Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Cardio is Dead, Long Live Cardio

I read this article (The Final Nail in the Cardio Coffin) and struggled to figure out where to agree and where to violently disagree .

Being a runner and triathlete I obviously have some bias, yet I currently own a gym that specializes in high intensity interval training, I am a personal trainer and yoga instructor, so I have some level of knowledge in both areas.

The main implication of the original article is that cardio (whatever that means to you) will not lean you out, or will, over time, provide less and less weight loss benefit.

The issue with cardio is one of definition. People equate running, jogging and biking type activities with cardio, but the reality is that anything that gets your heart rate elevated for an extended period of time can be considered cardio.

But remember, the converse is also true…if you perform traditional cardio exercises and do not achieve an elevated heart rate then you are not doing a cardio exercise.

The key word here is INTENSITY!

  • Jogging, 5km/h – 60 mins, 450 calories
  • Running, 10km/h – 60 mins, 730 calories
  • Running, 15 km/h – 60 mins, 1400 calories
If you jog 5km in an hour then eat like you ran 15 km in that same hour you are just asking to gain weight!

At the end of the day it is basic math, calories in versus calories out.

Doing cardio activities is no guarantee that you are burning enough calories to lose weight. If you are not cardio-ing as hard as you think you are…you are not burning as many calories as you think and, surprise surprise, you are not leaning out as much as you think you should.

We see this all the time, people come in, do a HiiT class then consume a protein shake containing 350 calories…and then head home for lunch or dinner. The result is actually a negative impact on their weight. They may be toning up but they will not be leaning out.

And some of the statements in the original article are incredibly misleading…for example…

“Some of the workouts included […] nine-hour sessions […] 10-mile run,  70-mile bike ride, and finish with another 4-mile run”.

First off, let us not downplay the amazing accomplishment that is the 9 hour workout. It requires incredible focus, dedication and perseverance.

However, let us actually break down the numbers…
  • 10 mile run (16km for those Canadian’s in the crowd)
  • 70 mile bike (112km)
  • 4 mile run (6.5 km)
  • Total 9 hrs
At my fastest my time for doing that type of workout would be (1hr + 3.5 hrs + 30 mins), call it 5.5 hrs to be generous. Yet the author is taking 8 or 9 hrs for the same distance, obviously a less INTENSE session.

An important follow up questions, how many calories are consumed during the 9 hour workout? Is this added into the total for the day or the week? I am going to suggest that most people do not count the calories consumed during a long cardio workout (gatorade, power bars, gel packs) yet this total is VERY significant. You are literally unable to do a 8 hour workout without significant calorie intake during the session.

This is not a criticism but maybe the 2400 calories consumed in a day, which is the high end for of the scale for an “active” woman, is too high for the level of intensity undertaken, thus minimizing weight loss.
It is true that aerobic capacity (cardio efficiency) is greatly increased by the amount of aerobic (cardio) exercise you do and yes, your body will get more efficient and burn less total calories. But isn’t that the end goal of aerobic (cardio) training? You are training your body to be efficient and perform to and beyond it’s current limits.

If you want to believe cardio does not make you lean I can provide two counter examples :
  • Example 1
  • Age 27
  • Training focus – triathlon
  • Weight 165lbs, body fat 8%
  • Training hours per week – 20 – mainly cardio, running, biking, swimming
  • All heavy weight work was in off season (mainly leg work)
  • 1NTENSITY LEVEL – 10km time – 35mins, Olympic distance Triathlon time – 2 hrs
  • Age group winner in races
  • Calories consumed per day – 3000-ish
  • (please excuse the speedo it was the 80s ;)

  • Example2
  • Age 50
  • Training focus – Spartan Races (hilly trail running with obstacles)
  • Weight 175 lbs, body fat 13%
  • Training hour per week 10 to 15, mix of running and HiiT with weight training all year round
  • INTENSITY LEVEL – 10km time – 45 mins, Spartan Beast (21km hills) – 3:45 hrs
  • Age group winner in races (5, 12, and 21km)
  • Calories consumed per day 2500-ish

Weight loss has nothing to do with cardio, but that does not mean you should give up cardio.
Getting lean has nothing to do with lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean you should stop lifting weights.

Aerobic activity (cardio) will burn calories, raise your heart rate and improve your cardio-vascular health.

Weight training will improve muscle definition, strengthen muscle groups and protect joints that undergo stress during your cardio sessions.

Cutting calories (dieting) will cause you to lean out but will not help your aerobic fitness or develop muscle tone (see the definition of skinny-fat)

High intensity weight training will elevate heart rate (for a short period of time) and build muscle and improve muscle definition.

High intensity training will not prepare you for even medium duration cardio activities of any type, just ask all the gym-rats at the end of the first climb of a Spartan race, they look great at the start and then flame out after 20 mins of hilly running.

But remember – Any activity is good activity!!!!

It really is simple
  1. Get active

  2. Pick an activity that you can maintain over days/weeks/months so you don’t get bored

  3. Gradually Increase your intensity, challenge yourself always.
  4. Eat the proper number of calories for the level of intensity you are performing
You will lean out, regardless of the workout you are doing.

Disruptive Innovation can lead to Market Success

Why do we want innovations yet fear innovation?

Working now as an advisor to early stage tech startups, at various stages of their maturity, I am realizing that the resistance to innovation is not just a big company problem.
…we have met the enemy of innovation and he is us…
How many times you have been asked this question by an investor, executive, or internal marketing rep…
“XZY Company just released a new product that is kicking our ass, we need sometime new, what can you build for us?”
Which always seems to lead quickly to a meeting with the same people where you or your team demonstrated something new, or suggested, for the 100th time, that the product should be upgraded, overhauled, or thrown out, only to be met with the response…
Why would we spend time/effort/money on that, the product is selling just fine.
Alternatively, the same group that rejected the last new idea from your R&D team will show up in the lunch room and remark…
“I met these guys at a party/at lunch/on a cold call, they have some really cool technology, we should get a partnership going”
Seriously??? Why do you even have an internal development team?

Are you letting them innovate?

Have you asked them to innovate?

Have you forced them to innovate?
While bringing in external partners can be good, if it is complementary and not overlapping, it is the best way to stifle innovation inside your company as your internal team senses that their contributions are not valued and they are not being given a chance to produce exciting new tech.
Product creation is not magic, innovation is not free.
Every product that appears on the market and takes your breath away is a result of months and years of trial and error, customer feedback and re-work. It only looks like magic because you don’t know about it until it was launched.

Someone…someone else…was spending the time and effort to innovate in a market where you and your company are cowering, hoping desperately that your customer will be happy with the current/next version, will upgrade and enable you to make your sales numbers for the next quarter.

Innovation can be very disruptive; disruptive to the products already in the market. And don’t fool yourself, there will be disruptive innovation in your market if it is successful in any way. They (the innovators) will come for you and your healthy sales margins. When I am looking at new markets in which to innovate I look for markets where there are established products, nice margins, complacent companies and customers that are complaining and are desperate for something new.

Ask yourself, how did you get where you are today? How did your current product get build and launched? If you are in a small or medium size company, in all likelihood, it was developed by a group that is no longer with the company. A group that innovated because they had to, because they had no product to sell, because they were selling into an existing market, against a larger competitor and had to innovate in order to make any sales at all.

Success can ultimately be self-defeating. Your company will become complacent as it gets addicted to it’s sales and profits. Sales are a good thing, and sales, obviously, are necessary for the company to move forward but sales can kill innovations.

Sales can make you afraid to innovate, afraid to rock the boat and afraid to upset your customers by potentially getting the next version wrong. Sales will make you chase new features and customer specials. Your product will become a ball of duct tape, instead of creating the next great thing.

Don’t fool yourself though, those same customers that you are so carefully protecting from your internal innovation are looking at each new product that comes across their desk and will jump on the one that thrills them, dropping you like a hot potato.
What is the solution?
I took a course in startups a long time ago and the one comment that stuck with me was…
“If you have developed a successful product, sell it and start again“.
Which is a radical way of looking at it but it goes to the point. If you are good at innovating new products, do it again, and again.

Now maybe this stuck with me because I agreed with it, which is how lemmings fall over cliffs, but the core of the comment leads back to where we started.

Don’t become complacent, don’t become addicted to your sales, don’t believe your own sales bullshit, don’t believe you are the best.

A better product will always come along, a different way of solving the problem, a disruptive innovation.
Things to try…
Challenge your internal resources to innovate, and not just in product development. Challenge your sales team to find better ways to sell, your marketing team to find better ways to generate leads. Challenge you support team to get faster at responding to customers issues.
Challenge your teams…stop asking them why and ask them why not! Give your teams time to experiment. Even a day a month, dedicated just to letting the them do whatever they want, to try new ideas.

Give them a forum to show their ideas. Celebrate the innovations, even the bad ones, show that you are engaged and interested and it will lead to other ideas and other innovations.

Take a chance on the ideas. If there are good ideas act on them, integrate them into your product, start new product lines, go after new markets.

Innovating from within is a scary concept and claims resources, time and money. Results are not always immediate but you will find that in the long term the result is a company that is successful and more importantly…is still alive.

Start Ups (are) for Dummies

OK not really..and given that I have been involved with more than 20 start ups in my time I am kicking myself just as hard as the next guy who dreams of bootstrapping his (or her) self to technology stardom.

Truth be told startups drive innovation in high-tech. Progress would be slower if garage entrepreneurs, home coders, open source proponents and other "not-for-profit" developers were not so incredibly active in the high-tech industry.

I stumbled across this essay by Paul Graham (local pdf copy here) that had me laughing and crying and nodding my head in self-deprecating acknowledgement all at the same time. It feels like I have a story (or three) for ever point that he makes. Given that I get asked about once a week whether I think an idea is worthy of investigation and/or eventually turning into a startup I thought I would add my two cents to Paul's essay.

Now don't get me wrong, I have never taken a startup all the way to a billion (or even million) dollar takeout by a larger company. The most successful I have been is running (with a partner) a small consulting company for 5 years that kept 6 techies gainfully employed. I have started, either alone or with other people 4 companies. I have been involved at the early stages of at least 20 others, a few of which became viable corporate entities, most of which ended after a few conversations at the same coffee table in the same coffee shop where they started.

I know I have become jaded by failure and burnt out by the endless hours and "wasted" effort but I know that each new idea creates an enthusiastic and optimistic rush of excitement and desire to jump right into it. I like to think I am maturing as an engineer and becoming more deliberate in my assessment of each new idea.

I have probably invested $200K...real cash dollars...in various initiatives, I don't even want to think about the total value (cost!) of salary I have deferred in return for shares or options in various start ups.
I have spent countless hours trying to convince investors to put money in to various ventures and even more time trying to come up with rational arguments to use to convince said investors to part with their hard earned money.

I have spent innumerable other hours trying to convince normally intelligent engineers and programmers to throw logic and their better judgement to the wind  to come work for the startup of the week for considerably less than they are worth on the open market.
Both types of conversations always leave me feeling a bit dirty and this leads me to my first point about startups...

1. Get down on your knees and thank anyone who is kind enough to give you money, time, advice, equipment or even free coffee and bagels for your startup. Given that 9 out of 10 venture funded startups eventually fail, 99 out of 100 self funded startups fail and probably 999 out of 1000 startup ideas die on the vine, anyone who gives you anything is making the equivalent of a charitable donation without the benefit of a tax receipt.

The easiest way to fund a start up is to do it yourself. If you are lucky enough to have an existing venture that you can use to kick it off or you get a nice severance from another company or your domestic partner is filthy rich or you have a nice nest egg stashed away and are willing to roll the dice with it...off you go. But remember the failure rate for startups, remember that the money you spend is far safer buried in the backyard or hidden under your mattress until you regain your sanity.

This brings me to my second point...

2. You had better have an incredibly understanding domestic partner. They are watching you burn, not only cash but time, potential salary, hard earned saving and southern vacation opportunities. Think about the strain on your domestic relationship that not working will cause. Most of us can afford to miss a paycheck or two...can you afford to miss 10, 20, 100? Not only are you not getting a salary but you are likely spending money as well, a little bit here, a little bit there. This type of behavior is not something that most partners are comfortable dealing with, not for long anyway.

It is no coincidence that most of the people you meet in startups, the ones you see in the Google and Microsoft ads are young and single, they are the people that start ups hire. These people will work 100 hour weeks on the chance the startup will be successful. These people will take less salary because they have less to lose than the 35 year old with two kids and a mortgage.

Third point...

3. It takes a long time to get the revenue rolling in. It takes even longer before you are in a position to pay yourself. And you can always convince yourself that the first real revenue is just around the corner and that your first real paycheck is following soon after. But it rarely is, it is always much, much farther away that you think. And your investors and other companies you have to deal with know you are small and desperate and will take advantage of that fact to get you to do more work and wait longer for cash than normal companies. If you are one of the main founders you are likely to get paid last and be the first to be asked to defer salary (if you are even getting one). You and your founding partners had better be aligned on this, nothing creates tension in a startup faster than differing needs and attitudes about money.

Fourth point...

4. Pick your startup partners well. Nothing creates tension in your startup faster than differing attitudes...about anything. Remember you will be working close beside this person 8, 10, 12 hours each day, weekends, nights, traveling together, probably sharing hotel rooms (depending on your finances), you had better be aligned. Ask yourself, do I have the same goals, the same needs, the same work ethic as my business partner?

Ask yourself, do I need a partner?

I remember telling an associate in a startup (two in fact) that someone had to be king. Someone has to make the decisions and someone has to be responsible for the ultimate success or failure  of the venture. By all mean surround yourself with good people, ask their advice, actually take their advice but make a decision and stick with it. My feeling is that it is better to strike off in the wrong direction for a while, see where you end up, see what you discover than to sit, mired in indecision while your employees begin to question your leadership ability.

One of the great engineering tenets is that you learn more from failure than from success....and I would add...as long as you eventually succeed ;-)

Here is my Top Ten list, for people starting companies.

Top Ten List - Things to Think About When Starting a Startup

1. Make sure you can live without a paycheck for at least a year...seriously 12 months...no income..trust me you will need the runway.

2. Pick you business partners well...you will be married to these people, you will see them more than your domestic partner and family...you better trust them with your new venture.

3. Figure out your idea...tell people about it...patent it if possible..but tell people...accept their input, their criticism...be rational...if this idea doesn't work there will always be another. My patent lawyer (who is also an angel investor) told me that he will refuse to talk to you if you feel you can't talk publicly about your idea. If your idea is so simple that telling him about it will put the entire venture into jeopardy then it probably isn't that good or unique an idea. Tell people, judge their reactions, practice your pitch, you will need that pitch to raise awareness and raise money...you better be ready with the money shot when you get your 30 seconds in the elevator with Bill Gates.

4. Surround yourself with smart people, hire them, put them on an advisory board, have lunch with them, get drunk with them...know you are not going to do this on your own...there is just too much to think about.

5. Find an office where you can be together as a team. Everyone wants to start a company in their basement or in two or three basements, communicating using email and MSN but there is nothing to replace the interaction that comes from being face to face, talking in front of a white board over stale pizza. That is where the magic happens. You will be asked to consider off-shoring especially if you are taking any investment from VCs. Resist the urge...if you can't sit beside your guys and help them solve issues you are asking for problems, you have lost control, it is not your baby anymore. Outsourcing will come, once you are bigger and successful...when you are little you need to be close to your idea, to nurture your idea and make it grow.

6. Treat your people well. There is no conversation I hate more than the "let see if we can sweat the guys" conversation I always have with founders. These people are making your dream happen, share the dream and it is not always about money, be creative and get them involved.

7. Options are worthless, do not try to use them as incentive programs. Unless you are a well funded, rapidly expanding company with actual sales in a growth market the probability that the options in your company will ever be worth anything are almost zero. Your employees know that and will laugh at the offer. If they don't understand the options are worthless then shame on you for making the offer.

8. Get your idea into the market...polish it only as much as necessary to make your customers want it. If it is a good idea it will take off, if it is a bad idea the polish will not fool them for long. Let the market decide if the idea is good and do it before you run out of money. If you give yourself a year it is always better to find out after three months whether the idea was good or not...give you time to adjust, to refine or to stop...if you polish the apple for the entire 12 months you only get one shot.

9. Market your idea. Too many technical people create something and then expect the world to come calling. If no one knows about your new gadget how will they know they need it. Why would you spend $1m building something and then spend $10K trying to tell people about it. Gaming companies sometimes spend more on marketing than on development. Marketing can make a bad idea successful, not marketing will never make a good idea successful. I am not suggesting you throw money away frivolously, but understand this thing is not going to sell itself. Hire a sales guy, hire a marketing gal, tell your friends, ask them to tell their friends, do a late night TV infomercial but get the word out. Be creative, you need to rise above the crowd, stand out from the herd.

10. Have fun.

That what this is about people, a startup is not a job it is a calling. You are doing it to create something special...enjoy the ride.

My Cousin

My cousin Paul died last Friday (March 8, 2013). He died after a long battle with cancer, a battle he fought in the same way that I remember him living his life, with a positive outlook and a stubborn determination to overcome.

He was the closest in age to me of all my cousins, only two months younger. We had not been very close these last many years. Recently we really only saw each other at weddings and funerals but it always felt like my aunts kept the family communication flowing, emails, letters, Christmas cards. He grew up in another city, not across the country but far enough that I only saw him in the summer and on special occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

As we grew older we visited each other, alone and then with girl friends and wives but as our own families grew the occasion to visit grew fewer and father apart.

The thing is no matter where you are your family is still your family, blood is blood. He, like all my cousins, was always held close to my heart.

He was many things to many people, a husband, a father, an uncle, a brilliant carpenter, but in my still vivid childhood memories he was always fishing. It was the thing we shared each time we were together. The last time I spent any serious amount of time with him was after a wedding when he invited me to "the lake" to go fishing. Instead of two kids jumping in the boat it was two 40 year olds, laughing and joking, like no time had passed, just as we had always done.

It is those summers at my grandparents cottage, at "the lake", I will always remember when I think of him. I used to spent all my weekends at the cottage yet the week or two that he would visit, initially with his older brothers and, as we grew older, by himself, always filled me with exhilaration, exhilaration tinged with terror. Paul was the outgoing fearless compliment to my shy cautious personality.

In my mind he had no boundaries, no limits, there was nothing he was afraid to do or try. I always knew that the week or two I spent with him would cause me to push my own physical and emotional boundaries, to explore parts of the lake I had never seen, to go farther in the boat or through the forest than I thought we were allowed. Paul always assured me that everything would be fine, and it always was.

Our adventures always had something to do with fishing. Preparing to fish, trying to figure out where to fish, catching bait for the fish, or arguing about what bait would work to attract the fish today. I haven't fished much since but every time I pick up a rod or thread a worm onto a hook brings back memories of those summers on the lake.

We spent hours catching frogs because the biggest fish liked frogs. We boated out to islands we knew were covered with frogs. We paddled the canoe deep into the deerfly infested but frog filled swamp. We dragged the canoe across cat tails, filling it with one small frog after another. The fishing inevitably becoming secondary to the adventure that resulted during the preparation.

On one trip we caught two massive bull frogs, laughing, convincing ourselves that we would use them to catch the mother of all fish, wondering how hard it would be to cast them out into the water. As we paddled back, plotting our evening expedition, we noticed one of the bull frogs sitting quite contently in the bottom of the boat with two small legs protruding from its mouth. Paul was horrified and spent 5 minutes freeing the smaller frog. A frog he would subsequently put on a hook and feed to a fish.

His explanation was that you never knew if we would need that last frog to catch that last big fish.
We went on long walks through the forest behind the cottage, looking to find the deepest part of the frog swamp. A part of the swamp we could never reach in the canoe but were convinced held the mother lode of frogs and would keep us fishing for days. Fearlessly leading me over fences that defined the limit of my cautious explored, getting lost but obviously finding our way back, never actually finding the swamp but spending the day running and climbing and laughing.

We tried on several occasions to discover our own great fishing spot so we could be remembered in the lore of the lake, taking grandpa's small outboard to parts of the lake I had never seen and was sure grandpa didn't want us visiting. I would remind Paul of this occasionally, only to be met with a wide eye grin and polite dismissal. I look back and I am glad he never gave into my caution, I have many more tales to tell to my kids as a result.

At one spot on the lake where we were sure no one else had ever fished we hooked a massive Northern Pike. Yelling and screaming at each other, in sheer joy and more than a little panic we slowly reeled it in. As it got closer to the boat we began to realize how big it was. To our young eyes it was the biggest fish ever caught on the lake, we would be famous. As the beast approached the boat Paul reached out with the net to attempt to land it. With one shake of it's massive head, and I am positive a smirking glare from the eye closest to the boat, the line snapped and the fish slowly swam back into the depths. I was convinced Paul was going to jump in after it as he reached desperately with the net. We fished in that same spot until after dark, and then the next two days, determined to catch the monster, but it never returned.

My grandparents anchored our adventures, feeding us, when we happened to be near the cottage, cautioning us about boat safety, watching over us as we wiled away the hours between each fishing adventure swimming, playing cards or simply sitting in the sun and talking, but it was always the fishing that connected us.

Paul was fearless and in a lot of ways taught me to be fearless as well, or at least less cautious and for that I am eternally grateful.

Goodbye Paul, when I see you again we will go fishing.

Cardio is Dead, Long Live Cardio