Monday, September 28, 2009

It Worked!

Don't you love that feeling when you realize your hard work is actually paying off? And the subsequent feeling when you choose NOT to celebrate it with a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks? I had that feeling on Sunday, when I put some of my training to the test with a hurdle coach on a soggy football field.

My boss, who is a runner/adventure racer/snazzy dresser/all-around good guy, offered to put me in touch with a track coach for a local high school for some coaching on hurdles. I wasn't sure if this man had lost some kind of bet or if news of my pitiful hurdle progress had made it all the way to my boss, but I accepted the referral gratefully. I had hit the wall, pun intended, and needed some help. And the fact that said boss asked me the next week if I had talked to him, I figured I needed to step up and do this already.

To be honest, I was intimidated. As we emailed each other to schedule a meeting time, I was sure to set the expectation early on - I wanted to make sure he was aware that unlike the 18-year-old leggy gazelles he may be used to working with, I am a 5-foot 4-inch 33-year-old mom with muffin top. A small, wheat-free flax muffin, but a muffin nonetheless.

We met at the local high school track, and as I entered I was immediately faced with memories of my own high school experience. Since I had already blocked most of that out, I was surprised by my mind's ability to recall feelings of restless boredom and escape-route-planning just by looking at a set of high school bleachers. I had never played sports in high school, preferring to perfect my angst-scowl with the theatre crowd, so I didn't have a lot of first-hand experience on a track. I kind of regretted that; I think I would have really liked it if I had been motivated to do anything other than make sarcastic comments under my breath when I was a teenager. Although, that was fun too.

Anyway, I was excited to see what I could do, even if it was embarassing. The obstacle course is in 6 weeks and I want to do well. So, we set up some practice hurdles and I ran over them pretty easily. He analyzed my stride and we determined my lead and trail legs. We discussed the distance between the hurdles and whether I should alternate lead legs or not. We made small talk and I decided that I liked him and he was pretty darn generous for spending his Sunday morning with me in the sun on a soggy football field.

I was feeling confident, but so far the highest hurdle I had cleared was maybe 15 inches. We turned to our next task - the 30-inch hurdle I would be faced with in the course. But instead of an actual hurdle, we created our own out of much friendlier materials - the foam yardage markers the football team used during practice. When stacked on top of each other, they equaled 30 inches, and crashing into them didn't seem so bad. I took a deep breath, started running, and....

I jumped over all three.

I did it! It worked! All of those days training my hip flexors, doing plyometrics, stretching my hamstrings, doing drills, and visualizing had paid off! It wasn't pretty and I had a lot of work to do on form, but I cleared all three of them and I was pretty stoked. I still am, actually.

We spent more time working on form and eventually parted ways with a promise to meet again in a few weeks. It was fun, and my confidence going into practicing on my own is much higher. I spent the rest of the day on cloud nine, looking forward to my next practice.

As this competition gets closer, I find myself shaping not only my training but my expectation. I started out in this journey wanting to just see what I, a non-athlete, could do. It's fun to know that I don't have to wait until competition day to find out. Thanks Coach Droze!

Have a great week, and go tackle a hurdle of your own.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Home, Home on the Range of Motion

Do you ever leave a meeting at work all proud of yourself for the great teamwork and problem solving that went on, only to sit down at your desk and realize...wait a sec...we didn't actually make anything better, we just moved some stuff around and checked it off a list.

If you work in an office, I am sure this happens to you daily. I, on the other hand, never have this problem. I immediately get to the root of all of my problems and solve them within 30 minutes, including time for a snack.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Well, okay, not really. I actually prefer to let ideas fester in a committee until no one can even remember who thought it was such a great idea in the first place and we chalk it up to coming down from some keynote-speaker-induced high at a leadership conference. In the gym, however, I don't like to waste time. That's why lately I have been happy to hear four little words from Awesome: range of motion training.

It all started with squats. I used to think that the way to become better at squats was to add weight and just do more squats. Ah, the innocence of ignorance. Then Captain Awesome introduced me to target range of motion training, which I immediately hated and loved at the same time - hated because I knew it was going to be hard, and loved because man, it was hard.

But it works.

As you probably know or can figure out, "range of motion" refers to the distance between the full extension and full contraction of a muscle. When doing something like a bicep curl, you want to make sure you go through the entire range of motion possible so you get the full benefit of the exercise. That means extending your hand all the way down so the bicep is completely extended, not stopping three-quarters of the way down and pulling it back up before it gets too hard.

Unless! Unless you are working in the target range of motion! Well, kind of. Allow me to explain.

When you get to that part where it is hard, that is the part you need to improve. Muscle growth is generated by targeting stress toward the muscle, and the more muscles grow the stronger they are. So, it stands to reason that the more targeted stress on a muscle, the stronger it becomes. By focusing your energy and calories at the range of motion that is more difficult - the smaller action of extending and then contracting the muscle rather than going through the full range of motion - you actually solve the problem instead of just moving things around and checking it off a list.

So back to the squats. I wanted more power in my quads to raise my body (and a whole lotta weight) upright from a squated position. So I went down, down, down, down, and then up a tiny bit. Then down, then up a tiny bit. Over and over until I thought I was going to throw up. After training this way for a while, I noticed an immediate improvement in my full range of motion squats. And I never did throw up.

Same with chest press, same with bicep curls...once I discovered the technique, I was a born-again target range of motion fanatic. Now I am turning to the holy grail of the weight room, for me anyway: pull ups. Soon I will have no need for legs, I will just pull myself from location to location with my freakishly strong monkey arms.

So anyway, don't check your workout off the list. When you find yourself doing the same things over and over and wondering why you aren't getting any stronger, more weight might not be the solution. Try working the target range of motion and solve the real issue. And let me know how it goes. :)

And now, back to work on the monkey arms. :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

If You Love Something, Share It

"Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away; you end up having more.
It's just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won't have any
Spend it spend it and you'll have so many, they'll roll all over the floor...for....
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away; you end up having more!"

I used to sing the verses above when I was a kid in church, about the power of spreading some love around. It comes to mind when I am reminding myself to not be so selfish, greedy, pushy, [insert negative attribute here]. And today, it came to mind after I reflected on a pep talk I had found myself giving to a friend.

This particular friend, who shall remain nameless, was having one of those days when the goal seemed so far away, so out of reach, so insurmountable, that it was almost too exhausting to think about getting to it. It was a day that combined that feeling with that nagging little voice of self-doubt, poking holes in every argument you make, snickering at your best-laid plans, and making your usually solid resolve talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening. Yeah. One of those days.

In no time flat I found myself transported back in time when my little voice was a little louder. There were days when I had to just grit my teeth and power through every obstacle to health because dammit, I was sick of letting life get in the way of what I wanted to do, which was to work out and be healthy. At that time I had let little things obscure my path long enough and my once fit and healthy body had turned to something unrecognizable and frustrating. I remembered how it felt, and immediately looked for any way to get my friend back on the right path. I think (hope) it worked.

And I ended up feeling like I had given myself a pep talk, too. Digging deep to remind someone else of their motivation churned up old feelings of my own to get out there and make a life for myself. It made me want to get my butt to the gym and put my money where my mouth is. So I did. :)

As I drove home from work and thought about the events of the day, that little song started up in my head. It felt nice to know that I had spread some love around - my love for health and fitness - and ended up having more. And now I can't get that damn song out of my head. Thank you very much, God.

If you love something, share it. Let as many people in as you can, and let it get bigger and bigger until there is more than enough to go around. Maybe I am just in a mushy, sentimental mood tonight, but I really feel like shouting from a rooftop how fantastic it feels to be healthy. Maybe enough people will hear me to start being healthy, too. Or maybe my husband will have to come out in the front yard and shine a flashlight on me so I can find my way down before the neighbors call 9-1-1.

Come to think of it, I also used to have a t-shirt declaring "peanut butter is love, spread some around today." I would make sure that is a reasonable amount of natural peanut butter, preferably freshly ground, on some Ezekiel bread. But that's just me.

Have a healthy week, from the rooftops.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Goodbye, Insanity

As I've mulled over what I wrote yesterday related to my training for this event, I've become more and more uncomfortable with the message I was receiving from myself - one of anger, frustration, stress, and general unhappiness. And, as I've let those feelings settle for a while, I've realized that I have completely lost perspective for why I started on this path in the first place: I love wellness. But the way I have been going about this goal is the opposite of that.

I love being healthy. Eating clean, working out, soaking in the good vibes of just general fitness...those things drive me. But over the past two years of nitpicking over details, strategizing for results, and micro-managing the process, I have completely lost touch with the fun. The whole reason why I embraced wellness as a defining part of my life is that it is fun. When I stop having fun, it's time to re-evaluate.

So, I am stepping away from insanity and stepping back towards fun. No, that doesn't mean I am going to take it easier - waking up early to train hard, setting goals for optimal nutrition, and challenging myself to defy my own expectations is part of who I am and I love that. But, there are certain kinds of neurotic I am willing to embrace and certain kinds of neurotic that I am not!

When I read over my entry from yesterday and read the words, "I am becoming reluctant," it hit me: I never want to be reluctant to be healthy. Sure, it can be hard work at times to make the healthy choice, but when it becomes a burden, something's gotta give. When I read messages from myself about longing to exercise the way I want to, eat the way that makes me feel good, and counting the days until I can I have to ask myself what the hell I am doing. Life is too short for this.

You'll have to forgive the rambling nature of this post, as I have gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to write it. But I am glad to have it off of my chest. Making the decision to divert my training back to a level of sanity may mean that I am not an athlete, it may mean that I am not going to reach my MGP. Or maybe it means that I have. Regardless, I am way too tired to figure that out.

And that, in itself, is not wellness.

I'm going back to bed now. After all, my alarm goes off in 1 hour and 10 minutes, and I have a brand new day, and a brand new workout, waiting for me.

Have a healthy day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Between a Rock and a Fat Place

Do you ever feel stuck? Of course you do, we all do. And this week, I am stuck. I just can't make up my mind between doing what I feel compelled to do but feeling like a hypocrite as a result and doing what I probably should do and feeling miserable as a result. Well, short-term miserable. Maybe. I don't know. This is driving me crazy!!

Let me back up. In the past, when I was younger and more idealistic, like six months ago, I got on my "form follows function," soapbox and preached about the asthetics of your body not being as important as the function/ability/strength of your body. And I still believe that. I also said that I would grit my teeth and bear with not micro-managing every part of my physical self while I went on a strength-building campaign and focused on weights over cardio. Strength over skinny jeans. Chin-ups over cute. Promises like that are easy to make when you never expect to have to deliver.

But oh, man, I was wrong. I was soooo soooo soooo wrong.

Getting fat sucks, yall. Okay, stop rolling your eyes, I know I am not fat in the true sense of the word. But everyone has that zone where they are happy and comfortable and feel like themselves in their own skin, right? I'm about 50 miles from that. If I climb to the top of the Sears Tower and go out on that freaky new plexi-glass box that hangs out over the city and really squint, I might be able to see it waving at me from a happier place. My clothes are tight, I feel all flabby, and I am just generally uncomfortable in my skin. I am wearing my green pants today. My green pants! I only wear these pants because nothing else fits. Especially since I have to iron them. Every indicator in me is screaming for cardio so I can shed this weight and get back into my normal self.

But here's the thing - my body fat is down.

Huh? How does that happen? No clue. But regardless, I am stuck between building strength and size but getting bigger and meaner, or doing cardio and shedding water and being happy and nice, but not strong enough to do what I want to do.

I have finally become reluctant.

I know I am making this more difficult than it needs to be, and I need to take my wise mother's advice and just chill out, and I hope I can step out of my own head long enough to realize that this isn't exactly life and death. I think I'll mull it over on the treadmill. :)


PS - I did, and I have decided to refuse to choose. :)