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.