Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Story of the Purple Corduroys

How do you determine whether or not your workouts are 'working?' What's your barometer for 'results?' Historically, I have gone by the scale, the measurements, how the clothes fit, etc. But I've become inclined to think the way I've typically measured exercise success is, at best, misguided. The older I get, the broader my definition of 'success' has become. And, as in so many other things, becoming a mother played a role in that.

You see, this time six years ago, I was great with child. Darling Son #1 was sweetly nestled in my womb and I was the image of burgeoning motherhood... (cue inspiring music.) In truth, I was just great... and burgeoning. And becoming increasingly desperate to evict my precious tenant. My pregnancy was without complications. Both I and DS#1 were healthy and well, but I had suffered from just about every pregnancy discomfort in the book (and by 'the book' I mean, What to Expect When You're Expecting.) I had it all--wicked heartburn, sciatica, UTIs, you name it. By the time month nine rolled around, I was pretty much done and ready to get the show on the road.

I had read that taking long walks could get things going, so I decided to test the theory. Darling Husband had to go to a work thing near a huge outlet mall, so I figured I'd drop him off at his meeting, then walk the mall. I'm not normally a mall walker, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

This mall was enormous. I seem to recall hearing that from stem to stern, it was about the length of seven football fields. I don't know if that's true, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were, because I walked the whole thing that day... more than once. Lord, I wish I'd had a Fitbit back then because my step count would have been incredible.

Of course, along the way I browsed in a few shops. I spotted a pair of purple corduroys in my pre-pregnancy size on the clearance rack for a mere... wait for it... $7! I don't even really like purple, but at that price, I couldn't pass it up. I obviously wouldn't be wearing them anytime soon, but thought they'd be good motivation to lose the baby weight. It was November. I figured I could be in them by February.

Umm... let's just say that wasn't the most realistic goal. I understand that some women get back into their pre-pregnancy size relatively quickly. I know it's possible, but I wasn't one of those women, and so aren't a lot of people.

By the end of the day, my feet ached. My legs ached. I felt like DS1 was going fall out, but he stayed put and all I had out of the experience was a pair of $7 purple corduroys that would hang in my closet for SIX YEARS.
Here they are with nearly six-year-old DS1

Yes, people, I held on to these for six long years. I moved them across seven states. I saved them through my pregnancy with Darling Son #2. I did Weight Watchers and barre and cardio and lifted weights. I walked my babies all over creation to get them to sleep. And I breast-fed, which, by the way, is not the great weight-loss panacea it's cracked up to be.

I eventually fit into my other pre-2007 clothes, but not the purple corduroys. I could get them on, zip them up, but they made me look like I was trying too hard, so I never wore them. Somehow, I still couldn't get rid of them. I don't know why... but there they hung. Eventually I realized they were just shaming me from the closet. So, this week at the behest of a friend, I resigned them to the give-away box... along with pretty much everything else I wore prior to 2007. Even the things that fit aren't comfortable anymore. Styles change and babies shift things around, you know?

Mothers need to have a little more grace for ourselves. The world needs to have a little more grace for mothers. We don't need to see pictures and articles of post-partum celebrities celebrating how 'amazing' they look weeks after having had a baby. And by 'amazing' they mean said celebrities look like they never had babies. It's odd because the softer, rounder look typical of the post-partum body used to be considered beautiful, but now it's just called 'fat.'
Looking at art books is really better for your self-image than magazines.
(This is Tiziano's Adam and Eve in the Prado, Madrid)

When I say 'grace' I don't mean 'excuses.' We can all make plenty of excuses, especially when you've just made a person. Even if the person didn't come from your own body, if you're the one up in the night, you could make excuses, but I'm not talking about that. It's true that sometimes we just need to put down the fork, or get up off the couch. And if the 'baby' is starting kindergarten, you can't call it 'baby weight' anymore. At that point, you have to own it.

But really, why do we always seem to gauge success by how small we are? Women are often talking about having thinner thighs, a tinier waist, losing pounds, inches, fitting into clothes with lower numbers on the tag.

A couple of summers ago, Darling Husband was talking workouts with a male friend of ours. It was so interesting to listen to them, because they talked only of performance--going faster, conquering bigger hills, lifting heavier. It was so fascinating because really, I almost never hear women talk about things like that. It seems women are generally more interested in being smaller, and you can tell because exercise books, DVDs and classes are usually marketed as such. Diet and fitness products that promise a smaller, leaner, lighter you sell.

So I decided to take a page from the boys' book. I started thinking more along the lines of performance and less of size. It's a much more satisfying way to approach exercise. I'm not saying wanting to be smaller is necessarily bad. Maybe you need to lose fat weight for the sake of your health, but why not include a few other criteria in your list of goals? Instead of just 'lose X pounds' or 'fit into purple corduroys,' for example, why not throw in something performance-related, like progressing to full-form pushups or improving your walking or running time? Why not think of exercise as what it enables you to do rather than just how it makes you look? It is a much more fulfilling way to think of things, and honestly, often the aesthetics follow the performance.

And so the purple corduroys are gone, but not before the small people and I had a little photo shoot with them. We had a blast and I'm glad because the fun we had was worth the $7 I spent all those years ago, and the kids are worth everything it took to have them.
I know, he's very charming.
Before I sign off, I wanted to remind you that tomorrow is the last day you can try Physique 57 online workouts for free! Click this link for details!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sam, Sticks and Self-Myofascial Release

I'm coming to you tonight from the comfort of my couch with some of my favorite guys--Darling Husband, the Boston Red Sox, and Samuel Adams. He's a brewer. And a patriot.

Sam, my foam roller and the Sox

I had a most excellent workout today. I was on a massive high from it all afternoon, but now every part of me aches. In a good way, but still... I will say that Sam helps a lot with this sort of thing. So does foam rolling.

I mentioned foam rolling in my post on DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). I'm not going to lie--it hurts in the moment. I just finished a few minutes with the roller and it was painful, but wow... afterwards, it feels great. I'm now a big fan of foam rolling, but it took me a little time to get into it. Really, it gets a lot more comfortable the more you do it.

Foam rolling works on the principle of myofascial release--this involves putting pressure on the soft muscle tissue to alleviate pain, improve circulation and avoid injury. The most pleasant way to accomplish this is a massage, but that can be a little hard to come by, so the foam roller is a good way to get it done on your own. I typically roll after workouts, but I've read that rolling beforehand can be really beneficial and can significantly reduce DOMS, so FYI.

Wow, Jacoby Ellsbury just broke a bat! What fun to be so strong! Maybe I should try that. I'll work on it and let you know how it goes.

Anyway, there are a few different tools you can use for self-myofascial release (SMFR), the most obvious being... a foam roller. DH is a big fan of SMFR and also likes The Stick, which calls itself a 'toothbrush for your muscles'. He also rolls golf balls across the soles of his feet. Theoretically, you could even use a baseball bat, a bottle of Sam (preferably empty--I can help you with that) or a baseball! The possibilities are endless! A bat seems unnecessarily hard and painful. And they can break, apparently.

By the way, a serious advantage of The Stick is that it can be used as a Darth Maul light saber. I know that would be a key selling feature for many of you.

Foam rolling is really pretty straightforward--you slowly roll parts of your body across the roller. When you find a knot or a painful spot, spend a little more time there. Make sure to breathe. If I'm on a tender spot, I find I often hold my breath, but breathing through the roll is key.

I usually start on my calves, then move on to my hamstrings and IT band (the outer thigh.) Then I flip over and roll my quadriceps and hip flexors. This was all pretty remarkably unpleasant this evening, but I haven't rolled in a few days. Honestly, the more you do it, the less painful it becomes, so it's good to keep at it.

It gets really nice once you move to your back. I start with the lats and finish with my upper back, which is... ahhh... The whole thing only takes a few minutes and the rewards are great. Just be sure not to roll on your spine--you should be rolling on muscle, not bone.

Sometimes you have to push through painful things to see the benefits... like foam rolling... or game 2 of the World Series. But the Sox live on to play again tonight. I have Sam in the fridge and my roller at the ready. Game on, people.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Houseworkout

What exactly constitutes a workout?

This is the questioned raised by this article. If you can't be bothered to click the link, I'll sum it up for you. A study conducted by the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland tried to gauge whether or not people were getting useful daily exercise, and if so, how much. Over 4,500 men and women were asked about their exercise habits. The researchers (according to the article) surmised that housework was insufficient exercise. Why? Because those who counted it as a workout were more likely to be overweight than those who cited other forms of exercise.

Seriously?! Since when is the size of the participants the determining factor of what counts as exercise? The researchers considered the possibility that the overweight participants may have been 'rewarding themselves' with treats after doing chores. Ok people, the eating of treats has absolutely nothing to do with the intensity or value of a physical activity. Yes, you may cancel out your caloric burn, but that doesn't mean you didn't glean all the other marvelous benefits of exercise just because you tucked into a burrito afterwards.

Now, granted, this is from Britain's Daily Mail, a newspaper whose most useful function is probably lining hamster cages all over the United Kingdom. I haven't bothered to track down the study itself, but still, the article continues to perpetuate the notion that exercise must equal thinness.

However, it did get me thinking... This is certainly something people of ages past never had to think about. I'm sure back in the day, housekeeping was fabulous exercise. Did you ever read Little House on the Prairie? I betcha Ma had some serious guns from pumping all that water, or better still, hauling it up from the creek. And carpet beating--wow, what a workout, not to mention scrubbing laundry on a board, or even cranking a mangle, which was celebrated as one of the great mod cons of it's time.
 Aww, sweet Ma... doing all that wash by hand and smiling, too!
For better or worse, we now live in the age of button pushing. I'm thankful for all my appliances... truly, from the bottom of my heart, but I will grudgingly admit that housekeeping probably isn't the great workout we'd like to think it is, though it is movement and you know how I feel about that. You can get some NEAT from getting neat. (heh heh. sorry.... couldn't resist.)

So imagine my delight when I happened upon this book at my local library. Yes, people, it's called
The cLEAN Momma Workout, the title of which begs the question of whether we'll ever see it's cLEAN Daddy counterpart? Sadly, I suspect not.

Now, at the risk of sounding like that old joke about actors--you know the one--how many actors does it take to change a lightbulb? Five--one to actually change the bulb and the other four to stand around and say, "I could have done that!" I've actually tried to turn housecleaning into a workout. (After over 20 years as a fitness buff, I've tried just about everything.)

We used to live in a multi-story townhouse and I noticed my heart rate spike every time I lugged our behemouth of a vacuum up and down the stairs. So one day, I popped ABBA Gold into the CD player, strapped on my heart rate monitor and tried to clean the house as quickly as I could.

It was a decent workout. I think I burned something like 200 calories in a half hour, so to the extent that calorie burn is an indicator of good-workout-ness, it was pretty good. And it was nice to have the house clean at the end, but I decided it wasn't something I wanted to do on a regular basis (by that I mean cleaning as a workout, not just cleaning in general). It just wasn't very fun, and I found it tough to balance the goal of cleaning with that of exercising. Even though I was moving quickly, it took longer to do the tasks because I was trying to chase the burn or keep my heart rate up. I decided I'd rather just get my chores done as quickly as I could so I could do a devoted workout.

And that is one of the reasons motherhood hit me like a ton of bricks. I like to do things in 'devoted' blocks of time. I'm going to clean the kitchen, check! Now I'm going to exercise, check! Off write a blog post, check! Well, as anyone who has spent any time with small children knows, they don't give you blocks of time. It's tough to get the dishes done when trains are being catapulted into the toilet, you know? Learning to do things in little spurts is the way to go with small people, so I was game for the cLEAN Momma Workout. Bring it on.

The author is Carolyn Barnes, who happened upon this routine when her life was basically falling apart. She was in the middle of a divorce and filing for bankruptcy. She was out of shape and her house was a mess, so she developed a series of exercises to do while she was doing chores. They involve barre-type leg lifts while doing the dishes, squats with the laundry basket, lunging with the vacuum, that sort of thing.

The move that got it all started is one she calls 'the rag drag.' You put a rag on the floor under your foot and do the series of lunge-type moves while you clean the floor. It does give you a nice burn in the stationary leg, and it's a common move you'll see in functional fitness-type workouts. It is indeed functional for mopping up spills, but it's tough to maintain good form while getting into the corners. I know this because I've spent the last few days incorporating Carolyn's moves into my daily chores.

I did pliĆ© squats to empty the dishwasher, pushups against the kitchen counter while reading email, lateral lunges to put some books on the shelf. I can't say it was earth-shattering for me, partly because I already do some of these things (I did wall squats while waiting for DH to pick me up at the market the other day) and partly because I would really rather just get my chores done. Stopping to stretch with the tea towel before folding it just doesn't make sense to me. I'd rather fold it, then stretch. But I know not everyone loves exercise as much as I do. I'll rearrange my day to fit in a workout, but if that's not your thing, this might be a good fit.

Carolyn says she has attention deficit disorder, and I can absolutely appreciate how these mini-spurts throughout the day would be appealing over a dedicated time of exercise. If you have ADD, check it out. Then again, if you have ADD, you might not have gotten this far in my post.

There is a section on diet that contains your pretty standard diet advice, plus some nice looking recipes. The book is heavy on motivational talk--how you're worth spending time on yourself and you shouldn't just hang out in yoga pants all day. (That bit hurt a little, I'm not going lie.)

I do really like how she has you incorporating movement into your daily life. It takes some getting used to, but after a while, I found myself naturally squatting to pick things up instead of hinging from the hip. Bending forward is easier, but it can be tough on your back, so Carolyn's tips can be really beneficial in more ways than one.

If you're already working out and generally active, you might not find the book to be of overwhelming value, though I do think it's worth a look-see. I'm going to try a couple of the recipes and it did give me some new ideas for creative moves to do while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil.

So is housekeeping a workout? I'd say if you incorporate Carolyn's exercises into your routine, you can certainly add some very valuable movement in your day. I do think Ma would be in a state of complete shock that we feel the need to do this, but times have changed. I'm off to push the button on my washing machine.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ouch! Dealing with DOMS

I think I've mentioned before what a fan I am of being able to get in and out of chairs with relative ease. I mean, really, it's one of those things you take for granted, but when you can't... yikes. One of the main reasons I exercise is to avoid debilitating stiffness and pain, but I'll admit that sometimes, the workouts themselves make getting up and about more difficult.

In one sense, I kind of enjoy the slight muscle soreness I get from exercise. It almost seems to be the hallmark of a 'good' workout. You know you've worked it when you wake up with that nice spicy feeling. I find myself chasing the sensation, and I tend to live in an almost constant state of slight soreness here or there. I hardly even notice it anymore.

Back in May, however, I went a little overboard. My Darling Husband, who always knows a good thigh-quaking barre class is the way to my heart, gave me a most excellent Mother's Day present. He figured I was due for a good Mother's Day, since I had spend the previous two in area hospitals with our children. I had threatened to encase them in bubble wrap this year, so DH decided it was time to get me out of Dodge.

He packed me off to my happy place! That's right--a weekend in New York City to take classes at my beloved Physique 57. I'd been to P57 before, but a class with founder Tanya had still eluded me. With two whole days in the Big Apple, this was my chance.

Ok, I realize some of you might be saying, "No more Tanya! Oh that she had sprained her ankle in the first dance!" (Bonus points to the first person who can name that literary reference in the comments section. And please do it quickly, because I would hate for Tanya to think I wish her ill. So hurry! Fast! Go!) But really, this was a big thrill for me. I had come thisclose to a class with her over Christmas, but couldn't make it happen. This was going to be my Olympics.

The only class she was teaching that fit into my schedule was an intermediate level. I had a taken a mixed class four months prior and I did fine. I did all the advanced modifications and held my own, so I wasn't too scared of intermediate. I could handle it. Sure.

The only thing I didn't quite factor in was how relatively unfit I had become in those intervening months. We had taken two international trips--one to Taiwan with both the kids, from which we were all still recovering five weeks later. I had just gotten over a cold, but it would be fine. I was just so high on the thrill of actually getting to meet Tanya, a woman whose voice and image had filled my home nearly everyday for almost a year. I wasn't going to hold anything back. You vault on a broken ankle in the Olympics. (I wouldn't have really gone on a broken ankle, FYI. It's a metaphor... isn't it?)

Just so you know, I'm not someone who approaches famous people when I see them... and I've seen a lot of famous people. I'd tell you exactly who, but it would sound like pretentious name dropping, but let's just say, I've seen a lot.

Ok, I know you're dying to know, so I'll just tell you that very recently, I saw John Travolta at the Children's Museum. He looked like himself. Some of them don't... famous people, that is. Both Richard Gere and Arnold Schwarzenegger were shorter than I expected. But I never approach them or talk to them. Not even when I saw cute landscaper Chris from Ali's season of The Bachelorette at my local Starbucks. Anyway, listen to me, going on about famous people! The point is, no, I didn't talk to John Travolta. I just treasured it up in my heart and wrote about it on Facebook later.

Well, there was none of that restraint or demureness when I first saw Miss Tanya. She was coming out of her previous class and I just marched right up to her and gushed away about how much I loved her. I'm sure it was very embarrassing for her... maybe I should have been embarrassed, too? I don't even know, but I'll give props to Tanya, she was very gracious. This insane suburban housewife had been let loose on her. God bless her.

Then she beat me up... in a nice way. But I asked for it. Every advanced option she threw my way I had to try. I had made a pilgrimage! This was TANYA for heaven's sake! I couldn't just phone it in. I was going all out, leaving nothing on the table. We had a lovely chat after class during which she praised me as being 'so strong.' It must have been the adrenaline, but I'll take it. I like praise. Especially praise from Tanya.

So, yeah, I was on a little bit of a high from it all. We even took a picture!

I kind of wish we had taken it before class... I was a lot cuter and fluffier before my Olympic performance, but really, when I reflect on how I felt later, it's amazing to me that I was even upright at this point.

It took about 20 minutes for reality to set in. One of the really nice features of the 57th St. studio is that there aren't any stairs you need to negotiate to get in and out. It didn't really hit me how much trouble I was in until I attempted to descend the ridiculously long staircase into the underbelly of the New York subway. Oh Lord, have mercy. The jell-o legs hit me by the third step and I knew I was in for it.

The crazy thing is that I went BACK for MORE the following day. Well, of course I did! I can't be in New York for two full days and take only one class. Besides, I was all excited to take a class with my Darling Cousin, with whom I was staying. DC kept watching me hobble around her apartment and admitted she was 'a little scared' of what they were going to do to her. I hauled both of us out of bed the next morning and we headed off to the Spring Street studio. DC suggested taking the train, but I said, no, let's walk! So many steps we'll get on the Fitbit and I really need to warm up these thighs of mine. Not to mention taking the subway involves going down stairs.

Thankfully, we had only been able to get into a beginner class, but I was still in a world of hurt. Summer, the sweet (and excellent) instructor, came over to me during one of the thigh sequences to 'encourage' me. I gave her a pitiful, wincing look and found the strength to eek out, 'so sore!' She patted my sweaty shoulder and moved on.

So what causes soreness? It's important to know that soreness you experience during a workout is not the same thing that hits you later. The 'during' pain is the build up of lactic acid in your muscles. Lactic acid is produced during intense exercise when the oxygen demands of the muscle fibers increase beyond what the blood is able to deliver, and lactic acid is a byproduct of that process. It is what gives you the burning sensation in your muscles when you're pushing them hard to perform for you. The burn pain can be good--you're challenging yourself. Sharp pain is injury pain--if you feel any kind of sharp sensation, stop what you're doing immediately.
Lactic acid is completely flushed out of the muscles within 30 to 60 minutes after you finish exercising. Stretching can help this along, but since it's long gone by the time you experience the oh-my-I-can't-get-up-from-the-toilet feeling, it's clearly not the same thing. The latter is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and it usually creeps up on you 24-48 hours after an intense workout. I find it peaks the second day after exercise, then begins to subside.

Scientists aren't exactly sure why people experience DOMS or what they mean. In fact, researching it was wading through a morass of uncertainty. It was most unsatisfying. The theory is the pain comes from the microscopic tears in the muscle and surrounding connective tissue from challenging exercise. Pain and swelling is the muscles' response. The interesting thing is that DOMS can be a sign of having 'done something wrong,' like insufficiently warming up, but it isn't necessarily. People usually get DOMS when trying something new or push themselves beyond what they're used to even in a familiar activity. This is certainly consistent with my experience.

Usually people stop getting DOMS once their bodies become accustomed to a certain activity. One thing that was very clear from my research is that the absence of DOMS does not mean you didn't get a good workout. You can absolutely get some very useful exercise without wincing your way down the stairs the following day.

Serious DOMS, like what I experienced the WEEK after my session with Tanya (yes, it lasted a whole week), is a pretty good indicator that I did too much, but it's not the same as injury. We can talk about actual injury another time, but really, I don't get too bothered by extreme DOMS. Maybe I should, but I don't. Yes, it's unpleasant, but it goes away.

The question on most people's minds is what do you do about it? How can I avoid it or at least minimize it? Here are some tips from my years as a professional stay-at-home-mom with degrees in art history and theology. (Fries, anyone?):

1. Make sure you warm up sufficiently before starting to exercise. Insufficient warm up was definitely not the culprit for me in this case--not only had I warmed up in class, I had been walking around midtown Manhattan for about 45 minutes, plus stretching before class began. But working out on cold muscles is a very bad idea. It invites injury, so do be sure to warm up.

2. If you're just starting out exercising, or are beginning a new sport or activity, do about half as much as you think you can do the first time out. The first time I remember getting massive DOMS was when I started weight training at the age of 20. I decided I needed to 'push myself' on a set of lunges and used 7lb. dumbbells in each hand. I had to slide down the stairs on my bum for several days after. Really, body weight exercises like squats and lunges don't require additional weight when you're first starting out, and depending on the workout, I still don't weight load on a lot of them. Live and learn...

3. Try sipping on a baking soda cocktail about an hour before a tough or new workout (1-2 tablespoons of sodium bicarbonate mixed with water.) I've tried this after the soreness had already set in, but I just read that studies indicate drinking it beforehand can help minimize soreness. The taste is vile. Be forewarned.

4. Eat a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein as soon as you can after an intense strength workout. This is why a lot of weight training gurus recommend protein shakes. Protein in liquid form is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream and can help speed up the recovery process, hopefully relieving any DOMS you might experience.

Employing some or all of these techniques will likely prevent or lessen crippling DOMS, but what if you already have them?

1. KEEP MOVING. You knew I was going to say that. Really, sitting around because you are so sore is pretty much the worst thing you can do. I'm not saying don't have a rest, but you'll notice you're markedly stiffer and more sore after a long sit. The best thing you can do is keep moving around and stretching your muscles.

2. Have a massage. This helps and oh, it is so nice. DC and I went for a massage after the Olympics and wow, it was nice. I was still sore, but it was nice.

3. Try foam rolling. I'll write more on foam rolling when I get into workout recovery (that one's still in the hopper.) Foam rolling will hurt. But then, everything hurts you at this point, so you might as well do something productive.

4. Baths--ok, some people have suggested ice baths to me to reduce the muscular swelling. I know Olympic athletes have done this and I can relate to them now, but really... it sounds like hell on earth, so I've never tried it. I know I probably should, but oh... it sounds so unpleasant... Others have suggested warm Epsom salt baths. I've tried that. It's nice. I don't know if it really helped, but who doesn't like a warm bath? Apart from my five-year-old?

Other than that, it just takes all the things you'd expect--time, sleep, good food. You can also try ibuprofen to reduce the swelling. The pain will go away... eventually.

I suppose I can appreciate that delayed onset muscle soreness is not the guaranteed indicator of a good workout, but I can't quite wrap my mind around that idea that a nice, spicy feeling the day after doesn't mean something good. Surely it means I've challenged my muscles, and that's good, right? I guess it's just important not to assume your workout was useless without it.

Despite the soreness, I don't regret giving it my all at the Olympics, and when I go back, I'll do it again. You can bet I'll be trying another intermediate or even advanced class at Physique 57 in the future. Next time I'll just toss some Arm and Hammer in my water bottle before I do.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Metabolism, Exercise, Perseverence... and Inspiration.

I know, I've been a real Debbie Downer lately, telling you to put down your fork and being such a  meanie about it. I feel your pain. I'm living it right along with you. But today we're on to happier lands. We're going to talk about exercise and what a rock star it is at kicking your metabolism into gear.

Ironically, tonight I'm coming to you from my couch. I usually blog from my kitchen counter because, you know how I feel about moving around. But tonight I decided to have a good sit. I'm watching old episodes of Foyle's War. I ask you, why can't the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave come up with such good television?? So informative and educational, like my blog (I flatter myself.) Not to mention the fact that it's very inspirational:
Mmmm.... Sgt. Milner is cute.

Ok, moving on. Apart from simply moving around more (I don't want to beat a dead horse on that one, so I'll just remind you that it's important), the best thing you can do for the mighty metabolism is...

Get yourself some muscle. Did you know that starting in your mid to late 30's you lose 1-2 pounds of muscle a year?! Some people say it starts even earlier than that. Yes, it's true. This is assuming you don't strength train. So please, build some muscle. This is largely why the metabolism slows with age, because people are losing muscle mass, and muscle mass keeps things humming. Increased muscle mass elevates your basal metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories even while you are sleeping. The bulk of the calories you burn everyday comes from your BMR. Plus, it's fun to be strong. So, go lift something heavy. I have small people I could loan you for this purpose. Call me and we'll work something out.

And then there's cardio. It seems like people are always recommending cardio, but the truth is, not all cardio was created equal. All types involves movement, of course, and movement will increase your metabolism in the moment. Once you sit down and take a break, though, it does, too. (Your metabolism doesn't cease completely--then you'd be dead--but it relaxes when you do.)

However, certain types increase your metabolism for hours. Yes, people, I said hours. This is called the afterburn effect--a delightful and scientifically proven response to intense exercise. You work so hard that you create a metabolic disturbance, from which it takes time for your body to recover, so you burn more calories even after you've hopped out of the shower. The fancy science term is exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) and it's a beautiful thing. Feel free to call Dominos, but just have a slice or two, not the whole pizza... unless you are our 15-year-old boy babysitter who can eat more than any human alive, except maybe Michael Phelps.

So here's a little primer on cardio:
1. Steady-state cardio is when you perform some activity (walking, running, biking, dancing, etc.) to the point that your heart rate is elevated to 60-80% of it's maximum capacity and you cruise there for a while. This is called your 'aerobic zone' and you don't have to do crazy math to tell when you're in it. A good, old-fashioned 'perceived exertion test' will do the trick. You should be able to carry on conversation (at least in short, breathy sentences), but if you can sing a song, you're not working hard enough. Steady-state is what a lot of people think of when you say 'exercise.'
2. Interval Training involves more intense spurts of activity alternated with periods of recovery. Interval training has pretty much blown steady-state out of the water in terms of both cardiovascular benefit and calorie burning potential. Forcing your heart rate up and down like a yo-yo is very effective, and in my opinion, it's significantly more interesting than steady-state. You can play around with the duration of intervals, but it's important to allow your heart rate to drop sufficiently during the recovery period. Some people get really gung-ho during the rest phase and try to keep the heart rate elevated... but then, of course, you're no longer doing intervals. You're doing steady-state.
3. High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is one of the darlings of the exercise world. It is like interval training, but involves working anaerobically during the work phases--this means above 80% of your maximum heart rate. In short, you're seriously sucking wind. The research on HIIT is very encouraging. It significantly increases your EPOC, which again means you continue to burn more calories well after you have finished. The only problem: it hurts. Majorly. However, you can get a lot accomplished in not a lot of time, so at least it's over quickly.
4. Metabolic Cardio involves using intervals of strength training exercises to elevate the heart rate. A good metabolic cardio workout sequences moves like squats, lunges, kettlebell swings, pushups, squat thrusts, etc. followed by short rest periods. Metabolic cardio can simultaneously build muscle while significantly elevating your heart rate, giving you the best bang for your buck. Exercises are typically performed a little faster than they would be a in a straight-up strength workout, and you'd use lighter weights. I really like metabolic cardio. You're constantly switching up your activity, so it doesn't get boring.
Ok, so those are the facts. Of course, I'm not going to give you just the facts. I'm going to share my opinion because this is my blog. 
As you see, the research indicates that HIIT and Metabolic Cardio (which is basically a form of HIIT) deliver the best 'results' scientifically, but if you hate them (and you very well might because they're hard), you won't do them. And actually doing it is more important than whatever uptick a workout you're not going to do is going to give you metabolically. Follow me?
Really, I feel very strongly that exercise should be fun. If someone is just starting out, it might not be very fun at first. Let's face it. It's not fun. But initially people don't seem to mind. They're fired up. They want to get in shape. They've been reading my blog (again, I flatter myself) and they want to be able to bounce quarters off their thighs. They think, yes! This time I'm going to do it! I'm going to get in shape! Hurrah!
Then they go wild, do way more than they really should and wind up cripplingly sore, but it's ok. They're in the honeymoon phase. Fast forward a few days and all bets are off. They've burned out. It hurts. It's not fun because it hurts. Life has gotten in the way, and the love affair is over.
This is  true of learning foreign languages. The beginner classes are packed. Yay! We're going to learn French! Won't this be fun? At first, it is fun. You're learning to say all kinds of useful things like where is the toilet? How much is this cheese? I like red wine!
Then the bloom falls off the rose, and it gets hard. You try to tell the waiter you don't want dessert because you're full, but what you really say is you're 'knocked up' and everyone laughs. You feel stupid. You want to quit. (I'm not saying this ever happened to me.)
But if you persevere, it gets fun again! Really fun. You learn to laugh at yourself. You become willing to look a little bit silly because the rewards are so great. You start to learn idioms and you make a funny in French. People are laughing because you're actually amusing, not just because you're inadvertently vulgar. You begin to make friends with the natives and some of them are still your friends and actually read your blog. All because you pushed through the hard parts. You persevered and got stronger, and you're glad you did.
And so it is with exercise. It hurts at first, but you go back and do it again, and you get stronger. Before you know it, you're doing things you never knew you could, and before you know it, it's fun. Research is helpful. Knowledge is helpful. You might be ready to try a few intervals here and there to take things up a notch. Push through the discomfort a little and see what happens. If you hate it, you can always scale back. But you might just get stronger, and strength is inspiring. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Metabolism and Eating

This morning I broke down and turned on the heat. If not for the small people, I would have gutted it out for a few more days? Weeks, maybe? But it's cold in here and somehow I feel like a better mother for having turned it on.

Today I am going to talk to you about metabolism, which is often called the body's 'furnace.' So really, I was kind of excited to turn it on... thinking what a wonderful metaphor it was for my blog post and wow, I was going to have some great insights to share since I'd just turned on my own furnace.

Well, I don't. I don't understand how our furnace works. I just flip a switch. My Darling Husband understands how the furnace works. I suppose I could ask him, but he tends to go into such painstaking detail that my science-feeble mind can't take it all in. As I've said before, I'm not exactly Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

In the same way, I didn't really understand my own metabolism and how it works, so I engaged in some exhaustive research (this is hard-hitting journalism, people.) Here is a little primer on metabolism:

What is metabolism?
We only tend to think of metabolism as the rate at which your body burns calories. In reality, it is so much more. One article I read described it as "the sum total of all the chemical reactions in the body." Just so you know, I read very deep, scholarly articles, not just Self magazine. I read the kind of articles that refer to fat as 'adipose tissue.' And they don't tell you that 'adipose tissue' = fat. So, FYI.

Metabolism occurs in two distinct parts: catabolism, or 'destructive' metabolism, and anabolism, or 'constructive' metabolism. Catabolism is the process of breaking down what we eat and drink for energy. That description grossly oversimplifies the process, but still, that is more in keeping what I've always thought of metabolism doing. In fact, the metabolism is also responsible for building, storing and repairing cells in the body (that's anabolism), so our bodies are constantly cycling through these processes. (This paragraph proves I didn't just read Self magazine.)

In Bob the Builder terms, catabolism is like Muck the bulldozer and anabolism is like Bob and Wendy. I know, everything is suddenly clear to you now.

How is metabolism determined?
The bulk of the calories we use in a day just sustains the basic functions of living--breathing, pumping and circulating blood, brain function, etc. This called the basal metabolic rate (BMR)--that's the number of calories you would need if you were lying in bed all day doing pretty much nothing. I know, it sounds kind of nice, but I don't think it would be, because you wouldn't be able to snack much.

There are calculators on the internet that can help you calculate your BMR, but those are just estimates. Your BMR is highly individual. Part of it is genetically predetermined, but it's mostly related to your size and the amount of muscle you have. Muscular people have higher BMRs. Very large people have higher BMRs also, because it takes more energy to sustain a larger body.

This is one of the reasons strength training is so crucial for fat loss. As an overweight person loses fat weight, his BMR begins to drop because he just isn't as big anymore. If he builds some muscle, his BMR will increase again. Yay! We love muscle.

The rest of your caloric needs are determined by your activity level, and this is where NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) comes in. NEAT, as you will recall, is how much you  move around all day doing pretty much everything but exercising. Yes, your workouts burn calories, but your NEAT really helps in kicking your metabolism into gear. The cycles of catabolism and anabolism are initiated by the requirement of energy. Whenever you move around you're doing your metabolism a favor.

How does eating influence metabolism?
Your metabolism also gets a (little) boost from eating. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Your body uses some of the calories you eat just to digest and break down the food. Don't get too excited, though--it's not much. Scientists estimate it's roughly 5 to 10% of the caloric total of your meal. So digesting a 400 calorie meal requires only 20 to 40 calories. Umm, that's not much. The TEF for eating protein is higher than the other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates.) Research has indicated that eating a regular pattern of meals increases TEF, but really, the metabolic increase isn't huge. Sorry.

Of course, some people are going to do whatever they can to eek out whatever metabolic benefit they can, so they say, 'that's it! I'll eat more protein!' That's great. I love protein. By all means, eat protein at every meal. But still, if you eat more protein than your body can use, it will be stored as 'adipose tissue.' You can't get around it. You've got to burn what you eat.

Lately I've noticed a trend in weight loss articles. Invariably there is someone who says, "You may not be losing weight because you're not eating enough! You're going into starve mode and you need to eat!" Yes, this is possible. 'Starve mode' occurs when you cut your calories so drastically that your body anticipates a famine and slows everything down. You start burning calories at a slower rate and your body holds on to it's fat stores to keep you alive.

Honestly? I really don't think most people struggling to lose weight are in starve mode. Years of yo-yo dieting can screw up your metabolism, contributing to weight gain, but studies have shown that most people tend to overestimate the number of calories they consume by as much as 20%, and the bigger the meal, the greater the disparity between perceived and actual consumption. People write those articles because, let's face it, we all like the idea of eating more. If I think you are going to tell me something I like to hear, I'm more likely to buy your book or magazine. Sad, but true.

And this is the problem with bald science--scientists look at the numbers, the data, the research and say, 'do x' or 'don't do y.' But you have to factor data in with human nature. People like to eat. If you tell people, 'you have to eat or you'll go into stave mode!' some of us will run with it. The next time you're in AutoZone and feel a little peckish you think, 'I have to eat! Terrible things will happen if I don't eat!' So you grab a bag of Doritos (yucky) instead of waiting a half an hour to have a decent lunch. You're not going to go into starve mode in a half an hour. You're going to have a little adipose snack. I don't even know why an auto parts shop is selling Doritos, but that's another blog post entirely.

Anyway, you can maximize your metabolism through eating in the following ways:

1. Eat breakfast. Oh my, breakfast--so important. It gets everything going. If you're not hungry in the morning, eat less the night before.

2. Eat regular meals. It's better to consistently eat three meals a day than it is to eat two on Monday, six on Tuesday, four on Wednesday, etc. Your body adapts to a regular pattern.

3. Some people suggest eating frequently is better for metabolism, but I don't know, I found inconsistent research on this. This might be one of those really individual things.

Proponents of frequent eating say it helps to regulate blood sugar and keeps the metabolism humming along throughout the day. Some people swear by frequent eating, and by 'frequent' I mean eating every two to three hours, except when you're asleep. This translates into five to  seven feedings a day.

In practice, the problem with eating more often is that it can be difficult to limit your calories at each feeding. I think some people hear 'eat more often' and just add snacks without eating less at breakfast, lunch and dinner, thus increasing their total caloric intake for the day. If you need to lose fat, you must have a caloric deficit. You must consume less than you are burning through activity. There is really no way around this.

I don't want to sound down on snacks. I like snacks. I like food. We seem to have developed a huge snacking culture here in America and I wonder if the interpretation of research on this subject has turned us into hyper-snackers and we never let our bodies draw from our fat stores for energy because we're so busy snacking. Then we wonder why we're not losing fat.

However, I do think eating fewer than three times a day is a bad idea. Skipping meals may not be as metabolically devastating as people think, but you are way more likely to binge at the next meal if you've gone for hours and hours without eating.

I recently checked a book out from the library on metabolism. It was by some 'celebrity nutritionist.' She was a big one for frequent eating. She said you should even eat right before you go to bed, which struck me as pretty ridiculous. Why eat right before going to bed? Yeah, you're really going to be burning it up in your sleep. I don't know, maybe I just didn't like her because she told me to give up coffee. But really, I thought her book was ridiculous. I don't even remember her name or the title, just that she bandied about the names of all the famous people who seek out her fabulous guidance. Basically, she was recommending a low calorie diet spread out throughout out the day... and evening. If her plan works, I'm thinking it's just because it was low-calorie, not because of the bedtime snack.

Alright, I need to go feed the small people (and myself) but I have a lot more to say about metabolism. Next time we'll discuss how to exercise to maximize metabolism. I know this wasn't the most knee-slapping post ever, but it's a little hard to make metabolism funny. While metabolism is interesting, it's also a little boring, you know?

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts about frequent eating. Are you a snacker or more of a three squares a day person? Do tell!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Fat and Care Bears

It's 4.30am and I can't sleep, so I finally decided to get up, brew some Peet's and talk to you about fat. Aren't you glad?

One of my big pet peeves is the assumption so many people make that exercise is all about losing fat weight. Someone actually once said to me, "Why do you exercise so much? You're not overweight."

I can think of about one hundred thousand reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with the number you see when you step on a scale. Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little on the 'one hundred thousand' part, but there are a LOT. In fact, to some extent, exercise can actually hinder fat loss efforts. Here's why:

1. Exercise can make you hungry. I was actually a little nervous to start heavy weight lifting again, because the last time I did it (P90X, if you must know), I became so ravenous after workouts, I wanted to eat my hand. I had a very, very, very hard time eating with any sort of moderation and ended up puffy. Strong, but puffy. Those weren't really the results I was going for, but I will say it was nice being that strong. Intense endurance cardio can produce a crazy, hard-to-control hunger, too. Now, I believe in eating when you're truly hungry, but the crazy-hungry I'm talking about can lead to binging. When I was doing P90X, I'd hoover anything that wasn't nailed down, and some of it wasn't the most... shall we say, nutrient dense? Happily, I have not noticed any particular uptick in my appetite since I've been doing Drop Two Sizes, but sometimes you have to play around with your exercise routine to see what works.

2. Exercise can get you to hoard fat. Certain types of intense exercise can actually raise your body's cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone your body produces under stress, and excess cortisol can slow your metabolism and cause you to hold on to body fat. It's very important to remember that God designed our bodies to live. When our bodies sense threat, they are going to do whatever it takes to keep us alive, and having fat stores is really helpful for surviving.

3. It is really easy to eat what you just burned in a workout. This is a painful truth. I typically burn between 300 and 400 calories per hour of exercise, according to my heart rate monitor. Sometimes I'll get close to 500, but that's the outlier. Do you know how easy it is to eat 400 calories? I can do it in about 30 seconds. Just hand me a spoon and a jar of Skippy Natural and start the clock.

That is a HUGE problem with exercise and it's purely psychological. In our zeal to get people off the couch, we have grossly oversold the weight loss benefits of exercise to the point that people think they can eat whatever they want as long as they workout. EEEHHHH. Wrong. I don't mean to be harsh, but it's true. I say this with Care Bears in my heart.

I'm going to rant about this for another minute, so bear with me. (Keep looking at the care bear if you feel like I'm being too mean.)

There is a point in Physique 57 Thigh and Seat (which is excellent, btw. You knew I was going to say that) where sweet little Shelley Knight is massively hurting me. My thighs are on fie-yah and she tells me I can 'eat whatever I want for dinner.'

IT'S A LIE. I love you, Shelley. Truly, I do. You're cute as a button, but you're also probably twenty-five and maybe at your age you can, but I CAN NOT. Repeat after me: I can not eat whatever I want for dinner.

So let's say, for argument's sake, that you are actually twenty-five and can, at this point in your young life, eat whatever you want for dinner without gaining weight. That's super and I'm happy for you. But really, if you don't deal with those unchecked Nutella binges soon, they are going to bite you in the bum. (Again, Care Bears. In my heart for you.)

Ok, clearly I'm a little fired up on this one, but really, people tell me all the time to eat more than I need to because I work out. "Oh, go ahead. Have that cookie. You exercised." Now, I'm not down on cookies. I eat them from time to time and enjoy them and I think you should, too (or whatever food it is that you enjoy) but don't do it 'because you exercise.' Do it because it's a special treat. Not because you exercised, ok?

I hope I'm being clear.

4. Lastly, lots of people think a hard workout entitles them to sit around for the rest of the day. "Oh, I don't need to take the stairs. I worked out today." Please, take the stairs. Sure, there is a season for elevator use. I have a button-pushing two-year-old, so I'm there, but there is a lot to be said for taking the stairs. You'll get way more steps on the Fitbit and it will increase your NEAT (see my last post) and thus, your blessed metabolic rate. If your workouts wear you out so much that you are shattered for the rest of the day, you might want to take it down a notch. Sometimes less is more.

Despite all of that, I do find exercise can be really helpful in weight control, but it's really important to be aware of the above. If you have fat to lose, consider these things.

I'll talk about the 'pros' and 'how-tos' of exercise for fat loss later this week, but it's now 5.30 and the small people are stirring. Yes, we are that kind of household. Before I go, I want to say one more thing: I titled my last post, 'Oh, to be Amish...' just because I envy all the steps they get. I would really never want to be Amish. I'm not just saying that because I get to watch Netflix. Oh, that crushing law under which they live... all those rules... yikes. I wouldn't mind hanging with them for a few days, though. For the steps... that and I hear their food is really yummy. I just wouldn't eat too much of it, even though I'd be getting a lot of exercise.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oh, to be Amish...

I freaked DS1 out the other day. I caught him licking his plate out of the corner of my eye. I scolded him for it, all the while looking at his brother across the table. He said, in desperate, astonished voice, "How did you know?! You were looking the other way!!"

Part of me thought this would be a good time to educate him on the science of peripheral vision, how we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that it is NOT ok to engage in such savagery just because you don't think I can see you, etc. What a fine teaching moment this could be!

Then I thought better of it and responded thus: "I have super powers."

Oh, to have had a camera trained on my firstborn at that moment... the look of wonder, awe and new-found respect for his mother!

In truth, I'd be hard pressed to explain the science of anything. I'm really not a science-y person. I'm humanities and liberal arts all the way. Would you like fries with that? Tall, grande or venti?

However, today I am going to try. We are going to discuss NEAT--Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.

NEAT is the energy you spend throughout the day on everything BUT sleeping, eating, sitting around or what you think of as 'exercise.' I'm talking about doing the laundry, cooking, walking around your office, breaking up fights between your small people, running for a train, grocery shopping, fidgeting, you name it. That's NEAT. And as it turns out, NEAT is very important for your overall health. A high NEAT really raises your metabolic rate. Sitting for long periods of time is not good for you. You can do all the Physique 57 and Rachel Cosgrove workouts in the world, but if you sit on your bum for the rest of the day, you're not going to be as fit and healthy as you think you are.

This is one of the psychological downsides of hard exercise. People think, 'Man, I just killed that workout! I'm Zena Warrior Princess (or HeMan, as the case may be.) I am now officially an Amazon, and can 'reward' myself by sitting on the couch for the rest of the day!'

EEEHHHH!  Wrong. Your overall movement throughout the day is crucial. Not to mention the fact that if you sit for hours after a killer workout, you will be massively stiff and sore.

This news might be a major downer for those of you who sit at a desk all day, but fear not, faithful readers! Do I have a gadget for YOU!

Meet my Fitbit:
Isn't it cute?

Fitbit is a fitness tracker... it's kind of a glorified pedometer. I've been wearing a Fitbit for nearly three years. This is actually my third Fitbit. The other two fell apart, but I'm happy to say that they have changed the design and the newer models are more durable. And the Fitbit people replaced my first one for free and sold me the third one for 50% off, so I harbor no ill will. Clearly, since I'm giving them a huge plug on my soon-to-be-famous blog.

This is the One model, which is very tiny.
 Here it is compared to my thigh-bouncing quarter. Beside it is the clip you use to attach it to your clothes. I usually clip it to my waistband, like so:

Some women clip it to a bra, but I'm not going to show you a picture of that. This is a family blog. I used to clip it to mine, but I kept wanting to check my step count throughout the day, and it isn't really socially acceptable to keep reaching into your shirt, you know?

In addition to the One, they have models you can wear on your wrist including a fancy new one that sings and dances for you in addition to counting steps (kidding.) I've also heard good things about the Zip, which is bigger than the One, but also cheaper.

The Fitbit syncs to your computer and gives you graphs and charts of your activity. It not only tracks steps but also stairs, 'active' minutes, sleep quality (I never use that) and a host of other things. You can input your food intake and compare it to calories burned... the possibilities are endless!

One of the nice things about being a stay-at-home-mom (from a fitness perspective) is that I naturally have a very high NEAT. Especially since I'm a boy mom. Boys are like puppies--you have to run them everyday. I wonder if I'd clock fewer steps if I were a girl mom? Any girl moms (or dads) want to weigh in on this?

Experts (whoever they may be) recommend 10,000 steps per day. Even keeping up with my little puppies, it can sometimes be hard to get in 10k a day. I have noticed I become less efficient in my chores to eek out a few more steps when I need them. By that I mean I could carry seventeen things upstairs from the basement (remember, I have super powers), but breaking up the load into several trips gets me way more steps.

Other people who get lots of steps are the Amish. A study showed Amish men get an average of 18k steps a day (!), and Amish women, 14k. That's a lot of steps, people. (Note: this is traditional Amish communities, not the ones who work in tourist shops. They're as bad off as the rest of us.) More amazingly, the Old Order Amish clocked these averages during a less busy season of the year, not harvest time, and only on Sundays did their averages dip significantly--down to 10k. (I know you're wondering how they squared using technological devices like pedometers with their consciences... turns out, if they're borrowed, it's ok. You have to read the fine print.) These Amish have very low rates of obesity, which is nice for them, since they don't have Netflix.

If the Fitbit is a little too pricey or too techie for you, a regular pedometer could work, but it's not as fun as a Fitbit. I've heard good things about the Omron brand. In fact, I bought one for my dad for Father's Day. I didn't buy him a Fitbit because he's a little Amishy when it comes to technology, not because I'm cheap. (He is my dad, after all.) A couple of weeks after he received it, he called me at 9am to tell me he had already walked the length of the Gobi desert.

Which leads me to the one downside of the Fitbit. It can be a little addictive. I want you all to know that even if you get all the way downtown and walk around all day, only to realize that you forgot to put it back on after you got out of the shower that morning, the unrecorded steps still count. Though that scenario is most head-wrecking and I feel for you. Really, I do.

Lastly, I just want to say to any Amish people who might be reading my blog on a borrowed computer, you are most welcome to come over and I'll lend you some of my stuff. Just borrow a phone and call me, ok?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

With all the Physique 57 love that has been flowing through my fingertips, I do feel the need to come clean about one thing: at the moment, I'm not actually doing P57 regularly. I did do it pretty much exclusively for a year, which is a very long time for me to stick to any one type of exercise.

I'm a bit of a variety junkie. I usually can't commit to any one thing. I get bored. I like to try new things, which to some extent is good. The body adapts to exercise. It becomes really efficient at doing something if you do it over and over and over. After a while, it becomes less challenging, and you stop seeing results. This is called a plateau in fitness-speak.

However, you do have to stick with something long enough to see any results at all. This is called adaptation. Obviously, one hard-core session at the barre isn't going to get you thighs off of which you could bounce a quarter, and don't we all know what a worthy goal that is?

Physique 57 says you can't plateau with their uber-challenging program, and I believe that if you can regularly attend classes at the studios. I only had the six DVDs at my disposal, and while they are awesome, I was probably more psychologically burned out than anything else.

So back in July I decided to take a little sabbatical from Tanya and friends, and I tried Leah Sarago. This is Leah:

I know, she's very inspirational. Leah's workouts are sort of barre with a twist. They are quite remarkably hard, and her upper body work in particular is very challenging and innovative. It mostly uses body weight (which is a lot even for a small person) and, like most barre workouts, very light hand weights.

This is something that doesn't really sit well with me--the light weight thing. It's one of the things that I like about Physique 57--they have you lifting some heavier weights. Now don't get me wrong, Leah and all the other barre people will seriously hurt you with those light weights. In fact, the first time I did Leah's weighted arms I used 3lbs. and had to drop down to 2lbs. But I really think God intended us to lift heavier things.... like my children. Lifting light weights a zillion times is fine for muscle endurance, but for building muscle mass, heavy is good.

So I stuck with Leah for a few weeks, and while I have nothing but good things to say about Leah as an instructor (she cues very well and provides excellent form pointers), her workouts are a little dry. And long. And not really different enough from Physique 57 to scratch where it itched, so I moved on.

I decided to do something completely different. Enter Rachel Cosgrove, stage left:
Rachel is pretty buff. You can't really tell that in this picture, because Rachel tries to seem less buff to sell her workouts, which involve lifting quite heavy weights. Buffness freaks a lot of women out, and Rachel knows this. Her most recent book is called Drop Two Sizes.
They put this cute little model on the cover so women wouldn't get all wiggy about the heavy weight thing, which I kind of get, but also find somewhat distasteful. What's wrong with a woman having some muscle? Anyway, we can talk about that later. And I will.
Drop Two Sizes (henceforth 'D2S') involves a lot of compound exercises, meaning you're not just lifting a weight up and down, but doing two exercises at once. Rachel is really into offset loading--holding a weight in one hand while doing squats or planks or something else that's really hard and forces you to keep your balance. It really works your core muscles along with the rest of your body and spikes your heart rate.
Rachel doesn't want you weighing yourself, the reason being you build muscle with serious strength training and muscle weighs something. D2Sers often find they lose little or no weight, but their body composition changes. Instead of a few pounds of fat, they now have a few pounds of muscle. All that muscles fires up metabolism and you're now burning calories like Thomas the Tank Engine burns coal.
The program is twelve weeks long--three phases of four weeks. Each week involves three strength workouts and one metabolic cardio workout. You heard me right: only one cardio workout per week. And they're short. Like, ten to fifteen minutes kind of short. Rachel's not big on cardio, and she's got some science to back it up. We can talk more about that later. And I will.
The point is that it's very different from barre. I'm on week eight of the twelve week plan. I still work Physique 57 into my rotation because I can't live without it, but mostly I'm hanging with Rachel and her henchwomen. The jury is still out on this one, but it is nice to do something different.
I'll provide a more thorough review once I'm finished with it in four weeks. I'm looking forward to finishing. I miss Tanya and friends. We still talk, like I said, but not everyday and I kind of miss that.
Anyone else have any thoughts to share on heavy and light weights? Feel free. I love opinions. I have a lot of them. Can't you tell?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

DH took umbrage with a part of my last post. He insists he did not use the terms 'coupon' and 'volume discount' when attempting to negotiate with the surly man at Bendel's. He does concede that 'gift sets' could be interpreted as 'volume discounts,' but he is quite adamant that the word 'coupon' never escaped his lips.

I tried to convince him of the humour of someone asking about coupons at a place like Bendel's. That it's just too funny for words. That it was a little artistic license. That now that I'm a blogger on the road to fame and fortune, we all had to make some sacrifices. He said that the coupon bit just wasn't true, and that veracity is important. DH is a very honest person, and I'll be the first to say that's a nice quality in a husband. And I don't want it to seem like DH is some kind of yokel, or a FOB. If you don't know what a FOB is, ask your local ABC. (Bonus points for anyone who correctly defines those terms in the comments section.)

So, ix-nay on the coupon thing. I do want you all to feel that I'm giving you the straight scoop on things, so you'll be glad to know that I actually tried bouncing a quarter on my thighs. It worked.

You just have to get the right spin on the quarter.

Anyway, it's a been a few days since I started blogging and I thought I'd let you know how my family is adjusting to it. It's true that I'm spending more time on my computer and less time doing other things. Like laundry. I mean, I'm still doing it, it's just sitting a few hours longer in the dryer. (And by 'hours,' I mean 'days.') So we're a little wrinklier around here, but we're still clean... relatively. Of course, the kids don't mind, but DH does need to look a little bit nice for work, so I'm trying a little harder with the laundry. Because, you know, marriage is important.

And then there are some other things. Like reading to the children. DS#1 just asked me to read Make Way for Ducklings and I rerouted him to his father, who is just lying in bed trying to wake up for the day. Now they're having a little father-son bonding time. So you see, blogging is good for the family.

But, you know, I'm not going to lie (that being the whole point of this post.) Blogging is hard work. Especially since I'm blogging about exercise. Which means I actually have to exercise. Which I enjoy, but still, it's time spent. So there's the exercising, the blogging, and then I have to promote my blog so people actually read it. The road to blogging fame and fortune is going to be pretty rocky if no one reads it. So I'm now on Twitter. All for the sake of the blog. And my marriage. And my family. Fame and fortune is going to bless us all. That's what I keep telling them.

Though it's not all about what we're going to get out of this. One of my readers commented over on Facebook that she reads my blog while she's up in the night with her newborn. I'm no stranger to those nighttime feedings, and the fact that I can bring a smile to the face of a beleaguered nursing mother really turns my blog into a ministry. Not to mention what smiling and laughing does for let-down. So I'm promoting breast-feeding.

Babies all over the world will have fewer ear infections thanks to my blog. Now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

In general, though, I'd say the whole experience is giving me a lot of compassion for film stars. They have to rehearse, then actually make the movie. Then there are all the press junkets and interviews. It's exhausting. And I don't even have to deal with the paparazzi... yet.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Cost of Doing Business

Last time I introduced you to Tanya and Physique 57, my fave workout of all time (and believe me, that's high praise.) I could go on and on about the wonderfulness of Physique 57, and eventually I will, but there is a dark side: Physique 57 is expensive. And it's not just that it's expensive in and of itself, it leads you down dark alleys of collateral expenditure, too.

This presents a certain dilemma for me, because I'm pretty cheap. My mother says I'm 'tighter than the paper on the wall,' and my little brother makes squealing noises whenever I reach for my wallet, which is, admittedly, a rare occurrence. But I'll loosen the purse strings for P57, because it's that good. One class rings up at $36, and when you add tax, you're pushing forty greenbacks. I should mention that is pretty much on par for fitness classes in NYC. Still, I could feed my family for a week on that. They may not like it, but I could do it.

A couple of weeks ago, the boys and I drove down to New York because DH was there for work. DH was staying in one of those posh boutique hotels in mid-town--the kind with beautifully decorated rooms that are about the size of a closet.

I scheduled a class at P57's mothership studio on 57th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. I got dressed in my stylish Lucy activewear and grippy socks. Pretty much everyone at P57 is kitted out in Lululemon, but I can't bring myself to pay Lululemon prices. I find Lucy is just as nice, and they have a sale rack. (You could wear ratty sweats to a P57 class, but I don't think you'd want to.) I was a little early so I stopped in at Henri Bendel on 5th Avenue.

For those of you not familiar with Henri Bendel, it's not called 'a lady's paradise' for nothing. When I lived in New York years ago, my similarly poor friends and I used to go there to window shop. The French expression for 'window shop' is literally translated 'to lick the windows,' and that about sums it up. Several floors full of sensory delights...

Now I should mention that I'm hardly a fashionista. I'm one of those suburban stay-at-home moms who lives in workout wear and considers putting on sunscreen and chapstick getting 'made up.' If I were a Spice Girl, I'd be Sporty:
Who could resist such sensible footwear? My feet hurt just looking at the other four.

I wandered in on the ground floor and was politely accosted by a saleswoman at a cosmetics counter. This is actually a vast improvement on how I used to be treated when I would walk into Bendel's years ago. Something about me must have screamed SHE'S YOUNG AND POOR because they all used to ignore me. Now my fancy workoutwear, coupled with the sands of time, gets me noticed at Bendel's.

Often people at those posh shops act like they're doing you a favor by acknowledging your existence, but this lady was actually nice. She introduced me to a product called Perfekt Skin Perfection Gel.

She schmeared a little bit of it on my right hand, then compared it with my naked left and wow... there was a difference. My right hand just looked... better. Then she took a Kleenex and wiped it across my hand to show that it doesn't rub off. This is a major plus for me, as she noticed I am 'obviously a really active woman,' and as such, I like make-up that doesn't actually look like make-up. This lady was all kinds of good at selling stuff.

I was sold, but hadn't brought my squealing wallet with me, and I didn't even know the price, so I thanked her and scuttled off my get my tail whooped at P57 by Sade (pronounced 'Shah-day,' like the singer.)

I couldn't stop thinking about this wonder product, however, so I asked DH to stop into Bendel's if he had time to see if we could score some without having to sell one of the kids. I provided him with all the salient information, including price comparisons from the internet. I told him if it wasn't crazy more expensive to just buy it at Bendel's because I wanted to give this fine saleswoman the business.

DH went back after the boys and I left and the nice lady wasn't working. Instead, the Perfekt counter was staffed by a surly man sporting rolled bangs and pink eye shadow. DH inquired about the cost of the wonder serum and was told it was a full $10 more than the lowest internet price. I could feed my family for a day on that (they wouldn't like it, but I could), so that's a no-go.

Now this is the part where I wish I could have been a fly on the cosmetics counter. DH was raised by Chinese immigrants, so he's not just going to walk out of this situation. He's going to work it. Admittedly, he learned from the best: watching my mother-in-law barter on our trip to China a few years ago was a sight to behold. I couldn't understand a word she was saying, but I could tell she was good. And successful, too. We flew out of that country with some serious bargains.

Unfortunately, Bendel's isn't quite the same, so DH's inquiries about coupons and volume discounts were met with the death-stare you get at those kinds of places--you know, the 'if you have to ask, you can't afford it' kind of thing. DH insists he was 'very subtle,' but hey, it never hurts to ask, and I love him for it.

So I'll own that there is a certain cost to my Physique 57 addiction, 'performance athletic apparel' and me-only-better visage, but you could bounce a quarter off my thighs, and you can't really put a price on that.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What's in a name?

Naming things is hard. God told Adam to name all the animals and all I can say to that is 'better him than me.' I was very stressed out about naming our kids, and DH was no help. I kept asking him for ideas, and I got nothing. Finally I said, "They're your kids, too. Don't you have any opinions on names?" His response, "I don't know... I just think whatever we pick, it needs to be spelled correctly."

Not helpful.

Coming up with a name for a blog was even harder. I couldn't think of anything catchy and clever, until yesterday on the neighborhood playground. A mom walks into a barre... yeah, that was it.

You see, I love barre workouts. Love, love, love 'em. I love one in particular, and that is Physique 57.

P57 is a barre method based in New York City, with studios also in the Hamptons, Los Angeles, Dubai and most recently, Scarsdale, NY. It's based on the venerated Lotte Berk Method, like most barre workouts, but P57 is way more fun and challenging. I started doing P57 DVDs when I was pregnant with Darling Son #2. Barre is a terrific pregnancy workout, but I didn't get totally hooked until over a year later... when I turned the big four-oh.

Yeah, FORTY. It came on me like a tsunami. Within two months of my birthday, I felt like everything was falling apart. I had developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot from doing the Tracy Anderson Method (another post for another time.) I had some sort of wonky issue with my hip flexor. I hobbled around the house like an old woman. Somehow I felt like I was a little too young to be put out to pasture, so when I read about P57's monthly challenge, I thought I'd give it a shot.

The monthly challenges are nothing to sneeze at -- they involved rotating the DVDs (and now online streaming workouts) six days a week. By the end of the first month, my plantar fasciitis was effectively cured, and my hip no longer gave me any trouble. I was a true convert. (I should add that I did lose some pounds and inches, but in my middle-aged opinion, it is more important to be able to get up out of a chair.)

The Physique 57 workout was developed by Tanya Becker, a little firecracker of a barre instructor who distracts you from the searing pain in your thighs by cracking jokes! It's really a brilliant strategy. I mean, how can you argue with someone who tells you, "If you don't squeeze your bottom, no one else will!"

For the record, DH has been known to call out, "Don't worry, dear! I will!" God bless him.

You'll be hearing more about Tanya, to the point where you be saying 'Tanya Schmanya!" But really, if she and I lived near each other, we'd be besties. I just know it.

Physique 57 is offering a special--48 hours of free access to their library of online workouts, including the six that were originally offered on DVD. Click this link for details. Offer is good until the end of the month! If you can't walk downstairs tomorrow, it will be all my fault! Yay!


Every now and again I make a funny. Or say something mildly insightful. My husband has been telling me for a while that I should write a blog. Recently I got a little encouragement from one of my cyber-friends (it doesn't take much! Hubris is a marvelous thing...) and so I've launched my own blog. Ta da!
From time to time, I'll post a little tidbit about life with my husband and two boys, though usually I'll tell you about my workouts, because I love my workouts... almost as much as I love my husband and two boys.
I should introduce you to my cast of characters.
First, there is Darling Husband, known henceforth as DH:
I know, isn't he handsome? He could be a film star!
Wait, that is a film star--Chow Yun Fat, whom DH has been told he resembles. The point is that DH is ethnically Chinese, and not the slight-build type, but the broad-shouldered, full-face type. Yes, they exist, and my DH is one of them.

This is I:
Kidding! But back when I was a teacher, a first-grader told me I looked like Brittany Spears. (This was back in Britt's pre-skank days, I'm glad to say.) At the time, I didn't know who Brittany Spears was, but a Justin Timberlake-loving fellow teacher told me this was high praise coming from a six year old. The point is that I am a fair-haired white chick, and unlike Brit, I have blue eyes, which puts me firmly into the recessive gene pool. 

Yup, DH is all things genetically dominant, and if the Punnett Square is to be believed, our off-spring should look like this:

Instead, they look like this:

I know, super cute, but not exactly halfsie-looking. 

I plan to become a very successful and famous blogger, and you know how celebrities get their knickers in a twist when people post pictures of their children on the internet? Well, I believe in dressing for the job you want to have, so I tried to find stock photos of kids who look like my kids so I wouldn't have to put up pictures of my actual kids, but none such photos exist. It couldn't be helped. This is an image of our actual progeny. And they don't look at all Chinese.

When Darling Son #1 came out all fair and blond, we figured it was a fluke. This was the 25% of the Punnett Square! Surely the next one will look properly Eurasian, so we eagerly awaited the birth of Darling Son #2, all excited to see what he would turn out like. 

His hair is slightly darker, but he has BLUE EYES.

Our children have taught us many things, not the least of which is that someone in DH's genetic past took up with a missionary. There has to be a great story back there... maybe someday I'll make it up, and Chow Yun Fat can have the starring role.