Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Workout Wednesday: The Spartans' Recess



Ah, I hope you are picking up on the tone of the title of this post.

I could have also titled this post many other ways:

- Workout Wednesday: The Sauna Run-in-Place "Workout"
- Workout Wednesday: The “Let’s Wear Black and Run in the Dark” Workout
- Workout Wednesday: The “Remind Everyone Why Crossfit Guys are Douchey” Workout
- Workout Wednesday: The “We Didn’t Plan This At All” Workout
- Workout Wednesday: The “Let’s Exercise in an Underground Parking Garage” Workout
- Workout Wednesday: The Non-Workout
- Workout Wednesday: Let’s Get a Free Shirt and Leave
- Workout Wednesday: Not-Really-a-Spartan-Training

I could go on and on.

For those of you who are confused, my friend Kristen is doing the Spartan Beast Race in Midway. I am too much of a wuss to sign up for it. It’s a lot of running, and it makes you get dirty. Let’s be honest, Janae hates getting dirty, like more than is reasonable (thanks, mom). Kristen asked me to come with her to this two-hour workout on Friday, February 21. I was extremely intimidated, anticipating having to flip enormous tires, do lots of strength moves, rope climbing, and lots of spiderman crawling. I was hesitant to sign up, but she told me "exercise is your life!" so I figured I was capable. But on the day of the event, even Kristen was anxious about it. All of this worrying was for naught, though.

Let’s review a schedule of the night, shall we? In 40 steps, here we go:

1. Check in at 7.
2. Get a cool black wristband that says “Unbreakable” to make you feel like a badass. The night will be good!
3. Find a place in the over-crowded, humid turf-floored room to run in place.
4. Try to listen to the only instructor in the room, who is the epitome of a Crossfit guy, who has no microphone or megaphone, yelling at hundreds of us, expecting us to be able to hear.
5. Run in place for 20 minutes.
6. Yell “aroo, aroo, aroo” when the instructor says to.
7. Pick up the pace of your effective run-in-place workout at random times when teacher says to.
8. Maneuver quickly through ridiculous amount of people, avoiding elbows and heels, to retrieve your free shirt. It says, “I am training for a Spartan Beast.” It is black. It also makes you feel like a badass. The night will be great!
9. Put the shirt down with your water.
10. Realize that the idiot who is yelling “instructions” at us is telling us we have to put on the shirt.
11. Put on the shirt over your neon pink tank, thus doubling the heat.
12. Head outside at 7:30 at night wearing a black shirt, to run down a residential street.
13. Avoid coughing due to the excessively cold air.
14. Try not to get hit by local drivers who can’t see you in your black shirt. Not your neon pink one.
15. End your run by going into the underground parking lot.
16. Spread out with all the other suckers there, along the length of the parking lot.
17. Run in place.
18. Watch the “instructor” (who you now realize is only 5’5) walk up and down the length of the parking lot to yell his instructions five more times, while wearing a hoodie as we are all sweating. What’s that? No megaphone? Only one instructor? Not doing anything?
19. Get into a crab walk position, and touch opposite hand to opposite foot. Alternate.
20. Run in place.
21. Cry to your friend about your dirty, freezing hands.
22. Get into a bear crawl position, and lift opposite leg and opposite hand simultaneously.
23. Cry again about your really dirty, numb hands.
24. Run in place.
25. Do some jumping jacks.
26. Realize he is probably making this shiz up as he goes.
27. Talk with your friend about how this is not hard, and discuss whether it is going to be like this the whole time.
28. Repeat 19-27 a couple more times, as randomly as you want to imagine it.
29. Whine because your towel and water are upstairs in the smelly, humid turf room.
30. Do some burpees.
31. Run in place.
32. Cry about your dirty hands.
33. Do more burpees, like these aren’t bad enough on a clean surface.
34. Run in place.
35. Listen as a nearby woman informs you that there is glass on the ground.
36. Tell her, “Oh great! There’s probably also car oil, cigarette ash, spit, and a variety of other human waste we are rubbing our hands in.”
37. Complain vocally with your friend about what a huge joke this whole thing is.
38. Wonder how much longer this nonsense will go on.
39. Decide with your friend to bail.
40. Run upstairs, wash your disgusting hands, grab your things, and leave at 8 instead of 9.

(41. Go get custard at Culver’s because you deserve it after all that hard work.)

Folks, as much as it may have looked like a joke, this all really happened.

It’s like someone said, “I have an idea. Let’s let hundreds of people sign up for a Spartan Beast training. Let’s make them think it will be super hard. But really, we have no room for all these people. So we are just going to wing it in a parking lot, and do lots of cardio. One instructor and lots of people? No problem. We’ll give them a free t-shirt, and everyone will be happy.”

I don’t believe this was any indication of how the actual race would go. Just looking at pictures of the real course online makes me want to cry in pain and exhaustion. This workout was more like the children of Sparta's school recess.

Just as a tip, if you ever sign up for a Spartan Beast Race, I bet you could make your own workout at home a lot harder than the little Crossfit guy without the megaphone.

I mean, just check Pinterest. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Workout Wednesday: Is It Working?



I apologize for the lack of a post last week. I was stuck at parent-teacher conferences until 7 PM on Wednesday, and needless to say, didn't really have the writing juices flowing afterward. I don't even know if anyone reads this anyway, so I'm not sure if anyone was disappointed.

This week, I'm writing about a question that was asked me by a family friend. I love and adore this girl. And I think her question represents the way a lot of people think about exercise and working out in general. The conversation was about my exercise habits. I work out several days a week. I don't give myself a minimum. I just make it a priority, and if for some reason it doesn't happen, or I don't feel like doing it, I won't. But I usually hit 4-6 days every week. In discussing my gym habits, my friend asked, "Well, is it working?"

I was a little taken aback by the question at first. What did she mean, "working"? Working for what?

Then I understood. She was asking if I was losing any weight from all of my exercise.

I explained to her that that's not why I exercise. And if that were why, I should probably put down the bag of Haribos I got in my stocking, and quit eating the Christmas baking I had been working on.

What I want to write about is how exercise is working. How it works for me and everyone, and not in the sense of weight loss, though that can be a very pleasant side effect for those who can commit to good eating habits.

Here's how it's working.


1. Stress relief. I find that when I leave work and head home sometimes, I have this weird choking feeling in my throat. That's my body's response to stress. I try to let go of whatever it is, and the lump goes down a little. But then I get on that treadmill, or pick up those weights, or turn on my exercise DVD, and a few minutes later, that feeling in my throat is gone. That's it. I left it at the gym door. Plus, Patrick might be able to attest, I'm a lot less grouchy when I'm done. Exercise can release serotonin, which makes you feel more relaxed. I'm sure you've heard of endorphins, too (less pain for the win)!

2. Boosted metabolism. That's right. Eat on. If you exercise, your metabolism is working a little harder. If you do high intensity interval training, it's working a lot harder. On average, you burn 10 calories per pound of your body weight by just existing. I won't tell you how many calories I should burn by doing nothing. But I can tell you that I burn at least 300 more than that on days I don't even exercises. That's because of the days I do exercise. I will burn around 2400-2600 calories on a day of intense exercise and moderate activity at work. I hope you can tell that that's a LOT more than I'd burn just sitting. So exercise works for you even when you don't do it!

3. More energy. I don't think I've had more energy in my entire life than when I was training for my half marathon. That sounds counter-intuitive, probably. "How can you run 7 miles and feel more energetic?" The science says that oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your body more efficiently because of exercise. I guess that's it. All I know is that I am more awake and more vibrant due to exercise. I hit a midday slump at about 3:15 without fail. I want a nap every day at that time. But I exercise instead. And I'm always glad I did!

4. Better sleep. It sounds funny, but even after having a boost of energy in the middle of my afternoon, I sleep a lot better at night. I've read several times that it doesn't even matter what time of day you exercise. It can be right before you go to bed. And you'll still sleep better regardless. It's not guaranteed. Some people have sleep disorders and things, but on the whole, I sleep better because I exercise. It makes me less anxious, and I feel like I accomplished more, so mentally I sleep better knowing what I got done.

5. More learning. I've read on a couple of occasions that studying while you are doing your cardio can actually help you retain the knowledge. Your mind works faster when blood is flowing to it. When I take an easy day on a stationary bike or elliptical, I love to read my Fitness mags. Most of the information I'm giving you comes from those magazines, and I've probably retained the knowledge because I was exercising while I read it. I've done my fair share of textbook studying while working out, too. Doing two things I love at once is a bonus! Double the "me" time.

6. More mobility. I have to say that one of the biggest reasons I exercise is so that I can stay out of a wheelchair in the future. Or so that I can say I tried my hardest to do so, anyway. My grandpa is the most capable person I know, and he's 80. He never wanted to be in a wheelchair, have a cane, or be in a hospital, so naturally, he exercised. Since exercise strengthens bones and keeps you flexible, you can avoid big injuries by maintaining agility.

7. Rarely sick. The last time I was sick was Christmastime, and that's because I came home, and everyone around me was sick! Before that, I am not even sure of the last time I was actually ill with a cough or sinus issues. You boost immunity and ward off viruses by exercising.

8. Avoiding disease. Obviously this comes with a laundry list of reasons why. Your low blood pressure, your general positive mood, your stronger heart, your increased muscle content, your cleared arteries, your good cholesterol, your sweaty detoxification, your clear skin, and every other effect can help you avoid cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and more. Genetics and other factors contribute to these things, but I exercise because that is a factor that is in my control.

9. Pride and confidence. This is last but not least. You've probably seen my Instagram. I've taken a few pictures of me flexing. Now, I don't look like a bikini competitor or a fitness freak, I don't think. I have no abs. I don't flatter myself. But I am proud of my strength and my abilities. I'm proud of my huge legs that did 200 squats today. And I'm proud of my triceps and back that helped me do 120 (girly) push-ups today. I'm proud of my increasing back strength that let me do 60 jumping pull-ups. And I'm proud of my 49 push presses. And 49 burpees. And 49 butterfly sit-ups. And my 1 mile run. I'm freaking proud! And I may not have a perfect body; I can definitely afford to lose 20 pounds or more. But I'll be damned if I am not thankful every single day for what my body can do right now and for the strength that it has, no matter what I weigh. I show my appreciation for my body by pushing its limits and seeing what it can do. I flex my baby biceps with serious pride because I know what they can do. I have fun when I exercise. When I finish, I feel accomplished, especially on the days when I thought I wouldn't make it through. My sweat pours onto the floor, or I wipe it onto that towel, or it gets absorbed into my perma-stink shirts, and that liquid is all my work. The more soaked my towel is, the happier I am. My body is not thin. It is not tall. But it is awesome.

So... Is it working?

I'd say so.


**Note: Muscles in mirror may be smaller than they appear**

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Workout Wednesday: My Minimum



So look, I have a lot of ideas for these Workout Wednesday blog entries. I have an idea to talk about motivation, an idea about foam rolling, warming up, cooling down, the mood-changing powers of exercise, high intensity intervals, Zumba, weight lifting, my go-to or backup workouts, and more.

Today I just want to talk about doing the minimum.

You've probably heard the recommended amount of exercise is 30 minutes five days per week (150 minutes per week). I've even heard that if you get in 150 minutes a week, it doesn't matter how you spread it out. I don't know about the merit of that. I just know how much it helps me to do it daily.

More often than not, I use a blog to get my workouts off of. I like it because it is different every day. Some days it's a serious challenge, full of modifications I have to make. Other days it's easier, and I have to make it harder or longer.

For example, yesterday's workout was, by my definition, easy. It was also fun! When I can tell that a workout will be short, or if it doesn't include much cardio, I do what I need to do to get to 30 minutes of sweating. Yesterday's workout was three sets of decreasing amounts of thrusters and sumo deadlift high pulls. With three sets, I can easily divide up a mile of running. So I ran .34 miles, did the 15 and 21, ran .33 miles, did the 12 and 15, ran .33 miles, and did the 9 and 9. It still only came out to like 13 minutes when all was said and done.

So early last summer, when I was in better shape, I probably would've run for another 17 minutes to get myself to 30 minutes total.

Lately, I've been feeling pretty lazy and have wanted to take it easy. It happens, you know? I don't get down on myself about it. I enjoy exercise, and when I want to take it easy, I do. So I ended up doing walking hill intervals for 7 minutes. Then I did the stationary bike for 10 minutes. I got to 30. And frankly, the last 17 minutes was really easy.

You know, with me feeling lazy and generally off this week, I just wasn't up to today's workout. It's sad because normally I would be totally game for this one. Usually I'd say, "Bring it!" It was run 1 mile, do 100 pushups, 200 butterfly situps, 300 squats, and run 1 more mile. You could break up the middle exercises into smaller sets.

But I just wasn't feeling it today. So I did my 30 Day Shred with Jillian, Level 1. And guess what? I barely broke a sweat. Do you know how hard that DVD was when I first started doing it? Holy moly. I guess I am in better shape than I thought. But guess what? I got to my 30 minutes today. And my "eh" day turned around and felt like a pretty darn good day after that.

At some point I will probably pick up the pace. At some point I will probably want a bigger challenge and a longer workout than 30 minutes. But right now, that's what I try to get to. I feel it's adequate, it satisfies my need to be active, and it's enough to make me feel good afterward. I don't get overwhelmed thinking about the time I'm losing either. Because hey, it's only 30 minutes!

There are my thoughts. Do what you can to make your workout 30 minutes. If it's 30 minutes of "easy," fine. If it's 30 minutes of high intensity, fine. If it's a combination of both, fine. Just hit your minimum, and you'll be glad you did it.

It's the best 30 minutes of my day, anyway.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why You Should Ask Questions



Have you ever noticed the techniques of really intelligent people in making it so you see things their way?

Have you ever noticed how a parent gets a child to recognize his or her mistakes?

Have you ever noticed how powerful a simple question is in getting you to think?

I keep being reminded about the importance of asking questions. I think I could go on and on about this topic in a variety of circumstances.

Asking questions helps you understand a situation and a perspective. You've probably noticed that a large number of your arguments arise from misunderstanding. Have you ever thought to ask and make sure you're interpreting somebody correctly? It can be as simple as, "What do you mean?" Or, "So do you mean to say this...? because that's how I'm perceiving it."

I can't tell you how many times asking questions has saved me from a potentially awful situation. One such event happened today.

I have a student for the second year in a row. She's a big reader. She is an average student. But she's always had a good attitude and has seemed to really enjoy my class. But lately she's been giving me some serious attitude, and a lack of effort.

You guys, she was rolling her eyes at me today! Rolling her eyes! For asking her to add more to her paragraphs that were half-assed and missing information. Who is this girl? What on earth is happening?

I kept her after class for a few minutes today. She sighed and I could tell she wasn't happy about it at all.

My defensive side just wanted to rip into her and give her a good lecture about her horrible attitude lately and tell her to get her shiz together. Yes, shiz. But I didn't. I took a step back and applied my theory that questioning can help lead us to understanding and avoiding trouble.

Me: "I just wanted to ask if you're OK."

Student (with a somewhat relieved half smile):  "Yeah, just my mom had surgery last week. Then she had to get moved to this recovery place, and it's just been weird. I'm sorry for my bad attitude."

Me: "Well who is taking care of you?"

Student: "My grandma."

Me: "Oh, OK. Do you guys live with her?"

Student: "No, she lives with us."

Me: "Oh I see. OK. Well I am sorry about your mom. I was wondering what was going on because you've always been really good for me, and I never had attitude from you last year, but the past few weeks you have acted differently."

Student: "Yeah..."

Me: "I want you to know that the only reason I push you to do more is because I know you are capable. You don't see me pushing other kids to write more, because I know a lot of them won't do it or can't do it. I know you can, so that's why I am pushing you to do more."

Student (nodding, understanding): "Okay."

Me: "Again, I'm sorry about your mom. Let me know if there's anything I can do. But try and improve your attitude because I can't do much for you with the attitude."

Student: "OK, I will! Thanks Miss Balibrea."

And she left with a smile on her face.

Oh, man. Today was seriously a really rough day. Just so many of my students had attitude problems and were being disruptive. (Is it a full moon, does anyone know?) I was wiped out at the end of the day, and it really took some perspective for me to step back and not rip into this girl who was being uncooperative, distracted, and rude to me.

I'm so glad I didn't. I learned that something was, in fact, going on with her. She had been acting out last week too, when her mom was apparently having surgery. I think I made her understand that I care, and that I think she can do better, without ripping into her. That all came with some very simple questions. If I had ripped into her, I'm sure I just would have worsened her struggle and her mood.

I don't do this all the time. Sometimes it's hard to think of the right questions fast enough when I am so amped and ready to pummel these kids for how they're acting. I do want to be better because I know that everyone struggles, and that there's usually a reason a teenager is acting the way s/he's acting. I hope this experience helps me to keep my cool more often and be better about asking questions so I can better understand and help my students.