Tag Archives: Fitness

Fitness First

So even though I haven’t been writing about it much, my fitness experiments have continued undocumented. I more or less stopped going to the trainer – really, my 6 month contract ended and although I was getting a lot of benefits and seeing (at least core strengthening) results, I didn’t want to pay the money to be stuck inside a gym during the most beautiful summer months. I’d rather save it up for when it’s gray and miserable out and I need the sauna to feel human.

So my poison of choice? Running and Biking. Two things I am already very familiar with. The added benefit? A likes to do them too! He’s back on the running bandwagon and motivated to push himself hard, which of course pushes me even harder. While I normally give in to “feeling tired” or “I’m not in the mood” knowing that he’s been out pounding the pavement – or that when I go back home we have a run scheduled for the evening – always motivates me to push a little bit further.

I’ve always believed I wouldn’t do well with an exercise partner, or that I hated going to the gym with a friend – mostly because I didn’t like to be tied to someone else’s time constraints, or didn’t want to feel pressured to do more or less than I was comfortable with. While these things are still somewhat true, (I run out of breath because I work myself up to keep up the pace,) it’s been totally motivating to have someone by my side to push me a little bit further and to hold me accountable for what I say I’ll do.

Another bit of motivation? We signed up for a 10k in Berlin in October. Nothing like the thought of panting and crawling along a race path gets me motivated to get my butt moving and start training hard. I don’t need to be a winner at the end, but making it through without losing composure is definitely high on the 10k priority list!

So the fitness conundrum continues and new experiments are undertaken. Does anyone else have as many start and stop bursts of motivation as I do?

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When Cardio Fails

Sometimes you think you are in good shape. And you think you exercise enough. And you think that all the running, biking, walking, hiking, jogging you do should be enough. And then you go to your trainer and realize nothing you’ve done so far has adequately prepared you for what they have in store.

Enter: 60 minute sessions with my trainer. As you may remember, some months back I bit the bullet and signed up for a personal trainer. I decided it was time to take my fitness seriously and get a clue about what my body needed. So after the last 6 months of more, or less, attending sessions (there’s never the time, I’m traveling a lot, my trainer doesn’t have appointments available when I want them, [insert other excuses here]) I am in a unique position of having paid for way more time than I’ve actually used, (prepaid, now I know.) So now, over the course of the next few weeks, I have to use up about 600 unused minutes, which means my sessions will jump from 30 minutes to 60.

Regardless of the 23 mile bike ride on Sunday, and irrespective of the 30 minute run sessions I’ve had over the last week, 1 hour with Anja on Monday has me hurting in my sleep. My legs ache, my back aches, my abs hurt, my arms are sore, and it’s painful to sit on the toilet.  What in god’s name has this woman done to me?! (Amiright, gentleman? 😉 )

Ahh!

Ahh!

So now, after limping to the office this morning, I sit anxiously awaiting my next 60 minute lunchtime session to see what’s in store for me. And hopefully I won’t feel quite so badly about my apparently completely inadequate fitness level – despite my current level of activity!

Train me, personally

So, as I’ve told you, I bit the bullet and signed up for a personal trainer. While I’ve been pretty active in improving my fitness the last year or so (well really, it’s been the last 2.5 years since I first realized I could run,) but since I joined my gym in December 2011 I’ve really begun to learn and see the impact regular exercise has on my body, my mood, and my life in general.

When I don’t get in a few runs a week, or a bike ride – even if just to and from the office – I feel stagnant and energy-less. My mood darkens, my patience thins, and I start to feel a little down on myself. When I take the “me” time to get myself to the gym and kick ass, even if only a 30 minute run, I am awakened and feel good that I did it. It’s amazing what a short 30 minute exercise can do for your mood, and pride. And as famously quoted by Elle, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands…they just don’t!” (Looks like you have a long happy life ahead of you, A 😉 )

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So I realized that my idea of working out lately has been running. Gym = run. And sometimes I don’t feel like running. I’ve talked to friends who are trainers that gave me good alternatives to a straight 10 km/h run in 30, 40, 50 minutes that I’m used to – mixing in some sprints and rest periods. But the truth is that I would also like a strong alternative to running, where I still feel like I’m getting a full body workout, and maybe even mix in some toning while I’m at it.

I realized how much I benefitted when living in Paraguay and watching Jillian Michael’s Burn Fat Boost Metabolism or 30 Day Shred videos in my bedroom. What I gained from all the exercise, which was not due to cardio machines, was flexibility, strength, and agility. While running may help burn fat, and even tone your legs or butt, it does not provide the flexibility you get from lunges, squats, and even jumping jacks.

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Cue, Personal Trainer. I want someone to help me realize what my strengths and weaknesses are and to help me play to them. I want someone to understand inherently what my body needs more of, and to show me how to do it. I basically want someone to tell me how to sculp and shape my body in all the ways I’ve always wanted, but never knew how.

So after a trial session at lunch last Tuesday, where I thought I might actually cry from the strain, I figured – what the hell? Admittedly, I was a little gun shy after last week’s trial, so it took me a week to actually put my sessions on the calendar. But now I’ve got scheduled sessions for the next 6 weeks. At least. Friday is the big first day, where I hopefully get to talk about my hopes and dreams for my personal fitness, which means the next few days are dedicated to building flexibility and squatting as much as possible in preparation!

January Already Kicked My Butt

So I’ve taken another step in the right direction today. I signed up for a personal trainer! I reluctantly handed over a signed contract for (what I consider) a lot of money, and agreed to get fit. At least once a week. For the next 6 months! There go my hopes of “trying it out” for a month. I’ve just full on signed up!

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What lead me to this place, you might ask? Well, aside from not really enjoying running on a treadmill, and the random hip pain I sometimes feel after a good, long run (no reason to be worried, right?) I realized that I don’t actually know how to do anything at the gym that’s not a machine or a class.

I have been trying to self-train for a while now, testing out new exercises, following recommendations of friends, watching workout videos, etc, but for some reason they never stick quite as long as I want. And really, I am sick of my upper-body strength deteriorating more and more each time I try to lift something heavy. I am constantly on the search for the lighter suitcase, the lighter laptop, the smaller bag, etc.

So I finally decided that it’s time to build up some strength! Plus, I’ve never had a personal trainer before. Someone to pay attention to my body, to my weak points, to my specific goals, and to help me reach them! I get a lot of my inspiration from my friend Mel who started FitSteady in Austin, Texas, which helps match-make people and their fitness goals to personal trainers who help them accomplish them. So after listening to her talk about fitness for so long, and wishing I could use the service, I guess I finally caved!

So today was my “trial training.” I guess the point was to test if I was really serious about it and wanted to move forward. They help you run through a few exercises of their choosing and see how you are doing along the way. To be honest, if I had been unsure, today may have made me decide to never do it again. Ever. Especially when she asked me if I had “fun”. Fun? Does she know what that means?!

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Maybe next time…

Anyway, today was a struggle. My level of fitness must be significantly lower than I realized, however I know it’s only a matter of time before I build up my strength. That’s the great thing about exercise, you just need to keep pushing and you will notice the results. So after not doing squats or lunges for a good 4-5 months, today I am back at it. (Note to self, practice before next session!)

So we worked with a high-tech resistance band hanging from the ceiling and worked on my arms and legs. Really it should have been a lot simpler for me than it was. Picture the equivalent of push-ups, but easier and then another variation. Then we moved on to lunge kicks (I was actually out of breath after this one!) and some form of plank but pulling my knees forward, and hip raises while pulling my knees towards me. AHHHHHHHHH!

I am proud I made it through, and only slightly embarrassed that it was as hard for me as it was. But I guess we all have to start (again) somewhere!

About that time again

So it’s been about a year since I started running regularly again. I joined my gym at this time last year and felt empowered to take control of my body and my health. The year has been quite a rollercoaster and although I have done a mostly excellent job at keeping up with my running habits and even relished the noticeable changes in my body, the last few months have been too busy to put  fitness first.

Lookin' good!

Lookin’ good!

What a silly concept, too busy to put fitness and health at the top of your list of priorities? But unfortunately that’s how it so often is. With so many things going on day-to-day and my constant houdini-ing around the globe, it’s hard to maintain consistency.

That is, of course, one of the many reasons running has become such an attractive option for exercise. It doesn’t matter where you are, you can always find somewhere to run – in a park, down the street, through a city, at the gym, etc. You can’t just magically have a bike anywhere you travel, or an elliptical machine, or weights. Theoretically, running really is the best option.

But every time I travel it’s difficult to find the right place, or find the time, or the right climate or conditions for a good run. Plus my travels are usually accompanied by an equally overbearing jetlag. So, I end up taking a break…(like, ahem, the last 3 or 4 months.) Which means it’s always like starting from scratch when I do get back to the gym.

So yesterday was my comeback day. Not in the “First place at the marathon” kind of way, but in the “I’ll be happy if I finish the race” kind of way. I did it, sort of. 25 minutes would have seemed like a joke just a few months ago when I was pushing myself to 50 or more. But I can accept that 25 is a reasonable starting pace for a few months off the track.

The biggest challenge I faced was not shortness of breath, nor pain in my chest, nor even boredom. My biggest challenge was an irking pain in my right hip and knee. The pain which kept me from pushing farther and which caused me to take a few minute break in the middle to stretch out and regain composure.

My future awaits

My future awaits

I am hoping the pain is temporary, or perhaps just from pushing an immobile body “too hard” on the first day. Or maybe it’s just the shoes. Sure, let’s blame the shoes.

So my goals have temporarily been revised from running again, to running without pain. I’ll try out a new pair of sneakers this week to see if it makes any difference. And (gulp) if not I guess it’ll just be another excuse to go see a doctor!

Has anyone else out there has physical limitations or challenges to starting up exercise again after a long time off?

Another Runner’s First – Rainy Days

So I recently celebrated an anniversary…well a couple really. My birthday just passed last week, 27 years (crazy!) And It has been two years since I first left New York for Paraguay. It’s also been about two years since I started this blog and, of course, since I started running!

Actually its quite crazy to think of all the firsts I’ve experienced in the last couple of years, in particular. Moving out of my NYC apartment, quitting my long-time job at an Advertising Agency, moving to South America to become a volunteer, following my passion to save animals, being offered full time employment by the WWF, moving to Germany, learning German, etc.

Nonetheless, life continues to be filled with first experiences. I guess that’s what keeps me going everyday, knowing I have yet to discover the undiscovered!

My most recent first was just the other day. I’ve been super motivated lately to keep get in shape and stay fit, and have been trying to stay as active as possible, whether it be biking to work everyday, running when I get home, high intensity weight and cardio exercises in my living room, (which I’m sure my neighbor downstairs must love!) or attending weight or spinning classes at the gym. So despite feeling utterly exhausted from all the traveling and socializing lately, I finally motivated myself to get out for a run around 9 pm the other night, to catch the last rays of sunshine, (did you know that in the Berlin summer the day stays light until about 10:30 PM?!) I reminded myself how good I would feel after a nice run, since I haven’t been able to fit much in the last week or two while I was traveling in Paraguay, and put on my Vibrams and workout gear and headed downstairs.

I exited my building only to discover that the (very uneven) cobblestones were wet. It had begun to rain. I literally stood on the edge of the doorway for a solid 3 minutes debating if I should just call it quits and head back inside and then remembered what someone had told me recently, “We aren’t made of sugar,” and said what the hell, I’m gonna get sweaty running anyway, might as well let some natural water mix in!

Fernando Mastrangelo’s Sculpture made of Sugar (a.k.a. my impression of what would happen to me if I ran in the rain)

So for the first time in my relatively short running career I opted to run in the rain. It may not sound like such a big accomplishment, but actually it felt very liberating! It was the first time I was able to see through the raindrops to the workout that lay beyond. Rather than assuming a summer must be filled with gorgeous outdoor runs, otherwise I’m doomed to the treadmill at my gym, I realized I can actually make due with inclement weather. It actually even made me reconsider my gym membership, (well for the summer at least!)

So in light of this personal achievement, here’s to another two years of firsts!

Boring Running Routine…or Changing it Up!

So I tend to get into a routine when I go to the gym. And currently, that routine consists of, well, running. I usually run at about a 10 minute mile pace, (so 6mph or 10km/hr.) Depending on the day I may run for about 30 minutes (resulting in 3 miles) up to 50 minutes (giving me a grand total of 5!) But I can’t tell you how boring it is to run in place on a treadmill for 50 minutes with no distractions.

Okay, so I have a TV on the machine, which is 99% (maybe even 100%) of the time German-only broadcasting. Or there are the giant windows that stretch the full length of the wall in front of the treadmills, (much to the delight of passersby on the street below,) which give great entertainment watching lost tourists, homeless men searching in trash bins, hippies, pigeons, etc.

But mostly the workout is just monotonous and boring and I need to change it up! I have gotten many recommendations from good friends, (most of whom are fitness gurus for the fun of it and have a vested interest in my well being…maybe,) but sometimes I try them out and sometimes I don’t. E.g. I have not yet attended a Zumba class because I just can’t bring myself to do coordinated dance classes at the gym! If my body is made for moving, it needs to be a little more risque than dancing in a line with 20 other sweating women. Maybe…or I might take this back when I finally do attend a class and think, THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER!

So I recently tried out another suggestion from the lovely Miss Marissa who suggested I do distance intervals to give my workout a boost. She recommended 5-7 sets of 400 m at about a 6.5 mph pace and then 200 m recovery (involving either a walk or jog.) Never wanting to cut myself short, I increased the speed just a bit to 6.9 mph, kept the steady intervals, and extended the sets to 11. Overall I ran (and walked, if I include my ‘recovery’ periods,) a total of about 4 miles over around 45 minutes. And I felt like I had really kicked my butt in the process!

I noticed a few things stepping of the treadmill from this workout; 1) I wasn’t bored! Managing the time I was running to recovery and speed, etc didn’t leave much room for boredom and the workout was continuously changing so it kept it interesting, 2) I had no blisters! It seems everytime I run these days I walk out of the gym with new (and very painful) blisters that pretty much make me want to cry by the time I finish up a run. I know, I know – time for new sneakers!, and 3) I felt like I had accomplished a new feat which somehow gave me an extra surge of energy and pride, and maybe even feelings of invincibility!

Overall I’ve learned that it really is crucial to change up the routine so working out does not become monotonous and boring, but that you can look forward to a new an exciting workout, and challenging your body in new ways each time you enter the gym. And I’ve also learned that as long as I’m not willing to pay a trainer for my fitness (yet) I need to take the suggestions of friends more seriously, and attend more of the classes included in my membership, (German language be damned!)

How do you overcome your gym rut?

Breaking the Monotony