In the first part of my How I Lost My Pregnancy Baby Weight series (and I have no idea how many are coming, so we’ll just define “series” rather loosely), I mentioned how counting calories was not all that it was cracked up to be. Just to be clear, I absolutely believe eating nutritiously and modestly are critical components in living a healthy lifestyle and should not be discounted. But for those of us trying to reclaim our bodies after having a baby, or for anyone who’s trying to lose 15-30 pounds (give or take), exercise is really where the magic happens.
Dieting won’t make much of a difference alone, so save yourself some agony. Of course there’s always a caveat. Don’t go sabotaging your workouts by going ape shit on some Sprinkles cupcakes. Just don’t go there. Remember, eat modestly.
After stewing on this post for a week, I tried to narrow the most important things I learned along the way to losing my baby weight down to these 11 key tips that made the biggest impact on my results. I apologize for the dissertation. I was debating if I should break up this novel into two shorter posts, but in the end it seemed important to keep these tips together because each piece connects with the other.
11 Exercise Tips That Transformed My Body
1. Cut the bullshit
Seriously. Suck it up. Pity parties drive me nuckin futs. So much so that I’m actually straining right now not to use my potty mouth, so instead I just used a spoonerism (btw, that is a real word that I just learned 30 seconds ago). Make the commitment and get off the excuse train. Hey, I’m no stranger to excuses. When I get on that path, I hate myself for it and I know. I absolutely know I can do better than I give myself credit for. And I’ll bet you can too.
Make the commitment to workout 6 days a week for at least 30 minutes each day. Don’t say, “Oh, just tonight I’ll catch up on my DVR because I’m so tired anyway.” When I’ve been on my feet with an energy leeching 2-year-old ALL DAY, the last thing I want to do with the few precious hours I have left is get in spandex and puff on my inhaler for dear life. But when I put it into perspective – for example, I spend “at least” 30 minutes each day checking Facebook or watching Dora the Explorer – I know I can find half an hour to work out at my maximum ability. And sorry folks, taking a walk around the neighborhood doesn’t count as your maximum ability. Don’t sell yourself short.
2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
It’s a common misconception that cardio loading will help you lose weight fast. For most people, running ends up being the go-to exercise because it’s easy to do, accessible and free. But putting all your eggs in one basket (like only doing cardio) isn’t going to get rid of your belly – fast. Yes, you will lose weight and it is a great activity to incorporate into your daily or weekly workout routine, but almost all fitness experts will tell you that it is simply not enough (unless you’re running a marathon), nor is it the most efficient way to burn calories fast and get your metabolism going. So where do you put all those eggs?
3. Pack a 1-2 punch
Mix cardio with regular strength training to get the fastest, most impressive results. This was a hard concept for me to accept until I saw the results firsthand. Building lean muscle (not the bodybuilding kind) boosts your metabolism. In other words, the lean muscle you accumulate doing strength training will burn more calories and fat even when you’re not exercising. Pretty sweet deal, right?
Here’s how it works (in noob terms). After you’ve done your strength training, the muscles go through a recovery and repair phase (the soreness you feel the next day), which eventually leaves you with more muscle. That muscle then continues to burn more calories. Now if you’re working out your big muscle groups (such as your quads while doing lunges) with some smaller muscles (such as your biceps while doing arm curls) you are getting more bang for your buck – or a 1-2 punch as I like to call it. On the other hand, if you’re running six days a week with no form of strength training, the calories burned over time aren’t as high because you’re working out just a few muscle groups over and over again, primarily for endurance.
I was never fond of strength training or lifting weights until I understood the mechanics behind it. Honestly, I didn’t even own hand weights until I started The 30 Day Shred. Like many other women, I thought that strength training meant bulking up and doing whey protein keg stands. But after reading many fitness magazines, websites and books such as The Abs Diet or Winning By Losing, I was assured that it would take a ridiculous amount of body building for a woman to bulk up. We’re just not built like men and our hormones translate the muscle differently than with men. It makes sense to me… even Jillian Michaels, who lives eats breathes fitness doesn’t look like the Hulk – yet.
4. Skip the gym membership and invest in some good workout DVDs
This day and age, we have so many good resources at our fingertips whether it be on YouTube, blogs, websites, DVD, and even Video on Demand with your cable company. It seems like spending a lot of money on a gym membership is just not practical anymore and is not a great fit for mothers or body-shy folk like myself. The only exception would be if your gym offers some really excellent classes that would be cheaper than going elsewhere, say through your city or local clubs, or if they have reliable child care for you to workout with baby nearby.
I am big on workout DVDs because I get sick of the same old thing pretty quickly. I enjoy cycling through my favorites throughout the week in the privacy of my own home. I also think gyms are totally confusing if you don’t have a personal trainer to show you how to use each piece of equipment. So here are a few of my favorite DVDs that I recommend to everyone. You’ll notice I love Jillian Michaels:
These DVDs are a good place to start out if you’re moderately in shape. You can always modify your workouts to fit your ability. You’ll notice your clothes fitting looser and your arms becoming toned. After 30 days though, you’ll probably be ready to move on. This is why I transitioned to a more intense … ok …. much more intense … workout program after 30 days. See #5.
5. Invest in a copy of P90x
P90x deserves a number all on its own. It is the “mother of all workouts,” and while it already has a few successors, I think it will forever remain a cult classic. This workout is intense. It requires serious commitment, but it will bring you serious results. I never thought I’d be doing chin ups in my free time. I never thought I’d be curling weights – 10s baby – ohhhh noooo she di’int! And I never thought I would be working out for 90 days with Noob Daddy, who I’m pretty sure has bragged about his high cholesterol as if they were SAT scores.
It’s 6 days a week, about one hour each day, with a different workout each day for 90 days. Can you imagine anything more detestable? Yet, if you commit to it and can find someone to commiserate with you, you will absolutely lose your baby weight and probably look better than before. Every person I know who has done this for the full 90 days has shown incredible results, so I know it works for men and women alike. And no, ladies, you won’t become a body builder unless you’re supplementing MRE bars for each meal.
6. Find a workout you love
When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter what workouts I love, you need to find something active that you enjoy doing (or can tolerate the longest) and keep it in rotation. Whether it’s yoga, Zumba, Crossfit, running, hip hop, ballroom dancing, hiking, spin, Pilates, surfing, Muay Thai, Capoeira, Yoga Booty Ballet, swimming, etc. there are endless options out there. Most places offer classes in the evening, which is great for working people and moms who have to trade parenting duties with the hubby to get some personal time. Once you find something you love, mix it in with some other go-to workouts to keep your routine fresh and interesting. By alternating your workout, you keep your muscles confused (the strategy behind P90x), which in turn builds more muscles and revs your metabolism! I love switching between my workout DVDs, running at the park, and taking some dance classes during the week.
7. Use a heart rate monitor
I love my Timex heart rate monitor watch. It allows you to set a target heart rate zone for yourself so that you can work out at your optimum level depending on what your fitness goal is. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, then you would want to shoot for endurance and stamina. If you’re trying to lose weight fast, then a high heart rate during your workouts would enable you to lose more calories. Now that I have my heart rate monitor watch, I can also keep track of how many calories I’m burning during each workout. Not only do I end a workout with a “tangible” calorie count, but I’m able to set more goals for myself. I’m not gonna lie … it’s gratifying when I beat my numbers.
8. Skip the scale
When you start working out regularly, I advise you skip the scale for a little while. Your weight is going to be increasing a bit as you gain muscle, and it might freak you out or make you feel discouraged. Your weight might not change too much in the beginning, and I don’t want you to throw in the towel. The best way to gauge your progress? Pay attention to how your clothes are fitting. For me, I could feel my pants and shorts getting baggier after a few weeks even though my “numbers” weren’t changing too dramatically. If you use P90x, you will have to take before and after photos (which is uncomfortable as all hell, but actually a great idea) and keep detailed measurements of your chest, arms, waist, legs, etc. Using a tape measure is another good way to see how your body is changing. My biceps got bigger (which I didn’t think possible) as did my legs. I didn’t mind that at all since I could see it was muscle and not cellulite! By the end of my 30 Day Shred and P90x regimens, I had dropped a pant size and had to update my wardrobe (not a bad reward!).
9. Don’t be a perfectionist
Remember that you can’t do it all, but you can give it your best. I get many emails from perfectionist parents (like myself) who feel that any deviation from a schedule or what a parenting book says is equivalent to failure. I always try to remind them to give it their best and be flexible. Modify. The same goes with working out. You’re going to have to adapt and modify your workouts till you are at a comfortable, but challenging level.
Put the perfectionism aside. Working out isn’t all or nothing (I need this reminder very often). All excuses aside, if you’ve only got 20 minutes one day to be active, it’s better than nothing! Don’t skip a move or an activity because you’re afraid of embarrassment. You’ve got to put the ego aside. If there’s something that looks too challenging, do half of it or just one rep. Skip it if you’ve got a solid medical reason to do so or if you’re tweaking something big time. For example, when I’m doing a workout video and the instructor is demonstrating something I can’t keep up with (ahem, side arm plank), I will substitute a move that I know I’m successful at (like regular plank or bicycle crunches).
10. Be dedicated and consistent with your workout time
Trying to squeeze in a workout with a noob or several noobs is super difficult. If you don’t have a newborn or kids, seriously…. carpe freakin diem. Once your noob has worn you to a nub and finally fallen asleep, working out is the last thing you want to do (that or ironing laundry. Shudder). But you have to find at least 30 minutes where you make the magic happen. I highly recommend a mommy group or Stroller Strides if you want to work out with your noob during the day. Stroller Strides is a group of supportive moms who get together and work out with their little ones. You can stop your workout to deal with a diaper blowout or toss Cheerios at your baby’s adorable face, and no one will think less of you. Their workouts include cardio, strength training and abs, and most groups plan weekly playdates as well. Also, some gyms have child care, there are mommy and me yoga classes, or maybe you want to bribe your family members to come babysit. Just “keep pressing play,” as they say in P90x.
11. Ditch the Negative Nancys and get yourself a solid support system
It’s hard enough getting yourself motivated and committed, you definitely don’t need any whiners trying to hold you back. Stick to your guns (those sexy ones you’re going to be getting with your workout) and don’t let anyone talk you out of your goals or burden you with their complaints. The Negative Nancys are usually just projecting their own insecurities.
Surround yourself with a strong support group and a good workout buddy if you can. I have a fabulous cousin who takes hip hop and PureBarre classes with me, Zumba by herself, and we go biking to the farmer’s market when we’re feeling overambitious. It’s like training with the Terminator. Love it. I’ve even convinced my sis to go biking with me on occasion, and the only kind of “outdoors” she tolerates is an outdoor mall. If you prefer to commiserate and share your accomplishments online, then find a health forum like Sparkpeople.com to connect with others who have made a similar commitment.
Do you have exercise tips that have worked for you? I’d love to know what helps you stay fit and healthy, or if you’ve lost weight recently with some good old-fashioned sweat and determination.
Lastly, I’m inviting you to come back here and share your trials and tribulations on Noob Mommy. I’m planning to embark on a new 30 Day Fitness Challenge where I’ll be working out at least 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week for 30 days. I plan to primarily use my new Ripped in 30 Jillian Michaels video, but will also cycle through some old favorites as well. I’m looking for workout buddies who want to make this 1 month commitment with me! Will you participate and leave updates here on my blog as a way to rehash our experiences? If you’re ready to join me on this 30 Day Fitness Challenge, leave a comment here so I can acknowledge you on my next post.