Workout!

Imagine Healthy Workouts

pexels-photo-68468.jpegBalance in working out is key to maintaining a fitness program.  That seems incredibly obvious, but if you’ve ever got caught up in a whirlwind workout program, you may understand how it becomes difficult to say, “I’m good; that’s enough.”  I learned this the hard way, building myself up to a crazy-intense workout load, including daily weight-lifting, dance, slacklining, Bikram yoga, 10-35 mile runs, rowing machines, Zumba, and (yes, there’s more…) driving a rickshaw pedicab nearly every night.  Eventually, my body called time-out and stopped me in my tracks.

running-runner-long-distance-fitness-40751.jpegI mourned my loss of running, missed my pedicab adventures, and fought the blues as I came down from my ten-year beta-endorphin high.  For a time, everything hurt, sleep was difficult, I was in the midst of a major post-running pout, and my over-the-top workouts were replaced by a few months of marathon Netflix binges. I’d gone at it all-or-nothing, and I found myself in a nothing phase. I felt a bit lost and empty, a gaping hole where running used to be. And my answer to not being able to do everything all the time was to do nothing often.  Not a sustainable plan, either, I soon learned. Something had to change.night-television-tv-theme-machines.jpg

I ventured back to the gym; I looked around at the happy people who apparently weren’t training for hundred-milers or trying to max out the squat press machine. People who could sit in the sauna, as opposed to having to do an intense yoga flow at 105*F.  They seemed to be having fun, actually.  Apparently, it didn’t need to be all or nothing.  Doing it all, too often, too hard, and too much, broke my bones and pulled my ligaments, displaced parts, and tore me away from almost everything else in my life. But doing nothing left me in a horrid blue funk.

I realized I had built my persona, and a bit of my ego, around the fact that I was (so I thought) physically invincible, able to run a 50K training run and pop out a nice weights workout before jumping on a rickshaw and pullin’ hard for 8-10 hours.  Sleep?  That was for the weak; I napped between physical exertions.  Heavens, it had become my whole entire life! Until that day when I couldn’t even make it down the steps after walking three blocks to work.

My world had been turned upside-down by the inevitable, and I’d not even realized I was creating the dilemma until it was too late.  I cried as my third-opinion doctor told me I ~really, REALLY~ shouldn’t run anymore, considering what I’d done to the bones in my left leg and foot.  I fell off the fitness chart for six months, feeling like a workout superwoman whose cape was viciously ripped off her back unexpectedly in the midst of a simple stroll.  I lost my superpowers, and a big part of my identity, with the finality of an x-ray which showed definitively that I had overdone it for too long. I felt at a loss, not really knowing how to structure my days without the crazy back-to-back workouts. I had it in my head that if I couldn’t run, it wasn’t even worth picking up my lightest dumbbell.

Slowly, out of boredom and frustration, I finally reconnected…first with yoga, then brought dance back into my life, and finally got back to the gym–and am in the process of creating a more sustainable fitness program for my journey through the next half of my life. I found out (stubborn as I am), that I can still throw down a 20-miler without warning, but actually enjoy a gentle 5k more because it doesn’t leave me in piercing pain for a week.  I was fortunate; I got to do some cool physical adventures and, who knows, perhaps medical science with the cure for all my breaks, rips and tears someday so I can pop out a quick marathon on my 102nd birthday.  Or maybe not, and that would be okay.  For now, the goal is to lovingly heal my body back into shape, with a more gentle, sustainably physical lifestyle.  I’ll share what I’ve learned, and what I learn on the way, in hopes that my journey helps you develop your own healthy and sustainable fitness lifestyle.

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The Imagine Strength Training Program

Upper Body categories include Chest, Back, Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps.

IMG_2169IMG_2168IMG_2167For the Imagine Strength Training Program, we’ll alternate upper body workout days with lower body workout days. Not each and every day of every week of your whole entire life, but let’s go for four days a week. No need to do everything all at once, and heavens, we want you to have time for a nice massage and to try out some great Imagine recipes, maybe take some time for yoga, and let’s not forget all the other joys of life, so we’ll keep it reasonable.

Imagine Upper Body strength training will focus on the muscle groups of the upper body. The following information will guide you through a well-balanced strength program, using the minimal equipment.  To avoid injury, it is better to start at a lower weight and increase as you go along.  We have a lifetime to become and be strong and fit; when it comes to working out, less IS more as you begin.  Personally, I’m going for fit and healthy, not body-builder bulk.  One could certainly increase the weights more and more over time and attain impressive muscle mass if that’s a goal that makes you happy. But for now, the focus is on healthy, sustainable strength-building. I’m suggesting, start lighter than you think you can handle.  You can always add more weight as you go–unless you’ve torn a ligament or strained a muscle because you overdid it too soon! No pain is not a definitive indicator that there was no gain.  The gain of strength over time is the gain I’m after, and personally, I’m over the whole pain thing.  I’m 51; things hurt without me intentionally hurting them, so I’m promoting loving our bodies strong.  No pain, no problem; I’m all good with less pain.  That’s not to say we won’t get sore sometimes, but I’m not promoting pushing blindly through pain when our body is screaming for us to stop.  That’s a different sort of workout program, and for me, it didn’t work out.

To make it easy and accessible, this workout uses only dumbbells or your own bodyweight. Every gym has dumbbells of various weights, and often there’s much less wait time for dumbbells than at the machines.  If you prefer to work out in-house, you can usually find a cheap set of decent (if mismatched) weights by perusing thrift shops.  Or buy the shiny matched set if you prefer, though I’d start with just the bare minimum until you find your comfort zone.  My personal preference is to use lower weights and do more repetitions. That’s always worked for me and has been the method my coaches have recommended. It is not the only way to lift weights, by any means.  But it is a gently effective way to strengthen the body.

Imagine Strength workouts all follow a similar pattern: the first set of 12 reps with the lowest weight is a warm-up, followed by progressively increased weights for the next three sets. The last two sets of 12 reps are a cool-down. Nice and easy, beginning and end.  May not feel like your “killin’ it,” but quite frankly, I’m over “killin’” myself in order to get healthy…just seems like a painful oxymoron (which murdered a nice running career); I suggest we go for “lovin’ it” instead. I’ve put an overview of the dumbbell weights routine I use below.  I like it because it’s efficient: the warm up and cool down are all part of the weightlifting so I can get the whole workout in, within a reasonable 30-40 minutes.  Don’t rush it, but also don’t feel bad if it doesn’t suck up your whole evening.

For a more detailed look at what I did for this Upper Body Strength Training, click the links below to take a peek at workouts I created, and have been using for over a decade (with modifications whenever needed).

Before you start any fitness program, be sure to consult your doctor.  These exercises are provided as suggestions only and should be modified as necessary to fit your fitness level. 

Imagine Upper Body Workout A

Click the links below to see illustrations and specific workout suggestions.  Remember, these are suggestions: listen to your own body to avoid injury! It’s wise to consult a fitness professional, personal trainer, or physical therapist if you have questions or concerns about how specific exercises might affect your body.

Imagine BASIC Upper Body Workout A

Imagine ADVANCED Upper Body Workout A

If at any point you are unable to complete any exercise slowly and to your full range of motion, decrease the weights for all sets until you can do the exercises comfortably and with good muscle control.

Overview:

Progression through each exercise consists of doing six sets of the same exercise, with more repetitions at lower weights, and fewer repetitions of the exercise at the higher weights.

  • Set One: 12 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Two: 10 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Three: 8 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Four: 6 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Five: 12 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Six: 12 reps

Then rest for two minutes before going on to the next exercise.

BASIC:

The BASIC workout example gives a starting point which utilizes lower weights and has you choose one of two exercises for each muscle group.

ADVANCED:

For a more intense workout, when your body is ready, choose TWO exercises from each category, and increasing the weights slightly on every set.

CHALLENGE:

If the weights listed in the ADVANCED list are not challenging for you at all, it’s time to set your own weight increments. Listen to your body, and consult a fitness professional for further advice.  In the Imagine CHALLENGE workouts, two exercises are chosen from each category at higher weight increments you determine yourself.

To determine what weight you’ll start with, find the maximum weight that you can do the exercise–slowly and at the full range of motion–for six repetitions. Please don’t choose the biggest weight you think you can handle to start.  Check out a weight below what you think your max is, try it six times, see how it goes.  Too easy?  Try a slightly heavier weight.  Again, if you find it’s not challenging you at all, go a bit heavier, and repeat until you find one that you find to challenge your limit, without sacrificing form or slow, even lifting.

Once you’ve found that sweet maximum weight just suited to your musculature, work backward to find your starting weight: decrease incrementally by 2-5 pounds for each of the starting sets: Three, Two, and One. The same lowest weight is what you’ll use for your warm-up Set One, and your two cool-downs, Set Five and Set Six. To clarify, let’s frame it as an example.

Let’s say, for our example, that you are able to do six repetitions of the dumbbell press with 25-pound weights–slowly, and without sacrificing your full range of motion, without pain or strain, AND without having to drop the weights at uncontrolled speed on the return!  If that’s the case, then 25 pounds becomes your peak weight for that particular exercise, the weight you’ll lift six times. So, for that exercise, your maximum lift would be 25 pounds.  First you’d warm up your muscles by lifting less. And after lifting your highest weight, you’d cool your muscles down again by lifting lower weights before moving on to the next exercise.

For this example your dumbbell press progression might look like this:

  • Set One: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Two: 10 reps with 18-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Three: 8 reps with 20-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Four: 6 reps with 25-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Five: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Six: 12 reps with 15-pound weights

Periodically, you might find your maximum weight doesn’t feel like your max anymore.  At that point, go through the slow process of testing to see what your new max is.  A general rule of thumb is to never increase workouts by more than 10% week over week.  So, if you were maxing out at 25 pounds, you could add another 2.5 next week.  Jumping up to, say, 35 pounds would entail the risk of unnecessary injury and pain.  That 35-pound dumbbell isn’t going anywhere; it’ll wait patiently for you to get to it safely.

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Imagine Healthy Legs and Abs

Strong leg and core muscles do more than just look good; strong legs keep you mobile, and strong abdominal muscles protect not only the organs of your belly but support your back as well. The workouts I’ve created for the lower body follow a pattern similar to the Imagine Upper Body workouts: repetitions increase as the weight decreases, ending with two rounds at a low weight to cool down muscles before moving on to the next exercise.

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If increasing weights makes it impossible for you to do an exercise slowly and all the way through your full range of motion, just do all the repetitions at the lowest weight.  If anything hurts painfully, it’s time to back off or give it a rest.  If you’re new to weightlifting, you might even start with just doing the first and last sets, lifting the low weight 12 times, then 12 more repetitions lifting the lowest weight.  When that feels good, then add on to it, at your own pace.  Make the routine your own, and you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.

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From my experience, it seems to take about 12 weeks of being on a workout program to really see noticeable results. So, take your time, and enjoy the process!  These workouts shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes.  That seems like a reasonable time frame to me: it’s enough time to warm up and get enough rest/stretch time between, yet not so much time that one can’t squeeze it into a busier day.  To shorten it up, I’d recommend doing fewer exercises well, rather than whipping through all of them too quickly.  Slow, even lifting builds muscles.  Whipping the weights around at the speed of light just wastes your time and increases the risk of injury.  So, take it slow and easy.

Click the links below to see illustrations and specific workout suggestions for getting your lower body strong and fit.  These are merely suggestions: listen to your own body to avoid injury!  I’ve suggested one-minute rests between most of the sets.  If you need more rest time between, take it rather than rush into the next set. Consult a fitness professional, personal trainer, or physical therapist if you have questions or concerns about how specific exercises might affect your body.

Imagine BASIC Lower Body Workout A

Imagine ADVANCED Lower Body Workout A

If at any point you are unable to complete any exercise slowly and to your full range of motion, decrease the weights for all sets until you can do the exercises comfortably and with good muscle control.

 

Overview:

Similarly to all my weight workouts, progression through each exercise consists of doing six sets of the same exercise, with more repetitions at lower weights, and fewer repetitions of the exercise at the higher weights.

  • Set One: 12 reps, rest one minute (this is a warm-up set, so low weights are best)
  • Set Two: 10 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Three: 8 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Four: 6 reps, rest one minute
  • Set Five: 12 reps, no rest (unless you need a rest; then, by all means, rest!)
  • Set Six: 12 reps (the last two sets are cool-down sets, so use low weights again)

Then rest for two minutes before going on to the next exercise.  If you feel tempted to rush into the next set rather than taking a short break, try using the rest time to stretch your muscles instead.

BASIC:

The BASIC workout example gives a starting point which utilizes lower weights and has you choose one of two exercises for each muscle group.

ADVANCED:

For a more intense workout, when your body is ready, choose TWO exercises from each category, and increasing the weights slightly on every set.

CHALLENGE:

If the weights listed in the ADVANCED list are not challenging for you at all, it’s time to set your own weight increments. Listen to your body, and consult a fitness professional for further advice.  In the Imagine CHALLENGE workouts, two exercises are chosen from each category at higher weight increments you determine yourself.

To determine what weight you’ll start with, find the maximum weight that you can do the exercise–slowly and at the full range of motion–for six repetitions. Please don’t choose the biggest weight you think you can handle to start.  Check out a weight below what you think your max is, try it six times, see how it goes.  Too easy?  Try a slightly heavier weight.  Again, if you find it’s not challenging you at all, go a bit heavier, and repeat until you find one that you find to challenge your limit, without sacrificing form or slow, even lifting.

Once you’ve found that sweet maximum weight just suited to your musculature, work backward to find your starting weight: decrease incrementally by 2-5 pounds for each of the starting sets: Three, Two, and One. The same lowest weight is what you’ll use for your warm-up Set One, and your two cool-downs, Set Five and Set Six. To clarify, let’s frame it as an example.

Let’s say, for our example, that you are able to do six repetitions of a certain exercise with 25-pound weights–slowly, and without sacrificing your full range of motion, without pain or strain, AND without having to drop the weights at uncontrolled speed on the return!  If that’s the case, then 25 pounds becomes your peak weight for that particular exercise, the weight you’ll lift six times. So, for that exercise, your maximum lift would be 25 pounds.  First, you’d warm up your muscles by lifting less. And after lifting your highest weight, you’d cool your muscles down again by lifting a low weight before moving on to the next exercise.

For this example your progression might look like this:

  • Set One: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Two: 10 reps with 18-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Three: 8 reps with 20-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Four: 6 reps with 25-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Five: 12 reps with 15-pound weights, rest one minute
  • Set Six: 12 reps with 15-pound weights

Periodically, you might find your maximum weight doesn’t feel like your max anymore.  At that point, go through the slow process of testing to see what your new max is.  A general rule of thumb is to never increase workouts by more than 10% week over week.  So, if you were maxing out at 25 pounds, you could add another 2.5 next week.  Jumping up to, say, 35 pounds would entail the risk of unnecessary injury and pain.  That 35-pound dumbbell isn’t going anywhere; it’ll wait patiently for you to get to it safely.

 

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