Working on my Fitness

Whoops! Ya get a little bit busy and suddenly it’s seven eight weeks since your last blog. But that is not to say I haven’t been keeping with my mission! Things have been going great!

As I declared when I hit the one year mark, I needed to amp up my efforts for year two. So ever since then, I have been going hardcore on the fitness side of improving my health (and weight). A long time ago, I wrote about how I didn’t think my body was ready for intense exercise but that I thought walking would be a nice way to build up to something more intensive. I don’t know if it was the walking or general weight loss or just an increase in motivation but for the last two and a half months my efforts have increased tremendously.

What has really changed is that I’ve gotten really into strength training. I tagged along with a friend who had a surplus of personal training sessions, and I found that unlike my first experience with it, the trainer was extremely helpful. It was a much more focused and effective workout than I might’ve put myself through, and it gave me ideas for what I should be doing for my own workouts. Then I happened to win two private training sessions. I liked the private sessions so much I ended up buying a training package. (To be honest I kind of think the raffle was rigged because they knew this would happen…)

It’s been about a month now since I’ve been in training and I’ve been able to get into a pretty good routine. Three days a week I do strength training and two days a week I do cardio, although I do some cardio every time I workout. For the strength training part, I separate each workout into an “isolated/split routine.” The schedule looks a little like this:

  • Sunday: 5 min. warm-up (exercise bike), 35 min. Back & Biceps, 25 min. elliptical
  • Monday: Off
  • Tuesday: 5 min. warm-up, 30 min. Legs (w/ trainer), 30 min. Cross Trainer machine
  • Wednesday: 10 min. abs, 60 min. elliptical
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: 5. min. warm-up, 35 min. Chest, Triceps & Shoulders, 10 min. stair machine, 10 min. walk on treadmill
  • Saturday: 75 min. moderate cardio (hiking, a bike ride, etc.)

That’s an example. The days vary based on what’s going on with work and other stuff, but the distribution generally stays more or less the same. It’s been two and a half months since I started exercising like this, and one month since I started working with the trainer and focusing my routine, and I can already see results. I was really pleased when my fitness-loving brother saw me for the first time in several weeks and said he could tell I’d been working out.

This stage where I am constantly improving my fitness levels but still not actually in good shape is a really weird time. I feel simultaneously really amazing and terrible. I’m tired almost all the time, and at least one body part is usually sore. Last week I actually took two days off in a row and did the moderate long cardio on the third day because my legs just felt so heavy I didn’t even want to walk up the stairs. On the other hand, I can feel my body getting stronger all the time. It’s hard to explain but even though my body is more tired, the rest of me has tons of energy, which is super awesome.

There are two main challenges I’m facing now that my fitness routine has perked up. The first is the sustainability of my schedule. I’m at a bit of a lull with work at the moment, so focusing almost all of my energy on fitness is fine. But as work picks up again and I (hopefully) get more gigs it will be more challenging to keep up this pace.

The other serious challenge is maintaining my diet. I don’t know what it is but when I get home from a particularly grueling workout, all I want in the world is some delicious cheese. My theory is that it’s because of the combination of protein and sugar. However, if you’ll recall, cheese is a big no-no on the clean eating menu. But, what makes it even harder is that in addition to craving bad foods, I’m burning so many more calories that it is extremely hard to meet my daily caloric requirements cleanly. Salad and grilled chicken only have so many calories…and I can only stand to eat them so many times.

So that’s my current project. In addition to continuing with my fitness regimen, I am researching and experimenting ways to stick to the kinds of foods I need to be eating but eating in such ways that I still get all the caloric energy I need. I’ve been reading a lot about vegan athletes, because even though I’m not vegan I limit my animal product intake to very small quantities.

Okay! Now we’re all caught up. I’m excited in the coming weeks to share some of my new fitness knowledge as well as more of the standard hippie food posts I’m used to.

-lj

Natural Resources

We all know how important exercise is to successful weight loss. I have been learning the legitimacy of that advice recently. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been busy or because the weather has been colder and grayer lately, but I haven’t been very diligent with my workouts. Instead of doing at least something active five or six days a week, I’ve been at about half that for almost a month. It’s probably not coincidence that I also seem to have plateaued as far as losing weight is concerned. Especially since I have not really changed eating habits.

Sometimes, I really like going to the gym. In general I enjoy the feel of a workout, both during and after. It’s just actually getting there that gives me problems. Hopefully soon I’ll get into a pro-gym phase, but until then I’ve been looking for alternative solutions. In an attempt to get over this exercise malaise, I have been trying to think of fun ways to get a workout that wouldn’t feel like it was something I had to be doing. (What is it about being obligated to do something that makes it unappealing, even if it’s something we would like if we were doing it for entertainment?)

Yesterday, I came up with a great gym alternative. It was my day off of work, and I knew the weather was supposed to be sunny and warm (for mid-October) so I thought I should do something outside. Also, since it is mid-October, I noticed the leaves are at a perfect place in their changing patterns, and I like to get out and do a fall “photo shoot” every year. So given all these things, I decided to go hiking!

Hiking is something I love to do, but usually I save it for vacation. It never occurs to me to go hiking here in Indiana because, well, it’s Indiana. There are barely hills, let alone mountains. But that is an unfair stereotype, because it turns out Indiana has some great trails that I have been ignoring forever! I did a little research Monday night and found several different cool looking parks. I live in the exact center of the state, so most of the options were in relatively easy driving distance.

The park I chose was about 70 miles away, had good reviews on the Internet, some interesting trails (based on the map), and what looked like some cool opportunities for photography. It’s called Turkey Run for those of you who live in Indiana or eastern Illinois.

I was totally right about the photo ops.

The hike was great. We were out for about 3 1/2 hours and went about four miles, which is (obviously) not very fast. I did a lot of stopping to take photos. But even still, the two trails we hiked are listed as moderate to rugged and there was a lot of stair or small rock climbing along the way. We had a couple of stretches where we went pretty quickly, and although we weren’t necessarily doing it for the purpose of getting in a good cardio workout, it was nice to feel my heart rate get up to where it would have been on an elliptical machine. Only, this was way better than an elliptical machine.

And, who needs a stair stepper when you can use this?

Or this, even:

This particular staircase had several other levels, not pictured.

Hiking was a great experience, and just what I needed. It was a fantastic way to get my body moving, and give it a good challenge, without really noticing that it was doing work. I was just there to have a good time, and the exercise was a plus. The trails we went on went past a bunch of cool things, like a suspension bridge, an abandoned coal mine, some cool cliffs and an awesome old-timey covered bridge. I was so into those sites, plus the huge building-sized trees with their rainbowed leaves and other scenery, that the time went by and I didn’t even notice. In fact I barely noticed that hours had passed or that I was getting tired until probably three-fourths of the way through, and by then we’d probably gone nearly three miles!

In fact, just being outside in general was so refreshing. It is so encouraging in a workout to know there is a destination you are supposed to get to, instead of just a numbered goal on an electronic screen. To be fair, walking or running has the same benefit, but even with those, usually I am in my own neighborhood and even though I do have to make my way back home, it’s not the same. I see my neighborhood every day. There’s no sense of discovery. No excitement and adventure like hiking along a trail, looking out for things you don’t expect to see.


Not to mention hiking is actually a great workout! Sure, it takes a little longer. But by the end of it, I was hurting. In the good way! My right leg, which I lead with to climb, was definitely burning. The left one wasn’t far behind either. And my right quad was still aching when I woke up this morning. But it was so enjoyable that I probably could have kept going if we weren’t going to run out of sunlight. The great thing about it, workout-wise, is that it uses totally different muscles than I am accustomed to using doing my normal workout routines. There’s not a lot of high-stepping onto two or three foot tall rocks (which is pretty freakin’ high when you are only 5’3″) at L.A. Fitness. And there certainly is none in the flat midwestern subdivision where I live. So it was a new challenge, physically, which was what I wanted.

This is me, worn out and sweaty after 4 hours of autumn hiking.

I know exercise is important. I also know that I cannot allow myself to get complacent, because that is a slippery slope (and not the hiking kind). But it’s always nice when I can find new and interesting ways to get my body moving. I hope to do a little more hiking in the next month, before it gets too cold. And after that, I’ll try to think of new new ideas. Maybe I will start going to classes, so at least I’m not just left to my own devices. I’m not sure! But now that I’ve reminded myself that working out doesn’t have to–in fact SHOULDN’T– be tedious I think I will be able to get back in the right zone.

And, by the way, when it comes to fitness activities, I am always up for suggestions!

-lj

ps if you are interested in seeing more of Turkey Run, here are my photos at Flickr (minus the oh-so attractive selfie…).

Resistance Band Workouts

Ever since my horrible experience with the personal trainer, I have been looking into different ways to work on strengthening. Even though the trainer was awful, I like circuit training with the weight machines fine. Still, I thought I would “shop around”. In the past, when I have been in really great shape, it’s been largely due to group fitness. In college, I went to yoga classes four times a week, plus three or four cardio workouts (at different times). Sometimes I would also go to Pilates class, which I really loved. At the second generation of my strong physical fitness, I went to a class that was essentially a cardio core class, that combined strength-training into an aerobic workout. That class made a lot of use of rubber resistance bands. I really loved that class as well.

This time around, when I started out three months ago I was in (probably) the worst shape of my life, as I have written about before. I had to consider realistic possibilities for working out. I practiced yoga as a spiritual exercise as much as a physical one, and while that is important, I am not really in the same place right now–not to mention I seriously doubt the lunchtime yoga class at my big chain gym focuses on cleansing the spirit. As for Pilates, quite frankly I am insecure about my size and ability still and am not sure I am ready to surround myself with 40 girls with the dancer’s physique, which is how I imagine Pilates class will look…even if I also know it isn’t.

So when I was looking for alternative strength training, I asked a friend about it who used to make her living as a personal trainer. (I would have pulled her out of retirement but 200 miles and a serious hip injury make it futile.) Anyway, I asked her what she thought I should do and she suggested resistance bands, which reminded me of the third type of fitness class I really loved. So I did some web-searching, and furniture drawer-searching, and found a pretty thorough list of both new and old exercises to do with resistance bands.

The bands are great because they allow you to use your own muscles as resistance. This obviously objective website points out that with free weights a lot of the resistance is gravity, but with the bands, things are more fluid. You can move them in more directions and do more things with them.

I’ve been using the bands for several weeks now and I still think they are great. After my walk or cardio workout at the gym, I pick several of the exercises below and do three 15 rep sets of them, using as many different poses as will fill up a 43 minute episode of Law and Order on Netflix. Or sometimes I will just do all of the exercises listed below and skip the cardio. I should probably have more of a routine but currently I do whatever fits my mood (and guilt counts as a mood).

Here are the exercises I currently do, using this band:

Go Fit Brand Resistance Band (came in a set of three)
Standing
  1. Bicep curl: stand with middle of band under feet, hold end of band in each hand, curl arms up
  2. Tricep Extensions: put one end of band under left foot, hold other end in right hand, face arm toward ceiling (inner arm next to ear) extend arm up at elbow
  3. Shoulder raise: band under left foot (with ~8 inches out to the side bc i’m short) other end’s handle in left hand, put other foot out in front of you, bend upper body at 45 degree angle, keep back straight. Raise arm straight out until arm/shoulder are in straight line and parallel with floor
  4. Shoulder drop: band under left foot (with ~8 inches out to the side bc i’m short) other end’s handle in left hand, put other foot out in front of you, bend upper body at 45 degree angle, keep back straight. Hold arm out to side, parallel to floor. Lower arm.
  5. Cross-body Twist: one end of band under left foot, other end in right hand, start in semi-crouched position (knees bent) with core facing ~10 o’clock, rise and straighten, bringing arm across the torso and ending up over head.
  6. Standing Row: stand with middle of band under left foot. step right foot back a step. Bend upper body at 45 degree angle with back straight. Hold band w one handle in each hand, pull band up and back in rowing motion, squeezing shoulder blades together
  7. Squat: Two options: 1. Middle of band under feet, handles in hands, hold so hands are near clavicles, shoulder level, with elbows out, then squat. 2. Same start, but start standing with arms at sides, then pull in bicep curl up as squatting down.
  8. Butterfly Press: Hold arms at 90 degree angles at shoulder level, parallel to floor. Hold band at the middle, wrapping excess around wrists until the band is tight, move arms in until they touch, slowly move back to starting position
  9. Front Kick: Stand with feet hip-width apart, foot band around feet; open legs to point of tension. Step on one end of handled tube with left foot; grip other end behind back with both hands, palms up, elbows forward. Bend right knee and raise leg, thigh parallel to floor. Extend right leg slowly as you press arms overhead (as shown). Return to start.
  10. Back Kick: Stand with feet staggered, left foot in front of right, foot band around feet. Place center of handled tube under left foot and grasp handle in each hand, knuckles up. Lift right foot about 6 inches off floor behind you, knee slightly bent, toes down. Lean forward as you extend right leg straight back and curl arms toward chest
  11. Side Leg Lift: Tie resistance band into a circle and place it around both of your ankles before lifting one leg at a time out as far as you can against the band. Use the wall/the back of a chair/some other furniture piece for balance if necessary. 
  12. There should be some lunges listed here but they hurt my bad foot so much I cannot include them! 

Mat

  1. Pelvic Push: Lie flat on back, with band flush against hips, hands at sides holding either end. Keeping hands/band ends pressed into mat at sides, slowly raise hips toward ceiling. Slowly come back down.
  2. Leg Lower: Start with back on mat, legs facing ceiling at 90 degrees to body. Wrap band around feet, criss-cross ends in front, hold handles one in each hand at sides (near hips), slowly lower legs to ground (not quite resting heels on floor) raise back up.
  3. Tricep Push Up: Start in modified (girl-pose) push up position. Wrap band around back, with one end under each hand. Raise body with arms (do a push up), then lower back down.
  4. Chest Press: Lie on back with band under chest, one handle with each arm. Alternating between arms, raise arm up toward ceiling.
  5. Side Leg Lift: Lie on one side, legs one on top of other. Place top foot in band handle (or tie band around foot). Either place the other handle around the bottom foot or place the band under bottom heel (if you are short like me and using the whole band is not enough resistance). Lift leg as far as possible. Lower and repeat.
As I said I really enjoy the resistance band exercises. I’m probably to a point now where I could keep up with an hour of Pilates, but for the most part I enjoy the bands and will keep going with them. In fact, although I did want to give a much needed exercise update, I mostly wrote this entry so I could have an easy to access place for my band routine.
If anyone has any other exercises they like to do with resistance bands (or any other great strength training alternatives!) I’d love to hear them!

Exercise Philosophy

It’s been a while since I posted! I have been really busy with work. Also, to be honest I hit a sort of rut for a couple of weeks. A lot of it has honestly been that eating healthy can be such a time commitment, whereas eating still-sort-of-healthy but not up to my goals is a lot easier. But this week I’ve been working on getting back on the right track.

One thing I did do right is join a gym, and that’s what I want to talk about. It’s been mostly great so far! I’m still walking outside a couple of times a week because I like to be in the sun. But a few times a week, 2 or 3, I’ve been going to the gym to do cardio. I generally do 35 minutes on the elliptical and anywhere from 10 to 25 on the recumbent bike. I like the sense of accomplishment I get from going to the gym, even though sometimes the walk seems like just as intense a workout.

I’ve been avoiding any kind of strength training so far, though. I haven’t really felt good enough in my body to do it, so I was planning on continuing with cardio and nutrition until I lost a little more weight, and then I would work in weight training, Pilates and yoga.

However, I joined LA Fitness, a national chain, and they offer a free workout with a personal trainer for new members (standard practice for big gyms). I thought it wouldn’t hurt to see what a trainer would have to say about what would be good for me and what kind of things I should focus on.  So, I went. And unfortunately it was a really terrible experience.

My trainer asked me first thing when I got there, if I was interested in pursuing a personal training program full time. I told him, honestly it would depend on pricing. I am a poor little freelance writer and don’t have a lot of extra cash to burn. Well, immediately I could see that the direction of my training session was going to take a brand new course.

Granted, there were some things that were my fault. I didn’t eat enough beforehand, having only had juice and some fruit all day. I also forgot my water bottle but there were plenty of drinking fountains in the room, so I thought it would be fine.

I went to personal training hoping to get a good idea of what would be useful for me personally. What are good exercises someone with my level of fitness and my size. He was not interested in helping me with any of that. I tried to tell him how much I have accomplished so far on my own but he interrupted me and changed the subject. Instead of helping me as an individual, he took me through the training session of someone who already uses a personal trainer. At every machine the weight was one step higher than it should have been, so I could barely complete the last half of each segment. And, he was going so fast, I didn’t have a chance to note which machines we were using (I know most of them, but some were new to me) and more importantly I didn’t get a chance to see what weight I was using. On top of that, he took a very militaristic approach, yelling at me and calling me a quitter when my muscles would give out. This was yesterday. By last night I was too sore to move much and for most of today I couldn’t get out of bed. I am typing like a tyrannosaurus rex with just my wrists and fingers because I have very limited movement in my arms.

Now, this is extreme. He was horrible and instead of making me feel great about the future of my fitness journey and feeling confident in all I’ve accomplished already, he made me just feel weak. To be honest with you, I was practically in tears by the time I left the gym. Although that might have been partially due to low blood sugar.

Now I’ve had a little time to process everything that happened. More than one loved one suggested I complain to the gym’s management about how many ways that trainer upset me. But, I’m not really interested in that, since I have to keep going to this gym and potentially seeing him.

What I am interested in, is figuring out what can be learned from this experience. The first thing is that, even though he was an unfriendly stranger who was not interested in providing guidance, he accidentally was useful in one way. He was a reminder that I do have a long way to go. Not knowing me, not knowing how much I’ve accomplished already, I probably looked like a lost cause to him, just there because it was free and that was that. I certainly don’t want people making assumptions about me (especially negative ones) but it’s not so incorrect. For all that I’ve done already, I’m really only just starting. I’ve made it maybe 10% of the way so far. That’s not enough.

The other thing it made me think about was how I want to proceed with working out. I don’t want to be a body builder, but I do understand cardio isn’t always going to be enough. Maybe it would be enough for weight loss, but I want total wellness. Things like strength and balance are as much a part of that as everything else I’ve been doing. The trainer said if you aren’t pushing yourself every time you work out, there’s no point. I can’t decide if I buy into that philosophy. Certainly it’s not productive to have 24 hours of injury for every 45 minutes of weight train. But at the same time it was kind of a wake up call that maybe it’s time to rise up to a next level.  I haven’t totally decided what the next level is but I will work it out.

-lj

Exercise: The Other Half of This Thing

So, something I’ve noticed about the topic of the best way to lose weight: everybody has an opinion. Cut out fat, cut out sugar, cut out carbs, avoid cheese, count calories, join a program and on and on. And in my experience you can find expert evidence to support all of those ideas. The one thing most people agree on though, is that exercise is important.

But even that gets variations: walking is good enough, walking is not enough, or it is enough if you are moving fast enough. Running is better. Running isn’t really that great. Classes are more effective. Just do a 10 minute video at home–they really work! And again, I’m sure if not expert research there is at least plenty of anecdotal evidence to support them all.

This week I was all set to join a gym. Excuse me, not a gym, a health club. It’s an expense I really shouldn’t splurge on, financially speaking, but it’s something that is important enough to me I can figure it out. This place looks great. It’s the closest gym to my house, and it’s big, with plenty of equipment, classes, a nice pool and even a juice bar. If you recall, I really love my liquids.

But then, in a ridiculous and embarrassing misstep, I sprained my wrist while trying to maneuver a large suitcase. I figured the cross-trainers and ellipticals I wanted to use would not be the best thing for it, so instead I put off the gym a week and I’ve been walking.

Walking is how I’ve been exercising for several months now, but I think with my new detoxified energy, I’m moving faster so it feels like more of a workout. I’ve been walking an hour a day, and by the end, I can feel it. Even though I am excited to join a gym when my wrist is healed, exercising outdoors has a certain appeal to it. Time of year in particular, everything looks and feels beautiful.

So, I mentioned to a small group of friends that I was enjoying this, and some day wouldn’t mind learning how to run. I say learning how because it is not an intuitive movement for me. I still have post traumatic flashbacks to the required 9th grade mile run. Except my mile run looked more like desperate flailing played back in slow motion than actual running. I just have never mastered how to do it.

But before that point, I’m not sure my body could even handle running right now, which is what I told my friends who were encouraging me. For reference, one of these friends is a doctor about to start a fellowship in sports medicine, one is a marathon runner and one is a non-runner, but instead does all the fun workouts like the ballet barre and reformer Pilates.

They all encouraged me to keep up with the walking and see what happens from there. The doctor’s words were, “Walking counts!” She said it so forcefully like people don’t believe her but she knows it’s true. Then later, basically, my body will get so accustomed to being able to move free form via walking, gradually working in a one or two minute jog will feel easy. Eventually. And then I can keep evolving from there.

On the other hand, the non-runner friend said someone she knows has lost nearly 100 pounds just from walking. He has essentially given up his car altogether and walks absolutely everywhere. Any errands he needs to run, he walks. Pun intended. I’m sort of skeptical of that, because she said he didn’t even change his eating habits, but I do like the concept.

The point is that movement is important.

I’m still pretty excited to join a gym. But I found the story of the man who walks uplifting, and I like the idea of walking until one day running is just the next natural step. Pun still intended. It’s like, if you’ve ever seen at the movie the Usual Suspects, at the end a character transforms his gait and becomes an entirely different person. I don’t have any interest in organized crime and being an Eastern-European mob boss, but the idea transcends.

I’ve spent the last two or three weeks, and all of this blog, focusing just on changing my food habits. But that’s not the only habit that needs adjusting. I’m excited to see how much farther and faster I can go on foot, and to see how much more motivated I get once I’m in a gym and surrounded by equally motivated people.

So no more ignoring the exercise part of the plan.

-lj