Tuesday, October 10, 2017

My Least Favorite Spartan Race Obstacles

Spartan races offer many different challenges but their 3 main races include the Sprint, Super, and Beast. The Sprint is the shortest obstacle race and is from 3-5 miles. The Super races are usually around 9 miles and the longer Beast race is around 13-14 miles. If you run all three races in one year you also earn what they call a Trifecta medal.

I've run 3 beasts, a couple Supers and just one Sprint in the past and I have really enjoyed them. They are difficult but I like how they are not as monotonous as running a marathon since you break up your activity with a variety of challenges. This year I had a horrible case of plantar fasciitis as well as a torn bicep injury that kept me out of being able to compete in any races. (I sheepishly say this since I just saw a video of a guy with no legs complete a Spartan, but if I don't let my injuries heal, they will just continue to get worse)

I have been on the sidelines during all of 2017 and it has been very frustrating watching the 5K, half marathons, marathons, and obstacle races I usually do come and go. Since I have not been able to participate in a Spartan race this year I will reminisce about some of  my least favorite parts to those races. Hopefully I will burn a few calories as I do so.

Hills- Running up and down hills is always tough. Many of these races take place at ski resorts or at other hilly terrain so if you train running on a flat street you will be in for a rude awakening. I've seen many strong participants who easily handle the strength challenges, but they are not conditioned for trail running so they ended up walking a good portion of the race. I don't mind trail running but some of the slopes they send you on can be very challenging. I remember one very long slope in Montana that was so steep that runners were essentially crawling up it with their hands on the ground in front of them.

Monkey bars- This also includes rings, cargo nets, or any other hanging challenge that requires a lot of upper body strength. These were so easy as a little kid but they have become my Achilles heel now. Maybe the fact that I've gained 150 pounds since third grade has something to do with it. It's not so much an issue of arm strength, or that I'm super heavy, but my weak grip strength gives way to the muddy slippery bars almost every time before I can get across.

Barb wire crawls- These aren't usually bad if you just roll downhill, especially if the ground is nice and muddy, but it gets old fast if you are on a dry and rocky surface. The worst crawl I've had to do was at the Boise Sprint. The one thing that made this one different was that the muddy area we had to crawl through was completely covered with goat head thorns. I'm not sure if it was intentional or just bad luck, but I've never heard so much swearing from the participants in a section of a Spartan race as I did there.

Burpees- These always just suck. They are especially difficult when you are exhausted. I dislike them the most in a dry, dirty terrain as you get a face full of dust each time you go down to the ground. The best part about successfully completing an obstacle is knowing you can skip the burpees and keep moving without slowing your time down even further.

I have only experienced a few water obstacles where you are briefly immersed in cold water. Usually it is just wading through mud pits so they are not so bad. I'm just grateful I've never had to do one that required swimming or featured ice water and claustrophobia-like conditions that I've seen featured in a couple Tough Mudders.

It has been hard sitting out this year but I have had to let my body heal. I feel conflicted about saying this but I'm looking forward to be able to do these horrible challenges again soon.

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Unintentional African Weight Loss Diet

Even though I consider myself healthy and in good shape, I am a good 20 pounds heavier than I was in high school 35 years ago. I could try and fool myself and say it is muscle gain but my waist measurements tell another story. I regularly monitor my weight and body fat percentage but have not had much success losing the extra fat until recently when I moved to Ghana with my family.

Over the last 30 days I have lost 12 pounds. When we moved to Africa I was sort of forced to change my eating habits. I have not been sick or ill either since I’ve been here. I attribute it to decreasing my caloric intake while increasing my activity level in a hot and humid environment. I have lost this extra weight as John Houseman would say, “The old- fashioned way.”

There are several reasons I have been eating less. One is because I’m not a fan of some of the local cuisine. I do my best to eat traditional foods and I don’t want to offend any of the locals, but I don’t like fish and many of the stews and dishes prepared have been served with fish heads or other mystery meat or organs in it. This has been a natural appetite suppressant for me and helps me eat smaller portions.

Another reason I eat less is because there is less junk food here. There are no Wendys, McDonalds, or Taco Bell type of establishments to swing by when you are hungry. I live on the outskirts of town and it is anything but convenient to go grab a snack for me here. There are some street vendors selling their version of fast food, but I have no idea how long it has been sitting out in their dirty glass display cases along the roadside so that also makes me want to eat less.

I’ve still eaten plenty of carbs since I now eat more bread and jam than I used to. I have also indulged in some not so healthy food like “fan ice” which is their version of ice cream that they serve in a small plastic bag. It reminds me of how astronauts would eat. You have to suck it out as it melts so it lasts longer than if I were to dish up a giant bowl of ice cream back home and consume it quickly.

Finally, one other factor is the fact that even though I have been eating less, I am eating healthier in general. I eat more whole foods than I used to. I’m pretty sure none of the produce here is genetically modified either. Most of the food is locally grown so there are not preservatives or many of the other unpronounceable ingredients we find in so many of our food labels. Some of the fruit doesn’t always look as appetizing as some of the perfect looking trophy fruit you see in supermarkets at home but it is still good. In this hot, humid environment, the bananas only last a day or two before they go bad and attract fruit flies.

I’m kind of grateful I have been able to drop those extra pounds so easily and I’m sure the weight loss will slow down as I get closer to my ideal weight and find more foods I like. My next challenge is to find more protein sources that don’t scare me. I just thought it was interesting to see positive changes happen so quickly when I stopped eating the traditional American diet.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ease Into A New Exercise Program

My family and I recently moved to Ghana. We live on the outskirts of town and don't have access to a gym. The other day I realized that my kids had not been exercising so I encouraged them to start an exercise program that we could do in our compound. I put together the following series of exercises:

Jog around the yard 3 times
40 jumping jacks
35 mountain climbers
30 air squats
25 sit ups
20 push ups
15 supermen
10 burpees
3 final laps around the yard

I warned them that even though I was going start them together and time each of them, they were not to worry about how fast their siblings were going and they should go at a very slow pace. I told them we were just trying to establish a baseline to determine their current condition.

I started them off and kept warning them that even though I was timing them they should not compete with their siblings, it was not a race, and they should go slow and pace themselves. I kept repeating "Take it easy" in my best Nacho Libre voice over and over but they kept wanting to prove how well they could do. One of the five got nauseous towards the end so I made her stop. The others finished but one of them threw up about 5 minutes after. The next day, four of them said their legs were so sore they could hardly get out of bed.



It surprised me to see that just 12 to 13 minutes of exercise could be so hard on them but I've seen this many time over the years with clients starting an exercise program. When I first started working at a large gym years ago one of the trainers told me he likes to push new clients really hard for their first workout so they will realize they are in bad shape and really need him. I have never agreed with that philosophy and don't know how you could get  a client to come back for a second session if you did that. I have always been about baby steps and gradually increasing the intensity and difficulty of exercise over time so your body can adapt to the new stress, even to the point that many people question me and wonder why we aren't going harder. I prefer starting with two sets instead of three and using lighter weights during the first couple workouts with new clients.

I was glad that I didn't experience any of the same problems that my kids did after I did the same workout but I have been active for years even though I haven't done much since arriving in Africa. Anyway this experience was a great reminder of how important it is to ease into a new exercise program or activity if you have been sedentary for a while. If you go too intense too soon with your exercise you will be very sore, could set yourself up for injury, and won't have an enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Functional Fitness

I am a fan of functional fitness but I also like JP Sears even though he has mocked almost every topic I hold dear. I can see the truth to much of what he is making fun of. Anytime people take any good thing to an extreme or begin to exhibit a holier than thou attitude since they have some superior knowledge or discipline, then it becomes off-putting.  You have to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes.

 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Benefits of Regular Exercise

Over the years, our society has become sedentary. Technological advances can make life easier and more convenient, but they can also be a double-edged sword. The unintended by-products of decreased activity include obesity, muscle loss, and poor health. As a result, it is beneficial to look for ways to increase our physical activity. One of the best ways to do this is to exercise regularly.



The benefits of being physically active are plentiful. Here are 40 good reasons to exercise.

1. Regular exercise reduces your risk of developing heart disease or a stroke.
2. Improves your likelihood of survival from a heart attack with quicker recovery. 
3.  Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.
4.  Helps control blood pressure in people with hypertension.
5.  Improves coronary circulation and makes your heart a more efficient pump.
6.  Lowers your resting heart rate, which means less wear and tear on your heart.
7.  Reduces the viscosity of your blood and increases the blood plasma volume.
8.  Increases circulating levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind) in your blood.
9.  Increases maximal oxygen uptake, which allows greater cardiovascular efficiency.
10.Increases your anaerobic threshold, allowing you to work or exercise longer at a higher intensity, with a lower amount of lactic acid buildup.
11. Improves your ability to recover from physical exertion faster.
12. Reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
13. Reduces the risk of developing colon, breast, and prostate cancer.
14. Helps you to burn excess calories and lose weight – especially fat tissue.
15. Improves your body’s ability to utilize fat as a fuel source during physical activity.
16. Increases the density and strength of bones and prevents osteoporosis.
17. Strengthens your tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue.
18. Improves your balance and coordination.
19. Maintains and improves your joint flexibility.
20. Provides protection against injuries.
21. Reduces your likelihood of developing low-back problems.
22. Protects against “creeping obesity” (the slow and steady weight gain that occurs as you age).
23. Reduces abdominal obesity, which is a significant health-risk factor.
24. Helps to maintain weight loss and improve your metabolism.
25. Allows you to consume greater quantities of food and still maintain a caloric balance.
26. Increases your muscle strength and endurance.
27. Helps to slow the loss of muscle tissue that occurs naturally with aging.
28. Gives you more energy during the day and for unexpected emergencies.
29. Increases your productivity at work.
30. Reduces workdays missed due to illness and injury.
31. Reduces medical and health care expenses.
32. Improves the functioning of your immune system.
33. Reduces anxiety levels and helps you relax.
34. Helps you to manage stress more effectively.
35. Helps to alleviate depression.
36. Helps you get to sleep easier and sleep better.
37. Improves athletic conditioning and performance.
38. Improves your body composition by increasing your lean body mass.
39. Improves your posture and physical appearance.
40. Improves your self-esteem.

You would have to be crazy to not to want these benefits. Develop the habit of increasing your physical activity by exercising 4-6 times per week if you are not already doing so.