Saturday, December 12, 2009

Canyon Ranch: Tucson

After tomorrow's Pure Cardio session, I'm taking a break of sorts from my P90X/Insanity Hybrid schedule. M and I are treating ourselves to a week of exercise, nutrition, and spa treatments at Canyon Ranch in Tucson.

We first visited Canyon Ranch exactly three years ago. Below the jump is a reprinted (and slightly edited) post from my old blog about our experiences at the spa.


After throwing [our kid] a birthday party on Saturday, M and I packed our bags for a trip to Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. The guilt we felt about leaving our two-year-old with his grandparents was alleviated a bit when it became obvious that he didn't seem to care (or understand) that we were disappearing for a few days. We lingered at the door as we said our goodbyes to our son, but he didn't take his eyes off his new toy fire engine. "Bye-bye," our toddler said dismissively. Then, he added: "Close the door."

We first flew to L.A., and then took another flight to Tucson. Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Plus-44 (and formerly of Blink-182) were on our flight; as M pointed out, it's not hard to spot them despite the hoodies pulled over their faces. Travis Barker, for one, was wearing a black and silver-speckled camouflage-print jumpsuit, which contrasted with the earth tones that most of the senior citizens on the plane were sporting. When we arrived in Tucson and waited for our driver from Canyon Ranch, we saw the bandmates drive off in a Hyundai, which is so punk rock!

Canyon Ranch is, by most accounts, one of the premier health resorts and spas in the country, and over the past four days here, I haven't found anything to contradict the glowing reviews I've read about this place. In a nutshell, Canyon Ranch is a 70-acre vacation resort in the desert near the Santa Catalina Mountains. The resort offers over 50 fitness classes and programs daily, along with an extensive list of spa treatments, personal fitness assessments and consultations, mind-body courses, lectures, workshops and cooking classes. It serves healthy (read: low-fat, high fiber, properly-apportioned) food. (Surprisingly, the food ain't half bad. You won't mistake it for the French Laundry, but there's something to be said about guilt-free eating, too.) Plus, the Ranch maintains an amazing ratio of 3 staff members for every 1 guest. On the minus side, even a four-day stay here is insanely expensive. By way of example, our monthly gym fees in Palo Alto -- for both me and M together -- amount to less than 1 percent of the cost of our four-day stay here.

To tell the truth, it took quite a bit of convincing for M to get me to agree to come here. I've always imagined a health resort to be something like the fat camp on The Biggest Loser, where the day is spent suffering through torturous exercise routines and the evening is spent on an enormous truck scale where one's weight is publicly displayed. In other words, I've always associated health spas with people covering their humiliated moon-faces with sausage-y fingers.

Now that I'm here, however, I'm really enjoying the experience. Our cottage is comfortable, and every imaginable amenity (meals, snacks, drinks, lockers, Internet access and printing, water bottles, robes and tampons) is provided for free (or, rather, already included in the cost of the stay). The spa itself is fully equipped with steam rooms, saunas, inhalation rooms, whirlpools, and all-you-can-steal toiletries. There's a fully-stocked library of books and DVDs. And given the sky-high cost of this trip, I decided to take full advantage of all the Ranch's offerings. Below is a list of some of our scheduled activities, with a brief description of each. (Given the vast number of classes and the relatively small number of guests on the Ranch (which has a maximum capacity of 240 guests spread out in little cottages across the property), most classes had only a handful of students.)


6:30 a.m. -- A low-fat, high-fiber breakfast!

7 a.m. -- "Morning Walk" -- We walked for miles around the perimeter of the Ranch and up a bunch of sandy trails. We had to keep a 5 m.p.h. pace, which sounds like a breeze, but I discovered that I totally suck at walking. It didn't help that every time I tried to break into a jog to catch up to the instructor leading the walk, Michelle accused me of cheating.

9 a.m. -- "Above & Below the Belt" -- Exercises to strengthen and tone the upper and lower body, such as lunges, squats, chest and shoulder presses, push-ups, etc. My only complaint: the liberal use of shitty background music by the likes of Phil Collins and Bruce Hornsby & the Range.

10 a.m. -- "Yoga Stretch" -- Our instructor wouldn't shut up, but we got some good stretching done anyway.

11 a.m. -- "Healthy Weight Strategies" -- A doctor gave us a lecture on the biology of weight management. Ironically, he's visibly overweight. (He did point out, though, that it's better to be fit and fat than to be unfit and skinny.)

Noon -- A low-fat, high-fiber lunch!

1:15 p.m. -- "Athletic Footwear Consultation" -- I had a one-on-one consultation with the Ranch's resident "Shoe Guy," who kind of resembles the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, but with an unhealthy obsession with athletic shoes instead of old issues of "Spider Man." Shoe Guy videotaped my feet as a ran on a treadmill, and pointed out that I overpronate on my right side. He told me to come see him the following day to pick up a new pair of shoes from him. "New Balance has made seven versions of that shoe. Four of them have been great. Three, not-so-great." Shoe nerd.

1:30 p.m. -- "Body Composition Testing" -- I got my body fat and lean mass measured. Evidently, I am totally lean, except for the parts of me that are fat.

2 p.m. -- "Body Wisdom" -- This class purported to be about neuromuscular health, but we just basically sprawled on the floor and stretched. My body didn't feel any wiser afterwards, but I think it's just because I have a dumb body.

3 p.m. -- "Rx for Exercise" -- Another one-on-one consultation, this time with an exercise physiologist named Frank (who is a dead ringer for Jason Kidd, only shorter). Frank prescribed a new workout regimen for me that's supposed to help me build more lean muscle.

(Between 2 and 4, M went to a cooking class where she learned to make four dishes -- each using 5 ingredients or less. My favorite: flourless sugar cookies, made with crushed Macadamia nuts.)

4 p.m. -- "Yamuna Body Rolling" -- We rolled around on the floor again, but this time, with a little yellow ball underneath us to hit certain pressure points. It was like yoga and a massage at the same time. But with little yellow balls. (Available in the Canyon Ranch shop!)

5 p.m. -- "Meditation" -- I fell asleep sitting up. Our Luxembourgian (sp?) instructor told us that meditation is valuable because it "prepares us for our death." FUN!

7 p.m. -- "Luxurious Pedicure" -- for M, not me.

8 p.m. -- A low-fat, high-fiber dinner!

And then we passed out.


7:30 a.m. -- A low-fat, high-fiber breakfast!

8:30 a.m. -- "Yamuna Foot Fitness" -- We stepped on nubbly plastic balls designed to improve strength, flexibility and function in our feet. Canyon Ranch is all about balls.

9 a.m. -- "Indoor Cycling" -- The best thing about indoor cycling classes at Canyon Ranch? There's a staff member whose job is to go around refilling your water bottle while you pedal away. (M was also very pleased that they played Scissor Sisters' "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," a song that I personally can't stand.)

10 a.m. -- "Men's Stretch" (M attended "Women's Stretch") -- This is an hour of stretching exercises. I have very little flexibility, but I'm proud to say that I stretched better than the other four guys in my class. (I suppose I should mention that they were all over 60 years of age.) I'm not sure what makes this stretch class appropriate only for men, though. It's not like we had to stretch our man parts or anything.

11 a.m. -- "Exercise Consultation" -- I met with Frank, the Jason Kidd lookalike, who guided me through the new weightlifting routine he designed for me. He looked at my body composition test results and said I should be lean enough to have a six pack, but I had to admit that I didn't. Sad.

Noon -- "Abs Express" -- Lots of rolling around on balance balls and doing crunches and pikes. I think I was the only male in this class. (Not surprising, given that fewer than a third of the guests here are male.)

12:30 p.m. -- A low-fat, high-fiber lunch!

1 p.m. -- "Watsu Demonstration" -- M and I watched a Watsu practitioner perform this underwater massage. It looked relaxing and fun, so we signed up for a "Couple's Watsu." This involves two massage therapists (one male, one female) literally cradling us and moving our limp bodies through warm water in a dark, indoor pool -- all while massaging us. Imagine a lazy version of synchronized swimming crossed with a couple's massage. It ended up being a little awkward, and M kept giggling, but it was strangely relaxing. (Except for the part when the male therapist had me perched on his lap facing him as he massaged my shoulder. Not a fan of sitting on hairy thighs.)

2 p.m. -- "Fluid Flexibility" -- I was the only person who showed up for this class, but I have no idea why more people didn't attend. I spent the hour in a very warm indoor therapy pool, where the instructor led me through a series of flexibility exercises in the water. Very relaxing.

3 p.m. -- "Wet Workout" -- Since I was already in my swim shorts, I thought it was a good idea to trek out to one of the outdoor pools for this water-based cardio and strength-training class. But especially given that I had just spent an hour luxuriating in a heated pool doing low-intensity stretches, this was a jolt I didn't need. The class involved a lot of sprints back and forth in a much colder pool, along with gut-wrenching suicide drills and water weight routines. I emerged from the pool with blisters on my toes and a seized-up calf muscle.

(M, meanwhile, had the right idea. Having already done her cardio for the day, she was at another cooking class.)

4 p.m. -- "Burdenko (Land)" -- Balance and agility exercises, many of which involved walking around in circles, backwards and forwards, passing an aluminum stick from hand to hand. I sucked.

5 p.m. -- "De-Stressing Your Exercise Routine" -- A fantastic lecture by the head of the exercise physiology department about how to maximize our workouts.

6 p.m. -- A low-fat, high-fiber dinner!

7 p.m. -- "Ashiatsu Massage" -- A therapist massaged me with her feet.

8:30 p.m. -- Watched a movie -- "Thank You For Smoking." Noticed that no one in the movie actually smokes.


Okay, back to the present. I guess I was too tired to finish writing about my week at Canyon Ranch back in 2006, but you get the idea. I'll try to post regularly throughout the week, but can't promise that I won't be too exhausted to write. After all, the last time I went, I overdid it, and ended up with two pulled hamstrings and multiple charley-horses every night.