The Drevitches, Week 27: Why Workouts Work
Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge
I was running down a street on the East Side of Manhattan, hurrying to pick up some lunch for my 10-year-old son, Benjamin, who was playing in a chess tournament at a nearby school. This wasn't an unusual weekend dash for me, but something about it seemed odd.
And then I realized what it was -- I was running, but I didn't feel my flesh bouncing around as I was used to. So this was what it felt like when people ran without carrying extra weight.
People keep asking me, now that I've lost 43 pounds over six-plus months, if I feel great, or more energetic, or just in any way different. And where I notice the change most is at the gym, where I've been working weekly since October with New York Sports Club master trainer Victoria Gallagher. I once skulked in and out of the gym, doing the bare minimum. Now I embrace my time there. I give Victoria a lot of the credit for the shape I'm in now. As radically as my daily menu has changed since last fall, my workout has changed more.
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A couple of weeks ago, I shared here what I've learned about weight loss. Now, a few pointers I've picked up from my revamped gym regimen:
1. MIX IT UP. When I first met Victoria and told her about my old workout, she said it was flawed because it never changed. Only certain muscle groups got attention, and my body probably became too comfortable with those exercises instead of being challenged in fresh ways. In our sessions, some weeks we'll push my quads with leg extensions, some weeks we'll incorporate dumbbells into the routine to work my biceps, some weeks we'll include reverse crunches on an inclined board. But we don't do the exact same things every time, so every muscle group gets a turn.
2. KEEP MOVING. One of the biggest differences between my new workout and the old one is how much busier it is now. I used to lift some weights, sit down and rest, and then lift some more. Now that rest time is filled with alternate exercises that keep my heart rate up and add value to the entire session. For example, I'll do a set of pulls on the seated row bench, and then stand and do a set of "step-ups" on the bench, literally stepping up and down, one leg at a time, to add cardio to a strength-training exercise.
3. IF IT HURTS, FIND ANOTHER WAY. I'm not the most coordinated fellow around. Sometimes I have trouble mastering a certain machine's gestalt. And, approaching early middle age as I am, sometimes an exercise might, say, tweak my lower back. A smart trainer like Victoria won't bark at you to do it anyway, as if you were at the Biggest Loser ranch, nor allow you to abandon the workout if one muscle gets tight. For example, If I can't master a certain movement to benefit my triceps, she might ask me instead to do a set of pushups with my arms close to my body, which isolates the muscle. Or, if my lower back rebels while I'm on the abdominal press machine, she may ask me to do crunches on a Bosu ball instead.
4. IT HELPS TO HAVE HELP. Someone who'd never worked with a trainer asked me recently, "Isn't it just someone who counts 1, 2, 3 while you do the exercises?" Well, sure, a trainer does that. But Victoria also pushes me more than I'd push myself, because she knows what's out there. She tells me she still has plenty of push-ups in her arsenal that I haven't tried yet, although I sometimes feel I've tried them all; she knows what I'm capable of and sets me up for success. Victoria has me work with as much weight as I can handle, but not so much that I end up discouraged because I'm unable to complete a set.
5. TRY EVERYTHING. I always saw the gym as divided between People Like Me and Fit People. And Fit People used all sorts of machines and contraptions that People Like Me couldn't even try. Of course, it's that sort of thinking that keeps lots of people from ever joining the fit crowd. I've been using the chin-up/dip-assist machine for months now. It lets you use weight plates to support you as you do chin-ups or dips (the lower the weight, the harder the exercise). I've progressed far enough that Victoria now has me doing pull-ups on a bar, with only the assist of a big bungee-style rubber band slipped around my foot. (It gives you a little bounce to get you back over the bar.) I'm not doing chin-ups unassisted on the bar yet, but I've learned that the distance between People Like Me and Fit People is not as far as it looks from the seat of the recumbent bike.
Unless you never try.
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