Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Why I stopped wearing my fitness tracker, aka the Wrist Tyrant

If you’ve spent any time on Earth over the past two years, first of all, I’m sorry, because it’s basically been an s-show the entire time, especially here in the U.S. But it also means you’ve likely heard of wearable activity trackers like the FitBit, Up, and Vivofit. These devices log your steps, your sleep, and if you spring for one of the really good ones, your heart rate, caloric burn and other theoretically useful health information.

These days, when you see someone glance at her wrist, it’s not because she cares what time it is –she looks at her phone for that, of course –but rather because she wants to know how many more steps she has to take before she can eat an extra piece of cheesecake. Or maybe that’s just me. Or was me, I should say, because I stopped wearing my wearable two months ago, and I’m pleased to report I don’t miss it at all.

As of Halloween, I had a Garmin Vivosmart, and it was the third such device I had purchased in as many years. (I’ve had pet goldfish that lasted longer than any of these things.) I bought Garmins because they, unlike the others, are water-resistant up to 50 meters, an important feature for those of us who are too absentminded to remember to take the thing off before we swim or shower.

My first Garmin, a black rubber/plastic thing, was a basic job that tracked my daily steps and sleep. It reminded me to move by way of a red line that grew with my inertia until my sloth caused it to blink in silent alarm. From a visibility perspective, the device was fairly low-profile. If it made a fashion statement at all, that statement was, “Yes, I realize this is not a FitBit.”

My Very First Garmin (RIP)

My Very First Garmin (RIP)

My first Vivofit died slowly, its digital display shrinking until the numbers were reduced to a series of incomprehensible dashes.

I bought an intermediate version that also met its untimely, Morse Code-like demise, and then I upgraded to the Vivosmart, a device that made an altogether different fashion statement, namely: “I am too cheap to buy a smartwatch.”

In addition to tracking your activity and sleep, and potentially pairing with a heart monitor if you’re into that (which I wasn’t), the Vivosmart vibrated any time you got a text or a call. At least that’s how it was supposed to work. In practice, mine vibrated every time I got too far away from my phone. Separation anxiety, I guess. Sometimes it experienced this angst while I was conked out, a disturbance a long-term insomniac like me did not need. Eventually the Vivosmart’s display shrank too, such that I would know someone was calling or texting because my wrist buzzed, but I would have no idea who it was, or what they were trying to tell me. If that’s a smart device, I’d hate to see a dumb one.

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 11.28.35 PM

That got me questioning the wisdom of not just the device but also its wearer. I bought this gadget to keep me moving, but did I really need technology to give me a reminder? I’m a lawyer, not a sherpa, so it only stands to reason that I need to make time for exercise every day to combat the effects of a sedentary profession.

And maybe this device was supposed to help me pay more attention to my health habits, but by alerting me to every text, call, or achievement in movement (or lack thereof), it was actually taking me out of the moment and causing me to pay less attention to the world around me.  My smartphone, on which I depend far more than I’d like to admit, already excels at driving me to distraction, so I don’t need to wear a gadget that buzzes my wrist every time it wants attention, no matter how worthy or convenient the interruption. If I really want that experience, I can just hang out with my favorite toddlers.

Don’t get me wrong: I love useful technology. But technology that conditions me to rely on it to tell me what I already know –that I need to stand up, go outside, and get moving –well, that doesn’t seem very useful at all.

Now please pass the cheesecake.

White with foam

Philippa and I have spent a lot of time writing about our gratitude for the incredible support systems in our lives, but we overlooked one crucial thing that literally keeps us moving every day: the foam roller.  It has changed our lives.

A very good friend convinced me to get one when I complained that running –something I did without incident in my 20s and 30s–had begun to cause soreness in my IT bands.  He happened to have one of these rollers at his house and promptly provided a demonstration.  He laid atop the foam on his right side and moved himself across the cylinder as if he were upside-down pie dough.

“Just doing that a few times every day will fix your IT band, Karen,” he said.

Swayed by his testimonial and demo, I bought one of my own.

My piece of foamy white goodness

As soon as it arrived, I went for a run and then decided to stretch on it.  I attempted to emulate my friend’s technique, but unfortunately, I didn’t roll across it like upside-down pie dough.  I was more like a drop biscuit. But I kept at it, doing it every day, for a little longer each time.  I began to feel improvement in my IT bands, and I soon realized my friend was right: the foam roller was pure muscular magic.  It worked on my quads and calves, too.

When Philippa stayed with me this summer, she saw me rolling across it after a run.  She looked skeptical, but I sang its praises and made her try it.  Like me, she drop biscuit-ed at first, but she got the hang of it pretty fast, and when she left my place, she got some foam of her own.

So today we decided to celebrate the foam roller, that unsung hero of 40 something athletes everywhere.  My tribute is modeled on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, commonly referred to as “How Do I Love Thee?”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I roll thee to the stretch and pull and twinge

My calf can reach, when feeling oh so tight

And desperate to avoid a bandage Ace.

I love thee though you level me every day,

With my Band IT, my buns and hamstring tight.

I love thee oddly, ‘cause at times thou art a blight.

I love thee deeply, tho’ thou sets my quads ablaze

I love thee with thy mashing, put to use

On my old aches, and ‘gainst my mid-aged waist.

I love thee, and the pain thou leaves.  I loose

Spandex restraints. I love thee with the best

Burpees of all my life; and, if God chose,

I shall but love thee better with some rest.

Piece de resistance

Even though the temperatures refused to rise above twenty degrees this morning, I was excited about going to my 6  a.m. outdoor exercise class.

Part of the appeal was knowing that the “Resolvers,” who will cause gridlock in gyms worldwide for the next month, think twice about showing up for a workout when it’s so cold you should be able to see your breath, yet so dark that you can’t.

I also love the class because it’s one of the few activities in my life that doesn’t require me to think ahead.  All I have to do is show up on time and follow whatever instructions I’m given.  I’m good at the former, having spent 35 years accumulating pretty impressive clock-reading skills.  But that’s nowhere near enough to offset my deficiencies in the latter, especially when it comes to using the long, squiggly resistance bands our instructor seems to love.

The various ways these bands can be wrapped around poles and human limbs baffle me in a manner that’s a bit too reminiscent of the spatial relations tests I struggled with as a kid.  I’m constantly twisting the band clockwise when it’s supposed to go counter, or threading it inside the leg instead of out.

An ad I saw for the $15 training aids claims they’re “designed to build long, lean muscle.” If they do that as well as they build confusion, then sign me up to do a testimonial.

Because I’ve been flunking this particular IQ test for five months now, it no longer surprises me when our instructor, Jenny, materializes out of the darkness to tweak my form.

It happened this morning, in fact, after Jenny had modeled an overhead triceps extension with the band.

As far as I could tell, she anchored the band with her left foot and then passed it between her legs and straight into the Bermuda Triangle.  Then, as mysteriously as the band had vanished, it reappeared in her hands, which she extended above her head to complete the move.

When the students’ turn came, the rest of the class started doing flawless imitations while I  stood there kung-fu fighting the band.  Jenny showed up at my side within seconds.

“Wrap the band around the outside of your arm, not the inside,” she said, in a language that I assume was Sanskrit, such was my inability to translate it into proper form.  She took my band, stood in front of me and gave a second demonstration.

“You want to do it this way,” she said, twisting the band and doing more latex origami moves. “If you keep doing it your way, you’ll recruit this muscle” –she pointed to my shoulders—“instead of the triceps.”

Her use of the term “recruit,” with all its voluntary connotations, suddenly convinced me that I’d been doing the exercise the right way after all.  My shoulders have the kinds of muscles that show up for work every day, exactly on time and usually in a good mood.  They respond to whatever demands I make, no questions asked, and rarely do they complain.

My triceps, on the other hand, have an appalling work ethic.  You can tell just by looking at them. They do nothing but slouch and droop.  When I manage to divert them from their only interest in life—wobbling unattractively while I’m wearing something sleeveless—and persuade them to do something more strenuous, they gripe the whole time and for days afterwards.  So when I need something done, you’d better believe I tap my shoulders for the job.

If Jenny really wants me to change my moves and get my triceps into the act, it’s going to take something stronger than mere muscle recruitment.  She’s gonna need a draft.