Monday, January 21, 2013

New Year's Resolutions: Part 2 (Thin Skin)

Our conversation continued with one of my friends/colleagues telling us one of her resolutions: to continue self-improvement by not shutting out critiques she receives from others.  Instead, she will listen with an open mind and heart.
"But shouldn't we build thick skins?" asked Ben.
"I think that's part of the problem," responded Lorre.  "We should thin our skins."
And so we arrived at a discussion of thick versus thin skins.  When we thicken our skins, we don't let things bother us; we build a barrier that repulses anything we do not want to hear.  We appear strong.  The problem with this technique, however, is that it limits our ability to self-improve.  Without at least considering what someone else says, we are dismissing potentially invaluable advice for personal growth.

On the contrary, when we thin our skins, we allow ourselves to embrace criticism.  Lorre advises that if we are bothered by what we hear, if it triggers an exaggerated reaction within us, we need to understand why; we need to delve into the reason behind these words and our reactions.  Thinning our skins is less about just hearing someone else's critique and more about introspection, consideration, and thoughtfulness.  We enhance our self-improvement when we take the time to listen, feel, and review with our open mind and heart.

So how do we incorporate a thin skin into our daily lives?

10 Steps to Thin Skin

     1.   Fully listen to the critique.
     2.   If you feel yourself get worked up over the words being said, note

             your emotions.  Are you feeling angry? Sad?  Misunderstood?
           Confused?  Shocked?  Give yourself the permission to feel any
           emotion that naturally occurs, but do not react using these emotions.
     3.   Thank the other person for sharing their thoughts.
     4.   Other than a polite thank you, do not feel the need to respond 
     5.   Write down the critique and let it go for the moment.
     6.   When you are in a calm state of mind, re-read the critique.  Note any
           new emotions that develop.
     7.   Spend several minutes of introspection outlining the following:
           -   The merit of what the other person said (be honest with yourself)
           -   What you feel
           -   What other scenarios trigger a similar response
           -   Any negative self-talk
           -   Why you feel this way
           -   The root of this critique
           -   How you can improve in this area
           -   How you will respond in the future
     8.   Create a SMART goal for self-improvement
     9.   If you feel the need, after a period of introspection, return to the
             other person and ask for clarification, their ideas on how you could
           improve, or finally provide your response.
     10. Rinse, wash, repeat.  The next time you receive a similar critique,
           go through the process again; it will probably feel a little different
           this time.  Incrementally, you will begin to note change.
           Immediately, you will sense yourself approaching others more openly
           as you begin to understand yourself better.  

Importantly, remember that this process is cyclical.  Do not get frustrated.  In the words of President Obama from his inaugural speech today:
"Our journey is not complete."  -President Barack Obama
What are your thoughts?  Do you strive for thick skin or thin?   

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New Year's Resolutions: Part 1

You may be wondering why I'm writing about New Year's resolutions on January 19, a couple weeks after the beginning of the new year.  

Normally, I put a lot of time into writing out my resolutions.  I write and re-write about 10 resolutions in hopes of succeeding in just one (I know, I know, this probably isn't the best way to do it).  Resolutions have worked for me in the past-- it's how I finally forced myself to stop being a chronic nail biter (only because I couldn't succeed in my other resolutions that year).  I get excited and feel renewed with the new year.  Something about a fresh beginning invigorates me.  This year, however, I never took the time to write out my 2013 New Year's resolutions and figured oh well, it's over.

The other day during a GABE (Graduate Association of Bioengineers) happy hour, I entered into a conversation with a few of my labmates/colleagues/friends, discussing good health habits. 
"That's what I should have done!  I should have made eating more protein and drinking more water my resolutions for this year," I said.
"You know, you can still make it a resolution.  You don't have to make resolutions only on New Year's," responded my friend/labmate.   
Huh, well who woulda thought?  Cori was right; I can and should make goals any time I want and need.

So now I sit here, a couple weeks after the beginning of the new year, brainstorming my non-New Year's resolutions.  

Here is the health category of my non-New Year's resolutions:

I formed these three resolutions trying to follow the "SMART Goals" principles:

Specific: Goals must be specific in their wording.  Wrong: "I will be healthier."  What does that even mean?  Vagueness is not allowed in SMART goals. 
Example: Instead of saying that I would eat "healthier," I specifically wrote that I would eat more protein, a nutrition category that I know I am lacking in.

Measurable: How can you tell if you succeeded in your goal?  A SMART goal has a measurable outcome.  Wrong: "I will watch less TV."  How much is less?  Put a number to it!
Example: Instead of saying I would drink "more," I wrote that I would drink 2 water bottles of water a day.  If I only drink 1, I know I didn't meet my goal for the day. 

Attainable: Telling yourself you are going to lose 50 pounds (naturally) in a month is not attainable.  Design a goal that can be accomplished.  Do not set yourself up for failure.
Example: Instead of saying I was going to go to the gym every single day (we know life sometimes gets in the way, and we cannot achieve that goal), I wrote that I would exercise 4 times a week, providing me flexibility in choosing the days.  Additionally, I am committing to at least 15 minutes of exercise.  Knowing myself, once I get going, I will go for much longer than 15 minutes; it's the "getting going" that is the tough part.  15 minutes is an attainable number that will not scare me off from working out at all that day if I don't feel like I can fit in 1 hour; anyone can fit in just 15 minutes.  

Realistic: The word "relevant" can be substituted here as well.  Sure, you could set a specific, measurable, attainable goal, but does it matter?  Will you realistically commit yourself to this goal?  Why are you creating this goal?
Example: Since you are viewing my health-related resolutions, the answer is self-evident.  I want to live a healthier lifestyle, and these are a few modifications I can make to build on that.

Timely: What is your target date to measure success?  How far should you have come 1 week from now, 1 month from now, 6 months from now, 1 year from now?  If you don't give yourself a time point, you'll keep pushing back your goal.  Set your mind to accomplish something now. 
Example: Alright, my goals are lacking on this one; however, I've written previous posts about ways to measure my success in the gym, with time points attached.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 of the conversation I had with my friends/colleagues!

What were your New Year's resolutions?  If you didn't make any, what are your non-New Year's resolutions?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Penn SHAPE Assessment + CrossFit WOD

Penn SHAPE Challenge Initial Assessment

Today I had my initial assessment for the Penn SHAPE Challenge.  I had my weight and body fat/BMI recorded, my grip strength measured for both my left and right hands, and my push-ups counted (we had to do them on our knees).  I applaud GAPSA (Graduate and Professional Student Assembly) for promoting this health initiative, and I thank my good friend/labmate for passing along the word to me!

In April, everyone who registered will undergo a post-test.  In the meantime, we all exercise and practice good health habits with the goal of improving our pre-test scores.  Penn SHAPE is even partnering with other programs to provide free or reduced cost workshops and fitness classes.  Prizes are given to the men and women with the top scores as calculated using their formula.  And everyone gets a free t-shirt and water bottle!  While I don't expect to win any prizes (the changes I expect to see will be minimal based on their grading scheme-- I don't want to lose weight or reduce my body fat), I will try to improve my strength.  

A couple interesting things from today's pre-test:
- My right hand grip strength was noticeably higher than my left.  (I'm a righty.)
- By the time I had my assessment, the men's push-up record was 53 (update: this record was set by Steve, my own labmate!  Here's to total lab dominance!), and I set the women's to 48.  While that may sound like a high number, it's not even half what I used to be able to do, and these were even on my knees, not full push-ups... slightly disappointing when you look at it that way.  
- After I got back, I looked up the body fat percentage chart from Wikipedia:

I want you to take away 2 things from this chart:
1) Men and women have different standards.  We have different body types for a reason.  Women, you should NOT be comparing your body fat percentage to that of a man's.  What is considered athletic for a man would be unhealthy for a woman (too little body fat).  
2) If you are trying to lose weight, you must create a reasonable goal, keeping in mind the minimal amount of body fat that you must have.

I'm looking forward to the next few months of workouts to see what I can do to improve my pre-test strength score.

CrossFit WOD

Inspired by my SHAPE pre-test (gotta work on my strength!), I decided I needed a workout with an impact today.  And so... I looked up today's CrossFit WOD (workout of the day).  For those of you who haven't heard of CrossFit before, I urge you to look it up, watch some videos, and get inspired.  I don't belong to a box (CrossFit gym), but I am mildly familiar with the basic CrossFit concepts, thanks to a good friend of mine who just so happens to be the 2012 CrossFit Games Runner Up, aka 2nd Fittest Woman on Earth.  

I was lucky that today's WOD was something I could do at our own apartment gym:

A quick search around the CrossFit website will tell you the specifics of each of these exercises and offer substitutions.  I ended up doing 10 handstand push-ups against a wall, but I could only go about halfway down, so I switched and did the remaining 20 with my legs up on the seat of a chair.  I used a 30 lb dumbbell for the kettlebell swings (no kettlebells in my gym, and 1.5 poods = 54 pounds, but I'm not to that level).  Pull-ups I did with a kip motion (which if my gymnastics coaches were watching, they'd be yelling at me like crazy for cheating and I would have to do extra rope climbs... eek!).  For sit-ups, I put a 15 lb dumbell on each foot to hold my feet down.  And burpees... oh, burpees.  I did full ones with a push-up and took breaks so often. If you look on the CrossFit website, one of the elite athletes did this whole workout in only 8 minutes 15 seconds.  Let's just say it took me more than 3 times that amount of time.  I'm not disappointed; instead, I'm proud of myself for getting my butt to the gym and working hard! 

Regardless of your fitness level, remember that there are modifications for everything.  Don't let a workout intimidate you because you can't do one of the exercises yet.  Work on it, do what you can do, improve, and believe in yourself that one day, if you work hard enough, you will be able to do it.      

What's your favorite CrossFit WOD?   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Agility and Speed Workout + Pork Chops with Cherry Sauce

Agility and Speed Workout

Today I decided to focus on speed and agility for my workout.  These are two of my 8 key aspects of training.  Today's nice weather (56F in January?!) was perfect for this workout.  

Agility is the ability to quickly change directions.  You could imagine a tennis player that must reverse directions to reach a ball, a basketball player doing a cut to maneuver around a defensive player, or a wrestling changing body positions to pin an opponent.  Agility requires a combination of balance, coordination, reflex, and quick acceleration.  There are a ton of agility and speed training exercises to choose from; often they involve cones as markers or a rope ladder on the ground.  For today's workout, I focused on different variations of the shuttle run.  

Fartlek means "speed play" in Swedish.  (I'm pretty sure I giggle inside every time I hear or say that word.)  Simply put, it's unstructured interval training.  All you do is go for a run, and keep changing your speed.  Run at a comfortable pace and pick out 2 landmarks ahead of you.  Once you reach the first landmark, start sprinting to the second landmark, then resume your comfortable pace.  It's a healthy heart activity because it trains your heart to adapt to varying levels of intensity.  It is a more efficient workout than running at a steady pace, and it makes your runs more interesting.  During today's runs, I used trees, posts, and planters as my landmarks.  

Shuttle run is an exercise that brings me back to my elementary/middle/high school days when we did the Presidential Fitness Test.  The shuttle run is described here.  I didn't use any blocks; I just touched the ground with my hands.  Also, I just used what was available.  I didn't bother measuring out exact distances; instead, I used the parking lot outside of my apartment and ran from one parking space line to another 3 parking spaces away.  It's not exact, but it's good enough.  No use stressing about exact distances here.  Remember, the goal is to get your body used to changing directions, so you don't need to be running a very far distance.  

For the backwards shuttle run, I ran forwards to my marked spot and then ran backwards for my return sprint. 

For the shuttle run shuffle, shuffle sideways, starting on your right.  For the return, shuffle on your left.  Stay low to the ground and focus on quick feet.

For the shuttle run high knees, do your normal shuttle run but with high knees.  Instead of focusing on completing the run as fast as possible, focus on quick short steps.

I didn't do my burpees with push-ups.

For dice hops, stand on one foot.  Imagine that on the ground you have the "5" of a die marked out; you are standing on the middle marker and you have a marker diagonally forwards to the right, backwards to the right, backwards to the left, and forwards to the left.  Hop out and back to each one of the markers on the "die" going in a clockwise direction; reverse and go counter clockwise.  Then, do your other foot.  This exercise is to improve your balance and coordination.  To make it easier, you can begin by jumping with both feet.     

Needless to say, my heart was pounding from this workout.  In total, it took about 35 minutes, but I'll admit, I took long breaks between each exercise to catch my breath.  This was certainly a workout that my body is not used to, but that's why I did it! 

Try it out and let me know how it goes!  What speed and agility exercises do you do?

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Cherry Sauce

Today's dinner was "picture-worthy" according to Nick.  We made pan-seared pork chops with cherry sauce using this Cooking Light recipe.  We couldn't find red currant jelly in the store, so we substituted cherry-- delicious!  I recommend this recipe.  We served it with Cooking Light's mushroom barley pilaf; a baby romaine salad with walnuts, feta, and dried cranberries, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; and washed down with a glass of milk.  I've never cooked barley as a side dish before, so this was a first for me.  The overall flavor of the barley pilaf was so-so, but I don't think that's the barley's fault.  I'll try barley again in the future (with different mix-ins).


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rowing Total Body Strength Workout

Today's workout was a combination of power, strength, and endurance using the rowing machine.  

I'll admit, until about a year and a half ago, I was intimidated by the rowing machine.  I remember seeing guys on the rowing machines in the CCRB (the filthy gym at Michigan) during my undergrad days and thinking to myself, "That must be a machine that only tough people can work out on."  I didn't know how to use it.  I didn't know what an appropriate workout would be on it.  I didn't even really know what muscles it would exercise.

All that changed when I bought a deal for RowZone, a local indoor rowing studio in Philadelphia.  I was so nervous for my first class.  The instructor taught me how to strap my feet in, how to adjust the machine resistance and program, and most important the proper body form.  

Good technique is critical to ensuring that you are getting the most out of the exercise (reaching your full range of motion, being efficient in your energy expenditure) and that you don't get injured.

Rowing is like the domino effect.  You can't move onto the next step until the one preceding it has been set in motion.  Proper form means that you don't pull with your arms before you push with your legs.  You don't reverse the motion by leaning forward first, you release your arms first.  There is a rhythmic order to follow.  Once you get the hang of it, it feels natural.  It's like the rolling waves in an ocean.  

Rowing is a great total body exercise that combines power, strength, and endurance.  In particular, rowing is excellent for your back muscles to help you build good posture, and your glutes, hamstrings, and quads (hello tight tushy).  Not to mention your abs have to stay engaged and your arms have to pull... all while you're getting your cardio kick.  Yeah, it's a pretty good workout.

By the end of my first RowZone class, I was thrilled that I had found a great new workout.  It's been over a year since I've been back to RowZone (I used up my deal, moved apartments, and have a gym in my apartment complex that I use instead), but I've taken the skills with me.  I'm fortunate that the gym in our apartment complex has a rowing machine, so I'm putting it to good use!  Today, I chose to do a combination of rowing inter-mixed with strength exercises.  You can think of the bursts of rowing as intervals.  The power strokes will build your explosiveness.  The 1000 m for time will build your endurance.  I'm still sore from a chest/tricep workout I did with Nick a few days ago, so I avoided my normal push-ups and such.  This was today's workout:

Further explanation of a few of the exercises:

Power Stroke: 1 rowing stroke as powerful as possible.  Explode through your legs and rip that cord.
Recovery Stroke: Take a break.  Go slow and breathe.
Fire Hydrants: These are a goodie from back in my gymnastics days.  Rest on your hands and knees.  Left your left leg directly out to the side, keeping your knee bent to 90 degrees (count 2 seconds).  Extend your left leg straight, keeping it directly to your side as parallel to the ground as you can get it (count 2 seconds).  Rotate your hip as you bring your straight extended leg directly behind you (count 2 seconds).  Bend your knee and bring it back to the starting position.  Repeat this 10 times and then do your other leg.  This is a glute killer!
     Make it easier: Repeat the first step without moving on to extending your leg or rotating it behind you.
     Make it harder: More reps.  No pauses between reps.  Keep your leg straight from the beginning.
Leg Curls with Stability Ball: I've written about this exercise before.  See the explanation here.
     Make it easier: Balance in a bridge position with both heels resting on the ball, raising your hips high.
     Make it harder: One leg?  
Plank Hip Taps: Assume a plank position on your elbows.  Keeping your core engaged, tap your right hip to the ground and then your left hip.  Keep repeating.
     Make it easier: Hold a plank position, no taps.
     Make it harder: Simultaneously lift a leg.
Toe Touches: Lie on your back with your legs extended straight up into the air.  Crunch up and touch your toes.  
     Make it easier: Bend your legs.
     Make it harder: Simultaneously lift your hips to engage more of your lower abs.

You know it's a good workout when as you're walking toward the rowing machine to wipe it down when you've finished some guy says, "You are sure looking at that machine with a lot of disdain" and someone else comments, "You're hurting me, stop it."  

Turns out, I was right.  The rowing machine is a machine that only tough people can work out on.  

But you know what?

You are tough.  

Get off your butt and get moving!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Slow Down Because Life Won't

Here is a passage that stood out to me from Daily Readings from Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, a book I've talked about in a previous post as well:
"That's true, but when you come to the end of your life, if you're like most people, you're still going to have things to do.  You're still going to have phone calls to return.  You're still going to have appointments to make.  Your schedule will never slow down on its own.  You must make time for what matters most; make it a priority.  If you don't schedule time for the people you love, nobody will do it for you."  (p. 233)
I'd like to reiterate a key sentence in this passage:
Your schedule will never slow down on its own.

It's so easy to go through life waiting... and waiting... and waiting for life to calm down, slow down, take a break so you can call your friend, take a vacation, try a new hobby.  As I've said before, you can't afford to wait.  This passage reminds us that life doesn't slow down.  Now is all you have.  Say I love you, take a walk, breathe the air, smell the flowers, make a new friend, try a new food, travel, explore, experience.  Live.  Live.  Live.

Recently, the mother of a previous teammate of mine passed away due to breast cancer.  My thoughts are with my teammate and her family, and I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge them.

Despite the challenge that life has put in their path, my teammate and her family have stood strong.  My teammate's optimism shines through her Facebook posts.  She has such a positive outlook on life and is an inspiration.  She and her family are an example of being present in the moment and not waiting until it is too late to express their love and live their life.    

How will you slow down today?