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 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 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.