The Call of the Gym

Not my bag, but I regularly haul one around that looks a lot like it!

Not my bag, but I regularly haul one around that looks a lot like it!

Recently my boyfriend Julian and I were spending the day running some errands. We were having a nice day, but somewhere in the middle of Costco, I lost my good mood. I’m not really sure what happened. I’m not a huge fan of crowds. I don’t mind speaking in public in front of people, but large groups of people milling about can get under my skin, and Costco can be crazy. Or it might have just been a little “shopper’s fatigue.” In any case, I started feeling grumpy, and my good mood disappeared. (I do hope whoever found it, dusted it off and enjoyed a very pleasant rest of their day!)

Julian saw I wasn’t quite myself and asked me what was up. I said something I never thought I would say in my lifetime. “I need to go to the gym.” In that moment, I wanted to feel better and the only thing I could think of that would give me immediate results was working out. Fortunately I had signed up for a class later that day.

Before I started losing weight, I thought gyms were stupid. In my mind they were expensive, embarrassing, sweaty levels of hell that only the super athletic dared to tread. I have a friend who loves the fitness classes at her gym and would often talk about how great they were. Frankly, I thought she was nuts. About the only thing that sounded more hellish than working out in a gym… was working out with other people. Double yuck.

…and now for my birthday I bought myself an unlimited membership to a fitness studio, where all they offer is classes… and I love it.

I was thinking about this the other night. Just why do I love going to my studio so much? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Okay, the first and most obvious thing is that working out releases endorphins. Endorphins reduce feelings of pain and improve positive feelings. So basically, it changes your body chemistry. All I know is that when I am done, I am sweaty and happy. My voice lifts, my eyes are brighter and I’m tired but feeling great. But you know, I heard about all this happiness before I started working out and it in no way motivated to try it for myself. What I didn’t know was…
  • The atmosphere in the studio is great. I was always worried about people who were better than me judging me or just feeling stupid because I didn’t know what I was doing. What I have found is the opposite. If anyone judges me, I haven’t seen it. Instead, everyone I have met, from the instructors to my fellow classmates have been nothing but supportive, helpful, and fun to be around. Some of my instructors are tough, but they also take the time to come over and show me how to improve my technique. My classmates laugh with me and are great about offering a high five or a boxing glove fist bump after a particularly hard round. There are people at all levels, from the classic blonde who works out like a machine to the older guy who dutifully huffs and puffs his way through. All sizes, sexes, colors and fitness levels seem to be there. It’s great.
  • At the studio, I am responsible for no one but myself. In my day to day life, my job and my former volunteer work, I’m a manager of people. I am responsible for their happiness, their work, their problems, and so on. I enjoy being a leader, but it is also really nice to go somewhere where the only person I need to worry about is me.
  • The zen-like state of exercising is awesome. The classes I like the most are so hard that I don’t have time to think about anything but what I am doing at that exact moment in time. There is something really freeing in that.
  • I am feeling more self confident every time I go. The joy of being a beginner is that it doesn’t take much to see an improvement! 🙂 But seriously, every class is an opportunity to improve and I can feel that. Each time I leave, I feel a little stronger and a little better. It’s not just brawn – it is also brains. I love school and love learning, and this is a version of that.
  • I’m meeting some new people. Like most people over 20, my social circles are pretty developed. I don’t meet a lot of new folks. There are people at this studio that I already knew slightly and a lot more I haven’t met yet. We don’t have time for long conversations or anything, usually it’s no more than a few minutes between classes, but it’s nice. I have an amazing circle of friends, I am not looking to expand that, but getting these new acquaintances is fun.
  • I can work out regardless of the weather. I love biking, kayaking, hiking and walks, but last year I felt like my blog became a constant weather report because unless the weather was good, I couldn’t work out. Now it doesn’t matter. But I am frequently biking to the classes which is fun!
  • I don’t have to run. I still haven’t found the love for running. I do it, but I haven’t discovered the runner’s bliss that so many of my fellow bloggers have. That’s okay – I can get a great work out that I enjoy. I am determined to keep the weight off and get stronger, but I can only do it if I find things I enjoy. For me, this is it right now.
  • Working out keeps the thunderclouds at bay. Whether it is a short term case of grumpiness or helping with my depression and anxiety, exercise is a healthy way to keep all that to a more manageable level. I’ve mentioned before that one of the side effects of depression and anxiety is body aches. They also really undermine your motivation and make you feel tired. Recently I was under a big cloud and ended up canceling two of my classes. After actually making it to a third class, I realized that canceling the other two had been a mistake. I felt so much better afterwards, I wish I had done it sooner. That’s when I made a vow that it is okay to cancel if a special event comes up or if I am just plain out sore and exhausted, but if that soreness and tiredness is from mental stuff rather than physical, I have to get up and go to the gym. It’s just worth it to feel better.

 

 

Photo credit: Dean Jarvey from flickr

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How to Get Better at Boxing

boxingI mentioned that I am ambivalent about hot yoga, I am not ambivalent about boxing. I love my boxing class.

This last class I had an interesting experience. It is a circuit class – they have 10 heavy bags and a maximum of 20 students. The students pair up and one takes the bag while the other does floor work. The first two times I paired up with women. The first class the instructor asked a kind woman to help me out. She would give me tips as we passed back and forth. The second time a little older gal asked if I needed a partner and I was glad to accept. I don’t think she was new, but she may have had health problems, since she did a lot of modifications on the floor work.

This time I paired up with a guy. He was fit. In fact, he looked like my idea of a boxer – powerful. He picked a much heavier bag than the ladies, which I ended up loving. A bag that doesn’t swing as easily is a lot more fun to hit. He was also a workhorse on the floor work. There were no mini breaks for this guy. Now, except for the bag choice, it shouldn’t matter who you pair up with. Even though you are “partnered” you spend the whole class with your backs to each other. One is at the bags on one side of the room, the other is on the floor facing the mirrors on the opposite side. The only time you see each other is between rounds. I say it shouldn’t matter – but it did.

When I partnered with the gal doing modifications, I took more breaks. I felt less able to complete each set. Yet, when I left that night, I knew I still had energy in the tank. I hadn’t given it my all, and isn’t that why I am there? Of course, it make sense to take breaks or do modifications if that’s what you need to do. But if I walk out of there knowing I took shortcuts when I didn’t need to, I’m just cheating myself.

When I partnered with the guy, it was different. While I couldn’t see him exactly, I could hear him pounding away at the bag. When we switched, I could sense that he kept moving through the whole round on the floor work. There were no breaks. It made me work a lot harder myself. And when we passed and he fist bumped my glove and said “way to go” I felt like a million bucks! That night when I left the studio, I was a puddle. I had given it my all – and maybe a little more.

So, I learned my lesson. When I get to class, I’m going to move to the back of the room (where the heavier bags are.) Then I am going to look for someone in better shape than I am to partner with. The harder they work, the harder I work.

A Different Point of View

Strong by Scott SwigartIt took me a little while to understand why the post: 10+ Reasons I Love My Ugly Body hit me so hard. I hadn’t read her blog before, I found it on a link from Fit, Feminist and (almost) Fifty on Friday. I’m pretty happy with the way my body looks, overall. So, it wasn’t that I felt particularly close to the author or that I completely identified with her, although like most women, I certainly have things about myself I wish I could change.

I think the reason her post put giant tears in my eyes and made me catch my breath was that it directly addressed something I have been dealing with myself. I’ve mentioned that I gained some weight back in January. I’ve been trying to ditch it, but I haven’t had much success. It’s been really upsetting to me, and I think I am starting to connect the dots as to why. It’s not really about the weight exactly – sure, I wish some of my clothes fit a little better and I liked the way I looked last summer, but a few extra pounds do not look bad on me. I’m upset not about the weight… I’m upset because it is effecting my confidence. I feel like I should be able to just do what I did before and it should come off. But it hasn’t.

This probably wouldn’t be a big deal, except that I have gone through several confidence busting incidents in the last few months. When you start to feel like you can’t even control your own body the way you did before, it eats at your faith in yourself. My weight loss and fitness was something I have been rather proud of, and lately, it’s been slipping. It’s hard when other things in my life are in the same boat. There is a lot of “what is wrong with me??” kind of thoughts going on.

But Andrea turns it around, she celebrates all the things that her body can do that it couldn’t do before. And seriously, look at some of the amazing things she can do! She is a badass!!I mentioned I just achieved a personal record in weight lifting the other day, and honestly, I feel like I have a lot more in me. What if I relax a little and instead of beating myself up, give myself a little credit for all that I can do now – and for all the goals I have in the future? How would that feel?

I think I’ll give that a try.

 

Photo credit: Scott Swigart via flickr

Weights

Weight lifter by Rennett StoweWhen I stopped working out, I started gaining weight. Not surprising, but it didn’t happen the way I thought it would.

It started when it got cold, really cold. We had the nastiest winter we’ve had in decades. Slowly my motivation for outside activities died. I thought I would spend the winter snowshoeing or cross country skiing, or even the crazy of all crazies – winter running. I forgot a very important piece, however: Newton’s First Law. “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” True for physics, true for my butt on the couch. The couch seemed like such a good option, especially after the morning I was walking the dog and my eyelashes froze together.

Yes, I kept walking Hermes. Thank heavens I have a pooch – and a pooch that loves the snow. He is the one thing that kept me moving. Even as my running shoes collected dust, I added cleats to my winter boots. I upped our walking from roughly an hour a day to an hour and fifteen, and for the most part, kept to it… but that was all I kept up on.

I had planned to keep lifting weights, I mean, why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t like I do that outside! Except for something I did that was fairly smart when I started lifting: instead of relegating the weight bench to the basement or spare bedroom, I put it in my library. Most people would call my library a living room – it has books, of course, but also my big comfy couch and my television. It’s the place I hang out in the most, and since I have always wanted a library since I was a little girl, (and never dreamed about having my own living room) it’s the library. And that’s where I put my weights. I see them every single day.

Until Christmas… because the weight bench sits in my bay window, which the same place I put my Christmas tree. Out went the weight bench to the front room. It’s kind of a formal parlor and unheated in the winter, but I made a really great work out space in there, complete with a space heater. No go. The minute the bench was out of site, it was out of mind. I moved it back in January, but by then the routine was broken. It sat, gathering dust, (along with those running shoes.)

Here’s the interesting thing – I was able to maintain my weight beautifully through Christmas without running, biking or kayaking. It was when I stopped lifting weights that I saw weight start to come on. Not a lot, not all at once, but it steadily creeped up. Finally I had enough and in April I started lifting again. The weight isn’t off, but I feel so much better and I can really see the change in my appearance. My jawline is tightening and the cheekbones are starting to show. I’ve come to the conclusion that my body is telling me that it loves when I lift weights.

Now all I have to do is listen to it.

 

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe on flickr

Thought Experiment: Would You Exercise if You Didn’t Have to?

PillsThere is a really cool conversation going on over at Fit and Feminist on her post: If You Could Have Good Health From A Pill Would You Still Exercise? Go check out her post and be sure and read the comments. I have kind of mixed thoughts, (and because it is me, they are also long and wordy) so I thought I would post them here. Here’s a quick excerpt from the thought experiment she posed:

…and so I wondered, if medical researchers were to develop a pill that could provide all the physical health benefits of regular exercise, and that pill had no side effects, and it was as inexpensive as a bottle of aspirin – would I still continue to be as physically active as I am? []

I love the idea behind this, and if a pill as she described could be invented, I’d be all for it. I think it would change the lives of a lot of people. But the question is, would I take such a pill?

I think about this question a lot actually. Quite often I’ll be in the middle of some kind of exercise and think, “if this didn’t help burn calories or my health in any way, would I still do it?” My answer depends on what I am doing. For example:

Kayaking: A definite “HECK YES!” I love kayaking for many reasons; that it’s a great work out for my arms and shoulders is just icing on the cake. I love being outside, on the water, and feeling the freedom that comes with piloting a tiny one person boat.

Biking: Yep! My bike is my land kayak.

Walking: Mostly yes. I walk for many other reasons than exercise. I walk to clear my head, get fresh air, and to find peace. I also walk because my dog needs regular daily exercise. However, if I had a huge fenced in yard, and I could take the magic pill, I probably would cut down on the time I hit the sidewalks. I most likely would give up my 6:30AM walks, but I would keep my lunch hour strolls when I need to get out of the office. I’d probably still walk in great weather, but I would give up walking in ice storms, thunderstorms and blizzards.

Weight Lifting: Maaaayyyybe. I love the way weight lifting makes me look. I really like what it does for my arms and shoulders, in particular. I’m assuming the magic pill would not build muscle, so if I wanted that look, I’d have to lift. I like lifting, and when I do it, I feel like a total badass. However, it takes time that I would really love to have back. I would be hard pressed (ha!) to keep up with it, I think.

Running: I’d give it up in a New York minute. It has advantages – I love the stamina that I gained by running regularly. And again, I felt like a badass when I ran… and in my goal to become a superhero, running is important, but if it didn’t also burn calories and make me feel like I was improving my health? Nope, no way.

Here’s why I think I would take the pill: I love the way that I feel now that I am roughly 40 pounds lighter, but I am petrified about going back up. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, there are a whole lot of people out there – many of them smarter and with more will power than I have who have lost weight, only to regain it a few years later. If I could take a pill and erase that worry, I would do it in a heartbeat. 

… but I would still exercise too!

 

 

Photo credit: Victor on flickr

 

Little Miss…

brokenI’ve been writing about the habits I’ve been trying to build and work towards and I know it can all sound a bit Pollyanna. I just want to say, it isn’t all perfect.

I have weeks when things are clicking along – when I’m doing what I want to do and feeling productive and in control. But there are also weeks like the last one – when everything is just a little off. Some goals I get close to, but miss. Others don’t even come close. I haven’t done my weight lifting or been for a run in weeks. I’ve been getting some sleep, but not enough. I’ve been spending money and I haven’t been meditating.

It happens. The trick is not to let it take over. The world gets crazy sometimes and you have to set some things aside. There are priorities and responsibilities that take precedence. Other times life just goes a little sideways for awhile. There’s no shame in not being perfect, in falling short of your goals, of having to do a half assed workout or eat fast food. However, once those habits slip, its a little tricky to pick them up again. It is not as easy as deciding to do them in the first place when you’re all wound up and full of “I can do this!” energy. Entropy is a nasty beastie.

I’m ready to let last week go and start fresh. I’m not going to beat myself up for what did, or didn’t happen. I’m also not going to let go of my goals. It’s time to just wipe the slate clean and get back at it.

I’m worth it.

 

Photo credit: Faruk Ates on flickr

Long Term Weight Loss

Well, this is depressing as [fill in the blank.]Lost: Weight

From Why Do Dieters Regain Weight?

An Australian research team studied people who had lost weight in an effort to understand some of these changes. A year after their initial weight loss:

  • A hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism – Leptin – was still lower than normal
  • Ghrelin, nicknamed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher
  • Peptide YY, a hormone associated with hunger suppression was abnormally low
  • Participants reported being much more hungry and preoccupied with food then they had prior to losing weight

A year after losing weight these people’s bodies were still biologically different than they had been prior to the weight loss attempt, desperately working to regain the weight – and participants had already regained about 30% of the weight they had lost.  One of the study’s authors characterized it as “A coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight.”

You can read the rest of the article here. Thanks (sort of) to Fit, Feminist and (almost) Fifty for pointing it out. You can read their commentary here: Weight Lost and Gained.

Okay, so I am down roughly 40 pounds. I bounce around a little, naturally. In fact, have you ever noticed how people talk about weight naturally going up and down (due to water weight, stress, what have you,) when they are losing weight, but once they hit goal they are supposed to stay at that weight forever and ever, amen? As if once you hit that magic number, the scale is never supposed to move up or down from that. Well, guess what? It does.

My goal weight is between 131 and 135. I usually hover between 132 and 135, but I’ve been up and down and all around. However, I don’t care what all these articles say,

I AM NOT GOING BACK.

Do you hear me? I have cut up my Lane Bryant credit card! I donated, sold and gave away my entire wardrobe. I don’t care what it takes, I will not regain that weight back.

Now, I might gain muscle. I’m having a whole lot of fun weight training and building up my strength, and if the size of my shoulders and the number on the scale go up together, I’m all for it. But, that is not regaining my old weight – that’s putting on bad-assery. I’m all about being more of a bad ass.

I’m not saying it is going to be easy. I’ve been in “maintenance mode” since June or so, and I’ve had some ups and downs. Nonetheless, I don’t care what it takes – if I have to constantly up my game, so be it. I’ll do it.

Let me point out that my feelings have nothing to do with anyone else’s weight. There are many, many women out there who are heavier than me who are happy, tough, strong, fit, content, glorious and more. I celebrate them and their awesomeness. This is about me, and I know how different I feel today than I did a year ago. I have more energy, I’m stronger, I have more confidence and I am happier. I’m holding on to that, no matter what the scientists say.

 

Photo credit: jaqian on flickr

 

Autumn Running

Fall by Rocky Mountain High

What’s that you say? How’s the running going?

In a word?

It isn’t.

October has been a rough month for me running. It’s been cold, dark, gray, rainy, wet and windy. It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea, not pull on your running shoes and sports bra. Of course, it is also getting dark much earlier, and is dark much later in the morning, which completely removes all my motivation. There really is no good reason I can’t run in the dark, (I have several times,) but when it is also cold, wet and windy, I just don’t want to.

That doesn’t mean I am not working out. I’m still strength training every other day. I am also using the Lift app to build a daily habit of exercising. My goal is simple: at least 15 minutes a day doing anything I want. The strength training days are easy. My routine is a little over a half an hour. On the alternate days I’ve been doing a lot of walking.

Since it has been so miserable out in the evenings, usually the best time of the day to get outside is while I am at work. I’ve been packing my lunch, eating at my desk, then putting on my spare pair of sneakers and hitting the sidewalks. I can’t run (my office doesn’t have showers or a changing area,) but I can power walk the neighborhoods around my office. I am almost always out at least 20 minutes, but I usually go 30-45, and occasionally I go the whole lunch hour. It just depends on how I feel.

On the weekends, or when I can’t quite get out of the office, I’ve just tacked on at least 15 minutes to my daily dog walks, which is something my little hound appreciates! The nice thing about walking is that I feel more comfortable knowing how to dress for the weather. Running is tricky because I heat up so much. With walking, I can dress in layers and take off my hat or gloves and shove them in my pockets. That’s harder to do while on the run.

I haven’t given up running all together though! I still have a goal to do 100 miles by December 1, and I have toughly 25 miles to go. Friday we had a rare day of almost sunshine, so I went trail running. Trail running is my favorite. I promised myself I that’s where I would go in order to make it more enticing. The trail was absolutely gorgeous. It might be a bit nasty here weather-wise, but the Midwest is gorgeous in the fall. I was slow, partially because I was out of condition, partially because of all the tree roots hidden under layers of wet leaves, but I had a wonderful time. I even had three white-tailed deer running alongside me for a bit!

Even though I don’t enjoy running as much as I would like, I really love what it does for me. I like feeling strong and having stamina in a way I never had before. I am going to keep at it. I am not giving up!

…but there may be a few less running posts over the next few months.

Photo credit: Rocky Mountain High on flickr

Building Slowly

I’m in the process of catching up on my blog reading. I missed a lot while I was out on the road! There were some wonderful articles. I wanted to write about a couple of them that got my mental wheels a’ turnin’. The first one is: Habit – the Real Key to Long-Term Weight Loss Success on gokaleo.com.

I’m going to excerpt a bit of it, but you should really go over there and read the whole thing for yourself.

From gokaleo.com:

Five years ago I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that my body was the result of my lifestyle habits. The way I ate, the way I moved, the way I slept, the way I dealt with stress…all these things worked together to produce the body I had at the time. My body, and my health, were a product of thousands of small, seemingly inconsequential behaviors (both conscious and unconscious) I engaged in on a day to day level. Trying to undertake massive behavioral changes all at once, as I had done so often as I tried fad diet after fad diet, rarely worked in the long term, as those massive behavioral changes gradually gave way to the ingrained habits that had established themselves over the course of decades.

I shifted my focus. Instead of focusing on an aesthetic goal and trying to force my body to that goal, I decided to focus on those small, seemingly inconsequential habits that formed the vast majority of my day to day activity. I identified the habits, the nearly subconscious behaviors that I fell back on automatically, that shaped the body and health I had at the time. And once those habits were identified, I identified new habits that could replace them, and I focused on shaping those new habits, slowly and methodically. The end goal wasn’t ‘weight loss’. The end goal was a new habit, a nearly subconscious behavior that I would fall back on automatically in my day to day life. I believed that with new habits and new behaviors, my body and health would change. I was right. []

That’s the essence of the article, but what I loved was what she wrote about the science behind modifying behavior. I am not going to excerpt that part, (seriously, go read it on the site,) but what really struck me was her idea of creating good solid habits that you can always fall back on when times get rough. I immediately started thinking about how I could start to apply those concepts to my own life… when I realized that I already do! I didn’t have the terminology that she uses, or even really do it consciously, but it is how I have approached my weight loss and fitness. A great example has to do with my goals on being physically active.

As I have said many times, one of the things I do each and every day is walk my dog. We go for a half hour in the morning and a half hour at night. I’ve tried lots of different walk times over the past three years – at one time I was trying for 45 minutes each walk, then I tried three 20 minute walks for a while, I played with a 15 – 20 minute walk in the morning and 40 – 45 minutes at night, and so on. It took a long time to find exactly what works for me. But being able to commit to this daily isn’t just about when to do it, it is also takes other little helpful habits, like keeping dog walking clothes right next to the bed – ready for when my feet hit the floor, having routines for what I do when I walk in the door at night, always knowing where his leash, waste bags and treats are, and having them ready to go. These are all little habits that have formed over time. Now walking my dog is just something I do automatically, I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s so ingrained in me that even when things are bad, never consider not grabbing the leash and heading out.

In fact, it is so much a part of my everyday life, that I just recently set myself a goal to do some kind of physical activity each and every day, without ever even thinking about the fact that I already walk an hour or more a day! It didn’t occur to me. Of course, walking with Hermes is great for a lot of things, but it isn’t enough for me to hit my fitness goals, which is why I am trying to develop this new habit. Like Go Kaleo suggests, I’m starting small. I’m shooting for at least 15 minutes a day of extra activity, and it can be anything at all – running, power walks, extra strength training sessions, time on my bike, my boxing DVD, whatever, as long as I do something.

I’ve got a few things that are helping me stay on track. For one thing, I am trying to look at the calendar and plan out what I am going to do the week before. Nothing is set in stone, but having a plan helps me make sure I have the right clothes, shoes and mindset for the day. I’m trying to use all the times throughout the day I have available – morning, afternoon and evening. For example I do strength training in the morning before work. I try to do it every other day, but if I know I have plans in the evening, that might be a great choice for that day. I also have lunch hours available, if the weather is nice, I can get a great power walk in around my office. It’s located near some really good residential areas for walking. Evenings are good for runs and bike rides (as long as the weather behaves,) but it’s good to know ahead of time when I am going to do that so I can pack my running shoes or throw my bike in the back of my car. I’m also using apps, of course. (I do love my apps.) I track running, walking and biking on RunKeeper and use Lift for daily motivation to keep at it!

Right now my goal is to simply build daily activity into a habit, to get to the point where it doesn’t even occur to me not to take an extra walk or hop on the bike when I have a few minutes. This is all part of a bigger goal, though. I love the weight that I have lost and the fact that I am in the best shape I have ever been in… but it still blows my mind. It feels fragile, like it could all burst like a soap-bubble. In some ways, it still isn’t real. But I want it to be, I want to feel like this (or heck, even better) for the rest of my life. I want to keep challenging myself and my long-held beliefs about who I am, what I look like and what I am capable of doing. I don’t want to jump into unsustainable changes, I want to carefully build and sculpt who I will become, habit by habit.


If you visit Go Kaleo, also check out their guest post: Winning the Fat Loss Lottery (not what you think…) by Sean Flanagan. It really speaks to exactly what I am talking about.