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.

b strong //