Monday, June 30, 2008

Will Fat Burners Turn Me Into a Skanky Ho?

Okay, so the supplement thing is still on my mind. I don't believe that relying on supplements to maintain a physique is smart or even really the definition of true MGP, but I accept them as a tool to use in moderation and with an educated awareness of both the risks and the fact that there are no miracle pills to erase the need for good old fashioned discipline and clean living. So I guess that answers my question from a few weeks ago on where I stand - I'm not completely adverse but I'm not putting my hopes and dreams into a bottle of magic either. I know that even if I take a supplement to give my hard work a boost, I still need to put in the hard work.

And also, I am a little afraid of where those supplements will lead me. I read a lot of fitness magazines, and I can't help notice a recurring theme - lots and lots of ads for fat burners. I read them with a skeptical eye, scanning the fine print for the disclaimer reading, "all of this is pretend and no one in their right mind should take this crap." But I don't see those words, just enthusiastic testimonials from women who claim that LipoDissolve or SuddenlyLean or MegaWattHoodiaCut changed their lives and transformed them from dumpy wallflower to...well, skanky ho. I'm serious. Open a fitness magazine and look at the ads. The women look like they just walked out the 3 am shift as a chain-smoking truck-stop stripper. Okay, that was a little mean. I just said that for a laugh. I'm sure there are plenty of perfectly nice chain-smoking truck-stop strippers just working their way through college. All I am saying is they need to have their roots touched up and maybe go a little lighter on the eyeliner.

So I wonder, will taking fat burners turn me into a skanky ho? I'm a pretty conservative gal when it comes to my personal fashion. Okay, I dress like a second-grade teacher, a point which was made abundantly clear to me when, as leaving for my sister's wedding rehearsal dinner, my brother asked me where the non-fiction section was, resulting in snorts and guffaws from my loving and supportive family. So, I don't think I could pull off low-rise jeans with high-heels or a tank top with my bra showing. It would really cramp my style, which currently has a foundation built on broken-in sneakers and a wide selection of hoodies. That's not to say I don't try to look cute, I just usually end up being more in the category of, "oh look at Heather in her grown-up clothes. Isn't that cute!"

I know that the women in the fat burner ads are showing off their bodies because they are proud of them, whether it be the hard work, genetics, fat burners, or plastic surgery that got them there. And because they are getting paid to do it. But because I am a sarcastic smart-ass, and because I am secretly jealous of their ripped abs and toned hamstrings, I judge them and say they look like hos. I'm not proud of my behavior, just justified.

I don't know what any of this means, and I don't have a witty way to end this blog posting. Just an observation - there seems to be a direct correlation between taking fat burners and looking like a skank. I haven't decided yet if that is a risk I am willing to take.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Greyhound Mentality

"If I get to 16% or 17% body fat and I am still not happy with what I see, I just need therapy."

I was at a restaurant talking with my girlfriend while our husbands tried to keep our kids from running into the kitchen, eating off of other people's plates, and generally driving everyone else batty. Our conversation had turned, as most between women eventually do, to our bodies. She poked the straw in her cup. "I'm glad you said that, and I didn't have to." We laughed, and I was again thankful to have a friend willing to shoot straight with me.

It's my birthday, and that means I'm halfway through the year and it is time to check progress on all of those things I was so vehement about back in January. This time, when I look in the mirror, I see two selves: the self who has come a long way, and the self who still has a ways to go. Luckily, I have good friends to keep me honest.

People are starting to comment on the changes I'm making. It feels great to receive a compliment on my physique and feel that my hard work is paying off. I just wish I could see it with my own eyes. Sure, I can see the size label on my clothes show a smaller number, and feel the waistband of my shorts get a little more loose, but like most women, I still frown a little when I look in the mirror. My arms are defined, my legs are getting back into shape, and my obliques are showing the advantage of my lunchtime Pilates and water aerobics classes. But I also see mushy hamstrings and the dreaded tummy pooch. Not as poochy as January, but poochy nonetheless. I know that I will always see these things, and I also know that I kind of hope I always do. I realize that's messed up - let me explain.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with another friend about greyhound dogs. He told me that when people breed greyhounds for racing, they never let the dog catch the target. He never catches the fox, bites the carrot, or gets the bone. As soon as a greyhound tackles his target, he's done, and it is for that reason that they are soon retired - they don't have the drive to chase anymore. It didn't take long for me to see the connection.

I know almost for certain that I will never reach the carrot. And really, I could be feasting on carrots right now and would never realize it. Body issue goals are elusive because we never see ourselves the way others do. But my friend made a very wise point - he pointed out that even though I might not ever reach the carrot, at least I could give my best shot at keeping pace with it.

When I look in the mirror at this mid-point in the year, I am energized. I see the fruits of my labor, and that there is still some harvesting left to do. But the best part is seeing the reflection of someone who is giving an honest shot at accomplishing a dream. In a way, I hope I never wake up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Put Me In, Coach!

I'm off the bench, officially. A couple of weeks ago I took the knee braces off and tucked them away, waving goodbye to my little one-legged mascot and wishing him well. I can take it from here.

My knees (yes, at one point in my therapy I was upgraded to wearing two knee braces instead of just one) feel great, and on my first day back running sans assistance, I felt like Forrest Gump when he takes off running and his braces fall off and he proceeds to run for like 20 years straight. I don't want to run that far, but I felt like I could.

No cramps, no twinges, no aches or pains. Just me and my sneakers, hitting the pavement. Well, and my clothes; I don't run naked. Me, my sneakers, and my clothes: out there hard at work. iPod. Me, my sneakers, my running clothes, and my iPod. Hitting the pavement and giving it our all.

I took it slow for the first week and then got more brave, adding intervals after about 20 minutes. It feels so good to sprint, so good to take off like a bullet and feel my chest swell and heave, and to imagine the sidewalk crumbling in my wake as I race to the finish. If you ever want to experience true euphoria, run sprint intervals while listening to "Invincible" by OK-Go. It never fails.

But more important than running without my velcro buddies was my first real lower-body weight routine. Sumo squat, here I come. I actually didn't do any sumo squats (it's always nice to have something to anticipate) but I did do regular old squats and finally being able to break the plane instead of having to stop just short of a 90-degree angle was like coming home for Christmas. I even jumped on the leg extension with enthusiasm. I'm already seeing some nice definition and having to take the elevator at work is a badge of honor I am wearing with a huge dose of self-satisfaction.

Taking my braces off signaled a new phase in my training, and a new phase in my personal life, as well. I'd had a rough week and knew I needed to make some changes in one of my personal relationships. Saying goodbye to someone you've cared about is never easy, but it helped to find a symbolic link between that departure and taking off my knee braces. Removing the obstacle gave way to a freedom and lightness that I had not felt in a long time, and I finally felt like I was myself again.

So now, I am ready, full-steam ahead, to get my lower body back in shape. Putting up with the things that have held me back for the past few months - physical therapy, slow jogs, itchy knee braces, and wussy leg routines - have been well worth it. I know that I needed to take that break and put up with those inconveniences so I could appreciate the ability to come into the gym and knock it out of the park again.

So put me in coach, I'm ready to play!

Monday, June 9, 2008

To Supplement or Not to Supplement...

It's the age-old question asked by women in gyms everywhere - "is this it?" And the age-old follow-up question asked by diabolical maniacs like me, "for real?"

I'm talking about the hand of cards we're all dealt on Day 1 - our genetic makeup. I've said before, mine kinda sucks. I want a do-over. But I'm getting over it and making the most out of what I have to work with. It's not fair and I'm bitter, but whatever.

As I continue on this journey towards my MGP (maximum genetic potential, if you haven't been taking notes), I've started to wonder about the ground rules. Since it is my own game, I guess I can make them, right? I've been wondering about the definition of "genetic potential" and whether the use of supplements should be allowed. After all, if I am supplementing my efforts with herbs, minerals, and vitamins, am I toying with nature? Or are they elements of nature that should be considered fair game play?

I have always equated supplements with steroids, and never touched them. Well, for a while in college I took creatine, but I was too poor to buy enough to make a difference. But now supplements fill the shelves of the drug store, grocery, and local health food shop, all innocently whispering the advantages they can provide. It could be very easy to load up on a bunch of snake oil, not really knowing what to expect, and end up hurting your progress in the long run. A trip into Vitamin World for some protein powder can make you wonder if you need a medical degree to figure out the hundreds of little bottles standing at attention, ready at your service.

I already take a multi-vitamin and glucosamine for my knee, so technically I guess I am supplementing my diet. But a recent read in a fitness magazine planted the seed of whether to add to my regimen and give my nutrition an edge. It was an article about how to get the most from your workouts by using arginine, caffeine, and creatine in combination with whey protein, fast-digesting carbs, and apparently a lot of water to wash it all down with. Another article recommended taking glutamine to enhance nutrition, and online boards discuss the merits of CLA and others. Of course, you can peruse a magazine stand any day of the week and you can find all sorts of research to support and disprove 31 flavors of fitness gimmicks. It is the responsibility of the user to research these supplements and determine their own personal comfort level with using them.

For me, what it really comes down to is not whether these supplements work (I am sure some do, and others are just a placebo effect) but whether the use of them dilutes the exercise of reaching your maximum genetic potential. Can you really say you are at your MGP when you've relied on something other than nutrition and exercise to get there? Or are they considered a "food group" of their own, just another aspect of nutrition?

I can't decide, so I am asking you. Leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nothing to See Here

Well, it's about the gazillionth week of my training, and I have practically nothing to report. I'm just working out, doing my thing, trying to find balance between it all. Just like every other person in America, I get up, go to the gym, go to work, and go home. I have no wisdom to impart; I am just trying to keep up.

I think these times are sometimes the most challenging when you're working on a goal. When there is an uphill battle, a cause to rally around, or smack talk to be made, the process is interesting and entertaining. When you're just going to the gym and working out, the real work begins. It's easy to go in and give your all when you're psyched up to win. It takes more effort sometimes to just stay the course.

That's what I've been doing lately. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my trainer a couple of weeks ago. He is also a coach for a variety of sports teams, one of which being baseball for middle-schoolers. At least once a week he is shaking his head about the antics of the over-enthusiastic parents of these kids, who seem to engage in a combination of full-contact bleacher coaching and play-by-play commentary, usually directed towards the umpire in the form of personal insults. In this particular case, a parent had become angry when his son's team didn't win the game. He made all sorts of accusations of unfair calls, unsportsmanship, and summed up by saying that the other team just didn't deserve to win. Maybe so, but they did. It happens sometimes.

Not only did this story make me sad for his son, who is missing out on the fun parts of being on a sports team because his dad doesn't play well with others, it made me realize that winning doesn't necessarily happen on the field.

In this case, the baseball team had shown up thinking they could destroy the competition, and they hadn't practiced as much as they should have. The other team was a come-from-behind underdog who pulled it out and won the game fair and square. They had worked hard, created a better strategy, played a stronger game, and ultimately showed that winning happens in practice, not on the field. The other team may have had more experience, highly-skilled players, and a better track record. But even the pros need to practice. Just look at the Saints.

I might just be a product of the "everybody gets a trophy" generation, but I really feel like just getting out there and putting yourself to the test is worth a high-five. Sure, at the end of the day, I want to win. Not necessarily against other people, but against what I thought I could do. But I know better than to think I can just show up and dominate. It takes a lot of hard work to be able to back up that kind of bravado. Maybe I would feel differently if I was naturally athletic and accustomed to easily winning feats of sportsmanship; every inch I have gained (or rather, lost) has been won through lots of blood, sweat, and tears in practice.

So I guess this week, when I have nothing to report, it is because I am practicing. After all, I don't want my dad to have to make a scene.