Thursday, March 25, 2010

Maybe, Possibly Another Hike This Weekend?

Still OK to Hike on this?
And this time I got more than lack of trails to worry about!

Still recovering from my snowboarding injuries of this past week (where my red and swollen buttock is now bruised and swollen) but I'm pondering on whether to join my friends for a 22-mile hike at the Monrovia Peaks this weekend. One part of my brain is craving for some real activity, and another part is telling me not to be a dumbass and exert so much energy when I'm still very visibly injured.

One one hand, I can walk OK, even though I've given up double-stepping when going up the stairs. On the other, my buttocks and hamstrings is not a big melon-sized blotch of black and blue -- and I don't have complete range-of-motion in my right leg yet (putting on socks is still quite a feat every morning!)

And while I am hiking with friends at a steady, leisurely pace this time around, goodness knows how much help they can offer should I become incapacitated in the wild.

So... to hike, or not to hike? That is the question (and let's hope for the former that I don't wound up like Yorick!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Putting RICE on my bun . . .

Icing down my bruised, swollen butt on the Mammoth slopes;
photos on this post courtesy of Hungry Hungry Hanh (her flickr here)

This weekend I had an amazing trip up to Mammoth Mountains (my first time there), long slopes, cool little village and, of course, great company in the form of fellow blogger/twitter folks Hanh, Caroline on Crack, e*star LA, Mattatouille, Gourmet Pigs, Sam Kim, Roycifer and others.

The not so good news, while practicing/relearning my toe-turns and edges, I fell on my right butt cheek quite hard -- repeatedly. The result, a bowling-ball sized glute that makes me look like Beyonce or J Lo from one side.
Note the two buns for comparison, I can't even snap the button shut on the right back pocket of my pants! (and I've been asked, repeatedly, whether I stuffed anything into my back pocket-- nope, that's all me!)

As such, I figured it's a good a time as any to talk about recuperating after injury. Being no stranger to bruises, cuts and scrapes - I'm well acquainted with the R.I.C.E. method of recovery. Namely:

1) Rest (which, of course, means no exercises that requires glute work)
2) Ice (applying cold packs or chilly ointments to reduce pain)
3) Compress (to reduce inflammation and promote healing)
4) Elevation (also to reduce swelling)

It's no surprise that #4 is the hardest to do around-the-clock (imagine someone walking into my office and I'm at the computer or on the phone with my butt hiked up in the air!) but I do keep my behind slightly elevated, and sleep backside up, when I go to bed.

And of course, when my butt recovers enough to exercise, I'll ease back into my routine gently with yoga and some pilates work before going for the likes of cardio-kickboxing, plyometrics and running.

In the meantime, I'm being a bit more vigilant about my food intake since I'm not as physically active, and focusing my workouts on upper body exercise that wouldn't put strain on my glutes (e.g. seated bicep curls, tricep extensions, push-ups, chest fly, shoulder press/raise.)

And while I don't think this is a serious injury (already the swelling and soreness went down a little) if I don't recover in a few more days I'll definitely get an appointment with my physician. And if you're ever in doubt about the severity of your injury, do go to the doc first and let the expert decide.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Four lessons from La Brea Urban Hike and Eat . . .

Shadow of Self at Gold Line Terminal

Even if my Urban Hike and Eat didn't go as planned, I'd still consider it a fun success; but did learn a few takeaways for next month's walk.

1. Checking the route beforehand! Alas, I entrusted my hike path to Google Maps, only to discover that a stretch of La Brea along Baldwin Hills is not made for pedestrians. And so, my almost-12-mile affair turned into a 16-mile roundtrip hike (noted in above map) as I made my way back to the starting point (and beyond)
Back through the Freeway
2. Being flexible - of course, I could've easily cut my hike short and just bussed my way back after ~7 miles. But since I had the time and energy, I decided to hike my way back. On a similar note, I gave myself lots of eating/drinking options and set a pretty loose, open-ended schedule -- which worked in my favor when I found out my 1st and 2nd breakfast options were not opened yet, and I still got very delicious nosh at my 3rd stop. And of course, the choice of always hopping on a bus if I feel too exhausted, which leads to...
Still OK to Hike on this?
3. Being safe - especially important when hiking alone. On Urban Hikes, I try to pick routes where I'm always within a few blocks of a busstop, so just in case I can't hike anymore (either out of exhaustion, dehydration, or even plain ole laziness.) On this particular La Brea hike, I was intent on paving through Baldwin Hills on an improvised hiking path after the sidewalks have ended, but quickly turned around upon observing broken beer/wine bottles, used syringes and a vial of testosterone along that "trail."
My meaty legs...
4. Have fun & relax - In a recent LA Times article about marathon motivation, they found that people with intrinsic reasons for running (inner sense of accomplishment, reveling in the sheer joy of activity) are more likely to complete the entire 26.2 miles than those with extrinsic motivators (weight loss, getting a medal, etc.) In many ways I feel the same way during my urban hikes, it's a time for me to de-stress, observe the scenery, check out interesting sights... and even check myself out! And taking pleasure in the journey itself means the time and distance flies that much faster to get to the destination, if it even matters at all.

And, on that note, I've already decided on the route for my third Urban Hike and Eat slated for April 18, going past the Orange Curtain via the entire length of Beach Blvd. from La Habra to Huntington Beach. It comes out a little over 20 miles so it will be a full-day affair, but I'm really looking forward to the sights and sounds I'll encounter (and of course, the eats and drinks too!) Hope you can join me!

And here's the post on the eats I had on my La Brea Urban Hike and Eat, or click here for more photos.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Urban Hike and Eat this Sunday: from Hollywood to Inglewood!

Almost sunset @ Pier
End of the hike from Union Station to Santa Monica Pier last month

Given how happy I was with last month's Urban Hike and Eat Street Foodventure, I decided to make this a recurring (hopefully monthly) affair, discovering Southern California on foot, checking out sights and scenes I would usually miss behind the wheel - and grabbing some interesting bites and sips along the way too.

This Sunday, I'll be tackling the entire length of La Brea Avenue, from Hollywood to Inglewood. This urban hike clocks in a little under 12 miles, and with my planned start time of 7:30 a.m.--I expect to the hike to conclude by 3 p.m.-ish at La Brea & W Century - after which we can ride the bus back up to the starting point for a cool $1.25.

View La Brea restaurants in a larger map
As for the eats along the route, I've chosen a sundry of places on or near La Brea: some ethnic finds (El Nido for Nicaraguan, Ngoma for "Pan-African",) healthy joints (Stuff I Eat, M Cafe de Chaya) classic favorites (Susina Bakery, Campanile) and some meaning-to-trys (Food Lab Cafe, Soul Food Kitchen.)

Of course, I don't intend on stopping and eating at every stop cited on this map -- but these are just some fun options to consider along the way (and almost all of them are cheap-moderate price eateries) and there probably will be a lot more cool, funky joints to check out once we hit the streets (which is the beauty of the hike, we can stop whereever and whenever) If it's anything like my last Urban Hike and Eat, I don't expect the day's food bill to run more than $35.

So that being said, if you care to join me on this Urban Hike and Eat (the more the merrier, and the more grub we can try and share!) contact me! But I'm planning to be at the start of the hike by 7:15 a.m.-ish; hope you can make it too!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Ignore Flexibility!

One of my favorite stretches after a cardio or lowerbody strength workout -- great for hip, butt and thigh muscle groups.

In the three primary areas of fitness, flexibility is often the most overlooked aspect; I see it all the time from observing and hearing about my friends' routines, they may pump some major iron or go on uber-lengthy running/cycling sessions, but when I inquire about their warm-up/cool-downs or any flexibility-related component, more often than not I get a blank stare or a quick "that's for sissies" brush off. Oh, what a big mistake.

On the surface, stretching and flexibility exercises aren't as outwardly sexy as muscle-building strength workouts, nor does it compare to the calorie burn of a cardio session, but it definitely has its own benefits that makes it an important part of any well-rounded exercise regimen. Experts agree that it helps with:

- muscles' range of motion
- injury prevention and recovery
- reducing post-workout soreness
- stress relief

And most importantly, being flexible actually improves your ability with strength and cardio workouts, since your body is less likely to be fatigued, better able to stay in proper form and recover faster afterwards, letting you work harder and longer without setbacks such as lactic acid buildup, muscle tightness and injuries, not to mention gently setting a positive mood in preparation for, and recovering from, a session too!

Personally, I do a combination of yoga, pilates and active stretches (the last is particularly great for Type A folks too impatient to stay in one posture for an extended period of time.) Sometimes it's a simple 5-minute warmup and cooldown around my usual workout, other times it may be a 30-60 minute routine dedicated to improving flexibility, but I try to incorporate it in at least three times a week.

I may not be a human pretzel anytime soon, but I'll at least be happily finding my calm in a sun salutation instead of limping around looking for ice, pain cream or pills after a race or a game.

P.S. Of course, it should be noted that if you have already strained/pulled/injured a muscle, do check with your doctor before stretching it since that may aggravate the injury -- and when it is OK to engage that body part again, just like all other workouts, ease into it progressively and with caution rather than immediately doing the "regular" full load.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Every little bit counts . . .

Shadow of Me Walking
Shadow of me urban hiking last month

Given recommendations that we should exercise anywhere from 30 minutes a day to five hours per week to maintain fitness (and even more to actively lose weight!), it can seem a bit daunting to accomplish especially for people with a busy enough lifestyle or trying to ditch their sedentary lifestyles. Don't worry, even active folks have their days of exercise dread too.

In any case, if the idea of continually working out for 30+ minutes seems impossible, break it up! As I've noted in an Associated Press article, by breaking up a regimen in smaller segments 1) it's a lot easier to squeeze into the schedule (three 10-minute sections versus a half-hour block) 2) psychologically the routine is a lot easier to accomplish, since the partial goal is so much closer and 3) even if you manage to only partially complete the day's worth of mini-routines, you are still getting SOME fitness-building activity in, which is definitely better than getting NO activity because you can't set aside the time/energy for a longer workout session.

Now, longer stretches of exercise have their advantages too (more intense calorie burn, building endurance and prolonged cardio-fitness, not needing to change in and out of activewear so often, etc.) but it just leaves so much room for the "all or nothing" mentality, which can easily cause one to fall off the wagon, particularly the newly active.

Even now I regularly break my workouts up and almost always completing that first segment gives me the encouragement to finish the rest. And for truly long sessions like my daylong urban hike last month from downtown LA to the Santa Monica pier, I gave myself "mini goals" along the way (Silver Lake for breakfast, West Hollywood for lunch, so on . . .) to make that 21+ mile journey a lot less intimidatng.

If you think shorter segments might the way to go for you, here's a tip from me: do your first 5- to 15-minute workout first thing after you wake up, since it sets the tone for the rest of the day and you'll be more likely to want to finish what you started, and rest any tempting treats that may offset your hard-earned fitness.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A real no-effort trick to developing abs!

Despite my weight fluctuating about 10-15 pounds throughout the year, one feature that I'm always proud of are my core, which range from a full-on six pack at best and noticeable definition at the very least.

The trick is not in doing an inhumane amount of crunches every single day, but from one very simple substitution -- switching out my chair for a stability ball, a.k.a. Swiss/exercise/balance ball, something I've done at both my workplace and at home for four years and counting.

The underlying idea is simple, by using a stability ball as a chair, the core muscles are being continually engaged on a low-intensity level -- stabilizing the body due to the ball's innate imbalance. And if you are like me and glued to the desk for most of the day, that's a good 7-8 hours of effortless ab workout.

And the ball also gives me chances to do some mini-exercises during downtimes at work. From the upgraded swiss ball crunch in above video to pelvic tilts, or even just a relaxing ab & back stretch -- it's great knowing I am already sitting on the only equipment I need for those exercises, and that I can do them whenever I want.

As an additional perk, since I am on a ball, it forces me to maintain a proper posture instead of slouching against the back of a chair.

Of course, if you already have existing back problems, check with your doctor first before committing yourself to a ball for chair (not to mention the HR/safety departments if you're doing it at work.) And if you still want the occasional back support, good alternatives include using a balance ball chair, or a Bosu on top of your existing chair. And when you do invest in a stability for a chair or just for workouts, be sure to get the right size (as a general rule, your thighs should run parallel to the floor when sitting, and your shins vertical and perpendicular)