Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

Treat Your Feet

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Photo of feet on beach blanket, ocean in frontYou should be relaxed and resting on your laurels after a long day on skates, especially if you managed to avoid getting blistered or bruised feet (see my review of eZeefit ankle booties for those complaints). But for some, tired or crampy feet or lower legs can be painful or distracting enough to ruin that well-deserved lounge time.

Listed in short- to long-term order, here are some tips to treat the most common foot-related after-affects of a long roll, and perhaps even head them off in the future.

Dehydration – Drink plenty of water daily, sip often during your long roll, and chug extra fluids the remainder of the day. Consider using a sports drink during the activity to preserve or replace essential minerals lost through sweat.

Aching fatigue – Immediately after removing your skates, use 10-15 minutes of stretching to squeeze lactic acid out of hard-worked tissues. This helps head off some of the other symptoms and also restores elasticity lost during the repetitive motions and postures of skating.

Tight foot muscles – Keep a tennis ball in your skate bag. As soon as you finish stretching, stand up and wedge it under one foot. Bear weight to a tolerable pressure to press under your toes, then the ball, arch, and heel. After several seconds, your foot will begin to relax and spread out over the ball. You’ll feel the proof if you stand on both feet before stretching your second foot over the ball.

Lactic acid buildup – Lucky are those who have access to the magic hands of a massage therapist! Lacking that, plan on doing your own foot and lower leg massage. Use massage oil if you prefer, or slippery soap while soaking in a hot bath. You can also use the strong jet of a Jacuzzi if that’s available.

Calf and foot cramping – Regardless of how much you drink, do you still experience Charlie Horses or twitchy calves after a long skate? Boy, I sure do! After years of suffering and trying the above tricks, I learned that when Quinine supplements were used to treat malaria in workers building the Panama Canal, those getting quinine also quit having leg cramps. Eureka! Besides the Tea and Tonic recipe I use, other cramp-reduction remedies include taking iron, potassium, calcium, and/or magnesium supplements and, for those who can stomach it, drinking flat Coca Cola during the activity.

Tight ankles – You may not even know you have them! High-cuff inline skates restrict your range of motion at the ankle. The chance of leg cramps is high after exertion. In off-skates time, you can counteract ankle tightness by using “floppy foot” exercises to retrain your ankles. The easiest way is to sit on edge of a chair or your bed with one leg crossed at the knee. Kick the dangling foot up and down and let it flop loosely in whatever direction you shake it. (It’s OK to use your hands). To add resistance, sit on the side of a swimming pool and kick the water until you can feel successful flopping. The goal is to train your legs’ neuromuscular patters so that the slightest kick from the knee will cause a flop.

Muscular imbalance – Skating and many other sports strengthen the back calf muscles more than the front ones. There are not so many ways to gain corresponding strength in the front shin muscles. An easy and enjoyable way to build shin strength is to walk down a steep hill twice a week; of course you must also walk up.

Quench your thirst and treat your feet: That’s how to take care of tuckered tootsies after they’ve had a long, hard day.

Tea and Tonic Iced Tea

Here’s my favorite (zero-calorie!) beverage. Makes 2 servings

Let steep for 45 minutes to an hour:
– 12 oz. of plain, cold water
– 2 fruity (non caffeinated) tea bags of your choice

To serve, combine:
– 6 oz cold tea
– 6 oz Diet Tonic water (I prefer the flavor of Schweppes) *
– Garnish with lemon (optional)
– Ice cubes (optional)

* Diet Tonic water is sweetened with Saccharin, which despite bad press during the launch of Aspartame, has never been scientifically proven to cause cancer in lab rats. Further research revealed that Aspartame is considered the most dangerous of artificial sweeteners! That’s why Stevia is a mainstay at our house.

When Outdoors is Out of the Question

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

It’s getting to be that time of year again.

A few years back, I purchased a ProFitter 3D Trainer because it would allow me to work on building strength and balance along with my cardiovascular fitness. This is an ideal sport-specific workout that’s perfect for when the weather is too ugly to train outdoors.

Pro Fitter 3D photoFor skating, the slide board-like action reinforces the  side-directed push that’s key to stroke quality. This directly works the  muscles that deliver  efficient, powerful strides.

The side-to-side repetitions also build strength in my lower body for alpine skiing, my favorite winter sport. I can tailor the slide resistance by changing the configuration of four sets of bungee cords on the bottom side  to create more tension (to build muscular strength) or reduce the tension (which requires more balance).

Check out this video clip of me using the ProFitter 3D Trainer. (Requires Quicktime). In this clip I am in an upright stance with my weight centered while my feet float back and forth. This method strengthens my core muscles (great for skiing moguls!). It is also possible to move the entire body back and forth to focus more on lower body strength.

Thanks to its portability, I can easily store the ProFitter behind my office door when I’m not using it. When I’m ready for a workout, I set it up wherever the view out the window is prettiest. When an outdoors workout is possible, it’s great to put some stimulating music in my ears and get a quick half-hour workout on the deck overlooking my garden and the cow pasture out back.

Using this device is a little noisy and takes a bit of practice. And yes, at $599, the price is a bit steep. But for me, the opportunity to cross train specifically for my two favorite sports while building strength, balance and endurance—in the comfort of my own home—makes it totally worth the investment.

Breathing Lessons

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Do you need breathing lessons? This question might sound ridiculous, but if you want to skate long distances efficiently, you must be able to get all the oxygen your hard-working body needs.

Here is how to find out how you currently breathe: sit up straight, place your hands on your stomach below the belt line and take a very deep breath. Did your hands move in toward your spine? If yes, you have just filled only the top portion of your lungs. Your diaphragm stayed tight, blocking the path to a full intake of air. Inline skaters (and all humans)  need a rich intake of oxygen with every inhalation.

Because breathing habits are usually developed over a lifetime, re-learning proper breathing starts with awareness. Learning to watch and control your breathing offers other benefits, too. It takes your mind off worries, helps you feel more in control, and slows the hectic pace of both your mind and body, all very healthy side effects!

Meditating skater
Don’t try this at home, kids!

On the Mind-Body page of my Get Rolling Off-Skate Training section, I describe three breathing exercises for skaters to try:

A friend turned me on to  The Extraordinary Breath, a book by Donald and Lynne Rubbo. It is a great beginner’s guide for gaining all of the benefits from fully breathing. You can download and share this ebook freely with the authors’ blessing:
“We want to make this easy-to-learn, profound breathing system available to the entire world, and give people a time-proven way to be proactive in their own health and well-being, to make deep breathing and positive thoughts habitual and to allow the citizens of our world to live their lives with clarity of purpose, greater happiness and stronger connections to nature and to one another.”

Fuel for Serious Skaters

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

In the past, I have not shared my written opinions about eating for performance because my dietary guidlines are tailored to my own body and my current knowledge about sports nutrition. But because I was asked and answered this question recently for Paul Korankye, (remember the Hidden Stars Skaters Dream Club in Ghana?), I decided to risk a possible blog backlash by posting a simplified version of my personal guidelines here.

Healthy lunch

Healthy eating, simple and fresh

Dan and I both think of our daily food intake as fuel for our athletic lifestyles, even when we are simply enjoying a weekend of relaxing at home. For many years we were strict followers of the Zone Diet, but these days we cheat a little more than we used to, though we are still benefitting from it: we have tons of energy while exercising and all day every day, we don’t need more than seven hours of sleep a night, and we both stay lean and fit year after year.

The Zone Diet is a technical approach to eating that requires us to understand how much fat, protein and carbohydrates we are consuming with each meal. Since Dan and I both have technology jobs, the science behind this diet is more fascinating than it is daunting. The Zone Diet can also be a calorie restriction (life extending) diet, if you want to use it that way, which I do.

The other name for this diet is the 40-30-30 diet because each meal needs to be a balance of about 40% carbohydrates (not starchy), 30% fats (monounsaturated, not hydrogenated), and 30% lean protein. Preparing food this way made me a little crazy for a few years because I had to learn to weigh my food and always read the nutrition labels before I could cook or eat anything. My Zone Buddy spreadsheet (now an iPhone app) got me through this period.

Fully understanding and following the Zone Diet is too difficult for most people (especially for a team of growing boys and young men in Ghana). However, I was able to at least give Paul a few manageble guidelines for his speedskating club.

Zone Diet Tips and Tricks

  • Eat a little protein with every meal and snack
  • Carbs are everywhere, so we often carry portable protien to supplement it: protein bars, string cheese sticks, soy nuts
  • Eat fresh, not fast foods (focus on fruit, vegetables)
  • Eat healthy fats: nuts, avocados, olive oil
  • Avoid starchy foods and snacks like french fries, potato chips
  • Eat a small breakfast, medium lunch, and medium dinner every day
  • Eat a small afternoon snack to sustain energy until dinner time
  • Before a race, stay away from alcohol and sweets and eat pasta for dinner the night before
  • Carry and use energy supplements for 2-hour or longer events or training
  • Drink lots of water (not soda) all of the time, especially during strenuous activity

Typical breakfasts

  • Two  Balance Bars (or Zone Perfect bars) for Dan
  • 1/2 protein bar plus two Zone oatmeal cookies for Liz
  • Oatmeal with low fat cottage or ricotta cheese on the side (or a zero carb protein drink)

Typical lunch

  • One 3-0z deli meat sandwich plus two fruits for Dan
  • One 3-oz chicken spinach salad plus one fruit for Liz

Typical snacks

  • Smoked salmon (or cheese), radishes, cherry tomatoes, olives, and 2 crackers
  • Balance bar
  • Jerkey, almonds and one beer or glass of wine
  • Soy nuts (or jerkey) plus fruit
  • 1-oz string cheese and 2 crackers

Typical dinner

  • One 4-oz erving of lean protein (or sized to the palm of your hand)
  • Two large servings of a leafy or high fiber vegetable (or one veggie serving plus a fruit or sweet potato)

Follow the links above or surf the Internet for other peoples’ advice.

Off-Skates Fitness

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

I love taking great care of my body, I love playing and exercising outdoors, and I love exploring the places I visit away from home in a human-powered way. The past six weeks have been busy in exactly this way for me and Dan. To summarize, we:

  • Skied three full days (in winter conditions!) at Mammoth Mountain over the Memorial Day holiday
  • Biked 40 miles and walked a few more during a 4-day visit to lovely Victoria BC, Canada
  • Hiked  up and down steep Las Trampas Ridge in our back yard, and skated (me) and biked (Dan) the Iron Horse Trail during the work weeks
  • Backpacked 30+ miles with 30+ pound packs on the Yosemite North Rim trail over the July 4th weekend

A few years back, I created the Get Rolling Off-Skates Fitness web pages after realizing that my active, outdoorsy lifestyle sets a good example for others. This section of my website offers a path to an overall level of fitness that benefits all physical activities, not just inline skating. To accommodate different starting levels, I documented a sample workout week for beginner, intermediate and advanced exercisers.

For skating in particular, fitness is necessary for those just beginning, especially middle-aged or older skaters, because it reduces the chance of injury while improving the chance of success. Flexibility and strength are important to achieving the most powerful inline skating stroke possible.

  • Flexible joints give you increased stroke length, while a regular stretching routine can help prevent joint injuries and reduce muscle soreness.
  • Strong legs allow you to sprint away from a pack or climb a long hill without using up all of your resources.
  • A solid core means better agility and balance.
  • Proper breathing and a quiet mind keep you alert and composed in dicey situations.

These aptitudes do not come from skate training alone: they result from specific and consistently-performed off-skate training activities. Are you ready for a fitness lifestyle? I’m here to help!

From Spin to REAL Biking

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

For the past 30 years, I can count the times I have ridden a bicycle out in the world on one hand. That’s one reason I got so deeply into inline skating. Dan would bike and I would go for a skate.

Within a few weeks of meeting Prince Charming Dan, I mounted my own bike on a stationary stand and never looked back. I knew I’d always be a sissy on the downhills. Dan and I already had a physically competitive relationship, and I could see he was a serious biker. I could not compete in this area and did not want to be an annoying lagger.

But now that Spin classes have built up my tolerance for sitting on a bike and rotating the pedals, I felt safe in saying yes to exploring the area in and around the beautiful Canadian city of Victoria, BC, a 2-hour ferry ride north of Seattle, WA. It would be fun to try out my new-found biking fitness on a moving bike. Further ahead, there will be at least one biking day on our multisport wine Tour in Chile and Argentina later this year and I wanted to get comfortable with shifting and any other issues.

What a scaredy cat I turned out to be!

There were more challenges in bustling Victoria than just learning how to shift the gears. First off, the rental place is smack dab in the middle of the city, with double-lane traffic, no bike lanes, and clueless motorists opening doors or pulling to the curb right in front of us. Trying to follow Dan and Clark as they casually maneuvered through all this was not my idea of a fun first mile on a bike!

And when did they stop making girly bikes? I had trouble getting the pedals rotating while throwing my leg over the saddle, with the bike quite often in the wrong gear for starting out. None of this stuff was second nature to me. Every bit of it was a distraction to be dealt with along with everything else. Oh, how I sympathized with my inline skating students as I felt the urge to call out “Watch out, I can’t stop!” to pedestrians or other cyclists on the street or bike path whose actions forced me to react in some way.

And the hills. Going up was OK, especially after I got good enough to shift to lower gears without dislodging the chain (I finally gave up on the gear combo of  1/1). Going down, though,  I kept a death grip on both brakes. I squeezed at the first hint of a downhill. This is what I do on skates too: I start dragging my heel brake just to reassure myself I am ready to apply full braking force the moment I feel the need.

We did some street biking on Friday and I felt proud and relieved at having survived about 20 miles of very scenic touring around the shoreline of the island, on city streets, down a couple of miles of gravel trail, and finally on a dedicated bike path. I was slow on the downhills but pedaled madly to catch up with my boys on the uphills. Legs and lungs felt good, and no butt or back pain!

On Saturday we biked another 20 miles, this time on a portion of a gorgeous trail I would recommend to my skating friends in an instant. The only glitch I had that day was the thunk, thunk, thunk that made me think I had a flat tire. It turned out I’d forgotten to pull up the kickstand.

On Sunday morning I woke up with a pretty bad backache that plagued me as I lugged my rolling bag with the disintegrating wheels back to the ferry, the light rail and finally the airport check-in. I learned several days later that I was in the throes of a systemic infection at that point, so I do not know if there was any muscle soreness from biking or if it was all kidney pain.

Now that I am feeling wonderful again, I can look back at my weekend of bike touring in Victoria BC with pleasure, and look forward to future bike adventures with less trepidation.

Teacher, Mind Your Attitude!

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Heads up fellow inline skating instructors. Whether intended or subconscious, the attitude you display toward your students has a big impact on how much they learn and how much fun the activity is—for you and them. Here’s a personal experience from the receiving end that drove this home for me.

By the time our  one-hour Thursday Spin class had ended, I’d decided there was no need to follow the substitute teacher’s directives because, really, that class was all about her, not us. Within half an hour, I felt disengaged from her and the group experience, and decided I’d have to get the best workout I could on my own.

For starters, we were ten minutes into the session before Debbie began her agenda. Maybe it’s because she got annoyed by satisfying our morning group’s preference for the overhead fans: back row on, front row off. People choose where to set up their bike according to this non-verbal standard. “Are you happy now?” she asked. “As long as you’re happy!” she repeated at least twice, only slightly sarcastically.

Then she turned on her iPod, climbed astride her bike (in the non-fan row) and started a standing sprint that lasted five minutes with no acknowledgement or instructions to us. That particular sprint is not a beginner skill: it takes coordination, core strength and lightening-fast leg speed. So basically it looked a lot like she was showing off as she watched herself in the mirror for five minutes. Or maybe it was her heavy-handed way to demonstrate her credentials (read: superiority over us mere mortals).

As her iPod music selections played in sequence from start to end (easy for the instructor, tedious for the participants), Debbie announced what to do at the beginning of each 3-4 minute piece and then left us to our own devices. No cheerleading, no encouragement, no “Only 30 more seconds to go, you can do it!” Her teaching style was to direct rather than guide us through the intervals, sprints and “hills,” and to berate us for being stuck in a rut (“You’ve got to learn something new every once in awhile!),” as though our regular instructor has been neglecting us.

During one moderate-paced song, our 15-year veteran (“I learned Spinning from the inventor!”) decided to improve our technique. First she pointed out that there was too much bobbing up and down in the ranks. Then she”congratulated” one  lady who had smoothed it out, pointing her out to all as the main culprit, although 2/3 of the room bobs.

Debbie got off her bike a couple times with no comment and for no apparant reason. Was she taking a break? (She never gave us one!) Finally, with several more minutes remaining, she started moving the unused cycles to the back of the room, apparantly to save herself some time so she could leave the gym sooner.

All of these  behaviors add up to what looks like nothing so much as an instructor with a chip on her shoulder, which translated to me as dislike or disrespect for her students. I was so shocked she felt free to express this attitude that I immediately scribbled out how it felt to be on the receiving end on a paper towel.

Note to self:  Give up teaching inline skating altogether if I can’t always be enthusiastic about my students and what I am about to offer them.

PS: If you are curious to read my Beginner Spinner series of Fitness blogs from start to finish, here is the first post, right after I started in November 2010, My Head is Spinning!

Beginner Spinner No More

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Now that my leg fitness is catching up to my heart and lung fitness, I am faring better as Erin drives my heart rate well above my anaerobic threshold several times during Spinning class.

I guess it’s the techie in me but unlike my fellow spinners, I keep my training zones chart in view next to the heart rate monitor that I strap onto the handlebars. I like to make sure my heart is slowing back down to 70% of max or less before our next push to 85% or higher. My tools tell me if I need to linger a few extra seconds at the recovery rate before charging up the next “hill” at the moment Erin kicks in with the pace music.

During the first half of class, I enjoy looking at fellow spinners who cycle to the beat of the music as I religiously do. Two women spinning side by side recently looked so beautiful in their unison it reminded me of an MTV video. I sneak peeks at my own form in a mirror to the side to make sure I am not moving up and down or side-to-side too much. I like what I see.

At about the third hill, Erin is working us hard. Whether I’m standing on the pedals or trying to keep up my RPMs while seated, my mind wanders to some of the most difficult physical efforts in my life. If I am beginning to gasp for air, I seek motivation by thinking, “Heather’s cuffs, Heather’s cuffs…” It was Heather who hiked ahead of me on the hardest part of the midnight climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro last winter. Our ultimate success was due in no small part to the trance-like state brought on in those dark hours by rhythmic movement and breathing.

The cardiovascular benefits of spinning class are paying off on the ski slopes. I love testing my ability to keep on going as my body is challenged by skiing lumpy Sierra Cement or high-speed top-to-bottom cruisers hour after hour.

No wonder so many people see themselves as athletes once they get past the trauma and drama of being a beginner spinner!

Getting the hang of spinning cleats

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Finally! Santa Claus granted my wish for a pair of cleated spinning shoes. I was unable to try them out until mid January, after I exchanged the shoes for a larger size and had a pair of cleats installed at the local bike shop. A bad cold further delayed my first day of trying them out.

Last Thursday I settled myself on the single spinning bike available in the aerobics area of my gym. I was still suffering from a cold and I didn’t want the whole spin class as an audience or to feel competitive as I learned how to clip into the pedals.

It took 10 minutes and several tries on each foot to get clipped in securely. Once I felt the pedal snap into place, I experimented with getting out and in several times on each foot. I am not sure exactly what I did down there but I hope I can do it again successfuly in class next week!

I pedalled along at a fairly easy pace for a few minutes. Then I tightened the tension on the bike and stood on the pedals to see how it felt. What an improvement! It was so easy to rotate the crank with a controlled and consistent pressure. I didn’t have to do anything special to incorporate pulling up into my pushing down cycle. My legs adjusted well to the new work, with no new sensations of burning or tiredness.

Despite still being under the weather, I was very encouraged and excited about this latest component of spinning as a new fitness activity for me. I can’t wait for next Tuesday’s class!

Spinning is getting both easier and harder

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Our instructor described the day’s route as though we would really be out riding the local greening hills: so many minutes of climbing, jogging and even sprinting to a finish line. Installed on a decent bike, I was ready to attack the course as she called it out.

I believe my body is finally beginning to adapt to this new physical challenge. Spinning along with the group, I checked my heart rate frequently, and was gratified to notice that as I worked the bike’s tension according to Erin’s directions, it remained in reasonable ranges. My legs were feeling better doing the work, with less burning. As we got near the “top” of a long, steep climb, I was able to keep my momentum and rhythm but began gasping for air. (Good thing the music is so darned loud!)

Visions of summit day on Kilimanjaro … With so little oxygen at 19,000 feet up, I accomplished that long climb with a rhythmic breathing strategy. A variation of that plus the pounding beat coming out of the classroom speakers motivated me to keep my spinning momentum. Remembering how I felt as I saw the first glimmers of daylight as we approached the top if Kili helped too!

On the final long hill, I was surprised to find myself “dropped by the pack.” For some reason–possibly not pacing myself properly–I lost my steam near the end of the effort and had to “walk” my bike as I imagined everybody elses’ backsides disappearing over the imaginary crest. Just wait until I get my new clip-in biking shoes!

My competitive nature was satisfied by watching my form in the mirror. I try not to bob up and down or side to side, keep my thighs parallel to the bike, my hands light on the handlebars, my ab muscles engaged, and my rear back over the seat when standing. We are constantly reminded of these points. When I compare my mirror image with that of others in the room, I recognize the character flaw that causes me to feel superior to my fellow bikers.

I still have lots to learn, and it’s not all related to Spinning!