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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Awesome Ideas for Creating the Workout Space of Your Dreams

I like a lot of the ideas (especially the inspiring phrases put up on the walls) that are used for this gym makeover. Right now I'm redoing my own exercise space, because fitness is one of my big-picture goals.

If you're like me, you've been trying to make at-home fitness a part of your life for years. You desire to get up early, get that workout in before the rest of the world wakes up...and yet you keep sleeping in. Or other things get in your way- physically & otherwise! Your workout space is uninspiring, even hard just to get to. Laundry baskets, clothing, books, piles of name it, many items can take away from your focus & fitness if placed in the wrong area. Evening workouts seem no easier- by then you're exhausted mentally & physically, that's if you even have a spare second to work out during p.m hours. Going to a gym, for a number of reasons, is just not feasible for many people. A poor economy, kids to take care of at night, a spouse to tend to, a demanding job that requires overtime...all of these make commuting to a gym either difficult or impossible. I get it!

Tonight I realized that I had to redesign my own workout space to the best of my ability. I moved my bed & two nightstands over a couple of feet to make room for a "laundry zone". I put my three laundry baskets that were previously in front of my dumbbells & step underneath my bedroom window instead. I knew that I had to keep my bedroom broken up into clear-cut zones (unfortunately, I don't have separate rooms for my workout gear or my laundry stacks). Zone one- bed & nightstands. Zone two- laundry baskets. Zone three- dresser. Zone four- vanity table & chair. Zone five- workout equipment. Everything had to be separated. I still had to keep room to move around in, stretch out on the floor to my full height (including arms overstretched), leaving space to do aerobics & hoist dumbbells. I succeeded. Thankfully, I live in a home with a big bedroom, and I'm a minimalist when it comes to furniture. I set up my folding bookcase to be my workout "Mecca" (albeit a poor woman's version...) On the top shelf is my DVD file folder, my DVD player & one of my fans (I run hot, I mean like roasting-on-a-spit-hot, all the time). Second shelf holds my workout wear for tomorrow. Third shelf holds my extra-thick yoga mat. It looks clean & simple. Right now I have a beautiful painting that my grandmother did above the bookcase. Ideally, I'd have inspiring images of women who push me via their own great looks to try & achieve some greatness of my own. And maybe that design will come in the future. For now, though...I'll just be happy that I achieved a another big-picture goal, and that is making health & fitness come first. Now my bedroom shows that I mean business. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good photographer. But my pictures below demonstrate the clean, simple & very functional space that I've created to achieve my goal of putting workouts first in my life.


What do I think that you need to get started? Well, it depends upon your goals. My favorite thing to do is aerobic-weight-training that finishes off with athletic stretching. But for variety & on active rest days, I've always liked Hatha Yoga or Pilates for a change. These three workout types are the easiest to accomplish without spending a ton of money on equipment. Treadmills & other single-cardio-workout-type machines are fine for the gym, but they usually won't help a person really achieve the body that they want used exclusively. And they're typically quite expensive to invest in. Aerobic weight-training is the most demanding of the three exercise types that I'm going to list financially, but for me it also gives the greatest rewards. And once you've invested in the workout DVDs, yoga mat (for safe stretching on the floor, you need some joint cushioning, IMHO), a few sets of dumbbells & an aerobic step, they're yours essentially for life. It's very common to think, "I need more gear!" If you're a minimalist, this mindset must be guarded against, but I do understand the sentiment quite well. Equipment updates can bring body changes, so I'm not entirely against it. It depends upon how much you want to invest in your workouts. There's no right or wrong to it. I've been working out for twenty years, sixteen of that with a workout series called The FIRM. Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm no poster girl for the workout system. While I have plenty of muscle, I also have plenty of fat, and that is due to my own genetics & lifestyle. With cleaner eating & better focus, I'd have a nicer body. So the system works, but I am an imperfect follower, so don't look to me as any sort of icon in terms of looks!

Aerobic Weight-Training
Three sets of dumbbells are required (light, medium & heavy is the best way to think of it)- my recommendations vary depending upon general fitness level & gender. Most men (because they usually have twice the natural strength of a woman in their upper body) & very fit women can start with five-, eight- & ten-pound dumbbells. Moderately-fit women or overweight, out-of-shape men should instead start with three-, five- & eight-pound dumbbells. If you are an overweight and/or out-of-shape women, start with one-, two- and three-pound dumbbells. This all sounds very light but when you are doing aerobic weight-training, they get heavy fast! Visually, I recommend that you buy identical-looking sets in terms of style when purchasing dumbbells. I prefer a solid metal on the outside as opposed to the bright colorful dumbbells sold, but that choice is entirely up to you (if I had it to do over, I would have skipped buying colorful ones last time). Dumbbells can be very cheap (especially if bought used) or extraordinarily expensive, so do your research before investing. Also, regardless of your weight or fitness level otherwise, if you have never worked out with actual weights before, do at least your first workout (and up to your first ten workouts) without any dumbbells. You need to get the hang of the movements, the speed & your own body's alignment before adding weight. I used very light dumbbells for several months when I started years ago as a beginning weight-trainer. I'm already very big, so my extra weight automatically adds poundage to whatever exercise that I am performing! Eventually I got used to utilizing heavier weights, adding a twelve-, fifteen- & twenty-pound set to my routine. Once in awhile I'd work out in a professional gym & could use some heavier weights, then do some exercises a small home set-up doesn't allow for. But your own body, home & very little else can be just about you need to get fit. Some women go much heavier than what I use, but for the average woman doing aerobic weight-training at home, I don't think you'd go much beyond forty pound dumbbells on this workout type. That also takes years for most women to get to using with good form, as we are genetically weaker in our upper bodies than men (generally speaking). Aerobic weight-training at home is fairly fast-paced & doesn't require all of the weight equipment that you see at a gym, either.  Here are my favorite workouts of all time (I have many faves, but here are three of them anyway):

An aerobic step which has multiple risers, including incline/decline risers, is another set of pieces that I recommend to get the most from an at-home workout. While stepping is hard on the knees, ironically the step can also be the trick needed to get the leg muscles around the knee strengthened to such a degree that they're no longer painful joints. Not everyone experiences this pain, but when the adductors (inner thigh muscles), abductors (outer thighs), quadriceps (frontal thighs) & hamstrings (leg bicep) are in proper proportion in strength, knee pain can drastically increase. It usually takes more than just weight-training & stretching (supplements & diet can be important to knee health), but steps are usually helpful in achieving the goal of getting or keeping strong knees if they are started on correctly. Lunges done on an incline step, for example, can be far easier on the knees than traditional ones just performed on the floor. And they're also a way for beginners to get a deeper range of motion more safely when performing lunges. Here is the best step that I've found, both in support & versatility:

The step above also has extra risers & incline/decline risers which can be bought separately to get even more power from a workout:

Here is another, more basic but still high-quality step to choose:

You're relying on your own body weight, good form, circuit-training speed & mental focus to power through challenging workouts. But you aren't going to end up looking too muscular- it just isn't possible with using that low a weight. Forty-pound dumbbells or barbell plates & less just won't give you massive amounts of muscle- it's really not possible, because it's too hard to build. You have to lift much heavier poundage typically for years on end, have a high level of testosterone (or take illegal steroids) & eat a ton of protein to get the kind of muscle you see on a professional bodybuilder. Genetics also play a big part in how your body is going to look & grow, and which muscles would be your best & worst. Some people have great biceps naturally, for example, while other women have to train them twice a week for growth. I recommend reading the following books if you are interested in weight-training even slightly:

If you're interested in clean eating & fitness in general, the following two magazines are the best that I've found (and the only ones I subscribe to, because I am not one to clutter my life up):

For beginner steppers, or those just getting back into it, this can be a good (aerobics-only) addition to your collection. It helps one to learn the basics AND get a great workout at the same time on the step, safely & efficiently.

Eventually, I recommend that you also buy either a body bar (they come in different poundages) or a barbell with plates. I like body bars because of the evenness in weight throughout & the minimalist look they possess. Ankle weights are optional & debatable in this day and age, safety-wise. If they help you & you're pain-free, use them. If they're painful or make the exercises impossible to perform with good form, don't use them. NEVER use them for walking- they are for help on certain leg exercises in weight-training. Period. Your joints will thank you later for heeding this advice.

As an absolute beginner & as a minimalist, all that's really need is a good book or DVD, a mat, a comfy outfit to work & stretch out on the floor in & maybe a set of very light dumbbells (5lbs. a piece max). Believe me, Pilates is so challenging to your core that you won't miss the weights! The first time I tried it, I was astounded at how few reps I could do & how much I had to modify- me, the girl who'd worked out since I was twelve years old & could bench press 400 lbs.! It didn't matter. New movement to your muscles- no matter how well-trained & fit you are in other areas- will make you feel like a beginner all over again. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I find it exciting.

Yoga, as with Pilates, requires little equipment & only a moderate amount of space to implement a program. A yoga mat, good book or DVD, maybe a yoga strap and/or block, and you're good to go. Some people like looser clothing during yoga, while others like to strip down- it's all personal preference. I like workout Capri pants & a supportive but comfortable sports bra. As with Pilates, bare feet are needed. You need to be able to grip your mat. I fully believe that Yoga at home can be just as rewarding, challenging & blissful as a studio practice with a teacher. Some disagree with me on that, which is okay. I love doing Yoga alone. For me, it is a time of reflection during even the most difficult postures. Some people consider it little more than athletic stretching gone Eastern or mere acrobatics, and I guess occasionally that's true. But for me, it instantly becomes tune-in time to both my body & mind. It is so vastly different from aerobic weight-training. Neither is better or worse, they are just two completely separate worlds. In aerobic weight-training, you must focus on the movement. Everything else but your body & following that instructor falls away- your mind takes a vacation from your deadlines & job. In yoga, thoughts about anything & everything will come up because it is much more reflective in nature. At least for me it is, without an instructor (which is what I prefer). I don't follow a DVD when it comes to yoga. For a few years I read books & subscribed to "Yoga Journal", which was invaluable, but it wasn't something I needed to view forever. Once I "got" Yoga, it was permanently imbedded in my psyche. Again, I know that Yoga teachers have immense value & I'm not knocking going to a gym or studio- but it can be done alone, and very successfully. Follow your own instincts & inclinations.

My Favorite Workout Clothes & Shoes

No matter what you choose as your method of working out, remember these rules:

1) Keep your equipment in good working order. No ripped-up yoga mats, dumbbells with peeling metal flakes, aerobics steps that feel unsturdy to step up on, treadmills with a broken handrail- you get my drift.
2) Make sure the space stays clean, especially if more than one person uses your equipment (i.e., you share it with a spouse or some other housemate). Wipe your dumbbells, step, or whatever other equipment you have down whenever they get dusty or grimy. Vacuum or mop the floor at least once a week in your workout space.
3) No clutter allowed! Clutter includes any broken items, unused-after-more-than-one-year items & dirty towels.
4) Your space must be welcoming & inspirational to you. I'm not talking religion here, I'm talking about actually being inspired to exercise when you look at the space. Professional gyms & yoga studios know this fact- they put out gleaming equipment, framed photographs of buff chicks & guys on the walls & yogis doing poses in perfect form to set the tone for their space. These establishments are using interior design to their advantage with shape, color & style. You'll often see clean white towels for patrons rolled up in a basket or cube (depending upon how spa-like or hardcore your gym is), for example. I highly recommend that you learn from the pros in this arena. Yogis often love to have an incense burner with incense going & other sacred items in their space as a reminder of why they do yoga in the first place. Working out, no matter what method you choose, should be a nourishing event for you. You should come away from it feeling refreshed mentally, even if you're tired-out physically. Some people like real minimalism & having no pictures up at all IS inspiring to them, which is fine. But do whatever works for you. Remember that maintaining any exercise regimen over the long haul is most often accomplished when people don't focus so much on short-term goals (like fitting into a dress that's currently too small by a certain date), but on the long-term goal of being fit for life. Fitness has to be a chosen lifestyle. If you're a fence-sitter about it, you'll be unlikely to make the commitment needed to stick with your program. Some people love setting new goals for themselves to work on all the time (like running in 5K's, 10K's & marathons). If that works for you, terrific. It's especially good if the goals are NOT all related to how you look. I think a lot of us are better-served with getting weight loss or dress size out of the fitness equation entirely & just focusing on the long-term advantages of exercise. When the latter is focused on, working out becomes an actual part of our legacy. We have a chance not to just "hit the weights" privately (as an example), but to really show others what a continuing fitness program can give a person. It's wonderful to be at our ideal weight or to pull on our high school jeans & have them fit, don't get me wrong. Just don't lose sight of the future or of the deeper elements exercise offers to a soul. All of us know someone who eventually lost their independence because they got too weak physically to live alone. They could no longer lift grocery bags, take a shower safely, dress themselves, get in and out of a car- things that most of us take for granted when we're young. These "effortless" things, though, actually take a measure of physical fitness to perform. All of us who can do so should remember this loss of independence can often be avoided if we put time & energy into staying strong from the time that we're relatively young. Think of all the lifestyle goals you have for working out- for most people, looking good is not their only goal when it comes to exercise (especially as we age). An idea- put up pictures on a whiteboard of people having fun playing with their kids, building a home with Habitat for Humanity or anything else that serves as a lifestyle goal reminder for you. These main lifestyle goals are different for everyone. For me, my main lifestyle goal is maintaining my mobility, as I've got fibromyalgia & there's osteoarthritis in my knees & hands. I also want to stay strong enough to clean my own home, do my own shopping, take out my own trash & perform all the other household must-do's for the rest of my life independently. People going out for a walk, kneeling down to pick up dumbbells or doing lunges (which take knee flexibility) are inspiring for me for this reason.
5) Take down any pictures or paintings which are uninspiring or worse, self-berating. This is not a place to put up "guilt" pictures. You know the ones. Putting up hated pictures of yourself at your heaviest weight is the most common style of what I call "faux inspiration". Faux inspiration is something that makes you feel bad, but you think it'll give you extra impetus to get a dreaded activity done- in your own mind, you may think that this bad feeling will keep you exercising. I think this is a horrid method of self-punishment & usually turns exercise into something that's deeply resented in no time. Would you do this to your daughter- put up a picture she hates of herself & say, "You're going to work out & look at this picture every single time you do, because you need some serious work done on your body!" I hope that your answer is a resounding no! If you wouldn't do it to someone else, don't do it to yourself.
6) Preparation is key. After dinner, fill your water bottle(s) for tomorrow & put them on the fridge door. Make sure on Sunday that all of your workout outfits are clean for the following week. Check to see that you have a clean towel for wiping your brow the next morning during your workout. Lay out your exercise outfit the night before. If applicable, put the DVD you'll be working out to in the player or out on your media table. If using a portable DVD player, make sure it's charged completely. When you go to the grocery store, stock up on clean eating items that will fuel your busy, active life for the next few days or week- old-fashioned oats, blueberries, protein powder, fresh vegetables, organic free-range chicken breasts, etc. Pack your lunch bag the night before if you brown-bag it for work. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of sticking with your health goals. You'll also lower your stress levels by having things like this done in advance. Read articles & books about clean eating, supplements (especially if you lift weights) & about your chosen method(s) of exercise. Replace your workout wear as needed, choosing items that motivate you when you wear them. Don't ignore any pain that comes on during exercise & lingers for more than a couple of days. While exercise is terrific for our bodies in many ways, it does have some occasional side effects (as does any movement in life). Plan to take at least one & preferably two rest days each week from exercise to prevent burnout. If you have a day of heavy physical activity planned (such as doing hours of major housework), consider taking a break from working out that day. Have alternate activities planned if you're too tired, the weather turns bad or anything else happens which makes your regular workout impossible to perform. Buy a workout DVD focused on stretching or floor aerobics for days like this. Changing activities up regularly helps prevent overuse injuries, as well. If you always do step aerobics, go for a walk outside one day a week instead. If you always do total-body circuit-training with your weight workouts, try a workout focused on two to three body parts only for awhile (example- back & biceps on Monday, legs & shoulders on Wednesday, chest, abs & triceps on Friday). If you do Ashtanga yoga three days a week, try adding on a Pilates class once a week to give some different muscles a wake-up call. 

Here's to being a fit organized minimalist,

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