I was thinking about that this morning and I’m deep into the five figures. That’s a lot of workouts – and a LOT of different kinds of workouts too, as I’ve ridden the waves of fitness trends over the years.
And as bad as the hair or the outfits were back in the day, I have a soft spot for some of my old workouts. How about you?
Like, I’d like to go out to lunch with them if I could and see how they are doing. We spent a lot of time together – hours and hours, in fact, sweaty and intense. It’d be fun to catch up.
Maybe these wistful memories are coming up now because my first “real” workouts were done in the middle of winter, and here we are, in February.
And maybe also, they taught me some things about myself. Because the truth is, I wasn’t one of those naturally athletic kids growing up. At least I didn’t think I was one of them, but now, looking back, I am pretty sure I could have held my own.
In fact, I got out of gym class for nearly my entire school career, and always joked that I preferred mental gymnastics to the physical kind.
The Birth of a Fitness Nut
But then in my late teens, a bunch of things happened to make me rethink my “exercise is for losers” philosophy.
First, I gave up being a borderline juvenile delinquent. Then, my dad had a series of heart attacks while in his early 40s, and required serious then-experimental surgery.
That led me to quit smoking.
But after all that, I suffered some pretty crippling anxiety.
And ultimately, it was the anxiety that caused me to get into fitness. That’s because every time I’d have an anxiety attack, my heart would race and feel like it was going to explode.
I figured if it I could make it healthy and strong, it would be less apt to quit on me.
Logical, right? I thought so. Funny enough, it sort of worked.
Vintage Fitness Trends
Jane Fonda’s Workout Book – where it all began.
Anyway, the fitness quest started with a stationary bike in the basement, and then progressed to the original Jane Fonda workout book and album. Yes, there was an actual follow-along record album.
But I really liked the bike. I remember my first endorphin high, when one afternoon I decided to just keep riding the stationary bike for an entire 45 minutes.
It felt great. So every day after that, I put in my 45 minutes, no matter what.
Sometimes we get so fixated on “results” and what’s the supposed “right” way to do things that we forget that movement for its own sake is fun.
Because it really is. This month I’m working on (re)mastering some old fitness tricks and even though they’re not part of an official workout, I’m having fun.
Home Workout Videos
And speaking of fun, how fun – and funny – are some of these old fitness videos?
Back when I first started working out I did a ton of exercise videos. Some of them I did over and over again till I had to buy a second copy. They’re sort of old friends, you know?
Funny, weird, tragically dressed old friends.
Jane Fonda’s Low Impact Workout
This was my first all-time favorite workout. I couldn’t find a good clip of it – I think Jane’s production company is pretty good at policing videos online.
But trust me, it was awesome. There was even a guy who impersonated a chicken halfway through.
I also had her Lean Routine workout – also good. It was when “experts” started learning about the importance of interval training. And check out how edgy it was! (heh).
The “original” Firm videos – before they were bought out by infomercial fitness companies and dumbed-down – were awesome. I remember ordering the original Firm Vol. 1 after seeing it advertised in Shape magazine.
It cost $84, which (yes I looked this up!) is the equivalent of $181 with current inflation. Holy cow!
Seriously, watch the video below for why Susan Harris became something of a cult favorite among video instructors. If I could find the full version of this video I’d probably give it a go.
Step Reebok: The Video
I did the original Step Reebok video hundreds of times. Pretty sure I could do it from memory. And I still love its corny intensity – they called it “The Toughest Workout on Earth.”
Set to live drumming! Hmmmm…. thinking of trying it now. Also thinking of channeling instructor Gin Miller’s no-ponytail look.
Cathe Friedrich PowerMax
I used to do this one in the little “living area” of our townhouse in Springfield, Va. It definitely kicks things up several notches from the original Reebok step workout.
Cathe is an awesome instructor … it’s hard to pick a fave, but this was a go-to so it won.
But how about those “party arms”?
Kathy Smith New Yoga (now Yoga Sculpt)
This video was a favorite to do when I got home from a long day of work, when I was city editor at a daily newspaper.
It was the first time I ever tried yoga – and I loved it. (But I didn’t feel like it was a “real” workout, so I usually ended up doing the Step Reebok workout before.)
Seriously, though: so serious. Seriously serious yoga, seriously.
Fresh, New, Fun Workouts
What’s your idea of a “fun” workout? What do you do to keep your workouts fresh and interesting?
As I mentioned above, I’m mixing in different kinds of workouts and techniques this month to reignite the fun factor. I’m doing some moves I learned when I was training for a fitness show, some barre workouts, lifting, and some HIIT. (and srsly, I’m thinking of trying out the Step Reebok workout again …. just for old times sake).
But I’d love to know what you’re up to! (And have you done any of the workouts above? Or do you have any corny old faves of your own?)
Even though fitness and working out is super important, let’s face it: most of the good stuff happens outside of the gym, right?
(If you disagree, we have to have a talk, k?)
Anyway, I want to start blogging more about THAT stuff, too, because after all, we are multi-dimensional Renaissance people, yes?
Toward that end, I have found and/or been forwarded several good reads this week, and I thought I would share them with you. Yes, some of them have to do with working out, but … oh well. There’s still that.
Here’s the thing about these posts.
Most of them have to do with getting out of your comfort zone and getting shit (sorry, I’m kind of in a mood today) done. They are about pushing you just a little bit to try new and/or different things.
Yes, even kale.
Trying new things is fun and it challenges us (see the importance of that in the first tip below).
Ready? Here we go.
356 Tips and Tricks to Make 2017 Awesome
How to Be a SuperAger
This New York Times piece outlines how to age not just well, but in a super-duper way. Basically, it’s all about getting a little uncomfortable – pushing yourself either (or both) mentally and/or physically.
I think it’s a really interesting concept, and it actually made me push myself a little harder in the gym today during my workout.
How to Exercise 312 Times this Year
This is a no-nonsense approach– complete with cool infographic – to getting over yourself and sticking with your gym habit. It’s not written by a smartypants trainer but by a regular guy.
Which makes it even better, right?
Journal Prompts to Get You Started
Speaking of getting over yourself, I am a big believer in the power of writing to help us do just that (well, at least it helps ME get over MYSELF). It helps me figure things out in my life.
And that makes it sound like a complicated, onerous task, doesn’t it? It really isn’t, not at all. The problem is, we often don’t know what to write about.
Why does this matter so much? Because shoulders, core, hips, and more, that’s why.
How to Make Kale Salad Tolerable
Here’s one that might be worthwhile for my kale haters to read. Kale is a superfood for a reason, but it’s also a little bitter and can be pretty tough.There’s a trick to making kale salad something to look forward to: Give it a massage! (This is not a joke.)
What are YOUR tips to Awesome?
Let me know! Send me a message, leave a comment, or whatever.
Another Route to Awesomeness …
Join my Facebook group, where we post tons of recipes, challenges, tips and more! It’s free and fun. Sign up now!
Back when I was first studying to be a personal trainer in 2000, I hired my own trainer.
His name was Reggie, and he told me he was going to “get me in shape to get in shape.”
Now, the thing was, I thought I already was in pretty good shape.
I was wrong.
The morning after our first session together, I went to get out of bed and realized I couldn’t sit up – my abs hurt too much. I had to roll onto my side and kind of “scoot” out of bed.
But it didn’t take long for my core and abs to become strong.
I credit this fun core exercise in this post – the stability ball rollout – with helping to get me strong.
Reggie made me do hundreds of these over the course of the time I worked out with him.
In fact, I now call this exercise “The Reggie.” (I love making up fun names for exercises and workouts – like the Booty Call Workout.)
I love this move because not only does it work your abs, but also your entire core from your shoulders to your hips.
If you sit a lot at work – as I did back in those days – The Reggie helps to fix your posture by forcing you to use your upper body to stabilize yourself. Keeping your back flat and strong is also a great posture reset.
It’s also a great “active recovery” move that I like to use with clients (and myself!) during a larger workout.
Here’s a quick video of me during today’s workout, doing “The Reggie.”
Turn It Into a Fat-Burner
Here’s how I used this exercise as part of my workout, for a total-body fat-burning circuit:
5 minutes cardio intervals
5 Low Bodyweight Rows
5 Hip Dip Planks Each Side
25 Ball Crunches
2 Minutes Punching Drills (you could also do step-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, jump rope – anything that gets your heart rate up)
Repeat 4 times.
Fun, Effective Exercise
Kids love to do stability ball rollouts – in fact, when I train them, it’s something they actually request. If you want to get your kids moving, have them try this.
And try it yourself and let me know how you make out!
(Note: if you want that strong core to look like a sculpted six-pack, you’ll need to revise your diet a bit so that you chisel off any fat that’s hiding your midsection.)
Want a Stronger Core?
It takes a two-pronged approach – internal and external.
The 6-Day Stronger Core Challenge attacks your core from both directions, in just a few minutes a day. Employ just a couple nutrition and exercise tweaks and you will feel a noticeable difference in less than a week.
Join the free challenge right now by filling out the form below.
The other day someone posted a really great question in my Facebook support group. They wondered if there were any good foods/cleanses that would “rev up their metabolism.”
I wish! Wouldn’t that be great?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any single thing you can do to turn up your body’s fat-burning engine.
However, there is good news: there are a whole bunch of actions that, taken together, will boost your fat (and calorie) burn and make a real difference in how you feel, and will help change your body from the inside out.
I’ve seen these actions work. I coach my clients through many of these items as they transform their bodies. And I use the same techniques on myself.
Pick up heavy things and put them down, repeatedly.
Lifting weights will do more to help change your body — and change it more quickly — than any other form of exercise. You will get stronger. You will feel (and look) tighter and fitter all over. And you will boost your metabolism so that you are burning more calories even at rest.
The caveat: for most of us, when I say “lift weights” I’m not talking about the stack of 3- or 5-pound dumbbells many of us have squirreled away at home. Once you’re in shape to start lifting heavier weights, you should challenge yourself to pick up heavier dumbbells — weights heavy enough so that, once you’re warmed up, you can only eek out 10-15 reps per set with proper form.
The exercises with the biggest bang for the buck use your body’s largest muscles: squats, lunges, pulldowns (if you can’t — yet — do pullups), chest press, etc.
While the inner/outer thigh and triceps machines are great, they won’t necessarily give you the bigger metabolic boost you’re after because they work small muscle groups.
Caveat number 2: Lifting weights doesn’t give you a free pass in the diet department as the difference in calorie burn that you get with more muscle isn’t huge. But it is something and even if the scale doesn’t budge, you’ll love the results because weights build shapely muscles.
Eat lower-sugar foods
If you plan your meals to include low-glycemic foods — foods that don’t cause a big jump and then an immediate drop in your blood sugar — you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in your body composition.
You will notice your belly start to shrink. You will feel generally “tighter” all over. Your energy will skyrocket once you make it through the first couple days (there’s an adjustment period if you’ve been indulging your sweet tooth a lot), and you will feel more satiated between meals.
What foods are considered low glycemic?
How do you know how much sugar you are taking in? Read food labels. Also, try keeping a food journal for a few days (there are dozens of free sites and apps, I happen to like myfitnesspal or the FitBit app) and see how you’re doing.
Eat enough food
One of the things that drives me absolutely bananas is when people — generally women — tell me they are eating only about 800 or 900 calories a day because they want to lose weight. And, still generally speaking, these same women are doing boatloads of cardio at the same time.
When I question them about why they are doing what they are doing, they tell me they have a specific goal or deadline — something like a wedding, a vacation at the beach or some other event. They say they are willing to “suffer” through for the goal.
Yes, they will lose weight on that low number of calories.
And yes, they likely will gain it all back (and more) quickly afterward.
Why? Because chronic undereating trains your body to function on less fuel. Your body is smart. It wants to live. That means it will adapt — at least temporarily — to nearly anything you do to it. Also, when you chronically undereat your body will respond by making more stress hormones, which affect how your body uses glucose and insulin.
The thing is, when you go off the low-calorie diet, your body is still going to think it only needs that 800 to 900 calories you’ve been chronically under feeding it. That means even a “normal” amount of fuel is considered excess, and your body, thanks to its super-efficient (slow) metabolism, will store that “extra” as fuel for the future.
That means the weight (plus more) will come back fast, especially if you decide to engage in a full-on feeding/drinking frenzy, which is often what happens when we get into the post-diet mentality.
You can’t shortcut the process and expect to have lasting results.
Keep your metabolism stoked by feeding your body enough fuel!
Tip: Try keep your calorie deficit at about 500 to 750 calories a day (in other words, if you are burning 2,000 calories a day through regular activities and exercise, make sure you’re eating at least 1,250 to 1,500 calories a day). If you’re a smaller person (like me), even a 750-calorie daily deficit is too much.
Eat enough protein
If you’re a healthy, active adult, include a protein source at every meal. For my clients who engage in strength training regularly and are trying to change their body composition, I suggest between 25 to 30 percent (and sometimes even slightly more for limited periods, depending on the circumstance) of their diet come from protein.
NOTE: Always check with a doc or dietitian before making big changes in your program or if you have any concerns.
Studies show that evenly portioning your protein over the course of the day yields better results, as your body is better able to break down and use the protein in smaller, consistent doses.
How do you know if you are getting enough protein?
As I mentioned above, keep a food log. This a good wake-up call — nearly every one of my clients who starts logging their nutrition information tells me they are shocked when they see how low their protein intake actually is.
Do HIIT cardio
High-intensity interval training rocks at boosting your metabolism.
HIIT workouts should include a thorough warmup. Then, you crank up the intensity for between 30 seconds and 2-3 minutes, and then you scale back the effort for an “active recovery” period of 30 seconds to 2-3 minutes. Alternate between the high-intensity and active-recovery sessions for the desired amount of time,a and then do a thorough cooldown so your heart rate returns to near-normal.
The HIIT portion can include sprints, conditioning circuits (like burpees and kettlebell work or plyometrics). You can run up hills. You can go faster or steeper on the treadmill. It’s up to you.
The thing that’s cool about HIIT workouts is that not only do you burn more calories during the workout because of the extra intensity bursts, but you also burn more calories AFTER the workout, as your body recovers from the exertion. The extra burn isn’t huge, but over time, it adds up.
Studies also show that HIIT workouts are especially effective at targeting belly fat.
OK, maybe I misspoke in the intro of this blog post. There is an ingredient in some beverages that can help boost your metabolism — caffeine. Yay! That means coffee (my fave!) or green tea can be helpful when it comes to elevating your calorie burn.
Just be careful not to drink too much.
Studies show that taking 100 mg of caffeine boosted the resting metabolic rate in both lean and obese people by 3 to 4 percent. Depending on your brand/brew of coffee, 8 oz provides between 95 to 200 mg of caffeine.
Green tea has less caffeine than coffee but, as a bonus, it does contain antioxidants that have been shown to help boost fat burning.
The downside to caffeine is that too much can interfere with the following two metabolism rev-er uppers.
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, a number that can vary based on health, training load and general stress. Some of us naturally need less sleep; others, more.
Chances are you already know how much sleep you ideally need, and chances are you occasionally feel stressed because you’re not getting that much as often as you’d like.
One of the biggest sources of our calorie burn each day is through NEAT calories — non-exercise activity thermogenesis. These are the calories you burn when you’re not exercising but you are moving around and performing activities of daily life: walking, doing chores, working, etc.
Studies show that when we are tired, we move less. That means we burn fewer calories. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But there’s more at work. A 2007 review of sleep research showed that chronic (i.e. long-term) partial sleep loss is tied to both obesity and diabetes.
Not getting enough sleep on a continual basis is correlated with insulin resistance (your body’s ability to metabolize glucose) and it also plays havoc with hormones that help regulate your appetite. So not only are moving less, you want to eat more AND your body is less able to properly utilize as fuel the food you eat.
So try to get some sleep. But don’t stress too much about it because stress will also tamp down your metabolism.
An interesting study published in 2014 in Biological Psychology suggests that stressful days — the very days that can have us craving calorie-laden comfort foods — actually slow down our metabolism.
Researchers fed a group of women a 930-calorie meal consisting of sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy. Before eating, the women were quizzed on the relative stress levels of the previous 24 hours. All the women received the same meal.
Women who were more stressed burned 104 fewer calories than the women who were not stressed. Also, the stressed-out group had higher levels of insulin, which affects how the body stores fat, and can slow down the process of metabolizing calories into energy.
Other research shows the same effect in men.
There’s a reason nearly every “lose weight” article suggests drinking water — not only does it help keep you satiated and healthy, it also helps boost your metabolism.
A German study found that drinking 500 milliliters of water increased metabolic rate by up to 30 percent. The study concluded that drinking 2 liters of water per day could boost energy expenditure and that the effect of water should be considered in weight loss programs.
Sometimes I look back on my younger self and wish I could tell myself: GET WITH THE PROGRAM!
Especially when it comes to fitness (and yes, maybe a few life decisions too, but those are stories best left untold, at least online).
Basically, I hope you can benefit from my mistakes.
In my own defense, I am a product of my time. I came of age fitness-wise in the 80s.
This meant I ate Snackwell cookies because fat was bad and carbs were good. It meant I was a carb-loading vegetarian for years (there is nothing wrong with this, necessarily, but I didn’t always do it the right way).
It meant I did a lot of cardio and had a set of dumbbells at home weighing all the way up to 8 pounds. I did eventually get some 20s, but only after being warned against it by the guy at the sporting goods store who sold them to me, and I only ever used them for bent-over rows.
And I thought some of my workouts were extremely badass. And it’s not that they weren’t challenging but maybe the workouts weren’t as badass as I thought, because I had no idea what I was capable of.
Here are my three things. What are yours?
I wish I had gotten my diet figured out earlier.
I was lucky enough to grow up eating three squares a day – protein, starch, veggies. Because my dad had Type 1 diabetes our family ate a very balanced diet. Every dinner had some kind of meat or protein (eggs, steak, fish, whatever), starch (potatoes!) and veggies. For lunch maybe it was a sandwich and an apple. It was pretty perfect, actually.
But then in my late teens I decided to become a vegetarian. I had no blueprint for this kind of eating except the one offered in the book Diet for A Small Planet, which suggested mixing different kinds of foods to build a complete amino acid profile in each meal, ensuring adequate protein.
Basically this meant I ate a lot of pasta with veggies and parmesan cheese. According to the book, I was on-track, especially if the veggies included peas, a legume.
And for staying relatively healthy and fit I probably was getting the protein I needed, but I wasn’t getting enough to meet my goals or necessarily even thrive. I was tired a lot and if I didn’t eat at regular intervals I’d get dizzy and I had a lot of headaches.
Eventually I reintroduced chicken, fish and then even beef into my diet. I read magazines that told me to eat “enough” or “more” protein, and I thought I was until took some classes and I actually analyzed my food intake.
Oops. Like a lot of women who are into fitness, I thought I was doing better with my protein intake than I actually was. Once I figured out how eat for my body type/activities, things fell into place.
But while I’m happy with where I’m at now fitness-wise, I can’t help but occasionally wonder if things would have been different if I’d gotten the diet sorted earlier, especially because at the same time …
I focused too much on cardio.
In fact, I was focusing entirely on cardio.
It was the era of cardio, after all. Except we called it aerobics. I tried to get at least 45 minutes of cardio every single day, and it was pretty much entirely of the steady-state variety (hard enough so I couldn’t sing but easy enough so I could talk without getting too winded).
Don’t get me wrong: I love feeling cardiovascularly fit. It makes me happy to be able to break into a run whenever I want, or sprint up some stairs or even do weighted burpees. I take great joy in being able to catch air during the leaps when I teach my Sh’bam dance cardio classes. It is fun to be able to move freely without gasping for breath or feeling sluggish.
It’s just that I feel like I missed out on the best muscle-building years of my life. I did occasionally pick up some dumbbells and was especially proud of my biceps curls with the 6 pounders. Which were awesome, but the thing is, I didn’t have any idea I could (or perhaps should) lift heavier weights than that.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I wish I could whisper in my youthful ear: GO TO THE GYM AND TRY THE 10s (or the 15s or 20s or more). Which leads me to the most important one ….
I am stronger/tougher than I thought
This one could be several posts (maybe even several books) all on its own, but I will keep it brief and save the long version for another day.
The bottom line is I didn’t do a workout that really profoundly challenged me till I was 45 years old. This workout changed my whole attitude and my fitness has never been the same since.
I had just finished my first figure competition but what I really wanted to do was a fitness show (you know, the competitions that include routines featuring planches, one-arm pushups, high kicks and jumps). I started training to do all that stuff.
One morning I attacked a crazy workout my coach had sent me – there were split jumps, 360-degree jumps, plyo pushups, there was bounding, static holds, all in a row. And then there were more of them. And then it finished with some sprints, which I did outside because I hate treadmill sprints.
I remember during the workout that I felt awesome – in fact, I wondered how I uncovered all this power and endurance.
After the cool down I was really proud of what I’d accomplished. I’d never played sports as a kid so I wasn’t used to pushing like that, and I realized I liked it.
But then I didn’t feel so good. I got dizzy, I broke a sweat, and I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out or maybe both at the same time. In fact, I thought there was a high likelihood I was going to die. And I was too embarrassed to tell anyone.
I imagined the newspaper headline: Trainer Dies After Workout. Not cool.
So I went outside and sat on the curb and stared off into the distance (my little trick for feeling better after a hard workout). But no matter what I couldn’t get my bearings, and I wondered if I was going to have to ask someone call 911 for me. Then I started to panic, and that made everything worse – and then my feet and hands went numb.
At that point I realized I was psyching myself out. I didn’t trust my body – or even, on some level, myself.
So I shakily got myself up, walked inside the gym, drank some water and then a little Gatorade, talked to some friends and before long I was feeling back to normal.
But after that workout I knew I had been holding myself back when it came to my workouts. I didn’t want to go through the awful post-workout feeling I’d had that day, but I also knew that over the years I had been unintentionally sandbagging.
The workout helped change my mindset from: “There’s no way I can lift/jump/do that!” to “I wonder if I can lift/jump/do that?”
The second version is a lot more fun.
What are your three things? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re looking for some accountability and support in your fitness pursuits, join my free private Facebook group — Wendy’s Warriors – and join like-minded people working on their own fitness.
I’ve been there. In fact, I’ve been there for the past week or so.
I know for a fact a lot of people get this feeling when it comes to fitness because they tell me about it all the time. They decide to start working out and suddenly are faced with an overload of information about what they should do, how and when they should do it, and also how often. It’s intimidating! Why would you want to start something new when, according to the “experts,” you’re going to be doing it wrong anyway?
Seriously: Is cardio bad or good (it’s a controversy!)? How hard and how often should you work out (another controversy!)? Are you doing the right strength-training exercises and are you doing them properly (another controversy!)?
Personally I’ve set some pretty big goals for myself this year. Not necessarily in terms of my own workouts but in terms of the number of people I’m able to help feel and move better through their own workouts. I love training people one-on-one AND I want to help even more people find their inner groove through their outer movements.
So I’ve been studying, learning and generally cramming as much information into my brain as possible. That means taking classes, listening to podcasts while I’m doing housework or driving, reading tons of books/articles/blogs and just generally immersing myself in how to make my goals happen.
And that made something as simple as writing this blog post a big deal. You’d be surprised (or not) how complicated all this can be. Is the post SEO-friendly? Should I include a list of tips, because those posts are so popular? Do I have the proper tone? Am I conversational enough? Is the ratio of the words “me” to “you” appropriate? Do I sound like an “expert”? And there’s way more, but I don’t want to get into it because I might hyperventilate. (Right now I’m worried the use of the word “ass” in the headline is off-putting, but isn’t that donkey in the accompanying picture adorable enough to offset it?)
Today I decided: screw it. I’m writing a blog post because I want to write a blog post. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And also, I find that if I am feeling a certain way, someone else must be feeling that way too.
And now back to fitness
So how should you (re)start your fitness routine? (Because we’re always starting something new, aren’t we?)
Pick something you enjoy (or don’t hate). And do it. It’s that simple. And do it today, not next Monday. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
You’ll feel better for starting, trust me. Cuz I feel better for writing this blog post. (Oh, and I had no idea I was gonna plug this when I started this post, but if you want a little motivation, join my Spring fitness challenge, which requires no $$ or equipment, but only 15 little minutes a day. We have a private Facebook group set up and it’s going to be fun. You can sign up here.)
And here’s that list I promised in the headline.
Top 2 Ways To Get Off Your Ass and Work Out
1. Stand up.
2. Go for a walk (or dance or bike or lift or do lunges and pushups).