Ask Amanda: Aw, She Got the Velcro

Let’s be real: you can get a great workout in whatever junky outfit you have lying around the house.  I’ve had clients come to me in baggy, oversized college T-shirts, flannel pyjama pants, and all manner of odd gear from reflective soccer shorts to collared polo shirts to an actual full-length unitard.

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Actually I’d love it if my client rolled up in this

But let’s be real.  Even though you don’t have to dress like you’re straight off the lululemon runway to work up a sweat, there is something about dropping down into a burpee with perfectly-in-place high-waisted capri or taking a jog in a strappy-but-secure stylish sports bra that makes the whole exercise experience a bit…nicer.

And why wouldn’t you want your sports gear to be damn cute as well?

Already I can hear the snores from the less-interested male clients and hey, you’re right – the selection of red/black/blue shirts and black/grey shorts at your local Big 5 might not be super inspiring, so if you’re looking for more stylish stuff, check out these brands.

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Listen, these men can basically work out in ANYTHING and no one is mad….except maybe put on some shoes, middle guy, sheesh.

But for my ladies, we are in a veritable wonderland of gorgeous, stylish, and somehow still functional fitness clothing at every price point – so let’s embrace it, dammit.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have some fairly wild taste when it comes to gym clothes, but for the sake of this post, I’ll stick to the basics: key pieces I wear every day, and general stuff I think the average fit female would like to wear herself.

Let’s start from the bottom up: shoes and socks.  I am a die-hard, can’t-be-swayed, own-the-same-pair-in-six-colours Nike Flyknit Free fan.  I didn’t always wear minimalist shoes; in fact, for the first eight years of my running career, I couldn’t be swayed from Asics Gel Nimbus (though now if I put them on they’d feel like cement blocks).

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An accurate representation of my current shoe wardrobe

However, my point is this: find a shoe that you absolutely ADORE (you get excited to actually put on, doesn’t cause you pain while working out, and is comfy) and buy it in at least three colors – no, not (just) for vanity, but so you can rotate between the pairs and prevent injury.  So many of my clients wear a single pair of way-too-old shoes to the grave and then wonder why they have shin splints or knee pain all of a sudden.

As for the socks, some simple guidelines: skip the cotton (tend to get soggy and stretch out); go for compression and arch support if you’re running in them; and make sure they’re cut higher in the back to avoid slippage in shoes.  From there, the world is your oyster.  My fave sock picks?

Feetures High Performance Cushion No-Show Tab Socks

Nike Elite Lightweight No-Show Tab Socks

Balega Enduro No Show Arch Support Socks

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For even MORE support, go whole hog with the NEWZILL knee-highs.

Now that we’ve got our feet sorted, how about we talk lower half?  I live in probably one of the most inhospitable running climates on Earth in that it is always hot, always humid, and more often than not, either blazing sun or pouring rain.  For this reason, I favour a nice compression short for lifting and an easy breezy lightweight split short for running. The best of both?  See below:

Affordable compression shorts that you can buy in a thousand colours: either the Nike Pro 3″ Training Shorts or the Cotton On Gym Short.  The high waist, thick band, and tight fit of the shorts makes them stay put on your upper thigh and stay comfortable throughout even a longer workout.  In terms of the running shorts, there is one INCREDIBLE product by Salomon that takes the take – they are literally like you’re wearing nothing at all.  Behold, the S-Lab Light 3 Short (not cheap; worth it):

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Please understand how light, flippy and comfortable these second-skin shorts are.

Onward and upward to the top half of the bod – again, my apologies to those of you with “seasons” as you probably need things like “sleeves” and “jackets” in your life, and I wont’ cover any of that business here.  But again – in terms of dealing with heat, Nike does it again with their collection of well-fitted and ultra-lightweight singlets.  Some top choices?

Nike Breathe Elastika – love the choice to tie up or leave down depending on the day

Nike Breeze Cool – my current count is four; in teal, nean yellow, cobalt, and black

Nike Breathe Tank – like you’re wearing nothing at all…nothing at all…

Should you not be as unilaterally obsessed with the Nike brand as I am, I’d be remiss to not mention lululemon’s amazing line of built-in bra tops (the only brand I trust to actually hold ’em in, if you catch my drift), the standout of which is the Fresh in Mesh Tank that I will eventually own in every colour possible:

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Cutest ever, am I right?

One last note on accessories, despite the fact that I am actually a pretty simple gal when it comes to things like gym bags (whatever I toss my stuff in becomes my “bag”), watches (don’t wear one), and gadgets (I’m definitely not the one to ask about things like copper balance bracelets or knee straps or anything like that) – but I love a good, sporty hat or visor, and my absolute fave are the ones from Headsweats.  Comfortable, performance-oriented, and unbeatable for hot weather whether you’re running, golfing, or heck, just standing outdoors for 4 minutes in Singapore heat:

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This one’s even reflective – great for night runs!

That’s it for my list of raves and faves when it comes to performance gear (special thanks to Nike, Cotton On BODY, lululemon and Amazon for making it even easier to get my fave picks ordered online) – but I’d love to hear what YOUR favourite choices are when it comes to all things exercise.

Tell me, readers – who are YOU wearing (in the gym)?

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Ask Amanda: How Much Exercise is Enough?

Let us be real – we all want to be generally healthy, but we all are (inherently) a little bit lazy.  There’s something within human nature that is constantly asking, what is the minimum amount of effort that I can put in to get the maximum amount of return?  And of course, with something that a lot of people (definitely not trainers!) consider “unpleasant” like exercise, that elusive bare-minimum level is often speculated upon.

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Why we exercise.

How much exercise is considered “enough”?  I get this question all the time, and the easy (and by the way, correct) answer is of course to say that it varies by your age, performance goals, medical history, genetics, and ability level.  For example, if you are 80 years old and have arthritis, a daily 1-mile walk with some at-home grip work might suffice.  If you are an Olympic power lifter training for the next Games, the above program would not even remotely suffice.  Get it?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate (think walking, easy lap swimming, or playing doubles tennis) exercise per week, which can average out to 30 minutes on 5 of the 7 days.  Alternatively, you can perform 75 minutes of vigorous activity (think running, swim sprints, or playing singles tennis), or a combination of the two.  In addition, they suggest doing muscle strengthening exercises on all major muscle groups twice per week.  They also make it clear that unless you are doing a combined 300 minutes of exercise per week (about an hour per day on six days per week), you probably will not be losing any weight (sigh, I know).

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Ideas for how to get your movement on.

An avid ThisFitBlonde reader had asked me a while back if doing Spin class twice per week and barre class three times per week was “enough,” and using the above formula, let’s figure it out.  If you take the Spin class seriously (this is why I love the more accurate intensity-calibrated bikes used in a studio like Flywheel rather than something more….shall we say…”bouncy,” like a SoulCycle), you’re logging about 80-90 vigorous minutes.  The barre classes would add up to about 180 moderate minutes, and given my understanding of the type of classes, would also “count” as muscle strengthening. Therefore, yes – that combo on paper would be “enough” for general health, but perhaps not enough for weight loss – and definitely not enough for a completely different performance goal like running a marathon or completing an obstacle race.

This is where you have to be honest with yourself about why you’re exercising, what your performance and body composition goals are, what you expect to gain from the type of exercise you’re doing, and how your diet supports your workout regimen.

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She gets me.

Want a window into my exercise world?  Here we go: I am currently training for a long-distance obstacle race (Spartan Beast Malaysia), an ultramarathon relay (Ragnar Napa Valley), and a hot-weather marathon (Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon).  Using the above questions, here’s my metric and exercise prescriptions for myself:

WHY ARE YOU EXERCISING?  Because I’m a g*ddamn beast, but also sort of an idiot, so I’ve decided to line up three giant endurance races at the end of the year to keep myself motivated, excited to keep working out and focused.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERFORMANCE AND BODY COMPOSITION GOALS?  I’d like to complete the Beast without injury, feel strong and recovered on all three Ragnar legs, and finish the marathon with my partner in less than four hours (ambitious given the heat).  I’d also like to lose 5 additional kilos and about 4% body fat along the way.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM EXERCISE?  I expect to lose weight, run faster and more efficiently, build upper body and grip strength, and practice fueling and hydration for hot-weather endurance events.

HOW WILL YOUR DIET SUPPORT YOUR WORKOUTS?  I will continue to alternate low-carb and higher-carb days (carb cycling) within the framework of intermittent fasting.  I will increase my protein intake on lifting and recovery days and supplement with BCAAs. I will try to eat a salad daily for lunch to maximize vitamins, minerals and nutrients and keep alcohol to a minimum, particularly within the last month before the three events.

MY WORKOUT PRESCRIPTION: Garagecircuit (obstacle/circuit/strength training) 2X/week.  Two short runs (5-8K) and one long run (10K+) per week, building up to 30K by December.  Stairs/boxing circuit (stair running, sprints, push-ups, squats, lunges, and sparring) 1X per week.  Obstacle-specific (Fitness Protocol) training when possible; at least once per month.  Yoga once per two weeks for mobility and anti-inflammation.  One rest day per week (can include yoga but no other workouts).

If you’re confused about how to tailor your workouts to your goals like I did above, if you’re not sure working out “enough,” and/or if you don’t know how to develop a nutrition plan that complements and makes the most out of your exercise routine, it is definitely worth the investment in a few sessions with a personal trainer, nutritionist, and/or registered dietitian to make sure you’re on the right track.

Do you think you exercise “enough”?  How do your workouts move you toward your goals?

Marathon Recap: ThisFitBlonde Runs LA

Hey, did I tell you guys I was running the LA Marathon?  Probably not, since I actually did it on a whim (read: with NO training, not even a long run of anything more than 12 miles) after getting a bib from a friend who was too injured to run – but I did!  And it was absolutely fantastic.

Some background: LA was my fifth marathon, and the 30th running of the marathon overall, so an anniversary of sorts for both me and the city.  I’ve run Surf City (Huntington Beach), the NIKE Women’s (San Francisco), Rock N Roll Las Vegas (at night), Boston (in 2013, so ’nuff said about that unique experience) and now Los Angeles.

I always vowed not to run LA because it was “too familiar”these are the streets I train on day in and day out; the streets I live on; the streets I commute and curse upon.

How could running a marathon in L.A. feel like anything but drudgery?

But friends, I was so wrong.  If you are a 16-year Angeleno (and fierce defender of the city’s greatness) like me, you need to run this race.  You will see LA in a whole new light – not only the promising and hopeful light of dawn but also the striking and illuminating “light” of a city untouched, somehow cleaner and prettier and less crowded than it’s ever been.  I loved every step.

That said, no marathon is without its downfalls – and this race still had some, despite my best efforts to stay calm and focused.  Here’s a quick play-by-play of what was going on in my head, mile-by-mile:

MILE 1“it’s just another perfect day…I loooove L.A….” Randy Newman’s voice booms loud at the starting gun – and we’re off.  I’m feeling good.  It’s sorta crowded but no one’s elbowing me yet.  I keep reminding myself to keep the pace steady and slow.

MILE 2 – where was the mile 1 sign?  Didn’t they say they’d have a sign for each mile?  Oh well, whatevs.  This muscular dude is running a nice pace.  I’ll follow him awkwardly closely until he runs away.

MILE 3 – hey look, a 5K!  Isn’t that sweet?  Muscular dude has been upgraded to official Pace Buddy, despite that we haven’t yet exchanged verbal words.  It’s just a runner “thing,” you know?

MILE 4 – downtown looks nice, at least this part.  Pace Buddy (now known as PB) smiled at me and handed me a water from the aid station; still no words but officially my PB.  Resisting urge to look at the clock as I keep telling myself, slow and steady.

MILE 5 – so THIS is what Echo Park is!  Wow!  There’s a lake here and things.  Supes nice.  Feelin’ gangsta as “Not Butter” comes on my running mix and I audibly laugh.  PB probably thinks I’m insane but is too committed to our pacing to run away.

MILE 6 – PB speaks!  He pulls out one earbud and tells me he’s going to grab water at the next aid station and hit a gel.  Scintillating.  I agree with him and play “gel roulette” with what’s in my pack; end up with a vanilla bean w/caffeine.  Hyped up on that and Beyonce.

MILE 7 – Blisters are starting to form, and this early it’s annoying – but I don’t have time to care.  Gotta stay on the 9-minute flat with PB, and gotta pretend like this isn’t the most boring scenery of the entire course (sorry to those who live here, but it sucks).

MILE 8 – Deep into Hollywood now and prepping to see my friend Melinda at mile 9.  I tell PB, “I have friends at mile 9!”  He throws me an exhausted-looking thumbs up.  I feel like a douche.

MILE 9 – DAMMIT.  DAMN.  IT.  Where is my friend?  I know she’s here!  She made me a sign!  I know she did!  “Maybe she didn’t wake up,” says PB, and I want to punch him for a second.  I KNOW SHE IS UP.  Are we running too fast?

MILE 10 – DOUBLE DIGITS!  I throw up a “deuces” to PB and he laughs.  We are running too fast for him; I can tell he’s struggling, but I refuse to slow down when I feel this good – plus we’re in Hollywood reppin’ the Pantages, Grauman’s Chinese, and all the “cool” things about this part of town – without the annoying tourists up in our grills.

MILE 11 – PB tells me he’s going to drop off at the next mile to meet his wife and son and change shoes; secretly I am a little relieved because I want to maintain.  “0 to 100” comes on the mix and I know I’ve made the right choice because I go 0 to 100 real quick; real f*cking quick.

MILE 12 – As promised, PB peels off with the fam and we exchange a heartfelt (if momentary) goodbye.  For a second I am sad.  Then I realize he is a total stranger and I go on running.

MILE 13 – Did I make it halfway already?  Are those drag queens dressed as high school cheerleaders?  Do I have time to stop and poop?  The answer to all of these is, of course, yes.

MILE 14 – OHMYGAH the greatest downhill of the course is about to hit and I didn’t even see it coming.  I wave my arms like a stupid lunatic and almost take somebody’s eye out (sorry bro).  My baller “LA Woman” remix comes on and I realize that this is the city I was born to run.  Tears well up in my eyes.  Sentimental Manda = getting tired….

MILE 15 – But not too tired!  The promise of seeing my family in a few miles perks me up again and I power through WeHo and Beverly Hills like it’s no big (and hey, this is getting close to my neighborhood – it is no big; I run these streets all the time!).

MILE 16 – 10 MILES TO GO!  In some races that has felt like an eternity, but here it feels doable.  I realize I am on pace for a sub-four marathon after screaming at a volunteer, “WHAT TIME IS IT!??!”  Someone shoves an ice cold coconut water into my and I am almost brought to tears again with how happy I am to drink that delicious beverage.

MILE 17 – OMG, family is so close!  How’s my hair look?  Oh wait, it looks like the rest of me – a soggy, sad sack after being sprayed down with hoses, pouring water on my head and back, nearly losing my stretched-elastic shorts (note to self: toss these shorts when you get home), and squinting out one eye after one is rendered useless due to sunscreen drip.  I’m a hot mess.

MILE 18 – There’s my house.  WHERE MY BED IS.  And I’ve been up since 4:45.  Would anyone notice if I just diverted off course for a moment?  Sigh.  Another mile, another orange slice.

MILE 19 – FAMILY!!!  HI MOM & DAD!  HI BROTHER!!!  My “official” first spectators since I missed my mile 9 support and dropped my PB.  I feel like a massive baller, despite the fact that I just grabbed a handful of Vaseline off a posterboard carried by a complete stranger (hey, I refuse to suffer armpit chaffing if I don’t have to).

MILE 20 – There is something amazing about mile 20 – it’s where you truly start to believe the finish line is attainable.  It’s more amazing when “Move B*tch” by Ludacris comes on your playlist and you start dominating some b*tches (and by “dominating” I mean “hobbling past someone that stopped to walk at a water stop, then getting caught by them 200 yards later”).

MILE 21 – I see two runners help a handcycle athlete get up a steep hill, and my eyes are again filled with tears.  I let one spill.  I AM NOT MADE OF STONE DAMMIT.

MILE 22 – Four miles left?  Steady downhill grade?  Let’s do this.  “Turn Down for What” guides me through a “high five station” where I literally slap about 24 hands in a row.  Ow.  And now I’m sticky.  Ew.

MILE 23 – It’s just a 5K now – and yet the blisters on my feet are beginning to revolt against the 90-degree weather – and did I mention I’m also COMPLETELY blind in one eye from sunscreen damage?  Note to self: sun protection is one thing, but temporary blindness is quite another.  Remember to pack the powder protection next time.

MILE 24 – OMG, two miles left.  I scream out for the time again and when the volunteer tells me 10:33, I realize I am fully going to break 4 hours on thiz beetch.  I prepare to rip my bib (because I told the friend whose bib I was running on that I would, so she wouldn’t get some rando time) and accidentally rip the bib.  Now I’m carrying a bib.  STUPID.

MILE 25 – Finally, the spectators who have been screaming “you’re almost there!” since mile 2 are vindicated: we are, in fact, almost there.  They say the last mile is the longest.  Whoever “they” are, they’re right.  I can see the ocean; shouldn’t the finish line BE HERE ALREADY?!?!?  WHY AM I STILL RUNNING?!?

MILE 26.2 – Crossing the finish, I suddenly feel at peace, like the scenes in movies where all the sounds fade away and you are moving through silence, colors intensified, time almost simultaneously fast and slow.  I feel completely inside my own head yet utterly connected to everyone around me.  It is a glorious sense of achievement and relief, compounded with an intense bowel cramp and crazy craving for cold pizza.

My finish time was 3:57 (net 9:02/mile pace), including poop break – making this my slowest marathon ever.  That said, it was one of my favorites ever – the one where I got to relive all the memories I’ve made over the past 16  years in this amazing city.  I am honored to have given some intense love to the city that has watched me grow up and made me who I am today.

Have you ever run a marathon?  What goes through your head when you run?