February 26, 2010

Auntie Jo's Final, Timeless Rules for Fitness and Whining

This guy is great! I have a hat of his, and it's kickass.

I hate goodbyes. Especially long ones. Especially ones I didn't think of myself. And most especially those that take me away from the poolside blogging hut, complete with cabana people and fruity drinks and foot massages.

But, you know, some things just have to happen. As Gigi said, it's not everybody who can go out on a high note. She and I have been very lucky to get to blog with Crabby McSlacker in her prime, and I'm endlessly thankful for the opportunity.

That said, I can't go away without imparting some final long-winded yammering wisdom.

Thus, Auntie Jo's Timeless Rules for Fitness and Whining.

There are only three. See long goodbyes, above.

Rule Number Three: (we're doin' it Letterman-style!)

Do What You Like.

If you really hate running on the treadmill but have a ridiculous passion for Scottish country dancing, what the hell are you still doing on the treadmill? You might get fit that way, but you'll never get happy.

Rule Number Two:

All Things In Proportion.

Note here that I do not say "moderation". I'm not a big fan of moderation; life is meant to be experienced in (as Robert Heinlein said) big bites. Go big or go home, I say, with one caveat:

If what you're doing is out of proportion to the rest of your life, it will end up hurting you in the long run.

Trying to get rid of that last ten pounds is admirable. So is trying to run a marathon by your fiftieth birthday. BUT! If your obsession with or attention to those things are making you miserable every time you look in the mirror, or taking you away from things which ought to be more important, you need to moderate. You might reach your goal by being obsessive, but you won't be happy about it.

And, finally, Rule Number One:

Do What Makes You Happy.

Seriously. That's it. And that's it, coming from a person who has a whole stable of tips, techniques, and drugs to keep crushing depression and anxiety at bay.

Happiness is a goal, not a destination, yadda yadda yadda. Even in the absolutely worst times, though, you can still grab a little dose of happy. It might be through playing with your kids, or somebody else's kids, or patting a puppy, or doing an imitation of a drunken orangutan during your workout. Whatever it is, grab it and savor it. Never pass up the opportunity to giggle. Never pass up the opportunity to tell a really corny joke, or disco your way through step class, or generally be a lunatic, if that's what makes you happy. If what makes you happy is acting like Constipated Dick Cheney, then do that too, but stay the hell away from me.

Thanks again for your attention and support these last months. I'm available at both Head Nurse (nursey blogging goodness!) and The Wednesday Whine, which is my civilian blog.

See you on the track/in the gym/on a walk! (I'll be the one in the squid hat.)

February 25, 2010

Happy Trails To You....

Happy Trails, Crabby...(sniff)
Photo: whatleydude

I’ll be riding off into the Cranky Fitness sunset today as it is my last post here, although I can still be found at the less palatial offices of ChunkyMonkeyMama, where I’ll be brewing my own coffee and doing my own manicures from now on. Stakes are being pulled up and Crabby’s new camp will set up again in parts beyond here. She’s moving on but, as with every successful person and helpful friend we’ve had the pleasure to know and admire in life, she’ll be leaving a part of herself still here at Cranky Fitness while she takes on a new challenge elsewhere. I’m sad to have it end but oftentimes, the wisdom to know when something’s done, and to be able to step out at the top of your game, is undervalued in times like these. I cite Frank Sinatra’s many retirement “comebacks” when the last impression he left us was sounding (and looking) like Joe Cocker instead of the fabulous albums made with Nelson Riddle or Count Basie. The “American Pie” sequels go on and on like a herpes virus, and Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve - will somebody please tell him it’s time to get off the stage. Very few of us are lucky enough to go out on a high note and on our own terms but Crabby hit just the right balance here.

And speaking about balance, how genius was it of her to combine fitness – which many of us still view with loathing and contempt – with humor? If there’s one thing I’ve learned here (and it’s damned hard to teach this old dog new tricks), it’s that anything can be made more palatable when you add gentle humor and oh-so-subtle sarcasm. Or even ballpeen hammer sarcasm. Laughing at ourselves or the process lightens more than just the numbers on the scale (which I know is not the only measure of fitness, as we’ve discussed here many, many times) – it also elevates our spirits so we finally start believing that yes, we are supremely capable of achieving our fitness goals.

Crabby is a genuinely gifted writer. She has always been informative and funny, interested and inquisitive, and has always cared deeply about her friends and readers. Even her throw-away lines like, “your mileage may vary”, would leave me laughing. I hope the sadness she feels at leaving is somewhat tempered by how much she has contributed to the discussion and by how many of us she informed, entertained and befriended. I feel so honored to have been a part of it and hope she remembers me when I show up some day at the stage door of the Broadway theater at the premiere of “Cranky Fitness – The Musical!”

Good luck, my friend. Many thanks for the opportunity to work with you and all the laughs. You’ll be missed. 'Til we meet again.

February 24, 2010

So Long, Everyone!

So, wow. This is my last scheduled post for Cranky Fitness.

I figured I should leave you all with some sort of thoughtful, inspiring finale. An earnest but well-crafted farewell, filled with genuine gratitude, a nostalgic round-up of fond memories, some sincere good wishes, and a few helpful, hopeful, final words.

But then I realized that someone was actually gonna have to write the damn thing.

And wouldn't it be weird if Crabby McSlacker's goodbye post was earnest, thoughtful, and inspiring? I'd have to hire out, and you'd probably notice the difference, and you'd wonder where all the swear words and incomplete sentences went.

So I'm afraid you're stuck with regular old Crabby McSlacker, saying a rather half-assed goodbye. Sorry! I'll try to keep it short and simple.

First off, a few administrative things:

1. There are still a couple more days of the old Cranky Fitness, and Jo and Gigi haven't said their goodbyes yet. (And yeah, I know it's confusing that there are three of us).

2. Even after my cobloggers sign off, Cranky Fitness will still exist, just not as an ongoing blog--it will be more like a regular website. And there may still be occasional updates, so check back every now and then!

Also, I'm hoping to come back and organize the posts by topic so you can find things in the archives more easily. There is some actual health research back there, as well as questionable advice, bad puns, pointless quizzes, and a ridiculous number of LOLcat pictures and Natalie Dee cartoons. I promise I'll come back and knock some cobwebs off and tidy up the shelves a bit.

3. To cope with blog withdrawal symptoms, I may be using that dadburned newfangled "Twitter" thing I recently signed up for. I still don't quite get what the point is, but I've discovered that the 140 character limit is still more than enough space for me to express all my profound thoughts. I wonder if I'm brilliantly succinct? Or just completely empty-headed?

Wait, that was a rhetorical question...

Anyway, whether you're already on Twitter or if you just need an excuse to sign up so that you can find out what it's about, please follow me! Not that I'm desperate or anything. I don't mind being that geeky kid in the playground no one wants to eat lunch with. Really, it's nice not to have to share my sandwiches, and peace and solitude are conducive to deep and meaningful reflection, don't you think?

4. Some of you have asked about my new job: yes, it is web-based and involves health writing, hooray! But, well, I'm afraid it's a commercial-type site and not a blog. It involves medical equipment and honestly, it's not probably anything you'd want to read on purpose. The site hasn't launched yet, but when it does I'll mention it on Twitter, and you can go there and think: Oh! Well, Crabby was right, this isn't very much like Cranky Fitness. Let's just buy some expensive medical devices and then leave quietly and pretend we never clicked.

And now for some final thoughts:

Oh my gosh, I am SO going to miss you guys!

Some of you, like Leah and BunnyGirl, have been here from the first few posts. (This is back in the day when I wrote, quite awkwardly, in the third person. I don't actually recommend you go back that far to browse). Others of you have started coming to Cranky Fitness more recently. But none of you probably have any idea how much it's meant to me to get to hang with you.

I love reading your comments, visiting your blogs, receiving your emails, and spying on you through our stat program to see which pages you've visited and what search terms you used to get here. (Oh, sorry, did that last part creep you out? Don't worry, the stat program doesn't give bloggers your actual name or address or picture or anything. Yet.)

Cranky Fitness readers are unrivaled in their original, insightful, and hilarious comments on everything from self-esteem and weight discrimination to push-ups, fish oil, and semi-naked soccer players. I often share my favorite comments with the Lobster, and she agrees: you guys are the best.

And I've been especially lucky to share the blog with such wonderful cobloggers. Fortunately Merry, Jo, and Gigi all have blogs of their own and I hope you will follow them at Sheesh, Chunky Monkey Mama, and Head Nurse.

So gosh... I guess this is it! I've had a total blast with this thing.

Photo: Plan 59

Goodbye! Be good to yourselves! And thanks again for all the good times.

Over an' Out,
Crabby McSlacker

February 23, 2010

I just have to tell y'all this:

Remember that stupid exercise that broke my knee? (Well, sprained it and made it make weird popping noises.) My trainer emailed the woman from whom she'd learned that move, and got the following breezy response:

"My clients wear knee braces during plyometrics to prevent that sort of injury."

Auntie Jo just made up a new rule. I am pretty damn hardcore in my workouts, but I will stick to this one:

If you have to have protective equipment to prevent a lifelong injury *while working out in your own home*, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

In lighter news: My new trick knee went out from under me last night at work, causing me to lurch forward suddenly. The patient whose room I was in looked up from the bed and said, "Oh! I didn't realize Toyota was making legs now!"

Let's Talk Snacks.

I think not.

It's Tuesday, the perfect day to talk about snacks. *Any* day is a good day to talk about snacks, but there's something about Tuesdays that just makes me all about the snackage.

I work nights. Working nights is unnatural, stressful, and makes you prone to weight gain. (Old joke: What's the difference between a night nurse and an elephant? About ten pounds.) It's also hard to eat a real meal when you work nights, as eating a real meal will make you want to fall asleep immediately thereafter, and there's always something going on you shouldn't sleep through.

Working nights also means you don't have a lot of appetite during the day, if you happen to be awake. I've developed a Theory Of Serious Snacking that has gotten me through two months of night shift without weight gain (in fact, I've lost another seven pounds or so), without nappitude, and without blowing my daily allotment of points or my patience.

The first thing to remember about snacking is that there are certain foods that will make you sleepy or bloated or just knock out your energy. For me, those are carbohydrates. In moderation, I can handle carbs; give me a meal composed mainly of them, though, and I'll be snoozing on the desk in no time.

The second thing to keep in mind is portion size. Snacks are meant to be consumed in small portions, frequently, to keep your blood sugar up and your metabolism off baseline. My own rule of thumb is that if it can be rolled up in a small corn tortilla, it is officially snack-sized.

And finally, what you want in a snack is contrast. You want something a little crunchy, a little savory, maybe a little sweet (though I don't have much of a sweet tooth). You could call a cup of mashed potatoes a snack, but it would be kind of unsatisfying unless you're eating it while standing in the kitchen in your bathrobe.

Sugar snap peas are my go-to crunchy thing. Alone, they're tasty. Dipped in some ranch dressing that was made with nonfat buttermilk, they're divine. Steamed, with a shake of rice vinegar, they're sort of Asian-influenced and can be eaten cold, as they keep their crunch nicely.

Carrot chips and sticks and slices are another good choice. Being a root vegetable, they contain enough carbohydrates to feed your brain without making it want to crash from dopamine overload. With peanut butter or without, they're surprisingly satisfying. If you want the sweetness of carrot but you can't stand carrot, try jicama slices. Jicama is that vegetable that looks like a turnip on steroids--it can be sliced and eaten raw, and it's nummy.

I often steam, then marinate, asparagus and green beans. You can find both in the freezer section in steambags. Both can be eaten cold, out-of-hand (after you drain the marinade off), and both will inspire envy and admiration in onlookers.

Baby corn and artichoke bottoms are another envy-inspiring combo. I prepare these by opening the cans and rinsing off the excess salt. Put in a plastic container with some thin strips of red or orange bell pepper, they're visually pleasing and surprisingly filling.

"Okay, fine," I hear you saying, "But what about the protein? Rabbit food won't keep me going through a long day of meetings and ferrying the dogs around to playdates and picking out paint at Walgetspotorama."

Depending on your Snack Situation, you can go one of two ways; Non-stinky or stinky protein. I snack around a forgiving bunch of folks, many of whom come from cultures where dried, then deep-fried, baby squid are considered a treat. You should try those, by the way--they're quite nice. Anyway...

Non-stinky protein choices include low-salt deli meats rolled up with a small amount of cheese, salted or unsalted nuts (watch that portion size, though), cheese sticks, yogurt, protein bars (ick yuck blargh ptooie), or a serving of a cereal like Kashi Go Lean. Any of those choices can be stuck into a plastic container and eaten with your fingers, except maybe the yogurt. Unless you like messy snacking.

Stinky protein involves things like tuna, drained and dressed with olive oil and a grinding of black pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Yummy! It could also mean flaked salmon with a dollop of sour cream and some pepper. Or maybe you have some leftover deep-fried squid you're hankering after: if you work with me, I might try to bogart some. Peanut butter falls under the Stinky Protein category, primarily because of the prevalence of peanut allergies in the world. Be careful when eating peanut butter in company; you don't want somebody falling over with a reaction in the middle of your nosh.

The final category of Snackages is The No-Brainer Snack. Fruit is the perfect example: with the exception of things like pinapple and kiwi, it can be eaten out of hand, without preparation. It's sweet, it's filling, and it gives you a little boost of energy.

Crackers and other savories are also No-Brainers, but be watchful of fat and sodium content. Target has these house-brand multigrain crackers that are like crack to me, but I can only have a few. A few, though, is what a snack is all about. Check out your local ethnic grocery or World Market for things that are slightly off the beaten path, like Asian or Indian snacks. They can add a little spice--figuratively and literally--to your three a.m. or three p.m. nosh.

Granola bars and weird healthy cookies are good choices if you want something sweet. Just try to get the sort that contain enough protein (at least a couple of grams per serving) that you don't end up having a sugar crash halfway through little Murgatroyd's soccer practice.

I package everything in those little stash-sized bags with the zip tops, or in teeny little plastic containers I can throw in the dishwasher. And I haul a veritable smorgasbord of snackage to work with me every day. (The word smorgasbord reminds me: why not try tiny slices of good rye bread with tomato and dill? Or a little thinly-sliced roast beef rolled up with a smear of horseradish? Or some smoked herring? No? Okay.)

Basically, look at what you had for dinner. If you can imagine eating it cold, then it's a good snack candidate. Once you've gotten out of the mindset that snacks have to come prepackaged in a vending machine, the world opens up. You can eat healthier, without sugar dumps, and maybe--if you play it right--trade some of that rye bread with tomato for a couple of little squidlians.

February 22, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Your Inner Crab

There are a hundreds of health and fitness bloggers out there who can offer excellent tips for improving your diet, getting in great shape, staying cheerful in the face of adversity, achieving your most cherished goals, and just generally approaching life with an energetic, positive attitude.

Obviously, that's never been my forté.

I don't think everyone is naturally cheerful, or easily motivated. On the other hand, plenty of grumpy, unenthusiastic, and downright lazy folks like myself have discovered the amazing benefits of good nutrition and vigorous exercise. We can commit to healthy living, and we do it. We may even enjoy certain aspects of it. But often we grumble. Healthy living can be a huge a pain in the ass.

But please don't pity us foot-dragging, cautious cynics. It's my contention that a certain amount of cranky skepticism when approaching health and fitness is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ever notice how many cheerful optimists announce plans to go completely raw-food vegan, or run a marathon, or lose 50 lbs--and then they just as cheerfully abandon these plans a month later to take up scrapbooking or tend to virtual livestock on FarmVille? They never expected that lifestyle changes would be such a hassle! Meanwhile, grumpier folks might complain about missing our cheeseburgers or Krispy Kremes or setting our alarms at 5 a.m. to work out--yet decades later, here we are, still doing our whiny best to tackle this whole "healthy living" thing. It never occurred to us that it would be easy.

So as the good ship Cranky Fitness sails off into the sunset (this is our last week of regular posting, though the blog will remain open for occasional updates) I'd like to offer some advice on Crabbiness. We all have an Inner Crab; but unlike the Inner Child movement, few people have advocated letting the poor Inner Crab out.

Well, phooey to that! There good times and bad times to be a Crab. A few ideas:

When to Exercise Your Inner Crab

1. Evaluating Sales Pitches

Image: indiamos

Optimistic types are much more likely to believe claims like "Read this book and lose 20 pounds in two weeks!" or "tone your entire body with one simple exercise!" or "try this cucumber-cactus needle 30 day cleanse and feel like a million!" Just because you want something to be true, does not make it so. Wishful thinking is a natural human tendency, and if someone can make a buck off yours, they will. So before you part with hard-earned money, listen to your Inner Crab and accentuate the negative. Don't believe what advertisements say until you've done some independent research.

2. Time-consuming and/or dangerous endeavors

Let's say your best friend's lifelong dream is an ascent up Mount Everest--and she wonders if you'd like to come along. Do you picture yourself at the top, admiring the view and posing for pictures, and figure the rest will just come naturally? Or do you envision frostbite, altitude sickness, avalanches, alienated family members, drained bank accounts, and extended periods of being freezing-ass cold and eating crappy food?

Well, the ability to imagine the downside of energy-sucking or risky pursuits, no matter how glamorous they sound, can be a huge advantage in setting meaningful priorities in life. Unless it's been your lifelong dream to climb the stupid mountain, in which case, what the hell, go for it.

3. Bullies

True, a crabby attitude won't help you if someone is threatening to give you a wedgie if you don't hand over your lunch money. But as an adult, bullying can be more subtle. Some folks feel threatened or inconvenienced by healthy habits, and might try to guilt you or otherwise manipulate you. Perhaps they want you to eat food you know isn't good for you, or skip your workout to go out barhopping, or to jump on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet.

You don't have to be a Crab to be assertive, but it helps. Sometimes non-crabby people are so optimistic about human nature they make excuses for assholes overly demanding companions, and become so easy-going they always put others first even when the demands are unreasonable. If you know you're being bamboozled into bad behavior, maybe it's time to embrace your Inner Crab and say "screw it!"

4. Lame Temptations

It's one thing to indulge in a tempting pleasure that you've earned and that you know you will enjoy. But if you're faced with an indulgence you don't even really want all that much, and are just succumbing out of habit or weakness, then be crabby and pissed off about your stupid choice before you make it, not after. Be pessimistic and emphasize the negative; don't exaggerate the potential pleasure a guilty treat will give you. (And then celebrate your awesome self-discipline when you take the high road).

5. Setting Goals

Another good time not to be too optimistic: when you're committing to a new self-improvement endeavor and figuring out how much you'll expect of yourself. Many would disagree with me, but I think optimistic over-promising can lead to a sense of failure, when you're actually making positive changes! Let your inner Crab reign in your expectations just a little, so that there's more room to exceed your own expectations.

When to Cage the Crab

Even lifelong Crabs like myself know that there are times when pessimism and orneriness are not our friends. So proper Inner Crab training involves the frequent use of at least a leash and/or a muzzle.

1. Poor Performance and General Screwing Up

In any self-improvement endeavor, there will be times (LOTS and LOTS of times) when you won't measure up to your own expectations. This is normal and natural and it does not mean that all is lost or that you will never meet your goals. It means you need to stop beating yourself up, figure out a better strategy, and keep on doing your best.

So when you screw up and need to encourage yourself to get back on track? Put a muzzle on that grumpy crab and think positive thoughts! You really CAN recover from even the most monumental fuck-up as long as you don't give up entirely.

2. Injuries

If you are a lifelong exerciser, you WILL hurt yourself. And you will have to do things differently if you want to stay active. Whether these changes are major or minor, temporary or permanent, they pretty much always suck.

At first, go ahead and let your Inner Crab bitch and moan all it wants. Pretending all is well when it isn't may lead to that creepy "I'm lying to myself" feeling. But after a couple days, it doesn't help to dwell too much on what you're missing out on; that energy is better spent exploring new alternatives. You need to cross-train anyway, and injuries are sometimes life's little kick in the pants to get you to mix things up.

3. Food Frustration

Healthy food takes a while to get used to. If you've been eating lots of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and refined grains, then you're just not going to appreciate the joys of fresh produce and lean proteins and whole grains right away. This is perfectly natural; there's nothing wrong with you. You have two choices: either adjust gradually, or suffer through an ugly transition period. Either way, it's not a good time to get all pessimistic and think that healthy eating will always be torture. Because it won't. Your tastes will change with repeated exposure, I promise. The trick is to keep finding more stuff you actually like, so cutting out 90% of the crap that the rest of the world eats doesn't feel like such a hardship. But this process can take a while, and focusing on the good things you can eat instead of the evil yummy things you shouldn't is a much more effective approach.

4. Dealing With Cheerful Companions

The cranky, skeptical viewpoint that comes in so handy for us crabs in evaluating options and keeping us out of trouble can, weirdly enough, depress and alienate our more cheerful companions. They often don't appreciate our realistic caution, and tend to see it instead as Party Pooperism.

This does not mean that a natural Crab has to be fake cheerful all the time. But it does help to be judicious with our crabbiness. For example, it's best to save skepticism for times when there are choices to be made and it is still possible to change the situation; after-the-fact "I knew this was a really stupid idea" type speeches are seldom well-received.

Anyone else have advice on harnessing your Inner Crab? Or are you all cheerful optimists just peeking in to see how the other half lives?

SparkPeople DVD Winners

The random number generator has spoken! The winners of the SparkPeople workout DVD are:

Jenna Z, and
Katie (and sorry, not Katey; I hate to disappoint when there are similar names)

Please email: crabby mcslacker at gmail dot com to claim your prize! Any DVD's not claimed by midnight Friday Feb 26 will be given away via Twitter sometime over the weekend. So heads up my tiny band of Twitter followers, you still have a chance!

February 19, 2010

Fun Friday: Favorite Workout Tools

Ummm...okay, I could go a little higher tech than this.
Photo: andy_carter

If you Google the “Top Weight Loss Tools” like I just did, you’ll find an avalanche of ideas and many with some product they’re trying to promote. (Quite honestly, I doubt ginsu knives and erectile dysfunction products count but who am I to judge?) Our Cranky Fitness readers are a sophisticated lot who have seen it all and done it all when it comes to weight loss and fitness, so who better to ask than you?! It could be whatever gadget, idea or habit that you find you rely on the most to help keep your head in the game.

Everyone's favorite workout tool? Being this guy's yoga mat.
Photo: Engin Erdogan

From my personal point of view, my favorite tools are my iPod (helps make exercise suck less and seem shorter), my food journal (helps me keep track of what I’m eating and in how many metric tons), my dog (makes me accountable to someone even though I’m holding the leash and he isn’t – let’s hear it for opposable thumbs!!) and my blog (by far the BEST source of support and humor around – and it’s FREE). And if money weren’t a consideration (oh, if you only knew how many sentences I start with that phrase), I’d add a personal chef and trainer to that list who both bear a striking resemblance to Hugh Jackman (tools sometimes cross over into fantasy so just please bear with me. Oh, I apologize – I just realized that sounded a little dirty even though I didn’t mean it to.).

A fellow blogger had this neat post with links to all kinds of cool online tools for those of you into tracking and measuring your stats. For the technology-impaired among us, our favorite tool could be a piece of equipment like a bike or a treadmill.

Low tech yet oh-so-effective
Photo: smowblog

A pedometer is still a little too wonky for me but others swear by them and the 10,000 steps they aim to measure every day. I mentioned my iPod above and have stored many decades of music to move to, but our friends Miz and Shauna have come up with a great podcast team called Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone for that take-along motivation that only they can provide. Or maybe you've got a couple of favorite workout DVDs that you couldn't do without.

So what about it? What are your favorite fitness tools that have helped you out the most along your weight loss journey, and why?

Five Weightlifting Moves That Saved My Back, or How To Torture Yourself More Efficiently

I'm in the middle. That's Attila on the right.

There are five moves I simply cannot live without doing. I'm not talking about the Couch Curl-Up or its more-advanced sister, the Power Nap With Kittehs, nor do I mean the Twelve-Ounce Repeater Swig. I'm talking about weightlifting moves that Attila has me do on a regular basis that have saved my back and made a huge difference in my body.

They're all kind of unpleasant (is lifting weights supposed to be a bed of roses? No? Drat.) and they all have one thing in common: they use multiple muscles, mostly in the lower body. They're not tricky combos like the Snatch-Clean-Squat-Boogaloo; they're very basic exercises.

Herewith, then, the Five Moves I Get Grumpy If I Don't Get To Do:

1. The Good Morning: Friend Penny calls this one the "Good Morning? I Don't Effing Think So." It's a dead-basic exercise that works the lower back, hamstrings, and to a lesser extent, your abs and shoulders.

Put a bar loaded with a relatively light weight on your shoulders. Keeping your knees soft, bend over with your back straight until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Stand up again. That's it. The first set of these (if you've got the weight right) will feel easy-peasy and meditative. The second set will be somewhat more challenging, but still doable. Midway through your third set, you should feel your obliques working and begin to tire out. If you start to tire out earlier, you have too much weight on the bar.

2. That Damn Ball Pass: I hate this one with a screeching passion. Grab a fitness ball and place yourself on your back on the floor or on a step. With your arms and legs straight, pass that ball back and forth by vee-ing up into a bad imitation of what you see on Pilates videos.

I normally do three sets of twenty with an inflatable fitness ball, but my form is suffering and I'm cursing by the end.

This move works your abs, obviously, but also your shoulder girdle and your legs.

3. The Deadlift: This one, again, is for lower back and legs, with the abdominals getting in there toward the end.

Load a bar with enough weight that it feels just about heavy enough to be challenging. Place that bar on the floor in front of you. Bend over, without locking your knees, and grab the bar. Straighten up. Replace the bar on the floor. Again, very simple and very, very challenging toward the end of your sets.

If you want to really knock yourself out, you can add:

4. The Overhead Lift That Threatens The Ceiling Fan: After straightening up from your deadlift, lift that bar overhead. You'll have to use less weight, probably, than you do with a straight deadlift. This one definitely works your abs, along with your shoulders, chest, and upper back. It will leave you gasping for breath and very sore the next day. I love it.

5. Finally, The Squat: You can do this with barbells or with a bar with weights on it. Place the bar across your shoulders (or hold the barbells at your sides) and squat down. Don't go all the way down like you see Belgian weightlifters doing on TV; go far enough to engage your leg muscles and make them work. You want to save your knees, right? Right. Now stand up. Scream if necessary, then repeat.

Squats are one of those exercises that everybody does, and most people do wrong. They either don't go down far enough, thus working only their quads, or they go too far and strain their joints. What you want to feel is all the muscles in your upper legs working without screaming (at least on the first set), and you don't want to feel like you can't get up from the squat position, or like you're messing up your knees.

Squats work the legs, obviously, and also the lower back. They're also fantastic for balance.

I do lower-back and leg work while wearing a pair of Masai Barefoot Trainers, those weird rocking shoes that look like half a basketball's been glued to your foot. I'd estimate that that adds a good twenty percent to my workout in terms of muscle engagement, as I'm trying to lift things while balancing forward-to-backward. I do not recommend trying that, though, until you get the basic moves down to the point that you're not waggling all over the place during maximum muscle effort.

And, as always, do these with a spotter. If you collapse under the weight of a loaded bar, it's kind of hard to get out again without somebody there to lift it off of you. If you collapse under the weight of your inflatable fitness ball, then you really do need somebody there to go get you some Ben & Jerry's and a kitten. (I've had days like that, believe me. Kittens help.)

February 18, 2010

Food & Workouts: Not Mutally Exclusive Anymore. Sort Of.

Dude, you're gonna need a bigger breakfast.
Photo: Sorgatron

So you’re working out to get fit and you’re so into this new goal you’ve set for yourself that maybe you’re not eating enough to have it work right. What?! You’ve always thought that calories out had to exceed calories in for this fitness thing to work. True enough. Eating is an important part of fitness and there are some foods that actually compliment your workout routines. You still need fuel in your machine to make it go.

Avoid working out on an empty stomach. This can result in low blood sugar which can make you feel weak and lightheaded. You don’t want to be wobbling all around the gym, bumping into walls and having people mistake you for Amy Winestein.

About an hour before you begin your workout, you should have a small snack primarily composed of carbs with about 100 to 200 calories; something like half a banana, grapes or toast with jam. Or you could work out within 2 hours of a light meal. Avoid working out on a full stomach (3-4 hours prior to your workout) or you could have problems with nausea and cramps as the blood flow is focused on digestion rather than supplying energy to your muscles. You should also drink 8 – 16 ounces of water within an hour of working out to avoid dehydration. A good rule of thumb is to drink 6 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. If you’re at it for longer than an hour, try a sports drink like Gatorade. Chances are you’ll have enough fuel to finish your workout (generally less than an hour) but if not, try having half an energy bar for a quick high-carb snack.

Post workout eating should include a protein snack or light meal for muscle repair and recovery within 2 hours of exercising. Some suggestions for after workout snacks are low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit, apple slices with peanut butter or half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. A light meal should contain protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. And again, take care to rehydrate yourself within an hour.

But beware! According to this article, there’s a little something called “compensation” that can occur after workouts. It’s a little “post-workout binge” where people tend to bribe or reward themselves for working out more than they normally would have. While it’s true that exercise can induce hunger, it’s often temporary and doesn’t affect everyone. If you’ve done a little extra time on the elliptical and on your way home you stop at your usual coffee shop but get a chocolate donut burrito versus your typical medium black coffee, you just may be a compensator.

Why, yes, I DID just finish my workout. Why do you ask?
Photo: ultrakickgirl

Compensation can be triggered by intense workouts or it may be as simply explained as people overestimating the amount of calories they burned during a workout. We’ve all got the wiring that tells us hard work deserves some reward. The good news is that even if you do compensate, you’re still reaping some health benefits – although you’re not losing the weight as quickly as you could, your cardiovascular system is working better and your waist circumference is a bit smaller. I frankly would need Magellan and his boys to circumnavigate my waist, but that’s a post for another time. It was found that this desire to have √©clair lasagna for dinner eventually goes away on its own. But if it doesn’t, you can take some of the following steps to break the pattern: track your caloric intake AND the amount of calories burned from exercise, find another way to reward yourself or workout with a friend who will help hold you accountable.

So how do you all “eat your way to fitness” when working out? And do you find that you “compensate” after working out?

February 17, 2010

Whole Grains: What's the Problem, People?

I'm old enough to remember when "brown bread" was something exotic and vaguely threatening that only the hippie family down the street was brave enough to eat. As a kid, I assumed there was only one "normal" kind of flour: white. Same thing with rice. And the only variety we got as far as grains were bowls of Cheerios, Cornflakes, or Raisin Bran. But most often, we got our grains in the form of Wonderbread, Oreos, and Poptarts.

Fast-forward a few decades: scientists have learned a lot more about nutrition, and we've all been urged a few hundred thousand times to eat more whole grains because they are so damn good for us. Like many of you, I got with the program. Now I try to save refined grains for treats, not fill up on them as a staple.

So why are most people in this country still eating like I did as a third-grader back in 1968? And an even more important question: Why are the desires of all these ignorant third-graders still controlling what the rest of us can get at restaurants and grocery stores?

OK, so those aren't really questions--they're complaints. I don't actually care why a huge majority of the population keeps shunning whole grains. Probably because it takes a lot less effort to eat familiar white fluffy foods than to acquire a taste for healthier, earthier fare. And I know perfectly well why the preferences of the unhealthy masses dominate the food and restaurant industry: Welcome to capitalism, Crabby! It's also the reason we have Big Macs, Barbie Dolls, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

But I'm not sure what's worse: the general unavailability of whole grain options (unless you want to make things from scratch all the time, ick) or all the Fake-Healthy Not Really Whole Grain products out there. Most people are fine with these choices, because they are not equipped with enough grouchy skepticism to read a food label and then curse the lying sonsabitches who are trying to fake everyone out. Normal people just find a product they like that says "multi-grain" or "now made with whole grain," and they say to themselves: Awesome, I'm all set!

Of course these folks don't realize that a healthy-sounding ingredient like "organic wheat flour" still means "white flour," and that the crap they're eating is 98% refined flour and sugar, with maybe a pinch of bran or a single rolled oat thrown in there somewhere.

And if people want to eat mostly white flour and a few of these fake options too, knock yourselves out! But it would be nice if there were more options for us stubborn whole grain folks too. I'd love to have brown rice available at a Thai restaurant, or the option of a real whole grain roll at a bakery, or more choices at the supermarket when it comes to breads, pastas, crackers, etc. (And Whole Foods? You guys are the worst when it comes to your bakery. Where the hell is the healthy stuff? Last time I looked, it was virtually all desserts packed with refined flour, butter, and sugar. What's so "whole" about that?)

So Why Are Whole Grains a Healthier Choice?

According to the "world's healthiest food" people, there are a ton of great reasons to eat whole grains. (Note: These folks tend to be an optimistic bunch, but they do at least cite a bunch of studies).

Some of the research they've pulled together suggests that eating whole wheat or other whole grains can help with: weight management, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, gallstones, gastrointestinal issues, heart disease, childhood asthma, breast cancer, dropsy, plague, possession by the devil, and vapors. (OK, so I was just messing with you on those last four. Well... who knows? Anyone driven out the devil with a bowl of oatmeal lately?)

But Some Folks Refrain from the Grain

Even if it's a whole grain and not refined one, there are some people who would just as soon give it a miss. If you have celiac disease, for instance, and must go gluten-free, then that lovely blueberry bran muffin that I have my eye on is gonna be Very Bad News for you. There are serious health consequences for people with this condition if they eat wheat, rye, barley, or anything contaminated with gluten. However, there are apparently some good gluten-free whole grain alternatives, like brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa, and even popcorn. (Oats don't naturally contain gluten, but they can be tricky because there's a high risk of contamination).

There are other folks besides celiacs who don't think grains are a great idea, whole or not. Some low-carbers avoid them as much as possible, and Primal folks like Mark at Mark's Daily Apple argue that we'd be better off ditching grains entirely. But most mainstream nutrition experts have a different message: ditch the refined grains; but it's ok to eat whole grains instead.

Looking for Convenient Whole Grain Products?

Good luck! Actually I'd love to hear your suggestions. I'm a terrible dietary example, because I haven't been nearly adventurous enough about exploring outside my familiar trinity of whole wheat, oats, and brown rice. On my to-do list: try quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and other more interesting choices. (But then I've been saying that for years).

Our bread-maker broke a few years ago, and I'm too lazy to make my own bread, so I either try to find a local bakery that that features a whole wheat bread (and then I worry that they're lying to me) or I scour the supermarket shelves for the healthiest looking brands and I carefully inspect the ingredients list. Alvarado Bakery seems like a good West Coast option; I'm a little more perplexed by East Coast brands. Anyone have some good suggestions?

I have a rice cooker, and love the fancy-pants brown & wild rice mixes, but often I don't think about rice until it's too close to dinner time. Fortunately, the microwaveable already-prepared brown rices have gotten a lot better--Trader Joe's has a couple of good options. (Note: if they have them, the frozen pouches beat the kind in a cup).

As to pasta, have you notice that the whole wheat kind doesn't suck anymore? At least not some of the better brands.  I tried it years ago, thought it tasted like boiled brown paper bags, and said no thanks.  But in the last year or so there seem to be more tasty whole grain options.

What about Cooking or Baking from Scratch?

Excellent idea, then you can use any kind of grain you want! So that's what organized, healthy, non-lazy people do and I totally recommend you do that. Someday, maybe I will too. Actually, on the rare occasions when I bake I use winter wheat, which tastes pretty close to white but is actually a whole grain. And Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment  alerted me to another white-tasting alternative, some sort of magic "ultragrain" flour that sounds intriguing. For a whole grain brownie recipe, Tracey's Culinary Adventures has a tempting one--though it's still got a boatload of butter and sugar so it's not exactly a health food.

And for a whole slew of healthy whole grain ideas, Kayln, who blogs at Kaylyn's Kitchen, did a series at Blogher on cooking with whole grains. There are posts on brown rice, quinoa, and bulgur featuring lots of recipes and leading to all kinds of awesume healthy cooking blogs.

[Note: this post is being edited and reposted in July of 2011 to test something technical with the blog. My apologies if any folks with feed readers get this accidentally and think it's a new post.  On the other hand, if you got this far without realizing it was old... how pissed off should you really be?
What do you folks do about the whole refined vs whole grains issue? Any good tips or suggestions?

February 16, 2010

How to Become a Faster Runner

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

[Quick note from the Crab: So in case you didn't catch the byline, yes, we've got a special guest post from Cranky Fitness Alumna Merry Sunshine, aka "The Merry!" As you know, she has her own blog Sheesh, but she kindly offered to stop by during our last few Cranky weeks. (We may even try to coerce her into sending over one of her Famous Flow Charts if she gets a chance). This is a special bonus; we also have a new post by Jo today, right below, that will cure what ails ya.' Thanks Merry and Jo!]

I'm always a sucker for articles that promise to make me a faster runner.

Obligatory disclaimer
Before I go any further, I need to put in a disclaimer: if you're already a fast runner, read no further. You're not going to find any useful tips, and frankly you annoy me.

Why is everyone passing me?
I hate it when people run faster than I do. Of course, the problem with that is that Everyone On The Planet runs faster than I do. Yes, even you in the corner there. That's probably why I've always been fascinated by articles like Ten Easy Ways to Run Faster! Or, Improve Your 5k Time While Getting a Flat Stomach by Eating Acai Berries!*

The solution
At last, after endless hours surfing the Internet for quick tips ceaselessly researching this subject, I have finally found the answer on How To Become A Faster Runner.

It's easy. Here's all you have to do.

The people who're faster than you? Take 'em out.

Um, no.
Not what I had in mind, actually.
Take them out of the picture. Stop comparing yourself to them. Think of it as a kind of mental photoshopping.

The "Before" version:

The "After" version:
(After you've X'd out all those damn runners who had the temerity to be ahead of you.)

Voila! You are the fastest runner around! Congratulations!

See, words like 'faster' or 'slower' are relative. The only person you can really be sure of beating is you. Measure your own speeds and work on improving them.

Self-improvement: more effective than sabotage
Yes, I know applying superglue to the bottom of Nitmos' running shoes is more fun. But in the long run, you're the only runner you're always going to be competing with. So you're the one to beat.

The first step? I'm afraid that involves doing some actual running. Well, you knew this day would come eventually. This is the time. Go forth and run a mile, or some K, or however far you can run, and then enter how fast (or, um, slow) you ran into this site (on the Runner's World website). It will then calculate what a good training pace would be for an easy run, a sprint, a long run. Now you have some numbers to compete against.

For additional tips, check out these sites:
Good luck! And once you've broken the speed record for your race, please do come back and brag about it.

Unless you're running in the same race that I am, in which case please be advised that I have superglue. And know how to use it.

Do you have any helpful tips for becoming a faster, better, stronger person? Preferably ones that don't involve superglue.

My not-quite-heartfelt apologies to Vanilla, Nitmos, and Xenia for taking their images in vain. But it's their fault for being faster than I am.

*Yes, Crabby, I did throw those keywords in to attract people who are e'en now Googling for those subjects.

Jo's Handy Cures For Annoying Things: The Valentine's Weekend Edition

Who here is recovering from a little more Valentine's Day chocolate and champagne than they probably should've had? Show of hands?

I'm the only one raising my hand, aren't I?

Plus, my knee is still wonky.

And I think I'm coming down with a cold.

Here, then, are my handy remedies for everyday, annoying things. Please keep in mind that I am the absolute worst kind of medical professional from whom to take advice; season everything here with a four-foot by four-foot grain of salt.

1. The Chemical-Weapon Class Hangover

When the thought of brushing your teeth makes you tetchy and you can't eat even mashed potatoes, how on earth can you work out (or even be a functioning member of society)? The quickest cure for a hangover is, of course, not to drink that second bottle of champagne in the first place. If you lost track of your Cliquot consumption, though, try this:

Water. Hydration is a must. Alcohol dehydrates your brain, which is what leads to that horrible headache and nausea.

Gatorade. I'm normally not a fan, but original-flavor Gatorade really *does* have enough glucose to feed your brainbox and make you feel better. Plus, the sugar content can actually settle your stomach. If Gatorade is too much, try Sprite.

Exercise. No joke. A brisk walk will help your metabolism rev back up, and you might even find your liver a few blocks away in the process.

Sleep. 'Nuff said.

2. The Turned Ankle, Wonky Knee, or Strained Lower Back

If your injury is severe enough to require more than over-the-counter painkillers, then skip this part. If you have a mildly achy body part, though, read on:

Anti-inflammatories. I don't care if it's turmeric or Aleve you're taking, make sure you're dealing that joint or muscle a fair hand of anti-inflammatories. Not only will those help with the current inflammation and pain, they'll help keep things from spiraling into a nasty cycle that can make things work. One of the most helpful anti-inflammatories, that won't wreck that liver you just forced back into your abdomen over its weak protests, is

ICE. Ice is huge in the treatment and prevention of injuries. In the first 24 hours after a sprain, strain, or pull, it can help slow swelling, reduce the amount of collateral damage, and make you feel a whole lot better. Just be sure you don't apply ice for more than 20 minutes at a time, and be sure you don't freeze your skin.

Heat. After the first day or so, heat can be very soothing and healing. Applications of moderately warm water, with or without epsom salts (to reduce swelling) feel great, increase blood flow, and help lymphatic drainage. And, of course, there's

Rest. Seriously--if it hurts, get and stay the heck off of it. Gentle stretching of sore muscles can be good, but don't overdo! There's nothing worse than hurting yourself more when you're trying to feel better.

3. The Heartbreak of the Head Cold

I do not like combination medicines like TheraFlu or Nyquil: they contain acetaminophen, which can be dangerous in large quantities, and they often have things you don't necessarily need in them.

Decongestants. These help with stuffy-headedness. You can use topical decongestants, like a nasal spray (for no longer than three days), or a systemic one, like Sudafed (but watch it if you have hypertension or prostate problems!). Decongestants will generally make you more hyper than a squirrel on crack, which is why many people take them with

Antihistamines. The old sort, like Benadryl, will make you sleepy (a good thing sometimes; we actually use it at the hospital rather than things like Ambien). The newer sort, the loratadines and cetirazines, won't make you sleepy and can actually work better than Benadryl. Read the label, of course, and follow the directions, but if your primary problem is a runny nose, antihistamines are what you want.

Cough Remedies. Sadly, lab tests have shown that the active ingredient for cough suppression in over-the-counter meds isn't any more effective than a placebo. Now, I personally have had good luck with something called Delsym, but I don't know if that's placebo effect or not. The general rule of thumb is that if the cough is keeping you up at night, you should see your friendly medical professional for a prescription. You might be goofy the next day, but you'll sleep. Oh, you'll sleep.

And finally, Gentle Exercise. Again, gentle exercise can be very useful. Don't try to work out at your usual level, but be mildly active. A stroll on a pleasant day will help you move some snot around, improve your mood, and make you sleep better.

4. The Honest-To-God Flu

For heaven's sake, don't plan on doing anything for two weeks except sleeping, coughing a lot, and taking lots of painkillers. If you catch it early enough--and can stay vertical in the doctor's office long enough--antivirals can do a lot of good, reducing the duration of the flu by about 48 hours. Two days' shorter stay in Hell is a good deal.

If you're unlucky enough to catch the flu, especially the Pig Plague (which I have had and which was indescribably awful), stay home. Stay in bed. Eat ramen. Have somebody rub your feet. Don't freaking move until at least day 3, at which point you will definitely need a shower.

And don't work out. Physical fitness isn't worth the rest of us having to haul your exhausted carcass off the treadmill.

February 15, 2010

Blog Secrets... Plus a Giveaway!

Image: Ace Covers

So as the blog-clock ticks down on our final weeks at Cranky Fitness, I find myself wanting to indulge in a few more "behind the scenes" posts. (Like last week's peek at weird google searches.)

It's just that this silly little blog has been a huge part of my life over the last few years. Yet when you try to talk about blogging to friends who do not read or write blogs themselves? Their eyes glaze over and they get these cute little frozen smiles on their faces and pretty soon they seem to have a sudden need to freshen their drinks or visit the restroom or call their grandmothers.

Since I have no more "real life" friends left to chase away with blogging tales, you lucky patient folks get to read these behind-the-scenes, Top Secret Crabby McSlacker True Blog Confessions! Wait... where are you all going? Well, at least I've got a bit of a bribe today: 5 copies of the new SparkPeople Workout DVD to give away over on the product page. If you've got a U.S. mailing address, be sure to check it out!

So anyway, for those of you who haven't fled yet, let me share a few shocking, lurid blog "secrets."

1. For a shy person, I'm quite the attention-seeking narcissist. Unexpected links, mentions, and page-view spikes get me WAY more psyched than any normal person should be. And I used to joke about being obsessed by my blog statistics? Well... um... it was never a joke. Even now, I still check every day.

2. Some PR folks are professional, friendly, and awesome, but others are total idiots and/or buttheads. And 95% of the pitches we fitness bloggers get on behalf of major corporations are (1) clueless about what we do and (2) offensive in their one-sided approach to working with us. We are supposed be honored and flattered to write about their products and link to their sites! While they promise to do nothing in return but send us more information about their products. Yippee, sign me up!

The reviews and giveaways can be fun (SparkPeople got a thumbs-up for friendly professionalism, which is why we're doing another one). But a few giveaways we've done have been a nightmare because of extreme sponsor idiocy or flakiness.

3. Blogging makes me feel guilty. All The Time. I don't know how some bloggers do it--writing great posts, replying to comments, emailing, tweeting, updating their blogrolls, visiting all the other great blogs out there and leaving comments, finding and linking to other sites. I used to do more of all that stuff. True to form, I'm a slacker--but, alas, not a carefree slacker. It bothers me that I'm not being nearly as supportive to all the great folks who link and visit and comment here as they have been to me.

4. Bloggers get catty behind the scenes. I've made some great online friendships through the blog, and we bloggers trade emails. You'd be surprised at some of the tacky things we say about PR folks, fitness celebrities, and even sometimes other famous bloggers or clueless random googlers who leave ridiculous or offensive comments on our sites.

5. Reading blog comments is way more fun than writing posts. OK, so this isn't exactly a secret, but I have to mention this again. The quality of discussion on this blog, and the warmth an humor of the commentators, has made reading comments the best thing about blogging. Writing posts, on the other hand... Of course I love having finished them, but the writing process is slow and sometimes hard going. You'd think with my sloppy attitude towards research, composition, and proof-reading, that I'd whip these things right out. But I don't. It's gotten harder as I've said most of what I had to say about health and fitness, which is why it's not a bad time to take an extended Crabbatical.

6. I've never been sure how to handle the gay thing. Regular readers have been so mellow and accepting that this has almost been a non-issue. But it's still weird to try to write a post in which, if I were straight, I'd naturally mention my husband. But I don't have a husband, I have a wife, and this could be confusing to some folks. I know that lots of readers are not regulars here but drop in from google. If I just said "wife" they'd assume I was a dude, and then they'd get all confused when I mentioned sports bras or pap smears. But leaving the Lobster out felt all wrong and closety, so I tried not to do that either.

It's funny that I haven't run into more gay or lesbian health/fitness/weight loss bloggers--or maybe I have and just didn't realize it. Anyway, I appreciate that the folks here have never been anything but supportive. You guys rock.

7. Jillian Michaels mentioned Cranky Fitness on her radio show... but I'm pretty sure she never read the blog. I was totally thrilled to hear that she recommended us, until I actually listened to the program. All the quotes came from the article that Women's Health did on us; some assistant probably just passed the info on. Sigh. Despite her sometimes brutal training style, and the ickiness of her hawking weight-loss pills, I still admire her. Would've been cool if she really had discovered the blog and liked it.

8. There was almost a Cranky Fitness book. This was a bit of a heart-breaker: I got contacted by a publishing company about doing a Cranky Fitness book, and at their request, sent them a proposal. It was enthusiastically recommended by a couple of underlings and sent up the chain for further review, but they ultimately decided against it. Dang! But I guess the upside of not having managed to finagle a book deal? I don't have to write a book!

9. I have quite a few names; many of you do too. I am Crabby McSlacker; I am Jamie Graham... and I also have two other names: the full name that appears on my birth certificate and driver's license, and the shortened version that I'm called by most "in real life" folks. (I'm not actually crazy about it, but retraining IRL folks would be a losing battle). The whole alias thing started because when I still had psychotherapy clients, I didn't want them thinking they were models for characters in my fiction. But I liked my pen name better than my real name, and also liked having a whole additional layer of anonymity when doing Webthings in the scary Webworld.

So I thought this multiple-identity thing was all very bizarre of me until I started doing more giveaway contests... then I discovered I am not the only one. I see folks with a cute name they blog under, who also have an easy-to-discover "real" name which appears under their profile, or is associated with their email address. Which then turns out NOT to be the name their postal delivery person will recognize. It was a relief to find out I'm not the only many-named weirdo on the web!

10. I almost blogged about my bowel habits for 10 days. I once got paid to take a "challenge" which involved eating a lot of products containing bran and other fiber additives and reporting on how I "felt." Fortunately, for both myself and for blog readers, the sponsor backed out, but let us bran bloggers keep the money. Later on, I got another even more generous offer to take a laxative for an extended period of time and blog about it. This time, I was not even tempted. Perhaps the "Cranky" in "Cranky Fitness" makes sponsors think I need a laxative? For the record: nope, I get plenty o' fiber from all those fruits, veggies, grains, and other whole foods. I may complain about 'em, but I eat 'em.

Do any other bloggers or blog visitors have silly internet secrets or confessions? Do spill!

February 12, 2010

What to do when you're not nursing a sprained knee:

Unfortunately, Attila and I only got through a couple of exercises this week before I fell off the step and hurt myself, so I don't have a full round of tortures for you. What I have got, though, are doozies.

Exercise One: Worse Than Isometrics!

Lie on your back on a yoga mat. Sloooowly bring your arms and legs up until your body assumes, against its will, a V-shape.

Hold for two seconds. Now do ten one-second pulses, moving your arms and legs down and back up very slightly. Hold for another two seconds. Collapse.

Repeat nineteen more times. That's your first set.

Exercise Two: Attila Just Made This Up, So It Has No Name.

Place your hands on a step. (Make sure the step is backed up against a wall or something solid.) Bend your elbows slightly and assume the plank position. Now, while in that position, hop up with your knees until they're against your chest. This should look and feel something like a double-legged mountain climber.

Do that three times. Now do three full pushups on the step.

Repeat until you've done a total of 21 pushups. That's seven reps of the hop-pushup combo. That's one set.

Is it any wonder I worked so hard to sprain my knee after those?

February 11, 2010

Motivations, Affirmations and Mantras - Oh My!

"Smile. It's all good. Trust me."
Photo: Photos8.com

We’re starting to get into that tricky time of our fitness journey where maybe we’ve had some early successes but now things are slowing down and we’re becoming a little bit anxious as to whether we can actually really pull this thing off. Nothing succeeds like success but where’s there a pithy saying about spinning, crashing and burning when you need one? Not that any of us are doing that but if you’re starting to use phrases like “treading water”, “getting back on the wagon”, “keeping the porch lights on for Jimmy Hoffa” – well then, you might need a little pick-me-up.

The great - and horrible - thing about motivation is that it is entirely up to us. It’s easy to stay motivated when things are going well but less so when all your hard work stops yielding results. Staying in a positive frame of mind is essential to reaching your fitness goals and so anything that keeps us upbeat is a good thing.

I don’t get to say this very often but lately I’ve picked up a few good habits. Whether it’s from being a member of Cranky Fitness or just not getting enough fiber in my diet, I tend to get crabbier than your average bear; especially in winter. To try to accentuate the positive, I have been keeping a gratitude journal that I write at least three things in every night. I’ll grant you that some nights I do have some trouble getting all three in. We all have those kinds of days. But then it helps me to look over past entries for an immediate boost, reminding myself that bad times don’t last forever – it just seems that way sometimes.

I’ve also picked up a daily affirmations book that I like to use: The Daily Book of Positive Quotations by Linda Picone. It helps me maintain some perspective in my otherwise self-absorbed existence. There is a huge variety of books in this genre and if you can’t decide on one; pick two. Couldn’t hurt.

Increasing the laughs has been something I’ve been doing more of lately, too. Laughter is a natural and immediate mood booster. There’s nothing like a good laugh to clear the decks of any worries or concerns that have been dogging us lately – if only for a little while. Some great current TV comedies are “The Office” and “30 Rock”. “I Love Lucy”, “Cheers”, “Frasier”, “Arrested Development” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” are classics that are always worth another look. I also found this hilarious article called “The Chuck Norris Guide to Self-Motivation” that you might enjoy. And everyone’s favorite, Jack Sh*t, is truly snort-worthy.

The other, most portable habit I’ve picked up has been to develop a mantra – a short phrase I say to myself to stay focused and lift my spirits. There are even some articles written about how to develop a mantra or affirmation if you’re so inclined with tips such as keeping it positive (duh) or representing the present versus the future (Really? I kind of like both). I have my own homegrown version that goes, “Every Day”: I need to do my exercise and mind my eating “every day”. I don’t focus on how big the overall task is - that's too scary. Instead, I’ve cut it up into one manageable thought that won’t overwhelm me. Stringing enough good days together starts to become a very good habit.

What do you all do to keep your head in the game? Do you have a mantra that helps you stay on track? And if so, what is it?

February 10, 2010

Relaxation: Will Someone Please Put A Gun to My Head?

There are many components of healthy living: eating right, exercising, refraining from smoking, keeping up with medical appointments, and not doing dumb-ass things like driving 100 miles per hour or sprinting across the street in front of oncoming tanker trucks.

But there's another healthy habit that's easy to forget: stress management. Stress sucks, and chronic stress can seriously mess up your health--not to mention give you excess belly fat, destroy your sleep, and generally make you a crotchety, over-sensitive pain in the ass. Chronic stress can raise blood pressure, contribute to digestive problems, negatively affect your immune system, and do a whole bunch of other bad things I can't remember off the top of my head.

There are many different methods to fight the effects of stress. These include exercise (which you're already doing, right?), psychiatric medications, psychotherapy, biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral self-help programs, massage, and bonking random strangers on the head with foam baseball bats. (Well, that last one isn't commonly recommended but it sure sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?).

But one of the simplest things you can do is... relax! Studies have shown taking a few minutes to meditate or do other forms of relaxation can have tremendous health benefits. There are lots of ways to approach it, like: mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, focusing on breath, self-hypnosis, yoga, chanting, drumming, singing, prayer, and guided visualization. Any activity that helps you focus your attention, relax your muscles, slow and deepen your breathing, and activate your parasympathetic nervous system will do the trick.

So am I the only one who knows that relaxation exercises are good for me, yet can not seem to make myself do them?

I bet I'm not. Seems like lots of people who will spend hours training for a marathon or cooking a nutritious meals somehow can't imagine taking 20 precious minutes out of the day to repeat a mantra, visualize a pleasant walk by the seashore, or focus on their breathing. And no amount of research about the awesome physical and mental benefits this brings seems to change this resistance.

Here's my theory: practicing intentional, conscious, therapeutic relaxation does not feel miserable enough to count in our minds as a chore or an achievement. It just feels wrong to many people to take half an hour, or even 2-3 minutes, out of a busy day to go off and be quiet unless all the other more unpleasant chores have been taken care of first. And how often are all your unpleasant chores ever finished?

Yet for most people, meditation or relaxation exercises are not "fun" enough to count as entertainment, especially not at first. In a battle for precious spare leisure time, a favorite tv show or new novel by your favorite author is going to seem a more compelling choice than sitting cross-legged and chanting "om."

Part of the reason I'm writing this post is that I've decided that it's about goddamn time I started doing some of this relaxation stuff myself again. I already follow pretty much every other healthy lifestyle recommendation, and being naturally wired as a neurotic stress-bucket, this one I really should remember to take seriously.

Years ago I dabbled in meditation, self-hypnosis, and guided visualization, etc. (As a psychotherapist, I even used to hypnotize people too; it's pretty cool.) But then I got too lazy and stopped making time for it.

Here are some things I learned:

(1) The kind of meditation that is most frequently suggested, where you repeat a mantra over and over? It works great for lots of people, but I suck at it, even with lots of practice. Everyone is different, yet many authorities still push mantra meditation as "the" kind of meditation. Phooey to that.

(2) The most helpful resource I found to get started was buying a book with all kinds of relaxation, visualization, and meditation examples. (Of course I can't find the book anymore or remember the title. But there are plenty out there.) Another thing I found helpful was to spring for a few guided meditation or visualization cd's. (There are also free or cheap mp3's and podcasts on the web; just google!).

(3) Once you learn to relax deeply, with practice you can cue yourself to get to at least a semi-relaxed state much more quickly than you did before. But I've also discovered that if you stop practicing, you can lose this ability again.

(4) The more time you spend focusing your conscious attention, the more you start to notice cool stuff around you that you didn't notice before.

(5) Deep trance states can be very pleasurable! However, it was hard for me to get really deep without a live hypnotist (expensive) or a fairly new guided imagery cd that I hadn't heard dozens of times. But I never had much luck getting myself to do anything differently by listening to helpful suggestions under hypnosis. My unconscious mind is apparently just as resistant to gentle nagging as my conscious mind is. But hypnosis still did a great job of getting me relaxed in the moment, even if it didn't miraculously get rid of any bad habits or change me from a slacker to a go-getter.

(6) As an alternative to visualizations, I found that focusing awareness on things that were beautiful or pleasurable in my environment worked much better for me than repeating words or paying attention to my breath. Looking at colors in the garden, watching a fire in the fireplace, walking on a scenic trail, or eating a meal slowly and focusing on all the sights, smells, and sensations involved--these I found more engrossing and they all "count" as meditating. The important thing is to just keep patiently returning your attention back from wandering thoughts to the thing you've decided to focus on. (Without getting all impatient and bitchy with yourself. If you're normal, your mind will wander a lot. Don't worry about it.)

Now here's where a more conscientious blogger would carefully explain all the many relaxation/ meditation options and tell you how to get started. Um, sorry! I ain't that blogger (at least not anymore).

But here are a few links and resources:

Mayo Clinic has a basic article about meditation and its health benefits, as does Web MD.

There are some basics of Buddhist meditation at How To Meditate, including instructional videos.

Also, Rejuvenation Lounge discusses walking meditation, and there are three quick meditation techniques for busy folks over at Quips and Tips for Spiritual Seekers.

Oh, and our pal POD at Thufferin' Thuccotash shares some of her experiences with meditation, and over at Spirited Women there's a discussion of the benefits of using meditation and other stress-management exercises with kids and teens.

What about you folks: do you practice meditation, visualization or other relaxation techniques?