Amanda MacMillan, SELF magazine
Superstitious or not, you've got to admit that Friday the 13th has a bit of a spooky aura to it -- even if it's only because of all those Jason movies. Some people will refuse to get on an airplane today, or play the stock market or even leave the house!
Instead, why not embrace this freaky Friday -- and use it as a chance to reexamine your ho-hum everyday fitness regimen? Take some time today (or this weekend) to do something totally out-of-the-ordinary. Something crazy. Something that really scares you.
I polled my pals to see what in the world of fitness has really got them spooked, and then asked five experts for their tips on those intimidating fitness goals. Here's their advice on finally taking that giant leap ... or at least the first tiny step. (Still nervous? Consider this: Some cultures consider 13 to be a lucky number. So get going already!)
Climb a Rock Wall
From Rocco Bocchicchio, Curriculum Director at Brooklyn Boulders in New York City
How to get started: To find an indoor facility, search online for "climbing gym" or "climbing center" along with your zip code. For outdoor climbing opportunities, check out 27crags.com and search by state.
Insider tip: Climbing puts a lot of stress on your hands, and skin that's been softened right before you climb can blister and tear easily. So avoid using lotion or soaking your hands in water (like taking a bath or doing dishes) immediately before going climbing.
Conquer your fear: Once you're up off the ground and properly belayed, let go of the wall and lean back, sitting back in your harness. Remember that the equipment we use is engineered to hold the weight of an 18-wheeler! For an activity labeled by many as "extreme," climbing is actually very low-risk compared to other popular sports.
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Do a Yoga Handstand
From Laura Burkhart, instructor at YogaWorks in San Francisco
How to get started: Handstand requires flexibility in the wrists, openness in the shoulders, and lots of arm and core strength. Before attempting handstand, you should be able to hold Downward Facing Dog for 30 to 60 seconds without pain in the wrists, shoulders or elbows, and Plank Position for 30 to 60 seconds without dropping the hips.
Insider tip: Make your way to Downward Dog with your hands a few inches away from a wall. Walk your feet in as close to your hands as you can, bringing shoulders over wrists. Lift the right leg toward the ceiling and extend through the heel. Using the left leg as a spring, start making small hops and then build to bigger, more controlled hops. Try to hop on an exhale.
Conquer your fear: Keep your arms straight and strong, and pull the upper arms toward one another. (If it's difficult to keep your arms straight, loop a strap around your upper arms when working on the pose.) Developing controlled hops and working on shifting your weight from your feet to your hands may be plenty for now! Maintain a sense of playfulness and curiosity, rather than tensing up with determination. Over time and with practice, both legs will make it up with ease.
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Sign Up for Your First Big Race
From Amy Sitar, NYC marathon coach for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training
How to get started: The road to your first 5K, 10K, half or full marathon is not one you have to go alone. Many running stores and clubs offer free group runs -- find out when and tag along! The group camaraderie and accountability will help you get out the door when the comfort of your bed threatens to hold you back.
Insider tip: For a 5K or a 5-Miler, give yourself four weeks and aim to run three times a week. Longer races require more time: depending on your level of fitness, you can train for a half or even a full marathon in 4 to 6 months. If you go long, register for a few, shorter races between now and The Big One to practice your race-day chops.
Conquer your fear: As three-time NYC Marathon winner Alberto Salazar put it, "Standing on the starting line, we're all cowards." But nerves, after all, are energy -- so use yours to propel you forward! Just be sure not to expend that energy too early: Going out too fast is the most common mistake novice runners make. Leave some gas in the tank for that photo finish!
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Complete an Open-Water Swim
From John Stewart, USA-Triathlon certified coach, swim instructor for JackRabbit Sports in New York City, training camp leader for Open Sky Training
How to get started: Get stronger in the pool. Make sure you're fit and that your stroke is at least passable to swim the distance you're signing up for. Then, plan to get to the beach or a lake and do several swims with a friend on a guarded beach. Put the dates in your calendar so you'll hold yourself to them.
Insider tip: Learn to sight. There is nothing more comforting than to be able to look up, see your target and stay on course. Your whole head doesn't have to come out of the water: practice "alligator eyes", sighting just above the surface every three to four strokes, for at least one 500-yard set each week.
Conquer your fear: Practice sprinting and then recovering: Swim 50 or 100 yards fast, then double the distance and swim it easy -- no rest until after the easy part. Getting used to high intensity, like your heart rate spiking at the start of a race, or after your goggles are knocked off, or when you touch something squishy you can't see - means you can survive "scares," knowing you can calm down and keep swimming.
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Take a New Class at the Gym
From Stacy Berman, creator of Stacy's Bootcamp in New York City
How to get started: Before you try a class, check out reviews online of classes and instructors, so you get an idea of what to expect. When you make your choice, take a friend along. There's something comforting about knowing another person in the class, and you can laugh with each other instead of being embarassed or scared.
Insider tip: If you feel intimidated or concerned, tell the instructor that you are new and ask if he or she can keep an eye on you. I'm always very attentive to new people in class so they know someone is watching out for them.
Conquer your fear: Talk to yourself. Positive reinforcement, even if it comes from you, can actually change the structure of your brain and done consistently enough will have an effect on your behavior. Think the Little Engine That Could: I think I can, I think I can!
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