Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Go For Gold, Underdogs.

Hey all, Woof here - I know, I've been M.I.A. for quite a while now.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about something I've been doing recently; something which many people strive to do, especially once summer starts. In fact, they make this their New Years Resolution :: Losing Weight.

Before I begin, let me establish at least a little credibility; I'm Woof. I'm a junior in College, and for the past six years, I've been overweight. Until recently, I weighed roughly 220 lbs. Now, mid-July, I weigh 201. Which sorta makes me kick myself, 'cuz I'd weigh less right now if I hadn't been lazy the past two weeks ;P - Anyway, I've been training martial arts for roughly fourteen years now, and in mid-high school I basically taught myself the mechanics of Photography. Now, I've always been the kind of person who likes to figure things out on their own: The kind of person who doesn't like to work with a large group because I can do it quicker and better, the person who hears things once and remembers it for forever (and never has to study!), the person who takes ten minutes to figure out how to do something correctly, then does it on command in the future. The person who enjoys building things and drawing things, since they can just let their imagination take over. The person who will set a goal and if they're serious enough about it, will see it through. I enjoy to learn new things via trial and error; it's how I've learned photography, how I've improved in martial arts, and now, how I've figured out how to lose weight.

Now, I'm by no means claiming to be an expert on this; I mean, I'm a Sociology/Photography Major, and in no way a doctor. Lol. But, I'm still going to share what I have found works for ME. I've been told by friends and family that losing twenty pounds in one month is a big deal - and with so many other overweight, or out-of-shape people out there, why not share a little?

Warning::: Long post ahead.

Although I'm most experinced with being a part of the overwieght population, this is not only addressed at them. The things I'm about to say will help anyone from an overweight teen, to a new mom, to a stay-at-home mother, to a father who works all day, to an older grandmother. Now, first things first. . . . .

The Preparations

It's a common misconception that you NEED to join a gym in order to lose weight - this isn't true, folks, HOWEVER what I'm going to be writing about will be from gym-experience. I joined a gym in order to force myself to work out in the beginning (since I was paying for it and all), but now I actually enjoy going.

Start by setting a weight goal. Mine is to reach 185 lbs before the beginning of the school semester. Whether you want to lose 50 lbs, or 5 lbs, it doesn't matter; set one. Don't make it something like "I WANT TO DROP 10 LBS THIS WEEK!" No. 10 lbs in one month is do-able, but make it something long term so this way, it keeps you coming back to the gym over a long period of time, and eventually the trips to the gym will become a habit. So, say, "I want to drop 20 lbs in three months."

Great, so you know what you want to do. The next step is finding the right gym. There's so many choices - from the YMCA, Gold's Gym, Planet Fitness...those just came off the top of my head, but the list goes on and on. Visit each one of them, ask for a tour of the facilities, and price them out. I went with Planet Fitness. Quite honestly, they're cheap, friendly, and just as large as a gym as any of the other ones.

Now, go do some shopping. That's right, shopping. You do your laundry once a week, and you plan to work out at the gym five days a week - buy five pairs of pants. Now, if you're not used to working out in four layers of clothing (like me, thank you, karate), you'll want to look for a pair of workout shorts,
Or, if you're too uncomfortable wearing shots, a pair of workout carpi's,
Find a pair of comfortably fitting sneakers - you'll be doing a whole lot of cardio. Also, find a nice, refillable plastic or metal water bottle (your preference, you know).

Okay, you've found your gym, you've gone shopping, now what, Woof?

Go back to the gym for a day or two. However, don't start a routine. Just use these two days to explore. Arrive at the gym at different times you'd prefer to workout to get a feel of just how many people are there, and how many machines are taken. I prefer to arrive at the gym no later than 9:00 AM; the morning workout-before-work crew is gone, and it's just me, a few other students, old people, and stay-at-home mom's who finally got time to themselves. I've found that at this time, the gym really isn't crowded. It's nice. However, every area is different, so feel it out.

Play with the machines; Get on all of their cardio machines for 10-15 minutes each. Why? Well, this isn't a very long amount of time, but just long enough for you to determine whether or not the machines are right for you, not right for you, what sort of pace you'll want to be aiming for, ect.. Most gyms have three to five different cardio machines, and they each work your body in different ways. There's the ever-faithful Treadmill, it's pals the Stationary Bike and the Elliptical, and some gyms will include a Stairmaster or an Arc Trainer. Use them all; find out how they work, play around with the settings, use them at different paces. Now, a "pace" will either be in Miles Per Hour (MPH) or Strides Per Minute (SPM) depending on the machine.

Next, go to the weight lifting machines. Play with these as well; The gym I go to has a couple of machines for your arms, and twice as many for your legs. Use this time to get a feeling of what you'd like to do; what muscles you'd like to work, and what amount of weight you can lift. Now, when I say "what you can lift", I don't mean "The max amount of weight I can pull on the rowing machine is 90 lbs...I must have to do that!" No. You're wrong. Find the correct amount of weight that works your muscles, but doesn't make them so tired you can't use them on another machine. If you don't know what I'm talking about, try this; If the max amount of weight you can pull on the rowing machine is 90, row 90 lbs in sets of 10, 5 times. The next day, row 50 lbs in sets of 10, 5 times. If you're doing your max, you may not even be able to row the 90 lbs fifty times, and you'll overwork your muscles. If you start out at 50, you'll still work your muscles, but you're not going to stress them to the point where it's just not possible to do anything else.

Go back home and grab your iPod (or Zune, I don't judge). Turn on the computer and make yourself a good playlist that is about 1.5-2 hours long. Fill it with music which is preferably fast paced, has a fast beat or tempo. Me? I'm a metal head. I have it easy. ;P Find a nice set of headphones that won't fall off your head, or out of your ear (whichever style you prefer). Why? You're going to get both very bored at the gym, and very tired. Having music which you not only enjoy, but keeps a fast tempo is going to keep you focused, and keep you pushing yourself harder.

So hopefully by now you've used all of the machines, both cardio and weight machines, and have a good idea of what you like and don't like. You've bought your gear, paid for your membership, got your music set up, and you're ready to get started. Congratulations. Get a good night sleep.

Before I go any further, I want to talk to you about getting discouraged; don't do it. Like I said, I started doing this at 220 lbs. I was heavy. Well, I still am, but not as much. At first I'd walk into the gym and see the skinny women and buff guys, and a couple of other heavy weighted people who were either working their butts off, or relaxing on a stationary bike. It was scary at first. I felt like people were watching me, wondering why I was even there; if you're overweight and reading this, chances are, you'll be feeling the same. Learn to ignore them. Their opinion of you does not matter, and you have every right to be there. In short, forget about them; the people around you will be running at a faster or slower pace than you, or lifting less or more than you. Who cares? This is to focus on yourself.

Also remember that you do not lose weight quickly. Losing weight takes time. I'm apparently lucky to have lost a lot of weight in one month, but there are some people who will only lose five pounds or less per month. In fact, you may only lose one pound a week. It all depends on your body type, your weight, your lifestyle, and your age. Just because you've spent the past week at the gym for the first time and lost only 2 lbs doesn't mean you should give up. To keep yourself from getting discouraged from how much weight you're losing or not, only check your weight once or twice a week.


Well, today's the big day! Your alarm went off, it's 8:00 AM, time to grab a glass of water and get moving!

...But not yet.

First, you need to stretch. No, trust me, you do. There are several advantages to stretching, and the reason I'm telling you to is this: Stretching before you drive to the gym will loosen your muscles, will wake you up, and will give you a much better chance at preventing yourself from pulling a muscle (which isn't fun, trust me).

You've never stretched before...what in the world do you do? Where do you start? You want to aim for an all-around stretching routine; this will only take about 10 minutes, if that. Thanks to my martial arts training, I've been stretching for fourteen years and am actually very flexible for my size and weight, however, I've seen people who work out constantly who cannot even stretch as far as I can. Below I will list my routine, but if you're new to stretching, you may want to look around the Interwebs for some more ideas.

  • Stand up. Hold your arms straight out to the side. Start moving them in large circles towards the wall in front of you. Your hands should cross in front of your face in an X, and you should keep your arms straight the entire time. Do ten rotations, then switch directions. Do them slowly.
  • Widen your stance to a little more than a shoulder length apart. Keeping your back straight, begin to lean to your left side. Bring your right arm over your head, hold it there, and put your left arm behind your back. Stretch this way until you feel a strain, then hold in that position for ten seconds. Switch sides.
  • Keeping the same stance as above, bend over. Either try to put your head onto your left knee, or try to touch your left foot toes with your right hand. When you feel the strain, hold that position for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Make sure you keep your knees straight the entire time.
  • Sit down. Put your left leg straight in front of you, with your foot pointing upwards. With your right leg, bend it so that your leg is sideways, on the floor, with the flat of your right foot against the side of your left knee. From this position, keeping you left knee straightened, bend over. Try to touch your forehead to your left knee. If you can already do this, try to put your forehead on the floor. When you can't bend further, hold the position for 10 seconds. Switch sides.
  • Sitting down, do "Butterflies". Much like sitting cross-legged, but your flat of bother your feet are against each other in front of you. The object here is to push down on your knees with your elbows until your knees are touching the floor. Push down as hard as you can, hold your position for 10 seconds.
  • Get into a squatting position. Turn your feet sideways, on the same invisible (or real) line. Move your legs so that you're squatting in a position that is wider than your shoulder-width, and make sure that the amount of squatting you're doing isn't exceeding the amount of bend your knees are. Basically, you want your butt to be on an even plane with your knees and your feet pointing sideways. It's awkward, I know. Begin "rocking" back and forth - meaning, putting all of your weight on one knee, then all of your weight on the other. Go back and forth 20 times (slowly).
  • Stand up. Stand with your legs a little more than a shoulder-width apart, like in the first two mentioned. Hold your hands up like you're boxing, but bring them down to chest level. Now, keeping your lower body completely still, turn your upper body towards the right. Then the left. These are called Twists. Do it 20 times (slowly).

See? That wasn't too hard, but very basic. You can also include splits and V-Sits in there or whatever else you want. You can either do these at home or just after you arrive at the gym (before you begin to work out). You will stretch one more time - at the end of your workout (again, either at the gym or at home. Preferably at the gym, since once you've been working and  your blood has been pumping, it's actually much easier to stretch further).

THIS IS IMPORTANT. Every time you stretch, it will hurt. Your muscles won't be used to it. Every time you stretch, you should be forcing yourself to stretch juuuuuusttt a little further. Whether it's a half inch further or two inches further all depends on the tightness of your muscles. You NEED to force yourself to stretch further each time - this way, you will be gaining flexibility, and your muscles won't resign themselves to muscle memory.

Good job. Drive to the gym.

The Gym

Well, you're here. Now what?

First of all, before you even enter, there's something important: Parking. Park further away from the guy; ya know, the opposite end of the parking lot, or something. To be explained later.

Walk in. Get yourself checked in, and if they offer towels, be sure to get one. The only things you should have with you are your keys, your iPod/Zune, and a water bottle. Everything else can be hidden in your car.

As for the water bottle; don't rely too heavily on it. Drink a sip or two before you start, and maybe a sip or two after each cardio or weight lifting machine you use.

I started out at the gym doing this (in the beginning of June),
30 minutes of cardio (I used an Elliptical).
10 Minutes of weight lifting (I focused primarily on my upper body).
15 minutes of cardio (I used an Elliptical).

Now, Mid July, and after only 5 weeks of actually attending the gym, here is what I have been doing;
30 minutes of cardio (I use an Arc Trainer).
10 minutes of weight lifting (I primarily focus on my arms).
Quick leg stretching.
30 minutes of cardio (again, I use an Arc Trainer).
Quick leg stretching.
20 minutes of an easy, cardio warm-down (For this, I bike 5 miles).

If you're new to working out, that might sound like a lot. It really isn't, if you think about it.
Why only 30 minutes of cardio at a time?
In all honesty, 30-40 minutes of cardio is enough to burn calories for anyone, whether they're overweight or physically fit. Typically, more than 40 minutes straight of cardio means you're overworking yourself, which you want to avoid.
I understand the stretching, but why the Weight Lifting in-between?
I began the weight lifting just to start training my upper body. However, I found out that lifting weights in-between your Cardio sets actually burns more calories. Plus, the weight lifting and stretching gives you time to recover from the cardio.

So the first thing you're going to be doing is Cardio. Again, I use an Arc Trainer. I personally love the thing. I have never been a fan of Treadmills or Stationary Bikes. I used the Elliptical for a while, and the gym I attend doesn't have any Stairmasters, though I hear they're great for you. Go to the machine of your choosing.

Every machine has multiple settings. Don't just begin on "Manual", because then it's up to you to set your pace, and gives you the chance to just slack off. No no no. Find "Programs", then find "Interval Training". Some have both "Hill Interval" and "Interval", and if so, I opt for "Hill Interval".
Wait, wait, what's "Interval Training"?
"Interval Training" can best be described by me as this: For one minute, you work really hard. Then for one minute, you don't work as hard. And Repeat. Interval Training on stationary machines relies on the use of Resistance (how hard  you'll be working your legs to push the pedals to go faster), Incline (just that, the amount of incline you're walking/running, like a hill), or sometimes both. With the built-in program, the machine will systematically adjust itself (so you don't have to), and you can set the level of difficulty at the beginning. As an example of Interval training, this is what my current program on the Arc Trainer is: Begin at 6 Incline, 20 Resistance. After two minutes, the machine switches to an Incline of 13, and leaves the resistance at 20. Now, I'm still striving to push on the same resistance, but it's like I'm walking up a steeper hill. You should also enter your weight.

Turn your music on, and get working. If you're doing something where your speed is measured in MPH, aim for 4 MPH or higher just to start out. Throughout the 30 minutes, make sure you're keeping it above 4 MPH; Meaning if you start to go slower, you force yourself to run/pedal faster. The same goes for SPM. Keep it above 120 SPM. If you're already a nice, fit person, lucky you! Maybe, aim for 8 MPH or 150 SPM. I mean, I can't offer my expertise there..I'm not fit (yet).

The Weightlifting

Hopefully you've picked out your machines. I don't like to give myself more than 10 minutes on the weight lifting portion, but it's all up to you. I'll show you again what I started out doing, and what I'm doing now.

I started out at the gym doing this (in the beginning of June),
Rowing Machine - 25 Lbs - 5 sets of 10.
Chest Pressing Machine - 25 Lbs - 3 sets of 10.

Now, Mid July, and after only 5 weeks of actually attending the gym, here is what I have been doing;
Rowing Machine - 55 Lbs - 10 sets of 10.
Chest Pressing Machine - 45 Lbs - 5 sets of 10.
Shoulder Pressing Machine - 35 Lbs - 3 sets of 10.
Tricep Extension Machine - 25 Lbs - 2 sets of 10.

Weight lifting is simple. It's mindless. You should do sets of 10, and as many sets as you're comfortable doing. Again, don't overwork yourself. Don't lift weights like "12345678910 K done!" - Each time you lift the weights, you should breathe. Breath in while you're pulling (or pushing) the weights, and breathe out while you're moving back to the resting position. This way you ensure that you aren't lifting too quickly for your muscles to handle.

Unfortunetly I have no experience with free weights, so I have no input on that.

Keep on Goin'
Can you believe that by now, you've completed your first 40 minutes or so at the gym?! If you're new to working out, you're probably very tired. I started out only doing an hour total of cardio, so if you're not ready to do more than that, just do what you're comfortable doing.

I do have to add in something very important.
A plateau, in the world of fitness, means this: When you've reached a certain point in your training where you just won't lose more weight, or gain more muscle. That is called a plateau. I hit mine after losing a little less than 10 lbs. Here is what I advise you to do:
  • For the cardio portion, don't stick to one machine for too long (Yeah, I know. I'm still doing this myself). If you hit a plateau, change machines (This is the reason I switched from an Elliptical to Arc Trainer).
  • Remember how I said you can set the level of difficulty? Every week or two, bump it up. If you're on level one, begin level two after your first week. As you keep increasing the level of difficulty, well, it gets harder and harder. You'll be forcing your muscles to work harder, and your body to move faster. Don't stay on one level too long.
  • As for the weight-lifting, increase the weight you're lifting for each machine by 5 lbs every week. Again, this will force your muscles into working harder, and you'll build more of them.

The Aftermath
Alright, congratulations; You've finished your workout routine, and you're pretty tired.

Remember how I told you to park far away? Now is your chance to walk at a leisurely pace, drink your water, and catch your breath. Take long, deep breaths. Enjoy the sun.

Go home. Take a nice cold shower. Cold? Yeah, I know, I don't like cold either. But after how much you've sweat, and you're probably feeling hot and tired...a cold shower feels really nice.

Now, there was something I didn't address yet, and it's called Diet. Yeah, that thing? I'll be honest, I'm not really doing it. I think it's also a misconception that dieting and exercising together is the sure-fire way to lose weight. Yeah, great, it works for a month or two, then you give up and all that weight is back.

The only things that I have changed about my eating habits are...
  • Smaller Portions.
  • I only allow myself to drink a soda once a week - so, if I have a soda on Monday, I can't have one on Saturday.
  • As for junk foods - like Tasty Cakes, and doughnuts, and ice cream, and even fast food - I'm also trying to limit those to once a week, if that.
  • Drink lots of water.
And that's it. No, really. That's the only diet I'm on, which isn't much of a diet.

So you went and worked out this morning. It's 2:00 PM, and you're sitting around the house. Here's something else I want to include..
Find a Physical Hobby
Do it, it'll be good for you. Simply something like walking your dog for a mile, or taking your kids around the neighborhood while they ride their bikes. Maybe even taking them to the pool for an hour (and swimming with them). Take up a sport - it doesn't have to be on a team, just something with your friends you can play for fun, for a half hour or so. Go for a short bike ride. If you don't like the outdoors, take up a martial art. Just working out in the morning isn't enough, so doing something else physical for a half hour or more is worth your time.

So, that's pretty much it. I mean, that was pretty you lots to think about.

-Chasin' your mailman,

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