My Journey to Strong: Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Cardio is Not a Walk in the Park

Dear Reader:

OMG, I knew so little the day I walked through the door at Zone Fitness! During my first meeting with my personal trainer, Jonathan, we discussed the importance of both cardio (fitness slang for cardiovascular activity) and weight training. I told him that I was intimidated by weights.

“But, I like cardio,” I offered. “In fact, I exercise four days a week and count my steps!”

I learned very quickly, though, that my idea of cardio was not the same as Jonathan’s. I discovered that I fell far short of meeting the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association and by extension my doctor. Intensity matters! It only counts as cardio when you elevate your heart rate into an aerobic zone, which is 55 to 85 percent of your maximum. Any movement is good, but I was really short-changing myself. I was not working or sweating enough to achieve my weight loss goals or maintain my health. 

Real cardio is hard. The machine I’m sitting on in the picture above is a Cybex arc. I’d never given one a go and, let’s just say, the first time was an experience. I felt like I was going to die after 5 minutes, but I needed to make friends with that machine because it’s designed to be easier on the joints than an elliptical and burn 16% more calories than a treadmill.

I’m proud to say that I can now burn 400 calories in a 35 minute workout on the arc. Getting there required me to trust my trainer. I’d constantly joke that I hoped picking me up after my heart attack was included in my dues. But, honestly, I was scared. I had to learn that I couldn’t/shouldn’t jump off the machine when my inner monologue changed from…you can do this, Michele to …this feels horrible, Tom will kill me if I die in the gym, I don’t know if I can continue, I hate this blanking machine!

Jonathan identified this highly unpleasant feeling:  metabolic pain. (I’ll let you google that for the scientific explanation.) I only needed to know that it wasn’t a sign that I was going to die, but instead a sign that I was getting a good work out. We monitored my heart rate and Jonathan checked in frequently to ensure that I was expending the correct amount of energy.

“How are you doing?” he’d ask me. In those moments, I wasn’t sure I liked him.  My inner monologue went something like this…Can’t you tell by the look on my face?, Didn’t you notice that drop of sweat that just fell to the floor by your foot? Can’t you think of a better question? I later learned that Jonathan was administering the “talk test.” (You should be working so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation, but easy enough that you can contribute short sentences.)

After the first week of cardio training, it did get easier for me to keep pushing. I know what to expect. I can sense what my heart rate is before I check my reading. In short, I know my body better. Cardio has become a three-day a week activity, but I’m not saying it’s easy. Just when I’ve got my workout nailed, my trainer tweaks the settings! That brings me to my third bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong:

You only improve your fitness when you challenge your body.

Michele

Chocolate Me, Please!

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Dear Reader:

Last night our neighbors joined us for cocktails. They always bring a treat of some kind when they visit and usually it’s a pink one! This time, though, I was surprised by the presentation.

“Oh, that’s for Tom,” Marietta said as I enthusiastically reached for the Lula’s chocolates.

“Um…oh…really?!” I exclaimed.

“Well, I just read your latest post,” she continued, “and we can see that you’ve lost weight.”

“Well, you really weren’t that big,” Frank added.

Oh, how I love my neighbors! After I thanked them for both the compliments and the truffles, I explained that I do still eat chocolate. (If you are contemplating sending me a box, dear reader, please feel free to do so!)

My personal trainer, Jonathan, has given me a suggested menu and I follow it in a flexible manner. I’m eating more protein and vegetables and generally less food, but I still have an occasional treat. I can’t imagine living without wine or dessert, in moderation, despite my new appreciation for salmon salad!

Tonight, however, I will be eating clean and skipping alcohol in recognition of the fact that I drank and ate more than I usually do last night. When friends come to visit, I’m an “eat, drink and be merry” kind of gal. You can’t take the Italian out of me.

Michele

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 1

 

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Chapter 1: Fear is an Excellent Motivator

 

Dear Reader:

The day I met my personal trainer, my ankle was still swollen and blue from the fall I’d taken the week before. I wore work-out clothing and furry slippers. My husband chauffeured me to my appointment as I hadn’t driven since my mishap. Indeed, I had barely left the couch.

We pulled up to a small office building where the first thing I noticed was the stairs leading to the upper floor. Thankfully, the gym is tucked behind the stairs on the ground floor. I hobbled in and Jonathan greeted me with energy and enthusiasm (two things I lacked).

“We’re lucky you’re on the bottom floor,” I said. “And, by the way, I’m so nervous that I need a drink!

He laughed and offered me something to drink. I declined feeling sure that he meant to bring me nothing more potent than a glass of water. And, of course, it was a joke (sort of)! I had come ready to talk about getting in shape. We began by discussing my goals. They were as follows:

  1. Fall less often
  2. Fall less often and
  3. Fall less often

I told him, what only those really close to me know, that I fall with some regularity. My last meeting with the pavement really scared me. I explained that fear was my primary motivation:  fear of injury, fear of doctors and hospitals and fear of aging badly. I was anxious to know if my goal was doable and he assured me that it was.

“Balance is strength,” he said, and “strength is balance.”

To prove his point, he asked me to attempt the 1-legged standing balance test. I passed! I was even able to balance on my still recovering right ankle! He explained that strength would determine my ability to respond to challenges to my balance. I could offset my inherent klutziness and my tendency to spend too much time dreaming, plotting and planning rather than observing my surroundings.  I was elated… for a brief moment.

Then it was time for me to be weighed, pinched and measured.  I turned away when Jonathan checked my reading on the scale. I did not peak at my measurements as he listed them on my chart. And I displayed no curiosity about my fat to muscle ratio. I just submitted to the process. I was focused on getting stronger. I’d worry about getting thinner later. That brings me to my first bit of newly acquired wisdom on my Journey to Strong:

Wriggle into your black leggings and check your vanity at the gym door!  

Just do it!

Michele

One foot (ouch!) in Front of the Other (ouch!)

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Dear Reader:

This is the third day in a row that I’ve spent on the couch! Despite my recent Lazy Post, this is not like me.

Last week on November 8, I tried to forget what happened last year on the same day. But, it was time to acknowledge that I’d coped with a difficult year by agreeing to a second glass of wine and a decadent dessert a few too many times! And, I have 5 pounds to show for it. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I am in good company as both Stephen Colbert and Barbara Streisand have both blamed their weight gain on the POTUS.

Anniversaries can bring about reflection, and it came to me that we’ve (most likely) got another three years of this administration to suffer through. I may be able to accept a five-pound weight gain, but I’m not about to accept a twenty pound gain. So, I decided it was time to re-commit myself to my exercise routine …and to stop buying ice cream.

Next day,  I hit the gym. I hit the stair-climber; that was a mistake. I overdid it and spent Tuesday on the couch icing my overworked, arthritic left knee.

During my down-time, I took the opportunity to finally call the personal trainer my friend recommended many months ago. My goal is to improve myself, after all, not incapacitate myself!

“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “there are many things we can do without further straining your knee. I’ll meet you at the gym tomorrow.”

Next day, I woke feeling exhilarated with the Rocky theme song playing in my mind.  My knee was better after my day of rest and ice and elevation. I felt lighter and healthier, as a result, of simply making the right decision. I’d see the trainer in the afternoon and resolve to do better.

I began the day with a few errands and it was in the parking lot at the grocery store that I tripped and came crashing down. Hard. I had twisted my right ankle and scraped my left knee. I was lucky my husband was there to pick me up and get me home.  We applied an ice pack and I called the personal trainer to reschedule. And so I spent another day on the couch.

When I woke this morning, there were no theme songs playing in my mind. I knew I’d be spending the day on the couch…again. The dogs were happy enough, though. They spent the day draped all over me.

As they say though…one day at a time! And, one foot (ouch!) in front of the other (ouch)! I’ll let you know how it goes at the gym next week.

Michele