exercise

Five Things I No Longer Believe About Exercise

I saw a writing prompt the other day that asked me to answer the question, “what do you believe about exercise?” I thought about that for a while. I think it’s an interesting question and one that is probably worth answering one day. Today is not that day. What it got me to thinking about, though, was what are some of the things I used to believe about exercise that no longer ring true. Below are five of them. I wonder if you believe/d them too?

It should be everyone’s number one priority, always. I used to say this, or some variation of it quite often. . I’m not saying I don’t believe that eating well and moving your body is important. Self-care, of which exercise is a component, is critical. I just mean that I know that sometimes other things take priority. Sometimes those things only temporarily take priority (think crisis or acute stressful event). But for some people, exercise isn’t ever going take the top spot, or if it does it’s not going to be anytime soon. There’s too much going on and too many other things they want to be doing. And that’s okay. Life evolves and what appropriate self-care looks like for each of us changes accordingly.

It’s not supposed to be fun. If I wasn’t suffering through a workout, I didn’t think it “counted.” Now, if there’s nothing about it that I look forward to, I find something new. A new piece of equipment, a new playlist to listen to, a new format, a new class, take it outside, etc. If I don’t, I’m not going to stick with it.

It’s a means to an end. My relationship with exercise was instigated at the age of fifteen when a doctor told me I was fat. He encouraged me to exercise, and this married weight loss and exercise in my mind for the next couple of decades. I do exercise to change my body. But now it’s to make it stronger. I exercise because I like the feeling of it. I exercise because it improves my mood and my sleep. It makes the rest of my life easier.

Strength training is not for me. I took a weight training class in school and failed the final exam, which was to bench press the bar. You’ve seen a bench press, right? It’s a long bar with circular weights added to the end of each side. You lay down on a bench with the bar over your chest. You lower the bar toward your chest and then push it back up so that your arms are straight. I couldn’t do that, even with no weights on the bar. So, for many years I only did cardio. But what I’ve learned is that strength training is important. I’ve learned that I like feeling strong. I like lifting heavy things. And I can train to do almost anything. I could have pressed that bar back in high school. What I lacked was the knowledge, training plan (and motivation, if I’m honest) to learn how to do so.

I will always love barre/Pilates/rocking out on the treadmill. I thought that once I found a form of exercise that I loved, I would always love it. I haven’t. As with many things in life, you can go through phases. When you connect with something, its an amazing feeling. But I have taken breaks from certain kinds of exercise, sometimes for financial reasons, injury or just plain lack of access to classes. And when I’ve gone back, I have sometimes found that the exercise I was evangelical about isn’t the same. Or, to be more accurate, I changed. My body changed. What I needed or wanted from exercise had changed. Or the spark was just gone and who knows why.

There you have it—what I no longer believe about exercise. Are there things you’ve changed your mind about as you get further along in your own fitness journey?

Act Now, Feel Later

I used to think motivation (for workouts or anything else) was a feeling that led to action. But I think that was wrong. Now I believe that action generates the feeling, rather than the other way around. That's a good thing, because feelings are transitory. And I don't want something transitory as the foundation upon which I base my life decisions, especially the ones that pertain to my health. I really don't. It's too important. 

What I want are habits.

What I want are things that make acting in a healthy way, even when I really don't feel like it, easier. Foolproof.

What I want is to set-up systems that support my goals.

What I want is to make sure it's as difficult as possible to get in my own way, because I know I will try. Basically.

Here are some things I do that ensure my workouts happen when the feeling of motivation appears to have taken a long sabbatical, far, far away.

Put on the workout clothes. If I can get myself dressed, I'm halfway there. Once the clothes are on it feels silly not to take them on a field trip to the gym. 

Only commit to 10 minutes. The upside to this little trick is that even if I stopped after 10 minutes, that's 10 minutes more than nothing. But once I've done 10 minutes, I'm probably going to finish the whole thing because, again, acting generates motivation. But the knowledge that I could stop if I wanted to is often enough to get me to the workout.

Exercise first thing in the morning. If I wait until later in the day, I'm way more likely to fill up my time with other things and/or be too tired. Working out when the house is still quiet and I'm not fully awake and immersed in the activities of the day, is actually kind of awesome. There's a great quote I found on Pinterest recently that says something to the effect of, "Workout early before your body figures out what you're doing." That's a fair statement some days.

Find the fun. Do whatever it takes to create some element of your workout that you look forward to, other than the results. My cardio days are a treat for me, but it's because I made them that way. I have my treadmill in the room in my house with the big television. So, I put an episode of my favorite show on Hulu, mute the TV, activate the closed captioning, get my headphones on and go. 

Resort to bribery. You can bribe yourself. It's totally fine. I do it all the time. Would a new workout tank make your workouts more appealing? Awesome, get your Etsy on. Would a shopping spree on iTunes mean that tomorrow you woke up itching to hit the treadmill? Sweet. Do it. The only thing I don't bribe myself with is food, because I don't want exercise to become a punishment or a price I have to pay in order to eat. But pretty much anything else is fair game.

Literally surround yourself with encouragement. Okay, this one I know is going to sound super-cheesy. But. I used to have a workout tank top that said, "Impossible is Nothing." And I loved it. I also used to have post-its with words of encouragement stuck to my bathroom mirror. I may, or may not, currently have a vision board with words and images that motivate me toward healthy choices. It probably doesn't sound "cool" but bathing my brain in positive, supportive, and sometimes funny messages does help. 

Put it in writing. Spend a few minutes writing down how you feel after your workouts. Do you feel ready to tackle the day? Do you feel stronger? More flexible? Less stressed? More awake? Being aware of how your body feels, both during and after exercise, can be a powerful motivational tool. For many people exercise is something they're glad they did after it's done. Remembering exactly why you're glad can help you start on days when enthusiasm is lacking.

Schedule it and eliminate roadblocks. Plan which workouts you're going to do each day and the time you are setting aside to do them. Write them in your planner. Add them to the calendar on your phone. Get your workout clothes laid out the night before. Make sure your water bottle is full and chilling in the fridge. Get your pre-workout snack ready to grab quickly in the morning. Make it as easy as possible to get from where you are to where you work out.

Never skip Mondays. Mondays are the first day of the week and making sure I get my workout in that day sets up the rest of my week for success. It's a mental thing. But it works.

I'd love to hear your tips for getting motivated for your workouts! Share them with us in the Comments section below.

5 Moments I Loved From Today's Workout

In an effort to take the advice I'd give to a client, I'm trying to focus on what I love about my workouts. And it's not always easy...

Sometimes it's hard because I want to see different results than I'm seeing, or I want to see them faster. Sometimes it's hard because I'm in a bad mood, or I'm tired, or I'm distracted by something else I need to do that feels more important than squats, and biceps curls and planks. Sometimes it's hard because my muscles are sore from the day before, or because my knees are hurting more than usual. Sometimes it's hard because I'm doing a workout that's actually, objectively, more difficult than the one I did the day before. 

Because I know that the words we say to ourselves matter--that the things we focus on expand--I'm making a concerted effort to notice the moments during my workouts that are good. Some of them are physical, others mental/emotional. But here are five moments I loved today.

I listened to a beautiful version of the song, Riptide, during my cool-down. (You can watch the video here, if you're interested.) There's nothing like finding a new song to love, or in this case, a new version of a song I already knew. 

The house was quiet. Sometimes I crave silence. Probably because I so rarely ever get it at home anymore. Being awake while it was still dark outside and the house slept, felt like such a gift today. Soon enough other people were up and moving around and saying words :-)

Finally, finally, something felt easier. I've been doing this series of abdominal exercises over the last few weeks, and there's one exercise in particular that's just been...I don't know...it just has felt difficult and like I wasn't quite strong enough to do it correctly. It just felt off. Anyway, today I noticed that while it was still challenging, I could finally feel my muscles engaging and doing the work.

My wobbly legs. Don't know why, but I love it when I finish a workout and my legs are kind of shaky. I got that today and relished that feeling as well as the feeling of stretching them out at the end of the session.

I had a much-needed moment of clarity. Exercise is one of the things I do to stay emotionally balanced, and to work out frustration or anger or fear about things that are going on in my life. While I was on the treadmill for the cardio portion of my workout today, I had a breakthrough in my thinking about a problem I've been having with one of my freelance clients. Not that I solved it, but there was a shift in the way I've been thinking about it that helped me to let go of some anxiety I've been carrying around. 

If you've never done it, I would highly recommend spending some time thinking about what you're grateful to your workouts for. Maybe it's not five things. Some days maybe you struggle to find one thing, while other days you could list ten. But the exercise of shifting your attention from what's uncomfortable or difficult about it, to what it gives you that's valuable, makes such a huge difference. 

Don't Wait on the Weights

Does weight-lifting intimidate you? Maybe you had a bad experience in high school gym class and have avoided the weight rack ever since. Or are you afraid that if you strength train you'll get bulky? Or do you believe that cardio is the key to weight loss, and strength-training shouldn't enter the equation until after you've reached your goal weight? 

Here's what I would tell you in response to those concerns: it shouldn't; you won't; and untrue, respectively. Let's address each of them one by one though. As always, I recommend consulting a physician before beginning any exercise program. 

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The intimidation factor. The good news is that I'm not telling you to buy a gym membership and start racking hundreds of pounds on the bench press bar tomorrow. You don't need to do that. I recommend having two sets of dumbbells--one lighter set for the smaller muscles of your upper body, and one heavier set for the larger muscles. When I started, I had a set of 3lb dumbbells and a set of 5lb ones. Then I moved up incrementally as I got stronger. The 5lb dumbbells became my light set and I bought 8lb dumbbells for my heavier set. Then I moved up again to 8lbs and 10lbs. And so on. I knew it was time to upgrade when I finished a set of an exercise and knew I could keep going, with good form.

Let me tell you, I LOVE when I have to buy new dumbbells. I feel so proud of myself and my body. That's one of the great things about strength training is that I can see and feel improvements in a way that I don't necessarily with cardio. If you aren't sure how to go about strength training on your own, you have a couple of options. Invest in DVDs you can do at home. Any of Jessica Smith's workouts would be a good choice. I use this one and this one quite often myself. I also like these ones from Coach Nicole and SparkPeople.

If you're new to exercise I would recommend at least a session or two with a personal trainer. If training this way isn't something you can afford to do regularly, you have some options. Take the workout DVDs you're going to do at home and ask him/her to watch them and then coach you on proper form. That way, you'll have some idea of how to do the exercise safely and effectively on your own. Or ask them to design a workout you can do at home with the equipment you have, and then come back every 6-weeks or so for some new exercises. 

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You won't get bulky. This is one I hear a lot, actually. It's rare for a woman who engages in a normal strength-training routine to get bulky. Women have less testosterone than men, and it's this hormone that is responsible for the larger muscle gains men experience from weight-lifting. You may find that strength-training actually has the opposite effect on your body. A pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat, so your body can look and feel smaller at the same weight, depending upon the ratio of lean muscle to fat. 

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And finally, the old do-cardio-first -to-lose-weight rule. Any of you who read this blog regularly or are familiar with our studio know that we never talk about weight loss as a goal of exercise. And I'm still not really going to. But...I am going to address it in this context for two reasons. One: because the idea that you do cardio for weight loss and then worry about strength-training is a fitness theory we reject as fitness professionals. And two: because regardless of whether we think weight-loss should be a goal, the reality is that it is why many women start exercising. So, for us not to address it at all seems irresponsible.

Here's the short version of why we recommend an exercise plan that combines cardio exercise and three days each week of strength-training: it's more efficient and effective.

It's generally true that if you engage in cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, biking, etc.), and change nothing about your diet, that you will run a caloric deficit. Meaning, you will burn more calories on the days you do that exercise than on the days you don't, which may lead to weight-loss. But muscle is more metabolically active than fat, 24-7. So by increasing your lean muscle mass you burn more calories at rest every day, not just on the days you work-up a deficit by spending an hour on the treadmill. There are many good reasons to include cardio in your workout plan (I do it), but focusing on it to the exclusion of strength, flexibility and balance-training is a mistake. That's true whether your goal is weight-loss or just being holistically healthier and fitter.  

If there are other reasons you're reluctant to weight-train, leave them in the comments below and I'll do my best to address them in a future post. Take care, friends!

The Fitness Question I Get Most Is...

Hi friends! A quick post from me today with the answer to a question I've gotten quite a lot. People are often curious about how often they should be exercising, and what that exercise should be (cardio, strength-training, flexibility, etc.). Every body is different, so take what I'm going to suggest and run it through the filter of your own sense of what's reasonable for you. Or, share it with your physician if you're new to working out and make sure that he or she thinks it's safe.

What follows is the general schedule I followed when I was first getting into exercise and I think it's a fairly reasonable one. 

I only did 30-minutes a day of any kind of exercise. That was all I had time for and all I had the energy to do. Sometimes I broke that 30-minutes up into smaller sessions (three, 10-minute bouts, for example). 

Three times each week I spent that 30-minutes doing some kind of strength training. When I was first starting out, that meant exclusively exercise DVDs. I wrote a post with some recommendations, which you can access here. Jessica Smith has some great ones and many of them are 30-35-minutes. I love this one. And this one, which is a 6-week program with several DVDs to rotate through. Or you can find 10-minute workouts on Pinterest or YouTube and do one in the morning, one at lunch and one at the end of the day, if shorter is better for you. There are tons of those. I left at least one day in between strength training sessions for rest or for some kind of cardio exercise.

Once or twice each week I took an active rest day, where I just did some gentle yoga, went for an easy walk or did some stretching. Just gives your body some time to recover, which is essential for building strength.

And then 2-3 times each week, depending upon how many rest days I took, I'd do some cardio exercise. For me that meant walking. Walking is great exercise! It's low impact, you don't need any equipment, and you can do it anywhere. I like to walk outside, but I also love putting some music on and walking on the treadmill.

Hope that helps give you some ideas! Again, you don't have to do what I did. I just know that when I was starting out I really had no idea how to build a program for myself, so something like this would have helped me. If you're really not sure what's good for you, or if you're new to working out, I would encourage you to talk to your physician or spend an hour with a trainer in your area and ask them to help you put together a plan. 

Please Make Sure You Know This One Thing...

For me, the thing that has been a bit scary about venturing into the world of group fitness has been how often I use things I know, simply because I'm a personal trainer, to keep myself safe. It happens a lot. And I know it's happened to Nikki too.

It's really difficult to design a workout that's effective and safe for the wide variety of fitness levels an instructor sees represented in a class. And it's even more difficult to give the kind of personal attention and correction they'd like to each student, especially in classes the sizes of the ones you find in big gyms. An instructor can only be in so many places at once, right? This isn't a knock on small group fitness instructors at all. It's a difficult job and I have such admiration for the instructors who do it well. It's a specialized skill, that's for sure.

Small group classes are a great workout option for many people. It's less expensive than personal training. You get to experience a wide variety of exercise and you have the opportunity, when classes are managed well, to develop a strong support system among your classmates. So, I totally understand the draw. 

I've given some advice on this blog about how to approach group fitness classes--tips for getting the most out of them and for feeling less intimidated. But as Nikki and I have been talking about the topic lately, there's really one thing we can't emphasize enough. One thing that will serve you well, whatever shape your workouts take now or in the future. One thing we thought we needed to write a post about.

And that is: to know yourself and know your body before joining a group class. You must know when to slow things down; when and how to modify an exercise; and when to stop doing a particular exercise or workout. If you don't know these things, you run the risk of getting hurt. It is very, very difficult for a group instructor to know those things about you. No matter how good they are; you are the expert on you. You have to know what's good and safe for your body, and be empowered to act on those things in a group setting. 

That knowledge can come from practice; from experience. You can read-up on the mechanics of the body; you can research how to modify specific movements; you can try different things and notice what ranges of motion do and do not cause you pain. All are valid. But all take time.

The other thing you can do though is leverage the expertise of a personal trainer to speed up the process. Personal training on a regular basis is sometimes more than someone's budget will allow. But did you know that one or two sessions with a trainer can be enough to prepare you to thrive in your small group classes? You can literally tell a trainer the kinds of classes you're interested in taking and then ask them to help you learn how to stay safe.

Ask them how and when to modify something. Ask them what it should feel like when you're doing an exercise correctly, versus what feelings are signs that you're doing something that's going to lead to injury. Ask them how to know when to stop doing something altogether. Ask them how to know when it's okay to push through discomfort. They have knowledge to share and they want you to love exercise. You aren't going to love it if you hurt yourself or don't see any benefit from it.

So that's our one, overarching piece of advice when it comes to group fitness. It applies to at-home workouts too. If you're doing a workout DVD, the instructor can't see you and can't help you stay safe. You can do the same thing with workout DVDs as I suggest above--take it to a personal trainer and ask them to prepare you to do it effectively. 

Any questions, leave them below!

Stuff You Might Have Missed

 Good morning, friends! Here are some things I found on the internet this month that I thought were worth sharing.       

This article from The Cut. I had never heard the term "cringe-attack" before I read this, but I instantly knew what it meant. Let's have a little self-indifference, shall we?

This 3-ingredient, healthy, Peanut Butter Dip, from Listed & Loved. I have dipped fruit in it, but you could also just cut out the middleman and eat it with a spoon. That's easier. 

Am I the only person in the world who had never heard of The Mandela Effect until a couple of weeks ago? Apparently this is a thing.  

Get outside, everyone. Green exercise is here.

Target will sell you a candle that smells like cotton candy. So...yeah, that's happening at my house. 

The human body is an amazing thing. This we know. Here's what happens to it while you exercise. This I didn't know.

Moroccan Oil is saving my hair this winter. The tiniest bit raked through the ends of my hair after I dry it and straighten it, makes it so soft. 

How to Heal the Roof of Your Mouth After You've Burned It. Been there. Done that.

Want to find a workout you love, but don't know how? Try using this checklist to help you figure it out.

How to Treat Your Sore Muscles

Sore muscles are the wages of exercise. Unfortunately. I almost always get them when I return to working out after a break, or when I change-up my workout in some way. I wrote a post about how to minimize soreness with the former.

But, I have had people ask me whether there's a way to prevent it or cure it. The answer is that I don't know of a way to prevent it from ever happening. When I'm exercising regularly, there's always some muscle of mine that's a little (sometimes a lot) sore. 

However, you can mitigate the discomfort in some simple ways. I'm going to share a few of my favorite tips for that here. I hope one or more of them help you!

Drink water. Staying hydrated helps everything feel and function better.

Stretch. Make sure you're stretching after your workouts (and not before), and that you're building active recovery days into your workout schedule once or twice a week. Stretching returns muscles to their healthy resting lengths, and can provide short and long-term relief from muscle soreness when done correctly.

Get enough sleep. Seven to nine hours is the recommended range. I tend to fall more on the nine hour end, but you may need less. One of the many reasons why getting enough sleep is important, is that it's the time when the muscles you broke down during exercise repair themselves. If you don't sleep enough then those muscles don't get stronger.

Eat protein, including some right before bed. Amino acids are cellular building blocks, and there is some evidence that ingesting them before sleep is especially beneficial to the repair and rebuild process. 

Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt in hot water can provide some relief for those sore muscles. And they are really inexpensive. A soak in a hot tub is great too, if you have access to one. 

Foam rolling. I haven't talked a lot about foam rolling on the blog, but I did a ton of foam rolling when I was recovering from a knee injury a while back and it helped. It can be really intense though, especially if you have really tight muscles. If you don't have a foam roller, or traditional foam rolling is too intense and uncomfortable, you can use a rolling pin to gently massage your achy muscles. If you've never done it before, I would highly recommend getting a professional to show you how to do it safely. A personal trainer or physical therapist can help you learn the basics.

Massage. I read an article recently about a personal trainer who swears by weekly massages to treat muscle soreness. If my bank account would let me, I would totally try this experiment myself. If you can afford it, regular massage makes life better. 

Take an anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen can provide some relief for sore muscles, but it's definitely not something you want to be taking regularly. If you're in so much pain from your workouts that you need pain killers, you may not be dealing with normal muscle soreness. It may be a symptom of overtraining or injury. When mine is especially bad, I'll take ibuprofen. But it's rare that I do that, and far more common that I use the other treatments listed here. 

Questions and Triple Axels

Hi all! Wondering how to start loving your body? Want to know how often you should be strength training, or doing cardio? Not sure how to do a plank correctly? Curious whether you're working out too much or too little? Or maybe you're wondering whether your muscles will always be so sore after a workout and what you can do to prevent it. 

Whatever your health and fitness questions, we're here to answer them. Starting next month we're going to be running a regular feature called, Ask Erin. I don't know yet whether they'll be their own posts or whether we'll just include a few questions and answers at the end of our regular posts as questions come in. It kind of depends on how many we get...

The point of our blog is to provide content that's of value to all of you reading. To that end, we'd love it if you would send in questions or even just suggestions for topics that you'd like us to write about in this space. You can share them in the Comments section below, or if you'd prefer not to share them publicly, you can email me directly at erin@fitnessforlifeco.com.

On another note, I'm not watching the Olympics. But, I've heard a lot over the last week about figure skater, Mirai Nagasu's, history-making triple axel at this year's games. If you're like me and are wondering why that's such a big deal, here's a video from Vox that tells you everything you need to know in less than five minutes. It is actually amazing that anyone can do this.