Saturday, January 25, 2014

P90X3: Dynamix Review

On the Classic calendar for P90X3 Sunday reads as follows: Rest or Dynamix. Because it was the first week, and I was curious, I decided to give the Dynamix workout a try. I am so glad that I did!

Dynamix is a dynamic stretching workout designed to help with flexibility, mobility, and strength. For anyone who does any athletics, I think it will be a big help. I plan to keep it as part of my weekly program going forward for quite some time. Dynamix seems like the type of workout that will really help you keep your body balanced and help prevent injury. I find my flexibility to be a challenge, so I think this workout will greatly benefit me. I also think that a lot of these moves could be helpful with keeping my body in good shape for my running.

The number of exercises in the workout is lengthy. I'll go through each one but will only indicate comments next to moves that I think people might find especially beneficial or especially challenging. We often did moves in sets, doing three or four moves on one side before switching and doing them on the other side. (This is instead of doing each move on each side.) I'll note these groupings in the list below.

On side, all lying on left then all lying on the right (Note: We went through these four moves first on one side and then the other instead of alternating sides within the set.):
  • Leg Lift: Lying of your side, lift your leg straight up. Do on both sides.
  • Adductor Lift: Cross your right foot behind the left leg and lift your left leg towards the ceiling. (The people on the DVD had various ranges of motion for this move. I couldn't get my leg very high at all.)
  • Horse Step: Pull your right bent knee towards you, extend out in front and sweep back.
  • Forearm Plank: On bend elbow and on your side, keep yourself in a straight line in side plank balance. (My supporting arm was fairly tired at this point, making this move more of a challenge.)
On stomach, right side then left (Note: We went through all seven of these moves on one side. Then we started back at top and did the other.):
  • Glute Lift: Face down, light leg straight up behind you.
  • Scorpion: Face down, lift you leg bent up behind you and twist to touch your toes over your back to the opposing hand.
  • Shoulder Stretch: Sit on your knees. Interlace your hands behind your back. On your knees lower your head to the floor lifting your arms towards the ceiling. (For this move, Tony Horton says you should try to sit back so your glutes are on your feet. I found this to be a bit hard -- I had to be a bit more forward. I saw people in the DVD doing the same thing -- not getting all the way back onto their heels -- so I think this is okay.)
  • Ham/Hip Rocker: Coming up on one knee, place you hands on your waist as you drop your pelvis towards the floor. Next, extend you front leg out in front of you, bringing your hands to either side of the leg.
  • Groiners: Bring your hands to the floor inside your foot, have the other leg extended straight behind you. Alternate your foot from plank to lunge. (I know of these as Spider Lunges.)
  • Pigeon: In plank, draw your knee in to pigeon then go back into plank. (Pigeon is probably my favorite move! It always helps my hips and is something I do most days to help with my tendonitis. I had never though to do it as a dynamic move before and greatly enjoyed it.)
  • Lunge Push-ups: In a low lunge, bring your hands both inside your front foot. Bend into a push-up. (Because of the way you have your bent leg under your chest, I found my range of motion limited for the push-up part of this move. I also found that the front leg took a lot of the work out of the chest when doing the push-up. Bending down into the push-up position seemed to provide a stretch in the legs more than work in the chest and shoulders.)
Standing (Note: These moves were just done once each, straight through):
  • Polka Stretch: Do a calf/hamstring standing stretch on the left side by extended the leg along the floor and lifting the toes. Bring your right arm to the outside of your foot. Switch arms and legs. Keep repeating. (My hamstrings and calves are very tight, so I really appreciated this stretch. I've done this before, but almost always as a static stretch.)
  • Hip Circles: Lift leg and circle it to the outside with knee bent, then repeat to the inside. Switch sides. (This was part of the warm-up in some of the Les Mills Combat workouts, and I really like it. It does a good job warming up the hips.)
  • Polka Plus: Stand in a hamstring stretch like in Polka Stretch. Then step that front leg back into a lunge. Repeat on the other side.
  • Double Knee Pulls: Grab your knees and bull it up twice towards the chest. Switch legs. (This move is done in almost all of the P90X3 warm-ups and was very familiar. Still feels fantastic.)
  • Front to Back Lunges: Step forward into a lunge with the right leg. Using the same leg, step the right foot in back of you. Switch legs after 30 seconds.
  • Double Quad Stretch: Do a standing quad stretch, lifting your foot towards the glutes behind you and pulling. Alternate left and right. (Again, a familiar move from the P90X3 warm-ups. Running works the quads, so I feel like I can't get too much of this sort of stretch.)
  • Glide Lunge: With wide legs, lunge side to slide keeping your torso level and moving smoothly.
  • Tin Man Zombie: Have arms extended at shoulder level and alternate kicking straight legs to your hands. (This is one of the early moves in the T25 Stretch DVD. I am not too keen on it in either workout -- I'm not sure why but it doesn't feel like an effective stretch for my body.)
Supine (Note: As with the standing moves, we moved through these moves straight through doing each one once and alternating sides within the set.):
  • Glute Rocker: On your back, cross one foot over the other knee and bring the bent leg towards the chest. Lower and raise again in a rocking motion. Repeat on the other side. (The static version of this glute stretch is one of my favorites. This is one of the only cases where I think I prefer the static version of this move to the dynamic one. I just didn't feel like I got as good of a stretch doing the dynamic version.)
  • Double Knee Pull: The same as the standing Double Knee Pull but done on hte back.
  • Double Pigeon Pull: On your back, pull the calf of your right leg towards you twice while keeping the ankle even with the knee. Alternate. (This is the same as the standing Double Pigeon Pull done in almost all the P90X3 warm-ups expect it's done lying down.)
  • Spinal Twist: On your back, bring your knee up to the chest and cross it over your body. Hold with your left hand leaving your right arm extended out shoulder high at a 90 degree angle to the body. Switch sides and back forth. (I could have easily done this for wa more than 30 seconds. I have done this as a static move and not loved it, but it felt great when done as a dynamic move. My hips and back really felt good afterwards.)
  • Fifter Scissor Stretch: On your back with shoulders curled off the floor, lift one leg straight up with the other hovering straight a few inches off the ground. Alternate legs pulling on each leg twice when it's in the air. (This move is taken from Pilates where it is just called Scissors. Great work for the abs.)
  • Marching Bridge: Lay on your back with knees bent. Push hips up in Bridge. Lift one foot off the ground lower and repeat on the other side, like marching.
  • Farrthing Stretch: While supine with shoulders curled off the floor, bend one knee to the chest and extend the other leg to hover off the ground. Alternate bringing the other leg into the chest and straightening the bent leg.
  • Side Banana and Superman: Lie on your side with hips stacked. Curl your arms up and lift your legs so you are in a "u" shape with only hips on the ground. You are now in Banana. To transition to Superman, rotate to your stomach. Extend arms over the head and raise arms and legs off the floor so only your core is on the ground. Finish by transitioning back to Banana on the alternate side.

I started today feeling very sore all over. After doing this workout I felt much better. P90X3: Dynamix plus a glass of cherry juice with chia made me set for the day!

I really appreciated this workout which is very different from most flexability workouts I've done. Instead of static stretching this was all dynamic. I like the feel of this way better than yoga, where you often spend a lot of time holding poses. While static stretches can make the muscles feel good, Dynamix -- where you had exercises that allowed you to move through ranges of motion -- seemed to be more beneficial for preparing you to succeed at other activities.

Dynamix is a keeping. I definitely see this as a workout I will continue to use even after I am done with the P90X3 program. Similar to how I feel about X3 Yoga, this would be a perfect workout for a rest day or a supplementary workout on a day when I have worked hard and am feeling sore.

I'm hoping to see improvement in my range of motion from workouts like this. I would not normally spend the time to do as much stretching and flexibility work as have done since starting P90X3. I think that incorporating these workouts into my schedule is definitely beneficial and should lead to improvements in all areas of fitness activity.

P90X3: The Warrior Review

I kicked off today with the sixth P90X3 workout on the schedule, The Warrior. This workout was great and reminded me quite a bit of T25. No equipment was required for this workout -- you just need you body for resistance. The Warrior was designed by Tony Horton for the military and there were two police men in the DVD.

The workout moves quite quickly from move to move -- there was much less stopping than in other workouts like Agility X. We were moving much more consistently with just a few thirty second water breaks for water. I really like this format, as it makes for better cardio.

The Warrior was a total body workout. I would say the main focus was cardio, but there was upperbody and ab work interspersed for a kind of circuit-style training experience.

We started out with the standard warm-up of jogging, jacks, and dynamic stretching. It was then on to the workout. We did each move once and worked straight through.
  • Plank Sphinx Push-ups: Begin in forearm plan. Walk your hands up into full plank and do a push-up. Adjust from forearm to full plank to push-up on cue. (My chest was still tired from this week, especially The Challenge, so after around half a minute I finished this exercise on my knees.)
  • Speed Skater: Shift from left to right foot, jumping laterally and landing on just one foot with the other bent behind you. Arms follow. After doing single Speed Skater, switch to doubles where you do another lateral hop after transitioning laterally. (I've done this move in a lot of the Shaun T workouts, and it's a good one. I had never done the doubles though, and really enjoyed that added challenge.)
  • Down Dog Crunches: In downward dog, lower into plan and pull your knee to the elbow on the same side. Bring the leg back and then pull it in between you arms. Bring the leg back again and then crunch across the body to the elbow on the opposite side. Switch legs. (This was an intensified version of a move from T25 Stretch. I really liked the twisting crunch in. We did this for at least a full minute -- maybe more -- and at the end my shoulders were getting very tired.)
  • Side Lunge Jump Shot: Step out to the side in a lunge reaching to the floor. Press back to the middle and jump straight up with arms like your throwing a basketball. Alternate side to side. (Again, this was somewhat similar to a move we've done before in P90X3 and also to a move from Insanity. I like jumping around because it get's the heart rate up.)
  • Elevator Push-ups: Start in high plank, lower to mid plank or to the floor as requested in a push-up position. Adjust height on cue. (Woah! This was definitely hard. We did a full minutes, and I had to do most of this on my knees. I rallied for the last 15 seconds and did the move in full plank.)
  • Double Uppercut, Sprawls: With feet in fight stance, perform an uppercut with your front hand and then back hand. Then jump back down to the floor into plank, like you're doing a half burpee. Come back to standing and repeat. Change lead after 30 seconds. (Anything with a burpee is good news in my book! They move pretty quickly through this move, and I had to race to keep up.)
  • Roller Boat: Begin on your tailbone with bent knees. Roll back onto your shoulders and then return to your tailbone, extend your legs in front of you in Boat and reach your hands towards the feet. (Somewhat similar to Boat Plow, but without going into pull Plow. As always Boat is a challenge and I usually find myself bending my legs since I have tight hamstrings.)
  • One Leg Jump Squats: On one leg, reach both hands to the floor bending your knees. Jump off the floor as high as you can. Switch legs after 30 seconds. (I remembered these from Asylum -- love them! They work the calves great. I think we did a minute on each side in Asylum, if I'm remembering correctly, so this was no problem. You can modify by tapping or putting weight on the assisting leg as needed.)
  • Thumbs-up Push-up: In plank, lowering into a push-up. Come up extending your right arm and left left off the ground. Lower into another push-up; when you come up lift your left arm and right leg. Keep alternating sides. (We did this for a full minute. My chest was still feeling beat. I did a little over half in full plank and then dropped to my knees for a little bit. Interestingly in P90X3 they never show dropping to your knees as a modification for push-up moves. I think they should, especially for this move which is a big balance challenge. This works your chest, shoulders, and all your core muscles as you stabilize.)
  • Elbow, Over the Top Elbow, Sprawl: In fighter stance, do one hook and the one high elbow with the alternate hand. Jump back into a half burpee. Return to standing and repeat switching sides after thirty seconds. (Like the Double Uppercut, Sprawls this move was great. Burpees are always good for getting you breathing. They moved quickly, and I had to stay focused to keep up.)
  • Fifter Scissor Twist: Lying on your back, extend one leg towards the ceiling and reach to the outside of your foot with the other arm. Switch arms and legs back and forth keeping legs straight. (I've done this move many times before in T25 and other workouts. It's very similar, in my mind, to Scissors from Pilates. Does a great job working the abs.)
  • Warrior Squat Lunges: In a squat with your right hand to the outside of your right foot, jump back into a lunge with the right foot back and hand to the sky. Jump back into squat and repeat. Move to left side at the mid-point. (Can't go wrong with plyo squats and lunges. My legs felt tired after this one, but in a good way.)
  • Super Burpee: In a sumo squat, jump back into plank, do a push-up and draw knees to the chest on each side. Do another push-up Jump back into a deep squat. For a harder version do push-ups between the knees and do a tuck jump at the top of the burpee. (I decided to not do the added push-ups but to definitely do the jump at the top of the move. All three people on the DVD were showing three different levels of difficulty for this move. I didn't get as out of breath with this as other burpees because you spend so long at the bottom of the move doing resistance work.)
  • Think Drills: With feet wide do fast feet. Follow cues for arms up, out, and "rabbit". Follow cues for moving in different directions with the legs. (This was just like what you do in some of the month one Insanity workouts -- although Shaun T has more dignity and doesn't require the rabbit move. Still, lots of fun.)
  • Abrinome: Lie down with your arms at a 45 degree angle from your sides and legs straight up. On cue, bring your legs to the right, center, and left. Legs should be at a 45 degree angle from the floor or higher. (I liked this move a lot. I really felt the rotation in my back and hips. Not too hard, but a nice move nonetheless.)
  • Spiderman Squats: In a deep squat jump 1/4 of a circle side to side landing in another deep squat. Increase to 1/2 circle and then a full circle. (Doing the full turn was a bit tricky because the people on the DVD were not doing a hugely high jump. When I've had to do full circles in the past, like in Asylum 2: Championship, we've jumped very high. The move as done in P90X3 felt like it worked my inner legs more, interestingly enough.)

I loved this workout! I think it was a great blend of cardio and strength moves. I felt I worked my entire body: upper, lower, and core. Of all the workouts in P90X3, this one reminded me of T25 the most. It was similar with total body moves and continuous movement. The workout is very dynamic in that it focuses on so many areas of fitness. It's a great supplemental workout any day of the week.

Friday, January 24, 2014

P90X3: CVX Review

After The Challenge yesterday my gelatin-like arms were ready for a day off. A cardio workout was just the ticket. In general, I have find the P90X cardio workouts to be less than challenging, so I did a six mile run at the gym this afternoon to make sure to get my heavier cardio in. However, CVX seemed to be more than just cardio; it seemed that at least some weight work would be involved. I like adding some light weights to my cardio work on occasion -- it's like doing double duty, so I was excited to try this workout!

The workout started right away -- no additional warm-up. Each set of three moves was repeated twice with a very short break after the second time through. The first time through each move was done at a moderate intensity; the second time through was done at higher intensity with either more speed or a greater range of motion. You need one dumbbell for this workout in the three to twelve pound range. You are going to be moving the weight quickly, so keep it light. I started with an eight pound weight, and that ended up being to heavy for the quick movements. I dropped down to a five, which was what the woman in the DVD was using, and that worked perfectly.

Here are the moves from the workout. Remember, each set of three is performed twice.
  • Press Jacks: Holding one weight, do jumping jacks with the feet and extend weight overhead.
  • Atlas Twist: with feet wide, lung to the right with weight on the right foot. Turn your torso and food to the left as you extend both legs and press the weight to your left shoulder. Repeat. Switch sides mid-way through. (I remembered this move from the original P90X workout Core Synergistics.)
  • March and Reach: Extend your arms overhead. Lower the weight and kick your leg. (It really worked the shoulders. The second time through this move was when I realized my eight pound weight was not going to workout and begged for Seth to go upstairs and get me the five pounds.)
  • Traveling Tire Twist: High run moving forward as through four tires and twisting your arms and torso towards the opposite knee. (This move was a little awkward, but easier when done fast.)
  • Frog Squat Reach: With your feet wide and externally rotated and arms towards the floor, bend your knees into squat. Come  up, lifting onto the balls of your feet and extending your arms overhead. (I really liked this move. Coming up on the balls of your feet after doing the squat did a nice job working the calves a little. I'm trying to strengthen my calve muscles and really appreciated the.)
  • Arc Press Lunge: Start in a lunge with the weight next to the hip of the forward leg. Explode upwards switching legs in the air and bringing the weight up and over your torso stopping on the other hip. (The people on the DVD do this move as more of a skip than plyo jump, especially the first time through. This is an easy move to make easier -- the modifier does it without jumping -- or harder -- just jump higher.)
  • Hop Overs: With a towel on the floor, stand to one side and jump both feet laterally over landing in a squat on the other side. Jump side to side. (Fun! We did this first with one foot following the other and then with both feet at the same time. Very similar to some of the jumping you do in the ladder drills in Asylum 1 and 2.)
  • Balance Pull: With weight on one foot, extend the opposite leg off the floor and to your side. Bring your lifted knee into the weight in front of your torso. Extend your leg back out without touching. Switch mid-way through. (You basically do a move like this is every exercise DVD I have; however, the addition of the weight makes it feel different. I felt like I was engaging my core more and really crunching my abs.)
  • Twist and Pivot: Holding your weight in both hands in front of the chest, begin to pivot your feet one at a time, keeping one underneath you and the other extended slightly behind. (Very easy move. The main challenge is keeping your elbows up and really twisting to work the core muscles.)
  • Side Reach Jumps: Step out to the right, bending your right knee and lowering the weight below knee level. Step back in, bend both knees, and jump like you're shooting a basket ball. (Again, I've done moves like this before and always find them to be effective, but the weight made this a bit different. I was moving more slowly, but that was okay. With the weight I really focused on form.)
  • Crescent Chair: Start in Chair position from yoga with weight at chest level. Step back into a lunge extending the weight overhead. Reverse. (This move was the same as one we did in P90X3 Total Synergistics just with the weight added. The work with the weight worked the shoulders, which felt very tired by the end.)
  • Globe Squatters: In a sumo squat, hop off the floor as you circle the weight up over your head to your right hip. Land in a deep sumo squat. Then reverse the arc as you jump again. (This was another move that was for the shoulders. Since you jumped only very slightly until the second round, the weight work was the focus. There were a lot of shoulder moves with the weight throughout and you moved quickly, so by this point my shoulders were feeling the fatigue.)
I really enjoyed this workout. I was beat from The Challenge yesterday and a six mile run at the gym today, and this workout was a bit of work to get through. Even though I was using a light weight, my arms definitely felt it, especially my shoulders. It was great to get in a bit of resistance training with my cardio.

Because you are holding a weight, you might end up doing the moves slightly slower than you would for a purely cardio workout. As a result, my heart rate didn't seem to go quite as high, but the challenge of using a weight more than made up for it -- I felt I got a very good workout. Again, another winner!

I have two more workouts left until I finish the first week of P90X3. Up tomorrow is The Warrior. Sunday is the optional workout Dynamix. I will then repeat the schedule from week one for weeks two and three before moving onward to some new items on week four. I'm looking forward to seeing what this weekend's workouts have in store for me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

P90X3: The Challenge Review

Day four of P90X3 and it was time for The Challenge. I will admit, I approached this workout with a bit of trepidation. I had reviewed my fitness guide and saw The Challenge was going to be all pull-ups and push-ups. Yikes! For this workout you need a chin-up bar for sure.

There were only eight moves in this workout, but they all packed a punch. The workout was done in class P90X style where you did two moves, then repeated them twice. For each set of moves -- pull-up and push-up -- we did two sets of both moves. In general, we spent between 40 seconds and a minute on each move. After each set of two moves, we had a one minute break. Here's what The Challenge entailed.
  • Wide Pull-up: With hands wide and palms facing away on the chin-up bar, bring your chin to the bar. Lower and repeat.
  • Standard Push-up
  • Chin-up: Holding the chin-up bar with palms facing towards you bring your chin to the bar. Lower and repeat. 
  • Military Push-up: Similar to the standard push-up except with hands under the shoulders instead of slightly wider. Elbows go back more than out working the triceps more.
  • Close Grip Pull-up: The same as the Wide Pull-up but with hands four to six inches across instead of wide.
  • Wide Push-up: Push-ups done with hands three to four inches wider than shoulders.
  • Vaulter Pull-up: Hold the chin-up bar with one hand facing you and one hand facing away. Do a pull-up and then lower. On the second round switch grip.
  • Staggered Push-up: Begin with hands staggered, one several inches ahead of the other. Do a push-up. Switch how hands are staggered after each push-up.
  • Burnout: One pull-up (any type) and then three push-ups (any type). Do as many sets as you can in two and a half minutes.

At the end of this thirty minute I was basically whimpering. This was definitely the hardest workout yet. I used a chair to assist me with the pull-ups, but man are pull-ups hard! Everything from the rib cage up was killing me at the end of this workout. By the Burnout, I couldn't even try to do another assisted pull-up and ended up doing lat rows with the pull-up bar as a weight followed by push-ups. The pull-ups were so hard, they left me longing to do a push-up -- a rare thing indeed for a push-up to be the "easy" move. It was fortunate that we had rests between each set to do some dynamic stretching. I usually dislike having a lot of rest breaks in between moves, but here it was key!

I should note that you can modify this workout. Instead of doing pull-ups, you can do lat work with a resistance band hanging from your door frame. This is, of course, way easier, but the work with the chin-up bar is really the heart of this workout. I recommend trying it as best you can. I can't do a pull-up unassisted, but I am working on it, putting as little weight on my legs for support as possible and letting my arms do most of the work.

As killer as this workout was, I am very glad it's in P90X3. I think that being better at pull-ups will be great when it comes time to tackle a tall wall at my next obstacle course race. The P90X workouts are some of the only ones that do a lot of work with a chin-up bar. Since I don't do pull-ups at any other time, I think that this workout is a great addition to my exercise schedule. The Challenge is a workout that I will do again and again and hopefully get better at. I would love to be able to do a few unassisted pull-ups by the end of P90X3.

Tomorrow is another cardio workout, CVX. I think that my uppe rbody will be in a world of hurt tomorrow and I will be very glad to not do any push-ups and pull-ups for a while.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

P90X3: X3 Yoga Review

Day three of P90X3, and it was time for some yoga. I will admit that I am both a yoga neophyte and practice a form of yoga avoidance. However, I loved today's workout! Thirty minutes of yoga was managable for yoga unfriendly me. The moves were kept at a reasonable level for me, and modifications were offered. Even Tony managed to tone it down an annoy me less. I finished the workout feeling nicely stretched and relaxed.

As added praise, I think that X3 Yoga will be a workout that I got back to on rest days even when I am done with the P90X3 workout program. I really do need to be better about stretching as I get older (I'll be 29 in March). After a stressful couple of days at work and a four mile tempo run at lunch today, yoga was just what the doctor ordered. I came home, got out a mat, and popped the DVD in the player.

The X3 Yoga workout had you move through Vinyasa mostly. Moves were fluid and often repeated. Below is a description of the moves with some explanatory text as needed. My comments, as always, are in brackets.
  • Child's Pose: (A great gentle way to start the exercise. My upper body remains sore from Monday's pull-ups and this felt wonderful!)
  • Downward Dog to Forward Hang
  • Sun Salutation (3 Times): This was done by a swan dive into plan with a transition into Upward Dog and Downward Dog.
  • Sun Salutation -- Crescent: Building on the Sun Salutations from before, this move had you lift your leg to the ceiling when in Downward Dog, pulling your leg through into Crescent. (We held this for a bit too long on the first side as Tony introduced people. My front leg got quite tired.)
  • Airplane Over Leg or Shoulder Stretch: From Crescent, open arms to the side and lean forward over the standing leg. Interlace your hands behind your back, lowering your head to the floor. (This exercise was done in progression, so if being in Airplane with arms outstretched was enough, you didn't have to clasp your hands behind your back. I tried to bring my hands back and suceeded, but my alignment felt off, so I went back into Airplane. Flexible I am not.)
  • Sun Salutation
  • Warrior One, Warrior Two, Reverse Warrior, Bound Side Angle Pose: (These moves were all done in sequence, so I've listed them together. We finished this Vinyasa with Chair.)
  • Sun Salutation B: Same moves as the first Sun Salutation but this time starting in Chair. From Chair, swan dive forward, go into plank and then transition into Upward Dog, pull up your hips and lean back into Downward Dog.
  • Warrior 3, Half Moon, Twisted Moon, Standing Splits, Crescent Pose: (These were pretty much all balance moves on one leg. I found Twisted Moon especially challenging. My Beachbody Coach and fitness instructor told me a great way to learn Half Moon is to do it against a wall. This helps with balance and getting the form correct. Now that I've done this workout and know when these moves are coming, I'm going to try that modification until I get better with my balance and flexibility while doing yoga.)
  • Wide Legs: Forward Fold, Bind Toes
  • Triangle, Twisted Triangle
  • Tree Pose: Stand on one leg and put the sole of your other foot on the inner thigh. (I did pretty well with this on one side and completely feel out of the move on the other.)
  • Extended Leg with Toe Bind: Stand on one leg, lifting the other. Grasp your toe with the opposing hand and straighten out towards the front. (My balance was good on this move. I was unable to get my leg completely straight like the people in the DVD, but I got a stretch that was good for me. I looks like Tony couldn't straighten his leg all the way either, which made me feel better.)
  • Ted's Chair: Cross one left over the other knee and bend down into Chair, stretching open the hip. (We do this stretch in the T25 Stretch workout. It's one of my favorites for opening the hips. Felt great here!)
  • Crow: With hands on the floor, walk your feel in bending both knees and put them on your triceps tilting forward to balance with both feet off the ground. (One of the people on the DVD did some crazy intense modification for this. Meanwhile, I was with the modifier trying to balance enough to get even one leg off the ground. This was definitely the hardest move of the workout.)
  • Vinyasa to Floor: Transition from Crow into Upward and Downward Dog.
  • Child's Pose
  • Cat Dog: Otherwise known as Cat Cow where on your hands and knees you tuck up bringing curling your back up and then arch your back towards the floor.
  • Bird Dog to Dog Dancer: From Cat Dog, with neutral spine, extend arm and opposite leg at hip level. Reach behind with your hand and grab the leg at the ankle. (It was a bit challenging for me to transition from Bird Dog to Dog Dancer, but when I did it felt great in my quad and back.)
  • Camel
  • Figure 4 Series: Standard seated hamstring stretch, intensified ham stretch, sitting pigeon, and twist (This was probably my favorite set of moves from the workout. My hamstrings and hip got well stretched. I only wished we held these moves for longer.)
  • Fish
  • Shavasana

I loved X3 Yoga. I especially appreciate it when I think about the yoga workout from the original P90X, which is infamous for it's 90 minute length. When I did Yoga X, I came away feeling abused. The yoga was way too advanced for me and limited modifications were offered. In contrast, X3 Yoga is a perfect amount of time, has simple moves, and can be done by anyone. This workout is a keeper. I will look forward to doing it weekly during the first block on the training calendar and can definitely see myself interspersing it into my other workout schedules when I finish P90X3.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

P90X 3: Agility X Review

After work today, I tried the second workout in P90X3, Agility X. I have to say, that I was definitely feeling it from the pull-ups yesterday -- my upper body was sore! Good news though; today's workout was cardio with a focus on agility.

One of my biggest complaints about the original P90X is that I found the cardio easy. I was hoping that P90X3 would pack a bigger punch in the cardio department. After all, we were only exercising for 30 minutes, so we were, in theory, supposed to be going harder. I have to say that judging by Agility X, I will mostly find the P90X3 cardio uninspiring as well. Agility X was fairly easy for me, with only a few moves towards the end proving a challenge. I should point out that I have done the fairly advanced agility workouts in Asylum and Asylum 2 and am as Insanity workout graduate, so I might have an overly high standard for what I want my agility cardio to be.

Setup for the Agility X workout was basic. You just needed two strips of tape around four feet long on the floor either three or four feet apart, depending on how tall you are and how hard you want to work. I am very short, 5 feet tall, but wanted to work hard, so I opted to have the tape 3.5 feet apart. I probably could have done the four feet no problem, and will try that again next time. I used painters tape on my carpet, and this worked nicely.

As I did for my Total Synergistics review, I'll list out all the moves, as explained in the P90X3 fitness guide, followed by my comments. Like with Total Synergistics, the workout began with around four minutes of warm-up with light jogging, jumping jacks, and active stretching. We then got into the main section of the workout. Many moves used the tape that was set up on the ground.
  • Explode and Hold: Begin at the back of the left tape, jump forward to the middle of the right take with your right food, and then jump to the front of the left tape with your left foot. Reverse. (This move required some balance as Tony occasionally had you hold the move. Overall, not too challenging. The stopping after the jumping kept the intensity low.)
  • Y Lunges: With your left foot between the tape, lunge forward at a 45 degree angle towards the front of the tape. Revers and switch sides. (These are basic off-center lunges. Lunges are always good, and you do these at a decent pace. Good basic move -- not cardio though.)
  • Joel Jump Squats: At the back of the right tape, bound forward at the diagonal to your left foot, landing on the inside of the tape and tap your right fingers outside of your foot. Reverse and tap opposite fingers. (Similar to Explode and Hold. Required some balance and worked the legs a little since you were squatting down.)
  • Toe Tap Skaters: Standing on your left leg, extend your right leg out and jump towards the front of your right tape, landing on your right leg. Do this side to side. (We did a more intense version of these in Asylum 2 using the agility ladder. Shaun T, I miss your intense cardio workouts!)
  • Near and Farrs: At the left of the tape, jump inside the tape on your right foot; stay inside while jumping on to your left foot and then jump onto your right foot outside the tape. Reverse with left. (This was a fun move. I tried to go as quickly as possible and focus on agility. Fun and easy.)
  • Ring Around the Posey: Start on the outside of the tape. Run around the circle and alternate direction on cue. (Just...just. I cannot describe in words on foolish this felt.)
  • Scissor Kick Jumps: On the left of the tape, fan your right leg up as high as you can coming over the tape, follow with the left, repeat over the next line, then reverse. (I had trouble getting my leg very high on this because I don't have great flexibility. To compensate, I went as fast as I could and hopped as much as I could.)
  • 8 Sprint 3: Starting behind the tape, run in a figure-8 pattern. On cue either run facing front, run facing the tape, or grapevine. (The cues came fast on this. While this set of moves wasn't challenging per say in terms of cardio, it definitely takes concentration to make sure the feet and body are doing what the cue says. I kind of felt foolish on this move too.)
  • Plyo V Lunge: Standing in the center of the tape, lung across so your foot goes to the outside of the tape. Step, skip, and jump on cue. (I liked this move. Doing the jumping lunges in the middle was a good bit of work. We mostly did the skipping lunges, but I could make this harder next time by doing all of the lunges as plyo jump lunges.)
  • High Step Shuffle: Stand with the line of tape in front of you. Run with high knees behind and in front of the lines. Grapevine in the middle on cue. (Another set of moves that felt kind of silly. I am not sure what's up with this grapevine business. Also, the tape is too short to make going up and back along it any meaningful cardio. I believe also it was at this point in the workout that Tony started dissing on using the treadmill at the gym. Really, Tony? I did a 30 minute HIIT interval on the treadmill with hills and speed intervals that was ten times the cardio I am getting here. How is my time being wasted on the treadmill again?)
  • Gump Jump Push-ups: In plank with your arms between the tape and your legs on the right line, do a push-up into a side arm balance (t-stand). Then jump legs to the other line and move hands so you are diagonally between both lines on the other side. (I really liked this move. It was fun and required concentration. It reminded me of yesterday's Total Synergistics workout, which I had enjoyed much more that the Agility X workout I was doing right at the moment.)
  • Tap That Line: To the right of the tape, turn and face the line and begin to tap with your toes. Move around the tape changing directions on cue. (This move was fine, if easy. I had the same problem with it that I did with the other moves along the length of the tape -- the tape is too short to make any work done along it seem hard.)
  • Jump Knee Jump: Facing the long side of the tape, tuck jump over the tape two times. High knees back and repeat. (Loved this! Two power jumps over the tape followed by sprinting reminded me of some of the Asylum ladder drills I loved. I finally got a bit out of breath!)
  • Triangle Lunges: Starting between the tape, lung at a 45 degree angle with your right foot, then side lunge with your left foot, then lung backwards with your right foot. (I liked this set of lunges in three directions. Again, not cardio, but you really can't do too many lunges, right?)
  • Squat Jump Lunge: Sit down into a squat and then jump up. On landing, cross your right leg over the left and lunge towards the tape. Squat jump again and repeat to the opposite side. (The workout was improving -- I liked this move as well. The Squat Jump Lunge can be modified to be even harder by jumping both the squats and the lunges in all three directions. Do this and you will start to feel the work.)
  • 3.4 Run: Sprint to whatever part of the tape is cued (left/right, up/back, diagonal). Tap the tape with your fingertips before moving to the next spot. (This move was fun. The cues were fast, and this made them challenging to follow. However, I wished again the tape was longer. You can increase the distance between the tape, but it's hard to make the tape too much longer and still fit in a reasonable space in the house. Not having as much distance to travel made this a bit less of a challenge. It was still a good bit of work to keep up with the cues though, so I think this move made me work at a decent pace.)
  • Long Jump Sprint: Facing the long side of the tape, squat and jump over both lines. Land in a deep squat and sprint back with high knees. (We did this in Asylum! As always this is a great move. I was breathing deep at the end of a minute of this.)
  • Plyo Line Push-ups: In plank, walk the line with your hands. On cue, explode p in a lateral plyo push-up. (Definitely the hardest move of the workout. My chest was feeling it!)

Between each move, Tony Horton would pause and take a good half a minute to move onto the next exercise. Shaun T hardly ever does this in Insanity and the Asylum workouts and pretty much never does it in T25. All of the stopping in P90X3 gave me way too many breaks and really kept me from getting a good cardio session in. The moves were done for too short a time with too many breaks to really make me feel like I was working super hard. Also, after doing the agility ladder drills in Asylum 1 and 2, the agility moves with the tape felt like they were for beginners. The last five minutes of the workout were definitely the most challenging and, in my mind, the best part.

The workout finished up with a four minute cooldown. For the first minute, people just seemed to wander around on the DVD, apparently catching their breath, though I felt pretty much fine. We then moved into a pretty good stretch segment for the legs, stretching calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads. The entire time, Tony went on a tirade about how stupid the gym was and how dumb gym culture is. I thought he sounded like a moron at this point. I am sure the man has a gym at his home. He insisted that the P90X3 workout was all you needed. I gave Tony-on-the-screen a look of intense skepticism and displeasure.

I guess you can safely figure that I'm going to say Agility X is not my favorite workout. I found it to be not challenging enough. There were some good moves sprinkled in, especially towards the end, but overall, this workout compared less than favorably to other workouts that I have done with an agility focus. Maybe I am spoiled by Asylum 1 and 2 and their ladder agility drills -- this workout certainly made me want to do Asylum again.

In sum, I am sure that this workout is fine as supplemental agility and cardio work. If you haven't done agility work before, some of the work in P90X3 will help prepare you for Asylum 1 and 2. I think that this workout could have been harder if we have moved more continuously from exercise to exercise. There was a lot of stop and go which interfered with getting the best cardio workout possible. I'll do this workout whenever the P90X3 calendar calls for it, but I don't think that it will be one I'll revisit when I'm done with the program.

Tomorrow is X3 Yoga. I'm not a huge yoga fan, but I probably need yoga more than anything. Getting some yoga done in thirty minutes sounds very appealing (I'm talking to you, 90 minute yoga torture session from original P90X). I can't wait to give it a try!

Monday, January 20, 2014

P90X3: Total Synergistics Review

Today, I kicked off the P90X3 workout program. P90X3 is a 90 day program consisting of thirty minute workouts. The program is done in three phases. For more about my initial impressions, you can read my blog post from earlier. I will be doing the classic calendar for my first go-through.

I plan to do P90X3 as a supplemental workout to the workouts that I am already doing both in my fitness classes and with my running training. To that end, I think that the Total Synergistics workout will be a great compliment to what I am already doing.

Like all P90X workouts, P90X3 requires a pull-up bar and weights. There is some floor work in Total Synergistics, so I would also recommend a mat.

The workout starts with a standard P90X style warm-up for around three minutes. You jog in place, do jumping jack and arm circles. There is then a dynamic stretch segment where you stretch your chest, quads, and hips.

After the warm-up, you launch into the main workout. Here is the move list with descriptions modified from the P90X3 fitness guide and my comments in brackets:
  • Push-up/Side Arm Balance: In plank, do a push-up, then lift your right hand toward the ceiling and open your body toward the right. Rotate back to the floor and repeat, rotating to the left this time. (I liked this move. It was a good continuation to the warm-up and helped warm-up the chest even more. It was a good taste of the type of moves to come -- moves where balance and keeping your body coordinated were key.)
  • Crescent Chair: With feet and knees together in chair, extend one leg behind into a lunge for crescent. Step back into chair and then extend back on the other side. (Fairly easy. We did ten on each side, and I didn't feel that challenged. My hip flexors liked the stretch though.)
  • Pull Knee Pull: The first pull-up. You had to do a pull-up and bring your knees to your chest curling inward. (I admit that pull-ups and chin-ups challenge me. I used a chair for an assist but struggled on this move. I hope that all the pull-ups in P90X3 will help me improve on the pull-ups. Every time I do these, I wish that I weighed around 10 pounds less.)
  • Flip Flop Crunch: In forearm side plank, extend your top arm over your ear and pull it to your knee, extend back to straight and rotate to the other side. (Definitely another balance challenge. I think P90X3 does a great job making you engage your core muscles to do all these moves. They require very specific control and motor function -- a definite challenge. I found the balancing harder than having the required strength for this move.)
  • Crawly Plyo Push-ups: In plank with your torso hovering above the floor, bring your right knee and elbow together. Explode off the floor, switching knee and elbow in the air. (Woah! Super challenging. It reminded me of the jumping side to side push-ups that Shaun T does in Asylum 2. The people on the DVD start slow but build speed. Because I wanted to get used to the form on this move, I didn't go quite as fast as them at the end.)
  • Releve-plie, weighted: In wide stance holding a dumbbell, with feet externally rotated and heels off the ground, lower into a squat and extend upwards slightly. (This definitely worked the inner thighs. You also feel it a little bit in the calves. My legs were shaking at the end of the one minute that we did this exercise.)
  • Chin-up Circle Crunch: Holding the pull-up bar with palms towards you, do a chin-up and then circle knees up around to the right. Lower down, then repeat, circling legs the other way. (Yikes! Again, the work on the pull-up bar is a challenge. I do a bit better with a chin-up, as I find the underhand grip easier. Still lots room for improvement here. I used a chair to assist.)
  • Boat Plow: On your tailbone, extend your legs off the ground at 45 degrees and hold for Boat. For transition to Plow, roll back onto your shoulders extending legs overhead. Roll back into Boat. (I like this move for the core and legs. If you're not very flexible, like me, you can bend your legs a little bit in Boat. We did ten reps of this and my abs and legs were definitely feeling it at the end.)
  • Balance Arch Press; Balance on one leg, holding a dumbbell at your shoulder. Press the weight overhead, creating an arch from shoulder to shoulder. After ten, switch to other leg. (This is essentially a shoulder press with one weight shared in both hand that had some balance work built in. I did this with an eight pound weight, which was way to light for me. I will need to get a heavier one for sure, I'm thinking at least 12 pounds, since I usually use two eight pound weights in each hand when doing a shoulder press. I'll need to up my weight to make this challenging.)
  • 3 Hop Press: Begin in squat position, holding a dumbbell at chest level. Perform three hop squats to the right. Extend both arsm overhead in a press while lifting the outside knee. Go back the other way. (This was the only move to really get my breathing. I liked getting to do a tiny bit of jumping, even if they were just a few hops. This is a more standard move, but it's a good one, so I see why they included it. I again used the eight pound weight I had and wished I had a heavier one.)
  • Glamour Hammer: On one leg, holding two dumbbells, do a hammer curl in front and then a hammer curl with the forearms externally rotated. (We do this move in aerobics all the time. We did 30 seconds on one leg and then 30 seconds balance on the other leg for a full minute. Here the eight pound weights were fine, though I might try next time with tens.)
  • Branon Boat: In Boat (see Boat Plow), lower and lift you legs four times with torso stationary. Next lower and lift your torso four times with legs stationary. (So this was hard. I was struggling to figure out how much range of motion I should use when moving my torso especially. I think this is a move where practice will help. I'm eager to see how my balance improves as I do this move again and again. Definitely required leg strength and flexibility as well as a strong core.)
  • Flying Warrior: Standing on one leg with dumbbells in each hand, raise both dumbbells in front of your torso to shoulder level in a front raise. Lower and come into Warrior 3, bringing one leg straight in back of you. Bring the weights out t the side so they are parallel to the floor in a side raise. Stand and repeat. (I loved this blend of strength work and balance. The eight pound weights were perfect because we only did four reps on each side. I found it hard to balance in Warrior 3 when doing the side raise and had to really engage all my muscles to stay firm.)
  • Squat Rockers: In a deep squat, with a weight at chest level, begin to rock back and forth between high heels and lifted toes. Keep your chest lifted and abs in. (I kept falling out of this move on when rocking back on my heels. I found it helped a little to keep my chest a bit farther forward, though I am not sure that is the exact form that is desired. I also think I need to separate my feet more for balance. I want to watch this move again next time through and try to figure out the form better. I might need to go lower into the squat to get into the right place to have the balance to rock back. Regardless, this worked my legs a lot -- they were quivering at the end.)
  • Side Rise Punch: On your left side, with your right arm on the floor and your left holding a dumbbell, cross your arms over your torso. Extent your right arm, lifting your torso off the floor. Reach your left arm out from under and extend to punch parallel to your shoulders. Do ten on each side. (I found this move to be of average difficulty -- the eight pound weight was fine.)
  • Warrior Squat Moon: On your right leg, with your left leg extended behind you at hip height, reach your right finger tips to the floor and extend your left arm to the ceiling. Turn your torso towards the floor and reach to the front of the room. Do side to side. (This is another move that I am eager to practice to learn the balance. I don't do much yoga [read: I don't do any yoga], and these two yoga moves were a balance challenge for me.)

The workout concluded with a minute an a half long cool down. This was in addition to the 30 minutes, but was worth it. There was some brief stretching. Since my heart rate wasn't very elevated, the quick cool down was perfect.

P90X3 nominally has a modifier; in this workout Draya. However, she does very little in terms of modifying. This is not like T25 where Tanya does significant modifications. I would recommend to anyone hoping to do P90X3 to make sure that you really think you can get through the move sets or that you have someone you know who can help with coaching you on how to make modifications. If Total Synergistics is any indication, you will mostly be on your own here.

Many times during the workout, Tony recommends tracking your reps and the weight you use. He references the P90X app, which is supposed to have the P90X3 calendar and workouts. So far, Beachbody has not updated the P90X app for iPhone to include the P90X3 calendar. I am fairly annoyed about this because I had planned to use the app to track my results. Until then I probably won't be doing tracking the way I should. Get on it Beachbody!

Total Synergistics is a total body workout that focuses on strength, balance, and form. You end up doing a lot of body weight isometric moves where balance is key. This is very different from the other training that I tend to do, which I found to be a great strength. While the workout made me feel like I was working because of the intense concentration that it required. However, the moves were not fast paced and I never felt like my heart rate got up very high. This is more resistance and balance training for your core than cardio. I would recommend supplementing this workout with cardio for better results.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Nike+ Sportwatch GPS Review

On Wednesday, I had a fantastic run. Earlier in the week I had gotten a surprise in the mail; Seth had ordered me a gift: a Nike+ Sportswatch GPS!

As you may have read in my most recent post, I want to really focus on my running with great intentionality this year. I want to get faster. To that end, over the last two weeks, I can gotten down a really good running schedule:

Mondays: Speed work. Last Monday I did an interval run, fartlek style, with a 10:00 mile "base pace" and then fast runs at 8:57. I did this on the treadmill, which was good for keeping pace. This Monday I did an interval treadmill workout, HIIT-style, where I incorporated speed and hills and took walk breaks to recover.

Wednesdays: Hills. Last week I did hill repeats on the treadmill again (thought I think hills are best done outside). I did eight hills at 10:31 pace and 5.0 incline. I did one minute up and one minute "down" to recover. This week, I decided to not do hills since I had done so many on Monday. I had a very exciting run outside where I ran super fast all thanks to being very focused and using my fancy watch (more on that later). I did a mile warm-up, a mile with random intervals, and then the last mile basically as fast as I could.

Fridays or Saturday: Long run. I haven't been doing many long long runs lately, so I did 5 miles last Friday and 5.5 miles this Friday. I'm trying to do these runs a little faster than I used to and focus carefully on form! I was a little tired on today's run from my intense effort on Wednesday, but this was good in a way because it let me practice my mental toughness. I kept persevering through the run, telling myself, "You can do it." It worked -- I was able to finish strong.

So the GPS watch. I took the Nike+ Sportwatch out for its first go on Wednesday. I used to bring my cell on my runs and track myself that way using the Nike+ app and listening to music. With my focus on speed, I didn't want to have to carry anything on my runs, and I didn't want to listen to music -- I wanted 100% of my focus on my running -- speed, form, effort. In this way the watch was great!

It was easy to get the watch up and running (no pun intended) quickly. In the box, you got the following items: 
  • GPS watch
  • Senor pod: For putting in Nike shoes -- this doubles to track your movements if you're out of range of the GPS)
  • USB cord: For uploading data to the Nike+ website and charging the watch
  • Directions booklet

The watch's functions include:
  • Distance
  • Pace
  • Average pace
  • Time elapsed
  • Laps (tracked via a tap function on the screen)
  • Stop watch
  • Calories
  • Clock
  • History and Records

The watch is very easy to use with only three buttons. Two for up and down, and one for select.

It's easy to get started running. Put the watch on your wrist, select "run" on the menu, let the GPS sync (which takes only a few seconds), and you're good to go.

The watch lets you chose what data you want to see on the main screen. There are two main areas where you can see data: a smaller display on the top, where you can scroll through data as your run using the up and down buttons, and a larger main display. You can make these customization using the Nike+ console when you plug your watch into the computer.

For my large display, I chose to see distance. For the main metric for the smaller display, I chose to see current pace, since this is what I am most focused on. Other popular options for the smaller display might be time elapsed or average pace. I have those metrics, plus a few others as options for viewing on the top menu -- I would just have to scroll to see them using the side buttons.

The watch also has functions for tracking laps and a stop watch. These two features use the tap technology. In order to track, you tap once on the screen to start and once to stop. This is also the method for activating the backlight. You have to tap briskly and firmly. The watch is not a touch screen. It took me a little while to get the hang of this, and it might be frustrating for tracking laps. I will need to practice this a bit more.

When you plug in your watch after a run, you get an entire host of data from the Nike+ website. A word of warning: the Nike+ website seems to have trouble with Chrome. Why a world-class company like Nike can't get their site to work on Chrome is beyond me. Firefox works fine though.

The data you get from Nike+ includes:
  • Route tracking
  • Elevation
  • Pace
  • Distance, time, calories, and NikeFuel (Nike's proprietary method of measuring movement for all activities)
  • Splits
  • Notes section

The map tracking your route and the pace and elevation sections are interactive. You can move your mouse along the pace chart, for instance and see where you were on your route and what the pace was. It was interesting to track the intervals I ran on the pace chart. Both this and the splits section are my favorite parts. It's important to note that this same data is available if you are using the Nike+ app on your cell phone.

At a first glance, I really enjoy the Nike+ Sportwatch. I like it's ease of use, how it allows for customization, and the easy to read display, which gives me what I need to know at a glance on my run.

This goes without saying, but I also like that it's on my wrist -- no need to carry my cell anymore. I can really concentrate on running as hard as I can and use my watch to easily track my results. The Nike+ Sportwatch looks to be an excellent tool for running.

At $140, it's a good choice for someone just getting into GPS watching. It might not have all the bells and whistles of a $400 watch, but it gives you what you need, and it provides it well and efficiently. I am excited to continue using the Nike+ GPS watch to track my progress as I continue with my training.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Running Club

For the new year, I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to being more social with my running. To that end, I joined the local running club, Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club (SMAC). The club was having it's annual meeting this weekend, and I decided to attend for a run and then the following brunch and meeting. This would be a good chance to meet some runners, potentially people I could train with and work with to improve my running.

A good friend's husband (who is also a friend), Dave, is a member of the club at joined me for the experience. I showed up early for the pre-brunch 3 to 5 mile run. I was a bit nervous. As I've mentioned, I run a 10:00 mile, and I thought that everyone would be faster than me. I've also been running kind of slow because of my calf, which made me even more nervous. However, I had run a good three miler yesterday and was feeling good.

I joined up with a group of newbies to the club and Dave, and we set off for our run. It became clear pretty soon that the pace they were going at was way speedier than I was used to -- think more like 9:00 miles instead of 10:00. With my legs tired from the running streak, this became a problem fast. On the first tiny hill my calves began to act up, and I had to drop back. Dave, a very kind person, joined me at my slow pace, as we headed back towards the Amherst Brewing Company where the meeting was to take place. We probably ran around 3.5 to 4 miles, less than I had hoped, but the fast start ruined me. I now know the dangers of going out fast.

Thinking back on the run, I felt bad. I had held people up and was the weakest runner because of my slow speed. The bottom line: To run with others I need to get a little faster. So, readers of the blog, I'm pledging in 2014 to get some running friends and become a faster runner. I think I can do this. I run around three times a week, but do most of my runs at a moderate pace. I need to shake things up and include hill training and speed training. I need to work on strengthening my calves so that they aren't as much of a problem. I'd like to increase my pace to 9:00 miles. I think this would open up a lot more options for me.

After the run (and my mental pledging to do better in the future), we headed in for the SMAC annual meeting and brunch. I got to chat briefly with some great people at our table and also get to hear highlights from the club's last year.

SMAC runs a really great race series with around 14 races. Anyone who competes in eight or more of these races is considered a series finisher. The series grants points for each mile races and people compete to see who can get the most. Points are also awarded based on finishing time. In this way the series rewards both consistancy (probably where I can fit in) and speed.

From the sound of things, taking part in the race series, which starts in April, is the best way to get involved with the club and really start to meet people. For SMAC involvement, my 2014 plan now looks like this:
January: Figure out a training plan that will balance longer runs and runs that focus on getting faster.
February -- March: Begin training plan. Run consistantly and have each workout have a very specific focus. (No more 3 or 4 mile runs at just a consistant 10:00 mile pace -- this isn't helping me improve.)
April: Register for the SMAC race series and start meeting people. Start including races in training plan. Try to find someone with whom to train over the summer.
September: Run at PR at the Hogsback Half Marathon!

This is going to be the year of running, and I am going to work hard. That's okay -- I like training hard. Now I just have to put together a plan and go out and do it!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pandemic Board Game Review

The North East is currently snowed in, so what better time to enjoy a nice board game!

Last week, when he was here visiting, Seth's best friend, Patrick, introduced us to the cooperative game Pandemic.

"Everyone that I've played with has gone out and gotten the game," he said. And he was right. I made a brief trip out before the snow got bad and came home with a copy of Pandemic and one of it's two expansions, On the Brink.

Getting the expansion allowed us to get a few more playable characters and scenarios, plus a much nicer storage box and petri dishes for the disease cubes.

The goal of Pandemic is to cure four diseases that have broken out before humanity is wiped off the map. Because the game is a cooparative game, all players work together to play against the game.

At the start of the game, each player is assigned or selects a character to play. Each person has abilities that will be of use during the game. In my first game I played as the Archivist (I figured I had to since I'm hoping to pursue a degree in library science) and in the game we played today I was the Scientist.

During each turn, players have four actions they can take as they try to cure diseases and stop the spread of the viruses that are on the move. There is only one way to win the game -- curing all four diseases. However, there are many ways to lose -- too many outbreaks, one disease takes over (i.e. you run out of disease cubes), or you run out of time (i.e. you run out of cards of players to draw).

To begin the game, you set up the board with nine cities where the diseases have manifested. Everyone gets a number of player cards to start; the number they receive is dependent on the number of players (2 to 4). Everyone starts in Atlanta where the first research center, presumably the CDC, is located.

During each turn each player does four actions all towards the goal of curing all four diseases and preventing outbreaks. In order to cure a disease, a player much have five city cards of the same color as the disease you want to cure and be located at a research center.

The four actions you can take to try to reach your goal include:
  • travel to cities,
  • treat diseases,
  • build new research facilities, and
  • exchange city cards.

After each player takes his four actions, they then draw two more player cards (bottom of the board) and infect cities from the infection deck (top of the board). The player cards are mostly helpful -- usually city cards to help you get to your total of five for a cure or event cards which give you special abilities on a turn. The goal of the game is, of course to cure diseases. After you cure a disease you can also eradicate it -- wipe it from the map by treating all the diseased cities. Treating becomes much easier and more efficient after you find a cure. Eradicating a disease is not required to win the game, but it does have it's benefits. If you cure and then eradicate a disease, the disease does not infect cities even if you select them from the infect deck. This means that you can select certain cards from the infection deck that are basically passes, which is very helpful later in the game when your infect rate (the number of cards you must draw from the infection deck) increases.

Interspersed throughout the player deck are epidemic cards (four to six depending on how difficult you want the game to be). When an epidemic card is drawn things intensify! A new city gets infected, the infection rate increases, and you take your discarded cards from the infection deck and put them back on top of the deck for re-drawing, which means that your cities are more likely to outbreak. You cannot have more than eight outbreaks or you lose the game.

An outbreak occurs when any city has three disease tokens and is exposed to more infection. This is a disaster because the outbreak spreads to all adjacent cities. For this reason, a big focus of the game is to keep cities with fewer than three tokens by treating them. You have to balance this defensive action with being on the offensive and trying to cure diseases as quickly as possible. You especially want to avoid having cities with diseases that are adjacent because outbreaks can chain.

In our first solo game Seth and I were able to successfully cure all four viruses. It was very exciting, and, because the game was cooperative, we got share the excitement as co-winners!

Pandemic is loads of fun and fairly straightforward to learn. The complexity for learning the game is similar to Clue. A game takes probably a little under an hour, maybe less once you get good at the rules. This is a perfect amount of time in my opinion -- not too short and not too long. The whole thing is rather addictive, and I can't wait to play again tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Running Streak: The Final Days

January 1, 2014. 35 days. 35 runs. Today is the official last day of the running streak and the official start of the New Year. I think that I am happy to be finished with both the calendar year 2013 and also my running streak.

2013 was a challenging year with some difficult disappointments. I worked through everything mostly with the support of my husband and family. Having fitness goals was definitely a help. It was wonderful to have things that I could plan for, follow through on, and succeed. In 2013, I did a lot fitness-wise. I started off the year with the intensive Asylum: Volume 2, headed into the summer with a great training schedule that made me ready for my first Tough Mudder (and gave me a love of OCRs in general), and finished off the year with the Runner's World running streak.

I'm looking forward to 2014. I think it's going to be a big year for Seth and me. I'm hoping to start graduate school in the fall, something that I think will help move me forward in the direction I want my career to take. I also have joined a running group and already have some races already on my calendar. Seth and I signed up for the June 1, 2014 New England Tough Mudder. I also just signed up for the Hogsback Half Marathon. Hogsback was the first half marathon I did in 2012 and on my 2014 bucket list. I was able to sign up earlier this week and can't wait until September to run it again.

For those of you who didn't get to see my original 2014 races bucket list when I posted it this fall, here it is with updates.

2014 Bucket List
  • Tough Mudder New England on Sunday, June 1 (All signed up and ready to go!)
  • Spartan Super (This is still a maybe. Back in the early fall I was waiting to hear the location and the finalized date. I am still waiting. I'd really really love to do this one, so hopefully it works out.)
  • Bone Frog Challenge (I had really wanted to do the Bone Frog Challenge, an OCR put on by the Navy Seals, this year, but the date coincided with the Gulf Beach Half Marathon. The race is local, in Charlemont, and I had hoped it would work out for 2014. Unfortunately, the date is set in May on a weekend that I absolutely have to work. Crossing my fingers that I can do this race in 2015.)
  • Newburyport Half Marathon (Still a maybe. I want to see the date in October. I might want to not do a half marathon again after Hogsback. That's fine. I'd rather do Hogsback than Newburyport.)
  • Hogsback Half Marathon (I just signed up. At $40 it's the best deal around, and I need a good deal.)
  • Runner's World Heartbreak Hill Half on Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and 8 (I'm still contemplating this race. Yes, I would love to do it. Yes, it's the weekend right after Tough Mudder. Can my body handle it and do I want to try?)

I've also started to think ahead to 2015, based on having to move the Bone Frog Challenge. I've been thinking I might be interested in trying a relay race, such as Ragnar, and might be considering the Ragnar Cape Cod race.

For now, I am excited that I was able to finish my running streak. I gave you most of my last thoughts and impressions about the streak in my last blog post. Overall my thoughts haven't changed much since then, but I had a fun time on the last four runs of the streak.

Sunday: I did a short little trail run at Wentworth Farms on Sunday. I decided to keep it short after Saturday's troubled run and did about a mile. The run was uneventful, but I got some nice pictures.

Monday: On Monday, I was feeling better and the weather was fairly nice, in the mid-30s. I had to go to the bank. The local bank where I go is a mile away down Route 9, a very heavily trafficed road. Not wanting to go all the way down Route 9 on foot, I contrived a running route through Wentworth Farms and along back roads to get to my destination.

Things started well. I headed about three quarters of a mile into Wentworth Farms and was ready to edit the conseration area and hook up with the road I needed when I came to an impasse -- a large section of trail was completely flooded. I tried to contrive of a way to get around, but it was impossible. I had to backtrack the entire way and run down Route 9 to the bank. Fortunately, I was able to return from my bank trip using some of the back roads I had planned.

While Monday's run had it's inconvenience, I loved getting to use my fitness, in this case running, for practical purpose. It kept me oddly focused during the run, and I had a great time. I had a pleasant four mile run in some pretty good weather.

Tuesday: Looking back at my training log from yesterday, one item stands out -- my note, "F-ing freezing!" Yes, yesterday was cold. So so cold. I did a forty-five minute kickboxing workout and headed out to do a quick one mile run around Echo Hill.

Today: The last day of the streak! It was another very cold day with a temperature of 19 degrees when I set out for my run. Because of the temperature, I again committed to just doing a one mile run. Since it was the last run of the streak I decided I wanted to have some fun and headed over to run around Wentworth Farms and take some pictures. The weather was cold but sunny. I got some great photos.

I bet you can see why I love running there! Taking my time running through one of my favorite areas in Amherst was a great way to finish off my running streak and start off 2014.

I hope 2014 ends up being a great year -- Happy New Year!