Thursday, September 08, 2011
On a weight lifting forum I follow, a poster whose opinions and expertise I respect said,
"The impact of exercise is always a bit difficult to predict for all sorts of reasons.....fitness level, type of exercise etc. and also compensatory behaviour for the remainder of the day. Folk who do any amount of meaningful intense exercise usually slow down a bit for the rest of the day, so a butt-kicking workout that expends an extra 500 or so kcals doesn't necessarily generate a 500 kcals deficit even if food intake doesn't change."
Now, this was said in the context of a community where "a butt-kicking workout" means something really substantial; but it strikes me there's some truth in it for just about all fitness levels. From the very overweight person whose butt-kicking workout is a quarter mile walk with no time limit, to the serious runner whose butt-kicking workout is a marathon, we all probably back off a bit on other physical activity on days when we push ourselves to the limit.
Even if I'm not pushing myself to the limit, if I run on my lunch hour I'm not burning as many extra calories as might be thought. That run is replacing a brisk walk that won't be made up at any other time of the day. In effect, I'm slacking off in recognition of doing more than usual.
So why do we do those butt-kicking workouts, if they don't burn as many calories as we think? Because the offset from backing off other activity in the day is a short term effect. Another thing the quoted poster said was that the extra muscle mass from strength training doesn't really burn very many extra calories while we're resting; what it does do is let us burn more calories without noticing, because the physical effort isn't as significant.
And that's why exercise is so vitally important to weight management. It's not the short term effect of the 603 or 644 calories (depending on which calculator I believe) that I burned in my 36 minute walk/run this evening, less what I didn't burn from the walking I might have otherwise done. It's the long term effect of the calories I burn that aren't even counted as exercise, because it feels natural to run to beat the light getting across the street, or I walk faster when I'm going from one place to another, or it's more convenient to move the 40 lb. box of cat litter than to walk around it, or it just because it *feels good* to run a little in nice weather. Those are calories that wouldn't be burned if I weren't exercising regularly, and get burned without noticeable effort on my part.
That, and the quality of life is better when I can move an inconvenient 40 pound object without thinking about it, or walk up the stairs to the 5th floor because I don't like crowded elevators, and the physical effort of doing stuff like that just isn't a consideration.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
It seems to me that the SparkPeople site tries to do two different things with the fitness tracker and exercise, and the two are not always totally compatible.
First, the fitness tracker is a motivational tool to get me to actually DO some exercise. So far, it works quite well for that purpose.
Second, the fitness tracker wants me to adjust my fitness goals, which are used to feed the nutrition tracker's calorie range goal. (And maybe macronutrient range goals as well?) I don't know all the details of how the nutrition tracker calculates the goal ranges; but it's pretty clear that if I tell the fitness tracker I'm going to burn 700 more calories per week, the nutrition tracker will tell me to eat 100 more calories per day.
Some time ago, I made the decision that I would use the fitness tracker primarily for its motivational purpose. I no longer debate whether one set of 5 TGU/Windmill combos on each side is "worth" a Spark Point. I use the tracker to track them, and it gets me to do them. Good enough. On the cardio side, I use the fitness tracker to record intentional exercise. That is, if I go for a walk and the major purpose is to be moving, I record it. If I go for a walk to get someplace, or to stroll and enjoy the weather, I don't. I don't count mowing the lawn, because I don't need the SP motivational push to get that done. (Though the past weekend's result might imply a bit of denial in that last sentence.)
Since I'm firmly committed to using the fitness tracker primarily as a motivational tool, that puts me in an uncertain position with respect to measuring calories burned and determining nutritional target ranges. If I understand the instructions correctly, I'm supposed to count cardio as stuff that puts my heart rate at 60% to 85% of the maximum. But that's not my guideline for motivational tracking. A walk at 4 mph might put my heart rate at 54% of the max, which falls short of "exercise" by the cardio definition; I don't know how many fewer calories I burn because I'm below target heart range.
I also have a problem with the calorie estimates. Cycling at 13 mph calculates out to almost twice as many calories as walking at 4.2 mph for the same lenght of time. But my perceived rate of exertion is much lower for the cycling. At least one of those calculations has to be wrong. In practice, I've cycled a lot less since starting SP. Part of this is not wanting cycling to artificially pump up the calorie burn count, and part is wanting to get steps for the pedometer. (That stupid 10K steps per day motivational trick, y'know.)
Then there's strength training. The fitness tracker gives me no calories burned for lifting weights. There is probably no good way to approximate calories burned by strength training; the variables involved make the cycling/walking comparison look simple. But I know that lifting weights can burn a lot of calories, even if it isn't cardio. In 2005, strength training alone was sufficient to take me from very slow weight loss to a defined downward weight trend as I increased my strength.
All this comes together with other random information to create a large uncertainty in my mind. I dropped 16 pounds in my first 7 weeks on SP. That's 2.2 pounds per week. With a goal of losing 21 pounds from where I started with the site, it's recommended that I lose a half pound to a pound a week. I've read a rule of thumb that the maximum fat you can lose is 1% of your body weight per week. If I'm under 200 pounds, losing more than 2 pounds per week would then imply I'm losing more than fat.
On the one hand, it looks like I'm losing faster than I ought to this close to goal. On the other hand, I'm clearly becoming more fit. I'm running longer periods, my resting heart rate is going down, and I'm lifting more weight without aching as badly the next day. Then there's the transition to maintenance. I suspect one reason SP recommends losing at a half pound per week for the final 10 pounds is to make the transition from "losing" to "maintaining" a smaller adjustment to lifestyle, increasing the chance of successful maintenance.
So I sit here paralyzed by analysis, and don't increase my target calorie range. I have made some small efforts to eat toward the middle of the range instead of the low end some days. I'm also mindful of the fact that next week I start evening commitments on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The additional time spent on these cannot help cutting how much exercise I really get. I don't want to get used to eating 300 more calories per day, then have that level of consumption be too much for my exercise level in the fall.
One thing SP has given me, for sure, is a way to adjust my eating by small amounts and know that I've made the adjustment. If it turns out that the weight starts going up when the summer exercise frenzy cools down, I can tell the fitness tracker that my calories burned goals are lower and it will lower the ranges for me. If I see that I'm losing weight uncomfortably fast for where I am, I can tell it I'm burning more calories and it will raise the ranges. I can make the mechanism work, and I can follow the ranges.
Now if I can just figure out when I need to adjust the ranges, I'll be all set.
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Long day at work. Got home, fed the cat, and grabbed a slice of whole wheat toast with butter and honey before heading out to walk/run. Made sure to down a glass and a half of water, as the plan was to do this one without carrying a water bottle. 32 minutes, in 63 degree weather. Should be possible.
Went the same route as last time. Walk 1, Run 3, pay attention to hold the running speed down. I'm feeling pretty good, so I must be pacing myself okay. Try not to look at my watch too early in the run segments. First segment, check time at 1:30. A couple others, at 1:20. One segment I didn't check my watch till just after 2 minutes.
Not bad for someone who struggled to keep running for a full one minute two and a half weeks ago.
Every running segment, I feel like I could keep going longer than 3 minutes. I make myself slow to a walk at 3 anyway. Cardio is not the only thing that needs to be developed slowly. I can tell that I'm developing runner's calluses on my feet, which are different from walker's calluses. Overdoing it looks like a way to get blisters before calluses.
Come to the end of the run, and I'm home too early. Tack on a little distance by going two driveways further and back. Net result, 3.89 miles or 0.08 miles further than Day 1. And I'm in better shape than I was at the end of the Week 1, Day 1 session. Part of that's more favorable weather, but part is likely that the training is working.
Forcing myself not to run yesterday might have a bit to do with it, too.
I'm beginning to believe I can actually do this in the scheduled 5 weeks. Ramping up slowly instead of doing as much as I can, every time out, is the key. Dang, that's a hard lesson to learn.
Now, off to bed. Got the training in, got the blog in; but I'm out of time and need to get some rest.
Monday, September 05, 2011
Ah, three day weekends. After getting up early on Saturday and Sunday, a day I can sleep in. I stayed in bed almost till 7 am.
I am not a morning person. Time was, I could sleep in till 9 if I'd been up on time the previous five days. But a while back, I set a Spark goal to be in bed by 10:30. I missed a couple of nights, but not by much and not in the same week. So sleeping in isn't the production it once was.
Got up, and got about the day in a leisurely fashion. Fixed my breakfast, checked my friend feed, looked down the list of stuff I do daily on SP. My kettlebells called to me. The last two days, I didn't do anything with them. My body was too beat up. Pre-spark, that could have been the start of the kettlebells gathering a lot of dust. But there's 2 Spark Points to be gained by doing my morning TGU/Windmill combos and KB snatches. So they got done.
Thought about going to the gym, which is open from 8:30 to 2 on Labor Day. At 10, my daughter showed up. She's storing stuff in my basement in preparation for moving to a different apartment. We had a nice chat, then she left for work. Geared around to get to the gym, and at 11:30 I realized I barely had 1000 steps on the pedometer. (For reference, on a normal work day I'll have about 1500 steps when I'm sitting at my desk with my morning cup of tea.)
Hmm. If I go to the gym, I might not get cardio in. That puts the 10K step streak in jeopardy. So I set out to walk my 5.2 mile loop, to get today's cardio.
Walking was hard. It was cool and overcast with sprinkles that later turned to a steady light rain. I had a tough time holding to the walk instead of running portions. But yesterday was a 5K training day, and tomorrow is another 5K training day. Today I need to *walk* to loosen the calves, so I'll be able to walk/run tomorrow. Forgot to check the pedometer right at the start or end of the walk, but I did a bit earlier and a bit later. 5.2 miles in 74 minutes generated somewhere less than 9400 steps, but that was good enough for the 10K step streak.
Got home in the rain. Taking care of the lawn is a lost cause this weekend. Got lunch, and it's too late to get to the gym. Played on the computer some, and the cat wants to be fed early. Tough toenails, cat. I guess I can vaccuum so you'll leave me alone for a half hour.
Done vacuuming, and it's still too early to feed the cat. Don't want to drive anywhere, and it's a dreary day for a casual walk. The gym would be good, but it's closed now. Well, I have weights in the basement. What's on the agenda? Deadlifts, incline dumbbell chest presses, lat pulls, and standing calf raises. Can't do the lat pulls at home, but I can do the other stuff. Shut the cat out of the basement and lift weights.
This is the first time I've done a full weight lifting session at home in a long time. Maybe Christmas 2009 was the last time? Anyway, get done with what I can do at home, and feel like I need to do something else. Can't do lat pulls. Don't like bent over rows. Settle for renegade rows, which are more a core exercise than a pull, but there is that pull element. Plus, when I get done with renegade rows I'll know I've put some effort into the session.
Pre-Spark, what would this Labor Day have been like? I probably would have got the vacuuming done. I might have done more with the walls in the empty room than I did today, but I probably would have spent most of the day reading. I would have thought about a walk, and likely not done it because of rain. I would have thought about the gym, likely not gone, and likely not have lifted weights at home. And of course I would have eaten more and worse than I really did today.
All in all, not a bad Labor Day. I got in a nice 5.2 mile walk, I lifted weights (including deadlifting 110% of my weight), I had a nice chat with my daughter, and at 8:30 pm I feel like I've had a very relaxing day.
Life is good.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Friday morning I weighed in a 184.4, and duly noted it as a 20-year low. Saturday I had no change, weighed 184.4 again. This was overshadowed by my inability to run as much as I thought I should and realization that I needed to pace myself.
Sunday: This morning I weighed in a 183.4. Stepped off the scale. Weighed again. Same answer, down a pound from the day before, which was itself a 20 year low.
So I put the weight into Excel, and changed the 2011 graph to add the point. It might be a smidge below trend line, but not far. This is probably a real weight loss. Then I updated the range for the long term graph, and I got a nearly horizontal wiggly line with a lot of white space below it. Huh?
It took me a while to figure that one out. Turns out that Excel's hidden algorithm for scaling line graphs takes a range from 221 to 184.4 and sets the minimum vertical axis number at 160. But if the range is 221 to 184, Excel assumes that I want to see how that all relates to a bottom of zero. Because I've upgraded to Office 2007 since the last time I fiddled with graph settings, it took me a while to figure out how to manually set the minimum; but I did get my readable long term graph back.
This could easily turn into a rant about Microsoft, but that's not where I want to go with the thought.
It's not just that 183.4 initially made my long term weight chart blow up. 183.4 is off the chart historically in that I *don't remember* just when I last weighed that little. I remember struggling to come down from the unreasonably high weight of 185 some time in the mid to late 1980s, but I don't remember what I weighed in which year from 1985 through 1990. I recall a couple of key weights from 1991 - 186 before I moved, and 191 after I unpacked the scale.
There's other stuff I don't remember, too. I don't remember what kind of scale I was using back then, or whether I had standardized the time of day to weigh or the clothing I weigh in. For sure, any scale I used was only accurate to one pound, and may have had a bias of being heavy or light by a pound or two. I remember a couple scales with such a bias, but I don't remember whether I was using a biased scale the last time I weighed this little, or which direction any bias might have been.
I'm now in uncharted territory. Any further weight losses are into territory where I can only say very roughly that I used to weigh this little more than 20 years ago.
I don't think I really believed I could lose weight below 185 when I started with SparkPeople. When I set a goal of 175, I forget what time frame SP set for it, I think some time in early 2012. That looked way aggressive to me, so I changed the goal to July 4, 2012.
Yesterday I backed that goal up to April 15, 2012. That now looks like way far out, at the rate I'm losing; but I'm okay with that. Now I'm becoming concerned that I might be losing a shade more quickly than I ought to for the last 10 pounds, and perhaps I ought to slow that down a bit.
That requires some thought. I've been comfortable in the eating range, and exercising quite a bit. The exercise is going to get toned down as fall commitments like choir and bell choir start up, so I'm reluctant to add calories to the diet. And there are a couple of social eating commitments coming up that may blow a couple of specific days of eating. But I want to keep the running training, which would mean the exercise I will be getting won't be comparable to what I got in past fall seasons on the fitness bandwagon.
Decisions, decisions. Which way do I go? I don't know for sure, because I'm in uncharted territory.
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