Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Yesterday I wrote about how my 30-mile ride last Saturday was easier than the 26-mile ride on Friday, even though the conditions were similar. I chalk it up to repetition. The more you do something, the easier it gets.

Today I subbed for another Spinning instructor instead of riding outdoors. It was a tough choice, but I enjoy both activities. A mother and daughter came in to take their first ever Spinning class. As always, I reminded everyone to go at their own pace, and threw out tips about proper form. Toward the end of the class I noticed they were giggling about something, so I started talking about how seated flats build endurance while climbs build strength, and then I segued into the topic that afflicts most new riders: a sore crotch. Bingo — I got their attention.

Because I ride a lot and never notice that soreness, I guess I’m usually a little insensitive to the fact that some people can’t stop thinking about it. Luckily, I read an article called Beginner Spinners that made a great point. People new to bike saddles (indoors or outdoors) tend to sink into the saddle and put more pressure on their sensitive parts. But repetition builds strength in the muscles that keep you from sinking. The good news is that, according to the author, those cycling specific muscles can be strengthened in as little as six classes. Specifically, he said two spinning classes a week for three weeks.

Three weeks seems to be a magic number. I’ve often heard that you can build a new habit with three weeks of repetition. The other day, our ride leader LaVerne said the same thing, but added that you can break a new habit with two day of old behavior. Two days! No wonder we’re rusty after the holidays.

As Dory sings in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.” Or Spinning, or running, or whatever keeps you fit!

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What a difference a day makes!

I’m not into new year’s resolutions in the traditional sense, but after a month of celebrations that include events with more eating and drinking than other times of the year, I’m always anxious to start fresh with better nutrition and exercise. Even though I’m lucky enough to live in a climate where we can ride and hike year round, I didn’t ride my bike much after the middle of November due to a variety of other events.

Last week I rode two days in a row. The terrain, leader, and level of experience of the other riders was mostly the same. The distances were similar — 26 miles the first day and 30 the next. Yet the 26-mile ride was more difficult for me than the 30-mile ride. The main difference is repetition.

Mentally, it’s hard to get back and do a bike ride, run, or go to an exercise class when you’ve been away from it for a while. You think you will suck at it or be in pain afterwards, so you avoid it. Sometimes that first time is so discouraging that we don’t go back the second time.

Yesterday I saw an inspiring video of a woman who had every reason to be discouraged, but she kept going back to the gym and recorded her progress for 100 days. That’s one day of improvement 100 times. Watch it here.

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Not Half Bad

I finally did it! I got hired as a Spinning instructor and taught my first class. After my interview/audition, I walked out to my car thinking, “wow, I didn’t realize how nervous I was in there.” Naturally, I thought I’d blown my chances, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got the call offering me a class.

The good thing about opening a new club is that the people attending my class have no preconceived notions about how the previous instructor did it.  I’ve been in classes with good and bad instructors, and you really don’t want to follow one that teaches contraindicated moves, especially if the class was a popular one.

Unless someone has a background in road cycling, or has been properly trained as an instructor, it may not be clear how silly and/or dangerous some “popular” moves are. Funny thing is, certain clubs get a reputation as a hot new thing, but they are ridiculed by serious trainers.

I willed myself not be nervous when I got to the class, even though I couldn’t get the headset to work. By the time one of staff discovered it didn’t have a battery, came back with a battery, and tried to sync it, we were almost done with the warm-up. I didn’t want to waste any more time, and I settled on playing the music a little too soft instead of using the mic.

Thankfully, I had a pretty easy group of newbies. One was an older, heavier woman who left early because her seat hurt, and another looked confused because she didn’t speak English, but like I said, it wasn’t half bad.

I’m surprised I didn’t have dreams the night before that resembled this video:

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This is your brain on a bike

Most recreational cyclists ride for fun and fitness. Once you get started, you tend to get hooked. It’s not a coincidence that people often refer to themselves as “addicted” to their bike rides or Spinning classes. It is fun, and as you get stronger, you want to do more. Even more than the tangible benefits, our brains benefit in ways that are just now being studied.

brain3Two recent articles in The Atlantic Cities (Why We Need More Research Into Cycling and Brain Science) and (The Link Between Kids Who Walk or Bike to School and Concentration) point out that the brain power used while riding benefits our ability to do other tasks.

Although eating a good breakfast has long been touted to help kids stay focused in school, the author cites a study that says exercise produces better results. In light of increasing childhood obesity, decreasing attention spans, and funding cuts that affect sports and even recess in some school districts, the obvious solution is to get kids active in the morning by walking or biking to school. In real life, however, the obvious solution is rarely implemented.

Most people don’t want their kids on the streets without adult supervision. They could form walking groups (akin to a carpool), but that takes effort and cooperation. Most people won’t take the time to walk or ride with their kids to school because it’s easier to drive. Most people don’t bike to work, so they would have to go back home to get the car, and that takes extra time. It’s too much trouble to change habits, and if the kid has trouble concentrating, there’s medication for that.

Naturally, I’m generalizing about “most people,” at least in the United States. The articles refer to a Danish study, and point out that cycling is a way of life in the Netherlands.

Here, we are much more dependent on cars. In my community, the public schools provide bus service for anyone living outside of the square mile where their elementary school is located. In theory, those who would have to cross the busiest streets forming the quadrant are given a safer alternative, and those who live in the neighborhood should have a short walk without traffic congestion. Judging by the cars lined up mornings and afternoons, it seems like a lot of people driving half a mile to school school create most of that congestion. One charter school even banned bicycles. I can only guess this was done by owners wanting to cover their assets in case of potential litigation.

Obviously commuting by bike has its obstacles, but those who choose to do so report they are calmer, more focused and happier. Some use it to overcome depression and ADD in lieu of drugs.

I don’t know about true depression, but I missed my weekly group bike ride on Saturday, and the whole day just seemed off. I intended to ride, but a wind storm interrupted my sleep, and the ensuing rain led me to turn off my alarm and go back to bed. Imagine my disappointment when I awoke to a calm and sunny morning, while my friends were out enjoying the scenery and hills at Usery Pass.  I felt so disjointed that I ended up staying my pajamas all day!

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Another good reason to keep those exercise resolutions

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and it’s time to renew! February is typically when all those healthy resolutions go out the window, and it’s easier for the rest of us to find a parking space at the gym. Hmm…maybe that’s actually mid-January.

No matter. There’s still time to make a Chinese New Year’s resolution. Or better yet, just do something. It doesn’t have to be an annual plan, or even a six-month plan. About a month ago, I read a post by blogger Peter Shankman about why inspirational quotes don’t work. Basically, he says, “Do today, what you know you can do again tomorrow.”

To me, it’s genius in its simplicity. Whether going to bed 15 minutes earlier, drinking more water, or taking a short walk, you can start making small changes today. Do it again tomorrow, and again until it becomes a habit. Then add to it. There’s no need to start some daunting program, only to get frustrated and quit. Start small and build.

Even positive changes don’t come without some resistance. As we age, we get used to the idea that whatever we did in our youth still defines us. If you were a jock in school, chances are you still enjoy some level of activity. If you were more of a nerd, maybe you still prefer intellectual pursuits. But guess what — a recent study shows that your ability to stay mentally sharp depends on your level of physical activity. In it, scientists used brain MRIs to show a  correlation between the calories burned by older people and the amount of gray matter. Although we really don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, why take chances? Even if it means getting out of your comfort zone, get more exercise!

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Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday, so maybe that’s why I paid extra attention to a headline that said: Will Baby Boomers live as long as expected?

The article claims that in spite of better medicine, our generation isn’t necessarily benefiting in longevity. Most of the reasons are preventable: obesity, smoking and suicide, along with cardiovascular disease and lack of mobility, which often occur as a result of obesity.

To me, it’s a no-brainer to make healthy habits a priority and enjoy a longer life.

Perhaps most startling, the article stated that health problems resulting from obesity should have a greater impact on the younger generations because current youth are more likely to have been obese as children than Boomers were. Again, largely preventable through healthy eating and exercise.

Some health conditions that are are mostly beyond our control include cancer and declining cognitive function. If I have to worry about something, now I know what it is.

Really, I have nothing to complain about. This afternoon I stopped to chat with a neighbor who I’m sure is younger than I am, but who has a major health problem every time I see her.

Something else I read recently confirmed that the Phoenix area, really the whole urban corridor from Prescott to Tucson, is getting warmer due to development. Anyone who has lived here long enough realizes that summer nights don’t cool off anymore. As concrete replaces farm fields, the area retains more heat. The study suggested that by 2050, temperatures would average 10 degrees higher than now. I wondered if I’d still be around when 117-degree days are the norm. It’s within my first century…so maybe.

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Happy 40th

Yesterday on my regular Saturday morning Ladies bike ride, I chatted with a newcomer who is training for an Ironman race in September. She’s obviously fit and firm, cycling in a minimalist tri top and shorts. She’s competed in several marathons and triathlons, but I don’t remember if this will be her first Ironman. Her husband also will do it, but they choose not to train together because they don’t run or ride at the same speed.

I mentioned that I had recently read the story of Katherine Switzer, the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon, and how shocked I was to learn that such discrimination existed in my lifetime. We agreed that it seems crazy now to think that as recently as 1967, “people” believed that women weren’t strong enough to run 26.2 miles. I say people, although it was men who made the rules, while women tended to follow them — with the exception of a few brave pioneers like Katherine Switzer. (If you don’t know her story, click on the link above and check out the pictures of the race director trying to push her off the course.)

Although I remember a lot of “firsts” by women in various fields, at that time in my life why they were first — that women were actually banned from participating — never occurred to me.

Yesterday was also the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which lifted the bans and allowed women to compete for athletic scholarships. At that time in my life it didn’t occur to me that this was a BIG DEAL. After all, I was the kid who got my required P.E. credit in summer school because I could get it over with in six weeks versus an entire school year.

Today I read about Melissa Belote, who received only two swimming scholarship offers after winning three gold medals at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Her daughter, also a swimmer, has received 160 offers. Again, a story I’d never heard before, even though she went to ASU at the same time I did.

I’m afraid that young women take these opportunities for granted, because they don’t know how limited their options would have been just 40 or 50 years ago. Unless they watch Mad Men, they don’t realize that women were supposed to be secretaries, not copywriters, or that the “girls” in the office were called by their first names, but addressed the men as “Mister” Sterling or Draper. Well, the buzz is that Peggy is going to name Virgina Slims, and even though I’m anti-smoking, we have come a long way, baby.

Sure there are some critics of Title IX who claim that it takes scholarships away from male athletes, and that nobody will pay to see women’s sports. That’s somewhat true, but in a perfect world we would increase, not decrease, funding to our universities so that more students could afford tuition. Scholarships help, whether academic or athletic. Football and basketball are the only revenue sports at any university, and scholarships are awarded accordingly.  Most athletes in other sports — even baseball — are grateful for any partial scholarship.

As the parent of a high school athlete, I like the message of the NCAA commercial that plays during many bowl games: “Most of us will go pro in something other than sports.” Everyone needs a backup plan to pay the bills after playing days are over, but there are many ways to continue being an athlete throughout life.

As we stopped to wait for some of the group to catch up yesterday, one of our semi-regular riders was hurting from a back sprain last month. She complained a little, then said, “well, maybe it’s just because I’m almost 40.” Most of us were trying to remember being 40, and the two strongest women in the group encouraged her and said that they felt healthiest starting around 40. The woman training for Ironman? She’s turning 60 this summer.

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