Monday, September 29, 2008

What?!? Gilad is still on TV?!?

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. Last week, it was a musty hotel room in Fort Lauderdale. I had arrived for a week-long work trip and, after stashing my food in the mini-bar, flipped on the TV. Surfing through channels, I hit the jackpot - FitTV. I don't get FitTV at my house, because I am too cheap, so getting to watch it was a real luxury. Since I wanted to hit the gym right away I did a little happy dance and started to change into my workout clothes.

But then a voice from the television froze me in my tracks and transported me 15 years back. It was Gilad. I rushed back to the TV and stood in wide-eyed wonder.

Oh, Gilad. I worked out with Gilad's show, Bodies in Motion, for what seemed like eons in my family's living room. He was on ESPN in the mornings and I loved his show. I was shocked to see that it was still on, but there he was - still slightly cheesy, still adorable, and still sporting spandex on the beach in Hawaii. I loved how he had his mom and dad working out with him, how he would invite the local sunbathers to join in, and his little health tips at the end of each episode. I harbored a secret wish to be one of his back-up exercise girls. I wasn't crazy about the idea of wearing black sneakers and a belted leotard, but there have been plenty of times when I have looked equally or more ridiculous. In this case, I would at least be getting paid.

Now, working out in a hotel gym for a week is never fun, but seeing Gilad energized me. He reminded me of my early days of getting interested in fitness and nutrition, before I learned about genetics and stretch marks and what happens to your butt after you turn 30.

Since I was out of town for a week, I decided to try something new. I called it my Top 10 Workout: 10 segments of alternating short 10-minute cardio bursts with high-intensity weight exercises. So, I started out running for 10 minutes, then did three alternating no-rest sets of biceps and triceps, then ran incline sprint intervals for 10 minutes, then two different bi/tri sets, then bike intervals, etc. It powered me through almost 90 minutes of cardio and resulted in an average heart rate of 150 beats per minute, which was my goal. By the end of the week I was wiped out. Feeling good, feeling strong, and feeling like I could still keep up with Gilad and his black sneakers. I decided this will definitely be my on-the-road routine from now on.

I'm back at home now, without FitTV. But, our reunion is still on my mind. When I arrived back at my "home base" gym and saw my familiar faces, I was glad for a return to normalcy for a few days before I head out on the road again this week. And as soon as I stash my food in the hotel fridge, you know I'll be scanning the channels for Gilad again.

Getting a good workout on the road can be tough, so you have to look for opportunities and inspiration wherever you can. In my case, a trip down memory lane reminded me that I am still on the same journey I was at 13 years old. And it's nice to know that Gilad is, too. Is it bad that I want to buy a Bodies in Motion t-shirt?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Doing Different Things

Okay, its no big shock that change is important to any well-rounded wellness plan. Having variety in your workouts and nutrition keeps your body from getting complacent, your workouts from getting stale, and your progress from getting stagnant. So I am a big believer in frequent, substantive change.

I am also a believer in cross-training. I like to do a little bit of everything - running, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, weights, elliptical, Pilates...they all have a place in my workouts. I like knowing that my body is in an almost-constant state of flux, and that I have the flexibility to work with obstacles (like a sore knee) and cater to whims (like having a craving for the smell of chlorine on a beautiful day) without having to upset my schedule.

And when it comes to facilitating change in my workouts, I try to abide by one motto: "Don't just do things different things." But sometimes I forget.

I've been needing more cardio these days, and my first instinct was to just get up earlier and run longer. I set my alarm for 4:00 am, and tried to convince myself that the psycho serial killers waiting for me in the bushes aren't really morning people. But the next morning at 4:00 am, I proceeded to hit snooze for 30 minutes, and ended up being later to the gym than I would have been if I had gotten up at my regular time (a mere 15 minutes later).

My second plan was to just try to keep my heart rate up during my weights so I could count it as cardio. I told my trainer I wanted to do more exercises using multiple muscle groups and kept an eye on my monitor to see how I was doing. It was pretty pitiful, and none of my workout buddies seemed super-pumped about my idea that we all do plyometrics in between sets. So it was back to square one.

Then I remembered my motto - don't just do things differently. Do different things.

I arrived early for Pilates the next day and noticed some sweat-drenched women leaving the aerobics room at the church where I workout at lunch. My investigative skills swung into action: They're sweaty! They've been doing cardio! Like a junkie looking for a fix, I tried to act casual as I laid out my Pilates mat and nonchalantly asked the instructor about the class that had just taken place. do this every day? And what do you do on Wednesdays? And would you say I would get a lot of cardio? He nodded enthusiatically and promised me more cardio than I could handle. I decided that we would just see about that.

The next week I showed up at the all-you-can-take cardio buffet with a little apprehension and a moderate-sized chip on my shoulder. I knew these women - they were in the locker room with me after my water aerobics class, and they annoyed the crap out of me. They were loud, pushy, and thought they were just the best game in town. So I wasn't super-pumped about being the newbie in their little club. Plus, I was afraid I was going to have to start exchanging recipes for taco dip after class like they're usually doing on Thursdays.

The day I arrived, they informed me that the instructor was on vacation so one woman took charge, even though she had a foot injury, and proceeded to limp around the room dramatically as she barked orders at us. They turned out to be a friendly and welcoming group, but they were also peculiar. They seemed to have named all of the exercises after people. I wasn't sure if they were in honor of someone who really loved the exercises, or in memory of someone who had died while doing them. I didn't really want to know. I just did my Rhondas and kept my mouth shut.

At the end of the class, I was converted. These women were bossy, set in their ways, and a little obnoxious, but I knew I would be back. It was a good class, even if I didn't want to admit it. When I left, they waved and smiled and told me to have a nice afternoon. I guess I made the cut.

The difference between doing something and excelling at it is a willingness to look for ways to be better. What are you doing to be better? The next time you consider upping your game, don't just do something differently. Do something entirely different.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ow. Ow. Ow. No, that doesn't hurt.

I am pretty sure my trainer is trying to kill me. At least, that's what my hamstrings and glutes tell me every time I move.

As I mentioned last week, we have a new girl working out with us three times a week. On Wednesday of last week, she was lamenting on her soreness from Monday's workout, and I mentioned to her, completely innocently and without the slightest hint of proposing a challenge, that I almost never get sore. That's it. I never get sore. Nice to know. End of story. We moved on.

But little did I know, that innocent comment sparked a fire in my trainer, who took it as a personal challenge. As I unknowingly went about my day he was plotting a workout so difficult, so exhausting, and so treacherous that I would surely be sore the next day.

I wasn't really. It was hard, but not that hard. But I made my mistake halfway through the workout when I overheard him telling someone else what I had said and realized that he was trying to break me. So I was sure to let him know what a cinch it had been.

The next morning, he was waiting for me.

I wasn't in much of a cardio mood and my knee kind of hurt so I was a bit of a slacker that morning. But it turns out its a good thing I saved my energy because 30 minutes later I wanted to throw up. We started out with some normal stuff: shoulders and chest work. And then we moved on to squats. Deep squats. With the barbell, loaded. Four sets of 20. "Twenty?" I gulped. "Twenty," he responded.

So I grit my teeth and got to work. They weren't that hard. And then I heard the deep voice of my trainer from across the room:


I went lower.

"Lower than that."

I doubted my ability to squat any lower and be able to stand back up.

"Heather, your butt needs to touch your heels."

I'll be honest - I didn't do four sets. I did three before he pulled the plug and we set up the step and some plates for step-ups. Three sets of 15 on each leg, 25 lbs in each hand. Pshaw. I do this stuff in my sleep.

After that I went to get some water and asked when he was going to break out the hard stuff. But in the time it took for me to fill my water bottle, he had replaced the step with a weight bench. We took it from the top - three sets of 15 on each leg, 25 lbs in each hand.

Okay, this was hard. I sneaked a peak at my heart rate monitor - 181. Not bad! But I seriously wanted to hurl. From across the room I heard, "that bench is pretty high, huh?" And before I could stop myself, I answered, "it's not that bad."

But in reality, my legs were shaking, I was losing my grip on the plates, sweat was getting in my eyes, and I was making my 33rd New Year's Resolution to start keeping my damn mouth shut. I stepped my 30th step and wiped the sweat off of my face.

"Okay, what now?"

I don't even remember what we did next. It was all a blur. All I remember is waking up Saturday morning and thinking, "yeah, he got me."

But I'll never tell him that. Shhhhh!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Running is Boring. So What?

This morning as I was jogging along a dark neighborhood street wondering if I really would ever be attacked by some madman like two women at my gym tell me every week that I will, and trying to figure out what to write about in this blog today, I came upon a realization: running is boring.

I've always known that running is boring but this morning it just struck me. I'm running down a sidewalk by myself, I thought. This is so boring. At least if I was attacked by a madman, it would liven up my morning run.

Then I arrived at the gym, still wondering what to write about in this blog, and swigged water as I impatiently waited for my trainer to unlock the door, then jumped on the treadmill to start my intervals. This was a lot more interesting. I made it thirteen minutes before I wanted to die. A new record!

Then we moved on to weights. We have a new person lifting with us on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Her first day was Friday and she expressed some doubt as to her ability to keep up with me and Jim, one of my workout buddies. We joked that we notoriously have people workout with us once and then never see them again (although it's not really a joke, it's true). She laughed nervously but after our workout said she would be back Monday. She did come back, and today we kicked her butt. Afterwards she said it was a lot harder than she thought it would be, and I told her that was the point. She said she'd be back Wednesday.

It got me to thinking about an article I read a few weeks ago about Olympian Michael Phelps, which had this quote from his trainer: "successful people make a habit of doing things that unsuccessful people don't want to do." It's the perfect response to the question I field almost every day from someone asking me why I work so hard at something that seems to torment me so much. There are a variety of reasons, most of them related to me not being able to stop myself.

But it is also a good reminder that sometimes, running is boring. Sometimes, workouts are harder than you expect. And sometimes, we just have to suck it up and do it anyway because successful people make a habit of doing things that unsuccessful people don't want to do. And, life is too short to do things halfway.

Once you decide what you want to be successful at, you have to take the boring days along with the attacked-by-a-madman days, and chalk them up to just being part of the process. Running is boring. So what? Do it anyway.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Nutritionist

Okay, by this point you should have picked up on a few things about me:

1. I am an anal-retentive perfectionist.
2. I have unrealistic expectations for myself and others.
3. I spend a lot of time being frustrated by the side effects of #1 and #2.

So it should not come as a surprise that I also spend a lot of time agonizing over things that I have no control over, despite my mother's repeated reminders to, "worry about things you can change, not things you can't." But it's the things I can't change that most need changing!

One of the things I can't change is my basic genetic makeup - a body that is almost as stubborn as I am. As I try, mostly in vain, to beat it into submission, I make calculated lists about what I have control over and what I don't. And then I go and cross some things off because they were, suprisingly, unrealistic. It's a vicious cycle.

But I have a firm belief that one of the things I have control over is my nutrition. We are fortunate enough to live in a country and economy where finding quality food and water is not an issue, and I am grateful for that. And, I am a staunch believer that for me, nutrition trumps workout every time. Solid nutrition is the foundation for a successful exercise program. Without a diet based on healthy, natural, clean food, physical effort is only going to be moderately effective. And since my workouts require me to get out of my warm cozy bed at 4:15 in the morning, I don't want to erase my hard work by eating crap all day.

I feel pretty confident with my diet, but I haven't been seeing the results I expect for all of my hard work (see #2, above). As I indignantly explained to my bemused husband, "I am sick of busting my butt every day to earn the opposite of success." To which he replied, "you're so cute when you're angry." And then he reminded me that I bust my butt every day because I like busting my butt to get stronger and healthier, and not to reach an unrealistic physical goal. And in all honesty, it's a little of both. Is that so wrong?

So I decided to stop having a temper tantrum and take control. I called in reinforcements - a nutritionist at a local training facility. She consults with professional athletes, Olympic hopefuls, I was super-pumped about meeting her and as I explained my goals and current situation over the phone, she sounded excited to meet me, too. I dove head-first into putting together detailed reports of my training, diet, and progress over the past year (see #1, above).

After a 90-minute meeting last Friday, we had evaluated my plan, tweaked it a little, and made plans to meet again in a week. I have my marching orders - new macros and new calorie goals - as well as a pat on the back. I felt so proud that the nutrition plan I had created had been pretty up to par, and that I had found a kindred spirit who seemed to relate to my goals.

It's only been a few days and I am still working out the details, and I am looking forward to seeing how these changes affect my training. But a few things surely won't change:

1. I am still an anal-retentive perfectionist.
2. I still have unrealistic expectations for myself and others.
3. It's totally worth it.