My Granny once told me that variety is the spice of life, and, although at that point she was referring to my dating life, I think her advice applies to all aspects of life, especially fitness. Having some variety insures that things don’t get stale and we remain interested in fitness and it also means that we are more likely to work our entire bodies so that we have better overall fitness and achieve our goals faster. Good advice, Gran, thanks!
Lately, as you may have noticed, I’ve been doing an absurdly disgusting amount of running which means I’ve been a little lax in doing other forms of fitness. This is partly because I have other things to do during the day besides hang out at the gym, partly because I feel that if I’m torturing myself by running distances of greater than a mile at a frequency of more than twice a month I should get to have a little bit of a break from everything else, and partly because I’m worried about the risk of doing a serious leg session (squats, extensions, curls, raises, presses…) the day after or before a run day or on any day when my legs feel a little sore from running. When I’m running three days a week, it’s hard to find a day that doesn’t fall into any of those categories.
I’ve been trying to make sure I don’t let my upper body strength fall by the wayside in the midst of all this running and also to make sure I’m maintaining flexibility, which I know with every fiber of my being will help ward off running injuries and make me a better runner overall. In addition to the normal weightlifting, using a Neila Rey prescribed workout when I can’t make it to the gym, and keeping loose with Adriene’s yoga, I’ve also been mixing things up with a new circuit training/TABATA class at the gym. I was heartbroken when the spinning class I enjoyed so much got bumped to 7:00pm this winter and then was cancelled entirely, but this circuit training class makes up for it a little bit.
This class is a full body workout and usually consists of nine different stations that are done for three rounds of fifty seconds each (with a little rest in between each round NOT (as I had hoped on day one) between each station), and then a final speed round of thirty seconds for each station. The total time for the entire class (with breaks and instruction time) is slightly less than one hour, and I’m pretty tired and very sweaty when its over. These are the BEST workouts in the shortest amount of time and could easily be tailored to be done just about anywhere with no equipment other than your smokin’ hot body. I really love these classes and am grateful when my schedule allows me to attend one, and I highly recommend checking to see if your gym offers them. They are the ultimate quick and dirty- don’t let the 50 seconds for each station lure you into underestimating these workouts, you’ll work hard but you’ll also be finished with your exercise and resuming your regularly scheduled programming in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Game of Thrones.
An update of this week’s running: We are two weeks away from my March 28th deadline! I managed to stay hydrated and feeling fine all week, and Don joined me for a long 6 miles yesterday morning. We had a pretty good pace (6 miles in 63 minutes), and I enjoyed having Don’s company but was kind of annoyed that he was always a little ahead of me and still seemed fresh at the end of the run when he had been out late with his friends the night before and was a little hungover, and I had gone to bed early and drank nothing but water and tea all week. Some guys have all the luck!
I’m not being pessimistic here, I’m being realistic. During this long season of festivity*, it’s a difficult enough task to not get sucked into the black hole of holiday goodies, and to think that we can try to avoid the goodies enough to actually lose weight is crazy-talk. My goal this year, and I’ve been told by my friends at the Wellness Center that it is a good goal, is to simply maintain.
This is a challenge that is compounded by the easy availability of all things deliciously associated with this time of year and by the generosity of my co-workers making and bringing sugary goodies to work and plunking them down on the communal table which is inconveniently located NEXT TO MY DESK (although, upon opening a box of chocolates for investigation, I discovered that they were shaped like bunnies and eggs. When questioned, the coworker who brought them confessed that they had been kicking around her house since Easter (she evaded my question of WHICH Easter) and they became immediately easier to resist). The challenge is not to turn down all treats, but to have enough presence of mind to eat only the ones you truly enjoy, and only in quantities you aren’t embarrassed to log into your MyFitnessPal account.
‘Tis the season to celebrate, and if you are going for total abstinence where the holiday cocktails and cookies are concerned, not only will you miss out on some really tasty things that maybe aren’t available year-round, but you will also probably not be invited to many holiday outings next year; when the goal is to eat drink and be merry, having a teetotaler around is kind of a downer. Save that stuff for the New Year, but do what you can to avoid blowing up like Violet Beauregarde a la “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
To get me to the other side of Christmas without packing on the pounds, I’ve been employing a few key strategies. The most important of these strategies is that I’m still making my workouts a top priority. Even if I can’t make it to the gym, I’m setting dates in my living room with Neila Rey, I’m trying to walk instead of drive whenever possible, and I’m setting my alarm so that, on days when I have time for the gym, I’m not tempted to sleep through my workout.
Another key to making sure I’m staying healthy through the holidays is eating a good breakfast. Sure I’d save myself twenty minutes by grabbing a pastry and coffee-to-go at the bakery on the corner, but my oatmeal with banana helps ease me into the day and makes sure I’m staying fuller longer than the pastry could and for half the calories. I’m also saving the treats for truly special occasions. While I could happily sip glühwein all by my lonesome as I work on chores around the house, I save it for when I’m out with friends. The same goes for my meals; when out with friends to celebrate the season, I’ll indulge, but for the quick lunch I grab at my desk or for a normal weeknight dinner with Don, I’m making healthy, veggie-laden meals.
I will not be fifteen, ten or even five pounds lighter on January second than I was at the start of the holiday season, but I’m confident that I also will not be five pounds heavier. Do yourself a favor and let yourself off the hook a little bit over the holidays; it is the time to indulge and celebrate the spirit of the moment. Stick with your workout routine as much as you can (and if you don’t yet have a workout routine, maybe you should try adopting one now instead of waiting until 1 January so it will be that much easier to kickstart your resolutions), eat a good breakfast, keep the treats as treats- don’t make them an all-day-every-day affair, and remember you are not obligated to eat a piece of fudge that somebody brought to the office unless you really, truly want to eat a piece of fudge.
*This long season of festivity extends from 31 October (or whatever the date is when you buy and begin to “sample” the candy for trick-or-treaters) to when the last of the leftovers are eaten sometime at the beginning of January. It is, as they say, not a sprint, but rather a marathon.
A couple of weeks ago (halfway into the Boot Camp), my friend from work dislocated her ankle (OUCH! Watch out for those high heels, gals!) and I was asked to work full-time while she recovered. Since there are only three of us who work in the library, it came down to either making a selfish decision for my own benefit (saying “no” and maintaining all of my glorious free time), or making a decision that would benefit the libraries as a whole, my other coworker and myself. I generally prefer to make choices that are for the greater good, so I traded in my Boot Camp, Spin classes, and Monday morning ride for the chance to make a little more money and the sanity of my friends at the library.
I wasn’t happy about it, and I tried to think of ways that I could have my cake and eat it too (If I go to just half the Boot Camp class I won’t have time to shower but I could wear a hat all day and maybe nobody would notice…yeah right), but there just wasn’t a good way to do it. I am fortunate, however, that the Boot Camp class has a Facebook group and the daily workouts have regularly been posted there. Since I have limited time in the mornings to get to the gym before work and after my dog walk, and these workouts are designed for a one-hour timeframe, they have been just the ticket for getting in a productive sweat session in a teeny-tiny amount of time.
These workouts are pretty tough! Actively doing one is a special sort of misery- the sort where your heart rate skyrockets and sweat drips into your eyes- but when I’ve completed one, I feel pretty bad-ass. Doing them on my own, obviously, isn’t the same as doing them in class; I miss the pleasant camaraderie of commiserating with the other gals as we wonder if we will make it through the hour, but I still enjoy the workouts despite my solitary suffering.
Even finishing just half of the Boot Camp, I learned a few things. The most important thing that I’m taking away from the class is that a ‘good’ workout doesn’t have to take all day. Often, whenever I was short on time, I’d let myself off the hook and do something easy like pedal the elliptical for half an hour thinking that with limited time at the gym, there was no way I could do anything productive. But really, it doesn’t have to take take three hours or even two to have a fulfilling workout. In fact, it doesn’t even have to take a full hour; once, last week, I got through one circuit of a two-circuit workout and realized that I was out of time, and, even though I technically only did half of a workout, I still was tired, sweaty and out of breath- my muscles had no idea they hadn’t done a full workout!
What is important to remember about exercise is that some is better than none (unless you are injured, then sit down, for crying out loud!), and an hour of hard core circuit training will give you WAY more bang for your buck than an hour of walking on the treadmill. My new philosophy on these days when I have less than 100 minutes to stretch, exercise and shower is: go big, or go home. There really isn’t a good excuse for not having the time to work out; in about one hour (and I know I probably spend at least an hour each day on Pinterest and Facebook), it is completely possible to get the heart pumping, the lungs puffing, and the sweat flowing. Coincidentally, many of the Neila Rey workouts take about an hour to accomplish if you set your sights on level three, so, go on and take them for a test drive… you know you wanna!
I spent most of last night awake while my stomach grappled with the decision whether or not to sacrifice my dinner to the Porcelain Gods, and around 4:00 this morning I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to carry out my plans for the perfect Sunday- an early morning ride followed by some time at the gym and maybe a post-workout brunch with friends. Sabotaged by a sneaky stomach bug and unable to do any physical activities beyond making the five-minute walk to and from the bakery for fresh bread, I have used my confinement to the couch to do a little exercise research.
As February begins, many of us find ourselves one month into our New Year’s Resolutions (If this is you, congrats! If you fell behind, now is your chance for a fresh start!), and we may be struggling to find some variety in our workouts to keep us interested and motivated. I have been using the workout selection feature of the Bodybuilding.com Body Space iPhone app, and while some of the workouts have been a bust, most of them have been challenging yet accomplishable. Even so, I have been keeping my eyes open for other sources of inspiration to avoid (as the old adage says) putting all of my eggs in one basket.
I came across a book at work by Jan Endacott called ‘Weight Work for Women.’ And while I was initially a little put-off by the title (it seemed to suggest that maybe women can’t perform the same weight work that men can and that things need to be modified for us, nothing gets my pseudo-feminist hackles up more than suggesting that women are inferior), I pulled it from our shelves to add to the library’s January fitness display and promptly forgot about the book until I was switching displays on Friday. As I walked the book back to its rightful place in the non-fiction section, I paged through it and was impressed with the information inside. I think, since the guidelines and explanations within the book are useful for anyone who is just starting a workout regime, a better title would be ‘Weight Work for Those Who are Unfamiliar with Weight Work,’ but that is neither here nor there.
The introduction includes a good, brief overview of the benefits weight lifting provides, like improved bone density, increase in metabolism corresponding with an increase in lean muscle, etc., and it also has simple graphics that show where the muscles you will be working on are located on your body. This is quite helpful because how will you know if you are doing the ‘Triceps Toner’ correctly if you aren’t sure where, exactly, on your body you are supposed to be feeling the burn?
The book proceeds in a logical order; as you are introduced to the book, you learn why working with weights is important to your health, some basic anatomy, how to analyze your fitness before beginning a program, and how to select appropriate exercise equipment. Next, you learn how to stretch specific muscles before and after you exercise, which is important to avoid injury and unnecessary stiffness (always stretch when you a finished with a workout!!!!!), and then you learn how to do a series of exercises (broken into categories based on what region of the body they focus on) before you are given some workout templates combining the various exercises.
What I like most about the book it that it provides a lot of variety in workouts with minimal equipment. For many of the exercises, you need only your body, and for the others you need simply an exercise ball and/or a pair of dumbbells. This makes ‘Weight Work for Women’ the perfect resource for someone who might feel self-conscious about trying these things in a busy gym with what feels like the entire Fitness Freak Nation looking on, or for someone who’s day got away from him and is stuck trying to squeeze whatever exercise he can into the one hour of free time he has while dinner is baking in the oven.
Another FANTASTIC resource for no-excuses-because-you-can-do-this-at-home-in-your-undies workouts was passed along to me by Don. I’m not sure how he stumbled across NeilaRey.com, but I’m sure glad he did. This website, like many fitness websites, features information on nutrition, recipes, workout programs and fitness challenges, and motivational tips for everyone from the beginner looking to dip a toe in the water to the seasoned athlete looking to stay motivated. What is unique about this site is the uncluttered, fresh layout and the easy-to-view info graphics.
When visiting many fitness sites, I am distracted by all of the ‘stuff’ going on. Why all the photos of people with veins bulging on top of their bulging muscles? Why all of the ads for protein powder? Where is the stuff I actually came here to read???? I don’t have a lot of patience for sites that are too busy; I find them distracting and hard to navigate, and, often, I tire of having to weed through all of the crap to find the information I’m seeking and I give up (this is my main complaint with the BodySpace app, too much stuff going on in one tiny space guys. How about the social media part of it be under its own optional tab? I have friends already, I’m looking to you for fitness help!). Neila Rey’s site is a minimalist’s dream come true.
The color scheme is simple, and the graphics are easy to understand and feature a nondescript cartoon man who demonstrates the exercises instead of a bodybuilder with abs on his abs who makes you feel inadequate. The site is easy to navigate, and Neila’s programs (with accompanying menus), like the 90 Days of Action, can be viewed in your browser, downloaded into PDF format or saved to your Google Drive. The only way Neila Rey could make it easier for you to exercise would be for her to come to your house and do it for you.
If you aren’t ready to commit to a program (and if you are, Neila Rey and Jamie Eason are your gals), the site features a multitude of daily workouts to do. Not only are they things you can do outside of a gym, but the workouts feature clever titles like ‘You Had Me at Bacon’ or “the Hunger Games Workout’. There is even one appropriately named the TV Workout that is designed to be done during commercial breaks without leaving your couch! Let me say that again: a workout that you do while sitting on the couch during commercial breaks. Like I said, it could only be easier if Neila came over to do a live demo.
Each workout is explained in a simplistic info graphic and at the bottom of the graphic, Neila tells how many sets of the workout to do based on the level you are aiming for. In her Workout Manual, Neila ranks the levels as 1 being normal, 2 being hard, and 3 being freaking murder. If you are new to this, it’s probably best to start with normal or hard and work your way up to murder. Be sure to head over to the site and check out all of the great tools offered (for FREE, I might add). My advice is to start with the Motivation Tips and the Nutrition tips before you go on over to the workouts; I think Neila has some good advice that is easier for the average schmo (like me) to follow than is found on other fitness sites that often set the bar higher than the normal person wants to go.
Reading the ‘Practical Guide to Healthy Eating‘ reminds me that it is resolution check-in time! One month in, and I am holding true to my goals of eating healthier (except for today, a stomach bug leads to a carb-fest of buttered toast). Breakfast still needs some improving, it is usually a bowl of cereal and tea so I need to add protein, Lunch is healthy, a big salad and some sort of carb to rebound after my workout, and Dinner features lots of veggies, some protein and very few (if any) extra carbs. I have been eating fewer sweets and cheese (sometimes I go an entire day without eating either, if you can believe it). Now that I have drastically cut back on sugar, things, in general, taste sweeter; earlier this week, Don was making himself a PB&J for the next day’s lunch, and I stuck my finger into the peanut butter jar for a quick taste (we have separate peanut butter jars- he prefers crunchy and I prefer creamy) and was shocked by how sweet it was! Don tried to tell me that I was imagining things, but when we did a comparison of the nutrition labels of our peanut butters, we discovered that his has 3 grams of sugar per serving while mine only has 2. Now that I have stopped dulling my tastebuds with a steady influx of sugar, they are more sensitive to the sweet stuff. Go figure. I hope everyone else is having success with their resolutions, and if things aren’t going exactly as planned, pick up a copy of ‘Weight Work for Those Who are Unfamiliar with Weight Work Women’ or head over to NeilaRey.com to get yourself back on track. Now that you know there is a TV Workout, start tonight during the Super Bowl- you have no excuses!