Finding Your Fitness In The Least Common Places

How it all began.

Push-ups on board.

I have been working out since I was ten. I was not necessarily lifting weights or doing 100 crunches a day. I kicked a soccer ball around Indoor, outdoor, at specialty camps all year long for four years. Then I found track and field in junior high and kept it up through high school. Who knew I, with the body of a shot putter, was a pretty good sprinter? Then I found basketball, which was probably my favorite part of high school. I think I was the only person who enjoyed sprinting down the court. It made for a super fast Center and kept me in shape for track season. Finally, I found rowing in college. Actually it found me. A coach saw and encouraged me to join. I rowed for Purdue University and enjoyed (almost) every moment of it. Besides being pushed to my extreme limit for the first time of my life and many times thereafter, I learned skills that would help me long after my athletic career came to an end.


After rowing for four years in undergrad, I came up to Michigan to coach rowing. I was the big bad athlete who knew everything about everything. Not really. I learned that teaching one to become an athlete is more challenging than actually being an athlete. Training isn't just sitting on a machine and lifting random weights just as swimming isn't jumping in a pool and flailing around. There are many methods that can make working out a brilliant experience. Proper techniques can minimize time spent in the gym, maximize a workout, minimize injury, and maximize the quality of life. Rowers, basketball players, runners, and all athletes need strength training. No matter how talented someone is, strength training helps increase your endurance and protect your body. Ask any coach or trainer.

Skiing. Sort of.

I've known that since I was ten. I also knew that I couldn't just tell rowers, I had to show them. As a result, I broke things down to help explain what different exercises do for their bodies. Crunches can flatten a tubby tummy. Lifting makes for a solid set of guns (arms). But doing that in combination with cardiovascular workouts can make that flat tummied, arms fully loaded individual better off in the long run. This is what I would tell anyone who bothers to listen:

Find five to ten different types of crunches. For instance try a combo of leg lifts, regular crunches, bicycle, push-ups, and ball exercises. Most exercises that you can do on the floor you can also do on a strengthening ball. The ball is a great way to keep your core engaged. An engaged core equals supported back and a more effective workout. Modifications are necessary for individuals with lower problems (like me). For instance, with the leg lifts, only go down until your back begins to lift up off the ground. Then bring them back to perpendicular to the ground and continue your workout with this limitation. If you don't, you put your back under unnecessary pressure. Check out the snazzy video.

There are many other ab workouts there too. The key is to do all of these in a row. Maybe do 15 reps or 30 seconds of one, take a 15 second break, then do another until you have finished them all. Take a 2 minute break and repeat. The point is to work up a sweat and keep your heart pounding faster. It's an excellent form of strength training.

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You can do the same for your lifting as well. Generally, the fittest cats in the gym don't mess around in the weight room. They use iPods to focus and a routine to keep them moving. I like to alternate between upper body and lower body. I'll do a rep of say bench press. During my break I'll jump on the leg press. My arms get a rest, but I am keeping my body active. Then while my legs are resting, I am back on the bench press. Maybe it's overly intense, but between coaching, grad school, and an internship, it helped me get an efficient workout and get out of the gym in half the time. Don't forget to take breaks in between sets and re-hydrate yourself with water or sport drinks. As a coach, I noticed a significant difference in the performance of my rowers. As a rower, I felt a difference in my performance. They were stronger. They had less injury. They were able to push themselves further. And they became more fit.

The Gym
I cannot tell you how important coaching was for my wellbeing. I was learning not only how to do certain workouts, but why it was important.
At the time, I was venturing off into the world of self training for the first time in twelve years. There were no coaches telling me what to do. No teammates to encourage me to be my best. I had to figure out how to push myself to continue to train (at a lower intensity) for myself. No competition, just well being. I fortunately, learned how to teach others and myself through coaching. How will you teach yourself? How do I convey this message to my sisters who hate working out? My rowers only listened to me because they wanted to be in the top boat. I only learned it so I could be a better coach. What stops us from doing it for ourselves? I am sure some have their reasons. I know what my reason would have been - lack of knowledge. I go to the gym and see people lifting their butts off and wondering why they are not bulking up. Sometimes people (mostly women) tell me they don't want to lift because they don't want to bulk up. Truth is, strength training can do whatever you want it to do for your body. It can bulk you up, trim you down, keep you active, make you stronger, etc. I tell girls all the time, "I am not lifting to bulk up, I am lifting to trim down and look hot." Most people laugh, but it's true. I can lift my heart out and stay fit without being huge just as I can work my heart out and gain muscle necessary to be a stronger rower. Workouts are as versatile and unique as the human race. And the less people know about training, the more they are missing out on an excellent way to create a healthy, long living body.

I can preach to my sisters all day or give them this article but I don't think it will change anything. I think that they need to learn for themselves. I think we all need to learn for ourselves. Well, we are in luck. This thing called the internet is wicked resourceful. There are online schools and search engines that can help us learn the best workouts for our bodies. If you want to go even further, you could go to a personal training school. Why not? I tell my rowers safety is the most important part of training. Too often I see people arching their backs during dead lifts or running without stretching first. And if you see nothing wrong with this then honey, we have a problem.

Solution: personal training schools, online schools, or even Google can help prevent unnecessary injury. And I am only scratching the surface. There is so much to learn about working out. I still find value in educating myself about strength training. I am no longer a rower, baller, or sprinter but I am an athlete at heart. I recognize a difference in well being when I am not working out. Even though I am not competitive in sports, I wish to be competitive in life. I told my sisters and brother they cannot get rid of me because I am living to 100. I am a woman of my word, so I plan to keep learning and finding ways to minimize time spent in the gym, maximize a workout, minimize injury, and maximize my quality of life.

Tamara Wysell

Tamara Wysell is a writer and lover of fitness and health. In her free time she loves to run and write freelance for

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