Help me defeat my father in single combat.
October 1, 2007 9:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I tackle this seemingly impossible task? I want to have a better state of physical fitness and I'm starting from almost zero.

I eat my veggies (nyum, nyum!) and I typically take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator and get in 10-25 minutes of walking on a regular basis. Genetics blessed me with a body that while not rail thin, is slender enough for my tastes.

However, I'm out of breath if I try to run a block and I get little exercise, asides from a mile long walk from work three days a week. I'm also aware that I think my underused muscles are atrophying and I've never had good balance or co-ordination. I also wouldn’t know what to do with weight training even if a weight bench fell on me.

I have a freebie gym membership that comes with my status as a university student, a pair of grubby but still good running shoes and I can probably spare $30 a month towards fitness if I squeezed my budget until it screamed.

My goal is combat sports. I’m a tomboy, and I miss running around with boys with guns. Ideally I want to be a muscled, endurant goddess, so I can defeat my father in traditional sword combat (more on this goal later). To clarify, this means I’m the sort of person who’d probably feel better in a macho gym than a ladies fat buster class. Tips?
posted by Phalene to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Ooops: Add on that I'd love it if you could give me tips on how to exercise properly... I.E. how to hold weights.
posted by Phalene at 9:09 PM on October 1, 2007

If you're looking for endurance google couch to 5k.
posted by iamabot at 9:18 PM on October 1, 2007

Great question, I just started an office job and I can feel my meager college muscles shrinking to nothing...not that I ever could do much more than five minutes of aerobic exercise.

Two things I've learned are that I tend to work harder at something I paid for (so if I hire a physical trainer or take an expensive class, I'll work myself harder so I feel like I'm getting my money's worth) and I am too sleepy to talk myself out of exercise in the morning (so if I get up and do half an hour of aerobics right then, I'm much less likely to come up with an excuse not to). These are useful facts to know in a quest for fitness. You probably have similar facts - you just have to find them.

I'd say if you're worried about holding weights and such, springing for one session with a trainer is a really good idea. I'm also looking at gradual work-your-way-up regimens (google Couch to 5K or the Hacker's Diet) as longer-term ways to keep pushing myself. Right now I'm out of breath if I try to run a block, maybe, but the key is to get comfy running half a block first.

However, it seems to me that it doesn't matter what you do that much as long as you do something, at least at first. Once you hit a baseline of cardiovascular health, then you can start training for sword combat, but as someone who's wheezed pathetically through more capoeira classes than I like to admit, I decided I'd rather do aerobics in the morning for a little while, build some lung capacity, etc before even embarrassing myself by showing up at a class. Taking classes when you're not fit enough to keep up that level of activity for an hour is a waste of time, money, and drive. The shame of wheezing may be just what it takes to get your rear in gear, know what motivates you to get up and move.

Good luck, I look forward to seeing your other responses since this is something I've obviously been thinking about and struggling with...
posted by crinklebat at 9:19 PM on October 1, 2007

If I were you, I'd look into boxing. I don't know the costs associated with, but perhaps something through your university?
posted by Sassyfras at 9:19 PM on October 1, 2007

If your university is like mine, there are people in the gym that can tell you how to achieve the results you want. They get paid to do this.
posted by DMan at 9:28 PM on October 1, 2007

Your budget is $30 a month? Your gym membership is already "free", so why don't you hire a personal trainer for an hour to show you proper form? $30 should pay for half an hour of someone's time. I bolded "proper form" because that's what you specifically want to ask the personal trainer to teach you.
posted by evariste at 9:44 PM on October 1, 2007

Shovelglove looks kind of weird but it'll get your upper body working.

Couch to 5K is also very good, it had me running further than ever before (until I discovered that my knees are apparently rated `walking only').
posted by tomble at 10:19 PM on October 1, 2007

Try Wii Sports boxing. Really. I mean, just as a start.
posted by The Deej at 10:26 PM on October 1, 2007
posted by outsider at 10:39 PM on October 1, 2007

What about dropping in on one of the numerous marial arts student groups on campus, such as sca, traditional fencing, iaido, aikido, karate, {numerous non-japanese marial arts} etc? Good exercise and you get to muck around with swords.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:49 PM on October 1, 2007

Kendo is very physically intense and involves swordfighting (and screaming at the top of your lungs.)
posted by milinar at 10:55 PM on October 1, 2007

I've been doing the Body For Life exercise routine. I bought the book (Amazon used $15) for the illustrations and am in the middle of a 12 week routine. It's working for me. I have been going to the gym regularly for several years but never put together a weight training package. Body For Life is just regimented enough with an hour a day 6 days a week for 12 weeks. There is also a dietary section to this which I don't do, yet. I can say my muscle strength and stamina have improved greatly in the past 5 weeks.

There are a lot of resources out there, this just happens to be one of the simpler and more concise that i've found.
posted by ptm at 10:57 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a freebie gym membership that comes with my status as a university student, a pair of grubby but still good running shoes and I can probably spare $30 a month towards fitness if I squeezed my budget until it screamed.

Trash the "grubby" running shoes, bite the bullet and buy a good--not just decent, but really good--pair of quality running shoes. First and foremost, you don't want to skimp on shoes if you're going to be doing any significant amount of running. It sounds like endurance is what you want to shoot for, and running is good for that and cardio in general. Get some good running insoles as well.

The couch potato to 5k plan is a good one. I would follow it strictly for the first couple of weeks: wear a watch with a timer/stopwatch. After a while you may scrap a strict reading of the plan and make your own pace once you grok the concept: if you're out of shape, you have to gradually get back into shape. Run for short periods of time, followed by short periods of walking, and over time the running periods increase. Your stamina will gradually increase and one day you'll reach a turning point in which you can go a long time without stopping to walk. And it'll happen faster than you think.

For muscle mass, the 300 diet is all the rage now. (Dunno if you're interested if you're a girl...) But seriously, don't skimp on those shoes.
posted by zardoz at 12:01 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

2nding crossfit if you want to get in actual shape and not just be better at jogging.
posted by christonabike at 12:06 AM on October 2, 2007

If your goal is combat sports you should definitely sheck out crossfit. They are designed for exactly that kind of fitness: strength and endurance throughout your body. With running you just get endurance in your legs and not much else. If there's a crossfit in your area I would go there. Otherwise, they post the workouts online, and you'll need some training to do some of the things with weights that they do. But then again they also have videos on their site. I would've been at crossfit long ago but I live in Europe where there is no paramilitary-style fitness.
Be sure to start slowly. At the beginning always err on the side of less weight.
Otherwise: for strength training I would stick to basics like: pullups; dips; overhead press; squat; deadlift. Crossfit also has videos of all this on their site. Your gym should have a machine for pullups and dips where you kneel on a counter-weighted sort of lever to make it easier, until you can do them with your full body-weight, and then eventually you can start holding weights between your legs.
posted by creasy boy at 2:02 AM on October 2, 2007

posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on October 2, 2007

A lot of answers telling you what kind of exercise to do, and if you do pretty much any of those I expect you'll get fit.

One problem is likely to be pushing yourself to the right level (overdoing it is a bad idea, and underdoing it isn't going to get you very far), which isn't really that hard to do if you're just pretty sensible and persist, but pay a bit of attention to what your body is telling you.

Another problem may be motivation, depending on what sort of a person you are. Some people just seem to be able to set to this sort of task and stick at it, and some people sooner or later, for whatever reason, end up letting it slide. It doesn't sound like it'll be a problem for you if you are 'the sort of person who’d probably feel better in a macho gym than a ladies fat buster class', but if it starts heading that way then the best thing is to have other people to tell you to keep at it. For this reason, social sports are fantastic, a gym where you know someone already is pretty good, and at the least do something where there's at least some chance of meeting other people.

Another solution to that issue is what crinklebat already said - do something you've paid for.
posted by edd at 2:55 AM on October 2, 2007

Though the $30 ceilling means it'll make more sense to use the university facilities, Crossfit is the way to go. Chances are the people there will train in combat sports and be able to recommend a martial arts gym.

Try FMA if you want to pwn dad in a sword battle.

Whatever you decide, stick with it. Fitness is a lifelong commitment.
posted by the cuban at 3:26 AM on October 2, 2007

Buy and use a heart rate monitor for aerobic exercise. You'll find that you don't need to work as hard as you think you do to get an aerobic workout. (When I first started working out, I would go all out on a machine or a run and get discouraged quickly; once I got the monitor I was able to see how hard I needed to work to get a workout without getting exhausted.)
posted by Daily Alice at 3:33 AM on October 2, 2007

Check out John Stone's site... He can help walk you step by step through this process. Plus the forums are a great source for advice!
posted by keep it tight at 4:13 AM on October 2, 2007

Don't bother with a heart rate monitor. If you only have 30 bucks, it is a wasted purchase. Hell, I still don't have one and I do just fine.
posted by Loto at 4:53 AM on October 2, 2007

If you only have $30 a month I would suggest the following:

1) Do get a good pair of sneakers. It will make a difference.
2) Start doing workouts at the gym combining cardio and weights. Per suggestions above, maybe they'll give you a free personal training session so you can learn some stuff, or ask people to show you how to use machines if you need help.
3) See if they offer group classes that are within your budget, like Pilates or something. This is a great start to strengthening your core, and also I'm sure you will learn a thing or two from the instructor.
4) Read whatever you can. I have Fitness for Dummies and that has been really helpful.
5)If you have any money to splurge, hire a personal trainer, even if only for one session. I have learned so much from my personal trainer, and she sends me workouts in Excel so I can do them on the days when I am not with her.
6) Vary your workouts. This is so important so that you don't get bored. On the cardio machines, do interval workouts to push yourself. Do 20 minutes on one machine and 20 minutes on a different machine. And, if you can add in other things, like hiking and what not.

Good Luck!
posted by hazyspring at 5:06 AM on October 2, 2007

Okay, here is how you do it:
First, start jogging. The couch to 5k program is a great program if you have no real aerobic base to start with. This will up your aerobic endurance to a useful level.

At the same time, start lifting weights. The first week, go in for only one day and do a full body routine (search the site, there are numerous posts about this, many of which I've posted in with various routines.) John Stone Fitness and T-Nation are good sites for looking up lifting plans, but remember you are a beginner and want something simple.

Once you can run a 5k, it is time to start on anaerobic training. Sprints are the key here. Again, google is your friend. Look for speed training programs, or High Intensity Interval Training programs. If you plan to be doing any sort of fighting, anaerobic endurance is your friend.

The second week of lifting, go twice a week.
The third week of lifting, go three times and hold at this number. This will allow you to easily work past the initial soreness you'll feel, as it doesn't sound like you've lifted before. There are two keys to a good lift: form and intensity. You can have great form, but if you don't really put yourself into it and push yourself to lift heavier and heavier weights, your progress will drop off after your newbie gains.

Hope that helps. Email's in the profile if you have any specific questions.
posted by Loto at 5:17 AM on October 2, 2007

Best answer: Oy.

1) John Stone is an amateur bodybuilder, not an athlete; his site is inspiring but, his rhetoric to the contrary, he seems to be most concerned with what he looks like standing still. I admire the guy's dedication and monomania and he's goddamn serious about exercise but ultimately you want something else out of it. Still, his diet talk seems excellent.

2) Crossfit is all about functional strength rather than straight-up hypertrophy (Big Muscles) and will play into your need to feel butch, but if you're not exercising at all - walking doesn't count - then any cardiovascular exercise is going to help build your endurance. It does sound ideal given what you're interested in. That said, there are less compensatory alternatives:

3) You want wiry strength? Try rock climbing. (Rock climbing chicks basically embarrass everyone else with their freaky powers.) Your body learns really fast up on the wall - it has to, right? - and the rock climbing crowd at your school is probably really laid-back and cool, if my own was any indication. Speed and agility? Try boxing, sure, or capoeira, or soccer (God's sport). Precision killing-other-people movement? You're in college, take fencing and couple it with swimming or biking for all-around fitness; fencing is weird and fun and your thighs will be steel.

4) But if you want stronger lungs and legs fast without spending money - and you want those things - here's the easy way to get them: get on the damn exercise bike at your gym and ride it every day for 30 minutes. It'll suck, then it'll not suck, and after two weeks you'll already notice a big difference. Bring your iPod and listen to Tool if you don't want to feel girly, it makes no difference whatsoever to anyone else. Get up some endurance and you'll be able to take on more complex activities easily enough. Plus biking is an enormous boon to a college life; save up for a few months and buy something reasonable at a police bike auction, say, and you'll have your own sustainable fitness tool. (Because the exercise bike, its utility notwithstanding, is not terribly exciting.)

5) Want to throw some weights around? Good! It's surprisingly not hard. Grab a personal trainer for a half-hour and run through all the exercises. As for tomboy value, girls at the gym look a lot more serious doing split squats with good form, regardless of the weight, than walking on the treadmill for 15 minutes reading People. Get the form down, learn what you're doing, listen to something other than the pabulum on the stereo, and people will give you a wide berth. Stronger is better. Faster is better. Quicker is better. It's not that important how you get there, as long as you enjoy what you're doing.
posted by waxbanks at 6:14 AM on October 2, 2007 [7 favorites]

I agree that Crossfit is the way to go. It's pretty much exactly designed for your goals. However, with free access to the university gym and a $30/month max budget, you won't be able to get personal training at a Crossfit facility. I would suggest that your first (and possibly only for awhile) purchase is the book Starting Strength which is written to teach the beginner how to do the foundational lifts of squats, deadlifts, presses, and cleans. (Even if you don't do Crossfit, learning these lifts is essential for any respectable fitness regimen). At the same time you can do the Crossfit workouts with moves that you know how to do, like pushups and running and whatnot. As you get more comfortable with the Starting Strength form, you can start tackling more and more of the Crossfit workouts. And in case you think CF might be too frou frou or that girls shouldn't be lifting heavy weights, check out this video of one of the CF workouts.
posted by Durin's Bane at 6:22 AM on October 2, 2007

Oh, another thing. I wouldn't waste any money on the trainers at the university gym. If they're anything like the ones at my school, they know next to nothing about proper form and which lifts to be doing. They just take their clients around to the exotic machines (which you should avoid like the plague) as well as showing them weird unstable lifts on a swiss ball.
posted by Durin's Bane at 6:34 AM on October 2, 2007

Stumptuous should be perfect for your lifting/getting-muscled-and-awesome needs.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:02 AM on October 2, 2007

Daily Alice and Loto clearly disagree on heart rate monitors. I side more with Daily Alice.

Some people are able to pitch their training in the right ballpark without a heart rate monitor. Some people find it more difficult. Me, I love mine.

If you do find you plan to spend 30 minutes doing aerobic exercise and collapse after 5 minutes, then you probably are going too hard, and getting a HRM and learning to use it properly (ie measuring your resting and max heart rate, not using any guideline values for your age or whatever, and calculating what you should be exercising at) is going to be very worthwhile.

If you're able to exercise fine without one then great. Spend the money on something else.
posted by edd at 7:02 AM on October 2, 2007

Crossfit! Crossfit Crossfit Crossfit! They have scaling for their workouts as well. Check out the exercise demo videos. At least half of the participants are women doing really hardcore stuff. There is a great video of Annie, one of THE Crossfit women, doing twenty-five pull-ups non stop while seven or eight months pregnant. Seriously, this is EXACTLY what you need. I also would prefer to be an Amazon goddess and this program is definitely what's taking me there (though I have a long way to go!).
posted by schroedinger at 7:05 AM on October 2, 2007

Re: heart-rate monitors: as I understand things, these are weight-loss devices. To burn as many calories as possible you want your exertion to be within a certain range for a long time, which is why you don't want to collapse after five minutes. However, if your goal is not to burn calories but to gain speed and strength, collapsing after five minutes is absolutely the way to go. You're supposed to be exhausted at the end of a workout.
posted by creasy boy at 7:48 AM on October 2, 2007

Also, if you want to practice olympic lifts go down to Home Depot and pick yourself up an appropriate length of PVC piping. It will be about $3. Then practice in front of a mirror. When you start handling heavier weights, it will definitely be worth finding a Crossfit facility or Olympic lift trainer in your area to give you a session going over form and stuff. This helped me tremendously.
posted by schroedinger at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2007

And one more thing--seconding that you not bother with the "trainers" at your university gym. They are likely ass. The trainers at my gym are painful to watch--one of them fancies himself a serious muscle-man and likes to teach cleans. His students are going to have back problems within six months of his methods.
posted by schroedinger at 8:10 AM on October 2, 2007

No, creasy boy. There's more to it than simply burning calories. It's about cardiovascular fitness, stamina etc., rather than simple speed and strength. Marathon runners aren't speedy in the same way as sprinters, nor are they particularly strong, but they're not just people who burn calories.

They're obviously not the right tool for building strength, but the kind of extended period (relatively-) low intensity workout they're good with is a crucial part of getting to be what you'd call 'fit'.
posted by edd at 8:30 AM on October 2, 2007

You should listen to everything schroedinger says, and I will add: I spent a year teaching English to the employees of a gym in Berlin, and believe me they know little, and what they do know is often whatever they themselves personally like to do, which they then impose on you regardless. But with 90% probability they will give you a body-building routine that will make you strong but not fit. They will tell you to use a series of machines that isolate certain muscles, and to sit in each machine, do one set, sit around waiting a few minutes, do another set, sit around a few minutes, do a third set, and then move on to the next machine. Because of advice like this I see people in my gym sitting in the fucking pec-machine reading the newspaper. Then, since despite taking an hour this gives you absolutely no cardio benefit, they will tell you to go use a cardio machine for a half-hour, which besides further wasting your time will actually cost you muscle. So I would not ask a personal trainer for help.
posted by creasy boy at 8:45 AM on October 2, 2007

Oh yeah - I missed the obvious thing, which creasy boy hit on: isolation exercises aren't what you want if you're after full-body strength and quickness rather than size. Do activities that hit lots of muscles at once - climbing, running, swimming, big 'compound' weightlifting moves like squats and deadlifts and long pulls. (Hit for helpful info on weightlifting exercises - really an excellent site.)

Bicep curls might help look like a model, but using your whole body to move a ton of metal will make you feel like a fucking lion.
posted by waxbanks at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2007


Six months ago, only a very few people here knew about crossfit. It makes me happy to see it recommended so fervently. Let me add another voice recommending you try it. It's exactly what you want, in many ways. First of all, it's cheap. Go to the website, use the videos to teach yourself the exercises, and perform the WOD (Workout Of the Day). Crossfit charges you nothing for that. Second, this will train cardio, strength, power, explosiveness, and muscular endurance all at once-exactly the sort of fitness you need for fighting. I use crossfit to prepare for jiu-jitsu tournaments. Last, it is for the hardcore only. This is much more the dirty sweaty kind of workout than the ladies' toning sort.

But I'd highly recommend you take a period of time to just learn as many of the exercises as possible. When you move onto WOD's, drop the weight, reps, or both for a few weeks. Concentrate on technique. When you feel ready, move on to performing the workouts as prescribed (as rx'd, in the crossfit lingo).

I'm off to max out on the deadlift. If today is a good day, I'll go over 350. Honestly, crossfit is a tremendous program. When I am faithful to it for a while, I turn into a demon on the mat-I can just train forever. It's awesome.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2007

My old uni offered various types of exercise classes, including weight-lifting, for credit. These classes were not taught by gym employees with little training, but by people with university degrees in kinesiology/exercise science/whatever your university calls this particular degree program. I was able to learn a lot and also get academic credit while becoming fit.
posted by needled at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2007

Best answer: Let me go against the grain and say that I think crossfit is a bad idea for a total gym newbie without a crossfit trainer. Go to Stumptuous, spend a few months learning the form on the basic lifts, and get yourself in good enough shape to run 5K without stopping (or some other 30-minute-range moderately intense cardio). At the end of two or three months you will be in significantly better shape. If at that point you're bored or looking to kick it up a notch, maybe then crossfit is the way to go.

Note that you will be in significantly better shape if you do just about any sort of exercise regularly 5-6 times a week coming in totally new, which is part of the reason I don't think crossfit is a good idea, it just isn't necessary at that point. Jumping into crossfit alone without so much as an idea of how to do a squat with proper form is risky business. Yes, they have plenty of videos on form that are worth watching whether you do their workouts or not. They also have plenty (PLENTY) of WOD demos with really truly horrible form, and coaches on record saying "sometimes when you're pushing for a time your form is going to go." I agree with this, which is why you had better have a damn good idea of the difference between good pain and bad pain and the general limits of your body before you start jumping in to something like this, especially if you are going to have to teach yourself.

So use the money to buy some good running shoes and some chuck taylors, and get to the gym regularly. And there is absolutely no reason you should think getting in shape is anywhere near a daunting task. For a young woman at a healthy weight it is a simple matter of a little time and effort, better spent now while you are young and thin than at 50 when you are not.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:02 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had been working out for 15 years before I started Five Factor Fitness. It really was amazing what that exercise/diet plan did. You really don't have to work out for very long at all, and after 5 weeks you're in great shape. Before it I never did much aerobic exercise, but suddenly I had all of this stamina I never had before. I highly recommend it.
posted by jeff_w_welch at 6:44 AM on October 3, 2007

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