Ohio Northern University staffer Joy Brown and student Samantha Hurlburt running on campus.

This article is the second in a three-part series about an Ohio Northern University staffer and student team’s journey through the spring 2021 semester Next Step-You fitness program. The first installment is available here.

My glass-doored bookshelves rattled as I flung myself upward, careful not to get my fingers chopped off in the ceiling fan. Sweat trickled down my back as I landed, dropped to the floor, kicked my legs out behind me, scrunched into a squat and stood up. Over and over again. Burpees will get your heart pounding and your flabby parts jiggling. So will aggravation. About 20 minutes after we’d had dinner and 15 minutes into this lower-body contortion workout, I glanced behind me to find my son unabashedly feasting on Easter candy splayed out before him on the floor.

“Stop eating that candy!” I hollered while the washer beeped that it was finished and the cat weaved through my legs, as cats are wont to do. To distract the child from the candy, I decided that my last workout task for the evening, a 1-mile run, would be accompanied by the 9-year-old on his bicycle; he might as well squeeze in some physical activity too.

Halfway into the run, I’m feeling good, feeling bouncy and ready to kick it into higher gear when it happened—the kid shifted his gears and his bike broke. The chain seized up and the back tire froze in place. What the…? I reluctantly stopped to assess the situation. Something didn’t look right, but I don’t know much about bicycle repairs. I couldn’t just leave the kid hanging out along busy South Main Street while I fetched the car and I couldn’t leave the bike unattended lest it get stolen. So, hunched over and grimacing, I ended up literally shoving the bike the half mile home.

Some other snags I’ve experienced: forsaking a relaxing yoga session to work on Good Friday during an impromptu campus visit by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine; and surrendering to COVID-19 vaccination side effects that included fever, chills and body aches instead of going for a run in the warm spring sun.

This, dear readers, is what single parenthood work/life balance is and can be like. Just like there is no one else to remember to set the trash at the curb on Tuesday nights, there is no one around to say, “I’ll make dinner, help with homework and do the laundry, honey! You go enjoy your run!” And yet run I shall and have, through whichever sort of gauntlet I’m presented with. I’m somehow making it work most of the time, given that I consider it essential to my wellbeing. 

Since beginning Ohio Northern University Exercise Physiology program’s Next Step-You fitness journey more than a month ago with exercise physiology senior Samantha Hurlburt, the times and my body are a changing. Although this fabulous fitness program has gone virtual this semester because of the pandemic, it remains challenging, rewarding and enlightening. Sam and I have managed to virtually meet once each week to review our progress, talk about things that are and aren’t working and make adjustments as needed. A shared Google drive has allowed for Sam to submit daily workout routines and other instructions, and for me to journal my food consumption and workout endeavors. We also met in person outdoors on campus once to exercise as a team and have some photos taken (don’t let the photo used for this story fool you—Sam is much faster than me).

Below are some specifics about this adventure a little past the midway point, along with one of my sample workouts:

My musings:

• I’ve already reached one goal: my clothes now fit better. I’m not sure if I’ve lost any appreciable amount of weight but I’m apparently losing circumference. Pants are feeling looser and buttons are no longer living in fear of popping off when I sit down. This is a significant step in the right direction.

• A baseline 1.5-mile run at the program’s beginning clocked in at 18 minutes. That’s more like a fast walk, but hey, I didn’t keel over. During the recent run, when my son’s bicycle decided to break, I was recording a pace that was on track to be more than one minute faster per mile than that first very slow jog/crawl. Right now, I can’t run as fast or as long as I used to, but I’m continuing to work on that and I’m hoping I’ll improve if I stick with it.

• I’m learning a lot of new exercise moves. For instance, I’ve discovered that crawling around on all fours like a bear makes you feel silly (it’s best done at home) but really engages your glutes. “Goblet squats” will fatigue your hammies. Arnold presses (named after Schwartzenegger, not Tom of “Roseanne” fame) are very hard. Sam’s workout mixing and matching, a time-consuming endeavor for her that I immensely appreciate, is keeping me interested and engaged.

• Some days I’m simply tapped out before I begin. Occasionally my body just doesn’t want to do strenuous exercise. I’ll try to push through the malaise; if the effort isn’t entirely futile it’s excruciating. In those not-gonna-happen instances, I let it go, do something easier and maybe walk for a while instead. I adopt the Scarlet O’Hara mindset and consider that tomorrow is another day.

• Earlier in the program, one of my Achilles tendons politely suggested to me that I restart less aggressively with the running, so Sam adjusted cardio workouts to incorporate different activities, such as walking, and that has worked well.

• I’m stronger than I thought I was. Many of Sam’s workout routines involve high intensity interval training, weight lifting and sustained cardio. Most of them I’ve been able to finish and, over time, have felt even stronger for having done so. No matter my schedule or daily surprises, I’ve made a concerted effort to plan out and complete these 6-days-per-week workouts and it is paying off in multiple ways.

• Keeping a food journal has been an eye opener in terms of consumption and nutrition habits. Along with keeping a rough estimate of daily calories I gobble, reducing some of my oversized portions and intentionally trying to eat more nutrient-packed items, I’m now paying more attention to how the food I eat makes me feel afterward. Sam is also providing some guidance about healthier options, and we’ve had discussions about how much marketing and media informs our dietary choices for worse and for better. I still eat too much pizza and ice cream. The occasional light beer or glass of wine will occasionally find its way into my hand.

• It’s great to have a coach along the way. Sam, who is attentive and encouraging amid her own busy school and work schedule, refers to me as “an athlete,” a concept I haven’t entirely accepted because I’m more adept at self-criticism. But, it’s a nice approach that tempers my tendency toward grouchiness.

• Physically and emotionally, I feel better overall. Climbing stairs is easier. I can lift heavier things. Even my walking is faster and more agile. I’m spending less time ruminating about negative occurrences from my past and more time concentrating on the present and its positives. Also, prioritizing exercise and healthy eating are serving as awesome examples for my son.

Sam’s thoughts:

What have you learned most through Next Step-You thus far?

Being able to adapt and meet people right where they are. A global pandemic is challenging to say the least, but I am so grateful to be back on campus and helping you virtually. I think it may open up the door for people to see health and wellness as something more attainable. Next Step-You provides a framework to continue a very successful class but on a new platform. I've liked the adjustment and seeing it overcome challenges by using the skills we have been learning the past three years. Overall, I am just grateful. 

From a student-trainer perspective, what have been some of your biggest challenges this time around?

Some of my greatest challenges have been programming exercises for the right duration. It is hard to know how long it may take someone to complete multiple sets and how much of a recovery period is needed. Some workouts I fear may be too long for you but then they end up shorter than an hour and vice versa! Another challenge is gauging your intensity. I know you have oodles of motivation and a commitment to finishing the workout. With my previous client in person, it was easy to see the signs of intensity and even exercise intolerance. I think I had the courage to push and motivate my last client because I could tell when it was difficult for them and when they needed a gentle nudge to do their very best. With you, Joy, I have to rely on your words and what we discuss in our weekly meetings. I am so excited and thankful that you have so much motivation and drive to keep up the intensity with the workouts I plan for you and the short recovery periods on some exercises. 

To ensure optimal progress, what are some key factors you’ve kept in mind while creating workouts? The main thing I focus on to keep your workouts challenging is using progressive overload, minimally and purposefully increasing the stress/stimulus each week to keep the body working hard.  A common acronym taught in exercise physiology is the FITT principle-frequency, intensity, time, and type. Every week, we add time under tension, more weights, more repetitions, or a shorter rest period. Frequency is one thing we have not changed because you exercise six days per week and recovery is vital to progress. 

Has anything surprised you thus far while teaming up with me?

I'm surprised by your internal motivation. Even if you have an off day, you push through. Reading your workout journal in our shared Google doc really makes my day! I love knowing that you are very aware of your efforts and intensity and even though I'm not there with you in person, you are pushing yourself and even adding in extra movements when you feel it! Your writing skills have been a great asset to utilize and gauge how you are doing! You surprise me every week, Joy and you have more motivation than most people! It also surprises me that you can turn a mundane activity into something memorable. The way you wrote about your run where your son's bike broke, I felt like I was reading the most genuine story and I wanted to hear more! You have so many passions and skills and it surprises me how one lends to the other!

What do you think have been some of our most noteworthy successes as a team?

I believe that one of our biggest successes has been keeping you injury-free with the volume you are training at. Your knees and achilles are a concern to me so we try to purposefully train and not overdo it! I also think that the amount of pushups you can do has significantly improved and I hope that you can say that about most of our movements that we repeat! I also think our other great success would be your ability to get in a workout anywhere. You started going back to the weight room to lift heavier, we've programmed indoor workouts to be completed at home, trail workouts, and even no-equipment park workouts! I think the accumulation of small gains is just as meaningful as one big accomplishment. 

I’ve learned a lot from you! Have you learned anything from me? I've learned that you are very funny! I have also learned that you are very strong-willed and anything you put your mind to, you commit your whole heart to it! You balance being a great mom, your health and wellness, and being a great asset to Ohio Northern with your media talent. You somehow do it all and you have a positive attitude and a way to get everything done. I have a lot to learn from you!

What are some of the best exercises for packing the most physiological punch? You know I love burpees! I think that by sticking to compound, weight-bearing movements that you can master the form on are probably the most impactful. I think that it's all about balance and there may not be one perfect exercise to get your body in perfect shape. Planning variety in workouts so that we prevent injury and muscle imbalances while working as many muscles as possible are usually best. The classic squats, deadlifts, and bench movements are in most programs because they are able to work so many muscle groups. 

What are some facts about exercising that people may not know? Exercise helps us lower our blood sugar by utilizing the circulating glucose in our bloodstream, so regular exercise can help us prevent many metabolic diseases. Starting an exercise program at any age still has benefits, so it is NEVER too late to start. Regular exercise also has many benefits on our brains and can even help us function better! Lastly, I'm sure many people have heard this since the pandemic, but regular exercise causes a stress response in the body that promotes the production of white blood cells, which is one of the main ways our body fights infections and pathogens. So, exercise increases our immune system!

In terms of healthy living overall, what are your tips for staying motivated and inspired? My tips for healthy living and staying motivated would be to remain mindful. If something you do isn't challenging you or it isn't something you enjoy, I encourage you to find new exercises. I keep a log of my workouts and it helps me remember my best workouts, so that when I lack motivation, I can repeat something I know has been great! I also try to make most of my snacks a balance of a fruit and a fat and protein, I make it a habit instead of always having that motivation to eat healthy. It is less work to just repeat a healthy choice if it is my only option or an established habit. My roommates and I all switch off on cooking once a week and when we share meals, we make sure there is a lean protein and some different colored veggies. Having people around you on a health journey also helps so that it establishes a normalcy. It doesn't feel as hard if others in your life are also trying to be healthy. For motivation, when I have time, I go for quotes or books, even if it is something cheesy, it helps. 

As the semester and your undergraduate career nears their conclusions, how are you feeling about that?

I am a little sad to be leaving Ohio Northern University and the life I have had for almost four years. I transferred out of ONU and then came back (I was homesick and wanted to be close to my family). I think coming back to ONU was the best choice I ever made and now I am sad to leave! I cannot wait to go into the world and help patients and clients on their health journey. Luckily, I have accepted a position for a health and wellness company that contracts with the U.S. Air Force, so I am very excited to start that and use these skills ONU and my awesome professors have taught me.

 

Week 5 gym workout:

10-minute warm-up, cardio of choice

25 air squats

20 shoulder taps in plank position

30 to taps onto box per side

Shoulder press with 15-pound dumbbells, 3X10 reps

Arnold press with 10-pound dumbbells, 3X12

Arnold press with 20-pound dumbbells, 6 reps

2-minute rest or slow walk

Single-arm rows with bench, 15-pound dumbbells, 3X8 per side

Single-arm rows with bench, 20-pound dumbbells, 8 per side

Sumo squat with 20-pound kettlebell, 3X15

Lat pulldowns, 55 pounds, 3X10

Lat pulldowns, 70 pounds, 8 reps

1-minute plank

Handstand against wall

Plate pass, 3X10

Deadlifts: warm-up set with bar, 10 reps; with 55 pounds total, 3X10; with 65 pounds total, 2X8

Bench press, 20-pound dumbbells, 3X10

Bench press, 45-pound bar, 8 reps

Cool-down: 1 mile walk