Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fitness: Get Off That Treadmill and Kick Your Own Ass

By Diana Hsieh

For the past few years, I've exercised regularly. That was something of a feat for me, as I've never much liked plain old exercise. Paul and I made ourselves a nice little "exercise room" in the cool recesses of our basement -- with a treadmill, water rower, and elliptical trainer. We put a decent television and dvd player in the room, so that we could watch dvds while exercising -- mostly mostly television shows, but also movies on occasion. The distraction of television was a necessity because I was doing the standard routine of 40 minutes of moderate cardio per day. On occasion, I lifted weights, albeit just 5 to 10 pound dumbells.

This spring, I was growing somewhat frustrated with that exercise routine. It was keeping me in reasonably good shape, but I wasn't going anywhere with it. Plus, I was still struggling with my weight. All those hours of doing cardio hadn't helped me lose a pound. (Heck, I even gained a few!) At the time, I wanted to lose about ten pounds; now that I've lost that, I think have I another ten pounds to go. (That misjudgment isn't surprising, for reasons explained recently by Dr. Eades.)

I was forced to change my routine this spring when I developed serious problems in the ball of my right foot: I had a morton's neuroma (enlarged nerve) and capsulitis (irritated ligament) within a half inch of each other. They were quite painful, preventing me from doing any kind of running, ellipticizing, or even hiking.

Rowing wasn't a problem, thankfully, so I decided alternate that with some more serious weight lifting. I added a TRX suspension trainer to the exercise room. I bought a set of kettlebells, up to 30 pounds. I began rowing in 30 second intervals -- 30 seconds normal pace, 30 seconds kicking ass pace -- usually for no more than two miles. I liked doing the more intense workouts, and once I tried tabata front squats, I was hooked on the more intense CrossFit-type workouts.

In August and September, I worked out pretty intensely, alternating between interval rowing and weight training. Instead of working isolated muscle groups, I focused on large body movements, including swings. I varied my workouts as much as possible. That kept them fresh -- and difficult. I usually worked out in the mornings, before eating anything. (Hello ketosis!) And I never worked out for more than 20 minutes.

During this time, I experienced major gains in speed, power, and balance. I put on quite a bit of muscle. And I was spending half the time that I used to working out. It was awesome.

To my frustration, however, I seemed unable to lose much fat on this intense training regime. I suspected that I needed to ease off a bit -- to switch my body from bulking to cutting. So since late September, I've moderated my weight training -- focusing on maintaining not building strength. That has worked; I've lost weight slowly but steadily since then. (When I work out too hard, I get ravenously hungry.) However, once I lose a few more pounds of fat, I'll be eager to switch back into the more intense exercise.

Here are some videos for the kinds of large-body exercises I do. Most don't require an expensive gym membership -- or expensive equipment. Many require nothing but your own body, as in this prison workout. Yet they will kick you ass, in very short order.

NOTE: Please do be careful in trying any of these exercises, particularly if you're out-of-shape!

Tabata Squats:



I can't do them that fast. Sometimes I'll add a small jump at the top if I'm feeling particularly energetic. (That kills!) Sometimes I'll do them while holding a kettlebell, usually 15 to 25 pounds.

Kettlebell Swings:



Kettlebell Basics:



Also, Mark has a nice introduction to the kettlebell.

Burpees:



Slosh Tube:



And:



Mark has the very simple instructions for building your own slosh tube. I'm going to do that as soon as I can get to the hardware store.

Prone Hold:


Prone Hold Variations from Lauren B on Vimeo.

You'll find more instructions here. A 30 second prone hold makes 50 situps seem like a cakewalk.

Box Jumps:



Box Jumps with Sandbag Throws:



In addition to the above, more traditional exercises like wind sprints, push-ups, and pull-ups can be very demanding. For more ideas, you can also check out the CrossFit web site's huge list of exercises, with videos.

When I have some time, I'm going to head over to CrossFit Denver for some personal training, as I have much to learn. (Don't expect to go to your regular gym for CrossFit training. Look for a specialized CrossFit gym instead. Happily, they're becoming more common.) I also expect to learn much more simply by being observant about my own experiences.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my new method of high-intensity exercise. I've experienced noticeable gains, and I'm spending less time working out. Best of all, I have more fun!

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