My Journey Through The Minefield of Exercise and Fitness Advice

Fitness is not my forte. I admit it. I am not particularly strong, and am especially lacking in upper-body strength. But I am working to improve. In my journey towards fitness I made many wrong turns and ran up against a few dead ends, but I can honestly say that I have found a way of moving that leaves me feeling healthy and energized, and that I am now getting stronger every day.

When I was in high school I was sedentary, slightly chubby, prone to acne (which has entirely disappeared since I have gone paleo – just wanted to throw that in), and eating the standard American diet. About the time I was midway through my undergraduate degree, and I had become much more concerned with my health and wellness, though my methods were far from ideal. I became an extremely devoted long-distance athlete, running over 70 miles per week, and eating an extremely low-fat, high-carb diet of mainly packaged, processed junk food labeled as “healthy.” I was constantly tired, and craving my next sugar hit so that I could keep my energy up throughout the day.

My husband, as I have mentioned, is a certified CrossFit trainer, and he introduced me to the world of paleo eating and CrossFit workouts. Around the time that we became engaged he took me to the gym where he was a coach and gave me an introduction to all of the movements used in CrossFit workouts, as well as the Olympic lifts. I continued doing CrossFit style workouts throughout our engagement. I gave up the long-distance running, and I began to feel so much better – healthier and more energized, without any mid-day slumps and desperate cravings for carbohydrates. And I started to gain a little bit of strength back, and look a little less emaciated. After we were married I was at CrossFit Oahu on an almost daily basis, joining in the WODs (workout of the day) and doing my best to keep up.

I felt then and I still feel now that CrossFit is a superior template for fitness. The focus is on functional movements that develop functional strength that CrossFitters need in their everyday lives. The workouts are short and effective, often incorporating HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and in a very short period of time (usually under twenty minutes) they managed to help these CrossFit athletes develop strength and endurance. And they did not cause any of those run-down, constantly exhausted, in-need-of-a-carb-hit symptoms that I had experienced previously.

But I struggled with CrossFit at the outset, quite honestly. I felt horribly out-of-place and inadequate among all the superior athletes who worked out at my new husband’s gym, and I was unable to do the vast majority of these new CrossFit movements without scaling them down until they were almost unrecognizable. Pull-ups? Not for me. Not even kipping pull-ups. I had to hook my feet through the two heaviest, strongest bands in the gym just so that I could manage to pull my chin up to the level of the bar a few times. I could not do push-ups, either. Or push-ups on my knees. Or push-ups off of a 24in box. I had to do push-ups off of the wall, standing up almost vertically. And an overhead squat? Forget about it. When I started I could barely do one holding just a PVC pipe in my hands.

Not only was this brutal on my self-esteem, I do not feel like I was able to get the full benefit from CrossFit workouts. 100 push-ups for time might be intense, but standing up straight and pushing yourself away from the wall 100 times? Not so much. I was discouraged, but I did not give up. I took a step backward, and started working on developing very basic strength. I would do sets of back squats, at 20lbs, then 30, then 40, until I got somewhere up to around 90lbs. I practiced and practiced deadlifts until I was lifting near my body weight. I practiced pull-ups until I only needed one narrower band for assistance, and practiced push-ups until I could do them off of the box. Not ideal, and not much to brag about, but I was making progress! I also gave a program called P90X (or as Nick says, ‘CrossFit light’) a try – I stuck through the whole 90 days, and I was very pleased with the results. P90X likewise focuses on developing strength through functional movements, and I came out much stronger. I actually still use the upper-body weightlifting DVDs occasionally in my workout routine.

But now that I have a little bit better base level of strength, I am returning to CrossFit style workouts, which I perform in our garage gym. I usually do two days per week of longer weightlifting sessions (a la P90X), two days of CrossFit-style HIIT, one day of ‘greasing the groove’ (performing lots and lots of repetitions of a specific exercise throughout the day, and one day of yoga. That leaves me with one day of rest and recovery per week. And I am feeling really good. I am continuing to get stronger and more proficient at these moves, I am keeping my energy up and performing well during workouts even during what is supposedly the exhausting first trimester, and I am supporting the health of me and my baby and preparing my body for the endurance event that is natural labor.

Here is a sample of my workouts for the past week, which I designed specifically to help facilitate a healthy pregnancy and labor. And keep in mind that I also have a very energetic dog at home who needs to be walked on a daily basis, so to every day you can add a 45min to one hour walk/jog with the dog to my workout.

Wednesday: yoga

I do about 45 minutes of power vinyasa flow. It is a faster-paced and more challenging type of yoga that gets me sweating and helps with both upper- and lower-body strength.

Thursday: rest day

Friday: P90X chest and back workout

This workout is basically lots of variations on pull-ups and push-ups, lasting for about 45 minutes. It is great for building functional upper-body strength.

Saturday: a CrossFit-style workout: 60sec work :30 rest for three rounds of push-ups, deadlift, knees to elbows, squat, plank

In this 22 minute workout I managed 28, 25, and 25 push-ups, 26, 24, and 21 deadlifts, 30, 30, and 29 knees to elbows, 26 on every round of squats, and I successfully held all three planks.

The knees to elbows and planks are both fantastic ways to reach the deep core and midline stabilization muscles, which are very necessary during labor. I have been adding a lot of squats to my workouts as well lately, as squatting is the most effective position for giving birth (it opens the pelvis an extra 28%, and allows your body to work with gravity), and I want those muscles to be strong as well.

The Tabata interval (:20 work, :10 rest) is very popular in CrossFit circles, and I often use it, but I am exploring an interval of 1 minute work, since that is about the average length of a contraction. I want to get my body used to working really hard for that period of time!

Sunday: a weightlifting warm-up – 20 overhead squats (10lbs), 20 front squats (18lbs) 20 deadlifts (70lbs), 20 pull-ups

Followed by a CrossFit-style workout: 60sec work :30 rest for three rounds of 26lb KB swings and sit-ups (I managed 32, 31, and 30 for each round of kettlebell swings, and 37 for every round of sit-ups.)

Kettlebell swings are another great way to engage the core and all of the midline stabilization muscles, and they are a lot more effective than getting on your back and doing crunches, which will soon be out of the question for me, anyway.

Monday: greasing the groove – 200 53lb kettlebell swings (to chest height)

Tuesday: another P90X workout, this time shoulders and arms, about 45 minutes of lifting weights

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