Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Got Time for a Quickie?

Hectic schedules and workouts don't often go hand-in-hand so it is often that I find myself with a break that is seemingly too short for exercise. This has been happening more lately as it seems that I have developed the mental block of "if it's not at least an hour, it's not worth doing." That attitude has got to change.

Yesterday was frigidly cold and I did not even bother trying to run outside (I left Canada so that I would not have to deal with cold like that). But my fatherly obligations in the evening meant I would not be able to get to the gym either, so I was determined to get a ride on my trainer. Between getting each kid to bed my window of opportunity opened, although it was only a half-hour window. Do I bother to ride for just 30 minutes, or do I just call it a rest day?

In the end I opted for the ride. Since I wasn't riding for too long I focussed on keeping my cadence high, occasionally dropping into the highest gear for some resistance. The result was a good workout that got my heart-rate going and worked my legs, but only took 30 minutes. Afterwards I felt great, and was so energized I ended up getting a lot of other things done that I would not have if I had just sat on the couch.

This got me thinking about what other times I have during the day that I could squeeze in exercise. What is not enough time for a workout, and is there even such a thing? Got a half-hour? Try a quick ride or hill repeats! How about 15 minutes? Pushups, planks and core! I'm beginning to feel that there are many opportunities for exercise that I am missing out on just because of my preconceived notions of what is "worth the effort." Time, after all, is not on our side and we have to make the most of what we have!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Core Training with Wii Fit

For the past year of training I have been incorporating core-strength workouts into my routine via Wii Fit. I believe it has made me a stronger runner, and it has kept me honest with exercises that can be easy to cheat. Now a lot of you (okay both of you) may be snickering at this point, but bear with me as I hope to demonstrate the usefulness of the Wii Fit as a training tool.

The main marketing strategy for the Wii Fit has been to appeal to families and exercise novices who may be intimidated by the gym environment. By monitoring your weight and center of balance, Wii Fit is able to provide some sort of accountability as you work on improving these through the exercises provided. These include yoga poses, "aerobic" activities, balance games and strength training. The yoga poses are great for flexibility, but I stopped doing them after a while as I found that the flow was interrupted too often by switching exercises. This has been addressed in the newly available "Wii Fit Plus" as exercises can be stacked together and performed one after the other. The aerobic activities are fun, but are definitely not a cardio-workout. The balance games are fun as well, and my kids love doing them. Showing kids that exercise is fun at a young age is important, I think, so I actually like this aspect of the game as well.

The real meat of the Wii Fit training comes from the "Strength Training" exercises. Hidden beneath this innocuous green button are some of the best core-strength exercises you can do. For starters there are rows of exercises dedicated to strengthening the hips and glutes. Some of these seem easy, but after 20 reps you can feel them working. For runners who experience leg injuries, such as ITBS (Iliotibial band syndrome), these moves are key. In addition, as the system is able to monitor your center of balance during the exercise it can tell if you are doing the move incorrectly. Nestled within these are the base exercises of an effective core routine: push-ups/side-plank, lunges, plank, jackknife, bird-dog, and bridged extension (the last one is included in Wii Fit Plus). Using the new "My Training" in the plus version to string 3 sets of each of these exercises together yields a roughly 40 minute core program. Does 40 minutes seem like a lot for 6 exercises? Then you haven't been doing them slowly enough! This is the big advantage of using the Wii Fit system, it keeps your timing honest. The board monitors each move and will not give you credit unless you execute it at the correct speed, which is mercilessly slow. This prohibits you from using any momentum whatsoever and makes you engage each muscle group fully for the duration of the exercise.

The strength training portion of Wii Fit is exceptionally suited to the distance runner. It is core based, which supplements muscle groups needed for running, and you are not going to pack on pounds of muscle from the low-weight activities. Throw in a yoga routine here and there and you can supplement your flexibility as well. All of this can be achieved in your living room, while being a point of entertainment for the rest of the family as well.