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Posts Tagged ‘project mighty me’

Unfamiliar kinds of physicality

For the last couple of months I’ve been having sessions with a guy who’s sort of part physical trainer of the type you would find at a gym, part physical therapist. My sister’s been working with him for ages; I decided to hop onto the bandwagon because (as some of you know) my ankles have been absolute crap for most of my life, but what I’d seen of how C goes about things made me believe he might be able to do something to improve that.

Which he has in fact done. The process isn’t complete, of course — in some ways it will probably never be complete — but for the first time in years, I’ve started to feel like I can maybe trust my ankles. Getting to that point has involved not the familiar routines I’ve been given by every physical therapist I’ve ever seen, but stuff ranging from getting my arches to move again (which they had more or less stopped doing) to balance exercises aimed at reprogramming the way my eyes and my brain interact.

And also weight training. Which is where things get weird for me.

I’ve done very little of this kind of thing in my life. For a brief time I saw a regular trainer at a gym, and she gave me some upper-body stuff to do, but C’s got me doing deadlifts and bizarre variations on back lunges where I do a one-handed shoulder press with a kettlebell before lunging and then lean over to put the palm of my other hand on the floor and so forth. And what I’ve discovered as I do this is . . . my brain just does not have any baseline for processing what the hell is going on.

Sometimes C will tell me to do something and I am absolute crap at it — until suddenly I’m not. This happened with a small exercise where I was balancing a kettlebell upright in one hand: the first day I tried, I couldn’t keep it in position for even five seconds, and then the next day I was doing fifteen, twenty, twenty-five seconds, no problem. It wasn’t that I’d gotten stronger literally overnight; I think that somewhere between Day One and Day Two, my brain went ohhhh, I see what you’re getting at. But what really gets me is that when I’m doing the strength exercises and my heart rate and breathing go up — y’all, it turns out I have no sense of scale there. Not in the context of that kind of work. Ask me to do karate kata or swim 500 meters and sure, I know how to pace myself. I know how hard I’m working and whether I can maintain that for an extended period of time or not. But put a kettlebell in my hands and suddenly I have no freaking clue whether I need to slow down, whether my heart rate and breathing will continue to spike or whether they’ll stay where they are, how many more reps I’ll be able to do before my muscles give out. I’m probably working slower/easier than I’m actually capable of, because something in my hindbrain is freaking out over these unfamiliar sensations and telling me I need to back off before I ‘splode.

I’ll be interested to see how this changes over time. Presumably, as I get more familiar with the physicality of strength training, I’ll get better at judging where I actually am on the effort scale. I’ll also get stronger — but I think that’s a separate thing. At one point C asked me how hard a particular movement was on a scale of 1 to 10 and I didn’t even know what to tell him. Another time he asked me that question, and I realized that while I didn’t feel like I was exerting myself super hard, I also had this feeling like I was about two reps away from Nope Not Happening Anymore. A weird split between my strength, and the endurance that particular strength had.

It’s a brave new world, yo. One in which I am closer to being able to do a squat than I’ve been in my entire life — so that’s something!

slow and steady wins the race

(If you prefer to avoid discussions of weight and fitness, skip this post.)

According to the scale at my gym, I’ve lost 21 lbs since I decided that the slow, decade-long upward creep of my weight was not a good thing, and probably shouldn’t continue unchecked.

It’s taken me twenty-one months to achieve that result — nearly two years. This is not the kind of progress that will get anybody’s attention if you advertise it on TV. On the other hand, it’s sustainable. Not constant; Christmas always reverses the trend a bit, and so does Girl Scout cookie season. But my goal here was to change my life in ways that would allow me to still enjoy the things I like, instead of having to cut them out entirely. Because you know what? Short of me developing a sudden and deathly allergy to chocolate, there is no world in which I’m swearing off Thin Mints for life. Any plan for my body predicated on such a ban is doomed to fail.

Which is why nothing I’ve done in the last two years could be called a “diet.” We’ve got growing mountains of evidence that such an approach is often unsuccessful, or even counter-productive, and I know I couldn’t make it stick even if I wanted to. The closest I come is telling myself that I only get to eat two Tagalongs a day, not half a box in a sitting. (I still eat the whole box. I just take my time.) And as I’ve gotten more willing to cook, I’m finding tasty recipes that are also healthier — but when asked what comfort food I wanted after my wrist surgery, it was grilled cheese sandwiches, yo. I’m not completely denying myself the things I like.

What I have done is walk.

Lots and lots of walking. “Buy a Fitbit and make a daily goal on Habitica for ten thousand steps a day” walking. “Hmmm, it’s 11:30 and five more minutes will get me to fourteen thousand for today” walking. “Run those errands on foot if it isn’t raining” walking. “Put a treadmill under my desk and walk on it while I’m dealing with email and reading random things online” walking. There are some pretty unfortunate correlations between sitting on your butt all day and decreased life expectancy; spending more of my time in motion is a goal in its own right, quite apart from the effect it’s had on my weight. I also do karate, and I was doing some weight-lifting before the wrist problems made me swear off that for a bit, but mostly? I walk. Miles every day, but it doesn’t have to be all at once to have an effect. And while walking/running as a dedicated activity works for some people, I’m more likely to get it done if it’s integrated with other things I’m doing — hence the errands and the email and all the rest.

Like I said. Sustainable. It means my results are slower, but nearly two years on, they’re still going. And that makes me quite happy.

Walking my butt off

[This post will include discussion of exercise and weight loss, as an advisory for those who prefer to skip such things.]

Apparently moving house is a great way to lose weight.

I’m not entirely surprised by this. If there’s one thing I believe is true about body weight — well, if there’s one thing I believe is true, it’s that we barely understand the first bloody thing about how it works, and later generations will look back at us with the same kind of horrified disbelief we currently direct at Victorian icepick lobotomies. But if there are two things I believe, the second one is that there’s at least some truth to the idea that you can sometimes make a real change just by moving more.

I don’t mean formalized, focused exercise — though that’s good, too, for a whole bunch of health reasons. I mean being less sedentary: spending more time on your feet, more time walking, more time fidgeting. Because I haven’t been going to the gym lately, or even to the dojo . . . but I’ve been packing and unpacking boxes, shelving books, spending a much higher percentage of my day up and about instead of in a chair or on the couch. My weight’s been dropping slowly and mostly steadily for the last year, since I started trying to do that “ten thousand steps a day” thing, but the only time it went this fast was when I got stomach flu last fall. (And I don’t recommend that method to anybody.)

It still isn’t that dramatic: nobody’s going to look at me and say “wow, you’ve lost weight!” In a year I’ve dropped a little over fifteen pounds, which is a pretty slow rate. On the other hand, it’s sustainable. This isn’t a thing I do for a little while and then stop once I reach my target number; it’s a change to my lifestyle — a permanent one, at least until such time as injury or infirmity puts an end to it. I’ve gone from being the sort of person who defaults to getting into the car to the sort of person who actively wants to walk to the grocery store. I’m standing instead of sitting at my desk as I type this, swaying faintly to the music coming from my speakers; once I move the wall clock that is presently sitting on the other end of my treadmill, I’ll be able to start using that again while I’m at the computer. I’m not running three miles every morning, so my aerobic endurance is still the same crap it’s been for most of my life, but “activity” has become a thing I do all the time, in small, low-level doses, rather than a thing that gets fenced off in regulated blocks that are easy to fail at.

This isn’t the sort of post where I say “and this will work for you, too!” See above re: the one thing I believe; we have no real idea why some approaches work for some people and don’t for others, and there’s a lot of stupidity out there on the topic. But I know that shifting my thinking and my behavior to this mode has been good for me, and not only because it has resulted in weight loss. It’s good for my brain, good for my mood, good for my longevity prospects.

For people like me, whose job is inherently sedentary, that’s pretty damn important.

. . . but I don’t care how good moving house is for weight loss, I ain’t doing it again any time soon. I’ll just have to get my exercise by other means.

Stats for the stat god

Neither Shihan nor his wife were at the dojo tonight, which meant I felt comfortable asking the sensei who teaches on Wednesdays whether he was okay with me keeping my Fitbit on during class. He said that was fine, so for the first time, I have stats for what goes on with my body during practice.

I was surprised at how few “steps” it recorded, to be honest. Sure, we spend the first twenty minutes or so on various warmups and stretches, most of which won’t register on the Fitbit. But it only recorded 1500 for the whole hour, which is equivalent to about fifteen minutes of normal walking at my usual pace. I thought the various punches and blocks would add up to more. The real interest, though, is in the heartrate tracking: I can see where we finished the warmup and started doing basics, and I can see what happened when I ran seven kata back-to-back in preparation for my upcoming test, which is a thing I’ve been doing at every practice for about a month. Turns out that I do indeed spend most of the class in the zones generally classed as “cardio” or “peak,” and topped out the scale at 185 at one point during that block of kata. (It would be amusing to see which kata work me the hardest, but since I was only allowing myself five breaths’ pause between them, there’s no hope of differentiating one from the next via the stats.) 185 is what the American Heart Association considers the usual “maximum” for my age, so I feel safe in saying that I’m working pretty damn hard when I do that kind of set. 😛

I wish Fitbit had a way for me to save that data and label it “karate,” so that I can add it to my stats for the day any time I go to the dojo. But I also wish they made them waterproof enough to wear while swimming, and that they could make the actual unit thinner; I can’t get everything I want.

The Fitbit Effect

[If you are the sort of person for whom reading a discussion of fitness and weight is going to be detrimental to your state of mind, you may want to skip this post.]

I’ve been seeing the “ten thousand steps” thing around lately — the idea that your health can be improved by the relatively simple tactic of getting off your butt and walking more. I doubt there’s anything magic in 10K specifically, of course; it’s just a nice round number that’s easy to remember. The underlying point seems reasonably valid, though, in that we have a growing body of evidence to show that sitting for large stretches of time is not very good for you, and our species evolved on the assumption that we’d be spending a lot of time in motion.

One of the places where I saw the 10K thing added the statistic that a particularly sedentary person may walk only 1-3K steps per day. This made me wonder: how many steps do I walk on an average day? After all, I have a desk job, and my office is about twenty feet down the hall from my bedroom, so I was guessing the number wouldn’t be particularly high — but I didn’t really know. I’ve had a pedometer app on my phone for quite some time, but since I carry my phone in my purse, it doesn’t count the steps I take around the house when my purse is on the floor. Furthermore, at one point I decided to test its accuracy by mentally counting my steps on the way home from the post office, and checking it against my phone’s count. I didn’t expect the app to be terribly accurate . . . but it was off by such an appallingly large margin (roughly 50%, if memory serves) that I decided to go ahead and get a Fitbit. (Charge HR, for anybody who’s curious.)

The Fitbit isn’t perfectly accurate, either. If I’m carrying something in my hands or moving especially slowly (ergo not swinging my arm), it may not register the step. Conversely, it’s been known to count the movements I make while brushing my teeth as “steps.” I figure those two things come out in the wash — and besides, as one review I looked at pointed out, the real function of a Fitbit is not as a pedometer, but as a motivator.

And in that regard? It works brilliantly.


The Littlest Green Belt Goes Back to Kobudo

I haven’t been to a kobudo class since Okinawa, i.e. late July. But there’s a seminar this weekend, and although I’m only going to one part of it — I figured I should stay away from the bit that’s going to be done on a basketball court, on account of the brace I’m still wearing makes slipping on the floor a high probability — I decided it would be a good idea to start going back to class.

(Haven’t been to a kobudo class since July, haven’t hit the minimum required classes for the next test, and despite that I got told I would be testing for my next belt the first Friday in November. Possibly it’s just as well that I’ll be at World Fantasy then and can’t possibly come. Except that the next test will be in December, which is also when I’m likely to be doing my next shodan-ho test in karate, and holy Mary mother of god I am not doing those tests back to back. I may just have to admit that to Shihan’s face and beg for mercy, i.e. postponing the kobudo test until January.)

I’ve never felt like I’m that good at kobudo. It’s unclear to me how much of that feeling is because of the disparity between my karate and kobudo skill levels: I felt like I was a better karate green belt than I am a kobudo green belt, but I also had less sense of what I ought to be doing back then, and therefore less awareness of how I was falling short. It’s clear to me, though, that I’ve got more skill than I thought I did — and not just because I still remember the kata sequence. I’ve had other periods where, for one reason or another, I missed kobudo for a long time, and when I came back I always felt really clumsy and off. This time, though, I’ve been gone for two and a half months, and when I came back . . . I felt okay, actually. Not 100%, because my footing is still less than entirely secure, and worrying about that distracts me from what I’m doing. And I’m definitely on the rusty side. But I didn’t feel anywhere near as incompetent as I expected to, which means more of the technique has gotten embedded in my brain than I thought. It’s pleasing to know that.

Exhausting night, though. Class isn’t constant exertion, but even so, two hours on your feet doing stuff will take it out of you — and god knows the senpai who ran the kobudo class wasn’t taking it easy on us. We basically ran every kata twice, saijutsu kihon gata ichi and ni, kiyan no sai, nakandakari no sai, then we switched to bo and it was donyukon ichi, donyukon ni, and then cho un no kun sho not twice but three times, with very little breathing time in between any of it. That’s fifteen kata, yo. That’s tiring. Especially when you aren’t used to it anymore.

But hey: it’s the only way I’ll get used to it again. 🙂

Exercise on the road

Apropos of my previous post: any recommendations as to ways for me to get exercise on a trip that will involve a new city almost every single day? I know that if step one is “leave your room and go to the hotel gym,” I won’t manage it. But stuff I can do in my room, without equipment — that might happen. I’ll need to do PT for my ankle regardless, so I’m going to have to set aside time for activity; it should be possible to tack other things on, if people have suggestions.

Tonight’s weightlifting revelation

Increasing the weight is more difficult for the exercises you’re doing at low weights than at high.

Not just because you’re weaker in those regards and less accustomed to pushing for something harder — though that may be true — but because even a small increment is a much bigger deal. If I’m doing 25 lbs. on something and go up to 27.5, eh, okay, that’s a 10% increase. If I’m doing 5 lbs.* and go up to 7.5? That’s a 50% increase. I would probably not go from 50 lbs. to 75 on a given exercise, or 100 to 150, but at low levels, I don’t have much choice. I’ve already done the part where I add reps and sets; eventually I just have to suck it up, add the weight, and mush on.

“Mush” is more or less what certain upper body muscles feel like right now. 😛 But hey: the next time I add weight on those exercises, it will only be a 33% increase. Which is going to feel like a cakewalk, after this round.

*Why yes, I am utterly lacking** in tricep strength; thanks for asking.

**But I’m getting better!

The Littlest Brown-and-Black Belt Works Her Butt Off (perhaps literally)

I got no exercise while I was at TIP — which was okay in some respects, because right before I left for that I got a plasma injection to deal with a tendon problem in my hip, and was supposed to be taking it easy for a month or so after that. But it meant that by the time I came back, I was very grumpy about lack of exercise, and determined to fix that.

My schedule for the last couple of weeks:

  • Mon. 7/8 — two hours of karate and kobudo
  • Wed. 7/10 — two hours of karate and kobudo
  • Thu. 7/11 — one hour of karate
  • Fri. 7/12 — swimming (250 breast-stroke, 250 freestyle, 25 fly)
  • Sat. 7/13 — half hour of stationary bike
  • Mon. 7/15 — two hours of karate and kobudo
  • Wed. 7/17 — two hours of karate and kobudo
  • Thu. 7/18 — one hour of karate
  • Fri. 7/19 — swimming (250 breast-stroke, 250 freestyle, 25 fly)
  • Sat. 7/20 — no exercise per se, but several hours of walking around museums etc
  • Mon. 7/22 — two hours of karate and kobudo
  • Tue. 7/23 — one hour personal training (upper body strength)
  • Wed. 7/24 — two hours of karate and kobudo
  • Today — another hour of personal training

I won’t keep this up forever, of course. The Thursday karate classes are a summer-schedule thing, so those will end mid-August, when I leave for a trip. I won’t always make it to both kobudo and karate on both Monday and Wednesday, though I’m trying to get back into doing that more reliably. Swimming is something I’ve been wanting to start up with for a while; we joined a gym at the beginning of this month, and it’s a five-minute walk from our house, so the activation energy for that is about as low as it gets. And kniedzw and I are trying to institute a habit of going to the gym on Saturdays.

Regardless, it feels good, and I’ll try to make it last.

Thanksgiving Advent, Day Nine: My Dojo

Just got back from two classes in a row at my dojo, one in kobudo (weapons) and the other karate. From when I walk out my front door to when I get home, that’s pretty much three straight hours in which I don’t sit at my computer, barely moving, alone with the imaginary people on the screen and in my head.

This is a really, really good thing.

It’s exercise, which sedentary types like writers have to be very careful to get. The exercise actually starts with walking out the door; our dojo is close enough that I generally hoof it there and back. Takes a little longer, but it gets me out into the fresh air, and gives me some good contemplation time. Then there’s stretching, and the mild cardio of doing kumite (sparring) and kata.

It’s also social time, which is likewise very important when you write full-time (or have another solitary-making job). A couple of years ago, when I was working on A Star Shall Fall, I went through a stretch where, to meet my deadline, I needed to write about 1500 or 2000 words each day, and revise 5000 of what I’d already written. This coincided with the dojo being closed for two weeks while the black belts and sensei decamped to Okinawa for the World Karate Championships. While it was good from a freeing-up-time standpoint, ask kniedzw what it was like, living with me for the duration. I went crazy. Workworkwork all the time + no real outlets = bad news.

Our dojo is a really cool place, too — very welcoming, very laid-back while also being committed to excellence. Shihan, the owner, is ninth dan in Shorin-ryu (our karate style) and eighth dan in Yamanni-ryu (our kobudo style); he regularly travels the world to do guest seminars in foreign countries. He’s that good. One of the other sensei recently made sixth dan. My sister-in-law, the lowest-ranked sensei in the lot, is third. The excellence is there for you to learn from, without being one of those scary-competitive places like the Evil Dojo in the Karate Kid movie. <g> Working there wakes up all the old gears in my head, left over from my ballet years, where I think on a fine-grained scale about what my body is doing. It’s a very good change of pace from how I normally spend my time. (Even if sometimes I’m thinking about how to apply what I’m doing in a story. Shutupdon’tjudgeme.)

When I moved here, I didn’t really want to study karate; there were other styles that appealed to me more. This place was convenient, though, and I knew people there, and I liked the atmosphere. When it comes to actually going to class and enjoying it, those things matter more than the details of the style. I’m very thankful that I had someplace this good so easily available to me.