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I had a meltdown in the middle of my class last night.  It was awful.

We were nearly halfway through an hour of step aerobics, and my choreography completely fell apart.  I was trying to lead the class through one of the same combinations we had done the week before – a really tricky combo, but a really fun one many had mastered the first time but which warranted another go-round.  However, no matter how much I tried, I just could not get it to work.  We were off the beat.  We had extra counts left at the end of the combo.  I was getting those confused, frustrated looks … I was ruining their workout!   I wanted to give up.  Right there in the middle of the studio, I just wanted to sit on my bench and cry like a little girl who flops down on the floor in the middle of the grocery store and wails an embarrassing tantrum.

Obviously I can’t quit in the middle of class.  I know that.  If you’re standing in front of a crowd giving a speech and your mind goes blank, you might be able to stand there for a few seconds gathering yourself, but eventually you have to go on.  I couldn’t just stand there in step class trying to get a grip.  I had to keep everyone moving.  The music was still playing and hearts still thumping.  I made them march and do jumping jacks and go back to the warm-up combo to keep them sweating while I mentally regrouped.

I’ve been teaching group fitness for nearly ten years, and it’s been a long time since I had a total brain block like I had last night.  I felt horrible!  Every Monday, I can’t wait for step class.  It is pure step: five 32-count combos built into one 60-minute workout.  I change it every week, and I love it every time.  Maybe I put too much emphasis on fancy moves and not enough on the exercise—back to the drawing board for next class.

I always tell the women in my classes that they can’t give up.  They have to keep coming to the gym.  They have to keep trying.  Last night it was the women in my class who kept me going and who reminded me that, even if I have a meltdown, they still got a great workout.  Whew!  So I might lose a little sleep about it, perfectionist that I am, but I’ll be back next week.  We have to keep going back.

– Sarah


In the last blog I said that I was going to attend my first class and report back. Well I’m happy to say that the Zumba class was the most fun I’ve had doing anything that could be called exercise. I sweated and smiled for a whole hour–certainly a first for me. The class was taught by Iliana whose energy is positively contagious. Her manner and the Latin beat would make even the most confirmed couch potato get up and move. I also very much enjoyed her friendly open manner. We all wore name tags and she definitely fostered a real feeling of community in the class.

Most importantly I could do it. I lasted for the whole hour. Each of the approximately 10 songs we danced to had about 4 different moves, that weren’t difficult to learn and with plenty of repetition, I was (mostly) able to keep up. Some of the steps were quite quick, so sometimes I did three steps to her four, but I still got a good workout.

I had my heart rate monitor on and glanced at it from time to time. It was mostly about 130–good enough for me–especially since it stayed up there for an hour. I am now busy looking for other dance type classes. I realize I’ve found my niche. I’m going to dance myself thin. I’m so happy to have a fun alternative to the dreaded elliptical and treadmill. I won’t give up the stepmill. Even though I hate it, you get a lot of bang for your buck on that one. I highly recommend Iliana’s class at Back Bay on Thursdays at 9:30 am.

I’m off to Florida to see my mom tomorrow morning. All on my own–no doctor, no trainer, no gym–we’ll see how I do. (Of course, I will have my mom who at 84 is still hopeful that I will lose weight!

– Cheryl

I have a confession to make.  Fitness Flashback is my favorite class. 

Healthworks just put this class on the schedule in January, but it has quickly become something I look forward to every Sunday morning.  Toward the end of the week, I begin pondering which songs I want to use for class, and on Saturdays I comb through my music library to create a playlist.  Most often I find great oldies in my own collection, but sometimes I go shopping in search of other classics to add in the mix. One of the wonderfully energetic and generous members who takes my classes in Brookline surprised me with an iTunes gift card for the holidays, and I spent the entire amount on Flashback music.  It was the perfect gift!

The next step involves kitchen dancing.  I already have fun routines made up to my favorite songs, and I’ve inherited fabulous choreography from instructors I teamed with in the past.  But other songs require creative be-bopping in the small space between my dinner table and refrigerator.  Whether I decide on a mambo, grapevine, pony or some kind of shimmy-shake, the moves have to fit the music so the exercise feels like dancing instead of working.  I’m sure any neighbors whose windows face mine probably think I’m crazy hopping around next to my stove, but I’m willing to risk the scrutiny.

Final preparation is my walk to the gym, when I listen to my iPod and dance the workout in my head.  I am always excited to surprise the class with a new song (well, old song we haven’t heard in a while) and a goofy move that will make us all laugh as we burn calories and pump our hearts.

Never tried it?  Put on “Johnny Be Good,” play the guitar on your leg and hop backwards, shaking your head like a fool.  Then come to Fitness Flashback and do it with everybody in class!

– Sarah

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that cardio is not my favorite. But while I find the bike a bore, dislike the treadmill and consider the elliptical punishment, there is one machine that strikes even great fear into my heart—the Stepmill!

For the past three months, I have watched fellow exercisers struggle on this diabolical machine while I pedaled away nearby. I have also heard my daughter’s stories of the torture of stepping. I thought I was safe from this particular torment because my knees aren’t great. But last week Bonnie said, “Okay. It’s time to try the Stepmill.” I whined about my knees and she pointed out that I walked upstairs without a problem. I cried that the first step was too high! I was too short! It was too scary! She wasn’t buying any of it. “Two minutes,” she said. “Just two minutes.”

So I clambered up onto the dreaded machine and began “climbing.”  As anyone could have predicted, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. Of course, I was on about level 2—but I was doing it—just like all of those other folks I had seen. I did my two minutes and hopped off—very proud of myself. One more challenge conquered!

The dreaded Stepmill...not so bad after all!

– Cheryl

Which cardio machine is your least favorite?

When I moved to Boston last May, I decided to live in Beacon Hill mostly because my daughter lives here and I wanted to be close by, but also because I wanted to be a true city-dweller and live without a car. Walking would good for my health I knew,  and  if I had a car, it would be much more difficult to convince myself to walk. I walked more last summer than I had for years. But I still found the mile to the Pru something to be avoided on most days. (Many taxi drivers benefitted from my laziness.)

When I started at HW in November, I felt very virtuous on the first day I walked there from home. It took about 30 minutes and was actually enjoyable. Bonnie (my trainer) told me that walking outside was as good (or better) than the treadmill or the elliptical, as long as I walked at a good enough clip. In an effort to get me to the gym, she even told me that if I walked there and felt very resistant to more exercise, I should just forget it and go to the spa. This was great psychology.  It got me to HW on many days when I couldn’t bear the thought of cardio; however, I never completely skipped it.

Even though I haven now gotten over my dread of cardio machines, they are still not my favorite. So a month ago a bought myself a pedometer and started walking in earnest. (I also bought long underwear, so I could walk when it was really cold). My pedometer is great. I have owned several that didn’t work well, but this is an Omron and it’s very reliable. One great feature is that in addition to recording the gross number of steps I take in a day, it breaks out the “aerobic” steps—these are the steps I take at a rate of more than 60 steps per hour.  It also gives me the number of minutes that I walked at that rate or faster, so I am able to count those minutes as legitimate exercise.

I am aiming for 10,000 steps a day, but most days I far exceed it.  The pedometer really has encouraged me to walk more and more. One remarkable Saturday a couple of weeks ago I hit 19,000!  Last week I walked from Beacon Hill to my department at BU (2.5 miles) in 70 minutes.  I’m very short (5 feet) with a very short stride, so I was really moving. I can’t wait until the weather gets nicer, so I’ll be likely to walk even more.

– Cheryl

 Do you incorporate walking outside into your exercise routine?

So it’s only Tuesday and this week has already been crazy busy.  I’ve met a few new people through my volleyball meet-ups, which have turned into new leagues and tournaments to play in.  It’s a lot of fun but there is also a major social aspect (think: eating/drinking) to these newfound friendships, so I lately I’ve felt like I’ve fallen off the healthful eating wagon just a bit. Thankfully, I had signed up for Sunny’s Tuesday night Core BURN to help me counterattack those extra calories, especially the ones that sit in my core region. 

Sunny ready to pump us up!

Here are some of the highlights:

After the normal warm up, we worked on hills with bursts of speed for about ten minutes.

Coming off the treadmills, we did a circuit of eight core moves on the exercise and Bosu balls.  We performed each move for 30 seconds.

1)     Plank on the exercise ball

2)     Rolling plank on the exercise ball

3)     Boat pose extension on the Bosu (extend legs straight)

4)     Corkscrew extension on the Bosu (extend legs side to side like a corkscrew)

5)     Back extension with hands behind head on exercise ball

6)     Back extension with arms extended in the air on the exercise ball

7)     Leg extension on Bosu with legs extended straight back

8)     Leg extension on Bosu with legs in a V formation

After this circuit, we hopped back on the treadmill and worked on sprints slowly adding an incline to continue to work our glutes and hamstrings.  We ran for about ten minutes.

Heading up the hill...

Our final circuit of strength included doing each of the following for 30 seconds:

1)     Knee roll-ups on the exercise ball

2)     Planks with a moving exercise ball

3)     Planks on the Bosu (upside down) with a Burpee-style jump

4)     Rolling planks on the Bosu (upside down) rocking side to side and front to back

For our last turn on the treadmill, we ran it out for 5 minutes, starting with our 5k pace.  During the last run we sped up to “catch a friend” and then returned to our race pace.  Finally, we sprinted out the last leg of the race finishing hard.

In my opinion, a very good workout for a BURNed out girl!

– Kate

What do you do to get back or stay on track even when you get thrown off your routine?

I woke up this morning feeling a little groggy.  The past week has been brutal.  Despite it being a short week, I was exhausted by Wednesday and looked forward to the weekend. Though I felt a little unmotivated (to say the least!) about working out, I got up this Saturday morning and dragged my butt over to Healthworks for Build and BURN with Regan C. I came in a little sleepy but jumped on the treadmill anyway.  After warming up, we started out working on sprints.  The sprints looked something like this:

 –          Recovery speed for 30 seconds
 –          65% of full out sprint speed for one minute
 –          Recovery speed for 30 seconds
 –          75% of full out sprint speed for one minute
 –          Recovery speed for 30 seconds
 –          90% of full out sprint speed for one minute

 For strength, we did a circuit of strength moves, performing each exercise for one minute:

–          Plank with alternating arm row
–          Mountain climbers
–          Bosu balance with core twist
–          Resistance squat for inner thighs
–          Backward lunge with shoulder press

From here we went on to hills, starting from a 1% incline, slowly up the hill to a 7% and then back down to 1%.  In this exercise we increased the incline while trying to maintain the same speed. After the hill, we went back to the gym floor to complete the strength circuit again.  Then we returned to the treadmill for one last hill with a full out sprint down hill at the end.  We followed up the running with some core work (variations of planks). The entire time we exercised, Regan was very attentive wanting to know how we were feeling and how we were doing. 

A BURN class in session

To my surprise, I felt energized after the workout.  Another member agreed with me saying that we felt better after the workout compared to how we felt walking in that morning. I left the class feeling refreshed and energized and in a way well rested.  After completing the class, I was ready to take on a long Saturday filled with errands and going out with friends.

 – Kate

What do you do to make yourself feel more energized?

A dance class

One of the great things about a Healthworks membership is the variety of exercises you can do on any given day.  You can dance, run, bounce or ride yourself to a better body.

Because of these options, I’ve really been trying to do more than my usual run on the treadmill and strength training routine.  In addition, I’ve been adding yoga workouts to my regimen and playing team sports such as basketball and volleyball once a week.

I find that doing different activities helps work different parts of my body.  When I run on the treadmill I build endurance in my legs for longer runs.  In basketball, I sprint shorter distances.  For volleyball, I jump and tend to squat a lot more and I give my arms a work out.  In yoga, the movements are slower and have less impact but I focus on building my core.   The best part is that over the last 3 months as a member, I have noticed a difference in my ability to hold poses and jump higher from the training I have done at Healthworks but I also think I am going to do my body a favor by keeping it moving by playing sports and mixing up my workout.

 – Kate

What sort of activities do you like to throw into your workout regimen?

I hate cardio. I hate cardio. I hate cardio.  This was my mantra every time I stepped on the elliptical or the treadmill. (I don’t like the bike either. It’s easier but I get so bored just sitting there and it seems like a waste, so I mostly avoid it. )

A group of cardio enthusiasts at Healthworks

At first, I could only do 4 minutes on the elliptical—level 1. And that was torture. Gradually I worked my way up to 15 minutes but each time increase would weigh on my mind beforehand. All I could think about when I finished, was that the next time I would have to do even more. (That’s the thing about exercise. You’re never done, done. You’re just done for today.) Then one day on the radio I heard an interview with a 20-year old girl who was going to attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean. When asked how she would cope with the privation and hardship such a journey would entail she replied, “It’s just a mind over matter. You will yourself strong enough to keep going.”

I thought a lot about that concept—that I could actually “will” myself into success. Perhaps it wasn’t my muscles or my heart that couldn’t stand the exercise—it was my mind that gave up too quickly.  If I could only train my mind to push through the discomfort, my body would follow. I also realized something—even though it’s uncomfortable—you reach a point where it doesn’t get more painful. Now when I reach that point, I just say, “Okay, we’re here. It’s not going to get any worse. You’re just going to be this uncomfortable for a little while longer.”

For me, this attitude shift has worked. Last weekend, I made 30 minutes on the elliptical.  I actually could have gone on longer, but I had promised myself I would do 30 and I was afraid to set the bar too high—if that makes any sense at all. I still don’t love cardio, but I have stopped repeating the mantra. And, I have to admit, I like what it has done for me.  I can now walk and walk and walk without getting winded. Two months ago I would plan my day to minimize movement.  Now I even look for ways to move more because I can.

 – Cheryl

How do you overcome mental barriers to exercise?

Healthworks Chestnut Hill

I had a great experience last night at my massage at Healthworks. Before the massage, I worked out and lifted weights. Ialso jumped in the jacuzzi for 10 minutes, and then took a hot shower. Finally, the time had arrived! I met up with the massage therapist and immediately began to relax! Candles, scented spray, massage oil… and time spent massaging my sore muscles from working out and from daily life – hunched over a computer, wearing heels, carrying a heavy bag from the store, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »