Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Being your own coach requires much more obedience and discipline than what would be required by a trainer. Heís not there to correct you so you have to ensure your safety, your right posture and your efficiency yourself. Everything youíve learned about a correct workout will have to be put into practice. Youíll make some mistakes. But there are some things youíd rather make sure you do and some others that youíd better avoid.
- Start by visiting a doctor.
Yes, I know, youíve heard about it before. Yes, itís this tiring introduction at the beginning of every fitness DVD.
But itís not there just to legally ensure that the creator of a fitness program will have no responsibility if something bad happens. Itís there to remind you that you have to protect yourself and your health. If you havenít exercised in the last couple of months, years, decades orÖ lives, chances are that after your first real cardio workout youíll feel that youíre about to die! Wouldnít it be better to know that youíre completely healthy? To have the green light from your doctor and know exactly how far you can push your limits to? And if you have certain health issues, then this is not just a ďdoĒ. Itís a ďmustĒ!
- Begin as a beginner.
If youíre just starting out, ďslowĒ is the first word in your vocabulary. That means low intensity and low impact workouts. In other words you have to help your cardiovascular system and your joints adapt gradually. When it comes to cardio, start with some walking workouts or easy aerobics. Strength training can be slowly introduced to your body with some body-resistance exercises. Follow modifications and listen to your body.
- Make a weekly schedule.
Iím sure youíve heard of the quote ďIf you fail to plan, you plan to fail.Ē This is exactly the case here. If your plan is ďIíll work out when I canĒ or ďIíll try to find timeĒ, youíre leaving yourself too much space for excuses and cheating. Even if itís just one workout that fits into your tight schedule, plan the day and time ahead. Make an appointment with yourself and be there!
- Track your progress.
You track your weight loss progress religiously, donít you? Why shouldnít you do the same with your fitness abilities? And thereís a great effect here compared to the scale. The scale sometimes moves the wrong way. Your fitness progress will only do that if there is illness or injury involved. Can you think of anything more motivational than watching yourself getting fitter?
- Be patient with yourself.
There is no exercise fairy that will visit you overnight and sprinkle you with a magical stardust filled with endurance, strength and muscle definition! You have to work hard to acquire all this. And the fact that youíre doing all this on your own could be slowing the process even more. So, patience is your friend. And donít forget that persistence always brings results.
- Donít make schedules that you canít follow.
Are you thinking of starting out by making a weekly plan of early morning workouts even though you can find the snooze button on your alarm clock with your eyes closed? Well, the snooze button is about to destroy your plansÖ If youíre not a morning person, why make such a commitment to yourself? Plan your workouts according to your known way of life. You can make changes later, slowly and according to your needs.
- Donít skip warm-up and cool-down (stretching).
They may look time-consuming to you but they are the most important parts of your workout. You need to prepare your lungs, your heart and your muscles for exercise and you have to help them come back to normal afterwards by bringing your heart rate back down and by stretching your muscles . Your body will thank you for taking the time to do both.
- Donít overestimate your abilities.
Itís ok to underestimate. Soon, youíll realize you can do more and make the necessary changes. But if you overestimate your strength or your endurance, injury could be right around the corner. Again, the advice is the same. Always listen to your body. Donít ignore signs of fatigue. It may be your body crying out for help.
- Donít be afraid of a bit of soreness.
Muscle soreness after exercise, which is almost always the case to people who are just starting out, may not be serious but can become a deterrent factor for many beginners. The truth is that it is a good thing. Your muscles are repairing themselves and are adapting to their new role. In short, theyíre becoming stronger. Soreness, though, should not be causing you serious moving problems and it should go away within the next 48 hours. If not, you might be overdoing it.
I hope Iíve given you some tips on the strategies you need to follow in order to make exercise at home a pleasant and successful experience. Donít miss the last part!
Coming up: Working out at home, Part 3 Ė Three things to remember
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Iím probably not in maintenance mode. If I were, I would still be at my best-ever weight of 68 kilos that I reached last summer.
Iím not in weight loss mode either. If I were, I wouldnít be battling the same couple of pounds every weekend Ė borrowing the words from my good Sparkfriend Maura.
Maybe Iím at this ďtransition to maintenanceĒ phase that the leaders at the ďAt goal and maintainingĒ team so wisely added to the team name. And Iíve been here long enough to have given maintenance lots of thought and contemplation.
So whatís the most important thing you can think of when the word ďmaintenanceĒ comes to mind? Is it the correct calorie range? Or maybe the proper amount of exercise? Could it be the continuous motivation? Or a reward system for our continuous success? A support system of other maintainers maybe? Or is it just that we have finally established a healthy lifestyle that suits us and we can count on it?
Maybe one or more of the above. But quite honestly none of the above is the real reason Iím trying hard to maintain my weight. What has really kept me close to this all-time-low weight of mine is something else. Thereís a different reason I try to go back to my healthy habits every Monday even if my weekend has been a complete disaster. The key ingredient to my maintenance attempts Ė their degree of success being irrelevant Ė is always the same.
To be more exact, past failure.
I never forgot how easy it is to lose control. Iíll always remember how unbelievably fast the weight we lose can be ďfoundĒ again. The disappointment I felt when I had to dig out the ďbigĒ clothes from the back of my closet cannot be forgotten. The silent, weird looks on the faces of the people who had congratulated me a few months ago are not ones that I would like to see again. And, worst of all, the awful sense of not keeping a promise to myself and of having let me down once more is definitely a thing to try to avoid at all costs.
It never gets easy. Yes, I have formed healthy eating habits that I try to follow. Yes, Iíve made exercise a routine. But still, there are days that I want to be like those people who have an out-of-this-world metabolism and can eat whenever and whatever they like Ė yes, they do exist even if they are a minority! There are days that temptation will be thrown in front of my face and coincidentally my defense system will have gone on strike! There are days that my emotions will be hard to handle and sweet treats will come to the rescue!
But there will always be the next day. And the next day I choose to remember. I remind myself where this can lead. And I begin trying again. I slowly push myself back on the right track. Simply because I recognize the other road. And I donít like the place where it leads. Iíve been there.
In short, I really believe that the more failures youíve had in your weight loss resume, the better your chances of maintaining are. As long as you translate these failures into lessons. As long as you ally with your mistakes and use them towards your goal.
I donít consider myself a successful maintainer. But Iím one that keeps fighting. Because Iíve learned my lesson. And maybe, just maybe, thatís what maintenance is all about.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
So, you decided to make exercise a habit. Good for you! This is one decision your body will be eternally thankful for. And since the first step is always the hardest and the path between the decision and the actual action is sometimesÖ never walked, forget about all the difficulties (no gym membership, no money to afford one, no friends to join you for a walk, etc. etc.) and start now! Begin working out at home. A fitness habit that comes with many advantages as well as drawbacks. Letís look into them.
First, the good things. There are many advantages to exercising at home.
You can exercise completely alone with no eyes staring at you and with no embarrassment due to size, inability to do some exercises, over-sweating, being out of breath or anything else that could make you feel bad Ė even though it shouldnít but thatís another story.
- Itís free!
Yes, it is! When you hear the words ďworkout at homeĒ you may picture something like this:
But the truth is that you only need something like this:
Just a somewhat open space and your body! Itís true that a pair of dumbbells, some resistance bands or even a stationary bike or a treadmill, if you can afford them, could add variety to your workouts and make them less boring. But the reality is that in order to exercise your body, especially if youíre a beginner, all you need is your muscles, your heart, your lungs and your good will. So, no expenses here!
- Itís all-weather and all-time!
Snow, rain, hurricane, heat, darkness? They canít ruin your exercise plans! So, you get the benefit of no such excuses!
- Family motivation!
When you choose to exercise at home you get to inspire the people you live with. You can be the positive influence to your kids, your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your roommates. And they get to inspire you back after a while. And you can all help to keep each other accountable.
- Freedom of choice!
You donít have to follow the gymís pre-programmed classes and schedules. You can choose what you do according to your mood. Do you feel like strength training today? Or youíd rather try some kick-boxing to release tension? Or you simply want to just dance to your favorite music and have fun? (Yes, thatís exercise, too.) You decide!
Of course, as with every comfort, you miss out on a few things that a different place for exercise has to offer. There are disadvantages in a home fitness schedule but, fortunately, they can all be dealt with successfully.
- Youíre on your own.
No coach, no expert advice. This is probably the worst aspect of exercising at home, the most dangerous and the one hardest to surpass. It can lead to injuries, over-exercising or ineffective exercise, which in turn can lead to frustration, disappointment and finally quitting.
*Dealing strategy*: Educate yourself!
Read articles, watch videos, learn how to become your own coach. If youíre using videos to guide you Ė which is the best way if youíre new to exercising Ė always pay close attention to your trainer. Watch the video the first time and follow the moves the second time. Coach Nicole does a great job here. She explains everything in simple language with not many unnecessary technical terms and most of her videos are quite easy to follow even for a person who has never exercised before. Follow the instructions carefully and, above all, ALWAYS listen to your body!
- Youíre on your own.
Again. In a different meaning. No gym buddies. No people to keep you accountable and stay committed together. No company to make it fun and enjoyable.
*Dealing strategy*: Recruit support!
If youíre a person who likes to work out with friends and hates loneliness, this can be a tough one. Try to motivate a friend to join you or, even better, a family member or a roommate. If thatís not possible, you can still have a workout buddy by following the same workout plan with a friend Ė or a Sparkfriend, or many Sparkfriends! Ė even if each one is exercising at their own place. You can set goals together and keep each other accountable or even compete if you enjoy some friendly competition.
Doing the same things again and again in the same environment will soon become tiring. The initial enthusiasm will wear off and the tendency to skip one workout will become a desire to quit.
*Dealing strategy*: Add variety!
Sparkpeople has so many videos and workouts that you can choose from. And the internet is full of free resources on anything you would like to try. And if youíre willing to spend some money on fitness equipment or DVDs, your options are endless! Mix them up according to your mood and surprise your body every day. It will surprise you back with its hidden strength and its transforming abilities.
- Loss of motivation.
This is actually the result of the previous one but it can also happen for many other reasons besides boredom, like ineffectiveness, tiredness or very high expectations that donít seem to be realized.
*Dealing strategy*: Keep yourself motivated by setting goals!
How many jumping jacks did you manage to do on your first day? 5? Thatís great! How many would you like to be able to do in a month from now? 10? 20? Make your goal realistic and stick to it. It will give you a reason to work out for and every time you reach a goal, the reward of knowing that ďyouíre strong enough to do itĒ will be worth all the effort.
Coming up next: Working out at home, Part 2 - Doís and Doníts
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
91 weeks of at least 90 minutes of exercise per week.
Thatís my current fitness streak. And it would be much bigger if I hadnít gone through some terrible weeks of lower back pain prior to the last time I pressed the reset button here on Sparkpeople. Because when I last restarted my attempts to lose weight, back in June 2011, I promised myself that no matter what happened with my weight, no matter how good or bad my eating habits would be, I would do my best to keep exercising every week at least three times. I made a promise to myself that I would seek for all the health and strength and freedom of movement that years of living on the couch had stolen away from me. And I kept that promise.
The majority of my fitness minutes is exercise done at home. Working out at home is one of the things that helped me lose weight (combined with healthy eating, of course), is what filled me with energy, is what gave a new meaning to my everyday routine and itís what helped me Ė an unemployed stay-at-home-mom Ė stay sane! It wasnít an easy road. I had to fight boredom and loss of motivation. I had to educate myself on different ways of exercise. I had to make up for the absence of a coach by spending hours on reading fitness articles and watching videos here on SP. On the way I got discouraged, I fought injuries, I struggled with ineffectiveness, I was disappointed at the expected results that I was too anxious to see.
But I had a promise to keep.
A few rainy days spent in the comfort of your living room, reading and watching TV, donít make you a couch potato. You canít expect a few days or weeks of mild exercise to turn you into an athlete! So, I kept pushing. I continued trying on my own to regain my lost endurance and acquire a certain level of fitness. Yes, a gym or a personal trainer would have been much easier. But I couldnít afford that, neither financially, nor emotionally, neither in terms of time, nor in practical terms like having someone to watch over the kids while Iím gone. Two choices were available: be my own coach orÖ the couch!
Working out at home solves many issues. But is working out at home ideal for everyone? What are the positives and the negatives? How can we adjust it to our own unique needs and preferences? After 91 weeks of trying and learning, I thought I could share with you some of the things I learned during this fitness journey. The mistakes I made, the challenges I faced could be found useful by those of you that are now starting out on home fitness. I started taking notes on the things I would like to share but they were too many to fit into only one blog. So, Iíll have to divide them in more.
Let me stress out here that Iím not an expert and I canít offer individual fitness guidance and advice. My purpose is to share my own experience hoping that I could help someone who is just starting out or someone who is trying to overcome obstacles.
Making exercise part of your daily life is not an easy thing to do. Itís a road paved with sweat and soreness. Itís a road onto which you have to be guided by commitment.
But itís a road that leads to health and strength.
Itís a road worth taking.
Thursday, March 07, 2013
My relationship with the food tracker has been a love-hate one. I never liked the idea of writing down everything I eat, even though I had heard of many dietitians and nutrition experts who would recommend it. According to them and to many researches and surveys, it can highly contribute to everyoneís weight loss efforts.
When I first joined Sparkpeople, I tried to use it for a couple of days. All products were in American brands and most measurements were in oz or packages which I had no idea how to convert to my own metric system. Already being negatively biased towards it, I found every little difficulty insurmountable and forgot about it. And I spent two years as a Sparker who would lose and gain the same couple of kilos!
I had already put exercise in my life for good and I was already considered a somewhat fit person but still the weight wouldnít come off. Thatís when I decided this ugly, despicable tool had to be given a second chance! But the difficulties still had to be surpassed in a way. And the perfectionist inside my mind started shouting: ďIf youíre going to do something, you have to do it right!Ē So, I started putting everything in the food tracker from scratch! The food labels became my second favorite reads, the best sellers of my weekly reading!
And the awful tool became an eye-opener! Suddenly it all made sense. Distorted idea of right portions, high fat content where you least expect it, calorie-bombs out of "just a treat"! The reasons I had put on so much weight, the reasons I couldnít get rid of it, my high cholesterol (ok, thereís a bit of DNA in that one), all the puzzle pieces fell into place. And I have to admit it. The food tracker, the tool that I love to hate, was my best friend in losing 19 kilograms.
No, I havenít kept on tracking ever since. I used it sporadically but it was still helpful. My feelings towards it are still mixed. I still ask myself the same question. What is the food tracker? Is it an indispensable tool for weight loss? Is it a necessary evil for maintaining weight? Is it an obsessive habit that in a weird way helps us balance our relationship with food? Or is it all of the above? I donít have the answer to that. And if you think you do, I would really like to hear it!
But I know one thing. Everyone who has had a hard time losing weight should definitely try it. It may not suit you as a weight loss tool, you might not become a dedicated user for life but it will definitely provide you with valuable information concerning your eating habits. Use it for a couple of days or for a week. But be honest with it. It will pay your honesty back by showing you the real reasons you canít lose weight. Mind you, it can be rude! But sometimes thatís what we need to realize our bad habits: a rude awakening!
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