Cardio

At present, I’m trying to work HIIT (High-intensity interval training) back into my regular workout regimen. I’m currently in the “failing up” stage. In other words, I’m failing to make it a habit but getting closer with each attempt.

In the past, my workouts involved a bit of jump roping and a few sprints a session. But a desire to be a little more well-rounded led me to run longer distances.

I wound up jogging three miles on a pretty routine basis. However, there was another little goal at the root of this change. I wanted to run a single mile in a respectable time, which I believe puts it back in the realm of HIIT.

My current plan is to run short distances a couple of times per week and work in a couple of short sessions of HIIT on my off days. I’ve added a little bit of jump rope back into my routine already. (In fact, I went so hard the first day that I couldn’t walk for a week.)

Meanwhile, I’ve also started increasingly focusing on legs during a weightlifting session. So far, it hasn’t seemed to affect my performance. But I’m hoping it will and positively.

photo: lucas Favre

Gluten

Let me start by saying that I would prefer to eat gluten if I could. I’m not an advocate for avoiding the protein just because it might make you sluggish or drowsy. Unfortunately, I have to avoid it for other reasons.

Eating above a certain threshold of gluten causes my skin to break out and gives me an upset stomach. It’s a serious issue. I can’t drink many of my favorite beers without starting to itch. I should say these beers used to be my favorite.

I developed a gluten allergy in my mid-twenties and went to a dermatologist on multiple occasions, was prescribed steroids, and, subsequently, met with little success when it came to a remedy. In the end, I was fortunate enough to meet someone who suggested a gluten fast.

It helped, but it severely limits what I’m able to consume, which may have resulted in one of my first extreme exercises in discipline. But now, by default, I’m receiving all of the benefits of a low carb diet.

I’ve not gone on any official modified elimination diets because I can’t stand the idea of lose anything else. I like cheese. And, as it is, I sneak a little gluten in when I can. When it comes to healthy eating, my philosophy is to enjoy moderation. When it comes to gluten, I practice harm reduction, which is not necessarily a good idea for those with more severe allergies.

I’m not planning to eliminate anything else from my diet by becoming a vegan or a vegetarian. But I do what I have to do. I treat gluten as a rare treat that I get to enjoy on occasion even if I have to pay for it.

photo: Fleur

Stretching

Routine stretching at the end of the day has been a goal of mine off and on for the last few years. The fact that doing a split hasn’t necessarily been my goal could be the reason that I’ve been unsuccessful in making it a habit.

In other words, the lack of a measurable outcome could be undercutting my level of commitment. But there may be something else. I don’t see stretching as absolutely necessary. I’m sure it’s wrong to think that, but the fact that there is debate hasn’t helped.

The truth is I shouldn’t care if others find stretching unnecessary. I sprained my knee in my late teens, and I know that a concentrated stretch of my hamstrings decreases the tightness I feel around that knee right after a run.

Regardless of whether a good stretch is beneficial before and after a run (or any other time), I would like to be more limber for more general physical benefits. Increased flexibility–including the ability to touch my toes–and one day being able to do a split sounds appealing to me. Okay, the split less so.

I used to attend a yoga class at a YMCA with some frequency and felt better for it. However, it’s quite possible that I failed to achieve the kind of results that would lead to sustaining a habit. It might be that my beginning flexibility level was so poor that even modest improvements were perceived as less than impressive.

Stretching is a goal that I plan to return to even if it’s relegated to five minutes or less at the end of each evening. If I stick with it, I may find that becoming flexible is like taking on any new skill. There can be a steep learning curve, but the results are worth it.

Photo: Katee Lue

Bye Day

Working out four to five times per week over six to eight weeks amounts to about 40 workouts. Sometimes I find that pace–combined with everything else I have to do–to be exhausting. So, from time to time, I grant myself a bit of a reprieve by allowing one pass or bye day per six to eight-week series.

A good workout routine should be about six to eight weeks, followed by a few days off. (According to what I’ve read, this is also a good time to change up what you’re doing in the gym.) I said “a few off days,” but I’ll take as much as a week. So, I cash in a bye day when I’m too busy or too tired to make it to the gym.

My workouts are either cardio or sessions of weights. So, on a week with a bye day, I do at least a day or two of lifting and cardio each and attempt at an alternative workout (e.g., a trip to the climbing gym or a long mountain bike ride). This may seem to defeat the notion of a bye day, but it’s completely optional.

Most recently, I used a bye day when I was finishing up a book. It was the last week of work on the project, and I was exhausted. Regardless of whether or not a workout could have done me right, I wanted to finish the job.

Thus, the bye day gave me the option to take a break from working out so I could accomplish something else. With as many of 40 workouts in two months, I feel that one day off won’t hurt.

It may be worth noting that I’ve experienced times when I considered using my bye only to talk myself out of it so I can use it another time. I can be pretty competitive with myself, but knowing it was an option is helpful.

There have even been times when the notion of using my bye has decreased my stress level. Especially during those times when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day. Simply put, the option to take a break (when I absolutely need to) has done a good deal for my mental health.

photo: George Pagan III

Jump Rope

I haven’t been able to figure out why but, for some reason, jumping rope is pretty easy for me. Granted, I’m not jumping for excessive amounts of time (e.g., an hour), but I consider a session of 20 minutes to be somewhat significant.

Contrast this with my ability–or lack thereof–to jog. I’ve worked up to being able to run as much as three or four miles, but I never really enjoy it. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. If I hated it, I wouldn’t keep doing it, and I run a couple of times each week. A better way to describe my views on running would be to say that it causes me a lot more strain than jumping rope.

When I first started with a jump rope, I went at it with gusto. I was jumping 20 straight minutes and only stopping when the rope got tangled up in my feet, which happened less often as I began to jump consistently.

But because jumping rope burns so many calories, I don’t feel the need to avoid taking breaks. Lately, I’ve been doing a circuit of 10-5-5. Ten minutes to start with a more or less five-minute break between the next two intervals. One thing is for sure, anything over a few minutes is going to help me break a sweat.

If there needed to be any proof that I find jumping rope refreshing, I’ve been known to do it on an evening when I haven’t moved much during the day and sometimes after I’ve already lifted weights in the morning.

The one warning I’d give when it comes to starting a jump rope routine is to avoid too much, too soon. I’ve never been more sore than after trying to restart a jump rope habit I’ve let lapse.

photo: Alora Griffiths

Diet

My diet goal is to find something sustainable. I’m looking for a balance between keeping fit and indulging in the occasional drink or dessert. For the most part, I steer clear of any extreme diet programs because they offer only short term fixes. I’m concerned with the long-term.

I’m most likely not the target market for fad diets, anyway. I don’t need to lose excessive amounts of weight, and I’m more or less okay with the last ten pounds. In other words, it’s not my goal to “get shredded.”

Most people realize maintaining an extremely low body fat percentage is pretty unsustainable. And I believe there’s a medium that will allow me to perform activities like jogging or bouldering at optimum performance levels.

The way I’ve approached my goal is by counting calories. The Mayo Clinic states that gaining or losing weight is a matter of simple mathematics. Addition and subtraction, to be specific. If you decrease the amount of food you eat, then you’ll lose weight.

The most important thing I’ve done may be limiting how often I weigh myself. Weightlifting probably skews what I’m seeing, so there’s not much point. The fact that my pants fit well is a much better indicator of how I’m doing. I’m also confident that the regimen I’ve designed guarantees I’ll lose weight slowly over time and/ or stay at a consistent weight.

With a little discipline and intentionality, I’ve seen my appetite begin to regulate itself, and I found that I’ve even started to think about food less often. For the most part, the temptation to snack has been muted.

My diet isn’t extreme. It’s a practice in minimizing calories. A pursuit that has been greatly aided by keeping a food journal and using an app to count the calories I consume.

photo: AbsolutVision

Weightlifting

Building muscle takes time. But the physique can be transformed through sweat and consistency. Of course, it also requires real dedication (and often a team of people) to obtain model-like aesthetics or the level of fitness achieved by professional athletes.

When faced with impossible standards, it’s important to remember that perfection isn’t necessarily the goal. Exercise can be performed with the desired outcome of increasing health and vitality. How that end is pursued is up to the individual, but I prefer weights over cardiovascular exercises like running or biking. I also believe regular lifting is superior to a cardio-only routine.

Resistance training has shifted weight from my midsection to my arms, my back, and my chest. It’s also led to less back pain when I roll out of bed in the morning, which was a chronic problem before starting my training. Furthermore, strengthening my legs and core has made the little bit of running that I do that much easier.

As far as specific exercises are concerned, dumbells are a part of my routine, but the majority of my workout involves bodyweight. I do several sets of each of the following:

  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Dips
  • Planks
  • Sit-ups

Whereas these aren’t the kind of exercises that lead to incredible gains in muscle size or bulk, it does provide tone and shape, and that’s what I value. I’m not interested in bulking up so much that muscle weight pounds my knee joints while I jog.

There’s an endless number of exercise tutorials available online, and my workout is composed of parts of many of them. As I stated, I supplement the bodyweight work with various dumbbell sets. My goal is to target areas that require more strength (e.g., shoulders and legs).

I also change the order of my exercises every six weeks or so to prevent adaptation–and/ or boredom.

photo: Cyril Saulnier