Thursday, June 10, 2010

Officially Closing This Blog

The problem with being a Health and Fitness Professional (TM) is that when it's your job to advise people about their fitness routines, you pretty much stop wanting to think about fitness related stuff during your off-hours.  And since I have never wanted to make this blog even indirectly a commercial venture, the time I spend blogging is definitely off-hours time.  Of which, frankly, I don't have enough. 

Besides, if you're the sort of person who reads fitness blogs you probably already know most of what I am likely to say:  crunches are stupid, cardio is over-rated for fat loss, women should lift heavy, and so forth.  Unless of course you are one of those insanely tiresome people who drops by every so often in order to post a link to your website featuring photos of sexy underage-looking Asian girls.  And if you are one of those insanely tiresome people, please know that you are playing not a small role in my decision to close this blog.  Comment moderation annoys me but you've made it mandatory, and to me that takes a lot of the fun out of having a blog.  Also I sincerely hope the women whose photos appear on your website(s) are not actually underage, because that's disgusting and seven different kinds of illegal.  Sorry if I've hurt your feelings.  No, I'm not :)

So there you have it.  I will likely begin blogging again when things settle down a bit, and if/when that happens I will post a link to the new site.  But for now I need a break.  Thanks for reading.  It's been lovely, really.  And of course if you're a friend and have questions about fitness or anything else and you think I can help, shoot me an e-mail or message me on Facebook or Twitter and I promise I will get back to you. 

Later, all. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dieting Without Deprivation

As I indicated in the previous post on cardio, I am not an advocate of extreme low calorie diets. But the sad fact is, if you're a fairly lean 115 pounds and trying to even leaner, it's highly likely that you'll have to limit your calorie intake to somewhere between 1200 and 1500 calories per day on average even if you're quite active.

That's not a lot of calories. Occasional--or more than occasional--hunger is just about a given when you're eating this little, and hunger pangs are not much fun. Cravings too can be a problem, since when you're eating very little you really need to make sure that just about everything that goes into your mouth is on the nutritional A-list if you want to stay as healthy and keep having decent workouts. When all of a sudden you can't have that single piece of bacon from your partner's plate or that late-night-straight-from-the-carton spoonful of peanut butter cup ice cream, it can make dieting an agony.

Or not, depending on your frame of mind.

I have two main mental strategies for keeping myself on track. The first is to remind myself over and over again that I am not some sort of uniquely unfortunate, metabolically-cursed individual who has to work much harder than others to get that last bit of undesired body fat off. Losing the last few pounds is hard for everyone, and in fact I probably have an easier time of it than most women my age so really I have absolutely no business feeling sorry for myself. I'm just doing what needs to be done, nothing more or less.

The second is to cultivate a sense of abundance by trying nutritious new foods and preparation methods. Instead of thinking about the delicious foods that for now I can't have, I try to focus on all the yummy ones I can, and all the different ways I can serve them. I would honestly rather have a Cajun-spiced oven-baked sweet potato stick than a fast-food French fry. (Of course that probably makes me a weirdo, but nevermind.) Sushi is off limits for now because of the white rice, but I can still have sashimi at my favorite Japanese restaurant, or seared ahi tuna on a bed of greens with wasabi vinaigrette. I can have all kinds of vinegars and spices and mustards so my food is as flavorful as I like (which is very.) I can have most vegetables and quite a few fruits--apples, berries, melon, grapefruit, apricots, peaches and anything else that's lower on the glycemic index. I can have nuts and nut butters in moderation although most of my fat needs to come from fish oil and flaxseed. I can have poultry, fish, even red meat if I want it (which I never do but that's just me). For now low-fat dairy products are okay although I might need to reassess if the fat stops coming off. I can have oatmeal and brown rice and beans and winter squashes of all kinds, and I can have sweet potatoes and yams. I can broil and bake and roast and grill and saute and steam ... and I do :) I love to cook and that definitely helps because I don't mind putting in the preparation time. Chopping vegetables can be very meditative, at least until the chef's knife gets too close to your fingertips.

It's all a question of how you look at it.

A Girl's Gotta Do What A Girl's Gotta Do

And what this girl's gotta do to lose fat is cardio--lots of it.

That would be cardio in the pejorative sense, meaning something other than HIIT, Viking Warrior Conditioning with a kettlebell, bodyweight circuits, tabatas, barbell complexes and what have you. You know, the stuff that's trendy in fitness circles right now. All of which I am doing, by the way, but it's not enough to get me as lean as I want to be right now.

Here's the deal: to lose weight you have to create a calorie deficit. Duh, right? But here's the thing: I am small, and I am 47. For me to create a calorie deficit without dropping my calories below starvation level I need to be extremely active. But I also have to balance my need for activity with my need for recovery, and for me the strategy that seems to work best is to exercise almost daily, but at varying levels of intensity. At this point in my life it is a physical impossibility for me to do more than two or at most three true HIIT sessions per week. If I try to do more (and believe me, I've tried!) it becomes impossible for me to elevate my heart rate to anaerobic levels. It simply won't happen. And that means instead of doing three HIIT sessions a week I'm doing zero HIIT sessions and getting darned frustrated and grumpy in the process.

So for me the best option is to keep my HIIT sessions at three per week, and then on my non-HIIT days add in some longer, less intense cardio that won't interfere with my recovery from the HIIT. Depending on what my body seems to need I might make it a very light cardio day, meaning that I would be aiming to work mostly at 65-75% MHR (the infamous "fat burning zone." or as I prefer to think of it the aerobic base building zone), or I might make it a more moderate-intensity day where I would be staying mostly at 75-85% MHR. Which, by the way, is no walk in the park, especially if you sustain it for 45-60 minutes. I happen to believe that this kind of training (alternating light, medium, and high-intensity days) is optimal for improved cardiorespiratory fitness and performance ... and of course the concept will be quite familiar to those of you who've done Enter the Kettlebell!

I'm definitely doing something right, as my weight has dropped back down to 115 with no loss of strength--which I attribute to the fact that I haven't dropped my calories too low. In fact, even though I'm in calorie-deficit mode I achieved a personal best of 190 lbs last week on my conventional deadlift. (Yeah, I know, I mentioned it a couple of posts down. But you know what? I'm still disgustingly pleased with myself and plan to keep right on mentioning it until someone tells me to get over myself already :))

In case you are wondering, my fat loss goal at the moment is to drop another three pounds and reassess. I suspect that's the most I can lose without compromising my health, but we'll see. At 112 lbs I will not be physique-competitor lean, but since I have no plans to compete it doesn't make sense for me to shed fat that I would immediately have to regain to stay healthy. That's what competitors do, by the way--the smart ones, anyway. They diet down for their shows, then allow themselves to gain back as much fat as they need for health. Some even gain a little more than that :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Interesting article about HRT in yesterday's New York Times Magazine

You can read it online here, and I highly recommend you do so if you're a woman of a certain age or anticipate becoming one at some point:

The gist of the article essentially is that there are some flaws in the Women's Health Initiative study from a while back that had to be stopped after three years because the study subjects seemed to be dropping like flies from stroke, breast cancer, and so forth, apparently due to the hormone replacement therapy they were receiving. Scary stuff, and as a result of that study most doctors no longer recommend hormone replacement therapy as a matter of course to their midlife female patients. In fact many don't recommend it at all for fear of malpractice suits.

And that may not be such a good thing for women, because if you take a closer look at the WHI study you'll see that all it really proves for sure is that estrogen-only HRT is an unacceptably risky proposition for post-menopausal women. None of the study subjects were still menstruating, and none were receiving progesterone in addition to estrogen.

The scary thing is that there've been no large-scale studies involving pre-menopausal women who're receiving a cocktail of estrogen and progesterone, so no one knows for sure whether this type of therapy is safe for this age group. Which might cause you to wonder: why on earth would any sensible woman be willing to risk it?

I can answer that one. Hot flashes suck, as do night sweats and disrupted sleep. But they're manageable. More problematic are the moments of homicidal rage alternating with suicidal despair. I'm trying to be funny here, but honestly there's nothing amusing about it. I suffered from clinical depression for years, and I know a thing or two about suicidal ideation. Once I started on SSRIs it went away ... until I turned 47. Paint it black, people. Paint it black.

Bear in mind, not every woman is going to have this issue. It may be limited to those fortunate few who are genetically predisposed to depression. But for us, some sort of combination HRT might conceivably make sense, at least for those of us who are not also at an unsually high risk of developing breast cancer.

I frankly don't know what makes the most sense for me. Nor do I know whether my doctor will even be willing to have a dialogue with me about it. But I've got a few more menstruating years in which to decide, and hopefully there will be more research that may help me with my risk-benefit analysis.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lifting heavy stuff gives women a bulked-up and manly appearance....


This shot was taken in mid-December during a Nutcracker rehearsal. I am the second dancer from from the left, and as you can see I am no larger than the other ladies. Admittedly I am a couple of pounds heavier now, but I'm still no one's idea of bulky.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I've never hit the weight room in a tutu. A leotard and tights, yes, but a tutu never. Tights actually rock when you're deadlifting because they give a little extra protection to your shins. Try it some time :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Deadlift PB

190 lbs, kittens :)

Conventional style, not sumo, so I am especially pleased since the sumo dead has always been stronger for me.

Credit goes to my brilliant trainer friend Wendy Watkins who has been telling me I need to eat starches every now and again if I want to keep kicking butt in the gym. She is right, of course. She always is. And she may quote me :)

In all seriousness, this sort of thing is why it's always good to get input from your trainer friends. No one knows everything there is to know about fitness, and even those who know a whole heck of a lot may have trouble being objective about their own training. This is why, by and large, I get my best results with programs other people have created. When I write programs for myself I tend to gravitate toward the things I like to do, which may not be the things I need, so my results generally are not as good as when I do other people's programs, suitably tweaked to eliminate any useless or counterproductive (for me) exercises and add any assistance exercises I might need. I don't tweak too much, though, since I figure if extensive revisions are necessary I'm better off doing something else.

The program I'm on at the moment is the Summer Prep Plan from Precision Nutrition, in case you're curious. It's meant to be a fat loss program not a strength program but I've been very pleased with the strength gains I've made. For me it has worked less well as a fat loss program, but I think that will change in a couple of weeks when the workouts become more "metabolic" in nature.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Profile In Courage

Yesterday my friend Sarah Jones, HKC and breast cancer survivor, underwent a double mastectomy. I'm happy to report that the surgery went well, and best of all her lymph nodes appear to be cancer-free, meaning that the surgery didn't need to be as extensive as it might otherwise have been and she may not need to follow up with chemotherapy. This is important because it means she will have a shorter recovery time and be able to get back to her training that much sooner, with less risk of lymphedema.

Sarah, in case you don't know her from Twitter and her blogs and, is a pretty amazing person. After narrowly surviving an automobile accident in which she sustained irreparable nerve damage, she undertook a grueling course of physical therapy rather than accept her doctors' prognosis that she would never regain full use of both hands. This led to a newfound interest in physical fitness, and a desire to share with other women the benefits of resistance training. She became ACSM-certified, then opened her own women's bootcamp business in summer 2009.

Somewhere along the way she also became enamored of kettlebells and the Hardstyle method of training popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline and Dragon Door. The fact that Sarah stuck with kettlebells in spite of the nerve damage and hand pain to which she is subject says a lot about her. As you know if you work with kettlebells, grip is key -- and if you're subject to pain in your hands it's hard to get that part right. But she persevered, and in September 2009 she was rewarded for all her hard work with the HKC designation, meaning that she is certified to teach the fundamentals of Hardstyle kettlebell training to her lucky clients. She is North Carolina's first-ever HKC, and possibly still its only one.

Always seeking to add to her knowledge base, she began preparing in earnest for the grueling RKC weekend and was on track to be ready by late spring 2010 when she was diagnosed with multiple malignancies in her right breast. Although the left breast proved to be cancer free her doctors recommended a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. While awaiting her surgery she continued to train, only taking time off when necessitated by the series of biopsies she was required to undergo.

I am in awe of her strength and courage. To have overcome so much, and to be so close to her goal of becoming an RKC, only to have the possibility snatched away at least temporarily, and in so terrifying a way ... I don't know how I would have handled it. Not with as much grace as Sarah, that's for sure. From the beginining of her ordeal she never once allowed herself to dwell on the possibility that her cancer diagnosis was anything more than a detour on her path.

And, thank God, yesterday she was proved to be right. Very likely she is cancer-free now, and with God's grace will remain so for the rest of her life.

She is also 's Comrade of the Week. Check out the brief profile, then visit her blogs and to learn more about this amazing woman in her own words.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How's Your Record-Keeping?

No, this has nothing to do with your Very Important Tax Documents, although I strongly recommend keeping careful track of those as well if for no other reason than that it is conducive to marital harmony.

(A typical conversation chez Tactical Ballerina the second weekend in April: "Honey, where did you put that thing we got from the Monetta Fund?" "Which thing?" "You know, it came in that big envelope. Last September, or maybe it was October." "Oh, that. I thought you had it." And so forth. We have been doing this in one form or another for 20 years now.)

No, this is about your training. You need to be keeping records there as well, or you'll never know for sure whether you're making progress or not.

Okay, that's not completely true. If you're a complete novice it's generally easy to see whether you're on the right track, simply because if you're new to training and on any kind of a decent program you can expect to make progress by leaps and bounds. Still, even at this phase of training it's good to get in the habit of recording your workouts since later on your gains will come in much smaller increments, and unless you keep track you may not always be sure whether you're really gaining strengthspeed, etc., or not. This is assuming that improved performance is your goal. If your goal is more aesthetic you'll still want to record your workouts, but you'll also need to take photos periodically to make sure your muscles are developing in the way you want and/or that you're not losing too much lean mass as you shed fat.

I frankly deplore the necessity of doing this. My own progress photos invariably make me cringe. Have I mentioned that my ribcage basically sits on top of my hip bones? Seriously, I have the world's shortest waist. I'm practically a mutant. Thing is, it's helpful to be reminded of this stuff because otherwise I am in danger of forgetting, for instance, that certain exercises, such as weighted crunches and side bends, are probably not the best for me strictly from a cosmetic standpoint. (I don't care for them from a functional standpoint either but concede their usefulness if hypertrophy of the outer core musculature is desired, which it often is, especially at the start of swimsuit season.)

But, anyway, I suck it up and do it, and you should too. I recommend taking at least 3 photos, one from the front, one from the side, and one from the back. You can flex or not, your choice, but try to do the same thing each time you update so you can compare more easily. If you're preparing for a physique competition you may want to take photos as often as every week when you're in the dieting-down phase, but otherwise once a month is more than adequate.

It's painful, at least to a pathologically vain person such as myself, but it's a whole lot less painful than unwittingly spending months on a program that's not getting me closer to my goals, or that may even be counterproductive.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Goddess-In-Progress Training Plan

Okay, I'm already a goddess. And so are you. Unless of course you are a guy, in which case you are a god. Really. If you care about your health, if you eat right most of the time, if you exercise regularly and with some intensity and commitment, you are already as fabulous as you ever need to be.

But this isn't about that.

This is about taking it to that next level where even the people who don't particularly like you have to admit you look darned good. This is about sticking it to your evil ex and your catty sister-in-law and all those people in high school who used to kick sand in your face. This is about proving to the world that while fertility may decline with age hottness endures, and that just because you're over 45 it doesn't mean you're past your sell-by date.

Now for the specifics:

If, like me, you are a woman in mid-life who is in very good shape but not quite as lean and sculpted as she used to be, the problem very likely is hormones. I'm assuming, of course, that nothing else about your training regimen and diet has changed, which may not be the case. Mid-life women may be dealing with aging parents, teenage children, failing marriages, job stress ... all sorts of things that can impact a woman's time, energy and commitment to training. In my own case I've had some of that, but really not too much so I'm inclined to think feral hormones are the main reason for the upward creep in my body fat percentage

So what do you do when, like me, you've hit the hormonal wall? You commit to working harder. Sorry about that, folks. I wish there was another answer, I truly do. But there isn't. So deal with it. Really. There's no point in shaking your fist at the heavens and saying "It's not fair." It isn't, but lamenting the unfairness of it all gets you exactly nowhere. If, like me, you're a person of fairly average genetic gifts you've probably already figured that one out. Some people build muscle more easily than others, and some people lean out more easily. Some do both, and I hate them as much as you do :)

The good news is: a person of average genetic gifts who's on a good program can get results that equal or surpass those of a genetically gifted person who chooses to coast on his or her gifts. But what do I mean by "a good program"? It must include some intense resistance training and some high-intensity interval training. It must include a pretty strict diet with plenty of protein and very controlled carb intake. Beyond that, it's hard to be specific because what one individual needs to "take it to the next level" may not be the same as what another needs. So much of it depends on what you've been doing.

In my own case, I've been doing a lot of metabolic resistance training. Supersets and circuits and kettlebells, oh my. Great stuff, and for years it kept me as lean as I cared to be. But eventually it stopped working, as even an excellent training program will generally do if you don't change it up from time to time. Let me reiterate: there was nothing "wrong" with what I was doing. In fact, according to Alwyn Cosgrove's "hierarchy of fat loss," what I'd been doing was the best thing I could do for fat loss. But for ME it was no longer "best" because I'd been doing it for too darned long and my body had gotten used to it.

So I looked elsewhere on the hierarchy, and what I came up with is a regimen that combines more traditional bodybuilding-type resistance training, some high intensity interval cardio, and also a certain amount of steady state cardio at lower intensity. It's way more time consuming than what I'd been doing, but frankly that's what the situation calls for. Again, I'm not talking about what's necessary for basic health and fitness. I'm talking about taking it a step or three beyond that.

My diet hasn't changed too much, other than that I've cut my calories a bit and also begun paying even more attention to nutrient timing. The fact is, fat loss is a catabolic process while building muscle is anabolic, so you can't do both at once. But what you can do is try for microcycles where you flood your body with nutrients at a time when it's best positioned to take advantage of them, i.e, during and immediately following your workouts, then cut way back at other times so your body draws on its stores of excess fat for energy. In other words, at any given point during the day you're either burning fat or building muscle, but over the course of the day you're doing both. Theoretically, anyway :)

And again, none of this is worth bothering with unless you're already quite fit and lean. The further you are from your goal, the easier it is to get results. Just eat less and move more, and you'll be fine. Don't make yourself crazier than you must.

Regrettably, I myself would appear to be at a point in my training where I must become a raving lunatic to get the results I want. But I can do that. In all honesty I've never been all that disciplined about my training, but lunacy comes naturally to me :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My new training goal is ...

extreme hottness.

No, really.

Okay, stop laughing!! I'm serious :)

Here's the deal: I was reading John Berardi's blog the other day and came across a post discussing a physique competition he'd recently attended. His big revelation? That there exist 47-year-old women he would totally hit on!

(Earth to you, Dr. Berardi, hon: if you were to try it you would learn that there exist 47-year-old women who would not give you the time of day, not with that dumb soul patch thing you've got going on. Really, do you even know how stupid that looks on a man your age? Someday you are going to look back at photos of yourself and be so embarrassed.)

As a 47-year-old woman myself I naturally took umbrage. It's time for a paradigm shift, people! This idea that a 47-year-old-female is no longer worth looking at needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history. With regular, vigorous exercise and a good diet we can look great as our daughters. We may not all choose to make the effort, but it IS a choice.

And I'm out to prove it. For the next 8 weeks I'm on a one-woman mission to find out just how good a menopausal woman of average genetic gifts can look without the aid of surgery, airbrushing, or ingestion of anything other than clean foods, protein powder and vitamins. (I do however reserve the right to slap on a coat of self-tanner when the mood takes me.)

More on this later.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Workouts are continuing strong

I benched 105 on Friday, which is not a personal best for me but it's more than I've been able to press in quite a while so I am pleased. There was no one on hand to spot me so I didn't feel comfortable increasing my weights beyond that, but I think I could have.

I also did barbell rows, underhand grip, with 100 pounds which I think is about as much weight as I've ever used for that particular lift.

Next week is a back-off week, with fewer sets and higher reps per set, so I will be using lighter weights. Since my workouts will be less intense I'm going to try cutting my calories some, just to see what happens.

After next week my workout split will change a bit. I will still be lifting four days a week, but instead of a straight upper/lower split I'll have two dedicated upper body days, one lower body day, and one total body day that looks to be more conditioning-oriented. I may try implementing calorie cycling during this phase of training ... or I may not.

I admit, I struggle with motivation when it comes to fat loss. There's a big part of me that thinks it's a bit ridiculous--and maybe not even healthy--for a woman in her late forties to try to maintain the same low body fat percentage she had in her younger days. It's different, of course, for women who participate in physique competitions where a single-digit body fat percentage is imperative. I'm not at all drawn to the sport myself even though I do sort of secretly want a pair of those stripper heels. But I do think it's a pretty cool thing to do and I would love to train an aspiring figure competitor sometime.

Even figure competitors, however, do not maintain ultra-low body fat year-round. At least, the healthy ones don't. Ballerinas do ... but they also do questionable things like dance for years on stress-fractured feet. I admit there's a part of me that wishes I hadn't let myself be talked out of pursuing a career in dance, but mostly I'm glad because I'm sure I wouldn't be as healthy as I am today if I'd stuck with it. Now, thankfully, I don't need to worry about being cut from a show if I've got a strained muscle or am carrying some extra fat. On the other hand I don't love the feeling of being the biggest girl in the corps, and since I have no intention of giving up any of my hard-earned muscle about all I can do is try to shed some fat from my thighs and midsection.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yesterday I deadlifted 185 lbs

Not that I'm proud of it or anything :)

I haven't been posting much lately about my own workouts and nutrition because frankly I'm still trying to figure out what works for me these days. Perimenopause is a game-changer for sure. It used to be that my body would respond in fairly predictable ways to every little tweak in my eating and exercise regimen. Now, not so much. My body still responds, but not always as I expect. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, and yesterday was one of those days. More typically the surprises are not so welcome, but more on that later.

Anyway, here's what I've been doing for my workouts over the past few months:

Because of the hand pain and grip problems I've been experiencing, I've cut way back on my kettlebell practice and returned to free weights as my primary mode of resistance training. After a couple of months of total-body programs three days per week I felt ready to take on an upper/lower body split requiring four days a week of resistance training. The program incorporates "wave loading," which basically is like doing two pyramids, the first with submaximal weight and the second with maximal weight. The first week of the program the rep scheme for the "waves" was 8/6/4, the second week it was 7/5/3, and the third week it was 6/3/1. What I love about this is, I have plenty of time to figure out how well my body is responding before I attempt to max out my weights. Because I prefer to be conservative in my weight selection I generally repeat the final set of the second wave a couple of times, increasing the weight incrementally until I've truly maxed out. Yesterday, for instance, I put 165 lbs on the bar for my final set, which was meant to be my one-rep max. But I knew immediately that I'd gone too light, so I did an extra rep with the 165, then slapped another 20 lbs on the bar and did 185. Then, just for kicks, I put another 15 on the bar just to see what would happen, and of course it didn't move. I didn't mind, though, because at that point I was pretty sure I actually WAS done. It might've just been mental, but either way I certainly wasn't prepared to risk an injury.

I also did 1-arm dumbbell snatches with 40 lbs, which is another personal best. One of these days I will write a post in which I babble about dumbbell/barbell cleans and snatches versus the kettlebell versions of same. I almost wish the exercises had different names because the technique is so different. There are plenty of similarities of course, but then there are similarities between apples and oranges as well, right?

I hadn't really thought about it yesterday, but in looking back on the workout I think the warmer weather we've been enjoying this week may have contributed to my success. My hand pain and numbness are worse when the weather is rainy and cold, but yesterday my grip was not an issue. I had no real problem holding my lockout for several seconds, then lowering with control even with 185 lbs on the bar. I think I will have to try reincorporating kettlebells for some of my high-intensity interval training just to see how that goes. I think it will be better now.

I'd also taken ballet class that morning, so my glutes and core were fully activated. And, no, I wasn't wearing leg warmers but I did still have my pink tights on and I would like to think they contributed in some small way to my success.

More likely, though, it's the supplementation.

In all honesty I am not a lover of supplements. Some have merit, at least for some people, and some (most?) are just snake oil at best, harmful at worst. Sorting out the worthy from the unworthy requires far more knowledge than I possess, so I'm not even going to try. That being said, if your body for whatever reason is subject to more than the ordinary amount of stress, the nutritional support available from food alone may not be enough to meet your particular needs, so supplementation may be in order.

Dr. Susan Kleiner's Power Eating is a good source of information when it comes to sports nutrition. She's not a big fan of supplementation either although she does speak well of creatine. Supplementation as a way of dealing with non-workout related stressors (such as perimenopause) is, however, beyond the scope of her book. More useful in this regard is the Precision Nutrition system, which has some specific recommendations for mid-life women.
I've begun incorporating some of these (zinc, magnesium, phosphatidyl serine, and valerian at night to help me sleep, fish oil to help with moodiness and depression, etc) to pretty good effect, at least when I remember to take them. The phosphatidyl serine is also supposed to help with foggy thinking and excess cortisol, but honestly I can't swear how helpful it is in either regard. I haven't been taking it long so it's too soon to say.

Speaking of Precision Nutrition, I have actually gained some weight on the plan even though my calorie intake has been what until very recently at least was maintenance level for me. I'm not especially concerned, though, because my workouts have been so strong. As long as the extra calories are being put to good use, who cares? Don't get me wrong: I'm somewhat disconcerted that this is the case, and I can't say I'm thrilled about having to get my "fat pants" out of storage. (Yeah, I keep a couple pairs of size 2's around for times like this. Cry me a river already. Sheesh.) But I'm certainly not concerned enough to want to change anything at this point. Getting strong is a priority for me, and I certainly seem to be making progress on that front so for now I can deal with the extra mass on my thighs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sing My Life With Your Words, Tom Venuto!

There's a lot of nonsense "information" on fitness and fat loss floating around the Internet. I should know, because some of it is written by me :) But there's also some very good stuff, and the author of much of it is Tom Venuto, the Burn The Fat guy.

He had a very good blog post the other day on female fat loss that I think you all should read, especially if you are smaller-framed like me:

It's just common sense, but it's still a salutary reminder for those of us who tend to get frustrated when the scale seems not to be moving even though we've been 100 percent compliant with our diet and exercise programs. The sad fact is, whether you weigh 180 lbs or 110, losing a pound of fat means creating a calorie deficit of 3,500. And creating that deficit is a whole heckuva lot easier for the person who weighs 180, because even if he's not terribly active he probably requires 2500 calories a day just to maintain his weight. Cut that by 20 percent and he'll lose a pound a week even without increasing his activity level. The 110-lb person, on the other hand, requires far fewer calories to maintain her weight unless she happens to be, say, an ultra-marathoner-in-training or an aspiring Olympian. Assuming a maintenance level of 1800 calories a day, a 20 percent calorie reduction will result in a weekly deficit of only 2100 calories, equating to a loss of only a little more than half a pound of fat a week. If Ms. 110 wants to speed things along she'll need to move more--but even that can be frustrating because with her smaller frame she's going to burn far fewer calories doing exactly the same workout as her 180 lb friend. (Mr. Tactical Ballerina and I have put this one to the test. But it's all right. I love him anyway. Usually.)

So what's a girl to do? In a word--okay, three words--suck it up. Deal with it. It is what it is, and lamenting the unfairness of it all gets you exactly nowhere. (I'm not saying don't take it out in small passive-aggressive ways on your 180-lb friend, especially if you happen to be married to him. This can be quite enjoyable. Just ask Mr. Tactical Ballerina, who incidentally has the patience of a saint:))

Seriously, you can still attain your fat loss goals even if you're smaller and have a slower metabolism. You just can't expect to shed fat as fast as a bigger person would. The good news is, you probably don't have as much to lose to get to goal. A loss of as little as five pounds may be enough to take you from "acceptable" to "rock star." If you think in terms of percentages of body fat lost you can definitely keep pace with your larger friend. In fact you may even get to goal sooner.

So don't despair. Seriously, don't. Go shoe shopping instead. Buy a nice pair of heels that will make you the perfect height for your weight :) It's much more satisfying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In Which I Say Nice Things About Machine-Based Exercise Programming

If you're the sort of person who reads fitness blogs (and if you're not, what are you doing here?) you probably are not a big fan of exercise machines. To be honest, they don't rock my world either. They work muscles in isolation, in only a single plane of motion, which is not the way our bodies operate in real life. Exercises that require coordinated muscle action, and that are multiplanar, are my preference, and they're probably yours too.

But guess what? We're not typical.

Take a minute and try to imagine the mindset of, say, a 57-year-old woman who has never exercised in her life, who doesn't enjoy movement, who isn't comfortable in the gym environment, but knows she needs to begin an exercise program to improve her blood lipid profile and prevent bone loss. The worst thing I could do would be to set her up with a bunch of complex-seeming functional exercises. They might be totally appropriate from an exercise-physiology standpoint, but how much good are they going to do her if she's too intimidated to actually do them? If she's an affluent woman who can afford to work out with me every time she comes to the gym, there's a lot I can do to increase her comfort level with free weights and functional exercise in general ... but most of the wellness seekers I meet are not so fortunate. All too often they can't afford more than a session or two, or at least they think they can't. (More on that some other time. For now, assume they really can't afford more than a session or two with me.) For these people, the best I can do for them is to come up with something they will actually come to the gym and do on their own, with enough consistency to get results, at least until they can scrape together enough money to buy more sessions with me.

Enter The Exercise Machine!

Don't ask me why, but novice exercisers seem to be less intimidated by machines than by free weights. Honestly, I wish they were more intimidated by machines because there's every bit as much injury potential with machines as there is with free weights--maybe more, even--but most people seem not to realize it. To use machines safely and correctly you still need a certain amount of joint stability and core strength, and if these are lacking you will hurt yourself. The seated leg press machine is one of the worst offenders, to the point that I steer people away from it unless I know they've got sufficient core strength to maintain a neutral spine as they push with their legs. But if they can do that .... well, I'd really rather they do squats, lunges and deadlifts, but if that's not going to happen I'd rather they do leg press than nothing at all.

I will admit, there are a couple of machines that I believe were invented by the Devil expressly to try my patience. The seated spinal flexion machine, for instance--don't even get me started. I fantasize about sneaking into the gym at night and smashing it with a kettlebell. Someday I will do it, I swear. In all seriousness I do believe that for most people this machine is unsafe and sets them up for low back pain by encouraging an unnatural movement pattern. Hip flexion good, spinal flexion bad. I will sew those words on a sampler someday.

But most of the other machines are safe enough if used properly. Occasionally I will encounter someone who is simply too tiny or too tall for a given machine, but for the most part it's possible to find settings that are fairly biomechanically correct and won't doesn't stress the joint unduly. Of course the joints can still be destabilized via muscle imbalances that can arise when muscle groups are trained in isolation, but that's more of a potential problem that can be addressed by making sure the overall program is well balanced, with equal attention paid to opposing muscle groups. No leg extensions without leg curls, no chest presses without back rows--that sort of thing.

Okay, so (most) machines can be safe (enough). But are they effective? Hell, yes. If you don't believe me, google Wayne Westcott. He's one of my favorite exercise scientists, mostly because his name makes him sound like the mild-mannered alter ego of a cartoon superhero. But he's also done some very interesting studies demonstrating the benefits of a machine based exercise program across all age groups. In one such study over 1,100 participants ranging in age from 20 to 80 were set up with a very basic program of machine based resistance training and moderate intensity (70-80% MHR) cardio , about 1/2 hour of each, performed 3x per week. Over the course of 8 weeks all participants lost body fat and gained muscle, with the greatest muscle gains (2.4 lbs) manifested in the 61-80 age group. I don't know about you, but I find that to be fairly compelling evidence of the benefits of machine-based exercise.

Would they have made even greater gains if they'd been training with free weights? Probably ... if they'd stuck with it. But many of them wouldn't have, due to the intimidation factor I mentioned earlier. And as a trainer who works in the real world training real people, I tend to think an exercise program is only as good as the client's willingness to comply with it.

So next time you're at the gym and you see a personal trainer setting someone up with a circuit of machine-based exercises, don't assume the trainer is an idiot who doesn't know what the hell she's doing, because there's a reasonable chance the trainer is me. And I am a lot scarier than you are, and you really don't want to be on my bad side. Trust me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

It's going to be a fabulous Tiger year!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday Kettlebell Workout

This was probably not one of my better ideas given that I haven't been happy lately with my technique on cleans and snatches. The smart thing to do would have been to practice my cleans and snatches but stick with get-ups and swings for my actual workout.

But I never claimed to be smart.

So here's what I did:

Deck squats x5, with 8 kg
Clean & press x5 per side, with 12 kg

As many rounds as possible in 10 minutes, which in my case turned out to be 5 1/2. The deck squats were a new exercise for me, and I kind of liked them. I did the version where you use momentum to get back onto your feet because that seemed to fit better with the metabolic effect I was going for. I could also see doing a higher-rep set, unweighted, with a jump at the end ... that could be a crazy-fun burpee alternative on bodyweight circuit days :)

Anyhoo, after that I rested 3 minutes, then did snatches, 5 R/L, as many sets as possible in 10 minutes. I used 12 kg and got either 17 or 18 sets--I sorta lost count :) I got either 10 or 11 sets by the five-minute mark but slowed down a little after that because I was worried about my hands. My hands and grip always seem to be the limiting factor for me.

Still, I'm happy I can still get 100 snatches in under 5 minutes using the kettlebell that's closest to 1/4 my bodyweight. That's what I'd have to do if I were to go to RKC. Well, that's the least of what I'd have to do, but still, it's something.

Not that I plan to go to an RKC weekend any time soon. It would be an amazing experience, but not terribly useful given the nature of my personal training business. Getting HKC certified was a no-brainer for me because I pretty much knew the first time I did swings, get-ups and goblet squats that these were movements I wanted to teach clients. Hip mobility, shoulder stability, posterior chain strength and power .... these are sorely lacking in so many of the people I train, and I have yet to find better exercises than the goblet squat, get-up and swing for addressing these problems. Even if a client never gets to the point where I'm comfortable putting a kettlebell in his hand, he'll benefit from the preparatory exercises such as face-the-wall squats, half get-ups with a shoe on the knuckles, and hip hinges. If there was an "HKC: Beyond the Basics" workshop focusing on more and better corrective drills and applications for the swing, goblet squat and get-up I would go in a heartbeat even if it meant getting on a plane, which is so not my favorite thing to do.

But honestly I can only think of a couple of times in the last year and a half since I discovered kettlebells that I really wished I were qualified to teach cleans, presses and snatches. My clients just don't seem to need those more advanced movements in the same way they need swings, goblet squats and get-ups. True, I've had some inquiries about kettlebell snatches from people who've read the infamous ACE article verifying their calorie-burning benefits. But invariably once I explain to those people just how much prep work they'd need to do to be able to do the workout outlined in the study, they lose interest. It's amazing the way people tend to confuse "time-efficient" (which kettlebells are) with "quick fix" (which kettlebells most assuredly are not).

If you'd asked me six months ago I would have said, oh, yes, I'm going to become an RKC then go for CK-FMS certification. I still think that's a great path to take, especially for anyone who's interested in performance enhancement for athletes. But that's not what most of the clients who come to me are looking for, and I can't justify the expense if I'm not going to be using what I learn in my personal training business.

Friday, February 12, 2010

So far so good

I'm about to begin my third week of the Turbulence Training Transformation program. In Week 2 I kept my weights the same on most exercises but did increase volume. We'll see what Week 3 brings.

I'm also doing kettlebell drills at least twice a week. On Monday, I did a 15 seconds on/15 seconds off thing, alternating 1-arm swings and high pulls, for 20 minutes. It was a good session though not nearly as intense as it would have been if I'd been doing snatches. Unfortunately I was having some slight hand pain and numbness--nothing horrific but enough that I didn't think I'd be able to keep good form on snatches. Not a big deal since my main concern was gluteal activation, and that's the same whether you're snatching a kettlebell or swinging it.

I also did swings on Tuesday in place of the bodyweight tabata intervals Craig Ballantyne prescribes at the end of Transformation Workout 3. No particular reason, other than that it just sounded like more fun than squat thrusts and front squats. Okay, it did cross my mind that maybe all that hip flexion wasn't the best idea given that I was about to go teach spinning. But really that was a rationalization. If I'd felt like doing squat thrusts I'd have done them :)

Wednesday was a rest day of sorts, meaning that I went to ballet class but didn't do anything in addition. Well, I trained clients, but didn't do a separate workout of my own. Thursday I had ballet class again, and I also did a kettlebell workout that was all get-ups, pull-ups, goblet squats and swings. I used 20 kg for the swings (5 sets of 25) and it felt pretty good.

In other news, I think I need to lose a few pounds. It's the darned pointe shoes. When all your bodyweight is pressing down on about 1 square inch of satin you really don't want any extra!

It's funny: vanity used to be my big motivator. Now, not so much. I really don't care whether my jeans are a size 0 or a size 2 or even a size 4, as long as I'm healthy and able to do the stuff I like to do. It's nice to be able to say that after so many years of being hung up on looking a certain way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Precision Nutrition: Initial Impressions

I ordered Precision Nutrition in December of last year and received my materials just in time for New Year's. I am so not a New Year's resolution kind of gal, but on the other hand January is as good a time as any to implement some healthy new habits and give up some old not-so-great ones.

In all honesty, though, my way of eating really hasn't changed much since starting Precision Nutrition. I didn't think it would, which is why the program appealed to me. I already have a lean body composition and am quite fit, especially for my age. So I didn't think I needed a drastic diet intervention, just a few tweaks and upgrades which I am still in the process of implementing.

The basis of the Precision Nutrition system is the 10 Habits. The Precision Nutrition materials even include a handy little 10 Habits cheat sheet you're meant to carry in your wallet until the habits become ingrained. The 10 Habits are:

(1) eat every 2-4 hours

(2) have an appropriate amount (20-30 grams for women, 40-60 grams for men) of complete protein at every meal

(3) have 2-3 servings of veggies (1-1.5 cups) with every meal

(4) avoid starchy carbs unless you've just worked out

(5) include heart healthy fats in your diet throughout the day, and supplement with fish oil.

(6) avoid calorie-containing beverages such as soda

(7) avoid processed foods

(8) plan and prepare your meals in advance to make sure they are PN-compliant

(9) eat a variety of foods, with an emphasis on what's local and seasonal

(10) allow yourself to break the rules at 10 percent of your meals

When you begin Precision Nutrition the emphasis is on mastery of the 10 Habits. Once you've got those down you can begin to fine-tune if necessary. But adherence to the 10 Habits comes first. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it, because if you're not following the 10 Habits how can you be sure whether you even need a more individualized plan to reach your goals? Why worry about macronutrient ratios and such if you don't have to?

None of this is much of a stretch for me. I admit I wonder how necessary some of these habits really are--I mean, why is oatmeal okay after a workout but not before?--but at the same time compliance is pretty easy for me because basically this is how I've been eating for years. I figured out when I was in my early 40s that I really don't tolerate wheat very well, and when I cut that out of my diet my starch consumption dropped dramatically. I did continue to eat oatmeal and rice, but while I enjoy these foods I've never eaten them in quantity. That being the case, it's not particularly hard for me to limit my starch intake to post-workout meals as per the 10 Habits. In fact, I often skip the starch even when it's permitted unless it happens to be what I feel like eating.

One thing I don't do is plan my meals too much in advance. Instead I tend to ask myself, "Okay, what do I feel like eating?" and then once I've figured out what I want I look for a way to make it PN-compliant. It's not hard because I've been building my meals around protein, veggies and heart-healthy fats for years.

I'm still trying to work out how much I really need in the way of supplementation. I've begun taking fish oil capsules along with magnesium and zinc at night to help me sleep. I also keep protein powder on hand, but this is not a new thing for me although it has never been a regular part of my diet. It still isn't, although that might change. Protein shakes are highly recommended in PN, with consumption ideally occuring during and/or soon after a workout when easily-digestible protein is particularly desirable to facilitate recovery. Personally I sort of hate to waste any portion of my daily calorie allotment on food I don't like, but on the other hand if I want to get stronger I think I probably need to get a little more, well, precise about my post-workout nutrition.

That's the thing about Precision Nutrition: you're not supposed to make things any more complicated than they need to be. You only need to go beyond the basics if you're not getting the results you want just by following the 10 Habits.
If the 10 Habits alone aren't doing it for you, PN makes some suggestions for individualization. The first and most obvious is to adjust calorie intake. PN recommends starting out with a daily calorie intake of 3000-3500 calories for men and 1500-1750 calories for women, with no allowances made for age, size or activity level. Apparently this one-size-fits-all approach produces positive results in about 85% of PN clients. But if you're one of the 15%, a formula is provided for calculating daily calorie needs based on body weight, goals and activity levels.
There's also an alternative formula that allows you to calculate your macronutrient needs, again based on body weight and activity level. If you use this formula you'll end up with a diet that's relatively high in carbs, low in protein and moderate in fat, which works well for carbohydrate-tolerant people who are highly active. But others will need to do some fine tuning based on their somatype and goals. Ectomorphs looking to gain muscle do well with a macronutrient split of 25% protein/55% carbohydrate/20% fat. They can have sugary simple carbs during and immediately after their workout, and complex carbs throughout the day at every other meal because they tolerate carbs well. Mesomorphs looking to build muscle while keeping lean get better results with a Zone-ish split of 30% protein/40% carbs/30% fat, again with simple carbs allowed during and after workouts. Complex starchy carbs are okay at breakfast and post exercise, but at other times should be eaten in moderation if at all. Endomorphs looking to lose fat do best with a 35% protein/25% carbs/40% fat split, with starchy and/or sugary carbs allowed during and post-exercise but not at other times.
But what if you don't know your somatype? It's not always obvious. Most people are a mix. And if you've been working out and eating well for a while things get even more confusing, because you might resemble one type but actually have the hormonal profile and carb tolerance of another. That's definitely true of me: at this point I look like a mesomorph with ectomorph tendencies, but my carb tolerance is closer to that of an endomorph. What PN suggests in cases like this is that you choose your macronutrient prescription based on your goals. If you want to prioritize fat loss, eat like an endomorph. If you want to build muscle eat like an ectomorph. But whatever you do, stay within your allotted calories for the day.
So, that's kind of a quick overview of the basic PN system. If you're the type of person who reads fitness blogs you've probably done something similar at some point, or at least thought about it. Maybe you've even decided all those meals are too much trouble, and you've opted to lose fat by fasting twice a week instead. Nothing wrong with that! There are many effective programs out there. The key is finding the one you can stick with. If PN seems like it might be the one for you I encourage you to look into it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Turbulence Training Transformation Workouts B & C

Here as promised (threatened?) are my impressions of the second two workouts in the Turbulence Training Transformation program.

Workout B is mostly upper body. It kicks off with a tri-set of chin-ups (AMAP), spiderman pushups (AMAP) and vertical jumps (10 reps), then segues into dumbbell bench presses supersetted with inverted rows, dumbbell chest-supported rows supersetted with lateral raises, and finally barbell curls supersetted with lying triceps extensions. If you've been reading my rantings for a while now you know I'm not a big fan of single joint exercises in general and biceps/triceps work in particular, but I guess for a month I can suck it up and do it.

The most fun part of Workout B is the energy systems training at the end. Shuttle sprints! Whee! What you do is, mark off a distance of about 20 feet then sprint back and forth being sure to touch down at the beginning and end points. Keep doing that for 20 seconds, then rest for 40 seconds, then repeat until 8 minutes are up. Simple, but more challenging than it sounds because of all the stop and start and up and down and directional changes. Also excellent functional training for many team sports. And fun!

Workout C, like Workout A, is a fairly balanced total-body routine. It kicks off with a superset of barbell deadlifts (or dumbbell step-ups if you're working out at home and have equipment constraints) and stability ball pikes, 10 of each. The second superset consists of dumbbell split squats and decline close-grip pushups, while superset 3 includes dumbbell rows and 1-leg stability ball hamstring curls. There's just the three supersets, and that's actually a good thing because the energy systems work in this one consists of bodyweight exercises done tabata-style (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off). There are 8 squat thrust cycles followed immediately by 8 front squat cycles, and finishing with 4 sets of 10 jumps, with 10 seconds rest between sets.

My sense is that some women in particular might find this program to be a little upper-body intensive to suit them given that all three workouts include upper body work while only two include lower body and core-intensive training. My personal belief is that this is more of an issue from a psychological standpoint than a physiological one, meaning that while there is less lower-body training than upper-body training, there's certainly enough of the former to stimulate muscle development and produce beautiful results. That being said, if the routine feels too unbalanced to be enjoyable it might be better to do something else. My whole philosophy of training is: safety first, then fun, then effectiveness. Most people simply don't like to exercise or at least they think they don't. They worry about hurting themselves, or they have a low tolerance for physical discomfort, or they believe exercise is boring. But these obstacles can be overcome with the help of a trainer who's got half a clue, or even a good internet-based program such as Turbulence Training or Precision Nutrition.

By the way, just so you know, I am not an affiliate of Turbulence Training, Precision Nutrition, Dragon Door or any other commercial website. If I give a product or program a good review and you decide to purchase I will make nothing off the sale, so rest assured that I am completely disinterested. I mean, I'm interested but not in a commercial sense :) If that ever changes I will make a full disclosure, of course, but I really don't see that happening, not least because I am the laziest person on the planet when it comes to that sort of thing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Turbulence Training Transformation Workout: Initial Impressions

So far I've done all three workouts, or at least a half-caf version thereof. Craig Ballantyne actually recommends omitting the final set of each exercise during the first week of a new program to give your body time to adjust, and while I've never felt the need to do so in the past I think it's good advice and something I will probably incorporate from now on.

I should note that my warm-ups are not quite what Craig recommends. Since I've been having a lot of problems lately with my hips I generally begin every exercise session with foam rolling, paying particular attention to the right piriformis. I have an interesting collection of trouble spots, most of which I believe were proximately caused (now there's a phrase I haven't used in about 5 years!) by a bad break to my right ankle when I was 15. The bone itself healed better than anyone expected but the connective tissue damage did not. This is actually pretty typical: break a bone and you'll grow new bone and end up with something that literally is as good as new, but tear a muscle and you'll get scar tissue that is neither as strong nor as extensible. Damage to a ligament or tendon is even more problematic because there isn't as much blood supply to these areas so they're even less likely to heal well. Appropriate physical therapy can do a lot to preserve muscle and joint function, but no one thought to recommend that for me when I was 15. It actually wasn't until I started trying to dance again almost 30 years later that I began to recover a healthy range of motion in my injured ankle, and by then I'd had time to develop all sorts of other issues. Very few of these are apparent during bilateral movements--which is why I tend to gravitate toward unilateral training as much as possible. Feeble as it makes me feel, it's better for me.

(Okay, I admit it: sometimes I throw in some barbell exercises with heavy weight so I can impress myself and hopefully other people as well. I 'm petty that way.)

And someday I will learn to write a blog post that sticks to the point. Which in this case is that my warm-ups tend to be about activating my specific weak areas and inhibiting my overactive ones (as well as increasing core body temperature, elevating heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, getting the synovial fluid flowing, etc.) Craig's warm-ups are good, but they tend to be a little heavy on the scapular activation (stick-ups, Y's & T's, prisoner anything) and a little light on the gluteal activation to meet my particular needs at this time.

Now, on to the actual workouts:

Workout A kicks off with a superset of barbell squats and 1-arm overhead presses, palms in. Here again I modified, replacing the barbell squats with dumbbell Bulgarian split squats. Partly this is because I was working out at home and don't have a squat rack, and partly it's because I think Bulgarian split squats are a better exercise for me right now. I did do all three sets of 8 reps but used relatively light weights for both exercises--20 lbs, I think.

The next part of Workout A is a tri-set consisting of reverse lunges with what Craig calls a half-rep. I've also seen this called a "stutter rep" or a "low end," but whatever you call it, it's painful. It starts like a regular reverse lunge, except that when you come up from the bottom of the lunge you only come halfway up. Then you sink down again before returning to your start position, and that's all one rep. I did 10 on each leg, using 20 lb dumbbells again.

The second exercise of the tri-set is a stability ball plank hold, and the final exercise is cross-body mountain climbers. Thankfully you're only meant to perform the tri-set twice, which I did.

Not so with the 4 exercise giant set that follows. Once was enough for this baby, at least on a deload week. The giant set kicks off with dumbbell romanian deads, segues into cross-body chops with a medicine ball, then finishes with stability ball jackknives--25 of them!--and side planks for maximum time.

But wait! there's more! The workout concludes with 4 sets of 8 double burpees, with 45 seconds rest between sets. In case you're dying to try this yourself, a double burpee is like a regular burpee only with two pushups and two jumps, and it's every bit as horrible as it sounds if not more so.

More on Workouts 2 and 3 later, when I have a bit more time to post.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Let The Transformation Begin!

The Turbulence Training Transformation, that is. The Transformation program is one of the two more advanced programs I acquired a couple of days ago, and it looks like a pretty good fit for me at the moment. There's a Workout A, a Workout B and a Workout C, each of which is meant to be done once a week, with at least a day off in between. The energy systems work consists of either "bodyweight cardio" or shuttle sprints, no cardio equipment needed, so it's a good program for home exercisers although if you want to do the shuttle sprints indoors you'll need a room or hallway at least 20 feet long.

Shuttle sprints, in case you haven't encountered them before, are a type of SAQ (speed, agility, quickness) drill. You simply mark off your distance, sprint from one end to the other, touch down, sprint back to the start, touch down, and repeat until you've gone the desired distance or time. These are excellent to do if you play any kind of sport that requires quick directional changes, and they're also a lot of fun, especially if you do them at home and have a cat or dog that likes to help. My cat Dino is a big fan of shuttle runs, although he prefers to do them at 3:00 am when Mr. Tactical Ballerina and I are trying to get some sleep.

On my off-days I will be practicing get-ups and swings. I've been dealing with some joint issues lately and I think these are the drills that will help me most, along with lots of foam rolling and omega-3 fatty acids to help with inflammation. I'm making other lifestyle changes as well, trying to limit my exposure to xenoestrogens so as to keep my hormones as balanced as they can be at my time of life.

Speaking of which, the closer I get to 50 the more important it seems to be for me to be active almost daily. Even on days when my hands hurt so much I can't grip a kettlebell for more than a few short sets of swings, I at least try to do that much because if I don't my hips and back won't be at all happy with me. Besides, I seem to lose fitness faster now when I take time off, and it doesn't come back as quickly as it once did. That's probably because I have a lot of days when I'm not feeling 100 percent. I try not to skip workouts unless I'm truly ill, but I find I often have to modify. But that's okay. It's not like I've got any fitness goals that I need to reach by a date certain. At this point I just want to feel as good as I possibly can.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Turbulence Training 3-for-1 Sale

If you're a Turbulence Training fan but not currently a member it might interest you to know that Craig Ballantyne is offering a sale on his Turbulence Training workouts for January 2010. Yep, that's "workouts," not "workout." For $19.95 you get access to two fairly advanced programs as well as one, Total Torso Training (or something like that), that's suitable for newbies who need to build a base of core stability and cardiovascular fitness before moving on to more advanced workouts. You also get 30 days' access to the member forums, which are great if you have questions about the workouts, or just want some social support. The only catch is that you do need to cancel within the 30 days or your membership will automatically renew at a cost of $19.95 a month. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing if you use the member forums, but if you don't you probably won't want to incur the extra charge.

I haven't read over the programs in any great detail, but they look like the usual good stuff from Craig. I am a big fan of his, not so much because his programs are the most innovative or effective in an absolute sense, but because they are easy to stick with. The exercises tend to be pretty straightforward old-school stuff that doesn't call for a lot of fancy equipment; in fact, if you've got a few sets of dumbbells and a stability ball at home you don't even need a gym membership. If by some chance you don't already know how to do the exercises, detailed instructions with photos are provided, along with video demonstrations you can download at the Turbulence Training website.

So far my only caveat is that if you decide to do the Turbulence Traning 2K10 Workout you probably should have some prior experience with kettlebells OR plan to modify. That's because Workout A of the program finishes up with 10 minutes of kettlebell swings, 40 seconds on and 20 seconds off. That kind of density is not appropriate for someone who's new to kettlebells. My recommendation for beginners would be to do 20 swings followed by one minute of active recovery, for 12 minutes, as per Enter The Kettlebell. Then when that starts to seem easy, either add reps or shorten your active rests. And be sure you've got good form! If anything other than your butt (and maybe your lats) feels tender after a swing workout, you're probably doing something wrong and should check in with a certified kettlebell instructor for some pointers. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm like a broken record. But you know I'm right.)

Update: But wait! There's MORE!!! (Am I having a RonCo moment or what?) If you order the 3 for 1 package you'll also get access to the Turbulence Training monthly workout for February, which just became available today. It looks to be an interesting one, with a new interval protocol involving 8 second sprints. Yep, you read that correctly.

There are some other bonuses as well, but if you've ever been a Turbulence Training customer in the past you've probably already downloaded them.

No steak knives, though, and no World's Smallest Juicer. Bummer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why Kettlebell Training Has Not Taken Over The World

If you're a fitness pro or kettlebell fan you've probably heard about the recent ACE study verifying that kettlebell training burns up to 20.2 calories per minute, which is roughly equivalent to the calorie burn you'd get from running 6-minute miles (fun!) or cross-country skiing uphill (whee!).

So why aren't more people training with kettlebells?

For much the same reason that more people aren't running at 6 mph or cross-country skiing uphill. None of these workouts is exactly entry-level. I know a lot of novice runners, but I don't know any who can sustain a 10 mph pace for more than a few minutes. Likewise I've seen enough kettlebell newbies to know that very few would be capable of doing the workout performed by the test subjects in the ACE study.

Let's take a closer look at that study. The test subjects varied in terms of age, gender, bodyweight and experience level, but none was a kettlebell novice. The workout protocol was lifted straight from Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Conditioning: timed sets of kettlebell snatches, 15 seconds of effort followed by 15 seconds of rest, repeated for 40 total rounds, or 20 minutes. The kettlebells used were 12, 16 and 20 kilos depending on the test subject's gender, size and experience level. Good times. And all in a day's work(out), if you've been training with kettlebells for a while. If you haven't and you were to try this workout, you'd end up with shredded hands and banged-up forearms at best, a dislocated shoulder or wrenched back at worst. It's not that kettlebells are inherently unsafe, any more than running is inherently unsafe. But just as running with a faulty gait causes injuries, so too does using kettlebells with poor technique. And just as runners who try to add miles too quickly end up with overuse injuries, so too do kettlebell users who try to do too much too soon.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from getting started with kettlebells. Rather, I'm just counseling the use of a little common sense. Keep your expectations reasonable, and don't plan on burning 20 calories a minute right away. Perfect your technique, then work on adding volume, always stopping one or two reps short of complete fatigue. Be patient and persistent, and before long you will be able to perform the ACE study workout and reap the calorie-burning muscle conditioning benefits of this amazing form of exercise!