My Learning Project Summary: A Personal Reflection

A PERSONAL JOURNEY…

My major learning project is coming to a close and I have really been reflecting on what I have accomplished over the last few months. When I think back to the beginning of this project I remember feeling nervous to begin. I also remember feeling a little bit embarrassed to tell people about my learning project. Was I embarrassed because I thought I would fail? Was I embarrassed because I did not know how to utilize a gym? Was I embarrassed because I felt vulnerable to let others see my journey? I was experiencing all of these feelings.

Vulnerability Quote

As uncomfortable as I was at times to share this personal learning project, I am thankful that I stuck with it. This journey became so much more than a simple learning project. As much as it was a journey of learning to use the gym and lead a healthier lifestyle, it also became a journey of self-empowerment. I feel more confident and comfortable. I no longer walk into a gym and lack confidence or feel like people are judging me. Throughout this learning project, I have never claimed to be a fitness expert. I am actually the farthest thing from it. I still have a lot of goals at the gym, a lot of learning to still be had, and a lot of growth that I still hope to see. This major learning project was the platform that I needed to begin this journey. It is not something that I plan to stop, but instead, it is a lifelong journey.

I started to think about the progress that I made. Physically, I notice that I feel better. Maintaining regular physical activity at the gym has improved my sleeping habits, I feel more energized, and I although not noticeable to others, I have gained some (not a lot) muscle mass. However, the biggest growth might have been mentally. Mentally, I have gained confidence, I became more knowledgeable about what I am doing at the gym, and I feel a sense of calmness. Although my physical transformation is not noticeable to others, my main goal was not to gain three inches on my arms or develop a six-pack. Instead, my goal was to gain confidence and feel comfortable using the gym in order to develop a healthier lifestyle. With saying that, I think it can be discouraging when we do not see results. At times, I felt this throughout my project. Realistically, I did not expect to see a huge physical transformation after a few months. This article was extremely important for me to read as I move forward in my journey. The article discusses how living a physical lifestyle is only a part of seeing a physical transformation. I know one area that I need to improve on is my nutrition. This is an area where I feel I lack knowledge and need to further educate myself.  My learning project has allowed me to see this as one of my weaknesses. However, it has also made it possible for me to be one step closer to making this change.

TAKING A LOOK BACK…

I accomplished a lot of things during this major learning project. Here is a summary of the exercises that I learned more about.

  • Cardio Exercises (treadmill, spin bike, elyptical, HIIT)
  • Free Weight Exercises
  • Lower Body Exercises
  • Upper Body Exercises
  • Circuit Training
  • Full Body Workout

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As well, I learned a fair amount through the different online articles that I read throughout this project. I think the resource I used the most throughout this project was Men’s Fitness. I found that Men’s Fitness was a great resource for finding various beginner exercise programs, it was a great resource for motivational pieces, and it was a great resource for quick tips. The Huffington Post was also an important resource throughout my learning project. I appreciated the articles related to fitness and health because they were quick reads, often wrote in numbered tips, and shed light on some of the fears I was facing throughout this journey.

You may have noticed that I kept referring to my major learning project as a journey. I think this is significant because it highlights that there is no end to this project. This was a project that pushed me outside of my comfort zone to gain the confidence to learn about the gym. How do I make the gym a part of my daily routine? How do I learn what works for me? These are questions that I have wanted to answer for years and this learning project was the encouragement that I needed. So, this is not the end of my learning. This is merely the beginning. This is a journey, and an important journey, that I aspire to continue.

Journey Quote

Final Tip of the Week: Don’t be afraid of to try something outside of your comfort zone. It can be the change that makes a significant difference in your life.

A Week in the Life at the Gym

What works for me? This is something I have been thinking a lot about throughout my learning project. I have tried exercises at the gym that I really liked and workouts that just did not work for me. For example, I have come to realize that I am not a huge fan of machines. There are certain machines that I now use on a weekly basis, but I never spend an entire session at the gym using only machines. In general, I find that machines do not maximize my workouts and my goal every time I go to the gym is to use the time I spend there both effectively and efficiently.

So, what works for me? A question I have been trying to answer through learning how I can use the gym. Here is a 4 Week Full Body Workout for Beginners that I am interested in trying in the future. I am always skeptical of the workouts I find online, but this project has taught me to view online sources with a critical lens. Both Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness have become great online resources for me throughout this project. Of course, even with these two sites, I am critical of what I use. Given the time frame of this project and everything I have learned, I decided to focus this week on a total body workout that I created using the exercises I have learned thus far. One of my goals for this project was to be able to learn the foundations of a variety of exercises that targeted different muscle groups.  I had weeks where I focused on particular muscle groups such as the upper body and lower body. I also had weeks where I looked at particular types of exercises such as cardio and circuit training. I am not claiming, by any means, that I am some fitness trainer. Instead, the week at the gym that I created below is what I found worked for my lifestyle and me.

Take a look at what my week looked like.

Monday

  • 30 minute Cardio (Treadmill)

Tuesday

  • Upper Body Dumbbell Workout

  • Core Circuit

Wednesday

  • Circuit Training (lower body, upper body, high intensity intervals)

Thursday

  • Rest Day

Friday

  • 30 Minute Cardio (Spin)

Saturday

  • Rest Day

Sunday

  • Circuit Training (lower body, upper body, high intensity intervals)

You might have noticed that I am partial to circuit training. The reasons I like circuit training are because I can focus on more than one target area, I can continually change up the exercises I am doing, and it keeps me moving. I dislike going to the gym and feeling like I walked around for the majority of the time. I would rather go for thirty minutes to an hour and work hard  as opposed to spending over an hour feeling like I  wasted time walking around. I have learned that I like going to the gym with a plan. I rely on Men’s Fitness and YouTube videos to decide what exercises to include in my circuits for the day. This way I can decide what area I want to focus on, but still have direction and instructions for the particular exercises.

Tip of the Week: You do not have to be an expert to be your own coach! Use technology and other resources for direction, but make your own plan. It keeps you motivated and on task!

Circuit Training

Have you ever heard of circuit training? If you remember when I was learning about cardio exercises at the gym, I learned about high-intensity interval training. This is a form of circuit training. As defined by For Dummies – A Wiley Brand circuit training “is a fast-paced class in which you do one exercise for 30 seconds to 5 minutes and then move on to another exercise.” This website gives a brief outline of circuit training which I have included below.

This week I focused on circuit training. The great thing about circuit training is that I was able to incorporate a lot of the things I have learned in my learning project thus far. I created three different circuits this week. My circuits usually consisted of working on different target areas. However, when creating circuits you can adjust it based on your personal preference. Therefore, you can create an entire circuit focused on lower body or an entire circuit based on upper body. If you still are not convinced that circuit training is for you, read these 7 Benefits of Circuit Training. I also learned that circuits are easily adjustable. If you only have time for a quick workout, you can set up a short circuit that you repeat two or three times. If you are looking for something longer, you can set up a five-station circuit. The most important thing about a circuit is to choose something this is practical and works for you! Below is a circuit I created this week after completing a half hour of cardio on the treadmill. I was looking to focus on my upper body and keep it short and simple. This circuit was great for engaging the core and arms.


Upper Body Circuit Training

  1. Bosu Ball Push Up (10 reps)
  2. Plank (1 min.)
  3. Kettle Bell Press (10 reps each arm)
Repeat the circuit 3 times.

If you are looking to try out circuit training, feel free to try the workout above to get a great upper body workout.

Upper Body Workout

I just got back from the gym and thought no better time to reflect on my learning project than now. I am going to keep this week short and sweet. Now that I have had the chance to learn about free weights and machines, I wanted to be able to take my knowledge and construct an effective upper body workout. Thanks to Ashton, I used workoutlabs.com to access pre-made and customizable workouts. I began the week trying a pre-made workout and then moved on to creating my own customizable workout. You can check out both workouts below.

  1. Arm & Shoulders Gym Workout (Arms and Shoulder Gym Workout)
  2. Upper Body Workout (Customized Upper Body Workout)

I completed the pre-made workout once and the customized workout twice with a rest day or cardio day between each workout. Yesterday I ran outside because it was so beautiful and couldn’t resist, even though it was scheduled as a rest day! I also spent this week focusing on my abs and core, which is an essential area to work when focusing on upper body. I began to question how often you should be working out a particular muscle group. In short, there is no specific answer to this question, but this Livestrong article describes the four basic types of workouts and how often you should be focusing on that target area in a week. Like I said, I will keep this weeks post, short and sweet. I will end by saying that this is the first week I have not had a self conscience moment in the gym. It just feels comfortable now (even when I don’t exactly know what I am doing).

Tip of the Week: When working on the upper body, vary the areas you are working within your weekly gym schedule. For example, focus on the shoulders, biceps, triceps one day and then focus on your back and abs.

When Can I Walk Again?

Do you ever wonder why you always feel your muscle soreness two, three, or even four days after working out that muscle group? It is called “delayed onset muscle soreness” also referred to as DOMS. According to the Huffington Post, “DOMS usually sets in one to three days after your tough workout, but it may persist for up to 10.” It is usually a combination of lactic acid and damage to muscles. For me, it is a lot of pain every time I have to use my legs and it always seems to affect my lower body more than my upper body. Why is that?

This week was focused on the lower body. The first machine that I learned about was the rowing machine. I have found that this machine has become a great way to begin my training sessions at the gym because it is a great form of cardio and works my lower body.

Watching my form in this video has made me more aware of the proper technique and the things I need to work on.

Here is a look at the machines and exercises that I focused on for my lower body workouts.

  1. The Leg Press: this machine exercises the gluteus and more specifically the front and back of the thighs. The first step is to select the appropriate weight and then adjust the seat according to your height. You want your feet in a central position. Something I learned about using this machine is to avoid looking at your knees. Why? I am not sure, but that is what I was told by a frequent gym goer.
  2. Lunges: although I am familiar with lunges this week I learned a few variations. Throughout some circuit training, I used burpee lunges and weighted kettle bell lunges (AHHH!).
  3. Squats: I decided that I wanted to learn the different variations of squats and once again, Men’s Fitness came to the rescue.

Tip of the Week: You don’t need a lot of equipment to work your lower body. Your own body weight can be your greatest mechanism! HINT: there are a million kinds of adaptations that can be made to lunges.

The Magic of Machines

It’s week seven and it’s crazy how quickly working out has become a part of my daily routine.  I think back to the beginning of my learning project and remember how uncomfortable I was walking into the gym.  I think the discomfort was more of an internal feeling more than anything.  One think I have learned personally is to be confident.  Why did I feel uncomfortable for making a life decision that improved my overall health? I think social media plays a role in the discomfort a new gym goer may feel.  Society influences us to believe that you have to have a certain appearance to lift weight at the gym, but I’ve come to realize the opposite.  Actually, the gym can be an inspiring place to make a change for the better because other gym goers are in the same shoes.

I’ve always wondered what’s better…free weights or machines? Or is one better than the other?  If you walk into a gym, you will quickly realize that both free weights and resistance machines are present. Here are a few things I learned about the difference between free weights and machines.I started the week by watching the YouTube video below to learn about the difference between free weights and machines.

Machine vs Free Weights

This might be the best website I have found since starting my Personal Learning Project. This website has pretty much any machine you can find at the gym and provides short, instructional videos for how to use each machine.  It’s quick and efficient.  Before going to the gym this week I focused on learning about three different machines.  Check out the exercises I learned this week along with their instructional videos.

1.     Abdominal

2.     Seated Dip

3.     Lateral Pull

This week was great for learning about some new machines and the proper form and technique for using each machine, but moving forward I want to learn how to use each machine to create an upper or lower body workout.  What are the different areas that I should be targeting at the gym? How often do you workout each area? What exercises are the most beneficial?  These are all questions I will be looking at closer as I move forward with my learning project.

No Gym…No Problem

What happens when you don’t have access to a gym? Maybe you are away on a business trip or on a family vacation. In my case, I went home for the break to visit my family. As I mentioned at the start of my learning project, I grew up in a small town that does not have a gym. So how do I continue on with my learning project? Do I simply not work out for the week because I do not have a gym to visit? That would be the easy way out, but that is not reality. Reality is, there is a number of workouts that I can do right from my home. So, this week was all about working out from the comfort of my home!

The first thing I noticed when searching the web for at home or “no gym” workouts was that there is endless possibilities. I quickly learned that I needed to focus in on the areas I wanted to work on. Was I looking for cardio workouts or did I want to focus on strength exercises? Fortunately, my parents have a treadmill so I spent the first two days focusing on cardio. I used what I learned from the beginning of this project and did an endurance and interval training session on the treadmill. It was great for the start of the week where I was lacking motivation and needed a good sweat!

For the rest of the week I once again used Men’s Fitness to support my learning. This site provides “10 At Home Workouts To Build Muscle.” I think it is a misconception that you need weights to help build and strengthen muscles. That is false. Using your own bodyweight is actually an effective way of gaining muscle. I tried a few of the workouts found on this site and noticed that my muscles were sore the following days, which is interesting because my muscles have not been sore for the past couple of weeks. Maybe I have developed too much of a routine at the gym.


The fact of the matter is that there is not excuse not to workout. Whether you are at home or at the gym, you are still working towards creating a better and healthier YOU. It all comes down to preference. Some people enjoy the privacy of their own homes. Others need the gym for motivation and more variety. But all in all, one-way is not more RIGHT than the other. A workout is a workout no matter where you are. Do you prefer working out at home over the gym or vice versa? How do you change things up so you do not become too routinized?

Tip of the Week: Change it up! This week by changing up my routine, I felt different muscle groups being used. If you do the same thing over and over, you gain muscle recognition and your muscles do not have to work as much.

Do You Even Lift?

Do you even lift? I’m sure you have all heard this at one time or another. Maybe it was a humorous meme intending to question someone’s legitimacy of lifting weights. On a more serious note, I think the average person can relate to that statement. Although it is a misconception that you have to have huge muscles to even venture into the free weights section of the gym, it is a valid thought for sure. Free weights can seem intimidating, but are crucial to a balanced gym routine. I have learned that the intimidation factor is two fold. It is party due to the fact that you think people are continually watching and making judgments (which I have learned is entirely in your head). More commonly, the intimidation is due to a lack of knowledge. What do I do with free weights? A question I can relate to.

To be completely honest, this week has been a struggle to get to the gym. School seems to be getting busier, and I only was able to get to the gym a few times this week. I used a few articles and YouTube videos to assist me with my research of using free weights. Although this first video is extremely disinteresting, it does provide valuable information for different dumbbell exercises and focuses largely on the correct form, which is essential when using free weights.

The next video is great for beginners. It took me awhile to find this video, but after sifting through what seemed to be endless videos, I eventually found this resource that demonstrates a free weight workout for beginners. I particularly like this video because it did not require a lot of equipment and was easy to understand for someone that is not experienced with free weights. This week I had the opportunity to test out this beginner free weight workout at the gym. I found that since I had a plan, I didn’t feel intimidated using the free weights.

It doesn’t matter how big your arms, what size of weights you are lifting. What matters is having a plan and the Internet is a great resource for providing beginner, intermediate, and advances training. I have also been following different fitness profiles on Twitter and have been learning some interesting facts.

Interesting Fact of the Week: Working out for long periods of time is not more beneficial; it can actually start to deteriorate your muscles. Instead, focus on shorter workouts (30-60 minutes) that target a particular area.

Till next time…

Week 3: No Rest for the Wicked

I have trained for two half marathons, but I have never been as sore as I am from learning these different cardio workouts. This week I learned three different forms of cardio exercises at the gym. First I tried a spin class. I have never been to a spin class before. For those of you that do not know what a spin class is, don’t worry, I didn’t know what it fully entailed until I read this. A spin class is an indoor cycling class .  Naively, I went into the spin class thinking that it wouldn’t be that hard. After the first few minutes, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. I would say that a spin class is as much of a cardio class as it is a lower body exercise.  It uses a form of interval training that changes intensity levels and the positioning on the bike. Throughout the class you are pedaling both on and off the seat. Although my legs were like jelly and my clothes were soaked in sweat, I enjoyed the spin class because I was in complete control of how hard I wanted to work.  Unlike the programs on the treadmill I could choose how hard I wanted to challenge myself. Before attending the class, I learned how to set up a spin bike. You might think there isn’t a lot of set up involved when using a spin bike at the gym, but you have to consider the height of the seat and the handles. I watched this video to learn about how to set up the bike before going to the gym and trying it out myself. I have also posted the video of me setting up my own bike.

The other cardio machine that I used this week was the elliptical machine. As I mentioned last week, I have never actually been on an elliptical before. There are a few things I learned. An elliptical machine allows you to change the resistance by choosing an effort level. After experimenting with the effort levels, I set mine around 20 and used the elliptical for a ten minute warm-up. I also learned that the elliptical machine offers programs similar to the treadmill.  As far as the difference between a treadmill and an elliptical, I noticed that the elliptical was a lot harder on my legs. However, I found that the treadmill was a better cardio workout.  Personally, I found that using the treadmill better suited the needs of my cardio workout.  After comparing both of these machines, I found this article that explains the difference between the two.

A high intensity interval workout is another form of cardio that I experimented with this week.  A lot of at home workouts are a form of high intensity interval training. This means that it is short periods of fast paced exercises. In simple terms, it increases your heart rate quickly.  The gym I attend has a program called “Fitness on Demand” which allows you to choose different programs and follow the video. I chose one that used intense interval training. I found that the workout worked on both strength training and endurance. Through this type of exercise I also learned the definition of a set and a rep. I also created my own high intensity interval workout to try at the gym. Note that each exercise was done for thirty seconds with a ten second break in between each exercise and a minute break between each round. The workout consisted of the following:

Round 1

·      Burpees (2 sets)

·      Boxing Punches (2 sets)

·      Squat Jumps (2 sets)

·      Plank (2 sets)

Round 2

·      High Jumps (2 sets)

·      Push Ups Side to Side (2 sets)

·      High Knees (2 sets)

·      Raised Leg Hold – left and right (2 sets – 1 set each leg)

Round 3

·      Squat Jumps (2 sets)

·      Arm Row Push Ups (2 sets)

·      Mountain Climbers (2 sets)

·      Bicycle (2 sets)

Here are a few videos of parts of the high intensity interval training session (see above) that I did at the gym this week. The workout took about 30 minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ6o3eb8yGk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0e50zoH0NY

I would highly recommend this type of workout for someone looking for cardio exercises to burn fat. Not only does it push you to your limits, but it also builds muscle and stamina.

Week 2: The Life of a Treadmill

I’d be lying if I said my body didn’t hurt. It seems like every day I wake up a new muscle in my body is sore. This week I focused my time on cardio and more particularly the treadmill. The reason I started with the treadmill is because it is my comfort zone. As I have mentioned previously, when I did find myself using the gym my go to was running on the treadmill because it seemed to be something I couldn’t “fail” at. To contradict what I just said, I am going to share a somewhat humorous, utterly embarrassing story of my first experience using the treadmill this week. I jumped on the treadmill, put my water bottle in the holder, found the spot to plug my earphones into and then attempted to turn the treadmill on. To give you some background information, this treadmill is completely new as the gym just opened a few months ago. It had a screen on the front that was black. I looked around the edges of the screen, tried attaching the safety clip to my waistband, got off the treadmill and walked to the front to see if there was a button I was missing. At this point I was already sweating from embarrassment. I could have gone home. Turns out, all I had to do was touch the black screen for the settings to be displayed. I won’t be making that mistake again.

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You might be thinking, “what is there to learn about the treadmill besides the obvious of turning it on?” Let me tell you, there is a lot to be learned. If you simply want to walk or run on the treadmill you can choose your speed and incline. For the first day I figured turning the treadmill on was an accomplishment in itself so I stuck to running for forty minutes, changing the incline every five minutes. Needless to say, I was tired at the end. However, the rest of my week I focused on learning the various programs that the treadmill offers.

I focused some of my time on the advanced settings trying the customizable program and the preset profiles. Pictured below is the screen on the treadmill. As you can see, you can choose between five different programs.

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Pictured here is the goal driven setting. I would say this is the simplest setting to choose from in regards to the set up. You have the choice between the amount of time you want to be on the treadmill, how many calories you wish to burn, or how far you want to run. I have read on many different blogs that the distance setting is recommended for marathon training.

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Below is pictures of the settings I chose when I tested the customizable profile.

Here is a summary of what I learned about the advanced programming:

  • I set my effort level to 8 thinking that it would be somewhat challenging. However; the program barely had me jogging so I found myself increasing the sped with each phase.
  • I found the programs to change the speed so often that it was difficult to get a steady momentum (although maybe that was the challenge of the program…).
  • I found the preset programs to be difficult to understand. For example, I did not know if the target of programs I was selecting were focused on endurance, speed, incline, sprints, etc.

Personally, after learning about the programmed exercises on the treadmill, I have learned that I prefer to control my own settings. I found that I was having manage the settings myself throughout the workouts anyways because they were either not challenging enough or they were too challenging that I would have flew right off the back of the treadmill.

After a few days of trying the programs on the treadmill, I found this website that explains various 30 minutes treadmill workouts.

I tried the interval workout and the endurance workout from this Men’s Fitness site and discovered that I preferred this as opposed to the preset programs because it still gave me the foundation of the workout, but allowed me to use my own settings. Who knew there was more to a treadmill than just turning it on? The trick is to experiment and find out what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Next week I will be focusing my time on learning some new cardio exercises including spin (indoor cycling), and high intensity interval workouts.