Adventures in Exercise Class- Megaformer

Wow, this has been a busy week! Thanks to Class Pass I have been trying out different exercise classes around town which has been fun, but also surprisingly challenging (read my review of Barre Class here). This week, my friend Natalie suggested that we try a Megaformer class at a swanky fitness studio in the posh part of town. Admittedly, I should have done a little more research into what I was getting into with this one. I knew it was a strength/ toning class, but I thought it was a floor class, with lots of squats and push-ups and stuff. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

The Megaformer class basically a reformer pilates class on steroids. Not knowing what a reformer class was, I was at a disadvantage from the start. For anyone else who doesn’t know, the reformer pilates is the pilates that is done on a machine, with parts of it that slide back and forth and resistance that can be adjusted depending on the exercise being performed. It is the kind of machine I imagine Gwyneth Paltrow using, while she sips green juice and thinks about topics for her next GOOP article, not something I ever imagined I would be using.

I arrived at the studio the recommended 15 minutes prior to the start of class and met up with Natalie. A very trendy-looking man checked me in and told me my class was on the second floor. “Your classroom is the one with the black machines,” he explained, “there is a class still in there now, but you are welcome to head in once they finish up.” The mention of machines didn’t really register to me as he was giving instructions, so without any further questions I thanked him and trotted off to find the restroom before class began. I realized as I entered the restroom that I was certainly not in my usually mid-level gym anymore, as this restroom was fancier than pretty much any spa I’d ever been to. Monogrammed towels, bowls of breath mints, free samples of body products that I definitely couldn’t afford normally, complimentary hair ties, etc. I immediately felt slightly self conscious in my Wal-mart off-brand leggings and my “No Pain, No Champagne” tank top. I should have at least thrown on some Lululemon to blend in.

Natalie and I made our way upstairs to wait for our class. We chit-chatted with a couple other ladies outside the room, explaining we were new, and making small talk. Soon enough, it was time to start, and I eagerly entered the room, excited to take on this new, fun class. When I walked into the room, however, I was taken aback when I saw rows of black, flat machines that looking eerily like the medieval torture machines used to stretch people. It basically consisted of a large flat surface, with four posts at each end with a little bench between each pair of posts (not dissimilar to a bed frame). Then there were pulleys with handles, which I assumed would be used for arm movements and knobs that were used to control various aspects of resistance.

I warily put my water bottle down at the machine next to Natalie’s and listened to the instructor giving directions. It seemed we were supposed to begin of all fours (ok, I can do that), get a good grip onto the handles (ok, done), and then do some cat-cow movements as a warm up (ok, easy enough, here I go- HOLY SHIT IT’S MOVING!). I would very rapidly come to discover that the “moving” carriage aspect of this table-like surface was what every exercise was based around, and, in summary, it sucked!

Within two minutes I determined that this contraption was indeed a descendant from the medieval torture devices it resembled, and I was cursing its very existence. I persevered, however. I dug deep, I gritted my teeth, and even though my legs were shaking and my thighs were on fire, I kept going. I glanced at my watch, thinking surely this class must be almost over, but alas, I was only 7 minutes in; 43 long, painful minutes left.

I can’t really tell you what happened for the rest of class, as I’m fairly sure I blacked out (ok, not really, but it was so horrible I don’t want to remember). I know at one point I couldn’t hold a move any longer and just starting sliding backwards on the moveable carriage, to the point where Natalie had to grab my arm to stop me rolling all the way wrong end of the machine. There were a few occasions where my legs just stopped moving and I’d be stuck in some twisty position I couldn’t get out of, and there were multiple times when the carriage got away from me and I ended up splayed out, hands and feet in four different directions like those cartoons of newborn giraffes.

By the end of class I was beaten. As we departed the torture chamber classroom one of the ladies said to us, “Wasn’t it great!? The first time is always really hard, but then you get addicted to it.” False, I thought to myself as I filled my water bottle with complimentary lemon-mint-infused-alkaline-Antarctic dessert-oasis water from the dispenser, I’ll never be back! Well… maybe next week. But only because this free water is so damn tasty!

To Recap:

Good: One hell of a workout! Hits so many muscles that I don’t hit in my normal routines, and I felt it for days afterwards. A very well-balanced workout, easy to perform (once you get the hang of it), and able to be modified if need be.

Bad: I was sore for days!! This would be an expensive class to do regularly, but a good one to add in to a class pass rotation.

Bottom Line: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would go back. The workout was too good to not try it at least one more time. I probably would skip it during the height of triathlon training, though.

Adventures in Exercise Class- Barre Class

I’ve recently decided to start trying different exercise classes in an attempt to diversify my workout routine. I signed up for Class Pass which is allowing me to try all kinds of interesting classes, some that I’ve never even heard of, without breaking the bank. I first dabbled in some yoga, and am now venturing further into the world of exercise classes. As an added bonus, I’ve realized that exercise classes make for good friend dates, which means I have a chance to visit with my friends and they provide me some moral support while I suffer through explore new exercise routines.

My friend Natalie suggested that we try a Barre class. She had tried a pilates class that she liked at a studio that also offered barre classes. and as the studio was on our Class Pass list, we decided to try it out. I had heard of barre classes, but never really paid much attention to them, so I was fairly unfamiliar with what they were about. I knew that they were often based on a lot of small, specific muscle movements to help with toning and muscle strength. Honestly, it didn’t sound that hard, especially because my legs are super strong from triathlon training, right? Spoiler alert: I was wrong. Very wrong.

The class was in a really cute studio with lots of natural light and mirrors and a ballet bar that ran all the way around the studio. It is a shoe-less class, but requires the use of “grippy socks”. I briefly debated on bringing a pair of yellow hospital socks with rubber treads on the bottom (the kind we use to indicate that a patient is considered a fall risk), but I decided to make a good impression so I bought a pair of $20 socks from the studio instead. (They are comfy, but seriously, not $20 comfy).

Natalie and I found our spots along the bar and waited for the instructor to arrive. Upon arrival, the instructor plugged in her iPod and fired up a fun, fast-tempo playlist- I was digging it. As we lined up in the middle of the studio to start our warm-up, I was pumped and ready to go.

“First position,” directed the instructor, as she took her place in front of us. Huh? I thought. I was unfamiliar with whatever this “position” was she was referring to. I glanced at Natalie, who positioned herself with her heels together and toes pointing slightly outwards. Ah-ha, I thought, This must be some kind of ballet reference. I can do this. We squatted up and down a few times like this, we added in some arm movements, so far so good. “And right foot, second position, and first, and second, and first,” chanted the instructor. Whoa, whoa, whoa, WHAT? I’d barely mastered first position and now we were just jumping into second position without warning? I fumbled my way back and forth through the side-squat situation know as “second position”, but I definitely felt like my arms were not doing the open-close move the way everyone else’s was. No big deal, though, I was still hanging in there.

“Alright ladies, and now right foot curtsy” sang the instructor. What the hell is this? Seriously? Curtsy? I glanced around the room trying to figured out what I was supposed to be doing while still trying to bop up and down in time. It’s a lunge! I deduced. It’s literally a mother-f’ing lunge! Why can’t they just call it that?! So I lunged away, mostly keeping in time with the beat, but by this time my arms had gone completely rogue and I assumed I looked a bit like those inflatable used-car lot blow up dancing guys. Whatever, at least I was doing it.

Half way through class we moved to our spots along the bar. It was explained that the bar was really only meant for slight stabilization, and one was supposed to only lightly place their hand onto said bar for a bit of balance. Bullshit. Two minutes in to the bar portion of the class I was white-knuckling that bar like it was nobody’s business. We were in some hellish curtsy move where we only stood on our tiptoes and the instructor kept telling us to “pulse”. My legs were burning and shaking and I was fairly sure the bar was the only thing keeping my upright at that moment in time.

The rest of the class pretty much continued in this manner. I muddled my way through like a three-legged baby rhino in a ballet class. It was brutal. But, did I get a good workout? Oh yeah! Was a sore for the next three days? Definitely! Would I do it again? Let’s not get crazy.

After class Natalie and I went for coffee. We were both sore and felt like we deserved a half-fat-double-shot-foamy-frappe-latte-caffeinated creation. When we sat down for our post-class debrief Natalie casually asked if I’d ever taken a ballet class before (like most people apparently do in their childhood). When I told her I hadn’t she chuckled and nodded. Apparently I didn’t blend is as well as I thought, even with the fancy studio socks…

To recap:

Good: Great strength training, especially for legs and abs. Lots of balance and very specific movements to really fire up the muscles.

Bad: Helps if you have some basic coordination…. or know ballet… or both.

Bottom line: Good workout. I’m not sure I would do it again because I think there are similar workouts that would suit me better, but I would recommend it to others for sure. Would also try a pilates class at the same studio.

Adventures in Exercise Class- Hot Yoga

There are some big changes happening over here in my world which we are pretty excited about.  There are a number of good things going on, but for now I want to tell you about some new exercise classes I’ve been trying   I still love my triathlons, but I felt like I needed to shake things up a bit in the off-season and try some of these interesting exercise fads I keep reading about.

One of the doctors at work introduced me to the app Class Pass, which has been key in facilitating my exercise class adventures.  Basically, Class Pass allows you to try a wide variety of exercise classes at participating facilities in your area.  Classes range from yoga to boot camps to spinning to dance to aerial pilates- there is something for everyone.  There is a fee to join Class Pass, but the cost per class ends up being much cheaper than paying the drop in fee at different gyms and studios.   My package worked out to $7 a class, which is definitely worth it.

For my first class, I decided to try a hot yoga class.  I’ve never taken a real yoga class before (I’ve only tried following online videos once or twice), but I’ve been wanting to try one for a while now.  The idea of hot yoga has always intrigued me.  Why so hot?  Will it make me extra stretchy?  Will I feel relaxed afterwards?  Will I pass out?  After some googling of different studio options, I decided to take the yoga plunge and signed up for a mid-morning hot yoga class.  I couldn’t wait.

When I arrived, the instructor checked me in and was very helpful.  I explained that not only was I new to hot yoga, but new to yoga in general, and she assured me she’d help me out as we went along.  She showed me where to put me things and pointed in the direction of the yoga room.  I trotted off down the hallway, barefoot, ready to get my yoga on.

When I entered the room it was indeed hot.  Like, 105 F.  I took cues from the other people already in the room, unrolled my mat in a spot at the back of the class, and laid down on my back.  Very relaxing.  The instructor came in a few minutes later and we progressed through 90 minutes of very hot, very sweaty moves.

I didn’t find the class overly difficult, but the heat did get to me a couple of times, especially when going from bending to standing (in the medical world we call that orthostatic hypotension).  I felt like I got a really good stretch, I loved the full body sweat, and my muscles felt really limber and relaxed afterwards.  It kind of left me with that post-massage feeling.  However, I wasn’t completely sold.  I felt like it was lacking a little bit of pizzazz for me and I needed something more, although I wasn’t really sure what exactly that was.  I liked it enough to keep exploring different yoga options as I definitely think that yoga is going to be very helpful for my balance, strength, and flexibility.

To Recap:

Good: Loved the heat and the sweat, great stretch.  I felt relaxed afterwards.

Bad: It felt a little “meh”.  I needed a but more excitement

Bottomline:  I enjoyed it and would do it again on occasion, but I wouldn’t make it part of my regular exercise routine.

(Since this yoga class, I have actually been frequenting a power yoga studio for a month trial and I am loving it.  I think I found the extra pizzazz I needed!  More on that later….)

Ginger Jogging: The Next Big Thing!

I’m fairly certain that I have just discovered the next biggest fad to hit the world of exercise! Mark my words- 2014 will be the year of Ginger Jogging.

What is Ginger Jogging, you ask?  And how will this ever compete with the craze of Cross Fit or Prancercise?  Let me explain:

I came across Ginger Jogging purely by accident (but I’m sure that’s how most great discoveries happened, like the wheel and fire and Facebook).  I was out for a jog with my co-founder, Pepper, and while we stopped for a water break to take selfies on my phone I thought to myself, “This is so fun! Just two Gingers out for a jog on a beautiful day…”  And then it hit me!  Who wouldn’t want to jog with a Ginger?!?  Gingers make everything better!  And that was the moment of brilliance when I created the new exercise regime Ginger Jogging:  Jogging with a Ginger.

Now, there are a few variations to Ginger Jogging that I will explain in later posts, but for now we will discuss the basics. Obviously, the more Gingers you take on your jog, the more amazing your experience will be.  (That should go without saying)  Also, we encourage people to diversify their jogging Gingers, if possible.  For example, Pepper and I as a pair represent both the Canine Ginger and Human Ginger categories, which makes us a very sought after team.  Remember- the more Ginger the merrier!

Human Gingers are usually the easiest Gingers to locate (you probably already know at least one!)  however there are other Gingers that would be good Ginger Jogging buddies too.  For example, Equine Gingers can make good jogging partners, and possibly a Feline Ginger may work with the proper dedication.  I have yet to try a Bovine Ginger as a jogging partner, but those 4-H kids can work magic so I’m sure where there is a will there is a way.  I would generally warn against Ginger Fish partners for obvious terrain challenges (although, they are great for the aquatic portion of triathlon training), and anything from the Reptilian Ginger category are generally not considered very socially acceptable to jog with, as people tend to find them “scary” and sometimes “venomous”.

Once you select the best Ginger partner for you, the rest is easy.  Just go for a jog with your Ginger buddy and enjoy!  Even if you are a novice Ginger Jogger, you can start small and build you way up.  If the exercise, fresh air, and sunshine don’t manage to lift your spirit, then you can be certain your Ginger will.

And of course, no Ginger Jog is complete without the obligatory Ginger Selfie at the end of it.  Here is Pepper and I during our Ginger Jog (in the rain) a few days ago:

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And here is Pepper posing post-Ginger Jog on the levee this afternoon.

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So just remember, even if you’re not an all-star athlete, it’s hard not to look good with a Ginger by your side, so grab a Ginger and get to jogging!

Do you Ginger Jog?  Are you going to start?

Pepper and I will be chronicling our Ginger Jogging expeditions this year so stay tuned for our updates!

Why Walk? Part 1

This is a blog post I have been meaning to write for a while because it is about a subject on which I have very strong feelings- walking your dog.  It is my belief that walking your dog is the single most important thing you can do for the physical and mental health of your pet. There are numerous benefits associated with walking your dog, not only for your dog, but for you as well.  This will be a two-part post.  One part about the benefits that walking provides for your dog, and the other about the benefits walking provides for you (of which there are many!).

Part 1:  The Canine Benefits of Walking

1. Physical exercise:  This is likely the most obvious benefit of walking your dog.  Just like in humans, a sedentary dog is not a healthy dog.  Cruising around the backyard for a few minutes a day does not provide the proper aerobic activity needed for a healthy dog, just as moving around one’s house does not provide enough exercise for a person. Walking has many physical benefits for your pet, here are a few:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight for your pet- Dogs that are overweight should certainly include exercise in their weight-loss routine, as opposed to relying solely on less food consumption.
  • Strengthening their cardiovascular system- This is very important for dogs of any sizes and will help keep them healthy as they age.
  • Increasing muscle mass and tone-  Daily exercise helps to build up a proper level of muscle mass on your dog that is needed to support their bones and joints.  This helps to prevent some joint problems as they age, and also improves their overall metabolism.  Plus, it gives dogs that handsome toned look without having to hit the gym.
  • Strengthening bones and joints-  When dogs are exposed to aerobic activity, it puts a very small amount of stress on their bones.  This stress causes tiny, tiny, tiny breaks and weaknesses in their bones, which are then repaired by their body while they are resting.  When their body repairs these weakened areas of bone, the repair is made to be stronger than the bone was originally.  Over time, this causes higher bone density and stronger bones and joints for your dog. Even in older pets, daily walking is helpful to maintain the flexibility of their joints which will help to battle stiffness, arthritis, and joint problems that are associated with senior pets.

These are all important health reasons, but let’s not forget that dogs also just have a lot of energy.  Walking is the best way to let them release some stress and energy so they will be significantly calmer around the house.

2. Mental stimulation:  In my opinion, the mental stimulation that a dog gains from going for walks is just as important as the physical benefits.  Dogs are natural inquisitive creatures and are also very intelligent, but, like humans, they need mental stimulation to maintain their brain activity.  By sitting around the house all day and only being exposed to the same area of backyard, your dog’s brain function will drop over time, as it doesn’t take a lot of thinking or problem solving to walk around the same plot of land each day.  However, during walks dogs are constantly exposed to new smells that need to be processed, visual stimulation from variety of different sights, and auditory stimulation from various unknown sounds.  These factors combined with an increased level of overall activity cause an strong increase in brain function. Dogs also have a natural desire to roam and inspect their area, so walking in an area near your house gives your dog a feeling of accomplishment as he surveys his “territory”. These factors all cause your dog to increase the use of many parts of its brain that only get minimal use at home.  This higher level of mental activity has other sub-benefits that occur also such as….

3.  Improved behavior:  Dogs, like children, don’t innately go looking for trouble, they often just find it when they are bored.  A dog that receives stimulation from walks is significantly less likely to try to dig out of the yard, shred your favorite couch,or raid your closet for your most expensive pair of heels to chew.   Granted, walking is not a miracle cure for all behavior problems, but by providing your dog with mental stimulation and activity through walks, they are much less likely to feel the need to find their own forms of stimulation/ trouble.

4. Training:  Walks are a great time to catch up on some training.  This can be as basic as asking your dog to sit while you put their leash or before you cross a street, or can get as intricate as off-leash agility training (but I’ll save that for another post).  It is important to establish a good walking routine in which you are the leader of the walk, as opposed to the dog walking you.*  Once this routine is established, you will notice that your dog is very responsive to your commands and actually enjoys responding to your cues.  Most breeds were bred over time to be some form of working dog, and therefore they actually crave the stimulation of following commands.

*More on good on-leash walking techniques to come soon in a future post.

5. Toe Nails:  This one may seem a little random, but trust me, it’s important.  Anyone who has ever tried to clip their dogs toe nails knows that it is generally a bit of an ordeal (unless you have one of those wonder dogs that doesn’t mind in the slightest, in which case, count your blessings!).  Oswald, for example, has never had his toe nails clipped, nor has he ever needed to.  Walking daily on different surfaces, but especially concrete sidewalks, naturally files his nails and keeps them at a normal length.  No traumatic nail trimmings for us.

6. Socialization:  Dogs are naturally social creatures.  In the wild, they live in packs together, and their social bonds with humans were one of the main reasons dogs were chosen for domestication all those years ago.  When out walking, dogs have the opportunity to meet up with other dogs and other people.  If you have a dog that is slightly skittish of people they don’t know, keep some treats in your pocket and allow interested people to offer a couple to your dog.  Over time, your dog will become much less anxious when meeting new people.  If you have a dog that loves everyone and everything (i.e. my dog Rupert), then use meeting other dogs an people as a training moment.  Ask your dog to sit as other dogs or people approach, and once they sit quietly then they get the reward of the attention from the other dog or human.  This method also prevents any lunging and jumping up that can be a problematic behavior.

7. Your dog with love you for it:  If all those other reasons weren’t enough, this reason will get you. I see it twice a day, every day when I put on my shoes to take the dogs out- that looks of pure happiness on their faces.  Dogs love their walks so much, and they will love you and appreciate you even more for taking them.

So, whether you need to start this process or just get back into the routine, get going!  Dig out your tennis shoes and pull out the leash.  Even 15 minutes a day is enough to provide all of these benefits for your dog, and it will be well worth it in the long run.

Look for our next post of why walking is so important for you, as well!

Happy Trails!

Oswald taking a 7 am walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Oswald taking a 7 am walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans.