Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's Most Important?

I went to a Bikram yoga class today which I thoroughly enjoyed, as usual.  Towards the end of the class, the teacher asked a question that Bikram himself usually asks:  what is most important to you?  

My immediate, gut level response was "my body".  And what I meant by that was the strength and health of my body--not some superficial "look" but a substantive, long lasting well-being.  

Then my intellect took over and I changed my response to "my boys," meaning my sons.  

The teacher left a long pause for us to think over things and then said, "Your family? You car? Your job?  WRONG!  The health of your body because without that, you can't be of use to anyone or anything."  

My gut level response was right!  And I know it's true.  But society has conditioned mothers to believe that everything else takes precedence and is so much more important than taking care of themselves.  

I fall into that line of thinking from time to time.  I feel like I'm stealing time and attention from my kids when I go out for a run or hit the gym or go to a yoga class.  But that's simply not true.  

I'm grateful for the reminder today.  One more reason to love Bikram yoga.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Stability Ball

I'm always looking for enjoyable ways to work my core/abdominal/back muscles.  

I refuse to do crunches and sit-ups anymore and the popular thinking has changed anyway: there are far better exercises than these for a firm, strong midsection.  For months, I subjected myself to the Ab Ripper X routine (part of P90X) and while I did get much stronger, I hated doing it.  

I had heard about the benefits of using a stability ball for core work but I hesitated to purchase a ball.  Already, I had lots of fitness equipment littering my small living room but I decided to get one to break up the monotony.  I first tried it using Amy Dixon's ball workout in Women's Health Total Workout in Ten.  I was thrilled with how challenging and fun it was!  So I borrowed Quick Fix Stability Ball workout from the library and I really liked that too.  (I actually need to purchase that one).  I knew the stability ball was for me.  

Imagine how thrilled I was to learn that the stability ball features in each exercise of the New Rules of Lifting for Women.  [When checking out the gym, I had to make sure they had ample supplies of stability balls (they did although the inflation of said balls is iffy).]  At the end of each workout in stage one of NROLFW (there's 2) is a stability ball exercise.  For workout A, it's prone jackknife.  For workout B, it's crunches on the ball (which are nowhere as bad as crunches on the floor but still not a favorite).  

I have been adding one more exercise on the ball to the end of each workout because I definitely want to work my core.  After two children, I have diastasis recti and there's plenty of work to do strengthen my core muscles.  To Workout A, I've been adding sets of plank on the ball (basically I just hold the plank position with my arms resting on the ball for 60-90 seconds).   To add even more challenge to Workout A, I will try doing a prone jacknife/tuck combination:

I plan to continue to do the plank on the ball.  

To Workout B, I've been adding 10 to 12 rep sets of swiss ball back extension although this video says you're not supposed to do it on days you do heavy squats.  I will look for a static core exercise to do instead (so I'm not doing the back extension, although I really like that move).  There are lots and lots of static on the ball exercises in the New Rules of Lifting for Abs (which I had to buy after destroying the library's copy--it's just as well, I would probably have bought it anyway after finishing up NROL4W).  Or, I may try side crunches on the ball since there are no warnings against doing this on heavy lifting days.  

My hope is to somehow incorporate this fun way of doing core work into some other part of my day (maybe before dinner).  This way I can get in those exercise I'm not supposed to do on heavy lifting days (like the back extension).  I want it to be a regular feature of my day.  All I really need is 10 minutes . . . but then again, I've been wanting to do 10 minutes of yoga daily and I'm still not getting it in.  

Actually, this is a good goal to work toward in 2011 . . . 20 minutes of yoga/core work/stretching outside of my morning workout time.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's All About the Shoes!

Well, it didn't even occur to me that there would be an appropriate shoe for lifting.  Apparently there is.

I'm really not the position to put out any money.  I just recently had to have my wedding ring re-sized and I will soon need to renew my gym membership.  I went all over today trying to find a good solution but it seems that I will have to fork over at least $40 for some Converse All-Stars (Chuck Taylors).  I spent the afternoon dragging the kids all over town trying to find an inexpensive options.  Apparently, Target carries One-Stars which are almost the same as All-Stars but $20 cheaper.  I saw them on the Target website but I couldn't find them in the store.  I then tried two other stores in the complex (T.J. Maxx and Famous Footwear).  Famous Footwear had a pair for $25 but they had all kinds of bright pink designs on them.  I would have taken them because of the price but they only had one register (despite having three workers in the store and only two customers) and a woman was doing a return and taking forever with her questions (that the cashier had answered already) and my son had to use the bathroom.  Since he's 5 and I had no change of clothes for him, I put the shoes down.  I wasn't thrilled with the color anyway and thought I might do okay close to home.  So we headed into town but the prices were just the same: about $40 for a pair so I couldn't buy them. Trudging through snow and freezing rain to find shoes for lifting . . . not my idea of fun.

Anyway, my sneakers (cross-trainers and running shoes) are on their last legs.  This means that I am looking at almost $200 after just six months.  (((sigh)))  I'm making them work by wearing my orthotics constantly.  But I have to be honest, I'm getting really annoyed at having to switch those things between shoes.  I get to the gym, take off my winter boots, take out the orthotic, put it in my sneaker.  And then do the reverse when it's time to go home.  Too fussy!

I'm really intrigued by the Vibram Five Fingers not just because it's all the rage right now but because they would be appropriate for running, lifting and aerobics.  And they are less than $90.  From an economic standpoint, that's great.  But I still do not want to put out $90 right now.  It seems I will have to just suck it up.  My only thing is that I'm a little nervous about them being a waste of money.  I am flat-footed and have found that the orthotics really help eliminate fatigue and ankle  pain.  I feel it's a little risk that I'm taking sinking money into these shoes.  I hope it pays off.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Winter is brutal on my skin.  I haven't been as diligent with the cod liver oil as I could be but even when I am consistent with it, my skin is dry, ashy and cracks (though not as severely).  Especially the skin on my hands.  This is terrible especially since I also lift weights.  

I'd been reading about how it's better to lift weights without gloves because wearing gloves doesn't allow you to work on your grip strength.  But the calluses I get without gloves are serious.  Very serious.  

I mean, I'm not hung up about the look of them but the feel and sound of them?  I know I'm sensitive to the texture and sound of certain things and when I hear my hand and feelthe skin catching when running it over a piece of fabric?  It's a sensory thing that drives me batty.  

I'm going to gingerly try a pumice stone on the callouses while in the shower and see what happens.  I asked on the fitness forum I'm on what other ladies do for this kind of thing and the answers were less than helpful (along the lines of "I wear my callouses with pride!).  One person said they did use the PedEgg (which is useless on my feet but might work on my hands--where the heck is it???).  

Anyway, not a lot going on right now.  I really need winter to be over.  I've tried to be noble about it.  I've tried to stay in the moment.  But I'm totally through with winter.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You don't know squat!

But if you do, you know a lot.  

I promise this is not a fitness blog.  LoL!! I'll keep it brief.

I have learned so much since I started this fitness journey. I've learned about myself, my body, and I've l learned a lot about fitness and nutrition in general.  It was only inevitable that I would also be learning lessons about life.  

Once you've been exercising for any amount of time, you realize you have exercises that you really, really like.  One such exercise for me is the squat.  

It stands to reason that I would really like the squat:  my legs, like most women's legs, are the strongest part of my body.  So while I've always dreaded push-ups (not so much anymore, by the way), I could always look forward to the squat.  In no time, I found myself squatting with 35 lbs. dumbbells in each hand.  My gains in upper body exercises?  Not so substantial.  

Anyway, I've been working out at home for a while now and every DVD that I've ever watched emphasizes these things while squatting:

  • knees should not track over the toes
  • sit back in your hips
  • sit down into the squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor as if you're sitting in a chair
That's really about it.  It's not until I started with NROL4W that I started to look for more information about the squat only because I was no longer using dumbbells (I'm using an olympic bar at the gym).  And I was really surprised.  Really surprised!  

I learned first of all that I could have seriously hurt my knees doing squats the way some of these DVDs instruct!  The first DVD that comes to mind is Jari Love's Get Ripped and Chiseled but also Chalean Extreme.  Not one person in these DVDs (including Love or Johnson) is squatting correctly. 

For a squat to count as a squat, there needs to be some serious depth in the movement. Not as if you're sitting in a chair but as if you're trying to take a dump in a hole in the ground.  That deep.  A squat is not chair pose with weights.  

I've seen videos on You Tube (like the Squat Rx series and An Intro to Squats by Mark Rippetoe) but the article (reading is my way of learning) really drove home the point and helped me really understand what's supposed to be happening when I squat.

I haven't been doing full, correct squats all this time but today in the gym, that was my focus.  I thought I'd probably only be able to squat the bar (45 lbs.) but it turns out that 65 lbs. was a challenge and 70 lbs. is really where I should be.  Thanks to yoga (and my natural inclination to sit on the floor and squat to do close to the floor tasks), it seems I have pretty good mobility in my ankles, hips and hamstrings.  The squatting today felt really, really good . . . and complete in a way that squats never felt before.  I think I love this exercise even more now.  

So, I'm feeling grateful to be learning good form and preserving my joints but I'm feeling a little wary of mass-marketed workout DVDs about weightlifting these days.  Now that I'm learning about the various exercises, I see places where these fitness experts have made mistakes.  I wonder if people could really injure themselves.  I definitely think folks should be more responsible about what they put out when they claim to be an expert.  

This serves as a gentle reminder to always, always, check a second, third and fourth source for information.  Never, ever take what any "expert" says at face value. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

I joined a gym

For two years, I have worked out and gotten into the best shape of my life exclusively at home.  My Powerblocks are almost as important to me as my KitchenAid--and that's saying a lot.  

I've been doing the Chalean Extreme program since the middle of 2010 and I have nothing but the highest recommendations for this program.  Initially, I wanted to do the P90X program but I just couldn't swing the time commitment.  Chalean Extreme is perfect in that it was a serious, all-over strength training program in a time-frame I could handle.  And I'm so pleased with the results.  Chalean completely converted me to the idea of "Go heavy or go home" and I never miss an opportunity to encourage women to start lifting weight--heavy weight.  It's true:  you won't bulk up and look like a man but you will become strong and get that tone that you desire.  Not to mention all the fringe health benefits (like denser bones).  

So after about 6 months of Chalean Extreme, I was looking to do something different.  I picked up The New Rules of Lifting for Women (NROL4W) by Lou Schuler and it looked like something I could handle.  I was a little discouraged because I wasn't sure if I could do the program at home (it's designed mainly as a program you do in the gym) but I thought I'd do my best.  It took me a little while to get into the book . . . I don't know, it just wasn't straightforward in the way it was written so I had to figure out exactly *what* I was supposed to be doing each day.  Well, I knew I wanted to start in 2011 so a few days before new year, I really sat down with it to figure things out.  

I did the first workout at home last Monday and it was fine.  I didn't feel like I just *couldn't* do it at home.  I really felt the workout the next couple of days too.  But the Sunday before I couldn't go out to run due to ice on the ground.  Every day for the past couple of weeks, there's been ice to contend with.  I thought maybe I could just put on my ice trax and keep it moving but honestly, that didn't sound smart.  I could wait till later in the day when it thaws out a bit but I really try to keep my working out from interfering with family life, if you know what I mean.  I like to be done before everyone is awake so it doesn't feel like I'm taking time from them.  As it stands now, every other Sunday I go to a donation Bikram class at 2.  Even though it's amazing, I can't shake the feeling of guilt at bouncing in the middle of the day.  

Anyway . . . I need to run.  Period.  Point blank.  And it wouldn't hurt and could only help to have all the equipment that's recommended in NROL4W so I could do it as is.  (Squats especially have become difficult since currently I squat with 35# in each hand and it was getting to the point that the weights were just too heavy for me to hold.)   Even if the treadmill didn't work out, I could definitely do NROL4W and being able to work on my squats with a bar would be awesome.  (I checked out olympic bars and thought about buying one but honestly, I just don't have the space for it--my fitness corner is already well-cluttered.)  So I joined the gym just for a month to see if I could get down. 

I can get down.  I was having my doubts though. This gym is my local gym.  I walk about 10 minutes and I'm there.  It's mostly a weight lifting gym--lots and lots of weights and weight machines.  The culture there is such that there's really no one to ask for help so I have spent a lot time just figuring simple things out.  (I suppose I could have paid for a training session but there's the money issue.  I just . . . can't put out anymore.)   Today, I was very frustrated trying to figure out what bar I was supposed to be using to squat.  Such a simple thing but a source of serious confusion.  I was ready to say that after the month is over, the gym membership is over.  There's not much floor space so if I wanted to do floor work, I'd have to cram myself into a corner and really, the frustration was zapping my energy.  

But then . . . I got on that treadmill.  And started to run.  And it felt so good.  I had worried about how different it would be having always run on asphalt and then running on a treadmill but it was just fine.  I thought I would hate running and not going anywhere. But I really, really, really enjoyed myself.  They gym membership is well worth it for the treadmill alone and monthly membership (if I sign up for a year) amounts to about $18 a month.  Not too bad.  

And as an added perk, I finally got to listen to some of a podcast I had downloaded eons ago on the walk home.  

I think I *like* leaving the house to work out--even in the dead of winter. I can focus better and not worry about disturbing anyone or being disturbed.  I'm glad the gym is in walking distance too because I *know* I couldn't motivate myself to go if I had to drive there.