Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On fitness splainin, or why I won't give fitness advice

What, you may ask, is "fitness splainin?"

That's when someone, presumably knowledgeable about health, fitness, working out, etc, tells YOU what you should do with YOUR body.  Comments like:

"You need a low-carb diet to lose weight."
"All that running is going to destroy your knees."
"Steady-state cardio is terrible for weight loss. You need to do HIIT."
"You need to stretch before you run."
"Spin classes make you fat."

Oy and vey.  So much advice. So many advice givers. So many assumptions that what will work for one person will work for another.  Social media makes it easy for everyone to be an instant personal trainer, health guru, or fitness expert.

I read a lot of fitness/running magazines. Part of the reason for that is that I'm a writer, and I'm always interested in writing on topics that obssess me.  When I was into beads, I subscribed to beading magazines (and there are plenty of those). So I read Runner's World, Running Times, Health, Women's Health, Women's Running, Self and read articles online from Competitor.com. Armed with the information I glean from these sources, am I any kind of expert? Hells to the no.

I make it a practice to not give fitness advice.  I love to share/compare experiences with other runners, which I do regularly on dailymile.com and in several running-related Facebook groups.  But I hesitate to offer advice on what someone should do with their fitness time.  And I have no idea how to resolve anyone's fitness injuries!

I personally like to run, to ride bikes (indoors and outdoors), to walk, to dance (on my own, not in a class), and to use ellipticals (the zone out factor is high on that machine).  I have mad respect for those who do a lot of lifting/weight training, but I admit I've not found a way to embrace it (maybe I'm just too antsy). But  I don't tell people who base their fitness routines on lifting that they need to run.

If someone asks me what my personal fitness preferences are, I'm happy to tell them.  But I have to resist the evangelical urge that comes with running. I mean, it helped me lose 50 pounds and get off blood pressure meds--it must be great for everyone!  I got to tamp that down.

If someone asks me how to become a runner, I can only tell them how I became one, which may or may not work for him or her.  Usually I point people toward Couch-to-5K programs, though I never did one myself.

When it comes to fitness, there is a huge morass of contradictory advice out there. My plan, as a person who wants to outlive her parents (who both died too young), is to take in everything I read, see, and hear with an open mind and a questioning brain. So far it's working well.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fitness Goals and Hopes for 2015

2014 was supposed to rock.  It was going to be the year I made 10 mile runs my bitch, the year when I got my half-marathon PR, and maybe even thought full marathon. I was going to rule!

It didn't work out that way. 2014 was the year of mourning. So many losses, punctuated most sharply by the loss of my vivid and beautiful father-in-law, Daddy T. Running became a way to deal with grief, to distract myself from all the unhappiness and sorrow. Working out made me breathe when tears wanted to short-circuit my breath.  I still ran, but it was with a heavy heart. I didn't do any races. Or long runs. I wanted running to help me, and it did, but my endurance was no longer as profound as it had been.  Still, I ran.

So with the new year coming up, I've altered my fitness goals/wishes:

1) To maintain my weight in the 135 to 138 range, but not to flip out if it's not. This weight range makes it easier to run--I don't care about clothing size. Clothing sizes are a bunch of lies anyway. 

2) To run with a joyful spirit, not taking for granted the fact that I can run. My beloved Daddy T. had Parkinson's, so to see him go from someone who walked at a quick and steady clip to someone who could barely move was heartbreaking. I'm not going to take the gift of movement for granted.

3) To stretch and weight train, even though they aren't my favorite ways to exercise. I have neglected these areas, but if I want to run when I'm 70 (and I do), I need stretching and weight training. Thank goodness for planks (because I hate crunches) and dynamic stretches (because I am so antsy).

4) To get "everyday exercise"--running/walking stairs, going for walks after meals, dancing with my headphones on, etc. Formal workouts are great, but sometimes a gal just needs to move!

5) To admire the fitness achievments of others, to be a fitness cheerleader, but not to pressure myself to match or surpass such achievements. People think there's only one way to be a runner, since mostly, in popular culture, runners are marathoners. It's great to run marathons, don't get me wrong. But I like middle distances (five miles through half-marathons). I reject the notion that I'm not a runner if I don't run marathons. But I do love cheering on all sorts of runners. 

6) To cross train: bike, elliptical, row--whatever strikes my fancy!

7) To love my body and thank it often for what it permits me to do. I spent a lot of time this year in the land of body blame. That's a neighborhood not worth visiting. 

So I declare 2015 the year of body acceptance. No more body blaming, scale worship, food lustings, make up exercise, or clothes worries. Essays and poems about the above: yes.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Determination Playlist #2: Happiness!

I should be bummed--a case of shin splints is keeping me from running the Saint Louis Half this weekend. 

But I'm going to stay happy by listening to this playlist:

Everybody Got Their Something," "Like a Feather," and "cantneverdidnothin." Nikka Costa
Shining Star: Earth, Wind & Fire
Serpentine Fire, also by Earth, Wind and Fire
"New Shoes" by Paolo Nutini
Aint No Stopping Us Now," by McFadden and Whitehead

"Move On Up," by Curtis Mayfield
"Shake a Tail Feather" James and Bobby Purify
"Soul Makossa" Manu Dibango

"On and On", Gladys Knight and the Pips
Behind the Groove" and "Lover girl" Teena Marie
"Happiness" and "Yes We Can Can" the Pointer Sisters
"Looking for a Love" Bobby Womack

These songs make me happy during runs, walks, elliptical sessions, stationary bike rides, etc.

Make exercise a place for happiness ;-)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Running, Weight Loss, and Body Image

I never felt fat until I lost weight.

There's a lot running has done for me. But one thing running has done that I need to keep in check is make me very conscious of weight gain and loss. 

I'm not talking about the major weight loss that came with eating better and exercising more in all sorts of ways.  I'm talking about the niggling five-pound swing that can make a huge difference on a run. The lighter you are in general, the faster you feel on your feet, and the quicker those PRs come. 

At least, that's what I thought. 

When I was overweight, I never obsessed about the scale. I gleefully bought larger clothes until the spectre of diabetes and high blood pressure (both of which run in my family) motivated me towards better health decisions.

But there's a huge gap between better health decisions and better thinking.  And it's easy to fall into that gap, to take in Photoshopped images and think they are attainable with just one more mile, one more workout, with just more effort. If I wasn't as sleek as people in magazines, it had to be my fault, right?  I just wasn't trying hard enough, running enough, or doing enough. 

I was getting to the point of being hyper-critical about my own body, pinching this pad of fat here, or hating that my stomach didn't look like a "runner's stomach." I started taking cell phone pics to see if I could detect weight gains or losses. 

But recently, I was at a hotel where the mirrors allowed me to see not only my front reflection, but my back reflection. This should have terrified me. I'd been travelling, not eating right, and exercising in spurts.

Strangely enough, seeing my own bare back in the mirror did not disgust me. I realized that had to have gotten over a whole lot of body hatred for that to happen. Being body positive is work, and I am doing it, staring down the societal demons that tell me to dislike my own flesh.

The crux: my body hatred got worse after weight loss, not better. 

It is so much easier to find fault when you have had what is deemed success. So much easier to see every bit of flesh as something flawed to tame. 

The kicker: I really love exercise now, and don't want to spoil that joy by having it become a means to punish an unruly body.

The truth: Hotel mirrors will reveal all, but it is up to me to embrace what is revealed.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Do You Become A Runner????

I've been a runner for a little over four years.  So it's still strange to me when people ask me for advice on running!  I'm still finding my way, figuring out why I'm now so attracted to an activity I had not one whit of interest in before, and why I'm hoping to be able to continue running for as long as I can.

I started running for fitness and for weight loss, but it soon became something more emotional than a workout.  I soon found that my restlessness was calmed by a good run, and that running--no matter my lack of speed or frustrations at not being able to run long, long distances--transported me out of my body the way little else in life has. The power of breath, the saving grace of sweat, the rhythm of my own footsteps--all hold enduring appeal for me, beyond any race or PR.

My advice for anyone starting a running routine:

1) Get good shoes and socks.  Sounds basic, but if you are going to log a lot of time on your feet, you need good support.  Runner's World does great work in shoe reviews, but if you can, go to an actual running store and get fitted by someone who runs.

2) Ladies: sports bras are a necessity. I used to wear two at a time when I was bigger!  I have found that my "street bra" size and my "sports bra" size are not the same, since sports bras run snug.  At first, they can feel like you've got an Ace bandage on your chest, but when you start moving, you'll appreciate that strapped-in feel.

3) Measure your runs in minutes.  Miles can come later.  If you get hung up on miles (like I still often do), you won't give yourself the credit you deserve.

4) Use the technology that works for you.  Lots of folks use a Couch-to-5K program to get started. I didn't. I had been working out steadily on cardio machines, including the dreadmill--sorry, treadmill--so when I started running outside, it was a relief.  I didn't use Couch-to-5K, but such programs are great and I recommend them to any new runners.  I'm a big fan of Garmin watches, but if you don't care about how long and how far, you can totally skip that expense.

5) Read Runner's World. As soon as I started running regularly, I treated myself to a subscription. On plane flights, it's replaced my trashy entertainment magazines. The advice in the magazine is far better than any I can give you. The magazine also contains lots of inspiring stories about ordinary folks who run, and features on the stars of the sport (despite American indifference to running, there are tremendous athletes in this sport). www.runnersworld.com

6) Read a few books as well--I recommend books on running by Rachel Toor, John "the Penguin" Bingham, Jenny Hadfield, Scott Jurek ("Eat and Run"), Kara Goucher, and Paula Radcliffe. I have plenty of reading left to do in the field myself--I want to read all of the work of George Sheehan, for example.  Reading about running may seem silly--but I'm a writer, and to me, writing and reading are about passion. I want to read about the activities I'm passionate about, and since running is now one of them, it's only natural to know about what makes other runners run.

7) Sign up for a race. Or not.  This is entirely up to you. If you are goal-oriented, a race will keep you focused. If you don't like crowds, then perhaps not. I have done races from 2 miles to half-marathons, and I have found them fun and rewarding. Don't feel that you ever have to do a race, but if you do, pick one you'll be excited about. My favorite races that I've done have been well-organized with good on-course support.

8) Be prepared for negative reactions and unsolicited advice.  Most folks will be supportive. Some will warn you about knee damage and heart attacks while running. Some will crack the old, old joke: "I never run unless someone's chasing me"--har, har. Some will insist that you work your way up to a full marathon, or that you concentrate on 5Ks, or that you become a triathlete. I try not to give my opinions on anyone else's exercise routines (or lack thereof). Exercise, diet and weight are landmines these days, and getting sucked into discussions about what other folks think about your plans is rarely productive.

9) That being said, there are productive online communities.  Dailymile.com has been a huge source of support for me. I have posted there for years, and gotten a great deal of support of the ATTA GIRL!!! variety. www.dailymile.com

10) If you like group activities, join or start a running group. This is my biggest problem. There's not a huge running community where I live, and the runners who are "race regulars" are way too fast for me. I'd love a local group, since most of my runs are solo. But some folks think I'm too fast for them, or that they have to be "in shape" to run, or that they can't be seen in shorts, etc. If you have the opportunity to be part of a runner's club, do so. Often you can get discounts on race entry fees for being a member of a large running group.

11) If you don't like groups, don't be afraid to run solo. But always exercise caution. Wear those obnoxious-colored clothes--you'll be seen that way. Carry money and/or your cell phone. Don't run anywhere that gives you the willies.

12) Remember that running is a long-term endeavor. So do be careful not to overdo at first. Cross-train with other activities--my other long-term activity is biking/cycling. Listen to your body, but learn that pain is sharp and discomfort is not pain. I have only had one injury during my time as a runner, and it was relatively minor. I probably prolonged it by coming back to running before it had completely resolved (ankles are tricky little divas). I've learned my lesson, and now do ankle-strengthening exercises.

I'm still learning lots about running. I'll keep you posted on what else I learn ;-)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Determination Playlist Number #1

Sometimes, on a run or on a ride (stationary, of course), a girl like me can use a little "determination music."

I am posting today the first of several personal playlists that get me moving and keep me going. My musical taste spans all genres.

All songs available on amazon.com:

Determination Playlist #1:

Ain't Going Down--Eric Clapton
Better Version of Me--Fiona Apple
Can't Hold Us: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Last Splash--the Breeders
Comeback Kid--Sleigh Bells
Everybody Got Their Something: Nikka Costa
Extraordinary--Liz Phair
Go With the Flow--Queens of the Stone Age
I'm the Baddest Bitch (In the Room)--Norma Jean Bell
I'm the Man--Joe Jackson
New Shoes--Paolo Nutini
One Small Day--Ultravox
Sat in Your Lap--Kate Bush
Second Chance--Peter, Bjorn and John
Something Good Can Happen--Two Door Cinema Club
The Man--Aloe Blacc
The World Should Revolve Around Me--Little Jackie
We Close Our Eyes--Go West
Whatever Gets You Through the Night--John Lennon

The music here ranges from classic rock to 80s new wave to "alternative" to house to soul. These are songs that make me happy and make me work.

What's your determination playlist look like? Maybe yours is absolute silence!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Attack of the Cardio Machines!!!

With this winter being as harsh as it has been, I've been in the gym a lot more than last winter, when the kinder weather permitted a lot more outdoor running. I've been spending lots of time on various cardio machines so I thought I'd write a bit about my impressions of what they've done for me.

Stationary bikes: I started my fitness transformation with this machine. Stationary bikes are great, easy-to-use, and they allow you to work at your own level.  I have one at home (affectionately named Hank, after "Hank Hill " from the animated sitcom "King of the Hill." I use them at the gym, sweat flying, tunes cranking. I've taken spin classes and enjoyed them, but do get a lot out of just picking a setlist for my mp3 player and riding for 30-45 mins. I think the recumbent ones work your legs slightly differently than the upright kind--my home bike is a hybrid between being an upright and a recumbent.

Ellipticals: I used to HATE the elliptical. I hated the sensation of hanging there, being suspended in mid-air, and I just couldn't relax at first.  I'm glad I stuck with it and got over that feeling, because now ellipticals are my go-to machines when I see them in a gym or hotel fitness room. What changed? I learned better balance and to let go more, to move on the machine as if I were running. The best ellipticals for me are the ones that most closely mimic the act of running, like the Cybex ARC Trainer or the Life Fitness Fit Strider.

Stairclimbers: I draw a distinction between ellipticals, which tend to move the user's feet in a circular motion more similar to the pedaling on a bike, and stairclimbers, which intend to simulate climbing stairs or hiking a mountain. I have not found a way to enjoy stairclimbers--especially the kind where fake stairs move beneath your feet like a crazed escalator. It's weird to me that I can't abide stairclimbers, because I actually like climbing stairs in a building or walking up steps outside a building.

Rowing: Rowing on a rowing machine is awesome. Sometimes I crave doing it like craving a particular food!  The best rowers are the Concept 2 Rowers.  I initially thought that using the rowing machine was all upper body work, but it really works your legs most. The legs lead and the arms follow. It's a little difficult at first, since you might think it's a lot of pulling with the arms. But it's much more of a full-body exercise when done correctly.

Treadmills: I've talked about treadmills in an earlier post, so I won't say much here about them. They do work, but they take work. I've seen all sorts of ways that people cheat themselves out of that work or set themselves up for injury while on treadmills (hanging on the side rails, clinging with their arms on to the top of the machine, using weights while on the treadmill). There's a woman I see at the gym who does the "arms stuck on the side rails"thing while she uses the treadmill at a pace that looks way too fast for her. She looks so miserable! I want to tell her to slow the machine down and walk normally, and build up her pace gradually. But I don't dole out advice to other gym patrons, as tempted as I am.

Here are some links to my favorite cardio machines:

Stationary bikes: http://www.lifefitness.com/commercial/cardio/lifecycleexercisebikes.html

Rower: http://www.concept2.com

Elliptical (ARC Trainer): http://www.cybexintl.com/products/arc-trainers.aspx

Treadmills: http://www.precor.com/en-us/home/products/treadmills

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Treadmill Running versus Outdoor Running: A Reflection

It's winter here in the Midwest, with its stinging winds, snow storms, and freak ice attacks.  I haven't been running outside as much as I'd like to--instead opting for sessions with my old adversary, the treadmill.

Like a lot of runners, I didn't feel I was truly a runner until I started running outside.  Each year, I celebrate my birthday (today) and my runnerversary (the day I started outdoor running, Oct. 16). Before that date, I hadn't thought to run outside.  I did use a treadmill at my campus REC center often, and found it was the one piece of cardio equipment that seemed to really accelerate my weight loss.  Then, on that October day, a brain flash--why not just run outside?  From that flash, a runner was born.

So here I am, several years later, back to the treadmill vs. outdoor running quandary.  Here are, in my humble opinion, the pluses of a treadmill:

1) It's warm inside. Whether you have your own treadmill or use one at the gym, the temperature is bound to be better inside than outside.  Winter weather, slippery roads, icy patches in the cold-weather months and hot, humid, temps in the summer months make the treadmill an option for those weather extremes that are becoming more and more prevalent.

2) Watch a movie. Watch Sports Center.  Watch Shaun T. on that Insanity infomercial.  When I travel and I use a hotel fitness room treadmill, I always pick the one that has an imbedded television. At the gym, there are rows of TVs in the cardio area.  I don't own a home treadmill, but there always seems to be a TV near a treadmill when I'm on one. I can watch "Real Housewives of Wherever" and feel virtuous while doing so.

3) Listen to music.  Yeah, you can listen to music when you are out for a run, but let's admit it, it's not the safest thing in the world to do. On a mill, you can pump your music into your bloodstream and not worry about being hit by a car, chased by animal, or yelled at by a rude passer-by.

4) Control the incline and speed. When I run outdoors, I can avoid the hills, but on a mill, once I put the incline on, I tend to leave it there until I'm finished. I'm still shy about speed, but hope to get my speed up consistently in the 7 mph range.

What makes a treadmill less than ideal to me is the sense of confinement I feel on the machine. I've read the best way to run on a treadmill is to stay in the center of the belt, and not to hump the control panel (I've seen this a lot and it always amuses me). I  tend to tense up though, and find it hard to relax and let go the way I do outside. And if I see a bunny outside, it's "oh how cute, a bunny!"  If I see a bunny indoors, well,  I'd wonder what I'd had to drink the previous night.

I think treadmill running actually improves my endurance for outdoor runs, so I think I will incorporate both into my schedule. But when push comes to shove, I'll always opt to lace up my sneakers and head outside for some air, some grass, some trees and some bunnies!