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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

12-week fitness challenge

After trying a variety of things, adjusting, and moving things around, I have finally come up with a 12-week fitness schedule that's actually working for me. So, I finally gathered all my notes and put it into a summary that might be helpful to others. The easiest way to stick with it is print it out and cross off day after day, as you move through the schedule.

Considerations and challenges:

- I have a bad back - traditional ab challenges don't work for me, because most of them, with all those situps and crunches, are horrible for the back

- As part of my 2015 Warrior Dash prep, I had to devote approximately equal times to strength training and cardio - since the dash involves both.

- The extended version of the challenge includes regular visits to the gym for weight training. This version does not. This is for getting as much as possible out of very little time.

What this schedule WILL NOT do:

- Give you rock-hard abs, perfectly toned arms and legs and generally make you look like Cindy Crawford in that famous Pepsi commercial.

- Make it possible for you to fly and fight villains a la "Crouching tiger, hidden dragon".

- Be easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, and I wouldn't need to write this down.

- Get rid of all your health problems. If you have allergies, asthma, ulcer, joint aches, arthritis, or any other chronic ailment - see your doctor. This is an exercise schedule - not a panacea. If in doubt - consult your doctor before getting into this.

What this schedule WILL do:

- Strengthen your core, back, arms and legs.

- Improve your balance.

- Improve your walking and jogging stamina.

- Tighten your middle.

- Boost your energy and - to some extent - your metabolism.

- Make you proud of yourself for doing something nice for your body and your general health.

What you will need:

- A mat or a carpeted surface somewhere in your home where you can stretch out comfortably

- A treadmill, access to a gym that has treadmills, or (preferred) access to some outdoor space where you can walk and run, if at all possible with varying terrain.

- A pedometer with time and distance tracking function (any pharmacy sells them.)

- An exercise wheel

- A set of light hand weights or one weight with exchangeable heads for 5, 8, and 10 pounds (you can beef up the poundage later, after you have established the routine.)

- Not mandatory but helpful - an inexpensive MP3 player with some good, uplifting, rhythmic music to help you get through the walks and runs.


- Ab bridge - yeah, it's a bit obscene looking, but a good exercise not just for your abs, but also your back and butt. Make sure your feet remain firmly on the floor throughout the exercise.

- Half-plank - a full plank can be difficult for some, especially if you are carrying a few extra around the middle (like I do) and have bad knees (ditto!). So, the half-plank is a good alternative. It allows you to gently strengthen your core without ending up with shaky arms and a sore back.

- Intervals - this is a transitional exercise between walking and running. Basically, once you have warmed up, start jogging - at whatever speed that is comfortable, as long as it's a step up from walking. Do this as far as you can, until you feel you have to switch to walking. Walk enough to restore your breath and get rid of the stitch in your side, then start jogging again.

- Overhead press - there are many versions of this exercise, including free weights and weight-lifting machines at the gym. This is the one I use. For an extra "oomph", I try to touch my weights above my head, but you don't have to.

- Rollout - this is what you need the exercise wheel for. Be careful - it only looks easy, but if you keep good form and really stretch out, it is quite a tough little exercise. You might want to put some extra padding under your knees or wear knee pads - it can get a little rough as you increase your reps.

- Suitcase squat - this one is tricky. It looks like a leg strengthening exercise, and it kind of is, but actually, it's mostly for strengthening your abs and improving your balance. Two things to remember: 1) your feet must stay flat on the floor, with your weight resting on your heels; 2) only lean and squat as far as your physique allows, don't try to go all the way to the floor only to fall over or get stuck there. When doing this exercise, imagine your weight is a suitcase sitting right up against your leg on the floor, and you are picking it up.

The schedule - part I

This part starts you off very gently and establishes the routine for you. The strength exercise, even at highest reps, take 15 minutes per day at most. As far as the cardio is concerned, if you plan to include it, then you have to find time for it. Explain to your family this is something you need to do for your health, so it would be really helpful if they would learn to survive without you for a couple of hours twice a week.

The red highlights when we change something within the routine - not just the reps or the time, but the weight, or the nature of the exercise. (Note: Click on the image of the schedule to see it full-size.)

The schedule - part II

Obviously, part II riffs off part I, but you'll notice it's much more like an established routine. In addition to increasing the strength training intensity, it also expands your cardio and makes it more challenging. Once you have mastered this, you can continue increasing the reps, the weight, the speed, and the duration of the exercise as you see fit, as long as you do it regularly.

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