Monday, March 30, 2009

Metabolic Mayhem a.k.a. BURN

Are you interested in personal training but don't have the time or the money? the lilac-colored flyer asked.

After a recent workout at Harvard's Malkin Center, "A class of advanced circuits geared towards people that have just a small amount of time to be in the gym and want the most bang for their buck." They call it "Metabolic Mayhem"; at Healthworks, we call it BURN. I was surprised to see how, like BURN, they use:

* timed sets and intervals of rest
* mostly body weight exercises using some dumbbells
* dynamic warmup followed by interval circuits followed by static stretching

The kicker was that their group met at the same time each week (mid-day on a single weekday) and that participants pay in advance for all 6 classes, no refunds for missed classes. This is how bootcamps work at my gym, but not how BURN works.

The one advantage for clients is that having the same group time/day week after week means that progressions can be made for the group to build on past weeks' moves. By contrast, BURN sessions run at 14+ different time/day combinations each week, so there is almost never the same group twice. Trainers leading BURN sessions have to give the beginner to advanced adjustments on-the-fly based on participant skill. We also accommodate varying speeds of walkers/joggers/runners in each treadmill BURN session.

Seeing weekly group training schedules does make me appreciate just how consistent vs. chaotic scheduling can really influence a workout progression. How consistent are my client's workout routines? How can I make them more progressive while keeping them fresh with new or tweaked moves week after week? That is every trainer's challenge, and every group training instructor's challenge, too.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Journal article: Age-related Changes in Marathon and Half-Marathon Performances

I've often wondered just how much age slows down an athlete. Cycling and running may seem like "a young person's game" when aging world-class athletes and Olympians over 35 are written off as contenders for first place. However, competition for many age-group prizes (based on 5-year or 10-year age brackets) remains fierce as aging athletes compete against one another.

But how much do aging marathon and half-marathon runners really slow down? A group of German researchers quantified the "age effect" a few years ago in the International Journal of Sport Medicine. Their answer surprised me: age is not statistically significant at all for age groups in the 20-49 range, and in the 50-69 age range each passing decade correlated to only a 2-5% loss in speed. Just 30 seconds per mile or less for a 2-hr half-marathoner!

Such a small effect from age surprised me and reassured me that age isn't everything. In fact, it's very little. The ability to exercise and dedication to training is the key factor in the older athlete's success. As the researchers conclude their abstract: Lifestyle factors have considerably stronger influences on functional capacity than age is supported by these findings from physically active and fit elderly.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring Mix in Cambridge Parks

The path to fitness often leads to parks and ponds. Where else can one run in a circle without feeling like a hamster? In Cambridge, Mass., we enjoy many urban parks for recreation. My favorites in North Cambridge are Corcoran Park, Danehy Track, and the Fresh Pond Reservation. The littlest park, Corcoran, has a nice, grassy soccer field, a kid's playset with hanging bars, and a garden surrounded by fencing that is the perfect height for leg stretches. It is usually my first stop on an outdoor run. It is perfect for dynamic warmups like "crab walking" on the soccer field, strength and balance challenges on the playset, and static stretching along the fence.

Continuing through the neighborhood I am faced with the choice of doing A. a speed workout on the cushioned surfaced of Danehy Track or B. a distance workout on the mostly paved loop around Fresh Pond. If I go to the track, I'll be in full sun atop a hill and running 400m circles around a field frequented by ultimate frisbee and soccer players. By contrast, if I go to Fresh Pond, I'll run in partial shade around the city's reservoir and likely have to dodge 20-30 dogs off-leash and their walkers taking the same loop for exercise. Sometimes the "dog factor" makes my decision easy -- there are days when you want distractions, and days when you don't.

Either way, Cambridge runners are lucky to have their pick of parks. There are many paths to fitness, and most take us outdoors. As spring approaches, consider how many good options there are to stretch, stride, and stroll outside the confines of the gym. Enjoy the fresh air, and Enjoy your workout!

Here's the Fresh Pond loop from my gym on
I'll use this for future outdoor bootcamp groups.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Exercise log while in Arizona

It was great to be outdoors, feeling healthy, fit, and alive in nature. Here are my short exercise notes from last week's adventures:

we - 1.5h hiked the ridge
th - 40 mins walked the loop, then another 40 mins biked down Indian Creek Road and back, 1.5h hiked the lake loop, 20 mins run the Lynx Lake loop to end/back after the 3/4 pt.
fr - 45 mins running up Indian Creek to Ponderosa Ridge Road, 1h hiked the waterfalls
sa - 1.5h walked the Granite Creek town park trail, 1.5h walked the Heritage Park Zoo site

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hiking Days

I love the outdoors and hiking off-trail. But as I sit and itch with welts on my legs from having traipsed through many hillsides of unknown plants, I question my love of hiking these desert hillsides. Our first excursion "through the brush" was up to a ridge above the Prescott National Forest. Later trips were around Lynx Lake and down to Indian Creek waterfall, a hidden gem off of a dirty beaten path. Every time we followed Moses, Matthew's Dad's, lead through some crazy bramble and on/off established paths.

Moses seemed to know his agenda more than he knew the trails. Every turn and step was a cue for potential improvisation. He seemed to favor the "direct" routes even when clearer and cleaner paths beckoned. Thankfully, I wore long pants on the first hike, which seemed to be the trickiest of the three hikes.

But that was before we discovered that half of the Lynx Lake hike was roped off due to bald eagle nesting area preservation. Did that stop Moses from cutting his own path, above the fenced off areas and through the brush? No, of course not. I worried that we would get caught trampling through protected vegetation, but thankfully, we did not get noticed. Instead, the vegetation clawed at and scratched up my legs. It itched and looked almost like a heat rash. I vowed to never go off on a "hike" in shorts again (but of course did the same thing the next day at the waterfall trail.) In any case, my legs will heal and I really did enjoy the hiking destinations. I took lots of photos and made some lovely memories with my sweet Matthew.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fasting Day goes Fast in Arizona

I have been fasting on Mondays in Lent, but due to a special lunch at my favorite Emma's Pizza place, I decided to delay my fast until Wednesday this week. Visiting Matthew's family Tues-Saturday in Arizona meant that my fast this week would be done a lot differently than my typical Mondays at the gym. Instead, I would be drinking diet soda in the car...

The family woke and fired up the tea kettle and the toaster for bagels and tea. I had only the tea. The family then went into town and attended a mid-week Communion Service at St. Paul's Anglican Church, where Matthew's dad serves as a Deacon. I felt no hunger at all during the service. I was quite satisfied to have the communion host and wine as my only sustenance when the lunch plan was announced: drive-thru Taco Bell for a picnic.

They noshed on seven-layer burritos and nachos while I sipped water and enjoyed the view, the sunshine, and the cool breeze. The weather here truly is *sweet* -- every day is 70F and every night falls to 35F with stars and bright sun lighting each in turn. The kids of the family really love scrambling around rocks, up through wild brush, and out to the rocky overlooks.

Later in the afternoon we went on a hike taking several miles and about 1.5 hrs. It was in the late-day sun and I worried that my fasted tummy would leave me light-headed. So I took along a recovery protein drink mixed into my water bottle, just in case. I did sip it all down and every last vanilla protein-enhanced drop tasted so sweet. Only 4 more hours until sundown and time to break the fast. But first we had to go to a park with the kids and wait out the afternoon...I got a little stir-crazy.

I probably should have waited until we returned home to the feasting table; I wasn't that hungry. But since we'd packed a few half-turkey, half-salami sandwiches and a half of a bannan to take around with us, I said a quick prayer while watching the sunlight fade at 7pm and took my first bite. The bannana practically melted in my mouth. And then the sandwiches. They were all chewy goodness, still partly chilled. I felt more grateful for the creamy tartness of cheddar cheese than ever before. It was perfect end to my fast. I enjoyed being alone in my thoughts, one with the sunset, and I thought, as ever, God is good.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A simple thought

The journey may be the destination, but sometimes we just want "to be there already". This is as true in fitness as in life.

Fresh Pond Bootcamp

After a recent 3-mile run in February, I was asked to lead a few friends through some strengthening circuits. The icy spots and snow piles next to the path limited my options somewhat -- no burpees in the grass, for example. Still, I quickly thought of a series of moves that worked. My friends who tried it on that icy day were "sore for days".

Now I wonder if people would pay $9 per class for bootcamp training like this. It would meet weekly, rain or shine, at Fresh Pond in the spring and summer months ahead. Maybe I'll try out the idea on the Mystic Marauders first, before swim season starts. Look for this in early April!

The moves are quite simple (lunges, squats, pushups, etc.) but the sets become quite hard. I have devised an evil scheme using a downward trend like so 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, etc.. and as the repetitions get fewer, the moves get harder. I'll report back here on how it goes.

Monday, March 9, 2009

BBC's report and quiz -- Big Fat Problem
This series features good info on meal planning, lifestyle changes, and a simple quiz that I got 10 of 11 possible. Which did I miss? Well, I thought that only 60% of people would think that they "active enough", but alas...I was Wrong. 80% of adults think they are fit and believe they do enough exercise for health benefit, though most people thought they were fitter than they actually were!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Going to NH to ski/sled tomorrow

I'm geared up and ready to get my winter hiking going tomorrow. I may need new wax for those old XC-skis, but hopefully they'll work OK anyway. The plan is to hike up 2 miles to the (AMC) Cardigan High Cabin with a few friends, carrying our own wood, water, food, and provisions for 1.5 days of snowy fun. I really hope it doesn't rain. Temperature trends are hard to predict at elevation, but I'm looking forward to some wilderness regardless.

Someone else is bringing a sled and I hope to play so hard that I'll need a heart rate monitor to log it all in my training log. This kind of thing is exactly what I train for -- playing hard when life allows a little outdoors time -- when I'm not training for triathlons, that is.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Harvard gym workout, pool closed

A really busy, good day although I didn't get the swim as I'd hoped and planned. Oh well. Lots of other good activity though and two training clients with some exercise demos as well. Also met some physician/psychologists who I may be receiving training referrals from very soon. Yay, more training business and for a very high-need, high-resources population!