Dear Rebel Grrrl: How do I Plan and Stick to a Workout Routine?

Hello readers and happy Monday! It’s another week of Vegan MoFo and today I want to talk about working out—it’s one of the things that all the vegan food I eat helps me do! I received an email from my friend, Lauren, who—(after flattering me silly by calling me “the healthiest person [she] knows”)—asked for advice on how to plan and stick to a workout schedule. We had a lengthy email exchange that I’d like to share because I think it might be helpful for anyone trying to get more into fitness.

A note of clarification: Lauren has a membership at Corepower Yoga. When she refers to “Vinyasa” she means a “C2” Power Vinaysa Class. “Sculpt” is a class offered at Corepower that incorporates weights, cardio, and circuit training.

A disclaimer: I am not a certified personal trainer, but I am a certified yoga teacher and sculpt teacher!

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L: [Now that I’m starting grad school], I am trying to put together a running and yoga schedule for myself. Basically I’m trying to figure out if I should do something like run MWF, vinyasa in those evenings, Sculpt on Tu/Thu, rest Saturdays, Hot Yin on Sundays. Do you know the optimal way to organize that for optimal results (both physically and mentally) or can you refer me to a good website?

Also, any tips for sticking to it?  I’m really bad at being also at going all the time for maybe three weeks, then not going at all for three weeks, then going again, etc.  Thanks love!

R: I think your proposed schedule sounds *awesome,* as long as you don’t have any problems with running. I have almost the exact same schedule since I teach M/W/F and usually like doing something in the morning before teaching, then relaxing with yoga on those nights. The only other difference is that I do more High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)-style workouts in the morning because I have bad knees and can’t run more than once or twice a week without major problems. Sculpt is HIIT-esque, but I have a lot of luck with particular YouTube trainers who provide amazing workouts in under an hour.
 
That said, I think the variation you suggest—cardio w/o weights via running + yoga, two days strength training—is a good one. If you are interested in building more muscle, I would consider replacing one running day with HIIT because you get bodyweight resistance in a lot of those.
 
As far as sticking to routine, the thing that has worked for me is that it became completely habitual for me. If you make it a habit you will stick to it! I know that sounds simplistic, but I literally feel like working out is like brushing my teeth. I wake up and workout every morning and my body expects those endorphins as a sort of wake-up, like coffee. It takes 21 days to form a habit, so if you can stick to your routine for 21 days, you will be solid! It’s easier for me in the AM than the PM, so I would recommend trying to take Sculpt morning classes if possible. That way you are training your body to wake up and crave endorphins Su-Fr. As for getting to the night classes, I made it part of my self-care nights. Nights I didn’t go out. Nights I would look forward to showering and putting on pjs. It feels like a luxury and a wonderful gift to myself at the end of long days.
 
The other thing I’ll say is that the C2 classes are intense and could be a workout in their own right. As I said, I also end up doing two workouts a day when I take those classes at night, but just remember to properly re-fuel and definitely hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
 
If it feels overwhelming, I would advise skipping one of your night classes or even trying two rest days instead of one. But I can’t stress enough the magic of consistent morning workouts. That’s not everyone’s experience, but it has definitely been key for me. If that doesn’t seem like a good trick for you, maybe consider looking into some fitness apps? I don’t use them very often, but I know people have a lot of luck with that stuff!
 
If you are interested in HIIT, here is my YouTube playlist that I do a lot.
 
 
L: Thank you! A few more thoughts/questions…
 
The schedule I gave you is the absolute ideal, albeit slightly ambitious.  The other studio near me does a Hot Yin in the evenings which is amazing stretching and helps me sleep.  I’ve found that I’m wide awake if I do something more rigorous right before bed.  So that’s another tricky part.  When you say I can add an extra rest day, is it better to do that mid week, like Wednesday, or on Sunday?  I had a coworker who said he went to the gym M-F, but if he missed a day he made it up on the weekends, which seems like a good plan since my weekend schedules tend to be inconsistent. But logic is telling me my body would prefer Wednesday?  Do advise!
 
 
Running is actually easier for me than yoga, as long as the weather is warmish.  I believe this is due to the habit I formed after joining cross country in high school, my love of being outside, and naturally strong legs.  My trouble is I don’t push myself enough- if I start feeling not so great I’ll turn around and head home sooner than the goal I set. I also tend to get stuck in a pattern of 2-3 miles at the same pace.  
 
 
During yoga, on the other hand, I tend to go all out. I think this is because there’s a instructor acting as cheerleader, an audience (even though I know I should just focus on me!), and I am paying a ridiculous amount so I want to get my money’s worth.  I lack arm strength however, so I shy away from sculpt or feel like the least fit one in the room when I do go.  I love Hot Power Fusion the most, get bored in C1 and feel lost in C2, ha!
 
 
In regards to apps, I’ve tried Map My Run and Runtastic (prefer the latter) to track distance and pacing. I feel so awesome when the voice announces each mile! I have not used the social aspect of it though, and perhaps should try to find more friends to connect with and challenge me. I am a big fan of MyFitnessPal because I find it fascinating and eye-opening, and it motivates me to be more intentional.  I go on streaks where I type both workouts and food.
 
 
R: Okay, first, yes, it is an ambitious schedule and it’s totally okay to not do that all the time! As for when to take a second rest day, I think your logic is probably right, but more than logic, you need to trust your BODY! You need to take a rest day whenever your body tells you to take a rest day. My friend and tremendously inspiring fitness guru, Lacy, recently did a post about her workout schedule and she notes that she never works out more than three days in a row without a rest day. Like I said, taking rest days is something I struggle with, but when I *do* give my body a break, I feel better and stronger during the next workout. So if your body asks you to take a break on a Wednesday, you might find that you kick even harder ass during your Thursday workout. The point is, it will all even out, and that you can trust your body! And if your body can’t sleep after C2’s, then take a Hot Power Fusion or the Hot Yin class. Totally great solution.
 
As for pushing yourself during running, I actually spent one summer doing HIIT-style runs and found those to be incredibly challenging (in a good way). As HIIT implies, you’ll be running in intervals. This is when apps could come in handy; here is one I found just searching “HIIT running app.”  OR, perhaps you could make a playlist with some very short songs and some longer songs. Commit to sprinting during the short songs, then going at an easy pace during the long songs.
 
I completely relate to your description of pushing yourself during classes. But actually yoga is an amazing time to challenge yourself to NOT push yourself. I once had a teacher tell us to do modifications for at least one pose and to not take the more advanced option for at least one more. (So, for example: do revolved crescent lunge on your knee; if you usually go into Birds of Paradise from a bind, just stick to the bind; etc.). It was so frustrating to not go to my max in that class, but it was such an incredibly transformative lesson. Since then, I’ve been able to listen to my body more and not feel like I have to push as hard if my body really isn’t feeling it. (Pro tip: revolved crescent lunge on your knee > revolved crescent lunge not your knee!). Yoga is a great way to tame our egos that tell us that we have to be “the best”! So, that’s my advice there.
 
As far as arm strength: GURL, lacking arm strength means you should go to MORE sculpt classes! I am such a huge proponent of strength—it’s such an amazing thing for women to possess. I know you are down with female empowerment, and actually physically embodying that kind of strength is *incredible.* Feeling like the weak one in the room is another great “yoga lesson.” It’s okay if you’re the weakest one in the room. Keep going, get stronger. Try push ups on your toes instead of your knees one day. Pick up a heavier set of dumbbells. Yes you can!
 
I realize the last two paragraphs are complete contradictions: “Back off, take it easy in yoga; push to your edge in Sculpt.” I think both those things can be true at once. But here is what it will always boil down to: listen to your body. Is your body telling you to push hard in yoga because you want to be the best? Then maybe reassess. Is your body telling you to stop doing pushups because you feel embarrassed that you can’t do as many as the person next to you? Then maybe keep going. Maybe your body will tell you different things. Just keep listening.
 
And if your body never tells you to do pushups, then tell your body I have a bone to pick with it. Because upper body strength rules. This past week, I had to lift an air-conditioning unit and a dining room table to a third-floor walk-up apartment by myself. I grunted, I struggled, I even cried a couple times —(‘Oh woe is single me! No partner to help lift up heavy things, I will surely die alone with no one but my cats!’, I bemoaned through tears)—but I fucking did it. That would not have been possible without my Sculpt arms (or my Sculpt leg muscles either, actually). Being able to do something like that on my own felt so bad-ass and certainly mitigated the aforementioned pity-party. You don’t need to have upper arm strength to be a bad-ass lady, but, for what it’s worth, it feels pretty rad to be a bad-ass lady with upper arm strength.
***
Other fitness-enthusiasts, what do you think? Any other thoughts or advice to offer? Leave a comment! 
 
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3 thoughts on “Dear Rebel Grrrl: How do I Plan and Stick to a Workout Routine?

  1. Natalia says:

    I don’t have any tips to add, but I just wanted to say thank you for the post! Everything you said, particularly in the last few paragraphs, is exactly what I need to remind myself of sometimes (listen to my body; leave ego OFF the mat; feeling strong is an awesome feeling!). So thanks! x

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