Tuesday, July 31, 2012


When you don't have anything good to say about someone isn't best to say nothing at all?  Well, that is how I feel about July!  It's been miserably hot, and I've been busier than all get out.  (that's a little WV speak there for you).  

Hiroko and I moved to a larger place to accommodate my race medals and gear our son, who is doing his best to arrive in time for his first Halloween!  Painting and moving in NC during the month of July . . . not the best idea ever, but we did it.  And, now there is a nice blue room and a baby Jogger waiting for my boy!  

I still able to get in 90+ miles this month and several good workouts, but most of my runs were painful sweat and bonk fests that had screaming "Thundering Jehosophat, July you merciless Son Of A Beehive, go Shitake Mushroom yourself!"
or something like that.  Fatherhood is coming, and I need to start editing the language . . . a lot.  But, it looks like I may just have survived this month, so I am happy to say to July a very G rated . . . 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rule 1 of Fitness Classes: Good Instructor = Good Class

Recently, I saw a someone on twitter, saying basically that a fitness instructor should look like they are in great shape, otherwise they can't inspire people to work hard.  The comment seemed silly to me more than anything, but it did make me think about what I valued most in an instructor, which motivated me to go to a class that I hadn't attended while Friday's were my rest day. However, I moved my rest day to Monday, so I have no excuse other than not wanting to take a 5:30am class.  The class is taught by the person I think of as the best instructor at my gym, so during today's class I really paid attention to the things that I thought made her the best.

Good Fitness Instructors = Good Class is pretty much a no-brainer, but considering how many classes I have taken with instructors that were just crap for various reason, it is always refreshing when you take a class with a good instructor.  This morning I took a butt-kicking circuit and spin combination class at my gym with Holly.  I have multiple reasons why I think she is a good instructor:
  • Her classes are fun and her attitude is engaging (even at 5:30am).
  • She provides detailed instructions about the exercises, breaking it down and not only explaining how things will feel if were are doing something right or wrong, but also explaining how the exercise works if done correctly and what happens if done incorrectly.
  • She'll exercise along with us, but also stop to make sure we are doing things properly and give people individual instruction when needed.  She is almost always scanning the class making sure that people are doing things correctly.
  • Most importantly -- she is able to make you want to push yourself without pressuring you or make you feel intimidated.  This is a tightrope that most instructors struggle to deal with because either they come off overly perky and cracked-out or overbearing like the DI from Full Metal Jacket.  Holly seems to realize that the most powerful form of motivation is internal and not external.  It is hard to describe, but instead of just telling the class to push harder, she'll motivate you to chose to push harder, which to me, seems like a much more skilled approach.  And, is much more effective because I won't have her running beside me during long run telling me to keep going.
Over time, I have come to understand what I am looking for in an instructor and have gotten picky about which classes I take.  I used to take classes based upon the type of activity, but I am now much more likely to take a class based upon the instructor rather than the activity.  Here are some examples of what I think makes a bad instructor and the type of things that I want to avoid:

  1. Paying no attention to form -- Sadly, over 90% of the fitness classes I have taken have been with instructors that do not demonstrate or explain proper form to the class, nor do they correct the form of the participants. 
  2. Treating the class as your own personal workout -- Can't tell you how often I been in classes where the instructor pays no attention to the class, the level of the students, but instead is just trying to get in a "paid" workout. 
  3. Never changing up the class:  Boring.  There is one class at my gym that I have not taken in a year, but I could tell you the whole routine right now.  It NEVER changes.  Ever!
  4. Inappropriate exercises for the level of the class:  Just because your personal trainer taught you a killer exercise, doesn't mean that you should incorporated it in to the classes you teach.  I took a class with an instructor that did this and hurt people.  Her trainer was paid to evaluate her level of fitness and gave her exercises that were appropriate for her, but she mistakenly tried to do the same exercise in a group fitness class and routinely caused injuries to her students.  It is also possible to have and instructor who doesn't challenge a class as well, but that is usually a much less serious problem. 
  5.   Getting too chummy or cliquish with students: We all want to build a good feeling of community in these classes, or we would be working out on our own or with trainers.  But sometimes, a good community can become insular and begin to make people feel excluded.  Early morning workout classes and spin seem to spawn this type of thing,  Spin because of territorialism and early classes because it is usually the same small group of people, who attend consistently.   
What do you think makes a good instructor or a bad one?  I would love to hear what other people think!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Standing Desk -- Building the Active(Standing) Runner Dad

Yes.  I am one of those guys.  I've jumped on to one of the huge tends of 2012, the return of the standing desk.  As trends go, it could have been worse, I am not sporting  Bieber haircut, wearing skinny jeans, or having "cute" Zooey Deschanel chats with Siri.  Meh.

But, regarding the standing desk, I have pretty much bone all in.  I didn't jump on the Standing Desk Band Wagon on a whim either.  I put a lot of thought into it before I made the switch.  While I was teaching in Japan I spent most of my day standing.  I estimate that I spent over half of my work day standing for three years, and I enjoyed it for the most part.  I really only sat when I did private lessons and even then we would still get up when practicing conversations.  In fact, one of my most difficult class was a private lesson right after lunch that I struggled to get through because of drowsiness. 

Once, I returned to America my days of desk toil and drudgery began.  My legs started to have all kind of stiffness, my back was sore all the time, and occasionally my sciatic nerve would fire off send white hot electrical pain shooting down my leg.  At first I began to wonder if my old dog was up in dog heaven with a voodoo doll getting revenge on me for all the times he got drilled by the invisible fence.  By that time, I had already began exercising, running, and reading tons of material on healthy living.  At some point, I began to come across articles about how harmful it was to sit for hours on end, which really resonated with me.  However, making a switch to a standing desk in my old office was impractical to say the least.  But rather than ignore the issues I was having, I began to stretch, use the foam roller, and experiment with different chairs and sitting positions. 

Fortunately, I changed offices several months ago, so when I again found articles about how bad sitting was on the body.  I really started to give the standing desk some serious consideration.  I came across several articles like this one from The Art of Manliness, which made me take direct action.  On June 15th I created my own standing desk out of a small filing cabinet and my old desk.  The change to the standing desk was a big topic of conversation around my office for a few days, and it has taken me some time to work things out logistically (like finding room to sit and eat lunch), but with exception of a few days following long runs, I have had few regrets out switching to the the standing desk.  But, the changes have been pretty dramatic.  In less than a month, my back and legs have begun to feel much stronger, the pain in both have subsided dramatically, the nerve in my leg no longer fires off randomly, and I feel much more energetic.   I don't stand the entire day.  I'll sit when I while I am on the phone or when someone come in for a long conversation, and I of course I sit at lunch.  So far the only real issues have come up following some long runs when my feet felt swollen even before going to work, but overall, I think that the standing desk was a great choice for my long term health.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ignoring the Good Advice of Marsellus Wallace

With and nationwide hate wave raging across the country and high's of 105 in Raleigh, I wisely decided to stick with my running schedule.  Saturday's 5 miler in Umstead was not the most pleasant run I have ever, but it was world's better than the Epic Ass-Kicking of Sunday's 10 miler (**my use of "Epic" is Homeric rather than hipster).   By the 4 mile mark of my run, I was crushed and knew that I should have thrown in the towel and turned back.  However, I felt the sting of pride and pressed on.  Perhaps, I should have listened to wisdom of Marsellus Wallace: The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.  

  I am not one of those people that pours water on themselves, so that's all sweat.

Unfortunately, I didn't listen to my Uncle Marsellus and pressed on.  By my turnaround at the 5 mile mark, I knew that Umstead was about to get medieval on my ass.  By mile six I heard a runner running so close behind me that I though that they might bump into me so I turned to see if I need to move, but there was nobody around.  It took my a second but I realized that the sound I heard wasn't another runner, but the sloshing of my shoes which had filled with sweat.  By mile seven, my hand held water bottle  was empty and I was being mobbed by horseflies.  By the eight mile mark, I was walking more than I was running.  And just to add insult, the water stop in the park at the eight and a half mile mark of my run was shut down because it had be taken over by yellow jackets.  In addition, I was eating tons of dust that was being kicked up by all the Mountain bikers due to lack of rain. Once I finished my run I was able to ring out the sweat from my clothes, which you can see in the pictures.  Also, the sweat and dust had coated both my shoes and legs in a thick paste that was just nasty.  Next week, I plan to show just a bit more wisdom and a lot less pride when it comes to dealing with running in the heat.