Saturday, February 14, 2015

What is Mobility?

A poster at my gym showed a group of people with foam rollers and lacrosse balls with a caption that said something like, "Do you ever wonder what these are for?"

The answer is yes.  Yes I did.

I see a lot of people using these things in the weight room.  Frak foam rolls before she starts lifting, and she sometimes uses a lacrosse ball when her hip is giving her trouble.  Nevertheless, I did not really understand what these items are supposed to accomplish.  The one time I ever tried foam rolling was in December 2013 when I hurt my back dead lifting and it made me feel a thousand times worse, so I never tried it again.

But lately, I've been thinking if all these good lifters are doing it, maybe there's a reason.  I wasn't able to find much research on the benefits of foam rolling, though.  This article cites two studies with sample sizes of 11 and 40 respectively.  Nevertheless, the class advertised on the poster at my gym was taught by a physical therapist so I figured she must know what she's doing.  So I went.  Frak came with me, and a couple of the other ladies who are regulars in the weight room were there, too.

The thirty-minute class was called mobility essentials.  We spent the first half of the class doing dynamic stretching, which makes sense since you aren't supposed to do static stretching when you're not warmed up.  It was quite similar to our roller derby warmup, actually.  Then we spent the second half of class foam rolling all our major muscle groups.  I discovered that when your back isn't injured, foam rolling feels pretty good.  Kind of like a nice massage that you can give to yourself.

What I gathered from the class and from what I've read and heard is that mobility work like stretching and foam rolling improves flexibility and range of motion and reduces soreness.  As for the foam rolling, I figure, why not do it even if there's not much research?  I mean, we all went about our static stretching in blissful ignorance until a few years ago when science taught us otherwise.  If it doesn't help, probably it won't hurt.  Especially since I have noticed that I've become less flexible overall since I started lifting, and I have never felt that my hips were as flexible as they should be for derby.  Plus, if it feels good, why not do it, right?  (Although that is how I got into trouble eating cupcakes, but that is another issue.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

January Review and February Goals

I hit all my fitness goals the first week of January, and then I promptly got sick for two weeks.  Also, we are in the depths of winter, and all I want to do is lie on the couch until spring.  Here's how I did on my goals:
  • Skate three times a week.  I met this goal one week in January.
  • Lift 2-3 times a week (following my program).  I met this two of four weeks.
  • Do one extra cardio workout a week.  I met this goal only in the first week.
Sigh.  On the bright side, I'm over my cold, cherry blossom season is only two months away, and February is an excellent time to get back on track.

Here are my February goals:
  • Miss no more than 2 roller derby practices in February.  I've planned it out, and there are two I can't make, but I will be at all the rest, skating 2-3 times per week depending on our practice schedule.
  • Lift 2-3 times a week according to my program.
  • Do one extra cardio workout a week, even if it's only high intensity intervals on the treadmill after lifting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Not Making the Travel Team

I started the December derby break the way I start every derby break.  Exhausted.  I had two dates fixed in my mind: January 5, the end of league break, and January 12, travel team tryouts.  The thought of picking back up in January, adding back the intensity of travel team, and pushing through at least nine months without another break filled me with dread.

Somewhere in the second week of break, I woke up and had an epiphany:  I don’t have to do any of this.  It occurred to me that I didn’t have to try out for travel team.  If the home team season was already making me exhausted, why not just stop there?  Why add all the extra time and money and exhaustion of travel team into the mix?

For the first time in weeks, the feeling of dread subsided, replaced by feelings of freedom and self-determination.  Nevertheless, I knew this was not a decision to be taken likely.  I also knew it was not a decision to be made logically.  There would be no pro/con list.  Not that I couldn’t recite all the pros and cons without writing them down.  On the plus side: More practice time, greater improvement at a faster rate, opportunities to travel the nation playing roller derby with awesome people.  On the minus side:  All the books I wouldn’t have time to read, no social life, no free time, never enough sleep, no money to spend on anything else except plane tickets and hotel rooms, physical and mental exhaustion.

I told a few people, none of them skaters, I was thinking of not trying out, just to hear how it would sound coming out of my mouth and to test how it felt to say it.  It felt scary, and I quickly followed it up by saying, “But I need to think about it a lot more.”  One of my friends said, simply, “Your heart will tell you what to do.”  I believed this to be true.  It’s the reason no pro/con list could suffice.  I knew if my heart wasn’t in it for the long haul, there was no point in trying out.  Without heart, I wouldn’t make it through the season whether I made the team or not.  A resolute heart, on the other hand, is exactly what I would need to overcome all the items on the con side of the list.

I decided to stop thinking about it for awhile.  I had time to make up my mind.  I decided just to enjoy the rest of my break and see how I felt at the end.

And then, on the last day of 2014, I went to spin class.  The last song of the class was “Pompeii,” which is a song that means a lot to me.  Pompeii is a fascinating place.  It’s a place I visited on my honeymoon, and injured myself, and even wrote a poem about after my marriage ended.  Beyond all those associations, it’s a song that played frequently in Dual Hitizen’s car on the way to and from travel team practices and games last spring.  In particular, I remember one day in April, traveling to a bout in Virginia.  Dual was driving.  Frightmare was in the passenger seat.  By this time, both of them had announced plans to move to the west coast.  It was a warm, sunny day.  The car windows were open, and the mood was light and relaxed.  I thought about how things wouldn’t be the same when they left, and how lucky I was to have had the chance to play with them, and how lucky we all were to be on our way to play roller derby on a Saturday afternoon in April in the DC suburbs.

So the song came on in spin class, and all those associations and feelings flooded my brain and my tired body as I pushed through the last sprints of the last day of 2014.  How it felt to leave a marriage in hopes of pursuing extraordinary adventures.  How it felt to be in the car that day with Dual and Fright in the middle of one of those extraordinary adventures.

And I knew.  My heart said very clearly as I tried not to cry in the middle of spin class, how could you give that up?

The extraordinary is so elusive.  I decided to try out.

Then I got sick a few days before the tryout.  I spent the day before tryouts sitting on the couch feeling miserable and trying to mentally prepare myself to skate through my misery the next day.  On the morning of tryouts I still felt awful, and I realized even if I could power through the tryout, I shouldn’t go infect everyone else with my germs.  I requested to be assessed based on past performance instead.

Today I learned I didn’t make the team.  So after all that angst, the decision was made for me.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about not making it.  Part of me, the part that was feeling all that dread before, feels relieved.  But the part of me that teared up in spin class is sad.  Then there’s the weirdness of not actually getting to try out.  I don’t know if the outcome would have been any different, but I really wish I would have had the opportunity to try out alongside everyone else.

Still, the fact that I do feel a little bit relieved is probably a signal that it’s for the best.  There are so many people who want those spots, and they should probably go to people who aren’t so ambivalent about wanting them.  Maybe a break will make me want it more again.  I certainly won’t stop trying to improve.  I’ll wait for the formal feedback from the tryout assessors, and I’ll work on the things they say I need to work on.  Just like always.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

December Review and January Goals

I didn’t set any goals for December.  I had my power lifting competition and a bout to focus on, and then I needed to rest after that.   In the last couple weeks of the month, I resumed my lifting program and also focused on getting some cardio in, which led me to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and spin classes.  I’m pretty excited about the spin classes.  I think there is great potential to work that into my fitness routine and improve my endurance.  The HIIT was cool, too, but I think I liked spin better, and I can do it right at the gym I already belong to, Balance Gym.  

For January, it’s back to basics.  My goals are:
  • Skate three times a week.
  • Follow my lifting program (2-3 days per week).
  • Do one extra cardio workout per week.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review: ClassPass

My free month of ClassPass is at an end.  Here's what I thought of it:

Pricing.  ClassPass costs $99 per month.  This is $40 more than I pay for my monthly gym membership.  However, when you consider that the cost of a drop-in class at a lot of the smaller, boutique studios in the ClassPass network can run as high as $20-$25, the pass would pay for itself if you took four or five classes a month and would be more of a bargain the more classes you took.  If you don't care about lifting weights, which is the only reason I absolutely need my gym membership, this could be a reasonable alternative.  For me, given the demands of derby and lifting, I don't think I will consistently take enough classes to make it worthwhile.  I'd be better off taking classes at the gym I already pay for or getting a drop-in pass somewhere once in awhile when I want to mix things up.

Novelty.  ClassPass is good for people who like novelty.  While you can take an unlimited number of classes per month, you can't take more than three at the same studio.  While I did enjoy trying several new classes and studios over the course of the month, I don't thrive on novelty.  Even though I'm a bit more comfortable with fitness classes now, I still have to psyche myself up to try something new.  Also, the intensity of my workouts improves after I've got a class or two under my belt.  This was true of the two spin classes I took (one at Biker Barre and one at Off Road Indoor Cycling) and also true of the high intensity interval training workout at Elevate Interval Fitness, which I also did twice.  This is not to say that some variety in workouts isn't important.  As Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said, "The muscles like to be surprised."  For me, though, consistency trumps variety.  (Plus, between skating and lifting and other cross training, that's plenty of variety.)

Commitment.  ClassPass follows a monthly membership cycle, which means you don't have to buy an annual membership like you do at many gyms.  People like me who fear commitment will find this a compelling feature.

Incentives.  If you miss a class that you have signed up for, you have to pay $20.  I'm not gonna lie, that got me to a couple of classes when I would rather have stayed in bed.

Convenience.  It is quick and easy to reserve classes online.  You can search by type of class or by neighborhood or just browse the full list of classes available on any given day or time.  Sometimes classes fill up if you wait until the last minute, so it's better to plan a few days in advance if you can.

The bottom line for me is that ClassPass doesn't work with my roller derby and lifting schedules, but I think it could be a great option for a lot of people.  I could also see giving it another shot myself someday if my fitness goals change.  I'm really glad I had the opportunity to try it free for a month, and it was a great experience to try some new classes and see what it's like to work out at some of DC's boutique fitness studios.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Seven years ago last night was the night everything changed.  I remember it as both my lowest point and my most triumphant moment of hope, although at the time I wouldn’t have recognized it as either of those things.  December 31st, 2007.  It is increasingly strange to think about how different the life I live now is from the one I lived then.  It has been long enough that I have started to forget what it felt like to be me back then.  But I hope I never forget completely.  I need the memory of that other version of me, that other life, to motivate and inspire me to take risks, to be more vulnerable, to face all of my feelings, and to test the limits of my resolve and resilience.

Last night I sat down to write my end of year post and found myself complaining about how tired I was, and how I had a few challenges in 2014.  I went to sleep without posting it, and the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning was December 31st 2007.  When I think about 2007 and the difficult couple of years leading up to it, there is no comparison.  I can’t complain about 2014. 

Here are some milestone from 2014:
  • I bought my apartment.
  • I made the roller derby travel team.
  • I got my heart broken by an oyster farmer.
  • I turned 40.
  • I competed in my first power lifting competition.
  • I took some new fitness classes (yoga, HIIT and spin) and started to conquer my fear of these types of classes.

Here's how I did on my goals for the year:

Stop saying I’m the worst skater on my team.  I did, in fact, stop saying this, except I may have said it once or twice after I made it onto the travel team.  But really only once or twice.  I was very conscious of not saying this all year, and that feels like a major victory for positive self-talk.  Yay!

Set a quarterly attendance goal for derby.  I struggled with attendance all year, mainly because it was difficult to balance league practices, travel team practices, cross training (by which I mean lifting because, let’s face it, I only ran a handful of times all year), derby work and my actual job.  It was really hard.  I actually ended up looking at my attendance on a weekly basis and trying my best to juggle the week’s priorities. 

Compete in my first power lifting meet.  Done!

Squat and dead lift 200 pounds.  Done!

Do one unassisted chinup.  This, I did not do.  Faithful readers know I struggled with the chinup these last few months.  And by struggled, I mean gave up.  Yesterday I realized I don’t care if I ever do an unassisted chinup.  Which is not to say I don’t need to do chinups to help strengthen my arms and back for power lifting.  So I’m going to stop focusing so much on something that may not happen for a long time, although I do believe it will happen eventually, and instead I’m going to focus on doing something that’s important for my overall lifting goals.

2015 Goals

I’m not setting any major goals for 2015.  When I think about what it will take to keep growing athletically, it seems to me that staying the course is the most important thing right now.  Derby-wise, it’s a matter of continuing to dig deep and find the motivation to keep going even when I’m tired and it’s hard to juggle everything.  Lifting-wise, I’ve been lifting consistently for sixteen months, which is pretty amazing to me given how much I used to dislike the weight room, and I’ve made good gains just by showing up and following my program.  

So basically, what it comes down to this year is showing up.  You don’t improve if you don’t show up.  In 2014, I worked out 191 out of 365 days.  This averages out, more or less, to every other day.  Given that I had a month of not doing much because of my sprained wrist, and vacation time in Maine—I didn’t log my hikes so didn’t include them in the count—this seems pretty good.  But maybe I could aim a little higher in 2015.  250 workouts would be every two out of three days.  So maybe I could manage that.

Number-wise, it’s hard for me to set lifting goals for the year because I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep making gains at the rate I have been.  Frak tells me that once you get to a certain point, progress slows down considerably.  So I’m just going to throw out a couple numbers here:  I’d like to get to 250 on my squat and 300 on dead lift.  Given that my PRs now (from the competition) are 209 and 248, I feel like these could be within my reach. 

So…2015.  The year of showing up.  It doesn’t sound very sexy, does it?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Adventures with ClassPass: Off Road Indoor Cycling

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.

Additional Disclaimer: Off Road Indoor Cycling sponsors the DC Rollergirls.  So I might be a little biased.

Today I tried another spin class, this time at Off Road Indoor Cycling.  Off Road is a sunny, two-story studio on U Street that offers yoga, boxing, TRX and kettlebell classes in addition to spin.  It's a bright, clean, sunny, no-frills space.   The spin studio has a smattering of colored lights and a large projection screen showing videos to accompany the music.  The videos were a nice touch.  At first I thought they weren't really going to do much for me, but I did find myself looking at them a few times and it gave me something to think about besides how tired I was.

Our instructor Tammar pulled the shades,  but it was much brighter than the completely dark class I took at Biker Barre.  Although I did enjoy exercising in the dark, as previously noted, it was fine in daylight, too.  For one thing, I could look around the room and see that everyone else was sweaty and tired, too.  I always have this thought in my mind that everyone else is sailing through their workout and I am the only sweaty, miserable person.  I know this is ridiculous, but it's just there.  I can't help it.  So looking around and seeing other people working hard, and even lowering the resistance on their bikes from time to time, made me feel better.

With one spin class already under my belt, I felt I could push myself harder in this class.  Tammar did a couple things that helped me understand how to pace myself better.  First, she described a ten-point effort scale that helped me understand how I should feel at different points of the workout.  For instance, three is an easy flat road with a little resistance.  Seven is challenging but sustainable.  Eight and nine are challenging and not sustainable for very long.  Ten is as hard as you can go.

The other thing that helped was to focus on RPMs.  I don't recall that the bike in my last class had a RPM counter, but in this class, Tammar would tell us how many RPMs we should be doing.  What I realized from this is that just like in running, you don't just go as fast as possible at all times.  It's like when I did the track workout with Nellie and realized that your sprint pace is relative depending on how tired you are.  In spin, resistance is another variable to consider.  So I focused on using the ten-point scale to keep the resistance where I thought it should be, and then I focused on keeping my RPMs where Tammar said they should be.  I think this really helped me follow the pacing of the workout and to challenge myself more without killing myself.

The bike also had a clock so you could see how long you had been going.  At a few points, when I was really tired, I thought the class was never going to end.  But Tammar was also really good about telling us what was coming next.  So for instance, when the clock on the bike showed about fifteen minutes left, and I thought that felt like forever, she told us it was two more songs, and she told us exactly what we would do in those two songs, and knowing what was coming helped me convince myself that I could do it.  For instance, the last song had two sprints at level ten.  It's only two sprints, I told myself, and then I'll be done.  I can do that.

I give Off Road Indoor Cycling five stars.  I really enjoyed the class, I got a great workout, and I got to give a DCRG sponsor some love, too.  The only drawback is that the studio is not very close to home.  So it takes some commitment to get there, although it's a bit closer to my office.