The Oura Ring (Part 1)

Inspect what you expect. Tracking our health and fitness is important for a number of reasons. We can find what works and doesn’t work with our body dealing with sleep and nutrition. We can get a heads up for time periods when we may experience heightened stress. The reasons could probably make a book in and of itself. My personal experience with self-quantification has led me to the Oura Ring. The Oura ring is a normal sized ring used to track various metrics. I plan to talk about the benefits and usefulness of the ring throughout multiple posts, so be on the lookout.

What is the Oura Ring?

The Oura Ring is a self-quantification device. What that means is that the Oura Ring will give you detailed data on what your bodily state is at any given moment. In the paragraphs below, we will discuss the specific metrics you can get from the Oura Ring, and in later posts, we will take a deep dive into those metrics and see what the numbers can tell us.

Design and Specifications:

  • Sleek design coming in a number of colors.
  • The size of a normal ring.
  • Easy charging station and data syncing.
  • Airplane mode available for low EMF use.

I have included some pictures below for scale.

What does the Oura Ring track?

Now this is where the Oura Ring shines. I have used a Fitbit in the past, and the continuous heart rate data (in my opinion) allows for a more accurate calorie count, but the Oura gives much superior data in terms of recovery and sleep.

The Oura Ring uses a very user-friendly interface to display:

  • Resting Heart Rate
  • Heart Rate Variability
  • Body Temperature
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Total Sleep Time
  • Time in Bed
  • Sleep Stages (time spent in each stage)
    • Deep Sleep
    • Light Sleep
    • REM Sleep
  • Walking Equivalency
  • Steps
  • Total Burn (Calories)
  • Daily Movement
    • Low, Medium, and High intensity time tracked

All of these metrics are broken into three screens: Readiness, Sleep, and Activity.

As you can see, the Oura Ring gives so much valuable data and insight into how well our body is functioning. As I stated earlier, in future posts we will look at how to use this data to make meaningful predictions about our health and well-being.

Why Success Isn’t Always Possible

I touch on a lot of this theory in my article Success is Cyclical, but I know anything insightful is worth repeating. Most people who are into personal development learn early on not to make excuses. We learn that our lives are our responsibility and we have to take action to get results. But as you mature, you realize results don’t always happen and aren’t always possible. You encounter numerous situations where the underserving get success and the intelligent, effective, and kind get ridicule. The reason this happens is because all living things are subject to cycles of growth and decay. “Good” things and “bad” things just the same. So the next time you feel like you want to be hard on yourself, gently ask “What season am I in?”, and you may get insight into your next moves.

Growth and Decay are two sides of the same Coin

Let’s take the stock market for example. Everyone loves when the market is up and hates when it’s down. Everyone, that is, except the wise. Wise people know that the stock market going down is both useful and necessary. When the stock market crashes, it forces companies and people to reorganize. After the first stock market crash we saw more legislation and federal protections from fiscal disaster. In 2008, we saw the Dodd-Frank Act. And, I believe, in the aftermath of the Coronavirus, we will see a push for Universal Basic Income.

A market crash can provide lower buying prices for a commodity that (we hope) will always go up. The point here is that when anything grows for too long, its outdated practices and inefficiencies necessitate a correction. This is why all successful companies, people, and organizations continually analyze and change as they gain more feedback over time. All those systems that don’t eventually fail.

Rewards and Recognition are Arbitrary

Speaking in generalities is a little dangerous. Of course rewards and recognition are good things usually given to the deserving, but not always. If you ever saw someone get promoted and you can’t wrap your head around why, this is why I say rewards are arbitrary. If you were a high-level executive at Enron, you would be rewarded and recognized for being dishonest. I think this happens in far more businesses than we would like to acknowledge. On the other hand, if you worked for an honest organization, you would be rewarded for hard work, ingenuity, and your ability to produce results. So if you took an honest, intelligent, hard-working person and put them in an executive position at Enron, chances are they would not be rewarded for their work (and hopefully the toxic culture doesn’t change their character).

Does that mean they aren’t doing the “right” thing? Of course not. It just means they are not doing the right thing to be rewarded under those circumstances. That’s why it is important that we screen all of the intimate relationships in our lives (work relationships, money management, romantic relationships, friends, etc.). We need to make sure our values are aligned with the values of the people we work closely with.

Hopefully this serves as some solace when you see things going sideways. Remember that success is not always possible, and that is a good thing!

How to Track Workouts

Tracking workouts is one of the keys to success in fitness. Every person seeking fitness should be doing cardio exercise and weight training. Although there are many methods to track fitness, they always boil down to a few essentials.

Tracking Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts usually center around two variables. Duration and intensity. I am of the mind that most (80%+) cardio should be done at a talking pace (you can talk but NOT sing). This usually correlates to brisk walking (like you are late to class) or a slow jog. Since intensity is controlled for in this case, tracking cardio could be as simple as counting the minutes you are exercising. Of course, you can do more in depth tracking with a heart rate monitor and data collection device such as a Garmin or Strava. For the more intense 20% or less of workouts, they will likely take the form more similar to a weight training protocol where you count sets and reps.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many health care professionals), low to moderate intensity cardio is the foundation of fitness. A minimum of three thirty minute cardio sessions seems to be enough to maintain good cardiovascular function. I do cardio four days a week for 30 minutes to an hour. This usually consists of brisk walking around the neighborhood and/or nearby parks.

Weight Training Workouts

Weight training is slightly more complex than cardio because there are many variables that you can change in a program. The most important variables seem to be total volume, relative intensity and rest periods. Changes in any one of these areas can have BIG effects. For weight training, I believe one must be a little more meticulous in tracking.

In a properly designed program, a person would have a moderate amount of volume (say 12-20 sets made of three to six exercises), moderate intensity (60-80% 1 rep max), and moderate rest between sets (30 seconds to 3 minutes). Most training programs fall within these three criteria. Keeping track of all that requires that you (at minimum) track exercise selection, weight, sets, reps, and rest period. I have found that a simple note on my iPhone does this well enough. I do however use the Strong App to track my workouts. The resulting ease of use and subsequent data makes tracking workouts much easier.

Now, the obvious sequel to this is how to use this data to achieve manageable progressive overload and get bigger, faster, and stronger over time. We’ll look into that in another post. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Instant Pot Black Beans

I talk a lot about nutrition and health, so I figured I would add some healthy recipes to the site to give an idea of what I eat on a daily basis. This recipe for black beans uses an Instant Pot, which is a MUST if you want to increase legume intake (excellent source of fiber). Are you eating 20-30 grams of fiber a day?!?!? Beans are delicious, super duper cheap, filling, and a good source of protein.

This recipe will take about 10 minutes of preparation and 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium white (not sweet) onion
  • 1 cup DRY black beans
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 small bay leaves

Directions

  • Finely chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic (or press it if you feel up to it).
  • Set your Instant Pot to the “Sauté” function and wait until it says “hot” or until a splash of water will sizzle.
  • Add olive oil (optional) and sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant, about five minutes.
  • Add the bay leaves and continue sautéing for another minute.
  • Add the black beans and 2-3 cups of water.
    • Add 2 cups if you want thicker beans (if you mash some of the beans they would be a refried texture)
    • Add 3 cups if you want something closer to a black bean soup.
  • Cook the beans for 50 minutes and leave pressurized for another 25 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. Mash the beans (or use an immersion blender) if you want thick refried style beans.
  • Enjoy!

Crimes of Omission

Sometimes life throws us challenges that we cannot anticipate. It isn’t “fair”, but it is the way it is. Recently I was reading an article that said most of a person’s sins are sins of omission. Not that they did anything wrong, but rather they failed to properly prepare or anticipate upcoming challenges. Crimes of omission are particularly wrenching because hindsight is 20/20. We wish someone would have warned us. Jim Rohn once said, “It isn’t what the book costs, it’s what the book will cost you if you don’t read it.” If you never read Richest Man in Babylon you’ll never know the steps to financial independence. Will this impact you immediately? In small ways yes, but in larger ways, not until you are older and it’s much harder to make up for lost time.

A Case Study

Imagine you are a father (if you aren’t). You know that the most important thing you can give your children is your presence. You come up for a promotion, and your hours at the office increase, along with your paycheck. As a result, you get to see your family less and less over the passing years as you climb the corporate ladder. Then one day you wake up and your husband or wife tells you that your child has been caught using drugs. What did you do wrong? Nothing. There was no crime in choosing your career, but that choice means you omitted the choice to be more involved in the lives of your spouse and children. You were not “bad”, and you didn’t do anything “wrong”, you just neglected what you value as most important (your family) over something less important (money).

Common Crimes of Omission and their Antidotes

Luckily, we aren’t the first people to ever walk the earth. On our life’s journey, there are certain difficulties that we can expect and plan for. Our society does a poor job of preparing us to handle life’s problems. Perhaps our parents did better? Maybe not. Maybe we got lucky and found a mentor…but then again…maybe not. In any case, I hope that by sharing some common difficulties were are likely to face and how to deal with them, I can help be a mentor to someone who needs it.

  • Financial Independence
    • One of the great failings of the public school system is our ineptitude at teaching our students how money works and the importance of financial literacy. We can anticipate that a person without financial literacy will always have problems with money. My personal recommendations for money advice are Mr. Money Mustache, Dave Ramsey, and of course classics like Richest Man in Babylon.
  • Relationships
    • The most relevant advice I have ever received on relationships came from Brian Tracy. In his book Eat That Frog he explains that the whole point of working hard and making money is so we can spend our money and time with those we love. He goes on to say that the quality of our relationships are in direct proportion to the amount of time we invest. Relationship advice is abundant and (in my opinion) sometimes not helpful. My personal recommendation for information about relationships comes from an unlikely source: How to Win Friends and Influence People. My experience is that if we spend sufficient time with our loved ones and interact with them using the principles written in that book, we have a good foundation to build off of.
  • Health and Fitness
    • This aspect is the most convoluted of all of the above in my opinion. I think most people can agree that a mainly whole food diet, coupled with cardiovascular and strength training is the ticket to better health and appearance. The best books I have read on this topic are ALL from Renaissance Periodization. Their training and nutrition advice has been the most helpful to me in regaining my desired levels of health and fitness.

No matter who you are, there are certain desires that are common to all people. We want to be healthy, wealthy, productive, and have positive relationships. Much of what determines our success in these areas are small repeatable actions, done over and over, for an extended period of time. Don’t fall prey to crimes of omission. Thanks for reading!

How Long Does it take to Lose Fitness?

This is a question that I have searched the internet for many times and have never found a satisfactory answer. In my experience, losses to fitness come very quickly, but different aspects lose ground faster than others. I will say that these observations are based on my personal experiences, but I have also found other anecdotal data that confirms my thoughts. Sorry to the cold, hard science folks.

Muscle and Strength Loss

In my experience, muscle loss is the slowest process among the fitness indicators. With a sufficient caloric intake, I have been able to go up to two or three months and not visibly lose any muscle. Of course, this is not advisable, as other markers of fitness will quickly decline. Muscle seems to be very resilient. If your body has gone to great lengths creating it, it seems to go to great lengths to keep it. Building muscle is a very long and hard process. Now, I’m not sure why anyone would ever need to spend two months outside of the gym (I was taking time to focus on cardio), so that week long trip at a hotel with no gym is not likely to be devastating for your muscle mass.

Strength on the other hand is a measure of your muscle’s efficiency. Powerlifters know that in the week before a meet, you taper (or drop intensity) of your workouts. Obviously this is to allow your muscles to super compensate and get their strongest right before the big lift. When I am doing dedicated strength training, I find that strength levels fall off within about three to four weeks. Once again, you are hopefully still training in some capacity so that when you get back to strength training you come back with an increased work capacity.

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance, or work capacity (when talking about lifting), is exactly what it sounds like. How much work your muscles can do in a given period of time with a given amount of rest. Work capacity losses in my estimation are very fast. Holding glycogen levels equal, a lack of training work capacity (usually high volume training), can cause fitness losses within a week and a half to two weeks. I find that if I stop training with high volume for two weeks, my first sessions back at it are very tiring, and recovery takes two to three times as long as it normally does.

Muscular endurance training (high volume) also seems to be the most sensitive to over-training. When we increase the amount of lifting (work) we do, we are increasing the amount of stress we place on our bodies. Bigger and stronger people doubly so. Dramatic volume increases, more than maybe three sets per body part per week, seem to be very stressful on my body. Work capacity needs to be gently increased over time, interspersed every four to five weeks with a deload.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardio fitness definitely declines the fastest after a lack of training. Cardio fitness is the slowest to build, but also has the highest capacity for improvement, especially as we age. My experience has been that levels of cardio fitness begin to fall off within three to five days of no training. Of course, if you are lifting weights, you are doing a kind of cardio, but not one that would give you the same benefits as low intensity steady state cardio. Having a high level of cardio fitness necessitates that you train with higher frequency and duration. Just ask a Tour de France rider how many hours they spend on the bike each week. Most health and fitness organizations recommend three days of cardiovascular exercise each week. I imagine this is because the compounded benefits of cardio can quickly dissipate if frequency is not high enough. On the other hand, lifting can be done as infrequently as once every other week (read the book Body by Science) and still post impressive benefits.

No matter which type of fitness you are trying to preserve, the most important thing is consistency. Hopefully my experiences have shed some insight on how long it takes to lose fitness. Thanks for reading!

The Frugality Pyramid

The 80/20 principle says that 80% of effects can come from 20% of causes. This principle, commonly referred to as the Pareto Principle, shows up in economics, science, finance, and a host of other areas. A good example is the fact that about 20% of drivers cause 80% of accidents. The big idea isn’t that the ratio is always 80% to 20%, but rather that results can be predictably unbalanced. For example, say you are trying to lose weight. You decide to eat healthy foods, but you still overeat. You will not lose weight because there is a bigger cause at play, your caloric intake.

Now, obviously this is a guiding principle and not a law. In my experience, and I am sure in the experience of countless others, when we look to save money and be frugal, the VAST majority of our results will come from reducing our spending in two major areas. Housing and transportation. These two expenses are 80% of frugality results. We would be wise to not major in minor things. Eating at home is nice and advisable, but address the elephants in the room first.

Don’t Buy More House than you Need

What is the single most expensive purchase you are likely to make in your life? A home. When we purchase a home, we are looking for safe neighborhoods and good schools, and perhaps even status. This is where many people go wrong. Instead of buying a home that fits our needs (safe neighborhoods and schools), we buy one that satisfies our wants (status etc.). For example, a pool would be nice, but a community pool is just as good (probably better). We may also want two guest bedrooms, but realistically, who has guests over more than a few times a year? Little desires like these can push us to buy a home at the upper limit of our means. I wrote an article about wise practices in home and car purchasing.

If that isn’t proof enough that we should be frugal in our purchase of a home, consider the major level of inflation in the size of homes over time.

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People and families haven’t gotten bigger (well…maybe we’ve gotten heavier haha), but the size of new homes is steadily climbing. What major elements do you remember lacking from your childhood home? Chances are our appetites have just gotten bigger. When choosing a home, if we are frugal, the savings are astronomical. Couple this with modest investment knowledge, and the path to financial independence is much closer than one might think. Not to mention that bigger houses have bigger utility bills and larger maintenance costs. And, this is just my opinion, but when the second housing bubble pops and future generations look toward efficiency rather than excess, many of these gargantuan homes will suffer losses.

Buy a Modest Car

The next big purchase is a car. If you are lucky and live in an area with good public transportation, you may be able to get by without even having a car. But chances are it is a necessary expense. One of the most ill-advised financial decisions we can make is to buy a new car. Mr. Money Mustache provides great wisdom on frugal approaches to buying a new car. Although extreme, the mental image of setting $20,000 on fire is effective. A new car is just one of the stupidest things to buy unless you are very wealthy and can afford it off of interest income.

The reason buying a new car is stupid is (at least) two-fold. One, the value of your car immediately decreases after you drive it off the lot. But two, you have just weakened your frugality muscle by giving in to consumer culture. This is likely to increase your desire for more luxuries along the way. This is a surefire way to derail you efforts at becoming financially independent.

Hopefully you gained some useful insights into why homes and cars are the two biggest areas in our lives in which we need to be frugal. Thanks for reading!

Success is Cyclical

No one has ever been consistently successful and conversely no one has ever been a consistent failure. The degree to which we succeed in life indeed depends on our efforts and character, but we must remember that outward success is different from self-esteem. Successes are external measures (money, fame, prestige, respect, etc.) of your performance. Self-esteem is the internal measure of your performance. While having and achieving goals is good and healthy, we must remember that there is a certain level of arbitrariness that goes along with that. This idea doesn’t destroy the excitement of achievement and success but rather attenuates and puts it into perspective.

When Good is Bad and Bad is Good

Think about it. If success were a constant, the greatest men and women would always remain perfectly esteemed and free from criticism, or at least close to it. When you achieve something, it is an outward reward based upon the external climate. What I mean by that is your environment rewards you for meeting its temporary needs. Winning the presidency is a reward for making the best case to the American people that you can meet their needs. Winning a powerlifting meet means that, in relation to the other lifters, you were the strongest. Being a popular girl at school means that your body type, fashion sense, and personality are being rewarded for meeting the needs/desires of your peers. All of these things are neither good nor bad, just neutral.

So success is an external validation based on you meeting someone or something’s needs. Let’s look at an extreme example. For a while, Adolf Hitler was very successful. That doesn’t mean he was “good” or “right”, but rather that he found a way to meet (or supposedly meet) other people’s needs and desires. I am sure that there were wildly intelligent, empathetic, and dutiful people in Germany at the time, but they didn’t rise to power. For whatever reason, the environment chose Hitler. My point here is that no matter who you are, you will never always be successful. It’s impossible. Precisely because external needs and wants are always changing.

A personal example. As a teacher I work with groups of students in various capacities. Some years, my students love me. So much so that they buy me gifts and come back years after they have left to see me. Other years, much less so. I don’t think my students have ever hated me, but some years there are no awards or heartwarming appreciation. I, at my core, haven’t changed. I always treat my students the same. But times and things change, and for whatever reason, I am not that special to them. And that’s okay!

Success and Self-Esteem

Success is cyclical and elusive. No sooner than you achieve something, the desire for something bigger and better comes along. One achievement is a spur to the next. Totally natural. But focus on the internal as well. Self-Esteem is a result of feeling good about yourself based on your pre-determined values. If you value family, you will have high self-esteem if you take actions that show that. If you value loyalty, every time to are there for a loved one you feel good about yourself. Success never stays around indefinitely, whereas self-esteem never leaves you so long as you cultivate it. I’m reminded of a Bible verse: Do not store treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, but store up treasures in heaven.

Time and seasons will change, and certain virtues will go in and out of popularity. Everyone is subject to this. Sometimes, external rewards will validate our work and other times they won’t. There’s nothing bad about it, it just is what it is. If you can set your values and stay true to them, you can end up with the cake upon which success is the icing. Thanks for reading!

How to Keep your Life in Balance

One of the big lessons I have learned as I get older is that life is many shades of grey (maybe not 50 haha). There are very few hard and fast rules, but rather principles that should guide us a we flexibly navigate life. Not surprisingly, these principles hold true in most areas of life. It reminds me of the oft-quoted Bible verses about there being a time for everything. People who live one dimensionally and by very strict rules will inevitably have trouble in life. Someone who is always agreeable will miss opportunities to stand up for themselves. Likewise, people who are aggressive will miss out on benefits nature only rewards to the gentle. It’s not that being agreeable is “good” and being aggressive is “bad”, it is that there is a time to be each one, and more likely a good response is somewhere on a spectrum rather than an extreme.

These principles show up in most areas of our lives. A good teacher is a warm demander. A seeming paradox! They are emotionally warm, but have high expectations. Likewise a good parent loves their child unconditionally but also disciplines them. Any balanced approach to our lives requires that we navigate seeming opposites. Let’s take a look at a few areas this applies to in our lives.

Health and Fitness

A healthy person with a good relationship with food knows there is a time to be very disciplined in eating, and a time to enjoy eating. If we can keep our ratio balanced (say 80% healthy food, 20% fun food) our fitness and health will benefit. If we skew too much toward healthy food, we can become orthorexic, and if we skew too much toward fun food we become fat. So we see again, fun foods aren’t “bad”, they just need to be balanced by healthy eating. Many dieters also know that eating tasty high calorie food when dieting can help reset your metabolism and set the stage for more fat loss.

Similarly, any sensible exercise program has the majority (maybe 80%) of training as base training. For lifting, this would be multiple sets of 5-12 reps. For cardio, this would be talking pace, or long slow distance cardio. If we dabble too much in intense exercise (HIIT, very heavy lifting >85% 1RM, sprinting, etc.) we can quickly become overtrained. Interestingly, we can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

Money

A few years ago I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache. After reading about the FIRE movement, I became very interested in ways to become more frugal. When dealing with money, our default stance should be toward frugality. But we have to remember that the whole point of becoming financially independent is freedom. And sometimes that freedom comes with a literal price tag. We are frugal so we can enjoy our vacations with family and the occasional nice dinner. If we err on the side of spending frivolously, we go broke. If we skew too intensely toward frugality, we miss opportunities to have interesting experiences and enrich our lives. My wife and I cook most of our meals at home to save money, but we also enjoy (every couple weeks or so) delicious fancy dinners. Once again, if we keep this in balance (daily frugal habits with the occasional splurge) we get the best of both worlds.

Work and Play

Lastly, we see that work and play must also be balanced. Hopefully, we are on the path to financial independence. But in the meantime, we must balance our work as a necessity, with play as leisure. Most people don’t love their jobs. And that’s okay. We don’t go because we love it, we go because they send us a check every two weeks. If you do like your job, consider yourself lucky.

Because of advances in technology, most people are always on the clock. Emails flood our inbox at any and every hour of the day. Unless we make a conscious decision to set boundaries between work and play, we can easily get out of balance. My wife and I were recently taking a walk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. When I looked at my phone, I had over 10 emails and messages (none of them urgent) that I had received during that one hour walk. Apparently no one else was outside enjoying the weather! I try to make a habit of “unplugging” as often as possible. Think about it, there were emergencies before cell phones, so if something is urgent, people will find you.

Hopefully you have gotten some useful insights into ways to keep your life in balance. Thanks for reading!

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