When Spanx Aren’t Enough: Getting In Shape
A lot of people take an upcoming wedding as a good motivator to hit the gym. Maybe you just want to tone up a bit, maybe you want to lose a couple of pounds, or maybe you’re looking for a complete overhaul and want to drop some serious weight, but knowing you’re approaching one of the biggest days in your life can sometimes be the kick you need to start taking care of yourself the way you’ve wanted to but maybe never made the time for. Whatever the case is, you are not alone! Men and women alike start to hit the gym leading up to the wedding, and it’s not only a fantastic step in a healthier direction, but it’s great for managing any stress that comes along with planning the wedding!
Here’s my disclaimer: I’m not going to pretend to be a weight loss/fitness expert. I could ramble on about the whole “physical activity at least 3 times a week/eat veggies and things that taste like cardboard all the time blah blah blah” thing that you usually see, but you can get that anywhere, and those spiels have never really been helpful to me. So, instead, I’m going to tell you how I shaped up (since I may have had some koozies around my six-pack if you know what I mean) without getting bored. Getting bored with your workout/diet is the reason most of them fail. Change it up a little every once in a while, and you’re more likely to stick to it.
My workout schedule currently has me going to the gym 3 times a week. I used to go closer to 4 or 5, but I’ve reached a point now where I’m in more of a maintain/”work out now so I can eat that piece of cheesecake later and it’ll be like it never happened” mode, so that extra day or two isn’t necessary (unless of course I’m generous with that cut of cheesecake…). I do an aerobics class two days a week (emphasis on cardio, a little bit of resistance/strength training) and one day on my own doing a circuit routine (emphasis on resistance/strength, little bit of cardio). The aerobics classes are great because they’re always a little different and you’re working out with a group, which makes it easier to push yourself.
I highly recommend adding an aerobics class to your schedule. I currently do TurboKick (a kickboxing class with a little bit higher intensity) and Piloxing (a mix of kickboxing and standing Pilates). TurboKick has more of a lower body emphasis, while Piloxing has an upper body/core strength focus. TurboKick is great for leg strength and has an overall higher cardio intensity (my heart rate usually hangs out between 170 and 180 for most of the hour). Piloxing is excellent for improving balance and flexibility, and great for toning your shoulders, arms, and upper chest, and is a slightly lower intensity (my heart rate usually doesn’t go above 170 in this one). There are women of all ages in the classes (and every once in a while a guy shows up), and every move has a “low” and “high” version depending on what level of workout you need or are able to do (usually just whether or not you jump with each movement). Another class I did for a while (until the schedule changed and I couldn’t make it anymore) was StepJam. It’s a step class with a more upbeat, dancing kind of tone to it than regular step classes. I used to equate step class with older people or more “stiff” folks, but I tried it on a whim and loved it. You can vary your own intensity relatively easily and can make it an awesome work out.
You can’t lose weight with cardio alone, which is why I like those classes since they throw in a little something extra on top of cardio, but to really get the full effect you need to have at least a day of strength training thrown into your routine. Why? Muscles burn more calories even just sitting still, so more muscle means you’ll eat up more calories than you otherwise would do any other activity…it’s almost like cheating. Awesome cheating. And contrary to popular belief, “strength training” is not synonymous with “get massive muscles”. Sure you can get them if you want, but don’t stay away from weights because you’re worried you’ll end up looking like the Hulk. I promise you that as long as you don’t start trying to bench your future spouse you won’t end up like that.
When doing a strength day, you can’t just go straight to the weights and start pumping iron. You have to get the blood really flowing through you to prepare your body for the weights. I usually hit a treadmill or elliptical machine for about 15 to 20 minutes at a relatively moderate pace (depending on my mood I get through 2 to 2.5 miles according to the readout) before I head to the weights. Obviously, that rate is good for me and my current fitness level. The rule of thumb is warm-up is to do between 15 and 20 minutes of something that requires noticeable effort but doesn’t leave you winded. From there, I use a technique I picked up in a class I took (hey they made you take a Phys. Ed. class, I figured I should make it count) called circuit training. Rather than doing one exercise at a time, you rotate through a circuit of them, hitting all the major muscle groups. For example, my circuit goes like this:
- 15 pull-ups with 90lb counterweight (the counterweight balances out your body weight, so at 90lbs I’m doing a pull-up with 35 lbs since I weight about 125lbs); 5 at each holding position (wide, regular, and parallel)
- 20 leg extensions (10 on each side) at 30 lbs
- 15 tricep dips (80 lbs counterweight; my triceps are easily the weakest part of my body…)
- 20 Bosu squats (a Bosu ball looks like half of a stability ball with a platform attached to it, I do squats on this to engage my core muscles while I do the squat; do NOT use a Bosu for this your first few weeks) with 30 lbs (I hold 15 lbs in each hand with the weight essentially resting on my shoulder parallel to my head)
- 20 reps seated row with 40 lbs and straight bar
- 20 kettle bell swings with 25 lbs (since my gym doesn’t have kettle bells easily available, I just use one of the discs that you usually put on a barbel and put both hands through one handle)
I do that circuit 3 times through, 4 if I’m feeling ambitious (or reeeeeally wanting a bigger piece of cake later), and then wrap up with an ab/core workout (usually lasts about 15 minutes). The exercises I do were chosen because they focus on the parts of my body I’m the least comfortable with. The key thing to take away from my routine (if you want to make up your own) is that you need to alternate between upper body and lower body, and the only rest in between the exercises is the time it takes you to get from one setup to the next. From when I get on the treadmill to when I’m done with my core routine is about an hour.
When I started working out seriously a year and a half ago (it was before I got engaged; I was just not happy with my lack of shape and wanted to do something about it), I actually splurged and bought a few weeks worth of sessions with a personal trainer. If you’ve never found a workout routine that actually works for you, I definitely recommend doing a few sessions with a professional. We sat down and went over what my recent activity level had been (which was pretty near zero since I had just spent the last few months finishing up my dual bachelors degree), what my eating habits were like, and what my ultimate goal was for my time at the gym. He gave me recommendations of tweaks I could make to my diet (which he also did in stages so it wasn’t quite as much of a shock to my system) and designed workouts for me that would give me the most benefit based on my current shape and where I wanted to be. As the weeks progressed he changed the workout to reflect the progress that had been made and what still needed work. It was incredibly helpful.
If you want/need more instruction on what any of the exercises I’m talking about are, or want recommendations on exercises to target specific problem areas, let me know! If I get enough interest in anything in particular I’m make a secondary post about it.
No I don’t mean go on a crazy “don’t eat this/count your calories” diet, I simply mean your food consumption pattern. You don’t need to go “on a diet”, but simply change the way in which you choose the food you eat. First rule of thumb of changing your diet: anything can be okay in moderation, and anything can be bad for you without moderation.
The absolute first thing you should look at is your breakfast. If you’re not eating one at all, shame on you. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day because it jump starts your metabolism. I equate it to lighting a charcoal grill. Your body is the grill, and breakfast is the lighter fluid. Yeah you can light the thing and it’ll work just fine without the fluid, but it takes a lot longer and it’s not as effective. You add the lighter fluid, and BAM! Fire. Breakfast should be fairly high in protein and fairly low in carbs, but “low” is relative. If your breakfast consists of eggs and toast, that’s fine, so long as there aren’t more pieces of bread than broken eggs (i.e. if you have 2 eggs, you can’t have more than 2 pieces of toast). Greek yogurt is really one of the most ideal things you can eat for breakfast, and that’s one of the two choices I have for breakfast in the morning. The texture is very different from “regular” yogurt, so it can be a bit of a shocking switch. My recommendation here is to NOT get the plain one, or to throw some fresh fruit like blueberries into it. The other thing I do for breakfast is actually a Slim Fast shake. Those are usually equated with “being on a diet”, but they’re actually fantastic meal replacement shakes. I drink the low-carb variety, so I get a major boost in protein without the extra sugar, and can essentially “eat” my breakfast on my way to work.
Drink water. Drink lots of water. All through the day. Tons of it. I want you to pee clear. Drinking water in large quantities does a couple of things for you. Those times in the middle of the day that your brain tells you you’re hungry so you end up snacking? It’s probably lying. Essentially the same signal gets sent if you’re hungry OR if you’re thirsty. Just because you don’t feel dehydrated doesn’t mean you aren’t. If you drink water consistently throughout the day, you’ll start to notice that those mid-afternoon or late-night urges to eat will start to go away. Along the same lines as not telling you you’re hungry when you’re not, it will also tell you you’re less hungry than it otherwise would when you do actually sit down for a meal.
Look at the things you normally eat, and really consider what switches you can make. Since carbs are one of the biggest culprits behind the dreaded stomach pooch, I’ve started switching out which type of rice I use (now a brown rice instead of white) and use Dreamfields pasta when I’m having anything noodle related (I’m not going to pretend I understand the science behind it, but it effectively only has about 5 grams per serving versus almost 40 in regular pasta). I also stopped drinking soda. I’ll have it every once in a while (sometimes a Coke sounds REALLY good), but for the most part my beverage choice floats between water and chocolate milk (I’m not pretending that’s really all that good for me…but I do it anyways). The problem with soda isn’t just the sugar, but the carbonation. You’d be surprised how much of your extra stomach girth is really just that excess gas from the CO2.
I’ve made a couple other random substitutions, and some of the food I like the taste of even more with the changes. I altered a meatloaf recipe to take out all of the breadcrumbs and put zucchini in it. My dessert after dinner is apple slices that I dip in caramel. When I want fruit juice, I make a smoothie with fresh fruit, orange juice, and a low-carb ice cream. Not everything is fantastic for you, but it’s better than the alternatives.
I will say this: I do not deprive myself of foods that are considered “bad for you”. Heck, up through that last paragraph I was actually in the act of eating a Snickers bar. And I mean a whole one, not one of those fun-size ones. If you tell yourself “absolutely no more ______”, it’s like putting out the big red button that says “DO NOT PUSH”. You want to push the button. You ALWAYS want to push the button. The forbidden is the exciting. If you’re really serious about cutting something out of your diet completely, start off with just cutting back on how often you have it. Have a Pepsi every day? Try doing it every other day or drinking those little half cans instead, and when you get to a point where that’s comfortable, cut it back another step. When I cut out soda I started out by limiting it to just with dinner (I was a two-cans-a-day kind of soda drinker), and when I no longer craved it in the afternoons, then I started only allowing myself 4 a week. And then 3, and then 2, and then suddenly I didn’t want it all the time anymore.
Again, this is just how I got to be more fit and toned up so I wasn’t as self-conscious about myself. You might require something different, so when in doubt consult a professional (whether that be a doctor or a personal trainer). As always, if you want any suggestions, or have any for me to add here, let me know!