Posts for Tag: fitness

The human search for balance, not perfection

Before I started working out, I never thought much about my body, except what I perceived to be my flaws and the inevitable sense of doom that as I got older this body was going to sag and falter. 

In the past year, I started marveling at the human body. I got to know the body I owned much better. I started to know her quirks and weaknesses and strengths, how my lifestyle or past lifestyle contributed, and how it is unique from any other body, how the same kind of training or movement would affect, for example, my partner's body and mine differently.

I learned that for every strength there is an opposing weakness and vice versa, and how life is a journey of gaining balance.

Common imbalances of the human body

Biceps versus Triceps
As most yogis would tell you, yoga works the triceps (chaturanga anyone?) more than the biceps. As a result of that, my triceps are much stronger than my biceps. For the first year of my training I only did some half-hearted bicep curls here and there but in 2018 my goal is to get my biceps to catch up. In general, my back is also stronger than my chest, which means busting out the dreaded reps of push-ups.

Glutes versus Quads
I'm quad-dominant, which is a nice way of saying glute-retarded. For the first 3 months of my training, I barely worked my glutes and didn't even realise it until I experienced knee pain and went to see a physiotherapist. Many people have trouble activating their glutes because the muscles are weak from sitting all day. I spent 6 months super conscientiously doing glute activation exercises and now they have no issue firing up. However, because I'd spent so many years being quad-dominant and walking with an anterior pelvic tilt, I am still doing stretches and exercises to achieve balance for this.

Left versus right
My left leg is both more flexible and stronger than the right. During compound moves such as squats I can feel the left supporting most of the load. During isolation exercises I can feel the left firing up more easily. What I do is to constantly think mind-body connection and try to get the right leg to do more work. I have also started working on doing single legged exercises to encourage the right leg to catch up.

Big versus small muscles
The big muscles of my core are well-defined, but the smaller muscles need to work too. I am working on activating certain deeper core muscles to ensure the big muscles only need to do their work well without overcompensating for the stabilisers- because only the stabilisers can do their job well. I am very core-motivated because I want to be in as great shape as possible for a future pregnancy. 

What happens when you're asymmetrical?

Everyone's bodies are slightly asymmetrical. This is completely normal and could be due to genetics or lifestyle factors. The problem is when the imbalance leads to pain, doubt or compromise. 

Sometimes my hips feel out of place because the dominant quads are pulling on my hip flexors, and this affects my gait. There is a visual imbalance between my legs which will only worsen if I don't work on fixing it. Ignoring my weak core stabilisers means the tightness I experience in my lower back may eventually reduce my ability to do a stiff-legged deadlift.

Facing your weaknesses and making them known

I believe seeking balance is the goal of our lives. We all have strengths and weaknesses; often opposing sides of the same coin. You probably already know your strengths. Now look for the hidden weakness and show that weakness to someone, whether it's your physiotherapist, coach, your manager at work or most importantly, your life partner. Who knows, they may have once had that weakness too, which means they can share how they overcame it. Your weakness may also be a strength of theirs, which means they can afford you help.

I've found that the more forthcoming I am with what I am lacking in and my desire to work on it, the more people want to and can help me. You don't need to be perfect or stellar at everything you do, but you never want your weaknesses to impact your strengths.

Find someone you trust and let them in on your search for balance. When progress comes you will find you have someone to celebrate with. 

"Happiness is only real when shared."

How to stick to your workouts those first months

For close to ten years of my life, ever since I graduated from junior college at 18, I led a sedentary lifestyle.

In all those years, I had gone for a handful of yoga classes and maybe 5 runs. My only saving grace was I enjoyed walking and would often opt for a 15 minute stroll in the evenings instead of a public transport commute.

In July 2016, I decided to integrate exercise into my life again. My partner had picked up working out again for close to a year and I was motivated by that. I got onto a stationery bike in the gym, cycled at levels 3-5 for 12 minutes, staggered off and almost threw up after that. It took a good 15 minutes before the nausea went away. 

The first few months of working out were no doubt the most difficult. I'd never identified as a fitness/active person and even till today I am amazed how big a part of my life training is. How did I make it through the initial months? Here are some of the things I did that kept me going:

1. Find a good workout mentor
 He/she should be encouraging, knowledgeable and will lead you by example, by being consistent with his/her own workouts. You want a mentor who will tell you how it is ("You have to push yourself if you want to see results!" "The first few workouts are the worst, they're going to get better!"), offer you helpful tips ("Do these stretches if you're starting to feel tight." "Good form is the most important thing." ) and uplifts you ("See your progress? You were gasping the last time you did this!"). 

My partner is my workout buddy and without a doubt he is the biggest reason for my success on this journey.

You can ask a friend who workouts regularly to help you or even find a workout buddy online/in forums. In my experience, having someone who already has workout experience helps, so it's not the blind leading the blind. That said, a committed new-to-workout buddy will make a huge difference too.

2. Make working out simple and accessible
The first month I started working out, I did 'basic' things such as running and climbing stairs. I only had intermittent access to a gym and the rest of the time, I found activities I could do without any equipment. My workouts never took more than 30 minutes and I didn't need to go out of my way for them. I did a lot of reading online, learned about the TABATA method (A four-minute workout! I did sprints.) and followed body weight circuits from Kayla Itsines (28 minutes only) and FitnessBlender (anything from 10 to 90 minutes). You don't need to join a gym or completely rework your schedule to get some activity in.

3. Keep an inspiration board
Every morning before I got out of bed, I would scroll through Pinterest for a few minutes before gearing myself up for the workout of the day. I pinned images of girls who looked fit, who had abs, who were in gravity-defying yoga poses. I wanted to look like that, be like that and do those things. That was a huge source of motivation for me. I also pinned lots of motivational quotes that I would look at over and over and over again. 

4. Plan your workouts in advance
I worked backwards - deciding on the outcome I wanted and breaking down the steps necessary to get there. 

For example, I wanted to do a minimum of three workouts a week every week, planned them (for eg, one cardio, 2 times body weight circuits) and made sure I hit my goal by the end of the week. You need to plan and make time for your workouts, or the bed or a dinner out or a TV show will always call more loudly than your sweat sesh. The more you stick to your commitments, the more impossible the idea of letting yourself down will become. 

I also found that a 'lazy' goal like 'one run a week' or 'a yoga class a week' made little sense to me. It wasn't enough of a lifestyle/mental change. It also felt to me like a way to give yourself an 'out', to say you are being active, when you know the human body should be doing more.

5. Set a time frame 
Results don't come instantly. Just as one day of being inactive or eating poorly didn't put your body in its current state, you won't see results after just one or two workouts. I recommend aiming for 12 weeks of consistency.

The first month you will probably feel achy and out of breath most of the time, but by the second month, your body will have adapted considerably. I could barely do a lunge when I first started, but after 2-3 months, I could bust out 20 walking lunges with just some sweat. Tell yourself that no matter what, you're going to stick with this commitment for three months. 

By the time I'd completed 12 weeks of workout, whether I'd built my perfect body didn't matter, I was just so proud of what I'd managed to do I wanted to do more of it.

6. Never miss a workout
If you've committed to X number of workouts, always follow through. Sometimes life gets in the way, you may fall sick or have to work late. But each time you miss a workout, it gets easier to let another one go. One way to keep going is to make sure you complete the missed workout later in the week as soon as you can, so you know you can't get away from it. What matters is you plan and commit to yourself BEFORE you start, and not make easy decisions along the way. 

7. Reward yourself when you hit your goals
The first weeks I started exercising, I wore whatever I already had. That amounted to 2 sports bras, cheap tights and a pair of 5-year-old sports shoes that were falling apart from disuse. I would browse the athlete sections of shops (I started with the budget friendly CottonOn) and only allow myself to buy an outfit every month as a reward.  

I never used food as a reward, because I wanted the effects of working out visually and mentally and adding food to that just seemed like it would complicate things. 

I had never ever thought of myself as someone who was disciplined or into fitness. Now, 1.5 years in, I cannot imagine a life where fitness isn't a huge part of it. All these tips will help you stick to a routine, but ultimately you need to want it bad enough to do the work. Working out is hard, but the rewards you will get are massive.