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.

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