An Unexpected Journey

"Health is the condition of wisdom, and the sign is cheerfulness — an open and noble temper." – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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You’ve got to be in it to win it: The awesomeness of trying something new

Several years ago when I started working out, exercise was a very solitary affair.  Sure I chatted with friends at the gym and hung out, but ultimately I was there to work out and that generally meant about forty minutes on a cardio machine watching TV or listening to music as I worked up a sweat.  After that I would do weights, again, on my own and that would be that.

Many of my friends would go on and on about the classes they took and how I should try them.  Whether it was Spinning or Zumba, all my friends each had “their thing” they liked to do.  Me?  I never wanted to take classes.  And for several years I stuck to my guns with the exceptions being super small classes given at my company, but a corporate gym is quite a different animal than a public gym.

So why the reluctance?  Frankly what it comes down to is not wanting to look silly in front of others.  There’s a certain degree of social pressure being in a class put on me that I wasn’t ready to confront.  “What if I screw up?” “What if I make an ass out of myself?”  “Will people laugh at me?”  All these questions ran through my head as I contemplated the 101 reason I would never take a class.

Then something curious happened.  I’m not sure why exactly, but at the beginning of the summer I became positively fixated on the idea of trying out a class – but what to pick?  I wasn’t coordinated, so Zumba was out.  Sculpting wasn’t what I was looking for (I wanted cardio) so finally I decided to try out a class called “Pre-Season Sports Conditioning”, a class that emphasized cardio combined with fast reaction exercises.  It wasn’t just about moving and sweating, it was moving and sweating with purpose!

I entered the class and stayed in the back.  As the instructor took us through a warm up, I seriously felt like I was going to die.  Then a few minutes later when we began the “real” workout, I started off feeling like “I can’t do this!” and then pushed myself to do it.  Being in class and looking like a fool is one thing, quitting and walking out was purely unacceptable!

After the class, I felt like hell.  Every muscle in my body was yelling at me like “What in the heck was THAT?!” and seriously, for two days I could barely get through my daily commute walk of two miles, no less work out more.  But something else happened at the same time – I became addicted to the class.  Far from being the judgemental jocks I imagined, the class was full of friendly folks, young and old.  They guided me, made sure I did what I was supposed to do and even encouraged me!  The class went from being a scary experience to a fun one that I looked forward to every week.

Several months later, I’m now taking several classes of this style every week, and I’ve even incorporated such exercises into my solo workouts.  Working with a group has become fun, and I’m much less reluctant to walk into a class environment.  Challenging myself brought a new level of self awareness (and fitness) and it’s something I encourage everyone to do.  Find your own challenge and tackle it.  The results may surprise you!


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“Operation Look, Perform & Feel Better” October 15, 2012

Today was a bit rough.  After three very tiring days at New York Comic-Con and away from the gym, today was my first time back!  As with many of my listings, this workout is broken out between my lunch hour and after work.

Lunch Time Workout
Boot Camp Class @ NYSC Grand Central.  Today was a bit rough including push-ups on a Bosu ball, an “abs” station for leg raises, sit ups etc. and bear crawls.  The class was broken out into three groups and we rotated stations.  It was one kick butt workout, exactly what I needed to get back into the swing of things!

After Work Exercise

Cardio
I decided to restart my “Couch to 5K” program.  After reinstalling the App on my iPhone, I decided to start at the beginning  and do the first jog which consists of one minute runs, followed by 1:30 brisk walks (rinse, repeat).  It also happened to be raining so I kept cool!

Weights
I wound up going a bit easy on my shoulders today due to some ongoing shoulder pain issues on my left side.  I’ve already set up an appointment with a doctor to have it examined.  Never ignore pain!  Sometimes taking care of yourself means going easy.

  • Chest Press: 110lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Incline Chest Press: 110lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Wide Shoulder Press: 95lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Dumbbell Pec Flyes: 30lb x 12 (2 Sets)
  • Close Grip Shoulder Press: 95lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raise: 25lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Tricep Pulldown: 80lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • French Press: 80lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Ab Crunch Machine: 45lb x 10 (2 Sets)


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Survival Guide: New York Comic-Con (and similar events)

Every year around October, New York Comic-Con comes crashing into New York City with a Geek-borne force of the Death Star from Star Wars.  For a few days, midtown Manhatan gets invaded by fans of comic books, movies, science fiction, fantasy, horror, Anime and more.  If you are in town around that time and see Batman or Wonder Woman calmly strolling by you at Starbucks, they’re probably around for Comic-Con.

This convention takes place at a gigantic convention center known as the Jacob Javitz Convention Center.  It’s like a small city within New York City.  It has everything you need to hold an event.  Food vendors include a Korean food stand, Starbuck’s, a Hudson news, frozen treats and more.  The problem for someone trying to lead a healthy lifestyle however is eating healthy inside the convention center is near impossible.  Most of the food here primarily consiste of high fat, high sugar and mostly deep fried or oily items.  Knowing this, I prepared a “Survival Package” of sorts of items that could sustain me throughout the day as I went through the convention.  I thought I’d share some of these items here:

  • A bottle of water (the same reusable bottle I take to the gym) to keep hydrated
  • Hard boiled eggs for protein that’s filling
  • Blue Diamond 100 Calorie packs for a great crunch snack
  • Apples (they travel well and satisfy a sweet and crunchy craving)
  • Atkins Bars (a healthier substitute for candy bars)

In general, aim for the following:

  • Stay hydrated (water is ideal)
  • Make sure to have protein, it’s filling and good for you
  • If you need crunch or savory snacks, aim for “safer” items like nuts or even fat free pretzels
  • Fruit is ideal as it generally travels well and gives you something sweet
  • Packing a sandwich with healthy ingredients (low fat meats and cheese, vegetables etc.) and whole wheat bread is always welcome

Truth be told, these items and the concept of a “Survival Package” doesn’t just apply to Comic-Con.  There are plenty of times when we’re away from our normal food venues, and putting together a package such as this will definitely put you ahead of the game from eating some of the less healthy options that are so readily available at events away from home.


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“Operation Look, Perform & Feel Better” October 9, 2012

Like many days, I had to break up today’s working out ino two parts due to scheduling and meetings.  In a way this is a good thing as it allows me some rest from one to the other!

Lunch Time Workout

Cardio
Pre-Season Sports Conditioning Class at NYSC 41st and 3rd Avenue.  Today was rough!  At first I was heartened to see many of the exercises set up in the room were basic.  Weighted reverse lunges, high knees inside boxes then jumping over cones, duck walks and so on.  However, there was one killer on the floor.  One station was a truck tire where each group of five people would put their feet up, perform a push up, then inch over in a direction.  What makes this hard is you’re counting on the guy next to you to move, and when he doesn’t, you’re stuck, and yes, this happened as the guy next to me completely stalled.

After a round at the stations, the instructor then went on to torture us with a series of body weight and dumbbell exercises.  Try doing a wall sit for 60 seconds, then go right into weighted jump squats.  Ouch doesn’t begin to cover it!

Weights
Bench Press (Machine): 120lb x 10 (2 Sets)
Incline Press: 120lb x 10 (2 Sets)
Shoulder Press: 110lb x 10 (2 Sets)
Pec Flyes: 110lb x 12 (2 Sets)
Shoulder Press: 110lb x 10 (2 Sets)

After Work Exercise

Cardio
Boxing class at NYSC Theater District.  This wsa the first time I had taken this class and boy was it fun!  After some heart pumping warm ups including a ton of jumping jacks, the room was split into two.  one half would go at the bags while the other half performed an exercise (including bear crawls, squats, lunges, single leg hops and more).  Each student got one round with the instructor and it was nice to really let loose with him and have at it!  I’m definitely going to take this again!

Weights
Lateral Raises: 25lb x 10 (2 Sets)
Tricep Pushdowns: 90lb x 10 (2 Sets)
French Press: 90lb x 10 (2 Sets)


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Snack: Not a dirty word!

Recently I was talking to a friend who was trying to eat healthier, and she mentioned how she was always starving.  A look at her eating plan showed that she was indeed being very disciplined, but unfortunately she was also denying herself a lot (including solid foods at critical times).  I gave her some advice about upping the fiber and solid intake in her diet, but most of all I advocated something I have some to believe is critical in any eating plan: snacking.

The word “snack” has taken on a very negative connotation in our culture.  In many Western countries, the idea of a snack generally involves stuff that’s delicious but not so great for you.  Cookies, chips, candy or cakes often serve as snacks for people who want that immediate satisfaction of a carb and sugar rush in their bodies.  However, many of these “snacks” leave you feeling just as empty as before you ate them, often leading to over-consumption.

Many people trying to lose weight unfortunately wind up overcompensating once they learn this.  They swear off all snacking and begin to deny themselves entire meals and the next thing you know, after a couple weeks or so a full out binge occurs, wrecking their eating plan.

The key to eating smart is not denying yourself snacks, it’s snacking on the right things. Many of us know what these things are intuitively.  However here’s a list of some handy items that make great snacks:

  • A serving of hummus with celery or carrot sticks
  • Peanut butter with whole wheat crackers or vegetables
  • A piece of fruit (preferably something with a good amount of fiber like an apple)
  • A sports bar (but be careful as some have a very high caloric load)
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Plain yogurt with some honey drizzled on for flavor
  • A handful of nuts (not honey roasted or smothered in sugar)

 

It’s also important not to just eat and eat throughout the day (which is what most people who snack believe they should do).  Rather, schedule your snacks according to your meal times.  There’s no hard and fast rule since everyone’s schedule is a bit different, but in general, try to schedule your snack a couple hours after a meal and at least an hour or so before your next one.  It’s also important to tailor what snack item you choose to your activities.  If you’re going to have a very rigorous workout day, then something like peanut butter or a sports bar will help you get the energy you need to plow through the workout.  On days where you’re not working out at all, the piece of fruit or vegetables may serve you better.

I would also advise strongly against snacking late at night (unless you work the night shift of course).  You want to give your body a couple hours (at least) of digestion time before you go to sleep.

Snacking is a good thing if you do it right.  Indeed, if you love food as I do, it’s crucial as it takes away the feeling of “denial” that many associate with weight loss.   A good eating plan is about balance, not about seeing how long you can withstand hunger pangs!

Disclaimer: I am not a certified Nutritionist.  This advice is purely based on my own experiences and research.  Before starting any nutrition/eating plan, please consult a qualified physician.


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“Operation Look, Perform & Feel Better” October 8, 2012

My normal Boot Camp class was cancelled because of the Columbus Day holiday so I decided to put together my own routine to torture myself, here it goes with explanations (where necessary).  Each exercise was done for two minutes before switching to the next one.

Riser “Sled” (45lbs)
Laying a towel flat on the floor, flip over a wide step and put it on top of the towel.  Put weight in the step (in this case I put in a 45lb plate) and then push across the floor.  I would go from one end of the studio, jump over the riser and go back and repeat.

Dumbbell Punches
With 8lb weights in each hand, punch left, then right, cross, then uppercut.

Front kick to Reverse Lunge

Side Lunges (15lbs)
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lunge to one side, keeping your feet in the same alignment.  Keep your back straight and hang your arms down with the dumbbells on either side of your foot.  I went in each direction for one minute.

Toe Taps
With a wide step set one riser high, toe tap around the edge of the step.  At the one minute mark, switch directions.

Plank / Shoulder Tap / Push up (2x)
Get in a push up position, tap your left shoulder with your right hand, then your right shoulder with your left hand.  Then perform two push ups and repeat.

Inchworm to Push Up to Jump

Surrenders
Using a mat on the floor and 8lb weights in each hand, hold the weights over your shoulders wide. Kneel down one at a time onto the mat, then push the weights up and press them down. With the weights still over your shoulders, stand back up and repeat.

High Knees & Jump on Wide Step
I set up two wide steps five levels high each in a row.  With your legs on either side of the step (set in the narrow direction) perform high knees going forward.  Jump up, then back down and perform high knees backwards.  Jump up, back down and repeat.

One Legged Dumbbell Raises (5lb)
Begin with a dumbbell in each hand, then raise one leg up and allow your arms to hang down.  Keep your back flat.  Raise the weights up to the sides, then swing them forward over your head.  Switch legs at the one minute mark.

Ab Sequence (Perform one minute of each, then repeat for a total of three rounds)
Crunches
Glute Bridge
Leg Raises


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External Resource: Greatist “50 Bodyweight Exercises”

Resource Name: 50 Bodyweight Exercises
Resource URL: http://greatist.com/fitness/50-bodyweight-exercises-you-can-do-anywhere-030612/

We’ve all been there. Something comes up, you can’t make it to the gym or you’re away on a business trip and the hotel gym is something of a disaster area. So that’s it right? No way to get a good, rigorous workout in, nope, no way.

Not true.

For the longest time, my workout routines were divided between two types: cardio (running, treadmills, ellipticals etc.) and weights. It wasn’t until recently that I began to get into a different form of exercise: body weight work. Using nothing but your own body (and maybe the occasional chair) you can get a workout in anywhere from your living room to a hotel room.

There’s a lot of potential body weight exercises you can do. One of my favorites (and most hated, yes, that makes sense) is the “Mountain Climber”. According to the web site linked above, this is how you do one:

“Starting on your hands and knees, bring the left foot forward directly under the chest while straightening the right leg. Keeping the hands on the ground and core tight, jump and switch legs. The left leg should now be extended behind the body with the right knee forward.”

The Greatist list of 50 Bodyweight Exercises is awesome. Broken down by the parts of the body that each exercise focuses on, you can assemble a whole workout without a hassle. I also appreciate the descriptions of each exercise that are nice and concise without using complicated terminology. I recommend checking it out if you need some cool exercise ideas!