Sunday, July 31, 2011

Camping: The Reckoning

It seemed like any other day when I woke up, but that illusion ended quickly. I can't say why I chose to turn on the news that morning, since I rarely care to hear which celebrity had a baby and named it "That-sound-a-cat-makes-right-before-it-coughs-up-a-hairball RainbowSparkles" or some nonsense. I'm glad I did, though. If I hadn't, it would've been too late for me. apparently, some lab in south Denver had been working on splicing the genes of wolverines with hamsters or they were irradiating marmots or something. The news anchor wasn't especially specific and as soon as I saw those murderous, beady eyes, I knew it didn't matter what they were, I just needed to get away.

(Artist's Rendering)

We have our BOBs about 95% ready to go and threw in the last few things we thought we'd need to make it in the woods while this whole situation blew over. We coordinated with a few other friends to meet up and ride it out together. Just because you're running for your life doesn't mean you can't have a little fun, right? Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to get everything ready to take pictures until we'd already gotten to our agreed-upon meetup spot. It's in a nice little valley outside of Nederland, CO where there's plenty of firewood and a great water source.

Spirits are still high as we hike into the woods. We haven't seen any frothing rodents all day, so we're hoping they're confined to the urban areas. I will admit I put about five 10mm hollowpoints into a justifiably indignant red squirrel when we first got out of the city. Dude took it like a man and went about his business. Note to self: do not underestimate the squirrels.

We found a good spot and set up camp. My wife helped get our tent in order. A double-thick tarp underneath probably wouldn't actually slow down any rabid voles trying to burrow up into our bodies while we slept, but it made us feel better.

After camp was set up, we decided to hike out a ways and explore the surrounding areas. It turns out they're very pretty. Mission accomplished.

We returned to camp and got a small fire going. Even though it was warm out, the crackling flames were comforting. Also, we were getting pretty hungry. Granola bars and jerky are great trail food, but our tummies required a little more.

Thankfully, I always keep a pack of hot dogs in my wallet for emergencies. My wife complains on laundry day, but I think this proves that it's worth the inconvenience.

Now that our immediate needs were met, we wanted to lay in some larger pieces of firewood to get us through the night.

The hand-powered chainsaw is a handy tool when used by one, but when a whole team gets going with it, it is truly a thing a of beauty. We broke this 4" diameter tree into manageable chunks in no time, and had more than enough wood to keep us comfortable for a good long while.

We were now feeling a little better about ourselves, with hot food in our bellies, a rushing creek nearby and plenty of wood to keep the fire roaring. We had depleted our drinking water pretty quickly, so we took the filter down to the water and refilled everything. Water tastes a little strange without the chlorine and fluoride and unobtanium our municipal services pump into it, but it was cool and wet.

We hadn't seen any more skittering vermin since our arrival, and our terror had started to wane. Maybe we'd overestimated the efficacy of an unholy army of gerbils? Unlikely. Maybe they were simply content to build their empire in the city before they decided to chase the clumsy, oversized primates into the wilderness? Possible. We had no way of knowing. All we could do was to hunker down and hope for the best. We spent the evening around the campfire, telling stories of loves lost and singing sea chanties. We also pulled out some of our Mountain House meals and enjoyed the second hot meal of the day. The fire was going well, but we'd also brought a homemade alcohol stove we'd been wanting to try out.

You can't tell, but it's going like gangbusters. It boiled enough water for a 2-serving entree of beef stroganoff in just a few minutes with less than an ounce of fuel.

If you put on your LSD-o-Vision, the flames are suddenly clear and the roaches are UNDER YOUR SKIN GETTHEMOUT GETTHEMOUT! Thankfully, that whole episode passed pretty quickly. Suffice it to say, the stove worked fantastically and I should be more judicious with my toad-licking.

The night passed without incident. We were pretty worried, because I think rodents are nocturnal, but nothing really happened. I got a little turned around in the middle of the night and ended up peeing on Werespaz' bivvy sack, but he was very understanding.

So sorry, dude.

We woke up and got everything packed up to move out to a new site deeper into the woods. Thankfully, we ran into another survivor who informed us that the rodent outbreak had been contained and that we were free to return to our homes. He also mentioned something about not mixing medications, but I was too full of joy to pay that much attention. Once again, humanity has triumphed over the hordes of the furry scourge.

Celebrating the continued position of humanity at the top of the food chain.

We got home and got re-settled into our lives as best we could. Turns out that the program I had thought was the local news was actually a SyFy original movie called "Wombat: The Reckoning". Honest mistake.

Total time bugged out: 24 hours
Participants: Septimus39, Victory, Werespaz, Jordan (Non-ZS), Liz (Non-ZS)
Lessons Learned: Better safe than sorry when it comes to bugging out.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun After Action Report

This is a repost here of something I wrote for another venue. It's just a big chunk of writing and I didn't want it to go to waste. So here you go. You may find it entirely dull, but maybe someone will get something out of it? I have no idea.

Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
5/23-26/2011 - Pahrump, NV

I took a lot of notes on this course. I have one of those tiny composition books I tend to keep in my back pocket for classes like this and I think I ended up getting about 60 pages worth of notes. Granted, I write big, but still. There was a heck of a lot of information. I’m going to try my best to condense it down as best I can.

On the first day (Monday) we had to arrive by 6:30 to get our guns inspected. It sucks to have to get there so early, but I think it’s a really smart move on their part. They have however many hundreds of people there, and if you don’t check, you may end up having some serious (and easily preventable) injuries. So we do that. We get assigned to a range, and then sort of mill about for a while before going into the classroom. The classroom is actually a big lecture hall. We listen to a presentation by a few of the head instructors that covers safety and the Front Sight training philosophy in a few parts. It’s interesting info, but not necessary for this AAR. if you’re curious, I’d be happy to tell you about it.

Next we went to our range, met our instructors, and started on some dry drills. The first thing we went over are the 4 safety rules, of course. We learned the Weaver stance and grip, which was a challenge for me. Weaver involves isometric tension between the weapon and support hands, and a bladed, upright stance. It’s different from the isosceles I had been using, which involves a square, slightly forward-leaning stance and an even grip with both hands getting as much skin contact with the gun as possible. They taught us how to do their preferred style of chamber check and magazine check, and we would do that thing hundreds and hundreds of times throughout the course. We also learned about malfunction clearances. Front Sight defines a malfunction as something you can clear in a gun fight and a jam as something you will need time and tools to fix. We learned how to fix Type 1, 2 and 3 malfunctions as well as tactical, speed, and emergency reloads. After that, we established that as citizens, we shoot to stop aggressive action, not to neutralize, kill, maim, injure, or anything else. We just want the dude to stop trying to hurt us and our family. To accomplished this, they recommend a controlled pair to the thoracic cavity (upper chest, covering heart, lungs, and a lot of blood vessels). They told us that all handgun calibers, be they 9mm, .45, .380 or 10mm are all underpowered to get a guaranteed, instantaneous stop on a dedicated opponent. If you put two shots to the center of the thoracic cavity and that doesn’t cause the opponent to cease aggressive action, they recommend following up with a shot to cranio-ocular cavity. That’s the space from the brow line to the bottom edge of the nose, and from the outside edge of each eye orbit. It’s roughly the size of a 3x5 card. Then we talked about proper sight alignment, sight picture and trigger control. We also learned Front sight’s after action drill. It involves moving yourself from where you started, checking your surroundings, checking your opponent, and then topping off the ammo in your gun. We did this a whole lot as well. As far as I can remember, we still hadn’t fired a shot all day. Then we broke for lunch.

Lunch is the time at Front sight where a lot of people claim the “indoctrination” occurs. It’s where they show videos or do lectures or whatever. Honestly, I think we attended two lectures the whole week (including the welcome lecture) and didn’t watch any videos. When you go the first time, you should listen to all the lectures (except for the one on memberships if you aren’t interested in buying one) because there really is a lot of great information in them on the legality of using lethal force and the likely outcome if you ever have to use it. They also talk about Col. Cooper’s color codes of awareness and all that it entails. I think they get into OODA loop as well, but I don’t remember exactly. Suffice it to say, once you’ve been to one of their lectures, you aren’t required to attend it again. They “recommend” that you do if you haven’t seen it in six months, but nobody gave us any crap about it. Really, the lectures themselves aren’t bad at all. There’s very little on the politics aspect of guns, and a whole lot of great info on the reality of owning and using guns for self defense. The videos are really where the politics come into it, and you never have to watch those if you don’t want to. We skipped them the first time we went and skipped them again this time. All of that stuff is just recommended, not mandatory. If you want to sit out on the range in the shade and eat your lunch, it’s unlikely you’ll be pestered. If an instructor does ask you why you’re not in the classroom, you can just tell them you’re not interested in the video and they’ll leave you alone. I have never experienced a “hard sell” at Front Sight that I couldn’t get out of by just walking away, at the very worst. If you’re someone who is very easily peer pressured or intimidated by a guy in a uniform, you may need to man up a little and tell them “No thanks” once or twice over the course of a week in order to avoid doing anything you don’t want to do. Hey, that sounds a lot like real life, doesn’t it? Honestly, I have no sympathy for anyone who claims they were “forced” to watch “propaganda” while at Front Sight. You’re paying them. Just get up and walk out. You’re an adult, and you can make your own decisions. If you sit through any lecture or video you don’t want to sit through, it’s your own fault. Again, I do highly recommend attending the lectures (not the videos) on your first trip and taking a lot of notes. But again, you’re an adult and you can do what you want.

Enough of that. Back to the range.

After lunch, we actually did some shooting. We worked on controlled pairs from the 3m, 5m, 7m and 10m lines, and then did some designated head shots from 3m and 5m. Then we learned about the “Failure to Stop” drill, which is a controlled pair to the thoracic cavity, after which you go into your after action drills. During your AAD, the instructor will yell out “HEAD!” and you have to come back up into a shooting stance and put a round into the head. We continued to work on our shooting for the rest of the day, refining our grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture and trigger control. We worked on trapping the trigger to the rear after shooting and only allowing it to go back to reset once our sights were back on the target. We also really concentrated on putting our focus 100% on the front sight. These are things I had always known to do, but had never really worked on specifically before to this extent. It really makes a huge difference in accuracy.

This day was really a struggle for me, learning-wise. I had just spent 3 days at a Shivworks class two weeks prior learning a different style of shooting, and everything I had learned there had been confirmed as effective in a live-action drill environment, so I trusted the lessons pretty much completely. I was trying to reconcile Front Sight’s style with my own style while learning the new information. Let me just tell you, that doesn’t work very well. What I decided that night, after the training was done for the day, was that I would learn their method whole-heartedly. I would try to perfect the style they were teaching. If I absorbed all of the knowledge, took a lot of notes, practiced exactly what they were teaching, and got legitimately good at it, then I would have a good enough understanding of it to integrate it into my overall knowledge. That was a tough shift to make, but it was an invaluable one. It’s going to be my default with any new training I take. I will learn what the instructor is teaching to the best of my ability, and wait until afterward to figure out what doesn’t fit with my style. So that’s what I did for the rest of the class, and it really did work well for me.

The next morning, we attended a lecture on tactical movement. We learned a great deal about how to handle hallways, doorways, how to clear rooms, etc. The instructor made it very clear, however, that there are only two reasons you would ever do this. Either because you are being paid to do it or because you have to do it to protect a loved one. He specifically said multiple times that if you have your family with you and you are all out of immediate danger, you just want to call the police and let them clear the house. Your TV isn’t worth rounding a corner the wrong way and getting a baseball bat to the skull. So we learned how to do this movement with the clear understanding that we really don’t ever want to have to use that knowledge. After the lecture, we went to the range again where there are a couple dozen doorways set up. Nothing more, just doorways. Each group of 4-6 had an instructor there to help you with it individually. We practiced the things we’d learned in the lecture, and then went on to the shoot house. The shoot house was awesome. They really set it up so you feel the adrenaline flowing. I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say, that was one of the cooler shooting experiences I’ve ever had. One thing to remember if you’re ever doing a shoothouse drill is to do your after action drills whenever you finish clearing a room. We were all reminded of that by one of the instructors when we got back to our home range afterward.

Back on the range, we started to work on speed at closer ranges. The three ways to speed up without sacrificing combat accuracy are rapid presentation, flash sight pictures and a compressed trigger press. The rapid presentation is simply a matter of repetition until the draw gets smooth and fast. The flash sight picture is Front Sight’s way of saying that within 7m, your front sight doesn’t need to be centered in the rear notch to get good hits, it just needs to be in there somewhere. I’ve seen this demonstrated before at 3m, but it still works at 7m. I definitely took advantage of this for the timed drills we did later. The compressed break is basically a faster press. Instead of a very slow, steady press with a surprise break, it’s a much faster press but it still needs to be smooth with a surprise break. Jerking the trigger (which is the tendency when pressing quickly) will send your hits low. Combined with a flash sight picture, that could put them out of the target zone, so you need to practice the compressed press a lot to make sure it’s smooth.

We also started working on drawing from concealment, and we would end up doing that for almost every drill we did for the rest of the class. We practiced that a lot, but it’s hard to describe it, so I won’t go into specifics. We also started talking about the Skills Test we’d be taking at the end of the class. Really, for the remainder of the third day and much of the beginning of the 4th day, we went over the same drills we’d been doing, but started putting time constraints on them like there are on the test. Adding the stress of a whistle really helped us to get ready for the test, I think. There’s a natural response to being on a timer, even if you know you have plenty of time. When you’re not at all confident you can finish in time (like with the times on the skills test) it really adds a lot more stress. We did work on a few cool drills that I thought I would mention. Both of them are great drills to help train you on trigger control. The first is the “Ragged Hole” drill. You are shooting at a 1”x1” square from 5m away and you’re trying to get all 5 shots into the square. You shoot the first 5 shots with no time constraints, then do 5 dry practice shots on another square, then do your next 5 live shots on the second target. I really enjoyed this drill, as it’s something I haven’t done much of in the past. The other is the “Trigger Reset” drill. The shooter takes a shot on command from the rangemaster, and the coach puts his finger into the trigger guard and presses on the finger. The goal here is to make sure you’re trapping the trigger and only releasing to reset when the rangemaster calls it out. This really helps to train the muscle memory of holding the trigger back after each shot.

On the 4th day, we got to do some different and very fun stuff. We worked on multiple target drills, and also had a head to head steel target competition. That was fun, not least because I ended up winning. There were 3 steel targets for each shooter, one was a hostage target and the other two were regular droppers. The hostage target was probably 5-7m away (we weren’t on a firing line so I don’t know for sure) and the other two were probably 15-20m away. The hostage taker’s head was about 4”x6” (maybe smaller) and you would immediately be out of the competition if you hit the hostage. If both shooters shot the hostage, they were both out. That happened quite a bit. The stress of the competition really made it tough to slow down and make good shots. My heart was absolutely pounding every time I was on the line. It was a really fun exercise, for sure. After that we went back to our regular range and worked on another ragged hole drill until it was time for lunch.

After lunch, we went through a practice test, which was all the things we were going to be tested on, with the real test times, but it wasn’t counted for accuracy. After that, we did the whole test again, but try this time. Then we did the real test. Here’s what it consisted of:

3 meters - Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
5 meters - Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from the low ready
5 meters - Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
7 meters - Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
10 meters - Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
15 meters - Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster

7 meters - Failure to Stop Drill (Timed controlled pair to thoracic cavity, then untimed headshot when called by rangemaster) x 2

5 meters - Designated head shot from a concealed holster x 5
7 meters - Designated head shot from a concealed holster x 2

There were times for each section but I don’t know what they are, so I haven’t included them. I’m hoping to get that information soon and will update this report.

That was the end of the shooting. Just 25 shots, with a total possible score of 125 points. If you missed the cranio-ocular cavity with the headshots or the thoracic cavity with the controlled pairs, you would get -3 points if you still hit the main target area just outside the box, or -5 points if you missed the body entirely (or hit the torso on a headshot). If you shot after the second whistle, you would get -3 points for each late shot.

After that, we did our malfunction/reload drills for time. If you did it wrong, you would get -3 points and if you were over time, you would get -3 points. You could only lose 3 points on each drill, but this is still coming off the 125 points.

Here’s what we did for this section:

Tactical reload x 2
Type 1 Malfunction Clearance x 2
Type 2 Malfunction Clearance x 2
Type 3 Malfunction Clearance x 2
Emergency Reload x 2

Scores of 90% (Down 13 or fewer) or better would get a “Distinguished Graduate” certificate. Scores of 70%-90% (Down 38-14) would get a “Graduate” certificate. Scores under 70% (39 or more down) would get a “Certificate of Achievement). for completing the course. People who chose to take the test without time constraints or without concealment would also get a Certificate of Achievement. I ended up scoring 6 down on the shooting section and didn’t lose any points for being over time on anything, so my final score was 119. We did have one student who got a perfect score. He had been really fast, smooth and accurate the whole week and was a really nice guy to boot. He had taken the course twice before, and it sounds like he really thought it was worthwhile to come back for the same course multiple times. It certainly seemed to be useful, judging by his shooting!

So there you have it. It was a very full four days, with about 8 hours of classroom/range time each day. We fired probably 600-700 rounds, and the level of shooting at the end was simply astonishing in comparison to what it had been on the first day. People who had come in struggling to hold the gun the right way up were shooting very respectably by the end. people who came in with a little experience (and an open mind) were shooting extremely well by the end. Everyone was faster and more accurate, and people had learned a great deal about working under stress. I have to say, this course was extremely valuable for me as a relatively experienced handgun shooter, and it would probably be even more useful for someone with fewer bad habits than I had. I really can’t say enough good things about Front Sight. They have very solid instructors and a very nice facility. It’s a little out of the way, but that’s kind of a given for a 550-acre shooting facility. I don’t agree with everything they teach, but I can’t deny that what they teach works. I was indeed much faster getting out of the holster and getting rounds on target. This is also a very basic handgun course, and I know their more advanced courses may well help to alleviate some of my concerns about the basic curriculum in different circumstances. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. I know I’ve left things out in this (even given the absurd length) and I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bolder Boulder 2011

Okay, I've been slacking on the posts on my various workouts, partially because I feel like they're getting a bit repetitive. So instead of doing those, I'll do short ones, listing new exercises or progressions that we learn. I'll also post about any major milestones or events or anything like that.

I was out of town last week (doing some shooting at Front Sight) and so I ate like crap and didn't work out at all. That was not ideal. I definitely put on a couple of pounds while I was out there, so I'm going to try to peel that back off this week. I have to say, I'm pretty amazed both at how much and how little I can gain and lose depending on my actions. Given what I ate, I'm kind of surprised I didn't put on even more weight, but I'm also displeased that just a week of eating the way I used to would cause me to put weight back on so quickly. Weird, eh?

After I got back, I sort of relaxed for a couple days, tried to get settled in and catch up with some friends we'd neglected while I was away. I also ran the Bolder Boulder. I had not been training for a race, as you know if you've been reading this. I've run a little bit, but not very far, very fast, or very often. This was more of a test of my cardio training, and I think I did well. Here are my results:

Race Results 2011

I finished in 59:34, which gives me an average pace of 9:35/mi. I'm pretty pleased. That time qualifies me for a running wave next year, for one. It's also about 2 min/mi faster than I ran last year. it was tough, but fun and very rewarding. My legs are freaking killing me now, though. I didn't stretch properly after the race and I didn't eat my 30g of protein and 30g of carbs quickly enough afterward, for sure. Since it's my first week back from vacation and yesterday was a Tuesday, however, I still decided to go to the gym. That was probably silly, but my legs definitely felt better when they were warm. It was this morning that it really hit me just how silly it had been.

We did learn a few new things last night that I wanted to record here. One is a core exercise using a yoga ball and the other is a back exercise using a yoga ball. To do the core exercise, you're essentially doing a plank with your elbows on the ball instead of the ground. You slowly push your elbows out from your body as far as you can, and then roll them back in. It can be tough to get more than a few inches of movement at first, but it's a heck of a good workout for the abs. The back exercise is done back putting your hips/lower abdomen on the ball and you toes on the floor with your heels on the wall. I was trying to do this with my feet lifted up off the ground and against the wall and it was nearly impossible to stay balanced. So put your feet against the wall with your toes on the floor and you'll be fine. Next, you cross your arms in front of your chest, and left you back up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. This will work your lower and mid-back muscles. If it's too easy, move the ball lower on your hips or extend your arms to the side with your palms facing upward as you rise.

I think that's it for me for now. Just trying to get myself back to the weight I was before I left. A week of sitting in a car and eating a bunch of junk really takes a toll on the body! I'm hoping that all this punishment will get me back there as quickly as possible. it sucks right now, but I really want to get myself back on track. I will keep you posted on my progress. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Group Training - 5/19/11

More group training last night. Gilles set up a couple cool circuits for us last night and i want to get them down before I forget them.

We started on the chest press machine. 10 reps at whatever weight he set for you. Then 20 resistance band bicep curls. Then 12 resistance band shoulder presses. Then 12 resistance band front raises and side raises. Then a 30-second v-sit as a bit of a rest. We went through that circuit 3 times.

Next circuit. Now we have a little rolling cart thing, and we're doing "tucks" or something. Basically, your toes go on the rolling cart platform, your hands or elbows go on the ground, and you pull your feet up under your body and then push them back out. Pretty tough, for sure. Then we did half-squat rows on the cable machine. Those weren't too bad. We also did quick, shallow dips on a ledge. My hands kept getting tingly, so I think I was pinching a nerve or something. Each station is 30 seconds, with a 10 second rest. We did 3 rounds of that as well.

To finish, we hit those range of motion stepper machines I've mentioned and worked on those for about 10 minutes. We alternated between just normal stepping and the "get low and pump your legs without moving your upper body" style stuff. That is really crazy hard. We did a number of 15 second bursts of that followed by 25 seconds of just regular stepping. We finished up with two 30-second bursts of the heavy duty work and then were done. It was a pretty serious workout. My legs were worn all the way out just from the 10 minutes we did, and my upper body was toast from all the rest. We got a lot of good core work in, too.

Overall, I'm really liking the group classes. Everyone is still super nice and having other people around is making me push myself harder for sure. I'm still learning tons of new exercises and all, so it's all really valuable. I'm thinking after a month of this, I may well be ready to start hitting the gym on my own 3x per week and be able to work up a solid hour worth of work for myself without anything getting stale. Woot!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Calculating Calories Burned Based on Average Heart Rate

I got at least a little intrigued by this idea, and have started doing my traditional poke around the internet. here's what I've come up with so far:

All look pretty similar. What I'm going to do is to enter the information from my workout last night into each and see what they come up with. Here's the info from last night:

Avg Heart Rate: 141 BPM
Duration: 57:00 min

And my info...

29 years old
235 pounds
45 VO2 Max

Here goes:

Triathlottrainingblog says: 840 calories burned
Shapesense says: 895 calories burned
Braydenwm says: 841 calories burned

There are some other factors, of course. These calculations are based on a heart rate between 90 and 150 BPM. If you go above or below those, the calculations are no longer accurate. I'm also thinking there has to be an element of heart rate zones in here somewhere. I know you keep burning calories all the way into your Zone 5, but the calories are now predominantly glycogen instead of stored fat.

Since this is as good a time as any to get into a discussion of heart rate zones, let's get to it. You can do all of this with calculations which are really just estimates based on age and gender, without any real bearing on what your own numbers might be. That is why science invented the stress test, to see what your very own heart and lungs can do. I'm thinking more and more that I should get one of those. Until I do, though, here's the info I've been able to scrounge up.

I just found this article and I like what it has to say.

Your maximum heart rate is 220 - your age according to most sources. So for me, since I'm 29, my maximum heart rate is 191. Seem arbitrary? It is! By this logic, a 29 year old marathon runner has the same heart rate as a 29 year old quadriplegic who runs zero marathons. Silly, obviously.The one in the article is at least slightly better, hopefully. It's 210-(50%*Age) - (5%*Weight) + 4 for men and 210 - (50% * Age) - (1% * body weight) for women. Using that calculation, mine is 188. It still doesn't have anything to do with my fitness, but at least now it's tied to my body in some way.

Your resting heart rate is your heart rate when you're totally at rest. The best way to calculate this is to take your pulse a few days in a row before you get out of bed. I'm sort of miserable at doing this. I suck at counting my own pulse, and I really suck at remembering to do anything before I get out of bed. I'm going to guess my resting heart rate is 60 and try very hard to remember to measure it over the next few days.

Your "Heart Rate Reserve" is the difference between your resting heart rate and your max. Think of it as the heart rate you have left over between complete rest and maximum work. So you take your max HR (191) and subtract your resting HR (60) to get your HRR (131).

Let's talk about zones. Zones are broken down by percentages of max HR, generally. One of the sources I found breaks them down by percentage of HRR + Resting HR, but that's the only one I can find that does that, so it may be a bunch of hooey. I think the % of Max HR is the way to go, just based on the numbers you get. Using the more complicated method indicates that you're not even starting to get into a training zone until you get up to 124 BPM, which seems really silly.

Zone 1 is your heart fitness zone. It's a brisk walk. You're not really burning fat or increasing cardio capacity, but your heart is moving and you're getting the benefits of low-intensity exercise. This is 50%-60% of your Max HR, or 94-112 for me.

Zone 2 is your fat burning zone. It's a low enough intensity that you can stick with it for a good long while, and you're burning up to 85% of your calories from stored fat. This is a good place to be. Most people (myself included) tend to train too hard and miss this sweet spot. This is 60%-70% of your Max HR, or 113-130 for me.

Zone 3 is the aerobic zone. This is your cardio training zone. You're burning about 50/50 for carbs and fats, so it isn't the most efficient zone for fat burning, but it the best place to be to increase your overall cardiovascular health. Your heart and lungs are working hard in this zone, meaning you'll be increasing their capacity to do work. This is 70%-80% of your Max HR, or 131-149 for me.

Zone 4 is the anaerobic threshold zone. This is where your body can no longer supply your muscles with enough blood and oxygen to keep them operating in an aerobic mode, and has to switch to anaerobic to keep going. You're not using very much fat at all for energy at this point. You're switching over to using primarily glycogen. Training in this zone will help you to increase your threshold, meaning you'll be able to work harder without getting into this zone. You can only work in this zone for so long before you deplete your glycogen stores and you fatigue. Depleting your glycogen stores means your body builds them back even larger, so this is also where you train to increase your glycogen capacity. This is 80%-90% of your Max HR, or 150-168 for me.

Zone 5 is your maximum heart rate, or your "Red Line" zone. You can't work in this zone for more than a couple of minutes at a time. This is where you throw up, pass out, injure yourself, etc. It's not a place to spend long periods of time. It's useful to train here, because this is where you can increase your speed. People normally train in this zone using intervals. This is 90%-100% of your Max HR, or 169-188 for me.

Now that we've gone through all those, here's the kicker: Each zone will not be a simple 10% swath of your heart rate. Depending on how you've trained, certain zones will be wider or narrower than others. If you've trained in sprinting a great deal, your AT (anaerobic threshold) may be very high. That would mean your Zones 4 and 5 would be compressed, and your Zone 3 might be extended. If you never work your AT, your Zones 1-3 might be compressed due to a significantly lower AT. Individual zones could be larger or smaller and none of these calculations have any way to account for that. They're estimates at best, and they're really estimates based on estimates based on averages. So...nearly worthless. But maybe, just maybe, you will have your actual zone limits close enough to where your estimated zone limits are that when you train intentionally in the middle of Zone 3, you will actually be working your own personal body in Zone 3. So...there's that. The bright side is that anything under Zone 4 will burn fat, just not as efficiently as being in Zone 2. Anything above Zone 2 will help increase cardio capacity, just not as efficiently as Zone 3. So there's a range available, it's just not something where you can say "Hey, it's fat-burning day. Let me take these numbers I calculated from the internet and do my workout in Zone 2," and be anything more than kinda sure that you're actually doing that. You'll still get benefits of course, they just may not be the benefits you're looking for. Since I'm currently at a point where literally any improvement in any area of health or fitness is a worthy goal, I don't have to worry too much about it. But I probably will anyway.

Thanks for reading!

Group Training - 5/17/11

Whew! Sorry about the big gap in posting here. We got super sick last week and did absolutely nothing fitness-related. On Monday, I was so sick I was literally in bed, on the couch, or in the bathroom the entire day. I had a fever, I was dehydrating myself by every possible avenue and I ate maybe half a cup of applesauce the whole day. Not ideal. I couldn't even keep down water earlier in the day. Jenna stayed home and looked after me all day like a champion. I really couldn't have done it without her. I don't remember the last time I was so sick, but I hope it doesn't happen again for a very long time. Tuesday I stayed home again but felt much better. No more puking, and the fever was gone. Tuesday night, though, Jenna started feeling it. Wednesday she stayed home and I wasn't able to stay with her, unfortunately. Thursday she stayed home again and was feeling much better by the end. By Friday, we were both back at work and feeling much closer to 100%, but still not quite there. Over the weekend we took it pretty easy and rested up a lot more. So we completely stopped tracking calories and didn't do any workouts for a whole week. I lost about 4-5 pounds just in water weight because I was so dehydrated. I ended up pounding a fair amount of low-cal Gatorade just to get myself back up to snuff. By the end of the week, I was feeling pretty good on hydration. It was weird to have non-water again after so long, but it really felt like it helped me out.

So, last night, we got back into action. We had our first group training session with Gilles. There are seven people in the group, including us. One other married couple, a lady who is recovering from having a baby, Gilles' wife (Danielle, I think?) and another petite woman who is all kinds of lean and muscley. She's pretty hardcore and I'm almost certain she could outlift me. Everyone is really nice, and we all got along well. I think the other guy in the group is thankful that there's another man now, but he might be a little happier if I weren't so young. I didn't feel young or fit at all while we were working, but I managed to keep up with everything pretty well. Here's what we did:

We started out doing a dynamic warmup. High knees and buttkicks followed by mummies and jogging, with some backwards jogging thrown in for good measure. After that, We did a circuit of pushups for 45 seconds (Hah! I had to go to my knees after maybe 30 seconds) followed by a jog to the other side of the gym and back two times, then figure 8s with a medicine ball. Those are cool. They're like v-sit chops, but instead of just touching the ball on the ground side to side, you weave it under and over your legs while maintaining the v-sit. Very tough, but a very good progression. The last stage of the circuit was chest passes against the wall with the medicine ball. We did that circuit three times. Then we had a nice long rest and Gilles had us start on the second circuit. It was a 7-stage circuit and we all cycled through it at 45 seconds on, 15 seconds of rest. I started on pushup position planks, then went to figure 8s, then lateral jumps over a big rope, then running back and forth across the gym. After that, it was dragging a weight sled with two 45-pound plates on it. No idea how much the sled weighed, but it was pretty heavy. At least 100 pounds, maybe more like 110 or 115, I'm thinking. Then I did a wall sit, then did high knees on an agility ladder and that was the end of the circuit. A bit of rest, then back through. This time we did 30 seconds on, 10 seconds rest. The final run through the circuit was 30 on and 10 off, but he really wanted us to push ourselves 100% on every exercise. We also reversed the order we went through the circuit. The final bit of fun was forward/backward suicides across the width of the gym. Gilles set cones out at 5-yard intervals, and we had to sprint to the far cone and run backwards back to the start. Then sprint out to the second-farthest cone and run backwards to the start. I think there were 7 cones in all, and we did the whole exercise twice. I felt pretty good about it. I can backpedal pretty quickly and my transitions are fast.

My heart rate was up in the 160 BPM plus for a large portion of this session. I think I maxed out at 178 BPM. I have no idea where my zones actually are, but I'm pretty sure that's a high 4 or 5. I was definitely sucking wind more than a few times over the course of the session. I didn't really get close to throwing up, but it was at least on my mind that I might. One thing I really wish my watch would do is to estimate calorie burn based on heart rate. It does it based on distance which is fine for running or swimming, but doesn't work so well for jumping in place or dragging a weight sled. I may have to do some research online and see if I can find a conversion table or something. Alternatively, I may need to look into a "Gym HRM" and an "Outdoor Running HRM" as separate entities. I really like my Garmin, but it is only well-suited to one of my regular exercise activities, and it's the least-regular one I do these days.

We also (before the session) had Gilles get our weight and do a pinch test for body fat. Here are my results:

Weight: 235 pounds (this is late in the day, after having eaten and everything all day long)
BMI: 29.4
Body Fat: 16.4%
Lean Mass: 196.46
Fat Mass: 38.54

If you compare this to my original numbers from about 6 weeks ago, You'll see the following changes:

Weight: -10 pounds
BMI: -1.2 (Moved from Obese to Overweight)
Body Fat: -6%
Lean Mass: +6.3 pounds
Fat Mass: -16.3 pounds

Given that my goal originally was to lose 20 pounds of fat and not lose any lean mass in 12 weeks, I'd say I am absolutely dominating. In half that time, I have already almost lost all of the body fat I wanted to lose and have gained a lot more muscle than I would have expected. I have come to the conclusion that my body really does want to be lean and muscular. There's just a limit on what it can do with a steady diet of candy, pizza and couch-surfing. I'm seeing and feeling significant changes already. My stomach is flatter and harder, especially in the obliques. I'm seeing more muscle tone in my chest, arms and shoulders as well. I still have a long way to go, for sure. I'm happy to be reaching my initial goal so soon, but I'm going to push myself and try to get down to 12% body fat by the end of 12 weeks now. Here's what that would look like if i didn't gain any more lean mass (which seems unlikely, but there you go):

Weight: 223.3 pounds
BMI: 27.9
Body Fat: 12.0%
Lean Mass: 196.46 pounds
Fat Mass: 26.79 pounds

That looks like a loss of another 11.75 pounds of fat. Obviously that's feasible in 6 weeks, since I've already done that and more. Any additional lean mass will just be gravy. So there it is. Setting another finish line out even farther for myself so I have more to shoot for. I really think these group sessions will help a great deal, because the intensity level is so much higher.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Personal Training - 5/3/11 and 5/5/11

This was our final week of our 2-on-1 personal training sessions with Gilles. We had 4 weeks of training, which means 8 sessions. We covered a huge number of topics and I know Jenna and I both learned a ton. We're both extremely happy that we did the full month with him and now we're ready to move onto the second month, which is still a personal training session twice a week, but it'll be in a group of 6 instead of 2. That also brings the cost down significantly.
So this has now been about 4 weeks of 2 workouts per week (and precious little else) and about 2 weeks of actually tracking my food. That doesn't mean 2 weeks of eating well, it just means 2 weeks where i was trying to enter everything I ate into a spreadsheet. Sometimes I failed miserably at eating in the right proportion. Sometimes I failed at eating the proper amount (2800 calories per day is my goal). Sometimes, but not often, I did both. So this is not a super-strict diet. I'm still eating burgers and pizza and all the rest. But I am trying at least to eat a balance of macronutrients and to limit myself (or push myself) to 2800 per day. This isn't always easy, but the longer I do it, the easier it becomes.

Now for my results. You know I started at 245 pounds with 22.4% body fat, right? Well as of the end of this week, I am down to 235 (+/- depending on when I weigh myself) and according to my home calipers, I'm at 18% bodyfat. Gilles will do a check for us next week to see where we are for real (I did get some tips from him on where to pinch to get the best results) and I have pretty high hopes. I'm definitely seeing results. I'm looking thinner in the face for sure, and I can really see changes in my abdomen. I've got less fat and harder muscle underneath it. I'm also starting to see some of the fat that's right under my pecs starting to recede, which is cool. I would like to see more movement on my love handles but that will probably take more time. I'm not really noticing any big changes in the size of my arms or legs, though. I am, however, feeling stronger. I'm able to hold my static positions for longer, lift heavier weights, etc.

Here's the math: If I take my home fat test as accurate, that indicates that I have lost 12.5 pounds of fat and gained 2.5 pounds of muscle. Not bad for being in an almost-constant caloric deficit and not really doing much in the way of aerobic workouts. I did cardio, for sure, but my heart rate was well out of the fat burning zone. So I think I'm burning fat after workouts, primarily. Really, I think if I stick with my twice per week heavy strength workouts and add in another moderate strength workout on Saturday and a couple of low-intensity aerobic days during the week, I can really start peeling off the fat. nothing motivates like results, so I'm definitely feeling the drive to get to work on this even harder.

As for the workouts this week, I don't remember a ton of specifics. Jenna's shoulder was bugging her on Tuesday so we did legs instead of upper body. We started with weighted squats and step-ups and then went and did a bunch of lunges. I'm really liking the concept of progressions and regressions in the bodyweight exercises. As soon as I think I'm getting a handle on something, he pushes me just a little bit harder. The one for lunges is just a double bounce at the bottom. Forces you to pause down there a little longer, maybe? I don't know, but it worked. If you feel like you could do lunges all day, try doing a normal lunge and right when you would bring your back leg up, do a little bounce and then come back up. It's more like a double dip, really. Whatever you want to call it, it brutalized me. On Thursday, Jenna's shoulder was still bugging her and Gilles showed her the biceps stretch. He was able to precisely pinpoint where her pain is, and it's right in the spot where her biceps tendon attaches into the shoulder. He showed her the stretch and she said it really helped a lot. It was really cool that he was able to diagnose it like that, I think. We kept our cardio to a minimum on Thursday, which is not the normal thing. No steep treadmill climb to start out the day. We worked a lot on core, though. We did four ab exercises in a circuit, which was something we certainly couldn't have done a few weeks ago. I was even able to do single-arm and single-leg planks this time, which I haven't ever done before. We also did v-sits with medicine ball chops (8 pounds for me this time) and some exercises where you lie on your back with your legs straight up and touch your toes. I was miserable at them. We also did leg raises with our legs bent at 90ยบ. I've done them before with straight legs and my hands under my butt, but this was easier and harder. Easier because my legs were bent. bending or straightening your legs are your progressions and regressions on that one. The straighter your legs are, the harder it is. Your lower back wants to come off the floor and you have to clamp down on your core to keep it from happening. My hip flexors were just about toast on those so I ended up not finishing them. We then did chest presses and shoulder presses and I was definitely doing better on those than previously. i think I ended up pressing 120 or 140 pounds in sets of 12 at least once or twice, so that's pretty decent. I need to try it for max sometime and see what I can do. We also did assisted wide pullups to work our lats. That was fun, but tough.

So after all that, Gilles showed us a new lat stretch and we stretched out everything else to boot. It was a relatively calm day, cardio-wise, but we learned a bunch and felt like we had come a very long way from the beginning.

I'll report back after this weekend to let you know how everything goes. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Personal Training - 4/26/11

Okay. This is not easy for me to say, but my wife kicked my butt on Tuesday. She outlasted me at most of the exercises we were doing. I can make excuses about me using heavier weights or whatever, but the truth is that she's freaking hardcore and I'm a tiny squalling infant. Now that we've established that, let's get down to the real business at hand.

This weekend, we ate like crap. Really crap. We had a potluck dinner on Friday and I consumed a ton of meatballs soaked in BBQ sauce, chocolates, cookies, chips, etc. the only vaguely healthy thing I ate the whole time was hummus with pita chips. I honestly don't even know if that's healthy, it's just not drenched in chocolate or sugar, so it has to be better than everything else. So that was Friday. Saturday morning we ate okay, but dinner time was an exercise in dietary seppuku. We had double cheeseburgers from Freddy's, and I also had an order of chili cheese fries to go along with it. here's where the whole thing gets downright funny. We had looked up the nutritional value of Freddy's frozen custards after our last trip and learned they averaged about 900 apiece for the smallest size. So we decided to go to Dairy Queen for dessert instead. At least they're only 350 calories, right? Jeez. Then Sunday we ate pretty well for breakfast, before going over to my parents' house to spend some time with my dad on Easter. I finished off three bags of chips (mostly empty, I was just helping them get the bags out of the pantry. Honest.) and then ate a whole bag of microwave popcorn and a box of Reese's Pieces all by myself. Then it was time for dinner. See what I'm talking about? Awful. We went to Saltgrass Steakhouse and it was actually very good. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the steaks there. So I got a 10-oz ribeye, ate a caesar salad and then my dad and I shared a giant chunk of cheesecake for dessert. Is this sounding at all like the diet of a man who's trying to lose weight? No. No it isn't.

So on Saturday morning, I weighed 237.8 even after the whole potluck thing the night before. By Monday morning, I was back up over 240 again. As of this morning (Thursday) I'm back down to 238.4 again. If I had eaten more reasonably over the weekend, I would easily be below 235 now, which is my first big milestone (10 pounds lost, also the least I've weighed in years). If those 10 pounds lost are all fat, that means I'm halfway to my goal of losing 20 pounds of fat in less than 4 weeks. See how exciting that would be? My plan to lose 20 pounds was on a 12-week schedule. It seems that by watching what I eat and working out just a few times a week, I can shed easily 2 pounds per week. It's almost like my body wants to be healthy. Weird.

My food log is working beautifully. We've gotten to the point now where most of what we eat is in there, so I have to add foods less often. In another few weeks, I'm anticipating that will happen even less often. I have a few dream features I'd love to put into it, but I sort of doubt I'll get there. It's complicated enough as is, and as long as I'm intending it to be used primarily by me (which I am) there's no reason to worry about making it super user-friendly. I'm still pushing for 2800 calories per day, and getting there much more easily some days than others.

Now, for the workout on Tuesday. We started out on the treadmill again. After all the incline work we've been doing, my lower back no longer gets sore while I'm walking up a steep incline. I hadn't noticed it before this session, but I think that's huge. Even when Gilles had us jog up a 15% incline, my lower back still didn't hurt at all. You read that right. Jogging. We jogged for 30 seconds up the incline, and then rested for 30 seconds. Repeated that about 5 times. After that, he taught us a new stretch for our hip flexors, since we were working them pretty hard on the treadmill. Then, we did a circuit of upper body and core work. Gilles wasn't fooling around this week. he said he's going to really start pushing us now, and he wasn't kidding. We did 30 second sets of pushups, shoulder presses, planks, bicep curls and v-sits (w/ chops and overhead throws). I think that was the order, but I don't remember for sure. We did 3-4 rounds of that, and I was absolutely shot. The pushups killed my shoulders right off the bat and everything else started failing from there. I can't blame it all on my shoulders though, because I was also sucking at the v-sits, and those don't have anything to do with shoulders. My wife, however, was a rockstar. She was rock solid on her planks and v-sits, and did very well on her bicep curls, presses and pushups. I'm so proud of her!

After that, we went to the free range elliptical and got to work again. Doing leg work on an upper body day? Gilles was punishing us for something I don't remember doing. We hadn't been to the gym (except for a trip on Sunday involving some goofy racquetball and basketball games) since the previous Wednesday, and i foolishly told him how poorly we'd eaten that weekend. Maybe that's why he punished us. It seems to have worked, though. My weight today indicates that a good hard workout is exactly what I needed. So far, Gilles has only ever had us doing the stair stepping style of workout on those machines, and this time he had us crank the resistance way up. We did that for about 10-12 minutes (don't remember exactly) and then stretched out. It was really hard, but it felt good to get my blood pumping again.

We have another session tonight, which should focus on lower body. After this, we only have two more personal sessions with Gilles, and then we're probably going to switch to the group classes that he teaches. Should be fun, and it will still help to keep us on track. Plus, it'll get us two training sessions per week for less than it would cost to do our semi-private training only once per week, which was the other option.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I've been slacking on my updates, unfortunately. We've got more fun stuff going on.

Jenna wasn't feeling well on Tuesday, so I was on my own for the upper body session. Lifetime closed Thursday and Friday this week, so our Thursday class got bumped to Wednesday night. Sounds like a fun time, right? Here's how it all went down.

On Tuesday, with Jenna absent, Gilles really got to focus on making me miserable with heavy weights. Not even all that heavy, but pretty heavy. We did our normal treadmill warmup, then hit some machines. Normally I'm not a huge fan of machines because I prefer to get the full free weight range of motion and stabilizing muscles and all, but these weren't too bad. They really helped me focus on a couple of muscle groups that I normally end up ignoring and compensating for with other muscles. We also do supersets to keep up my heart rate. So we did chest presses on the machine, with v-sit chops (and the catching and throwing of the medicine ball) while I was resting. he had me throw the ball from behind my head instead of my chest to force me to work my core and balance more. I did several sets of that, 3 each I think. Then we switched to lat pulldowns on a different machine. I've done those before, but I'd never actually felt it in my lats. It turns out I was letting my shoulders rise when the weight was high, and then kept them there through the whole rep. It takes the focus off your lats that way and that's why I'd never felt the exercise in the right spot before. Good to know. So we alternated those with medicine ball chest passes. Did 4 sets of those. Then we went and did some pushups and incline pullups on the squat rack. I still think that is a downright awesome idea. The pullups were tough, as it seemed like I could never get the right angle on them. I took an underhanded grip on the bar, and angled my body (feet pushed out in front of me, chest under the bar) and started pulling. I didn't do so hot. We raised the bar more and decreased the angle and it got much easier. We pounded out 3 sets of those as well. Then to the bosu ball again. This time, I was standing on the flat side with the bulgy side down, which is much harder to balance on. Gilles gave me two 20-pounds dumbbells and had me curl them while standing on the ball. That was tough. I had to really crank down on my core to stabilize myself. Then I had to do shoulder presses (after my pushups, which always ruins me) on the ball with 5-pound dumbbells. Did I mention that my shoulders are my weakest link? I think I have. I should say it again. My shoulders are not just weak, they're "tiny blond girl with pigtails" weak. It's sad. I'm working on it, though. So after that, we stretched out and called it a day.

The following day, we came back and got ready to do lower body. Again, warmed up on the treadmill, then got to work. We didn't go to any of our normal haunts, though. Gilles took us down to the indoor turf field for some lunges. He also had us do some dynamic warmup exercises, which were fun. Let's of side shuffling, high knees, butt-kickers, and high kicks down and back. Then lunges. Then wall sits. More lunges. More wall sits. It was seriously tough. Both Jenna and I were pretty wobbly after all of that. As far as I can remember, we spent pretty much the whole session down there, so I think that's about all the detail I can give on our activity. it was cool to get out of the "gym" part of the gym and go do something different, for sure. Then stretching and we were done.

Also, I've been tracking my food on a food log I built in Excel. I love Excel. Like a man loves a woman. Anyway, this food log is sweet. It's like those online ones that are already built and loaded with tons of nutrition info, but this one took me many hours to put together myself. So...I guess it's awesome if you think spending hours futzing with Excel formulas is awesome. I do. You probably don't. According to my Fitpoint, based on my activity level and my lean body mass, my daily maintenance level of calories is about 3300-3500. The fitpoint recommended I go with a 20% calorie reduction per day, to get to about 2700-2800 calories. Gilles suggested a macronutrient ratio of 50% carbs, 25% fat and 25% protein. It's pretty close to what I've read in other sources, and it seems like a pretty reasonable split, overall. I don't like anything that's really super drastic, because it seems like that stuff always ends up biting you in the end.

So anyway, I have this food log, we have a little digital kitchen scale, and I've been tracking my calories. Turns out I've had a hell of a time eating enough. Odd, right? It turns out that when you're trying to keep your total calories to a specific ratio, it's tough to pack in all those extra calories. I can eat a 2,000 calories meal without even stopping to take a breath, but it's mostly fat and sugar. Obviously, that's not cutting it. So I'm having to find ways to pack in more healthy calories. It's a good problem to have, certainly. I'm finding ways to pack in more calories without upsetting my ratios, by adding lean proteins and whole grains and beans and such

 We're also finding that cooking the same portions for me and Jenna isn't really going to work, since she's supposed to be eating about half as much as I am. That's going to be easier to manage with the scale, at least.

So there you have it. All the updates that you could want, right? But wait, there's more! I weighed myself this morning (after breakfast, like a dolt) and found that I am significantly below the 240 mark. I was at 239.2 if I remember correctly. This morning (Saturday), weighing before breakfast, I'm at 237.8, which means I've lost about 7 pounds in three weeks. Not too shabby at all. I'm already almost down to my lowest weight in recent years, and much more quickly than it happened last time.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Personal Training - 4/12/11

Last night, we did our first joint personal training session. I think it went extremely well. here's what we did.

First, we did a quick 6-minute warmup on the treadmill together, just to get the blood flowing a bit. Then we did our three big stretches (both of us are super tight all along the backs of our legs, so we stretch glutes, hamstrings and calves) on the stretching tables. Then Gilles took us over to another couple of treadmills and had us do the climbing thing. Start out at 0% incline and a comfortable fast walking pace, then every minute, increase the incline by 2% until you get to 12, then increase to 15% for the last minute. I was wearing my HRM and after we got home I watched my heart rate graph just climb and climb while we were doing that. It's a very good way to slowly and steadily increase your heart rate, for sure. I think I got up to about 165 bpm or so.

That's the prep phase. I like it because it gets your really warm and gets your heart pumping, so the circuit training stuff just sorta keeps your heart rate high. Speaking of circuit training, that's what we did next. He took us over to a squat cage and brought a half-ball thingy called a Bosu, a floor mat and a medicine ball. He said he likes the squat cage for pushups because you can adjust the bar up and down to make them harder or easier. I hadn't thought of that, but it's really pretty ingenious. So we did 30-second stations. 30 seconds of pushups, then 30 seconds of squatting on the Bosu, 30 seconds of one-leg plank (half with each leg) and 30 seconds of "Chops," which is what he calls a v-sit with a medicine ball touching it side to side. Then a minute rest, then all the same, but for 40 seconds. Gilles is big on doing exercises that have progressions, which I like. Pushups too hard? Don't stop, just raise the bar and do easier pushups. Too easy? Put your feet on the bar and do the pushups on the floor (we're not there, so I'm guessing that's what you could do). Squatting on the ball too hard? Just stand on it, or squat a little higher. Too easy? Maybe do one leg standing and eventually one leg squatting. Again, we haven't gotten to that point, but I'm seeing how the exercises he's picking allow you to increase and decrease the difficulty across a whole range. Planks, you can do one leg, both legs or drop to your knees if you have to. The v-sits you can use the medicine ball, just sit, or sit and support with your hands behind your butt if you have to. That way you're not just wearing yourself out and twiddling your thumbs for the rest of the station, you get to keep working for the whole time.

Next, we took a decent break and then went and got some resistance bands with handles on them. We did shoulder presses and bicep curls. i tried to do the presses with the band, but the angles were weird and the bands just ended up rubbing on my arms the whole time. not the end of the world, but very distracting and uncomfortable. One thing I will mention is that Gilles had us take a different stance for shoulder presses than I usually do. He said that standing with your feet together (front and back-wise) has a tendency to make you lean back at the waist, which is bad for your back. So he had us put one foot forward and lean our chest out over the front leg and push up from there. It was different, but I could definitely tell that it took a lot of strain off my back. I was only using 10-pound dumbbells (when the band wasn't working so hot) and still struggling like mad after the pushups. For whatever reason, pushups make my shoulders tired before just about anything else. I think it's because they're one of my weakest links. I know my form is good, so I don't think that's the issue. Anyway, these shoulder presses with 10-pound dumbbells are really kicking my butt. I finish them out and we do resistance band bicep curls. Those aren't as bad. I can hang with those. Then we go back and do more shoulder presses. I'm really struggling. I finish them, but just barely. More curls. Gilles gets me 5-pound dumbbells for the next set of presses. I mention that I'm really glad that I'm married because I am picking up exactly zero chicks with my current lifting regimen. The 5-pounders are still tough. My shoulders are just freaking shot after the pushups. Gilles says he has some pink vinyl-covered 2.5 pounders he could grab, but he won't do that to me. I appreciate it. I manage to finish that set, then do my curls. He gives us a longer break for water and I'm able to pound out all the presses with the 5-pounders after that. Then he has us do the curls, but he has me keep doing them as fast as I can until Jenna finished hers.

We finish up with more stretches, and we're all done. Neither of us could really use our arms effectively. We drove through chick-fil-a to get non-fried chicken sandwiches because we weren't confident we'd be able to use our arms well enough to make food at home. I was so worn out I couldn't even pick the tomato off my sandwich. I just ate it. Like a chump. And it wasn't very good, but I did it anyway because I was starving and exhausted.

Here's what I learned: Every workout has four components, which I had learned previously: Cardio, Strength, Core and Stability. This time, Gilles actually went through them with us one by one and had us identify which component each of our workouts was working on. So for Cardio, the treadmill obviously, and also the quick pace of the circuit workouts. For Strength, basically everything. for Core, the planks and the chops, but also the bosu ball squats and the pushups to a lesser extent. For Stability, certainly the bosu ball and the chops, with the planks a little bit as well. He also asked us what we felt the focus of the workout was. We worked our legs a little and our cores a lot, but it was definitely mostly an upper body day. It was cool that he had us identify what we were doing and what it was working on for us. It's helping us figure out how to build routines for ourselves, how to put together circuits for different days, what exercises are good for what, and how they complement each other. That's all exactly the sort of stuff I wanted out of my training time.

So there you have it. Day one of our joint sessions. Thursday will be lower body, and we're both looking forward to that in a dread sort of way. Can't wait to see what Gilles has in store for us!