Category Archives: equipment

Yaktrax Walker Traction Device

IMG_2269Winter is finally here!

One of the biggest challenges facing distance runners during the winter is all the snow and ice on their running routes. In some areas it can be so bad that they have no choice but to run on a treadmill, which is what I did just a few days ago. Although I got my “miles” in, it’s really not the same thing as a long run in the outdoors, at least to me. I need to actually go somewhere, I need the fresh air, I need the outdoors, I need the wise guys saying “you can only juggle 3?!”. On the treadmill I felt like the human version of a hamster running on a hamster wheel.

So I decided I had to do something to improve my traction when running on snow and ice. I picked up a pair of the Yaktrax Walker Traction Device at the local sporting good store for $20(for 1 pair), which makes them one of the cheapest traction enhancers. Instead of spikes like other traction enhancers, it uses rings of metal(abrasion resistant 1.2 mm steel coils) around rubber to help improve your traction as you walk or run on snow and ice.

IMG_2271It’s very easy to put them on your sneakers. Simply hook the front section of the traction device to the front of your shoe, then stretch it out toward the back to fasten it. It comes in many sizes, XS, S, M, and L, so if you’re looking to buy one make sure you get the right size. Since my sneakers are 8.5, I got a S.

I’ve used them a few times and I immediately noticed an improvement. I am running faster over snow and ice without slipping, even in areas where I would usually slip or slide. I nearly fell in the river last time due to the ice on this hilly stretch of my usual route, but it was like the ice wasn’t there this time, thanks to the Yaktrax.

They feel a bit awkward at first, but I quickly got used to them. They are very easy to remove. Sometimes I fear they may slip off if I run in them enough, but nothing like this has happened so far. I hope they last until the end of the winter, if not into next winter. I’ll keep everyone posted on how long they last.

With the right attitude and the right equipment, outdoor distance running is possible is virtually any condition.

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Spectacular new running shoes

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My new ASICS sneakers in the front, my older New Balance sneakers behind it, and Sauconies in the back.

It’s always exciting getting a new pair of running shoes, especially after joggling 13.4 miles(21.5 km) to Valhalla. Almost miraculously, even with the cold heavy winds blowing leaves in my face, and mild nausea and stomach pain during the first half of the run, I didn’t drop the balls even once. It took me 2 hours and 7 minutes to complete this. The stomach issues were likely due to eating too many lentils for breakfast. I may need to join Lentil Addicts Anonymous some day.

Anyway, enough bragging. Due to all the running I do(40 – 60 miles a week), I need to get a new pair of sneakers every few months. For a long time I only wore New Balance, then tried out Saucony, and for the first time yesterday bought some ASICS.

I kept getting New Balance sneakers for a long time because my feet are kind of wide and their sneakers are usually wider than Nike or most other brands. Saucony is similar enough, and around here are usually cheaper than New Balance so I tried them for a change early this year.

I went with the ASICS this time because they had the exact size(8 1/2) I needed in wide. Neither Saucony, New Balance or any other brands had what I was looking for. I am not a particularly brand loyal kind of person, so I frequently switch brands when it comes to shoes, clothing, food and many other things. I don’t think there are big differences in quality when it comes to different brands of running shoes, in my experience. Also, a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean the sneaker is better.

I used to wear a size 8(the Sauconies in the above photo is an 8), but it kind of felt a little too small for me, so I’ve been wearing 8 1/2 since. There isn’t a whole lot of science when it comes to running shoes, except that you are better off buying sneakers in the evening because your feet tend to be bigger then than in the morning. I went shopping for mine in the afternoon, and so far the ASICS feel okay, but need to be broken in a little more.

I will still use the 8 1/2 New Balance sneakers occasionally(they are my Valhalla sneakers after all), for short runs or walks, but I think it’s about time I got rid of the older Sauconies. I hope I get used to the ASICS within a week.

What kind of running shoes do you wear?

In Valhalla after run. The Kensico Dam is behind me.

In Valhalla after run. The Kensico Dam is behind me.

Are push-ups on unstable surfaces more beneficial?

Push-ups are one of the best strength training exercises. You can do them almost anywhere and they require no special equipment. While they target the chest(pectoral) muscles, they also exercise the shoulder(deltoid), arm, and ab muscles.

There are many variants of the push-up. In particular, a recent trend is doing push-ups on unstable surfaces using BOSU balls or T-Bows. According to the companies that sell these products and some of their devoted users, this improves the push-up so that it is more beneficial. But is there any validity to this?

Fortunately for us, a study posted in the International Journal of Sports Therapy, Comparison of the effects of an eight-week push-up program using stable versus unstable surfaces found that:

CONCLUSIONS:

The addition of unstable surfaces in push-up training does not provide greater improvement in muscular strength and endurance than push up training performed on a stable surface in young men.

In other words, don’t waste your money on this fancy equipment. The unstable surface provided no extra benefit.

Heavy ball juggling and joggling

IMG_1266If you want to make juggling or joggling even more challenging(assuming you’re a proficient juggler), you can add a strength training element to it by juggling heavy balls. This can help build stamina even better than if you are using lighter juggling balls or bean bags, to prepare you for joggling marathons or if you want to build strength to juggle for hours on end. It is one of the best ways to target the muscles used for juggling.

In the above photo, the 3 red balls I am joggling with are 2.25 lb(1.02 kg) ExerBalls by Dube(they come in different weights and these are the heaviest). This may not seem like much, but after several minutes of juggling these babies while standing still you will feel exhausted, unless you’re a bodybuilder. If I try to joggle with them, I can’t go for more than a few minutes with these. Very tiring, but what a rush! You really can get a nice high from joggling with these heavy balls. It’s cardio, strength-training, and coordination training all in one!

They probably help build explosiveness; think of it sort of like juggling mini medicine balls. They are made of rubber and stuffed with lead or steel balls to add weight to them. They are kind of pricey, a set of 3 going for $60. I got mine as a gift(not from the company).

You can always try making your own from tennis balls like I have, though they are much lighter. The juggling balls I am joggling with in the photo below are tennis balls stuffed with pennies. Just cut a small slit on the side with a knife to push the pennies in, put glue or epoxy over the slit, let it dry, and then cover liberally with duct tape. These weigh about 1 lb(0.45 kg) each. I made these 2.5 years ago and have had no problems with them.

IMG_1269They are not as challenging to juggle as the heavier Exerballs, but they can still help build endurance in your arms. Since they are 1 lb each, I can joggle with these for miles and miles, but I have to be careful no one is around since if these hit someone they can hurt(the Exerballs are even more dangerous in this regard). On days when I don’t joggle, I juggle these homemade juggling balls as an upper body cardio exercise, since juggling with regular, light-weight balls isn’t much of a cardio exercise to me. So they are helpful cross-trainers, good for maintaining aerobic fitness on days I don’t run or joggle. Either of these balls are good for quick warm-up exercises before joggling with regular balls, though I usually prefer the lighter, penny-stuffed balls for warm ups.

Joggling with either of these types of heavy balls is one of the ultimate calorie-burning exercises(especially if you are running up a hill), so it’s good to try this out if you are trying to lose weight.

Just make sure you are proficient in juggling lighter balls before trying either of these. You don’t want to drop them on your feet, trust me.

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Nite Ize MeteorLight L.E.D Ball for juggling/joggling

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One of the many things a lot of jugglers(and jogglers) have in common is finding ways to juggle any time, any place, and in any situation. While showering, while eating, you name it. It can be that addictive. But like many healthy habits, it’s a good addiction. It’s the main reason many of us took up joggling in the first place. For obvious reasons, it isn’t easy joggling at night(unless you’re a cat), even in areas where running is easy. One solution is to use LED light balls, like the ones made by Nite Ize.

About the size of a tennis ball, they bounce and are also well-built from durable rubber. The 2 easily replaceable 2016 3V lithium batteries are in the sturdy, removable core. Just remove the large plug, which doubles as an on/off button to get access to the batteries to replace them. The balls are about 4.8 ounces and have a rough exterior which makes them easier to grasp. Press down the on/off button for two seconds to turn them on, and do the same thing to turn them off. It takes a good deal of pressure to turn them on, which is good, since if you drop them there is little chance of them getting accidentally turned on or off.
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They are great for joggling at night so as long as it is not too dark and you are familiar with the terrain. If conditions are very dark, juggling the balls while running will produce a blinding glare that will obscure your vision to the point that you can’t see what’s ahead. So be careful. This same exact product is also sold as a ball(with different packaging) for playing with your dog at night. They are water resistant, and come in 3 colors – red, green, blue, and there is also a color changing model.

Their price is reasonable, and I didn’t get mine for free. I’ve had these awesome orbs for several months, and although I don’t joggle with them very often they seem to be holding up pretty well. Compared to other light-up juggling balls, these seem to be built to last. The children in my area can’t get enough of these LED balls and seem to think I’m an alien from another planet when I joggle them in the park or along the streets at night. The light these things produce is only visible in a dark room or at night. They have some bounce, but I do not recommend these for bounce juggling unless you really know what you are doing.

LED technology just keeps getting more fun!

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You can see the videos these images were taken from on the Wild Juggling Youtube page – http://www.youtube.com/user/thewildjuggler

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Protecting your eyes from the sun

With the sun’s rays getting stronger and the days getting longer and warmer, the outdoors are calling out your name and telling you to come out and play. I believe that outdoor exercise is generally more beneficial than indoor, so this is a good thing.

However, one of the biggest downsides to outdoor exercise is the damaging effects of sunlight on the skin and eyes. Lack of proper eye protection can lead to permanent eye damage in the long-term, besides hindering athletic performance in the short-term. Luckily, all you need is a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes – with all the choices out there, choosing the right one can be difficult.

Here are some tips to help you choose the right glasses to maximize eye protection:

1) Make sure they cover up enough of your eyes. Very small circle sunglasses may look “hip” to some people, but they don’t block enough sunlight from the side or the top. Wrap-around sunglasses are your best choice, since they block sunlight from all directions.

2) Make sure they provide enough darkening for very bright sunlight. Polarized glasses may be better for reducing glare and seeing things in water when the sun is out, but they are not absolutely necessary. Brown-orange lenses are probably the best color, along with brown-red, and brown-yellow. Grayish lenses are good as well. Pure red, green, or blue lenses aren’t a good idea since they can distort your vision.

3) Make sure they provide 100% UV light protection. This is different from how dark the lenses make your vision. Even some dark lens sunglasses can provide poor UV protection while some lighter ones provide 100% UV protection. UV light can damage your eyes over time, leading to macular degeneration and other serious problems.

How can you tell if your sunglasses provide 100% UV protection? One important thing to keep in mind is that price is no guarantee of UV protection. I’ve tested very expensive sunglasses and realized they provided little UV protection(even though the labels claimed they provided 100%), while some relatively cheap ones($8 to $25 U.S dollars) provided 100% UV protection.

How could I tell? There is a relatively simple trick you can do if you have access to a UV flashlight. There are some inexpensive UV flashlights available online if you are really interested in testing your sunglasses. Or borrow one if you can(do not beam it into your eyes). Here is what you do:

Go into a dark room with the UV flashlight, the sunglasses, and with paper money and/or a credit card. Turn on the UV light and beam it on the paper money. You should notice all these mysterious symbols on the money(usually a line) or credit card(usually letters) you normally wouldn’t see in ordinary light. These are watermarks used by banks and government officials to detect counterfeit money – these lines and/or symbols are only noticeable in UV light. Don’t worry, you are not doing anything illegal!

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Now take the sunglasses you wish to test, and beam the UV light through one of its lenses and onto the money or credit card.

– If you still see the symbols on the money or credit card, your glasses do not provide 100% UV protection(the lenses are letting through the UV light and revealing the symbols).

– If you do not see the symbols, your glasses have passed the test and do provide 100% UV protection – the lens blocks the UV, hence you can’t see the symbols.

I’ve done this test many many times over the years, and discovered that many expensive sunglasses belonging to friends and family(so disappointed!) do not provide 100% UV protection while some inexpensive ones did provide 100% UV protection. Granted, many expensive ones do provide 100% UV protection, and some cheap ones do not, but do not let price be your guide. And unfortunately, there is little regulation of sunglasses and labelling can be dishonest.

If the glasses fail the test, make sure you return them and get a refund as quickly as possible. If it’s at all possible, see if you can even test sunglasses at the store.

Now get out and enjoy the early spring!

Iron juggling

I already mentioned how I use resistance bands for strength training, using them primarily for upper body exercise, while also doing push-ups, and bicycle crunches.

Here are some other things I use for strength(or resistance) training:

Use a walker to do dips: Just like the dip bars at the gym, you can use a walker to do the same thing. Great for improving upper body strength.

Juggle with heavy balls: These balls are tennis balls that were stuffed with pennies and sealed shut with epoxy and duct tape. Not only do they help strength train the muscles used for juggling, their weight may also make a deeper imprint on muscle memory so that I juggle better. They weigh 1 pound each, which isn't much but after several minutes it does get tiring.

Juggle with heavy balls: These balls are tennis balls that were stuffed with pennies and sealed shut with epoxy and duct tape. Not only do they help strengthen the muscles used for juggling, their weight may also make a deeper imprint on muscle memory so that I juggle better. They weigh 1 pound each, which isn’t much but after several minutes it does get tiring.

Ankle weights: A necessity for building strength in the legs for runners. But they shouldn’t be used while running, that can increase the risk of injury. This is the All-Pro brand, I’ve had them for almost 10 years and they have served me well. The velcro has deteriorated a bit unfortunately, but it’s not a major problem.

Medicine ball: This helps build explosiveness, especially when you throw it. You can also do a variety of lifts with this to help build ab muscles. I made this myself, it’s just a basketball full of sand. It weighs about 23 lbs.

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Hand exerciser: Jogglers need to have strong hands!
If anyone has any recommendations for equipment or strength-training exercises, please let me know.

Product review: PowerBlock Sport 2.4 Dumbbell

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If you are looking to incorporate strength training into your fitness regimen, but don’t want to join a gym or break the bank on an expensive weight set, the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 Dumbbell is worth a look. I bought mine and have no ties to the PowerBlock company. Since it’s an adjustable dumbbell set, it’s a great space saver and money saver. Its strange design kind of makes it look like a dumbbell from an alien planet. It adjusts from 3 to 24 lbs(1.3 kg to 10.8 kg) in 3 lb increments, which should be sufficient for most people starting a strength-training regimen, including jogglers. There are much heavier PowerBlock adjustable sets for those who are into bodybuilding, or need heavier weights, however, I only have experience with the PowerBlock Sport 2.4, the lightest set(they all have the same basic design).

The concept of combining light weights to form a heavier weight isn’t exactly revolutionary, so it’s not unique to the PowerBlock. A similar product that I almost bought is the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells(50 lbs each at maximum weight), and you can read an excellent review of them at All Seasons Cyclist. I have a little experience with the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, but mostly at sporting good stores – they seem a little sturdier than the PowerBlock. The main reason I got the PowerBlock was because the lightest version of the BowFlex is much heavier and more expensive than the lightest PowerBlock, and the PowerBlock was on sale at the time. Back then when I was comparing products, I didn’t believe I needed to lift 50 lbs(22.6 kg), but I was wrong, since it would eventually feel like I was lifting feathers when lifting the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 at maximum weight. Several months after purchasing the Power Blocks, instead of getting the heavier PowerBlock Classic(50 lbs each) or BowFlex, I settled on much cheaper resistance bands.

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Quickly adjusting the PowerBlock’s weight is simple enough if you have an IQ higher than a rock. You just put the long selector pin into the desired color-coded weight slots so you end up grabbing all the weights you want to lift(the default position of the selector pin is at the bottom, which allows you to lift the entire unit). You may occasionally have trouble putting the selector pin into the right slots, but it shouldn’t be a big headache once you get used to it and use it on a hard, level surface. The color-coding is a good feature, though it seems the color-strips could easily come off. A more serious flaw is that the welding where the bars are attached to the side weight plates seems a bit unfinished(observe the space between the plate and bar in the picture).IMG_0621

Although it feels sturdy enough for now, it seems with enough usage the bars may become detached. I only occasionally use the Powerblocks these days, since they don’t provide as much resistance as my set of resistance bands. The main advantage of the resistance bands is their portability and that they can be used for leg-strengthening. A big disadvantage of resistance bands is the difficulty of knowing how much weight you are pulling, since it can change a lot with how you position them. Resistance bands also do not last more than a few years.

A common concern some people(myself included) have about the PowerBlock is that the weights may come lose while doing exercises with it, resulting in serious injury. So far, this has never been an issue for me, though it does seem like a possibility if they are not locked in properly. Always make sure you lock the weights in properly with the selector pin before lifting.

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If you are not a bodybuilder, the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 Dumbbell should be sufficient for building strength, along with good old calisthenics. You can find some good deals on Amazon, which is where I bought mine.

Since I am a joggler and not a bodybuilder, my upper body muscles only need to be so big, but this doesn’t mean that strength-training is unimportant to me. Strength-training 2 to 3 times a week makes it easier for me to juggle for long periods of time. Also, strength-training doesn’t just build strength, it may also be helpful for diabetics and prevent or treat other diseases related to aging. I believe a fitness routine is incomplete if it doesn’t include strength-training, besides coordination-training and brain-fitness which Wild Juggling also emphasizes.

Green space beneficial for health

It’s always sweet when something we intuitively know gets verified by science. So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that science has found that living near green space is associated with better health, even after controlling for socio-economic factors. So if you have a significant amount of parkland or woods nearby, consider yourself lucky, even if bears or wolves live in them.

According to J Epidemiol Community Health. 2002 Dec;56(12):913-8.- Urban residential environments and senior citizens’ longevity in megacity areas: the importance of walkable green spaces.

CONCLUSIONS:

Living in areas with walkable green spaces positively influenced the longevity of urban senior citizens independent of their age, sex, marital status, baseline functional status, and socioeconomic status. Greenery filled public areas that are nearby and easy to walk in should be further emphasised in urban planning for the development and re-development of densely populated areas in a megacity. Close collaboration should be undertaken among the health, construction, civil engineering, planning, and other concerned sectors in the context of the healthy urban policy, so as to promote the health of senior citizens.

One of my favorite parks

One of my favorite parks. It is also a supermarket to me, since I love to gather edible plants from here when they are in season

There are few things as refreshing as going to the park to relieve stress, to observe wildlife, to exercise, to meditate, to get bitten by bugs(not very refreshing unless you’re a masochist) or just to explore. As I always say, the larger the park, the better! Besides beautifying neighborhoods, trees also remove CO2 from the air. This is one of the reasons parkland is so essential for human health.

When it comes to exercise, nothing beats a park. If you don’t like indoor gyms(like me), just bring some resistance bands with you to the local park and you can do a total body workout there, besides of course juggling, running, or joggling around it.

”Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” -Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

This subject is related to my earlier post – The effects of air pollution on exercise

Whatever you do, try to promote green space wherever you live. Get involved in park activities or community gardens, plant trees, or even start a garden(indoor or outdoors) to help clean the air. Do it for your own health and for the health of your community.

How juggling is very different from other forms of exercise

I hope everyone is having a good year so far. I am slowly improving my juggling technique and want to share my impressions of the road to getting to advanced juggling and the benefits of juggling.

One of the worst things about juggling is it is very unforgiving of poor technique and effort. But this is also one of the best things about juggling. Not giving it your all means you are much more likely to drop the balls. You can’t fool yourself into thinking you are putting in more effort than you really are.

It is often too easy to fool yourself with other forms of exercise, while walking or even running, on certain exercises machines, or doing martial arts or dance aerobics, etc. In this way, jumping rope is similar to juggling in that you can’t get away with poor technique – the rope will eventually catch your leg if you do it wrong. This is one of the reasons I sometimes recommend jumping rope as a prerequisite to fitness juggling. The rope won’t lie to you. In juggling, the balls won’t lie to you either. A good juggling form is a thing of beauty, and in beauty there is truth.

This makes juggling balls one of the best, most accurate feedback mechanisms when it comes to fitness. They are an excellent teacher for so many different exercisers, even if juggling or joggling isn’t their main form of exercise. This would probably make joggling one of the best forms of cross-training for running – since joggling is less forgiving of bad posture than running, it would be a good idea to use your joggler’s posture while running, to ensure good form. Screenshot-MVI_0579.AVI-2

Good form and coordination requires you to pay attention, to use your brain. Juggling is one of the very few exercises outside of playing some sports that targets your brain. Studies even show brain growth in parts of the brain that control movement. Think of the brain like a muscle – use it or lose it. It would require a whole series of posts or even a dissertation to explain why juggling is so neglected in the fitness world, and how to overcome this.