2.15.2011

6 and 1/2 Minutes to Feelin' Like a Bad A$$

I've said it at least once, if not a dozen times. Sometimes, it's the little victories that keep you inspired as you battle The Bulge. That's why I don't just weigh myself, I take my measurements and I look for those little benchmarks, like my endurance, pace, current weight used in resistance training, etc.

In my last post, I'm pretty sure I mentioned that I did upward facing dog and didn't even think about it -- other than to think, "Holy Yoga, Batman! I'm doing up dog and not even thinking about it!" Upward facing dog, or up dog, is a real test of upper body strength. Most everyone is familiar with downward facing dog, or down dog. That's where you turn your body into an inverted V: hands and feet on the ground, and butt up to the heavens. You do your best to "raise your sit bones" and lower your heels to the ground. It is a pose that even beginners can do at their first yoga session. The heels probably won't get to the ground -- I've been practicing on and off for 13 years and my heels only make it to the ground if I'm in shoes, doing down dog as part of a cool-down from another workout -- but it is definitely accessible.

Upward facing dog is not a beginner's pose unless you've already spent a few months (years) lifting weights with your upper body. To assume the asana that is up dog, lay on your stomach with your hands, palms on the floor, at your chest. Now, push up, raising your entire body off the floor -- with your toes uncurled so you are on the top of your foot, and let your pelvis drop so your back does a big curve. Because of the position of your feet, the majority of your body weight is on your arms, with the added torque of the dropped pelvis coming into play. Your back and core do not help in this pose, unlike in plank. Now that you are in up dog, hold the pose -- but not your breath.

But enough about up and down dog. Today's post about 6:37 to feeling like a bad ass has to do with plank, side plank, advanced side plank, and chaturanga, with a little down dog thrown in.

One of my trainers/instructors is hard core. Her classes are awesome, but they are HARD. It is a significant achievement if I can leave a class of hers and not have wussied out at some point on something -- "taking a break" as it is kindly called. At Saturday's and Monday's resistance training classes, she did a combination resistance band and body-weight-as-resistance class, generally choreographed to music. After a brutal bicep song, and a little later crucifixion of the triceps, up comes "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.

For over six minutes, we cycled through plank (which is basically the beginning position of a push-up on your toes), down dog, chaturanga (which is basically the bottom of a push-up, where you hold your body as close to the floor as possible without actually being on the floor), side plank (start in plank, then rotate your body so you are on one arm and the sides of your feet, with the free arm raised to the sky), advanced side plank (in side plank, take your bottom foot and extend it out so there is no weight on it and you are holding it off the floor), and a few short breaks in child's pose. And, we can't forget down dog with movement, where you raise one foot up to the ceiling, then lower it around to the side, bending your knee to touch your elbow via your obliques while lowering your body into plank. Our arms were already tired. In side plank, you could see our arms shaking as the muscles struggled to support our weight. Aside from child's pose, there was no break for our arms.

Other than chaturanga, which I'm still probably years away from really being successful at, I didn't wimp out. Not once. Advanced side plank? Oh, yeah. For some, this may not seem like the biggest deal, but for me it is. See, less than a year ago, holding plank, let alone side plank, for more than about 10 seconds was difficult if not impossible. I just didn't have the upper body strength. Through resistance training, regular yoga practice, and weight loss, I have gone from not being able to support my weight on my arms for more than 10 seconds to being able to do it on tired muscles for over 6 minutes. To top it off, I really wasn't sore the next day.

Now, to get over my inhibitions and master crow...

2.05.2011

February's Day of Reckoning

I decided at the beginning of the year that on the first Saturday of every month, I would take my measurements. Watching the scale can be frustrating, especially when it goes down, then up, then down. And, we've all heard that muscle weighs more than fat. So I figured keeping track of my measurements would be one way for me to see my "real" progress.

January's measurements were my baseline, obviously. I set up 25 places to measure -- with the biceps being measured twice in "relaxed" and "flexed" positions. After all, gotta measure the guns! LOL! I take my measurements at the same time, basically, on these Saturdays: after my usual Saturday morning gym time, but before I eat lunch. I also weigh myself at the gym, usually after my workout.

The weight loss for January logged in at about 4.5 pounds. That is not necessarily impressive, but when doctors recommend 1-2 pounds per week as a healthy weight loss, one that can be maintained long-term, then I'm pretty much on track. It was my measurements that told a different story.

When adding up the changes, my total was 15.875 inches (15 7/8) lost. My biggest changes:

Chest: 1 1/8"
Upper arms: 1" each
Midriff: 1 1/2"
Hips: 1"
Left thigh: 1 7/8"
Right thigh: 1 1/4"

Everybody is not perfectly symmetrical. My legs, in particular, tend to be a bit lopsided because of my history of orthopedic injuries to my left leg. I have more muscle atrophy and fat build-up there. My right quad is still larger because of favoring it, but my left is getting stronger.

I was apprehensive before taking these measurements, as anyone who is overweight tends to be around scales and measuring tapes. I had a wee bit of confidence given to me about 10 days ago, the last time I could take a yoga class before SNOWPOCALYSE 2011. We did upward facing dog, which requires quite a bit of upper body strength. It is a pose I have rarely been successful at, but at this yoga class I was able to do it and think little of it.

Then the blizzard came and I spent two days sitting on my butt and grazing. And, not working out. Given that, the mere loss of 4.5 pounds made me happy. Heck, I was happy just to not have put ON weight! The measurement changes have left me stunned.

I know this won't keep up, but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts!

2.02.2011

Rethinking Some Tenets -- Red Meat

Well, January was an interesting month, weight-wise. One particularly good period saw me eating foods that I was certain wouldn't help my efforts, and yet I ended up losing weight. So this has me doing some more research and reassessing a long-held tenet of mine: that red meat is bad.

I love red meat. Always have, always will. Comfort food for me is a big ol' greasy cheeseburger. But I have heeded the warnings of diets rich in cow and generally limit myself to a serving of red meat about 3 times a month. Yes, you read that correctly: a month. I would get a hamburger - my weakness - about every two weeks, with perhaps a random meal involving red meat thrown in somewhere along the line. However this period I am referring to had 3 meals of red meat in one week.

How did that happen? I made tacos at home with ground beef. A pound of ground beef makes 3-4 servings of tacos, and the cooked meat only keeps so long. In this economy, I don't have the resources to make a whole batch of meat to only eat one serving and toss the rest away. So, I had tacos for dinner three nights in a row. And I lost weight.

Curious, I did some quick on-line research and here is what I discovered. What makes red meat bad is two things: quantity and fat. A serving of red meat should be 3-4 ounces, cooked. To put that in fast food terms, a McDonald's Quarter Pounder patty, give or take a partial ounce. (The "quarter pound" is pre-cooking weight.) A Big Mac is about 6 ounces total, cooked, between its two patties. 4 ounces is not a lot of meat. When was the last time you saw a 4 ounce steak on a menu anywhere? Restaurant portion size is a whole 'nother blog, but you get my point about quantity. My pound (pre-cooking weight) of ground beef produced 7 tacos, which made each taco portion 2.3 ounces (pre-cooking weight). Factor in that I purchase 75/25 ground beef because of the price, each taco after cooking was less than 2 ounces of meat. So factor numero uno is one thing that ALL diets can agree upon: portion control.

When it comes to fat, red meat can be loaded. The best cuts of meat are those with the highest amount of marbling: tiny rivulets of fat amongst the muscle layers. This marbling is what give the premium steaks their flavor and juiciness. And it is 100% saturated fat. There is nothing wrong with consuming a wonderful filet mignon, as long as you do it sensibly. If you choose to make red meat a standard part of your weekly diet, though, leaner choices should be made.

Ground beef can be surprisingly lean, depending upon how you prepare it. If you are making something where the meat is browned first (like tacos), then you can cook out the majority of the fat and drain it off. If the meat is not pre-browned, like meatballs or meatloaf, then you'll retain a higher amount of the fat. Other lean cuts would be anything that is suggested for slow cooking, like beef short ribs or stew meats.

Red meat is high in iron, a very important mineral for women. Specifically, it contains heme iron, which is easily absorbed by the body and is crucial for women who are menstruating. Red meat also contains B12, which helps build DNA and keeps red blood cells healthy, and zinc, which strengthens your immune system. Calorie-for-calorie, beef is one of the nutrient richest foods you can eat.

Sensible eating, according to some nutritionists, is to consume about 6 ounces of lean protein per day. If your protein is forcing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables off your plate, you are consuming too much protein. (Sssh! Don't tell those Atkins fanatics!) So for the time being, I'm going to add more red meat back into my diet, but in smart ways (meaning, no fast food hamburgers for me) and see if this has long-term benefits for my weight loss.

As always, I'll keep you posted!