Monday, January 28, 2013

A Ball at the Office

"Fitness as a lifestyle" is something I hear all the time. And when it comes to the office, there's an abundance of material out there on how to make the workplace a healthier place. I'm actually kind of sick of reading the same, regurgitated tidbits over and over. Nevertheless, I have been applying some of those ideas.

Some of the suggestions are common sense. I keep a houseplant on my desk because simply looking at it calms my nerves. I use a reed diffuser with a calming, focusing fragrance. I keep herbal tea and a teacup beside the plant, accompanied by an inspiration plaque. None of these things are atypical in an office and they certainly aren't going to get me burning calories. So I brought in the stability ball.

I've been "on the ball" for about two months now. Some say it helps concentration by relieving the fidgets. I fidget in every chair and can't say the ball is any different. I have actually found myself paying too much attention to the ball and rolling away on it. Hmmm. There are some who say the activity of balancing on the ball helps students focus. I find caffeine works. I haven't been able to observe any improvement in focus or work capabilities while seated on the ball. But I will say that since it's comfortable it does allow me to pay more attention than an uncomfortable chair does, since being uncomfortable is the most distracting thing I know of.

The real question for me is whether it is "healthier."As for posture, I'm not sure if it makes any difference, and there's a small study with a similar conclusion. To be fair, I don't sit with my back supported by any chair because my legs are just too short to hit the floor if I do that. Similarly, the study also removed the backs from desk chairs that were compared with the ball, so essentially the study compared a makeshift stool with the balls and found the postural position to be much the same.

So how much healthier is sitting on a swiss ball? About as much as everything else I've done to keep my workspace a "healthy" place, which is to say, it's fun and improves my mood. Anything to improve the office mood, right?

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Running in Heels

It's standard movie fare: a gorgeous gal runs in heels for a day and a half and not only looks fabulous, but climbs walls, crawls, pulls herself over ledges, and somehow survives with shoes intact. We all know that's unreal. Yet it's easy to harbor unreal expectations about ourselves and our own physical capabilities. Run around the block? Piece o'cake. Until you try it for the first time in 10 years. Do 50 squats? No problem. A week later you're still crippled. A major hurdle when starting to work out after an extended break is the big, fat reality check that slaps you in the face your first week. It's demotivating, to say the least.

original image by duygu at
credit: duygu

We all imagine we're stronger than we are, faster than we are, healthier than we are. While it is important to image or believe those things, at the same time one must have an accurate picture of where you're starting from in order to reach your goal. It's absolutely necessary in every area of life, and just as hard to take every time. Who wants to see how broke they really are, how lost, how weak, how flabby? But no journey begins from where you aren't, and I learned this the hard way.

The first time I tried exercising as an adult was with my new boyfriend, Bodybuilder Boy. He had me do 10 sets each of 30 reps (!!)  of lunges, push-ups on knees, squats and God-knows-what-else. I can't even remember what I did, just how I felt. Following that we went outside where he asked me to run from the mailbox to the front door. I told him my legs were feeling awfully shaky and really, really, I Can't Do This. His glowing positivism was unreal and I couldn't say no. I hit the ground on my first step.

I shimmied up- and downstairs on my backside for two weeks.

I was mad. Of course, I blamed my boyfriend. Deep inside I was angry at myself. Angry that I couldn't do it. Angry because I knew I should have stopped sooner when my whole body kept screaming, "That's enough!" I'd hit my limit but I wanted to be strong -- Now. And I was embarrassed. James had set up what he thought was an easy program and I couldn't go anywhere near it.

The pendulum swung and I tooled around with baby weights and easy routines for years. But the opposite of one extreme is merely another extreme, with the balance always in the middle. Eventually I found the right information and learned from my mistakes. I picked a challenging program to follow that would constantly progress, yet started with an honest evaluation of myself. The eval indicated I'd have to dial down even the easiest program in the book! So I scaled it to half the time, half the reps, and even then my elbow would tweak out, my legs burn for days, and my abs hurt when I laughed. It was frustrating. I worked out to my maximal effort but not beyond. Challenged enough to grow, not break, I had the ability and the desire to continue the program and make real progress. Everything I've accomplished so far is the result of that balance. I'm excited to see where I'm headed, because I run in sensible shoes.

What shoes are you wearing?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I won!

No, not a prize from the contest. I won something even better:


"Congrats on winning the challenge! You're a perfect wife and inspire me to be great. In my eyes you're a winner. I love you." 

I didn't win the "Holy Grail" challenge I entered. Nevertheless, on announcement day Bodybuilding Boy brought home this Congratulations card stuffed with a $100 gift card as "prize money." Nothing that can be earned is worth more than that which can only be given: love.

Now that's a win!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Working Out with Kids Comic Sketch

What follows is a typical day off. You don't want to see the workday.
This is why moms struggle to lose baby weight, I swear.

This sketch is my personal comic relief for that stress. 

Working Out at Home? (a wide-ranging book review)

Finding fun and effective exercises to do at home has been a challenge. After hating the ancient Gilad VHS tape routine, which gave me sore knees while I actually put on fat (no one mentioned cardio makes you hungry), Bodybuilder Boy bought me the DVD 10-Minute Solution Pilates. I found that fun and bought 2 more DVDs as well as some books, including Pilates for Beginners by Kellina Stewart. Kellina's book gave me background info that the DVDs didn't, so I was able to improve my performance. But after some time I wasn't seeing any changes at all. These materials allow for no more than a 3 lb weight for triceps exercises - how could I see improvement with that? I wasn't being challenged. 

With my first pregnancy came The Pregnancy Exercise Book that looked like something my mom would have worked out with, and I dutifully performed the routines. Booooooring. And ugly. Next I tried Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, which felt great and alleviated aches and pains. I highly recommend yoga as a life-long practice, but it is not the fast-track to a hot bod. I picked up Exercise Ball on a clearance rack and gave that a try, but again I wasn't really getting results after a few weeks. None of these methods was making me noticeably stronger or leaner. Why? All the models looked strong and lean. I guessed they must do something more than what the books and DVDs were showing. But what?

That's when, Google-be-praised, I ran across Tom Venuto's website. I read the free articles available, passed on the e-book, and bought his print book, The Body Fat Solution. Finally, it all made sense. Point Number One: even if you eat healthy, local, organic, grassfed foods, if you eat too much relative to your activity level, you'll put on fat. If you keep it steady, you'll maintain your fat. There's got to be a deficit in calories if the body's going to use fat for fuel. Point Number Two: sissy weight limits (like Pilates) and aerobic routines, or basically any exercise at all, won't continue to give you results once your body has adapted to performing those movements.Your body needs to get busy building and repairing muscle if it's to keep the calories burning. Once it's easy, it's over. Progressive challenge is the way to maintain the fat burn, and that challenge is most easily obtained through weight-training. 

This training must be accompanied by a healthy diet that a) has enough protein to actually build and maintain lean tissue, b) is low enough in calories that your body can burn the fat for fuel and c) is not so low in calories that your body prepares for starvation and keeps that fat. Tom also explained away a myth I'd always believed: that if I worked out hard, I'd bulk up. I mean, hey, didn't I go up a pants size doing Gilad's stuff every day? Bodybuilder Boy suggested I try a fat-burning pill. But Tom explained why I grew. Rather than cardio creating a calorie deficit, it was upping my appetite and I was out-eating my exercise. Darn. Tom also explained that without testosterone or steriods, there's no way I could ever get muscularly bulky: female bodybuilding competitors who look huge are on the "juice." The worst weight-training could do is give me the muscle of a fitness model -- and who doesn't want to look like that?!

There is much more to the book: why fad-diets cause damage, why almost any diet you choose will cause you to lose weight for a time, why men and women just can't get into shape on the advice of magazines, why you need supportive people in your life, why you need to change your mindset to change your body. I could go on, but just get the book. :-)

Burn the Fat Holiday Challenge 2012

I've been on the free email list of Tom Venuto's Burn The Fat Inner Circle since 2010. As soon as it released, I purchased his print book for "regular" folks, The Body Fat Solution. His flagship offering is the more expensive e-book, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, along with a paid members-only forum a the Inner Circle website. He offers two contests each year to Inner Circle members, the 90-day Summer Challenge and the 49-day Holiday Challenge. There are multiple prizes offered for different category winners, the grand prize typically a trip to Maui. Each year I've watched the contests go by as I was pregnant in 2010 and "too busy" to workout afterward.

On-and-off had been my exercise mode for years. Prior to 2004 it was nonexistent. That's when I began dating Bodybuilding Boy. I was always a bookworm and though I loved the outdoors, I preferred to read there rather than play. I mean, I was thin. What was the point of exercise? Well, now I know the point but that's a topic for another day. Bodybuilding Boy gave me some of his mom's old Gilad VHS tapes and wrote up a routine for me to follow that nearly killed me. Not a great way to start. Throughout my pregnancies and in-between,I've been looking for a routine I can actually enjoy and stick with, and I think I found it.

I learned much through Tom's book and web articles, so this year I decided to give it a shot and go for the "Holy Grail" nomination, to build as much muscle as possible while burning fat. This is much harder than just dropping weight. What I learned over those 7 weeks was priceless and I am going to share that on this blog. The verdict still isn't out yet on that nomination -- it's announced tomorrow. But I am proud of what I've done so far. And in the two weeks since contest end, I have continued to improve. That's the best part.

contest before-after