Friday, December 19, 2014

Adventures with ClassPass: Elevate Interval Fitness

Note: ClassPass is an alternative to gym membership that allows you to take classes at a variety of boutique fitness studios in the ClassPass network for a monthly membership fee.  I received a free one-month membership from ClassPass and will be blogging about the classes I take.

Tonight's class was High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) at Elevate Interval Fitness, where I was joined by four of my roller derby league-mates.  HIIT, you may recall, involves short, intense periods of cardio broken up by short rest periods.  It is an effective way to build endurance in a short amount of time, and it's well-suited to roller derby, which is all about short bursts of intense activity.

Elevate Interval Fitness's selling point is data, and you know I like data.  Everyone wears a heart monitor, and during the workout, everyone's heart rate is displayed on a large screen and color-coded: red for 90% of maximum heart rate or more, yellow for 80-89%, etc.  I was super excited about this and kept watching to see what my heart rate was doing.  The only problem was that our instructor didn't tell us what the ranges meant or if we were supposed to be aiming for a specific range at different points during the workout.  

At the end of the class, you get an email with some graphs of the data from your workout.  My graph showed that I spent 15% of the workout in the red zone, 54% in the yellow zone, 17% in the green zone (70-79%) and 14% below 70%.  The latter would be the rest breaks, plus setup and transition time, I guess.

After the class was over, I went back to the blog post I had written about the interval running workout I used to do with my teammate Nellie, who explained that in order to maximize the benefits of the training, you should be just under 90% of your maximum heart rate.  So if the same principle applies, then I guess I would want to be in the yellow zone as much as possible.  Of course, I'm not an expert here.  I wish the instructor had explained more about how to use the data to optimize training.

At any rate, it was a fun workout.  We did a variety of circuits, beginning with some boot camp style stuff--body weight exercises, kettlebells and light weights for high reps.  Then we did some rowing intervals with more light weights in between intervals, and some running with squats in between.

The instructor, David Magida, was friendly, yelled out a lot of encouragement, and kept everyone transitioning smoothly and efficiently between the different activities.  The equipment was nice, and the music and lighting were good.  There was a guy in the lobby passing out pre and post workout smoothie samples.  And it was fun and motivating to have my league-mates there, too.  

I give Elevate Interval Fitness three stars for a good solid workout in a nice facility.  Better data optimization would really set them apart from other similar types of classes at other studios and would get them another star or two in my book.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Adventures with ClassPass: Yoga for Athletes

Note: ClassPass is an alternative to gym membership that allows you to take classes at a variety of boutique fitness studios in the ClassPass network for a monthly membership fee.  I received a free one-month membership from ClassPass and will be blogging about the classes I take.

I took exactly one yoga class more than a decade ago when I was in terrible shape.  I thought it would help me relax, but it turned out to be incredibly stressful, mostly because I was unprepared for how physically challenging it would be.  So I brought that baggage to my Yoga for Athletes class at River's Edge Yoga in Alexandria tonight.

I also brought some baggage about the word "athlete."  The course description said the class was "geared to the runner, cyclist, triathlete or others involved in the sporting life," and I chose this class because I thought it would be a nice way to recover from last weekend's power lifting and roller derby extravaganza.  Even so, tonight as I made my way to Alexandria I had a picture in my mind of all the lithe triathletes who would probably be in the class, and I began to worry that somehow I might not be enough of an athlete.  Yes, I know this is crazy.  My brain was well aware of the absurdity of this thought, especially given the weekend's activities.  But those thought patterns of inadequacy run deep.  What can I say?

Lastly, I brought my fear of the unknown.  I rarely try fitness classes because everything about them scares me.  You have to go into a roomful of strangers and perform.  You don't know ahead of time what you'll be asked to do or how hard it will be.  You might be the only new person who doesn't know what is going on.  It's a hundred different kinds of stressful.  To get myself through the door tonight, I thought about my experience at the gym, and how mysterious and scary and intimidating it seemed to me in the beginning, and how I learned that nobody was even paying attention to me because they were all too busy worrying about their own workouts.  I told myself if I could overcome my fear of the weight room, I could definitely overcome my fear of yoga class.

It turns out, I picked a great class in which to put some of that baggage to rest.  There were only two other people there, which made it less intimidating somehow, and the instructor, Margaret, was really nice.  She made me feel welcome right away, gave me gentle direction when I needed help, and just the right amount of positive reinforcement when I did something right.  

Yoga is hard.  It requires strength, balance, flexibility and patience.  The class I took tonight would have been really hard for me before I started doing derby.  It would have been near-impossible when I was out of shape.  It was challenging but not insurmountable this evening.  Some of the poses were quite hard, and I was definitely sweating more than anticipated.  There were also some parts of it I found boring, the repetition.  And some parts were uncomfortable--my hands were sweaty and kept slipping on the mat, and it kinda hurt when I had to be on my knees for some of the poses.  And of course the breathing--you're supposed to pay attention to your breath in yoga, but it is hard to do that when you are concentrating so hard on not falling over.  On the plus side, though, I picked up a couple of new moves to open the hips, which is important for derby, and some of the more challenging poses were fun to try even if I wasn't very good at them.  And I didn't embarrass myself, which is always a victory.

On ClassPass, you get to rate the classes using a five-star scale.  I give Yoga for Athletes four stars for a great instructor, welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, and overall enjoyability.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

This is Your Brain on Bout Day

Playing in a roller derby bout the day after a power lifting competition is not ideal.  It's even less ideal when your team is not skating with a full roster.  Going into this bout with only nine of our fourteen skaters, we all knew it was going to be rough.  Our Co-Captain, Styx, told us, "Your brain will tell you to take a break before your body does.  If your brain is telling you you're tired, push through it.  Every time you take a break before your body really needs it is one more jam your teammate has to skate without a break."

I thought a lot about that on bout day.  I also thought about the promise I had made to our other Co-Captain, Stabby, when I told her I was doing the power lifting competition, that I wouldn't push myself so hard that I wouldn't have any energy left for the bout.  On Saturday morning, I reminded myself that my legs are the strongest part of my body.  I knew that even if they were tired from lifting, they were strong enough to get me through the bout.  In fact, that is what all the lifting was for in the first place, to make me stronger for derby.  This bout day would be the payoff for all that training.

Fifteen long minutes into the first half, I decided I'd better stop looking at the clock to see how much time was left.  Instead, I told myself to just take one jam at a time.  Two minute intervals, at most.  I told myself, you can do anything for two minutes.  And I did, over and over.  Sometimes two or three jams in a row without a break.  Because if I didn't do it, someone else would have to.

I have never been so tired.

I have never been so tired and kept going.

And before every split second decision to chase the jammer out of the pack, the morning's thoughts, This is what you trained to do, and You promised Stabby flashed through my mind.

Strangely enough, I felt like I played a really good game.  Maybe my best one ever.  My teammates voted me Most Valuable Blocker, and I even jammed for the first time in a DC Rollergirls bout and scored points.  And my team played well, too.  We lost the bout, but not for lack of trying.  I may have made my own promise to Stabby, but it turns out we all had made unspoken promises to each other.  To stay calm when the point spread began to widen.  To give more than we thought we could give, and to keep pushing through fatigue and pain until the very end.

For my part, it made me think about how much more we all can do than we think we can.  Just like Styx said, when you stop listening to your brain and trust your body to take you further than you thought you could go, amazing things will happen.  If my teammates and I could play our best game on the least ideal day, imagine what we could do on a better day.  I'm going to remember that next time bout day rolls around.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My First Power Lifting Meet

The absurdity of what I was about to do hit me as I was walking to the metro this morning.  I imagined myself standing up in front of a room full of people wearing a singlet and lifting a barbell like some sort of old-time circus performer, and it made me giggle.  I always wanted to run away and join the circus.

The giggling gave way to nerves as I went through my warmups and got ready for the first lift, squat.  Squat is the scariest event because when you walk out you are face to face with the entire audience.  Getting ready for that first lift, it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time I felt so nervous about playing a sport.  The thing about power lifting is that you're all alone out there on the platform.  It's not like derby, where if you make a mistake or have an off day your teammates help pick up the slack.  It's all you.  And that's both scary and exhilarating.

Frak and I had made a plan.  Well, she made the plan and I just wrote it down.  In power lifting, you get three attempts at each lift.  So we picked weights for my first attempts that we knew I could do without any trouble, to ensure that I would "get numbers on the board" as they say.  Then we picked second attempts that were small personal records but still well within reach.  Lastly, we picked two different final attempts, a conservative attempt and a more ambitious attempt.  The idea was that we'd see how my second lift went, and depending how hard it felt decide whether or not to go for the conservative or ambitious finale.

I made my first and second squat attempts, 198 and 209.  I decided to go for the ambitious third lift, 220 and failed.

Here's my 209 squat:

And here's my 220 fail:

I'm glad I remembered to ask Frak ahead of time how to fail with spotters.  Unlike at my gym, where you go down and let the safety bars catch the weight, with spotters you are supposed to stay with the bar.  As you can see in the video, once they took hold of the bar, I stood back up with their assistance.     Not scary at all.

I made all three of my bench press attempts, and I was super excited to hit triple digits for the first time ever.  I again went for the ambitious third attempt and got 104.5 pounds.

Lastly, was dead lift.  I had been thinking about dead lift all week because I was opening with my existing PR, 225, which I had done last week in the gym for three reps, and the goal for my third attempt was an ambitious 23-pound PR of 248.  I really wanted to get that PR, and I did!  It was a great way to end the competition.

I had two goals for the competition:  I wanted to get at least 550 pounds across the three lifts, and I didn't want to miss any commands.  (In power lifting, the judge gives commands for each lift, and if you miss a command, the lift doesn't count.  It totally sucks to do the lift and then not have it count because you moved your foot at the end before the judge gave you the "rack" command.)  My final total was 561, and I didn't miss a single command, which is really good for a rookie.  Plus, I got a PR in each of three lifts.  I'm really proud of how I did, and it was such a fun and positive experience.

I'm also really grateful to Frak.  There is no way I could have made it through this competition without her.  I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience, and all I had to do was basically follow her around and do what she told me.  I can't imagine trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing all by myself if she hadn't been there.  The fact that she would coach me, after competing herself only a couple hours earlier (and finishing second in her weight class like the badass she is), is really amazing to me.  Because all I wanted to do after I finished lifting was eat and sleep.  That's her you can hear in every video clip, cheering me on.

You can also hear another voice or two cheering for me in the background, and those are people from my gym, Balance Gym.  I think there are about 14 people from my gym competing in power lifting and Olympic lifting at the competition this weekend, and about half of us are women.  Although I am the weakest of the lot, everyone has been very friendly and supportive, and I find it super inspiring to spend time in the weight room surrounded by all these strong, dedicated people.

Speaking of eating and sleeping, I think it might be time for me to pursue the latter.  I've got a roller derby bout to skate in tomorrow.  So much for running away with the circus.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Charity Spotlight: Girls on the Run

This season, the DC Rollergirls have chosen Girls on the Run as our charitable partner.  Girls on the Run is a nonprofit organization that empowers girls in grades 3-8 through an experiential life skills curriculum that incorporates running.  Twice a year, the girls in the DC program complete a 5K run in Anacostia Park.

This morning, I had the opportunity to volunteer, along with many of my league-mates, at the Girls on the Run 5K.  I was a safety runner, which meant I got to run along with the girls, looking out to make sure nobody had gotten separated from her running buddy.  (Each girl runs with an adult buddy, a family member or volunteer coach.)

It was pretty amazing.  When I think about all that I've gotten out of running--improved fitness but even more importantly, mental toughness, I think it is amazing for these girls to have the opportunity to experience that at a young age.

If you're a runner, I encourage you to think about giving Girls on the Run some of your time.  You can find out about volunteer opportunities here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Singlet Strife

The number one source of stress about my power lifting meet next Friday is the singlet.  Power lifting competition rules require that all lifters wear a singlet with a t-shirt underneath.  I didn't find this out until after I had signed up for the competition, and when I did I was appalled.  I cannot think of a single item of clothing that would be less flattering on an apple-shaped lady such as myself.  Great.

My teammate Frak gave me a singlet she had bought that was the wrong size for her.  It fit me, and I was excited to get it for free since this is my first competition and I did not want to invest money in a nice one until I decide for sure I want to do this more than once.  Nevertheless, I covet her custom-made singlet which is made of a nice, pretty, stretchy material from DerbySkinz.  If you have to wear a singlet, it's nicer if it is sparkly and moves with you.

Anyway, today was my last heavy lifting day before the competition.  Frak and I lifted together, and she helped me decide what my opening weights should be for all my lifts on Friday.  We both wore our singlets to get used to them.

I arrived at the gym before Frak and put on my singlet.  I have to tell you, it took a lot of bravery to walk into the weight room wearing that thing.  All the squat racks were taken, so I sat on a bench for ten minutes or so waiting for a rack and feeling uncomfortable.  Although some of the other lifters competing next week were there, too, nobody else was wearing a singlet, although a couple more people showed up in them later.

But after Frak got there and we got started lifting, I felt more comfortable.  Although the singlet is not very stretchy, it felt fine for all my lifts.  And as the morning went on, and people started talking about the competition, and cheering each other on, I realized that nobody cared how I looked except me.  In fact, the singlet singled me out as one of the competitors, and I ended up meeting a lot of the people I see in the gym regularly but don't have a reason to talk with.  They were much more interested in how my lifts looked than how I did.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm still not excited about wearing the singlet, but like so many other challenges in life, I know it is a problem that is mostly in my head.

Here's a video of me dead lifting in the singlet.  This is 225 pounds.

Monday, December 1, 2014

November Review, December Goals

Here's how I did in November:

Attend all seven practices leading up to our first bout on November 22nd.  I made it to six of seven practices.  I can't remember why I missed the one I missed.

Follow my weekly lifting program.  I met this goal three of four weeks.  One week I missed my assistance day.  I continue to make good progress with lifting.  I met my goal of squatting 200 pounds last week (for three reps), and today I did 205 for two reps, failing the third rep.  I also did 225 today on dead lift for two reps.  Even though I failed the third rep, it's still progress.  I am struggling a bit more with my bench press, but I'll keep working on it.

Chinups three times per week.  I didn't meet this goal a single week.  But, now that I've hit my squat goal, I am declaring 2015 the Year of the Chinup.  It also occurs to me that doing chinups will probably help my bench press, so that will be a good incentive.

Follow my new eating plan.  I did ok on this.  I didn't track it super-strictly, but on the whole, I think I did fairly well until Thanksgiving.  I weighed myself twice this month.  Around mid-month, I had lost three pounds and weighed in at 157.  Today, after Thanksgiving and before my period, I am back at 160.  As long as I can make weight for the competition in two weeks, I am ok with that.

December is going to be a weird month.  I have my power lifting competition on the 12th and then a roller derby bout on the 13th.  Between now and then, my only goals are to go to practice and stick to my lifting program.  After that, I'll be on a break from derby until the first of the year.  I figure I'll need a few days of recovery, and then I hope to focus a bit more on cardio during the derby break.  I'm going to play it by ear this month and not set any specific goals until the first of the year.