Spinning to Cardio Fitness

Daily exercise is a key part of lowering cholesterol without medication, and in the long, cold winter months, my exercise of choice is tennis (and my real exercise is spin class.)

For those who’ve not tried it yet, spin class is an amazing cardiovascular workout.  Some shy away because they’ve heard it’s intense…and it can be. But it doesn’t have to be – if you’re curious, drop by your local gym or spin studio and try a class.  First class is often free and – like yoga – it’s best at least at first to go at your own pace and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. If you get hooked, like I did, you’ll find it’s a fun class that you can adjust as your fitness level improves – and believe me, after just 2-3 weeks of spin, you’ll be amazed at the change in your cardio fitness. (For more info about spinning, check out the explanation at the fun place I get to spin: Joyride.)

Why am I talking about spin class?  Well, I use spin class for straight-up cardio workouts all year long AND also to train for the Backroads bike trips we go on every two years.

When I’m not ‘training’ for an upcoming vacation (I know, I know, oxymoron to some – but for us, it’s really a blast) I spin – at most – just once or twice a week, and play tennis the rest of the time.  But one of the side benefits of these biking vacations is that you MUST get in shape or you won’t have fun – and that sends me to spin class about 3 times a week for the 3 months leading up to the trip.

Hence my two most recent posts about heart rate – where I could literally see my cardio improvement (and the reason for lapse in posting – first a technical issue with my site, then iffy wifi in Croatia.)

So spin got me in great cardio shape – but what it failed to do this time is to prepare me for the long, long hills we had to climb in Croatia.

Which is odd, because I’ve never had this problem before.  For our other bike trips, spin got me in great cardio AND hill-ready biking shape. Well, mostly – there was still that long, long walk-of-the-bike to the top of San Gimignano in Tuscany…but that was our very first trip 10 years ago and we had NO IDEA the level of hills we had signed up for!

My guess is this time, I didn’t amp up the resistance enough during class, though I thought I did.  OR it was that I didn’t do enough training with huge resistance on a SEATED climb, which his what most of the Backroads hills are – you are tackling a 5-7 kilometer hill and that’s far too long to stand on the bike – at least it is for me.

IMG_4916So this is me, next to the van that boosted me up a 7k hill that I chose not to ride (but the downhill part was a BLAST).  Truth be told, I didn’t boost up ALL the hills on this trip (and I’ve almost never boosted up a hill on other trips).  But the nature of this particular trip was you had to get to certain locations by certain times so you wouldn’t miss the boat that took you to the next island’s biking. So we took the van up certain (huge) hills so we could ride more of the route – and still make the boat.

I must say, I didn’t love taking the van up several hills. I’m, um, so intensely competitive that it was hard to convince myself that we were making a good CHOICE, not that we were failing. But that said, I need to do a little more research into how to use spin class to train for hills for our next trip. (Because I don’t feel safe biking where I live – crazy drivers.)

IMG_4989Luckily, I’ve got 2 years to work this out. And I really want to because where else but a Backroads trip can you see signs like this? All week we saw these crazy signs (but luckily we didn’t see the wild boar it warned of – though we did have a near run-in with a passel of sheep).



Dinner Plans

Are there really people out there who create a weekly menu plan? Because even though I have compiled a healthy trove of  lo-co recipes, these past few weeks I’ve been just… well… totally disinterested in figuring out what to cook every single day.

This led to an alarming increase in so-so-so-not-lo-co takeout in the waning summer months. Which explains my recent break from posting. Very embarrassing. Oh, and not healthy.

The only good thing I can say about the past month is that I’ve upped the exercise quotient. I have been spinning at Joyride every week – even after the need to train for my bike trip ended … a new personal best.  Thank you Emma, for your inspiring music!

But I can’t spin every day.  So here’s what I’m trying to kick-back into lo-co gear.

For running, there’s an iPhone app called Nike Plus which tracks where you are, your run time and distance, and coordinates with your iTunes playlists.  It doesn’t require a chip or anything tied to your shoe anymore – all you need is your iPhone or iTouch.

Nike Plus plays right into my OCD need for knowledge; it’s really quite motivating.  Oh, and it’s totally free.  Woot.  And it automatically downloads results to your computer so you can see how many miles you’ve run over time. My husband and I love it.

So exercise, check.  (Though that will become problematic as the weather gets cold…sigh).  But for now, I run outside and spin.  So that (just, hah) leaves the dinner nightmare.

I tried a few things to get re-motivated for cooking healthy, lo-co dinners.  Online searches for new menus left me uncharacteristically bored.  Two beautiful (and expensive) new cookbooks have been skimmed but not used. Melissa Clark and Julia Moskin’s columns in the New York Times are interesting as always, but have just not inspired me to cook a new dish.

But the August 22 NYT article, “You Plan, I’ll Cook: Leaving the Menu to Others” hit home. I was particularly inspired by the efficiency of a service called The Fresh 20:

“… the Fresh20, a meal-planning service that provides recipes for a week’s worth of healthy dinners. Monday might be ginger and garlic pork with snow peas and red peppers; Friday, Napa rice noodle salad with Asian peanut dressing and mangoes. The week’s shopping list has 20 ingredients and is calibrated to eliminate waste (snow peas, carrots and red peppers appear in both days’ meals) and to cost $75 for five dinners for a family of four, or $3.75 a person per meal.

Ms. Swank Meili now shops for food just once a week. She is back at her pre-baby weight without, she says proudly, making one trip to the gym. And she is not stressed by figuring out what to cook and “making a million trips to the grocery store.”

Baby-weight-loss and cost savings were not what did it for me. What got me excited was the efficiency of this program: each week you get a menu, shopping list (which even offers quantities for substituing chicken or turkey for beef) – and you incorporate leftovers or earlier prep required for some meals later in the week.

A recipe skeptic, I warily checked out their site and was delighted to find that the menus looked like recipes I’d use – fresh ingredients that have steps (not just opening cans) but are also not too intricate… no one wants dinner-party recipes for every day. These recipes actually look like they’d taste good and be relatively easy to make.

So I joined.  I chose the ‘classic’ menu; they also offer vegetarian and gluten-free subscriptions.  Here’s what’s on this week’s menu:

  • Orange Glazed Pork Tenderloin
  • Halibut Puttanesca
  • Cuban Pork Sandwiches
  • Spaghetti and (turkey for me) meatballs
  • Grilled squash, plum and white bean salad.
Sounds great, no?  
I’ve just printed out the shopping list and am headed out for my 2 mile run.  Then it’s off to the grocery store armed with an already-printed-out shopping list.  I am almost… almost… almost excited about cooking this week.