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.

April 18, 2010

Tabata and PB 'n' J

       In response to overwhelming reader queries (ok, one) about the nature of tabata workouts, I thought I would briefly explain what they are and then end with a rant about the awesomeness of PB 'n' J.
      Tabata workouts are composed of four minute sets of eight rounds. Each round includes 20 seconds of maximum effort and 10 seconds of "rest." The name comes from the surname of the researcher who discovered the effectiveness of these workouts and developed the experiments to support this unique exercise style. He did this by putting trained, fit endurance athletes on exercise bikes and varying the resistance of the pedaling, and quantifying their improvements. These athletes demonstrated a 40% increase in their VO2 max, which is the most oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. Non-athletes and people just beginning to get in to shape can experience enormous gains in their VO2 max; however, once one "gets in shape" significant VO2 max gains are considered difficult, if not impossible, so the fact that trained, professional athletes experienced such great gains speaks to the effectiveness of these workouts. To read more about tabata workouts, click here.
      The other day I was walking back to my place, starving and rushed, and, after quickly realizing that pasta would make me late to class, began to ruminate about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and their subtle nutritional genius. (Let me preface this by saying that this genius is negated if the sandwich involves Skippy, Wonderbread, and jelly with more sugar per serving than a Snickers.) Let's start with the bread- the  vehicle for the peanut butter and jelly, and the backbone of any sandwich. Provided you're a whole-grains fanatic, the complex carbohydrates in the bread provide long-term energy, which is a good thing because you won't crash (like you would from a lunch of doughnuts) and thusly your energy level will remain constant which decreases your likelihood of craving sugar. Next, the jelly (or, preferably, jam). This might just be mental masturbation, but I always feel a lot better about the jam that has the fruit chunks- it's a bit like putting real strawberries on the bread. Anyways, the high sugar content  of the jam allows your body to quickly utilize it, giving you a burst of energy. If you're super awesome, you could substitute the jam with a sliced bananas, but I personally find the taste of peanut butter and bananas to be like Satan's asshole, so I stick with strawberry jam. The peanut butter has two important components- a bit of protein, and fat. Proteins are your body's building blocks, so it's important to make sure you eat enough especially if you're trying to build muscle. While fat is often cast as the source of all diet woes, your small intestine doesn't release a burst of "I'm full" hormones until some fat has been detected, so the fat in the peanut butter helps keep you full, lessening the likelihood of later gorging.                Succinctly, I love PB 'n' J's, not only because they're tasty and convenient, but because they're healthy.

April 15, 2010

Intensity

     I confess- this week I've been pretty unmotivated. I've kept working out, but have been caving in to that voice in my head that tells me I don't need to push myself. Whenever I go through a slump like this, I re-read an article I found on rosstraining.com (for the full article, click here). The things that Ross discusses that have particular meaning for me are, succinctly, that you can create your own workouts and that a work out can be laid-back or intense depending on ones mind-set.
     Creating your own workouts is a fascinating and novel concept in the world of personal trainers and thousands of websites and blogs promising to deliver fantastic results if one dedicatedly follows the program dictated therein. I'm not knocking those websites and trainers- just suggesting that they might be a tad overhyped and perhaps better utilized as a source of inspiration. (For example, I get a lot of workout ideas here) I love thinking up new workouts for myself because I can target specific areas that I know I need to improve in, like my upper body strength, or lack thereof.
     If you're new to working out, I suggest taking the time to learn a bit about how the body builds muscle and how to perform exercises correctly, in addition to learning various strategies for achieving specific results before you jump in and start creating workouts. For example, testosterone is a vital part of building muscle, so if you work your larger leg muscles (quads and hams) you release more testosterone, which helps build muscle throughout your body, including your arms (or abs, or back).
     The other point that Ross makes is that I'd like to harp on a bit more is intensity. This is something that I notice a lot at the gym where I take boxing classes- we'll all be doing the same thing, but some of the kids will be clearly doing the exercise half-heartedly (I admit- I'm not a huge fan of the heavy bag...) while others will be pushing themselves to their personal limit. Honestly, Ross pretty much says it all with regards to intensity, so I suggest you read his article.

April 8, 2010

Habit Forming

I was at my boxing class yesterday when I overheard the instructor talking to one of the more rotund kids about starting to eat more healthily. He explained that if you suddenly totally switch your diet from junk to uber health food you could cause yourself all sorts of problems. The change needs to be gradual. I had to contain myself and not barge in with a rant about how much I agree with that sentiment.
            When I first started getting really interested in fitness, I wasn’t eating particularly healthy- lots of pizza, peanut butter, cheesy greasy foods, and not many vegetables. I stopped eating a lot of cheese after I realized that the deli meat slicer was covered in rotting deli meat and being used on the cheese as well. (I was at a boarding school at the time.) Then I started splitting the weekly personal pizzas with some one else and loading up on salad as well. After that seemed like less of a hard decision, I stopped eating the artificial butter product because all of the chemicals freaked me out. (I mean stopped eating in a relatively loose sense- I still ate the “butter” on things like popcorn, and if I was really hungry would eat the whole personal pizza. I just cut down on these food items. All things in moderation, right?) This went on until I was eating lots of the offered vegetables and sneaking slices of the delicious whole wheat bread. My transition from eating a lot of junk to eating more nutritious foods took at least 8 months- I didn’t try to drop all of my eating habits in one day and miraculously stick to an unfamiliar diet. Hell, I didn’t even really set out with a desire to eat better, I just would randomly decide that a certain food was gross (the “butter” and the cheese) or that I didn’t really need a whole personal pizza, and then cut back on those foods while filling that void in my diet with something that I felt better about eating.
            This concept applies to fitness as well. Later that same night I was talking to one of my friends about this workout I was going to try, and she replied that she wished she wasn’t lazy. I definitely didn’t suddenly one day say, I’m going to make up really hard workouts and try to push myself until I’m a limp noodle. (Actually, I still don’t really say that…) I just started out doing something that I enjoyed consistently, and then began noticing things that I could improve and working on improving them. I also had several really intense friends that led by example. (If I just did half as many reps as them and I want to quit now, imagine what they must be feeling…)
            I mention all of the above with slight hyperbole- I definitely don’t eat perfectly healthy all the time (I LOVE Sonic), and I definitely have my days of not wanting to work out at all or the days when I make only a halfhearted effort. I just somehow manage to eat well most of the time and work out zealously 75% of the time. After two years, it’s just a habit.

March 24, 2010

Working Out Vs. Having Fun


It’s finally getting sunny and warm enough to start doing spring-worthy things outside, so I’m determined to put on my super-fly bike shorts and set off on a long bike ride. I was lying awake last night thinking about riding my bike and how much I enjoy it, when I had an epiphany of sorts. Succinctly, I realized that there are two types of exercise- fitness-based, and activity-based.
            For me, fitness based exercises are those that I partake in for the pleasure of doing something intense or competitive. Things like running, weight lifting, circuit training, or, my most recent obsession, tabata. These exercises are gratifying because I’m pushing myself to new heights and proving that I’m physically capable. Because of the strident nature of fitness-based activities, they’re very mentally taxing, which helps me burn off a significant amount of excess neurosis. (I’ll admit it- I’m one of those people who’s not fully sane unless I workout a great deal, and even then it’s debatable)
            Activity-based exercises (for me) are things like rock-climbing, downhill skiing, bike riding, and kayaking. Often after a long day of partaking in one of the aforementioned activities I’m surprised that I’m exhausted- I had too much fun for it to “count” as exercise. Rather than soothing me by turning my entire body in to Jell-O, as with fitness-based exercise, I feel invigorated and relaxed because I’ve been doing something I genuinely enjoy.
            I guess the “take home” message from all of this is this- don’t pigeonhole yourself in to thinking that you need to be doing something really epic and intense for it to “count” as a workout. Moving your body is moving your body. (Though, obviously, different movements will produce different results.)
            The next thing on my agenda- an 80’s themed rollerblading session. I’m thinking spandex and old Madonna…

March 18, 2010

The Value of Crappy Pop Music In Conjunction With Working Out

I listen to music all the time when I work out. And sadly, not "good" music. My workout playlist is rife with pop icons such as Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga. I'm sure the people who live under my apartment hate me for my late night workouts- no one wants to be kept up by a song about "disco sticks" and the sound of someone doing jump-lunges. So why is working out to catchy music easier? Dr. Costas Karageorghis has made a career out of studying this very phenomenon, and he says that the key is in the number of beats per minute of a particular tune (BPM for short). The most effective workout songs have 120-140 BPM, which also corresponds to the heart rate of someone engaging in a moderate level of exercise. The beat of a song also allows you to sync with it and therefore move more quickly and economically, provided the BPM of the song aren't horrifically slow. Speaking as someone who ran an entire half-marathon with the chorus from The Violent Femme's "Blister in the Sun" stuck in my head, I can vouch for the motivational qualities of certain songs. For more information, click here.


Obstacle- Motivation

Everyone has those days-you're tired and grumpy and really really just want to spend an hour watching 16 and Pregnant while eating cold pizza before going to bed. So how does one beat the inner couch-potato and the voice that seductively speaks of the wonders of greasy food and how it's ok if you skip another day of working out? By finding something that makes you want to turn away from the drama of pregnant 16 year-olds and get off the couch. This can take many forms- pictures of fit people taped to many eye catching places, a goal to set a personal record in some event, or the onset of summer and swimsuit season. The important thing is that it works for you. Another important aspect of working out is consistency. If you always workout at the same time, day after day, it becomes more of a habit and less of a struggle. An interesting concept that I came across is that of personal metrics, which is basically measuring your progress over time scientifically. This allows you to track your progress in a tangible and meaningful way, which keeps you out of the mental "rut" of thinking that you're not achieving anything. You can find out more about personal metrics here.