Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Burp! Analysis of alcoholic beverages...

Staying fit and maintaining a decent weight for me means that I have to be somewhat careful about my diet.  Because I'm a grown-up human being, I am faced with lots of temptation on a regular basis.  One of my regular temptations is alcohol.

I am not a big drinker, but on occasion, I like to hoist a couple of my favorite cold drinks in honor of [INSERT OCCASION/PERSON/TEAM/ETC HERE].  These occasions will often fall on a day which I do not consider a "cheat day".  What can a Regular Guy/Gal do to minimize impact to his/her waistline and workout regime while still caving in to peer pressure and not making the friends we are with feel like socially awkward drunks when we refuse alcohol?

I decided to embark on a not-very-scientific study to measure the number of calories, carbohydrates (if available), and alcoholic content by volume in a few different types of drinks:
  • Blue Moon:  It's a great Belgian white ale, and generally people squeeze an orange into it.  I feel if you have to squeeze fruit into your beer, you may be a sissy...and Blue Moon stands pretty good on its own.
  • Michelob Ultra:  This is a great and very light beer, suitable for drinking while cleaning your garage or enjoying one of our senseless outdoor Arizona parties in 105 degree heat.
  • Jack Daniels and Diet Coke:  I LOVE diet coke.  Combining Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky and Diet Coke gives me (what I would assume would be) the same feeling as the guy who first combined peanut butter and chocolate.
  • Margarita:  In Arizona, a good standard margarita is a staple at Mexican food restaurants, backyard parties, Christenings, meetings with attorneys, and etc.
  • Long Island Iced Tea:  Oh yeah...I used to drink these puppies in college, and 15 years later have re-discovered them.
  • Zinfandel:  Yes, I enjoy a glass of red zinfandel (preferably old vines, preferably from a great winery such as Seghezio in Sonoma County)... any wine that you can drink with a slice of pizza doesn't seem too snobby to me!
The assumptions that I am making:
  • I will calculate calories PER SERVING using STANDARD SERVING SIZES
  • You're a responsible adult (even though you're reading my blog) and will consume alcohol responsibly
Another disclaimer - I do not and would not encourage anybody to work out AFTER consuming an alcoholic beverage.  Use your brains.

I used WebMD's calorie counter for the information, and cross referenced against a number of other sources (e.g. Drinks Mixer's website - which was awesome) so it's probably good enough.  Here's what I came up with:

Caloric and Alcoholic content for some of my favorite drinks
 The big winner?  Jack Daniels and Diet Coke - how awesome is that? 

Was this helpful?  Annoying?  Respond to my blog or give me a shout on twitter - @PMGeekAndy.  Now, I'm getting thirsty...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fitness PM - Setting Priorities (or "Waahhh! I don't have enough time to do my workout!")

Your time is finite.  You probably have a job, kids, perhaps you go to school, have hobbies, social responsibilities, need to maintain your household, the toilet has backed up, your car is 2000 miles overdue for an oil change, you've got a rash and need to see a doctor, and for crying out loud call your parents.  I get it - you're busy.  How on earth do you squeeze it all in? 
The answer is:  YOU DON'T.  It's not a popular answer.  For instance, Politicians, when faced with budget cuts and tough decisions, will actually trim and reduce ALL budget line items rather than make decisions about removing spending items entirely.  Large corporations will "do more with less" - meaning they will assign even more work to already overtaxed resources - they can't say "no".  In other words, the easy choice is to shortchange everything and ultimately you see the results of this shortchanging everywhere.

"Multi-tasking" was/is a buzz word which basically means you are doing many things in small chunks.  Many new job postings will say "must be able to multi-task".  This is analagous to asking a perspective employee to "must be able to avoid holding self and others accountable for getting the right work done in a timely manner".  Be an accountable grown-up and figure out how to reduce multi-tasking!  Here's a little drawing by yours truly that will explain why multi-tasking is killing your effectiveness:

Multi vs Single Tasking
This is just a simple example - the reality (not shown in the picture) is, tasks will take less time if you work on them until completion.  Your output will probably even be of higher quality.  Sometimes this is impossible, but if you are reducing the amount of set-up time between tasks, you are becoming more efficient. 

How does this apply to making time to work out?  It's all about setting priorities and working in priority order.  The only time you get out of priority order is if an opportunity arises.   Note that I work in a "hierarchy of needs" order, where my base needs are met first where absolutely possible, and "wants" or "nice to haves" are absolutely dead last in priority order.  Obviously this is oversimplified, but I include working out as a "Health" need, and I hit it very early in the morning.
Regular Guy's Hierarchy of Needs
Everybody has this sort of hierarchy, but not everybody puts it into a powerpoint slide and pastes it into a blog.  I work from the inside out, that is, my most core needs are in the center, and the things I need less (wants) are on the outside.    Can you apply this to yourself?  How about to your job?

When you work on a task, you do it as effectively and completely as you possibly can so that you are not half-assing it through your day.  I go so far as to time-block things; ie. say "from 5-6am I work out.  Period."  I do this with pretty much my entire day - here's an example of my daily schedule.

This regular guy's day...time boxed
 This is an over-simplification of a concept called "Theory of Constraints".  In my case, I apply my full resources to the area which needs them the most.  In other words, I kick as much ass as humanly possible on my workout from 5-6am.  I don't stop to wash dishes, my kids stay in bed, my garage stays dirty, and I don't cook breakfast.  Workout.  From 5-6am.  That's it.  If it's important, the task gets done.  If it's less important, it waits (or gets dropped entirely).  You do not have time to do everything in the world.

One other thing - I must admit my evenings do get muddy; it's much harder to time block them as there are more variables.  However, all of those variables (wife, kids, dog) fall under the "family" need, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

How do you box your day?  How do you prioritize your day?  Is this helpful or a complete waste of time?  Give me a shout on my blog, or send me a tweet at @PMGeekAndy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shake it up with a new workout partner

If you have read my previous blog posts, you may have discerned that I enjoy working out alone.  It's true.  I don't have to wait on anybody, I can do whatever I want, I can start when I want, and I can pass gas loudly without fear of retribution.

I have noticed that, even though I've been going through formal workout programs, that I have gotten into a rut.  The soreness that may accompany a good workout doesn't have that extra flair, and I'm not as amped up to get started on my workout.  Further - doubts have been creeping into my mind recently as to whether I'm getting better during my workouts or simply going through the motions.  Yep... that's a rut.

Saturday morning, my lovely bride said (something to the effect of) "Hey - sissy Nancy boy - let's drop the kids in the child care at the YMCA and get our swell on... or can't you hang?"  Wow.  Having the gauntlet thrown at 930am on a Saturday was a bit much, but I took the challenge.

Her mission was to do chest and biceps - and right away I realized that I have never focused on just these two things in one workout.  After, we would do some cardio on the machines.  Since this was her idea and her domain, I let her be the guide.

We worked on machines, which was new to me as I generally use free weights or perform body-weight exercises.  The machines were great for working out together since we weren't changing plates, grabbing different dumbbells, or etc.  These machines even allowed her to punch in a login id and record her workout.  I tried to mimic her rep count using my own weight, and found myself struggling as I was not used to the new exercises and high rep counts.  Afterward, we ran our little hearts out on the elliptical while watching the annoying "Genie Bra" infomercial for 35 minutes.

Judging by how sore I became, I found working out with my wife to be extremely beneficial.  Some reasons you may want to work out with a new partner:

  • New exercises:  I would not have tried any machines were it not for my wife.
  • Feedback:  If you are doing something incorrectly, a fresh set of eyes can give you feedback on your form, the amount of weight you are using, or remind you to take a break
  • Accountability:  You do not want to let your new partner down by not showing up!  Even more, if you tell your new partner your goal (e.g. I'm going to do a set of 15 using this weight!), you'll push yourself to "not let your new partner down".
  • Fun:  Working out had become like a job for me, and it took a new partner to realize how fun it can be to work out.

Even cooler than these reasons, I have become re-energized about my own (non-partner) workouts.  Looking forward to working out with my new partner is pushing me to work harder on my own time.

What benefits do YOU get from working out with a partner?  Give me a reply to my  blog or send me a Tweet @PMGeekAndy.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fitness PM Thursday - Taking Measurement (or "Why I hated Army Basic Training"))

As a young private, one of the things I absolutely hated about US Army Basic Training was the tests.  HATED THEM.  There were medical tests (vision, height, weight, a physical), there were basic soldier tests (remembering your 3 General Orders, basic rifle marksmanship, basic grenade marksmanship, "the Super Bowl" assessment - including first aid, etc), and there were physical fitness tests (2 mile run, 2 minute push-ups, 2 minute sit-ups).  I still get almost physically ill at the thought of taking these tests.
21 years have flown by since Basic Training in lovely Fort Jackson, SC.  I probably couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with my M-16, and pray to God that we will not have to rely upon my accurate recital of the 3 General Orders.  However, as a project manager with 20/20 hindsight I really appreciate the Army's propensity to take measurements.
A measurement (or metric) is used to assess capabilities or show progress.  Obviously, you'll want these measurements to be relevant to your Problem (in our case fitness - see my Problem Statement blog).  You'll also want to have enough different metrics to get a good understanding of how you're solving your problem.
The measures that the Army used assessed several capabilities:
  • Health:  Is this soldier a body type that will work well in the Army?
  • Physical Fitness:  Can this soldier stand up to the rigors of being in a stressful, battlefield situation?
  • Soldiering:  Does this soldier have an understanding of the system so as to be a useful asset and not to be a danger to him/herself or their fellow soldiers?
Each measurement, at least in the Army's case, was an accurate representation of your overall fitness for duty.  If a soldier passes the Health criteria and aces the Physical Fitness tests but stinks it up with an M16, the likelihood is either a)

How does this apply to the physical fitness and/or workouts of a regular person?  It's super simple.  First, think about your problem statement.  For example, my problem statement is:
  • It currently takes me > 45 minutes to do my favorite fitness hike due to my current weight (191 lbs) and level of fitness.  If I cannot complete this hike in < 40 minutes, I will be late to my other morning commitments (breakfast, childrens' school, work) AND my wife may break my neck.
Hopefully this problem statement and its impact are abundantly clear.  Based on this, what are some measurements that I can use to assess my cuurent capabilities?
  • Time:  For this hike, the distance is fixed and the terrain is hilly and rocky, but other than the temperature and the number of people on the trail, all variables remain the same.  I measure the time it takes to get from the trailhead to the top and back again, and I'll measure it each time I do the hike (which is only once per week, on Saturdays at 5am).
  • Weight:  Right now, it's about 191, which is just a little heavy for somebody with my frame.  Worse, it causes me to snore (pissing my wife off to no end).  I will keep track of this metric daily since I probably need to lose about 5-6 lbs.
  • 3.2 mile run:  My running route begins and ends at the top of a big hill.  I can do this quickly enough to not impact my family, so it is a good exercise to help improve my hike.  Right now, I can do this in about 30 minutes, which is really slow.  Improving this metric, maybe to 25 minutes, will be a good indicator that I am making progress.  I run this two times per week and will time it each time.
Obviously it's great to see improvement in your metrics (a positive trend), but if you notice that one of the metrics is going in a negative direction, you should realize you need to take action.  In my case, my 3.2 mile run time could improve, but unless my weight also improves (i.e. it increases above a trigger point, 191 lbs), it is not likely that my hike time will improve.  An early warning of an issue will trigger you to take action before you are completely derailed.

A couple tips on using metrics:
  1. Ensure your metrics are relevant to your problem and/or goal.  Measuring the number of pushups that you can do will not directly help you to understand whether you can perform your hike more quickly. 
  2. Make sure your metrics are quantitative:  Saying "I'd like to look good naked" is probably not a good metric.  What if the person who is looking at you is a chubby-chaser?  Pick your weight, your waist size, your hip circumference, etc, as a better metric.
  3. Establish trigger points:  While your measurements may fluctuate a little, you may want to pick a trigger point for a measurement.  For instance, if my run takes me more than 30 minutes, then I will need to run a shorter distance or sprints in order to improve my run time.
  4. Pick several measurements:  You'll probably want several measurements to accurately monitor your progress.  Time, weight, heartrate, recovery time might be a good combination for the hiking problem.  If you pick too many measurements, they'll be difficult to collect and maintain (and you won't do it).  i would choose 3-5 relevant metrics.
  5. Measurement frequency:  This is up to you, but for each measurement that I use, I decide ahead of time how frequently I will measure.  Maybe it's every day.  Maybe it's weekly or monthly.  Do what makes sense, but please realize that the more quickly you identify an issue, the faster you can resolve it.
  6. Be consistent when you measure:  Similar to my tip on quantitative measurements, you need to be consistent when measuring.  If measuring your waist, measure at the belly button each time.  When doing pushups, know what constitutes a full pushup (both down and up).  You're only cheating yourself if you're not consistent.
That's it.  And guess what?  I found my old PT test scores from Fort Jackson the other day.  I know I can beat my pushup total right now, I'd probably be close with sit-ups...but there is no way in HELL I could catch an 18 year old version of me in the 2 mile run.  Maybe this should be a new Problem Statement, Goal and Metric for me?  (or maybe I should just accept that I am 39)

Interesting, useful topic?  Would you like to see more of this?  Please reply to my blog or drop me a Tweet @PMGeekAndy

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review of The Insanity - (Spoiler: It's Insane)

I completed "The Insanity" in March of this year.  It was my 2010 Christmas present, in fact, from my lovely wife (who evidently thinks I'm an out-of-shape fat ass).

I have attempted to write a review that will give you a complete overview and allow you to come to a realistic conclusion.  I have tried to be as straightforward and direct as possible, and would feel comfortable sharing this information with anybody (including Beach Body themselves).

"The Insanity" is a workout program from Beach Body that, first and foremost, is an INTENSE cardio and core-focused program.  It is divided into two four-week phases with a "recovery" week in between, lasting a grand total of nine weeks.  Other than a DVD player, shorts and sneakers, there is no equipment required.  It does not mess around, each of the workouts gets RIGHT INTO IT.

There are 9 different workouts on 10 dvds (the abs routine is on its own dvd as well as at the end of two other workout dvds).  I won't list all of the names of the dvds or workouts as I do not want to give away any "secrets" or etc (although I will name my favorite workout below).  With the exception of the recovery week routine (a core routine repeated each day of the recovery week), each workout starts with an extremely rigorous warm-up cardio routine.  This lasts about ten minutes and is a workout in itself.  There is a brief period of stretching, then it is back to getting your ass kicked again.

In contrast with P90X, "the Insanity" is staged in a gym with a bunch of participants.  It's a shorter program, and the workouts take less time.  The coach (trainer?  host?) of the workout is a guy named Shawn T, who is a former dancer and also created a workout called "Hip Hop Abs".
What was great (my opinions):
  • Duration:  The program and the workouts themselves were reasonably sized.  9 weeks total, with each workout between 30 and 60 minutes.  
  • Intensity:  These workouts were ferocious - similar to doing wind sprints or football line drills (or some of the nastier stuff I had to do in the Army).  You do not need a long workout or to run ten miles to get a good and very complete workout.  
  • Cardio and Core Focus:  All of the workouts have push-ups, lunges, jumping, level changing, and you-name-it.  You will f**king HAMMER your core.  I could do a lot of push-ups before this program, and I could do even more after.
  • Overall Production:  The packaging, the videos were all extremely well produced and smooth.  There is a neat indicator at the bottom of the screen which indicates the intensity of your last exercise, your current exercise, your next exercise, etc.  
  • The Participants:  The video does not take breaks, however you see the particpants randomly stop, fall to the ground, walk over and get water, etc.  This is actually pretty encouraging ("hey - they're just as tired as me!").  After a while, you try to see if you can last longer than them without taking a break.
  • Fit Test:  This program has you take an exhaustive (and exhausting!) fit test every two weeks.  I'll share my modest results below in a table (try to look at my % of improvement and not the specific numbers).  All of the exercises were sustained for one minute.  It is extremely gratifying to have a formal test and see your improvement.  If you do the workouts and try your best, you will improve significantly.
  • Low overhead:  I didn't need to dick around with weights, bands, or any equipment when doing this workout.  This reduced the preparation time and performance time of the workout immeasurably.

My results - look at the % improvement on the right

What Needed Improvement (more of my opinions):
  • The Stretching:  The in-workout stretching seemed to be a formality in this program.  With all of the jumping and lunging required in the workouts, there was not enough time spent (especially for a regular guy like me).  The weekly stretching (recovery) was so-so - most weeks I skipped it and went hiking instead.
  • The Participants:  I mentioned that I liked them because of their breaks...and the women were nice looking...but you can't help but notice how attention starved some of them are.  At 5 in the morning, nobody wants to see people acting out to get more camera time.
  • Lacking Form:  The workouts, at their highest intensity level, get to an extremely frenetic pace.  The trainer (Shawn T) and the participants move so fast, in fact, that their form suffers (and it's impossible to keep up and do the exercise correctly).  For example, I don't even think we ever saw the exercise entitled "1-2-3's" demonstrated correctly, and it got worse as the pace increased.  My remedy was to do the correct form as quickly as I could - even if that meant going a little slower than the demonstrators.
My other opinions:
My favorite workout was entitled "Max Interval Plyo", and this is one of the hardest workouts I've ever done.  To put that in context, I have also completed full marathons, completed P90X, performed extensive PT in the US Army and played HS football (like Al Bundy).  I found it challenging and fun because of the anaerobic cardio, the push-ups, the core beat-down and the tons and tons of level changes.  There is also an opportunity to do a ton of push-ups - almost as many as the P90X "Chest and Back" routine.

This workout is for you if...
... you are in good shape and you want to get in better shape.
... you realize that simply running or doing the elliptical is not enough to improve your core or body shape
... you like getting your ass kicked in a workout with regularity
... you're bored with P90X

This workout is not for you if...
... you are completely out of shape.  You'll probably die during the warm-ups -'ll die.
... you need to lift weights to feel like you've worked out (you should challenge that notion)
... you want to get "guns" ... it's not intended for that
... you have a history of heart problems, joint problems, etc.  Even I was pushing it as a person who has underwent ACL surgery (8 years ago)
... you do not enjoy getting out of your comfort zone

My verdict?  I liked it, and I really liked the results.  One really cool thing happened afterward - after not running for several months, after I completed "the Insanity", I achieved a personal record (which I had not been close to in about 8 years) on a timed 4 mile run.  

Hey - I'd love to hear about your experience with the Insanity.  Reply to the blog or send me a Tweet @PMGeekAndy on Twitter.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Second breakfast? Elevensies?

I chose the title because "What the f should I do when my post-workout meal will not tide me over until lunch?" seemed kind of long.

My last dalliance into nutrition (at least in this blog) had me drinking milk and eating a piece of fruit for my post workout meal.  This in my opinion is already showing some results, but I'm hungry as hell by 9am.  I caught myself rocking the ho-ho machine last was that damned bad.

Most of the strategies (suggested by most workout programs, including Body For Life) for improving your diet and physical condition involve increasing your metabolism through frequent small meals.  In other words, pigging out like a trailer park resident at a "Golden Corral" restaurant twice a day is not the appropriate way to improve your physical condition.  Bill Phillips, in his book "Body For Life" recommended eating six (6) meals per day, each with one carb and one protein (both the size of your fist) in it.  P90X and the Insanity have similar principles at a high level, but they are much more difficult to follow and evolve throughout the programs.

Hey - have you noticed something?  If diet is simple (Body For Life), I can stick to it pretty easily.  If diet gets too complex (P90X, the Insanity)...I pretty much ignore it.  Hmmm...I wonder if there's a future Fitness PM Thursday topic here...

My conclusion?  Add an extra meal in the morning...brining me to a grand total of four meals.  What I've started doing is going to our cafeteria at 9am and having an egg burrito with bacon and onions (hey - I'm not perfect) and skip the cheese, potatoes, etc.  I also liberally apply salsa to get my veggie and wash it down with water.  For lunch I have a salad, and for dinner I just fix whatever my lovely wife has put on the menu (usually something AWESOME that I have grilled...and used to have a mother).

While I'm thinking of it, WebMD has a nice slideshow list of how to boost your metabolism. Are you trying any of these?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Trying to keep Post-Workout meals simple

I do not really care about nutrition.  Seriously, what a boring topic.  However, I'm finding that, even working out as much as I do and eating as smart as I think I do, I am not getting the results that I would like.

One of the new "features" of my blog is that I will discuss some elements of nutrition in its simplest form.  Frankly, if there are too many rules, I will screw them up or completely ignore them. 

Today's focus is the post-workout meal.  I have read a ton of articles, blogs, opinions, and even a little  actual research.  You will not be surprised to hear that these articles were all fairly inconsistent with each other and there was very little they agreed on.  It was like playing a game of "2 truths and a lie", except it was more "18 pieces of gibberish and 1 usable nugget."

Some of the points that the articles do have in common:
  • The post-workout meal is extremely important for muscle recovery.  You'll want to eat it within 1 hour and preferably within 30 minutes
  • Your body needs protein and carbs to rebuild itself after a workout
  • Fat slows down digestion, are not desireable in a post recovery meal
Many of the articles were intended for hard-core muscle-heads and recommended whey protein shakes with some sort of glycogen supplement mixed in.  Well, I don't really want to eat a shake or any supplements.  I also think steamed chicken and stir fry without copious amounts of soy sauce tastes like sh*t.  Tuna without mayonnaise?  F**k that.  My workouts are in the morning, and as a regular guy with kids and morning responsibilities, the act of making a separate breakfast just for me seems like an asinine waste of energy (and dirty dishes). 

I finally found a couple articles which were more my speed.  Their advice?  Drink a glass of milk!  In fact, Men's Health went so far as to say that chocolate milk was their #1 recommended recovery meal.  Another web publication, Stronglifts, showed a number of great reasons why milk should be your recovery meal of choice.

For me, a glass of milk isn't quite enough, so I'm going to add in a piece of fruit.  That's it - I'm going for it.  Milk and a piece of fruit for breakfast.  Since this probably won't be enough to get me through to lunch without raiding our Admin's candy dish (she always has Crunch bars and M&M's), my next step (and most likely, my next nutrition article) will be on mid-morning snacks.

Do you have any nutrition ideas or suggestions?  reply to my blog or send me a tweet @PMGeekAndy