May 14, 2010

Novelty


(Definitely don’t do this if you live anywhere remotely sketchy)
I’m writing this, filled with the familiar feeling of post-run tranquility, at 11 pm. How am I in such a mind set if I abhor treadmills as though they are manifestations of Satan himself? I went for a run at night.
            Let me first say that I’m fairly androgynous looking and that I live in a small, super safe town, and that I live in the well-lit down-town area conveniently close to both private residences and the police station.
            Let me also say that the thrill of running down the yellow line illuminated by the comforting glow of streetlights is infinitely better than running on a sidewalk in daylight.
            Lately I’ve gotten more that a bit bored with running, with no events to train for, no one to train with, and no one to listen to my endless ranting obsessions regarding running. I needed something novel, something to spice things up, and as I was going back to my dorm I noticed a man running on the sidewalk at almost 10 at night. My first reaction was one of envy- what cajones! Then I realized that I could do that too, thanks to the aforementioned factors. I was filled with anticipation- I had never run at night before.
            Five minutes in to my normal, daytime route, I realized that there was more to running at night than needing to eat a ton of carrots. My normal route follows a road along a canyon, and I routinely see deer during the day and the odd coyote at night. Obviously the deer aren’t a serious health risk, but coyotes, on the other hand, definitely don’t care how androgynous I look and are far more inclined to notice my ineptitudes with regards to avoiding getting eaten. I turned away from the unlit canyon route and towards the main street running through downtown.
            I enjoyed the solitude, the silence, and the darkness. It seemed as though my environment was facilitating the almost meditative mindset that one enters while running, rather than distracting me from it.
            The experience was also totally novel, and a perfect fusion of two activities that I enjoy greatly- running, and wandering around at night. I was a bit more aware of cars; more specifically, if they showed any signs of slowing down or stopping after passing me, but things went smoothly.
            I did have a mild scare though- a minute or so before my turn-around time, a truck blaring music driving towards me turned in to a street directly behind me. People were hanging around outside the apartments talking and such, and after I turned around a miniature flotilla of cars (including the truck) pulled out of the street and again began driving towards me. I know my hometown well though, and was able to run down a footpath and in to another residential area, insuring that my would-be pursuers would have to make their intentions very clear before successfully attempting to snatch me.

May 9, 2010

The Humble Pushup


I’m writing this after my workout, which was slightly on the haphazard side, while eating some chickpeas, drinking juice, and snacking on crackers. Fun fact- it’s important to eat within 30 minutes of the end of your workout because that’s when your body utilizes nutrients most effectively.
            I did a round of two different workouts that I found on bodyrock.tv, then grew concerned that my neighbors were going to invade and demand I stop leaping around above their heads, so I switched to lower-impact things, including pushups. One of the bodyrock workouts that I did required 30 seconds of pushups immediately after a minute of jump-squats. To my surprise, after completing the squats, I was relieved to get to the pushups and could bust out 30 seconds of consecutive crisp clean pushups, making 90 with my elbows each time. It felt easy.
            Push-ups have never (till now) been something I felt confident about. In gym I did all right with them, but always had to rest every five or so. When I was at boarding school, you had to do 3 pushups for every letter in whatever swear word you uttered, so with the help of my exuberant use of the “F-bomb” I could do pushups in sets of 12, but beyond that my arms quickly tired and I would again have to rest. After I grew competent at 12 pushups, I naturally began busting out my truckers’ mouth with more zeal, so I occasionally had to do pushups for the “-ing,” as well.
            Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to my point. I can competently do quite a few pushups, which isn’t something that I ever thought I’d be able to say, let alone with pride.
            Being a body-weight exercise, pretty much everyone thinks that they’re a good idea, if not the bread and butter of some workouts. The only people who seem to have a problem with them are the body builders/people who lift a lot of heavy weights. Since I clearly am enamored with the power of pushups, I thought I’d go in to the different types and my understanding of the different muscles that they work.
            The first type of pushup is basically whatever you think of being a pushup, usually your hands are under your shoulders and when you go down your elbows flare out in alignment with your shoulders.
            Then there are the Tricep pushups- when you’re at the bottom of the exercise your hands are right next to your rib cage and your elbows/upper arms are parallel with your torso. I can do about 5 of these, which is up from 1.5 in December. Obviously they work your triceps. Triangle pushups involve making a triangle with your index fingers and thumbs, so that your hands are directly under your sternum. Of course if these are too easy, you can always up the ante by putting your feet on a chair.
            Plyometric pushups are by far the hardest. Plyometrics are exercises that involve exploding out/up, and when applied to pushups things get nasty and face smashing real quick. Clap pushups are plyometric, as you have to “jump” off the ground with your arms in order to clap. There are scads of clap pushups- clapping behind the back, clapping twice, and the illusive triple clap pushup. There are also variations that involve “jumping” on to a medicine ball or yoga block.
            Lastly, you can always do one-handed pushups. I recently learned the “girly” version. It’s hard to do them on your knees, like a regular “girly” pushup, but if you spread your knees out a ton they become slightly more do-able.
            In summation… do lots of pushups. You’ll get better and stronger and it feels good, and don’t be afraid to try new kinds or do them on your knees. And if you decide to try the plyometric ones… put a pillow under your face, because you’ll feel really stupid when you bruise your face on the floor. I learned that one the hard way…

May 6, 2010

The Protein Thing

     I'm pleased to say that when I went shopping this week I bought more eggs and thought about buying tofu and beans before realizing that I hadn't eaten all that I bought last week. I'm doing better with incorporating protein in to my diet, which is a good thing. Obviously I'm not quite "there" yet, but I'm doing better. That said, since half a dozen eggs were my primary source of protein throughout the week, I thought I'd share one of my favorite ways to eat eggs.
     I'll preface this by saying that I live at 7,000 feet, so I suggest asking someone who knows how to cook about boiling times for eggs because I learned by trial and error, which was pretty gross.
     I eat a lot of soft-boiled eggs on toast because they taste like fried eggs on toast but with less fat/oil associated with frying. First I boil water, then I poke a hole in one end of the egg and boil it for 6-7 minutes. (This is where the 7,000 feet thing comes in to play- if you live at sea level this will probably produce a hard-boiled egg.) While the egg is cooking I make a slice of toast. I pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on to the toast, though this is optional. Again with the satiety-fat connection- I become ravenous in half an hour if I skip this, though if you're trying to loose weight obviously you can modify this. Then you whack the egg in half and scrape out the egg on to the toast.
    A note on the nutritional philosophy behind this- the complex carbs in the toast (If it's whole wheat) keep your energy and blood sugar at consistent levels, the protein in the egg the third most easily utilized by the human body (the first two are whey and soy), and the olive oil makes it tasty and helps you feel full.

April 29, 2010

Fitness Philosophies


Since a lot of the guys that I box with are most likely going to have fights this summer, the instructor spent the end of class telling us about his personal philosophies regarding fitness (go running) and staying healthy (drink a slightly absurd amount of water).
My personal philosophies differ from his in that I believe that every one should educate themselves on the different schools of thought about fitness and then figure out what works for them.
For example, I hate step-aerobics. I can say truthfully that I would rather have someone hit me with a baseball bat than participate in a step-aerobics class; I know this because I’ve taken a step-aerobics class before. To me, jumping around on a box to terrible music constitutes torture, but to some, step-aerobics are fun and a good way to work out. Just because I rather dislike step-aerobics doesn’t mean that they aren’t a viable workout for others. If that’s your cup of tea, by all means, have at. Everyone should find some sort of physical activity that they enjoy, or at least are willing to participate in on a regular basis.
In this day and age, with the national obesity rate on the rise, doing anything active is of paramount importance, especially if you’re just beginning to get in shape. On the Internet you can find a myriad of schools of thought that argue back and forth about functional strength vs. body building, cardio vs. strength training, kettle bells vs. dumbbells; however, unless you plan on being a professional athlete, there’s no reason to force yourself to do something that you hate because some gas-bagger on the web professes to have found the fitness program that turns average Joes (or Janes) in to Brad Pitt (or Jillian Michaels).
Most gyms (well, at least the gym that I box at and my local YMCA) offer the first class free, so you can check out something new with out committing monetarily. I think that this is an excellent idea because it allows people to experiment with different ways of getting in shape or exercising in a more relaxed group setting. The YMCA that I go to has a whole plethora of flyers advertising different classes, and as I was perusing them the other day, I noticed one for a “bike polo” group. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to put people on bikes, give them racquets, and tell them to hit the ball, but I’m super stoked to impose my reckless zealotry and lack of coordination on to the other participants when I attend my free introductory class.

April 28, 2010

PROBARS

PROBARS are these amazing little whole-food bars packed full of nuts, fruit, chocolate, and energy. I first got in to them when I was living in Montana, and I'm a die-hard convert. Unlike other bars, they leave your stomach settled and have no aftertaste. Awhile ago I was trying to figure out how to get free probars, and it turns out that they have a deal where if you submit a story and they decide to publish it on their blog, you get a box of probars. I recently got an email saying that they had in fact decided to publish me, so as soon as they do I'll put it on here, but for now I just wanted to let everyone know about them because I genuinely believe that probars are a great product.

April 27, 2010

The Southpaw and the "Lead-Noodle" Arms


This evening I went to my boxing class, and after spending 40 minutes emphasizing quick punches over powerful punches, we began sparring. The guy I was paired with is left-handed, so that threw me off, and he certainly didn’t hold back because I’m a girl, which I genuinely appreciate. (One of the other guys kept apologizing every time he hit me “hard” and I just wanted him to understand that I didn’t sign up for boxing because I hate getting hit.) While I was getting pummeled, I thought, “Man, I’m really (explative-ing) sick of sparring guys who are so much bigger than me.” This thought deflated me more than getting punched full-force in the gut or jaw, and the rest of my bouts were half-hearted. In addition to growing discouraged on that front, my arms were brutally tired, most likely from the speed stuff we’d done before. I felt much more content to hang out and try to protect myself as much as possible than try to punch with arms that felt essentially like lead noodles. I then became quite frustrated with myself for giving up mentally and physically. My mind churning with hypotheses and solutions, a conversation between some of the guys who’re training for fights came to mind. They were discussing different types of protein powders- which ones tasted alright, which ones they were using, and which ones had mysteriously disappeared from the gym. At the time, I merely thought, “huh, so that’s why they’re so ripped,” but after feeling how utterly (and abnormally) tired my arms got after not a lot of use, I started to see the wisdom in the protein powder.
            I still eat like a distance runner, despite having run my most recent half-marathon over a year ago. Lots of carbs, not a lot of protein. Actually, I don’t even really eat like a distance runner. I just don’t eat protein, partially because I’m a vegetarian and partially because I don’t really understand how to incorporate it in to my diet. Instead of working on gradually adding protein sources that I like and understand, I go through these phases of trying to eat more- buying tofu, making myself soft-boiled eggs, eating beans, then a week later going back to PB ‘n’ J’s, cereal, toast, and bananas. My diet is undermining my goal- to build lean functional muscle (in other words, to become a ripped beast with out looking like a female body builder or growing impressive facial hair). It hit me tonight- I probably have trouble feeling like I can build muscle for reasons other than being an ectomorph. Reasons like telling myself that I “just can’t” effectively gain muscle (despite doing just that in notable and meaningful ways) and not eating any protein.
            I think that this is a classic example of how one’s approach to fitness needs to be more holistic than some realize. Many factors effect performance in workouts- things like getting enough sleep, being stressed, drinking water, and eating right. In one of my previous entries, I talk about how an individual’s intensity and commitment to a workout can make a huge difference; however, it’s just as important to commit to being healthy outside of the gym/track/trail/aerobics room. When I put in the extra effort to drink enough water, get to bed at a reasonable hour, and eat things not found at the bottom of the food pyramid or in a fruit tree, I notice that my performance improves, just like when I commit to a workout.
            Right after my boxing class I went grocery shopping and bought beans, eggs, and tofu. Hopefully this time I’ll buy those same things next week and the week after that, and maybe I can give the burly dudes in my boxing class a run for their money. Or at least get in a few good punches…

April 23, 2010

Procrastination

      This week I've spent most of my time avoiding my mountain of homework, mostly via stumbleupon.com and Hulu. In the spirit of not doing anything productive, I was at the library today browsing around, not writing my art paper, when I found this book entitled, The Unfashionable Human Body. (Copyrighted in 1971, so it's not exactly on the cutting edge.) Plowing through all of the weird Freudian theories on how drinking milk creates a human preoccupation with the breast, I noticed a trend of sorts- every physically damaging fashion statement has a lot to do with constraining women. (Think chinese foot-binding and the corset, not to mention the modern high heel.) Then I started thinking about how this de-emphasis on physical capability in women has continued to the present, and I realized that one of my friends is a perfect example.
      She's six feet tall, pretty, and can bench much, much more than me. We would go to the gym together and she would play basketball or go on the stairmaster, while I tried valiantly (if somewhat fruitlessly) to get stronger- bench pressing, arm curling, that sort of thing. Occasionally she would voyage in to the weight room and bench with me, which would turn in to me jealously watching while she put up more than I'll probably ever be able to without steroids. I'd rant to her about how cool it was that she was naturally so strong and tell her that she should take advantage of that and get "hella ripped" to which she would reply that she didn't particularly like being that strong and that she wished she could better fit the profile of a "damsel in distress." I really value being physically capable and couldn't understand her dislike or mistrust of her abilities until I realized that being strong was disadvantageous to being attractive.
      As evidenced by the aforementioned book, women being physically incapable has been attractive for centuries, perhaps because strong women intimidate and emasculate men. (I'm generalizing here- obviously for many men strong women are indeed attractive and desirable.) This strikes me as detrimental to the health of women. If you're supposed to be thin but not supposed to be muscular, how else can you achieve this but via purging or starvation?
      I'd like to close with a paraphrased quote. (Unfortunately I can't remember the source, otherwise I'd copy-paste and cite.) If you took a group of girls and a group of boys, and encouraged one group to "eat like growing children" and play outside, and the other to wear high heels, avoid pigging out, and play inside, the two groups would physically develop very differently, regardless of which gender was engaged in which lifestyle.