, with a sandbag?   Almost.   Olympic lifts, squats, shoulder presses, rows, and most all other power moves could be done with a sandbag.   How much weight?   I went with the Strongman which goes up to 120 lbs.  Not the 300 I was looking for, but it was a start.   I soon learned that 120 lbs in a sandbag is significantly harder to lift than 120 lbs of barbell.   How was the footprint?   The size of a duffel bag, so, smaller beyond my expectations!   Is it ‘real’ equipment?   3 years later the bag is in great shape and is the cornerstone of my resistance training.  What about price?   They’re not inexpensive, but more so than 120 lbs of weight plus a barbell.  When you put it in perspective, it’s about 3-4 months membership at a gym.

It was love at first workout.   I replicated my standard workouts and found that I felt better after the sandbag workouts.    4×5 of cleans then 4×12 squats, romanian deadlifts, bent over rows, shoulder presses and then pushups and pullups.

It was then that I found Sandbag Fitness.   Matt, the guy who runs it, is pretty passionate about sandbag training and has provided, FOR FREE, some truly killer workouts.    He’s also written THE BOOK on sandbag training.

Before you think this is just a plug for Brute Force’s and Matt’s sites, let me assure you I’m merely assigning credit to those who’ve inspired me.    In these 3 years, I’ve seen gains in endurance and fitness that I never had in the gym.   With a sandbag, you have to train in a different way.   You use your core and stabilizer muscles much more.   You find things like lugging some mulch around back, carrying groceries, and, if you’re a Spartan Racer, the Sandbag Carry, so much easier.   They’re ridiculously versatile: do a traditional 3×10 or 4×12 or 5×5 workout.   Do Crossfit-style workouts.   Do just about any exercise you do with a bar, and then some.

I’ve since added 3 more sandbags, the Athlete and Heavy Hitter.    The Athlete is awesome for taking out on runs, doing sandbag burpees and high rep cardio workouts.   The Heavy Hitter currently has about 150 lbs in it and goes up to 300.   It gets a TON of use for bear hug squats and, my favorite: Pick it up and get it over your head.

So, did it change me into a muscular, ripped, Adonis?   Heck no….I eat too much.  No equipment is going to do that unless you eat right.   Do I miss the gym?  Never.   Would I give up my sandbags for a lifetime membership to whatever mega-gym?   Nope.

Sandbags did for me what I’d hoped for:  Gave me versatility, functionality and ease of use for (now) under $500.   I’ve never been so pleased with a fitness product.

So, there’s what you need to know if you’re interested in using sandbags in your workouts.   Any questions, feel free to ask, or ask the experts in the links above.



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