exercise advice

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.

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!

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. 

Awesome Workout Thingy

post-1-miracle-method.jpg

Happy 2018 everyone! Hope you had a lovely holiday and that you're looking forward to what the new year will bring. I don't know how embarrassed I should be that I used the word, thingy, in the title of a blog post. I'm not even sure it's an actual word. Ugh. I really do love the English language, I swear. But as I write this, I am feeling a bit creatively deficient :-) Hence a blog post with made-up words in the title.

Anyway, here's one of those shorter posts I promised back in December. These things from Miracle Method are my new favorite piece of workout "equipment." I used them in a Pilates workshop I attended last month. When I saw them I thought, "what can these little things possibly do?" But, oh my goodness, they are amazing! You place them beneath whatever part of your body is tense or painful--shoulders, hips, back, elbows, knees, head (if you're like me, some days it's all of those things!)--and then by resting on them, rotating on them or rolling on them in strategic ways, it releases those points of tension and pain. I noticed instant relief the first time I used them, but by using them regularly I'm noticing even better results. For less than $20 I feel like they're well worth the investment.

I've been using them in a couple of ways. When I have lots of time for my workouts, I will use them for about 15-minutes before I start exercising. Then I spend 5-minutes doing some joint mobilizations. And then I do my 30-minute (ish) workout. That happens a few times a week.

But I also find myself using them in the evenings while I'm watching television or listening to a podcast. It's kind of a nice way to end the day, and I'm not on so much of a time-crunch as I am when I use them before workouts.

Have any of you tried these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the Comments below!