Fitness as the Leaves are Starting to Turn

Autumn

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in Cleveland, the leaves are just beginning to turn colors. The forecast for the next 14 days also shows a downward trend in daytime temperatures. Within 3 weeks, autumn will officially be here.

What does this have to do with fitness? Many of us use these warmer days to get exercise outside: running, swimming, biking, etc. As the weather gets cooler (and, yes, snowier), these activities will be affected. We just won’t be able to be active outside as we are during the summer months.

This is nothing new, but this year with COVID-19, there are added implications. Even though many gyms are open in some form or other, many folks (especially older adults) have stayed away. I have seen firsthand and heard/read about how lax or strict certain facilities are about mask usage and cleaning of equipment. Those who are in risk categories have every reason to be concerned. And now, the great outdoors–where the risk is very low–may not be as hospitable as it has been.

I have already begun training one client on her back patio and she has propane heaters for the coming months. [BTW, if you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s worth considering.] This is Cleveland, though, and eventually we’ll either have to go inside or switch to virtual.

Two things continually strike me about virtual training, and they are somewhat incompatible. First, a lot of people do not want to do online training because they think it’s not “real;” after all, how can you get a good workout over your computer? I have some clients who I haven’t trained since March and they are “waiting” for things to settle down with the Coronavirus epidemic to go back to the gym; virtual training doesn’t enter their realm of possibilities. As for things settling down soon, “don’t hold your breath.” Literally. Second, those who do train virtually to a person attest to the fact that the workouts are effective and not at all “fake.” I have several clients who tell my how amazed they are at the workouts–especially given the limited equipment they have. It is still possible to work hard and train every muscle group even without the fancy equipment at a gym. This is why you have certified personal trainers; this is what we do.

Autumn is nigh. Decisions will need to be made. Sitting on the couch and doing nothing until it warms up again is not a good option; the less we keep ourselves fit, the more vulnerable we are to infection and illness. There are options–and online training is certainly one of them for those who don’t feel comfortable/safe going into a gym.

How will you get through the cold months in fitness and in health? Start planning now; there will be a rush.

No Time to Work Out During the Pandemic

Stopwatch

I had a conversation with a friend the other day who I know used to be a regular user of the gym where I work; he even worked out regularly with one of the top personal trainers. I asked him whether he has been working out with his trainer and he told me that he has been too busy; I pushed him a little bit and reminded him that all of us trainers are working virtually via Zoom, which removes the commute time. I got a sort of shoulder shrug.

This wouldn’t be such a noteworthy conversation, except that I have had similar ones with more than a few friends/acquaintances (and clients). They have gotten used to not going to the gym–even though virtual sessions have been offered since early April–and now that we have re-opened (albeit in a modified fashion), they haven’t gotten back in the habit.

Many of my clients who worked with me virtually have returned to the gym in what I would say is an almost seamless process. There have been administrative glitches to be expected given the new realities, but from the physiological standpoint, coming back to the gym seems like the natural thing to do rather than an “obligation” that needs to be shoved back into the schedule. Other clients who legitimately do not feel comfortable coming in to the gym work with me virtually on a very consistent basis. BTW, it is amazing how tough a workout can be even without the fancy gym equipment. I have seriously challenged clients with props such as rolls of toilet paper, dish towels, throw pillows, and just their body weight.

It is important to note that many of my clients who have not returned to the gym and who are not training virtually make a point to tell me that they are walking a lot, gardening, etc.–the usual activities of summertime; when I ask them if they are checking their heart rate to see if it is elevated the response is always crickets chirping. When we eat, we often underestimate how many calories we are consuming…after all, what damage could a bowl of (healthy!) granola with milk possibly cause? (Check the label and you’ll be surprised). The same is true with exercise; we overestimate how many calories we burn; we think we are getting a workout, but a casual walk with the dog–constantly sniffing and marking territory–does not raise one’s heart rate significantly unless your dog is a greyhound! We need to get the heart pumping, the blood circulating, and the lungs expanded.

Folks who worked out with me consistently via Zoom before returning to the gym have found that the load (how much weight they can push, lift, pull, etc.) now is not where it was pre-pandemic. We are having to do some reconditioning. Can you imagine what the difference will be for the gardener and the dog-walker when (if) they return to the gym? Even those who did not get ill due to the pandemic will feel like they are recovering from a disease when they begin to work out in earnest again. Inertia plays a powerful role and can undo much of the progress and maintenance we have achieved.

We are still in a pandemic–this will go on for a while. There is so much that we still cannot do safely. This should free up time for us–time to re-connect with our fitness goals, with our gym memberships, with our personal training sessions–or even with a more rigorous home routine that raises our metabolic rates.

COVID-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to not stay fit–unless you have the virus and are battling illness. On the contrary, a regular exercise program together with proper nutrition, stress-reduction, and sufficient rest can boost the immune system. It is time to get those priorities straight and find the time you know is there to take care of yourself.

Extraordinary Times

2019/Paweł Jońca. Wall calendar.

We are in extraordinary times.  Judaism has something to say about that.

In Hebrew, there is a term:  Sha’at Had’chak, which roughly means at the time of an emergency.  I would argue–as have many of my colleagues across the observance spectrum–that we are in such times right now.  As you may know, in Jewish laws there are often various rabbinic opinions on observance.  Some positions are more stringent while others are more lenient.  During Sha’at Had’chak, it is permitted to follow a more lenient position if necessary.  Our tradition also records majority and minority opinions.  Typically, we follow the majority, but during these times there are those who suggest that it is permitted to follow the minority if necessary.
The overall guiding principle here is that we must do whatever we can to save lives; we are required (not just allowed) to violate all but three laws in Judaism in order to save lives; these are committing murder, committing a sexual offense, or denying the nature of God.  Otherwise, we must do what we can to save lives–and even to prevent illness when the chance of a fatality is low.

Most synagogues are following the principles of Judaism by adhering to the current CDC recommendations on social distancing.  This is why most congregations are not holding Shabbat services–or any services for that matter. We are all finding creative ways to carry on the life of the community, stay connected and sane using the technology available to us–some of which many will not use on Shabbat and holidays.  

Because of Sha’at Had’chak, most JCCs and other gyms are closed. They are also adhering to the CDC recommendations. That doesn’t mean that our fitness has to be delayed as well. There are many ways that we can stay in shape and maintain social distancing. I’ve been offering daily workouts for free through Facebook. The Mandel JCC here in Cleveland has virtual workouts several times a day that are free as well. Do some research. Find out how you can stay active and stay healthy. BTW, it is OK to get outside as long as you follow the rules there as well.

I pray that all of these measures will be temporary–although no one knows just yet what that means.  Once the Sha’at Had’chak ends, we will (God-willing) return to the regular activities in the community, perhaps with some adjustments that may become permanent.

Over the years, the Jewish people have faced massive changes.  We were thrown into slavery in Egypt and centuries later miraculously and spectacularly freed.  We settled a new land, were exiled, resettled, were exiled again and resettled again.  We have survived pogroms, plagues and mass murder.  Through it all, we remained true to ourselves, our tradition, our observances and to God.  

We will get through this with God’s help–and with each other’s help too!

Wishing you an early Shabbat Shalom!

When a Trainer needs a Trainer

Last week I went to Columbus and signed up for a training session with my long-time personal trainer. It had been 8 months since my move, and frankly I was a little nervous. I’ve had some health setbacks and was worried that I had atrophied while I was gone.

It was a tough workout but I made it through. What it made me realize–which is kind of like a “duh”–is that there really is a benefit to working with a trainer. Of course, as a personal trainer myself, I see the results in my clients. So many of them are reaching their fitness goals, have greater stamina, improved balance, and have taken control of their health. Sometimes it takes a trainer–not a doctor or family member or friend–to push you beyond what you think is your capability. As I said in a recent blog post: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

I left Columbus knowing that I may not need to hire a personal trainer, but that it makes sense for me to ask one of my fellow trainers (which I did) if we could work out together. We had a short 20 minute session today. He told me that he pushed himself because I was there, and I certainly went beyond my usual. It felt great!

I know this sounds self-serving, but if you feel like you are in a rut, not getting the results you want, and that you are continually playing out the same fitness drama…seek professional help. I did. You can too! 🙂 Personal Trainers make a difference.

Tonight’s Purim Workout

This is the workout that I did this evening. It is based on the Book of Esther, and is annotated to explain the rationale behind each exercise from the story of Purim.

Try it out! It was a very schvitzy experience for all of us.

Purim Workout I – Hamantaschen Buster

Rabbi Michael Ungar

50 minute workout

Tabata:  40 seconds work, 20 seconds rest; each superset completed twice, followed by 90-second rest.  Total of six rounds of supersets (plus warm-up and cool-down)

Equipment needed:  mats, dumbbells, medicine ball, kettle bell

Achashverosh’s party – to reflect the party we stretched and danced for 1 minute to Hebrew Workout music from Spotify. King Achashverosh threw a party at which he asked his queen, Vashti, to dance. She refused so she was banished and the king searched for a new queen.

Warm-up:   Stretch & Dance

Beauty pageant – Not exactly politically-correct, but the king held a pageant to find a new queen. He chose Esther who (unbeknownst to him) was Jewish. The lunges represent the walk down the runway that pageant competitors do; Warrior 3 is like talent competition; floor hip abductions are because Esther managed to get a “leg up” on the competition.

Walking lunges with dumbbells

Warrior 3 (lean forward, balance on one leg, arms forward)

Floor Hip Abductions (on side, raise upper leg – each side 20 seconds)

Mordechai discovers the plot while sitting at the gate – Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king and reports it to the authorities; he is not rewarded, but his deeds are recorded in the king’s records. Sit-ups because the plot had have caused Mordechai to sit up; single-arm side bends because it looks like you are listening in when you do these; the Russian twist because…well…so many twists to the story.

Sit-ups

Dumbbell Side bends (one arm with dumbbell, other at ear)

Russian twists with weighted ball or kettlebell

Mordechai won’t bow to Haman – Haman, the king’s vizier was a power-hungry guy and no friend to the Jews. He had quite an ego and demanded that everyone bow down to him. The bent-over dumbbell rows represent those who did bow down; the upright rows or presses represent the Jews who would not bow down; the supermans because Mordechai was a super guy!!

Bent-over Dumbbell Rows

Upright Rows or Dumbbell Overhead Presses

Supermans

Haman plans to kill the Jews – Haman was so incensed by Mordechai’s and the Jews’ refusal to bow to him that he convinced the king to allow him to kill all the Jews with the excuse that they were different and not loyal to the ruler. Lots (in Hebrew, Purim) were drawn to determine the day it would happen. To represent his evil plot, this is the most evil superset in the workout; no one was killed in the workout, but it was close!

Burpees

Kettlebell swings

Push-ups

Esther intercedes – Mordechai knew the only way to save the Jews was to have Esther speak to her husband, the King. This would involve her revealing her true identity. It was a gamble, but Mordechai convinced Esther to do it. Her fear and ambivalence are reflected in shrugs; the front raises represent the king raising his scepter (a sign of his allowing her to speak); the hammer curls represent the strength Esther needed to confront the king and challenge Haman.

Dumbbell shrugs

Dumbbell Front Raises

Bicep Hammer Curls

The Jews are victorious – The king could not rescind the decree to have the Jews killed, but allowed the Jews to defend themselves. This prevented their being destroyed; Haman and his sons were hanged and the Jews were, once again, victorious. The squats represent our enemies who were reduced to squat; we crushed our enemies; and the tricep kickbacks? A reminder of the three-cornered hat worn by Haman that is the basis for the three-cornered Hamantaschen pastry we eat on the holiday.

Dumbbell Squats

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Tricep Kickbacks

The Celebration – After a tough workout, there is no better way to celebrate than to cool down and stretch it out. And that is a workout based on the Book of Esther and the Purim Story!

Stretches