Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Round Out Your Workouts

I have been relatively active most of my life.  When I was young, I played on basketball and softball teams, swam, biked, was a cheerleader, and did track and field.  When I got a little older, most of my exercise was transformed into workouts, which is where most of my activity comes from today.  

However, I’ve come to realize that just because I workout almost everyday, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m ‘fit’.  Why do I say this?  Well, after years of running and working out at the gym, it took me months to acclimate into Bikram yoga.  Then, after five years of yoga (which was never easy, by the way), my first few times back at the gym were tough.  Yes, despite the balancing and stretching, and strength work in a very hot room that had my heart beating hard, ten minutes on an elliptical machine had me completely out of breath.   And strength training wasn’t any easier. 

Two months later, I’m fine with thirty minutes of cardio and I can feel myself getting stronger when lifting weights.  However, I was surprised yesterday morning when I went for a walk with my daughter and her dog by a nearby river and after climbing a steep but fairly short, hill, I was completely winded and my heart was pounding.  And our walk through the snowy woods turned out to be more of a workout on my legs than I anticipated.   

I am now convinced that to true physical fitness, like a healthy diet, requires variety for a number of reasons:

It works different groups of muscles

Every time I try a new form of exercise, I wind up with sore muscles, which says to me that I’ve worked some muscles that haven’t been pushed in a while.  This is one reason I actually enjoy having sore muscles - I know I’ve worked hard.  This is also why I take advantage of any unconventional forms of exercise that I can, like climbing stairs, chopping and grating vegetables in the kitchen, or washing the car because the diverse my activities, the more likely I'll hit all of my muscles.  And since we burn more calories at rest when we regularly work our muscles, the more muscles we strengthen, the better able we are to manage our weight.  It all adds up; therefore, I suggest taking advantage of any opportunity to 'workout'.

It works muscles differently

For the most obvious example here, I’ll compare yesterday’s walk with the elliptical machine.  On the machine, I carry out the same motions over and over again for thirty minutes, which means the muscles that I am working are repeatedly moved in the same directions.   During yesterday’s walk, I had to constantly adjust my step to avoid rocks or avoid slipping while climbing the hill, or use a variety of step sizes across different slopes.  All of this had my muscles ‘confused’ and likely working in ways that they weren’t used to.  I was actually tired after a forty-five minute walk!  Although, my guess is that the wonderful, clear, fresh, cool air had something to do with it too.

It prevents boredom

Like with anything else, once the novelty wears off, it’s easy to get bored and as a result, lazy with something.  I compare it to driving the same route to work or home everyday.  You know what to anticipate and may not give the ride as much attention as you would if you were driving to someplace new for the first time. 

This was true for yoga class and I’ve already allowed myself to get into a rut at the gym, so to avoid this, I’ve decided to mix it up a bit.  My last few times there, I’ve tried some new exercises with free weights and some machines that I hadn’t tried since joining, like the rowing machine.   A variety of yoga classes and more activity outdoors, like hiking and riding my bike more are additional ways to keep my workouts fresh, interesting, and fun.  And all of this will ensure that I don’t neglect any part of my body in my quest to keep it strong and healthy. 

Image courtesy of Master isolated    

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