It’s a good idea to get into the habit of exercising consistently in order to maintain or improve your fitness and overall health. If you’ve been doing the same cardio and resistance training programme for awhile, you may find you stop making progress. If you’re on a weight loss journey like me, you might stop losing weight no matter how strictly you adhere to your training programme and diet. You need to change your programme every now and then because the body gets used to doing the same exercises and stops responding to them. Changing your exercises shocks the body. The longer you’ve been training, the more often you’ll need to vary your exercise programme. It’s also a good way to keep yourself stimulated as doing the same workouts week after week gets boring after awhile.
In this blog post, I’d like to offer some suggestions on what you can do when you plateau in order to kick start your training again. I’ve decided to open up about my fitness journey and draw from my own experiences in order to help others. This is a problem that every dedicated exerciser will face from time to time. I have received SO much support from fitness instructors from the many gyms I’ve been a member of over the years (including the wonderful Aseel Mohammad Al Baghdadi, whose wedding dress I featured recently in the Style section), other gym members as well as friends and colleagues who are also fitness focussed so this is just a very small way of paying it forward.
As discussed in a previous blog, from September until December last year, my training programme consisted of walking every day, building up to three outdoor 10k runs and walking on alternate days every week. When the local outdoor swimming pool opened in December, I substituted walking for 2km swims (40 laps of the 50m outdoor community swimming pool) on the days I didn’t run. This took me about an hour. I didn’t do any weight training because I just couldn’t bear to be in a closed in gym environment. I craved to be outdoors in the fresh air. Also, I was restricted in terms of what exercises I could do due to a lingering neck injury. The area underneath the back of my neck between the shoulders is always incredibly tight. I noticed that high intensity training, such as boot camp and crossfit, only served to aggravate the injury. Walking, running and swimming enabled me to work around the problem for awhile but I knew I had to get to the root of the problem sooner or later, otherwise it would remain unresolved and prevent me from doing boxfit classes, which I really enjoy. I’ve started seeing a chiropractor, which I’ll discuss in a separate post. This is the first time I have ever seen a chiro. It will be interesting to track my progress and I will offer my thoughts on whether the treatment has been helpful in addressing the problem.
I’m currently on a weight loss journey (and will be for some time) because my weight increased significantly over the past few years due to some health conditions I developed when I returned home from overseas in 2010. I fell off the wagon big time, but not because I lost all self-control or “let myself go”, as a lot of people unkindly commented to me. People shouldn’t judge as they don’t know all the facts (and even then, they probably still shouldn’t). But of course, most people make assumptions and are quick to jump to conclusions. Dealing with negative and hurtful comments like this isn’t exactly easy, but is the least of my problems in the grander scheme of things. For those of you who are interested, I offered some strategies for coping with situations like this in this previous blog post and, more recently, here.
My starting weight in September was 93 kg. By early December, I managed to bring my weight down to 78 kg, an overall loss of 15 kg over approximately 14 weeks. I exercised alone, without help from a trainer. A PT can be very helpful, especially when you plateau. I have had help from one at a time I needed some assistance to get back on my feet again after I first fell ill in 2010, but I knew I had to do tackle it alone this time around. Although I’m not a qualified fitness instructor, you tend to pick up a lot from going to the gym over the years and soon learn what works for your body. Also, motivation was not an issue. By mid-December, I had reached the end of the road with that programme. In order to continue making progress and remain motivated, it was time to change things a little. Having worked very hard to be able to run again after a two year period of not exercising while carrying a lot of extra weight compared with my fitter days, I was keen to keep running in my training programme. Besides, I know from experience that it’s the most effective way for me to lose or maintain my body weight.
When I started exercising again in September, I heard about the YMCA 10k summer series. Every Thursday evening from the start of daylight saving in September until it ends in April, the YMCA organises a 10k run (with a 5k option) in the Auckland Domain. While I was training independently from September until December, I kept that in the back of my mind. I wanted to start competing again but needed to do quite a bit of work on my own in order to (i) lose quite a bit of weight first; (ii) build up to running 10k again without stopping; and (iii) be able to run the distance in a respectable time so I could keep up with the rest of the YMCA runners, the vast majority of whom are incredibly fast (circa 40-50 mins for the 10k route in the Domain!).
While I was on holiday at our bach (holiday home) over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, I decided to take part in the YMCA 10k summer series upon my return to Auckland. The great thing is that it’s very flexible. You don’t have to do the entire series, nor do you have to register beforehand. You simply turn up on the day. The entry fee is just $5 and there are spot prizes that are drawn afterwards (I even won a bottle of wine!).
As you might recall from a post in my blog series about running, I used to do a lot of running in the Auckland Domain while I was a university student. In fact, it was where I started to run. I really liked the idea of returning to my running roots during what has been a very challenging weight loss journey. As discussed in a previous post, the Domain is a special place for me as I have fond memories of running there during happier times. Whenever I run in the Domain, it’s not just good for the body, it’s also incredibly good for the soul.
I did my first run last Thursday and wrote about my experience on my LinkedIn account to make other Auckland runners aware of the event. Here’s what I had to say:
For those of you in Auckland who, like me, (i) advocate work/life balance but believe in active relaxation (and using time constructively) and (ii) are a serious and passionate runner, I can't recommend the YMCA 10k summer series highly enough. It takes place on Thursdays at 6 pm in the Auckland Domain until daylight saving ends. I ran the 10k yesterday evening but there is a 5k option too. I haven't competed for several years and was very nervous given the high calibre of runners that are part of the YMCA running club AND the fact I'm not exactly in top form, but they were SO welcoming and supportive. I was going to just do 5k but they encouraged me to go all the way! The course is very challenging as there are lots of hills. Put it this way, if you average around an hour for a flat 10k course like me at the moment, you'll be absolutely fine running with this group of amazingly talented and lovely runners. You run at your own pace, not together. Still, being part of a (spread out) group is motivating and there is a real sense of community which I love. I'll be back next week.
The chiro fully endorses running as it isn’t putting too much strain on my neck. In fact it was swimming that had to be removed from my programme due to too much neck movement in freestyle as you turn to breathe). He recommended that I start doing some weight training to build strength and help prevent injuries in the future. A few days ago, I joined the community gym in my suburb. In addition to resistance training, I’m also looking forward to doing RPM classes on alternate days with running, to replace swimming until my injury improves and I am able to return to the pool. In the future, I’ll come up with some blog posts about my experiences returning to the gym after a number of years, examined from different angles.