Tag Archives: Push-up

Sometimes it Sucks

I had a rough week. Following a fun-filled week of stay-actioning with some friends who were visiting from upstate New York, it was hard to get back into any routine, but I had particular trouble getting back into the swing of making fitness a priority.

I’m not sure why all good habits are easy to break and, it seems, that bad habits are easy to pick up, but after seven days of stuffing my face with malasadas and sitting on my duff in a beach chair, I didn’t want to go back to a life of being diligent about eating healthy and making exercise a priority.

Doing what I do best, sitting on my butt, enjoying a beer at the Kaneohe sandbar. Can you blame me for not wanting to come back?

On Monday, I dragged myself to a CrossFit class after work and slogged through the WOD. The coach was someone I didn’t know (and I didn’t happen to catch her name), but, as she explained the WOD to us, she recommended that if we weren’t all that good at double unders (jumping rope and having the rope pass under you twice each jump), we should spend about 90 seconds of each round working on double unders and then move on whether we had reached the prescribed goal or not. The goal was a descending ladder of 150 double unders the first round, 100 the second round, and 50 the final round. After I accomplished about 5 double unders and succeeded in whipping myself in the butt and shins with the jump rope several times, the coach stopped by my area and told me that I should probably just do single jumps. It was a humbling moment, but I filed it away under “things to practice at home” and happily did my single jumps.

I awoke on Tuesday sore and tired; a week of being sedentary followed by a tough workout really whipped my butt (literally- that damn jump rope!), and it took me all week to recover. Tuesday’s workout was a short, solo run, and Wednesday and Thursday were more CrossFit classes where I put in wimpy, lackluster performances. Friday was a blissful day off, Saturday more CrossFit, and yesterday Don and I ran about 8 miles before we dragged our chairs to the beach and enjoyed an afternoon of sitting in the sun, doing many reps of beer-can-to-mouth curls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday’s workouts left me with more things to practice at home: pistol squats and wall walks. A pistol squat is where you squat one-legged, like a bird, with whichever leg you aren’t using extended in front of you. Ideally you begin from a standing position, squat all the way down on one-leg, and then rise to a standing position again. On one leg. Go ahead and try it, I’ll hold your beer.

Wall walks were something completely new to me and seem like the precursor to a hand stand (which seems like the precursor to a hand stand pushup; I don’t like the direction this is headed). You start with your feet against a wall and your chest to the floor almost like you’re in a pushup position (or, if like me you don’t do pushups very often, it’s the position you find yourself in when your dog rolls his ball under the couch and you have to retrieve it), and then you walk your feet up the wall and walk your hands toward the wall until, ideally, your nose touches the wall and you are upside down. I didn’t get that far, or, I guess I should say, I did not get that CLOSE. My nose was probably still about 1.5 to 2 feet away from the wall before my arms got shaky and I got nervous about having my butt and legs at a higher elevation than my head. Progress, like most things about me, is slow, I guess.

After my relaxing afternoon on the beach, I made sure to hit the hay a little early last night because I think, along with not eating super healthfully, that part of what was bringing me down and turning me into a slow little weakling last week was that I was just plain tired. Too much fun will do that to you once you reach your 30’s. It seems to have helped; I felt more solid in tonight’s pre-dinner CrossFit class and wasn’t excused from attempting any of the movements.

I learned another new thing at tonight’s class: the Tempo Press. At first I thought that the tempo press was right up my alley because you take about 3-5 seconds to raise a barbell above your head and I’m really slow at everything, but after a few reps, my shoulders were screaming. It’s a good thing I went to the evening class instead of the morning one because my arms are useless now- I’ve typed this entire blog post with my nose; It seems like tonight might bring another early bedtime for me.

Perfecting those beer curls. Good form is important!

 

Ouchie.

Its baaaaack!

Cue the JAWS theme because yesterday I revisited my old friend the ‘Tough Mudder’ workout, and this workout is a blood-thirsty monster. I mean it.

After a bit of fitness leisure time following the Hibiscus Half Marathon (which went totally fine, by the way, I ended up being only about 30 seconds slower than the Hapalua in April) that involved a little travel to the Northeast for a wedding and a lot of beer-drinking and s’mores-eating, I was feeling like I needed to kick things into high gear fitness-wise.

While I was visiting the Shire Vermont, I managed to sneak in a couple of short but lovely runs in the cool New England air, but after a couple of weeks of indulging and several long plane rides, I was feeling a little sluggish and out of shape. Begrudgingly, I accepted the fact that only a hardcore workout would shake things up for me.

In case you have forgotten (and how could you? This workout visits me in my nightmares!) The ‘Tough Mudder” workout consists of doing a variety of painful things an insufferable amount of times over and over again. No, seriously, that is about all you need to know about this workout.

I first became acquainted with this bad boy a couple of years ago when I was participating in a fitness Boot Camp, and it is a point of pride for me that I can actually do it. Well, could actually do it; since I’m a little weak and flabby at the moment, I modified yesterday’s workout so that I could live through it.

I shortened the workout to 8 rounds and split them in half to make this one workout into two shorter workouts. Which exercises did I forgo, you ask? The triceps pushups because, lets be real here, one kind of pushup in a day is one kind too many, and the dips because there is never anywhere convenient to do dips near the cardio equipment. I also swapped the running for ellipticizing since I was planning on going running today.

So, my workout started with 10 squat jumps, then as each round continued I added 10 pushups, 10 burpees, and 10 mountain climbers. Then I swapped to round 2 and started with 10 split jumps, adding flutter kicks, twists, and tuck jumps with each round. By the time I was finished, sweat was dripping into my eyes and I was in full-blown tomato face mode. I slept quite well last night.

Tonight I went for a slow three mile run. My butt and quads complained the entire time and I ran my slowest three miles since the marathon, but I expected that after yesterday. My next goal is to complete the entire workout from start to finish again!

Bosu Buddy

Moving is an absolutely terrible experience, but Don and I finally arrived in Oahu about a week ago.

Now that the frantic flailing at the airports to get the cat & dog on the planes with us, and the waiting in endless lines for passport control as the clock ticks closer to boarding time, and the struggle to fit ourselves, our luggage, and two kennels on airport/hotel shuttles is over and the four of us are snuggled into our room at a motel where we will live until we find housing (advice to anyone considering a move to Hawaii- don’t get a dog that will weigh more than 20 lbs when fully grown!), I finally have time to resume some facsimile of my workout routine.

Sky

The island of Oahu is a beautiful, tropical place. The air is perfumed with the fragrance of flowers that I can’t yet identify, the ocean is visible from the highway, and the Polynesian sun is bright… and hot. Good lord, it is so HOT here! I have to take Jack for a walk immediately after breakfast before the pavement has time to heat up and scorch his little doggie paws, and I melt into a puddle of sweat after sitting in the sun for only a short time. I know I shouldn’t be surprised at the heat, but arriving into full-blown Summer after coming from the cool German Spring was a shock to my system. I had imagined I would do a lot of running to stay fit while we settled into island life, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to brave the heat yet. Luckily our hotel is equipped with a gym.

As far as gyms go, this one is very small and outfitted sparsely. There are two treadmills, one elliptical, one stationary bike, a couple of exercise balls, a set of dumbbells, and one of those weird do-all exercise machines that nobody really knows how to use. I was Bosu downdisappointed to discover, on my first trip to the fitness room, that both of the 15 and 20 pound dumbbells are missing from the set, so there aren’t many options for weight training for me. Because of this, I was delighted to discover a Bosu ball leaning in a corner of the gym.

For those who are not familiar with the Bosu and all of the wonderful things it offers, it is basically half of an exercise ball that has a hard plastic platform on the flat side. The rounded portion is inflated and has a little give, and is strong enough to support your bodyweight. You can incorporate the Bosu into your workout pretty much any way you see fit (and safe). The great thing about the Bosu is that when you use it with ‘traditional’ exercise moves (for example I’ve been Bosuusing mine for push-ups and squats) it makes them more challenging because along with the effort of the original move, you are also using your core muscles for stability.

 

As I said, I’ve been using the Bosu to pump up the effort required for push-ups and squats. For both exercises, I turn the Bosu ball-side down. When doing a push-up, I grip the platform by its little indented hand-grippy thingies, do my push ups and the ball wobbles from side to side as I struggle to maintain my balance. For the squats, I stand on the flat platform and do my squats on top of the Bosu while trying to maintain my balance- a word of caution, be careful getting on and off the Bosu!  This has helped me use my own body weight and the Bosu upchallenge of maintaining stability on something that is intended to be unstable to keep my muscles strong along with the exercise I’m getting from the cardio equipment. I’ve seen the Bosu used with other exercises, so you can get creative and see if one will help you step up your workout!

Since the gym is usually absolutely empty and the hotel has free wifi, I have been contemplating bringing my computer with me and letting Jessica Smith school me in at-home working out. Earlier today, I found this squat challenge from Refinery29, and I think I’ll give it a go with my Bosu buddy. In the meantime, does anybody have any recommendations for sunscreens they absolutely love?

Life's a beach.
Life’s a beach.

Quick & Dirty

Today was a rainy, dreary day, perfect for being glued to the couch, and I managed to resist the temptation to remain pajama-clad from breakfast to bedtime, but just barely. After my ride this morning, I wanted nothing more than to drive straight home and curl up with my dog and cat and a good book. I managed to talk myself into going to the gym as planned by doing one of the short but sweaty workouts from the Boot Camp.

Sweatpants!
Sweatpants!

This workout is perfect for when you’re pressed for time or when you’d just rather be anywhere but at the gym, and I thought I’d share it with you.

The Quick & Dirty:

For one minute each: Jump Rope, Push-ups, Jog in place, Side Shuffle, Burpees, Wall Sit, Plank Walks, Squat, Mountain Climbers, Plank Jacks, Plank.

Then: Sprint 30 seconds, Jog 30 seconds (4x)

Finally: Sit Backs (2s 10), Russian Twists (2s 10), In and Outs (15), Walking Plank 30 seconds, Reverse Crunch (2s 10)

From start to finish, this took me an hour to complete. While it isn’t super strenuous, it is enough to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping. Not only did I get to check ‘go to the gym’ off of my list, but I also got to spend much of my day in sweatpants; I believe this is called a win-win situation. Keep this workout in your repertoire for those days when you’d just rather not but really think you should. That’s all for now; I have a dog who has been waiting all day for a break in the rain to go on his walk, and since it has slowed to a drizzle, we are going to seize the moment!

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!

 

One (very slow) foot in front of the other

The treadmill is probably the machine I dread using the most of any of the machines in the gym. Running is in the league of burpees and push-ups for exercises I really, REALLY would rather not do (I’ve been keeping my pledge to do push-ups at least once a week, by the way, but I have not done a single burpee since the LiveFit trainer ended, I just don’t see the point), but I have been trying to subconsciously incorporate more running into my weekly workouts.  As I have discovered, it is very difficult to subconsciously add something to your own routine, but I’m trying to do more running and I’m trying not to notice that I am doing it!

I guess it really isn’t the treadmill I dislike so much as the actual act of running itself. I’ve discussed before how running is a unique form of torture that involves collapsed lungs and buckets of sweat, and I’d actually rather run on a treadmill than in the great outdoors. Call me a control freak, but I like to be able to adjust my speed according to my current lung capacity and I find running outside, especially on a non-paved surface, more work than being on a treadmill (and higher potential for twisted ankles if you are uncoordinated like me).

Despite all of my complaints, I’m actually getting better at running! I am able to go farther and faster- don’t get me wrong, I’m no match for Usain Bolt and I’d never consider entering a marathon (or even a 5k to be perfectly honest!), but its getting easier. I find that adding variety helps so I try to increase or lower the speed every few laps (this also helps to allow me to catch my breath, double bonus!), and, I’m trying to run on my toes which requires extra concentration.

This is not me. He is going so fast that one of his shoes seems to have caught on fire.

Toe-running involves changing your running form a little bit, and at first it feels very strange. When most people run, they land heel first and in doing so, place a lot of strain on their joints and hamstrings. Landing heel first is also a less efficient way to run as the entire foot must break-over in order to complete the stride, and (especially if you have big ‘ole feet like mine) this can take a little bit of time. Instead of landing heel first, I make an effort to land toe first. Not only is there less wear and tear on my joints (and therefore less chance for injury for any of you super dedicated runners who go long distances), but I’m actually a lot faster because I don’t have to wait for my size 10s to finish breaking over; instead of breaking over in a fluid motion from heel to toe, my foot actually acts sort of like a spring: I land on my toe, the rest of my foot briefly touches down and I’m on to my next stride. Because I’m not working as hard to get my feet off the ground, I am able to stay taller with my upper body while I run which opens my ribcage and helps with breathing, and, maybe this is purely coincidental, I’ve not had any of those awful side stitches in a while. I’ve been working on my running form in earnest for a few months and I can now do most of my run on my toes. When I first started to work on my form, It felt very strange- almost like trying to write my name with my left hand, but I progressed slowly and feel comfortable enough to go a few miles now. The next time you’re out for a run, give it a go for a few minutes and see how much easier running feels, its ALMOST enjoyable!

Science says its the better way to be!

Snow Day! or WTF is a Runner’s High?

Last night we had our first real snow of the season and the allure of the white-frosted trees and fresh, crisp air seemed like a great excuse to ditch the gloomy confines of the gym today and take ‘fitness’ into the great outdoors. Jack and Don were happy to oblige and accompany me on a run followed by some at-home strength training (push-ups, eeew!) and a brief snowball fight (which I lost).

This was the second time this week that I opted out of the gym and into a run in the fresh air; once in a while a change of scenery is necessary in order to avoid the ‘workout doldrums’.  We have been blessed with a very mild winter here in Germany with temps staying consistently in the mid-30s (F) or higher, so it has been pretty easy for me to switch things up and take my workout on the road whenever I get bored with my normal routine. There is just one teeny-tiny little thing that would make it easier for me to skip the gym and get my cardio en plein-air and that would be if I actually enjoyed running.

There are a lot of things that I like about running… I like the thought of doing it, I like making an iPod playlist for running, I like the way I feel when I’m finished with a run, but I don’t enjoy doing the actual running. I find it slightly easier to do on a treadmill when I can control the speed and make sure the terrain stays absolutely flat, but running is never easy.

I’ve heard people say that they like or even LOVE running, and I don’t understand how that can be possible. In fact, I don’t believe them. I do believe, however, that they like or love the way running makes them feel, I like that too. There is something very satisfying about dripping sweat with your heart pounding and your legs aching from a good long gallop; it feels great to be finished with a run and know that you have just done your body a lot of good at no cost aside from the price of a pair of sneakers, but it just can’t be possible that anyone likes the actual running part!

From start to finish, running is more work than something that supposedly comes naturally to people should be. When moving from a warm up walk into the first steps of a jog, my body feels stiff and clunky. Whatever muscles I worked on at the gym the day before twinge in protest at having to move at speeds greater than an amble, and it takes a lot of concentration to establish a rhythm. And why is that??? Human beings have been running since the dawn of time- either toward something that will become dinner or away from something looking to make a human its dinner- so it seems like running should be as easy as walking, but it most certainly is not.

When I finally manage to jog out all of the kinks in my body and feel a little loose, the next challenge is that I can no longer breathe and my heart threatens to explode. I know that it wouldn’t be considered a cardio exercise if it didn’t tax our cardiovascular system a little bit, but why oh why oh why does running make my heart pound so that I have to turn up my podcast in order to hear Ira Glass tell me about Act One this week on This American Life over the drumming in my ears ? And why does every breath I take feel like fire in my lungs? Or worse, in the cold air, why does it feel like my trachea is no larger than one of those coffee stirring straws forcing me to gasp air like a goldfish whose bowl has been knocked over?

The grand finale of running discomfort comes when I have resigned myself to the fate of not being able to breathe and knowing that I could go into cardiac arrest at any moment. Just when I think that I can live with these things, my limbs turn into lead. Little by little, it takes more effort to lift my legs and pump my arms until it feels like I am running underwater, or maybe it’s more like being the Tin Man in a rain storm; my joints get creakier until I can’t possibly move them anymore.

So when people talk about getting a runner’s high, I think about how I feel- stiff, sore, lungs on fire, heart beating faster and louder than the bass line in a Ke$ha song and then, as if in a terrible nightmare, it all starts to happen in slow motion- I can only assume that a). these people black out while running because they can’t suck enough oxygen through their swizzle stick tracheas and they don’t accurately remember what the experience of running feels like, or b).  these people are trying to make themselves feel better by imagining that there is some payoff from running greater than simply checking off the exercise box on their to-do list. Either way, I’m not buying it.

For certain there are benefits to running. It is stress-relieveing and anxiety-reducing (no extra energy left to be stressed or anxious after a good, long run), it gets your blood moving which is great for all of your organs, it can help clear your thoughts (I spend most of my runs thinking about anything and everything so that I don’t have to think about the fact that I am running and I get a lot of planning done that way), but none of those benefits include a high of any sort. A Runner’s High is like a Unicorn or a pleasant-tasting cough syrup; it would be nice if any of those things existed, but they are all fantasy creatures and it isn’t fair to delude ourselves by pretending that they are real.

Sometimes I entertain the possibility that maybe I just haven’t run fast enough or far enough to experience the mythical Runner’s High, but I can’t find the motivation to want to try this theory out mostly because it would involve running faster and farther than I presently do. Once in a while, I’ll have a run that is kind of enjoyable. I’ll get through the first stages of creaky zombie-legs warm up and hit a rhythm and feel pretty good for a few miles, but most of the time I just feel like I would rather lie down on the pavement and call Don to come pick me up in the car than run another step.

Those are the days that I have to remind myself that running is not optional. I don’t have to do it every day, but I do occasionally have to do it if I want to be a fit and healthy person. Sure there are plenty of other cardio options, but every once in a while, even if its just for a short distance and at a very slow pace, it is necessary to remind my body what it feels like to run if only for the sake of proving to myself that it is not IMPOSSIBLE because it generally feels like it is. Also, even though all cardio exercises help to strengthen your cardiovascular system by insuring that you have a good, strong heart and big, healthy lungs, each exercise is slightly different in the way it works your body and it is always good to vary your exercise so that you are well-rounded in your fitness; focus too much on one thing, and you run the risk of looking like Popeye- scrawny all over with one concentration of big muscles!

Running is awful, it is difficult and sometimes painful and I often feel like I am failing at being a human being because I think running should come more naturally to me, but it is something that we must all do once in a while (even if we do it while pretending we are in the Hunger Games because that is the only way we could ever justify its necessity to ourselves). When I read articles about running either online or in magazines, it seems like the world is full of half-crazed running fanatics who swear that running is SO FUUUUNNNN or that it makes them SUPER HAAAAPPPPPYYYYY, and I’d like to remind everyone else out there that you are not alone. There are plenty of us who feel like running is an awful chore and the only thing about it that we look forward to is being done with our run so that we can spend another two or three days in the warm embrace of the elliptical machine, but when the gym starts to feel like a gloomy dungeon and our normal workout routine seems stale and boring, it is really nice to have the option of throwing on a pair of sneakers and getting a (literal) change of scenery. Running: I absolutely hate it, but I also kind of like it.

Jack doing his post-run stretching.
Jack doing his post-run stretching.

Go, go gadget…

We are well into the first month of the year, and many of us have begun our journey to better health. While the downside to the ‘New Year-New Me’ fitness craze is that gyms worldwide seem about 200% busier than normal, those of us who have been going to the gym faithfully year-round will get used to the increased gym traffic in time and those of us who are familiarizing ourselves with the gym for the first time will get our sea-legs soon enough and navigating the maze of machines will become second nature.

Over the last week or two, I have heard some of my gym acquaintances muttering about looking forward to the Resolution drop-off that will start in February. While I am tempted to agree with them when I have to change my workout plan on the fly because each dumbbell from 10-25 pounds is in use, the squat racks and Smith machines are all occupied, and every treadmill is whizzing away underneath a pair of sneakers, I am actually glad to see so many people committed to their health and I hope everyone is able to stick with their resolutions.

If you have resolved to be healthier and more fit, bravo for you! As you continue on your journey, remember that starting is the HARDEST part. The first day is awful, the first week is brutal, the first time you run a mile is excruciating, and the first time you try a new type of exercise is difficult. You wouldn’t want to have to start all over again, so stick with your resolution and don’t give up; if you can take that first step and walk a mile or do ten push-ups without your arms giving out on you, you can keep up with your workouts for an entire week. If you can make it to the gym for a whole week, you can surely do it for a month, and if you make it a month, you can do it the following month, and the one after that….until it is January 2015 and you need to find another resolution to make because you stuck with this year’s!

While I generally abide by a ‘less is more’ life philosophy, I find it extremely helpful to have things that keep track of my exercise and hold me accountable as I try to become healthier. There are probably a million gadgets and gizmos out there to help you become more fit; I wish I had the time and money to try each and every one of them, but I do not. The following is an overview of some things that I find useful and are worth it for you to consider trying. Some of these things I have mentioned previously, but I think they deserve to be mentioned again.

Go, go gadget…

Part of the main interface for the iPhone FitBit app
Part of the main interface for the iPhone FitBit app

FitBit: This company has something for everyone when it comes to pedometers. I call them pedometers because that is basically what they are, but they are pedometers on steroids, they are the Incredible Hulk of pedometers. I have had my FitBit One for about a year and LOVE it. With it, I can track my daily steps, flights of stairs climbed, distance travelled, calories burned and activity level. Online or in your smartphone, you can log the food you eat and activities the FitBit can’t track (like swimming) and you can seek out friends who also have FitBits to see how many steps they have. Aside from the One, FitBit offers another pedometer called the Zip and two that you can wear around your wrist, the Flex and the Force. Their products range in price from $60-$130 which seems pretty steep for a pedometer, but I sent mine through the washing machine this summer and it still works, so sometimes paying a little more has its benefits. What I like most about the FitBit is that it is an activity tracker and food log all in one and I like the social media aspect of it. A little friendly competition encourages me to be more active; currently, my Dad is leading my friends in steps. He is even beating a guy who ran a full marathon last weekend!

See how your steps compare to your friends'
See how your steps compare to your friends’ with FitBit

Bodybuilding.com: This website is great for people who are just starting to focus on strength training. Here you can find many programs (including the LiveFit Trainer, hint hint, nudge, nudge) designed for different needs, you can learn how to do various exercises by watching helpful videos, get nutrition advice and recipes, buy supplements, learn how to properly stretch, and even read informative articles like this one about stepping into the gym for the first time (coincidentally by my fav gym guru, Jamie Eason).  Everything except for the supplements is free. That’s right, FREE gym advice, FREE workout templates, FREE nutritional programs, FREE demonstration videos. It doesn’t get much better than that, right?

Home screen of the Bodyspace app
Home screen of the Bodyspace app

Bodyspace App: This free app is another facet of bodybuilding.com. You can access the app online through their site or you can download it for your smartphone. The app can help you find workouts and exercises specific to whichever muscle groups you want to focus on and you can track the workouts that you have done so that you can see your progress. You can search for specific workouts to track, for example, if you are thinking of starting the Live Fit trainer (do it! do it!) you can type ‘Jamie Eason’ under Find a Program and track your workouts as you go. I could do without the social media aspect of this app because I find the interface very cluttered especially when compared to FitBit’s, but otherwise the app is a convenient way to keep tabs on yourself. If you don’t have a smartphone or don’t feel like using fancy apps to track your workouts, invest in a notebook so that you can track your progress.

Find workouts by program and track them with Bodyspace. Too easy!
Find workouts by program and track them with Bodyspace. Too easy!

Map My Run, Map My Walk, Map My Ride: A few more free apps that help keep you moving. As their names depict, each app can help you track your running/walking/biking route and the distance and speed at which you travelled. Favorite routes can be saved and routes can be suggested for you. You can use these apps on your computer or smartphone, the only downfall is that the gps tracking really zaps your phone’s battery so it is not ideal for long bike rides.

Workout clothing: It is extremely important to have clothes that fit you well and that you feel comfortable in for exercising; you want to be able to move freely and not fidget with a too-short shirt or pants that are heading south. If you feel self-conscious about starting a workout program, it will only be intensified if you are uncomfortable in your clothing. Material is the second most important factor; pick material that is sweat wicking and lightweight so that you aren’t burning up while you are feeling the burn. If you want to get fancy-schmancy, some companies are now making things with antimicrobial materials to guarantee you won’t get swamp ass, but I’m not convinced this is necessary. At this point, my favorite workout clothes are the Under Armour Perfect Pant and the GapFit Breathe Ts and tank tops. I also like the Under Armour running shirts, but the GapFit Breathe material is super lightweight and super soft. I received a couple for Christmas, so we will see how they hold up compared to the Under Armour shirts.

Sneakers: With all of the innovative technology that goes into modern footwear, you really can’t go wrong choosing sneakers; basically they are all lightweight, breathable and balanced and it is really up to your personal preference as to which type and brand to buy. When shopping, be sure to try on a variety of pairs and take your time so that you end up with the best sneaker for you and ask for help from a sale associate who knows something about something.

I  hope some of this information is helpful, and I double hope that you are still hanging in there with your fitness resolutions. Remember to take things slowly at first so that you don’t rush off and injure yourself, and keep in mind that, at first, you may not see results when you look in the mirror. One of the easiest ways to get discouraged is to expect to see dramatic changes super fast. Instead of standing in front of the mirror every morning and hoping to see your face on Mary J. Blige’s body (she is super fit!), think about how you feel. Are you sleeping better at night because those workouts are zapping that anxious energy that usually keeps your mind ticking away? Do you feel more energized because you are filling up on fruits, veggies and nuts instead of coffee cake and Twizzlers? Are you getting less winded when you go for a walk or run because your body is getting stronger? These are the changes you’ll see right away and they are signs that your commitment to health is off to a good start. Keep going to those workouts and keep eating the right stuff! Next time, I’m hoping to piece together some of my favorite healthy recipes to share with you… expect to see some kale!

Better check yo’self before you….pants yo’self?

The past week was a super duper hectic one and my time at the gym (however short it may be some days) has been sweet respite from all of the standing in lines, running errands, and counting down to Santa that has filled the largest part of my days.

I’m still following along the same sort of plan that Jamie’s workouts outlined as best I can: a day each for legs, back, biceps, triceps and shoulders, and throwing in some abs and cardio. I also had  the opportunity (due to my car being in the shop and missing the early train to work, oops! Nothing makes you miss your mechanic Dad like having to defer to the schedule of an auto shop) to do an at-home workout. Lacking weights and any equipment other than my own body, I found the at-home workout to be less satisfying than going to the gym, but still felt better having done something. It was also funny to have my cat ‘help’ me do pushups. I ended up doing a facsimile of a workout I outlined last week: a circuit starting at 10 jumping jacks and pushups, subtracting one each time until down to zero, twenty mountain climbers, and 15 crunches (which I swapped for 15 reverse crunches half way through the circuits) for a total of 55 pushups, 55 jumping jacks, 200 mountain climbers and 75 of each type of crunch. The workout took me about 45 minutes to complete and I had the reward of showering in my own bathroom sans shower sandals which is probably the biggest motivator to do an at-home workout. If you are in a bind and can’t make it to the gym, head over to pinterest and type At Home Workouts into the search bar and take your pick!

Drop and give me twenty! Then scratch my ears...
Drop and give me twenty! Then scratch my ears…

I had a pretty difficult time with my cardio workouts this week, specifically the days I ran on the treadmill. I try to alternate between the elliptical, treadmill and stationary bike so that I don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Usually this plan works out fine, but lately whenever I try to run (and sometimes on the elliptical too) I get a terrible side stitch; it seems like such a silly thing to complain about, but some days it forces me to stop and switch to the bike or simply call it a day. I’m not even certain what a side stitch actually IS (and neither is anyone else, definitively, it seems); is it a cramp or simply your body’s way of telling you that cardio is a stupid option when there are couches to sit on and cookies to eat? Whatever they are, they can really throw a wrench in your plan.

Sometimes I can get rid of my side stitch by walking for a few minutes and stretching. Friday was one of those days when I was able to take a break and resume my running pain-free, but, alas, I then experienced a problem of a different kind. Like many people, I have favorite workout clothes (I’m looking’ at YOU super slimming UnderArmour yoga pants) and not-again-I-just-wore-you-last-week-and-you-totally-sucked-why-can’t-I-remember-to-do-laundry-so-that-I-never-have-to-wear-you workout clothes. I found myself wearing the latter on Friday; a tshirt that is a little too short and a little too tight in the shoulders and a pair of yoga pants that used to be my absolute favorite until they started to shirk their duties.

These pants just will.not.stay.UP! I learned in Phase Two that they travel south when I am jumping rope, and I have noticed lately that they shimmy lower than I want when I wear them to walk my dog, but I was attributing that to my bulky winter coat pushing them down and did not realize the severity of this problem until I tried to run in them on Friday.

I started out at a slow jog, hiked up my pants as they slid down and continued  my run…only to have to hike them up again and again. After maybe the tenth time I yanked them back up, I started to time them and my pants were falling down enough that I was concerned about mooning the poor guy who was on the treadmill behind me every fifteen to twenty seconds! I’m not sure if any marketing research has been done in this area, but I’m certain that 100% of people polled would not list ‘slides down until you are showing off some sexy plumber’s crack’ as a quality they seek in exercise attire.

The faster I ran, the faster they fell down, and the higher I pulled them up. Ten minutes into my run, I was dangerously close to Steve Urkel/camel toe territory, and my pants would still not stay put. When I relayed this story to my husband and my Mom, they both thought that my pants falling down must be a good sign because maybe I’ve lost THAT much weight and they are too big for me. While that is a nice thought, there is no way that these pants should be too big for me and I actually think (as embarrassing as it is to admit) that, since I wore these pants as frequently as my laundry schedule would allow when I was at my heaviest last winter, I stretched the elastic out and it no longer has the ability to fully contract. Basically, I turned a fantastic pair of yoga pants into ‘fat’ pants and they have never been able to recover! Needless to say, the pants have been retired as lounge wear; they deserve it.

Despite my wardrobe malfunction, I powered through my run deciding it was better to look like I had a really strange nervous tic than to waste a day when I had overcome my side stitch. As Kenny Rogers, wise man that he is, once sang: you’ve got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em, and I wasn’t going to fold on a day when pretty much everything was lining up so that I could have a great run, but I sure did do a lot of holding onto my waistband.

PHASE THREE or The Time I went into Cardiac Arrest at the Gym

If you have watched The Mindy Project (and I seriously hope you have), you maybe remember an episode from season one titled The One That Got Away in which Seth Rogan guest stars as Mindy’s childhood sweetheart, Sam. In this episode, Mindy and Sam unexpectedly reconnect while Sam is home on leave from his Army deployment, hijinks ensue, and at some point Mindy is on all fours asking for a critique of her push-ups and Sam exclaims “That is just an up! You have to actually go down and come back up for it to be called a push-up!” I feel ya’, Mindy, I really do.

Today I began Phase Three of the LiveFit Trainer, and I can’t think of a time when I have worked harder at the gym. The day began cold, damp and grey, and my ambition was low as I headed into the gym despite the fact that I got there just as it opened, so for a long while, I was sharing the entire gym with just one other person. Usually an uncrowded gym motivates me, but today it only made me think “everyone who is NOT here has the right idea.” This is no way to start a workout, much less a new, more difficult phase of workout, but c’est la vie.

The upside is that there are now only four more weeks left of this self-inflicted torture! Not to say that I won’t still go to the gym, but I might give myself two days off a week instead of just one. Today, however; I had to continue to progress toward my twelve(ish) week goal, and progress was hard-won.

Before I had completed my first two (of thirteen) exercises, my quads were burning, my heart was thudding, and I wanted to lie down on a yoga mat and have a nap. A sense of doom settled over me as I struggled to find some grit and determination within myself. Just an ounce of grit? An iota of determination? There must be some around here somewhere… my mood did not improve as the gym started to fill up with people.

There is something really aggravating about being tired, hot, and sweaty and seeing fresh faces, ponytails still silky and un-matted by sweat, saunter into the gym, just as there is nothing more joyous than hanging up your jump rope and dragging out a mat for some post-workout stretching. I’m not sure why I had such a bee in my bonnet today; it may be because, after looking ahead at this week’s workouts (they are looooooong), I realize that some of my gym time will have to happen AFTER work this week (going to the gym at dinner time? Yuck.), and it could be that I am actually dreading the end of this self-inflicted torture a little bit. It may be tough to keep up with Jamie Eason, but at least I have a reliable schedule holding me accountable, all I have to do is show up. Whatever my problem was, it thankfully didn’t deter me from making it through most of my workout.

I say most of my workout because I substituted some ab-work for the long jumps I was supposed to do. When the long jump portion of today’s workout rolled-around, I just couldn’t make it happen. The gym had gotten too busy to find a space suitable and, honestly, my legs were all jumped-out. Since I have been prescribed more back and core-strengthening ab exercises by my Physical Therapist (side note: its kind of embarrassing to be prescribed ab exercises!), I thought it was a fair trade. Maybe not exactly what Jamie had in mind, but it was what I could manage today.

How have your workouts been going? Are you finding it hard to motivate now that the days are shorter, colder, and darker? What helps you motivate when you’d rather get a latte and do some online holiday shopping than lace up your sneaks and get your sweat-on? Maybe I’ll try dangling a cupcake on a stick just out of reach in front of me…

Cupcake