Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Motivators that Work for Me #2: A New Physique

In this second installment of a series of blog posts on things that motivate me to stay physically active, I discuss the fact that once a person has acheived an improved physique, he or she will want to keep it. 

There are plenty of people I have encountered or read about that used to be overweight and then they lost a lot of pounds through diet modification and exercise. Some people in this situation maintain this improved physique forever, and some revert back to their original size. I can understand how difficult it would be to lose all that weight, and then to gain it all back would be hard to deal with, too. My story is not like this, though. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones.

I have always had a thin build. Even my own mother remarks when I come to visit that it looks like I've lost weight. No. I'm the same 6'4" and 175 pound male today that I was back in June 2001. I have records from back then. I have a completely normal weight for my height. However, my impression of myself is that I am a little underdeveloped in the upper body, including arms, shoulders, and chest. Data show that the maximum bench press of an adult male in his 30s should be about 93% his body weight. For me that would be 162 pounds and I don't think I could do that. 

Back in September 2008 I started to do weight lifting to see if I could build my muscles. At the time I was not a swimmer, so I wasn't worried about strength; increasing muscle size was my goal. I'm embarrassed that this was my goal. It's so sophomoric to worry about having big muscles. But guess what? Weight lifting several days per week for 16 months caused my chest circumference to increase 3 inches and my upper arm circumference to increase 1 inch. To be honest, I don't think these minor gains in muscle size were ever noticable in the mirror. But it didn't matter; I knew I had made progress and it made me feel better about myself.

My weight lifting diminished during winter 2010 because of minor shoulder injuries at that time and an increase in my professional responsibilities, and I haven't really done a lot of weight lifting since. Meanwhile, I've been swimming on a regular basis and I think this has maintained my muscle size and strength. It better have, because by swimming regularly, I am walking around in public with no shirt and I have to look good. I can't have a bunch of belly fat. I can't look sickly thin. Thus, one of my motivators for keeping a regular schedule of fitness activties is to hold on to the improvements I made to my physique, and to stay visually pleasing to the eye during my time at the pool. Oh, and ladies, I'm still single!

All kidding aside, I want to stress that what works for me might not be helpful to others. First, I don't know what it is like to struggle with one's weight their whole life. Relative to others, it's easy for me to say "I want to look good at the pool" and be able to work toward that goal. Second, "looking good at the pool" isn't that great of a goal to have anyway. It is a subjective goal. It is an unreachable goal because there is no way for me to know when I've attained it. This goal  emphasizes outer appearance rather than the more important things that count. Lastly, I'm pretty sure that people don't look at my body when I am at the pool as much as I used to think. Maybe they snatch a look or two, but in general, swimmers are there to do their own thing and encourage me as I do mine. There is very little judgment at the pools where I swim--swimmers come in all shapes, ages, and sizes, and we are all far more beautiful than we think we are. You might catch me staring at someone at my pool, but I'm almost certain to be studying their swimming technique than thinking about their body's appearance. Seriously.

In sum, one of the things that motivates me to workout is how good my body looks to me. It doesn't matter that much how I appear to others. I think I look good, and I exercise to keep it that way.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Motivators that Work for Me: #1 Never Say Never

This post is the start of an occassional series in which I will describe the top 10 things that have helped me stay motivated during the last 3-4 years of working out and becoming a middle-aged athlete. I think this list of motivators could be helpful to a lot of folks, but I must be clear at the start that I am not the most experienced athlete, nor the best. To put things in perspective, over the last year I have logged 142 miles of running, 841 miles of cycling, and 136 miles of swimming. Compared to some people, these totals are small. But compared to most people, these totals are exceptional. Compared to me 3 or 4 years ago these totals are exceptional. Today at my workplace, at my church, and within my family I'm viewed as someone who is really dedicated to fitness. I even have a colleague who keeps saying "I know you eat really healthy, but would you care to join us at X resturant?"  Yes, of course! My diet isn't really that great--it is terribly void of vegetables--but I let her have the impression that I'm a health nut anyway. So how do I stay motivated and reap the benefits of this reputation among my friends? My first strategy is to never say never:

1. Never Say Never
Insecurities hold you back. I look at them as being excuses that cause us to fail before we ever begin. That doesn't mean we can fix the things we are trying to fix, but what I have found is that accepting the challenge and working toward improvement--even if it does not ultimately succeed--makes me a more confident person. Motivation and self confidence increase together. If you work toward a goal, that is evidence that you are motivated. As you work, you gain confidence in your self. With greater self confidence, motivation to succeed grows even more. The key is tricking yourself into starting this process. I suggest imagining yourself as a motivated and confident person. Ask yourself "What would I do if I had no fear, anxiety, or lack of confidence?" Then do what comes to mind. It's easier said than done. I know that. But it can be done. I celebrate these successes:
  • In a previous blog post I described how I grew tired of being a lousy player on a fast-pitch softball team. Maybe this was due to a lack of confidence, maybe it was lack of skill. Probably it was both. So after failing a few times during a game, I picked myself up and decided to concentrate much harder. Ultimately, I was the MVP of that particular game. This sort of softball success was rare for me, but simply knowing that not every game would be a disaster kept me motivated to do well.
  • In late 2010 I didn't think I could commute to work by bicycle because there are two hills between my home and work. With some encouragement from my swim coach, I did it, and it wasn't bad at all. I have continued to commute by bike whenever the weather is nice.
  • I don't think I've mentioned this on my blog before, but my recent experience as a cyclist gives me a lot of thrills, both good and bad. Since buying a road bike last summer, I have started to ride regularly on roadways with motor vehicle traffic. The roads around my house are narrow, winding country roads, plus a few busy yellow-striped highways. With 359 miles on the new road bike, I admit I am still nervous to ride this bike. What if I get a flat tire when 15 miles from my home, or what if I get really exhuasted in climbing a hill? Or worse, what if I get hit by a car, or lose control and flip over the handlebars? I would be so much safer if I didn't ride my bike on roadways or anywhere else. But is the answer then to give up? Of course not. Someone with greater confidence and less fear would head out on his bike because it is fun and good. So, with Godspeed and defensive driving, I ride, and I ride well.
  • I joined a competitive swim team in late 2010. What in the world happened to me? I had only just learned to swim 15 months before. I felt self-conscious about swimming, diving, and what I'd look like in a close-fitting competitive swimsuit. But I did it anyway, and I've kept at it.
This "Never Say Never" rule has worked for me a lot of times, but there is more work to be done. Even now, about 4 years after learning how to swim and 1.5 years of competitive swimming, I have a deep, subconscious fear of water. It doesn't come to my attention very often, but I know it is still there. It showed up recently when I asked my swim coach to show me a second kind of dive that swimmers use when they are on a relay team. The dive must propel me quite far into the air before I hit the water so that I don't dive into the swimmer below me, swimming to the wall as s/he finishes the first segment of the relay race. My normal dive plunges me rapidly into the water without much time spent in midair. So on this day, as my coach asked me to aim farther as I launched off the diving platform, I just stood there. I did many false starts, sometimes loosing my balance and jumping defeatedly into the water feet first. But for at least 15 minutes I would fall in, climb back out, mount the diving platform, and try, try, try to jump off. Finally, I gave up. But not for good. I won't say "never." I'm going to do it someday, and when I do, I'll feel as though I'm at the top of the world. That will be a good feeling, and that hope is what motivates me to keep trying. 

Stay tuned for more motivational tools I use to keep me fit. The next one I'll write about is Keeping Records.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cycling Glasses

I recently bought a pair of glasses for use on the bike. As a weekend-warrior type cyclist I used to think that cyclists with fancy shades really didn't need them. Instead, I thought the glasses were just for fashion and for shading one's eyes from the sun. After all, there are lots of folks who drive their cars wearing fancy sunglasses, and sometimes the sun is out and sometimes it is not!

But now that I am a developing roadie--someone who speeds around on a bike more than once or twice a week--I understand that cycling glasses are not just for style and not just to dim the sun's light rays. In addition, cyclists need glasses to protect their eyes from bugs, dust, and debris that can be thrown into our faces as a car passes us. A bit of dust or a bug can be an annoyance for the casual rider, but if you are riding along at 20 mph, you can't afford to be distracted or temporarily impeded by a speck of dust in your eye. The situation can become unsafe.

So I bought a pair of glasses. I now own Tifosi FORZA FC Gloss Black T-V215 Fototec glasses. The purchase price was about $40 on the Bike Nashbar website. This was about 3 months ago, so I don't remember why I chose this particular model (actually now I do: I have a big face and very few other brands were rated as fitting large faces--what are all cyclists like horse jockeys?). I can say that the glasses are completely worth every penny. They sit lightly on my face and never bother me during a ride. In fact, the only time I notice I am wearing them is when the wind is blowing on the rest of my face and I don't feel it around the eyes. "Oh yeah, I've got glasses on." [I should note here that off the bike I do not wear glasses or corrective lenses of any kind]. These things are as comfortable as can be, and they never shift position. I've never been worried that they would fall off.

Tifosi Forza FC cycling glasses
I wasn't actually sure how to wear them with a helmet. Should the earpieces go under the helmet straps or over them? I looked through an issue of Bicycle Magazine and saw photos of people doing it either way, but I can't be sure those are real cyclists or just models. Indeed, some of their helmet straps were much too loose under the chin to provide them any protection during a crash, so these people either loosened their straps for the photo shoot, or they weren't real cyclist. Anyway, I decided to wear the ear pieces over the helmet straps so that if I was in a crash, the glasses would fall away from my face and not cut me.

This pair of glasses is supposed to be photochromic, such that the lenses become more darkly tinted in bright light. This feature is not noticeable while wearing them, but I suppose that is the point. Off the bike I see that they never get very dark. However, I am not one who wears sunglasses routinely (i.e. a motorist who wears them in the car), so I'm not bothered that they are not very dark....except that a certain "cool factor" is lost when you are riding your bike without dark sunglasses. That's OK. I know I'm cool anyway!

Goals for June 2012

In my last post I evaluated how well I attained my May fitness goals and my self-grade was a C. The whole point in working out is self-improvement, so I want to get a better grade in June! So here is my plan:

  • June 9-10: Bike MS Escape to the Lake. This is a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that hundreds of thousands of cyclists do all across the country. This will be my first year participating. I've chosen a 137-mile route from near Pittsburgh to the shore of Lake Erie.

Monthly Goals:
  1. Cycling. Obviously I'll do at least 137 miles, since that is part of the Bike MS event. I am also planning a 25-mile ride with my parents at the end of the month. Adding another 50 miles in weekly rides (this would be closer to 80 if I weren't planning to be out of town for some of the month), that gives me a realistic goal of 212 miles. If I attain this, it would be the second month where I rode more than ever before.
  2. Running. This goal is easy to set. I want to run more this month than in any other before it. That sounds dramatic, but given my low running totals, it's completely attainable. Besides, I can run anywhere, even if I'm out of town.
    1. I will run 22 miles in June.
    2. I will also make sure that at least one of my runs will exceed 4.8 miles (my un-met goal from last month) 
  3. Swimming.
    1. I will swim 11.3 miles in June, which is an average amount.
    2. I will make sure 4 of my swims are an hour in length.
    3. The majority of my swims will include: (1) diving, (2) 125 yards of straight butterfly, (3) at least two 100 IM. Practicing my dives will help me spend more time in the air. I need to build endurance in the butterfly. My best friend does a lot of IMs and that's inspiring. I want to see if I can do what he does (eventually).
  4. Bird Hikes. I think four hikes with bicoculars this month is not unreasonable, and I always enjoy it.
  5. Weight-Lifting. Last month I said I'd do a workout 3 times per week. That still seems reasonable, but in reality I did just 3 workouts in the entire month. 
    1. I will do 6 workouts in the month. 
    2. I will start most of these workouts with leg raises as a warmup, since my swim coach wants me to work on building my abdominal muscles.
    3. My biceps circumference will increase 0.20 inch to 11.5 inches.
    4. My forearm circumference will increase 0.25 inch to 11.25 inches.
    5. My chest size will increase 0.25 inch to 43.25 inches.