October 21, 2010

Starting out at the gym

I know that I said that I was going to talk about weight-loss and I haven't really touched on it very much. So, here we go...

My weight-loss journey/ life-style change really began last December. I had ballooned out to about 188 pounds. When I saw that on the scale I almost cried, it seemed to close to 200 pounds which for some reason was horribly dreadful (when really even 180 was way too much). Luckily I have a very nice hubby, who decided that the two of us should go to the gym, together, and not because he wanted me to lose weight to look different, but because he wanted me to live a long life with him. I think that this really helped my weight loss, being overweight affected my self confidence, i.e. I had very little, and it really helped that I had someone to encourage me to go to the gym and remind me that I just needed to try harder. I don’t think you necessarily need someone to work out with (we argue when working out or really I argue so it’s not always the best to go together), but it really is helpful to have some to talk to about working out, someone who will be encouraging and won’t sabotage you will (knowingly or most likely unknowingly) with comments such as “you don’t need to lose weight” or “why would you do that?”

Exercise – Where to Start

Some people really do find it hard to get in the minimum recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day (you should probably do more though). 30 Minutes is actually a very small amount time, especially since you can split it up, it’s better not to split it up but everyone has to start somewhere, I’m sure that everyone can fit in three 10 minutes spurts of physical activity. I started out going to the gym three days a week an hour each session; I slowly worked my way up to 5-7 days with over an hour each day. I actually enjoy going to the gym now, which I didn’t before, and I hate when I have to miss a day due to illness or a busy schedule.

It can be hard starting out at the gym, I remember feeling awkward and embarrassed, you really just have to remember that no one is really paying much attention to you, they are at the gym trying to work out too and I would say at least half of them have no clue what they’re doing either. Many trainers say that beginners should start out with a full body workout but I found that difficult because I wasn’t sure how to design one and I didn’t have the money to go to a trainer, so I started out with the classic split training. Split training is basically when you split your workout up, I start with cardio and end with weights and finally a good stretch, this seemed like a simple approach and it worked for me (40+ pounds lost so far!!). For cardio you need to find something that you don’t hate, the fact is that if you are out of shape most forms of cardio are not going to be fun. I started with 30 minutes on the elliptical and then later started running and riding the bike and Stairmaster, if you do want to start out with running, take a look at my post “from couch to 5k.” I don’t really think that cardio needs very much explanation, you basically need to get your heart pumping and it’s a good way to burn calories. If you go really hard and I’m talking sweat dripping, panting, want to quit hard you are going to burn 10-11 calories a minute, use these numbers to calculate your calories (if you are going to bother counting) because machines (and fitness classes) often over estimate how much you burn; don’t buy into their BS, you’re only hurting yourself. Always try your hardest and try to get a good sweat going, a leisurely walk will burn calories but it won’t get your heart pumping which is what you want to do to increase your heart health (heart disease is the number one killer of women).

Cardio isn’t really my favourite thing to do at the gym as I find it kind of dull, what I really like is weight training. Strength training is an important part of any workout and is also great for burning calories, plus you won’t have to ask for help to re-arrange furniture and will be able to carry in all your groceries in one trip. Many women avoid lifting weights, especially heavy ones, but they really shouldn’t, don’t worry about gaining huge body builder arms or shoulders; those women train for hours and hours every day for years and years (and usually have a little help from various drugs) to look like that, unless you plan on putting in that kind of work, you aren’t going to look like that. If you don’t know what you’re doing, weight training can be a bit intimidating, I started out using machines since they usually show you how to use the darn thing and what muscles you are working. Once you feel a bit more comfortable on the machines, I suggest moving to free weights (doing similar movements); while some argue that machines are better because they isolate certain muscles, I agree with others on free weights being better because they use multiple muscles, increase you stability and more closely mimic movements that you would use in a real life situation. One thing that I noticed when I moved to free weights was that I was lifting less, don’t be surprised if you drop down to about half of what you do on the machines, this is pretty normal.

When working with weights you will need to decide how many reps and sets you will do, I aim for 8-10 reps and three sets (with a 30-60 second break between each set). A rep is the one motion that you perform, for example one rep of a squat is the movement downwards towards the ground and back up to the standing position, a set is a series of reps performed without a break. I pick a weight that is light enough that I can perform at least 8 reps but heavy enough that I achieve muscle failure at the 8th rep (or 9th or 10th). If I can lift the weight more than 10 times, I move up to something heavier, and if I can’t lift it 8 times I move down to something a bit lighter. Muscle failure refers to the point where there is no way you can lift that weight on your own, you are shaking and it’s coming down. As I said before, I split up my workouts into groups, day 1: legs, day 2: arms, day 3: core, I find that this works well for me but you may want to split it up into upper body and lower body or I have also heard of people splitting it up into pulling exercises and pushing exercises.

Finally at the end of the workout I make sure to get in a good stretch. I try to stretch all of the muscles that I worked out really well and I do a couple quick stretches of my other muscle groups. Stretching is really important after a good workout (weights or no weights) and will prevent stiffness and soreness the next day (although you’re probably going to be sore the next day anyway). I also have a small protein shake after my workouts to reduce soreness, having a glass of milk, or an egg or some almonds would work well too.

While most of what I have said focuses on going to a gym, you don’t actually need a gym or any fancy equipment to work out; you can get a good workout on any budget. Go for a run outside or a bike ride or if you live in a cold place like me, run up and down your stairs, use a skipping/jump rope or do jumping jacks. Parks are great places for strength training, you can use the monkey bars to work out your arms or you can use 4L milk jugs filled with water (for squats and lunge walks). I’ll try to post various home and gym workouts for you all.

Some final advice:

The unfortunate thing about losing weight is that it isn't easy and that doing it right isn't something that happens overnight. If you want quick weight loss, go find one of the many diets out there, it won't be very healthy and you'll most likely gain all the weight back plus some in less than 6 months. Eating right and working out are your best bet. Something that I keep having to tell myself is “It took me more than a year to gain all that weight so it may take me more than a year to take it all off.” Also, I really wish now that I had taken a “Before in a Bikini” type photo, at the time it was the last thing that I wanted to do, but on blue days it’s a good motivator (I use a double chin and Oprah arm photo instead – it’s almost as bad).

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