Friday, December 31, 2010

progress!

Below 150 on the scale for the first time in a long, long time. 149.5, to be exact, but my scale only gives 1/2 pound increments. My weight will probably bounce up again: it always does, especially after a heavy lifting day. And, tonight is New Year's Eve, and we'll be going to a friend's for dinner and another friend's to ring in the new year. Even so, it feels good to see evidence that I'm making progress.

I also "feel" leaner this week. I'm sure it's because I've been watching my diet and cutting calories and doing a mix of lifting and cardio. (Wow: a caloric deficit leading to weight loss? Who would have thunk it.)

onward.

//b. strong

Monday, December 27, 2010

unfamiliar gyms, familiar feeling

stuck at 152.5 for what seems like forever. I can understand being stuck if I haven't been eating clean or working out. Then it's my own danged fault. I guess being stuck is, too, but it's just frustrating.

I'm working out at a commercial gym this week rather than my usual gym. The commercial gym has more of the bells and whistles (ooh, a TRX thingie), but I can't say that I prefer it. No roman chair, for one thing, and how is a girl to survive without roman chair situps? OK, so maybe that's not such a bad thing.

I didn't have a great workout. I felt a little sliuggish. I'm not sure if it's soreness from yesterday's squat workout, or the weather, or the fact that I skipped breakfast. Or, maybe it's just one of those days.

b. strong,
K

Sunday, December 26, 2010

on green tea

green tea smells like fish food.

that is all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

festive fruit

I'm always at a loss for what to take to The Boy's school parties. I want to take something healthy because, let's face it, kids don't need sugary junk any more than adults do. But, I also want to take something that kids (other than mine) are going to eat. Here's what I did for The Boy's holiday party:


Pretty cool, if I may say so myself. (Disclaimer: I stumbled across the basic idea on the internet a long time ago, when I was trying to find out how to make radish roses. I can't find the site now to give attribution, and, frankly, I don't think mine is all that much like theirs anyway.)

It's easy, too. The most time-consuming part is stringing the cranberries and golden raisins, but it's not exactly difficult. You need:

a pineapple. Choose one with nice looking leaves, that grow reasonably straight up out of the fruit. Unless you want a realistically tilty tree, that is.
a green apple
powdered sugar
dried cranberries (maybe a cup?)
golden raisins (maybe a 1/4 cup?)
thread and needle
clementines or other fruit, as desired
a paring knife
frilly toothpicks (optional)

1) Cut the pineapple crossways about 2" below where the leaves join the pineapple, more if you want a taller star. Take the part with the leaves and put it cut side down. Trim away the fruit to the base of the leaves, or a bit less (you can always trim away more, if you want). You should still have a 2" square or rectangular bit of fruit in the center. Shape this into a star the best you can.

2) Trim a bit of the base off the bottom of the apple so that it sits flat and is reasonably stable. Cut out the core. Shorten a few of the center leaves of the "tree" and wedge them into the apple to attach the tree to the base.

3) Dust the tree with powdered sugar. Try not to get any on the star.

4) String the cranberries and golden raisins on the thread, using whatever pattern you want. You could also string up dried apricots or bits of dried mango or whatever other fruit you think would be pretty.

5) Peel, core, and slice up the rest of the pineapple.

6) Arrange the tree (apple side down, obviously) on a tray with the rest of the pineapple and the clementines.

7) Drape the cranberry garland around the tree. If necessary, you can attach one end to the apple with a red frilly toothpick.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

she's b-a-a-ck

It's almost the New Year again, and I have been exceedingly remiss in feeding the blog. Rather than try to update my dear reader (?) with all the events in My Blogging Vacation, I'm just going to dive in with a bit of navel gazing. Maybe that's what this blog will become, since I lack the writing talent of, say, Charlotte Hilton Anderson.

As of yesterday morning, I weigh 150.0. That's about 7 pounds less than my max weight in 2010. I've lost about 3 pounds in the last 3 weeks, which sounds like slow progress but isn't so bad considering (a) it's the holidays, (b) I've been gaining strength at the gym, and (c) I don't have too many more pounds of fat to lose. (I can see the 4-pack of abs immediately under my sternum. Based on past experience, this probably means I'm about 16%-17% BF.)

My goal is to be 140 and about 14% BF by Feb 17. Why Feb 17? That's the day we leave for 2 weeks in Hawaii. Going to Hawaii in anything but top shape seems like a crime, because there's so many fun outdoors things to do: trails to hike, beaches to run, rivers and bays to paddle, waves to jump, canyons to explore, even kites to fly. I'm also vain, and I want to look good in a bathing suit. (I'm not afraid to admit it!) And, there's nothing worse than looking at old vacation pictures and cringing. I have plenty of cringe-worthy pictures as it is, thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

newsflash: commercials lie!

image courtesy of www.healthhabits.ca

When I get sick, as I have been for the past 3 days, I tend to watch more TV than usual. More TV = more commercials, at least for the tivo-less. This morning I saw a new (for me) commercial that made me want to hurl my snotty kleenexes at the TV: the corn lobby's commercial in defense of high fructose corn syrup.

The setup wasn't terribly memorable. I think it had something to do with two earnest twenty-somethings deciding whether or not to have dessert. Or, maybe I'm getting confused with the commercial in which the earnest twenty-something is trying to decide between oil-based whipped cream out of a tub or dairy-based whipped cream out of a can.

Anywho ... The punchline of the corn-lobby commercial was that high fructose corn syrup is "just sugar" and 100% natural. The earnest narrator on the commercial didn't go quite as far as telling viewers that sugar is good for you, but that was certainly the implication.

Setting aside, for a moment, the assumption that natural = good for you (umm, arsenic is 100% natural, too...), a new study from Princeton shows that HFCS generates more weight gain among rats than comparable amounts of table sugar. But wait, there's more:

"In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides."

The full study (via stumptuous) may be behind a subscription wall, but the summary is here.

Of course, plenty of other researchers have noticed that obesity rates have risen in parallel with consumption of HFCS. See this graph, from the CDC:




But the Princeton study is important insofar as it moves us a step closer to understanding that correlation may, in fact, be causation.

Monday, March 8, 2010

weekend workouts

Photo by davidzondy.com

I haven't been using this blog as a space to record my workouts, because (a) I don't take my laptop to the gym, and (b) reading about *other people's* workouts is about as exciting as watching glaciers calve.* But, it seems I've been lax in posting about other stuff, so ....

Saturday: CF-inspired squat, dip, and pullup extravaganza for time (21' and some change)
  • 10 squats @ 65 lbs
  • 3 pullups
  • 6 dips
  • 15 squats
  • 6 pullups
  • 12 dips
  • 20 squats
  • 9 pullups
  • 18 dips
  • 15 squats
  • 6 pullups
  • 12 dips
  • 10 squats
  • 3 pullups
  • 9 dips (yeah, I know, I broke the pattern)
Pullups were definitely the weak link, not that this is a surprise. Not being the brightest tool in the shed, I had done 15 pullups as part of my warmup, bringing my pullup total for the day to 49. Should have just done one more for an even 50!

Sunday: CF "Helen"

Buy in: 2 rounds of CF warmup, minus pullups.
  • 3 rds for time (13'38")
  • row 400m
  • 15 DB swings @ 35
  • 10 pullups. after rows and swings, I had to do these assisted. Started at 40 'lbs assist, by end was struggling at 100 lbs. assist. Pathetic.
Cash out: 45 minutes of pool play with DH and The Boy. Swimsuit barely fits over my ass.

b. strong //

*This may not be the best analogy. Tourists in AK pay exorbitant money to take boat tours of glaciers, with the hope of seeing them calve. I suppose it is kind of exciting, especially if the reference point is a John Deere show at the local 4H club. But it's ice. Melting.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

hot dogs, health, and science

News flash! Hot dogs cause heart disease, Type II diabetes, and detached retinas!

And, in other hot-dog related news, B. Strong Hoagie Roll Science Experiment is still underway. Yes, the hoagie rolls are still on my counter, and they are still virtually unchanged from when I took them out of the freezer 2 MONTHS ago. And people put this garbage in their bodies?

b. strong

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Exercising through snowmaggedon

After snickering at our friends to the south and east about their massive snowstorms all winter, the chickens have come home to roost: we're in the midst of a doozy. Locals are doing the usual reminiscing about major snowstorms of years past. The out-of-state freshmen are wondering what hit them. The schoolkids are celebrating an "extra" two days off, not acknowledging that it will merely delay their release in the summer.

Needless to say, the extra time with The Boy has thrown a wrench into my gym schedule. But, you know, it doesn't matter. Today was one of those days -- rarer in winter for me than summer -- that I realize that opportunities for exercise are everywhere:

Tabata shoveling: 20 seconds max effort shoveling, followed by 10 seconds rest. Repeat for 250' of sidewalk. (Damned corner lots!)

Snow slogging: walk 3 miles (1.5 uphill) on uncleared sidewalks. Bonus points if you avoid slips and falls.

Snowball hurls: tempt The Boy with a distance and accuracy snowball-throwing contest.
Snowball sprints: snowball fight!

Being in shape is a Good Thing.

b strong //

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do you Tabata?

Photo from CrossFit PlusOne

I tried "Tabata this!" for the first time yesterday. For those of you unfamiliar with Tabata training, it's a form of torture masquerading as high-intensity cardio. Relative to low-intensity cardio and high-intensity training with longer work and rest periods, Tabata training increases both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and gives a greater "afterburn."

The protocol is simple: 8*(20 seconds max effort + 10 seconds of rest). Almost any exercise can be Tabatized (ooh, a new word), but compound exercises are preferable. Tabata this! -- the exclamation point is important -- entails 5-6 Tabatized exercises, with a 1-minute rest.

Translation: hell, but in a good way.

Here were my scores:
  • Rowing (8 rds). I burned 55 calories total, but discounting the turns of the flywheel during the 10 second rest periods, I'd guess my average was 6 cal/round, low was 5.
  • Squats (8 rds). max 15, min 8
  • Pullups (8 rds, strict). max 8, min 5@ setting 10 on the gravitron
  • Pushups (4 rds). max 12, min 4
  • Situps (8 rds): max 17, min 12
  • Pushups (4 rds). max 10, min 4
Total (counting only the lowest for each exercise): 5+8+5+4+12 = 34

I knew that pullups were going to blow, but pushups surprised me. I usually have no trouble cranking out 10-12 in a set. And, that's what I did, but only for the first set in each round. After that, reps dropped off faster than Tiger Woods' sponsors.

b strong //

Friday, February 19, 2010

corner bar fly

I think I've invented a new exercise: the corner bar fly. I like it as much for the name (corner barfly? get it?) as for the movement. The basic idea is this: find a corner in the gym where you can wedge one end of a barbell. You'll need at least 4 feet of space on either side of the free end of the barbell.

Stand shoulder with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Lift up the free end of the barbell with one hand, then extend that arm out to the side in a fly position. Keeping your core tight to take the hips out of the motion, bring the arm toward the center and slightly up, as if you are doing a fly from a standing position. I like to make this more explosive by tossing the barbell into the other hand at the top.

Don't let your hands drop all the way down to your hips at the bottom of the motion. Obviously, if it hurts your shoulders or elbows, stop. Add weight in 5-10 lb. increments.

OK, I can't imagine that no one has tried this before. It's really just a variant on the corner barbell press. But I couldn't find a video on youtube, so therefore I must be the first. (I'm kidding, of course. Although, when it comes to exercises, youtube is ridiculously comprehensive. Seems like fitness freaks can't help but post videos of themselves teaching an exercise. Bless 'em.)

*****
Warm up: random stuff, air squats, stretching
WOD (based on crossfit HQ's WOD): max reps, 5 rds of
  • 85 lb. thrusters (7,8,7,7,6)
  • dead-hang wide-grip pullups (9,8,7,6.5,4)
Cash out:
  • corner bar flys: 10 each side @45 (bar only); 6 @ 55, 4@55
  • triangle pushups: 10, 10, 10
  • corner bar lumberjack squats: 8@90; 6@115; 5@115

Thursday, February 18, 2010

progressing, one hand at a time

It's been a while since I posted any updates on my workouts or progress. I'm still chugging along with my mixtures of traditional strength training and crossfit (on different days). In some areas I've seen progress, in other areas, well, not so much.

One "lift" that seems to be stuck is pullups. Despite working them regularly as part of crossfit, I'm still grinding out reps 7-8 on the first set, 6-7 on the second, and 4-5 on the third. It feels like the last time I added a rep to pullups, Dubyah was still in the White House.

That's rep count. Two other measures, though, give me hope. First, I'm getting stronger at weighted pullups. Twenty pounds used to be a struggle. It's still a struggle, but less so.

Second, I've doubled the reps I can do on "one-handed" pullups. (They aren't one-handed, really: the "free" hand is around the wrist of the gripping hand.) Granted, doubling means going from 2 to 4 on the right hand, and 1 to 2 on the left hand.

Which just goes to show: progress can be glacial, and it can be inconsistent. But any progress is better than no progress at all. I'll take it.

b strong//

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

confessions of an Olympic junkie

Hi. My name is B. Strong, and I'm an Olympics junkie.

My DVR is my enabler. It allows me to feed my habit and keep my job. It also allows me to get my Olympic fix in pure form, unsullied by commercials, hockey, or Dick Button.

I notice, though, that my tastes in sports have changed along with my own body composition. In my cardio queen days, I thought that women figure skaters had ideal bodies. Now I look at (most) of the women and think, "eww." Elbows shouldn't be the widest part of a person's arm. Legs that are expected to leap and jump shouldn't look like knobby pencils.

On the flip side, I used to think that speed skaters looked oddly bottom heavy. Now I'm just in awe of their thighs. I don't covet their thighs: it's hard enough for me to buy pants as it is, thankyouverymuch. But, I sure do appreciate them from an aesthetic standpoint (the lycra helps, here), and appreciate the effort that goes into building them.

Why do I like the Olympics so much? Maybe it's because for two weeks, the mainstream media celebrates female athleticism in all of its forms. Rather than the ubiquitous Hollywood starlet body type, we get to see women who are visibly muscular. Not only that, we cheer them on, without the snide comments about looking "masculine" that trail athletes like Serena Williams.

And with that, I'm going to go catch some curling ...

b. strong //

Sunday, February 14, 2010

flipping the question

Image courtesy of the CDC.

Unless you've been living in a box for the past decade, you know that obesity rates are skyrocketing. In 1990, roughly 12% of Americans were obese, meaning that their BMI was greater than 30. By 2004, nearly a quarter of Americans were obese* (Harper and Lynch 2007).

It's customary in the blogosphere and media to blame rising obesity on two factors: lousier diets and lazier people. The problem with the "lazy people" explanation is that the data don't really bear it out. Indeed, the percentage of people who are physically inactive declined, from 30% in 1990 to 23% in 2004.

Granted, the measure of physical inactivity -- no leisure-time physical activity for a month -- isn't perfect. "Leisure time" physical inactivity ignores on-the-job physical activity. Anyone who has scraped the exterior of a house or waited tables for an 8-hour shift knows that the work can be physically exhausting. It's also not clear how survey respondents are interpreting the question about physical activity: does walking the dog count? or does it have to entail a trip to the gym in order to ride the elliptical to nowhere."

These errors can affect trends, depending on how societal definitions of physical activity change over time. It could be, for example, that the late 1990s push to redefine walking as a form of exercise means that fewer people reported inactivity in 2004 than in 1990, even if there was no change in the underlying behavior.

But if we take the data on their own terms, we're left with an even thornier problem than the "lazy people" camp acknowledges. If they were right, we should see a decrease, or at least leveling off, of obesity rates. It ain't happening. Changes (for the better) in physical activity have not been sufficient to offset changes (for the worse) in either the amount or the type of food Americans eat.

I don't know what the solution is, but I do know that calling people lazy isn't the answer. Maybe we should stop subsidizing corn growers and start subsidizing broccoli farmers.

I'm not kidding.

be strong//

*yeah, yeah, I know BMI is just a ratio of weight to height, and hence differentiate between "good" weight (muscle, bone) and "bad" weight (fat). Yeah, yeah, I know that a lot of bodybuilders would be classified as obese, according to BMI. But, let's face it, there aren't enough budding Arnolds out there to account for the rise in obesity.

Friday, February 12, 2010

the half life of a hoagie roll

One of the items purged from the Great Freezer Cleanout was a package of hoagie rolls leftover from a catered work event in September. Given their vintage, I didn't want to take them to the food bank. What else to do with them, then, than feed them to the birds and squirrels? (Yeah, I know: not much nutritional content for the critters, either. But it has been so cold that I figured the cute fuzzies would appreciate a few extra calories, even if rather empty.)

I chopped up three of the six, and left the other three on the counter for a later feeding. That was the 29th of January.

And they sat.

And sat.

And sat.

Here we are, two weeks later. They are still sitting on the counter.

And they look exactly. the. same. They still have that cheap-bread squish. There are no signs of mold.

That just ain't natch'ral.

A check of the ingredients confirms: enriched flour, water, yeast, sugar, gluten, soybean oil, salt, soya flour, guar gum, and enzymes. So far so good, or at least pronounceable. But then the periodic table of the elements begins. Calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl, lactylate, azodicarbonamide, monoglycerides, diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides and diglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, whatthehellareweputtingintoourbodiesate.

So, rather than feeding this stuff the squirrels, The Boy and I are taking conducting a miniature science experiment. We're taking observations every day, and recording them. The goal is to find out how long, precisely, a commercially prepared hoagie roll can survive on a kitchen counter before turning green.

Stay tuned, because I know you are all dying to know.

b strong//

Monday, February 8, 2010

cleaning up the diet, step 2

In the first stage of the Great Diet Scrub of 2010, I gave up my beloved Peach Fresca and all of its aspartame-laced cousins. No more diet soda, period.

Going cold turkey was easier than I thought it would be. For one thing, I was expecting aspartame-withdrawal symptoms. Nada.

Given the success of Stage 1, I began Stage 2 this weekend: no more sweeteners, artificial or otherwise, in my coffee. Coffee is the last major vehicle for artificial sweeteners in my diet. I'm sure some sneaks in here and there, but I'm working on that, too.

So far, I can't say that I like the taste of non-sweetened coffee. But I'm committed to giving it more time. And, if I never acquire the taste for coffee sans saccharin ... well, I probably drink too much coffee as it is.

//b strong

Saturday, February 6, 2010

overheard at the gym: the value of pushups

(photo by Chris Wass, via Flickr)










When you work out in a university gym, you have the opportunity to overhear a lot of teenagers' conversations. Usually I tune them out as much as possible, but a traditional strength day involves resting between sets and, well, what else are you going to do? Besides, yesterday the gym was sparsely populated: just me, a couple of other solo lifters, and a group of three not-very-muscular college-aged men.

One of the college men was showing his buddies the spiderman pushup (one-legged, but the knee of the free leg is propped on that side's elbow). He wasn't expounding the benefits of spiderman pushups for increasing strength or balance. No, his big selling point was that spiderman pushups were good for impressing women, "because they just have no upper body strength."

Two things struck me as funny about this. First, I was right next to them doing dips w/ a 35 lb weight strapped around my waist. I know they saw me, because at one point we made eye contact. However, I suspect that I fall so far out of their picture of what women can or can't do that they didn't even know how to process the visual information.

Second, I had a mental picture of these guys doing pushups at a party, in front of a gaggle of (scantily clad) young women. Somehow I suspect that no matter what the women were saying, deep down they were thinking, "did they really think we would be impressed by this? like, oh. my. god. what a bunch of losers!"

be strong //

Friday, February 5, 2010

early am marketing snafus

I'm usually up by 5 or 5:30 am. It's a good time to answer e-mail, drink my coffee in peace, read a novel, and otherwise wind up for the day. It's also a good time to ridicule low-budget marketing efforts to sell people workout videos and equipment that they don't need. Well, they may need *something*, just not the product o' the day.

Anywhoo, this morning's TV lineup included "sexy abs", "secrets to a flat tummy," "lose weight fast!", "10 minute abs", "9 minute abs", "8 1/2 minute abs", and "Brazil butt lift." Brazil butt lift? I know regions can have armpits in common parlance: Wasilla was known as the armpit of Alaska well before Palin solidified its reputation nationally, Milpitas is the armpit of the Bay Area, etc. But I've never heard of a country having a butt.

Assuming that Brazil has a butt, why would I want to lift it? Crack it, maybe, but lift it?

And, I dunno about you, but I'd be kinda embarrassed to have a DVD on my shelf with the title of "Brazil butt lift." It's hard enough to find time to clean the house before my work colleagues come over, let alone remember to purge the DVD collection of Brazilian butt lifts.

be strong //

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

primal parenting?

Mark's Daily Apple featured a post yesterday on raising healthy kids, particularly when the kids split their time, and hence meals, between divorced parents. The general tenor of the post, and many of the comments, is that if you raise kids to be "primal" (for the purposes of this post, read "eat healthy" here), they will develop a taste for healthy food and prefer it over less healthy choices when they eat dinner at Dad's, go off to college, or otherwise leave the dietary nest.

Problem is, this doesn’t match my experience.

I was raised on what was essentially a primal diet. My family hunted our own meat: moose, caribou, duck, ptarmigan (which, BTW, is not very tasty, even if you avoid a mouth full of buckshot), even the occasional bear. We kept chickens and geese. We had a substantial garden; what the marauding moose didn’t eat was usually enough to last through the winter. We fished the fall silver salmon run, hauling in 40-60 fish each year. We didn’t have soda or sweets in the house, except traditional cookies at x-mas. We didn’t even eat a lot of grains or dairy, because neither were feasible to grow or produce locally.

Then I left for college. All that crap in the SAD became available, and (because of the magic of dining plans) in unlimited quantities. Even to my supposedly “primalized” taste buds, it tasted good. Moreover, eating it was the norm at a time in my development when I was desperately seeking to fit in.

Enter massive weight gain, followed by an eating disorder. Took me about 10 years to get my body into equilibrium again.

I wouldn’t wish that on The Boy for anything. So, long post, short question: given that we -- and in particular our kids -- don’t live in a dietary vacuum, how does one raise “primal” kids without setting them up for an eating “backlash” later?

Monday, February 1, 2010

taking stock

It's been one month since I tightened up my eating, kicked the diet soda habit once and for all, and started putting just a touch more effort in at the gym. I wasn't a slouch, before, but I'd say that I make it to the gym an extra day a week now, and, averaged across all workouts, have upped the intensity by a notch. ("Yes, but this one goes to eleven.")

Time to take stock, Jan 1-Jan 31
  • pounds lost: 4, give or take
  • days with workouts: 23 (doesn't include active rest days)
  • PRs set: bench, deadlift, squat
  • cans of diet soda consumed: 4 (I didn't run out until Jan 2 or so)
  • alcohol consumed: 0 oz
  • body fat lost: ?, but I can see more definition in my abs than before
Goals not met:
  • breaking 150. I still have a couple of pounds to go. My mind knows that this is just an arbitraty number, like any other, but it's still important to me for some reason. For one thing, I *hate* having to use that extra weight thingie on a balance scale.
  • wardrobe expansion. There are still a few pairs of pants that I could wear 2 years ago but can't wear (in public) now. I'm not ready to give up on them yet.
Onward!

b strong //

Saturday, January 30, 2010

restocking

After yesterday's purge, today's task was to restock. Just over $158 later, we're stocked up with fruits, veggies, salmon, eggs, yoghurt, and a new item for me: coconut oil.

I had a new experience, too. As I was unloading my cart at the checkout line, the woman behind me commented, "what a healthy cart!" (I'm pretty sure she was commenting on the contents of the cart.) A "non-scale victory," indeed.

(photo courtesy of Bob Wright)

Friday, January 29, 2010

cleaning

This morning while I was nursing my coffee, I stumbled across the Whole30 paleo challenge. I'm not quite ready to commit to it, mentally, although I've already taken the big step of cutting out sugar and grains. I still eat dairy, though.

The challenge did inspire me to go through my pantry, which yielded a grocery bag of canned soup and pasta now on its way to the food bank. On a roll, I tackled the freezer, which I haven't cleaned out in, um, a while (read "forever" here). Out went rotkohl from Oktoberfest 2009, pie dough from Thanksgiving 2008, a carton of mystery leftovers from 2008, freezer-burned hot-dog buns from a work event in September 2009, peanuts from August 2008, and 10 fruit pops The Boy shunned after serving them at an early summer birthday party. My favorite, though, was a bag of flax seeds with a "use by" date of March 2000.

Some people track the major events of their lives through photographs, others through scrapbooks, and still others through playlists. Evidently, I use the contents of my freezer.

be strong//

clicking

Isn't it odd how some days are Good Days, even when you don't expect them to be?

Yesterday was a case in point.
- I didn't sleep well the night before, partly because of a late afternoon cup of coffee and partly because of a work deadline
- I got up before 5, to finish up said work before my 10 am deadline
- The fridge is bare, so breakfast was scanty, and lunch fixings no where to be found. By the time I worked out in the afternoon, I had only eaten 1/2 cup of cottage cheese and a banana.
- The WOD called for 1-rep max back squats. That's probably my weakest lift, owing to a chronic hip problem.

All these factors predicted a Bad Day at the gym. And yet, yesterday everything seemed to click. I cruised through the crossfit warmup (pullups, pushups, dips, back extensions, air squats, and situps), managing 12 of everything except pullups in all three rounds. (I still can't string together 12 consecutive pullups.)

Better still, squats felt ... good. I started the 7 sets relatively conservatively, but by the 4th "set" had hit a new PR (145). That's almost as much as bodyweight: not great, but not bad for an old broad, either!

be strong //

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

department of "well, duh" department

An article in a recent "personal journal" section of the Wall Street Journal reviewed research that shows it is possible to have a "normal" range BMI and still have a high percentage of body fat, with all the attendant health risks that this carries. Three comments:

1) well, duh. this observation has been made by bodybuilders and other fitness professionals since, oh, about 10 minutes after BMI was invented

2) the female -- of course -- models in their graphic about high BF% were *all* what I would call skinny-fat. And, of the three models, the one depicted in the panel for "normal BMI/low BF%" probably had the highest BF% of the three.

The WSJ covered their Murdoch by noting that "models are for illustration only." Um, isn't that the definition of a model?

3) the article's author advocated bioimpedemence scales as a way of assessing health risk from high BF% despite normal BMI. Yeah, it's easier than getting a caliper test done, but it's also incredibly, and arguably dangerously inaccurate. A better suggestion would be to train nurses and other health care practitioners to take skinfold measurements, just like they take blood pressure.

4) the author also failed to point out the obverse of the normal BMI/high BF% relationship, namely that one can have an abnormally high BMI and low BF%. It doesn't even require that one be a bodybuilder in the traditional sense -- people who have been lifting for a long time with progressive resistance can also exceed the "ideal" height/weight ratio.

preaching to the choir (or maybe just a choir soloist), but there you go

be strong //
K

sisterhood of the broken pants

One of my favorite cartoons is an old strip from, I believe, Baby Blues. (Is this still in syndication? I never read the funnies anymore, because I typically find them remarkably unfunny.)

The first panel shows the wife standing in front of a mirror. Her "thought" bubble reads, "I need to lose weight."

The next panel shows her noticeably pot-bellied husband standing in front of a mirror. His thought bubble reads, "my pants are broken."

I'm having a broken pants day.

be strong //

Monday, January 25, 2010

stuck and unstuck

Unstuck: the snow that was supposed to support The Boy's ski club outing and lessons today. It rained all night, and it's still raining. I hope the club cancels rather than drag the kids -- and parents -- up to the ski hill for a five hour day in the rain and wind and fake snow.

Stuck: my weight. For the past three weeks. I know I shouldn't worry about it. I feel good. If I squint really hard, I can even convince myself that I'm leaner in the face and, um, chest, which usually lead all other body parts in the race to lose fat. (My rear, unfortunately, is always in the rear.) But I can't quite get beyond the number on the scale. And it's not budging.

Why does it bother me so much? And then I get bothered by the fact that it bothers me. And then I obsess even more about my apparent lack of progress, which bothers me even more. To paraphrase Ron Weasley (yes, The Boy and I are reading Harry Potter together): what am I, mental?

be strong //

Friday, January 22, 2010

when diet and exercise aren't enough

My first rant, I guess.

A colleague was diagnosed last year with prostate cancer. The aggressive kind: it had already metasticized when they caught it. He has good insurance, so he's been getting top-of-the line care, in the hospital with the best oncology department in the US.

He came to tell me today that neither surgery nor radiation therapy worked. Next up is chemo, but the best he can hope for is that the chemo slows the cancer's progress. Virtually everyone who has his form of cancer winds up with cancer of the bones, brain, lungs, or liver. He's just hoping that his top-of-the-line care will delay the inevitable spread of the cancer until he reaches retirement age.

Thing is, this colleague did everything right. He never smoked. He isn't overweight. He eats healthy foods, usually organic. He and his wife love to hike. They wear long-sleeved clothes and ginormous hats throughout our all-too-brief summer, out of fear of skin cancer. There are no risk factors in his family. He has had regular physicals all through his adult life, including prostate screening. Yet, he's dying.

What does this have to do with health and fitness? If you read comments on political, news, or fitness blog posts about health care reform, it won't take long before you run into a blame-the-victim mentality. If "those people" would just eat better or get more exercise, so the meme goes, we wouldn't need health care reform. (Yes, I've stopped shopping at Whole Foods, because the CEO is one of these idiots.)

Thing is, bad things happen to good people. In a civilized society -- especially one in which such a high percentage of the population professes their country's moral and spiritual superiority every chance they get -- it shouldn't also be true that when bad things happen to good people, only the rich good people get an extra year of life.

The US spends more $ per person on health care than any other advanced industrialized society: more than twice the average of AISs, and 1.5 times more than our nearest competitor for this dubious honor (Norway). Yet, our life expectancy is middling at best. If it wasn't for the former eastern bloc countries and Mexico, we'd be at the very bottom among AIS countries. (Andrew Gelman made a nice scatterplot showing this using National Geographic data.)

Yeah, Americans are fat, but that's not why health care costs are so high. Health care costs are high because our health care system makes no sense. Reform it. Now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

hunting and gathering

Today was the first day of our CSA share from a local farm: grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, free range chicken, eggs, and locally made cheese. (Hungry yet? I am ...)

Today also happened to be one of the rare occasions when J and I both needed a car: J to take The Boy to a cardiologist, me to pick up the CSA. We have one car. The doctor's office was 60 miles away and the CSA pick-up spot 1.5 miles away.

So, I went a-hunting for the family's food. Granted, I was armed with my checkbook, a daypack, and my iPod instead of a bow, flint-tipped arrows, and an animal-skin sling to carry home my kill. But, I nonetheless felt almost ... primal as I hiked to get my food.

Of course, I didn't feel so primal when I broke one of the eggs putting the carton into the backpack. Or when I stood in the parking lot of Papa John's, egg dripping between my fingers, wondering how to surreptitiously dispose of the shell and clean off my hand enough to be able to wear my glove.

The human race never would have survived if Grok was as much of a klutz as I am.

//be strong

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

controlling the cravings, part 2

Part 2 of post on cravings. Part 1 is here.

Conventional dieting wisdom seems to be that you should give into cravings, but in moderation. Some diets even build in a "cheat day," under the theory that this will minimize cravings on non-cheat days. A release valve on the pressure cooker of your diet.

My problem with this strategy is that it's overly simplistic. First, not all cravings are created equal. Although we may experience them as the same intense longing, a craving for an avocado is not the same as a craving for something sweet. A craving for a sweet is not the same as a craving for Mom's homemade mac-n-cheese. These cravings stem from different sources, and should be treated differently.

Second, I noted in the first post that a paradox of dieting is that the very act of restricting a food creates a craving for it. Another paradox of dieting is that feeding a craving can create more cravings. A great example of this is sweets: eating sweets tends to make you want to eat more sweets. (Lest those of you who only drink diet -- like me, for a decade -- feel smug, some research suggests that artificial sweeteners trigger the same response. There is no free soda.)

So, on the one hand, you have the problem that denial creates a craving, and on the other hand you have the problem that "giving in" (I don't care for that phrase, incidentally -- it's so defeatist) can create a craving later on.

What's a poor dieter to do?

Some sites recommend that you try to trick yourself out of a craving by taking a walk, or going on line. Frankly, this doesn't work for me. I think my shoes would give out before I "forgot" about chocolate.

Instead, I follow these two steps.

Use the trigger food itself to identify the source of the craving. If I'm craving Mom's mac'n'cheese, it's probably because I'm looking for comfort food, not that I really want a gloppy cheese and pasta casserole. If I'm craving avocado, it may mean I've been restricting the fats too much. If I'm craving a piece of chocolate cake, it probably means I'm looking at one.

Respond to the craving (or not) based on its source.
  • If it's a genuinely physiological need (e.g., for Omega-3 fats), eat the target food. Even if it means going over your target calories for the day.
  • If it's a craving triggered by a psychological need (e.g., for comfort), it can probably be alleviated by a healthier alternative that fills the same purpose. Instead of mac-n-cheese, make meatloaf and broccoli. (Notice I'm not saying that the craving is no less real for being psychologically induced. I wish that I was one of those people for whom food is just fuel, but I'm not.)
  • If it's a craving sparked by seeing a food, start walking. There are, of course, exceptions. If a German colleague gives you a gift of a top of the line imported chocolate truffle, one that probably cost more than your kid's weekly day care bill, sure, eat it. But sight-induced cravings are typically sparked by food that, frankly, isn't that special. Cheesy poofs aren't going to disappear from the local 7/11 next month. Your kid will be invited to another birthday party soon enough, and the odds are good that there will be cake at that party, too.
  • If it's a craving for sugar or grain-based snacks (I'm talking about you, Triscuits), my body does. not. need. it. There's no such thing as an Essential Salty Carb. And, it's not "harmless," if eating empty carbs perpetuates cravings for empty carbs.
My strategy, instead, is this. Eat super-clean for a month: long enough for the body to readjust and lose the "taste" for sweets, short enough that it doesn't seem interminable. Reevaluate. If you're still craving sweets or grains, give it another month. Reevaluate again. The odds are good that the cravings will have decreased or shifted to healthier foods, if they haven't gone away altogether.

As I see it, the choice isn't between "living life" and "denying myself." It's between a lifetime of craving/"cheat" cycles, and a month or two of "denial" in exchange for the chance of living a healthier, craving-free life thereafter.

But, that's just me.

be strong //


    controlling the cravings, part 2

    Part 2. Part 1 is here.

    Conventional dieting wisdom seems to be that you should give into cravings, but in moderation. Some diets even build in a "cheat day," under the theory that this will minimize cravings on non-cheat days. A release valve on the pressure cooker of your diet.

    My problem with this strategy is that it's overly simplistic. First, not all cravings are created equal. Although we may experience them as the same intense longing, a craving for an avocado is not the same as a craving for something sweet. A craving for a sweet is not the same as a craving for Mom's homemade mac-n-cheese. These cravings stem from different sources, and should be treated differently.

    Second, I noted in the first post that a paradox of dieting is that the very act of restricting a food creates a craving for it. Another paradox of dieting is that feeding a craving can create more cravings. A great example of this is sweets: eating sweets tends to make you want to eat more sweets. (Lest those of you who only drink diet -- like me, for a decade -- feel smug, some research suggests that artificial sweeteners trigger the same response. There is no free soda.)

    So, on the one hand, you have the problem that denial creates a craving, and on the other hand you have the problem that "giving in" (I don't care for that phrase, incidentally -- it's so defeatist) can create a craving later on.

    What's a poor dieter to do?

    Some sites recommend that you try to trick yourself out of a craving by taking a walk, or going on line. Frankly, this doesn't work for me. I think my shoes would give out before I "forgot" about chocolate.

    Instead, I follow these two steps.

    1) Use the trigger food itself to identify the source of the craving. If I'm craving Mom's mac'n'cheese, it's probably because I'm looking for comfort food, not that I really want a gloppy cheese and pasta casserole. If I'm craving avocado, it may mean I've been restricting the fats too much. If I'm craving a piece of chocolate cake, it probably means I'm looking at one.

    2) Respond to the craving (or not) based on its source.
    • If it's a genuinely physiological need (e.g., for Omega-3 fats), eat the target food. Even if it means going over your target calories for the day.
    • If it's a craving triggered by a psychological need (e.g., for comfort), it can probably be alleviated by a healthier alternative that fills the same purpose. Instead of mac-n-cheese, make meatloaf and broccoli. (Notice I'm not saying that the craving is no less real for being psychologically induced. I wish that I was one of those people for whom food is just fuel, but I'm not.)
    • If it's a craving sparked by seeing a food, start walking. There are, of course, exceptions. If a German colleague gives you a gift of a top of the line imported chocolate truffle, one that probably cost more than your kid's weekly day care bill, sure, eat it. But sight-induced cravings are typically sparked by food that, frankly, isn't that special. Cheesy poofs aren't going to disappear from the local 7/11 next month. Your kid will be invited to another birthday party soon enough, and the odds are good that there will be cake at that party, too.
    • If it's a craving for sugar or grain-based snacks (I'm talking about you, Triscuits), my body does. not. need. it. There's no such thing as an Essential Salty Carb. And, it's not "harmless," if eating empty carbs perpetuates cravings for empty carbs.
    My current strategy for sugar/grain-based snacks is this. Eat super-clean, with no sugars or processed grain snacks, for a month: long enough for the body to readjust and lose the "taste" for sweets, short enough that it doesn't seem interminable. Reevaluate. If I still crave sweets or grains, give it another month. Reevaluate again. The odds are good that the cravings will have decreased or shifted to healthier foods, if they haven't gone away altogether.

    As I see it, the choice isn't between "living life" and "denying myself." It's between a lifetime of craving/cheat cycles OR and a month or two of "denial" in exchange for the chance of living a healthier, craving-free life thereafter.

    So far, so good.

    But, that's just me.

    be strong //

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    pulling PR

    Today was a strength day: deadlifts, 5 sets of 3 rep max.

    185
    205
    215
    225 - PR
    235 - PR, but only 2 reps out of concern for form.

    It's been a while since I pulled heavy, so I started more conservatively than I probably needed to. And, next time I'll squeeze out that third rep @235.

    But: yay, me! I'm pulling 150% of body weight!

    //b strong

    controlling the cravings, part 1

    Craving: an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.

    A dieter's worst nightmare.

    In the conventional dieting wisdom, cravings are inevitable. After all, the very act of restricting a food triggers cravings for it. A paradox, wrapped in a tortilla.

    If you read any diet support group's board, you'll notice a curious language has developed around cravings. In this language, the self is passive, and the body is the actor. Cravings are something to which our bodies subject us. "My body craves" this. "My body craves" that. I "listened to" my body and "gave in to" the craving.

    The language of craving sets up a dichotomy between our bodies and our selves. It subtly shifts responsibility for our dietary choices onto the body. The body becomes the evil and uncontrollable twin to our true selves, a comic-book villain whose only goal is to thwart our dreams of slenderness.

    But, this dichotomy is completely false. Our bodies are ourselves. (Hmm, "Our bodies, Ourselves." Great title for a book. Oh, wait, it IS a book...) Eating shouldn't be the locus of an ongoing battle between good self and evil body, struggling against each other to control what goes into our mouths.

    And, it makes no sense to blame our bodies for poor food choices. After all, we don't typically blame our bodies for other ill-advised acts. Imagine, if you will, that you are pulled over for speeding. Try talking your way out of a ticket by saying, "I swear, officer, I was trying to follow the traffic laws, but my body was craving speed so I gave in. Just this once."

    Good luck with that.

    Next time: dealing with cravings, and why "cheat days" can be counterproductive

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    recipe: spinach-stuffed pork tenderloin

    I'm a big fan of pork tenderloin. It's inexpensive, quick-cooking, healthy, and a welcome change from chicken. (Steak and salmon are welcome changes, too, but harder on the budget.) Plus, it's easily adaptable to different styles of cuisine, so when you are trying to use leftover fresh herbs before they turn to brown mush in the fridge, the odds are good that they'll go with pork. And, tenderloins are easy to stuff, so you can make an impressive-looking dish with relatively little effort.

    Here's last night's pork tenderloin recipe:

    1 tenderloin
    1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and pressed
    3-ish slices of onion, diced
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    3 slices of bacon
    part of a sprig of rosemary
    salt & pepper

    0. Preheat oven to 350 or so.
    1. In a large skillet with an ovenproof handle, cook 3 slices of bacon. Remove bacon to a paper towel. Pour most of the fat from the pan and reserve, but leave enough to saute the onions and garlic.
    2. Saute onions and garlic. Add spinach & rosemary.
    3. Break one of the pieces of bacon in half, and split it with your cooking partner. Crumble the two remaining pieces of bacon and add to the stuffing mixture. Stir a bit more to meld flavors.
    3. While the stuffing ingredients are getting to know each other, remove any remaining silver skin from the tenderloin. Butterfly it by cutting it lengthwise, but not all the way through. Open it up, lay it flat, and whack it with a meat mallet, small saucepan, even a (washed!) can until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Note: if you have kids, this is a great task to outsource.
    4. Spread the stuffing evenly on the tenderloin, leaving a 2" or so free border on one (long) edge of the flattened tenderloin.
    5. Roll up the tenderloin with the stuffing-free edge on the outside of the roll. If the edges are uneven, tuck them in like you would roll a burrito. Use toothpicks to keep it together, or kitchen twine if you're more coordinated and better at knots than I am.
    6. Salt and pepper the outside of the tenderloin.
    7. Add a smidge more oil to the now-empty saute pan. Sear the outside of the tenderloin for a minute or two on each side. Don't worry if you can't get an even sear all the way around because of the toothpicks.
    8. Put the whole shebang in the oven and cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 F. Depending on the size of the pork tenderloin, this will take 15-20 minutes.
    9. Cover the meat with foil, loosely, and let it sit for 5 minutes or so. The internal temp will increase another 5 degrees. The tenderloin may still be a bit pink in the middle, but perfectly safe to eat and juicier than if you cook it to 160.

    Serve with veggies -- I had cauliflower & broccoli -- and a salad.

    Mmmm!

    //b strong

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    going primal?

    For a couple of years now, "clean" eating for me has involved cutting most grains from my diet. No pasta, rice, bread, tortillas, breakfast cereals, or crackers. (None of the sweet stuff -- pastries, cake, cookies, quick breads, etc -- either, but that almost goes without saying.) I also don't eat a lot of beans and legumes, but that's mostly because I didn't eat a lot of them before.

    I honestly and truly don't miss grains or products made from them. Well, except Triscuits. I miss Triscuits. I get plenty of fiber from fruits and vegetables, and plenty of carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

    For me, the choice to give up grains was primarily calorie driven. I looked at where I was getting the least nutritional bang for the caloric buck, and breads and pasta were, hands down, the biggest losers. Out they went.

    It turns out that I stumbled onto what is essentially a primal diet. It isn't low-carb, except in comparison to the usual crap American diet. Or, worse still, the usual crap American dieter's diet: low fat, low protein, high carbs from highly processed "low-fat" and "diet" foods. A true low-carb diet would allow somewhere between 0-50g of carbs per day; without making a big fuss about carbs, I eat 100-150g per day.

    Do I feel 10 bazillion times better when I don't eat grains than when I do, assuming the same caloric intake? No, but I feel good, and have plenty of energy throughout the day.

    Has a lite version of the primal diet cured me of diabetes, alzheimers, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, arthritis, IBS, and every other disease or discomfort known to mankind? No, but I didn't have these to begin with.

    Does it work for my goal of losing fat? YES. For me, it's a painless way to cut calories, get as much protein as I'd like, and still eat real food. (Including bacon: how cool is that?) When I cut calories by cutting fat and protein, I was constantly hungry, and although I eventually lost weight, a distressing proportion of it was muscle mass.

    Yeah, eschewing grains can be socially awkward. I can't help but feel self-conscious when, at the end of a working lunch with the provost and a bunch of other mucky-mucks, my plate is mounded with the detritus of three deconstructed sandwiches. But, I'm getting over it.

    primal good. grunt.

    be strong//

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    from resolutions to rescue efforts

    I estimate that my former diet soda habit cost at least $10/week. I'm sending an advance of $50, about what I would have spent on diet soda this month, to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts in Haiti.

    It's a little thing, to be sure. But I won't miss the $50 -- if I really "needed" it, I would have given up diet soda long ago -- and it may do a teeny tiny bit of good in a country that has been absolutely devastated by the earthquake. There but for the grace of God go I.*

    If you have something that you are trying to eliminate from your diet, please consider donating the "savings" to a relief organization.

    be strong //

    *I'm not a religious person. But if I believed in hell, there would be a special place in it for Pat Robertson. The man is an embarrassment to Christianity, to America, and to humanity.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    personal best

    155 lbs on bench, x 2 reps. They weren't the prettiest reps in the world, but I got 'em up.

    be strong //

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    knackered

    I've been playing around with Crossfit for the last few months. I wouldn't say that I'm "doing" crossfit, because I'm not nearly as religious about it as the true converts. But, I've adopted the main Crossift site's warmup as my own, and I often do a (scaled) version of the main-site WOD. I also know what WOD, AMRAP, "metcon," and "rhabdo" stand for, and why "doing Cindy's little sister" isn't as pornographic as it sounds.

    Anyhoo, I went to my first organized Crossfit class on Saturday. Much of the hour-long class was devoted to warmup, exercise demo, drills, and cooldown, but the 16 minutes of actual workout had me absolutely knackered. It was one of those workouts -- and Crossfit has a lot of them -- that doesn't *sound* like it should be too bad: 7 minutes, AMRAP of squats, burpees, push presses, and pullups; 2 minutes rest; 7 minutes AMRAP as above.

    The first round flies by. The second round starts to hurt. A lot. Then the sadistic SOB with the stopwatch tells you you're only half way. The first round after the rest period, you feel like you're trying to do squats through molasses. The second round, you're regretting every ounce of breakfast. The third round, you're close to seeing it again.

    And, once you're done, you realize that your bright idea of jogging the 2 miles to class has a major flaw: when you live at the top of a hill, what goes down must come back up.

    Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for rest days.

    Saturday, January 9, 2010

    sign of the times


    When I travel, I find myself taking pictures of street signs. Street signs say a lot about a culture. Doors, too, but that's another post.

    This one, in the Cotswolds, is one of my favorites. I like to think of it as the roadside version of a horoscope: everyone can read some personal meaning into it. Especially around the New Year.

    There's also something so very British about the sign. For one thing, it uses a four-syllable word, which exceeds attention span of most US drivers. We'd forget the first word before we came to the end of the second.

    The US doesn't really have an analogue. The closest would probably be this:











    Or maybe this:













    When thinking about fitness, I much prefer the British version. It's more ... process oriented. And, it's more hopeful. Success depends less on following a specific formula (this way, not that way!) than it does on changing our priorities.

    //b. strong

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    stacking up

    Last night's surfing brought me to a 2008 post by Gubermatrix on strength standards for women. The idea is to help you figure out reasonable goals, based loosely on the distribution of accomplishments of other women lifters.

    Note the comparison is not with all other women, but other women who are regular gym-goers. Big difference. Being of "good" strength when the comparison set is women strength trainers probably puts you in the 95th percentile of all women, especially in the US.

    Here's the relevant table. Read Gubermatrix's excellent post for further explanation, and also where the numbers came from. The percentages refer to percentages of body weight.

    Table of strength standards for women
    Good Very Good Excellent
    Deadlift 125 % 175 % 225 %
    Squat 100 % 125 % 175 %
    Bench 50 % 75 % 100 %
    Press 50 % 75 % 100 %
    Pushups (full) 15 30 50+
    Dips (full) 5-10 15 30+
    Pullups (dead hang) 1 10 20+

    So, how do I stack up, as of January 7, 2010?

    Deadlift: a bit over "good" (135%)
    Squat: comfortably under "good." I'd all it the "you've been lifting for how long?" zone (80%)
    Bench: a shade under "excellent" (97%)
    Press: a smidge over "good" (55%)
    Pushups: very good
    Dips: very good
    Pullups: within sight of "very good" (8 reps, dead hang wide grip)

    None of my numbers for the first four lifts refer to 1-rep maxes, which I don't like to do anymore.

    In some sense, the chart tells me what I already knew: my squats are, in a word, pathetic. But it's nice to get some affirmation of what's possible, and also what I've already accomplished on the upper body lifts.

    How about you? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? ...

    b. strong//

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    a treatment worse than the "disease"














    An acquaintance who I have seen at the gym for the last, oh, 7 years commented today that he only uses machines, "because he has a bad back."

    Except for bicep curls. For bicep curls he uses free weights. His bicep curl form is remarkably similar to the dippy bird: 99% lower back / hip thrust.

    I have to wonder: does he lift using machines and dippy-bird form because he has a bad back, or does he (still) have a bad back because he lifts using machines and dippy-bird as his coach?

    I'm always chagrined when exercisers claim that they can't use free weights because of a joint injury, whether it's a bad back, knee pain, or a hurt pinky.

    Machines put you in ergonomically incorrect positions, unless you happen to be one of the 10% of the population for whom machines are sized correctly. (Hint: none of the 10% are women).

    They don't work the stabilizer muscles that are so critical for preventing and recovering from joint injuries.

    They allow you to slip into bad habits. Leg extensions hurt your knees? (Which machines often do.) No problem, just don't work your legs at all! Your legs get weaker, they hurt more, you work them less, they get weaker. Rinse, lather, repeat.

    Yes, machines have their place. But most recreational lifters would be far better off if their workouts used free weights 99% of the time -- albeit not with dippy-bird form -- rather than the reverse.

    Don't fear the free weights. Free weights are our friends!

    Not that dippy birds aren't, mind you.

    b. strong //

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    dipsy-do

    Today's workout called for weighted dips. There is nothing quite like strapping on a dip belt, attaching a plate onto the chain, and cranking out a few sets of dips to make you feel like superwoman. Even if you aren't.

    Dippers, beware: The Goddess o' Dips has a nasty sense of humor, and impeccable timing. Just when you feel like you can conquer the world with your Triceps of Steel, she'll give the plate a little spin so that it whacks you in the kneecap. According to my male lifting friends, another of the Goddess' favorite trick is to wrap the chain around sensitive body parts if you get too, erm, cocky.

    By the by, I didn't get to do weighted dips today, for lack of a dip belt. My usual gym, which is closed for the next two weeks, has a belt that anybody can borrow. I assumed that the main gym would be similarly equipped. Alas, the "personal trainers" at today's gym had never heard of such a thing. Blank stares, all around.

    May the Goddess o' Dips smite them with knowledge.

    b. strong //

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    day 4

    For many New Year's Resolutioners, today is Day 4. The evil Day 4.

    After four days of cutting calories, the family resemblance between Wasa Bread and cardboard becomes painfully clear. The fridge emits a siren call, a high-pitched "open me" that only dieters can hear. The kids' gummi vitamins start to look tasty. For that matter, so does toothpaste. (mmm, mint frosting!)

    The second-day sores are in full swing. The new exercise program we were so excited about on January 1 reveals muscles we haven't used since 5th grade, when climbing on the play structure was still cool. We contemplate installing handicap bars to hoist ourselves off the toilet. (Down is painful enough, but at least we can count on gravity to do most of the work.) Our husbands laugh as we contort ourselves to latch our bra straps without raising our arms. Our cats, sensing weakness, jump on sore quads with more than the usual amount of force.

    Good habits have yet to settle into place. The old habits reach out to embrace us, the mental equivalent of a favorite pair of baggy sweats we slip into on weekends. Rationalizations slip just as comfortably off the tongue. I wouldn't want to take it too fast. It's a lifestyle change, not a diet. I have time. One cheat day won't hurt. I deserve it.

    Don't believe that little voice. What you deserve, what you owe to yourself, is to keep going. Next week will be a bit easier. The week after that will be easier still. Soon, your body will not get as sore after each workout. (Well, except squat days. I've been lifting for more than a decade, and heavy leg days still get me every time.) Soon, the toothpaste and gummi vitamins will start to look just like, well, toothpaste and vitamins.

    Soon, you'll start to see changes in the mirror, in your bloodwork, in your outlook on life. Soon.

    b. strong //

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    at the starting line

    Body baseline

    weight: 156, Goal 1 is 150.

    BF%: Somewhere around 18-19%, based on prior experience and an educated guesstimate. I can see ab definition, but only in the right lighting and pose. I'm certainly carrying more fat than last year at this time, when I was around 14% BF, or in the picture on the sidebar.

    Bloodwork: most excellent. Ted.

    Current exercise routine

    A mix of CrossFit (tm?) and more traditional lifting. I've been going to the gym 3-4 days a week. A typical workout involves 3 rounds of a modified CrossFit warmup:

    * Pullups. I do strict wide-grip, not kipping. Current reps are 8, 6, and 4.
    * Dips. 10@ BW
    * Situps. 10-12 of either Roman Chair situps, hanging leg raises, or anchored incline situps, depending on equipment availability
    * Pushups. 10-12 @ BW
    * Squats. 10-12 @ BW
    * Back extensions. 12@BW

    Then either the CrossFit workout of the day (WOD), usually scaled down to either puppies or pack, or a back, chest, or leg workout from a more traditional three-day split. (See, e.g., Krista Scott Dixon's three-day splits on www.stumptuous.com). Recently I've been trying to build in explosive lifts, both for variety and for the challenge. It's clear that I need a coach, which may be rather difficult to find around these parts.

    Cardio is usually limited to whatever is in the CrossFit WOD. Sometimes I'll throw in 30 minutes of interval training on the elliptical, or 20 minutes on the erg II. I don't run: I don't like it, my hip doesn't like it, and (this is an anonymous blog, right?) my bladder doesn't like it. I do quite a bit of walking and outdoor activities (skiing, hiking), too. I also think cardio is highly overrated as a fat-loss tool, but that's a different post.

    Current lifts

    These are workout weights, usually 5 reps x 3 sets, not single-rep maxes.

    * Bench press: 150
    * Weighted dips: 25
    * Weighted pullups: 20lb (1 rep)
    * Clean: 95
    * OH press: 80 (yeah, I know this doesn't make sense relative to cleans)
    * Deadlift: 185, 3-rep max is 205
    * Back squat: no clue
    * OH squat: 65

    Diet

    Not too shabby. I don't eat a lot of junk food, but junk snacking has been creeping up a bit over the past year. (So, coincidentally, has my weight ... hmmm.) I have a weakness for Triscuits, which aren't the worst things in the world unless you eat half a box at a sitting. With peanut butter.

    On the plus side, I don't eat refined carbs at meals. I thought this would be a bigger change than it was. Aside from an occasional bit of social awkwardness, I'm perfectly happy eating spaghetti sauce without pasta, salads without bread, stir-fry or curry without rice, meat without potatoes, hamburgers without buns or fries, etc.

    Of all the macronutrients, protein is the one I watch most assiduously. I try to get 100g/day from lean meats, cottage cheese, etc. I fall short more often than not -- this is quite a bit of protein for "casual" dieting -- so it's something I'm going to work on in this cutting phase.

    My main vices are coffee, diet soda (Fresca, to be precise, which is at least caffeine-free), and beer. Coffee I drink every day. Beer I drink every once in a while -- not even weekly -- but I do love a good IPA. I'm not going to set a goal of eliminating these vices from my diet altogether, but I WILL start by drinking at least 32 oz. of water each day.

    b. strong //

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    11 rules

    11 "rules" that outline my approach to fitness and health.

    1. Be strong, physically. Concentrate on building muscle and losing fat. "Toning" and "sculpting" are marketing fictions devised to sell gym memberships without challenging cultural stereotypes about femininity. Glory in challenging those stereotypes, in getting stronger, in all the daily tasks and activities that you can do, and do better, because of those hard-earned muscles.

    2. Be strong, mentally. Recognize that as a reasonably in-shape, 40-year-old woman, it is extremely difficult to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. When you are gaining muscle, the number on the scale will likely go up as well. Fat loss will be slower than it was at age 20.

    3. Do your own thing at the gym, and do it with confidence. Don't worry about the 95% of women at the gym who spend all their time in the cardio section, at the machines, or lifting teeny weights in useless routines hoisted from the pages of "self" or "glamour." Be courteous, though: even though you may think they are wasting their time, it's their time, not yours. And, at least they are trying.

    4. More is not better, better is better. Lift with intensity. Concentrate on form.

    5. Rest and recovery prevents injury. At age 20, you may have been able to work out every day without developing tendonitis in every joint you have. At age 40, not so much. See rule #4.

    6. Watch calorie intake. It's impossible to lose fat if you are ingesting more calories than you are burning.

    7. Eat clean. Protein is the key macronutrient for muscle growth and retention: shoot for 100g / day. Don't fear fat, especially EFAs. Minimize empty carbs, whether "fat free" or not.

    8. Water is essential to life. Diet soda is not.

    9. Be positive. You can do this. You're not too old.

    10. Have fun! If lifting stops being fun, take a break. Go sledding or skiing or hiking. Play tennis. Climb. Take a kick-boxing course. There are endless ways to move your body, and not all of them involve lifting up heavy things and putting them down again.

    11. Celebrate your body. Don't get so hung up on where you want to be that you lose sight of where you are and what you have accomplished. Yeah, your body creaks more than it did at age 20 and it's padded with a bit more excess fat than you'd like. So what. Your body is beautiful in its complexity. And, it's the only one you have.

    // b. strong