Monday, March 28, 2011

Pull-up #3

My headline refers to the fact that today I did 3 pull-ups in a row and it felt pretty good. It is probably time to push myself to do 4 next time (good thing this is an anonymous blog, or else I would feel so embarrassed at the small number).

I am very cautious with pull-ups because I seem to pull a muscle every time I do them. I'm exaggerating, but still, I seldom do them because (1) I need to make sure I'm warmed up by doing other exercises, (2) I need to make sure I'm not too tired to do them properly, (3) if I'm at home, my doorway-mounted pull-up bar is too close to the floor so my form suffers, and (4) if I'm at the pool or fitness center, I don't want anyone to see how few I can actually do. Looking at this list, I'm pretty much screwed. First, the first two items are often contradictory. Because I don't want to pull a muscle, I don't start a workout with pull-ups. In fact, I often wait until the end of my workout to ensure I am warmed up. But by then, I am tired, and the danger of pulling a muscle increases because of that. So many days go by without push-ups because I am too afraid. I have previously discussed the frustration I have with my doorway-mounted pull-up bar at home. I still do push-ups at home, but I am leery. My best option for pull-ups is on the pool deck where I do my swimming workouts. But if there are too many people at the pool, I don't want to be a spectacle. All this adds up to the simple fact that I physically don't have the strength to do many pull-ups in a row. And of course, if I don't push myself to do more, I never will gain the strength I desire. So I'm stuck with making very, very slow progress over doing two in a row for several months, and then adding a third. 

About the graph: I started doing pull-ups in December 2009, and each day I do pull-ups I do as many as I can in one set. I probably should do more than one set, but I never have. So what is plotted here is the maximum number of pull-ups I could do in a row during one of my workouts, separated by month (red line). Also plotted (blue bars) is the average number of pull-ups completed per day in each month. Most of these averages are below 1.0 pull-up because I do not workout every day, and on the days I actually do pull-ups, I do a small enough number that it averages out to less than one per day. Looking at the data, there really isn't any trend. I haven't improved any over the last year; nor have I regressed. The only patterns I see are drops in the number of pull-ups done in the months of February 2010, March 2010, July 2010, and January 2011, which all correspond to minor shoulder or upper back injuries caused by doing too many pull-ups (or doing them with poor form, or with fatigued muscles, or with muscles not properly warmed up). So you can see, I have every right to be cautious as I try to increase the number of repetitions...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fashionable Cycling Clothes?

I went for a bike ride last week around my house. I did 6.1 miles in 26 minutes at an average speed of 14.1 mph. It was windy, and there are steep hills on my route. According to, the biggest hill is a 3.1% grade that continues for 0.82 miles. MapMyRun rates this as a category 5 hill--the mildest of their six categories. Well, even if it's not the biggest of hills, I still have a hard time climbing it. And that leads me to today's topic: clothing.

During my bike ride it was 54 degrees F with winds at 21mph gusting to 31mph (there is an airport weather station very close to my house). It's a little chilly for a summer-time outfit, so I wore the following: (1) old running shoes, (2) white cotton socks, (3) black UnderArmour tights, (4) compression shorts under the tights, (5) blue UnderArmour compression long-sleeved mock shirt, (6) gray long-sleeved cotton/polyester long-underwear on top of the compression shirt, (7) cycling gloves, and (8) a black and red helmet. My bicycle is white, if that matters.

How fashionable is this cycling outfit?

So what was my mistake?
Answer: For one, I had no fashion sense. The cotton/poly long-underwear over top of the compression mock shirt was the most blatant violation of fashion. After all, long-underwear is supposed to go underneath something else. A second potential mistake was wearing form-fitting clothing of any style. I have a great figure, so I'm not ashamed to show it off, but I also know that the UnderArmour is not really necessary when one is only moving 5 mph up some of the hills!

What statement does wearing a complete set of cycling clothes make about my cycling ability? I can easily envision myself wearing all the clothes of a weekend warrior cyclist--complete with cycling jersey and spandex shorts--with lots of miles under his saddle, but the reality is that I'm not that fast or experienced. What a funny sight it would be for me to wear the clothes of a professional but perform like an amateur.

Long-underwear and tights for cycling?

So I throw the question out to you, dear reader. What should I wear when I go cycling in chilly weather? Jeans seem to be too restrictive; sweat pants are too baggy and would rub against my bicycle chain. A shirt made of a thin layer of Lycra or polyester--the type of material that UnderArmour and cycling jerseys are made from--doesn't seem warm enough. At the same time, I'd look funny if I wore tights and a heavy sweatshirt. Suggestions, please!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Close of the Swim Team Season

On March 6, 2011, I competed in my fourth swim meet as a member of a Masters Swim team. Until this season, I had never swam competitively, and before fall 2009, I had never swam at all. Alas, the swim team season has ended and I must wait until next fall to compete again. I look forward to participating again next season. The prospect of racing again gives me a great incentive to keep training throughout the spring and summer. I just can't wait.

My mood is quite a bit more positive now (after my fourth competition) compared to my mood after my second competition in December 2010. In December I swam the 200-yard freestyle and got physically sick from the exertion. I did not pace myself and I swam past the point of exhaustion. It wasn't fun. Since then I've done the 100-yard freestyle and the 100-yard individual medley, and for both I was appropriately tired but not awfully fatigued. In fact, the 100-yard individual medley (IM) was my last swim on March 6, and I was triumphant if I don't say myself!

I had submitted a seed time of 1:41 upon the recommendation of my swim coach. Actually, he recommended 1:40 and I added a second to that because I figured his suggestion would be a little fast for my comfort. As it turned out, I swam the race in 1:28. The race began with a fairly good dive and then 25-yards of butterfly. I felt powerful as with each stroke my lower legs came out of the water and then struck it with some force. I was already a few body lengths ahead of my competitors by the time I reached the wall and began backstroke. I had recently worked on my backstroke with my coach. He had me rotate my arms out of the water right next to my head ("armpit to ear"), and then extend them as far in front of me as possible. Somehow this made backstroke less tiresome for me--probably because this resulted in better rotation of the body axis and a greater pull of water with each stroke. I was glad to show it off during the IM.

By the 50-yard mark I was out of breath. I hadn't done much breathing during the butterfly stroke, and the backstroke worked me hard. I also knew that my breaststroke was my worst stroke, and I find the transition from backstroke to breaststroke a little weird, too. The reason my breaststroke is my worst stroke is because I thought I knew how to do it, and then my coach pointed out that my kick is late. I've been trying to correct this without success. I'm a bit self-conscious of the stroke now because I know I'm doing it wrong. Anyway, I tried to do it right during the race and as a consequence I got my timing all screwed up. This loss of coordination in my stroke actually led me to try to breathe while still under the water, and that's never good! By the time I got to the far wall, I was ready for that stroke to be over. It was time for freestyle, and as I turned to start freestyle, I took a full second to catch a breath and look to see where my competitors were (I was in lane 6 so I couldn't see most of them when swimming). They were all at the far end of the wall, a full 25 yards behind me. With an inner grin, I started my freestyle stroke and proceeded at a fairly leisurely pace to the end. The pressure was off; I had won, and there was no need to exhaust myself. I'll do that the next time, as I will have a personal best to beat. This race set the benchmark for my future races.

It is worth mentioning that I swam in two other races. I completed the 25-yard breaststroke in 18.53 seconds. I don't have another race to compare that to, but it seems to be on par with my 39.72 second 50-yard breaststroke race in December. I also swam the 25-yard freestyle race. My time was 15.31 seconds, which beat my previous time of 15.86 seconds.