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Making the ups and downs public

June 27th, 2013 4 comments

picstitchThis is a follow-up post to the first one where I had made my well-being declaration public.  You can read that post here.

First, in short, I’ve had some ups and downs.  It’s actually really good to provide a report, because it re-presences me to what I’m up to.

This post is more of a check-in, so it’ll be a little point-form.

First the downs:

  • The last time I weighed myself, I had gained back 5 pounds, so I was back at 181 lbs.  Frustrating.  I was pretty sure that I would have lost even more.  There’s a never-ending amount of delicious calories, and I’m constantly tempted by them.
  • I have been struggling to stick to two drinks a day.  Here’s my context – I don’t trust myself to behave.  So, to manage that, I impose really rigid guidelines.  Then, I struggle within the guidelines.  Sometimes, I want to have two drinks at lunch with one group of friends, and sometimes, two drinks at dinner with another group.  This is an ongoing battle, and I’m not sure how to resolve it.
  • I’m on and off tracking my calories, and usually use this when I’m unsure of how much I’ve eaten in a given day, relative to my exercise and activity.

And the ups:

  • I’ve stopped working as a lawyer, and am fully devoted to my coaching practice.  This means that I have, theoretically, a little more time to focus on my well-being and the other things I want in life.  As a result, Bay and I often get up early in the morning and either go for a jog or a bike ride.  Starting my day with exercise makes a huge difference and keeps me motivated.
  • In celebration of my first new client since my career transition, I bought myself a membership at the Y.  The full-time from leaving my door to returning to my door takes me an hour, if I jog on the way there (which is a great warm-up).  So, I’ve now started lifting weights, in line with my commitment.  It’s possible that some of the weight gain I’ve seen is as a result of putting on more muscle mass, though I’m not entirely convinced of this fact.  All the same, I am making progress in this area.
  • I’ve stayed off of bread, and it’s gotten easier as time has gone on.  We often have a loaf sitting in the fridge, but I no longer use bread or granola as a 6000 calorie desert/snack.  I eat a lot more salads than I used to.

Some things that I notice or can distinguish:

  • When I keep our fridge stocked with baby carrots, apples, berries and yogurt, I eat healthier.
  • Having something sweet around that I can have one of, like a cookie, might actually cut down on the amount of sweets I eat.  I’ve noticed that without cookies or another healthier snack, I’m inclined to serve myself a bowl of ice cream.  Hmmm.
  • If I don’t make specific time for exercise, I won’t do it regularly.
  • Regularly checking in makes a huge difference.  Even just writing this post has reminded me of my commitment and declaration, and realigned me with my goal.

In service of what I’ve distinguished and what’s next, I am going to update again in one month (with a reminder now set in my system), and track my calories for the next week, without making any other deliberate changes to my diet to see how aligned I am.

Here’s what’s next:

  • Re-align with my goals and why I’m doing this.  Actually, I’ll do that right now.
    • I’ve never been able to achieve this goal before.  It will be a huge sense of accomplishment to have nailed it.  I’ll also be proud and healthy.
    • Another big one – living in integrity.  I truly believe in youth through health, and living in alignment with that will benefit me not just physically, but also mentally.
  • Slow the process down.  When I get into the kind of place where I want to binge, there’s not a lot of time between the impulse and the reaction.  Slowing down and really getting present to what I want in that moment, and where the impulse is coming from is the path forward.

Anyone else want to play this game with me?  Leave a comment with your declaration, and check back in in one months time.  I’m all for playing on a team and supporting each other!

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Reaching a goal and making a declaration public

May 20th, 2013 2 comments

IMG_1580I don’t often write about my own projects unless I feel safe doing so.  So, for example, I will write about a goal to make more money, or get a promotion, because I hold that those goals are ones that anyone would align with (can you see my own context here?).

However, goals like losing weight, or creating a particular physique?  I hold that people will judge me for announcing goals like that.  What you might not be able to see is that that is just an indication that I judge myself and other people for holding goals like that – and then I project it onto everyone around me.

(Fun exercise: notice your stories about how other people are judging you, and then notice that those are actually your own judgments projected outward.  It works every time).

So, here’s my declaration that is scary.  By December 31st, 2013, the end of this year, I will be cut.  What does that mean?  A few things – six-pack abs, and arms that are tight in the sleeves of my t-shirts.  It also means minimal fat around my stomach (that kind of goes with the abs), and a weight goal.

For most of my adult life, I’ve hovered around 185 lbs.  In general, it didn’t matter what I ate, what I did, what I drank, I’d kind of just sit at this weight.  Sometimes I would try to reduce my weight, and drop down to 180, but then inevitably bounce back up.  Of course the body fluctuates upwards and downwards around this point, but that was kind of my default weight.

It wasn’t until last year that I got the idea that I wanted to try creating something different.  I went about it the same way I usually do.  At first I developed some strategies, and then I put them into place.  I was counting calories, I was exercising reasonably regularly.  But then, when I didn’t achieve short-term success, I would give up.  Or I would decide that I didn’t really want to meet my goal that much anyhow.

This year, I took on something different, and really designed my project.  What was I doing this for?  It wouldn’t be easy (otherwise I’d already have achieved it).  Also, what would need to be different in order to actually make this happen?  In the past, I’ve given up once my resistance shows up – the initial euphoria of commitment wears off, and then, hey, I don’t really want to switch from beer to water right now, do I?

I’ve also had a goal to cut down on my drinking.  I probably came out of the womb with this goal.  It’s been a long time anyhow.  I’ve tried in the past and failed.  What would need to be different?

Here are the things I identified I needed to do, and why:

  • No more than two drinks a day.

I read at one point an article that said men should drink no more than four drinks a day, and fourteen drinks in a week in order to avoid increasing their risk of cancer (and even then, that’s probably on the generous side).  So I tried this.  But I discovered that four drinks is just way too close to my inhibition threshold.  At the end of the fourth drink, it is just a tiptoe away from a fifth drink and once I’ve done that, the sixth, seventh and eighth drinks follow rapidly.  No, two drinks left me a good deal farther away from my inhibition threshold, and would be a worthy practice to try out.

  • No more bread.

I sure love bread.  I loved it so much that I would eat a baguette a day for a while.  That’s a lot of bread!  I would also eat bread with pasta (doesn’t seem so weird when you’re at a restaurant, but it’s pretty ridiculous when you consider how many carbs and calories you’re eating).  Bread is a massive source of calories.  If I really wanted to drop some weight, I would need to cut out some of the big ways that I cheat.  Bread was the obvious one.

  • Really get clear on my caloric intake

In the past I’ve tracked calories, but just guessed at a lot of stuff.  Do you know how much granola half a cup is?  I do – if you pinch your thumb and forefinger together, it’s about the amount of granola that would fit between them.  Seriously, I was amazed at how little granola that actually is, and then amazed again when I learned that alone contains 250 calories.  Granola is horrible for you!  No wonder it tastes so delicious.

The process of measuring out how much 1/2 a cup was allowed me to gain an understanding of what I was actually eating.  With that knowledge, instead of having 2 cups of granola (and I bet you it was more than that) and milk for breakfast, I would have raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, low-fat yogurt, and a very small sprinkle of granola.  So long 1000 calories.  Hello 200 calories.

IMG_1859

(NOT in-line with my commitment.)

Sometimes it’s really hard.  Two drinks is not a lot, and during a day when I meet up with friends for lunch, and then other friends for dinner, I really want to have more to drink.  But then, some people never drink, and others only occasionally.  So what was really going on here?  What was it that I was missing – what way of being did drinking provide me?

Noticing this kind of resistance coming up in me, and simply being with it, with curiosity and acceptance, helped a great deal.  It created a space where it was okay to have a want, without actually acting on it.  It allowed for something new.

This week at my parents, I weighed myself, and saw that I’d gotten down to 176 lbs.  Only one lb to go.  I couldn’t believe it – I had never gotten to this point before.

So from, what’s next is:

  • Raise my caloric intake to maintain this weight.
  • Continue with a limit of two drinks a day.
  • Begin lifting weights again so as to build the muscle mass I want.

That’s what I have to share.  It’s a little vulnerable, because you might think that I’m vain for having goals like this, but that’s my interpretation, not yours.  Here’s to breaking that up.

Frustration

July 24th, 2009 3 comments

Argh.

You ever have those periods of time when you feel like there are things you should be doing, and you’re not doing them?  Or where you can tell there’s something intangible pulling at the back of your head, but you just can’t place your finger on it?  Or maybe you come home from work and feel like you should actually be doing something, but instead you just sit in front of the TV?

I’m sure you have, because we’re all human, and this is just a natural part of the cycle we go through on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis (the frequency is different for everybody).

The more I learn to practice GTD effectively, the less often I feel this way, as I can allow my brain to embrace the mind like water ideal, and return to old ideas when I see fit.  Still, it is impossible to feel and act productively one hundred percent of our time, and so the goal must be to maximize the amount of time we can exist in this state, and learn to accept (and yes, minimize, though this is less important than acceptance) the times when we do need to feel the way I currently do.

As an exercise to break out of this mental state, I write.  As of late, two things have been on my mind more anything else: squash and dancing.

I hav been dancing a lot lately, as we are running two jam sessions a week at Vibestreet Dance, and that requires that I come up with something to teach twice a week.  I can’t even rely on teaching the same thing twice, as the same students may show up, and I end up feeling guilty about not being able to provide something new to them.  Maybe this is just something that I need to get over, as part of this whole exercise should be of benefit to myself, not just my students. A teacher that is not gaining something from each lesson that they teach is not missing out on part of the teaching experience, as are their students.

I have taken a couple of workshops lately, and they have been very helpful in showing me new ways of teaching something, as well as many new techniques that I would like to work on and incorporate into my own styles of movement.  Recently, I’ve been given lessons in breaking, locking, popping, and house dancing.  That’s a lot of stuff!  Getting lessons in these new styles of dance is awesome, and is opening up my awareness and broadening my own inspiration to a great extent. However, this only results in frustration if I can’t find the time to actually practice what I’m learning.  House, locking, and breaking are all very new styles to me, and really require that I take the time to sit down by myself and practice the basics. This is hard to do at home because of the way I have been feeling.

Even though I’m a reasonably experienced popper, I will never be fully satisfied with my level of skill (this is kind of a general theme for my approach to things I’m truly passionate about).  I often hesitate to teach something in class that I haven’t had the time to sit down with and internalize. Part of the solution here, I suppose, is just accept that nobody’s perfect, and that even if I’m still learning something, I can help the class with it.  One of the things that I really want to avoid is attempting to show my students something that I’m still learning myself, and in doing so, teach them bad habits, or end up getting them frustrated as I cannot break it down very well.

If you’ve read through the paragraph above, you’ve just seen me provide myself with some therapy, as I think I’ve come up with the solution to my first problem – just do it, and don’t worry about whether or not the class is disappointed that I’m not perfect at a move.  We all need to learn, and there’s nothing wrong with learning along with the rest of the class. Even better if I can provide a tiny bit of direction to help them along the right path.

The other thing that I think I probably need is a couple of sessions in the park with my ipod to just go over the techniques that I’ve been taught lately and internalize those. In GTD we have the concept of an open loop – something that requires action and is tugging at our mind.  Everything that I’ve learned lately is sitting in that same space.  It’s occupying space in my head, saying “You should put some time into working on me, otherwise you’ll lose this knowledge”.

The other thing tugging at my mind has been squash. Although my opportunity to increase the amount of time and effort I’m putting into dancing has been incredible, and something that I’ve wanted to do for a looooong time, it’s taken away from my ability to play squash. Although I’ve certainly been keeping myself fit (dancing requires a lot of energy, and I’m riding my bike as often as possible), I can feel the rust starting to creep up on my squash game, and this drives me nuts.  Part of the reason for that is because I trained so hard this past season, and was really feeling good about where my efforts had led me. 

Although all of our hobbies should be things that we do for fun, and don’t become a burden on our mind, it’s difficult for someone like me to make that leap and just let something be.  That’s the nature of life though – if you want to do more of one thing, you are going to have to sacrifice something else.

In an effort to have my cake and eat it to, one of the projects I have set aside for myself to take on once I end my tenure at work, is biphasic sleep.  The notion of biphasic sleep sounds extremely silly when you initially hear about it: go to sleep more frequently in order to sleep less overall.  With one single phase of sleep during a twenty-four hour period, our body generally requires eight hours of sleep.  However, by breaking our sleep up, we are able to train our body to fall into REM sleep more quickly (which is the part of sleep that is evidently important), and thus require less sleep overall.

Although some people are absolutely insane and have managed to function quite effectively (arguably more effectively, if some of the blogs out there are to be believed) on as little as six twenty-minute naps a day (that’s a mere two hours of sleep in a twenty-four hour period!), the goal I’m setting for myself is quite a bit more modest, and is based on the Hispanic tradition of siesta. The aim is to reduce my core sleep period to about five or six hours, and supplement that with a twenty-minute nap in the evening.  In doing so, I will be able to create (as though by magic) an extra two hours of spare time, everyday.

This almost sounds too good to be true, and it very well may be.  However, I enjoy an experiment as much as the next guy, so we’ll see how things go.  I could end up with an extra two hours of spare time every night (which may also be essential, if the workload required for Law is what I’m told it is), or I could fail spectacularly, in which case I will have spent a couple of weeks deprived of sleep, and return to my normal monophasic sleeping schedule.  The worse-case scenario doesn’t strike me as that bad, so why not try it right?

Anyhow, I think that’s a sufficient ramble.  Our drop-in sessions at Vibestreet have been growing steadily, and last Monday we had about twelve people in attendance to learn some popping from myself, and some breaking from Steve (good strength training!).  If you’re interested in learning more about any of this, drop a comment and I can blog and elaborate further.

Biking is awesome

June 4th, 2009 No comments

When I graduated from University, my parents offered to get me a graduation present, or to just give me some cash to do with as I pleased.  My family is very practical this way; you can ask for gifts and have us find something along the lines that you are asking for, or simply get the money and spend it how you choose.  Some people think that this takes away from the spirit of gift-giving, and if that’s how you feel, that’s cool.  We’ve always found that it eliminates those awkward situations where you hint about something all year round, then get annoyed when you open something that is not at all what you wanted.  I’ve also found that there’s plenty of room left for surprise in this approach, so it’s all good with regards to that.

Anyhow, I’m digressing.  The point is that about 5 years ago, I got a bike for graduation.  For the first three years of my post-university life, Bay and I rented apartments that were very shy on storage space, and we had to leave the bike at my parent’s place.  As a result, it really didn’t see much use.  The next year we moved into our condo, in the process of moving, painting, buying furniture, and everything else, I kind of forgot that I even had a bike waiting for me. 

Towards the end of Fall this year, I remembered I had a hog waiting for me at my parents and brought it back with me.  I started riding the bike the same way I do everything – gradually.  However, as time has passed, and the weather has improved, I’ve become more and more enamoured with the sport, to the point that I no longer see it as simply a way to cross-train fitness to play better squash, but as a something worth pursuing on its own.

I’m going to mention some of the benefits of biking, and give a quick run down of what your options if you think you may be interested in getting a chopper yourself.

The Benefits

Biking offers a number of obvious benefits.  Chief among those is that it’s an excellent form of cardiovascular workout.  Cardiovascular workouts are ones that keep your heart rate at a moderately-elevated range for a decent amount of time.  They exercise and strengthen your heart and your lungs, and are efficient workouts to burn fat (and we all want that right?). 

Biking gets you out of the house, and it doesn’t require a lot of preparation on your part to start.  This might seem like a small benefit, but the longer and more involved the process is to actually begin your workout, the more chance you have to talk yourself out of actually doing it (I’m sure we can all remember times when we’ve talked ourselves out of going to the gym, simply by thinking about the annoying walk there before we even start the workout).  Grab your bike and your keys, and leave the house.  Start riding.  Worry about where you’re going to go once you’re on the bike. 

Riding also fits very easily into other parts of your life.  Although I initially started riding to train my cardio, I quickly started making it my primary means of transportation.  Instead of driving to my friend Steve’s on a Friday night, I started asking myself, “Why wouldn’t I just bike there?”.  Instead of driving to the store to pick up a few select groceries I need for dinner tonight, why not bike there?  Why not bike to dance class instead of driving?  Once you start hopping on a bike regularly, you’ll notice a couple of things: you start to see other places where it makes sense to take your bike instead of a car, and it takes a lot less time to get somewhere on a bike than you might think.  Riding from our place downtown to Town and Country shopping center, near the start of the Island Highway, takes roughly the same amount of time on a bike or a car, given that a bicyclist has the benefit of taking the Galloping Goose trail and avoiding all traffic.

Unlike jogging, the motion used to propel yourself forward on a bike is one that is impact-free.  Don’t get me wrong – I like jogging a lot.  It’s just murder on the knees, especially if you’re on pavement.  A biker doesn’t have to worry about these problems.  Riding every day will strengthen the muscles around your knees and activate the joint, ensuring that you retain mobility for a long time to come.

One of our favorite things about biking is that we see so much more of the city that we live in.  When you’re walking, you’re constrained to a small area, as you can only cover so much ground in a given amount of time.  When you’re driving, you’re focus is on the road, other drivers, and getting to your destination.  But on a bike, you can explore.  You’ve got the time to seek out new areas that you haven’t been before, and explore new streets.  Since starting to ride, I’ve become much more acquainted with Uplands, James Bay, Esquimalt, Ten Mile Point, and Oak Bay.  It may seem trivial, but it is kind of neat to develop a familiarity with your home town.

Your Choices

Okay, enough wanking about the reasons to start biking.  What are the choices you have when buying a bike?

Your choices are generally three-fold, with some less-common and more trendy variations on top of those first three.

The Mountain Bike

A mountain bike is a bike that is specifically targeted for off-road riding.  They generally have a well suspended frame, which allows the bike to absorb a lot of shock that comes from riding on rocky terrain and taking drops as needed, and a frame that can take some (lots of) punishment.

Mountain bikes also come equipped with a hefty set of tires, in order to better grip the uneven ground that you’ll be riding on.  You can take a mountain bike on the road, but you’re going to notice some disadvantages.

For one, the extra thickness of the tires, and the multitude of treading, is going to mean that you have extra friction with the road, which will slow you down.  It won’t feel like riding in sand, but it’ll feel a fair bit soupier than if you were on one of the other options.

The heavier frame on the mountain bike is also going to lead to added weight that you need to pedal around.  On off-road terrain, this isn’t going to be a problem, as you don’t really have any other choice, and your riding is more geared to short spurts than to longer endurance riding.

The suspension on a mountain bike’s frame will mean that riding on a road feels a little soggier.  Every time you turn your pedals, some of your downward momentum is going to be absorbed by the suspension.  It won’t wreck your ride, but again, the little things add up.

A mountain bike is a great choice if you’re a thrill seeker and like going for that kind of ride.  Downhill, highly technical riding, with a potential to fly over your handlebars and hurt yourself.  It’s not for me, but it’s a lot of fun for those that like it.

The Road Bike

Road bikes represent the antithesis of the mountain bike.  Their frames have zero suspension, because they are designed specifically to be ridden … on the road.  Our roads are designed so that they provide as smooth a ride as possible, and so suspension is only going to slow you down.

The frames on road bikes are much lighter than those of a mountain bike, as you will not be putting them through much abuse.  The alloy that they use to make the frame will also be more rigid.  The composition of the frame and the lack of suspension on a road bike means that they won’t be able to withstand nearly the kind of punishment that a mountain bike could, but they will provide a much crisper and responsive ride when you’re on the terrain that they are intended for (roads, obviously).  When I talk ab
out “punishment”, I don’t mean something akin to riding off a sidewalk’s curb.  I mean taking the bike off a six to ten foot drop.  Road bike frames can handle some abuse – just not a lot.

The tires of a road bike are optimized for riding on the road, which means that they will have narrow tires with as little tread as possible.  The width of the tires are optimized to minimize the amount of friction you have to overcome, but provide enough that you can accelerate and pedal at a good speed.

Road bikes often come with a set of drop handlebars, which are designed to allow the rider to lean forward when they ride, creating a streamlined shape.  The handlebars are also closer together, bringing the hands closer, and creating a V shape relative to your elbows.  This also serves to streamline the rider and allow for faster rides.  Road bikes obviously come with shifting and braking components that work with these kind of handlebars.

All of the features of a road bike make them great to use in the confines of a city, where you are guaranteed well-maintained roads.  These features also make the bike suck as soon as you get off of pavement.  While it’s possible to take a road bike on to trails, even the slightest bit of loose gravel can cause problems for your tires ability to stay in contact and provide you enough friction to effectively pedal.  The rigid frame and lack of suspension on a road bike will make a ride on a bumpy trail quite a bit less comfortable, as each shock will be transferred up through the frame and into your arms and legs.

The Hybrid Bike

A hybrid bike represents the midpoint between the two bikes mentioned above.  The frame is slightly less rigid than a road bike’s, and will usually have some form of shocks on the front forks, and possibly on the seat.  These shocks will often have a feature allowing them to be locked out so that you can turn them off when you’re riding on the road, which means you can have the benefit of shocks when you need them, and turn that off when you want the more responsive ride on the road.

The bike’s frame will be a fair bit sturdier than a road bike, but not as much as a mountain bike, providing a good compromise between the ability to take some abuse and a bike that isn’t too heavy.

Hybrid’s usually have handle bars that are more similar to those of a mountain bike, and are outfitted with tires that are smooth in the middle (allowing for good riding on the road), and treaded on the outer edges (giving you good grip whenever you dip to the side, especially useful on trails).

If you don’t have a specific use in mind for your bike, I think the hybrid is your best choice.  It’s never going to be a good as a mountain bike for off-road technical riding, and you’ll never be able to ride quite as fast as a lightweight road bike on the road, but you won’t be prevented from doing either of these activities.

These are the main three types of bikes, but there are a few more esoteric offerings out there as well.

The Townie

Townie bikes have been popular in the past five years or so, especially with women. Townie bikes are designed as commuter bikes, and are designed for comfort.  The handlebars are generally built for the rider to sit fairly upright, rather than bent forward, and often come with other attachments like handlebar baskets, or a basket behind the seat.

Some people refer to these bikes as commuter bikes, and I think that’s probably fair.  If your primary intent in owning a bike is to get from point A to point B, this is a bike that will do you well.  The upright design of the handlebars will provide a comfortable ride, and this type of riding is rarely about pushing yourself. 

These bikes have a very romantic appeal to them, and evoke images of cycling through Paris streets on a sunny weekend, with fresh-picked flowers in the handle basket, along with a couple of baguettes.  If you primarily intend to use your bike to ride casually around the city, this is a great choice.

However, the things that make this bike romantic also make it impractical for serious exercise.  Upright handlebars create a poor rider profile for getting any decent speed up, as you will not at all be streamlined.  If you want a bike that looks cute and is comfortable, this is the one for you.  If you think that you may want to use this bike for an actual workout, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Single Gear and the Fixie

The Single Gear bike (not the correct name, but I don’t know what it is) and its counterpart, the Fixie, have started to replace the townie as the latest trend.  Both of these bikes have grown out of the minimalist and bike courier movements, and are in abundance in Victoria.

The single gear bike is exactly what it sounds like.  A bike with just one gear position available to the rider.  Bikes like this will be lighter than most bikes, because the added weight of a the gears and a shifting mechanism are not present.  These bikes will typically come with drop handlebars, and two brakes, and that’s it.  Pretty minimal right?  Although these bikes are certainly very trendy, I don’t personally think they are a good idea.  Having gears allows you to make your mechanical work as efficient as possible.  I’m a big fan of minimalism, in general, but I think that this approach unnecessarily cuts out a useful function on a bike, and by buying a bike like this, you limit where you can take your bike.  Having said that, I suspect that bikes like this would probably cost less, due to the fact that there are less components being purchased.

Think that sounded minimal?  Well, the fixie goes one step further, fixing the pedals to the rotation of your tire, meaning that one full circle of your pedals correlates directly to one full rotation of your tire.  For this reason, fixies do not allow the rider to coast or back-pedal, and are not as mechanically efficient (meaning you require more energy input to achieve the same amount of work) as bikes with a system of gears.  Some claims have been made that this encourages better biking as the rider is forced to pedal through corners and adjust their speed appropriately.  I personally think this is a needless contrivance, but if people enjoy riding them, that’s cool.

Depending on how far you want to take it, fixies can be found with two brakes (one for each tire), only one brake (I’m not sure which tire you would put this on – presumably the back?), or no brakes at all (in which case you are completely reliant on using your legs to slow down the rotation of the tires).  As of late, it has been popular to replace the drop handle bars with a completely straight handlebar.  This is about as minimal as you can get: Two tires, a frame, a piece of metal for a handlebar, and pedals.

Although minimalism and trendiness certainly have their appeal, it’s still possible that the single gear bike may serve you well.  However, I don’t personally see the value in a fixie, other than for aesthetic appeal.  If that’s your game, then go for it.  If not, treat the purchase of your bike as an investment, and go for something that will serve you in the short- and the long-term.

Get a bike!

That about covers as much about bikes as I’m comfortable discussing with my own knowledge.  If you consider your options and choose wisely, a good bike is an investment that will serve you well for a very long time, and, provided you are the type of individual that will use one if you have one, will directly correlate to you leading a healthier, happier life.

The Cardinal Rule of Exercise

April 6th, 2009 No comments

We’ve now breached April, and that means a couple of things.  For a start, at least on Vancouver Island, the beginnings of Spring are tangible.  The sun’s getting up earlier, staying out later, our cherry blossoms have bloomed and look beautiful against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, and it’s getting easier to get up early in the mornings.  I was even able to go out biking in a t-shirt yesterday. 

It also means that most of the people that set New Year’s resolutions for themselves (even if they didn’t title them as such) to exercise more often, have now failed in that goal.  I’m not being pessimistic or cynical about human nature here (even though I am, generally speaking) – I’m just stating statistics.

Why is it, that so many people set off with such good intentions, only to give up completely in less than three months time?  I think it’s because they’ve failed to follow the cardinal rule of exercising (and working towards a healthy lifestyle): Have fun.

I mentioned New Year’s resolutions, but this phenomenon really applies to any “get fit” kick that people embark upon.  Sometimes it’s after a vacation that resulted in two weeks of drinking and zero days of exercise.  Sometimes it’s after a long camping trip, and is preceded by a lemon juice/cayenne pepper cleanse (that’s a topic for another time).  After a sustained period of feeling unhealthy, we’re all pretty keen and full of motivation to flip the tables and get things started in the right direction.

You run out, buy some new gear, and head out the door for a grueling 1.5 hours at the gym, or a 45-minute jog, after not having done either for over half a year.  The results are predictable: You’ve got new gear and resolution-level motivation (I like to think of this as artificially-inflated motivation), both of which propel you through the work out.  You’re not enjoying more than the first couple of minutes of it, and by the time you finish up, you’re a heaving sweaty mess.  You head home, crack a beer, and tell yourself that you’ll be doing that three times a week from now on (some of the truly brave/naive push this to five times a week).

However, when you wake up the next morning, your muscles are screaming in protest, and you can barely sit down.  “It’ll be better tomorrow, in time for my next workout”, you tell yourself, only to discover that that pain sticks with you for almost an entire week, holding your next workout hostage until it subsides.  When you’re finally feeling whole again, you get yourself ready for the next workout, even though the only thing you can think about is the week-long pain that you’ve gone through, and the torturous upcoming hour or so that leads you down that path.

Does this sound familiar to you?  If not, go away – this post isn’t for you.

The fact is, none of the above sounds like any fun.  What is the motivation for someone to continue with the above routine?  Getting fit?  Being healthy?  Looking good?  These are all abstract, long-term goals.  They are abstract because “being fit”, and “looking good” are very nebulous terms.  It’s very difficult to tie those down to something tangible that we can point at and say to ourselves, “Look at what I’ve accomplished!”. 

These goals are also at a disadvantage because they are purely long-term goals.  No one gets fit after three or four workouts.  No one is going to look good in a couple of weeks – it’s just not how the body works (so if you’re planning on taking a vacation, you better start exercising now.  You’re not going to get your body “beach ready” in a few short weeks).

Disclaimer: Yes, sometimes it is possible to get short-term results very quickly with radical dieting and over-exercise, but trust me, these short-term gains come with a very hefty price: the inevitability that in the long-term you’re actually training your body to put on more fat, and yourself to practice negative yo-yo habits, instead of positive lifestyle changes.

No – if we want to make changes to our lifestyle that are healthy and are going to stick, we must obey the cardinal rule.  We have to have fun doing it.  No workout will always be fun, but whatever activity we are choosing for ourselves needs to have some kind of intrinsic value that we can appreciate and enjoy in the short-term.

There are a couple of factors that we have to account for in order to meet this goal:

  1. Do something that you enjoy.

It’s so easy, right? If only that was the case. 

Most people, when they make a resolution to get fit, choose either jogging or lifting weights at the gym, usually because these are the most obvious choices.  Jogging doesn’t require much effort to start doing, and gyms are all over the place.  When we think of getting fit, these are usually the first two choices that come to mind.

However, does this make them the right choice for someone?  Absolutely not.  Just because a lot of people are doing a particular activity doesn’t mean that it’s going to be something you enjoy.  Do you like being outside?  (Consider this question honestly – you’re not writing a personal ad here, you’re trying to figure out your best choice of exercise).  Is planning out a route going to be something that you enjoy?

How about the gym?  Are you comfortable working out around a lot of other people (I’ve overcome this, but I hated it when I first started).  Does lifting weights seem like something that you’ll enjoy?  Is there anything in particular about the culture present at a gym that will entice you to keep coming back?

Incidentally, this is an excellent reason to avoid the temptation to run out and buy yourself a new set of shoes, or a new tight-fitting t-shirt to wear to the gym.  Doing so may temporarily inflate your motivation, but it will also lock you into an activity that you should be approaching with the intent to evaluate initially. 

This lock-in is motivated in part because of our tendency to be swayed by the sunk-cost fallacy.    The motivation that you think you’ll get by buying-in to a new activity is artificial at best, and self-defeating at worst.  By approaching something without investment, you’re allowing yourself the liberty of changing to a new activity if you don’t enjoy this one.

2.  Have fun while you’re exercising.

Don’t start out with a goal that is far-fetched and ridiculously challenging.  Give yourself a goal that is reasonable, and that will give you the space required to appreciate the activity that you’re doing.

When a lot of people first start out jogging, they run intervals, jogging for five minutes, and walking for one minute.  This kind of approach is great, as it lets you ease into your new workout regime, and gives you time to look around you and really enjoy what you’re doing.

If at any point during a workout you start to feel that you just want it to be over, maybe you need to dial back a little bit and take it a little easier.  Be willing to adjust the goal that you set for yourself at the start.  Remember: it’s much better to adapt your goal and succeed than to adamantly stick to your initial goal and then give up on your routine all together.  Your goal is to find something that you are going to make a part of your lifestyle, not to simply get through the current workout.

3.  Push yourself

This advice may seem to conflict a little with the above item, but it’s important that you maintain a healthy balance of the two.  Above all, your number one goal should be that you’re doing something that you enjoy, and that yo
u’re doing it in a manner that allows for that enjoyment.  Once you’ve found that balance point, take yourself out of your comfort zone and push yourself.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, and you don’t need to go overboard.  Just be willing to make yourself work, and to get yourself sweating.

Items 2 and 3 may prove elusive for someone that is only just beginning a new workout routine.  The longer you workout and exercise, the more in-tune with your body you will become, and the easier time you will have understanding when you are ready to push yourself further, and when you need to dial back a bit and give yourself some time to simply be present in the moment.

Remember that, above all, in order for exercise to become a lasting part of a healthy lifestyle, you really have to enjoy it.  You’re not going to be able to force this, so be willing to look until you find something that is right for you.  If you discover that you hate lifting weights at the gym, don’t treat this as a failure on your part – treat it as an opportunity to adapt your goals and to try something new.

Changing your bad habits

February 24th, 2009 3 comments

Ian Newby-Clark has a fantastic post on acquiring good habits and the pull of just-one-more over at his blog, My Bad Habits.  I can’t recommend this post enough, as I feel it fits very well inline with my own approach to self-improvement.

The core of the approach is that if we want to succeed in shedding our bad habits, and acquiring and developing new, good ones, we need to be patient and give ourselves time to actually create habits.

Every time you are aiming to correct a bad habit, the best way I have found to think of that is to consider that you are in fact adopting a new habit.  Sure, this new habit is simply the baseline that you would like to maintain from now on, but it’s still a different habit, a different way of doing things, and a different routine in your life.

Many of us make overly ambitious (and no doubt noble) resolutions at various points throughout the year (for most of us, that is January 1st, but many of us also adopt cleanses and other approaches at other times).  When we fail, as is almost inevitable based on the size and scope of the habits we are trying to train ourselves to follow, we see it as a complete catastrophe and walk away from the desired change, only to pick it back up again in a year.

If we really want to make positive change in our lives, the most important thing is being willing to accept that it will take time to make a change, and to give yourselves that needed amount of time.

In Ian’s words:

Changing myself takes a lot of will power, and I only have so much. Will-power is a limited resource
and, presumably, I’m spending a lot of it right now getting myself to
the gym. My new workout “habit” isn’t exactly a habit yet. It’s still
being formed. Most of the time I go to the gym happily, but sometimes I
need to force myself out of bed. Sometimes my schedule changes. I might
go on vacation or a child might get sick (or both . . . ). My habit of
exercising regularly has to be so ingrained that I always find a way to
get in my workout, no matter what the circumstances. I’m not there yet.
I’m still too easily thrown off by day-to-day variations. Because I’m
not there yet, splitting my will-power between two efforts at habit
change would put me in danger of not following through with either
habit change.

Although I have always been fairly fortunate in that I’m a pretty active person and was raised to appreciate the benefits (and fun) or exercise and sports, I can certainly attest to the importance of giving yourself the time to let a habit truly sink in and actually become a habit.

Early successes are important, and will certainly bolster your motivation.  However, don’t let yourself get complacent after your initial success.  Stick with your progress and affect positive change in your life.  After all, if you’re anywhere close to my own age (30), you are now at the point in your life where you get to choose the habits that stick with you for the rest of your life.  Make them good ones.

Goal check-in

January 11th, 2009 No comments

It’s just shy of two weeks after the new year, so I think that it’s a good time to check in with myself after the goal I set towards the end of last year to focus heavily on fitness and healthy eating. As I mention in the blog post I’m planning to publish shortly after this one (just needs editing now), I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. However, I’m absolutely in favour of setting goals that are achievable, pursuing those goals, and treating failures or stumbles as an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and determine if you need to set your immediate goal a little lower, or stay the course. So, that’s really what this is – a chance for me to check in, see how I’m doing, evaluate my progress, and then see if I need to change.
So, what were the goals? Nothing particularly specific, mostly that I wanted to be mindful of my calories, cut back on drinking, and though I hadn’t mentioned it explicitly, I wanted to make sure I was getting in exercise about six days a week and lifting weights five days a week. When I say exercise, I really mean something aerobic. Lifting weights burns calories, but nothing compared to squash, running or biking. I treat weightlifting as a cross-training exercise.
I was using livestrong.com for a while to keep track of the calories that I was eating on a daily basis. Livestrong is a great tool for this, and I highly recommend it. What did I learn? Well, I was eating about 20% more calories, on average, than I needed to. For those that are curious, this, for me, was roughly 400 calories a day. Cutting that many calories is not that difficult if you are aware of it and willing to make changes to do it. Just not eating is the worst approach, because it’s not sustainable. I made the changes I wanted to by making sure I had healthy snacks at work (fruitsource fruit bars and fresh apples, cheesestrings, low-fat whole grain crackers, and granola bars – make sure they aren’t dipped in chocolate or peanutbutter though) cutting back on drinking (more on that shortly), and snacking less late at night.
Now that I’ve got a general feel for how many calories I’m eating daily, what the number of calories that something contains is, and how many calories I need, based on my fitness regime, I haven’t been using livestrong very much. I think this is fine, since the website was only there as a tool to help me achieve my goal, not the goal itself. I may start using the website again if I feel that I’m starting to slip and eating gluttonously (note: this doesn’t mean drinking one extra beer, it means eating three chocolate bars in a day), but otherwise, I don’t feel like I need it anymore.
Did this change make a difference? Well, it’s tough to say. When I started, I weighed about 190 pounds. When I weighed myself at my parents, right before the start of the holidays, I was roughly the same weight. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure though, as I’ve been working out five times a week, and I (and Bay) can tell that I’ve been putting on muscle-mass. As a result, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shed unneeded fat, and replaced that with heavier muscle tissue. Sounds pretty good to me. I’m going to chalk this goal up as a success so far.
Am I going to continue on with this? Absolutely. I don’t set my goals as something that I achieve and then discard, and neither should you. This goal is intended as a lifestyle change, so now that I’ve determined where I want to be, I will keep at it. The benefit is that it only gets easier from here, since the habit is setting in.
How about cutting back drinking? Well, I approached this goal by initially cutting out all of my alcohol consumption, and then gradually re-introducing. This allowed me to re-calibrate myself, and gave me a fresh benchmark from which to determine how much drinking I felt comfortable (from the point of view of obtaining my goal) doing. I also bought, and continued to stock my fridge with, O’Douls non-alcoholic beers. They make a lager and an amber, and although I normally prefer medium to dark beers, I think their lager is the better of the two. Non-alcoholic beers aren’t great, but they’re not horrible. When I come home from a squash match, I feel better about myself cracking open a non-alcoholic beer with 60 calories than I do a regular beer with twice that. Plus, it has a small placebo effect on me that partially quenches my desire for alcohol.
Why don’t I just stop drinking completely? A couple of reasons. The most obvious one, to me, is that I enjoy it. I love the taste of beer, I love drinking with my friends, and I love some irish cream in my tea on a rainy day. Put simply, I don’t want to stop drinking completely, so trying to set this as a goal is just a way to set myself up for failure. I want to make sure I’m always setting goals for myself that are reasonable, and inline with my personality. Anything else is a waste of my time. The second reason, and this is similar to the first, is that it’s something I do with my friends, and is a part of the squash community. Having a beer with a friend after a tough squash match, or when working on their computer, or just hanging out – these are all things from which I derive great pleasure, and I don’t want to remove those from my life.
I think I was pretty successful in attaining my goal. As I mentioned above, I was successful reaching my caloric goal, and cutting back on drinking definitely helped towards this. I essentially cut out having more than one beer after a squash match, and stuck to drinking non-alcoholic beers at home on the weeknights. I’m pretty happy about this result, and I’m going to give myself a checkmark on this goal too.
Hey, how about those holidays? Well, I made a decision heading into the holidays. I decided that I would allow myself to open up the gates, cut loose for two weeks, and then tighten back up. I did this because I know that I possess a finite amount of willpower, and I know that the holidays are a time when there are a lot of opportunities to eat and drink. If I tried to restrict myself during this time, I would probably be miserable, annoyed, and severely stretching the limits of my willpower. Atheletes know that to train effectively, you need to spend time throughout the year where you give your body a rest and let it recuperate. The mind is no different, and if you’re exercising your willpower, you also need to make a point of giving it downtime where you don’t have to exercise it.
Incidentally, I read a study recently that had tested whether or not your willpower was affected in the long term each time you tested it, and this turned out to be true. This means that if you have a goal to not buy clothes at all this week, and you go window shopping once every day, you will be weakening your willpower each time you go window shopping. If you want to maintain your willpower, the best way to do it is to avoid situations where it will be tested altogether. (I’m not advocating that you should cut yourself off completely from something you enjoy doing. Just be mindful of the fact that you’re weakening your resolve each time, and keep this in mind before making the decision).
The last goal was to focus on fitness. Generally I try to avoid setting goals that aren’t measurable. I mean, how can you check in with yourself on a weekly basis and ask yourself if you’re really “focusing on fitness”? I actually had something more specific in mind when I decided on this approach though, as mentioned above. Weights five times a week, and no more than one or two days a week without any aerobic exercise.
So how did I do? Well, the first step was getting my bike back from being stored at my parents. It turns out I really like biking, so this made things a lot easier. If I didn’t have a squash game booked, I now had two options that I could pursue instead: jogging or biking.
Generally speaking, I think this goal is the one I am most proud of. I’ve managed to continue with my lifting regime for at least two months now (probably closer to three), and I don’t find that it is cutting into any other part of my life. This is a pretty ideal situation for a goal that involves establishing a change in your lifestyle. If, after pursuing it, you can look at your current daily routine and not feel dread or like you are going to have to make drastic changes to fit something in, you’ve achieved your goal. Like I mentioned before, I’ve noticed a visual difference, and I definitely feel stronger. But, looking any different was not my goal. Let’s check in with the rest of the goal.
To further this goal, I’ve been getting up early some mornings to go jogging with Bay. Bay is part robot and able to achieve her fitness goals based on seemingly impossible conditions, such as having five hours of sleep, but I’m not, so it’s been a challenege some times to get up. Jogging is a great way to condition your heart and lungs, and with a set of headphones and an iPod, it’s very enjoyable. I load up my iPhone with my favorite skeptically-themed podcasts and spend an hour learning while I’m jogging.
As far as being successful, I would say that this goal has been my most successful. I have been training hard on the court, and my game has improved thanks to my efforts, and the excellent coaching of Mike Johnson. However, on top of that, I have absolutely noticed that a higher level of fitness has made a huge difference. I can play in long grueling rallies with the confidence to know that I have the energy and the conditioning to make it through to the end. After a tough rally, I’m recovering my breath faster than before, and in rallies where I’m really chasing the ball to recover, I can make a good shot, settle in, and get back my wind to continue onwards.
All of that aside, the most significant change I’ve noticed has been mental. With a higher level of fitness, I have the confidence to play the best shots in a rally. The funny thing about squash is that the more tired you become, the more inclined you are to play low percentage shots. These are shots that will only be effective a low percentage of the time, but will outright win you the rally when they do win. Generally speaking, you should steer clear of these shots, especially when you’re locked in a difficult rally. However, when you start to get tired, your mind plays tricks on you, and tells you “End the rally now, don’t keep hitting the safe shot up and down the wall. Just put the ball away and win”. With a higher level of fitness, I can quash this voice and say “Sucks to your assmar Piggy, I’m playing safe shots up and down the wall until an opportunity to apply pressure to the opponent presents itself”.
So, definitely a checkmark goes to this goal. As an added benefit, coming back from holidays was much less brutal than I had expected, likely just because I had a fairly high level of fitness going into the ‘days, and so even given the excessive eating and drinking, I was still able to come back afterwards feeling relatively fit.
How about the process of getting back into the swing of things after the holidays? Well, by the end of two weeks, I was pretty much ready to get back into things. I’d had more than enough to drink, loads of junk food, and generally I was feeling pretty lazy. This is generally the way everyone feels when they make their new year’s resolution – fed up with their excess, and ready to get on the healthy wagon. The only difference is that I’m just returning to the same gradual process that I put into place earlier this year, rather than making a giant sweeping change.
So, that’s about it. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone reading that is trying to come up with a different way to set and achieve goals. In summary – set achievable goals, pursue them, check in, and revise as needed.

Fitness Update

November 23rd, 2008 No comments

Fitness
Blog entries have been few and far between as of late, and there’s a number of factors involved. Now that the US election has wound down, there has been less lunacy to blog about. Fallout 3 was released about a month ago, and although I wouldn’t call myself a video game addict by any stretch of the imagination, I’m definitely keen to immerse myself fully when a good game comes out. Work has been extremely busy, and I have also had some contract work ongoing throughout the last month or so.

All of these factors have kept me from finding myself with the spare time that usually breeds creativity and inspiration to blog.
Given how busy I have been, I’m particularly pleased that I’ve been able to maintain my fitness routine and continue driving towards my related goals. For most of us, exercise and healthy eating are the first things that we sacrifice when time becomes tight and more pressing issues arise. So, mostly for my own documentation process, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been able to keep up with.

  • Eating healthy
  • I’ve stayed on top of entering my food into livestrong.com‘s calorie counter, and that has proven to be a pretty good resource. They also released an application for the iPhone, but it sucks and crashes constantly. Even so, the online calculator is very functional and has been excellent for my needs. Being obsessive and neurotic about what you eat is dangerous, and falling into that trap can be a slippery slope. I notice that having an idea for how much I have left to eat for the day helps me remain mindful of what I’m eating.

    I don’t hold myself to any particular amount (if I’m hungry and I will go over the number of calories I would normally eat in a day, I say screw it and eat anyhow), but I’ve noticed that by being aware, I snack less.
    It’s also been interesting to notice how tracking food has caused me to move towards eating healthier foods. When I notice I’m hungry and want to snack, being aware that a bunch of hearty trailmix has the same amount of calories as a chocolate bar makes it a lot easier to choose the one that I know will sustain me longer.

  • Biking
  • Man, am I keen on biking. My parents bought me a mountain bike as a graduation present when I left UVic, and although I got a lot of use out of it initially, once I moved downtown, we had to store it with them due to space issues. Now that Bay and I have a condo, we’ve got much more room to store it, and designated areas in our parkade to lock it up.
    Since my main atheletic pursuit is squash, my main goal for cross-training is something that is low impact and will help develop my cardio. Biking is the optimal choice, since there’s no impact on the joints and Victoria is very well suited to the sport.

    Beyond all of that though, I’ve found biking to be very meditative. Even though I don’t buy into the spiritual aspect of buddhist and zen philosophies, I’m definitely a believer in the power of reflection, introspection, and meditation. Giving yourself the time to sort out your thoughts, consider how you’re feeling, and reflect on your day, week, or year is something I consider essential to happiness and living a relaxed life. Bicycling, if you can find the right route, lets you fall into a comfortable (and sometimes difficult) rhythm of physical activity, and frees your mind to travel whereever it wants.

  • Jogging
  • Okay, so, it’s not the best idea, since I’m already putting plenty of wear on my knees on court, but I really do like jogging, and if I balance things out, I figure I’m okay to go for a jog a few times a week. Jogging is also very meditative, and has a lot of the same qualities that biking does. As an added bonus, I can load up podcasts on my iPod and listen to those while I jog (I do it when I bike too, but have to settle for one ear and low volume if I’m biking on roads).

    Podcasts are a great way to learn when you’re on the go, and you really do yourself double duty having one of them on while you exercise (I like to get a mental sweat as well as a physical one).
    Bay’s a big fan of jogging too, so we can usually get a couple of runs in on the weekdays if we get up early enough. Starting the day off with a good jog is a great feeling, and it makes the day a lot easier to get through.

  • Weight lifting
  • I started off training with weights because I realized I had a lot of time in between each Virtua Fighter match I was waiting to have start. Lately I’ve been playing different games, or doing other things, but the training has remained. It’s easy to fit a set in between doing things like folding laundry, washing dishes, etc., and not having to devote a specific block of time to it makes it very easy to continue.

    Lifting weights is especially good for a squash player, since the sport is very athletic, but mostly utilizes one half of your body. Weight lifting is a good way to help balance out the development, so that I can avoid looking like I an athelete on one side, and polio victim on the other.
    Lastly, if you need superficial motivation, lifting weights makes you look good and may boost your self-esteem. I’m not above caring about the way I look, and seeing the results of working out definitely doesn’t hurt the motivation.

  • Squash
  • Although my main goal this year is abstract, and to maintain a high level of fitness, I want to see the biggest gains in my squash game. My training partner Brendan and I are making a real effort to consistently hit with our coach, Mike, once a week, and do drills with each other one other day each week. In between that, I play games whenever I can.
    I’m noticing small improvements in my game, but the fitness regime I’ve set for myself has definitely made a difference. When we drill with Mike, which is extremely hard work, I’m catching my breath much faster, and can push through the grueling parts of the drill for longer than I previously could.

    These are small subtle gains, but they make a big difference in the long run of a squash game, where the person that starts to run out of gas first starts to make poorer shots, then needs to run more as a result, and so on ad infinitum. It’s a vicious cycle to break once it gets started.
    Squash can become a very mental game when you’re playing someone at a similar skill level to yourself, and simply knowing that you’ve trained well and have pushed through being this tired in the past can be a big boon. The player with the discipline to play safer shots that result in longer rallies will usually be the player that ekes out the victory in a close match.

So that’s where things are now. So far I’ve stayed on track with my goals, and am pretty happy with my progress. The real challenge will come when something new and time-consuming pops up. New video games are one thing, but large projects can have a bad habit of pulling you away from your routine.

Blogging about it so far has been a good experience. A common theme you’ll notice in blogs like Get Rich Slowly and I Will Make You Rich is that they recommend blogging or writing in forums about your own progress. Doing so will allow you to provide yourself with a measure of accountability, even if it is just to your anonymous readership. You will also be able to revisit your goals and your progress to date, excellent ways to stay motivated.

This approach has worked very well for me, and may or may not do so with you. However, if you want to make some changes in terms of your health and fitness, here’s what I recommend:

  • Set some goals for yourself
  • Having goals is an important way to stick with something. The key to setting goals is to set something that is measurable. Simply telling yourself “I’m going to jog every week” is not enough, because that’s difficult to track and to stick to. You can put off jogging until the next day. A goal like “I’m going to jog every Monday” is much better, because you have a specific date that you are going to stick to.

  • Figure out how much you’re eating
  • Healthy eating should be a fitness goal. Diets are garbage, and an awful idea. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of studies show that dieting, in the long-term, actually contributes towards increasing your weight, rather than decreasing it. You will definitely see short-term weightloss, but once you go off that diet, your body will see it as an indiciation that food is a scarcity, and start packing on fat for the next scarcity.

    Just like budgeting properly, before you can even figure out what you need to do, you need to figure out what you’re currently doing. Set a goal to track what you are eating for a week, and start using a tool like The Daily Plate over at livestrong.com. Don’t make any changes, just track what you’re eating. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have an idea of what your daily diet looks like. Maybe you’re eating less than you thought, or maybe you’re eating more. Once you know, then you can start making decisions as to whether you want to eat more or less.

  • Track your progress
  • Once you’ve figured out what goals you want to attain (and start off with small, easy to achieve goals – you can always increase later), come up with some way to track your progress. I like to blog about it myself, but you can use a journal, blog, online tracker, or any other measure. Just give yourself some way of tracking how you’re doing.

  • Check in with yourself
  • At the end of the week, evaluate your progress and determine how you’ve done. Did you meet your goal? If not, how come? Maybe your goal was too large? If jogging twice a week was too hard to meet, adjust your goal to once a week, and go from there.
    Above all, don’t give up, stick with it.

Fitness Goals for 2009

October 3rd, 2008 No comments

More in the realm of minutiae from our hero’s blog today..

I’ve been playing squash competitively for four years now. I love the sport, and it’s nice to have something that is both a very good method for maintaining fitness, and also a very fun sport.

On top of all that, the game has a very strong strategic component to it, and it is an extremely social sport. These are all aspects that bode well for my particular character, and help motivate me to stay focused and develop drive to continue improving.

However, I’ve never really approached squash with particular fitness goals in mind. The aim for me has always been to improve, but always with the main focus being that I wanted my shots to improve.

This past season I saw some reasonable improvement, though I wasn’t improving quite as quickly as I would have liked. That being said, the higher up in level you improve, the more you start to see the phenomenon of diminishing returns. Greater effort for less improvement.

This year I’m taking a new approach. My goals are certainly to see an increase in my squash game, but also to set some tangible fitness goals that I can drive towards. I would consider myself a very fit person for my age. I play squash four to five times a week, I jog, I lift weights, and I also make an effort to walk or bike instead of driving whenever I can. I try to eat healthy, I don’t smoke, and I drink a lot of water throughout the day.

K, that was pretty obnoxious, but necessary. Here are the areas that I would like to make some improvements towards this squash season:

  • Less regular drinking
  • Boy, do I love beer. It tastes delicious, I love drinking it with friends, and yup, sometimes I love drinking too much of it. I’m comfortable with this, it’s good to have some vices. However, if I can cut back on the amount of beer that I’m drinking on a regular basis, I will be able to cut back on the number of excess calories that I’m dumping into my system on a weekly basis.

    How do I intend to do this? Easy – just being mindful of when I crack a beer, and thinking about the number of calories that each beer has. This doesn’t mean that I intend to stress about every single beer that I crack – just that I’m aware and mindful of them.

  • Cut back on excess calories and trim off some extra weight
  • Summer was good to me, and filled with lots of decadent eating. I’m anything but overweight, but I would like to trim down for the season and minimize the amount of extra weight that I’m carrying around. Actually, I should rephrase that. My goal isn’t to lose weight. It’s to turn any extra fatty tissue that I’m carrying into muscle.

    To accomplish this goal, the first thing I’m doing is just taking note of the number of calories I eat every day. A little while back I posted the number of calories, on an average day, that my body is burning through. The next step is to figure out how close I am actually coming to this goal. I signed up for an account at www.livestrong.com, and their calorie calculator has a large database that you can search through (and, as an added bonus, can also suggest lower calorie substitutes if you’re interested). On top of that, you can also add in exercises and have it automatically calculate the amount of calories that you are burning based on this exercise.

    This a good tool. The most important thing to be careful of with something like this is to make sure that you don’t take being mindful of what you’re eating into the realm of neurosis. It’s easy to become neurotic about the number of calories you’re consuming every day, and things go downhill fast from that point.

    Update: After using livestrong’s daily plate calculator for a few days, I’m really impressed. They have taken a wiki-like approach to their database of foods, allowing users to manually enter an item that they have consumed, along with its nutritional information, and that information then becomes available to everyone out. I was amazed last night when I finished my glass of skim milk, and on a whim typed in “Islander Skim Milk” and saw “Comox Valley Islander Skim Milk” popup in the search results. That’s a pretty obscure brand that’s already been logged. Very handy.

    The most important point I want to make here, from my own point of view, is that if at any point I reach a state where I’ve eaten more calories than I need, and I’m still feeling peckish, I’m not going to stop myself from eating some ice cream as a treat. It is important to reward yourself when you think you deserve it. All work and no play makes for a habit that won’t stay.

  • Build more fast-twitch muscle
  • Fast-twitch muscle is the muscle fiber that helps your body make fast explosive movements. Squash requires both high endurance and explosive movements (think doing shuttle runs for 45 mintues), and I would like to continue to build on my legs to develop more of this kind of muscle.

    Weight lifting is one way to achieve this goal, but I’m only willing to go so far, and I want to take a varied approach to exercise so that I don’t get burnt out focusing on goals that are too focused. Training on the squash court is, at least in my opinion, roughly equivalent to a full session of leg workout anyhow, and so this will be act as my main way of training for this goal.

    Probably most important is just to make sure that lessons don’t drop off as time goes on. Although Brendan and I have a pretty good routine set up, it’s easily to let things slip if you don’t remain diligent.

    Going to the gym is boring for me, and I generally hate the sort of people that go to them. About two years back, I bought a set of spin-lock weights. Essentially just a bunch of ten pound weights, and two dumbbell handles. I can’t go much higher than fifty pounds on either side, but, I’m not really interested in going much higher. My goal isn’t to be huge, it’s just to suplement my fitness regime with some weight training. The other benefit of doing this workout at home is that it integrates perfectly with my other hobbies – do a set of reps, play a game of Virtua Fighter, do a set of reps, work on some design for my blog. For me, the key to maintaining a workout regime is to introduce it in a way that minimizes its disruptiveness. If working out every night means that I no longer have enough time to play squash, or hang out with Bay, guess which one I’m going to drop? I’m hoping that this approach will allow me to continue on with these goals.

So I think that’s mainly it. It’s interesting calculating calories. I’ve never bothered to do this before, and its funny to see how I stack up against the figures that are recommended by the various health authorities out there. In general, I try to eat when I’m hungry, and avoid eating simply for the pleasure of it (I really do enjoy eating, but also recognize the danger of giving into this impulse). Since the first step is simply to record what I’m eating, and not bother making any changes, I’ve discovered that I hit the mark pretty close (it’ll be interesting to see how that changes on pizza day at work), but that my diet is definitely carb-heavy, and low on protein and, get this, fat. Weird hey? I’m still trying to figure out ways to alter this balance, but I’ll definitely start to turn my eyes towards things like peanut butter instead of toast and margarine when I’m looking for a snack.

Oh yeah, and least shocking revelation of all, I’m getting too much sodium. Is there anyway for a human being these days to not consume too much sodium? This little bastard is everywhere!