This week I want to devote Wellness Wednesday to, very simply, exercise. The common excuses to not exercise often include money and time, but the things I describe below are cheap and can be fast if you need/want them to be. All of these can be adaptable to beginning exercisers, but if you’re already in a good workout routine, these can help offer some variety, which is key to seeing results (I learn this, continually, the hard way–I fall in love with certain routines and am so resistant to giving them up for something new. This leads to me not always “seeing results” (but at least my body still gets positive benefits on the inside).
I was a straight-up fat kid (the unhealthy kind) until about 10 or 11. The initial weight loss was a result of cutting out red meat from my diet and joining sports teams. Unfortunately, when the sports season ended, so did my physical activity. I believe I was in middle school, maybe 7th grade, when my mom brought home some Billy Blanks Tae-Bo VHS tapes. I fell in love with the endorphin kick I got from the 25 minute work outs, and committed myself to doing them daily for 21 days straight, since that’s how long it takes to form a habit.
Fast forward about 14 years, and I’m still working out daily. And I owe it all to Billy Blanks! I was just talking to a friend who is working on a “Couch Potato to 5k” program, and he was talking about how he finally wants to run. He said he still doesn’t like it, but his body has started to crave it. I guess I vaguely remember that period–the craving it, but still not liking it–but I am proof that, eventually, you really do start to love it! I think running is a good place to start, especially since, once you have the shoes, it’s entirely free!
Walking or Running
If you’re new to running, a walk/jog combo seems like a great way to start. I’ve never liked taking walking breaks, so when I first started out, I just did very short distances–probably about a mile at a slow pace. Soon, I worked my way up, about a 1/4 or 1/2 mile at a time. That started when I was about 14 (and I’d run through the suburbs of Cleveland, listening to this on my discman), and I plateaued at about 7 or 8 miles throughout most of college. A friend in grad school motivated me to complete a half-marathon last fall, which is definitely one my greatest accomplishments! The aforementioned Couch Potato to 5k plan can be found here. And if there’s any way for you to run near water, I recommend it. Running by the lake in Chicago and the lakes in Minneapolis has actually enabled me to run without music sometimes, which makes running another opportunity for active meditation.
As I mentioned above, at-home workout DVDs (or VHS’, back in the day) are how I got my start. I am still a huge fan of these since they leave you no room for excuses. All you need is a little bit of open space and a DVD player (the computer works too!), and you can have your own little personal workout class. Below are some of my favorite DVDs, some of which I’ve been using on and off for years. Extra bonus is feeling like the trainers are your BFFs, almost all of whom have ridiculous catch-phrases that your partner/roommate/cat/dog will shake their heads at in amusement as you sweat along to their absurdity. ; )
Best for fun cardio (all levels): Turbo Jam
The host, Chalene Johnson, is high-energy, perky, and somehow not entirely annoying about it. She combines moves from kickboxing, martial arts, capoeira, and a few minutes of traditional strength training (bands are optional) for a 50 minute total-body workout. I’ve probably been doing this DVD for too long to see any more major toning, but when I first started, I definitely noticed more definition in my abs from the capoeira moves. Plus, every DVD has an “extra” of Chalene pranking people on the set, a segment they set-up like an episode of “Punk’d”, but instead call it “Jam’d.” Totally ridic, but fun to laugh at as your cooling down. : )
Best for Quick Abs: 10 Minute Solution: Blast Off the Belly Fat, P90X, Tae-Bo Ab Bootcamp
There are quite a few decent ab videos out there, but I find myself continually returning to these three. The 10 Minute Ab Solution: Blast Off the Belly Fat has a five 10 minute segments, that I often bunch together to make a longer session. There’s a pilates-based session, a standing routine, and some general floor routines that really make you feel it. The 10 Minute Solution series has a lot of decent collections–good for folks who want a short, quick workout, and good for folks who spend more time and can then combine several sessions for a more intense workout.
P90X is expensive, but I was lucky enough to gain access to it when I moved in with my partner. (If you do enough hunting, I bet you could find the Ab portion somewhere online…). First, this workout is hard and, thus, totally awesome. This makes it worth it right away. I feel exhausted after about 15 minutes of abs, and you also feel it in your legs. Second, this host is one of my faves. He is just full of good one-liners. If you try this, you’ll know what I mean when I say: “I hate it…But I love it!“
Billy Blanks will always hold a special place in my heart, so I was stoked to discover his Tae-Bo series offers a lot of advanced workouts that surpass my original 25 minute beginner tapes. If you can get past the gross, giant American flag in the background, Tae Bo Ab Bootcamp is good! When I first started it a few years ago, I noticed definition in my abs within the first month. It’s a lot of standing abs, making it a decent cardio workout too.
Best Overall Full Body Workout (Circuit Training) and Best Host Ever: Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30
Jillian Michaels, be still my heart. I actually have only seen one full episode of “The Biggest Loser,” but all I needed was to see Jillian in action on her DVDs to have that tough-as-nails bisexual win me over. Honestly, I’ve been happy with almost all of Jillian’s DVDs, but was really into the 30 Day Shred. After doing the DVD for a year, I was crossing my fingers that she’d come out with something to push her devotees to the next level. My wishes came true with Ripped in 30, which is honestly the hardest/best at home workout I’ve ever done! She promotes this series since one workout is only about 25 minutes, but I tend to do two or three of the sessions in a row (or run first and do one segment). But I struggle real hard to get through more than one of these. I’m only on Week 3, and I’m doing moves I’ve never done or seen in my life–which is a big accomplishment, because I’ve been going to exercise classes at various gyms for years and years. This video is definitely for more advanced exercisers, so start with some of her other tapes first and work your way up. But two biceps way flexed up for Ripped in 30! (PS: her circuit videos do require weights, but you can buy relatively inexpensive 5 lb dumbells that should do the trick).
I’ve always been a magazine junky, and health and fitness magazines have replaced the really fucked up “girly magazines” that I tried to continue reading through college as zoned-out escapist pleasure reading, but I think after my first critical gender studies course, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. That’s not to say that there aren’t tons of fucked up articles and pictures in Women’s Health, Shape and Fitness, but these days I can find more to engage with than the fashion glossies. One of the great things about these magazines is that they are often full of unique at-home workout routines. I’ve found a lot of good gems that I save and will someday take the time to compile into a nicely organized workout binder. Below you can see the easy-to-follow drawings for a sleeker, slimmer leg routine:
And if you go on fitness magazine websites, you can get a ton of free workout tips and also sign up for email newsletters that offer new routines.
Speaking of the interweb, there are a ton of great fitness bloggers and websites out there that provide awesome, free workouts. I just discovered BODYROCK.tv and my glutes are thanking me (or hating me, one of the two). This former porn star is now using her rockin’ bod to promote fitness and health, all of which she claims can be attained in the privacy of your own home. Check out the “Dead Man Burpee Challenge” (100 burpees in 10 minutes!) for a truly amazing heart-pumping/exhausting/ass-kicking experience.
Also, check out The Fitnessista for fitness and healthy food tips!
Hopefully this makes cheap, easy exercise seem more do-able. I certainly credit a lot of my current state of health and wellness to yoga and ultra-nutritious eating, but getting active was the first step I needed to learn how to think about my body as a thing to love and respect. Happy sweating!