Kicking It Into Gear
I am often asked what I do fitness wise to keep fitting into my skinny jeans! I will be honest, some of the muscle definition is genetic, but I DO gain weight fast if I’m not diligent with both diet and exercise, especially since I’m 32 this year. Eek! Thankfully, after developing discipline about 10 years ago when I was 20 or 21, I’ve gotten to the point where I crave exercise and clean eating, and I feel like utter crap if I fall off the wagon. It’s basically like sleeping or breathing, to me…a total necessity, I can’t function well without it! But more than that, it’s empowering…something that keeps me strong and motivated and excited to live my daily life to its fullest, and proof to me that I can push myself to do whatever I want to accomplish.
I love fitness so much nowadays that I love to help others with any questions and guidance they may need…I considered doing some physical training and I have read a lot of a certified friend’s NASM study materials to at least better understand more about my own fitness efforts. Granted I’m not expert yet, but with that knowledge combined with what I’ve learned through my own journey to fitness, I love helping others as best I can. It’s amazing to look back and see where I started…I remember the first time I really ran was the mile run in 7th grade PE, in which I finished before all the girls with a clean 7:36. I didn’t get even close to that for a long time, until I was about 20 and decided to get into running again just to look good. I didn’t know a whole lot about fitness and health and nutrition back then…it was all for aesthetics. Because of that, it was really hard to keep up. It’s easy to get discouraged. Therefore, “to look hot” should never be the #1 priority in anyone’s desire to get fit, if you ask me. It should be for health, and how strong, supercharged, invincible and amazing you feel, and it took me awhile to really understand that. Once I was there, I realized the looks follow. It should be seen as a sort of fuel, as something to power your body to live your daily life with purpose. Of course, with any sporty endeavor, I also had to learn how to get fit in a safe way, with proper form to avoid injury, which also taught me a lot about my body, as well as about myself in a spiritual sense. There are benefits all around!
So, what do I do? After many years of running, which I love, I got a gym membership, but really just tinkered around on the elliptical and the treadmill and a few of the machines without really knowing what I was doing. Yes, it was better than nothing, but little did I know that intervals and pushing yourself in the right way was going to give you a far greater benefit than staying in the “fat burning zone” on those machines for an hour. Longer duration isn’t always better, just like eating less isn’t always better, it’s all about working smart, not hard (or wait, let me rephrase that…working hard and smart)!. I could write for a long time about this and it probably warrants a whole new blog post so I’ll keep it short…through some trial and error I found I was a little overreactive to dairy, so I cut that out of my diet, and just simply stayed as clean as I could. Think shorter, easier to read ingredient lists, no processed food (except for my bread, I love my whole wheat bread), the right fats like that from avodados or olive oil, eating the right carbs (brown rice instead of white, whole wheat instead of white bread, whole wheat pasta instead of regular, fruits and vegetables for fiber, cane sugar if I really needed sugar instead of high fructose, etc), limited red meat (grass fed if possible, organic), hormone free chicken, huge salads made up of dark leafy spinach and colorful vegetables and olive oil as the first course at dinner…you get the idea. I also found that my body responds to exercise best if I power up on carbs before, like a piece of whole wheat toast with some organic peanut butter, then protein after, like a Nutrilite shake (I am a distributor, I LOVE this brand! I also take their supplements, even though I eat as balanced as I can for the highest nutritional benefit) or two eggs with some avocado for the healthy fats. Of course I treat myself sometimes…I am a sucker for a good burger and a beer, and I love my chocolate. It kills me when I hear people say they are cutting carbs or fats…not all carbs or fats are equal, people, and your body needs the good kinds to function! Just take some time to do a little research. And those juice cleanses? Don’t get me started…
Workout wise, I now keep things varied. That’s important! Getting too used to one workout can lead to muscle imbalances (and thus injuries), plateaus, and just plain boredom. When I trained for the SLO Half Marathon in April of 2013, I used the gym for cross training to make sure all my supportive (isometric) muscles were strong enough to end knee and joint pain. To this day, my favorite gym routine is intervals on the elliptical (level 15 for 5min, then 15 for 5min, back and forth for 30min, then down to 13 or 14 for another 30min if I feel up to it) or treadmill (2.5% incline at 7mph for 5min, then 8mph for 5min, back and forth for 30min, then lower to 6.5mph for another 10min or so, or more if I feel like it), then various ab exercises on the incline bench, knee extensions to strengthen quads for knee support, hip extensions for glute strengthening, and sometimes rows to strengthen my back for better posture. Cross training is definitely important to keep you conditioned for running, but proper form is probably even more important. I used Chirunning.com to learn proper running form. Those fancy shoes meant to correct your poor form won’t do you all that good if you don’t learn to run properly! In fact, once my form was corrected, I found I had no injury with minimal footwear (I have a padded pair of neutral Puma running shoes for the longer runs and a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes for anything 7mi or under. Barefoot shoes are awesome, you just have to condition yourself for them first, almost like a ballet dancer does with pointe shoes!). I like to get to the base of a problem, not try to cover it up. The cross training also helps strengthen the muscles needed to hold proper form. So many people don’t realize there’s a right and wrong way to run. Basically, most people run bent over at the waist, striking their heels at each step (which adds drag). This puts incredible strain on the knees, and this is why people think running is bad for you. You should be bent at the ankles, with a straight body, stepping underneath yourself midfoot, and kicking back, pushing yourself forward instead of pulling yourself forward (this was the source of a lot of my knee pain). In addition, each stride should be short and quick to reduce the pressure on your joints, and your upper body should be relaxed, with your legs doing all the work (it helps to imagine your spine as an energy column, supplying energy to your lower body). Running should be efficient and meditative, not exhausting and painful. I practiced this over and over until I could get the 13.1 miles down. After the race, I knew all that hard work wasn’t going to go to waste…I kept that up just about every weekend for a year.
Not long after the half marathon, I discovered Insanity and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), which was an amazing discovery in my fitness journey! For those that know P90x, it’s sort of the same thing, but more focused on cardio, and a little more fast paced and intense, which I like. HIIT is about short, intense bursts of energy with 20 or 30 second resting periods in between to keep your body guessing by varying your heart rate. Long cardio sessions at a consistent pace often results in your body becoming too familiar and efficient to the point of diminishing results. Insanity also taught me even more about proper form, control, and was (and is) an incredible help to keeping my full body strong and prepared to keep running or to do whatever other physically demanding activities I want to do. Insanity helped me run harder, and longer, as well. Granted, I’m not all that partial to going anywhere past 13.1 miles at this point but you never know, right? Just like running, it taught me a lot more about my body and how I move, and introduced another HUGELY important factor into being fit…FLEXIBILITY. Seriously I was so prone to lower back spasms until I took the time to stretch (I’m not that patient of a person), especially my hamstrings and calves, because it’s said that if they are tight, it can pull your pelvis out of alignment and hurt your lower back. That seemed to be the case for me, as well as learning to keep your core (your abs) tight through workouts for additional support and balance. Insanity was a huge help, and it still is. Currently, I do Insanity (Plyometric Cardio Circuit, Pure Cardio, Max Interval Plyo, Max Interval Sports Training, Max Cardio Conditioning, and Cardio Power & Resistance are my rotation) during the week before work or do a 30-60min (4mi-7.5mi) run, and on the weekends I switch off between my gym routine and a long run, every other weekend.
Being fit is not a destination, I’ve discovered. It’s a constant journey. It’s funny, I find if I lay off Insanity for just a week and focus on running, Insanity will make me sore again the next time I jump on it, and same with running and the gym. One gets harder if I focus on the others too much. I’m always learning new things about myself and my own capabilities, and trying to keep things as varied and balanced as I can. I tend to impatiently want to go gung ho with things, and fitness has taught me how to calm down and stay in CONTROL. It’s a total mental lesson and definitely a metaphor to life in general. I couldn’t see myself living without the priority to stay as fit and healthy as possible.
I hope that was helpful! There’s so much more I could have written, but, I guess this is a good basic rundown of what I do, and I plan to write other posts later that go more into specifics. If anyone would like me to elaborate on anything, say so, and I’ll make another post about it! I think the next fitness-related one will be what clothing/shoes I have found to benefit me the most 🙂
Here is some gear that I either already use or would use, to make the most out of your workout and look cute doing it! I included some of the minimal/neutral/trail footwear I use as well.