Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Inspirational Power of New Gear

Somehow here we are again, December. The year's winding to a finish. The weather's getting cold. One overeating holiday is setting up the next.

Now is the time we need our inspiration more than ever.
We need the inspiration to watch our diets.
We need the inspiration to get out the door despite the cold and hit the pavement.
We need the inspiration to fight for time to squeak in our workouts between holiday parties and shopping.

Not to mention the colds, the flus, the stressful travel and houses full of relatives... all these things vying for your time and trying to squeeze out your precious few moments of exercise.

Enter the power of new gear.
Maybe it's just me, but when I have an awesome new running jacket or a hot new yoga top, I get a bit psyched about when I can wear them for my next workout. Even though I have plenty of workout clothes, there's something particularly seductive about shiny new workout things.
Last year, for Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a runner's hat with a blinky light on the back of it. I never used to be one to run in a hat, unless it was cold, in which case I'd run in a beanie. But never an actual runner's hat... I loved it! I still wear it all the time and I definitely enjoyed heading out into the rain last January and watching the rain drop off of my hat's rim.

As we head into the holiday season, I'd like to reflect (read: drool) on the fitness-oriented loot that might make me more likely to break a sweat. Even if you don't celebrate any gift-giving holidays, consider a small purchase as a kick-off to your fitness new year's resolution. (And no, I'm not being paid by The Sports Basement to write this post).

  • Lululemon: Yoga-inspired sports clothing for men and women. Incredibly cute stuff, though mostly geared towards yoga, they do have things for runners and general workout clothing. Also, rumour has it, their pants give "good butt."

  • Skins Compression Gear: I recently bought some of the Compression tights which I ran my last half marathon in. They were amazing! I'd run a half marathon the previous week in my normal running tights, and my knee was hurting me on all the downhills. The following week, with equally steep downhills, my knees felt great! And protected. I highly recommend these - the tights are supposed to increase strength and endurance as well as help with a faster recovery and less muscle soreness. I also bought some of their recovery socks, which have a double purpose of helping your recovery post race but also serve for reducing swelling when flying. (Other brands out there making compression gear include 2xu and Sugoi, but I haven't tried them. Yet.)

  • While I'm at it, I love Sugoi. Their fits are great and flattering, and they have fun style, like these awesome tattoo arm sleeves. Hot.

  • This list isn't just reserved for things you wear. As far as I'm concerned, anything that's likely to make you workout more counts. For example, my new favourite Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board(which I'll be reviewing soon!). Not really a serious tool for most athletes, but a solid and, more importantly, a fun supplement to a more serious workout routine. Along the same lines, there's a whole slew of other fitness games for the Wii Fit board that look interesting: EA Sports Active, Gold's Gym Cardio Workout, and a few others.

  • A good heart rate monitor - especially if it's as cute as the Polar FT40 Women's Heart Rate Monitor Watch

Well, those are a few of the things I'd recommend for your "Holiday Gift Guide for Runners" or Athletes, or the fitness-conscious. I'd love to hear from you about what tangible gifts might help inspire you to combat the winter blahs and get out there and workout.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I have a new Wii Coach!

I have a new coach, but she's a whole lot like my old coach. Her name is Maya, sound familiar? I recently (two months ago is recently, right?) got My Fitness Coach for Wii.

Back when I used to train with Maya, under the guise of Yourself! Fitness, she kicked me into pretty good shape. This was before my first round of P90X, but I definitely had very noticeable results - which was awesome! Then I moved on to other 90 day plans, some better than others, then I settled into the most brutal year of professional and emotional stress, and I finally started to come around the mountain, seeking a new goal/routine/trainer to kick my softened bootay back into shape.

That's when Maya showed up again. My Fitness Coach looks almost identical to Yourself! Fitness, the initial test is almost identical: Weight, Resting heart rate, Heart rate after 2 minutes of jumping jacks, then push ups, squats, crunches and a flexibility test.

This time, however, Maya allows you to also track a different and better gauge of fitness than mere weight, measurements (waist, bust, hips, biceps, thighs). I did relatively well in my initial evaluation. While I haven't been doing much in terms of full-on workout plans, I have been running tons, training for a fall full of half marathons. I maxed out the squats and crunches and had good healthy heart rates and flexibility. However, my push up skillz were LAMENTABLE! I'm not even going to tell you how few I was able to do, Tony Horton might actually hunt me down and kick my ass.

Anyway, the options after that were fairly similar. Maya recommended a workout program focusing on improving my upper body strength. I agreed. Then I had the option of selecting my workout.

Here are the changes/improvements that My Fitness Coach offer over Yourself! Fitness:

  • You can get credit for non-Maya workouts, retroactively up to one week back. This is a HUUUUUUGE improvement. It always frustrated me that none of my running counted towards my goals and that Maya would reprimand me for hardly ever showing up. (I know she's not real. It still bothered me.)
  • The new cooldown moves include more options and seem better suited to the workout you did, not just hamstring and quad stretches EVERY SINGLE TIME (which is how it used to be.) The only odd part about this improvement is that they clearly just recorded new audio for these moves but didn't bother trying to make it match the old audio, so all of a sudden, Maya booms at you in a slightly muffled but really loud voice "BUTTERFLY STRETCH!"*
  • Group workouts - Since Big E and I like to workout together, this feature is really cool, because it allows us both to get credit for doing the workout in our own profiles, yet workout at the same time. Although when Maya checks in about how the workout was, it's odd that only one of that gets to answer that question. Would it really be that hard to ask each of us individually to track and adjust the workouts for us? Not very sure how that part works...
  • There seems to be slight changes here and there to sequencing of workouts and stuff, but it's only a vague impression, I can't give you specifics there.

Anyway, I've been doing it for about a month or so now, and have already had my 2nd evaluation, but can't say there's been much change yet... Just 3 more push ups. Tony would still be disappointed. But overall, I still like Maya and think it's a decent home workout plan for me.

*It's possible that this only really stands out to me because this is my line of work? Maybe not though... it was pretty egregious.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dodging the Wrench

One of my favourite film training scenes of all time is when O'Houlihan says to the dodgeball wannabees: "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball." and proceeds to throw wrenches at them. Up until that point in the film, I wasn't barely even cracking a smile. When that happened, I lost it. What can I say, throwing wrenches at people is HILARIOUS!

So then, life decided to throw some wrenches at me. Less funny. When last I posted, I was doing great! I'd just completed my first week of Project: Cyprus - I worked out 6 days of that first week, with 4 Nike Training Club cardio workouts, 3 runs and 20 minutes of Yogamazing podcasts daily.

I was feeling amazing! I was working a ton, true... In front of the computer roughly 12 hours a day, but with 2 workouts a day, and 3 healthy meals (tons of fresh fruits and veg in Cyprus), I was feeling great. And then the wrench came hurdling at me, outta nowhere!

I went for a run on that 8th day, the beginning of week two of Project: Cyprus, and noticed little flashy lights out of the corners of my eyes. Almost like there were reflective bits on the ground where I was running. When I tried to look straight at them, there was nothing there. Odd, I thought, but decided to ignore that and keep going. The run went quite well after that, and when I came home and showered, I felt amazing! Talk about runner's high.

A few hours later that evening, after dinner, it went rapidly downhill from there. Incredibly bad nausea, intense photophobia and pain that basically kept me up till 2am or so. Long story short, my first full blown migraine. I've had hints of them a few times in my life, over the past 4 years, but nothing that developed into this monster. For the remaining week and a half that I was in Cyprus, it became a game of dodging the headache and trying to make it through the last days I had to edit this film without killing myself. Working out sank far into the background.

Since then, I've returned home, had a slew of medical tests and doctors visits, recuperated a bit after almost 2.5 weeks of lingering headache, slowly gotten back to working out and then returned to Cyprus. I've been here a day now, and have already done two 20-min yoga sessions and one Nike Training Club Core workout, but haven't managed to talk myself into a run yet.

Here's where my struggle is: I feel terrible. I've basically been barely doing anything physical over the past 3 weeks in the attempt to feel "normal" again, but I know that I won't feel well until I start really working out again. I'm in Cyprus for another two weeks and really want to take advantage of the lack of other life distractions and tackle working out to balance out my work. That's the beauty of Project: Cyprus - When I'm here, I could fit in workouts, stretching, yoga twice a day if I wanted to. And I know that no matter how much I try to take it easy, not push myself too hard and relax, this work that I'm doing is incredibly taxing and the next two weeks won't be all that easy.

But I need to work out and I'm dying to get back on track with my running... I have a 10k several days after I get back to the U.S. What to do? Will a run trigger my migraine again? I feel a touch shakey at this point, but that's to be expected given the jetlag, the crazy travel schedule and the first long day at a computer. I can't tell if the pressure I feel in my head, around my eyes is just exhaustion or more. The 90º weather probably wouldn't be that great for running either.

So for today, I've decided to give myself one more day of "taking it easy" - which in this case means Yoga for headaches in the morning and another yogamazing podcast this evening - and then to go for a short run tomorrow to begin easing my way into a better training schedule.

In the interim, I'd love advice! Any of you folks out there suffer migraines? Do you have workout advice? Prevention tips? What do you for your fitness when life throws a wrench at you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Know the Shape You're In

Different folks have different ways of gauging what shape they're in, whether it's weight, how fast they can run a mile, what pants they fit into, or how many gelatos they can scarf without having to come up for air...

As I mentioned in the Nike Training Club post, when I went to choose my workout level, I decided on "Intense." And while I've been complaining about how out of shape I am, it's all relative. I actually have a pretty good cardio base and some good strength. I mean, in my current shape, I can head out and run for over an hour fairly easily. My mile pace isn't the best it has been, but it's certainly not bad for the start of my running season. Certainly better than when I have started training in previous years. And while my current weight is hovering around the highest it's been, that isn't really a good gauge, since the weight does include muscle mass, which is heavier than fat.

(Don't get me wrong, I do want to bring that weight down... However, in previous years, at my lowest fitness point I weighed about as much and at that time, it sure wasn't muscle that was adding the pound! And on the flip side of that, the thinnest I've been was my senior year in college, when my diet was severely restricted due to a mismanaged budget. Yeah, I wouldn't recommend that... I can't say it was actually healthful.)

I feel pretty confident that choosing the Intense plan for the NTC and supplementing it with my own additional workouts is a perfectly good, challenging but not defeating, goal for myself. But how should one really gauge how they're doing and create a good workout plan for themselves? It's really important to find an accurate way to determine if you're ready for the plan you're choosing, otherwise you may injure yourself, or burn out quickly and not be able to complete the plan.

If you start working with a personal trainer, she'll make you complete some sort of evaluation in order to determine what you already can do and what you should aim for. Many workout plans have an evaluation test before you begin. In P90X, for example, there's a Fit Test that includes monitoring your heart rate, push-ups, pull-ups, and other tests. If you can't finish the test, it recommends you don't start P90X but build up to it by completing a cycle of P90 first.

In general, determining what factors to use to gauge your current fitness level should also depend on what your goals are. If all you want to do is lose weight, look better and be fit, your fitness test could probably be pretty generic. You might want to check out the President's Challenge, developed by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (part of the Department of Health and Human Services).

It has four sections:

  1. An Aerobic Fitness Test (Time yourself for a 1-Mile walk or a 1.5-Mile run)
  2. A Muscle Strength and Endurance Test (Based on Sit-ups and Push-ups)
  3. A Flexibility Test (Sit-and-reach test)
  4. A Body Composition Test (BMI & Waist circumference measurements)
These are the four areas that (at least according to the DHHS) determine your general health and fitness.

Beyond basic fitness, the data you track should depend on your goals. If you're an endurance athlete, ultimate player, tight rope walker, dancer, or if you want to complete your first 10k, you need to determine what is a good gauge of fitness for your goal, and then track that as you move through your training cycle.

For me, my short term goal is to prepare myself to run a 12k at a faster pace than I'm accustomed to. Clearly, my running pace is an important gauge. My long-term goal is to complete 8* half marathons and one full marathon this year. I think a general good health test such as the President's Challenge would suit my purpose quite well. I would add to that monitoring my heart rate, the same way the P90X heart rate monitoring test does it.

Now all I need to do is find myself a track or some way of measuring out 1.5 miles for my run test here in Cyprus...

*This number may change, depending on my travel schedule this year. All this time spent in Cyprus has already made me miss two the races I usually run. I'll have to see if I can find replacements for them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nike Training Club - Dubious Beginnings

I hinted at this workout over a month ago - you'd have thought that I would have tried it out and written about it already, right? Well, my radio silence is less a sign of laziness (I have been working out) and more a sign of disappointment. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you all about it.

As you may know, I'm a Nike super-fan. Not so much the gear (which I like well enough but not more than other sportswear brands) but the Nike+ - I adore my Nike+... For those of you who don't know, Nike+ is a kit that attaches to your iPod Nano, that has a sensor that goes in your shoe and tracks your mileage, pace, even calories for your running. When you finish a run, you plug your nano into your computer and it uploads your workout to the Nike+ website where you can see all your runs listed, get training plans, join challenges, all kinds of cool stuff. It's the one training tool I use consistently (to the point where I almost won't run without it. It's true. I'm ashamed to admit it but I have been known to back out of a run if I've forgotten my iPod.)

The Nike+ site is so well designed that when I got the invitation to check out Nike Training Club, I was psyched! I've been looking for a new workout plan and this one seemed great because of its portability (since I'm still traveling far too much). So I immediately signed up, logged in, created myself a mini... (The mini here is actually my second mini, since when I originally signed up for this, my hair was purple and it was much colder so I had a jacket on. Ah, the fun useless details!)

I had the choice of three workout programs: Core, Strength and Cardio. Each program shows you the balance of the different areas of focus it offers. The five areas are Balance, Core, Strength, Cardio and Flexibility.

I decided to start with Cardio since I feel that I've fallen quite out of shape, and figured I'd just cycle through the three programs: Cardio first, then Core, then Strength.

Then I selected a start date (back in mid-March), and an intensity level: Casual (2 workouts a week for 2 weeks), Committed (3 workouts a week for 3 weeks) and Intense (4 workouts a week for 4 weeks). Naturally I chose Intense, cuz I like to think I'm badass. I wonder if I'd chosen Casual, things would have turned out better?

Lastly, I got to invite friends, so I added Tamsen. Not a bad start, the website seemed pretty cool. It had a little radio that popped out and played some motivating music. It was fun watching my little mini jog along on the screen and stretch and whatnot.

So - D-day comes, and I go to check out my workout. This is what I see:
A series of workouts, starting with a 3 min cardio warmup. The titles of the workouts look good (2 Min Squat Switch, Power Row, High Knee Switch) and each one has a little clickable video by the name. Great! I'm all set, decked out in my non-Nike gear. Click on the warmup video.
The lady proceeds to describe four different move, tells me to do each of them for 45 seconds, for a total of three minutes, then the video stops. My jaw drops in disbelief, I stand there staring at the screen. I look around for a "start workout" button, but all there is is a "back to my list" button. I look around the room for something to use as a timer. Nothing. I click back to the list, then quickly scan through the rest of the videos in my workout... They're all short 30 or so second demos of the move, leaving me to figure out the timing.

So I do the only reasonable thing I can think of at that time: close the browser, grab my iPod and go for a run.

I know, I know, pretty lame. But here's the thing: if I just need instructions on what moves to do for a workout, I'd use any of the number of workout books, magazines, or websites out there. I've just found that I workout hardest when someone's yelling at me to keep going, repeat the moves, music's playing and I don't have to look for a clock or a timer to see if I'm done yet. It's just the way I am.

I mean, come on! They've got their trainer and their athletes all decked out in their Nike gear, jumping around demonstrating a move, with pumping music, for a 45 second video. They really couldn't just extend it a touch and make it the full 3 minute or 2 minute move? Shouldn't Nike have the bandwidth for full length videos?

So that was the last time I logged in to the Nike Training Club. Now, in Nike's defense, it is clearly marked that this site is still a beta, so they're still working out the kinks. But all these (too short) pre-recorded videos seem more like an overall design flaw than a mere kink. But who knows? Maybe they'll rethink this design.

Today, a month later, I decided to give the Club a second chance. Mainly because I'm back in Cyprus for a 2.5 week work stint, and while Tamsen and I work out the details of the new 90-min plan we're working, I needed a little kick in the @#^ss, a boot camp if you will. Working in Cyprus seems to be the perfect set-up for boot camps for me, since all I do is work and eat, I manage to fit in one or two workout time slots a day.

So this morning, my jetlag helped wake my up at 7am, and I signed up for NTC again (with new blonde Mini but same Cardio Intense workout plan as last time) and I did the first workout. I found a timer online, that I set to countdown the time that I needed for each move, watched each video then set the timer and started.

The format was kind of annoying, since it was a lot of starting and stopping. We'll see in the next few days, if they repeat enough of the moves, I may not need to watch the videos anymore. I also didn't have music, which kind of sucked, but I wasn't be able to hear the instructor when I played music. The timer I found was OK, it had a visual bar that I could mostly see from a distance as it counted down, but it was not the best... I might have to keep hunting around online for a better one.

The workout itself was actually pretty good. The warmup was fine, but by the 3rd move in, I was sweating. And now, several hours later, I have that awesome warm tingly "I worked out this morning" feeling. It was a short workout though, actual workout time only added up to 20 minutes, including 3 minute warmup and 3 minutes of stretching at the end. But for my Cyprus plan, that's fine, since I plan on running this evening. I'll keep you posted as my week progresses.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Embarking on a New 90-day Plan!

Tamsen and I are yet again challenging ourselves and each other to a new 90-plan.
We're challenging you as well!

I think I know what mine's gonna be - here's a hint, though I'm going to leave the specifics to later.

In the interim, tell us what you look for in a workout plan: workout types, variety, length, focus, general goals, etc...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Creature of Whim

What's the opposite of habit? I looked everywhere and couldn't find a good antonym. What I'm trying to say is I'm not a creature of habit. Repetition bores me. Which is why I keep swapping out workout plans. ALL the time!

The only thing I seem to be able to do repetitively is run. So my workout routine will always have a certain amount of running. But it helps that it's usually training for a specific goal, like a marathon.

These days, since I'm in travel-mode (Again! Still!) I've been limited yet again to workouts that are portable and equipment-free.

Here's what I've been doing: 3 days a week, I run. Twice, I run for about 4 miles, then on the weekend I do a longer run (I'm currently working my way back up again, so I just did 7 miles this past sunday and plan to do 8 or 9 this coming sunday). I keep meaning to add a 20 minute interval run, but I've yet to work that in. Maybe today will be the day...

In addition to that, I've been intermittently (about 3 times a week) doing the Nike Yoga for Runners, which I bought on iTunes, by Kimberly Fowler - a 15-20 minute yoga stretching routine.

I usually also do a core workout: P90X Core Synergistics or Yogamazing podcast for example. An upper body workout, often also from Yogamazing. And then I through in P90X Cardio X or Kenpo X for good measure. Other than the running, I usually let my mood, work schedule and the way my body's feeling dictate what I'll do that day. And I've been pretty good at keeping it to 6 workout days a week.

So, any of you folks out there the "non-habit" types? How do you switch up your routine?
Or if you're doing P90X or P90X+, do you ever stray and create your own workout combo? What do you like to do?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reality hits the mat with you

Starting over is not the easiest thing.  I've moved from an apartment to a room,  I'm thinking of leaving a fairly secure job, family may require me to leave my favorite city for one that's blech in comparison. Why is it all of those seem easier than putting my mind to dropping pounds and increasing fitness?

My demons chasing the reality of rebuilding fitness:

This feels like hell > > > Hey, guess what feels like hell? Being older, stiffer and losing capability.

I used to be able to do all this stuff so easily > > > So get there already.

This is silly, all this effort. "No one dies of physical fitness"! > > > Shut up and Spin, dummy.

That chick on the machine next to me...she's working harder. She thinks I'm lame. > > > You are lame, right up to the moment you kick it into a higher gear. Cut your own path.

The reality is: It is harder, fitness wanders off unless you keep it close, and yeah, pretty much anyone could kick your ass if they wanted to.

But do it because it's harder. Keep it close because your body is a damn good friend. And cheer on any woman you see sweating it up - the other unfortunate reality is, bouncing off the Fat Wall happens more often to us than it needs to.  Be the the change...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I *heart* Jay Blahnik!

A while back, I participated in the Nike+ world race 10k, where you run from wherever you are. I happened to join a friend and go to our local Niketown where they had a course laid out from there, although you could really just run wherever you wanted.

It was well worth going to Niketown, they had all kinds of treats, gave out goody bags and had snacks at the finish!! All the things I love in a race :)

Best of all, as a reward for signing, you got a nike audio training mix, a 40 minute training workout that got you prepped for the 10k. I didn't actually download it till way after the race, but then when I was in Cyprus, I loaded up my ipod & tested it out for the first time.

It totally rocks!!! A 40 minute interval workout, hosted by Jay Blahnik. He starts you off with a 5 minute warmup (where he doesn't talk much, just tells you what to do then lets the music help set the pace), then a 10 minute sustained pace run, then one minute on, one minute off intervals with corresponding music. The music is great! And varied! And different!

And the workout isn't easy, though of course it really depends on how hard you push yourself for those intervals. Though I for one am much better at pushing myself harder if someone's telling me when to start and stop, to keep going, etc.

I looooove this workout and have since done it many time! Around the same time I also got a 20 minute quick run from the same folks. While Big E says it's great, I don't usually go out for 20 minute runs. But who knows, maybe I'll try it one day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Move It and/or Lose It

Surely, when they update definitions in the Oxford Dictionary, this one should be added:

Desk Job/faet' aess/ (n)

  1. Work that involves long hours at a desk.
  2. An involuntary method of adding flab and increasing one's BMI.
As I sit here typing this, I can grab my gut with one hand, squish it like kneaded dough, lift it off my thighs, and swing it around like Jeter at home plate.

Homer said it best: "Wu-HOO! Lookit that blubber fly!!" (that's a direct quote from The Iliad.) I've been in this uncomfortable place before, misquoting ancient Greeks and playing with my belly fat. The last time was 8 years ago, just before I decided to take action by joining a marathon training program...which resulted the gain of an additional ten pounds.


Now, of course, I know better - it's a balance between food and activity, one dependent upon the other. And I know why every fitness and health magazine cover has at least one blaring-red tease touting flatter stomachs and faster weight loss: The real formula for having the body you want - you, individually - is unique, somewhat complex, and a real PITA to figure out.

There are some decent solutions you can throw at the yoga mat to see if they stick, and we've investigated some of them here. But if you're anything like me, you really, really get into it for a while and then after the 100th mile, the 150th salad or the millionth sit-up, you hit the wall. Suddenly, you want every future Sunday morning to be snuggles and lolling instead of heart rate and Clif shot.

I thought that was OK for a while, and enjoyed not measuring my life by zones and tempos. But it wasn't worth the trade - I grow older, and my fitness declines faster with each year. There's no pause button on this machine, you either keep it moving or lose the ability.

So here I am, starting over, as I said I would over the past months but took no action until now. A motivating desire for fitness is just another wall you have to hit. The wall that is sprayed with tags: "The longer you wait, the longer it takes;" "Aging = Stiffness" and "Nothing changes until you change your mind." It's not inspiration, it's reality. The wall says You Do Not Want To Be That Person.

I've been that person. I love my Sunday mornings. But my Saturday mornings are about miles, supplements, sweat and rediscovered joy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

P90X+ Kenpo Cardio Plus

I know I've mentioned before my love for Kenpo X. The punching, the kicking, the grunting... good stuff. I really do love it. So naturally it follows that once Big E and I came whimpering back out of the cave we've been hiding in ever since we tried (and failed) at P90X+ first attempted workout: Total Body Plus, Kenpo Cardio + seemed like a better first pick.

And it was: The workout was shorter than the Kenpo X (probably because Tony takes longer to explain the moves in the first one. In this one, he flips through them pretty quickly) but still action-packed with loads of fun kicking and punching. And this time, it comes with flashy new names, like The Gladiator and Spinning Swords. So much fun!

Overall, I don't feel that I was sweating as much as I was in Kenpo X, though I'm not sure why and part of me did wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I'm not in as good shape as I was when I last did Kenpo X, thus not quite as capable of pushing myself as hard. It could also be that having to understand new moves for the first time kept me from working out as hard.

Regardless, it's a keeper! I loved it and it'll definitely jump into my workout repertoire.