Training etiquette

About a month ago I won a free hour-long personal training session at my gym. Hallelujah! I take these less-than-frequent sessions to ask very specific questions of the trainer…about how to target certain areas where I don’t see results or to learn something new about working out. Yes, the point of these freebies is usually to loop you into buying a training package–the trainers strive to convince you that you, in fact, NEED THEM in order to workout. Not true…but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of a free session when it’s offered right?

Two weeks ago I cashed in on my prize. Having grown up playing soccer, I asked for a trainer that targeted athletes who no longer played competitively but wanted to keep up the level of fitness without the time commitment it usually entails. I was assigned a trainer named James and the next day I met him promptly at the gym.

He was so hot. Great.

Although I had worn my black spandex workout outfit instead of the soccer shorts and oversized t-shirts I usually worked out in, within minutes I would be sweaty and disgusting. But as I was determined to make the most of my session, there was nothing to do about it. He would just have to fall in love with me while I was dripping in sweat. I joke, I joke.

We began by discussing what my goals were (to tone and shave off a couple pounds) and what I already did. He suggested some exercises and I found great pleasure in telling him that I already did most of that stuff and about three times the cardio he recommended. He had to do better than that. Challenge!

The session was great. Sure, it wasn’t enough but he showed me some great new tips (keep your eyes posted on workouts for those tips to come). But best of all was he stretched me for 45 minutes after the session chatting about our lives and work and living in the city (he was from Arkansas). I started to wonder…was he interested?

Tricky, tricky. I didn’t have the balls (hehe) to ask him out, nor did I know if he was just being friendly in the hopes of snagging a new client (though I had already let it slip that I was dirt poor on an entry-level publishing salary therefore could not afford the luxury of regular training sessions). But could he ask me out if he wanted to? Was there a rule against it? What if it didn’t work out (no pun intended) and running into him every day at the gym would be awkward? I had had that experience before with another gym-goer who attempted to ask me out numerous times and each time I somehow (what skill!) managed to avoid the question. Soon I was ignoring him on purpose to avoid giving him the opportunity to try again, which turned out to be quite stressful for me since the gym is small.

I didn’t have to worry about James. Nothing happened. Shrug shrug. But we do say hi to each other when we see each other and that is good enough for me. Sometimes, in order to snap out of my self-focused intensity while I’m working out, a friendly smile does the trick.

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Climbing Past Rush Hour

 

I HATE when the gym is crowded. This usually means the first few weeks after new years, Monday and Tuesday evenings after work and Friday mornings before work. Why? Well, for one there are just too many people around and I can’t relax. There are cardio machines available and the line is long. The ab space is completely taken up. The weight room is jam packed and the free weights are all being used. There is just no space. I happen to go to a $20 a month gym, which propagates this type of crowdedness…I mean, who can turn down that kind of membership fee for the same amenities you would get anywhere else?

But yesterday I had a breakthrough. On busy days I usually rush to the gym as soon as work is over, beating out the crowd by mere minutes to hop on one of the last available cardio machines. But yesterday I worked late and got to the gym at peak cardio hour. The line stretched all the way down the corridor to the women’s locker room and I was not pleased. There were no magazines available on the stand either except for a old battered copy of TimeOutNewYork. Instead of letting it bother me I miraculously hopped on the only available machine, a stairmaster with no TV, which was of course why no one was on it. I busted out my ipod, which I hadn’t used in awhile and got to climbing.

The thing about the stairmaster is that I don’t really like it until I’m doing it. I never choose that machine because it’s HARD! I mean, sure you can put the level to 5 and barely move, but if you’re gonna workout then at least commit to level 15. On the stairmaster I break a sweat within two minutes. It’s not only phenomenal cardio exercise and leg strength building, but it targets your core. In 30 minutes I was sweatier than after an hour and a half on the elliptical. The cardio rush hour broke and I was able to switch to the treadmill for my last 30 minutes. The treadmill seemed easy after the stairmaster, and I actually found myself enjoying the workout immensely and pushing myself harder than I would have if I had found my usual elliptical.

Moral of this story: switch up your cardio machine. Not every day, but at least once or twice a week if you can. You will feel yourself maximizing your workouts, not as bored, and you actually burn more calories by challenging your body to adjust to using different movements and muscle groups. It’s alright to break your workout up over two or three machines if you’re really feeling restless, or adventurous! The rowing machine is GREAT for your core and your back and arms. Try pairing it with a running elliptical or stairmaster that focuses more on a leg workout after.

Time Crunch?

I have toyed with a lot of different workout schedules in my day. I like the weekdays because I’m on schedule, trying to fit everything in around work, and I can’t afford to waste any time. But let’s face it–often we are REALLY REALLY tired after work. Now, that doesn’t mean a good workout is impossible, it just means we need to find ways to motivate ourselves to believe that hitting the gym is really not going to be such a big deal. But what if we want to have an evening after work? AM workouts EVERY morning are in my opinion unsustainable (see my post on AM workouts if you do want to try this option). Putting the gym off till the PM cause we don’t want to deal with the AM workouts can eat into our evening social life or down time. Or maybe you’ve scheduled an 8PM dinner with friends and want to fit in your whole workout without cutting anything short. Here’s a friendly tip:

I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up 30 minutes earlier in the mornings to do abs. It’s great for many reasons. 1) it cuts my afternoon workout shorter, which is great because it allows me to get home at a reasonable hour for dinner AND motivates me to hit the gym in the PM knowing that all I have to do is run and lift. No biggie. 2) my metabolism gets a jump start early. 3) It wakes me up and pumps me with endorphins for the coming day.

If you have a time crunch in the PM, or you just want to have a little more time in the evenings to chill before going to bed and starting the grind the next day, cutting your afternoon workout short by doing a little in the morning is a great option. You don’t lose out on too much sleep AND you end up saving a ton of time in the evening. Win Win. Below is a list of my morning ab routine–adjust to your own level:

NOTE: Make sure to get either an ab/pilates or yoga mat. You can find these at any sporting goods store, and possibly KMart/Target type stores. They are worth the money, you can use them for many different things (i.e. random yoga class one day, no problem!), and your back will thank you.

2 sets of 50 side to sides with 10 pound weights (hits obliques)

100 crunches (hits upper abs)

100 (or 2 sets of 50) leg throws (hits lower abs)

100 crunches (vary up the type of crunch- i.e. legs up, down, arms behind head, arms through legs)

100 leg throws (again)

100 on each side bicycle crunches (obliques)

3 minute core hold

2 sets of 15 pushups (weight lifting burns A LOT of calories-get a head start burning in the AM with some pushups)

Now, shower and enjoy the adrenaline buzz!

To read or not to read?

People, OK!, Life&Style, Marie Claire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Lucky, Star, Health, Fitness….what do these have in common?

Why, they are the gym’s #1 guilty pleasure…celebrity and fitness magazines meant to make your time at the gym pass quicker!

What’s with this sensory overload these days? At any common gym you will find: random, and often annoying, radio music blaring from overhead no matter what room you’re in, the SUPER loud booming of motivational music from the spin class (who of course leaves the door wide open for air…grr), TVs on every cardio machine, a rack of every imaginable magazine–and if that wasn’t enough, people bring their own personal ipods, books, and, more recently, ipads, to further distract them from what they are actually doing.

What ever happened to enjoying your present? Before I get into my main point here I would like to digress on this issue. I am the number 1 culprit at never being able to enjoy my present, but the one place that is not the case is in the gym. There is rarely somewhere I’d rather be. Yes, there are days when the workout seems harder and then I appreciate the many forms of mental distractions the gym has to offer, but on the whole to get an efficient workout I believe you must be focused on your activity. Marathon runners don’t let their thoughts meander as they race…no! Otherwise they would lose their pace and hence the six months of lead-up training would be for naught.

Now, let’s focus on the days in which being distracted from working out is the only way we will do it. It happens…often…and congrats for getting your ass to the gym anyway!

I like to watch ‘Friends’ reruns. They are on at 530, 6 and 630, after which my choice is ‘How I Met Your Mother’ at 7 and 730. There is something quite comforting, as my muscles scream in agony and my mind plans everything I’d rather be doing than this, about watching 6 incestuous friends pretend everything is normal. On even more brutal days, when the seventeen or so out of thirty minutes of actual programming is not enough, I read celebrity magazines to fill the commercial space.

Ah, celebrity magazines! What highs and lows I get reading those damn things. The spreads of attractive, impeccably clad celebrities (and wanna be’s) makes me either feel motivated to look my best or depressed that I will never amount to anything near that. Call it being a girl, but insecurity follows us around like an annoying boy you can’t get rid of. It is terrible, useless, and absurd to compare yourself to someone in a picture (photoshop et al), but we do it none-the-less.

So, embrace it. Find motivation in the days when you feel good about your comparisons, and on the days you don’t, focus on the fact that they are all, with a few genetically-blessed exceptions, probably anorexic or snorting cocaine. Use the magazine to style watch…you can’t compare yourself to a pair of Christian Louboutin stilettos! Think about the day when you will be able to afford them…or the fact that at this very moment you are working on toning your body to fit into that gorgeous Diane von Furstenberg mini-dress some starlet is wearing.

You’re at the gym to self-improve after all so make an effort to see the positive!

What do you think about celebrity magazines? Take the poll!!!

4 Steps to AM Workouts

Waking Up to Run in the 'City That Never Sleeps'

Let’s face it, no one ever really likes to get up at the crack of dawn.

I might be able to understand an early morning routine—a quiet moment with your city paper (NYT!) over a cup of coffee before the world around you starts to make noise.  But to get up to run?

Uh-Uh.

I’m still not entirely convinced the body was made for a pre-sunrise elevated heart rate. But sometimes there is just no other option. And I’ll admit that once I get the sweat going I feel on top of the world, ready to conquer the day ahead.

So here are some tips for how to get out of bed and onto the pavement.

1. Don’t even think about snoozing

  • Here is how this scenario should go down: Alarm jolts you unwillingly out of sleep and you spring out of bed as if your house was on fire. There. Not only will it give you a surge of adrenaline, but you’ll prevent those all-too-heavy eyelids from shutting for “just another minute”…zzz…zzz….

2. Three minute bathroom rule

  • You have three minutes to pee, splash cold water on your face, and brush your teeth. In that order. No dillydallying.
    (side note: Don’t worry, you dedicated teeth brushers out there, there will be more time to scrub those gums AFTER your run)

3. Get into gear

  • Which will be quick…because, of course, you’ll have already laid out your workout clothes and accoutrements (i.e. iPod, headphones, sneakers, etc…) the night before.

4. Walk out the door.

  • Forge ahead. No turning back. You’ll thank yourself later. Promise. 

Formidable Foam Rollers

 

The best $25 I've ever spent

I recently discovered the foam roller. You know, that weird blue foam cylinder you see in the back of the ab studio that reminds you of the tubes you used to float on in pools when you were a kid. Yeah, those things.

 

When my roommate first told me about them I was doubtful. How could rolling my legs over a cylinder stretch out my muscles and protect my kneecaps from fusing into runner’s knees? She insisted I try it, and without any intention of doing so, I promised. But then the very next day, as if by fate, I was stretching my incredibly sore calves (thank you first-10-mile-run-outside-after-a-long-winter), a very cute trainer came over.

“Sore calves? You a runner?”

I figured either I looked like I was in immense pain (which I was, but trying desperately to hide) or he was a mind reader. I nodded.

“Have you used the foam roller on them yet?”

I contemplated lying: ‘yes, I have’ (sarcastic), or ‘no, I was just about to’ (dismissive). I am automatically on defense when a trainer approaches me in a gym…salesmen…always looking for another client. Maybe I’m right, but what the hell this was a free tip (who can turn own free trainer advice in New York City? I mean, come on. A training session is priced like gold here).

I admitted I had never used one before in my life. He brought it over and showed me the technique. It was simultaneously the most painful and most amazing stretch/deep tissue massage I have ever had.  I could feel the knots press deep into the foam as I rolled over them. It’s gonna take me months to roll these babies out.

On my way home after my workout I stopped at Model’s in Herald Square and sprung for my own foam roller. Now, I can stretch while watching a movie in my apartment instead of sitting on my ass.

Technique:
Place one leg on top of the roller at the bottom of the large part of the calf and the other on top, pushing down for pressure. Lift up onto hands and roll your calf up and down, turning it in different directions.

Exercise can be repeated on shins, quads, hamstrings, adductors, and back.

The First Confession

I’m the first to admit that competition exists in the gym, whether it’s willing yourself through five more push-ups or upping your treadmill speed to run faster than the girl next to you. Let’s be serious, she’s probably doing the same thing. Eighteen years of playing soccer, and an innate type A personality, has instilled within me a constant need to beat the next person, even when I’m only competing with myself.

But the gym isn’t always about winning…it’s about being fit and healthy and feeling good in your skin. Sometimes it’s about leaving the real world for a couple of hours and letting physical pain distract you from emotions and stresses. There are times when I look forward to my workout all day, craving the simplicity the treadmill, elliptical and ab mat have to offer.

The gym becomes your friend–that safe place meant for self-improvement where nothing can touch you (unless, of course, you drop the bar bell on your foot…yes, it’s happened).  After awhile, it starts to become a welcome daily ritual. What used to require motivation and willpower becomes automatic, embedded in everyday life. I’ve rolled out of bed at 5 am to run before work and I’ve stepped onto the elliptical at 11 pm to squeeze in a quick hour at the end of a long day.

Soon you crave the sweat, the internal heat radiating out of your body, after a long run, or the burn of your abs, or the soreness of your biceps. All of it–the gym, fitness, healthy eating–ceases to be a threatening obligation. You WANT it. And that is when you become a Gym Rat.

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