Monday, July 4, 2011

Done with Stage 6 and fitness hodgepodge

Today, I will post my last set of pictures for the 6-month challenge I was doing over at JP Fitness Forums.  I know myself and there was never any doubt that I would complete the New Rules of Lifting for Women program.  The biggest factor in whether I will finish a program or not is the time commitment.   [That's the only reason I didn't complete P90X.  At the time, I didn't have adjustable dumbbells and it was just taking way too long to finish a workout.]  For the most part, the workouts comprising the NROL4W are very manageable.  At most I spend an hour lifting especially if I have my act together.  If I arrive at the gym at 6, I am out by 7:30 the latest (and that includes 20-25 minutes of cardio and stretching).  For Stage 6, I could be out by 7:00.

I loved Stage 6 for many reasons--including the fact that the workouts were short and sweet.  I got to work on my chin-ups (I can now do three full chin-ups) and push-ups.  The workouts themselves were just really enjoyable and fun.  I looked forward to doing each one and honestly, I could happily re-do Stage 6.  When I think back on the program, there were some stages that were just tortuous and really give me pause when I think about maybe re-doing this program in the future.  But Stage 6?  Oh, it was awesome.  

So now I'm moving on to Stage 7 of NROL4W.  It's the finisher stage.  There are a couple of new lifts I need to study/learn for this stage--nothing too intense.  I hope to finish the program on Wednesday, July 20, 2011, if all goes as planned. 

I feel like I have made many strength gains doing the program but I also feel that I have hit a wall.  It occurs to me that I may need to put on weight in order make any more strength gains but it is really hard for me to think about doing that having worked so hard to lose weight. Currently, I am about 118-119 lbs. and 5'2" and quite muscular which makes me look like I weigh less than that.  I feel really comfortable at this size.  I feel nimble and quick and I certainly don't want to go clothes shopping again.  I am strong--but maybe only as strong as I can be at this size.  But perhaps I can make some more breakthroughs and stay this size but I have a feeling that just 10 more pounds would make a big difference.  

Anyway, I'm taking part of this week off.   Here's what I'm doing:

Sunday Long, Easy Run
Monday Bikram Yoga (it's been forever since I've been)
Tuesday Cathe Friedrich's Athletic Step
Fierce Body workout + 30-40 mins. Yoga
Brutal 8 Exercise Drill + very light stretching 
Thursday Interval run + 20 mins. Yoga
Friday NROL4W Stage 7, Workout 1
Saturday 60 mins. yoga

I've also started really paying attention to my stretching after lifting and running.  If I ignore proper stretching post workout, my hips get so uncomfortably tight.  It's also very meditative for me to take everything down and just be still.  So I've been diligent about devoting 5-10 minutes post-workout to stretching.  I bought a foam roller but I have not been using it with any consistency.  When I do use it, though, I basically follow this routine and it really does feel amazing in a painful release kind of way:

I would definitely like to foam roll more.  Just like I'd like to practice more yoga.  And read more.  And meditate more . . .

Lastly, I've been wearing my Vibram Five Fingers to the gym (the foam roller and the Vibrams are my latest fitness purchases).  I'm very pleased with the Vibrams.  I really like the feeling of being close to the ground--grounded.  They are comfortable to me and I have low arches/flat feet.  I tried running in them on asphalt and concrete and that was really jarring to my knees and hips.  I know that I have to modify my style of running so that it's not painful but I think running in them on concrete reinforced the idea that I have that running on concrete/pavement is not a great idea in the first place.  It's not what we are meant to do . . . I still enjoy running though and I do so mainly on pavement but I will stay with my regular running shoes (my Asics).  I may try the Vibrams on a track one of these days but definitely not on concrete.  But for lifting and floor exercise, the Vibrams have been great.  I love not having to do shoe switcheroos.  I can wear the Vibrams to the gym, lift, do cardio and wear them home.  They won't work in the winter though because they are really just mesh but in the winter I usually have to wear boots to the gym anyway.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Finished Stage 5 of NROL4W

I'm so thrilled with my progress in this program.  I was looking at the logs I've been keeping and it's amazing to see how far I have come.  

So I'm done with Stage 5 and I'm going to take a week off from lifting before I start Stage 6.  I'm excited about Stage 6 because I really get to focus on chin-ups and more than anything, I want to be able to do chin-ups.  To me, chin-ups (actually, any move that requires you to use your own body as weight) are the test of true strength and I am ready to be really strong.  

As an aside, I deadlifted 135 lbs. this past Friday.  I had finished my last set of Romanian deadlifts/barbell row combos and I just wanted to see if I could do it.  And I did it.  And you know what?  It wasn't nearly as hard as I had imagined.  Oh, those 45s on each end of the barbell were big and intimidating looking but I deadlifted that weight sure enough.  I had read on JP fitness that deadlifting with any weight smaller than that is actually deadlifting at a deficit and makes the exercise more difficult and there is more risk of injury.  Unfortunately, this was not emphasized in the book.  In fact, in later stages, you are supposed to deadlift from a box (at a deficit) which I did so I was deadlifting at a double deficit because in actuality, I had been deadlifting at a deficit from Stage One.  Now, I'm grateful I have the flexibility I do so I was able to do it with good form.  But I wonder had I started by elevating my bar, how much more than 135 lbs. I could deadlift by now.  

Anyway, these are the things you learn as a novice lifter.  You live, you learn.  And I'm very willing to learn.  

I'm already looking ahead to what I'm going to do after I complete NROL4W.  So far, I think Maximum Strength by M.A. Eric Cressey is looking like my next step.  There's also Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and The New Rules of Lifting.  The options available are really endless.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tip Top

It's no secret that I really dislike the treadmill but I have come to an uneasy peace with it over these cold winter months.  I'm in the gym three times a week to lift weights and the treadmill offers a convenient way to run. Well now that the weather is warming up, I'm excited to get back to running outside and to other types of exercise.  I really feel like my cardiovascular fitness has suffered during these cold winter months.  I know some folks love the treadmill but I really feel like I have actually become less fit using it.   You move unnaturally on it and the machine helps way too much.  A hill repeat on an actual hill will always be more intense.   

I'm finding that I need much longer to recover from high intensity moves that I used to be able to do easily.  And I want to be tip-top shape.  So starting this week, I'm refusing to get on the treadmill.  I'm sticking to skipping rope and interval training (Body Rock TV style and with running)--basically moving my body.  

I think my fitness motto should be that:  Move Your Body.  Just Your Body.  Move it Fast.  Move it Strong. Everything Else is Extra.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Moving Your Own Body

I enjoy lifting weights very much.  There is something about building muscle and getting stronger that speaks strongly to me.  I like working out side by side with guys, often doing the same exercise.  I like proving to myself that women can lift weights seriously. And I'm always encouraging women to get strong.  It's daunting to most women though:  the myth of "bulking up" due to lifting heavy weights is deeply rooted and most women shy away from real weight lifting.  This article presents a very well-rounded and interesting discussion of the topic.

Photo Credit
Though, understandably, many women balk at the idea of lifting heavy weights, one's own body is a heavy weight and at the very least, I think, a woman should be able to move it.  You don't need expensive equipment or lots of time if you're going to be building strength using only your body.  And so this has been a huge focus of mine ever since I started getting into shape.  My fitness goals and routines have always included body weight exercises and I feel truly strong when I'm able to do movements that require only my body like push-ups, planks and chin-ups.  In fact, last year's fitness goals included being able to do 10 regular push-ups.  I can do that and more now (my maximum was 26 in a row).  I can hold a plank for 2 minutes.  And finally, I'm so happy to report, I can do a chin-up.  The other day I did three in a row.  It's still pretty challenging to do these type of body movement strength exercise and so I will keep on working at it. That's the great thing about body weight exercise: you will always remain challenged.  There are thousands of different ways to move just your body that would present a challenge to you.  Has a regular plank gotten too easy?  Lift one foot or one arm.  Push-up are a breeze?  Clap in between each one.  Can you do chin-ups in your sleep?  Grip a sack of onions between your legs and try it now?  

My point is that I need to be able to move my body easily.  Yes, I can move heavy metal weights at they gym but to me, that doesn't represent the total strength picture.  Strength to me is power, that is, strength in motion (NROLFW incorporates power moves with exercises such as the push-press and one-armed dumbbell snatch), agility and acute control of the body.

For women who are hesitant about lifting weight, I say that it's more than enough to build strength through moving one's own body.  It's what BodyRockTV is about.  It's what power yoga is about.  It's what pilates is about.  It's what most martial arts are about.  Being strong physically is something that's often frowned upon in women.  What is encouraged (in the west at least) is that women be frail and dainty and always in need of help.  But strength gives longevity and health.  Mentally, it can only build you up if you know that you are capable.  Really capable.  

Why not be capable?  Why not be powerful?  Why not be strong?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So far, so good

I'm enjoying Stage 2 of NROL4W even though it takes a bit more time to complete each workout than the workouts in Stage 1 did.  I really enjoy the variety although for the first time, I got the sense that I would like to do more somehow.  Be more serious with lifting.  NROL4W is a great introduction to serious gym-style lifting but I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for the next step.  

Currently, I'm in money-saving mode although I would like to purchase some fitness gear soon.  I'm in need of new cross-trainers and running shoe.  I've said before that I'm seriously considering buying a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers but I'm a little hesitant.  I wish there were a way I could test drive them first.  :)  The Five-Fingers would be great because I could lift while wearing them and then go for a run without having to change footwear--anything that saves time is wonderful.  But for indoor stuff at home, I'd either need another pair of Five-Fingers or a pair of cross-trainers (I don't wear outside shoes in the house).  

I would also like a foam roller because it's a great recuperative tool for athletes.  Someone on JP Fitness posted this:
<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Another thing I'd like to invest in are some Iron Woody bands.  Because I would like to be able to do a chin up by the end of the year, I know I have to do some focused work to get there.  I found this interesting way to do assisted chin-ups using the Iron Woody bands. (I would probably do this at home though because I wouldn't want folks looking at me like I was crazy in the gym.)   In the meanwhile, I do 2 sets of 10 inverted rows at the end of my workouts.  I could do negative chin-ups but I will have to do those later on in the NROL4W program and also, I do not feel like I have the time to hunt around the gym for the one and only bench high enough.  There's pull-up machine at the gym, yes, but everything I've read says that's a sub-par way to building up to pull-ups.  Kind of like how doing push-ups on your knees is not the best way to build up to a regular push-up (wall push-ups or push ups on a bar are considered superior).

Anyway, this week I haven't been to the gym because the hubby is away.  I'm looking forward to getting back there on Friday though.  I did get a chance to do a BodyRock TV workout (Fat Fighter Workout) yesterday and it was lots of fun as usual.  I totally love the idea of using nothing but your body to get a great workout.

I hate to be out of my rhythm but ce la vie sometimes.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On the Treadmill

I think I will always prefer running outside.  I enjoy finding new paths to run and basically getting familiar with my surroundings in an intimate way.   You can only achieve that on foot.  But since I joined the gym, I have been making use of the treadmill (and the exercise bike but that's another post).  Initially I thought I would really hate the treadmill--you know, running (sometimes fast) but going nowhere.  It turns out that there are some really cool things about the treadmill.

Photo Credit
First of all, it allows me to run.  This winter has just been brutal and some days I can't go out for a run due to ice or other terrible conditions.  Some days I just don't want to deal with the cold (in another post, I'll give a rundown of my cold weather running gear).  It was a nice surprise to find out that whether I'm running outside or on the treadmill, I just really like to run.  And since I'm in the gym lifting weights three times a week anyway, I've been running more now than in the warmer months.  I finish lifting and then I run for 20-25 minutes--I don't have to carve out another special time to go for a run.  

Secondly, the treadmill keeps track of my stats:  how far I've run, how many calories I've burned, etc. and that's really cool.  While I use to tell me how many miles I cover on a given run, that's the only information I really know when I run outside (since I have not yet invested in a GPS/heart rate monitor watch).  It's interesting to know exactly when I hit 2 miles or to push myself to break 300 calories.  

I don't have any specific mileage goals but during the warmer months I would run about 6 or 7 miles for my long run and 2-3 for my short. Because of the treadmill, I can still keep my mileage up and also it encourages me to keep better track of my miles (I write everything down right on my NROL4W log sheets).  I had always struggled in terms of keeping a training log for my running and while jotting it down on my log sheets is not formal or systemized, I still have a better idea of what I'm doing and how to improve.  

Still, I cannot do a long run on the treadmill.  I get bored far too easily and then I get antsy.  So I've been doing intervals and I have to say, this is a really fun way to use the treadmill.  I enjoy trying different interval combinations.  Here's a site I found with lots of options.  Here is an example of something I've been doing recently which I call 1/2/3/4/recover.

One minute at effort level 1 (an easy pace--you can talk easily, maybe even sing)
One minute at effort level 2
One minute at effort level 3
One minute at effort level 4 (basically sprinting)
One minute to walk it off and almost completely recover

There are many ways to do intervals.  You could do hill intervals by changing the incline (which I haven't done yet but look forward to doing).  The combinations and possibilities seem to be endless.  

Basically, intervals keep it interesting for me.  And It doesn't take an hour--after about 20 minutes, I've worked up a sweat and I'm ready to go home and shower.   I just couldn't do an hour on the treadmill--the thought of it is even too much for me.  But intervals are a quick, effective and fun way to use the treadmill.  I may even continue to use it during the warmer months just because, like I said, I'm at the gym anyway.  

Oh, by the way, intervals that I control (because some of the treadmills have preset interval programs) are made possible by the Gymboss interval timer, one of the best fitness purchases I have ever made.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Moving on to Stage 2 of NROL4W

Technically speaking, I finished Stage 1 of the NROL4W on Wednesday.  There are some special exercises I could add on to the end of Stage 1 just to gauge my progress but these seem to be optional (at least many folks choose to skip them).  However, I'm not quite ready to move on to Stage 2.  

The fact of the matter is that I feel like I really have to sit down, read and do some research about how to properly perform the exercises in Stage 2.  However, I just feel like I have so much going on!  So, I'm hemming-and-hawing about doing the work and therefore about starting Stage 2. 

So what I've decided is to do workouts A and B once more (I did workout A this morning and I'll do workout B on Monday) and then I'll do Special Workout A on Wednesday and Special Workout B on Friday.  The following week, I'm going out of town so I will give myself a break from lifting and really exercise in general.  I definitely need the break and it'll also give me time to read about the exercises that I'll be doing in Stage 2.  I'll jump into Stage 2 on Monday, February 28.

I really wish I could recommend NROL4W flat out without reservations.  But I think if I were to tell anyone to this program, I would follow up with a recommendation that they also join JP Fitness Forums and read, read, read.  There's so much information on there that the beginner would just not know--not even from reading the book cover to cover.  I honestly feel like a lot was left out and you do have to do a lot of legwork to get the details.  I also don't think, and I'm speaking as a person with a degree in English, that it is a well-written book.  Every week or so, a newbie comes on the forums completely and utterly confused about the formats of the workouts.  The convoluted way in which the workouts are laid out is initially the reason why I hesitated to do the program.  I'm not new to lifting weights but I am new to the gym and so I felt doubly intimidated by the whole thing (no idea what I was doing in the gym and only a slight grasp on how to go about the workout).  I'm so grateful for the JP Fitness Forums but I kind of wish the book was more thorough and, basically, more plainly laid out.  It really should be very straightforward even if it adds a bit more thickness to the book.  

But I'm enjoying the program nonetheless.  Really liking it.  I feel like it's a great segue into serious weight lifting.    

I had a protein shake after today's lifting session.  [I will blog about what's in that in the near future (as well as my trepidation about protein shakes).]  I also took my iron supplement (Floradix Floravital Iron and Herbs) something that I often neglect to do.  I was feeling quite run down, sleepy and tired so I thought why not.  I'm always trying to remember to take it before a meal but I always forget.  So I just took it and it has made all the difference today.