New Years Resolutions: Track It!

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NYE Fireworks in Sydney, Australia

New Years Resolutions
As we close in on Xmas, New Years Eve, and the accompanying New Years resolutions which will no doubt follow the holiday festivities and overindulgences, many of you are perhaps preparing for your New Years resolutions. While there’s nothing bad about making new years resolutions per se, I’ve never personally been a big fan of them – they’re made, they’re broken, and most people end up on a merry-go-round of constantly broken resolutions from one year to the next.

One Ingredient for Long-Term Success
One method which I’ve applied both personally and professionally which can have an enormous impact on sustaining long-term fitness and exercise habits is recording each and every exercise session, including sets, reps, and weights lifted (or the equivalent if performing cardio). While it sounds fairly painful and tiresome to record every detail in this manner, it does become more straight forward and second nature after some practice and the initial learning curve. This is something I’ve put into practice myself for no less than 6 years, which has helped contribute to my own ability to sustain a long-term training schedule (about 10 years and counting).

There are enormous benefits that come with tracking and recording each workout, including the ability to monitor how you’re progressing from session to session, long-term statistics (that most good fitness-based apps include – such as Fitness Point) to monitor yearly trends, dips and troughs in your workout patterns, and increased flexibility, preparation and exercise ‘programming’ capacity.

I strongly urge you fitness enthusiasts to download a good app and bring your smartphone with you to the gym. While you’ll often hear “the gym is no place for electronic devices” I find this to be a bit of a self-defeating and short-sighted attitude. Just be sure to place your device in a safe position or keep it in your pocket so that you can easily record each set without a dumbbell getting dropped on it, and put it in flight mode if you lack the discipline to ignore incoming calls – when you’re at the gym, you should be in the training mindset, and that means not stopping for a chat or conducting business calls. It’s not that hard, really. And it shows that you’re serious about training and that you’re working with a program.

The Mindset

Don't be this guy.

Don’t be this guy.

This all takes a little bit of pre-planning, but that’s actually another benefit – by planning to take your phone with you, wearing appropriate shorts in which to store it, having your app ready to go and all of the exercises and program already ready-to-roll, you’re mentally preparing yourself to engages in a serious training session. No dicking around; get to the gym, follow your prepared program, get out. Done. Recorded. Filed.  Statisticalised (that’s a word now).

Your Resolution
If you have to make one new years resolution for 2015, let it be this: “I resolve to engage in exercise habits that I can sustain, without injuring myself, and to record every detail so I can look back with pride in 2016!”

Need an app? Sure you do, that’s why you’re still reading – both that and my amazing eloquence with the written language. I only have one app to recommend: Fitness Point Pro, and it’s all you’ll ever need. Don’t disappoint me, go download it. Download it NOW, show me how serious you are. The price of the pro version easily outweighs the value that you’ll obtain from using this app over the coming years, and if you need to be convinced before investing a lofty $4.99 then go ahead and download the free version first – available on both iPhone and Android.

I’m not a hypocrite. I use it myself.

Did you download the app yet?

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Second Life – Virtual Fitness Centres: What’s it all about?

If you’re more concerned about getting involved with this virtual gym as quickly as possible, and don’t really care about this science stuff, then skip down to the third heading.

A Quick Outline

My avatar pumping iron.

My avatar, Jaye Jeffries, pumping iron.

A relatively recent news article in the science media highlights some of the discoveries of a longitudinal study conducted in the virtual environment Second Life, with the goal of delivering a weight loss and exercise program and comparing the differences between a face-to-face approach with a virtual online approach. After looking at the paper it appears promising, though there are certainly some questions that should be addressed about the methodology. First we’ll look at the research, then we’ll delve into an actual virtual gym in Second Life which is freely and publicly available to all.

Study Design Details

The study split 20 participants, 17 of which were female, into two groups, the face-to-face (FTF) group and the virtual group, and was conducted over a 9 month period with the first 3 months focussing on shorter-term weight loss and the following 6 months focussing on weight maintenance. Results showed that the FTF group had a greater degree of weight loss overall, though the virtual group had a greater degree of weight maintenance. With weight maintenance being an essential factor for long-term weight loss, that probably makes the virtual approach a little more superior even though the FTF group showed slightly higher degrees of weight loss.

Let me be honest here, while the study talks about “statistical significance” and differences between the two groups in this regard, there is also the concept of “clinical significance”, meaning that, in the real world – is there really enough of a difference to make it noticable and worthy of use as an intervention? In this regard we might consider the two groups identical in a clinically significant manner, and that’s a good thing! Perhaps the only drawback for this study is that the exercise intervention itself isn’t elaborated on, so I’m left to conclude that it wasn’t very thorough, but taking into account that the research focusses more on nutrition than exercise this can be overlooked with the expectation that future research will focus more on that aspect.

There were other benefits too for the virtual group over the FTF group, including signficantly greater fruit and vegetable consumption and higher levels of exercise (walking) as measured with a pedometer. Finally, to finish with the authors conclusions with which I completely agree:

“An adequately powered, longer-duration trial, with adequate assessment of potential mediators and moderators, is warranted to further evaluate the potential of Second Life as a delivery system for successful weight management.”

In my view, virtual and online environments continue to hold an untapped potential for helping to decrease barriers to exercise, and this study is the tip of the iceberg in many studies to follow that will help to unveil this hidden potential.

What’s all this about a gym in SL that you can access?

The most interesting part is that you can access Second Life fitness centres yourself, for free, where you can discuss exercise technique with real life professionals, get advice on nutrition and exercise programming, or just socialise and meet new people who are going through a similar experience. What makes this different to a real gym? There’s no cost, it’s far more accessible, and it acts as an introduction for people who might be too nervous or self-conscious to step foot into gym or fitness centre. I stress that there is a real need for translation of this platform into real life, which is what the discussed study begins to explore – the exposure and delivery of weight management techniques and how they translate into real life.

There are a number of Second Life fitness centres available, but my favourite by far – and which is actually funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) based on the above research study out of Kansas University, is the Avatar Fitness Club, hosted and run by the eXtension team. While there aren’t any events planned as yet, though promised to come, be sure to check it out and if you run into Thynka Little, DFox Spitteler, or even myself (Jaye Jeffries), be sure to say hi!

If you need more convincing, check out their Facebook page for more info.

Contemplating the potential for virtual exercise prescription.

Jaye Jeffries contemplating the potential for virtual exercise prescription.

(I’m a Second Life nerd from way back, so you’ll have to excuse the excitement from this post. The possibilities of combining two of my passions is an almost overwhelming possibility)

Have you visited the Avatar Fitness Club in Secondlife, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Fitness Measurements: The basics that every fitness enthusiast needs to know

Let’s keep it simple, but not too simple. This is a topic that I generally wouldn’t cover, but I’ve come to realise that too many people still don’t differentiate between fat body mass and muscle body mass. With some simple measurements you can ensure that you’re not confusing the numbers on your scales for fat, when in fact the increase is due to muscle, or vice versa.

TanitaWeighing

Firstly, when performing basic weight measurements it is next to useless to measure your total body weight without also taking other measurements. Most fitness enthusiasts are interested in how much fat mass they have lost, or muscle mass they have gained, or both. If your muscle mass has increased while fat mass has decreased, regular scales might not shift at all. Invest in some tanita scales which, while not being the most accurate measure of absolute bodyfat, at least help to give you an idea how your bodyfat percentage (bf%) has shifted from week to week.

This brings us to our second point. When using tanita scales, the measurement should be performed at the same time, on the same day, each week – preferably before eating, and if possible after using the toilet and after consuming 500ml’s of water. This helps to ensure that you’re measuring body mass as opposed to last nights meal and are in a suitably hydrated state, since tanita scales can be affected by the hydration level of the body.

Also keep in mind that the relative movement of the bf% (eg it might move from 15% to 14%) is what’s really important, not necessarily how this percentage compares to a table of norms in the population. Tanita scales tend to overestimate total bf% by a few %, so if you want an absolute reading have a DEXA scan done and simply determine the difference between the scan results and the reading given by your tanita scales.

When comparing how your bf% has shifted from week to week alongside a general body weight reading, you’ll get a better idea for whether or not you have added or lost fat or muscle. For example:

  • Week 1, Sunday morning: 15%, 70kg
  • Week 2, Sunday morning: 15%, 71kg (normal fluctuation in bodyweight)
  • Week 3, Sunday morning: 14%, 70kg (possible normal fluctuation in bf%)
  • Week 4, Sunday morning: 14%, 71kg (probably a 1% shift in bf%, normal fluctuation in total bodyweight)

Final point for tanita scales – both bodyweight and bf% might shift a little from week to week, this is normal. It’s best not to mark it down as a definite change unless it sticks for 2 weeks or longer.

Measuring

Girth measurements are a useful addition alongside weight and bf% measurements for determining which part of your body has gained or lost fat or muscle. The most useful sites for measurement:

  • Arms – taken at the midway point
  • Neck – taken below the adam’s apple (or at the same approximate point on a woman)
  • Chest – nipple height
  • Waist – a few cm’s above the bellybutton
  • Hips – around the apex (largest girth)
  • Thighs – taken when standing with arms at your sides, the furthermost point where the fingers touch the thighs in a relaxed position.

All of these recommendations are for ascertaining relative readings, which enable you to compare your progress from week to week. Don’t measure more often than this – there is quite a bit of variation in readings from day to day as a result of fluid, food, and other factors, so it would be essentially frivolous. Also try to ensure that you take the measurements in the same exact location so that relative readings can be compared.

Waist and hip measurements are useful for determining your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic illness:

Waist-Hip

Recording

Finally, a good iPhone app for recording your weekly body measurements is Gym Buddy, one of several iPhone apps I reviewed in this post, which although no longer receives support or updates (nor is it available to other smartphone users) allows you to keep fully customised measurements along with statistics and graphs and is still more than worth the price.

What smartphone apps have you found that have made your fitness habits easier to track and plan? Share any recommendations in the comments!

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iPhone Apps for Fitness

I was lucky enough to receive a hand-me-down iPhone 3g back in early December, and have been delving into the world of iPhone apps ever since. Below are my recommendations for some of the best health/fitness related apps that I have found on iTunes to date (if you have personal recommendations, suggest them in the comments! I’m always looking for highly recommended fitness apps).

I have broken these down into targeted audience, along with main features, cost and drawbacks. Some of these apps, like Gym Buddy, have *tons* of features, so I have included only those which I found most useful and interesting. If you wish to read more just follow the link to the app description in iTunes.

These are all compatible with the 3g onwards.


Gym Buddy
Cost: $3
Audience: intermediate & advanced resistance training enthusiasts
Youtube Video

Features:

  • Record reps, sets & exercises.
  • Create custom workouts.
  • Plan future workout days with inbuilt calendar, or review past workouts
  • In depth summaries, statistics, on-the-go 1RM’s and more
  • Timer for interval training and HIIT
  • Body tracker with fully customisable entry options, for tracking weight, BMI, BF% and more
  • Data management and email backup

Drawbacks:

  • No automatic programming functions (all manual, create your own programs)
  • No pictures of exercises or biomechanical guides/explanations

Review:
I honestly cannot do this app enough justice in this short review. Although I listed two drawbacks, these are necessary compromises for the amount of freedom this app allows the user. It’s assumed that you will do your own exercise research (know the right technique etc), so this isn’t really for the beginner unless you use it in conjunction with another app (ie Fitness Buddy). Highly recommended and easily worth the cost.

MyNetDiary

Cost: Free ($5 for Pro version)
Audience: fat loss / muscle gain
Youtube Video

Features:

  • Track meals, exercise performed (basic calorie tracking purpose), weight, charts & measurements, vitamins & medications (basic note function here)
  • Customise your own ingredients and ‘recipes’ for easy tracking of frequently eaten meals
  • Review macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, calcium, iron etc) eaten in the day, and whether they meet minimum daily requirements
  • Set calorie goal for the day, easily review remaining calories and macronutrient breakdown
  • Favourites category, easily identify your customised food entries
  • Barcode scanner!
  • Nutrition and consumption calorie reports

Drawbacks:

  • Barcode scanner only in the paid version
  • Barcodes are not always linked to products, and sometimes the barcode scanner does not scan properly (depending on lighting etc)
  • For most products, the only nutritional information available is that which is printed on the package. This means that a lot of micronutrients and even in some cases caffeine, are not displayed

Review:

I’ve never been a big fan of tracking calories, in fact I’ve been very stubbornly opposed to the entire concept for a long time. What this app does is allow you to remove the focus from calorie counting (though the info is all still right there, if calorie counting is your thing), and places the focus on macro and micronutrient tracking. The amount of nutritional information this app allows you to review is fabulous – you want to track how much iron, calcium or vitamin C you’re consuming? Easy!

Sports Tracker

Cost: Free
Audience: cardiovascular crazed / joggers
Youtube Video

Features:

  • Time and measure the distance, speed/pace of your jogs, hikes or walks
  • Measure calories burnt
  • Inbuilt Google maps function, shows where you are, and where’s you’ve jogged
  • Share your routes on Facebook with the click of a button
  • Basic functionality so only a small learning curve

Drawbacks:

  • No inbuilt heart rate monitor support
  • No inbuilt interval timing functions

Review:

Although my favourite jogging app to date, it’s lacking in the two drawbacks mentioned above. Still a great app though and highly recommended, let’s just hope for a future update which includes the two functions above!

Fitness Buddy

Cost: Free
Audience: beginner resistance enthusiasts
Features:

  • Preprogrammed exercise routines
  • Pictures and description of how to perform exercises

Drawbacks:

  •  Unable to modify or enter your own exercises, so you’re constrained to those on offer
  • Not a lot of features

Review:

A great program for beginners, provides some nice descriptions with accompanying pictures.

Cost: Free
Audience: RPG’ers (role playing gamers) who are also fitness enthusiasts
Youtube Video

Features:

  • Reward system (think badges, or ‘achievements’) for accomplishing strength goals
  • Reward system for accomplishing “quests”
  • Leveling system to encourage frequent workouts
  • Facebook/twitter style interface with tons of very active social groups to meet all tastes. The community is truly amazing, with heaps of support and social interaction

Drawbacks:

  • Resistance training focus
  • Information for past workouts can only be entered for 5 days prior to the current date
  • As you level up, it becomes harder to level up – but that’s what RPG’ing is all about!! (incentive to train harder)

Review:

Although not technically a simple app for the iPhone and more of an interface app for the Fitocracy website (requires sign-in prior to use), I had to include it on my list. Fitocracy has helped motivate me in a way that nothing else has, and given me goals where before I really had none. If you’re an RPG’ing nerd, like me, and also into resistance training – Fitocracy is an absolute must.

What smartphone apps have you found that help to organise, record and plan your workouts?

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