Remember the show “Name that Tune”? It started in the 50s (says its Wikipedia page), but has been revivified more times than we can count (okay, not true, but a whole lot of times). I first (and last) watched it in the 70s. Here’s a long clip, but you’ll get the sense of it in the second minute (btw, I correctly named the tune!!):
There’s something awe-inspiring and also extremely implausible in the players’ claims that they can name that tune in 4 notes, in 3 notes, in 2 notes… 1, even?
All of this paring down of tunes to a few bare notes puts me in mind of the ever-smaller (and ever-more-intense) at-home workout plans, boasting that they can get you in shape in eleven minutes. No, ten minutes! Hey, how about seven? This one’s even based on science! Seven minutes too much? How about six? Oh, yeah? Well, I can get fit in just four minutes!
What is this exercise de-escalation arms (and legs and abs and glutes) race all about?
It’s about HIIT– high intensity interval training. What is that? See the NY Times below:
A mix of extremely short spurts of intense exercise followed by a minute or two of rest, HIIT is quick and potent, with studies showing that a few minutes — or even seconds — of interval training can improve people’s health and longevity over time.
Here’s more detail from an article by researcher/coaches who’ve studied HIIT and use it for their coaching clients:
Standard guidelines for aerobic training recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise (46% to 63% of maximal oxygen uptake)for 30 to 60 minutes per session and/or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise (64% to 90%) for 20 to 60 minutes per session.
Although these traditional protocols can be effective, they may not be realistic enough for time-conscious adults because of the amount of time necessary to complete each program.
Our approach combines aerobic and resistance training into a single exercise bout lasting approximately 7 minutes. Participants can repeat the 7-minute bout 2 to 3 times, depending on the amount of time they have. As body weight provides the only form of resistance, the program can be done anywhere.
It’s been a standard part of many training plans to include some HIIT workouts, even substituting them for longer slower runs or swims or rides, for instance. You get a lot of bang for your exercise buck, as it were; and according to a recent study reported in the NY Times here, HIIT workouts might even extend our longevity. Although, looking at the actual article, the effects were small and very narrow. And to the researchers’ (or editors’) credit, they fessed up in the infographic, a part of which is below:
So, do I have to HIIT myself over and over in order to get fitter and avoid an earlier death?
On January 21, this New York Times article said that “the best exercise may not be the briefest”, citing a brand-new study by researchers at the University of Guelph. Here’s what they did to test moderate exercise against HIIT-ing:
[They decided to see] what happens if people HIIT three days a week and do not otherwise exercise on the other four, or train moderately five times a week?
…they first recruited 23 sedentary, overweight, adult men… They asked half of the men to start interval training three times a week on stationary bicycles at the lab, riding as hard as possible for 30 seconds, resting for two minutes, and repeating that sequence four to six times.
The other men began a typical moderate-exercise program, riding bikes at the lab five times a week at a pace they could comfortably sustain for 30 to 40 minutes.
Over the course of the next six weeks, the HIIT group pedaled intensely for a grand total of less than an hour, while the moderate-intensity group worked out for at least 2.5 hours each week for the same period.
What did they find out after the 6 week period?
Almost everyone was fitter– both hi- and moderate-intensity groups
those in the moderate-exercise group (but not the HIIT group) shed some body fat, improved their blood pressures, and became better able to metabolize the extra fat from a fatty milkshake (another part of the study)
everyone’s blood-sugar control at home was best only on the days when they exercised meaning three times a week for the HIIT riders and five for the moderate group
But wait, there’s more (just a little bit; I’m almost done). It turns out we can CHOOSE what sort of exercise we want to do, as they are all good. They do different good things for us, and switching it up a bit might be fun. Here’s Guelph researcher Jamie Burr:
“All exercise is good,” Dr. Burr says. But “there are nuances.” Frequent, almost-daily moderate exercise may be preferable for improving blood pressure and ongoing blood-sugar control, compared to infrequent intervals, he says, while a little HIIT is likely to get you in shape as effectively as hours and hours of easier cycling or similar exertion.
Of course, one study does not certainty make. But I like the way it sounds. If I’m looking to leave it all out there, I can HIIT myself up and put the pedal to the metal. When I’m feeling mellower, moderate activity is also what the doctor (Burr) ordered.
Overall takeway: IT ALL COUNTS.
CW: The rest of the post consists of motivational images. Proceed at your own risk.
So readers (at least those of you who didn’t bail in the midst of the motivational art): do you like HIIT? Is it satiisfyiing? Undoable? An occasional thing? Something you’re never heard of? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You are not going to be able to bring the same level of dedication, energy, and effort every time you work on your new wellness habit.
Please don’t let that discourage you.
Some days you will be excited and energy-filled, other days you’ll be a bit tired and worn-out and you’ll barely have any energy to put into the project.*
If you are leaning toward the latter, it’s ok to give it your some.
I know, I know, there’s an awful lot of talk out there about how you have to ‘give it your all’ if you want to progress.
Maybe that approach works for some people (if it works for you, have at it!) but, for a lot of new exercisers, that phrase drags us into all-or-nothing thinking. We get stuck on the idea that if we can’t go all in, we shouldn’t bother at all.
But if you approach your wellness practice with the idea that giving it your *some* is an option, you’ll probably have more success with habit-building.
So, you don’t jump around in this workout. That’s not the end of the world.
Maybe your meditation session is only 2 minutes long. That’s not a crisis either.
Perhaps you only do 5 reps today. No problem!
Even by giving it your some, you still held on to your practice. You kept room for it in your mind and in your schedule.
There’s no downside there. Something is better than nothing!**
So, whether today is a go-all-in day or a give-it-your-some day, here’s your gold star for your efforts.
*Rest is also an important option, of course. I trust that you will know which option to take on a given day.
**I count rest, especially consciously-chosen rest as doing something, by the way. Rest is an important part of the cycle, even if it feels weird to think of it that way.
Contributing to the blog over the past 8 years has been a way for me to notice changes in my fitness routines, habits, and attitudes. When I first started blogging I felt that walking and yoga, which were the mainstays (really the “only”-stays) of my fitness life weren’t helping me develop the strength I felt I needed to take me into my fifties.
I added weight training and running. Within less than a year, developing an interest in triathlon, I added swimming and cycling. Soon, as I set a goal to do an Olympic distance triathlon by my 50th birthday, I let go of yoga because otherwise I couldn’t fit in all the training sessions required to develop strength and confidence in the swim-bike-run. I could only do so much in a week, and yoga went to the back-burner. But I missed it.
And so after I met my triathlon goals and then realized I really hated the bike and gave it up, I inadvertently made space in my week for yoga again. And I’m glad I did.
Last year when I was recovering from an injury and not running much at all, I really rolled things back. For many months, in fact, I was right back to yoga and walking. And yet the years of weight training and running in between added a quality of strength to both. I kept up the yoga with a daily practice that continued right through to June — a consistent home practice, the actual goal of the Iyengar yoga training that was the foundation of my yoga practice for more than a decade. I reintroduced running in the late spring 2020, having made a commitment to run or walk every day just to get outside for something allowable during the pandemic.
And now, with a new stay-at-home order, no desire to get back to the yoga studio any time soon (and it’s closed in any case), and a resistance to running that has snuck up on me over the past few weeks, I’m back to basics: yoga, weight training, and either a walk or run almost every day (but mostly a walk because as I said, I’m not feeling it when it comes to running).
The simplicity of this routine, regular, daily, achievable (well, I confess that I don’t always achieve my daily commitment to getting outside for a walk or a run) makes it work for me. I think one reason it’s working so well right now is that where I used to be outcome-oriented (I wanted to get faster, or leaner, or stronger, or more flexible), now I’m way more process-oriented. I have the things I plan to do, and if I do them I consider it a win. Simple. There is no super-charged intensity around this plan. It’s just a daily checklist of things that give my pandemic life a bit of structure. For me, that’s a comfort.
I have other things that punctuate my days: morning meditation, check-ins with friends, a daily gratitude list that I write to keep me aware of the glass half full (or even more than half full), kitten-related tasks and joys. And of course I have work, and my weekly movie nights with a friend who lives elsewhere (this is a major highlight!), and a bookclub with that same friend, where we read the same book at the same time, talk about it when we’re done, registrer each of our ratings of it, and move on to the next one on an ever-growing list (which you can find on goodreads if you’re interested).
It all feels very basic and grounding. In the past I’ve blogged about the motivating dimension of goals (see “The Thrill of Signing up for Scary Goals”). But I’ve really come to grasp that, for me, different times call for different measures. And I’m appreciating the lack of intensity and absence of “outcome” goals. Right, simplicity and predictability in my fitness life feels exactly right.
I know there are other months that have 31 days but there’s something about January that seems to make it twice as long as any other month. Even though we are now closer to spring than we were to fall when the days started to get darker, it still seems like spring will take forever to arrive.
I am reminded in the dim days of this longest month of Allan Bradley’s evocative description of time stretching endlessly. In one of his lovely Flavia de Luce series, the author sends his hero off to boarding school where Flavia notes despondently that “The hours trudged by with chains on their ankles.”
The thing about January though is that it brings snow. Heavy, wet snow, and usually there lots of it. It certainly can feel like chains when you look at your drive and sidewalk.
As I write this, the forecast is calling for a big storm here on the East coast of Newfoundland, and while not quite reaching the epic proportions of last year’s Snowmaggedon, it’s enough to close schools, offices and other places of business and break out storm chips and other cozy, warming, and cheery things.
Perhaps you too live in a place where there is snow, and lots of it. The problem with snow as an adult is that it often requires removal. Here we also get wet snow, which is heavy, clumpy and when ploughed off the street, also liberally laced with chunks of ice.
So my Fit Feminist pals, let’s look at getting our fitness on with snow removal. Yes, there has been research. Mostly on men. This study from 1995 (!) had nine men either push or shovel snow from an accumulation (or snowfall) of between a foot and a half to two feet.
The researchers didn’t note the amount of energy expended but they did conclude the following: manual clearing of snow in conditions representing heavy snowfalls was found to be strenuous physical work, not suitable for persons with cardiac risk factors, but which may serve as a mode of physical training in healthy adults.
Most of the available research on snow shovelling and cardiac risks focuses on men because men are the ones traditionally doing the shovelling. Snow shovelling works your arms, your shoulders, your back, your legs, and your core. You will breathe hard so if you are the slightest bit asthmatic, you will need a face covering as well to warm the air going into your lungs.
However, some researchers suspect cardiac events may be fewer in women than men because women shovel snow differently. Until there’s actual research looking at it though, we have to accept snow removal is hard work, regardless of sex, and while there’s no appreciable difference in the exertion used with either a shovel or a pusher, you have to be careful regardless of what tool you use.
Here are a few tips for health and safety, should you not be someone who owns a snowblower or who doesn’t have a kind neighbour with one:
As you would with any other strenuous exercise, warm up your muscles before you start.
Dress appropriately. Dress in layers as you will sweat. Wear a hat to keep heat in.
Assess any potential danger (piles of snow on the roof of your porch, your car, or trees). Also look at where you plan to throw your snow. Be kind to your neighbours.
Use a shovel that works with your height and use one that is not too heavy to start with.
Take frequent breaks, stretch, and hydrate.
Remember to watch your back: Bend your knees and engage your abs when you’re lifting that shovel full of snow! (Thanks to Irene for posting this safety tip below!)
After you are done, pat yourself on the back. Have a hot shower or bath to soothe your muscles. Admire your handiwork. Remember, while you will probably have to do it all again in a few days, it beats the gym any day.
MarthaFitat55 has her own shovel and knows how to use it.
If you’re a regular WordPress user you know that finding out which posts are the most liked is trickier. I recently switched our main page to display top posts as most liked, rather than most read. That gives you the top 10 most liked posts of all time. Interestingly, there’s no overlap between most liked and most read.
Finding that out past the top 10 or on a monthly basis is trickier. Adding the widget requires upgrading (again!) on WordPress and while we’ve upgraded once or twice, that additional leap seems too much for now.
But here, for the curious, are our most liked posts of all time.
If I fall behind on a program I am doing – exercise or otherwise – I have a bad habit of trying to ‘catch up.’
This either leads to me trying to jam multiple sessions into one day, or to me avoiding the activity entirely because there is too much to do to rejoin the group (even if it is a self-paced program.)
Lately, though, I have realized that I don’t always *have* to catch up and neither do you!
Sure, some graduated programs require us to do every step, but most of the time we can just jump right into the plan for a given day. We might be a little in over our heads for the first bit, but we’ll adjust.
(And, of course, if you feel stressed about jumping in, you can always skim the missing material without doing it all.)
And if we DO need to do every step in order for the program to make sense?
Then we harness our word power again.
If saying that we are trying to catch up gives us that stressed feeling of being ‘behind’ perhaps we can call it restarting or recalibrating.
For me, both of those words have a sense of bringing experience and new information to our plans. That experience/information can help us to proceed in a way that better serves us.
And they let us pick up where we left off without the feeling that we should be at another point in the process.
So, if you haven’t been able to follow the program that you set for yourself, don’t feel that you need to catch up.
Instead, you can choose to jump forward or recalibrate.
The key is that you keep going in a way that feels freeing.
Please don’t let what you haven’t done drag you down and keep you from continuing.
Here’s your gold star for today’s plans for jumping, recalibration or for staying the course.
A few months ago, I wrote a post called “what’s your drishti?“, using the yoga concept of focusing on one point while in a balancing posture as a way of grounding ourselves in a time of chaos. Since then, I’ve also been kind of quietly obsessed with a particular asana: bakasana, also known as “crow.”
This is bakasana, beautifully held, on Day 18 of Yoga with Adriene’s 30 day “Breath” series.
She makes it look so effortless.
But for a lot of people, crow is one of “those poses” that can generate a lot of internal self-talk of the “why can’t I do this thing that everyone else can do, what is wrong with me” variety. Where we lose track of the fact that all bodies are different, and that is a good thing.
After we did crow in the Breath series this week, someone posted about in our “221 workouts in 2021” group how crow “had seemed so absurdly hard (and honestly a bit scary to me) that I would resent when it was a part of beginner or “all levels” yoga classes.“
I was the same, for literally decades. I’ve been doing yoga since about 1995, in many different modalities. Some years, I practice intermittently, some years, every day, but it’s been a pretty steady part of my life. And for 24 years, every time we got to the crow part of a class, I’d just do some squatting and hop a bit, fruitlessly, on my arms. I thought it was one of those things I “couldn’t do” — and I had a fair bit of negative self regard about that.
But up until about three years ago, I’d thought the same thing about handstand — that it was one of those things that Younger People or More Athletic People or Prettier People (WTF? I KNOW!) did. But there was a moment in a class where the teacher encouraged us to play, and I swallowed my considerable fear and kicked upside down against a wall. And, voila.
Remembering that, I started working harder to really focus on what was actually needed for crow. It became a lockdown project for me, with my mat always unfurled in my living room. I started working on malasana (low squat), doing a lot of springy hand balances. Kept actually trying, feeling my way through the posture, rather than sort of trying to hop onto my elbows and failing. I came at it from the yoga perspective, and in my virtual superhero workouts as a natural companion to a million pushups and pike pushups and handstand pushups. And then suddenly, sometime in the middle of 2020, for a moment or two, I was up and holding, wobble but strong.
I was hooked. I was defying gravity, and I felt stronger than I ever had. At first it was still super sketchy and unpredictable. I set the timer on my camera and took a photo for a yoga teacher friend, and she gave me excellent advice: look ahead, not down, and pull your core up toward the ceiling, almost like an upside down hollow hold.
I’ve set myself a little challenge of doing crow at least once a day during January. Two weeks ago, in a live streamed class with one of my favourite teachers, I successfully held bakasana, transitioned into a headstand, held that and then back to bakasana.
I felt like I’d lifted a car off a baby.
I didn’t know I had that in me.
Now that I’ve found my centre of balance, it’s a really powerful pose for me. Some of it is obvious — look what I didn’t know I could do! (Much like my revelation when I made my mother’s tourtière recipe for the first time this Christmas that I know how to make good pie crust).
But it’s not just about untapped strength. Bakasana — like every yoga pose — is different every time. I have to pause and take a deep breath before I start, because it’s beginner’s mind every time, requires deep attention and presence. I still don’t “know” any time I’m on the mat if I’ll be able to achieve it — it’s a very “this moment is only this moment” practice. Which is humbling, in a good way. It distills me to be really clear about intention.
Being able to do bakasana now doesn’t mean I’ve hit “a new level” in yoga — it means that sometimes, now, I can do bakasana. It makes me more aware of the “simpler” practices that I still struggle with, like feeling suffocated in “easy” twists. It puts me deep in the space of “what am I doing, right here, right now? What am I capable of? And what do I need to listen to?
And that, as they say, is the lesson that I want to take off the mat.
If you want to play with bakasana, Alida in our 221 workout group found this terrific video, showing progressions and how you can use the wall for support.
But bakasana is also a metaphor for those things that remind us that we can do more than we thought. And that things that seemed far away can be nearer than they looked.
What’s your version of bakasana, right now? What new things are you working on? How is that going for you?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is really trying to figure out how to breathe deeply and twist at the same time.
“Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help.”
“Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen
After months of being house-bound due to the COVID19 pandemic, folks may be searching for new ways to break up the monotony of their indoor exercise routines. Dark dancing has been there all along, just waiting to be discovered.
Chorophobia is the fear of dancing, which stems from feeling judged as other watch us move our bodies, and it is apparently more common than people think. In the video documentary, Fear of Dancing (2020), director Michael Allcock talks about how chorophobia is something we grow into as we get older.
The documentary features a Toronto-based group whose members “meet once a week to dance together in a darkly lit room.” During the pandemic, some of these dark dancers moved from in-person twilit sessions to dancing together in the dark…in their own homes.
On Monday nights, the Dark Dancing TO DJ sends a Zoom meeting or a Youtube stream link to the group. Requests may be taken in advance; a playlist is made. Then everybody logs on around the same time and just dances to the curated music–together yet apart–for a little over an hour.
I’ve been twice now. One week they used Zoom, and I turned on my camera but draped fabric over the camera for privacy. The next week, with the Youtube stream, there was no “room” to log into. Both times I did turn dance in the mostly dark…for authenticity.
For exercise, I find it fun. I can’t fail to score points like I do with Just Dance, and I won’t forget the choreography like I do in a live or recorded dance class. I get to wear comfortable clothes and have the whole floor to myself (except maybe other than my cat, Theo). And I hear music that I would never find on my own.
Both me and another dark dancer agreed that we prefer dark dancing in Zoom to the Youtube stream. You can’t see anyone either way, but there’s something about being with other people dark dancing, even if it’s only in a virtual room.
In addition to Dark Dancing TO, there are other social media groups and streaming sites that provide music and live DJs from around the world for listening and dancing. If you have chorophobia, or are just looking something different, this may be it!