Posted by: racingsnail | May 19, 2017

Who moved my waist?

There is no question that my waist is my one worry. If I wear the right outfit, no one else can tell that my waist may be slightly bigger than I’d like it to be. So, I spend a lot of time hiding my “opportunity for improvement”. (A lot of time is about 30 or so years.)

According to those who should know, the National Institute for Health for one, men should have a waist of less than 40 inches or 102 cm and women of less than 35 inches or 88 cm for good health. Their only hint of where to measure is a drawing of somewhere between the bottom of the ribs and top of the pelvic bone. WebMD, another of my go-to websites for medical information, definitely states “… usually at the level of your belly button.”

A while back, I got my quarterly body fat measurement done by the personal trainer at the gym. At the same time, I also had him measure waist, arm, and leg circumference to keep track of where things were expanding since I lift weights also.

Imagine my surprise when I found out recently that the waist I had been trying to improve, moves places depending on who is measuring it. Bet you didn’t know that either!

So, I looked it up because I wanted to make sure. According to multiple certified fitness professionals and at least one hospital (NY Presbyterian/Queens), the waist is measured at the narrowest area of your body between your bottom ribs and pelvic bone, usually above your belly button. Which means that it’s not always at the belly button.

I’m going to go with the explanation that works for me – my waist is actually about 5 inches smaller than what I first thought. Best news I’ve had in 30 years.

Now that I’ve found my waist again, I’m celebrating by having pizza tonight.

Posted by: racingsnail | April 8, 2017

It’s my fault

Yesterday, I did something stupid, again.

I finished lifting and felt I had more to do and started core exercises and stretching.

There are probably hundreds of different core exercises, with or without abs, one can do. I did a few minutes of the ones that are tried-and-true. Then, I decided I’d make up some other ones (because they seemed logical), even though I do not have a physiology or exercise science or any other medical degree. Smart, huh?

I could tell these “new” exercises were doing something. What that something was, I learned later.

In my enthusiasm to lose some mid-level bulge, I stressed my hip flexor, the group of muscles and tendons joining the front leg to the hip. So, now, while I’m sure my abs are building up to rock hard (in the next couple of centuries maybe), my flexor is sitting here sobbing.

I’m pretty sure I’ll do something stupid like this again since I’ve done it before but fortunately being strong, healthy and fit means I will recover sooner rather than later. What’s a few days of stiffness and pain when some new adventure awaits right around the corner?

Posted by: racingsnail | March 29, 2017

Two weeks of Swim Madness

I’ve been swimming about a mile once a week for a long time. Swimming laps can be quite boring and once a week was all I had time for.

My gym started a two-week Swim Madness program to mirror final March Madness games. I thought I’d give it a try. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t do it.

Guess I don’t know myself as well I thought I did – give me a competition and I’ll kill myself trying.

The weekly workout is posted on Monday. A total of about 8000 yards includes sets of anywhere from 25 to 300 yards, kicking, pulling, free style, and stroke (anything other than free). The goal is to finish the entire distance during that week.  Instructors give us advice on technique while swimming if we ask.

I went from swimming about 1600 yards, once a week, to swimming about 2000 yards, 3-4 times a week – a huge change. I kept up running, weights, martial arts, and yoga.

Adding another 4000-6000 yards a week has been a good experience but it takes an hour or more to do several times a week.

So, what happened after adding swim time, distance, and frequency?

My swim has improved – I’m kicking better. My stroke is smoother. I feel like I’m swimming on top of the water instead of struggling underneath. I’ve gotten stronger. Swimming 2000 yards at a time is easier than it was a week ago.

Swimming also helps increase lung capacity and oxygen use.

Unfortunately, I’m height-challenged and will never have the body or arm length to be fast. My feet are not flippers and kicking is still not easy.

I have gained weight (a pound or two). I’m hungry after swimming but haven’t added any more calories that I can think of.

I’m tired by the end of the day and fall asleep earlier. My shoulders and arms are always tired.

Will I continue after this program is over? I think I will add another day to my once-a-week swim but my goal will be 4000-5000 yards a week. Swimming is good exercise in the end and something I can do without pain for many years. There aren’t too many sports we can say that about.

 

Posted by: racingsnail | February 20, 2017

You may be a runner if…

Chances are you’re a runner and you may not realize it. It’s not always about speed or distance but sometimes about the little things.

  • You have more pairs of running shoes than work or dress shoes
  • You have at least one extra pair of new running shoes waiting to be used when the current pair wear out
  • You wear gadgets on your body that you have to explain to your non-running family and friends
  • You are knowledgeable about the various “wicking” fabric options on the market and have a favorite
  • You have favorite online shoe shopping sites – all of them are for running shoes
  • You define weather by what running clothes are worn – long sleeve, tank, shorts, long tights, balaclava, windbreaker, …
  • Your closet contains all possible options of running gear
  • You know more about muscles, tendons, and ligaments than the average fitness trainer
  • You can diagnose lower body injuries just by hearing the magic words: IT band, knees, ankles, Achilles, hamstring, quads, plantar fasciitis, soleus, gastrocnemius…
  • You have a chiropractor, podiatrist, and massage therapist in your contacts list and you’ve seen them all
  • All other exercise or sports seem pointless unless they help you run better, faster, or injury free

Are you a runner?

Posted by: racingsnail | February 6, 2017

Your plate makes your waist

Spending hours at the gym or out running and walking and the scale hasn’t budged? There’s a simple reason – you probably haven’t changed what and how much you’ve been eating. Even worse, you may have gained weight. Why? Because you’re working out and even more hungry causing you to eat yet more of the wrong things.

The trainers have a saying among themselves – your plate makes your waist. They’re not going to tell you because you’ll stop paying them hundreds of dollars to help you lose weight.

Instead, change what you eat, how much, and when: whole grains, vegetables, and healthy proteins; 200-300 for snacks and 400-500 for meals; about 3 meals and 3 snacks per day. All it takes is a lot of discipline and planning ahead. No, it’s not easy but if it were, we’d all be doing it, right?

Go ahead and work out with a trainer but know that it’s for the right reasons – getting stronger, faster, and more fit.

 

Posted by: racingsnail | January 20, 2017

Good sleeping

I’ve ran miles and miles, from morning through the middle of the night, and been so, so tired. I’ve felt like I could drop where I was standing and fall asleep; I’ve felt so bone tired that I couldn’t pick up my feet one more time.

This week, I’ve been doing something that has just about the same effect but it takes only about an hour at a time, several times a week. I’ve been tired enough to fall asleep by 8pm and get a deep sleep all night. No medication, no tricks.

It’s a strange but good feeling to sleep well every night. In fact, I have had to keep myself awake until it’s late enough.

So, what have I been doing that’s getting me so tired? I’ve been lifting weights. Sure, I’ve lifted weights before but, this week, in trying to increase muscle mass and reduce body fat, I’ve increased the weight AND increased the frequency.

I lift free weights, not machine weights. The difference is that the weight is not supported by a machine and muscles have to work harder to stabilize as I move the weights. I can also isolate a specific set of muscles and target only that group. It makes a world of difference but, of course, have a trainer help you work on form so you don’t hurt yourself.

Another reason to beware machines is that many machines encourage bad form or have no effect or cause injuries. They’re probably a waste of your time at best.

In addition to weights, I’m still running (and that is incredibly difficult with sore legs) and doing boot camp and yoga. It makes for a hard week.

What am I getting out of all this work? Great sleep, toned and strong muscles and a healthy body at 56 years old.

Posted by: racingsnail | September 23, 2016

Gaining muscle

I’ve been working on getting leaner and losing weight for some time now. After many months of resistance training and eating healthy, I’m stuck. Even though I’ve been picking foods based on ingredient lists, I’ve still been making less than adequate choices.

Something that you may have heard about is body weight versus body fat versus muscle mass. Weight is a number that may or may not tell us anything useful but it is a quick and easy method at the doctor’s office. After all, they don’t want to bother using more complicated ways to tell us how healthy or unhealthy we are.

We may lose weight and look skinny but still have a nice padding of fat deep under the skin and organs – it’s called “skinny fat” and it can be about as unhealthy as weighing too much. Over time, some of us, ahem, can get larger around the middle and others get larger around the hips, or behind, or arms, or legs. And, that’s all despite hours of exercise and eating well.

So, my challenge for the next 4-6 weeks is to GAIN muscle mass because I can’t get much leaner without making further changes. Today, I’m about 18-19% body fat which is pretty good for a 55 year old woman but not where I think I can get. (We all lose muscle and gain fat as we age, both men and women. Our body fat goes up even if we are skinny.)

Why is being leaner and having more muscle important to me? I’m no body builder and don’t want to be one but I carry more weight in my middle. I’d like to get rid of that and build a stronger upper and lower body in the meantime which should help in the sports I like to do.

What am I doing differently to make these changes?

I’m lifting heavier weights.

I’m eating a lot of protein (as a vegetarian, I’m focusing on complete proteins).

I’m eating more calories because building muscle requires more calories.

I’m changing what and how often I eat.

Very importantly, I’m eating foods that don’t come out of a box or a can to remove as much processing as possible.

How do I measure body fat? Using calipers. How do I measure changes in muscle mass? Using a tape to measure inches around waist, hips, arms, and legs; some things should go up and others go down.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted by: racingsnail | August 4, 2016

A different kind of race

I decided to try something new this year, something a little different.

It was still a race but it didn’t matter (much) how slow or fast any of us ran because, in between every 3/4 mile lap, my partner and I had to do some crazy obstacles, together. We had to start and finish together. Some examples: carry a 20 gallon water container, fireman carry your partner, flip a (225 lb) tractor tire, pull a weighted sled, duck and move through a rope spiderweb without touching the ground, fill a bucket of water across a basketball court using sponges, pull ourselves uphill along a soapy wet tarp with a rope, crawl across sand under a net, pull up a 65lb kettle bell while sitting on the ground, crawl through mud, push an office chair with a missing wheel while seated, and so on. Those 3/4 mile laps went from top speed to a jog then a shuffle as legs worked hard on obstacles.

The total distance ran? It was only 3 miles but it took us over 2 hours to finish.

During the race, I could only focus on making it through the current obstacle and it was a relief to finish the race. My legs were shaky, arms sore, and body completely tired. Later, after I washed off mud, dirt, and grass, I found bruises, scrapes, and more sore muscles.

So, what’s the point of this kind of race? First of all, it’s a full body workout. Then, it’s not only about speed since obstacles can require strength, agility, and strategy. Lastly, there’s something adventurous, unknown, and exciting about what you’ll have to do for the race because obstacles are secret until the start of the race.

These races also burn serious calories. I had my heart rate monitor on during the race and, according to my fitness watch, I burned over 600 calories during the race.

An obstacle race is not for everyone – you get dirty, muddy, scraped, and bruised. You also use muscles over an extended period of time which are not often pushed so hard. In addition to running, there is a lot of strength work involved.  It took me a week to get my strength back, but I’ll do it again next year.

Excuse me while I go start training now.

Posted by: racingsnail | June 3, 2016

Exploring the grocery store

Last week, I went down an aisle of the grocery that I hadn’t been to in a while. It was an eye opener.

No, it wasn’t a mouth-watering display of chocolate with all the free samples I could eat. It wasn’t a larger-than-human display of a Jedi Knight with a glowing blue saber. It wasn’t even a prize give-away of a free set of knives with a purchase of ten boxes of fiber supplement.

What it was was a fully packed wall with shelves and shelves of … health bars. No longer are these called mere cereal or granola bars. Regular cereal bars are found in the hum-drum cereal aisle, if you happen to be a plebe.

I’m talking about health bars: the ones that cost $1 or more per bar and often promise to be THE answer to your snacking questions. They consider themselves healthy because they may contain protein (nuts, protein powder), unsaturated fats (nuts, oils like canola), and ancient grains (amaranth, quinoa). There are even organic health bars. The one thing they all contain but don’t advertise is sugar and salt. Even sugar from dates, agave, honey, and raisins still behaves like table sugar in the blood.

A mother I know buys boxes of an expensive brand because they’re “healthy”. The problem? She and her family use them as a quick meal substitute for missed breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. First of all, these bars are expensive. Second, it takes multiple bars to feel full. Sure, they may have 150 or more calories per bar but too many bars add lots of calories and very quickly. Before you know it, you may have eaten a whole box of them in one day. And third, I’m not sure that either the chocolate coating or the few grains of chia seed can contribute all that much “health” to the bar.

Using these health bars as a snack can be convenient, but if you eat them more than once every couple of days, save yourself the money and mix up a snack sized baggie of nuts, dates, raisins, or pretzels – similar nutrition if the portion size is controlled but at a lot cheaper price.

If you’re really feeling adventurous, throw in a blend of your favorite spices and let the natural oils from the nuts do their thing.

Posted by: racingsnail | May 21, 2016

Don’t give up

Recent studies are showing that, while losing weight is difficult, keeping it off is just as hard. I could have told them that.

Apparently, our bodies do everything they can to get around whatever we’re trying to do. They seem to like being right where they were. The harder we try to change, the harder they work to get where they already were.

The big bear in the room is your metabolism. If you were lucky enough to have picked the right parents, your metabolism does most of the work for you. It chugs merrily away, whether or not you eat ice cream every night as you sit on the couch or run five miles every day. There are others of us who eat fruit, veggies, complex whole grains, and unsaturated oils, and exercise for hours yet fight every day to lose weight. It doesn’t seem fair but there’s little fairness about this whole thing. It’s enough to discourage anyone.

It turns out that those skinny people eating ice cream, chips, and pie have more to worry about than the rest of us. My fat may be on the outside but their fat is on the inside; inside visceral or organ fat is much more dangerous when it comes to diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and cancer. It’s called “skinny fat”.

There is good news for those of us who are eating right and exercising despite what the scale says. As long as our hearts, joints and muscles are strong and healthy and allow us to move without pain, our weight is only a cosmetic worry. The only way to keep your insides strong is to exercise, both cardio and resistance training

So, make sure your insides are strong and beautiful.

 

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