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The fitness wombat is back. And of course, it is still a wombat. I think I managed to progress to wallaby at one point, but then a whole lot of life happened and I went back to my wombatty ways. I had a terrible golf season this year, partly due to hurting my back and being unable to play and practice much, partly due to my mom having a stroke at the beginning of the year, which took a lot of enjoyment out of the game for me for a while, because we always used to play together.

Anyway, I spent way too much of this summer sitting on my ass or lying flat on my back and gained some weight in the process. I did try to get moving again for a few times, but the pain in my back always got worse, even when I only went for a short walk. It was a really bad downward spiral, not just physically, but mentally as well, because I might not be much of an athlete, but even I get stirr crazy when I can’t get at least a little bit of activity/exercise in. It also made me even more lonely, because basically I only left the house to go to work.

So at some point (about 2 months ago) I decided that I seriously had to change something. I had heard and read a lot about the benefits of fasting recently, and while I wasn’t willing to embark on a full several day fast, I decided to give intermittent fasting a try. I researched a bit and decided that doing the 5:2 system (fasting or mostly fasting for 2 days of the week, eat normal the rest of the time) was probably the best fit for me. I started the very next day. 5:2 allows for 500 kcal on fast days for a woman (newer versions even encourage up to 800 kcal) and I was surprised how much food you can get out of 500 kcal if you stick to mostly vegetables and a lean protein source. So now twice a week I skip breakfast completely (except for a few cups of green tea) and don’t eat anything until my lunch break, when I’ll have a little snack of 100 to 150 kcal. That can be a low fat cottage cheese with fresh herbs, a soup or an egg with some raw veggies to nibble on. When the hunger gets too bad during the afternoon I eat 5 almonds or drink a cup of broth. And for the evenig meal I normally stick with eggs, fish or a lean piece of meat and a mountain of green vegetables. Seriously, my plate looks a lot fuller on „fast days“ than it does on regular days.

The first day I did this did not feel so good. I drank a lot of water and tea to keep the hunger at bay and at some point my gut just rebelled at that onslaught of liquid, I think. I got terrible diarrhea and felt very weak. I did force myself to go for a short walk after the evening meal, but I was really just dragging my feet around the block for 30 min or so. The next fasting day was already a lot easier though, maybe because it fell on a Saturday and I did not have to work, making me a bit more flexible with when I had my meals. I went for a walk again, but this time I walked further than I had in months, even through a little strength workout in on the way, and felt absolutely fantastic afterwards. It was as if all my energy had come back to me. From that day forward, I managed to get a little bit of activity/excercise in every day: a walk, a round of golf, a short HIT workout, a bike ride … I did not put any pressure on myself for that, it came relatively naturally. I am still amazed at how much impact that simple change in routine of fasting (or rather just eating less) twice a week could have.

It also changed the way I eat on the non fast days pretty much automatically. I crave vegetables much more than I used to and I pretty much automatically went down a low carb/high fat kind of road. Not low enough to get into ketosis (except for the fast days), but my carb intake is very moderate and comes mostly form fresh vegetables, some fruit and only very small amounts of bread, potatoes or rice. I do have the occasional piece of chocolate, ginger bread or marzipan, though. It’s just too tempting at this time of the year. So far I’ve lost 5 kg in the 2 months I’ve been doing 5:2 fasting, which is pretty much the weight I had gained over the past year or so. But what’s more important is all the other effects it did have and that it made me able to move again.

Now the days are getting shorter again and playing golf or even going for a long walk after work is not possible anymore (well, one can walk in the dark, of course, but that always seems a bit pointless to me). So I decided it is time to go back to the gym or find some other indoor activity to build my fitness over winter. My old gym is not really an option anymore, because it now is too far away to cycle or even drive there (especially in afterwork traffic). Also I would love to find something a bit more social and communicative than just lifting weights in a gym on my own. During my time in Kentucky as an exchange student (30 years ago this year) I did a little bit of Goju Ryu karate at a small dojo. It was brilliant and intense and just what I needed at the time. I always thought about picking it back up, but I never really got into it and what I did find in Germany was mostly sports oriented Shotokan karate in bigger sports clubs. A completely different world from the small cozy dojo over a pizza restaurant where we had trained in a group of just four beginners. I meddled a bit with judo and shaolin kempo during my first years at uni, but that’s the extend of my martial arts experience.

Well, walking into a gym as an anti-social wombat is intimidating enough, walking into any kind of martial arts class when you can’t even do a single proper press up is downright terrifying. On the other hand it is the kind of thing that just takes courage for about ten seconds or so (however long it takes you to walk through a door) and the rest just falls into place automatically after that. So I did some research into what martial arts schools, styles and sports clubs would be available in the area. As it turned out, there were quite a lot. From Aikido to MMA and from Thaiboxing to Tai Chi anything is possible. In true nerd girl fashion, I made an Excel table and ranked the different options by cost, travel distance, difficulty, fitness-factor etc. And then started trying them out in random order.

The first place I checked out was Körperschmiede now in Willich, actually a gym which specializes on martial arts and offers courses in boxing, taekwondo and kickboxing. The class I tried was the kickboxing class, which focusses more on the fitness aspect than actual fighting and does a lot of cross fit like functional training. The place was great, to be honest. Pretty much a gym dream come true: none of those stupid limiting weight machines, but almost exclusively free weights and a functional tower and a few cardio machines for warm up. Like, if I would build a gym for myself, this is probably what it would look like. The atmosphere was very nice and friendly as well. The class ran for 60 minutes, and despite my wombatlike fitness-level, all the different stations in the circle training were adjustable so that I found it surprisingly easy to keep up. I did get a good workout out of it, but I never felt like the athletic failure I usually am. The actual kickboxing part was a bit disappointing, though, because it did not take up much of the overall training time. I went home feeling like I had found a viable option in my very first try, but I was also even more motivated to try out some of the other schools as well, now that my first experience had been that encouraging.

The next class I wanted to try was the Shotokan karate class at my local sports club. It is conveniently close to where I live, one of the two places they use for practice is actually a school gymnasium directly on my street. So one Monday night I packed my sports bag, gathered my courage and showed up for class. Unfortunately, I did not take into consideration that it was the autumn school holidays. As a result, while I showed up, the class didn’t. So here I was: fully motivated, sports bag in hand … I chose to improvise and just go to another random entry on my list which offered a class on Monday. And that’s how I ended up in a kyokushin karate class.

Kyokushin karate is a full contact karate. Meaning that, while most other styles of karate, at least in competition, are satisfied with proving that they could hurt the opponent if they wanted to, in kyokushin they actually do. Which is one of the reasons that this place had been pretty low on my list. My aim is to become a better golfer and a faster and stronger wombat, not to get kicked in the face. Kyokushin is more for wolverines (the Marvel version, with the adamantium skeleton), not for fluffy wombats.

But here I was. Because I can be a badass, if I set my mind to it. And because they said on their website that everyone’s welcome. So if that leads to random wombats showing up at their door, that’s their fault. The next 90 minutes were an eye opener. The warm up made the functional kickboxing class look like a walk in the park. And that was before they even started the strenght and conditioning training. I felt more like a wombat than ever before. But I learned something important that night: wombats might not be strong, fast or flexible, but they are a lot tougher than they look. And toughness comes in handy at kyokushin karate. I was also reminded that adrenalin is a very powerful drug. And as a result, after going through the hardest workout I’ve had since … I don’t know … since highschool, I guess, and after taking a few kicks and punches during sparring (even though they were quite gentle with me), I felt more alive and energized than ever before. I was physically exhausted, of course, but at the same time I felt like I could handle anything life would ever throw at me.

Still, I fully expected to feel awful and unable to climb out of bed the next morning. But I didn’t. The bruises hurt a bit and during the day some muscle soreness set in, but none of it was as bad as I had expected it to be. Instead, I had a growing desire to go back there and do it all again. But, even though the club offers the opportunity to train for free for up to two weeks, that had to wait until Friday and their next training session.

So I decided to look around some more. By now, walking into a random martial arts class wasn’t that intimidating anymore. Because I had a feeling that if I can make it through that kyokushin class, I can make it pretty much anywhere. I asked around in an online forum for recommendations and one of the users there, a teacher for Krav Maga, Eskrima (or LSA or Kali or whatever name for fillipino martial arts you are familiar with) and Kickboxing invited me to try out his classes. So on the Thursday I chose to do a LSA (Lightning Scientific Arnis) and Krav Maga double pack. Yes, that’s right. Two different martial arts classes back to back of each other. Because, hey, why not. I’m a tough wombat now, I’ve proven myself in fitness kickboxing and kyokushin karate. Forged by steel and hellfire. Or something like that. What can possible go wrong?

Well, two sticks, one in each hand is what can go wrong. Because coordination of limbs is a lot harder than it looks sometimes. I really struggled to hit and block in the right order during the LSA class. It was a lot of fun though. We even did a little bit of sparring with fluffy childrens therapy sticks. It was almost like sword fighting with LARP weapons. But to be completely honest, that’s what the whole class felt like a little bit: a training camp for wannabe swordfighters. A lot of show and pretend. I am sure if you do it long enough, those sticks (the real ones, not the fluffy ones) become formidable weapons, but I didn’t have the feeling that this class would do much for my fitness. Or prepare me for any kind of self defence situation ever. I mean, the self defence aspect is not what draws me to martial arts in the first place, but if we are at it anyways, I don’t mind learning to kick someone in the shin or elsewhere and other useful stuff.

Now, Krav Maga promised to be a bit more hands on. The group was nice enough and the things we trained appeared relatively useful to me (like getting up from the ground quickly and safely without exposing too many vital bodyparts to an attacker or to instinctively block attacks with your arms). The best part was when the trainer switched the lights off while we were sparring. That’s something that seems to be relatively unique to Krav Maga: you train to not be fazed by the unexpected. Still, since the fitness aspect is most important to me at the moment, that class did not really appeal to me either. And I actually hurt more after that one hour of Krav Maga than after the kyokushin class, because we did not warm up at all (and even after one hour of LSA I was far from warm) and I tore a muscle during the „getting up safely“ exercise. So even though the people in both classes had been really nice, I knew right away that neither class was what I was looking for.

So I happily returned to the kyokushin dojo the next day to get some more bruises. And the Monday, Wednesday and Friday after that. And then registered as a member. Because I’m officially a tough, badass combat wombat. Now let’s work on building that adamantium skeleton …

About a year ago I wrote an article about how I joined a gym. I did stop going during summer, something which I had more or less planned to do (or rather, not do), because in summer I’d much rather go to the golf course or even for an occasional run or bike ride than to a stuffy, sweaty, overheated room with bad music. The good thing is that FitX allows you to rest your membership for up to six month of your one year contract (that prolongs the contract, so you are still paying for 12 months, but you can drag them out to up to 18 months of real time). So that’s what I did and then I returned in November. That was a bit later than I had intended, the original plan was to go back in October, but I could not quite motivate myself at first. But when evil dark winter weather was truly upon us, I went back. For the same reasons I started going in the first place: too much sitting on my ass, too little else to do.

The first few times were hard, partly because I had to admit that I had lost some of my strength again, partly because those weight machines haven’t become any more exciting in the meantime. I did stick to last year’s workout plan for two weeks or so, but then started to digress. First I did a few high intensity (well, high intensity if you are a wombat, anyway) workouts on top of the machine training, but since turning a shade of purple and looking like I am going to puke is not high on the list of things I like to do in public, I kind of got over that relatively fast. So instead I started to work towards exchanging my machine based exercises with free weight ones, one after the other. So instead of doing the forward press, I am doing bench presses now, instead of the sitting rowing machine I do dumbbell rows etc. I used all dumbbells at first, because even the bar alone seemed too heavy and unmanageable to me. It weighs 20 kg, for god’s sake, that’s more than I could press on the forward press.

Another great thing about FitX is that they have a lady gym, so a little separate free weight room just for women. What’s cool about this is not so much that it is only women (I don’t mind men most of the time), but rather, that it is smaller and does not have glass windows and glass walls all around, so you feel much less under scrutiny there. It is a very non-threatening environment to try your hands on dumbbells and barbells for the first time. And so, after a few weeks of working up to it, I finally managed to gather the courage (and the strength) to try barbell squats and deadlifts. I was mega-nervous the first time, so much so that my knees shook even before I picked the bar up (something that not really helps when you are trying to squat, let me tell you), but I got through it. The only machine which I still use is the pull-up machine, because I find it less awkward than using a resistance band and my first unassisted pull-up is still a long way away. (40 kg away, to be honest, because that is how much support I am currently using)

Transitioning to the barbell was the spark that I needed to really get me into this again. I genuinely love going to the gym at the moment. And so I started searching the net for all kinds of fitness advice and cool workout ideas and stuff and I encountered NerdFitness. The idea of mixing fitness with imagery from role playing games and superhero comics was very appealing to me (as you can imagine if you know me at all) and I promptly ordered their free starter package. It has some solid advice and they offer some fun things on their website (for example you can create a ‚character‘ like in a roleplaying game and then work your way through fitness quests to build it up). But in the end it is all a bit too American and too commercial for me to actually go for it.

But (and now, after four paragraphs of blabbering we are finally nearing the actual reason for this blog entry … well done, Jutta) it gave me an idea of how to create something similar for myself. A little points game to keep me interested. My personal quest to go from wombat to wolverine. And a way to break down and structure my fitness goals for 2018. So, here I present:

vombatus_ursinus_-maria_island_national_park

The Wombat Fitness Quest 2018:

Consistency goals:

  • – do some form of „workout“ on rest days: walk, bike, yoga, hiit bodyweight routine etc. (no judgement, no specific goal, just do something, can be as short as 10 minutes) (1 pt. per day)
  •  keep doing the strength workouts in the gym 2-3 times a week (10 pts per workout)
  • not more than one YumYum per week (no points, you moron … just don’t)
  •  go sugar and alcohol free for the fasting period (Carnival to Easter) (50 pts if I make it through all the way, -5 pts for every slip up)

Mental (get over yourself and do it already, 20 sec beastmode) goals:

  • do a free trial lesson with a personal trainer (50 pts)
  • start using the free weights section in the gym (50 pts)
  • try a crossfit class (50 pts)
  • try an aikido or other martial arts class (50 pts)

Specific strength and exercise related goals:
(when you hit any of these, set a new target)

  • 1 regular push-up (10 pts)
  • 1 unassisted chin-up or pull-up (50 pts)
  • 1 pistol squat (10 pts per side)
  • deadlift half your bodyweight (35 kg) for 4 sets of 5 reps (20 pts)
  • deadlift your bodyweight (70 kg) once (20 pts)
  • squat 30 kg for 4 sets of 5 reps (20 pts)
  • squat 50 kg once (20 pts)
  • bench press 25 kg (2x 12.5 kg dumbbell or 25 kg barbell) for 4 sets of 5 reps (30 pts)
  • overhead press 20 kg for 4 sets of 5 reps (20 pts)
  • do 20 burpees without a break (and without throwing up) (20 pts)
  • do a one hour run without a break (20 pts)

If you don’t do any weight training yourself, those goals will not mean much to you, and if you do, then all those goals must seem ridiculously easy, but that’s what life is like when you are a wombat.

I’ll keep track of all my achievements and earned points in an excel sheet and then I let you know how I progress and when or if I reach a new level. I am starting out as a wombat, of course. The other levels are as follows:

current: Wombat
200 pts: Wolpertinger
500 pts: Wallaby
1000 pts: Wildcat
1500 pts: Wolf
2000 pts: Wolverine

(Why is a wolverine cooler than a wolf you ask? Clearly you have never met one. A wolverine might not look like much, but it is a real bad-ass. And why do they all start with a W? Not sure, they just do.)

Let’s see how far I can go in 2018.

If you know me (and if you are reading this blog then chances are pretty high that you do), you know that I don’t do sports. Ever since my elementary school years, I learned to hate sports with a passion. Basically that is due to the fact that I suck at sports. Seriously. I am just not good at any of them. Never were. I did well academically in school. If I can use my brain to solve a problem, I usually succeed. If I have to use my biceps or my legs … not so much. In the beginning it was not for lack of trying. When I grew up, a childhood still included playing outside, climbing trees, roller-skating, kicking a football against the garage door … all my friends did it … I did it … they were better than me. Always. I combined the strength of a field mouse with the speed of a garden snail and the stamina of a dead frog. It does get frustrating after a while. It does get even more frustrating when you get grades for it at school. And I wasn’t even fat or anything. Quite the contrary, I was always very thin, which made my complete lack of fitness even more embarrassing. So I comforted myself with the thought that you can’t be good at everything and athletic endeavours just weren’t for me and that was it. My sports teacher predicted I would be sitting in a wheel chair by the age of 25.

Don’t get me wrong. I like to do things. I am always curious to try things out and so again and again I dabbled into past-times that other people might categorize as sports: dancing, martial arts, archery, free climbing. And now that I think of it, the very early beginnings of this blog were as a running blog, when I had decided that everybody could run, even me (it lasted for a few months only, but hey … I didn’t completely suck). That, in combination with living car-free, might have saved me from my teacher’s prediciton and I am in better shape than I could be. Still, during winter months, the little bit of exercise that the occasional golf game and the bike rides to work give me, dwindles away and I spent my waking hours either sitting in my desk chair at work or sitting in my desk chair at home. And that drives even a complete sport sceptic like myself slightly crazy.

So, what does a middle-aged 9to5 jobber in the 21st century do when a sudden urge for excercise overcomes her? Yeah, right, I signed up for a gym membership. If you are rolling on the floor laughing right now, that’s probably because you have known me for some time and you know that me and a gym go together like a horse and an aquarium. I always felt nothing but pity for the poor people who ran or cycled in place for hours like lab rats. And I surely didn’t see myself as the weight lifting type either. But the thought of having somewhere to go after work, where I could get some excercise whenever I felt like it (as if I ever „feel“ like excercising …), no matter the weather, did have have a certain appeal.

I started my journey to more fitness where I start pretty much everything: by researching on the internet. It came as a bit of a shock. It’s a fitness jungle out there: bodybuilding, functional training, cross fitness, personal training, calithenics … millions of sites with pictures of perfect bodies and promises that you could get slim, strong and healthy if you only followed diet x and training plan y. I had no idea that fitness was such a huge business. (Again … I was born in the early 70s and grew up at a time that fitness was called „Trimm dich“ in Germany and happened in the parks and woods, trainers were the cheapest shoes you could buy and any t-shirt that had become too worn for normal use was considered a suitable training outfit).

I also noticed that I am not in the most common target group for fitness programs: I don’t need to lose weight. I am not after a bikini figure either (actually, the number of times I have been to a beach in the last ten years or so is very limited and even then I was never arrested for being too ugly to walk there). I don’t need a sixpack (even though I do admit it would be cool to have one) or a firmer „booty“ (as with the sixpack, I’d happily take it, of course … I have booty aplenty, firmness not so much). What I want is a longer tee-shot (yes, golf again … did you really think you would get away with a full blog entry without golf?) and to overcome my personal feeling of inaptness at all things sport.

Also, if you believe the articles on female fitness, the most common concern that women seem to have is that they could get too muscular. Not a fear of mine. I know myself and my body. I’m a hard gainer. That’s true for bodyfat (thankfully), but also for muscle. It is very difficult to throw my body out of its equilibrium. No matter how much weight I lifted, my body would never get „too muscular“. And aesthetically I would always prefer a strong, athletic body over a skinny one. If this wombat becomes more of a wolverine by working out, that’s fine with me. I don’t need to be a weasel. Actually, I don’t even mind staying a wombat. As long as this wombat can do push-ups and pull-ups and hit the golf ball over 200 yards, that’s fine with me.

Going to the gym for the first time was weird. Actually, it was so weird that I decided right away to never do it again. After the first shock had passed, though, I reconsidered and tried another gym and that proved to be a bit more wombat friendly. It is also pretty cheap, with only 15 € a month. So I took the plunge and signed up for a one year membership.

At the moment I am using mostly weight machines to build up my back and core muscles. It’s what Johnny, the trainer at the gym, recommended and put on my training plan. Of course I would rather do cool, full body excercises like squats or pull-ups, but after a few rather pathetic attempts I had to admit to myself, that those are probably better kept as something to look forward to in the future. So I decided to just follow that training plan for now and see where it leads me. It seems to be doing something, because I could add some weight on all of the machines already.

I am also supposed to do a little bit of cardio after every workout and one pure cardio workout per week, but I must admit, that I normally can’t be bothered and the fact that I walk to the gym and back (which involves a steep hill with stairs) while everyone else just flops into his or her car has to be good enough. Sometimes I manage to time the weight training so that I can do a Zumba course directly afterwards. That is much more fun than just cycling in place. I also love the Yogilatix course (as the name suggests, it’s a mix of Yoga and Pilates excercises).

I am surprised how much I enjoy it, to be honest. I go to the gym three times a week at the moment, and I would go even more often if my body felt like it could handle it. But I don’t want to overdo it and have decided to allow myself to ease into it and give myself enough rest days in between.

As I said, I am not in this to lose weight. And yet I have started to change my diet. I didn’t even plan for this. I just feel a greater need for real, home cooked food now. And I eat so much more meat, it is untrue. Must be all that protein that my body uses to build those new muscles of mine.

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