Two Steps Forward…

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Two steps forward, one step back, is still a net gain.

I have been reciting this truism quite a lot lately. It seems that my 52 year old body likes to raise a ruckus with my heart, brain, and internal drive to push myself to higher levels of fitness.

Thus, for every two steps I advance, I end up taking a step back more frequently than I care for.

I have to remind myself that my general progress has been forward, not reverse. It is a small consolation when those nagging injuries prevent you from really achieving your goals, but it is an important point to make. I put this out there so others can see, it is not the day-to-day we should necessarily obsess over, it is the direction we are moving in. If I focused only on what I didn’t do today, I would be in a constant state of frustration and disappointment. But when I do look back at where I’ve come from, this is what I see: A place where 2 years ago I was someone puffing to walk up a single flight of stairs, and struggling to pick up some of my heavy pans. A place of lethargy, and yes, apathy. A place where I had resigned myself to feeling far older than my years on the biological ‘clock’. A place where I sat on the sidelines and watched my family…from the sidelines. Today, I am able to bicycle 8 miles to my trainers, lift weights for an hour, and bicycle home with ease. I have regained my joy of traveling and exploration, because I can walk, climb stairs all day long and still have energy to spare for evening. I enjoy vacations with my family. I don’t shy away from fun physical activities: Riding a Zipline, racing my daughter on a paddle board, hiking up a trail to some far off falls or cliff providing a gorgeous view. The difference is profound. All this, in just two years.

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back = 1 Step Forward. Net Gain.

I can apply this concept to all aspects of my life: fitness, education, cooking, relationships, my faith walk, and so on. It is important, when you are thrown the proverbial ‘curve ball’ to take a breath, step back, and check your direction. Are you looking back? Because the body and spirit will follow the head. Be sure to keep your eyes focused ahead, on your goal. There will be times you might have to slow your pace, stop and take a breather, or yes, even take a step back. But you don’t have to turn around to take a step back. Just like we glance in our cars rearview mirror before changing lanes, merging or pulling out into traffic, allow yourself to glance back. It shows you if you have a clear path, and reminds you of how far you have come. Then, if circumstances require it, still looking forward, allow that step back knowing that your goal for the next step is forward.

Example: Last fall, I achieved one of my fitness goals: To DeadLift 200 pounds. When I achieved this goal, my next goal was 2 plates on the bar, which is 235 lbs. In-between then and now I had a shoulder injury, neck muscle strain, my hips went out, my knee (which has had surgery twice) decided to go on strike, and my asthma decided to make an appearance after 2 years of having it under control. I confess, there were more than a few times I complained to my trainer that I was regressing, not progressing. (Confession: I complain to my trainer Ron. A LOT. And he is gracious, good natured and a good sounding board, but he will NOT let me wallow in self pity nor frustration!)

In the midst of my bummer mental attitude, he shared this little gem of truth: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Backward is still progressing Forward. Since then I have concentrated on the journey back, and on to my next goal. I know I can do it, I have done it once already. We are just going to take it a little slower this time, to hopefully minimize those back-steps. And I won’t allow myself to get discouraged again. Because I know…

2 Step->, 1 Step <- = Net Gain.


Transformation

A year ago June (which would be 2013) I began my journey to transform my mind and body. I had gotten to a point where I just became – as I like to describe – uncomfortable in my skin . I was overweight, tired and unmotivated. My body was in a state of constant ache and injury, and I was unable to enjoy physical activities with my family and friends. I just felt, well, way older than 50. The thought of being 90 and feeling this way, or worse, was overwhelming. Spurred on by this depressing realization, and on the suggestion of a friend, I went to The Biggest Loser Resort in Chicago for a week which I journaled: Here, here, here, here and wrapped up my experience here. It was the kickstart I needed to get me turned around and headed in the right direction.

Upon returning home, I enthusiastically embraced my new active lifestyle. I started walking 6 miles with my buddy, Big Girl (Little Man had not arrived on the scene yet), as well as putting a few miles on my bicycle. I also began in earnest, training with Ron Hoff, a personal trainer who specializes in Progressive Weight Resistance Training which I mention HERE in a previous blog post.

Well here we are a year later and you are probably wondering where I’m going with this.  And why did I post that grainy photo above?

Transformation.

When I started out, one of the exercises he started me on was the Dead Lift, (see here for an explanation, but DO NOT TRY without a professional to guide and spot you) for which my trainer started me with dumbbells. Very, VERY light dumbbells. Looking back, ridiculously light dumbbells! But, as he coached me, everyone starts at the beginning. As my strength started to build, we progressively worked up to lifting just the bar. Then we began to add weight plates to the bar. The photo above was the first time Ron put the BIG PLATE on the bar. That day was a milestone for me, and a gauge of my accomplishments. That meant that I had gone from holding a couple of weights in my hands probably totaling about 24 pounds to now lifting a bar off the floor that weighed 135 lbs. I was so excited when the ‘big plate’ was put on, I ran upstairs, grabbed my phone and texted the picture to my family!  (It appears iPhotos blown up in wordpress come out grainy, sorry for that! I’m gonna work on figuring out how to get better resolution)

Today, this is my ‘warm up’ weight! I easily lift this for 12 repetitions not only for Dead Lifts, but also Back Squats. After the warmups,  we move up to the higher weights. My heaviest lift has been 185 pounds for 3 reps.

My goal? To lift 200 pounds by Thanksgiving.

And I will achieve that goal!

That is what I mean by ‘transformation’. Not only have I leaned out, built muscle, increased bone density (always good for aging women) and have rockin awesome legs; but I also have discovered that living life is so much more pleasurable! It’s a breeze to haul the summer clothing bins to the basement and heave them on the shelves. Bicycling 40 miles is pleasurable, even up hills. Carrying the 50 pound salt bags to the basement isn’t even work. Carrying 4 loaded grocery bags to the car is a snap. Everything about my life is easier and requires less effort. I don’t feel 90 at 50. I’m 51 feeling better than I did when I was 40, 30 even.

That. Is. Transformative.

Everyone has their favorite exercise, or lack thereof. But I can honestly say that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE would benefit from progressive weight training. Not only does it build bone density for women and men alike, it helps to increase your metabolism by adding muscle, which at a resting rate burns more calories than fat. I love that my body is now actually burning more calories now as I sit and blog! But the primary benefit that keeps me coming back for more is: it is an AMAZING endorphin booster. I live in the arctic tundra where Vitamin D is in short supply for many months. That can lead to the blues and lethargy, a downward spiral none of us needs! Because you use so many muscles in your body to Dead Lift or Back Squat heavy weight, it floods the brain with endorphins. You know, the stuff that makes us ‘happy’ and invokes a pleasurable feeling?  I use my weight training to manage the negative emotional effects of the long winters as well as keeping that ‘fat coat’ off! (Weight training may not look like it burns a lot of calories during the workout; but your body’s metabolism is super charged and you will continue to burn that 300-400 calories/hour for the next 4-7 hours. You also build muscle, which as I mentioned above,  burns more calories than fat at a resting rate.  Now THAT is awesome!)

I mean it when I say that every single human being can benefit from this type of training, because the benefits are NUMEROUS! I will add the following caution: Please consult with a trainer that is educated or very experienced in weight training, specifically Progressive Weight Resistance Training. My trainer is a Power Lifting champion many times over. He has decades of experience as well as certifications in Personal Fitness and Nutrition. You can achieve great results, but only if done properly. Honestly, that means having a professional to ensure your form is correct, you are lifting enough, but not too much. A trainer can watch you as you lift and assess your bodies ability to handle the weight, moving you up only when your body can handle it. They will help prevent injury, which leads to setbacks, and help you maximize the benefit of your workout. (I’ve had a few injuries and setbacks, but my trainer never let me quit. He tailored my workouts around the injury, building up supporting muscles and keeping me motivated)

If you are not familiar with this kind of training, I highly recommend you do some research for yourself. If you take my advice, please, leave me some feedback. If you have had success with weight training, tell us your story in the comment section. If you have had challenges in your fitness journey, please share how you overcame them. And if you happen to be where I was a year and a half ago, looking for support or motivation, reach out and lets make this a community support group.

We only grow older. The clock only moves in one direction. But we do not have to succumb to the effects of time without having a little say about the matter. I intend to have a LOT to say about it…for a lot more years to come!

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(And here we go, moving up in weight! 200 pounds? Here I come!)


Fun with Fitness? There is no time like the Present!

As you may recall, last spring I began a journey down the road to living a healthier lifestyle. I went to BLR-Chicago (click link to read my musings of the week) as a way to jumpstart my fitness program and give myself a mental (and much needed) ‘reboot’. Prior to leaving for camp, a friend had recommend a personal trainer with whom she had enjoyed great success with. And as a result, I started seeing Ron Hoff, Power Lifting Mid-West Regional champion a couple weeks prior to leaving for camp. (He is not only an expert in lifting, but a certified health and fitness trainer)

You see, I had come to understand the dejected and weak state of mind I was in. After multiple injuries; (frozen shoulder, falling off a ladder=back issues), surgeries (twice on a torn meniscus, foot, carpel tunnel, c-sections), failed exercise regime attempts (I am competitive and push myself too hard too fast = injuries), I had my fill of failure! I knew my competitiveness would be detrimental to me, as my past injuries had proven, both on my own and in a class. Unless I was monitored by professionals who would watch my form, motivate me to push myself, but also keep me within the boundaries of safety to help prevent injury, I was just asking for more setbacks. There is nothing more discouraging than getting in a groove, become injured, have to stop, then end up as a result feeling like a failure. I knew I needed someone to help guide and coach me. Guided accountability from a trainer, along with the mental reboot camp would provide, were mandatory to my achieving success. Supported by a with a very loving husband and two daughters, I felt I had a recipe for success.

And so I headed off to camp last June and started my journey towards a new way of life. The trainers at camp were wonderful, but darn it, they just didn’t fit in my suitcase! Leaving camp and the wonderful support system with a brand new attitude, I resumed my sessions with Ron, never losing the momentum gained at BLR. While at camp, we were introduced to all forms of exercise, with the intent of having us find at least ONE we enjoyed and would stick with. I enjoyed most of the classes, but my new passion is lifting weights. (I also enjoy bicycling, but that is kinda difficult in the snow!)

As a woman, I find lifting weights to be extraordinarily empowering. I started off not even able to bench press (push up with your arms while laying flat on a bench) the weight of the bar (40lbs), but can now push up nearly my daughters weight. The benefits I’ve experienced from my personal weight lifting sessions are: I have gone down an entire clothes size, I no longer suffer from the periodic ‘blues’ (heavy weights release endorphins in to your system, a natural high!), I have loads of energy, I sleep better, daily tasks are a breeze, my confidence is up, I’m no longer winded going up stairs, my body doesn’t creak and groan, protesting even the simplest of tasks. Generally life is once again enjoyable and livable, and I’ve remained injury free.

Which brings me to back around to today, and my advocating for finding someone, anyone, who can help you on your own journey of health. Why should you find a support system? I’ll tell you why. Late fall I was ‘blessed’ with the grunge. It started in my sinus’ and moved in to the lungs. For two weeks I was unable to exercise at all because I was busy hacking up a lung, or keeping the kleenex company in business. Since that time I have not fully been able to shake off whatever it is, BUT…unlike previous times when those impediments would have stopped me in my track, I have NOT given up. Yes, I had to take a short time off, but Ron modified my workouts to be effective, and yet mindful of my weakness. Then an old injury in my hip started giving me grief. He modified again, allowing that body area to rest, while keeping me on track, not letting me make excuses nor lose the rhythm of the routine. We worked together, as a team, moving forward, always making progress, even if that ‘progress’ was to keep from sliding backwards. If I were on my own, I might have succumbed to the temptation to quit, as I had in the past.

I know not everyone is blessed with the ability to have a personal trainer. I understand that we all have life circumstances and health issues that can be barriers in our journey. But, that should be no excuse. It must NOT be an excuse that prevents you from starting some form of a health regime. If I can go from feeling 20 years older than I am, with physical injuries and a track record of failures, and yet in 6 months come to feel the best I’ve felt in two decades, you can also! Yes, it will take some work on your part, but nothing free is ever appreciated as much as that which we struggle to achieve. I cannot recommend highly enough working weight resistance and/or heavy weight lifting in to your routine. The benefits, especially for women are enormous, both mentally and physically. I’m no expert, but here are my three tips for success:

1. Find someone to walk with you both literally and mentally. Reach out boldly, and find someone to hold you accountable, encourage you, motivate you, and support you. If one person says no, ask another, do not give up. If you are able, hire a certified/qualified fitness trainer. Many gyms, as well as community centers, have trainers you can hire for a reasonable fee. My personal trainer Ron, works both out of his home gym and a local fitness center. One of my girlfriends is a fitness trainer and she teaches a class out in a church facility! Start looking, and you will find! Having that personal connection can make all the difference between success and failure. Some people have the inner drive, self disciple, self determination and personal accountability to be able to do it all on their own. Then there are the rest of us. There are vastly many more like me, who require an accountability coach/friend to keep us honest with ourselves. It took me some rough years and growing to feel older than I was to come to that understanding. But now that I have ‘seen the light’, I will not succumb to the lies that I cannot succeed. I can, and I have. Build that support system!

2. Set your goals. Make them attainable. My mistake in the past has been to focus on the end-goal, such as, ‘losing 20 pounds’. What a recipe for failure that was! By looking at the end goal, not having any milestones in between, I set myself up for failure when I didn’t immediately start seeing results. When life, illness and injury get in the way, I could not meet that goal in any reasonable time frame. Instead, try doing what my trainer had me do, set small reasonable goals. Such as, going down one clothes size, being able to walk up the stairs not winded, be able to take a bike ride with the family, easily walk the dog 2 miles, ect. In other words real attainable and measurable goals, that can be increased and achieved. (Start with a goal of walking 1 mile, or one block if that is the case, then increase to 2, then 4, and so on) When you meet that goal, set another small achievable one.

3. GET OFF THE SCALE. Judge your progress by your clothes size and how you feel! If you are building muscle, you may be trading fat for muscle, which takes up less volume = you lose inches, but the scale may never move. If you rely on a scale, you can set yourself up for failure. Judge how your clothes fit. At my current ‘pounds’ weight, I should not be able to fit in to the clothes size my scale weight is saying, judging by past history. But I am! Because of weight lifting, I have traded fat for muscle and so my cloth size has gone down. When I left camp, I had lost a mere 1.5 pounds according to their scale. However, for the first time in years, I felt AMAZING. I felt strong, energized, and set up for success. I could have walked away discouraged and dejected by such a measly weight loss. But I had a support system in place who encouraged me to not dwell on the scale, but instead judge how I FELT. So, I highly recommend if you are the type (like me) to get discouraged by a scale that doesn’t move, or move fast enough: GET OFF THE SCALE!

4. Fitness must be combined with a mental re-evaluation of food. Americans have a distorted sense of portion size and calorie content. The biggest reality shock I experienced at camp was how amazingly few calories my body needed to run efficiently. Not once did I feel hungry or drained, and yet each day we were exercising 4-5 hours/day and consuming no more than 1300-1500 calories. Yes, they had to be high quality and balanced units of energy, but when you consume fuel your body uses, it uses it! It doesn’t store it! Healthy ‘clean’ eating not only fuels your body, but it gives you glowing skin, better sleep, more energy, and will help your body function properly. You are what you eat. If you put garbage gasoline in your cars’ tank, it will not run properly, sputtering and stuttering, lurching down the road. But put in a high quality, clean fuel and not only does it clean your engine and lengthen the life of the car, but it will give you better mileage and performance. We take care of our vehicles and appliances, all of which are disposable in the end. Why do we neglect our bodies, which we have until the final sunset? Do we want to be lurching and sputtering miserably along to that day, or cruising along, enjoying every bit of scenery?

We are currently in the trifecta of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. This is the time of year most people let go, and give up on both mental and physical health, procrastinating the idea till New Years resolutions roll around. (As if that day is going to magically transform us in to long lasting disciplined, purposeful, accountable beings!) So, I challenge you: live in the present, and there is no better time like the present to get started. This can also be the time of year to give yourself, and/or those you love the generous gift of health. That is the gift that will keep on giving throughout the year, and years to come, as well as to those you touch in your life.

Nike has the slogan ‘Just Do It’.

I think it’s time to find a new one. How about ‘There’s no Time like the Present!’?