Fitness challenges: how to get fit, strengthen your core and have fun

As I came out of the 5-day water fast, I reconnected on many levels with my body. And at that exact time, my friend Ekaterina sent me a reminder about a 30-day Ab challenge that we did in 2020! “Will we repeat?”

Why not?

And so, May 1st, we started the 30-day ab challenge.

30-day ab challenge, planks, crunches, leg lifts, sit ups, obliques, superman hold, lower back strength, core strength, strengthen your core
man

A promise to listen to my body

One of the most important lessons I have learned in the past couple of years, is to honour and respect myself by listening to my body. Sometimes, that means that less is more.

So, I promised myself that while I would push myself to my limit, I wanted to finish the 30 days of the challenge, and this meant avoiding injury!

The first decision I made was to replace all of the sit-ups with oblique crunches. Why? Because on Day 1, I could feel that my lower back did not appreciate me doing sit-ups.

No shame. I switched out the sit ups for something that I could do and that I would feel good about.

I also added in, on about day 3, superman holds, which helps strengthen your lower back.

oblique crunches, superman hold, superman exercise

Then, I realised I required more stretching. This is essential to strengthening my core and avoiding injury. And it feels SO good.

cobra pose, cat pose, cow pose, stretching, strengthening your core
-cow

Perfectly imperfect

During the month of May, I probably missed 2 of the days (completely) and did at least one of the days imperfectly (where I got interrupted and never came back to finish the work out). Sorry excuse for tapping out!

Don’t beat yourself up

Life happens.

And in something like a 30-day challenge – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

While each day is a short sprint, the reality is that I was aiming to finish the 30 days. And I was perfectly happy to make it to the end without injury!

Hitting your limit

At about day 20 or so, I hit my limit. From that day on, it was a struggle to complete the full sets and get all the way through. My abs were sore by the time I was half way through the set, and it took a lot of will-power to finish.

While I was fine to do the numbers, I had to extend the stretching time between sets and allow myself a little more time for recovery.

On the plank, I was doing fine up until about 90 seconds. And after that, I started collapsing towards the end. So, rather than trying to do a 100-second plank, I divided it into two, and did two planks of half the time, with a short stretch in between!

Perfectly imperfect.

I’m only competing against myself!

While I have some of my friends that did the 30-day challenge perfectly, I don’t see my imperfect completion as being any kind of failure!

  • On day 1, I struggled with 15 sit-ups, 5 crunches, 5 leg raises, and a 10-second plank
  • On day 30, I did 130 oblique crunches, 200 regular crunches, 65 leg raises and 2 1-minute planks!

I can see and feel the difference those 30 days made.

I have a whole new relationship with my body and a new core strength that was missing on May 1st.

June 1st – a new challenge

As of June 1st, my friends and I started a new 30-day challenge.

While little miss 7 referred to the ab challenge as “torture” – she has participated a lot more in this challenge. There have been hysterics and laughter, especially when the dog thought we were rough housing on the floor and so laid down on top of me to put a stop to it!

But isn’t the whole purpose of exercise to enjoy life more?

That’s the whole reason that I exercise – I was to be fit and healthy enough to enjoy life!

Variety is the spice of life!

This is a “boot camp” challenge – with a much wider range of exercises. These are the basic sets that we are doing, and each day is a mix.

30-day bootcamp challenge, jump rope, jumping rope, crunches, push ups, squat and press, jumping jacks, triceps dip, plank walk outs, leg windshield wipers, stair climb, dumbbell row, reverse lung with hammer curl, bicycle crunches, prisoner squats, mountain climbers, upright row, leg lifts
30-day

I tend to get bored easily – so I love that I am only committed to this exercise routine for 30 days.

On July 1st, I’ll start another challenge (I can already tell you that my friend Ekaterina has sent me enough challenges to take us all the way through to the end of January 2022!). And we have friends that are crazy enough to join us!

Indoors or outdoors – minimal equipment

It has been raining here, nonstop, for a couple of weeks now (we are in our wet season) – and I am so grateful to have exercises that I can do indoors or that I can do outside when the weather allows.

Part of the beauty of the boot-camp challenge is that it requires minimal equipment. You could do the windshield wipers and the leg lifts without the Pilates ball and just keep your legs together. You can use dumbbells or a kettle-bell for the squat and press as well as for the dumbbell row, hammer curls and and upright row. And if you didn’t have a jump rope, you could just pretend to jump rope with an imaginary rope (and you would have the added benefit of not messing it up!).

It’s not time intensive!

One of the things I’m loving is that it’s intense, but short.

It started off with two sets (for a total of 12 minutes of exercise) and then after 4 days, a rest day. Then, we jumped up to 2X two sets, for a total of 24 minutes of exercise.

I can tell you: I REALLY notice the difference!

Once again, I am willing to be perfectly imperfect in order to make it through the challenge!

Take it easy and listen to your body!

At 24-minutes, I can tell you that I slowed down and made it less intense than the original 12 minutes! I don’t have the stamina to keep up the pace I had for a full 24-minutes. At least, not without risking injury!

And once again, it’s more important to me to finish and do all 30 days, than it is to do high intensity for 24-minutes! As it is, with slowing down a little, I am still dripping sweat at the end of the 2X two sets!

30-day bootcamp challenge, jump rope, jumping rope, crunches, push ups, squat and press, jumping jacks, triceps dip, plank walk outs, leg windshield wipers, stair climb, dumbbell row, reverse lung with hammer curl, bicycle crunches, prisoner squats, mountain climbers, upright row, leg lifts

Yes, you are seeing right!

At some stage, we move up to 36-minutes and then on the last day, we will hit 48 minutes – doing all four sets 2X through! But I can make an hour of time for exercise on the 30th of June! It’s already set in my calendar, so that I have no excuse! It’s not like I do an hour of exercise every day – and that’s what I love about these challenges!

Rock it!

I found this great 1-minute timer, with a 15-minute interval, that I like the music and it gives me just enough time to stretch before moving into the next exercise.

This also means that for the 3-minute exercises, I am doing 3X 1-minute, rather than 3 minutes straight, and interspersing them between the other 3 exercises in the set. This is so much more realistic, and ensures that I am completing the work out.

It means that 24 minutes of exercise takes 30 minutes, so I already know that on the last day, I will have a full hour of high-intensity work out! But… it’s only one day! Like going for an extra-long run.

I’m challenged!

There are two exercises that I am struggling with:

  • push ups – I have had to accept that I am doing them from the knees, rather than full. My fitness levels are NOT what they used to be!
  • mountain climbers – I have NEVER loved these. Ever.

And if I’m honest – part of it is a mindset issue! I’m choosing to say “I don’t like this exercise” and then letting myself off the hook. The second part of the mountain climbers is that I am a little worried about injury.

So, with the mountain climbers, I’m doing the first 1-minute set at a faster pace. But for the remaining 5X, I am allowing myself to slow it down, and stretch out my crotch, my thighs, glutes, and hamstrings. So, I am not risking injury with each switch, and then I’m holding it there for a couple of seconds before switching to the other side.

I hope, by the end of the 30 day challenge, that I’ll be able to do 2X 3-minutes at a full pace, but for now, I’m accepting where I’m at.

Stretching:

As with the ab-challenge, I’ve realised I need to incorporate more stretching into the work out.

  • My calves need a lot more stretching after the stair climbs, jumping jacks and jumping rope!
  • My thighs need more stretching after the squats.
  • I am still doing superman holds, cobra pose, and the various stretches of my core.

End results:

I have no idea of how my fitness will be when I finish this 30-day challenge. But what I do know is that it will have advanced from June 1st. My cardio fitness will be better, as will my core strength.

That aligns with wanting to live a more healthy & active life.

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