Saturday, January 12, 2008

Buddy Lee will make you jump, jump: Aero Speed Jump Rope

Ok nix the old school Kris Kross music. While Buddy Lee may be the mac daddy of jump rope, his Aero Speed jump rope is a far cry from old school. It's nothing like the plastic beaded ropes or plastic cord speed ropes you remember from back in the day. If jump ropes were like cars, the plastic beaded rope would be the old family station wagon (i.e. slow, cheap, reliable and indestructible). In comparison, the Buddy Lee Aero Speed would be a high-end Porsche with its fast performance, sleek looks, and smooth handling. Assuming you get good enough to use it to full effect, you might also start turning heads with it, too.

What sets the Aero Speed apart from a regular rope is its swivel bearings. While not an invention likely to win a Nobel Peace prize, the swivel bearings do make a significant difference in how smoothly and fast the rope can turn. As far as I can tell, the Aero Speed, Rope Master, and Junior Speed ropes all use this same swivel bearing. Supposedly, the Aero Speed is optimized for maximum speed and power jumping, whereas the other ropes have longer handles which give them an advantage for freestyling and doing certain crossing tricks. I will note that buying a fancy rope with bearings is not necessary to jump rope effectively. I have no issues with using a cheap $3 speed rope. You will still get an excellent workout and be able to do impressive things with an ultra basic, cheapie rope. If you don't believe me, just check out these videos from Ross Enamit: rope training part I and part II.

So, why get a nearly $40 rope if you can get an effective workout from a cheap speed rope? If you get as addicted to jumping rope as I have, want high quality gear, and/or want to maximize your athletic performance, you'll opt to pay the extra cash for the Aero Speed. Alternatively, you might just like bling, in which case the shiny chromed finish of the Aero Speed will be right up your alley. You can also keep rope performance optimal by replacing the bearings and cord should you ever manage to wear them out. Those swivel bearings make the rope turn smoothly and fast. With a cheap speed rope, there's some frictional drag on the rope at the handle junction which slowly chews through the rope and puts a slight lag between where your hands are moving and where the rope is turning. With my ultra basic $3 speed rope, I have to put some effort into getting the rope speed up (not necessarily a bad thing if I want to work my arms harder). With the Aero Speed, I occasionally have to intentionally slow down the rope since it's so easy to get it turning fast. The Buddy Lee marketing marketing machine claims it can reach speeds of over 300 RPM. Buddy Lee might be able to get the rope turning that fast, but I sure as hell can't.

Out of the box, the rope was way too long for me, and the rope cord was pretty kinked. The rope cord straightens itself with use and after some time just hanging with the cord straightened out. I read an account of someone soaking the cord in warm water for a few minutes to facilitate cord straightening. Rumor also has it that dunking one handle in hot water and one handle in cold water results in a seriously pissed off rope owner, so don't attempt that. Adjusting the rope is quite easy. One end of the swivel bearing assembly screws into the handle, and the other end has a pointed and threaded tip which screws into the hole in the center of the plastic cord (see picture to the right). Just snip off the appropriate amount of excess cord and reattach the cord to the swivel bearing. This is unfortunately a permanent modification; it pays to be conservative when shortening the cord. You can always cut a little more off if you need to, but adding length back is pretty much impossible without buying a new cord.

The build quality of the Aero Speed is pretty good. Though the bearings and cord are replaceable, I think most people will probably lose the rope before needing to replace either. The included wrench makes replacing the swivel bearings easy, and I'm pretty sure I'll lose the wrench long before I ever get around to replacing the bearings. It should be noted that the cord is only meant to be used on smooth surfaces, so if you have aspirations of jumping outside on concrete or asphault (neither of which are good for your long-term joint health), you'll be disappointed at how quickly the cord wears out.

The handles are made from aircraft grade aluminum, which makes them really light yet resilient and impact resistant. I've dropped my handles several times with no ill effects (other than cosmetic). The USA Olympic logo and Buddy Lee's autograph are printed on the handles. Those prints are starting to fade and scratch off from my handle, as you can see from the picture to the left (graphics on the right handle are starting to fade). It's not a big deal since it is after all a piece of exercise equipment meant to accumulate some wear and tear. If you care that much about aesthetics, don't just toss the handles carelessly into your gym bag like I do. But then again, if you care that much, you're probably too fearful of damage to actually use your nice shiny new jump rope anyhow.

Supposedly, purchasing the rope helps support the U.S. Olympic team. Considering that the rope is manufactured in China, I find it sort of funny that it's financially benefitting an American interest (support America, buy Chinese!). I guess it's to be expected since almost nothing we buy nowadays is truly made in the U.S.A. anymore. Despite the made in China status, the Aero Speed is still a top-notch rope and gets two thumbs up from me.


The Word: Awesome jump rope.

Pros:
  • smooth, fast turning action
  • high quality and durable
  • supports the U.S. Olympic team
  • you can get fit enough to flaunt
  • replaceable bearings and cord
Cons:
  • pricey (~$40 shipped)
  • pretty much restricted to use on smooth indoor surfaces
  • plastic cord kinks easily if you store it carelessly
  • a fast spinning rope really stings if it hits you

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fat cracks (at my expense): Fit N Fresh Body Fat Analyzer

One of my 2008 New Year's resolutions was to lose 1% body fat. To make sure I actually meet that goal, I need to have some way of tracking my body fat percentage. That's where this Fit N Fresh body fat analyzer comes in. I bought this for roughly $5 at Vitacost.com. Except there, it was listed as MEDport Fit & Healthy. I think in my search for reviews of this unit, I found other very similar body fat analyzers with slightly different names and packaging. It's probably made by some OEM and rebranded.

The device has a clock and alarm feature. It's not the primary purpose for which I bought it, but I find the extra features moderately handy. That may be just because I never wear a watch, so I'm dependent on my computer or other devices around me to keep track of time. It uses an included CR2025 lithium button cell battery, which I imagine should last a decently long time. In usage, you switch from the clock mode to the measurement mode, hit start, and press your thumbs to the two shiny disc electrodes. In 8 seconds or less, you should have a reading. You do need to specify your weight, height, age, and sex for the measurement. Fortunately, those values are saved, and there are 8 memory slots. The whole family can join in the fun and see just how chunky they are.

This meter works by using bioimpedance, which is the most popular modality used by consumer body fat analyzers. Basically, an imperceptible low current is passed through your body from one electrode to another. Muscle and fat have different impedances, or resistance to the flow of the electric current. The measured impedance depends on your ratio of muscle to fat (as well as other tissues), and your body fat percentage can be inferred from the measured impedance value. Theoretically bioimpedance can measure your body fat percentage pretty accurately. However, the accuracy of conversion from measured impedance to fat percentage is highly dependent on the mathematical model used, body type, age, hydration level, what you've eaten recently, and maybe even the phase of the moon. Ok, scratch the phase of the moon cause, but you get the idea.

You might guess that something this cheap probably isn't that accurate. And you'd be right. This body fat analyzer suffers from all the downsides of consumer bioimpedance measurements. My body fat was measured at 11.5% just one month ago. I registered at 26.2% on this bad boy. Either I've become nearly obese over the holidays, or this piece of sh... errr, I mean device... will never measure my absolute body fat percentage accurately. My better half also tried it, and I can't mention the ridiculous value it registered without fearing for my well-being.

Most consumer grade bioimpedance based fat analyzers are going to be wildly inaccurate for significant subgroups of people, particularly for the highly athletic and really overweight folks. Really muscular and lean people will likely register way too high, and the really overweight will likely register far lower than reality. Is this body fat analyzer junk? Well, if you're looking for absolute accuracy, most certainly yes. I bought it for relative accuracy (i.e. precision for you science terminology sticklers). I think it might suffice for that purpose. I just need to know the change in my body fat percentage over time, not my absolute amount of body fat. In my brief tests so far, the readings have been consistent in their inaccuracy (varying by 0.1-0.2%). At least I know that it won't waffle in its brutal claims about my beer gut.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

S'not Your Average Review: Nose Bidets and Neti Pots

With coverage by the New York Times and Oprah, neti pots have had a surge in popularity recently. I find this both encouraging and strange at the same time. I was pretty reluctant to try the neti pot (or "nose bidet" as dubbed by Oprah) when introduced to it by my then girlfriend and now fiancée Gen. I made the mandatory snarky "eewww" comments and joked about using her neti pot as a gravy boat or for pouring coffee creamer. So, I can totally see how people would turn up their noses at the thought streaming saline through their nostrils. I guess it's a testament to the power of Oprah that people would look past the weirdness and semi-grossness of nasal cleansing.

Roughly two years ago, my own research, a second neti endorsement, and a bout with congested sinuses finally convinced me to give the neti pot a try. Shockingly (at the time), my sinuses felt a lot better and it sped up my recovery from that miserable cold. Now, I actually use a neti pot whenever my sinuses feel wonky and as a preventative measure whenever I come into contact with sick folks (which is a relatively common occurrence in the winter-time on public transit and at an educational institution). In my opinion, neti-ing is cheap, easy, and quite effective at keeping my nasal passages clear of bacteria, dust, and other unwanted gunk. More people should incorporate the neti pot into their regime for both personal hygiene and maintaining their health. I'm glad neti-ing is becoming more popular.

Neti pots come in different styles, with different designs, and can be made from different materials. However, they all work on the same principle and don't really have any significant differences. It's all a matter of personal preference. I have a slight preference to the ceramic tea-pottish variety, but I'll gladly use whichever neti pot is most easily accessible to me. I've tried several neti pots and offer my opinions on them below.

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The first neti pot, I inherited (i.e. stole) from Gen when she bought a new one (i.e. was forced to get another one). I'm not sure what brand it is, but I'm pretty sure there are plenty just like it stocked at your local health food store or from your preferred online retailer. I still use this neti pot regularly. It has a nice floral design on the side which I hadn't actually noticed until having to take a picture of it for my blog. The one thing I don't like about this particular style of neti pot is that it's longish shape means it has a slight tendency to tip while I'm holding it. I'm more likely to slosh and spill some salt solution if I'm not paying attention during the transition to nostril insertion. Since I'm usually perched over the bathroom sink with the neti pot, this is definitely a very minor and insignificant annoyance. If you're a weirdo neti-ing over expensive, saline sensitive items, this neti pot probably isn't your best choice. The pour spot is a little lower than the actual top of the pot, so I often overfill the neti pot by accident and spill water out of the spout (again, this is a fairly minor issue). Lastly, this particular style of neti pot is ripe for the same sorts of previously mentioned gravy boat/coffee creamer wise cracks from your smart-ass friends.

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The replacement neti pot which Gen bought was the NeilMed NasaFlo. It looks like a cheap teapot. I wasn't particularly crazy about the fact that it's plastic, but when I used it, it seemed just fine. It feels sturdy enough and seems like it can withstand some hot water and alcohol sanitation. I have no idea what type of plastic it is, so I can't comment on it's environmental impact or potential for leaching chemicals into your nasal passages. I imagine it's completely safe though since you don't let water sit in it for long periods of time and usually that water is only lukewarm. I will say that I dig the tapered pour spout; I think it makes fitting the spout to your nostril easier and more comfortable. I'm also a fan of the screw on lid. I learned to neti by tilting the crown of my head forward 90 degrees and turning my head so that one nostrils is on top of the other. I occasionally slosh and spill some solution because of this preference (if I fill the neti pot too high) and also because I'm just not very graceful during the neti process. It's not a huge problem, but the screw on cap of the NeilMed neti pot eliminates this issue completely.

The NasaFlo also came with packets of NeilMed Sinus Rinse--a pre-measured sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate mixture. The marketing claims that the mixture produces a saline solution that is "pH balanced" and produces "no burning or stinging" sensations. I'm a little dubious myself about this mixture being any better than just mixing a salt solution yourself. My frugal B.S. meter tells me it's a marketing claim meant to try to get you to part with your money. However, some people (including Gen) claim that the mix is gentler and indeed never burns like a regular salt solution sometimes can. There may be some truth to the marketing claims, but my frugal sensibilities tell me that you're better off just mixing your own. Why pay so much for salt (sodium chloride) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)?

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The "Ancient Secrets Nasal Cleansing Pot" is the final neti pot with which I have first hand experience. I actually bought this as a present for my parents since my dad suffers from allergies. I still have yet to convince him to use it, but with enough sinus agony, I'm sure he'll come around (Dad, resistance is futile). This neti is proportionally taller and less elongated than the neti pot I normally use. I haven't measured the amount of liquid that I could put into it, but it sure felt like I could load it up with more saline solution than my regular gravy boat neti pot. It was also a little easier to move around without sloshing and spilling water, though the NeilMed Nasaflo still has it beat with the screw on lid. As a final note, even though neti pots aren't all that expensive, Amazon had it for the cheapest price I could find on a neti pot (edit 1/7/08: I've since found this cheaper one). If you need to buy something else from Amazon (to make the $25 free shipping), it's hard to beat this deal.