fitness · training

Is there really such a thing as a “forever pace”?

Some days, movement feels delicious. You get on your bike, lace up your running shoes, adjust your swim goggles over your cap (FYI– not all at the same time), and then…. Everything just hums. You’re in the zone. You’re grooving on the flow. You feel like you can go on all day. You’ve found your “forever pace”– a level of exertion where your effort feels almost as easy as breathing.

Or so says this article, citing cardiologist John Higgins about the importance of finding a forever pace in order to increase the number of minutes of exercise per week (to optimize heart health, he says). In order to do a lot-a-lot of endurance exercise (e.g. running, cycling, swimming), you do a variety of workouts. But, he adds, you also have to find the sweet spot where movement feels effortless.

“Its that easy pace where you feel like you are gliding in an effortless zone,” says Dr. Higgins. (Think of it as a two or three on an effort scale of one to 10.) 

I know the guy means well, but that quote rubs me the wrong way. Why? Because for several physical activities (hiking and running are my prime examples), I’ve never found an easy-enough pace to maintain for long periods of time. And the fact that I can’t seem to do them comfortably makes me feel self-conscious and crabby. Therefore, I’m blaming Dr. Higgins and his burbling on about this mythical “forever pace”. How about put a sock in it, Higgins… 🙂

Perhaps that was too abrupt. Okay, let’s look at an example: hiking. I’ve blogged about my conflicted relationship with it here. My experiences since then have been mixed, but mostly negative; that is, I’ve not found a pace at which I can hike up a mountain where it feels effortless, or easy, or even non-terrible. On the other hand, walking in nature where there’s some change in elevation is fun. Good to know.

Running is the same: I sort-of trained for some triathlons a looong time ago, and managed to make it through those 5k runs in the races, but neither the training nor the races were anything but laborious and painful. Yes, I know– the training should be slow slow slow, building up gradually. And no, I didn’t faithfully adhere to that principle. Rather, I just went out for slow runs, feeling bad about 1) how slow I was going, and 2) how awful it felt even though I was going slowly. A bad combo.

So what does this tell me about the notion of the “forever pace”? (I keep using the quotes because of my skepticism about its existence) Here are some quick thoughts.

One: Finding and maintaining a forever pace takes time, dedication, and confidence.

I do have a forever pace for cycling. But that’s because I’ve been cycling for a long time and love it dearly. My easy pace changes from season to season and year to year. Also, my notion of “forever” changes– these days I can do an easy ride for shorter durations than I could 5 years ago. It depends on a lot on bodily and environmental factors, and it’s important to acknowledge and respect them.

Two: The forever pace is extremely sport-specific and contextual.

Some activities (like hiking) have constraints (e.g. the effort you have to expend to move uphill) that make a forever pace not easily attainable for some people (e.g. me). Note, I don’t say impossible. If I loved hiking and wanted to become a hiker, I’d figure out a combo of physical and psychological adjustment to find that easy pace. I have done this with swimming. I used to do some lap swimming, but never liked it much; I’ve not (yet) mastered easy breathing techniques. But, I’ve found ways to swim that are easy for me and give me great joy. Yay!

Three: Not everyone is going to be able to access a forever pace for all physical activities, or at all times. Which is fine– it’s the way of bodies over time.

For me these days, it’s important to acknowledge that, for some sports and at some time, movement isn’t going to be easy or effortless, and I’m not going to be sailing or gliding or flying on gossamer wings. This knowledge minus the judgment will help me approach movement with more reasonable expectations and a greater chance of enjoyment.

Readers, what do you think about the idea of the “forever pace”? Do you have one for your favorite activity? Is it a happy place for you? Is it elusive sometimes? I’d love to hear from you.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running · swimming · training · triathalon

A Triathlon and a Half Marathon with Imperfect Training (Guest Post)

by Şerife Tekin

As I have written on this blog before, I have not started engaging in athletic endeavors until later in my adulthood. So, when the pandemic first started and all my triathlon friends were really upset about all races being cancelled or postponed, I didn’t quite understand or empathize with the loss they were experiencing. I always thought I love training for training’s sake, for being able to get out of my head, and all the structure that regularly training brings to my life and writing.

Thanks to all these side effects, I was able to cope with the pandemic and the stress associated with being the partner of a frontline worker, by dedicating more time to triathlon training. I was able to continue to swim and run with my teammates outdoors (Thanks, amiable San Antonio weather). As the vaccinations spread and the impact of the pandemic lessened in severity, regional races started coming back, and I did a quarter triathlon in September (close to Olympic distance), and a half marathon in December.

Both of these races went a lot better than I expected, and I appreciated what people love so much about racing. Spoiler alert: For me, it wasn’t so much about my speed or how I ranked overall but being able to enjoy every minute of the race, seeing new sights, and experiencing all the rush that comes with pushing the body do something challenging, in the company of others.

My first race was at the 2021 Kerrville triathlon Festival.  Initially I was registered to do a sprint triathlon, but decided – with the push of my coach and teammates—that I could challenge myself to do a quarter distance. I was hesitant because I had not trained for it but I also knew that I have been active in all three sports consistently and that I could treat it as a little challenge. The distance was 1000m swim, 29-mile ride, and 6.4. mile run. The race morning was fun, always great to see that many high-energy people at 5 am in the morning. I knew I had to be on top of my nutrition throughout the race so I got some last-minute tips from my coach, Mark: Eat something every 20 minutes on the ride and hope for the best.

The first 5 minutes of the swim were a bit nerve-wrecking, I love swimming but I hate pushing through the crowds as I swim. Once I settled into a steady pace, I was able to distance myself from others by falling behind or cruising ahead. There were times I felt like I could try to go faster but I paced myself, I knew I needed the energy in bike and run. I got off the water in good spirits and ran to my bike. I took an extra couple of minutes in transition making sure I have my nutrition easily accessible.

Then on to the bike, which was my favorite part. The wind was on my side and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the rural Texas. I didn’t always feel like eating on the bike but I did, knowing that I would need it to not crash on the run. Once the bike course was over, I was in a good mood and felt like the race was just starting. I made friends along the course during the run, who were the same pace as I was and we chit-chatted supporting each other. I reminded myself to enjoy the course and not worry too much about the speed. It helped and I finished.

Overall, I was done in 3 hrs and 33 minutes, which was pretty good for a first quarter-tri without that much training. It felt so good to do the race, I had gotten the race bug. I registered for a half marathon in December thinking I would for sure be able to train for it and do well.

Turned out training for the half marathon in the Fall when we all got back to real-world ended up being tricky. I had more work responsibilities than anticipated, and was hard on myself for not training properly but I tried to do as much as I could. Some days I could not do the 5-mile run on my training plan but instead of doing none at all, I went for a quick 2-mile. When the half marathon day arrived, I said to myself ok I am not trained the best but I have tried consistently.

The race was fun. The weather was more humid than desirable but I enjoyed being able to run with a dear friend and enjoy exploring the areas of San Antonio that I had not seen before. I took regular walk breaks for about 10 miles as my friend and I had decided to do the race together and she needed to slow down a few times to catch her breath. At mile 10 she insisted that I go ahead and I gave all I got to the last three miles and went fast (for me). I finished it at 2:38. It was not a PR.

My last half marathon was 6 years ago, and I had run it with my students and had finished at 2.22. But I still felt great as a good come back half marathon. I left with feeling that I wanted to and could run another 10 miles. I was also happy that I did not let my feelings about my imperfect training to prevent me from racing. Perhaps I am one of those athletes who love racing now? I signed up for my next half, to take place January 8. I am going to try to perfect my training!!!

How about you, readers? Do you like racing or do you just like training with no particular race in mind? How do you feel about imperfect training?

Photos of our blogger on her bike (left) and after the race (right)

Şerife Tekin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director or Medical Humanities Program at UTSA. Her favorite exercise involves being chased by her cats Chicken and Ozzy. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.

advice · fitness · motivation · training

Being willing to be bad at a thing

So whenever I’ve been interviewed about the blog or the book I co-wrote with Tracy one of the most common questions is about motivation. What do we have to say to someone who struggles with getting enough exercise, who wants to exercise but never manages to do it?

The two pieces of advice we most commonly give on the blog are START SMALL and FIND A PHYSICAL ACTIVITY YOU ENJOY.

I was happy to see a short piece this week with another bit of advice, LET YOURSELF BE BAD.

Christine Carter writes about her own experiences of planning to train for a half marathon but failing to get out the door.

Why did I skip exercise despite knowing all this?

The truth is our ability to follow through on our intentions — to get into a new habit like exercise or to change our behavior in any way — actually doesn’t depend on the reasons that we might do it or on the depth of our convictions to do it. It also doesn’t depend on our understanding of the benefits of a particular behavior, or even on the strength of our willpower.

Instead, it depends on our willingness to be badat our desired behavior.

And I hate being bad at stuff. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of gal. I like being good at things, and I quit exercising because I wasn’t willing to be bad at it.

Here’s why we need to be willing to be bad. Being good requires that our effort and our motivation need to be equivalent. In other words, the harder a thing is for us to do, the more motivation we need to do that thing. And you might have noticed that motivation isn’t something we can always muster on command. Whether we like it or not, motivation comes and motivation goes. When motivation wanes, plenty of research shows that we humans tend to follow the law of the least effort and do the easiest thing.”

For me this was true of Aikido. I’m not good at Aikido. It doesn’t play to my strengths as a fitness activity. Accepting that and recognizing that I would never have a black belt or even a brown belt, was part of what allowed me to keep going. Aikido was good for me and my satisfaction in it couldn’t come from me excelling at it. I found other things to enjoy but I accepted I’d never be an Aikido rock star.

See the full story here:

Pink hearts on black background. Unsplash.
motivation · training

Self-Discipline As Ease and a Path to Joy

On a recent morning, I experienced my self-discipline in a whole new way. I’ve always thought of self-discipline as being about … well … discipline. Getting shit done. Staying on top of things. Progress. Maintenance. Control. The universe introduced me to the possibility that self-discipline may contain all those things, and their seeming opposites.    

I woke to torrential rain. I’d been looking forward to my run and the audio book I’m listening to. Instead, I was going to have to do a Peloton ride or stream one of their Pilates classes. Have to, because I had a day full of Zoom and wanted to move; and because moving (and sweating) makes for a happier, more settled day, for me. The have to was weighing on me more than usual. Most of the time, I’m glad to have the external encouragement of the instructor. But not this particular morning. I wanted to move, but not that way, not with that kind of intensity or focus.

When I got to the bike, I thought, hang on a minute, I can do this differently. I don’t have to take a particular class. I can do my own thing, can’t I?  And I did. And it was profoundly satisfying.

To start, I opened the window next to the bike. My music for the morning was the sound of the pouring rain. Next, I hunted down the bike feature that would allow me to do what I wanted. I found the feature under the tab labeled More; and really, it’s more of an un-feature called Just Ride. Finally, I hooked my iPad over the bike screen and pressed play on my audio book and then shut off the screen’s light. Soon I was immersed in the words of David Abram’s, The Spell of the Sensuous, about the origins of language, as it arises from impulsive, gestural responses to our sensorial experience as beings in the world. I was a being on a bike, listening to the rain and the occasional city sound of traffic or a siren, experiencing my body in motion, the sweat running off my face, the rhythm of my legs and the light of a grey day leaking slowly into a dark room, though I mostly rode with my eyes closed.

Such. Pleasure.  

Red leaves through rainy window,
by Anne Nygard on Unsplash

A couple of hours later I was engaged in a deep dive conversation with two study partners about the difference between self-discipline and obedience (as part of my Non-Violent Communication program). My ride was the distinction we were talking about. I woke up with a desire to move and I made a choice to nourish my need. That was my inner voice of self-discipline, or at least how I usually think of her. Then a bunch of shoulds arrived to try to divert me from the freedom underlying my choice. You should do an instructor-led ride. You should try to ride harder than you will on your own. You should be more serious. You get the picture. On this particular morning, the idea of listening to those voices felt like obedience to some random external measure of success. A killjoy. Then, I discovered that getting to the bike was only Part One of the self-discipline voice. Part Two kicked in when I illuminated the screen. In lieu of obeying felt societal pressure, even if that pressure was and is largely imaginary or self-imposed, Part Two suggested that I search inside myself for the answer to what I wanted. The answer was clear. To just ride. To feel connected to nature, even if it was only through an open window. To listen to my book. 

I got off the bike drenched, my brain tingling with the sparks of ideas connecting and my body ready for some hours inside a box on a screen. 

Part One of my self-discipline on her own might not think I did an appropriate workout. She’s a lot about obedience. That’s where Part Two (a fresh aspect of self-discipline) came in to remind me that obedience does not have to be blind choice, but can include flexibility and creativity.  Part Two trusted me to decide, to double check inside and verify that my decision came from a place of internal discernment and not from an externally-fueled judgment of sufficiency. Part Two expanded on Part One’s mission to keep me healthy, reminding me that I alone have the power to decide what is the right workout self-discipline on any given day. With all due respect to Part One, Part Two encouraged me to free myself from obedience to arbitrary, impersonal measures of that incredibly elusive concept—success.

Instead, I my self-discipline is making this choice: what will give me the most joy today? 

cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

I did it! I finished Zwift Academy 2021!

I did it!

I mean, I had a plan for finishing but also, hey, I actually followed the plan. It’s tricky fitting Zwift Academy in between other social rides and also team racing events. This year I cut out our Monday and Friday night races and stuck with the Tuesday and Thursday team events. That helped but still, coming up to the deadline, I struggled. The workouts are hard and most definitely Not Fun. In general I do better doing hard things like that in a team environment.

The chat running alongside today’s virtual ride in Zwift said, “Hello fellow procrastinators!”

Zwift Academy 2021 ends tomorrow. And today I completed the Finish Line ride after all the workouts and recovery rides.

What’s the Finish Line ride? From the FAQ: “A Zwift Academy Finish Line ride is specifically designed to capture your gains over the duration of the Academy. It is set up identically to the Baseline Ride and will measure the exact same segments you started the Academy with. Riders are challenged to get PR’s on the segments and ride easy between the segments.”

And, not surprisingly, I got faster! On all three test segments.

The biggest improvement was on the Volcano KOM. Since long hills are my nemesis, I was very happy with this.

Thanks Sarah for cheering me on!

Zwift Academy Road 2021
fitness · motivation · running · training

Running Reboot #17

Image description: cat sniffing at running shoes against a dark wood floor.

I started running just before Sam and I launched the blog about nine years ago. I figure over that time I’ve had to reboot my running at least once or twice a year (more so lately), so even though 17 is kind of arbitrary, it’s probably about right. This time I called my former running coach, Linda, to see if she’d be willing to train me again.

We made a plan to meet up and go for a walk and chat, but by the time that happened I had already decided I wasn’t ready to commit to working with a coach again. For one thing, I really don’t have goals other than the goal of getting out the door three times a week. It seems kind of extravagant to work with a trainer if that’s my only goal.

But we met a couple of days ago in the park, on a beautiful afternoon, and had a wonderful catch-up. The pandemic has been long and relentless for everyone, and both of us (and we are not alone in this of course) experienced a shrinking of our social world. So it felt good to connect, and to hear about the changes of late as each of us has emerged into something like what life used to be like. Except where running is concerned. I said, “you probably have never had a time where your running fell to the side.” But she has, and like me she’s trying to get a rhythm going again.

Instead of deciding to work with her as a coach, which was more than either of us really felt like doing, we made a mutual decision to sign up for an online training challenge that starts on November 1 and continues to the end of December, and includes training plans and five virtual 5Ks for $49. I’m not naming the program here because, to my dismay, when I visited the website I noticed that one of the slogans is “gain fitness, not pounds.” Ugh ugh ugh. That almost made me bail, but I’m hoping that the training plans will not have weight “issues” woven into their narrative much, if at all. I hope very much that the messaging of that slogan is anomalous. I guess we’ll see.

I’ve already blogged about how virtual races don’t really grab me. But I do like the idea of having someone lay out a series of training plans for me from November 1 to the end of December, and I can let my motivation be what it is (which is to get myself back into a rhythm with my running).

Leading up to the pandemic I was just coming out of a long injury (my achilles) that took me out of my regular training for about a year. Because that injury, I stopped running with my group. Then, by the time I had built back up to some regular training, the combination of the early days of the pandemic (when we didn’t know a whole lot about COVID and I was still nervous about running close to other people) and my regression during my injury kept me running alone. Running alone means you’re not really accountable to anyone — I confess that it has been harder and harder to get myself out the door. By this summer, I was down to a couple of times a week, and lately I’m lucky if I get out for one run a week. That’s almost worse than not going at all because it’s not enough to develop any kind of conditioning.

Hence my desire and need for this reboot. I like that the main distance for this training challenge is 5K because it seems likely that if I can get a running habit going that fixes on 5K, I am more likely to carve out the time to do it. I will check in about it again in about a month, once I’m three weeks into the challenge. And Linda and I are going to check in with each other from time to time too, each of us reporting to the other how it’s going.

If you have any suggestions for how to lift yourself out of a slump and reboot your running routine, please share!

habits · rest · running · self care · training

Navigating the Tricky Balance Between Effort and Ease

I’m feeling wobbly. I’m not quite managing the balance between effort and ease. Could be that I’m finally allowing myself to feel the full weariness of the pandemic, now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that emerges into an as-yet unknown future). Could be that I’ve been gorging myself on a lot of inputs, between the multiple Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems trainings I’m attending, the practice groups I belong to, plus writing coaching clients, and my own workshop development and writing, plus some deep dive personal development work.  That psychic tiredness may be spilling over into physical tiredness, too. But I keep trying to push my way through the depletion into a higher energy state. This tendency is most obvious in my physical activities.

Here’s an example from a few days ago. I woke up in a hole. The voice in my head who likes to tell me I’m not enough was on a tear. Vivienne (that’s the voice’s name and yes, I give the voices in my head names) hadn’t actually taken up much air time recently. I’d almost forgotten how ferocious she can get. I headed out on a run, with the idea of appeasing her. When she’s on a bender, she wants me to sweat first, then get to some tasks. From the first step of my run, I was dragging. About 45 minutes in, I arrived at a short, steep dirt hill, where I sometimes do repeats. I thought, “No, no, no.” Vivienne said, “Oh yes.” I tried to negotiate, “Okay, but just three.” Vivienne said, “Do the full five.” Five is my usual. I did them. Vivienne’s concession in our semi-détente was to allow me to skip the plyometric jumps I do at the end of runs. Mainly, because I’d almost whiffed a jump on my last run (from tiredness). The hill repeats inside of an 8.5-mile run were enough to satisfy Vivienne’s performance standards for me that day. Almost … there was still the Peloton ride.  

The post-run ride is a new routine I’ve developed since acquiring the Peloton in December; big help reducing how stiff and sore my legs are after a run. You know that feeling when you get up from your desk chair and your legs feel cramped up and six inches shorter? I don’t get that feeling nearly as much since I started the new routine.

Vivienne and I both agreed that I should not skip the ride, my protection against the creaky feeling. But … I couldn’t muster the minimum 10-minutes I usually ride post-run. I opted for a 5-minute cool-down ride. More, I did not even start at the minimum (yet elevated) resistance level recommended. Vivienne was unimpressed by my output (output is an actualnumber on the Peloton bike). Our truce was cracking. I was trying to convince her that hey-you-got-on-the-bike-and-that’s-what-counts.   

After all, a couple months ago I wrote here about the importance of counting the 5-minute Peloton rides, because they are essential to our recovery. This day, my breezy confidence about their worthiness was put to the test. When my ride ended, all the statistics shot up on the right side of the screen, as they always do. This was not a day I wanted to see them. But, before I could swipe them away without looking, I saw it. The badge. Congratulations on 100 rides, Mina. As if to say, “Put your money where your mouth is (or more precisely where your pen was two months ago on this blog)! Not only do the 5-minute rides count. You hit your first big milestone on one.”

Other riders on Peloton organize themselves in advance to make sure they do a milestone ride live, on the hopes of a shout-out from the instructor. Still others plan around hitting a milestone live and on their birthday. But me, I don’t even know the milestone is coming, because I’m not keeping track. And when it does, it lands on the least significant ride I’ve done to date (in terms of effort). It sure felt like the universe was having a laugh, as if to say, “Hi Mina, this is The Karmic Coincidence Squad, remember when you said the 5-minute rides count? Indeed, let the ride be counted!”

Back in April, I wrote that our 5-minute rides are as important as the longer, grittier rides. Perhaps more so. Because they are a gift to ourselves. So, my gift to myself with this 5-minutes was ease. Offering grace to my legs and spirit, on a day I needed some. That is milestone worthy.

But maybe the universe was also telling me to take a closer look at how I’d gotten so far out of balance that a 5-minute ride was maximally taxing. Why am I so physically tired? I haven’t been doing significantly more than usual. In theory, I’ve been running shorter distances and making up the miles with between 10-20 minutes on the Peloton, after my runs. But am I actually running less than I would? And is the effort on the bike equivalent to the effort of running an extra mile or two? Plus, I should note the pre-Pilates spins that I’ve added in, too (which are meant to replace the casual bike ride to and from the studio in pre-pandemic times). Also, often those spinning minutes are intervals, even high intensity intervals. Maybe all those 10-20-minute tag-alongs are wearing me down?

I wrote that last sentence the next day after the milestone. As I watched the words unfurl on the page, the reality settled into my body. I’ve had 5 days now to process the message. A short spin may reduce soreness, but it does not, unfortunately, reduce tiredness. My tag-along spins may be contributing to my depletion. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. But sometimes we just need rest. It’s time to re-evaluate my routine, it might have lost its balance.

A small bird balanced between two flower stalks, holding on with its toes. I love that one of the flowers is blown out and missing its petals and the other still has its petals–that felt right for illustrating the balance between effort and ease. KT on Unsplash

The fulcrum between effort and ease is constantly changing. Navigating a course through those uncertain waters is a dynamic, evolving practice. Hitting that milestone as I slid off the bike in a state of wet-noodledom after 5-minutes woke me up to that fact. Again.

In the past 5 days, in addition to taking it extra easy on my rest day, I scaled back on the intervals and opted for a couple of slower, steadier rides over the rainy long weekend. After my run two days ago, I spent the time I would have been spinning, stretching instead. And this morning, I hit a personal best on my ride. That felt like the universe offering me a quick reward to reinforce the message.

Recalibrate often. More ease can enable more effort.

Now the trick is to apply that to my whole life.

aging · fitness · injury · training

Sam is checking in for May 2021

Sam as seen from the back deck, wearing a headband, black tights and a burgundy tank top and boxing gloves, looking up and smiling. There’s a heavy punching bag hanging from a frame in front of her.

May has been my month of aspirational outdoor exercise. I joined the university’s outdoor exercise challenge and got to work. Luckily that coincided with nice weather here in Ontario and my son’s purchase of some backyard exercise equipment including a frame for his heavy punching bag and a collapsible rowing machine suitable for outdoor storage. Between that stuff, a yoga mat, a kettlebell, and a medicine ball we’re good to go for 3 minutes off, one minute rests rounds of all the things times 10.

I’m also dog walking and bike riding outside too. Currently I’m 11th in the #GryphFitness challenge. Go Team Middle Aged Dean!

I blogged about the challenge Get outside and play! It’s May!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is challenge-logos.png

The outdoor exercise kick is also accompanied by a snack size exercise kick. I’m not sure what it is but my ability to focus is somewhat challenged right now. I have the attention span of a gerbil. I’m still working lots of movement into my day but it’s a lot of mini bursts of different things. A ten minute stretching video here, some rowing and lifting there, throw in some kettlebell swings and some TRX moves…

My bike rides are still long and focused but nothing else is really. There have been 20 minute yoga videos I’ve found it too hard to finish at one go!

Luckily this month the many exercise snacks approach was also vindicated by science.

Cheddar is my back deck exercise buddy!


Cheddar, the blond dog, laying crosswise on a blue yoga mat surrounded by random weights on Sam’s back deck.

Not much knee news. I started these monthly check-ins to mark the countdown to my knee replacement surgery. And at the end of May this was in my Facebook memories,

May 29, 2020:

“I keep waiting for the letter telling me that my knee replacement surgery is delayed. On the bright side, it’s not any worse and I’m still walking Cheddar. On the downside when all the travel restrictions are lifted I want to go hiking in England and New Zealand again.

And yes, actual physical letters. Hospitals are one of the few sources of snail mail that’s serious.”

Still waiting. Sigh. And now it’s both knees. But I’m also still walking and things aren’t worse. Hanging in there.

fitness · Metrics · training

Tracking feminist fitness…

This article came across my newsfeed recently, Health and fitness trackers: Do they help… or hurt?, and I was intrigued.

First, points to Precision Nutrition for the image accompanying the article–not a super thin stereotypical fitness model. I appreciate the more inclusive imagery.

Second, thanks for the nuanced messaging. They report that fitness trackers work for some people who find the numbers and the data motivational. They don’t work for others who find the whole tracking thing oppressive and who are made anxious by the numbers. The article–aimed at fitness instructors and personal trainers–is all about how to work with the client in front of you.

Having read the article, I turned to the bloggers’ group to check with this group about fitness trackers and smart watches.

Who has one? Who loves it? Who hates them? What do we use them for?

Nicole: “I have the Fitbit Charge 3. I “bought” it with corporate incentive points last year. Up until then, I never used a tracker, other than the count on my phone’s Health App. I am generally low tech while running. I have never listened to music, while running, for example. Historically, I’d map out my runs for specific distances, using “Gmap Pedometer” and then just go follow that route.

I bought my husband a Fitbit a couple years ago. He enjoyed the step count and it alerted him to the need to the hospital when he was having a heart event a couple years ago as well. So I could see some benefits, but I wasn’t sure I wanted one. Since I purchased it, I haven’t taken it off. I like checking my exercise stats for the day/week/etc. I find the heart rate information interesting.

One of the things I enjoy most is the sleep stats. I find it interesting to see how much REM/deep sleep I’ve had, and also the fluctuations in my oxygen levels. I don’t feel it’s made me DO more, because I’ve always maintained a regular exercise schedule, but I have enjoyed seeing some of the stats.

My only criticism with this model is the light is so dim that I can’t see the numbers outside sometimes. My husband bought a newer model recently and I like the bigger face, and would get that type when it’s time to get a new one.”

Bettina: “My fitness tracker journey started with a Misfit Ray. Then I upgraded to an Apple Watch because I wanted more detailed tracking and stats, which I absolutely loved. Until one fine morning I dropped it on the bathroom floor and its screen shattered into a million pieces… Fixing it – I stupidly hadn’t bought Apple Care for it – would have cost more than replacing it with a new Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, which I have been using and loving ever since. Sometimes I still miss the sleek look and the various bands I had for the Apple Watch, but overall I’m super happy with the Garmin. My main challenge in all this was that I have really small wrists and was worried the Garmin would look way too chunky on me, but I’ve completely gotten used to it.”

Martha: “I wear a fitbit Charge 4. It’s my third. I like using trackers for steps (more accurate than my phone) and I like also how the current one monitors sleep and heart rate. It has a weight tracker which I don’t care about one way or the other. Some people find this a trigger and there doesn’t appear to be a way to delete it. I tend to ignore it. You can also track water and food intake. I used it once to check if I was eating all my fruits and vegetables. My favorite part is how I can program alarms. As a writer, I tend to spend a lot of time with my laptop sitting down. I set an alarm to remind me to get up from desk on the quarter hour. It gives me enough time to get a snack, have an exercise or stretch break, and just change my POV. I find it keeps me focused and I can track progress on my mini goals quite easily.

Sam: I’ve blogged about fitness watches a few times. I am destroyer of fitbits. I’m rough with things and I used to joke that our house should be known as a product testing stations. Car door handles have come off in my hand! I feel like most contemporary consumer goods are flimsy. Having broken more than my share of fitbits, I said goodbye to watch style fitness trackers. Also with my damaged knee, I can no longer be driven by step counts. I need to moderate how much I walk.

See Why Sam isn’t getting a fitness watch.

And then Covid hit and I started to want to track my daily temperature. I discovered that the new Garmin fitness trackers also have pulse oximeter  and can measure blood oxygen levels.

See fitness trackers as health trackers.

Here’s my Garmin vivoactive 4 acquired during the pandemic. In addition to pulse oxygen it measures the usual stuff–heart rate, stress, sleep, steps etc. The one measure that interests me is the “body bank” score which compares rest with activity and tells you how rested you are.

Vivo active 4 Garmin

Tracy: When Sam called for our thoughts on the tracker issue, she assumed I would be posting about going from hating trackers to loving them. That’s understandable since I have compared tracking to the panopticon and after a workplace step counting challenge, I came to despise counting steps. But I have always loved my Garmin Forerunner for tracking runs. It’s not an everyday/all day thing though. Then when the pandemic hit I became painfully aware that I might need to start tracking steps or something again because some days it feels as I don’t even move.

So when my Garmin needed replacing (it’s almost ten years old) and I asked around, people suggested that I consider an Apple Watch. So I did. And I LOVE my apple watch. It does count steps, but it does so much more than that. My main complaint about the step challenge a few years back was that it ONLY tracked steps. And that is not (in my view) a comprehensive approach to fitness.

I won’t hijack this post by going into all the things I love about my Apple Watch, but here are the top four:

1. It tracks and encourages without feeling oppressive (something about the tone of the reminders).

2. It is way better than the Garmin was for setting up custom intervals for my runs (that was after I bought the intervals pro app, worth every penny; and I get that the new Garmins are probably at least as easy as the Apple Watch for this so it’s more about new technology than about Apple v Garmin)

3. I have two close friends who share their accomplishments with me and vice versa – I wouldn’t want a large circle for this, but I love the sense of support and connection I get from Diane and Vicki.

4. It integrates with my phone and has a world of apps and features that have nothing to do with fitness, so in that sense it’s a fun gadget of the “how did I live without this?” kind. (bonus feature: it looks nice and there’s a marketplace overflowing with third party funky straps online for cheap).

p.s. I still hate food tracking.

Christine

My Fitbit Inspire HR is one of the most helpful pieces of tech I own.

I love the fact that I can keep track of my activity levels and my heart rate without actually having to remember to stop and write anything down.

Why is it important to me to track these things?

Well, I’m not naturally a very active person and my ADHD gives me a strange perception of time. If I wasn’t paying close attention, I could end up very inactive for a very long time but I’d have the feeling that my last exercise session was ‘just the other day.’

But the ritual of putting on my Fitbit in the morning and taking it off at night gives me some fixed points to note how much I have been moving.

I have also set it to notify me if I get less than 250 steps in an hour so I can make sure I move regularly throughout the day – instead of accidentally sitting in one position too long if I am hyper-focused.

Since my perception of my own efforts is also affected by my ADHD, having a heart rate monitor on my wrist also helps me see how hard I am working when I exercise.

And the Fitbit helps me be curious about my efforts, too. I’m not one of those people who thinks that exercise that doesn’t register on my tracker doesn’t ‘count’ but movement that doesn’t count as steps or as activity minutes does make me wonder. I like that it draws my attention to how I am moving and whether I want to push a little harder or move differently.

I also love the fact that I can have multiple timers right on my wrist (a blessing for my busy brain.) I can set alarms, I can set a regular countdown timer, and I can use an interval timer, all with something I am already wearing.

While I am not breaking any records or getting epic amounts of movement because of my Fitbit, it does help me keep moving without adding the frustration of keeping track of things.

And even though my current daily goals are pretty modest, I love when I achieve them. And I especially like those days (like Saturday past) when I am an overachiever.

How about you? Do you own a fitness tracker/smart watch? What do you use it for? Love it or hate it? Tell us your story in the comments below.

cycling · fitness · racing · running · training

Warming up!

Everyone knows that before you make a big effort, you ought to warm up. But do we?

See Warming up for better results: “We all know that we are ‘supposed to’ warm-up. In fact, we probably all learned the importance of a warm-up during PE Class in 3rd grade. Yet, when push comes to shove, warm-up is one of the first things we cut out or cut down when workout time is limited and we’re in a rush. On the contrary, warming up is one aspect of a workout that should never be removed. No matter what your workout is, from intervals to base training, from powerlifting to table tennis, you should always have a warm-up. Warm-ups help to increase body temperature, increase heart rate, increase circulation, and increase blood flow to muscles. All of these physiological adjustments help to prevent injury and help to optimize performance.”

I confess that when I ran, I didn’t really ever warm up. That’s because when I was running 10 km, I felt like 10 km was as far as I could run. I had no extra in the tank for warm-ups. When I ran 5 km, there should have been time to warm up, but I rarely did.

Here’s a little general warm up

Luckily, as far as performance goes, it actually doesn’t make much difference for endurance events. And running, for me, was only ever about endurance.

When cycling, my best warm ups were at the velodrome where you couldn’t warm up on the track. There was too much demand for track time. Instead we warmed up on rollers in the infield. And when I was doing fast group rides outside, I counted my time riding to the start as warm up. Indeed, generally, as both a bike commuter and casual racing cyclist, I was often better warmed up than competitors because I’d ridden to the location of the race.

But when I first started riding and racing on Zwift, I wasn’t much into warming up. I’d just hope on the bike, join the event and start riding. But I discovered through trial and error that I did much better if I’d warmed up. What kind of trial and error? Well, I quit some races after getting dropped and joined others. One night I quit a team time trial (I’d done a bit and it was clearly too fast, too far to stay with the group) and joined an ITT. I won the ITT (in my category) in part because it was short and I was thoroughly warmed up.

I’ve gotten better this year at warming up before big rides and races. I’ve mostly been doing the GPLAMA Ultimate Warm Up.

Ride Report

How about you? Are you a fan of warming up?