The Other 10% (that sometimes feels like 90%)

So they say living a healthy lifestyle and losing or maintaining your weight is 90% what you eat and 10% exercise.  Well although that may be the formula sometimes it feels like designing a workout program that is challenging yet not discouraging is a bigger task than eating right. I know I have been through a million different iterations of what I call my “workout routine”.  And the more people I meet through H.E.a.T the more I find that people really struggle with the exercise part of staying healthy. So I wrote this blog to share with you my exercise story as well as provide some tips on how to design a program for yourself.

Anyone who knows me also knows that volleyball is my sport. I have been playing since I was 12 years old and only stopped a few years ago when I got pregnant with my son. I always played on leagues or found pick-up games or open gyms. Wherever there was volleyball, I was there. It was my main source of exercise along with whatever conditioning and weight training came with volleyball practice. I was not by any means a gym rat. I should note here that I grew up in California so there was no need to go inside to work out. I didn’t really start fooling around with gyms until I moved to New York for grad school and did a semester abroad in Belgium.  During the cold, snowy winters I discovered the treadmill and weightlifting. My classmates Yvette and Patrice were my first gym buddies and we would navigate the cardio machines, free weights, and nautilus machines together. Yvette and Patrice had both been cheerleaders in college and oddly had spent more time in the gym than I had. I guess cheerleaders are indeed athletes too LOL. However I found that I took to the gym like a fish to water and later when I moved back to California and started taking classes at the gym, I really fell in love. But my humble beginnings were in Rochester, New York and Leuven, Belgium.

While I was in grad school my sister Shannon took up running. And much like everything she does, she couldn’t just take up running, she had to become a marathoner. So while I was plugging away learning how to lift weights she was busy running 26.2 miles.

While I was doing my summer internship in San Francisco she brought me into the fold. First, we started with Lake Merritt and eventually ended up in the windy hills of San Francisco at the Nike Women’s Marathon, my first competitive race. Becoming a runner was to me the completion of the athletic trifecta. I could play sports, I could lift weights, and now I could do some serious cardio. How it was that my weight yo-yoed so much during this time I will never know (maybe that 90% thing). Of everything I had done, learning how to run was the hardest. It’s not just about being strong or fast, or even being an athlete. Running requires a whole different skill set; a physical and mental endurance I had not previously experienced.

In 2006 on Cyber Monday (the internet version of Black Friday) I took advantage of a deep discount on a membership to 24 Hour Fitness.  Looking back on it now I know it was the first day of my life as a woman who put her health and fitness at the forefront of her life.  Even though I had been running I was finding that I wasn’t losing weight the way I wanted to. So when I joined the gym I was one of those people who didn’t feel comfortable in the main exercise area with all the big, muscular guys and all the tiny girls who work out in matching pink sweatsuits with their hair down. So I started out in the last row of a class called Turbo Kickboxing. I should also note here that not only had I never taken an exercise class before but I am also a little, well, rhythmically challenged. So I camped out in the back of the room for a few weeks until I made a few friends who encouraged me to move up a row or two and let the newbies fill in the back. Eventually, I worked my way up to the front row, started taking strength and endurance classes and pretty much any class that I could fit into my after-work schedule.  I was such a regular I even had my own spot in the room. Instructors always crack up when they hear how territorial their members get. By the way, if you are new to the gym, regulars do not like routine to be messed with. On a rare day I was late to class and someone came in that didn’t know that was MY SPOT and none of the other regulars had been able to properly explain the social order, I would set up as close as possible to my spot and proceed to glare at the squatter and give her as little space as possible throughout the class. Generally, by the end of the class, I would have forced my way back into my spot. Hey man, it’s brutal out there! Anyway, before I knew it I had been a member for a full year, I had made a ton of new friends (including the instructor Shola and my current BFF/sister/lifesaver Selena), and I had lost 70 pounds! This was due to a combination of running, taking the classes, and taking my diet more seriously which meant portion control and cutting back on bread products.  I had fallen in love with exercise and without even realizing, reaped the benefits of taking better care of myself.

Fast forward to today. I have found that exposing myself to and being open to learning about the benefits of multiple forms of exercise really helps keep me encouraged to work out every day. So many people I’ve talked to say they are bored with their exercise routine. More often than not those are people who only do one thing. Either they just get on the treadmill/elliptical, or they just lift weights, or they just run, or they just take classes. The best way to not get bored is to switch up your routine. That’s also the best way to maintain your fitness level or to lose weight. It helps to you challenge yourself and ensures you work different muscle groups and focus on different aspects of your fitness (cardio/strength/endurance/flexibility/core). Some days we still just go for a run but most days we do some combination of exercises. For instance, whenever we lift weights we either focus on a particular area (arms, back, upper body, legs, etc) or we do full body and we always supplement with some cardio and some ab work. We also like to exercise outside and take advantage of the great weather and scenery and the later hours of daylight (soon to end sadly).  We have put together our own interval training programs that combine strength, cardio, resistance, core, a little of everything.

My advice for getting out of your exercise rut or getting started on a new routine is twofold. The first has to do with the physical part. As I’ve already explained you have to get creative with your routine and be open to different types of exercise. A lot of times women are afraid to lift heavy weights and prefer to stick to the little pink and turquoise dumbbells. Colorful dumbbells are for strength/cardio classes and power walking. Put those things down and head for the free weights! Don’t be afraid to step out of your box. Conversely, men think they can’t do aerobic exercise or core work. Take a step or kickboxing class and build your endurance. There is such a thing as too much lifting especially when you don’t have enough endurance to run from one end of the gym to the other.  Pilates and planks are not just for women. Building your core is not only good for your midsection, but it increases your overall strength and helps to avoid injuries to your back and shoulders which is very important for weightlifters.

Being strong does not always mean being muscular. Guys don’t discount the importance of lean muscle and ladies, there is nothing wrong with a little gun show!