Friday, April 30, 2010

Lance Armstrong...and beer?!

This is the very last page of my current Women's Health magazine. It's an advertisement for Michelob Ultra that features cycling champ Lance Armstrong. I've seen this ad before, even on the side of a bus stop in Chicago. And I'm sure you've seen it somewhere, too.

In addition, Michelob Ultra is running this television spot:

According to a press release I found on VeloNews, Lance is "the perfect athlete to connect with adult beer drinkers who lead active lifestyles." I get it. He defeated cancer and won the Tour de France seven times—the man's a machine. (He also dated some really cool women. Sheryl Crow, Tory Burch, Kate Hudson. So maybe that makes him even cooler. I don't know.)

From the same press release, I quote Lance's own words: "I'm always making decisions that complement my active lifestyle, and this includes my beer choice when I want to enjoy a cold one with friends or when taking a break from training." And I respect what he says. It's responsible, and it doesn't necessarily indicate that he parties hardy. Or does it? Does his statement leave room for individual interpretation?

That's where I get to the point of this post: Is it responsible for a healthy, high-profile athlete to promote an alcoholic beverage? (I could also go on to ask whether or not it is responsible for Women's Health to run a beer ad, but we'll tackle one issue at a time.)

On one hand, I think Michelob Ultra and Lance Armstrong are handling the message correctly. Healthy guy drinks light beer responsibly. But that's just me and I can't help but wonder if other people will draw more of a Lance-is-healthy-so-it-must-be-healthy message out of the campaign. See the difference? So I'm torn between accepting it and feeling bothered by it all.

What's your take?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Get some sleep!

I found an interesting fact in the May 2010 issue of Oxygen: The average 135-pound woman burns 442 calories during eight hours of sleep. And my first thought was that such a fact seemed counter-intuitive. Get active, burn calories. Right? So how can we possibly burn that many calories while in our most inactive state? I decided to investigate.

First and foremost, I wanted to find a similar stat specific to men. Unfortunately, I could only come up with a general reference from WebMD that states the average individual burns 77 calories during one hour of sleep. There is no weight comparison like in the Oxygen stat, which makes me wonder, but it still reiterates the point that we're all sleeping off some calories. And so I continued my research.

Various websites describe sleep as a time of rest and repair, and they go on to say that it's the repair factor that burns those calories. While it may seem like our body is shutting down when we sleep, it's simply just relaxing so that it can fix what we've done to it throughout the day. And by that, I mean that our body restores energy levels in our muscles, works to strengthen our immune systems, repairs weakened cells, rejuvinates nerves...etc, etc. All of which requires energy. And energy comes from calories burned. For example, WebMD states that a pound of muscle burns 6 calories at rest while a pound of fat burns 2 calories at rest. (Heck yeah, muscles!) Physiologically speaking, I couldn't begin to tell you how that works, but it's pretty obvious that something is going on inside of us when we sleep. Like, for example, the fact that we're breathing. Or that our heart is pumping blood throughout our body.

And what is responsible for most of that activity? Our brains. There is a magazine called Psychology Today and I found an article on their website that claims our brains are responsible for 20% of all energy use. I'm sure that you've all heard of the REM stage of sleeping (rapid eye, dreams). It's at this point that we're in our deepest sleep, and it's also the point at which our brain is super active. All of its efforts to relieve stress, store memories and create dreams cause our breathing and heart rates to increase, our blood pressure to rise...sound familiar?

Sounds like a typical response to exercise. And we all know that exercise burns calories.

So there you have it. The reason we burn calories while at rest. Because our bodies are still hard at work, despite all evidence to the contrary. Now, it's not as great of a calorie burn as a solid sweat session, but a quality calorie burn still. So let it be known that I am not advocating that you replace gym time with bed time, just reminding you that getting good shut-eye is important. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's in the bag.

While motivation plays a key role in getting you out of the house and into the gym, there are organizational things you can do as well. For example, you may remember the post I wrote about keeping a diet and exercise journal—still a great idea. I'd also like to suggest that you devote a drawer or shelf in your closet to all of your exercise duds. Keeping these articles of clothing in one space means you won't have to dig when it comes time to change for the gym. Which also means it will be easier for you to cash in on the motivation you've summoned up, rendering the old "I can't find my running shorts" excuse totally useless.

You should also keep a gym bag packed so that when you walk out the door, you'll be good to go.

Just like the drawer or shelf, a gym bag eliminates the need to dig for lifting gloves or a water bottle. It's all in the bag, and all you have to worry about is grabbing your wallet and car keys. But what should you pack? That's really up to you and your individual needs. We don't have lockers at Anytime Fitness, so I see a variety of gym bags and I'm always wondering what they're filled with. And since you're probably wondering what I've got packed in the bag above, here's a picture:

Now tell me, what's in your bag?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Need a personal trainer?

I passed my national exam in February, got the proof in March and spent most of April polishing my business plan. And last week, I took these posters to the gym in an effort to advertise my services.

And, no. I didn't forget to include my contact information. Each poster has a series of pull-tabs along the bottom that I hope will eventually disappear. If you frequent the Anytime Fitness in Saint Joseph (of which I am a member)—pull one and give me a call! Or maybe you did and that's why you're reading this.

I think Anytime Fitness is an awesome place to train. But that doesn't mean it's the only place I intend to train. If you're interested in my services and live in the Saint Joseph area, let me know where you train (or where you'd like to train) and we can come up with a plan. The beauty of being an independent, self-employed certified personal trainer is that I have the flexibility to work with a wide variety of people in an equally wide variety of settings.

Someday I'd like to open a small fitness facility of my own, but that's a dream for the very distant future. Until then, I will continue to share my knowledge you and I'll focus on building a wonderful client base. And I will also hang up more posters.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peace, love and cupcakes...and water.

This is my water bottle. It was a gift and I love it. Some might question whether a personal trainer should be advertising cupcakes, but I say everyone deserves a guilty food pleasure and mine so happens to be cupcakes. But that's not the point of this post. Let's talk about hydration instead.

The single most important thing you can put in your body is water. Especially if you're working out. Our bodies are full of it and therefore need it to function. Dehydration limits performance and puts you at risk for a variety of medical conditions. Pay close attention to the temperature outside, humidity levels and the duration of your exercise session. All of which can affect the rate at which your body uses water. And since we aren't camels, we can't grow humps of water to tap. It all comes back out, as you know. Which means we have to be on top of our hydration at all times. As gross as this sounds, the darker your urine the more dehydrated you actually are. So take a peek after you leak!

And make sure you have a sustainable water bottle, one that's easy to refill throughout the day. If you're a distance runner, invest in a hand-held water bottle so that you can maintain hydration during your run. My personal trainer manual suggests that the average individual needs 2 to 3 quarts of water every day. That amounts to about 75% of a gallon. (Keep in mind some of that will come from food, too.) But if you're exercising, my manual also suggests that you'll need to take in 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes. And that depends on the intensity of your workout, of course.

Bottom line, drink water. Plenty of it. Drink before you even get thirsty because once the thirst kicks in, you're already dehydrated.

Oh, and—treat yourself to a cupcake every so often. They're divine.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just exhale forcefully.

Put yourself in the middle of a run. You're feeling good about the time you're making and the distance you've already covered. Quite possibly, you've even managed to lose yourself in whatever your iPod is currently playing. And then it hits (insert "da da dumm" music here) you get a cramp in the side of your abdomen.

Oh, how I hate those cramps! I've always been told that you should take a few really deep breaths, forcefully exhaling all of the air out each time to ease the pain. And as I was reading through a fitness book the other day, this ol' technique was confirmed. I was never sure because sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't. And quite honestly, I felt really funny exhaling so forcefully because I probably looked like a toddler blowing out birthday candles. But, hey—I'll take any solution when it comes to those darn side cramps.

In addition to confirming the technique above, I also learned that it's the diaphragm that cramps up. As it contracts, it loses the ability to fully relax again. And here I always thought it was an ab muscle.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Body Mass Index

We like to keep track of ourselves. From daily schedules to private diaries, we are a society of record keepers and note takers. This tradition continues, and is especially important, when it relates to our health. We get our teeth cleaned every six months, visit the doctor for a yearly physical and we step on the scale quite frequently. But sometimes, weighing in just isn't enough. And that's where science has given us a variety of ways to keep track of ourselves. One in particular—the Body Mass Index (BMI).

Use the following equation to calculate yours:

Now compare your BMI to the chart below.

Some of you may be surprised to find that you fall within the obese categories. This is where I introduce potential flaws with the Body Mass Index. As you can tell from the equation, it only measures mass according to weight and height. And weight isn't just fat, otherwise known as adipose tissue. Weight is also your muscles, your organs, even the water in your body. All jumbled into one number. Your BMI might be higher because of all that muscle you've been building!

So here's my advice to you. Take note of your BMI and watch how it changes. It's a good tool for measuring fluctuations in your body. Forget about the number itself and where it classifies you, be more concerned with increases and decreases. If you're trying to lose weight, you'll want it to go down. And if it goes up, you're either gaining muscle or fat and you'll have to look at your diet and lifestyle to figure that one out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Add a leg kick to your plank.

We all know that the plank is a great core move, but it gets even better when you add in a few simple tweaks. Typical plank form has you on your elbows and toes. Your core is engaged to keep your hips off the ground, and your head is looking at your hands to help maintain a straight spine throughout.

But here's where it can get fun: Using your abdominals, bend your right knee into your chest without raising your hips. Then extend your leg behind you and up slightly to engage the glutes. Place the foot back on the floor, then repeat the action using your left leg. Now, this isn't a quick move. Breathe in for two seconds as you bring in the knee, breathe out for two as you extend. Try three sets of 5 repetitions (one repetition concludes after you bend and extend each leg once). Work your way up from there. Increase sets and reps until your doing, oh...say five sets of ten.

It sounds easy, but it's really not! And if you're looking for more ways to challenge your planking skills, you could also try the following:

• Inclined plank with elbows on a stability ball, BOSU or bench
• Declined plank with feet on a stability ball, BOSU or bench
• Reverse plank with your arms beneath you, body facing toward the ceiling (or sky!)
• Reverse plank with a light weight on your stomach
• Side plank, balancing on one elbow
• Standard plank on just one foot
• Standard plank with arms on a stability ball and feet on a bench

Am I forgetting a variation? Let me know if there's something you do in your plank that I haven't mentioned above!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy day, Mother Earth!

Without this wonderful planet, we wouldn't have oceans and lakes to swim in. We wouldn't have mountains to climb or beautiful pathways to walk and run on. And we wouldn't have the birds and the bees or the flowers and the trees that inspire us to continue when the going gets tough.

Today is Earth Day. Forgo the gym and celebrate all that our Mother Nature has given us. Exercise outside—things are blooming!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kettlebells: Russian fitness at its finest.

Kettlebells intimidated me. I saw people swinging them at the gym, and I could imagine the great workout they were getting. But I feared that if I picked one up, it would somehow manage to slide loose of my grip. I'd be standing in front of the mirror and end up with no less than seven years of bad luck. Or the poor soul next to me would end up with a giant purple bruise. But again, I could imagine the great workout, which is why I decided to woman up and get acquainted. If they could do it, so could I. Right?

For starters, being the writer that I am, I did some research. Did you know that kettlebells hail from Russia? Evidently they've been quite popular over there since the 1700s. And with good reason. These handled hunks of cast iron combine cardio and strength training into one efficient workout. And because the weight of the kettlebell is centered off of the hand, one can swing it. This type of movement increases the intensity of a particular exercise because the muscles are being engaged in a slightly different manner than when a dumbbell is used. That's not to say you can't swing a dumbbell, it's just that the effects are greater.

But anytime you swing weight in a workout, you're calling on force and momentum. And Sir Isaac Newton would be proud of me for reminding you that (as I was reminded of this in my class at Blue Heron Academy) for every action there is a reaction, and objects in motion stay in motion unless something stops it. So for safety's sake, choose a kettlebell that you can easily control. Don't go heavy without being ready. You'll risk injury.

I myself am still learning the basics of kettlebell training, so although I don't quite consider myself an expert yet, I do know that the kettlebell swing is the base of most kettlebell exercises. I found this video on YouTube and, despite the cheesy drama of it all, I think it gives an excellent how-to.

I don't know about you, but I'd join the Kettlebell Union if it meant that I could work out to such stimulating music. Just watching this video made me feel like a Shakespearean Queen. But the Kettlebell Union is in London and I digress. So when they mention the posterior chain and lifting your toes, that's an option that puts more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings. You should probably save this tweak until you've mastered the basics. Until then, practice makes perfect.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Almond Butter

Last week, something wonderful happened. I went grocery shopping at Meijer and found almond butter on sale for $4.99 and yes, that's still expensive for a nut butter—but it's super cheap for almond butter. Being the almond fan that I am, and having always wanted to try almond butter, I picked it up. And hoo, boy! I'm glad I did. Though I still love peanut butter, I love LOVE almond butter. Same texture, slightly sweeter and jam-packed with traditional almond health benefits.

When eaten moderately, almonds (as you may already know) are a great addition to any healthy diet. So long as you don't have nut allergies, of course. They're full of protein and fiber, both of which help keep you full for longer. They also contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. "But aren't we supposed to cut out fats?" That's what they say, but unlike saturated and trans fats, poly and mono fats put up a good fight against high cholesterol and heart disease. So they're generally acceptable in small amounts.

But be warned, almond butter is so good it's hard to keep your serving size acceptable! Like peanut butter, it's quite delicious on bread, apples and in smoothies. Or even by itself on a spoon. This MaraNatha brand is the only variation I've tried so far, though I see many on the shelf. I did, however, manage to snag some from Trader Joe's this weekend while I was in the city. So if you're blessed with a Trader Joe's nearby, pop in for a jar. It was only $3.99!

And if you know of another brand that's simply fabulous, please let me know so I can give it a go!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Walk more, walk wherever.

We were taught to walk at a very young age. And at that age, being able to walk meant that we could waddle across the room to get our favorite toys. It was our first taste of independence, and we loved the proud look it put on our parents' faces. But as we grew up, being able to walk simply meant that we could get from class to class at school or from the kitchen to the bedroom at home. And that's when walking became second nature. It was no longer a milestone we had reached, it was just something our bodies did when we needed it to.

But in this day and age, more and more of us are choosing to make our bodies walk. Sometimes for fitness, other times for pleasure. But really, when it comes to walking, fitness and pleasure can go hand in hand splendidly.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Chicago. And there's no better place to observe walking for both fitness and pleasure than in a bustling city. I took this photo at the very heart of Michigan Avenue (by the old water tower), but I could've snapped it anywhere in the 60611 zip code. Some strolled, others put a little effort into it. But they were all walking when they could have whistled for a cab. Without even thinking about it, they were working out. And it was a beautiful thing to observe.

My point—walk. Walk more, walk wherever. Just walk. Let those legs take you on an adventure. Scope out nature trails in your area. Park in the space furthest away from the door. But if you're close enough, leave the car at home. And if you have a question at work, go face-to-face instead of sending that email. Work out without "working out." Like milk, it really does a body good.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thank you, Heather.

My friend Heather is quite possibly one of the funniest individuals I know, and I can always count on her for a good laugh. (Remember the Jazzercise video?) So when I see an email come through from her, I get really excited because I know it will be something good. And once again, I was right—she sent yet another hilarious aerobics video. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Different Way to Strength Train

Shifting between upper and lower body workouts is an excellent and fairly common way to strength train. And it's the method I myself am currently using. I hit my upper body one day, take a day off to run, then hit my lower body and repeat. The logic? Your muscles have ample time to rest in between sessions.

What to do if you get bored or hit a plateau? Switch it up! But unless you have a trainer, it can be hard to come up with new exercises. So try this: Stick with your routine, but reorganize it. Divide individual exercises by front and backside muscles instead of upper and lower muscles.

Sounds crazy, but I think it's a good idea. Work your front deltoids (shoulders), chest muscles, biceps, abs and quadriceps in one session, then switch to your rear deltoids (shoulders), back muscles, triceps, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles in the next.

Just make sure to hit both sides of your body equally for obvious reasons.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I got roped in.

Well, call me crazy. I bought a jump rope. You might recall from an earlier post that jump ropes kick my butt. I have never been a fan, not even as a young girl on the playground. But as a personal trainer, I feel as though it's high time I give this form of cardio a go because the benefits are ridiculously good.

First off, it's cheap. I bought my jump rope for $2.95 at Target. Made of vinyl and plastic, it's very lightweight which is a key characteristic. It also folds up to oblivion to go anywhere you do. And as previously mentioned, jumping rope is good for the ticker. (Obvious, I know. But anything good for the ticker is worth calling out.) Like most forms of cardio, jumping rope sends additional blood to your arms and legs which helps strengthen muscular endurance. It also sends blood to the brain, and the American Heart Association says that may help us in the learning department.

Another important bonus for jumping rope is that it can be relatively low impact—but only when done correctly. Jump flat-footed and your knees will scream. Jump on the balls of your feet with your knees slightly bent, get about an inch of the ground and you should be fine. Just keep your elbows in and head up, and flip the rope from your wrist. However long you go is entirely up to you. I prefer intervals (anywhere from 50 to150 reps) because it keeps my heart rate up while I strength train.

If you're a beginner, you may want to twirl a little slower to give yourself enough time for two jumps in every rotation. Need variation? Try jumping on one leg, or switching back and forth between the two. Who knows, maybe someday you'll be ready for something like this:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I can win free lunches now!

Ever see the fishbowl at the deli? You know, the one that everybody drops their business card in? "Win a free lunch!" That's what the sign always says, but when I left the advertising industry, I lost my ability to get in the game. Until now. I have business cards!

My husband is so very talented. He created the header at the top of my blog, too. Thanks to him, the identity of my business is coming together. With good timing, too! I am THIS CLOSE to advertising my services and these cards will help...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"I don't wanna!" But you gotta.

There are certain aspects of life we tend to describe as being "necessary evils," and quite often exercise is one of them. We know we need it, but we don't always wanna do it. If you can honestly say that you wake up every morning totally stoked to work out, then you're a freak and I applaud you! Even I have days where the thought of hitting the gym or going for a run makes me want to throw a fit—and I'm a personal trainer! I'm supposed to love everything about exercise. But just like you, there are times when the motivation to move simply doesn't exist.

So, what to do about it?

First off, I say make your excuses. Get it all out of your system, then remind yourself why you chose to become a runner. Or why you joined that Body Pump class. There is a part of you that loves it, and that's the part you need to harness when the going gets tough.

If you're physically exhausted, that's one thing. You'll be setting your body up for failure, which puts you at risk for injury. But if you're mentally exhausted—there's no better energizer that a good sweat session. Tell yourself it's how you can take your mind off of work or that growing to-do list. It's a length of time in your day that you can totally own for yourself and no one else. Plug your earbuds in and just zone out while you pound pavement, or tune into the instructor and feel the burn.

Every good burn, however punishing it may feel, is actually a reward for hard work. (Bad burns, on the other hand, are injuries. Just make sure you know the difference.)

And speaking of rewards, set goals and give yourself something when you achieve them. A new song from iTunes, some running socks or a pair of shorts. Whatever those rewards are, you deserve them and if you have something to work toward, it might make that work a little easier to bear.

Finally, one of the best ways to maintain motivation is to partner up with other fitness fanatics that have the same interests. Join a class (if you haven't already). Not going means so-and-so that always sets up her step next to you might not be able to share that juicy gossip. Or find a running buddy—they always know exactly what to say when you feel like quitting a mile away from the finish line.

Bottom line, motivation has an uncanny way of coming and going but you are a strong individual with great goals. Believe in yourself and those goals and you'll find a way to do just fine when the going gets tough.

Now get up and go, slacker!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do you BOSU?

If you've ever been inside a fitness facility, odds are you've come across a BOSU balance trainer. Essentially, a BOSU is one half of an exercise ball mounted on a platform. And in my opinion, this piece of fitness equipment is quite possibly one of the best.

According to the manufacturer's website, the BOSU keeps you "present and fully engaged in the training process." And not just because you'll be trying so hard not to fall off it. This little mound of wonder calls upon your core, and as you've probably noticed, your core supports almost every aspect of movement by facilitating balance. And so while you're on the BOSU, you are focusing on that core of yours because it's what will stop you from falling off.

As you get more comfortable standing on the BOSU, you can integrate other aspects of your workout. Think bicep curls, even squats. Maybe shoulder abductions. Any strength training you can do on your feet, you can probably do on a BOSU once your balance is good enough. Once again, balance training is good for all types of movement. So if you incorporate more movement into your time on the BOSU, you'll find yourself "fully engaged" in all that you're doing. And once you get really, super good at standing on the BOSU—flip it over!

BOSU stands for "both sides utilized." And they truly can be. (But, fair warning, standing on the flip side takes a bit of practice. Be safe.)

A BOSU, however, is so much more than a platform on which to stand. Pushups on either side pose a great challenge. Sit on the rounded side and do crunches, or shoulder lifts with your feet a few inches off the ground. Use a BOSU instead of the steps for some aerobic ooomph. Or put your feet on the flat side when you do tricep dips next to a bench. Really, honestly—another case of the "options are endless."

So next time you're at the gym, don't be shy. Grab a BOSU and find a little corner by a mirror and give it a go. And if your gym doesn't have BOSU balance trainers, you absolutely must put up a stink about it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dirty pop.

I used to be a huge N'Sync fan. I had every CD, got to see them play Soldier Field in Chicago and Justin Timberlake was my pretend boyfriend. (Nope, not afraid to admit that!) Though I'm not much of a listener these days, I still appreciate what they did for pop music. In fact, I think their song "Pop" will always be one of my favorites. Sadly, the only place I hear it these days is in my head when I get a soda pop craving, which is hardly at all.

And that's a good thing because soda pop = BAD. My instructors at Blue Heron Academy handed out a list of ten reasons why one should never consume soda pop. Each reason is fairly long, so I'll do some paraphrasing before I lose your attention:

1) Soda pop is essentially a diuretic, which means it drains water from your body. And your body needs water to function. To combat the damage done by one glass of soda pop, you'll likely need to drink 8-12 glasses of water.

2) Many people think soda pop is a good thirst quencher, but it isn't. One again, it's a diuretic that takes water out of your body. And a lack of water can lead to dehydration...which can then lead to a wide variety of issues.

3) Soda pop contains phosphates which drain minerals from your body. For example, calcium is a mineral and if you're not getting enough of it your body may be at a higher risk for Osteoporosis. In addition, minerals help your body absorb vitamins. Need I say more?

4) I'm sure you've seen the chain emails, and it's true—soda pop takes rust off metal. (That's enough right there to kill my craving, what about you?)

5) High fructose corn syrup! Woah, loads of sugar...and all that sugar causes your pancreas to produce an excessive amount of insulin which eventually just leads to a "sugar crash." Repeated fluctuations in sugar load can lead to Diabetes.

6) High levels of sugar and caffeine in soda pop negatively affect the way your body digests food. It essentially stops your body from taking in nutrients from anything you might have recently eaten.

7) While diet soda pops may seem like a good thing, they tend to contain high amounts of aspartame. Some of you may already be familiar with aspartame as an alternative to sugar, but what you may not know is that aspartame has been linked to depression, insomnia, neurological disorders...the list goes on.

8) Soda pop is acidic. So much so that tests have proven soda pop's ability to leach aluminum from its own can if it sits for too long. And here's where it gets interesting: According to this list I'm reading, autopsies on Alzheimer patients usually show high levels of aluminum in the brain. (Wish I had more background information on that one.)

9) One more point about the acidity of soda pop—acid waste. Yeah, it builds up in your body around your joints and organs. And diseases love acid waste. 'Nuff said.

10) Last but not least, that old wive's tale about 7-Up when you're lie.

And there you have it! I know it may be a lot to ask that you stop drinking soda pop completely, so my only hope is that you'll at least cut back your empty can (or bottle) count each week. If the list alone isn't enough persuasion, just try and remember that soda pop equals "dirty pop."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stretching is essential.

Today's post is very simple: stretch.

Stretch before, then stretch again after your workout. I see plenty of people at the gym, and I confess to having been one of them on occasion, who blast through their stretching routines—that is, if they stretch at all.

Let me ask you this: Would you give a speech without prepping? You can, and you'll fumble your way through it, but the aftermath might not be pleasant. When you prepare for such an event, you'll speak easily and with positive feedback at the end. Prepping for a speech is essentially stretching your brain. Warming it up, in other words. And your brain, like your calf or your quad, is a muscle.

So if you stretch the rest of your muscles like you stretch your brain for a speech or anything else, you'll have a better workout with positive results. You'll curb your risk for injury while prepping your muscles for a fat burning, strength-enhancing workout. Or whatever your goals may be. You'll also keep yourself limber, which makes everyday activities that much easier.

I recommend holding each of your stretches for a count of 45 seconds. And by all means, don't bounce! If you feel any pain, pull back the stretch to where it's most comfortable. Lucky for us, our muscles and tendons are built to respond to overstretching. Scientifically speaking, it's called the myotatic stretch reflex. It describes the point at which your muscle sends a signal to your spinal cord to indicate a breaking point, and that's why you feel the pain.

Feel free to contact me for specific stretch ideas.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Get the most out of the world around you!

Next time you head outside for a walk or run, I challenge you to utilize the world around you and create a circuit of sorts in between all that cardio. Think about what you do in the gym (or in the privacy of your own home) and then find ways to do the same outside by simply using anything and everything at your fingertips. Or toes, depending on how you wish to look at it. I went for a run yesterday morning and took our camera with me. Here's what I found:

Steps! Of course it's fairly easy to run or walk down a flight, but pause and turn around for a set of calf raises for extra burn. Then lean into a railing or one of the higher steps and do a set of inclined pushups to hit your chest muscles. And when you get to the bottom, turn around and head back up.

Running or walking up a flight of stairs is no jolly romp through the park as I'm sure you already know. The steps above kick my butt every time. Literally. Going up a flight of steps calls on your glutes and your hamstrings intensely—also your ticker, so be careful. Break up the return trip with a pause for more calf raises and inclined pushups, then giddyup to the top. As you continue your walk or run, keep an eye out for a playground.

Channel your inner kid (or monkey) and go from bar to bar for an upper body workout. Hang from a single bar and target your back and biceps with pull-ups if you can, then target your abs with with knee raises. You can also use any ladders or platforms for tricep dips. Even hip abductions, calf raises, elevated lunges...your options are virtually endless! Sometimes, however, playground equipment isn't the right height. And that's where a picnic bench comes into play.

You may find that a picnic bench is your best option for tricep dips, and you can easily channel your inner Step Queen (or King) with some step-ups. Then, sit on the edge of the bench or tabletop to hit your abs with v-ups. (Tuck your legs into your chest then straighten them out in front of you. Tuck back in and repeat.) And of course, you can always do another set of inclined pushups. Or, to make it more advanced, put your feet on the bench and your hands on the grass for a declined pushup.

And speaking of grass, never forget that it's Mother Nature's yoga mat. Find an excellent patch of it somewhere with a view and get some stains doing ab work,'s another place where your options are virtually endless.

Being in a gym certainly has its benefits, but if you're lacking motivation or need to up the ante, nothing beats some fun in the sun. Mother Nature has a lot to offer, including fresh air and Vitamin D. And at your age, you probably don't need your parents' permission to play outside—so go play outside already!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Upcoming events!

One of the things I love the most about the health and fitness industry is that there's never a shortage of things to do. It's a big industry right now (as it should be) and it continues to gain popularity as we learn more about our bodies, what they need and what they can do. And with the onset of spring, this is the time of year that we start to see flyers and posters for events that educate and challenge us. Every time I go to the coffee shop, I check out the bulletin board for local races. And I can't wait for the first farmer's market so that I can eat a little fresher.

Just last week, I signed up for two events that will take place next month.

On May 1, I'll be running the Susan G. Komen Northern Indiana Race for the Cure in my hometown. Have you ever run a local race? Though it is a competition, there generally isn't any pressure to win. Some walk, others run...but everyone has fun.

And on the 15th of May, I'll be visiting Chicago to attend the SELF Magazine Workout in the Park. As a first-timer, I'm not quite sure what to expect. The official website describes it as a day filled with exercise classes and complimentary samples from a variety of great vendors, which sounds fun. And the ticket prices gets me a subscription to SELF, so that's cool.

Google both if you're close enough to attend. And keep me posted on any other events you think I might be interested in! If you're not close enough to attend, I am almost certain you'll find events just like these in your area. If you do, attend them! Then tell me all about it.

Read "Susan G. Komen Northern Indiana Race for the Cure," "SELF Magazine Workout in the Park," and "RetroRobics—The videos!" to see how much I enjoyed the aforementioned events.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Oxygen Magazine

I added a new title to my list of monthly must-reads (because we all know that I'm obsessed with magazines), though at first I was intimidated by the women it featured. They're all wicked buff. But after truly digesting the information within, I've come to appreciate Oxygen for the great fitness magazine that it is.

Oxygen strips away the fashion and beauty pages to focus solely on working out and eating healthy. And it does so in a way that isn't intimidating at all. It's somewhat inspiring, actually. Pick up an issue next time you hit the bookstore, then let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Target your heart rate.

You're probably quite familiar with your ticker. It pumps blood throughout your body, it flutters when you fall in obviously keeps you alive. Some, unfortunately, are better than others so if you have issues with yours I urge you to consult with a physician before taking any of the advice below to (pardon the pun) heart.

That said, let's talk about target heart rate. Your THR is a very important number because it defines the intensity at which you should be working out. And reaching that intensity is important because it means you're sucking out maximum heart, lung and muscle benefits from your workout. To figure out your THR, you'll need to know your resting and maximum heart rates.

What is your resting heart rate? You definitely don't need a medical degree to figure it out. Simply take your fingers and rest them on a pulse point (wrist, throat) and count the number of beats in 15 seconds then multiply it by four. It's that easy, but there is an optimal time to count. RHR can fluctuate due to sickness, dehydration or over training. It may even lower as your fitness level gets higher. So it never hurts to average a few readings.

On the other end of things, your maximum heart rate is the hardest your heart can pump. A variety of professional tests can be conducted to get an absolute MHR, but you can estimate it with a simple formula:
And now that we know your RHR and MHR, we can begin to estimate your THR. Typically, an appropriate intensity is 60 to 75 percent of the difference between your resting and maximum heart rates and that difference is called the heart rate reserve.
 Tie it all together with the following formula:

So now you have a target heart rate range. Remember this number, and when you're at the gym, check your pulse periodically to make sure that you're reaching it. And thus, reaching the intensity that gets you the most benefits. BUT—always reach your THR gradually, which means you'll have to warm up at the beginning of your workout. And when you're done, bring your heart rate back down with some gentle cardio and stretching.

The more familiar you get with your THR range, the more you can customize your workouts. And the more you can monitor your intensity. (You've seen the charts on the cardio machines, right?)

Don't like the math? Find an easy calculator online. Don't feel like stopping mid-workout to take your heart rate? Find a heart rate monitor at the store.

And, as always, listen to your body. Your heart will be the first to tell you if it needs a break, and I advise you never to let it get to that point.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lateral raise with dumbbells...and then some.

A staple in most lifting programs, the lateral raise is an extremely effective way to strengthen and tone your deltoids (shoulder muscles). They're somewhat easy to perform, and I am almost certain you already know how to do them.

Just in case you don't, a quick how-to:

Grab a lighter set of dumbbells, one in each hand. Relax your shoulders and place your arms at your side. Legs should be hip-width apart. Simply lift the dumbbells out to the side of your body until your arms are parallel to the floor (you'll look like a "T"), then relax back to start. Reps are up to you, arms can be straight or bent at 90 degrees.

Easy, right? Almost too easy, I think.

Try it this way: Sit on the floor or a bench, maybe even a BOSU ball, and lift your feet a few inches off the floor. Use your abdominal muscles to balance, and keep your back relatively straight. Lift as instructed above without letting your feet touch the floor.

Not only will you get a great shoulder workout, engaging your abdominal muscles and lifting your feet throughout will add a core bonus. And if you're anything like me, you're always looking for that added core bonus.

Try it, I promise you'll like it. Or at the very least, develop a love/hate relationship with it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

So, Easter is over.

If you celebrate holidays like a normal human being, you probably found yourself indulging in some excellent food yesterday. And whether your Easter go-to was ham or Polish sausage (or something else entirely), you probably indulged repeatedly. Or at least once with a plate of food that qualified for the "eating more than usual" label. Plus, I'm sure there was a significant amount of sweetness within your arms' reach. (Damn that bunny and his chocolate eggs!)

But today is a new day and Easter is over. Family and food have come and gone, and hidden among those last annoying shards of basket grass is an all too familiar emotion: Eater's Remorse.

And it's a pistol, isn't it?

No matter how hard you tried to keep yourself on track, you got sucked into the appetizers or maybe you went back for another serving of the side dishes. And you probably forgot how many pieces of candy you ate, which is why you may have grabbed one more.

"The damage is done, I'll start tomorrow," you thought. And you probably did start again today, picking up where your diet stopped on Friday. And you'll probably spend the rest of today being super particular about everything you eat. That's great and you should, but stop paying the emotional toll.

Put your foot down on Eater's Remorse. Shove it deep into the trash with those last annoying shards of basket grass.

We all eat a little more than usual when the holidays roll around, but if you spend the days around those holidays leading a generally healthy lifestyle, you'll still be leading a generally healthy lifestyle post holiday. There's no need to beat yourself up about whatever you ate yesterday. One day of overeating does not erase days upon days of working out and eating clean. But if you succumb to Eater's Remorse, you run the risk of completely overshadowing the great meal you just shared with friends and family.

You came, you indulged and I'm here today to tell you that it's time to move on. Channel your inner Beatle and just "let it be, let it be."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Would you skip it?

I wouldn't. If I saw this in the gym, you can bet your bananas I would pick it up for some cardio. In fact, I wonder why there isn't an adult version out there. Maybe that's how I'll make my millions, or maybe you'll tell me where to find one. Until then, let's all settle for a trip down memory lane.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Have run, be safe.

Ah, glorious sunshine. You are finally back in my life! Because of you, I can part ways with my treadmill. I can stomp out my runs on local sidewalks while taking in the birds, the bees, the flowers and the trees that I have come to miss since the first flakes of snow fell just a few months ago.

If you're anything like me, dear reader, you will certainly take advantage of this weather and start running outside again. And I'd like to take a minute to remind us all about the importance of safety. It's a crazy, crazy world we live in and it never hurts to have a heightened sense of safety when you're out running.

A few tips:

1) Wear earbuds, but keep the volume down. If you can't hear the passing cars or the conversations of the people you zoom by, then your music is diminishing your awareness of potential hazards. Or goofballs that wish to attack you from behind.

2) Carry your keyring like it's a weapon. Stick a key through each of your knuckles to make a claw-like fist. You bet they'll poke out eyeballs and scratch skin!

3) Invest in gear that reflects, especially if you'll be engaging in pre-dawn or post-sunset runs. Is it really their fault if they couldn't even see you?

4) Look for shorts or shirts that have a pocket and slip that sleek cell phone inside it. You'll be glad you have it if you get lost or sprain an ankle.

5) Buy jewelry—running jewelry, that is. A simple Google search for ID bracelets will produce a list of vendors. As creepy sick as it sounds, you'll be easier to identify.

6) Never run the same path. If someone is watching you, they'll know where you go. Change it up and they'll get confused. And it'll obviously keep you from getting bored.

7) Hydrate when it's hot. (Duh.)

8) Wear sunscreen. You're obviously not running in a bathing suit, but you're still exposed to harmful UV rays.

9) Find a tiny bottle of pepper spray, perhaps one that fits on your keyring. It'll show that neighborhood dog who's boss.

10) Keep your eyes up and observe, observe, observe your surroundings at all times. Change routes for the better if something looks fishy. If they see you seeing them, well...they might back off.

What tips can you add to this list?

Friday, April 2, 2010

My big fat Greek yogurt snack.

I remember very clearly the first time I ate Greek yogurt because it thoroughly and completely disgusted me. Something about it was sour, the texture was grossly thick compared to my Light 'n Fit yogurt and I had no clue what to make of the watery gunk I found floating underneath the lid. But I paid a pretty penny for it comparatively, so I was bound and determined to make my way through the entire cup.

And I did, thankfully. By the time I scooped up my very last spoonful, Greek yogurt and I were friends. Very good friends with benefits, though I think I may be the only getting the benefits.

Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein, and if you buy the right kind, it can be low in fat and sugar, too. This makes it an ideal base for post-workout smoothies. I like to blend Oikos Vanilla (organic!) with a banana, splash of skim milk, tablespoon of natural creamy peanut butter and a pinch of cocoa powder to create a healthy take on a chocolate milkshake.

You can also cook with Greek yogurt. The other day, I swapped out the buttercream in a raspberry scone recipe for equal parts low-fat, plain Greek yogurt and it seemed to work just fine. I'm also quite anxious to try the "No Cream-No Cry Penne All Vodka" recipe in my latest issue of Fitness magazine, which calls for Greek yogurt instead of cream.

And as I type this post, I'm very much looking forward to eating this snack:

Oikos Vanilla (my favorite!) with a dash of cinnamon to taste. Such a perfect little dip for my Lady Alice apple slices and a few berries.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Six months, 50%.

I'm typically not a numbers person. Never liked balancing my checkbook, always worked hard to pass my math classes. (And now I'm a writer, go figure.) But I recently came across a few numbers in one of my fitness magazines that I found to be very inspiring.

Oxygen quoted the Mayo Clinic, who stated that it's entirely possible to increase your strength by 50% in just six months with a consistent weight-training program.

To some, six months might seem like a long time to wait for such impressive changes, but what you have to remember is that you're filling those six months with activities that promote positive changes. Make the commitment to a weight-training program, include some cardio, and you'll be hard-pressed not to feel your body changing for the better. Not only will you be on the road to a stronger set of muscles, but you'll more than likely see some weight loss or maintenance (depending on your goals).

So, to all of my faithful readers, I say stick with it when the going gets tough. And if you haven't started a consistent weight-training program—get your fit on! Fit is FUN. I promise! (Just make sure you get your doctor to sign off on your ability to begin. Better to be safe than sorry if there's any question whatsoever.)


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