Five MORE ways to return to exercise

How’s your return to exercise going? I’m gradually resuming my prior activity level, although I’ll admit I’m aching more than I was before I stopped working out to go on vacation. Not sure why this is going on, but I’ll hope it has to do with using muscles I had ignored, and not with getting older!

Today I’m adding to the tips in my last post with five more “do’s” and “don’ts” to consider when you return to exercise.

1. Do try something new

Trying a new sport or activity can stimulate your mind at the same time as you’re exercising your body. There are so many options available now, and many fitness or yoga studios offer thirty-day unlimited passes, just to attract newcomers and give you the chance to try different offerings. For example, even though I’m terrible at yoga, last summer I tried a “yin yoga” class that focused on slow, meditative holds of floor poses. It was so relaxing that one day I fell asleep in the middle of class! Other people return to exercise with music and fun in a dance class like Zumba, or they challenge themselves with a barre workout or Crossfit.

If you try a new exercise, remember that you aren’t likely to “get it” the first day. In fact, you may feel like a complete klutz. When I started spinning, I wasn’t sure I would survive the hour, but I told myself I’d keep going back for a month until I could make a better-informed decision about whether I liked it or not. Now I really like spinning and also appreciate the community of friends I have there.

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2. Do cross train

Along the same lines, be sure to mix up your workouts a bit. Don’t run every day — bike, swim, lift weights, take a fitness class. Not only will you train complementary muscle patterns, but you’ll keep from getting bored with your workout. One thing I’ve started doing recently is Pilates. I know Pilates has been around for a long time, but I’m finally getting the coaching I need to do it “right” and hopefully address some balance, strength and posture issues that tend to affect women as they grow older. For me, Pilates complements my cardio and tennis activities, so it keeps my workouts varied and fun.

 3. Do consider buying an electronic fitness tracker

Recent news of the Apple watch announced a sleek “wearable” that will sync with your iPhone and tracks heart rate, activity type and level, plus alert you to incoming texts and emails, calls, etc. Starting at $349 and available in early 2015, the Apple Watch promises to do lots of things well. You can learn all about it on apple.com, and they even created a video describing the watch’s fitness and health monitoring features.

If you don’t want to wait and/or want something cheaper, you’ll find numerous alternatives. Look at the Pebble smart watch, Nike Fuelband SE, or Fitbit — they’re market leaders among devices that track calories burned, steps taken, sleep patterns and more. Some of them focus on fitness and health, and some (like Pebble’s wearable or the Apple watch) do much more. There are even cheaper options in the form of apps for smartphones — check out Map My Run and competitors.

The point is that using a device or app not only helps you measure your progress, but it can increase the “fun factor” for people who like technology. I used a Nike Fuelband for nearly a year (see this post). For me, it offered a constant reminder to incorporate exercise into my day.

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Tory Burch bracelet for Fitbit

4. Do exercise for a good cause

Another way to engage in fitness, social interaction and philanthropy at the same time is to sign up with a charity walk, run, bike ride, danceathon, you name it. You can join a local Team in Training to train for an endurance sports event like running, hiking, cycling or a triathlon — while also raising money to beat cancer. You can walk/run/bike/etc. to fight Alzheimers, juvenile diabetes, breast cancer, AIDS and many other worthy causes. A web search, your local news and sports stores can help you identify ways to get involved in your own area.

5. Don’t give up

Despite all efforts to find a fitness routine that works with your ongoing life commitments, even if you can mix it up and keep it fun, there will still be times when working out seems like a chore. We all have good days and bad days, and we need to be patient with ourselves. At low points I’ve gotten discouraged about my tennis game, even considered whether I should quit the sport. Or I’ve compared myself to someone in yoga class who is more flexible and coordinated than I believe I ever could be. But seriously, self-criticisms like these are too harsh.

Like anything else, fitness is a journey. We all move along our own paths, at our own paces. The main thing to remember is: keep traveling, and enjoy the trip.

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Image credits: Anton Stetner, ToryBurch.com, Arya Ziai

How to start exercising again

Why is it so hard to start exercising again? I took off two weeks in August, and resuming my fitness routine has made September tiring, as well as frustrating. It’s not that I work out super hard anyway. But this month I feel stiff and sore, fat and out of shape. Spin class and tennis practice — things that I generally enjoy doing — have challenged me just to complete the workouts. So I’ve been reviewing my own tips for how to start exercising after a break — whether that break is a week or several years long. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts.”

1. DO make a realistic plan

Set exercise goals, but keep them realistic. If you haven’t worked out in six months, don’t commit to spend an hour at the gym every day. You’ll probably have trouble sticking with this plan and get discouraged early on, risking a return to your former couch potato state. DON’T set yourself up to fail! DO make a plan within your reach. If you exceed your goals, you can celebrate and then revise them upwards.

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2. DO find an activity you like

Exercise should be fun, something you look forward to. Being miserable doesn’t help you burn more calories, at least not in the long run. If you like walking, walk. If you enjoy playing a sport, by all means do that. If lifting weights to your favorite music or watching a movie while you run on a treadmill is a good break for you, go for it. The more you enjoy a physical activity, the more likely you are to make time for it.

3. DON’T go too hard at first

Coming back from a break is not the time to make up for “time lost” by pushing yourself too hard. You may feel like punishing yourself, but resist! You’ll probably overdo it and get so sore, or even injure yourself, that you’ll need to take another week off. Best to ease back in and build on your success by training a little harder each time you work out.

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Late 19th-century fitness machine and exercise clothing

4. DO buy a new exercise outfit

There’s something about a cute fitness outfit that gives me a boost. And if a new outfit can help me look forward to exercising, I consider it an acceptable use of retail therapy!

Keep in mind you want to dress appropriately for whatever activity you’re doing. In the same way you shouldn’t wear your old college t-shirt, you also want to avoid making fashion statements with edgy outfits that are best left to the twenty-somethings with perfect bodies.

If you play tennis, buy a tennis skirt with built-in shorts — toss out the old “tennis panties!” A multi-purpose staple these days is the black capri legging — you can wear it to the gym, yoga, Pilates, spinning, fitness dance and so on. As an added bonus, you’ll look chic when you stop for coffee or groceries on the way home.

5. DO get a coach or exercise buddy

Sure, it decreases your flexibility to make a workout date with a friend and/or personal trainer. But it also helps you maintain exercise as a priority in your schedule. Besides, working out with a friend makes fitness more enjoyable, and that’s also likely to help you stick with it. If you can afford a personal trainer or small-group class, this is a great way to build confidence that you’re “doing it right,” to learn proper technique and avoid injury. You also can invest in several sessions with a coach at first, and then join a larger class or develop your own fitness routine.

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Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and look forward to doing. After all, it’s better to go for a walk with a friend than sit on your couch and “plan” your weight-lifting routines.

My next post will continue with more tips. Until then, get out and get going!

Image credits: alantankenghoeTekniska museet, pixabay

Aerobics fever: move over, Jane Fonda!

Redoubling my efforts to find a way to stay in shape while tennis elbow issues are keeping me off the court, I checked out an aerobics class at a fitness studio called Uforia that opened two years ago in a historic building formerly belonging to the AME Zion Church. It’s pretty cool to be working out and glance up to see stained glass windows.

The class was called “fever,” billed as “a fun and athletic aerobics inspired class.” Supposedly it would be “45 minutes of heart pounding, sweat pouring and smile inducing fun,” and no prior dance or fitness training was required, just a readiness to come and move. The description also added that “Jane Fonda won’t know what hit her.”

Aerobics fashion: check

Great, I was there. I showed up early, attired in black Nike capris and a racerback tank — clothes I thought would help me blend in, fashion-wise. I didn’t want to stand out as dorky, or edgy. As others arrived, I decided my clothing choice had been good, but if I continued with this class, I would definitely need to upgrade my shoes.

 

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Aerobics moves: not so much

Our instructor connected her iPod to the speaker system and put on her cordless mic. After a bit of stretching and warm-up, we plunged into the moves. “Lunge right, feet together, lunge left, feet together. Now forward, two three four, back, two three four. Grapevine right, two three four. Left, two three four. Add a twist, two three four. Left, two three four.”

She shouted over the pulsing beat, pointing right and left to help us stay in step. By the end of the first song, I was back in the aerobics class I used to do in a converted store at the mall during evenings between my sophomore and junior years in college. For me, it was 1982. Jane Fonda had just released her first Workout video:

How ’bout those high-cut leotards? Hopefully they won’t come back, the way some fashions do. I was reminded of being on college tours with my daughter. When we visited my own school, our student tour guide was energized to hear I had lived in the residential college that enjoyed some small fame for an Austin Powers-style party. “Essentially, it mocks the ’80’s — it’s become quite the tradition, I’m sure you remember it.”

I had to remind him that actually, I was in college during the ’80’s, so it would technically be my generation that the party would be mocking. No problem.

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Yoga: looking for yin in all the wrong places

I need more zen in my life. That’s why I tried Yin Yoga, described as “a slow-paced style that has a powerful meditative element and long holds of floor poses.” Yin Yoga looked like a better way to find inner calm through exercise than the power-yoga style — plus it was appropriate for all levels of students.

Yoga baggage

I’ve attended yoga classes off and on for years, accumulating my share of yoga baggage. For example, in one of my first experiences, listed as a Level 1/2 class, I had the misfortune of situating myself between two rather advanced students. When we finally ended a taxing vinyasa series and were allowed to assume the corpse pose, or whatever pose we found relaxing, I was grateful to lie still. Although I was supposed to be “dead,” it was hard not to peek at the woman to my left. She hoisted herself up into a headstand.

 

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Breaking yet another yoga guideline, I compared her practice to mine. And deemed her a showoff. There she was, exhibiting superior balance and strength in front of me, your basic dead person. I felt as inferior as a corpse could.

I continued feeling incompetent at another yoga studio. Even though I knew my alignment in the triangle pose was slightly off, I couldn’t help but take it personally when the studio owner stood next to me and announced in a loud voice that “some of us need to take private lessons before we’re ready to attend group classes.”

 

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“Hot yoga” was no better. If the man in front of me had been young and fit, I would have been fine when he took off his shirt. As it was, though, he was neither. Plus there was a lot of sweating. Let’s leave it at that.

But enough time had passed that I was willing to try yoga again. So I opted for Yin Yoga. By now I was familiar with the general etiquette: bring your own mat, leave your shoes at the door, enter quietly and gather your props such as blankets, blocks, etc. Sit cross-legged and assume a meditative posture while you wait for class to begin. Don’t chat.

So far, so good.

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The tennis ball machine, your ideal workout partner

I just love working out with the ball machine.  Other than humming, “Whoosh, whoosh” as it shoots balls at me, it’s silent.  It never makes questionable “in” or “out” calls. Unlike some partners I’ve played with, it never complains with a tactful, “Don’t worry about making a heroic shot — just put the ball in play.” And the ball machine isn’t even capable of giving me a tense smile that says, “I’m not having fun here, but I don’t want you to keep falling apart, so I’m going to act as normal as possible and maybe things will be all right.”  Thus in many respects, it’s the ideal tennis partner.

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Tennis Ball Machine Benefit #1: Shot Practice

I try to hit with the machine about once a week.  More often than that, and my forearm gets sore — you can go through 500 balls in an hour without even realizing it, so you need to make sure you vary your shots and take breaks to pick up balls and drink water. It’s best to the ball machine use soon after a lesson, when you want to practice a new shot you’ve been working on, like a backhand down the line, or maybe a slice drop shot. Remembering of course that only “perfect practice makes perfect,” it’s critical to use good technique when you hit with the ball machine — otherwise you’re just cementing bad habits.

Tennis Ball Machine Benefit #2: Build Concentration

I like to set up the machine for forehands first, then backhands.  I vary the speed and/or height, and I practice volleys as well as groundstrokes.  I build concentration by trying to hit a certain number of balls, say 10, to a certain spot.  This is a lot harder than it seems!

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Tennis Ball Machine Benefit #3: Cardio Exercise

Another benefit of ball machine practice is that it provides a good cardio workout.  I put on a heart rate monitor this week and was surprised to see my heart rate jump up above 150 quite easily. For me this was great, as it was a better workout than doubles tennis, which is what I usually play, and lots more fun than what I’d have to do in the gym to raise my heart rate to a similar level. You can learn more about the workout benefits of ball machines and tennis generally from the Livestrong Foundation.

I really enjoy practicing this way — in fact, today is not the first time I’ve blogged about my love of the tennis ball machine.  It not only gives me a good workout, but benefits my self-confidence while improving my skills.  I’ve looked online for videos of ball machine drills I might try, but so far I haven’t turned up any good ones to post here.

Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of videos about tennis ball machines on the Internet, but it’s hard to cull out the good ones.  Most are marketing promos for buying a ball machine, or for working with a tennis professional, or they’re just some goofball’s idea of having fun on a tennis court with a camera and then uploading the result to YouTube.  This clip, which has nothing to do with the sport of tennis but everything to do with ball machines, is so ridiculous I had to share it with you:

 

 

My recommendation is that unless you’re going for a game show record, use the ball machine for its intended purpose: burn some calories, and work on your game.  You just might build enough confidence in your new shot to use it in your next match.