Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Product Review - TRX at the Beach

When I bought my TRX, one of the selling points for me was that it is portable. I had visions of taking my workout equipment with me when I visit the in-laws in Japan, particularly, where I can't run, can't swim, can't lift and can't ride my bike.

The test of portability came on a recent vacation to the lovely island of Kauai. We have a timeshare on the island and try to get there every year or so.

The first workout was done in the comfort of the master bedroom. It was stormy outside and I'd been cooped up all day and needed some activity so I slipped on the door attachment and told my family to knock loudly before entering the room. True to form, the TRX worked very well anchored to the door. I felt a bit constrained in the different environment, having walls so close, etc. but it would be very easy to get used to.

The second test came later in the week when the family decided to head to the beach for an afternoon. As we drove into the parking lot I was scanning for likely places to anchor and as luck would have it, this tree just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I wrapped the strap a couple of times around a limb and got down to business.

Aside from getting odd looks from locals and tourists alike, the system again performed to expectations. Easy to set up, easy to anchor and easy to use. I got in a great workout and then played on the beach with my family.

It is very rare that we get to travel with the same exercise equipment we use at home. My bicycle costs $100 to fly it one way, and I've never seen a hotel exercise room that can offer a wide range of resistance training equipment. At best they usually have some pathetic old machine which looks like it could be hazardous to one's health. With the TRX I have finally found my solution to exercise on the road.

As always, if you found this post to be helpful or informative, please use my link to get back to Fitness Anywhere. It costs you nothing but if you buy, I get a bit of a perk. Thanks!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fighting Cancer - You Can Help!

Those of you who read my Thanksgiving post will remember that my mom has been diagnosed with a malignant mass in her lung and has only a short time left on this earth.

Because of this, I've decided to join the Lance Armstrong LiveSTRONG Foundation fundraising event this year. The LiveSTRONG Foundation provides tools and resources to those surviving cancer as well as taking an active part in treatment research and prevention.

It is an excellent cause that suddently means a lot more to me than ever before. Please consider stopping by my donation page and contributing. $5 - the price of a morning latte - is a huge step in this fight.

Thank you.

My donation page

Friday, December 05, 2008

One of Kaua'i's More Colorful Residents

Poipu Beach

Tree Tunnel Road

Best Burgers on Kaua'i

Haena Beach

Thursday, December 04, 2008

More Kevin on the beach

Kevin enjoying the ocean

Tribal Markings

We just don't know which tribe.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Making a New Friend

Or getting dinner? You decide:

At $75 a head you are allowed to blow your own horn.

Mud Ride!!

The first year we came to Kauai, we won an ATV tour in a raffle. It was dirty, muddy and Kevin loved it. This year he begged to do it again:

Monday, December 01, 2008

The only Monday Morning I like

Here comes the sun...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Misty Mountains

Out on a little walk in the late afternoon.

Kauai Vacation '09

For the next week we are vacationing at our timeshare on the island of Kauai. I will be updating the blog with pictures and videos as well as posting pictures to TwitPic. I also brought my TRX along and will post pictures and thoughts about taking the system traveling with me.

Our first day is turning out to be gray and chilly, but that's ok. Kevin is excited about getting to spend the day indoors watching TV :). He also likes playing in the rain:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hanalei Bay

I think Kevin and I will try surfing here this week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving and I'm doing what I do many holidays - sitting in a (mostly) empty office covering the phones so others can enjoy their holiday with their families. Many of you may think that is strange because I have a family and I should be enjoying my day off with them. However one of the things with which I am blessed is a spouse with a strong work ethic who understands when I want to cover six hours in a quiet office to get two free comp days in compensation.

I've been having some problems today. You see, as I was growing up my mom raised me to be fairly independent. Over the years we stayed in contact but it could easily be months between phone calls. I generally tried to call on the holidays, like today, but if I was a day or two late it was no big deal. Until this year.

You see I got a call late last week from mom's husband that in a recent physical they found a mass in her lung and given some of the other things going on with her health, they are certain it is malignant. Due to other health complications, mom isn't strong enough to survive either surgery or chemotherapy. They give her between three and six months to live.

So I thought today might be a good time to reflect on the things I'm thankful for about my mother:

  • I am thankful for that independence she gave me. I have friends for whom the feeling of familial obligation is an absolutely crushing load. I, on the other hand, was able to break free of that fairly early in my adulthood.
  • I am thankful for the sensitivity my mother recognized in me and especially thankful for her teaching that it is OK to be a male and to be sensitive and sympathetic while still being "manly."
  • I am thankful for the long talks we had as I was growing up. For much of my childhood she was practically bed-ridden with migraine headaches and depression and I would spend hours talking with her or listening to music. We would talk about everything from books and TV to sex and drugs.
  • I am thankful for the empathy I learned, watching someone I love being in so much physical and emotional pain constantly.
  • I am thankful for the critical thinking my mother taught me. Through those long talks mom taught me how to read a book and analyze what it was saying. She taught me to read newspaper and magazine articles and find the slant. She taught me to listen to others and hear what was behind the words.
  • But mostly, I am thankful for having a mother that loved me and supported me and always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do in life.
I hope I can do half as well as a parent to my son as she did with me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


A few days ago I explained where daily caloric expenditure comes from:

BMR + TEF + TEA + NEAT = Daily Caloric Expenditure.

As I was researching that formula one thing I noticed is that NEAT is highly variable from day to day and person to person. That means the amount of calories burned is variable as well!

Let's take an example - say we have a 200 pound, 30 year old man with 15% body fat. We would expect that guy to have a BMR around 2000 calories a day. I hope it is fairly obvious that this guy would burn more calories working heavy construction than sitting at a computer all day. Most daily calorie requirement calculators try to capture this with a "lifestyle" modifier of sedentary through highly active.

As a matter of fact NEAT can account for 15% to 50% of daily calorie expenditure! What does that mean in real numbers? Our sedentary computer jockey would need an extra 300 calories a day to maintain his weight. The construction worker, on the other hand, could need as much as 1000. This is all through the virtue of how much they move in normal day-to-day life, before exercise is calculated.

What does that mean? GET UP AND MOVE! Park your car in the farthest space from the front door. Take the stairs, at least part-way. If you are a cube dweller like I am, get one work surface set at standing-height and give your butt a break. Try replacing your office chair with a stability ball - not only will it help strengthen your core and improve your posture, it can burn an extra 100 calories a day - just for sitting! How about doing some exercise during the commercials as you watch TV at night?

If you could raise your NEAT just 100 calories a day, that is burning an extra one pound per month (OK, 35 days) which equates to 10.5 pounds per year. 10 pounds just for taking the stairs and walking farther to the front door - not a bad trade, eh?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tools of the Trade

In the software engineering world we throw around a phrase, "You can't improve a process you can't measure" and in NLP we say "If you don't know where you are going, how do you know when you've gotten there?"

Leigh Peele of "The Fat Loss Troubleshooter" posted a fantastic article entitled "The Reality of Calories" which included a video that very graphically illustrates the point:

So what tools do I use to measure and keep track of my processes? As the video showed, a digital scale is essential. If you spend any time whatsoever logging food, you will notice that there is very little consistency in how portions are measured, if you are trying to use the English system. However almost every food label will show the serving size in grams, which is more accurate anyway. Spending a week or two measuring portions to the gram can be a very educational experience.

As far as software/online tools go, I have 3 sites I consider indispensable:

  1. PhysicsDiet.com
  2. TheDailyPlate.com
  3. Gyminee.com
Physics Diet

Regular readers have seen me talk about this site before so I won't go into a lot of detail. Essentially, you enter a weight (and optionally other data like body fat, exercise calories, etc.) and it shows you over time what your weight is doing as well as averages your weight to help smooth out the panic over those day-to-day fluctuations we all have. The site will also use this data to show surplus or deficit calories for a given time period. This is an extremely important function because all intake and expenditure numbers are estimates and one never knows how accurate the estimates are until they have a few weeks of data.


TheDailyPlate is a nutrition tracking site. If you read my post on figuring nutritional requirements, you understand how important it is to track the macro nutrients as well as calories. TheDailyPlate makes this process easy by having a very extensive database of foods, including the ability to search other user-contributed foods. Users also have the ability to create "meals" - a combination of foods eaten regularly such as bacon and eggs for breakfast.

TheDailyPlate will also track calories burned from exercise and automatically subtract those from amount consumed. It includes the ability to set calorie goals and track weight over time as well.

One very nice feature is the pie graph showing calories consumed that day. For those of us that are strongly visual-oriented it is a great way to see at a glance how the intake has been so far.


I was looking around for an easy to use workout log to take with me to the gym and happened to see this site mentioned for online logging on a bodybuilding forum. Aside from a well-designed printable log, the site has some nice features. When designing a workout, one has the ability to choose from a decent array of exercises, either cardio or strength, with the strength broken down by body part. There is the option to completely create your own workout or you can "join" workouts created by others. I saw a decent mix of upper/lower splits, Rippetoe's beginner workouts, 5x5s, etc.

Each exercise is either described well or has a video and as you progress you can look at total reps performed over time, total weight lifted or max weight lifted as a measure of checking progress from workout to workout.

Both TheDailyPlate and Gyminee have a lot of "social networking" options such as chats, blogs, forums, etc. Gyminee also will track weight and nutrition however I have not tried the nutrition feature yet.

As the diet and fitness industry continues to take greater advantage of the internet and online interaction, more and more tools become available to help us in our quest to ride that century or push the iron. I hope some of you will take advantage of these tools to realize your own goals.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Examining Daily Calorie Expenditure

I promised a couple of weeks ago to start posting about things I am learning in relation to nutrition and exercise and perhaps the best place to start is with figuring out where calories go and what the body does with them.

Thermodynamics are pretty clear:
calories in + calories out = surplus/deficit.

There are some cases where this formula seems to break down however they are outside the scope of this overview.

As one would imagine, the formula above is just an easy to remember simplification. The calories in part is of course the food we eat and seems fairly clear cut although I will have some thoughts on this at the bottom.

The calories out part of the equation is where things get really interesting. Caloric expenditure can be broken down as follows:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - This is the base number of calories one's body needs just to stay alive. A quick and fairly accurate estimate is 10-11cal/lb of body weight.
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) - Believe it or not, it costs energy to digest food. The amount of energy it takes is dependent on the type of food being processed. TEF can account for 20% of expenditure. More on this below.
  • Activity Thermogenesis - Calories burned through movement. There are two parts to consider:
  1. Thermogenic Exercise Activity (TEA) - Calories burned through exercise.
  2. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) - Calories burned through moving, walking, fidgeting, etc. but not related to exercise. This value is highly variable and can account for as little as 15% to as high as 50% of caloric expenditure.
OK, um, so what does all this mean? It means figuring caloric requirements is as much art as science. Let's look at an example:

I started bulking at 165 pounds. I was lifting 3 times per week and doing some swimming a couple of times, too. Let's use 10 cal/lb for BMR:

165 * 10 = 1650

That number is a guess at the number of calories I need to just lay in bed and breathe. Now, obviously I'm going to do a bit more than that - I'm also going to eat! I eat a lot of protein which has the highest TEF, so let's figure a full 20%:

(1650* .2) + 1650= 1980 calories for maintenance on rest days.

Now if we figure in either a half hour of swimming or an hour of lifting, we get

1980 + 500 = 2480 calories for maintenance on exercise days.

Using that number as a base, I can then watch my weight over a period of time using a site like Physics Diet and determine if those numbers are correct or need tweaking.

Thoughts on TEF

Just as different foods yield different amounts of energy when consumed, they also require different amounts of energy to process. Fats have the highest caloric value and the lowest TEF value at only 2 or 3% and protein gives the highest TEF at up to 30%. Fibrous vegetables provide so few calories and are so hard to process they can actually have a negetive energy contribution once TEF is included.

Thus it is reasonably easy to see why the MANS diet is so useful for gaining muscle while bodybuilding. High protein insures muscles have what they need for repair plus the veggies all give great bang for the TEF buck and the fat content serves to provide most of the non-exercise energy requirements.

I hope this overview will help everyone dial in their calorie requirements, whether bulking or cutting.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zen vs. Cat Food

Speaking of progress, this morning I was getting cat food from the vet - our cat needs prescription food - and when I picked up the 40 pound bag, one handed, I was amazed how light it was. I had to check the size to make sure they gave me what I asked for. You see, I instantly flashed-back to a couple of years ago when I was 155 pounds and scrawny and a bag of cat food was an awkward burden.

You can see in the picture above from 2005 how scrawny my arms were and I had no pec development at all. At that time, I was concerned with "scale weight" with no regards to body composition whatsoever. I thought the pipe-cleaner arms looked good.

As I was remembering having to put the cat food over my shoulder because that is the only way I could transport it, I again had the thought, "Life is so much easier when you are strong." Day-to-day tasks like hauling in groceries, yard work, crawling around in the attic (a chore I've been blessed with lately as I fight a squirrel invasion) and even getting up off the floor all require less effort, which means that at the end of the day I'm less tired and in a better mood for my family.

Besides, lifting heavy stuff is cool!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I was finishing my workout last night and caught sight of myself in the mirror and took a couple of pics. I'm really bad at taking before & after pics, but this time I happened to get lucky:

February 2008

October 2008:

Pretty good progress considering the entire summer was devoted to endurance cardio, don'tcha think?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Welcome MuscleHackers!

A great big "Thank You!" goes out to Mark McManus for the opportunity to introduce his readers to my humble abode, and a hearty "Welcome!" to all of you who were intrigued enough to stop by.

By day I'm a computer geek and aside from my regular job I also teach graduate level computer science classes at Regis University. I am just starting the next class, "Enterprise Java Programming" so my posting may be a bit sparse as I'm working on grading assignments and preparing for classes.

In the meantime I thought I'd post some links to entries that might be of interest to the MuscleHack community while I work on new content.

What is This NLP Stuff?
Mexican Food - The Low Carb Way
Avocado and Kidney Bean Salad
Product Review - Sports Instruments Pro9 HRM
Review - TRX Suspension Training System
The Hits Keep Coming - TRX Training System Perspective
What's Cookin', Good Lookin'
TRX Suspension Training Review - Guest Follow-up
Nectar of the Gods?
MCT Oil - The Importance of Being Medium
Insulin, Glycemic Index and Low Carbing
It's All About the Sugars, Baby

That should be enough to keep folks busy for a bit :).

I'd be very interested in hearing what topic folks would like me to cover. Feel free to leave comments, suggestions or questions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Review of "Rapid Fat Loss" by Lyle McDonald

I've been reading of Lyle McDonald since I started low-carbing in 1998. When I first heard of him he had written what the "serious" LC community regarded as THE authoritative reference work on low carbohydrate weight loss, called "The Ketogenic Diet."

Recently as I was starting to get serious about weightlifting and bodybuilding I decided to see what Lyle had been up to recently and found a wealth of information on his site Body Recomposition. To put it simply, Lyle's work is the answer to every former fat kid's prayers. He has dedicated his career to instructing people in PROPER training and nutrition for fat loss and muscle gain.

Anyone who has followed this blog for the last year or so will remember my weight weight struggles through last fall and winter. When I saw the referenced title in Lyle's bookstore I knew I had to order it immediately. The title said it all, I wanted to lose fat and I wanted to do it fast.

First off, Lyle states at the outset that the diet is very literally a "crash" diet. It is very low calorie and the nutritional requirements are very strict. It is a very short term solution only. The book does describe a maintenance phase and how to move from the low calorie phase - more on that later.

As is typical with Lyle's books RFL is written in a very no-BS style. He does not make promises the diet won't deliver and there is no smoke and mirrors about this being the end-all cure for all one's ills. He spends several chapters explaining the biochemical basis for weight control in the body, which sets the basis for the "why" of every step of the diet.

As with every diet, one gets results based on the hard work they put in. If one has been honest in the calculations (yes, there is math involved to calculate nutritional requirements) and one strictly monitors food intake, the results will be stunning.

To the right is a sample weekly summary from the weight tracking site Physics Diet. As you can see for that week my weight loss was 3.2 pounds.

If we look at the total weight loss graphically the loss is even more dramatic. The straight black line represents the average weight over time. The blue line is rolling average. The green and red represent deficit or surplus intake from average. The red spike is water retention from a vacation and we can see it drops off fast.

All in all the "Rapid Fat Loss" diet is an incredibly powerful weapon in the fight against body fat. I estimate losing about 7% body fat in about a month. Make no mistake - this diet is very, very restrictive and very difficult. It takes work and discipline to stick with it however the obvious and fast changes one can see in the mirror goes a long way to mitigating the difficulty.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Time Passes

I realize it's been a while since I updated my blog. I've been in a rather anti-social mood lately and have withdrawn into my shell a bit.

For anyone that doesn't know, I ended up DNFing (Did Not Finish) the only paid bicycling event I will attend this year, the Triple Bypass. I'm not exactly certain what happened other than I feel that my wonderful "training plan" was inadequate, particularly after my wife made me cut back my training hours in the spring. Even at that, we had another argument just after the event was over in which she voiced displeasure at how much training time I take. At this moment I have no idea if I will attempt Triple Bypass again next year or not. After this last argument I can honestly say I have little desire to ride and after a visit to BlueEyedBikinBabe-land in September, I plan on hanging my bike for the fall and winter to concentrate on bodybuilding and swimming.

Fear not, though, I have not been idle in all this free time. I have been studying nutrition and physiology even more deeply than before. Most of my information comes from the brilliant Lyle McDonald at BodyRecomposition.com. If anyone wants some extremely good information on fat loss or muscle building, BR is the place to go. Here is a short list of articles I've been reading from Lyle:

"What is Bodyfat?"
"Fat loss for Athletes" Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
"How Detail Oriented Do You Need To Be?"
"Metabolic Rate: Overview"
"Is A Calorie A Calorie?"

Extremely interesting stuff. I would encourage everyone to go have a look.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Uses for Twitter

As you can see by my sidebar I sporadically send Twitter updates ("tweets"). When I'm trying to tell the Twit-less about Twitter they always ask "But what is it good for?" The good folks at Twitter have now given me some help:

How Do You Use Twitter? from biz stone on Vimeo.

Personally, not many of my F2F friends are Twits so I tend to use it mainly for posting quick thoughts, pictures from my cell phone and things I'm reading which think is worth sharing to the public at large. I've made some new virtual friends this way and let's face it, who can't use a few more friends?

I use 2 applications to access Twitter:

  • Twhirl - An Adobe Air based desktop client.
  • TwitterFox - A FireFox browser plugin I just found today (courtesy of my buddy Mark McManus of MuscleHack).
Both have their strong and weak points. I tend to spend a lot of time in a browser at home so a FireFox solution makes the most sense. At work I use multiple desktops more heavily and need something I can "stick" to all of them so Twhirl works better.

Feel free to "follow" me (follow zenlc). I may say something interesting :).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Morning in Maui

We are on the way to go snorkling at Molokini.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Fish have landed!

As tradition dictates, BlueEyedbikinbabe is not officially here until I see the feet on the dashboard.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Maarburg is here

Maarburg is one of my two bestest friends in the world and he has once again come to visit me for a week and ride Triple Bypass.

Very bestest friend, BlueEyedBikinBabe, will be here tomorrow or Monday, too!

I've been waiting all year for this and I'm very excited.

Friday, July 04, 2008

View from my front yard

City fireworks display is lit off about half a mile from my house.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pictures from today's ride