Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

Wednesday Wii – Real Men Don’t Wii 2

November 3, 2010

As I said the last Wednesday I had time to write on this, too many Wii folk try to push their bodies beyond their design limits. I’ve been known to do this myself. When the nice young girl in spandex says, during the Half-Moon Pose, “don’t push yourself too far”, my automatic response is to push. Fortunately, the Half-Moon doesn’t offer the kind of leverage needed to pop a new xylophone out my side.

What I’ve found — this works for me, it may not for you — is that I have a small range, maybe 10% of the total, between when I feel my body start to offer resistance and when I am pretty sure my medical insurer would agree that I shouldn’t go any farther. When I hit that point, I cheat. In the Gate Pose, for example, I’m supposed to keep my forward leg straight and tilt at the waist until 60% of my weight is on the Wii board. If I did that, I’d be wearing my external obliques like a new fashion accessory. Instead, what I do is this. I play the game, and lean towards that leg in the approved fashion, until I can feel my side muscles tighten. Then (and this is the cheating part), I bend my forward knee to move my weight forward. Just as the little musical tone changes, to tell me I’m getting close to the target spot, I stop bending my knee, and let that last 10% of stretch carry me into the correct zone.

The key is that I only cheat enough to get out of the waltz zone and into the zone where the system can measure my incremental success. I have complained before about the Wii’s refusal to grant partial credit when I’m really bad at something. How can I know if I’m improving if it won’t measure what I’m doing now? In addition, it’s silly to cheat for the sake of cheating — when I’m doing the single leg test I could hang on to a chair with both hands and get a dead straight line, but what would that tell me? The assumption is that as my flexibility improves I will have to cheat less and less. Remember, the only person I’m cheating is me.

Wednesday Wii-Real men don’t Wii

October 13, 2010

Real men. You know who I mean. Type A personality. Cowboy mentality. Marlboro Man, seen on some billboards proclaiming ‘less tar’, and on others saying “Bob, I miss my lung.” The kind of man who isn’t going to put up with his body trying to limit his performance. The trouble with that approach on the Wii Fit exercises is that it can lead to over-achievement, over-rotation, over-extension, and general gristly popping sounds.

You see, many of the exercises on the Wii Fit are designed to pit one group of muscles, or one part of the body, against another. Take a side stretching exercise, like the Gate Pose. When I am in that pose, I have the lower half of my body weight stabilizing a four foot wide fulcrum. I then push the other half of my body weight to the side. The objective is to stretch the side muscles — you know, the ones that attach to the short ribs and make such good BBQ subjects, with the meat falling gently off the bone.

So with half a hundredweight of mass leveraged on a four foot fulcrum, is it any wonder that a Real Man can tear all the muscles along that side while reaching down to touch his insole? It adds a whole new meaning to the term ‘really ripped’. If I think about it, the issue is not if I can ‘perform’ this feat, it’s how do I keep the toughest 90% of my body from ganging up on a few beleagured ribs.

I have an approach that works for me, and I’ll write about it anon.

Wednesday Wii – Bad Timing

September 8, 2010

The times the Wii credits you with are more notional than accurate. My 21-exercise morning workout routine officially gets credit for 38 minutes of exercise. Actually, from the time that spandex-girl says “Good Morning” to the time that she says “lower your arms and return…” is just over 37min on my stopwatch. That includes all of the “follow my movements” and “take the Wii remote in your right hand” patter. The first three exercises (simple yoga requiring no warnings) take 5min5sec, and give credit for six minutes. My estimate is that you get roughly an extra 20sec per exercise, so that 38 minutes includes 7 minutes of unearned time. If you were doing exercises with a real coach, he’d have a stopwatch to make sure your ten minutes of jumping jacks included a full 600sec of leaping about.

Wednesday Wii – Train Your Brain 3

August 25, 2010

Training any neural system, natural or artificial, is hard. Think about how long it took you to learn to walk. Think about how long it took you to become confident behind the wheel of a car, or a truck, or a really big truck. Very often, the best way to learn something complex like this is to do what you did when you learned to walk, you took baby steps.

A classic problem in neural control systems is the truck backer upper problem. Yes, it’s a terrible name. I’m sure there’s something more formal out there in the literature. Ignoring that, the problem is, how do you train a neural net (NN) control system to back up a truck to a loading dock? The usual inputs to the system are the relative locations of the end of the truck and the dock, and the angle of the trailer to the cab. Did I mention that this was an 18-wheeler? Your controls are the brakes and accelerator, and the angle of the front wheels. The goal is to start anywhere in the yard, from any position, and end up with the back of the truck square against the dock. This is something that professional trucking schools spend a lot of time on. NN control trainers too.

Since we can’t explain things to the NN, the way you can to a trainee truck driver, we have to use a simpler, slower approach – baby steps. We start with the truck almost square to the dock, and a few feet away. Even so, we bang the back of the trailer quite a bit. Fortunately, it’s all electrons, so there’s no damage. As the NN learns to square up and move back, we start it from farther away, then from farther away, at a greater angle. By the time we are done, we can start with the truck facing the dock, with the cab cocked all the way around, and still have it smoothly maneuver into position. So, where does the Wii come into it?

Well, nobody’s used a Wii to back a truck, that I know of, but we do use the Wii Fit board as the training device when learning something like the Dance pose (in countries with longer vowels it’s called King of the Dance pose). This is where you balance on one leg, stick the other one out behind you, and grab that ankle, then lean forward and point your free hand at the screen, like you were practicing for a new career as a hood ornament. The way you do this is to take baby steps, to start with your back end up against the dock, as it were.

When I started, it didn’t matter which balancing pose I was involved in (Tree, Standing Knee), what I was really doing was just lifting one foot off the board and trying not to fall over. Later, I was able to lift it higher, then to (for example) cross my leg in a 4 position. In another six months, or year, or so, I’ll be able to stick my heel in my crotch and make it a true Tree pose. As for the Dance pose, I haven’t tried it yet, and don’t plan to until I can find two spotters who I don’t mind seeing me in my underwear. When I do try it, I’ll begin with baby steps.

Wednesday Wii – Wii Trips 2

August 11, 2010

Just back from a week long cruise to Alaska. No Wii. No internet ($100 for 250 min or $0,75/min a la carte for a slow connection). Gained 6lb, which shows that a week-long trip to Portland is worse for you than an all-you-can-eat cruise.

What I discovered was, you can’t do yoga on a ship at sea. Well, I can’t. Even tied up at the dock, there’s enough sway that I fall over. As for the non-balance exercises, there’s just not enough room. For Sun Salutation I found myself reaching up, then bending my elbows, because the cabin roof was only about 7′ up. Then bend down, rotate right and swing left arm out to avoid the fixed table and rotate back left while attempting to touch toes. I declined to go up on the main deck and do these exercises while standing on the shuffleboard court (Mommy! Look at the funny man!).

Wednesday Wii – Train Your Brain 2

July 28, 2010

In an earlier post I talked about how the exercises you do on the Wii Fit are essentially training your internal neural net system to coordinate your balance – managing inputs from your balance organs (eyes, inner ear, kinesthetic sense) so that the outputs, from your muscles, keep you standing – and that you test the effectiveness of this training by using the Body Test. That said, it is usually a mistake to do additional training on the test sets. It’s like teaching to the test in elementary school. I make two exceptions to this rule.

First, is the Single Leg Balance Test. This exercise is so fundamental to the operation of your balance system that if you were to train only on this you would likely get as much benefit as you do from any of the other balance exercises. Plus, it’s a simple test, and you either can do it or you can’t. There are no tricks to learn.  It’s not like the Prediction Test, where you can memorize the pattern of the barriers, so you are not learning some new technique to beat the test.

Second, is that I misuse the Peripheral Vision Test to make up for one of the failings of the Wii Fit. You see, while the ability to stand up straight is important, none of the regular exercises teach you to do this. They all base their scoring on how you are standing when the test starts. So if you happen to be leaning left when the Deep Breathing exercise starts, returning to an upright position as the test progesses will move your pipper to the right side of the yellow circle, and lower your score. This is, unfortunately, also true of some of the tests — the Stand Vewy Vewy Still test centers itself on how you were standing when the test started, for example. But there are some tests that are based on an absolute measure of standing straightedness, and therefore offer a chance to train yourself in what it feels like to do it. Periodically, I run the PVT, and just stand there, working on keeping the pipper inside the little circle. That gives me 33seconds of training. It also gives me a zero on the test, but that’s OK, since it only counts when officially given as part of a Body Test.

End Note: These days I mostly use a preset routine in My Wii Fit to go through my exercises. That’s OK, but it doesn’t let me track my progress. So I have decided to periodically do a standard run-through and post the results here. This time I ran 17 exercises, with an average score of 77.5 and a standard deviation of 17.2. Four of the scores got me into the top ten, and there was one new personal best.

Wednesday Wii – Train your Brain 1

June 30, 2010

In artificial neural networks, when you are helping your net learn how to respond to inputs, the tried and true approach is to divide your dataset into three parts – train, test, and validation. The first, and biggest, part, is the training set. Think of this like the driver training track at a well endowed high school. The neural net runs through this dataset many times, perhaps thousands of times, in order to learn how to respond to the inputs. You train it, and train it, and every so often you run it through the training set again, in test mode, to see how well it has learned. Then you go back to training. Much less frequently, you show it the second batch of data. This is the much smaller test set. The object is to see how it works with data it hasn’t been trained on. Think of this as taking your high school driver out on the local roads. You know your system has learned all it is going to when the results on the test set start to diverge from those on the training set. At that point you give it its drivers license test by showing it the third, and usually smallest dataset, the validation set. You only get to use this dataset once, and it tells you how ready your neural net is to face the wide, wild, world.

What has this to do with the Wii Fit, you ask? Well, the Wii Fit is training your brain as well as your body. In the balance tests, the key is to get your nervous system to respond to the inputs from your balance organs so that you can stand on one leg without falling on your butt. Think of all those exercises, from the Tree Pose to the Single Leg Extension as the training set. As you do them, your internal neural net system learns to keep your balance under a wide range of conditions.  Periodically, you get to take the Body Test, where you are exposed to, yes, a test set of actions that are not the ones you trained on. And therin lies the rub. If you go into the My Wii Fit Plus section, you have the opportunity to build yourself an exercise routine. In addition, if you click on the little Wii helper you get a chance to practice the various tests it gives you during a  Body Test session. This is generally a bad idea, because what you are doing is training on the test set, and so I refuse to do it, with two exceptions, that I’ll tell you about next time.

Wednesday Wii, Happy Anniversary

June 23, 2010

Happy Solstice, and the start of Aere-Litha. So, this is Week 104, and on Friday it will be exactly two years since we started using the Wii Fit and WF+. In those two years I lost 25 pounds, and gained back five, lost a belt size, and immeasurably improved my balance and flexibility. In the Sun Salutation, when it said “touch your toes”, I was initially straining to get my palms on my kneecaps. Now I can, with a little bounce and at the end of my workout session, touch my ankles. Small victories.

My problem right now is that I otherwise seem to have plateaued out. My weight doesn’t want to change, my balance hasn’t continued its improvements,  my scores are within a few points of what they were six months ago. More aggressive measures are needed.

This summer, I publicly (well, as public as a one hit a day blog allows) declare I am going to do more Wii, more off-Wii walking, and more off-Wii balance training.

Wednesday Wii

June 16, 2010

Back to my Wii Fit excercises, after a three month absence. This quarter was stressful because of my mother-in-law’s illness and because I had two somewhat unexpected statistics classes to teach. So, while I was able to do a weigh-in and body test daily, I had no time for the actual exercise regime (or for cleaning out my RSS feed, which now stands at 400, down from 800 earlier today). Now, the quarter is over, and I can get back to work.

My first session was only 30min long. I found that those exercises not involving balance  (warrior pose, half moon) went about as well as they had before — I even made the top ten on one exercise. On each of the exercises requiring balance, either static (tree pose), or dynamic (sideways leg lift), I was down about twenty points. Shoulders and back feel the stress of renewed exercise, but nothing painful. Weight holding steady at 215, as it has (+ 2lbs) for the last three months. Next week is week 104, the end of two years of Wiiing (or is it Fiting?), so we can call the upcoming year a New Hope (unless somebody’s used that already).

Wednesday Wii: Bad Indicators

March 10, 2010

A key rule in designing user interfaces, particularly for control systems, is that they should make it clear to the user what the current state of the system is. This is particularly important in training systems, because you want the user to learn the right thing. The “line and bar” indicators in many of the Wii Fit exercises are bad indicators because they don’t provide the right feedback, and the scoring system is flawed because its response range is too narrow.

In a typical line and bar exercise, like the Lunge, you increase the weight on the Wii Fit board to drive a red bar up until it hits a blue line. Depending on the amount of control you are expected to have, you either hold the top of the bar inside the (wider) line, or you simply drive ahead until you cross the line. Conceptually, this is a good way to learn to control your weight placement and to encourage you to learn the physical moves (deep knee bends, deep upper body bends) needed to do so. In practice, there are two problems:

1. In some exercises, like the Spine Extension, you can’t see the line and bar, because you are bent over, or are facing away from the indicator. Nintendo tried to solve this with an audible signal. If you are outside the bar you hear a steady drumbeat. If you are inside the bar the sound changes to a bell, that slowly fades away as you reach the center. Unfortunately, the sounds don’t differentiate between being over or under the bar, I think — there may be subtle tonal differences that I can’t pick out over the voice of the trainer telling me to count with her. Normally, you would think this isn’t a problem. When you are as out of shape as I am, it’s rare that you can even hit the bar, let alone overshoot it. Except that there are exercises and poses where I tend to undershoot when my right foot is forward, and overshoot when I use the left. This is particularly a problem when I have to cheat, say, when I bend my knee instead of stretching my sciatic nerve three inches longer than it was designed to be. So, why would I want to cheat? Don’t the cute girl in spandex, and the handsome frat-jock with the mullet keep telling me to maintain good form at all costs? Read on.

2. Still reading? Good. The second problem I have with the line and bar is that you don’t get any score unless you have crossed or come very close to the line. No score. Zero. How can I tell if I am improving if I can’t compare my scores? My form may be exquisite, but am I getting that extra half-inch compared with last week? If I cheat slightly, get closer, maybe just enough for the bar to kiss the edge of the line and switch back and forth from bell to drum, then maybe I can get enough of a score that I can start seeing progress. (I’ll talk more about this in a future post.)

The solutions? Well, why not try using a different tone, depending on if you are high or low? In fact, why not try using an actual tone instead of a drum? That way I won’t have to wait a couple of beats for my brain to kick into gear. In the early days of radio beacon navigation, you heard dashes if you were on one side of the beam, and dots if you were on the other, and they combined into a solid tone when you were right on. This meant you had a continuous confirmation that you were on course. On the Wii Fit, you get silence. Does silence mean you are where you need to be, or does it mean the sound card has failed. Should I look up and see? Secondly, give points for effort. Not a lot. But if I grunt and wheeze and move the red line a third of the way up, then give me a point, or a tenth of a point. With those two changes I will be able to keep my head down, or sideways, or whatever, and concentrate on my form, knowing that I will be guided to the proper place and that I will be able to track my progress as I go. Is that too much to ask?

Wii Fit Defaults

July 18, 2009

A key decision in designing a user interface is deciding on what the default entries should be. One example is deciding on the default for “country” when entering location data. If you are a site that is catering primarily to the US crowd — StationsWhereGasIsCheap.com — you might make “United States” the default. If you are looking at a more international clientele — EclipseTracks4U.org — you might make it a straight alphabetical list (although you are likely to get few readers from Aardistan). The idea is, you make the most likely choice the default. Unfortunately, the Wii Fit gets this wrong on a number of its screens.

In many cases, the only choice is (A), ‘yes, I heard you’. You don’t have to point, you just click, and it moves on to the next repetitive message (of which more anon). In other cases, there is a real choice to be made, and enabling the correct click event makes the user experience smoother. Remember, you don’t want the user to have to think.

Consider the start of an exercise. When you call up an exercise, Wii Fit offers two choices, [Demo] and [Start]. In this case, the WF doesn’t default to anything, so you have to point and click. Is this the end of the world, a deal-breaking failure of the software? Obviously not, but it indicates a lack of attention to detail. Once again, it makes the user think, and users hate to think, they want it to just work. The WF knows who I am (it has the correct Mii after all), and it knows how often I’ve done this exercise (it tells me, whenever I highlight it), so what’s so hard about picking a default that matches my exercise patterns?

As another example, consider that I have just finished an exercise. What is more likely, that I want to do it again, or that I want to move on? I’d vote for move on, but WF assumes that I want to [Repeat] (yes, many do, but I’m talking of the majority). I am usually good for one mis-click per session, partly because the click-(A) option has trained me to respond in a manner inappropriate for the current screen. While we are on the topic, I note that after a Yoga or Strength exercise, WF recommends an associated exercise, usually from the opposite set (Yoga recommends Strength, etc). Unfortunately, the only way to get to the recommended exercise is to [Quit] the one I just finished, go back to the selection screen, shift from Yoga to Strength (or vv), and pick the new one. Why couldn’t the interface offer the option of clicking on the recommended excercise rather than [Quit] or [Repeat]?

I see three possible solutions. First, pay more attention to what the defaults should be. Nintendo does user testing, so ask the users. Second, keep track of what the individual user does, and conform the interface to their habits. Finally, when all else fails, ask the user. Allow them to go into the setup routine and change the default responses.

It’s all about respect for the user and attention to detail.

The Year of the Wii

July 1, 2009

A year ago we got a Nintendo Wii, along with a Wii fit board. It has take over our lives. It sits in the dining room, between the table and the TV, and every morning we embarrass each other into using it. At first it was a novelty. Now, it’s a morning ritual. Twenty minutes to half an hour of exercises, a body test, and mutual commiseration. Given that an exercise tool, be it a walker or a weight set or a Wii, is only useful if you use it, it has become useful.

How useful? In the last year, I’ve lost 20lbs, and my wife has lost 30. Our balance scores have improved. Our flexibility is greater. I’ve gone from obese (“I’m sorry, one of you will have to get off the scales”) to merely overweight. She’s gone from overweight to normal. I’d say it was worth the money.

The tool is not perfect. It works for us, but in some cases it works despite the design rather than because of it. In future bloggets I will be discussing the Wii and its games and its interface.