Monday, April 28, 2008

Kicking My Own Glutes

In the 17th week of my training, I hit a new low. I bought Glute magazine. My lower-body workouts have been lacking due to the hinderance of my knee brace, and as a result I have been stressing (and complaining to anyone who will listen) about the mushy state of my legs. So, when I spied Glute at the grocery store, featuring a smiling model on the cover coyly looking over her shoulder to better show off her glutes, I plunked down my $3.99 and settled in. The cover story was called, "Your Tight, Sexy Butt," which sounded kind of like a title that should be on the cover of a different kind of magazine. But I was intrigued.

My husband burst out laughing when he saw Glute sitting on my bedside table. He has taken to calling it "Bootylicious," and is amazed that there is an entire magazine dedicated to glutes. But he can laugh all he wants. It became my trusted companion this week.

I needed Glute because I was out of town most of the week at a conference. This is not a new occurance for me; I travel periodically for my job and have faced many a hotel gym and catered lunch. But this time, I wanted it to be different. I was so sick of being disappointed with my away-from-home workouts, and having to navigate sticky buns and criossant sandwiches to find healthy, clean food puts me on the fast track to a bad attitude. So, I took matters into my own hands - I packed an ice chest of food and decided that workouts were going to be my way or the highway. I really didn't want to run on the highway, so I prayed that the convention center had a decent gym.

I also prayed that I would have the discipline to do this on my own. My trainer has spoiled me. Solo workouts used to be the norm, but lately I've been throwing my own private temper tantrum when left to my own devices, and I lack discipline when left with no accountability. The past few times on the road, I have gone down to the hotel gym in the wee hours of the morning, found myself facing a tired treadmill and a few mismatched dumbells, muttered, "I can't work with this," and headed back upstairs. As a result, I spend the day in a funk, not having had my daily dose of martyrdom and accountability. Even if the gym is decent, I still find myself doing a few bicep curls, some overhead presses...but it just isn't the same when you're alone. I used to be self-directed, but now I am dependent. I know that kind of behavior is not going to get me to my MGP. I am beyond the point of exercising to maintain good health; I have a goal. I need to suck it up and work.

So I turned to my old standby - organization. When the going gets tough, the tough get organized. I knew this week would be a bear, so I went in with a clipboard and got anal about it (pun intended). I opened Glute magazine and others to map out workouts for each day complete with supersets, rest times, and sequences. I knew that even if the gym was crummy, there would still be no excuse.

My prayers were answered when I showed up at 6:00 am (what kind of gym doesn't open until 6:00 am???) to find all of the cardio equipment taken, except for one lonely stationary bike which I left alone. So, I hit the weights first and kept an eagle eye out for a treadmill. I shot a longing look at the smith machine and said a silent prayer for my return to the sumo squat, but turned my attention to my little list. I tucked my water in a corner and got to work. I usually love working out with a group so we can banter and gossip and engage in friendly trash talk, but today was different. My shuffle was cranked up and I was in my zone, sweating it out and really enjoying the new pace. Glute didn't let me down. By the time a treadmill opened up and I began to run, I was exhausted. In the elevator on the way back to my room, I wanted to lie on the floor and take a nap. I felt so hard-core.

Throughout the rest of the day, I moved a little more slowly, stood up a little more cautiously, and sat a little more gingerly. I don't know if I have a tight, sexy butt yet, but that workout and the ones on the following mornings proved to me that if I really, really have to, I can do this on my own again. I liked being stubborn and driven like in the old days, and am almost looking forward to my next business trip so I can give myself another good kick in the pants.

But not until someone publishes Hams.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Go Time

It's the 16th week of training, and I am starting to freak out.

I recently received a fitness magazine showcasing the top contenders in a fitness competition, and I devoured it like a refugee who had stumbled upon a chocolate-chip muffin. But when I sat and looked at the pictures of figure competitors who looked unlike anything I thought my body could do, and began calculating the numbers of hours I would have to workout, grams of protein I would have to eat, and dollars I would have to spend on plastic surgery to achieve that type of body, my husband looked over my shoulder and said, "those women look gross."

They did look kind of gross. They looked like some kind of nightmare freak Barbies. I know a lot of it is tanner and oil and posing, and they don't look like that when they're pushing the buggy at Target with the rest of us mere mortals. I looked at those women and thought, ew. And then immediately, can I even get there?

I have my doubts. Sure, I can get my body fat down and workout really hard and eat the perfect diet, and be in really good shape as a result. But these women have a genetic makeup that lends itself to this line of work. I don't know if I have that. I'm not sure how far hard work, drive, and determination can get me in this game. At some point I'll need to alter my DNA, and I don't have the skill set for that.

I spent the weekend reuniting with my college girlfriends, fully engaged in a diet of homemade cookies, mexican food, and ice cream. I enjoyed the diversion from my usual regimen of egg whites and protein shakes, but I also craved a workout and looked forward to going back to my clean eating ways. I realized that my splurge days are becoming more rare and less enjoyable. I'm glad for that, because it signals a permanent change that I am ready for.

As I sat in the airport during my four-hour layover, I contemplated whether I was setting myself up to be a laughing stock, and if I should quietly fade into the background, letting this project become a memory and hoping no one would notice my absence. But as I walked down the aisle of the plane and searched for my seat, I felt the fire build inside of me, enraged at the thought of quitting. And as I looked through the window at the shrinking landscape and let the clouds envelop me in white space, I closed my eyes and tried to visualize myself at the finish line, imagining what that would look like and how that would feel. I had a hard time seeing it, and it was then that I realized that the finish line would never be there.

I opened my eyes and looked back through the window of the plane. By now we were above the clouds and the sun was shining on us. I opened my magazine and looked at the unreal statue-like bodies of the professional figure competitors and thought about the vast differences between their hamstrings and mine. And then the fire returned, this time cheering me on. I might never look like a tanned, shiny, frekaziod Barbie on steroids, and to be honest, that's okay. But I do want to reach what I have been calling my MGP - my Maximum Genetic Potential.

Will my MGP cut the mustard next to elite gymnasts, professional figure models, and genetic lottery winners? We'll find out. Either way, I have stopped looking for the finish line and started training for the long haul.

Fitness magazines, websites, and television shows can be great motivators for anyone working on a healthier lifestyle. But at the end of the day (or in my case, in the wee hours before daybreak) it all comes down to you, your nutrition, and your weights. When those planets are aligned, it's go time.

So let's go.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Form for (Better) Function

I need to work on my form.

I hear it every day, in some variation, in the deep baritone voice of my trainer:

"Watch the knees, Heather."
"Arch your back, Heather."
"Straighten those arms, Heather."
"Flat back, Heather."

I know what the problem is - I'm rushing. I do the same thing in my lunchtime Pilates class, always reminding myself to slow down, we're not in a race. I live my life in fast-forward, and so it shouldn't be much of a shock that I am also GO GO GO when it comes to my hobby. I don't know if you've gathered this in your reading of this blog, but patience is not a quality I possess.

So I am making a concerted effort to slow down, enjoy the process, and work on my form. I had my first opportunity last week when I shared some information I had read while googling fitness competitions on a Saturday afternoon: that in one event, the womens' bench press was done with 60% of her body weight. I pondered what 60% of my body weight would be and whether I could bench that much. My mathematics skills lacking, I left that task up to my trainer, who told me that it would be 81 lbs. I was currently doing an easy chest press with two 25 lb dumbells (full extension, Heather) and replied, "okay, something to work towards."

We moved on to a series of overhead shoulder presses (elbows in, Heather) and I watched out of the corner of my eye as said trainer set up the bar with some plates. As he rolled a bench over and centered it beneath the bar, my suspicions were confirmed. My training buddy and I grabbed our towels and tried to brace ourselves. I went first.

I sucked.

On my second set, I did better. On my third, my arms turned to cement and I felt frozen in time as I willed myself to push the bar higher and felt absolutely no response. Somehow it was re-racked and I cringed. As I wiped my sweat from the bench and resumed normal breathing, my trainer calmly announced, "that was 85."

And we went on to cable pulls.

I love that process. The process of identifying a goal, determining the likelihood of success, and then testing myself to see if I can pull it out. It's something I want to do every day, whether in the gym or at work or at home. But, I know that just going through the motions doesn't count. I don't want to get stuck in a routine of going to the gym, running my regular route, doing my usual elliptical intervals, and robotically going through a weight routine just so I can check it off of a list. That's what I've been doing lately. But, today I'm giving myself a jolt: time to wake up, focus on my form, and start pushing myself again.

I left the gym that day feeling stronger, but also wondering...if I could do 85 lbs...could I do 90? Someone hang up the carrot, please.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Zumba Right Past Me

If you ever need a reminder of your complete lack of grace, coordination, and sex appeal, attend a Zumba class. That's what I did in this the fourteenth week of training, and I've got the bruised ego to prove it.

One of my training partners has been going to Zumba, the fitness fad that promises to fuse "hypnotic musical rhythms and tantalizing moves to create a dynamic workout system designed to be FUN and EASY TO DO!" Each morning she raves about her class the night before, how she burns so many calories and has so much fun. My gym scheduled some free sample classes, and all of a sudden it seemed like everyone was Zumba-ing. So when a friend at work mentioned she was going to a class one weekend and asked me to come along, I happily accepted and looked foward to finding out what this craze was all about.

When I arrived at the class, the energy was palpable. These women were pumped! They were so excited that I was there! They told me not to pay yet, to wait until after the class because I would surely want to buy the "six pack," of passes at a cheaper per-class rate! They just could not wait to share the fun of Zumba with me! I put my water bottle down and stood against the back wall and waited for my friend. I noticed the table of Zumba-wear: t-shirts, bandanas, pants, license plates, and more. These women loved them some Zumba.

Like the nerd that I am, I wore my heart rate monitor. I wanted to see just how good a workout this was. So when the music started and the instructor, a tiny effervescent woman whose hips appeared to move independent of her body, started to show us the moves, I jumped in and tried to keep up.

The first song was fun. The moves were pretty basic and the music was catchy. But the second song required a little more hips and lot less self-awareness. I knew the complete fish-out-of-water feeling I had must have been reading on my face, due to the laughter coming from my friends whenever they looked my way. I looked like Frankenstein trying out for the cheerleading squad. It was not good.

The women around me, including my two friends, were having a great time. They wiggled their hips and shook their bootys and waved their arms in the air. They looked sexy and graceful and like they were letting go of their cares and having a great time. I wanted to keep my cares close by where I could see them. It was then that I realized I prefer workouts that are much more direct: "Lift this heavy thing 15 times." Okay. "Run in that direction for 2 miles, then come back." Got it. "WIGGLE THOSE HIPS, LADIES!!! SHOW ME SOME ATTITUDE!" Um, yeah. What?

It was when she shouted "This is fat-free salsa, ladies!" that my smart-ass kicked in. I thought, "all salsa is fat free," and resolved to never attend an exercise class where each song ends with clapping and "wooooo!"

I'm not being completely fair. Zumba looks like a lot of fun, and the women in the class were having a great time. The instructor was a really nice woman who truly wanted us to feel the Latin beat. I enjoyed watching her dance and wished that I could move with that kind of abandon. But unless I am wearing a tacky bridesmaid dress and have obtained access to an open bar, I don't dance. Even then my skill level is questionable, but at least I don't care anymore.

The worst part of the class was having to sheepishly hand over my $10 and confide that I would not be purchasing the six-pack. She so wanted me to love Zumba and I didn't want to let her down. But, if I'm being completely honest, I don't need that kind of regular reminder of my awkwardness.

So, have fun Zumba girls. I'll be sticking to the weights.