Monthly Archives: August 2012

Power 90 Is Not P90X

Tony Horton’s Power 90 is not P90X (or, as Jon Stewart calls it, “The PX90”).

When I first decided to get my weight under control, I immediately went looking for P90X. After reading the reviews on Amazon.com, I decided that my sedentary husk couldn’t support that type of intense workout. Luckily, a few of the P90X reviewers mentioned Power 90 as a viable alternative. After doing more research (mainly, reading Amazon.com reviews – they’re the Wikipedia of consumer product reference), I decided that Power 90 was for me.

What is it?

It’s an exercise program by Tony Horton. Power 90 came out three years before P90X. Most people consider it the basis for the P90X workout. The difference? Time, intensity, and variation. Where P90X runs 60-75 minutes per workout, Power 90 only takes 30. Where P90X has a dozen different workouts, Power 90 has only four (plus abs). Where P90X rotates over three phases, Power 90 only uses two.

Why start there?

It’s easier. Coming from an absolute sedentary state (with fits and bouts of binge eating and borderline alcoholism), I was absolutely not ready for hour-long workouts that included weights and pull-ups. Power 90 let me ease-in to the process of becoming healthy with shorter workouts – averaging about 30 minutes. There wasn’t a single pull-up in the routine. I got by using only a yoga mat and some resistance bands.

How’d it go?

The first few weeks were tough. The program is six days per week, alternating “sculpt” (strength training) and “sweat” (cardio-oriented) workouts. Looking at my progress calendar – a handy wall calendar that comes with the program – I self-rated my performance as a 3 or 4/10 for the first two weeks. After that, it was a steady climb to regularly hitting 9 or 10/10 by the ninth week.

The workouts aren’t hard, unless you’ve been sitting and eating non-stop for the past few years. Focusing on proper form was the most critical part of getting started. With the wrong form, you either don’t work the right muscles, don’t work anything at all, or just plain injure yourself. As someone with experience with chronic back problems, I know how that goes.

The two hardest parts of the workout were the yoga warmup and the ab ripper at the end. I had never done yoga (and I’m sure some might argue that the yoga I did for Power 90 doesn’t count), but it’s not as easy as it seems. Beyond those items, the cardio, while short, was intense. The strength exercises were the most fun. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of delayed onset muscle soreness. Even though it’s not the best indicator of a good workout, I always found that soreness comforting – like a pat on the back for a job well done.

Yup, my actual measurement card.

Combined with my dietary changes and calorie tracking, I went from fat to reasonably fit. Maybe “relatively fit” is a better way of describing the change. I still wasn’t reasonably fit yet. Admittedly, I didn’t push the diet as hard as I should have. I was still regularly breaking my calorie goals, but not by much. Part of that was my metabolism finally figuring out how many calories I really needed, and part of it was because sometimes you just need a treat. It wasn’t a perfect diet, but it’s what worked for me.

Recommended?

Yes. Power 90 is an easy starter workout for anyone looking to get off the couch. The real key is to stay consistent. Do all six workouts each week, for the requisite 13 weeks. Keep a food diary, and watch your calories. Do these things, and you’ll be off to P90X in a few months. Personally, I went three rounds with Power 90 before moving on to P90X (which I’ve been using for two years now). Training my mind to stay focused, stick with it, and eat right was the hard part. Training my body came naturally.

On TV: Suits

Television is a passion of mine. Some people like sports. Some people like nature. Some people like nightlife. I like watching good television. Sometimes, I even like watching bad television.

USA Network has given me some great television shows in the past few years. It started with Burn Notice; which was once lampooned on Saturday Night Live as the most popular show that nobody watches. Well, it may have started earlier than Burn Notice (2007), but I didn’t notice USA as a source of original programming until that point. The 2011 Summer season gave me Suits. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

The idea behind Suits is simple: Mike Ross (played by Patrick Adams) accidentally lands an Associate position at Pearson-Hardman, one of the top firms in Manhattan, under the great Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht). The only catch is that Mike isn’t a lawyer, but he does have a photographic memory and an incredible understanding of the law.

Initially, I wasn’t interested in watching the show. The concept seemed boring, and ripe for “uncomfortable situation” jokes. I had imagined “Meet The Parents,” but with everyone questioning Mike’s law degree instead of Robert De Niro questioning Ben Stiller’s… everything. Nevertheless, I picked up the pilot for free on iTunes (I love it when they give away free pilot episodes). The first episode was intriguing, the second was okay, but the third was phenomenal. The storyline was excellent. The dialogue was witty. The characters had clear motivations. The acting was great. The chemistry was present and resounding. I was hooked after three.

The first thing people expect when they see the promos is a bromance between Mike and Harvey. It turns out that there isn’t one. It’s actually more of a teacher/student thing – think Obi Wan and Luke rather than Starsky and Hutch. Harvey has the experience, reputation, and absolute presence; he owns the room. Mike has a brilliant legal mind, and the naivete that allows him to be outwardly compassionate. They make a great team, but I wouldn’t call it a bromance.

One of the best aspects of the show is character growth. To its credit, Suits was able to take a character that I hated, played by an actor that I disliked, and turn him into a character that I love to hate, played by an actor that I love.

Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) is the antagonist of the first season. The first time I remember seeing him on television was as a villain on the Knight Rider (2008) reboot. I don’t know if it was the writing, direction, or if he just chose to do it, but he was Heath Ledger’s Joker. While he gave a good performance, I couldn’t help but feel like they were just capitalizing on both the blockbuster movie and the late actor.

However, even watching with prejudice, I came to really like the character of Louis Litt (maybe not until the end of the first season). He’s just really good at being slimy, and he makes no apologies for it. I respect that. He fills the role of antagonist and comic relief so well that when you see him ‘win,’ it’s even more impactful. Watching him completely destroy the associates under his charge for being entitled and lazy with a “back in my day” speech and a stack full work he completed for them was so very satisfying.

I can’t write a review of the show without mentioning Donna. She’s a legal secretary; Harvey’s legal secretary. But she’s much more than that. She’s the pulse of the law firm. She knows all. She’s also Harvey’s “better half,” but not in the traditional sense. Where Harvey is cocky, Donna is more subtle. Both can (and will) manipulate people to achieve a goal, but they’ll go about it different ways. Watching them work together is extremely entertaining.

Two minor criticisms:

  1. That “House” moment – they do it less often now, but characters tend to find their solutions in random words they hear during completely unrelated conversations. House was famous for ending episodes in that fashion. While I actually enjoy those ‘lightbulb moments,’ I suppose it’s possible to overdo it.
  2. Gina Torres is underutilized. Even in the second season, as she took a more hands-on role in the main arc, she still felt sidelined. I get that Mike and Harvey are the main characters, but so far all we’ve seen her do is fight a bitter war with Daniel Hardman (David Costabile). It would be nice to get her into court. We all know Zoe can hold her own.

So that’s Suits. I can honestly say that it’s my favorite show on TV. If you were a fly on the wall in my house, you’d hear me shout, “SUITS!” every Thursday evening. Imagine it as a guttural cheer/mantra that leads-in to my weekend. It’s my equivalent of “STEAK NIGHT!

Side note: Suits just finished their Summer season, and will be back in January. I also hear that they’ve been picked up for a third season on USA.

Facebook Update

Facebook has ads. That’s their big revenue source, and that’s fine with me. I was in college during the “dot com bubble.” I entered the workforce a few years after the bubble burst. At a very basic level, I know how these things work. Free services are only “free” so long as somebody is getting paid. On the internet, that’s done via advertising.

At first, I was overwhelmed by the interface. I couldn’t pick out an ad from anything else in my “timeline.” Maybe there weren’t ads for the first few hours of my experience. After all, if I “had no friends,” and my timeline was empty, was I really a person? Could I be targeted with ads? If I got a random smattering of ads, would I be offended, and stop using the service? All serious questions for an ad partner.

Well, I’ve got ads now. Here’s the first set I noticed. Obviously, picking “single” as my status and noting that I was “looking for women” triggered the first ad for a dating app. That seems relevant, although I didn’t join Facebook for that purpose. It’s not that I wouldn’t keep my options open; the odds of anything fruitful coming from a Facebook relationship seem lower than low. It’ll be interesting to see long it takes them to figure out that I’m not interested – or if they’ll be able to figure it out at all.

Next up: Tequila. Good guess given my age and gender. Not good when you consider that it’s at the bottom of my list of favorite liquors. Looking at the rest of my data, I’m a little surprised they even suggested tequila. Maybe a number of my friends liked it at one point or another? Maybe people who showed interested in my schools or employer overwhelmingly liked tequila. Maybe I’m some kind of weird non-tequila-drinking minority among my peers. Either way, I guess if I were to go out and “like” some bourbons, I’m sure that would remove the ad entirely.

After that, two ads for games. The first one looks like a Bejeweled clone. “People like Bejeweled” is a reasonable general statement if you look at my country of origin, and primary language. The second is a racing game. Also good for males of my age range (but not interesting for me since Mario Kart 64 back in the 90’s).

Lastly, an ad for Facebook Marketplace, specifying used cars. Okay. I’ve only been “on Facebook” for a few hours. Maybe there isn’t enough data on me to generate a full set of targeted ads yet. I’ll check back in a week or so, and see what it suggests.

 

Bucket List: Facebook

I’ve been a Facebook abstainer since day 1. It wasn’t because I thought I didn’t need it. I simply didn’t want to get caught-up in it.

I was on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) for my first year in college. It was my own little social network, before social networking was a thing. I could talk to anyone, anywhere in the country – a very useful thing when my friends went to Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Colorado, and several other states for college. I spent many, many hours daily on AIM, keeping-up with everyone’s activities. At about the same time, I noticed a severe decline in my grades. Looking back, I can’t draw any direct correlations between excessive AIM use and my declining grades. It was probably more a symptom of being in the wrong major, being 2,500 miles away from home, and all of the other changes that come with moving away for school. I cut the cord, and never looked back.

When everyone made the jump to Livejournal, I abstained. Instead, I programmed my own blog using Perl and the CGI provided by the University of Washington. I thought it was a more apt use of my time given my increasingly programming-oriented education.

When everyone left Livejournal for Myspace, I watched, but did nothing. The massive HTML-based customizations seemed like more work than it was worth. People also made some terribly gawdy creations with their HTML “skillz.” I still had my own blog attached to my website (it used frames; I was so proud). The primal hipster in me also thought that Myspace was too mainstream, and having my own blog was the smarter option. Maybe I was right.

Finally, everyone transitioned to Facebook. By that time, I was in a serious relationship. I had graduated from college, and started working at a real company. My significant other handled our social calendar. We shared friends, so it didn’t make sense for me to get my own Facebook page. I’d just let her do her thing, and tag along. Much like getting a joint bank account, or buying a house before marriage, that was a mistake. I happen to be guilty of the other two as well; tales for another blog post.

It seems like Facebook has become the way to stay in touch with people. In fact, it might be the only way to do so these days. People used to stay in touch before Facebook, right? I think maybe they used carrier pigeons or… had an operator connect them via switchboard to Klondike 2-1-6. Or maybe people just had fewer “friends,” and could use snail mail, the telephone, and social gatherings to stay in touch. Maybe they didn’t know what everyone ate at that fancy new restaurant two weeks ago, but maybe they didn’t care. I can’t remember how friendship worked before “social networks” existed. Maybe I should google it.

So, I joined Facebook. I’m almost a decade late to the party. That’s okay; I have an excuse (see above). I spent all morning adding close friends and family – or, more specifically, sending friend requests. I guess it’s up to them to actually log-in and approve me. Presumably they’ll do this with a little brow-furrow, as if asking “who’s this guy again?” I added a picture, just so they’d know who I was. It’s not a very good picture. It turns out that I don’t have very many pictures of myself, and the ones that I do have are bad. I’m of dubious photogeniety.

The plan is to “not go crazy.” I have a tendency to really dig into projects. When I first started WoW, I was told not to get addicted. Less than a year later, I was a guild officer. A few months after that, guild leader – for five years. Facebook, therefore, shall only be used to keep up with friends and family.

  1. I shall not start playing “Farmville,” or any of those other crazy addictive games. That’s a hole I’d never get out of.
  2. I shall not post updates about every single thing.
  3. I shall not be a collector of “friends.”
  4. I shall not check my “feed” constantly, especially not while at work.

Well, maybe “shall” is too strong. I’ll “try” not to do these things; with great success, of course. The main thing is that I’m on Facebook now. I’m not suspicious any longer. So that’s a plus.

Living Strong

I was always fat

I’ve always struggled with my weight. I noticed I was heavier than other kids back in the fourth grade. Well, maybe I didn’t notice as much as I was told that I was heavy. Fourth graders aren’t famous for being tactful. Things only got worse when I left my home town to go to a private school in the seventh grade. Not only did I leave my friends of seven years, I was entering the most socially brutal time in life as a chubby kid among several thousand new faces (it was a big school). Suffice it to say that I was teased, and that teasing caused a rather unfortunate spiral into the bottom of many, many french fry boxes.

After three years of eating, struggling, teasing, bullying, and an all-around “not great” experience, one of the few friends I had suggested that we join the wrestling team. It was my sophomore year in high school, so I figured that the extracurricular activity would be good for my college applications. I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience would change my life. My time on the wrestling team deserves its own post, later. For now, let’s just say that I started my sophomore year at roughly 180lbs (on a 5 foot frame), and ended my senior year some 45lbs lighter, and a few inches taller.

16 Years hence, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t been a smooth climb to fitness, but it has been insightful. About four years ago, after another major life change, I was back to square one. I was nearly 40 lbs overweight, and absolutely sedentary. I was eating and drinking as if each meal was my last: giant helpings of pasta, white sauce, all kinds of sausage, steaks, beer, wine, and more beer. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. Something had to change. The obvious first step was exercise. The less obvious zeroeth step was changing my diet.

Making the change

I read numerous articles about how nutrition science had changed since I was young. I remember the food pyramid we were taught in school: 4-4-3-2-1 of bread, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and fat respectively. It turns out that I should have been reversing that order. Yes, I just linked to a ketogenic diet FAQ. The resource I used to plan my new diet isn’t available anymore, however it was similar to “keto,” but used a carb cycling method instead. I actually increased my fat and protein intake, and decreased my carbohydrates (save for two days per week of carb-loading). The idea behind the dietary change was to correct leptin resistance, and get my body to react properly to “feeling full.”

This is in stark contrast to conventional nutrition taught in the 80’s and 90’s: fat makes you fat, protein causes cancer, and if you’re still hungry you can fill up on rice. That last statement got me every time. I could eat rice until there wasn’t any left in the house. Why? Because I wasn’t full. My brain wasn’t getting the “I’m full” signal from consuming fat, because I wasn’t eating any fat. I was getting lots of calories, huge insulin spikes, and no real nutrition.

Calories in, calories out

Beyond modifying my diet, a friend of mine (also a personal trainer) made it clear that “calories in versus calories out” was the bottom line when it came to weight loss. While eating more fat and less carbs helped control my hunger, I still had to keep a food diary. For that: Livestrong.

For the past few years, I’ve been using Livestrong.com’s calorie and exercise tracker. At first, I used it because it had an iPhone app (all the rage at the time). Since then, I’ve migrated entirely to using it via the traditional web interface. Entering meals is just faster that way. It also seems like the only way to enter meals including custom recipes is to use the web interface. The iPhone app costs a few bucks, but using the web interface is free; signing up for an account is free either way.

Livestrong's iPhone App

After entering a few days of meal data (and being honest about it), it was easy to see how I stacked-up against my calorie goals. For the first few months, I was constantly pushing to beat my daily estimated calories by 200+, while keeping my sugar and carbohydrate intake low. Keeping a food diary is generally considered a very healthy way of losing weight. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it really works.

See it

I started to see results before I felt them. My moobs (man boobs) were looking considerably less pointy. Yes, I’m not afraid to admit that I had a serious case of pointy man boobs. My cheeks started to shrink back onto my face. According to Drew Carey, face fat is the hardest to lose. It’s true, but I seem to have misplaced the chins that prove it.

Feel it

What really turned the tide in my diet was when I first felt my metabolism start working properly again. It took about a year of maintaining the diet (with a few slip-ups and vacations along the way) when I noticed that eating fatty foods actually made me feel full. I ate a reasonable 10 ounce portion of ribeye steak, and actually felt sated. I didn’t want dessert. Later, I realized that after intense exercise, I was hungrier than usual. I could eat an extra 200 calories before becoming full if I was eating after a workout. Changing my diet really worked. Now, I only eat when I’m hungry, and have a good handle on that natural signal that tells me to stop. This happens to coincide with 3 meals/day, with one or two snacks.

Weight doesn’t matter

Why didn’t I mention any hard weight numbers after I changed my diet? Because it didn’t matter. I stopped using my scale over a year ago. Weight wasn’t a good indicator of my overall health. It is simply more effective to track my calories, eat only when hungry, and get a decent amount of fat in my diet than it is to weigh myself.

Keep going

I’m glad I shared my experience. Adding diet and exercise to my lifestyle was the biggest positive change I’ve ever made. Admittedly, making these major lifestyle changes was easy for me as a single guy, living alone, with access to the necessary fresh foods, exercise equipment, and copious free time. However, I suspect that the basic principles of keeping a food diary, and working to get control of your metabolism can work for almost anyone, in almost any situation.

The subject matter – especially diet and nutrition – is so deep that I can (and will) write another dozen posts on it. I’d also like to share my exercise routine, and some of my healthier recipes. Look for those in future blog posts. Thanks for reading!