Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fitness Blogger Survey

I've noticed that many of the followers of Your Fitness Quest are very similar to myself in age. That intrigues me since I'm not necessarily trying to cater to the 40 + year old crowd. I think one reason there are so many of us with similar interests in this age bracket is because in your 20's, you can get away with murder when it comes to taking care of your body, but after 30, as your body ages, you can't expect good results unless you take care of yourself.

Many of you are like minded individuals who have awesome fitness blogs. I thought I'd do a brief survey to pick the brains of the people who practice what they preach. The 4 questions for this survey are geared specifically to people who take their health seriously and are passionate about fitness. You don't need to have a fitness blog or be any specific age to respond to the following questions.

1. Was there a time when you felt out of shape or in poor health? If so, how long ago?

2. What motivated you to get serious about your health and make healthy lifestyle changes like eating right and exercising?

3. What type of exercise program or nutritional changes have made the biggest difference for you?

4. Name some people who you look up to as role models when it comes to fitness.

Here are my answers:

1. I realized I was a overweight about 10 years ago (skinny dude with fat deposits). I was out of shape due to a sedentary job and eating a lot of fast food.
2. One big motivator for getting into shape was coming across an issue of Muscle Media magazine in the 90's and seeing so many regular people who made amazing body transformations.
3. Eating smaller portions and eating more fruits and vegetables have been the biggest help for my diet. Lifting weights is the most beneficial exercise for me, but I also love basketball and have taken up running.
4. I admire Randy Couture, Dara Torres, Karl Malone and other people who show you can still be in great shape even as you get older.

Thanks for your participation. Just number your responses in the comments section. I look forward to your feedback.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Psychological Preparation and Performance

Psychological preparation is a critical component of performance for any serious athlete. This is also referred to as mental preparation.

I first learned about this concept when I was attending a basketball camp as a teenager. The camp was put on by Jim Spencer who was the most successful high school basketball coach in the state at the time. He continually stated that "mental is to physical as 3 is to 1" as he stressed the importance of being mentally prepared. I have never forgotten this, and over the years I have seen many real life examples of this concept.

The many Cinderella stories in sports are examples of this concept. There have been many David vs. Goliath examples where a more experienced and physically superior opponent is defeated by an underdog. Buster Douglas knocking out the then invincible Mike Tyson, the 1980 US hockey team upsetting the Soviet team for the gold medal, and Villanova knocking off the heavily favored Georgetown team in 1985 for the national championship come to mind. One reason March Madness is such an exciting event is due to these types of upsets.

There are many factors that go into these upsets, but one of the biggest ones is psychological preparation and the state of mind an athlete is in during an event. I remember seeing footage in the news when Hank Gathers died. A friend of his was notified while he was playing in a basketball a game. Once he heard the news, he sat on the bench, covered his head in a towel, and started crying. He was devastated and was no longer in any condition to compete, although just minutes before, he was performing very well. The only thing that had changed was his state of mind.

Psychological preparation is crucial to overcome fear, nervousness, and intimidation. This is evidenced in games when an opposing coach will try to ice a kicker or a free-throw shooter to put more pressure on them. The physical feat does not change any, but extreme pressure can make it a completely different scenario if one is not mentally prepared. When athletes are unable to perform in such a clutch setting, then they are said to have "choked", but when they are able to block out distractions and complete a task while under pressure, they are lauded for being mentally tough.

When an athlete is in a positive state of mind, has a great deal of confidence, and is performing at a top level, they are referred to as being "in the zone". On several occasions, I remember Michael Jordan being interviewed after some amazing shooting performances. He said the hoop just seemed like it was twice as big as usual. The circumference of the rim had obviously not changed but his perception and mind set had.

How do you mentally prepare for an event?

1)  Familiarity- Familiarize yourself with the surroundings where you will compete. When a team goes to a bowl game they usually arrive several days early as opposed to the day of the event. This gives them time to mentally prepare. Many high school varsity players are required to watch the JV game prior to theirs, so they will be thinking about and focusing on their sport prior to the event. Familiarity to the environment where one will be performing is important. That is one of the benefits of a home court advantage.

2) Visualization- Many professional athletes use the practice of visualization to prepare for an event. It is a common practice for them to see themselves performing successfully in their mind before they compete. You see this with golfers before they putt and players at the free-throw line as they mimic a shot. A marital artist will do several dry runs as he visualizes breaking a board or bricks before the actual attempt. They are creating their results mentally before they attempt to do so physically.

3) Practice- Psychological preparation improves when one has been properly conditioned to compete and if they have a sound understanding of their sport and confidence in their teammates. This confidence is only accomplished with repetition and practice.

4) Coaching-  Scouting efforts by a coach help a player to know how to prepare and give him the confidence that he will be ready for his opponent. One reason coaching is so important is because it eliminates fear of the unexpected.

While genetics, conditioning, experience, and motivation all play a role in determining how an athlete will perform, one's psychological state of being can be just as important in determining success or failure. If you are an elite athlete dealing with intense competition or just a casual runner wanting to set a new 5K personal best, mental preparation can help you reach your goals.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Muscle Spotlight: Pecs

Occasionally I spotlight different muscles. Today I'm going to focus on the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) aka "pecs". If muscles were animals, then pecs would be the king of the forest. At least that is what one would assume from watching people work out at the gym. Because pecs are one of the larger muscles, they seem to get a lot of attention.

People tend to focus on the muscles that they see when standing in front of the mirror. As a result, chest, abs, and biceps usually get a lot more attention than their antagonist muscles. Have you ever heard anyone talk about Taylor Lautner's back, hamstrings, or calves? I didn't think so.

Pecs are used in every day activities any time you push something with your upper body. Having strong chest muscles not only gives you a better appearance, but it can help you carry out physical tasks with greater ease. Strong pecs also help protect your shoulders since they stabilize the shoulder joint. 

Exercises that work the chest muscles include the bench press and it's many variations, pushups, flys, butterfly press, cable crossovers, and many swimming strokes. Remember when you work your chest, you also want to work out the opposing back muscles. It doesn't necessarily have to be during the same workout, but you just don't want to neglect opposing muscles and develop an imbalance.

Speaking of famous chest muscles, I thought I'd leave you with a video clip of Arnold doing dumbbell flys.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Healthy Habits

When I started playing basketball in grade school, I taught myself how to shoot. Because I was taller than most kids, I used my height to my advantage and protected the ball by shooting it from behind my head with both hands. Shooting like that worked in grade school, but I had developed the bad habit of shooting with bad form and by the time I got to Jr. High, my coach made me start from scratch and learn how to shoot with correct form.

I thought I'd include a picture of me from that time. I'm the tall lurpy one. You gotta love the early 80's styles. Check out the sweet shorts, the long tube socks, and the arms. You probably didn't realize you'd have tickets to the gun show when you started reading this post.

We all have our bad habits. Some of these might include overeating, skipping breakfast, lifting weights with poor form, not warming up or cooling down, bad posture, or distracted driving. Some of those habits mentioned don't seem like much, but little things add up over time and become bigger problems. Just ask anyone who's had a root canal.

Good health habits include regular flossing, wearing seat belts, exercising on a regular basis, getting enough sleep, wearing sunscreen, drinking enough water, etc. These might sound monotonous and insignificant, but healthy habits are at the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.

This topic reminds me of a quote I like. "Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny." This quote and variations of it have been credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Allen, and a host of other people so I'm not sure who to credit for it, but I believe that small and simple habits do make a big difference over time and can affect our destiny.

So, how does one go about creating new habits? Repetition is the key. Developing some habits may only take days, while others may require years of repetition and practice. If you analyze your long term goals, you can break them down to into smaller steps and decide what habits would help you to accomplish those goals.

Some people focus on overcoming bad habits that are slowing them down or overcoming addictions they want to get rid of. Others choose to focus on positive habits they'd like to develop. The most important thing is to pick something that is important to you that you'd like to change and work on it enough until it becomes second nature.

PS- My shot is sweet as silk today.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bountiful Baskets of Produce

Several months ago my wife came home one Saturday morning with a couple large laundry baskets full of produce. She said it was from "Bountiful Baskets." I didn't know what she was talking about so she explained that it was a food co-op program that two women started that has now spread to most of the western states. Here's their link You order your basket online at the beginning of the week for a whopping $15. Then you meet at your local drop off point on the weekend.  You have to be sure to bring something to carry your food home in. The pickup locations are completely managed by volunteers, and it is recommended that you volunteer about 1 week out of 5 .

Here's a photo of this morning's catch. This is a double order and there is much more food in the picture than it looks like. We have bags of potatoes, cantaloupe, and cauliflower buried under everything in the back. I didn't do the best job of arranging it for this photo, but you get the picture.

Each week I've been impressed with how much produce she gets and how affordable it is. One of my pet peeves is how dirt cheap junk food is and how healthy foods usually costs more. More impressive than the price is the variety that they offer. It is kind of like a grab bag each week. You never know exactly what you will get when you order your basket. As a result, we've eaten a lot of great food that we normally wouldn't buy. Over the last two months, our kids have been introduced to egg plant, spaghetti squash, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, kiwi, mangoes, champagne grapes, plantains, pluots, and several other foods that I still don't know the names of.

I have a big family so we usually end up placing a double order. It's been nice to see my kids excited when we bring home produce. Since the contents of the basket is always a surprise, they think it's kind of like Christmas morning. Some of them act as if we've brought home ice cream sundaes. That would never have happened when I was a kid. I wasn't into vegetables as a kid, and when my dad came home from the store with a bunch of produce, he might as well have brought home dirty diapers.

Anyway, If this produce service is offered near you, or if you are familiar with a similar one, I encourage you to check it out. It is a great way to get a wide variety of healthy food at a good price.