Must not drop the ball - literally. What vitamins will help?
June 4, 2012 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Emergency: must temporarily increase muscle endurance or life will be ruined within the next 24 hours. What can I do?

The problem, in short:

Today my fiance failed a mandatory strength test for his job. He had to lift something heavy and hold it at chest height for five minutes. He dropped it with just a few seconds to go. Tomorrow, he will take the test again. If he fails, he is fired.

What legal things can we do overnight that will help him hold something heavy for a few more seconds? Are there vitamins that increase endurance? Are there breathing tricks or muscle-flexing tricks or anything else that can help?

The slightly-heartbreaking backstory:
After a lengthy period of unemployment (building trades, economy tanked, union has hundreds of members out of work), he got hired in a new field - the one he literally dropped the ball on today. Though he was hired months ago, the convoluted internal bureaucratic clearance/background check/medical records-obtaining period took an exceeding long time. He has exhausted his savings waiting for the "all-clear" to begin work, unable to do anything else in the intervening months because he knew that he would only have a few days' notice to fly out once hired. He is now halfway across the country, having invested more money in plane tickets to get to the training session for this job once he finally WAS given the all clear. Before getting on the plane, he was more optimistic than I've seen him in years, as in: now that he has a steady job, maybe we'll get married soon! maybe we can afford to have children before he gets any older! maybe! maybe!

If he drops this goddamned heavy test-object again tomorrow and they send him home, I believe it may break him. I'll just be heartbroken; he may throw himself off an overpass.

What do we do?
posted by sarling to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have him pretend he has to hold it for eight minutes. Finish line stumbling is a mental thing, not a physical limit. Good luck!
posted by huckit at 4:27 PM on June 4, 2012 [18 favorites]

What shape is the item? How much does it weigh?
posted by history is a weapon at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: Not sure, re: weight. A lot? Shape: it has a handle for holding.
posted by sarling at 4:34 PM on June 4, 2012

Getting enough oxygen might help. Some people pull their chest out of the water, hyperventilate a bit, and get a big lungful before diving under water. It does extend their ability to stay under water. Perhaps some similar trick would help with this? I would also try to wash hands and arms beforehand if possible. I have found that showering or even being rained on can alleviate muscle fatigue. So I would try to be as clean as possible at the start of the test.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:37 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't do anything physical—it might tire his muscles. Breathe deeply, curse under his breath, and just focus. I think huckit's right—it's psychological at this point. The only other thing that might help is, when he's holding it, focus on using different muscles at different points when one starts to get tired.
posted by synecdoche at 4:41 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't hurt to get lots of protein tonight and a healthy (read: filling and not actually all that healthy) in the morning.
posted by Benjy at 4:44 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, shifting weight (adjusting your stance) can change focus on which muscles are being used - as some tire, shift around so others are used instead.

And the mental part is big too. Studies have actually shown that cursing/grunting helps, though not sure what's acceptable in the job environment or during the test.

Many times these tests are also about practice & knowing the right technique. Is there any advice about passing these tests available on the internet or from other coworkers?
posted by jpeacock at 4:48 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tell him to focus on his core; draw in the abdominals, breathe deeply and slowly without letting the abdominals go. Focus on the feeling of the breath. Try to keep a straight spine and slight bend in the knees. Keep the shoulders down and relaxed, and the neck muscles relaxed. Hold the object as close to the core of the body as possible. Keep calm (focusing on breath will help with this too), maybe repeating a mantra or positive statement in his mind.

If that fails, explain the situation to the person giving the test; if he's just a few seconds short, they may let it slide. (I know I would!)

Best of luck.
posted by phoenix_rising at 4:49 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

He needs to go to sleep. Now. With many hours to spare. He can take a drugstore melatonin or something if that'd help (but no alcohol). From an adrenaline perspective, before going in for the test tomorrow morning, it may help for him to watch an adrenaline-filled action movie like Crank, and for you to give him the kinkiest phone sex you can think of, especially in some kind of thrill-of-getting caught scenario (no, I'm not kidding!). Also, I've found that making myself count in a foreign language (especially backwards) helps distract me from agonizing over a how-will-I-endure-this passage of time -- something like that also may work for him during the test. Same goes for reciting a poem or the Pledge of Allegiance or favorite song lyrics, etc.. And tell him we'll all be rooting for him! (And if you can, please don't let this get to be an jump-off-an-overpass-worthy event in his mind. He has proven that he is resilient, resourceful, and has the love of a wonderful person with him -- if this doesn't work, then you'll both just move on to whatever's next.)
posted by argonauta at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd take ibuprofen to counteract any soreness from today and get a good nights sleep myself.
posted by fshgrl at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think there's a vitamin (or drug) that will help in this timeframe. Common sense interventions: he needs to get a full, good night's sleep the night before, and he needs to be adequately hydrated and fed. No boozing. (Stop hydrating a couple hours before bed to prevent the peeing-in-the-night sleep disruption.) Good breakfast (stick with the familiar, to prevent distracting stomach upset), only enough caffeine to stave off withdrawal, plenty of water.
posted by gingerest at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have to do this kind of thing annoyingly often nowadays; if he can hold it for almost five minutes he can hold it for more than five. Drink water tonight, get some rest, warm up beforehand, and then hold that bastard up like there was a basket of puppies underneath. Change grip a few times to share out the stress and find a way to mentally divide the time so he's not just staring at a clock slowly counting down from 5:00. Me I just count down from 10 over and over again, but I could see that driving someone insane. Most importantly tell him not to worry, he can absolutely do this.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 4:52 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All good tips. To clarify: he's not allowed to change his grip. In the job, he may be called upon to prevent something heavy from falling in an emergency, and so he'll be disqualified for shifting his hand.
posted by sarling at 4:55 PM on June 4, 2012

Talk to others who have passed the test about technique. With almost all strength tasks, there is a big stance/technique angle.
posted by mercredi at 4:56 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

No ibuprofen. Current research suggests that it impairs muscle repair and the muscle's impulse to train.

(However, if he's sore tomorrow, definitely take it then).

Ice, get a lot of rest, and eat some delicious, healthy food tonight and in the morning.

I find that singing a song to myself and paying no attention to the clock helps me hold poses for longer.
posted by General Malaise at 5:09 PM on June 4, 2012

This is going to sound weird, but it's entirely possible that he'll do this tomorrow and it'll go off without a hitch.

Firstly, as someone else said above, this is a mental thing, not really a strength thing. If you can hold something for 4:55, you can hold it for 5:02. Doing the test a second time, this will feel familiar to him. He'll know what five minutes feels like. He'll remember how it felt the first go round and be better prepared for what it means to hold the weight in place for five minutes.

Secondly, it's very possible that now that he has muscle memory of what it feels like to do this, his body will be better able to handle it.

Thirdly, I remember experiencing something like this when I had a regular yoga practice. We would do a new pose, and the first class I'd be close but I wouldn't be able to quite get it. The next time we did the pose, I would often find myself getting it right away. Maybe because I had learned how to access just the right muscles, or maybe my muscle tone had improved imperceptibly since the previous class. There were some poses that I just didn't have the ability to do at all, ever, but anytime I tried something new and came really close but didn't quite get it, the second time around it would click. Maybe the same will be true of this endurance test?
posted by Sara C. at 5:14 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Caffeine about thirty minutes before the test. Alternate hot and cold water in the shower tonight. He should not take melatonin if he has never taken it before; it can make him sluggish in the morning.

Don't go in cold. Warm up a little bit but not so much that he is tired.

Feet shoulder width apart, elbows tucked down at the rib cage, shoulder blades back, and chin tucked. Keep the thing as close to his chest as possible.

If he was that close already and it is the first time he has done such a thing then once he gets over the mental aspect and tightens up his form he'll be fine.
posted by Loto at 5:16 PM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a weakling, so take this with a grain of salt, but it might be a good idea to eat something with simple carbs (fruit, juice, candy, whatever) about 10-15mins prior to the test. Weight lifting is an anerobic form of exercise, which uses glycogen (sugar/carbs) as almost exclusively as fuel.

Would it be a good idea to have him get a little angry about all this? When I do work out, I'm usually able to milk a little extra effort/endurance out of myself by thinking about whatever's pissing me off that day/week.

Good luck to him!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 5:17 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Counting backwards from sixty every time I thought I couldn't take it anymore got me though natural childbirth and I would highly recommend this technique to anyone who has to endure something.
posted by milk white peacock at 5:22 PM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Big bowl of pasta tonight (to replenish glycogen), lots of water, lots of rest. Nothing hard to digest (protein, fats) for a least 3 hours prior to the time to retake the test. Perhaps some caffeine 30 minutes before and a small warmup. With that, he should be better prepared than he was the first time (remind him of that) and he should be able to do it without any problem.
posted by aroberge at 5:26 PM on June 4, 2012

Tell him you love him and you will keep loving him no matter what happens with this test! That will help with the mental attitude and also help if for some reason his body can't do it tomorrow.
posted by lorimer at 5:34 PM on June 4, 2012 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Getting a good cardio workout on the treadmill or a jog around the block or whatever ought to not fatigue his upper body muscles, but might just increase his VO2 max a bit, which could help. This idea is from an excellent exercise book I just finished reading called The First 20 Minutes. Speaking anecdotally, I have noticed being surprised at times in the past by how many more push ups I've been able to do when I got a good cardio workout earlier in the day.
posted by Ryogen at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2012

Caffeine is really the best general suggestion. It combats the accumulation of lactic acid (physical fatigue) and will jazz him up and keep him focused. Get a large iced coffee from Starbucks. No milk.

I would suggest some other synthetic supplements but the truth is it's not a great idea to introduce something totally new to your man because he might get sick or panicky the first day.
posted by phaedon at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

If this object has a single handle for both hands, he might want to try a mixed grip. This can dramatically increase grip strength because you don't have to fight the thing from rolling out of your hands.

Of course, this may be impossible or impractical.
posted by The Lamplighter at 6:08 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You people are brilliant. Have condensed much of this into an email for him. Keep your fingers crossed, and I'll update tomorrow on how it goes.
posted by sarling at 6:20 PM on June 4, 2012

I agree with moving the deadline, mentally, to seven or eight minutes. Also, visualizing the outcome (I.e. imagining himself easily clearing seven minutes) might help (

We'll be rooting for him!
posted by feets at 6:23 PM on June 4, 2012

Here's as close to a magic trick as I can come up with, from the book Naked Warrior.

Everything in the musculature is connected to everything else. He's holding the weight with his arms, but he also has to transfer the force through his torso, his back, down through his legs, and into the ground. That needs to be one continuous chain of strength though his whole body.

All the muscles, tendons, bones, everything in the body is connected to everything else, everything is pushing or pulling on something else the whole time. The more complete the chain of muscle tension, the more of the body's musculature is engaged in the lift.

He starts with the feet. Make a fist with his toes, tense and strong. Then the calves. Then then thighs, each time tensing up the next link in the muscular chain. Next, the glutes. Tense them up, imagining you're clenching a coin between the cheeks. The abs, shoulders, biceps, forearms, hands. Visualize the contiguous chain of muscle from his toes to his hands and everything in between along the body working together to perform the lift. As each muscle section tense up, it prepares the next link in the chain to tense up and work together.

Absolutely visualization as well.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:32 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yikes, there's a lot of "folk wisdom" shall we say here. There's not much he can do the night before.

Stance and grip are gonna be the deciding factors here:

Tell him to tuck his elbows in to his body as much as he can, like, touching your ribs. The object is to let the core of your body - much bigger, stronger muscles than your arms - take as much of the strain as possible. If they let him bend his elbows, great, if not, you can still get your elbows pretty close by pulling your shoulders right back, and leaning back a bit from your waist.
posted by smoke at 6:34 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a weakling, so take this with a grain of salt, but it might be a good idea to eat something with simple carbs (fruit, juice, candy, whatever) about 10-15mins prior to the test. Weight lifting is an anerobic form of exercise, which uses glycogen (sugar/carbs) as almost exclusively as fuel.

I agree with this. The work that is being done by the muscles to hold something up is that the cells need to stay contracted, which means they need glycogen. Complex carbs for breakfast, Gatorade 10-15 minutes ahead of time seems right to me.
posted by gjc at 6:48 PM on June 4, 2012

Hi! I am someone who had to do strength-related performance tests for my job! My job was not your fellow's job, but there may be some overlap.

First: sleepsleepsleepsleep. Seriously. It has so much of an impact.
Secondly: What he can do, is to start testing himself, not on lifting the weight for six minutes, because that will tire him, but on feeling what six minutes feels like. Is there a repetitive thing he can repeat with some timing? A story he can tell himself in his head? I recommend not actually looking at a clock, it will feel like everything has gone far too slowly. The key to time-related strength tests is withstanding the awareness of the passage of time, not the actual physical feat of lifting. Like others have said, it's likely that if he's five seconds under, he can be five seconds over. Mental focus will be the easiest to get by tomorrow.

Do not, repeat, do not, try any new medications the night before a major test.
posted by corb at 7:24 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is nothing he can do to actually strengthen his muscles at this point. It is going to be mental. I train strongman and there are many events like this--hold a big stone or sandbag and walk with it as long as you can without dropping, hold weights outstretched in each arm. The guy who wins is not necessarily the strongest but the one who has the most pain endurance. Here is what we do:

Hearty meal with lots of protein, tonight and tomorrow, but nothing that will make him feel sluggish and sleepy


Ibuprofen - yeah, in the long run it impairs muscle healing, but he is not in an intense training program, this test is tomorrow and you don't want him to be sore during it. Load him up on that shit.

Caffeine/5-hour Energy/Some kind of massive stimulant - This will help get him psyched up and helps distract from the pain in the short run.

Psychological preparation - Listening to angry music. Watching inspirational YouTube videos. Anything that will get him really psyched the fuck up and pissed about life. Feeling hopeless or worried is the absolute mind-killer for this kind of event.

Take a deep breath, tighten up everything in the core, do not try to breath too deeply otherwise you'll relax.

Shift your weight. Side to side, shoulder to shoulder, if he can hold it close to his chest shifting the weight onto his heels and leaning back ever so slightly while squeezing his butt will help.

DO NOT THINK ABOUT THE OBJECT. Do not think about holding the object. Do not think about the time. Find somewhere else to focus and focus on that. Sing a song in your head, something simple over and over.

Hurt something else. This helps some people with the focus. Get something strong like capsaicin cream (can get at the drugstore) and apply a small amount (I cannot overemphasize that you do NOT want a lot of this, experiment beforehand and start SMALL) on a different area of the body, such that it burns that area a bit, maybe the calf or something? Then distract yourself with that pain. Focus on that, not what you're holding.

Good luck!
posted by Anonymous at 7:24 PM on June 4, 2012

Also he should absolutely not try to do any physical training at this point. He is not going to gain any benefits in the next 24 hours. VO2 max has nothing to do with this event.
posted by Anonymous at 7:26 PM on June 4, 2012

he'll probably be able to do it from having tried it the day before. he won't necessarily have adapted, but he'll be able to recruit more muscle. definitely drink caffeine beforehand. i would definitely bet that he can do it now given how close he was the first time.
posted by facetious at 7:27 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be a professional soccer player. If he's just a few seconds off of the 5 minutes, it is absolutely all mental.. At that point you cheering him on during the last minute, words of encouragement would help a lot "you're doing great" "you look fresh", "you can make it!" "I believe in you" I think they could push him over the edge.

If you can't do that, then tell him beforehand, tonight, that you love him and believe in him and know he can make it, and to hold on for those last few seconds.

Deep breaths to saturate the body with oxygen before starting might help.

Good luck, and please please come back and let us know how he did!
posted by crawltopslow at 7:40 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, be careful with all this advice.. In marathons and triathlons (which I do now) a great golden rule is practice like you race, and don't do anything new the day before or day of... Because you don't know how your body will react. So I'd recommend against doing anything to extreme. And personally I would avoid eating anything you're not used to eating.
posted by crawltopslow at 7:42 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The reason I said "no more caffeine than what's required to stave off withdrawal" is that some people have difficulty with the bowel-stimulating effect of caffeine and the resulting dehydration and electrolyte imbalance could be catastrophic. I also thought that some of the problem he had with the first test was the enormous pressure he's under, and figured if he was on edge from caffeine, that might make it harder for him to withstand the full five minutes without psyching himself out. But practically nobody gets out of junior high school in the US without knowing how they function on caffeine, so I expect he can handle that choice and I defer to the people who say that caffeine helps with this sort of combined strength-and-endurance challenge.
posted by gingerest at 7:42 PM on June 4, 2012

Actually gingerest makes a very good point I hadn't thought about, if his bowels get antsy when he's had caffeine or when he's nervous, the combination could make him quite unhappy and he should use a different stimulant.
posted by Anonymous at 7:51 PM on June 4, 2012

Agree that it is now a mind thing. I'd start counting down from a random, high number like 4765. That should distract the mind just enough to make time less apparent.
If numbers remind him of the time too much, then try the alphabet backwards.
Wish him luck from me.
posted by MT at 8:27 PM on June 4, 2012

Tell him to think of people with names starting with of each letter of the alphabet to distract himself. it's all time/mental
posted by crawltopslow at 8:37 PM on June 4, 2012

One odd exercise I did in judo class when I was younger was when we were asked to hold our arms out straight while somebody else tried to bend them using their full force. Generally it was hard to resist.

Then the judo instructor said "Now, visualize your arm as a firehose, with water flowing through it at full velocity. You aren't trying to keep your arm straight, you're pushing out the water through your palms." Once we thought of it this way, all of a sudden our arms were practically impossible for the other person to bend. Sometimes, changing the way you visualize something is all you need.

In any case, I wish your fiance the best of luck. This is a really heartbreaking story and I hope it has a happy ending.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:58 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tell him you love him and you will keep loving him no matter what happens with this test!

Of course this is true, but I wouldn't say it at this point. Psychologically I think he needs to hear that he can absolutely do this, and he should be thinking about how great it'll be to call you and tell you he did. That's what'll give him strength. I think if you introduce a note of 'it's okay if you fail' he will feel on some level like you expect him to fail, and that could psyche him out.

(I don't really know anything about psychology, I'm just saying this because I think expectations really, really matter. Kids whose parents expect them to go to university go to university, and that kind of thing.)

I also agree with everyone who says he is totally going to succeed tomorrow :-)
posted by Susan PG at 11:09 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Curiosity is natural, but this is not the place to ask the OP questions about the job. Mefi mail is an option.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:00 AM on June 5, 2012

Response by poster: HE PASSED! HE PASSED! Will ask him tonight what helped of the dozens of tips you gave, then will come highlight best answers.
posted by sarling at 5:05 AM on June 5, 2012 [80 favorites]

Yay!!! Congrats! I'm so happy for you guys! Big hug and kiss for him when he gets home! :)
posted by phoenix_rising at 5:51 AM on June 5, 2012

YAY!! Thank you for updating, and I'm so happy for both of you!
posted by insectosaurus at 6:38 AM on June 5, 2012

I've been worrying about this all day. So glad to hear he passed!
posted by ladybird at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2012

Congratulations! I'm really happy for you. :-)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2012

Yay!!!! So glad. I was thinking about him all morning.
posted by LittleMy at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2012

I'm happy for you both that he passed, but I have to ask: were you serious when you said "he may throw himself off an overpass" if he had failed, or was that an exaggeration? If you were in fact serious, then he should probably think about some counseling, for just general happiness and life issues. Because other challenges are always around the corner. (And I really hate to sound dark in what has become a positive thread, but I think it bears mention.)
posted by jbickers at 8:39 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hooray!! (and I'm going to try to remember some of these tips myself for exercise class tonight! The last fifteen seconds of Downward Dog are evil.)
posted by Occula at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2012

Goddamnit, I am so sorry I missed this, because I think I have your answer. I am going to leave it anyway, for posterity. Maybe it'll help somebody else down the road.

Beet Juice. Beet juice has nitrates, which the body convert to nitric oxide, which help increase muscle endurance. There is a lot of research going on currently, so don't take my word for it: 1, 2, 3, and 4. Study abstract found here. (It's the first study listed, with the title that begins 'Dietary Nitrate Supplementation...'.

Beetroot juice should be available at health-food stores. Possibly at a nutrition/vitamin store, but check a health food store first. It's a bit pricey, but this stuff sounds like the real deal.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 9:50 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lie to him: an extreme suggestion.

Make him a special performance drink which should boost his endurance by 5%. Don't make the story elaborate. What you actually use to "boost" endurance is irrelevant provided it is not active and not detrimental. The key here is to be properly convincing.

As long as he believes he is getting performance improvement he might improve.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:33 AM on June 5, 2012

I didn't have a helpful answer when this was posted, but I was so glad to come back and see that he'd passed! That's awesome!

I think this Ask really got some great input from the athletic/physically-minded. Good, useful reading. I'm looking forward to putting some of it to use for my own feats of endurance!
posted by batmonkey at 11:44 AM on June 5, 2012

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