Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winter Advice

Double dose of snowmageddon and snowpocalypse got you down? Or is it the snowacane? Or maybe it's just AccuWeather trying to scare the bejeebes out of us all! Whatever, I'm pretty sick of it. I'm not sick of winter or even snow, I'm sick of one doomsday snowstorm report after another. There's an old saying, "We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not."
I mean, yeah, there's snow and, yeah, it's deep, but compared to the REAL catastrophes that have taken place recently (like earthquakes, for instance), we're pretty fortunate.

Since it is winter here in the Northern Hemisphere (Pennsylvania) and every winter we people of the more northern latitudes do have things like cold, snow, ice, wind, etc., the best thing to do is accept that fact graciously and take responsibility for maintaining your own happiness.

There are several things that I know of that are very effective in dealing with cabin fever and the winter blues:

Get as much daylight as you can, especially in the morning. This is known to regulate your body's production of chemicals and hormones that contribute to a positive state of mind, as well as helping you sleep well at night. Even if it's overcast outside, the light is still going to help you. Also, I think that feeling trapped inside your house gives you a feeling of powerlessness, which is sucky. Take back the outdoors and tell the weather report to stick it where the sun don't shine (Ha ha! That was a good one).

Exercise. You've heard it a thousand times before, I'm sure, and it's still true! It really does work, even if it's just a little exercise.

Listen to music that grabs you by the butt and makes you move. You know best what music you like. I'd say that the middle of winter (as in NOW) is the perfect time to invest in a few new CD's or downloads. It's waaay cheaper than antidepressants and doesn't have the nasty side effects.

Eat clean. Too much sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup, also known as "evil itself"), refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients will make your body sad and confused. Come on, the holidays are over and it's time to clean up your system. Drink lots of clean water and green tea, and eat whole foods that nourish you.

Minimize your exposure to outrageous weather reports. It's good to know what's going on (if you're planning to drive somewhere and a snowstorm is on its way, for instance), but dwelling on doomsday scenarios and the kind of emotionally charged language that weather and news reporters are now using is just contributing to people's anxiety, sadness and a feeling of helplessness. Don't fall for it!

Don't forget that you really are the one who's in charge of how you feel and how you experience each day. Take good care of yourself!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ben Stiller

I was recently inspired by Ben Stiller's arms in the movie, "Tropic Thunder" to up my weights at the gym. If you haven't seen it, it's a really fun movie and Ben Stiller is in great shape. In fact, even if you have seen it, watch it again! It never hurts to see a terrific movie, right?
Anyway, I've been doing weight-training workouts in a more fitness-oriented way (rather than traditional bodybuilding) for a while now and it's time for a few changes. What I've been doing is based on Giant Sets of six or more exercises that work the whole body, using light weights and high reps (20). It went something like this:

Do 20 reps of each exercise with no more than 30 seconds rest in between. Then
repeat the entire sequence 2 or 3 times:

Lateral pulldowns (for upper back)
Squats (legs and core)
Dumbbell chest press (chest, shoulders)
Lunges (legs)
Dumbbell shoulder press (shoulders)
Crunches (abs)
Bicep curl (biceps)
Dips (triceps, chests)

This is great for general fitness and cardio work. It also gets you out of the gym faster than a more traditional bodybuilding workout because you're jumping from one exercise to another that uses entirely different muscle groups. Your heart and lungs are going like crazy the whole time, but your muscles still get a chance to recover.
Great for getting leaner, but if you want to increase your muscle size and look like Ben Stiller, you'll want to do less repetitions with heavier weights.
So I've decided that for a while, I'm going to go a little heavier, but still keep my reps no less than 8 (I am a 51 year old lady, after all, and the days of lifting super heavy are soooo over), which means that my poundage can't be super high, just higher than it was when I was doing 20 repetitions of each exercise. I'm also going to bring back the "pyramid system" that I used in my bodybuilding days. Here is an example of how it works. You can do this with most exercises:

Set 1, use a weight that you can comfortably do 15 reps with.
Set 2, increase the weight and do 12 reps.
Set 3, increase again and do 10 reps.
Set 4, increase again and do 8.
Set 5, decrease back to the weight you used in Set 2 and do 15 reps.

And, voila! Your lats are all pumped up!

For now, I'm sticking with the Giant Set arrangement that works the whole body because it's just such a great time-saver. But if I really wanted to grow new muscle, I'd arrange it like this:

Day 1, pushing exercises (those that work chest, shoulders, and triceps)
Day 2, pulling exercises (those that work back and biceps)
Day 3, legs
Each day would also have 3 sets of ab work at the end of the other training.
Day 4, rest

Poor old bodybuilders! It's a rough game and people can take it too far. But it's good to use some of their exercise philosophy where it's helpful. The best thing is to mix it all up and not do the same routine year after year.