How much can you improve your fitness in 6 months?

My 2013 six-month fitness check-in. With many fitness goals, I am using the bodyweight baseline workout to assess where I am at.  I did not review my previous performance before heading off to the gym – I had no idea what I was trying to beat and I did not want to psyche myself out. I just wanted to do it. I put my game face on and I went.

It is done.

It was relatively brutal.

I did not go into the workout with confidence. Honestly, I had forgotten about my assessment workout, until I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized it was July. My workouts have been on the back burner lately – lacking focus, intent, and energy. This made me nervous, but I knew that I needed to complete the assessment and know the results – the good and the bad.

The results

Exercise

Jan. 2

Apr. 1

Jun 2

Percent Improvement

Pushups

55

63

68

23.64%

Squats

206

219

233

13.11%

Pullups

11

18

20

81.82%

Burpees

25

39

36

44.00%

Traveling Lunges

98

112

122

24.49%

BB Inverted Row

42

44

59

40.48%

SB Plank

:35 sec

:55 sec

1:10

100.00%

KB Swings (20kg)

81

90

98

20.99%

Following this workout, I completed my 1-mile run in 8:53 minutes, improving from 9:18 in April (and having not completed the mile in January).

Lastly, I weighed myself for the first time in a very long time – I am up 4 pounds from April and back to the same weight I started at January 1 – still within my body’s happy range. (And unfortunately I have not had a trustworthy body fat analysis to determine any changes in body composition.)

The response

I am surprised with my improvements. I am not surprised with my decrease in burpees since April, as I have been experiencing more back pain these last few weeks (no more Insanity experiments). 

The 3 minutes of pullups were frustrating, as I was only able to perform one at a time. All I could think about was my goal to perform 10 consecutive and the fact that I have not been training for it as diligently as I should be and that is why it was so hard. Mind games!

All in all, I am pleased. 

The bottomline

I did better than I thought I would. A lesson to be kind to myself.

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Is shoveling snow a workout?

We have seen quite a bit of snow in the United States in the last few days. Big snow out East – burying cars and closing down full states. Here in Minnesota, we had maybe 6 inches already today and there is more to come. All this snow requires snow removal – arms and hands, shovels, brooms, and snow blowers. You bundle up to go to work – you come back inside huffing and puffing and a bit sweaty. You feel, “I got my workout in for today.” Snow removal – of any and all forms – is physical activity, but NOT a workout nor exercise. You see, all exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise.

Part of the problem with today’s culture is that we falsely promote any physical activity as exercise or equivalent to working out. Similar to shoveling, walking is not a workout either. These are physical activities and best classified as ADLs (i.e., active daily living). NOTE: When individuals are sedentary, they must increase physical activity slowly and progressively. If someone is severely deconditioned, a walk may be a workout. However, these individuals progress quickly and a walk as a workout will not last long. And while you will burn more calories by increasing your ADLs than when doing nothing at all, without workouts, health and fitness improvements will be minimal to nonexistent.

What makes a workout?

Your workout should be more strenuous than shoveling snow – and no, I do not care how heavy the snow is or how long your driveway is. To obtain benefits, you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. During a workout you should reach or exceed your maximum heart rate (although not stay there for too long).

A workout requires exercise. Unfortunately, exercise is not well defined. The common definition of exercise is, “activity requiring physical effort carried out, especially to sustain or improve physical fitness.” This is a vague definition that, in essence, has misclassified a myriad of human physical activities as exercise. In today’s mindset, almost anything can be termed exercise from walking, to playing a video game, to sex, to board games and beyond, including climbing Mount Everest.

One of the best scientific definitions  of exercise comes from Ken Hutchins:

Exercise is a process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function, in a clinically-controlled environment, within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular structures to inroad their strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time.

The bottomline

I think of it this way, shoveling snow (or other means of removal) is a maintenance activity. If you are in a maintenance phase of your health, weight, and fitness, you can consider a long day of shoveling your workout and the world will not end. If you are on a journey to improve your health, weight, and fitness – shoveling CANNOT replace your workout. They are not equal nor synonymous. One day of shoveling and skipping your workout – the world will not end. But do NOT make a habit out of it. Do not use food as a compensatory reward, telling yourself that you worked for it – you will only be sadly disappointed when you are not pleased with your end result – after you thought you had worked so hard.

Finally, shoveling snow is not always easy. It burns calories. So does playing Twister or pattycake – are those workouts?

Sorry, it’s not that simple

1. How close are you to having your ideal body? 2. How hard do you work for it, honestly? Unfortunately, there’s no pill. There’s no magic exercise program. There is no “ah-ha, this is so simple!” I wish! I think we all do.

My opinionated self is becoming more and more frustrated by being surrounded by colleagues who want to make achieving your health and fitness goals far more simple than it truly is. I would love to tell you that all you need to do is attend a kickboxing class two times a week and you will see significant results. But I would be lying to you and misleading you.  It’s just not that simple. Sure, I want to motivate my friends and clients…but not through lies. I will give you the truth, 100% of the time. And weight loss and maintenance are just NOT SIMPLE, nor easy.

Before I jump into this, I want to explain why I choose to use simple versus easy. For those who know me, you know that I like to say that life is simple, it’s just not easy. I may be changing my mind – life should be simple – but as a culture we have cultivated life to be complex. I use simple because it is the antithesis of complex – and health, weight, and fitness improvements – and maintenance – are complex. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories out. The human body is complex!

As a health and fitness professional and behavior coach, it is my goal to educate, motivate, and inspire individuals to reach their goals. Educating is difficult, as the details of effective exercise can be complicated, intricate. And if it were as simple as some professionals and products like to make it out to be….then I wouldn’t have a career! AND, we would all obtain and maintain our ideal body with little to no effort. What may be even more complicated than exercise is nutrition! The complexities of insulin resistance, gluten tolerance levels, etc., each individuals’ needs are different. I do not require as much fiber as most individuals I know….and I need more protein than others. And how do I know? Trial and error and copious note taking. This has been far from simple, but definitely worth it.

I was recently conversing with a friend about nutrition and she wanted to ensure that she understood correctly how increased muscle mass can increase the body’s ability to burn fat. I had to asked her what felt like a zillion questions and tell her….it’s just not that simple. Are we talking fat as a macro-nutrient (Kcal) or fat as an energy storage (adipose tissue)? And I touched on carbohydrates versus fat stores as a source for cardiovascular endurance – again it’s just NOT SIMPLE. I think she was a little overwhelmed by the complexities and technicalities. Note that it is the fact that it is not simple that there can even be a career in this!

I don’t intend for my blog to actually provide all the answers. For, it’s NOT THAT SIMPLE. It may be a catalyst for thought in those who read it. But I do want to caution you – any fitness professional who does not discuss basic nutrition with you and/or refer you to a registered dietitian is likely not qualified to help you achieve your goals…so don’t throw your money away.

So, what are you thinking?