October 30, 2009

What are your lifelines?

I was thinking this morning about things I cannot live without.

I don't mean things like air and water and an appropriate amount of carbon dioxide to stimulate the breathing reflex; I'm talking about things that, if they were suddenly to go away, would make such a huge dent in my quality of life that living would be difficult to do.

The whole reason that this came up is that I did something last night I hardly ever do (which is the reason I'm posting in the afternoon rather than in the morning): I forgot to take my antidepressant before I went to bed.

Those of you who have read Head Nurse know that I take Effexor to control anxiety and depression. It's been a literal lifesaver for me; I think I would've died of ennui had I not started taking it five years ago. *Not* taking it, though, is worse than being depressed: even the extended-release version will set you up for nasty, nasty withdrawal symptoms if you miss so much as a single dose. Think dreams that even Crabby's Lucid Dreaming post couldn't help you control, weird visual and physical effects, and a feeling like your brain has the flu.

So I woke up this morning feeling electric shocks down my arms and up my neck, remembered the crazy dream I had (the ICU staff was doing a cross between "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race", neither of which I've ever seen, and we had to walk from Dallas to the Gaza Strip), felt foggy and goofy, and realized: This drug? Is a lifeline for me. Without it, I have Brain Scurvy.

Intrigued by the thought that a little red capsule could be so important, I thought about other lifelines I have. One is my relationship with my sister. Another, surprisingly, is my relationship with Attila.

Three years ago, if you'd told me I would consider a monumentally expensive personal trainer to be a necessity rather than a luxury, and that I'd actually panic at the thought of not working out with that M.E.P.T., I would've laughed you out of the room. I knew intellectually that exercise could change brain chemistry for the better. I knew it could help manage stress. I knew it could increase a person's feelings of competency and self-esteem. I just didn't realize how much those study results would apply to me.

I'll be darned, though, if I don't feel so much better, so much less goofy, and so much more competent when I'm done falling over my own feet and dropping weights on my head! At first, it was the Hammer Analogy: it felt so good when I stopped that I didn't mind the weight-dropping and floor-kissing. Now, though, it's a totally different feeling: I *jones* for workouts. And I know that I have neither the determination nor the discipline to do them on my own, so I really depend on Attila.

I have, totally unintentionally, become something of a jock. When I'm out for walks with Max, he'll stay on the ground while I balance on a low wall. We'll do doggy-timed wind sprints. I no longer poop out at the idea of lifting heavy patients--in fact, it's become something of a noblesse oblige thing for me to help with every lift at work.

It's not to the point yet that I'm wearing running shoes out in public, or that I'm eating horrible protein bars for breakfast and taking licorice extract at lunch, but I'm sure that time will come. When it does, please knock some sense into my head and remind me of my other lifeline: FRITOS.

What are your lifelines? How many of them are body-fitness-related, and how many are brain-fitness-related?

October 28, 2009

Hello from the Crab!

Yep, we're still on our cross country road trip, and we haven't been eaten by bears, struck by lightning, or abducted by aliens. Yet.

Actually, instead of heading for the Rocky Mountains today as we'd planned, we took a weather-related detour and are now holed up in a sad little town that smells of cow shit. On the plus side, cow-shit town has friendly people and features a convenient, if not scenic, RV park that has internet. We're waiting out a storm and are hoping for better hiking days ahead, if not in the Rockies then perhaps somewhere Southwesty. But heck, it's all an adventure, and we're well-supplied with pizza and salad and beer and we're having a grand ol' time.

It's weird not being on the internet for days and days at a time. On previous trips, I've been much better about staying connected when traveling cross country, but this time... not so much. Sorry! I hate missing out on what everyone's been up to, and I feel bad about putting up old rerun posts, but I know that soon enough I'll be settled again on the west coast and will have plenty of chance to get all caught up again.

Thanks so much for your great comments and your patience! And thanks again to my great cobloggers Gigi and Jo for keeping things going.

But anyway, since this is a health and fitness blog, here's some photographic evidence, however indistinct, that I've been attempting to get some on-the-road exercise:

Crabby on a Hike--
The World's Most Clueless Map Reader

Crabby Running--Before She Found Out
It Was Hunting Season and She Was Supposed
To Be Wearing a Bright Orange Vest to Avoid
Being Mistaken for a Deer and Shot Dead.
Hey Western Pa: WTF???

Crabby Using the TRX that You Could Win,
Just Ignore Her Saggy-Ass Form
And Pretend She's Doing it Right

The Lobster!
(This Is Just Proof That She's Still Here And
That Crabby Didn't Accidentally Lose Her In a Poker Game).

I miss everyone, thanks for continuing to stop by. Back soon!

Take Me To The Closet, Bub

If you listen to music while you run (or any other time, but let's pretend this is a fitness post) you have probably encountered this phenomenon:

The song lyrics are difficult to make out, and sometimes the words you "hear" sound quite silly. But you rack your brain for alternatives and it still really sounds like those are the actual words! Later you discover what the real lyrics are, and of course your goofy version was totally wrong.

Cranky Fitness does not pretend to be the first to discover the humor in "mondegreens," or misheard song lyrics. Google a bit and you will find bazillions of hilarious examples.

However, does anyone else find it annoying that most of these collections are based on the premise that the listener actually thought the silly lyrics were the real ones?

Isn't it funny enough that the Creedence Clearwater lyrics "There's a Bad Moon on the Rise" sound so much like "There's a Bathroom on the Right" that you could almost swear that's what they were singing? Do sensible adults really have to pretend that they believed a song that hit Number 2 on the Billboard charts was written about the location of a restroom facility?

Or that Jimmy Hendrix was asking his listeners, back in 1966, to "Excuse me while I kiss this guy?"

Seems more likely that people heard funny words and thought: "Doesn't it almost kinda sound like they're saying ______? Wouldn't it be funny if those were the actual lyrics?" Yet it remains a tradition that we act as though we once were certain the goofy lyrics were authentic.

(So I'll concede the "when I was seven years old I thought..." sort of stories are a lot more credible. I thought lots of silly things myself when I was a kid. But even some of these sound a little fake sometimes).

But let's put aside the question of whether these mishearings are truly misunderstandings. Some of the collections you come across from various sources (like here or here) really are quite amusing.

For example, do you remember any of these classic lyrics?

Madonna's: "Like a virgin, touched for the thirty-first time."
(very first time);

Eurythmics: "It’s all right, babies come in bags"
(Baby's comin' back);

Robert Palmer's: "Might as well face it you're a dick with a glove"
(addicted to love);

Cher's: "Gypsies, Chimpanzees"
(Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves);

Maria Muldaur's: "Midnight after you're wasted"
(Midnight At the Oasis);

Joni Mitchell's : "A gay pair of guys put up a parking lot"
(They paved paradise and put up a parking lot);

Or the Eagle's : "I'm looking for a lover who won't blow my brother, she's so hard to find."
(my cover, not brother)

(Note: the "corrected" lyrics in parentheses may not be entirely right either, as I didn't bother to look 'em all up).

Alas, an effort to turn this into a more intellectual scholarly discussion of misheard song lyrics turned up nothing the least bit researchy. Well, except this totally incomprehensible study. (Seriously, I have no idea what the hell that was supposed to be about).

So what are some of my mishearings? Unfortunately, most of mine aren't that funny, or else they are entirely too common. For example, the Bee-Gees song "Bald-headed woman" came on at the gym the other day, but tons of us hear it that way, not as "More than a woman." Likewise, I'm not the only one who hears the Savage Garden tune "I Want You" as referencing a poultry-flavored soft drink, Chicken-Cherry Cola. I couldn't even figure out what the heck the real lyrics were.

I do have a tune on my iPod in which a woman enthusiastically implores her man to "Take Me To The Closet, Bub." However, she doesn't sound nearly sultry enough to be suggesting a furtive sexual encounter surrounded by coats and umbrellas, so I suspected those weren't the real lyrics. Yet even trying really hard to make sense of the words, it took weeks to finally hear them as "Take Me to The Clouds Above."

And there's a line in a song called "Poison" in which the singer is talking about how tempting having sex with her lover is:

"Your mouth, so hot; your ware, uncut;
"Your skin, so wet; black lace, on sweat"

I guessed I was probably hearing that wrong--would she really comment on the fact that her boyfriend had an uncircumcised penis? And would she use the rather old-fashioned sounding "ware" as a euphemism? But it kept sounding like that's exactly what she was saying. I finally had to look it up online to find out that "your ware, uncut," was actually "your web, I'm caught."

Dang, I shouldn't have looked. I liked the uncircumcised version better.

So obviously I'm not very good at funny mishearings--I'm hoping you all can do much better--either ones you misheard yourselves, or other funny ones you've come across.

In the meantime, here's an amusing video, and you don't even have to like Pearl Jam to enjoy it.

[Re-run warning: Yep, sorry, this is another oldie. But I'll be back from vacation soon with more new posts!]

October 26, 2009

Well, that explains a lot of things.

A study came out recently from UT Southwestern Medical Center. For those of you who've never heard of it, UTSW is one of those research centers that make people who do research for a living go "Oooh" and "Aaaah" when they hear the name. It's also one of those research centers where people apparently get paid grant money to find out things which will serve either to depress you utterly, or boost your willpower.

Dr. Deborah Clegg (who, incidentally, has the coolest glasses I've ever seen) led a team that discovered, long story short, that eating foods high in saturated fatty acids like palmitic acid (found in dairy products and beef, dammit!) actually turns off the chemical reaction in your brain that tells you you're hungry.

This, my friends, is a troubling finding.

What this means, basically, is that if you eat butter on your pancakes on Thursday, your brain will refuse to recognize that you're full, so you'll overeat that buttery pancakey wonderfulness.

“What we’ve shown in this study is that someone’s entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin,” Dr. Clegg said. “Since you’re not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”

Further, your brain doesn't reset itself automatically after a load of pancakes with palmitic acids; instead, it takes a while for it to return to its normal state of Weight Watchering and bean-munching.

Dr. Clegg said that in the animals, the effect lasts about three days, potentially explaining why many people who splurge on Friday or Saturday say they’re hungrier than normal on Monday.

What does this mean for those of us who are either trying to lose weight, lower our collective cholesterols, or generally be more healthy?

It means we need to be aware of--though not afraid of--the effect that things like creamy, marvelous butter, stinky cheeses, real heavy cream, and lean cuts of gorgeous, well-grilled beef might have on our brains. Portion control would obviously be the watchword here.

Dr. Clegg said that even though the findings are in animals, they reinforce the common dietary recommendation that individuals limit their saturated fat intake. “It causes you to eat more,” she said. Dr. Clegg then lowered her head to her desk, sobbing, "No more Ben & Jerry's! No more delicious cereal cream on my Corn Snappers in the morning! I've got to eat that hideous fake butter spread! How could you do this to me, research team? How *could* you? Drat those stupid mice!"

Lucid Dreaming for Slackers

Have any of you ever played around in the amazing fantasy world that is Lucid Dreaming?

With a bit of practice it's something many people can learn. Even I did. Then of course I got lazy and got out of the habit. Now I'm just starting to get back into it (again), and I have to say: totally worth the trouble! I always forget how much fun it is.

What the Heck is Lucid Dreaming?

It's just a fancy name for realizing in the middle of a dream that you're... well, dreaming. It dawns on you that your current "reality" is not actually "real," and this awareness can then lead to the ability to control your dreams. And boy howdy, that's where the fun starts.

The cool thing: it's a learnable skill. There's a set of steps to follow, and if you do them, there's a good chance you'll eventually start having dreams where you're aware you're in a dream and you even get to control what happens.

If you recall your dreams easily, or if you already have occasional spontaneous lucid dreams, you'll have an easier time of it. But all kinds of folks who hardly ever remembered their dreams before they started practicing have learned how to do this.

The not-so-cool thing: it takes some time and attention--something you may not exactly have in abundance. But the more you put into it, the better results you'll have and the faster you'll start having them.

Fortunately, however, it's not a huge amount of time, so it's the perfect Personal Growth Project for Slackers. And this being Cranky Fitness, we will of course discuss Shortcuts.

Why Bother Having Lucid Dreams?

Serious lucid dreaming advocates always give these sort of pragmatic reasons for learning to have lucid dreams:

1. Reducing nightmares.

2. Creative problem-solving.

3. Practicing life-skills you find difficult.

4. Working through personal issues by interacting with significant people in your life in a non-threatening, no-consequences environment.

Blah blah blah.

Let's look at a slightly different list, shall we? Here are some things you can do when you get good at it:

1. You can eat any damn thing you want, totally enjoy it as though it were the real thing, knowing there are no calories or carcinogens or transfats.

2. You can fly.

3. You can explore intricate, intense, fantasy worlds with the smug realization that somehow your humble little brain created and imagined them all by itself.

4. You can have sex with your favorite celebrity, or your best friend's spouse, or that hot yoga instructor at the gym, or hell, all three at once--with no horrible guilt or divorce papers or awkward morning-after conversations.

It's your world, and it feels totally real, and there are absolutely no rules or repercussions. Sound like fun?

Here's what you gotta do to get there.

1. Start Remembering More of Your Dreams

Easier said than done, right? Is there anything slipperier than a half-remembered dream? But increasing dream recall is a necessary step in the process. You get better and better the more you try to do it.


  • Get in the habit of reminding yourself as you fall asleep that you want to remember your dreams.

  • Also get in the habit of checking, whenever you wake up for any reason, to see if you can catch any dream fragments floating by. Stay with them, gently and without getting frustrated if possible, and see if you can pull out any more images or feelings or voices or sensations from the dream.

  • Keep a dream journal by your bed and jot down notes whenever you remember anything.

  • Linger in bed for a few moments in the morning and try to ease gently into remembering your dreams. Don't immediately leap into thoughts about the upcoming day. Analytical thinking, planning, and worrying seem to be real dream-memory killers.

Bonus: you spend all this time every night dreaming, it's nice to reclaim some it! Unremembered dreams seem like a waste, while remembered dreams can add up to a fuller, if weirder, life.

Slacker Short Cut: While you really SHOULD keep a dream journal, I'm too lazy myself. I discovered I can increase dream recall by reminding myself, obsessively, to try to remember my dreams whenever I wake up.

2. Recognize Dream Signs

As you've probably already noticed, there are themes and situations that seem to come up in dreams a lot. Some recurring themes are personal; others seem to be more common. (How many of us have found ourselves semi-naked at work, or faced with a final exam in a class we've never been to because we forgot we'd signed up?)

Anyway, it helps to know what you frequently dream about, because your personal dream signs will help you recognize that you're not in waking reality. Phones or light switches that don't work are very common; as is the inability to scream or run; the ability to float or fly; teeth falling out or other bizarre body problems; dead people showing up to chat, etc.

However, you probably have your own personal recurring situations or themes. If I'm in an elevator and the whole thing starts to tip sideways, for example, or if I'm a passenger in a plane that seems to be driving along the freeway instead of flying, those are both pretty good signs I'm dreaming.

3. Test Waking Reality

This is probably the strangest step.

Are you dreaming now? Of course you're not! It's rare that we get confused about this when we're actually awake. So it will probably feel totally stupid to get in the habit of asking yourself, many times a day: am I dreaming right now?

Of course you're not--you're reading Cranky Fitness!

But these inane periodic check-ins makes a huge difference. Eventually, as they become a habit, you'll start doing them at night in your dreams too.

And sometimes the answer to: am I dreaming right now?

Will be: um, you know what? I think I am!

If you have a recurring dream sign that relates to something that you do frequently in real life (i.e., weird things happen when you dial a phone or start your car or use a public restroom), then try to use these ordinary experiences as cues to ask if you're dreaming. But even just checking at random times is good too.

Dedicated approach: set a timer on your watch or computer or add a bunch of entries to your daily schedule to remind you to ask yourself if you're dreaming. Even though the answer seems like it's obviously "No," perform a test: read some text and then go back to read it again to see if it changes. Notice if anything impossible is going on. See if you can float. Turn on a light switch and see if the light goes on.

Slacker Shortcut: If you are damn sure you're awake, you don't actually have to perform the tests. But do remind yourself that you would totally check things out if you were on a spaceship to mars, or if your computer just turned into a pink refrigerator stocked with olive jars and paper clips and headless Barbie Dolls.

Additional Slacker Tip: Is there some other annoying thing you're already been trying to remember to do several times a day? Improve your posture, get up to stretch, take deep breaths, drink more water, etc? Then every time you nag yourself to do one of other things, throw in the additional question: am I dreaming?

4. Get Lucid
There are lots of fancy wake/sleep manipulations and gadgets and rituals you can try to hasten the process (see resources below), but basically, if you keep up with the first three steps with a fair amount of dedication, you will most likely (eventually) catch yourself dreaming.

It may start with a vague suspicion, or you may notice a dream sign, or you might suddenly recall that you are long past elementary school so what are you doing back in Mrs. Benjamin's classroom again? And it will finally occur to you to ask yourself whether you are dreaming when you are actually dreaming.

If you answer "yes, I AM dreaming," congratulations! You've had a lucid dream.

And if you are like most people you'll get all excited and wake up almost immediately. Crap.

5. Stay Lucid

This is one of the huge challenges of lucid dreaming. It's really a tricky balance to stay aware enough to enjoy the lucid experience, but not so aware and conscious that you wake yourself up.

Helpful hints to staying lucid:

a. Stay calm.

b. Notice the physical details of your surroundings. Look at your hands; rub them together; try to increase the sensual aspects of the experience.

c. If you feel yourself waking up, try spinning around and around. (No idea why this often works, but it seems to help many folks stay in a dream state).

d. But, try to stay mindful you are dreaming. It's also easy to float back into accepting everything and forgetting that this is not real life.

Once you start having more lucid dreams, you may discover that some end quickly but others will linger. Or that you'll start to wake up but will find yourself in another lucid dream later the same night. Keep it playful; try not to get too frustrated. Unless you've discovered a way to make sleep optional, you'll have every night for the rest of your life to play with this.

6. Start Messing With Your Dreams

Controlling your dreams is a blast when it works, but alas, it's unreliable. Sometimes it happens easily and you can order up your favorite fantasy and experience it in intense detail. Other times, it seems impossible to have any input and all you can do is watch things unfold, and appreciate that you get to experience a dream from a conscious, aware perspective.

See that landscape in front of you? Well, maybe you can't fly through it tonight, but you created it! Every leaf on that tree, you put there. It's pretty cool.

Cultivate a relaxed but hopeful approach. Don't try to force it, but imagine that what you'd like to happen is gradually coming to pass. You're about to walk into the next room, and inside will be... what? Some nights, it may be George Clooney in the all-together; other nights, it could be your next door neighbor's pet iguana Iggy; and who the hell wants to party with Iggy?

But perhaps Iggy will offer you the key to another room, and you can open the door and discover that inside... there's a huge all-you-can-eat cupcake buffet in progress!

7. Read More About It

This is obviously just a quick and quirky summary; there are books and websites and discussion forums and workshops and all kinds of further information if you'd like to become a well-traveled oneironaut. Here's a link to one fairly well thought out lucid dreaming website. And you may want to check out the venerable Lucidity Institute founded by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, a dude from Stanford University who's been studying this stuff for decades. These sites contain further links, or hell, you can just start googling!

Anyone else have lucid dreams? Or do your dreams contain any weird recurring themes you're willing to share?

[And yes, this is another Old Post from the Past--but before too long I'll be back from vacation with new stuff!]

October 23, 2009

Okay, I admit: I'm bummed.

It's been kind of a bummer of a week. My workouts have gone well, true, but it's raining. It's raining so much that Max has been scratching at the back door, asking to be let in and towelled dry, something he normally hates.

And work is....a little frustrating.

And the boy thing? Went nowhere.

Life is dust and ashes.

Well, okay. It's not that bad. But I still need some suggestions to get my mojo back. Fitness, after all, implies not only physical, but also *mental* fitness.

What do you do when you want to cancel today for lack of interest? Post in the comments!

October 22, 2009

Thanks, Yoda - I'll Take It From Here

Photo: AndresRueda

My brother once dated a woman who had four sons. Her "names" for them were Numbers One through Four. Charming, I know. You're captivated already, aren't you? Same with me. My husband and I have a son too and whenever we were in the presence of this woman she would launch into some parenting issue and end with the same, "and that's my advice to you about boys." Well, uh, thanks Yoda, but it's not like we even asked for your advice so why don't you mind your own business. Happily, once she felt secure with our parents' approval (they didn't like her either) she ignored us completely and instead spent all her time trying to solidify that all-important parent-girlfriend bond with those Zen master qualities of hers. To everyone's relief, she life-coached her way out of our lives and was soon off advising others in a galaxy far, far away. There's nothing that can clear a room faster that a know-it-all Mensa poseur - with the possible exception of the clam dip turning. Call the Algonquin and book that round table - party of one.

It's easy enough to blow off unsolicited advice because we've become pretty good at figuring out who's the real McCoy versus some pontificator who loves the sound of their own voice. People love to give advice - especially on topics with which they have little to no experience - such as childrearing, making money and interior design. As we continue to mature and have managed to stay out of jail, hold down a job, have kids, avoid Social Services/police interventions in relation to said kids, we begin thinking that we are the masters of our domain. Maybe our thinking starts becoming a little rigid (especially when children are thrown into the mix) and we settle into some hard and fast routines.

Then the day arrives when your doctor says you've got to do something proactive to improve your health. And you say, "I don't need no stinkin' advice - just give me a pill." You've gotten yourself this far without anyone's help and you figure you'll be just fine from here on out. But you're not fine and the physical problems continue to mount. The doctor says again that you must lose weight or be more active and still you resist. Hey - who knows better what you need than you? Certainly not some highly educated, trained professional with years of experience on her side.

When the day comes that you get winded from just tying your shoes or don't like having to whip out the Vaseline to wedge yourself into a restaurant booth, you decide to join a gym. You sign up for the complimentary workout session with a professional trainer. He or she shows you how to work the equipment and tells you that weight loss is 30% exercise and 70% diet. And you smile and nod and think to yourself, "I know what I'm doing. Thanks for the input, though." And because you love the novelty of it all, you invert that equation and make it mostly about the exercise and ignore the diet altogether.

After a little time passes you find that you're not making any progress at all. You still fell sluggish and look ten years older than you should. You always come to your defense first and divert blame away from yourself...until one day you're honest enough to finally confront your own flawed thinking. "Hmmm, why would I go to a doctor and not take her advice?" or, "I haven't lost much weight so maybe that trainer really did know what he was talking about. Maybe I really don't have all the answers." It's a good day when you've made the distinction about taking advice from your brother-in-law and taking advice from your doctor.

When your accountant says you owe money to the IRS, do you take that as a suggestion or do you pay up? Unless you love the look and feel of cold stell window treatments, you do what he says. Ever try to remove your own appendix? Give yourself a root canal? I certainly hope not. That's what professionals are for. And so it should be in respecting those professionals and their advice on how to improve your life through diet and exercise.

I know it touches a nerve with a lot of us when we're told we're overweight. We immediately become defensive and our guard goes up and rarely comes back down again; keeping us trapped in this situation. Perhaps it's because we're living in such a superficial society that places way too much importance on how we look versus the more complex and worthy attributes like kindness and compassion. It's hard NOT to take it personally. But if taking our own advice hasn't gotten us to a better place then it's probably time to start listening to the experts.

Start by taking the emotion out of it (and obesity has a lot of emotion tied up in it) and think of it as any other health issue that needs attention, like a bad appendix or tooth. These people know what they're doing and they're trying to help. Isn't that why you went to them in the first place? To quote a famous movie line, "It's nothing personal, it's just business."

October 21, 2009

Hypochondria Lite

Cartoon by Al Bar

Anyone else out there have a slight tendency toward hypochondria?

No, not the sort where your life is one long parade of ominous symptoms, visits to specialists, and appointments for tests, re-tests, and re-re-tests--because maybe the results say you're fine, but suppose the lab accidentally mixed up your samples with some healthy person's?

That's the fullblown, clinical kind. I'm talking about the more occasional, amateur type hypochondria. Hypochondria "Lite."

The sort of hypochondria where, just hypothetically, you might find one night you're seeing some sort of weird crescent shaped thing in your eye, and you remember something about the symptoms of detached retinas and the dire importance of seeking immediate medical attention for them. And then you convince yourself that because you are not going to roust your sleeping spouse and go to the emergency room, you will probably wake up the next morning blind in one eye. But then instead you wake up the next morning and you're fine! And so you forget all about it.

That kind of hypochondria.

Here's a quick diagnostic test:

One day you notice a reddish pimply-looking bump on your leg. That bump is most probably:

a. A pimple.

b. The beginning stages of a potentially deadly flesh eating bacteria you must have picked up at the gym, since you've never had a pimple on your leg before in your entire life. However, since it's conceivable that it's something less ominous, you might wait a few days before checking with a doctor.

c. Malignant melanoma in the final stages. You make an appointment with your doctor and insist she see you as soon as possible, but you also call your attorney to update your will because you know you are a goner.

If you are an "A" person, congratulations, you are normal! If you are a "C" person, we need to talk--meet me at the bottom of the post.

But what about all of us "B" people, the Amateur Hypochondriacs? (And yes, both examples were me--I did worry I had a detached retina, and feared I'd contracted MRSA from my gym this summer until the pimple went away).

We amateurs are little worry-wartish about our health and occasionally think we're going to die when we're not--but we don't freak out nearly often enough or severely enough that it screws up our lives.

Saving Grace: Being a Lazy Slacker

The only reason I haven't humiliated myself in doctor's offices from coast to coast with my exaggerated health fears is because I hate going to the doctor. So I take a "wait and see" attitude--even if while I'm waiting and seeing I'm also seriously considering the possibility that I'm dying. But year after year, the weird bumps and aches and numb spots etc have never turned out to be anything fatal. So this strategy has been surprisingly effective.

Here's a particularly weird example: I was out running one morning and when I finished my run, I had lost the ability to remember about 75% of my vocabulary.

Not just abstract words like "abstemious" or "profligate." I couldn't think of basic words like "muffin" or "blueberry" or "egg" (it was breakfast time) or "scared" (which I was) or "stroke," which I was pretty sure I was having.

This bout of aphasia lasted maybe half an hour. And then, wham, a headache. I almost never get headaches. But fortunately, my words came back. (I'm kinda attached to them).

But before I sought medical attention... I had a vague recollection that my mother had a similar episode of not being able to remember words, and that it hadn't been a stroke but something far less scary. So I called her up (once I regained my ability to speak). I asked her what the heck she'd been diagnosed with.

Her answer? A migraine.

Did you know that one symptom of a migraine is aphasia? Well, I didn't, but I sure as hell do now. So it was yet another 911 call I was glad I didn't make.

Good Reasons for Being a Bit of a Worry Wart

I think anyone who spends a fair amount of time reading about health on the web is at least at some risk for health-related anxiety. With access to more medical information that we know what to do with, it's easy to start with a weird pain in your jaw and end up with a bad case of cyberchondria.

Part of the problem is that so many awful, fatal diseases start with vague symptoms that everyone gets all the time. And if you read the "warning signs," many articles will tell you to run off and check with your doctor right away.

Say you're experiencing a bit of fatigue, or you have a headache, or you've lost some weight, or you've got swollen lymph glands, or you're feeling a bit bloated or light-headed or your feet are numb or you're nauseated. Could be nothing--or, depending on the symptom, it could be a heart attack or ovarian cancer or multiple sclerosis or all kinds of serious things. How can we not be a little bit paranoid?

And no doubt some of you have paid attention to vague symptoms, got yourself to a doctor, and saved your own life by catching a potential fatal illness in it's early, treatable stages. Do not read this post and stop doing that!

But I just have too many transient symptoms that have never, ever meant anything. If followed all the advice I've read about when to seek medical attention, I'd be at the doctor's office every damn day of my life. My solution: I don't go in, but I keep tabs on the symptom and freak out a bit, especially if it's something new and weird.

It always goes away again. So far, so good--I'm still alive!

Unfortunately though, I know folks who ignored innocuous symptoms and it turned out to be Something Bad. So I really don't know what the answer is. Serious diseases are pretty darn rare. But if lots of Weird Things are going on, and not going away, then go get it checked out. Don't worry if your doctor thinks your a whiny worry-wart. Unless this pattern seems to happen to you a LOT.

What If Worries About Your Health Are Interfering With Your Life?

You can get help! If you are frequently afraid you have a serious illness even when doctors assure you you're perfectly fine--you don't have to suffer with this type of anxiety anymore. It's treatable. Studies are finding cognitive-behavioral therapy helps a lot, and that Paxil can be effective too. (But since all drugs have side effects, I might investigate the CBT first.)

Besides me and Bossy, is there anyone else out there who sometimes thinks they have dire medical disorders when in reality, they are really Perfectly Fine? Or is it something you don't worry about?

[Did this post sounded annoyingly familiar? Sorry! It is indeed a re-run while I'm on vacation. Be back soon with new posts!]

October 20, 2009

A good one's hard to find.

Mom always told me it would get harder to find the right one as I got older. I'm learning now just how right she was.

There are the ones that are too clingy. There are the ones that are too loose, bopping all over the place and causing trouble. There are the ones that do nothing, the ones that do too much, the ones that seem perfect at first but then end up not being such a great fit. Then there are the ones that look and feel great until the first time you run 'em through the washer in that little mesh bag.

Wait, what?

Gracious, no, I'm not talking about men (although I could be); I'm talking about sports bras. I've finally found the one that works for me, the one I'll never leave, the one I'll stay with until the end.

I am blessed (ha) with both prodigious boobage and a wide, wide back. That makes finding a decent sports bra hard, as a lot of 'em aren't cut for women with really wide backs, and more of 'em simply don't have the support a D to DD gal needs when she's cross-training.

For the last two and a half years I've worn the "'Cuz She Says So" bra from Title 9. I went down a cup size when I bought it (although why I did that, I don't recall--fit reviews, maybe?) and it's worked like a charm. I have two and rotate them out, washing them every second time I wear them so they don't degrade from the massive amounts of sweat I produce. Now that I'm shrinking like the Wicked Witch of the West, I'm thinking (as I'm shrinking) that I might need to downsize a little more, just to keep the Amazon Pair from rotating uncomfortably during my runs, but that time is still a bit in the future.

Here's the bra:

It is not pretty. Not even a little bit. Matter of fact, it gives that sort of bullet-boob profile that so enchanted the Cold Warriors of the late 1940's and early 1950's. But darned if it don't *work*.

Title 9 also sells something they call the "Last Resort Bra"--the catalog copy warns of "major smushage"--for women who have tried everything else and still give themselves black eyes during kickboxing. I've considered trying it, but I'm not sure my workouts ever reach the intensity that would warrant a really killer bra.

What about you? Have you got sports-bra-related celebrations or tales of woe? What's your favorite/most-reviled sports bra? Any tips for women out there who might measure out as a 32F-cup? (I saw a woman running the other day who was tiny with enormous honkers and NO support whatsoever and wanted to pull the car over and give her T9's web address. OWIE!)

Share your homages to Otto Titzling in the comments.

October 19, 2009

It's Road Trip Time Again!

Yep, the Lobster and I are heading off for a leisurely cross-country trip for the next few weeks, and internet access will be scarce and sporadic. But Cranky Fitness will still be open for business! Jo and Gigi will be bringing you great posts about health and fitness... or actually, about whatever the hell they want to write about, 'cause I left them the keys to the place. Plus I'll be putting up some tired old reruns classic posts that newer readers may have missed, and perhaps I'll be sending in some pictures or short posts from the road. Oh, and one more inducement to hang around...

The Cranky Fitness Big-Ass Fall Giveaway!

We've got a grand prize from TRX and lots of other great prizes as well. To enter, go over to the giveaway post on our product page... and it's worth reading the instructions because they're a bit different than our usual giveaways.

Time to Recharge

Photo: Don Solo

So I will totally miss all my blog friends, and will be checking with all your goings on (in lurker mode) when I can. But I'm looking forward to taking a break from posting for a few weeks. Do any of you folks who have blogs of your own (or other serious internet habits) find you sometimes need to unplug for a while?

The fact that I can't think of anything remotely funny, thoughtful, informative, or interesting to leave you with is probably a good sign it's time for me to skeedaddle. I'm hoping that some scenic fall hikes, a few entertaining novels, and even long-ass driving days spent mostly staring out the window will provide either some blogging inspiration, or the answer to the question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" 'Cause that's something I'm still a little unclear on.

Thank you so much for your patience, and I'll see you all in a few weeks!

October 17, 2009

Plink Plink

So both Cranky Emeritus Blogger Merry, and helpful reader Gina, sent me this video clip. It's an innovative idea for encouraging people to take the stairs instead of the escalator and I just had to share it:

Cool, huh?

(And if you have slow bandwidth or are otherwise video-averse: basically they took a flight of stairs next to an escalator, turned them into piano keys that play notes when people step on them. And voila--stair usage went way up!)

But here's the thing: being Crabby McSlacker, I couldn't help wondering how this would play out in real life. Would it be all excited plinking and plonking and happy grins and laughter?

Or instead, would you have harried commuters missing their trains during rush hour due to dilly-dallying schoolchildren and aimless tourists stomping out "Chopsticks" and "Frere Jacques" over and over? How often would the stairs be taken Out of Service to enable specially trained Musical Stair Repair Techs to unjam piano keys gummed up with spilled cokes and chewing gum? Plus, what about the lawsuits filed by aggrieved parents whose kids would no doubt break limbs while flinging themselves from key to key?...

Good thing I'm just a grumpy blogger instead of an urban planner!

(Still, it does look kinda fun doesn't it?)

October 16, 2009

I do not remember who turned me on to this blog, but I thank them.

You all must go read this. Right now.

Laughter is good for your abdominals.

Snickers and Kit-Kats and Twix - Oh My!

(Photo: jeffk)

The Cranky Fitness Early Warning System has been activated. It's that time of year again. This upcoming Halloween marks the kick-off of the High Holy Calorie Days that last into the New Year and it's only a couple of weeks away. Do you have your emergency candy evacuation plan established yet? Have you built your suar-free bunker in the back yard? How are you going to protect yourself?

I know what you're going through - you run out to the store for some hummus and flax seed and your eye gets caught by the bright shiny bags of Halloween candy. And they're everywhere! They're multiplying like rabbits. Oh, and the candy comes in those cute little one- or two-bite sizes that can't really do any harm, right? That's an okay strategy if you were only buying them one at a time instead of a bag of fifty. Just like the way you buy potato chips, right? As if.

Check out this nifty little candy/exercise calculator that helps you figure out how much work you'd need to do after ingesting just ONE harmless little "fun size" candy, which would require a 0.8 mile walk to burn of the 80 calories. A slice of pumpkin pie? 2.8 miles. Resisting temptation? Priceless. The potential for disaster here is higher than Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.

Preparation is always our best defense in a situation like bulk candy marketing. Have you got a plan? Unless you love the look and feel of cold dried egg all over your house and car and toilet paper-strung trees, you must have something on hand for the little darlings when they come to your door. But having all that candy in the house is so tempting. What's a responsible Treater/Cranky Fitness person to do?

How about giving out fruit, you ask? Don't even think about it. For kids, that's like getting clothes for a Christmas gift not to mention their parents ramping up into flip-out mode over something unpackaged or homemade (so much for my strategy to unload last Christmas's fruitcake). So unless you plan on having your attorney handing out the apples and homemade goodies with waivers and disclaimers attached, it's good to have a Plan B.

I've always had pretty good luck with buying candy I don't like (which isn't a lot) so I'm not tempted to sample the wares and actually wind up without any treats when the big day arrives - only to then have to run out to the store and buy more. Having candy around me in an unsupervised environment has always been dangerous to me. I remember raising money for my high school ski club years ago. The fund-raising idea was to sell those really big chocolate bars - plain, crispy or with almonds - for $2 each, only I ate my entire supply and funded it with my hard earned babysitting money. The good news was that I didn't "sell" the most. The bad news was the increased velocity at which I skied down the trails due to my greater mass (learning the immutable laws of physics the hard way - so I guess high school wasn't a complete waste of time). But there's a delicate balance to be struck here - you can't go with completely crappy candy that has the taste and consistency of antacids or else your house will be pelted anyway. Ask a kid if you're not sure.

Be careful to avoid another common pitfall and that's your distribution system. The "one for you, two for me" model is going to get you in trouble. Some folks actually leave the bowl of candy outside for the kids to help themselves to. Good idea - assuming that only well-mannered toddlers and their hovering parents come calling. 'Tweens and other assorted trouble makers can clean you out.

Money? Travelers checks? Why the heck not? Cash is the universal people-pleaser but perhaps not feasible if you get a lot of Trick or Treaters. Also, currency rates tend to fluctuate wildly and presently the dollar is quite weak versus the yen and the euro. Consult your investment advisor. Perhaps a stock option plan is called for.

Hmmmm.....this is getting complicated. And expensive. Not to mention the additional temptation of raiding your kid's stash once his or her little head hits the pillow. Come on - you know you do it. Be more honest about it than claiming that the only TV you ever watch is PBS. Readily accessible free candy has that awesome power to turn even the likes of former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan into a prancing, preening Borat. The sugar may be refined but the behavior it inspires clearly is not.

Okay, so a real list of candy substitutes might read something like this: popcorn (unbuttered), pretzels (unsalted), sugar-free gum, colorful pencils and finger toys. Geez - throw in a tube of denture cream (only the "no artificial colors or preservatives" kind will do because really, who wants anything artificial around their false teeth?) and you've got the Bingo prize bucket down at the Senior Center. Seriously, what kid is going to be happy with that? And besides, that's their day-to-day world at school and home. Halloween is every kids' New Year's Eve when all the rules of responsible behavior get thrown out the window for one glorious night (plus it's good prep for their college daze when it's pretty much New Year's Eve every night of the week. It would be too great a shock to their systems if they walked into something like that cold.)

I'm going to make a Solomonic split decision here and opt for different outcomes depending on size and maturity level of the recipient. Kids, celebrities, members of Congress and reality TV show contestants all get to keep and eat their candy within a tolerance of plus or minus one metric ton per sitting. Responsible adults aged 35 and over - bring the extra candy to work, cobble it into this year's Christmas fruitcake, or think of something else to do with it other than eat it. Don't get tricked into treating.

October 15, 2009

Gut Check

(Photo: tobyotter)

"Get in my belly!" Who could forget those immortal words spoken by one of cinema's most beloved and enduring characters of all time, Fat Bastard, of "Austin Powers" fame? Okay, so maybe I'm overplaying his cinematic significance a tad but the man does make an impression with his size. His professional profile claims he weighs 300 pounds but I think he's vanity sizing.

I used to think that belly fat simply came from eating too much food and swilling too much beer and was content with the knowledge that exercise and diet could improve one's situation should they ever begin to feel that their belly was fast becoming another appendage.

But wait! That's not all there is to belly fat. Did you know that stress can result in increased abdominal fat ("jelly belly" being the technical term generally accepted by the AMA, I believe)? Me neither. And so it appears that there's a whole 'nother reason to pay attention to stress other than just the ho-hum stuff like increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and suppressed immunity (tongue firmly inserted in cheek here).

If you're anything like me (and I sincerely hope you are not for a variety of reasons) you've ben taking all this stress talk in stride. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yadda, yadda, yadda. It's always something. Why, just the other day I was texting while driving my cement truck through the local nitro glycerin factory on the way to pick up my teenager from juvie hall, which was located right next to the EPA superfund site and farmer's market I frequent. No biggie - this is a pretty typical day for me, stress-wise. As I'm waiting for the teen and his parole officer to finish up, I quit texting long enough to scan around the net and come across an article about stressed-out monkeys and increased belly fat. Monkeys and belly fat - who could resist THAT combination?

This study suggests that female monkeys who were lower on the proverbial totem pole in terms of status were more stressed out and as a result tended to have more abdominal fat (hey, I resembled that remark). These monkeys were groomed less often, always on the defensive about the dominant monkey and isolated themselves more from the others in their group. Sound familiar? Work problems? Family issues? Keeping up with the Joneses? And you thought monkeys were always a barrel of laughs.

It appears that stress is not our friend. It's not even like one of those people who dress a little funny and talk to themselves but who you eventually come to like once you get to know them. No, stress is more like that room full of relatives at the holidays that always arrive empty-handed, criticize the meal and then take home all the leftovers (plus some of the silverware). And the longer you're in their company, the worse off you are. Same with stress: a little is okay but any prolonged exposure is really bad for you.

Cortisol has become known as the "stress hormone" and unlike those relatives, it actually serves a few decent purposes and can be beneficial in small, short doses. It's most well known for coming to our rescue in any "fight or flight" episodes we may encounter (say, perhaps a short duration food fight with the relatives at Thanksgiving). Any long term, constant stress situations (like linving with those pesky relatives), however, can have some nasty effects such as high blood pressure, lowered immunity, impaired cognitive functioning, negative impact on both good and bad cholesterol, and decreased bone density and muscle tissue. But the the vain and slack among us, the biggest kahuna of them all is increased abdominal fat. Excess abdominal fat, like no other fat in the body, puts us at risk for more heart attacks and strokes. So if you've been really stressed out and not losing the weight that your doctor keeps telling you to and it feels as if your body is hanging onto that fat with both hands, you may not be as crazy as you think.

So, how do we neutralize this stress and keep those cortisol levels where they belong? You need to learn how to relax your body after the "fight or flight" event has passed - like shutting off the lights when you hear the barbarians...er, relatives knocking at your door. There are lots of stress management techniques that can be helpful in reducing stress that are suggested by people much more in the know about these things than I - yoga, exercise, deep breathing, meditation, music, guided imagery, humor - generally something you enjoy that will take you down a notch and keep you there. Working toward a new low-stress lifestyle is best...just as long as I don't have to work too hard, that is. Don't want to be stressing myself out here.

Cranky Fitness Stress Survey Time: How do you plan on dealing with the stress of the upcoming holidays or just life in general? Any suggestions? I'll be taking notes - which beats the alternative of taking hostages if I don't learn to relax.

October 14, 2009

Strength Training: Multiple Sets or Just One?

Sometimes I really hate science.

(Photo: Andrew Huff)

At least I hate science when it tells me something I don't want to hear, like: you need to work harder if you want better results.

I vastly prefer those studies that say the opposite. "Drink green tea, you'll burn fat while sitting on your ass!" Or, "take more naps!" Or, "don't forget those rest days if you want to build muscle!"

My Kinda Research.

Years ago, I'd read some study that said: when you are weight lifting, you don't get very much extra benefit from doing 3 sets of an exercise, as opposed to doing just one set. (Assuming you are lifting heavy enough weights).

Upon reading that long-ago study, I shouted "hooray!" and decided that from then on, there would be no more 2nd or 3rd sets for me. (Okay, so that's a lie--in real life, who ever shouts "hooray?") But I did greet the "one set" news with great relief. Because if there's anything more tedious and unpleasant than lifting some stupid heavy ornery weight up and down and up and down until muscle exhaustion finally hits--it's taking a brief rest and then repeating the whole miserable experience two more times.

So I was not pleased when I popped over to Diet Blog this week. There I learned that some smart-assed researcher took a bunch of studies about strength training, threw them all in a big Number Crunching Machine, turned the crank a few times and spat out this conclusion:

You get 46% stronger from weight-lifting if you do two or three sets of each exercise instead of one.

So how well do you know Crabby McSlacker? Time for a quick quiz:

On reading this new information, I decided to:

a. Do two or three sets of each strength training exercise instead of one from now on.

b. Pretend I never read the study and keep doing one set.

c. Question the study, quibble over assumptions, rationalize like crazy, and continue to do just one set, but leave open the possibility that someday, perhaps while high on multiple cups of coffee or fat-burning green tea or several big fat lines of cocaine snorted directly off Jillian Michaels' sculpted abs, I may actually do a second or third set of something.

The answer is of course...


About the Study:

The study was a meta-analysis of 14 other studies comparing single and multiple strength training sets. I only have an abstract, whereas Mike at Diet Blog actually got the info from the study's author, James Kreiger. Rather than just whine and speculate, I'll steal quote liberally from Mike, because he did a great job putting his post together and he's not too lazy to actually ask questions of scientists, so why not take advantage of that?

Some findings:

1. The 2-3 set groups experienced 46% greater strength gains than the 1 set groups.

2. No further benefits were observed beyond 3 sets (thank God!) though the author noted that there were very few well-controlled studies that looked at 4+ sets.

3. There was no significant effect to "performing a single set of 3 different exercises for the same muscle group." Krieger noted "that if you want to improve a certain lift, you are most likely to improve by performing more sets of that exercise."

This last finding was particularly annoying, because that's always been my rationale for being a One Set Wonder: I figure if I've got extra energy and motivation, I'd rather do several different exercises that target the same body parts in slightly different ways. It seems less tedious than doing the same thing over and over and over, and it seems like it would be better for general fitness to mix things up. But according to Krieger, I won't get the multiple-set strength benefit that way.

How Can I Argue with 46%?

Hell, I can argue with anything, especially if that "anything" involves more work! Here are some excuses good reasons for deciding I'm mostly gonna stick with one set despite this new information.

1. 46% is not 300%.

If I do three sets of something it takes me three times as long, and I experience three times the unpleasantness, but I get less than half again as strong from it. A lot more pain, a little more gain? That's ugly math.

2. I bet I would not see 46% improvement.

The "46%" seems weirdly specific considering the number of studies pooled; I'm guessing individual variability is huge. There have been times when I've done multiple sets; I did not notice nearly such dramatic improvements.

3. I don't really give a crap if I use 25 lb dumbells or 50 lb dumbells--I just want my arms to look like Michelle Obama's.

I know, I should care more about how strong I am, but really, I just want to stave off osteoporosis, pump up my metabolism, and have the most muscular look I can get with the minimal amount of effort. If I need to move a new dresser up a flight of stairs? I'll pay a delivery dude. Will three sets of the same thing make me look buffed-er, or is it better to do 3 different exercises, or can I get by with just one and look pretty much the same? That's the study I want to read about.

4. Mixing it up seems to me like a better idea from a injury prevention and functional fitness standpoint.

(This is just a rationalization, because I only seem to care about "functional fitness" when it's somehow more fun or convenient than the alternative. But if I did care, I think I'd be better off getting more variety and less repetition than doing the same thing several times in a row).

5. I can just barely make myself do one set of everything; the thought of doing every thing three times makes me want to jump off a very high bridge.

The only physical fitness achievement I truly pride myself on is keeping up with regular cardio and strength training for most of my adult life. If I had to do 3 sets of everything? I'd have quit long ago.

On the other hand, since the study said "two or three sets," I might consider taking an exercise or two that I don't completely hate and see if a second set makes more of a difference than I've been assuming it would.

C'mon, Give it a try, Crabby!

And Speaking of Working Out: Check this out: the folks at Gold's Gym have selected Cranky Fitness as one of their "Approved" sites! They must have read about Jo's kickass workout routine and mistook us for a more serious fitness blog, although you'd think Jo's pirate hat and chimpanzee shuffle would have tipped them off. But apparently, Cranky Fitness "encourages and energizes others to be fit and manage weight healthfully, promotes a lifestyle that’s balanced with healthful nutrition and habitual fitness that promotes quality of life, and promotes the benefits of creating health and not solely the prevention of disease."

And all the whining and cursing? That's just a bonus!

Thank you, Golds!

Do you folks all do regular strength training? Are you a fan of multiple sets or are you a one-set slacker like Crabby?

Vitalicious Giveaway Winners

Sorry it's taken a while to get the winners announced. But we just got the newsletter sign-up results back from the sponsor, and I ran the Random Number Generator. Congrats, Tracy, Cathy, and Harley! Check your email for a message from Crabby, which will tell you what to do next.

And for those who didn't win? Good news: Vitalicious is one of the sponsors of our upcoming Fall Road Trip Giveaway, so you'll get several more chances to win some muffins!

October 13, 2009

A Serious Discussion on Silliness

Let's talk about being Serious About Your Workouts, and about being Silly During Your Workouts.

Attila often has me doing things I hate with the fires of a thousand suns gone supernova. Things like windmills, or Arnold curls, or this ridiculous side-galloping thing where I have to pick up a ball, side-step with it to the end of the room, put it down, side-step some more, pick it up, yadda yadda. It's boring. It's frustrating at times, like when I drop weights on my head. And most of all, it's Serious.

I hate Serious. So, in an attempt not to get bored, frustrated, and hateful, I've started injecting Silly into my workouts, and it's working.

F'rinstance, yesterday I had to do a full two minutes of those dadratted side gallop widgets between sets of something equally torturous. It's dull to gallop ten feet with a weight ball in your hands, drop it, gallop ten feet the other way, gallop back, pick up the ball....you get the idea.

However! It's fun to imitate a sailor doing the hornpipe when you're going one way and a gibbon when you're going the other. It's even more fun when your trainer starts calling out suggestions as to what you can do: "Chimpanzee!" "Hee-Haw Cast Member!" "Gorilla With A Hangover!" It works your brain and your Silly Muscle as well as your body.

Silly is especially valuable in things like agility training, which, when you're like me, can be fraught with danger and disappointment. If I have to do some four-step crossover fancy footwork combo, I'll often do it to an internal cha-cha beat. Attila's gotten used to me going "dun dun DUN dun dun wah wah WAH WAH WAH WAH" under my breath, pretending I'm on "Dancing With The Inescapably Clumsy". If I could do it in tap shoes, it would be much better, but it'd take too much time to change shoes between sets.

Sometimes we even incorporate my very patient, very calm cats. If I'm supposed to do crunches with a ten-pound weight plate clasped lovingly to my chest, well, why not just grab the ten-pound cat for one set? He likes it, it distracts me from the fact that my abdominal muscles are shredding into tiny fibers, and it gets us all through the workout with minor whining.

It's taken Attila some time to get used to having a client who's essentially a six-year-old boy in a grown woman's body. At first she was a little nervous about training somebody who would sometimes dance through workouts or chant Ramones songs in order to keep a rhythm going; now she's mostly gotten used to it. It makes both of us laugh, and it's fun. It also makes it easier for her to suggest combos that her other clients find either too intimidating or too ridiculous to try--she knows I'm good for almost anything, and I won't mind if I screw it up.

Besides, workouts ought to be fun. "Feels so good when I stop" is not a good enough reason to get most people onto the treadmill, but "Can listen to 'Avenue Q' for 30 minutes" does it for me, and might do it for somebody else.

The one suggestion I would make is this: Be sure your pirate hat fits well. It's a pain in the patookus to have it go flying off in the middle of your cardio workout.

October 12, 2009

Fall Colors, an Apology, and a Quick Health Reminder

So the Lobster and I are back from our brief New England Fall Foliage tour, and though we were too lazy to take pictures, we had a great time!

Er, well, most of the trip, anyway. Perhaps not the night when we'd settled down in our lovely campsite by the pretty pond, finished dinner, and were just preparing for a peaceful night's sleep in our trusty campervan when...


Our propane alarm went off, warning us of a potential gas leak.

Did I mention this was a completely deserted campground inside a beautiful state park miles from anywhere that promised awesome hiking, and that it was already paid for and nonrefundable?

We carefully considered our options: we could mute the frantic bleating sound, assuming it was only a false alarm (albeit the first one ever in seven years). Of course there would be small chance we might asphyxiate in our sleep, but as far as accidental death goes... that's really not an unpleasant one, right?

Nighty Night, Sleep Tight!
(Photo: O Pish Posh)

Much better to go to sleep inhaling propane than be wide awake and meet up with a huge hungry grizzly bear, or fall off a cliff or something.
Warning: Hurts More Than Falling Asleep.

Plus, if we never woke up, then we wouldn't have to unpack and clean the van again on our return!

But on balance, we decided it was probably worth hauling our sleepy asses back out of the lovely forest and onto the highway in search of a motel. And instead of hiking the next morning, we'd attempt to find an RV repair shop, one of our perennial favorite road-trip amusement stops.

As it turned out, the reason no one else was in our pretty campground even though it was the height of fall colors? All the leaf-peeping tourists were crammed into every motel room within two hours of us. After numerous "No Vacancies" we finally found a room at "America's Best," which we later learned must be short for the less well-known "America's Best Shithole" motel chain.

To be fair, as far as shithole motel rooms went, it probably was one of the best bets out there. To summarize:

Downsides: grease, grime, cigarette-burned bedclothes, rusted metal fixtures, water-stained ceilings, odd unidentifiable smears on doors and walls, a tiny lumpy double bed, funky moldy/garbagey smells, tattered carpet and drapes, peeling wallpaper, banged-up furniture, cobwebs, missing coffee-maker, cracked mirrors, and a couple of curious houseflies.

Upsides: No gunfire, prostitutes, drug-dealers, drunken screaming neighbors, rodents, arachnids, vipers or cockroaches. Plus, the toilet, while grimy, actually flushed and the shower had hot water. And it was cheap!

The Happy Ending: Van got fixed the next morning, our hiking and touring resumed that afternoon, and we consoled ourselves over our temporary misfortune with a Special Road Trip Treat: cheeseburgers!

So Sorry!

Alert readers may notice a bit of blogging laziness lately, as I gear up for the Cranky Fitness Big-Ass Giveaway and Cross Country Road trip. I've been terrible about answering emails, commenting at my favorite blogs, and doing much in the way of extensive health and fitness research. Again, thank goodness for helpful co-bloggers! And I swear that once I get settled on the west coast I'll start doing researchy posts where I try to dig up and report on actual useful information. Or barring that, at least I'll scout around and find some soccer players in their underwear, Sarah Haskins videos, or cute Lolcats.

And now for the promised health reminder:

Summer's Over, How's Your Vitamin D?

Many people, especially those in northern latitudes, don't get nearly enough vitamin D during the winter. (And we don't mean northern latitudes like Fairbanks, we mean northern like Boston and San Francisco.) Consider supplementing with some D-3, or get a few minutes of early morning or late afternoon sunshine without sunscreen. Perhaps sometime this winter, Cranky Fitness will sponsor a clothing-optional blogathon for Vitamin D awareness!

Outside is Better, But Maybe the Window's Open?
(Photo: kindofindie)

So send in your pictures of yourself blogging naked in the winter sunshine and we'll... well, I'm not sure what we'll do, besides giggle, but it will be arguably good for your health and may boost our pageviews.

Or, a more practical idea: next time you have a physical, ask to have your Vitamin D blood levels tested. Sure, depending on your doctor you may end up feeling like a high-maintenance hypochondriac, but screw it, it's worth it to get a number and have some clue if you're deficient. Some folks do all the right things and still somehow end up low.

(Bonus: if you take the test and find out your blood levels are great, it's an awesome smug feeling!)

Wait, I Forgot, Why Do We Care About Vitamin D?

It's the new hip nutrient (acai berries are so last year), and it seems to be linked to lowering risk of all kinds of health problems. It appears Vitamin D lowers risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases like M.S., diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

Thanks for your patience! Any thoughts on fall foliage, crappy motels, interrupted vacations, vitamin D, or nude blogging?

October 08, 2009

How to Make Jo Cry

This past Monday, Attila put me through the toughest workout I have ever done.


I mean *ever* ever.

You know that point in a workout where you really and truly think you might vomit? I passed that point at about 25 minutes in. I moved from there to the "I think I might cry" point, and from there on to the "I think I might cry--wups, no, I *am* crying" point.

It was SO MUCH FUN. I had such a good time, and felt so good (once I stopped) and slept so well and felt so fantastic the next day, that I asked her for a repeat today. What the heck did this workout involve?

We started with our usual warm-up: walking and easy jogging for a total of a half-mile in ten minutes.

From there, Attila had me do crunches combined with bicep curls on an Instability Ball with eight-pound weights. I did twenty of those, only nearly-falling three times. Those sets were interspersed with this weird routine where I step sideways up onto a step with five pound weights in each hand and punch as I step. That bit makes me feel like Jane Fonda every time.

One: three sets of twenty crunches-with-bicep-curls, with two minutes of step-punches in between.

Then we moved on to pushups on the step. Because I've been trying to work on my pushup form, she let me do bent-knee pushups on the condition that I was very, very mindful of what my back was doing. We started with three and added one more each set, for a total of eight. In between those, I did deadlifts.

Two: three sets of pushups with deadlifts in between.

Now we got to the really hard stuff: I have no clue what it's called, but it involves a barbell, a complex, multi-part move, and thus the very real risk of injury. (I should probably mention here that my workout room has a very low ceiling as well as a ceiling fan, so every session is an experiment in dancing the line between muscle-building and finger-amputation.)

You take a bar and slap, say, thirty pounds on it. Not too much: what you'll be doing is rather unpleasant. Holding the barbell with an overhand grip, squat so that the barbell goes over and down past your knees. Now un-squat, bringing the barbell up to your chest and over your head in a sort of clean-and-jerk maneuver--but make it smooth and without any jerking or rocking. Do twenty. In between, do mountain climbers for 45 seconds each time.

Three: Light-weight cleany-jerky moves (aka Achy-Breaky Lifts) with mountain climbers in between; three sets of twenty each. (I did one set of twenty, one of twenty-five, and one of thirty of each of those, but then, I'm a masochist.)

Then I did Good Mornings, which might be the best exercise ever. One set of twenty, then one set of 25, then one set of 30. In between I was forced to do itty-bitty leg lifts while propped on the ball (twenty-five on each leg).

Four: Good Freakin' Mornings: 20/25/30 (with 50 lbs on an Olympic bar), alternating with unweighted side leg lifts while propped on a stability ball (25/25/25) and oh my frogs did those hurt.

Then it was back to the step, but this time, Attila had something new for me: chest flyes with eight-pound weights *in combination with* a raised-knee crunch. Basically, for those of you lucky enough not to have to do that, you start on your back with your by-now-noodle-like arms in a fly position. Do a chest fly at the same time that you raise your upper body as though you were doing a situp *AND* raise your bent knees, as though you were doing a knee-up.
Do thirty. Then do some weird sort of sideways-hopping, weighted-ball swinging thing that always makes for sore obliques for two minutes, then thirty more crunchy fly horrors.

Five: Excerable Chest Flyes From Hell, three sets of thirty, with 1.5 minutes of Ankle-Spraining Agility Training in between. It was at this point that I put my head on the utility sink in the workout room and wept softly. Just a few tears, though, because:

Finally! You only have fifteen minutes left! What'll you do for the next fifteen minutes? I'll tell you: Lat rows (20 lbs each, three sets of twenty) alternating with running sprints on the treadmill (as fast as you can for 30 seconds).

Six: Thank God It's Only Lat Rows and Then Running.

Just as I thought I was going to absosmurfly die, Attila decided that I'd had--almost--enough. So we finished off with two sets of twenty Kneeling Tortures and forty (in a row holy kamole) crunches with shoulder presses.

Kneeling Tortures are as follows: You kneel (duh). You hold a 15-lb weight between your hands. Lowering your butt to your heels, you bring the weight down to the ground. Rising up into a high-kneeling position, you bring that weight up, straight out in front of you. That's one. Do thirty-nine more. Before you cry, though, be aware that you'll have to do a sit-up with 5 pounds in each hand, pressing out from the shoulder as you come up into the crunch.

Seven: Kneeling Tortures and shoulder-press crunches.

I ended the session on my hands and knees on the floor, shirt and ponytail both completely soaked with sweat, cursing the fates that brought me Attila. And then I asked her if we could make two out of every three workouts like this one. Today's workout was mostly upper body and thus easier, but jiminy crickets! did I ever sweat.

Caution: I wouldn't, if I were you, try this whole thing at home unless you have somebody there to catch the weights you nearly drop on your head. For reals. It's an ugly, ugly workout.