Thursday, May 31, 2012

Suffer the Pain of Discipline or Suffer the Pain of Regret

Vacations are a luxury.  They may not always be the type of vacation we dream about but they are a break from the daily grind.  Even 'staycations' are a break even if only from work. We allow ourselves a little detour from our regular routine and grant ourselves a few, otherwise forbidden, indulgences.  However, we have a tendency to go overboard and self sabotage all the work we have done in some arenas, particularly our health and fitness.

It is important to allow your body time to rest and recover to prevent over-training.  However, most people don't train at a level which requires an extended period of time off.  Many people train like beasts in order to get ready for 'vacation' and obtain that body for their bikini. Yet, once they hit the beach or the pool, all that hard work that paid off is quickly cast aside and the slide down the slippery slope begins.  The drinking, the dining out, the snacks, more drinking, more eating, more lying around.  And all of the sudden, vacation is over and you have packed back on the ten pounds you worked so hard to lose, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

Health is a state of mind as much as it is the condition of your body.  They go hand in hand.  One can not exist without the other.  Obvious you say, but so many don't listen.  We all want to be fit and healthy.  But not every one's version of fit and healthy is the same nor should it be.  My goals are different from your goals thus requiring a vastly different level of training and nutrition.  However, that doesn't mean you get a free pass to eat junk, drink like a fish and workout for two hours a week hoping to achieve miraculous results.

Being fit and healthy takes discipline on many levels.  You must discipline your mind to go workout even when you don't want to. You must discipline yourself to sometimes eat food for nourishment rather than taste. You must push past the pain even though it's easier to just stop.  You must remember the short term reward is far less satisfying than the long term goal.  You must be realistic in your state of mind - how badly do you want it and how hard are you willing to fight for it?  You will have to accept that some sacrifices will have to be made and are you strong enough to step up to the challenge?

This is nothing new.  You have heard it many times.  Yet, again and again, we falter.  Failure is essential to success.  But hopefully with each failure you have learned from your mistakes, otherwise you will continue to fail again and again.  Pick yourself up and try again.  Be more disciplined, be more dedicated or accept where you're at. The choice is yours. Many will help if asked but ultimately, you are responsible for your actions or lack of action.

So that vacation weight you fought so hard to lose can stay off even while on vacation.  But again, it will take a bit of planning and discipline on your part.  Think ahead, check out gyms near your vacation destination. Bring along stretch cords, TRX, a Yoga DVD, jump rope, or scope out a playground with a bench, monkey bars for weighted exercises. Make a realistic commitment, prior to your vacation, to fit your workouts in.  You will feel better, eat healthier while away, and those jeans will still fit when you get home. You can still have fun, it's just up to you when the fun ends and the 'work' begins.  The damage will have less of an impact if you do a little sabotage control along the way - vacation or not.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are You Afraid of Muscle?

Are you afraid of muscle? Are you afraid of free weights? Or are you just afraid of looking stupid for awhile?

I have been lifting weights since my teens. Strength training has played a different role in my various sports, but it has always been a component of my sporting life.  I am the first to admit that I didn't always understand the need or the value of strength training in my younger years. Sometimes I did it because I was told do it. It was part of the program.  As I grew older and wiser, I learned the value of strength training and all the benefits it offers and not just for sports but for your overall health.

Weight training builds bone density, burns more calories than fat, builds strong connective tissues and joint stability, improves athletic performance, improves cardiovascular health, may reduce diabetes and heart disease by reducing bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol.  These benefits are even more beneficial when combined with cardiovascular training.

So why do so few people hit the weight room - especially women? I don't want to get bulky, I don't want to look like a man, I don't know how to lift weights, it's intimidating, it is to hard, I feel dumb, I look stupid, too many men in there. These are excuses in order to justify your insecurity.  Get over it.  Get over yourself and accept the challenge.

No one wants to be 'skinny' fat. What is skinny fat?  Thin but jiggly, you may look good in clothes, but not so good when naked.  Just because you are thin doesn't mean you are healthy.  Women do not have enough testosterone to build huge amounts of mass, like men, without the use of steroids or other illegal substances.  In addition, the amount of calories which must be consumed in order to build and sustain such mass is extreme.  The freakish female bodybuilders that look like men are taking something - period. So you, as an average female, need to shed that fear of 'looking like a man'.  It's not going to happen. Women are not genetically built to build mass like a man.

Weight training can be fun when done properly.  It doesn't just have to be pushing and pulling the iron around. There are a wide variety of workouts that can be done which incorporate compound movements which you are already familiar with.  Not all strength training has to be with weights.  Using your own body creates it's own resistance such as push ups, pull-ups, jump squats, planks, etc.  Strength training develops noticeable changes in your physique including nicely toned arms, hamstrings, quads, shoulders and abs.  Your clothes will fit differently in a good way.

The scale may creep up a few pounds but you will not mind when you see the fat disappear and muscle take it's place.  Muscle and fat weigh the same - 5 lbs. is 5 lbs.  It's how muscle versus fat appear on your body that are different! No more saggy triceps, flabby butts or cottage cheese legs.  It is possible.  It takes time and patience. You need to be dedicated and disciplined.  You didn't gain the fat overnight so it won't go away overnight.

Don't be afraid of lifting heavy weights. Don't be afraid of using free weights.  Don't be afraid to ask for help or guidance.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Get a solid program. Learn proper form. Invest in yourself. If you treat it half-ass, then you will get half-ass results.

Strength training is important.  It provides many benefits and should be as much a part of your training program as cardiovascular training.  The jiggle will not go away by doing hours of elliptical or treadmill training.  You need to build muscle.  You build muscle with weights and other forms of strength training. Be smart about it and if you are a newbie, spend the time and money to learn how to lift with proper form and what exercises will benefit you and your goals.

It's important to learn how to lift properly with correct form to prevent injury. It is important to understand what muscle or muscle groups each exercise is working.  It is important to understand how to work all of your muscle groups to aid in symmetry and balance.  There will be muscle groups you will have a lack of desire to work but it is necessary in order to create a well balanced physique and prevent injuries.

Don't be afraid of muscle. It will make you strong.  It will make you toned.  The more muscle you have, the more you can eat - eventually! Muscle is your friend but you have to develop that friendship and it begins in the weight room.  So crossover to the dark side and see what's lurking over there.  You may just find exactly what you've been looking for.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sleep Does Your Body Good

The last several months I changed up my workout time.  I was lifting weights primarily in the late evening hours. At times, I arrived at the gym as late as 8:30 pm to begin my workout.  For me, this was not an ideal time to workout after a long day at work and being mom, but it was when I could fit it in.  I have always been an early morning workout person.  It was a great start to my day. I felt refreshed, invigorated and didn't feel the stress of "when am I going to get my workout in" hanging over my head all day long.

I switched up my routine primarily because of my sleeping pattern.  I had become an insomniac over the last few years. I struggled with falling asleep and staying asleep.  I tried several home remedies, natural supplements and finally prescribed medication.  They all worked for a short time period but then eventually stopped performing all together.  Life sucks without sleep. Every aspect of my daily routine suffered.  I was exhausted and crabby.

I finally went to a sleep specialist and learned to retrain my brain to sleep.  I was skeptical at first but had no other option so I followed the program.  It was excruciating at first. I had to force myself to stay awake until I was physically tired before I could go to bed.  If I woke up and was awake for longer than 15 minutes, I had to get out of bed and leave my room.  I had to rise each day at the same time regardless if it was the weekend or not.  No naps.  Needless to say, it was a horrendous three to four weeks. I was dog tired all the time.  I was staying up to 11:00 pm or later and getting up at 5:00 am.  Often, I was waking up several times throughout the night. I didn't think it was ever going to get better.  But it did.

I followed the doctor's program.  I listened to his expertise and his relied on his knowledge to help me sleep again.  It wasn't easy and I hated every minute of it. However, it worked. I began to sleep again without the aid of sleeping medication. I still use some natural remedies as a 'back-up' when my brain goes into overdrive before bed.  It is difficult to shut off my 'To Do' list that seems to begin developing as I lay down to sleep.  So whether these natural remedies are helping or not, my emotional brain thinks they are doing exactly that.

Sleep is vital to your health. You know already know this but it affects much more than you may understand.

1. Sleep repairs your body.  Your body produces extra protein molecules while you sleep which help your body repair itself at the cellular level.

2.  Sleep keeps your heart healthy by reducing levels of stress and inflammation in your body.

3.  Sleep reduces stress by lowering your blood pressure and elevated levels of stress hormones. It reduces the wear and tear on your body which propels the aging process.

4. Sleep improves your memory. Lack of sleep causes a groggy feeling and an inability to concentrate.

5. Sleep helps control your body weight. It regulates your hormones that affect and control your appetite.

An adult should ideally get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  We know this but often deprive ourselves of this luxury for a wide variety of reasons including work, kids, television, social engagements, etc.  You should also have a consistent sleep schedule in order for your body to properly understand when it is time for sleep.  Distractions such as televisions, computers, iPads, and 'screens' in general should be removed from your bedroom so the focus is sleep, not entertainment.

Give yourself the gift of sleep and see what aspects of your life improve with the proper rest.  You may be surprised how one additional hour of sleep may improve your productivity, memory, eating habits, weight loss or training performance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Safety Net

It has been a crazy week already and it's only Tuesday!  My weekend was jam packed with kids sporting activities, errands, workouts, food prep and chores.  The weeks ahead seem to only get busier and busier!  Summer has begun in my household and it will be non-stop until middle of July.  

I've been through this may times in previous years and know what to expect but it still freaks me out and I panic a little bit. I wonder how I am going to fit it all in.  Many things I enjoy will take a backseat as my kids' needs/activities will be a priority.  However, I still will make time for my workouts and my boyfriend.  It is a challenge and he is more than understanding about my busy life. He often ends up with the short end of the stick. Not a great spot to be in but he puts up with me, so to speak.

I've mentioned that your support system is an essential piece of making your fitness goals a reality, whatever they may be.  Without this support, taking time for exercise/training becomes an additional stresser for you rather than your exercise being a 'stress reliever'.  He understands, as my significant other, my coach, my trainer and my nutritionist how much my sport means to me. It helps that he is also an avid fitness enthusiast and weight lifter himself. He does not compete but understands the commitment and dedication required to stay on top of my game.  

He often gets to spend time with the 'tired and worn' out Rachel.  Again, not ideal but a sacrifice he has made to help me achieve my goals.  I have a rare gift in his complete support of me.  He is a gift that keeps on giving whether it is my training programs, words of inspiration, nutritional/supplement information, research he does to make my life easier, he takes care of the dogs to ease the burden on me and on and on and on. He plays an integral part of my support network in my fitness life. We are able to separate boyfriend and coach  in our relationship. It works.  But it works because of his tolerance and compromise. 

I have also had to 'train' my kids over the years.  They are supportive of my training and 'odd' food choices and they go with the flow.  This has not always been the case.  It took them a while to realize I still love and care about them even if I am not at every game or activity.   Once in awhile I have to get my own training in when life is just to busy to do it all.  I am not a super hero.  I am more than just a mom.  I am a person who has needs and wants just like them. As a result, my daughter has recently begun lifting weights to build her own strength to aid her in reaching her goals in high school sports.  

My co-workers and friends are also supportive of my sometimes 'freakish' eating, training and competitions.  They have even come to watch competitions and cheer me on.  They don't mock my food choices any longer (well maybe the boiled chicken during last week of prep) and help me when I have my chocolate addiction attacks while in competition prep.   But they understand how hard I train and how much it means to me. They do what they can to support me in achieving my goals. 

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by caring and loving people who accept me for who I am.  They accept that I have chosen to participate in an unique sport which requires an unusual amount of dedication and discipline that touch every aspect of my life, both at work and at home.  They support me.  This makes my life better. This makes my life a bit easier.  This makes me smile to know I have so many people in my corner that care enough to support me in my dreams!

Find your network, reach out and connect with them.  Find your path to your goals and make sure you have your safety net to catch you when you falter so you can get back up and try again.  No network, no net.  Without a path, you are easily detoured. Everyone needs support even if it's only once in awhile.