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

Two weeks, two graduations, what’s next for me?

Last month we celebrated. First was college graduation for my eldest on the East Coast, then back home for the last rites of high school with my youngest. There were so many parties and official events that I powered through by focusing on logistics. Now I have time to stop and consider the meaning of it all.

 

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There’s no denying middle age

In addition to the festivities, I also underwent that initiation into middle age, the baseline colonoscopy. And recently I’ve spent hours collecting financial documents, as my husband and I worked with an attorney to update our wills. Little wonder that my spinning instructor cautioned me about hunching my shoulders, and my chiropractor told me to come back in just a week.

 

That persistent question

Why can’t I stop and bask in my kids’ graduations — celebrate a job well done? Why do I jump to “what’s next?” Maybe it has to do with the question people were asking me at last month’s functions: “Now you’re going to be an empty nester. What do you think about that, and what do you plan to do with yourself?

 

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I tense up. For twenty years I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, school and sports volunteer, carpool driver and family chef. I don’t know how to translate these skills into something that will give my life meaning for the next twenty years.

I know I’m over-reacting. Folks are just being nice when they ask me “what’s next.” We don’t know each other well, and they’re trying to make conversation. Maybe the woman who asks me this is gathering ideas for her own midlife transition, or maybe she wonders if anyone else dreads an empty nest as much as she does. In fact, the actual number of people asking me “what’s next” has been small — nonetheless, I feel overwhelmed by the question.

 

Not knowing what’s next

For lots of us, it’s a scary transition. We’re left alone as our children go off to new adventures, friends and opportunities. Although it doesn’t hit you when they’re in elementary or middle school, the implication of raising your kids to be independent is that, eventually, they won’t need you anymore. This is good. But it’s also terrible.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades shepherding my children through their activities, helping with homework, doing laundry and cooking, and learning about their friends and interests. Now I’m staying put while they move on to do these things somewhere else, without me. Sure, it’s nice to do less laundry than before, not to always plan ahead what we’ll have for dinner. But there’s a big hole in my day-to-day life where my kids used to be, and I’m not sure how to fill it.

 

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A beginning or an end?

Commencement: for the graduates, it’s a beginning. For me, the graduates’ mother, it feels like more of an end. The end of their childhoods, the end of little people who need me, the end of doing what I know how to do.

I have faith there’ll be more joy ahead — I’ll make my way through this tunnel of sadness, fear and confusion. But I’m not ready to announce “what’s next” for me.

When I figure it out, though, I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

Image credits: Daisy Shih, Nick Harris, Anne Rosales

Soulcycle brands spinning and spirituality

Having heard about Soulcycle, a cult-phenomenon among NYC spinners, I tried out one of their classes during a recent trip. Soulcycle’s spin on spinning is to add dumbbells and dance moves to stationary biking. It operates back-to-back 45-minute classes in eleven studios around New York, three in Los Angeles, and soon will have two in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Soulcycle also incorporates watered-down spiritual messages of the type one hears in yoga classes — but unlike the typical yoga class, a Soulcycle workout is shorter, burns way more calories and includes minimal stretching. Think of it as a yoga-alternative for the Type A exerciser.

Are you ready “to soul?”

I went to Soulcycle’s West Side studio after signing up for class online. While online signups are typical for many exercise classes, Soulcycle actually had me choose a specific bike on their website. My registration was confirmed with a “Welcome to Soulcycle” message that listed my assignment to Bike #32. It also offered information about attire, hydration and Soulcycle etiquette.

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Soulcycle packs in the riders

As a fan of good manners, I loved the etiquette rules — especially the part about “laundry,” since Soulcycle places their bikes as close together as possible. It’s a New York thing — people there have learned to tolerate less personal space than those of us who live in California suburbs. All the same, with 50 to 60 bikes crammed into a space about three times the size of an average living room, personal hygiene is key.

Although crowded, Soulcycle finesses their routine so that, even when you’re doing dumbbell raises, you rarely bump into the people on your left and right. For example, arm extensions are performed to the front, the rear and at 45-degree angles — but never out to the sides.

[Read more…]

What do you get from three hours of spinning, besides sore legs?

It took a few days, but my legs eventually recuperated from the three-hour spinning extravaganza. While I may have been silly to sign up for such torture in the first place, I gained some valuable lessons.

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Learnings from spinning’s heart rate workshop

  • I can complete a three-hour spin class.
    Similar to the feeling of accomplishment one gains from finishing a race, it feels good to know I did it. There’s a feeling of self-confidence you get just from learning that you can do something hard.
  • My max heart rate is 195.
    This information will help me make my workouts more efficient and precise, as I can now work to different percentages of my “max.” The calculation of max heart rate was, for me, much different than I would have gotten with a standard suggested estimate of 220 minus your age. Now I just need to learn how to work all those fancy buttons on the heart rate monitor arm band!
  • I know more about how to raise and lower my heart rate, as well as how to arrest a “heart rate freefall.”
    For example, I’ve learned that I can raise my heart rate quickly by standing up to pedal, but maintaining it at a certain level is easier when seated, or in biker-speak, when you’re “in the saddle.” I also realized I have to stop slacking off before I reach my “recovery beats per minute,” or else my heart rate will fall too far and I’ll have to work to raise it up again.
  • I need to work harder during “recovery.”
    This is a depressing one. During our three-hour class, we were not supposed to let our heart rates drop below 70% of maximum at any time. Although 70% is nominally an “endurance” or “working recovery” heart rate level, it’s actually hard to maintain when you’re wanting 45 seconds at, say, 60% of your max — so you can drink water, ease up on your legs, wipe away some of the sweat. However, the workshop taught me to push myself more uniformly during my regular classes.

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Spinning and tennis

When I hobbled off the bike that day, the calorie counter read 1493, and I was sweatier than I ever get while playing tennis. To make things worse, I played a singles tennis match the next day — which probably wasn’t the smartest idea, since my legs were so sore I could barely move across the court. But in general, the conditioning and heart rate info I’m gaining from spinning ought to benefit my tennis game — or at least my ability to survive three long sets.

Now I need to incorporate heartbeats per minute variations into my tennis workout — and I’m not referring to the way my heart races after after my opponent makes a poor line call on an important point!

That, however, is a subject for another post.

Do you measure your heart rate? If so, what do you do with the information?

 

Image credits: lemondfitness.comcbdilger via flickr