Monday, February 4, 2013

You Are Your Own Gym

Getting a gym membership hasn't been on the doable list: no day-care for the boys, too hard to schedule, etc. I was weight training at home with the limited dumbells we own. One day my darling Amazon.com said, "New for You" and I actually bought their suggestion: You Are Your Own Gym. I wasn't sure I'd like it. 

I loved it!

Mark Lauren's You Are Your Own Gym is a guide on how to properly perform a range of bodyweight exercises and craft a program from them that will continually challenge and grow you. He explains how to both increase and decrease difficulty so that the progress never stops. The idea is that instead of saying "I can do 100 pushups, so what good are they?" one says, "I can do 100 pushups, so let's make this harder by elevating my feet and putting my hands on an unstable surface." When weights are wanted, common objects are used -- like a backpack loaded with books or sand.

Mark starts the book with a little biography -- he was a physical trainer for the Special Ops and as a trainee he had achieved an underwater swimming record. He procceds to the "why's" for his preference of bodyweight training over training with equipment, and includes chapters on diet guidelines, cardio (summed up as "don't bother"), lifestyle and motivation. Mark's viewpoint is diametrically opposed to that of many others: health and fitness is all up to YOU. No need for anyone or anything else to get yourself in shape -- no coach, no buddy, no cheerleaders, no gym, no weight-watchers, no equipment. That idea appealed to me, as both an introvert and a high-achiever and generally a self-motivated person. But my spouse is my opposite and without support and buddies he just finds working out alone un-motivating. So while I understand Mark's logic and share the "It's all up to ME ALONE!!" attitude most of the time, I suspect an extrovert will find that idea overwhelming. But the knowledge of how to work out anywhere, alone, is rather empowering.

The most useful aspect to me is Mark's workout plans, which are four 10-week programs that start at "Basic" and work up to "Chief." The routines utilize periodization and include blocks of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)I began following the Basic program a few weeks before I decided to join the Burn the Fat challenge. Mark's Basic routine seems designed for an out-of-shape male and was tough for an out-of-shape female, so I had to scale it down. (I suspect that's why Mark released a new book exclusively for women, Body By You.) I followed Mark's advice in his forums to make the Basic Program even more basic by cutting interval times and repeating the first weeks with gradual increases. I still tweak the routine, using easier pushups etc. to better match my progress. I do add dumbbells -- or a clinging child -- when appropriate. I still have "cardio" days because I'm training for a 5k and learning to hoop dance. But alternating that with Mark's routines is intense and I think he's right, you don't need "cardio" if you follow his program. 

The newly updated You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG) app, available on both Android and iPhone, contains all of the routines and exercises from the book. The app is simply awesome. It's worth more than the $1.99 it costs, especially with the free video pack add-on. I can use one of the four pre-programmed routines and customize them on-the-fly, changing the variation or swapping out an exercise altogether. Each exercise has a written, still-picture demo as well as video demo (with the add-on) that is accessible even while working out. I can pause the timer, tap the exercise I'm on and view the demo to refresh, then continue or restart the set. Sets can be skipped, restarted, or paused. Rest countdowns showcase the upcoming exercise. I can also program my own routine and adjust different timers (ladders, circuit, superset, tabatas and more) with the catalog of exercise variations if I want to do something different altogether.  The app by itself, combined with Mark's free-to-join online forums is a fantastic choice for the budget-conscious! It's more than you need to get off to a great start and I find the variability of his plans prevents workout boredom. 

If you want to go straight for the app and skip the book, here's the cheat sheet: Mark says forgo traditional cardio because HIIT routines are more effective; bodyweight training movements are less likely to incur injury, closer to daily functions, and can be done by anyone anywhere; and he leans toward the Paleo Diet with a high daily protein intake of 1g to 1.5g protein per pound of goal bodyweight, of course keeping a calorie deficit if there's fat to burn. But the book gives more technical advice on technique and proper form and my recommendation is to just read it. The book gives you the know-how and drive, the app makes tracking progress and workout planning both easy and fun.

Bodybuilding Boy read the book and liked it more than he expected to. While he'll never give up the gym, it gave him some new ideas to play around with and put variety into his routine. When we go to the park as a family, he'll now skip the gym and do a bodyweight routine nearby as the boys swing, then I'll take my turn. I appreciate that.



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