Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Exercise, plus weigh-in Tuesday

Hello and a warm welcome to new guests and old friends!  Just one quick Weigh-In Tuesday update, and then I'll jump right in to part two of my new series.

Today I'm down another pound!  That brings my total to 42 pounds since January.  Do I wish it were more?  Sure, but I have enough friends on a plateau to know that a pound lost is a lot to be proud of.

And now, for...


I may have made a lot of changes this year, but there's something about me that just hasn't changed.  I hate to exercise.

Yes, that's the truth.  I HATE EXERCISE.  I don't like the smell of the gym, I don't like the fees, I don't like the smugness of extremely fit people, I don't like waiting for a machine or a lane, and I really, really don't like to sweat.

But I have to tell you something else that's true.  I love the way I feel after exercise.  It is possibly the most important thing I can do for my body. It helps me control my weight, but beyond that, it does so much more.

Why should you exercise?
  • Are you anxious or blue?  Exercise is proven to reduce stress, and, thanks to the endorphins that are released during physical activity, can improve your mood. 
  • Worried about your health?  Increasing your activity level helps combat chronic disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and all kinds of other issues.
  • When you get out of bed in the morning, do you feel like a mastadon stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits?  Working out ups your energy level.
  • Not thinking straight?  Feed your brain! The increased blood flow from exercise is proven to improve cognitive function.
  • Missing that spark?  Not only can exercise increase libido, it can affect your agility, flexibility, and stamina.  
  • Having trouble carrying your grocery bags?  It's amazing how much exercise can build strength.  I used to have difficulty lugging heavy, wet laundry up the stairs.  Now I'm surprised every time I pick up a new load... it isn't a challenge anymore.

You've probably already heard about much of this.  If you're not working out - unless you have a physical ailment preventing you - the real challenge of working out is probably how hard it is to get started, not to mention how hard it can be to keep it up.  Now, I can't drag you out the door and lug you to your gym (though your accountability buddy might have to sometimes.)  But I can give you several different tips and ideas for integrating activity into your life.  And I'll start with the biggest, most important tip I can share.

Make it fun.

The only way I can get myself - and keep myself - exercising is to do whatever I can to trick myself into thinking that I'm having a ball.

I'm lucky in that I live in Los Angeles, home of the world's foremost fun-maker of exercise: my (formerly imaginary and now very real) friend, Richard Simmons.

There he is, dressed as a fluffy yellow chick for his day-before-Easter "Hopping at the Disco" class.  And there I am, in my green tank top, behind his shoulder on the right.  I dare you not to smile at how cute this is.

And here we are again, on this week's episode of Khloe & Lamar.  My apologies for bringing the Kardashians into all of this, but it's kind of amusing to be in the background of a show on E! - since the only E! show we ever watch is The Soup, known for ragging on its own network.

I go to classes at Richard's gym, Slimmons, three times a week.  For 90 minutes every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I get to punch, kick, and scream... and get screamed at by a national icon.  (Screamed at with love, that is.)  If you're anywhere near Los Angeles, why aren't you working out here?  It's $12 per class (with some package deals that can discount the price), and every penny is worth it.  And, like I was saying yesterday, YOU are worth it.

Seriously. Grab a water bottle, a towel, some crazy gold lame leggings, and your sense of humor.  And come out and join us.  It's so entertaining that you forget you're working out, plus it will make you fierce, fit, fabulous.  And the crew of regulars are, bar none, the kindest and most supportive exercise pals you'll ever meet.  The positive attitude filters down from the top, and no one leaves a class without smiling... even if, as Richard threatens, you are so sore that you have to drive home with your lips.

(For full disclosure, you should know that I am a scholarship recipient to Slimmons, but they have in no way paid me to endorse the gym.  I just really love it.)

Richard's an expert at making a workout fun, so here are some tricks I've learned from him that you can use even if you're nowhere near Los Angeles.

  • Work out with friends.  A room full of friends is great, but even just one helps ease the anxiety of crossing that gym threshold (or that door threshold!)  You'll have someone to check in with, someone to challenge you, someone to complain to when you don't feel like your arms can lift so much as a cereal bowl.  And someone to be accountable to - if you cancel an exercise date with yourself, it's just you in a little bubble.  If you cancel an exercise date with a friend, you'll let them down just as much as you're letting yourself down. 
  • Shake it up.  You can't do just one kind of exercise and call it a day.  It gets boring, plus your body gets too used to it.  Do some aerobic exercise, but then move on to weights.  If you want to stay at home, free weights are a terrific way to gradually strengthen your arms and core.  Use the resistance of your own body to make it stronger - try crunches, push-ups, and bicycle kicks to challenge yourself in a new way.  Believe me, your body WILL respond to the challenges.
  • Be patient with yourself.  It may be hard to do something at first.  I only made it through 20 minutes of my first Slimmons class before my heart was pounding, and I started to feel hot and nauseous.  The Slimmons team ushered me to a chair, where other chair-bound exercisers taught me how to do the workout seated.  Over the course of a month, I worked out standing as long as I could, and then I pushed myself while sitting.  And soon I was standing for full classes.  If you're just starting out, you have a long way to go.  It's not a race, so remember that and keep a close eye on how your heart and body responds.
  • Turn up the tunes.  Nothing will get your legs moving quite like an awesome playlist.  Richard does a different theme class every Saturday, during which he plays a carefully-selected collection of music from a particular era, artist, or topic.  I've discovered that the oldies classes get my feet moving best, but others love the days with all new music.  Try on a bunch of different songs for size, and see what works for you.
  • When all else fails, laugh. At those theme classes, Richard dresses up in a costume that reflects his music choices.  For the "sexy" Saturday, he was dressed as a sex kitten (cat ears and all.)  For "rock" Saturday, he was in full KISS makeup and gear.  He's forever trying to make us all laugh, and when I don't think I can lift my knees or do another crunch, he makes some joke that has me in stitches, and forgetting how little I want to be doing these damn push-ups.

I try to shake it up between Slimmons classes, too.  I have been trying all different kinds of exercise, discovering the things I like best.  It's not hard to do a little research on classes, gyms, and other kinds of fitness.  I encourage you to vary your routine, so that you're always growing and never getting bored.

For instance... consider swimming!  Outside of Slimmons, it's my very favorite form of exercise.  Because of the water resistance, you can actually burn more calories while doing laps than almost any other form of exercise.  (Even running!)  Plus it's low-impact, so your joints will thank you for it.

Don't know where your nearest pool is?  Check out Swimmers Guide, a database of pools all over the world, including public parks and gyms.  This is an especially valuable tool for vacationers.

Swimming can be a little bit of a production, so I've created a shopping guide of my favorite products that help me "just keep swimming, just keep swimming."  All links are to Amazon listings; none of these companies have paid me to promote, they're my personal recommendations.

A - Staying underwater for prolonged periods of time can lead to a condition called Swimmer's Ear, an infection which, trust me, you do not want (and I did not enjoy.)  I prevent this when doing laps by wearing earplugsThis pair from Speedo works quite well, and withstands the horrors of chlorine and ear wax.

B - Growing up, I always thought that swim caps prevented hair from getting wet, but in fact, they are there to protect the water from your hair (and your hair from your goggles.)  Before getting a cap, I frequently had strand breakage right along my goggle line, so now I always wear one of these stretchy lycra Speedo swim caps.

C- Gym showers - even in our uber-clean Hollywood YMCA - are not my favorite, but they're a necessary evil.  To prevent any hitchhiking fungus, I recommend purchasing a gym-only pair of flip-flops to keep in your gym bag.  My favorite pair is by Havianias: comfortable, washable, and they've lasted me for five years with heavy use!

D - Since I posted about it a few weeks ago, I've been swimming with the Speedo snorkel and I LOVE it! If you have any trouble breathing, or wish to focus on your stroke instead of breaking for breath, I highly recommend trying it out.

 E - It's important to track your fitness so you understand how much energy you've spent, and so that you can gauge how much stronger you're becoming.  While in the pool, I use a lap-counting ring, by SportCount, to count my laps. It is really easy to use, and works well underwater. Adjustable, too.

F - The swim aftermath products are as important as the during-swim ones.  Chlorine can build up quickly in hair.  It's important to cleanse it thoroughly with a chlorine-neutralizing shampoo, so you can avoid brittle (and green!) strands.  I've been using Barracuda's Aquia Swim Shampoo-Conditioner to help rid me of chlorine - so far, so good.  (UltraSwim works too.)

G - Finally, a even a little swimming without proper moisturizing will likely turn you into an alligator.   Origins' grapefruit Gloomaway lotion is what I use to rehydrate my skin.  I rarely ever get dry skin unless chlorine is involved, and this always does the trick.  It's very creamy, and the fresh citrus scent helps combat the eau de pool that is otherwise my new signature fragrance.

I hope that this guide will help move you towards movin' it.  You owe it to yourself... to the little you who couldn't wait to be a grown-up.  To the elderly you, who needs you to get strong now, and stay strong for the future.  And you can do it.

That's it for today, but be sure to come back tomorrow for some fun with food.  Your mom may have told you not to play with it... but it turns out that's the best way to have a healthy relationship with it!

Until then, keep taking care of you and have an excellent day.


  1. EXCELLENT post Heidi!! I feel the same way about sweating, still not a fan. Spent most of my live trying to avoid sweating, didn't want to be the fat, sweaty smelly person in the room. I'm still trying to work my way up to loving it even half as much as RS does. Started back to water aerobics yesterday and will go 3x a week, plus the Slimmons classes 3x a week. Looking forward to your food tips.

  2. What time is the class on Thursdays...? :)

  3. Thanks, Joanne! I can totally relate to the desire to not be the fat/sweaty/smelly person. I think it's one of the biggest reasons I rarely exercised before. Congrats on starting the water aerobics - I love doing that, too! Lots of great resistance exercises can be done there, plus very little knee pain.

    Audra (!!) class starts at 6:30 PM on Thursdays. There's some paperwork you'll need to fill out the firs time you go, and I can give that to you in advance to help you sign in more quickly.

  4. Ugh, where is Simmons located? I'm buying a bike to get (re)started on my Cardio, and will start swimming again on weekends pretty soon. But I'm gonna need more than that. Ugh. (Yeah, after work time, sex time, and workout time, I should have 4.3 minutes left every single day to do whatever I want!!)

  5. So, So FABULOUS!!! I want to come to Richard's class... I was laughing just watching the video - I bet he would kick my ass! Also SO excited to use the Swimmer's Guide!

    Thanks for making me smile, yet again :)

  6. Seeing a podiatrist is a great idea and something I will consider should this back pain keep going - thanks for the info!

  7. Steve, I cheer you on with the restarted cardio. Slimmons is in Beverly Hills:

    9306 Civic Center Drive,
    Beverly Hills, CA 90210

    Sandy, I hope that eventually you'll be able to come out and visit so that you can come with me to class! Love that Swimmer's Guide, too!

    Hil, absolutely! I hope your back pain goes away soon, though.