Maintenance, a path less trodden -Journey to a fitter me.

Image Courtesy- kickboxingdiva.com

Image Courtesy- kickboxingdiva.com

You are familiar with the drill, the rigor, the sequence, the intensity. You know it all. You have reached the desired goal. Your bathroom scales have consistently shown you ten kilos lighter than when you began a few years back. You are happy and positive with the achievement. You know it was possible only because you had set your mind to achieving it. Yeah, you had your coach to help you along the way but in the end it was all YOU. The coach herself said that. So you become smug.

When your coach announces that she will not be able to continue to train you because she has decided to pursue bigger goals, you are supportive. With all the bravado you can muster, you assure her that you won’t fall off the track that you have been laid out. You will continue to make wise food choices, workout regularly (why, you may even commit thrice a week) and keep her posted on your progress. You even joke, ‘God forbid, I need you again!’

Then for the first few weeks you give yourself a ‘well deserved break’. You are mentally relieved that you don’t have to wake early to make it to the workout; you find more time to do other things.  You snooze that extra hour, meet a friend for coffee, watch a movie and spend some ‘catch up’ time on whats-app and social networks.  You pamper yourself and boy it feels good.  When your family and friends look at you with envy and say that you look younger, fitter and agile for your age, you tell them that all it needed was consistent effort.

Then the schools close and the family decides to go on a vacation.  You convince yourself that you will get back to your workout schedules when you are back from the holiday. Your vacation was going to be ‘active’ anyway. How much damage can it do to stay off exercise for a few more weeks?

All too soon, four months have passed by.  You are yet to restart your workout. You get used to not setting aside time for exercise, not thrice, but even once a week. Who has the time? There is always so much to do. Then one morning you decide to check if the batteries in the digital weighing machine still work. You cannot believe your eyes when the numbers soar up to 3 kilos plus than how much you weighed just a few weeks back. It definitely must be a faulty battery?

Soon afterward, your coach reaches out with a cheerful ‘Hey what’s up! Want to catch up for lunch?’ It is the beacon of light you were hoping to see to shake you up from your disinclination for activity. You are both relieved and guilty at the same time. You agree to meet with enthusiasm. You look for the most flattering outfit you have in your wardrobe to make you look the same as you did four months back.  Who are you fooling?  One look at you and her eyes take in all the details. She is too kind to point out and tell you to your face that under that entire pretense that you are in control, she knows just how much you are spilling out. Yeah that is right. That is exactly what I got told.

Anybody who has been on an exercise regimen under the watchful eyes of a coach or a trainer will agree with me.  When we decide to continue to walk the path of maintenance independently, we often fail. What is it about working out alone that is scary or boring that we just don’t seem to even want to attempt it? Does that mean you are addicted to your coach? Wasn’t it ‘all your doing’ that you achieved what you did? Then what stops you now?

I am not the first person who has felt this way. All the people I have known during my years with my coach have either fallen off the track or continued working out with other trainers. Even though I have managed to include other forms of exercise (yoga, for example) and continue to walk the daily 5km, when it comes to weight training, I am just not enthusiastic about doing it on my own.

If you are someone who is an exception to the rule and have managed to stick to the discipline of working out no matter who is watching, then tell me how you do it! But, if you are like me and many of us who are slack and need a coach or trainer to keep us engaged, engrossed and disciplined about exercise, then come on, we have to form a group and fight it!

Either way, write to me.

This is in continuation of the series of blog posts that I had written two years back in March 2013 that you will find on this blog. The link to the first of the posts of the 8-part blog titled ‘ Journey to a fitter me’ is here.

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Weight training – Journey to a fitter me.

weighscalesAt the end of the 5th session of strength training, I expected the weighing scales to show some deflection. Even before my weight began to show any change, my coach kept assuring me that I was doing great.  After years of training and seeing other people go through the same frustrating when-am-going-to-see-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel phase, so to speak, only she could see that.

This is another something that is frustratingly similar to anyone who has begun to exercise.  We forget that it took years to add those layers of adipose cells in the subcutaneous tissue around our belly and other unmentionable places, but somehow expect it to magically disappear within weeks of starting an exercise program. Quite unrealistic, if I say so myself. Like those articles that say ‘Sexy arms in six weeks’ or ‘fabulous abs’ in the same amount of time or thereabouts, that don’t work. I have realized that the universal truth ‘there are no shortcuts’ applies to weight loss more than anywhere else. Really, people.  

A word about strength training that will encourage you folks who are reading, to begin with it, if you have not already – It is THE most effective way to burn calories from stored fat. But not everybody is open to the idea of weight training. My coach observed that women shy away from lifting more than the 4 kilo dumbbells at the gym but will carry handbags that weigh almost as much when hopping one mall to another!  When she educated me that weight training would increase my resting metabolic rate and my muscles will continue to burn calories (“after burn”) up to about 48 hours or more after weight training, I was all for it. Who in the right mind would say no to excess calorie burn without effort!

I began with lighter weights in the beginning and it was quickly stepped up to make sure that my muscles fatigued twice a week. In a short time, my body was primed for strength endurance training. In two months since I began, I used the Bosu ball and soon the Kettle bell. In six months, I had stepped up the weights and my coach had begun to include circuit training and even introduced some TRX and Battling ropes as well.

weightsAt the beginning, my body struggled to adapt to weight training twice a week. I was using different equipment each time and it challenged my body in ways that it had never been challenged before. I resorted to popping anti-inflammatory tablets to help me manage the pain from sore muscles. When I complained to my coach that every sinew in my body was screaming in pain she smiled and said, ‘That is the good pain. Tells you that you are working the right muscle groups’.

If you have never weight trained before, know that the discomfort that you experience while you are lifting weights will be nothing compared to what you will experience from sore muscles the next day . The payoff is a toned body if you keep at it without giving up. After a while, my body got used to it. I still feel sore the next day when I step up the weight load or challenge a set of muscles that have not been worked before.  But hey, I know it is a ‘good pain’ now.

Weight training with my coach has taught me a few important lessons:

a) You should always engage the whole body and not target one muscle group when you lift weights.

b) Correcting your weight lifting form is important before you step up the number of reps or sets.

c) You never tire yourself with cardio activities before you weight train.

My next post will talk about the challenges and setbacks I have had since my journey began. Until then!

Balance, core and more – Journey to a fitter me.

TMrunningclientI was not new to working out at gyms when I began with my coach. In my earlier life, I had used gyms primarily for cardio workouts.  At best I would add a couple of sets of crunches and lift some dumbbells for my upper body workout. Though I have never engaged a personal trainer earlier, I was familiar with what it entailed. I had seen how personal trainers worked with their clients in the other gyms I had been to. 

As far as I recall, the primary responsibility was to make sure the client walked or ran on the treadmill at a said speed for a said number of minutes. When the (poor) client gasped for breath and frantically tried to make eye contact with the coach, the trainer had eyes only for the timer, and kept encouraging the client to hang in there and not give up.coach03

They showed the client how to use the different equipment and machines, and when the client struggled with the completion of sets, stood next to them counting the reps.  At the end of the hour long workout, when the client was out of breath, after cardio and weight training, the trainer also had to show them floor exercises for the evasive abs. The trainer also assisted when the clients had to stretchweighttraining their muscles post workout. Some trainers even sat on the client and gave them that extra push to help the client maneuver their belly fat to reach their toes.

trainerI hoped that the sessions with my coach would not be similar. I need not have had to worry.

My coach had emphatically told me that I would not be engaged in any cardio activity when she was around. That did not mean to say that she discouraged cardio activities. She knew that I walked Maxx, (our almost 3 year old Golden Retriever) every morning and that I clocked about 5 kms on an average (I know because I use RunKeeper). “Even if you don’t step up your cardio activity, walking your dog everyday is the bare minimum you have to keep at”, she advised. I loved my walks with him and this gave the impetus never to give up. I walk Maxx most every morning and we discover new trails that help us both clock 5 to 5.5 kms in an hour. dogwalker I have witnessed some amazing sunrises and beautiful morning scenes, thanks to these walks. I even have a gallery on Instagram where I showcase my pictures.

At the beginning, she tested me for my balance and core strength both of which were incredibly poor. Even in my earlier stint at gyms, I would stay away from people who talked about core muscles and how important it is to strengthen the coreMy pituitary was pumping enough endorphins with just a 45-minute drill on the treadmill or elliptical. To me then, core exercises were for people who wanted six pack abs (where as in reality, when your core is strong then there is no chance of hurting your spine when you lift weights).

The first few sessions of my personal training was targeted at preparing my body for what was to come later (The ominous killer-workouts that she customized for me). Like I said, my lack of balance and zero core strength, gave me enough to pant about without even setting eyes on the weights and other equipment that I would use later.

Kettle Bells - great for strength training

Kettle Bells – great for strength training

The gym at the condo where I live is really tiny and unimpressive. ‘You don’t need a gym to work out’ my coach chided me when I brought it up. “All you need is a *greek sounding* ball, a *mumble-mumble* bell and another *latin sounding* ball and you are set”. I did not understand any of what she said and was waiting for her to explain it to me in plain English. It was then that I was introduced to the new equipment that I had never heard of or used before.  Among the list of things I had to pick to assist me in my quest for a trimmer me were three pieces of equipment – A Kettle bell, a Bosu ball and a Medicine ball.

Other than the standard equipment available in most gyms, what new equipment have you used for your workouts? Share your experience in the comments section.

 

The eighth and the last post in this journey here.

Change, the only constant – Journey to a fitter me.

changeAt the end of two months, I had made considerable changes to my diet. Here are some that I can crow about.

I had gotten addicted to having tea at a local tea shop that has its chain of stores at every mall here. Inevitably, every time I spotted the place, I would saunter in for a cup, whether it was tea time or not. What was special about the tea was that they made it with condensed milk (a fact that my coach would not let me forget for a long time later).  Even at home, I switched to using condensed milk for my tea (I had a 10.30am itch for tea every morning) to meet the same standards I so loved.  At the shop, I never stopped with just tea. I almost always ordered it with a thick toast slice with dollops of peanut butter on it. teatoastBy far, that may have been the hardest  habit to knock. Occasionally, I still have an occasional tea at my pet tea hangout, but now ask for the non sweetened version (sans condensed milk). As for the morning tea itch at home, I am over it ( after 20 years!). I have begun enjoying flavored (apple, cinnamon, peppermint, orange, peach, strawberry) black tea.

I quit sweetening my oatmeal with honey and began using cranberries instead. A quip on honey that my coach loved to quote every time – A moment on your lips, forever on your hips! My coach recommended that I use agave nectar as substitute for honey when needed.

I topped my oatmeal with flaxseed meal, to up my fibre content – I learnt that having more than one bowel movement in the day is a good sign and not something to be embarrassed about. Tells you that you are eating whole and not refined foods.

I stopped helping myself to unlimited servings of fruit.  Any food in excess quantities can cause weight gain. That partly explained why despite my healthy lifestyle, I was piling on kilos!

I stopped including sweet corn in my salads and by extension, also stopped cornflakes from my breakfast cereals. Corn has simple sugars and if your insulin metabolism is not optimal, it can spike the sugar levels in your blood.

I upped my water intake. This may have been the toughest habit to make. I am still working on it to become a habit.

I began including black eyed peas in my meals. Lobia – black eyed peas – is the poor man’s protein ( inexpensive, high protein food – you get the drift). Sanjeev Kapoor’s Lobia rasedaar is a treat to make and eat!

We still ate out on the weekends as a family, but I stopped drinking my calories. Often, we don’t realize that the drink we order with our meal is almost as calorie heavy as the meal itself.
saladI began to eat exotic fresh salads at lunch. I used quinoa, bean sprouts, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, red pumpkin, walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds in my salads. There was never a dull day with the varieties I tried. My coach called me an atypical south Indian who did not miss her rasams and sambars.

For a brief 3 months, I gave up phulkas at dinner.  I learnt that the gluten in wheat can inadvertently cause many health problems – I am sure you can google the rest of the details on your own. Instead, I ate whatever vegetable (subji) I cooked with yoghurt. I am still not big on rotis or anything made of wheat and eat it sparingly. I also began experimenting with jowar, bajra and other millet flours as a substitute.

Though it was tough in the beginning, I slowly gave up bread rolls with soup. I still miss the butter croissants that I so loved to sink my teeth into at breakfast. Refined flour that makes these delectable rolls and bread is processed food and my coach is dead against the foods that belong to that category. To make me feel guilty and remind me of its effects, she points to my belly and says that it is covered in layers of maida (refined wheat flour) from the inside.

Here is something my coach advised me about belly fat –crunches

1) There is more to it than plain old stomach crunches to get rid of your abdominal blubber.

2) The fat around your abs is the last place you lose weight when you eat/workout sensibly.

3) If you start losing inches around your waist, it is almost always, fat loss.

In a few weeks after I tinkered my diet and had begun eating wisely and compounding it with two days of hour long sessions at the gym (what I did there, I will write in another post), I experienced my first reward. I weighed 2 kilos lesser than what I had weighed in a long time.  I was high. I had never managed to lose weight on my own without being on some fad diet ( GM diet anyone?) and that temporary loss always came back when I got back to eating regular food.

The two kilos I lost after I had made changes to my ‘regular’ food, never came back and slowly kept dropping. Under all the layers of adipose, I knew it in my bones, that I was on my way to a fitter version of me.

The seventh post in this journey is here.

No more excuses

No more excuses!I have been putting off getting back to my fitness regime for a year now. A year back, I was a regular at the gym even if it meant only going thrice a week. A year back my world turned upside down. Or that is how it seemed. Or at least that is how I would like to explain my lack of regular exercise. First daddy fell sick in June last year. Then he passed away in July. To get done with the ceremonies took till August. Then mom came to stay with me. We talked about Dad and getting over the grief of his death took till October.Then there was this news about our relocation that came out at the end of October. Where was the time to exercise when there was so much to do before the relocation? Then out of the blue came this wonderful opporunity in December to get back to full time training. When training , you anyway pace the classroom and drink a lot of water. So I gave myself brownie points for having got some sort of work out done.Training kept me busy till February. March was end of year exams at school. When you are busy with revisions, you feel guilty to be thinking about fitness regimens. Then there was so many places to visit, so many people to say goodbye to. There was loads of time after relocation that I could exercise and catch up.

After the relocation was this “to die” for vacation at Italy. At Italy there was was wine with every dinner. And every dinner finished with dessert. When we got back there was always loads of time to get back to working out. Not in the first few weeks when you are busy setting up the house and getting used to the new place. When the kitchen was not yet set how could I cook at home? There were so many new restaurants to try out. The new place had ice creams that were so different from what we got back home. The new house was equipped with a state of the art oven and I had always wanted to bake. Baking meant cheese and vegetables. Till I learnt to bake a home made pound cake there was only Betty Crocker and the best of her flavors is the devilish chocolate brownie. There was a gym at the condo and I could always go when I was ready.

Ready I was not.

Not till I realized that my well fitting clothes looked like they were filling up to the seams, when anything other than black made me look huger than I was, when the mere attempt of squatting beat the breath out of my lungs, when climbing stairways seemed like punishment, when the signs of an impending birthday spelt like doom.

No more excuses. I gave decided to get back to my old fitness levels. Took the first step today. Here is to my fit old self.