Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fantasy Fitness

I'm sitting at the San Diego airport right now, waiting to board a flight home for the first ever Turbulence Training Trainers Summit.  I leapt out of bed at 6AM this morning, threw on my clothes, and headed down to the gym at the Westin San Diego to do my first TT workout post personal inspiration from Craig Ballantyne himself.  I slowed down my Mountain Climbers, and fixed my goblet squat, (Thanks for demonstrating how to do them right Chris Lopez!)  Then it was off to breakfast with Marliene, Dr. Deb, Christina, and Kerry.  There must have been some kind of screening process that only let fit, cool, and committed trainers into the summit.  Believe me, there were times over the past three days when I couldn't help wondering if I was fit enough or experienced enough to fit in, but we all bring something unique to the party.  Speaking of party, Marliene and I had a though time tearing ourselves away from the reception Friday night.  Everyone was either funny, interesting, charming, attractive, or well informed.  Quite frankly I think everyone was a combination of all the above.  Forgive me for gushing.  I do that.  Anybody who was there now knows that first hand.

Of course the million dollar question after a seminar is, "What did you take away from the experience?"  A summit won't do you any good if if doesn't enhance your skills when it's all over.  I know it had a genuine effect on me because after breakfast I took all of my note out to the pool sat down under an umbrella, and did the assignment that Craig left us all with at the closing session.  What was the assignment?  It was a vision statement.  They're calling my flight in five minutes, but I promise I'll be back to commit my vision to blogdom, or at least the parts of it that aren't too far off the wall.  Here's one idea though.  It's time to make exercise as much fun as eating!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Curse of Too Much Cardio

Everyone has heard the phrase that "Crazy is doing the same thing and expecting a different result."  I'd like to add its opposite to the cannon of old saws, "Crazy is doing something different and expecting the same result.

Over the past month I have literally been doing masses of cardio for two very good reasons.  First, I've been choreographing my Zumba class, which means that I've had to design and perfect an hour long cardio workout consisting of a mix of fourteen different songs.  If any of my dear readers are interested in becoming licensed to teach Zumba, for each of the songs in your routine you will probably need to spend about three hours creating and perfecting each dance, unless you just want to copy the existing choreography, and where's the fun in that?  At any rate that means that one Zumba class will require at least 43 hours of cardio to create, and even more to perfect, and that doesn't even include the time you spend actually teaching class!

Second, at the end of July I took the five day Tremaine dance intensive in North Hollywood.  We are literally talking about six hours of dance each day.  If you want an idea of the intensity, take the lifts and any serious gymnastics out of a typical "So You Think You Can Dance" routine, and there you have it.

The result?  Despite three years of immersion in Turbulence Training style fitness, I have managed to turn myself back into a cardio queen.  Oops.  Sometimes knowing better doesn't mean you'll do better.  So what's wrong with being a cardio queen?  I mean, I've been burning thousands of extra calories, shouldn't that be an ideal situation?  As it turns out, no.

Can anybody guess what's been happening to my appetite?  That's right, during the dance intensive, I was going home every night starving.  What was I starving for?  Carbs, carbs, carbs, with a side of carbs. Yikes!  Then when I got home, I went right into my Zumba prep, and now when I come home in the evening after taking of teaching class, the struggle to stick with my eating plan is intense.  I also want to touch lightly on what I've observed in some women who do hours and hours of cardio alone.  I'm afraid they do often tend to be thicker in the waist and thinner in the arms and legs than the women you see in the weight room.  Let's face it, there are lots of women out there who would give just about anything to lean out their thighs, but probably not at the expense of a trim waistline.

So What's The Solution?

I certainly don't intend to complain about my situation without coming up with a plan to turn it around.  Don't worry, you can Zumba, or step, or kick box, or dance to your heart's content, but if your goal is fat loss and waist management, I would like to offer some suggestions.

1. Don't drop your resistance routine.

I won't base my recommendation on post exercise calorie burn alone, although studies do show that metabolism is increased for 36 hours after a single resistance training bout.  I will mention a study I skimmed from The Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine which demonstrated significant increases in Insulin Like Growth Factor in women over a 12 week program.  What's my point?  Well anecdotally, I have found that resistance training has a profound effect on how I feel, and how I behave.  My theory is that weight training causes hormonal changes which make me feel great and help me stick to an eating plan.  One of the reasons I became a personal trainer was to understand how and why these changes take place, and to find a way to pass these positive effects along to my clients.  Oh boy, it's becoming very clear that I will need to spend as many hours reading and assimilating research as I will practicing Zumba.  But enough about me, here's the next practical tip.

2.  Balance resistance training with movement you enjoy.

One of the major benefits of your fitness routine is that it gives you the energy and physical well being you need in order to enjoy your activities.  The plan I learned from Turbulence Training continues to serve me better than anything else I've tried.  Here's the breakdown.  3 resistance training sessions per week, with 30 minutes of physical activity you enjoy on 3 other days of the week, with one day for rest and recovery.  I have found that those three 30 minute activity sessions can certainly be increased to an hour of Zumba, yoga, pilates, biking, hiking, or anything you enjoy without waking up the Hungry Grizzly in your belly.  (More on the Hungry Grizzly in a later post.)  The enjoyment is key, so if you're having fun go for it!  The trouble starts if you begin to feel run down, anxious, and cranky- leading to unhelpful food fests.  If this is you, maybe dial back the cardio a bit, ok?

3.  Observe your own behavior, and act upon what you learn.

Pay attention to what works for you, and to how your efforts affect what you do.  Some of you may be built for endurance, and you may thrive on many hours of cardio a week.  Just think of anyone you know who loves running or swimming with a passion.  If on the other hand you find that every extra hour in the gym or in class leads to an extra 1000 calories of re-fueling, you will want to turn your attention to finding your optimal activity level.  It's funny, so many of us are trying so hard to find the time and energy to exercise at all, but either way it is balance that will take you all the way to your ultimate figure goals.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Respect For Eating

An essential element of physical transformation is an understanding of why you want to change.  On the surface the pursuit of a good figure is simply a matter of getting approval from yourself, and from a culture that believes that slender bodies are pleasant to look at, and to live in.   If you were born naturally slender, you can pass "Go", collect your $200.00, and focus on what you want to do with your life.  If you're like me on the other hand, you'll have to find a way of eating and moving that will free you to live the life you want in the body you've envisioned.

Lately, I've been considering the similarity between being naturally slender, and having talent.  As an actor, I struggled for years with the fact that, although the understanding of character, movement, and the language of the playwright came to me as naturally as breathing, the body that would make me appeal the most to producers, especially film and television producers, was always just out of reach.  During the years I spent in Los Angeles, I spent many hours rehearsing parts and studying, and I admit that I believed that acting technique, especially the technique called "The Method" was something that actors had to resort to in the absence of natural talent.  When I was feeling especially harsh, I would say that The Method had to be developed in order to get beautiful people with no talent to deliver decent performances on camera.  Bitter much?  Um, yeah.

The truth is that in life and art technique has always been required to bring out the best in what we do.  Now I realize that just as I had to learn technique in order to sing and dance better than a talented amateur, I need to have a powerful technique to deal with the impulses that urge me to eat more food than my body needs for optimum heath and appearance.  Yes, it gives me a twinge of conscience to write that I want optimum appearance, but I might as well admit it, because it is one of the foundations of the work I've been doing for the past four years.

One of the clearest, most studied, and admired teachers of the acting technique known as the method was Uta Hagen who wrote "Respect For Acting" in 1973.  It was this book that helped me to put away the scorn for  long exercises in sense memory that I had developed  in acting school, and to realize that without technique acting is just a game of chance, an exercise in self indulgence for someone who just happens to look and sound good onstage.

Just yesterday, as I made the clear choice to wait until I was seated at the dining table to take the first bite of my breakfast, the phrase, "Respect For Eating" popped into my head.  I knew in that moment that it was time to develop a strong clear technique for dealing with food and appetite in order to reach my goals, and to help my clients reach theirs.  Slenderness and satiety do not come naturally to me.  I don't have a natural talent for getting full and pushing away from the table.  So much of this blog has been focused on inspiration and intrinsic motivation, but change happens through specific action.  Or even better, many specific, positive actions linked together over time.

The Foundation of My Technique

It is time to treat food with the respect it deserves.  If I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, without negative consequences, I wouldn't have to develop techniques for managing my appetite.  Turns out that I do have to, and I take up the challenge gladly because I know I'm not alone.  What are the specific actions I will take due to my newfound respect for food?

1.  I will plan my meals and menus every day before breakfast.
2. I will only eat at the table at my chosen meal and snack times.
3. I will take time before each meal and snack to express gratitude for what I am about to eat.

There is nothing new or revolutionary in this technique.  What is brand new is my acceptance that actions like these are vital if I am to reach my goal, and if I am going to maintain the confidence to help others reach theirs.  Oh my, it sounds like I'm taking myself terribly seriously here.  No, not really, I'm just treating myself with respect.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dancing Down In Front

The two most difficult phases of a physical transformation are the start and the finish.  We can define these phases a number of ways: the first five pounds, the last half inch off of the thighs, the first dress size, or the final effortless slide and zip of the skinny jeans.  You must find the first hard push at the start that overcomes inertia, and later, maybe much later, you have to dig down deep for the last stroke or kick that  propels you to the edge of the pool, or over the finish line, or through the door of your dream job on some future Monday morning.  It's called motivation from beginning to end because movement is always implied in the kind of physical transformation I'm talking about.

The initial push of motivation often comes from a singular event: a shocking number on the scale, the next size (or two) up, a careless comment from a stranger, or a deliberate warning from a doctor.  You literally get shoved by an experience, and change begins.  So now you've been pushed, but what will pull you in to the harbor of your hopes?  You must find the thing that you are willing to change, and keep changing for.

Five Days Of Dance

From Wednesday to Sunday I attended the Tremaine Dance Intensive at Debbie Reynold's dance studio in North Hollywood.  The caliber of the choreographers was astonishing, and the dancers attending were committed, talented, and excepting a handful of us teacher/choreographers, quite young.  I would guess the average age at around 16 or 17.  If you watch So You Think You Can Dance, take out the lifts and that's the level of skill that was asked of us in the toughest classes.  At the start of every class I would say to myself, "Catherine, you're a 47 year old musical theatre dancer.  Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open, and dance in the back."  I had every intention of doing just that, but you see, I've been training, studying, eating right, and getting enough sleep for the past three years, and something amazing happened.  I kept finding myself down in front.  Did I get every step, leap, fall, and extension?  No, but you can go a long way on style and experience, especially when they are joined by genuine fitness.

In The End, It Has Very Little To Do With The Way You Look.

When I started my transformation journey I really thought I was primarily after a change in appearance.  I wanted to look pretty, to be accepted, approved of and admired for being the right size and having a good figure.  That's what I thought.  On Saturday, our Funk choreographer Tony Belissimo asked a group of us why we weren't auditioning for the company, I quietly said, "I'm 47."  He looked me in the eye, in shock and said, "You're beautiful.  I thought you were 20."  I felt like I'd been hit over the head by a ton of joy.  Now, let's be honest, I don't look 20, but because of the way I move, I can make people think I'm very young.  These weeks, months, and years of continuing improvement have been fueled by by a bone deep desire to dance and never stop.

So now, it doesn't really matter what the scale says, or what size I wear.  If I choose to, I can dance down front without getting lost, or in the way, or seeming out of place.  For so long I was trying to belong based upon how I looked.  What I learned last week is that you take your place among a group of people based upon what you do.  

To guarantee that you will keep moving toward your goal and never stop you simply must have a reason behind the reason that you want to transform.  The way you look will simply never be enough, partly because, let's face it, the Western ideal of physical beauty has been moved beyond the reach of mere mortals by surgery and photoshop.  We all have to figure out what we want to be fit for.  What do you want to do with your wonderful healthy body?  Do you want to run, jump, dance, play, lift really heavy stuff, feel free and whole and graceful, travel the world and be able to walk everywhere, scale mountains, or dive down into mysterious waters?  There's nothing wrong with hanging out in the back of your Zumba class, but maybe with practice and persistence, you will find yourself dancing down in front too.