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.

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 “SautĂ©” function and wait until it says “hot” or until a splash of water will sizzle.
  • Add olive oil (optional) and sautĂ© the onion and garlic until fragrant, about five minutes.
  • Add the bay leaves and continue sautĂ©ing 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!

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!

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!

Surprising Benefits of Speed and Reactivity

I said in my last article that science can be used or mis-used to prove almost anything. I have learned through experience that the only science that makes a difference in your life is the science you experience. Meaning, someone can say eat 1.8 g/kg of protein per day, but if I haven’t tried it and confirmed the benefits, it means nothing to me. So I won’t say this is science, because it isn’t, but I will share my results of a study with a single subject. Me!

In this article, I will talk about my experience with introducing speed, agility, reactivity, and quickness (SARQ) into my training. We all know that the foundation of fitness is cardiovascular health and muscle strength. I would like to posit that powerful fitness and health benefits (albeit optional) can come as a result of including SARQ training.

How I Stumbled into SARQ

I have been working out fairly consistently for the better part of five years. First, I did mostly strength training, then mostly cardio, and I have settled in a happy medium. My workout routine over time morphed into the Physical Activity Guidelines (hey, scientists might know what they’re talking about?!?! haha).

I will confess that maybe 80% of fitness will come from routine cardio (3x per week) and weightlifting (2x per week). But I took a slight diversion from my incline walking, elliptical, and weightlifting routine and tried something different a few months ago. LA Fitness has a dance studio with some punching bags in the back. I decided to go over and do a couple of rounds on the bag. I noticed that in the days after the workout, I began to feel more energetic and sharp. I was better at thinking on my feet and felt an energy level slightly above what I am used to. Seeing as how the only change in my program was the boxing session, I began to look up the benefits of boxing.

Why SARQ Falls through the Cracks

Now, this isn’t science yet, but think about it. Kids have built in SARQ. It’s called playing. Very few adults have a grown-up equivalent. Think of a game of tag. It’s fast paced, you have to run, change directions, dodge opponents, and think on your feet. Many adults never do the physical equivalent. What I was learning was that boxing was activating parts of my nervous system that were under-active. Even with my lifting and cardio, I wasn’t challenging myself to move quickly, be agile, or be reactive.

Even just a short heavy bag session forces you to move your arms and fists faster than you have in maybe years, and you have to be reactive to get your stance and blocks back as fast as possible. Bonus points if you can spar with a partner!

Now obviously boxing isn’t the only way to increase SARQ fitness levels. You could play a game of pickup basketball (or volleyball, soccer, etc), join a kickball league, play catch with your son or daughter, or do Brazilian Jiujitsu. The main goal is to make sure that the activity activates your speed, agility, reactivity, and quickness. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

How to Pick a Mentor

I have had short stints as a personal trainer in a couple of commercial gyms. Most personal trainers are naturally athletic people. Not to say they didn’t work hard or were not disciplined, but they had years and years of experience with playing sports or being active in other ways. I found that my clients always complimented me on how well I was able to break down different lifts and a framework for building fitness into their everyday lives. At first I thought it was because I am a teacher by trade (although that definitely helps). Then I realized that I was different as compared to most personal trainers: I had to learn it all myself. 

Growing up, my parents had me playing all types of sports. But I was never very good. I was always middle of the pack at school mile runs and I never particularly excelled at anything physically. I have been underweight, overweight, skinny, fat, muscular, skinny-fat, and any other body type you can think of. Because of this, I know what it feels like and what it takes to start a fitness journey from ground zero. When choosing a teacher, choose someone who has experiences similar to yours. That way they can guide you through the process knowing what big challenges and opportunities lie on the path of your success journey. 

The Natural and Unconscious Competence

Imagine you want to become president of the United States. Would you ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama for advice? I would suggest you ask Barack Obama. Why? Because he likely started from where you are. No particular advantages, but a desire to work hard and be president. What about George W. Bush? He would give well meaning advice, but none of that takes away from the fact that he was groomed from a young age for the presidency. His dad was a president. He likely learned so many small lessons he didn’t even know he was learning, had so many advantages that others could only dream of, and had a support system to help him along the way. 

I say that to say naturals are what we call unconsciously competent. Meaning they know how to achieve results, and they aren’t thinking about it. It just happens. Now of course they are following the same rules that guarantee success for anyone, but they didn’t learn them by themselves. Let’s say you find a trainer. He was captain of the football team and then played intramural flag football as an adult. Sure, he can be a great trainer, but he may have trouble helping someone starting from square one because he has never been there. Conversely, think of Linda. Linda was my mentor for a while at one of the gyms I worked at. Linda was 50 years old and only got into fitness at the age of forty after her sister had gotten sick. Linda is now fit and healthy. She knows what it’s like to start at square one. No athletic history. Her parents weren’t athletes. She was self made. This made her not only relatable, but very proficient at explaining what it takes to get from point A to point B. 

So the next time you are looking for a personal trainer, a teacher of some sort, or a mentor, remember that the people who can help you the most are usually the people who achieved success from ground zero. 

My Workout and Meals Today 2/17/20


My most recent goals for fitness have been to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. For me, this will probably look like the equivalent of a brisk walk for thirty minutes each day. Even for having stuck to it for two weeks, I can feel a difference in energy levels and a modest weight loss. For many years I have played around with higher intensity workouts, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that total active minutes are both less stressful on the body, and I can feel the fitness I am getting as a result. Instead of dreading going to the gym, I look forward to my evening brisk walk or time on the treadmill listening to music or a podcast. 

So today, I woke up, had my coffee, and headed out to the gym. I have been reading “Body, Mind, and Sport” by John Douillard, and have been keeping my workouts at a lower intensity. I have always favored a lower-intensity for cardio, often following a Maffetone type protocol. But recently John Douillard’s words about exercising and feeling no strain have been speaking to me. My Maffetone heart rate is about 150 bpm, but my heart rate when following Douillard’s recommendations is anywhere from 110-120 bpm. It feels easy and pain free, no aches while incline walking at all. Most interestingly, however, is that I am walking at a pace that used to bump my heart rate up to 150 bpm at a lower heart rate of 120 bpm. 

I did incline walking for thirty minutes and that was it! The main point Douillard makes is that exercise should be pain free, you should look forward to it, and you should feel energized as opposed to run-down after it. For me, exercising like this has not only been fun, I can also feel and see (from heart rate data) the fitness gains! 

As far as food, it is a fairly typical day for me. Started the morning with coffee, then had a post workout protein shake and oatmeal for breakfast. Lunch will be chicken with rice and vegetables. An egg wrap for a snack, and taco bowl for dinner. Probably coming in at around 2800-3000 calories. 

Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Safety and Routines

Routines are important because they provide us with safety. When we are safe, our bodies can recover from and appropriately respond to stress. As a teacher, one of the big things veteran teachers will stress to younger teachers is the importance of classroom routines. How to ask to go to the bathroom. How to enter the classroom. Where homework goes. How a lesson progresses. Whether they know it or not, these teachers are seeing the importance of providing safety and predictability to their environments. They instinctively know that safety and predictability is the space where the most productive learning will come from. Similarly, when we provide our bodies with predictable healthy nutrition and a good base of fitness, it sets the stage for growth and development. 

Why Safety is Important

Safety is important because it allows our bodies to enter a parasympathetic state. A state of relaxation and ease. Imagine a person who does crash dieting. They send their body the message that food may or may not be coming, so the body responds with stress and a tilt toward fat storage. Alternatively, think of a person who eats the same general foods each day, and makes it a point not to drastically change their calories or macronutrient ratios haphazardly. The body can then adapt and get used to the routine. Gaining or losing weight will be easier because metabolism is fairly consistent and will be very responsive to changes. 

In fitness, the principles still hold true. Consistency trumps intensity every time. All fit people are consistent people. Maybe when we are young (<27 yrs old) we can be unpredictable with our body, but otherwise, fitness necessitates consistency. The person who walks briskly for 20 minutes every day will experience vastly more benefits than the person who does a sprint workout on an inconsistent schedule. And interestingly enough, as we will see below, the brisk walker’s body will probably respond more favorably to a sprint workout than the inconsistent sprinter. The main point here is that if we can provide our bodies with a consistent template of movement and activity, it sets the stage for higher levels of health and wellness. 

How Safety Allows Us to Grow

I know there is a lot of talk in popular culture about no pain no gain. And while this is at least partially true, without a background of safety and security, challenges will damage any open system as opposed to growing it. Lack of safety is dangerous to the body. The crash dieter will have trouble adjusting to changes because the body doesn’t have a baseline metabolism to adjust from. A sedentary person will have an exponentially higher risk of injury doing a sprint workout than someone who has built a fitness base through consistent activity. Someone who has experienced trauma will not deal with stress as well as someone who grew up in a safe nurturing environment. So an interesting paradox develops. Stress and difficulty make us stronger, but only if we have background safety. If our baseline is chaotic, it will make it all the harder to make beneficial changes. So the next time we need to take on a big challenge or introduce a new stressor (physical, mental, or emotional) into our lives, we should evaluate whether or not we have set the stage for positive adaptations to occur by providing safety and routines. 

Thanks for reading!

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