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We’ve Trained for This: The Coronavirus and Me

I may have forgotten to mention it: Did I tell you I’ve been training pretty hard for the past three months?

Training for a fifth marathon, you ask? A community 10K? A speedy half?

No, dear reader. I’ve been unknowingly training for a whole different kind of event: social distancing. And MAN, am I in shape.

For those of you who haven’t experienced it, the first few months of parenthood can be a downright solitary time. Sure, friends and family pop in for precisely timed 90-minute visits between feedings and naps, but until your newborn has his two-month immunizations, many pediatricians advise avoiding crowds of any sort. That means no restaurants, no bars, no coffee shops and no birthday parties. Sure, you have an infant to keep you company, but it can get pretty lonely if you aren’t careful.

All alone, as usual.

But it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself healthy and sane during a social lockdown, whether you’re caring for a 13-pound human or responsibly hunkering down until COVID-19 slows its spread. That doesn’t mean it’s easy — it’s not, especially for all of you with mobile children to care for, too — but if you’re in a position to stay home these next few weeks, here are my best tips for maintaining morale when you’re forced to rip up your routine.

  1. Continue to exercise. Your gym is closed. Your barre studio is shut down. Your running club has halted group speed work. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit on your couch. Working up a sweat will help you feel better and keep anxiety at bay — you’ll just have to get a bit creative. My at-home workout of choice during Charlie’s first fiscal quarter out of the womb has been Barre 3 online, where you can choose 10-, 30- and 60-minute body weight workouts. Not for you? My local yoga practice has been streaming live classes for $10 a pop, and I bet other fitness centers and dance studios are doing something similar. (Heck, even Peloton husband looks pretty smart now.) My advice: find something you like and try to do it every day. (My baby personally recommends a play gym.

    This gym’s security is no joke.
  2. Get outside. If you can do it safely, try to get some fresh air away from crowds. We’re lucky enough to be hunkering down upstate, which means long walks with the dog are still on the table. If you’re in a densely populated area, you may have to think outside the box. Call us morbid, but Charlie and my favorite place to walk during his first few month in the city was a nearby cemetery — no crowds, wide paths and plenty of sunshine. Just be sure to wash your hands after pushing your apartment building’s elevator buttons, so when you visit the graveyard, you can stay just a guest.

    Baby on board.
  3. Cook something delicious. It’s tempting to survive on pop tarts and powdered sugar when quarantined indoors, but challenge yourself to make something homemade if you have the ingredients. It’s a particularly good time to cook something that takes all day, like chicken stock or stew. In case we’ll be inside a long time, cook up the fresh stuff first (I made chili yesterday to use the bell peppers), then start experimenting with pantry staples like you’re in an episode of Chopped. (Hint: Pasta, salt, canned sundried tomatoes in oil and Italian seasoning make a deliciously simple dinner.) If it’s your thing, it’s OK to have a drink, too, even if you’re camping out solo.
    Stockpiling, Baltimore style.
  4. Prioritize mental health, too. Eating well and exercising is important, but so is self care. Take a bubble bath. Read a novel. Bake some homemade bread. Plant a garden. Write a letter. Call your mother. Hug your dog. And most of all, try to stay off Twitter (and if you succeed in doing that, please tell me how.)
    More walks, please.

What are your best tips for healthy living during this turbulent time?

Categories
Travel

Oh, Canada: Toronto Vacation for the Win

I was standing on a busy street corner last week when a strange man I didn’t know leaned in from behind. “Nice sunglasses,” he crooned. Well-trained NYC women know not to engage with random weirdos offering compliments, so I murmured a sarcastic “thanks” – just shy of the “thanks, creep” I wanted to say – without turning around. As the light changed and I went to cross, I glanced back. Turns out he was a uniformed police officer, wearing the same exact sunglasses as me, which he’d wanted to point out. He smiled and waved. He wasn’t a creep at all.

He was Canadian.

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And he lived here!

I don’t know if you’ve recently traveled to our neighbors to the north with their charming apologies and their decade+ of marriage equality and their adherence to the Paris Agreement, but MAN there’s a lot to like about it.

Sure, they have a handsome president prime minister, but they offer so much more:

  • Their fast-foot joints sell delicious meat alternatives.

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    This is a Beyond Meat sausage egger and cheese from A&W and it’s amazing.
  • They’re all about reducing waste.

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    This friend of a friend’s store, Pretty Clean Shop, has refillable laundry detergent so you never have to throw away an empty container again.
  • You don’t have to give away your peanut butter cups if a guy names Reese comes asking.

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    They aren’t possessive here! No wonder Canadians don’t understand that Mitch Hedberg joke!

During a week in Toronto, we experienced so many delightful things: delicious Thai food, fantastic dim sum, barrels of Timbits, buckets of Caesars (i.e. a Bloody Mary with Clamato juice), and, oh yeah, some non-eating memories too. But hands down my favorite thing about the city was how damn active it allowed us to be.

While I never once put my running shoes to use while visiting “The 6ix” (thanks, Drake), I was still able to keep moving in this walkable, pedestrian-friendly metropolis. By trekking around the waterfront, hiking over to Kensington Market, and exploring the islands on foot, we were able to log 8 or 9 miles a day most days, making me feel slightly less bad about all the pineapple pizza I was eating (don’t @ me).

AND I was able to supplement that walking with some other forms of exercise (plus wedding dancing!), which may sound like vacation torture to some other people, but to me, it was a perfect way to relax on a week off from work:

  • BARRE: I belong to a Barre 3 studio in Queens, so I emailed the Toronto franchise to ask if I could pop in, and they offered me a free class! Huzzah! The moves were essentially the same, but the 80s and 90s inspired playlist was to die for.
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Show Me Love! Though I’ll admit the American Beauty soundtrack during stretches DID creep me out a bit.
  • YOGA: It’s hard to call a restorative class a workout, but considering I fell asleep in every single posture, it seems I really needed it. I went to two different sessions at Toronto’s Yoga Tree studio, and those naps were worth every Canadian penny (which don’t exist anymore, but you know what I mean.)
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I’ll give you ZZZZZen.
  • BIKES: Is a 4-seater bike ride still a workout? Unclear, but it was super fun cruising around Toronto Island with my friends, especially when the journey ended at a lakeside bar.
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EYES ON THE ROAD, BOYS.

Well done, Canada. Until we meet again. ❤

Categories
Training

Barre-Hopping

If your loved one went to the bar three days a week, would you hold an intervention? What if she only went in skin-tight clothes? What if she bar-hopped before work? What if she rolled out afterwards with a crippling case of the sweats, the shakes, and an always-broken vow to never return?

It’s time I come clean, everyone: I’ve developed a bar problem. Oh shoot, I think I misspelled that. I mean a *barre* problem. As in I’ve been taking so many barre classes recently, it’s bananas — especially for this runner whose usual idea of flexibility is ordering a California red when there’s nothing French on the wine list.

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Or Swiss!

Now I’ve dabbled in barre before, including about a dozen sessions in the weeks leading up to Ben & my wedding day. (The right to bear Michelle Obama arms will never go out of style.) But never before have I taken so many classes in the span of a single week. (Spoiler alert: I’ve been getting some REALLY good deals. Come on, now: you know I’d never pay full price for a workout.)

For those of you new to the concept, the ballet-inspired fitness class involves high reps of small range-of-motion movements, like squat pulses while in relevé or slow, controlled bird-dog planks, plus some light weight work and stretching. For someone as stiff as me, the graceful-appearing workout can be downright brutal, but I know it’s a great counterbalance to all the hours I usually spend in forward motion.

After visiting three different studios in nearly as many days this week, it’s become clear that not all barre classes are the same. Physique 57, for example, is hell on earth in my opinion, while others are more tolerable, or even — dare I say — semi enjoyable. Here’s a rundown of the three distinct classes I took this week, with my own subjective opinion of each:

  • Workout: Barre3
  • Location: Long Island City pop-up class at the Foundry
  • Cost: Free!
  • Signature phrase: “Move small, then move big.”
  • Review: Barre3 usually takes place in a studio, I’ve been told, but since the Queens location is still under construction, they’ve been holding pop-up classes at different locations around the neighborhood, from apartment buildings to hotel conference rooms. This class was in a restored factory turned wedding venue, and HOLY HELL it was gorgeous. I understand a normal Barre3 class uses props like balls and bars, but since this is a pop-up, we just use our mats and bodyweight, which I prefer since it means you can choose the challenge level. This class incorporated more cardio than other barre classes I’ve taken, meaning I left feeling extra sweaty — a sign of a worthwhile workout in my book.
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  • Workout: Pop Physique
  • Location: Pop Chateau, the new Upper East Side location
  • Cost: $13.50 a class as part of a 10-pack Gilt promotion
  • Signature phrase: “Curl in. Curl hold. Curl squeeze. Curl stay.”
  • Review: I love the vibe of this studio — it’s cool but not pretentious, friendly but not cloying, cool but not unwelcoming. Pop’s signature workout flows through several stages — mat work, arm work, glute work, quad work, etc. — and the moves change so frequently that the class flies by. This class involves a little more stretching, which is probably good for this stiff runner’s body. I’d worried a 7 a.m. class would be a jarring wake-up call, but instead I left feeling limber and energized, and not too sweaty to go straight to work with just a wet-wipe shower.
    IMG_5061

 

  • Workout: Hottilattes Barre
  • Location: M Dance & Fitness on 8th Ave.
  • Cost: Free, for me at least, since this was a bridal shower activity gifted by the mother of the bride (thanks, Mama Ngai!)
  • Signature phrase: I was too busy listening to the excellent early 2000s playlist to remember anything specific. 
  • Review: This private barre class to celebrate a friend’s upcoming wedding was fun for its own reason — a room full of friendly faces and no one taking it too seriously. We used resistance bands, which are new to my barre routine, and they definitely toned my arms more than I’m used to. At the same time, working in a dance practice room without a physical bar meant we did WAY more floor exercises, aka significantly more core work than I prefer. I can only hold a V-shape for so long (i.e. 6 seconds), and ooh my abs are feeling it tonight.
    IMG_5124

Of course, these three are just a drop in the bucket of possible barre classes in the city. Some of my friends are Fly Barre advocates and others Bar Method fans, with my best girl Sarah practically a Pure Barre spokeswoman. 🙂 I’m down to try any of them with you, as long as they offer the first class free, of course.

Or if barre isn’t your thing but you still want to hang, I’m always down for the three-letter bar instead. Cheers.

Categories
Training

Pop Physique aka Pain Incarnate: A Review

What weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?

Trick question. They weigh the same. But you know what weighs a million times more? The one-pound weights at Pop Physique. Don’t be fooled by appearances: these itty bitty hand weights are somehow the heaviest thing you’ll ever touch.

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Are my hands enormous or is this weight too small? Maybe both. Maybe both is happening at the same time. -Forrest Gump

I took my first Pop Physique class two weeks ago (why yes, I DID have a free promo code. How’d you guess?), and when I spotted these little purple barbells, I nearly laughed out loud. In BodyPump class, I pack on additional tonnage in five and ten pound increments. When I saw these baby things, I couldn’t help but channel my inner Derek Zoolander: “What is this? A workout class for ants?”

Oh, how could I have been so wrong?

Pop Physique, a ballet-inspired stretching and strengthening routine, does what barre classes do best: focus on tiny, nearly imperceptible movements that somehow make your muscles hurt so bad the next day you can’t sneeze without wincing. The idea of using one-pound weights to tone your upper arms may sound futile, but pulse along with the instructor for all the reps and you’ll be crying for your mommy. It’s tougher than it sounds.

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But do I?

Don’t believe me? Believe this: Since there are no clocks in the studio, I literally spent 95 percent of my first class stealing glances at my mat neighbor’s wrist watch every time we went into downward dog just to get an estimate of how many more minutes of squatting and pliéing torture lie ahead.

Wait a second. Did I just describe a workout as torture, and then casually throw in the fact that I did something during my “first class,” thereby signifying I actually went back for more? Good sleuthing, you. Because that’s exactly what I did.

Yes, this class is insanely hard, and I found myself collapsing to the floor after too many planks and shaking uncontrollably after so many leg raises that never. seem. to. end. But I also finished the class feeling like I’d reversed several miles of running damage by stretching my hamstrings and hips deeper than I’d ever do on my own.

So after my first (free) class, I did something nearly unthinkable for me: I signed up for 10 more. Of course, I got the 10-class pack on Gilt with a coupon, because that’s my style, but I still shelled over my credit card number for a workout. That’s rare for me, and a testament maybe to just how good this class made me feel — once I was done, that is. Because mid-class, I can assure you there were no smiles of this magnitude:

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I have nine more classes to take between now and my November wedding. I’m taking bets: Will one-pound weights be enough to bring out my inner Michelle Obama arms? Time will tell. Time, and my daily shortbread intake.

Any other runners find relief at the barre? Not to be confused with the bar, where my friends and I of course went after.

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Recovery sports drink
Categories
Training

Barre-ing All

I may be teetotaling this month as I round out the final leg of Whole30, but being off the sauce didn’t dissuade me from going to the bar last night. Oh wait, I mean “the barre.” As in, I took my very first barre class. Sorry folks, you know homonym jokes are my favorites.

For those of you who — like me — have been avoiding this fitness trend, barre is a ballet-inspired workout intended to lengthen muscles and tone bodies with small, isometric movements. I haven’t been itching to sign up, mostly because classes at this specific studio cost nearly $40 a pop (or you can book a year’s worth for the low-low price of $4,000 plus tax!) but also because I was afraid it would be everything I hate in this world wrapped into one, excruciating gym glass.

And guess what? It was everything I hate in this world wrapped into one, excruciating gym glass.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The studio, Physique 57, is a tiny, modern facility in a Midtown high-rise covered in glossy magazine testimonials from hotties-with-bodies ranging from Zooey Deschanel to Kelly Ripa. Other bloggers I follow rave about the workouts, and I wanted to see for myself just how effective barre can be.

After signing a waiver (should that have been a sign it was about to get real tough?), I left my shoes in a very fancy locker room full of free Q-tips, met my friends and made my way into the carpeted and compact main studio where we’d be taking advantage of a “first-class free” limited time promotion. (You didn’t think I actually paid for this, did you? Me, who had to fight the urge to pocket all the aforementioned free Q-tips and start a life for myself in the free Q-tip distribution business, paying $36 for a workout? I think not.)

The class, performed in our socks, started easy enough, with 5-pound free weights and some modified pushups. “My strength training must really be paying off!” I thought as I banged out some triceps dips without breaking a sweat. “And who said barre was hard?”

And then, my God, barre got hard. Much of this class involved pulsing in a squat position and balancing on my tip toes, two major challenges for this clumsy runner. As we moved from the barre to the mat to the floor, the exercises got harder and harder, and my quivering thighs barely got out of there alive. But that’s not what I hated most. This was:

  • The energetic instructor with a microphone learned my name and then proceeded to correct me at full volume (albeit nicely) when I wasn’t doing it right, which was 100 percent of the time.
  • Once she saw I physically couldn’t move like the other girls, she started saying encouraging things like “Looking great, Anne!” when we ALL knew it was a blatant lie.
  • She’d also say things like “10 more reps!” and then proceed to count to 12. That’s the meanest thing you can do in fitness.
  • Socks on carpet. Very slippery. I swear I CAN do a plank, but not when my feet are flying out behind me at a million miles an hour. They sold grippy socks at the front desk but that kind of commercialization of workouts makes me cringe. 
  • Everyone around me looked like a hot ballet dancer, and in the end-of-class stretching, several literally did a full split. COME ON NOW. Was that necessary? I’ve run four marathons, and I still felt like everyone could run sock-footed circles around me in that room.

In all seriousness, the class was a great workout, the instructor meant well, and the hour flew by, despite how miserable I was. And the misery was only compounded when I realized that all the things that were hurting me — my hip flexors, primarily — could have been avoided if I would just do the stretches and strengthening exercises I already know I should be doing. The most painful minutes of the class were donkey kicks and clamshells, two movements I know fully well would strengthen my hips and keep me from getting injured during future training cycles. If only I’d take my own good advice.

Going forward, am I going to try Physique 57 again? Only if they offer another free promotion — and if next time I tell the instructor a fake name.

Have you ever taken a barre class? Was it as painful as my experience?