New Habit: Cardio Conditioning that Requires No Equipment and No Extra Time

Now that my energy levels have improved so much, I am thinking about a new fitness habit to add.

Since I had very slow recovery for so long due to sleep apnea that was yet to be diagnosed, intense cardio exercise had to go, for a while. My body felt better with just lifting and gentle walking and stretching.

Well, now that my sleep apnea is being treated and I have figured out a lifting routine that makes me stronger AND from which I can recover well, I have a lot more energy to go about my day, and I’m thinking of adding another fitness habit.

The outcome I’d like to see

I live in a hilly neighborhood, and I’d like to huff and puff less when climbing the hills. In fitness speak, I’d like to improve my cardiovascular conditioning, or get my body used to having an elevated heart rate again.

The challenges

I have a few challenges/considerations to keep in mind while choosing a goal-supportive habit I can stick to.

  • I don’t have room in my budget for extra equipment, and I have yet to find a sports bra manufactured in my size that is not on back order (so, running is probably not the best choice)
  • I don’t have much wiggle room in my schedule / child care situation to add more exercise without adding a lot of extra stress to my day or compromising my sleep (so, going to a gym or swimming is not a super accessible option for me right now, except perhaps on weekends)
  • I would prefer not to rely heavily on kettlebells, because I already do a lot of lifting that taxes the posterior chain and my lower back muscles are telling me not to add much more.

So, looking at those challenges, I decided that I was going to use what I already have. I live on a hill. Several times a week, I find myself walking up said hill to get back home. At least a couple of those times, my kid is not with me. So during those times when my kid is not with me, instead of walking leisurely up the hill, I am going to walk up the hill at a fast pace, to get my heart rate up.

Though it doesn’t sound like much, I am 95% sure I can do this consistently. If/when I reach a point where it becomes easy, I can then decide whether to keep this up or do something different.

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What’s in My Home Gym (Complete with Non-Instagram-Worthy Photos)

I am asked somewhat often about the gym equipment I have at home. I thought I’d do a quick post, with some unedited, un-posed photos. Because we were all up late at a seder last night, and I couldn’t be bothered to make them look nice.

A 15kg barbell. Commonly known as “the women’s bar” in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit.

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The white thing next to it is a PVC pipe from Home Depot. My three year old calls it the “ABC pipe.” Used for movement patterning and mobility work. Some people use a broomstick for the same stuff.

Various bumper plates (5kg, 10kg, 15kg, 20kg, 25kg), change plates (.5kg, 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg) and fractional plates (.25kg, .5kg, .75kg, 1kg) to load onto the barbell, and collars to hold them in place.

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A heavy rubber honeycomb mat that stays put and doesn’t slip, and protects my floor. (Note to self: needs washing). Fun fact – the mat itself weighs around 100 lbs. It’s not going anywhere.

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A squat rack that is in two pieces so I can shove it into a corner when it’s not in use.

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A flat bench.

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Chalk. Which I hate the texture of, but my kid loves it and I occasionally catch him playing in it.

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A foam roller and lacrosse balls for recovery work.

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A 20lb kettlebell which I have not used in a while.

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A yoga mat which is mostly used by my kid. Pretty sure a cat barfed on it and it needs washing. (The knife is wooden and it belongs in my kid’s toy kitchen).

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Assistance bands (two different weights). These live in my backpack or in my car. I use them when I go to the park to hang from bars to improve grip strength and shoulder mobility. And maybe one day I might do assisted pull ups with them.

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A doorway pull up bar and a pair of gymnastics rings. I used to do ring rows with these and I haven’t used it in a while. I hesitate to hang from it using bands because I weigh more than the weight limit, but if I do ring rows, my feet are on the floor taking some of the weight.

Sometimes I hang it up and let my kid play on it. He likes to grab the rings and swing.

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My kid’s toy barbell. He got it for his birthday. There was a picture of someone setting up a snatch on the box. I asked my kid “what do you think is inside?” He answered “some guy weightlifting?”

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And there you have it! What’s in my home gym. If you are looking for suggestions for setting up yours, I collected some other links here.

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My Habit Practice Has Become a Toddler

If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been on a healthy habits path for a little while. In fact, one of the main reasons I started blogging was because I was doing something very different with regards to health from what most of my friends were doing, and different from what I had done my entire life. And friends started telling me “this is really interesting. You need to blog about this.”

So after a few months of hesitation, I started doing just that. I wrote about why I adopted a habits practice in the first place, and what I was doing. People asked me “how did you decide what goals to set? How do you decide on numbers? How do you track them?” So I wrote a series of posts about all that.

And now, I’ve been at this habit thing for 481 days. That’s just shy of 16 months. My habit practice has become a toddler.

And toddlers need some different approaches than babies do.  I’m starting to feel like my habit practice does too.

I’ve been tracking all my habit goals on this beautiful spreadsheet that I feel oh-so-proud of, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. There are over 20 habits on my spreadsheet now. I can’t see all the columns in one screen. And I’m wondering if I might enjoy taking some of the columns off the spreadsheet…which would mean NOT tracking all my habits.

With toddlers, you don’t need to pay as much attention to minutia.

When I had a newborn with feeding problems, we had to track every feeding and every elimination for two weeks. Once my baby had regained his birth weight and the lactation consultant had reviewed his feeding and elimination records and all was determined to be functioning well enough, we were given the green light to stop tracking these things.

Ideally, the purpose of developing healthy habits would mean that they are an automatic part of one’s routine, like brushing one’s teeth. I don’t have to track “brushing my teeth” to remember to do it every day. It is an automatic part of my day that I do morning and evening, and has been for as long as I can remember.

So, I took a look at my list of habits on my spreadsheet, and marked off the ones I that feel consistent enough that I probably COULD take them off the list and not suffer any loss of consistency. I can say that 9-10 of the behaviors have become more or less automatic. That means 12 or 13 of them I would like to improve on my consistency.

I feel about 95 percent sure that I want to take some of the more consistent habits off the spreadsheet, and I can’t say why. It’s not like tracking takes me a long time. Unlike tracking, say, calories at mealtimes, tracking my habits takes me just 2 minutes in the evening. It’s simply a checklist – at the end of the day I mark off whether I did the habit or not. I just feel like maybe I am outgrowing the need to check off 20 plus columns. The main thing holding me back from taking them off the spreadsheet is that I like feeling like I am giving myself a sticker on a chart, patting myself on the back for a job well done. I like seeing at the end of the day “wow, today I did 14 things that are good for me! Good self care, Bethany!” Maybe I need more excitement in my life.

Toddlers can have regressions.

There are some habits which go well in spurts, but on weeks when I have a lot on my plate, my consistency falters. So, the same logic that applies to new habits also applies to improving consistency with old ones: I am choosing ONE habit to really focus on improving my consistency. If I try to improve consistency on 12 or 13 habits at once (or even 2 or 3), I likely won’t have success with any of them.

Right now, I’m feeling a strong desire to improve my consistency with going to sleep early. Now that I am on CPAP and my body is actually getting the oxygen I need to sleep through the night, I feel like I can basically fly….IF I get to sleep early enough. So, why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Toddlers thrive on routine.

I am learning the value of having set routines and “habit triggers.” Habit triggers are something I see discussed in several habit based groups. It means that you attach your habit to a set item in your routine. For example, instead of saying “I will go to the gym sometime today,” you would say “when I wake up, I put on my gym clothes and do my workout.” Instead of saying “I brush my teeth when I feel like it,” you say “I brush my teeth when I wake up in the morning, and before I go to sleep at night.”

When I started working on my habits journey, I had no concept of how anything would fit into my routine. I said “I am going to do 150 strength workouts this year.” And it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out the best frequency and workout duration and intensity for me.  Kinda like when you have an infant, sleep is all over the place and you get it in when you can, and everything is trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t with each particular baby. Now that I have found a groove with what works well for me, I also have found that doing my lifting in the morning usually works best with my routine (more incentive to go to bed early!).

Recently I have read that setting a habit goal without specifying a trigger could actually be creating a habit of planning when to do the thing, instead of a habit of ACTUALLY doing the thing (I am paraphrasing, and I believe the person who wrote this was Sean Flanagan). I can see how planning when to do the thing is better than not creating any habits at all…and I can also see how creating the actual habit itself eliminates the need for planning, which is even better. Excessive planning takes up space in your brain, and takes it away from other things in life.

So, as I revisit some of the behaviors for which I would like to improve consistency, I will be looking at concrete places where I can build them into my routine, and giving them more concrete habit triggers.

Looking around, I see that I already have people in my life who are very good at habits, and they use habit triggers without realizing it. My mother always unloads the dishwasher while she makes her coffee in the morning. My father in law always goes grocery shopping on Tuesday and Friday mornings. He goes to the gym 5 days per week, and when he does, it is always at the same point in his morning routine.

Routines are only recently becoming a part of my life, now that I have a child. For years as an adult, I didn’t have set routines. There were so many changes in my life – moves, job changes, marriage. I always thought routine would feel stifling (I thought my father in law’s routine must be extremely boring!), until I realized my baby needed one, and my toddler needed one even more so. Now, I’m seeing that my habits will all be easier with more routine, and I am actually excited about building more routine into my life. I think everything will feel easier.

So, that’s where I am now, in terms of my habits practice: toddlerhood, minus the screaming and poop.

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Ripple Effects – Helping Friends and Growing Things

Yesterday was a great day. I felt great physically and mentally. I had gone to bed by 9:30pm for the prior two nights.

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Ready to take on the day!

One thing I feel really great about was that I was able to spend some time helping a friend who had been in a car accident last week. Kiddo and I went grocery shopping for her, and then I folded some laundry when I got to her house while our kids played together. I feel really satisfied and happy that I was able to do this, not only because it helped my friend, but also because in the past, doing this would have wiped me out and taken a lot of “spoons” for me.

Truth: In past years I have accepted a lot of help from family and sometimes from friends, for basic tasks around my house. Everyone says that is normal when you have a baby, and to be grateful for any help offered to you. And I am very grateful. But part of me always felt guilty accepting the help, because I knew that I would likely not be able to offer similar help to others in the same position, because I didn’t have the energy. So I am really glad to be able to offer help to others now.

Afterwards, kiddo and I walked over to the garden to water. No germination yet. Maybe today we will see some lettuce sprouts.

Another thing I feel great about is that my legs were recovered enough from the prior day’s deadlifts to work some olympic weightlifting technique in the morning….and still feel energetic on my feet throughout the day afterwards! Took my kid to gymnastics, did the grocery shopping for our friend, walked to the garden, walked back home uphill with my tired kid in a carrier….and my legs managed all of it without feeling too spent!

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Three New Habit Ideas for Spring

We are finally getting some spring weather, and I am finding that is making me feel very motivated! I have some ideas for new habits I would like to add to my list:

  • hang from bars at the playground to build pulling strength (if you are interested in building up to doing a pull up, check out the Facebook group Training With Michele Burmaster and once you are approved, search the hashtag #pullupcrew2016.)
  • run a lap around the block or around the reservoir near my home, because I’d like to build some cardiovascular conditioning
  • Try to get to bed by 9:30pm

I find myself tempted to try these all at once. I have to remind myself about all the statistics that say one habit at a time is most likely to succeed. I just started a new habit to work on this weekend so I should probably wait on these.

When I do feel ready to try one, I’m guessing it will probably be the first one (hanging from bars at the playground). The playground that is next to the garden is full of great bars for hanging.

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Lots of pull-up potential

And I wouldn’t need to buy any special equipment for it, unlike running, for which I’d need to pick up some appropriate shoes and bras. I already own some assistance bands to use if I want them. Also, I wouldn’t have think about things like scheduling it around “leg day.” Hanging from some bars wouldn’t conflict much with what I am already doing.

For now, I may start playing with these items, but not setting official goals or really working on them too hard. I got myself to the garden today, so this habit is off to a good start!

Wondering how I figured out which habits to work on? I wrote a series of posts about my process. You can start here.

Wondering how I track my goals? That’s covered in the third post of the series, and also in this post.

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A Great Day!

I had a fantastic day today!

I started off in a really grumpy mood. I hadn’t been to barbell club in a while and I wanted to go alone. But my husband had physical therapy and I was grumpy about bringing my kiddo.

It turned out great though. Kiddo ran off his energy by running laps around the training rig and playing with various balls and jump ropes he found, as well as the dogs that were visiting today, and his lunch, and his toy barbell.

Once I started lifting I felt better. My lifts felt great today and it turned my mood around! I did snatches, clean and jerks, and bench presses. Even though I am only doing olympic lifts once per week now, I felt good about how they went. And my bench press form is improving. Like a real powerlifter with my back arched and my ass off the bench! I also got some tips on setting up a sumo deadlift, which I will try tomorrow when I do my deadlifts.

Afterwards I got to go out by myself. I got a new phone for my birthday and I went to get it activated. I can’t tell whether I am more excited about the new phone or the CPAP machine I am getting on Tuesday.

And then got myself some treats. Something from a local candy shop called a fudge caramallow I think? And some Vietnamese food. I ate them for dinner. Om nom nom. Oh, and a jasmine limeade while I waited for takeout and played with my new phone. (Oh, THAT would be why I still have so much energy this late at night. The green tea in the limeade…)

I am excited to go watch a weightlifting competition tomorrow! It will be my first competition I am watching in person (as opposed to online).

Weekend update – New Wendler Cycle, New Habits, and other Miscellany

Nothing exciting today. Just a weekend update. Boring ass real life on the habit train….

Last week I finished my first cycle of Wendler 5/3/1 and this weekend I started my second cycle. So far it’s going well. I like the flexibility. I can spend less than 20 minutes per day if I want….or if I prefer I can combine days. I like how I feel so far.  Some days I’ve lifted first thing in the morning. Other days, after my kid goes to bed.

For this cycle, I am going to try including Olympic lifts 1 day per week, and see how that feels for me. I did them last night while watching Grease Live with my husband. The clean and jerk still felt pretty easy. The snatch felt a little awkward after a four week break.

I’ve been having some issues with my medical insurance not wanting to cover the recommended follow up testing for my diagnosis. Looks like I will probably be getting a machine soon, however. Fingers crossed! Now that I know I’m not breathing well at night, I want to fix it as soon as possible.

I went in for some routine bloodwork and weighed myself on the scale at the lab. The scale confirmed what I already knew by the way my clothes fit – I had lost a few pounds since I last weighed myself 3 months ago.  I didn’t do anything to intentionally lose the pounds; I just continued with all my habits, with the addition of using my new intuitive eating skills.  I’m trying not to get excited or put too much pressure on myself. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

It’s been about 5 weeks since I added a new habit. I am adding two more habits to my list today:

  • eat a vegetable with at least two meals (goal: 150 days by the end of the year).
  • do something myself instead of asking my husband to do it (goal: 150 days by the end of the year).

I’ve already been doing these items more than usual, so I’m pretty sure I can succeed with these goals.

January Report: Kicking Some Habit Butt

It is the end of the month and I love statistics! Here’s how my habit goals are going, as of the morning of January 31, 2016.

Number of days tracking habit goals: 398!

2016 Progress:

  • Days lifted some weights on purpose: 17 (11%  of goal of 160 by the end of the year )
  • Days taken a walk on purpose: 14 (7% of goal of 200)
  • Days eaten at least one green vegetable: 27 (8% of goal of 355)
  • Days taken my Vitamin D: 19 (5% of goal of 355)
  • Days finished my food for the day by 8pm: 17 (8% of goal of 255 by the end of the year)
  • Days no TV shows started after 9pm: 27 (11% of goal of 250)
  • Days in bed by 10pm: 21 (8% of goal of 250)
  • Days named something I love or appreciate about myself: 30 (8% of goal of 350)
  • Days named something I feel grateful for: 30 (8% of goal of 350)
  • Dates with my husband: 1 (10% of goal of 10)
  • Days said or did something nice for my husband on purpose: 15 (6% of goal of 250)
  • Days deposited at least $10 into my family’s emergency fund: 2 (4% of goal of 50)
  • Days made a pot of rice and beans: 1 (2% of goal of 45)
  • Days did some cleaning on purpose: 10 (20% of goal of 50)
  • Objects gotten rid of: 40 (8% of goal of 500)

Reflections on these numbers

I am doing so many of my habits really well! We are 8% of the way through 2016, so any habit where I did at least 8% is a habit that is on target or better. That means I am kicking ass and taking names at: lifting weights, eating green vegetables, finishing my food early enough in the day that I can sleep well-ish, not turning on the TV after 9pm, getting to bed by 10pm, naming things I love/appreciate about myself, naming things I feel grateful for, dates with my husband, cleaning my house sometimes, and getting rid of things that don’t spark joy.

I’m even going to say I am kicking ass at taking walks, even though I am only 7% of the way to that goal. It’s January in New England! I expected January to be a less productive month in the walking department. Last year we had tons of snow, but this year we haven’t so I have been able to take some walks. I’ve been working it into my schedule by taking a long lunch and walking at a nearby park on days I work if the weather has been nice enough (the walking track there is paved).

I need to find a “habit trigger” for taking my Vitamin D. It is such an easy thing to do and the only thing that is keeping me from doing it more is that I forget. So I need a trigger such as “take Vitamin D at breakfast” or “take Vitamin D with ice cream” or something like that. The issue is….sometimes I eat my breakfast in a rush, and I don’t eat ice cream every day. I’ll need to give some thought to a good “habit trigger” for this.

As for the habits where I am a little behind, I’m not worried about them. I’ve had extra responsibilities and expenses this month due my husband still not being able to drive after his injury. Given that, I think I should be proud of myself for doing well in the essential areas, and not worry about the things I’ve done less of due to prioritizing and triage.

Wondering how I figured out these habit goals? I wrote a series of posts about my process. You can start here.

Wondering how I track my goals? That’s covered in the third post of the series, and also in this post.

Wondering how I did in 2015, and what effects I’ve noticed? Here’s the report.

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Minimalist Lifting, Week 2 Training Log

I am about halfway through my second week on a more minimal lifting program.  Here are some thoughts and observations.

If you read about the Wendler 5/3/1 program online, you will see that each day has you do 3 sets of the main lift. There are different templates you can follow for assistance work. The templates have names like “Big But Boring,” and “The Triumvirate.” The template where you do just the main lift, with no assistance work, is called “I’m Not Doing Jack Shit.”

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