Body Accounting and The Quantified Self

March 3, 2009

Thinking about one of Kevin Kelly’s blogs, The Quantified Self, has me thinking about what those of us who start to get serious about our personal fitness begin to do. We take up some forms of body accounting, maybe starting with using a digital scale to record our weight each morning, or a tape measure around the waist. I record this data for reference and to create a trend line as to where my body mass is going. I also weigh and measure much of the food I eat, or at least gage the calorie amount. This is entered in a sort-of double entry bookkeeping model in my head, where I know that if I fill my body beyond a certain energy level, it will begin to store fat for my future needs. I track my sets and reps and poundages at the gym, and when I do steady-state cardio I record the times and settings. I know there is a dose-response effect curve with exercise, and I measure how much I need verses fatigue and mood variables. Sleep also gets measured, at least in terms of hours in bed.

I suppose I am becoming more of a self-tracker, and I plan to do more of that as technology improves. If better tools existed, we could reach more of our human potential. Check out Kelly’s site – it will give you something to think about.

Not sure how I missed the release, but there is a new book out by Doug McGuff and John Little, who are prominent advocates of high-intensity (single set to failure) weight training. It’s called Body by Science and it looks like it might be worth checking out. Not sure when I will have time to read it, but I will post a review when I get a hold of a copy.  I’m partial to many of the HIT tenants, although I am “self-experimenting” with slightly higher volume right now. One thing I think about every day: I wish I could exercise in a professional noise-free, effort-focused environment like the ones the HIT and SuperSlow advocates favor. The local gym chain where I work out is full of distractions and multiple blaring TV sets, and idle conversations. Not to mention equipment picked for its low cost, and not its superior functionality.


February going by fast, almost Spring!

February 17, 2009

If you have been following along, I’m still around 180 pounds at 6 feet 2 inches. Normal BMI.  Exercising three times per week with weights, and doing steady-state cardio 1-3 times as time permits. Work has gotten busier, and I have been eating a little more than usual. Probably some combination of winter blahs, job related stress, and increased muscle driving my metabolism to burn a little hotter than in past months.

I’m following a program from Tom Baechle & Roger Earle’s fantastic Fitness Weight Training.  Except for an editor naming the programs “Body Sculpting” and the like, the information is solid and conservative. It isn’t single set to failure, which is an effective and sensible way to train. However, I decided to add volume to my workout, and periodize variables, to see how I respond. If you are thinking about starting to exercise, that book is written by two highly respected exercise scientists, who have held leadership positions in national organizations. They have program descriptions that allow you to use a variety of equipment, and nothing exotic that you won’t feel comfortable doing at your local fitness center.  If you are heading north of 50 years old, you might find that latest edition of Wayne Westcott’s Strength Training Past 50 to be useful instead.

So, the above program, plus a somewhat low calorie maintenance diet of mostly healthy foods (whole grains, 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, nuts, making some attempt to reduce saturated fats  in meat and dairy) along with sensible lifestyle habits.  It’s working well.  I’m still going to try to tear it up and get down to around 170 lbs. by summertime just for the experience of having a near six-pack, but I am certain that will be a hungry ordeal.  Full details to follow, as they become available.


October 12, 2008

Some visitors end up here by searching for the Italian fitness fad Slowfit.  Sorry about that. When I came up with the name for this blog I didn’t know it existed.  Like the fitness company from Italy, I was inspired by the Slow Movement.  If you don’t know about Slow Food yet, it started as a reaction to a McDonald’s hamburger restaurant opening in Rome.  There is no central body governing the Slow Movement, and no really clear definition of what it’s all about.  The movement seems to center around a return to traditional values in areas like food production, cooking, and food consumption. It’s tied in with the popular locavore and organic movements often talked about today. That seems like a good thing, and the quality of restaurants I have eaten in that subscribe to the Slow Food philosophy has been high.

What about Slowfit?  Slow Fitness, to me, means not following fads and trends, but making instead incremental improvements, encouraging safe and productive physical activity, focusing on what is achievable and sustainable in terms of fitness and exercise.  What I don’t care for about the Italian movement, also known as the Fausto di Giulio method, is that it appears to be yet another marketing based fitness method. This time focusing on a stuffed triangle that the exerciser sits or lies on while performing movements.  It’s like the physio-ball or yoga ball idea, but with a triangle instead of a circle under you.  I’m not sure how that relates to slowing down, moving back to basics or back to traditional patterns of exercise and movement.

So, if you have arrived here looking for the Italian Slowfit site, you will be dissapointed in the lack of photos of pretty models stretching and moving on triangle bean bags.  But, take a look around and you might find something helpful in the archives.  Take a minute to reflect on what Slow Fitness really might mean to you, before you move on to check out the name-branded method.

10000 Steps to Fitness Walking

October 11, 2008

How much physical activity do you need

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate activity every week, along with twice weekly strength training sessions, for healthy adults. That comes out to a thirty minute walk, five times per week.  If you engage in more vigirous activity, only 1.25 accumulated hours are needed each week, or less than three 30 minute sessions.

The American College of Sports Medicine, which echos the recommendation of the American Heart Association recommends adults under 65 get moderate activity for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week, or vigorous activity for three 20 minute sessions, along with the resistance training.

You can see where this is going. While exercise fads come and go, the minimum recommendations for health have clearly emerged and been consistent for some time now.  While more exercise may be better to a point (5 hours of moderate activity is better for you than 2.5 hours), there is a minimum amount of physical activity needed to achieve health and longevity benefits.

Making the recommendations work for you

Meeting the minimum recommendations requires only two circuits of strength training weekly, which could be performed inexpensively at the closest fitness club or gym to your home or workplace. A single set of 8-12 repetitions of 8-10 exercises might take only 20 minutes, but could be rounded out with some stationary cycling to keep the heart rate elevated for 30 minutes.  Some may prefer three resistance training sessions per week.  Adding in a 30 minute walk each night after dinner would make out the remainder of the program minimum.

Using a pedometer

Getting in the habit of clipping a pedometer to your belt every day has been proven to be a motivational tool for people who want to increase their level of physical activity. If you walk a lot during the day at school or work, or in the course of running errands, that activity can count towards your daily totals.  Actually, only sessions of activity that last at least 10 minutes should count, but there is some evidence that all activity accumulates and has benefit.

10000 Steps Per Day

10000 Steps Per Day was started in the 1960’s in Japan.  The number seems to represent the equivalent of 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per day, according to the Cooper Institute.  To start using a pedometer to measure steps and meet your minimum physical activity needs, buy a simple pedometer, and start to wear it daily for a week.  You can see where you are at for a baseline of physical activity.  Next, try to add little bits of activity where ever you can. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and park further from the entrace to the grocery store. Try to build the habit of the evening “constitutional” walk, with a partner or spouse, the dog, or alone with your iPod.  If it’s bad weather, hit the treadmill at the health club where you do your strength training.

Physical Activity Guidelines 2008

October 9, 2008

The US Department of Health and Human Services has released government guidelines for physical activity.  Nothing groundbreaking. The recommendations for adults:

  • strength training 2 days per week, 8-12 reps for each major muscle group
  • aerobic activity: if moderate, 2.5 hours per week; if vigorous 1.25 hours per week

Moderate is basically going for a walk, something like the daily 30 minute after dinner walk Ellington Darden recommends in his fat loss books. Vigorous activity includes traditional cardio activities, like running, jogging, biking, but also karate and fast dancing.

I have been thinking more about getting a pedometer to wear all day and have some feedback as to my activity level. I walk and move a lot at work, but I rarely get out to exercise in the evenings, other than my strength training.  The best pedometers for me would be small and simple, I really only care about the number of steps I take each day.

More on the guidelines to follow.

New Program for Fall

September 3, 2008

Inspired by Ellington Darden’s article Florida Dreamin’, and his book Flat Stomach ASAP, I’m setting out to do something similar.  If you like Dr. Darden’s writings, check out his short piece called Chiseled Abs: A Little Understanding Means A Lot. He tells it like it is, no b.s., which is unusual in the “abs industry.”  If you don’t know Dr. Darden’s writing, he is associated with the Nautilus and Med-X fitness equipment companies, and most recently with the Bowflex, and has been writing books about fitness for years. His perspective is from the high-intensity training school of strength training, where usually a weight lifting exercise is done for a single set until the trainee can’t lift the weight anymore.  This approach is not the mainstream, but it is consistent with the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine.  Except for the fact that Dr. Darden does not recommend cardiovascular exercise for slimming.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if one of his clients were active, walked or played some recreational sports, though.  

So, what am I up to. I will lift 3x/week, a single set to muscular fatigue of: leg press, leg curl, machine crunch, chest press, seated row, overhead seated press, cable pulldown, seated chest flyes, preacher biceps machine, triceps pushdown.  10 exercises, with three seconds of lifting and three seconds of lowering, for 8-12 reps each (increasing the weight when I can get over 12). After the initial workout or two, I will lift as many times as I can until fatigue even if it goes over 12 reps. Then I will increase the weight in the next workout.  Since I get hardly any activity outside of work and exercise, I will start each session with 5 mins on a bike, do my lifting, then return to the bike for whatever time makes it a 20 minute total session.  As long as my heart rate stays elevated, I will comply with the basic exercise recommendations of the AHA/ACSM.  Keep in mind that this is not what Dr. Darden would advise, based on my reading of his works.

Diet plan will be 1500 calories per day. Less than the 1900 in the Florida Dreamin’ article, because I am older, fatter and less active.  It will be as follows:

Breakfast (400 calories): 2 large omega-3 eggs, 1 packet instant oatmeal (TJ’s Heart Healthy flavored brand), 1 cup strawberries, coffee, 1/2 cup skim milk.  Alternative: 2 frozen TJ’s blueberry waffles, 2 T maple syrup, 1 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup skim milk, coffee

Lunch (400 calories): 2 slices 100% whole wheat bread, 3 oz deli chicken/turkey, 1 oz slice Jarlsberg lite, 1 T sweet pickle relish, 1 T light mayo, 2 tomato slices.  Alternative: 2 slices whole wheat, 1 T light mayo, 1 T relish, 1/2 can tuna, 1/2 apple, 1/2 cup canned corn (recipie from Dr. Darden’s site)

Dinner (400 calories): choice of frozen meal: for example TJ’s Kung Pao Chicken Rice Bowl, or Lean Cusine Comfort Classics Chicken Parmesean + 1 1/2 slices whole wheat bread (to make the calories up to 400), etc. See this article by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for a list of better frozen meal options.  I realize this isn’t for everyone, but for a time pressed bachelor it makes sense to enable having some variety and calorie control with no waste, cooking, cleaning, or time wasting.  I stole the idea from Dr. Darden’s article.  It’s hard to be too specific on the meals right now, depends on what’s in the store or on sale.  Alternative if I want to cook: 1/2 cup dry whole what pasta, 3 oz grilled chicken, 1 cup broccoli, 1 t olive oil, 2-3 T pasta sauce.

Snacks (300 calories):  2 string cheese sticks, apple, orange.  May substitute in some almonds, yogurt, etc.  Right now I have some string cheese to use up.

Shortfalls?  Well, obviously there isn’t enough vegetation.  It probably technically hits the 400 gram “five a day” standard but mostly because of fruit.  Right now I am going for convenience, and a way to avoid calorie bombs when I get home late and feel wiped out. Usually I order some take out, and have some beers. Frozen entrees are not necessarily health food, but I am looking for improvement not perfection. I will be looking to make it more healthy after I pick up some momentum.  

The other shortfall is so little exercise. We’ll see how it goes. The scale and the mirror will tell the tale, and I can adapt from there.

The No S Diet

August 2, 2008

While looking around the Internet, I came across a great site written by librarian turned programmer, Reinhard Engels called Everyday Systems. He’s best known for his diet meme, The No S Diet, which can be summarized in 14 words as follows:

  1. No Sweets
  2. No Snacks
  3. No Seconds
  4. Except Sometimes on days that begin with S

He doesn’t really talk about what kinds of food you should eat, just portion control, with the No Stacking rule.  In other words, you can only have one plate of food at a meal, and you can’t stack things on your plate to get extra.

This is the type of diet advice that even my grandmother could understand and adhere to. It aims to bring us back to our culturally determined, normal meal patterns.  There’s nothing to buy, and even a bulletin board on his site for you to get advice. He did write a book called The No S Diet: The Strikingly Simple Weight-Loss Strategy That Has Dieters Raving–and Dropping Pounds, but between his site and the support out there on his message board you probably wouldn’t need it unless you are having problems getting to a normal pattern of intake.

Mr. Engels has put together a few other systems worth taking a look at.  One is called Glass Ceiling and entails having a moderate amount of alcohol as your maximum daily intake. Others include ideas for not spending too much time surfing the web, and working out with a sledgehammer at home.  I’m not joking, besides the No S Diet, he’s probably best known for his Shovelglove.

While it’s only codified common sense, it has been a kick in the pants to a number of people, and has them going in the right direction: portion control, good habit formation, moderation, flexibility, and accountability. The founder is adamant that to make progress, a regular exercise program should be maintained. Food choices and serving sizes would also have to depend on one’s size and objectives, as would the S day excersions away from controlled intake.