Exercise Recommendations
April 12, 2004 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Fitness advice: I'm on a long term weight loss program (~2lbs/week.) 32lbs into it, I'm starting to think that I'd better do more than Dance Dance Revolution if I don't want to become one of those skin-saggy people from Ripley's Believe It Or Not. I'm considering either Tae Bo or Pilates for at-home exercise, and would like testimonials or suggestions for other programs.

I guess I'm looking for something in particular to tone the tummy/arms/thighs area. My budget is limited, so whatever system I purchase, I'm going to have to live with it for a while! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by precocious to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
I'm curious on how you're successfully losing 2lbs a week, any suggestions?
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:43 AM on April 12, 2004

Can't speak to Pilates, but I own the first few Tae-Bo tapes. Didn't notice much of an improvement on my arms or stomach, but my thighs and butt were noticeably more toned and harder. Took about 2 months to really start seeing a difference, but I wasn't on a calorie reduced diet at the time. You may have better/different results.

After a while, I started just ignoring the ab section of the TaeBo tapes and doing my own ab workout, which I found had much better results.
posted by Cyrie at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2004

Can you do Pilates at home? I thought you needed huge pieces of equipment.

Anyway, here's my advice: Equipment: one small workout mat, one pair 15- or 20-lb dumbbells. Regimen: daily sit-ups, push-ups, curls, shoulder presses, dead front lifts, inverse tricep curls, squats. Try for 15-20 of each. Start with one set a day with a one-minute rest between exercises; decrease the rest time until you need none, then add sets as time and energy allow.

Budget: $30.
posted by nicwolff at 9:53 AM on April 12, 2004

Some details on the exercises:

Sit-ups: legs straight, feet in air, elbows at your side, fists in the air in front of you for balance. Keep your hips on the mat and curl up your head and shoulders while raising your feet.

Push-ups: with your elbows out to your sides and your fists on the ground under your elbows. (You want to use your pecs, not your triceps which you'll hit later.) One foot's toes on the ground, the other foot's toes on the heel of the grounded foot.

Dead front lifts: hold one dumbbell down in front of you by its ends. Just lift it up in front of you with straight arms till it's not quite overhead, then slowly back down.

Inverse tricep curls: still holding one dumbbell by its ends, but behind your head with your elbows pointed up. Straighten your arms so the weight's over your head, then slowly lower it back behind your head.
posted by nicwolff at 10:10 AM on April 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

for cheap exercise, running is pretty good. you need good shoes, but that's about it.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2004

Yes, you can do Pilates at home. There are two kinds of Pilates exercises - the ones that require huge pieces of equipment, and the ones you can do at home on a yoga mat. The mat exercises are pretty much weight training, using your body as the means of resistance instead of the weighted equipment. In addition to nicwolff's very good list of equipment and exercises, I recommend picking up a Pilates book. For an additional $10 - $15, you'll be able to browse through tons of exercises and choose the ones targeted to the areas you want to tone. I have this book, and while I don't actually *do* the exercises as frequently as I should *coughoknevercough*, it's laid out well and easy to use. Good luck!
posted by boomchicka at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2004

Weight training is your friend. It'll also help you keep the weight off.
posted by callmejay at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2004

Oh, and stretch first! In fact, if you want to take classes, I recommend you replace two of the daily workouts with basic yoga.
posted by nicwolff at 10:21 AM on April 12, 2004

Tae-bo and Pilates are fantastic for overall body toning and fat burning - they will help to firm you to a degree, and you should most definitely give them both a try, but to avoid sagginess/loose skin/being nominated for Ripley's Believe It Or Not you need to do some weight training and some skin brushing, in addition to whatever cardio exercise you pick. Flabbiness and looseness of the skin seem to be the issues that you're concerned with, if I read your question correctly.

When you gained weight, you added mass to the inside of your body, and you had to manufacture more skin to cover the mass. Now you're losing the mass inside - mostly fat, but other tissue and muscle as well, yet the amount of skin does not decrease (which is why Extreme Makeovers is such a huge hit... ;), although it does shrink somewhat, depending on your age and the quality of the elasticity of your skin. You need to replace some of the mass, and fill your skin out, and weight training is the way to do it. You can buy free weights just about anywhere - I see you live near me (I'm in the Willow Grove area), and I know there are tons of second-hand sporting goods stores around here, with gadzillions of barbells in all shapes and sizes, and there are several of those Impact! thrift shops as well; they all seem to have lots of weights and treadmills and bikes to pick up cheaply. Little dumbbells in different sizes are good, bars that you can slide weights on and off of are even better - they grow with you. You can get some really nice tone, and depending on how much weight you work with, and how many reps and sets you do, you can build long, sleek muscles, or achieve a more pumped-up look. Building muscle is what you need to do to keep from appearing flabby. I've seen people as thin as a rail that seemed 'fat' because they were so flabby, and people 30 lbs. overweight that looked fantastic because they were so toned and firm. If your budget allows it, hire a trainer for one session, to show you some core exercises that you can build on with more weights, reps, and sets. Also, if you're thinking of Pilates or Tae-bo, or any other exercise program on dvd or tape, try checking your local library to see if they have them, so you can test-drive them first before plopping down a chunk of your budget for tapes you might hate.

Here's a great article on skin brushing. It's something that's routinely practiced by many other cultures as part of good hygiene. I do it every day, and my skin is amazing - very soft and supple. I have the same exact brush that's pictured in the first image; I bought it for 10.00 at Whole Foods in Jenkintown. You'll stimulate your lymphatic system and one of the many benefits of that is tighter skin. You have to start very slowly and lightly at first, or you'll end up with little scratches everywhere. It quickly becomes a habit, and if you pay special attention to your arms, thighs, and tummy, you'll keep the skin nice and firm while you lose weight.

Also very important to maintain elasticity from the inside - drink plenty of water. And to maintain it from the outside - shea butter is excellent.

Another thing, one that you might not want to hear - a weight loss of 2 lbs. a week, every single week, is too fast to be losing weight over the long haul - that's 8 - 10 lbs. a month (2nd grade math class finally paid off) and sometimes you need to give your body and your skin a chance to catch up - very, very important! Slow down and give your body some recovery time - you won't regret it, your skin will thank you, and you'll have less chance of introducing the flab factor. Diet programs and books won't tell you that because numbers and results are of tantamount importance to them - dramatic and fast weight loss is what puts bread their bread on the table (or bacon, if you're an Atkins devotee). Congratulations on your achievements so far - that's really great.
posted by iconomy at 10:40 AM on April 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

I second (or third) the calls for weight training. You won't get big and bulky (well, unless you try really hard at getting big and bulky), the skin will appear tighter (since there will be a little more muscle mass under it), you'll burn more calories (long after your workout is over), and dangit, you'll just feel better (trust me on that one).

You can get adjustable dumbbells at Target or Wal-Mart or your other discount store of choice for peanuts, and there are tons of exercises you can do (check out exrx for pics of exercises, or Stumptuous for more complete workout advice). As a beginner, you'll see all sorts of results very quickly.

Although, to be honest, doing "other stuff" won't keep your skin from being saggy altogether; whether or not you tighten up appreciably after major weight loss depends mostly on your age, genetics, and just how much weight you lost. I lost over 100 lbs. between the ages of 17 and 23 (about 50 at a time, incedentally), and there are parts I'm not sure will ever tighten up completely (boo). YMMV.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:48 AM on April 12, 2004

Regimen: daily sit-ups, push-ups, curls, shoulder presses, dead front lifts, inverse tricep curls, squats.

Daily? Does that work for you? When do your muscles rebuild? Most weightlifting routines recommend no more than 3-days-per-muscle-group-per-week. In fact, many of the latest trends involve even fewer, such as working muscle groups to complete muscle failure once-a-week or even once-a-month (although this is usually for the big guy and gals).

Then again, 15-20# isn't necessarilly that much weight, and I don't hear you saying to increase the weight over time. So I suppose it's more of an aerobic workout, with little resistance and little rest between sets. But still...
posted by Shane at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2004

Response by poster: These replies are great! I really appreciate it. It's hard to separate spin from application.

iconomy: great article on skin-brushing. I will look further into that. This would be the first time I've ever understood why I itch. Also, great heads-up on the shea butter. I've been looking for an alternative to coco butter, because I hate the way it smells.

I'm curious on how you're successfully losing 2lbs a week, any suggestions?

This is going to be pretty long, sorry. I did some research to figure out exactly what losing weight entails. Here's my elementary take on it.

A few factors determine how many calories per day you need to maintain your present weight. Your current weight, your height, your activity level, and your body fat % (determined with calipers or body fat scales-- I went to my doctor's to get this value, but there are calculators online that give you an accurate enough amount.)

If you consistently eat above that amount of calories, you will gain weight. If you consistently eat below that amount of calories, you will lose weight. If you subtract 1000 calories/day from your diet, you will lose 2lbs/week.

I use nutridiary to help me keep track of everything. I don't work for them! But they are the best food diary/calorie counter I've used, and they're free. There are other download programs that are probably more thorough, just search Google for 'food diary.'

I check the calorie values of everything I even consider putting in my mouth. You'd be surprised how much food you can actually eat and still be within your calorie value. I think a big problem is if you're accustomed to eating without thinking about it, or going back for seconds, you have to learn to ignore that "still hungry" feeling for at least fifteen minutes--which is about how long it takes for the sensation of fullness to settle in. If I'm still hungry after I eat, I go for a walk, or do some cleaning. Twenty minutes later, I'm cool.

I also started going to bed early and getting up early, eating three meals a day, with a couple of snacks in between, and religiously drinking at least a half-gallon of water each day. Something about regular meals and some form of exercise keeps the body from thinking that you're starving, which is why some people seem to gain weight on diets. Eating before going to bed is a huge no-no, also (as body functions slow down and you go into more of a fat-storing state than a fat-burning one.)

I didn't cut carbs or anything of the sort (though I've tried both the South Beach and the Atkins diet, and just ended up gaining the weight back.) After a while, you start finding a good balance of foods, and cutting things out like going from whole milk to 2% or skim, wheat instead of white, and veggies as snacks instead of jellybeans. I'm personally still trying to manage three *balanced* meals a day. So I take once-a-day vitamins with iron (I'm anemic), and fiber and calcium supplements.

Exercising increases the amount of calories you need per day, so I view it as a reward system. If I am hungrier than my daily calories, I will do an extra 30 minutes of some vigorous activity (Dance Dance Revolution, scrubbing a carpet, anything) and reward myself with a little icecream or a piece of chocolate. As long as I don't go over a certain amount of calories, I am doing good. I'm not sure if it's possible to lose weight without counting calories, something which I have dreaded doing for a long time.

I lost more than ~7lbs in the first week, which was almost all water weight, and it has tapered down to between 1.5-2lbs/week. I am bipolar, and the changes have also affected me emotionally + mentally. I'm more energetic and overall happier than I've been in years.

Again, that's the "Weight Loss For Dummies" version that constitutes what I understand of losing weight. Any fitness experts in the house who care to correct me are free to.
posted by precocious at 11:56 AM on April 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

Congrats, precocious!

I would recommend you add some cardiovascular to the weight training. Muscle does weigh more than fat, so don't be surprised if you gain when you start lifting. I haven't lost that much weight but have lost a lot of inches thru exercise-down one size and about to be down another.

The bad news is that depending on how big you started out, some saggy skin may be inevitable. In my case my abdomen would need surgery. However, my face has responded rather well-not bad for a 45 year old soon-to-be ex-blimp.

(I too am bipolar-the exercise is a real lifesaver for me in that area. I have to exercise in order to not get depressed. Thankfully I learned to enjoy it.)
posted by konolia at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2004

I would recommend you add some cardiovascular to the weight training.

I agree. Never neglect the cardio/aerobic, be it walking or whatever. Everything feels easier when your heart and lungs work great, so even that will give you energy and make life feel better. It's important as you get older, and it will also stimulate those endorphins more easily than anaerobic, and so will help your depression.

Of course, you can weightlift in a way that will get your heart rate up for prolonged periods of time, but it's still not quite the same.

Tying in with what konolia said, if you get into a good exercise routine and then stop suddenly for some reason for any amount of time, watch out: that depression will creep back in to bite you (any amount of time being a week, or even just a few short days once you're "hooked" on the exercise.)
posted by Shane at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2004

I went from 305 pounds to 195 pounds in the last year, and have some looser areas here and there. In some cases, some of that skin will never go back. In others, it is possible to fill the area in with some muscle to make it look tighter. You have to do weight training, really, to achieve that.
posted by benjh at 12:21 PM on April 12, 2004

Daily? Does that work for you? When do your muscles rebuild?

Right, Shane - I'm not trying to get big or even ripped, just stay in good shape. Since I know from long experience that given my life's priorities I won't reliably have free blocks of time for one-hour-plus trips to the gym three days a week, my goal is just to keep my muscles working and my body flexible with, frankly, as little committment of my time as possible.

precocious sounds more like me - just someone trying to get/stay in shape - than like a prospective body builder. I lost about thirty pounds about five years ago and this is what has worked for me, but if he's going to lose much more than that and wants to replace all that fat with muscle then he'll need a serious weight-training plan - but it, too, will have to be one he can stick with his whole life.
posted by nicwolff at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2004

That's cool, nicwolff. Whatever works for you. Personally, I just can't do anything remotely like "weightlifting" on a daily basis, and many people require more than 24 hrs recovery time. But I know what you mean: I don't lift much anymore and I don't pay any attention to the amount of weight or getting big or ripped. It's just good to keep muscle tone and keep those joints in shape. It's a great way to avoid the knee problems so many older people get, too.
posted by Shane at 12:46 PM on April 12, 2004

Response by poster: for cheap exercise, running is pretty good. you need good shoes, but that's about it.

I'll try running when I can tactfully wear spandex.

konalia: Thank you! I'd love to ask you a few more questions, possibly personal. Do you mind if I e-mail you?

re: genetics and age. I'm 25, and I'm hoping that's young enough to have some skin elasticity going. Also, every single person in my family is overweight except the one anomaly who eats like a horse and never gains anything, so I'm not sure how much of a genetic gauge I can get. I suppose I should just pray for the best. The skin brushing + shea butter sounds like a good (and hygenic!) idea.

he's going to lose much more than that and wants to replace all that fat with muscle then he'll need a serious weight-training plan - but it, too, will have to be one he can stick with his whole life.

Definitely more than just 30lbs. Also, "she." And I don't really want to look like a weight builder, just not like a pug. I like the idea of having a session with a personal trainer, so I know that I am doing the exercises right. I think I'll keep the DDR for cardiovascular, as it seems to work, and spend my money on getting some small barbells+workout mat.

Thanks, AskMeFites.
posted by precocious at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2004

Whoops, sorry about the gender thing, pre! You probably want 10-to-15-pound weights, then, and you want dumbbells - one per hand - not barbells. If you get the neoprene-covered kind, they a. won't mark up the floor and b. make excellent push-up stands which saves you either money or knuckle pain.
posted by nicwolff at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2004

precocious, if you're a woman, your chances of "looking like a weight builder" are pretty much zip, unless you take anabolics or have a very unusual testosterone levels. You'll get stronger, always a good thing, your posture will probably improve, and your muscles will get somewhat bigger, but you will not bulk sigificantly.

Please go and have a look at Krista's site which has excellent advice for women (and men) on weight training and weight loss. (The photos of Krista herself ought to be persuasive, she's an ordinary woman in great shape).

And my personal bugaboo: there is not such thing as "toned". Really. There is only having a low enough bodyfat to reveal muscles, and having big enough muscles to have something to show. If your skin doesn't shrink back after fat loss, I'm afraid there's not a lot you can do short of surgery.

However, this comes up often on misc.fitness.weights, with wildly diverging experiences - some people with major weight loss whose skin shrank back fine, and some who didn't. I suspect genes account for at least as much as skincare. The only consensus is that the slower the weight comes off, the more likely it is that you would avoid being saggy-baggy.

From what you've written, it sounds as though you're doing a great job on your own - best of luck to you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 PM on April 12, 2004

precocious, feel free to email me.
posted by konolia at 3:55 PM on April 12, 2004

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