Monday, August 31, 2015

Circuit Training and Deck Staining

The warm sunny days of August have already run away from me.  Early, much needed rain, signals that summer is almost over.  THe air is cooler in the morning and I've already seen the first V's of geese flying overhead.  The end of August reminds me that summer is precious.  We have to take advantage of every moment, every ripe tomato, every fresh caught crab, every beautiful sunset.  My husband Jeff and I have been doing just that all month.  We’ve been busy fishing and crabbing, exploring and entertaining, and enjoying the bounty of the Pacific Northwest with our friends and family.  

Despite the fine weather, we’ve been going to indoor exercise classes too.  A couple of years ago my husband Jeff and I started doing Circuit training classes at the various gyms we belong to – the Meredith Matthews YMCA in Seattle; Betty’s Academia in Piracicaba, Brazil; and Lopez Fit on Lopez Island.  We are both over 65 and value being fit.  We want to maintain our strength and flexibility well into our eighties.  That goal requires persistence – our bodies are certainly “use it or lose it” objects.  As we age our muscles deteriorate if we don’t use them.  And as anyone over sixty will tell you, everything starts to ache. 

Both Jeff and I have exercised regularly throughout our lives.  We traded running for biking sometime in our early fifties when our knee joints started to complain about the pounding of hard pavement.  Over the past fifteen years, gyms seem to have opened up almost everywhere, offering diverse classes from Pilates and Yoga to spinning (stationary bike riding) and, more recently Circuit training.   We have come to appreciate the benefits of Circuit training classes. 

The American Council on Exercise defines Circuit training as “… a high volume (repetitions), low resistance (weight) workout with short rest intervals and is geared primarily at improving muscle tone and definition, while improving cardiovascular fitness.”

OK.  But what does that mean?  It means that while you are exhausted after a Circuit training class, you are also exhilarated and stronger and your hips and shoulders don’t ache.  It means that your balance is better and that you can bend down and pick up something you’ve dropped without thinking “ouch”.  In layman’s (laywoman’s?) terms, Circuit training is a series of individual exercises, each emphasizing a different muscle group that are performed and then repeated in sequence for a short time period with a brief rest in between each sequence.  Movements are fast and you get a cardio workout at the same time without even realizing it.  You don’t have to have any prior knowledge to join a class and you don’t have to be “in shape” to participate.  Classes are typically 45 to 60 minutes long.  Each class is set up with multiple stations around an open room.  Each station has unique equipment (e.g., hand weights, a weight machine, a mat, heavy ropes, etc.) and a specific exercise that works a specific muscle group using that equipment.  The classes start with the instructor briefly demonstrating the exercise for each station but if you forget one, she or he is there to show you again during the class.  Depending on the number of people in a class, there might be as few as six or as many as 18 stations.  During the class, you start at one station and do the exercise continuously for 30, 40 or even 60 seconds.  Then you have a few seconds, 15 or 20 to move to the next station.  For example, Station 1 might be a hip raiser side plank – you hold your body, one hip down parallel to the floor, balanced on your feet and one elbow bent under your shoulders on a mat, with your legs and torso in a straight line.  In this position, the goal is to raise your upper hip as high in the air as possible, bring it back down parallel to the floor and repeat again and again until the time interval is up.  

This might sound easy but it isn’t.  Every part of your body’s core, i.e., all your internal torso muscles including your abs, your pelvic floor and everything in between is working.  This is very good for you especially as you age.  Our core muscles hold our bodies upright, help us avoid back pain and injury and give us balance.  Having strong core muscles is very desirable but often doing “core” exercises can be a horrible experience.  In a circuit training class, all the exercises move quickly.  Music is blaring.  The other folks in the class are working hard, encouraging you to work hard too.  And just when you think you can’t do an exercise any more, it is time to move onto the next station.  You can start at any station and go to each subsequent station in turn.  After you complete all stations, i.e., the circuit, you begin again, repeating the circuit two or more times during the class.  Sometimes, after a full circuit, i.e., all stations, the instructor will give a short break so you can rest and drink water.  Sometimes you just keep on going.  The classes usually begin and end with a short stretching session. 

What makes a circuit training class fun is the variety of exercises and the fast pace.  There is no time to linger or worry about whether you can do the exercise.  You just do your best and move rapidly to the next one, following the person in front of you.  Even if you’ve never participated in an exercise class or if you have doubts, you find out you can do almost anything for 30 or 40 seconds, even pushups or bicycle leg lifts!  Sometimes, during an exercise, you can feel so exhausted you can’t believe how long 30 seconds is but you try to hang in there.  The instructor gives encouragement by telling you that the time is half gone or only five seconds are left!  Good instructors walk around the room, moving from station to station and giving each student a little advice, or a minor position adjustment to ensure you are doing the exercise properly.  If you have an old injury and who doesn’t after the age of 60, the instructors at all of our gyms give sensible modifications for any exercise that might be inappropriate.  It is very stimulating.  All of the classes Jeff and I have taken are upbeat and full of camaraderie.   The benefits of Circuit training are remarkable.  Since starting these classes I am stronger and have less aches and pains.  I was afraid at first that I couldn’t possibly do some of the exercises, for example swinging a 25-pound kettle bell between my legs and out in front of me.  Maybe you don’t even know what a kettle bell is!  I didn’t a year ago but I know now and I can do the exercise.  BTW a kettle bell is a weighted ball with a handle, sort of like a round dumbbell.

Jeff and I found out how useful our Circuit training classes were a couple of weeks ago.  Earlier in the summer we had a new deck built at our Lopez Island cabin.  After the deck was built, we needed to finish it with a special oil to help preserve the wood.  As anyone who has ever finished or re-finished a deck knows, it is a lot of hard physical work.  We started out by sanding the whole deck surface including the railings and stairs.  Then we had to wash it down, removing all sawdust and dirt.  Then we dried the whole deck before applying the oil.  The deck is built out of a very hard wood called Ipé – it is a pretty Brazilian hardwood that is raised in sustainable plantations.  We loved the idea of adding Brazilian wood to our Northwest cedar house.  But applying the oil was hard work.  We had to work quickly, painting the oil onto the planks, waiting five minutes and then wiping off excess oil with clean rags.  Of course we were down on our knees, stretching out our arms and legs to apply the oil and then wipe it off.  At one point both of us realized we were basically in a plank position, legs stretched out fully and arms rubbing the excess oil off the deck surface.  We started laughing about how our Circuit training had set us up for deck finishing.  I wonder if I would have been able to do this hard physical work without having developed the strength that our Circuit training has given me.  I don’t think I could have.  So one of the rewards of developing or maintaining strength as we age is the ability to take care of our house.  The deck looks beautiful and, with the rains already beginning, I am pleased to report that the oil is very protective.

As usual, I’m sad to see August end but happy that we finished our deck ourselves without incurring aches and pains.  Being able to do physical work around the house is a great reason to keep exercising.

Now it’s time to harvest our apples and plums and make a last cold soup for supper.  Soon it will be getting chilly and the whole world of hot soups and stews will stretch out before me.   In the meantime, I'm enjoying the early rain and relieved that it will help put out the terrible wild fires the state of Washington has experienced and replenish our over-tapped water supplies.  

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