November 19, 2007

Nifty Workout Tool Measures Damn Near Everything!

By now, regular Cranky Fitness readers know to pay little attention to extravagant claims made in the title of a blog post. (Because you've all figured out that it usually means Crabby's just messing with you!) But bear with her as she tells you about this awesome workout gadget.

You use it to use to track your workouts and eating plans and evaluate how you're doing. Just look at all the data it can factor in! Like: your current weight; your desired weight; the calories you consume and whether they are nutritious or junky; the amount of force your muscles exert; your heart rate; metabolic rate; your dehydration level; your available caloric reserves; the amount of sleep you require versus the amount you've been getting; your blood pressure; your stress level; and even your hormone cycles. This ginormous amount of data is all filtered, sorted, and weighed to give you incredibly useful information to evaluate your performance.

So what is this amazing device? Let's call it the "F-4", short for the "effortometer." It is, as you probably already guessed, something you already own. It resides in your brain, and it tells you whether what you're attempting to do is easy or hard or freakin' impossible. It alerts you to whether you need to stop whining and work harder; whether you're doing just great; or whether you're overdoing it and need to give yourself a break.

This complex measurement is also known colloquially as "how you feel." It's your subjective sense of how much effort you're putting in, and how much discomfort that effort is causing you at any given time. Readings range from "wow, this is easy" to "damn, this kinda sucks," to "ulp, this feels so awful I think I'm going to die, like, now... aaarrrgghh..."

If you're like most people, you've learned to ignore how you feel if it happens to disagree with a more "objective" measure of how you're doing, like the time it takes you to bike fifteen miles uphill or the number on the scale at your last weigh-in. If the gadget you bought says you're doing terrible or doing great, that's 'real.' Whereas that sense you have yourself of how hard you're working is only 'psychological,' and doesn't count as much. Right?

So if you woke up this morning feeling fatigued for no particular reason, and despite feeling dreary and unmotivated you put on your running shoes anyway and went out for a jog, but the stopwatch said your 4 miles took you longer than they ever have before in your life--well that's bad isn't it? It means you should have pushed yourself harder so you'd go faster. The stopwatch knows better than you do what you should be doing, doesn't it?

Well, no it doesn't. In every way that counts for the long haul, you did great. The stopwatch data is completely irrelevant. Your trusty effortometer says you completed a workout of extremely high difficulty--and it can factor in all kinds of complicated physical and psychological data you have no conscious clue about. So screw the stopwatch. Feel proud of yourself.

And sure, if you're running a big important race next month and running races is a huge part of your life, these objective numbers can be very informative. And Crabby is a great believer in heart rate monitors and body-fat measuring scales, and sports watches, and pedometers and all that stuff. But only insofar as they provide Positive Reinforcement for your efforts. They're great for letting you know that you're doing something real and measurable. And look, over time, you're making steady improvements, hooray!

But if you get too caught up in numbers, they can be very demotivating. In the long run, unless you're a professional athlete or have a lot of ego at stake, it's the subjective effort that's crucial and is going to pay off. Keeping going is the most important part.

So then, what about Accountability, something we were just talking about recently? If you only pay attention to how you feel and not what the scale or the stopwatch says, isn't that a sure road to denial and slacking?

Actually, not usually, if you're being honest with yourself. But your effortometer, like any piece of complicated equipment, may need periodic recalibration. Use your common sense to see if, generally, your own sense of effort is correlating with more objective measures. If it's been six months of "trying really hard" with no noticeable improvement, then maybe something's wrong. It could be a problem with your expectations, your plan, your commitment, or your goals.

Another thing that can mess with your internal effortometer is depression. Depression is a real and treatable medical condition that can make damn near everything feel effortful. Rather than berate yourself over it, be kind to yourself and think about getting some help.

So how do you guys evaluate how you're doing in working towards your goals? Do you obsess over objective measurements or even keep track at all?


  1. Great post, Crabby. The Bag Lady doesn't have any goals. Well, okay, maybe a few: she wants to be thinner, and have more energy, and quit that infernal smoking for once and F***ing all, and not have to worry about money, and be able to sing again, and...
    What was the question again?
    The effortometer sounds pretty complicated...who knew?

  2. Back from Maine! :-) I just try to do the best I can around the holidays, then will work towards a goal especially for summer.
    Will be running a 5-miler on Thanksgiving...

  3. Interesting post Crabby.

    As I've mentioned a couple of times, I'm doing the Weight Watchers point system to lose about 15 pounds. Why it's working for me, I think is because of it's allowances for real life.

    When people want to make life changes, be it losing weight, getting active, or whatever, they tend to go full out, full steam ahead, and then burn out easily or get discouraged at the first sign of any set backs.

    What many people don't realize - and what I didn't either - is that there is no room for perfectionism or the "if I mess up I've failed the whole thing" way of thinking.

    I'm the first one to admit I'm a perfectionist, but I also admit that being a perfectionist is a fault in itself. There is no such thing as perfection and if I continued to believe that what I had to do had to be perfect or else it was worthless, then I wouldn't get anywhere.

    With the WW points program, you are allowed to mess up - you can mess up royally - and yet, you can still get back on track, no recriminations, no regrets, nothing. You just go on.

    Last week was a bad week for me - I didn't do my food prep on Sunday as I have been doing since starting my quest to lose weight. I had pizza, hamburgers, fries... you name it. But, because I've been good most of the time and I'm being good this week, I didn't gain anything. Nothing. How cool is that?

  4. That's an awesome post. As someone who naturally gravitates to the... lazy end of things, I use my effortmeter to make myself actually work hard. Like, I'll be ellipticalling along, and I routinely ask myself, "Is this really doing it? Couldn't we push harder?" Especially when I'm doing intervals and want to cheat back to the lower level. "You can keep going. It'll hurt, but nothing bad will happen." "Is that really the last time you can lift that weight? I think there's one more with good form. Or three." This article helped me a lot. Because even if the little numbers on the machine say I'm working "hard," if I'm honest, I usually know if I can be working harder. (And then when I really do kick my ass all the way, it feels so good.)

    Of course, for folks with different, less-lazy tendencies, it's a different battle. And totally, those days when working hard isn't what the numbers usually are are hard days, and we need to appreciate what we're doing day by day. Wise, wise words.

  5. In the endurance sport community, especially cycling and long course triathlon, people LOVE their gadgets! They're constantly posting downloads from their Garmins and PowerMeters onto their blogs for all to see!

    For me, that's all fine and good, but I use my gadgets for spot-checks only. If you come to rely on those numbers you lose your ability to trust your own body. And as you say, unless you're a professional athlete, it doesn't really matter all that much.

    How you feel is what will keep you lacing up your workout shoes year after year. Being a slave to your numbers won't. Unless you stand a chance of winning a major marathon, of course. Beaucoup bucks in that case, and yeah those are numbers to pay attention to! If I could make a hundred grand for less than 2.5 hours of running you bet I would!

  6. Great goals, bag lady! And actually, the effortometer gives really easy-to-understand readouts: "this kinda sucks" is what mine usually says.

    And welcome back missicat, good luck on your turkey day run!

    I hear a lot of great things about WW, and the 'real life' approach seems really sensible! And glad to hear you took your hamburgers etc in stride and were good the rest of the time.

    Jaime, thanks for providing the link--that's a great article. (And you don't sound lazy at all to me!)

    Bunnygirl--whoa, you can make a hundred K running a marathon? Hmmm, maybe with a few more gadgets I could think about... ah hell, who am I kidding, my knees are shot. But I could see getting a little numbers-obsessed with that much at stake!

  7. That was too sneaky. I never guessed it wasn't an actual machine until you said. I'm tired today though.

  8. Crabby,

    each day beside my regular stuff, I try to do something that is healthy for me and to not do something that is bad for me.

    As a "to do" when I take out the garbage, I sometimes walk around the block, My block is half mile around and I live on a hill.

    The "not to do" list usually involves not buying something in the grocery store.


  9. Jennifer, no wonder you're tired! Anyone who keeps 9 billion awesome blogs going while raising an amazing kid and being all socially conscious and getting exercise etc, etc, etc, must need some sleep sometimes!

    And Terrie, if you're doing more stuff every day on top of your 'regular' efforts, that's very impressive!

  10. Crabby, you rule. I often let myself get quite wrapped up in numbers and graphs and such...eventhough I know it doesn't really help me all that much... in fact, the numbers often get me down!

    Now, since I'm not training for anything in particular, I try to get in 5 good workouts a week, and the term 'good' is measured by my internal effort-meter. =)

  11. ThickChick--5 "good" workouts a week is my rule too! And I used to pay more attention to gadgets, but now I only take them seriously when they say what I want them to.

  12. So I should ignore that ridiculously high number on the scale that I just bought? Because I'd really, REALLY like to..

  13. I do use objective measurements -- check the forecast on cable the night before, plot out my distances using gMap Pedometer, watch my times with my trusty Timex Ironman, check the temperature and humidity with a wireless weather station (Radio Shack), occasionally check my pulse at the end of a run, weigh almost every morning after running, record most of the above on a Google spreadsheet and let the spreadsheet calculate pace, total for week/month/year, track shoe mileage. But, I also am learning to use my "effortometer" -- I change my route or skip it (rarely) if I didn't sleep enough or well enough, adjust my pace (some) if my legs are dead, and occasionally even shorten or lengthen my route depending on how I feel.


  14. I think mine is out of whack, I'd like to know where to buy a new one? I'm pretty sure retail therapy is good for me anyhow, so a new effortmeter at the same time ought to put me on the path to salvation!

    I enjoy running, so I have a goal to get out the door pretty much every day, even if I only walk I know I feel more balanced and energized.

  15. Great post!
    I read a post like this and think, "Great. Crabby's been fishing around in my brain again..."

    I like to think that I do ok. But then again, I know I've been way to frustrated with the scale too many times. It's a little tricky to have the right balance of effort and accountability.

    I think sometimes those "real" life checks can help you see and remember if you've snuck one too many treats or didn't really get to the gym, when you're effortometer might be more inclined to fib.

  16. Congrats on the mention in the December issue of "Women's Health"!

  17. Teena got here first! I was just visiting at Sister Skinny and popped over to say congratulations!!!

  18. Hilary, scales are widely known to be evil and unpredictable and they don't know the difference between, say, a healthy fruit salad and a fun sized snickers bar. So yeah, the heck with the scale.

    Wow, Bob, way to use the data! But sounds like you mix objective in with subjective which is really smart.

    Amanda, I think anyone whose internal sense of necessity gets them out for a daily run is doing great! But retail therapy is indeed a great reward.

    Katieo, good point about the fibbing--though you seem to be scrupulously honest from what I've seen! And yeah, the best solution is probably some combo of objective and subjective.

    Thanks Teena and Holly!
    I need to go pick up a copy just to prove to friends and relatives that this 'blog' thing I talk about incessantly actually exists!

  19. Congrats on the magazine! They're right to single you out. This really is a fantastic blog - you're a wonderful writer and I'm grateful for the inspiration and knowledge. And crabbiness. That's vital.

  20. Crabby,

    Not as impressive as it sounds. I am a writer and the first rule of writing is "sit butt in chair." so if I didn't PLAN to move I would atrophy in my computer chair with a half written mystery on the monitor screen.



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