weight training

What Kind of Month is February?

Why, it’s a Health Month!

Generally, I find February the most depressing and drawn-out month of the year, which is always strange to me given that it’s actually the shortest month of them all. If it’s so short, why does it feel like lasts forever? Why doesn’t it just fly by?

This February, I’m trying to turn things around a bit and not get caught up in my usual slump. To do this, I’m making a concerted effort to stay positive (vague!), run regularly (slightly less vague!), and chart my progress toward specific goals through this website/online game called Health Month. I started playing around with the site toward the end of last month, and decided I would play with it some more this month, in order to get the full effect.

Image via Health Month

Here’s how it works. At the beginning of the month, you choose a series of rules, and set parameters for yourself. The rules you choose can be selected from pre-entered ones, or customized to suit your goals. You get to determine how often you do/don’t do something, and what kind of reward or punishment will be meted out at the end of the month. To the left, I’ve provided a screen cap of the rules I set for myself.

Once you’ve chosen your rules, you’re ready to play. You can set things up so that the site sends you a reminder to check in (or “play your turn”) once a day, and there are different metrics you can use to track your weight, body fat percentage, energy level, mood, and stress level. You can provide as much or as little information as you want.

The game is meant to have a social aspect to it, but so far I haven’t really interacted with anyone, which is fine with me. I think (although I’m not sure) that it’s currently in beta, but I was able to sign up without having to request an account, so I’m not sure that access is limited in any way.

Admittedly, I haven’t been a user of Health Month for a very long period of time. But that hasn’t stopped me from formulating an opinion on it, naturally! As far as I’m concerned, there are things about it that are positive, and there are things about it that are less positive. Here’s my assessment (and I should point out that a) these opinions are entirely my own and b) I wasn’t asked by anyone from Health Month to post about it, mention it, or even use it. I just thought it  might be kind of interesting to check out):

Pro:

  • A lot of options to customize. You really can select a variety of things to focus on, and there’s a lot of freedom when it comes to determining how important your goals are, how hard they will be to accomplish, etc.
  • Playing can add an element of fun or interest to goals that might be hard for you to achieve otherwise. When you fail to meet your goals, you lose points. No one likes to lose points, even if the points have no value outside of the game. I lost one recently and I feel really guilty and kind of ashamed of myself.
  • The social aspect of the game potentially puts you in touch with others who are looking to accomplish similar things.
  • The site analyzes the information you put in and tracks progress for you in a variety of ways. I always find it fun and interesting to track my own progress in different areas, and I like the fact that I don’t have to generate summaries and analyses myself.

Con:

  • A general lack of information when it comes to many aspects of the game. For instance, you can set up to three rules for free. If you want to add more rules on top of those, you have to pay. I’m sure that’s fine for some people (depending, of course, on how much you value your rules), but the site doesn’t make it very clear.
  • A few things seem kind of buggy. I set up a profile, and to the best of my knowledge, I completed it. But the site is still prompting me to complete my profile.
  • Support doesn’t seem great. I sent in an email about a few problems I was having early on (ie back in January) and never heard back. This struck me as strange because there are a lot of places on the site where users are encouraged to submit feedback and interact with the Health Month team (which, as far as I can tell, consists principally of one person).
  • I really had to work out for myself how things were supposed to be done. There are guidelines, but their location wasn’t immediately obvious, and I didn’t get a sense that there was anything equivalent to a quick setup resource. Everything I know about Health Month, I figured out on my own. For that reason, everything I’ve said in this post could be 100% wrong.

Basically, the concept is a good once, but the execution still has a few kinks that need to be worked out. I think a bit more transparency when it comes to policies, procedures, and user guidelines could really help make this into a fun, enjoyable way for people to work toward achieving something. I definitely prefer it to Social Workout which, in spite of its potential, just doesn’t really go anywhere if you ask me. And because sites like these are becoming more and more common, they really need to set themselves apart in order to avoid fading into obscurity or never getting off the ground.

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10 Minutes

I wish I had a sense of how many times I’d done any of the following:

  1. Skipped a workout because I felt like I didn’t have enough time for it;
  2. Skipped a workout because I felt like I’d already “blown it” for the day, or the week;
  3. Skipped a workout because anything less than an hour wouldn’t be “worth it”.

My guess is that having a count of instances of those three occurrences would be overwhelming.  Possibly depressing.  I’ll even go so far as to say that those are probably my top three go-to excuses for skipping a run or a yoga session, or any other form of exercise.  Sadly, none of them are really valid excuses.  At least not in the way I always use them–my way of using them is totally counterproductive.  In all three of those cases, using the excuse results in not doing any sort of workout whatsoever; two of those three situations are based on not having spent enough time working out.  When you look at it rationally, it makes no sense!  “I’m not going to run because it won’t help me hit my mileage goal for the week”?  “I’m not going to run because if I can’t run 6 miles I don’t want to run at all”?  In both those cases, doing something would obviously be preferable to doing nothing.  But the thinking is entirely black or white.  It’s either a hard workout, or no workout at all.  Don’t bother telling me how silly this is, because I already know.

Lately I’ve been wondering if I might be able to change this all-or-nothing attitude by considering a 10-minute workout.  10 minutes can be a long time during which you could accomplish a lot of things; while I may not be able to run 5 miles, I could still do a total body workout with weights, or some intense cardio with a jumprope, circuit training, several sun salutations…the possibilities are endless, and so are the advantages.  To start, there’s the undeniable fact that something is better than nothing.  Add to that the appeal of the variety you’d be able to incorporate into your exercise routine, the idea that ten minutes of exercise could be more rejuvenating than a cup of coffee and undoubtedly more relaxing than a few deep breaths taken while sitting in front of your computer.  On top of all that, if you find yourself in a situation where you have several small windows of time throughout a day, but not a single large one, having some 10-minute exercise ideas to fall back on could enable you to get in a decent workout over the course of a few hours.  Convinced?  I am.

Of course it’s entirely possible that this 10 minutes idea is not the solution to every workout motivation problem ever, but I’m still determined to give it a try.  My yoga practice has fallen by the wayside yet again, and my cross-training and weight training routines are non-existent.  If you ask me, applying the 10 minute rule in those situations could only help, and as hard as it may sometimes be to see it, it beats the 0 minute rule any day of the week.

Do you have an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to working out?  Do you think a 10-minute workout could help you break it?

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Chicken Legs

A complete weight training workout can be perf...

Image via Wikipedia

Because it seems like I feel nauseous just about every other day, I finally went in today to see my doctor and see if we could find out what’s up.  While I was there we talked about running and training in general, and he asked me to do a few simple movements to test my strength.  These were things like standing with my feet shoulder-width apart and raising my toes, then rising up onto my toes, then squatting, and then doing two one-legged squats on each leg.  Everything was fine until we got to the one-legged squat part, at which point I faltered and almost fell over.

“Hmm,” he said, “Have you been weight training?”

“Er, no.”  I replied sheepishly, since it was pretty clear that a sheepish reply was in order.

“You should start.  Your legs are pretty weak.” he said.  “It would really be good for you.”  He wasn’t being judgy or rude about it, but I immediately felt diminished.  I wanted to protest: ‘But I do yoga!  I do so much yoga!’ and ‘I run hills!  I’m GREAT at running hills!  You should see me!’ (it’s true, I’m pretty good at running hills, which tends to be good for strengthening the old legs.  Or so I thought).  What an ego blow.  It made me think of something my boss had told me that a sports doc had told him at one point while he was recovering from an injury: “You’re old and brittle.”  Yikes.  Even delivered in the nicest, most caring tone possible, hearing things like this does not feel good.

I have tried so many times to start weight training and it never takes with me.  But now that I’ve been called out on it, I feel like I absolutely have to do it no matter what.  My doctor is right, too, it would be really good for me.  From a running perspective alone, weight training yields great benefits.  For one thing, it helps to prevent injury.  As Tom Holland explains,

I contend that running doesn’t cause injuries, but rather illuminates our weak links and allows us to see what we need to improve upon. There’s no greater way of determining how to improve our bodies than by listening to and accessing how we respond to running.

By pinpointing our weaknesses and working on strengthening them early on in life, we can build a strong musculoskeletal system that will carry us through our later years with little or no pain.

Strength training also helps you to get faster, make running feel easier, and make your body more efficient when running.  I don’t need convincing when it comes to why I should be weight training.  It’s just…I don’t know.  I have a bit of a mental block?

For one thing, I have no idea where to start.  I know all the basic exercises.  I know a lot about strength training in general.  I’m just not good at putting it all together and then staying interested.  Mike sent me a few links to workouts from Stumptuous that look like they might be my speed, so maybe I’ll start there.  According to my doctor, I really just need to be doing two days a week, and mostly targeting my lower body just to bulk up my wee chicken legs a bit.  I guess I can handle that.

So, any advice?  Is strength training a regular part of your fitness routine?

Embrace:Me 30-day Challenge day 5: Today I have been a real cranky pants, and very resistant to doing anything nice for myself.  So I forced myself into a quick session of yoga through Yoga Download.  Of course I feel better since doing it!  Isn’t that how it always works?  I’m planning to spend the rest of the evening being nice to myself, too.  It’s just one of those days where I need the extra care.

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Yoga for strength

Well one thing’s for sure, it is a cold and sleepy Sunday ’round these parts.  I didn’t sleep too well last night and I’ve been pretty productive today (I even got a run in, yay!) but I’m still a bit surprised that it’s only 7:47 pm and I already feel like crawling into bed and getting some shut-eye.  Of course if I do that, I’ll probably be wide awake about three hours from now so ultimately probably not the best idea.

Anyway, I mentioned I’d been productive; I managed to get some of my new training schedule done!  Right now I have a plan that extends into the first week of March, but I’m not entirely sure that I won’t be revising it a little bit.  For now, though, I’m happy with the first few weeks:

In writing up this plan, I wanted to keep the following things in mind:

1) I don’t want to overload myself with mileage;

2) I want to increase my weekly mileage slowly;

3) I want to make sure I incorporate enough rest time;

4) I want to incorporate some cross-training activities in a structured manner.

I think I’ve done those things successfully in the plan that I’ve come up with, but I’d love to get your feedback.

One thing I thought quite a bit about while I was working on this was whether I needed to work in days for strength training.  This has always been an issue for me, because I’ve never been entirely sure how to balance a regular yoga practice with weight lifting.  I know I need to be doing some sort of muscle-building exercise, especially because I’ve heard from several sources that after the age of 30, your body starts to lose muscle, and the rate at which you lose continues to increase as you age.  But is it okay to substitute yoga for weight training?  In order to find out, I tried doing a little bit of research.

It’s somewhat difficult to get a clear answer to this question.  On CNN, their diet and fitness expert Melina Jampolis consulted Sherri Baptiste on this issue, and reports that

for long-term health and weight maintenance, the best option would be to include both yoga and strength training in your regular exercise program.

According to Jampolis, an alternative to including both yoga and strength training would be combining the two activities and doing a practice with light weights.  Maybe I’m a yoga purist, but this idea just doesn’t appeal to me all that much.

On the other hand, an article in Yoga Journal cites a few studies in which a regular yoga practice is shown to be effective in building muscle and strength.  In one study, researchers at the University of California- Davis had 10 students practice yoga for 85 minutes four times a week for eight weeks and tested their muscular strength and endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and lung capacity before and after the eight-week period.  They reported the following results:

After eight weeks, the students’ muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 188 percent, and VO2max by 7 percent—a very respectable increase, given the brevity of the experiment. Study coauthor Ezra A. Amsterdam, M.D., suspects that VO2max might have increased more had the study lasted longer than eight weeks. In fact, the ACSM recommends that exercise research last a minimum of 15 to 20 weeks, because it usually takes that long to see VO2max improvements.

In another study at Ball State University, researchers looked at how a twice-weekly yoga practice done over the course of 15 weeks affected the lung capacity of study participants (a group which included athletes, asthmatics, and smokers).  The article doesn’t give specifics, but states that study participants (even the athletes) significantly improved their lung capacity during the study.

Obviously these two studies are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to information about yoga as a strengthening exercise.  The first one has too few participants for the group to be considered a representative sample, neither study seems to have a control group, and the second study’s findings seem a bit vague (they’re at least presented that way in the article.  I didn’t actually look up the actual study.  The article isn’t dated, and like I said, I’m pretty tired right now.  I do think I’ll try looking it up some other time, though); however, most of the sources I looked at did affirm that yoga will build strength.  The main question was whether it was viable as a long-term strength-building activity–most of what I read seemed to suggest that yoga was limited in this regard, and that you would only be able to develop so much strength before the poses would no longer be challenging.  At that point, you’d have to start weight training in order to continue working your muscles.

Personally, though, I know I’m not yet at a point where yoga is obsolete as a muscle-building activity.  For one thing, when I’m practicing yoga regularly, I notice a change in the muscle definition in my arms and in my upper body in general.  I know I’m getting stronger because I’m able to do poses I couldn’t do before.  And until I can hold crow (apparently also called crane) or a headstand (and those would require significantly less strength than something like this or this) without falling out after two breaths, I’m not going to worry to much about my muscles not getting enough of a challenge.  So while I may end up tweaking the mileage in my training plan, I think that for now it’s safe for me to stick with yoga for strength.  And once I’m strong enough to drop down and rock poses like this, I’ll reevaluate that statement.