Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reasons To NOT Get Into Shape

I know that I tend to focus on the positive and not let people know when things are challenging for me. Well, let me just go on the record as saying that getting into shape is one of those things. It's really hard and the results come very slowly.

In weaving, particularly with the thin threads that I use, I'm used to performing many, many minute actions and seeing very little visible result. Weight loss is just like that. I work hard and track my diet and exercise every day in the hopes that maybe in three or four days the scale will read one pound less. And maybe one day far in the future I'll be the size I want and have strength, flexibility, agility, balance, and more.

And as I do the work, I step back and watch my inner excuse maker at work. Yeah, there were some truly tough days in the beginning when my body was learning to stop living on sugar and power itself with real food. I honestly did not have the energy or presence of mind to do very much.

But the rest of the time, it's just a lifetime of bad habits that do their darnedest to prevent me from making a change. The excuses come from a seemingly unending well. I have just learned to listen to the excuse maker and then use my rational mind to create an answer. I treat it like a conversation with a surly child. Below, I've collected some of the best excuses I can remember and the answers that got me past them.

Reasons Not To Try At All

  • "Our family have always been sturdy working people. We're just not cut out to be 'show horses'." Answer: That might be true, but there's a wide range of realities between "average overweight guy" and "competition physique". Let's just go as far as we can and see what's possible. We'll never know unless we try.

  • "I've got a bad back. Enough exercise to make a difference might make it worse." Answer: The doctors say that exercise will strengthen the muscles and make it hurt less. Let's try it and see if they're right.

  • "It's going to take a ton of time to really get into shape and I'm too busy to really commit." Answer: If time really becomes an issue, we can slow down the pace. Besides, we just hired an apprentice to give a little extra time in the schedule. Maybe there really is time.

  • "What will my friends think? I don't want them to feel bad about themselves." Answer: Maybe they'll be inspired. If they are good friends, then they'll support me in making positive changes in my life.

Reasons To Skip The Next Task

  • "I'm tired right now. I can make it up later." Answer: Let's just get started. We can go slow at first and stop if we really need to.

  • "I've got a lot of weaving to do so it should take priority." Answer: Yes, the weaving is important. If Winter comes and we're too depressed to work, though, we're going to lose even more time.

  • "I could just skip a snack and balance the calories that way instead of exercising." Answer: How are you going to gain strength by eating less food? Let's just get some exercise so we can eat more!

  • "Remember the jumprope injury? What if exercise causes an injury?" Answer: We'll stretch before hiking and do our best to be super-aware of what we're doing. We'll take it all very slowly and do our best to minimize the risk of injury.

Obstacles That Require Investment

  • "It's hunting season. I could get shot by hiking through the woods." Answer: We'll get a bright orange shirt.

  • "Hiking every day is building up my legs but my upper body is just getting skinny." Answer: Let's get some barbells and use them for a gentle, prolonged upper body workout while enjoying the woods. I'll bet the results will come naturally like they have been for the legs.

  • "What if muscle gets burned instead of fat?" Answer: Let's get the tools to track body fat and lean mass and see if that's actually happening. If it does, we'll make the necessary changes at that time.

  • "We can't hike in the rain. Raincoats are steamy and we'll get wet without one. Jeans are cold and heavy when they're wet." Answer: Synthetic workout clothes. They don't repel water, but they don't soak up as much as jeans, either. They also retain heat when they're wet. By the time water soaks through, the body is all heated up from exercise. And, they'll dry in time for the next hike.

  • "What about your feet? Hiking boots take forever to dry." Answer: Running shoes. They make some that are all mesh and designed to dry quickly. They give the added benefit of cushioning so we can jog a little more without damaging the knees.

  • "Dumbbells, workout clothes, running shoes? You look like some sort of a fitness fanatic." Answer: So what? Nobody's seeing me except the trees, the animals, and maybe my friends. If I have to look like a fool to be warm and keep going, then so be it.

  • "Isn't all this investment really expensive?" Answer: Remember that stint in the Intensive Outpatient Program for Depression? THAT was expensive. And the monthly bill for medication? The insurance premium? How much will it cost if I stay addicted to sugar and develop diabetes like others in my family? I think a little fitness gear is totally reasonable if it can prevent all this other stuff. Besides, these are upfront costs that will be amortized over a lifetime of fitness.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How It FEELS To Get In Shape

When I started my new habit of fitness, I had one primary motive: to stave off winter depression. It was July and the days were just barely getting shorter but I could feel the downward shift in my energy.

Years ago I was diagnosed with depression and went through an intensive outpatient program. Part of this program was education - we learned how to recognize the early warning signs of depression and do something about it before it got debilitating.

Well, it worked, and this time I didn't have to go on drugs. I used diet and exercise instead. I have only lost half of the fat that I expect to lose and just began building muscle in the last few weeks, but I already feel at least ten years younger. I've lost 16 pounds since August. To simulate my weight when I started, I could hang two gallons of milk from my belt. By the time I'm done it will be four gallons. No wonder I had been moving slower and slower, groaning every time I stood up from a chair or (gasp) sitting on the floor. And the more muscle I build, the easier it is to move the weight that I do have. Seriously, it feels like I'm dancing around the studio as I do my work now.

The muscle-building has all happened very naturally. First my legs got stronger and more defined because I was hiking 5-10 miles in the mountains every day. Then, I started doing interval training, which was mostly focused on the core: abs, obliques, and back. And now that those are pretty sturdy I can stand up or sit up straight, even on a bench.

This is a big deal, by the way. I was born with a condition called Spina Bifida. Mine isn't that serious, but it's serious enough that I should have been building core muscles since I was a kid. For the last 10 years or so I haven't been able to sit comfortably without sturdy back support and was in pain half the time even with it. Well, that has changed with the recent development of strong core muscles. I can now sit on a bench for hours. My posture is upright and totally effortless.

So, just like building a tower, I can move on to the next step: chest and shoulders. These will need to be strong before I can devote real work to my noodly arms. I mean, how do you work out your arms if your shoulders are too weak to lift the weight?

So now, I've got more goals than just to keep depression at bay. I want to look great and feel even better!

For years I have never been willing to invest in decent clothes because "I'm about to lose some of this extra weight and they won't fit anymore." Well, I'm finally doing it and look forward to being able to invest in some of the clothes that I've wanted for years: a Utili-kilt and a vest from Phoenix Rising.

(I tried one of these vests on at the Oregon Country Fair. They are gorgeous, but let's just say that I was not pleased with the effect of drawing attention to my very large midsection.)

(And when I got sized for a Utilikilt, also at the Oregon Country Fair, I was shocked at my waistline measurement.)

So, yeah, I think vanity has crept into the mix. As a good friend of mine said when I told him about this, "Whatever it takes to maintain your discipline, go ahead and use it!"

But, vanity aside, I cannot emphasize enough just how much better I feel. I'm way more stable, balanced, flexible, and energetic. And I feel like I'm just getting started!

Friday, October 12, 2012


Today I'll keep it short and sweet. Calorie tracking combined with healthy eating and exercise really work at burning off fat. And MyNetDiary really works at providing the information necessary to take control of the whole endeavor.

Here's a chart of where I've been... See those two little plateaus with the labels? Those are periods of time when I didn't meet my goals. The first time I went to visit some friends, ate Mexican food with flour tortillas and drank bourbon. Then, seeing the results and knowing that I had another "free rein" weekend coming up, I precrastinated, losing extra weight for the week leading up to that show.

Today you'll notice a significant dip in my weight. I've stepped up the exercise while stepping down the snacks for a couple of days in preparation for a weekend of fun. I'm not going to go crazy and eat deep-fried ice cream in sugar-coated funnel cakes, but I won't be getting my exercise no matter how good I eat. And, since I'm with friends, I just might eat a meal or two that's "off the plan". It's fine. I'll be back on track before my show next weekend.

Here's another chart that I use daily to hone my fat loss. You'll notice that its getting harder to lose fat than it was in the beginning. I've had to start shorting myself by an extra 500-1000 calories a day to get the same result. Don't worry, I'm not starving myself. It's just the opposite. I'm eating more fat and protein and exercising more every day. The better shape I get in, the easier this is to do without any noticeable muscle strain at all.

And I did really screw up one day. I had to weave at full speed for 12 hours straight to have ruanas sewn in time for a show. I ate the same amount but still found myself at a significant caloric loss that night. I'll watch for that in the future!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


In my posts over the last few months, you've seen how my new goal of fitness started out. At the end of July I started tracking exercise and increasing the amount of it with the Nike FuelBand. That felt great but wasn't helping burn much fat so at the end of August I started tracking and modifying my diet with MyNetDiary. (I also went Primal, but I'll write more about that in another post.)

Next, I wanted to start getting more structured exercise so I bought a $5 jumprope and started with five minutes a day. And on the third day I found that I could do 4x 5-minute sets of jumprope exercise. And on the fourth day I could hardly walk. I had overexerted my calves by bouncing on my toes for 20 minutes. It was very painful but just muscle pain. It got me thinking, though... Just how much damage could I do by working out in unhealthy ways? How much studying will I have to do to learn healthy ways? I will not let fear and lack of knowledge become my excuse for stopping.

That was when I decided that, just like with diet, I could use some help. I read a book on exercise that doesn't use expensive or fancy equipment. This method of exercise is called "Bodyweight Workout".

Remember high school with a coach making us do push-ups, squat thrusts, and all that sort of stuff? Well, that's all that a bodyweight workout is.

There are people who will tell you that it's impossible to build muscle while losing fat. Anabolic vs. catabolic, blah, blah, blah. Well, I'm here to tell you it's bull-pucky!

Yeah, maybe it's an optical illusion when I reach out to pick something up and catch sight of my arms that are visibly larger. I mean, who am I to judge? I've just been looking at those noodly appendages that haven't really changed in, oh, twenty years... And maybe I'm imagining that it's easier to reach out and pick up the pint-and-a-half tankard that I've been drinking my water from for a year.

Anyhow, I've reached the point with my fat loss that I'm comfortable managing my diet and exercise to keep it plodding along, 2 pounds a week, until I've reached my goal. As long as I exercise and eat right, the fat just keeps melting off like a slow-motion ice cube on the counter.

But I've decided recently that I'd like to have more muscle in place when my body padding and midriff glacier melt all the way down. I'd also like more indoor exercise that I can do in the rapidly approaching rainy season.

My minor, but terrifying, jumprope injury sent me off to seek the advice of a personal trainer, sort of. Now, remember that I'm pretty broke overall. I don't have the money to hire a real live trainer of my own and if I did it would entail an hour's drive each way to see him. And, I don't think my needs are so special that I need personal attention. I'm just an average forty-something male with a bunch of extra weight, mostly around my midsection, and muscles that have been underutilized and underdeveloped for a few decades. Really, this is probably the one area of my life in which I am the most "normal".

I just needed someone to show me what exercises are available to develop different aspects of musculature and fitness. Then, I needed help designing workout routines and timing me while I did them. I just needed some guidance.

Well, being "normal" has its perks, one of which is that there are apps written that cater to my specific need. I tried a bunch of free ones and found that one stood out above the rest as being just what I needed.

It's called Workout Trainer, published by a company called Skimble. And what it does, it does very well. It's essentially a personal trainer for your iOS device.

I use it to peruse professionally-designed workouts and put them on my calendar with reminders in case I forget. When the alert pops up I click "Do The Workout" and a coach walks me through each exercise while giving tips on form and keeping track of time. Perfect!

Let me walk you through how it works...

First, I want to find a workout. There are hundreds to choose from, so it's nice to use the filtering feature to find just what I'm looking for.

Then I scroll through the list...

And for each workout, I'm presented with two options: Do Workout and Save For Later

Scrolling down past the action buttons, I can review the exercises that make up this workout. This helps me decide whether it really does what I want.

I then "Save for later" and an iCal event comes up. I choose a date and time and it's added to the calendar. I then manage my schedule from within iCal.

Since iCal is integrated into the iOS notification center, I can swipe down on my screen no matter what I'm doing throughout the day to remind myself what workouts are coming up in the next couple of days.

And then comes the reason for all of this searching and scheduling... Doing the work.

The interface is fantastic. I set my iPod near my exercise mat and hit play. A voice announces each exercise five seconds before it starts and counts down so I'm able to transition smoothly from one position to the next. This same voice coaches me on proper positioning for each exercise and offers tips and encouragement as I go.

If I don't understand the instructions, there's a video playing simultaneously. I just glance down and see what they're doing so I can match them. After doing a workout a few times, I know the exercises well enough that I don't need to look at the screen any more.

There is one aspect of this program that I am reluctant to admit having gone for... Pro status.

It's an in-app upgrade that many people can skip. And it's kind of steep at $24.99. What it gets you is real human trainers coaching you instead of a computer-generated voice. It also unlocks more higher-quality workouts.

Maybe it's just a personal preference, but I really didn't like being coached by a monotone computer voice. If you can stand it, there are still many workouts available to you in the free version.

There are many more parts to the app. I rapidly ignored "Programs" because they weren't right for me. I want to do very gentle amounts of exercise several times a day instead of larger amounts three or four times a week. And, your program is managed within the app so there is no integration with the notification center. You cannot see which workouts are coming up for you without launching the app.

I also have yet to explore creating custom workouts. Part of the reason I use this app is because I don't have the knowledge that it takes to create a well-designed workout. If you use this functionality, leave me a comment and tell me how you like it.

And finally, to add to the myth-dispelling aspect of my blog, I'm providing a link to my Skimble account. (Caution: more shirtless photos of an out-of-shape middle-aged guy.)

In a previous post I gave a link to my MyNetDiary account so you can get a bird's-eye view of how my diet and exercise regimen relates to my weight loss goals. Now I'm giving you a workout-by-workout program so that there's no mystery. Next year when I finally post some pics of myself with my new body in my new clothes, you can look back and see exactly how I did it.

Or, if you want, you can join Skimble, start doing some workouts and "friend" me there. If pacing yourself with a motivated disciplinarian would help you, then I'd be happy to help. Just don't push yourself too hard at first. Remember, I've been working up to where I am for about ten weeks already.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blue Is On The Loom!

I finally got the photos off the camera. Along with the photo I just took of the finished beam, I also found some "beauty shots" of the process.

Here is a shelf of plied cones waiting for their turn to be added to the warp. This is about 25 of the 50 different "shades" of thread that went into this cloth.

And here's a closeup of one set of threads as they get wound onto the loom. This is in the Navy-Purple section, but you can see how much denim, blue, and green are in there, too. This color mixing is one of the secrets to my cloth.

I put an "extra" 20 yards on this beam, too. See how full it's packed?

And here's the latest blue design! It goes from a deep navy with hints of purple to deep blue-green.


Mostly blue


But don't forget that I make the warps way more extreme than the final cloth will look. When the weft threads are added, they will dilute these color shifts and look like a variety of rich blues.

In a few days you'll see the sample blanket and get an idea of just how blue this cloth is.

If you'd like a piece woven from this cloth, the earlier you contact me the better. Time flies and this cloth will be woven and sold before you know it! And don't forget... Blog readers get 25% off until the end of the year.