Tuesday, August 23, 2011
This year was the first year I have attempted to plant vegetables and some fruits. I had planted the following:
peppers (sweet bell and spicy)
beans (soybeans, Dragon's Tongue, and Calypso)
variety of herbs
I admit, I have been a relatively neglectful gardener this summer. I've gone out and done some quick and dirty weeding, but the bed is far from weed-free. Despite this, I have still had some pretty good yields, especially considering this is my first attempt at vegetable gardening. I thought veggies would be a lot more work, but I basically just planted them, then waited for the harvest!
The vegetable garden August, 2011. Those are carrots in the lower left-hand corner.
It's ridiculously easy to grow veggies in containers. Here are my tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Watering is a breeze, too, with them all being together.
Handful of strawberries. Over the past couple of months, I've been able to pick a small handful almost every day. I have never had better tasting strawberries.
The blueberry plants (with a strawberry container and a bucket of water lilies). I had a couple of blueberries this year, but I expect that these young plants will produce more next year.
Lettuces in window boxes. I had good production May through early July when it started to get way too hot. I will start planting some again as it cools down over the next couple of weeks.
Broccoli plants next to the strawberry patch. I produced a whopping 2 broccoli florets!
Soybeans--really fresh edamame!
Dragon's Tongue bean pods.
Teeny tiny baby bell peppers.
Lil' itty-bitty baby eggplant.
Yukon Gold potatoes. I grew these in a potato growing bag. Super easy!
I look forward to next year, as I've learned a lot this year!
Monday, August 22, 2011
"Brain is worth more than brawn."
Most people picture one thing when they think of strength training: muscles. Muscles are like the engine driving the body's actions. The muscles provide the brawn to make the movement happen. But what good is the engine without the computer? Muscles don't exist in a vacuum. The nervous system is the computer that makes the movement possible, and is often forgotten in training. Since I take more of an exercise physiologist's approach to training rather than a personal trainer's approach, I focus a lot on the nervous system in developing strength training programs. Having a basic understanding of the computer driving the engine assists in getting better results from a strength training program.
In every one of my physiology courses, the nervous system was the first system covered. This is because the nervous system controls everything that we do. The strength gains during the first six months of a strength training program occur primarily because of changes in the nervous system ("neural adaptations"). Of course, all of the body systems (musculoskeletal, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, etc.) incur changes from exercise, but adaptations in an individual system will wax and wane during different phases of training. The major player in starting out a strength training program is the nervous system. Once the nervous system is adapted and programmed to the exercise, then other adaptations really start to come into play. The neural adaptations "prime" the body, in essence, to make other changes. Neural adaptations occur in the motor units and neuromuscular junctions, which are how the nervous system communicates with the muscles.
A motor unit is an individual motor nerve and the muscle groups to which it connects. The motor nerve originates in the brain or spinal cord and connects to the muscle fiber by a gap called a neuromuscular junction. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is released at the neuromuscular junction when a motor unit is stimulated. Acetylcholine then stimulates muscle contraction. This short, short version explains the very basics of how the central nervous system communicates with the muscles.
Scanning eletromicrograph of neuromuscular junctions. Image from http://accessmedicine.net/
Diagram of a motor unit. Image from http://skinnybulkup.com/neural-adaptations
Diagram of neuromuscular junctions. Image from http://www.nvo.com/jin/scrapbookanatomy/vi
Diagram of acetylcholine being released at a neuromuscular junction after motor unit is stimulated. Image from http://www.als-mda.org/publications/als/al
In order to develop power in the muscles, the motor units must be highly stimulated through training. As I mentioned, most of the strength gains occurring during the first six months of a strength training program come from neural adaptations. The strength gains are a result of motor unit recruitment and synchronization. Large muscles, such of those in the legs, may have thousands of motor units connecting to it. Strength training synchronizes the motor units, and better synchronization means more efficient movements. When more motor units are recruited during a movement, there is better coordination and faster connections between the central nervous system and the muscles, and thus there is greater strength. While the motor units of an individual muscle are being trained with strength training, the coordination and connections between different muscles are improved as well.
While most people picture a bodybuilder when they think of someone who is very strong, it is not necessarily the case that someone with large amount of muscle mass will be incredibly strong. The nervous system must be trained in order to develop great strength. In the case of having very powerful muscles, having less is sometimes more.
Picture of Melanie Roach, Olympic weightlifter. You don't have to be big and bulky to be very strong--this is the nervous system at work. Image from http://weightlifting.teamusa.org
This bodybuilder (Betty Pariso) is probably not nearly as powerful as Melanie Roach. She also probably used steroids to look like this. Image from http://www.mensfitness.com/fitness/general
The women pictured above are undoubtedly both strong, but Melanie Roach is far more powerful than a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders focus on building up a large amount of muscle fibers by focusing on muscle hypertrophy training. Muscle hypertrophy is built by lifting 8-12 repetitions to failure, usually performing 3 or more sets per muscle group. Of course, developing muscle hypertrophy has its place, and really does build some nice muscle definition. However, power is built by focusing on explosive movements that highly engage the motor units. A power lifter trains to lift very heavy weights by lifting anywhere from 1-7 reps to failure, with several minutes of rest between the sets. The strength ultimately comes from the nervous system and developing the connections between the muscles and nerves to lift far more than one's body weight. Heavy weights recruit far more motor units than light weights, which is why it is so important to lift a truly challenging weight when strength training.
Image from http://www.squidoo.com/learningrxkennesaw?
Rather than saying brains are worth more than brawn, I would say brains make brawn. Imagery is a powerful tool in building strength because the nervous system will be more engaged during the workout. What has to happen before an action happens? It has to start in the brain, whether it is consciously pictured or not. Actively imagining the movement will create more power by engaging more motor units. When I've helped people develop a strength training program, I show them pictures of the muscles being worked so they can have a clear picture of the muscle they are working on. I also explain the opposing (antagonist) muscles so that both the positive and negative movements in an exercise can be thoroughly worked. A lot of the work in performing any exercise is consciously engaging in the exercise and not just trying to breeze through it. "Mind over matter" really can work in our favor in strength training and producing the desired results.
Beautiful image of of neuromuscular junctions in action. The pink areas are the nerve endings where they are connecting to muscle fibers, where acetylcholine is released. The bright blue strands are the nerve fibers. Image from http://jimrn.tumblr.com/post/911072132/at-
The best results from strength training come from working smarter, not harder, in a very literal sense. I will be posting blogs about specific strength training methods in the future and the training goals that different methods accomplish, but I think it helps to understand the basics of neural adaptations. The principles of neural adaptations are similar for aerobic exercise, too, and I will blog about aerobic exercise and the interplay between and aerobic and strength training at some point. Neural adaptations from exercise encompasses a huge area of study, and as it was my main focus in studying kinesiology (namely, the ultimate effects on behavior and mental health), I will probably talk about it a lot.
Now, go get "nervous" about strength training and lift some heavy weights!
"Sensation and volition, so far as they are connected with corporeal motions, are functions of the brain alone...the will operating in the brain only, by a motion begun there, and propagated along the nerves, produces the contraction of the muscles."
-Dr. William Cullen
Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (Eds.). (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Wilmore, J. H., Costill, D. L., & Kenney, W. L. (2008). Physiology of sport and exercise. (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
“Begin to see yourself as a soul with a body rather than a body with a soul.”
Today is my "official" 1 Year SparkVersary! I had joined SparkPeople in June, 2009, but wasn't very active until last year. I started exploring the site more last summer, and then on August 21st, 2010, I signed my pledge card and vowed to do my best every day. I started with very small changes, and had a goal of simply logging in every day (unfortunately, my log-in streak was broken in November, but I am now at 250-something days). I gradually became more active on SparkPeople and started making an effort to at least track my fitness minutes. Then I started tracking my food, even though I was over my calorie range on most days. Then I started to set other goals, such as getting 7 hours of sleep each day, cleaning for at least 15 minutes every day, and journaling.
Being active on SparkPeople has gone well beyond weight loss. I did start to follow the SparkDiet in January, doing my best to stay within my calorie range every day and focus on clean eating. As I started to lose some weight, I got some relief from my knee pain, and was able to up my exercise quite a bit. I am now back to a high-intensity program, and it feels great to be able to feel more fit again. My exercise program is focused around kickboxing, cycling, and weightlifting, and also includes walking, swimming, Pilates, kettlebells, yoga, and dance (bellydance and Zumba). I am trying to use my education in kinesiology to design and follow a program to build muscle and support fat loss--so far, so good.
The improvement in my quality of life since focusing on changing my life holistically has gone beyond anything I could have hoped for. I joined hoping to lose some weight. Every area of my life has improved because of SparkPeople: fitness, nutrition, finances, attitude, the people I choose to spend time with... there isn't a part of my life that has not been improved by this journey. Since pledging to be active on SparkPeople on August 21st, 2010, I have:
Lost 37 pounds.
Lost 16.5 inches total from my body.
Gained a bunch of SparkFriends!
Gotten my home loan out of default.
Better budgeting skills.
Improved cleaning and organization in my home.
Returned to kickboxing.
Picked up my saxophone again and started taking lessons.
Kicked toxic people to the curb.
Started taking active steps towards getting into a career I really want.
All of these things are at least in part thanks to being active on SparkPeople. I really did start with baby steps and built up over several months. I am so grateful to have SparkPeople in my life and to improve both my physical and mental health thanks to the resources available.
I am also SO GLAD that I have been taken measurements and pictures since starting to lose weight. I love the concrete proof of my progress. Now I wish I had "staged" some more flattering progress pics, but they are what they are, and they show the progress I've made so far. Can't wait to reflect on these after I've lost more than 100 pounds!
"Before" (taken in February 2011)
Progress pics August 2011 (approximately 35 pounds down)--those back fat rolls are shrinking, and they should be gone soon!
I want to say a giant "Thank You!" to all of my SparkFriends--I would be nowhere without your love and support! Thank you for celebrating with me today and every day! You inspire me every single day with your successes, your humor, and overcoming adversities with grace. I can't wait to continue to watch the changes we make.
"Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well that you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
and the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless."
-Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet" (On Self-Knowledge)
Saturday, August 20, 2011
This past week has been mostly adjusting to returning to "real life" after my one week staycation. There have actually been pros and cons to returning to work. The con is...well, that I'm at work. However, when I'm at work, I'm much more likely to drink tons of water, drink the green tea I intend to drink every day, and get in all of my fruits and veggies. The structure of my work schedule makes it easy to get in those healthy habits throughout the day. I feel a lot better overall when I get in all of my daily "healthy habits," so even I'm dealing with crap at work, at least I'm doing everything else right...mostly... I was good about exercise both during my staycation and this past week, but being active is just intertwined into my life, so that will probably never be an issue.
I've been hitting the upper body weights hardcore with Cathe Friedrich's STS program. After only 6 weeks, I have lost 1.5 inches off of my upper arm and can see some nice cuts coming out. I cannot wait to see what my arms will look like when I'm finished with the entire 5-month rotation. I am not doing lower body weight workouts because of my knee, but between kettlebells, kickboxing, cycling, walking, stability ball exercises, Pilates, and yoga, I would say they get their fair share of work. I am starting to see definition from muscle hypertrophy all over my body. Hypertrophy is the increase in the size of muscles either by creation of new muscle fibers or an increase in the size of existing fibers (or a combination thereof). Resistance training that works in the 10-12 repetition range (lifting to failure) creates muscle hypertrophy. This makes the muscles look great and primes the muscles to be able to do some serious power work.
Although muscle definition is great, I am in the dreaded "bulking up" awkward phase where I am going to balloon up slightly from muscle mass. I am creating new muscle mass, but of course, there's a lot of fat covering it. It will will probably take at least 4 weeks for the fat loss to catch up. This "bulking up" is normal for anyone starting a new exercise program and usually results in the following blog or message board posts: "WTH?!?!?! I've been working out for a month and I haven't lost any weight! I mean, I feel great, and I lost a few inches, but the scale hasn't budged!" The physiology of weight loss is not actually well understood when it comes to the interaction between exercise (especially resistance training) and losing "weight." The typical convention is that one cannot build a large amount of muscle tissue and lose fat at the same time. I both agree and disagree with this sentiment. It is true that one cannot lose large amounts of body weight in a short period of time without losing lean muscle tissue (think "Biggest Loser"--they are digesting their own muscle tissue for fuel with those large losses). This is because the body will end up utilizing the body's own protein (i.e. muscles) to generate glucose for energy. This is where losing slowly comes in handy. On that note, I disagree with the idea that someone can only maintain muscle mass while losing weight, an idea that is frequently circulated. I believe someone is capable of making major body composition changes while losing weight, in that lean muscle mass can be built while fat is being lost. However, they may not happen at the same time. I believe I am in that in-between phase right now.
My recent activity has been intense, and with such a focus on resistance training, the "bulking up" will make me look a little disproportionate for a while. I already see it--there is clear muscle definition showing, but my muscles feel swollen and I feel a bit puffy. I'm not going to change anything about my exercise program, though--the awkward phase is the price I will have to pay to end up having lots of lean muscle tissue to support fat loss. I do, however, need to clean up my eating act a bit. I wasn't off-the-wall horrible this week, but I had several snacky days and did eat over my calories on several days. If I want these muscles to pop out, I need to eat clean.
I am not weighing in this week. Between the unclean eating, TOM, and my lower leg swelling up again, I know the scale will be way up--the feedback would not be useful right now. My goal this week is to clean up my eating and eat within my calorie range every day. I plan on doing kickboxing workouts at least 4 times (and would like 2-3 of those to be classes). Oh, and one more tiny thing...tomorrow is my 1 year SparkVersary. No biggie, but I may blog about it.
"I make my weaknesses my strengths and my strengths stronger."
Sunday, August 14, 2011
*Boxing gloves: $70
*Monthly kickboxing gym membership: $95
*The look on smack-talking brother's face the first time he takes a punch from his sister during class, as he's flying backwards: PRICELESS
My brother John, after years of talking about going to kickboxing, finally joined me this week. He was inspired by seeing my coach fight last weekend and joined me for his first class last Tuesday. His movements were very wild and he wasn't a willing recipient of feedback from me, but luckily our coach Justin kept close watch on him on Thursday and it was a better class. With some of the catty B.S. that goes on with the women in the classes, I'm happy to have my brother there as my partner. Plus, I hope that frequent fighting brings us closer.
John and I have difficulty connecting on many levels. John often keeps people at bay because of his bone tumors and not wanting to be treated differently because of them, never mind having battled bone cancer. He normally makes every effort to avoid discussing the tumors and to mask any discomfort they cause. This is true with his own family members and with friends. But as I was warming up on Thursday, I overheard John talking to our coach Justin, and he was pointing to the tumor on his leg and telling Justin about his bone tumors. Justin commended John for his marathon training and now taking on kickboxing. I think our coaches Justin and Chris will both be very good at bringing John out of his shell. They will teach him patience and self-control, which is what I have gotten out of martial arts.
Our coach Chris (left) and my brother, after Chris's big win at a fight last week.
"To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography and the dancers hit each other."
-"Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handey
This week I enjoyed being with my kickboxing coaches, as well as one of my other favorite teachers, my saxophone teacher Jeff. After my lesson with Jeff on Tuesday, I have found truly great joy in playing, the most since picking it up again. I am finding that Jeff really changes the way I think and the way I approach not just saxophone playing, but almost everything (see blog from 8/11/2011). I don't think he means to impart this wisdom, but there are few teachers we have who truly change who we are as a whole. My old Muay Thai coach Kru Mike was one of them, and I think Jeff is approaching that level of changing me on a fundamental level. I think I will end up being a better saxophonist than I ever imagined, and I will be a better person for having learned from him.
My saxophone teacher Jeff. Image from kingmusic.org.
“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
Needless to say, I didn't lose any weight this week. I had several weeks of big (and 1 week of HUGE) losses, so this can be normal for me, but if I'm honest with myself, my eating wasn't the best this week. I've been on staycation, and I made the mistake of ordering from my favorite pizza place, Pizza Luce, when I was really hungry. I knew I was going to order from them, but my eyes were much bigger than my stomach when placing the order. I ordered too much food as it was, and they threw in a free lasagna. Who am I to argue with their generosity? I couldn't eat all the food in one sitting; better yet, I was physically incapable of doing so, unlike in the past. I had garlic mashed potato pizza for a couple of days, and the lasagna the next day. I had also ordered an extra Vegan Peanut Butter Bar, one of my favorite treats, and I had that the next day, too. I enjoyed every single bite of all of the food.
Pizza Luce's Garlic Mashed Potato Pizza. Yes, the trip to Minneapolis is worth it just for this. Image from pizzaluce.com.
Pizza Luce's Vegan Peanut Butter Bar. Sorry about the food porn--NOT! Image from http://www.downhomevegan.com/2010/11/no-mo
On the other hand, eating over my calories over a couple of days seems to stimulate losses in subsequent weeks. This may be because my muscles get some extra carbs and protein to recover from bad-ass workouts (to be covered in another blog about metabolic flexibility), and are more primed to burn fat. If I didn't burn 6,000+ calories a week, I would feel guilty about the overeating. Over the next couple of weeks of eating normally, it will balance out (I think in the longer long-term when it comes to calories in-calories out). Additionally, I have some clear definition showing in my abs, which is probably thanks to kickboxing.
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
Overall, I had an awesome and relaxing staycation. I did what I wanted, and that included some purposeful overeating, and also included a whole lot of exercise. I spent quite a bit of time spacing out. I didn't do much structured activity beyond my kickboxing classes, but I needed it. The weekly summer staycation is going to be a tradition from now on. I did it last year (actually, I took a whopping 2 weeks off, but my work has now made it very difficult to get any days off, let alone 2 weeks in a row), and I find it gives me something to really look forward to, even months ahead of time.
While this was not the best week for weight loss, I was very active, caught up with friends, had a good week of sax playing, and hopefully helped bring my brother closer to coming out of his shell. Tickets for "Ultimate Sibling Rivalry" go on sale later.
Get An Email Alert Each Time CATS_MEOW_0911 Posts