Tag Archives: fitness

The time change brought all the boys to my yard…

And the girls… and maybe not so much my yard. Rather more like MY GYM. A week or two ago, I walked into my local repository of all things fitness, and I honestly thought I had hit a strange time vortex that transported me straight into gym-tending season. Arriving at my usual uncaffeinated and pre-dawn hour, I saw… people. Lots of them. Normally, I go to the gym at this particularly uncivil time of day not only to just have a chance of shoehorning a workout into my schedule, but also because it is the least populated time for the gym… or possibly the least populated hour during which I am vaguely conscious.

But yes… all the people were there. Not only were they there, they were milling about and generally congregating in ways that made me quite uncomfortable. Normally in the wee hours of a weekday, I’ve got the place practically to myself with perhaps one or two other regulars. We all go about our programmed routines studiously avoiding eye contact and personal interaction. On the rare occasions that we accidently make eye contact or reach for the same dumb bell, there is a curt bro-nod and polite shift while we accommodate the other and move on. Instead of my usual tribe, I beheld a gaggle of strangers. They were impeding routes and interrupting sets and sitting on the benches… Yes, sitting.

Every Smith machine and bench press was occupied by tank top clad, confused-looking individuals who were… not actually moving barbell or dumb bell… no. They were staring at their phones. The four or possibly five of us that normally wander freely among the free weights stood in paralyzed perplexity as we tried to squeeze our way into at least completing our training without unintentionally touching the crowding masses around us.

Had I gotten lost? Had I lost time… like months of it? What happened to my normally zen-like peaceful place of fitness?

Oh wait… then it dawned on me. The anachronistic practice of altering time-keeping pieces to somehow fool people into thinking that the days aren’t getting shorter had occurred. Yes, my friends, Daylight Savings, or rather the return to Standard Time, had struck again.

The practice of this clockwork tango was originally proposed back in the late 1800’s and first implemented (believe it or not) in the German Empire and Austria-Hungary back around the first World War. The United States followed along not long after, and the whole time marching on… and back… and on again has been confusing us ever since. Some countries don’t even do the whole springing forward and falling back routine anymore. Thank goodness for that little mnemonic, am I right?

Anyhow, aside from totally messing with the circadian rhythm of the demonic feline who lives with me, the putting forward or back of the clock numbers doesn’t really impact my life all that much (unless I forget to do it). However, this year it did have the added “entertainment” value of increased population at the gym that I finally realized was very likely due to a few people perhaps forgetting to set their clocks back. Well… good for them. I hope they enjoyed their day of being ahead of the game at least for that one time. Now that we’ve eased back into that Standard time… I have my bench press to myself again. Thank goodness!

Happy St. Hangover’s Day…

In the post-shenanigans, early morning light, I made my way to the gym. It was slightly less populated, a concession I assume to the late night revelry of all those who like to pretend to their Irish-ness for one day of the year in America. There were, however, considerably more people than I truly expected. Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental or pessimistic about these things. I honestly expected the gym to be a veritable ghost town with only the staff for company, but there were sufficient numbers to make finding a parking spot a bit of a challenge… but now that I think about this, the cars in the parking lot might have been vehicles abandoned by their owners in lieu of a safer Uber or Lyft option to risking jail or death on binge-drinking extravaganza day.

I am half ashamed to admit that my own celebratory activities were quite tame in comparison to years gone by… it is perhaps my own concession (to age and responsibility). Though I did have the good fortune (granted by the fae and leprechaun greeting me at the door to the establishment chosen) to spend time with friends, family, and many faces from the past, I gave up my attempts to be cool, festive, or lively before ever the dusk had given way to the dark. I made it home still quite in possession of my senses (and sobriety) and made my normal bedtime ritual. My younger self would have shaken a mournful head (to be quickly followed with aspirin for the pain that action would likely have caused). Yet, I do not feel so disappointed. I was able to have a good time without the overindulgence and bad choices that would have resulted in feeling like poo this morning or potentially even less pleasant outcomes.

And so… I went to the gym and will now head off to work (yes, I’m working on a Saturday). Instead of tired, achy, and vaguely nauseous, I feel relieved and rather proud that I managed to have a good time spending time with the people I love without abusing my body (or liver) to the point of extended recovery necessity. We live. We learn… well, at least until the next time that temptation presents me with potential bad choices from which to learn more lessons. I hope that everyone recovers well today. Remember to stay hydrated, and that time and rest are really the only true cures for a hangover… and for those of you who indulged in copious amounts of green beverages, remember not to scream too loudly in the restroom (the tiles reverberate and your head will hurt worse). Cheers dears!

Physical Fit: Surviving the Holidays without Losing My Mind or All My Willpower

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It is that time again… Well, it is that time for me again. Starting in the first days of air getting crisper, sweaters and hoodies making their appearances all over, and the epidemic of pumpkin everything, I start to feel that budding anxious feeling of pounds creeping back onto my body. My email is full of “The 7 Ways to avoid Holiday Weight Gain…” and “Follow these 17 Simple Rules to Avoid All Happiness this Season but at Least You Won’t Gain 50 Pounds Before New Year’s…” I can feel the panic and guilt sliding into my mind.

It’s true. Many a willpower has fallen before an overflowing display of favorite holiday treats and fountains of celebratory beverage. Even when I am being my most cautious and careful, I’m pretty sure that the increased caloric volume of the actual air is working against me. Every year, I promise myself that I can and will resist the holidays and their overabundance of tasty goodness. I will resist the urge to snuggle up before fire instead of getting out for my run and workout routine. Yet, I hear the fallen angel on my shoulder whispering softly things like, “It’s just once a year…” or “It’s the holidays. That negates calories and fat…” Um… yeah, get thee behind me betrayer! And so goes my struggle, much as the rest of the world. So, at least I know I am not alone. How do I know?

Well, as it happens, I read. A lot. Sometimes I even read for pure enjoyment without any graphs or statistics or comparison studies… Unfortunately, I read a lot of incredibly dry (at least to some opinions) scientific journal type articles and medical journals. Thanks to my (incredibly) pedantic reading choices, I actually came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clearly defined exactly how much of a detriment that the Eat-All-The-Things season is to our health, wellbeing, and bathing suits.

Turns out, instead of setting our resolutions for better fitness and health with the clock restarting at December 31st, we should be thinking about bettering our habits starting at the end of September (Helander, Wnsink, & Chieh, 2016). According to the scientists who made a study of weight gain during the holiday season in three countries in the northern hemisphere, people are at their lowest weight during early October. Starting sometime before All Hallow’s Eve, the weight starts to increase and the average does not appear to get back to the pre-TrickorTreat days until sometime in April. The highest weigh-in on average was New Year’s Day. So, it seems that people above the equator start packing on the pounds (as much as 5 additional pounds on average) when the bulk candy starts hitting the aisles and doesn’t start depleting until Gym-crowding Month (or Gym-tending Season).

Makes you wonder… Is it just the availability of the sugary sweets and sugar plums dancing? Maybe not. There are a number of contributing factors that seem to be in play. Aside from the candy, cookies, and pies, there are multiple opportunities for celebration that surround gorge-fest food extravaganzas. It isn’t just the sweet-teeth out there that are in danger. Turkey and dressing with all the accompanying starchy sides make Thanksgiving a quagmire of dietary ruin. The unending calendar of holiday gatherings with all the favored seasonal treats beckons. Every time you turn around, people are getting together to celebrate the season, and it usually involves munchies… and drinks. Yep, that’s a definite part of the equation, specifically the equation that keeps adding numbers to the scale. Alcohol consumption definitely adds to the caloric intake. Egg nog, holiday punch, mulled wines and meads, and celebratory champagne toasts are everywhere you turn.

Then, there is the weather. It is dark later and gets dark earlier (remember, we are talking about the northern hemisphere). It’s harder to get out in the dark and cold for that early morning workout, and the cool and dark of the evenings make working out at the gym or a run less appealing than being home in front of a fire with snuggly clothes, a book, and some warm mug of your choice. And speaking of temperatures, the fashion options aren’t helping matters. Big fluffy hoodies and slouchy sweaters hide a plethora of inconvenient waistline issues. The beach-ready body that was shown off with form fitting styles and skin-baring swimwear is now safely camouflaged by woolen knits and multiple layers. “I’m not fat… I’m big sweatered.” I’m not body-shaming anyone, and some of those cooler weather styles are just legitimately adorable. However, it does make it that much easier to lose sight of our health goals as well as those waistline goals we’ve been working towards so diligently when they were more visible. (It does make me wonder if a follow up study could be done to see what the trend is for the folks Downunder.)

And now for the feels… Who are my emotional eaters out there? I can sense my people. I know that you are waving at me across the ether… or else hiding under your keyboards with your hoard of stashed Reese’s Cups saying “Nothing to see here! Move along!” The point is, I totally get it. My emotional eating isn’t depression or sadness, it is boredom and stress. Unlike some who soothe the wounds with pints… quarts… ok, gallons of Ben & Jerry’s, I am more likely to go reaching in the larder and fridge for the cure to the stress monkey hanging on my back. I’ve talked about my boredom eating previously, but I shall now propose a different scenario. The hordes of holiday visitors have landed upon the shores of the abode. Is the house ready? Is the food prepared? Is it the right food? Are there sufficient items for all, including the allergies and medical restrictions? Are you preparing that dish that is a family heirloom quite the way the ancestors prescribed…? You get the idea. All the thoughts are currently perking, bubbling, boiling, and smoking inside my cranium making the peace and good cheer… well, not so much. Rampaging around the kitchen and house trying to address all the imagined fires popping up, my hand sneaks out to grab a crisp or a spoonful of some concoction or possibly a chocolate whatnot. I mean, I have to taste it to make sure it is all right… right? Well, the occasional bite and crisp becomes mindless hand to mouth exercise that increases my food intake by an unknown amount because it was precisely that… mindless. I didn’t actually pay attention. Heck, I probably didn’t even taste it. And while we are in the kitchen trying to prepare the feast often with unsolicited advice or critique from helpful others, it might not be so unusual to find a shot, a glass… a second bottle of various liquid remedy being imbibed. It’s the holidays. Just trying to keep the peace here! The point being, aside from the added calories, stress doesn’t help when we are trying to keep the figure and fitness we achieved pre-Labor Day. On top of which, the addition of the happy sauce sometimes clouds us to the amount of food we are washing down with the cocktail(s).

So, those are the struggles. What are the fixes? I’ve read a lot on that as well. Summarizing some of the most helpful tips would be one word: Mindfulness. Mainly, be aware of what you are doing and be present in the moment. That will help a lot of the automatic feeding. Most of the experts say to indulge (not overindulge) in your favorites, but leave off on the holiday dishes that generally are a “Meh” for you. It isn’t necessary to eat everything. One of the no-brainers that I know I am guilty of myself is the “saving myself for” syndrome. Knowing I have a party, get-together, or buffet of treats on the horizon, I find myself skipping meals to save the calories for the goodies. The problem with that would be that I’m so ravenous by the time I get to the feast that I eat way more of everything than I would have otherwise. Better to maintain a nice balanced and healthy feeding schedule.

Watch the cocktails. Seriously, there are way more calories consumed in our celebration shots than we give credit. Remembering to rotate non-alcoholic beverages, water, or seltzer for a happy fizz will help decrease the amount of booze calories without pooping on the party.

The stress eating and drinking… this is my big one, and I have a couple of big allies to help on this one. First of all, keeping a decent sleep schedule despite the parties is a big one. With packed schedules and various obligations hitting at the end of the year, it is sometimes more difficult than usual to catch the Zzzz’s, but I know that I am trying to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and follow the good sleep hygiene habits I’ve worked on this year. I am hopeful that will help me keep on track. And, of course, my physical fit… While my workout routines and running have been fueled by a desire to be less horrifying when naked, I have found that the physical activity (specifically the aerobic portion) also keeps me sane and less at risk of dissolving into a fanged she-beast ready to bite the heads off unsuspecting family and friends. I know, there are those of you out there saying “If I had to run a mile, something better be about to bite me…” but I promise there is science behind my madness. It turns out that several studies have been done showing that aerobic exercise increases brain activity, specifically of the alpha wave variety (Bergland, 2015; Crabbe & Dischman, 2004; Gutmann, et al., 2015). In fact, during and immediately after aerobic exercise (the kind where you breathe harder and your heart rate goes up) alpha wave activity significantly increases, much like meditation. So what? It turns out that this particular type of brain activity is what happens when we are in idle, drifting, daydreaming, or meditating. The impact on creativity has been shown in studies as well as the use of this type of thought pattern in treating anxiety and depression. Voila! I brought it back to the point without flying off planet. Keeping up with your exercise routine with some aerobic activity involved can help with holiday blues or seasonal angst. Meditation is all well and good, but when you have the house full of people, running (quite literally) away might be more effective than trying to find alone time to get in some “Ohms.”

delicious-how-grinch-stole-christmasI think I have a game plan, now. At least I have a fair assortment of options and strategies to help me get through the season. Actually, if I rope in a few teammates and coaches to remind me when I start wandering off the path, I should get through fairly unscathed. Enjoy your holidays!

 

Bergland, C. (2015). Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

Crabbe, J., & Dischman, R. (2004). Brain electrocortical activity during and after exercise: A quantitative synthesis. Psychophysiology, 41(4), 563-574. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2004.00176.x

Gutmann, B., Mierau, A., Hülsdünker, T., Hildebrand, C., Przyklenk, A., Hollmann, W., & Strüder, H. K. (2015). Effects of Physical Exercise on Individual Resting State EEG Alpha Peak Frequency. Neural Plasticity, 2015, 717312. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/717312

Helander, E., Wansink, B., & Chieh, A. (2016). Weight gain over the holidays in three countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(12). Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1602012

Physical Fit: Well-meaning saboteurs…

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It is so very important that you keep the right sort of approach to any positive change, but as important to your self-talk and mindset is the natural supports that you have around you every day. No matter who you are and how confident you believe yourself to be, each and every one of us upon taking those first toddling steps into healthier choices need cheerleaders and the occasional guardians. We need the positive reinforcement and the positive influence. Why? Because habits are hard to break and hard to form. It is difficult enough to decide to cut a favorite treat (or even just cut down on same) or get up earlier to make sure you get in a workout before your day gets so out of hand that you can’t even visit the restroom without your message alerts or phone exploding.

One of the most difficult parts of any change you elect to make is that you are not the only inertia faced in the process. Change is hard enough when you are working on your own resistance to long-term habits and poor choices. The additional problem is that the people in your life may also be resistant to that change. Everyone gets used to certain patterns and expectations. It’s comfortable. It is something you can count on through thick and thin… or maybe not so thin. It is not simply a situation where the people in your life want you to remain miserable and unhappy. It is just that they have gotten used to you in a certain form and function and any changes that you make in your normal appearance or behavior may upset their own fragile status quo. There is an underlying, subconscious (yes, I know it is redundant) fear that if you change, you won’t be the same person anymore. You will destroy the expected norms, and they won’t know you the same way. Consciously, the people who love you may see that this is a positive change that you are making, but beneath it all, they are unsure how they will like this “new you.”

Think about it. I’m sure you have seen television and movie stories all about this type of scenario. Enter pudgy, geeky, awkward Sally or Billy. They are the best friend or the confidant or the unlicensed therapist or confessor for their entire social group. Bless them. They are the person to whom everyone goes when they need to “run something by.” They have served as the plus one when the date fell through, but they always knew they were never the first choice. So, Sally or Billy with or without assistance of a fairy godmother/father goes through the extreme makeover. And just like that *poof*! Sally is stunning, and Billy is beautiful. They look like Venus and Adonis. Their friends who were shining in comparison before are fading as these ugly ducklings turn into swans. Now, on occasion the physical and superficial transformations also come with an attitude adjustment that may or may not be so very positive. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the change of personality may be merely perceived by their friends and not truly what has occurred. The point being that all the friends who have relied on Sally and Billy this whole time feel that they have been robbed of a rock-like figure in their social circle, and it destabilizes their tiny world… And so it goes. You know the tale. It is the Cinderella story or Emma (for my Jane Austen fans). However, that is fairy tales and Hollywood. It is a cautionary piece to keep us grounded and remembering that what matters is what is inside and to not let alteration of the superficial or circumstance change who we are. The underlying message is, of course, that everyone can be loved for who they are, it’s what’s inside that counts, and even if they stay an ugly duckling that is better than being an asshole.

And that is just marvelous… except everyone should be able to make changes in their life if they want, and of course, if it leads to better health, self-concept, and emotional well-being. However, not everyone can let go of the anxiety that changing your outside might change your inside. Additionally, there may be some people in our lives who (whether they admit it to themselves or anyone else) do not want us to become more… successful, attractive, confident… whatever, because if we do, we might not need them or have the same role in their lives. Now, this is just totally selfish, not to mention completely infantile, but it happens. Those particular people are probably not what I might call healthy additions to a support network. One might even call them toxic, but they aren’t even the most dangerous or deadly foes of any attempt at healthier living.

So, now, I will talk about the well meaning saboteurs of the world. These people have convinced us and themselves that they have our best interests at heart. They love us and are so proud that we are making good choices. Sometimes, they are even the ones who have encouraged us to step on the path to better nutrition and physical activity with subtle hints about possibly trying to lose some weight or “Have you considered going on a low-carb diet?” They are being helpful. They want us to be healthy and happy with our lives… What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well… I’ll tell ya. Immediately upon declarations or suggestions of embarking on a new diet, joining a gym, or considering any number of ways to get the lard out, these folks present an obstacle course of dietary and fitness torpedoes to sink even the most stalwart of will power. You know the type I mean. Upon informing your loved ones and supporters that you are going on a low carb inception phase (meaning that you want to keep your carbs to 50g or lower per day), you walk in to find cupcakes, fresh baked bread, and a dozen cookies. Someone will bring donuts and bagels to the breakroom, and every meal has only one type of side dish… potatoes. They say, “Good for you!” and follow it with, “Would you like to split a large pizza and an entire package of doublestuff Oreos?” Yes, my brothers and sisters, they parade the plethora of starches and sugars before you seemingly oblivious to the nutritive content of any of their choices.

These are the well-meaning saboteurs. It is my belief they really do not understand what they are doing. After all it isn’t truly their responsibility to change their lifestyles or desires just because you have elected to restrict your own dietary intake. They are not the keeper of your will. Sometimes, especially with the older versions of these, they have preconceived ideas about dieting that predates current science. I’ve actually had some express concerns that I had an eating disorder or would damage myself by choice to remove carbohydrates… or at least decrease them. It was a lack of knowledge and understanding. It was just a foreign concept. Perhaps it is also that knowing that we are giving up or reducing our intake of some of these favorite foods, we’re just more aware? Nope, that doesn’t explain all of it, because too many times when you look at the patterns, those well meaning saboteurs weren’t going on baking binges or filling the house with bulk purchases of snack cakes and processed sugar before the announcement of going back on Atkins. Perhaps it was the announcement that somehow subliminally put it into their minds to hoard all sugars and starches like they were going to be put on rationing? That’s as good an explanation as any.

The point is, I don’t think they even know that they are doing it most of the time, and when we get cranky and snap at them because they are undermining our efforts and because we are suffering from withdrawal symptoms, they often look bewildered and hurt. Sometimes, they become defensive and angry with comments like, “Surely, you don’t expect the rest of us to adhere to your dietary restrictions?” or possibly, “Just because you can’t eat carbs doesn’t mean I should have to give up my donuts.” The truth is that none of us expect everyone to change their own habits or inconvenience the rest of the group due to our own food choices or decision to change our habits. Usually a gentle conversation and avoidance is sufficient to remedy the situation. I have generally found that they are apologetic. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about that.” It doesn’t really occur to them that their expressions of remorse merely highlight and emphasize the situation, “Oh my lord, I forgot you can’t eat this double-stuffed crust, full gluten, large pizza with all your favorite toppings! I’m so sorry.” They do not always change their ways, but at least they apologized. Usually they even try to be supportive by hiding or looking guilty when they eat fries in front of us or chow down on a piece of cake. They mean well. Truly they do.

Eventually, they may even learn to be legitimately helpful. I have found that in most cases, with relatively few exceptions (those exceptions typically being the known and proven supporters who can be relied upon to chain me up when the cravings get too intense), it is best to keep my dietary plans to myself. It helps stave off both the well-meaning and not so altruistic saboteurs in my life. And when I don’t tell them what I’m not eating… they don’t even seem to notice.

Physical Fit: Dear parents…


Adult-Supervision-School-Sign-K-4120 A cautionary tale… please read to the end. I commend each and every parent that encourages a healthy lifestyle and physical activity for their children. I deplore the habit that has become more and more prevalent with kids found with alarming frequency sitting on their posterior while some form of electronic babysitter absorbs their attention and they develop the sedentary habits of their elders. I had the misfortune of observing the results of those habits in the last few months in more than one geographic area as I saw children… yes children… not teens or tweeners but actual children of no where close to puberty that I approximated as outweighing my own considerable bulk. I’ve gone back and forth on the obesity as child abuse argument, but in extreme cases, I can definitely see their point. I also observed in the same proximity that the parents probably weren’t going to find any concern with the pattern in question because they had already given up that particular battle themselves. And so it went with mom, dad, and two or more young ones who were huffing and puffing along with effort… in order to sit… yes sit upon the expanse of beach. No running up and down. No surf jumping or body surfing. No gleeful squeals as they built a creative castle or sand sculpture. Zero activity, until it was lunch or snack time when copious amounts of processed snack foods and sugary drinks were handed out. Honestly, I get it. It is vacation. Kids should be able to enjoy their life. I don’t watch these people 365 days a year, and this may be a treat… but I’m guessing not. If it were only one group of this general description, I could probably feel concern or sorrow, but this was literally every other family I observed over a recent patriotic holiday season at the seaside. I am by no means a svelte individual, willowy and ephemeral. I believe I have described my own physique more than once, but observing this sort of situation makes me twitch a bit. I’m trying to avoid being judgmental. I really don’t know any of the observed families, their genetics, their health histories, or their regular habits. I am making assumptions (like ya do) based on superficial observation. The problem is that I know that while I might question my own assumptions and try to look past to find answers and other attributes, the rest of the world does not. What are these parents setting their kids up for in the future. As I mentioned, children are more sedentary than when I was younger. There are a lot more electronic reasons to sit on one’s butt and be still. While many parents would call this some “@#$ @%$# peace and quiet!” it really isn’t the best or most natural thing for a child to do for so much of the time. Additionally, I’ve been made aware that children don’t have as much physical activity planned into their school schedules. If the child isn’t an athlete, they may not get more than an hour of physical movement in a day. Even when they return home, they are often from a young age given homework to keep them busy all evening, or if they do not, the electronic babysitters probably get hold of them until dinner. I’m making generalizations (before any of the parents out there start screaming at me that they aren’t like that). I know not everyone participates in this same pattern. I’ve got friends who literally make their kids go outside and do something active. And that sorta makes me scratch my head… Why?!? Why is this something a parent has to make them do? When I was a kid, they couldn’t get me to come inside (especially in the summer) until after dark on occasion. No one made me go run around outside or play. The only sedentary activity that might occur was reading, and sometimes even then, they couldn’t get me to do it inside, because if weather permitted, I would much rather do the reading out in the sun and air. I have to wonder what changed. When did playing outside become a chore? However, my “Dear Parents,” wasn’t only about my ponderings about what has happened to physical activity with children today. I come now to the other side of the argument. Again, I absolutely commend parents who encourage physical activity. I applaud them for setting examples and helping their children develop an interest in physical fitness and exercise. I think that it is wonderful when children express an interest in activity, exercise, and want to even “workout” (though, I still think that full body building activity doesn’t need to start before they’ve even hit puberty… seriously people). BUT… You totally heard that coming, didn’t you? Please … PLEASE do not let children around exercise equipment unattended. There. I have said it. I personally do not believe that children below a certain age belong in a gym. I happen to belong to a gym where the corporate policy is to not allow children. There is a reason, but they caught an enormous amount of flack for making that policy. There are, I know, people who would disagree with them and me. They would say that with supervision children can learn to use equipment and weights and develop healthy habits that will follow them for the rest of their lives… blah, blah, blah. And chances are, they would totally miss that part of their argument that is frequently… well… missing. Supervision. It is one thing for a parent who has a responsible, well-behaved child with them and is engaging them the whole time and supervising them at every step, but that is not what often occurs. As you might expect, incidents have come to my notice rather unpleasantly in recent history to prompt this particular post. I will share with you two of the most glaring. Both incidents occurred at a hotel fitness center. I travel quite a bit for work these days, and because I am not always where I can conveniently access a branch of my own gym, I try to book lodgings in hotels that do have fitness centers. The quality of the equipment can vary drastically, but it usually will suffice for my basic fitness requirements. The first “incident” occurred when I had gone down to the fitness center which, in this case, was more than adequate. They had relatively heavy duty cardio equipment, free weights, and some decent multifunction resistance machines. The problem was that there were three children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old in the center with no visible supervising adults. There were, as it happens, sufficient options in the center for me to have my workout with the children in there. It wasn’t my first choice, but I could do it. However, about the time I was entering the facility, the eldest of the three misused and caused a malfunction in one of the machines that took it out of commission (he broke it… yep, one of his younger siblings also managed to misplace one of the little metal bar doodads that allows you to adjust the weight on the machine, fun times). I chose not to have my workout in the fitness center at that time. Perhaps I should have immediately reported the incident, but I waited to give the miscreants time to get clear. I’m no snitch. The kids removed themselves post haste to avoid getting caught, and I was eventually able to use the fitness center without being blamed for any of the mishandling myself, though unable to use any of the resistance and weight training equipment since it was effectively disabled for the foreseeable future. In the second situation, the outcome was a bit more scary. Again, I went to the fitness center; this time a little less large, the equipment a bit more Spartan. Upon reaching the door, I see two young boys, perhaps 8 and 6 years. I groaned inwardly as again I saw no supervisory adult. I just wanted to get in my workout and go deal with some additional prep work before meetings in the morning. I decided this time to brave it. I started my own cardio on one of the elliptical machines. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. It was too fast to have done anything to prevent. The youngest was playing with the treadmill (without the little safety clip attached to him in any way). He had been just riding it back, walking up, and riding it to the end. At some point he must have touched the wrong button, and the spinning tread shot the kid back catching a small foot in the handrails where they attach to the base and I heard (or imagined I heard) a slight pop… and then the scream. My workout was done, but for the kid, there would be no activity of almost any sort for a while. I did the first aid thing and asked the older one… ok, I firmly told the older one to go get an adult. An annoyed, then frantic woman arrived, and off they went to the hospital. I had several thoughts cross my mind: 1) It was a card key access. Who gave these two not yet 10 year olds a card key and let them wander about the place (did I mention this place also had an indoor hot tub and lap pool? Think about that for a minute… also card key access)? 2) We live in a litigious society, would the “No Children without Adult Supervision” sign clearly posted on the door and walls actually protect the hotel? I think it is great to get kids interested in fitness. There are even gyms that are geared precisely for parents and children to workout together. But please… please… parents out there, supervise your children. Don’t let these kids put themselves in danger of injury or worse, or even damage equipment that the facility probably paid some decent sum to acquire and provide for guests. Dear parents, if you want your children to be healthy, happy, and active, take/make time to play or workout with them. They will likely appreciate that more in the long run anyway… and it will have the added bonus of getting you off your posterior as well. So, here endeth the lesson… it was a little harsh for the little dude and his parents, but perhaps not the worst that could have happened (remember that pool that was also card key accessible).

Physical Fit: You’re doing it wrong…

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this, read this, had it implied, or involuntarily had the thought pop in my head… Well, I could afford a personal trainer, a home gym, and maybe some plastic surgery just to take up a little of the extra dangle in my bangle, ya know.

It’s been a while since I talked about my Physical Fit. It’s been a somewhat arduous road with some potholes, detours, and unaccountable delays, but I’ve trudged on, making adjustments where I needed and getting feedback, support, and advice from a very wide variety of sources. I admit that I’ve occasionally felt discouraged about results (or lack thereof). I’ve been depressed on plateaus and concerned by feeling regressed. However, one of the things I have managed to figure out is that so long as I never actually quit, it was all just fine. That being said, I’m possibly one of the most stubborn individuals on the planet (I totally see you nodding). The one part of my own personality that have had to fight hard has been the tendency to “stub up” as my grandmother would say when someone gives me unsolicited instruction or direction.

It’s not that I am a completely ungrateful wretch, but apparently there is a stubborn passive-aggressive teenager lurking in my soul. Same thing used to happen to me when I would have a thought to do something nice like… oh, I don’t know, send a thank you card, or remember a birthday… then, my mother, before I had the chance to initiate that activity myself would say “Remember to send a thank you note.” And that was it. I was done. I wouldn’t have sent a thank you note if it kept me from dying by fire. I’ve never really known what that particularly unpleasant part of my personality serves, where it comes from, or why it is there, but it is true. My thunder has been stolen. The idea and impulse was no longer my own. I could take no pride in my own altruism because I was directed to the action by my mother!

So, as usual, I’ve strayed from the original point, but the whole unsolicited advice prompts a similar but not quite identical response. It’s completely involuntary and unconscious. Occasionally, the advice or instruction is actually good, and I have to forcefully shove that angry, bad-tempered 13 year old in my head back into her closet.

However… not all the advice or directions are good. To be completely honest, some of it is downright dangerous. Mostly, it is just insulting, though, especially considering some sources. For instance, it has been a somewhat regular occurrence for myself as well as other friends who also have their physical fits to be molested by self-appointed, untrained, and certainly not certified trainers. You know the sort I’m talking about. These are the fitness experts of the local gym striding about looking for hapless victims upon whom to pounce with their sage body-conscious wisdom. They walk over and ask if you need a spot. “Nah, man. It’s like 10 pounds, I’m good.” Or they might critique your stance, suggest a different type of exercise, or tell you that you will never get “swolled” doing it like that (assuming they actually know why you are working out and that your actual goal must be the same as theirs… to be “shredded, swolled, cut…” You get the idea). Without fail… you hear the “You’re doing it wrong” proclaimed as a blandishment for your obviously neophyte training regimen. Generally speaking, my greatest risk of injury usually comes at that point… spraining my ocular muscles with an inadvertent eye roll worthy of the aforementioned inner 13 year old.

For some of my friends, these overtures are less about form and results and more about how hot they look in their spandex. However, there are people who legitimately believe that the rest of the world truly requires their input. On that same train are riding the several thousands of various people, adverts, or click baits that are dying to tell you why your favorite food is making you fat. At this point, I’m not sure why anyone can actually keep track. For every theoretical diet or workout, there is some other guru who will absolutely tell you that it is soooooo wrong and will have the opposite results to what you are hoping to achieve.

I think my favorites are still the things that you click on that tell you that the reason you are not getting the slender sexy body that you want is because you are starving yourself and working out too hard. According to these miracle workers, you need to work out for 45 seconds and eat donuts… ok, might have exaggerated slightly. When the unsuspecting, desperate individual who sees a beach trip looming on the horizon clicks for help, there is literally half an hour of ridiculous snake oil poured out that ends with “And the secret can be yours for $199.99… PLUS, you get my own very special, delish, and fool proof recipes guaranteed to shoe horn your fat ass into that bikini in 10 days… or your money back!” Sheesh.

You know why there are so many plans out there and gimmicks and diets and workouts? Because people are looking for something that works that isn’t… wait for it… TIME and ENERGY and SELF-CONTROL. I understand. I really do. It is the appeal of wanting something that is as easy to make that healthy change as it was to slap on the extra pounds from over indulging and not moving enough. People don’t like being told that they may have to eliminate or at least cut back on their favorite sugary, fat-packet snacks. They don’t want to change their lifestyle and behaviors. They just want to change their life.

Our world has become very sedentary. Most of the jobs today involve a lot of sitting. Food comes fast and with a lot of calories to give it that “comfort” appeal. Deciding to make changes for better health actually requires some effort. Frequently that makes it unattractive in the beginning. That is why people look for easier ways. Eventually, those healthier changes start feeling good, but in the beginning, there is the strangeness and the resistance to change the status quo that provides the inertia going against the new motivation.

That is the other part of this whole “you’re doing it wrong” thing that frustrates and angers me. For many people (myself included), there is some embarrassment in starting down a new path. There is some inhibition of showing ignorance and self-consciousness for letting ourselves go from the physical and health perspective. While some unsolicited advisers are genuinely attempting to help, for many, that criticism is just enough to make those of us fighting the uphill battle of self-discipline run away and hide from the people who point out how “wrong” we’re doing it.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… if you are making the effort to move and change, you are doing something right. Unless you are doing something terribly outrageous and trying to imitate a double-jointed contortionist from the sideshow which could actually damage your body (incorrect posture, failure to keep your knees over your toes on squats, or putting too much torque on your joints when doing weight training), it isn’t wrong. There is nothing wrong with asking how to do certain types of exercises safely to avoid hurting yourself. There is nothing wrong with asking how to use equipment to make sure that you are getting the benefit for which it was designed. Not every plan or diet or supplement or nutrition program works for every person on the planet.

Everyone is different, and each few years someone else comes out with a new theory to revolutionize fitness, weight loss, fat-burning, muscle-building world. Low carb, no carb, all carb, low fat, healthy fat… weight training, aerobics, cardio, cross fit, high intensity interval, low impact… you name it, the list goes on and on, and every new messiah of fitness will tell you that their predecessors had it all wrong and that their plan is what you need to follow to be come the Adonis or Venus of your dreams.  They will provide testimonials and “evidence” to prove that their way is what works. I’m not saying they are wrong or have fabricated anything (I’m sure some have, but we’ll assume for the moment we are not actually talking about those). I’m suggesting that on the whole, they are providing a very small subject size. With few exceptions, the results and outcomes for these programs are usually not given with long term results (meaning they show “Lost 53 pounds in 8 weeks!” rather than “Kept off 53 pounds after 5 years!”). Again, small subject sizes. They are giving you results with a handful of people. They don’t tell you about the 40 people who followed this compared to 40 similarly profiled people with similar demographics that did not follow the same plan or possibly followed a different plan. They only tell you about the success stories.

Now, what you can do is check out reviews. With the advent of the internet came the ability to check out what people say about different programs, products, etc. While positive reviews are nice and show the best results, I personally always look for the negative reviews. I look to see 1) how many there are, and 2) what they say about the program that made them give the negative review. Physical trainers and fitness professionals are all well and good, but they are ultimately trying to sell their services, their programs, their products, and their books. Some produce results, and that is great, but again, it is small subject size and with very controlled circumstances. I truly believe that if you are under the guidance and coaching of one of these folks, you will show some results. It may not be precisely the same as they display with their own bodies or even their other clientele, but if you meet with a trainer that knows what they are doing, you are going to have some results, and they will likely be positive results. How positive generally depends on how much effort that YOU put into it. Long term lasting results depend on making changes in lifestyle that continue past the goal achievement.

For me, I tend to stick with medical journals and other academic or scholarly publications. Why? Because I’m a nerd. That’s probably the first thing you thought. I also have access to said journals because of my academic credentials. Most of them are available out there via subscriptions and such, but not everyone wants to pay for that or plow through a bunch of sciency-speak academia to see what types of programs seem to give the best results and for how long. Most of the true scholarly journal articles are to be found in libraries where they can be accessed for dissertation and thesis research. This is where I generally get hold of mine. Unless you belong to a professional organization, you are not likely to have subscriptions to these laying around on the coffee table. However, to drag my train of thought back to the track from its wanderings, the reason I like these is because they are less biased than your average self-help piece. They have larger subject sizes, examine a lot of different approaches, and give all the results, not just the positive ones.

Here is what I have managed to gather from all of it:

I’m not doing it wrong.

I’m doing what works for me to feel good, and occasionally it actually produces outcomes that are what I was after in the first place. Being healthy isn’t about looking a particular way. It is about feeling better. To be in better physical shape, you need both strength/resistance and cardio. You also need fuel. Starving yourself or following extreme diets of any kind generally does more harm than good, and very few of the diets that decrease caloric intake severely have long term success in keeping off the weight. And here’s a hint… if you find a program that avoids all the things that you hate about working out and getting fit, it is probably too good to be true and won’t actually have the impact you are wanting. If a program does not have a prescribed time limit with a sustainable maintenance cycle that you can actually live with for the long haul, it probably ain’t gonna cut it. Just because something works for your friend at the office doesn’t mean that the same exact thing will work in the exact same way for you.

I’ve found out when all is said and done, we aren’t doing it wrong when we are trying to find the pattern that works for us. So, keep at it. Ask questions (from actually knowledgeable people). Do research. Read reviews. The only wrong is when we stop trying.

Physical Fit: ‘Tis the season…

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And all the people said… “She’s lost her mind… or her calendar because we just finished all that nonsense.”

No, friends, I do not actually mean the holiday season. I mean the Oh-dear-lord-I-ate-everything-my-resolution-is-to-get-fit-by-swimsuit season. This is the time when former couch tubers, or even gym frequenters who let things get a little on the slidy side (yeah, I made it up)… during the holiday gatherings, parties, and all out gorge fests that started sometime around Halloween… start to head in droves, pushed by self-loathing for their slackness, the fear of cellulite, or New Year’s resolutions, to the temples of physical fitness. Yes, it is gym-crowding month.

I say “month,” but it can sometimes last all the way into March. It’s a well-known phenomenon. Several of my friends who go to the gym discuss the frustrations. It isn’t that any of us begrudge the people for wanting to make a positive change. However, while we applaud their desire, there is generally a lack of follow through, and in the meantime… we’re tripping over them. It just seems that the gym-crowders think that merely showing up is going to transform them overnight. It’s probably similar to my own feelings about skiing the first time.

I was excited to go. I had several friends that love to snow ski. So, off I went. I rented the skis and boots and all that. We went out and had a few trips down the “bunny” slope. I was told that I’m a natural… awesome. This will be fun. I rode up on the lift. Got off and was the only one who did not fall doing so. And… that’s pretty much the end of the fun. Going down the ”not-bunny” slope I was not a natural. I finally figured out that my best way of stopping was to just fall over. I got to the bottom. I was damp, cold, and had zero feeling in my toes because the boots cut off all circulation. While I knew that I couldn’t expect to become an Olympic skier in a day, I also figured out pretty quickly that the après-ski was probably more my thing that the actual ski.

In truth, there are a lot of people like that with the gym. They are excited to get started. They make the preparations (membership, shoes, yoga pants). They have every intention of making that change, going to the gym at least 3 times per week, becoming a healthier, happier, leaner self. And that is where it stops. They get there and figure out in a hurry that this sweating thing is not their thing. Or perhaps they realize that exercising in a public place isn’t their thing… or driving to a gym and fighting for the elliptical is not their thing. The list goes on and on, but for whatever reason, they start tapering off. One by one they go, until the gym population stabilizes usually sometime in the summer, with minor fluctuations for people panicking before trips to tropical places where clothing is more revealing. Eventually, the population starts declining again in autumn, but sometimes that’s hard to really judge in a college town due to student gym members adding to the “usual crowd.” By November, the decrease is more noticeable until the end of December brings a ghost-town-like feel to the place… and we’ve cycled back around. It is familiar. Those of us going through a few years of the cycle have come to expect it. New to the scene regulars have a momentary panic followed by intense frustration with the newbies wandering around aimlessly hoping for insight about how to use the contraptions.

This is really only my second year of observation. I was a newbie myself not that long ago. So, I feel for these folks who want to make good choices and live healthier lives (and look better in their clothing). I’ve been there. I’ve done this, and I watch with sad eyes, trying to pick out the folks who will have the stick-with-it to hold out past the first quarter.

What I have found, purely through my observations, is that there are common threads to the people who actually make the gym a new, healthy habit instead of a short lived fad in their lives.

Buddy System vs. Going Solo. There is a lot to be said for an “accountability partner.” A lot of people who start going to the gym to support someone else find themselves getting healthier, and there is a sense of, “I need to go to support John (or Sylvia or Bruce).” The problem with this? If that person stops going, that impetus of supporting them and going often stops, too. Accountability should be to oneself. There is nothing wrong with peer encouragement to get the ball rolling, but for true sustainability, internalize some of that encouragement to have it with you even when your friend can’t be. Another problem with what I will call the partner system is that sometimes one or the other partner outstrips the progress in the working out process. If that social part of the gym-going is all that is keeping it going, that will eventually be a problem because one will be holding the other back, or the other will feel left out and stop. In the meantime, may I say, that the social-goers and clique brigades also can cause some problems for the regular gym population by stopping in the middle and tying up machines just to have a conversation, sometimes in large clumps. There is nothing wrong with a little conversation and social support to make gym time a fun time, but when clusters of people block the flow in a crowded gym while spewing negative gossip (I’ve actually been subjected to this and heard well more about people than I ever wanted to know; headphones were not able to prevent their loud conversation from penetrating)… it can really detract from the experience for all.

Ignorance vs. Instruction. Literally, I mean ignorance. I don’t mean it as a derogatory term. I mean that people have no knowledge of fitness, physical exercise, or more importantly how that thingie works. So, when they fumble around and misuse equipment (misuse their own bodies), occasionally, there is injury. That puts a kibosh on the whole gym-tendance (I made that up, too).

Embarrassment vs. Intimidation. This relates to the topic above and then bleeds over to other areas. I am lucky enough to belong to Planet Fitness. I say lucky because of a topic I will address in a moment. However, one of the great things about the organization is their “no gymtimidation” thing. They mean it. There are still going to be some people who see people working out at varying degrees of expertise and, in a panic, run for the door, but for the most part, that atmosphere of the beefcake club is not present at my gym. People seem genuinely welcoming. Most people will leave you the hell alone (I said most). There is less of the designer workout gear and perfectly toned physiques displayed. People tend to wear comfortable, sometimes ratty athletic wear and they sweat and look sometimes pretty flaming atrocious (at least I usually do). The people there look like they are there to work out and not judge. So, it is a comfortable environment for people who are new to gym membership and may be a little more self-conscious about their appearance during exercise. Embarrassment and discomfort are a major reasons for drop-out.

Not-asking-for-help (see Ignorance). Playing into the embarrassment factor is the not-asking-for-help thing. All those contraptions! Most people are familiar with the stationery bikes and the treadmills. Additionally, anyone with a television has probably seen ellipticals in varying forms (I can actually attest that using one is not intuitive… it takes a minute to get the hang of it, and there is coordination involved… it nearly did me in the first time). However, there are a lot of machines that people have never seen, certainly never used, and moreover are disinclined to go find someone and ask. So, they pay for gym membership, go a few times, can’t figure out how to work the thingie-with-the-whatnot-that-does-something, and eventually stop going because it is “Just a waste of time and money. I can do most of that stuff at home” or they get hurt because of not using the machine… or their body correctly. The point being, that there is usually someone working at the gym that would be more than pleased to help anyone learn how to properly use the equipment. Often there is a trainer there who not only will help a member learn how to use the thingie-with-the-whatnot-that-does-something, but they will actually help design a specific program to achieve the goals desired. There should be no embarrassment in letting the people do their job.

Proximity. This is a big one, bigger than you realize. Everyone gets excited after making their New Year’s promises to themselves and heading out to purchase a gym membership. However, if you have to drive more than 20 minutes, it is unlikely that you will continue that pattern of behavior. In fact, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that there is a negative correlation between distance of the gym from your home and the amount of time you go (meaning that you are less likely to continue going to the gym the further away it is from your house). For my experience, I will admit that the reason I am in my second year of post-holiday-pocalypse-gym-invasion is because I am literally 5 minutes away. This is the lucky thing that I was talking about earlier. My home Planet Fitness location is nice, clean, and 5 minutes from my house. It’s perfect for me. Seriously. When I travel, now, I have a membership which will allow me to go to other locations for the franchise (bless that black card membership). Occasionally, I have driven as far as 20 minutes to get to the closest gym. However, I know good and well that I would not have done this had my routine and gym habits not already been established. If my gym home was further away or I had to drive well out of my way to go, chances are that work, home, fatigue, and general lassitude would have intervened eventually, and I would have dropped out and gone back to my tuber-like ways. Choosing a facility that is convenient is so important to the longevity of the gym-going. If your workplace has a gym, excellent! Use it. You will be more likely to continue because it is right there. If your apartment complex, condo, home owners association neighborhood has a central recreation center with a workout facility, awesome! If none of these scenarios are available, and if you work outside the home, try to find a gym that is on your route. If you have to pass by it on the way to work or the way home from work, you have a better chance of actually going. If you have the dollars and space to dedicate to a home gym… it’s better than driving over 20 minutes, but you may be less inclined to stick with a workout routine because “I can do that later… or sometime… or *zzzzzz*.” So, with the proximity, there is also the idea that if you go with a purpose and schedule the time to actually go, you may be more likely to make it a continual thing.

Where was I going with all of this? I think I started in one direction and ended up meandering all over and winding up somewhere else entirely. And that’s just fine, because even if my gym feels a little crowded at the moment, and I may growl a bit when I’m having my personal space bubble decreased, I do truly want people to make healthier choices for themselves. So… Merry Gym-Crowding!

Physical Fit: It doesn’t have to start with a marathon

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Unless you are that famed persona of the film, I really can’t imagine that anyone starts off running marathons. I mean, you can start with a goal of wanting to run in a marathon. It’s not really my cup of tea, but most humans don’t go from tuber-hood to marathon-runner immediately.

That’s the thing that people keep saying to me. For those of you following along in my struggles, rants, embarrassments, and victories, you know I never saw myself running anywhere (unless something really nasty was chasing me). Several friends have expressed the desire to get into some sort of fitness routine. When I talk about my running habit, they say things like “I wish I could do that,” or “I could never run,” or “Wow! I don’t think I could ever do that!” Honestly, it’s spectacular for my ego, but it is absolute hogwash.

As of now, I’ve managed to get to a point where I’m running (elliptical, remember the knees) 40 minutes almost every day. On the elliptical, that usually averages close to 5 miles. On the beach, it is considerably less… mainly due to sand and such making it slightly more of an effort, but regardless of distance, the effort is still there. I’m still sweaty and generally feeling it in my legs and backside. That’s really more of the point, no matter what anyone thinks. The effort in the exercise is really what matters. I’m happy that I’ve improved my time and can actually get good distance in those 40 minutes, but I’m not in a race against anyone but myself. What my friends with their comments don’t seem to recall is that I did not start there, and I certainly did not get here very quickly. I had my physical fit over a year ago, and I’m still struggling.

When I first decided to join the gym, I half expected that I would let that lapse like I had before. I would have spent my money and find every excuse on the planet not to go. I’m as surprised as anyone that I’m still going… and regularly. I was also fairly certain that I did not have enough coordination to be on one of those machines without causing myself (and likely anyone in the near vicinity) bodily harm.
What was absolutely zero surprise was that my first efforts were laughable. Quite literally. Grace is not my middle name. However, once I mastered the not-falling-off-and-killing-myself part, the next big hurdle was to actually keep up movement for 10 minutes… in a row. I mean, really? Ten minutes does not sound like a huge amount of time, but when you are trying to coordinate your arms and legs and looking at a timer that is viciously sneering at you… it might as well be a marathon. It was sad. By the time the digits went up to the 10 minute mark, I just stopped. I was out of breath, struggling, muscles weak and hamstrings screaming “What the hell are you doing to us?!?” I had been talked into this by a friend who said, “You need to do the ‘cooldown’ minutes, now.” I won’t repeat my response to that.

From there, I really only had a goal of being able to finish the 10 minutes without dying. I wanted to see if I could get to a point where 10 minutes didn’t seem like an Olympic event. And you know, it actually happened. I got to a point where I could do the 10 minutes and the3 minute cooldown. Not bad. Then, I happened to notice that I was close to a mile at the 10 minute mark. I made it my mission to break my 10-minute-mile.

And I did.

Little by little, I found myself decreasing the amount of time it took me to get to that mile. From there, I had to increase the distance to get in more time. I pushed and before I realized what I was doing, I was at 15 minutes, then 20. I was almost in shock when I looked one day to realize that I had been running for 25 minutes and had 3 miles registered on the machine. That’s where I settled for a while, actually. It was enough, I thought. However, I started throwing in a little cooldown period after my resistance training. So, another 5 minutes or so after weights? Now, I was up to 30.

I felt like I was plateauing again. I was looking for results and not really seeing them. A friend and one of my fitness support group started talking about changing my routine and said something about increasing my run to 40 minutes. What the actual…? Is he insane? I can’t run 40 minutes. I’ll die. And out loud I said, “Do I have to do all 40 minutes in a row?” He said that I did not, but that I needed to keep moving and do my resistance training, weights, whatever in between if I was going to break it up. Ok… I’d give that a try. So, I did. I started with 25 minutes before, did my resistance/strength stuff, and then 15 minutes before heading home. Not too bad, actually. It hurt a lot less than I thought it would. After doing that for a while, I decided to increase the before time to 30 and do 10 minutes afterward. One day, I just decided to do both in a row, and voila! I was doing 40 minutes consecutively. No break. Just straight through. I didn’t die. Crazy, huh?

Psychologically, that 40 minutes looked just sooooo unachievable, but somehow I managed to get through it. I managed to fool myself into seeing it in smaller chunks and it wasn’t so insurmountable. My body appears to be much more willing to accommodate the activity than my brain. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be running any marathons in the near (or even possibly distant) future. I don’t think that every trick I know to fool my brain and body could accommodate 26 miles, but who knows? I didn’t think I could run a mile when I started. I still occasionally feel a sense of shock that I run at all. So, it doesn’t have to start with a marathon. It starts with a step.

Physical Fit: Powders and Programs and Pills… Oh My!

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I don’t really know about the rest of you, but I personally have noticed an uptick in the sheer volume of adverts and click baits pertaining to the weight loss and fitness realm. I don’t have any empirical evidence, but from the mere narrative perspective, there has been a virtual flood of infomercials and random articles that assault my desperate psyche every day. I shan’t even pretend to review the plethora of products out there. I actually thought of doing just that for a while. I considered actually sampling and trying various offerings from the smorgasbord of fitness fads just to see what was out there, but common sense (and lack of funds) won out on that argument and instead, I’m just going to speak in generalities and the observations I have made of the various pleas to our vanity, health, and desperation that I have made during my own journey of fitness acquisition (and no, I am by no means at my destination).

Powders

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The latest and greatest thing that has been suffusing the interwebs and social media has been the various offerings of what I will call the Power of Powders. By this, I mean the health food shakes and protein supplements and general liquid nutritional replacements that claim to support all your health and fitness goals. There are a lot of them, and they all have some similarities as well as having some significant differences as well. There are shakes to help you lose weight. There are shakes to help you build muscle. There are shakes to emphasize muscle definition. There are detoxes and microbiotics and macrobiotics and every other thing that you can imagine. Most contain some type of protein. The claim is generally that the addition of protein will satisfy the hunger on fewer calories as well as boosting the protein to fat and carbohydrate ratio of most dietary habits of the American public. Some are available at the grocery store and others from health food markets or GNC. There are others that are only available by subscription or via an agent (usually a friend or family member who becomes a vendor). The point is that all the shakes and powders generally have the purpose of replacing the solid food meals you eat with a liquid version, packaged in a tasty, milkshake-like solution. Some are actually supplemental to the normal meal intakes for people who are underweight or building mass and not getting enough protein in their normal diet.

I will not say that any of this is a bad thing. I have seen some products out there that have questionable ingredients, but for the most part, the popular varieties out there are not going to do you any harm to try them. Do they all do as they claim? Possibly. However, the important part here is to realize that we are not all of a piece, and you need to do your research (by the way, get used to reading that phrase). People are unique for the most part. We each have similarities. We are generally made of the same basic compounds and genetic codes (unless you are a mutant or have been infused with alien DNA… that is a joke, people, seriously). However, each of us probably has environmental and genetic differences that impact how we respond to various dietary elements; otherwise, we’d all be allergic to peanuts and gluten and lactose and any number of things identically. There are some people that can go completely vegan and be extraordinarily healthy… I’m not one of those… and others who to remove meat and dairy from their diets would cause all manner of problems. People have varying metabolisms and responses to how we use and store the nutrition we take into our bodies. What works for one person is not necessarily going to work for the next one. Sadly, we cannot all afford to go have genetic and dietary assessment to have a nutritionist design the perfect program just for us (wouldn’t that be nice, though). Additionally, we all have different preferences and what suits my friend over here, is not going to be my cup of tea… or coffee rather because any of you who know me are aware of exactly my preferences on that.

So, bottom line on powders? Do not judge your response to a product by how it performs with someone else. Just because Shakeology or Herbalife or Muscle Milk works for your friend, does not guarantee that it is going to be just the thing for you. It may not have the same effect, or you may not tolerate those formulas the same way. Does it mean that it’s a fraud or a scam? NO it does not. It means that the particular product is possibly not for you. Try a different one if you are intent upon a meal replacement or supplement. Just do your research. Meal replacements are governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and usually that means they have at least passed some level of testing, but others that are considered supplements do not go through the same rigorous standards (more on that later). So, do your homework first, before your expend large sums of money, and try it for a short span (again, before you purchase a lifetime supply).

Programs

Can I just say that insomnia is possibly the worst trait if trying to resist infomercial sales pitches about fitness programs? They all sound so simple, fun… the pounds will just melt off you in just 10 minutes per day!!! Um, yeah. Not so much, people. However, that is exactly what they want you to believe, and always, it seems, at times of day or night when you are most susceptible. Again, just like with the meal replacement/supplement thing, I’m not claiming all of these programs are fraudulent. I am saying DO THE RESEARCH before dialing 1-800-LUZ-UR-ASS (yes, I know it is too many digits) at 3:00AM and giving Peggy your credit card number. I don’t care how many extra exercise bands in fluorescent pink and lime green they offer to send you if you ACT NOW!

Most of the programs or exercise equipment promise things like “So, fun you won’t even notice you are working out!” and “In a fraction of the time you would normally spend exercising you will burn a gazillion more calories!” If you don’t notice, then it probably is not going to have the results for which you are hoping. Even the least strenuous exercise that results in firmer posterior or decreased inches in your middle make you feel something… usually sore the next day for a while. That’s just part of the muscle training process. When an exercise stops feeling being an effort, it’s time to change the routine and keep the body working. Anything different takes some getting used to, and if you don’t feel a little of “the burn” you probably aren’t causing all those slow and quick twitch muscle fibers to get excited enough to burn calories. Additionally, your body will develop a tolerance to the level of activity and it may not continue to work forever (remember my Plateau piece?). So, beware of the programs that promise results without effort. Chances are that they are going to cost more than they are worth, OR the claims that you won’t notice the effort are drastically underestimated. When you cannot move the next day, those DVDs will just start collecting dust.

There are some decent programs out there for home use. One that has caught on pretty readily (thanks to some good PR, brand name recognition, and target marketing towards wrestling fans and veterans) is DDP Yoga. All the reviews indicate that the program is pretty easy to follow and provides workout that has some decent results, but you know how I found that out? I did the research and read what others were saying… the good and the bad. There are also a number of free programs with YouTube videos and subscriptions that allow you to get new workouts and articles every week, such as Fitness Blender. These usually are simple exercises that you can do at home, and generally do not take more than half an hour (sometimes less) for the whole workout. For those who prefer to go to a gym, ask if there is a trainer that works there. Many places have a trainer on staff that can help design a program to achieve the specific goals you want. Some may have a fee for that service, but others, like Planet Fitness provide this as a free service to members. So, before you dig for your wallet and phone in the wee hours at the behest of the fitness guru touting the efficacy of their Fat Burning Program GUARANTEED TO LOSE FAT, do a little research. Take some time to see what else is out there.

Pills

This one is the absolute worst, in my opinion. We have become, in American society, the pharmaceutical and supplement dream. It seems that everyone is looking for the miracle pill that will make all the negative aspects of our lives go buh-bye. And, yes, that is absolutely a generalization… broad and sweeping and probably doesn’t apply to every single individual in the country, but there are enough of them out there to make it worthwhile for the shysters, cons, and snake oil salesmen (and women) to continue their patter like side show barkers trying to draw the moths to their particular flame. Why on earth would we expend physical energy and restrict eating what we like if we can just take a pill or sprinkle something on our food and make that food skip the storage as fat portion of the program? Sure would be a whole lot easier, right?

Remember how I said I was going to talk more about supplements and the FDA issue? Yeah, this is that portion of the program. Many of the miracle pills and solutions that are advertised for fat loss and weight loss fall into the category of a supplement. They have been categorized as such rather than as a medication or a food which would be governed by the FDA. Again, I’m not going to go through the enormous list of various pills that have been advertised as “fat-melting” or “appetite suppressing”. Most of the time, these little gems are either diuretics (meaning they make you pee, thereby losing water weight), have a form of stimulant suppressing appetite (and making you pee), or have some sort of fat blocking compound that causes your body to excrete said fat (think Olean and some of the “anal leakage” tales). Others are cocktails of vitamins and caffeine that rev your energy levels (if you don’t mainline coffee like I do). Many are pretty harmless for the normal healthy adult, but sometimes, not so much.

Usually, when it comes to the miracle pills, the advertisement or infomercial will spout a mouthful of jargon and sciency-sounding hogwash that includes actual chemicals in the body like Leptin or Ghrelin and pontificate upon some theory of how the manipulation thereof will result in dramatic body-composition changes. Occasionally, there will be some repackaged manure about high levels of Vitamin D or B or Omega 3 compounds for which they will give you a free trial (you just pay shipping and handling), and can cancel at any time if it doesn’t work. What’s the harm in that? None at all, except that they frequently charge your card astronomical sums of money when you forget to cancel the automatic refill and the shipping and handling probably paid more than the cost of manufacturing and shipping. Additionally, because they have classified their product as a supplement, they may not have been over-careful about adherence to health regulations. Be cautious. Sing it with me all together, now… DO YOUR RESEARCH! Be wary of claims that seem miraculous and contrary to the laws of physics and nature. Listen for phrases like “It is impossible to lose weight without this product!” If it sounds too good to be true, guess what? It probably is.

Click-Baits

What are they? They are those eye-catching headlines or lines in your social media feed that say “5 FOODS NEVER TO EAT WILL LOSE BELLY FAT” or “MY SECRET TO LOSING 30 POUNDS IN A MONTH” or “THE HOLLYWOOD SECRET THAT NO ONE WANTS YOU TO KNOW!” We’ve all seen them. Most of us have clicked on them at least once… well, I have, and I’m not too proud to admit it. The problem is that when you get in there, it is all of the stuff I have mentioned above: Some eye-catching pseudo-science with a trustworthy person in a white lab coat talking about their amazing breakthrough that the government doesn’t want you to know, or maybe even some snazzy animated illustrations to explain how their product or program or powder blocks your fat-making body and will turn you into a god/goddess.

thecoachjimmycom

In the modern era where obesity has become a disease that everyone seems to catch (at least in western society and the “first world”), people become frustrated and desperate to lose weight and conform to the modern, western view of beauty. The charlatans of the world prey on that desperation and know that most of the people in the world who have been frustrated by their own attempts will not do their own research and prefer a nice packaged version that is easy to digest and understand… and of course will not require too much time and effort on their part. As my friend says, humans will eat the candy if it is packaged prettily and put before them. So many people want an easy way. Others have tried and failed so many times that they are willing to believe in anything if it will let them have some success in their weight loss and fitness efforts.

Ideally, everyone out there should do the work, read the research, understand what they are reading, and try different things until they find the right formula that works for them. But that takes time. That takes effort, and too many people want someone to boil it down to a simple format. They prefer for someone else to take all the available science, assimilate it, simplify it, and regurgitate it in a readily understandable form. Most of the time, the result is crap; boiled-down stinky crap. Weight loss and physical fitness have become the spiritualism movement of the 21st Century. It isn’t all fraud out there, but you need to debunk the stuff that the charlatans are dishing out. Do the work. Read product reviews (somewhere other than the website owned by the seller or company manufacturing the product). Sift through the technobabble and garbage science, and look for the reputable. Also, watch the customer testimonials. These are generally the most dramatic changes and chosen for that reason. If you read the fine print, you will often see “Results vary” or “Results not typical”. For people who had more than 100 pounds to lose, frequently any change of lifestyle to something healthier will prove more dramatic than for those who have a few pounds to shave off.

Remember, not all the powders, products, and pills (even if they are legit) will work for everyone. So, be savvy and cautious and get fit in a healthy way, AND check in with your primary care physician before starting out on any fitness or weight loss lifestyle change.

Physical Fit: Scathing Rant Commencing in 3…2…

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So, I have tried not to become one of those people when it comes to my physical activity and fitness regimen, but today truly tested my metal.

I’ve recently changed up my routine workout schedule. A few different circumstances contributed to the adjustments. The primary reason was my move to a telecommute status for my job that put me within five minutes of my gym. Whereas previously my workout waited until the end of the workday when I stopped on the way home (because my office was inconveniently far from the gym to go during the day), I now have the ability to run to the gym for a mid-day workout break during my lunch hour. Another reason for the schedule shift was that my former choice of the after-work-workout was popular with a lot of people. The gym was crowded starting at around 5:00 P.M. If I didn’t get to the gym before that time, it was very unlikely that I would find any of the cardio machinery (elliptical, treadmill, stationary bicycles, or stair climber) free. The same could be said for the various resistance and strength training machines, and don’t get me started on the circuit training area. Needless to say, with my late in the day meetings, project, and door-knob questions from staff, I rarely got to my gym in time to get my turn at the necessary activities. It was frustrating, to say the least, and a recipe for fitness failure if I allowed it to be. Therefore, my change to a mid-day workout was an unexpected blessing. It is glorious. I practically have the whole place to myself, and I get in a full workout in the time most people get through lunch.

I fear that even this brief period of blessed freedom and isolation in my fitness has led me to a sense of complacency. I’ve become accustomed to my privacy and freedom of the unpopulated daytime gym. I have taken for granted that I have the run of the place. I mistakenly assumed that my frustrations of the gym-etiquette-deficient were behind me. Today, that cherished feeling has been decimated … decisively.

First, I got rather a later start than normal, but I was still at the gym shortly after the normal lunch hour. As usual, my chosen temple to physical fitness was practically empty. I was immediately able to get an elliptical machine for my run (yes, this is how I run because I’m old, and I have knees that still haven’t forgiven me for the mistreatment of my youth). So far, so good. After my usual three miles, I moved to the circuit training area.

  1. I just heard the groans from some of my more dedicated fitness experts among my readers, but here is my defense:
  2. I don’t do the circuit training every day or even every workout.
  3. I do practice “muscle confusion” and switch things up between leg day, torso, abs, etc.
  4. When it comes to a lunch hour workout, circuit training is a great way for me to get in a full body workout to start my week.

Back to my tale… I went to my blessedly empty circuit training area. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than trying to do circuit training during the busy times of the day. Sadly the circuit training area is the one place in a gym where, for some reason, people tend to congregate and socialize after work (which was one of my frustrations with the after-work-workout). This is a serious problem for someone who is trying to stay in their groove (“Beware the groove… beware the groove…”).

For those that are unfamiliar with the circuit training, it consists of a fenced-in area with a series of resistance/weight machines interspersed with steps or other cardio activity that are laid out in a particular order allegedly to maximize the muscle isometrics (the science jury is still out on that one). The point of this is to work on strength and tone while keeping the heart rate in a target zone. There are arguments in the fitness community about the value of this, but for me, it seems to be a good option (especially, again, when pressed for time). My approach to circuit training, and why it is the perfect solution to a lunchtime workout for me, is to do the resistance machines in order (as one is supposed to do). I generally do three sets of 12-15 repetitions on each one, but I don’t do the steps in between every machine. I usually just monitor my pulse and use the cardio to boost it if it drops out of the target range. The exception to this would be when the circuit training area is totally hoppin’. I then follow the prescribed routine to keep from disrupting the flow for others… or I just avoid the circuit training all together and opt for the other machines or free weights available outside the area.

There I was, in the circuit training and starting to work my way around the area from machine to machine, checking my pulse and using the interspersed steps in between… I had worked my way around to the military press machine and just finished it. I took my pulse and found that I was still in the target range. Completely in my groove, I moved with determination to the next machine. That’s when it happened…

He walked into the circuit training area with loose, saggy (and probably more-expensive-than-they-should-have-been) basketball shorts. Ball cap on backwards and sporting a t-shirt with the sleeves cut out. Before I realized what had happened, he stepped between me an my next machine. That’s right, he skipped the rest of the circuit completely, just cut me off in traffic and sat down to do some bicep curls accompanied by impressive huffing and grunting. At this point, I had the option of skipping past this machine to the next in line or use the cardio step. As I paused to reflect, another of the species came over to stand next to the first and slid into place at the machine as the first finished his set.

Suddenly, I had a completely overwhelming urge to be an ass… or kick one. I pictured myself delivering a champion, thermonuclear wedgie accompanied by a firm flip of the reversed baseball cap perched on the head of the original douchebag. I also pictured walking over and just standing there without saying anything. If either of the Neanderthals asked what I was doing, I would calmly explain the purpose of the circuit training area and excuse their ignorant rudeness as “I am certain that your egos have cut off the blood supply to the part of your brain that governs your ability to read or think or have manners.” My final fantasy option was to go over to one of the empty bicep machines that were just outside the circuit training area and visible to the pair of them proclaiming loudly as I did so, “I wish there was a bicep curl machine somewhere outside the circuit training area!!!”

I, of course, did none of these things, satisfying though they might have been.  Instead, I heaved a great sigh, gave them a patented Ginsu-knife-eye-of-the-basilisk-witch-whammy glare, walked to the abdominal area to do some oblique work, and then finished up with another mile on the elliptical. Somehow, while much more righteous and mature, I’m pretty sure the imagined actions would have been a good deal more fun. BUT I would like to be able to continue using my gym, and taking the high road probably was the wiser option. However, for any of you out there reading this, be aware of the people around you and have some bloody manners!

Here endeth the rant… As you were.