Withings WiFi Body Scale

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I’ve been using my Withings WiFi-enabled scale since 5 Dec 2009, at which point I weighed 246.9 lbs. Today, I weigh 183.5 lbs, and this scale helped me reach my goal. It shows weight, percentage or lbs of body fat, and BMI. Because it’s WiFi-enabled, the readings are picked up and displayed graphically on my Web page (password protected) at their site with the option to share it with other web-based weight loss sites. Moreover, I can use the data locally by downloading the readings in a format suitable for a spreadsheet.

I weigh daily, and the graph has greatly helped in my weight-loss efforts. Now I can easily see the trend, which helps manage it. I’ve had a series of scales that measure both weight and percentage body fat, including a couple by Tanita. As part of my weight loss effort, I did have some professionally administered body-fat measurements, and the Withings readings were consistent with that, within the limits of accuracy with respect to one’s daily weight fluctuations. If you have multiple people using the scale, it’s easy to set up multiple accounts (it has a maximum of 8 users).
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One warning: I got a Roku, and in trying to get it set up with my router, I changed from G to N format, and for a few weeks lost readings from the scale because I wasn’t checking so regularly at that time. I used their support forum to diagnose the problem and reconnect my scale to my router. I would rate their support as excellent: they monitor the forum and respond immediately with answers.

The Withings was the first WiFi-enabled scale I found, and other than my own error in changing the router without thinking how it would affect my bathroom scale (you can understand that oversight, I hope), my experience with it has been uniformly positive. Highly recommended.

-- Michael Ham  

[Note: Withings recently released the WiScale application for iOS and Android that allows for remote viewing of data.--OH]

Withings WiFi Body Scale
$150

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Withings



Omron HJ-112 Pedometer

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I saw that the previously reviewed pedometer was unrecommended and thought I would recommend this one made by Omron. This pedometer is nice as it stores a week of data so you can see how you are doing the whole week if you wear it all the time. It is simple to clip on, and comes with an included safety leash for easy carrying.

Unlike some that have reset buttons that can get pushed inadvertently, I’ve never reset this one by mistake. The Omron also keeps track of aerobic steps.

I accidentally put mine through the washer and then dried it with a hair dryer and found that it still worked and remains a durable step tracker.

– Audrey Watson

Omron HJ-112 Pedometer
$22

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Omron

 

Available from Amazon



Starting Strength

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A barbell is the best training tool an athlete can use. The weight can vary from 10 lbs to over 1000 lbs in increments as small as 1/2 lb, and the set of available exercises is limited only by the lifter’s imagination. This makes training with a barbell suitable for pretty much anyone, regardless of age, sex, or experience.

Studies detailing injury rates show weight training to be as much as orders of magnitude less likely to cause injury than sports like running, cycling, football, and especially the most dangerous sport in America: soccer.

It can help prevent injuries by strengthening joints and bones, and creating more resilient tissues. With judicious use it can speed recovery from injuries that do occur. And it has even been shown to be effective in treating nagging ailments like back pain and certain kinds of arthritis. Being stronger also makes ordinary tasks much easier to accomplish. Everything from bringing in the groceries to playing with your kids to getting out of bed in the morning becomes easier as you get stronger. All of which means weight training may even be safer than not training at all.

That’s all great, but there’s a catch. Training with barbells has a skill component. To get the maximum benefit with minimum risk it’s best to understand and use good technique. But even before the invention of machine-based “health clubs” in the ’70s, instruction in the barbell lifts was best described as questionable, and most exercise instruction from luminaries like Bill Star and Mel Siff assumes proficiency with the barbell and works to create programs to allow people to continue to get stronger, or simply pushes people toward the “easy to use” but mostly useless machines.

With their book Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe, a strength coach with almost 30 years experience in teaching novice lifters and a former competitive powerlifter himself, and Lon Kilgore, a competitive weightlifter and associate professor of kinesiology at Midwestern State University, are working to provide that missing information.

They cover five basic lifts — squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and power clean — in amazing, well-illustrated, and readable detail. The chapter on the squat spans over 60 pages and covers not only technique but why to squat and how to identify and fix problems as they come up. The other exercises are covered in no less impressive detail, including some stellar and original thinking on the deadlift, and an effective basic training program to put everything together.

The authors even deal with such fictions as “squats hurt your knees” and “lifting weighs will make you bulky.” The simple answers to those objections are that if your knees hurt when you squat, you’re squatting wrong (or you have an existing injury), and that getting “hyooge” takes years of hard training, big eating, and, for many men and nearly all women, anabolic supplementation — i.e. steroids.

The now-out-of-print first edition was geared toward coaches, but because of the book’s cult popularity the second has shifted focus to self-instruction. Much of the book was rewritten to this end. It also includes an additional 100 or so pages on supplementary lifts and updates to the introductory weight training program.

I bought the first edition in the spring of 2006 and after a couple years using it, and now the expanded edition, to teach myself and friends and family to lift, I’ve found I don’t agree with the authors on some technical details of certain lifts. But without this book I wouldn’t have gained the knowledge to make those kinds of judgments.

As a budding Olympic-style weightlifter and former competitive cyclist, it’s the best $30 I’ve ever spent toward my training. And from Amazon to specialty weight training sites like EliteFTS, the reviews of this book are universally positive.

Save whatever you were going to spend on sports drinks over the next few weeks and buy this instead. It’s one of those books that belongs in everyone’s library.

-- Chris Roth  

Starting Strength
Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore
2011, 3rd Edition, 347 pages
$30

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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The back angle during the drive up form the bottom [of the squat] is critical to the correct use of the hips. The correct angle is produced when the bar is just below the spine of the scapula and directly vertical to the middle of the foot, the back is held tight in lumbar and thoracic extension, the knees are parallel to the correctly-placed feet, and the correction depth is reached, as discussed later.

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Incorrect (left) and correct (right) use of the hands and arms. Elbows should be elevated to the rear with the hands on top, not placed directly under the bar where they intercept part of the weight.

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The vast majority of people will prefer to grip the bar with the thumbs-around grip. At lighter weights, this is fine since the load presents no problems to keep in place. But when heavier weights are being used — and, theoretically, they eventually should be — the thumbs can create problems.

The thumb should be placed on top of the bar, so that the wrist can be held in a straight line with the forearm. Most people have a mental picture of the hands holding up the weight, and this usually ends up being what happens. The bar sits in the grip with the thumbs around the bar, the elbows end up directly below the weight, and nothing really prevents the bar from sliding down the back from this position. People that do this will have sore elbows, a horrible, headache-like soreness in the inside of the elbow that makes them think the injury occurred doing curls. If the elbows are underneath the weight, the force of the weight is straight down (the nature of gravity is sometimes inconvenient), then the wrists and elbows will intercept some of the weight. With heavy weights, the loading is quite high, and these structures are not nearly as capable of supporting 500 lbs, as the back is. If the thumb is on top of the bar, the hand can assume a position that is straight in line with the forearm, wrist, and hand, and all of the weight is on the back. A correct grip can prevent these problems before they start. If you learn to carry all of the weight of the bar on the back before your strength improves to the point where the weight becomes a problem, you’ll have no problem at all.




BodyMedia FIT Armband

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I’ve been using the BodyMedia FIT armband for the past 3 months and it is the only diet and exercise system that I’ve found that really works. The system works through the use of an armband that you wear on your left arm throughout the day. As you go about your regular routine the armband measures your caloric burn. The armband uses four sensors to track over 9,000 variables from heat to sweat to steps to calories burned every minute of every day.

You can track your daily burn and steps taken through an optional display, but the real power is in syncing the armband to the BodyMedia web site which allows you to see charts of calories burned per minute, steps taken, exercise levels, sleep cycles, etc. You can also track your weight measurements in the tool. The great thing about the online tools is that it lets you enter your daily caloric intake (just search for a food and add it to a meal), and compares your incoming calories to outgoing calories. By entering your calories on a daily basis you can ensure a realistic caloric deficit which is guaranteed to help you lose weight safely. It’s very helpful for making sure you don’t starve yourself by eating too little, or conversely, that you don’t go crazy and eat too much.

Since I started using the armband I’ve dropped 20 pounds that I’ve managed to keep off with almost no trouble. It’s become pretty simple for me. I can eat a healthy but normal breakfast and lunch, then I check my calorie burn before dinner and make sure to eat the appropriate amount to ensure I maintain my target calorie deficit.

What I love about this tool is that it eliminates estimation. Everyone has different basal metabolic rates depending on what they do during the day. Whereas most diet systems target a fixed number of daily calories, those fixed amounts could mean anywhere from a 500-2500 calorie deficit depending on the person. Anyone who’s dieted knows that when you get into high calorie deficits you’re body stops losing and you go into the so called starvation mode where your body actually holds onto the weight. With this that never happens. If I have a lazy day at work and am on target to burn 3200 calories then I know I can eat 2200 and maintain my 1000 calorie deficit. But say, I go for a long run on the weekend and do some yard work I could get up to 5500 calories burned. If I stuck with a 2200 calorie diet, my body (and my willpower) would rebel. However with BodyMedia, I know that on those 5500 calorie days I can eat 2000 more calories and still be on target for weight loss.

Long story short – I absolutely love this system.

-- Marc Ryan  

[Note: There is an even more thorough review of the system over at Ars Technica.-- OH]

BodyMedia Fit System
$150 (includes 12 month subscription to the BodyMedia site)

Available from Costco
Manufactured by BodyMedia



Kettlebells

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Kettlebells are used for exercise and training. They look like a cannonball with a handle, come from Russia, and provide a great workout focused on whole-body exercise (rather than muscle isolation), with great benefits for strength, cardio, stamina, and flexibility. Unlike regular weights, the kettlebell’s center of mass is extended away from the hand which is optimized for a variety of different movements including swinging.

I specifically like exercises that work the entire body. The kettlebell does that and allows a continuous routine of various exercises without having to stop and change equipment. Moreover, you can do quite fine with a single kettlebel. You can start with a 1-pood (16.6 kg, or 35 lb) or lighter kettlebell and for many that will be enough. These weights take up little room, will not break down or wear out, and require no batteries.

-- Michael Ham  

[The founders of Cross Fit have published a useful guide for proper kettlebell swinging form.-- OH]

J FIT Cast Iron Kettlebell
$54 (30 lbs)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by JFIT



 

f.lux

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f.lux is a free piece of software that slowly shifts the color temperature of your computer monitor throughout the day in order to adapt it to the natural rhythm of light. I first downloaded it after reading about Seth Robert’s self-experimentation involving sleep. As Roberts points out, research indicates that certain color temperatures stimulate wakefulness and affect circadian rhythms. This is why people with Seasonal Affective Disorder use blue light devices that supposedly mimic the blue sky of summer. By using f.lux to shift the temperature of a computer monitor away from blue light and towards red after natural light has faded the idea is that it will diminish the unintended wakefulness caused by the screen and allow for a more restful sleep.

While I am not as careful a self-experimenter as Seth Roberts, I have noticed that when I use f.lux not only do I get sleepier sooner but that I also awake earlier. By simply disabling the program for an hour (an option that is built into the software) I also notice an immediate sense of renewed wakefulness. The shift in color temperature is significant and immediately noticeable when I use my computer at night, but not in a way that negatively impacts the quality of the image on screen (and when it does, or if I need to edit photos, I simply disable it).

The program is available for Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7. A similar program called Redshift is available for Linux users.

-- Oliver Hulland  

f.lux
Free

Available from f.lux Produced by stereopsis



Mueller Knee Straps

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I first discovered Mueller Knee Straps after I experienced significant knee pain following a tough 18-mile training run. With only a month left to go before completing my first marathon, full rest and recovery were not options. I had to keep going! A friend who had experienced similar pain to the lower kneecap (patellar tendonitis) recommended Mueller Knee Straps.

The strap itself is simple: it is made of a neoprene-like fabric that wraps around the lower knee and affixes to itself with Velcro. In the portion of the strap that sits below the knee there is a rubber tube that helps to hold pressure below the patella.

Patellar tendonitis occurs when there is a partial tear in the ligament at the base of the kneecap. The idea behind knee straps, also known as patellar straps, is to support and apply pressure to the tendon just below the kneecap. This pressure helps to reduce impact vibrations, improve tracking, and relieve pain.

Compared with other straps on the market, the Mueller Knee Straps tighten well around my knees without causing irritation. I can get a full range of motion while running without chafing or pinching thanks to the soft padded Velcro straps and the tubing around the patella. Like any injury, in addition to this quick fix, runners with patellar tendonitis must rest and stretch to heal. But with a race on the horizon the Mueller Knee Straps provided relief from pain and even a semblance of comfort while running the 26.2 miles.

-- Kristyna Solawetz  

Mueller Jumper’s Knee Strap
$5 for one

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mueller Sports Medicine



Treat Your Own Neck

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Treat Your Own Neck saved my neck! The book is very thin but packed with the info you need to treat your neck pain. The author clearly explains the physiology of the neck, and describes specific exercises to treat specific types of neck pain/injury. The exercises are simple, but not intuitive.

About a year ago I got a bulged disc in my neck. This had never happened before, and I had no idea what was going on. I had very limited movement and what movement I had was very painful. At first, I thought it was just a sore or stiff neck from an awkward bike riding position, or a slight workout injury. As it progressively worsened over the next couple of weeks I started to realize this was more serious. A visit to my MD and a referral to a neurologist confirmed the bulged disc diagnosis. What was their advice for me? Basically a shrug, and they said, “Sometimes it goes away, sometimes you just have to live with it.” They offered me some muscle relaxants. I couldn’t believe that was all modern medicine had to offer.

I was a little panicked, to be honest. I wasn’t really interested in being partially disabled. I remembered a couple of friends who’d experienced debilitating back problems. They both solved their own issues using some exercises out of book. I figured maybe there was something in there for me, too. Turns out the author, Robin McKenzie, wrote a book for backs, AND a book for necks!

Personally, I’d never have figured this out on my own. By following the exercises in the book my neck pain was reduced the first day, and eliminated within two weeks. For my particular symptoms, the book provided just one specific exercise, and suggested some postural changes while sitting and sleeping. Though my bulged disc is gone, I continue to use this exercise whenever I have a stiff or sore neck (bad posture at work, or long drives), and continue to find immediate relief.

The book is the price of an insurance co-payment and, for me at least, worth many times what I paid.

-- Brendon Connelly  

Treat Your Own Neck
Robin McKenzie
2006, 46 pages
$10

Available from Amazon

[Note: Robin McKenzie has also written a well regarded manual for back pain called Treat Your Own Back that can be found here. -- OH]



Surefoot Foot Rubz

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The Surefoot Foot Rubz is a massaging ball that has given me relief from aching feet caused by Ballroom dance lessons. You massage your feet by gently rolling the knobby ball under them. You can apply as much pressure as necessary. It is much more effective than the wooden foot rollers I’ve tried in the past. Best $ I’ve ever spent for relief of tired and achy feet.

-- John B.  

Surefoot Foot Rubz
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sure Foot



Stretching

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I haven’t encountered any source on this subject as broad, accessible, and easily applied as Bob Anderson’s classic Stretching, a patient and friendly stand-in for my eight-grade P.E. teacher.

The 30th anniversary edition of this guidebook came out recently, with even more stretches and illustrations, and it’s easily the most comprehensive work on the subject. I love the activity-specific sections: cyclists, for instance, are shown stretches that not only address the muscle groups made tight and tense by our specific sport, but the stretches geared toward bike riders even include a bicycle to be utilized as a support. Activities from weightlifting to computer using get their own sections, too.

Organizationally, Stretching shines. Tight neck? Rigid shoulders? Thumb through to your prescribed routine and get to work. With minimal flexibility but a willingness to make an effort, almost anyone can use this book to become more limber, healthier.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Stretching: 30th Anniversary Revised Edition
By Bob Anderson, illustrations by Jean Anderson
2010, 240 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Stretching feels good when done correctly. You do not have to push the limits or attempt to go further each day. It should not be a personal contest to see how far you can stretch. Stretching should be tailored to your particular muscular structure, flexibility, and varying tension levels. The key is regularity and relaxation. The object is to reduce muscular tension, thereby promoting freer movement—not to concentrate on attaining extreme flexibility, which often leads to overstretching and injury.

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Who Should Stretch?
Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or flexibility. You do not need to be in top physical condition or have specific athletic skills. Whether you sit at a desk all day, dig ditches, do housework, stand at an assembly line, drive a truck or exercise regularly, the same techniques of stretching apply….if you are healthy, without any specific physical problems, you can learn how to stretch safely and enjoyably.

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Why Stretch?
- Reduce muscle tension and make the body feel more relaxed
- Help coordination by allowing for freer and easier movement
- Make strenuous activities like running, skiing, tennis, swimming, and cycling easier because it prepares you for activity; it’s a way of signaling the muscles that they are about to be used.

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