Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I signed up for an abbreviated triathalon at work

Last year my workplace held a weight-loss competition modelled after the "Biggest Loser" TV show. I didn't participate because, frankly, I don't have any weight to lose so I wouldn't have been a competitive member of a team. But this year the office is holding a mini triathalon...kind of. The race is in multi-stages (not all in one day), and not all members of the team have to run, bike, and swim. Each team will have 5 members:
  1. someone who only swims (400 yards);
  2. someone who only runs (2 miles);
  3. someone who only cycles (5 miles);
  4. someone who only walks (2 miles); and
  5. someone who does three of the above four exercises.
The cycling will be on the stationary bicycles in my company's fitness center. The swimming will be in a nearby pool. I assume the walking is put in the mix (making this a quadrathalon, actually) so that people who have a lower cardiovascular fitness level can still participate.

When I heard about this competition I was very excited because it meant I could show off my newly developed swimming skills. As it turns out, though, because the event is held over several days (to be compatible with everyone's varying work schedules), very few people will actually be at the pool to see me swim. Only my team and an opposing team will be there. I wanted a bigger audience. Yes, mostly to show off. But also, I am thinking of joining a Master's Swim Team and this would be a good trial run.

Teams have not been fully formed yet, and it's my job to recruit some members. The first guy I asked happens to have been a competitive swimmer in a past life, so again, instead of showing off to my team, it may well be that he swims faster than me. Well, shit. This won't be the boost to my ego I looked forward to. Nevertheless, the more important thing as the teamwork and the personal improvement that will come by training. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up being my team's cyclist.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chlorine makes life hard on gut bacteria

Hypothesis: Pool water kills intestinal bacteria.

I don't know if that hypothesis is true, but I make the following observations to support it:
  1. Beneficial bacteria normally live in the human gut (large intestine), and these aid in digestive processes.
  2. Chlorine is a chemical that is widely used to kill bacteria (though usually on the outside of the body).
  3. I swallow at least several mouthfulls of pool water every hour that I swim. I don't mean to, but it happens.
  4. I am gassy on days when I swim, generally in the evening and the following morning after a noontime swim.
  5. I am less gassy on days when I don't swim.
  6. Consuming yogurt within a few hours after a swim tends to reduce my bouts of intestinal gas.
  7. Yogurt is well known for containing bacteria that can aid in digestion.

All this makes sense to me, but there are problems with my observations:
  1. I know that gut bactreria aid in the uptake of certain vitamins (B vitamins?) into the intestinal wall and bloodstream. I am thankful for that. But I'm not sure whether there is a link between the absence of gut bacteria and the production of intestinal gas. 
  2. When I swallow pool water (inadvertantly), does the chlorine remain an effective antibacterial agent after it passes through the stomach and smal intestine?
  3. I am only one person. No hypothesis can be supported based purely on the findings of a single research subject. Therefore, if other swimmers are out there, please let me know I'm not the only one who gets gas after swimming.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Delavier's secret

Frederic Devalvier wrote and illustrated a very popular and excellent book entitled "Strength Training Anatomy." I own the second edition (2006). It's a book filled with suggested weight lifting exercises for arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs, buttocks, and abdomen. Each of these body parts is in a different section, and within each section, he's taken each of a dozen or more exercises and illustrated the proper technique as well as described which muscles are used. For example, the bench press is shown on pages 52-53. Pictured is a man lying on a exercise bench with barbell in hand, ready to lift the bar. The illustration is basically a pencil drawing, but it's really well done. The man is wearing shorts but no shirt, and the skin becomes transparent in the chest, shoulder, and arm regions so that you can see the underlying (and very detailed) muscle groups. The muscles that are worked by the bench press exercise are highlighted in red coloration. All are labelled, including pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii (medial head and long head), brachioradialis, latissiums dorsi, and so on. The pectoralis is a large muscle group with multiple attachment sites at the clavicle, sternum, humerus, and abdomen. Not all the muscle fibers in the pectoralis are worked to the same degree during a standard bench press, so Delavier has a separate picture that shows which fibers are mainly used. In this case, it is the midline fibers that originate under the arms and spread out underneath the nipple to the sternum.

I've used his pictures and notes to choose which exercises to do. For example, my anterior deltoid is in fairly good form but I want greater definition in the middle and lower pectoralis. Therefore, I read through his notes on each page and look for the techniques that will work those specific parts of the muscle. Delavier comes through with this statement: "Lowering the bar to the chondrocostal border of the rib cage isolates the lower part of the pectoralis." Therefore, when I do bench presses, I try to bring the bar down to my solar plexus instead of nipples or arm pits (as shown in the photo, reality is a little different from my perception). If done properly, I should eventually build the muscle at the base of the pectoralis, making it stick out more when viewed from the side. I'm a little vain, I guess.

So how did Delavier figure out which muscles are used during each exercise? I think he could have done it by doing an exercise in excess and then waiting a day to determine which muscles were most sore. For instance, two days ago I did a greater number of bench press repetitions than normal (37 reps @ 90 pounds), and I was sore the next day. I was most sore in the pectoralis region just above and to the side of each nipple (sternocostal head, lateral part--away from the sternum). I was also sore just below each clavicle (clavicular head). My soreness indicates that I was indeed doing the bench press with a wide grip, as that position will work the lateral parts of the muscle. However, since I was sore in the clavicular head and not the inferior groove (lower part of pectoralis near where it links to the abdomen), I will need to remember to move the bar at a different angle so that it moves toward the abdomen as it is lowered. Based on my muscle soreness, I'm still lowering the bar to a point above the top of my sternum.
The picture shows exactly where I'm lowering the where near the solar plexus!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Goal: Bicycle to work

After working with my swim coach today I saw he had a bicycle in his office. "Is that yours?" I asked. "Yeah, I brought it in for my assistant coach to ride to work; he doesn't have a car." I said that's great and remarked about how many hills we have in this area. "It's not bad," said the assistant coach (who's name I've forgotten). My coach then reminded me that he's ridden into work before, and his commute is fairly long. "One goal I have is to ride into work sometime," I said. My commute is only 3 or 4 miles but there are a couple hills that I would have to climb. Hills are evil things. I like going fast--in the pool, while running, and on my bike. When I have to shift into low gear to climb a hill on my bike, I'm going under 10 mph and my pedalling rate (what's the name of that?) goes way up. It's embarrassing to be pedaling so hard and not be going anywhere. I also get way out of breath and that's never been a comfortable thing for me, a former asthmatic.

I explained to these two swim coaches that I'd find the hills between my home and my workplace quite a challenge. Then I blew my cover and bragged that I rode 50 miles last Saturday on a flat trail (former railroad bed) nearby. My coach laughed loudly and said "Well then biking to work should be nothing!"

And he's right.

I have to be constantly reminded to stop saying "I can't," and to face potential physical adversities straight on without fear. A year ago I said "I've never been a swimmer," and then I tried. Last month I said "I've never run in a 5K race," and then I did. Last week I said "I've never travelled 50 miles on a bicycle in one day." And then I did. So what a stupid thing to think, that riding up and down a couple hills between my home and work would be some insurmountable task. I can definitely do it. (Come to think of it, I actually have done it. I did it once in 2007 soon after I moved to my current workplace. I guess it was so hard and terrible that I forgot that I ever did it...and of course in 2007 I wasn't as athletic as I am now)

So while the fall weather is still conducive to cycling, I state, here and now, that one day next week I will ride my bike into work. I can do it. And it will feel incredibly awesome to do it. It will be yet another wall to knock down on my way to feeling more and more confident and strong.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Longest best funnest bicycle ride ever

With a title like that you're probably expecting me to describe a month-long excursion across the country. If true, you haven't read this blog's introduction. I'm relatively new to all things physical, so my accomplishments are not going to be so mammoth. Nevertheless, I've got some impressive stats to report. Today's ride:
  • 49.6 miles on a flat, crushed gravel path running alongside a river
  • Duration of exercise: 4 hours and 25 minutes, not including rest stops and a lunch break at the half-way point.
  • Average speed = 11.1 mph
  • Maximum speed = 15 mph
  • Calories burned: 2,127
  • Average heart rate = 119 bpm
  • Maximum heart rate = 135 bpm
As you can see, today's exercise was long but not overly taxing. I barely got my heart rate into the target zone for cardiovascular improvement, and my average speed was leisurely. There are two reasons for this. First, I was riding with 4 other friends who were equally or slightly less physically capable as me. Second, we took it at a leisurely pace to ensure that we didn't become exhausted and be unable to complete the 50-mile distance. If we had to stop for some reason, there was limited access to roads, and no one was around to come pick us up.
My friends at one of 5 stops we made during the 50-mile trip.
I am a little disappointed that I never got my heart rate up, but apart from that I am very proud of myself and my friends. None of us had ever ridden this distance in one day before. In fact, the last time I rode my bike for more than an hour in one day was on July 3, 2010 when I rode for 79 minutes on another flat, gravel path (we have lots of abandoned railroad tracks that get converted to bike paths here). And the next-most recent bike trip exceeding 60 minutes was August 22, 2009 when I rode for 85 minutes. So today's trip is extraordinary at least in the length of activity. I also had a lot of fun, as the five of us bonded pretty well as we carried on conversations on the trail and at lunch.

Our route was a 25-mile ride to the next largest town along the river. Then we ate lunch in a strip mall pizza joint. Then we turned around and rode back to our starting point. At the end of our trip we again ate a meal and then took a walk for about 30 minutes. I truly believe that I could have hopped back on my bike and ridden another 15 miles or more. I had energy to spare, and I was not particularly sore. As I write this I have the following minor ailments:
  • lightly sore latissimus dorsi in lower back (one bends over the handlebars when cycling); I'm actually surprised that my back isn't more sore. My back muscles often complain severely during my rides. I did take a preemptive Tylenol before starting the bike ride, though, so perhaps this helped.
  • very lightly sore external obliques on sides of abdomen
  • sore abductor magnus in the groin area
  • bruised buttocks in the area where I came in contact with the bicycle seat
  • sore tendons above the kneecaps where the quadriceps pull to bend the knee while pedalling. These tendons started to get sore after the first 8 miles, so I expect this symptom to be the most prominent over the next couple days as my body repairs microdamage in the tendons' fibers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Goggle failure

Speedo Vanquisher 2.0

One of my first blog posts was on how I lost my goggles and had to buy a new pair. I had a terrible time figuring out how to adjust the new Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 goggles in a way that would prevent them from leaking during my dives. Pool water would get in my eyes and then my eyes would get irritated. But all these problems have been resolved since July as I found a good length for the head straps and my eyes apparently got used to pool water on the gradually fewer days that they were exposed to it.

But now, after just 3 months, I must report that the goggles have failed me again, as the nose piece pops out of place every time I take the goggles off. The two eye sockets disassociate and then I have to spend a bit of time popping the nose piece back in place. If this happened only once in a while, it would be tolerable, but the plastic nose piece is now worn in a way that keeping the goggles together is hard to do.

My coach suggested I take the goggles back to the store and insist on getting a new replacement pair. But really, all I need is a new nose piece. The goggles came with a variety of sized nose pieces and I actually kept them. So tomorrow I will swim with the second-largest nose piece and see how that works.

Has anyone else had a nose piece wear out? For all I know, this is a common issue that I'll need to get used to.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You look like a swimmer

I look like a swimmer.
"You look like a swimmer," said Josh, my swim coach. After my standard 400-yard warm up, he had me do 50-yard drills of freestyle where we counted strokes. You see, the fewer strokes I need to swim a lap, the more efficient the stroke and the longer or faster I can swim. That's a good goal. I started off with 17 strokes in 25 yards, which is basically at expert level already. But I'm 6'4" tall, so of course I would have a below-average stroke count to begin with. During the next 300 yards I don't think I did any better than 17 strokes per 25 yards, but Josh suggested that I shorten my kick. Instead of moving my legs far apart with each kick, I concentrated on minimizing the leg movements but kicking harder with my feet. This makes the body rotation with each stroke easier to obtain, since the kicking sometimes can work against the body rotation. Apparently I mastered the kicking and I maintained my stroke lengths, and I also practiced breathing on my left side in addition to my right. My flip-turns were pretty good, and I didn't get especially tired. Josh could tell everything was going right and exclaimed that I looked like a real swimmer today. Ever so briefly I took offense, thinking "what have I been doing for the last 13 months?" since I've been training with him for that long. But he didn't mean to suggest that I wasn't swimming well during this time; instead, he meant that my swimming was in top form, comparable to the competitive swimmers he trains. I'll accept the compliment!

OK, so now it's time to lift weights. I've got to do it now or else another day will pass without a bench-press.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

August 2010 summary

August was a great month for me. Even though I had a vacation half way into it, I was able to stay active and at least maintain the average 375-plus calories burned per day that I have achieved for the last 4 months. I also broke both a monthly record and a daily record for exercise intensity. In fact, I broke my daily record twice. On Aug 7 I ran for 25 minutes at an intensity of 61.8 (see sidebar for a definition of exercise intensity). Then on Aug 28 I ran my first 5K race. My running time was 28:25 minutes but I didn't turn my heart monitor off for another few minutes so in total, I burned 530 calories that day during a 33-minute period at an intensity of 64.2. Combining the 2 record-breaking runs, 19 swimming days, 1 bike ride, 4 softball games, 4 hikes or walks, and a day with kayaking, I had a daily exercise intensity average of 26.4, which broke the old record of 25.5 set in June 2010. 

Though I couldn't do any weight-lifting while on vacation,  I still came in with an above-average gross lifting weight of 1,160 pounds per day. The running monthly average for this statistic is 1,101 pounds (n = 24 months).

Wow, I just realized I've been lifting weights for exactly 2 years now. I do not enjoy it as much as I used to but I have recently re-committed myself to lifting more often. If I had more readers of this blog it sure would help, because then I'd feel a little greater push to work toward this goal. So we'll see! As it turns out, I'm writing this blog tonight instead of lifting weights.

So let me mention one more thing that I did well this August and then I'll wrap up. I broke my monthly pull-up record, too. The pool where I swim has recently installed some pull-up bars along the wall next to the pool, so after a swim I often grab the bar and do a couple pull-ups. It is surprising how hard a pull-up used to be. Now I can do two without fatigue. I should do 3 now, shouldn't I? OK, I'll do that the next time. I promise. Now I've got to go do some bench presses, as it has been 6 days since I last did some. On Sept 2, 2010 I did two sets of 15 presses at 90 pounds. Tonight I shall do the same. Here I go!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cycling once in a while

I went cycling this evening. It wasn't a hard ride at all. There is a loop around a golf course that I do occassionally and I do it twice for a total of 4.75 miles or so. I do the two circuits in a very consistent 19.5 minutes. Tonight was no different except perhaps I found it a little more easy than usual. My heart rate did not exceed 165 bpm, I avoided using any bicycle gear below 14 (I have  a 21-speed hybrid bike), and at the end of the two circuits I thought about doing a third. And I should have.

But somehow I've lost my love for cycling...again. As a high schooler and college student I never missed a chance to go riding on neighborhood roads or nearby trails. Then in graduate school I didn't dislike cycling but I just found other things to do. Then during my first job I started it up again, often riding into work (5 miles each way). But now I'm at my second job in a different location where there are lots of hills, and I just hate the hills.

Until this moment I thought I hated hills (at least going up them) because of the leg work involved. But this evening's ride featured hills that used to be a significant challenge to my leg muscles and lungs, but now those same hills are simply inconvenient moments of exertion. Even though it is easier to ride up the hills, I still don't like the experience much. Thus, I now believe that the fun part about cycling is the speed. I like feeling the wind in my face and the wizzing of rotating tires. Going down the hills I reach a speed of more than 30 mph. But going up the hills I slow down to below 10 mph and that's just no fun. This realization that I love speed does not fix my problem, but now I understand myself better. I guess that's what a blog is for...

I have agreed to go on a 50-mile cycling trip in two weeks from now. That is in fact what prompted me to hop on the bike for 20 minutes tonight. I'll need to train a bit longer to prepare myself for the 50 miles, but I'm in good enough shape that this 50-mile distance does not scare me. I'll be with three other friends, and the trail we'll use is an old railroad bed, so it's relatively flat.

Looking at my workout records, I am surprised to see how infrequently I've gone cycling this year compared to last year. In 2010 (so far) I have gone cycling 5 times and used my indoor exercise bike 4 times. By this time last year, in 2009, I had done the same activitites 11 and 19 times, respectively. Of course, it was almost exactly one year ago that I started swimming several days per week, so my swimming workouts have replaced the cycling to a large degree. That's fine. Right now, I like swimming a lot. Maybe I'll go back to liking cycling at a later date. Who knows? I'm in great shape, so I should just do what I find the most long as it still feels a bit like work.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

News briefs

I have lots of small tidbits to share relating to my fitness program.

First, my swim coach and I have been working on the butterfly stroke for two sessions now. Like usual, Josh is giving me lots of positive feedback, but I still feel slow and uncoordinated. I have a great dolphin kick but when I add the power stroke with arms I lose momentum. I feel like I made good progress last week, but I've lost the action patterns that were formed (the brain remembers the way the muscles and limbs move during specific activities and this is why one can usually repeat an action over and over once it is learned the first time). This week it was as if I was starting over with the training. Nevertheless, it's awesome that I'm learning the butterfly for the first time, and I know I'll soon get the hang of it.

Second, I've been doing an average amount of weight lifting over the last few weeks, and each time I do the bench press (2 sets of 15 reps @ 90 pounds) I feel muscle soreness the following day. That's good! I like to figure out the exact part of the pectoralis muscle that is most sore and then I imagine what it would be like if it expanded in size in that particular spot. This is, in fact, what is happening--the muscle is adding fibers in the same region that feels sore--but of course in the end, the addition of a few additional muscle fibers will not be visible after a single workout. I know that, but it's still fun to envision muscle growth.

Third, I have moved forward with the idea that I might join a Master's swim team in a neighboring town. Here's a link to the national organization. I'm not yet committed to joining, but I am closer to making that decision. I called the pool manager at the local YMCA and explained that my swimming speeds do not come close to those of swimmers already on the team (I saw their results posted to the Internet). She replied that some people are very competitive and others are not, implying that there are members of the swim team that don't compete at all. That's a little confusing, but my questions may be cleared up soon. The pool manager said she'd pass my name and phone number on to the swim team captain and he'd get back to me. That was 2 days ago now. I hope he calls soon, because I think I really want to join. The swim meets will be every two weeks between September and March, and I only need to swim in a few to be part of the team. Practices are every Saturday afternoon.