February 17, 2012

Vacation! And How Not To F--ck It Up. Hopefully.

Postcard found at: Mademoiselle B

So next week I'm heading off for a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii with the Lobster and her up-for-anything 86-year old mother.

Whoopee!  There should be lots of opportunity for fun and adventure and relaxation. Hiking! Sight-seeing! Snorkeling! Snoozing! Boozing! Snacking! Reading! Frolicking!

And yet travel being what it is, there will also be plenty of chances for delays, stress, inconvenience, disappointment, compromises, and dumb-ass mistakes.

So, what's it gonna be...An exciting escapade? A tranquil retreat? Or a chance to get as crabby and petulant as a two-year old on an apple-juice-and-oreo high who missed her nap time?

(One of whom will no doubt be behind me on the flight, screaming and kicking the back of my seat, if history is any guide...)

 Yeah, flying sucks, kid. Deal with it.
Photo: wallcoo.net

Well, I may not have control over all the actual events that will transpire, but there are a few things I could keep in mind to make the "happy holiday" scenario a lot more likely.

And of course it's always fun to write an advice post on something you're about to do, so that whole tricky "practice what you preach" notion doesn't even have to enter into it!

So here are some hypothetical tips on How Not to F--ck up Your Vacation.

1. Pack for the Vacation You're Actually Going On

It's very easy to take a look at the pretty and adventurous people on the travel posters and figure you'll need to pack for a lot of dressy outfits for fancy restaurants, hiking boots for the 20 mile treks you're going to do, safari hats and snorkels and binoculars and mountain gear and... wait, did you forget to bring your favorite comfy pair of jeans and enough clean underwear? And where is that special kind of tea you love that would have spared you the stale cheapo hotel offering that tastes like old cigarettes?

Be realistic about what you like to do and have around. If your vacation suddenly transforms you into an entirely different person... that's what charge cards are for.

2. Anticipate Problems and Plan Ahead

Airport shuttles sometimes arrive late; favorite restaurants book up; people get sick; weather changes... leaving extra time, and having a few backup plans in mind can turn a total vacation-spoiling event into a "funny story" you will tell later when you can speak about it at cocktail parties without pulling out your hair or spewing obscenities.

3. But then Stop With the Freakin' Worrying

I've always been really, really talented at anticipating problems. In fact, the mere hint that something could conceivably go wrong (does that taxi driver have alcohol on his breath or is it just his cheap cologne?) can put me on the express train to imagined death and dismemberment faster than you can say "missed the scenic and uneventful drive from the airport."

But thanks to recent self-improvement efforts (which you will be hearing about later in tedious detail, don't worry) I'm actually getting much better about this! If you are a worrier, remind yourself:

  • Go ahead and take sensible evasive action if you can avoid problems, but if you can't, worrying isn't going to help.
  • Remind yourself of your incredibly crappy track record at predicting actual outcomes when worried. Don't keep going back to the ONE time you knew something bad was going to happen and it did, while conveniently ignoring the 97,312 times you knew something bad was going to happen and it didn't.
  • Stop thinking so much about the future, and realize you're perfectly fine right now. Have a snack, give yourself a foot massage, ask your charming and  knowledgeable sweetie a question about something, watch people passing by and critique their outfits, or whatever you can do to enjoy the moment you're in now.
  • Deep breaths. Literally, not just metaphorically.  Exhale for longer than you inhale, close your eyes (if you're not driving), give it a few minutes, and let your parasympathetic nervous system kick in and help you relax.  (And yes, some of these tips are thanks to my geek-crush Rick Hanson who is helping me rewire my brain).

4. Adjust Your Expectations

Two common unconscious vacation fantasies: Everything will be different than it is at home! And: Everything will be exactly the same as it is at home!

Neither of these two things will be true. If you are expecting that you will be 1000% happier than you are at home due to a different climate and some new activities to pursue, but don't take into account that you and your companions are all the same people with the same flaws and limitations, and that all people worldwide are capable of carelessness, rudeness, and orneriness, then you may be headed for disappointment. Your temperamental toddler is just as likely to have a code-red nuclear meltdown in Disneyland as he is in the grocery store, and your easily-distracted husband may still tune out half your conversation in an elegant French restaurant the same way he does at the local taco stand.

Also, if you have your own perfect and favorite routines... you may have to let go of them for a while.  Your carefully crafted workouts, healthy meals, comfy mattress, temperature and lighting preferences, expectations about noise, smells, traffic... well, some of these just ain't gonna happen the same way they do at home.

Does it really help you feel better to keep saying to yourself "what's wrong with these people, this shouldn't be this way?" Yet it's such an easy path to go down!  Concentrate instead on enjoying the novelty of fire alarms that go off at 2am, the unplanned experiments in Intermittent Fasting you get to conduct when hotel restaurants close way before their posted hours, and even the lively domestic drama you get to enjoy from the adjacent hotel room that makes reality tv totally unnecessary!

5. Get Flexible and ... yes, meet New People and try New Things

This is the happy flip side of not being able to go on autopilot straight to your favorite daily destinations.  What's different about where you are and how can you take advantage of it?  A little bit of courage may introduce you to fun new people from different cultures with a refreshing perspective, alternative forms of exercise, exotic regional cuisine, art, dances, and other hobbies and activities you'd never think of trying at home.  Then when you return, you may find that some of these have been there too, all along, in some form or another... but you never never thought to seek them out.  The old expression "travel is broadening" is not actually referring to all-you-can-eat buffets.

6. Allow Enough Chill Time

Are you the sort who gets ambitious and plans activities for every second of your holiday, then get home exhausted and need a vacation from your vacation?

Make sure you get some lovely little islands of time where there is Absolutely Nothing You Have to Do. And if you're traveling with others, no matter how companionable they are, make sure you don't have to feel "on" all the time. Get the hell away from everyone else and you may meet the most exotic person of all... the relaxed and happy "you" that you hardly ever get to hang out with.

So, wish me luck! I'll try to post photos or something. But there's no internet in our condo, so if there's a bit of silence over the next week or so, don't be like me and assume the plane must have gone down.

Anyone else have any vacation tips, horrid or wonderful experiences to relate, or thoughts about anything, relevant or not?

Note: Due to a recent onslaught of viagra spam, and my reluctance to use word verification, comments are now closed for this particular post.  But don't go away... most Cranky Fitness posts are still open for comments and they always make me happy! 

February 14, 2012

Stalking Your Mentors Plus More Giveaway Winners!

One fun benefit of having a blog, is that sometimes you get to run giveaways. And the most common method of picking winners is to use the Random Number Generator.

But I hate the horrid random number generator. Because I DO have favorite folks who comment here, and I'm intrigued by many of the new folks who stop by, and I always hope the RNG will align with my preferences and pick someone I'd love to see win! Very often, though, it doesn't.

Evil Random Number Generator!

On the other hand, I also love the Random Number Generator.  Because what happens if you don't use one? Well, you have to pick a winner yourself, and own up to that choice, and then picture all the other deserving folks who didn't win and it's all your fault 'cause it was you who didn't pick them.

That's why I  generally take the wussy way out and use the RNG. (Although this week I have to say I'm quite pleased with where it landed; and don't worry, I will eventually tell you who won the Jungle Gym XT and the Life Coaching package).

But as it happens, there is a life coach/self-improvement blogger I've been following enthusiastically, Tim Brownson, who is running a giveaway for life coach mentoring on his blog.  And he not using random number generator.  So despite the fact there are already hundreds of gazillions of contenders, I'm throwing my hat in the ring.  The guy is wicked smart, funny, inspirational, publishes useful self-improvement ebooks (some for free) and uses lots of swear words.  What's not to like?

Why am I mentioning this?  Well, Tim is just as much of a google-whore as I am, and he wants lots of potential coaches to know about his offer.   Plus, I'm sure he wouldn't mind a few new blog readers, coaching clients and ebook buyers hearing about him as well.  He's a very amusing blogger, so feel free to click on one of the links above and perhaps Tim will notice and it will help my chances of scoring his help for free.

And if you didn't win the life coaching part of the Cranky Fitness giveaway, and are interested in some life or wellness coaching, and don't want any from me despite my already affordable life coaching rates plus the limited time Cranky Fitness 50% off discount good until March 1... then Tim would make an excellent choice!  His wisdom and extra years of experience will no doubt more than make up for rather large price difference between us. And his ebooks are excellent and often either free or cheap!

Hey Tim, Lookin' Good!

OK, so enough self-promotion and mentor-stalking, let's find out won the Cranky Fitness Big Weird Giveaway, shall we?

TRX-knockoff suspension trainer

The winner is Sinner Ella De'Ville! Whose giveaway comment btw, was particularly hilarious. This doesn't usually make a difference to the RNG but apparently it was in a whimsical mood this morning.

And who won the Life Coaching Package?

Runs With Blisters!

Congrats, winners, and please email me before the end of the day Friday to claim your prize. I'm at Crabbby McSlacker @ gmail.com.

And thanks to everyone who commented at either post, I love your comments and really appreciate them.

February 13, 2012

Adding Instability to Your Workout: Clever Idea or Clueless Trend?

Photo swiped from BalanceWines

So this was supposed to be a post all about how playing around with unstable surfaces or loads can be a super-effective way to pump up your exercise routine.

However, turns out the situation is a little more complicated than I originally thought!

So here's what happened: a helpful reader left a comment on the creating a cheap home gym post that mentioned sandbag training, which looks to be an awesome low cost do-it-yourself home gym option.  In checking it out, I came across a explanation of why it's way better to hoist sneaky unpredictable shifting bags of sand than solid, boring, immobile free weights.  (Or, heaven forbid, to use even sissier gym equipment like stationary bikes or strength training machines). 

The key is, apparently: instability!

Here's what got me all enthusiastic about incorporating more stability challenges into my workout. To quote a sandbag training guy:

"Instability exercises are based on the well-proven idea that an asymmetrical, shifting weight produces far better exercise results, because it forces your body to compensate and work out dozens of accessory muscles that otherwise would not see use." By contrast, using regular "well-balanced, symmetrical exercise equipment can leave weak points in your musculature."

Sounds great!  Plus it totally explains all the trendy functional fitness people in my gym running around doing weird scary shit like hopping up and down on one foot on bosu balls while juggling 50 lb barbells with their eyes closed.

However, is it true? Do you get better exercise results if you challenge your stability while working out? 

Well, as it turns out... maybe!  The answer varies depending on what you're looking to do, how you approach it, and how you define "better exercise results."

First up:

Unstable Surface Training

While there are a lot of different ways to adding instability to your routine and challenge your balance, the one that's the most controversial of late is Unstable Surface Training, or UST.

Seems a lot of personal trainers are promoting UST as a creative means to achieve most of your functional fitness aspirations. Working out on an unstable surface like a vibrating platform, bosu ball, wobble board or stability ball is supposed to do a bunch of cool things. These include recruiting more muscles, making your workout tougher in the same amount of time, improving your balance, strengthening your core, and conferring the ability to wrestle yourself out of the jaws of bloodthirsty grizzly bears should any attack you while you're snowboarding down a steep Alaskan mountainside pursued by an avalanche.

Or something like that.

But despite all the personal trainers hauling out spherical objects or other wobbly surfaces and making people do weird things on them, recent research has challenged the notion that this technique will make you fitter and stronger. In fact, an oft-cited study says that UST actually "attenuates performance improvements in healthy, trained athletes."

Wait, what?

But as the author explained further in an excellent Experience Life article (which I shall be plagiarizing from even more extensively below):

"Our research showed that replacing as little as 2 to 3 percent of overall training with unstable-surface training in healthy, trained athletes impaired the development of sprinting speed and vertical jump height.... Grass and turf fields do not move, nor do tracks or basketball and tennis courts... We can’t train slowly on an unstable surface and expect to be fast and powerful on a stable surface.”

Another Unstable Surface Training article explains a tradeoff that occurs when stability varies. If you're doing a stable exercise, like using a leg press machine, you can really beef up your "prime mover" activation and can generate a lot more power in your major muscles than you can when you're doing an unstable exercise, like a one-legged squat on a bosu ball. On the other hand, the scary unstable kind of exercise uses a lot of stabilizer activation, so you're more likely to hit those little muscles that keep you from toppling over in an undignified manner.

Bottom line: if you want to sprint really fast down the track, or jump really high, or look more like this dude...

 photo: posedown

... then you may not want to spend a big chunk of your workout on a wobble board.

However, if you're trying to get better at an exercise that actually involves an unstable surface, then for goodness sake, go ahead and train on one!

Photo: Petsfoto

Injuries and Unstable Surface Training

If you're teetering around challenging your balance by working out on something wobbly, there's always the chance you could go sprawling ass over teakettle and seriously hurt yourself.  On the other hand, as physical therapists or purveyors of UST exercise equipment will happily point out, doing stability exercises can be a helpful way to challenge core muscles, prevent injuries and do some rehab after you've gone out and messed something up.

Your most useful accessory when approaching exercise on unstable surfaces? Common sense!

Balance and Stability Challenges On Solid Ground

Cribbing from the aforementioned Experience Life article, there are a number ways to get some of the benefits of instability training without wandering into controversial UST territory. As it happens, these are all things I've randomly started doing myself for one reason or another, so of course it makes me even more convinced that the Experience Life people are brilliant! Anyway, these can include:

Exercising with your eyes closed. (And yep, I do part of my cardio on the elliptical this way, without holding onto anything, and one day I will probably kill myself. But what the hell, in the meantime it's pretty darn fun.)

Strength training that involves balancing on one leg. If you're hardcore, sure, do pistol squats like Charlotte, but I find even lunges (especially backwards walking lunges) to be plenty challenging for my meager balancing ability.  If a good part of the move involves putting all your weight on one leg, then chances are, you're going to have to work a bit to keep from keeling over into an awkward heap in front of that personal trainer you've been eyeing who keeps tempting you with his cute bosu balls.

Moving your center of gravity up and out. You can do this by raising your arms or hoisting weights above your head. Kettlebell swinging, medicine balls, and using dumbbells for things like the evil Turkish get-up or the one-handed overhead squat are some handy ways to shift your center of gravity around to destabilize yourself.

And finally:

Using uneven loads.  Hmm, like the shovelglove? Or, well, DIY sandbags? It seems we've come full circle!

Do any of you guy incorporate stability training in your exercise program? Or is getting out of bed and making your way to the kitchen without tripping over the cat good enough?

February 10, 2012

Pycnogenol Giveaway Winner and Solemn Promise

Remember our jaunty little French Maritime Pine Bark Pills?

Not Actual Size. Oh, and they're capsules, not people.

Well, the random number generator has bestowed them upon...Jodie Dierickx! Congrats, Jodi, and please email crabbymcslacker at gmail dot com with your mailing address by Wednesday Feb 15th to claim your prize, or I'm afraid a new random drawing will be held.

Oh, and for those who were curious about the research behind pycnogenol supplements, I've got an updated link to a bunch of studies about pycnogenal health benefits.

Also, for those of you who like to win free stuff, don't forget to check out the Fixing Broken New Years Resolutions Giveaway if you haven't already entered. Prizes are either a gently used Jungle Gym suspension trainer or a package of free life coaching sessions valued at $275.

Wait, what? Some of you hate reading giveaways? No worries! The next Cranky Fitness post is going to be about a cool way to increase the effectiveness of your workouts, and I promise it will contain absolutely no opportunity whatsoever to win anything!

So stay tuned and have a great weekend!

February 07, 2012

Resolution Renovation... Plus Big Weird Giveaway!

Photo: Hypervocal.com 

Did you make some hopeful New Year's Resolutions a few weeks back? Or, if you're not the resolution sort, have you set some worthy "self-improvement" goals?


So.... how's that going?

Perhaps you're exceeding your wildest dreams of success.  Or maybe you're pretty well on track to be one of the meager 12% who actually keep New Years Resolutions.  If so, way to go!

But if you've already abandoned ship on your promises to yourself, or are in danger of doing so soon--don't give up just yet.  Some simple suggestions may help you get right back on track again. Or at least they'll remind you that you have plenty company in resolution-related lameness. It's not just you!

So you can either go directly to some tips on Fixing Broken New Years Resolutions, or hang out here a bit longer and find out about the rather odd double-giveaway (plus Big Discount) we have going this week...with no need for a pesky U.S. mailing address like most giveaways!

First, The Weird Prizes:

1. A Handy Portable Exercise Gizmo! 

And yes, it's a slightly-used but not-smelly-or-gross-or-anything demonstration model of a Jungle Gym XT suspension training system that would otherwise cost about a hundred bucks.  I already had a TRX when I did the review, so I haven't needed to use it myself.  I will clean and disinfect the handles and clumsily cram the thingy back into its undersized box with the accompanying DVD and mail it to one randomly chosen winner--and again, since it's coming from me personally, international folks can enter too!

2.  A package of 4 free Life Coaching sessions (plus an hour long intake) valued at $275 by a Life and Wellness coach we just happen to know!

 Hey There!

One winner will be randomly chosen, and again, you don't need to live in the U.S.  Sessions can be by cell phone, video skype call, or email, and would begin starting in March, to enable the winner a chance to fill out a form and sign a long-ass coaching contract, as well as to give the Coach a chance to skip town in late February for a family vacation.

I've been meaning to offer a 2012 coaching giveaway to Cranky Fitness readers, because they make the most awesome clients, and post-resolution season seemed as good a time as any!

3. Limited time 50% off life coaching discount:

For folks who sign up, get their forms in, and pay for a package before March 1, the Cranky Fitness 25% off discount of regular Life Coaching Rates will be increased to 50% off. (After March 1 it's back to 25% off, which is still a pretty darn good deal if you google around and compare prices. Which is sometimes a challenge because many coaches won't tell you upfront how much it's gonna cost!)

And if you get excited about the discount, sign up and pay and it turns out you win the giveaway?  No worries, your fee will be refunded to you.

Giveaway Instructions:

To enter the drawing for the suspension trainer, just leave a comment here on this post about anything in hell you feel like talking about.

To enter the drawing for the free life coaching, go to the Broken New Years Resolution post over at LiveaLittleCoaching.com and leave a comment there saying something vaguely related to resolutions or self-improvement goals. Note: if you want to leave a comment there but don't want any life coaching, you can always politely decline should you win! No need to explain exactly how unwelcome you'd find the prospect of winning in the comment itself unless you just can't help it.

Important Deadline: Drawings for both prizes will take place in about a week, and you'll have until the end of the day Friday February 17th to claim your prize.

Good luck, and hope you all are kicking resolution ass!

February 03, 2012

Pycnogenol: What the Heck It Is, and Why You May Want to Win Some

Hint: it comes from here.

Yes, this is indeed another review/giveaway post. But I realize it might take a little bit of explaining to get you all pumped up to win a 12 week supply of...

Pine bark pills.

But wait, don't go away!  These are "French Maritime" pine bark capsules! Doesn't that sound a bit more jaunty? Picture 'em sauntering around in sailor suits eating croissants and smoking Gauloises if that makes them sound more intriguing.

Does that help?
(Image swiped from La Maison Boheme)

Actually, there's a fair amount of research that supports a long list of potential health and cosmetic benefits for pine bark supplements. Part of the reason I took on this review/giveaway is that I was greedy to try some free for myself.

So, are you curious about what pycnogenol does, why it's awesome, and how you can win some? (And folks from Canada and Europe are eligible to win too for a change!)

I got a nifty press kit with all kinds of research on the benefits of pycnogenol, and the studies look pretty darn official and persuasive. But the problem? You'd have to come over to my house to read them yourself. I was hoping to link to the research library over at the pycnogneol website, because there's no way in hell I'm retyping a whole thick stack of studies.  But guess what?  It seems to be undergoing construction and making it extremely hard for lazy bloggers to just link over. UPDATE! It's apparently only the U.S. site that's still under construction, and there is tons of lovely pycnogenol research at their international website. Plus there's the stodgy government National Institutes of Health site MedlinePlus, which also has an impressive list of possible pycnogenol health benefits. However, they are a bit more cautious in their endorsement of the stuff.

Or heck, you can skip the actual research and just take a little informative quiz!

1. What is Pycnogenol?

a) A super antioxidant, natural anti-inflammatory which selectively binds to collagen and elastin and aids in the production of endothelial nitric oxide which helps to vasodilate blood vessels;

b) A potent recreational drug which will cause you to see purple iguanas crawling out of people's ears;

c) A placebo made of powdered Kool-Aid and pine scented air-freshener as an elaborate prank to fool greedy unsuspecting health bloggers; or

d) A large anal suppository noted for its ability to raise your speaking and singing voice 3 octaves higher.

2. Which one of the following health or cosmetic benefits is Pycnogenol supplementation NOT associated with in at least some study or other?

a) Asthma and allergy relief;
b) Increasing skin elasticity, smoothness and wrinkle reduction;
c) Lowering blood pressure;
d) Improvements in cardiovascular health;
e) Reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis;
f) Improved cognitive function;
g) Reducing pelvic pain and menstrual disorders;
h) Fighting diabetes;
i) Lowering inflammation;
j) Reducing tinnitus (ringing in the ears);
k) Fighting varicose veins;
l) Increasing athletic endurance;
m) Enabling time travel up to 500 years forwards or backwards;
n) Reducing circulation problems like leg pain and fluid retention;
o) Treating retinal disease;
p) Improving joint health.

3. Possible Side Effects of Pycnogenol May Include:

a) the sudden appearance of extra toes or fingers;
b) a boost to the immune system, which can be problematic for auto-immune disorders; dizziness; gut problems; headache; and mouth ulcers;
c)  a French accent;
d)  invisibility.

Answers: 1: a; 2: m; and 3: b... but you knew that!

What Did Crabby Notice Most From Trying Pycnogenol for 12 weeks?

It was actually first pitched as a way to "maintain beautiful skin from the inside out." Which sort of assumes you have beautiful skin to maintain in the first place. Sadly, after 5 decades of playing out in the sun, that's not what I'm starting with. Can't say I noticed a huge difference, but maybe a bit more color? I will spare you before and after photos, mostly because I forgot to take any.

However, during the testing period I found it noticeably easier and easier to extend the duration of my cardio workouts, even at a challenging intensity! The whole "increasing athletic endurance" was definitely true in my case. Was it due to the pycnogenol or some other aspect of my ever-changing routine? I have to confess I was not the least scientific about my personal experimentation. During the same period I also switched up my method of HIIT, started eating nutritional yeast, discovered mushroom powder, and had a bikini wax. So it remains unclear the exact cause of my newfound ability to dance around like an absolute ass on the elliptical machine for twice as long. But I'm superstitious enough not to want to abandon the pycnogenol at this point.

And reading the research, there were so many potential health benefits to this stuff and no side effects that were relevant to me, so it seemed a reasonable thing to keep taking just on general principle. Plus it's not outrageously expensive or anything.

So, would you like to win some stuff that might get you glowy skin, super-endurance, relief from a bunch of nagging health problems? Just leave a comment below! I'll announce the random winner in a week. Be sure to check back before the end of the day Wednesday Feb 15th to claim your prize or a new random drawing will be held.

Do you guys have any favorite supplements? Or do you try to get everything you need from your healthy diet?