Friday, February 26, 2010

EA Active - Over and Out!

Well, I made it through the 30-day challenge for the EA Active Wii game and... it was OK. Towards the end of the challenge, I'd primarily done workouts in the Advanced category, with only a few Intermediates snuck in when I didn't have time for a fuller workout.

The four main elements that every workout uses are:

  1. Cardio: there were several things that were slipped into this category.
    • My favorite was the boxing (no surprise here): alternating between punching targets, punching the bag and standing on the balance board and kicking the bag. Good stuff, always raises my heart rate and gets me sweating. Also good for getting out that aggressive energy.
    • Also quite good: the track running, high knees, and kick backs. The track workouts were surprisingly good for what is essentially just running in place. The high knee and kick back intervals particularly really got my heart pumping and I'd be sweating by the end. The visuals were fun and having other people run on the track actually worked to make me speed up to pass them. No interval was ever longer than 6 minutes, but as long as I don't use EA Active as my primary source of cardio workouts, that's just fine.
    • My least favorite here was the Dance. So lame. It was basically a much less exciting version of DDR (either just upper body with the Wiimotes or upper and lower using the balance board). Sorry, it was just super lame and no matter how vigorously I tried to do the moves, I still didn't feel particularly worked out.
  2. Upper body strength: a variety of the standard either isolated or combined strength moves using the band. They were pretty good, I've definitely felt a difference in my upper body but the band isn't great for all the moves. Also, I think it would have been a smart move to add some pushups or something along those lines which I feel is much better for ramping up the upper body strength. One thing I really didn't like here was that with two workouts in a row, 2 days back to back, it had me do one workout that focussed on upper body the first day, but then still had me doing upper body strength the second day, instead of resting it. Not cool.
  3. Lower body strength: decent array of squats, lunges, with some interesting challenging moves thrown in, like the jump squats, the stationary squats and stuff like that. In general, this focus felt effective. I definitely had days when I was brutally sore after a lower body focus workout.
  4. Sports: Now this part is just fun. I really enjoyed all the sports (tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball and skating) and they typically felt like a good distraction from the focus of the workout while still doing something of a workout.
Having completed the challenge though, I don't know that I would do it again, since it doesn't seem to scale to my ability level. One of the things I liked about Maya and Yourself! Fitness (aka My Fitness Coach), was that there was a check in each workout to see how it was and if it was too easy, the program would adjust to make it harder. There were also fitness tests every certain number of workouts to gauge my improvement. With Wii Fit, while the workouts aren't as challenging as EA Active can be, I can both track my ability to do certain moves and see improvement, as well as track my weight.

In the end, that kind of interaction with the program makes it something that's worth going back to (and ultimately owning). With EA Active, I'm only likely to do one of those workouts every once in a blue moon, if I'm bored with whatever else I have going on. The awards that the program gives me aren't interesting enough for me to come back for more. The only thing that keeps me coming back is being able to track my progress.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Your Body's Return Policy

Thank you for purchasing your male or female body. We hope you're satisfied with your purchase!

Proper maintenance of your body is key to its proper performance and longevity. Here are a few tips to keep your body happy and functioning for a long time:

  1. You must fuel your body! Yes, it's true, your body will cease to function properly if you neglect this step. The best fuels for your body are lean proteins, complex carbohydrates including whole grains and unsaturated fats. 
  2. Your body must be watered several times a day. You will release the fluids several times a day, which may seem odd at first, but keeping your body happily saturated makes it function at the high levels for which it was designed.
  3. Your body loves to move. Take it for walks, runs and periods of energetic play. If you can make your body sweat a few times a week, your body will reward you with strength, flexibility and a nice frame for tailored cloth.
  4. Your body also loves a good rest. Be sure to give it enough time to regenerate. Should you not give your body long periods of rest, it will become cranky and irritable. This is not a design flaw.
It's possible that after several years, your body may become bloated and unable to perform the duties for which it was designed. This is most likely to occur if you do not follow the four steps above for proper maintenance. Remember, you can return to proper maintenance at any point as long as you own your body, and reverse the disfunction.

However, should you decide not to follow proper maintenance steps, we must advise you that there is no return policy for this product. For a list of disposal options, please consult your local medical clinics and waste maintenance and dumpster companies. Please note: you will likely not be able to complete the disposal yourself; please assign these tasks to someone close to you, and warn them of the likely obscene expense of the process.

We strongly recommend proper maintenance of your purchase. Really. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Mental Starting Point

I guess I'm pretty smart. I've been telling everyone for months that the New York Times proposed paywall (paying for online content) won't work because no one will go from "this is free" to "OK I'm willing to pay for this." The even smarter folks at Techdirt picked up a quote from an equally smart guy named Dan Ariely, who is a behavioral economist:

The main problem of this approach is that over the years of free access, the New York Times has trained its readers for years that the right price (or the Anchor) is $0 -- and since this is the starting point it is very hard to change it...
First point: It's tough to change established thought patterns. It's something akin to fixing a gear on a bike that's buried in mud beneath a sunken boat in a sea filled with really hungry sharks.

Dan-the-behavioral-economist (cool geek job title, Dan) goes on to point out that if the NYT decided to offer something unique and desireable, the paywall might pay off. But that's not part of their plan. The Grey Lady appears to be submerged in that fixed state mentality of What Was Once Proven To Be True Will Always Be True. In this case, it's "We're the New York Times; we're the preferred source." When print was king, that was true. Now fast, first and accessible rules our news worlds.

Second point: Fixie is good for a bike, not so good for a mind.

The battle against fixed state mentality is ubiquitous and forever, so it's good to practice fluid thinking. Certain professionals - scientists, I'm thinking - know better than to trust static ideas, so they try not to take anything for granted. Is the world round? Yes, but it's also flat.  Questioning even proven truths can bring illuminating results.

A mentality I constantly question is "I'm not the athletic type." As a kid I was lousy in gym, crap on the playground, last to be picked for any team. Lots of kids were like that, but I actually trained myself to fail on the field so that I could quit and go do something else. I'd run slow and get tagged, get hit by the ball I was supposed to dodge, etc. It was an insanely successful device - I suffered far less humiliation than my fellow stumblers, who stuck with it and endured the pain of public failure.

It had a nasty backlash, though. I had created a truth for myself, so that's who I was - the non-athlete, non-competitor, bleacher kid. So in high school, when I discovered that I was really good at running hurdles, my interest hit a brick wall - I couldn't get the gym coaches to take me seriously. Changing someone's fixed idea of me - the idea I created - wasn't going to happen. Not in high school, anyway.

It took a marathon training program, a world-class fitness guru, a couple of kick-ass programs (Jim's Performance Max and Tony's P90X) and lots of brain-bending therapy over many years to finally rid myself of that programming. I still battle it, but I think I should always battle it. Now that I've finally pried that bike loose, it's a really sweet ride.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sickness and Fitness

If you've gotten out of your own way and are working toward a personal fitness goal, you still have a couple of significant road blocks ahead. They are:

  • People at work
  • Everyone else
This time of year, it seems like everyone's sole mission is to get you sick; and people, dammit, are kind of unavoidable, unless you are that rare brand of hermit with a six-pack. Now that we've gotten past the H1N1 wig-out, the battleground centers on those nasty upper-respiratory maladies, transmitted with demonic speed by either a co-worker with one seriously inflated aura of self-importance (stay home, you selfish snotwad), or an adorable little spawn of your very own making (sorry, no escape).

Since I technically work from home, it was someone's adorable spawn that laid me out. I knew she was sick - sick kid snot spreads out like a nasal Mississippi River, just green - so I kept my distance, but she got me anyway. I was one week into Phase II of P90X Lean, which is the hardest phase to stick with*, and suddenly all my Bring It was brung.

(*I swear, Phase II of anything is the hardest to stick with. Phase I, there's a motivating sense of accomplishment then a wee bit of rest. Phase II starts with a schedule that feels like habit, but isn't. You think you know what to expect and start to relax. For a P90Xer, this is where that wacky robot from "Lost in Space" should roll into your head, flailing his flex duct arms, yelling, "Superman! Banana! Superman! Banana!")

Or...not. Did I mention I've been sick?

Anyway, when I miss workouts, I lose momentum - actually, I lose a wheel and go flying into the gutter.  My solution, as much it sounds obsessive/compulsive/lady-you-are-a-freakoid, tends to keep my head in the game: I do a placeholder workout.

Nah, it's not zone 4 cardio or anything, it's a fake with purpose. I'm in my jammies, my head feels like it's filled with concrete, my nose needs cotton plugs and I wheeze like a dying hair dryer, so I focus on little stuff. One of my focus areas is balance, so I do a little non-inverted yoga, some barre exercises from ballet, or I'll just stand on one leg, fling the other one around and see what kind of trouble I can get into. Squats, static lunges, stretching where I don't have to bend over (trouble) or be on the floor (cold) or even some bicep and tricep curls with light weights. 10-15 minutes and I'm back in bed, a sick but proud freakoid.

I'm a week behind my goal, but I'm fine with that. I recovered quickly by getting lots of rest and staying home: I am a conscientious snotwad.