Can You Squeeze In a 20 Minute Workout Today?

by on August 20, 2012
in exercise, workout tips, workouts

Of course you can!  Who can’t find 20 minutes to spare?  This is what I do if my day is booked, there is not a chance I can get to the gym, and I need to break a sweat to maintain my sanity.  It is short, but it is not easy.

Basically, you pick one exercise for each of the SIX basic movements that human bodies are designed to do: a squat, a hip hinge, a push, a pull, a twist or anti-rotation move for the abs, and a single leg move.  Pick your favorites, or get crazy and try something you never do.  You will do three supersets of paired exercises.  In a superset, you move from one exercise directly to the next with no rest.  THEN, you rest, and repeat the superset for a specific number of times.  Huh?  Never mind. Here are the pairs

Squat move + Twist or Abdominal stability (examples below…or come up with your own!)

body squat x 15 followed immediately by front plank x 60 seconds

kettlebell goblet squat x 8 followed immediately by Russian twist x 16

dumbbell squat x 12 followed immediately by side plank, 30 sec/side

Pick one of these combinations, and do three supersets, resting only 60 seconds between each.  The grand total of time for this superset pair should be around 6 minutes or less.  Then, move to the next superset pair.

Push + Pull (examples below or come up with your own!)

Push Up x 10 followed immediately by horizontal rows x 8 (I use my dining room table for these)

Dumbbell military press x 8 followed immediately by pull ups x as many as you can do (this number will go down with each superset!)

Dumbbell chest press x 8 followed immediately by bent over dumbbell rows x 8 (use heavy dumbbells)

Again, pick ONE of these and do three supersets resting only 60 sec between each.  Six more minutes.  Last superset coming up.

Hip hinge + Single leg exercise  (examples below or come up with your own!)

Dumbbell or Kettlebell Deadlift x 8 followed immediately by alternating forward lunge x 8 (with dumbbells) or 12 if bodyweight only

Single leg bodyweight deadlift x 6 each side followed immediately by alternating backward lunges x 6 each side  (with dumbbells) or 12 each if bodyweight only

Kettlebell swings (my favorite) x 20 followed immediately by walking lunges x 8 each side

Same thing here:  no rest between paired exercises, but 60 seconds of rest between the supersets…three times.  Grand total…about 18 minutes. Use the 2 minutes for a brief warm up before you start…body squats, push ups, plank, or just run around the house for 2 minutes and have the dog chase you.

Of course, you can mix and match exercises or come up with your own.  The key is to move quickly between each exercise, and only rest between each superset.  Sixty seconds passes by very quickly.  I use my iphone to time the rest periods, just to keep me honest.

Try it and let me know what you think.

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When Less Is More

I have a tad bit of trepidation writing this post.  The last thing I want to do is tell people with CF to take it easy when it comes to exercise, but this is indeed what I am about to do.  It may be a controversial topic…and that’s ok.

Despite being a nerd  who never did anything but read as a young girl, the last thirty-eight  years of my life have been marked by a pronounced exercise addiction.  As such, both good and not-so-good things have occurred.  The good is clear:  Somehow, I’ve beaten back the CF monster time and time again, and I honestly believe that my fitness level has been a huge contributor to this bit of good fortune.  It’s been known since the early days of CF research that fitness level corresponds very well with survival in CF (Nixon, 1992).  I certainly didn’t know anything about this at the time I started  running in order to be the  skinniest girl in  my high school class (thank God I didn’t win that competition), but the consequent addiction to fitness has certainly paid off.  The need to be skinny turned into the need to be in control (thank you weight-lifting), which morphed into the need to combat stress (thank you medical school), which then turned into the need to get out of the house (thank you two toddlers).  It wasn’t until my CF began to really let it’s presence be known to me in more serious ways that exercise became my need to (literally) run away from reality.

It was only when out for a run, or when strutting around in the gym looking (and actually being) strong that I forgot about those pesky malfunctioning genes that took my sister and brother’s lives, and would likely take mine.  Taking on fitness challenges and training for them was a way to beat CF, and forget about it at the same time. This is how I coped, and it worked really well.

Until it didn’t.  The wake up call for me was last spring, when I lost my mind and decided to train for, and pass the RKC.  You can read about that little escapade here.  So, at 50, I proved that I could train myself so hard that I could end up in the hospital with pneumonia.  Sure, it was a great experience (the RKC, not the pneumonia…that sucked), it was very good for my ego, and I think I even surprised a few people, but was it really worth the blow to my immune system, the chronically elevated cortisol levels, and the resulting scars in my lung tissue which are permanent?

Here is my point.  If you have CF, exercise.  Heck, if you don’t have CF exercise.  That is what our bodies need…what we are made to do.  Everyone is healthier when they move frequently.  But overdoing it is not a good idea.  Over-training is a serious stressor to the body.  It causes hormonal chaos, as the body thinks the stress is never going to stop and keeps on pumping out cortisol like crazy.  Cortisol is the body’s version of a drug we commonly have to take to dampen inflammation in the lungs, prednisone.  Remember the last time you had to take prednisone?  The shaky feeling?  The mood swings?  The elevated blood sugar?  The yeast infections?  Elevated cortisol over a long period can lead to these things and worse .  It not only turns down the inflammatory response in the lungs, but it also turns down the immune response to infections, resulting in….trips to the hospital with pneumonia.

So what is a cyster (or fibro) to do?  Moderate.  It is the best course of action.  Here is how I do it now (at age 51).  I walk every day, at least 30 minutes, usually more like 60 minutes.  This is at a moderate pace, and is usually a pretty low key event.  My heart rate is never more than 50-60% of my maximum (although this is a guess since I never take it).  There is a little bit of an upper body workout component as I am always accompanied by two dogs, one of which almost outweighs me, is horribly leash-trained, and constantly looking for squirrels.

Three days a week, I pick things up and put them back down (weight lifting).  This consists of a heavy day, a medium day, and a light day each week.  The “heavy” day means heavy (for me) weights, which means fewer reps.  This day usually consists of deadlifts and bench presses, with some ab work thrown in for good measure.  The “medium” day means not heavy, but not too light weights.  It’s a Goldilocks day.  The exercises are usually squats, military presses and rows, and the rep range is 8-10.  I may “play” with kettlebell exercises this day–but nothing hard.  The “light” day is just that–light.  I go back to deadlifts, but just practice form, and work on my pull ups.  This is the day I will “practice” my kettlebell favorites, like the Turkish Get Up or the snatch.  Again, the focus is on practicing and playing.  Currently, my weight workouts are limited to 45 minutes.  I’m trying to get them down to 30 minutes, but this is tough for me, because I always think of “just one more thing” I want to do.

I can hear you now.  “What about cardio?”  I know, I know.  Running has saved me from the CF beast.  I can’t give it up…the beast might get me.

I’ve been experimenting with limiting my “run” days to two a week at the most.  And they are not runs anymore.  They are interval workouts, where I either run fast (I would say sprint, but that’s sort of stretching it) for short periods (15-30 seconds) and walk to recover, repeating for as long as it feels right,  OR I walk uphill fast wearing a 20 lb weighted vest, and then slow way down (and decrease the incline) to recover, again repeating the work:rest intervals for as long as seems right.  Because interval training is hard, these are short workouts; 20 minutes maximum.

So, let’s think about this:  walks daily…at such an easy pace they don’t really count.  Weight lifting 3/week at 30 minutes (that’s the goal anyway).  Interval training 2/week at 20 minutes.  Not much time, right?  Now trust me, in order to get the work done, and make it worth your time, those short workouts have to be pretty fast pace and intense (except the easy weight lifting day…don’t even consider “intense”).  This is what I’ve been doing this year.  And guess what?  I’m going on seven months with no infections and no IV’s.  My weight is up.  My mood is up.  My numbers are up. Life is good.  Compared to the times in the past when I’ve been working out like crazy, one to two hours-a-day, this is a much more sane, and healthy (I think) approach to fitness.

Here’s my final point:  This isn’t a lot of time.  So the next time you try to convince yourself that you don’t have time to exercise because you are so overwhelmed by the CF regimen,  ask yourself if you have 20-30 minutes.  That’s not even a sit-com!

Lastly,  an important caveat:  If you are just starting to exercise, or just coming back to exercise after being sick, start with the daily walks.  Get those down first, building up an aerobic base.  Next, add the lifting.  When you feel strong again, start in with the intervals.  At first, intervals may look like this: 30 sec walk fast, 1:00 walk normally.  Then maybe build up to a jog for the work intervals…then a run…then a sprint….then a sprint uphill (ok so maybe this won’t happen until the Magic Pills are approved).  Go VERTEX!


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How To Fit Exercise In

In a previous post, I discussed time in a very esoteric way.  Yes, Eckhart Tolle is right in a way…time only exists in a horizontal dimension, the one we are used to dealing with most of the time.  CF and all of its accompanying “life situations” exist there, too. It’s enlightening to understand that we don’t have to be dictated by that dimension all of the time.  We can practice entering the “now” and get vertical anytime we want…

Alas, one must also be practical in this world.  So, let’s get real about time, shall we?  Yesterday, when I finally got in the shower and first brushed my teeth at 3:30 pm…exactly 9.5 hours after awakening, I realized I needed to write this post.  Mind you, none of those 9.5 hours were wasted.  And I don’t even have a real job!

I don’t need to go into the specifics.  If you are reading this, you already know the laundry list of things that must be done once, twice, or even three times daily regarding health care.  The meds, the nebs, the Vest, the food, the insulin, the enzymes, the vitamins, the doctor’s appointments, the trips to the pharmacy, the uncomfortable moments (hours) where you just want to be left alone to deal with your digestive system…

This is all before “life” stuff…work, school, kids, spouses, friends, churches or spiritual activities, fun, Grey’s Anatomy….

My first point:  “When in the WORLD is there time to exercise?” is a reasonable question.

My second point:  It needs to be part of that first list…the essential health care activities, or else it just isn’t going to happen.

The number one reason CFTR-able people don’t exercise is TIME, so it stands to reason that the addition of hours of self-care does not make the problem any easier.  Nobody has time.  That is a given.  Accept it as a given, and make time anyway.

I have coached and known many people with CF, and I have not once met someone who was not happy and proud of themselves for having started an exercise program.  Yes, it is hard to fit in.  Yes, it is frustrating to get sick and have to start over from what feels like ground-zero.  But, it is always worth it.


Tip number one:  If you keep a scheduler, or planner, or palm, or iphone…whatever,  schedule yourself in FIRST.  Start with just 20-30 minutes.  Go for a walk or do some yoga.  Get into moving your body in some way, every day.  Over time, splurge and give yourself an HOUR a day.

Tip number two: Schedule a reward for immediately after your exercise.  Make it small, but something you really want…a latte, a nap, whatever.  You have to really want it, and you DON”T get it unless you exercise.

Tip number three: Plan to exercise with someone else.  Set a date, time and place.  The accountability factor kicks in, and you tend to show up.

Tip number four: Try hard to establish the habit of doing your exercise first thing in the morning.  This is the only way I made it through medical school/residency and stayed healthy.  It was a grueling schedule, but I know that it was the early exercise (accompanied by the early to bed the previous night) that provided me the energy to live through it.

Tip number five: Set a goal.  Make it appropriate for you, but also, set it high enough that it will force you to stretch yourself a bit.  You don’t grow muscle mass or endurance or flexibility without stressing the system.  If you are new to running, schedule a 5K.  If you are new to yoga, try to make it through an entire class!  If you are new to weight training, work up to your first unassisted pull-up.

Tip number six: When you reach your  goal, tell everyone you know how great you are, and celebrate!

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CF and Time

I am researching for a talk I will give to a CF Education Day in a couple of weeks, and found this article that I wrote three years ago.  The talk is going to be about exercise, of course, and how to find both time and motivation to move when you live with CF.  But re-reading this made me slow down a bit (hard to do on Prednisone), and remember what this time thing is all about.  I hope you enjoy:
CF and Time
As a fellow anatomic pathologist, I fully respect Dr. Dorothy Anderson’s description and naming of the constellation of signs and symptoms that we now call Cystic Fibrosis back in 1938.  Her observations marked the beginning of several decades of medical research, the outcome of which allows me  to sit at my computer at age 45 and write this. But for now, I would like to think way, way outside the box, and ask a question posed by one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle.  Does chronic disease really exist?  Does CF really exist?

In “The Power of Now”, Tolle differentiates your “life” from your “life situation”.  He speaks of your “life” as this very ”moment”, as opposed to your “life situation”, which is comprised of the circumstances or conditions of your life.  As such, your life situation is your “story”, which has a beginning, middle, and eventually, an end.  It exists on the horizontal axis of time.  However, there is a part of each of us that is unchanged over time and exists outside of time.  Think back to that day you learned to ride a bicycle.  Or think of throwing that high school graduation hat into the air with a big cheer.  Or perhaps, think to the moment when you said, “I do”….  In each of these situations, there was an awareness of what was happening, and that same awareness, unchanged, is aware that you are reading this page now.  That awareness is what Tolle would call “life”, and it does not exist in time.  It is NOW.  It does not change, because it lies on a “vertical” axis, with no past and no future.

Try not be offended by this (many of us are very attached to our CF), but imagine for a moment the possibility that CF is part of your “story”, existing on the horizontal axis of time.  At some point you were diagnosed.  In other words, a combination of sounds emitted from your doctor’s mouth (copied from the sounds Dr. Anderson decided best described this disease) was suddenly ascribed to YOU.  Those sounds became part of “who you were”.  The beginning of your CF story may have been when you were a baby, or later, but part of your identity was now as a “sufferer of” CF. The story then continued, with a different trajectory for each of us.  For some of us, the story has already ended.

Your story isn’t just CF, of course.  There is the story of what you do for a living, how your body has grown and changed, what you have learned over time, who you know, who is in your family, how many dogs you have loved and lost….If you think about it honestly, whenever you ask yourself the question “Who am I?”, the answer is usually just more of the story.  “I am a lawyer”, you say.  Then who were you before you got your JD?  “I am a father and husband”.  Who were you before you were married?  “I am sick” really means the physical part of “you” is not completely healthy at this point on the horizontal axis of time.  Yes, your body has weird and unusual chloride channels lining its epithelium.  But is your brain “sick”?  Is your heart “sick”?  Are your bones intact?  Can you see?  Are you breathing? Can you love?

“I” (the author) am a 45-year-old female “sufferer” of CF, retired physician, mother of two, partner, wellness coach, friend, daughter, sister…  Yeeeees, but other than being “female”, all of that has been variable throughout my life (and as I understand it, even being female could be changed, if I wished…).   Who was I when I was 9 months old, and had no language yet?

But, you argue, my brain is the same…!  No it isn’t.  Neuronal pathways are always changing; cells are dying; plaques and tangles are forming (at least, in our “old survivor” brains).  I’m sure you’ve heard that all of your cells are dying off and regenerating constantly. Nothing is constant on the horizontal axis of time.  The “life story” is ongoing, and ever changing, just as the body is.

Do you see the point of this tirade?  A part of you, and I would argue, the ”real” you, is the observer of your story, or as Tolle would say, “the awareness” within which your story unfolds.  Does that “awareness” have CF?  NO!  The body in which the “awareness” resides has CF!  So does CF really exist?  Only in time!  Only in the content of your life, the content that always changes and that describes you, but is NOT you.  The content is your life story, but is not your LIFE.  The real you is life itself, and that life is now, this moment.  “CF,” then, in this moment, is really reduced to what you are actually experiencing now.  Maybe that is a cough.  Maybe it is rapid breathing.  Perhaps it is pain in your joints as you walk.  Or, possibly, in THIS MOMENT, it is nothing at all.

“Wow,” you say, “Julie has completely lost it!”  But if it sounds kind of interesting to explore the idea of “this moment” where CF possibly doesn’t even exist, maybe you are asking, “How do I get there?”

I’m glad you asked.  This is the cool part.  Tolle describes “portals” into the NOW.  Entering these portals is sort of like a meditation, yet it is not meditation in the way we usually think of it.  I don’t know about you, but when I focus on my breath, I do NOT enter a state of bliss!  These portals are much easier to use.

One portal, my personal favorite, is to become aware of the “inner body”.  Another way to describe the inner body is your “life force”, or “life energy”.  To do this, you simple sit or lie in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and ask yourself without moving it or looking at it, “Is there life in my left hand?”  This may take a few moments.  You probably will be tempted to move your hand, but don’t.  Just sit or lie in stillness and find out, “How do I know that my left hand is there…without looking at it or moving it?”  After awhile you become aware of the energy of your hand.  That is your “inner body”.  When you become aware of it in one hand, you then move your attention to the other hand.  Then, when you can feel it there, you try to feel it in both hands at once.  After that, you get adventurous, and move to your feet, and up your legs, to your torso, then arms, then neck and head.  With some practice, you can soon, at will, become aware of the “inner body” within your entire “outer body” (the one you can see and move).

Here’s the catch:  the only way to feel this “inner body” is in the NOW.  You can’t do it if you are remembering the past, or worrying about or anticipating something in the future.  You can only feel your inner body in THIS MOMENT.  This technique essentially forces you into the “NOW,” the vertical, timeless dimension called awareness.  In this space, I would argue that there IS NO CF.   There may be a cough (see if you can maintain awareness of this life energy while you cough), but the energy is separate from the cough… from the body… from your thinking mind.  It’s wild.

If you get really into it, you can practice this awareness throughout the day.  You can do it during a treatment.  You can practice while folding clothes, or while walking, or while in a particularly unpleasant conversation with an ex-partner.  The more you practice, of course, the easier it becomes.

There are other portals, of course.  But this is getting way too long.  I would be happy to share my experiences with them (all very legal!).  Just give me a call or email.  Until next time: BE FIT…BE STRONG…BE WELL!

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