Oh Endorphins, How I’ve Missed You

So the last time I wrote I told you that I would talk about my liver surgery; I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but essentially I had a non-cancerous (but uber dangerous) tumor, known as a hepatic adenoma removed from my liver on November 6th.  The tumor itself was about 5cm x 5cm and I’ve been told that it was caused by taking the birth control pill.  Scary, right?  Moral of the story: think very carefully before putting chemicals in your body that alter your hormones – chaos may ensue.  No seriously, I really do think hormonal birth control has provided huge benefits to women the world over in the last few decades, but altering the normal cycles of your body is scary shit…won’t be doing that again!

Anyway, the surgery was a success, but the recovery part kinda sucked.  I was in the hospital for a week and unable to do much of anything for quite a while after that.  Despite the fact that my surgical team removed such a large chunk from my liver, the liver itself was fully regenerated in 2 or 3 weeks.  Crazy stat, I know.  So it wasn’t the liver that caused trouble, it was the incision.  My incision is pretty big – it runs from just below my sternum to just above my belly button, and then over to the right about 5 inches.  Basically, they cut through my abs in two directions.  It’s healed up really nicely and I’ve been using Mepiform self-adhesive bandages to reduce the scaring, but it’s still REALLY obvious.  Maybe I’ll post a pic someday when my belly is back to looking sexy enough that I’m comfortable sharing it on the internet.  For now? Not so much.

endorphinsAnd there lies the rub.  For a month after my surgery I wasn’t allowed to do ANYTHING – no yoga, no circuits, no running – it was awful.  I’ve been able to do some things for the past 4 weeks, but I’ve had to take it really easy.  Yup, definitely got a little softer in places than I like to be.  I know I can get back to smaller pants, defined arms, and a flat tummy with some healthy eating and hard work, but it really sucks to realize how much strength I’ve lost.  On top of that, if you read my last post, you will know that this has been a pretty dark time in my life.  It’s incredibly tough to go through that much suckiness and not be able to use the one outlet that actually makes me feel better every single time.  Exercise = endorphins, and endorphins rule…so not being able to experience them made me want to rip my face off.  I found myself being sad, and a little bit crazy – A LOT, and the one source of achieving an endorphin rush that I was able to access wasn’t exactly healthy, or even very regular for that matter.  I’ll leave that one alone for now, but I will say that I’m pretty pumped to be able to access endorphins through exercise, and as a result get back to the happy Chrissy I much prefer to be.

So onward and upward from here, right?  Yesterday – January 1st – was exactly 8 weeks post-op for me, and therefore the date where I’m allowed to start working myself back up to full workouts again.  I’ll be honest, I got a little drunk for New Year’s Eve, so didn’t exactly get up at 6am to fit in a workout yesterday, but that’s just fine.  Today is a new day, right?  Operation get happy and feel sexy starts right now.

One Hour Outdoor Track Circuit Workout

Good Morning dear readers!

I’ve been under the weather with a sinus infection (my 4th in the last 5 months – what is up with that?!) since the wee hours of the morn on Monday, and my antibiotics have finally started to kick in, so I’m in a pretty good mood this lovely summer morning.  Oh, and it is officially summer now too, since the solstice was yesterday!  I’m loving the long days (even though I was cooped up inside for the last few), and it makes me a little sad that they will start to shorten now.  Oh well…I’ll take advantage of the sunlight while I can!

I took the workout outside with my sunrise sweat class this morning.  I teach my fitness classes in the high school where I also teach kids, and we usually use one of the gyms, but it’s final exam time, so the gym is full of desks.  I didn’t really know how the outdoor workout was going to go, since even though it’s summer it can be a little chilly at 6am…but it was actually pretty perfect – I’m glad we’ve been displaced from our regular indoor location!

This is the workout I lead this morning – a simple One Hour Track Circuit:

I took out some mini pylons that I got at Fitness Depot.  I spaced out 16 of the pylons around the track as we did a brisk walk to warm up; they were about 25m apart, but I didn’t actually measure (I only know that now because I just divided 400m x 16 and got 25 on my calculator!).

After the quick warm up, we got right down to business with some walking lunges to the first pylon.  At the pylon we did 10 jumping jacks, and then carried on with that pattern until we got half way around the track – 8 pylons in.  At that point, we switched to a side shuffle, followed by 10 squats at each pylon.  Because it’s important to keep balance in the body, we switched our lead leg for the side shuffles at each pylon, so that we did 4 with the left and 4 with the right leg leading.  That brought us back to our starting point, where we had placed our mats on the ground.

We brought in some ab work here with what I call “Star Abs:”  lying on your back, spread arms and legs out wide as though you are making a snow angel – your body looks kind of like a star, and maybe you feel like one too*!  From there, gather your hands and feet in toward the centre of your body, like the star is puckering up, and then spread them back out to the original star position.  We did 10 reps.  This was followed by 10 pushups (either from knees or from toes) for a bit of arm and chest work.  Because “Three is the Magic Number” (Oh, Shannon Hoon how I miss you…LOVE Blind Melon!), we did 3 sets of the Star Abs/Push ups combo.

From there, we got back up and headed around the track again…this time doing running leaps.  If you’re not sure what those are, picture leaping forward from one foot to the next as though you’re trying to jump over a big puddle while exaggerating the swing of your arms.  At each pylon we did 10 butt kicks, until we got to the halfway point.  Then we switched to backwards jogging between pylons with 10 high knees at each stopping point.

This brought us back to the start, where we did some more abs:

1. Reverse Crunch: Cross your ankles and raise your legs upward. Place your hands palms down, and engage your core muscles. Use your abs to lift your legs straight up until your hips lift off the ground. Lower back down and repeat 10x.

2. Bicycle Crunches: with your elbows bent and finger tips at your ears, and legs lifted and bent at a 90 degree angle, gather your right elbow and your left knee together as you extend your right leg outward. With a slow, controlled movement, change your legs and gather your left elbow and right knee together as your left leg extends. Repeat 10x.

3. Vertical Crunch: With ankles crossed and legs straight up in the air, engage your abs and crunch upwards until your shoulder blades lift off the ground. Lower back down and repeat 10x.
Thanks About.com for the photos!

Again, three is the magic number, so we repeated this ab set (10x Reverse Crunch – 10x Bicycle Crunch – 10 x Vertical Crunch) three times.

We stayed at our starting point for the next set:  10x Mountain Climbers and 10x Sumo Squat Jumps (there is a great video for Sumo Squat Jumps here; however, I usually bring my hands lower to the ground – like a Sumo wrestler – and then clap my hands overhead with the jump).  We repeated this 10x Mountain Climber/10x Sumo Squat Jump combo three times.

Our last set was a bit more cardio:  we ran from pylon 1 to pylon 2, then walked to pylon 3, repeating that sequence twice around the track.  If you’re trying this sequence using pylons, remeber to pick them up on your last trip around the track!

We finished up with a cool down of walking to about the 1/4 mark of the track, and then turning around to come back to our starting point.  We did various arm stretches as we did this cool down walk, and then returned to our mats for some leg stretches.  All in all it was a fabulous workout…crisp, fresh air and lovely morning sun on our backs.  Even though I’m still feeling pretty weak and foggy from the sinus infection, it was clearing and centering to get things moving in my body again after 3 days of illness induced lounging.  Do you find that a work out is good when you’re sick?

*I picture Molly Shannon in the 90’s SNL film Superstar, but don’t get nervous and put your fingers in your arm pits then smell them…you’ve been working out, remember?  You’re probably a little sweaty!

Stability Ball Workout

*Apparently I accidentally posted this earlier when I first started writing the post – whoops!  Sorry, dear readers…

Despite having another busy week, I was able to fit in quite a few workouts:

Monday – 5k run with the dogs
Tuesday – Sunrise Sweat early am fitness class
– evening 5 k run/walk with the dogs
Wednesday – Mix It Up Circuit class
– 3 k run with dogs
Thursday – Sunrise Sweat early am fitness class
Friday – day off
Saturday – 3 k run with dogs
Sunday – 5 k run with dogs, followed by a brief pack walk with the other Dog Park volunteers to see the park space
– I haven’t done it yet, but I’m planning a yoga practice this evening (which I desperately need, since I haven’t practiced since Teacher Training last weekend!)

That’s 9 workouts in 7 days – not bad for someone who works around 55-60 hours per week!

As the title of this post suggests, I thought I would tell you about some of the moves I do on one of my favourite pieces of equipment – the Stability Ball (a.k.a. Swiss Ball or Balance Ball).  I used these moves for one of my class workouts this past week; we workedhardusing only stability balls…so it’s a workout many of you could do at home.

Back Extension – thanks Oprah for the photo!

Back Extension:  Place your hips and abs on the ball, and plant your feet firmly (about hip width apart).  Contract your belly button toward your spine, raise your hands in front of your forehead, and use your core to lift your upper body toward the ceiling.

This is a very small, controlled movement; you are only aiming to lift your torso a couple of inches off the ball, but because you are working to keep your balance while lifting your upper body off of the ball, it is avery effective move.  This exercise targets yourentire core, including both your upper and lower back muscles.  Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
To make this move harder, lengthen your arms until they are straight, or add a small weight in each hand.

Step 1

Stability Ball Lunge:  Begin with one foot behind you on the ball, and the other foot planted, pointing forward – far enough ahead that when you lunge into the front leg your knee DOES NOT come forward of your ankle.  I sometimes find it difficult to get into the correct position; some people like to hop the front foot forward, but it’s helpful for me to place both hands on the ground, plant the front foot between my hands, and then reach back with the back foot to place it on the ball.

Step 2

Keep your torso upright, and keep your arms outstretched for balance, or place your hands on your hips.  To complete the move, lunge forward into the front leg (remember to keep the knee above the ankle!), and allow the ball to roll backward behind you. Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps (on each leg).  If you have difficulty getting into position for this move, try using a bench or chair instead of the ball – those stability balls can be a real pain in the butt!  Once you’ve mastered the move and feel more confident with your balance, try again using the ball.

Hamstring Curl

Hamstring Curls:  Lay on your back, hands beside your hips with palms down.  Place your heels on the ball, engage your belly button toward your spine, and lift your hips up toward the ceiling.  Use your legs to pull the ball toward your butt, and then push it back to the starting position.  That’s one rep.Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps, or challenge yourself to do as many as you can in 60-90 seconds.

If at any point you need to take a breather, you can drop your butt to the ground when your legs are extended all the way out, but you will get more out of the move if you can keep your hips raised the entire time.

During our workout Thursday, we did many other moves besides these three, but I’ve still got a pile of marking to finish for school tomorrow and a yoga practice to fit in, so three is all you get for today.  I hope your Sunday has been lovely, and your upcoming week is lovely too – happy sweating!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting (less) Serious with Myself

I’ve posted in the past about how busy my life gets, and in light of the medical problems I’ve been experiencing over the last 8 months, I’m just not sure that it’s worth it anymore to run myself ragged.  My husband and I have some big decisions to make in the next few months, but no matter what we decide, one thing is very clear:  I need to take better care of myself.  That includes exercising and eating well – which I’ve already been doing for quite some time – but it also includes making more time for me so that my head does not explode in some crazy mental breakdown.  This is a distinct possibility if I don’t make some serious changes very soon.

REALLY? This isn't what comes to mind when I think of exercising with my dog - if I tried this with Jax I would definitely fall over.

Though I always manage to fit in some form of exercise, some weeks I don’t get to sweat nearly as much as I would like.  So in order to combat that, this week I indulged scheduled in some “me” time for running with my pups when I should have been doing school work.  I am working very hard to retrain myself, including making changes to my vocabulary.  The word should is a giant load of shit – there is absolutely nothing I should do except be true to myself, and that simply doesn’t include drowning myself under a giant pile of prep work and marking – so I’m going to attempt to eliminate the should.  I also plan to stop viewing the time I schedule in for exercise as an indulgence, because it isn’t one.  Exercise is a necessity and I have every right to value my own health at least as much as I value doing my job well.One way that I plan to take better care of myself is to stop trying to be perfect at school.  Perfection is unattainable, especially in a career where more things are added to the To Do list than are ticked off of it each day.  I am not exaggerating about this in the slightest – if you don’t believe me, go befriend a high school English teacher.  In order to actually meet her, you will likely have to lurk outside her vehicle in the school parking lot from 7 to 9pm, as she isn’t likely to be spending much time anywhere else…but I digress.  The point here is that the ridiculous expectations of my career are not going to change (at least not for the better – we’ve already been told that staff cuts are coming next year and class sizes will only get larger).  Since the expectations aren’t going to change, I will have to focus on the things that I can control.  Maybe I have to mark less assignments, or have kids do more peer editing.  Maybe I have to just go home, even if tomorrow’s lesson isn’t fully planned.  Maybe I have to ask for an altered teaching assignment so that I’m not teaching every single English class in the high school.  Maybe I have to accept that I just can’t do everything, and that is okay.  This will be extremely hard for me, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Vacuuming DOES NOT make me this happy

As part of this “taking care of me” business, I made a snap decision this week that literally filled me with joy.  I decided to hire a cleaning lady.  I am sure that there are going to be people who judge me for that, but I just don’t give a rat’s ass.  Between prepping, teaching and marking, I work around 55+ hours per week; I also teach two fitness classes (soon to be three), run with my dogs as often as possible, fit in a yoga practice whenever I can, and take care of all the regular things involved in running a household, like paying bills, doing laundry and keeping the house clean.  On top of all that, I’ve been doing Yoga Teacher Training every few weekends, and making room for a bunch of crappy medical appointments (which means making sub plans!), so something’s gotta give.  That something is cleaning the toilet.  Oh, and vacuuming.  I can do without the vacuuming.

This is how I actually feel about vacuuming

The cleaning lady starts just after we get back from our Jamaican holiday.  I am beyond ecstatic about this…probably much more excited than a person should get about housework.  I deserve this.  It is time to get serious, and stop taking myself so seriously.

Bruisy McExercise Tube

So I tried some new equipment with my Sunrise Sweat class earlier this week, and it was an eventful enough session that I thought I should write about it.  We used resistance tubing for some partner exercises, and in theory, it was an excellent class.  There were a few issues, but I’ll get to those later.

After our warm up, we got down to work with the exercise tubes.  1. Lat Pulls – To start, the partners stood a few feet apart, facing each other with the tube folded in half between them.  Partner A held the tube in the centre fold at chest height, while Partner B held both handles and did lat pulls by drawing elbows straight back and squeezing shoulder blades together.  Completed 12 reps and switched partner roles. 

2. Chest Fly – Partner A held tube in same manner as previous move, while Partner B turned around to face away from Partner A.  Partner B held handles at shoulder height out to the side, and drew hands toward each other in front of chest.  Completed 12 reps and switched partner roles.

3. Horse Race – Partner A placed resistance tube around hips, while Partner B stood behind her and held onto both handles.  Partner B crouched into a squat and pulled backward on the handles to provide resistance, while Partner A ran to the opposite end of the gym, pulling Partner B forward.  Switched partner roles and returned to opposite end of gym.

4. Bicep Curls and Lunges – Partner A stepped on centre of tube with instep of front foot and lowered into a static lunge.  Partner B stood with feet hip width apart, engaged core, and pulled both handles from waist height up to shoulders in a standard bicep curl.  Partner B completed 12 reps, Partner A switched feet, and then Partner B completed another 12 reps.  Switched partner roles.

5. Tricep Kickbacks – Partner A engaged core and held centre of tube high above head while Partner B held handles at waist height with elbows pinned at sides.  Partner B lowered handles to thighs (palms facing downward), while keeping elbows pinned in.  Completed 12 reps, then switched partner roles.

6. Repeat the Horse Race

7. External Shoulder Rotation – Partners faced the same direction, and each held a handle in outer hand while standing a few feet apart (far enough to keep the tube from being slack, but not stretched).  Keeping elbows of outer arms pinned to their sides, partners simultaneously rotated their shoulders outward by moving their hands away from each other. Completed 12 reps and turned around to switch arms.

8. Upper Body Rotation – In the same original position as previous move, partners each held a handle in both hands.  Simultaneously, both partners stepped forward with outside leg into a lunge.  While in lunge position, both partners rotated upper body at the hips, and pulled tube handles away from each other.  Completed 12 reps and turned around to switch sides.

9. Repeat the Horse Race

We repeated the entire sequence one more time, but eliminated the horse race – not because I wanted to, but because it was necessary for safety.  The third time we did the horse race, two of the tubes broke – one of them so severely, that it actually came back and whipped one of the participants in the butt.  She’s a trooper, but I’m pretty confident that she’ll have a bruise (good thing my participants sign waivers!).

I have done all of these moves before in other fitness classes, and never had any problems whatsoever, so I was not even a little bit concerned that the tubes would break.  The tubes we used were brand new, and very recently purchased from a reputable fitness equipment distributor, so I was confident they would hold up to all of the moves I had planned.  I guess not.  I WILL be taking them back, and finding new tubes that are of higher quality.

Tabata:  After we did the tubing moves twice through, we moved on to the cardio portion of our workout, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) known as Tabata.  If you aren’t already familiar with Tabata workouts, you should give it a try; Tabata is AWESOME!  This is how it works:  you do 20 seconds of a move (say skipping rope, or burpees, for example) as hard as you can, recover for 10 seconds, then repeat 7 more times for a total of 8 sets in 4 minutes.  Tabata gets your heart rate up fast and torches calories in a short amount of time.  I like to do 5 different moves for an intense 20 minutes of calorie burning.

The first time I did Tabatas with my Sunrise Sweat class, however, it became quickly apparent that 8 sets were a bit too much for my participants.  After the first two sets, a couple of my participants told me outright that they couldn’t do 8 sets of Tabata Mountain Climbers; so we stopped at 4 sets.  We will work our way up to 8 sets eventually, but I want to make sure the workouts are accessible for ALL of my ladies, so 4 sets are good for now.

This week we did 4 sets each of 20 second work/10 second rest of five moves:  Burpees, Jumping Rope, Squats with Overhead Press, Butt Kicks and High Knees.  Even though I reduced the number of sets to keep the Tabatas accessible for my participants, we had a little more equipment injury in this section too; one of my ladies somehow managed to whip herself a couple of times in the arm with her skipping rope.  I advised her on a way to adjust the rope, and she was fine for the rest of the sequence.  We work together, and she showed me her arm later that morning – still sporting a few red welts – poor girl!

Overall, it was an effective workout, even though we did have a few minor injuries.  In the future, I will use a different, stronger type of resistance tube, and maybe test them out myself before using them with participants.  Please don’t let my negative experience with the tubes deter you from trying them out, though; resistance tubes really can be a very effective piece of equipment, both on your own and with a partner.  Just make sure to choose a high quality tube that is the right tension for your ability…happy sweating!

Glimmers in the Grey

Today sucked – I mean really, REALLY sucked.  My husband goes back to work out-of-town tomorrow, and he had a course there today, so he left last night; I didn’t sleep well, so I was quite exhausted all day.  I also had a doctor’s appointment in the city this morning, and received some pretty gloomy news, which was even more depressing given that I received it all alone.  I don’t want to worry anyone – I am fine, or at least I will be fine – and compared to what many people have to deal with, my medical issues are really insignificant.  It still sucked to get bad news which put a damper on everything we were hoping and planning for, though…and then my negativity started to seep in to other, much more mundane facets of my life.  My salad, for example, irritated me intensely this evening.  Yup, my salad.  You see, Rob made a big bowl of fresh, green salad this weekend, which I was planning to eat tonight, tomorrow, and possibly even Wednesday if there was any left.  When I went to dish some up with my salmon tonight, though, it was soggy, slimy, and turning brown.  I think it’s because there were chopped up bits of tomato in the salad bowl, and their acidity did a number on everything else.  Blech.  Tossed the whole slimy bowl in the garbage – such a waste!  Not something that would normally irritate me so much, though.

Oh well – I still had delicious salmon with carrots and Brussel sprouts, which was enough to fill me up.  Then I had a great telephone conversation with Rob, who is quite sad that he couldn’t come to my appointment with me today.  It’s really not a big deal that he didn’t get to come with me, and I fully support him going for the course he had to take for work.  I really do appreciate his sensitivity about the whole thing, though, and I love him so much more for sincerely regretting that he wasn’t there.  I am blessed with a wonderful husband who loves me and helps me to appreciate the positive.

I also went for a much-needed run to clear my head.  The air was pretty crisp tonight, but I dressed warmly, and the cold helped to keep me focused.  The dogs ran really well, too, and I’m looking forward to snuggling up with them very soon.  They love me even when I’m sad and grumpy, and that reminds me that everything will turn out to be lovely in the end…even if there are a whole bunch of road blocks along the way.

A Little Medicine (Ball) For What Ails You

This morning was class number one of my new “Sunrise Sweat” session, and I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all.  Well, good time might be pushing it a little bit, since I did overhear a few muttered curse words, but I know the ladies worked hard, I saw some sweating, and there was definitely some laughter…so overall I would call it a success.

After a brief warm up, we did ladder sets of a group of moves.  What that means is that we did one sit up, one push up, one reach jump, one right (then left) jab, and one squat, followed by two sit ups, two push ups, two reach jumps, two right/left jabs, and two squats…all the way up to ten reps of each move.  Then we “climbed the ladder” back down from nine, to eight, to seven on down to one of each move again.  I really like ladder sets; if you do them quickly, it’s a good way to sneak some cardio into your strength moves.  The nice thing about these particular moves is that you don’t even need any equipment – if you’re not in a class like mine, you could do this workout in your living room or back yard.

In fact, the only piece of equipment I incorporated today was a soft medicine ball for some partner work.  Most of the moves I used today were ones I have done in the past in other classes, but I found a couple of new ones on ideafit.com.  To start, I had my participants balance on one leg about 5 feet away from a partner and chest pass a medicine ball between them, then switch legs after 30 seconds.  Adding the instability forced the ladies to engage their core muscles in order to maintain their balance.  We also used a kneeling partner twist, which required a direction change half way through (after 30 seconds). Then we did partner tosses:  Partner A lay flat on her back while Partner B stood at Partner A’s head.  Partner A tossed the ball up to Partner B, who let it drop back down for Partner A to catch.  This is where the laughter came into play, and it was nice to see the ladies having a bit of fun with each other at 6:30 am.  They were a bit nervous to be dropping the balls near each others’ heads, but I told them to keep the drop over their chests (instead of their faces), and everyone did just fine.

We kept on with the medicine ball work and the partners did some side shuffles tossing the ball between them, and then moved to sit ups with feet braced against each other while passing the ball at the top of the move.  The final medicine ball exercise we did was one minute of squats with an overhead press throw at the standing portion of the move.  Aside from the timed moves, all exercises were for a 12 rep duration.

We finished up the morning with a cool down and stretch, and everyone was merrily on their way with the day off to a nice, sweaty start!