March 11: Ice Skating (update)

It’s been seven weeks since I last went to public ice skating. I have taken 6 group lessons and signed up for the next session that includes 5 lessons. Two weeks ago I learned how to snowplow stop, so I felt confident that I would not be a danger to anyone on the ice. In the local community coupon book, the ice center had a buy one get one free admission coupon. I invited my friend Brittany (who introduced me to the wonder world of ice skating!) to accompany me to my first public skate since I began my lessons.

As it turned out, Brittany did not know how to stop! So, it was a good feeling to be able to show her my new skills considering she picked me up off the ice a few times several weeks ago lol. I won’t begrudge that she picked up snowplow stops much better than I did! The ice was not crowded, so it was good to just skate and have fun. We skated for 50 minutes non-stop before heading home. My legs were like jelly, so I knew it was time to end the adventure, though my mind wanted to keep skating.

Ice skating is SO much fun! I have already found an indoor rink in Virginia, so if I decide to continue lessons once I move, I have a place. I am in the process of learning to skate backwards, so hopefully in the next 5 weeks I will learn to do crossovers with both feet, snowplow stop with my left leg, and skate backwards. Thanks to ice skating my lower body is nicely toned. When I fell off the fitness wagon, ice skating was great cardio. I want to live in ice skates lol. My lessons are the highlight of my week! I regret not looking into ice skating lessons as soon as I started my job 18 months ago. I’ve made such amazing progress in 7 weeks, imagine what I would be able to do with more than a year’s worth of experience! Oh well. I won’t make that mistake with kayaking. In fact, I already found a company that offers kayaking lessons and  trips, and wait for it: stand-up paddleboarding! omg, bye bye gym membership!

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January 16: TRX

If you have the opportunity, then you must try TRX training. Period. TRX is like the strength training version of Tabatas, assuming you just do cardio Tabatas. Forget Pilates. TRX is where it’s at for core strengthening. I’ve been in a rut with my fitness routine the last few months, so when the Spring semester group fitness schedule was published earlier this month I was so excited to see that TRX was being offered as a class.

TRX requires a suspension system that is no more than two heavy duty nylon adjustable straps with cushioned handles and foot straps. In the group fitness setting, we used a long bar where about 20 of us workout out as a class using individual TRX trainers. I opted for the end because I don’t like being that close to sweaty strangers lol. We spent about 2 minutes practicing how to adjust the straps, which is quite easy, before warming up using the trainer. It was interesting to feel the muscles work differently with my body “suspended”. I guess I should say here that you aren’t actually ever completely suspended in the air, because there are workouts like that. The suspension part refers to the crazy angles that you can perform basic exercises in like chest press or plank. It’s these changes in angles that really force your core to engage to keep you upright. Intially, I was relying too much on the trainer to hold me up rather than my muscles, but once I realized that I wasn’t going to fall, and “trust[ed] the TRX” as my instructor kept saying, then I was really able to challenge myself.

Basically any exercise you can do in a traditional workout, you can do with TRX. We did chest presses, which were more like push ups at a 45° incline and no wall or bench to support you, one legged squats, rows, lunges, planks, push ups. To mix it up, we used the TRX in a circuit and did about 3 different circuits in 45 minutes. At the end of each circuit, we jumped rope. For me, that lasted all of two times before I switched to jumping jacks, high knees, or speed skaters.

By far, my favorite moves were the plank variations. And they, by far, were the most challenging moves for me. Plank is touted as one of the best abdominal exercises because it works all the abdominal muscles, including the hard to work transverse muscles (the corset muscles as I’ve heard them called). In additional to the abdominals, every other muscles is working to stabilize your body. In 2011, I built up my strength to do a 1:45 plank cold. During an intense workout, I’m lucky if I can spend 45 seconds in my special place in part because I lack upper back strength and my shoulders just turn to jelly. I do pretty well with plank using a stability ball (shins on the ball and hands on the floor). So, I was confident when we had to do our first TRX plank.

Please. That’s another thing. TRX will humble you and boost your confidence simultaneously. For the first time in my life, I felt my rectus abdominal muscles instantly. If you do not engage your abs, and if they are not even moderately strong, it’s a wrap. My hips were sagging when I first lifted into TRX plank, and I immediately felt the stress in my low back. I quickly corrected my form, and that’s when I felt my rectus abdominal muscles. To me, I had to rely mostly on my abdominals, somewhat on my upper body, and very little on my legs to maintain proper form. Contrast this to floor plank where all muscles are firing away. The abs compensated for what the legs would normally do to support body weight. We performed high plank, low plank, tucks, oblique tucks, and the grandmama of them all: pikes. You want a nice booty? Do some TRX pikes.

For a first timer, I think I did pretty well. It was an intense workout that required seldom worked muscles but mostly the same muscles in traditional exercises, only TRX allows them to be worked in different ways. In my class there were some people who clearly have been out of the exercise game for awhile. They struggled.

I’m all for physical fitness for all ability levels, but you can really hurt yourself doing suspension training if you have not mastered proper form using good old fashioned elbow and knee grease with floor work. Fortunately, we had three TRX trained staff in the room, so they helped out when they could. But the instructor, whose other classes I regularly attend, generally works under the assumption  you know proper form for basic exercises. She rarely corrects poor form, choosing instead to tell you what proper form is and model it herself. Good or bad, it’s group fitness and not private classes.

I look forward to testing and pushing my limits in TRX this semester. The class is offered once a day M-R. Right now I will stick with once a week, but I hope to be able to attend twice a week as my strength and endurance builds. Today, I’ll be going to another new class offered this semester: awesome arms. Thanks to a broken leg during my infancy, I developed really good muscle tone in my arms because I had to practically drag myself around as I had a full lower body cast before I could walk. It’s relatively easy for my to do biceps and triceps exercises. Shoulder work is another matter altogether. Lateral raises and forward raises are the bane of my existence. My shoulders are also the weakest link in ability to do plank exercises over the duration of a full workout. But that is going to change this semester!

Currently, my fitness routine includes 45-60 minute cardio. I have been performing Tabatas on cardio machines after a quick warm up. The arc trainer and Precor EFX are excellent for this purpose because I can adjust the incline so that I do high knees, which is my exercise of choice when I used just my body weight and the floor. It’s much more challenging on a cardio machine because unlike in my living room, I can’t just stop for 10 seconds. It’s never really a rest period when performing Tabatas on cardio equipment. I attend one or two group fitness classes after work, mostly focused on strength and flexibility, though a few classes incorporate some cardio element either directly or by quickly moving between toning exercises. I’m tired of being skinny fat, and seeing as I can’t seem to muster the discipline to moderate my intake of processed sugar, then I have to spend extra time in the gym to mitigate the effects of the extra sugar. Sad, I know. But I enjoy working out, and I enjoy sugar. What’s a girl to do? *smile* We’ll see what I’m working with when Spring Break rolls around in seven weeks.

May 18: Pre-training for the Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon in Vegas

After posting on Facebook how excited I was to start training for races using my new Polar RS300X heart rate monitor, a friend from college invited me to join her and run the Rock ‘N Roll half marathon in Las Vegas during our birthday weekend. At first, I thought I would just go and cheer her on but I think it will be fun to challenge myself and run 13.1 miles. Besides, the trip will be a bundle of firsts: first time to Nevada (and by extension first time to Vegas); first half marathon; and first birthday trip. And I’m sure those three things are just the tip of the iceberg!

SoOoo, with exactly 28 weeks until my birthday, I thought I would make it official that I am pre-training for the half marathon. I have to wait until the end of the month when registration re-opens, so I’m hopeful that there are still spaces available. Why am I pre-training? Well, for one, the training program I am going to use is based on six weeks not six months. Second, I need to slowly build my distance up so that I can comfortably run at least 8 miles. I haven’t logged in more than 3 miles on a given run since my 10K a few weeks ago. And finally, I want to be able to maintain a 10 minute mile for the entire race, which is about 30s per mile faster than my 10K pace.

I’m really amped about running a half marathon, which is quite bizarre seeing as a few weeks ago 10K races were my only desires. I am going to take this training and reduce it to 3 week segments because 6 months just seems so daunting. I can stick with a plan for 21-days.

For the next 18 days, I will run four days a week slowly increasing total distance from 12 miles a week to 15 miles; cross-train two days a week (e.g., step and sculpt, spinning, bollywood); attend at least one yoga class and one Pilates class; and tone my entire body twice a week. I learned the hard way during my 10K training that I really need to incorporate flexibility training if I intend to run, so I will make that a priority this go-round.

To stay on track, I made a detailed schedule of what I plan to do each day. If I have to think about it, then chances are I will flake out on myself. I keep a copy of my calendar at work and on the refrigerator at home. I hope that by June 4, I can average a pace faster than 13:52 minute/mile while averaging 75% of my maximum heart rate, which is how well I did on this morning’s run.

May 14: Ballet Conditioning fitness DVD

I have been wanting to take dance classes for many years since my African dance class for non-majors during my junior year at Howard. The only dance experience I had prior to college was a few lessons when I was four. I do not move gracefully and my body is not the slender form of a typical dancer, so I was not particularly motivated to ask my mother to pay for dance lessons when I was in grade school. The only reason I took the dance class in college was because it was for non-majors. Interestingly, the class was filled with non-majors who had considerable dance training. Only Nadia and I had limited training, or in my case, practically no training.

A great strength workout that is challenging but fun!

So, when I saw Ballet Conditioning on amazon.com, I knew that I wanted to try it. For $8, I figured if I didn’t like it that I wouldn’t be out a lot of money. Many of the other ballet-inspired DVDs either cost more than $15 or looked low-budget.

When I began the DVD, I was quite pleased to see the instructor, Elise Gulan, was rather muscular. Her thighs looked like my thighs! Elise explained most of the exercises very clearly. While you don’t need any background in ballet, some familiarity would have been helpful as she doesn’t explain proper form very well. The workout was really challenging. I expected a workout with an intensity similar to Pilates or even a Vinyasa yoga class. It was probably a step above the Vinyasa yoga class I participate in at the gym but with the control of Pilates.

The small isolation of muscles really confused my muscles and made them work harder. My thighs were on fire before the halfway point of the DVD. Elise refers to the burn as “energy”; a cute euphemism but make no mistake, that’s some intense “energy” lol.

As the workout continues, I felt myself becoming more graceful; I stood taller each time my arms changed position. I was quite surprised at the upper body workout ballet entails. I seems like mostly leg work, but my upper back was quite sore after the 51 minute workout. Elise interspersed some higher intensity speed work into the routine, so I did have a light sheen of sweat on my body. The workout concluded with Pilate-style abdominal work. So in 51 minutes, I had a total body strength workout that was quite fun and engaging.

I’m excited to place Ballet Conditioning into my fitness rotation. It is definitely a different workout than any other I have tried to date. The more variety of exercises, the more toned and defined my muscles will become over time. Yay for ballet!