Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Book Report: How Not to Die

How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D. is a big book, both in terms of pages and ideas.  In it, Dr. Greger lays out piles and piles of evidence about what we should eat to prevent diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and clinical depression.  And yes, there are piles of evidence.  The good news is that he is also an entertaining writer, so it does not feel like a slog.

Also he does not mince words.  He points out the inherent difficulty of government recommendations for diet:  the government must attempt to promote healthy eating and support the food industry.  In general, the food industry wins.  He goes on to skewer both government and other recommendations for essentially dumbing things down rather than presenting the best possible recommendations based on the evidence.  In other words, he says that many sources recommend diets based on what they think people might actually follow rather than on what would be best.

Here is the very short version of the book:  go vegetarian and probably vegan.  I’m in because I kind of like living.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Medals? Eh, whatever...

Over the weekend, I played some board games.  I like board games.  Here’s the thing, though:  I don’t really care if I win.  I play because I like the conversations that happen around the game.  I fidget with the pieces and make silly jokes.  I try to play well enough that I’m not hindering the flow and I don’t object to winning if it happens, but I’m not driven by competition.

That’s okay, but it doesn’t help me too much when it comes to fitness.  I could be a little more competitive with myself and it would be a good thing.  I could want to beat my previous records (or, hey, track records at all!!!) more.  I could work a little harder to be faster or stronger or thinner or more agile.

Wanna race?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Embrace the change

Often I am in favor of baby steps.  They are super useful when we need to talk ourselves into something new.  We can try out some tiny little change that isn’t all that threatening and then see how it goes.  It can lead to amazing and large change in a semi-painless fashion.

But there are times when giant steps are called for.  Sometimes it is not enough to temporize with ourselves, to compromise, to approximate our way to greatness.  We need to start being great right now, totally.  We need to commit.

So.  I’m now a vegetarian.  I’ve looked at the evidence.  I’ve remembered how I used to feel when I was one before.  I’ve bid fond farewell to the bacon, which was pretty much the only thing I missed last time.

Maybe your giant step is different.  Maybe it is exercising first, before anything else.  Maybe it is ditching the sugar, or the boyfriend, or the bad attitude.  Maybe it is embracing the kale or lacing up the shoes.  Whatever it is, let’s do it.  I’m here for you, eating my salad.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Heavy Objects

There are times when fitness is just simple.  I like to lift weights because I like being strong.  That’s it.  I like the challenge of heavy objects, the feeling of struggle and pull in my muscles, and then the success.

Of course there is a metaphor in there somewhere, but let’s just stay literal.

What success shall we go for today?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Workout: Barbell!

I like to push a little harder in the last week of the month.  That means that this week’s workout will be challenging.  Keep in mind that all workouts need to go at your own pace, using manageable weights for where you are on this exact day.  Be smart.

This week, we’re going for a barbell workout.  This presents a stability challenge, particularly with the one-hand exercises.  Use your core!!!

barbell workout
3 sets/20

barbell 1 leg step ups


1 leg bent over row

(1 arm) snatch

(barbell) twists

barbell jump (step) overs

bench dips

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Book Report: Tribe

One of the things I have been thinking about a lot is community and how it relates to fitness.  In this context, I read Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.  I am not sure what I expected, but the book was not it, not that that is a bad thing.

Essentially, Junger spends the book ruminating on why we have so much angst given our amazing wealth as a society.  It comes down to the fact that we are, in his view, deeply disconnected.  He writes, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.  Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” (p. xvii)

He explores this thesis through lenses ranging from traditional Native American culture to war-torn cities, finding that what we seem to need most is to be together, working for some common good.

So:  today’s fitness goal is to work with someone on something that makes the world a better place.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

There's a Queen song about this...

On some level, we don’t do fitness for reasons, or at least not the kind that make a handy list.  We do it because we like it.  Maybe not every second of it, but we like it.  And one thing leads to another.

I love my bike.  The better shape I’m in, cardio-wise, the more fun it is to ride my bike, so I end up doing spin or elliptical training or (trying to) run or swimming to cross-train.  The stronger I am, the faster I can get up the hills, so there I am, lifting weights.  Then there is that whole day-after feeling of tightness and I need to say hello to my Pilates equipment and my yoga mat.

But every time, what I go back to is the pedaling, the pure joy of being outside, moving, in the sun and wind.  That’s why I do it.

Why do you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Coping with change can be difficult.  Like, say, when our favorite yoga teacher changes schedules and we can’t make it to her class anymore.  Or when our relatives come to visit and we suddenly have different food in the house.  Or when we realize that our old weight routine is not a challenge anymore and we have to adapt.  (Good changes require as much adaptation as bad ones.)

Change happens all the time.  The body we work out with today is not the same as yesterday’s body or tomorrow’s body.  Every workout is different.  We just need to show up and work with what we’ve got, today, this minute.

Practicing with our different selves every day helps us grow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

One Two Three, One Two Three

A question we may not ask ourselves enough when it comes to fitness is:  what is fun?  So many of us do our fitness activities with a clenched-jaw determination to Get It Done.  It doesn’t have to be like that all the time (except for lunges:  lunges are always pretty much evil).

We can get fit doing anything from ballroom dancing to deep sea diving to flipping truck tires.  Given that, it makes sense to choose among all the things the ones we actually enjoy doing.  Hate dancing?  Run around instead.  Love loud music?  Welcome to zumba!

Beyond choosing a way of fitness we like, we can also choose ways to make the parts we like less somewhat less objectionable.  A partner in crime is one good way to make the time go faster.  Working out somewhere beautiful (hi yoga on the beach!) can do wonders.  Fancy new shoes can be surprisingly motivating and may, as we believed when we were kids, make us go faster.  And never underestimate the power of disco, or heavy metal, or punk, or hip hop, or whatever music gets you ready to gasp along.

The point is:  get out and play.  It’s good for you and fun, too.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Workout: TRX

This week’s workout uses the TRX.  If you don’t have access to a TRX, you can use dumbbells and do regular versions of the exercises.  The goal is three rounds, completing 10 to 20 repetitions of each exercise per round.

TRX:  squats
     add jump
     add 1 leg
sprinter start
     add jump
hamstring curls
     1 arm
chest press
     add 1 leg
deltoid fly
     add TY
roll out
     add pushup

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Book Report: Sociology of Sport

In the wake of the events around Colin Kaepernick, I finally got motivated to look up the work of Harry Edwards, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley.  Sociology of Sport did not disappoint, and, in spite of being published in 1973, remains insightful and almost prescient.

Sports, he argues, occur within our cultural context.  The American “sports creed” includes the beliefs that sports build character, promote discipline, encourage healthy competition, enhance physical and mental fitness, advance religious/moral precepts, and develop nationalism.  The implications and challenges of this creed as well as an exploration of how it might be affected by social change and in turn effect social change are the subjects he addresses throughout the rest of the book.

Additionally, he views the field through the lens of the issues facing African-American athletes.  He makes some attempt to include women in his analysis, but since he was writing just at the onset of Title IX, there was not much to analyze at that point.  It was fascinating to see both how far we have come and how far we have not come.

Anyone interested in the “machinery” of sports in our society would do well to start with this excellent resource.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Love your body...

While I was away, I missed my Pilates equipment.  My body needs to move with the precision of Pilates.  It needs the stretching and lengthening.  It needs mindful attention brought to what it is doing. 

What else might our bodies be missing?  What can we give them today to make them feel nurtured, strong, loved?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Because I am a very lucky human being, I don’t drive much.  When I do end up spending a lot of time in the car, either as a driver or passenger, I get to—appreciate?—afresh what driving does to the body.

We are not made for sitting for long periods.  Without constant vigilance, our spines slump, our heads fall forward, our shoulders round.  Our hips feel tight from the constant flexing.  And all of that happens without accounting for the tension of traffic.

Nothing makes me miss my Pilates equipment more than a road trip.  However, even without spiffy, expensive, bulky equipment, it is possible to be kind to our bodies.

One way is to use a couple of cheap tools.  A hook-shaped “point-pressing stick” from the dollar store can help release tension in the shoulders and promote world harmony.  A tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or yoga tune-up ball under one side of the behind at a time can release hip pressure.

Regular attention to stretching/yoga/Pilates in the rest of our lives also helps.  Our strong cores and long muscles not only prevent a lot of the postural chaos of driving, they train us to relax almost automatically by stretching when we arrive if not on the journey.

Also:  breathing.  If deep breathing doesn’t come naturally, we can turn up the radio and start belting it out.  At the very least, it will make us laugh, which is probably the best tension reliever ever.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sometimes art is a workout...

Workouts come in many shapes.  We are familiar with the kind that involve running or hefting handily-shaped barbells and dumbbells.  Sometimes workouts involve lifting seemingly innumerable boxes of heavy things, like when we move, or running up and down stairs all day, like when we speed-clean the house.  Both the familiar and the unusual workouts count, assuming we meet certain criteria.

It has to involve sweat.  If we aren’t getting sweaty, as I mentioned last week, we aren’t working hard enough.

We have to get breathless.  We want our hearts to work.  That’s where the endurance benefits come from, as well as the mood-enhancers.  We want to use our work to train our bodies to recover quickly from stresses, and that means providing our bodies with controlled and appropriate stress.

We need to be (a little) sore later.  Soreness means we worked hard enough.  Please note:  we are not talking about major pain or injury.  If we feel a bit stiff and sore the next day, we know we have done the right amount of work to challenge our muscles.  We can stretch them and then give them some time to recover and get stronger.

So, hit the gym or clean out the basement, whatever works for today.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Workout!

This week’s workout features kettlebells!  If kettlebells aren’t available, use a dumbbell instead.  The format is 30-20-10.  Do 30 repetitions of the first exercise in each set, followed immediately by 20 repetitions of the second exercise and 10 of the third.  Rest between each set of three.  Repeat the entire cycle three times.

Kettlebell swings      30
Kettlebell twists      20
Kettlebell figure 8s      10

Plyojacks (or regular jumping jacks, or modified jacks)      30
Squats      20
Pushups      10

Lunge punches      30
Stability ball bench press      20

Bench dips      10

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Book Report: Full Catastrophe Living

So usually I finish reading the book before writing the book report.  Having been away and having to get things back together from being away, I am a little behind and should have chosen a shorter book.  I am about halfway through Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  It is awesome.

I chose to read it because it kept coming up as a major resource for mindfulness in all the other stuff I have been reading.  The book outlines Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), which is used in hospitals and medical centers.  It is both practical and inspirational, laying out the tools and the evidence for mindfulness as a way of life.  I am looking forward to reading the rest.

One caveat:  the book references a companion CD program of guided meditations.  While the book can be used without the CDs, I personally wish that I had bought both at the same time instead of waiting (somewhat impatiently now) for the CDs to arrive.  Once they do, I will be embarking on the eight week program.  Anyone want to join me?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Drip drip drop...

Let’s talk about sweat.  Our culture doesn’t really like it much.  We have products to help us reduce its smell.  We have products to reduce its very presence!  We all try to appear calm, cool, and collected.  We have saying about how we do not sweat; we glisten or glow.

I’m not going to go into the physiological purpose of sweat.  It exists.  I am more interested in sweat as a marker for our brains.  Sweat is a good indicator that we are working hard enough at our workouts.

If we can float through our workouts and come out the other end without needing to wipe our brows, we are not going to make a lot of progress.  Ideally, we work out hard enough that a shower is not only a pleasure but a public service.  Let’s get drippy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Garbage out...

Many times when I set goals, I find that I keep adding things.  I am encouraged to do this by the zeitgeist:  in just minutes a day I can become thin, flexible, smart, sexy, and have perfect eyebrows!  My house can be pristine, my children creative, and my meals organic, free-range delicious.

Maybe so.  That kind of thinking has its place.  But I would like to suggest a slightly different idea.  As I looked over what I wanted to accomplish on my list of goals the last few times around, one way to summarize all of them was:  Keep Taking Out the Garbage.

Things might be different at other people’s houses, but in our house, things make it to the wastebaskets really well and then nothing happens.  One more can can cram into the recycling, right?  I’m kind of in a rush… I can empty the bathroom trash later.  And then things overflow and I get cranky and it is just totally unpleasant.

Taking out the garbage makes space.  It makes a pleasant environment.  It builds community, smells better, and improves morale.  And that is just in the literal sense. 

In the metaphorical sense, we can take the garbage out of our eating habits.  We can drop the waste out of our schedules.  We can remove the ideas that hold us back out of our minds, leaving us with a nice clean basis for what we really want to spend our time and energy on.

Take out the garbage and find the treasure.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Start again...

I’ve had some setbacks recently, physical and personal.  Sometimes things get tough.  I had to miss some workouts, modify others, and even flaked on some.  I didn’t always make the right food choices.  That is just what happened.  Now is the time to start again, to assume what Buddhists call Beginner’s Mind.  In case you find yourself in a similar situation (thank you, Arlo), I offer some thoughts about what to do and how to shape this new start.

What to do:  Just get started.  At breakfast, choose the food that will truly nourish your body without overloading it.  Go to the gym and lift one thing and then maybe another.  Go outside and walk a block, or pedal around the block, or go up and down the front steps a few times.  Go easy, go small, but go.

How to go:  On purpose.  Treat yourself with the hard love you would extend to a child or a best friend.  In the same way that you would make sure that your dear one brushed his or her teeth for his or her own good, get yourself to eat and move like you should.  Be loving, but be firm.  And then tell yourself you did a good job.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Monday Workout

Welcome to September, my personal new year.  After all those years of school, I am surprised that any of us manage to think of January as the start of things when things clearly begin in September with fresh notebooks, sharpened pencils, and unmarked PeeChee folders.

This new year, I am shaking up the blog format just a little.  The jokes will not improve, since I am still writing it, but oh well.  I’ll get the week started off by posting the weekly workout on Mondays (yes, lovely clients, this means that you will know in advance more or less what is on the schedule for you!!!).  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday posts will include the usual stuff and the weekly book report will move to Friday. 

All of this means that, since it is Monday, it is time to post a workout!  As many of you know, I am very fond of the 30-20-10 format for workouts.  There are three sets of three exercises.  We will complete 30 repetitions of the first exercise in each set, 20 of the second, and 10 of the third.  Between sets, we will pause to rest and have some water.  We will go through the entire cycle of sets three times.  Some exercises can be done with body weight, others you can use dumbbells or barbells or medicine balls to add resistence.  Experiment!  Ready?  Here’s the list:

Step ups:  30
Squats:  20
Curls:  10

Woodchoppers:  30
Rows:  20
Pushups:  10

Mountain climbers:  30
Overhead press:  20
Lunges:  10

Repeat entire cycle 3 times!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Exercise: Diane Plank

The Amazing Stickie loves learning new exercises.  She was overjoyed when one of my clients suggested this one, which is now called the Diane plank in her honor.  (Diane, however, may never suggest another exercise…)

The starting position is the basic plank position, but in arm’s distance from a wall.  Basic plank position is:  hands on the ground, inner elbows facing each other, humeral heads centered in the sockets, head in line with the spine, spine a long, straight line from head to heels, legs straight, toes on the ground, abdominals lifted.  In other words, Stickie sets up for a push-up. 

From this starting position, Stickie raises one arm to the wall.  Then she raises the other arm to the wall.  The first hand returns to the floor and then the second.  A perfectly acceptable variation of this exercise is to raise one arm to the wall and lower it back to the floor, repeating on the other side.  Stickie understands that sometimes we have to work up to things.

Ten repetitions is usually more than enough.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday Book Report: The Emotional Life of Your Brain

The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley analyzes emotional styles by way of brain function.  It is a more anatomical and strictly scientific approach to how our emotions work and how they come together to create something like a personality or temperament.

The applicability to fitness lies in the plasticity of the brain.  Mindfulness, which is an essential fitness skill, plays a key role in our ability to shape our emotional experience.

The extremely short version of the book goes something like this:  meditate and life will get better because it changes your brain.