October 28, 2011

Lazy Links: Running from Zombies Edition

So, no, I haven't actually been running from Zombies recently. I've just been seriously offline this week due to our bi-annual cross-country schlep and all the attendant chores and whining logistical challenges and triumphs a relocation entails. Now there's so much to get caught up on!

Among stuff I missed, for example: while I was on a plane single-handedly holding the whole thing aloft by firmly gripping the armrests catching up on the latest health research periodicals, I missed the fact that Shape ran an online profile of Cranky Fitness! And there were announcements about an upcoming conference I'm going to attend hosted by the nice folks at Dole (who apparently have no idea how my desire for Free Things translates into blog coverage, or I suspect they'd have swapped me out for a more respectable blogger). There's also been all kinds of random health news over the last couple weeks, like what happens if you drink 10 cups of tea a day, or why your Facebook friend list could indicate you're not so bright.

And no, I won't forget about the running zombies...

Blog News:

First off, this is the last day of the Shape Fitness Blogger poll, so if you happen to be heading over there to vote for a better blog than Cranky Fitness, please consider stopping by first at the new "Jan of Cranky Fitness" story!  Why? Well, there's a new picture the Lobster took of me, for one.  And while the stuff I wrote is boring to read, (it was a rush job) it's actually an amusing little lesson on marketing karma.  I was trying to pimp a bit for my life and wellness coaching practice... but the Shape site one-upped me.  Looks like they'd previously sold off a bunch of fitness-related words that I happened to use--so there are annoying highlighted links everywhere.  And none of them, of course, lead anywhere near me.  Take that, greedy crab!

And in other Cranky Fitness developments, I'll be headed off to a conference for a few days next week hosted by Dole.  The coolest thing is the free massage! the other bloggers I'll get to meet!  I'll fill in the blog links later when I chase 'em down, just have twitter handles for now, but look at this awesome list--many of which you may recognize as they have much more informative blogs than mine:

Meghann Anderson, @MealsAndMiles; Sandy Cohen: @APSandy; Lorrie Fenn; @LorrieFenn; Christina Haupert: @CarrotsNCake; Monica Olivas: @RunEatRepeat; Kristin Porter: @iowagirleats; Leah Segedie: @bookieboo; Jenn Walters: @FitBottomedGirl; Tish Merritt: @luvandkiwi.  How cool is that?

'Round the Web:

And now, about those zombies: In this round-up of fitness apps, one caught my eye, though it's still in development:

"ZOMBIES, RUN! will immerse you in an audio zombie apocalypse environment, and when you go out on a run in the real world, you will be collecting ammo, medicine, and other tools to help you survive. The game will also record stats such as calories burned, time, pace, and distance, to help you track your real world runs while you destroy zombies." Sound cool? Check it out at: ZOMBIES, RUN!

I don't know why so many women don't want big strong muscles, other than on their fellas.  But I'd sure like some, and I haven't found a way to order some up online.  So I was intrigued by this Men's Health article on the three best ways to target training for bigger stronger muscles.

Finding calorie counting a hassle?  Over at Live for Food there's a quick way to estimate fruit and vegetable calories.

Do you have a "boy" job or a "girl" job?  At GapingWhole there's an interesting comparison of what fields women and men gravitate towards, and it looks like there are still whopping differences. Interesting question to ponder as to why.

Stuff I Tweeted About Since Last Time:

Study links BPA in womb to behavior problems in preschoolers. http://t.co/WAsBynbV But (big surprise), industry spokeman says it's safe.

Big Study says: no increased cancer risk for cell-phone users. http://t.co/BpGmbxXp Yay! But don't go nuts--more study needed on heavy users.

More evidence that green tea helps weight loss. http://t.co/WEVx9AJ7 Er... if you drink 10 cups a day. But smaller amounts should help too.

Uh oh: The number of Facebook friends you have correlates to gray matter in the brain. http://t.co/EzJQarMK Not good news for me, alas!

Spores! Who knew they were awesome? Take 1 of the 3 toughest types of probiotics for most benefits: http://t.co/Ur2Y3NWH

Many obese folks in denial about health risks: http://t.co/GEoh1KAH Odd, given media's constant exploitation & shaming of fat folks.

We needed a study to learn this? "Neighborhoods with busy intersections discourage children's play." http://t.co/2inTHdk7

Volunteers motivated by altruistic reasons live longer! http://t.co/3sQSTnLj Those with ulterior motives don't.

Walnuts boost inferential reasoning skill--says study funded by the CA Walnut commission. http://t.co/kvtALWiC Infer whatever you want...

Wanna avoid excessive snacking w/out wiring your jaw? Protein should make up at least 15% of your diet. http://t.co/YdeJxFuz

But nicer cars? RT @MentalHealthSoc: Materialistic Couples Have More Problems, Poorer Quality Relationship http://t.co/xTtnfqNV

And just to test out a different way of doing links in a post no one is reading anymore, here's what Huffpo has to say about smuggled honey.

Th.. that's all folks!  BTW, I so appreciated those of you kind enough of to comment while I was gone, and I'm still a bit behind on things in the blogosphere.  But I'm totally looking forward to finding out what all my blogging pals have been up to lately. I'll be back making blog rounds over the weekend... after a few more boxes get unpacked. Also, I didn't get a chance to test the links, so if anyone spots a broken one & is kind enough to let me know, that would be awesome.

Got any thoughts, gripes, insights, news to share?  Just wanna say hi?  Would love to hear from you! And have a great Friday y'all.

October 24, 2011

Crabby Works Out With Jillian Michaels, Then Blows Town

So I went to the gym with Jillian Michaels on my arm last week... and wouldn't you think it would have caused a bit of comment?  I thought I might have gotten at least a little bit of attention for it--after all, Jillian is so well-known she's a brand unto herself.

Not fooling anyone, am I? Yes, Jillian Michaels is indeed a brand. And she has lent her very marketable name and image to something called a BodyMedia Fit armband.  It was that personification of Jillian who clung snugly to my left bicep all day.  But hell, I figure if I'm supposed to associate the super-achieving, tenacious, on-your-ass-all-the-time qualities of Jillian Michaels with an armband...then I might as well give in to the marketeers and confuse the two completely. I'm a simple creature!

But even if Jillian is only an armband, it still leads to questions:

How did I end up with Jillian on my arm? What do I think of her? What's causing me to flee New England and abandon Cranky Fitness in the last week of a Blog Popularity Contest in which I could be roundly humiliated? And is all this preamble gonna lead to a freakin' giveaway this time or what?

UPDATE:  Sorry, the giveaway is now over! But if you're curious to find out what it's like to have one of these gizmos, check out the BodyMedia Fit Amband Review. (The rest of this post was written before the giveaway).

There is indeed a Review and Giveaway of the Bodymedia Fit Weight Management System coming up.  But I'll need to test it out for at least a couple of weeks to assess its accuracy.

And it should be a fun giveaway, because Jillian is pretty ambitious!  Check it out:  according to the PR email I got, the armband "captures over 5000 data points per minute using four seriously sophisticated sensors measuring motion, heat flux, skin temperature, and galvanic skin response."

It tracks steps taken, calories burned, physical activity levels and sleep duration and efficiency. It syncs with your computer and lets you set and track goals, note your progress or slackitude, and see all kinds of data about what your body has been doing all day.

So you're all ahead of me here now, right?  Because this means I will be reporting on what it's like to exercise, hang out, do errands, eat, drink, and even sleep with Jillian Michaels!

If the Giveaway Isn't Here Yet, Why the Hell Am I Mentioning it Now?

This is the sort of thing most bloggers wouldn't bother to explain, but because I am something of an asshole and a PR nightmare, believe in honesty and transparency, I'll give you the real reason:

In order for this to be a review and giveaway, and not just a review, I have to post about the BodyFit Media system three times.

So this post is Number One! And then the Review and Giveaway will be Number Two! And then announcing the winner will be Number Three and voila: you guys get one of these things to fight over too.

Will Canadians and Europeans be Eligible?

The good news is Yes! The bad news is that the reason is because they shipped me both units and I'm the one who's going to be schlepping down to the post office and forking over for postage and sending 'em out.

So Why Am I Abandoning Blog Duties and Putting Up a Crappy Post Devoid of Useful Health & Fitness Information Right in the Final Week of the Shape Blogger Poll?

Long-time regulars at Cranky Fitness are aware that the Lobster and I migrate every six months to a different coast. So by the next blog post, we'll be in San Diego. We're flying this year, not driving Fran the Van (she's sitting in a storage lot in Chula Vista behind a furniture store... at least we hope she's still sitting there), but there's still a crapload of things that have to be done to make the transition.  Are we complaining? No ma'am, we are not! We are all too aware how lucky we are to be bicoastal.

However, it means I will not be online much and can not hint, suggest, wheedle, implore, beg, plead, inveigle, or otherwise persuade anyone to help Cranky Fitness or other blogs you like better to a respectable finish in the Shape Blogger Poll which ends the 28th.  (And some people still report being able to vote once every day, which is an annoying twist to the whole thing.)

So anyway, stay tuned for the usual half-assed posts when we get settled on the west coast later this week, and stand by for the upcoming review/giveaway of Jillian's Bodyfit thingy!

 So Jillian... Was I good today?

Yes, Crabby... You were very good!

Awesome... Hey, you busy later?

Right here when you want me, Crabby.

Adios! And as long-timers may recall, I'm a white-knuckle flyer--so wish me luck.  If you wanna leave a comment about anything at all, I'll be sure to at least get online enough to check in. Because if there's anything I love more than pretending to sleep with celebrities, it's reading blog comments!

October 20, 2011

The Enlightened Brain Review

So why would Cranky Fitness readers want to check out a review of an online course I took this summer called The Enlightened Brain?

Well, because the course was pretty cool!  And perhaps there are a few other tightly-wired, over-reactive types like me out there who could use some research-based tricks (or a whole spiritual path, depending on your proclivities) to tone down the psychological alarm bells and enjoy more tranquility and happiness.

But you don't have to have to be a natural-born stress-bucket to take an interest. Folks who want to know more about the neuroscience of positive and negative emotions, and perhaps even re-wire their brain so as to serve up more of the former and less of the latter, might want to check this thing out.

(Plus, I was in a weird mood and threw in gratuitous pictures of a controversial pop-culture diva--so you can always just weigh in on whether you think she's a genius or find her appalling).

Why I Signed Up for The Enlightened Brain.

Of course y'all don't care, but when has that stopped me from explaining something before? Feel free to skip on down.

If you've always been a bit on the anxious, pessimistic side, it's easy to just throw up your hands and say "Well Baby, I Was Born This Way." (And I'm sure you appreciate now having Lady Gaga lodged inside your head. Oh, and sorry... sometimes she likes to settle in).

Love ya, Lady Gaga!
But wanna stop singing that song now? It's been 27 hours

Yet despite Lady Gaga's reassurance that I don't have to feel badly about my inborn neurotic  tendencies, one thing being a psychotherapist teaches you is that you can change your thoughts, and consequently your emotional reactions to things.  And, though this isn't saying much, I'm definitely more mellow now than I used to be! But I'm still too prone to stressing over minor upsets, and wanted a motivational kick in the pants to try the whole meditation thing again for the thousandth time.

So since I'd previously read Rick Hanson's book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, and was impressed, I thought I'd see if I could beg my way in to his online course and review it.  And thanks to the generosity of the author and Sounds True, the company that hosts it, I got to take it for free.  Hooray! I finished the course a couple weeks back and would have reviewed it sooner, were I not too busy futzing around on the web and plotting how to eat more  kettlecorn without gaining weight doing scholarly research and helping people in need.

What's The Enlightened Brain About and How Did it Work?

To swipe copy from the website (lazy, who me?) the course description is: "Meditation Meets Neuroscience—Practical Tools to Reshape Your Brain for Awakening."

It's technically an "interactive" online course, though it's mostly pre-recorded video and audio presentations by Rick Hanson. Some of these were in a lecture format, and others were guided meditations. There were two live sessions in which Rick took questions, but these were questions submitted earlier offline. While it didn't exactly feel like Rick and I were hanging out drinking beer herb tea and chatting together, he did answer the question I submitted carefully, thoroughly, and quite helpfully. There was a forum thing available too if you wanted to connect with other folks taking the course.

The course lasted six weeks, with numerous short audios and videos for each week. It was self-paced and flexible, so if you got "behind," there was no pressure. And once you sign up you can review it all over again if you, like me, are forgetful. The material stays available for download for a few months after the course is over, and if you get off your butt and download the sessions, you can hang onto them.

The six sessions were:

1. Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
2. Taking in the Good
3. The Neuroscience of Mindfulness
4. Concentrating the Mind
5. Equanimity
6. Beyond the Self

What Was Great About The Enlightened Brain

1. Rick Hanson! I found him to be completely charming. He's warm, funny, and, well, pretty adorable. He's geeky enough (compliment) to be precise and clear, and he doesn't shy away from long words or complicated concepts. However, he always takes a step back after presenting difficult material to rephrase it in language anyone could understand, and he gives concrete examples.

He shares his own struggles, and doesn't try to lecture from a guru/expert perspective, even if it's abundantly clear from listening to him that he knows his stuff. And sure, he's just a video playing on your screen (or an audio track), but he manages to project so much empathy and kindness, it's hard not to feel like he's actually in the room with you. (Oh, and, because he's so enlightened and has worked so hard to transcend "self" and all that, I don't have to worry about him getting a big head should he read this!).

2. The Format While the course was more expensive than a hardbound book, it was immensely helpful to have a structure and a human face to the experience. A self help book is all too easy to put down... while a series of very short lessons and practices paced over a number of weeks is a lot more engaging and motivating. There was homework too, if you wanted to do it. (And if you're in a helping profession and need continuing education hours, they can hook you up for an extra $36. I intend to go back and do that myself, as this is WAY superior to so much of the usual CE schlock available, and less expensive than most too.)

3. The Content Did you know that changing the way you think and focus your attention can actually change the way your brain is structured? Not just conceptually, but physically! You can carve new neuronal paths, secrete different chemicals, expand "good" regions of the brain and chill out "bad" ones. (Is it pretty darn clear I'm not a neuroscientist?) Basically, you can upgrade your hard drive to one that runs quieter and smoother, has more memory, functions better, and is less prone to crashing. Rick patiently explains how it all works, and gives lots of practical tips and techniques to get you started.

There are lots of different suggestions for finding tranquility and happiness in everyday moments--I find myself using several of these routinely now, and they really do work!

Just a Few Minor Quibbles

We can't leave the "Cranky" out of "Cranky Fitness" entirely, can we? That just wouldn't be right.

1. Technical Issues: There were a few minor glitches... during some of the video sessions, Rick would refer to charts that weren't there; the first live session wouldn't stream properly and kept hanging up; and one of the meditation practices was missing for quite a long time. (Ironically, as I recall it was on the subject of "letting go," and I kept obsessing about its absence, and I emailed support, and then grew unduly irritated when I didn't hear back... Of course I should have just let it go. But I couldn't because I didn't know how yet!)

2. The Buddhist Emphasis: In all fairness, there's a lot of scientific validation for many Buddhist meditation practices and the beneficial effects they can have on your brain. And the course does say "Enlightened" right in the title, not "Optimized" or "Enhanced" or "Super-charged" or something. So I kinda knew what I was getting into. But there are other kinds of meditation, and other psychological techniques out there, that could be useful in reshaping the brain too. These aren't really included much.

Personally, I suck at struggle with most forms of meditation. (And yeah, a major problem is I don't stick with it long enough to get more comfortable. Rick doesn't promise that it will be effortless, he's very upfront that you may need a bit of self-discipline). But slacker or not, I still would have appreciated a few more alternative approaches for brain re-sculpting and focusing my attention. Not that the course doesn't have tips on sustaining focus, it does! (And also includes a fascinating discussion about how dopamine levels affect attention). But there is heavy reliance on breathing as a focus in most of the practices, which never seems to work for me. The course was SO convincing about the benefits of building a practice of mediation/focused attention (and other Virtuous Mental Habits as well) that I feel very motivated to find something that helps hold my attention better than my damn breath.

3. More! More! This is actually more of a compliment than a quibble, but I loved the videos, and would have liked to have seen a few more of them for the lecture parts of the course. (For the meditation practices, where you're often closing your eyes anyway, audio is fine). Oh hell, as long as I'm getting all demanding and unrealistic, how about a few different backgrounds, more visual aids, hmm, perhaps some costumes, wigs and back-up dancers? Hey, I think I know someone who could help!

Anyone have any luck with meditation or other methods for finding happiness and tranquility that don't involve large slabs of chocolate cake? Or heck, got any opinions about Lady Gaga?

October 17, 2011

Fitting in Fitness

Photo credit? Whoops. Forgot where I found it.

Are you a professional athlete? A circus performer? Or perhaps a reality-show contestant being tortured and humiliated trained and motivated to inspire a national TV audience with your astounding weight loss and newly-muscled physique?

Nope? Well, no big surprise there. Oddly enough, neither pro athletes nor famous people of any sort tend to hang out at Cranky Fitness. Go figure! But this post is not for them anyway.

How do normal folks find time to get enough exercise?

And sorry, Cranky Fitness regulars--as it happens, it's a subject that comes up for a lot of coaching clients. So please don't get too disoriented should you decide to... 

Sigh heavily, lift your finger from its comfortable resting place, and click over to the Life Coaching site to read the damn post.

October 14, 2011

Toxins In Your Cereal? And Other Cheerful News 'Round The Web

Yep, it's time again for a round-up of random health news and links. Besides toxic cereal, we've got info on scrotum injections, free running apps, snacks to help weight loss, and how to tell if you might make a good cocaine addict.

Well, I did say random, didn't I?

First up, the whistleblowin' Cornucopia folks have a report out that may scare you off your favorite breakfast cereal.  They say "natural" cereals sold by companies like Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, and even Barbara’s Bakery and Whole Foods are actually  "contaminated with toxic agrichemicals and genetically engineered organisms." They've got a cereal scorecard listing both Virtuous and Unfortunate choices.

Runners: Could you use a list of the best free running apps? There ya' go.

Over at Jody's great blog Truth2BeingFit, there's an important post about an auto-immune disorder called Lichen Sclerosis.  Sadly, because it affects the genitals, many people who get it are too embarrassed to seek treatment early enough--and they end up with scarring and other painful problems. Got anything funny going on down there? You may want to give it a look-see. (Um, I meant give the blog post a look-see. You may want to hold off on that other look-see until you're home from work).

And speaking of genitals...Male birth control: coming soon? One kind they're mulling over requires scrotum injections.  Good luck to the marketing folks on that one.

Got a dog who likes to chew on stuff ?  Lure that precious pup away from your shoes and purses with some lovely... antlers.  Roxy the Traveling Dog says they're so tasty they warrant a reader giveaway.  Random drawing happens Oct 19.

Stuff lifted from my Twitter Stream Out of Pure Laziness:

Research flip-flops yet again--say avoids most supplements, including multivitamins. But hey, calcium is now OK! http://bit.ly/pxmvP1

Hate broccoli? Sorry, you can't get its awesome phytochemicals in a pill. http://bit.ly/osYJTI. Worse news? You're best eating it raw.

Swedish study says chocolate reduces stroke risk: http://t.co/Y1OAhIMS But warns that typical crappy US chocolate may not do the trick.

Find dull tasks excruciating? Could be you have entitlement issues. http://t.co/07EVojTS Uh oh, I'm queen of chore-avoiders...

Best migraine-prevention drug? Study says: Exercise! http://t.co/4XZcpECz Then why do so many folks who exercise a lot still get' em?

Love coffee? Study says you'd make a good cocaine addict: http://t.co/UWqybknL I'm not worried... Least not til cocaine drops to $10/lb.

L'Oreal to introduce pill to reduce incidence of gray hair. http://t.co/aEN4MFr5 Say, isn't that called a "birth control pill?"

False memories good for more than sending innocent people to jail: expert says they can boost confidence etc http://t.co/7AaxPvrP

Think you can't get too much iron? Men and post-menopausal women sure can, so ditch iron-containing supplements http://t.co/Lp1p1tWE

Don't freak if your guy likes porn, it's normal! http://t.co/vPBSEQl2 Only about 5% let it interfere w/ life.

Yet another reason to quit: smokers have strokes 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. http://t.co/ypOq21zA But easier said than done, eh?

Scientists just now figuring out "brain continues to develop beyond adolescence?" http://t.co/LIhvR0TN Um... duh?

14 low-calorie snacks that power up weight loss http://ow.ly/6HPYy Alas, kettlecorn doesn't seem to be on the list.

Resveratrol stops breast cancer cell growth! http://t.co/XcLAGM83 But sadly, spoilsport experts do not suggest intensive red wine therapy

Reebok pays settlement over deceptive shoe "toning" claims. http://t.co/SC7lXfjU Gosh I'm shocked--gotta exercise, the shoes aren't magic?

In Blog News:

It was an exciting week at Cranky Fitness:  the blog got nominated in Shape's Best Fitness Blogger poll!  Voting is still on-going if you want to help Cranky Fitness stave off a bottom-of-the-pile finish.  Which would be a shame--even though Shape presents it as a one-person blog, it certainly wasn't in the good ol' days.  It would do a disservice to all the awesome writing by former cobloggers Merry, Jo, and Gigi if my crappy social networking ability sinks the Cranky ship.

And thanks again to all the kind readers who've been helping out--MUCH appreciated!

So, anything exciting or not-so-exciting happen for you guys this week?   Thoughts about toxic cereal, male birth control, or anything else?

October 12, 2011

Did You Win the Polar Heart Rate Monitor?

The Random Number Generator has spoken!

The winner is: Cammy, who blogs at Building Beauty Beyond Body!

And sorry to the other Cammi with an I. (I always worry when the winner shares a name with other entrants--I picture the non-winners seeing their name and getting all excited before they figure out it was someone else who won. Am I neurotic, or what?)

Anyway, Cammy with a Y, Please email me at crabbymcslacker dot gmail dot com to claim your prize by end of day Friday October 13th.  And sorry, if you don't check in, we'll have to draw a new winner. 

And as usual, I wish we had a monitor for everyone, Cranky Fitness readers rock!

Oh, and those of you who are in the market for a heart rate monitor and are curious about how it did after further testing? Well, the Polar FT4 Review has now been updated. Bottom line: I like the monitor even more now than I did before!

October 10, 2011

What Does it Mean to Get In Shape?

Alert readers who visit other, better blogs like MizFit or The Great Fitness Experiment may have already become suspicious... is this a real post, or just a pathetic plea for votes in Shape's Best Fitness Blogger Poll?

Well, it is a post about what it means to be "In Shape!"  Sort of.  It's really more of a question than anything else--And I hope some of you will answer it for me.  But, um, yeah--there may also be a mention of the poll thingy at the end.

But first...

What does Being "In Shape" Mean to You?

Pondering this deep philosophical question for a few moments led me to realize it was lunchtime and that there was leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge! that there are so many kinds of being in shape! And that everyone probably has a different definition.

It also caused me to reflect a bit on how seldom I ever examine and challenge my own ideas of what it means to be in good shape. Some of these notions: useful! Others: totally lame-brained and counterproductive!

So I thought I'd investigate by rooting around in the dark dank mysterious confines of my subconscious mind (Eeek, spiders! And hey, Miss Nancy from Romper Room, what the heck are you doing in there?). And then, while I was visiting, I thought I'd linger for a moment and have a conversation. Because perhaps people don't think I'm quite weird enough.

Crabby:  Hey unconscious, so what do you think are the most important aspects of being in good shape?

Unconscious:  You should be strong, and be able to do cardio at a good pace, have a fair amount of endurance, and good flexibility and balance.

Crabby: Well that sounds reasonable!  And when you cardio should be done at a good pace, you mean that when I get on the elliptical...

Unconscious: Elliptical? Who are you kidding? That doesn't count.  You have to run to be in good shape.  And you have to go at least five miles five times a week, and you should do those miles in under eight minutes.

Crabby:  What!? I never got that fast even when I was young and healthy! And what about my foot and knee injuries that are aggravated by running? What about getting older?  Wouldn't the elliptical or biking or swimming make more sense and be more gentle on my....

Unconscious:  Silence!  It's gotta be running and it's got to be fast or you're wasting your time because you'll never be in shape.  That's what you believed 30 years ago, so it must be true, right? 

Crabby: Seriously?  Hmm... could that be why I keep reinjuring myself over and over by trying to run?

Unconscious:  And hey, shouldn't you be outside right now training for a marathon, like the people who are really in shape are doing? That's what endurance means--you should be able to run 26 miles at a time.

Crabby:  Sheesh you're strict!  So, um, to be "strong," what does that mean?

UnconsciousUnassisted pull-ups.

Crabby:  That's it?

Unconscious:  Well, there are some other things you should do too, but you can go through the motions on most of those. It's how many pull-ups you can do that count.  Remember when you were little and spent hours on the playground and weighed 60 pounds? You could do a ton of them back then, so you should be able to do a bunch now too.

Crabby:  But wait... it made no sense, but I obsessed for years about that, and now I can do an unassisted pull up or two! Or, on a good day, up to 4 chin-ups. Aren't you proud?

Unconscious:  Yeah, good for you.  Now you have to do eight pull-ups.

Crabby:  Wait, how can that be? I'm getting older, not younger and...

Unconscious: Eight.  A full set. You could do at least that many when you were little.

Crabby:  Damn.  What about flexibility and balance?   And, oh dear... how about mental health? Yikes!  I'm kinda superficial and unevolved and sometimes I get stressed about stuff that should be no big deal and...

Unconscious: Eh whatever. As long as you can make your way across a room without falling over, and can touch your toes, you're good on flexibility and balance.  I may say those are important... but notice how often I let you slide? Obviously I don't care very much.  And mental health?  Ha! As long as you're not babbling incoherently and running around whacking people with hatchets, we're good.  My priorities for being "In Shape" are pretty simple.

Crabby:  Wow, Unconscious, I had no idea you were so illogical! So judgmental! So counterproductive!

Unconscious:  Logic? Judgement? Productivity? What do those words mean?  I don't recognize them.  That's your department, Crabby.  I just deal in emotions, random associations, wishful thinking, bad memories, stuff like that.  You're not running around doing everything I tell you without thinking about it, are you? And surely you're not ignoring really important things just because they're not the random ones I decide to guilt-trip you about?

Crabby:  Um...  er... say, I think I hear the phone ringing.  Bye, unconscious!

So what do you guys believe it means to be "in shape?"

Any of you have some good working definitions of "in good shape?" Or some crazy unconscious ones? Would love to hear what pops into your head, and if you consider that you are actually "in shape."

Oh, and on that Shape voting thing:

First off, how can I not urge you to vote for the awesomeness that is MizFit or The Great Fitness Experiment or the Fit Bottom Girls or Workout Mommy or many of the other great blogs on the list?  Sigh.  They're way more inspirational than Cranky Fitness.  It's only my irrational unconscious that gives a sh#t about landing at or near the bottom, and we know how reliable that source of motivation is.

It's rumored you can actually vote once a day until October 28th, which is frankly pretty darn annoying.  Right...  we bloggers should urge readers to quit your day jobs to vote over and over in a  blogging poll?   However, if true, it does mean you could vote for Cranky Fitness, and then vote for your other favorite blogs too. 

But the best thing about this poll? It's reminding me yet again how awesome Cranky Fitness readers are! Moonlight Dancer at Dancing in the Moonlight wrote a nice post helping me out, and those of you following Cranky Fitness on Facebook have been very sweet about checking in and voting and saying hi. Love you guys!

So, any thoughts about what it means to be "in shape?"  Or feelings about be hounded to vote in online polls?

October 06, 2011

Need a Heart Rate Monitor? Polar FT4 Review

Thinking about getting a heart rate monitor? Wondering whether the Polar FT4 is a good pick?

Yep, it's Product Review time again, which means: Crabby gets something for free that she gets to keep (yay!), googlers looking for info on a product have a fitness blog review from a source that is ill-tempered enough not to reflexively kiss sponsor ass (yay!), and sponsors get publicity for their products in a health blog of questionable influence noted for mainly for swear words and semi-naked pictures of Italian soccer players (yay?)

Note: this was originally a giveaway post, but that aspect has expired. Sorry if you missed it!

Now let's get crackin'.

Polar FT4 Features and Specs

If you are a lazy blogger and you go to the Polar Website and just copy sh*t without analyzing anything, here's what you find:

Measurement features:

Automatic age-based target zone – bpm / %
Average and maximum heart rate of training
Heart rate – bpm / %
HR-based target zones with visual and audible alarm
HRmax (user set)
Manual target zone – bpm / %
Polar OwnCal® – calorie expenditure
Polar OwnCode® (5kHz) – coded transmission

Recording features

Training files (with summaries) – 10

Training features

Graphical target zone indicator
HeartTouch – button-free operation of wrist unit

Watch features

Date and weekday indicator
Display text in English and a crapload of other languages
Dual time zone
Low battery indicator
Time of day (12/24h) with alarm and snooze
User replaceable battery
Water resistant – 30m

What's Great About The Monitor

The price ain't bad. Though technically it retails for about a hundred bucks, a quick google search will land you figures that are quite a bit less than that. So for less than your next pair of fancy running shoes, you could be set with an HRM that has a good balance between features and ease of use. Polar is one of the biggest names in heart rate monitors with an excellent reputation; not that other ones might not be good too--but you're not taking any wild chances with this brand.

It's a nice step up from the low-end hrms. The flexible chest strap is way more comfortable that the stiff kind, plus there are absorbable pads you presoak with water, so you don't have to wait to get soaked with sweat for the thing to work. The strap is even machine washable! (But don't be a doof and throw the transmitter and watch in the machine too).

The wrist watch part has a good set of features but is not too complicated to use. Even the Cranky Crab was able to set it up, and toggle the display between time, heart rate, workout duration, calories burned and HRM relative to target range. (This may not seem like an achievement worth bragging about, but I'm someone who's been walking around in Massachusetts for the last 6 months with a sports watch that's still set to California time because I couldn't figure out how to change it).

What's Better About the FT4 Than I Initially Thought

The Display is Easy To Read  I almost chose the lowest-end F1 to test because I was scared off by the above picture. The type looks so tiny! There is a sad trade-off with heart rate monitors if you are an old fogey like me and don't want to have to take along reading glasses to see tiny type--you are generally restricted to low end models that don't measure much besides heart rate. However, what I didn't realize is that the screen displayed above is just one option; you can get big readable numbers when you're just measuring heart-rate or time, etc. So this is a perfectly good pick for the reading-glasses generation.

You Can Get Bright or Neutral Colors. The Polar people are currently promoting their new louder colors: pink (billed as pink & purple, but trust me, it's pink) or black and orange (good for Halloween or SF Giants fans). So I didn't at first realize that nice safe old silver/blacks and goldish/brown are also available. (Not for this giveaway though, I don't think).

Calories Burned Seemed Fairly Accurate : I tend to be skeptical of the ability of a monitor to count how many calories you burn based solely on your heart rate. But on both low and high intensity days, it seemed to correlate pretty well with what models would predict given my weight and the number of miles I covered.

Accuracy Under Bouncy Conditions: My old hrm would not make good enough contact with my chest to give consistent readings on the elliptical machine, especially at the beginning before I got soaked with sweat. (Don't know it's due to bouncing boobage, or my poor elliptical form, but whatever the reason, getting values that pop around randomly from 36 to 243 is not all that helpful).

But Voila: The flexible chest strap of the FT4 totally fixed this problem!  Well, ok, one one workout there was a few seconds of skittering around before the numbers settled in, but this chest strap is a vast improvement over the inflexible kind. Much more comfort and accuracy and worth the upgrade.

You Can Turn Off the Godawful Beeping The default setting has an annoying beep whenever the hrm function is working. From the initial set-up guide, it isn't clear at first how to turn it off. However, after  five minutes of whining, stomping, and cursing further investigation, it turns out there is indeed a setting that will turn the beeping off, thank goodness.

What Could be Better About This Heart Rate Monitor

No High-Tech Features. It's mostly a "get what you pay for" scenario: this is a lower end model, and it doesn't have GPS or an accelerometer nor will it sing to you in Swedish or talk you through your motivational issues. It doesn't even seem to have an interval timer-- though it does have an alarm, so perhaps there's something I'm missing that would enable interval timing. If it's there, they don't make it obvious.

Online Tracking?  Polar says in the instruction manual that you can track your data on their website!  So at first I thought, really, you can send your workout data wirelessly to your PC? That's cool! But turns out they mean if you wanna bother to go register with them and manually enter your data, they'll keep it for you. Big whoop! (FYI, just send Crabby a hundred bucks, she'd be happy to do the same!)

Lack of Sufficient Instructions in Box Also, being the old fashioned type, I wouldn't have minded a bit more operating information in the package. I had to go online to download the user manual in order to shut off the default hrm sounds--the initial set-up only told you how to silence the button noise, not the constant hrm beeping at you. The hrm system is NOT that complicated for them to include the complete operating instructions in the package.

Overall: If you don't need gps or complicated programming features, and want a well-designed heart rate monitor from a reliable company that is comfortable and easy to read, this definitely fits the bill. And if you shop this thing rather than paying full retail, it's seems like a good value for the money.

October 03, 2011

Dancing for Exercise? Six Big Mistakes To Avoid

Can You Spot the Form Mistake?
(See answer in the Comments)
 Photo: Philippe LeRoyer

I am not the first person to note that dancing is both great fun and great exercise.  The combination of movement and music is exhilarating! And you can pick an appropriate intensity for whatever your mood and fitness goal--whether it's a sexy salsa with your significant other, a zingy zumba class at the gym, a dignified waltz with Uncle Freddie, or some serious suicidin' & downrockin' with all your b-boy & b-girl buddies.

(And just how pathetically obvious is it that I know absolutely nothing about urban dance?)

But what if... horror of horrors...  you're doing it all wrong? The repercussions could be as minor as an eyeroll from your significant other, up to far more dire scenarios ending in serious injury, insanity, or death.

Sound like fun?

OK, I'm exaggerating, as usual.  Dancing is only rarely a fatal activity.  But playing on fears of doing something "wrong" is one of the time honored ways of getting people to click on links and read things!

But here's what I've managed to scrape up in the way of advice:  

1. Don't be a scaredy-cat

Photo: Buntekuh

The biggest mistake of all is to avoid dancing altogether because you fear you will suck at it.

Dancing is a blast!  It's also really beneficial for your health and well-being. I'm too lazy to go over the many health benefits of dancing, but since others have explained why dancing is good for you and even how it will make you smarter, it's safe to just trust me on this.

However, I don't really practice what I preach. I love moving to music, and was an aerobic and step class addict back in the 80's and 90's.  And sure, I'll still disco-dance my foolish ass off during summers in Provincetown, where Tea Dance at the Boatslip is a bizarre and uninhibited local institution. The fact that I am not graceful or coordinated doesn't matter--just give me a cocktail and a crowded dance floor full of drag queens, drunk bachelorettes, circuit boys, and various rhythm-challenged old fogeys like myself, and in my own mind: voila, I am invisible!

However, in the last decade or so I seem to have developed a fear of any dance environment where (a) steps must be learned and (b) other people are present.  Even a beginner class is intimidating, because a combination of increasing age and self-consciousness render me incapable of memorizing more than two movements in a row. 

Isn't that stupid? No one cares how doofy I look if I don't know the steps. So I may try to confront this fear, we'll see. Inspired by bloggers like Sylvia, I'm thinking of trying a Zumba class when we rejoin our gym in San Diego in November. (I'll just have to work really really hard on inventing a magic invisibility cloak in the next few weeks).

2. Don't Use Dancing as An Excuse for Crappy Food Choices.

Yes, dancing counts as exercise!  But if you consult this amusing calorie chart that helpfully points out that 1 hour of fast ballroom dancing permits you to eat 1.4 Grande Starbucks Caffe Lattes made with whole milk, half a McDonald's Big Mac With cheese, 4.9 glasses of wine, 1.4 Snickers Bars, or 1.9 cans of Coca-Cola, you might get the wrong idea about proper post-workout nutrition.

3. Perform a "Reality" Check

Dancing is everywhere on TV these days, whether it's the misfit show-tune-belting performers on Glee, the B-list celebs on Dancing With the Stars, or the ever-hopeful contestants on So You Think You Can Dance. However, the carefully calculated media images you're exposed to can sometimes cause confusion!

So warning: please don't be shocked when stage lights, back-up singers and orchestras don't magically appear when you start to bust a few moves down at the local shopping mall. Or try not to be disappointed that you can't emulate Kirstie Alley and magically shed a quick 100 pounds after taking up dancing.  You may also be surprised to discover that without a team of coaches and hours and hours a day to practice, you can't quite pull of the acrobatic leaps, spins, flips, and twirls that you see on your screen without causing major bodily injury.  And if you do happen to be pretty darn good?  Then you may be appalled to discover that absolutely no one is calling you up offering you huge prizes or starring roles in tv programs!

The biggest source of confusion of all?  Many people seem to be under the impression that sitting on their asses watching hour after hour of other people dancing on TV constitutes exercise.  Sadly, some actual physical activity is required--and pushing the buttons on your remote control to fast forward through commercials doesn't really count.

4. Be Careful If You Want to Go Pro

Well, if movies are any indication, it's scary to be a professional dancer! If you don't go Black-Swan insane, you're at least at risk of being Chorus-Lined into breast implants or will be tragically undone by your demonic Red Shoes.

And there's at least a little actual research to back up the notion that professional dancing comes with certain risks.  Not only are there the physical injuries, but ballet dancers are at increased risk of  anorexia and have an unusually strong preoccupation with achieving a low body weight.

5. Don't Dance Yourself to Death.

Here's where we get to the fun part about fatalities... ever heard of the Dancing Plague of 1518?  Hundreds of folks were seized with the uncontrollable desire to dance and didn't stop for days and days until many died. Oh, and during the depression, at least a couple of contestants perished during grueling dance marathons trying to win cash prizes.

And has the whole take ecstasy and dance until you croak fad ended yet? I'm thinking that trend went out in the 90's, but what do I know, I don't stay up late enough to know whether the young folks are still having raves.

6. Don't Be A Total Asshat!

Beware: combining the exuberance of dancing, a show-offy personality, and a bucket full of alcohol may result in serious injury and public humiliation. This YouTube video compilation has been out there a while, and in it are a few innocent folks who did nothing but stand in the wrong place and get clobbered by idiots. But most of those showcased fall into the "way asking for it" category. Don't let this be you!

So do any of you love dancing? Fear it? A little of both?