Well excuuuuse me (with apologies to Steve Martin)

The other morning, as I was getting my indoor cycling class ready to warmup, I mentioned that I had been sick for the past week and this was my first day back. I told them ‘not to worry if I cough up a lung, just keep pedalling’.

From the back row, I heard a voice reply (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘You always have an excuse. Last week it was your knee, this week it’s your chest. What’s next?’. The class laughed, as did I and we got on with our workout (and a tough workout it was; the 10 min standing hill climb with ever-increasing resistance left my legs quivering all through the recovery song…).

The class ended without further incident (and my lungs remained in my chest, where they belong) but the comment stayed with me for the remainder of the day.

Now I’m sure this participant doesn’t view me as a slacker. I train at least as hard as the rest of the class. And more frequently, I’m guessing, than most. Nobody who comes to my classes would say I was ‘un-fit’. In general, I look and act the part of an avid exerciser.

Why then was I having a hard time reacting as lightly to the comment as it was surely intended? What is it about the word ‘excuse‘ that got to me?

According to Merriam-Webster, an excuse is (1) something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused or released and (2) an expression of regret for failure to do something. Synonyms include the words alibi, apology, defense, plea, justification and reason.

Hmm. Seems like the word excuse (and most of it’s synonyms) has negative connotations. Makes sense then that being accused of making excuses (even in jest) does not leave one feeling good about about themselves.

Given how poorly we tend to view excuse makers, why do we continue to make excuses for ourselves? Do we do it to feel better about our shortcomings (real or perceived)? Or to make others judge our actions or performance less harshly?

I think it has more to do with the first than the second. Humans are great rationalizers. We like to make ourselves feel good (why are sugar, alcohol and cigarettes so difficult to give up?). It’s much harder to really put yourself out there, to give an activity everything you’ve got and fall short than it is to lower your expectations and pat yourself on the back for a mediocre effort.

In my business, I hear excuses daily; “I had a busy week, I couldn’t get to the gym” or “But it was birthday week at my house, I couldn’t say no to the cake” or “I need my evening glass of wine to unwind” or “I couldn’t find a sitter for the kids”. Nothing frustrates me more than starting a training session with excuses. It tells me that the client isn’t fully committed to their training. That something (fear of failure? or success?) is holding them back from fully engaging in the process of change.

My remarks to my spin class were meant to be funny, but also to provide an explanation for why I might not seem to be working as hard as I usually do. When it comes right down to it, though, it was an excuse. It gave me a way out of working as hard as I might have (even if that level of effort was less than my usual given a week-long chest cold) and gave my participants the opportunity to see me making excuses. And in the end, the only one who lost out was me.

I’m done with making excuses. How about you? Ready to give it everything you’ve got? My challenge to you; next training session or fitness class stop the excuses before they even start. Focus on the task at hand and give it your very best effort. Be present and accountable to yourself! I promise you, you’ll feel great (well, maybe not the day after :) )!

The day after; let’s talk turkey

Yesterday morning started much the same as any other day. My hubby brought my coffee to me in bed, as he has done nearly every single day of our marriage, thirteen and a half years ago (a habit he gleaned from his father, who brought his mother coffee in bed nearly every single day of their fifty-year marriage; a good omen, I think!). I took a sip and reached for my iPad to check my mail.

“Checking mail….. Checking mail….. Checking mail…..”

This went on for five or six minutes and just when I was about to get out of bed to restart the wireless router (we often have wireless problems in our house..), my Inbox icon flashed, showing over 100 messages. Well above my usual volume and suspiciously high given the Easter Monday holiday.

Closer inspection revealed that almost all of the messages were from WordPress. More specifically, notifications of comments and subscriptions and ‘likes’ on my recent blog post (All I need to know about exercise I learned from knitting).

Waiting for the caffeine to hit my brain, I started scrolling through your comments, trying to understand why so many readers had happened upon my blog, today of all days. Finally, I came to a comment congratulating me on being ‘Freshly Pressed’. Huh?

Now I’ve only been blogging for six months or so and while I read a lot of fitness and nutrition blogs, I had never searched WordPress for new ones to add to my blog roll. I quickly navigated to the WordPress main page and saw, to my surprise, a snapshot from my blog listed under the heading ‘Freshly Pressed’. Oh wow. I get it now! (For those of you who don’t, ‘Freshly Pressed’ is a WordPress feature that regularly highlights recent blog posts of general interest).

The remainder of my day was spent on the couch, alternating between knitting (I started something new!) and moderating and replying to your comments on my post. (I also confess to continuously updating the ‘Site statistics’ to see how many times the post had been viewed now; I couldn’t seem to stop myself).

Let me start by thanking you all for your congratulations, your insights, your enthusiasm and your humor! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your responses to my work and was amazed to find that my commentary resonated with so many. (Several of you wanted to know about the knitting patterns I featured and whether or not I gave up entirely on the blue-grey shawl. Check out my responses at the very bottom of this post!). Along the way, I clicked on your blog links. I read post after post after post and am humbled by the incredible talent out there in the blogging world.

Given the magnitude of the response to Sunday’s post, I found myself worrying about what I should write about next. Certainly not anything too fluffy (or ‘half squeezed’, as it were). Definitely not vacation pics. Or Easter egg hunt photos of the kids. What if my new readers don’t find my next post so interesting? The fear of a ‘sophomore slump’ was stressing me out.

As I was tucking my oldest child into bed, I voiced these concerns to him. He paused for a moment and then said (with the brilliant insight and wisdom only the young and innocent seem to possess),

Write what you always write, Mom. Just be yourself“. So I will and I am.

We had turkey for Easter dinner. A big turkey. And since there are only five of us, that means leftovers. Lots of them. Here’s what I’m doing with them, Clean Eating style, of course (if you don’t celebrate Easter or don’t eat turkey, you may be excused; see you again soon!).

Turkey and cranberry quesadillas (makes 1 serving);

  • 3 oz sliced turkey breast (skinless)
  • 1 Tbsp dried cranberries (preferably unsweetened)
  • diced onion (have as much as you like)
  • 1/2 cup sliced yellow peppers
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 8-inch whole grain tortilla
  • 1 tsp crumbled feta cheese
  1.  Warm olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and saute until translucent (5-7 min)
  3. Add cranberries and peppers, stirring constantly until vegetables start to carmelize
  4. Add spinach leaves, stirring until wilted.
  5. Place tortilla on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Place turkey and carmelized vegetable mixture on one half of tortilla. Cover with feta. Fold the other half of the tortilla over, covering filling.
  6. Bake in a 350 F oven for 5-7 min, or until brown and cheese is melted.
(Calorie count will be in the 350-450 range, depending on whether you used unsweetened cranberries and whether your cheese was low fat).

Turkey, leek and rice soup (makes 4 servings);
Turkey soup is a tradition in our house. It looks a little different each time we make it (I usually improvise with whatever ingredients are in my fridge). This one is my very favorite.
  • turkey carcass, minus the skin and meat
  • as much turkey meat as you like
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large leeks, white stalks only
  • 2 cups pre-cooked brown rice
  • 1/4 cup thinly slice sundried tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Place turkey carcass in a large stock pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add fresh herbs (or not; I like thyme and parsley), simmer for an hour.
  3. Strain stock into a clean pot, removing bones and whatever’s left of the bird.
  4. In a clean stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  5. Add diced leeks and sundried tomatoes. Saute until leeks are soft.
  6. Add 6-8 cups of prepared stock and turkey.
  7. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  8. Add rice, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat for an additional 5 minutes.
This soup is wonderful with a crusty, whole grain bread. 
Bon apetit!
**************************
1. The sock pattern is Monkey by Cookie A. It was knit in Soho sock yarn by Saffron Dyeworks.
2. I did finish the blue-grey shawl; I just didn’t work on it in the evening. The pattern is Little Leaves by Susanna IC. It was knit in Enya by Saffron Dyeworks.
3. The stranded colorwork sweater pattern is Camp Hoodie by Susan B. Anderson. I finished it yesterday and will post modeled pics tomorrow on Ravelry!

All I need to know about exercise I learned from knitting: 10 similarities between exercise and knitting

I have two great passions in my life (besides my husband, and sometimes, my children); fitness and knitting. At first glance, they seem to be rather incompatible past times.

One involves vigorous whole body movement, the other sitting on the couch, barely flicking one’s fingers for hours at a time. There are special clothes for exercise. Not so much for knitting. You can knit and drink a glass of wine and watch TV simultaneously. No wine at the gym, last time I checked. Exercise is about challenge and progress and setbacks and all out effort. And knitting? Turns out that fitness and knitting are more alike that one might think. There are many similarities between exercise and knitting.

In fact, all I need to know about exercise I learned from knitting.

  1. similarities between knitting and exercise

    I knit socks on 2.25 mm needles, with about 70 stitches around. The leg of a sock might have 70 rows in it; that 4900 stitches in one leg alone!

    Keep the goal in sight, but enjoy the process. When one spends hours making thousands of tiny stitches with small wooden sticks, thoughts of the finished object are unavoidable. But, focusing on the end of the project makes it feel more like work than an enjoyable way of spending your time. Concentrate on how the yarn feels running through your fingers. Stop to admire the evenness of your stitches. In the gym, listen to the beat of your heart. Note how it increases and decreases with your effort. Enjoy the feeling of your muscles as they work to press that weight over your head. The long-term goal is still a ways away; revel in the moment.

  2. Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can move forward. Knitters call this ‘TINKing’ (that’s KNIT spelled backwards). It happens when you don’t read instructions (I can vouch for this one personally), or when you’re not truly paying attention to what you’re doing. Similarly, injuries happen during exercise when we try to advance ourselves too quickly or are distracted in the gym. Setbacks happen and strength must be regained before we can once again move forward.
  3. Always take detailed notes. If you want to remember what you did on the first sleeve so you can knit the second to match, take notes, lots of notes. Don’t count on yourself to remember the specifics or the details of your last workout. When you’re getting results in the gym, it’s much easier to figure out why (and keep progressing) if you know where you’re coming from. Journalling is a truly effective way to measure progress.
  4. Be selfish; no one else appreciates your efforts as much as you do. I am a selfish knitter. I knit primarily for myself. I know that I will love what I’ve knit and will wear it with pride. Knits that I have gifted have not always been so obviously appreciated. Exercise for you and you alone. Don’t do it because someone else wants you to. Don’t do it because you think you should. Do it because you love how it makes you feel and look.
  5. similarities between exercise and knitting

    Stranded knitting has always been difficult for me. Because I am a tight knitter, the fabric usually puckers. This sweater is for my daughter, and I’m proud to say, it’s my best stranded knitting yet!

    Don’t be afraid to try something new. For a long time I stuck to basic knitting projects. Things that I knew I could do well. If a pattern required a technique that I was unfamiliar with, I knit something else. Over the last few years, I’ve become more adventurous in  my knitting. What’s the worst that could happen? I might screw it up. I might not like it. I might have to rip it out. Or, maybe, just maybe, I might find something else that I’m really good at! There are lots of fitness options out there. Weight rooms not your thing? Try Zumba. Can’t stand running? Hop on a spin bike. The options are nearly endless and there are new tools and techniques to tackle almost weekly.

  6. similarities between exercise and knitting

    I gave up knitting this one in the evening; the lace rows were so long I would lose track of where I was and have to rip back row after row to find my mistakes.

    Know when tackling a challenge is a bad idea. I don’t knit complex lace at night. My attention is not focused and my eyes don’t work as well in the dark as they used to. Similarly, increasing my loads in the weight room is best left for when I’m feeling healthy and well, not when a cold is looming or I’m tired from a late night out. Challenge is good, but not all the time.

  7. Variety is a great motivator. I always have 3 or 4 projects on the needles (a simple sock in my purse, something complex for afternoons without the children). When I tire of one, I simply move on to another. Same thing with fitness. Bored with your current routine? If it’s a good one and you’ve seen results, switch it up for a week or two until you again need a change. I like to intersperse heaving weight training days with spinning days (love those cardio intervals!). Over the longer term, I might stick with a whole body training program for a month or two, then switch to body part training (one or two body parts a day) for a few weeks. Rather than do nothing, do something else!
  8. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Before I found Ravelry (an awesome online community of fiber artists; think Facebook for knitters), I had very few people to share my knitting obsession with. Now, I check in with my on-line knitting buddies daily for a dose of inspiration and support. I’ve learned a ton from these women and am continually motivated to try new techniques and patterns. Seek out friends and acquaintances who are as committed to exercise as you are. Motivate each other to do more and better.
  9. similarities between exercise and knitting

    I have a vase of needles like this on my mantle; I grabbed this image from the web.

    Always choose the right tool for the job. The knitter’s primary tool is a needle. But needles come in many different styles (single point, double point, circular, cable), sizes (from 1 mm all the way up to 20 mm and beyond) and weights (stainless steel, wood, laminate, bamboo). Different projects (and yarns) require different needles. If you use the wrong needle for the job, you’re bound to be unhappy with the final result. Same things goes with exercise. You need to match the tool to your goals. Want to put on muscle and gain strength? Forego the fixed machines and light weights. Pick up a kettlebell, some dumbbells, a barbell. Approach the squat machine with confidence. Get face to face with the chin up bar.

  10. Make time for it every day! In order to get better at something and actually see the results of your labors, you need to do it frequently. I’ve been to the gym and knit half a sleeve today… and it’s not even dinner time yet!

There! My top 10 list of similarities between exercise and knitting!

Do you exercise? Do you knit?

What are YOUR favourite similarities between exercise and knitting?

The knee bone’s connected to the…

Well, my knee is still a bit wonky. I taught Step classes Sunday and Monday morning. Both were pretty high energy but didn’t seem to bother it. I laid off the lunges and limited my range of motion during squats. So far so good.

Monday’s lunch time spin class, however was another story.

Low tension was fine. Sprinting was fine. Standing climbs were okay… until I hit about 75% of maximum tension. Ouch. Not a sharp, piercing ouch, just a dull, back off kind of ouch. So I did. More ice and ibuprofen last night helped.

This morning I was determined to get back to my training. Phase 2, Workout A of NROL for Abs. Lunges, 2-point bent over rows, dead lifts and chest presses. Lunges felt okay (although I admit to being extremely cautious with the positioning of my knee). Surprisingly, it was the bent over rows that got me!

No, not my knee, my lower back. Specifically, the same lower back pain that sidelined me about 20 months ago. Why the back now?

That’s how the human body works. It’s one long kinetic chain. Everything is connected. When something isn’t working, another body part will happily help out, sometimes to it’s detriment.

In my case, being protective of a sore knee resulted in me lifting with my back rather than with my legs. Bending over to pick up 30 pound dumbbells incorrectly led directly to strain on my lower back.

I’m thinking that the remainder of this week will be about rest and recovery, which means, of course, that my nutrition must be bang on; and with Easter just around the corner.

A tough week to have to hold back on training. I’m down 3 pounds in a week due to dialing in my nutrition and meeting my exercise goals and I don’t want to lose steam.

How’s your week shaping up?

How do you deal with setbacks?

Two great days of spot-on nutrition and great workouts! Feeling like I can soooo do this! Then, whammo, the unexpected; injury.

I was working through my third set of dumbbell step ups (25 lbs per hand), concentrating really hard on not cheating, feeling that lovely, near exhaustion burn in my left quad when, boing, my knee turned ever so slightly in. You just tweaked it, I told myself. Try one more. Ouch!

Okay, more than a tweak. Probably a twist or a mild sprain. I attempted to work through the rest of my push presses, but even that little half squat was causing pain. I finished early, iced and ibuprofened and hoped it would feel better in the morning.

It’s morning now, and although it does feel less swollen, I’m walking down stairs gingerly and thinking that it’s a good thing I don’t have to spin this morning!

Today was to have been another NROL day, and since I’m out with girlfriends tonight and planning on cashing in a splurge or two :), I really need to get some sort of a workout in today.

My plan? Combine the upper body portions of yesterday’s and today’s workouts (minus the squat on the push press) and add in some no-impact cardio on the Arc trainer. Then, rest, ice and ibuprofen again so I can teach step on Sunday morning.

Have you had a minor set back in your training? How did you deal with it?

The Last 10 Pounds

So, I have a confession to make. I’ve been cheating. I have strayed from my nutrition plan and have payed the price.

Hanging my head in shame.

Over the last 8 months, I’ve gained about 10 pounds on the scale. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was lifting fairly heavy weights 3 or 4 times a week. I was teaching my usual 3-4 cardio classes as well. My clothes still fit. Nobody was telling me I looked fat (not that my husband would ever dream of making a comment like that; although my 8-year old daughter would, she still has the brutal honesty of the young…).

I had almost convinced myself that I was putting on muscle (but really, 10 pounds of muscle on my frame, come on), when I decided to do a little reality check. I got out the tape measure and camera. Gulp.

Weight; 147 lbs
Height; 5’7″
Chest; 36″
High waist; 28.5″
Abdomen; 30″
Hips/butt; 39″

Using my standard method of estimating per cent body fat (not BMI; BMI only considers height and weight, not body composition or the relative proportion of your total body weight that is fat), I was carrying around 31.3 pounds of fat (21.3% body fat)! That’s a lot for me, personally. I feel best at 18-19% body fat, which corresponds to approximately 136-138 lbs (of course that depends on how much muscle mass I’m carrying).

When I put on my favorite bathing suit and took some quick pics in the mirror (pardon the splatter marks that I forgot to clean off first!), it became immediately obvious to me just where that extra 10 pounds had accumulated. A little bit too much junk hanging out of the bottom of the bathing suit. A small spare tire around the middle. (Note that these photos are not meant to be gratuitous bikini shots, but rather, a tool to motivate myself to do better. Skip them if you’d prefer not to look!).

By my calculation, I’ve got about 10 weeks until summer holidays start. I want to look and feel great at the beach. Taking little bits and pieces from all my favorite fit females (Rachel Cosgrove, Tosca Reno, Jillian Michaels and MizFit, to name a few), I’ve put together a plan. I’m going to share it with you as a means to stay accountable and perhaps, to help any of you who are also on a mission to shed those last 10 pounds. Note that this plan is based on my goals, my body, my schedule and most importantly, my ability to stay focused and on course. If you join me, your results may differ from mine.

My three-pronged approach:

1. Exercise; I’ve been following the NROL for Abs and have been pleased with the results I’m getting. My core strength has improved immensely. I’m lifting heavier and doing more of the metabolic intervals each week. I’m currently half-way through Phase 2 and plan to continue with this program as it’s written. In addition to 3 days of weight training, I also do cardio intervals on the spin bike two times a week.

2. Water; While I’m usually fairly well hydrated, increasing water consumption will help elevate my metabolism and burn more fat. It will also make me feel fuller between meals. I’m aiming for 75-80 ounces a day (1/2 ounce per pound of body weight). I always drink an 8 ounce glass immediately after my morning coffee to help counter-act the diuretic effects of the caffeine and to get my insides moving!

3. Nutrition; This is where I really need to re-tool. I’ve been having way too many splurges (cookies, wine, chips, cake) to look and feel my best. My first week’s goal is to eliminate these from my diet, along with all pre-packaged, processed foods (including bread, pasta and cereals other than oats and low-fat granola). The fewer ingredients on the package, the better. Getting rid of processed foods will also help eliminate sugar.

I’ll be eating 3-4 ounces of lean protein at each meal (5 small meals per day), along with a fruit (no more than 3 per day) or vegetable (as many as I want) and a healthy fat (olive oil, coconut oil, flax or chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews). In addition to choosing the right fats, the key to losing fat while eating fat is to limit serving size (1 tablespoon of oil or seeds, 1/4 cup of nuts).

I’ll be timing my starchy carbohydrates; one serving at breakfast (oats, clean cereal, quinoa, ezekial bread) and one at my post-workout meal (sweet potato, brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole grain couscous). Again, I’ll be watching serving sizes here, even clean carbs have calories that add up quickly.

Limiting my splurges to 3-4 per week. A glass of wine is a splurge. A cookie for dessert is a splurge. A half of a bagel or a muffin is a splurge. I will be planning these so they are not wasted on things that are not an absolute party in my mouth.

So, are you in?

Love to hear how it’s going; comments below, please!

Pro-D Day; not just for kids!

As a self-employed mother of three working in the fast-paced fitness industry, I was finding it difficult to stay on top of the latest health and wellness news not to mention the newest exercise tool-of-the-month.

Much of the time, I found myself scrambling to prepare a class plan or a client program just a few minutes before the class or training session was to begin. The stack of books, magazines, newspaper articles, fitness DVDs and YouTube videos to watch was ever-growing. The list of client handouts to prepare and photocopy never seemed to get any smaller. Telephone and email inquiries were taking longer to get to. There didn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done, let alone grow my business.

I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of you. The first tasks to be completed are always the immediate ones and those that directly generate income. But what about the ‘behind the scenes’ work? The non-income generating projects and tasks that take your business from good to fabulous?

About three months ago (after complaining to a friend about yet another Pro D Day at home with my children), I realized that teachers have got it all figured out. Take a day each month away from your regular job to work on skills, long term projects and general professional development; the things you can’t possibly accomplish in the little snippets of time available during your regular work day.

I now take the first Wednesday of each month and spend it reading through the references that have piled up on my night table, watching fitness DVDs and online videos and practicing the exercises I want to introduce to my classes and clients. Course work and dropping in on a fitness class at another facility are on my agenda for next month’s Pro D Day.

Last Professional Development Day I generated six weeks of curriculum for each of two different courses in just a single morning, resulting in more polished, professional looking classes and freeing me from the last minute scramble. My handouts are photocopied and organized; no more running to the photocopier minutes before a client arrives! I am consistently returning emails and telephone calls within hours and I have started a fitness and wellness blog (something I never thought I had time for) to make myself more visible in the marketplace.

My practice is growing consistently. My group fitness classes are almost always full with wait lists. I am getting referrals from current and previous clients. But most of all, I feel more focused, less frazzled and more in control of my time.

Professional Development Days; add them to your calendar!

Wordless Wednesday (or ‘Today, at a glance’)

Inspiration for this morning’s Bootcamp class…

Play room needs a touch-up