Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Exercise: Woodchoppers


The Amazing Stickie is amazingly efficient.  When she finds an exercise that helps her meet multiple goals at once, she gets excited.  Woodchoppers are one of those exciting exercises because they work the obliques while adding a cardio component.

Stickie uses a medicine ball, but a dumbbell held by the ends works just as well.  She begins with the weight twisted up toward one side of her body, held with straight arms.  Her arms remain straight throughout the exercise as she chops the weight through the air across her body toward her opposite calf.  Her feet can pivot slightly and her knees can bend a little.  Then she raises the weight back up across her body, still keeping her arms long to maximize the physics.


She usually does a set of fifteen reps on one side and then switches to the other side.  Three sets are enough.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thursday Book Report: Motivational Interviewing


Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick outlines a technique that doctors, therapists, social workers, and, yes, trainers can use to encourage change.  It developed in the context of helping problem drinkers, but has since found many more applications.

What the authors found was that people are usually ambivalent about making changes.  Getting those people to make the arguments for change themselves rather than lecturing them produced results.  When people consider change and talk about it, they often have a blend of “change talk” and “sustain talk;” in other words, they voice both sides of the question.  A skilled listener who wants to help change can encourage the change by drawing out more and more change talk.

There is a lot more to the system, but I found it fascinating to discover such a compassionate and respectful way of evoking positive change.


(Thanks to Carolyn H. for the recommendation!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Slamming medicine balls is allowed.


There are times when I have feelings I would rather not have, like anger and sadness and frustration.  They are temporary, but unpleasant while they last.  I like to help them go away faster, so I am grateful for exercise.

Dumbbells have no feeling that can be hurt if we are angry in their direction.  A heart that is pumping like crazy as we run or pedal or dance has less energy to spend on hurting.  Victory over a weight can make victory over other less tangible things seem more likely.


Let’s take our issues to the gym and work them out along with our bodies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

First the truth sucks, then it might set us free


Richard Wright wrote, “I have found that to tell the truth is the hardest thing on earth. Harder than fighting in a war, harder than taking part in a revolution.

“If you try it, you will find that at times sweat will break upon you. You will find that even if you succeed in discounting the attitudes of others to you and your life, you must wrestle with yourself most of all. Fight with yourself. Because there will surge up in you a strong desire to alter facts, to dress up your feelings.

“You’ll find that there are many things you don’t want to admit about yourself and others.

“As your record shapes itself, an awed wonder haunts you. And yet there is no more exciting an adventure than trying to be honest in this way. The clean, strong feeling that sweeps you when you’ve done it makes you know that.”


He was talking about the act of writing, but his words are relevant even to those of us who just want to make a few healthy changes in our lives.  The first thing we have to do to change is to tell the truth about where we are now.  We have to admit that we are comfortable or lazy or weak, that no amount of evidence will make us like or eat kale, that we would rather have dental surgery without anesthesia than run a mile.  Once we tell the truth, we can see where we are and where we might want to start on making change.

Monday, April 25, 2016

When it hurts


Injuries happen.  Sometimes they occur suddenly and obviously, like in a skiing accident or an incident with a banana peel.  Other times, they are the result of the slow accumulation of small insults, too much chair time, a bad relationship with the laptop keyboard, a stroller handle that is too low.  Whatever the cause, healing is a process full of obstacles.  While I intend to discuss some of them and some ideas for how to deal with them, I am not a doctor.  There is no substitute for good medical advice.  We all need to seek it as necessary.

First, there is pain.  Pain in one part of the body tends to creep into other parts because we try to protect the injured part by shifting the burden to other muscles.  I believe in Advil for those who have no allergies or other reasons not to take it.  Then there are the trainer stand-bys:  rest, ice, compression, and elevation.  Deep breathing and other relaxation techniques can also help.

Then there is stress.  For many people, working out is a major stress management tool.  Injury can interrupt that and cause havoc.  If there are ways to keep working out that do not endanger the recovery of the injured part, we can choose those; we can focus on cardio if heavy lifting is out, or biking if our knees aren’t ready for running, or the like.  If we have no other options, we can exercise our patience, focus on meditative practices, and perform our physical therapy and/or corrective exercises faithfully.


In any case, it is crucial to give the body the time it needs to heal.  Otherwise, we are just asking to spend more time injured and upset.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Exercise: Plyojacks


Some days, the Amazing Stickie wants to push herself aerobically with some intervals.  An excellent choice for a 1-minute (or 30-second) cardio interval is the plyojack, the jumping jack’s stronger brother.

To begin, Stickie stands with her feet together and her arms over her head with her hands together.  Then she jumps her feet out wide, bends her knees and her waist, and touches her hands to her ankles.  She jumps back to the upright, “pencil” position and repeats the process until the minute is over.


Stickie, although she never truly regrets her workout choices, often feels that she may have made a mistake in choosing plyojacks when her legs and butt hurt about 20 repetitions into the process.  She uses her immense fortitude to stick it out, knowing that she will be stronger for it.  She also knows that if she needs to, she can always finish the interval with regular jacks if plyojacks prove more than she can handle.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thursday Book Report: Muscles and Meridians


Muscles and Meridians: The Manipulation of Shape by Phillip Beach lays out a model for human movement called the Contractile Field.  It is one of a number of books that attempt to counter the tendency to view each muscle in isolation by presenting a systems approach.

Drawing from embryology, evolution, and traditional Chinese medicine, Beach discusses the ways our muscles, organs, sense organs, and fascia all work together to move our bodies.  He suggests an assessment system that takes into account what he calls archetypal postures, including the basic deep squat that is so prevalent in the non-Western world and so sadly missing in the West.  Additionally, he notes that we have deprived ourselves of a lot of sensory information by constantly wearing shoes.


Sometimes the most important exercises are the simplest.  Let’s practice getting down on the floor and back up.  Let’s kick off our shoes and feel the ground beneath our feet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Berry good idea


I don’t believe in superfoods.  Besides, capes don’t taste very good.

I believe in food.  While it should be obvious what food is, it isn’t.

Food is fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, grains.  The closer those things are to how they came out of the ground or out of the creature, the more food-ish they are.  (Yes, removing the dirt and sometimes cooking things are good ideas.)

Beware the boxes.  Beware the not-found-in-nature colors.  Beware the super salted, the super sugared, and the trans-fatted vampires.


Eat enough, but not too much.  Enjoy what you eat.  You’ll feel better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Begon(ia), negative thoughts!


Fitness training, like magic, is the process of making the impossible into reality.  And, since I have yet to come across any spells for strength, endurance, flexibility, and the like, fitness requires skill, dedication, and a willing suspension of disbelief.

Is today the day that I make it through all three rounds of the circuit?  Is today the day that I break my record for squats?  Is today the day I manage to relax my eyebrows while planking?  Maybe.  It is much more likely if I let go of all the self-doubt, the voices that say I can’t.  Also the voices that laugh if I look funny while I try.

Fitness is practice.  Fitness is making mistakes and trying again.  Fitness is using magic (sometimes four-letter) words to keep going.


We all lift weights with our minds.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sage, but not advice


Over the weekend, I got my back yard in order. 

Yes, in part it was a workout.  Both Brent and I lifted and carried big bags of dirt.  In real life, weights do not come with convenient handles or compact sizes that fit neatly between the arms.  Also, the truck has a high bed that presents challenges for a short person like me (sadly, one cannot train for increased height).

The fitness effects of the work, however, are larger than just plain sweat.  I planted tomatoes and peppers and basil and mint (and marigolds, to annoy the snails).  I will plant cucumbers for pickling.  I weeded around the blueberry bush, the blackberry vines, the peach and fig trees, and the new apple tree.  The rosemary and sage have overpowered the weeds in their beds through sheer exuberance.  Good food will come from my garden.

The patio cushions have been washed down and plumped up.  I have a new lounge chair; I’ve been threatening to get one for years and this is the year!  That means more time for the family outside in the sunshine and fresh air.  Dinner in the garden!  Reading near the herbs!  Napping next to the dog!


What else needs putting in order to enable a healthy spring and summer?  Let’s do it!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Exercise: YTA


The Amazing Stickie likes a challenge.  She also likes the alphabet.  Sometimes she likes both together, on days when she decides to do YTA, named for the positions of the arms.

The basic starting position for the exercise is in a plank position on a stability ball.  Placing the feet against a wall is a good idea.  The ball then rests under the hips and belly.  Throughout the entire exercise, Stickie will keep her abdominals engaged to protect her lower back.  If she experiences lower back pain and cannot adjust her abdominals to avoid it, she discontinues the exercise until another day when her abs are stronger.

This exercise uses surprisingly light weights.  Stickie does not feel bad that she has to use lighter weights for this than pretty much any other exercise because she knows it is plenty challenging!

From the ball plank position, she extends her arms overhead into a Y shape.  Then she opens them out into a T shape.  Finally, she brings her arms down by her hips, turning her hands over so that her palms face the ceiling, into the shape of an A with no crossbar.


The dumbbells return to the floor in front of the stability ball and Stickie repeats the process for each repetition.  Three sets of ten are usually plenty.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thursday Reading Report: Studies


As I mentioned last week, I am a little behind in my reading.  I did follow up on a couple of studies I heard about while I was at my Pilates training, however.

The first one, written by David Bissell of the Australian National University, is called “Understanding the impacts of commuting:  Research report for stakeholders.”  I think we all know that commuting causes stress, both mental and physical.  Reducing that stress requires many stakeholders to make changes.  Building appropriate transit options, due to the complex nature of the projects, presents challenges in that projects often take longer than political terms to finish.  Technology can both increase and decrease commuting stress.  Apps, movies, chats, and games can turn some commutes into much-needed recreational time, or continuous connection may mean that work is never done.  The small nugget that seemed most useful on a personal level was that people who found ways to make commuting into something positive by using the time to connect with friends and family or to decompress from work had better outcomes.  This is easier said than done.  Good luck!

The second one, written by Siobhan Schabrun, Edith Elgueta-Cancino, and Paul Hodges of the University of Western Sydney, is called “Smudging of the motor cortex is related to the severity of low back pain.”  I admit that the word “smudging” was what caught my attention.  There was a lot in the article about the technique used in the study, which is good and important for those who want to study more.  What interested me was that pain-free people tend to show activity in multiple places in the cortex while pain sufferers tend to have a single “peak” of activity.  In short, when there is an injury, the motor cortex fires everything at once.  Corrective exercise, then, needs to focus on retraining the body to isolate the muscles, allowing for more specific motor control, before reintegrating the muscles into smooth and efficient movement.


The take-away:  mindfulness is good for us.  It will help us reduce our stress and it will help us attain pain-free motion.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Perfection and optimization and reality


While I spend a good chunk of my time planning exercises for people, thinking about balancing cardio, strength, balance, and flexibility, I know that ultimately the best exercise is the exercise that gets done.  I can plan the perfect workout, but if I don’t do it, it doesn’t help.

When my clients are with me, they do what I plan.  The rest of their lives, they are on their own and have to make positive fitness choices All By Themselves, just like we all do.

As an impatient person, I complain about tracking things.  It takes too long to write stuff down.  (I am waiting for the Fitbit Psychic, which will just know what I eat and do and everything without me having to do anything…)  However, when I do track what I do, I learn to make better choices. 

I make a plan every week.  The first part of making the plan is looking at last week’s results and seeing how I did.  If I set my goal too low, I know I need to kick it up a little.  If I didn’t do half of what I planned, I need to figure out whether I was overly optimistic about what was possible or just lazy or some combination.

Maybe a pattern emerges.  Maybe it turns out that 5:30 a.m. spin just doesn’t work right now.  Maybe that lunchtime workout does the trick.


The workout we do is better than the perfect workout we avoid.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Because I am 48 now


Forty eight reasons to get and stay fit:

1.     Fun
2.     Beaches
3.     Hospital avoidance
4.     Cake without guilt
5.     Bikes
6.     Heroine worship of Mrs. Obama’s arms
7.     Ability to move furniture All By Myself
8.     Kitchen dancing
9.     Swings
10.  Cute clothes
11.  Cute boys
12.  (Eventual) cute grandchildren
13.  Loud music
14.  Sushi
15.  Climbing things (trees, stairs, pyramids…)
16.  Skiing
17.  Ice cream
18.  Dog walks
19.  Travel
20.  Independence
21.  Heavy books
22.  Heavy groceries
23.  High heels
24.  High shelves
25.  Vanity
26.  Energy
27.  Victory over the Depression Monster
28.  Strong muscles
29.  Strong character
30.  Strong odor—wait, I mean, hot showers
31.  Tight jar lids
32.  New sports
33.  Adventures
34.  Endorphins
35.  Views
36.  Farmers’ markets
37.  Mental acuity
38.  Karmic balance
39.  Meditative practice
40.  Continence
41.  Better sleep
42.  Better waking
43.  Peace of mind
44.  Speedy tennies
45.  Environmental impact
46.  Cuddles
47.  Empowerment

48.  More birthdays

Monday, April 11, 2016

Words of wisdom, so you know I didn't say them! Also, an elephant


One of my clients gave me an inspirational example of a positive attitude that I want to emulate myself and share.  We were working on an exercise that required her to use her core to balance.  It was challenging; that was the point.  She said, “I suck at this.  Make me do it more.”

No, I am not advocating that we all go around saying we suck at things.  What I am advocating is recognizing that there are hard things we need to do and acknowledging that we need to practice until we master them.


It is really easy to suck at something and do everything we can to avoid ever having to do it again.  How much more can we grow when we face up to those difficult things and build the strength and power to kick their butts?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday Exericse: Tricep Kickbacks


The Amazing Stickie is proud of her strong triceps.  One way she ensures that they stay strong is by doing tricep kickbacks.

She holds dumbbells in her hands.  She bends her knees slightly and hinges forward at her hips, keeping her spine long.  Then she bends her elbows to raise the dumbbells up to her armpits, the elbows pointing behind her body as if she were preparing to imitate a chicken.

As she exhales, she extends her elbows, straightening her arms out behind her.  She is tempted to drop her elbows toward the floor as she does this, but she resists the temptation, knowing that this is cheating.


She inhales and returns the dumbbells to her armpits.  Three sets of ten to fifteen repetitions later, she is done.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thursday Book Report on Book Reports, with Color Commentary


I make a point of reading every day.  I admit that I love to read, so it isn’t exactly a burden.  I also think of it as my self-directed continuing education, which is why I manage to report on my fitness-related reading each week.

Sometimes, however, I have to slow down.  I have not finished reading another book that has relevance to this fitness blog.  (I am, however, deeply engrossed in Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon.)  Life is not entirely about fitness, after all.

I am reading and coloring my way through Netter’s Anatomy Coloring Book by John T. Hansen.  Coloring is slow.  As the pallets of adult-oriented coloring books in stores attest, coloring has become a thing.  This is not entirely surprising to those of us who never forgot that coloring can be peaceful, meditative, and absorbing.  It is also a good way to spend time looking at structures and embedding their images in the mind.


So far, I have not colored very many pages.  I will be coloring pages for a long time.  I’m sure I will read things in between that I will write about.  For now, I will simply suggest that it is worth it to go deep rather than fast from time to time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The good parts...


I think that a lot of times we think of fitness as stuff we Have To Do.  While some important fitness activities can fall into that category, it is important to remember that there are whole rafts of fitness processes that are inherently pleasurable.

Think, for example, about eating.  Eating food that tastes good and that nourishes us in body and soul can provide a nearly transcendent experience.  It helps to be mindful about what we are eating and how much, of course.  Then it is just about the sensory enjoyment of color, smell, taste, and texture.

How about massage?  Relaxation, whether we access it through touch or meditation or breathing, reduces our cortisol levels.  We become healthier, more resilient, and often just plain nicer as we relax.

Some people adhere to the philosophy that there is plenty of time to sleep when we are dead.  Not me.  Sleep and rest are essential to life.  It is during sleep that our bodies repair themselves and our minds process all the events of our days.  We do not want metaphoric scurvy brought on by deprivation of Vitamin Sleep.


Yes, do the weight workout (even the burpees).  Get in the cardio.  And then make sure to eat, relax, and rest.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sea turtles are like tortoises, but swimmier


Patience is not my leading virtue.  Anything that can be done can probably be done faster, right?  What are we hanging around for?  And look!  There’s something shiny over there!

Some things, however, have to take their time.  Growing babies, for example.  Or growing babies into adults, for another.  Long division, poems, and Ikea projects also all benefit from careful consideration, concentration, and perhaps occasional swearing.  It turns out that mobility and motor control are two more of those things.

I have known for some time that a lot of strength builds during the eccentric, or lowering, phase of weight training.  Increasing the time a muscle is under tension adds fatigue and eventually strength.

However, I didn’t fully realize that slowing down movement gives the body time to smooth out the motion, to figure out how best to use its pathways, and to create feedback and feed-forward to develop better strategies.  Giving the muscles and the brain more time to work produces better results.


It is time to embrace the tortoise side of things.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ooving right along...


I spent the weekend learning.  I got a new toy, the Oov, and a whole bunch of training about what to do with it.  I have only begun to process all the new data, but one thing in particular stood out.

The Oov, by design, takes away our ability to cheat in our movements.  Faulty strategies for movement just don’t work in an Oovy context.  This confuses the heck out of the body for a perceptible period of time and then it figures out a new, better way of moving.  The body is smart.  The Oov presents it with a whole new kind of puzzle, allowing it to grow in new directions and strengthening neuromuscular control.

What happens is akin to what Parker Palmer describes as “way closing.”  He speaks in a spiritual, vocational context about the Quaker idea of Way and its opening ahead of a person.  A wise person said to him that Way closing behind serves much the same purpose.  When we can’t do what we have always done, we have to do something new, find a new way to reach our goals.


What would we change if we couldn’t live our lives and move ourselves according to our usual patterns?