Monica Bielanko
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Two Birds, One Stone

I have been going to the gym with an attitude unlike any other with which I've availed myself of gym facilities. Meaning that I'm dead fucking serious this time around. Oh, I was kind of serious (can one be kind of serious?) before but this time feels different. I swear!

Previous gym visits involved working out, to be sure, but rarely beyond my comfort zone. The very act of being in the gym was enough, whatever I did while there was pure gravy. Mmmmm gravy.

But I now realize that just putting on a sports bra and gym shoes and watching Kelly & What's-His-Name chat over coffee while I pretend to sweat on the elliptical isn't going to cut it. I actually have to experience burning and pain and, well, working out is hard, y'all.

It's just that I finally got sick of the shock I experience every now and again when I catch sight of the dumpy figure in the sliding glass doors at Walmart and realize Oh hey. That's me. Tired of squinching flabby ass cheeks and tucking muffin tops into jeans that fit a scant two years ago.

There is a tipping point in the lives of most women who gain some weight during pregnancy. It comes when trying to get back in shape after having a kid. You either handle your business or you let the months turn into years and suddenly the "I just had a baby" excuse doesn't really apply when you're registering the aforementioned baby for pre-school.

Lollygagging on the elliptical may keep the fat pockets at bay in your twenties but hoo doggies, that shit don't work so good when you're French kissing 36-years-old. So you've gotta make the active decision to take your sagging ass to the gym and run it through some serious paces or let your fitness fall by the wayside, which is super easy to do. I'm not that bad, you tell yourself. Yet slowly you stop fitting into any jeans in your denim repertoire, swaddling yourself mainly in those "yoga pants" you purchased with high hopes that have yet to experience a downward dog.

I've always been a naturally thin person which mistakenly led me to believe I was a physically fit person when in reality I've never been a truly strong person. And now that I'm no longer naturally thin I have nothing to hide behind. No pretend physical fitness to delude myself with.

I want to be strong. The desire for strength has inspired working out as I never really have before. Because my prior motivation for going to the gym was vanity-based and because I was thin I never worked out with an intensity that leaves you high on endorphins. But now, with the desire to be strong (Yeah, vanity is still laced throughout that desire) I am going for it on the elliptical until the sweat pours from my body, lifting weights until my muscles burn and I can't fathom one more time and then I do it one more time and goddamn that feels good.

Wanna know what feels even better than burning muscles? An hour away from Henry. God love the little maniac but he is terrible two-ing his adorable little ass off. At the gym I can still see him there in the Child Watch area but he is somebody else's problem. In fact, Henry being somebody else's problem for a solid hour is a huge part of the gym allure. Well, that and an ass that currently looks like a sack of raw chicken.

The first couple weeks of intense gym activity were awkward and uncomfortable. Now, they're just uncomfortable. But in a good way. Sore arms, sore legs, burning muscles. I really hope I can keep this up. I think I can. I mean, never before in my life has a free hour of Child Watch/solid hour of Monica Time been so valuable to me. Which translates into never before has the gym seemed so alluring. If Henry is driving me insane I can solve that problem by hitting the gym. I can solve that problem AND the problem of my raw chicken ass. Two birds with one stone and all that.


So I'm totally fascinated by everyone's fitness routines now. What kind of cardio, how long? Weight-lifting? How many sets and reps? Do you alternate leg and arm days? When do you do abs? What exercises? Do you take classes? What classes? How do you breathe while running? Through your nose or mouth? Or a combo? What exercise makes your ass hurt? I want a big ol' firm butt. I want you to come bounce quarters off it and stuff. Does the stair climber thing really work? It never feels like it's doing anything? Also, I cannot do Zumba type things as I can't bear to watch myself bounce around like the uncoordinated doofus that I am. What is your fitness routine? Lifting beers while watching TV totally counts so don't be ashamed!

Reader Comments (26)

Toning is the way to go! Tons of reps on a low/medium weight will give you a nice shape on your arms (i am fighting genetically mutated bat wings - thanks Mom) and find that it's really helped. I was always too embarrassed to wear sleeveless tops but now I THINK I'm okay with it.
Oh and try to find a mixup class - 20/20/20 - 20 minutes Pilates for core and Ab strength and development, 20 minutes kickboxing (my LAWD can you work up an instant dripping off your chin and hitting the floor sweat from that) followed by 20 minutes deep stretch. works your whole body and that kickboxing totally kicks ass. Give yourself 6-8 months to see clear results - stick to it and good luck!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblong

About a year and a half ago I decided to take working out seriously and have stuck to it. I run 3 days a week (normally 2 days of 4 miles and one 6-7 miles) and do one spin class a week. I do a circuit weight program on day a week for about an hour too, and on my shorter run days do arms and abs too. If my heart isn't pounding and sweat isn't dripping off my face, I don't feel like I am exercising.

I caught sight of myself in the mirrors of the spin studio the other day and had to double take (I wasn't wearing my glasses) to find out who had the awesome ass and it was me! Spinning and running hills has shaped and firmed my ass more than anything else. Squats and lunges have helped too.

I am addicted to the burn now. I use exercise as therapy and cannot remember what I did before I found out all the goodness of excercise enduced endorphins..

I have got to the point now where I don't have to force myself to th gym anymore which is a huge personal triumph.

Keep up the good work!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I have just started going to the gym and actually accomplishing something myself. I have always been the same way, I go there and do 20 minutes on the eliptical and think that was enough. I have an incredibly in shape boyfriend and so he has been helping me a lot, even though it mostly just makes me want to punch him. I have been loving the Ease into 5k app, it has really helped me work up to running and makes me really feel like I did something with my cardio.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Lee

@ Erin - Running. SO many of my friends love it. Like, they run miles and miles and marathons and shit. How do you breathe? Teach me about the endurance aspect... Is it all about breathing? How fast do you run your miles? I'm at, like, a 12 minute mile and that feels pretty heavy... Which makes me feel like a lard ass but, well, there you are.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

I have two words for you..Boot Camp. It's a killer..once a week at our local community centre, 6:30 am-7:30 am and the instructor mixes it up the exercises every session so you never get bored. Its always a combo of weights and cardio and I hate it while I am doing it but damn, if I don't feel better for it. My issue with the gym is that I am not hard enough on myself so I need someone (and can't afford a personal trainer) to kick my ass in gear. Having others in the class is also motivational to do those 10 more push ups when I just want to give up. I am kind of addicted to it even though, I kind of hate it. I feel stronger, toned and have way more energy for my 2 year old. I still have a gut but it actually shrunk a little bit. Who knew?

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterstella

i can't bear to read anyone else's comment right now since i am so out of shape it sickens me. Meanwhile my....guy tie is on Nutrisystem and just bought himself a Teeter to with the roomful of gym equipment and keeps asking me if he looks thinner and pulls up the shirt to reveal what looks to be six pack coming along. So naturally I feel worse for the wear, okay just plain rubbery, Real time: I just finished a taco salad without any salad in it. ( Taco seasoning in browned meat, cheddar cheese melted, tortilla chips, jalapeno, avacado, salsa, tomato, olives) OH you weren't asking for recipes? Oh right. Well I am just now going to don my walking sneaks and I will take a fast walk around the still life which is my neighborhood. Hey Wait...I gotta tell you something off the topic. Yes, I know it's long but just hear me out.... As you know I wrecked my car ast August, and have been depending upon 'rides", ( getting a Subaru Forester in a couple of days yay) but anyway I needed a ride today and had to call a cab. So I look up taxi services and pick the top of the list Elite. Name sounds good. So the guy pulls up 45 minutes before the pickup time and calls to tell me that he is sitting out in front of my house. I look out the window and sure enough, there is a minivan with a small headed passenger in the front seat. I tell him to move along since it's way to early and my hair is still wet. So. He comes back later and I go out to find his 4 year old sitting in the front seat in child seat. No chest restraint. I am thinking...what am I supposed to do? The car is filthy. I climb in and struggle with the boundaries, Should I risk losing my ride if I say something...but what about the safely of the child? I wind up asking him why she is with him and it turns out he is divorced and has his child until tonight. OH man...all day long in the car with dad. the front seat. I wanted to complain to his boss but it turns out that this is HIS personal company. His stinky van. Before long the child is asking me about " my honey"....and THEN as I try to think of a way to approach the subject of child safety, I suddenly see a HUGE ROACH crawling out of her seat. I yelled to the driver ( this is just after he tells me that he is a "red neck" living back in the woods in an area of KKK people) I compared him to Owen in that movie Planes Trains and Automobiles. I was uncanny that I had just watched that snippet and here I am feeling like Neil Page. So the driver looks over as he is driving and smashes the roach with his bare hand, thows it somewhere and says " Oh you know the people I pick up bring these things along with them). THEN he proceeds to light up a cigarette in the VAN with the window closed. Smoking with his daughter and a customer in an enclosed van. Oh dear..I cough while desperately looking at the child and then at my door for the window controls. I open the ash tray and it's overflowing with stubs. So this guy puts the window down and now t the wind is gushing in, we are swerving around and his cigarette butt is looking like the ashes are going to come flying into the back seat where I am crouching...I am checking the meter and it's already over 20 bucks...i don't know how to tell him to extinguish his cigarette. and geez the kid is turning around engaging me in a conversation and sticking her tongue out. I nervously decide to distract myself by showing her a little magic trick my dad used to do and she is hypnotized by it. " Show me again!" Anyway....finally we arrive at the law office and I pay the dude 27 dollars. He scribbles his number down and rips it out of a notebook and tells me to call him for a ride back. I called the bf instead. would you have handled this situation? Would you have refused to get in the vehicle until he placed his little girl safely in the back? I think I should have done for exercise, I am joining the gym too.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

oh I forgot to mention. That little girl? Her mother had added reddish colored strands, lowlights, to her strawberry blonde hair. I told her that her hair was pretty and she said " Mommy dyed it"...Oi. She then told me that her dad's hair is Lellow.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

I'm eighteen, I used to be overweight and I've lost 40 lbs since I was fifteen to now. I exercise at least four times a week (although I do it from five to six days a week most weeks.) My cardio routine is usually 45 minutes of spinning classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursdays and Saturdays a either do a 5km walk in 30 minutes or I do an hour of elliptical, with the program set on random so that it has intervals and has your heart rate moving, which keeps you burning fat. I do leg routines on Tuesdays and Thrusdays and abs routines on Saturdays. I mostly do abductors, squats and the like for the leg routine and crunches and planking for abs. Also, I occasionally change my leg routines for a 10 minute-long leg workout video I found on Pinterest, that's supposedly used for Victoria's Secret models. I don't know if that's true, but it sure burns your legs and butt and leaves you sore all through the next two (sometimes three) days! So yeah that's what I'm doing and it may seem too much for some people, but I didn't start by doing all this, it took me a while to get here and now that I've been doing it for years, I love it.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMontse

@Montse - Wow. Impressive. Congrats on the lost weight! And hey! Hows about a link to that video you mentioned?

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

Thanks! And sure thing!

It's not that tiring and it's only 10 minutes so it goes by really fast! It left me sore for two days so I think it does work!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMontse

Monica, runni that's been something that I have leared very slowly. I keep a diary of my workouts (lame but I am kind of competitive with myself and need to know that current me can kick old me's ass) and looking back it amazes me of my progress. I have a book that I bought to learn to run which basically started me on a program similar to the couch to 5k method. When I first got to running a mile I ran it in 13 minutes and 30 seconds. Now if I am running outside I can do 5k in about 24 minutes (just under an 8 minute mile) but if I am doing longer runs I go for 9-10 minute pace.

Learning to pace myself has been hell. I really suck at it still so sometimes I have to stop and take a breather or two, but I don't mind as long as I finish. I bought a heart rate monitor and that has helped immensely because my legs often tell me I can go faster but my heart and lungs don't agree. Once I bought my HRM my breathing kind of fell in place, but I do have to remind myself sometimes to breath deeper. I try to breathe out of my mouth because I have found that more comfortable, and my friend who is a trainer told me to do whatever allowed me the most oxygen.

In terms of getting faster, it has been really gradual. I think I remember you saying you we're doing interval training and it works wonders. Also sometimes I just decide on the treadmill that I have done the same pace for too long and experiment. Being competitive with yourself is kind of helpful when you train alone! Also if you get the chance try running outside...I was so nervous about it for 100 million reasons (people will laugh at the chubby girl, I may get lost, it is dangerous, etc.) but I find it so much easier and less distracting. On the treadmill I am always looking at time time and speed and whatnot but outside I don't usually think about it except for checking my HRM every so often.

And if anyone thinks they are too big to run or exercise, unless your doctor says so please don't let it deter you. When I started I was 204lbs and it was hard, but no one actually cared! Once I realised that it was in my head it was a game changer. (And because I know people are nosey, as a result of the exercise I have lost 46 lbs so far.)

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Obviously that should say running and learned, not leared.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin

@Erin - Don't you hate that? You type this great thing and all you can focus on is the spelling/grammar error? And then you're, like, "They know what I meant." And then you're all, "Maybe they think I'm an idiot." And then "I should correct it." And then you're like "I don't need to correct it." And then the fear of everyone thinking you're an idiot wins every time.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

I started running in college, at first a max of 3 miles. I did that with varying consistency until I had my first child. I fell while I was pregnant with him and I stopped. For over a year, I did nothing. Then I saw a picture of myself and thought who in the hell is that? So I started running again very slowly. I started again with a 5K training program. Then I did a 10K program (actually missing the 10K race because of an injury). Then I went all out and signed up for a half and full marathon. I will tell you this, having run 26.2 miles, I sometimes can't believe I did it. Meaning sometimes I run 5 miles and I think how on earth did I run 26.2? It still can be hard now and then. Since you specifically asked about breathing, I breathe through both my nose and my mouth. I don't know if I could get enough oxygen through just my nose. Erin is right about the pacing. It takes a while to find your natural pace and everyone's different. I am a high 8 low 9 min/mile pace on a longer distances. The marathon, I was just at a 10 min/mile pace. Shoes can make a ton of difference too. Since I switched to a lighter shoe, I run almost 30 sec/mile faster than I used to. Also, this is probably a personal preference but I really hate running on a treadmill. Not to say that if you love it, that's not great, but I personally find running outside significantly easier.

Right now I am 8 months pregnant with my second and I ran until I was about 7 months. I wanted to run the whole time but ended up stopping because I get so clumsy and my weight shifts and I am frankly afraid of falling again. I still do TRX training (LOVE IT) twice a week, which I am lucky to have free classes at work. And on my non-TRX days, I try to walk or bike.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjen

Oh and I should have also said good luck and no matter what you do, it's doing something so that's what's important. Plus I think it's great that you are showing your kiddos that it is important to take care of yourself. It's hard to remember that sometimes!

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjen

Monica, Let me give you another reason for hitting up the gym NOW. I am 55 years old. I still get hit on by kids in their 30's. (yeah, your age haha..) As you get older the weight gets harder to get off and it redistributes all on its own. The weaker your muscles are the more your few extra pounds will hurt at my age. My joints are destroyed from chemotherapy when I had breast cancer at age 42, so keeping up muscle tone is imperative to keep moving. Don't just look at it from a cosmetic point of view. Look at it as a reason to enjoy your kids and grandkids in the future. Just another view.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

After birthing my second child I have this unexplainable need to continue obtaining impressive physical feats, so I'm training for a sprint triathlon, which is a 750 meter swim, a 12-mile bike ride and then run a 5K (3.1 miles). I've never done one before, but swimming and running are my thang, and seriously who doesn't know how to ride a bike. The training program I'm doing is one of those couch-to-triathlon types, which is perfect for my saggy baggies, and it's been really fun! I've been training with weights as well, mixing up my workouts everytime I use weights, and implementing a lot of sets I learned from the days (pre-baby births) when I went to a personal trainer. If you have never used a personal trainer I would highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Some of them will do group training, which is what I always participated in, and it was great for learning new sets and ways to challenge your muscles, and best of all - it was really hard! Look into it, you won't be sorry. Plus it's nice to have someone else there motivating you and kicking your ass for you some of the time, so you don't have to do it all yourself.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChrista

I had a "this time I MEAN IT" gym epiphany around this time last year, and I actually stuck with it. You can do it! I try to run 2-3 times a week (did my first half marathon in October, planning to do my first marathon this October!), go to yoga class once a week, and go to strength classes twice a week. I really like cardio boxing class, which I went to on a whim thinking I would probably hate it but what the hell why not try. I also like kettle bell classes, you burn calories like a beast in those! TRX classes are fun too, it kinda feels like circus training. Cheers to you for working out!

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterleah

Another 'naturally thin' person here, who could not COMPREHEND when I got to the point in my life when I could't eat non-stop, all day long. What?

I just happen to be Sporty Spice-- and I really dig being active. I've only joined a gym (YMCA) because I like to swim... would rather be outside, running... or biking, or walking or skipping. I've recently added a yoga class, and though I'm inside-- I enjoy the community of the class and it does help with my strength.

The most important aspect of a 'workout', for me, is that it has to be fun! It may be painful at times, but the fun aspect will keep me comin' back.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

@Cindy - Yes. Totally. The older I get the less working out is about vanity and just about being and feeling strong and healthy. There are some women who are at least 60 in my yoga class and the strength related stuff they do with their bodies is mind-blowing.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

Well there I was, sitting in a comfy chair with my coffee, ready to have a do-nothing much kind of day and you all have gone and motivated me with your stories. So now, off to the gym I go. And I blame (thank?) all of you. Good luck Monica - just keep on.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSlove

I'm doing the 30-day Bikram yoga challenge, which basically involves being cooked for an hour and a half each day. You can read about it here:

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersherewin

This post is so great. I have finally gotten to the same point. I have always wanted to be thinner and more in shape... but actually doing something about it? But now I am. I have completely overhauled my diet and now I am starting to work in the exercise... but I have NO idea what I am doing - so all of this is extremely helpful and motivating. Thanks!

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCaitlyn

I agree with gets much more interesting after 40. I danced five or six days a week when I lived in NYC and walked everywhere until my mid 30s. Once I had my daughter, I didn't get back to exercising for about five years. Now, at 52, I find that I am weaker in terms of muscle strength and not as flexible, but am able to tone up and restore strength when I am consistently working out 3 - 4 times a week. I was told by a trainer that this was because I had danced for so many years. I began the couch to 5K program (inspired by K. Granju), but had to stop the running part. I've never been a runner and there was an amazing difference between walking fast and running on my knees. So now I do a 5K in 30 minutes several times a week, lift weights (lots of reps/low weight), and do yoga stretching almost daily. I wish I could work out more, but there's a lot more to life than the gym. Now that I have some stamina back, I really enjoy fast walking and seem to get outside more often now. A friend asked me why I felt the need to run when a good brisk walk would be better for me and would accomplish the same results in terms of cardio. While I would like to drip with sweat and dance for hours at a time, I can't do that any more. Oh --- swimming in summer.

Taking the time for yourself to be healthy and also to be separate from the demands of family is vital!

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I am a runner - I love running. Love it for the opportunity it gives me to be outside, to be alone for a little while, and to clear my head. BUT I know a lot of people don't love running, and so I think the 'best exercise advice' would be that if you can find something you actually sort of enjoy to really go for that (and hopefully it will also involve some cardio!). I also swim (which can be deadly boring but also soothing in its own way) and do yoga; yoga is so great for strength benefits as well as of course the mental benefits. You actually can get really, really strong doing yoga - planks! arm balances! - and it is a deceptive 'exercise' as sometimes you don't even feel like you're working that hard (though you are) which maybe is a help in some ways ... good luck!

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternicole

Ah man! I was totally going to recommend Zumba in a class! It is totally awesome. Once you realize that your body is never going to do what your instructor's body is doing, you just let go. It is so much fun. The instructor still makes fun of me every once in a while, but it doesn't matter because I am pouring sweat and having so much fun at the same time that it doesn't feel like I am working out.

Also, I like They give you a list of excercies to do and the days to do them. They have really helped my arms. :-)

February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndee

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