December 17, 2008

Being All Flexible and S.H.I.I.T.

Photo Credit: Theremina

At some point a while back, I first posted about High Intensity Interval Training, (H.I.I.T) and how doing intervals is really good for your health. I started doing them myself, and it really is a great way to pump up your workout in a minimum amount of time.

But intervals are kind of a pain! The whole point of them is to work hard enough to get uncomfortable, over and over and over.

So later I wrote a post about a new Cranky Fitness exercise invention, S.H.I.I.T., which stands for Somewhat High Intensity Interval Training. It's really just a mellower approach to H.I.I.T., but it still involves a fair amount of being uncomfortable.

Anyway, for those of you are interested in intervals and their awesome health benefits, and who want to know more about how to get started, I have a handy new resource to tell you about below. But for others who have no intention of ever, ever doing this crazy S.H.I.I.T.-- don't worry, this post is not really about that.

It's more about the pro's and con's of being Flexible. And not in that can-you-wrap-your-ankles-around-your-neck-way.

Flexibility is Great!

Generally, the more flexible I can be about how I work out, the better. I tend to get too stuck in a routine, too attached to my favorite exercises and routes. I grow to hate them, and it often takes something like moving across country to shake things up and make things interesting again. I'm always happy when I discover new options, yet I'm stubbornly reluctant to seek them out unless I absolutely have to. I need to get better about this!

However, one way in which I AM awfully flexible is in my exercise goals. Alert readers may notice that Cranky Fitness is not as Hardcore and Ambitious as many other fitness blogs. I never seem to be charting my progress towards some impressive goal like running a marathon, or doing 100 pushups, or climbing a mountain or whatever. And if I do actually set some little goal, I never put a time limit on it or berate myself for backing off if it gets too hard.

This flexible approach means I've never "failed," and keeps me from getting discouraged. Overall, it's been working pretty well for me.

However, back to the Interval Training...

The Disadvantages of Being Flexible

I'm still doing interval training, in my usual half-assed way. And I've been feeling pretty darn pleased with myself when I do it. Hooray for me!

Here I am, a middle-aged slacker of no great ambition, sprinting up fake treadmill hills, gaining all these tremendous health benefits and getting stronger and faster and....

Hey. Wait a minute. I'm really not getting all that much stronger, or faster.

Sure, I'll make a bunch of progress for a little while, and then I start hating intervals too much. I find myself doing 'em a little less often, and then even a less, and then pretty soon I have to dial the speed back down and the incline back down too and take longer rests. But then I'll get tired of my lack of progress, get all determined again, and ramp back up.

I thought I'd been doing intervals maybe six months or so... til I looked at the date of my first interval post. Sure, it was only back in June--June of 2007! That's like a year and a half of intervals, and I'm probably still pretty much doing what I was doing 3 or 4 months after I started. (I think. To tell you the truth I don't track it all that closely).

And it's not just intervals, either. Strength training and regular cardio are the same way--bursts of diligence and progress, followed by grumpiness, slacking and skipped workouts.

I never quit entirely, but I never get a whole lot further along either. I started messing around with fitness, and got real serious for a year or two, let's see.. oh, about 25 years ago! And before that I did sports in school. So it's really been pretty much a lifetime of physical activity.

That's a lot of years without making a hell of a lot of progress.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Yet I still have no plans to start getting out charts and graphs and stopwatches, or setting the date for my 10K or marathon.

I really admire you folks who do that. It's so inspiring! But it's just not me.

I keep hoping a benevolent Exercise Fairy will wave a magic wand and make me fitter and stronger without doing an extra work. And I do keep trying... just not hard enough to make continuous gains. As much as I'm sometimes jealous of you folks who run 7 minute miles or bench press 200lbs or whatever, I just don't seem to be willing to devote the time and determination and energy it takes to get there.

So I pick little goals along the way, and then I backslide, and then I pick other little goals, and I keep at it, year after year. Compared to most folks my age, I'm in pretty good shape. I'm strong and fit and I'm gaining all the great health benefits, both immediate and long-term, that regular exercise gets you. I think, for me, had I not developed a flexible approach to goals I would have gotten discouraged and given up.

The best thing, though, is the older I get, the more "credit" I get for doing the same things I did when I was in my twenties. And as I may have said before, while temporary goals come and go, my bottom-line goal is to stay at the same level of fitness I was as an in-shape twenty-something... until I'm an Eighty Something. (Once I hit ninety, I figure--screw it). And so far, so good. I got into fairly decent shape in my twenties, and now, with only a couple years until I reach 50, I've managed to cling on to it--whining and griping the entire time of course.

Want to Know More About H.I.I.T?

Over at Experience Life Magazine, they have a good article about H.I.I.T., including research on why it's so good for you, as well as plan to get started. And unlike some resources, they emphasize balance and don't get all extreme and hardcore about it.

Anyone else struggle with the issues of flexibility and setting goals and making progress? Do you keep getting fitter every year, or is it sometimes tough just to keep from backsliding?


  1. Great post! I too struggle with goal setting bc like you, Crabby, I have no high ambitions like running a marathon or becoming a tri-athlete. Although, goals like that were my main push off into non-sports related fitness.

    Now, with a little more education and know how under my belt, I focus on learning on how to balance out my body in order to optimize its use and efficiency (i.e. to prevent injury). Not yet there yet, seems to be a lifelong process, but I'm enjoying the ride!

  2. Like you, I'm also in my mid-40's. Unlike you, I have not stayed fundamentally fit through all these years. So I am trying to gain what I never had just at the time when the scientists say we start to lose muscle if we aren't careful anyway.

    It would have been easier to slack your way -- just enough to stay fit without overexerting yourself -- than to slack the way I did and have to start from the beginning at this age.

    Your approach works, so keep it up.


  3. This might sound weird but Crabby this is EXACTLY like me. Don't get me wrong, I exercise compulsively. But I'm still in my little comfort bubble. I don't set myself targets (mostly because I'm scared I won't meet them). I stick to what I like. You know what? I don't mind. I don't really want to run a triathalon or a marathon or do an Iron Man. I want to work out because it's FUN. As soon as you put a goal in the way, for me, it starts feeling like hard work, and that's not the point.

    I'm fit, I'm healthy, I LOVE to work out. What could be better than that?

    Goals schmoals.

    TA x

  4. Great post! I love this: "I think, for me, had I not developed a flexible approach to goals I would have gotten discouraged and given up." I think an individual approach is the way to go!

  5. If I ever fold myself over like the man in the picture, that means I have broken my back and someone should call 911. Just so you know.

    This sounds a lot like how I do fitness. Make small goals, achieve them, then either slack for a bit or make other small goals to achieve. I find this fits better into my lifestyle, where my time and energy to devote to serious workouts varies from week to week. Being flexible, in this way, means I'll never really fail at my goals, just that I'll reach them when I reach them. Better late than never, right?

  6. Im you as well.

    for me it is all about maintaining and not slipslidingaway.

    Im not proud of that fact---it just is what it is.
    perhaps later/down the proverbial road I shall re-evaluate and change my tune.

  7. I love that you said this "This flexible approach means I've never "failed," " I think being flexible is about realizing that fitness is about more than short-term results, that it is a lifestyle. Hopefully one can make it enjoyable enough to maintain it until they kick out at 90+. Love it, Cranky!

  8. Tangential, but vaguely relevant: That image is from Theremina? She a contributor to one of my fave reads,! Yay! Do you read that site too?

  9. I'm a little further along than you crabby (in my 50s) and have come to realization that a healthy lifestyle is just that, a healthy lifestyle. Doing a particular workout regiment is fine, but if it doesn't work for you (holding interest would fit in this category), than you move on until you are comfortable with what you do.

    It always seems to me that people are trying to get to a particular place simply because they have read some words, spoken to some people or witnessed some action that then they think they’re “suppose” to do. Just like you found that S.H.I.I.T works for you, well intervals works for others. It doesn’t have to be your pass into the Promised Land.

    Last check, there were about a bazillion diet books, a gazillion workout methods, and millions of people that they all target. Who got it right? Which one is the absolute way to live or life and what major benefit is derived from doing so. I’m sure that answer will come beyond that 90+ years. By my watch, you’re right on schedule and doing just fine with your workout ways.

  10. Crabby,

    You have me literally laughing out loud (sorry, I refuse to use lols)

    S.H.I.I.T....inspired acronym

    You might like this how-to on HIIT

  11. I am a big believer in flexibility when it comes to goal setting and workout routines. It's great to set a goal and have a plan...But sometimes plans don't work out and then I find flexibility comes in handy - better to come up with a new plan, that to abandon the goals altogether and sit on the couch.

    I also feel like I have reached a certain fitness level, and am pretty much stuck there. It can seem like a bad thing, because the accepted idea seems to be that you should be continually working harder and getting better...However, I think you make a good point - As long as we find a way to keep going, to stay fit and healthy, we're doing well. Not everyone wants to run a marathon, and we shouldn't feel bad if we don't. :)

  12. I'm similar...I'm so much more active than I used to be, and was always my goal to be more healthy, but I find I'm off and on with exercise. I have my "old standards" but it is always a challenge in winters here to stay fit without gym fees.
    I find for me the main thing is not stopping. IF I stop a few days, I just start again...I try and do *something* and go from there. Sometimes I'm hard core, other times a loafer, but I'm sure it all evens out into being healthy.

  13. "I keep hoping a benevolent Exercise Fairy will wave a magic wand and make me fitter and stronger without doing an extra work." No, no, that's the Fitness Fairy! The Exercise Fairy is the one who's been waving her wand every time you decided to up your interval training.
    I'm all about the flexible--I figure as long as I keep trying I'm not failing. And it's important not to wear myself out.
    Unlike you, I'm much fitter in my mid-fifties than I was in my teens or twenties, when my allergies left me with very few spoons. (Somebody point to the essay about counting spoons; I can't remember where to find it, but it's a great analogy.) I have many relatives (especially my grandmother who nearly died of pernicious anemia in her fifties and then walked every day until she died at 82) who were seriously ill and then had healthy old ages. I'm aiming to follow that pattern if I can.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  14. I get excited about exercise. Then after a while I get bored and need to find some other way to keep active. It's good to be flexible with our goals:)

  15. Well ever since I recovered from a silly bout of exercise bulimia (only they didn't have such a fancy schmancy name for it back then) when I never went anywhere without my heart monitor, ran marathons, gymmed every day (sometimes twice) or two, completed who knows how many cycle races ..... I'm happy to say that the only S.H.I.T I get up to is to do some body-fun and body-play every day. Sometimes it's on a treadmill with it's fake hills, but mostly it's just a matter of pulling on shoes and heading out to get some fresh air. Oh and did I mention I do 30 mins of stretching and flexing, just so that I can still touch my toes one day (and that my breasts can't be the only ones claiming that honour!)

  16. I'm glad to find out I'm not the only non-marathoner around! Though I really, really admire those folks.

    I realize that I'm lucky I started with a reasonable level of fitness, I'm so impressed by those of you who started late and ended up way fitter than you ever were in your youth!

    And Liz, I actually just searched the creative commons Flikr photos, but thanks for the info about Coilhouse, what a cool, weird site!

    And DR, thanks for the additional HIIT resource!

    Plus I love Cari's flexibility goal, I think I'll add that one to my list too!

  17. But Ms. Crab... you're already in P.D.G.S.*, so you don't need to set goals and all that shtuff. Why fix something that ain't broke?

    *(Pretty Damn Good Shape)

  18. Merry,

    'Cause I live in the Health, Fitness, and Weight Loss Blog World. All the cool kids are running marathons and triathlons and climbing mountains and doing 100 push ups and stuff. I want to too! (I just don't want to do the work).

  19. Loved this post! Damn, girl, you sound sensible. Fitness for life seems like a really good goal to me!

  20. i used to be flexible, being an gymnast and whatnot. Now? Im lucky if i can touch me toes. stupid hamstrings.

    Kelly Turner

  21. Great post! I'm one of those people who has to do things like sign up for half marathons, cause it's only the impending event that pressures me into exercising. Otherwise I find that my couch is just too accessible and my running shoes don't look as appealing. Right now I'm not signed up for anything, so I'm trying to find ways to set goals for myself without an event in my future!

  22. Coming to this fitness thing fairly late in life (started at 54), I have to set realistic goals for myself.

    My biggest goal is to keep my interested enough to keep coming back. Not hurt, not lazy. That "in pretty damn good shape" until I hit 90 feels right.

    So set goals to keep me interested. Do something physically hard (that makes the guys in the gym jealous), then do something personally challenging -like improving my balance.

    Undulating small goals. It's ok to do this. In fact it's probably really healthy in the long run.


    Sorry, I hate the extra step, but we have a very active spammer who's been bothering us lately. If word verification won't stop the spam, I may have to move to comment moderation.

    Sorry about that! They're coming in on our older posts faster than I can delete them.

  24. I need to have concrete & ever increasing goals, because well, I love them. Oh, and also because I need something specific to work towards, otherwise I slide into what is known as 'the lazy' which is, unfortunately, usually accompanied by 'the cookies.'

    BUT - my over-arching goal, May marathon not-withstanding, is to remain fit & healthy until I turn 75, and then I get to start smoking again! WOO!

  25. "Spesh!" I'm in :-)

    I do HIIT on a stair master, and I think it's not as hard that way. I think the choir of folks that comment here are way ahead of the crowd when it comes to leading a healthy life!!


  26. I want an Exercise Fairy to work her magic on me too!! Send her my way when you're done with her... :o) This post really sounded familiar, I have no real ambition or plan for my fitness or body-shape/weight, so in that way I can't really fail.. but when I look back I can't help but feel like I've wasted a lot of time somewhere... I'm 25 (can I say only 25, it still sounds young to me!) but I get similar increased kudos because none of my peers seem to exercise or eat healthily, well other than the standard walkers and weight watchers. These girls think I'm nuts for even running let alone mentioning H.I.I.T! I had a point in all of this.. no wait.. maybe I didn't... :o)

  27. I'm with you when it comes to exercise goals. The disappointment of not reaching them sometimes discourages me from sticking with a routine. Smaller goals are best to keep me motivated and proud of my accomplishments. So long as I keep exercising, I think that's the important part. Even if over the entire month of December "exercising" often means walking from my car at the back of the parking lot to the mall doors. Being flexible allows me to do the best I can at any given time. Isn't that all we can ask for from ourselves?

  28. I have to work really hard on not setting my goals too high. I think that part of the problem is that I tend to bite off more than I can chew, realize it halfway through, struggle against the truth, then accept it and try and find the lesson.

  29. Thanks for this post. I did a variation of interval-type training years ago using the exercise bike and I was in great shape. I bookmarked the H.I.L.T link I want to learn more about this. Thanks!

  30. Wow, I think we have the same exercise handicap...short attention span syndrome!! AKA SASS : ) I will do great for a few weeks, then I skip a few exercises, eat too much crap and BAM I'm back where I was. Oh but I get motivated and I set my goals and I start back up. And everything is fine until I start slacking. Thank you for creating this forum where slack-itude is not only acknowledge but also appreciated. I have finally found my niche!

  31. that picture makes my insides crawl, you guys are awesome.

  32. So much of what you said resonated with me Crabby! (The part about amping up and backsliding especially). Although I didn't get started working out till my mid 30's I hope to someday have years and years of fitness under my belt. Like you, it will be regular folks fitness, not super-human fitness. Also like you, I'll be saying screw it when I hit 90! ;)

  33. Crabby, you get the LOL award today. The post was relevant because I did a SHIIT workout today and didn't know it until I read your post! There's a lot of you in me, although you wouldn't know it because I'm not as forthright about it. For instance, I have a heart rate monitor, but it is merely for entertainment purposes. Pushing myself is not something that comes naturally, and I figure I could be a much better triathlete if I could simply make myself work harder. And yet... here's what the instructor at today's barbell class said, "Let's start with moderate weight on your bar... NO! Go ahead and make it heavy--you all do moderate weight on your own." She was so right...

  34. I'm totally like you in that I find something that I get really into it, do it hardcore, get burned out and then switch my focus over to something else. It's something I like to call fitness ADD. The only plus is that our workouts never get too stale, right?!

  35. My H.I.I.T. idea.
    Sat (or Sunday)-- lay on bed.
    To help speed up fitness, Get off bed. Pick up clothing on floor.
    Lay back down on the bed.
    Next big effort for H.I.I.T -- get back up off bed. Hang an item in the closet. Get back in bed.
    Repeat as needed until energy runs out or until equals half marathon-- lay back down on bed.

  36. I think I saw that guy at Cirque du Soleil, no?

  37. I don't usually have much in the way of goals for fitness but this is going to be my summer of the mountains. I've planned tramps up 3 local mountains and intend to do them all. I talk about it each summer but do nothing. Realized that I never will do them unless I commit. So my morning walks suddenly have more purpose. I'm fitting in extra little hill climbs on them.

    First mountain will be Pureora which is supposed to be an "easy" 1165 meters in 3 weeks time.

  38. I can't say I'm that limber! I don't get a chance to get on your blog much but,wanted to let you know I nominated you for a Fabalous blog award. please check out my site. its not great by any means but check it out sometime

  39. Wow, how does he bend like that? Very informative and funny post! I like your approach to S.H.I.I.T.


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