April 13, 2011

Don't think. Do!

When it comes to exercise, getting out of the house is half the battle. This is especially true for me on days when my motivation is low. I sit inside and debate whether or not to go exercise, until my window of exercise opportunity has flown by. Then I often feel guilty, and not to mention grumpy, that I didn't have enough "will power" to workout. Some of these days find me sitting on the couch with ice-cream or cookie dough. I have discovered that simply getting outside helps me stick with the workout. If any of you are like me, you know that breaching that fortress wall is hard to do sometimes, but necessary.
The first way to overcome this is to simply stop thinking and do something. Anything! I start by getting dressed and ready to workout and then walk outside. I have to tell myself that I am just going for a leisurely walk, and if I happen to feel like it, I can run. This trickery actually works. Once you are walking you feel good and it's not that much harder to run a little. I have to admit there are days when I do this and still don't feel like running, so I just walk for a while. Even though I didn't run the workout I had planned, I still got some valuable exercise, which is better than being on the couch with the cookie dough.

February 21, 2011

Taming the Tension

A mile into my run today I felt like I couldn't breathe and just wanted to stop. How many of you have felt this way? I often hear people say they hate running (or whatever form of exercise) because they get so tense and stressed out when they do it. Tension is a natural part of exercise but we can and should learn to control it if we want to enjoy it.
When we get into stressful situations in our daily lives our bodies tend to tense up. At the end of a long, busy day you may notice that your neck or jaw hurts from the muscles being tight with strain all day. Exercise is somewhat of a stressful situation and sometimes our bodies will tighten up like they would when you have dead-lines to meet. This can be detrimental to our mental state during a workout. These are the times when you say to yourself, "I hurt. I'm tired. Why am I doing this to myself? I"m just going to stop now". The physical signals effect our mental confidence and motivation.
If the physical state can effect the mental state, then we just have to change the physical state to be something desirable, i.e not tense. Here are some tricks that I have learned to help me relax and calm down during any workout. Once you can tame the tension you will find exercise to be a release, enjoyable and even relaxing.

First of all Don't Stop! Keep going until you've tried all of these things and others you may think of yourself.

Next, check 4 areas of your body to see if they are tense and need relaxing.

#1-Stomach. We all want to be lean runners with no jiggling, but unless you are doing an ab workout, you have to let go of those muscles. If you are clenching your stomach muscles you are restricting your ribs from expanding to let more air into your lungs. When you are exercising your stomach should rise and fall naturally with your breath. Focus on letting go or your abs and this will help you breathe easier.

#2-Shoulders/Back. The best way to breathe easier is posture, posture, posture! Stand up straight with your shoulders back and down. This will open up the chest allowing your ribs to expand again to help you breathe deeper. You don't want to be straight as a board, but if you are feeling like Quasimoto with your shoulders hunched up to your ears, take a moment to relax them down and back. You will feel much better and have more confidence. Shaking out your arms, wrists and shoulders can help with this tension as well.

#3- Neck/jaw. Clenching your jaw and neck muscles can not only restrict your airways but give you a headache too. Neither of which are good for working out. Movement will always help loosen your neck. Look from side-to-side, shake your head and shoulders, or just nod a couple times and feel the tension ease. Your mouth should be open if you are working hard, meaning your teeth should not be grinding while you exercise. Drop your jaw and move it from side-to-side, or even open it really wide to stretch those muscles out a little. Your cheeks and lips may flap in the wind, but you will be relaxed and breathing easy.

#4- Throat. Even though our shoulders, neck and stomach may be relaxed we might still be closing off our airways with our throat. My Aunt Margaret is an amazing vocal coach and she taught me a great technique to help open your throat. Swallow hard. Imagine you are trying to swallow an orange and need to make room for it all the way down your throat. Swallow and think about making space in your mouth/throat for the air to flow freely.

Here are two visuals to help you.
The Wicked Witch of the West (I know I'm a nerd, but bare with me). She is the epitome of stress and tension and a great example of what NOT to do. She is hunched over, with tight arms, hands and shoulders. She also talks in a strained voice ("I'll get you my pretty.."). She obviously doesn't have a relaxed, open airway.

Glenda the Good Witch. Her shoulders are back and down with her chest out. Her hands and arms are useful but still relaxed. When she talks it is in a calm, smooth voice which means her throat is open and she is breathing easily. She is more confident and happier than her sister to the West.

As cheesy as these examples are, it does help to visualize what we want to look like. So now when you exercise you can check yourself by asking, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?" (Haha. I had to through that in there).

These visuals and techniques should help you let go and loosen up so you can breathe. If you have tried all of these and still can't breathe easy take a tiny break. Stop and stretch or shake out a couple major muscles that are bugging you and then get going. Make this break less than a minute and get back to enjoying your workout!

Here is one more example to help you visualize.

Chrissie Wellington is one athlete that truly enjoys what she does! She is one of the fastest triathletes in the world. Look at how she runs. Her shoulders are back and down, she is standing up straight, and her mouth is open with a relaxed (and smiling) jaw. What a perfect example and great inspiration!

Compare this to the picture at the beginning of this post. That poor guy is not enjoying himself because he is way too tense!

February 14, 2011

The Goal

The best way to accomplish your goals is to make them achievable. If you want to really lose weight and stop yo-yoing then you have to change your lifestyle. This means making exercise and healthy eating a natural part of your life instead of the exception. How many of you have sworn off all sugar, fats and “carbs”, plus vow to exercise 6 times a week, but find yourself burned out by day 3? This happens to women all the time! We get so excited about something and want to change everything all at once. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for most people. In real life we have good days and bad days and a full schedule to keep up with. We have to take it slow and introduce change in small doses we can swallow so we don’t get overwhelmed and give up.

So the firs key to successful goal setting is to start slow. Think about 1 or 2 changes you can easily make today without throwing your whole routine out the window. For example, a diet goal may be to add a vegetable to your meals. This goal will take a slight adjustment at first but will quickly be assimilated into your life before you know it. You will feel good about yourself for sticking with your goal and your confidence will grow. Once that becomes easy you can add another goal or increase the one you have. I have a small goal not to buy desserts or treats that I can make at home. So instead of buying that box of E.L Fudge cookies at the store, I have to make cookies at home. This saves me money and makes sure I don’t have package of cookies laying around to sabotage my hard work. Plus, I have to use some effort to make the cookies, which burns calories. (It’s not enough to counteract the cookies I will eat, but it’s a start). This seems so small, but has worked wonders for me. I usually find that I am too lazy to make the cookies and eat a graham cracker instead. Success for me!

I f you are not exercising at all, start slow by adding 1-2 days of exercise per week. They can be 15-20 min sessions if you want. There is no rule that says you have to work out for at least 30 minutes or you won’t burn ANY calories. 10 minutes of exercise is 10 minutes of exercise! And it’s better than nothing, so if that’s all you can do at first then do it! Making this small change will give you the confidence you need to make bigger changes in the future. Sometimes the hardest part of working out is just getting out the door. When I’m having a not-so-motivated-day, I make it a goal to just get dressed in workout clothes. I am much more likely to go walking or running if I’m already in the outfit. Small but effective!

Start small and be happy! Go make some achievable goals!

Here are some ideas to get you started…

Have 3 meals and 2 snacks a day

Only snack on fruits or veggies

Walk to the end or your block and back

Cook one super healthy meal a week

Take the stairs

Play with your kids at the park instead of just watching them

Vigorously clean your floors once a week (clean floors plus a good calorie burn)

Buy skim milk

Stretch for 10 minutes twice a day

Run for 20 minutes 2x a week

Only have one dessert a day

Only have one dessert a week (I have yet to keep that goal…it’s too hard for me, butmaybe not for you)

Invite a friend to go walking

What are your suggestions for easy goals to set?