Workout Slump Solutions

Click here to read the original question: “Dear Laur, Help! I’m in a workout slump!”

Dear Meg,

With the amount of money I’ve spent on unused gym memberships, I could probably solve our national debt crisis. So believe me, I understand the ins and outs of the workout slump. Fortunately, that also means I’ve spent a LOT of time getting around the slump – and so I’ve got some ideas that might help you too.

First off – yes, hitting the gym after work is not as fun as the fitness elite make it sound. No, it’s not really a “great way to relieve stress after a busy day.” Really, it’s just a barrier between me and the demand-free nirvana of just being “done.” A really great way to relieve stress after a busy day is sitting on the couch not moving a muscle until Netflix asks me if I’m still watching.

The way I solved this was by getting the bulk of my workouts in over my lunch break, but this is not feasible for most people – especially if you don’t work near a gym, can’t eat at your desk, and have to look somewhat presentable and not smell bad for the rest of the day.

When I do try to fit my fitness in after work, it’s usually through a more routine activity – in my case, dance. I have a 90 minute tap/jazz/ballet class on Monday night and a two hour tap/jazz class on Thursday night. Working towards getting better at our routines is a goal that keeps me motivated. Plus, I look forward to seeing the girls each week. It’s like book club, but a lot sweatier. Having a smaller tight-knit group helps you avoid the meh feeling of just being an anonymous body in a gym crowd, where no one would really miss you if you weren’t there.

So in your case, rather than bouncing from gym to gym through Class Pass, you might want to find one place to call home. More importantly, you might want to make that place on the way home, so you don’t end up wasting time in transit. You’ll be home sooner, which means more time to unwind from the day.

Another consideration is the kind of fitness activity you do. Variety is important, but if motivation is your issue, consistency is key. I like to feel like I’m working towards something specific, rather than just passing the time or getting through my daily gym duty. When I’m at dance, the goal is obvious. So for the rest of the week, I keep dance in mind. Cardio is going to improve my stamina so I can keep my energy up through the whole routine. Strengthening is going to give me more sculpted lines and postures, higher grand battements, deeper plies. I have no delusions of joining the Royal Ballet, but it still feels really good to see myself making progress as I do the same activity over time.

 

You’re an athlete. You know the feeling. Think of how crowded your life was back in college, with a full day of classes and then another several hours of practice. Back then you got through it because you weren’t just running in circles (unless track was your thing). You were trying to impress a coach, land a better position, become a better athlete. All you have to do now is tap back into your competitive edge and find an activity that allows you to challenge your inner beast. Even if there’s no team to join, use your imagination if you have to. The most important thing is that you feel empowered rather than enslaved by your workout.

Now – I will say that despite your best efforts, there will be days when your gym commitment is underwhelming or nonexistent. I have those days too. They are often the fallout of work and life colliding like an interminable jackhammer. On those days, once dinner is done, the dishes are put away, the counter is clean and the cat has been fed, I allow my guilt to push me towards one last day-ending strive for body justice. The at-home workout.

I used to do the workout DVDs… you know, Billy Blanks, P90x. That was only when I was on the ground floor apartment. Doing jumping jacks and burpees are bad enough without thinking about how your downstairs neighbors are hearing every elephantine footfall.

Now, I seek the privacy of my stairwell. I put on my Pandora “Dance 2016” Station (club music… gotta love it) and then get in about 20 minutes of jogging up and down the stairs. In between sets, I have a little fun on the landings by crunking and twerking and nae nae’ing and just generally making a fool of myself. (I just pray my building doesn’t have cameras in the stairwell.) The workout isn’t long enough to get me too revved up before bed, nor too intense that I end up losing the dinner I just consumed. However, it’s enough to feel that sweat-soaked sense of accomplishment that keeps me on the bandwagon. If you’re really lucky, you might get your bf to join you. Challenge him to races, or make up some wild routines.

Stairs not your thing? Pick up some cheap boxing gloves and challenge your bf to a sparring match in the living room. You can work out any interpersonal tension and challenge your stamina by keeping the motion going – bobbing, weaving, dodging and throwing blows.

Bf not home (or nonexistent, as in my case)? Well, I’ll have you know, sometimes I chase my cat around the apartment. You’d be surprised how much of a workout you can get in trying to corner and catch a cat that thinks you’re trying to give it a bath.

I’ll also keep a set of weights under my couch to use when I’m watching TV. I can run through some reps of bicep and tricep curls, shoulder lifts and chest presses without even taking my eyes off of the screen. Sometimes I’ll balance the weight on my toes and do leg or knee lifts to target my quads. During commercials, if I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll haul myself off of the couch do some planks, pushups or squats. I know this hardly counts as a workout, but it does help to keep your mentality in training mode. Plus, science would tell you that getting more small bursts of activity throughout the day is healthier than one stressful burst of activity for an isolated interval.

I hope some of these ideas help you get the motivation back to get over your slump! Just remember, the hardest part of your workout is over once you actually set foot in the gym. If you can get that far, you’re unstoppable.

Yours Truly,

Laurie

Hate Cardio? You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

I love feeling the burn as much as the next gal, but I just cannot stand cardio. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. All the fitness lore says – you have to mix it up. Challenge your body. Intervals. Cross training. Blah blah blah. Well, I’d just as soon travel back in time to be tortured on a medieval rack while undergoing primitive dental surgery. So, remind me again why I showed up at the gym today?

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The Importance of Pacing

Hey, I’ll go run on a treadmill or ride a bike or swim some laps – no problem. That’s because in those situations, I set the pace.

I’m talking about love-hating (most mostly hating) group-led cardio, like HIIT at Barre Code (High Intensity Interval Training) which I force myself to attend once a week. This is where self-imposed peer pressure has me trying to keep pace with all the skinny girls, who actually seem to ENJOY this torture. Given the option to bounce, they jump. Meanwhile, I’m over there wondering how long I can just stand in place before someone notices.

Now, you’d think I’d just have to work at it more and build up a stamina. Except that’s not really 100% accurate. Stamina and endurance are something you mostly build from long sustained periods of continuous moderate activity. Cardio and interval training is more about how well your heart can get revved up to pump oxygenated blood to your super-active muscles, and how quickly it can chill out again between sets.

For a person who is overweight, this is already vastly more difficult. Your body is a lot larger inside than it may seem to you on the outside. Shocking Fact: For every 1 pound of weight you gain, your body produces 70 freaking miles of blood vessels. So jacks and burpees alone are not going to make your cardiovascular system stronger. Losing weight is an essential (if not THE MOST essential) part of that process.

Fortunately for people like me, strength and body resistance training is preferable for boosting metabolism and increasing fat burn throughout the day. When you finish a cardio session, that’s it. Your body shuts off. When you finish a strengthening session, your body is left with a debris field of muscle damage to rebuild – and THAT requires energy (coming in the form of the calories you continue to burn for HOURS afterward).

So what’s the real skinny on cardio? Is it beneficial, and if so, how much?

The Benefits

First off – a regular amount of aerobic exercise during your weekly workout routine is still a great thing. It’s good to get your blood moving. When your heart works harder, large doses of immune cells and oxygenated blood cells sweep throughout your body tissues – repairing damage and generally making you feel more active and alert.

Over time, doing regular cardio will also strengthen your heart muscle, making each pump more effective. Not only does this make you less fatigued during workouts, but also throughout the day. We all hear about how marathon runners have a resting heart rate of like 35 beats per minute. That’s because each one of those beats is worth two of ours.

Isn’t It Ironic?

On the flip side, as with any exercise, TOO MUCH IS NOT A GOOD THING.

1. Once your heart and lungs can’t keep up with the demand, your tissues may be deprived of fully oxygenated blood and can actually begin to break down and die.

2. Your body freaks the F out when you are doing high intensity cardio. It thinks you are being chased by a wild boar or something. Hence, you get a ton of the fight or flight hormones, including cortisol – which is notoriously a cause of weight gain.

3. Part of the stress response is inflammation, which can actually damage your heart vessels or tighten the tubes in your lungs. In marathon runners, long-term damage has been seen. One study pegged them at a 7 times higher risk for having heart problems than the average person. Cue Alanis Morissette.

Now that you’re terrified – let me assure you: If you’re just trying to lose weight and get in shape, chances are you’re not even doing the kind of cardio that can actually damage and kill you. So don’t use this as an excuse to never do another jumping jack again.

Find Your Zone

The point is, you may be doing the kind of cardio that no longer benefits you, and that’s where you have to listen to your body. If you need a visual, you can even track your heart rate. Your “max” is based on several factors like age and BMI. You may know from reading those charts they stick on the treadmills that there’s an ideal zone to be in. Once you get past the max, you’re doing more harm than good.

A quick way to calculate your max heart rate is 220 – your age. 

From there, you will calculate (or ask Siri) 90% of that value, 80%, 70%, etc. to determine the heart rate that puts you in each of Zones. (Example: If max = 190, then 90% of 190 is 171.)

Zone 1: 90% of Max – Danger Zone

  • Feels Like: Hard to breathe, muscles about to fail.
  • Recommended only for young, fit people.
  • Burns only carbs. 
  • Time: Five minutes max

Zone 2: 80% of Max – Pushing It Zone

  • Feels Like: Heavy breathing
  • Recommended only for generally fit people. 
  • Burns almost only carbs. 
  • Time: 2-10 minutes max

Zone 3: 70% of Max – Optimum Fat Burning Zone

  • Feels Like: Moderate to hard breathing
  • Recommended for intermediate to generally fit people.
  • Burns equal amount fat and carbs
  • Time: 10-40 minutes

Zone 4: 60% of Max – Warming Up

  • Feels Like: Light difficulty breathing
  • Recommended for beginners or for warm-ups
  • Burns mostly fat
  • Time: If this is your only exercise, 40-80 minutes for effect. Otherwise, just as a warmup and cool down period.

(Disclaimer: If you have any kind of cardiovascular or other health problems, you clearly should go see a doctor before doing any of this!)

So remember, don’t let peer pressure push your past your limit. The zone of benefit is going to be different for each person at the gym, so it’s totally fine if you have to drop out of that set of mountain climbers before the girl next to you.  You might have just worked harder than she has in less reps, simply because of your age and current BMI.

130 BPM? That’s It? Shoot, That’s like Four Pushups!

Remember, your age may give you a 70% Zone Heart Rate of 130, but that rate is going to be reached a lot differently depending on your body weight. If right now it takes only ten jumping jacks for you to reach Zone 3, don’t worry. Once you lose weight, you’ll be like all the skinny chicks next to you – who are leaping and grinning through A-Jacks and probably only in Zone 4. With weight loss and increased stamina, you’ll be able to do more work per pump.

Willpower isn’t what keeps you going after you want to stop. It’s what keeps you going until you absolutely need to.

High-Intensity Interval Training

As with most things in the fitness world, try to ask yourself: “What Would Caveman Me Do?” Our primitive ancestors were hunter-gatherers, which meant short bursts of high intensity activity followed by lots of rest. Just like a car, most of the power is used in accelerating and braking. Once you’re in cruise control, all you’re doing is wearing out the struts and putting on miles.

Also keep in mind that your active sets need not be the same duration as the people around you. For instance, if a class instructor is leading 2 minutes seconds of jacks and you feel ready to keel over after a minute, take that short break you need to catch your breath and then get back in it. You’ve just divided one burst into two bursts – each peaking at your maximum effort. That’s two for the price of one!

Knowing that your best effort is truly the best thing for you, cardio moves into a much more psychologically friendly realm. Just like with diet – the goal is not to torture yourself, but to understand yourself and what truly works best for you.

 

Get Sweaty with Your Valentine

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Image courtesy of Nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No, it’s not what you’re thinking… Though I won’t discount the health benefits of getting frisky, I’m talking about taking your sweat session out of the bedroom and into the gym!

Working out as a couple is a great alternative to the traditional dinner and a movie date night. Exercise releases feel good endorphins and can inspire healthy competition or team building in a relationship. Plus who doesn’t want to see their partner flexing strong muscles?

My boyfriend will never understand my love of barre class – he’s more the pumping iron at the gym kind of guy. But the following classes are sure to please both parties – and make both your bodies and your relationship stronger for it!

Cycling 

Stop fighting over what to watch on TV and instead spar it out over spin class. Friendly competition can be good for a relationship, especially when you are pushing each other to crank up the calorie burn. Studios like Flywheel Sports have technology that measures your performance and shows how you compare to others in the class, so that you can literally race against each other. Or cycle for the same team at Swerve Fitness, which divides the class into 2 or 3 teams and broadcasts your collective performance on a scoreboard.

Ballroom Dancing

I have yet to get my boyfriend to trade in his sneakers for samba shoes, but I am dying for him to step up and be my Patrick Swayze. Ballroom dance is extremely romantic and sexy. You’ll walk away feeling confident and connected with your partner, having fostered a bond that is completely reliant on open communication and trust. And even if you or your man has two left feet, you’ll still have a blast trying something new.

Looking to play out your Dirty Dancing fantasies in NYC? Tear up the dance floor at Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance Center or Dancesport.

Parkour 

Now this is something that neither of you has likely tried before – so you can work through a new challenge and learn a lot about your partner in the process. Let loose your inner daredevil as you vault, run, climb and swing to pass over, under and through an extreme obstacle course. Overcoming these physical and mental barriers as a team will strengthen your bond and move your relationship forward. Plus, you’ll feel like a bad ass ninja, and there’s nothing sexier!

Ready to brave the ultimate urban jungle? Try Brooklyn Zoo.

Ice Skating 

The ideal winter date setting, grab a cup of cocoa and hold tight to your lover’s mittened hand. And while it may seem like you’re just gliding along, you’re actually burning a lot of calories – approximately 400 in an hour! Check out the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers or hit up one of the outdoor rinks at Bryant Park or Central Park.

Rock Climbing 

Not only is it a great full body burn, working the arms, legs, back and shoulders, but it also is a great bonding experience. For an added challenge, try scaling the wall together without letting go of your partner’s hand. It’s the ultimate test of teamwork and trust! Climb to new heights together at Brooklyn Boulders.

So what are you waiting for, grab your guy and get fit! Because the couple who sweats together stays together.

And be sure to tell me in the comments, what are some of your favorite ways to work out with your lover?

xoxo

Meg

Superbowl Sunday: Learn to Dance like Beyoncé

Superbowl 50 has officially kicked off! And though the Packers aren’t in it, this year’s event still promises brings together some of my favorite things: football, adorable pre-show kittens, yelling at the TV, and most importantly, Beyoncé!

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Sasha Fierce is hotter than ever right now, having just dropped a new single yesterday and slated to spice up tonight’s half time show. Finding yourself mesmerized by Queen Bey’s killer bod and wondering how she does it? By literally dancing her a$$ off!

Dancing is a fun way to get fit and fierce, the perfect formula that promises to improve flexibility, build muscle and strengthen cardiovascular health. It’s serious cardio that torches calories but is such a good time that you don’t realize how hard your body is actually working. And if you’re enjoying your exercise routine, you’re more likely to stick to it and see more results. Concentrating on choreography allows little room for your mind to wander during your workout, allowing you to let go of outside stresses from the day. Having to remember the steps to a routine also boosts brainpower, much more than mindless reps at the gym.

You don’t need a background in dance to learn how to shake it like Bey! Studios all over are picking up on the dance cardio trend, and some even offer classes that are all Beyoncé all the time. Here are some of my favorite classes where you can unleash your inner Bey:

Banana Skirt Productions

Remember back when the most fun you had on a Saturday night was getting your girlfriends together for a sleepover and staying up all night to learn the latest MTV music video moves? Well Banana Skirt promises to be all that and more. It’s a super fun and social dance class where instructors with professional dance backgrounds teach you the choreography to the music video of the moment. The instructors are upbeat and encourage you to move around the class so everyone has their chance to shine front and center. The choreography can be challenging, but is good for all levels. At the end of the class you break up into smaller groups so that you can really perform your heart out and show off your new moves. Added bonus – they provide free bottled water printed with their own cute labels!

Broadway Bodies

Broadway Bodies is known for their Beyoncé class, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself on a waitlist to get in. They are seriously fierce – I even received an email alert yesterday that they were adding an “emergency” class in honor of Bey’s new single dropping. They are all about unleashing your inner superstar as you learn custom choreography to toe-tapping tunes – everything from Broadway to Beyoncé. Though I have yet to get into theBeyoncé class (it’s definitely on my bucket list), the other classes I’ve taken here have broken down the choreography at a fairly slow pace – so great for those who are just starting out.

Vixen Workout

Vixen Workout originated in Miami, so it’s all about creating a club atmosphere with a nightlife vibe, high energy moves and loud, fist-pumping music. They sneak muscle toning movements into easy to learn combinations that are right on the beat. It’s a women’s only workout – the perfect way for non dancers and dancers alike to let loose, forget about daily stresses and channel their pop star alter-ego!

So let’s get up off the couch and dance our way fit! Be sure to tell me about your favorite dance-inspired workouts – I’m always looking for new ones to try!

 

 

Carbs & Exercise: BFFS For Life??

Why does going to the gym make you feel so exhausted? That’s a good question, because the truth is: it shouldn’t.

Working out generally gives people a jolt of energy and mental clarity that lasts long into the day. Yeah, you might feel some muscle aches and stiffness, but you shouldn’t feel beat down and listless for hours after you get home.

I’ve never really had that problem – until I started a new diet. Now, instead of coming home from workouts high as a kite, I was ready to fall into bed.

After some research, I realized my mistake. I’d recently started banning carbs. Like restricting all carbs – not just bread and rice and the obvious picks. Barring some other medical condition, this was likely my problem.

As it turns out, this came with some very good news. At certain times of day and with a little help from our friend The Gym, turns out that Me and Carbs can get along just fine.

Continue reading “Carbs & Exercise: BFFS For Life??”

Finding Your One True Gym

Finding a good gym is kind of like getting into a relationship. Facts and figures aside, you need to find a match for your personality. Note: your actual personality. NOT the person you imagine you’ll be once you’re in shape. Chances are, if you and Gym aren’t getting along off the bat, you’ll break up LONG before you reach that stage.

So what are the signs that a Gym is right for you?

First off, don’t go into this expecting that just because you’re a Gym Virgin, you’re walking into some 50 Shades of Grey sadomasochistic nightmare. People don’t stick with Gym because Gym handcuffed them to the treadmill. People walk freely back into Gym because they either love it, or at the very least, it allows them to be successful without having to become something they’re not. (Be yourself!)

Here’s 10 Personality Factors to keep in mind when browsing for your Gym Match.

Continue reading “Finding Your One True Gym”