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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Time to exercise!

I know everyone is looking at that subject title and going wait... what? Now is the time for holiday eating and winter laziness! See but the thing is I'm going on a honeymoon in a month. I'm going to be in Florida on a beach in a bikini, so I've been amping up the workout routine.

I started seriously exercising three years ago. It was my New Year's Resolution for 2007--the only New Year's Resolution I've ever kept, aside from the resolution I made when I was 13 to never eat meat again.

I did not enjoy exercise as a kid. I wasn't totally opposed to physical activity, but aside from a couple things, like bike riding and swimming, I did not ever enjoy it. Well, I also did ballet and gymnastics and loved both of them. I wasn't great, but I wasn't terrible. I think what it came down to was that I was terrible at team sports-- too short for basketball, too uncoordinated for kickball or soccer, I just thought football was stupid, and even though I was great at hitting the baseballs my dad threw in the backyard, it didn't translate to gym class. Gym class was the place where I got made fun of. It was the bane of my existence. The annual mile run/ President's Fitness Council thing they make you do--my own personal version of hell. Another thing to get teased about. I would just walk the mile-run to show that I didn't care if I came in last. (Actually I did care.) And don't get me started on doing push-ups and pull-ups. My frustration at those made me declare years ago, so I have no upper body strength I DON'T CARE, I have very strong legs, dammit!

But when I was a kid and a teenager I could get away without exercising, or just taking a ballet class once a week and calling it a day. I had this awesome metabolism. Then I went away to college, gained that freshman 15 and suddenly I was a little flabby in some places. I lost muscle tone because there were no more required gym classes and the only dancing I did was when I was drunk at a club.

In my early twenties, I was having all these problems with insomnia and depression. My doctor, my therapist, my nurse mother, the magazines I read all started saying the same thing: if you exercise, you will feel better and you will sleep better.

Still holding on to angry gym class memories of the mile-run, my lack of endurance and upper body strength, I decided to try pilates. It was an ab thing and I wanted a flatter stomach. It seemed to be about flexibility and I was okay at that from the years of dance.

Pilates was my gateway drug to exercise. Within a few classes, I noticed I was feeling stronger. I was starting to correct some of my back problems (terrible posture has seriously affected my shoulders). I was even developing some upper body strength. My mood also did improve. My Pilates teacher commended my hard work, but said that it was really important to get some cardio as well. So, reluctantly, I joined a gym, telling myself, I would walk on the treadmill. Maybe jog a bit.

That was my routine for awhile, but fast forward to New Years of 2007. I'd been dating my now-husband for about a year then and had gained some more weight as tends to happen when you start dating someone because you go out to eat a lot. I've had body issues in the past, so I was determined to lose it in a healthy way and to get strong. I decided to join the gym on the university campus where I worked instead of the gym across town from my house, figuring I would go more regularly either at lunch or right after work. Plus it was super cheap!

The plan definitely worked. It worked really well in fact because I hated my job and going to the gym at lunch to blow off steam was exactly what I needed. I discovered the joy of zoning out to bad TV on the elliptical. (I have bad knees and ankles from gymnastics so I can't do the treadmill nor can I run outside much, though I do like a nice jog through my local cemetery when weather permits.) And, oddly enough, I also came to enjoy what I'd once hated-- gym class.

My gym offered several free classes a week. The first one that my friend and I tried was called "Ab Lab." Due to Pilates I knew I had good core strength, so I would probably do okay at it. It actually kicked my ass, but I liked it. Then it was on to cardio kickboxing. We hated our job. It was fun to go in there and pretend we were kicking the people we didn't like at work. Next was this thing called 20/20/20, 20 minutes of kickboxing, 20 minutes of step aerobics , and 20 minutes of... basically gym class. Running drills, doing push ups and squats. And some twisted part of me liked it. Maybe it was because I was doing it with a friend, someone I could struggle with, and we laughed together when we sucked at something, no one was laughing at me. Maybe it was because I had a lot of aggression to get out. Or maybe it was because within six months, I could rock a bikini like this and not feel self-conscious:

The hardest thing about quitting my job to go back to bartending/have more writing time was giving up that gym. Leaving my job meant losing my membership to the gym because it was the University gym (hence it was so affordable and had fun free classes). I'd also be making a lot less money so another gym membership wasn't an option. I raided my savings and bought a good elliptical machine.

Every day after I finish writing I go down to my basement and work out. I'd been kind of slipping lately. Not skipping the workout (I watch my beloved soap opera, One Life to Live while I'm on the elliptical to bribe myself), but I've been half-assing it. And I haven't been varying my workout at all, which means I've lost some of that valuable arm strength. (Plus I was getting bored.) So instead of doing the elliptical five days a week, I've substituted workout DVDs twice a week. My favorite is The Firm: Total Body Time Crunch, which reminds me of that 20/20/20 class since it includes some kickboxing and cardio mixed with strength. Not nearly as fun, but definitely forcing me to build that upper body is Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred.

I want to get some new ones. This Cardio for Indie Rockers DVD looks great and is on my Christmas list since I would prefer to exercise to cool music. But I could really use some fun kickboxing DVDs too.

Yes, I just called exercise fun. Twelve year old me would totally be gawking and perhaps weakly trying to punch me. But you know what, after I banished the demons of the mean boys who would pick on me back in school (by imagining them while kickboxing of course), I realized that exercise was truly empowering. I love feeling stronger and I love the release it gives me. So if you are feeling the winter doldrums, I'd highly suggest a little workout to give you a boost.

If you do exercise regularly, what do you do? I know our Jenn Echols is a runner. Ooh and if anyone has workout DVD recommendations, I'm all ears. I need to get that bikini body back again fast!


maybeimamazed02 said...

I know you work nights, but if you are ever in Chicago's West Loop at any point, the Lou Conte Dance Studio is FABULOUS. Adult classes at every level, and they are very affordable! I have a dance background and once I wanted to get back in the game, they were my first stop. I go there once a week.

I also do yoga two or three times per week--this has gotten infinitely more affordable once I started the studio's work-study program. Four hours of office work per week in exchange for unlimited free classes. Sweet!

If you like ballet and Pilates, there are some great DVD's out there that combine both.

Cool post!

Anonymous said...

Squeeze and Squeeze Stronger by Tracey Effinger are great muscle toning (for endurance) DVDs

Karen Voight's Great Weighted Workout is almost twenty year old, but if you can get past the dated outfits, it's a truly butt-kicking muscle toning (again for endurance) workout

For cardio, try Amy Bento's floor aerobics videos. The music is pretty good but Amy is a really great instructor and the workouts change a lot so it's hard to get bored (it does take a little while to pick up, and if you don't like to jump or don't have any dance training, I'd skip it and stick to The Firm--if you can find some of their older workouts, they are very good as well)

Jennifer Echols said...

I never exercised, for all the reasons you didn't, until I had a baby and couldn't lose the last 10 pounds. Then I became a half-assed runner, but I still would sometimes fudge my way through two miles (walking up the hills, jogging down the hills) until I signed up for my first 10-K and followed the "Couch to 10-K in 10 Weeks" plan. Following that plan is like using an exercise video: if you're not a natural, it's so helpful to use the structure of somebody who IS.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Hey Lauren, Thanks for the rec, but yeah I never make it out to the West Loop. I'm glad those classes have been working so well for you though!

Anonymous, love all the video recs, thanks so much, I will check them all out. Hmmm wonder if my library has workout dvds I can try....

Jenn, thanks for sharing that link, I am checking it out!