Monday, February 28, 2011

Bowling isn't glamorous, but it's a fun workout

Bowling. That's right, I went bowling two days ago, and today I've got sore muscles. So even if bowling isn't a popular activity for fitness enthusiasts, I still included it on my fitness log. According to a calorie-calculating website, my 90 minutes of bowling burned 353 calories. This is more calories per hour than a lleisurely walk. Plus, there is the aforementioned delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is most evident in me today in the following muscles: (1) flexor digitorum superficialis of the forearm, (2) hamstring of the back of the thigh, and (3) longissimus thoracis of the middle back. The soreness in my forearm is understandable, given the weight of the bowling ball and the release action of the hand. The soreness in my hamstring is also understandable, since I am only sore on the right side (I hold the ball on my right side), and my leg was probably used to to support my weight upon release of the ball. A sore back is a tad more surprising, particularly since I am more sore on the left side than on my right. But again, I probably had to balance my torso during the ball release, and a left-side contraction of the back could counteract the right-side contraction of the thigh to keep me from plain falling over. Incidentally, the 10-year old boy bowling in the lane to my left fell down several times during my 90-minute set of games. I asked his mom if he was doing that on purpose, and she said she didn't know. I bet he wasn't.

I like bowling, so I will probably report on it here again. I'm not good at it, though. My friend and I played five games. My scores: 85, 115, 105, 103, and 71. I put considerable speed on the ball and I have good aim. Still, I only got three strikes in five games. Three strikes and now I'm out! *grin*

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Halfway to changing my bicycle's handlebar grips.

I received new bicycle handlebar grips for Christmas and endeavored to put them on my bike today. I started out by looking at the new grips, "Satellite Plus" grips from Bontrager. According to the package, Bontrager is a brand name of Trek, which appropriate given that these are for my Trek 700 hybrid. Never heard of a Trek 700 hybrid? Well, that's OK. I bought the bike in 1991, so by this time it's an antique. And yes, it does ride like a 20-year old bicycle, with all of its roughly-changing gears and questionable brakes!

Why not start with replacing handlebar grips on an old bike?
Obviously, it needs a bit more than new handlebar grips, but I've got to start somewhere, and these were an unexpected and much appreciated gift. So, looking at the new grips, and then looking at the original grips still on the bike, I realized early on that I would need some instructions. Consulting, I learned that it was quite difficult to remove the old grips. The site recommended the use of WD40 to loosen the grips. I decided I would skip that step and simply cut the old grips off since I would not be using them again. I got out a pair of metal snips but did not need to use them, as the old neoprene-like foam grips were easily torn off the handlebars with little effort. "Great!" I thought. But not so fast.

New handlebar grips for my Trek.
The Tutor website went into great detail on how to remove the old grips, but it offered comparatively few tips on installing the new grips. In fact, it says that the grips can be "quickly" worked onto the handlebar. I don't know what planet they are from, but it took so much effort to install one of the grips that I now have a new grip on the right handlebar and an old grip still remains on the left handlebar. I had to stop in the middle because in my effort to install the first grip I wore all the skin off of the inside surface of my thumb on my right hand. I was twisting the grip over and over, slowly working it along the handle bar. I was able to move the grip about 1/4" (0.6 cm) with each complete rotation. Given the 5-inch length of grip, this means I had to twist the grip 360 degrees almost 20 times in a row to get it on the bar. At about the 18th rotation, with no warning, my thumb's epidermis lost contact with the underlying dermis and a flap of skin rumpled up next to my index finger. The wound started to bleed and I used scissors to remove the damaged flap of skin. With a bandaged thumb, I no longer have any desire to finish this job!!

What did I do wrong, and why didn't the Bontrager people provide instructions...or at least a warning that it might be difficult to install their product?

P.S. I just visited the Bontrager website to grab an image of these new grips. I laugh now at the irony of the product description for the Satellite Plus product:
"Grips don't get much more comfortable than Bontrager's Satellite Plus. An ergonomic palm extension gives added hand support while a dual-compound construction makes these grips both cushy and durable. Lock-on mechanism keeps grips from rotating on the handlebar."
So if they are not made to rotate on the handlebar, how the heck am I supposed to install them?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pyramid sets feel good.

Pyramid sets with the bench press will build the pectoralis fairly quickly. Probably.
Pyramid sets feel good. At least tonight when I did one. Or part of one. I routinely do two bench press sets of 15 reps at 105 pounds. This means I lift 105 pounds 15 times and then I rest for a couple minutes before repeating. I've been doing this over and over, month-in and month-out, and my pectoralis is no longer sore after these workouts (I do other weightlifting exercises, too). This means my pectoralis muscles are not being challenged, and they will not get stronger or bigger unless I work them harder. So, I changed things just a bit. I did my normal first set of 15 repetitions at 105 pounds. Then I went on to do a different exercise (1 set of dumbbell shrugs at 22.5 pounds). When I was done with the dumbbell shrugs I went back to my weight bench and did a set of bench presses using 110 pounds instead of 105 pounds. I am always afraid of hurting myself, so I never change things drastically from one day to the next. If I wanted to challenge myself a bit more, I would have continued to do a third set and then a fourth set of heavier and heavier weights. Each successive set would contain fewer repetitions until I got the point where I couldn't do more than 4 repetitions. I didn't do this tonight but maybe I will later this week. Even doing this one partial pyramid set, I could feel the additional effort being generated by my muscles to lift the extra 5 pounds and I'm pretty sure that tomorrow I'll be a little sore.

Pyramid sets seem to be a good strategy for building muscle mass fairly rapidly. This is because the pyramid sets purposely and progressively fatigue larger and larger motor units (groups of muscle cells that contract together) as a person lifts heavier and heavier weights. The large motor units are predominantly the fast-twitch fibers that can generate a lot of power but fatigue quickly. Fatigue could lead to one of two circumstances that promote muscle hypertrophy (growth in size). First, as one lifts heavier weights, microscopic tears may occur with in the muscle cells. The repair process adds protein myofilaments (actin and myosin) to the muscle, causing individual cells to expand and become stronger. Second, even if no microdamage occurred, the muscles that became fatigued did so because they temporarily ran out of stored glycogen (which can be converted to glucose and ATP to power the muscle contraction). Muscles will grow in size as the body replaces and augments the glycogen stores. 

I apologize for the technical stuff above, but I just gave a lecture on this to college students so it is fresh in my mind. My understanding is based on material found in the Exercise Physiology textbook I use, as well as in another book (at the office!) which I will reference later. I should also give credit to Davey Wavey for the pyramid set technique. Davey's fitness site is full of good material and worth browsing. I should note that Davey is gay and his appreciation for the male body is very apparent; however, even straight men like me will laugh at his sexual humor. And don't we all want better bodies? 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Masters Swim Meet #3

Today I swam in my third Master's Swim Meet against YMCA teams from across my region. I'm new to competition so the times I am about to report won't be impressive to most of you, but I am still really pleased at my performance. Plus, I had least eventually.

The first event in which I swam was the 100-yard freestyle race. For purposes of review, at my last swim meet I swam the 200-yard freestyle race and became physically sick afterward from the exhaustion. I did not pace myself, so I burned through all my energy in the first 100 yards and had almost nothing left for the second half of the race. I finished in a little over 3 minutes. Based on this time, I conservatively submitted a seed time of 1:30 for today's 100-yard race. But earlier in the week my swim coach and I worked on pacing in preparation for today's event. He taught me to swim at 80% effort level for the first 37 yards or so, and then go all out at 100% effort for the remaining 64 yards. In training, I did this successfully and swam the 100 yards in 1:06 (1 min and 03 secs). I therefore had every expectation that I would beat my seed time. At today's competition I swam the 100-yard freestyle in 1:13. I was fatigued but not completely spent at the end. I also had a lousy flip-turn at the 75-yard mark. I am pretty sure that my strokes were too far out to the sides of my body, and I think I probably bent my neck too much while breathing. Good things about the race include the fact that at the 50-yard mark I was still leading my heat. My dive seemed reasonable, and unlike last time, my goggles did not fall off!

I had some Gatorade, a couple cookies, and did a "cool down" swim in the heated pool next to the lap pool, and I had plenty of time to rest before my next event.

My time for the 50-yard breaststroke event was 39.79 seconds. I had submitted a seed time of 39.0 seconds because the last time I swam this race competitively was in November 2010 at my first Master's Swim Meet and I had a time of 39.72 seconds. Thus, my performance today was nearly identical to what I swam before. I did not beat my heat--in fact, I think I was last--so this race didn't feel as good to me, despite the fact that I swam just as well as in November when I pulled a surprise victory against everyone in my heat.

My big coup d'etat was my third event, the 25-yard butterfly. I signed up for this without input from my coach. When I told him I was doing butterfly, he said "Wow, that's a big step." I replied, "Sure, but it's only 25-yards. What could go wrong in 25-yards?" My teammates were also surprised that I would attempt the butterfly. But ultimately, I swam very well! I finished in 16.90 seconds, faster than the 18.0 second seed time that I submitted (the latter being a simple guess based on the prior times of teammates with my similar level of skill and physical build). I also out-swam everyone in my heat with several body lengths to spare, and this made my spirit soar. The people I am competing against within my heat are not necessarily my peers in terms of age and gender. I still swam slower than a lot of people NOT in my heat, but I beat my skill-level peers. That felt good. My competitiveness is showing!

I am very happy tonight. I am swimming against people who have swam all their lives. In contrast, I never swam in school or college, and I didn't know how to swim until about 20 months ago. In fact, I wasn't taught the butterfly until fall 2010. Thank you, J.G., for teaching and coaching me so well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lateral dumbbell raises

Two nights ago during my weight lifting I decided to bump up the weight employed during my bench presses. I've been pressing 100 pounds for the last month (usually two sets of 15 reps), and I felt it was time to add additional weight. But not too much weight of course, as I am always worried that I'll hurt myself. So, I added 5 pounds and lifted 105 pounds. It is surprising how much heavier that 5 pounds feels! I did 14 presses in the first set and 9 in the second. It won't take too long to get back to the two sets of 15 reps I usually do, and then maybe I'll add some more weight.

My workout included more than bench presses. I also did bicep curls (three sets of 15 @ 22.5 pounds), 2 pull ups, 51 abdominal crunches, and lateral dumbbell raises (two sets of 20 @ 10 pounds). This was a fairly mild workout because I felt tired and unmotivated, but that's another story. At least I did a workout!

Well, yesterday and today I've had a pain in my left posterior deltoid that persists despite a dose of Tylenol. I also had a pain on the front of my shoulder, either in the anterior deltoid or maybe one of the rotator cuff ligaments. I initially attributed the pain to a small injury I must have sustained as the result of increasing the bench press weight by 5 pounds. This would make sense except that the rotatory cuff pain has subsided and the pain in my posterior deltoid remains. The bench press--no matter how poorly executed--would not lead to an injury on the back of the shoulder. So the culprit must be the lateral dumbbell raises.

I use Delavier (2006) as a guide for doing lateral raises. Briefly, the exercise requires one to stand up straight with small dumbbells in both hands. Arms are straight at the sides and then lifted up until horizontal with the ground. Hands grip the dumbbells from the top so that palms are facing down.  Delavier says the exercise "should not be performed with heavy weights, but instead in sets of 10 to 25 reps, while varying the working angle without much recuperation time until you feel a burn." The reasoning behind using small weights is that if larger weights are used, you will recruit additional and larger muscles, and your smaller muscles (such as the supraspinatus) will not be pushed to their limits. He gives several other instructions that I used to follow but have since forgotten until now. For instance, the arms should alternate between positions slightly forward of the body and slightly behind the body so that all the muscle fibers of the deltoid are equally exercised. The deltoid muscle is a multipennate muscle, meaning it has fibers that run in different directions. If I simply lifted my arms at the same angle each time, I would exercise one part of the deltoid but not necessarily the other two segments. I have forgotten to do this with regularity, and perhaps that is why I am now a bit injured in the posterior deltoid.

The other reason might be the way I was holding the weights. You see, I used to lift 8-pound dumbbells. But then I increased it to 10 pounds. I do not actually own 10-pound dumbbells, so I have been lifting 10-pound plates instead. I have some plates that are solid (no hand grips!) and some that have spaces inside that allow me to grip them easily. I was lazy two nights ago, and instead of using the ones with hand grips, I elected to use the ones close by that had no hand-holds. The result was a very awkward feeling and a heavier lift, as I clutched the weights using my fingertips. This meant the weights were being held farther away from my central axis, which requires more work. The moral of my story is two-fold:
  1. Remember to maintain proper form when lifting, and review the instructions for each exercise regularly to ensure you haven't forgotten how to do it right.
  2. Don't be lazy. Use the proper equipment. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nerve pain after treadmill run

On average, I go running about once or twice a month. At least, that's what I did in 2010 for a total of 48 miles (each run is 2-3 miles). Running is new to me though. In 2009, I only ran 4 miles! And before that, I never ran. Despite the running total of 48 miles in 2010, almost none of that occurred in the last four months of the year. For example, I recorded one 30-min run on Aug 28, 2010 and then nothing until Dec 23, 2010 when I ran on a treadmill. I was terribly sore after that treadmill run, such that it was hard getting in and out of a car. Sure, my leg and torso muscles were sore, but I had a more serious and "shooting" pain at the base of my spine that would radiate into the back of my thighs when I bent my waist or hips a certain way. And the pain was so severe on Dec 27, 2010, when I attempted to do another run on the treadmill that I stopped and walked very fast instead.

By January 5, 2010, I was well enough to again run on a treadmill and I ran for 32 minutes. I ran again on Jan 7th and 10th and one last time on Jan 31st. I was not sore in mid January, but I am sore again yesterday and today. The pain seems related to the sciatic nerves and I wonder why I'm feeling pain like that at age 36. I hope it will subside and improve as I increase the frequency of my runs. I figure the more I run, the more my spine and muscles will adjust to the forces related to each footfall. Our bodies are built to modify themselves in the face of new physical stresses, so come on body, do your work and let me run some more!