A New Year of Daily Intentions

Spending New Year’s Eve sick was the best dose of reality. New year’s day was not the day I would begin my marathon training; it was not the day I would sort through my closet and minimize; it was not the day I would begin writing ten pages a day. It was the day I took care of myself, so that I could heal faster.

The best advice I read for the new year was to set daily intentions instead of one overarching resolution. On a given day I may intend to create a new lecture, clean out the fridge, write a blog, or rest and drink lots of liquids. It means taking a moment to read the day, consider my obligations, and gauge my own personal needs. Some days I genuinely need to work out, not to meet a dictating resolution for the year, but to clear my head and balance my emotions.

In my field of composition and rhetoric, I have learned that timing is key. A writer crafts his response to fit a particular moment. The action is co-determined by the setting, the current conversation, and audience. Likewise, my everyday actions are also determined by multiple factors. Perhaps it would be different if my life did not involve children and a job that has varying demands day by day. All I can do is make the best decisions in the moment. This is what I can cook and eat with the available ingredients and the allotted time. I have had write this blog post in pieces because sometimes a six year old appears on my lap or the noise level in the house escalates beyond the point at which I can concentrate. In those moments, I move on to a different intention, which doesn’t require the same cognitive labor or better serves the needs of my household.

My goal is not to set myself up for disappointment or agitation but to still have expectations. I have discovered when I have set up unsustainable goals, such as I am going to write 500 words a day, when I fail, I quit. A daily intention is not about a streak of behaviors that can be broken. It’s not a diet you can fail. It’s about waking up each morning and planning what you have to do and what you want to do. Today is the last day of my children’s winter break. My intention is to remove the holiday decorations, visit with my parents, let my children dictate some fun activities, and prepare for a work day tomorrow.

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Moving on, but still moving

Over the weekend I took a stumble down the stairs. What would have potentially laid me up or sent me to the emergency room a month ago only left me with a small scrape on my elbow. Why? Because due to some new core muscles and a daily focus on balance, agility, and strength, I can now take a fall like a stunt woman. Hollywood here I come.

Joking aside, I would classify my 30-day P90x challenge as a success. While I may not be ready to send in my before and after shots, I am seeing new muscles and shapes when I look in the mirror. I almost understand the celebrity trend to take a post-gym selfie. Almost. Maybe after a few more months of training, I will be ready to break the Internet.

The biggest benefit for me, though, is not aesthetic appeal. It is the promise of a more active future. My father has already had two back surgeries, and my mother is scheduled to have her second knee replacement later this year. I fully understand the high cost of not taking care of one’s body. Since I have begun working out sensibly, I have not wrenched my back or had issues with my hip. My left hip has a tendency to roll up due to past injuries and smooth ball joints. On a bad day, one leg will be an inch shorter than the other. This does not happen if I have strong muscles keeping all my parts properly aligned. I no longer fear walking on uneven terrain or hopping on the trampoline with my children.

Though my free 30-day Beachbody on Demand trial has ended, I will not stop working out. I will just be exploring cheaper options (i.e. free) through Youtube. Today, I completed level one of Jillian Michael’s 30-day shred program. I thought it was a well put together 30-minute workout, which contained a better variety of cardio and strength training than I found in most of the P90X3 workouts. It was like a less insane version of Insanity. I highly recommend it.

You can’t have your cake and burn it too

Today’s morning P90X workout was the full body equivalent of an ugly cry. Yesterday was a day of excess, more specifically daughter’s fifth birthday. One of my jobs as a parent is to orchestrate celebrations and participate in them. I do not want to be the person to turn down cake and ice cream. When one person refuses to ingest forkfuls of frosting, it diminishes the joy of others’ gluttony by reminding them that frosting is an unhealthy addictive substance made with animal fat and cups of powdered sugar. Quit ruining the party with your health nut rhetoric and practices!

Now, I am no stranger to the joys of junk food. However, I have been making more healthy choices since I began my own version of the Beachbody challenge. My chocolate chips have been replaced with cocoa nibs. I have replaced one of my cups of coffee with green tea. What is of endless fascination to me is how quickly the body adjusts to a new dietary reality. Yesterday’s cake tasted like heaven on the tongue, as the dissolving sugar sent a glowing beacon of bliss to my brain. Later though, as the cake and restaurant fare churned in my stomach, it was all I could do not to vomit. Apparently, I can now get food hangovers.

Today the party continues at my mother’s house. There were be more cake, ice cream, and plenty of Easter treats. Do I say no and experience the negative backlash? Why is there so much social pressure to ingest items that are bad for us?

The Ripple Effects of a New Habit

The hardest part of any 30-day challenge is when the shiny newness fades, but it has yet to become an ingrained habit. This morning, I stood stiff and achy before Tony Horton, who led me through a gruesome regimen called “The Warrior.” Through the elevator push ups, leaping squats, and v-shaped Pilates formations, I was reminded how weak I am. As I panted through my 30-second break, pulling deep drinks from my water bottle, the journey ahead of me seemed overwhelming.

Even after the gratifying moment of completion, as I enjoyed the warm glow of endorphin release, I wondered if I could really commit to these gruesome morning workouts long term. Then I looked into the other room and saw my children doing their own workout video they found on the iPad. And I remembered everything I read in my research about the contagious nature of moods, diets, and habits. Rarely have I felt like I accomplished so much before 8 a.m.

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My workouts have had additional ripple effects. Most notably, I am more aware of the type of food I put into my body. I crave clean, healthy foods. It seems almost criminal to ingest fast food after a sweat-inducing workout. Honestly, I need every advantage to make it through a full 30-minute P90x video.

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Hell’s Kettlebells

The seed for my latest experiment began when I read Tim Ferris’ book, the 4-Hour Body. In this tome, Kettlebell swings are touted as the penultimate bang-for-your-buck workout. Ferris claims that these one movement will sculpt your body in small amount of time (10-20 minutes a week). This past semester, one of my 30-day challengers gave this workout rave reviews, saying how (much like Ferris) minute for minute it was the most efficient and effective workout she had tried. Enter New Year’s.

As I have learned in my research on willpower, motivation, and habits, how you frame an activity is key. In order to make this fun, I have been comparing different Youtube videos to try out Kettlebells this past week. Always practical, I began first with a ten-minute workout by a hot young, thing named Amy (you know the trainer types, all ponytail, teeth, and abs). It was not easy, but I made it through. My main complaint was the lack of a warm up and cool down. I Youtubed stretching exercises in an effort to stave off muscle tightness. Instead, I injured neck, as I am the type of person who can do a “halo swing” around their head with a large weight and then pull a muscle turning my head to the side.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiC0zylTB0w

Despite my cool down efforts, my leg muscles intensely felt the aftereffects. I have never before experienced pain going down steps, up yes, but never down. It impressed me. Running or using the elliptical machine did not leave such lingering effects.

Three days later, I tackled the 25-minute version by the same instructor. This included a minute warm up and cool down plus some cardio and floor exercises. The only turn off – burpees. Remember how I said how important it is frame activities positively? This is not possible for me when it comes to burpees. Sorry, no. I’ll drink some water and march in place until they are over.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-NUXOn1H1o

What really appears to deliver the pain from Amy is the many lunge moves she incorporates. When I was in physical therapy to stave off sciatic pain, one of the main exercises I received was lunges. So in addition to the kettlebell swing, which is always a key part of these workouts, I am getting the additionally muscle work necessary to maintain healthy hip alignment.

Three days appears to be my recovery time so far. Today I tackled my third workout by Fitness Blender. In terms of entertainment value, Fitness Blender lacks the upbeat trainer. Instead, you have a voice over while a robotic-like woman goes through the moves. I had to turn on some music in order to keep myself motivated throughout the sequence. Their kettlebell workout is eight moves that you repeat over the course of three rounds. While it shared some of the same moves as the previous workout, I felt it emphasized arm strength and squatting a bit more. I also did more swinging with this video, completing a total of 60 full two-handed swings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pDMOIlPLFE

 

So far, the only noticeable physical difference (aside from muscle aches) is a spike in my appetite. Me make muscle, me hungry. Yes, somewhere deep inside me lives Cookie Monster. I fear I will lose nothing but gain much density.

The Superhero Workout – Fasten Your Capes

The number one rule of App selection is know thyself — how do you like to work, study, cook, read, etc. Apps should augment your lifestyle and productions, in short make it easier to be the awesome person you were meant to be. As a working mom, I find it difficult to make time to go to the gym. I discovered, though, that I can do workouts with my children if there is a novelty involved. We each have our own stability ball and often roll around the floor trying to imitate the moves on Youtube workout videos. So when I stumbled upon the app Superhero Workout, I thought it could be another workout we could do as a family.

It also indicated some level of novelty, which I thought would intrigue me enough to engage in activities I do not enjoy, such as jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and other moves designed to torture my body. For $4.99, it delivers some level of novelty, though not as much as I would like. It delivers the “super-hero” feel through overlaying standard exercise animations with an audio storyline. However, when you are panting through high knee jogs, it is hard to follow along with the mission details. The app designers, though, did a decent job coordinating the plot with the exercise sequence. For instance, when you are defeating whatever enemy is upon you in the story, you are also doing boxing moves. When it is nearing the end of the 25-minute workout, the mission shouts words of encouragement, asking that you not give up. Still, I find standard workout music (think Rocky soundtrack) is a better motivator than imagining I am “clearing out spores.”

While I did not have high expectations for the camera tracking feature, as this is an Ipad app not an Xbox Kinect game, the workout design made tracking even more difficult. For the standard workout, you needed to be able to use a wall, a chair, and stairs. Unless I constantly repositioned the IPad, and subsequently missed a few reps of the workout, some of my moves wouldn’t be tracked. This wasn’t a big issue for me, though, as I was doing the workout moves with a five year old and three year old at times, so I had already discounted the possibility of accurate rep and calorie count. Still, I think the tracking feature is a nice one to include in a fitness application. Tracking works well as a motivator. You feel watched in a way that you do not when you are going through a workout DVD. It’s not the same social pressure as not keeping up in a face-to-face physical fitness class, but it is something.

I like that the game has set up a series of short workouts to choose from in addition to their “missions.” Times vary from 7-11 minutes, so you can do a quick general workout or several target area workouts. The mission workouts range from 16-25 minutes. My children could not keep up physically or mentally with a workout that long. Midway through our second mission workout, as we began jumping jack squats, my three year old stopped and said she couldn’t go on because she “lost her powers.” Later in the workout, amazed that I was still doing the moves, my five year old chanted, “Mama’s a superhero! Mama’s a superhero!” I found this to be the most motivating moment of the workout, as honestly, nothing makes me feel less superhero-like than a push up. The best part for our little family is the workouts that end with the superman move, where you lay on the floor and simultaneously hold up your arms and legs, probably because this is the most superhero-like move.

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Overall, this app motivated me to do exercise moves that I usually avoid. I like it doesn’t make me do a lot of repetitions of one move but constantly changes, usually switching moves every 30-60 seconds. This keeps me from getting bored or giving up when there is a move I particularly hate, such as burpees. I do like that there are 20 different missions and 46 different achievements you can obtain. It makes it as much a game as a workout. If I were to improve upon this game, I would add some graphical interludes during the missions instead of having it simply be an audio story. This would help orient me in the mission and make the experience more immersive. Something for Six to Start, the game designers, to consider as they work on their next game/exercise app.