Archive for the ‘Work It Out’ Category


One of my favorite things about being in great shape is that I can enjoy hiking again.

I loved hiking as a child and young adult, but as an adult, I unlearned that love. I kind of started to hate it in fact. Because every time I went hiking I was made clearly and painfully aware of how out of shape I was. I could not keep up with my friends; I always felt like my heart would explode from exertion, as I panted heavily, gasping for air. It was not pretty. So I started avoiding it and continued to do so for years. On the occasions I found myself having to hike, I was anxious and self-conscious about how much more out of shape I was.

It continues to be a thrill to me that I no longer feel this way. One of the big activities from this past weekend was a long hike in Joshua Tree National Park. We picked the hike to be a challenging but not excessively so. We hiked Mount Ryan, a good three-ish hour hike (including lunch break) to a mountain peak and back down. Moderately challenging, but nothing crazy.

And that’s exactly what it was for me! I felt like I was getting a good workout, but I did not feel over-exerted. And I certainly did not feel exhausted, miserable or self-conscious. And it was glorious! I hiked the long uphill to the top of the mountain, consistently and comfortably at or near the front of our group. I was happy to stop and take pictures or wait for others, but I didn’t really need to. And when we got to the top, I was glad to be there, but it was not the near-hysterical relief at the end of an ordeal I have felt in the past.

I have been hiking in Joshua Tree before. The first time, just over five years ago, was also with a group of friends. I was at the back of the group the whole time, well behind most of the other hikers and deeply grateful that one of my friends was a heavy smoker, which…is a pretty messed up thing to be grateful for, but that’s how desperately self-conscious I was, how badly I didn’t want to be the most obviously, only person, trailing far behind.

I hiked in Joshua Tree again just over two years ago with Stephen. We picked a mostly flat and easy hike on purpose, so that I would not feel miserable the whole time.

At the end of our easy hike two years ago. I looked and felt different then.

At the end of our easy hike two years ago. I looked and felt different then.

This time, I did not have to worry about picking an easy hike or suffering through a hard one. I did not have to worry about slowing everyone down or making them wait (which I see now was probably not a big deal to anyone but me). I am in great shape now, so this time, I could enjoy the hike. I took in the sweeping vistas. I appreciated the work my body was doing and how it felt good to move. I appreciated the company of my friends. And when we got to the top, I felt, as I so often do these days, like my true, happy, and fabulous self.

I'm the King of the World!

I’m the King of the World!


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If your trainer lets you talk for more than a couple of minutes about anything not related to training, and if you’re not breathing too hard to talk for most of your workout anyway… it may be time to fire your trainer.

And if you and your trainer hang out next to a weight bench or strength-training machine and talk for 5-10 minutes between each set (which takes one minute or less)… guess who’s just hanging out instead of doing his or her job? Your trainer. And guess who’s paying upwards of $100/hour to sit and chat? Yeah, you. Is small talk really worth nearly $2 a minute? You’re paying that premium for guidance and expertise, not to talk about what happened on “Downton Abbey” or why your boss is a dick.

If your trainer lets you look at your phone at all during your training session (emergencies excepted obviously)… it may be time to fire your trainer.

And if you and your trainer are sitting on stability balls with your phones out, showing each other pictures and tweets for half of your one-hour training session… you are getting fleeced. And also? You need to sort yourself out. Because this is your fault too. Exactly what muscles do you think you’re strengthening? Are you sweating? No? Are you aware that you’re not sweating? Because you should be, and when you are, you should start wondering what the fuck this person, whom you’re paying good money, is doing. Besides taking you for a fool.

If your trainer shows up in work boots, jeans, bootie shorts, pajamas or other gym-inappropriate clothing… it may be time to fire your trainer.

If your trainer shows up in one of these outfits and then proceeds to braid your hair and let you braid hers in return… I mean, really? Do I even have to say it? And are you aware that other people in the gym can see you? Because you should have more shame.

These examples are all things I’ve seen other trainers and their clients do. For real! And it blows my mind. Personal training has a very specific purpose: to whip you into the best shape possible. It is also not cheap. So if training isn’t getting you into great shape, what’s the point of it? There are cheaper ways to hang out around exercise equipment – like just joining a gym. I think it’s crazy on the client’s behalf to let this kind of thing happen, and my trainer gets particularly incensed at other trainers who perpetuate this behavior. She’s offended on behalf of the clients who are not getting their money’s worth and are not getting into better shape.

When we see people behaving in this fashion, my trainer will point out to me how many exercises I can do while the slacking trainer and client just talk. Usually it’s three. Usually I can do three different weight exercises in the time others will spend just standing around. Because that’s what good personal training should be like: constant movement, constant work. Obviously, you can’t work the same muscles over again in repetition, but there are many muscle groups and plenty of ways to fill a full hour without taking a break. I barely have time to drink water during my sessions, and as tired as I feel at the time, I’m grateful for it. Because my trainer puts her focus and energy into making sure I am working as hard as I can to get as strong as I can. And it works.

I’m lucky that I found my trainer. And I hope anyone who hasn’t been so fortunate will know that they deserve the best guidance they can get, that they’ll fire that mediocre or crappy trainer and find someone better. Someone who will pay attention, who will demand focus and consistent work, someone who will care but still kick your ass.


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I am so sore today. Everything hurts. More than it has in a long time.

Today my trainer decided it was time to kick things up a notch again. There were three separate occasions when it seemed like I might throw up. One cardio interval was so hard that at the end of it, the “fuck” I meant to breathe out quietly came out as a sharp yelp the whole gym heard – because I was too exhausted to modulate my voice. I sweat profusely, and muscles in every part of my body screamed at me.

But I did not quit anything before I was supposed to. I held those motherfucking forearm planks even though it felt like someone was filleting my arms at the bone. I did all 50 crunches even though my entire body was shaking. I kept going on the spin bike even when my vision started to swim. I just bared my teeth and snarled my way through it because I do not quit anymore, dammit.

And now every part of me aches. This is how it is supposed to be. It’s good, the aching, because I know my body is working, and strengthening. But oh, it tires me out. I’m reminded of the early months of training when I went to bed by 10pm every night because I was so exhausted from the gym.

If that sounds hard and kind of miserable? It was. But it was also a damn good thing. I was suffering in my weakness. I couldn’t move properly. I didn’t have the strength I needed to get through the hours of my day. Everything was hard; everything was uncomfortable. I only felt good when I was lying in bed.

Things are pretty uncomfortable right now too, but it’s a different kind of hurt. A good hurt. It will fade in a couple of days, and in the meantime, I will have more energy. Over time, I’ll get stronger. And all along, I’ll feel more capable. For everything that seemed too hard to do that I did anyway.

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Yesterday was a hard day at the gym. An ugly day. There were two moments when I honestly thought I might throw up and had to consider whether or not to excuse myself to the bathroom.

It was my fault too. I showed up for my training session feeling sick to my stomach because I’d eaten too much the night before. The food I ate was healthy – I was at a vegan, organic restaurant that focuses on healthy, nourishing food – but I ate a lot of it. And that’s been a trend for the past few days anyway: eating a lot. I like to spread my birthday celebration out over many days (I learned this from my mom, the master of the extended birthday), and this year I have used the celebratory period as an excuse to overindulge.

I know better. But I did it anyway. Because as I have previous mentioned, I’m struggling. And it’s much easier to go out for a bunch of delicious meals than face that struggle. I haven’t run away entirely; I’m still eating mostly well and exercising almost as much as I should. But I’m cutting corners and cheating where I shouldn’t; and I know it. And I let my birthday be an excuse to do it. Which is not the worst thing in the world, as long as it stops.

So I went to my training session because it’s time to focus again. And I knew it was going to be hard and painful. And boy was it! I felt like ass and I was getting that ass kicked. But I anchored in and pushed through it. I know now that there aren’t a lot of valid excuses, and “I ate too much last night” is certainly not going to be one. So there was no stopping, and there was no begging off. And it felt awful, but then it was over. And then this was the amazing part: I felt so much after it was done.

Once I had recovered from the exertion of it, I realized I felt more awake and more energized than I had in days. The feelings of nausea and overfull-ness were gone. I felt buoyant and good. And I was glad for that reminder. This is why I do it; this is why I keep at it even when it hurts: because it makes me feel better. And stronger. And happier.

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Some days of working out are harder than others. Today was one of the harder days. I had my second post-break training session, and where Monday went better than I thought it would, this morning reminded me of the early months when the entire hour of training was just an exercise in pain endurance.

It wasn’t as bad as when I first started, but it was worse than it’s been in a long time. I have enjoyed no longer feeling like I am going to keel over for most of a work out. I like being able to focus on pushing harder, fine tuning the exercises, and appreciating how much stronger I am. Not today though! Today my quads burned – oh they burned! – while I did squat-holds, and the three-minute intervals I spent on the spin bike were an agony of screaming muscles and pounding heart. It was all I could do to stay in the movement, to keep going.

There was a time when I would not have kept going, when that much pain would have been reason for me to stop. But I’ve learned from all this time of working with my trainer that stopping is not an option. If I stop, I will just have to start again, and usually, I will have to go for longer because of the pause. I have also learned that I actually do have the capacity to power through it. It might feel like all of me is on fire and my lungs are going to collapse, but actually, I am just sweating and my internal organs are all fine. As long as I do not experience sharp, shooting pain, I can keep going. Literally – I am capable of continuing to move. So now I push myself through it. It’s a point of pride, even; I don’t want to stop when I know I’m capable of more.

But sometime it doesn’t feel like I’m capable of more. Sometimes, it feels like my whole body is screaming at me (because it is), and I should respond by ceasing the action it dislikes so much (which I shouldn’t). When it gets that hard, I’m usually near the end of a set of weight repetitions or an interval of cardio, and all I need is a few more seconds of pushing. All I need is something to help power me through. So here’s what I use…

1. Stronger – I sing (in my head, of course – I have no breath for actual singing) the refrain to Kanye West’s “Stronger.”
N-n-now that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now, ’cause I can’t wait much longer
I know I got to be right now ’cause I can’t get much wronger
yeah I’ve been waitin’ all night now, that’s how long I been on ya.
Work it harder make us better, do it faster make us stronger.
Work it harder make us better, do it faster make us stronger.

Usually that’s enough to get me there. If it’s not, I just keep repeating the last refrain – because it’s true.

2. This is what your body’s meant for. I will repeat this mantra to myself over and over again, reminding myself that actually, this is what my body is built to do. It is built with muscles, and they can grow; it contains lungs and a heart and veins to pump the blood, and all of them can work more efficiently. This is what I’m meant for; this is what my body does. It’s not bad because it hurts; it’s not wrong. It’s just working.

3. Pain is fear leaving the body. It’s an old Jillian Michaels quote, and it helps me to repeat it. Because I have a lot of fear, and when I feel a lot of pain in working out, it’s good to imagine that it’s the fear being pushed out, making me stronger and more free. Also, it’s nice to just acknowledge that yeah, the pain is there, but it’s okay. It has a purpose.

4. It’s just a sensation; it will pass. Because it is, and it will.

5. And when all else fails, I swear. Or yell. Yeah, I’m the yeller in the gym sometimes. Now I get why people do it: Sometimes you can’t help it. Sometimes it’s just the only way to move through the pain. But as long as I’m moving through it, and not quitting, well, whatever it takes to get there, you know?

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Houston Cardio Workout View

Houston Cardio Workout View

Today, I returned to training after a three-week break. I wasn’t dreading it, but I also wasn’t looking forward to it.

It’s not my first choice of activities, getting up at 5:30 in the morning, driving across town, and working out so hard for an hour and a half that it hurts (because it’s supposed to). My first choice of activities is probably napping. Before I embarked upon this lifestyle change, it was definitely eating. (It’s not hard to see where my problems started…)

I do not come by the gym-going thing naturally. I am not inherently built for getting up and running around. I was not an athlete in school; in fact, I was such a non-athlete that, even though I loved playing soccer and had done so in a neighborhood league for five years, I was one of only four girls actually cut from the JV team my freshman year in high school. The lesson I learned? Take dance class to fulfill your PE credit and stop embarrassing yourself with sports. I was thrilled to walk away from “physical education” in fact; all it did was emphasize my weaknesses. It’s maybe not surprising given this early history, that I chose sleeping in and watching reruns of “The Love Boat” over joining the crew or sailing teams in college. Or that I only made any attempt at formal exercise as an adult under the guise of losing weight and only because I felt like I had to (lose weight, that is). It wasn’t my bag, you know? It just wasn’t where I shined.

But now… now. I’m the person who wakes up before dawn to go work out really hard on purpose twice a week. And I’m also the person who gets some kind of physical activity at least four, if not all five of the other days. And it’s not because I’m Just That Type of Person. I’m not that type of person. But I can choose to be that person. And I do. Every day. That’s the big secret, as it turns out. All fitness and good health really requires is making a choice, over and over, every day. Also working really hard. But first comes the choice to do it.

Over the holidays, I got a little bit reacquainted with my old habit of not making that choice. I wasn’t supposed to take three weeks off from training. I was only out of town for a week. But I got sick and then my trainer got sick the week before the holidays, and Pip ended up getting back later than I did, so we couldn’t start up until after the first of the year, at which point, I discovered I had scheduled a hard-to-come-by doctor’s appointment right in a potential training block. So it ended up being three weeks. Of course, I worked out during those three weeks. But it looked a lot more like my old version of working out than the new one. The week I was sick, I didn’t work out at all. I was better during the week I was in Texas for the holidays. I got two strong cardio workouts in while I was in Houston – both about 45 minutes each. My workout on Christmas day was more half-assed, but I did something at least. And then I got one more cardio workout in while visiting my fiance’s family in Dallas. So four times isn’t bad, but it’s a lot less than what I normally do. Once I got back, I was determined to get back on schedule, but I only half succeeded. I got a couple of good hikes in, but I also skipped one. I made up for it by dancing like a banshee on New Year’s Eve (seriously, I was sweating and smelly and probably the recipient of many people’s stares – but it was fun!). And then I finally got back to the gym. But still… four times.

It’s kind of great that working out four times a week seems like half-assing it to me now. But backsliding is easy, and I’ve learned in the past that the farther down the slope I go, the slipperier it gets. So I have to stop the slide before it starts. Which means I have to shake off the languor of the holidays and get back into my routine that does not allow for breaks, exceptions, or extra days off. And that starts with going back to training.

Which I knew was going to be really painful. Because it’s one thing to miss a few days, but missing a few weeks creates a big enough gap to lose strength. And yes, I should have been doing wall sits and core exercises and plank series while I was away, but I wasn’t really consistent about that. I did them, once or twice. I knew it wasn’t enough, and I knew I needed to get back. But it’s funny how, once I had a little time away from it and once the routine was broken, I was reluctant to return. I like sleeping in. I like avoiding pain, including the hurt-so-good pain of muscle burn. I kind of wanted to find a way out of it. I did with that doctor’s appointment on Friday. I mean, it was an accident, and there was no canceling that appointment; but I was secretly glad for the reason to cancel. And yesterday, I was totally starting to imagine ways I might be able to put this morning’s workout off until Wednesday.

I know what that thinking is. It stems from the same thought gremlin that says, “Look, you really should just eat that one cookie. It’s just one! Just do it for today, for right now! We’ll totally be different tomorrow.” And I’d already heard that particular speech recently. So I knew I had to go. And I did. And it WAS painful. But it was also not as bad as I thought. And when it was over, I felt elated because I’d gotten through it.

And then I felt deflated… because I was going to have to keep doing it. Because this is not a one-time affair or a quick fling. This is a way of life. And it may not be my natural inclination, but it is my choice. It’s a choice that I know is the right one for me because it gives me a lot more of myself than my old habits did. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still hard sometimes – because it is.

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Today I started thinking again about my first time at my trainer’s gym, more than a year ago now, in the summer, when I weighed almost 60 pounds more than I do now and got winded walking up stairs. I was terrified that first day.

For starters, I used to hate going to the gym in general. It made me feel awkward and self-conscious and featured an annoying combination of boredom discomfort (cardio). At least at the various Bally’s and YMCAs and local gyms I had patronized on my own, I could blend in with the crowds, staying mostly invisible on a elliptical machine in some corner. But my trainer’s gym – a private gym just for personal trainers and their clients – was small and visible, and the people in it were generally in very good shape.

I felt sick to my stomach walking up the stairs that first day. What were people going to think of me? The fat, out of shape girl in the serious training gym? Would they stare and think (or say) dismissive even derogatory things? They’d definitely think them; I assumed as much. I would be watched and judged. And what about all the pain I was going to suffer? I was signing up to get my ass kicked, to do things I was not good at doing. People – strangers – were going to see me flailing and failing. Walking into the gym did not instantly make me feel better; everyone in the small pristine space was in great shape, and most of them were good looking men. It was intimidating

But the guy at the front desk, who was young and buff and cute, was actually very sweet to me and seemed excited that I was there and starting training for the first time. My trainer immediately began caring for me – telling me where to put my stuff, how everything worked, introducing me to the gym’s owner and other people she knew. And everyone was nice. Their smiles were all genuine, and instead of recoiling in horror at my out of shape slothfulness, they responded with enthusiasm about the big step I was taking and wished me luck. It was reassuring. I still stuck to my trainer like a needy puppy for weeks though. I was only truly comfortable when she was right there with me; I felt like she justified my presence in a place full of fit people, who, no matter how friendly, still felt so different for me.

Plus, she was – and still is – such a good guide. I didn’t totally know what to expect from personal training beyond that I would get my ass kicked. I had seen “The Biggest Loser” and boot camp classes in local parks, and there was always a lot of yelling. I do not do well with yelling, so that scared me. But my trainer doesn’t yell. In fact, what I have noticed from more than a year of being in a gym full of trainers is that, in general, trainers don’t yell. They insist; they push; they are firm. But there are ways to do that without being aggressive. And Pip is great at that. I KNOW she means business, and I know I had better not stop an exercise part way finished unless I have a damn good reason. But it’s not because she screams at me; she just makes me do it again. And she’s supportive. I know when she pushes me it’s to make me stronger, to move me past the limits I think I have. I know this because she’s explained as much to me.

In the early days, she was really pretty gentle. All of the exercises we did were calibrated for my level of fitness, which was low. Of course, they were all still hard as hell for me, but the “for me” was key. We weren’t working on an absolute scale of “hard” vs. “easy” – to do something like that would have done what previous bad class experiences have done – pushed me much further than I was capable of going, scaring me away forever at best and injuring me at worse. Instead, Pip kicked my ass in the range of exercises that my ass was capable of getting kicked in.

I couldn’t stay off the saddle of the spin bike and pedal for longer than 10 second the first few times I did it; I slid to the floor before completing my first wall sit; I dropped out of planks way before my count was done; I lived in terror of the second and third sets of so many strength exercises because the first set always felt like more than I could manage. But with Pip guiding me, pushing me more than I could push myself but not more than I was capable of doing, I got through squat series and chest presses and crunches when I didn’t think I could. I did high intensity intervals on the treadmill until I could manage the more intense half of the interval reasonably instead of feeling like each excruciating second was a hair’s breathe from me slipping backwards off the machine. I got stronger. A lot stronger.

And I go to the gym now and I feel so good about it. I’m still not at my weight-loss goal; I still have a ways to go. But damn, I am strong. I do plank series now. I hold wall sits for multiple minutes. I spend so much time on that stupid spin bike, and I can totally handle it. All the weights I lift are heavier. The intervals I do are more intense. It’s always challenging and exhausting but I recover now – like, immediately after it’s done instead of five hours or a couple of days later. I feel really capable, and it is one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever had. I’m comfortable in the gym now. I know a lot of the people there. And I feel like I belong. Because I’ve worked for it. And I’m not perfect, but I realize now that no one is. And that no one was ever watching or judging me. All the enthusiasm people showed when I first showed up was genuine. Because they knew what I was getting into – they knew how hard it was going to be, but also how great the rewards are.

I had no idea how significant the rewards were. Because I’m not just stronger, I’m more capable. I carry myself differently, and I feel differently about who I am. I am confident in what my body can accomplish, in what I can accomplish, the ways I can shape and change my life through my own effort. I know better who I am, and it feels really good.

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