Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cool Fitness and Nutrition Stuff

A week or so ago, Kona Kase arrived in the mail with exciting new treats including the full GU line and also this delicious Oh Yeah! bar. 

I totally enjoyed its whopping 26g of protein before a hard strength training workout and felt great. Also, it tasted delicious (thought it did have more sugars and a longer list of ingredients than I would prefer). 

I also had the chance to try another protein bar the other day. I forgot to bring my pre-afternoon workout snack to work. A trip to the local market had me ending up with a Seitenbacher high protein bar. 

The bar had a slight chocolate coating, so I opted for the mint flavor (because chocolate with mint is awesome). I love love love this bar. I ate it an hour before before workout and definitely had good results. The bar had a good blend of carbs/sugars and protein (16g) for me. It clocked in at 190 calories, but -- the best part! -- it was pre-divided into two, allowing me two 95 calorie snacks over two days. Perfect! I always want a 100 calorie snack mid-afternoon. As a bonus, the bar had a very short ingredient list of fiber, protein from milk, soy, and hazelnuts. (Plus the chocolate covering.) I think the soy is a definite minus, but it's fairly far down on the list, so I think this bar is a good back-up.

The other very exciting thing that happened yesterday was the purchase of new shoes for the gym. It's been a year since I got new shoes for at the gym, and I was needing them. I go to the Smith gym 3 to 5 days a week depending on my Phonathon schedule, but usually at least 4 days. I alternate between running on the treadmill (3 to 5 miles), doing circuit training with weights, and attending my aerobics class. I wanted shoes that would work for running and aerobics. Since I go to the gym so much, I didn't want to bring shoes back and forth from home, plus I'm not supposed to wear outside shoes on the machines. It's good to alternate your sneakers anyway, so I've always kept separate sneakers for outside running and gym exercise.

I've had good success with my Altra sneakers which I got from Good for the Soles back in March. They are nice and wide -- I've been enjoying running outside with them. I decided to pay another trip to Good for the Soles again in search of gym shoes. 

I ended up with another pair of Altras, The One.

They are a slightly lighter-weight sneaker than the Altra Intuition shoes I run in outside. Back when I was testing the Altra Intuitions, I had attended aerobics with them and found them not ideal for that activitiy. I think that these shoes being slightly lighter will be great. The person at the store said a lot of people like to do crossfit in these shoes, meaning they will be good for cross training. 

I went for a 3 mile treadmill run with the new, The One, sneakers today, and everything felt good. I'm excited to take these shoes to aerobics when class starts next week and see how they perform there. 

Also, bonus surprise! Seth got me this cute Catbus t-shirt.

I can honestly say that I'm not usually into animations and animated characters, but I've loved the Catbus every since I saw her in the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro.

The Catbus T is in the wash now, but I can't wait to wear him this weekend!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

P90X Cardio X and Stretch X

This past Memorial Day weekend was another busy one at work. After working 14 hours on Friday and then Saturday morning (for the second week in a row), I was ready to have some free time. I decided to fill this time with checking out a couple more of the P90X workouts.

For Saturday, I was scheduled to do the Plyometrics workout. I like this workout a lot, and found it to be perfect cardio. During the Plyometrics workout, Tony had mentioned that you could substitute the easier Cardio X workout for the Plyometrics workout. Because I had just spent the better part of the last 48 hours at the office, I decided a slightly easier cardio workout was just what I wanted and popped in Cardio X.

Cardio X is slightly shorter than the other P90X workout, clocking in at around 45 minutes. Unlike what you would think from the title, this workout actually is not very cardio intensive and will likely not prove a challenge for most individuals who do cardio regularly. 

The program started out with a brief warm up. This was then followed by over fifteen minutes of yoga. We did vinyasas -- sun salutations, warrior one and two, runner's pose, and reverse warrior. At this point I was thinking, "What?! I thought this was supposed to be a cardio workout?" Nope. We were almost twenty minutes into the workout before we started any cardio at all. 

The cardio segment started with some moves from the Kenpo X workout. As you likely know from my previous post, the Kenpo X workout is not my favorite -- I found the cardio not to be high enough intensity and the form of the people on the DVD to be suspect. Since the Cardio X DVD is supposed to be a cardio workout for easier days, I felt okay with the inclusion of the easier Kenpo X moves here but had the same issues with them as before. 

We then moved on to some slight plyometric work. This was the best part of the workout for sure and truly an easier version of the Plyometrics DVD. Some of the moves such as airborn heisman, tires, swing kicks, and jump shot, where taken directly from the Plyometrics workout. They added a new move called Wacky Jacks, which seemed like a misguided move from an elementary school dance class.

The workout finished with some new moves. Most were fairly easy and basic, but a few such as the dreya roll (in which you rolled from your back and shoulders to a standing position) and superman/banana (where you rotated from your stomach to your back) were challenging.

While the last fifteen minutes or so of this workout with the plyometrics and new cardio moves pleased, overall the workout was a dud. It was way to easy and too much time was devoted to yoga and stretching. (And as you know I'm anti stretching extensively before a workout.) My understanding is that this is a supplementary workout if you're doing the Classic P90X schedule. It might be a fine workout for someone just starting with cardio training, but everyone else might want to just do the Plyometrics workout to get a good sweat. 

The second workout I checked out this weekend was Stretch X. For those who are following the Classic schedule exactly, this workout is not introduced until week 4. However, I was feeling stiff, my hips were bothering me, and wanted a good stretch. I know that the Yoga X workout it too intense for me at the moment -- I'm not very flexible and it doesn't provide enough modifications. I had been reading online that some people were substituting Stretch X for Yoga X and were having a good experience. I wanted to give it a try. 

Stretch X was exactly what I was looking for! I finished the workout feeling well stretched and relaxed. It was a great stretch workout with a little bit of yoga inspiration. The workout started with some sun salutations to warm up the muscles. We then moved onto an excellent neck stretching segment, followed by some great back, shoulder, and arm stretches. I especially liked the inclusion of wrist and forearm stretches. I can't think of another stretch workout that I've done that featured wrist stretches, but this felt fantastic!

We moved onto some more seated/supine back stretches. Following that we moved onto legs, which was what I, with my sore hips, had been waiting for. I actually wish that there had been even more hip and glute stretches. There were a few, but I could have used even more. The focus was definitely on the hamstrings, which makes sense since this is a very tight area for most people. 

I absolutely loved the Stretch X workout, and will make a concerted effort to do it frequently going forward. I am apt to not want to spend time stretching because it's "boring" but know that it's important to my health. This hour-long workout is just what I need!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More on P90X

Yesterday I checked out the second of the P90X cardio workouts, Kenpo X, a martial arts inspired hour-long session.   Coming off Les Mills Combat and being a big lover of kickboxing and martial arts workout overall, I was interested to see how this one fared.

Kenpo X started with a fifteen minute stretching segment. Stretching is fine, but I'm not a big fan of stretching right before a workout. This was deep yoga style stretching, which in general, I've heard is not recommended before using your muscles as it slightly "weakens" them and can cause injury. I would have much preferred this long stretch after the workout. 

The cardio was set up in multiple segments with little "breaks" where you did a minute of running in place, jump rope, jacks, and mini x-jumps. The first cardio section focused on punches with jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts. The second section added in some leg work mainly front kicks, side kicks, and back kicks. We then did a segment with blocks. The final segment seemed to integrate moves from all the previous segments. 

All in all, I would give this workout an average rating. The cardio was fine -- it got my heart rate up, though moderately, as the intensity was average. The combinations were kind of lack-luster, especially after the more involved and exciting combinations in Les Mills Combat and TurboFire. I would have liked to see more integration of the upper and lower body work throughout the workout. This would have added more interest to the workout and more energy. 

I also would have liked to see better form from the individuals on the DVD, especially the leader, Tony Horton. I think now that they have Les Mills in their stable, Tony might want to take the opportunity to learn martial arts from them. The kicks and blocks looked especially sloppy. 

My favorite part about this workout was getting to see a few new martial arts moves I hadn't really done before. They do a lot of advancing (front shuffle) and also a lot of blocks. I had done blocks with Les Mills Combat, but it was fun to do more in succession. 

In total, this workout was fine cardio, but a little bit less than inspiring. I got a fine workout, but felt that the combinations could have had more intensity and that this would have added energy and enthusiasm to the workout. 

I now have done the majority of the P90X workouts on the month 1 schedule. I still have the Stretch X (which I'm hoping is an easier alternative to Yoga X) and Core Synergistics (a total body workout) to check out. I also have not done the Cardio X workout, however, my understanding of this workout is that you can substitute it if the Plyometrics workout (which I liked a lot) is too hard. I'm planning to check out the Stretch X and Core Synergistics workouts in the next week for sure. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Big Weekend at Work and More P90X

This past weekend was a busy one at work. It was the first of two alumnae reunions and also Commencement for the graduating seniors. Smith has a really wonderful tradition called Ivy Day, which takes place the day before Commencement. All the alumnae and students assemble wearing weight and ribbons in their class colors. The alumnae process through the graduating seniors who then join the parade, ending in the Quad where there is a ceremony.

I was also able to capture a couple of small videos of the parade. They are only so-so since I was taking part, coordinating a class, but they'll give you an idea.

I also made the time to try a couple more of the P90X workouts.

Yoga X: After my busy week, I decided I would relax with a nice yoga workout. I was a little bit intimidated by the 90 minute length, but I thought I could do with that long a period of relaxation. I was hugely in error. Yoga X was super super hard.

The first 15 minutes went well; I was doing traditional moves that I knew (warrior, runner's pose, triangle). We moved quickly, but fluidly -- I was feeling fine. Then things got crazy. We got into some advanced yoga moves that I had never seen. I'm not very flexible, and with the limited instruction and no modification, the moves were sometimes impossible for me to do. I wish that they had been a bit more descriptive about how each pose should feel. Even the most inflexible person on the DVD was much more flexible than me, so a person doing beginner modifications would be a help, especially for a yoga novice like me.

The Yoga X workout moved through around 50 minutes of vinyasas followed by some balance moves (which I was a bit more successful with). We devoted only the last 10 minutes or so to some relaxation, but at that point I felt sore and over stretched, especially in my legs. I ended up feeling more sore the next day as a result of this workout than most of the others.

The next time I do this workout (which I'm kind of dreading and might be rarely), I plan to tackle the workout in pieces and try 45 minutes at a time. Because of the intensity of the workout, I found that in the last half, my muscles were too fatigued to maintain good form. Breaking up the workout will help me maintain good form and build my flexibility and confidence with yoga.

Legs & Back: I found the Legs & Back workout to be extremely excellent. This workout was very much legs focused and used the weight of your body for resistance. Since this is my favorite method of resistance training, I was very pleased. The workout is probably 75% - 80% legs and the rest back. 

The back workout is done using a pull-up bar or resistance bands. (Unfortunately, I was unable to use my pull-up bar because the door I usually hook it up to was in heavy usage.) Using the resistance band instead of the pull-up bar is definitely much easier, and I'm getting ready for a new challenge. A lot of the "back" moves are pull-up / chin-up variations, which were familiar from the Chest & Back workout.

The leg portion of the workout featured many lunges (side, back, front), squats (including killer static wall squats), and calf raises. I loved all the variations on lunges and squats. I don't do a lot of work on my calves, so that was a great thing to throw in. My legs felt nicely worked but not killed.

All in all, P90X is proving to be a great program. I've been really enjoying doing the DVDs around every other day instead of daily as a program since weight training is not my favorite thing (although this is definitely helping me like it more). I think my approach of mixing in cardio, such as running or kickboxing, on alternating day is a good approach for me. I know that Beachbody has a P90X Insanity Hybrid schedule, which I would doubt really enjoy. That will be a good option after I finish the program once through using the Classic Schedule.

Monday, May 13, 2013


The month of May has been crazy busy. The first weekend, we were completely consumed with Seth's high school reunion (both for the music department and then for his class). This past weekend, was one of intense travel. We visited with friends in Cambridge, and then visited on mother's for Mother's Day.

Of course, I'm still making time for the important things, like exercise. I did finish up the Les Mills Combat program (quick review: slightly easier than most Beachbody workouts but lots of fun). I decided to check out the free Combat 30 Live workout that I had received because we got the program directly from Beachbody. Not that exciting, I hate to admit. Almost all the sequences were re-used from other DVDs. There were only a couple of new moves (hammer, something about bear claws?). Also, oddly, the workout featured no cool down whatsoever. Kind of odd. But whatever; it was free. I might pop it into the player when I want a quick moderate intensity cardio workout.

The most exciting news, is that I've started P90X. Well, kind of. The thing is the weather is nice now, and I don't want to commit to having to do an hour-long workout everyday after work (in addition to my workout at the gym). The main reason is that I like to go for a post-dinner 40 minute walk during the nice weather, and I don't want to give that up.

Solution: I've been doing the P90X workouts every other day or so. The program is more resistance training intensive, which honestly is what I need. I love cardio and would do it every day, but weights are what I really need.

The structure of P90X has you work a set of muscles in a given workout. (ex. shoulders and biceps or chest and back). You do a set of three exercises and repeat it. You then move on to another set of exercises which you repeat.

The P90X folks are big into tracking your weights and number of reps, which is quite legit. I was able to download the P90X app for free during a sale, and you can easily track all of your reps and the weight you use in the app. You can also check off your workouts when you complete them and indicate the level of intensity. As a bonus, the app has a place to track what you eat. Kind of a nice bonus -- this is the only Beachbody program to have an app, and I find it very convenient. I especially liked that I didn't have to load 90 days worth of workouts into the exercise scheduler I normally use.

I decided that my first time through all the workouts is just a trial, so I have not been tracking my reps and weights yet. I've usually been using between 8 and 10 lbs. I know in some places I might want to go slightly (only very slightly) heavier because you don't do a ton of reps. However, I want to be conservative because you do two sets of each type of move and work a limited number of muscles in each hour-long workout.

So far, I've tried the first four workouts:

1 and 2. Chest & Back and Ab Ripper X: Chest & Back was really hard. My chest is probably  my weakest muscle, and it showed. There were many many push-up variations (wide push-ups, triceps push-ups, push-ups on a decline). There was also work with a pull-up bar or a resistance band (hooked up over a door). For my first time through, I opted for the resistance band. A good move. I will try the pull-up bar next time, but it was good to try the bands for the first run through. This workout was around 55 minutes in length. For those interested in a full moves list, you can view one here.

Ab Ripper X was also quite a challenge even through it was only 15 minutes long. They people on the DVD were doing far more reps of each move than I could manage. I had to go more slowly to maintain good form.  There were lots and lots of crunch variations and some moves that definitely worked my hip flexors, perhaps even more than I wanted. By the time we got to the v-ups, I was pretty much done. Again, a complete moves list can be found here.

3. Plyometrics: I was amazing at this workout! It was all cardio, so I was playing to a strength. This workout struck me as an easier version of Insanity. Some of the moves were the same, but you did things at a much slower pace. There was lots of jumping but, again, in a bit of an easier way than with Insanity. There were jump squats, tuck jumps (done at half the speed of Insanity), some slightly lower impact running moves, and many other similar moves. I felt moderately challenges and definitely worked up a sweat, but there weren't any points at which I needed to take a break. This is a nice hour-long cardio workout. I would do it as part of the P90X program but also just whenever I feel like doing some good cardio.

4. Shoulders & Arms: I loved this workout! This was a strength training workout that make me feel like I was working hard but also being successful. The Shoulders & Arms workout focused on shoulders, biceps, and triceps. We used hand weights and our body for resistance. We would do one exercise focusing on each group (three in total) and then repeat those exercises (here's a moves list). I was very pleased because I was using weights that were almost identical to the woman on the DVD. I used 10s where she used 10s or 12s (which I don't have). I used 8s where she used them or 10s. For the biceps I could probably go slightly heavier. I have 10s and 3s, so I could hold them together and do 13s instead of getting 12 pound weights. I'll have to consider.

I think that doing these exercises is going to be great. I'm glad to be doing more weight work. True I don't really like doing weights, but they are so good for me! I also think that doing this program as a hybrid with Insanity would work very very well. Building some extra muscle should work very well for my obstacle course race in June. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Garden 2013

Today I took advantage of my day off (and last free day until the end of May) to plant my garden. I had dug up all the day lilies from the left-hand garden last week. I put in an herb garden.


I included basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, catnip, lemon balm, lavender, thyme, tarragon, oregano, and chives.

In the right-hand garden, my bulbs are already coming up. I planted some annuals to go with them: impatiens and tall snapdragons (for cutting).

So far so good. I'm glad the garden is all done. (I don't enjoy gardening, but I want things to look nice, so I put in a garden each year). I'm looking forward to when the herbs are big enough for cutting!