Wednesday, January 20, 2010

EA Active - Week 2 Down

Having completed the second week of training, I just wanted to check in briefly and give you a little update. I'm still enjoying the workouts, they're still working me out well and keeping me entertained. I upgraded one of my days to the advanced level, which had me complete a solid 37 minute, very effective workout. The track sessions were longer and harder (3 full minutes of knees!!!), I had to hold several stationary squats at longer than a minute each. By the end of the workout, I thought my legs were gonna give out on me! Awesome!

After two full weeks of this program, I do also have a sense of what I'm missing now. As I mentioned before, the plan is low on cardio. It has many cardio bursts but they're typically only several minutes at a time. Not a problem, I can easily supplement that by complementing the workout with running.

The second thing I realized this past week I was really missing was ab and core work. Nothing: no situps, pushups, planks... All those things that strengthen the core and really pull the whole body together. I've decided my solution for that is to add a couple of Ab Rippers a week (either with Big E or Tamsen as they do their P90X plans).

The third thing I'm missing is stretching and yoga. Neither of those are included in the plan (though to be fair, they do mention at some point that stretching is important. I think. Did I just make that up?) I definitely want to keep doing yoga, so I'm going to have to figure out a schedule to fit it all in, but for now, I'd like to try to sneak one monster yoga session in a week by doing the P90X Yoga X and then possibly a few shorter session from the Yogamazing* podcast or something like that.

Two weeks into this program, I don't feel dramatically different. I know two weeks isn't that long, but I'm still motivated to workout harder, so let's see how the next two weeks go with these new additions.

*Yogamazing: It's free! It's awesome! You can choose 20 minute workouts that specifically target your body's needs! Wheee!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Great Millet Mash Fiasco of 2010

Here we are again, Big E and I, both working our little hearts out, trying to get back into better shape. For me, it's the launch of my running year. For Big E, it's his build-up to Paga. And as always, as we start to throw all of our efforts into working out more, and start feeling better and stronger, I start to ponder our nutrition again.

We generally eat pretty well, pretty healthfully. I cook fairly often, we get a fabulous veggie box that I've gotten better and better at using up, and I do tons of research and reading on the best nutrition for athletes for my hopefully upcoming cookbook.

The key things I work on improving whenever I'm paying attention are increasing the variety of vegetables, relying on leaner proteins (and eating a vegetarian diet more frequently) and incorporating more whole grains.

The last of those options took me on a bit of a wild goose chase yesterday. I had a lovely head of green cauliflower and decided to check out a recipe I'd seen in The New Whole Grain Cookbook, a millet and cauliflower mash that pretended to be mashed potatoes. Now, I'd like to point out for the record that while I love mashed potatoes, I'm also quite fond of puréed cauliflower and don't think it needs to disguise itself as anything else. Cauliflower purée is definitely better for you that most mashed potatoes and the texture is silky smooth and the flavour is delicately delicious. So there.

That being said, I love millet and thought doing this blend could take a good thing (cauliflower purée) and make it even better by adding the whole graininess, little bit of protein and loads of nutrients that millet contains.

That didn't really happen. I started out by following the recipe to the word: 1/2 cup of millet (rinsed) to 4 oz of cauliflower (roughly chopped) to 2 1/2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. After I cooked and puréed it, it was terribly thick and gluey. A horrible texture and the lovely delicate cauliflower taste was gone. It didn't resemble mashed potatoes either.

I tried and tried to salvage the recipe (adding more liquid, adding some butter, add some cream...) None of things worked - it was just a big porridgey sticky mess. I'll probably try again, my guess is the ratio of millet to cauliflower was off, so I think I would try halving the amount of millet next time. I'll keep you posted.

The thought I'd like to leave you with is this: whole grains like millet, quinoa and amaranth are fabulous things to swap into your diet if you're on a fitness kick. They're packed with nutrients, much better for you than rice or pasta and they can really taste delicious. I've been swapping them into all kinds of recipes with much better success than this story. I think the key is using them in situations where you'd normally use rice or couscous, boiled or steamed as a side dish or under a lovely sauce. As for the more advanced moves, like trying to sneak grains in odd places and have them masquerade as other creatures (barley chocolate mousse, anyone?), maybe it's good to hold off until some really solid recipes are found. I'm a bit skeptical about the whole grain book, but am not giving up yet! As I experiment, I'll definitely tell you about the winners.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

EA Active Challenge - Week 1 in review

I've been all fired up (probably a result of no longer feeling weak and crappy), so my kick-off week to the EA Active 30 day challenge was great!

When you first select the EA Active in your Wii homepage, be prepared for BLASTING ENTHUSIASTIC music. (Sorry for the caps, it's just the only way I can properly prepare you for the auditory assault that you have to bear through every time you start this thing. I've learned to start by turning down the volume, then selecting the program.)

Now you get the option of either creating a new profile, selecting a pre-existing one or using a guest pass. First step in creating a new profile is selecting gender, age, height and weight. Now, please someone tell me if you've figured this out, or if you have different starting stats, but the system seems to come automatically set with female, age thirty, and my exact height and weight - 5'9", 159lbs, which as far as I know, isn't really representative of the average woman. At first, I thought it was sneaking the info from my Wii Fit stats, but then you'd figure it would get the age right, no?

Anyway, you can then standardize your body type. I tried to make mine look like me by choosing level 3 out of 4 (on the curvier side) but that automatically gave me a double chin! So I scaled down to 2, cuz clearly it's more important for me not to have a double chin (which I don't, thank you very much) than it is for my body type to be at all accurately representative.

You then get a few more features you can mess with, a number of hairstyles, 6 hair colours (sadly nothing that strays from the "natural") and then about a gazillion workout outfits, hats, shades and shoes. This is all clearly very important.

Now you're ready to start! The next screen you get is the welcome screen you see whenever you log in from here on out. The options on this screen are: Journal, Fitness Profile, 30-Day Challenge, Preset & Custom Workouts, Help & Settings and Info.

The Journal invites you to "Start here," so I did. This screen looks like an open notebook, and is where you're supposed to fill out what you've done each day. For each day, you have the option to complete an EA Sports Active workout (it gets automatically checked once you workout), fill in a lifestyle and nutrition survey, and fill in the "Other Activity Survey." Once you start checking off these three items, you can track your progress in the lower left corner where you see the percentage of your daily requirements count up. On the opposite page, you see the trainer feedback for the things you've done, as well as a place to go check on your goals, edit your profile and view your upcoming calendar.

Now time to get started! I selected the 30-Day challenge program. There are a bunch of videos as you're getting started about the program, the challenge, the workouts. Most can be skipped but I decided to watch them all to see if there was anything really important I needed to know. There wasn't really in most of them. The only useful videos were the leg strap one and some of the demo moves ones, but even then, they were often intuitive. (Plus skipping these videos does allow you to skip some cheesy "LookForwardToANewYou!" moments)

Still more choices to make! I had to select a male or female trainer, how much of a workout I wanted: low, medium or high intensity, whether or not I have a Wii balance board, and then musical type (about 7 options). I selected Medium intensity because I figured I was still recovering from being ill, but I still don't think that the Low option would be enough of a challenge.

Finally, I made it past the questions. For every workout, the program shows a projected amount of calories burnt (it seems like the low intensity aims for around 100, the medium 130 and the high 170 or so).

I completed the first week at medium intensity, figuring I could upgrade if they were too easy. The first workout wasn't all that challenging but the trainer did explain that the purpose of the first workout was to ease me in and teach me how to use the program, so I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and see if it got harder.

More importantly, it was really fun! There was a track workout section that alternated between slow and fast running (in place, but cool to see the little avatar moving as I moved, but along the track and passing people), inline skating on the balance board (which consisted of holding a squat position then lifting one leg or the other to go over obstacles - whooo did that burn!), boxing at changing targets... Good stuff for the short-attention spans amongst us.

In general, the format was a sort of circuit training. After several minutes of warm-ups (either running on the track or squats and side lunges), the workouts seem to have 2 or 3 strength moves, then a sport (like boxing or tennis), then back again to the strength moves, etc. They switched up frequently enough that it was fun. The moves were difficult enough that I felt my muscles burn and was sweating and tired by the end.

The challenge setup is 2 days in a row (generally one that focuses on upper body, one that focuses on lower body) and then a rest day. So far I have yet to encounter a workout longer than 25 minutes, but when I combine this with my running schedule, it's perfect because unlike P90X, I can do these workouts in addition to my running - they're just enough of a workout without wiping me out completely.

Week 1 was good - all completed at medium intensity except for Sunday's which I did at low intensity because I ran my first really long run since before Thanksgiving earlier that day and I could hardly move anymore. What is even more exciting is that I've barely even scratched the surface of types of moves this program has to offer! Looking forward to Week 2!

(I'll have screenshots to upload by then - my camera was on a little extended vacation - and I also will review the custom workout options.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Challenge is the New Resolution

Happy new year, folks! And what a fine new year it is! Do I really know that? No. But I do really truly hope that it's better than 2009. Now let's get down to business. I don't like resolutions. I find them boring. Every year, it's Iresolvetoeatbetterworkoutmoreloseweight... This could go on forever and gets a bit repetitive, in my mind.

Even if you're one the few, the proud, who actually do manage to follow through on their resolutions, it becomes what? I resolve to keep it up? That's also lackluster. So whatever your new year goals may be, if some form of better health and fitness is something you wouldn't mind achieving, I propose a new New Year's tradition: The Challenge.

The challenge is a great way to tackle the new year. What better way of coming off several weeks of eating a little bit too much or too richly or sitting around or having travel thwart your workout plans than to set yourself a fitness challenge?

The best part is, there are tons of them for you to choose from! Whether you're a workout beginner, an ultra-marathoner, a gym rat or a homebody, there are challenges out there that can fit your style. You can find 30-day challenges to 3-month challenges. Some are crazy expensive and some are practically free.

If you prefer working out outdoor in groups, with someone yelling at you, there are boot camps (like this one or this one in SF). If you're a loner who just loves pull-ups and hard-core kick ass training plans, you could try P90x (You may have heard us mention it before...)

Perhaps you'd prefer a method that is less intense and more fun or social? There seem to be a plethora of challenges out to satisfy your needs. This one seems fun. This is one is bit more more low-tech.

Then there are all the Wii fitness game: The Biggest Loser game has you compete against characters based on competitors in the reality TV show of the same name. Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010 just sounds like a challenge, doesn't it?

Point being, I have a new challenge to kick off my new year. For Christmas, my brother very kindly got me one of the new Wii fitness programs: EA Sports Active. This past Sunday, now that I'm finally recovered from various ailments, surgery and whatnot, I finally started the 30-day challenge that came with the program. So far, I've done four days of workout, and I'm very excited to tell you all about it... So tune in this month for a week by week review of EA Active as well as some other fun useful stuff, like some Athlete Gourmet food and nutrition tips. (Also, rumour has it Tamsen's also kicked off a new year challenge!)

The Wall and the Moment

In any strenuous endurance event - triathalon, marathon, holidays with the family - two significant internal conversations can arise. I call them The Wall and The Moment. The Wall is the feeling that you cannot go one step further, and The Moment is the decision that you will not give up. I find that they usually go hand-in-hand, and can have different meanings, but don't always happen in the same order.

Ten years ago I experienced a significant Moment: I tried to put on a small necklace that I adored and it wouldn't fit around my neck. It was a shock - I...had a fat NECK?! I'd noticed I was gaining weight, but I hadn't had The Moment: I was pudgy, and I didn't want to go down like that. I decided to dramatically shift gears.

So I trained for a marathon! And I gained 10 lbs! No, it wasn't muscle. (I love it when people suggest weight gain is muscle. I know our culture of denial flourishes like mold in a damp corner, but ten pounds of muscle feels great, and ten pounds of fat feels like weight gain.)

Anyway, I was profanely disgusted. After researching why I had gained after six months of training (in short, it was high-glygemic post-run foods, the myth of "I ran 10 miles, I can eat anything!" and no interval training), I joined an endurance training program, living its lessons and using its tools for the next five years. The Moment had happened, I giddily realized, and I would never go back: I was dedicated to a lifetime of fitness.

Doesn't that just scream "CHANGE COURSE! WALL APPROACHING!"?

This is what The Wall looked like: My life was wrapped around hours and hours of training and suddenly I really, really just wanted to drink beer and eat potato chips without having to calculate the pace, distance and Borg level of exertion I'd need in order to burn it off. So I pushed the "Pause" button and wandered off.

Bad idea. Three years later, I was in worse shape than I was before my fat-neck ephiphany. I wasn't just heavier and older, I was beginning to experience a kind of weakness that whispers to you like The Ghost of Feebleness to Come.

I needed another Moment, and it came from an odd place - it came from the same Wall that I'd hit years before. Musing to a friend about what had changed me from rabid workout freak to couch potato, I suddenly realized what had built The Wall. I had been committed to the classes, programs, events and teams of my training, but - careful, Oprah moment approaching - I had abandoned my commitment to myself. I'd lost a wheel and careened off the path of Doing This For Me into the mud hole of Doing This To Do It.

Seth and Amy might as well have performed a "Really?!" skit in my face: "Really. You thought personal fitness was just about fixing a fat neck. Really. You did all that work, learned all that crap about V02, BMI, RMR, heart rate zones and memorized the glycemic index because your chin had quintuplets...Really?!"

No. I trained because it felt great to climb mountains I didn't know I could climb, because I could run from my office to the Golden Gate Bridge just to watch the sun set, because it was exciting to challenge and test and care for this incredible machine that was mine and only mine.

That was what it took. Two days later I was cranking through the first week of P90X Lean, sore, crawling up stairs, weary and kinda happy. Revelatory gift of The Moment? Life is an endurance event too (duh) and walls are only there to be busted through. Really.