Monthly Archives: May 2014

Take a Hike!

Sky

Lately I’ve been feeling more than a little stir-crazy in the gym and I’m sure it has everything to do with the brilliantly-sunny weather we’ve been having in my neck of the woods. If you are from a part of the world where sunshine is a scarce resource at certain times of the year (upstate New York, anyone?), you probably understand how sacrilegious it feels to go INSIDE when Mother Nature has bestowed the gift of a sunny day upon you.

While my first instinct is to grab my Kindle and park myself on a lawn chair from sunup to sundown, I must resist this urge in order to avoid skin cancer and a relapse of the un-fit-itis I was experiencing last summer. It is only natural, when the weather becomes hot enough that you break a sweat simply from the effort of finding your flip-flops wherever you last flung them, to reach for an ice cream cone instead of a dumbbell, but we must remember to balance our summer fun with some summer exercise. The good news is that we can often COMBINE our summer fun with exercise.

We don’t have to feel sorry for ourselves, isolated in a near-empty gym, watching the dust gather on the Nautilus machines as we steadily pedal the elliptical while our friends are lounging on the beach. Over the long Memorial Day weekend, I made the conscious decision to NOT go to the gym and, instead, I sought other forms of physical activity. Not only did I avoid wallowing in self-pity while my friends were off having a good time, but when I finally did return to the gym on Tuesday, I was refreshed and ready to get back to my routine.

PoppysOn Saturday, instead of driving twenty-five minutes to the gym and doing an hour-long legs workout inside, Don and I took Jack for a wander around town and then went exploring on our bikes. We biked approximately twenty miles (ending at a beer garden for dinner, of course) and saw a lot of beautiful scenery along the way. My legs (and bottom) were quite tired at the end of the evening, so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by skipping the gym. In fact, I probably came out ahead- along with my workout, I got a tan, fresh air, and some social time with Don. Mega bonus!

 

Weltenberg

Sunday featured an early morning horseback ride and then a day trip to the nearby  Weltenberg Klosterbrauerei (it is the oldest cloister brewery in the world, established in 1050, and influenced the strict German Beer Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot). Weltenberg sits on the Danube river and there are miles and miles of hiking and biking trails around it. We spent the morning hiking, had lunch in the beer garden (recurrent theme here!) and did more hiking after lunch. According to my FitBit, I walked up the equivalent of 104 flights of stairs which is an impressive accomplishment and was totally worth it for the view of the monastery from across the river.

 

When Monday rolled around, I spent most of the day lamenting the fact that even long weekends are far too short. Since Saturday and Sunday were so busy, we hadn’t made any plans for the final day of our weekend. I had yet another early morning ride with my four-footed friend, did some gardening and yard work, and we took Jack for a long walk since his walk on the day prior had been shortened by our levels of exhaustion after spending the day hiking. Something I noticed as the weekend progressed was that, while I was doing at least as much (if not more) than I would have been doing in the gym, I never once looked at my watch and wondered if it was time to stop yet. When at the gym, especially when doing cardio, I’m constantly checking to see if I’ve done ‘enough’, but this weekend the time flew by and I was disappointed when the hiking and biking had to come to an end.

Jack, "gardening."
Jack, “gardening.”

When I made the decision to avoid the gym over the weekend, I was worried it would result in a lazy, not-changing-out-of-my-pajamas-so-you’d-better-get-some-Indian-takeout-for-dinner, fused to the couch weekend. I had reservations about my will power; I wanted to let myself off the hook and break up my slightly stale gym routine, but I didn’t want to sabotage myself by sitting around all weekend. This was definitely a test of my commitment to fitness; if it had gone poorly and I had sat around like a bump on a log, only getting up to grab another handful of Cheetos from the cupboard, then I would have had to relegate myself to the confines of the gym for the summer (a benefit of not living close to the gym- once I’ve spent the gas money getting there, I feel obligated to make my workout count!), but, since I managed to do more than I probably would have in a normal workout and had an excellent time doing so, I think I can let myself find alternatives on the weekends when I feel like it. The key to anything, really, is balance. If we let ourselves get stuck in a rut by doing the same routines again and again, then we are more likely to abandon our fitness regime altogether. By balancing out my gym-time with some outside time, I welcomed my return to the gym on Tuesday as a chance to give my tired feet and legs a rest and was ready to get back to the dumbbells. Even if you are not yet bored with your routine, I recommend mixing it up a little- take a hike, go for a swim, maybe give surfing a try? The possibilities, really, are endless and summer is only around for a little while.

Green

 

Too much of a good thing?

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I’d like to think the Veldensteiner brewery made this billboard advertisement to remind me that, now beer fest season is underway in Bavaria, moderation is key. Too much of a good thing can tip the scales (or your boat) in the wrong direction; I must remember this when I reach for my third liter of beer. Prost!

Progress Report

I realize that I am long overdue for some sort of update on my progress. I am not a person who likes to be photographed. I am not the friend on your Facebook newsfeed who posts endless selfies day after day, no, I am the friend who clogs your newsfeed with photos of her pets (pets that don’t change their looks and are doing pretty much the same thing in every single photo), photos of her food (bet you’re super jealous of the banana bread recipe I got from SmittenKitchen…), and photos of nature (because I’m certain that you have NEVER seen a sunrise as magnificent as MY sunrise) please don’t un-friend me!

While I realize that getting fit and being healthier is only partly related to my outward appearance, I also realize that a). at least a small bit of the reason most people embark on a journey toward better health has to do with aesthetics, and, b). seeing is believing. Today, I am going to share with you some updates on my personal progress, photos included, so you can see and believe in the wonders of the LiveFit program (I know I sound like I’m recruiting members for a cult, but I’m not- this program is totally free and the only thing you’ll have to do when the Apocalypse happens is outrun it, and you’ll be fit enough to do so! So c’mon, drink the kool-aid!).

Recently, a friend of mine was retelling to me something that happened to her while out to dinner with some of her husband’s work colleagues. Over the last several months, this friend of mine went on a fitness kick and worked her butt off at the gym (literally) and is in such great shape that when I first ran into her after not seeing her for a while, it took me a few minutes to recognize her. When she was at dinner, one of the colleagues, assuming my friend had gone on this kick because she was into “the health craze,” started to discuss the no-dairy, no-sugar, no-fun diet he is on and this new type of workout he was trying, when my friend interrupted him and said “I didn’t do this because I’m into fitness, I did it so I’ll look good; my motives were totally superficial.” We all have our reasons for wanting to get in better shape, and I applaud my friend for her frankness. Sometimes it seems almost shameful to admit that we work out for aesthetic improvement, but it shouldn’t be; any reason to exercise and eat right is a good reason. I can attribute 100% of my motivation to start the LiveFit program in August to being unhappy with how I looked, and, even now, 50% of my motivation to continue to go to the gym is aesthetic, the other 50% is how wonderful I feel when I eat right and exercise regularly.

Progress can be measured in many different ways, we know this, so I will be sharing more than just my ‘how do I look in this pic?’ progress with you. Unfortunately, but understandably, I couldn’t find any photos from when I was at my heaviest that contain my whole body- I guess I did a great job of avoiding the camera! Had I known that I would stick with the program I might have taken a few ‘before’ pictures for comparison, but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20; not to worry, you can see the difference in just my face.

November of 2012. I looked and felt bloated and doughy.
November of 2012. I looked and felt bloated and doughy.
February 2014. Aaahh, back to normal! Good bye, double chin.
February 2014. Aaahh, back to normal! Good bye, double chin.

You can see the difference, right? The really sad thing is that the first photo would be a good one if I didn’t look like I’d been inflated with helium and was about to float away. C’est la vie. I can’t accurately say how much weight I lost because I’ve shed fat and gained muscle, so its not an even trade, but I’ve lost at the very least 20 lbs. My clothes fit again and I feel more like myself.

A better measure of my progress is the improvements I’ve made in my workouts. When I first started the LiveFit program, it was a struggle to bench press or squat with just the empty barbell. Now, I can bench press the barbell plus 20 lbs added to it and I can squat with an added thirty-five pounds. It might not seem like a big difference, but it really is; my theory on increasing my workload is that I should be able to get through one and a half sets without a struggle, the second half of the second set should be a little work and the third (and sometimes fourth) set should be tough to accomplish. If I don’t feel a little sore the next day in whichever muscles the workout targeted, then I know I need to step it up a little. I think this is a good modus operandi for the non-fitness freak; I know that my workouts are effective because I can feel it the day after, but I’m not in danger of injuring myself because I’m not pushing too hard too quickly. I’m lifting more weight in all of my exercises, but the barbell is the most notable because it is a deceptive piece of equipment; it looks much lighter than it actually is, and, unlike dumbbells which all look the same, so, unless someone is close enough to read the weight etched on the end, nobody knows how weak/strong you are, you feel kind of lame using just the barbell because it feels like everybody is judging your weakness (even though, in reality, nobody gives a damn what you are doing, they’re too focused on their own stuff).

Another place I see a lot of progress is in my cardio workouts, specifically my nemesis, running. I’m stronger all around in my cardio; my lungs don’t feel like they’ve shrunken to the size of water balloons as soon as I pick up the pace and I have more endurance. At the middle of last summer, it was a struggle to run on a treadmill for fifteen full minutes at the fairly slow pace of 5 mph. If I made it to fifteen (or on the more rare occasion twenty) minutes, I gave myself a big pat on the back. Now, I measure my runs in distance and not simply time spent on the treadmill and if I push myself, I can do a ten-minute mile. I have on a few occasions run three miles in thirty minutes and the other day I ran four in fifty. These are not race winning times or distances, but they are a HUGE improvement over struggling to stay at a pace above walking speed for fifteen minutes, and, while I still get a bright red tomato-face when I run, it is after MILE two instead of MINUTE two.

Some other notable accomplishments include the ability to do real push-ups (I can do about 50 before I really want to cry) and real sit-ups (I did 75 the other day and could sneeze without wincing in pain the day after).

Am I on the short-list for the next Olympic weightlifting team?

No.

Has Sports Illustrated contacted me to be in their next swimsuit issue?

Uh, no.

Is running a marathon in my near future?

Definitely, without a doubt, no.

Even so, things are looking pretty good for me. I feel great, I sleep like the dead and wake up energized, I look pretty fantastic if I do say so myself, and I am so far from the do-I-give-all-my-clothes-to-Goodwill-and-buy-a-new-wardrode-two-sizes-larger or do-I-go-on-a-starvation-diet-of-lettuce-and-water dilemma I was in about a year ago that it all seems like a horrible nightmare. If you have been toying with the idea of getting into a fitness routine but aren’t sure how to start or if you have been toying with the idea of starting the LiveFit program (which, incidentally, is the BEST place to start if you don’t know how) but need an extra kick in the pants to get motivated, consider this your kick. Get to it!

Cheers to Jamie Eason!
Cheers to Jamie Eason!

 

Itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, yellow polka dot bikini….

As we moved father away from January 1st, I had been noticing a drop-off in gym traffic and was feeling disappointed for everyone who started the year out ready to tackle their fitness goals only to lose momentum and get waylaid by everyday things. But lately I have been happy to note an uptick in gym attendance and see unfamiliar faces furtively sneaking glances at other exercisers (I know what you’re doing, you furtive glancers, you! You’re trying to figure out how the machine works! There is no shame in not knowing how a metal contraption that looks as if it could have been used to torture Theon Greyjoy works- just march up there and read the directions or ask for help) as they navigate the gym for maybe the first time or maybe just the first time in a long time.

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It is that time of year again. The time when we strip off our bulky winter coats, our heavy sweaters, layers of scarves, and leggings and look down at our bodies and think “oops! I thought all that was just the 700 fill goosedown in my puffy vest!?” Yes, folks, this is the prelude to swimsuit season. This is the time when we realize that extra bowl of warm, comforting mac and cheese took up residence on our left hip, the delicious holiday gingerbread on our right hip, the King Cake that we found the recipe for on Pinterest and made to celebrate Mardi Gras is playing a permanent game of ring-around-the-rosie on our midriff, the St. Patty’s day green beer cheerfully waves from beneath your tricep every time you reach for something, those Valentine’s chocolates are clinging to your thighs… and the season of near-nudity cometh.

There is a certain desperation in the eyes of the person struggling to get in shape for swimsuit season, a desperation that I totally understand. It’s not like trying to get fit for your health or even fit for a wedding- you can always find everyday clothes that hide your weak spots and highlight your strengths and wedding dresses are big and poofy making every bride look like Cinderella, but there is no such thing as a flattering swimsuit. And if you are about to tell me that “some suits have lower-cut leg holes and they kinda hide your thighs” or “a tankini covers your mid-section without giving you a permanent wedgie like a one-piece” or “some suits have a skirt-thingy at the bottom and it covers YOUR bottom” just stop and save your breath. There is nothing that a thin layer of spandex-swimsuit material can do to cover anything even if it is fashioned into a skirt-thingy. The only way you can go swimming and hide your body is if you wear a wetsuit….under a sweater.

Swimsuit shape is not just about slimming down, it is about total and complete control over every part of your body that wobbles- arms, legs, butt, belly and, for some of us, boobs- and I say, forget about it! Nobody looks perfect in a bathing suit, not even bathing suit models (that’s why air brushing was invented) and, honestly, our ideals of swimsuit fitness are a little, well, unhuman (that’s why we have lately seen some embarrassing photo edits circulating on the web.). My favorite bathing suit (and the one my husband detests) looks like a neon orange/pink/yellow/and blue version of something the Hippo in the original Fantasia would have worn (with a top of course), and last year, I actually kind of resembled a hippo when I wore it, but wear it I did. I wore it sunbathing in my backyard, I wore it to the thermal baths in Budapest, I wore it to the lake, I wore it to the public pool,  I even once wore it to dinner under a dress and nobody ever gave me a second look, nobody told me to cover up because I was assaulting their eyes with my hippo-esque physique and nobody arrested me for public indecency.

At all shapes and sizes, even at my slimmest, I have never felt completely at ease in a swimsuit. There is always a certain amount of fidgeting (usually with a leg hole that’s riding up your bum) and you can’t help but feel exposed when wearing a thin piece of fabric that barely covers your unmentionables. Its not that the suit itself is really all that uncomfortable, really, it’s that wearing a swimsuit is sort of a sign that you are ok with your body and, in wearing it, you open yourself up to judgement. I’d like to encourage us all to relax a little about Swimsuit Season; it is possible to simultaneously be ok with your body and also see room for improvement. The goal of fitness should be to feel great in general, feel great about how you look, and be healthier; the goal is not to be so terrorized by a spandex garment that you miss out on a fun beach adventure because you failed to drop the ten extra pounds.

The only advantage to being guilted into going to the gym by swimsuit phobia is that perhaps this pre-summer fitness mania will lay the groundwork for a consistent and healthy workout routine that can be continued. If you have started to kick it up a notch in honor of the summer,  you might as well stick with it the rest of the year, right? For sure. So, if you are running your little legs into the ground trying to make a beach vacation deadline, its time to cut yourself some slack; instead, try making a workout routine that you can incorporate into your lifestyle and work toward your goals in a way that won’t make you burn out and never want to see an elliptical again. Chances are, if you stick with it, next year you’ll be super psyched for swimsuit season.