Category Archives: Exercise

How to Encourage Someone Else to Start Exercising

No, this post isn’t about cajoling, bribing, manipulating, or otherwise pushing people to do what you want if – or even because –  it will be good for them in the longterm.

Not only is this kind of behaviour completely ineffective, it’s also destructive regardless of whether it’s happening between friends, relatives, or romantic partners.

The decision to change one’s habits for the better is something that every adult has to decide to do for themselves.

I won’t lie to you. It’s difficult to make big, permanent lifestyle changes. The only way these changes will stick is if the person who is trying them is genuinely committed to the process.

With that being said, there are a few things you can do if there’s someone in your life whom you wish would start exercising for the sake of their own health.

Be a Good Example

I walk briskly for about an hour every day. I also lift weights and occasionally dance or do yoga as well. When I invite someone to do something active with me, it’s always for activities that I’ve already been doing and deeply enjoy.

If you want your loved one to start taking better care of themselves, showing them how it can be done is one of the best things you can do. Words are cheap. Months or years of quietly demonstrating how to fit exercise into your life is a much better motivator from what I’ve observed.

Ask Them About Their Goals and Interests

One of my neighbours regularly goes to the gym, and his hours of weightlifting have changed his physique in all kinds of healthy ways.  I’ve been quietly impressed with how dedicated he is to growing stronger and building some serious muscle.

Feeling better was one of my biggest goals when I first began exercising again regularly a few years ago. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was tired of feeling rundown. While I definitely wanted to lose a little weight at the time as well, having more energy, sleeping better, and eventually not getting sick as often were what kept me going before the numbers on the scale started to budge.

If you can figure out what your loved one would like to change about their life and what kinds of exercise they do (and don’t!) like, you’ll be able to suggest some routines that would help them reach those goals.

Keep It Fun

One of the things I love the most about living in Toronto is how easy it is to walk everywhere. Everything I could possibly need or want is within walking distance of my house: grocery stores, salons, movie theatres, parks, medical clinics, museums, and the library. I could easily go weeks without needing any form of transportation other than my own two feet when the weather is mild. Sometimes my spouse and I entertain ourselves simply by taking a long walk when we don’t know what else we’d like to do.

Of course, not everyone lives in a neighbourhood like this one. I’ve lived in suburban and rural places in the past, and I know how much that can affect someone’s daily routine.

The basic principal remains, though. Exercise doesn’t have to be something you tack onto the end of your day. There are many different ways to weave it into your routine in all kinds of fun ways if you think creatively about it. For example, I have a relative who lives so far out in the country that there aren’t any pizza places that will deliver food to them. One of the things her family likes to do is walk half a mile or so down the road to visit another relative of ours every day.

Even small amounts of exercise like that can really add up by the end of the day or week, and they won’t feel like work if you’re doing them to get to somewhere fun.

Back Off

This is by far the most important step in the process.

Adults have the right to run their own lives however they see fit. Once they know that you’re interested in working out with them, it’s up to them to decide when and whether this might take place.

Think of it the same way you do when you give a gift to someone. Once you’ve handed it over, what they do with it is something only they can determine. They might use it forever. They might use it someday when they’ve realized how valuable it is. Alternatively, they might decide it isn’t the right thing for them and never use it at all.

It’s okay to invite them to do a specific activity every once in a while, but that’s as far as I’d go unless they’ve asked you to invite them to work out more often than that. Let them think about it. They’ll either decide to take you up on your offer or they won’t.

Either way, it’s out of your hands now.

When Is It Time to Move Up to a Heavier Set of Weights?

I’ve been asking myself this question over the past week or two. Since I work out at home instead of going to the gym, I try to be very mindful of what equipment I buy and when I buy it. My tiny apartment can only store so many items at once!

The last set of weights I bought also turned out to be a little too heavy for me at first. I ended up switching between them and my previous set of weights for a week or two depending on which part of my body I was using and how my form was looking.

It’s been my hope that I’ll be able to avoid this next time by spending extra time with my current equipment as I wait to grow slightly stronger.

There are a few different signs I look for when I’m deciding when to move up to a heavier set of weights versus when I should stick with my current set of weights and focus on adjusting my form for the time being.

Let’s go through them one by one.

Sign #1: My Workouts Are Getting too Easy These Days.

While there are still a couple of moves in my routine that I find a little challenging, most of them are fairly easy these days.

I’m not breaking a sweat as quickly as I was when I first moved up to this set of weights. I’m also not needing or wanting to take the breaks I sometimes incorporated into the workout the last time I did it with a heavier set of weights.

My endurance has definitely increased since then, so I would agree that my workouts have become too easy.

Sign #2: It’s Been a While Since I Felt Sore the Day After a Workout.

No, I don’t believe this is the only or the best indication of a good routine, but it can be one sign that you’re pushing your body enough to become stronger without risking injury.

This might sound odd, but I actually like the feeling you get the day after a tough, new workout. Even if your muscles aren’t necessarily suffering from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), you can often feel them contracting and relaxing in ways that might not have felt so obvious last week or last month. Certain movements remind you that you need to use your arms, abs, or legs for them even if you’re not generally consciously aware of that fact.

If you do have DOMS, some of those movements are slightly uncomfortable or harder to perform than normal. If you’re not, you still often pay attention to your body in ways that are easy to miss on an ordinary day.

It has been a while since I felt this way after lifting weights. I hope my next adjustment is easier, but I’m also curious to see what will happen this time  when I move up to heavier weights. Does a body eventually get so used to lifting progressively heavier stuff that it no longer feels as sore when it’s asked to do something slightly harder than it was doing last week?

Sign #3: When I Finish a Routine, I Still Have Plenty of Energy Left Over

This is by far the biggest sign that I need to move up to a heavier set of weights. It’s one thing to have a little bit of strength left after a workout, but I’m at the point now where I’m not feeling all that challenged. I could easily do some more reps with the weights or add in more pushups if I’m doing bodyweight exercises that day.

Based on my answers to these three points, it definitely seems to be time to get some new equipment.

How about you? What other signs do you look for when you’re decide if it’s time to use heavier weights?

The Strangest Songs to Get Stuck In Your Head During a Workout

I don’t actually listen to music when I workout, so it’s odd to see how often strange songs get stuck in my head while I’m walking or lifting weights.

Some of the songs I’m about to share with you today have powerful memories behind them that help to explain why my brain likes to dredge them up from the past when I’m least expecting it. If they are connected to such a thing for me, I will tell you all about it.

Other songs aren’t so fortunate. I honestly don’t know why I remember some of them. Maybe one of you will have a theory for me!

All I know is that my brain is pretty good at doing this. From what I’ve read, the same can be said for many people. Today I’d love to know what random songs pop into your mind when you’re working out. After you finished reading this post, come over to Twitter and tell me all about it. Let’s commiserate on the weirdest songs we’ve ever started to think about while exercising.

Jubilate Deo” is a song that my choir director had us practice regularly for the one year I reluctantly sung in my high school choir in order to fulfill the arts and music credit I needed to graduate.

There were a few songs he taught us during that year that I found myself enjoying at the time. This was not one of them, so I have no idea why I still remember the lyrics and melody so well.

Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch” has a funny story behind it.

My mother didn’t say a lot about the music my siblings and I listened to when we were teenagers. We were given a lot of freedom to decide which artists, bands, and genres of music we liked, especially once I was in my later teens and my parents relaxed their rules about these things even more than they had a few years before then.

With that being said, mom did have a vendetta against this particular song. I remember her giving us a friendly speech about sex being something more than rutting like animals. She was miffed by the idea that anyone would put that kind of a message into such a catchy tune.

I don’t know how she’ll react to this, but still think of her every time I hear this song. Although it is weird to have that memory suddenly pop up when I’m lifting weights or following a dance video on Youtube. A small part of me still expects her to start reading the lyrics once again and explaining why she doesn’t approve of them. Ha!

Justin Bieber’s “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever

There are three things I find strange about this:

  1. No offence to anyone who loves it, but I am not a fan of Justin’s musical style in general.
  2. Justin sang a Christian worship song in a secular concert to fans who had no idea what was happening.
  3. The beat of this song is far too slow for a workout.

I could understand getting this song stuck in my head when I’m mediating, relaxing, or trying to go to sleep. The fact that it generally only happens during workouts is quite the mystery.

Beyonce’s “Resentment.”

I am a fan of Beyonce’s music in general, but once again this isn’t a song that works well for something vigorous like a workout. It’s slow, heartbreaking, and has nothing at all to do with raising your heart rate or becoming more energetic.

If only my brain would decide to fixate on something fun like “Single Ladies” instead. At least that song has an uptempo beat you can dance to!

Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink’s  “Worth It.”

I have never liked this song. The few times I’ve heard it have been in circumstances where I couldn’t get away from it.

So why does my brain insist on bringing it up when I hit my stride on a long, brisk walk? There are dozens of other songs with similar beats that I’d be much happier to discover have become stuck in my head.

I sincerely don’t understand how the human mind works sometimes. If it were up to me, nobody would ever get a song stuck in their mind that they disliked, and they’d never think about slow songs when they were exercising or fast songs when they were trying to go to sleep.

If any of these songs are now stuck in your head, my apologies. I hope they wiggle their way free soon.

The Top 5 Must-Haves If You Want to Start Exercising

If you haven’t exercised in years, what equipment do you really need to get started? What is optional? What items can be skipped or put off until later? What can be bought second-hand?

All of these questions will be answered in today’s post.

1. Comfortable Shoes and Clothes

Nearly all of my workout clothing is old, mismatched, and basically impossible to ruin. I have one sports bra that I wear when I’m overheated or for activities that work better if my outfit isn’t so loose. There are times when it’s safer to avoid flowy fabrics or fits, although most of my workouts can be done with any kind of clothing that allows a full range of movement.

Since a lot of the exercise I get is in the form of brisk walking, I specifically buy shoes based on how well they can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. I don’t have a problem spending more on them than is strictly necessary because of how much use I get out of them.

If you already have a pair of sneakers, keeping using them until they need to be replaced. If not, this is one of the few things that I’ll recommend getting immediately. You don’t have to spring for the most expensive pair of sneakers, but make sure you get something comfortable that supports and protects your feet.

Don’t spend money on new workout clothes in the beginning unless you genuinely don’t have anything to wear. Once you know whether you’re going to spend most of your time doing, you’ll have a much better understanding of what – if anything – you actually need.

After all of my stuff finally wears out, I will probably upgrade to a matching outfit or two if I can find a good deal on them. There are some cute styles out there these days that I’d like to try. This is definitely not necessary, though. The workouts will be the same regardless of what you wear.

2.  Hand or Free Weights

I’m assuming here that you do not have a gym membership. If you do, consider this one optional.

Yes, you can build up your strength doing nothing but bodyweight exercises. Some of my weightlifting routine each week includes these moves, but it didn’t when I first began because I wasn’t strong enough to do a full pushup yet.

It wasn’t until I moved down to a less challenging set of moves that I was able to actually start making progress with those fitness goals.

The nice thing about a pair of hand-weights is that you can start off at any level of strength you currently have. I’ve known people who began with 1-, 3- or 5-pound weights and moved up from there.

Dumbbells are also useful once you become too strong to be challenged by bodyweight exercises. Someday I’d love to lift weights as large as the woman on the right is. I think I’ll make it there eventually!

This is something that can be bought secondhand if you’re looking to save money. Weights wear out incredibly slowly, so you’ll almost certainly outgrow them before they’ve outlived their usefulness.

3. A Yoga Mat

I’m still using the same yoga mat I did when I first began working out again several years ago.

This isn’t something you need to spend a lot of money on. I picked the least expensive one I could find, and it still looks pretty good after years of regular use.  You can get a pricier one if you want, but the cheap ones are perfectly serviceable.

Comfort is the biggest reason why I so strongly recommend picking up a yoga mat up as soon as possible. I have hardwood floors in my home, so lying or sitting on the floor for any kind of workout routine quickly becomes uncomfortable. This is especially true when I’m trying to hold a difficult pose or support my weight on one leg.

The other nice thing about this piece of equipment is that it reframes the space you’re working out in. When my mat is unrolled, I know it’s time to push myself to finish that workout. After I roll it up again, I feel psychologically prepared to transition to whatever it is I’ll be doing next that day.

4. A Water Bottle

Every year I have to remind myself to drink more water when the temperatures warm up again. It is very easy to get a little dehydrated when you’re exercising outside under the glare of the sun.

One of the few fitness-related items I’m thinking about getting this year is a reusable water bottle. I had one years ago that eventually broke. It’s high time that I replaced it based on how rare it is to find a drinking fountain in Toronto. I can get by with visiting fountains in certain parts of the city, but other sections are sorely lacking in this department.

A water bottle is a good investment for beginners. They are inexpensive unless you purposefully decide to buy something fancy that’s designed for a specific sport like running. Water is also something that everyone needs during or after a workout.

If you don’t happen to need a water bottle after all, great! I do recommend picking one up if you’ll be spending time outdoors or in any place where it’s difficult to find a drink.

 

5. Determination

If only I could sell you an ounce of pure determination!

This sadly can’t be bought in any store, but it is one of the most important things you’ll need as you begin your new exercise routine.

There will be hard days. You might try a new workout and wonder if you’ll ever be able to do the whole way through without needing a break.

They’ll either get easier over time or you’ll find a different form of exercise that suits you better. In the meantime, determination will see you through the rough spots.

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5 Fitness Rules You Should Break

One of the most interesting things about fitness culture is how many different rules there are about what you are and are not supposed to do in order to get healthier. I’ve learned so much about the art of staying fit by listening to what other ordinary people find helpful.

There is a lot of fantastic information out there about what you should be doing, but today I wanted to talk about fitness rules that should be broken instead of being followed.

No Pain, No Gain

Of course there are times when I’m a little sore during or after a workout, but I genuinely enjoy the time I spend exercising overall. It feels good to get my blood pumping as I learn a new move or break a new record. Achieving small goals like that are what keep me motivated as I push through tough or new workouts.

If whatever I’m doing starts to genuinely hurt, though, I take it as a sign that I shouldn’t be doing that particular activity for now. Often it’s okay again if I ease back on how quickly I’m doing it or if I move to a lighter set of weights. Over the longterm, I can almost always work up to whatever it was that was too hard to do the first time I tried it.

There’s a difference between pushing yourself to run a little faster or lift harder this time and risking an injury by ignoring your pain.

If it isn’t fun on at least some level, don’t do it.

Work Out No Matter What the Weather Is Like 

Here in Toronto we occasionally get warnings about smog, snowstorms, fog, sleet, snow, heat waves, or cold snaps. As much as I like exercising outdoors, these days are not safe and healthy ones to do anything active outdoors. This is even more true for people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma.

Other areas of the world have different warnings. I have relatives whose lives are occasionally put on hold by haboobs (dust storms). When I say their lives are put on hold, I mean that they have to stop whatever they’re doing, find shelter, and wait for the storm to pass. One time one of them even got stuck on the side of the road for a little while because all of that dust would have badly damaged the engine of their car if they had kept driving through it.

There are times when it can be downright dangerous to go for a jog or do other strenuous activities if the weather in your community is really bad. I have a full repertoire of workouts that can be done in my apartment or other places indoors when the weather isn’t cooperative. If it’s extremely smoggy or humid, I might not exercise at all that day depending on what the air conditioning situation is like and how my lungs are feeling.

Missing one workout isn’t going to make a big difference in the scheme of things. Safety always has to come first.

Make It a Competition

Some people thrive on competition, but I find that kind of motivation to be demoralizing instead of encouraging. I really don’t enjoy pitting people against each other. This is especially true when it comes to something as individualized as how or when you work out.

Part of the reason why I dislike making exercise competitive is that I have a few friends who are living with various illnesses and disabilities that restrict how much energy and strength they have. They are simply not physically capable of doing a lot of things that I can do without a second thought. There are other people I know who are in much better shape than I am. In all of these cases, the competition wouldn’t be a fair one because we’d be coming from such different starting points.

Even when we’re more or less evenly matched in strength and overall fitness, some of my other friends  participate in types of exercise that are so different from what I do that it’s almost impossible to compare them. For example, how on earth would you compare swimming to jogging? What about tai chi to a team sport like volleyball? There’s no easy way to weigh things like these, especially when you factor in the different fitness levels and physical abilities of everyone involved.

The final problem I have with it is that I believe exercise should be fun for everyone. As someone who isn’t competitive, having only one winner at the end of it makes me not want to play at all.

Why not focus on having a great time instead?

It’s cool if other people want to compete with each other to stay motivated, but I’d much rather encourage everyone at whatever it is they enjoy doing and not worry about who “won” in the end. If you’ve found a sustainable way to stay active, you’re a winner in my book!

All You Need Is One Routine

Confession: I was guilty of this one myself when I first started working out. I stuck with the same cardio and light hand weight routine for a long time and was a bit hesitant to try anything new because of how much I liked what I was currently doing.

All of that exercise was still very good for me, but I didn’t realize how much more I was capable of until I started branching out. Dancing and bodyweight videos on Youtube made my muscles ache in ways they hadn’t ached since I first started working out. It was also much more mentally stimulating than doing the same routine day after day. I had to learn how to move my body in new ways and try stuff I’d never considered doing before.

This has become even more true as I explore what yoga routines work best for me. Once again, I’ve been thrown into an entirely new way of working out that’s challenging and exciting.

Food Is Nothing But Fuel

Yes, having a healthy diet is important. One of the things that alarms me about certain parts of fitness culture, though, is how they focus on the physical effects of food so much that they sometimes forget the other meanings it can have.

Sharing food is a sign of love and friendship in many cultures. Some of the best memories of my childhood involved spending time with my extended family as they cooked a big meal. My grandmother has a huge dining room table that gets filled up with family members at the holidays and on other special occasions.

Anywhere between some and most of the food served there would come from my grandparents’ farm depending on what time of year it was and what we’re eating.

There are a lot of fresh vegetables from the garden in the summer, but in the winter we eat more bread and meat instead.

While I wouldn’t recommend doing this every day, eating a specific treat can also be emotionally satisfying. For example, my mom and I used to drive to a nearby city to buy dairy-free chocolate bars when I was a teenager. We lived in a small, rural town at the time that had almost nothing in the way of specialty foods for people with dietary restrictions, so these trips were a wonderful glimpse into how people in more populated areas lived.

Once or twice a year, I’ll buy a couple of bars of dairy-free chocolate and think happy thoughts about that part of my childhood. Those extra calories are easily burned away over the next few months until I treat myself again.

How about you? What fitness rules do you think should be broken? Come over and tell me about it on Twitter today!

Exercise Makes Me So Hungry

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. I don’t mind writing a long post when the topic requires it, but I also think there’s something to be said for conserving your words if fewer will do just as well. My exercise routine was interrupted a few times over the winter due to an injury… Read More

What Cheesy Ghost Movies Can Teach You About Getting (and Staying) in Shape

One of my favourite things to do during a boring workout routine is to watch the kinds of ghost movies on Netflix that desperately try to be scary but end up being predictable and silly instead. The nice part about these films is that they don’t require your full attention. Paying attention to 80% of the things happening… Read More

What Will Exercise Routines Be Like in a Hundred Years?

A new fitness fad comes along every decade or so. There were gentle stretching exercises for ladies in the 1910s, twist dances in the 1950s, aerobics videos in the 1980s, and Zumba classes in the 2010s. (If you haven’t seen it already, this video shows 100 years of fitness in 100 seconds). A hundred years ago, exercise was built into… Read More

Why I’m Giving Yoga Another Chance

Those of you who have been following me online for a while might remember my previous forays into yoga. I’ve tried a few different times now to practice this form of exercise regularly. I love the idea of becoming more physically flexible than I currently am. Yoga seems like it should fit in well with my current… Read More