Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dancin' in the...

I did some housework yesterday.  No, the world is not ending, although if it is going to, I will at least know that I died without dried dog vomit on the floor.  Housework, around here, includes loud music, which, in turn, includes dancing along.  I can, in fact, dance and dust at the same time.

T. was home sick from school, so there was a witness.  He threatened to make a video of me and post it on the internet.  Which means he is really impressed with my moves, right?  I told him to go ahead; I am good with going viral as a crazy old lady dancing.  I told him he’d be jealous when I got famous.  He snorted and said, “Infamous.”  And we both laughed.

The point is that many forms of exercise are inherently silly.  This morning I went to spin class.  Which is to say I sat in a room with a bunch of other people pedaling a pretend bike that didn’t go anywhere until we were all tired and sweaty.  There are yoga poses with names that can make me giggle and moves that make me tip over.  Think about some of the positions we get into when we swim.  Try and tell me it’s not funny.

Laughing is good for the soul.  It’s also good for the abs.  Try some kind of fitness today that makes you laugh until your stomach hurts.  Or, you know, come help me clean the rest of the house.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Sometimes the hardest workouts are the ones where we don’t sweat that much.  Our brains might be the parts that hurt the most.  We have to be patient with those workouts.

Which workouts are those?  The ones where we work on our form or our flexibility or our mobility within a painless range of motion.  The ones where we gradually retrain our bodies after injury.  The ones where we attempt to learn new patterns of motion to keep us healthy in the long term.

It can be frustrating and humbling and annoying and boring when we have to use a very small weight or a minimal range of motion.  This is where the two marshmallows come in.

Someone did a study with small children.  The kids were offered one marshmallow now, which was sitting right there in front of them, or two marshmallows if they could wait five minutes.  The kids who made it to the two marshmallows turned out to be healthier than the one marshmallow kids because they knew how to delay gratification for a bigger payoff. (I know what you’re thinking:  I would work out for marshmallows.  That was not the point.  Although on the scale of indulgences, two marshmallows are not huge and if it makes you do it, knock yourself out.)

We motivate ourselves with (figurative) marshmallows.  I personally want to keep my own knees and hips my entire life, which is way better than marshmallows.  I want to be able to ski with my kids and grandkids, if I ever have any, which I hope I do, but not too soon.  Maybe your marshmallows are a little black dress, or the cute server flirting with you at coffee, or conquering that big barbell.  Let’s get through the stuff we need to do to get there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Better than a double espresso

An often-missing ingredient in our fitness programs is adequate sleep.  I find it odd that we glorify not sleeping as a measure of our importance—who has time to sleep with all this crucial stuff that depends on us?  And then we hit the sugar/caffeine/adrenaline downward spiral.

I vote for an upward spiral.  Of course we all have work to do.  Working out can improve our sleep quality, which will give us more energy to do what we need to do.  Work hard; sleep hard.  A rested brain makes fewer mistakes.  A rested body grows stronger.

Give your body what it needs and it will take care of you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The pencil push is harder than the bench press

The reality of keeping records bores me, at least when it comes to my own workouts; I track what my clients do because I am always excited to see how much progress they make.  In theory, I love the idea of keeping a food journal and logging the actual weights I lift and the time I spend at various exercise things.  I have started innumerable (see, I wasn’t counting!) systems for tracking all kinds of things that all break down on the fact that I don’t want to waste time writing it all down.  Here’s the thing, though:  when I look back at those records, they provide a useful snapshot to compare to the present moment.  I have my first weight lifting workout sheet from the Berkeley YMCA from back when I was 26 years old.  I bench pressed 30 pounds.  The weight is quite a bit more nowadays, so I could kick my own 26 year old butt.

My point is that while thorough record keeping is a fabulous tool, occasional record keeping has value also.  Jot down one workout and keep it somewhere you can run across it in six months.  See how it compares to what you are doing then.

Monday, February 16, 2015


I am a big fan of myofascial release.  (Actually, Myofascial Release would be a great band name.)  Myofascial release is what you get when you get a massage, especially a deep tissue massage.  It is the process of breaking up muscle knots, allowing for more flexibility and relaxation.

Massage is, of course, my favorite way to get the benefits, but we can all use other methods that are more economically feasible.  My second favorite method is the duck.  The label on the duck says it is a “point pressing stick.”  It costs a whopping $1.50 at the Daiso store, so I have several: one at my desk, one in my car, one in the gym, etc.  I hook it over my shoulder and pull on the handle to get relief for tight muscles in that neck/shoulder area.

Then there are balls.  I have tennis balls, lacrosse balls, a softball, and a big fancy ball about the size of a playground ball that I use to press out the tension in my back, my behind, and other areas of my body.  Only the fancy one cost more than a few bucks.  A few minutes with any of those items pressing into sore parts can transform my attitude.

Foam rollers come in various degrees of hardness.  They provide opportunities for releasing back muscles and leg muscles.

Myofascial release can be painful, especially at first and any time the IT band on the outside edge of the thighs gets involved (I call that part “Inventing Swear Words.”).  Starting with softer options in rollers and balls can ease us into the process.  When we are ready, we can move to the deeper release of the harder implements.  Choose a hardness that is tolerable to hold on a tense spot for at least 30 seconds for optimal release.

People with diabetes, low bone density, peripheral neuropathy, and high blood pressure should check in with the doctor before experimenting to make sure it is appropriate.  Everyone else:  press back on that pressure and release it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I Like Lemon Zest

I have a big Pilates exam coming up on Friday and Saturday, so of course I’ve been studying like the paranoid crazy person I am.  Hint: cramming works all right for the brain, but not so well for the body; there will be a good long recovery period after I have successfully demonstrated all my exercises.  Don’t try this at home.

As a result of all the studying, my buddy Joe Pilates has moved into my head to remind me of the point of it all.  The goal of Pilates exercises, and really of all exercise, is to be able to do our normal activities with “spontaneous vigor and zest.”

That phrase is a useful test in itself.  If what we are doing for fitness does not promote spontaneous vigor and zest, maybe we need to try something else.  Trade in the treadmill for a paddleboard, the elliptical for some rock climbing, the karate classes for ballroom dancing, whatever it takes to find the workout that promotes wellbeing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rule Two

Several lifetimes ago, when I worked with college students, I made a list of two rules.  First, don’t be a jerk.  Second, use your good judgment.  I thought that covered everything, but I discovered later that a third rule was necessary as a clarification:  no sangria ever under any circumstances.  These remain my basic rules.

In fitness, the second rule is really important.  We all want to be fit Right Now.  Unfortunately, the trip from couch to marathon takes a while.  Every journey begins with a single step, they say.  One step.  Take one at a time.  The odds of taking the second step improve when we take one at a time.

How do we tell if we are taking the right steps?  We feel tired but not completely wiped out.  We have soreness, but we can still get out of our chairs without (too much) swearing.  We feel up to doing it again tomorrow (cardio) or the next day (weights).  When we are counting the moments until the next dose of Advil, when we wish that our favorite massage therapist worked 24/7, when the very idea of moving seems to make our entire bodies ache, we have violated rule two.

Play hard, but not too hard.  And, seriously, watch out for the sangria. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday Book Review: Spark

I stayed up later than I should have last night because I was so excited about the book I was reading.  John Ratey’s book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain unfolds all kinds of motivation to get moving.  He provides the evidence for why exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, promotes good brain health.

Specific chapters discuss particular issues, such as depression, ADHD, aging, addiction, and women’s health.

While the focus is on aerobic exercise, the book does advocate for a balanced exercise program including weight training, agility, and balance and flexibility.  The benefits accrue, according to the evidence, at fairly minimal levels, but more is better.

Speaking as a person who would prefer not to be depressed, senile, and physically impaired, I am newly motivated to move (not that it takes much…).

Go play!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wee Willie Winkie did stairs at night...

I’m a morning person.  Once I am out of bed, off I go, full of energy, until afternoon, when it all goes downhill.  I have learned that it is best to do the most important things first off.  Some other people, not so much.  They need some time to get moving and do best waiting to tackle the important or hard stuff until later.

There have been studies showing it is best to work out in the morning, the evening, or both.  The best time to work out is when it works for you.  That might mean sleeping in your gym clothes, rolling out of bed and into the car to hit the gym before you are even entirely awake.  Maybe you need a lunch time movement break.  Maybe finally, after dinner and dishes, you can take the time to sweat.  Any workout is better than no workout.

No matter what time you choose, you will feel better for having done it!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

No tire rotation, please

I’m going to the doctor today for what one of my former coworkers called my annual lube and oil filter change.  My doctor calls it a PAP smear.  As much as I like my doctor, I’m not particularly looking forward to it.  I’m doing it because it is part of being a healthy person.

Virtually every exercise advice begins with “Talk to your doctor.”  For some health conditions, it is crucial.  High blood pressure sufferers and diabetics, for example, need to understand what they can and cannot do and how to deal with various circumstances that can arise while exercising.  It is also important to get your doctor’s and your physical therapist’s input when you are coming back from an injury.

However, checking in with the doctor isn’t just about fitness plans.  It is about general wellness.  We all need routine tests, vaccines, screenings.  As our bodies change, medications may need to be added, adjusted, or eliminated.

And if you park at a distance from the office, you can get a little exercise on the way.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Grab your partner...

We don’t have to do it alone.  A friend can make us show up to work out.  Some people thrive on a little friendly competition.  Another set of eyes can help our form.  Having someone to talk to can make the miles of that walk or ride go faster.

There are a few important ground rules, though.

1.     Pick the right friend.  We know which one, the reliable one, the good influence one, the one who makes us our better selves.  I’m not trying to be judgmental here.  The point is that we want to encourage ourselves to exercise, not provide ourselves with a convenient excuse.  A subset of this rule is that if a friend has a real reason not to meet up on a particular occasion, we have to go anyway.
2.     Pick the right destination.  If all our walks end at the doughnut shop, we might have a problem.  We need to choose walks that are inherently interesting, say, along the beach, or that end at places we need to go anyway, like the bank or the store.
3.     Pick the right pace.  We want to be able to have a conversation, but one that keeps moving.  If you can burst into song, you are probably not moving fast enough, although if you start dancing along, bonus points.

Go make a date!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Likes and unlikes

We all have favorites—color, food, movie, exercise, gerbil—and unfavorites.  When it comes to fitness, we need to pay attention to both of those things.  Doing our favorite form of exercise is the easy part.  Quick, ask me if I want to ride my bike.  Duh!  Prioritizing kinds of exercise we like makes fitness fun, which is all to the good.

But those unfavorites can be useful, too.  When my kids were little, I found myself saying, a lot, “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to do it.”  In workouts, if we always work the same muscle groups, we are asking to look like, say, Popeye, with his strangely developed forearms and no other discernable muscle.  We also set up a situation for our bodies that is unbalanced.  That adds strain and tension.  It can also lead to injury.

Often we don’t like a particular exercise because we aren’t good at it.  It is okay not to be good at every single exercise.  People do not expect football players to be good at synchronized swimming or sprinters to be good wrestlers.  Let’s allow ourselves to explore, to try, and to learn.  A sense of humor also helps, especially at those times when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror or when we make an accidental loud noise.  Sometimes letting go of having to be good at something makes it feel a lot better.