Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Things that are New

Seth and I like to eat most of our meals at home. This is both cost effective and, as an added bonus, good for our health. We make simple food and last night decided to try something new. Caesar salad for dinner.
The salad was so good I would call is Augustus (because let's be honest, he was the coolest of the Caesars). I eat salad for lunch every day, but it was great to have a protein packed salad for dinner, as my lunch salads tend more towards just fruits and vegetables. Our caesar salad had mixed greens, grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and a sprinkling of cheese. We served it with a tasty bread. Yum!
After eating the healthy dinner, Seth celebrated by having a fun cup of cocoa with some truly alarmingly colored marshmellows.
This salad came on the heels of a great weekend with friends. I went out to eastern Massachusetts on Saturday to visit with two of my best friends, one of whom wanted to get her ears pierced for the first time. I decided to join her in support and got third holes.
I'd never thought about having a third set of earrings before my friend mentioned she wanted to get her ears done, but I love how they've come out. (The picture does not really give you the best idea; mainly because it's quite hard to take a picture of your ear. You can get the general gist though.) I don't plan to swap out the earrings in my third holes very often, so I got a set of 3 mm 14 carat white gold posts that I'll be happy to keep in forever.
I hadn't gotten my ears pierced in a decade and a half. I forgot how tender they are for the first few days. I could not, for example, sleep on my side for a couple of nights because it hurt my ear too much. The ears also need quite a lot of care -- cleaning and rotating three times a day for six weeks. Fortunately by today, three days after the piercing, my ears are starting to feel quite fine and the cleanings are going easily.
The final new thing is the arrival of the Trigger Point Grid foam roller I had ordered off Amazon.
Over the past few weeks, I've noticed that I've had a lot of tightness in my outer hips. Following the completion of my Asylum 2 program, I've been cutting back on my exercise a little bit in order to give myself some rest before I start training for the Tough Mudder in three weeks.
In conjunction with some rest days and some days of easier exercise, I decided some foam roller work might be a good idea. I've been using the roller in conjunction with the Foam Roller Techniques app I downloaded for my iOS devices.
The app had been pretty helpful with videos and exercises to target different muscles based different activities you might take part in (like running for example) or areas of discomfort. I've been doing a set of exercises for the IT band, which is I think where I'm having my main problems.
When I did the foam roller exercises for the first time yesterday I was definitely in discomfort when rolling my "injured" areas. I definitely felt better after doing it though and am hoping that some rest, careful exercise, and good foam rolling and stretching will have me feeling in top form by the time I want to start my training in mid-February.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Random Fun

January has been a very excellent month! While I really don't like the winter, I love January because during this month I work all normal 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. hours and get to spend a lot of time with Seth. 

Because the winter in New England is such a bummer, we've been making sure to do a bunch of fun things and to set goals to keep active. For me, that's been working on the Asylum 2 fitness program. For Seth, it's been training for a 10K and the Greater Hartford 1/4 Marathon, a 6.55 mile run we'll be doing in late March.

Last weekend, when the weather was somewhat mild (say mid-30s), Seth and I bundled up and headed out for a run. 

We don't normally exercise together, so it was great fun getting out and doing some fitness as a couple. 

Over the long (Martin Luther King Jr.) holiday weekend, we also had an exciting new experience. We decided to check out a new restaurant in town, Ginger Garden, which serves Chinese and Japanese food. When we got to the restaurant, we were excited to see a menu with authentic Chinese food featuring Szechuan and  Zhejiang cuisine. We selected one item off each menu.

The Zhejiang dish was light and flavorful with tender beef and crunchy noodles. It was delicious!

The Szechuan dish arrived in a sizzling skillet atop a still burning flame. In fact, the food was still cooking and we had to toss it somewhat frequently to prevent it sticking to the bottom. This dish was also extremely tasty and super super spicy. Pairing it with rice was a must!

It was great getting to try some different and more authentic Chinese food. I definitely think we'll be heading back to Ginger Garden to check out more of their offerings. 

I also received a very exciting gift at work this week. A couple of weeks ago, I had taken care of a co-worker's cat, a very friendly fellow named, Monty. My colleague had been at a wedding for her sister-in-law, which took place on the family's ranch in New Mexico. As a gift, she brought me this lovely Curro sheep roving, called Shepard's Lamb, from the ranch.

I haven't done a ton of knitting and spinning lately; this gift has extra inspired me to take my wheel out for a spin!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tough Mudder Training Schedule

I have only one week left on my Asylum: Volume 2 workout program. Everything's been going great, and I've been having lots of fun. But with this program ending, I've turned my attention to the next challenge: preparing for the Tough Mudder I've signed up for on Saturday, May 11.

As my teammate, Iryna said, "That Tough Mudder is no joke." I totally agree -- 10 to 12 miles of obstacles and hilly trail running will be the challenge of a lifetime. I recently read a very detailed and excellent race review and walk-through on Muddy J's blog. Reading this led me to want to start planning in earnest for my own race.

After review materials online, I decided that I wanted to create my own workout schedule based on a few factors:

1. Running -- A lot. The course is 10 to 12 miles and you have to get around by running. The running will be off-road, so I'll want to incorporate trail running and hills.
2. Strength -- I'm going to have to be able to pull myself over walls, through tunnels, and who knows what else. I need to make sure I have the ability to do this. Focusing on upper body strength, a weakness for me, is going to be key.
3. Plyo power and agility -- I'll need to be able to jump to get up those walls and have the agility to move through mud and keep my balance during the off-road running.
4. Endurance -- The course will take us at least three hours, maybe four, I'm guessing. Long runs are going to be necessary to help build a base of endurance to make sure I can make it through the race.

When thinking about what I'm going to have to do during the race, it seems to make sense to:

1. Trail run!
2. Do hill repeats.
3. Run long.
4. Strength train using the resistance of my own body (since the race won't have me lifting weights).
5. Practice pull ups.
6. Keep my body accustomed to rapid changes in activity. I'm going to be moving through many different obstacles and having to stop and start a lot.

I knew right away how I wanted to structure my running. Since the race was almost a half marathon, I thought using the Hal Higdon half marathon training schedule with modifications would work well. I'd run Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday with Saturday as my long run. For Monday, I can focus on a run that is challenging and incorporates trails and hills. Wednesdays, I will likely run at work during lunch, so those will be more of an easy run to keep up my base.

In thinking about the training for strength and agility, I began to think the right move would be to mash-up some of the at home workout DVD programs I have, namely Insanity, Asylum: Volume 1, and Asylum: Volume 2.  The company that puts out these programs has a hybrid calendar for all three programs. Originally, I thought I might use this, having the hybrid calendar alternate every other day or so with the running calendar, but I decided that this wasn't going to work for me. The hybrid calendar has you do a lot of the workouts that use weights, and I wanted to do most of my strength training with my body weight or with plyometrics.

I also saw that the hybrid calendar clustered certain workouts from certain programs together (so for the first month you did mostly Insanity + Asylum 1 and in the second month you did more Asylum 1 + Asylum 2). I was more interested in having all three programs be spread evenly throughout my calendar because they all offer something slightly different. I find Insanity to be the most cardio based of the three and models HIIT training. It's the only one of the programs to not use any weights at all. Asylum 1 seems the most agility focused. Asylum 2 is most focused on work with strength and weights.

With all of this in mind, I put together a workout calendar that alternates running days with strength/cross-training days using the Insanity and Asylum programs. I'm planning to give myself 12 weeks to train and will start intensive training after a allowing myself a few weeks of just moderate exercise to recover after I complete Asylum: Volume 2.

When looking at the calendar, the runs scheduled will follow this format:
Monday: Trail run with hills
Wednesday: Easier run, probably on a treadmill
Saturday: Long run, as much off-road and on trails as possible

I'm also lucky in that I have a playground with monkey bars literally in my backyard. (There is a small playground about ten feet away from the back patio of my condo. It's on an angle so it can't be seen from the house, but it's super close. While this is not lucky most days, it will be lucky for Tough Mudder training.) I don't have a pull-up bar in my house, so I'm planning to go and do pull-ups and chin-ups on the monkey bars a few days a week staring in mid-March when the weather gets a bit better. I'll also practice navigating across the monkey bars, as I know there is an obstacle that requires this.

So, yes, I am totally nervous. Time will tell if I've put together a good workout program, but I'm feeling pretty good about it now. The only way I can think to feel less scared is to be prepared, so I'm going to do the best I can to get ready for May!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Asylum: Volume 2: Championship

It's been a couple of days. Since I last updated the blog, I've completed two Asylum workouts, the Off-day Stretch on Friday and Championship (with Sudden Death OT, the Fit Test) today.

Since I knew I just had the stretch workout yesterday, I ended up doing a 5K run at gym on a treadmill during lunch. This definitely helped make me feel a bit more stretched out -- I always think doing an easy run to move the leg muscles helps me feel better after a strenuous workout of another type.

Friday evening, after work, I came home and did the 30 minute Off-day Stretch DVD. It felt excellent to have a rest day from Asylum. The stretch workout is kind of what you'd expect. I definitely made me feel much better, especially in my quads and hips, which had been quite tight. It was a good full-body stretch.

I have been looking forward to doing the Championship workout. This is a 60 minute DVD and contains the Fit Test, which is called Sudden Death Overtime (OT). This workout is analogous to the Game Day workout in Asylum 1; you complete in multiple "sports."

Consensus on the internet seems to be that Championship is a bit easier than Game Day, and I tend to agree. In Game Day there are some wicked hard strength moves, such as rock climbing, which are absent in Championship's more cardio-based routine. Like Game Day, Championship is loads of fun!

You start the workout with track events and warm up by doing a 400 meter run, basically a high knees running sequence. After a brief stretch there are a few more track running drills using the ladder.

The other sports featured in the workout are (in random order) volleyball, football, soccer, gymnastics, speed skating, Olympic weight lifting, and basketball. A lot of the drills have you doing a diving move into a push-up (or push-up variation) and then popping up to your feet. This is a bit tricky and you should definitely watch your form. It's also a blast. We had to do this in volleyball, soccer, and football with slight variations. You start by running, then dive into a push-up, then pop up and start again. The occasional shuffling and jumping was involved.

Gymnastics was definitely the hardest part of the workout with an intense set of jumps. There was a solid minute of tuck jumps, x-jumps, and turning tuck jumps. Think a minute is short? Think again. Intense high jumping for a minute is definitely work. Then again, I love to jump, so this was a great time.

The speed skating here was definitely similar to what we saw in Asylum: Volume 1's Game Day workout. However, it was a bit easier, as it was slower. While the speed skating focus in Game Day is fast moves in a low position, here we were focusing more on balance and large controlled movements with lateral jumps along and diagonally over the ladder.

The Olympic weight lifting section of the workout was the only fully resistance focused part of today's workout. We did compound weight moves that worked biceps, shoulders, and lats. At first this seemed easy but by the third round, I was starting to feel the burn. As with the previous workouts, I used eight pound weights like the women featured in the DVD.

Basketball was very similar to what we saw in Game Day as well. You did a squat, rotated, and jumped. A basic move but definitely one that got my legs burning as time went on.

Unlike in Insanity and Asylum: Volume 1, in Asylum: Volume 2, the Fit Test is an integrated workout. (In the other two programs the Fit Test is it's own DVD.) The Fit Test is the last thing you do in the Championship workout and is called Sudden Death OT. (A bit dramatic, no?) Having the Fit Test at the end of a workout when you're already a bit tired was a bit of a change, but since Championship left me tired but not exhausted, I was up for the challenge.

Doing Sudden Death made me very very happy I had done the Agility Drills workout twice. This was some complicated agility work in the ladder. The goal was to do as many rounds as possible of the following in the ladder: hop left and right twice, hop up twice, hop left and right twice, hop back twice, hop wide and narrow twice, split jump, two leg hop left and right, four power jumps in the ladder, burpee and x-jump twice. As you can see this is quite involved and remembering the foot-work was a real challenge.

You had three minutes to do as many rounds of the Fit Test as you could. I managed seven, and was very excited to hear that the people on the Asylum DVD did between seven and nine rounds. I felt like a champion! As I do the workout more and become even more confident with the foot work, I'm hoping I can get another round for sure.

I've now done all of the workouts in the Asylum: Volume 2 program, with the exception of the 20 minute Ab Shredder workout, which gets tacked on next week. Without reservations, I give this program two thumbs up. I especially love the X Trainer, Power Legs, and Championship workouts. The Back & 6-pack workout was solid but could have had better pacing. The Upper Elite workout was a bit too much upper body work for me, clocking in at a full hour, but I'm hopeful that with time, I'll improve and come to enjoy this workout a bit more.

I can't wait to do the next three weeks of Asylum 2 and see my complete progress. Another winning workout program from Shaun T.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Asylum: Volume 2: Back & 6-pack

This evening, I popped in the fourth workout in the Asylum: Volume 2 series, Back & 6-pack. At forty minutes, this workout is the shortest of the set, save the Off-day Stretch.

This workout definitely worked my core, however, I didn't feel it was quite as challenging as the other three workouts I had done. This was probably because lots of time was given to Shaun T instructing. Many moves could be done with either hand weights or using a chin-up bar. This meant that Shaun T had to show you each move twice, significantly slowing down parts of the workout.

This workout utilized a good deal of equipment such as the resistance loops, weights, and the jump rope. The rope was used during a jumping sequence in the warm-up folded up and held between two hands to help keep form. This is the second non-traditional use of a jump rope in Asylum. The other case was using the rope for stretching in the Upper Elite workout.

This series of exercises involved lots of plank work and some smaller moves on the floor that were similar to what was in the Asylum: Volume 1: Back to Core DVD. There were segments of strength moves like planks and t-stands interspersed with moves like floor sprints and ski abs (from Insanity). I was pretty excited to see ski abs return from Insanity. I recall that in Insanity I could barely do this move more than once or twice and had to take breaks. This time, I made it all the way through the entire set without stopping. These workouts definitely give you a sense of accomplishment when you can see your progress this way.

One of the hardest ab sections of this workout was the final set of ab moves, which seemed Pilates inspired. The move had you holding a c-sit position for five seconds, followed by a one leg raised c-sit for five seconds, followed by a v-sit for five seconds with arms lowered and then with arms raised, followed by lowering of the legs for five seconds. This entire rotation was done multiple times. It was a challenge to hold my legs in a v position as they were very fatigued from yesterday.

This workout was certainly less intense than the others, but I think this was good as my body is feeling pretty punished from the past few days. I think that this workout could have been more of a challenge if we had moved through the exercises more quickly with less instruction. I'm entertaining the idea of fast forwarding the DVD through these pieces next time to make the workout more continuous. On the other hand it is good to get to rest one's muscles between sets, so perhaps these breaks serve a purpose. Another option would be to do a cardio workout on days when I have the Back & 6-pack Asylum DVD on the schedule.

Tomorrow, I will be doing the much deserved stretch DVD. I'm looking forward to thirty minutes of stretching in a way I did not think possible. Saturday will be the big day -- I'll be doing the Championship along with the fit test. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Asylum: Volume 2: Power Legs

Power Legs was in one word amazing! I absolutely loved this workout. It had my favorite sort of cardio -- jumping, and it had it in abundance.

Power Legs is a 55 minute workout and utilizes the agility ladder, resistance loop, and a hand weight. It combined the best elements of the Vertical Plyo workout from Asylum: Volume 2 with some more strength moves.

As anyone who's read this blog knows, I love to jump, and this set of exercises worked your legs with plenty of jumps. A lot of the moves were similar to what I've done before -- power jumps, squat jumps, and the like. The added difficulty here was the use of the resistance loop while doing these jumps and jacks. Doing jacks from a squat, along the agility ladder, while wearing the resistance loop is just one example of the sort of thing this workout had us doing.

Along with the jumping, we got to do more of the agility ladder drills that I learned on Sunday. I love seeing these pop-up in the various workouts. They are always a lot of fun and get me moving. They helped me shake my legs out after a lot of jumping.

While the first two-thirds of the Power Legs workout was a lot of plyo moves. The last bit was devoted to more strength training with a hand weight. There was a memorable set of moves where you used the weight as a kettle bell and combined this move with power jumps across the ladder. Awesome! Squats, deep squats, were heavily featured. The final set of exercises for the day were a five minute series of static pulses in squat, plie, and lunge position. All were done while holding a hand weight for extra measure. This was tough, especially with my legs pre-fatigued from 45 minutes of jumping and other strength work.

My legs were definitely tired after this workout and the last ten minutes were quite challenging, but I really felt strong throughout -- much strong than with the Upper Elite workout. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that my upper body is definitely my weakest part while my legs (from lots of jumping and running) are fairly strong. I also love a good cardio plyo-based workout, so Power Legs really appealed. Liking something always makes it more fun and makes one more successful. I felt like I did a good job keeping up with the people on the Asylum workout DVD today, where as yesterday I thought I needed to take a few more breaks. Today was a great day and a wonderful workout. Fun, fun, fun!

Tomorrow, I'll be tackling the Back & 6-pack workout. I'm looking forward to seeing how that one goes!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Asylum: Volume 2: Upper Elite

Happy new year! Last night, I had a wonderful evening ringing in the new year with Seth, Seth's parents, and Dad and Lisa. What a great way to celebrate the arrival of 2013!

Today, I woke up ready for day two of Asylum: Volume 2. I noticed right away that I was pretty sore in the chest from yesterday's extensive number of push-ups in the X Trainer workout. I was a bit nervous because today was the Upper Elite workout.

Having completed this workout, I can now say this is the most difficult weight training session I have ever done. It was sixty minutes of non-stop upper body work. I actually think that this was a bit too much. My muscles were completely done at around the 45 minute mark.

The workout incorporated more varieties of push-ups than I can name. There were all the push-up moves from yesterday's X Trainer workout plus more. There were one arm push-ups, wide push-ups, standard push-ups, jumping push-ups, and triceps push-ups just to name a few. We definitely did hundreds of push-ups. My chest is completely fatigued. Again, some of the women in the workout finished with doing push-ups on their knees. I had to do this modification too and cannot even imagine not having to do so in the future.

There was also a good deal of work with hand weights. I went ahead and used eight pounders, which is what the women in Asylum were using throughout. There were a lot of compound moves that worked biceps, lats, and shoulders. I felt much more confident about these moves than I did with the push-ups. This is probably because my chest is one of my weaker muscles and also because it was fatigued from yesterday.

Every once in a while, to break things up slightly, there were some quick agility moves in the ladder. These were few and far between and I wish there had been more of this. I don't make a secret of the fact that I don't really like strength training and that I love cardio, so this might be the reason for my bias. Either way, a full hour of complex and extremely difficult moves focused on the upper body with little rest was a bit intense. This workout definitely gave me the most muscle pain I have ever felt.

One interesting aspect of the workout was that we moved through moves quick quickly. You usually had to do something for only 30 seconds to a minute; 2 minutes max. This was helpful as the moves were so difficult 30 seconds felt like an eternity. While various moves worked muscles similarly enough for effect, having the quick changes between exercises gave just enough variation to make the entire hour-long workout possible.

Upper Elite featured compound moves that allow you to tone your core as well. There was an entire set of chest work with weights with combined abdominal work.

This is an amazing upper body workout, although a bit lengthy for my taste. There is a huge focus on chest -- as usually Shaun T throws many, many push-ups your way. I can honestly say that this was not my favorite workout. I think it was a bit too much. I like intensity, but this was absolutely crazy. I am sure that this will never be a workout I really enjoy, but I think I can improve with it a bit with time. I could definitely see this workout winning points with people who love to resistance train.

Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to giving my very sore upper body a rest and doing the Power Legs workout. More news to come!