Bobby Vinton is in my head singing “Mr. Lonely” right now.
I heard crickets – crickets! – in response to our first fitness challenge, but I did it anyway. (Bono is joining Bobby Vinton for an uneasy “Mr. Lonely”/”With or Without You” mashup, by the way. You seriously do not want to hear my life soundtrack. Did I mention I have a life soundtrack?)
I even did this challenge during our recent unexpected trip to Ohio, on which we slept two nights at roadside rest stops. I did cat/cows, planks, and pushups in the van. Call me dedicated because it’s a nicer word than desperate. How else was I supposed to work off the four – F O U R – Krispy Kreme doughnuts I ate on the drive back? (Only because Joel made me throw away the last one.) I need you to know that Krispy Kreme will be my cause of death.
Anyway… despite my urge to save face after having to converse with myself on that last challenge, I’m going to go ahead and put another one out there. I really, really want you guys to embrace the first challenge though. We are talking about abs. Do the plank! It’s only a minute, and you don’t even have to lie on the floor and use every ounce of your core strength just to avoid damaging your low back while you lift the ungodly weight of your legs over and over again, all in the name of good abs. (Don’t take offense. I’m pretty sure everyone’s legs are unreasonably heavy. I’d like to meet the unstable human who decided it would be a good idea to lift them like that.) But the plank works, and it’s simple, and planking for a minute doesn’t make me want to hurt people the way double leg raises do.
While we were in Ohio I got to visit briefly with my sister Andrea, who looked straight at me and said “I hate the plank.” (Et tu, Brute?) But she also reminded me that everyone might not know the importance of muscle in the process of burning fat. So let me touch on that for a minute.
Muscles are key components in the battle against excess body fat because using muscles burns energy (including that which has been stored up in the body as fat). Your muscles are always working to maintain your body’s posture and function, whatever position you are in, and therefore they use energy whether you are actively moving or not. This and other involuntary vital functions are the reasons we burn energy just by existing (roughly 1800 – 2000 calories every day), even without any intentional exercise. So while the majority of calorie burning is done involuntarily, and you don’t have a whole lot of control over the daily metabolic demands of your liver and large intestines, you do have some control over the fat-burning potential of your body’s skeletal muscles. Translated into what’s-your-point-ese (that’s not a real language. I just made that up.):
- Muscle uses more energy than fat tissue does. Replacing fat tissue in the body with toned muscle increases your body’s fat-burning ability. This is true even during rest, while your muscles work to keep your body from turning into a pile of bones and viscera. (Ladies, this is why men lose weight so much quicker than we do, once they give it an honest try – men naturally have more muscle mass than women, and with it greater fat-burning potential.)
- Using the larger muscles in the body is the most effective way to burn extra energy (ie: fat). This is why walking is a great exercise for weight loss. The muscles in your legs and tush are your most massive and powerful muscle groups, so exercises that engage these muscles will be most effective in burning fat (stored up energy) in your body.
Our fitness challenge for June is going to focus on both of these factors, but first I want to throw in a little side note – these fitness challenges are meant to encourage lifestyle habits that will increase fitness, strength, muscle tone, and overall well-being. If weight loss is your foremost goal, nothing is going to help shed weight as effectively as eating less calories than you burn (I speak from experience). We can talk more about weight loss challenges, if anyone wants to – but you guys have to talk to me!
In the meantime…we are going to use the mega-muscles in the thighs and tush to burn fat, and we’re going to use them with excellent form and focus to increase the tone and muscle mass in these fat-blasting heavyweights. (Heavyweights…see what I did there?) We’re going to do squats! Yay!
Okay, I’m not really that excited about it either. This idea is not very original, and I mean really, they’re not that much fun. But they are worth it. As an added benefit – strengthening the muscles in your legs builds support for your joints. I had a friend point this out to me quite a while back when I almost quit Zumba (gasp!) thinking I had inherited my dad’s knee problems. Once my legs gained the necessary strength, the knee (and ankle) pain stopped altogether. That alone is worth making a habit of strengthening the legs.
As always, form and consistency are of the utmost importance. Do your squats every day – one or two sets of 15 – and track them on paper with a tally or a check mark or whatever works for you, so that you can see and celebrate your daily progress. Do them slowly, and squat as low as you can go without falling over or letting your knees wobble. Tuck your hips and keep your weight on your heels to focus the movement into the hamstrings (back of the thigh) and glutes (butt), rather than the quadriceps (front of the thigh). Do your best to keep good posture. Shoulders back, back straight – no hunching. I prefer to do most squats in a wide stance so I can balance and do a nice deep squat while keeping good form, but feel free to switch them up however you’d like. Just do your best. Take a few minutes each day to chip away at toning the fat-burning superstars in your legs and rump. This really is nothing compared to some of the crazy fitness challenges I’ve heard of and even done myself. I know we can handle it.
If you’re feeling plucky – Do this Butt Lift Challenge also. I love the challenges Cassey Ho posts on her blog. She is a bubbly and encouraging person and she motivates her followers to work hard and push beyond self-imposed limitations. Her challenges don’t use outrageous numbers of repetitions, either. Even at the end the month, when the reps have increased, they can still be done in a reasonable amount of time with attention to form and without wondering if this is what death feels like.
Remember, we are adding this month’s challenge to the perpetual challenge from last month. The water/plank/pushup challenge is the only one that will remain indefinitely. From this point forward what we add to that challenge will change each month. I also plan to add an extra “plucky challenge” (see previous paragraph) to each month’s regular challenge. I hope you’ll choose to do it along with the regular challenge, but w hatever you decide to do or not do, let’s discuss what we are doing as we go. I’d love to hear what you think. Who’s doing these with me? (Is anyone doing these with me?) What’s working? What are you feeling? Do you hate it, or love it, or have fantasies of hurting me while you plank with a full bladder?
Jump in here and stick with me. I believe we can do this and make a positive difference in our health.