May 30, 2008

Random Friday: death by chocolate milk & sundry oddities

[By Merry]

It's Friday!
I've survived this week without defenestrating a single project manager!
Life is good.

In fact, it's too good to post any scientific studies. You don't want to read those on a Friday, do you?
Oh, you do?
Okay then, just one.

We must be pretty smart, eh Crabby?

Apparently you have to have a fairly sophisticated brain to grasp sarcasm. A group of Israeli researchers published a study in the journal Neuropsychology, which states that "People who have trouble understanding sarcasm also have trouble understanding social cues, empathic response and emotion recognition."

I can understand that grasping sarcasm would require an effort by several different parts of the brain. The language areas of the left hemisphere deal with the literal meaning, areas of the frontal lobes and the right hemisphere handle intentions and emotional content, while a part of the brain known as the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex integrates the two. Still, it's a pretty complicated system when you stop to think about it.

The Israeli researchers wrote, “Understanding sarcasm requires both the ability to understand the speaker’s belief about the listener’s belief and the ability to identify emotions.” Apparently to understand sarcasm you have to be able to perform "sophisticated social thinking."

I like the idea of being thought sophisticated.

Especially if I can be sophisticated without having to wear uncomfortable shoes and chase after somebody named Mr. Big.

Sure they're pretty... to look at...

Death by Starbucks

Ever wonder if you're drinking too much coffee? This website, Death by Caffeine, figures out how much espresso, or cherry coke, or chocolate milk it would take to do you in. (Death by Chocolate Milk? Even Agatha Christie never thought of that one.)

The solution to the high price of gas?

I think this idea of a retro-fitted electric bike is really cool. If a fully electric car is not in the foreseeable future, this might be a solution. I mean, for around a thousand dollars, you can get a vehicle that goes up to 35 miles per hour. That's enough for getting around on a lot of city streets.

From the 'I don't believe it's making a comeback' department: useless exercise equipment

Yes, just when you thought it was safe to go to the gym, it's back. The vibrator machine! One of those machines that has a vibrating belt that is supposed to 'jiggle' all your fat away. It could be yours for a mere $4,900. Get one today before they're all gone!

I swear, I can't believe someone is selling these again. Or that anyone is buying one. Somebody must. (Note: if you really feel the need to buy one of these, I have this swampland in Florida that you're just going to love.)

From the 'Weird and Wacky Humor' department

A T-Shirt you probably shouldn't wear at work (unless you're a plumber):
Crack Kills.

This is another T-Shirt that made me smile, though I'm worried that not everyone might remember the reference.

Warning: play this video and you will be hearing this song All Day!

And finally, thanks to Boing Boing, there is this video. It's a wacky Thai commercial that seemed really bizarre to me.

May 29, 2008

Tortoises and Barbells

Or, Tips for Slackers on Keeping Up a Life-long Strength Training Program.

[By Crabby]

In the exercise world, let's say there are tortoises and there are hares.

The hares get insanely excited when they take up exercise, and they attack their challenging workouts with vigor and ambition. They enter races and break personal records and lift heavy weights and aspire to great things!

Fig. 2: Hares in their natural habitat.

Hares have high expectations and they work their (harey) butts off to achieve their goals... for a while. But sadly, many burn out or injure themselves within a few years. And after that? Well, exercise becomes something they "used to do."

The tortoises, on the other hand, are pleased with themselves for getting out the door and accomplishing anything at all. Even if it's a walk in the park or a few bent knee push-ups.

Figure 3: Migrating Adult Tortoises.

Yet these unambitious tortoises often keep exercising for year after year--ensuring themselves lifelong fitness, even if they may never break any records.

(Of course this is a dumb analogy, because there are couch spuds who never attempt anything at all, and there are tons of folks (the horsies?) who can sprint like the wind but also keep at it year after year. Many horsey-type overachievers actually read this blog, though God knows why. Anyway, it's easier to pretend there are just two kinds of people. Fables and blog posts work much better that way.)

It's my belief that over the long haul, it's better to be a tortoise than a hare. Those of you who came out as a Dan Dogged in Merry's exercise quiz may well agree with me.

I am particularly plodding and unambitious when it comes to strength training. I don't like it. I never have. I never will. But I know it's good for me, and I love the way I look and feel when I do it.

After a couple of false starts in my twenties, strength training finally stuck. It's been somewhere between 15 and 20 years now that I've been doing it, whining and bitching the entire time.

How could a Crabby Tortoise like me manage to keep it up for almost two decades?

(Thanks, TK for the image!)

Here are the things that have worked for me. Your mileage may vary, especially if you are not by nature a Tortoise:

1. Set laughably attainable goals.
After an initial year or so of respectable strength gains and even a bit of buffedness, I shifted my goal to this: attempt to maintain that level of strength every year until I croak. Now my fantasies (at least the ones I can print) may involve continued strength gains and looking like a female action hero from a Hollywood movie, but my goal is to just hang on to what I accomplished that first year.

Some things I actually do better now than I did then, but this is a bonus, not an expectation.

2. Aim for strength training three times a week--but admit that never happens and settle for two.
Or sometimes one. Or sometimes zero.

I don't freak out if vacations or injuries or a hectic schedule prevent me from staying on track for a few weeks. I just make myself drag my ass back to those weights. However, I do ratchet all the weights back a notch or two and work my way back slowly. Impatience, I've learned, just means hurting myself all over again.

Twice a week really does seem to be enough to hang on to the strength I have. For every layoff, there's usually an equal period of renewed dedication and thrice weekly sessions. Eventually, I always get back to baseline.

3. Avoid exercises I hate.
Sometimes, due to injury or lousy gym equipment options, I will have to incorporate an especially loathed exercise into my routine for a few months. Even if it's just one thing ("wall sits" are an example) I will start dreading my entire workout and start skipping out.

I've discovered that for me, it's better to quit doing one exercise than all of them. Eventually, I'll find a substitute. There is almost no yucky exercise that does not have a less yucky alternative, it just sometimes takes a while to find it.

4. Stick to One Set
I read some research a long time ago (which may be the study cited here) that said 3 sets doesn't help you much more than one does. Instead of adding more sets, just keep lifting heavier weights for better results.

Is it still true or has other research contradicted it? Guess what? I don't f*cking care! Three sets would make me three times as miserable working out. I have achieved the optimum level of miserableness already, thank you. Any more and I'd stop working out entirely.

There is one exception to the One Set rule however...

5. Have One "Fun" Goal

Since I mainly work on a maintenance program, I can get discouraged when I notice that I'm not ever actually getting better at anything. So sometimes I pick one or two things and put in some extra effort and make some progress! It's quite motivating. This may mean additional sets, though I usually then do a different variation of the exercise rather than the same damn thing over and over again.

Note: if I ever achieve an unassisted pull-up, I will certainly let you know.

6. Try new things... or not.
Variety is good, and I like to experiment with things I read about in magazines or on people's blogs. Particularly if they sound easy, or replace something I don't much like, or claim to prevent some injury I'm prone too.

On the other hand, I have certain exercises I almost like. Should I be trying different versions of them? Probably mixing it up would get me better results. But if I keep wanting to come back to my favorite way of doing it, then screw variety. I'd rather keep doing my favorite and hate my workout less.

What about you? Are you a tortoise or a hare or a spud or a horsie? What keeps you going year after year?

May 28, 2008

Submit a Recipe to Cranky Fitness!

[By Crabby]

Got a Healthy Recipe?

Alert readers of Cranky Fitness may have noticed that we rarely have recipes to share. And when we do, the sharing process tends to include more in the way of bad jokes and whining, and less in the way of helpful instructions for making a tasty meal.

So here's what we're thinking: perhaps readers might like do our work for us share some of their own culinary discoveries?

Please? We're getting really tired of frozen pizza and take-home rotisserie chicken.

What kind of recipes are best?
We are looking in particular for healthy, easy recipes. Recipes with 97 ingredients that use lots of fancy French terms like "en papillotte" or "court bouillon" might make awesome meals but they tend to mess with our heads and make us feel inadequate.

And while we realize that "healthy" has a variety of interpretations, recipes that include huge quantities of sugar, white flour, lard, salt, butter, and bacon will be less favored than recipes that somehow make whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean forms of protein seem tasty and appealing.

Is there financial compensation?
Alas, no. If you have a blog or a favorite website you'd like to promote, we will be happy to include a link to it in your recipe post. You'll also have our most sincere and enthusiastic gratitude for your contribution!

But Beware:
These recipe posts may be published in a haphazard manner, perhaps in addition to another post on the same day. They could appear on a weekend, or be ignored entirely for months and months and then suddenly pop up long after you've forgotten you submitted it. So please do NOT send in a recipe if you have an emotional attachment to seeing it on the pages of Cranky Fitness in any kind of timely manner.

Not Dissuaded Yet?
Hooray! Because we'd love to hear about what you cook and eat and get some new ideas to share with everyone.

What if I don't have a recipe--Are you still taking other sorts of guest posts?
Yes, we are also still open to general guest post submissions too! Though unfortunately, as with the recipes, we can't guarantee we will publish all of them (and we know they're a pain to write.)

What we especially love: posts around 750 words or less on a health or fitness topic that are kinda funny and haven't been published before. Short videos are cool too since we've never gotten it together to do any of our own. These can be instructional or funny--of course both at once is awesome.

Feeling brave and generous and energetic? Please email your recipe or guest blog post submission to Crabby McSlacker @ gmail . com, all one word.


Rules of the Road Runner

Rules of the road from the driver's P.O.V.

Rule #1 - Merry's vehicle has the right of way at all times. (This rule, for some reason, has not yet been universally adopted. But I am hopeful.)
Rule #2 - Bicycles, joggers, and inline skaters should just get out of the way right now, thankyouverymuch. (Not my personal rule, but one I've observed many times.)
Rule #3 - When you're not sure if there's room to pass the cyclist/jogger/skater, rather than slow down and wait until it's safe to pass, go past them very, very, very quickly. (That rule always bugs me. If you're not sure it's safe, you want to pass quickly so that you'll be far down the road when the ambulance comes?)

Rules of the road from the cyclist's P.O.V.
Rule #1 - Merry's bicycle has the right of way at all times. Except when a driver is on a cell phone. Or when the rules of the road give someone else the right of way.
Rule #2 - When another cyclist starts to pass you, be sure to speed up until the impudent upstart has learned their place and drops back behind you.
Rule #3 - If you get a flat tire, stand by the side of the road and look helpless. Some man will stop and change the flat for you. (This rule is generally applicable to the female of the species. Luckily, there are a lot more men on bicycles in the middle-of-nowhere, 'cause most women would tell me to fix it myself.)

Rules of the road from the runner's P.O.V.
Rule #1 - Don't snigger too loudly when passing Merry on the jogging trail
Rule #2 - If someone starts to pass you, be sure to speed up until the impudent upstart has learned their place and drops back behind you. If you feel like your heart is going to leap out of your body, stop to make sure your shoe laces aren't untied. Catch your breath while waiting for the upstart to go around the curve up ahead.
Rule #3 -
.... wait a minute,

Oh all right, I know I need to put up a third R of the R. It's not my fault.

I got distracted.

Graph Jams: pop culture for people in cubicles

And by:
Daily jigsaw puzzle

And by:
An online self-designed kaleidoscope (Dangerous. Easy to get sucked into wasting time with this.)

I know it's not Friday yet. The plain fact is that my brain still thinks it's the weekend. Does anyone have any idea what the third Rule of the Road for Runners is? Please leave a comment if I left out any others, too.

On the bright side, Crabby's blogging tomorrow, and she's got some good stuff lined up.

May 27, 2008

Fearin' The Flames

[By Crabby]

Memorial Day has come and gone. It's now official (at least in the U.S.): Barbecue Season Has Begun!

This is generally seen as a good thing.

Many Americans enjoy grilled food.

Yes, this is the time of year when 98% of the population says "Yippeeee! Let's fire up the coals and cook us some delicious burgers/dogs/chicken/tofu-veggie kabobs/ostrich patties!"

The other 2% of us? We're the carnivores who love barbecued meat but worry about the HCA's and PAH's.

What are HCA's and PAH's, you might ask?

They're carcinogens. They form when you grill meat. Well-done red meat is particularly problematic.

Carcinogens? Oh dear.

What's the point of stuffing ourselves with boatloads of all those virtuous anti-cancer foods if we're going to cancel out all that virtue with a simple backyard barbecued burger?

All for nothing? Dang!

But I have to confess I LOVE the taste of cancer-burgers and cancer-dogs and cancer-chicken and cancer-steaks. And the mouth-watering smell... How are we meat-eaters supposed to resist that char-grilled aroma when it's hard-wired into our cave-woman and cave-man brains?

(Sorry, all you vegetarians and vegans. But I'm guessing you were long gone at the first sight of that burger picture).

How to deal with this summertime dilemma?

My Previous Barbecue Strategy:

1. Try to limit barbecuing to when we are (a) camping or (b) having company. (Despite the fact that The Lobster* is an excellent and enthusiastic griller of meats).

(*The Lobster=My Significant Other, for those who are new here).

2. When the Lobster is finally permitted to fire up the grill, mention repeatedly at the grocery store (in a whiny voice) that barbecued meats cause cancer. Sigh when approaching the meat counter.

3. Announce that while everyone else might be having steak or burgers, I will make myself have a garden burger or a slab of tofu or a veggie kebab instead. Or maybe at least choose chicken or fish.

4. Think about it some more.

5. Guiltily throw an extra package of burgers and/or steaks into the shopping cart.

6. Once the Evil Meat is cooked, have seconds because it tastes so damn good.

Admittedly, not a particularly effective strategy.

Good thing it turns out there are other ways besides guilt and whining to deal with the grilled meats issue. Who knew? (Well, lots of people apparently, since some of these studies are at least a year old.)

Better Barbecuing Strategies:

1. Marinade! Even a few minutes helps get rid of a whole bunch of the nasty carcinogens, and grocery store dry mixes are apparently fine. This marinade study found marinading reduces HCA's by 87%. The level of reduced HCA's seemed to correlate to the amount of antioxidants present in the marinades.

"The marinade containing rosemary and thyme had the greatest effect on reducing HCAs, but two other marinades with different herbs seasonings were tested and found to be almost as effective. The rosemary/thyme marinade also contained pepper, allspice and salt. Another marinade included oregano, thyme, garlic and onion. A third marinade had oregano, garlic, basil, onion and parsley."

2. Choose wisely: the American Institute of Cancer Research says the grilling of meat is only a small part of the problem--it's what we grill that's getting us in trouble. Because of the link to colorectal cancer, they recommend we limit red meat to 18 ounces a week and avoid processed meats entirely.

3. Pre-cook in the microwave. Then toss out the juice, where a lot of the carcinogens are hiding.

4. Select small cuts of meat, like kebabs.

5. Choose lean cuts of meat and avoid fat dripping on the coals and causing flare-ups.

6. Flip Frequently.

Um, I meant flip the meat.

7. Avoid really high heat: Use a gas grill, or if using charcoal, don't cook meat too close to the coals

8. Don't Cook the Hell out of It. This one doesn't bother me, as I'm a medium-rare kinda gal, but those of you who like your red meat dry and brown and tasteless well done should probably indulge in grilling only "rarely," (so to speak).

So what do you folks do about the 'Q? Just sensible gourmet veggie kebabs, or do you grill up burgers and dogs every chance you get?

May 23, 2008

Lazy Friday

[By Crabby]

The Crab is taking a day or two off (from what, you may well ask), and rather than just hang up a "Gone Fishing" sign, it seemed only sporting to direct you elsewhere. We know you can always use more blogs to visit to avoid getting any work done health and fitness resources on the net.

Most of you are probably ahead of me on this--how the heck did I not discover the awesomeness that is The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl sooner? Like Pasta Queen, (whom we interviewed recently), Diet Girl is hilarious and half the size she used to be. (Another thing she has in common with PQ is she has written a book! I am so jealous. Let's see, first I'll lose half my weight and then get a book contract...hmm).

Coincidentally, one of Diet Girl's posts reminded me of another awesome blog that you should check out if you're not already a regular: Limes and Lycopene. The post that Diet Girl spotted on small impediments to healthy eating is so Crabby McSlacker! Except for the part where Kathryn stops being lazy and figures out a simple solution to her stirfryaphobia. And for vegetarians, she's got a great series of posts on how to get enough iron.

Ready for the worst segue in the history of blogging?

Speaking of Iron, you know how serious weight-lifter people always seem to use free weights instead of machines? And not only that, but they get very judgmental towards those of us who don't necessarily wanna use free weights?

Well, if you're trying to decide which to use, there's an incredibly helpful resource over at 60 in 30 comparing the benefits of free weights versus machines. And it's not the least bit condescending towards people who use machines or mix and match! Check it out.

Have a Great Long Weekend if You Get One!

May 22, 2008

What type of runner are you?

[By Merry]

Since it’s the day before the Friday before a holiday weekend (at least it is in my neck of the woods), we thought this would be the perfect time to throw out a quiz. (Because right now we don’t have an attention span long enough to scour the medical journals for the latest fitness news and stuff like that.)

Not sure how you fit into the world of running fitness? Take this handy quiz and become even more confused find out!

(And if you're not a runner? 90% of the quiz is equally applicable to people who walk, bicycle, kick boxes, etc. Besides, you've been working hard! You need a break. Tell your boss I said it was okay.)

Do you:
a) Run whenever you can fit it into the schedule, whatever
b) Run last thing at night because you promised you’d run today and the day’s not ended until midnight, damn it
c) Run first thing in the morning to make sure you don’t miss it
d)Run first thing in the morning because you can’t stand the thought of going more than 8 hours without giving those pearl izumis a workout

Would you rather have:
a) a hammock and a lifetime supply of beer
b) an all-expense-paid week at a luxurious spa
c) a new pair of running shoes that fit you like a dream
d) a run where you pass the fastest runners in the world

Your approach to tracking your progress is to:
a) plan to plan a running schedule, but never actually get around to doing it
b) reward yourself for each goal met
c) track your mileage to see how much you’ve improved
d) note down each time you beat your own personal record

If a fairy godmother were to grant you one wish, would you choose:
a) to be incredibly popular
b) to be extremely fit
c) to be able to run without ever getting hurt
d) to get better the older you get
e) just kidding – there is no e) answer. Pick one of the four above. Sorry.

If your house were on fire, what would you do?
a) Grab the significant other, the kids, the dog, and the dog’s pet goldfish
b) You’ve done enough fire drills with the family so that everyone knows what to do, which means you have time to grab your PDA
c) Grab the significant other, the kids, the dog, the dog’s pet goldfish, and your iPod
d) Hey, the s.o. will grab the kids, and the dog can carry the goldfish bowl – you should make sure about your new pearl izumis!

Count up the number of a, b, c, and d answers.

Types of runners:

If you responded with mostly a) answers, then your type of runner is:
Syndee Sloth
You're about as interested in being a runner as Britney Spears is in being an underwear model. You’ve perfectly happy with putting off running as much as possible, and catching up on your television watching instead. If everybody else is running, then yeah, you’ll run too. Or jog, anyway. Half-heartedly. Have you ever considered taking up bowling instead? Life’s too short to do something you’re really not into.

If you responded with mostly b) answers, then your type of runner is:

Dan Dogged
You aren’t so much disciplined as you are stubborn. You like the way you feel after a run, even if you don’t enjoy the running itself. If there were a way to get fit and feel good without running, you’d take it. But until you find another way, you’re going to stay fit by gritting your teeth and pounding the pavement.

If you responded with mostly c) answers, then your type of runner is:

Rhoda Runner
You run for the love of running, but you’re not interested in competition. You’re in it for the long haul, are lean but not mean, and will keep running until your knees give out.

If you responded with mostly d) answers, then your type of runner is:
Jack Rabbit
You are an eager beager, can’t wait to run. Can’t bother with jogging, you go for the thrill, go for the kill, you are the epitome of a Pearl Izumi ad runner.

How did you do? I must confess I'm hanging my head in shame ... move over Syndee...

May 21, 2008

Love, Hate, and iTunes

[By Crabby]

Here is a sad story:

A couple weeks ago, I biked to the beach to go for a run. For several days, there'd been a large pod of rare Right whales just off the coast. And I was in luck, there were three of them just offshore! The beach was empty first thing in the morning and it was just me and three whales. I was psyched.

But then I reached into my pocket and discovered I'd forgotten my iPod. I nearly burst into tears.

My run was ruined.

(Sure, the whales helped--they were awesome. But I still spent most of my run sulking over the fact I had no music).

Hello, my name is Crabby McSlacker and I have an iTunes addiction. Are there any fellow addicts out there who can no longer do aerobic exercise without music?

Most of the time, it's not a problem. Like when I remember to bring the iPod and the battery is charged and I have a playlist full of good tunes, life is good. Exercise becomes far less of a chore--and is sometimes even fun.

And hey, exercising to music is good for you!

However, due to my technological stupidity and a certain amount of Evilness lurking behind the cheerful exterior of the iTunes Empire, often things go wrong.

(Not everyone has problems. My current difficulties come from trying to move my iTunes library over and over--from laptop computer to desktop computer to new laptop computer to new external hard drive, etc. It also didn't help that I bought a new iPod, even though I had to to replace a satanic one that used to spontaneously change languages and play all sorts of other pranks.)

I had originally thought for this post I might put my whole exercise library of Eight Awesome Workout Playlists (sorted alphabeticially by song title, for maximum randomness) up on iMix for everyone to laugh at check out. I even managed to publish the first one, but it turned out crappy because I forgot to delete the songs off it that I didn't like myself. I set out to do a much better job on the next seven... and that's when iTunes turned stupid and mean.

It decided it couldn't find any of my songs anymore.

"Hey iTunes," I said, calmly, "the songs you are looking for are are right here. Remember? I told you I moved them to an external drive. Recognize them, please? There are 300 songs and I paid you for all of them."

"Songs? What songs? I see nothing but exclamation marks."

"Right here! You knew where they were five minutes ago, and I haven't moved them!"

"Songs? Nope. Sorry! Can't find 'em anymore. But hey, if you need tunes so bad, you can always get your butt over to our iTunes store and buy 300 more."

When it's Crabby vs iTunes, it's not an even match.

So half a day and many attempts at fixes later, I still can't get the library working again--which means I can still play things off my own iPod, but I can't share playlists.

Which is just as well because you'd hate the songs. Other people's favorite workout music always seems surprisingly sucky.

So I have to apologize again to all the googlers who come to Cranky Fitness looking for "workout music" or "exercise iTunes playlists" or "best iPod cardio tunes" or "aerobic iTunes suggestions" or whatever--and just get a lecture on how everyone has different tastes so go look somewhere else.

One way to do it: go to iTunes or your own favorite retailer, and search people's shared playlists until you find music that doesn't make you barf.

At iTunes, you can go to the regular iMix section and search for "cardio" or "spinning" or "aerobic" etc. There is also now a special section called Nike Sports Mixes. It's not just corporate stuff, there's a section that includes workout iMixes made up by real people--real people who know how to get to their own music libraries and share playlists.

Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with their exercise music technology? Or any awesome suggestions for workout music we can disagree over?

(Note: For alert readers who noticed that today's post was exceptionally lame, there's a reason: the Crab and Lobster have house guests this week. Crabby's posts should return to the more accustomed level of lameness next week. There may or not be Time Off involved--we'll see. Thank God for Merry and for patient readers!)

May 20, 2008

The Annual Cranky Fitness Exercise Review

[By Merry]

It's spring, people are starting to think less about shoveling snow and more about exercising for fun. It's time for the first annual exercise review.

Not sure which exercise is for you? The experts at Cranky Fitness have reviewed some of the most popular forms of exercise. But their answers were boring and informative, so I gave them the boot and did the review myself.

Pro: Good for people who have joint problems.
Con: People will see you wearing a bathing suit.
Tip: When purchasing swim goggles, find a pair that comes with thick black frames and a false nose, so no one will recognize you.

Did you spot the one person in this flickr photo NOT wearing the glasses?

Kick boxing
Pro: Supposed to get you into shape quickly.
Con: Requires good shoes and a box.
Tip: Before you kick the box, make sure it has not been filled with books, big heavy rocks, or nitroglycerin.

Outdoor bicycling
Pro: Good for people who have weight-bearing issues.
Con: Lack of front and side airbags is a real drawback.
Tip: Wearing a helmet is very, very smart.
See? Wearing a helmet makes people happy.

Indoor (stationary) bicycling
Pro: You don’t have to worry about cars.
Con: You do have to worry about going insane from boredom, plus the stationary bicycle design was lifted from an old idea first developed by the Spanish Inquisition.
Tip: Wearing a helmet will scare people off, so you won’t have to bother with making conversation.

Pro: So easy, even a toddler can do it!
Con: There are a lot of toddlers out there; you might trip over one. Watch out.
Tip: If walking is too non-strenuous, try race-walking. You get more exercise, plus you will provide innocent merriment for passersby.


Pro: Great aerobic conditioning.
Con: Who cares? You’re puffing like a steam engine and some little old lady in a walker is passing you!
Tip: If new to running, make sure to avoid running near nursing homes, day care centers, and other places where being passed would prove especially humiliating.

They both look ready to kick my butt...

It doesn’t matter which form of exercise you choose so long as you keep moving. You know that. I know that. I know you know that… I’d better stop before I get even more confused. All this terrific* advice notwithstanding**, what is your favorite form of exercise?

(Um... that you can talk about in public.)

* Oh, humor me, would ya?

** I try to throw in the occasional polysyllabic word in a post; I like to think it adds a bit of class and culture to the blog, and maybe even impresses Crabby.

May 19, 2008

Secret to Success Revealed!

[By Crabby]

[Photo credit: Plan 59]

Here at Cranky Fitness, we're all about revealing those Secret Sneaky Tricks that successful folks use to achieve their goals. True, after a big fat buildup, these "secrets" and "tricks" always turn out to be the same old boring stuff you've heard a thousand times before--but by the time you realize that, you're already halfway down the page!

(And lets face it: it's harder to get people to read blog posts called "Yep, It's That Same Old Self-Help Crap You Know Already.")

So what's today's Magical Solution to your health and fitness and life struggles?

(Is it a pill? Please? A nice cheap pill I can order online?)

Sorry, no.

It's just this simple advice:

Think About The Consequences of Your Actions and Make Conscious Choices About What You Do.

Isn't that a great idea? Can you imagine how much more successful you'd be if you did that?

Gosh, thanks Crabby. I'll keep that in mind.

Yeah, it is kinda obvious. Even if few people actually do it. Perhaps we need a catchier name?

How else can we turn the obvious into a series of self-help books and lucrative seminars? (Hmm, seminars--in Hawaii, say? Or the Caribbean...? Right on the ocean, with a four-star restaurant and a luxury spa and snorkeling and stuff? )

Sorry, what was I saying?

A catchier name, right!

So our new Miracle Fitness Solution? Let's call it:


(Uh oh, maybe we didn't choose too carefully ourselves. Apparently someone has already copyrighted this name. But it's just some "legal services" company. Screw them. What are they going to do, sue us?)

So why do you need to ChooseCarefully?©

Because most dumb decisions happen when we pretend we aren't actually "making" decisions at all. We just do stuff or we don't do stuff--and then we pretend that if we don't think about consequences, there are none.

People who are successful at losing weight or writing books or climbing the corporate ladder or running marathons? They recognize that the decisions they make everyday are important, so they make them consciously.

So how to stop floating around and start deciding? Here are some tips to on how to ChooseCarefully©:

1. Create Opportunities To Make the Right Decision

This is a hard habit to learn, but is worth training yourself to do it. Buy yourself time before giving in to temptation.

Get in the habit of waiting, even if it's only a minute or two, between a tentative impulse to give in, and actually doing something there's a good chance you'll regret.

So if a simple "no I don't need that brownie," isn't working, then tell yourself: "Well, maybe I do need it, but not yet. First I'll go get a drink of water, and then check my email, and then maybe stretch my hamstrings, and then I'll decide if I really want it I can have it. At least some of the time, you may actually change your mind and talk yourself back out of it.

Note: If it's a Big Decision, like whether to have plastic surgery, or buy an expensive sports car, or marry some guy who's really sweet, deep down, just misunderstood so he acts crazy sometimes, then you may need to buy yourself more than a few minutes.

Mom, I swear You'll Learn to Like Him!

2. Visualize Consequences.

This another obvious but effective trick when you remember to do it. Tempted to skip your workout? Don't just ask yourself "do I want to go to the gym now?" Because of course the answer is "hell no!"

Instead, ask: do I want to try to fit in an extra workout later in the week? Will I feel like it more then? How do I feel after a few missed workouts? Do I really want to lose momentum and feel guilty and like crap? How virtuous will I feel afterwards if I just suck it up and exercise?

When considering a big-ass bowl of super-premium ice cream, do you ask whether it's worth an extra five to ten miles on the treadmill in addition to what you normally do? If you eat it, will you feel satisfied or will you still want another bowl of ice cream when the first bowl is gone?

Successful people ask themselves questions like this all the time. (They don't always get the answer right, because imperfection is inevitable and even necessary. The trick is to never stop asking).

3. Little Decisions Add Up

Merry had a great post about this, but it bears repeating.

Suppose you have a very cherished but challenging goal, like saving money for a house. You may realize, theoretically, that it's going to take a lot of effort, but do you make all the small decisions you need to in order to get there?

Because you'll never get there if you forget the house whenever you're faced with an amazing expensive pair of shoes or an evening at a Chi-Chi bar where cocktails are $15.

Too many people won't acknowledge that life is about Trade-Offs. You don't get to have everything. Pretending this isn't true can mean losing your house or your education or your financial security to a steady supply of designer clothes and Starbucks Frappucinos.

4. Not to Decide is to Decide

If you often think wistfully, "I'd love to take a karate class someday" or "I bet I'd be good at selling real estate" or "I'm lonely and could use more friends and there's this knitting class that meets on Thursdays" but instead of doing anything you sit and watch television every night instead?

Well, guess what: you are deciding that you'd rather watch tv than learn karate or get a real estate license or have friends.

These sort of decisions don't feel like decisions, though--partly because if we really put any thought into it, we'd never make them. Would we really squander our precious time on earth doing things like checking our blog stats every ten minutes or watching four consecutive hours of Law and Order reruns?

(And Jen at Semicharmed Wife had a great example of making this process conscious in her blog. "I know I said I’d work on my short story today," she wrote, "but I feel like I deserve to read gossip blogs for an hour instead of working on my life’s dream.")

5. Still Making Dumb Decisions? Shrink Yourself!

No, not physically. Psychologically. Better yet, if you can afford an actual shrink, go see one. They get paid to do this because some of them are actually good at it.

Because if you're making a lot of bad decisions, maybe it's not just a question of willpower. You may have one conscious agenda ("to eat healthier and get in shape!") and a whole different unconscious one ("to never, ever feel deprived," "to distract myself from my feelings," "to stay invisible" or whatever).

Here's where it's helpful to look at patterns. In what situations do your actions typically contradict your intentions? Do you always overeat after a visit with your mother? Do you overspend when you're angry? You may be telling yourself all kinds of silly things to encourage these self-defeating behaviors, and it's helpful to learn how to tune into these conversations. Once you can hear what you're telling yourself, you can start questioning some of the idiotic things you carry around in your head-- so you can ChooseCarefully© instead!

So this is just the first five of a list that's probably at least 100 items long. But, well, this post has run long enough and Cranky Fitness isn't going anywhere. We can talk about the other 95 later on... perhaps someday at a sunny self-help seminar at a fancy resort!

Plus, many of you Smart Readers have much better suggestions about how to make conscious choices about important things rather than flailing around. So if you do, please share!

May 16, 2008

Advice for Grumpy Office Workers

This is a Special Guest Post, Hooray!

It's by Ali Hale of
The Office Diet. Have you visited there yet? It's a great resource for busy full-time office workers who still have the nerve to want to stay healthy. There are all kinds of sneaky tips and recipes and such. (Plus, she's funny!) Ali is also a contributor to Diet Blog.

How to Keep Healthy and Stay Sane if you’re a Grumpy Office Worker

Nothing induces crankiness quite like being stuck behind a desk all day, in a room full of people whose presence you’re indifferent about at best, doing a job that makes you seriously consider whether watching kettles boil and paint dry would be more stimulating

Welcome to the world of Grumpy Office Workers, who face various challenges in maintaining some semblance of health and fitness in an environment tailor-made for comfort-biscuit-scoffing and slumping in front of a computer screen for eight hours straight.

The real world came as a cruel shock to me after a degree in English literature (when nine am was deemed “really early”, afternoon naps were almost mandatory and lectures were optional.) After a year and a half in tech support I am almost ready to throttle the next person who can’t use a ‘Forgotten password’ button have just about figured out some ways to manage a (mostly) healthy diet and vague stab at fitness.

Escaping from your desk – move those legs!

If, when you stand up, you see dazzled spots dancing before your eyes, and your legs wobble, you just might have been sitting still for too long. The routinely ignored advice for computer-facing workers is to take a break every hour. Boring, right? But it’s a good excuse to slack off, wander around for a natter with a colleague, and accomplish the twin goals of “being the most popular person in the office” and “being the thinnest” by offering round cakes (see below).

You may suspect that your boss will be irked by seeing you meandering around in an un-busy sort of way. In this case, I suggest briskly striding up and down the corridors with a determined gleam in your eye, as though heading off on some company-crucial mission.

And as a side benefit, you actually fit in some activity that doesn’t feel like exercise. Bonus.

Insist on your full lunch hour and get away from your desk

When lunchtime finally rolls around, many Grumpy Office Workers want nothing more than a decent sandwich and a chance to chortle over Crabby and Merry’s latest post without having to constantly Alt-Tab at the sound of the boss’s footsteps.

However, spending your lunch hour at your desk guarantees a successive stream of clueless co-workers asking “Do you remember where we put the Very Important File?”, “Have you got a few minutes to spare today to fit in a teeny weeny extra task?” and “Is that the third cookie you’ve eaten today?” The second-best answer to such questions starts with N, ends with O, and has two letters. (The best starts with F and ends with Off....)

Rather than lingering at your desk, like the smell from your colleague’s egg sandwich, drag yourself out of the building at lunchtime. Escape to the quiet forest, the green hills, the peaceful lakes … or if, like most Grumpy Office Workers, your surroundings consist of the local high street, escape to the gym.

Yes, I get a nice intense half-hour workout in, and yes, I go back to the office feeling totally de-stressed (until I fire up Outlook again) – but the real reason I am known as the company’s “gym bunny” is because it’s darn peaceful there. No-one from the office has ever bothered trekking to the gym to accost me on a treadmill and ask an “urgent” question.

Cookies, cakes, chocolate and other office goodies

There’s something about free food, especially free fat-and-sugar-laden food that makes it nigh on impossible to resist. Even when it’s the stale cookies left over from yesterday’s meeting, the dubious looking sweets that someone’s brought back from holiday, or the gooey chocolatey Easter cupcakes dotted with mini eggs……wait. That last one was me.

Because my advice here is not “practise some restraint and ask yourself if you really want that sorry excuse for a treat” but instead “fatten up all your colleagues by taking in gorgeous baked goods to sabotage their diets.” You might still be chubby, but they’ll be even bigger: so what if you have to resort to somewhat sneaky means to be the slimmest in the office?

Dear California Supreme Court

(photo credit: kikashi)

You did the right thing.

Awesome. Brave. Much Appreciated.

'K Thanks!

Your New BFF's,

Crabby & The Lobster

May 15, 2008

Trash Talking & John Stuart Mill

[By Merry]

Those bloggers are at it again.

Workout Mommy posted different categories of people who adopt a non-supportive role towards your fitness goals. (I love it that this post was inspired itself by Charlotte's post about Sabotage and how catty some people can get when they want to bring you down to their level.)

Damn both of them -- they got me thinking. (I hate it when people do that to me.) What do you do when other people try to drag you down? And what do you do when it's not other people who are bringing you down, but yourself?

Great Theories from D.W.M.s
John Stuart Mill, and a bunch of other 18th and 19th century dead white males philosophers, held the belief that the child at birth is a blank slate. Only, being philosophers, they had to fancy it up by phrasing it in Latin, tabula rasa. According to Mill, your personality and behavior are determined by sensory experience, by sights and sounds from the outside world.

Great Theories from DVDs
I have a mini-theory that when you go to sleep, when your conscious mind clocks out for the day and your subconscious takes control of the night shift, you create a relatively blank slate.

Unlike Mill and the philosophers, I'm not basing this on years spent pondering deep issues in dusty libraries. Rather, I'm basing this on my years spent watching television. Ever fall asleep with the TV on? I don't do that so much now, but for years I'd wake up, after a dream of hair care products or great real estate investments, to find that while I slept a late-night TV show was pouring an informercial into my subconscious. Next time I fall asleep with the TV on, I’m going to make sure there’s an educational DVD in the machine. (Maybe one about great philosophers.)

In either case, I think these Great Theories have some validity. The subconscious mind often acts as a sponge, soaking up all the things that it hears over and over again and then repeating them back to you.

Trash talking to yourself?

Hypnosis, which is used to help people stop smoking or change other behaviors, tries to get past your conscious defenses and directly influence your subconscious. Methinks it works the same with things people tell you repeatedly in everyday life. Subtle insinuations that you’re Not Quite Good Enough will bring you down. Even if these insinuations are coming from that little voice in the back of your head.

An example: a few months ago I had to spend a week with a relative who's steadily grown more negative and nasty the older she gets. One day we went out to lunch. When we walked out to the car together, I pressed the Unlock button on the car's remote device, and nothing happened. The relative snatched the remote from my hand, said "what country are you from?" and tried it herself. When nothing still happened, she didn't apologize, she merely used the key to unlock the car.

After a week of incidents like that, all about how stupid I was, I found myself starting to say it first, just to stop her from saying it. A form of self-protection, as it were, but it was a hard habit to shake off when the week was over and I went back to my regular life. Hearing something repeated over and over was enough for my mind to make it into a recording that the little voice would then play back. I was stuck in a negative groove of trash talk.

Doggone it, people like me!

Next time I’m in a situation where someone’s trying to tell me how stupid (worthless/lazy/inept/insert adjective here) I am, I’m going to fight back. No, not physically. Not even out loud. Arguing with someone that negative is like riding a rocking horse – you never get anywhere.

Whatever the source, even if it’s a negative thought that comes from within, I’m going to counteract it by telling myself positive things. Something along the lines of Stuart Smalley saying ‘… and doggone it, people like me!’ Except meant seriously.

I don’t care if that’s simply a case of countering pointless negativity with pointless positivity. Positive assertions have at least as much validity as the negative ones, plus they’re a lot nicer company to have rattling around in your head.

Don’t try to reason with your subconscious; you can’t counteract negativity with logic. The negative thoughts bring too much emotional baggage with them. It’s like trying to reason with a very young, very tired child. Wah. Don’ wanna hear about dead white males talking dead Romance languages. Wanna lollipop.

Believe it or not, a positive fact about the phone company

There is a twist on this method that some people use to avoid thinking about something. Your brain can only hold so much information at one time. Supposedly, the reason that phone numbers in America were designed to be seven digits is most people can only hold on to seven thoughts at one time. If you think of an eighth thought, one of the others drops out of your immediate consciousness. (And then you usually going around thinking ‘now what was it that I forgot?’)

You can make use of this tendency to get rid of self-trash talk. To distract yourself from an unwanted thought, think of seven different things instead, as fast as you can. Try counteracting the negative thought with seven positive ones, no matter what they are. It works!

Don’t worry. Be perky happy.

Don’t worry about becoming too annoyingly perky using this approach. If inertia doesn’t restrain you, other people will. With straitjackets, if necessary. Excessively cheerful people are as annoying as excessively negative ones. And negativity has its uses. When the cavemen encountered a saber tooth tiger, the positive one probably stood there and said “Oh, what pretty fur. I bet that’s just a play growl. Isn’t it cute the way it lashes its tail like that?” while the negative caveman ran away. It’s not always a bad thing to be negative, but it’s entirely too damn easy to let it become automatic. What I’m trying to fight is meaningless negativity.

How do you respond to trash talk? Does it ever hold you back from doing something you wanted to do?

I'm curious to hear what you think. I started to write this post a few days ago, but I stopped because the little voice in the back of my head said it sounded too stupid. Sometimes the little voice in the back of your head is talking negatively for a reason, but sometimes it isn't. (I don’t know why the l.v. is so concerned with me making a fool of myself. If I write up a post of incredibly silly fluff, as I have in the past, it just sits back in satisfaction and says “yep, I knew you were going to do that.”) And then I remembered this quote:

When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap. -Cynthia Heimel

Screw you, little-voice-in-the-back-of-my-head. I'm going to push the button marked Publish.

Quick, somebody! What are the names of the Seven Dwarfs?

[Etching of John Stuart Mill courtesy of flickr, as indeed was the cartoon.]

May 14, 2008

Chicken Soup

[By Crabby]

(Crabby's Secret Family Recipes. Why yes, they are all blank!)

Who says we never do recipes here at Cranky Fitness?

OK, we don't. Not unless it's a guest post. But just because Crabby doesn't cook all that often, why should we let foodie blogs like Noshtopia or creative cooks like Roni or Gena have all the fun?

Crabby's Chicken Soup Recipe

1. Take out a sharpened knife, find one of these and....

Grawwwk! Get the f*ck away from me!

Never mind. Just kidding.

Of course we would never kill an innocent bird for our dinner. Personally.

Let's just pretend that grocery store chickens were never actually alive in the first place, shall we?

2. Go to the store and buy one of those fancy expensive free-range organic healthy chickens and...


All sold out. We waited too long. Plus it's getting late and we're hungry.

Hmm, what's that wonderful smell? What about one of those grocery store ready-to-eat rotisserie chickens pumped up with who-knows-what-kind-of-chemicals?

Mmmm, sounds great!

3. Pair rotisserie chicken with a salad and call it dinner.

4. Allow guilt to simmer overnight. (What's wrong with us? Why don't we ever make anything from scratch anymore?)

(Did you know simmering guilt tastes almost exactly like chicken?)

5. Go back to the store the next day and buy vegetables. For example: onions, cute little blue potatoes, green beans, zucchini, carrots. No celery because we hate celery.

6. Take rotisserie chicken leftovers out of the refrigerator (or go buy a new one if there's none left). Peel off excess skin, break up carcass a bit and throw carcass into big pan of water.

7. Chop up onions.

8. Cry.

(Onions: way cheaper than therapy.)

9. Throw onions in with chicken.

10. Boil the hell out of chicken and onions until house is smelly and every window is steamy. Maybe an hour or two.

11. Haul chicken back out, and remove bones and cartilage and icky leftover bits of skin. Curse the little tiny bones in the spine that break up and hide in the bottom of the pot. Hope, with little confidence, that you fished them all out.

12. Throw chicken meat back in the pot and add the rest of chopped vegetables.

13. Add more water as necessary and continue to boil the hell out of the chicken and vegetables until the whole thing starts to taste less like chicken water and more like soup.

14. Consider straining but remember that you still haven't bought a strainer so what the hell. No one in the household has died (yet) from the extra chicken fat or those sneaky little bones.

15. Salt and pepper to taste.

16. Realize after smelling and sampling the stuff for hours and you don't even feel like chicken soup anymore.

17. Refrigerate soup and call for pizza delivery.

18. Let guilt simmer again over night. It's better when the flavors have had a chance to marry.

19. The next night, have soup! Feel smug. You cooked!

May 13, 2008

Who says size doesn't matter?

[By Merry]

"I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood." - Susan B. Anthony 1896

I've been reading a lot about the importance of good running shoes. But I haven't seen anyone writing about the importance of buying the right size bicycle. Just because you're not pounding it into the ground with your feet doesn't mean you shouldn't care. If you're into cycling at all, you're going to be spending a lot more time with your bicycle than you will with your running shoes.

Men and women both have different problems with badly fitted bicycles, but the most common problem for both sexes, among people who only ride occasionally, is the distance from the seat to the pavement. It's almost invariably too low.

Most people who start out riding sit on the bike like they were, to quote one cyclist, 'about to go to the toilet.' Basically people squat on the bike. The feet can reach the ground without having to tilt the bike to one side or another, but it puts more strain on the knees.

There have been a lot of studies about the effect of cycling on men, especially with regards to male fertility. You don't hear much about the effects of cycling on women. If you're a woman you sure feel them, but there aren't a lot of studies out there on the subject.

It's true there's a vas deferens between men and women. (That joke never gets old, at least not to me.) To quote the WOMBATS website (Women's Mountainbike And Tea Society), women often have shorter torsos and longer legs than a man of the same height. Just because you and your boyfriend are the same height doesn't mean you'll be comfortable riding his bicycle.

A few things to bear in mind if you're shopping for a bicycle:

  • Women have wider pelvic areas. The "sit" bones on a man are closer together than they are on a woman, but most bicycle seats don't take that into account. So while a man can sit on a bicycle seat and have his weight supported by his skeletal structure, a woman who sits on the same bicycle seat is having a lot of pressure put on a very sensitive area of the anatomy. Ouch. A woman's bicycle seat is generally shorter and a bit wider.
  • If you're buying a road bicycle, remember that a man's shoulders are generally wider than a woman's shoulders. If you're on a city bike, a hybrid, mountain bike, any bicycle that has one long handlebar, this isn't an issue. But a woman on a man's sized road bicycle can find herself holding her arms at a wider angle than can be comfortable. This sort of detail can matter after you've been on the road for a couple of hours.
  • For both men and women, there are times when it pays to be average, and buying a bicycle is one of them. If you're under 5'4", then there aren't as many choices out there. (I'm sorry, I don't know what the upper range of average is. I've read 5'9" but that seems a bit low.)

If you're short, the best option seems to be a Terry bicycle. (Personally, I found the Terry's gear shifting affected my tendinitis, so I ended up going with a Bianchi Eros. But most bicycle sellers will point you toward a Terry.) Regardless of the brand, any bike seller worth the name will want to work with you to make sure you get the right size.

Obligatory note: I am not a professional cyclist nor do I know anyone who plays one on T.V. I used to hang out with people who thought nothing of cycling several hundred miles a week. (Note: I said 'hang out' not 'ride with'... a more accurate term would be 'ride behind'... far, far behind...)

If I sound preachy it's because I think it's really, really cool to go for a long bicycle ride out in the country where there aren't a lot of cars but there is a lot of nature. You get to see things you never when you're driving a car, plus it's easy on your knees and you can get a workout while sitting down!

I know a lot of people are suffering from BIBD and similar disorders. But it's spring! Any minute now it's going to stop raining and it'll be good riding weather. Any minute now. Anyone up for a bike ride?