First of all, before I explain the controversial title, I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a great holiday. And I hope everyone managed to resist the pull of materialism over the weekend. [I am always amazed at how quickly we turn from gratitude for what matters most in life to wanting more stuff. But, I digress.]
In my last post, I shared my habit tracker for last month, which showed that I exercised on all but three days. [Exercise is the red line on the tracker below.]
Some people probably wouldn’t notice or care how much I exercise, but other people [especially any personal training clients of mine] would be thinking But you need a rest day!!!
So, let’s talk about exercise and rest.
There are times when full rest and recovery is absolutely necessary, such as after an injury or when you are really sick [like “can’t get out of bed” sick, not the sniffles]. However, in our super-sedentary society, rest days often mean sitting on the couch and not moving all day and that is really bad for us because we all need some regular movement every day.
Which is why, I don’t do rest days.
Instead of “rest days,” I prefer the term “down days” because I’m not actually sitting on my bum all day. Instead, I’m just lowering the amount of exercise [or the intensity] for a day. So instead of running five miles and doing thirty minutes of weight training and finishing with plyometric HIIT intervals, I might walk a few miles, or hike up hill on the treadmill, or go for a family bike ride. I still choose intentional movement, but I lower the intensity and give my body some variety.
That being said, it is possible to over work your muscles and lead to damage or injury, so I do stand by a strict rest day from weight lifting to allow the muscles to heal and rebuild appropriately.
I say, ixnay the whole rest day idea to prevent ourselves from feeling like we deserve a day to be couch potatoes. There’s a lot of joy and peace and introspection and beauty and confidence, not to mention endorphins, to be found in moving our bodies [especially outdoors, surrounded by nature]. I don’t want to miss out on all that for the sake of a rest day. I want to take advantage of that every day. I need that every day.
What do you think? Am I just an overly enthusiastic cardio junkie? Lemme know.
As a personal trainer, I always love sharing the surprising fact that a person’s overall fitness is dependent on their flexibility. The vast majority of my clients over the years would have described themselves as “not very flexible,” so most did not appreciate this bit of news. But the most important thing about improving your fitness is working on your weaknesses. And, unfortunately, your weakness usually correlates with your least favorite part of the fitness triad.
What is the fitness triad, you ask?
Fitness is measured by three important elements: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, and flexibility [which I have personally entitled “the fitness triad”]. In my experience everyone has a preference for one of these three. Some people love cardio and can spend hours on a bike or a treadmill. Other people prefer lifting weights and building strength. And I’ve known many, many yogis who swear that the only thing they need is a mat. Even my fellow personal trainers over the years have had definite favorites [just like I do] BUT trainers know fitness is very much like a three-legged stool. You really need to have a balance of all three elements if you want to reach peak fitness.
[Common Fitness Myth: It is a common misconception that cardio is for weight loss and strength training is for body building and stretching is just to cool down at the end of a workout. Actually, cardio is for heart health – which is super important since more people die from heart disease (in the US) than any other cause. Weight training is important for strengthen muscles, increasing their size and endurance, but also to increase bone density. If you’re worried about osteoporosis, you could cut back on the milk and start lifting weights. And stretching is about keeping optimal range of motion in all of your joints so that you’ll always be able to bed over and tie your shoes. Exercise is less about looking good, and more about feeling good. It’s about having a body that is fully functional for as long as possible.]
So, to find your weakness, just ask yourself which of the three elements you like the least – and there you have it.
My Fitness Weakness
As for me, I’m a total cardio junkie. I have been since I first started working out eleven years ago. But, on my journey toward my own fitness, I learned that I had to also strengthen my body through weight training AND stretch my body to improve [or at least maintain] my flexibility. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate all three; however, if I’m running short on time, or have an extra busy day, the one thing I will skip is stretching.
This is NO BUENO.
Check out my planner from a typical week…
On the right page, I put a list of “daily tasks” – things that I want to accomplish every day. As you can see, I’m pretty terrible at getting yoga in. Last year at this time I was doing 20-30 minutes of yoga every night before bed…and it was AMAZING! Besides the benefit to all my tight muscles, doing yoga in the evening prevented me from snacking on junk food or just sitting in front of the television. I miss it. But I am also [obviously] not working up the willpower to get it done in the evenings.
So, for March, I’m going to focus on re-cultivating my yoga habit. And I’m going to use some tips I got from Atomic Habits by James Clear [a great book and a quick read that I recommend if you need some practical help with making your goals happen].
One of my favorite tips that Clear shares in this book is that if I want to change my behavior, I must first change my beliefs – particularly, about myself. So, for instance, instead of thinking of myself as an inflexible, cardio-addict who wants to try to squeeze in yoga several times a week, I am going to think of myself as a yogi and do yoga because that’s what yogis do. [That’s why I titled this post “Be a Yogi” and not “Practice Yoga.” I really do want to BE a person who makes yoga a regular practice, so I that is my goal. It is not just the simple change of an action, it is the change of my identity.]
“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits
Here are the four tips Clear provides for changing habits and how I am using them to get my yoga habit back on track:
Make it obvious. Clear recommends “habit stacking,” which is to add the new habit to a habit that you already have. So, I have been stacking my yoga habit on top of my exercise habit. I never miss a workout, so if I add yoga to my workout, then I should [theoretically] not miss yoga either.
Make it attractive. I haven’t found a way to reward myself for a consistent yoga practice. Truthfully, I know how great regular yoga makes me feel and how good it is for my body, and that is reward enough. And I guess, in a way, my reward for getting yoga done is that I get go relax – my workouts are done for the day! [I love working out, but it is still hard work, and I am always relieved when I’m done.]
Make it easy. I have moved my yoga mat and yoga blocks into the television room, so that they are very close by and a constant reminder that I need to do yoga. I have also changed my commitment from 20-30 minutes of yoga to “any amount will do” – so sometimes I only do 5 minutes, which is the shortest yoga workout available on the Peloton app.
Make it satisfying. Every day when I practice yoga, I check it off my daily habit list and that is quite satisfying for my obsessive list-making inner organizer.
I recommend Atomic Habits if you haven’t read it – especially if there are habits you wish were part of your life: getting up early, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating more fruit and vegetables, reading more books, learning a new skill or improving a current skill, being more successful in your career, or in general, improving discipline.
There are always ways for me to improve myself. I, personally, want to be a flexible person, but I won’t get there without changing my habits.
Well, I’m thirty days into my year of drinking only water and so far it’s been easier and harder than I expected [but mostly harder].
I started this whole thing in order to raise awareness about the 750+ million people without access to clean water and to improve my hydration and overall health. But, I have to be honest, I was totally unprepared for how this was going to affect my body.
I thought it would be easy because I only used to drink coffee in the mornings [every morning, but still] and an occasional cocktail or hard seltzer when we’re out [I’m a total health freak, don’t forget]. The rest of the time I drink water. No smoothies, no lattes, no soda. Ever. So, I figured this would be a piece of cake.
Not so, my friend.
I spent the first half of January in such bad pain that I couldn’t sleep without painkillers. [And folks, I never take pain meds. I birthed four babies without so much as a Tylenol.] It wasn’t until day seven that I could manage during the day without taking anything, and it was on day ten when I attempted to go to bed without ibuprofen…which turned out to be a big mistake. I was up all night thinking maybe I was dying [or had caught Covid] and I finally wisened up and looked into symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Lo and behold! There are a lot more negative side affects than just the little headaches I had anticipated.
So, my first tip is:
Tip #1: Don’t Quit Coffee Cold Turkey
To clarify, don’t quit caffeine cold turkey. If you drink the decaf stuff…more power to you.
Coffee was my only source of caffeine [other than occasional dark chocolate], so when I quit coffee all of a sudden, I experienced a range of miserable side affects.
The worse affect was painful full-body aches. The kind of aching you get when you have the flu, except I felt perfectly fine in every other way. It was such a low, dull pain deep in my bones [and everywhere else] that I could barely function. [Don’t worry – I’m a mom. I functioned anyway].
I also had headaches every day for a loooooong time. [In reality, it just felt like a long time because when you have a headache time really creeps by.] And they were the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced – but that’s not saying much because I rarely get headaches. [Like one a year, I’m not kidding.]
The other obvious and expected side affect of caffeine withdrawal was exhaustion. And I mean exhaustion. I felt like I was back in the first few weeks of pregnancy when I could barely get off the couch. Oh man, it was bad. Thankfully, that didn’t last as long, but it did last long enough for me to consider buying caffeine pills [I didn’t].
Other side affects that I did not experience are moodiness [okay, maybe a little, but can you blame me?!], nausea, trouble concentrating, and other flu-like symptoms like vomiting [thank goodness I was spared that experience].
So, take it from me, ease off the caffeine. This probably goes without saying, but withdrawal is no fun. I was only drinking maybe twenty ounces a day every day for the past eighteen months [since I gave birth to my last baby]. That was apparently plenty to become totally addicted to the stuff. Which leads me to my next tip…
Tip #2: Definitely Quit Caffeine
Caffeine in coffee may seem harmless, but if a substance has the ability to make me feel that miserable when I stop imbibing it, it’s probably not a good thing to consume on an every day basis. And I know people [from my 3AM UPS job] who practically lived on energy drinks.
This is no bueno.
I’m not saying that drinking coffee is bad for you [there are actually some benefits to drinking coffee], but drinking too much is definitely not a good idea.
How much is too much?
[I think the recommended MAX in America is 400mg a day.]
For me, I will probably just switch to decaf after this year [if I drink it at all], because, honestly, I found something infinitely better than caffeine, which leads me to my third tip…
Tip #3: Generate Your Own Energy
Most people I know drink coffee or caffeinated drinks for the energy. That’s why I always dragged myself from my bed to the coffee maker first thing every morning, my eyes barely open, my kids whining for breakfast. “Mommy doesn’t function without coffee, kiddos.”
But, shocker, I actually do function without coffee! In fact, I have found a much more effective, longer-lasting and healthier alternative to the cup o’ joe and it’s called exercise!
Yeah, that’s right. A good ol’ heart-pumping, legs-moving, sweat-dripping workout session does way more for my energy levels than my coffee ever did. I wake up, workout, and feel great all day.
I don’t need to go into all the other benefits of daily exercise [trust me, they are plentiful], but working out in the morning is simply the best because it gives you a natural energy boost [and it gives you a really great psychological mood-boost when you’re workout is already done for the day, can I get an Amen?!?].
Speaking of starting your day off right, here’s another good tip…
Tip #4: Start Your Day with Water
First thing I do when I wake up is pee. [I think this is a universal thing.] So, the second thing I do is drink water. This has helped me to establish the habit of water in the morning [something that is new to me] and makes me feel a lot better.
Is there science to support drinking water first thing in the morning? I dunno. I’m just telling you that I feel much better now that I start my day with water – less groggy, less tired, more alert and ready for my day.
Also, I have a really big water intake goal, so I have to get started early if I have any hope of drinking enough water throughout my day.
And that brings me to my fifth tip…
Tip #5: Figure Out How Much Water You Need
There doesn’t seem to be an exact science for determining how much water an individual body needs; however, there are lots of opinions and good advice out there.
The old rule is eight 8-ounce glasses a day.
Then I learned that the correct amount is half an ounce per pound of body weight [during personal trainer certification studies], but it’s been expanded to a range of half to one ounce per pound of body weight. For me, that would mean 68-135 ounces of water a day. That seems like a really big range and it also doesn’t account for exercise, which would require more water.
In reality, I never paid much attention to the number of ounces. I always had a goal to drink two full 32oz bottles of water [I use my refillable gofiltr bottle]. But for this month, I went looking for a more specific number of ounces I could aim for each day. I put some info into a calculator that also asked me how much time I spend exercising each day and I got an answer of 102 ounces.
So I need to be drinking almost three and a half 32oz bottles of water.
The good news is, without drinking coffee and drinking water right away in the morning, I generally don’t have any trouble hitting that goal. The bad news is…well, see my final tip below:
Tip #6: Prepare to Pee ALOT
Yeah, I think that’s all that needs to be said on that subject.
In the beginning, I said that drinking only water was also easier than I expected. After only one month, I don’t crave coffee or cocktails or smoothies or anything else. I haven’t accidentally picked up a beverage other than water and taken a swig [as I was fearful I might in the beginning]. I think I’m actually quite happy with water. Who know? This may become a lifelong commitment.
I originally intended to write about how I learned to accept my postpartum body – until I realized that I most definitely did NOT accept my postpartum body. And, honestly, that’s okay.
But first, a [lengthy] preface.
I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and Hunger by Roxane Gay. Both of these women endured trauma – like earth-shattering, heart-breaking, I-cannot-even-imagine-going-through-that kind of trauma – and both women responded very differently. [Theirs are not my stories to share, but you can check out their books to see what I mean.] Reading their very personal stories from their own perspectives gave me some perspective of my own – and reminded me of two very important things regarding body image issues.
We are all different.
These women responded differently, and society would have us believe that one was right and the other wrong. But, that is not the case. Their responses were different because [DUH!] they are different people.
One of the biggest mistakes we make regarding the human body is to assume that there is a one-size-fits all way to look, eat, exercise and be healthy. Every human body is unique and has to be treated differently. And every human body is occupied by a different soul that is dealing with real life shit [excuse my language, mom] that will have an effect on their body. That’s ok. There is no set standard, set weight, set body fat percentage, set pant size or anything else that everyone must strive to reach. The standard of health – what it looks like and what it takes to achieve it – will be different for every human being.
Because, look, we are all different.
We are all complicated.
I’m going to share my personal journey and my perspective, but I will be the first to admit that this stuff is complicated because we are complicated. It’s not as simple as just eating a 1,200 calorie diet and spending 30 minute on a treadmill each day. There is so much more that goes into health and wellness, so much societal pressure to conform, somuch baggage we have to carry around, so much pain and fear and anxiety – and all of it affects our bodies. We cannot expect to find simple answers – or that the answer we find for ourselves will be the answer for everyone.
But, we do have to find that truth for ourselves.
My Truth for My Body
My truth is that I am happiest when I am healthiest – and that means exercising regularly, eating clean and getting enough sleep.
Fitting into my jeans is just a perk.
Before I had babies, I worked really hard for four years to become the healthiest version of myself. I started running [and back then I HATED running]. I learned to cook [and man, I REALLY HATED cooking]. I cut back on the alcohol consumption [and I REALLY LOVE sangria] and fast food consumption [and I REALLY REALLY REALLY LOVE French fries].
But I was terrified that these healthy habits that I worked so hard to establish would be derailed by having a baby. I was terrified that I would never lose the dreaded “baby weight.”
[I’m super ashamed to admit this because “baby weight” – or gaining any weight – is a privilege that many do not get to enjoy. But that is my truth.]
With each of my four pregnancies I gained 50-60 pounds. And after I had each of those babies, I knew that for me to get back to the level of health and energy and activity that I love so much, I needed to lose that weight.
So, I chose to change my postpartum body rather than accept it.
But, at the same time, I have accepted the things I cannot control.
I’m fine with my stretch marks and my wrinkly stomach and stretched out belly-button, and all that. [It’s a little weird but I actually like my stretch marks because I intend to have a badass body again and stretch marks will be the only proof that this body birthed four babies.]
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with wanting to change your body – or improve yourself in any way. I want to love myself, but I also want to work on myself. I accept that I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve. I will never have the perfect body or be perfectly healthy, but that is not an excuse to not do what I can.
Of course, as a personal trainer, my wish is for everyone to be on a journey to their healthiest self – but I also recognize that some people are on different journeys, pursuing other things. And that’s ok. The other side of this issue is that we never have the right to judge another person’s journey.
I hope whatever journey you are on it is in pursuit of your best self – whatever that may look like for you.