Thursday, January 23, 2014

in the spirit of the new year...

I've been thinking about my health goals lately, in particular those having to do with fitness. Realizing that I'm now in my mid-thirties (hello, slower metabolism and decreasing bone density) and there's no way I can go back in time, I had to evaluate where I am health-wise. I'm focusing more on how I feel and how my body functions - in particular, my bones.

Hoping I can still cartwheel when I'm old and gray

I try my best to get as much calcium as I can from food, such as dark leafy greens, yogurt, kefir, as well as calcium-fortified almond milk and smoothies throughout the week. In addition to that I take a vitamin D supplement (prescribed by my doctor for my deficiency, determined through a blood test), which also helps the body absorb calcium.

matcha green tea smoothie

Aside from that, exercising for bone health is something I always have to consider. Especially because I have a lot of risk factors for osteoporosis, with genetics playing a large part: my grandmother had osteoporosis, and my mom also discovered her low bone density years ago - as a blessing in disguise - when she fractured her wrist. When she recovered she went on long walks, daily - and was able to strengthen her bones over time.

For that reason, one of the things that always nags me is strength training to keep my bone density up. I have to admit that I really, really, really dislike free weights. I've purchased free hand weights a couple of times in the past that tend to gather dust in some forgotten corner in our home. They're just not for me.

Thankfully, an asana practice offers strength training postures, using your own body weight as resistance. I've always preferred strengthening this way; so when I do my home practice, I try to hold planks a bit longer, or squeeze in a few push-ups within each sun salutation (after high plank and before moving into upward-facing dog). My home practice is usually sun salutations along with its variations and warrior sequences, and I throw in a few balancing poses as well. I don't do any of those fancy yoga poses that you might see on magazine covers. I think those who do advanced inversions and arm balances are just beautiful to watch, and remind me of how amazing the human body is. But over the years I've actually become more cautious about trying inversions especially without an instructor - and I just haven't been able to commit the kind of practice needed to do them. But mostly they just haven't been a focus of my practice, and that is ok. I've also come to prefer more restorative poses and long stretches, though I still practice supported inversions for the benefits. So after all is said and done, the strength training that I get in yoga may be quite minimal.

Last summer, I started taking TRX at the same place where I train for Krav Maga. I love the concept of using your own body weight as resistance, but with the addition of these "suspension trainers" or bands to make things more challenging. I'm starting to feel stronger over time, but I think results are taking longer overall.  As it's a long drive for me to get there (and also I am a real wimp when it comes to winter driving - don't judge), I'm just taking this class once a week. I'm hoping I can go more often once winter ends. 

So that is my long-winded way of telling you about this 30-day plank challenge. I thought it was a perfect way to slowly build strength - it's something I can do anywhere, with no equipment, and it literally only takes a few minutes out of the day. I love planks because it's such a multi-purpose exercise in which you work different parts of the body at once. I like being able to work smart.

(Here's a good tutorial on proper alignment in plank pose. And here's another one.)

Image from Yoga Journal
Image from Yoga Journal

Here's how the challenge goes:

Image from here

In my home yoga practice last night, I thought I'd hold plank as long as I can to get a baseline. I was still a bit sore from my Krav training a couple of days before, but felt strong enough to hold it. I did 70 seconds before I felt like I would lose the alignment in my spine (which I don't want), so I ended it there, then took a child's pose after (aaaahhhhh....) and then stretched in downward facing dog. So I'm going to work at the 70-second level for the next couple of days and then challenge myself to 90 seconds (Day 12).

So, the challenge is to work up to FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. I'm sweating already just thinking of that.

But on second thought - it does seem attainable. I like the idea of breaking down a goal into smaller subgoals. SMART goals, so to speak. I think SMART goals set me up for success better than vague "resolutions".

For accountability's sake, I'll document my progress here every few days. Anyone care to join me?


On an unrelated note, I've really been craving this "superfood sunshine smoothie". Doesn't the color just brighten up these drab winter days? As we've been having subzero wind chill temps, I had it without ice. I didn't have goji berries on hand, so I just doubled the orange juice. The ginger provides a nice subtle kick.

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Jen said...

I've eyed that plank challenge schedule a few times in the past and considered doing it -- maybe this is the nudge I need to try!

Mia (Savor Everyday) said...

Hi Jen! Join me! Let's motivate each other :)

Anonymous said...

OK -- I'm printing the schedule now! I'm not sure if I'll start tomorrow or Sunday. PS -- I love that picture of you cartwheeling :)

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