Coming Clean

One woman’s honest quest to clean up her unhealthy life for herself and her family.

Posts Tagged workouts

Experience Life Magazine

Embrace the Fool

In a recent journal entry, I wrote about how I saw myself now. It was a list of words that I thought others would use to describe me: quirky, silly, goofy, funny, kind, loving, generous, thoughtful, off-beat, fun, flirty, comical, happy, and playful all made the cut.

The underlying theme, it seemed, was that I’m OK being a bit weird, and I assume others see me that way as well. Naturally, when we first meet, I hope they think, gee whiz, she seems nice and smart and friendly. But when they get to know my humor, they see I welcome comedy. (Laughter: Also good for my health!) One point of proof:

One of my favorite movies is just ridiculous, but makes me laugh every time I see it (and yes, I’ve watched it more than once). It’s called Teen Witch, and it’s so weird and funny and perfectly ’80s. I used to question why I liked it, but one day in college, while working at the student newspaper, I found a kindred spirit by way of this movie. I don’t know how the conversation started, but I concluded with “top that,” the name of a song from a scene where the lead character’s best friend starts rapping. My kindred spirit responded, “stop that,” and a spontaneous reenactment ensued. It was a great moment of connection, and made us realize that we were destined to be close. (If you’ve seen and loved this movie’s charm, you are immediately being added to my inner circle.)

I wasn’t always as open to being the odd one, especially as a teenager and I desperately wanted to be cool, whatever the current definition of cool was. I surely made my share of mistakes. (Falling up the stairs in front of my sophomore-year crush stands out. At least he noticed me as he was laughing. Sigh.)

Being willing to look foolish at times has, I truly feel, been an asset. It’s not that a purposely aim to act silly, but if I do something unusual and people tell me so, I’m much less likely to feel embarrassed. Oh, well, I think. What’s weird to one person is completely normal to another.

When I first started working out at 221 pounds, doing exercises outside of my comfort zone made me nervous. I didn’t want to look weak or incapable; I had fleeting thoughts of people judging me as the sad fat girl who doesn’t belong. But usually when I met eyes with the occasional onlooker, they smiled sweetly. They weren’t judging, it seemed, but rather acknowledging that we were both working toward a goal. I felt kindness from fellow club members and trainers and management: I was showing up and making the effort, and that seemed to matter most.

Even though I feel more comfortable in the gym these days, I still come across exercises or classes that throw me. I used to love going to Zumba, but have shied away because I struggled with the steps — who cares if I can’t master the moves right away? Everyone needs to practice, after all, and someday I may wonder why I didn’t make more of an effort sooner.

Being a ham in Lutsen, Minn. (Feb. 2012).

Being a ham in Lutsen, Minn. (Feb. 2012).

I can say this with certainty: Nearly every time I’ve put my ego aside and tried something new or different, I haven’t regretted it. If I didn’t like it, at least I could say I tried it and it wasn’t for me. But more often than not, breaking free from my comfort zone has yielded success. New and at-first-awkward exercises have made me stronger; experiments with new vegetables and recipes have been valuable lessons in kitchen creativity.* A few food misses made it to the compost pile, some muscles were sore longer than usual, but even those results led me to a better routine or preferred ingredient swap.

Those times you think you’ll look foolish? Don’t think twice. Try it, learn from it, and maybe you’ll discover something new that you will love. Or maybe your “odd” find will lead you to a new great friend.

*With anything new, keep in mind your limits, especially if there’s a chance of injury (a good trainer or spotter is recommended). And if you’re a novice in the kitchen, know the basics and keep a list of food-safety tips handy.

Experience Life Magazine

Inspirational Stories: LaKeisha Shurn’s 100 Days at the Gym

Our social-media extraordinaire, Heidi Wachter, came across this video online yesterday. It was making the rounds on social media, and she thought it would inspire our readers.

I watched it. Then watched it again. And just now, again. And I got all teary-eyed each time.

The time-lapse video of her 100 days is really moving. You can watch it below. For more of her story, head over to her page on to watch video-diary entries from her first 120 days.

Experience Life Magazine

Stay Warm, My Friends!

It’s not news that’s it is cold out there, so cold in Minnesota, in fact, that the governor closed all public schools for today. (Minneapolis and St. Paul schools will also be closed tomorrow, which was announced today.) This morning when I woke up, it was -20 degrees, and the windchill was nearing -50. Brrrr!

If you’re stuck inside today, hopefully you’re not going stir crazy. I’m a bit of a homebody, so I don’t mind it, whether I’m indoors or in the yard. Not wanting to brave the elements, I’ve locked myself away. (For a writer in Minnesota, this is the best weather as it forces one to get creative. And I’m super productive, which I know pleases my boss.)

It’s easier, however, for me to sit for hours on the couch or in my chair when I’m working from home. (It’s the difference of some 4,000-plus steps on my UP band.)

So how am I making sure to move more today? I set my band to buzz every 30 minutes so I stand up and walk around; I swapped my usual water glass for an oversized Mason jar so I drink more water (and subsequently use the bathroom more often); I’m following DVDs for today’s workout; and I’m adding in a bonus workout tonight from our video library.

This body-weight workout can be done at home or at the gym (a good day for a sauna or steam following your workout!).

Modifications for Home: If you don’t have a bar at home, a sturdy railing could work and the stairs could stand-in for the Assisted Pushup. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your weight on the railing for the Assisted Squat-to-Muscle-Up like me, I’m doing a deep squat followed by a powerful vertical jump, and then adding in a few triceps dips, too.

I haven’t been able to get quite as low as Jamie in the video, as seen below during one of my summer workouts, but I’m working on it. (For those of you longing for warmer months, just look at the green grass! So wonderful! So luscious! Ah, sweet memories of walking barefoot in the grass. Soon, soon.)


So tell me: How are you moving your body and staying warm today?

Experience Life Magazine

Developing a Home-Workout Practice

Since our move in June, we’ve been rearranging and organizing, moving furniture here and moving it there. We had one word in mind when we were house hunting, “retreat,” and we feel like we’ve found that in our cozy home in the woods.

Cozy, I say, because most of our rooms are set up for relaxation. A comfortable couch, a plush chair, and our beloved TV. While our outdoor spaces are open for play, I haven’t really designed an indoor room or corner for fitness. (And from what I’ve learned from various shows on HGTV, you want spaces for activity, play/games/entertainment, conversation, rest, and storage.)

We do have one living space that I find very perplexing. It’s long and a bit narrow, and features a fireplace and large glass patio door. Right now, it’s home to a bookcase, futon, piano, and guitar. We recently moved an antique game table by one wall, but it doesn’t quite fit, so back it goes to another room.

With all the floor space, it seems like it could work well for exercise. There’s the bonus of natural light coming in from the door, and the ceilings are high enough for jumping rope.

So I moved my equipment into the bookcase, a collection which includes:

  • a 10-pound kettlebell
  • a 25-pound kettlebell
  • 5-pound dumbbells
  • 10-pound dumbbells
  • a jump rope
  • an ab wheel
  • resistance bands

I mixed and matched a few items for a circuit, added some body-weight moves like push-ups and lunges, and felt mostly clear on what I needed to do. After all, I spent good money on trainer Shane who taught me soooo much about fitness and how to move my body, not to mention all The Workout programs designed by top trainers and coaches I’ve fact-checked for the magazine. Just pick a program, any program, and I’ll be on my way.

Here’s the thing: When it comes to my workouts, I like to be told what to do. Ten squat thrusters, then 10 star jacks — go! I can write out my plan to follow, but there’s something about a coach directing me that keeps my intensity up.

So I surfed the Web and found some great videos, this one that only uses body weight, and tried my hand at our December kettlebell workout. I’d throw in some dynamic stretching and felt motivated to move even more. And there’s my point: My theory is that a good home-workout routine, whether indoors or a run in your neighborhood, incites more healthy behavior and even more activity.

My vision for an ideal active day: Rise to meditate, journal, drink tea. Exercise with, say, push-ups, burpees, lunges, and weights or resistance bands. Include a fitness or yoga DVD to advance. Feel great! Go to work, walk at lunch, eat well. Feel even better! So much so that I want to keep it going and pop in to the gym to lift weights or take an indoor cycling class. Pound my chest, my day has been awesome.

See where I’m going with this?

Shaun T. for our June 2012 cover story. (Photo by Kwaku Alston.)

So one day, while surfing the tube in the previously described cozy space, I came across an infomercial for personal trainer Shaun T.’s newest workout: Focus T25. He packed some of the hardcore moves from Insanity into 25 minutes. After testing his Insanity-inspired workout that he designed for our June 2012 issue (see video below), I felt compelled to try this abbreviated version. (Plus, I’m a sucker for both Shaun T.’s charm and the presentation of infomercials. I also ordered the NutriBullet, which I’m really enjoying, but then had to ban myself from watching any more infomericals in order to protect my pocketbook.)

For those of you that are Life Time members, Insanity classes are offered at several clubs around the country. Let me know if you’ve tried it in the comments section below.

Focus T25 set up so that I do it five days a week, during the weekdays, with rest days on Saturdays and Sundays. Wish me luck for my first day on Monday!

Experience Life Magazine

The Snow-Shoveling Workout

Shovel1_webLast week I relied on Mother Nature for my workouts. Within a few days, we were covered with a heavy blanket of snow, the most accumulation in the Twin Cities happening on Wednesday.

Being our first winter in our new house, we didn’t quite know what to expect from shoveling the driveway. (I haven’t lived at a home with a driveway since my parents’ when I was 18. Our garage backed up to the alley at our last home, and all we had to shovel was a short distance of sidewalk.)

The length of drive to the street got special attention from our snow blower, but I took to the landing and dug right in. One of my coworkers caught a news report that said shoveling the snow was the equivalent of lifting nearly 20 pounds per shovel.

I figured, if I move fast enough, I’ll get a cardio workout; with the squatting and lifting of the shoveled snow, I’ll get in some strength training; and keeping steady on the ice will be good for my balance.

Shovel2_webAfter an hour of shoveling, I was exhausted: My heart was beating faster, I was sweating under my layers of clothing, and the next day, my arms and core were sore. Success! The aftereffects of a great workout.

I know we start to complain about the snow come February (or maybe you are one to do it now), but the mix of hard work and spending time in nature gave me a natural mood boost. (Get more tips in “Beating the Winter Blues.”) And in the years since I’ve ventured out on snowshoeing expeditions during the winter, I’ve learned to appreciate all the seasons.

What do you do to stay active in the winter?

Experience Life Magazine

Getting Back to the Gym

After we moved this summer, I realized just how close we’d be to Life Time: Once you exit our neighborhood, it’s practically right across the street. And yet, I couldn’t quite make an appearance till now.

Maybe you know the feeling: You’ve been away from the gym for a while and don’t feel as strong as you did before (if I can’t hold my own on the weight rack, what would I do instead?). Or you’ve made friends in a class and feel like they’ll give you a hard time for being away so long. Or maybe you need an entirely new program, or would like to try a new group fitness class, but aren’t sure if you’ll like it or can keep up.

These thoughts have been floating in my head since July. While my old club is still easily accessible (it’s in the same building as our office, just two floors below), working out mid-workday usually puts me a bit off task. Don’t get me wrong, I looooove a midday workout — it feels good on my body, I have plenty of energy, and my spirits are highest — but I have yet to master a Speedy Gonzales–like workout that’ll get me in and out of the gym in record time. When I go, I tend to linger, moving slowly in my post-workout stretching session and craving some time to relax in the sauna. Suddenly a planned 45-minute workout has become an hour-and-a-half.

There’s nothing wrong with my dawdling (hey, we love when members want to spend their afternoons or full days at the club!), but knowing this about myself, I usually fare better, in my schedule at least, to workout before or after my workday. Of course, that would mean that I have to leave the house earlier and get stuck in rush-hour traffic, so work out and get home later in the evening — both options presenting faults.

You see how maddening my mind, yes? And how good I am at making excuses and finding reasons not to work out? To me, these are real and frustrating hurdles, but to my time-efficient counterparts, it reads as if I’m dragging my heels.

So yesterday I said, fine. I’ll just go! Isn’t that what I learned when I started this process. Just show up. Do the work. Feel your body get stronger and faster. And soon there will be no debate on whether or not you’ll go because it’s habit.

I decided to pick a Group Fitness class, having so much success in previous classes and with T.E.A.M. Boot Camp. I opted for Ballet Body Fusion. Sounds sexy, right? I imagined it as some sort of ballet meets African dance meets yoga.

I was fully suited up for a cardio-style class, and once I tracked down Studio 1 (because Studio 2 is for yoga, and that can’t be right, can it?), I discovered from some students that Total Conditioning was about to start.

Hmmm. Back to Studio 2, where Ballet Body Fusion was indeed being taught.

We started with some mat Pilates, then moved into footwork. I was definitely overdressed (yoga clothes next time, and bring socks, as our instructor suggested), and while the class was slower-paced than I expected, it was still challenging on my legs, feet, and core.

Once the class was complete, I felt like I had a nice warm-up, so I decided to put together a my own circuit:

  • jumping rope
  • TRX rows
  • kettlebell swings
  • kettlebell clean and press
  • band pull-aparts (to open up my chest and relieve my computer-desk-position syndrome)
  • Alpha makers (renegade rows with a pushup + burpees)
  • TRX pushups

I swapped a few moves out on round 2 (jump rope and Alpha makers — whew!) but finished three solid rounds with minimal rest to give my heart a workout too. After a steam and shower, I felt extremely proud of my accomplishment.

It had been, however, two hours since I arrived. But I like to take my time. I’m just happy that I showed up.

Experience Life Magazine

90-Day Challenge: The Home Stretch

This is our final week in Life Time’s 90-Day Challenge (for this round — another challenge starts soon!), and I’ve been reflecting on my progress thus far. Our final weigh-in days are May 9 to 11.

I’m a little bummed that I won’t make my weight-loss goal of 25 pounds, but I might have been a bit ambitious: My weight loss has varied, sometimes 2 pounds a week, sometimes more and sometimes less, in the three years that I’ve been losing weight and changing my lifestyle. I’m looking at the upside, though: I did lose some weight — depending on the final day, around 10 pounds, but I’ll take it! And even bigger than that, participating in the challenge encouraged me to take a few new classes and mix up my workout routine.

  • Barbell Strength: I was, well, pumped to take this class, given my love of weight lifting. When I arrived to class, I claimed a station — not realizing I had to set up my own. A kind woman behind me offered to help, and when she asked how much weight I could handle, I boldly said “plenty!” Sure, that may be true in Boot Camp, where we do lots of heavy deadlifts, Olympic lifts and kettlebell swings in shorter work periods, but this class had me removing weight plates after the first 10 minutes. Tip: Don’t be timid about using a bit lighter weight than you’d use in weight lifting since you’ll be doing more reps at a faster pace with less rest. But don’t go too light or you won’t see the strength gains you’re after. The energy of instructor Todd was great, and it’s definitely one I’d revisit.
  • Cycling: I’ve tried Life Time’s Cycling class before with my coworker, Christy, and really enjoyed it. Yet, I haven’t been making time in my schedule for Rachel’s noon Wednesday class. So for the challenge, I participated in Giorgio’s Thursday class and found a good match. Besides the fact that he immediately charmed me with his ’90s musical selections of Sade for the warm-up and a main set that included Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope album (curiously, this was the essential soundtrack for me and my girlfriends during college), his messages about taking care of our bodies were really uplifting. “This is your time, here in the dark. You’re alone and yet surrounded. What do you want to conquer tonight?” Finding another option for a Cycling class will be useful for times when my workdays are full.
  • Zumba, and the love of dancing: I attended a Zumba class with one of my Boot Camp buddies, and I was impressed by how quickly she was picking up the steps. I had hoped the same would happen for me, but alas, I was a bit heavy-footed. Several athletes in class were regular students, so I figure, with more attendance, I’ll just improve. I do love dancing, and have enjoyed Zumba in the past, so I’m interested to try a few different classes and instructors, and find a class time that works for me. This class also prompted me to return to my living room bust-a-move sessions, where I put in my earbuds and freestyle dance to “Bust A Move” (among other favorite tunes) while our dog Chloe looks on with confusion/fear/horror. Only now I’ll add in some Zumba moves so I can be ready for the next class.

Have you changed up your workout routine lately? What’s been working (or not)?

Experience Life Magazine

90-Day Challenge: Weeks 5 and 6

We’re at the halfway mark for Life Time’s 90-Day Challenge, and I’ve run into a few roadblocks. Or, perhaps, I’ve created my own barriers, depending on how I look at it.

So I reached out to my 90-Day Challenge coach, Ryan, and shared how I was feeling. I’ve been continuing my Boot Camp workouts, which meet twice a week, but other than that, I’d didn’t feel I was carving out solid time for focused workouts. I’d do some pushups and burpees in the living room or hold some yoga poses, but I could tell my commitment was flagging. Really, I was more concerned with working on my projects for the magazine than working out for my body.

Ryan suggested incorporating mini breaks throughout my day to stretch and walk around the office. Check — I usually get up fairly frequently to refill my water or make hot tea. He also mentioned carving out 30 minutes for myself to decompress. Double-check — when I get home, Kyle and I share the highlights of our day and visit with the pets. And, of course, I often turned to my TV to watch a show on the DVR (Parks and Recreation is my go-to for consistently funny episodes).

But when Ryan said, for those 30 minutes, I could even do something “as simple as going on a walk,” I paused: How many times have I felt so busy that I can’t even take a walk?! Too many to count! And am I really that busy, or am I just creating obstacles in my head?

I think that the reality is both. Sometimes we are just incredibly busy, and the best thing I can do is forgive myself for not making it the gym or getting in a workout, and allow myself the permission to adjust my schedule. Granted, I can’t keep pushing off my workouts forever, but embracing flexibility has been crucial to this health journey I’m on.

If you read back to last September’s post, I talk a little more about my desire to have a baby in 2009 and discovering my body wasn’t healthy enough to menstruate regularly let alone ovulate and be ready to create a baby. If I didn’t practice patience and provide room for flexibility, I know I would’ve gone mad — whether I had chosen the path of infertility treatments or getting to the root of my health problems, as I did.

When I do give myself that kindness, I start to feel open and willing to get creative with my schedule: kettlebell circuits, yoga DVDs, Jamie Martin’s pushup plan, or a nice long walk with Kyle and Chloe in the brisk March air.

So while I’m still working on progressing during this 90-Day Challenge, which concludes April 30, I’m taking Ryan’s advice to heart: keep it simple. Take a deep breath, stretch and walk around a bit. By challenging my habits and patterns, I feel successful — and that’s what really matters to me most.

Experience Life Magazine

90-Day Challenge: Faster Fitness

Like any American, I can be a bit impatient and find myself regularly short of “free time,” whatever that means. So the idea of going to the gym and spending an hour or more on the treadmill or puttering around without a plan completely turns me off. In fact, it usually convinces me to skip my workout altogether.

When I’ve worked with a trainer these past few years, I’ve loved having the guidance — especially because I’ve been resistant to working out most of my life. It also why I love group classes at Life Time Fitness: I just have to show up and follow along.

As I got stronger, I decided to try T.E.A.M. Boot Camp, which was awesome in the most challenging way. It’s circuit-style training, with some workouts similar to HIIT or metabolic resistance training: work hard and fast and/or lift heavy, rest, and repeat. (Of course, each instructor is different, but you can find examples of exercises on the Boot Camp by Life Time Facebook page or their website here.)

In honor of this week’s Try-It Tuesday events, either a T.E.A.M. Fitness or Ultimate Workout class, I challenged myself in Boot Camp on the clean and press and managed to hit a new PR (personal record): 55 pounds! Up until this week, my muscles could only handle 35 pounds — that’s a 20-pound difference in a matter of 3 to 4 weeks! Go Courtney’s muscles!

I’ve written about my love of group fitness before, and if you are short on time like me and want a specific plan with super-effect results, I think you’ll be happy with one of the T.E.A.M. classes, either Weight Loss, Fitness, Boot Camp, or the Ultimate Workout. And there’s always group-fitness classes to try as part of your membership.

If you enjoy working out alone, keep it up! Whatever works best for you. But if you’re curious about working with a partner or group, give it a shot. (Read more about the benefits of exercising with friends in “Group Effort,” from the May 2011 issue of Experience Life.) Like me, you might find yourself more motivated to work out.

Have you tried one of the T.E.A.M. classes or group workouts?

For those of you looking for more info on metabolic resistance-training programs, check out our video below. And read more about how lifting weights can boost your weight-loss progress in our September 2012 article, “Lift to Lose Weight.”

Experience Life Magazine

Playing in the Snow

Recently, we spent some time in the north woods with Chloe, our black lab. Kyle wanted to ice fish, his favorite winter hobby, but Chloe and I were wanting to play in the fresh coating of snow, which was more than a foot deep.

We borrowed some snowshoes and headed for a field near a frozen lake. Watching her delight from the activity was wonderful — her big, pink tongue hanging out past her super-white teeth, as if she was a little girl laughing with her mouth wide open — and made me want to go faster. I was thinking I would only walk in the snow, but soon, we were running and jumping and bounding around.

This is the second time she’s encouraged me to push a bit more (she’s a good sprinting buddy). And enjoying a winter day outside was the best way to beat any late-winter blahs, get some vitamin D and bond with my canine friend.

Have you tried snowshoeing? If you don’t own a pair, many places rent them: at REI, for example, and in the Twin Cities, we rented at Hyland Park in Bloomington before (read about my first experience snowshoeing here). It’s really an accessible sport, especially if you don’t feel like the “sporty” type, and low cost. Give it a try this weekend and let me know what you think!


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