I first met Andrea Metcalf over a year ago at BlogHer when it was held in Chicago. She was a part of one of the booths in the Expo area, and she was memorable. Why? She got me to touch my toes.
No big deal, right? Ummmm, remember that Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge from grade school? I always did great until we got to the how far past your toes can you stretch part. As a child, I could never touch my toes. After four years of yoga, I still couldn't touch my toes. Per her request, I bent over and waved at the ten inches between my fingertips and the floor. She had me push each of my legs against her arm in three different directions, then try again. To my surprise - and shock - I hit the floor with my fingers. Easily. With no pain. Go fig.
Her explanation is that if your body doesn't have the confidence in the strength of the muscles surrounding the ones you're using, it won't let those muscles push to their max as a way of protecting the weaker ones. By convincing my low back and hamstrings that my legs were strong enough, they finally let me touch the ground.
Andrea now has a new book coming out in January called Naked Fitness that is fortunately not about any new type of classes that might face restrictions in general public. Instead it focuses on how you strip away all the problems and preconceived ideas you have and fears that keep you from getting and staying on track. She shares a twenty-eight day plan of how to get a slimmer, fitter, pain-free body.
In support of the launch of this book, Andrea has been hosting free events the past week throughout the Chicago area that are open to the public. With Little Miss's pneumonia and other factors, I wasn't able to make many of the events, but I was lucky enough to be able to attend a few of the ones she hosted in Naperville on Thursday. (Thank you, Mom, for watching the wee ones!)
I walked away from her sessions feeling motivated about not just exercising but eating better again and focusing on doing the right things for myself, and I'm pretty sure that was the point. While I wasn't able to be there for the first session, I did attend the Cherry Breakfast.
There, Andrea explained the benefits of eating cherries - reducing inflamation is huge - and talked about our body alignment. We partnered up and looked at our head, shoulder, hip, and toe alignment. No one was perfect - or probably even close. We do so many things to mess with our bodies from sitting at the computer like I'm doing now that hunches us forward to carrying children on one hip to having one foot or leg stronger than the other. We did some simple stretches, and it was interesting to see that there definitely was some visible difference in how well we stood and walked.
I had no idea that my right toe turns outward when I stand and walk. I am doing my best to focus on keeping it more straight, but because my right hip flexor is weaker and tighter than my left, it pulls my toe out. I need to do some strengthening and stretching there on a regular basis.
The next session was Tribe Hummus where Amanda Skrip showed us alternative uses for hummus. I love hummus and always have a container of it in my fridge. Little Miss goes to school daily with hummus in her lunch. But it's generally either a dip for carrots or a sandwich topping (Little Miss loves hummus sandwiches). It was eye opening to see the hummus mixed with water (or lemon juice) to make a delicious, creamy salad dressing. Ditto for the hummus wraps that riffed off California rolls. I actually made them last night for a potluck I attended and received rave reviews.
From there, we got to try out EA Sports Active 2 briefly. This is a video game that doesn't use a controller but instead straps you to an arm and a leg monitor that doesn't just show your movements but also tracks your heartrate and more. I did just a couple warmup exercises, but they were effective. Watching some of the other participants try out other activities from running up a hill to heading a soccer ball at targets to skateboarding and doing tricks. They were really fun activities, and they really did get people moving and sweating and burning calories. This is definitely one I'm going to keep an eye out for when it's released next week!
Our next session was a Hoopnautica class. I was leery, but since I was already in Naperville, I figured I'd try it. I have never been a successful hula hooper and didn't even try after awhile as a child. The Hoopnautica class is a hula hoop class. We all got hula hoops that are larger than the ones sold in toy stores and a little heavier. Our instructor showed us the "power points" on our hips and back where we want the hula hoops to hit, and somehow we all managed to actually hula hoop. After practice, several of us were able to walk back and forth a bit and even turn in a little bit of a circle. Spinning in a circle like the instructor wasn't happening, but that takes more than ten minutes of practice, I'm guessing. She also showed us how to do the hula hoop in our hands above our heads, which provides a great arm workout, too. I will admit that I have a visible bruise on my right hip from the hula hooping, but I don't care. I am so going to try to get my gym to add a hula hoop class. It was a blast! It was very reminscent of belly dancing in a way, and I enjoyed it.
We headed to the Sears in Aurora for our next session, which was held in the fitness department at Sears. We each tried out a different piece of cardio with Andrea and Scott Herman (a personal trainer at the events, too) providing tips and pointers on what we were doing. I was on the treadmill, and rather than my usual run, Andrea had me doing some new and fun things. I was skipping sideways and grapevining sideways, which was a surprisingly challenging workout even at a speed of 3.1mph (I generally walk between 3.4 and 3.7 and run near 6mph). Yesterday, my inner thighs were mildly sore, and I'm guessing this is the exercise that did it. Needless to say, I'm sold. Andrea also had me walking backwards on the treadmill, which will help build muscles on other parts and sides of my body that I'm pretty sure I can use. I loved that so many of these used different muscles and muscle groups than my normal workout. Andrea and Scott also demonstrated some strength exercises on other equipment, but I know I'll need to have some chats with my gym's trainers to make sure my form is adequate.
The last session was the Shapeups Walk. Unfortunately it had started to rain and hail and was getting cold, so we stayed inside the Hotel Arista (an absolutely gorgeous hotel and venue, btw - and wonderfully green). We toured the fitness center and learned about Power Plates. Unfortunately the machines are $15-16,000 apiece, but they were so cool. There is actual research that using these in the right way actually helps to build bone mass in patients with osteoperosis. The vertical vibrations make your muscles work thirty percent harder, meaning you can either work out thirty percent faster or build muscle thirty percent faster. We practiced doing squats on the machine, and it was interesting how much more intense they were!
We also found out how great a massage the machines give. We each had a chance to lay with our quads and calves on the machine while it vibrated, as well as sitting in front of it with the pad that sits on it wrapped around us vibrating our gluts and lower back. It. Felt. Good. Andrea mentioned that this is also great for working out your IT bands. Mine are chronically tight, and I spend painful (but effective) sessions with a foam roller on a regular basis. I'm thinking this would be much nicer. Then again, I can only imagine the lines for them at my gym.
I had so much fun at these events, as did - I believe - everyone who chose to attend them. The sessions were motivating and included such a neat variety of people from super fit people to those who read about the events in the newspaper. I walked away from these events feeling much better about myself and realizing how many small things I can - and need to - do that will make a difference. And I just might have to buy a copy of that book when it comes out later this winter.
In the interest of full disclosure, all attendees of these open to the public events received samples of various fitness equipment. I was not asked to write about my experience at these sessions, nor was I compensated in any way for attending them. All opinions expressed are my own.