Working On It, Week Four: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

I’ve been thinking about buying one of those physical activity-tracking wristbands, such as a Fitbit. Have you ever worn one? Apparently a third of people stop using theirs within six months, which I think is my main concern? I lose interest in things super fast. Also, it seems like they might be an item that’s easy to misplace or break. If you have any experiences to share then I’d be pretty excited about that, thank you.

This week I’ve been wholly focussed on returning to my health and wellness kick after being ill, which hasn’t been easy. “It’s not easy” – me, about so many things this week. My fitness level declines super quick after taking time out. Overall, though, my body is starting to feel great! I’m feel a little stronger and healthier and more accountable for wellness. It’s delightful.

I decided that it’s time to focus on stepping further outside my comfort zone and trying new and slightly more challenging things. My exercise routine has started feeling cruisey. Walking uphill for an hour is good exercise and a huge improvement on couch-sitting but it’s pretty boring and I feel like I’m barely breaking a sweat anymore. So, in my effort to push myself a little harder and further, here’s what has / hasn’t been working:

Working: 30 day fitness challenges

Last week I mentioned that I was starting the 30 Day Ab Challenge. If you decided to join me, how’s it going? (And if you missed last week’s article and you want to join in, it’s not too late! This is the app).

I’ve been contemplating working on core strength for a few months now; not so much to transform into Sally Six-Pack but rather because of how it delivers a whole heap of benefits to an ageing body such as increased bone mass, stamina and focus. Plus I recently witnessed my pal Anne Marie tackle some 30-day strength challenges like a champ and it was truly inspiring. It made me feel like maybe I could kick ass at it too.

(Unfortunately I can’t kick anything because I can barely move. LOL! More on that in a sec.)

So, the good parts: hands down the 30 day deadline; it’s perfect for my short attention span and makes the commitment of trying something new feel less daunting and more achievable. I do have this feeling that as a clueless amateur, maybe I shouldn’t be following an unsupervised ‘one fits all’ program that increases intensity without taking into consideration my specific fitness levels. (I decided to still proceed but with caution and listening to my body).

I’m loving how there are only four ab exercises to master, and every fourth day is a rest day (at least on the ‘Beginner 1’ level. I also appreciate the illustrated instructions on how to do the exercises but I’ve mostly been use them as a reminder; I found that YouTube videos give clearer instructions.

Ab challenge

The not as good parts: it so difficult! At least for me and my weak core. My first day included 5 leg raises, an exercise invented by satan, and ended with an inhumane 24 second plank. Days 2-4 ached a lot.

The targets have been escalating a little too quickly for my non-existent core to deal and so I’ve been cheating a lot. On Day 3 I did the sit-ups on my bed because when I tried to lower my torso onto the floor my abs were just like NOPE. On Day 4, I woke up still aching but this time there was blood involved and so I raced to my doctor, convinced that I’d torn an ab, or something. (Everything was chill, though, the only issue was me not fully understanding how the contraceptive pill works).

Now it’s Day 5 and things are far less sore and dramatic. In fact I’m feeling really motivated to continue and my abs are starting to feel tight, like they might be getting stronger. Right now I feel like I can actually do this, become a person who has strong core muscles.

How did you go?


Not working (yet): Bravery

What exercises get you going? A few years ago I tried boxing and loved it, although sadly there are too many barriers for me to pick it up again right now. So I’m trying to open my mind to other non-treadmill workouts that will offer a similar challenges and diversity. Some of you have already given me great suggestions in previous columns, like martial arts and roller derby, that I’ve been filing away for the coming months. (I think yoga will be the first one I try).

I’ve mentioned my extreme fear of group fitness classes once or twice now and it’s still a thing that I’m trying to work up the guts to conquer. It doesn’t help that the classes all have ambiguous names like “BODYJAM” and “HHILT,” which don’t paint a clear picture as to what’s involved and which fitness level it’s aimed at. I’m too much of a scaredy cat to ask the staff because I know that once I have answers, I’ll be out of excuses. So for now, I’m just casually lurking in the doorways of exercise studios, trying to psych myself up to walk through. It’s a process. I think I’ll get there soon, though.


Not working (yet): Swimming

Last month I got this wild idea that swimming at the gym pool would be a super fun way to get fit, never mind that it’s been roughly fifteen years since my last attempt and I recall being pretty shit.

Regardless, I was highly motivated and enthusiastic. I ordered and returned various swimsuits online until I found one offering my preferred level of skin coverage and then waited until late-night, when the gym pool was near-empty, to make my maiden voyage.

I choked, literally and figuratively, because swimming is apparently not like riding a bike. I dog paddled for about 15 minutes until a child jumped into my lane and started showing me up with his legit swim strokes.

I’m still feeling motivated to keep trying but also debating my approach. I could try to learn the proper strokes but also, dog paddling kinda feels like a valid workout? Fifteen minutes of flailing around left me fucking exhausted. Does pool etiquette dictate that you need to use an Olympic certified swim stroke? Is it cool to side-eye 10-year-olds who out-lap me in the slow lane or will that get me kicked out? Are they even supposed to be there unsupervised at midnight? Get off my lawn.

Tell me about your unspoken rules, gym swimmers.

What have you been up to this week? Tell me everything. Have you joined the Autostraddle Working On It social group? We’ve been having some good discussions on there, come on in.

Coming up next week: Hydration and meditation!

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Founding member. Former writer. Still loves Autostraddle with her whole heart.

Crystal has written 320 articles for us.


  1. in regard to swimming, the easiest stroke to learn is probably breaststroke because it’s kind of similar to doggy paddling when it’s slow. it’s not as hard to breath as front crawl, and you don’t even need to put your head under if you don’t want. make sure you stretch your legs (the inside thigh area and groin) before because the frog kicks may strain there otherwise.

    • Breaststroke is the best stroke! Here’s why: you’re using the force of the pull and the kick to propel you forward in a glide, so it requires much less movement on your part to travel; it’s amazing! I love how rhythmic it is, and also how at no point do you feel like you’re drowning. It was my event back when I used to compete in high school. I think you should try it!

    • I seems everyone is in agreement that I should be starting with breaststroke, so I will! Thank you, swimmers.

    • In my swim instructor days, we used to teach breaststroke waaaaaaaaaaaay farther down the track – mostly because the kick is really hard to get right. (I don’t even get it quite right.)

      To me, back and front crawl are wayyyy easier. At least to teach.

  2. The 30 Day ab challenge (Intermediate 2):
    Day 1: Lean back and raise your hands like a Ballerina..huh?Ten minutes later: Oh.Oh, f***.
    Day 2: Ok, that’s new,cool!
    I shall have the abs of steel!(insert Austrian accent)
    Day 3:I would like to rescind my opinion that the Ballerina Twist is the most evil exercise ever.Hello Long Arm Crunch.
    Day 4: My neck, my back, all of it hurts, even my …
    Day 5: REST DAY!(cries with joy)
    Day 6: Sorry, this is not happening before I leave the house on a Monday morning.
    Day 7:The new Day 6. Whut? How many you want of this now?
    LUCE! I can do this!! I can do this!!!

  3. I used to work as a lifeguard (for a public pool though, not a gym one) and I remember the evening lane swim being soooo boring. There’s probably not a lifeguard if it’s a small gym but if there is one you could ask them for swimming technique tips, like how to do the breast stroke (like Kate mentioned).

    As for etiquette, side-eying fast kids is a-ok as far as I know. They shouldn’t be unsupervised! Dumb kids. And flailing is totally okay. One thing you could also get is a Flutterboard and then hold that and kick, if you’d like an exercise that is more of a ‘rest’ one in between laps of flail. ;3

    • Nooooo don’t ask the lifeguard for swimming tips! The lifeguard has to watch the whole pool, they don’t have time for that!

      (At least I certainly didn’t!)

      • Hah yes if there are a swimmers then definitely don’t! I’m just remembering lane swim where there would be only one or two people in the pool and that’s it.

  4. Breast stroke is fairly elementary to learn and more efficient than dog paddling — it’s like “frog paddling.” :-) A couple of Youtube tutorials would probably get you going on that!

  5. Also another great way to look like a boss in a pool is to grab a kickboard and start kicking. Then you can tell anyone who side-eyes you it’s leg day. :-)

  6. I speak for dog paddling, but I am told breast stroke, frog stroke, or really anything in the water that keeps you on your stomach or back is good for the back. It’s suppose to help your spine become less compressed. Swimming could also be a good total body workout as you could be working out your whole body & as you progress you can add water weights for harder work out. I’ve done water weights a few times and I do like it. Sadly I have no pool at home & the Venice Beach branch of my gym doesn’t either.

    • Is frog stroke similar to breast stroke but without going underwater? I’ve done that a few times and I’m really into it. It’s good to hear about spine decompression, I’d really like to start focusing on activities that are good for my back.

    • Breaststroke is actually not that great for your back – when you come up to breathe, you have to put your lower back into compression, and that can be really painful.

        • It depends on your back, I suppose. I know front breathing strokes like breaststroke and butterfly can really mess with mine.

    • David Sedaris has one of those voices that it’s his voice that rings through your head as you read what he’s written. I know people who swear by their little fit bits, but I don’t know anyone who has had a garbage truck named after themselves. Ah, David Sedaris. Living the dream, 10,000 steps at a time.

    • I also enjoyed that article. I loved my fitbit until I forgot to bring my charger with me on a NYC trip where I know I walked the most I have ever walked in a day, BUT HOW MUCH DID I WALK?! I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE I HAD A DEAD FITBIT! and I kind of resented it after that for dying when I needed it the most.

  7. Definitely try yoga first. Everyone is so focused on themselves in yoga that you don’t have to worry about anyone looking at you and judging you. I also like yoga because for everyone, there’s one thing they’re good at and one thing they’re terrible at.

    I would also highly recommend derby. Great place to get fit with a community of queer women!

    Good luck, Crystal! Be patient with yourself and proud of everything you’ve accomplished thus far!

    • Starting with yoga is a rad suggestion, thanks. I’ve been trying yoga at home via youtube and it requires every ounce of concentration, so I can definitely see how people in the class would be way too focussed on themselves to focus on me.

      (On a rational level I realise that no one in ANY class is likely to be looking at/judging me, but the intensely shy part of my brain struggles to believe it).

      • I register fairly high on the social anxiety scale, and I love yoga classes. Really no one is paying attention to you, and it’s easy to pick up from watching the people around you. There are usually people of a wide range of fitness and skill levels, that you won’t feel intimidated.

        Strong instruction and adjustments from a good teacher can really help strengthen your practice, and keep you engaged. There’s always something new to learn, and a next step to progress to for each pose. There’s little therapeutic life lessons peppered in along the way, and I always walk away feeling calmer, stronger, more focused, and more present. Resting, working at your own pace, and being mindful of injuries is encouraged. Plus, you get to nap at the end, and sometimes there’s even a little mini-massage included in that nap! And you get to work on those extra credit scissoring flexibility points! 2 words: yoga booty.

  8. i started the ab challenge 3 days ago, i really like it so far. four varied exercises that take 15 minutes total is perfect for me and my attention span. plus i like checking off lists.

    just today actually, an acquaintance of mine asked if i had lost weight. my internal reaction really surprised me. i felt pretty weird about it and a few hours later am still thinking about it. i’m pretty average weight, almost underweight and have never gotten comments about it in my life. still mulling it all over, and realizing that incorporating thinking about WHY i’m wanting to get fit is important too.

    • It’s not uncommon for people (especially women) who strength train to gain weight (muscle mass) but look as if they may have lost weight because they have become more toned or gain muscle definition. People don’t know that, and get shitty about it, because beauty=skinny in the toxic parts of our culture. I’m sorry someone said that to you, it sounds really off-putting.

  9. I actually signed up for swimming lessons not too long ago. Before camp because i sort of swore to myself I would learn before camp. I enjoy the water a lot now. Sharing lanes is hard especially when the person youre sharing with does legit strokes. I try to stay out of the middle lane because per etiquette its more for ‘experienced’ swimmers?? Ive been practicing my freestyle and breathing. I think swimming is a great way to build up the lungs. Doing things in the water vs land is really different.

    Most of my gym time is split into 12 weeks. 4-5 times out of the week Im doing weights and the other ‘off days’ are cardio for 30 minutes. It feels pretty good to have a routine established. At least I know what to expect week after week.

    Re: fitness trackers…well when Nike first came put with their Nike fuel band I had 2 co workers jump up and buy. They probably stopped using it 8 months later because they either forgot or they got tired of it. My phone lets me track my steps day by day so I really try to hit 10000+ steps because I found that it counts steps if I drop my phone or handle it roughly.

    • what kind of stuff does your swim teacher talk about? I’m getting back into it after a long break; half-way thinking of getting a lesson in myself.

      • @rebcalle Well I found this guy in LA named Matt Harrigan and I was able to learn from him in 6 hours. Split into two 3 hour classes. I WAS REALLY BLOWN AWAY at how fast I learned. I mean this is from being fairly comfortable in water that’s about 4 feet to jumping into 14 feet. I did it over a Saturday and Sunday but at the end of level 1 on Saturday, he lets us know who he thinks is ready for level 2 sunday and who should practice. IT WAS SO GREAT. He’s not very technical like he doesn’t tell you how to do a stroke properly. He just really wants you to learn how to be comfortable in the deep end.

    • It’s impressive that you were able to learn in six hours! Suddenly learning how to swim feels a lot more achievable.

      • It was really achievable with Matt. I think I’ve referred at least 2 or 3 other people to him and they all know how to swim now or at least be comfortable in water that’s more than 6feet deep..I was in class with this girl who said she’s tried to learn how to swim for the past 2 or 3 years. Private lessons that she said went to waste because it was like she wasn’t making progress. She went as far to say that going to Matt was basically a ‘last resort’. The very next day she was with me jumping into 14 feet of water with Matt standing outside the pool.

        I tried doing private lessons too BTW. For 30min each session. And that was just scheduled whenever we could work out a it was pretty much 2x a week. I got the basics down but I never really felt like I could go into 5feet (i’m 5’1″) without worrying about drowning or not being able to float..Like when I would see 4.5ft I would do a little internal panic and REALLY work to getting to the edge. Now I can basically jump into my sister’s pool at 12ft without anyone there.

    • Yessssss my suggestion was going to be hitting up some adult lessons. Depending on your skill level, stroke correction is another thing to look into.

      I used to teach teen/adult lessons and I saw all skill levels, from “can’t put my face in the water” to prepping for the high school swim team. Your instructor won’t judge, I promise!

  10. I think this week I actually put on muscle mass…I could definitely feel it when I ran today. Sprints felt a little harder on the body in general.

  11. OMG, I have so many ideas:

    1. Fitbits: I’m wearing one right now. I bought it in November 2013, and I’ve worn it ever since. I have the One, I clip it to my bra, and then I go about my life. Since getting it I’ve lost about 50lbs, which is not directly because of the fitbit, but definitely was aided by having real (if approximate) numbers of about how active I was. (Which is never as active as I feel like I am…) I think having a clip-on is more pleasant than a wrist band, personally.

    2. Group Classes: I will second everyone who said yoga first. I do yoga, and there’s relatively little opportunity to look at classmates, because you need to focus on your own balance and how your body feels first. The classes are also great, because if you are over taxed you can rest in a pose called child’s pose, which is pretty much the fetal position, until you get better.

    3. Swimming: You will get better if you stick with it… I couldn’t swim 50 yards without drinking pool when I started my fitness quest, and now I can swim a mile or more. I did that by watching other swimmers, watching lots of youtube technique videos, and very occasionally talking to lifeguards for tips. Also, feel free to side-eye the ten year old, and definitely tell him or her that you two need to split the lane, so you are each swimming on your own side. (If there are three or more you need to do circle swimming, which I actually just hate and avoid like the plague.)

    And that’s how I got more fit while avoiding talking to strangers. I’m not a people person.

    • i never thought of yoga as being a solitary exercise! i really want to take a class but i feel nervous about the idea that everyone will be better than me, etc.

    • i never thought of yoga as being a solitary exercise! i really want to take a class but i feel nervous about the idea that everyone will be better than me, etc.

      • It can be super solitary! Even if many people are ‘better’ than you (which is really just that they’ve been at it longer) I think you should try it, because any person that does yoga has been new to it and not known what they are doing. People have always been very warm and non-judgmental in my experience.

      • It really is. You are in a group, and I only look at other people to see if I heard the instructor correctly, the rest of the time I am so focused on trying to balance myself that I do not see other people at all. I watched a few yoga programs on hulu and practiced at home for a few weeks until I felt ready to start in a class setting, but I think it would have been better if I started in the class, because then the instructor can help you if you feel stuck about how to get into a pose.

    • “And that’s how I got more fit while avoiding talking to strangers”.

      Can I borrow this for the title of my memoir.

      Also, I didn’t realise that there were clip on versions of the fitbit. That makes it much more appealing to me.

  12. Oh man, the last time I tried to swim was so embarrassing! I couldn’t even float on my back.

    Right now just walking a few miles is a challenge, but who knows, maybe I’ll try swimming again some day

    • everybody says oh its just floating which is easy FALSE floating is tricky b/c you can’t do it while stationary; you can only float if you’re moving your arms and/or legs in certain ways which let’s face it is pretty much swimming already.

      walking is also under-appreciated. i switched from cushy running shoes to flat-bottom shoes to try and rehab my feet from having shoes with too much rise. It worked, but i had to change how i walk and now just going down the hall i can feel it in my glutes, abdomen and back. It’s like a full-body workout just going down the hall. cheers to walking several miles!

      • I used to be on a synchronized swimming team.

        The best girl on our team? Couldn’t float to save her life. She just had really high muscle mass/low fat mass. If she tried to float on her back, she just sank straight to the bottom of the pool.

    • I agree re walking. I’ve worked up to doing about 90 minutes per day and my body feels pretty good for it. Good luck with keeping it up!

  13. Literally so excited to read your swimming stuff on here (also you’re very funny ‘get off my lawn’ lol). I think if you like dog paddling, doooo ittt because heck yes that’s a challenging workout and completely legit.

    For info on swim technique, I like ppl’s ideas above of youtube or Googling swim technique blog or magazine to see diagrams and descriptions of the different strokes or other swim workout ideas. I think there are some links in the AS group for your column.

    If you have a friend that swims, could be good to ask them to come to the pool and do a mini-coaching session. My mom taught me and it was chill and easier than figuring it out on my own.

    In short some ppl say swimming is boring but that is A LIE there are so many things to try for mixing it up plus you get to be wonderfully buoyant and have rad shoulder muscles and core. I hope you enjoy the pool! #ASswimteam

  14. I was doing well with the 30 day challenge! But then I developed a chest infection which put a huge damper on my efforts. I want to like swimming but mostly it makes me feel like I’m going to drown.

    • Oh damn, I hope you recover quickly! Hopefully it’s not too difficult to pick the challenge up where you left off (once you’re all better, of course)

  15. I danced ballet for most of my life and not that I’m old and creaky, going to barre only classes is a really great way to stay in shape. Ballet is super challenging and it’s all about focusing on perfecting your technique. You’re really not looking at other people, though the instructor will definitely critique your form. It’s a great alternative to the yoga everyone is suggesting. You don’t have dress a certain way for an adult ballet class either.

    • I LOVE barre class. I started a few weeks ago and for the first week I was seriously concerned I would never be able to walk again (my current activities involve mostly core and upper body strength. I very seriously thought I might not make it down the stairs after the first class. So many plies.) but I stuck it out and I will never look back.

    • Thanks for the rec! It sounds like it would be an interesting challenge. There are a few barre classes in Sydney, maybe I’ll find a convenient one for beginners.

  16. So, I just downloaded the 30 day ab app. I was breezing through the first three things and scoffed at the idea of a 25 second plank being a challenge… three seconds into it, and I was shaking! These are inhumane! Hopefully, I stick with this challenge and can get away with doing a longer plank without falling over or dying or whatever.

    • YES. I’m in my second week and I still can’t do a plank for more than 30 seconds. Sometimes I can do two shorter planks equaling about 40 seconds… only on a really good day. I just keep going and do whatever my body allows me to. Good luck with sticking with it!

  17. My girlfriend and I bought our fitbits just over 5 weeks ago and while I was super doubtful in the beginning, I really enjoy mine now. I will admit that it still feels a little like a house arrest bracelet but hey, it keeps me from losing it.

    Being able to track what I’m actually doing (approximately, as with all of these devices) has kicked me in the butt to actually /do/ something and the competition aspect of having day or week challenges is a bit of a drive… More so for my girlfriend than myself. Trying to meet at least the daily goals makes me feel better about being too tired to go to the gym and do something properly strenuous.

    Downsides are the lack of waterproofing and having to do more work to track workouts. It doesn’t work well with tracking of weight machines which feature heavily in my workout routine.

  18. Group exercise classes terrified me, but having a friend or two to go with helps me soo much. I’ve done some yoga and zumba classes and enjoyed both. My sister is super carefree and silly at the gym so I feel less awkward when I’m with her than if I went by myself

    • I agree, finding a friend to try a group class is a great idea! Helps you feel less awkward, and you can laugh together at feeling awkward later!

    • It’s great that it’s worked for you! Zumba seems really fun.

      Sadly I don’t know anyone who’s a member of my gym (or who would pay the wildly steep guest fee to do a single class). However, I have asked one of my buddies to try out some non gym based group activities (team sports etc) with me, and I feel far less intimidated already.

  19. Here’s the trick with swimming: you are floating. Swimming becomes hard when you fight the water. Spend a few minutes floating with your face in the water (uh, take breaths tho) and then think forwar momentum. A kickboard held in front of you arms outstretched supergal style keeps your arms doing something while your legs kick.

    Sidebreathing will help you keep from flailing. When you lift your head straight up to breathe it drags your center of gravity down slowing your forward momentum and like downshifting it takes a second to get going again. Lurching. Flailing.

    Strokes to try that don’t involve the breathing issue or front breathing is helpful:
    Side stroke
    Elementary backstroke

    I second the just using s kickboard and doing laps. Great abs and leg workouts!!

    • Thanks for the tips! You sound like you know your stuff. I’m definitely into this idea of using a kickboard.

  20. OK UGH I’LL DOWNLOAD THIS APP. maybe if one of us gets in super amazing shape and the other doesn’t, people will have an easier time telling us apart at camp.

    i had been doing so awesome on my diet but then i went swimming and felt so awesome about myself that i felt i deserved nachos, and everything went to hell. i am begrudgingly back on track.

    • This is a genius idea. How about we both get in shape but in different ways? You can form a six pack and I’ll form biceps? They’ll be our differentiators on the mountain. Or do you want the biceps? I’m not fussy. Six Pack Stef does have a nice ring to it.

  21. For a water workout that doesn’t involve actual coordinated swimming, just treading water can be pretty effective exercise because it involves constantly moving your arms and legs all at once while just staying in one spot. (Just make sure you are near a wall or shallow area so you can find some support if you get too tired.)

    • I like playing “survival spy” pretend, like if some evil mastermind tossed me in a well, how long could I just tread? What if my hands are tied behind my back? What if both hands and feet are tied? (You can look up youtube videos for how to swim in both situations. Look at this ridiculousness.)

    • Treading water is DEFINITELY a workout! Trust me, my synchronized swimming coaches found PLENTY of ways to make that clear to us.

  22. I’m loving the thirty day ab challenge! I did not expect a rest day and so the first one I got almost made me cry tears of joy. I feel like I’m not paying attention to form well enough, so I’m gonna work on that more this week. Also I’ve been yoga-ing which has been excellent. I’m really trying to do core stuff berceuse I’m hoping it will alleviate a lot of pain I’ve been having in my lower back. It might be kind of working?!

    Also I’m against Fitbit because Surveillance (she says, while typing on her iPhone). There’s a really interesting piece about fit bits and tech and work and productivity in the latest issue of the New Inquiry.

    • What level are you doing on the ab challenge? I also have similar feelings about my form, sometimes around the 40th sit-up my form is similar to that of a rag dolls.

      Yeah, I tried yoga for the first time this week and my back felt amazing! At least temporarily. I’m a huge sloucher and so it was nice to be reminded of what a straight spine feels like.

      I’ll check out that article, thanks1

  23. Ok I’m sure I’ve seen it on here before but my ultimate fitness app is Zombies, Run! made by Six to Start who also now make a Couch to 5 K app edition and a 7 min workout game designed to make you a superhero !!! Basically in Zombies, Run! (or as I do it, Zombies, powerwalk) you are listening to an interactive story where you are one of a few survivors after a zombie apocalypse. The game knows where you go and for how long and you collect supplies as well as progress in the story. It compelling first season (and free download) features a LESBIAN love story (complete surprise) and really keep me moving for longer then normal to find out what happens. six to start also have another game called The Walk which is like an MI5 secret agent one where you unlock the story after certain durations of activity. I don’t normally like Zombies at all but Zombies Run story is so compelling, I put all that horror fear behind me. You can also switch on a mode where Zombies randomly chase you during your walk / run and you have to really increase your speed to outrun them. I never do this (too scared haha!) but my sister plays this Mode at night – which will certainly give you a fear fix and get your heart pumping.
    I love mixing gaming / virtual reality with my fitness. Using a combo of these apps and MyFitnessPal is what keeps me going. I too have been hit by some bad health this last week (combined with the coldest week Australia has seen in centuries) and I haven’t been able to work towards my basically goals (30 mins exercise almost every day).

  24. First comment, guess I’ll jump right in :)

    I used to have a jawbone up (fitbit-like). I bought it because it sounded like a really cool way to encourage myself, but ultimately it ended up seeming kind of pointless for me. I could see it being useful if walking was your main form of exercise but for me it just didn’t seem to give me a big benefit over entering everything manually.

    Swimming is awesome. I started swimming again a few years ago and I was terrible. I think the lifeguards thought I was going to drown. What helped me was looking up youtube videos of people demonstrating the strokes on land and then practicing them in my bedroom before I went to the pool. Super lame but no one saw me and it seemed to help.

    I just moved a pretty significant distance to go to graduate school and switched gyms in the process. I do Muay Thai/BJJ/MMA stuff but I am awful at it. Its fun but way above my fitness level, everybody else has rock solid abs while all 300 lbs of me is sweating on the floor. I was super attached to my old gym and the environment is very different here. Like big screen TV playing UFC fights in the waiting room and everyone being super intense about their work outs. I mean they’re also super sweet to me but just uuggghh so intimidating. But wtv, I love the sport so I’m going to keep going until I get used to it :)

    • Thanks for commenting! If my gym played UFC on the screens then I’d be pretty intimidated too. It’s cool that you’ve found a sport that you love so much.

  25. So, I did not start the ab challenge last week, but I think I’m going to start it this week, along with this super sweet pushup challenge I found!! (The goal is to get you to do 10 proper pushups in a row from the plank position, so they start with you doing them on a bench, because the elevation helps to get you strong enough to do them on the floor)

    I totally relate to your swimming fiasco… I can’t swim well at all–like I would totally drown in deep water. I asked to get signed up for swimming lessons at the aquatic center near me for a birthday present, but they were full for the summer, so I’ll have to wait until fall to begin, but I really do want to get better because I feel like it’s totally good exercise! And like, water, so you’re not aware that you’re sweating! I can totally see myself 20 years from now being the mom who swims laps every morning before carting the kidlets to school.

    • That challenge looks rad, thanks for posting! I definitely cannot do a single floor push up and so a challenge that starts with a lower impact alternative sounds great. Good luck with it!

  26. Crystal, BodyJam is dancing! It’s actually really fun and silly (think super campy and flamboyant), but I think probably a little much for a first voyage into a fitness class because people get real enthused about it and they get…verbal about it. At least they did at the gym I used to substitute teach at. But! Any of the Les Mills classes (anything with the word “Body” in front of it—BodyPump, BodyCombat, etc) are geared toward all levels, so often the instructor will call modifications to certain moves for different comfort zones. Instructors will also come over and adjust you and come over and do exercises/dance moves with you, so that makes it much easier to pick them up over time.

    • Ohhh. I’m going to take your word on it being too intense for a newbie like me. But that’s really helpful to know about classes beginning with ‘Body’ having modified moves.

      I’ve recently started trying a cardio aerobic home video situation and I’m totally rubbish at it. But it does offer low impact alternatives to more difficult exercises and I’m suuuuper into it.

  27. I LOVE GROUP FITNESS CLASSES! I cannot recommend them enough! In my experience, the instructors always offer modifications to exercises so you can do the exercises at your level. HIIT is high intensity interval training and is my favorite class and the best workout. Basically, you alternate between cardio and strength training. So, like 30 seconds of jumping jacks! 20 bicep curls. BodyPump is a strength training class that works all muscle groups, which I love because I find circuit training intimidating. Fitness classes can be really supportive, fun spaces!

  28. Also yes to all the walking! Walking is a great way to be active. It’s something we do everyday and doesn’t really cost anything. Plus it helps you see and feel your environment. When I go running I find that I run a little better if I’m at different places because it’s very visually stimulating.

  29. People I know with FitBits are obsessed with them! Like screenshot their progress and post them on Instagram obsessed. That’s what I know.

    I downloaded the 30 day app and joined the group, so…I guess I’m now officially on board?

    Everyone has said already that yoga group classes are the most comfortable; I also think various dance classes are equally comfortable/fun, if that sounds like your thing. (Let’s be real, it doesn’t sound like your thing, but I really like them.)

    To combine the swimming w the easing into group participation, maybe there is, like, a swimming class for beginners? I don’t know anything but that seems…possible.

    • Rad! Good luck with the ab challenge.

      Ha yeah, dance classes probably aren’t my thing. I’m considering aqua aerobics as my entry into group fitness because it might help with my general buoyancy and comfort around people. So I think you might be onto something there.

  30. Crystal, once you move here, if you want legit swim lessons i’ll help you! i’m trying to get back into swimming and need a swim buddy :(

  31. Any swimmers in Boston? I’m a swammer (my friend’s name for people who did swim team in high school, which was 12 years ago) looking for a pool and/or motivation buddies!

    • there’s a couple swim/swammers in the AS group for this column! (linked in the column).

  32. I think the key to exercise bravery is to just commit and then not think about it until its too late to escape. I’ve definitely found the more I think about things the more likely I am to talk myself out of them. And then you also get the excellent sense of achievement that you did something despite being terrified (and in my case, this is mostly free falling from a great height and hoping that a piece of silk catches me. Terror is fairly regular in my life).

    So far so good on the ab challenge, though I am fairly sure that by the end of the month I will never want to think about long arm crunches ever again. I’m also a little scared at how much the number of reps increases each day… I’m having visions of not being able to bend at the waist by day 30.

    Crystal, if you’re into boxing you should probably give BodyCombat a crack, is al based on boxing and martial arts. In my experience, no one really pays any attention to anyone else in group classes, they’re too buys being focussed on what they’re doing – and the instructors always give options for different fitness levels. Don’t think! Just do!

    • My gym has BodyCombat! I’ve definitely been curious about it. Does it usually include partner work? I’m a little hesitant about that. But ‘don’t think, just do’ is really great advice, I should put it on a fridge magnet or embroider it on my gym towel or something.

      Yeah, the speed at which the ab challenge escalates is so daunting.. and I’m on the beginner level. I can only imagine the intensity of intermediate.

      • Nope, no partner stuff. There are optional hand weights if you want more challenge punching the air, but thats as complicated as it gets. Some of the other Les Mills classes like BodyJam have little combinations of exercises you need to learn, which always make me feel like a total unco. Combat is just kicking and punching and the odd push up.

        I’m up to 4 sets of 55 of each thing so far. How high can it possibly go? (I feel like I am going to regret asking that question in ~ 15 days)

        • Ah, there aren’t any sets on the beginner level. Just one. Keep us posted on how your program goes!

          Thanks for using the word ‘unco’ but also for the extra info on that class, it sounds pretty great.

  33. It’s awesome that so many people are into this column! I’ve just made two weeks straight of daily yoga, with a 6.5 hour, 12 mile hike on the weekend in addition. It feels pretty great although not every workout feels Amazing and some days all I have in me is 30 minutes of hip stretching.

    The other thing that is already proving really healthy is the lifestyle shift required by deciding to exercise daily, even just for 30 minutes…I’m a pretty extroverted person, but it’s easy for me to overcommit and spend all my time socially (which ends up meaning drinking too often and spending extra money I don’t really have). Making the time to get that exercise cuts down on a lot of excess, and instead I am spending more time reading, cooking, and sleeping.

    This week the plan is to stick with the yoga and meditation, and although this weekend is Pride in my city, my girlfriend and I are thinking we should kick the festivities off with another early morning hike. The inevitable mid-day beers will be totally earned…haha.

    • Congrats on two weeks of daily yoga! That’s some good discipline.

      All the best with getting more exercise onto your calendar. I had a similar issue with my social life leading to excess spending and food/drink indulgences. My solution was setting an allowance for how many times per week I can go socialise — e.g, I allow myself 1x social activity that involves not-so-healthy activities, such as drinking and eating crappy but delicious bar food, and then 1x activity that involves something quite harmless like going to the cinema or a friend’s place for a home cooked meal. (But then I’m an introvert, maybe extroverts would prefer more balance than that).

      • Dividing up “harmful/harmless” activities is actually kind of a great idea…maybe I’ll pay attention this week and see what my tendencies are.

  34. RE: stepping out of your comfort zone

    I think it’s a different process for everyone. When I first started doing the gym I totally stayed away from the free weights area. I went into the group room that had the colored weights because I felt embarrassed I didn’t know what I was doing and that people who are regulars would stare at me. And I am really really shy around people I don’t know (Many of you who know me from camp might find that hard to believe) I think at that time I was really introverted and I just was uncomfortable with myself at the time. Now, I think I’ve grown to actually love the way I look and feel when I look in the mirror. That and reading about how to lift weights or what was proper technique and form. From the beginning, I knew inside that I was not going to be that girl who did Zumba classes or yoga (though I’m considering yoga now to help recuperate) At first I was even embarrassed to use the cardio machines because I didn’t know how to use them and the gym staff were either missing or busy with clients. I don’t think I even tried the elliptical until 6 months into my membership!!! LOL. On bodybuilding dot com I read a comment that said “Remember that even Arnold schwarzenegger started with small weights. No rookie steps into the gym and grabs a 40lb dumbbell off the rack.” That comment still sticks into my mind. I repeated that to myself until I could pick up something more than 15lbs with one hand. And I say it now when I see someone I know is starting their own journey.

    It’s weird but I think that at first I really wanted abs (just like a lot of other people) I still don’t have abs BTW but I think I’m the fittest I’ve been in my whole life. I can see a lot of the muscle that I’ve put on and I know that 3 years ago I would not be able to leg press my own weight.

    And I smile just the tiniest bit to myself and feel a surge of pride in my body whenever I can outpress a guy who tries to outdo me.

    • Thanks for sharing more about your journey, it’s helpful :) It’s so great that you’re feeling the fittest you’ve ever been! I hope those abs come along soon, if that’s still your goal.

    • “And I smile just the tiniest bit to myself and feel a surge of pride in my body whenever I can outpress a guy who tries to outdo me.”

      Haha, this, so much! Got the most condescending look from a dude-bro at the gym who then failed to do a single chin up while I was waiting for the bar. It was immensely satisfying outdoing him.

      • If one thing can get you out of your comfort zone its the thought that you can outdo the dude bros. Hahaha

  35. I have been using a Fitbit just so I could see how little I do, I hopes that it would motivate me. And it really did! Being the type of person who is motivated by seeing actual numbers and keeping track of my caloric intake and my weight and water I drink, Fitbit is wonderful. It helps that I walk a lot at my job. But as someone mentioned above, Fitbit is great if you walk or run. Other activities do not add to your step count at all, but you can enter them manually in the app or on their website to adjust your calories burned.
    The Fitbit app also has challenges you can enter with friends to see who can get the most steps in a week or weekend or a day, and I find that motivating. Their website also offers groups to join (much like autostraddle) where you can see how your step progress stacks up against others in the same group.
    As far as losing the Fitbit, I can see that. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about people losing their wristbands. But I use the Fitbit One, which can clip inside a pocket or bra, so that helps me from losing it.
    Alright long post but I do love my Fitbit and it’s helped me a lot.
    I think an Autostraddle Fitbit group should be a thing!! :D

    • Thanks for pitching in with your Fitbit review! I didn’t realise you could set up groups until today, that’s pretty great. If I end up going through with buying one then I’ll do that and let you know. (But also, feel free to set up your own AS fitbit group – I can publish the details in next week’s column for other fitbit lovers to join).

      • Made a group. If you do end up posting it in the next column, it can be found by searching “Autostraddlers” in the Activity Groups section of the Community column on the Fitbit site. Direct link:
        I believe you have to be signed in to a Fitbit account to view the group, but owning a Fitbit is not required to make an account.

  36. I had a fitbit wannabe fitness tracker thing for work (we bought a few samples to see if they worked properly before proposing it to a client) and it blinks red and buzzes when you’re working out really strenuously? Yeah, it went off telling me I set my goals for the day! But I was just actually brushing my cat. Not a euphemism guys. Haha.

    • But what size is your cat? It could be a valid workout!

      I really do wish cat-related activities were factored into fitness trackers, like

      Bending down to pick up things your cats knocked off the dresser = 3 calories
      Removing all the white fur from your brown three-seater couch = 15 calories

      I’d buy it.

  37. I really like Ruth Kazez’s advice for swimming.

    Basically? Yes, it will be hard at first. But start where you are. You don’t have to swim 2000 meters in your first workout. If you swim 200 meters, that’s a freaking victory.

    Start slowly, and work your way up. Form videos and coaching are important, but they’ll only get you so far. The main thing you have to do is build up your cardiovascular endurance and give your body the muscle memory so the strokes become second nature.

    As Ruth herself says:

    “Now, about this breathing and discomfort business. No gasping and no 100% efforts at this stage. This should be constructive exercise, NOT do or die. Will there come a day when you are completely relaxed and breathing gently and easily throughout the swim? Not really. The wish to be a bit better, which in aerobic sports like swimming and running means faster, remains with us. As we improve, most of us strive harder and continue to raise our heart rates, so there is always a bit of panting. It feels good. Yes, it is actually a pleasure to work out hard, to feel used up at the end of the swim. Oddly enough, most of find that we are more productive during the rest of the day as a result of working out.”

    I am 100% serious about helping you (or any other Sydneysiders who happen to be reading this!) with form and such! That goes for this and for the other sports I do (running/lifting, mostly). I will not judge anyone because again, we all start where we are. We’re all on a journey, and I want to do it together!

    • Where do you swim now? I might just take you up on that offer when the weather warms up a little, thanks!

      But in the meantime I’ll get reading on that advice, it sounds encouraging.

      • I… Haven’t been lately, heh heh heh. But when I do I’m usually at Ashfield Pool. However! My favorite pool in Sydney is right next to your office! So once it’s not goddamn frigid outside, we should go!

  38. I used to have an UP24, and thought it was GREAT. I even wrote a thing about it for a friend’s website:

    But you’re right, a few months after I wrote the thing about how much I loved it, it broke and I didn’t replace it. What I will say though, is that it was the perfect gateway drug for working out and getting fitter, and I would still absolutely recommend!

    Really getting in to the 30 day challenges too! I use the website version the YouTube vids for the stuff I wasn’t sure about were super helpful, and I’m finding that printing out the 30 day chart keeps me on track better than having it in my phone — it’s also super satisfying physically crossing off each day.

  39. Bikram yoga all the way. And not because of the name behind it but because of the theory and practice of it. It says you will be going to Chicago. And if you do, go to the studio in Andersonville. They know their stuff and how to teach it.

  40. I know you have an aversion to group fitness classes, but water fitness class are great. You don’t have to know how to swim, you can be where your feet touch the floor. And since most of your body is underwater no one can see that your kicks are off. :-)

    I know people look at it as “old-lady-excercise”, but it’s low impact yet high resistance. You get a good work out. And no little kid is gonna show you up.

    On a side note; I work at an Ivy League school and they require the undergrads to pass a swim test before they can graduate.

  41. I’ve just downloaded the app, I’ve never done a fitness challenge before! Looking forward to going you all.

    I didn’t go to the gym for a week as a friend was staying, but I went yesterday evening and today and I’m feeling good about it. I’ve never given myself any fitness goals before but I’m aiming to be able to use the shoulder press machine to lift 30kg by Christmas (I have no idea if this is vastly over or underestimating my strength/how long it takes to build muscle but I thought it would be nice to give myself some sort of challenge? Not sure if it will work yet.)

  42. YES to the Fitbit.

    I’ve had mine now for almost two years and I love it. For me, it’s a great visual reminder that I need to get up and do something active, even if it’s just a simple walk around the neighborhood. Also, let me add that Fitbit has FANTASTIC customer service. After the first year and a half of wearing my Fitbit everyday the band started to rip and they were able to send me a new one within just a few days!

  43. How did I not see this post until now? Oh well, I guess I’m late to the party.

    I just got back from the gym. I took a class taught by the owner of the gym, which is always super cool and intense. I feel you on the planks- I did 3 30-second planks in class today. I want to scream at everyone that I have a lot more weight to hold up, but my body is getting stronger, and it’s not as difficult to do planks as it was a few months ago.

    I don’t swim. I actually never learned how. In NYC, pools are few and far between, and my gym doesn’t have a pool, so it’s never been a thing for me. My dad used to swim for exercise. It’s supposed to be the perfect combination of cardio and strength training. Not gonna lie, I’ve always wanted to take a water aerobics class with all the old ladies.

  44. Wow, if everyone else is doing the ab challenge: I will too!

    I made it to the gym 3 times last week, but somehow I didn’t go three days in a row at the end of the week/weekend and that made it hard to get back. Usually I go in the morning, but yesterday I went in the evening and that was fine.

    Next week is my vacation and I’m not sure how that’ll interfere with my exercising. On the one hand I can run on the beach! On the other hand I could just lounge on the beach. But I’m packing my running shoes, so I better run!

  45. So, I’ve had a jawbone up which is one of those activity tracker situations since September last year and I enjoy it. I went from working in an environment where I was on my feet all day to a desk job. It does help motivate me to take the stairs, or go on a lunchtime walk. The things I like about it include the “idle alert” where it vibrates to remind me that I’ve been sitting on my arse for too long.

    I’ve also been trying to meditate in the mornings! I have the smiling mind app for my phone which is pretty good. They have guided meditations that go from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes?

  46. I learned to swim embarrassingly late, and when I first started doing laps in college the life guards were always on the edge of their seats waiting for the inevitable moment where they’d have to throw me a noodle. But eventually I got the hang of breast stroke, and then, feeling more adventurous, I started experimenting with freestyle. I read up on the internet (like a nerd) and I watched other lap swimmers, and I wound up learning a lot of the technique this way. It took me a good year of regular swimming to be passable, but it was worth it!

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