personal training;

What Motivated Me to Exercise Today

Yesterday I went out and bought new workout shoes, because my current ones looked like this...

And because they looked like that, they were wearing out my socks on the heels such that they were threadbare.

And if the shoes were wearing out my socks that way, you can imagine what they were doing to my poor, now-exposed heels.

So, I bought some new socks too.

IMG_1194
IMG_1194

Aren't they fun?! And as an added bonus--they are so bright that I can see them in my sock drawer when I stumble to my dresser, bleary-eyed, in the dark, for my morning workouts :-)

Anyway, I found myself last night really excited about working out today just because I got to wear my new shoes and socks. Funny, huh? That the workout I would have done today in my old shoes and socks--not grudgingly, but not excitedly either--felt totally different to me because of something new. Same workout. Same home gym. But different shoes and socks on my feet and all of a sudden I can't wait for 6am.

And I remembered that I feel the same way when I load new songs on to my iPad, or am learning a new, challenging exercise.

Like anyone I struggle with exercise motivation sometimes. I get bored with what I'm doing, or I'm so stressed in another area of my life that the last thing I want to do is get up early and exercise. So, I have had to find ways to switch things up. I have to find my exercise currency and pay it, if you will. I have to re-set my workouts in some way that makes them appealing.

Sometimes that means taking a new class. Sometimes that means trying out a new piece of exercise equipment. Sometimes that means checking out a new workout DVD or an exercise on YouTube and trying to master it. Sometimes that means finding some new music to listen to while I hit the treadmill. And sometimes that means buying something new to put on my feet. Anyone else find that something new, no matter how small, makes a huge difference?

I want to go back really quickly to my old worn-out shoes.

IMG_1198
IMG_1198

I kind of glossed over it, but they were really starting to hurt my feet. Having workout clothing and shoes that fit is so important, both for your physical well-being and creating a positive association with exercise. So, if your workout pants are too tight or too loose; if your shoes don't support you or are wearing holes in the backs of your heels; if your sports bra isn't supportive or it's so tight you can't breathe properly; if you're swimming in a t-shirt that's so big it gets in your way when you're trying to move; invest in stuff that fits. It's so important. Exercise is hard enough, especially when you're first starting out, don't make it harder with clothes and shoes that make you uncomfortable from minute one. You are important enough to invest in some high-quality clothes and shoes and you don't have to break the bank to do it. In fact, last year I wrote a post about my favorite places to find inexpensive workout gear. You can read it here.

What are your favorite ways to switch-up your workouts and up your motivation? Share below!

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!

 

That Time I Went All Weak in the Knees

There are things my body is really good at and things it's really bad at. For example, my body is really good at gaining weight. On the flip side, it's also really good at building muscle. My body gave me clear skin as a teenager, but also crooked teeth and frizzy hair. I'm a terrible dancer, but I can spell backwards. It's a mixed bag, being in my body. That's really what I'm trying to say. Knees 1

A little over a year ago now, I injured my right knee badly during a workout. It took a long time to recover, and landed me in physical therapy for 12 weeks. Working my way back from that injury was frustrating and painful and slow.

But what I didn't anticipate at the beginning of that journey was the fear I would experience after my knee was medically, officially healed and I was cleared to go back to my regular activities.

When I was laid up, all I wanted was to be able to move again. But when that permission came, I found that I was terrified of injuring it again. Really, really scared. Scared of the pain, for sure. But more than that; I was scared of not being in control of my body. Of not being able to move. Of not being able to do my job effectively anymore.

Knees 2

I lost confidence in my ability to predict how my body would perform--of how it would react to the demands I placed upon it. I thought if I made one false move. If I lunged or squatted the wrong way, snap would go my ligament.

That fear was paralyzing. It made the prospect of working out again something that filled me with dread. But when I would think about not exercising, that would scare me too. Because I knew that if I stopped moving, the pain would come back, the muscles supporting my knees would weaken and I would be much more likely to injure it again.

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. Not fun.

Rock

Have any of you ever experienced this? Maybe you experienced an injury similar to mine. Or maybe you gained weight and then felt uncomfortable or insecure in your body. Or maybe you got the message early and often that you weren't sporty or coordinated, so you've never been confident with anything physical. Maybe you think that you don't know what you're doing and as a result you're either going to hurt yourself or embarrass yourself.

I think exercise is often as much about working through mental limitations as it is physical ones. It's as much about pushing past that voice in your head that's telling you all of the reasons why you shouldn't, or cataloging all of the things that could go wrong. as it is about getting your biceps to curl a heavy dumbbell up to your shoulder. Whether what's holding you back is the fear of physical pain and injury, or the fear of failing, or the fear of people judging you or laughing at you; it doesn't really matter.

So where to go from here? How do we move from that feeling of damned if we exercise, damned if we don't?

I can and will tell you what I did. But I don't want to make it sound like it was some miracle cure and now I'm fixed. I'm not. There are days when I'm still overly cautious with my body. There are still exercises I won't do; classes I'm reluctant to take. There are still moments when I feel a twinge in my knee and am scared it's going to give out. I still sometimes lack confidence in my ability to distinguish what's become a normal level of discomfort in my knees and what's a sign that something is wrong. There are still days when I'm so frustrated that I work so hard and yet my knees sometimes still feel so weak. It's a work in progress for sure.

Here's what helps me.

I got expert advice and I follow it. Because my injury was so bad, I had physical therapy. Those therapists gave me exercises to do every day and I still do them, nearly a year after my last PT appointment. They also told me the warning signs to watch for--things that were flashing red lights to stop what I was doing before I hurt myself. They gave me a list of exercises to avoid. And told me how much pain was okay to work through and how much was too much. I wrote it down and I stick to it.

I take time to take it easy. I never used to spend much time on stretching or mobilization exercises. Now, two of my workout days are active recovery days where I do stretching and "pre-hab" routines.

I learned which muscles needed to be stronger to support my knees. In my case, that's my hamstrings and the muscles of my quadriceps. I make sure I do safe exercises that strengthen those muscles several times each week.

I write down what my fears are, and I get specific. Sometimes naming a fear takes some of the fear out of it. Then I refute it, or I decide how I'm going to address it.

Knees

Even if your fear isn't driven by an injury, some of these strategies can still work. Maybe working with a personal trainer would help your confidence because you'd get some expert advice on how to do exercises correctly and safely. Or maybe going to the gym or a class with a friend would take some of the anxiety out of the experience for you.

I don't know that I'm someone who necessarily thinks everything happens for a reason. But I do know that my injury humbled me in ways that were probably good for me as a trainer. I've said before on this blog that I struggled with my weight and with feeling uncomfortable in my body for many years in my teens and twenties. So, before this experience I don't think I would have said that I was unaware of what it was like to feel that way.

But I do think that sometimes I probably forgot just a little. I think that sometimes those feelings weren't as accessible to me as they might have been because I found myself so far on the other end of the fitness spectrum in my thirties.

This injury, while mostly healed, will have lingering effects. There will always be occasional pain. There will always be exercises I don't do. There will always be modifications I need to make and days when frustration and fear override confidence and ambition. And I've gotten to a place where I think that's okay.

Because it means I always have one foot in both worlds. I'm firmly planted in my personal trainer world--in a world where I love moving and challenging my body. But I'm also never far away from that other place. That place of physical pain; that place where your body isn't a predictable, known quantity; that place where moving is a loaded emotional and physical proposition.

If you find yourself there too, you are definitely not alone. And you should give yourself a pat on the back for feeling that way and working through it to do great things for your body and your health.

I Don't Crunch & You Don't Have to Either

tennis-shoes.jpg

Anyone reading who absolutely LOVES abdominal crunches? Anyone especially love getting down on the floor; struggling to relax your neck (kind of an oxymoron, I know); and crunching until your abs burn or your arms get tired of supporting your head? I mean really love crunches? I broke-up with crunches months ago and here's why. They're uncomfortable; it's relatively easy to do them incorrectly and hurt yourself; it's relatively easy to do them wrong and have them be almost completely ineffective as an exercise; they don't really target the deep core muscles (the ones you need to be strong in order to prevent back issues and to support your body in the motion of daily life); they hurt my neck; they are not fun but are very boring. Other than that, I think they're great :-)

This would be a bummer of a post, except for the fact that there are so many awesome exercises that work your core better than floor crunches. Yay for good exercise news! I won't list them all here, but here are my 5 current favorites, making their way through my current workout rotation.

The Woodchopper. I just think this one is so much fun. Not sure why. But I love it.

Dead Bug. Terrible name. Awesome exercise.

Forearm Plank. I love to add knee-drops or hip drops for variety. But make sure you've got the basic plank form down pat before adding anything fancy.

Bird Dog. Great name. Great exercise.

Standing Mountain Climbers. Can make these harder by holding a dumbbell in your hand.

 

The Most Unexpected Part of Exercise

wash-your-clothes.jpeg

What does that statement conjure up for you? Are you thinking that I'm about to write a post about how I actually gained weight from working out and how I'm okay with that? Or maybe you're thinking it's going to be about how I sleep so much better because I work out. Or maybe you just know that this post is going to be about how I'm happier, more energized, more insert-positive-adjective-here because of regular exercise...But nope. Not it. You're not even lukewarm, if we were playing the hot-cold game. The biggest surprise about exercise to me is laundry.

Laundromat

Yep, laundry.

The sheer volume of loads of laundry I do in a week because I exercise regularly.

It's ridiculous. If I had a nickel for every minute of the week I spend dumping clothes in the washer; for every minute I spend reading tiny labels to determine which pairs of leggings can go in the dryer and which ones need to air dry; for every time I've scraped lint from the lint trap...Well, let's just say my savings account would have a few more zeros at the end of that number.

more-clothes

For years, out of convenience and because I didn't really know any better, I just hung my clothes to air dry after a workout and then wore them again the next day.

Some of you are cringing right now at how gross that sounds and others of you don't see the big deal. Am I right?

Here's what I learned that made me decide that the place for workout clothes is the laundry room.

Clothespins

We are little bacteria, yeast and fungus-growing factories, we humans. Our sweat is full of bacteria, which when trapped against our skin by workout clothes can cause infections. One example is a particularly lovely acne-like skin rash called, folliculitis. But there are others.

Wearing workout clothes a second or third day in a row will often mean you smell bad. Sorry, but it's true. And no one wants that. The areas of your body most susceptible to bacterial transfer to your clothes are the parts of your body where your workout wear is the tightest and the least amount of air can circulate. Makes sense, right?

Skin rashes are one issue, but if you have cuts and scrapes on your skin and then you expose them to the bacteria on unwashed gym clothes, you can get other kinds of nasty infections. For those of us who exercise in a gym, we're exposing our workout clothes and, by extension, our bodies, to other people's bacteria and germs too. Sometimes people wipe down machines after they've used them, but sometimes not. And you never know how meticulous a given gym is about doing regular cleaning of their equipment.

If the above doesn't gross you out or seem like good enough reason to wash, consider the  lifespan of your clothes. Bacteria and fungus found on our bodies and in our sweat can break down certain kinds of materials more quickly than they would if we washed them after each wearing. They can also grow mold if left to sit damp after a workout. I want to get as much wear out of these things as possible, so it's kind of an investment in my workout wardrobe to care for them correctly.

If you are engaging in light workouts and aren't sweating at all or are sweating very little, you probably are fine to just wash your workout clothes on your regular laundry day. But if, like me, you almost always end your workouts a sweaty mess, you  want to wear once and wash. Here are a few washing options, depending on your preferences.

Run through the washing machine, gentle-cycle, cold water. Air dry.

Hand-wash them in the sink with Woolite and then let them air dry. 

Put them in a ziploc freezer bag and then remove and wash when you have enough other items to justify a spin in the washing machine. (The freezer stops the growth of bacteria.)

Rinse them out quickly in the sink with cold water, before putting them in your hamper, if you can't run them through the wash immediately.

 

Make Friends With Your Abs

yellow-and-purple-exercise-equipment.jpg

This post is about one of those things you hear trainers, or group fitness class instructors say a lot: engage your core. Incidentally, you know what form of exercise is a great one for getting really good at engaging your core? Pilates. They talk about it all the time and I had great instructors who taught me how to do it well.

Anyway, it's a great cue and an important thing to do in almost every exercise (Pilates or otherwise), but it's only helpful if you know what it means, right?

Right.

So, here's what I mean when I say it.

But first, a little context.

Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles. It encompasses your stomach muscles for sure, but it also includes muscles in your back as well as your gluteal muscles. This group of muscles: supports your spine and your pelvis;  it promotes healthy posture; and is responsible for moving your torso through all of the activities of daily living (including exercise) safely.

Ignoring your core muscles can lead to pain and injury--bad times, really.

So, that's what your core is and what it does. Now on to how you go about engaging it.

Let me preface this by saying that this is a subtle combination of movements, which makes it kind of difficult to explain, but I'm going to do my best. It's not sucking in your stomach. Don't do that. It will make it hard to breathe, and breathing is important.

You might remember that I've said before that the way to communicate to any muscle is simply to think about it. That applies here for sure.

I tighten my stomach muscles slightly. You do not need six-pack abs to do this. You have stomach muscles whether you can see them or not. Sometimes I think about them bracing up against my spine, or sometimes I imagine someone is about to bounce a coin off my stomach. (Bracing for a punch to the stomach probably also would work, but that's a little more violent than I like to be with my visualization techniques.) That's usually enough to get the subtle tightening of those muscles that I'm looking for. Another one that might help you is to think about how your stomach feels right before you're about to laugh or cough. If it helps, laugh or cough and then try to hold that level of muscular engagement. You might feel kind of silly, but once you get the hang of how it's supposed to feel, you won't have to do the coughing or the laughing anymore.

Then I think about lifting up through the bottom of my pelvis, or tucking my pelvis forward. At the same time I tighten my gluteal muscles slightly.

And finally, I roll my shoulders up and back and imagine them sliding down my spine. Ever heard someone say, "shoulder-blades in your back pocket"? I heard that visual years ago and it stuck with me. Use it if it helps you too! Anyway, now my shoulders are down and back and my chest is open.

That's it. Core is engaged. If it feels difficult at first, that's okay. Like anything new, you have to practice before it feels natural or easy. You can practice it outside of the context of exercise as well. Try it while you're sitting at your desk, or walking through the grocery store.

If you have questions, please post them in the Comments section below.

See you back here again soon!