Health and Fitness

Forward To The Past

In this post I will attempt to explain how I use my 2nd generation Apple watch, an ancient Garmin Edge 705 bike computer, equally ancient videos from Sufferfest, and a Star Trac spinning bike to make my garage into a cardio wonderland.  This is my way of avoiding the extravagant cost of the new home workout systems that are out there.  (This is a work around, and I understand not everyone has this kind of stuff laying around, but covid forces us to think outside the box, and this is old tech-cheaply found used on the web, or freely streamed.)

Before we begin, a commercial came on the other day for some medicine, I don’t remember which, and the list of side effects was at least ten times longer and twice as terrifying as the medical condition itself.  However, it did remind me that before I say another thing about health I better put out a disclaimer.  So here it is:

Disclaimer: I am just some guy.  You are welcome to my advice, but it’s up to you to decide for yourself if I’m full of crap.  By acting on any of the suggestions I make here you are accepting responsibility for any and all consequences.  

Let’s talk about cardio today.  According to the Mayo Clinic:

You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you’re 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175. This is the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise.

Admittedly, this is not the most precise way to measure your maximum heart rate, but then I’m not trying out for the olympic bobsled team either.  It is important, however, to have at least a ballpark idea of your max heart rate for some key reasons.  First of all, in order to know if you are working out with intensity your workouts will need to be based off of this number.  Secondly, for safety’s sake you need to keep yourself in your zones.  This is especially important for aging farts like myself who like to pretend we still have all the vim and vigor of the young whippersnappers.  Thirdly, you need this number to set up your devices if you’re interested in using a modicum of precision in your training.  Let me explain.

As I stated in earlier, the Covid pandemic has forced me to find new and interesting ways to challenge my body.  No, that’s not exactly right. It has actually forced me to dust off some old technology that was pretty cutting edge a decade or so ago and combine it with some newer tech, like my Apple watch, to get a more complete picture.  Speaking of “edge”, one of those pieces of technology is the Garmin Edge 705 bike computer.

Garmin Edge 705 
Paul Smith

(I can’t find a Creative Commons image for this elderly piece of technology.  Hopefully, because I’m so positive about it, Garmin will be ok with my using this image!)

Now, you could simply use any heart rate monitor to make sure you are staying in your zones, but that requires thinking, which I don’t know about you, but is not my favorite thing to do while working out.  I kind of like my workouts to be the time I don’t have to think!

Let me explain what I mean.  You can see from the photo above that a rider can have up to 8 data windows on a single screen.  Most of these are irrelevant for a person riding a stationary bike in a garage, especially since many activity trackers have an activity function that will track a bunch of statistics like workout time, intensity, etc.  It’s the heart rate window that I use this for.  Using the Mayo formula above I can set up zones for intensity.  

You can see in the photo above that I have set my max heart rate based on the Mayo formula.  I then set five zones, with trial and error, to fit how hard I like to spin(initially, I set them to end at 100% of max, but never felt like I was pushing it- that’s why my zone five goes above 100%).  Once your device is set you’re ready for the next step. (Incidentally, there are apps for this that you can put on your phone, but then you would need a different device for the next step, I used to use my laptop set on a table in front of me.)

Sufferfest is a company that I guess was recently acquired by Wahoo, the fitness trainer manufacturer.  Back in the day sufferfest made cycling videos with footage from actual tour events.  That’s what I have saved in a google drive folder and use for my training.  (Sufferfest is currently offering a streaming app.  It’s free for 14 days so you can get a taste.)

The older videos look like this(use your imagination-this is a still from streaming video!):

All the work done setting up your zones has been for this!  The text in the middle of the screen appears only periodically, but the numbers in the upper right corner are always visible. The newer videos have even more information like watts, or work, or power, but my old spinner bike doesn’t have a way to track those anyway. Besides, I have found that cadence and heart rate are all I need to get destroyed.  8.0 / 10 – that means 80% of my max heart rate.  At a cadence of 80 rpm’s I need to peddle at a resistance level that raises my heart rate to 80% of max.  It takes a little practice to find those levels, but it’s doable.  

To make it more realistic the videos will change the numbers to match terrain, or race conditions.  For example, another rider might attack, and you will be instructed to peddle at level 10 for a bit, or to stand.  That’s why having your zones planned out ahead and on the computer one the handlebars in front of you makes life so much easier.  No trying to determine what 8.25% of 166 is.  No having to look at your wrist while peddling from a standing position.

I found a six dollar phone clamp at the hardware store that attaches to my spin bike handle.  I use it to watch my Sufferfest videos that are all uploaded to a google drive folder.  I use wireless headphones to further streamline the process.  

That’s it. There you have it, the poor man’s workaround to the super expensive training hardware/software “solutions” that are out there.  Incidentally, there are some free videos on Youtube that use much of the same type of content as Sufferfest.  The Vegan Cyclist, and CTXC Videos are two that come to mind, but there are others.  

A final benefit to think about is that if you stream the video portion to say a laptop or TV, then multiple people can train at once.  My friend Tim and I used to train together, even though he was ten years younger.  Because his max heart rate was ten points higher than mine, and he personalized his workouts to his zones on his own device, we could ride at different levels and get workouts tailored to ourselves.  

Health and Fitness

To Beer Or Not To Beer

My son once made the brutal observation, “Dad, with all the working out that you do, how come you don’t look like the guys on TV?”  Brutal.

I’ve always known the answer to that question, it’s just not one I’ve ever really wanted to face.  It’s diet.  The guys he’s referring to have self-control.  It’s not that I don’t, it’s just that I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that life is to be enjoyed. 

In an interview for the WIRE magazine, the fitness guru Jack LaLanne once said,

“I’m going to be ninety in September. Everybody else can have a piece of the birthday cake, but not me. I have rules, and I follow ’em. No cake, no pie, no candy, no ice cream! Haven’t had any in seventy-five years. It makes me feel great not eating birthday cake. That’s the gift I give myself.”

That’s not me.

(Jack towing 70 boats with 70 people a 1 ½ miles while handcuffed!)
(The Christmas cookie I ate, one of many, just before sitting down to write this post)

Incredibly, I’m considered a pretty good eater by just about everyone I know.  I eat a plant based diet, limiting dairy as well(cheese is the most wonderful exception ever invented!). Our family cooks, so I don’t eat a lot of processed food. We buy organic when possible.  Snacking is done with care.  My theory has always been that if I eat carefully from the time I get up to dinner time, then I can relax a little and be less discerning then.  This has always worked for me.  I’ve maintained a weight that doesn’t fluctuate much more than a few pounds on either side of 220.  At 6’6” this is not a terrible weight.

Fortunately, I’m able to look at food as fuel better than some.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care how food tastes, just that I’m less likely to get hung up on something small like texture, or color.  Take breakfast, for example.  Almost everyday I have a smoothie.

(Commercial Break)


I have owned two vitamix blenders.  My current blender is 15 years old and hasn’t lost a step.  I don’t know anything about the new models, but these are jet engines for your countertop that would liquify trees if you put them in there!

Here’s a snapshot of what I put in a smoothie.  


 2 cups Water

½ cup Organic Frozen Berries

1 tsp. Beet powder

¼ cup Hemp seeds

1 cup Spinach

¼ cup Chia seeds

¼ Ground Flax Seeds

1 Scoop of Whey Protein

3 oz. of Tofu

1 tbs. Walnuts or Raw Pumpkin Seeds

¼  cup Oats 

(optional ingredients: Cinnamon , Turmeric (not for the taste conscious), cacao nibs)

Nutritional information: According to My Fitness Pal– 628 Calories, Fat 29 grams, Carbohydrates 52 grams, and Protein 48 grams. (only 5 grams of this is saturated fat, and there are no trans fats)

Obviously, what you decide to put in it each day can have some serious impact on flavor, texture, and color.  My family loves to mock me as I sit down to a hearty breakfast of grey sludge.  However, it never tastes as bad as it looks.  (If the protein powder you decide to use is unsweetened you will need to add a banana or an apple to sweeten up the mix.)  

For lunch I eat a monstrously huge salad of as many vegetables as we have in the fridge.  I usually top it with beans of some kind, and drizzle it with balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.  To this I will add a sprouted grain tortilla or two and some hummus.  I generally have an orange or a few dates for dessert.  

Aside from these two meals I will not eat until late afternoon.  I will enjoy two cups of coffee when I first get up(I like them with unsweetened soy milk) and I will have two cups of tea throughout the day(Plain-green tea), and all the water I can remember to drink.

The real downfall occurs at 4:15 or so.  That’s happy hour.  That is my true weakness.  I love beer and I love snacks.  At 60 calories per cup you really can’t beat Angie’s “Boom Chicka Pop” white cheese popcorn.  So if it’s not what I’m eating (Dinner is varied but always healthy and fresh-except for pizza night!) then this sort of leaves the beer as the odd man out.  

Unlike other foods I really do care what my beer tastes like.  I won’t buy low-cal “sports” beers. I like them tall, local, and flavorful.  I also like 3.  According to fitness pal I take in almost 800 calories from beer alone!  And that, people, is why I don’t look like the guys on TV!  That is also why I do dry months and dry days during the week. 

I could spend an entire post talking about alcohol, but I don’t want to do it.  I know that it is my number one weakness, and my number one risk.  I know that it not only adds unwanted calories to my diet, but that it affects my sleep, and my memory, and my health in a myriad of ways.  I have a healthy fear of it-Far better and stronger people than I have succumbed to it’s charms!  

So, in 5 days I will start another dry January.  I have no intention of quitting drinking permanently, but I intend to be much more focused on documenting the process.  I want to pay particular attention to how I feel, how I sleep, and how it seems to affect my health.  Cutting 800 calories a day out of my diet is certainly going to have an affect.  I might even have to eat more so I don’t waste away!  Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?

Digital Literacy Professional Growth

Twitter: Dipping A Toe

Twitter. Ugh.. 

Even my grown children, digital natives, consumers of all things digital, seem to balk at Twitter.  And yet, millions (billions?) of people use it, depend on it, and love it?  How come?

Admittedly, I’m on it because I’m told I have to be.  The people that tell me this are people I trust, so I’m putting my suspicions on hold until I can wrap my head around what all the excitement is about.

At first glance, Twitter seems so smart.  It’s so efficient! Because posts are limited by character counts a lot of information is packed into a small space.  Once you have made some decision about who you want to follow, your stream will be populated by tweets from those people or organizations. That is exactly what makes it such a double edged sword as well!  Some people and organizations are prolific tweeters transforming your babbling brook of information into a raging torrent of whitewater. Taking a swig of information out of the Twitter stream sometimes feels like trying to drink out of firehose, 

There are ways to slow this down.  Social media management tools like Hootsuite are the best way I’ve seen to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Let’s face it, in a first place tie for the most difficult aspect of Twitter is not Twitter, but our own lack of self-control in perusing through it.  Here’s what I mean.  The photo below shows what my Twitter feed looks like:

Contrast this with how Hootsuite looks:

At first glance it may seem I’ve only complicated the view. However, on closer inspection you can see that Hootsuite actually allows me more control . I can see my own tweets, tweets I’ve been mentioned in, and also, if you look at the home stream in the photo above you will notice that it has the same information as my Twitter home stream.  I have the option of not even including it on this page.  Perhaps the most useful tool is what is in the 4th column and beyond.  Users can customize further streams by including specific #hashtags.  Since I’m taking class through Eduro, it seems like a logical conversation to follow.  I also have one for inquiry, but any more than a few topics and I find myself back in the heavy current of distraction.

Another great feature of Hootsuite is that you are not limited to your Twitter here.  You can organize other social accounts like Facebook and Instagram in the same way.  Hootsuite becomes your one stop shop for all things socia.  Not only that, but anything you can do on those sites can be done from Hootsuite, like posting.  You can even post on more than one site simultaneously.  Am I doing any of that? Oh heck no, but know the options are there…and it’s free.

When you are ready to dip a toe here I recommend you try some of the videos on setting up an account.  This “How to use hootsuite in 13 minutes” put out by Hootsuite, was really clear and really helpful.  

Why? Why bother doing this at all?

Here’s the thing. Education is a moving target right now, especially with Covid and the subsequent need for home learning. If an efficient use of time leads to a balanced life, and if a balanced life leads to contentment, then we need to find efficient ways to hit that target. Twitter puts groups of likeminded individuals into contact with each other. Your personal learning network becomes anyone who sees your tweet. The wheel you’re thinking of inventing is probably being used by someone already. In ten minutes I found three things I want to try. The bottom line is that I need to quit trying to to it all by yourself.

Digital Literacy Professional Growth

Practice Makes Perfect

So, to recap, I am an elementary teacher who has spent the last decade teaching abroad in Seoul, South Korea and on Grand Cayman Island.  This year, circumstances forced my family home to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Avoiding Covid, surgery, and a strong desire to get better at my job has stifled my desire, and in some ways, my ability to get a classroom job right now.  That’s why I’m using this year as a time for professional growth.


Your Own Bucket

When it comes to taking personal responsibility for the decisions one makes in his or her life, in learning and otherwise, my dad has a favorite, and rather colorful, expression, “Everybody’s gotta carry their own bucket of shit,” he would say. (Stay with me, it will make sense in the end.)

Health and Fitness

The Set Up

Covid has certainly forced us to get creative. The YMCA four blocks away is now a distant dream. For the first time in more than a decade I don’t have a membership. My old weight set has been gone even longer than that. So, what does one do when the house one lives in is smaller than most apartments? Answer? Go after the garage.

Health and Fitness

Getting Physical

Taking care of myself physically has always been a goal area for me. I think ever since I was a competitive swimmer I have had not just a desire, but a need for physical activity. As I have aged, I have tried to adapt my activities so as to promote health and well being, and not injury. Even so, I have managed to accumulate a number of nicks and dings along the way. The torn cartilage in my knee, and the subsequent micro-fracturing surgery, is the only limitation on my movement-I’m not supposed to run.


“Better, Stronger, Faster”


I suppose we better start here, at the beginning. This blog is a part of a larger scheme. Consider it future evidence of a commitment I have made to myself to become a better version of me. When I say that, I don’t just mean in some figurative or nebulous way. I mean it in every way possible. I mean it about myself physically and mentally, professionally and privately. I intend to be a better friend, and better with my family. I mean it in both qualitative, and quantitative ways. If there is a way to improve me, I’m doing it. To be clear, I’m not messing around!


A Blog Is Born

This is the first of, hopefully, many posts to come.