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Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Quick Look at Writing in Frameworks

Hey there. I started an essay for a class today, and realized I might do these things in ways other people might find really, really weird.

One of the ways I approach papers/essays is what I call (inside my head) writing in a framework. Basically, here's how it looks:


A few things you might notice:

- The first two lines at the top are the prompt. It's always helpful to keep important things directly in your field of vision, and eliminate the rest.

- I use little tags in brackets (like [CITE] and [EXPAND]). These are, obviously, notes to myself to do what they say. When I put these in the writing, I'm acknowledging that the sentence or paragraph will need some extension later — but the point is that I'm not addressing that yet. I don't want to divert my attention from the flow of ideas to anything else.

The result? In about 45 minutes I have 617 words of the basic frame for my essay. The major flow of ideas is quickly and enjoyably done, now I will go through the references I have gathered and add citations, quotes and expansions.

The point here is to just start writing. This is MILES away from being even the shittiest first draft, but that's the point. The ideas are no longer bouncing around in my head, they're out there, on the screen and ready for expansion.

Not a revolutionary approach, but definitely something I would call a bit out of the ordinary. At the end of the day, it helps me write, and that's what matters.



Side note: The program I took a screenshot of is called OmmWriter. It's useful for anyone who wants to get sucked into the flow of their writing, and the basic version that I use is totally free. I have no connection to the program or its creators outside of enjoying it, just passing info along.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome to a Powerful World

Congratulations!

If you're reading this, chances are you live in an age of opportunity. Years of human ingenuity have created a world where individuals are better linked, better educated and better enabled than ever before. If you want to, you can retire in under ten years, travel to every country in the world, or even trade a single paperclip for a house.

The world today is rife with opportunity. The average American has more technology in her pocket than NASA did when we put men on the moon. We've cured many of the diseases that plagued us in the past, and are on our way to curing more. Simply put, the world today is more connected than it has ever been, more advanced than it has ever been, and more open to individual contribution than it has ever been.

So, what does that mean for you? Go do.
 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

52 Weeks of Fitness: Lessons Learned

In my last post about my year-long fitness project (dubbed 52 Weeks of Fitness), I promised to readdress a few things I mentioned — most of all, what I actually learned from this experience. In this beast of a post, I'll cover the main lessons learned.

Nutrition

I looked into a few things as the year progressed. One of the main things was actually tracking every single bite of food I ate for 8 months. I used a free app from the Apple App Store called Loseit! to track what I ate. I used this information to track a few priorities, like calories in and my macronutrient balances. The app's tracking for calories burned through exercise seemed sketchy, so I only used it for baselines of calories burned during weightlifting sessions.

Calorie monitoring is a disputed subject among health and fitness authors, since there are clearly highly-unhealthy things we can consume that are low-calorie. Also, the caloric level does not take into account any time of insulin response, which Taubes and other respected authors view to be the source of fat gain. Nonetheless, I figure calories do correlate with the general nutritional value of most foods, and my time spent calorie-counting was useful (I leaned out to probably my best shape ever over the summer) and educational.
While there are a few different guidelines for macronutrient balance, I eventually settled on the Zone Diet's very moderate 40/30/30 ratio. This means my intake was roughly 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Once I got a feel for how the foods I was eating matched up to my macros, I typically just watched my protein number — trying to keep it around 0.7-1.5g per lb of bodyweight (I figured any day over 115 was a good day).

A few key nutrition things I tried:
  • Protein timing — protein shake as the first thing consumed in the morning did boost muscle gains when first starting out.
  • Paleo — I had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Paleo diet over the year. Paleo taught me to appreciate real, whole foods and to be wary of grains, among other things. 
  • Going lactose- and/or gluten-free — Closely associated with Paleo, pulling lactose and gluten-based products generally yielded better results.
  • Not eating as much meat — after reading Eating Animals and watching "Food, Inc." in one of my classes this fall, I also decided that forgoing meat on occasion might not be as bad as the Paleo folks would have you believe. There are a LOT of good recipes out there and only a fraction of those include meat.

Bottom line on nutrition:

Focus on real, wholesome foods — they taste better, fill you up better, and generally fuel you better. This focus should lie above any specific dieting dogma — even Paleo, which I found to be a solid standout after overcoming initial processed-carbohydrate deprivation. For anyone making a transition to healthier eating, the easiest way to do it is just to keep adding healthy foods, rather than subtracting unhealthy foods. Just like your mother made you, push yourself to eat your veggies before you look for junk food — you'll find the transition easier than you think. It's also worthwhile to gain an understanding of the psychology behind eating.

From what I've heard from Michael Pollan, he seems to have this stuff already written out succinctly and simply:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Lifting, in all its forms

 After toying with Starting Strength and Four Hour Body workouts a last year and The New Rules of Lifting this year, I've picked up a few things:
  • Compound lifts are tantamount to nearly everything else. By compound lifts I mean weightlifting exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups, e.g., swapping bicep curls for rows, pulldowns or pullups/chinups. Yes, isolation exercises (focusing on one particular muscle, like the aforementioned bicep curls) do accomplish something, but in the full scheme of your fitness their impact is minimal. Stick to the things that matter, the things that do the most good — compound lifts. The "Big Three" to start with are the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift. It's possible to learn these on your own, but I would strongly recommend consulting someone who actually knows what's up — i.e., not me.
  • Lift heavy, in one form or another. While it seems like everybody has a "secret pill" or "golden formula" for weightlifting, all paths lead to Rome. The one thing every author I read could agree on was the need for low-to-medium reps (for the purposes of this post, we'll say between 1-15 reps, depending on the contextual lifting goals) in a volume high enough to fatigue your body was ideal, especially compared to the pop-exercise idea of "toning" yourself through endless reps of light weights. Pinterest Health & Fitness pins, I'm looking at you.
  • Track your progress in a way that's easy for you to keep up with. Some people use a spreadsheet, others a scrap of paper, Fitocracy, and so on... Just track it. Why? Because you're looking to improve something, and when you're a month (or less) in and feeling unmotivated, you'll be able to look at the numbers and see progress. Progress shows up faster in your training logs than it ever will in the mirror.
  • Don't waste time on over-analyzing if you're doing the right thing. If you're seeking to follow the above basic guidelines in a safe way, then you're on the right path. Keep doin'.

"Cardio" and such

I've gone through multiple beliefs on cardio and how useful and important it is or isn't, but here's where I've ended up:

Your cardiovascular fitness should be at a high enough level that it not only doesn't limit you from living your life, it empowers you to live a more fulfilling life.

This means that, for the most of us, you should be able to: play pick-up games of your favorite sport, walk up several flights of stairs, play with your kids, etc without any signs of fatigue whatsoever. Sadly, that's saying a lot for the average American. But past that point, you should feel empowered to: pick up a sport or active hobby that you enjoy, embrace physical challenges as they come, save your life and possibly the lives of others in a dangerous situation, etc if you need/choose to do so. That's the goal — a baseline level of "good" or even "great" cardiovascular fitness, with the ability to do great or awesome things that would be inaccessible to someone of lesser fitness.

So how do we get there?
  • Generally, be active and move during the day. Basic, everyday activity is ignored far too much. Take walks with your loved ones in the mornings or evenings, try biking to work or errands, get a dog and walk it, grab a pedometer and look for 10,000 daily steps — whatever you can do. Luckily, this is a lifestyle adjustment that can be made through "baby steps". It seems insignificant at first, but (forgive the cliché) it really all adds up. Park your car at the edge of the lot. Live your day as if elevators don't exist, and escalators don't move.
  • Try running, even if you love other cardio-based activities more. We were born meant to run. A fantastic place to start if the ubiquitous Couch-to-5k plan. Oh and one other thing about running — your butt muscles are running muscles, so ladies concerned about their bums should forget the leg lifts and hit the track. And then squat.
  • Once you have a decent schedule for cardio and a baseline cardio threshold, look into sprint-based workouts. Varied-intensity workouts like HIIT, Tabata and wind sprints are moving from cutting-edge research topics to mainstream fitness advice, and the news looks good all around. Look into sprinting or doing some kind of high-intensity cardio exercise once or twice a week, even if it's brief.
  • Overall, we were built to move in a variety of ways at a variety of intensities. Establish your baseline, and then have fun. If you like swimming, then swim! Do triathlons, powerwalking, tango dancing, whatever fills you with joy. That is what will take you to the next level.

The Overall Bottom Line

I write these things because I think health and fitness should be about life lived to the fullest. Eat real, wholesome foods, challenge yourself and grow through exercise, be open to new experiences and dance like Zorba.

This is the next-to-last post on the 52 Weeks of Fitness. The last post will be a collection on resources for people interested in learning more about nutrition, health and fitness.

Universal disclaimer: I am in no way, shape or form a qualified health professional. Consult them (doctors, trainers, nutritionists, etc) WAY before you think about putting the things I write here into action. I am not responsible for your stupidity or refusal to follow proper instruction from a real licensed professional.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What happened?! 52 Weeks of Fitness Wrap-Up

I was just listening to a health and fitness podcast by one of my favorite health bloggers when I stopped, gasped, and punched myself in the face. I forgot to write the wrap-up post for the end of my Year of Fitness!

(Actually, "forgot" is giving myself WAY too much credit. I procrastinated HARD on this sukka.)

So what happened? How'd it turn out? Am I a chiseled personal trainer with a cult-ish internet following and a side-gig as a male model?

Short answer:


Nope. Definitely not.

Long answer:


If you recall, I started off this year with a broad proclamation that 2012 would be known as my Year of Fitness. I would establish a regular fitness schedule, eat healthier, track my data and meticulously transform myself from someone who talked plenty of talk into someone who walked swaggered the walk. Here are my words from that initial post:

"I'll be following weightlifting workouts prescribed in The New Rules of Lifting. In addition to this, I'll be doing light amounts of running intervals on my off-days.

To support this (relatively) high level of physical activity, I'll be supplementing with Dymatize's Elite Gourmet Protein, eating relatively healthy, and following the Mobility WOD's provided by Kelly Starrett.

The key here is to establish the habit of healthiness. That means:
  • Being active every day.
  • Eating healthy.
  • Sticking with it, day in and day out.
I've tried to do as much homework and preparation in advance as possible, so all I have to do when Monday comes is to just live it. I know I can't possibly prepare for an entire year of fitness in advance, but I'm doing the best I can. I'll check in weekly here on the blog to help myself along."
I thought I was being reasonable — and still do. The average person, with the right lifestyle factors, could get into GREAT shape with that plan. Like, man-I-should've-take-before-pictures-because-I-look-dead-sexy-now shape. What would I do differently? Heh, that's the topic for another post. But here's what the year turned out like:

  • I kept up with The New Rules of Lifting pretty well, all things considered. Sure, I had some starts and stops, but I stuck with the plan well enough for enough of the year to see that it's a decent plan that CAN WORK.
  • I did use protein powder, and played with a few different methods/timings of using it. I learned. Good.
  • I started down the Mobility WOD path, learned some valuable things, and then quickly fell off when I was too cheap/lazy to purchase the basic equipment I would need to make some real, lasting change.
  • I started tracking my meals using the LoseIt! app on the iPhone. Once I got into the swing of things with the app, I DID start to see results. For reasons that I'll go into another time, I eventually stopped tracking my meals around October or so.
  • I signed up for and began playing around with Fitocracy. Cool site, but things get much cooler when you can use the app.
  • I read A LOT of articles, posts, and books about exercise, health, fitness and diet. I'll come back to the things that mattered the most in another post.
 So I didn't "transform myself" or establish a fitness-nazi lifestyle. I had peaks and valleys along the way, but as I right this I'm honestly only a bit leaner with a tad more muscle (highly scientific terms, I know). But I did learn plenty about what I really think about heath and fitness, what we do/don't know, and what I think is important — and most of all, what seems to work for me. My hope is that I can leverage these lessons to keep growing, learning, and looking more and more like King Leonidas as time goes on.

I'm about to start building my post on the lessons learned and where I'll go in the future, but one bit of advice for anyone reading this and considering something similar:

If you've ever thought about undertaking a singular goal/resolution that you've been putting off, do it. But that doesn't mean you should sign up and check out. I may sound very reasoned and accepting of how my year went, but at the end of the day I still wish I was in a stronger, fitter, and better-looking place. The basics of health and fitness aren't that hard, and sometimes trying to optimize things (like I did) can over-complicate things. It's cliché, but the BEST exercise program and the BEST diet to achieve ANY results you want is the one you'll actually do. So go on, start (and then keep on) doin'.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Post: Another Father-Son Relationship Story


Hey everyone, your favorite Buckler is back! Totally joking, Christian is letting me use his blog for a class project. Hopefully you find me as entertaining as him!

Let me start by saying one thing: I’ve always loved my dad, and I always will. This post is not meant to disparage him in any way; it is merely meant to acknowledge both the differences and the constants in our relationship since I moved away from our house and to college.

            To understand the differences, you must first understand my family and my background. I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. I’m the oldest of the siblings; my younger brother is a senior in high school this year and my younger sister is a freshman. As children, both my brother and I were brought into the world of sports by my dad. He grew up the same way despite his diminutive stature (he graduated high school a little over five feet tall and right around 100 pounds), wrestling as well as playing football, soccer, and baseball. Because of his passion for sports throughout his childhood, he was able to convince me and Paul to play soccer when we were just starting school. Although I’m positive he wouldn’t have been very happy had we not wanted to play, we never had that issue. Both Paul and I excelled on our respective teams because of our extensive practice. Rather than watch cartoons like some of our friends, we begged our dad to take us to the park and play soccer with us. Our dining room at home doubled as a soccer field with a small rubber Fisher Price basketball, despite our mother’s insistence that something would be broken (the chandelier lights frequently did, but she was usually quick to forgive). Soccer soon gave way to basketball (also indoors on a Fisher Price hoop, I should probably thank my mother after this), football, and baseball. My dad joined in on almost everything we played, happy to have an outlet in which to interact with us. It is through this outlet that I grew with my brother and my dad. My family background is not defined by a love of sports, but it can easily be described in such terms.

            In high school, the sports connection I had with my dad continued. He went to all of my games (basketball, soccer, hockey, and track meets), frequently yelling encouragement despite my objections. He ensured that I was a model student athlete; attending all team events (mandatory and non) while remaining an honors student. I was kicked out of a hockey practice once because of a miscommunication with my coach, who thought I was playing with a puck when I shouldn’t have been. I was adamant that I was in the right, to the point that I was willing to skip the next day’s game because I didn’t want to apologize. My dad informed me that there were no options; I was apologizing to both the coach and my teammates for my behavior. While I rarely strayed this far from my dad’s motto of leading by example, he put me back in my place when it was necessary.

            Outside of sports, however, our relationship was sometimes strained. As teenagers are wont to do, I frequently spent entire days in my room with the door closed, watching TV and spending hours online. My dad, the ultimate family man, hated it. His idea of a family consisted of spending free time together whenever possible, something my brother and I rarely wanted to do. Why would I want to watch a marginal TV show or play a board game with them when I could watch hours of YouTube videos or Scrubs marathons in the privacy of my room? My dad and I frequently fought about what he described as my new “hermit” lifestyle. He was much more strict than my mother (my siblings and I were always grateful when my mom was the only one around to discipline us), who only became bothered when I was in my room neglecting my chores. As the son of a military man, my dad grew up in many different places. My Uncle Marty was actually born in Japan, to go along with multiple others born in Canada and different areas around the United States. He moved so much that his brothers and sisters had to be his best friends, as he always had to leave his old friends behind. This is what (in my opinion) led my dad to discourage our desire for endless independence. He obviously wanted us to lead our own lives and above all be happy, but he believed that our happiness depended on a close knit family. None of this is to say that I resented my dad in high school. I loved him just as he loved me, and we got along perfectly fine more often than not.

            As I moved on to my next chapter in life, I felt that I would begin to drift away from my family and especially my dad. As high school valedictorian and a graduate of Texas A&M with a 3.9 GPA, my mom was able to give me tips and helping points to help succeed in college. As a student of only a few years of community college, I wondered if my dad would think that we were growing apart. Luckily, our relationship has only strengthened. I talk to him at least two or three times a week, usually more. We talk about sports, school, work, and family. My brother, who has made a living doing things at a far lower level than he is capable of (a story for another day) is a frequent topic of discussion. My dad has embraced TCU as if he went here himself, watching every football game and talking smack to coworkers who graduated from Baylor or UT. Golfing, a tradition that began late in high school, has bloomed into something truly special for me. Because TCU is so close to home, I get the chance to spend a day golfing with my dad (and sometimes brother) every few weeks.

As a freshman and sophomore, I was only involved in Intramural sports at TCU. Therefore, my dad and I were only able to discuss our golf outings and professional sports. After I joined TCU’s reignited club ice hockey team, my dad returned to his hobby of being a youth hockey fanatic. He asks me about the hockey team at least as often as he does my classes, if not more. As grateful as I am to have hockey as an outlet in my life again, I’m just as grateful to have another opportunity to have my dad cheer for me.

This project was easy for me because of the way two of my strongest values interact with each other. My family is ultimately my greatest value, and our shared love of sports (and really, any competition) is something that has made me the man I am today.
 
 
From left to right: my girlfriend Jordan, me, my dad, my friend David, and my sister Emily