As we (hopefully) begin the transition out of Winter and into Spring (!!), I’ve taken some time to reassess what I’ve been doing for the first two months of 2014 and what I can improve. For me, a huge part of reaching my goals involves periodic check-ins to track my progress. Even if I am on-track or ahead of where I thought I’d be, being consistently conscientious helps me fine-tune and think of new things I could be doing better to optimize my health.
- Though I always drink a lot of water throughout the day, this cold, cold winter has been brutally dehydrating and I have not been diligent about upping my water intake. I am recommitting to 96oz minimum, plus 8 extra oz for every 30 min working out going forward.
- With how cold it’s been, I’ve resorted to buying organic produce from Westerly and Whole Foods and meat from US Wellness Meats instead of treking downtown to the farmer’s market. I’m hoping March weather allows me to recommit to buying mostly local produce and meat. (And getting all those extra steps on my fitbit when I walk from 58th Street to 14th Street!)
- Making sure to eat wild fish at least 3-4 days a week. The omega-3’s and other nutrients in fish (not to mention larger portion sizes at smaller calorie counts) make seafood a fantastic protein source, but I’ve only been eating it about once a week.
The past month’s workouts have been fairly consistent (and hard) across all body parts – several 5X5 strength moves, followed by 3-4 variations of 3X10 toning moves (sometimes with dumbbells, sometimes with cables), some HIIT-inspired or xfit-ish style power moves for 10-15 minutes, and 2 “kill it” moves. (There’s obviously been a little variation, but I stuck pretty closely to this program for about a month.) The idea behind this approach was that plyo/HIIT + strength training leads to better results than either method alone.
I didn’t want to change things up too much — I am feeling strong, have increased weight on several movements, and I think that too much variation can stymie growth and improvement. That being said, the body is amazingly good at adapting to whatever routine you’re following, making the exercises progressively easier (and therefore less effective.) Thus, the need for periodic change. Because I don’t like to get too fancy on which movements I incorporate (the classics + a few fun variations for accessory muscles here or there are the most effective for me), this means I am constantly thinking of new tempos, reps or supersets to achieve the results I want.
The next four weeks will focus on faster tempos (keeping the heart rate higher than in past workouts) and increased reps in the 7-20 range, giving my body a chance to recover from heavier “5X5” weights for multiple moves. This definitely doesn’t mean easier — this morning’s workout was pretty brutal — but it does mean shifting the type of hard work I’m doing for a few weeks to keep the muscles “surprised” about what comes next. Less rest, faster cadence, medium heavy weight. (This speed has the added benefit of cutting down the total time spent in the gym and/or leaving more time for stretching and foam rolling — when I’m lifting weights that feel super heavy for me, I often need 2-3 min rest between sets).
One thing I need to be better about is mentally focusing on the muscle I am working while lifting — which definitely boosts results. (see here or here). A benefit of using a weight that feels less heavy is being able to nit-pick in my brain on every rep – for example, big toe down, heels loaded, knees out, chest up, shoulders back, lift through the legs and not butt for squats — (instead of just using every mental ounce of energy I have to move the weight). Improving form and increasing reps definitely improves strength and muscle tone over time.
Running + all that other cardio I hate:
I am actually ahead of where I thought I would be on sprints. The 6X6X6 t-nation sprint program that Gregg Cook recommended worked wonders for my speed. I recommend it highly. During the course of the 6 weeks, I often felt like it was a little too easy — the sprints themselves were BRUTAL, but they were over in under 5 min. How could this possibly get me to a sub 6:15 mile?
I have been pleasantly surprised at where I am at now that I am doing longer sprints. So, for the time being I am sticking with my program: each week, I am doing 2 days of “sprints” (one super short interval workout of ~15 total min, one 2 m tempo run or 400m repeats at sub-race pace), and one easy longer run (distances varied).
One thing I want to be better about is actually doing other cardio. I am great about committing to 1 spin/cycle session and 1 swim per week at a super high intensity, but my last stint with the revolving stairs taught me that I could be better at my HIIT stair workouts. (Talk about out of breath after a mere 15 min — with a 5 min warmup, womp womp womp). My jump roping is also paltry in comparison to 2 years ago when I was jump roping several days a week. I am thinking of removing one run or cycle per week in favor of other options for a month to see how it impacts my potential race paces.
One other important goal for this next month is to recommit to my yoga practice. I came to yoga on a whim back in law school, expecting to hate it. I use working-out to burn through my excess energy/emotions, which means I typically like heart-pounding, leave-you-with-nothing-in-the-tank sweat sessions. Much to my surprise, I have come to not only enjoy but also to really embrace and crave yoga after years of practice. When I am committed to it, my body recovers faster, I sleep better, and I am able to vastly expand my range of motion while strength training. Also, nothing hits my core quite the way Ashtanga or a class with Melinda Abbott does – all the planks and inversions force you to focus on the ab muscles for 90 non-stop minutes.
Goal for March is at least 2-3 yoga sessions a week.
A corollary to doing more yoga is being more diligent about sleep. After months of being great about going to bed at 10 and sleeping until 5:30, I have slipped to closer to 11 pm and 6 am wake up alarms. I partially blame the longest-most-brutal winter of my life for my inability to wake up at 5:30, but the truth of the matter is that getting to bed is my problem. As work has gotten busier, I’ve found it harder to unwind in time for bed, but even 30 min or 1 hour of lost sleep adds up. I am aiming for a minimum of 7.5 hours (and hopefully 8.5 hours) going forward.