Just a Little Bit Better…1% at a Time

DSC_6974-EditI recently learned about Dave Brailsford and his concept of “aggregation marginal gains.”  Please don’t stop reading.  It is actually a simple concept.  Dave Brailsford is the General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britian’s professional cycling team) and he used this idea to create a Tour de France winner within three years.  No cyclist from Great Britian had ever won before.

This is how he did it.

Brailsford broke down everything related to cycling and set about improving each part just 1%.  He included the obvious things like conditioning and diet.  But he also included the less obvious things like pillows for sleeping and proper hand washing.  He believed the sum of these small improvements would make a big impact.  He was right.

I was struck by this concept because on the occasions that I do go about trying to improve myself, I believe I employ a similar strategy.  Not because I possess the foresight and intentionality of Brailsford, no, it’s really because I’m a little lazy.  I prefer small projects to large.  I do better making tiny changes than sweeping resolutions.

But too often these days, I seem to be paralyzed because the “Need to Do” list in my life is filled with projects seemingly too big to take on.  My closet is a disorganized mess of shoes, purses, jewelry and clothes, most of which I don’t wear.  My make-up drawer is bursting with unused cosmetics.  I have to run a 5k in a month and currently can only run a mile.  I don’t have enough time to make dinner so I serve hot dogs.  And too many nights I give in to my wish for “just one glass” of wine.

So this concept got me thinking.  Could I one percent my life?

What if I spent 1% longer on cardio?  What if I increased the intensity or incline on the treadmill by 1%?  Or lifted 1% heavier weights?  Imagine if I ate 1% fewer calories?  Saved 1% more of my paycheck?  Spent 1% less?  What would happen if I was 1% sweeter to my husband, 1% more patient with my kids?  Spent 1% less time watching Real Housewives and 1% more time writing?

How would these changes change me?

Could I do it…just a little bit at a time?

I aim to find out.

Due to a perfect storm of inspiration and a two month summer break on the horizon, I have finally made the leap I’ve long considered.  I’m starting my own blog:  Just a Little Bit.  I plan to write about fitness, diet, parenting, organizing, beauty products and more.  All of the things I spend my time thinking about and trying to improve.

I hope you’ll visit me often and share how you are improving your world…just a little bit each day.

 

A Reason to Turn Off the Alarm

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Mother’s Day is one of my favorite holidays.  My kids are in that wonderful age of school projects that feature hand prints with poems and flowers made of tissue paper.  I treasure every sweet craft they make for me.

But some of my most precious gifts are not the ones they make for the occasion.  No, the gifts I love these days are the ones they deliver without a reason, and often, without realization.  I’m the mom of two boys and I am their favorite girl.

I love the Lego minifigs who’ve taken up residence on my nightstand.  All of them were created with me in mind, often featuring a girl’s head on a mismatched body.  I love the pictures of kittens and princesses colored pink in honor of me.  I hang them in my office because I’ve run out of space on the refrigerator and walls.  I even love the paper-folded monsters that I find waiting on my jewelry box or pillow.  I have special containers where I place these treasures.  I plan to revisit them when the day comes that their love notes no longer involve me.

A few nights ago Will crawled into my lap and said, “I just miss you when you’re at work.”

Today after a mom’s lunch at Max’s school, my brave third grade boy gave me a kiss outside his classroom before I left.

And last night, both boys woke me up with bad dreams and sniffles.  Then ten minutes before my 5 am work-out alarm, Will came in.  “I just can’t sleep,” he whisper whined.

There was a time when I would have been furious.  I would have sent him back to bed immediately.  This is my only chance to work-out, I would fume.  Now I’m going to be tired all day.  He’s manipulating.  He’s lying.  He’s ruining my day.

But nine years into my parenting journey, I’ve learned a little something about the precious, unexpected moments that I don’t want to miss.

So I turned off my alarm and I let him climb in.  He snuggled up to me, soft and warm from sleep.  He grabbed my hand and pulled it around him.

“I love you, Mama,” he said.  Then promptly fell asleep still holding my hand.

I couldn’t extricate myself to go work-out.  My date with Shaun T and Insanity would have to wait.

The best Mother’s Day gift in the world was sleeping beside me and no work-out could ever drag me away.

Birthday Selfie Challenge

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I recommend that you try this on your next birthday.  Grab your cell phone and stand in front of a mirror.  Now, turn your hips away from the mirror, your shoulders towards it, suck in your belly, arch your back.  Lift the cell phone above you and angle down.  Now click and delete until you take the most flattering picture possible.   There you have it:  your Birthday Selfie.

This idea came to me after following too many self-titled “fitness experts” on Twitter.  These twenty-somethings delight in taking pictures of their fit bodies in dimly lit spaces at flattering angles.  The men slick their abs in oil then flex and twist.  The women don sports bras, tiny shorts and arch into uncomfortable looking thinness.  I was finding my Twitter feed filled with images that I guess were supposed to be motivating.  I found them annoying.

So the first thing I did on the morning of my birthday was unfollow anyone who had tweeted a picture of herself in booty shorts.  The next thing I did was try to create my own fit looking selfie.  And you know what, it wasn’t that hard.  The right camera angle, a flattering twist and flex and I, too, could look pretty darn good.

A wise woman once told me, “This is probably the best you’ll ever look so you might as well enjoy it.”  I was sixteen and I didn’t believe her.  Surely some day my skin would clear up, my legs would get slimmer, my hair would de-frizz and turn silky and blonde.  Someday I’d look like the models that taunted me from on the pages of Seventeen Magazine.  But that someday never happened and I spent a whole lot of time feeling bad about it.

One advantage I found in turning 41 is I am no longer so gullible.  I am not fooled by pictures of young and fabulous beauties.  I’ve seen one too many editions of Stars Without Make-Up to think that celebrities are looking glamorous every day.  And after my selfie-experiment, I do not believe that everyone who shows their abs on Twitter would look the same if I past them on the street.  Its smoke and mirrors…or more accurately these days…filters and angles.

So I urge you to do as I suggest and take a flattering selfie.  You don’t have to save it.  You don’t have to show a soul.  But I suspect that when you find the right angle, you will impress yourself with your own hotness.  And at that point, you might not want to lose that image.

I’m happy I have my 41st Birthday Selfie and I’m not going to delete it.  It just might be the best I ever look and, you know something, I’m fine with that.

 

Hate Cardio? Love Bikinis? Then HIIT Is It!

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Yes, I’m 40 and once again this summer, I intend to wear a bikini.

Some may disagree.  Some may think that after 39, you should retire any piece of clothing that shows your mid-section.  I, however, can’t help feeling that by hanging up the two-piece, I would be giving in to age and laziness and gravity.  I refuse to surrender to these opponents of fitness.  So I stubbornly cling to my bikini…one of the last vestiges of my youth.

Hence the dilemma each year when faced with the prospect of actually putting on said bikini and walking around in public.  If I worked harder during the winter, took advantage of those long, dark evenings to log hours on my treadmill, I know it would not be such a problem.  But summer always sneaks up and finds me ill-prepared.  Six weeks until Memorial Day, more than five extra pounds to lose and only 30 minutes to work out.  What’s a girl to do?

Shedding pounds quickly requires a commitment to eating right, training with weights and plenty of cardio.  Its that simple.

But I hate cardio.  There, I said it.  Give me anything else.  I will do hundreds of crunches, lunges up and down my street, lift ridiculously heavy weights.  I’ll do anything not to have to complete long, boring sessions of treadmill walking.  But, sadly, building muscle alone is not enough to get bikini ready.

Enter HIIT.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardio-haters best friend. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy.  In almost every way, it is harder than spending an hour walking.  But for me one of the most challenging parts of  long cardio sessions is boredom.  With HIIT, I am not bored because it is challenging and changing.  I work as hard as I can for a short amount of time and then get a break.  It increases metabolism so I burn more calories throughout the day.  Plus I don’t need to do an hour of cardio because 20-30 minutes of HIIT is enough.

You can turn almost any workout into a HIIT workout and get more bang for your cardio buck.  The goal is to work really hard for a short amount of time, get your heart rate up to the highest end of your target heart rate zone then move to an easier exercise that allows your heart rate to come down for a bit.  This cycle is repeated several times.  So it doesn’t matter if you are on a treadmill, outside on a walk or doing plyometrics, you can turn any work-out up a notch with HIIT.  And after a few weeks of this kind of training, you may find yourself looking forward to putting on whatever swimsuit you choose.

A word of warning:  HIIT is serious exercise and not for everyone.  As with all exercise, check with a doctor or a trainer to make sure you are ready for the intensity of a HIIT workout.

 

 

5k Run…Done.

It’s race day.  I’m in the crowd at the starting line and they are counting down to the blast of the horn.  I feel a lot like I did when I went into labor with my second child, knowing that I was facing something excruciating and there is no way out except to do it.  I’m worried about turning on my music, that I won’t hear the horn.  I waver between songs, which should I start with…This Girl is on Fire, a good song for pacing and channeling Katniss, or Lose Yourself, an old favorite?  I am deeply regretting making my goal public.  I’ve told too many people that I was going to be under 30 minutes and I don’t think it is possible for me today, or any day.  My sister is jogging in place, my mom is giving me a pep talk, my stomach is in knots and there goes the horn.  We’re off.

I quickly press play, Lose Yourself it is.  I’ve already lost sight of my sister who is aiming to be under  25.  I’m about a hundred yards from the start and I realize I never turned on my stopwatch.  Runners stream past me on both sides.  I cannot let myself be swept along.  I make a promise that I may pass some of them later if I keep my own pace.

I listen to Whistle, Wild One, and by the time I’m on Shake It Out the race is well underway and I’m approaching the halfway point.  I turn the corner at 13:30 and scare myself that my pace is too fast.  Negative talk takes over until I start my mantra, “I’m okay right now, I’m okay right now.”  And for the moment, I am.

The second half is tough, a few hills, a stretch along the lake, a brief section through the camp grounds.  Spectators sip coffee, hold plates of breakfast and clap for us.  I’m so jealous of their pajama pants and lounge chairs I could cry.  I check my time and know I won’t finish in less than 35 minutes.  There are no mile markers but I’m pretty sure the finish is just too far away.  I ponder the ethics of writing a dishonest blog.

GnR’s Sweet Child of Mine is too slow, I forward to You Could Be Mine and pick up the pace.  Finally, I turn the corner and see the finish line far ahead.  I glance at my watch:  26:40.  Trouble by Pink begins at just the right time.  I start to sprint…or my version of a sprint at this point.  And suddenly it is possible, I know I will make it.  I can see the timer as it turns to 28:00.  I run harder.  My sister is on the side yelling something I can’t make out.  I give my last bit of effort and cross the finish line.  I’m dizzy and afraid I’ll pass out.  I’m afraid I’m hyperventilating.  But I’m not afraid that I haven’t met my goal.

Official times are posted and I see it in black and white:  Stacie Angel 28:34.  My parents, brother and sister-in-law all earned first place medals in their walking divisions.  My sister achieved her personal best in the 5k run with a 24:09 and earned third place.  I came in twelfth.  They don’t give medals for that but I don’t need one.

Countdown to Race Day

Ahh, it’s summer, without a doubt, my favorite time of year.  I am happy to have chosen a career that allows me relative freedom for two glorious months.  The minute I am no longer required to go to an office each day, I am in summer mode.  This results in an interesting mix of complete laziness and frantic motivation.  I am terribly lazy about anything work related.  I have a pile of professional books I know I won’t read, I can barely get myself to open a work-related email and prepping for next school year…forget it.

On the contrary, I’m filled with energy when it comes to cleaning my house, reorganizing my closets and playing with my kids.  I can’t wait to tackle all of the projects I put off during the school year and pretend for a while that I am a stay at home mom.  This frenzy of motivation extends to my exercise program, and just in time, too.  I’m a week and a half away from my Fourth of July 5k and I am nearly ready.

The Lake City Greatest Fourth in the North 5k is a bit of a family tradition.  The sportier ones among us, my sister, my brother, my husband, run pretty much every year.  My parents, committed power walkers, always enter and finish in first or second place.  My participation has been a little spotty.  Depending on what stage of child rearing I happened to be in–pregnant and not interested, recently pregnant and too out of shape, waking up with crying kids and just too exhausted, or unwilling to miss the joy of kids in bed and open wine and, as a result, too hung over to even stand at the finish line– I’ve often not been a competitor on  race day.  Last year I was out of excuses.  It was my first attempt to run.  I’d almost rather reveal my weight then my time from last year, but because I’m hoping to crush this “record” I will tell you:  33:55 minutes.

This year is different. Last year, I was just hoping to be able to make it the whole way without stopping.  This year, I’ve been completing a hilly 5k course in under 30 minutes.  I am definitely more prepared.  I have also recently begun doing the Insanity Workout and suddenly my running has improved.   So, either Jeff is right and high intensity circuit training really does improve cardio endurance.  Or running, when compared with the exhausting Insanity work-outs, just isn’t that hard.  In any case, running is easier than it has ever been for me.

So, with a week of training left, I have a plan.

  • Add music to my run.  I may be the last person on the planet to lack an iPod and I need to rectify that before race day. (Thank you Kelli who ran a 5k in 24 minutes…I’ll follow any advice you give!)
  • Work on my form.  My husband runs like a gazelle and from what he tells me, I don’t.  I continue to work on my posture and being light on my feet.  (Thank you, Jeff.)
  • Keep doing Insanity.  (Thank you, Jen, you were right.)
  • Work on my breathing techniques. (Thank you, Shaun T from my Insanity videos, the deep inhale quick exhale does wonders.)
  • Practice my mantra, “I’m okay right now,” to keep me from getting overwhelmed by the distance.  (Thank you, Toree, for loaning me that technique.)
  • Think of myself as a runner.  (For this I must thank Ang who never thought she was a runner but recently ran a half-marathon on The Great Wall of China.  Looks like we can decide to be anything we want.)

It takes a village to raise a child and apparently it takes the same to get me ready for a 5k but come race day, I will be ready.

Fitness Shake Up

I’ve recently realized that I’m not very adventurous when it comes to my workouts.  I have become very comfortable with circuit training with weights and cardio bouts.  I spend lots of time on my treadmill and when it’s sunny, I jog outside.  If I can ever get to a class, it is cycling or a weights class.  I don’t do yoga, Zumba, Pilates, Cross-Fit, or TRX.  Oh sure, back in the day I did step aerobics and even jazzercise.  But these days, I don’t step out of my comfort zone.  My sister likes to say, “If I’m only going to drink one glass of wine it needs to be fabulous.”  And if I’m only able to do one class every other week, I want to make sure I like it…and that I can get through it.

So it was with a bit of apprehension that I headed out to a jewelry and workout party at The Dailey Method in Birmingham. (This is a wonderful change of pace for a Stella and Dot party, by the way.  Instead of my usual, drink too much wine and buy too much, this party offered a free workout before the wine.  I felt far less guilty the next day.)  My understanding of The Dailey Method was that it consisted of a mix of yoga and a barre workout.  I have done one yoga class in my life and I am in no way a dancer so a workout of this nature would be a legitimate cause for concern.

But the workout we did was not at all what I expected.  It was not yoga and we did not use the barre for dancing.  That might have been easier.  Instead we worked our way through intense, isolation movements targeting all of the major muscle groups.  Each exercise was designed to be done with minimal motion, like triceps extensions held and extended just an inch.  We relied on our own muscles for most of the resistance, and honestly, that was enough.   Before we began I had scoffed at the weight selection:  only 2 or 3 pound dumbbells?  Within a few minutes of the triceps series, I had to put the 3 pounders down.

I struggled through the workout, shaking and sweating and amazed at how unlike my usual routine it was.  I feel like I’m in reasonably good shape but this was a whole new adventure.  I suddenly realized that my unwillingness to try new classes and approaches to fitness has been limiting me.  Up until now, I would not have considered doing a Zumba or a yoga class at my gym.  I thought I knew the best way to exercise…do what I’ve always done.  But the truth is, there are so many approaches to fitness and it is good to shake things up.  A different kind of class is not just physically challenging, it will keep things interesting and help me in the area I need most:  staying motivated.

So the evening was a success.   The Dailey Method left me with sore muscles and a desire to expand my fitness horizons…and, of course, a fabulous pair of earrings.

Motivation: Found

Finally, after months of dragging myself to the treadmill and sneaking mini Snickers every chance I got, I’ve rediscovered my passion for healthy living.  It wasn’t one thing that allowed me to shake my fitness slump; it was a combination of several…the perfect storm of panic, inspiration and bathing suit season.  My motivation was lost but I found it… in some rather crazy places, but I found it.

I found it in my closet, specifically, in last year’s bikini.  I put it on.  I stood in front of a full length mirror and took a long look, front and back view (gulp).  I sat on the bathroom floor and pretended I was on a dock. I sat on my bed and pretended to be in a lounge chair.  I grimaced as the elastic pinched my hips.  I sucked in my belly to a point beyond breathing and the flab was still visible.  And my thighs…I can’t even talk about it.  This method of self-torture was equal parts pain and motivation.  And it was just what I needed.  I had to feel the rising panic as the truth stared me in the face.  Unless I plan to spend my summer under a beach towel, I must take action.

I found it in new work-out clothes.  There is nothing like new work-out gear to get me excited about jumping out of bed in the morning.  When I look like an athlete, I feel like an athlete.  I love Lululemon for their insanely flattering magical seams.  I love Athleta for making work-out clothes I can wear as regular clothes, as though any minute I might burst into a sprint or strike a yoga pose.  And I love Target because, although the stitches are not nearly as flattering, I don’t feel quite as guilty sweating in a $20 pair of capris.  Even though I work-out alone in my house, I still feel happier in a new outfit.  Everyone agrees, you can’t put a price tag on your health.  So if it takes a $100 pair of Lululemon capris to motivate me, so be it.

I found it in my old favorite magazine.  I rediscovered my love of the hard-core fitness magazine: Muscle and Fitness Hers.  Unlike other magazines that give you the same 10 basic exercises re-packaged every month, this magazine focuses on building muscles through intense work-outs and weights.  I know it makes some girls nervous thinking about lifting real weights and, heaven forbid, building muscle. But for me, I know that it is the key to really changing your body and losing fat.  Reading this magazine reminds me of what a hard work-out really looks like.  I’m renewing my subscription.

I found motivation in my guilty pleasure.  Its embarrassing how much I love reality tv.  I know that it is not totally real.  I’m sure much of it is scripted.  But the idea of regular people transforming themselves into stars is fascinating to me.  And some things you really can’t fake.  Kate Gosselin really did have 8 kids.  And she wore a bikini on tv.  You can’t fake that.  These days, I’m fascinated by Melissa Gorga.  Not that I think she’s had a particularly challenging life, but she has had three kids.  You don’t get your body back without effort.  Reality tv makes me think, “If they can do it, I should be able to do it.”  So I’m watching the RHWNJ and making plans for tomorrow’s work-out.

I found it in another Personal Trainer’s advice.   I don’t think I have to consider it cheating on my husband just because I get some fitness information elsewhere.  In the same way you probably don’t like it when your significant other tells you what to do, I get a little annoyed when my husband gives me fitness advice.  It doesn’t matter that I know he’s right.  But I sure do love fitness advice from other trainers.  I love to read fitness books. One of my favorites is This is Why You’re Fat by Jackie Warner.  I re-read this book recently and was so excited about her recommendations for meal plans and work-outs.  She has a great 20 minute treadmill routine that I have been doing every day.  I told my husband about it and he said, “Well, yeah, that’s the same kind of thing I’ve been telling you to do.”  That’s true.  But somehow I find it so much more interesting coming from someone else.  Sorry Jeff.

Finally, I found motivation in a giant jug of Pure Protein Whey Protein Powder.  Something about buying this makes me feel like an athlete.  Mixing this with water and drinking it as a shake tastes like fitness to me.  It reminds me of the days when I really did do enough at the gym to warrant this kind of high protein drink.  These days, I probably don’t require it, but the memory of a me that did is motivation and I’ll take it.

And there you have it.  I’ve rekindled my fire for fitness.  I’m back in action.  I’m excited to work-out.  I’m eager to eat right.  I’m even considering cutting back on the wine.  Bikini seasons, here I come!

 

Doesn’t it Make You Jealous?

Its lunch break at the conference I’m attending.  A group of us are sitting down to our boxes of prepackaged salads, bemoaning the wilted lettuce and limited fat-free dressing choices.  Our talk turns, as usual to diet and exercise.  They know what my husband does for a living so they ask me a few fitness related questions.  One woman turns to me and says, “Doesn’t it make you jealous?”

“Jealous?  Why?” I ask.

“Jealous that your husband spends so much time with other women, women who are in great shape because they have a personal trainer?  That would drive me crazy.”

It is an odd moment, not only because of the backhanded insult she so smoothly delivered, but because I had actually never thought about it.  Although about half of my husband’s clients are men, the others are female.  And he does spend an awful lot of time with them.   Could I be jealous of all of the fit women my husband spends his days with?  Am I secretly bitter that I’m not one of them?

It’s strange because I have actually met very few of my husband’s clients.  They exist in my mind as first names and appointment times.  For most, I have an idea of how long he’s trained them, if they have children, but that is about it.  On the rare occasions that I do meet one, I am usually struck by how fit and gorgeous she turns out to be.

Several years ago we were invited to Halloween Party thrown by one of Jeff’s clients.  The theme was James Bond.  I don’t know much about that series and couldn’t decide which Bond Girl to be.  So, I settled on a generic 60’s minidress from a thrift shop.  I found some amazing white patent leather platform boots at a store specializing in “dancer” outfits.  I splurged on pair of thick nude tights to cover any cellulite that might be visible in a skirt that short.  I felt ok.

When we arrived at the party, we were greeted by our hostess dressed up as Catwoman.  She was stunning  in a skin tight black cat suit complete with thick silver collar and leash.  I had never met this woman before, only known that she was a long-time client.  I was in awe.  She would have looked incredible for a teenager but she was over 50.  I told Jeff, “She has the body of Britany Spears in her prime.  She is the best advertising you could hope for.”

I don’t recall being jealous or insecure or anything other than impressed.  I do recall thinking, “Wow, Jeff is really good at this.”

All my life, I’ve been around fabulous women.  I grew up with sisters and girlfriends.  I have always been close to my mom.  I work with far more women than men.   I cherish the women in my life.  I’ve never been jealous of my friends or sisters.  I’ve always been excited for their success.  I am a girls’ girl.  Most women I know are too.  We are champions for our friends.  We want the best for them.  We are thrilled when we see women we don’t even know succeed.  We feel a shared pride when a woman overcomes an obstacle and achieves her dream.  We don’t try not to be jealous, we just aren’t.

So am I envious that my husband has gorgeously fit clients?  On the contrary, I’m happy for him and for them.  I am fascinating by the clients who have trained with Jeff for years and years.  I am inspired by their commitment.

So I turn to the woman at my table and say, “No, I’m not jealous at all.  I have no reason to be.”

“Hmmph,” she mumbles and looks a little disappointed.  Clearly, she is not a girl’s girl. 

 

 

Three Most Effective Exercises

 

One benefit of having a PERSONAL TRAINER must be that you don’t have to come up with your own work-outs every day.  I know if I spent the time planning creative work-outs, I could probably come up with some.  But most days when I wake up blurry eyed and tired, I don’t stray too far from my three favorite exercises:  push-ups, lunges, and crunches.  I have found these exercises have kept me pretty fit and, with small modifications, they continue to be challenging after years of use.

Push Ups

To me, push-ups are the single most important upper body exercise.  I do about 300 a week.  This exercise covers every major muscle group from pectorals to deltoids to biceps and triceps.  Don’t believe me?  Try the 100 push-up challenge that my TRAINER husband likes to give his clients.  Do 5 sets of twenty push-ups or 4 sets of fifteen and 1 set of ten.  If you can complete this challenge, tomorrow the soreness in your muscles will illustrate exactly which muscles you’ve worked.

Push-ups are easily modified to make them easier, more difficult or more focused on particular muscle groups.  I generally do “girl” push-ups or knee push-ups.   These are still effective and you’ll find you can do more than standard push-ups.  A change in hand placement will change the muscles worked.  Further apart you’ll be working  your pectoral muscles, close to your body and slightly behind the shoulders, your triceps will do most of the work.  If I’m feeling ambitious, I put my legs up on a fit ball.  By placing any part Jeff Angelof your leg on the ball, thigh to tops of feet, you can change the angle and intensity.  The further your hands are from the ball, the more challenging the push-up.

Lunges

I used to try to achieve the toned thighs I desire by lifting heavy weights at the gym.  My thighs will probably never be slim, but I thought they could at least be muscular.  I wasn’t afraid to put 80 lbs.  on a squat rack and go to town.  I lifted the heaviest weight I could on the leg press or hamstring curl.  I got pretty strong but I also think my legs got pretty big.  I’ve changed my strategy.

I now believe my body weight is more than enough for my legs to be lifting.  I rely on the many variations of lunges instead of super heavy weights.   I lunge forward and backward.  I do walking lunges around my exercise room.   When I’m lucky enough to be jogging outside, I love to stop and do walking lunges to break things up.  I lunge up on a Bosu ball and lunge down from on top of a bench.  I like to incorporate jumping lunges into circuits for a high-intensity bout of cardio.

Crunches

I’m not sure if “crunches” is the technical term but what I mean is any exercise that targets the abdominal muscles or the core.  Most of these exercises involve some kind of “crunch” or squeezing of the abs.  I like to think of the ab muscles as a built in corset and, if properly trained, they can pull in everything around your midsection.  Because of this, I try work my abs every day.  The trick to keeping this exercise effective is variety.  By mixing up the angles, the resistance and the movement, your body will continue to be challenged.

Basic crunch:  lie on your back, feet on the floor contracting abs as you curl up; this can be made more challenging by holding arms straight up above your head, holding a weight in your hands, or holding the contraction up for a few seconds before lowering

V-ups:  lie flat on the floor arms stretched out above your head, bring up your hands and feet at the same time to form a V; this is so challenging you may not need to make it harder but holding a weight  in your hands or  a medicine ball between your feet will certainly do so

Fit ball crunches:  lie back on a fit ball with feet on the floor and complete standard crunch motion;  work on balance by straightening your leg and holding while your crunch; work your oblique (side abdominal) muscles by crossing over left elbow to right knee and vice versa

Standing crunch:  stand feet apart and pull one knee up at a time as you contract your abs and curl into a C; Pull knee across your body toward opposite elbow to work the obliques

 

Using variations of these three exercises have kept my work-outs challenging and easy to plan.  For a full body work-out, I do circuits containing one of each type and a cardio bout.   Simple, challenging, and effective.