Category Archives: fitness

The Beginner’s Guide To Going To The Gym

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gym

I didn’t name this a “guide to the gym.” I named it a “guide to going to the gym.” See, it’s nice to want to learn about machines and exercises, about gym etiquette and basic rules. But to wrangle those things we first have to tackle the very real fact that most people never actually set foot in a gym. Imma help with that.

That’s why I came up with this handy-dandy guide intended to help you get your butt out the door and actually in the gym; to finally shut up that jerk of a voice in your head telling you you’ll look ridiculous and out of place, so why bother going at all. Enough of that shit.

And why should you listen to me?

Because this is what I do for work and how I earn a living. I have insider information.

And also because once upon a time I was in your exact same shoes.

Which brings me to The Things You Should Know #1: Every single gym rat, buff guy/girl and fitness enthusiast you may ever come across, has at some point in their lives started off as a newbie. Just like you. We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable feeling of stepping into new territory, the self-consciousness of knowing we’re going to mess up and be ridiculed, the awkwardness of thinking we don’t fit in, so sure that others will see right through our pretending, sorry asses. Actually (and you have my permission to laugh. Because, really.) I want you to know that I was in your shoes just two years ago– and I was already a personal trainer! Even though I was a fitness professional, I had lots of experience, I knew all the ropes… I couldn’t help but feel scared when the time came to start training at my new place of work. You would imagine that with all I knew and the cred that comes from having put your fair amount of time training yourself and others I would be immune to the mental B.S. But I wasn’t. Because when push comes to shove, survival instincts kick in and fear of the unknown is a very real defense mechanism. It took me one week to finally walk down that narrow hall into the weights area, the lonesome girl amidst the lifting guys. And it got better. Real quick, actually.

That fear you feel is normal.

You got that? It’s normal. 

It’s actually kind of natural, expected and even somewhat healthy to feel this way. Back in the days when our survival depended on our awareness and familiarity with our surroundings, our monkey brain evolved to be uncomfortable and hyper-aware in new situations. Although our lives have drastically changed, to this day that part of our brain feels threatened as we experience something new, as though we were in great danger, and is trying to kick us into fight or flight mode. I mean, what if a sable-tooth tiger jumps out from behind the leg press machine, right?

Our logic, conscious mind knows that new can be scary though not necessarily bad or dangerous. But monkey brain didn’t get that memo. And this is why you have to remember that your brain is simply doing its part in keeping you safe from harm when these feelings arise. It’s trying to convince you to stick to what you know, to what’s familiar and comfortable (like staying at home instead of going to the gym.) Thank your brain for taking such good care of you, but don’t let the fear dominate your life experiences. You got this.

A powerful exercise to deal with such thoughts of doom is what is called notice and name. When the uncomfortable thoughts arise, simply notice their presence without judgment or trying to push them away. “Oh, there’s fear.”  “Why hello, self-doubt.” “Hm, I’m thinking thoughts of ridicule.” This simple action strips them of their iron grip over your life. You become an observer, no longer the main character suffering the story these thoughts want to tell. Sure, it takes practice to catch yourself, but trust me, the benefits of noticing and naming cannot be understated.

 

And while we’re in the subject of “thoughts of ridicule,” let me introduce you to The Things You Should Know #2: No one went to the gym today with the sole purpose of judging, criticizing or humiliating you. Really. Our tendency may be to make everything about ourselves, but in this case it’s just not. Most people in the gym are genuinely there to exercise. Shocking, eh? Most don’t have a whole lot of time in their day to stand around pointing fingers and laughing and newbies (and if they do, how sad is their life?) Even though you feel extremely self-conscious and like all eyes are on you (remember: Your brain is in hyper-aware mode) remember other people have their own worries, goals, insecurities, and time frames to even give you or me a second thought.

Some day down the line, once your gym is familiar territory and you’re rocking to your favorite tunes and kicking ass in whatever you’re doing, you will suddenly realize how you truly don’t pay much attention to anyone else around you. You’ll know with all certainty you had nothing to worry about in the first place.

 

I want to make this as easy on you as I can. So here are my easy-peasy pointers to successfully get your rear in gear.

1) Find a gym you like.

Big, impersonal chain gyms aren’t the only option out there. Find a gym or studio that gives you a nice feeling, that reflects values and ideas that are important to you. If being surrounded by bodybuilders isn’t your idea of fun, maybe stay away from Gold’s gym. There are so many quirky, cute, special and unique spaces where there is a sense of community within members– if that’s your thing. If you’re a loner and would rather not share space with many others maybe find a 24/7 gym to which you can have access at odd hours and rock it out alone. This is about you and what you enjoy. You won’t go to the gym if you can’t stand what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and represents. Be true to yourself.

2) Get at least a one-hour session with a personal trainer.

Many new gym-goers skip on this because of financial reasons, but you have no idea what even one hour alone with a trainer can do for your gym life. You have one hour to ask all the questions you want, they will tell you about the gym rules (the stipulated ones and the unspoken ones), they will teach you how to use the machines and equipment. This can give you all the confidence you need. Plus, it allows you to solidly meet one staff member. Bonus: Have them introduce you to other staff members! They’re you allies, your spotters, your guides. They want to see you succeed and keep coming back. Use them.

3) Do what you like.

If you hate cardio please don’t spend endless hours on the treadmill or elliptical. If you hate cycling don’t join a spinning class. At least in the beginning focus on what you like. Remember we’re in the process of making the gym a familiar place where you feel comfortable. You’ll have time to tackle more new things soon enough. In your first few tries, be kind and patient with yourself.

4) Prep. Practice. Mentalize.

Prepare your gym bag (shoes, water bottle, iPod and ear buds, wallet with gym membership card) the night before. Leave your gym clothes laid out, too. Choose a training program you’re excited about following and (trick of the trade) PRACTICE. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the equipment, simply practice the motions when you’re alone at home in front of the mirror until your body feels comfortable with the movements. Make it easy to succeed! Find YouTube videos explaining proper form for each exercise and practice the shit out of ’em. Mentalize yourself doing the exercises at the gym– this adds to the feeling of familiarity, since your brain can’t tell the difference between what you imagined and what you have in reality experienced. So, as far as your brain knows, you have been in this gym doing these exercises before. Less stress, yay!

 

This should be enough to set you up in the path of being an avid gym-goer. Welcome to the dark side, rockstar.

 

I’m Back and I Bear Gifts Of Triathlon Inspiration

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I haven’t been on the ball lately, but I swear I have a really good reason.

Yes, a cuddly reason…

A sweet and snugly reason that has flipped my world upside down.

Her name is Era and she was born on September 16th. For the longest time my mind had no room for anything other than cooing and loving this little bundle of cuteness, but I’m finally catching up on my sleep and getting the hang of having a tiny baby all over again, after over a decade of last having an infant around. Thanks for sticking around while I figured this out!

And now back to business. Of the non-cuddly but very inspirational kind.

Let’s meet bad girl Harriet Anderson:

This lady was 74 years old when she competed in the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship. SEVENTY-FOUR cheesuschrist. And you see her arm up with the red tie? That’s because missus there broke her clavicle falling off on the bike portion of the race, and still managed to finish the race on time. This means she completed the remaining 32 miles on bike and an entire goddamn marathon with a broken collarbone. Are you feeling like a total wuss yet? I sure am.

She began competing in her fifties and has been relentless since. She’s badass and I want to be like her when I grow up. I’m not even kidding.

Now click over here and read her full story, you won’t be sorry. Hard core chicks, yeah!

Ah, Sunday

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If you’re anything like me, Sunday means kicking back and relaxing. And doing laundry and baking for the week and freezing meals… When you’re done showering the dads of your life with love and chocolate (of the organic, sustainable, fair trade kind *wink*) take some time to catch up on your reading. Come on. It does your brain good. Here are some cool articles I read during the week and that you may find interesting!

And the video at the very end? Also very cool.

Growing Up With A Fat Dad, The New York Times.

A complex story, with a savior and a dash of hope.

Ultramarathon Running: How a Vegan Diet Helped Me Run 100 Miles  by Scott Jurek, for the Huffington Post

I don’t have to remind you how much I love Scott Jurek, right? I mean, we did share a moment, after all.

Ironman Champ: Train Your Brain, Then Your Body

Beautiful article in which four-time World Ironman champion Chrissy Wellington reminds us what we already know but consistently choose to ignore: To win the race, you must first win it in your head.

Brilliant TED talk by Christopher McDougall on what he learned about endurance running from living with the Tarahumara indians in Mexico. Must watch!

Zumba is Fitness and Dance’s Lovechild

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I can’t think of a single better way to work out than this.

My Saturday began with waking up at 5:30 am in order to get ready and leave the house in time for the 1.5 hour drive to the town where the training would take place.

I love to dance and have been teaching dance fitness classes for some time, so I decided it was time to become a fully certified Zumba instructor. It was also kind of urgent that I get it done as soon as possible because, you know, once the baby is born it will be near impossible to be gone for an entire day. When you’re pregnant it’s like you’re constantly chased around by Mike Wallace’s 60 Minutes ticking clock because time’s a-running. And you can’t forget it.

The training was super fun and dynamic: Nothing to wake you up like a high-intensity dance fitness class at 8:30 in the morning!

Our instructor, Andrea Sandhu, was fantastic.

Super grainy pic. Sorry about that!

I grew up listening to Latin music like the one used in Zumba classes. My favorite for dancing is Salsa, but I’ve always found it a bit difficult how to explain to non-Latin students how to follow the beats. I’ve listened to this kind of music so long that the beats are simply there for me, it all just makes sense. However, someone who is new to the music style may not hear the same things I do; not all beats jump out as clearly. In Andrea’s simplification of the basic steps I learned how to help someone make sense of the different rhythms and pauses, and I’m sure this will help me a lot with my students.

Along with the practical classes in which the simplified steps for Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Reggeton were explained, we also had a couple of lectures in which the more technical parts of being a Zumba Instructor were broken down for us. It was very helpful because we were provided with many resources and options, as well as learning tools and material.

Our group was very eclectic, with people from all ages and from all areas in attendance. It was almost mostly women, but I was very happy to see two guys in there! I think Zumba needs male instructors as much because everyone has something of their own to offer. One of our classmates had a very inspirational story that she shared with us: She has lost 130 Lbs. so far, and this was just following the Zumba dvds in her living room, on her own. There’s no doubt that when there’s determination you don’t need fancy equipment or professional studies in exercise and nutrition. She was so happy and I’m sure that she’s extremely proud of herself.

Overall it was a great experience, I made new friends (even someone from my area, yay!) and I had a great time.

I was nervous in the beginning because with it being such a long haul I wasn’t sure where my energy levels were going to be at different points of the day, but fortunately my almost five month-pregnant self got through it fine.

If you’ve been thinking about becoming a Zumba Instructor you should totally go for it. I found the training to be very helpful and worthwhile, and I’m super glad I did it!

 

If you think I’m a mean workout machine, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

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I’m certainly not one of those who’s always all OMG RUN YEAAAH or I CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO THE GYM. No. I procrastinate, I look for excuses, I work trade-offs with myself in my head. I’m a pretty regular human being most of the time.

I think the only difference is that I’m aware of the tricks I play on myself. I recognize the voice in my head, and I know it’s lying. Maybe I don’t need to work out, maybe I don’t have to work out. Most of the time I don’t necessarily want to work out. What I do want, what I do like, are the results. I love feeling strong, I like seeing my body defined. It makes me happy when I can do things I couldn’t do before. And because I enjoy the results, I know the work that must be put into achieving them is worth my time.

This doesn’t mean that I’m automatically transformed into a work out beast. Right now, after over three weeks of doing ZILCH (because I was away for holidays in Mexico visiting my family, whom I hadn’t seen in three years) I’m discovering I need to coax myself into starting over.

For some people it may work great to just dive into the madness of spending hours exercising after a period of inactivity. Not for me– at least not this time around. My approach is beginning slowly, building back up to where I was pre-vacation. And I think I found the perfect way to start!

I just came across this website, myfreeyoga.com, and found it to be a great resource. It’s full of free yoga class videos, and I did this session this morning, in my house, still in my pj’s– so no excuses as to why I couldn’t. It felt great to get moving, but OY. So many things cracked and popped, and my muscles were super stiff– a big wake-up call as to how weeks of inactivity slowly creep in and regress a bit of what we’ve worked hard to achieve.But, it only gets better from here :)

So, if you’re looking for a way to get back into the exercise mindset, but haven’t been able to convince yourself to hit the gym or train for a marathon, you may find it beneficial to start slow like I did. It doesn’t matter how small or slow you start. JUST START.

Girl, when someone tells you that you’re going to get big, bulky and gross if you lift weights punch them in the face

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Or direct them to this article. You know, either- or.

(I kid. Please don’t punch people in the face. Maybe just swing a kettlebell at them.)

I came across this set of two articles written by none other than John M. Berardi himself. I attended his talk at the Canfitpro conference in Toronto this year.

Most of what he said resonated with me and I have educated myself further on his nutrition techniques, his coaching challenges and his research.

 

Now, before you click the link that will take you to the articles, be forewarned: Please do not brush the information off  by thinking this isn’t for me just because the website where the articles are posted is called bodybuilding.com. This website is a wonderful source of exercise ideas, with very well explained instructional videos, all neatly organized and separated by very helpful categories. If you’d like to get fit and have no friggin’ clue of what to do at the gym, surf around bodybuilding.com and I can assure you the weight room suddenly won’t seem as intimidating. On a side note, I would just recommend maybe ignoring all their advertising for supplements and enhancers; intelligent and informed decisions in this area are a must.

I particularly enjoyed Berardi’s articles because he tackles the biggest myth when it comes to women who lift weights: they’ll get bulky and masculine. Go and read his explanation of why this is not possible. Also? Extra points for him for being on our side and rejecting the notion that girls are wilting little flowers who can’t muster up the strength to change their body for the better. Enjoy!

Lean, Sexy, Hard: Weight training for Women, by John M. Berardi

 

 

Functional training

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Most people equate working out with going to the gym, and while this notion may be correct for some it has nothing to do with the things I do in my daily training. I don’t go to a gym, I work out at the studio where I work as a trainer. The main difference between a gym and a studio is that while at the gym you can expect to find lots of big and heavy machines, a studio will likely focus more on having the tools necessary for functional training. The latter is the kind of training I do.

Basically, it’s called ‘functional’ because it adheres closer to the movements we use and the way we function in real, everyday life. For the most part, gym machines limit the range of motion one can accomplish with a muscle, but working that same muscle with dumbbells, medicine balls, elastics, plates, and bars allows it to mobilize in many different ways and angles, activating a larger amount of fibers, and thus making it — in my opinion– a more effective work out.

This is what a typical training session can look like for us; this time we were working core and abs, and my friend Angelina played photographer while the boss and I got our workout done.

We started with crunches on the bench. I can’t remember how many we did but I remember the burn. Oh, the burn.

 

After that we moved on to full sit-ups with a medicine ball (no swinging it!)

 

Then holding a plate in front of the chest and rotating the torso from side to side, all while keeping balance kneeling on the Bosu. Lovely.

Also, bear in mind this are just phone pictures, hence the crapiness. (Or maybe I’m just too damn fast to be photographed. YEAH.)

 

Then a gazillion leg lifts with three thousand pounds of ankle weights. My grimace of pain and my screaming back muscle in this picture tell you that I hardly exaggerate.

This is but a snippet of what goes on in our training session. Awesome workouts are accomplished with not one single conventional gym machine. I love functional training because to me it’s a lot more fun than going to the gym; it allows for imagination and initiative. So many inventive ways to suffer, weeee!