In getting to know Ivy through our blogging over the last year or so, I’ve learned a little bit about what her workout routine was like, and I was intrigued by it. I’d never heard of the particular kind of martial art she practiced, and I wanted to know more. So I asked her if she wanted to do a post about it, and I told her that I would also do one about the kind of work out I do. It would be kind of a comparison: Workout, Dublin-style vs. Workout, Illinois-style. Or something like that.
Anyway, after reading Ivy’s post about Bujinkan, I’m sorry to say that I have to follow her act. Reading about Ivy’s workout was a little like watching an Indiana Jones film: blood! bruises! injuries! danger! excitement! Man, all I can claim by way of injuries is stubborn tendonitis in my left shoulder and some sore muscles.
With that in mind, I regret to tell you that I will now be following Ivy’s post up with a Nova-style documentary on old-school exercise. So make yourselves comfortable ok?!
A couple of years ago, I turned 40. In an act of classically bad timing, it was right around that same time that I let my gym membership lapse. I’d gotten bored, didn’t want to spend the money or give up the time, wasn’t motivated to go, or when I did go, the things I was doing were not producing any kind of change in my body. So I gave it up, and instead, did nothing.
Well, actually, I did do something. I used that free time from the gym to experiment in the kitchen. I was cooking up crazy-good dinners and desserts. Any time I had some free time, I thought about what I could cook. I had a “cooking bucket list” of things I’d wanted to one day make: brioche, panna cotta, homemade bread, homemade ice cream, carnitas, chana masala, a leprechaun trap cake, and the list went on. It was a very long list, but I did end up crossing all of those things off of the To Make list, and then some. Of course, all of that cooking ended up in a whole lot of eating, and well, you can see where this was headed, right?
I’d heard tales from friends who’d already crossed over to the other side of the 40’s about how your metabolism slows down as you age, but all I can say is that I guess I was in total denial. I had never been overweight in my life, and I’d always eaten whatever I wanted. Why would this change now? But then one day (yes, it seemed like it happened over night), my 40-year-old metabolism up and gave me the middle finger, and I started gaining weight. The more weight I gained, the more depressed I got, and the more depressed I got, the more I ate. And drank. And laid around feeling depressed. And baked to cheer myself up. When one day I discovered that I only weighed about 15 pounds less than my husband (who is a good 5 inches taller than I am), I knew I had to do something. But faced for the first time with needing to exercise, not just for the sake of clearing the trans-fat out of my arteries from my copious Doritos consumption, but for a real need to shed some pounds, I had no idea where to start. Do I join a gym and just start doing classes? And what kind of classes? Yoga? Pilates? Zumba? Do I do weights? Do I do cardio? Do I do both? If so, how much of each and how often? Do I simply take up running? (I hoped not, because God, I hate running.)
Maybe I was over-thinking things, but I really felt paralyzed about what to do.
Then, I ran into my friend Melissa (you can see a picture of her here). She looked so different from the last time I’d seen her.
Melissa had never been overweight, but she had dramatically transformed her body, and she looked amazing. She was competing in, and winning, figure competitions, and while I personally did not have that same kind of goal in mind, I knew we both shared the goal of wanting to transform our bodies, and I wanted to know what she was doing to make that happen.
So we talked a lot about what she was doing, and she invited me to try one of the classes she did at her gym. I went with her one day, and, in an experience I originally wrote about here, I basically died on the gym floor, and was reborn as a newly dedicated gym-goer. I signed up for the classes the very next day, and I’ve been going ever since.
That was last November. In the months since then, have I transformed? Absolutely. I’ve lost a total of about 25 pounds so far, and am still working on another 10-15. I almost can’t even believe that I actually had that much weight to lose. They are sneaky things, those calories.
So, what have I been doing all this time? It’s been a combination of three things: weight training three times a week; doing a group training class that focuses on interval circuits three times a week; and lastly (perhaps, most importantly), making some fundamental changes in my diet. Very old-school stuff, really. Simple as that.
Let me introduce you to Mike Neumann:
He’s guy who makes the magic happen in the gym. Don’t be fooled by that nice, friendly, smile on his face. It’s just there to lull you into a false sense of security, until he gets you back in the group training room and forces you to ‘make something big happen’ (code for: kicks your ass). And that thing hanging around his neck? Some call it a stopwatch; others, an instrument of torture. Depends on your perspective.
The group training classes I do with Mike are kind of like a semi-private training session. Class size is kept to a small number (on average, there are not usually more than 4-6 people in a class), so even though it’s not exactly a one-on-one session, the small group size does allow for some personalized attention. Which means, don’t think you can fly under the radar, hanging out and having a conversation with someone about what you did over the weekend, when you should be cranking out some bicep curls.
Class lasts 30 minutes, and is a grab bag of walking lunges, burpees, push-ups, squat jumps, Spiderman crawls, shuffles, sprints, knee-slaps (jump up in the air and slap both knees before landing), side lunges, and mountain climbers (to name a few), with anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes devoted at the end to ab work. I love this kind of workout, because the exercises are simple, straight-forward moves that are challenging and effective, and Mike mixes it up just enough to keep it fresh. The entire 30 minutes of class, Mike is either encouraging one of us to ‘just get three more reps’ of something, or he’s motivating us with tips on ‘how not to sabotage your efforts at the gym when you go out to eat at a restaurant.’
I think it’s fair to say, his class is an intense 30 minutes that leaves most of us splayed on the mats in a pool of sweat. But there is nothing better than the feeling at the end of having made it all the way through.
In addition to the class, I also do weights three times a week, each day focusing on a different body part, or combination of parts (chest and back, for example). Mondays are leg day (my personal favorite), and here’s a look at a very typical Monday for me:
One of the best things about working with a trainer is having someone who pushes you. I know for a fact that I achieve more in the gym as a result of this than I would doing it on my own. A perfect example: I’d been doing three sets of squats for about 12 or so reps at 115 pounds for quite a while. During one of our sessions, Mike took the 35-pound plates off the bar, and replaced them with 45-pound plates – you know, those plates that are GIANT? I didn’t say anything, but honestly, I was panicked. Did he seriously think I could squat that much? I had my doubts. Even though I was only adding 20 pounds to the overall load, there was something about seeing those huge, 45-pounds plates on my bar that was psychologically freaking me out. If I were working out on my own, I really don’t think I ever would have loaded those plates on the bar myself.
But in the end, I did it: I got about 8-10 reps, and it wasn’t nearly as awful as I’d thought it would be. In fact, I was even a little bit ecstatic over setting a new personal record for myself: a 135-pound squat. I’ll take it.
(By the way, I’m not in the habit of taking photos of myself while working out. Mike took these for me, for the purpose of using them in this post. Just thought I should clarify.)
In addition to doing class and weights three times a week, I also try to get in roughly two hours of straight cardio during the week. Some days, I do a step aerobics class, or sometimes I’ll just do a 30-minute interval run, or a 30-minute incline walk, on the treadmill. I try to arrange it so that among all those options, I end up with having done a total of two hours’ worth of cardio each week.
So that’s my workout week in a nutshell. But the biggest and most important change of all – the change that really began to affect a transformation for me – was when I changed my eating habits.
Up until my 40’s, I was fortunate to have the kind of metabolism that allowed me to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to, without worry of weight gain. I’d always been fairly active, but often thought of my time at the gym as my ticket to eat whatever I wanted. I worked out hard; why shouldn’t I be able to eat a donut or four? But this component of Mike’s group training is probably the one thing that has made the biggest impact.
When I joined Mike’s class, I was introduced to an entirely new religion of How and What to Eat:
So I slowly began implementing the guidelines that are documented on that board. I didn’t change everything all at once, but gradually, I began to try, as much as I could, to make what I ate fit into that framework. I increased my protein intake, decreased my carbs, and most importantly, started measuring my portion sizes and tracking everything. Sure, I had a vague notion that a bag of Doritos and a Diet Coke was probably not an optimum lunch. But once I really started paying attention to the numbers associated with eating like that, it was much easier to exercise a little restraint!
Mike tells our class constantly that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and that 80% of the change you see comes from what you do outside the gym. After a few months of taking his advice to heart, I’d have to say I agree. As much as I wish it weren’t true, Mike is right: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. It’s no small coincidence that it’s called a ‘muffin top,’ you know.
In these past few months, I’ve learned a ton. Mostly about the diet/food side of fitness, but also about weight lifting and how to work in the cardio, as well as how much cardio. I’ve met some new people, and run into some old acquaintances at my new gym. But the most important thing, I think, is the reminder of how much better I feel after a workout. It sounds trite, but there have been many, many mornings when I have felt miserably tired, or extremely cranky, or overwhelmed by my To Do list, and going to the gym was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. But the one thing I’d promised myself when I signed up for this was that I’d be consistent, no matter what. So, even when I don’t feel like it, I go. And every time I do, I’m reminded once again of how addictive that post-workout feeling is, and how as little as one hour at the gym can totally transform my mood for the rest of the day. Even if the rest of my day is a complete disaster, or I’m plagued by the feeling of having gotten nothing done all day, I can at least look back on my mornings and be reminded that yes, I did, in fact, accomplish something. Maybe that ‘something’ only amounts to 11 pushups instead of 10, or maybe it’s only an extra 10 pounds on leg extensions, but still, it counts. Mike says every day in class that “we’re gonna make something big happen today.” And every day, in so many small ways, that’s exactly what we do.
One last video, that I’ll post, not for the sake of gratuitous footage of me working out, but so you can hear a small sample of some of Mike’s commentary from class. The video is, admittedly, a little long – 6-minutes – but it gives you a good taste of how Mike’s classes are run. He manages to fill, not just the 6 minutes of abs, but the entire 30 minute class talking about one thing or another: form, diet, motivation, etc. and this is a typical example. I like it, because it takes my mind – at least a little bit – off of the pain!
If you are local and might be interested in Mike’s classes, you can find him at Impact Fitness.