Monday, April 30, 2012

Endomondo Adds Interval Training

If you want a lot more information than a blog post can include, check out my new ebook for the Kindle on using Endomondo and Strava for interval training: Using Smartphone Apps For Interval Training.

This book gives you precise instructions and screenshots on how to design and implement your own sprint routine with two of the leading cycling apps, among other information.

Blog entry from last April starts here: The smartphone sports app Endomondo has a great new addition for people who understand the importance of sprinting (on your bike, barefeet, skis, etc.): an interval training component. This means that the app will chime when it's time to start sprinting, signal and time the rest period, and generally keep track of how many intervals or sprints you have done.

The component also allows you to design your own sprint protocol, which is a great feature.

My Android phone auto-updated to the new version, which requires Endomondo Pro (a cheap upgrade from the free version). In other words, I just found it on my phone one day.

Here's how it works: go to the main screen where you time a workout, as shown by the picture. Instead of Basic Workout, choose Interval Training from the menu (beneath the screen region where you choose running, biking, fitness walking, etc.).

The striped icon shows the pattern of sprints and rest periods (or low and high-intensity segments). The app comes with three predefined programs (including Tabata sprints), but also allows you to design your own.

For example, the Pyramid program begins with 3 minutes 20 seconds low intensity (such as walking or light movement), builds up to a peak of longer sprints (though not lasting more than about 35 seconds), then descends from the peak back to shorter intervals and longer rests.

As a practical matter, you probably have to wear an arm-strap to carry the phone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, for example). The low-register beeps signal a rest; the higher chimes a sprint.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Check Out Greatist.com For Good Info and Inspiration

I like the web site Greatist.com for their wealth of information and holistic approach. Perhaps they share the approach of Fitness For Geeks wherein health is vewed as a smorgasborg, a melange of elements, not just "good nutrition and working out."

They describe themselves as "the trusted health and fitness source for the young, savvy, and social." Being "young challenged" myself, they're appeal is broader than that. Speaking of buffet, greatist.com includes a lot of articles to choose from, including this one on getting stronger.

I particularly like their emphasis on pursuing health as in part striving for inner contentment and making the world a better place. "The Greatist Team has a simple mission: to inspire and inform the world to make at least one healthier decision per week. Over time, we believe those weeks will add up and our readers (and our world) will be better for it." Optimism is never misplaced. And it's reassuring to know that health is "cool again" among the younger set.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What's In Fitness For Geeks

You might be interested in what topics exactly are covered in the upcoming book Fitness For Geeks, so forthwith is a rundown of the table of contents. There is also a Notes section with more than 150 references to science journal articles and books.

Chapter 1: Fitness and The Human Codebase

The yin and yang of life in the Digital Age. Too many of us are living in chairs (including the front seat of your Honda Civic or Ford Explorer), eating processed fake stuff on the run,and eschewing sleep for cable TV and social media. Isn’t our internal software designed for something—Monty Python enter here—completely different? Isn’t there a way we can live in the modern digital world and still feel physically vibrant? Here's a discussion of how to mash up modern life with the evolutionary imperatives of our own internal code – including an interview with one of the pioneers of living primal.

Chapter 2: Fitness Tools and Apps

Millions of people are now using gear and software to form what I would call cooperative and competitive sports communities. A lot of these tools have been enabled by mobile tech – smartphones and their GPS software. This chapter discusses many of the popular self-tracking apps and gear, including Endomondo, Alpine Replay, Fitocracy, and the FitBit tracker. It all adds up to a positive message – a worldwide movement to use the Web to help promote health, rather than undermine it.

Chapter 3: Food Chemistry Basics: Protein, Fats, and Carbs

This is the first of two heavyweight chapters on nutrition before we turn to the “kicking up your heels” part of existence later in the book. We explore everything you always wanted to know about carbs, fats, and proteins, and then some stuff you probably didn’t, like Rabbit Starvation Syndrome (the joy of living on seal fat) and the effect of fructose on your liver.

Chapter 4: Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytochemicals

This chapter looks at everything you always wanted to know about vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, including some stuff that might have slipped past the school nurse during those vitamin lectures, such as “antinutrients” and the sorrows of vitamin deficiencies (and how easy it is to avoid them). We interview an expert oon vitamin C and another on antioxidants.

Chapter 5: Food hacks: Finding and Choosing Food

Graze farms, not vending machines. Do your wandering through weekly farmer’s markets, find out what a CSA is, and get to know your local farmer (get to know him or her really well). This chapter also offers with some ideas for dealing with food shortages, price increases, and food deserts.

Chapter 6: Food Timing: When to Eat, When to Fast

This chapter has a nutritional bend, but from a different angle — not eating for intermittent periods and the health benefits of fasting. We talk to a scientist that studies the metabolic effects of fasts, and we discuss numerous variations of fasting protocols and some of the stuff that happens with your body during fasting.

Chapter 7: The Other World: A.K.A. Outside

This chapter looks at the absolute joy and necessity of being outside (we’re programmed for it), from the point of view of walking, sprinting, hiking, body-weight exercises, running, and skiing. You learn how to do Tabata sprints, a pull-up, and your own resistance-exercise regimen on a remote beach. We talk to a former Boston Marathon winner and a mountaineer. We bring in some of our favorite tools: Endomondo, Google Earth, and Alpine Replay. And hey, I’ll bet you never knew what friluftsliv was!

Chapter 8: Navigating the Fitness Facility

You decide you have join the gym and get strong. Now what? We give you a rundown on the basics of resistance exercise in the gym (yeah, we figure you get the most bang for your buck by aiming to add and retain lean mass). The chapter talks about sets, reps, volume, and “repetition max,” then it jumps into descriptions of about 15 different techniques, including photos and links. We talk to two NFL pro football players about the not-so-casual aspects of getting strong enough to withstand a profession as modern gladiator.

Chapter 9: Randomizing Fitness and the Importance of R & R

Ever written a random( ) method or function in your code? Did you know that randomizing fitness, as in letting an algorithm choose a random exercise for you, might be good for you? We propose a couple of ways that you could do that (the CrossFit world has a “workout of the day” tradition), including the gainfitness.com tool. We also discuss an online tool for determining if an athlete is rested and ready to go, called RestWise. Last, but not least, is the all-important topic of sleep — and this is where you get a look at a nice piece of gear for the power sleepers of the analytic set: the Zeo Sleep Manager.

Chapter 10: Code Maintenance: Human Fueling and Supplements

This chapter discusses some of the nuances, such as eating more of everything to add muscle, the magic hour after exercise for chowing, as well as a few supplements you might consider based on the science literature. We interview an MIT scientist about the mTOR pathway, which is the core biochemical sequence, buried just about everywhere in your body, that controls muscle growth.

Chapter 11: Lifestyle Hacks for Fitness

There are so many different potential ways that you can hack fitness (and at least delight in the experimentation, even if they don’t really work). This chapter discusses a few of them that probably do work, many falling under the rubric of hormesis, or good stress. Cold-water swims, saunas, a nice glass of vintage grape (but not three), plus high-intensity exercise (also hormesis). “The world breaks everyone,” Hemingway wrote in A Farewell To Arms, “and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Good Ole Spring Cold-Water Plunges – Book Out In May

I've been swimming this week in the ocean off Plum Island, Massachusetts, as we've had a spate of climate-change induced hot weather (seriously now...). The water is still cold, however. It's probably 49 degrees F., as it's 50 degrees in Boston, and the Plum Island waters are a bit cooler. So the swims rank as my first cold-water plunges of the spring, as described in Chapter 11 of Fitness For Geeks.

Everything seems to happen along the lines of the "mammalian dive reflex" that the book describes, including the gasp when you hit the water. Obviously, I don't really swim, I just go in and out, almost like taking medicine. But it feels great afterward. Skin tingling all over, and a kind of thrill-seeking rush to the head. A baby seal bobbed in the waves when my son and I went down there today, and I could have (temporarily) used some of his blubber.

I dived in both the Merrimac River, on one side of a jetty, then the Atlantic ocean. If I brought my triathlon wetsuit, then I wouldn't get the full hormetic benefit of a cold-water plunge.

By the way, the Fitness For Geeks publication is slated for the first week of May. You can read a sampler from the book via this download: http://cdn.oreilly.com/oreilly/booksamplers/9781449399894_sampler.pdf. (The Blogger links are broken at the moment.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Higher Intensity Is A Good Match For Geeks And Other Lean Machines

I got this question the other day, so I thought I'd field it here: what's the best form of exercise for losing weight?

The question itself is a little misleading because, despite the popular wisdom, you can't really lose weight via the "burning off of calories by exercising as much as you possibly can." This is because the vast majority of people simply put the calories back on after long workouts. It's not their fault or a sign of a lack of willpower – the body is simply a smart system that is very efficient at retaining and replacing stored calories.

Let's do the math. You're a hardcore runner who jogs 30 miles a week – five six-mile runs on average. You finish a six mile run in a little less than an hour, less than 10 minutes per mile.

Based on my vast experience as a runner geek, I'd say you'd expend roughly 500 calories during this training session (running all-out for an hour will expend about 700 kcal).

However, this calorie amount includes your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – what you would have expended by remaining stationary for that period. For me, the BMR for a 55-minute period is about 65 calories. So the run actually only burned off an extra 435 calories. This still sounds like a lot, huh?

But you're hungry afterwards, right? Running for almost an hour? Possibly not at the moment but certainly an hour from then. So you slam a banana (a healthy treat to replace the lost potassium, but fructose and calorie rich) and an energy bar.

One medium banana (105 cals) and the bar (about 220 cals) means you've just replaced 75 percent of the expended calories, and that doesn't include anything eaten before or during the run. You also might leap onto the weight scale after the run to ogle the pounds you just lost, but the scale is probably sending more of a message about dehydration than anything else.

There are other things going on – most of what you burned off during the run was probably glycogen, a form of starch that's stored in the liver and skeletal muscles, and the body preferentially replaces that with carbs or glucose eaten after endurance-type exercise. You might have also tapped into the fat stores inside the muscle itself. These are two places – glycogen and the fats the muscles use for energy – where you don't really mind having energy depots. In fact, they represent essential energy sources for the body.

Getting back to the original question, how does exercise contribute to weight loss? By improving your metabolism in the long run. A person won't lose weight until they move into a healthy metabolic realm. This means they want to retain sensitivity to their own insulin, and not develop insulin resistance.

When you embark on high-intensity type exercise session, such as sprinting and lifting heavy weights, you use the more powerful Type II muscles (e.g., the quads and the hamstrings). The glycogen in those muscles cells is expended (as it generally isn't completely by jogging) and the muscles retain their insulin sensitivity at the same time as they pull glucose out of the bloodstream to replace the lost glycogen.

That's a simplified description for a very complex and efficient mechanism in our bodies. With better insulin sensitivity you will develop lower fasting insulin levels, and your body is less likely to be in fat-storage mode all the time. The actual calories you burn off during the sprint or weight-lift are almost beside the point.

As a person with healthy low fasting insulin and glucose levels, you will also not experience the constant hunger pangs throughout the day, which are so familiar to many of us. You will only eat when you are experiencing actual hunger (admittedly, an elusive concept) and are in need of calories to fuel your brain, for instance. Intermittent fasting (covered in Chapter 6 of Fitness For Geeks) also helps promote a fitter metabolism.

The book goes into greater depth on these issues and I will expand upon them here in the near future. However, a sprint session once a week and a high-intensity weight bout once or twice a week represents more than a good beginning.

Imagine that you want to optimize the gas mileage you're getting in your car. The typical strategy that you would use is maintaining the efficiency of the engine and the physics of burning as little gasoline as possible, and this is an apt metaphor for helping optimize your body's metabolism.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Exercise of The Week: Dual Pulley Pulldown

I like the dual pulley pulldown machine, even if this somewhat elongated image doesn't do it justice. The exercise targets the upper back muscles like the trapezoids (the traps), as well as the biceps (the forearms seem to be afftected as well).

The two straps that you pull down on are independent, making it less likely that you can develop a strength imbalance. In other words, the machine (in this case a Life Fitness rig), helps prevent one side of your body from dominating the other. Of late, I do a set of 12 X 105#, then one set of 120# as many reps as I can.

I thought I'd slide in occasional descriptions of my own weightlifting sessions, to help augment my book, particularly Chapter 8, which covers resistance training.

I usually do split routines, in which each session targets different muscle groups – in my case, I have upper-body and lower-body days. The other day was set aside for upper body. I mostly focused on chest, shoulders, and arms.

First the bench press. I started off with a warm-up round: 10 X 115#, 8 X 135#, 6 X 155#. You guess it, I was increasing the weight by 20 pounds each time. Then I set the weight at 175# and left it there. I was unspotted, so I almost never do 180 or more while lifting alone.

Then I kept going back and forth to the bench (luckily, no one was waiting for it...) to do a set of 4 X 175#. In between, I did some sets of a seated shoulder press with free weights. With this exercise, I found out one of the interesting and valuable aspects of weightlifting – it will pinpoint your weaknesses and help you eliminate them.

After going back recently to the shoulder press with free weights, I found out that I had a pronounced weakness in my left shoulder. My left arm could only do five pounds or about 20 percent less than my right (I'm a righty, so that has something to do with it).

This didn't seem to make a difference when I did military presses with a bar. So that's one of the special elements of using free weights – a superior isolation of separate muscle groups and parts of the body.

When I finished doing my last set of 4 X 175#, I put my feet on the bench and did 20 inverted push-ups. This more or less "finished off" the "pec" muscles for the day.