Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The MAX Muscle Plan book review

What's a gal like me doing reading a book so obviously tailored to men? Trying to get all their secrets, duh! Just kidding. However, I do want to get all "their" weight-training advice. Much of what is written specifically for women doesn't cover serious weight training and I'm done playing games with fitness. I want to be strong! Brad Shoenfeld's The MAX Muscle Plan: Blast Through Training Plateus for Your Best Body Ever is detailed 12-week program intended to up the ante for experienced lifters. For those new(er) to lifting, Brad includes a break-in routine to be repeated as necessary, as well as a complete pictorial how-to catalog on every exercise utilized in the program.

Brad's book explains the science of mass-building and provides a method to gain maximum muscle size while being entirely drug free. In fact, the only supplements the author promotes are nothing more than whey protein and fruit juice! It is fascinating to see how complex and hard it is for a man to build lean muscle bulk once he has passed the beginner to intermediate stage. Building strength is much simpler than building that coveted size. When Brad explains how integral testosterone is to muscle growth and maximum size, it's patently obvious that as a woman, I have nothing to fear! I will never, ever be big no matter how much I lift. How comforting.

I'm not yet ready to try the routine, but it's just the thing for Bodybuilding Boy. He read the book and set off and is now at the end of the program. Here's my man working out in the program:

dumbell incline fly

Here's what he has to say about it:

Q. Why did you decide to give the MAX Muscle Plan a try?
  A. You recommended it [Oh. I guess there's a first time for everything, LOL]
Q. What's your favorite aspect of this program?
  A. The diversification in the workouts
Q. What did you dislike about this program?
  A. Didn't explain anything about warm-ups for the routines
Q. Where did you have trouble with the plan, if at all?
  A. Supersets - no room in the gym to work them as prescribed
Q. What surprised you?
  A. Nothing [I guess that means it works as expected, ha ha]
Q. What did you expect to find, that wasn't included?
  A. Just the warm-ups.
Q. Who would you recommend this book to?
  A. Anyone trying to gain some muscle mass

As you can see, he's not into interviews. Too bad, because he's typically talkative, especially about training! I suppose that oppositional side preferred not to talk precisely because I wanted him to. Ah, well. So I give you what I observed about his round with the MAX Muscle Plan:

  • He did get results beyond what he expected. 
  • While the routine charts are set out with most of the details, we still found it necessary to review details included in the intros for each program (such as when to superset or double-drop set, etc) and scribble those notes onto copies we made for him to carry in the gym. 
  • He insisted he didn't need all the unloading (i.e. "active rest") weeks in the program and did end up overtraining. Ha! That's definitely proof it's an intense plan if nothing else.
  • It takes planning to follow this plan.
  • The final phase is TIME CONSUMING. Be prepared to rearrange your schedule. 

While I work myself up to trying the routine in a few years or so, I think I'll check out Brad's books for women and see if they're as hardcore as I hope they'll be.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Barefoot run in 40-degree weather at 10:45 PM! Gaaah!!! What was I thinking?

Actually I was thinking, "This is easy. This is...FUN!"

I had promised myself that my barefoot running drills would take place outdoors as soon spring hit, and now it has. It's not as warm as I had hoped. How I decided to run literally barefoot, not just in minimalist wear, is another story. This story is Sunday's run: 1.5 mile tempo run, injury-free, mostly on a sidewalk with a bit of chip-seal pavement a patch of grass thrown in at the turn. The way the day played out just made my run impossible to accomplish during daylight. I had mapped out my route in the neighorhood and set up my app to clock it, then begged hubster to keep me company because while I may be crazy enough to run barefoot at night in the cold, I'm not that crazy that I'd go it alone. As he was hardly interested in taking a freezing jaunt, I told him he could compromise and keep me company by slowly coasting down the street in the car. (Hey, it was a hybrid car running on all electric! It wasn't too unhealthy, really!) Well, anyone might've thought he was a creep as he crawled along with the windows down, calling out, "Dang you look hot!" and other such encouragement as he could think of. I began to wonder if we'd turned the tables and I'd have to protect him from a zealous good citizen... It was all over in 14 minutes. I wanted to keep running but being as cold as it was, I was afraid to overdo it and not feel any foot strain/pain. I'm happy to report that I felt absolutely nothing in my feet the next day, just the happy feeling in my heart.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


The morning caffeine ritual is one I just never fell into -- that is, until REBBL. 

REBBL is not coffee. It's a tonic 'tea,' a blend of long-steeped, cold-brewed herbs bottled in glass. Following Not For Sale on Facebook, and the launch of the product through Causes.com, where Not For Sale had video updates on the creation and ideology of the beverage (click to watch!) In short, it's a beverage intended to be beneficial for the environment, those in the growing/harvesting regions, and for the consumer. 

When I ordered the first shipment of Hibiscus Mint, I fell in love on first sip. So did my husband. So did my kids -- which is hard, because there is natural caffeine from the Guayusa leaf. A little caffeine goes a long way, so we all enjoy this early in the day.

I also learned -- through REBBL's label -- of Runa's fair-trade Guayusa leaf for brewing hot. It's so scrumptious! 

what's not to love?!
my drink of choice at the office

Not For Sale has just launched two new varieties  one featuring green tea and the other with black tea. This month I have the Forest Berry Black Tea, which is not bitter at all. It has a strong berry-mint flavor from its primary herbs. It also contains extracts of reishi, eleuthero, and elder, which are different from the herbs contained in Hibiscus Mint Guayusa. It's safe to say I love this one just as well as the first. I find that each day I am hungry for one or the other, and it seems to depend on how I'm feeling. I've found these to be great before a run or workout as they contain bot caffeine and some simple sugar. The organic sugar is cut with stevia leaf, which I find I don't taste in this. Usually I can't stand stevia extracts in beverages. These drinks are an exception because I don't detect it at all -- maybe because it's brewed with the leaf, instead of a powdered or patented extract?

REBBL is sold through www.rebbltonic.com
For the new varities, you have to call Amanda Buthe at the number listed on the site. Amanda is so sweet and helpful, though. Some retailers in California are carrying the beverage. I can't wait until it's sold local to me so I don't have to wait for my monthly order.

It is expensive. But it's worth it, for so many reasons. I hope you get REBBLious like me and give it a try!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hooked by the Hoop

Hoop dancing is my preferred form of "cardio." But it is seems too much fun to be called exercise, I think. I was first introduced to hoop dancing as an adult through a mommies group, in a workshop of safe exercise for expectant, postpartum and new mothers.

first try: me and my second giving it a whirl

I didn't know it was an art form for adults, both men and women. I always thought the hoop was for kids, and as a child I wasn't very good at it -- at all. So when I did the research and saw what it could be, I was in. Or at least, I wanted to be. It took me over a year from my first attempt to actually ordering my hoop and practicing every day. Now I am officially a fan and every day I enjoy it more than the day before. Firstborn is five years old and taught himself to waist hoop in a day. (I'm jealous!) He takes his own hoop and eagerly performs for any friends and family available, impatiently waiting for his "turn" when I'm practicing. Could it get any better? Yes, it does!

a grown-up gal's hoop from Hoop Mamas

In addition to DVDs, I use YouTube for inspiration. Just yesterday I stumbled upon an article about hooping combined with yoga. Oh, my, if that isn't a glorious idea, I don't know what is! Somehow I never thought to combine those two pursuits, because hooping can be such a raucous, hilariously fun activity, and yoga speaks to me of stillness. Combing those two loves will be so much fun, and I have a new goal to pursue. Whoever thinks "fitness" and cardio is boring needs to try hoop dancing and let the wild child loose. . .

[Transformation: I love this woman's video!!]

[hoop dance + yoga. Do you see the joy on her face?!]

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Music Playlist: In Memorium, In Congratulation

Music. It pulses in the gym, streams through the home, trickles through earbuds on the run. My childhood friend released an album today with his band, T.E.A., "In Balance With This Life, This Death." 

This is life, the music of right now, music to which I'll practice hoop dance. I find it poetic that in "Balance With This Life," less than two weeks ago we mourned the passing of another musician and beloved family member, an accomplished performer in another era as guitarist and vocalist in The Three Chuckles.

In honor of Tommy Romano's life and accomplishments, and in celebration of Matthew LaPointe's debut album, I present the work of my friends:

Tommy Romano playing, "Cinnamon Sinner,"

Matthew LaPointe, "Clock Hands"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wedding and Anniversary

Last Monday, Bodybuilder Boy and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. Here's us, then:

Saturday, we attended a friend's wedding. Here's me, now:

The pictures might not be telling you this, but after 7 years and two babies I'm proud to say I'm in better shape than when I got married!! Not just stronger, but a little bit thinner!

I have to say that marriage has done me good in more ways than one. James, you are my ceaseless cheerleader! Thank you for supporting me in everything I do. You have my love and my thanks, always.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weight-ing In

I've been reading Stuart McRobert's The Insider's Tell-All On Weight-Training Technique. I am definitely a newbie in the weightlifting scene, and figure I might as well get a good foundation. McRobert recommends that a trainee start off by actually weighing the plates and bars in a gym, and jot it all down in a training notebook. From gym-to-gym, brand-to-brand, piece-to-piece within the gym, he says to check it all. Hmmm. At first blush I thought him crazy: he  also suggests bringing a level, tape-measure, and chalk to check that the floor surface is level, mark off my body's best position, etc. in addition to checking the weights' accuracy. (Obsessive, anyone?) But after some thinking, it seems to me that if I were a man squatting over 300 lbs, the equipment being crooked or off-level could potentially make difference in technique or ability. Then again, I certainly don't know what that's like. I decided to play out his advice by measuring our mix-and-match dumbells. Why not?

I discovered that one brand of handles and collars together weighed nearly 5 lbs, unloaded. The plates were each over by 1 or 2 oz, and when all was put together it totaled exactly 20 lbs, though by the plates' markings it was 15 lbs. The other brand of bar with just spring clamps loaded weighed 1 lb even. So I could put the same plates on one bar for 16 lb, or on the other for 20 lb. HUGE difference for a little gal like me. I knew the one was heavier but never realized how much. With all the measurements I wrote down, I'm able to mix and match what I'm curling, to progress in a more graduated fashion. I'm happy about that.

The boys thought everything about my project was a heap of fun.  Toddler thought it should all be thrown, so together we practiced gently putting the weights on and off the scales. Kindergartner practiced reading the numbers and setting the scale to zero, scribbling down the measurements. He wanted to use his funky calculator to add up the numbers. We spent a good hour playing around with the scales, weights, and calculator, and in the end our little exercise turned into a lesson for both me and my boys not only in math, but in the importance of precision and recording information. (Again with that theme!) I'm glad I took McRobert's advice.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Be My Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day!

In the theme of love, I have to ask: do you love your fitness routine?

If not, it's time to dump that routine and find activities that you enjoy: sign up to try a new sport, class or even a different program in the gym. Think of what you like about what you're currently doing, and what you hate, and start brainstorming, because...

Working out only works when it's fun.
And part of loving you is making sure that it works.

If I just have to watch a movie, listen to music, or "just get through it," it's not sustainable. If I can solidly pay attention to something else, the my form will suffer and the lack of concentration lowers workout intensity and effectiveness. Just like a bad date, if you're not "into" each other, or you'd rather talk to a third party, it ain't happening right. So if your exercise "date" is not your type, I encourage you to get out there and find yourself a new love this Valentine's day! This is one time when breaking up is only a relief and won't hurt.

If, like me, you've already found "the One" that's right for you, then I encourage you live it up today enjoy that fire. Don't forget that taking care of you maintains your ability to share your life and heart with those you love. Go find your fitness passion! Believe me, it's so worth it.

Love you!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Challenge Essay

The Holiday Challenge I completed required an essay. How I Did It only happened because I changed the way I thought. I'd like to share here the essay I submitted, and the real "secret" of my -- and your -- body transformation success: belief.

What it Takes

Stronger. Healthier. Firmer. That's what I expected to be from joining this challenge. I did not know that this outer transformation would necessitate an inner transformation to far surpass it! Each rep, each set, every opportunity to indulge brought the negative voice in my head to a shriek, sounding out the inner demons of self-hatred and guilt that have plagued me almost as long as I can remember. I expected physical discomfort. I can easily deny a treat. I recite my goals. But I was blown away by the emotional challenge I unwittingly entered into.  
The psychological difficulties became progressively harder as Christmas holidays opened up family wounds and brought hurtful words. While these may seem unrelated to physical training, the hurt, sadness and anger drove me toward comfort food and a good cry. I chose to hit the weights and enjoy nourishing food. I am proud. For the first time I chose to let the hurt go & improve myself in the face of hatred, rather than echoing it with the self-hatred of bad habits. For the first time ever, I found I had enough strength to take a stand and speak up about how I was being hurt. My confidence and sense of self-worth has soared each week as I've seen the progress, and the ability to overcome the family garbage is a direct result of that.
I learned that not all negative observations need be judgments of my worth or portentous of failure, and there is always opportunity to measure the upside. I still can't do a pull-up yet. I can do negatives when I never could before. My abs sure aren't a six-pack. My waist is stronger and smaller by inches. Observations of my physical skill are markers that help me tweak my regimen and ultimately progress my routine, and are not indicative of future weakness. I have enjoyed watching myself progress with the weights from a difficult 5 lb. bicep curl to an easy 17 lb. for the same, and I can't wait to see where I go in the months to come.  
I found the sense and simple reasonableness of all Tom's material is what led me to accept positivism about what is possible. The research behind everything he writes gave me the confidence to believe, and confidence to keep with the program when I felt discouraged. Every day I discuss the BFFM principles with my husband, and he almost too willingly tells me what my compliance looks like from his perspective. I am glad to be able to trust that someone out there is offering the truth about fitness. Bookworm that I am, I purchased & read two books recommended by Tom, Psych and The MAX Muscle Plan, and these have only helped me.
Now that I have learned how to counter the lies that I've imbibed, discovering and disbelieving them is my continuing challenge. Sometimes words of criticism are disguised as concern: "Vanity is a sin, you do know that," "There are more important things you could do with your time." Some fallacies sound like wisdom, "Your husband should always be happy with however you look because he loves you." "Your children love you no matter how you look." Some words are just plain mean, "I don't have a chance of actually winning anything when there's so many others doing better." Here's a sample of what I've worked out – literally! – about these statements: 
1. Not all pursuit of physical improvement is vanity. To brush and floss my teeth is not vanity! Neither is it vain to bolster my bones, ligaments, muscles and organs through strength training and good diet. Looking hot is the bonus!
2. It then follows that it is a vital use of my time to preserve the only body I have in its best possible condition.
3. My man should love me no matter how I look, but he doesn't have to like what he sees - and the same goes for me! I love myself enough to improve to my own satisfaction what I see in the mirror
4. My children absolutely love me -- and I love them. Which is all the more reason why it is critical that I take the best possible care of myself because they will absolutely, unconsciously, mimic my attitudes and habits, and I want them to always be in the best of health. 
5. I can't control other's results. I can control mine. I give my utmost and that may be all the chance I need. If not, I still win against who I was – which is the ultimate win for everyone in this challenge.
My physique, stamina, energy and outlook have all steadily improved. One of the goals in my progress journal is to be an inspiration to others and I believe that is coming to fruition. My glowing face and slim belly provoked a friend to ask what I was doing to look "so good" on Christmas, so I shared BFFM with her and gave her a hardback copy of The Body Fat Solution. Watching my progress inspired my mother-in-law to track her calories and she began asking friends to workout with her. As a result, both she and my father-in-law shed some pounds in the holiday season. My training philosophy is having a ripple effect on my social circle.
This BFFM Holiday Challenge took place over Thanksgiving, family vacation, our annual party, my son's birthday, Christmas and New Year's. I lifted weights, ran, danced and ate protein like it was going out of style. Through it all I overcame my physical weakness as I defeated each and every one of my excuses. The changes I have made will be permanent, because I haven't just changed my diet and activities, I have changed my mind. For that, I am thankful. 
I set out to be Strong. Healthy. Firm. I became Tenacious. And I have won!

Friday, February 8, 2013

How I Did It

Ever since my holiday challenge, I have been asked by friends & family, How did you do it? I haven't really been able to think of a succinct response. But at last I give you my bullet points, the routine in a nutshell:

  1. Assess my Figure: I use the Accumeasure Body Fat Caliper & Myo (Measuring) Tape along with a scale and swimsuit photos and record the details in a notebook. Repeat weekly, before eating or showering, wearing the same swimwear/ undergarments, after using the restroom -- keeping variables the same as much as possible. The measurements I choose to track are neck, arm, bust, narrow waist, waist at navel, low waist, hip, thigh, plus Caliper pinch. Photos I do at 3-month intervals (which means I haven't taken the next set yet).
  2. Accurately Calculate my Caloric Need: I use the calculator at www.freedieting.com and use the "Advanced Option" to calculate using Bodyfat % from the calipers (Katch-McArdle formula). I generally try to eat no lower than the "extreme fat loss" calculation and somewhere below "maintenance" on any given day. I find that my appetite naturally zig-zags by the day, some days higher and others on the low end.
  3. Accurately Track the Food I Eat: Key here is accurately. Any form of diet-tracker works. I personally use the SparkPeople website. Guesstimating, even with the best app, does NOT work. Precision counts when a mere two hundred calories makes-or-breaks the burn. I use a kitchen scale, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and follow the serving sizes on labels: if it says "Serving Size 10 chips = 100 calories," I count out the chips onto a plate. I always, always, always check the label. One brand of tortilla chips is not equal to another, and companies alter their own products all the time. It sounds like a lot of work. Actually, it's a lot more work to not keep accurate records and thereby waste exercise expenditure over and over again. Apps & online trackers make the process far less intimidating than it sounds -- and chain restaurant entrees are often already in the databases, which is enlightening when eating out.
  4. Assess my Fitness: I wrote about this in my entry, Running in High Heels. Most fitness programs and books have some form of base guideline to start. Though I haven't done this, there's always the gym trainer or physician's official assessment.
  5. Track my Lifts: I lift weights because I believe it's more effective for fat loss than cardio. And I journal every weight training session as well as injuries, sickness, or bumps in the road (like Aunt Flo's timely visits). Apps are great for this, too. I now have a comprehensive picture of what I can do, can't do, and need to do. Watching the progress on paper is encouraging, and feeling it is even better! Unlike treadmills and exercise bikes, I don't track individual exercises as "calories burned" events. The calorie calculator factors in my exercise and lean muscle needs, so exercise is not burning "on top" of what I eat. It's already factored in. And no extra jog can undo the China Buffet!

I don't adhere to any health guru's diet. Instead, I think of the food tracker apps as an "online banking" to my calorie checking account: some things I spend calories on are regrettable, some are beneficial, and the overdraft fees are high. It's a self-correcting system. I see that one puny "McDouble" took over 400 calories and left me hungry...what a little scam artist! A whole baked sweet potato with pat of butter alongside a baked chicken breast is the same calorie cost as that baby burger. This freedom of choice and control is sustainable for me; I can eat well and enjoy doing it. Any sacrifices I make stem from my personal desire to obtain my goals and keep my "accounts" in balance, and never from obligation to the "diet" (which I would compare to living off allowance money kept in mommy's wallet). The tracking also allows me to see if I'm eating enough protein to build lean muscle, or if I'm just burning through the muscle by exercising. These are all things I see for myself, no guesswork necessary.

A final reason I record everything: I have the female body. Unlike men who train, I have cycles that make my body fluctuate in all kinds of crazy ways. I can see specific food cravings, abdominal bloating, water weight, fatigue, and joint flare-ups in relation to my cycles. Patterns emerge and I can see and expect temporary "setbacks" or weak times while hormones run a different direction. This allows me to differentiate between fat gain/fat loss and water gain/water loss and other fun phenomena. The net effect is that I'm not discouraged by measurements that are temporary, and I can anticipate times of vulnerability.

It's rightly said that knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge of myself is the power to get results! And that, simply, is how I did it. And I thankfully refer anyone to the contest's author, Tom Venuto, for his book that gave me these principles and a solid start.

Monday, February 4, 2013

You Are Your Own Gym

Getting a gym membership hasn't been on the doable list: no day-care for the boys, too hard to schedule, etc. I was weight training at home with the limited dumbells we own. One day my darling Amazon.com said, "New for You" and I actually bought their suggestion: You Are Your Own Gym. I wasn't sure I'd like it. 

I loved it!

Mark Lauren's You Are Your Own Gym is a guide on how to properly perform a range of bodyweight exercises and craft a program from them that will continually challenge and grow you. He explains how to both increase and decrease difficulty so that the progress never stops. The idea is that instead of saying "I can do 100 pushups, so what good are they?" one says, "I can do 100 pushups, so let's make this harder by elevating my feet and putting my hands on an unstable surface." When weights are wanted, common objects are used -- like a backpack loaded with books or sand.

Mark starts the book with a little biography -- he was a physical trainer for the Special Ops and as a trainee he had achieved an underwater swimming record. He procceds to the "why's" for his preference of bodyweight training over training with equipment, and includes chapters on diet guidelines, cardio (summed up as "don't bother"), lifestyle and motivation. Mark's viewpoint is diametrically opposed to that of many others: health and fitness is all up to YOU. No need for anyone or anything else to get yourself in shape -- no coach, no buddy, no cheerleaders, no gym, no weight-watchers, no equipment. That idea appealed to me, as both an introvert and a high-achiever and generally a self-motivated person. But my spouse is my opposite and without support and buddies he just finds working out alone un-motivating. So while I understand Mark's logic and share the "It's all up to ME ALONE!!" attitude most of the time, I suspect an extrovert will find that idea overwhelming. But the knowledge of how to work out anywhere, alone, is rather empowering.

The most useful aspect to me is Mark's workout plans, which are four 10-week programs that start at "Basic" and work up to "Chief." The routines utilize periodization and include blocks of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)I began following the Basic program a few weeks before I decided to join the Burn the Fat challenge. Mark's Basic routine seems designed for an out-of-shape male and was tough for an out-of-shape female, so I had to scale it down. (I suspect that's why Mark released a new book exclusively for women, Body By You.) I followed Mark's advice in his forums to make the Basic Program even more basic by cutting interval times and repeating the first weeks with gradual increases. I still tweak the routine, using easier pushups etc. to better match my progress. I do add dumbbells -- or a clinging child -- when appropriate. I still have "cardio" days because I'm training for a 5k and learning to hoop dance. But alternating that with Mark's routines is intense and I think he's right, you don't need "cardio" if you follow his program. 

The newly updated You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG) app, available on both Android and iPhone, contains all of the routines and exercises from the book. The app is simply awesome. It's worth more than the $1.99 it costs, especially with the free video pack add-on. I can use one of the four pre-programmed routines and customize them on-the-fly, changing the variation or swapping out an exercise altogether. Each exercise has a written, still-picture demo as well as video demo (with the add-on) that is accessible even while working out. I can pause the timer, tap the exercise I'm on and view the demo to refresh, then continue or restart the set. Sets can be skipped, restarted, or paused. Rest countdowns showcase the upcoming exercise. I can also program my own routine and adjust different timers (ladders, circuit, superset, tabatas and more) with the catalog of exercise variations if I want to do something different altogether.  The app by itself, combined with Mark's free-to-join online forums is a fantastic choice for the budget-conscious! It's more than you need to get off to a great start and I find the variability of his plans prevents workout boredom. 

If you want to go straight for the app and skip the book, here's the cheat sheet: Mark says forgo traditional cardio because HIIT routines are more effective; bodyweight training movements are less likely to incur injury, closer to daily functions, and can be done by anyone anywhere; and he leans toward the Paleo Diet with a high daily protein intake of 1g to 1.5g protein per pound of goal bodyweight, of course keeping a calorie deficit if there's fat to burn. But the book gives more technical advice on technique and proper form and my recommendation is to just read it. The book gives you the know-how and drive, the app makes tracking progress and workout planning both easy and fun.

Bodybuilding Boy read the book and liked it more than he expected to. While he'll never give up the gym, it gave him some new ideas to play around with and put variety into his routine. When we go to the park as a family, he'll now skip the gym and do a bodyweight routine nearby as the boys swing, then I'll take my turn. I appreciate that.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Ball at the Office

"Fitness as a lifestyle" is something I hear all the time. And when it comes to the office, there's an abundance of material out there on how to make the workplace a healthier place. I'm actually kind of sick of reading the same, regurgitated tidbits over and over. Nevertheless, I have been applying some of those ideas.

Some of the suggestions are common sense. I keep a houseplant on my desk because simply looking at it calms my nerves. I use a reed diffuser with a calming, focusing fragrance. I keep herbal tea and a teacup beside the plant, accompanied by an inspiration plaque. None of these things are atypical in an office and they certainly aren't going to get me burning calories. So I brought in the stability ball.

I've been "on the ball" for about two months now. Some say it helps concentration by relieving the fidgets. I fidget in every chair and can't say the ball is any different. I have actually found myself paying too much attention to the ball and rolling away on it. Hmmm. There are some who say the activity of balancing on the ball helps students focus. I find caffeine works. I haven't been able to observe any improvement in focus or work capabilities while seated on the ball. But I will say that since it's comfortable it does allow me to pay more attention than an uncomfortable chair does, since being uncomfortable is the most distracting thing I know of.

The real question for me is whether it is "healthier."As for posture, I'm not sure if it makes any difference, and there's a small study with a similar conclusion. To be fair, I don't sit with my back supported by any chair because my legs are just too short to hit the floor if I do that. Similarly, the study also removed the backs from desk chairs that were compared with the ball, so essentially the study compared a makeshift stool with the balls and found the postural position to be much the same.

So how much healthier is sitting on a swiss ball? About as much as everything else I've done to keep my workspace a "healthy" place, which is to say, it's fun and improves my mood. Anything to improve the office mood, right?

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Running in Heels

It's standard movie fare: a gorgeous gal runs in heels for a day and a half and not only looks fabulous, but climbs walls, crawls, pulls herself over ledges, and somehow survives with shoes intact. We all know that's unreal. Yet it's easy to harbor unreal expectations about ourselves and our own physical capabilities. Run around the block? Piece o'cake. Until you try it for the first time in 10 years. Do 50 squats? No problem. A week later you're still crippled. A major hurdle when starting to work out after an extended break is the big, fat reality check that slaps you in the face your first week. It's demotivating, to say the least.

original image by duygu at http://flic.kr/p/et1nr
credit: duygu

We all imagine we're stronger than we are, faster than we are, healthier than we are. While it is important to image or believe those things, at the same time one must have an accurate picture of where you're starting from in order to reach your goal. It's absolutely necessary in every area of life, and just as hard to take every time. Who wants to see how broke they really are, how lost, how weak, how flabby? But no journey begins from where you aren't, and I learned this the hard way.

The first time I tried exercising as an adult was with my new boyfriend, Bodybuilder Boy. He had me do 10 sets each of 30 reps (!!)  of lunges, push-ups on knees, squats and God-knows-what-else. I can't even remember what I did, just how I felt. Following that we went outside where he asked me to run from the mailbox to the front door. I told him my legs were feeling awfully shaky and really, really, I Can't Do This. His glowing positivism was unreal and I couldn't say no. I hit the ground on my first step.

I shimmied up- and downstairs on my backside for two weeks.

I was mad. Of course, I blamed my boyfriend. Deep inside I was angry at myself. Angry that I couldn't do it. Angry because I knew I should have stopped sooner when my whole body kept screaming, "That's enough!" I'd hit my limit but I wanted to be strong -- Now. And I was embarrassed. James had set up what he thought was an easy program and I couldn't go anywhere near it.

The pendulum swung and I tooled around with baby weights and easy routines for years. But the opposite of one extreme is merely another extreme, with the balance always in the middle. Eventually I found the right information and learned from my mistakes. I picked a challenging program to follow that would constantly progress, yet started with an honest evaluation of myself. The eval indicated I'd have to dial down even the easiest program in the book! So I scaled it to half the time, half the reps, and even then my elbow would tweak out, my legs burn for days, and my abs hurt when I laughed. It was frustrating. I worked out to my maximal effort but not beyond. Challenged enough to grow, not break, I had the ability and the desire to continue the program and make real progress. Everything I've accomplished so far is the result of that balance. I'm excited to see where I'm headed, because I run in sensible shoes.

What shoes are you wearing?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I won!

No, not a prize from the contest. I won something even better:


"Congrats on winning the challenge! You're a perfect wife and inspire me to be great. In my eyes you're a winner. I love you." 

I didn't win the "Holy Grail" challenge I entered. Nevertheless, on announcement day Bodybuilding Boy brought home this Congratulations card stuffed with a $100 gift card as "prize money." Nothing that can be earned is worth more than that which can only be given: love.

Now that's a win!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Working Out with Kids Comic Sketch

What follows is a typical day off. You don't want to see the workday.
This is why moms struggle to lose baby weight, I swear.

This sketch is my personal comic relief for that stress. 

Working Out at Home? (a wide-ranging book review)

Finding fun and effective exercises to do at home has been a challenge. After hating the ancient Gilad VHS tape routine, which gave me sore knees while I actually put on fat (no one mentioned cardio makes you hungry), Bodybuilder Boy bought me the DVD 10-Minute Solution Pilates. I found that fun and bought 2 more DVDs as well as some books, including Pilates for Beginners by Kellina Stewart. Kellina's book gave me background info that the DVDs didn't, so I was able to improve my performance. But after some time I wasn't seeing any changes at all. These materials allow for no more than a 3 lb weight for triceps exercises - how could I see improvement with that? I wasn't being challenged. 

With my first pregnancy came The Pregnancy Exercise Book that looked like something my mom would have worked out with, and I dutifully performed the routines. Booooooring. And ugly. Next I tried Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, which felt great and alleviated aches and pains. I highly recommend yoga as a life-long practice, but it is not the fast-track to a hot bod. I picked up Exercise Ball on a clearance rack and gave that a try, but again I wasn't really getting results after a few weeks. None of these methods was making me noticeably stronger or leaner. Why? All the models looked strong and lean. I guessed they must do something more than what the books and DVDs were showing. But what?

That's when, Google-be-praised, I ran across Tom Venuto's website. I read the free articles available, passed on the e-book, and bought his print book, The Body Fat Solution. Finally, it all made sense. Point Number One: even if you eat healthy, local, organic, grassfed foods, if you eat too much relative to your activity level, you'll put on fat. If you keep it steady, you'll maintain your fat. There's got to be a deficit in calories if the body's going to use fat for fuel. Point Number Two: sissy weight limits (like Pilates) and aerobic routines, or basically any exercise at all, won't continue to give you results once your body has adapted to performing those movements.Your body needs to get busy building and repairing muscle if it's to keep the calories burning. Once it's easy, it's over. Progressive challenge is the way to maintain the fat burn, and that challenge is most easily obtained through weight-training. 

This training must be accompanied by a healthy diet that a) has enough protein to actually build and maintain lean tissue, b) is low enough in calories that your body can burn the fat for fuel and c) is not so low in calories that your body prepares for starvation and keeps that fat. Tom also explained away a myth I'd always believed: that if I worked out hard, I'd bulk up. I mean, hey, didn't I go up a pants size doing Gilad's stuff every day? Bodybuilder Boy suggested I try a fat-burning pill. But Tom explained why I grew. Rather than cardio creating a calorie deficit, it was upping my appetite and I was out-eating my exercise. Darn. Tom also explained that without testosterone or steriods, there's no way I could ever get muscularly bulky: female bodybuilding competitors who look huge are on the "juice." The worst weight-training could do is give me the muscle of a fitness model -- and who doesn't want to look like that?!

There is much more to the book: why fad-diets cause damage, why almost any diet you choose will cause you to lose weight for a time, why men and women just can't get into shape on the advice of magazines, why you need supportive people in your life, why you need to change your mindset to change your body. I could go on, but just get the book. :-)

Burn the Fat Holiday Challenge 2012

I've been on the free email list of Tom Venuto's Burn The Fat Inner Circle since 2010. As soon as it released, I purchased his print book for "regular" folks, The Body Fat Solution. His flagship offering is the more expensive e-book, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, along with a paid members-only forum a the Inner Circle website. He offers two contests each year to Inner Circle members, the 90-day Summer Challenge and the 49-day Holiday Challenge. There are multiple prizes offered for different category winners, the grand prize typically a trip to Maui. Each year I've watched the contests go by as I was pregnant in 2010 and "too busy" to workout afterward.

On-and-off had been my exercise mode for years. Prior to 2004 it was nonexistent. That's when I began dating Bodybuilding Boy. I was always a bookworm and though I loved the outdoors, I preferred to read there rather than play. I mean, I was thin. What was the point of exercise? Well, now I know the point but that's a topic for another day. Bodybuilding Boy gave me some of his mom's old Gilad VHS tapes and wrote up a routine for me to follow that nearly killed me. Not a great way to start. Throughout my pregnancies and in-between,I've been looking for a routine I can actually enjoy and stick with, and I think I found it.

I learned much through Tom's book and web articles, so this year I decided to give it a shot and go for the "Holy Grail" nomination, to build as much muscle as possible while burning fat. This is much harder than just dropping weight. What I learned over those 7 weeks was priceless and I am going to share that on this blog. The verdict still isn't out yet on that nomination -- it's announced tomorrow. But I am proud of what I've done so far. And in the two weeks since contest end, I have continued to improve. That's the best part.

contest before-after