Monday, May 26, 2014

Work-out Tips for Real People

Do you ever go through the Health & Fitness boards on Pinterest and feel totally defeated? Seriously, those 'Fitspiration' posts are the worst! Actually, that's not true. The 'motivational quotes' are the worst. You know, the ones that tell you to keep pushing through it after you're vomiting and feel like passing out, because quitting is for losers? Yeah. Those are great...
Anyway, I have persevered through the demotivating feelings and downer days, for the most part, and have been having some success getting in my daily workouts! And now I want to share some of my wise wisdoms with you! Nothing mind blowing, but definitely practical advice for people looking to up their workout schedule!

First, some basics:
1. Just start. We can have lots of reasons we're not partaking in a regular exercise routine: no time, physical limitations, injuries, etc. But the reality is, something is better than nothing. So take the time and abilities you do have, and start using them. You don't have to carve out an hour a day yet. If you're really off the wagon, start with 10 minutes of gentle stretching or yoga every night before bed. If you're up for something more, find a 10 minute video that you can follow and do it during nap time, lunch break, or before your morning shower.
2. Keep going. You've started! YAY! Now keep going. Once you're moving, it's easy to keep moving, and move a little bit further, faster, and harder each day. Find more time you can convert into work-out time. If you watch TV at night when the kids are in bed, run in place while you're watching. One episode of Big Bang Theory later, and you've got a nice little workout in! Everyone starts slow, but that doesn't mean you have to stay slow. Start with a jog, work in running intervals, start to see how long you can run for, and if you're down to the last 5 minutes, and you're still feeling like you've got some steam to burn, working in high-knee and jumping jack intervals! But the point is, take what you're already doing, and expand on it.
3. Warm up, stretch, cardio, strength, cool down, stretch. K, I'm going to blame High School gym classes for this, but I was unaware until recently that stretching was not part of warm up, but actually a separate step that takes place after your muscles have had a chance to warm up! What does that mean? Well, if you're a runner, jog the first half km, then stretch, then run. I was doing this wrong (stretch before I leave, jog, then run) and it can't have done my knees any favors... If you're not a runner, do a burst of low intensity cardio, then stretch, then feel free to do your jumping jacks, burpees, etc. And remember to not stop cold - do a cool down to help you heart rate regulate, and don't forget to stretch at the end; not only will stretching help you to avoid unnecessary pain, but static stretching between exercises has been shown to increase muscle development.
4. Drink water. Everyone says it, because it's important. I've personally found one of the easiest ways to drink more water is to add a drop of lemon, grapefruit, or lime essential oil to it. No added calories, great flavor, and added health benefits? Awesome! Just make sure you use therapeutic grade oils - I recommend Young Living. *Note: some people recommend adding an emulsifier to the water to break up the oil. Even adding a tsp of ground flax seed would help with this.
5. Track your body measurements. I worked out nearly every day through January, along with a very healthy diet. You want to know how many pounds I lost by the end of the month? NONE! Zero! BUT, I can tell you my face was noticeably leaner, as were my thighs. My biceps were more defined and there was much less jiggle in my arms. Oh, and my clothes fit better than they had in a while.

And now for something completely different (or rather, just some more tips):
1. Change into your exercise clothes each morning. I read this somewhere, tried it, and realized I was infinitely more likely to exercise if I were dressed for it, than otherwise. However, I will point out that your workout clothes should be more than just your pajamas. That's really just luring you back for a nap, more than a workout. And if you're like me and want to look more put together by the time hubby gets home (if for no other reason than to convince him you didn't just sit around all day) then you'll have a deadline in your mind for when you need to be done your workout by.
2. Find something small to do every night before bed. Squats, planking, crunches... anything that can be done every day, on top of your normal workout, that will make big improvements over time. Often I find if I workout early in the day, I feel great by night and I'm craving more. This little habit fills my craving, gets in one more bit before bed, and I can do these in my bedroom - some even when I'm lying in bed!
3. Don't waste a perfectly good shower on a body that hasn't sweat that day. It's been a long day. You didn't fit in a workout. Now that the kids are finally asleep, you're about to climb into the shower. Stop. Do 40 jumping jacks, or high knees. Do something, anything, that will make you sweat. It's all coming off in a minute anyway, and you'll feel much better about the day knowing you at least did that, whatever else the crazy kids in your household kept you away from accomplishing!
4. Pick one body part to put priority on. Why? Because if you only have time for a short workout, or you have room for one more workout before you have to call it for the day, then you'll know exactly what you want to target. Want to tone your tush? Make sure you get those squats in. Need to develop more core muscles? At the very least do some planks. Need to shed some flab? Cardio, cardio, cardio. Not to say these are the only things you should do, but having a focused goal is more helpful than, "I want to look better."
5. Make a playlist. This CANNOT include anything by Raffi or The Wiggles, and would preferably have some 80's glam rock songs worked in. Just sayin'.
6. Encourage your spouse. I'm sure there's a study somewhere that I could reference with hard scientific evidence about this, but I've seen it in my house and I can vouch that it's true: it is SOOOO much easier to live a healthy, active lifestyle when your spouse is doing the same. Even just asking them to help you by working out with you will likely be enough to get them going on their own healthy path. It's hard to stay on the healthy-eating track if you feel obliged to serve baked mac and cheese for family dinner, or take the family out for ice cream whenever the hubby gets a craving.
7. Use Pinterest or web videos. I don't know about you, but I have neither the time or the money for a gym membership. All of my workouts are done at home, or in the few blocks around my house. That's why I love my Health board on Pinterest. I see a new exercise I want to try, I pin it. Then when I have time to workout, I usually have that board open so that if I need a couple more exercises, I can just scroll through quickly and pick something. I don't have a personal trainer, but for now, these pins are working fine! There are some great resources out there, and you can find exercises to target different muscle groups that are very useful. And those 10 minute workout videos? Actually a lot of fun to follow! And this is coming from the girl who hates turning on any video on the internet! I find you push yourself harder when you follow people leading, in person or on video, than if you just try to lead yourself.
8. Don't push it too hard. Everything I said in comment #7? Take it with a grain of salt. There is also A LOT of bad stuff out there. For example: ever see those '5 minute power workout' lists? You know, where you go between jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, high knees and squat thrusts as fast as you can? If you do those your first day in - actually, even your first few months in! - you're likely going to hurt yourself. The other day I read some "Tips to lose weight" by Prevention magazine, and I sincerely hope it was a typo that caused them to suggest you go every other day only eating 600 calories. That's not safe, not healthy, and just plain bad advice. If you hurt, take a break - don't plow through it. It's one thing to push through the burn, it's another to tear a ligament because you're being an idiot. If you do throw up while you're working out, please stop, contrary to some of the 'fitspirational quotes' I've seen.
9. Fall in love with it. This one is easy. Exercise is addictive; your body gets used to having a rush everyday, and you start craving it, and wondering if it's too soon to start your next workout (and yes, 4 hours is likely too soon). Get into a routine, and soon you'll hate to miss it. And if you fall out of it, and have troubles getting going again, go back to the very first point I made in this post: Just start. And pretty soon you'll wonder why you ever let yourself stop.
10. Get your kids in on it. I talked a lot in this post about workout after bedtime, or while the kids are napping. That's not going to work for everyone. So, what else can you do? Make it part of your daily play! My kids now love when I roll out my exercise mat, and they do all sorts of 'exercises' saying, "This is a good one, right Mommy! This will make me super strong!" If I'm doing cardio and the kids want to join in, I'll sometimes narrate a 'scenic run' where I ask them what we see as we're passing imaginary farms, cities with street cafes and running alongside the ocean. Sure they can get underfoot a little bit, but involving them is often much easier than hoping they'll keep occupied elsewhere, and not interrupt you. And toddlers often love to watch Mommy from their perch in their high chair while she jumps around, apparently doing a clown act purely for their enjoyment. Bonus: not only are you making your body healthier, you're also setting an example for a healthy lifestyle for your kids. If they see exercise as part of every day life, instead of something that you enter into by coercion, you're making it easier for them to incorporate it in their every day life as they grow up.
11. Take the kids out more. For someone who struggles to find enough time in the day, this may seem counter-productive, but hear me out. What fills up the most time in a day in the life of a mom? Kids. So keep those kids occupied by a trip to the park, or a walk, or even an outing to the zoo. And you know what? That can very likely count as your daily exercise if you do it right. Pushing a stroller? Do walking-jogging intervals. Kids think it's a blast! At the playground with older ones? Get on there with them! Playing at a park? Be another ninja with your kids, running, rolling and diving along with them! I know I struggle with getting out of the house some days weeks - it all just seems to be too much work. But what if I viewed it as my exercise that day? Then would it be worth it to take the kids to the trails and go for a nature walk? What about pulling them around the block in their wagon? Just keep in mind the basics of exercise: make sure you warm up and stretch, work in some high intensity, and even flex certain muscle groups during different activities to get the most out of them. And then drink lots of water :)
12. Equip your home. As I mentioned above, I have no money and no time (away from kids, that is), to use towards regularly attending a gym, so I workout in my home with the aid of the interwebs. And while you can do without, there are a few things that I find supremely helpful in my workouts:
- an exercise mat
- training shoes
- 2 lbs, 5 lbs and 10 lbs hand weights
I have hard floors, so I use the mat for a more comfortable exercise. In the basement we have carpet... on top of concrete. The mat is extra helpful here to ensure I don't get hurt from joint compression during high intensity workouts.
Training shoes are a must for a runner. Find a pair that fit your foot and your step well. Some people work out indoors with their shoes on for added comfort, balance, grip and protection. I'm hoping to get a pair of Nike Studio Wraps, but until that happens, I go barefoot inside.
The hand weights are great for strength exercises - muscle burns fat faster, so even if you're just working to lose inches instead of build muscle, having more muscle will help you attain that faster. So muscle = good. Lower sized weights aren't just for beginners - they're ideal for toning. As you get stronger you may want larger weights, but typically you can increase reps and set length to get the increased burn.
I buy all of these things at Winners (for a fantastic price) or at Canadian Tire.
13. All you Mommy's - start at the basics! You know those post partum exercises where they tell you to lay flat and then lift your head? And that totally kicks your butt? Yeah, you need to ease into things. If you were one of the Mom's who ran your last half-marathon at 5 months, you'll likely bounce back a lot quicker than, say, me - the mom who laid on the couch for 9 months and could barely get up to go to bed each night. But all of us will have had our bodies damaged to some extent by the burden of carrying 6-10 lbs of baby inside us. So once you're ready to upgrade from head lifts, try holding a Tabletop pose, then lowering your bum, and bringing it back up, flexing your abs. Once this is easy, try doing it balanced on one leg, with the other ankle resting on your bent knee. You can also lower down to your back for this, instead of planting your hands.

I'm not a doctor. I'm not an expert. I'm not even that fit - but I'm getting better. And as a mom of three kids, these are the things that I have found to work in my life, and I hope you have some success with it in yours!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

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