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Posts tagged ‘fitness’

10 Reasons to Get Your Sweat On

Fast Company recently reported on a new University of Washington study on exercise rates and obesity.  The study showed that while the percentage of Americans doing “sufficient” levels of exercise rose between 2001-2011, obesity levels rose as well.  Only nine counties included in the study showed a decrease in obesity levels — and overall, “a 1% increase in physical activity led to only 0.11% lower prevalence of obesity.” Read more

Back to Basics

Earlier this week I tried an app called Zombies, Run!  Don’t ask how I found it.  It certainly didn’t involve neatly typing in zombies + running, but instead a meandering journey into the black hole we call the Internet (Yahoo! Mail –> click on newsletter –> view recipe for how to make your own power bars –> click on link at the end of the homemade power bar article –> find some random list of “cool fitness apps” –> get curious about zombies).  Lured by the promise, “Get Fit.  Escape Zombies.  Be a Hero,” before I knew it, I had spent $3.99 in the app store to install Zombies, Run! on my phone. Read more

What’s On Your Docket?

photo by fang guo, via flickr creative commons

photo by fang guo, via flickr creative commons

It’s amazing how many people find this blog through searching “exercise + motivation.”  Unfortunately is  $1,499, or I’d consider buying it and trying to do something there.  Like sell treadmills and tickets to 20-year high school reunions.

Actually, building that site might be tougher that it sounds.  The science of motivation is complicated, and there are tons of books out there  that offer perspectives about it (Dan Pink’s Drive is one of my favorites; I covered it a few months ago).  When it comes to exercise specifically,  self-determination theory (SDT) is often referenced.  The foundation of SDT is that human motivation lies along a continuum which includes intrinsic (self) and extrinsic (world around us) components.  Runners who are intrinsically motivated might run because they love the thrill of racing around the track and the feeling of the wind in their hair, while runners who are extrinsically motivated might run because it will result in outcomes that matter to them, or to their loved one, doctor, etc. (i.e., lower blood pressure and body fat).

Every person is at a different place on this continuum — possibly even because we’re wired that way.  The great news is that if “being an exerciser” is (or can become) part of your identity, you’re more likely to stay motivated (according to one study, at least).  So how do we all deepen the exercise portion of our identities?  A great place to start is signing up for a formal event (after all, events are for ATHLETES).  Here are a few resources to help if you’re looking for one to put on your calendar:

Runner’s World Race Finder

Stand Up Paddle Events (after all, it’s SUMMERTIME)

Triathlon Calendar

Great Ways to Get Fit for a Cause

Fun Team-Oriented Events (firewalking, included)

I’m training for a half-Ironman in September right now.  How about you?  What’s on your calendar?  Do you feel more like an athlete if you’re training for a formal event, or doesn’t it matter to you?  Beyond events, what motivates you to get and stay fit?

Urban Hiking

view from twin peaks, san francisco

view from twin peaks, san francisco

What an absolute gift it is to have a day off in the middle of the work week.  Disrupting the usual cadence of work week/weekend, a mid-week day off feels a little bit like suspended reality (it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to my dream of freezing time, ala Evie in that old show Out of This World).  It’s a day set aside for one thing: leisure.   And for my family today, that leisure was an urban hike.

Ever since living in New York City in my 20s, I’ve loved urban hiking, but look forward to it even more now that we’re not city dwellers.  Good old off-the-beaten path hiking is great too (and if you’re into that, check out this list of 43 Hidden Hikes to Try This Summer), but urban hikes feel adventurous.  Cool.  Unexpected.  Hip and fit at the same time.  Navigating gritty sidewalks, people of all shapes and sizes, and pungent smells…delighting in delicious surprises and beautiful vistas en route…and seeing a familiar place with fresh eyes, urban hiking helps you feel like a tourist in your own backyard.

Today we hiked along the Bay in San Francisco, checking out the America’s Cup staging area, stopping to play in the sand at the beach, starting at our reflections near the Palace of Fine Arts, talking about the varied architecture, smelling the flowers, and stopping for ice cream along the way.  San Francisco offers endless routes of challenging and easy hiking punctuated with hidden ge,s like the Seward Street Slides and Baker Beach and the wildness of Glen Park Canyon and the swings and staircases that appear out of nowhere.

San Francisco is urban hiking mecca (I read a great story about LA a few months ago too), but I’m sure there are beautiful options across the country.  And here are a few simple reasons to give it a shot:

  • No gear required (we bring a backpack for our 3-year-old, but that’s it)
  • It’s free (unless you get lost and need to use mass transit or a taxi)
  • It’s environmentally friendly (if you live relatively close to a city)
  • It’s social (you can visit people along the way)
  • It’s yummy (goodbye trail mix, hello crepes)

What do you like most about urban hiking?  Do you have a favorite hike to share?

Double Dipsea

One of my favorite (and lately, one of my only) trail races of the year – the Double Dipsea – took place Saturday.  A stunningly beautiful and gruelingly difficult 13.7 mile trail race, the Double Dipsea is one of three primary races that take place on Marin County’s famous Dipsea trail every year.  The most famous of the three is the Dipsea, a 7.5 mile race that has been held annually since 1905, making it the oldest trail running event in the United States.  For super aggressive runners, there is also a 28.4 mile Quad Dipsea race.

The Double Dipsea course starts in Stinson Beach, CA, runs to Mill Valley, CA, and turns around and heads back to finish Stinson Beach where runners often cool their burning calves and wash away the inevitable poison oak in the frigid waters of the Pacific.  The terrain is serious – climbing and descending a total of 4,500 feet over uneven single-track footpaths.  The heat can be unrelenting (it was this year).  There are a few harrowing descents, made more dangerous by the elite runners bounding down them body lengths at a time, seemingly floating from step to step.  Six hundred and seventy-one stairs descend into and out of the halfway point in Mill Valley, shocking first-timers and still surprising the veterans.

Despite all of this – actually, because of all of this – the Double Dipsea is a magical race.  It’s a “handicap race,” meaning that everyone (regardless of age or gender) has a chance to win.  Basically, the oldest women start first (about an hour before the race officially starts), and the 20- and 30-something men start last.  While a 27-year-old guy won this year’s race, a 73-year-old man came in 12th.  It’s an amazing feeling to near Mill Valley – having traversed massive hills and soaked in sweeping views – and see the first grey-haired athletes running toward you, heading back to finish line.  May we all be so lucky.  This format makes it feel like everyone is in it together, reflecting the strong camaraderie that marks trail running in general — fiercely competitive and overwhelmingly embracing at the same time.

And so, I head back to the Double Dipsea year after year, lured by the history of the trail, the spirited volunteers, the friendly locals, a committed groups of friends, the challenge of the course, and the heart of the tribe who know and run it.  Who’s in for next year?

Do you have a favorite race or event?  When did you get hooked on it, and why do you love it?

Rolling On Down the Road

strollerI drove past a shirtless guy today HAMMERING down the road with earbuds in and a toddler in his running stroller.  Seriously, he was running like he was being chased by the mafia (or his wife trying to get him to do the laundry)…sprinting so fast that I wanted to buy his kid a helmet and a pair of wrist guards.  I was both in awe and sort of terrified, wanting to applaud him and report him at the same time.  This guy is obviously not alone — according to the Guinness Book of World Records:

A 2:42 marathon pushing a stroller — seriously?  And people are competing for world records in stroller pushing — really?

I’ve done my fair share of fast running with a stroller (usually when it was the only option or when I couldn’t quiet a screaming baby at 5am).  And in those moments, I was overwhelming grateful to be able to get out the door at all; it was often the only chance I had at a real-deal workout.  So I totally respect and understand sprinting stroller man…and seeing him reminded me that for every thing there is a season.

But as time has gone on, and the kids have grown tired of sitting for long periods of time and I’ve wanted to carve out workout time as “me time,” my stroller runs are now more about company and conversation.  They’re about us, not me.  We talk about the seasons and traffic patterns and how the flowers smell and how the neighborhood construction projects are coming along; and the kids ask questions like “why does that car have a blanket on it?” and “why did that guy walk when the light was red?”  We look at the ocean.  We figure out what we’re going to eat for brunch afterwards.  We don’t count miles, we count park benches.  We have low heart rates and high spirits.

I’ve learned to love these runs for what they are — family time.  And save the sweaty sprints for the treadmill.

How do you feel about working out with your kids?  Do you try to make family workouts challenging, or do you save the “tough training” for solo/grown-up time?

At the Core

photo by anya quinn via flickr creative commons

photo by anya quinn via flickr creative commons

Fitness magazines seem to include a piece on core strengthening exercises in every single issue.  You know the drill – a multi-page spread featuring a 20-something-year-old woman in little shorts and a high pony doing a series of exercises on a beach or next to a worldly monument or in an exotic looking grass hut.  After all, who wouldn’t want to spend their mornings doing plank pose in a little grass hut?

For those of us whose mornings look more like “get up and stumble to the coffeemaker, slurp down some coffee/check my email/start blog post/go for workout/race into shower/read books with kids/take kids to school,” there is no side plank and there is definitely no grass hut in sight.  But this doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on our core strength.  We all need a solid core in order to do everything from cleaning our houses to playing sports to having sex.  So if you’re like me, and struggle to find focused time for core work, here are three simple ways to fit it in:

  • Just stand up straight.  Seriously, just focusing on your posture can make a huge difference.  Stomach muscles pulled toward the spine and tailbone tucked under.  Yes, it’s easier than it looks.
  • Move during the day.  Pick up toys off the floor.  Reach for things on the top shelf.  Work standing up.  All of these little movements add up.
  • TRX, TRX, TRX.  TRX is an amazing tool that works your abs while you work other muscle groups.  It’s a great way to work your core while you work other muscle groups at the same time.

If you still need convincing that core strength matters, check out this article from Harvard’s Healthbeat newsletter.  And if you’re a runner, here’s some great advice about core workouts for running.  Oh, and if you can figure out how to make that grass hut thing work on a regular basis, please let me know how.

How do you keep your core strong?  And how has having a strong core helped you in your workouts and in your life?

Strength in Numbers


A few weeks ago an old friend came over for dinner, and on the way out the door he asked if I wanted to join him for an epic cycling event he was doing the first weekend in June.  Loving the idea of something epic…and totally ignoring the fact that my training schedule has been far from epic…I paid my $60, signed up, and entirely put it out of my mind until Saturday night when panic set in and I wanted with all my might to bail on the 5am wake up call and sleep in, eat bacon and eggs with my family, and read the Sunday Styles section.

I’m quite sure that the only reason I got to the starting line was because I knew my friend was going to be there.  And I’m even more sure that the only  reason I finished the 200km ride was because he and a bunch of his friends from SF2G (the “San Francico to Google” cycling group) encouraged me to stick with them, ever-so-patiently waiting at the bottom while I slowly white-knuckled the harrowing descents, and re-grouping at the top of each of the massive climbs.  Yes, the scenery was beautiful and the challenge was invigorating, but the camaraderie made the ride.  These people (literally) pulled me through a windy patch, told me what to expect as we climbed, and had a can of Coke waiting at the top of the last climb.  They were optimistic and welcoming and fun…inseparable in my mind from the ride itself.

This is just one example of impact training/racing partners and groups can have.  There’s tons of research supporting this idea that exercising in a group pays off.  A few years ago, The Economist covered a study finding that training in a synchronized group may heighten tolerance for pain due to the simultaneous endorphin release caused by exercise and collaboration.  A 2009 University of Pennsylvania study found that exercising with a partner boosts weight loss.  And for people who can’t find real-life training partners, the fitness industry is going very social very quickly (I covered this a few months ago in my post “To Track or Not to Track“).

Without a doubt, training partners and groups make workouts better.  They make them more fun.  They make us work harder.  And as was the case with me yesterday, they can even help us do things we likely couldn’t/wouldn’t do on our own.  So how do we find these magical people?  Here are a few simple ideas:

  1. Find a formal group.  Pick your sport and then visit a local store related to that sport (i.e., local running store or bike shop) and ask them if they lead or know of any good training groups
  2. Create your own group.  Link up with a partner or group through your gym (people who run on treadmills probably also like to run outside)
  3. Be friendly at the finish line.  Talk to the people who finish around the same time as you in races/events; if geography is in your favor, you already know you have a partner who is the same pace
  4. Post an ad.  I know this sounds like a total stalker move, but I met my favorite training partner of all time and still one of my dearest friends (see former post “Curtis Camp“) when I posted in a mother’s group in search of an early morning running partner
  5. Just say yes.  Even if you feel nervous about joining a group for a run/ride/swim/row/whatever, if someone invites you, say YES.  Ignore the self-judgement (“I’m too slow for them”), and just go.  Almost without a doubt, it will beat working out solo

So if you’re needing motivation, a challenge, or simple a bit more fun in your workout, the answer might be calling a friend…or a even a stranger.

Have you ever trained/raced with a friend or group who pushed you harder than you would have ever pushed yourself?   How did you find that person/group, and what made it such a great fit? 

The 4:1

photo (2)Pumped to have a long Memorial Day weekend at home, between Friday and this morning, I got my workout on.  This translated into running 33 miles, doing a TRX class, and taking a spin class…which was awesome (and a lot for me these days).  This then translated into me wanting to sit in a chair all day today to avoid using my aching muscles…which was NOT awesome.  As I sat down to write about rest, I remembered a study I covered a few months ago reporting that the magic number of workouts per week is four…for exactly the reason I experienced today.  Study participants who exercised more than four times per week were more likely to spend their non-exercise time sitting and resting than the other groups.

I’m not sure that my magic number is 4X/week, but I am 100% sure it’s not 7X.  We all need rest.  Not “sit around and watch cartoons all day” rest, but a physical and psychological break from a formal workout.  Since having kids, I’m not super proactive about planning rest days (they almost always seem to happen naturally), but I do try to keep loose track of workouts and take a day of rest after four days of medium/hard workouts (I call this the 4:1).  Beyond knowing that I followed this plan for three months during the Blue Planet Run without a twinge of injury, I also like it because it’s easier for me to remember than some elaborate schedule.  It isn’t perfect…and sometimes it ends up as the 3:1 or the 4:2, but it’s something to aim for and it’s a good reminder to take time to pause…rest…sleep late…stretch…relax…re-set.

How important are rest days to you as you’re planning your workouts?  Do you schedule them in or let them happen? 

Car-Less Fitness

ride your bike

My car puttered to a stop this week, turning out to be in dire need of a new alternator.  Unfortunately it conked out while we were out for dinner, meaning Sean and I had to schlep our kids and ourselves a few miles home on foot in the near dark.  This sounded something like, “Carry me.  Put me down.  Pick me up.  I don’t want to be picked up! Where is our car?”  But, the silver lining of being car-less for most of the week has been better integrated fitness (not exactly workouts, but definitely fitness).  Here’s what it looked like:

Monday (5 miles of running): Ran 2.5 miles each way to volunteer at the kids’ school and get back to work. I stashed a t-shirt in my son’s cubby in the morning so I’d have something dry to put on when I got to school, and I took an awkward “French shower” in the ladies room at work when I returned. This only took 15 minutes longer (total) than driving, including the “French shower.”

Wednesday (15 miles of biking): Biked the kids (and 2 lunchboxes, 2 sets of sheets, a change of clothes, and a computer) in the trailer from home –> school, school –> work, work –> school, school –> doctors’ appt, doctor’s appt –> home.  Listened to giggles in the trailer the whole way (except for when kid #1 was squashing kid #2’s head into the side of the trailer), and someone at work commented that the flag on my bike is “cute.”

Thursday (6 miles of biking and 3 miles of jogging): Biked to/from work (6 miles) and jogged 3 miles to pick up the car at the end of the day.  That 3 miles — which I never would have done otherwise, since I ran this morning — actually cleared my head after a long day.  I came home happier and more relaxed than if I would have cruised home with the A/C on listening to NPR.

This teeny episode of forced bike/run commuting was a good reminder of how easy it is to make simple changes that lead to a more active day.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever adjust to the French shower, but the fresh air in my face and the sun on my back mid-day definitely make it worth it.

What’s the last workout you fit into a crazy day?  Would you rather integrate exercise into your daily routine or carve out time for dedicated workouts?

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