On Mother’s Day I had s’mores. Plural. Then we put the kids to bed and ate ice cream (not the kind you have to shake) straight out of the carton. I don’t want to hear your good-for-you-it-was-a-special-occasion-everyone-needs-to-cut-loose-once-in-a-while’s. On Saturday evening I went to a graduation party and ate cake. Before that I helped Joel wipe out his large peanut butter cup “concrete” from Freddy’s. On Friday I ate my mother-in-law’s cookies – plural again – and a really big, fancy chocolate covered strawberry. I can’t recount all of the transgressions of the previous week, but there were copious amounts of chocolate chips and marshmallows involved on several occasions. Last weekend was graduation weekend for Barclay College here in Haviland. At the banquet on Saturday, I left my dessert untouched on the table in front of me the whole time! When I got home and realized I still had to put the kids to bed while Joel stayed to clean up the banquet, I cured my stress and fatigue with chocolate chips (curse those chocolate chips!). There was a reception after graduation on Sunday. I ate cake there too. I warned you about this.
So here’s this month’s fitness challenge: When you see me with something sweet, run – do not walk – RUN to smack it out of my hand. Then run away.
It’ll be like smacking a honeycomb out of the mouth of a grizzly.
Growling. And big teeth.
I tower over a lot of people like an actual grizzly too, so there’s that image.
I’m usually a gentle person though, so you might be okay. Maybe bring some coffee to trade.
Anyway, all kidding (and partial kidding) aside, since I had four enthusiastic “Go for it!” responses on the fitness challenge proposal – which is an overwhelming 33.3% increase over my usual three-response average – I think it’s only right that I get us going right away with our first challenge.
Like I said, these challenges will be simple, but consistent. I’ll essentially be sharing with you the challenges I set for myself each month on my monthly goal sheet.The most important point of focus with these will always be good, quality movements. I have experienced that a modest amount of exercise with focused attention to good form, performed consistently, produces greater results than excessive repetitions of an exercise performed poorly.
What I mean by that is if you’re doing squats, don’t do 150 squats poorly and quickly – and then never do a squat again because you didn’t see any results from your torturous effort and you hate squats now. Instead do one set of 15 squats each day. Do them slowly and pay attention to your body. Plant your feet and keep your weight on your heels. Keep your core muscles tight for balance. Tuck your hips and make every effort to make your hamstrings and glutes do the work, rather than your quadriceps. Squat as low as you can (remember – slowly), but really, really as low as you physically can without falling over or letting your knees wobble. Squeeze in the glutes and hamstrings when you come back up. That’s it. It might seem like a lot to think about for a squat, but it is worth it for actual results without excessive wasted effort. Do 15 every day, unless you decide you want to do more. But make them all count! Do it for a month and then pick a different exercise for the next month, to work a different muscle group. That’s pretty much what we’ll be doing with these challenges.
Over time, you will notice muscle tone in the areas you have been consistently working. If you are losing weight as well, you will be pleased with the muscle that starts to surface as the extra weight comes off. More importantly, you will be building strength and endurance in your muscles. You will like the way you feel and the greater ease with which you can do everyday things like climbing steps or carrying small children.
Okay, so all that bossy stuff out of the way – we are already a third of the way through May! That’s okay though, because we need to lay the groundwork for our fitness challenges anyway. So this month’s challenge is to make a few simple perpetual changes. I said perpetual. But if you can’t handle the thought of perpetual, then commit to doing it for the rest of the month, reassess at the end, and decide whether you’re willing to commit to another month.
Your first challenge consists of two perpetual changes for the good of your overall health and well-being.
Number One – Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day. This water thing is nothing new, so out of laziness I’m not going to list all kinds of reasons that we need to drink water. Just do it, because you’ll feel better when you do than when you don’t. You’ll likely eat less too. I usually keep a full 16 ounce glass of water out on the counter. (I happen to enjoy my water at room temperature.) If I take a sip to swallow some vitamins, I make it a point to drink at least half of the water in the glass. If I see my glass sitting there throughout the day and realize haven’t been drinking from it, I pick it up and drink it – the whole glass. Then I mark down that I drank it, and fill it right back up. I typically keep a piece of paper for tallying my water every day, or I won’t be able to keep track of how much I’ve had. Lately I’ve been inputting the ounces of each glass of water into my fitbit app as I finish it instead of tracking it on paper. Do whatever works for you, but make sure you can keep yourself accountable to this.
If you’re already a water lover, then you have one less change to worry about. If you don’t typically drink a lot of water, be patient while your bladder adjusts (just sayin’). But it will adjust and you won’t have to pee every fifteen seconds for the rest of your life.
Number Two – Plank every day. When you wake up every morning, roll out of bed and into a plank position. You can do it. Then it will be out of the way for the day, and if you accomplish nothing else all day, you have at least done the absolute most effective core strengthening and toning exercise ever created. (That may not be factual, but it is my strong opinion based on personal experience.)
Hold your plank position for a minute, preferably, but at least 30 seconds. You can plank on your hands and toes, on your elbows and toes, or on your hands and knees. However you can manage it, but you have to push yourself. Be honest with yourself, or you won’t see the results you want. If you can’t plank for a minute on your toes, can you plank for 30 seconds on your toes and another 30 seconds on your knees? Push a little harder each time. It’s only a minute. You WILL be able to do more at the end of the month than you could at the beginning. BUT however you do it, do it with good form. Straight back – no butt up in the air, no back sagging down to the floor. You should feel your whole abdomen working to stabilize this position. That’s it.
If you’re feeling plucky: I was actually lying when I said “that’s it.” I don’t want to scare anyone away, but what I really want you to do as part of your perpetual plank plan, is follow it with some pushups. 10-15 pushups on your knees or on your toes or half and half, as long as you push yourself to do one better than you did the day before, until you can do all of them on your toes. Do these half cobra pushups some days. Do pushups with your hands out wide some days and your hands under your shoulders other days. Do them with your hands in a triangle under your chest, and do up-up-down-downs some days, but get them out of the way first thing. Strong arms and upper body are important, and unlike those in the legs, these muscles don’t have the “built-in” strengthening advantage of carrying around the weight of the body on a regular basis.
Remember good form, or don’t bother. Your back should still be straight. You should still feel your abdomen supporting your posture. Bend your arms down to 90 degrees, or until your chest touches the floor if you can. If you can’t go that low in a full pushup, do them on your knees until you are strong enough to do them with good form on your toes. You will make better progress with a strong pushup on your knees than with a weak one on your toes.
If you’re feeling sore: I lied again. That’s still not it. Before I plank, I always do several cat/cow stretches for my back. I am thoroughly convinced that this is one of the main reasons that I don’t have a sore, achy back. It is an excellent stretch, and this video (from about the 7 minute mark to about the 10 minute mark) is great for focusing on good form for maximum benefit. This part of the challenge is not hard at all and it’s for the good of your mobility. It’s a great habit to keep. I usually do a quick child’s pose after my plank too, for a little break before the pushups.
That sounds like a lot (and I don’t plan on all of these posts being so long), but don’t freak out. The whole process takes about three and a half minutes in the morning:
Roll out of bed (to hands and knees, actually – not plank position)
Do three slow cat/cow stretches
Plank for one minute
Do fifteen pushups
Now you’ve got your back stretched, your blood flowing, and you’ve increased your upper body and core strength before you’ve even emptied your bladder. Go you! If you don’t do any other exercise program at all, you are still improving little by little each day. That’s it. For real this time.
I realize that I called this two changes, and it seems like four. The cat/cow stretches have become part of my plank habit for over a year now, and I strongly recommend attaching the two exercises so that they both become a daily habit. I also count the pushups as part of the plank routine (they are always written on my goal list as “plank/pushups”). So let’s call this the plank process. It counts as one.
I also strongly recommend keeping track of your exercises each month. (Completely unrelated…how many times can I use “strongly recommend” before it loses it’s potency?) It doesn’t have to be a fancy or complicated system. I pick a page in my notebook (the one I always have around for to-do lists, grocery lists, and random things I want to remember to write about someday), and I write down my goals for the month. Each day that I accomplish one of my daily goals, I make a tally after that item on my list. On the days I don’t do an exercise, I mark a little X instead of a tally. The X’s aren’t meant to be discouraging – they are for keeping track, because losing track is an excellent way to lose motivation.
So there it is. The ground work. Can we do this? Tell me what you think. We can use the comments as a forum for encouragement and support, sharing our accomplishments, results, progress, and struggles as we go. Are you in?