Sunday, September 12, 2010

The best cardio-training method!

About 6 weeks ago, Boris and I decided to adopt a beautiful little doggie from a Humane Society shelter. Her name is Izze and she's about 2 years old, American Eskimo mixed with Shetland Sheepdog. She runs SUPER FAST and loves to go everywhere with us. I haven't had a dog since I was a kid and I hadn't realized how really healthy it is to have one. All the daily walking outside is such a great exercise and stress reliever.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pyramid Power!

Aztec Serpent, copyright Boris Vallejo, 1983

Recently, someone asked me what is the best and fastest way to build muscle. During the late 80's when I was competing in lots of bodybuilding contests, this was my primary fitness goal and I made it my business to find out everything I could about it. Of course, since that time, there has been a ton of updated information to check out, but, based on my own experimentation with my own body, I still think the basic premise that I worked with in the 80's remains true--lift heavy weights, use basic exercises, and get enough volume of repetitions and sets to get your muscles as pumped up as they can get. One way that I accomplished this at the time was through the use of pyramid sets. I brought up this subject back in a February post, but here's a more thorough explanation.

Most often, I worked the Pyramid principle with 5 sets. You can do it with more sets (sometimes I would do 10 sets in my pyramid) or with less (maybe 3), but working with 5 demonstrates the concept best. Let's say you're doing
one of my favorite exercises, the basic bench press.

Set 1: Start with a very light weight, maybe even just the bar, and do 15 repetitions (reps).

Set 2: Add a little more weight and still do 15 reps.

Set 3: Add more weight and do 10 reps.

Set 4: Add your heaviest weight and do 6 to 8 reps.

Set 5: Go back to the weights you used in set 2 and do 20 reps.

I don't like to rest too long between sets so that my heart keeps going and I get a better overall conditioning effect, but if you rest a minute or more, you'll be able to handle heavier weights (assuming that's your goal).

If you're working out with the intention of really building strength and size of muscle isn't so important, you can even go heavier and do 2 to 4 reps in your heaviest set. I never recommend going so heavy that you can only lift the weight one time because if you do this regularly, seriously, it's only a matter of time before something you value (like your joints and tendons) give out!
The idea is to work up in poundage to close to your maximum weight and lift very few reps, then immediately decrease the weight and crank out a bunch of reps to flood the muscle with lots of blood.

At this point, I'm just about to turn 52 years old and my goal is no longer to build muscle with bodybuilding competition in mind. Instead, it's to be strong, flexible, and healthy for the rest of my life. I'm so glad that I built all the good quality, natural muscle (no steroids or growth enhancement craziness) that I did when I was younger. It's pretty easy to maintain naturally built muscle once you've put it on, and the more active muscle tissue you have, the better your metabolism and blood sugar regulation works. It's never too late at any age to add some muscle, so pick up something heavy and go for it!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tri-Stretch Device

I got this stretching device from Perform Better and, even though it's just a chunk of red plastic, I'm finding it to be very useful. For one thing, just owning it and seeing it sitting on the floor looking at me reminds me to actually do the stretches that I need so badly. It's easy to just feel like stretching is "extra" and put it off until later, then forget all about it. But the truth is that since I've had this great little chunk of red plastic, my back, knees, and hips have felt better than they have in years! Also, it's made to rock a little from side to side while you stretch, so you end up stretching muscles that usually don't get any action. It's true that you could just as well do these stretches using a block of wood or a rock or curb of the street, but the red plastic is just so appealing, right? Seriously, it actually is more effective with the Tri-Stretch.

The two main ways I use it are for my calf/ankle area and for my hamstring area. I'm insanely tight in these two areas and this leads to multiple problems in the knee, hip, and lower back areas. I start with the large gastrocnemius muscle in my calf by keeping my knees straight and leaning against a wall or car, whatever, with the non-stretching foot placed a little ahead of the stretching foot and pressing my heel of the stretching foot into the tri-stretch device. Turning the toes slightly in and stretching, then slightly out and stretching will hit all sides of your calf muscles in a great way.
Then I work into the soleus muscle, which includes the achilles tendon and ankle, by bending the knee of the stretching leg and continuing to press the heel into the tri-stretch device. Once again, turning the toes inward and stretching, then outward and stretching completes the stretch.

Moving on to hamstrings, just shift your stance so that the foot of the non-stretching leg is now a little behind the foot of the stretching leg. With knees unlocked but kind of straight, bend from the hips forward and stretch your hamstring. To deepen the stretch, reach down and hold the tri-stretch or your foot or ankle and let your head drop towards your knee. This opens up the back muscles and gives you a good stretch from your head all the way to your foot. As with the calf stretch, you can turn the toes inward and outward to hit many more areas of your hamstrings than you may be used to.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Stretching Your Lower Legs and Ankles

It's important to remember that stretching your lower legs involves more than just the main large calf muscle (gastrocnemius), in the back of the lower leg just under the knee. The soleus muscle, located in the lower half of your lower leg, is between the large gastrocnemius and your achilles tendon at the ankle. The only way to reach the soleus muscle is by bending your knee while you stretch your calves. When you stretch them with straight knees, you'll be primarily stretching the gastrocnemius. Keeping the soleus muscle as well as your achilles tendon strong and flexible is important if you want to keep running or even walking! Think of your lower leg and ankle as your first line of shock absorbers when you run or walk. Keeping this area healthy takes a huge load off your knees, hips, and back.

In this stretch, the standing leg has a softly bent knee, thus stretching that soleus. The extended leg is getting a little stretch action in the hamstrings as well as gastrocnemius and achilles tendon. Just pull up on your toes and push your heel forward on that extended leg while pushing down into the ground with the standing leg. The more you can keep your lower back from rounding, the more you can get a hamstring stretch out of this, too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Triangle Pose

This classic yoga pose is great for a stretch after any kind of exercise. It stretches the huge fascia connection that runs throughout the body and usually gets constricted in the midsection.

Step your feet a little wider than shoulder width (or wider if you prefer), arms outstretched to the sides. You can start with either side, but, for the sake of blog-writing purposes, let's start with the left side. Extend your left hand and arm as far straight out over your left foot as you can while also shifting and stretching your upper body to the left BEFORE reaching down for your ankle. Once you've stretched everything from the waist up as far to the left as possible, THEN carefully reach down for your ankle, shin, foot, the ground, or wherever you can with your level of flexibility. Now stretch your right arm straight up to the sky and look up at your right hand. Push your chest forward and get as much upward rotation in your upper body as you can.
To push the stretch a little further, take the right arm over your head, keeping your arm by your right ear. Keep extending your chest upward and outward.

The explanation is a bit wordy, but the stretch is so great!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stretching Hammies

Hammies are hamstrings and hamstrings are the long muscles in the back of your thigh, also known as leg biceps, which are really biceps femoris. So, there you go, hammies are biceps femoris.

Now that we've gotten that straight, the stretch is simple. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart and turn your upper body to one side. Now, keeping your back softly straight, bend out over the leg you are facing and touch the ground. After you've gotten somewhat comfortable there, fold your arms behind your back, resting them on your butt, and push your chest forward while raising your head and straightening your back into a bit of an arch. To deepen it further, you can now lower your head towards your knee and soften the arch in your back.

Repeat on the other side. Don't forget to breathe! Always!
Still more stretches to come.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Next Runner's Stretch

This stretch series is great to do just after the King of Stretches I told you about in the last post. It continues to stretch the hip area and includes the quadriceps in the front of the thigh as well as the knees. Speaking of knees, if you have something soft (sweatshirt, towel, etc.) to put under the supporting knee in Views B and C, it can be kind of nice to save you from roughing up the skin on your knees.

Start in View A and try to lift your chest, keep your head up, and keep the back leg straight and tight. Sink as low as you can, feeling your hips and quadriceps stretch and start to unwind. Make sure you breathe evenly and deeply throughout the stretch.

Now, for View B, move your hands so that they're both on the inside of the front leg and lower the back knee to the ground. Keeping aware of your even breathing, deepen the stretch in both the hips and quadriceps. You're still keeping your chest and head up at this point.

View C deepens the stretch a little further in the hips by bending the front elbow and lowering the chest and head towards the ground. Those of you who are very flexible will be able to have your head on the ground and your forearm flat.

More stretches next time!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Best Post-run Stretch I Know!

This stretch is, in my opinion, The King. The reason I hold this opinion so strongly is that it stretches areas that I tend to have tightness in, especially if I've been running a lot. I think that all of the years doing heavy squats and deadlifts in my bodybuilding/powerlifting competition days created some shortened muscles in my hips and lower back. Oh well, live and learn, right? Always!

Anyway, to get specific about this stretch, what you're doing is squatting down as low as you can to mostly sit on your heels. Then, with your hands on the ground in front of you and your elbows between your knees, start pressing a little outward with your elbows and experimenting with pressing your upper body forward. Sometimes I even stretch my upper body so forward that I put the top of my head either on the ground or on a wall in front of me. For those of you who do yoga, you'll feel like you're in the beginning stages of the Crow Pose, but I actually get way more out of this pose than the full crow pose because of the awesome stretch on my lower back muscles. It's not the most graceful-feeling pose, but it sure is effective!

I'll be posting some more post-run stretches in the coming few days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vitamin Cute!

photo by Anthony Palumbo and Winona Nelson

His name is Diego and he, along with other pets that are good and behave themselves, is known to lower stress in the people who love him and take care of him. It's true!
And you can surely imagine the benefits of lowered stress--lower blood pressure, better immune function, better heart health, better everything! Diego brings Vitamin Cute and lots of fun to the studio of Anthony Palumbo and Winona Nelson every day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Anti-angiogenesis Inspired Dinner

Now that you've had a chance to watch William Li's TED Talk about angiogenesis (that I saw on boingboing and featured in my May 18 blog post) and you're feeling all fired up to try it out, I have just the thing to get you started! I wrote down the list of foods that his team is testing (shown at minute 12:55) and I made a meal with only those ingredients. I did notice that at the end of the list was "Others", but I decided that my challenge was to skip "Others" and only create the recipes with what he actually had on the list. In case you missed it, here is the list:
The meal I made consisted of Tomato Maitake Soup, Citrus Tuna Steaks, Anti-Angiogenesis Greens, and, for dessert, Chocolate Cinnamon Fruit Compote. How cool is that?! It's very cool, because Boris and I just ate it all and it was fantastic!

Note: all the recipes are for 2 to 4 people.

Tomato Maitake Soup

Finely mince 2 cloves of garlic and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes (increases potency of beneficial chemicals!) Also, in a bowl, soak one dried maitake mushroom in about 1 1/4 cup of water for about 10 minutes. Chop pieces when they are soft and save the soaking water. You should have about a cup of mushroom pieces and a cup of soaking water.
Saute the garlic in 1 Tablespoon olive oil.
Add 1 teaspoon turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir over the heat for a few seconds, then add the mushroom pieces. Add 1 28 ounce can of ground tomatoes, 1/2 can of water, the mushroom soaking water, and 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder (not instant cocoa, just cocoa powder!) Cover and simmer for about 1/2 hour or so.

Citrus Tuna Steaks

Start with 2 tuna steaks, about 6 ounces each, sliced 1/2 inch thin.
Mince 1 clove garlic, let it rest 5 minutes, and saute in 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Add the tuna steaks when the garlic is starting to turn light brown. Sear on both sides to desired degree of doneness (anywhere from a minute or two for rare to 8 minutes for medium well and cooked through). Set tuna steaks aside on a plate. Squeeze juice from 1 lemon into the pan. Add 1/4-1/2 cup orange-pineapple juice and one sliced red apple. Cover and saute about 10 minutes until the apples are just turning soft. Add the tuna back into the pan and, uncovered, saute for another minute to mix the flavors.

Anti-Angiogenesis Greens

In a saucepan with a lid, saute 1 minced clove of garlic in 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add 3 cups washed and chopped kale (I like Lacinato kale), 1/2 to 1 cup shelled edamame (Mukimame), and 1/2 cup brewed green tea. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes until the greens are tender.

Chocolate Cinnamon Fruit Compote

Peel a pink grapefruit, leaving most of the white part on, and chop it into bite-sized chunks. Put it in your serving bowl and add about a cup of sweet red cherries, pitted and halved, 1 cup sliced strawberries, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder. Mix it all together and refrigerate about 1/2 hour or more.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TED Talk: Eating To Starve Cancer

I just ran across this TED Talk by William Li on and was hoping that you will all take a 20 minutes and 2 second break to listen to it. It's a beautiful explanation of one of the fundamental reasons that cancer can become deadly and how you can prevent it from happening.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fitness Right In Your Own Studio

When I'm painting, I have a tendency to get so lost in my painting world that I forget I have a body that needs to stretch. Sometimes hours go by and I'm still holding the same position, often one that leads to cramped back and shoulder muscles. Well, here is the solution! Sitting on an exercise ball will remind you to take care of the position of your lower back. You should start out only using it for about 10 minutes at a time and build up to switching your usual chair for it. If you jump in too soon and use it for your whole day of painting, you'll probably get a pretty sore lower back. So be smart and take it slowly. It keeps your core toned as a great bonus!

These are some of my favorite stretches that I can do right in front of my easel.

Get yourself a stretchy band or stretchy tubing (used in physical therapy, as well as Pilates and yoga classes) and hold it over head, pulling outwards until it's stretched kind of tight. Now, keeping your arms straight, lower them behind you and stretch out your shoulders and the entire front of your upper body.

Keeping the stretchy band tight above your head and your arms straight, lean to one side and then the other, stretching your ribcage and lats.

Sitting up straight with the band held tight and in front of you, twist from one side to the other, pulling back with the back arm and front with the front arm. This gives a good rotation to the entire spine and eases tension in your upper back muscles.

Doing these types of stretches at least once an hour while you are working will make you able to do MORE PAINTINGS and you can be like Charles Schultz and create until the very end!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Leftover Challenge

We recently had a little get-together with a few friends and I bought way too much hummus (for snackin'!), and now I'm stuck with all this leftover hummus. So I thought it would be a good ingredient to use for my Leftover Challenge. The Leftover Challenge is what I do when I have some odd ingredient and I want to think of a way to use it that is new and unexpected. I thought that it would be interesting to make a variation on Shepherd's Pie, using hummus mixed with eggs instead of mashed potatoes. It was fantastic! The hummus topping came out with a texture similar to cheesecake. You could use any combination of whatever vegetables you've got on hand for the filling, but here's what I did:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Saute a mixture of chopped onions, minced garlic, and sliced mushrooms until they're pretty tender. Add a few cups of chopped fresh collard greens and about 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, cover and cook until the greens are tender (about 5-8 minutes). Add a can of kidney beans that has been drained and rinsed.

Place this mixture in a casserole dish. In a mixing bowl, combine about 2 cups of hummus with 3 eggs. Using a whisk, mix it until it's evenly mixed and liquidy. Pour hummus mixture over cooked vegetables and bake, uncovered until the topping is firm and golden brown.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Yes, this is off-topic from health and fitness, but so what! Yesterday, Boris and I went to the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, NJ and took a whole bunch of photos of wolves for future paintings. I just love these wolves so much that I had to share this photo with all of you!

Agave AGAIN!

As many of you probably know, I like to regularly keep up with what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about various health-related issues (why? because he's just so unbelievably smart AND flexible-minded, that's all!), and I've just read what he has to say about agave nectar (which we were discussing right here a couple of posts ago). Basically, while he may still have some reservations about it, he's not sold on the idea that it's as disastrously dangerous as Dr. Joseph Mercola writes about. If you use agave nectar or products containing it, please read both of their opinions and decide what seems right for you!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Most Effective Weight Loss Idea I Know Of

And you don't have to "Obey!" if you don't want to. Ha! Anyway, aside from the obvious (eat fewer calories than you use), the most effective tool I know of is
a pen and paper. If you just write down everything you eat and drink every day for a week or two, you'll most likely lose weight just from doing that. You'll immediately become much more conscious of exactly what you're eating and start to think about portion size without even trying. And if you want to make sure you're drinking enough water, just write down a mark on your paper every time you have a glass of water throughout the day. So simple and super effective!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Exercise Classes Part 2

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the subject of exercise classes as a change-up in my regular routine. I'd been using heavier weights and higher intensity cardio for a few months and it left me feeling a little "overcooked" with a need to balance it all out a bit.
At this point, I've tried 4 different exercise classes--Pilates, high-intensity aerobics class, Zumba, and Les Mills Body Pump. Each of these classes hits a different fitness target, so it's a pretty good mix. Of course, the particular teacher of each of these classes would determine exactly how it's taught and that could make a huge difference, but I'll give you my take on my experience at my gym.

The Pilates class is such a pleasure. The emphasis here is on controlling, lengthening, and strengthening the body, much in the way that a ballet dancer would. It's got some similarities to yoga in that controlled, synchronized breathing is an important factor. The stretching is probably safer in Pilates than in some yoga classes I've attended because there seems to be a lot less emphasis on gymnastics and super-flexibility in Pilates. I love yoga, but I think Pilates leaves me feeling even better, and without as much soreness the next day.

The high-intensity aerobics class is actually called "Butts 'N' Guts". The teacher kicks so much ass--I have truly serious admiration for that woman. There wasn't much of a surprise here in terms of content, but I really didn't know my lungs and heart could go that kind of distance. It was awesome. I was surprised, though, that I really liked having someone push me to keep the intensity up for the whole hour (rather than slowing down the way I might if I was just by myself). I'm someone who hates being told what to do, but I'll definitely be back for more Butts 'N' Guts.

Zumba was also an amazing cardio experience with the added benefit of insane fun. It's a mixture of dancing and cardio--lots of emphasis on Salsa type stuff. I'm not AT ALL familiar with how to do this kind of dancing, so I looked REALLY BAD at it, but I had to notice that everybody else in the room was kind of bad too, except the teacher (who was fantastic), so I felt okay about it. In fact, I was SO BAD, that I was laughing out loud at myself the entire class, which added to the cardio effect and left me feeling intensely happy the rest of the day. This class would be wonderful for someone who needs to perk up their mood.

Les Mills was more interesting than actual fun, but I'll definitely do it again. It's based on traditional weight training exercises with barbells and dumbbells (very light) and high repetitions of each exercise. To do that many reps, you do need someone pushing you through it. This is a great class if you have been lifting too heavy (like I was) and find yourself a little overtrained--since you're doing the same movements you normally do in the weight room, you'll keep your muscles stimulated, but with the lighter weights, you'll be hitting different muscle fibers and heal up faster. Also, if you're not familiar with weight training and would like to learn lots of good exercises, this class teaches you the basic moves. You probably won't put on any serious muscle doing this type of work (like a bodybuilder would want), but it's terrific for overall fitness and general strength (like most people would want!). Also, you're doing the movements to the beat of music and the pace is fast, so this gives a good cardio benefit and increases the fun factor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Agave Nectar = Not So Good, Maybe Very Bad

I just read this article by Dr. Joseph Mercola about agave nectar and felt that I MUST share it with all of you! I always felt that agave nectar seemed to be a little too good to be true and I've noticed that Dr. Andrew Weil (who's writings I always keep up-to-date on) has always had his reservations about it. Now I know why. It's just another super-refined, bad-for-you sweetener with fantastic marketing!

Dr. Mercola's article also includes a cool chart that tells you approximately how much fructose is in common fruits, etc. Keep in mind that the fructose in actual fruit is going to be made less harmful because of the fact that it's bound up with fiber and other nutrients. Just another bit of evidence that real food in its whole, natural, unrefined state is where it's at (as far as your body's health is concerned, at least).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Exercise Classes

I've decided to give a complete change-up to my usual workout approach. The gym I go to (Gold's) has a huge variety of classes and, in the past, I've had a attitude about a lot of these classes. It's hard to admit, but I trust you guys not to shame me for it. Well, even if you do, I'll have to get over it I guess. Previously, I was under the mistaken impression that most of these classes were Maybe not exactly wimps, but people who just didn't train as hard as I did. You know what I mean.

Well, as I said recently in answering a previous post's comments, if your body is talking to you and you don't listen, it will just talk louder, shout, then scream, and, finally, wipe the dirt with you. I'm glad to say that I didn't have to get to the dirt wiping point in the battle with my body, just maybe the shouting point. I've just been training a little too hard for the past few months and I need to balance it all out.

So I'll keep you posted about these new experiences!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Boris, Tony, Nonie, and me. Eggs make you crazy, but they won't kill you!

Forget about all that stuff you heard that eggs are bad for you and they'll kill you with cholesterol! Yay! The nutrition scientists have taken it back and now say that eggs are good for you. An egg a day is fine and gives you vitamins A, D, E, K, the highest quality protein, and that miraculous stuff we all keep hearing about, Omega 3. Especially eggs from organic free-range chickens. The fact that these chickens eat little bugs and things off the ground outside make their eggs a ton more nutritious as well as extra tasty.

So, a couple of days ago on Easter Sunday, Nonie (pictured above)--also known as the adorable Winona Nelson(the same Winona Nelson that does all those kick-butt character designs for video games)--came here with her really sweet boyfriend, our son, Tony Palumbo, to join us for dinner and she suggested we dye some eggs with food coloring. Actually, she and Tony did all the egg coloring, Boris and I just watched. But it was so fun and from now on, I'm going to color eggs every week. I'll just make a bunch of them and have instant high-quality, high-protein snack food waiting for me in the refrigerator. What a great plan!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I've been going crazy for avocados lately. I'm not sure exactly why, except for the fact that they taste fantastic and are extremely good for you. Yes, they're high in fat, (but it is very good fat that keeps your body sane and balanced), so you wouldn't want to overdo it and put on unwanted pounds. But, I find that if I keep my entire diet clean and consisting of whole foods, having fats that come from things like avocados and nuts don't cause a weight gain problem. I think one reason is that when you're not having lots of junky refined foods, your body is way better at communicating with itself and with you, so you end up eating only what and when you need to and not eating when you're not really hungry or in need of nutrients. Thinking about how smart my body actually is (as long as I'm willing to listen to it!) just makes me so happy. It's lots smarter than I am, for sure!

Anyway, back to avocados. They are anti-inflammatory to your system, contain lots of good vitamin E, B vitamins, and magnesium, and even help balance out your hormones. I like them a little on the firmer side of ripe, about like a perfect pear. You'll have to experiment and decide for yourself how ripe you like them.

When thinking of avocado recipes, most people think of guacamole first, so I'll tell you how I make it. I keep it VERY simple so that I can taste the rich avocado taste above anything else:

Place peeled avocado pieces from 2 avocados in a bowl. Sprinkle the juice of 1/2 a lemon or 1 whole lime over it, and give a few shakes of garlic powder or garlic salt. Chop it up a little with a pastry blender (or two knives). Don't attempt to blend it to a puree, just mash it up a little and leave lots of chunks of the avocado. It's ready!

Another way to enjoy avocados is to cut up 1/4 to 1/2 an avocado per person in a serving bowl and combine with chopped chunks of pink grapefruit. This is a bright and amazing flavor combination.

And, my favorite salad (which I have almost every day for lunch) is:
1/4 avocado, cut into chunks,
a handful of washed and chopped dandelion greens,
3 raw asparagus spears, chopped,
a medium-sized raw carrot, sliced
Combine all these in a bowl and give it a dash of apple cider vinegar. Mix it up and go for it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

(Almost) Barefoot

I'm one of those people who can't stand to wear shoes when I absolutely don't have to--they just make me claustrophobic. For instance, I feel really uncomfortable and uptight if I have to wear shoes while I paint. I don't know why, I've just always been this way. So when I heard about the "barefoot running movement", I was naturally intrigued. The word in running magazines, etc. is that barefoot running will help you avoid foot, knee, and back problems because your feet, sensing the ground, will send signals to your body to cushion the shock of running by working your joints in a more useful way to protect you. Apparently, wearing heavily padded running shoes causes us to slam into the ground with too much force and not the best form (often heel first, which is bad).

Boris made me promise that I wouldn't just go out and run barefoot in the street (might get some glass, etc.), so I've been investigating "barefoot" running shoes. I just bought a pair made by Terra Plana (called Evo) that I LOVE. They're not the five-finger ones that you may have seen that separate your toes (that really doesn't appeal to me at all), they're just like a combination ballet slipper and running sneaker. They have laces and are totally flexible, but the sole is just thick enough to protect your feet from getting cut by rocks, glass, etc. that might be on the street you're running on. The makers of the shoe tell you to start slowly and gradually work up to your normal running times. So the first day I just ran around the block and it felt great. Being who I am, I decided that now it was okay to just do what I normally do, so I did and I ran my usual 3.5 mile run. Well, it was fantastic. After the first couple of minutes, my feet actually just naturally took themselves into a whole different way of running and it was much more graceful and "floaty" than the usual. The muscles in my feet and lower legs are a little sore, but nothing outrageous. I'm guessing that I spend so much time barefoot that I didn't need as much of an adjustment period as most people might. So you can count me in as a new advocate for barefoot running!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winter Advice

Double dose of snowmageddon and snowpocalypse got you down? Or is it the snowacane? Or maybe it's just AccuWeather trying to scare the bejeebes out of us all! Whatever, I'm pretty sick of it. I'm not sick of winter or even snow, I'm sick of one doomsday snowstorm report after another. There's an old saying, "We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not."
I mean, yeah, there's snow and, yeah, it's deep, but compared to the REAL catastrophes that have taken place recently (like earthquakes, for instance), we're pretty fortunate.

Since it is winter here in the Northern Hemisphere (Pennsylvania) and every winter we people of the more northern latitudes do have things like cold, snow, ice, wind, etc., the best thing to do is accept that fact graciously and take responsibility for maintaining your own happiness.

There are several things that I know of that are very effective in dealing with cabin fever and the winter blues:

Get as much daylight as you can, especially in the morning. This is known to regulate your body's production of chemicals and hormones that contribute to a positive state of mind, as well as helping you sleep well at night. Even if it's overcast outside, the light is still going to help you. Also, I think that feeling trapped inside your house gives you a feeling of powerlessness, which is sucky. Take back the outdoors and tell the weather report to stick it where the sun don't shine (Ha ha! That was a good one).

Exercise. You've heard it a thousand times before, I'm sure, and it's still true! It really does work, even if it's just a little exercise.

Listen to music that grabs you by the butt and makes you move. You know best what music you like. I'd say that the middle of winter (as in NOW) is the perfect time to invest in a few new CD's or downloads. It's waaay cheaper than antidepressants and doesn't have the nasty side effects.

Eat clean. Too much sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup, also known as "evil itself"), refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients will make your body sad and confused. Come on, the holidays are over and it's time to clean up your system. Drink lots of clean water and green tea, and eat whole foods that nourish you.

Minimize your exposure to outrageous weather reports. It's good to know what's going on (if you're planning to drive somewhere and a snowstorm is on its way, for instance), but dwelling on doomsday scenarios and the kind of emotionally charged language that weather and news reporters are now using is just contributing to people's anxiety, sadness and a feeling of helplessness. Don't fall for it!

Don't forget that you really are the one who's in charge of how you feel and how you experience each day. Take good care of yourself!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ben Stiller

I was recently inspired by Ben Stiller's arms in the movie, "Tropic Thunder" to up my weights at the gym. If you haven't seen it, it's a really fun movie and Ben Stiller is in great shape. In fact, even if you have seen it, watch it again! It never hurts to see a terrific movie, right?
Anyway, I've been doing weight-training workouts in a more fitness-oriented way (rather than traditional bodybuilding) for a while now and it's time for a few changes. What I've been doing is based on Giant Sets of six or more exercises that work the whole body, using light weights and high reps (20). It went something like this:

Do 20 reps of each exercise with no more than 30 seconds rest in between. Then
repeat the entire sequence 2 or 3 times:

Lateral pulldowns (for upper back)
Squats (legs and core)
Dumbbell chest press (chest, shoulders)
Lunges (legs)
Dumbbell shoulder press (shoulders)
Crunches (abs)
Bicep curl (biceps)
Dips (triceps, chests)

This is great for general fitness and cardio work. It also gets you out of the gym faster than a more traditional bodybuilding workout because you're jumping from one exercise to another that uses entirely different muscle groups. Your heart and lungs are going like crazy the whole time, but your muscles still get a chance to recover.
Great for getting leaner, but if you want to increase your muscle size and look like Ben Stiller, you'll want to do less repetitions with heavier weights.
So I've decided that for a while, I'm going to go a little heavier, but still keep my reps no less than 8 (I am a 51 year old lady, after all, and the days of lifting super heavy are soooo over), which means that my poundage can't be super high, just higher than it was when I was doing 20 repetitions of each exercise. I'm also going to bring back the "pyramid system" that I used in my bodybuilding days. Here is an example of how it works. You can do this with most exercises:

Set 1, use a weight that you can comfortably do 15 reps with.
Set 2, increase the weight and do 12 reps.
Set 3, increase again and do 10 reps.
Set 4, increase again and do 8.
Set 5, decrease back to the weight you used in Set 2 and do 15 reps.

And, voila! Your lats are all pumped up!

For now, I'm sticking with the Giant Set arrangement that works the whole body because it's just such a great time-saver. But if I really wanted to grow new muscle, I'd arrange it like this:

Day 1, pushing exercises (those that work chest, shoulders, and triceps)
Day 2, pulling exercises (those that work back and biceps)
Day 3, legs
Each day would also have 3 sets of ab work at the end of the other training.
Day 4, rest

Poor old bodybuilders! It's a rough game and people can take it too far. But it's good to use some of their exercise philosophy where it's helpful. The best thing is to mix it all up and not do the same routine year after year.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Food For a Cold Night

It's freezing cold here tonight (around 14 degrees Farenheit) and we didn't feel like going out for new ingredients to make dinner, so I decided we should have an adventure with whatever I could find in the kitchen. It was SOOOOOO good that I had to tell you guys about it! Here it is:

End of January Dinner

Heat in a skillet:
1 Tablespoon of olive oil

Saute in the oil:
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium sized onion, chopped

When the garlic and onions are soft and lightly colored, add:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1 lb. bag of frozen chopped spinach (still frozen is fine)
1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup or so of water

Cover the skillet with a lid and cook about 10 minutes until the spinach is all thawed and the tomatoes have begun to cook down a little. If you need to add any water to keep it all moist, feel free to do so, but not so much that it turns to soup.

Add juice of 1 lemon, squeezed

In a small bowl, beat two eggs with a fork, then add slowly to the spinach/bean mixture, constantly stirring everything so that the eggs cook evenly into the mixture. It should only take a couple of minutes for the eggs to cook.

Serve over hot brown rice (preferably brown jasmine rice!) and top with
fresh avocado slices.

Friday, January 22, 2010

2010 Motivation

So here I am at that point in the middle of winter where my hibernation tendencies may have peaked and I'm realizing I need to freshen up my motivation engine. We always have a big crush of deadlines right at the end of the year, coinciding with the holidays, and it throws getting to the gym regularly a little out of whack.

Anyway, as I was ellipsing on the elliptical machine at the gym today, I was thinking about how the biggest hurdle to fitness is, in fact, motivation. Not just like a one time "shot-in-the-arm" motivation, but steady, consistent motivation. The truth is that ANY motivation will lose its effect after some time and needs to be recharged. I think the trick is to recognize that this WILL happen and plan for it.

Here are a few ideas that come to mind:
Subscribe to fitness magazines. My favorite is Men's Health, second favorite is Women's Health (both published by Rodale). The thing about subscribing rather than just picking the magazine up at the store is that it will appear in your mailbox at regular intervals. These two magazines always inspire me to try out a new workout routine or new exercise that I hadn't thought of before and I subscribe to both of them.

Join a gym where there are lots of people exercising. Or do your walking or jogging in a place where other people are doing the same. Being around people who are active always makes me want to get up and exercise. In fact, as I was ellipsing on the elliptical machine today, I purposely chose a machine that faced the people who were lifting weights so that I would be eager to attack the dumbbells once I'd finished.
Of course, it is possible to keep yourself motivated without an external push. When I first started lifting weights (1984), I trained at home by myself. In fact, I entered the first three bodybuilding contests I was in after only training at home. I won one of those contests (Cleveland Novice) and did pretty well in the other two, but once I joined a gym, I could see how much more I could put into my workouts. I learned so much from the other lifters and always felt happy to be there.

Join a gym that you pay for. Someone once told me that Sigmund Freud said that paying for psychotherapy was a vital element in the success of the treatment. I don't know if he really said that, but it does make sense. We tend to want to get our money's worth when we've actually paid for something, so we'll be more likely to use the gym we join (hopefully!). Along that same line of thinking would be:

Sign up for classes that you pay for. They're regularly scheduled, social, AND you've paid for them! Perfect!

More ideas later.