My mom made a comment to me this morning that had me reaching for my laptop, words piecing themselves together in my brain.
She said her upcoming class reunion is that extra boost of motivation in her fitness goals.
I smiled. Partly because she’s excited about her class reunion, but mostly because she’s a woman who wants to look her best. And that’s something I can totally relate to.
I started “working out” in 9th grade with aerobics. I’d slide my cassette into my silver tape recorder and push play. Then spend the next 25 minutes splashing sweat onto the tile in the space between my sister’s bed and mine. I had a great fitness plan back then. I’d finish my home-schooling hours, forego supper in order to spend the time burning calories, then shower, relax, and help myself to a generous portion of the leftover hot-fudge pudding cake in the fridge. I was 15 with a metabolism working at 100 percent, but so grateful for my customized fitness plan that kept the scale hovering around the preferred three digits and my high-waisted skinny jeans zipped up comfortably.
In the years following, I became an expert at Callanetics, dabbled in running, visited a couple gyms, shaved off those stubborn baby pounds with dr. Atkins, logged calories into LoseIt, and grew to dread my morning weigh-in.
I finally packed the scale away altogether.
Those three digits first thing in the morning had the power to turn a beautiful day ugly. And, really, what did it matter whether I had gained a pound last night or not? My weight as a woman can fluctuate five to ten pounds over a month. Periods, chocolate cake, late night plates of cheese-n-crackers with my glass of sweet red all contribute to a finicky scale. My stylist mentioned she had gained seven pounds last week. Oh no, I said. That’s okay, she replied, I just think it gives me extra curves. (she does have awesome curves!) But what a fabulous attitude!
but I digress.
What I wanted to talk about with you are my fitness tips. This is my tried (and true) approach to getting fit at 40. Or 42. Or whatever number you’re telling your friends. Ready? Here we go….
# 1: Throw away the scale.
# 2: Pick five strength exercises that you can do in the space between your bed and the closet. I’ve included my faves below.
# 3: Print out a calendar and, starting today, write in Cardio/Strength. Tomorrow’s date write Rest. Next day’s date write in Cardio/Strength, next day Rest, and so on, alternating days so that every other day says Rest.
# 4: Change into something loose and comfortable that’s already in your closet and go log your 45 minutes of cardio. Then come back for a drink of water and start your five strength exercises. When you finish, cross off today, then go pour yourself some chocolate milk for your recovery drink. Go ahead, drink it. You’ve totally earned those gorgeous calories!
# 5: Tomorrow is Rest Day, so use the time to catch up on your Netflix shows, or read a book, or something. Do not once allow yourself to feel guilty about not working out on Rest Day. Your muscles need those hours for rebuilding and repairing. Rest Days are super important to the process.
So there you have it: my proven path towards a stronger body.
I know you’re thinking this sounds way too easy. Trust me, it’s not easy. But it’s do-able, and it works. The thing that makes this different is the long-term nature of it. It’s no 30-day crunch challenge or 6-week race training plan. This plan is for the long haul. The path to being a stronger you. The way to go from clutching the handrail and dragging yourself up the stairs to stepping to the top with barely a huff or a puff.
Cardio: anything that makes you breathe a bit harder and sweat a bit more. Pick something you enjoy. Walking. Running. Bicycling. Swimming. Raking leaves. Kayaking. Shoveling snow. Anything that you can do fairly steadily for about 45 minutes.
My five favorites:
pushups — 2. Maybe start with “wall pushups” if the thought of kissing the carpet terrifies you. Stand arm’s length away from a wall and place your hands a bit wider than shoulder distance apart, spread your feet about shoulder distance apart and scoot your heels back just a bit. Now slowly lower your face towards the wall, using the muscles in your arms and shoulders, then push away from the wall till your arms are straight again. Do 5 of these kind.
planks — 10 seconds. (You’re going to want to strangle me on this one!) Get down on the floor as if you’re prepping for a full-body pushup. Place your bent forearms on a folded towel for padding and clasp your hands together. Step your feet back, just under shoulder distance apart, and support yourself on your toes (not the tips, but you know what I mean). Engage your stomach muscles and lower your butt until your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Think about pulling your belly button towards your spine. Then count to 10. Gently collapse your body onto the floor and give a groan of relief.
short bridge — 12. Lie down on your back (yay!!), knees bent, feet flat on floor, arms at your sides. Squeeze the butt muscles and slowly lift your hips to form a straight line between shoulders and knees. Hold for a 3-count, then slowly lower your hips back to the floor. Do 12.
wall sits — 10 seconds. Carefully get into the position of forming a chair against the wall with your body. Knees and feet are about hip distance apart, back pushed against the wall, hands firmly on your thighs for support. (It's okay if the chair seat looks a bit sloped at this point.) Count 10 seconds. Or a bit longer if you can. Maybe just until your legs start to shake uncontrollably. Be careful about coming out of the position. I usually place my hands back on the wall to push myself away from it and stand up.
chair dips — 8. Pick a sturdy chair, or bench, or chest that is wide enough for you to place your hands on it to the sides of your hips, gripping the seat. Slide your body forward to the edge, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Spread your knees and feet a bit so they’re comfortable, then gripping the chair firmly, slide your butt off the edge and lower your hips about 10 inches. Lift back up to chair height, then dip your hips again. Do 8 of these (or five is good, too.).
**this is the starting point. When these feel easy, add a second rep, or increase the number. It’s a good idea to write the numbers into your calendar, so you’ll be able to track the progression.
**if you don’t like the exercise, just replace it with something that feels better or is more fun.
**if you miss doing the cardio/strength that day (hey, it happens), just cross off the day. And tomorrow is Rest Day. Do not, DO NOT, try to make it up. Cross the day off, it’s over, move on.
**don’t go all gung-ho on me now. The first workout will tempt you to imagine your sunglowed bikini body reclining gloriously in your brand-new lounge chair within just Three Short Weeks. But set aside that time frame. Do the workout today, take the Rest day tomorrow. Trust the process. You will get stronger. You may be lounging your glorious bikini body in three weeks and if so, then absolutely enjoy it! But in three months, that glorious body will be stronger, will be able to pour iced tea without supporting the pitcher with the other hand. Slow and steady, my dear.
**don't worry about a special eating plan at this point. Pick two foods you can live without and stop eating them. (I picked fries and donuts.) Then just eat normally. And stick with your fitness plan. As you feel stronger, you'll start eating healthier (...healthily? ...more healthy? -oh, whatever).
**i do these exercises behind closed doors. The privacy allows me to focus on what my body is doing, not what I look like.
**and, yes, I pour my glass of chocolate milk post workout, and enjoy every single sweet calorie!