December 31, 2009

Home or Gym? Where's The Best Place For You?

Exercise makes me happy!
Photo: misterwilson

If you’ve resolved to get fit this coming year then good for you. The biggest decision has been made. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step, right? Or so I’ve been told (they don’t call me the Queen of Denial for nuthin’). The second thing to consider is how you’ll go about accomplishing your goal – do you join a gym or can your fitness needs be met at home? There’s a lot to be said for both.

Gym memberships have a lot of plusses going for them. First and foremost is the variety and quality of the equipment: treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, Nautilus, bikes, step machines – you name it, it’s pretty much there and generally kept up to date – provided you haven’t gone the cheap route and joined something called “Gym Y2K” or “Club Rambo”. The added bonus here is that if something breaks, you’re not on the hook to repair it. Consider it to be like a fitness condo fee. Some gyms even offer swimming pools, saunas and/or tennis courts (court time/lessons are extra).

Gyms also offer lots of classes in addition to the stationary equipment. You can find an assortment of classes such as step aerobics, pilates, spinning, yoga, and zumba – just to name a few. And most gyms offer kiddie care at a nominal fee which was actually worth the entire price of membership to me to just get an hour or two of time to myself. But moms should note – you will be pulled out of class to change a stinky diaper. The Health Department never rests.

Professional trainers on staff are another great aspect about gym membership and while their fees are separate from your yearly membership, their expertise as to how to properly use the equipment or tailoring a specific fitness program to your goals is invaluable.

If this is your gym's training staff, it might be time to reassess.
Photo: Ross Harmes

If you enjoy the company of others (and believe me, I know not everybody does – especially when clad in muffin-top enhancing spandex and dripping in sweat), working out in such an atmosphere can be very motivating or in my case, camouflaging. The lion has trouble focusing on just one gazelle when it’s time to thin the herd (or in gym parlance – judge you by your size). Getting lost in a crowd while still being part of the crowd can be a very companionable experience.

Still, for others, there’s no place like home. Chief among the reasons favoring a home gym is the price. While you may buy a few pieces of equipment, there’s generally not much money invested beyond that in terms of maintenance and upkeep. Gym memberships can be pretty pricey, especially if it’s one of those a la carte places that breaks down the entire experience into bite size pieces and charges you for each one that you use.

The commute with a home gym just can’t be beat. If you’ve committed to working out every day then you’ll never have to worry about dressing up and driving to a gym when it’s right in your house. This is especially helpful for morning exercisers who can just roll out of bed and onto the treadmill. You can look like Keith Richards when you wake up and there’s no one to notice. No special clean up, traffic or travel involved. And best of all, home gyms are open 24/7.

Dog tired after a home gym workout. Woof.
Photo: gwhalin

At home, you also get to keep your equipment as clean as you want and never have to wear anybody else’s sweat. One of my biggest beefs about the gym I belong to is the unclean teen behavior exhibited by even some adults when it comes to evading their responsibility for the person using the equipment after them and wiping it down. Geez - I sure hope these aren't the same people who are packing my groceries or giving me the sign of peace (all five fingers) at church.

Private shower and dressing room (this benefit is entitled to its very own five word paragraph – that’s how special it is - but brevity has never been my strong suit). The modesty factor looms large in deciding whether to work out at home or in a gym. Given my self-conscious Catholic/New England prude/pasty-complected self, I just can’t bring myself to walk around the gym with my bodacious set of ta-tas as my only cover. It reminds me too much of the old National Geographic magazine “spreads” on the low-hanging fruit of local tribeswomen that my brother and his friends used to gather around as pre-internet teens.

Working out at home also allows you the freedom to choose whatever music or TV show you'd like to watch while you're exercising. No more forced big time fishing or duck pin bowling because that's what the TV next to the only open elliptical is playing. Where's a remote when you really need one? Oh right, underneath the couch cushion - at home!

So where will your workouts be going on? Home or away or something inbetween?

December 30, 2009

Number One Secret to Keeping Fitness Resolutions

This is just a short post today, because we also have a giveaway going on over at our product page. The folks from the website Sparkpeople have a new book out, called The Spark, and we've got 5 copies to give away! So if you're a U.S. resident you want to pop over and check out "The Spark" book giveaway.

But since it's just about time for Official New Years Resolution season, I'd thought I'd kick off our "back to basics" thing here at Cranky Fitness with one of the simplest, most straight-forward, and incredibly effective motivational secrets for achieving your health and fitness goals. The reason I'm writing about something so obvious? It's because it's probably the most frequently forgotten principle of success, and nearly everyone spaces out and blows it off now and then.

So what is this incredible and crucial motivational tool?

Photo: bbaltimore

Yep, that's right:

Break things down into Baby Steps.

Well, gosh, bet you never thought of that before!

But people always say "yeah of course" and then they forget to do it.

I know I do.

Here's what happens. I'll start with a good idea, like: I should drink more water. Or: I'd like to stop slumping so much and sit up straight.

And I like the picture in my head of the end result: a poised and well-hydrated crab, that's great! So I turn it into a goal: "More water and less slumping for Crabby, starting right now!"

Then, perhaps I'll even drink a glass of water and sit up straight for 30 seconds. And that will pretty much be the end of it.

But what I often forget to do is actually break the goal down into baby steps and turn it into a realistic, achievable plan. A plan with specifics and time-frames and accountability and rewards. Like: I will fill up my water bottle and finish it x number of times before lunch and x more times before dinner. And every day I do I'll mark off on the calendar and when I get enough days I get a pretty shiny new water bottle! Or: I will set a reminder on my computer to check my posture every 2 minutes until I start remembering, then every five minutes, etc, until I finally just do it naturally and can have a massage or something similarly wonderful as a reward!

And those are just little goals--I've seen people forget the baby steps with really hard goals, too. They'll say things like "I'm going to run a marathon" or "I'm going to go on a diet and lose 100 pounds," but they never figure out how to plan and prepare and break those months or years of slogging and sacrifice into smaller achievable steps. They try to run 10 miles their first day and end up injured and out of commission for months and they never try running again. Or they try to subsist on nothing but kale and asparagus and non-fat salad dressing, and after 2 days they end up sneaking off for 15,000 calorie potato skin and onion ring binge at TGIFridays.

Our pal Merry was just blogging about this exact same phenomenon over at Sheesh. But unlike many folks, she's actually doing things differently this time, and breaking her running plan down into steps. And the good news: she seems to be well on her way from the couch to a 5K.

Similarly, Kate over at Fabulous at 50, who's already accomplished amazing things, recently wrote a post assessing where she was with her exercise goals, and then figured out where she'd like get to from there. She pondered the various options and was realistic about which exercises she liked and which one she didn't, and even calculated what the chances of success were with each option. Then she put everything together and came up with a Fitness Plan for the New Year.

That kind of thinking is very different from saying "I'm going to lose a bunch of weight and get in shape," with vague pictures in your mind of suddenly eating lots of salads and being magically skinny and running half-marathons before breakfast and never eating sweets again.

The reality? If you never liked to eat tons of salads before, and you haven't been running in years, and you LOVE Oreo cookies and can't go a day without eating half a dozen... it's probably going to take a lot of small, incremental baby steps to get you where you're going.

Also, as Big Girl Bombshell points out, it's going to take patience.

Lots of patience.

Because getting fit and leading a healthy lifestyle is a long-term investment, with long-term rewards. It's totally worth it! But you're probably going to have to get in the habit of thinking in baby-steps and celebrating each victory along the way, no matter how small.

So do you folks generally break big goals into smaller steps, and acknowledge incremental achievements? Or do you think big and just dive right in?

December 29, 2009

One New Year's Resolution we can all get behind. Or, as it were, in front of.

I do not think this is a good idea at all.

Inspired by Crabby McSlacker herself, here's one resolution all of us double-X chromosome carriers need to make this year.


Get fitted for bras.

No, seriously.

The Crab left a comment on GFE about how the underwires in her running bras leave welts, which caused me to have a dropped-jaw moment and immediately email her with the words "Dude: Your bras don't fit. Underwires should never leave welts."*

And I'm right. Know how I know? Because I went to the local Dillard's and asked for the ancient woman who's worked in lingerie sales for eight hundred and fifty of her nine-hundred-plus years, and I got fitted for a variety of bras. After that, I wandered through the Title Nine catalog and bought several different styles of bra in varying sizes. When they arrived, I tried them on and sent back the ones that didn't feel good. No chafe, no welts, no red marks--even after an hour-and-a-half marathon with Attila.

Two years later, I had to do the same thing, because I'd lost fifteen pounds. My chest measurement has increased, but my cup size has decreased. Again, I went to find Methusalette and get re-fitted, and again, I ordered various bras from T9 and tried them on, sending back the ones that weren't pitch-perfect.

Why go to all this trouble, you ask? Why not just wear the same 36B you wore in high school?

Because bras are just as important as good running or cross-training shoes. They are pieces of equipment, especially the sports bras. You'd never tolerate downhill mountain biking or rollerblading without the proper safety equipment; why not give your rack the same sort of treatment as your head and wrists?

So what makes a good sports bra, and why are they so dadratted important?

Let me answer the first question second and the second question first.

For those of us who are blessed (ha) with ample boobage, the reason for a good sports bra is obvious: running or hopping about with little to no support is painful. There are ligaments in each of your girls called "Cooper's ligaments" which can actually stretch or tear if you bounce around too much. Never mind that that movement is distracting, both to you and to any onlookers. A good sports bra can even enhance your workouts--like if you're doing heavy weightlifting and don't have to worry about smashing your own breasts with a barbell.

For those of you who are lucky enough not to have to worry about knocking your eye out while running, there are other issues, like nipple chafing (owie owie owie) and even mastitis (an inflammation of the tissue in the breast) if you're not properly supported. Trust Auntie Jo on this one: back in the day, when I was little more than an A cup, I ended up with a jolly case of mastitis because my running bra was too big and chafed like crazy.

Okay, so I've convinced you to wear a good sports bra. Define a "good sports bra", then, you cry. Okay! I will!

For smaller-breasted women, a "good sports bra" is usually a compression-type, cotton-blend thing that has hooks in the back or pulls on over the head. It spreads the breast tissue out over the chest wall, thus preventing movement, pain, and embarassment. Some women of medium boobage swear by bras like Champion's, which have integrated underwires. Bras for the small-chested are usually not the works of engineering that bras for the larger-chested are.

For women like me, who enter a room in stages, "engineering" is not too strong a word to use. Underwires are pretty much mandatory for women with a C cup and up, with or without compression. I wear bras that are "encapsulating" bras, which means that they hold each breast in a nonelastic cup, thus preventing both bounce and the figure-eight wiggle that comes from running. Usually, sports bras for C cups and up have nonelastic straps over the shoulders and minimal stretch, if any, around the bottom of the cup. There are bras out there, like T9's "Last Resort Bra", that combine both a non-stretch fabric and rows of medieval-looking hooks to compress really big boobs, but I find those awfully restrictive.

No matter what size you wear, wicking and coolth are important. Fit, though, is the thing that will make or break your experience.

For fit advice, you can go to places like Nordstrom's, Neiman's, or even Intimacy, which is a solely-bra-based chain store with branches in most large cities. I would advise against going to Victoria's Secret--not because they're bad at bra fitting, but because they size their bras so differently that their sizing only works with their bras. (I do love their cotton bras for everyday wear, though. Cheap and they wear like iron.) Or you can do it yourself, or with the help of a friend, following instructions like these.

Whatever you do, when you go to buy your next workout underpinnings, try on several different styles in sizes that are a little bigger and a little smaller than what you're sized as. Bras vary as much as jeans do in sizing, if not more, and cut and style can make a huge difference.

Share your own tips and favorites in the comments, will ya?

*Don't get me started on the doubling-up-bras thing. If you have to double up on bras, then sizing: Ur Doin It Rong, or you're buying bras with too cheap a fabric. Bras, like condoms, helpings of liver, and habanero peppers, should never be doubled.

December 28, 2009

New Start to a New Year?

So it's almost the beginning of a new year. Some of you may have made new year's resolutions; others of you may be shaking your heads muttering "screw that!" You're just hoping all the enthusiastic newbies who are about to crowd in to your gym or fitness class will get the heck out of your way and leave you some room to exercise in these next few weeks. (After that, you can bet that most of them are going to disappear again, just as suddenly and mysteriously as they arrived).

But even if you're not the resolution sort, a new year is sort of a handy milestone. And we're about to start off a whole new decade, isn't that exciting? It seems as good a time as any for us to stop and reflect on our commitment to living healthy lives, and to formulate or refine our goals, and to reacquaint ourselves with basic truths that we may "know" but that we tend to forget.

In that spirit, for the next eight weeks my posts are going to focus a bit more on the fundamentals than they usually tend to.

So there may be a little less of the subtle stuff, like the relative merits of DHA vs EPA vs ALA Omega-3 fatty acids. Instead, I'll have more nutrition basics, or motivation tips on how to get your reluctant ass to the gym, or ideas on what to do with said reluctant ass when you finally get it there.

Um... is anyone suspicious yet? That whole "milestone" and "reflection" stuff... that doesn't sound all that much like the usual crab, does it?

So yeah, that's a bunch of hooey. Sounded good though, didn't it? Wanna know the real reasons I'm going "back to basics" a little more over the next few weeks?

1. Googlers!

Yep, we tend to get a number of new readers in January and February, who are just starting out on their health and fitness quests. They don't give a crap if DHA is a better kind of Omega 3 than ALA. They're more curious about what we mean when we say a "plank" since we don't seem to be talking about building materials or pirates.

And since Cranky Fitness tends to get such friendly, helpful commenters who know all kinds of stuff and have great advice, I'm hoping you old timers will stick around and share your tips with those who are new and less well-informed.

2. Reminders!

There really are a LOT of motivational tricks and health and fitness truths that everyone has probably seen before, but that bear repeating because we forget to apply them. Sometimes I'll read something on someone's blog that totally inspires me, even though I may have written essentially the same thing myself. I figure if I can use the occasional helpful reminder, other folks might benefit too.

3. Blogonomics!

So I'm doing an 8-week Get-Healthy thing called the 10x Club over at Blogher, and I discovered that I'm allowed to cross-post the same stuff here. So rather than write two sets of posts, I can take the same information and tips, and put it two different places and actually get paid for it!

And it is a weirdly interesting concept they've got going at the "10x" club if you want to check it out. In addition to regular blog posts about health and fitness, there will be forum posts with daily challenges and rewards. The "rewards" are fun or silly links that you watch AFTER you do your challenge. Curious? The basic info on 10x is here and I hope a few of you will join us over at the 10x group and help me out with some fitness advice and suggestions.

4. I'm Actually Making A Few Fresh Starts Myself!

Those of you who have been bearing with my whining about injuries and cross-training lately know that I've been trying to change up my exercise routine. Plus, over time my eating habits tend to get a bit sloppier, and I'm due for a little more rigor and a little less "whatever." So while I'm not actually in full-on "resolution" mode, I do seem to be a bit more motivated to take a fresh look at topics such as portion control, strength training, various cardio options, high intensity intervals, healthy cooking, nutritious snacking, stress-reduction, etc, etc, etc.

But What About Breaking Health And Fitness Research?

Don't worry, if it doesn't fit in with the 'back to basics" theme, I can still pass along interesting health and fitness studies and articles to you--I may try to use that silly Twitter thingy I keep forgetting I signed up for. So check in with that doohickey on the left sidebar occasionally, or go follow me on Twitter, and if I see something good I'll be sure to pass it along. (Although you could catch a silly day like yesterday, when I was tweeting about Crabinars and Men's Classic Incontinence Briefs).

Also, Jo and Gigi are under no requirement to go "back to basics," so I'm sure they'll have plenty of cool stuff to pass along as well.

Got some good info to share?

Part of what I plan to be doing more of, both here and at Blogher, is sharing links to helpful "how to" health and fitness and weight loss information that other bloggers post. This is actually a good kick in the pants for me, because I've gotten so terribly lazy lately about linking! What happens is that I visit other blogs, and think "Gosh, what a great post, I'll have to make a note of that and be sure to include it next time I'm writing about... oh new mail just came in! I haven't read email in at least 4 minutes and... Chicken soup! I think we have some left in the freezer and that would make a nice little lunch. Wait, what was I just going to remind myself of?

Anyway, the upshot is that if you are a blogger or know of some good recent posts with some helpful health, fitness or weight loss "How To's," please email me suggestions and links or leave them in the comments and I'll try to pass them along.

And thanks for your patience as I try something new for a few weeks!

Anyone else making any sort of "Fresh Start" this coming new year?

December 26, 2009

How Did I Miss This?

This news report came out earlier this year, featuring an awesome new prescription medication. My apologies to those who have already seen it by now. (And note to the satire-impaired: Caution is advised; it's from The Onion).

I'm thinking I need to contact these folks about advertising on Cranky Fitness!

Have a great weekend, all, and see you Monday.

What Nursing School Taught Me About Resolutions; or, Jo Uses Something She Learned

This picture has nothing to do with the following post.

Ah, the day after Christmas. How you feelin'? A little sleepy? A little sugar-logged? Dreading picking up all the bits and pieces of wrapping paper that are scattered all over the house? Wondering if leftover stuffing and mashers are a good breakfast?*

Are you thinking about New Year's Resolutions? (Or Gifts, or whatever you want to call them?)

Well, I've been thinking about New Year's Giftolutions. I have a couple of things that I'd really like to achieve this year, and I usually get a head-start on the whole behavior-changing thing during the week between Christmas and New Year's. So I was wondering last night what I could do in order to keep track of progress and make sure I didn't bite off more than I could chew.

I was stumped, until I remembered something from school: nursing care plans. (That wounded yowl you hear is from dozens of nursing students who thought they wouldn't have to think about those during vacation.) What the heck do care plans, the bane of every nursing student, have to do with planning, resolutions, and results?

Well, I'll tell ya.

Nursing care plans, for the uninitiated, are a methodical way of keeping track of existing and potential problems and of solving or preventing those problems. They consist of a statement of the problem, a goal that is specific, timed, and measurable, and a list of actions to take to prevent or solve the problem.

You can see where this is headed, right? It seems to me that if a nursing care plan is a good format for preventing problems, well, it'd be a good format for, say, assisting in weight loss/quitting smoking/going couch-to-5K. Let's see how it works in practice:

First we have a statement of the problem or the goal to be achieved:

I have gained four pounds in two weeks. (Problem) Therefore, I will adhere to my Weight Watchers allotment of 22 points per day plus 35 weekly points for the next week. (Goal)

That's specific (X number of points), timed (for one week), and measurable (that is, I can track points on the WW website).

Now we get to the steps necessary to achieve that goal. This, for me, was always the fun part:

1. I will pack my lunch for work each day.
2. In those lunches will be pineapple, my favorite dessert, and at least one protein source.
3. I will enter the foods I have consumed each evening on the WW website.
4. Therefore, I will go grocery shopping this morning to pick up foods I like that are on the plan.
5. And I will move any and all treats out of my direct line of sight when I go into the breakroom for lunch.

Ready for another example? (See? That really isn't so hard, and it can be quite helpful.)

I want to run a 5K in March of 2010.

In order to do this, I must:

1. Download the Couch-To-5K plan from the Interworldwebnet.
2. Write down in my calendar specific times to run.
3. Move my motivational CDs (ie, polka and the Ramones) into the workout room.
4. Lay out clothes to run in each morning so I can change quickly when I get home.
5. Tell my trainer what I'm doing so we don't overtrain my legs when we work together.

We all make resolutions to do stuff, all the time. If those resolutions are gonna be achievable, they have to be less amorphous than, say, "I'll lose twenty pounds this year." Do that, and you end up putting a chain around the fridge during the last week of November, and what kind of fun is that?

I'm not saying that putting your goals into a solid, timed, measurable form is fun, exactly, but it can be really helpful. Being specific about what you want to achieve and consciously setting out the steps necessary to get to where you want to be clarifies things immensely. You can check and recheck and modify your planning as you have to/want to, you can tweak things that don't work, and you have a record of what you've been doing.

What do you do when you have a goal to get to? Do you write it down, or meditate on it every night? Do you go the Jo Route of checkboxes and lists, or are you more relaxed? What works for you?

*Mashed potatoes and stuffing are an excellent breakfast, especially with bacon. Nom.

December 25, 2009

All I Want For Christmas Is...

My Christmas list is brief and in order from Global to Personal, as I've finally come to the painful realization that I am not the center of everyone's universe - simply my own.

My Global wish list:

-Peace on Earth
-Enough food to feed everyone who's hungry
-Enough love to comfort everyone who's scared and lonely and sick
-Enough education to light the darkness
-Enough shelter to keep everyone protected and safe
-Enough parents for every child who needs a good home
-Enough sense for world leaders to hold their next climate change meeting via teleconference
-A job for everyone who wants one.
-The Salvation Army bell ringers allowed back inside the stores again.

As for my personal wish list:

-A happy and healthy child
-The closeness of family and friends
-Good health
-An attitude of gratitude
-Good karma
-Meaningful work and a sense of purpose
-A Do-Not-Call list that is actually respected by telemarketers and enforced by the government
-A sporting goods store that carries plus-size workout clothes
-A self-cleaning house
-A dog-proof garbage can

-And for all our readers who celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas!!! And a very merry day off to everyone else!! Thanks for sharing part of your day with us this past year and contributing in your smart, funny and insightful ways. Let's have some more fun together in 2010!

December 24, 2009

Holiday Party Survival Guide: The Grinch Edition

There's no shortage of advice this time of year in terms of maintaining our sanity around food and drink during the party season. Of course, that's what we strive to do each and every day of our grown-up lives. But aren't holiday parties supposed to be the time we let go a little and remind ourselves of how we used to live our daily lives: full of debauchery and excess? So in the spirit of true Crankiness, I've provided a little cranky commentary when it comes to suggestions found in articles like this one and this one - not that there's anything wrong with behaving yourself. But it's always best to consider both sides of an issue.

#1 Conventional holiday survival guide wisdom: Eat some protein before attending a party. Never arrive hungry.

The Grinch Edition: Protein? As in seafood? Clams count, right? As in clam dip. As in chips 'n dip. As in Fish 'n Chips. As in Fry-o-lator Helper. And how about that oh-so-clever suggestion of eating peanut butter on an apple before you go to a party? Everybody knows you can't have peanut butter without jelly/without bread/without ice cold milk/ without cookies to soak up the leftover milk. And apples/as in apple dumplings/as in Peking dumplings/as in all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant buffet/as in Jimmy Buffett/as in Margaritas/as in salted rims and a side of nachos.

Your success here also depends on what your interpretation of "hungry" is. It's all relative. There is nibbling hungry - in which case rabbit food will do quite nicely (provided you filled up at home with something more substantial than peanut butter on an apple slice). And then there is HON-GRY hungry wherein open hands are a suitable replacement for utensils and a cotton tablecloth can provide up to a week's worth of fiber per dining table covered.

#2Conventional holiday survival guide wisdom: Avoid hanging out where the food is so you won't be tempted to overindulge. Move away from the table.

Grinch Edition: Hanging out where the food is is also where the people are/where the fun is/where the entire "party" concept derives its meaning. A "party" involves people socializing with other people - usually at the food or booze table. Move away from the table? Moving away from the table is an anti-social, lone wolf behavior. If my hosts had wanted that kind of party they would've invited the Unabomber.

#3 Conventional holiday survival guide wisdom: Drink One-For-One. For every serving of booze you have, follow it up with a like amount of water. Wine is dehydrating. Oh, and make it sparkling water to keep it festive.

Grinch Edition: Sparkling water shooters - oooh, how very festive. Exercise is dehydrating too but they're not advocating giving that up. And if I start pounding down water all night I'll be spending most of it in the bathroom. Hardly the best party atmosphere.

#4 Conventional holiday survival guide wisdom: Keep moving. If there's music, dance. Play charades. Anything to burn off calories.

Grinch edition: Have you ever tried dancing to a Kenny G. recording of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or Dean Martin's boozy rendition of "Jingle Bells"? Or maybe you consider yourself the Mickey Rooney of the group by always suggesting, "Hey gang, let's play a game!" Moving is what we're trying to take a break from (as is thinking, behaving appropriately, and worrying about our reputations). Hopefully, the flop sweat you break into from watching your social status plummet counts as a calorie-burning activity. If you had any friends before coming to this party, you won't by the time you leave.

#5 Conventional holiday survival guide wisdom: If you want to really keep yourself honest by not overindulging, wear your most form-fitting jeans. Another trick is to tie a string or ribbon around your waist that will not budge with the bulge.

Grinch edition: Hmmmm....wear my most form-fitting clothes. They have names for women who dress like that at parties and "wife" or "Reverend Mother" isn't one of them. Plus, wearing skin tight clothes while dancing and playing charades from the above suggestion has the seam-splitting potential for turning into the lead headline on the 11:00 news - especially if anyone in the crowd is going commando.

And tying myself around the waist with a string? What am I? A pork tenderloin? Ever hear of a belt or something without an elasticized waistband that could provide the same effect without having your friends worry about you having sprouted a tail should it break loose during the evening?

Grinch Conclusion: It seems that common sense goes a long way in determining whether or not you enjoy yourself during the holiday parties. Trust your instincts. If you're wiping your mouth with the hem of your dress, are just a bit too tempted by your boss's mistletoe belt buckle or find food in any of your pockets, it's probably time to call a cab and call it a night.

What will you be doing to keep yourself in holiday survival mode?

December 23, 2009

Holiday Attitude Adjustment

It's a couple days before Christmas, and for those who celebrate it (or any other winter-time holiday), there's a lot of pressure right now to be feeling jolly. 'Tis the season, right?

I know for myself, there are lots of individual moments of peace and joy and happiness that occur on or around the holidays. I enjoy the traditional rituals and parties, the champagne and the cookies, and the good times with family and friends.

But somehow there's this expectation that for weeks and weeks we're supposed to be building up ever-increasing amounts of holiday cheer, until we reach an almost orgasmic burst of seasonal joy on a particular day, right around the time we exchange presents. To be followed, about a week later, by another burst of overwhelming ecstasy precisely calibrated to occur when the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31st.

The problem? I'm just not able to experience quite that much happiness on cue, all in a pre-determined time frame. Maybe I'd rather spread my happiness out all year 'round, and perhaps allow it to occur a little more spontaneously.

On the other hand, there is something about ritual gatherings that makes me want to at least try to be more upbeat than usual. Because who wants to be a Grinch, a Scrooge, or a Crab and put a damper on other people's festive season?

And so it occurred to me that to deal with the Forced Christmas Cheer issue, maybe I could use the same motivational system I just developed to deal with my new, involuntary cross-training regimen. Remember Cognitive Restructuring, Accentuating Positivity®?

I'm thinking maybe I should try to use the same C.R.A.P.® approach to better appreciate the holiday season!

So here's an attempt to forcibly replace each cranky holiday thought with more cheerful way of looking at things.

Holiday observation #1: I couldn't find the perfect gifts for everyone on my Christmas list. Some of them were already sold out, and unfortunately, some of them haven't even been invented yet. When are they ever gonna get around to making a cute little robot that makes coffee and brings it to you in the morning, anyway?

Oh wait, here it is. Didn't see it at Macy's though.

But on the bright side: If you're going to pick a year to come up short on gifts, this is a good one! With the sucky economy, everyone is trying to scale back on gifts. There's a lot more emphasis on the meaningful emotional stuff, like love and laughter and gratitude and togetherness, blah blah blah. So just pretend your inability to find and purchase appropriate gifts was on purpose, as a protest against the insidious commercialization of the holidays!

Holiday observation #2: I hate Christmas carols. Well, I do like a few of them--the really old, vaguely melancholy kind that sound grave and beautiful. Silly modern ones like Frosty the Snowman make me want to hurl. (And let's not even get started on "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' For Christmas," one of the most irritating holiday songs ever written).

But on the bright side: Harboring an intense and irrational dislike of Christmas carols is an effective way to stay out of malls and other retail spaces when they are the most crowded and unpleasant! There is no Christmas music online, you can shop there safely. Plus, unlike other annoying forms of noise pollution, Christmas carols have a time limit. Of course, it would be nice if the allowable period were more reasonable, like December 24th-25th. But at least sometime in January they usually stop. Jackhammers and car alarms, on the other hand, know no season.

Holiday observation #3: People who don't normally bake yummy cookies or fudge, or buy you See's candy, or otherwise tempt you with delicious concoctions made of butter and sugar, tend to do so during the holidays because they know you love these things and they want to be nice to you. This makes it hard to avoid consumption of said yummy things.

But on the bright side: You love treats! They make you extraordinarily happy. And there's nothing wrong with having a cookie or two, or a piece of candy, as long as you don't scarf them all up in a few days. Perhaps it's time to reacquaint yourself with the food-preserving properties of the refrigerator and freezer? These modern conveniences allow you to consume a little bit of your favorite treats over a long period of time.

Holiday observation #4: Many Christmas decorations are ugly and tacky. And, how come no one seems to care that red and green are clashing colors and look kinda lousy together?

But on the bright side: Some Christmas decorations are really quite lovely to look at.

Photo: Canadian Living, via Urban Debris Artlog

And anyway, who says tacky is a bad thing?

Peeing Santa photo: Huffington Post

So do any of you sometimes need to give yourself a pep-talk, or are the holidays pretty much all good?

(And if I don't pop in again before Christmas, have a wonderful holiday if you're celebrating it!)

December 22, 2009


With apologies to B.W.

I have as a friend one of those people who has such great reserves of inner peace and patience that it drives the rest of us crazy. She's the sort who, when you wander over to her house unexpectedly in the middle of the day, always has interesting tea to serve, is baking something marvelous, and who arranges flowers for fun. She dresses impeccably, is gorgeous and slender at sixty (and looks a good twenty years younger than she is), and never gets angry or upset.

In short, she's the sort of person you love, envy, and resent all at once.

We were talking the other day, and I asked her about New Year's resolutions, She didn't strike me as the sort of person who made them, and I was right in that suspicion. "Resolutions?" she laughed, as we sat over a pot of green tea with paper-thin slices of lemon floating in it, "I never make resolutions. I have something different that I do."

"What's that?" I asked.

She leaned across the table and said: "I give gifts to myself."

That hit me like the proverbial thunderbolt.

When she quit smoking, she did it at the New Year, but she made it a gift to herself, as in, "I will give myself the gift of clean hair and clean lungs this year, starting now."

When she decided to save money to buy a house, she decided to give herself the gift of enough savings to make a substantial down payment so that she'd have a warm, comforting place in which to entertain her friends and live her life.

Think about it: We all make New Year's resolutions, and we mostly make them about things we'd like to accomplish but think will be at least slightly unpleasant to do--like losing weight, running a mile in under eight minutes, or finally keeping the car clean. The word itself, resolution, implies that what we're undertaking will be difficult or fraught with setbacks. It's a flinty and stalwart word that makes you straighten your spine and set your teeth. My pal doesn't roll that way.

Instead, she looks at the end result and calls it a gift. To herself. Which blows my mind.

If you look at your goal as a gift, the process of reaching it suddenly becomes much less complicated. The guilt over bobbles on the road to getting there disappears, the goal is cast in a much more positive light. Rather than being a resolution, or something you have to do, it becomes, well, a gift: something you give yourself because you love yourself.

Again, think about it: we all give gifts to other people, all year long. Some of them are material, like the birthday present that you know will interest and excite the person you give it to. Some are non-material, like the shoulder to lean on or the listening ear. You give these gifts, material or not, because you love the person who's getting them and you want to make them happy, or share something that you like with them, or show them how special they are to you.

Yet when it comes to *us*, to that amazing creature that lives in this skin, we set down a list of must-dos, should-dos, and can't-dos. Instead of loving ourselves as much as we love our best friend (or even our not-so-close friends), we treat ourselves like recalcitrant six-year-olds who need a daily checklist and reminder chart of how to behave.

Screw that, I say. This year, I hereby resolve to treat my goals as gifts to myself. If I don't achieve all of them, what's the difference? The beauty of looking at a big goal and saying "This is my gorgeously-wrapped, priceless present for *me*" is that that present is made up of other tiny, precious presents--smaller gifts inside one big box. Even if I don't get the big box, as it were, I'll be getting the stocking stuffers--and those stocking stuffers can be just as valuable as the big present under the tree, to push a metaphor to the breaking point.

I'm off to work up a list of gifts. What's on your want list?

December 21, 2009

Kitchen Gadgets and Appliances--Good or Evil?

Photo: Plan 59

So if I were a hard-working, knowledgeable, helpful health blogger, this post would be a pre-holiday round-up of great kitchen-related products. That way, you could find cool things to buy your loved ones, which, in turn, would encourage them to do more healthy home-cooking and less scarfing up big-ass buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But that would require a lot of thought and research! And I'm afraid I'm all tired out from reading 70,000 tweets a day and catching up on past episodes of Glee baking whole grain cookies and hand-crafting unique holiday gifts from recycled natural materials.

So instead, I thought I'd offer some opinions and observations about kitchen items. Because doesn't it seem like for every practical, time-saving, well-engineered tool or appliance in the kitchen, there's another silly, frustrating, or just plain evil one taking up valuable space? Whether you get them as gifts or accidentally purchase them, it can take a while before you can justify tossing them in the garbage or the Goodwill pile. Meanwhile, you've got to maneuver around them or figure out a way to use them anyway despite their impracticality.

Finally figured out a use for that Dial-o-Matic Slicer!
(Photo: The_bosshog)

And some of the most practical items you own may have annoying features that drive you crazy. Anyone else have opinions about kitchen stuff and how it works, or is it just me?

Things I hate:

1. Microwave ovens that keep nagging you when your food is done.

Regular ovens, which will actually burn your food if you don't remember to rescue it when it's done, do not default to a mode that beeps loudly at you to remind you to take things out. You have to set a timer if you want it to yell at you. So why do microwave ovens, which shut off automatically and will not hurt food left sitting inside it, have such a freakin' complex about hanging out for a minute or two with food left in there? What's the problem, microwave? Why do you give a damn if my plate of leftovers sits innocently behind your glass door for a couple of minutes while I get myself a beverage?

Plus, if you're busy with other things, the stupid microwave will keep on beeping periodically to make sure you don't completely forget to eat the food you've just heated. Does this happen to other people a lot? For me: taking out the recycling on a Sunday night--that's something I might forget to do. But remembering to eat a meal I just finished heating? Um, not a big problem!

And of course the most infuriating thing is that many cheaper microwaves (including the one we own) will not allow you to mute the stupid beeping or even turn down the volume. Great for early risers like me who want to heat things up while others are sleeping! Beep beep beep beeeeep!

2. Blenders that Won't Blend. Or Pour.

I never used to have an opinion about blenders until I became addicted to morning smoothies. But now I've discovered that not all blenders are created equal. (Equally? Damn, now both ways sounds wrong).

So anyway, which one of these two blenders would you guess works better: the shiny industrial-looking Cuisinart we bought my mother-in-law for Christmas a year ago?

Or the vintage Sears "solid state Insta-Blend" model that we are using while we're housesitting at a friends house?

Given the design elements, like the fonts, colors, and the fake woodgrain stick-on label (click on the picture to enlarge, if you care) we're thinking this thing is probably not a recent model. But heck, it's Sears--never known for its cutting-edge aesthetics.

And yes, as you've probably guessed: the homely and probably ancient Sears Insta-Blend kicked the hoity-toity Cuisinart's gleaming silver ass.

The Cuisinart can barely blend an overripe banana. Throw anything frozen in there? It freaks out and shrieks like a two year old having a tantrum. It makes these horrible "I can't take this much longer" sounds, like I've thrown a few screwdrivers and wrenches in there for kicks along with the spinach and mango chunks. Plus, when it does manage to finally chop up something up down at the bottom of the container? It figures its job is done. It's not interested in anything that happens more than an inch above the blades. So it doesn't create that efficient swirly blender-vortex that normally pulls stuff from the top of the container down into the grindy part. This thing just sits there grinding up the same couple inches of liquid until you either stop and stir, or throw the whole damn thing out the window.

Oh, and check out the Cuisinarts' non-functional spout! The pouring end is flat except for a miniscule decorative doohickey that serves to split the flow of smoothie into two streams, neither of which directs the liquid where you're trying to pour it.

In contrast, the vintage Sears Insta-Blend comes in a practical shape for pouring:

Even better? When you throw a bunch of food into it, fresh or frozen? The Insta-Blend actually blends all the items together! Amazing.

Sticky Non-Stick Pans

Even if you manage to buy a brand that's non-toxic, it sure seems like the "non-stick" feature has been oversold. Sure, stuff doesn't stick for a while, but after a few years? Seems like the non-stick cookware is just as clingy as the other stuff.

Fancy Food Processors

This is my own particular neurosis, because I know other people use these and love them and I'm just too lazy to learn to use one properly. The Lobster drags ours out every now and then, and she swears it saves all kinds of time. But (1) the sharp blades scare me; (2) it seems to take forever to gather everything up, pre-slice things so they fit in there and clean up later without accidentally amputating a digit; and (3) whatever blade I've used makes the onions so wet and mushy they taste boiled even if you saute them. (Choose another blade? That would require thought, experimentation and more cleaning!)

I'm sure most of you love your food processors but tend to opt for knife or blender.

Evil Plastics Everywhere!

So a while back I wrote about the possible dangers of endocrine-disrupting BPA's and other toxic substances found food containers and kitchenware. And as a result, I've started using more glass and ceramics, and avoiding certain canned goods and plastic containers. But holy cow, once you start looking around the kitchen... plastic is everywhere! What about the coffee maker that's had hot liquid running through it for years now? The old tupperware? The plastic mixing bowls? And so much of the food straight from the grocery store comes in some sort of container that now seems suspect. I try to remember which of the little recycling numbers are good and which mean trouble, but lots of our old kitchenware doesn't have numbers on it. Yikes!

So enough complaining for now.

Some Kitchen Things I Love:

My Big Ass Coffee Cup:

Yeah, I know, portion control theory advocates small containers, but we're talking COFFEE here. And I happen to take mine with a ton of heated nonfat milk. A friend of mine used to work at a certain ubiquitous coffee franchise, and brought me several of these giganto 20 ounce mugs which I treasure, even as I feel slightly embarrassed for advertising a big corporate chain I don't tend to patronize myself. But now they don't even make these mugs anymore! Just a smaller version. I even take one with me when I travel, because I'm freakishly attached to my morning coffee ritual. Breaking it up into several tiny mugs just won't do.

A Good Garlic Press

Garlic presses, like potato peelers, cheese graters, and pizza-cutters, are the sort of item that can be incredibly useful or not depending on how well-made they are. Many brands of these things do not work all that well, so when you find a good one, you can become very passionate about it. I had a couple of crappy garlic presses before my current one that wouldn't smush the garlic reliably unless I peeled the clove first, but this one mashes on through the peel like it's nothing. I heart you, garlic press!

Salad Spinner

I will try not to notice for the moment that the thing is plastic, and just hope it is a good kind of plastic. Because between toxic pesticide residue (non-organic) or gritty dirt and the occasional small slug (organic) you gotta wash your lettuce. I never think ahead, and I hate soggy salad! Plus, I love the whole pumping whirring ritual.

Toaster Oven

I love the way these take almost no time to preheat, and on summer days, don't turn the whole kitchen hot like a regular oven can. Also, the "bake" element and the "broil" element are both right there on either side of the food, so if I'm lazy I can sometimes skip flipping something over by first baking, then broiling.

The only thing toaster ovens don't do very well? Make toast. Go figure.

So I'm hoping some of you also have opinions about kitchen items? Any favorites? Any gadgets or features that try your patience?

December 18, 2009

Buddy System: Yea or Nay?

In an interesting article on the New York Times' health blog, The Well, Tara Parker-Pope takes on the question of which is better for walking: a human, or a dog?

I won't be shocking anybody when I reveal that dogs were way, way better than human companions when it came to enthusiasm, distance travelled, and speed gained in walking.

Which made me think about exercise on the buddy system. I've always hated it; it took a lot for me to work out in front of Attila the first, oh, fifty times I did so, but now I've gotten addicted. Having somebody around to kick my ass on a regular basis has made all the difference in my fitness life.

What about you? What are the benefits and drawbacks to exercising with another person, or with your pooch?

Several years ago, I tried to have a walking buddy. I really tried. There were three major drawbacks to our partnership: First, she was six feet tall, plus a few inches, and I am five-two on a tall day, with platforms on. Our stride lengths didn't match at all; she'd be lollygagging while I trotted along puffing, trying to keep up.

The second problem was scheduling. It gets *hot* here in Central Texas in the summer time, and the only time we could consistently work out together was between 3:30 and 5 pm--known as The Time Of Certain Death to us natives.

The third and final problem? Although she was a very nice lady, we had nothing at all in common. She was a fashion designer and I... ... ...well, "fashion" is whatever's clean today. We had less than nothing to talk about.

As a result, we didn't work out together for very long or very consistently.

Occasionally I will take Max, my dog, for a walk. Max is enormous: half German Shepherd and half Flying Flapdoodle, he weighs in at something north of a hundred pounds. He's enthusiastic, energetic, and excellent on a leash, but he has one major fault when we're walking: he thinks of time alone with me as time when he must be Protecto-Pooch.

As a result, he gets very anxious. Although he doesn't lunge at other dogs or other people (and "leash law" here is honored more in the breach than the observance, which is another concern), he spends so much time clearing corners and watching out for threats to His Human that he's more tense at the end of a walk than he was at the beginning. It's like taking a Marine fresh from combat training for a nice stroll through some of the seedier parts of Detroit, except with more drooling.

The positives include pace: he's a fast boy, and prone to break into gallops with little or no warning, so I get good interval training. Plus, he's friendly and gorgeous and well-mannered, so we (and by "we" I mean "he") get plenty of attention and affection on our walks. Still, if I weigh his anxiety level on even a short walk against the benefits, we're better off playing Tackle The Human in the back yard.

So I mostly, like the antihero of a modern Jarmisch-esque Western, work out alone. How 'bout you?

December 17, 2009

Resolving To Do Better Next Year

Is it later than you think?
Photo: a2zindianews

As a hard-core, long suffering Red Sox fan, I know well the meaning of the phrase, "Wait 'til next year." It's great fun to be a sports fan - the excitement and rivalry - but if they don't win next year, it doesn't really impact my quality of life. Sure, there are those annoying New York Yankees fans who have a whole year of high-fiving right in my face but beyond the mild humiliation of having backed a losing team - again (sigh) - I'm still basically intact.

But what happens if you keep saying, "Wait 'til next year" when it comes to your health? That, unfortunately, can't keep being put off because each time you drop the ball, you're paying in terms of health and longevity. It doesn't affect Derek Jeeter's life if you're 40 pounds overweight. Big Papi's still sleeping soundly at night even if your blood pressure's going through the roof. New Year's and all the resolving that goes along with it is the perfect time for your personal game changer.

It's that time again when one year is coming to a close and another is just about to begin. Are we going to burden ourselves with regret for the things we didn't accomplish this past year? Or are we going to take those disappointments and roll them into opportunities for personal growth and achievement in the New Year? Hmmmm...tough one. Time to flip a coin.

Of course you're going to opt for bettering yourself and making that resolution to get fit this year! I mean, consider the alternatives, right? Do you want to keep being asked to play Santa at your kids' school (better known as Old Fat Man Solstice here in the politically correct climes of the Northeast)? Are you tired of being considered the office perv because of all the heavy breathing and sweating which occurs naturally and not as a response to the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated? And just how many times do you have to insist that you aren't wearing a petticoat - that those are, in fact, your thighs?

Weight loss and getting fit are always right at the top of New Year's resolutions lists. What makes the difference between people who succeed at keeping those resolutions and those who don't? It's a little thing called "self-efficacy", which loosely translated into English means the level of belief you have in your ability to reach your goals. People with high self-efficacy believe that their potential is unlimited and dynamic. If they're not reaching their goals it's because they're not putting in sufficient effort and so they double down and get it done. Huh? Kind of smacks of personal responsibility, if you ask me. Isn't that kind of old school in this no-fault society of ours? Well, it turns out it's been around so long because it generally gets results. People in this category tend to have higher levels of success and set - and reach - more goals.

And then there are the low self-efficacy among us (cue oboe music here). Having majored in Slacking with a minor in Excuses, I'm more than qualified to weigh in on this one. This group of slugs people tends to believe that the ability to change is a fixed and limited resource and much of how they end up has to do with things beyond their control; such as claiming that big bones and cheese-coated arteries runs in their family. What's a person to do? It's out of your hands, right? This is the just the lousy hand you've been dealt. Not surprisingly, people in this group had a low level of success in reaching their goals.

Hopefully, we're more of the high self-efficacy group. At least that's what we're putting on our resumes and in our Christmas letters. But even if you are a closet LSE (low self-efficacy - oh dear, that an unfortunate resemblance to the word "LoSEr", now isn't it?), there are some suggestions that can help lay the groundwork for success.

The most commonly recurring tip I found when looking into how to keep your New Year's resolutions was to break down your goal into manageable pieces so as not to get too overwhelmed with the enormity of your ultimate goal. Say you've got 50 or more pounds to lose - try breaking that down into mini goals of 5 or 10 pounds at a time so you don't feel like a small loss is merely a drop in the bucket.

You should be careful not to try to change too much at once. Maybe kick the smoking habit first and then tackle the weight loss. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? Keeping it simple and orderly will help you stay focused and calm as you go about changing things one at a time.

Plan ahead and really think out your goal. Like anything else you do, setting yourself up for success requires a thought process a bit more complex than "paper or plastic." Avoid making hasty resolutions at 11:59 pm on December 31st. Write down ahead of time what you want to do and the time frame in which you want to do it. You should also keep records as to your progress to spur you on when you hit those bumps in the road. Take "before" pictures, measurements and sizes and you'll get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in watching them get smaller the farther along your journey you go.

Make sure to reward yourself along the way for staying on course, taking care to avoid the bad habits of treating yourself or celebrating with the same bad food choices that got you into this fix in the first place. Non-food goodies like books, music, videos or a special outing are good substitutes.

But why wait?! If this is something you've been thinking about for a while and are fairly well organized already, start now. Give yourself the gift of a head start and enjoy that feeling of being ahead of the crowd. I know, I know - you want one last dance with that egg nog cheesecake. But you know what? Egg nog cheesecake will always be there - as will every other thing you enjoy eating. You'll enjoy it again, albeit in much smaller amounts. It's not like you're Dead Man Walking and this is your last meal before going to the chair. Don't panic and start scarfing down everything in sight on your Farewell Tour - it will only make your task that much harder.

So what are you resolving to do this New Year's and how will you go about getting it done? And will you start early or take the last train out of town on December 31st?

December 16, 2009

Health and Fitness Gift Ideas

So today's main post is just below, but I also wanted to let you know I've got a post up at Blogher on Healthy Holiday Gift Ideas. Long-time readers may be suspicious when they read the title: "Holiday Hot Buttons: Don’t Send the Wrong Message With Your Healthy Gift."

Does that sound anything like a Crabby McSlacker post title? Not to me it doesn't. I don't even know what the heck a "hot button" is, or where it's located, or what dire things happen if you push it.

Oh wait! I think I found it.

Whatever You Do, Don't Press This Button! It's Hot!
(Photo: tarheelcoxn)

But if you're brave enough to click your way over to BlogherLand, you'll discover that the writing is mine, even if the title isn't. And thanks to those of you whose gift ideas I stole for the post! Most appreciated.

Kuru Shoes: The Answer? Wait, What Was the Question?

So recently I wrote a post about Plantar Fasciitis: what it is, why it sucks, and what Dr. Google thinks you should do to make it go away and never come back again. Not unsurprisingly, I spent a fair amount of time whining about my own sore heel. Many helpful readers reminded me in the comments: "Wear supportive shoes, Crabby!"

Well, shortly after I ran that post, I got a most intriguing email from the Kuru Footwear people. These are the same shoes Mizfit reviewed and got me all curious about. And the Kuru folks offered to send me a FREE pair of shoes to review!

To know Crabby McSlacker is to know she is all about FREE STUFF so I was pretty darn thrilled.

Wanna know what I liked and didn't about Kuru shoes? Want to see pictures of my Kuru'd feet? Gosh, how can you resist?

Read more here!

December 15, 2009

She just never stops: Attila's latest moves

You have got to be freakin' kidding me.

This week's edition of Things I Wish I Hadn't Done comes courtesy of static poses and itty-bitty muscle work. It's sponsored by the letters O and U and C and H, and co-sponsored by my very sore obliques and shoulder muscles.

Have you ever thought, as you're swinging weights around dangerously close to your head, the ceiling fan, and other people, that your muscles just aren't getting enough of itsy-teeny movements and static strength-building?

Well, neither have I. Unfortunately for all of us, Attila thinks about these things, and once in a while she brings in a set or three of exercises that make me fully aware of how taxing little movements or just staying still can be. Wanna hear about it? Great! Grab some cheezy puffs and read on, being thankful all the time that You Are Not Me.

Torturous Move The First: What the Hell are Rhomboids, anyhow?

Rhomboids are those muscles that run from your spine to your shoulder blade on either side of your back. I'm sure they're important for something, but I can't remember what at the moment. If you want to make yours sore, do this:

Grab one of those big rubber bands that trainers use. Hold it behind your back at butt-level and pull outwards with both arms more-or-less straight. Repeat. Endlessly.

This is one of those moves that seems easy-peasy at first but gets progressively harder. About halfway through the second set, I begin to whine. Midway through the third set, I add grousing to my whining. If I'm made to do a fourth set, the intensity and volume of my whining reaches a point that I am doing aerobic exercise along with my WTHRhomboids Reps.

Torturous Move The Second: Remember Yoga Class?

The Plank: Beloved of yoga instructors and trainers, reviled by those actually made to stay in that position for more than a few seconds at a stretch. This one works your shoulders, chest, and core.

Assume the pushup position with your elbows bent, your chest a few inches off the floor, and your hands slightly wider than shoulder width.

Now stay there. For forty-five seconds to a minute. Sweat and shake and puff and blow beginning about fifteen seconds in.

Because I'm working on looking less anatomically impossible (in other words, I can almost see my neck again, rising out of my shoulder muscles) and because I have a bum shoulder, Attila lets me do these with my forearms on the floor. It really makes no difference to me; planks suck rocks no matter how you do them.

For extra added fun, make sure you have a cat who wants to sleep in the small of your back, or a dog who wants to lick your face as you're doing this one!

And Finally, The Side Plank!

This is great for your obliques, your thighs, your core, and your sense of persecution.

Lie on your side with your hip/waist/chest up off the floor, your weight supported by the side of your foot and your arm, and raise the arm that's not supporting your weight straight up in the air. Or, alternatively, you can let it lie on your side. Or you can grab hopelessly at thin air as your trainer hops around, just out of your reach, and giggles. Hold this position for about a million years, then switch to the other side.

See? Easy. Until the next morning, when you have to get out of bed. I'll be honest, and without hyperbole for just a second: of all the sessions I dread, I dread Itty-Bitty Muscle sessions the most. They're the most useful for me, as I have to be extremely functional in terms of core strength, balance, and stability, but they're also the most grueling. I'd rather duck-walk for a half mile or do good-mornings all darn day than have one session of planks and band work.

But hey, everybody's different. You go 'head and plank all you want; I'll just be sitting here in the corner in my red-hot iron shoes.

December 14, 2009

Setting Fitness Goals: Tips for Slackers

If you spend much time reading health, fitness, or weight loss blogs, you may notice that lots of folks are setting impressive goals for themselves--and more often than not, they meet or exceed them!

For example, Sagan at Living Healthy in the Real World is doing her 200 Reps challenge and Merry is working on the Couch to 5K and Big Girl Bombshell is getting set to work up Pre-New Year's Goals.

And what about Crabby? What does she aspire to accomplish? How come she never posts any creative, challenging goals and then triumphantly reports how she kicked ass despite many daunting obstacles?

Well, as it happens, I do occasionally set goals, and sometimes I even achieve them. Most times not, but whatever. I just don't tend to announce them publicly in case they turn out to be too hard or I get bored and change my mind.

So I wouldn't dare to presume to advise all the Super Fitness Achievers out there on how to set meaningful and motivational fitness goals.

Hey Crabby, it's Dara Again.
Could You Give Me Some More Advice?

Instead, the following Goal Setting Tips are not for the Super Achievers, but are specially designed for other slackers like myself, who would like to get maybe slightly less slacky. (You know who you are).

Crabby's Top Five Fitness Goal Setting Tips:

1. Don't Be a Sheep

After discovering that someone you admire is trying to accomplish a difficult goal--say run a marathon, or climb a mountain, or swim from Key West to Nova Scotia towing a raft of rabid Siberian tigers--it may be very tempting to say: hey me too! I'm gonna shoot for that goal, that sounds awesome!

However, picking a goal is a very personal thing. You need to take into account your own interests, abilities, injuries, and general "screw it it's too hard" threshold.

Upon hearing someone announce a goal that sounds tempting, you might want to ask yourself, what part sounds tempting? Being able to say you did it? Or all the possibly tedious, miserable and brutal steps it would take to get there?

2. Go Ahead, Dream Big--But Break it Down.

I never attempt overly ambitious goals myself, but I know a lot of people have great success by pledging to do something that seems improbable. There are too many people who have dreamed of losing half their body weight or going from couch-potatohood to ultra-marathons who have actually succeeded for me to dismiss this approach entirely.

However, I think what the successful folks do is break it down into smaller goals that are short term enough not to be totally discouraging.

For example, as I've lately been dealing with a foot problem due to (I think) plantar fasciitis, I've been trying to apply my newly invented motivational cross-training system. It's called "Cognitive Restructuring, Accentuating Positivity®!

Anyway, I've been attempting to start biking more often, to replace my regular running routine which I much prefer, and I thought, "wouldn't it be cool to bike up the hill to Skyline Blvd without stopping or walking?" It's not very far, geographically, but for a beginning bicyclist like me it's kinda steep.

But in the meantime, I set a more obtainable goal: To bike up to Skyline with as many rest stops as necessary. (But no walking the bike because skipping the steep parts would be cheating).

See? It's not the most elegant sounding goal.

But let me just proudly announce that the other morning I did indeed bike up to Skyline Blvd! Stopping four times, but who's counting. (Well, I'm counting, obviously. My next goal is 3 stops.)

Last time, I got could only get as far as Uranus. It wasn't pretty.

(Yes, I am still 12 years old. As long as my route requires passing Uranus Ave, I'm gonna keep mentioning it.)

3. Don't Give Up On Your Goal The First Time it Gets Really Hard.

At least wait until the Second Time.

Seriously, we slackers have a tendency to give up easily. We're all enthusiastic when we're making progress, but sometimes you can be doing all the right things... and you get worse, not better! Sadly, in most fitness endeavors, there really isn't a straight line effort-to-accomplishment relationship. Sometimes it's all f#cking effort and no f#cking accomplishment.

The cool thing is though, if you can wait out the sucky unrewarding times, sometimes all of a sudden you make progress when you don't expect or deserve to! So even if you're beginning to suspect you picked a dumb-ass impossible goal, give it at least a little while before you chuck it out the window.

4. But Sometimes, You Just Gotta Stop Banging Your Head Against the Wall.

If you are a lifelong slacker, you may notice that motivation and enthusiasm are not just laying around in unlimited quantities, waiting for you to scoop them up and use them to achieve all your cherished goals. All those type-A, cheerful, dedicated, hard-working super-achievers somehow keep hogging it all.

So if you use up all your energy on something hard that isn't even fun anymore, just because you said some goal out loud and other people heard it, then you may be totally wasting precious motivation on something unworthy. Maybe it's time to say: screw it, I give up! Find a goal that's more fun and if anyone calls you on your earlier goal, just tell 'em that World Famous Motivational Coach Crabby McSlacker said your new goal is way better. I'll back you up.

5. Remember Your Ultimate Fitness Goal

Whether you want to set short-term easy goals, or long term impossible goals, you probably have a "bottom line" fitness goal. Something along the lines of: stay active for the rest of your life!

Don't let the failure to achieve an arbitrary fitness goal mess with your ultimate fitness goal.

Photo: WiredRyo

It's really easy to get discouraged if you set a a goal, sincerely try to achieve it, and just can't do it. It's tempting then, for many people, to slink off and give up on fitness entirely. It's the kind of all-or-nothing perfectionism that dooms many get-in-shape efforts.

Don't be like that!

Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Forget about "goals" if they're not helping you and you can't find one easy enough to meet. Just do something to be active. Motivation ebbs and flows, and you will get more of it, eventually. And give yourself massive credit for hanging in there. You'll be far better off in 10, 20, or 50 years if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if it's only to take seemingly lame little baby steps. Don't focus too hard on arbitrary short term goals if they're going to scare you away from a lifetime of physical fitness.

What about you guys? Do you set particular fitness goals or just generally try to stay active?