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.