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.

The Big Picture – Journey to a fitter me.

My CoachMy fitness coach is forceful.  I don’t mean just her physical strength- of which I had no doubt. She is forceful in her expectations and advice too.

“Keeping food logs is a logical step if you want me to identify any discrepancies in your diet”. I insisted that I was eating healthy. I ate a few servings of fruit, many of vegetables, had even begun including salads in my diet, so overall I was getting balanced nourishment. What if there were no discrepancies? How many can there be any way, when you eat only vegetarian food?

Funnily, she seemed to crack up when I told her I was already eating healthy. laughEven If I had shared a funny incident with her at that minute, she would not have laughed so hard.  According to her, nine out of ten clients begin their food logs, imagining how healthy their eating habits were. “You will realize how many things are wrong only when you begin keeping a food log. The only downside is that you have to commit to logging in every little morsel you pop into your mouth” she added knowingly.

So there it was.

foodlogkeepingI began to keep food logs like she wanted me to. I shared them with her at the end of every third day for the first two weeks and then once a week for the next few weeks. My food logs would come back to my email within the hour of my sending them to her with her remarks. If she approved the log then there would be comments in green, if she did not, the entry would be marked in red with a remark alongside explaining the reasons. I will not go into details of my food log. Suffice to say, that the first few logs I shared with her looked bloodied when they came back.

reportsOn one hand while I dreaded feedback on my food log, on the other, I dreaded eating anything that had to be entered into the log!  Confession time – There have been days when I snacked on somethings unhealthy and did not enter it into my food log! There I said it. A big load off my chest.

In the first few days, I was not sure what parts of the log would come back with red markings. Sometimes even my salads had them- if my salad had sweet corn, noodles, pasta, peanuts, or potato, that is. My soup dinners or lunches when eaten with bread rolls, biscuits with tea in the afternoon and the fact that my water intake was not enough were some of the other red areas.  I had trouble having water and unless I consciously made an attempt and kept a water bottle at arm’s length I would never feel the need for any water. According to my coach, most “hunger pangs” are usually “thirst signals” because we don’t drink enough water.

Then one day my log came back with a  green “excellent” and then on, I was beginning to look forward to the green marks on my food logs. If you had had a favourite teacher at school that you had tried hard to impress, I am sure you can relate to this. In a few weeks of keeping my food log, I was not waiting for her red marks or remarks. I was sending her my logs with remarks in red when I knew she would not approve what I had consumed!

I began to see the logic of keeping a food log. First, it helps you (or your trainer) keep tabs on the number of things you eat every day. Secondly, it makes you feel guilty to pick and eat a random dessert or calorie rich treat because you have to put it down in your log. Let me assure you, it is not a great feeling when you cheat.

eating healthy

At the end of the first month of food logs, my coach gave me some simple rules to remember.

  1. Eat to feed your hunger not because it is time for lunch or dinner.
  2.  Just because something is healthy for you, you can’t over dose on it
  3. 5 days of bad food choices every 30 days was nothing to fret about.

I will highlight a few changes I made in my diet in the next post. Have you kept a food log? What has been your experience?


The sixth post in this journey is here.

Six months too late – Journey to a fitter me.

calenderI finally decided not to procrastinate anymore, for the sake of my sanity. I text my coach-to-be  if I could sign up.  As luck would have it, she was busy with other clients and did not readily have time slots available to accommodate me.  In a country full of fitness conscious expats, that did not come as a total surprise.  The coach had a reputation of helping people discover their th‘inner’ self.

She added me to a wait list of (almost) fat motivated people who want to hit the road to fitness, running.  I waited till her text one day asked me if I was open to working out in the afternoons. Afternoons!  I was trying to get over a snooze habit after lunch, every afternoon and that suggestion sounded like the afternoon Snooze God had finally blessed me with a boon.  snoozeMy next obvious, over enthusiastic, question was, how soon could I start. It was only 11 30. Do you want to meet me this afternoon? I asked nonchalantly. Not so fast, she warned me. Not until we have had the ‘talk’.

She offered to come over the following week for a one on one conversation. I imagined she would want to check the condominium’s gym facility, even though she had hinted that one never really needs a gym to work out. In all my earlier attempts at keeping fit, the first thing I would do is to sign up a gym membership. That was needed in India with its pedestrian unfriendly roads and choc-o-block traffic. I would only use the gyms back home for the cardio machines and very irregularly some weight training. But ever since we had moved to Singapore, I have never needed to look for a place to enjoy a walk. 

That Apple is me , since that was the shape I was in then.

That Apple is me , since that was the shape I was in then.

The “talk” finally turned out to be a TNA really – jargon for the people in the world of corporate training for ‘training need analysis’. Before rolling out a training program, the trainer meets with the group of people to be trained to gauge what the base level of the group is to help design the program to achieve a set of identified goals. This is precisely what the meeting was about.  In retrospect, that is the first step any of you who want to sign up with a coach or trainer should insist on. You can even  judge how effective she will be in your case based  on how thorough and detail oriented the TNA talk was.

We spent close to two hours with her list of FAQ’s to clients. She let me describe my meal patterns and food I eat in glorious detail, without a twitch on her face. Nevertheless, she had a sparkle in her eyes that was unmistakable. To a novice, like I was then,  the sparkle was misleading. I read it as ‘go on, give me details, so far so good, there aren’t too many flaws in your meal or exercise plan’. Where as in truth it was to be read as ‘Are you freaking kidding me? Everything about what you eat is wrong and can be corrected!’ booksandmeThere were questions about my current activity levels. Thanks to Maxx and my morning walks with him, that did not look too bad. Maxx has a strict vet who insists on seeing his waist cave in towards his stomach when she has an aerial view of him. Golden retrievers, like humans, tend to gain weight around their waist if they don’t watch what they eat. Unfortunately doctors, unlike vets, don’t seem to point it out to you before it is too late!

Then there were questions on my current health problems, of which I had none- or make that, none that had manifested itself symptomatically. One of the reasons that may be the cause of my futile attempts to shed weight, could be the faulty working of my endocrine glands and their secretions, she pointed out. I also told her about the odd ankle discomfort I was experiencing from time to time- which I attributed to a sprain that was caused during my attempt to fall in step with the other participants of the Zumba group or maybe even keeping pace with Maxx.

At the end of our talk, she referred me to an endocrinologist and a podiatrist both of whom I had to consult before I began my sessions with her.  By then, we had agreed that she would be my fitness guru.  As it turned out, my visit to the endocrinologist and podiatrist brought forth some issues that had to be addressed. I began my medication and also had to have custom made orthotic inserts in my shoes (my arches had fallen).

“We will begin next week”, she announced. And before I could celebrate, she allotted me some work to do. The odd bit about that was, I had never – ever- attempted what she was suggesting I should. While I was not convinced that it was really needed, she insisted with a wink that it was absolutely crucial and I would see why, once I got started. And then she uttered what were to become the two most dreaded words I had ever heard up until then, in my journey to a fitter me – Food Logs.

More about that in my next post. If you found this post useful, let me know. Don’t forget to share your thoughts with me in the comments section!

The fifth post in this journey is here.


The fix I tried (that didn’t work) – Journey to a fitter me.

I never run on the Treadmill, only walk at 6.5km/ hr

I never run on the Treadmill, only walk at 6.5km/ hr

By the time that I got back from India after my July vacation, I was blissfully back to my happy (plump) satisfied life. At the gym, I walked on the treadmill or spent half hour on the elliptical.  I knew how to use weights and do stomach crunches, from my previous years of experience from various other gyms,  and on some days at gym I included these as part of my exercise plan. At home, we cut down on eating at restaurants on the weekends and began cooking healthier meals. We included muesli and oatmeal to our range of regular breakfast cereal.

Except for a few days of the week, I managed to get some form of exercise done. Even if I skipped on the weekdays, I would make it up with long walks on the weekends.  Around Navaratri, I even fit into an old silk kurti that I had preserved to try on sometime, even though I was spilling from the seams at one point.

Again, this is not me but the other 20 something's I told you about, looked like her.

Again, this is not me but the other 20 something’s I told you about, looked like her.

In November, I tried out a few Zumba classes. Even though it was fun at the beginning, I felt drained after an hour of nonstop rhythmic dance moves.  The other participants in the class all seemed 20 something’s who could move like Mick Jagger and David Bowie (have you seen these guys dance?).  Sometime mid November, my help went to Philippines for a break. That left me with no choice but to walk Maxx, our pet, which was otherwise her job.

Maxx, then a 2 year old energetic Golden Retriever had to be taken, twice a day on long walks and two shorter walks. That was all I seemed to be doing for a fortnight – walking the dog, until the help came back. By end of November I was bored of gym routines – I did not want to walk another step on the treadmill nor climb the elliptical for a 30 minute routineYou see, when you have an outdoor ambience of green, clean and vehicles that drove by without honking (read quiet), you can get used to that.

Maxx liked to control the walking pace and that helped.

Maxx liked to control the walking pace and that helped.

By December, I sacked my old help and hired new help. That I suspect, may have been the most sensible decision I had taken in a long time, in more ways than one.

Just to allow the new help to settle into routines at home, I began walking Maxx in the mornings again. We had discovered the beautiful Singapore Botanical Gardens. I loved the sights and he loved the smells. It was a win-win situation for the both of us.  Walking as an exercise never seemed like a chore anymore! By January, I had begun to proclaim  Maxx as my saviour – without him the 5km walk that I clocked every morning wouldn’t have been possible. By February I had begun to monitor portion sizes of the breakfast cereal I made for myself and also stopped sugar free substitutes in my coffee. I was experimenting with exotic salads and soups and even ordering salads when I ate out.

I had decided to give myself 6 months to get fit (read lose weight). Time flies by when you are not achieving much, doesn’t it? It seemed to me like that, then.  It was 6 months since I had met with the trainer who indulged in name calling (remember she called me an apple?).  In all that time, I was aware that I had to shed some kilos and had taken responsibility to manage it on my own. I had changed some things about my food choices, had upped my cardio vascular workouts, and even tried dancing for Chrissakes.  I was feeling good, cheerful, happy and even fit, psychologically.

The scales seemed to be mocking at me and had an uncanny semblance to the coach!

The scales seemed to be mocking me and had an uncanny semblance to the coach!

On the bathroom scales, however, the needle just refused to budge! I had not lost an ounce of weight. (The ease of fit into the old kurti seemed more like an inch lose around my girth and not weight loss). To say I was disappointed would be mild. I was devastated! I was beginning to loose sleep over it. What really pushed me to do something drastic about the situation was a remark from my husband who said casually one evening, “I think you should lose weight”.

Watch this space to read what happened next. My fourth post in this journey is here.

You are an apple, she said – Journey to a fitter me.


I thought she meant my complexion, but before I could clarify she added, “Not a great shape to be in considering all the fat in your body is around the belly”. That shut me up.

You have seen tall, lanky girls without an ounce of extra flesh around their bones. I was never one of them. My mother tells me that the fat around my belly has always been there and for 30 odd years of my life I believed her.  In fact, she even chose tailors who could stitch my frocks with a lower waist line so that my belly didn’t lift up the hemline. But I am digressing.

The first meeting with my coach began on that note. She made no bones about how unfit and out of shape I was. For someone who thought she was eating healthy and was doing her bit to stay fit, it was difficult to digest the feedback. You see, I have had gym memberships for over ten years and have regularly used treadmills and elliptical machines. I am knowledgeable about food and nutrition (thanks to my post graduate program) but never really believed that I needed a diet. Only fat people needed diets. I was not obese only bordering on the overweight category, still.  I was already eating healthy, (or so I assumed) and told her as much. She smiled benevolently at me and nodded as if to say, ‘yeah right I have heard that before’. Yet, I did not want to appear like I knew it all, so I asked her if she could help me get back to shape….or lose it as the case may be.

She told me that she had no magical solutions to offer and only common sense to share. She even gave me the option of thinking about it and then letting her know if I wanted to sign up. It was end of the school year, I was due to go back home for the break with the family. I promised to come back from the holiday and making up my mind.

I was still in denial that there was anything seriously so worrying about my weight that I needed a personal coach like I was some celebrity. If it was common sense that I had to have to lose weight, then I had lots of it and I wanted to give it a shot on my own. After all, that was the subject I had completed my masters in- Dietetics- and who but me should know better?  So I got back from my holiday in India (albeit with a few extra kilos gained) and got serious about my fitness program. The one I said I will plan for myself using my common sense.

It was short lived. Not the common sense, but the effort to chalk my own journey to a newer fitter me.

Do you have a story to share about your fitness journey? I would love to know if you do! Come on let us swap stories!

My third post in this journey is here