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Skwigg Blog
Thursday, 2 October 2008
What Would Buffy Do?

Nearly every day I talk to someone who can't workout and fears that all of their hard work will be blown to bits, that if things don't go exactly as planned, they may as well give up. Allow me to deliver a smack-down.

Messy life stuff is totally normal, not a deal-breaking calamity. I've broken bones, torn tendons, had cancer, got bronchitis, and thrown my back out. I've had surgery and spent weeks in a recliner unable to walk. My mom died. My dog died. My gym closed. My work schedule changed. There was an inner ear infection where the whole world twirled to the left if I moved my head fast. None of that has anything to do with whether or not you're fit!! You can choose to use it as a big honkin' excuse every time, or not.

In the grand scheme of things, those few days where you're unable to exercise MEAN NOTHING. Rest. Feel better. Stay positive. You don't have to put yourself at a big success/failure crossroads every time something comes up. Do the best you can, get past it, and carry on. What else are you going to do? Fail? Sabotage yourself? Does that make any sense? It's like the flat tire analogy. If you had a flat tire, would you get out and flatten the other three? Or would you fix it and carry on? If you have the flu (or any other perceived calamity), fix it and carry on.

Perfection is an illusion. The idea that you can have a perfect workout and nutrition plan and carry it out flawlessly, is just made up drivel. If you hold yourself to that impossible standard, you'll always quit. You'll always fail. You'll always think less of yourself.

Understand that fit people, athletes, champions, successful dieters, vampire slayers, face all of the same life/family/health challenges, they just think about them differently. Did Buffy cry, eat cookies, and get fat every time there was an apocalypse? NO!

If you're struggling right now, if something has come up that seems insurmountable, write and tell me three things you can do today to re-affirm your goals and improve your success. If you can't do an intense workout, can you make a grocery list and plan meals for next week? Can you go buy a fitness magazine? Watch an inspiring action movie starring a kick-ass fit female? Read a motivating book? Order a fitness or kitchen gadget online? If you're going to spend time thinking, think of ways to help yourself, not reasons to fail.

Posted by skwigg at 1:53 PM CDT
Sunday, 28 September 2008
Never lift anything heavier than a Big Gulp

Ok, I'm kidding. I couldn't think of a subject line and that one made me laugh. Also, I may have sarcastically given that advice to someone who's name rhymes with Matt. He was concerned that lifting anything heavier than 3 pounds would make him bulky. Clearly, I've caused some confusion with that Gwyneth post. So, let's get to the questions.

 Q: This entry left me very confused.  For years, I focused on endurance training (running, biking, swimming).  But, I was not getting the results I was looking for.  So, I did a lot of research and reading and determined that heavy weights were the key.  So, I started lifting heavy (in addition to the endurance training), but now I feel bulky.  I love Gwyneth's "look" but everything I read (Cosgrove, Turbulence Training, Precision Nutrition, etc.) makes me think I have to lift heavy to be lean.  I  can't imagine lifting 3 lb. weights like Gwenyth does.  It just makes me wonder what is the most effective way to be lean (assuming nutrition is on)?

A: First, let's define lean. Bodybuilders and runway models are both lean, yet they have very different body types and sizes. Lean relates to body fat percentage or being "thin skinned." Size or bulk has to do with the girth of the muscle. You can be lean without being big, and you can be big without being lean. (I wish I had a dry erase board. I would draw some funny stick people to illustrate this concept.)

I think the "you have to train heavy to be lean" statement is slightly misleading. I would say, you have to train intensely to be lean. There isn't a lot of disagreement on that. Workouts have to challenge you, burn calories, and most importantly bump your metabolism for hours afterward. It's easiest to keep things challenging by going heavier and heavier, so that's what a lot of trainers do. It takes more time, knowledge and creativity to increase intensity in other ways. For example, introducing more difficult exercise variations like single leg moves, balance elements, and plyometrics can make a workout much more challenging without adding weight. All of the trainers and programs you listed are brilliant at that. Look at some of the Turbulence Training body weight workouts. They're killer intense, produce a big metabolic effect, progress in difficulty, and yet there are no weights involved at all.

People associate light weights or no weights with women curling soup cans in front of the television. It's true that doing mindless reps with three pound weights will have little or no benefit in terms of boosting metabolism and changing your shape, but that's not what I'm suggesting when I say light weights are sometimes the way to go. I associate light weight or body weight workouts with exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, jump squats, sliding lunges, step-ups, pistol squats, burpees, planks and mountain climbers. Those moves deliver a strong, functional body and a crazy calorie burn but they don't produce a big increase in size, not the way heavy barbell deadlifts or a loaded leg press machine can increase size. Even that is relative. Some women need to build some shape and size onto their legs and going heavy is the fastest way to get there. Lifting heavy doesn't automatically make you ginormous. Depending on your genetics and done in moderation, it might not make you bigger at all. But if you're short and stocky and absolutely dread adding any more girth to your thighs, does it make sense to always do multiple heavy bodybuilding sets of quad, glute and hamstring exercises? Probably not. There are other ways to burn calories and bump metabolism.

I've been stalking Valerie Waters (waves at Val) and studying her Red Carpet Ready workouts, because she is a trainer who is SO good at adding variety and intensity to a workout without automatically adding weight. She is really ultra-conscious of creating a lean, tight look without adding size or only adding size where it's needed. If you want a firm round butt or a nice curve to your hamstring, she can do that without going overboard. It's something a lot of trainers really and truly don't get, and it's fascinating to watch. I stalk and learn. LOL

So, key points:

- Lean doesn't always equal small.

- Heavy weights are a fabulous way to get lean because they produce such a big metabolic effect, BUT they're not the only way to get lean and they may produce more size than you intend.

- If you want to be lean (and also able to eat), you don't have to train heavy, but you do have to train intensely. Regardless of the weight you use, you're still looking for a swift kick in the metabolism.

- The "best" way to get lean can vary. If you're saggy and skinny fat, heavy weights will change your shape faster than anything. If you consider yourself too muscular, get creative with new exercise variations and challenging progressions rather than always adding more weight.

And final thought:

- It's good to be strong. There's a place for heavy lifting. Everybody should be able to do a pull-up or deadlift a sleeper sofa. But if your ultimate dream body is long, lean and girly, then train for long, lean and girly. Don't go overboard with workouts that add size. 

Posted by skwigg at 2:35 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 29 September 2008 9:46 AM CDT
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Curls Gone Wild

No, not bicep curls. I'm obsessing over my hair. If you're a girl with curly hair, then keep reading. This pertains. Everybody else is going to think I've gone insane (again).

I'm often asked how I got the name, Skwigg. It's short for Skwiggles, which was a reference to my curly hair, you know, back when it actually curled. Over the years, I've managed to nearly destroy my curls with hair brushes, harsh suds and the blow fryer. Most of the time my hair is a dull frizzy mess, much like Muppet hair. Even stylists don't know what to do with it. They'll cut it wet and it will curl up inches shorter than they intended. They'll blow dry it straight and it will fuzz out into a weird bell shape.

I had accepted my frizzy fate, but two weeks ago a miracle happened. I stumbled across others of my kind. There is a whole community of women with curly hair over at NaturallyCurly.com. They have real answers about what the hell is wrong with my misbehaving hair. They say sulfate shampoo is a prime culprit. You shampoo your hair with drying suds that doesn't ever rinse completely out (think about how hard it is to rinse all the bubbles out of a washcloth or dish sponge). The shampoo residue makes your hair rough and dry. So, you coat it up with silicone-based conditioners and gels to try to get shine and moisture back. The silicone weighs hair down. If you don't strip it out with more sulfate shampoo, it builds up and looks dull. (I was reading all of this and nodding because it sounded horrifyingly familiar.)

So what is the solution? You get a good curl-friendly cut from someone who knows what they're doing, and then you don't shampoo your hair anymore.

Wait! Come back!

I don't mean you never wash your hair and you walk around all stinky-like. I mean you don't ever use traditional sulfate-based shampoo. In fact, you "wash" your hair with conditioner. You also avoid all of the following: sulfates, silicones, terrycloth towels, combs, brushes, curling irons and blow dryers. Holy crap! I know! I thought these people were insane but their hair pictures are amazing. They condition like mad, air dry, and do little if anything to disturb the curls. Here's a 15-page thread of before and after photos. Some of the transformations are boggling. Here's a wikiHow with step-by-step instructions on the Curly Girl method for curly, shiny, frizz-free hair. If you want even more info, there's a whole book on the subject. It's called Curly Girl and it's by Lorraine Massey.

So, back to my little saga. My hair had been getting weird. I'd been trying to grow it longer (I want long hair dammit!) but the longer it got, the more fine and stringy it looked, and the more uncooperative it became with the whole curling thing. I was nearly ready to give up and chop it all off when I discovered the Curly Girl method. So, instead of subjecting myself to a potentially disastrous poodle cut, I got a referral to a stylist henceforth referred to as The Curl Wizard. I saw her today and she cut my hair dry, one curl at a time! She removed the fraggled ends, changed the shape, colored it, and somehow coaxed it back into shiny bouncy curls.

The photo on the left was taken a couple of weeks ago. Note the slightly weird shape, ill-defined curls and perpetually stringy ends. The photo on the right was taken today with the new cut that already makes my hair look curly and full. I'm just getting started though, definitely still a "before" photo by Curly Girl standards. They say that once you drop the sulfate shampoo, blow drying and silly cones, it takes several weeks for the curl to really recover and coil up into ringlets. Can't wait to see what happens!


Posted by skwigg at 11:28 PM CDT
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Gwyneth on Oprah

Q: Dude. Did you see Oprah today? Gwyneth Paltrow's trainer just said that no woman should ever use more than 3 lb weights. Gahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!! (video of Oprah segment)

A: I actually really enjoyed that clip! Maybe I've become a little too fascinated with celebrity fitness. :-)

I agree that no skinny woman who wants tiny Gwyneth arms should use more than 3-5 pounds. She maybe got a little carried away with saying NO woman should EVER lift more than 3 pounds (crimeny!), but if you're a lean actress trying to get rock solid but without Linda Hamilton striated delts and horseshoe triceps, that calls for absurdly low weight. Those women are already so lean that ANY added muscle is going to pop. Not a problem for the rest of us.

I've done my own experiment with backing off on the heavy weights. When I did Valerie Waters' Red Carpet Ready for 6 weeks, I used mostly 5 & 8 pound dumbbells for upper body and no weight for legs. It was challenging in a totally different sort of way, an owie gasping burning endurance sort of way. I did get smaller. My skinny jeans got noticeably looser in the thigh and butt when I quit using a 100 pound dumbbell for sumo squats (probably a big duh there).

BUT I missed feeling strong, so tiny actress arms are probably not in the cards for me. Still, I respect the amount of work it takes to get them. Turns out it requires a weird, painful and time consuming amount of effort to get perfectly "toned" arms with no size. Who knew?

I have become a little more attuned to the fact that you look how you train, and so you should adjust your volume and load accordingly. Don't train like a bodybuilder or power lifter if you don't want to look like a bodybuilder or power lifter. I happen to enjoy my smaller circumference thighs and looser jeans, so I don't intend to go back to heavy squats and deadlifts. I like fit arms, but I don't like big bodybuilding arms. So I won't be doing a bodybuilding training split or vast quantities of heavy isolation exercises anymore. I'm on a kettlebell kick lately because I love both the workouts and the look. It's wiry, springy, fit, and functional - strong but not big.

Personal preference is a huge part of it. I've removed the "women can't get too bulky" line from my vocabulary. What I consider small somebody else might consider huge. What somebody else considers bulky I might consider twiggy. A person's "look" or fitness ideal is such a personal thing. So, I've quit taunting the 3 pound weight girls. There is (sometimes) method to their madness. I've also quit questioning strong bodybuilding women because 1) they could snap my spine, and 2) if they like the way they look and the way they train, I should just shut up. LOL

Anyway! I've had a lot of caffeine today. Can you tell? Thanks for the video clip. I was totally completely fascinated with it even though I have no intention of doing the 3 pound dumbbell, skipping around the room, stretchy band workout. I hope to hell that show recorded on my DVR. I'll have to go look!

Posted by skwigg at 1:48 PM CDT
Friday, 12 September 2008
I Bought a Butter Bell

Check this thing out! It's called a butter bell or butter keeper. It lets you keep fresh cream butter at room temperature on your kitchen counter. Swoooon! I didn't know such a thing was possible! I've been using real butter for years, since I realized fake engineered chemical whipped "spread" is not fit for human consumption. The drawback to real butter is that if you put it on the counter, it spoils, and if you put it in the refrigerator, it turns to cold, solid, bread-shredding glop that tastes like the refrigerator.

So, along comes this butter bell thingy! It utilizes some sort of 19th century voodoo to keep the butter fresh for up to 30 days without refrigeration. You pack the butter into the top of the bell. Then you put an inch or so of cool water in the bottom. When you put the pieces together, the water seals the butter in a cool airtight vacuum. They come in a lot of shapes and styles but this one is nice because it's glass, so you can see both the butter and the water level. It totally works! I bought some real cream butter from happy local cows, I stuffed it in the bell, and I did the dance of great joy all around my kitchen. Of course, now the challenge is NOT to butter everything I eat. Moderation and all that!

Posted by skwigg at 2:17 PM CDT
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Flexitarian Adventures

Strange things have happened to my eating habits lately. Meat has nearly disappeared from my diet. I might have it twice a week. I didn't do it on purpose. I wasn't trying to lose weight or save the planet; I just got sick of chicken - and turkey, and tuna, and beef and pork. :-D Leave it to me to be all extremey and weird.

Let's recap some of my previous dietary adventures:

- Anorexic (self-explanatory)

- Crazy rebound binger (sporting jowls)

- Carb-sucking vegetarian (seven years of pasta and french fries)

- Zone vegetarian (soy, soy, soy)

- Bodybuilding / Body for Lifer (chicken six times a day)

- Precision Nutrition (ongoing because it's THAT flexible)

Yes, if you ask me what plan I follow, I would still say Precision Nutrition. It's just PN with less poultry. I know how to do the vegetarian thing wrong (boy, do I know!). This time I'm doing it right with whole foods and controlled portions, oh yeah, and the occasional steak!

Technically, if you're eating dead animals, you're not a vegetarian; you're something else. Calling yourself a "vegetarian who eats chicken" is likely to get you punched in the neck by a real vegetarian.

A few years ago, people started tossing around the term, flexitarian: a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat. Finally, a word to describe those who eat a mostly plant-based diet but really like bacon. If you're intrigued by this idea and want to read more, here's a good article called Meet the flexitarians: Meat-eating vegetarians. And as soon as I typed that, I dipped my chin to protect my neck. LOL I know it's a loaded subject! But I think even hardcore vegans like the idea of people consuming fewer animal products, no matter how you describe it.

So, what am I eating? Mostly normal stuff. Let me see if I can give you a few examples.



Oatmeal, ground flaxseeds, blueberries, vegetarian breakfast patties

Whole grain toast, peanut butter, grated carrots, raisins, soy milk

High-fiber cereal, banana, soy milk, protein powder

Cottage cheese, berries, crushed macadamia nuts

Scrambled eggs, fruit

French toast, berries

Greek yogurt, berries, granola

Lunches and Dinners

Bean and cheese burrito on whole grain tortilla, baby carrots, 2 plums

Salad with hard boiled omega eggs, 2 peaches

Amy's Organic Chili, salad, pear

Vegetable omelet, cantaloupe wedges

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, protein shake

Black bean burger, sharp cheddar, salsa, cottage cheese, kiwifruits

Thin crust cheese and tomato pizza, salad


String cheese, nectarine

Almonds, pear

Hummus, raw vegetables

Peanut butter, apple

Swiss cheese, grapes

Chocolate soy milk

Yogurt, banana, protein powder


I still don't count calories but I would guess around 2,000ish, varying wildly. I try to eat some protein at every meal, but my protein is obviously lower than it would be if I ate meat. If I start looking like my "sausage arms" before photo, I might have to rethink this, but so far so good.

I don't have any rules about meat consumption. I tend to eat vegetarian during the week and enjoy a couple of carnivore meals on my weekend, but if I receive an invitation to a steakhouse mid-week, I'm there. I love the "flex" part of flexitarian. Although, I do think the term is so broad that it could be a wee bit useless.

If you'd like to eat more plant-based meals but are having trouble with the logistics, there are some good discussions on the Precision Nutrition Forums. Specifically, there's a forum on Following a Vegetarian Lifestyle when you have physique or sports performance goals. Also, check out Ryan Andrews' Blog on the forum. He's a vegan bodybuilder dietitian.

Ok, so we'll see where this takes me. My goals are to be happy, have fun and feel good. I'm not going to lose weight, manipulate measurements, take pictures, or freak out over numbers. As long as I feel good and like what I see in the mirror, it's on. If at any point I become bloated, fat and miserable, it's off. :-) I'll keep you posted.

Posted by skwigg at 8:21 PM CDT
Friday, 29 August 2008
Spezzatino - A Gourmet Nutrition Magazine

Foodies, do I have a treat for you! A free copy of Spezzatino, a new magazine from the makers of the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook. It's packed with delicious recipes from top chefs, beautiful food photography and great articles. It covers everything from nutrition and food science to gardening and cultivation. Each issue focuses on a specific food and they're wrapping up summer with tomato-palooza. You'll learn about lycopene, heirloom tomatoes, and traditional Italian cooking. Plus, you'll learn how to grow, jar and cook them. I really enjoyed the Tomato Tech feature (color photos of gadgets!). I think I want one of those upside down growing dealies for next year. I like the idea of upside down tomato plants blowing around on the back patio.

Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think. If you love it and decide to subscribe, all profits go to The Healthy Food Bank, a non-profit organization that provides fruits, vegetables and whole grains to food banks in North America.

Posted by skwigg at 2:44 PM CDT
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Iron Core Kettlebell DVDs

So, you bought a kettlebell and don't have any idea what to do with it. You've watched some YouTube demos, picked it up a couple of times, maybe learned to do swings, but beyond that you're lost. You'd like to try some more advanced moves but are afraid to do so without proper instruction. Or maybe you've mastered an advanced move or two but aren't sure how to structure a workout.

I'm describing myself, by the way. I bought a 26lb Russian Red kettlebell before I had a clue how to use it safely. In fact, when it arrived, I was still on crutches from knee surgery. I nearly toppled off the front porch with it. My husband would have come home from work and found me (and the crutches, and the kettlebell) sticking out of the bushes. At least I was smart enough to buy some basic instruction with it. I ordered Pavel's Enter the Kettlebell book and DVD, which include good (and funny) basic instruction, with chapters such as "It's Your Fault: Kettlebell Safety 101."

So, what was the problem? Well, Pavel doesn't really include a workout. I learned some moves but didn't know how to put them together. And, of course, I bought a heavier kettlebell than I should have. For an average (even fairly strong woman) 26lbs (12kg) is fine for swings, but a little heavy to learn explosive single arm and overhead moves safely. For example, my Turkish get-ups were definitely Turkish stay-downs. I was determined though, so I ordered a couple of 18 pounders and all three Iron Core kettlebell DVDs.

These DVDs are like having a group class and friendly RKC instructor in your living room. Before the workout, there's an instruction period where you learn to do basic movements safely and with good form. The workout itself is divided into work and rest intervals. During the work interval, you do a set of exercises with cuing from the instructor. During the rest period, which is timed at 30 seconds, you see an onscreen guide showing the timer countdown, the name of the next exercise, and reminders about proper form.

This is brilliant for all kinds of reasons. The fact that you're alternating work and rest intervals means it's killer for fat burning. The timer means there's no need to pause the DVD or look for a clock. The onscreen reminders mean that there are no surprises, miscommunications or lapses in form when you begin the next exercise. Each DVD is a total body strength and interval cardio routine. Volume One covers the foundation exercises like the halo, the swing, clean and press, front squat, and windmill. Volume Two steps it up by adding more advanced moves like the snatch, deck squat, and Turkish get-up. It also includes more than one exercise in several of the work circuits. Volume Three is a 20-minute fat burning express workout that moves quickly and includes lots of combination exercises. I may be totally tripping but I think some of the counts are off on Volume Three, like she'll say 10 reps and then count 12. Or, it could be me that can't count. Either way, I loved the Iron Core kettlebell workouts. Sarah Lurie is a joy to watch as an instructor. She creates a friendly but all-business atmosphere, no cheesy music or screechy "you-can-do-its" that make you want to throw your kettlebell through the television.

If you don't have a kettlebell yet, I know what the next questions will be - What weight do I start with? Where should I buy it? What do I look for? Do I need more than one? Can I use an adjustable kettlebell? The quickie answers are - Most women should start with a single 15-18 pound kettlbell. If you're really strong or have a lot of money, get both an 18 and a 26. I buy all of mine from Dragon Door, but you can also buy kettlebells from Amazon, get them at local sporting goods stores, or even pick them up at Target. Look for a smooth fat handle and a wide grip. You'll need to place both hands side-by-side. If the diameter is dinky, the grip is rough, and the handle is narrow, it will be uncomfortable to use. I've never tried an adjustable one. Even though solid iron kettlebells are pricey, you only need one at a time and they last forever.

Posted by skwigg at 5:45 PM CDT
Thursday, 21 August 2008
No Dorkiness Here

I was playing around at YearbookYourself.com and sent myself back to 1964. I really wanted some big 80s mall hair, but this picture was by far the funniest. I will resist the urge to use it as my Twitter avatar.

This week, I received many questions about how to knock a birdfeeder out of the ground with your neck. It's not that difficult. All you have to do is walk backwards talking to someone in the semi-twilight, and then turn and bolt in the other direction unaware of the looming seed dispenser a foot behind you.

I never saw the feeder. I had no idea what had happened. One second I was running and the next second I was gasping and gagging and looking up at the sky. I thought maybe I'd been hit by lightning. Once I was able to sit up, I saw the uprooted feeder, the hole in the ground, and the exposed concrete base. It really hurt. Luckily, I wasn't seriously injured. That metal squirrel guard must have softened the blow.

Posted by skwigg at 1:33 PM CDT
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
An Alarming Incident at the Apple Store

I went on a stealth mission to the Apple Store, not to buy anything mind you, just to look. I wasn't even going to stop. I planned to cruise past slowly and admire the shiny glass magnificence. It was dark, late and nearly closing time. I knew that if I set foot in the place I would leave with a new computer. Best to keep moving, but as I passed directly in front of the store, grinning like an idiot, I got a text message. I pulled into the nearest parking space to check my phone. This is where things began to go wrong.

Perhaps I will sound like a bit of a moron but I didn't think my car alarm was real. I thought it was just a flashing light on the dashboard, something to deter would-be stereo thieves. And I've developed a bad habit of locking my car doors with the keyless remote even when I'm in the car. I can't tell you the exact sequence of events because I've had them scared out of me, but I must have taken the keys out of the ignition and locked the car with the remote. At this point the car had no idea that the (stupid) owner was still inside. I sat there checking my messages and texting for a couple of minutes, then I put the key into the ignition and Armageddon burst forth.

Suddenly the headlights were flashing, the horn was honking and a siren was blaring. There were buzzers, spotlights, dogs, a helicopter and guards on Segways. (Ok, maybe I imagined that last part but, hello, I was having a terror seizure!) I knew that I should do something to make the deafening flashing racket stop, but my arms and legs had gone numb from the adrenaline rush. I had no motor skills. I pushed the keyless remote again and nothing happened. I pushed the panic button (definitely panicking!) and nothing happened. I tried to open the door and run but I was trapped.

I don't even know what I was thinking by trying to open the door. What was I going to do? Hide in a storm drain?

Right at the brink of hyperventilation and blackout, I pushed something, I don't know what. I probably couldn't duplicate the sequence of events if I tried. Suddenly, everything went totally silent except for my heart trying to crash through my rib cage. 

Slowly, I collected my nerves and started to breathe again. Breathe in, breathe out, casually look up and every freaking geek in the entire Apple Store was wide-eyed and motionless, staring at my SUV like it was an alien mother ship.

I somehow put it in gear and got away but that, my friends, is why you can't take me anywhere. I also cry at children's movies, laugh uncontrollably at funerals, fall down on escalators, and one time I knocked a bird feeder out of the ground with my neck. 

Posted by skwigg at 11:09 PM CDT

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