The Joy of Six

8.13.07: Complexity can be fun, but simple is good, too


I've been enjoying time spent with my Knoxville-based personal trainer, Rebecca. She's fun, uplifting, and most of all, inspiring. She gets me to do things I'd never in a million years do without her attention and encouragement. For instance: a little exercise I like to call the Arm Circles from Hell. They're six sets of 60 arm circles--two sets each, one forward and one backward, with arms extended to the sides, at 45-degrees toward the front, and straight overhead alongside the ears. (Note to self: Never, EVER ask a personal trainer how to build sexy shoulders fast.)

Rebecca enjoys introducing me to new and challenging exercises, and I enjoy learning them. Sure, I whine a little. When she showed me her take on how to do ab-blasting bicycles, I whined a whole lot. I'm used to doing them fast and furious (get them over with as quickly as possible has always been my approach). Rebecca insists that I slow each movement down and feel each constituent movement--engage the core muscles, lift the shoulders off the floor, draw in the knee, twist, and hold. And--oh yes--do all this without letting my lower abdominals budge an inch. No wobbling, no buckling, no pooching.

All this concentration and control makes it a difficult and entirely whine-worthy exercise. But I can feel that's it's a powerful move that will help me build strength where I need it most--down deep in my lower abdominal muscles, in the region where I STILL feel a tiny bit numb from the C-section. Good stuff!

Still, by the time I got through with my first training session with Rebecca and she had outlined a weight-training plan for me, I looked at the clock and realized the horrifying truth: An hour and a half had elapsed, and I had yet to set foot on a cardio machine. Sure, she had taken some extra time to explain all the moves and answer my questions (and/or wait for the whining to subside). But this was definitely a special event workout--not something I could do four or five times a week!

When I voiced my concern, we set about paring down the plan, breaking it into pieces--arms one day, legs another. Etc. But the truth is, on many days, I need it even simpler than that--I need a full-body routine I can do at home or at the gym. Something I can do with the baby, or without. Something that takes 20 minutes, or--hopefully--even less.

Something like, say, the routine LaReine Chabut put together for me when I first started out on my weight-loss journey back at the beginning of the year. (You can find it here.)

LaReine's workout comprises only six moves--a squat, a lunge, push-ups, sit-ups, biceps curls, and triceps extensions. It's a very simple workout--too simple, sometimes, for a complicated girl like me. So I muck things up. I get excited. I get a little energy and start adding in this, that, and the other thing. I start hanging out with ambitious Rebecca-types and begin thinking that, yes, maybe I could work in the entire Cybex circuit plus 8 to 10 free-weight moves and still have enough time and energy left over for lunges and abs!

But, no. That approach always fails, and I inevitably return to the simple six--they're all I can really do with the time I've got between working, childcare, housekeeping, cooking, and everything else I'm trying to keep up with these days. But that's okay, because I've found that if I do the moves LaReine charted for me and really focus my mind and body on them, they are also all I really need. They ARE a full body workout.

And though I don't know whether LaReine intended it or not, but I've also found that I don't need a gym or a ball or even a set of hand weights to do her workout. Real life provides ample sources of improvisation: A couch or coffee table or sandbox corner or floor can sub for a ball. In a pinch a couple bags of groceries or bottles of formula or Tonka trucks will do for resistance.

Knowing me, I'll probably continue to cycle back and forth between the complex and the simple--I like to swing both ways. But in the end, let it be said: I'm a raving six addict.

Hillari Dowdle is sweating her ass off in Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact her at