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.
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:
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.
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!
ps if you are interested in seeing more of Turkey Run, here are my photos at Flickr (minus the oh-so attractive selfie…).
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:
- Bicep curl: stand with middle of band under feet, hold end of band in each hand, curl arms up
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- There should be some lunges listed here but they hurt my bad foot so much I cannot include them!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Chest Press: Lie on back with band under chest, one handle with each arm. Alternating between arms, raise arm up toward ceiling.
- 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.