last comment: 19/03/08

An Experiment

You might have noticed already that I’m after beautiful legs. I’m entirely happy with my upper body, but the legs! Not that I didn’t achieve anything there, but it’s a slow process and there is one bit that I hate the most which causes the biggest trouble: The ankles!

It’s so unfair! Even under long skirts it is clearly visible that these are no ankles from heaven. My mum always used to say: “When you got created and they distributed ankles you shouted ‘Here’ twice.” She is such a kind woman!

She got lucky, though. These ankles run in the family. Auntie’s are lovely, my mum’s are all right with lovely calves which I don’t have either, and granny’s – really, I loved her to bits - but there was no need for her to give me her ankles. The short, pear shaped figures run in both of my families, and in my dad’s line everybody has slim ankles. The only person to have those little columns sitting above the feet was granny – and I got them!

Well, as I said the short legs run in the family, with me being the shortest of them all. But that’s all right. The bum and thigh exercises are catching on. It just needs a lot of time for the skin to tighten up as I lost fat faster then the muscles would build up. And the more I gain muscle the more I'm losing the rest of the fat. So I’m fine there, but these lower legs?!

Another Photo Therapy

Summer 2003
Summer 2007

In February 2008 I'm invited to join my mum in her Fuerteventura hols again. So let's see what I can achieve by then! Well, some incentive doesn't hurt, does it?

I figured that with rigorous calf training I would be able to tackle the area below the knees, but this is easier said than done.

Stupid Calves!

Of all muscles the calves are the most difficult to exercise. Usually the rule is: Smaller muscles need more repetitions less weight, bigger muscles need less repetitions bigger weights. For some reason calves are different, they need huge weights AND loads of repetitions. Well, thinking of it: They carry the body weight all day long and they move with every step one takes. So they should be well trained, pity just is: They don’t show it!

Additional Hiccups!

Another hiccup is the gyms. I have trouble to find the right equipment. In the calf exercise session on this site, I show you two different approaches. One is with dumbbells, but the dumbbells to get ahead of MY calves would be too big to carry. The other one is with a machine. The machine that I’m showing there is in my work gym and it is brilliant. Seated calf exercises are the best you can get.

BUT! I don’t have long enough breaks to incorporate the calf exercises into the workout that I'm doing there. My main gym where I’m doing all the leg stuff only has a standing-up calf machine – which is the worst you can get.

Firstly the proportions don’t fit my slim frame. There are big pads with the weight attached to, which are to be located on the shoulders. Then one is supposed to stand upright and to lift up on the toes and go down again. This thing is built for giant males, even the smaller framed guys are complaining about it, although they have huge shoulders already.

Secondly: Although the weight is fixed to a steel frame I have to actually hold the whole weight with my back. From squats I know that I can hold 60 kg max on my shoulders and that already feels very wobbly - and I mean just the standing with it, at the moment I couldn't do a squat with it. On this stupid calf thing I’m going beyond 70kg now and need to do something like 15-20 repetitions. So how I am supposed to cope there?

To cut a long story short: Worst bit of the body and no time/equipment to train it properly!

I got an idea!

I’m not very keen on cardio vascular exercises at the moment. So I’m going to use my Saturday morning cardio session for calf exercise. And I’m going to do power walking!

Well, that pretty much sounds like cardio, and it somehow is. The difference being that I’m going to neglect the cardio aspect of it and will focus on the best effect for the calves.

Although cardio exercise helps with weight issues it usually doesn’t have a 'spot on' effect if you wanted to change your all over shape. That is the purpose for what I'm promoting weight exercises.

In this case I’m hoping for this 'spot on' effect to happen as there is one thing about power walking that is intriguing: The way the foot and the lower leg moves! If done right it is the most complete rolling of the foot from the heel to the toe of all cardio exercises. And that it is the exact area which I want to target.

Hence I figured out an experiment:

  • If I would go on doing the standard calf exercises with this stupid machine on a weight I can carry and hence not having a fully efficient training, and
  • If I then would have walking sessions (at least one per week) where I’m using just my body weight + 2kg of dumbbells and about 40 minutes worth of repetitions,
  • Then I should have a training to grind down these ankles to something bearable.

Side Effects

Additionally I’m hoping for some positive side effects:

  • The walking should keep me on a good fat burning heart rate. It doesn’t hurt if one would loose a bit more fat. I’m rather low in body fat already and it’s not something I would be thriving for, but if it happens as a free gift – who would complain?
  • It should keep me at least on a decent fitness level
  • The walking should have a good influence on the varicose veins.

- found a website for you which shows how to power walk and what mistakes to avoid. So that if you wanted to join me in my experiment you wouldn't have a real excuse - I am so mean!

But joking aside: Have a look at it! Powerwalking is a highly beneficial sport that can be taken to all levels of fitness, and it is particularly good for people who haven't been exercising for a while.

This is something I’m particularly interested in. I have a fully blown varicose vein running from the left foot right up the whole leg to the groin. When I had more padding around the legs this thing was nicely embedded and I could hardly see it. These days it is one of the things that make me realise that I actually lost a lot of fat already, as is that it is clearly visible now.

I’m taking horse chestnut pills since over a year, and that seems to keep it at bay. At least it didn’t get worse. But there are indications that especially power walking has a good influence on varicose veins as the rolling movement of the foot makes every fibre of the calf work to the full capability, and that massages the veins and helps the blood flow.

My mum had her veins operated and to her big disappointment one bit came back after a while. Depending on all her other sport which sometimes stops over summer holidays she has phases where she is doing the power walking very rigorously to fill the gaps in her schedule. And in one of those phases the bit of nasty vein had vanished.

For that reason this experiment is twofold:

  • Will I be able to crack down on these calves and get the dream legs I always wanted?
  • Will the power walking have a positive influence on the varicose veins?

Over the next few weeks I will determine a training plan and will take pictures to document the before and the – hopefully – after. It’s a pity that I don’t have good pictures from three years ago, but how was I supposed to know that I would end up with the Incredible Ladies?

So keep an eye on this spot - I will let you know how things are going, and please give me your ideas and feedback!

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Saturday, 1st September

Today I had the first power walking session and it was brilliant!

After the holiday break I had a 'leg' session last Thursday and again: The calf exercise was crap. My shoulders and back were hurting like hell and the calves were laughing. So I figured that I should start the experiment straight away and this morning I went: Not really knowing what to expect.

When I started walking some years ago it seemed to be the fashion to use dumbbells, then came Nordic walking using sticks and now the recommendation is not to use anything at all.

I have to say that I like walking with dumbbells, although it is correct that it needs some technique to it and that it can put some strain on the back and the arms. For example it is essential that you don’t clench your hands around the weight. It should have straps so that you can hold it comfortably. Carrying the weights should not make you neglect a good posture. As a matter of fact I still believe that the dumbbells taught me a good posture. It is just not possible to walk for an hour carrying weights and slouching at the same time. However, if you wanted to give it a shot start without. It’s the safest bet and the site mentioned above has good instructions on how to do it.

Getting Ready!

The last time I walked was about a year ago because I then started running to train for Race for Life. So there I was with my dumbbells, feeling rather proud that for the first 10 minutes I didn’t even get warm although I was walking my usual speed of 6km/h. However, I felt quite a strain in the shin what told me that there was nothing to be proud of. Cardio wise I might have become fitter, but the lower legs definitely are a bit neglected.

My Treadmill Laboratory

I started experimenting a bit. That’s why I like doing these things on a treadmill. It is like a little laboratory. It taught me a good posture by tilting the pelvis forward, to stride upright and to adjust the length of the stride. Now I needed to find out how to hit the calves best.

First I tried to walk faster – not good: Shins hurting even more and the upper legs just below the groin area started to tweak. I felt that I couldn’t roll the feet properly anymore as I couldn’t get them quickly enough in front of me to set the heel down correctly.

Now I went on an incline – good decision! It immediately took the strain off the shins and eventually gave my heart something to do and I warmed up. I never liked the phase where I am still cold and everything feel stiff and un-rhythmic. As soon as the first little sweat breaks through everything feels warm and comfy – that’s when things are going well.

Today I tried level 8 (of 15) and then reduced by 1 every minute. That brought me up to a heart rate of 160 – what is brilliant – it’s exactly what is recommended for my age for fat burning.

While decreasing the incline I noticed something else: On level 3 and 4 all of a sudden I could feel the calves. They were not tweaking, but just working a bit harder for me to feel that they were there.

It’s guesswork what I’m doing here, but I think that on a higher incline the rear and the hamstrings doing a lot of work, and it is not possible to actually step in front of the body to get the full rolling movement of the feet, what makes the calves work less hard. But on a shallow hill it is possible to get the feet in front, while at the same time the heel of the rear foot is lower than on flat ground having to work even harder. Similar to what is done in weight exercises by standing on a step in order to be able to lower the heel below ground level before going up on the toes.

The Training Plan

However, it felt exactly how I wanted it to feel: No pain in the shins and calves nicely working out. It felt so good that I extended the session from 30 to 40 minutes – just wanted to have the 4km finished, I don’t like to quit in the middle of a kilometer.

So from now on the training plan is:

  • Just a short phase (2 minutes) of even ground to get used to the treadmill and to tell the muscles that 'they are on', and then into a small incline to warm up quickly. During this phase not walking faster than 5 km/h.

  • Then back to ground level and increase of speed to 6 km/h to see how the shins are doing and when they are fine a steep incline to level 8. This will have to be reviewed after a while in order not to miss out on the fitness aspect. I can as well use the opportunity to make it to a level 15 one day, can’t I?

  • When reducing the incline step by step I will stay at a level 4 for the rest of the session (will have to verify if there is a difference between 3 and 4 and then in future choose the better one)

  • Then for the last 400m going down to ground level and the very last 200m reducing the speed to 3.5km

  • Done!

Oh well, that’s another 45 minutes in the gym on top of my weights, but given

  • that other cardio exercises don’t go very well with the weight training, and that power walking might even complement the weight exercises in that respect,
  • that I want to find out if there is any 'spot on' effect on the lower leg which usually can’t be achieved by cardio exercise,
  • that this is a cardio exercise which I really like because I feel refreshed and not knackered afterwards, and given
  • that there is hope for a positive influence on varicose veins

I feel that it is time well spent.

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Saturday, 8th September

I may have discovered something. This session at least showed that experiments and experiences have to be verified.

Last time I noticed that at an incline of level 3-4 (of 15) I felt the calves working better than on any other level. I walked my usual walking speed of 6km/h.

The plan for this session was to verify this finding, and to test out if there is a difference between level 3 and level 4.

After I did the warm-up as planned:

  • 2 minutes, 5 km/h, ground level,
  • 3 minutes , 5 km/h, incline level 4,
  • 1 minute, 6km/h ground level

I was absolutely fine and didn't have any problems with the shins and started feeling nice and warm.

Well, and then I went a bit overboard. Luckily, I have to say!

Still walking on 6 km/h I decided to try out how steep this level 15 might feel.


Very Steep!

Very, very quickly I reduced the speed to 5 km/h again while this silly treadmill was still climbing and climbing. So while I was puffing myself up this hill I had to reduce it by every 30 seconds by one degree. Gosh what was I thinking?

Well, from level 10 at least I could stay on for a minute before I needed to reduce it again, and then the interesting thing happened:

At level 7 it all of a sudden it felt comfy but at the same time I could feel my calves again. Like the session before, but on a much higher incline. The difference being the speed.

For the rest of the session, something like 25 minutes - I stayed on that level and speed and contemplated a bit about speed and incline.

The important thing in walking is, to be able to bring the foot in front of the body, to set down the heel first and to then roll over the whole foot (A). When the foot is flat the body should be straight above the foot, and while the heel lifts the the body moves in front of the foot. Because the body has to stay rather upright the steps can't be too long.

Walking faster would mean to do more shorter steps rather then doing longer steps. So the faster I would go, the steps would have to become shorter and with it the rolling movement, and the correct setting of the foot would become increasingly difficult because the leg needs to be flung quickly to the front.

Walking on an incline would mean that again it is tricky to bring the foot in front of the body - as there is the hill (B). A steep incline like walking stairs is usually done just on the toes (C) with almost no rolling movement - this as well is a good training for the whole back of the leg including the calves. But don't forget: I want to have the training effect and the rolling effect for the veins as well, thus the foot has to roll. And the longest way to roll is like shown in picture B. Just steep enough that in the middle position the heel is below the toes to get a longer lift, but not so steep that the ankle wouldn't be able to cope so that tip toeing would become necessary.

So a medium incline on a medium speed seems to have the highest impact, what got confirmed by a nice subtle muscle ache along the entire back side of the leg the next day. Apparently in the previous session I was walking too fast to be able to keep the correct posture at an incline of 7 and only on a lower level I could cope and started feeling the difference.

From time to time I measured the heart rate which stayed at a brilliantly fat burning one of 145. So this time everything just felt 'right'.

So now the training plan will be:

  • Warm up: as above
  • Then: Boring or not - 3km at 5 km/h on an incline of 7

The only drawback is that this kind of training is a bit embarrassing. I'm walking slowly up a slight slope, sweating just a bit and feeling all the time like having to make excuses for not doing more. Around me are people sweating and puffing and I seem to enjoy myself. Well, I actually listen to every single fibre of my body and concentrate on moving the feet right, keeping up a good posture, breathing well and moving the arms correctly. And I have an agenda, but people don't know that and I want to shout: 'Hey people, I know what I'm doing - you should try it!'

So if you wanted to join me in this experiment:

  • Firstly be confident
  • Secondly: Experiment a bit with speed and incline until you find the right proportions. Always move your arms freely apart from brief periods where you might want to check on the heart rate. I see a lot of people on a steep incline and then pulling themselves up the hill with their arms. That's not the idea. And walking is a lot about breathing well, and you need your arms swinging for that.
  • Finally: Keep your heart rate below 160 - the older you are the lower even - to stay on a fat burning rather than a fitness building level. I see a lot of chubby people running like mad pushing their heart rates. The body actually will panic and shut down calory consumption when you stress it too much. You have to cheat it into thinking that nothing grave is happening and hence it is okay to burn the calories in the depots.

After the walk I had a good stretch and I felt relaxed and awake at the same time. I really think it is the right thing to do, to get those ol' legs going.

Countdown is running. Mum has booked the holidays - on 28 January 2008 is 'Showtime'!

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Saturday,22nd September

I got acquainted with some new muscles today. I really thought I'd knew them all by now, but apparently there are still a few new ones to discover.

I did the usual warm up and then walked along on my incline of 7 when my mind slipped away a bit . That's all right if I'm in a good rhythm and mood so that I won't neglect posture and pace. And after a while I realised that I very much felt the muscles in my feet, particularly the ones on the top where there is the bend towards the leg - where I have the padding which makes it almost impossible for me to wear ankle straps.

And still, even when sitting here now and bending my feet around the legs of the chair I can feel that these areas have worked out.

Yay! This training DOES specifically work for the ankles as well the calves.

And something else happened: The holidays binge with muffins and biscottis and chocolate didn't do me any good and at the end it didn't feel like a treat at all. So I was actually happy to get back into my work routine without temptations and to sort out my bloated tummy. I nicely kept to my bread/cheese/lettuce/chicken stuff and observed the food units a bit more closely.

When I feel bloated I feel fat as well although I am not fatter than before. Probably because I was so fed up I thought: "Well, a bit of punishment does you good! Who binges will have to learn modesty, so cut back by 200 - 300 calories per day." For me that is not even a lot. I still can have 1800 to 2000 calories per day. So it's not a harsh penalty, really.

Within a week I lost 1 kg of weight - what apparently was water and stuff accumulated inside. Two weeks of bad food regime needed one week to get sorted out - whoof what a drag. When will I learn?

But now the bit that concerns the experiment: I'm not doing this for long, but it seems that together with the weight exercises there are first effects. The stretchy pants I usually wear are feeling loose, the orange peel on the upper leg got definitely less - confirmed by Detlef - and I'm starting to slip in my shoes. I was so happy to have found those shoes because they were particularly wide cut in the front foot, but low cut around the ankle. Now they feel a bit too big. They are rather new and I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to be happy or grumpy. Oh well: Happy it is!

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Saturday, 16th November

Due to the rowing I'm getting a bit into a pickle with 'The Experiment'. The rowing has a big impact on the fitness, so in the future I won't be able to separate that from the improvements due to walking.

However, I'm only rowing since a very short while now, so I can say for sure that my improvements so far must have to do with the walking. Remember the beginnings when I very naively went for the highest incline and almost died on that slope? Last week I felt like needing a real good warm up and tried it again - I got hot and had to breathe heavily, but nevertheless: I could do a minute on each half degree of incline.

And I had already gained the strength to really roll my feet without using the bum too much. Brilliant!

For general walking I have to use an incline of 8.5 now to keep warm enough and keeping the heart rate around 140, while being able to do the walking properly.

Hence a general rule seems to unfold: When you are walking regularly once or twice a week, then review your situation every other month or so. Try a higher incline or a higher speed and really concentrate on style to see if anything has changed. Don't just trot along. Always see to find the adjustment which gives you the highest impact, to make your time in the gym worthwhile.

I won't be updating this section for a while now, as the last remaining question is: What is the impact on varicose veins.

One thing I can say already: It didn't get worse, it actually looks rather smooth, spider veins are definitely fainting away, and I'm rather happy so far. I think that the attack from the inside with horse chestnut pills and from the outside by walking is the perfect approach.

So the next update will be when there is some shape to show off or some veins having disappeared.

Until then: Happy walking!

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Saturday, 8th March

Thanks to one cold after the other this winter, I didn't do a lot of regular exercising altogether. For me it is always the easiest to get back into weight training, so I did that the most regularly. However, by the time I got back into walking and rowing as well, the next cold was there. The last one is gone since a good week now and I was a bit worried whether or not I would be fit for endurance exercise. So I decided to just do some walking. It's the exercise that is the best to control compared to rowing and running, and aims to stay on a lower heart rate than the others.

So I took this session as a test: And I'm writing this update because it was a good one. It gives hope for everybody who only has time to workout irregularly.

Remember? On 8th September I had changed the experiment in a way that I inclined the treadmill to the maximum, and then reducing the incline by a degree every 30 seconds - which almost killed me!

Today I did the same - well, I wanted it to be a fitness check after a flu and an annoyingly long winter with loads of training disruptions.

The result: Reduction of incline by half a degree (before it was one degree) after 1 minute (before it was 30 seconds) with a maximum heart rate below 170 (what is really good for me) going down quickly on every reduction of incline.

That means that against all odds I got fitter! And that means that 'only being able to train irregulary' is no excuse for 'not training at all'!

Sorry Ladies, I hope I didn't spoil your day, but it seems that whatever you do and however little or often you do it - you will get fitter, slowly but surely. There is no escaping exercise now!

Ha, isn't that great news in regard to Race for Life? I know, I know - but I have to use every opportunity to nag - otherwise you won't do it, will you?

So still another 3 month to go, and you don't even have to perform. Only you and yourself will set the challenge. Have a look at our 'IL-Team' page and then imagine you on there and sharing the experience. We will have a lot of fun - promised!

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Articles on Training

Norwich Half Marathon 08
Race for Life 2008
Rowing League 07/08
Imola: MH 10K, 07
Rika: Race for Life 07

Ballet for Oldies
Training Plan 2008
Boxing vs. Kickboxing
What Sport to Choose?
An Experiment
Good Use for Chocolate

Being Strong
Women and Strength?
Why Muscles?
Lucky Number 12
Ladies are Stronger!

Being Fit
Rowing - Fantastic Sport

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Copyright 2007
Author: Rika