Friday, May 29, 2015

Fitness tweaks and tools

Here are five fitness things that I'm spinning these days:

1. Foam rolling hip flexor
Normally, my foam rolling routine consists of working my IT band, glutes, and calves, and sometimes my quads. Aside from rolling, I stretch my hamstrings and hip flexors.
During a recent gait analysis, I mentioned my history of IT band syndrome. I was advised to try foam rolling my hip flexors instead of just stretching them. The suggestion was that while it's certainly good to foam roll the IT band directly, the hip flexors also have a largely fundamental impact on the IT band.

I have been giving the hip flexor rolling a try. It hurt like crazy when I first started. This was a bit unsettling, considering that I have consistently stretched my flexors. But obviously foam rolling is a whole other method.

Long story short, my legs do feel noticeably better these days. Early this month, I had started experiencing a recurrence of knee pain. It was making me really nervous. Thankfully, since I've started the hip flexor rolling, things seem to be back under control. Huge relief!

In case anyone else wants to give it a whirl, I found this instructional video:

2. Fountain Finder app
I'm always happy when the water fountains on the Chicago Lakefront Path are available for use. They are such a terrific resource and provide great hydration flexibility.

While I am familiar with certain parts of the lakefront trail, there are plenty of stretches where I have no idea of water fountain placement. This has involved me just having to look around and keep my eyes peeled in the hopes that I'll see one.

SOLUTION: The Fountain Finder app! It has GPS mapping capabilities enabling you to find the closest water fountains on the path, complete with pictures. Ingenious!!!
The fountain listings also note whether or not there is an adjoining bathroom, which is helpful. I do wish that you could search for the bathrooms separately instead of checking each fountain listing. But it's still better than the alternative!

3. Drop sets
When I am weight-lifting, my usual practice is to do 3 sets of 10-15 reps. However, this gets really cumbersome and boring for me after awhile.

To mix things up, I do drop sets. Here is an article describing the concept in more detail. In short, you use a higher amount of weight to start. Once you reach failure, you immediately reduce the weight and keep doing reps until you again reach failure. The idea is that this practice enables you to work your muscles more thoroughly to failure than if you just stuck with heavier weight the entire time.

I usually only drop the weight once or twice by about 20-25% each time. However, you could certainly vary the number of drops you do, as well as the amount of weight reduced each time.
Admittedly, after you've done three or four drops, it does feel a little silly to be struggling with some comparatively minuscule amount of weight. But that is when you know you have REALLY worked those muscles to complete and total fatigue!

4. Stretch breaks
My workplace is trying very hard to promote more activity throughout the day. They are encouraging each of us to get up from our desks and move around for at least five minutes every hour. They've got standing workstations, portable footpedals, and other little fitness gadgets set up all around the office for our active use.

This is all well and good, and I certainly appreciate the intentions. In reality, though, I find it too distracting and interruptive to get up once an hour. Especially when I'm swamped.

My compromise is to try to do a little bit of stretching a couple times a day. It's not too difficult to pop into a conference room for a few minutes and stretch out the perpetually tight hamstrings, hips, or calves. I figure that this all adds up over time!
If only...
5. Old workout videos
Someone suggested dusting off those old workout videos from the 80s or 90s to give yourself a change of pace. What a fun idea!

I do have some old Jane Fonda videos at home. Apparently you can also find some great classics on YouTube. Hello, Cindy Crawford, Alyssa Milano, Paula Abdul, and Denise Austen, just to name a few. I love some of the classic music selections.
Can't stop, won't stop!!!

And since we're on the subject of 80s workouts, I would be completely remiss if I didn't include this hilarious Blackhawks video:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!! (Can you imagine the outtakes!?!?!?)

Anyways, I digress. Happy Friday to all!

Linking up with Cynthia, Mar, and Courtney for the Friday Five.


  1. When I was in high school I used to do this MTV dance workout video almost every day after school. I loved that stupid thing. Pretty sure it was this one. Ah, memories.

    1. I have been finding that some dance workout videos never go out of style! Thanks for sharing that MTV one. I've never heard of it before now - but I am definitely going to give it a whirl! YEAH!

    2. Ahhh, Katie, you did that tape too? Rock on!!!!!

  2. So I think it's really cool that your workplace is offering the opportunity to be a little more active. It actually keeps your mind fresher throughout the day!

    I do not foam roll regularly at all. And since I don't, it hurts when I do. I actually did for a very short time yesterday. I know from experience, if I start doing it daily, it becomes less painful and much easier. So that's my goal. Also, I've foam rolled my hip flexor but didn't realize that's what I was doing. I just knew when I shifted from the IT band, that I felt pain there, so I would roll it. Good to know it actually will help. I'll do it regularly.

    Drop sets, hmmm. Interesting. I've briefly heard of it but haven't incorporated it. In fact, I don't really do any weights right now. Do you have any program or things that you recommend?

    1. Thanks Amanda! I agree - a little bit of activity does keep the mind fresh, especially after staring at a spreadsheet for a couple of hours at a time. So glamorous, eh?

      I'm with you on the foam rolling. When I first started rolling my IT band, it was so painful that I was fighting back tears. Things definitely loosened up over time, though, and that was a nice accomplishment. That is great that you were already foam rolling your hip flexor! It took me a few days of doing it before it started feeling better. The first time was killer painful and I had to support almost my entire body weight on my arms and legs!

      In terms of weight lifting, I usually try to do some variation of bicep curls, tricep curls, lateral pulldowns or rows for the back, chest presses/butterflies, and shoulder presses/raises. For the lower body, I'll do different variations of squats or lunges, either with or without added weight. I try to pick a weight that gets challenging after about 8-10 reps (and this can vary from day to day). For the midsection, I try to be good about doing planks on a daily basis - even though to this day I really dislike doing them. Obviously I am no expert on weight-lifting, but let me know if I can share any other details on what works for me!

  3. You can use that foam roller on so many things that you would never think of. Glad that it's working out for you. I never thought a hunk of foam would help w problems but it really does make a difference.

    1. LOL on the "hunk of foam" reference because that is exactly what I mentally called it when I first heard about it! Who knew such a simple apparatus could be so useful, indeed!

  4. Thanks for the hip flexor video. I'm going to add that one to my list. I used to work out to Kathy Smith in the early 90s. I had all of her videos. It would be fun to pop one in. But, I yard-sold them.

    1. Ah yes, Kathy Smith! I had a few of her videos, too, back in the day, but don't know what ended up happening to them. She had some good classic routines!

  5. Replies
    1. Isn't it a great idea? Who knew that the old 80s workout videos could be so entertaining even to this day!

  6. The fountain finder app is genius! Sadly, EP is dismally low on water fountains. (Such a shame considering how hot it is here!) I'm jelly.

    1. I was actually thinking about this the other day - the drier, more desert-like regions seem to have fewer water fountains for obvious reasons. I was in Phoenix and went for a run, and not surprisingly saw exactly zero water fountains out on the road! Runners definitely need to be well-prepared in those climates!

  7. That is so cool that your work promotes stuff like that! I don't think to do it when I am swamped, either, but when I get up to use the bathroom sometimes, I'll walk the floor. :)

    Are you doing drop sets for most workouts or just to switch things up from time to time?

    1. Good call on walking the floor when using the bathroom! It's both a good and a bad thing for me that my desk is right next to the bathroom, water cooler, and printer. Is it ironic that I actually have to walk a little bit of a distance, comparatively, to get to the kitchen? LOL

      I am actually doing drop sets more often than not these days. I just find it a more interesting way of strength-training than doing the three sets of 10-15. It feels more effective, you know? Have you ever tried the drop sets yourself?

  8. Hi Emily, long time. I love walking around at work. I hate sitting down all day. I actually wrote a blog post back in April on staying active at work. Read it here -