Working It Out

I like to work out.

I know, you might like me a little bit less now. I know that the main struggle most people have with working out is that they simply dread it, but honestly, that hasn’t been me for many, many moons.

But don’t despair, dear reader; I still have my own struggles. For me, the challenge to working out is lack of time and, more recently, a redistribution of funds. That is to say, I’m working part-time now and because the money I make goes toward, you know, food and pants and junk, there’s not a lot left for fancy-shmance gyms and such.

Don’t get me wrong. I love those fancy-shmance gyms. I love spin. I love pilates. I love bootcamps. I just love affording food and car payments and trying to save money all while staying home with le bebe more.

But because I’m me, it was never an option to completely cut fitness out of my life. I love working out, remember? And not just because I like fitting into my clothes (although I do), but also because working out makes me feel more like me. Which is important when you change virtually everything about your life by doing something like, oh, I don’t know…having a baby. But you already knew all this. What I want to talk about today is how I manage to get in challenging, effective workouts without spending a dime — and often without leaving my living room.

To be totally honest, for much of my life I’ve thrown a mean side-eye at home workouts. I had a hard time believing that I could ever get the same results that I could at a gym or a studio because, well, I never felt like I worked out as hard at home. Or I always felt like the workout videos I would try would leave something to be desired. (And there’s nothing worse than working out enough to need to wash your hair but not enough to feel like you made any kind of impact in your overall strength or fitness.)

Fortunately, in the last few months I’ve found several online options that are not only totally free but also leave me feeling sore the next day. So, to save you the struggle of the lame at-home workout, I’m sharing my favorite free options here. Happy sweating!

Side note: I’m not even going to mention running because I feel like it’s too obvious, but running is obviously a big one for me. Totally free and I can bring the Viv in the jogging stroller. We go 2-3 times per week, and it’s awesome. (But you can’t do it in your living room, so maybe not as awesome as these other options.)

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1. Jillian Michaels (literally anything she does)

I first fell in love with Jillian when pretty much everyone did — when she was a coach/trainer on The Biggest Loser. I always admired the tough-yet-fair way she worked with her team, and, as a sort of exercise masochist, I secretly dreamed that one day she would scream at me to keep going unless I fainted, puked, or died. (I know, I’m sick.) The point is, when Jillian left the show (and especially when she explained that she left due to the less-than-healthy practices that often went on behind the scenes), I was sad to say good-bye to my favorite celebrity trainer.

And then I found out she had workout videos. And her videos were actually the first at-home workouts EVER to give me legitimately sore muscles the next day. I was an instant convert.

I actually own a couple of her DVDs, but it’s super convenient for me to pull up her YouTube videos on our Roku. And, let me tell you, no trainer’s workouts get me more sore the next day than Jillian’s. She’s a beast. Bonus: I love her affirmations at the end of each video. Because I did work hard, and I should be proud of myself, Jillian!

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2. Tone it Up

Speaking of girl crushes, I’m a little bit in love with Karena and Katrina. Not only do they have sick bodies, but they are both sweet, bubbly, encouraging, and incredibly fun to work out “with.”

Also, as the mom of an increasingly mobile little girl, I really appreciate that the videos are mostly less than ten minutes long. I typically do 2-3 videos at a time, but if Vivi is having a bad day, it’s easy to squeeze in an 8-minute workout while she plays in the morning and another 15-minute session when she naps in the afternoon. And since the gals are so entertaining, I’m usually actually enjoying the workout too much to realize how hard I’m working. (That is, until I can barely lower myself to sit down the next day.)
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3. Christine Khuri of GymRa

Oh, Christine. You could most definitely snap me over your knee like a twig. And I love you for it.

Christine Khuri’s workouts are probably the most old-school of the bunch, but you know what? Squats, curls, and lunges are staples for a reason. And when I have the time to fit in a solid strength workout, this woman knows what she’s talking about.

I was a little apprehensive when Christine’s videos first popped up in my recommended list, but I figured there is no way she could be so jacked without knowing a thing or two. And given the fact that I could barely raise my arms to wash my hair the next day (from an at-home workout, folks), I would have to say my suspicions were correct. And don’t feel like you have to be a fitness pro to do her workouts — you can always modify your weights, and everything she does is super accessible.

 

For all you work-out-at-home warriors, I want to know: What are your favorite free workouts?

 

Post-race cuddles

Post-race cuddles

You know how some people like to go for therapy? Or paint? Or stare at the horizon as if searching for answers?

I like to work out.

That probably comes as no surprise to those of you who have spent any time on this blog or with me in person, but I have to say, I didn’t truly realize how important physical activity was to me until after Vivi was born.

I wasn’t always this way. I started exercising in high school when I went through that tumultuous phase many teen girls go through of thinking I was fat. (Vivi, I know I probably can’t keep you from having those feelings, but let’s hope I’m able to help you handle them better than I handled them on my own!) Going to the gym was a punishing experience that I didn’t really look forward to except in that it would help abate my own guilt and self-loathing.

FUN, RIGHT?

As I got older and started to let go of some of the adolescent nonsense, I started running and even signed up for a few races. In running, I found a solace I had never experienced before. Yes, I was burning calories, but I also found that my mind was a littler calmer, a little quieter with every footfall and every quickened breath.

By the time I worked up the courage to sign up for my first half marathon, I knew I was on to something much more important than my jeans size.

A couple of years ago, a series of injuries pushed me to expand my workout horizons, and I started delving into fitness classes ranging from spin to pilates to boot camps. Where I had previously shied away from such public displays of fitness (one of the best parts of running is the quiet time you get with yourself), I found that the group environment had its own slew of benefits, from an accelerated atmosphere to extra motivation in the way of competition. Plus, classes offered variety, which is arguably the number one thing running tends to lack.

By the time I was ready to start trying for a baby, I was in the best shape of my life. I felt strong physically but also emotionally. I wasn’t the lightest I had ever been as an adult, but I didn’t even care about that anymore as long as I was able to crank out a dozen burpees and demonstrate a reasonable amount of flexibility.

As I’ve mentioned before, my then-doctor recommended I cut back on workouts when we started trying to get pregnant. I down-shifted to less strenuous options, but I knew I couldn’t stop completely. After all, exercise was sometimes the only thing I felt was keeping me sane. I was thrilled when I got pregnant fairly quickly and was able to return to more regular workouts.

And, as you know, I worked out my entire pregnancy. I feel very fortunate that I was able and felt up to working out right up until my 39th week (yeah, that last week? not happening), and I went into labor feeling strong and capable of handling whatever this little baby threw at me.

And then…I had a baby.

Suddenly, my life revolved around the needs of this tiny, desperate creature, and, honestly, I didn’t even think about workouts the first few weeks. I was exhausted, often starving (thanks a lot, breastfeeding), and, quite frankly, had some bigger things on my mind. I’m sure it helped that, because I hadn’t gained a lot of excess weight during pregnancy, I lost the baby weight in the first week or two. I know myself, and I know this whole experience would have been more mentally difficult if I was also dealing with my insecurity demons.

But as the weeks went on (and the flush of happy hormones started to level out), the insecurities did come creeping back. And while I was ironically lighter than I had ever been as an adult, I started to crave that feeling of strength and capability I had come to count on.

By the time I hit my 6-week mark and got the okay to exercise from my midwife, I was itching to do something active. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I had agreed to run a 10K with a girlfriend months prior. That experience was…difficult. (Running six miles after not running for almost a year? Sure…let’s do that…) But it also felt good to hit the road again.

After that, I was determined to keep up my momentum. The problem? It’s really hard to find time to exercise with a 7-week-old baby. I decided to start small, which, honestly, was probably a smarter move since my body was still in healing mode. Since I was mostly looking to tone up and regain strength, I started scouring YouTube for exercise videos. I had to keep the workouts short (between 20-30 minutes) to fit them into Viv’s nap time, but you would be surprised how many options are out there. (Jillian Michaels and GymRa are my two favorites.)

As Vivi got older and started being able to entertain herself, I was able to workout while she was still awake. I would even incorporate her into the workout as a weight if she started to fuss, which satisfied us both. Working out with the baby also freed up her nap times for my freelance work, cleaning house, cooking, etc.

And I’m happy to report that it has only gotten easier to fit in fitness as Vivi has gotten older. Not only am I now able to leave her with Joey for the occasional spin class, she’s also big enough to ride in my jogging stroller for jaunts around the park. (I call her my personal trainer because she starts to fuss if I slow down to walk. It’s very motivational.)

Now I’m even training for another 10K in June — and Vivi will be pounding out every training mile with me.

The biggest difference between now and then, though? Now, I’m not just keeping fit for me. I want to be healthy so I can keep up with my daughter as she grows. I want to set an example of health and fitness for her now, and maybe even have the opportunity to run with her when she’s older. I look forward to our runs as bonding time because we always take a break to sit in the sunshine in the park. And I love to think that by setting a pattern of health now, I’m maybe saving her from some of those negative adolescent feelings later.

Let’s hit the road, baby doll.

I think it's pronounced "yogging"

I think it’s pronounced “yogging”

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In general, I find it kind of fascinating to observe the general population’s reactions to pregnant people. Whether it’s determining who is most likely to give up their seat on the subway (more on this later) or watching strangers struggle to control their “must touch the belly!” reflex, being pregnant (especially in a big city) is nothing short of non-stop social experiment.

That includes the reactions you get when you work out with a baby bump.

I’ve made a concerted effort to keep up with my workout routine as much as possible since I got pregnant. Prior to the bean, I worked out pretty hard 5-6 times per week. When we wanted to get pregnant, my doc recommended cutting back because there is some indication in recent studies that exercise can have negative effects on fertility. (Well+Good actually did an article on this in January if you’re interested in some of the science behind it.) Because I’m impatient (and, oh yeah, really wanted to get pregnant without too much trouble), I started cutting back on my vigorous workouts when we started trying. Which, really, meant cutting back on every workout I did. I go hard, yo.

I didn’t love tempering my workouts (I also didn’t love the handful of pounds I gained when I did), but fortunately I ended up getting pregnant the following month. Were the two actions directly correlated? I’ll probably never know. But I like to think I was at least doing everything I could to make the process go smoothly.

Ironically, while doctors recommend cutting back on exercise to get pregnant, they’re actually pretty encouraging about hitting the gym once you’re knocked up. The only warnings my doc gave me were to avoid trying anything new or where I could get injured easily, like rock climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding (um…no problem?), and to try not to surpass an 8 on the “how hard is this from 1-10” scale. Generally, that meant pushing myself without pushing my heart rate above 140 so I was never breathless.

Obviously, every pregnancy is different and you should make your own decisions based on whatever advice your doctor gives you and how you feel, but in general, your Great-Aunt Bertha’s advice to avoid anything more strenuous than climbing the stairs is pretty outdated.

It took me a while to really start showing, so for a few months, I was able to exercise while pregnant without causing much of a fuss. I stopped attending super hardcore bootcamps, like Barry’s or this studio I used to go to that trains you to do obstacle runs, and I held back a bit more in spin class. Otherwise, it was business as usual.

In the last month, though, things have started to change. And by “things,” I mean my belly. Despite being officially into bump territory, I’m still able to do most of my workouts without too many new modifications. I mean, I can’t lie on my tummy anymore, I have to adjust my handlebars higher in spin, and I had to sit out a half marathon Joey and a bunch of my friends ran recently, but all in all, I still feel like I can push myself and usually leave class feeling like I got a good workout.

The real difference is in the responses I get from trainers.

I have to say: If you ever really want to know how experienced a particular trainer is, watch how they handle having a pregnant woman in class.

Less experienced trainers always act they they have been thrown a gigantic curve ball (literally?) and will usually over-modify everything to the point where you might as well just be lying in a bed and sitting up every now and then. I mean, I get it. They (and I) would rather I got less of a workout than anything or anyone got injured. But if I’m going to take the time to show up and the trouble of having to wash my hair later, I want to feel like it was worth it.

Of course, there are always the less experienced trainers who basically just ask you to tell them what you can and cannot do. This is where it pays to be informed and aware of your own body. I generally tell these folks that I can’t do sprints, but everything else I can handle or will modify so I’m comfortable. That usually calms them down enough for you to work out in peace.

It’s much better, though, when you end up with a more experienced trainer. I’ve even had a few who have prenatal training certifications, which is awesome because you feel so much more comfortable letting them push you instead of trying to feel out for yourself where your limits are. Plus, these are usually the folks who don’t look at you like you’re broken somehow.

The trainers who are truly the best are the ones who have kids of their own. Female trainers with kids obviously get what you’re going through (and understand that if you’re still showing up to class, it’s because you still want to get a good sweat session in), and male trainers are usually just really nice to you because they’ve dealt with a pregnant lady before.

Over all, and like most aspects of pregnancy, I’ve found you just have to be your own best advocate. Pay attention to your body, and trust it. Let the trainer know you’re pregnant (I usually share this info when they ask if there are any injuries, but I always say, “I’m not injured, but I’m pregnant”) so they won’t try to push you more than you are comfortable with during class — but from there, do what feels right. As a trainer (who is a nurse and has had two babies) told me recently, “The baby will tell you when you can’t do that anymore.”

For me, keeping up with my workouts benefits me physically, emotionally, and mentally. I feel more like myself, I have more energy, and I’m told it will make labor and recovery a lot easier down the line. What’s not to like?

Have you worked out while pregnant? What kinds of responses did you get? What are your best tips?

Recently, my pal Ashli invited me to attend a gym she does PR for called FOCUS Integrated Fitness. I’m always up for a new gym adventure (gymventure?), so I readily accepted.

It also didn’t hurt that she told me this gym had also trained Beyonce. If wanting to look #flawless is a crime, lock me up now.

The gist of the gym is that they offer personal training, but also a small class setting that feels like a personal training session because you get so much one-on-one attention. Here’s what I thought of the class.

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The Gym
Space: The gym is fairly small with two personal training rooms and a larger area for the classes walled in by glass. There are three bathrooms, two with showers, and a water fountain for filling bottles. (Hand towels are provided; water bottles are not.) The gym equipment varies from kettle bells to treadmills to a TRX that you cycle through in a 6-station circuit. There are iPads at each station with videos demonstrating the move (in case you forgot it).
Cleanliness: Everything seemed very clean, and this might be the best smelling gym I’ve ever been in. (Weird, but true.) I didn’t shower, but I would have felt totally comfortable using these bathrooms.
Attitude: I was able to meet with someone from the marketing department, a co-owner, and two of the trainers, and they were all as nice as can be. The trainers provide constant feedback about the moves and your form, so you really do feel like you’re getting personalized attention. Most of the other people in my class were regulars, and our trainer (Kate) made a point of memorizing my name so she could call out to me the same as she did to the other people.

This is Kate. She is adorable.

This is Kate. She is adorable.

The Workout
Difficulty (Out of 10, 1 being “could do it in my sleep” and 10 being “omg I can’t walk”): 7. The class starts off with a group warm-up for about ten minutes including push-ups, crunches, and squats. Then the trainer and their assistant walk you through the six stations, demonstrating each move and the alternate move you do between sets. For example, at one station you might do elevated push-ups alternating with V sits. You then go through the stations, performing each set and it’s alternate movement twice. After the circuits, you do a 40/20, where you perform one move for 40 seconds, another for 20 seconds, and then alternate while the trainer calls out new moves each time. Finally, there’s a cool down with stretches. The class felt challenging, but not as intense as I usually go for.
Experience: The class itself was good (the other members were very welcoming and the trainers were accomodating, but I did feel like I was missing some of the energy I usually find in group classes. It might have helped if the music was louder or something.
Afterburn: Even though it didn’t feel like I was working super hard during the class, I was pretty sore the next day from all the squats and pushups. (You do a lot more than it feels like.) So what do I know?

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Final grade: A-. In general, I’m not a huge fan of stations in a workout — I feel like it breaks up my flow. But I love a gym that feels upscale without being alienating, and that’s exactly the vibe FOCUS brings. I also think that because there is such a heavy focus (PUN!) on personalizing the workout, the trainers would be more than willing to adjust each movement to make it harder if I had asked for that.

Have any of you tried FOCUS? Or do you have strong feelings about stations vs. circuits?

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By now, you might be a little burnt out on spin classes, stair climbers, and running around in the 80+ degree weather we’ve been experiencing. That’s where the latest fitness studio trend comes in: rowing.

I had experienced rowing in my Throwback Fitness classes, but I had yet to take a class entirely around the old school workout technique. I got my chance when I booked a class at Row City through my ClassPass.

If you’re looking to try something new with your workouts, here’s what I thought of this gym:

The Gym
Space: The first thing I noticed was that the gym itself is fairly small, but it’s still bright and airy because most of the walls are windows. There is only one studio space with about 20 rowers. The main difference between these rowers and the ones I had seen before was that these had a rudder-like mechanism that actually pushes through water, making it more similar to what actual rowing would be like (I guess?). There are no showers or locker rooms, but you can change in the (semi cramped) bathroom down the call. There are cubbies to keep your things while you workout. Water is not provided, but there is a machine to fill water bottles.
Cleanliness: The bathroom is really for the entire floor of the office building, so technically City Row isn’t responsible for keeping it clean. Like I said, it’s not the greatest place I’ve ever changed, but it does the trick. The gym itself is very clean, and the machines are wiped down between classes.
Attitude: Everyone I met who worked at the gym was very upbeat and friendly. The instructor made a point of trying to learn everyone’s name, and there were a few people who were new so I didn’t stick out.

The Workout
Difficulty (Out of 10, 1 being “could do it in my sleep” and 10 being “omg I can’t walk”): 7-8. I feel like if I went again, I would get a bit better of a workout. I didn’t love this new style of rower, and it took a bit of getting used to so I couldn’t go as hard as I normally would. I also felt like the lower body moves you do between rowing sprints could have been more challenging.
Experience: Over all, it was a positive experience, and I think I’ll go back. I like rowing as a total-body alternative to work on cardio endurance, and I think then next time I go I’ll be more familiar with the technique.
Afterburn: I wasn’t particularly sore the next day, but right after the class I felt fully worked out. What a really like is leaving a class feeling like I exercised every part of my body, and this definitely delivered on that.

Final grade: B. I was a little disappointed over all because so many people had hyped these classes, so maybe I just went in with my expectations too high. I think I will definitely try it again, but there are other classes I felt like gave a better workout.

Have you taken a rowing class? What did you think?

I’m writing this post before the sweat has even dried from my body so you get as accurate a recall of this class as possible.

A few weeks ago, my friend Sabine reached out to me because she had semi-recently become an instructor at SoulCycle.

I had only ever taken one SC class before, and, it has to be said, I wasn’t that impressed with it. But I’m a firm believer in second chances, so when Sabine offered me a free class in exchange for an honest review on my blog, I told her to sign me up.

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The Gym
Space: If you’ve never been to SC, the aesthetic is actually really similar to Drybar. If you’ve never been to Drybar…it’s modern and uses a lot of white and yellow. Shoes are included in the cost, and water is $2 extra. One of the biggest pros to SC is its locker room. Y’all know I love amenities, and these locker rooms are fully equipped with fancy soaps, good hair dryers, hair accessories, and the various toiletry and product accoutrements you need post-workout. (Basically, FREE STUFF!) The spin studio itself isn’t remarkably different from any other spin studio. The bikes are arranged in a semi-circle around the instructor’s stage. Throughout the class, the instructor has control of the lights and music.
Cleanliness: The locker room was a little messy, probably because it was the end of the day. Everything was wiped down and sterilized though, just a little cluttered.
Attitude: Before I attended spinning classes regularly, I think I would have been a little intimidated by SC classes. Most of the people there have been going for a while, and, in general, they go hard. If you have a few classes under your belt, though, you’ll feel right at home.

The Workout
Difficulty (Out of 10, 1 being “could do it in my sleep” and 10 being “omg I can’t walk”): 9. As I said before, I didn’t really care for the last SC class I went to mostly because I didn’t feel like I got a really solid workout. Sabine’s class was entirely different. Girl makes you work. Between continuously harder “climbs” and sprint intervals that had me literally dripping sweat, not to mention a tough arm circuit in between, I had a little trouble walking down the stairs to the subway after.
Experience: Sabine did a great job keeping the energy level up, even though class was on a Friday night. Classes like this are really all about the instructor, and I liked her style of providing cues and how smoothly each interval flowed into the next. One thing I don’t always love about SC classes is that you do a lot of arm work while you’re riding, including tricep dips and pushups on the handle bars. For me, it interrupts the flow of riding a bit, but I do like ending the class feeling like I’ve worked out more than just my legs. I think this is something I would probably get used to as time went one — even this time around, it was easier. Speaking of arms, there’s a portion of the class where you slow the bikes and do an arm circuit with light weights (at least, they feel light in the beginning). Sabine will be happy to know that my biceps and shoulders were burning (in a good way) by the end of that portion. Plus, she actually played music I hadn’t heard a thousand times at every other spin class, which is a big bonus.
Afterburn: I was already feeling wiped when I left the class, and I have a feeling my shoulders will be sore tomorrow morning. Definitely tough one.

Final grade: A! I’m not sure if I can afford regular SC classes, but if I go, at least I know Sabine’s classes are worth the cost.

And, for the record, I’m not just saying all this because Sabine is my friend. If I hadn’t liked the workout, I would say something like, “It’s really great for beginners!” This was tough in the best way possible.

Thanks again for having me, Sabine!