Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The goddess of victory says...

The culture has picked up simplicity as a buzzword.  There is a whole magazine about how buying a bunch of things will make things simpler.  Much is made of three-ingredient recipes, one-stop shopping, and seven easy steps to whatever.

That’s not what it is.  Or at least not necessarily.  We have some confusion between simplicity and optimization, between the look and the thing.  We do not need separate specialized gadgets for, say, poaching eggs, making quesadillas, and cooking bacon:  I do all those things with a pan.

In working out, we all have favorite toys:  bikes, weights, goggles, classes.  You can’t open a magazine without seeing some version of the perfect workout that uses just resistance bands, or tin cans, or park benches, or space aliens (actually, I would read the space alien one…).  Do whatever works.  Do what you like, what pushes you, and what your body responds to.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Just move.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Petals are kind of like pedals...

Over the weekend, shockingly, I went on a bike ride.  It was tougher than I expected in some ways.  Afterward, I talked it over with my Bike Guru because I suspected it had to do with food.

Side note:  It is really really really useful and fun to have smart friends to think things through with.  Pooling experience, swapping stories, and discussing strategies for survival make everything better.

We agreed that the particular ride was challenging because of food, water, and logistics.  The specifics don’t matter (although if you are interested, I will happily bore you with deep details…).  I spend plenty of time discussing choosing well with food, both in quantity and quality.  Usually it is a question of eating less of the former and choosing better examples of the latter.  However, when we do endurance things, hard stuff, we have to eat more.

Otherwise, we can end up performing less well, hurting more, and feeling much more stupid.  Lack of fuel promotes bad decision-making and crabbiness.  It also makes it hard to appreciate the passing scenery, which, on my ride, included emus.

Monday, May 25, 2015

I'll be popular some other time

It’s not very nice of me to talk about food on a day when many people have parties.  Oh well.  I guess I’m just not a nice girl.

Obviously, we all need to eat.  I would argue that it isn’t just about making sure the body has nutrients; it’s also about feeding our souls and building our communities and enjoying ourselves.

Here’s the thing:  we eat too much.

Choose wisely.  Eat what you really want in appropriate quantities.  You won’t face tomorrow morning looking for the loosest pants you have.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Happy weekend!

Welcome to Memorial Day weekend.  We are all ready, right?  We’ve planned to remember the dead, get supplies for the party, and prepare the perfect outfit.  Maybe we have packed the bags, loaded the car, boarded the kids, buckled in the dogs (wait… that doesn’t sound right… are we too stressed?).  Just one more thing:  plan to move your body.

Really?  Really?

Yes.  Somewhere in between the events and the s’mores and the singing of 99 Bottles of Beer, we need to move.  Even if we just offer to walk to the store to get more guacamole.  Even if we just take the fractious toddlers to the playground for a while and maybe sneak in a little swinging or sliding ourselves.  It will keep you from feeling like a ton of bricks on Tuesday morning.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why, yes, I do have my bike on my desktop

I’m in the middle of Steve Wozniak’s book iWoz, which is probably not anyone’s first thought about fitness reading in spite of his performance on Dancing With the Stars.  I haven’t got to that part yet.  Heck, I haven’t even got to the part where he goes to Cal or starts Apple.

What I have read, however, is about his fascination with making computers more streamlined, using fewer parts to do the same functions.  (Actual engineers can start making fun of me now for my super oversimplification.)  That is exactly what fitness trainers do when we work to get efficient motion and good form.  The goal is to recruit only the correct muscles with precise timing to maximize results.  We integrate the software with the hardware, so to speak, encouraging body and mind to work together.

When we are doing things right, we get an economy of motion, an elegance and grace.  What’s not to like?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Alternative modes of transportation

Over the weekend, I drove to a place that I usually arrive at on a bike.  Then, with my son and almost-daughter and dogs, I hiked.  Three different modes of transportation provide three different views of the same scene.

In the car, the hills were negligible.  I had an overall impression of winding road and greenery.  In the same location on a bike, I got to know every patch of gravel, befriended every flower, celebrated every semi-flat spot in the road.  Hiking was even slower.  I got to take pictures of things.  I got to pet dogs and chat with children in capes saving the world.

Variety is good.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sing along with the record!

(I can't figure out how to get videos here correctly, so here is a link to an appropriate song from Queen and David Bowie.)

Tick… tick… tick.  Whether it is the silence after that hard question or the end of the fourth quarter or the last lap of a race or, if you happen to be James Bond, the remaining time on the detonator, we all know about pressure.  We also have a collective myth that some people perform better than ever under pressure.  Performing Under Pressure:  The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry debunks the myth and provides some techniques that can help us cope with pressure.

The first section of the book defines and discusses what pressure is and what it does to us.  It examines the data about performance in pressure situations, which does not support the concept of the “clutch” player.  The authors argue that no one does better under pressure than not under pressure; some people just manage to do less poorly than others.

The second section provides short term help for pressure situations.  The tips focus on how to cope with the symptoms of pressure.  They suggest that using the tips in the moment will improve performance.  (I just finished reading the book last night, so I have not personally experimented with the techniques yet, but they look promising.)

The final section is perhaps the most interesting, in that it lays out a plan for character development to address some of the root causes of pressure.  The cute acronym “COTE” of armor annoys the heck out of me, but cultivating confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm seems like a good idea.

In all, it is an interesting read, if not a life-changing book. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dog's life

Cricket and Polly do some lovely downward dogs.  Perhaps it helps to be a dog.  Actually, since they spend a large portion of the day “meditating,” I might have to describe them as accomplished yogis.  Maybe not.  Yogis don’t usually bark at everyone who passes on the sidewalk and I hope they don’t become absorbed in licking their own behinds.

My homeboy, Joe Pilates, watched animals and their instinctual urge to stretch.  He incorporated his observations into his system of exercises.  (So now I have cited a real authority, not just my dogs…)

Stretching is one of those things we tend to skip when we work out.  It does not satisfy the way weight lifting does, nor does it burn calories and release endorphins like cardio work.  For some people, it just hurts.  For others, it just feels good.

The former group transforms into the latter group with practice.  The latter group sometimes feels like it is wrong to spend time on something that feels good when there is only limited time to work out.

Bulletin:  it is okay to feel good.

Most of us have more stress than Polly and Cricket.  We have lots of things to accomplish besides waiting hopefully for someone to drop food.  For us, stretching gives both mind and body a chance to relax and reset.

Let’s give ourselves those few moments.

(Polly is the one tucked in with the toys; Cricket is the one with the long hair and light eyebrows.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Between a rock and a rock

Some fitness phrases hurt almost as much as burpees.  My personal least-favorite is “work to failure.”

In concept, I understand the idea that we need to work until we can’t anymore.  One of the ways we get stronger is by maximizing the challenge to our muscles.  We find out the maximum amount we can do by trying one more increase, one more repetition, until there just isn’t another one available.

Failure, though, connotes weakness or lack of character or quitting.  I don’t like that language.  Let’s think, instead, of doing the same thing, but calling it working until we are done.  Or doing the most repetitions with perfect form.  Or pushing our limits.  We have shown up and we are working hard; we are not failures.

Besides, what is impossible this workout becomes possible later.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Me worry?

Monday morning seems like a great time to talk about stress.  The weekend is over and we are back to work, laundry, traffic, and vegetables.  The alarm goes off; we are alarmed.  Sometimes in the midst of that alarm, we find it difficult to remember that we have choices.

Advanced yogis and holy people and dogs (these groups may overlap) may insist that really we can choose whether or not to be stressed.  Speaking for myself, I’m not that cool yet.  The choices I am talking about pertain to what we do about our stress.

We can swear, drink, eat ice cream, jump up and down, run around the block, turn up the music, invent creative insults for our stress people, procrastinate, meditate, take a bath, rearrange the furniture.  Some of those options are better than others.  Let’s pick the best ones, the ones that make us calmer, nicer, stronger, and more resilient.  Our bodies and minds will appreciate us for it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cheater cheater bug eater

We all cheat.  Maybe not in the sense that we all prearrange the Candyland cards or cork our bats or something, but we do it.  Blame it on our bodies.

The body, like water, will always go the easiest way.  It will always use momentum and leverage and other handy tricks to avoid expending muscle energy.  Easiest, however, is not always most useful or most efficient or even safest.  And so the handy warning poster was born:  lift with your knees, not your back, for example.

Good form requires that we remember our brains are the boss of our bodies.  We can choose to pull our shoulder blades down our backs when we lift things overhead to reduce stress on our necks.  We can use our abdominals to improve our balance so we never have to use the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” button.

Maybe for a while we won’t be able to lift weights that are quite as heavy as we thought we could when we don’t cheat.  We can’t lift at all when we are injured, however.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Timothy Leary's dead...

A lot of times exercise can be mindless.  We just keep running or pedaling or pushing or rowing, only tuning in when something starts to ache or complain.  After all, the treadmill never goes anywhere, the pool water is always the same color, and gym ceilings are not known for their intricate frescoes.  That kind of mindlessness can be good, working to still the constant wheeling of our brains.

However, paying attention has benefits.  We learn where our bodies are in space (“proprioception” for you word nerds playing along) when we think about the movements we make.  We discover which muscles are working.  We can even figure out how to mitigate some of those aches with better form.

Change can be difficult, but paying attention makes it easier.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The flower is off-topic, but pretty

When my alarm goes off in the morning, I don’t want to exercise.  I want to roll over and sleep.  Besides, it is cold and dark outside the covers.  Somewhere in my brain, I know that I will feel great once I’m moving, but that part hasn’t exactly awakened yet.  Here is how I make myself exercise anyway:  planning.

I get out my exercise clothes the night before and even find my shoes, which can be a challenge since I am good at leaving them all over the place.  I meet up with a friend, or at least have to tell her I’m not coming; texting requires me to be awake enough that I might as well just get up and go.  Since I’ve acquired this smoothie habit, my breakfast gets made ahead; open refrigerator, insert face.

Everyone is different, of course.  What works for me may not be what works for you.  But maybe a little attention ahead of time can make your workout easier to get to.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Continue straight past the lizard...

Test is a loaded word.  Whether it evokes number 2 pencil post traumatic stress or that nightmare about the final in the room we can’t find on the subject we forgot we signed up to take, the very word can set off a stress response.

People, we are not in school anymore.  When we test ourselves, or submit to tests for ourselves, the point is not to gauge our success/worth/general reason for existence or even grade.  We test to get information.

I think about the assessments I do with clients as more like checking the GPS.  Where are we now?  The little blue dot on the map is not a moral judgment.  We can look at the results of the step assessment, for example, as the gas station where we turn to get to the corner of Main and Elm, a place we need to pass through on the way to our destination.  From there, we can see what we need to do next to arrive at the party.

No panicking, okay?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Jar-Jar Binks, however: always scary

Qui-Gon Jinn, noted Jedi master and sage, commented, “There’s always a bigger fish.”  His companions, somehow, were not reassured about their chances of survival as they fled the underwater menaces in The Phantom Menace.  Both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have valid points of view on this topic and they are relevant for our fitness pursuits.

Most of the time, we react like Obi-Wan:  scary monster!  Panic!  I will never make it through this overwhelming weight, workout, hill, injury, whatever.  It is okay to be freaked out by some of the things we attempt. 

Qui-Gon’s insight, however, reminds us that if we understand that there will always be bigger challenges (and sometimes pleasant surprises in the shape of things that seem worse and turn out to be the key to success), we can remain calm and deal with the monster.  Eventually, we will look back at the things that terrified us when we first attempted them and realize that they are about as scary as those once-frightening monsters that lived behind the curtains when we were kids.

Keep breathing and keep on working!