The Body as a Gift, not a Tool

I had a disappointing turn of events last Sunday. I was having a totally normal day, normal workout, normal life stuff, when out of nowhere my lower back seized up and really started to hurt. By Monday morning I was in excruciating pain and other than getting older I couldn’t pinpoint a culprit. Not immediately, anyway. It’s now Friday and I haven’t “worked out” aside from gentle yoga specifically to soothe my back. What I have worked out however is the culprit and it wasn’t one dumb thing I did or my age… it was a lot of dumb things.

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As I’ve expressed before, I tend to have tunnel vision. I get really focused, I love a good routine, and I kind of forget to step back and observe my progress or take a break. If something seems to be working I go full steam ahead. This can be great from a productivity standpoint but other times… it really isn’t so great. Like, I have a hard time hanging out if something from work is on my mind.

For months now I had finally gotten a new workout routine that I loved. I was working out 6 days a week, eating pretty well, and seeing some incredible results in my body. I also just felt stronger in general. But what was once a dope ass workout plan quickly became this rote practice. Sure, there were days I took off because I was tired, or I decided to do yoga instead of something intense. But for the most part I worked out everyday, in the same sort of style, because it was easier than assessing any sort of goal or next steps. And my body first got used to it and then got sick of it (stopped seeing results) and then finally gave me the big middle finger with an injury. It’s always an injury that is my wake up call.

I’m sharing this not as a pity party but to make a point to the people following along with me. Sometimes having a solid routine and insane dedication to it, isn’t always what we need. And the what we do need is to listen to that little, tiny, baby voice way back in our heads. It has great ideas. For instance… for a couple of months I considered taking classes again, having someone teach me proper from for a number of things. I thought about taking low impact classes like yoga or pilates but couldn’t find the time. I am also terrified of pilates. I thought about switching up the routine into longer workouts for less days. I thought of it all but I didn’t act on any of it because what I was doing was safe and I was being kind of lazy.

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But now that I’ve had the time off to consider all of this, I am re-dedicating myself to an actual healthy lifestyle. I will take the advice of the inner me; she really knew all along. I need to come up with some new goals, reassess my fitness style, find things that I love to do that push me in new ways, and let myself be led by others. It’s like, I know I have shit form for a lot of stuff, so I really need to get out there and learn from someone better. It’s embarrassing and super scary… but I really don’t want to get hurt again because I was being stubborn.

And stubborn I am. So, I want to know from all of you. What’s something in the back of your head that you know you could be doing better, but don’t? What’s that voice telling you? And I know this is hard because I would read stuff written by other people about this “voice” and I’d be like “I never ignore her!” But I secretly was. That’s how tricky this is!

I also wanted to make it a point to be open about this injury and the fact that I am not always right. I get a lot of messages on my IG stories about my dedication and how motivating it is but also how down people feel on themselves because they aren’t doing it the exact same way as me. Guess what, we’re all different and we all need to listen to what our bodies are telling us. They are gifts, not tools to a destination. What I need to remember is that there is no end to healthy living. It grows and changes with you. Better start adapting!

 

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Seriously, I Don’t Have a Gym Membership

I am well aware that there’s a lot of problems with this statement. Draft after draft of this post butt up against them and I kept trying to counter any argument that could be made and make sure I didn’t leave anyone out. Exhausting.

So… Disclaimers

1. I am not anti-gym. I love the gym! My mom just joined a gym and I am so proud of her! If you love the gym, please, go forth and get swole as hell and then come and tell me all about it. I am proud of you too!

2. I’m not asking people to give up their gym memberships and join me in some at-home workout cult or pyramid scheme. Or making some claim that you don’t need to work out and that eating chips on the couch is the best workout of my life. (But I do wish that was reality.) With this post, I want to share the strange encyclopedia of free and low cost workouts that I use daily to stay in the best shape of my life.

3. I am by no means jacked with a six pack you can rest a giant block of ice on and then break with an ice pick (I saw this once) but I am personally, in the best shape I have ever been–better than when I did have a gym membership.

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So…What happened? 

I let my last gym membership fizzle out. I was transitioning from one phase of life to the next and I was honestly burnt out of the “lift heavy, run sometimes” mindset. I was low on dough and low on motivation. A terrible combo.

I decided the best solution was to give heavy lifting a rest (goodbye squat PRs) and focus on shorter workouts I could do from home. I needed to save time (so I could freelance to make extra income) and money (because again, rough times = broke). It sort of happened naturally and getting sick of the gym didn’t mean I was sick of working out.

To get started, I invested in a few key pieces–couple of dumbbells, a jump rope– and re-purposed others. I use a wooden storage box as a bench. I hang bands from door frames. I actually did box jumps on a couch once… And I did some research.

BTW, an added bonus to working out at home is zero excuses. I am really stubborn with time. I like to be able to do what I want, when I want. Having my home be my gym, instead of traveling to one, has been INCREDIBLE. It’s always open on my schedule and it’s there whenever I want… or don’t want.

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So… Here they are finally…

That was a really roundabout way for me to get where we are going. In the end I just want to give people proper tools to get fit at anytime, anywhere, on any budget. I think it’s so important to get your sweat on, and money is the last thing that should hold you back from being your best self! I am only including programs I have participated in.

There are many more I’ve researched, but these are my favorite resources. The workouts range from TOTALLY, HONEST-TO-GOODNESS FREE to Eh, There’s Some Cost Associated Here. Let’s begin…

FREE

Yoga With Adriene – Adriene goes to the top of my list because her videos aren’t just free, they’re amazing and life changing. (No BS!) I’ve never loved yoga, but went occasionally because I knew I should. Adriene’s funny, calm, sweet, forgiving, wonderful way taught me to have fun with yoga and to also be gentle with myself. I look forward to her videos and find myself doing yoga far more often. She has videos of all lengths and types.

Find Her: https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene

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DoYogaWithMe – A second free yoga option is DoYogaWithMe because I feel like everyone needs to find their perfect instructor and though Adriene is mine, maybe she isn’t for you. DoYogaWithMe features a whole bunch of different yoga teachers with videos of all different kinds and lengths–all searchable.

Find Them: http://www.doyogawithme.com

Blogilates/Cassey Ho – If you’re a dude you’re probably thinking, “Oh Pilates, how hard can it be?” Freaking hard, dude, freaking HARD! To this day Casey’s videos remain some of the most challenging I’ve done. I even sometimes find myself yelling at her during the videos. But in the end, I love her. Everything on her YouTube page is free to use. If you fall in love she does have full programs you can buy as well. If you sign-up for her e-mail blasts you’ll gain access to her FREE monthly workout calendar that instructs you to use the YouTube videos in a structured and beneficial way. You don’t need to figure it out on your own! Plus, she just has a really good energy.

Find Her: https://www.youtube.com/user/blogilates

Betty Rocker – For a long time Betty was all I did. Morning, noon, night. She has an amazing band of followers whom I’ve bonded with via social media for YEARS. Literally, years! She hosts great challenges and is truly inspiring. Her recipes are amazing. If you like her freebies, she also has more complex routines available for purchase.

Find Her: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBettyRocker

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Tone It Up – I’ve switched it up and done Tone It Up before as well. They fall lower on the list because some of their challenges are just far too intense for me. They have you working out a lot and doing A LOT of cardio. But, it’s a great way to mix up your routine if you feel stuck and in need of a good push. All of their workouts are FREE if you sign-up for their e-mail blasts. They tend to shill a lot of things to purchase (from meal plans to bikinis to towels) but if you’re just in it for the workouts, it’s well worth signing up. They have a good energy and an INSANE following.

Find Them: http://www.toneitup.com

Not-Free 

These programs aren’t free but in the long run, fairly reasonable to buy.

Hot & Healthy Habits – With a hashtag like #OMGNeverDietAgain, you have to love these ladies. I bought their 8 Week routine for something like… $12. It’s no longer available on their site but they’ve recently launched a FULL e-Course that focuses on not just workouts but healthy eating habits. NOT a diet. They’re workouts are perfect for doing at home and most can be done in 30 minutes (or less!)

Find them: http://www.hothealthyhabits.com/

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Kayla Itsines – Omg omg omg. Where do I even begin with my love affair with the BBG? I love these workouts. They are TOUGH! I mean TOUGH! You have to be ready to sweat your ass off and WORK but they are amazing. Workout guide costs a little more than $50 but it is fully comprehensive and has been one of my go-tos for a couple of years now. (There is also a BBG2.) This routine taught me that yes– you can feel like you’re dying without a gym. I cycle back to Kayla still every few months to shred (and I mean SHRED) body fat. I have to cycle it in though because its so intense, I like to give my body other things to enjoy. Worth every penny.

Find her: https://www.kaylaitsines.com/

ZBody Fitness – No freakin’ joke. If you want to build a booty. Get thee to Zoe. I actually had to stop doing this for a time because I couldn’t fit my butt into my jeans anymore!! This is another one I need to pick back up for a good change of pace. If you follow her instructions exactly you will change your butt. It’s crazy effective. Book costs a little ($20) but it’s well worth it if you want to work on your butt 3x a week.

Find Her: https://www.instagram.com/zoelivelovelift

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WHEW! And that’s it. These women are incredible and offer amazing services at low prices. They’ve managed to keep me in shape, happy, and totally, 100% on my own schedule– which my stubborn ass loves. 🙂

Never think you don’t have the time or money to be your best self. There are always options. You just have to look and work a little.

 

 

 

 

Quick and Effective Memorial Day Weekend Workout

This is a weekend to remember those who have served us, relax, unwind, and welcome summer. That’s why I’ve created a short and sweet workout that you’ll be able to squeeze in anytime and anywhere. It only takes 15 minutes to complete and by the end, your heart rate will be up, you’ll be burning fat, and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy one of my favorite holiday weekends!

I’ve focused on Arms and Abs for this one, because it’s officially crop top season. Enjoy and let me know how it goes for you this weekend! The workout appears below. Click on any of the images and be taken to the COMPLETE PDF that you can download and save!


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Trim the Fat: John Irving

I attribute a lot of my focus and drive to having a fitness routine. I’ve learned that consistency is key in both keeping a writing habit and a fitness regimen. I grew up like most young writers do, with a romanticized view of being a tortured writer. Drinking, addiction, and depression riddle the biographies of many favorite writers. In elementary school I worried I’d never be as great as Emily Dickinson because I had a social life. In college, I took shots from a Dylan Thomas shot glass to pay tribute to a man who drank himself to death. It wasn’t until later in life that I recognized the routine and resilience of literary greats like Maya Angelou, Stephen King, and today’s focus, John Irving.

Irving as captured by The New Yorker.

In New England, everyone has an Irving related story. He’s the Kevin Bacon of the North East. I myself have a few but none shine brighter in my memory than when I was first introduced to his work. I was about 10 years old when Hollywood came to town to film Cider House Rules at the drive-in theater on my street. They parked their trailers at my friend’s farm and I got to meet Tobey McGuire and sneak into the costume department. I watched the movie when it came out– it was over my head– and never forgot that my writing could one day be turned into a movie too. It seemed like the best thing that could happen to a person.

This was all happening before I was interested physical activity or serious writing. It is crazy to me that fitness and creativity are put into direct opposition during middle and high school. Students do it to themselves and teachers do little to diffuse the myth that you can’t be great at both. I once wanted to be in a musical and run winter track but the practices and rehearsals overlapped too often. Even though everyone was okay with my having a special schedule, I eventually quit track because I was embarrassed by the scene I had caused with wanting to do both. I wouldn’t try running again for another 8 years.

If you ever need an example of someone accomplished in both sport and word, look no further than John Irving. Not only has he published 13 novels, many of them best sellers, but he is also in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He competed for nearly 20 years and coached until The World According to Garp was published. The sale of that book finally allowed him to become a writer full-time. Physical activity is still very much a part of his day and an important part of his sanity.

In a 2012 interview with Telegraph, Irving cites his mother as the initial motivation for his becoming a wrestler, “Irving’s mother introduced him to the sport and the discipline, the rigorous repetition of practicing moves over and over carries over into his writing process,Ariel Leve writes. It’s true. Irving himself mentions the dedication it took for him to lose thirty pounds year after year to be able to compete. (Irving’s natural weight is in the 160s but he wrestled in the 130 pound weight class.) Even though he is no longer competing, he still keeps up strenuous exercise to keep up his stamina during long writing days and if I can guess, from getting the dreaded desk gut that all who work behind desks fear. (I know I do.)

Irving’s at home gym. Courtesy of Boston.com.

These days he writes for 8 hours a day, hits the gym for 90 minutes, and then cooks dinner. It is rare that his day wavers from this routine and he sees his dedication to writing and physical fitness as compulsions he must give in to. In his Paris Review interview he says, “I don’t give myself time off or make myself work; I have no work routine. I am compulsive about writing, I need to do it the way I need sleep and exercise and food and sex; I can go without it for a while, but then I need it.”

Now, instead of being worried that I am not edgy enough, I’m worried that I’m not dedicated or healthy enough to be a great writer. I know that I could use my long work days and lack of concentration as excuses as to why I’ll never be as great as Irving, but those challenges are what make it so worthwhile. Every New Englander knows it’s the hard work you should be proud of. In fact, Men’s Journal quotes Irving’s high school wrestling coach who told him, “You are not an athlete. But you love the sport and you understand it, and if you can keep a match close, you will sometimes be able to beat athletes much better than you…'” The author, John Paul Newport, writes that “Irving seems more proud of how far sheer doggedness got him as a wrestler than of his actual victories.”

Doggedness it is. I many not be an author, but I am a writer and I love a good compulsion.

Trim the Fat: Kurt Vonnegut

Writers are so often pigeonholed as alcoholic smokers that I grew up thinking that my passion for words could only be realized with a few too many stiff drinks and an addictive personality. I’ve come to find that there are all kinds of writers with all kinds of coping mechanisms to escape, support, and in special cases, build their work. Images of men and women hunched over desks with cigarettes hanging on their lips permeate book sleeves, websites and biographies, but I’m hoping to make a small dent that says otherwise. A little pockmark on the cliché of what it is to be a writer.

Today I start with Kurt Vonnegut. Which was perhaps a mistake because there really is little said about his exercise habits. It would have probably been easier had I started with a Murakami-type but I didn’t and here we are. During his time teaching, Vonnegut wrote to his wife from the University of Iowa explaining he was swimming and doing so many push-ups and sit-ups that he felt comfortable enough to call himself lean (but didn’t believe it was true.) All three activities were to beat the boredom and loneliness that comes with relocating to a new city, but swimming held a special spot in Vonnegut’s exercise routine.tumblr_n4gj5jH4nB1rwzshno1_1280

For Vonnegut, swimming was the only source of happiness during his lonely childhood. He was known to discuss, on many occasions, the coldness of his mother and father whom rarely interacted with their children. It was at their summer homes in Indiana and Cape Cod that his parents showed rare affection. His biographer Charles Shields writes that, “when summer came, everything was always better… The sunlight put a blush on everyone’s face.” The family trips helped thaw the icy relationship between his parents, if even for a moment. Shields explains that in all of the Vonnegut home videos, the only apparent source of fun and laughter for the family is found on beaches.

And later in life, Vonnegut found that same comfort again at the Iowa City Municipal Pool which became a part of his daily routine from his first day there. He enjoyed the hour at which he went, just before lunch, because of its emptiness, and enjoyed that it broke up his working hours. Swimming was a therapeutic part of his writing schedule, a step between writing session A and writing session B; it was a constant reprieve from the anxieties of his life.

Swimming was never about the athleticism or ability for Vonnegut, it was about being consumed by an “enchanted body of water… perfect in every dimension.” It was where he found warmth in a childhood he frequently lamented was cold and he maintained swimming as a way to cope with stress for most of his life. It’s not surprising that a solitary sport like swimming would appeal to him. A team sport for someone like him, who often felt alone and struggled with commitment, could be disastrous.

If you speak to a swimmer, they’ll tell you that they’re an odd sort. “We stare at a painted black line for hours,” I’ve been told. No distractions sounds like the perfect time to escape and dream. We can only wonder what story plotlines were cooked up while Vonnegut opened his wingspan and stared at a solitary black line. Or maybe not. Maybe he thought of nothing more than his breaths and his form—a time for him to forget the rest of it all.

**All references and research comes from And So It Goes, a biography on Vonnegut’s life, written by Charles Shields**