Exercise Your Way to a Strong Mind & Body “Alice”.

I woke up yesterday to April 1. What in the world! How dare time keep moving on as if my life hasn’t been turned upside-down and reality isn’t now likened to a scene from Alice in Wonderland; except then, who am I? Shrinking Alice, the Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts? And where the heck am I? Where is the comfort of my life – my everyday routine of busy days and never-long-enough-weekends, my complaining and grandstanding of never enough time to do..well..anything. Ironic, though it is, time is all we have these days amidst the craziness of a virus hellbent on upsetting our routine and leaving disquiet and unsettling changes in its wake. But one thing is becoming quite clear, whomsoever we choose to be may very well determine who we are when this is all over.

Under normal circumstances and in the routine of our everyday, it’s oftentimes a challenge to juggle the many interests and day-to-day activities we engage in to maximize the best use of our time and resources. These days may be the “new normal” but they are anything but normal. Time, one of our most valuable resources on any given day, is in endless supply these days. However, this has in no way diminished its value; In fact, I want to stress on the importance of seeing time, in these “not normal” days, as an opportunity to invest in ourselves with the benefits/returns to be derived in the not-too-distant future. Let’s dive into how.

Exercise is what I do and in the most challenging of times I run to what I know for comfort and a sense of wellness. If I can catch my breath, work up a sweat, release some feel good endorphins, and stimulate my senses, then the world is still on its axis and there’s hope yet. This is not unique to me, there are a lot of literature on the effects of exercise on our physical and mental well-being and there are many people who benefit from adopting a healthy exercise routine. So allow me to share with you a variety of simple exercises you can use as a template to inspire your endorphins rush as our world goes through this crisis alone but together.

Running, Jogging, Walking – a relatively easy, cheap, and safe way to enjoy the outdoors alone. Spring is the ideal season, minus the wet days, to enjoy the chirping birds, budding leaves, and flowers in bloom in neighborhoods and parks. Nature is awakening and so will your senses. Just be mindful of doing so in daylight and keep your social distance. New to this form of exercise? Start slowly and with shorter distances that you can build upon as time goes on. For example; start with a goal of a 1 mile walk, which you can increase to a jog, then to a run, or feel free to utilize a combination of any two or even all three. Remember, it’s your body and your journey. Listen to it, and take pride in your daily accomplishments.

Cycling – another great calorie burner and a great way to get your exercise outside of the four walls of your home and to enjoy the outdoors when the weather is great. This is of course for those who have bikes. It’s become my newest crave and I like to think I’m a Cyclist-in-the-making. It’s so much faster on the bike than on foot too!

Yoga and Stretching – Stretching should ideally be performed before and after your workout, whether its an at-home workout, or before or after a run or jog. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints (Harvard Health). Pre workout, it serves to warm up the muscles so as to prepare for it’s use and works to keep you free from injury. After that run or workout, post workout stretching benefits are much the same and helps with releasing muscle tension.

Yoga can be different things for different people. For me, it is an excellent way to get my stretches in and practice my breath or breathing. This is really important, not only for me as a runner, but for all of us as per the usual stresses of life and especially now under present quarantine conditions. Practicing deep breathing can bring you calm, energize you, and reduce health problems. The best thing about stretching and yoga is that you can follow a guided video at home or on a mat in the quiet area of the park/ outside (my favorite) and use this as a meditative form of relaxation. There are many videos online, I especially enjoy Alo Yoga from which you can choose, short or longer, sessions particular to your taste.

Ab Workouts – Ideally targeted to that area of the body that makes us crazy with envy when we see a person boasting a six-pack. I mean, yes please! Of course much of that has to do with our diet but some is attributed to exercise and a minute amount to age. Again, thank God that we can do these alone, at home, in the park, or in the backyard. There are tons of YouTube videos and many exercises we can do on our own as well. You can make a list of your favorite, most challenging, or an ideal combination and set up a schedule to workout. If inside, it’s best to clear a spot in your living room for those days when you’re stuck in and designate it as your workout area. Stack up your mat and any workout additions in that area and allow it to work as a reminder of your intention. Some common and simple core exercises include: sit ups, crunches, Russian twists, planks, on the back leg raises, V-ups, and leg sissors.

Dancing – a fun way to release stress, burn calories, and enjoy yourself. You can do this alone with just a dance playlist in the privacy of your own home or join an online class. Virtual dance classes present a fun opportunity to let your hair down and shake “it” off.

Photo Credz @Pinterest.com

Swimming – A great cardio workout, which sadly many of us will be unable to utilize during this time with all the restrictions in place. But it’s a definite plus for those with access at home where you can work on drills and laps to develop technique and build endurance. It’s something I had planned on taking up this year for my triathlon training, now we’ll just have to wait and see. The intention is still there. Hope springs eternal.

Gymnastics movements – I’m limited here by the fact that I have no bars at home. But hey, I have a wall; so while I can’t do pull ups, toes-to-bars, knee or elbow raises, I can manage some wall walks, practice my handstands and handstand push-ups, which helps with shoulder strength and mobility. Since this is a movement that requires demonstration, and YouTube is a treasure trove when it comes to learning a new skill, check out a beginner video to help you get started.

Cardio Exercises – outside of running and cycling there are many other easily accessible exercises we can do to get our heart rates up and release those endorphins. 1. Jump Rope/ Skipping is a favorite of mine and doesn’t require much technique unless you want to graduate to a more advanced skill level like Double Unders. In the CrossFit world we use the term Single Unders for when the rope passes under your feet once and Double Unders for when it passes twice in one jump. 2. Burpees can be done easily by dropping to the floor facedown and using one’s hand in a push up motion to jump straight up as you feet leaves the floor and your hands meet overhead. This is repeated as many times as you decide. It’s an exercise we love to hate for it’s constant movement and high intensity. 3. Jumping Squats are almost self explanatory except remember that squats need to be below hip level to maintain proper form. 4. Jumping Jacks, high knees and butt kicks on the spot are also self explanatory. 5. Sprinting is short distance running at high speed with short recovery efforts after each Sprint (100 meters is my favorite). 6. Lunges: walking, jumping, and reverse are great glute exercises and a great addition to any cardio workout. Begin with feet hip width apart and step forward with the preferred leg and lower your body until the front knee is over your shoe while your back knee bends until it touches the floor in a straight L while you balance on the back toes. Stand and alternate legs and repeat. You can include a jump or do them in the reverse with a step back and knees back approach instead of forward. 7. HIT workouts are high intensity exercises that combine short bursts of different exercises like mountain climbers, push ups, squats, and burpees. They are great sweat-it-out workouts with constant and rapid movement.

The ideal workout would consist of a combination of warm up exercises, strength, and cardio. And could look like any variation of my daily workout these days: stretches, running/ sprints/ cycling/ jump rope; some combination of strength – these days I make use of books, backpacks, resistance bands, and other safe household items to add some weight and challenge – and could include weighted sit-ups, weighted squats/overhead squats, hip thrusters, deadlifts, plank rows, man makers, and some ab exercises. Some days I switch it up to emphasize yoga and core workout or sometimes, like today, I have a cardio day: 1500-2000 jump rope – a combination of Single and Double Unders and a 10 minute Ab workout. Go me!

One thing I’m super thankful for during this time is technology and the ability to vary workouts and generate new and refurbished ideas into tailored workouts because of the tons of resources that are available online, and on YouTube particularly. Technology has given us the added advantage of doing these workouts alone, but together. Who’s not thankful we can “Zoom” in with our friends anywhere, or Skype, or FaceTime, or do a live video call to share our time and workout with others if we so choose. Because, I’ll be honest with you guys, I’m not digging this solitary confinement at all. Praise the Good Lord for technology and our tech gurus!

Celebrating One Year of CrossFit and 10+ Years of Running ๐ŸŽŠ๐ŸŽŠ๐ŸŽŠ

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be an avid Cross fitter and runner, approaching my sixteenth marathon in a week’s time, and living in New York City for seven out of those 10 years, I’d probably have believed you on everything but surviving seven winters here in the Big Apple state. It’s a testament to my spirit of adventure, and, I might add, survival skills, that I have lived here this long despite vowing to the contrary when I was younger. It is that spirit of adventure, with which I credit my athletic proclivities and the propensity to push and redefine so-called limits.

One year ago, after much ado, and yeah I had a few misgivings with my running in full swing, I started CrossFit. I didn’t know then if I would be able to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to, what seemed back then, such an aggressive form of fitness training. I mean by all accounts it was tough and demanding. Did I have the time and ability to commit to that type of thing? I didn’t know. But dammit I hoped so, since the buzz was it could help my running. So yeah, I was a bit trepidatious, actually a helluva lot. After all, those guys lifting looked mad strong in all the pics I’d seen, and I’d seen a lot combing the internet and other media images. A year later, I can safely say that you should never let apprehension get the better of you.

These days, I like to say, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to go back to a regular gym. I now know all gyms are definitely not created equal. But while CrossFit boxes might hold the edge in the exercise arena, which is possibly because of their badass reputation and commitment to High Intensity Training and Olympic Style Lifting/ Weight Training, I’m also aware that there are many competing fitness ideas popping up all over the place. CrossFit’s ability to maintain their edge will depend on their ability to diversify, develop, and reinvent their core concepts in the coming years. In the meantime, it’s been pretty interesting, challenging, and invigorating.

Those who know me know that I have never been one to back down at anything , even less so when it came to exercise. So that CrossFit was or rather is a challenge means only that you can be sure I’ll give it my best. Thus far I’ve enjoyed the competitive but encouraging spirit among gym members and the variety in the programs offered at my gym. The comraderie among athletes when we do class WODs (work-out of the day) and at in-house competitions have been truly inspiring as have been the coaches’ knowledge, experience, and willingness and ability to impart said knowledge. The CrossFit environment is one where one can thrive with the right attitude no matter their level. We can all agree that you don’t pay a lot of money for someone to kick your ass and have nothing to show for it. The gains are where it’s at people.

So yes, I’m feeling the gains some: I’m already so much stronger than I’ve ever been, my lifts are getting better all the time, though I do struggle in a couple of areas..my damn humanity..and I’m developing a host of existing skills while learning new ones and new ways to do old ones. Next Monday I’m running the Boston Marathon, yet again, and I’m hoping that, weather aside this time, I can possibly see some of those gains extend itself to stronger running, better endurance, a lot more confidence, and the absence of injuries. Yay! Go me!

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