My baseline measurement for my upper arm was 10 1/2 inches. And more than a month later I clock in at — wait for it– 10 1/2 inches. Not because the exercise program failed to work, but I failed to keep it up. While working out alone at home is certainly convenient, its also way too easy to skip and forget. There are no triggers like a class to attend to remind me to exercise. And when I do exercise I’m pretty certain that I’m not really doing the movements properly. I still keep clunking myself on the head with the weights, especially when I lift them backwards over my head. After most workouts my back is burning and I feel achey for several days. I’ve had disk problems before and I’m always wary of exercise moves that are followed by back pain.
It became clear that I needed some help to get me on track and keep me there. Over the years I’ve signed up for exercise classes, but I couldn’t keep up. They were too fast and there were too many repetitions. I can pace myself better with home videos but they could be too easy to skip. This time, to be successful I decided to hire a personal trainer for a few sessions. The bulletin board at the gym in my building was covered with business cards from trainers. But who should I call? What qualifications should I look for?
For honest and accurate advice I turned to my good friend fitness guru Mirabai Holland. For more than a decade Mirabai served as the Director of Fitness and Wellness Program at the 92nd st Y. Then she took her skills public and if you watch QVC you have probably seen Mirabai and her amazing exercise videos. Her credentials are impressive and include GOLD certification by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), The American College of Sports Medicine ( the top organization), Medical Exercise Specialist certification form the American Academy of Health Fitness Professionals. Next week I’ll share the roadmap she gave me to find the best trainers for my needs. And here’s a hint- it involves Skype.
Finally an exercise video that excites a couch potato like me. LA based trainer Jackie Warner has a workout DVD ( One-On One Training with Jackie) that includes a 2o minute upper body workout. After watching it curled up in a chair, I actually got up, grabbed my 3 pound handweights and joined in. It starts with a short but targeted warm-up rather than a looong warm-ups seen in other exercise programs. The Warner warm-up focused on the upper body, stretching and activating the arms and shoulders.
Warner clearly explains which exercise does what. The movements are straight forward and even I could follow along. Rather than the traditional 3 sets of 10 reps, Warner does each exercise for about a minute — about a total of 45-60 reps. Its the same number as in standard sets but done continulously for increased intensity. The pace is fast enough to be interesting, but measured enough to allow me to smoothly finish each movement. There were enough reps in each series to allow me to pick them up and get in a true muscle burning work-out.
The 20 minute workout included several cardio intervals and one series of pushups. I skipped both. My muscles were already burning from the weight training and I wanted to save myself to concentrate on the arms. Maybe as the weeks go by, I’ll add cardio and push-ups, but right now I’m not up to them.
Warner has a clearly defined goal for fitness– a v shaped body with strong broad shoulders that narrows down to hard abs and a small waist. All parts of her exercise program are designed to work together to produce this contour. I like the idea of a comprehensive goal to a workout rather than a seemingly random series of exercises.The upper body workout ended as well as it had begun. The cool down was a short stretching session that soothed my quivering muscles.
But will it work?
Last month I took a sobering series of before pix of my not so perfect arms and plan to take another set of pix after a month of doing this 20 minute workout every day. This week I measured the circumference of my upper arm and will take another measurement at the end of the month long exercise program. Some experts have said that exercise will shrink and firm the arms while other claim that they will increase in bulk. We’ll see who is right.
So here are my baseline photos. I’ve done a lot of before photos, but these are definately the worst. In the top photo I’m wearring my favorite red dress and with my arms flat on my sides, I look pretty good. No bulges or sags. However I tend to move my arms to pick up a glass, wave a cab or tie on a scarf and then you can see where attention needs to be paid. In the second picture you can see the wrinkly bits under the arms and the skin hangs lose where the triceps are invisable. In the third photo I am actually trying to flex my biceps on top and you can see there are no biceps. The best I can say is that there is much room for improvement.
There are literally hundreds of trainers, books, and videos that PROMISE to help you lose weight and shape-up. Reputable experts admit that spot exercises that aim to mold specific areas do not reduce weight but build muscle for a better line. When I carried an extra ten pounds I didn’t even try to include weight bearing exercies, since I felt the extra fat would make spot exercises pretty useless. Currently I’m a trim size eight so its a perfect time to test out body shaping.
In the past my exercise plans started with a shopping trip to buy the right clothes, sneakers and equipment. Some of the experts recommend using a big ball while others swear by rubber bands with handles. Rather than go out for more toys, this time I’ve decided to start simply with the set of three pound weights I already own and concentrate on my triceps and biceps. And rather than buying another book or video, I went online and downloaded some free exercises. Trying to read the exercises, follow the instructions and watching my form in the mirror I managed to clonk myself on my forehead or neck with almost every move. Each move called for 2-3 sets of 10 reps and I kept getting clobbered. Clearly I needed more help. Next I’m going to try a video so I can follow along.