Monday, June 29, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! Final thoughts on Wii Fit vs. EA Sports Active

The 30th day of my 30-day fitness challenge on EA Sports Active has come and gone, and I now feel ready to render final judgment on which is better: Wii Fit or EA Sports Active.

Drum roll, please...

Wii Fit, hands down, is the better program.

Why, you may ask? There are a number of reasons. The first, and most important in my book, is that I actually gained weight this past month, an extra three pounds that I'm now going to have to work on losing. Sports Active did not give me the workouts I needed to burn calories. Each workout in the 30-day challenge ran 25 minutes, on average, the longest workout running 28 minutes. Most of those workouts concentrated on strength building exercises, which are important, but don't burn the calories like cardio exercises do. And except for the medium and long run exercises in EA Sports Active, there's not really any cardio to speak of. The aerobic dance segments barely get my heart rate going (and honestly, I think they're a joke, when compared to Wii Fit's step routine). The boxing is nice, but doesn't last nearly long enough to keep my heart rate up. The baseball, basketball, tennis and volley ball drills don't last long either, and they don't pop up nearly often enough in the workouts for the 30-day challenge to make a difference, in my opinion.

(And keep in mind, this is all in my opinion. You'll see as we go today that I expect certain things from my workouts which may not appeal to everyone.)

Another big problem I had with EA Sports Active was its emphasis on lunges, squats, and jumping. I have bad knees. Wii Fit actually improved my knees dramatically. Prior to using Wii Fit, I had problems getting into and holding many positions in my karate classes because my knees couldn't handle the stances. A few weeks on Wii Fit fixed that. I expect it's the focus on balance and posture that did the trick, correcting problems with how I stand in general to the point that the muscles I needed to compensate for my knee problems finally got the workout they needed. EA Sports Active doesn't have that focus. It's all strength training, and while the repeated lunges, squats, and jumping did strengthen my outer thighs, they did damned little for those muscles that actually support my knees. As I type this review, I can feel my knees swelling from today's workout. And the crunching noise they make when I go up and down the stairs is just as bad as it was six months ago, before I started on Wii Fit. It's terrible, I tell ya.

My third issue with EA Sports Active is the exercise band. The one thing I looked forward to in EA Sports Active was the upper body workout. This is one area where Wii Fit falls flat. Aside from a few moves in the strength training section, Wii Fit focuses all its attention on core muscle building. My arms were starting to get flabby. EA Sports should have taken care of that, but the exercise band they packaged with the game is pretty much useless. It's one of the lightest-weight bands you can find, and offered very little resistance for me during workouts. EA Sports Active advises that if you need more resistance, you can double up the band and stand on it. This shortened band will provide the resistance you need. Well, it sort of does that. The problem with that fix is that I sometimes had to stand almost on the handles to make the band short enough for some exercises. Also, it was too easy to get the band uneven in the folding, thus leading to uneven resistance between arms. Finally, I managed to tear a hole in my band by the fourth week of working out, and I think it happened because of how far I had to double up the band to get the resistance I needed.

Fortunately, I did have another band on hand, one that offers four times the resistance of the band that arrived with the game. I'm definitely getting that arm workout now. But I would have liked to have had this band from the start. Better yet, I would have liked to have had a variety of bands from the start, with handles to go with them. I'm thinking of ordering some extra bands and handles to solve that problem. I've looked online, but have yet to see a package of such bands offered by EA Sports Active. They seriously ought to consider putting one together and selling it as an accessory.

Now that I've bashed poor EA Sports Active, let me say what I liked about it. It does offer strength training beyond the core muscles. I especially like that I have the option to do more upper body exercises than just the push ups and plank poses offered by Wii Fit. And I like EA Sports Active's journal feature. By filling it out each day, I have a regular reminder to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water, and stay away from sugary drinks and fast food. Those are probably my biggest downfalls when it comes to losing weight, and that gentle reminder is nice to have.

Wii Fit, on the other hand, doesn't really look at nutrition, unless you suddenly gain 2 lbs, and then the snarky little bitch wants to know why you're so fat all of a sudden. Unfortunately, Wii Fit will only accept a certain select list of excuses, many of which have nothing to do with why I gain weight suddenly (Wii Fit does not believe in water weight gain). And once you select your excuse, you have to listen to a lecture on the evils of what you did wrong. Annoying. As is Wii Fit's comments when you miss a day or two or more. Guess what? I can't help missing a week when I'm out of town! It's not like I'm going to pack the whole Wii with Balance Board and Wii Fit disk and take it on the road with me! EA Sports Active, on the other hand, simply labels any days you take off as rest days. Maybe this is a cop out. Maybe I do need the nagging reminders and the lectures that Wii Fit hands out when I miss a few days or when my weight suddenly balloons, but you know what? I don't like it!

My final analysis is this. I prefer Wii Fit, but EA Sports Active has something to offer, if I use it right. I think what I'll probably end up doing is abandoning the 30-day challenge from here on out and make up my own workouts in EA Sports Active, to supplement what I do in Wii Fit. I'd like to try putting together a series of 15-minute routines that use those strength training exercises, but scaling back on the lunging and jumping so I don't continue to kill my knees. I can use the long run to warm up, or even do a few minutes on our elliptical machine, then do strength training with EA Sports Active. After that, I can switch to Wii Fit, do my heavy duty cardio there (about 20-25 minutes straight), and then throw in 10-15 minutes of yoga, strength training, and balance games to workout those core muscles and strengthen my poor knees. I may even consider doing extra balance games later in the day as a pick-me-up in the afternoons. I have a tendency to get tired right before sitting down to work, and this might help me perk up. Or I could pull out the DDR mat and do some of that for a few minutes to get my blood pumping before I sit down at the computer.

One final thought before I sign off. The 30-day challenge might have worked for me and helped me lose, or at least maintain, weight if I had done two things. The first is attempting to complete all 20 workouts in 30 days. I actually missed the deadline by a week; I had five workouts left to go when day 30 rolled around. But I realize now there was no way I was going to complete 20 workouts in 30 days and still do karate and swimming during that time. What can I say? I like variety in my workouts, so I continued to space out EA Sports Active with those other activities, and thus blew my deadline. Second, I might have lost more weight if I had opted for the high intensity program rather than medium. That level of intensity might have made the difference. I might have seen more aerobic exercises mixed into the workouts, or I might have done longer, more intense workouts. However, I also fear that doing that level of workout for 30 days would have completely destroyed my knees, so perhaps it's best I didn't go that route..

I should finish up the last two workouts of my 30-day challenge by Wednesday, then I plan to finish up the week with Wii Fit only. On Monday, I'll start doing custom workouts mixed with Wii Fit and we'll see how that goes for a month.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dinner Didn't Suck - Honey-Lime Pork Chops

The family as a whole has gotten a little tired of Crock Pot cooking, so once again I find myself struggling to come up with an easy way to make dinner. My brain automatically shuts down at 5PM, not surprising since I usually get up at 5AM. So I'm always on the look out for cook books with easy recipes that are healthy and don't suck in the taste department.

Rather than throw beau-coup bucks at a new cookbook, I decided to check my local library to see what they had. I found Taste of Home: Everyday Light Meals and decided to give it a try. Most of the recipes involve a short list of ingredients, and all recipes have the estimated cook and prep time listed at the top. They also have icons to indicate which meals are low fat, low sodium, low carb and meatless. All of these features are a plus in my book.

The big bonus for me though was that first six chapters are meal-oriented, meaning they list recipes for a whole meal as opposed to just listing recipes for a single dish. These chapters are labeled "Chicken Meals," and "Pork Meals," etc. Each meal consists of an entree and a side dish recipe, with suggestions for simple, additional sides (many of which have recipes listed in the book). There's also a photo for each meal , showing what it looks like. The meal-oriented chapters are a huge benefit for someone like me who, as I've said, tends to shut down mentally by the time dinner rolls around.

For this week, I went with one of the pork meals, Honey-Lime Pork Chops with Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes. We had plenty of left-over sauteed Italian squash and mixed berries from the weekend, so I opted not to make the steamed baby carrots and Emerald Fruit Salad recommended as additional sides. The pork chops and potatoes turned out great! Hubster and I devoured our meals, and Princess mostly cleaned her plate. Pixie picked at her meal, but even she had a few bites of pork chop. I doubled the recipes to make sure I had enough to last the week, with the occasional switch out of sides (remember, I shut down at 5PM, so I'm not inclined to cook from scratch every night of the week; leftovers are my friend!). This is definitely something I don't mind seeing on the dinner table a few nights in a row, and again, Hubster and Princess are eating happily too, and Pixie snubs everything as a general rule, so we're good with this menu.

Here's the recipe for the Honey-Lime Pork Chops.

Pork chops with marinade:

  • 1/2 cup lime juice

  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (I substituted jarred minced garlic)

  • 6 boneless pork loin chops (4 ounces each) (I had smaller chops, but I made 8 chops total, doubling all the rest of the ingredients from what I've listed here)


  • 3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

  • 1 clove garlic, minced (again, used the jar stuff)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon honey

  • 1/8 teaspoon browning sauce

  • Dash pepper

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

  • 2 tablespoons water

In large resealable plastic bag, combine first four ingredients (from chops and marinade list). Add pork chops, seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 8 hrs or overnight. Drain and discard marinade. Grill chops, covered, over medium heat or broil 4 inches from heat for 6-7 minutes per side or until juices run clear.

For sauce, combine broth, garlic, honey, lime juice, browning sauce and pepper in small sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and water until smooth; stir into broth mixture. Return to a boil. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Serve with pork chops.

Makes 6 servings.

Again, we really liked this meal, and with 8 chops instead of six, we've got enough to last the week. All I have to do is make new side dishes as needed. I'm going to try another couple of recipes from this cookbook before making a decision to hunt this one down and buy it, but right now it's already looking like a good candidate for my bookshelf! If you want to get a copy yourself, it's Taste of Home: Everyday Light Meals, available on and probably just about anywhere else you can order books. Enjoy!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Move It Mama Monday - Down Time

Well, it's Monday again, and I must report I didn't exercise yesterday or today. I did pull 2 1/2 hours in the dojo on Thursday, and another 1 1/2 hours in the dojo on Saturday. I also managed to get in a swim last week, and a few workouts with EA Sports Active. Yes, I was going good. I could feel myself getting stronger, moving better. My weight keeps fluctuating between 148-151, and I'm to the point where I think no amount of exercise and diet is ever going to shift those last 10 pounds I want to lose, but as long as I'm exercising and getting plenty of fruits and vegetables and drinking water, who gives a damn? I mean, seriously, I got lingerie for my wedding anniversary last week, and it looked very nice on me. And the dress I wore on my honeymoon 16 years ago fits just fine, even if I am 16 pounds heavier than I was back then, so what am I bitching about? The only one who has a problem with my weight is Wii Fit, and if he gets uppity with me again, I'm gonna smack his little plastic ass across the living room. So there.

But anyway, I had a great week exercise-wise last week, and then I hit yesterday and today and didn't get a workout in at all. Yesterday was Father's Day, so I spent most of the day with family, either cooking special meals or having fun at the beach. I did do some splashing in the waves, but not what I would call exercise. Even so, a day at the beach left me completely whipped, and I was out like a light when I got home. Then today, Princess' summer camp kicked off, as well as her swimming lessons, so the bulk of today was spent ferrying her around and then waiting while she did her thing. Pixie and I walked around the Virginia Living Museum for 3 hours this morning, and then parked our butts on the bleachers at the pool, waiting for Princess. Again, not a lot of activity, but exhausting all the same.

So I've had a couple days off from exercise. I plan to get back on the wagon tomorrow morning and squeeze in a workout before whisking Princess to a day of camp and swimming again. The best I can hope for is 25 minutes on EA Sports Active or Wii Fit, because once we're done with camp and swimming, I'm going to be too tired again to make myself work out.

I'm not going to beat myself up over the down time though. It happens, especially when you've got kids. I do the best I can to make it easy for myself to exercise, but I also know that past a certain hour of the day, I'm not up to doing a damn thing. This is the reason why I don't go to evening karate classes anymore. I just can't summon up the energy to go. I'll do anything you want before 4PM, but after that? Nada, zip, bupkis. This mama is too worn out to care.

If you'd care to comment, let me know how often you go through down periods, and how you feel about them. Guilty? Don't care? Think you need the break? And how long do you let a down period last? I'm putting an end to this one tomorrow morning.

I hope.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! My Daughters, The Athletes

I had a big surprise last week. Princess' gym teacher called me at home to invite me to an awards ceremony. Apparently my girl had been named one of two top kindergarten students in P.E. for the year. Needless to say, I'm chuffed. Aside from one sparring trophy, this is the first award Princess has ever received that wasn't an "everybody gets one" deal. Meaning she actually had to earn this award. And she earned it, according to her gym teacher, by being attentive, helpful, polite, always prepared for class (i.e. we always make her wear sneakers to school), and by basically running the pants off of everybody else in school. She's a regular Flashy Fast Foot, I'm told, my freakishly tall daughter who can race like the wind.

Pixie is just as active as Princess. She loves to run races, and climbs all over everything. Princess' karate instructor has already noticed that Pixie is very "physical" and can't wait to see what she's like when she starts taking karate classes. Yep, I've got two little athletes on my hands.

And I have no idea where they get it from.

**I** was never an athlete. Growing up, I hated recess because I couldn't run fast enough to play tag, and I sucked at jumping rope. I was the proverbial kid who was picked last for dodge ball teams, and I had such poor hand-eye coordination I couldn't even hit the ball in T-ball. My dislike of recess turned to full-blown loathing by the time I hit middle school and I had to wear a butt-ugly gym suit to do even worse tasks like volley ball and soccer. Then every spring semester, we had to take the same stupid physical fitness test, consisting of such torments as the flex arm hang and the shuttle run. I was always guaranteed to get the worst score in the class. I just sucked at athletics.

Naturally, my father decided I would excel in ROTC. Should I even get into how miserable that was? During the four years I struggled through college, I spent more time puking up my guts before 8 AM than most people will do all their lives. I ran miles across the campus during company runs, got crushed in team sports pile ups, and left my lungs and stomach somewhere in Lane Stadium while running sets of stadium steps. My push ups were a true testament to the law of gravity (i.e. gravity sucks and thus so did my push ups). To this day, I have no idea how I got my commission in the Army Reserves.

Some time after college though, things changed. I was no longer subjected to the tyranny of drill instructors and gym teachers. It was finally up to me and me alone to make sure I exercised. And to my amazement, I did. Two years after I finished ROTC, I was once again running across the campus of Virginia Tech, but this time eating up the miles instead of puking up my guts. I started weight lifting too. When I got married, Michael and I got memberships to a gym and worked out three or more evenings a week. Then I took at job at a nearby Air Force base, and made regular use of their gym and running trails. When I finally quit the day job, Michale and I signed up for karate classes, and spent five days a week at the dojo. I used to spend my mornings running a couple of miles through the neighborhood, stop at a local gym to lift, and then walk next door to the dojo to practice karate for half an hour before walking back home.

Having kids slowed me, obviously. My knees have never fully recovered from pregnancy, and a couple of sparring injuries put an end to my running days. But I found alternative activities - swimming, walking, yoga, Wii Fit. I still go to karate, and am hopeful I can get back to a regular schedule of 2-3 classes a week. I am a black belt, after all. I need to keep training.

I've been thinking about this summer, how I'm going to keep the kids and myself happily employed and active. Both girls are eager to hit every playground in the area this summer. We'll do it too. Playgrounds, gardening, swimming, karate... we'll have plenty to do this summer, me and my athlete daughters.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Play Dates and the Bad Mom

Am I a bad mom? I ask myself this question much as I'm sure every mom must ask it when a conflict arises between Mom giving the kids what they want versus doing Mom doing something for herself. In my case, what my kids, Princess specifically, are asking for lots of play dates. What I'm asking for is a couple of hours to myself every afternoon to do some work.

It's a sticky issue. There aren't a lot of little girls Princess' age in the neighborhood. Only two, to be exact. Everyone else is either a boy, and only wants to hang with other boys, or quite a few years older than Princess. Of the two little girls who are Princess' age, one is getting ready to leave for a cross-country trip this summer. The other lives within walking distance, but I'd have to walk over with Princess (no biggie, I can always use the exercise) AND... Pixie is not invited to go with her.

I hate that. As with Princess, there are only two children in the neighborhood around Pixie's age. One of them is sister to the girl who's about to leave on that cross-country trip, so she won't be around either. The other is allergic to just about everything under the sun, so arranging play dates requires a lot of pre-planning and logistical discussion (choosing a restaurant can we all eat at, scrubbing my kids down before going over to make sure they're allergen-free, etc.).

So essentially, Pixie is out of luck in the local friends department. I've made arrangements to have Princess' one little friend come over here a couple of mornings a week, to ensure that Pixie isn't left out when the girls play together, but even then it's a crap shoot they'll all get along. Every time this particular kid comes over, she has a nasty habit of dragging Princess into her room and slamming the door on Pixie, who then comes sobbing to me. I'm going to try to prevent that scenario from happening this summer by making the kids play outside all morning while I garden (and I've already told the other mom that's going to be the rule - girls stay outside!). Even so, I can't guarantee Pixie will included in the older girls' games.

All this means I'm not inclined to have Princess' friend over every day of the week (especially since she also annoys the hell out of me). In fact, I'm thinking along the lines of one or two mornings a week at most. Then I've got a standing agreement to meet with a friend of mine and her kids one morning a week. Patty's got two boys, one Princess' age and one Pixie's age. It's a bit of a drive to get together with them, but doable once a week. That gives us three mornings a week of play dates. And of course I've planned to take one day a week for day trips, just me and the girls, to the beach, the museum, Busch Gardens... I'm thinking that's pretty good right? Plenty of activity all summer and lots of play dates with other kids!

Except Princess keeps whining that she wants to see her one girlfriend every day, in the afternoon, either at her house, where Pixie is not invited to come play, or here, where I will be hard at work writing the next great American smut novel.

My plan was that I would devote the entire first half of the day to the girls - play dates, gardening, going to the pool, throwing water balloons, karate classes, arts and crafts, etc. Princess' little friend could come over during that time and join us for some outdoor fun. Then we'd come in for lunch and after lunch, when it's hot enough outside you could fry an egg on the front porch, the girls would go upstairs to their rooms and play together. Quietly. While I worked in the office for a few hours.

I thought that arrangement sounded quite fair. They'd get to see friends and have all the fun they wanted in the mornings, I'd get the work time I so desperately need in the afternoon. But when I discuss this with Princess, I get a lot of arguing about how it isn't fair, she never gets to see her friends often enough, she's bored, she's lonely, why can't she play outside by herself, she won't run out into the street, she won't let her sister run out into the street, the three girls could play very quietly in her room and no one would fight or set the house on fire while I was working, etc., etc., etc.

Am I wrong? Should I try to have Princess' friend over in the afternoons? Or have I set a reasonable schedule for all of us? I can't say. I will say I'm not budging from that schedule. No kidding, I have a novel to write this summer, and a website to massively update. I can't afford not to work those hours. Princess will get to see her friend once or twice a week, see some other kids once a week, and go on some fun trips every week. That's enough, right?

Now to figure out how to quit feeling like a bad mom every time she asks for a play date...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! EA Sports Active part 2

Well, the utility guys have dug up all the utility posts in my neighborhood, so cable, internet, and phone have been sketchy all day. Thus you may be seeing this on Tuesday, rather than on the Monday it was written. Oh well!

Anyway, I've had a week to play with EA Sports Active, and thought I'd give an update. I have NOT lost any weight in last week, and in fact have actually put on a pound or two. This may be due to the fact that it's 'that time of the month.' Or it may be due to the fact that I've very off schedule so I haven't done my other fitness activities like swimming, karate, walking, or gardening the past week. Or maybe it's due to the fact that someone in the family had a birthday recently, and someone else we know graduated recently, and thus there's been a lot of cake and backyard grilling going on, neither of which is good for my waistline.

Regardless of the reason, the weight gain has made me aware of what I consider to be the big flaw so far in EA Sports Active - the lack of cardio activity in the workouts. Now don't get me wrong, I'm definitely getting a workout here, and I'm disgusting with sweat by the time I'm done. But each workout lasts on 35 minutes at most, and maybe only a third of that is dedicated to cardio - running on a track, boxing, dance, etc. The rest of the time I'm doing calisthenics - lunges, squats, bicep curls with the elastic band. There's plenty of muscle building going on, and I was so sore a few times last week that I had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. And that's good. I need the muscle building. But I also need cardio. Lots and lots of cardio.

Wii Fit provides cardio in spades. There are nine different cardio activities to do, and many of those have 2-3 intensity levels. I can mix and match my cardio so that I do five minutes of a bunch of different activities or I can do 30 minutes of just one activity. I like that. And on some of these longer cardio activities, I can even slip in my ear buds and listen to some podcasts while I work out. That's a big bonus for me! I can not do this with EA Sports Active.

The other problem I'm having with EA Sports Active is that all that lunging and squatting and jumping around is pretty rough on my knees. My knees sound like I've got a ton of gravel in them right now, lots of popping and cracking when I go up and down the stairs. Wii Fit had actually taken care of that problem for me. My knees improved significantly during the first two weeks of using Wii Fit. I think it was all the emphasis on balance and core strength that did it, and I miss that terribly.

So what to do? I like the strength building in EA Sports Active. I also like the 'attitude' behind it, constantly encouraging instead of occasionally snarky like Wii Fit tends to be. (That damned thing actually got rather snippy when it asked me why I'd gained weight and I responded "I don't know." Hey, is it my fault they don't list water weight or illness as a reason for possible weight gain?) BUT, I prefer the cardio in Wii Fit and I need the yoga, strength and balance games to improve my knees.

I've started doing workouts that combine the two games. I start with EA Sports Active, getting all my strength building out of the way, and then switch to Wii Fit for cardio and a bit of yoga or strength or balance games. On Sunday I spent a walloping 60 minutes between the two. I was ready to drop when I was done. Didn't seem to affect the needle on the scale any, but I'm hopeful that more workouts combining the two programs will give me the results I need. I have noticed that my legs look nicer and that it's gotten easier for me to do lunges, so that's a good sign. I'll give another update in a few weeks to let you all know how this works out.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Pixie Turns Three!

Pixie turned 3 on Tuesday, and I'm very pleased to say we all survived the day. Here's a few pictures from the eventful day.

Pixie and her sister, Princess. They don't always get along this well, of course.

The Birthday Girl enjoys her favorite breakfast while watching Handy Manny.

The big present of the day was a doll house. To be specific, my old doll house from when I was a child. My mom provided all new furnishings. Both girls enjoyed it immensely.

Yep, someone's having a happy birthday!

The success of the doll house was a bit of a surprise. I had been planning for a while to give my old doll house to one of the girls. One of the moms on our street told me that during one play date, Pixie had been obsessed with the doll house they had there, so I decided she could have it for her birthday, and then share it with her sister (doll houses are more fun when you have someone to share them with). It is an old doll house. My grandmother gave it to me when I was about 6 or 7, as a Christmas present. She was the only grandparent I ever knew, my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother and grandfather having died before I was a year old. I still remember the day I got it, and I held onto it for ever, keeping it tucked away in the closet. When I pulled it out to give to Pixie, it still had all the original furniture in it, wrapped in tissue paper. We pulled out each piece to look at before putting the new doll house furniture in. Once I had the girls upstairs happily playing with their new toy, I came downstairs and cried. That I really hadn't expected, but seeing that doll house got me thinking about my grandmother and how thrilled she would have been to see the kids playing with it. She died several years ago, long before Michael and I had kids.

Anyway, I wrapped up the old doll furniture and tucked it away in a box. I suppose I could have given Pixie the old furniture, but the old stuff is wood, and old, and I worry that it's not up to the strain of being played with by an enthusiastic three-year-old. Besides, Pixie's new furniture all matches. Still, my old stuff was pretty nice...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! EA Sports Active is here

So I completely blew off Move It Mama Monday last week. I had expected to do the blog post a day late, due to the fact that I was at Balticon through the entire four-day weekend. I was completely unprepared though for how wiped out I was after the convention. Seriously, Balticon kicked my ass. I'm forty, a stay-at-home mom, and not used to partying like that anymore. What was I thinking, staying up until 2AM every morning?! Especially when I normally get up at 5AM?

It took me all last week to recover, and then catch up on work as well. I worked straight through the weekend and got a lot done (audio recording, 2 stories written, 2 book covers finished for a client, and I got to see Wicked! the musical), but to do that I had to let a few other things slide, like say... exercise. And house work.

Of course, we're not here today to discuss the state of my house (it's bad, really bad). Instead, we're here to talk about exercise, and I do have something to discuss. Namely, EA Sports Active, the new game for the Wii! I ordered this game over a month ago as a wedding anniversary present for my husband and I. It showed up the day after I got back from Balticon and I let it sit until Friday, being too wiped out to even open the box. On Friday, when I finally did pull it out and get it set up, EA Sports Active proceeded to kick my ass just as badly as Balticon had, only using tortuous exercise in lieu of partying.

Since Friday, I've used the game three times. That's long enough for me to give it my initial opinion, I think. And that opinion is...

I like it. It's not as perky or game oriented as Wii Fit, but it does have a lot going for it. Active is based on a 30-day challenge by Bob Greene, he of the sacred circle of Oprah experts. Bob Greene is probably the only one in that circle I can tolerate, having read one of his books and decided for myself that his advice on fitness makes sense. You only get to see Mr. Greene in the little introductory video, which is probably good because he's so damned healthy it's scary.

After the intro video, Mr. Greene disappears and you have a choice of two smiling trainers to guide you through the workouts. These are real people as opposed to the digital trainers used in Wii Fit. The workouts in Active are the best part about the game. You can either go with the preset routines, of which there are several, or build a customized routine. There is also something called the "30-day challenge" that puts you through 30 days of workouts, pushing you a little harder each time. These workouts switch up between several exercises, mostly strength but with some cardio, and each day gets a different focus, so it looks like this won't get boring any time soon. And from what I can see, if you decide not to do the 30-day challenge, you can still pick from PLENTY of preset routines to do, though if you want to build your own routine, you're free to do so. It will probably be a while before I feel the need to customize a routine. I'm opting for the 30-day challenge right now, letting Active pick the routines for me. This means I can just workout on autopilot and not have to think about what I'm doing. This right here is one of the biggest differences between EA Sports Active and Wii Fit. With Wii Fit, there are no preset routines. You have to decide for yourself what you're going to do each day. I find that I tend to avoid certain exercises on the Wii Fit because of that, and those are probably exactly the exercises I need to do. I could avoid certain exercises on the Active game as well, but I would actually have to go to the trouble of picking through the routine to decide what I don't want to do. If I just shut off my brain and go with the routine, that doesn't happen and I get those extra exercises in.

Another big difference between Wii Fit and EA Sports Active is on what aspect of fitness the two games focus on. Wii Fit places a lot of emphasis on balance and core muscle strength, tracking your center of balance through every strength and yoga exercise. Not so with Active. Active favors more traditional gym exercises like lunges, arm curls, etc.. With Wii Fit, I usually only do one set of a particular exercise per workout. With Active, I may visit the same exercise 2-3 times, depending on the preset routine. That's not to say I don't sweat when I do Wii Fit. Doing each exercise once usually lets me work up quite a sweat, so I have no preference of one over the other here.

Accessories is another category to look at. Due to its focus on balance and posture, Wii Fit utilizes the balance board heavily (in fact, I don't think there was no balance board before there was Wii Fit, was there?). For Active, however, the Wii balance board is an optional accessory. You can use it for some exercises, but if you don't have one, don't sweat it. Those exercises that use it don't actually require it, so that's nice if you haven't shelled out for the balance board yet. Instead, Active uses an elastic resistance band included in the game package to do a lot of the strength exercises. The band is pretty light weight, and after another week, I'll probably pull out one of the bands I used to use for physical therapy to up the resistance. There's also a leg band that you strap around your upper thigh. This has a pocket in it to hold the nunchuk through out exercises that only require the one remote.

One final big difference is the body test and goal setting. Wii Fit does this, Active doesn't. In fact, Active doesn't even check your weight. This is both good and bad. I can't stand being scolded by Wii Fit, especially when I know my weight gains are due to water-weight or some other excuse not in it's "why are you fat today?" list. But tracking my weight as well as my activity does make me more likely to eat better and drink more water in addition to exercising, and that's what it takes for me to maintain a healthy weight. Active will track my workouts and ask about my eating habits if I choose to fill out my journal entries. But it doesn't track my weight or test my balance.

So those are the main differences between the two games. Do I like Active better than Wii Fit? I'm going to say no. It's different, but not better. I like having the preset workouts, but have to admit some of the exercises in those workouts, like lunges and side-to-side jumping, are a little rough on my knees. Still, I can get through that and I'm hopeful that my knees will improve as I continue to do these exercises. What I miss is the check on my balance. I swear, Wii Fit and the balance board did more to improve my knees than even several weeks of dedicated physical therapy. I need those balance-oriented exercises to maintain my knees' health. I also miss the game aspect of Wii Fit. I like scoring points for stuff that I do. Active sort of does that, awarding trophies for workouts completed and such, but it's not as much fun as Wii Fit. Graphics-wise, I definitely prefer the Wii Fit. I can't help it, I like being a kitschy little cartoon character. Seeing my Mii run and box and do other stuff is just too fun. My avatar in Active looks like a real person, sort of, and that also serves to remind me this isn't a game so much as a work out.

I'll have to find some balance between the two games. I want to continue doing both, but having limited time, I'll need to be careful how much time I spend on each. With the 30-day challenge, I've pretty much committed myself to using Active almost everyday for the next month. Juggling that with karate, swimming, Wii Fit, housework, and career might be... tricky.

We'll see what I do. I haven't had time yet to think about how I want to incorporate EA Sports Active into my workouts, but I'll get it sorted in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a good workout that provides plenty of variety, check it out. You'll be sore like I was for a few days, probably, but I think it's going to be worth it.