Monthly Archives: February 2009

Brain Power

It’s a good thing for me that lots of the gym regulars recognize me, because I ONE exercise I like to do at least once a week that I cannot do alone. Physically impossible.

I take that back. I can do the physical part quite well alone, but the main key of the exercise is that it works my brain. It helps to strengthen and build new neural connections. And THAT PART means I need help. Since I don’t have a workout partner, I end up smiling charmingly at one of the people sitting on a bench resting, and asking them in my most charming way if they wouldn’t mind resting while helping me out. It normally only takes a time or two and somebody’s willing to give it a go.

You’d think by now I wouldn’t have to ask; I technically have a stable full of trained assistance. Still.

So what is this magical exercise and why do I need help (especially since I don’t ask for help when using an Olympic bar)? Start with any unilateral exercise (one arm bench press, step up, step up to press, lunge, press, shoulder raise.. you get it… ANY ONE ARMED OR ONE LEGGED EXERCISE). Now get your slave, scantily clad assistant, volunteer to stand behind you.

Without saying a word (and this key), they will tell you which arm/leg to use by gently tapping your body.  Tap your left shoulder, you use your left arm.  Tap your right hip, you use your right leg.  In the beginning stick to a single move- shoulder press is a great one to start. Unstable bench press is a nasty but effective second step.  But later, try going for a combo: a step to press with one leg and one arm. Encourage your partner to mix it up as much as possible.  Four reps on one leg?  Sure.  Both arms?  That will throw you!

About 8 to 10 reps in, you will probably notice your vision getting darker, and your mind locking in on a tight focus.  It might almost hurt your head.

What you’re doing is exercising your brain.  You’re challenging your brain to build new connections between sense, thought and movement.   The exercise you’re doing with your muscles is likely less than half of the entire challenge that your brain is getting.  And by removing the visual cue from the process, you are really focusing in parts of the brain that get little direct stimulation.

This building new brain connections will carry one.  You will probably dream about it, though you may not remember.  The connections will grow.  And you will be proactively fighting mental aging by doing something physical.

Next time you’re working out, give a try.  Then let me know how it made you feel.  Does your brain feel better for it?

Getting Creative

Since I hurt myself (almost 2 weeks ago), I have listening to everyone’s advice and taking things easy. NO, I haven’t stayed out of the gym; YES, I’ve changed things up to take care of myself.

For the past two years, I’ve been doing unstable super-setted workouts. I LOVE them. They make me concentrate; they challenge; they feel creative.

And I’ve had to give them up until I heal.

I’ve gone to workouts where my trunk is supported, even going back to using some of the machines. It lets me work out and protects me hurting my ribcage and obliques further. I appreciate it. It’s only going to be a month or so, barely a blink in my lifetime.


Now I understand why. Until I wrote the words, I never realized designing and doing these workouts feel creative. They give my mind something to do while my body is working. Now? There isn’t anything creative in these workouts. The muscles get a bit of challenge, but I don’t. My mind is left with nothing to do but count 1, 2, 3.

Any suggestions for ways to get creative in a boring workout?

One of the social networks I visit has a permanent thread called “GOALS.” I’ve listed a couple good goals there over: learn how to do a BB squat, do a pull up.

This week, I think I’m going to add one that’s a bit different: Go 6 months without having a minor injury. I swear that about every 3 months or so, I have to write: I have a pain (somewhere) and must cut back/lay off/ watch my exercise. And I’m tired of it.

At the moment, I’ve got what appears to be inflammation of the cartilage in my ribcage. How’d I do it? Can’t tell you. A week ago, two hours after I’d worked out, I developed a isolated point of pain. Some motions hurt – getting up from the couch being the main one.

I’m back to taking it careful when I work out. Working completely stable to keep from challenging the area too much.

I’m sick of this.

Workout Plan for the Week

Ack. I’ve put on another few pounds… need to get a handle on my eating and exercise.

Monday: Intervals cardio. Chest/Back.
Tuesday: cardio, Legs/Core
Wednesday: Intervals, Arms, Shoulders.
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Intervals, Full Body Mixed/Complex Moves (ie. lunges with bicep curls/ step-ups with presses, etc.)
Sat/Sun: Rest

PunkRope: Fun in the Gym

Doesn’t this look like fun?


Last weekend I worked as one of the organizers for the regional She’s Geeky conference. Two long days of “being on” and having the answers have left me drained. So when Monday rolled around with a return to normal life and schedules, I could not motivate myself to head to the gym.

I pushed myself to go anyway. I’m glad I did.

Recently, to shake things up a bit, I’ve begun to do my bench press using the Olympic bar instead of the dumbbells. I don’t load much weight on the bar, only 10 to 12 pounds per side… so don’t imagine me looking like any of the guys. I do it to try and coordinate the movement between my right and left side. Concentrating on keeping the bar level is more important to me than pushing heavier weights.


Yesterday I was searching for the light weights I needed on my bar. It’s easy to find the heavy plates, 35# and 45#, but the light ones hide or disappear. Found and placed one 10# weight on the bar, was searching hard for a partner for it. The guy at the bench next me – resting from his set – noticed, spotted the right weight and placed it on my bar for me.

Later, he spotted me during my last set, encouraging me to get a couple more reps out of it than I would have felt safe doing on my own.

You occasionally see a guy step in and help out another guy. But I rarely see -and even more rarely experience – a guy offering to help a gal out unless their friends working out together.

Felt good. Like I’m just another guy workin’ out.

Attention and Presence

I was on my way to the grocery store this morning, getting together my list, my purse, my keys. Next to my keys was my music player, which I almost grabbed. Plugging into my music while shopping feels energizing.

Then I stopped. It normally takes me about an hour to run through the store. While the music works, it also cuts me off not only from the people in the store with me but also from being aware and present while I shop. I automatically and rather mindlessly get items from the list and put them into the cart.

Instead, I chose to go and concentrate on the task. NOT make the process of choosing my foods robotic. Make each decision clearly.

I wish I could say that doing so lowered my weekly grocery bill. It didn’t. It give me an hour to consider how I’m choosing to eat this week, what I will be using to fuel my body through work and workouts.

I think I made a couple better decisions because I spent the time being aware. And it cost me nothing.

So this week I’m going to look for those activities I typically do “on remote” and make a serious attempt to pay attention and be fully present while doing them. What will happen if I participate in vacuuming? in doing dishes? in the common and menial tasks of the day?