Saturday, December 29, 2012

Planet Fitness Guest Pass Trick and Review

Nick and I spent Christmas at my family's home in Michigan.  While we were there, my dad invited us to go to the gym with him.  He is a member of Planet Fitness in Northville.  Planet Fitness charges only $10/month with no commitment requirement-- not a bad deal, especially compared to some of the gyms we considered joining in Philly that cost $50/month and were smaller.  

We were hoping to get a guest day pass for $5/day... apparently they don't do that any more.  Instead, they wanted to charge $20/day for each guest.  What?!  That seems pretty absurd, given that their monthly membership fee is only $10/month.  Well, Nick and I worked around that...

We asked to join as members.  The initiation cost was only $5, and billing is on the 17th of the month.  We joined on December 22.  For $5 each, we got a free t-shirt (and we even got a special black t-shirt instead of white because we were so patient while waiting!) and a full gym membership for the duration of our stay in Michigan.  We canceled our membership on December 28, meaning we missed the billing cycle and didn't even have to pay our $10/month dues.  Now that's how you work the system!

I'm sure Planet Fitness is not too thrilled with us, but hey, if they had a 7 day trial membership, none of this would have happened... or if they charged $5/day instead of $20.

For a review of this particular franchise (Planet Fitness in Northville, MI):
Overall, for $10/month it's a good deal, and I would recommend it!  
(+) The gym has all of the standard strength training machines, free weights, and cardio apparatuses.  
(+) They have a rowing machine.
(-) This particular franchise did not have any medicine balls or kettlebells.  They also did not have any standard barbells.  
(-) They could use a much larger area for mat work/stretching.  
(+) They have a unique "30 minute circuit" set-up: a group of weight machines in a designated area with a timed light on the wall so you know when to rotate to the next exercise.  
(-) The free weight area sometimes felt a bit cramped.
(+) I was amused by their "judgement free zone" and the "lunk alarm."  Basically, whenever someone is dropping their weights or doing a ridiculous amount of grunting (a "lunk"), an alarm goes off in the gym.  The purpose of this is to reduce the intimidation factor and create a space where all people (regardless of current physical fitness level) are welcome.
(+/-) They have TV's on the wall in their cardio room, but each machine does not have its own personal TV.
(+) The clientele seemed to be a range of ages and fitness levels.  People worked hard but did not seem pretentious about their fitness routines.
(+) They offer (included in the monthly membership) unlimited fitness training.  Each class is limited to 5 people and lasts 30 minutes.  They do not offer classes like kickboxing, yoga, etc.  Instead, their classes focus on a muscle group (e.g., arms, legs, abs) and the instructor (from my understanding) teaches different exercises to work these muscles.  I did not take advantage of these classes during my (short) time as a member, so I can't speak to them.
(+/-) I am against tanning beds, but for those who enjoy these cancer boxes, this gym has tanning rooms.  They also have a massage chair room.  
(+) They have a locker room (bring your own lock) to store your items.  In addition, they also have an open place to hang your keys and another to hang your coat.  While this works in Northville, I don't think I would trust hanging my coat in the open in Philly.  
(+) They have great hours.  They are open from 5am on Monday through 10pm on Friday (24 hours on these days).  On the weekends, they are open 7am-7pm.
(+) The staff members were friendly.
(+) I like their purple pens.

If we didn't have a gym in our apartment complex and the Planet Fitness in Philly were a bit closer, I would consider joining.  It's important to remember, though, that each gym is individually owned (franchise), so they may vary between locations.

Has anyone else experienced Planet Fitness?  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Power Circuit

Since Monday's workout focused on endurance and strength (20 minutes hill profile on the treadmill, followed by my Total Body Strength Training Mini-Workouts), I decided I needed to choose another one of my 8 Key Aspects of Training for Tuesday's workout.

I chose power.

In athletics, "power" is often referred to as "explosiveness."  You can imagine a powerful basketball player launching a chest pass to a teammate before being blocked by the other team, a defensive lineman exploding off the line of scrimmage to immediately tackle an opponent, or a gymnast like McKayla Maroney springing off the vault to reach an incredible height.  What do these examples have in common?  Each athlete must produce a lot of force very quickly.  

We can break down what "power" means by using engineering/physics.

Power is the rate of energy production.  Work is another term for energy.

P = dW/dt   

In the above equation, P is power, W is work, and t is time.  The d represents the derivative, or the change in work divided by the change in time, to represent the instantaneous power.  Power is given in the SI-unit "watts" (like a light bulb).  Watts is the unit for joules per second.

Work is force times distance.  Work is given in the SI-unit "joules" (Newtons * meters).

W = F*D  

In the above equation, W is work, F is force, and D is distance.  We can re-write our power equation as follows:

P = d(F*D)/dt   

Looking at this equation, what does this tell us about how we can increase our power?
  • Increase force
  • Increase distance
  • Decrease time (be quicker)
When we train to become more physically powerful, we must keep these three points in mind: force, distance, and time.  The more weight we can lift/throw/spring, the further we can lift/throw/spring this weight, and the faster we can do it all equates to increased power.  We need to train our muscles (more specifically, our motor units) to respond quickly and generate a large amount of force.  To do this, our training must focus on explosive movements, exercises that force us to generate a lot of power... this usually comes in the form of plyometrics.

Plyometrics are exercises built to improve power.  They test a person's ability to generate high force in a short period of time.  Such exercises often including jumping and hopping.  With this in mind, I designed the following circuit to train my (super)power.  Perform each exercise for 1 minute and repeat the circuit 3-4 times total, resting between sets.    

Warning: Plyometrics are intense by nature and are not appropriate for people with joint problems, especially those with bad knees.  Additionally, beginners should gradually build up to such a circuit by slowly incorporating one or two exercises into your normal routine.  Form is especially important in these exercises because the quick actions increase injury risk.    

Tuck jumps: Just as it sounds, jump and tuck you knees to your chest.  As soon as you land, immediately spring into another tuck jumps. 
Make it easier: Straight jumps, alternate tuck jump-straight jump
Make it harder: Tuck jump on a soft surface that absorbs your energy.  In gymnastics, we used the pit mat, and it was killer on your legs (and lungs and heart)!

Plyo push-ups on medicine ball: Assume a push-up position, with a medicine ball (of any weight) in between your hands right below your chest.  Bend your arms to do a partial push-up and touch your chest to the ball.  Immediately spring off your hands and land them on the medicine ball, balancing for a couple seconds.  Spring off the medicine ball and land in a push-up position on the floor.  
Make it easier: Plyo knee push-ups, push-ups and tap the ball with each hand (one at a time), plyo push-ups to tap the ball with both hands simultaneously (without balancing)
Make it harder: Plyo push-ups extending your arms up by your ears as you spring up (no medicine ball), handstand push-ups

Sit-ups with medicine ball chest pass: Grab a partner for this one (thanks, Nick, for being my partner).  Have your partner stand on your feet as you assume a sit-up position.  Sit-up and chest pass the medicine ball (I used 10 lbs) to your partner.  Perform a regular sit-up and grab the ball back at the top of your sit-up.  Repeat, alternating between chest-pass and non-chest-pass sit-ups.  Be careful with this one!  I hit Nick in the lip the first time around (oops, sorry, honey!).  I recommend either having your partner put his/her hands low and you chest pass it directly to his/her hands (so while you toss the ball with plenty of force, it barely travels) -or- have your partner stand further away to catch the ball (use another heavy medicine ball to hold your feet down).  

Squat jumps: Just your basic squat jump.  Concentrate on proper form- knees behind your toes, soft landing, land and immediately prepare for another jump, push through your entire leg (including your toes!) to jump as high as you can (you should have pretty pointy toes in the air if you're doing it right).  Feel free to swing your arms with your body motion to help you get higher.

As I said before, this is a very intense, high impact workout.  Please be careful!  I even had to ice my knee afterwards because (while I wasn't in pain) it swelled up and felt stuffy.  I probably had a slightly off landing but didn't notice until afterwards.  Make sure you are listening to your body!

Let me know what you think of this circuit.  Do you have any other favorite power/plyometrics exercises?  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chia Fresca: Iskiate

I finally purchased some chia seeds from Whole Foods a couple weeks ago.  I've found a few articles describing how nutritious they are, and ever since reading Born to Run, I've been dying to try "iskiate," a chia fresca. 

Let's review how nutritious these little seeds are.

1 tablespoon of chia seeds (1 serving size, the amount I used to make my drink) has 

  • 3 g protein
  • 5 g fiber
  • 0 mg sodium
  • 0 mg cholesterol 
  • 2282 mg omega-3 fatty acids
  • 752 mg omega-6 fatty acids
  • Only 60 calories
The benefits of high fiber and protein and low sodium and cholesterol are well-documented.  What about the omega-3 and -6 fatty acids?

In 2004, the FDA announced qualified health claims for omega-3 fatty acids.  This means that companies can write the following statement on their packaging:
"Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [Name of the food] provides [ ] gram of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. [See nutrition information for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content.]"
In addition, the FDA recommends that consumers not exceed more than a total of 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, with no more than 2 grams per day from a dietary supplement.  A serving of approximately 1 g per day of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids is recommended to protect the heart, and higher doses may reduce elevated triglyceride levels, morning stiffness, and blood pressure.  

Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are more controversial.  Some studies suggest that high intake of omega-6 fatty acids may increase risk of certain diseases, while other studies show a protective effect on the heart (reduced risk of coronary heart disease).  Perhaps more important is the ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.  The typical Western diet has a ratio of 15:1, whereas a ratio of 4:1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality, and the optimal ratio may vary with the disease under consideration.   

If we review our nutrition facts, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds has approximately 2.3 g of omega-3 fatty acids, which is in the range of (potentially) providing beneficial health effects (awesome!).  Our ratio of omega-6-to-3 fatty acids is less than 1 (~0.3).  Combined with the high fiber, no sodium or cholesterol, and some protein, these little seeds are quite a superfood.  

As described in Born to Run (p. 44), to make iskiate all you do is dissolve the chia seeds in water with a squirt of lime juice and sugar to taste.  The longer you let the little seeds set, the more gel-like they become, similar to tapioca.  The seeds really don't have any taste.  I thought the iskiate tasted great.  The texture reminded me of drinking Bubble Tea (oh Bubble Island in Ann Arbor, I miss you!) with really tiny bubbles.  

Today in the grocery store, we saw a bottled version of a chia drink using coconut milk and fruit juices selling for $4 for a single serving.  Woo, pricey.  Now, I can make my own for less than I could buy in the store!  While I will admit that the seeds themselves are pretty pricey, one bag has 34 servings, so it'll last a while.  I'm excited to explore other ways to use these seeds, like baking.  I've already used them once to make a cocoa-almond quinoa breakfast bake bar, and it turned out alright.  

Has anyone else tried chia seeds or heard of other healthy, satisfying recipes using them?            

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Total Body Circuit Training

I'm sharing the total body circuit that I did on Saturday and am still feeling today... sore butt, hamstrings, quads, back, abs, and chest.  I'd say that's a pretty complete workout.  Each mini circuit provides a combination of upper body, lower body, and core exercises.

Let me clarify a few of the exercises.

Gymnastics "mountain climbers": In gymnastics, we always used to call jump switch lunges "mountain climbers."  It wasn't until after I explored many workout classes upon finishing my gymnastics career that I learned that "mountain climbers" can also refer to an exercise similar to high knee running while in a plank position.  For the mountain climbers in this circuit, you start in a lunge position, spring into the air while switching legs, and land back in a lunge position with your other leg in front.  It's a great way to pack in a little cardio while shaping a hot tush and legs.  Just make sure to control you landings (no knee busting on the ground) and keep your front knee behind your toes to reduce risk of knee injury.

Tuck-opens: These are another exercise borrowed from gymnastics that translates in the non-gymnastics world as well.  This is an ab exercise.  You begin on your back with your upper and lower body off the floor (balancing on the small of your back, abs engaged).  Your tuck your knees in, and then extend back out to an open position, as the name implies.

Stability ball pike-ups: (aka "pooch-be-gone")  I've talked about these before in a previous post.  Awesome lower ab exercise that targets the famous belly "pooch."   

Let me know what you think!   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Presidential Fitness Test

Yesterday, I spent some time venting about how I want to be fit, not skinny, and how this places me in an awkward fitness category.  I'm not trying to lose weight, I don't want to become a professional bodybuilder, I'm not an exercise beginner, and I don't have "trouble spots" that I solely want to focus on.  I want a well-rounded total body fitness routine that incorporates my 8 key aspects of training and is an appropriate challenge for my fitness level.

But how can you judge your success if your goals are so ill-defined?  I can't measure my progress on the scale or even by just the weight I'm able to lift.  Where can I find a measurement of my well-rounded fitness level?  This got me thinking...

Who remembers the Presidential Fitness Test from good ol' elementary/middle/high school?  Everyone's favorite test of the year... not.  Even as a competitive athlete, I used to dread these pre- and post-tests.  I would get really nervous leading up, particularly on the day we had to do the 1 mile run.  Every year I was afraid I wouldn't make the cut.  Endurance was not (and is still not) my thing.

And then there was the time that I fell down in front of everyone during the shuttle run and had to repeat it not twice, but three times in order to get a measurement recorded.  The first time, I dropped the eraser.  The second time, I slipped and fell right on my butt, of course landing in a pose with my arm up in the air and gymnastics hands (thank you, Coach Jen, for always making us look pretty when we fall).  Mortifying.  At least I was able to get it right the third time (and surpass the Presidential level).

Or the time I decided to show off (hey, I wanted to break our school record) and did over 100 push-ups in 8th grade.  Those poor classmates of mine who had to just sit there and watch.  To the students in my gym class, I'm so sorry.  And holy cow, I have no idea how I did that many push-ups (today I could only do 20!).

Let's chat about this Presidential Fitness Test that we remember from grade school.  It's not perfect, but it's something.  It covers endurance (1 mile run), agility and speed (shuttle run), strength (push-ups, pull-ups, and curl-ups), and flexibility (sit-and-reach).  Alright, so it's lacking in balance, grace, and power from my top 8 list, but hey, 5/8 isn't too bad.  I began to wonder whether there was an adult version...

And lo and behold... there is!  Check out this adult fitness test.  It has a 1.5 mile run (or 1 mile walk if you aren't fit enough to run), half sit-up test, push-ups, sit-and-reach, BMI, and waist circumference.  I wanted a standard way to test my fitness level, see improvements over time, and learn where I need to modify my workouts to improve more significantly... and it looks like I found it.

Today, I decided to do this President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test.  Nick was my partner (counting my curl-up and push-up reps, measuring my waist and sit-and-reach).  Hello grade school all over again.  Consider this my pre-test.  I plugged in my measurements online and found out where I stand compared to the "rest" of the nation.  More importantly, I recorded all the information in a document so I can keep track of my improvements.  I hope to repeat this test once a month and evaluate where I need to improve and change my workouts.  I'm disappointed that the pull-ups and shuttle run have been removed in the adult version; tomorrow I plan to test myself in those as well because I think they are valuable fitness measures.

I still don't have a measure for all 8 key aspects of training, but at least I've found a standard measurement for some of them.  And like I said before, I know this is not a perfect test, but it does provide some baseline that I can use to my benefit.  Has anyone else attempted the President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test?

I sometimes contemplate whether it would be valuable to incorporate such a test in the workplace.  I mean, we used to get graded in school based on how well we did on this test; why can't we do something similar in the office?  Obviously, there aren't grades involved... but there is money and health care coverage.  I know some companies (Boeing and Ethicon Endo-Surgery, for example) offer incentives to those who exercise (at Boeing, Nick received a gift card for using a pedometer and going a certain number of steps a day; at EES, I received a t-shirt for exercising a certain number of times a week).  These measurements are subjective, however, and say little about the current fitness level of the person.  Is there a way we could standardize this?  I know employers may be reluctant to such a thing, particularly when this is not the focus of their company (they are there to make profits and meet the demands of their customers); however, a company benefits (in terms of reduced cost and improved efficiency) by having healthy employees.  Do you think employers should consider incorporating fitness incentives or taking on a standard fitness test for all employees?  Do companies have a responsibility of encouraging their employees to take care of their health?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rant On Being Fit (Not Skinny) and 8 Aspects of Training

I need to go on a little rant.

Today is the official start of my wedding workout plan.  That's right, exactly 6 months from today, I will be walking down the (very, very, very long) aisle with 200+ people (that's 400+ eyes in addition to two photographers and one videographer) all watching me.  Naturally, I want to look and feel my best in that moment.

Ok, stop.  Before you even say anything...


I swear, the next person who says I don't need to lose any weight after I tell them I'm creating a 6 month wedding workout plan...

I just want to be healthy and toned.  I strive to be fit, not skinny.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest challenges of the exercise industry.  Since more than one-third of American adults are obese, there is a significant market for weight loss products and services.  Even my most recent Women's Health and Fitness Magazines (my two favorites) litter their covers with highlights like "Blast Fat Fast," "Superfoods That Speed Up Your Slim-Down," and "Turn On Your Lean Gene."  But what about the other 60% of adult Americans who aren't obese?  And the percentage of that 60% who do not want to lose any weight?

I am looking for a well-rounded workout and lifestyle.  I want to get stronger and lift some weights.  Ok, stop.  Before you even say anything...


Honestly, let's just bust the myth here.  If you are a woman lifting weights (and we're not even talking about dinky 2 pounders) a few days a week while maintaining a normal diet, you will NOT turn into a bodybuilder.  Sorry, ladies, but we lack the testosterone to build huge muscles the same way that guys quickly can.  To look like one of those bodybuilders, you would need to significantly alter your diet to include vast amounts of protein in addition to heavy lifting most days of the week.  So embrace the free weights; they're good for you!  

So where does everyone else end up-- those who don't want to lose weight or bulk up?  Those who want a well-rounded fitness routine?

No man's land.

I personally have found it difficult to find an exercise program (without paying for a personal trainer) that is well-rounded.  I'm talking about a program that incorporates what I believe are the 8 key aspects of training (in no particular order):
Are you surprised by this list?  Have I left anything off?  I think most people would first think of strength and endurance, maybe also flexibility and speed.  Lumped in with grace, I include a sub-category of coordination (you could be coordinated and not graceful, but you can't be graceful without being coordinated).  Few sports even attempt to train all of these aspects.  Gymnastics (of course, I am biased) comes close.  But even so, endurance in gymnastics (in terms of cardiac/respiratory endurance, not mental endurance) is much different from that of a runner or dancer.  Gymnastics routines last 1.5 minutes, not tens of minutes.  I applaud fitness regimes like CrossFit, which aims "to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness."  In other words, specialize in not specializing; however, even CrossFit falls a little short on my list above (where is the inclusion of flexibility and more focus on grace?).

In addition to hitting all of my 8 key aspects, I need a fitness program that keeps me entertained and challenged.  And, being a (poor) graduate student, I don't have the means to pay for a personal trainer.  So... I will make my own plan.  And it begins today.  Stay tuned as I keep you updated on my exercise routines!

Does anyone else feel like they fall into the no man's land fitness category with me?