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Anyone who has met me can tell you that I spend most of my free time involved in some type of fitness activity. Mainly it’s been running, but over the past few years I’ve gotten more involved in taking group fitness classes and even training to teach classes. The Katy Trail or Grit Fitness are usually where you’ll find me immediately after work chatting with friends before we sweat it out together.

When I got started with running it had nothing to do with creating any type of work/life balance. I wanted to test my physical limits and train to complete a 10k in honor of my grandfather who had passed away a few years prior. However, as I continued in my teaching career. I noticed that many of my colleagues were dealing with stress and anxiety but didn’t seem to have an outlet for those feelings. Some of my coworkers who ran or practiced yoga seemed to be much more positive, stress free and capable of handling the curveballs teaching throws at us. Although I’m not a psychologist or counselor of any type, I truly believe and know from personal experience that exercise has the tremendous ability to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Its mental and emotional benefits are just as tangible as its physical contributions.

Aside from desiring to meet physical and endurance goals through fitnes, I desperately needed something to help me release the stress I felt from work. Around the time I took on running as a hobby, the school I was working at was quickly becoming the most stressful and toxic environments I’d ever experienced. In large part, my exercise regiment is what helped me stay above water and endure the taxing circumstances on my campus. I knew that every single day either before or after work I could run, sweat and clear my mind of the day’s problems by focusing solely on my breathing and the sound of my footfalls on the pavement. There’s a saying in my running community that “running is renewable” and to me that speaks to running’s ability to refresh the tired spirit and mind, while also strengthening your body. The mileage you run doesn’t matter, but the simply act of getting out on a trail or sidewalk and breathing in some fresh air can do wonders for your mood and headspace. Now that the weather is (hopefully) about to bring in some fresh autumn air, this is the perfect time to start getting outdoors for a short afternoon run to clear your mind!

While fitness in and of itself has done wonders for my wellbeing, more importantly, the world of group fitness has brought me an entirely new group of friends. It’s so easy to become insolated in the world of education, spending long hours at your school and with little time for a social life.  The gym I joined has really allowed me to connect with people from so many other professions and I’ve even met a large group of educators that workout at Grit and can rally around me. This especially helped stave off some of the initial isolation I felt when I moved to Dallas in 2017 after coming here for a job, knowing no one. Now, I have close friends here who I can call upon at any time to help me out if I’m need. I’ve met so many people who have helped me realize the importance of community and its effects on my mental health as well.

At this point, fitness is such an integral part of my life that it doesn’t feel right if I miss my normal workout schedule. I still run 4-5 days a week, take group fitness classes several times, and teach group fitness three times a week as well. I guess I really can’t give up the teacher persona in any sphere of my life! If you’re thinking you don’t have time to invest in fitness after a long day at work, here are some of my favorite exercise movements you can do from anywhere. You can begin incorporating physical activity in small increments into your school day when you need a break or stress relief. These are perfect to do during your conference period, at home during commercial breaks, or in between grading papers!

 

Plank Variations:

  • First, practice holding a strong plank position on the ground. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and your hips are low and in line with your shoulders. If you have wrist problems or want to relieve pressure on your shoulders, you can also hold your plank on your forearms.

  • When you feel good about holding your plank, add in some variations to build core strength. You can alternate lifting your right and left legs for a glute raise, do lateral leg extensions, or when you’ve really built up some strength, get after it with plank jacks or mountain climbers.

Squat Variations:

  • Start with a basic body weight squat. Plant your feet hip width distance apart and imagine you are sitting down and back into a chair while keeping your chest lifted. Focus on getting excellent form before adding any weights to this movement.

  • Once you’ve got the form or have been working out for a while, hold some dumbbells at your side or on your shoulders while you squat to start building up that glute strength. To make this more intense, add a few pulses at the bottom of your squat before exploding back up to standing on a big exhale.

Cardio:

  • If running isn’t your thing, you can still get some cardio in by doing a few tried and true movements. The best (or worst?) move is a burpee! Start from standing, and then take that movement down to the floor and step or jump back into a plank. Hold the plank or add a push up before you pull your legs back in and jump up to standing.

  • Not feeling the burpee? You can do some low impact cardio and still get your heart rate nice and high. I love to do a punch/floor slap combo move. Start in a wide, low squat. Punch once to the right, once to the left, and then slap the floor with your right hand, and switch it to the left. The bigger the arm movements and the more you change your levels, the higher your heart rate will go!


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Kolbe Ricks is in her 7th year as an educator, teaching AVID at Faith Family Academy of Oak Cliff. She received her B.A. cum laude in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Houston in 2011. Kolbe will graduate with her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Academic Coaching from the University of Texas at Tyler at the end of this year.