May 192017
My Fitness Journey: Exercises that work for me, and those that don’t

Another new topic on my blog! This is a long post (so grab a cup of tea), but I hope it can offer some tips and inspiration regarding the overwhelming world of fitness. The take-away message is that fitness is personal and a constantly evolving journey. What once worked for your body might not work today, so it’s important to continually try new activities, but also recognise which exercises are most effective and healthiest for you, and what makes you happy!

The beginning:

Mickey Mouse me

From about the age of three I was in some form of dance class including jazz, tap, and ballet. I did classes until my final year of high school, and my love of dance continues to this day. Equal to dance is my love of swimming, and I did lessons right up through lifeguard training. Unfortunately, I really struggled with my weight in high school and, by the time graduation arrived, I was physically unable to dance and swim, felt self-conscious and depressed about my health and appearance, and was also too focused on grades and getting into university to give due attention to my health.

My parents got me a personal trainer, a gift for which I’m forever thankful. By the end of summer, I had lost about 20 lbs and gained a lot of knowledge of how to use gym equipment and what exercises work best for me. During my undergrad, I did a couple of years of belly dance classes and even gave lion dance (traditional Chinese dance with the dragon/lion puppet) a go, but I really didn’t focus on my fitness, and much of this was due to an injury.

A lifelong setback:

I’ve always had terrible joints (particularly my knees) and I have hyper-flexibility, which means my joints “snap” and are prone to strains. Moreover, when I was 20 I injured my back — the GP suspected either a ruptured or bulging disk — though I never received an official diagnosis. This injury has never healed. My back hurts most of the time, and I have chronic sciatica. Both my chiropractor and osteopath have said that I’ve got some sort of “gap” that shouldn’t be there, and the best I can do is stretch regularly and not overdo it on the exercise. So, I know what I can and cannot do with my body. I shouldn’t sit too much because my back is prone to go out during long periods of inactivity. I also can’t carry heavy things, particularly above my head.

When my back does go out, it can take a couple of days to a couple of months for me to get back to “normal”. This limitation is frustrating and creates a conundrum in my fitness goals. For me, the most effective workouts and the most enjoyable ones, are high impact and high intensity. This injury has taught me that I need to balance toning and burning calories, with strength training, stretching, and knowing my limitations.

Fitness and friendship:

When I was doing my master’s degree, my weight crept back up. This was due to stress, poor eating habits, sitting constantly, and the Saskatchewan climate, which severely limits outdoor activity most of the year. During my two years in Saskatoon, I enjoyed doing Wii fitness, including yoga with the fitness board, and one summer I got really into a Zumba Wii workout.

But, the best two exercise-related successes I had were friendships! I had two exercise buddies who are both amazing women. Akira — a brain-hemorrhage survivor and life warrior — introduced me to the university gym and walked, ran, and swam with me. Her companionship really helped me finish my MA. Equally, my friend Deanna’s mom Sherry became an unexpected exercise partner when we trained for a 10k. I ended up doing two 10k runs and a 5k run while in Saskatoon. I enjoyed getting outside in the summer for training, and setting goals for my fitness. However, I struggled a lot with my back going out, so in many respects jogging was not the healthiest fitness choice for me.

dancingDance like everyone is watching!:

When I moved to the UK to do my PhD, I piled on a lot of weight quickly. I ended up joining the College’s Middle Eastern Dance class and I eventually joined the Oxford Middle Eastern Dance Society troupe. This led to several years of wonderful choreographies, performances, and cherished friendships. Dance built my confidence, and it was fantastic for core strength, coordination, and was low impact.

HIIT training: an obsession

In the spring of 2012, I decided that doing dance wasn’t enough and so I ventured down the life-changing path of fitness videos. I started out with some on You Tube that were about 10 minutes long. Some of my favourites are Fitness Blender, Moms into Fitness, and a Tiffany Rothe.

Once I got the hang of the shorter videos, I decided to do a 30 day challenge, and thus began my love affair with my fitness guru, Jillian Michaels. What I like about Jillian’s workouts is that they are fairly short (around 30 min.) and are mostly HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts. However, there are always beginner and advanced demonstrators and I can modify the moves so I don’t kill my back and knees. Because it’s in the privacy of my living room, I don’t feel shy or embarrassed when I can’t do a move properly. I love Jillian’s no-nonsense attitude and positive outlook. She encourages me, and I never feel like I need to quit during one of her workouts, just pause, catch my breath, and keep going!

Workout image 2

I started with 30 Day Shred and got great results! If you are starting out, I’d recommend starting with that one. I also did Ripped in 30 a couple of times, which is effective but challenging! Six week Six Pack is also great, but is more of a committment, and you need very strong wrists and neck to do some of the plank moves (which I don’t have). Once I blasted my way though those challenges, I tried programmes like P90X and Insanity, but I couldn’t get on with the instructors and many of the workout lengths are too long for me.

By 2013 I’d found another running buddy (Sarah) and we trained together for two Oxford Town and Gown runs (10k). After my second race, the osteopath told me to lay off the running, and this was also a time when I struggled with my weight being too low. Apparently there is such as thing as too much exercise!


Finding balance:

The past couple of years I’ve definitely put a lot of weight on, and my priorities have shifted. I’ve had to leave dance behind as the troupe disbanded and I moved out of Oxford. Nowadays I try to fit 3-4 workouts in a week. Lucy and I go for the occasional walk or run, but I usually stick with workout videos. For weights and core training I love The Butt Bible (the host cracks me up with her crazy rambling). For lazy days I love Jillian’s yoga workouts, which incorporate cardio with traditional yoga moves. I’ve also been making my way through Bodyshred. It’s definitely a step up from 30 Day Shred, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the final “Apex” workout, but it makes me feel good.

Workout image

I may not be getting the results in weight loss that I want, or achieving the toned physique I once had, but fitting in a few workouts each week is a step in the right direction and makes me feel good in body and in mind.

I leave you with this meme which I always think of when I’m doing a hard workout. Sometimes Leslie Chow is the only thing that gets me through that final circuit! Stay tuned as I explore new exercises and challenges on my blog. Now get out there and find your fitness inspiration!



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