Friday, November 21, 2014

Dress for Fitness Success

I thought I would lighten things up a little bit ahead of the holiday week and talk about fashion in fitness. Of course I will offer my opinion about the demise of the American wardrobe.

When I first learned to play golf (sound familiar? It’s a different entry I swear), I had to rummage through my wardrobe to find a collared shirt. Other than a button down dress shirt, I don't own a classic Polo shirt. Not preppy in the least. In case you did not know and have never played golf before, most courses require collared shirts for all players. Women can get away with a mandarin collar. Pants should be long pants or shorts that are not jeans. The same is true for women although women can wear a sports skirt. Shoes are important here as well. Soft spikes on the bottom of golfer's shoes allow for stabilization when the player swings. Of course sneakers are fine but the spikes serve a purpose.

When you head to work, wherever that may be, there is a dress requirement. Some people wear uniforms, others wear suits and others business casual. Regardless of where you work, there is some identifying uniformity to what everyone is wearing. Although the rules of dress may seem arbitrary to some people, there is usually a good reason. The powers came to decide what their employees look like on the on the job for a purpose. I worked at company that forced women to wear panty hose on even the hottest days of the year (I know my Curly Girls will have something to say about that). The company even went so far as to require women to wear a jacket with pants (twin sets be damned!). I actually don't think there was any good reason for pantyhose other than the partner’s sadism. Yet I digress.

If you are already in the throes of a fitness regime or just getting started, there is a dress code to what you should wear to make your work out successful.

Let's begin with the beginner.

The fundamentals:

A sports bra designated for your sport. Gentlemen, you can skip to the next section.
I don’t want to say that you need a specialized bra for spin class, one for yoga then for running, but I am.

You need to look at the intensity of the sport and choose appropriately. During running or other high-impact sports, in order to prevent pain, tissue damage, back strain and stretch marks a sports bra designed for high impact sports would be ideal. Women of all sizes need the support. Just because you are not in competition with the Dolly Parton's of this world doesn't mean you don't need the support. In lower impact sport like yoga, you can certainly get away with less support. You should skip the built-in shelf bras, they just don't cut it. If you are unsure what to wear for you exercise class/sport, there are good stores like Paragon that have an extensive sports bra section with a knowledgeable staff. I know it’s difficult to part the $80 for a sports bra but, if protects your valuable assets, isn't it worth it? I have seen women running in the park without proper support or an ill-fitting bra and I feel for them and feel compelled to tell them. Hopefully you know who you are and are reading this blog.

Socks & Underwear

I believe that underwear for a workout is a personal choice and depends on the sport. If you participating in a sport like cycling where the shorts are wicking and rather tight, maybe forgo sports underwear. If you are at the gym lifting and wearing shorts that don't have a built-in underwear please do us all a favor and wear a pair.

Socks, on the other hand, are essential. During the run leg of the triathlon last year, my socks were drenched from the rain during the bike ride. So wet in fact, I could feel the puddles in my cycling shoes during my ride. I decided to ditch the socks. Initially it felt great. By mile 3, I realized what a mistake it was. I could feel the blisters form and then feel them burst during the last 3.1 miles. I could not wear shoes for a week afterwards.

Socks protect your feet inside your shoes while running and cycling. There other exercise classes that utilize socks with grips on the bottom to prevent slipping like in Barre or Pilates. Don't forgo the socks.


This is one of my favorite subjects. There are shoes for every sport. Personally, I have at least two pair of running shoes, a pair indoor cycling, outdoor cycling shoes and shoes to go to the gym. They are all designed for specific reasons and sports: cleats for stability in golf, clips on bottoms for cycling, extra support for high-impact in running shoes, flippers for swimming. These are very sport specific. If you are looking to get started in a fitness regime, please don't go out and buy the most expensive shoes because you think they are the best. Do a little homework to find out what kind of support you will need in the shoe. You will definitely want a pair of very comfortable shoes with significant support for distance running but maybe not so much support for you next cross-fit class. A good sports store (have I mentioned Paragon) can help you find a reasonably priced pair of shoes designated for the activity you choose.

Once the basics are covered we can move onto more specifics. Clearly, you need a bathing suit to swim. But what about running, cycling, Pilates, weight-lifting? If you are going to take a sport in earnest, it pays to purchase those specific clothes.

Cycling shorts come with padding in them to provide a little more comfort on a distance ride. Cyclists tend to also carry quite a bit of gear like spare tires, bike pumps and fuel. The jerseys they wear have extra pockets to accommodate the extra stuff.

Runners tend to need less gear. Other than a really good pair of running shoes, you will want a comfortable pair of shorts and shirt (long or short sleeve) maybe a hat as well. I have never really needed any more than a single pocket to carry my Chapstick in my running shorts. Pilates and weight-lifting have much less specific requirements. A Pair of shorts or pants that you can move in and that will not constrict your movements will do. Choose clothes that flatter rather than the old over-sized T-shirt.

Whichever exercise you choose, if you are going to be sweating a great deal, you will want to invest in some technical clothing. Technical or wicking clothing help pull the sweat away from your body and move it to the surface which allows it to evaporate, keeping you warmer. If you have ever ran in a cotton shirt that has been completely saturated in sweat, you know the chills followed. There are so many brands, styles and so many price points to choose from. You just need to decide on the color and style for you.

I am a huge advocate of sports clothing. Not only because of the technical and sport specific uses but because, when I put on a new pair of running shorts or a new cycling jersey, I feel like an athlete. I also tend to choose colors that I like and that are flattering to my body. No different than choosing an outfit to go out to dinner or out to party on the weekend. When I head out to exercise, I am seen by people and I want to give the best impression possible. I don't want to stand around soaking wet with sweat in an over-sized cotton T-shirt hanging down to my knees. (If you think you are hiding something, you are wrong BTW.) If you dress yourself to go exercise like you would dress yourself for any other occasion, your whole mind set changes. If you look cute, you may want to put those clothes on and head to the gym to show them off.

One caveat here: if you think you look good in your workout clothes, go workout. DO NOT wear them outside the gym (aside from getting there). Your yoga pants are for yoga. Just because they are black and comfy doesn't mean that you should be wearing them to conduct your life. You wouldn't wear your bathing suit to the grocery store would you? Of course not. After your workout, take shower, put on a proper pair of pants or skirt or dress, go about your day.

You should be dressing for fitness success just like you dress for office success. You don't have to spend a great deal of money to find good exercise clothes. Although I do love Lulu, have you checked out Fabletics? These days it seems that every retailer has a line you should be able to find something in your budget that will motivate you out the door. Look fabulous

Saturday, November 8, 2014

And Then Winter Happened

I learned to play golf for the second time about 5 years ago.  The first summer The Husband and I played, we played every other weekend.  We went all in including clubs and a golf membership. I was getting pretty “OK” with my game. We were the next Tiger Woods and Michelle Wei. 
And then winter happened!

Although I had lost some technique over the winter, I remembered what to do. Every other weekend became once every 2-3 weeks due to whatever it was that got it the way of us getting to a course. My game suffered.

Another winter happened.

Triathlon training began.  Golf? What's that? Needless to say my game has suffered. When I did get out on the course, I was frustrated because I used to be pretty “OK”. Now I hit at least one good shot every hole. Inevitably there is the hacker hole that makes me want to break the club over my knee or toss it into the water hazard. Now, I don't even bother to keep score, I just go out for fun.
My story is not unique. Its' actually pretty common. I am not just talking about golf. I am talking about pretty much everything health & fitness related.  Every diet published out there works. Every fitness plan and exercise printed and taught works. The reason they stop working is because you stop doing them.

Had you actually stuck to the diet you started six weeks ago, you could have been down 6-12 lbs. by now. If you had continued on that exercise plan you started in January, you would not be planning your new routine/trainer/diet for the upcoming New Year. You would be in maintenance mode.
There was a time in your life where you were in "the best shape of your life". You think back upon it fondly. You remember how good you felt. Yet you still have not gone to the gym this week like you promised yourself you would.

You get into the gym now and again:

Scenario #1:  You go and it’s harder than you remember. You get sore the next day (that is actually what is supposed to happen, it’s called DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). You give yourself a day to recover maybe two. By the time Thursday rolls around you are more focused on what will be happening over the weekend than going to the gym. The weekend rolls around, stay up too late, drink/eat too much. Done! No gym. Guilt kicks back in on Monday and off you go again to start the whole cycle again.

Scenario #2: On Sunday you promise yourself you will be good this week. The gym gear is packed. You head out to work Monday morning. You get a call from your boss about a new meeting planned for 4:00pm. That's it, no workout tonight!  As a rule you don't work out on Tuesday. Best of intentions on Wednesday but you broke a heel/stubbed your toe/chipped a tooth (you get the idea). Now, taking care of … is taking over your workout slot. By now the week is shot. Mentally, you are done, with the promise that you will start again next week.  Sound familiar?

I am sorry to say, the minute you stop working out, your muscles stop growing. Not to say that you will immediately turn to mush in 24 hours of not working out. We know this is not exactly true. You are still using those muscles to walk to the train, to climb stairs and everyday use. However that nice tone look you have been striving, does start to disappear rather quickly. It takes as little as two weeks and depending on your level of fitness, your physique could last as long as one year. Age and gender also play key roles in how quickly or slowly muscles start to deteriorate. Fortunately, muscle has memory. Those movements that you learned so long ago, will be easier for you to pick up again once you start training. The soreness will still be there but, with consistency, it won't last long.
Remember it take about 4 weeks for your body to make muscle adaptations. Consistent training over the next 4 weeks should show some improvement. The best results will come from a steady routine 1-2 strength workouts/week for 90 days.

As far as cardiovascular conditioning is concerned, after just 12 days of non-aerobic activity, you can lose as much as 18% of your cardio fitness.  The rate of which you lose this all determined by your fitness base. The more fit you are when you stop, the slower the decent. The less fit you are the faster you will lose it. 

This does not mean if you are a conditioned person and feel like you need a break you must keep working out. You can take up to two weeks off without losing too much general fitness. In order to earn the time off, you need to get there first (like accruing vacation days).
The key to all of these elements is to stay consistent with your workout routines. There will be days when you just don't feel like it.  Go anyway. Make it a light day but do something. Every piece of work that you do adds up to your overall fitness. 

There is something you should miss on the day you skip a workout. It is how good exercise makes you feel.  Is there anything better than the way feel after a great workout or any workout for that matter? The endorphins soar and take away all the stress, aggravation and worry of the day. The one hour you spend on yourself to me is like a little mental vacation.  During my workouts, I try to focus on the workout. I do listen to the music too and sometimes an impromptu dance party erupts on the gym floor (much to everyone's amusement). I don’t care, that hour is about me.

If you are having difficulty staying consistent, make a plan.  It does not have to be an elaborate plan. Whip out your calendar, take a look, where do you have a half hour every day? It can be at different times of the day. Monday, it may be at 5:00am and on Tuesday it may not be until 7:00pm. Figure out what you can do in that time.  You don't necessarily need to go to the gym. Do pushups and crunches on the floor in your bedroom (5 minutes) before you get in the shower? When you walk the dog, jog it instead of walking?

If you are determined to be good and to really get into better shape, pull out that calendar again. Make an appointment with yourself. Schedule it! It is as important for you to get that workout done as it is to get to the shoe maker to get that heel fixed or to the dentist to get that tooth fixed.  Remember that once you start, it’s the little goals every day that make you successful. Still having difficulty? Call a friend.   Having someone waiting on you, even if it’s out guilt, can help propel you to your workout.

The Husband always says, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” [Editor’s Note: I never say that], which I believe he stole from Benjamin Franklin [Editor’s Note: He did say that].  If you are not mapping out your week in terms of workouts, knowing you are inconsistent to begin with, you won't get them in.  Putting it on calendar and recruiting a friend (or even getting a trainer) to get you there every day is a solid plan that can help you stay the course to your fitness goals.

Don’t let another winter happen!