Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Eat and live proactively against breast cancer."

Are you familiar with Dr. Aaron Tabor? I'm not either, so I did some research and discovered that his work focuses on prevention through nutrition. Obviously that's something I can get behind. Why bring him up? I subscribe to the Hungry Girl newsletter and today's edition mentions Dr. Tabor's new book (shown at right). He's actually giving it away for free, and ladies, I urge you to get a copy! Visit Dr. Tabor's website and sign up for his newsletter, after which you can download your copy of the book. I got mine, and though I haven't read it completely, I can see some solid information within—but I will say that I disagree with his note to "use two high-protein shakes or bars as meal replacements for breakfast and lunch." I think we can figure out how to get protein without resorting to premade meals, right? But when it comes to preventing breast cancer, I'll take all the information I can get which is why I'm still suggesting you get your free copy of the book. You should want all the information you can get, too.

Question: Are you diligent about breast self-exams?

And on a completely unrelated note, I'd like to wish my lovely sister a very happy birthday. Gone are the days where you feared Teddy Ruxpin, my how you've grown into an incredible young woman. Love you, lady.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spiderman Pushups

I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of pushups. But, they are a great upper body exercise. 
I do two sets of 12 on upper body days. They're getting easier, and I've started modifying them to avoid boredom. For example, I do Spider-Man pushups. I'm up to about four before I shift back into regular pushups. They're hard! Watch this video, then give them a try:

Question: How do you feel about pushups? Do you modify them?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yesterday morning was very hard.

There are some things in life you can prepare for, like a job interview or half marathon, but when it comes to accepting the inevitable death of your beloved family pooch—no amount of preparation makes it easy to say goodbye.

Kylie joined our family 13 years ago. She was a gift given to my sister, though we all loved her equally. She was our beagie (beagle), and she loved us back with all of her heart. We could tell and it made us feel special, but then again, she loved everyone. Kids would jump on her, tug at her ears and pull her tail, but she never bit them. Not a single one. She suffered through many a pink pedicure, dog-ear pigtails with old hair scrunchies, smelly socks stuffed onto her snout, ribbons tied around her neck and so much more. All in the name of love, and never once did she complain. And she always, always greeted you at the door with a fast-waggin' tail and barks that seemed to say "I missed you so much it hurt."

She was the four-legged sister, the furry daughter, and yesterday we said goodbye.

Kylie spend the last few years of her life fighting a doggy disease we'll never really understand. Yesterday morning was the first time we ever truly saw her pain. We hoped an early trip to the vet would help her, but as it turned out, it was just time. Time to say goodbye. Time to send her off to a special place above. She was ready, even though we weren't. But again, there are just some things you really can't prepare for.

We stayed with her at the vet's office until the very end, some of us holding her while others waited outside the room. (Oddly enough, we were all in town at the same time.) She was just a dog, but she was our dog and we couldn't leave her alone. She, after all, wouldn't ever leave us alone if she knew something was wrong. She'd be by our side, or sitting right outside our bedroom door. So we did the same for her.

Kylie's "livin' the good life" pillow might stay in the corner of the living room at my parents' house for a while, and over time we'll get used to the idea that she won't be sleeping on it anymore. Or greeting us at the door when we get there. These things do, after all, take time.

Despite her disease and all that it did to her, Kylie never stopped (looking for crumbs, begging for scraps, following us around). But now that she had, it was time for us to move forward with all of the memories she gave us. So, in honor of our precious puppas, we decided to go about our day.

Dad and I went for a bike ride—yet another reason why yesterday morning was really hard! We pedaled almost 20 miles along a route that included one of the biggest hills I've ever conquered (barely) on two wheels. It felt good to get some fresh air. And sometimes, that's what fitness is for. There's something about testing your muscles—maybe it's all that seratonin—that can bring a smile to your face. Think about the last time you saw a dog running around the backyard, full speed ahead, big ears flopping in the wind.

You'd swear they were smiling, right? Maybe it was just Kylie.
Rest in peace, Snooks. We'll love you forever.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Top Ten Things to Tell Yourself

1) Every weight I lift is a representation of my strength. I am strong—in every sense of the word.
2) I am flawed, but that's acceptable. It's what makes me unique and interesting.
3) I think you can, I think you can—I know you can.
4) This delectable dessert isn't good for me, but I deserve a treat on occasion.
5) Calm down, it's not worth it.
6) Skinny is meaningless, healthy is everything.
7) That number on the scale doesn't define me. Only I can define me.
8) Thank you for putting up with all my crap.
9) Remember what it feels like to finish a workout? I really think we should do it again.
10) I love you, and I'm proud of you.

There's no greater relationship than the one you have with your very own self. Only when the two of you are in line can you truly succeed at relationships with others. So nourish your body, mind and soul every chance you get. Choose healthy meals—and even healthier thoughts. Challenge yourself with physical activities, and remember that a push is always a push forward. No matter what.

Question: What do you constantly tell yourself?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Youth Strength Training

Well, it's that time of year again. Pencils are being sharpened in classrooms across the country as kiddies big and small return to school. My school days are over, but I'll never stop studying. It's one of the joys (seriously) of being a personal trainer. To maintain your certification, you have to earn continuing education units (CEUs)—and I'm about to earn my first.

I'll be teaching a few classes this fall, one of which is a Teen Bootcamp for kids between the ages of 10 and 13. I'm really excited about it, but I've yet to train a single kid so I don't really know how to plan. That's where my first continuing education unit comes into play. I ordered the materials at left from the American Council on Exercise. They promise to teach me a lot about training kiddies safely and effectively.

All I have to do is read the book and watch the video, then successfully complete the at-home exam. I'll get my CEU, and have a good base for building my Teen Bootcamp class. This is my first time participating in an at-home course, so I'm anxious to get started. I don't think it'll be hard, as I've always been a pretty attentive learner. But still, would I rather study my Youth Strength Training book or read the latest issue of Marie Claire? There's a chance I'll need to channel some serious discipline here. I'll keep you posted.

Question: Would you have been interested in a Bootcamp class when you were a teen?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Bobble

I'm very picky about water. All of it should taste the same, but you and I both know that it varies greatly from source to source. Blame it on the filters, but the truth remains that a lot of gunk seeps into our supply. That gunk affects taste, and can affect the way we feel. Thankfully, my tap water at home is decently delicious and my SIGG bottle transports it just fine. But once I empty it, if I can't get back home for a quick refill—what's a girl to do? Buy a bottle of water at the closest convenience store? Evil plastic meets unnecessary price tag! Find a water fountain? Um, well. That could be gross! So I bought a bobble. A wha? A bobble!

My husband introduced me to the product after reading about it in a design magazine. It's a reusable and recyclable, BPA-free water bottle with its very own carbon filter. Genius! And sold. I ordered the 18.5oz beauty at right. Look for a follow up when it arrives...

Question: Are you picky when it comes to water? How do you get yourself to drink enough water throughout the day?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is chocolate good for you?

There's no denying that chocolate is good. And I mean really, really good. But is it good for you? I did some research and discovered a variety of different studies that all indicate chocolate—to be specific, cocoa—can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. One article referenced a publication called Circulation: Heart Failure in which the American Heart Association explained a 9-year study conducted in Sweden. It concluded that chocolate has the ability to curb the risk of heart failure in older women.

And I quote: "Women who ate an average of one to two servings of the high-quality chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure." Apparently, all credit goes to the flavonoids found within the chocolate they ate. According to the dictionary, flavonoids are "water-soluble plant pigments...polyphenols that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties." Sound tasty? Yeah, but only if you pick the right piece of chocolate. Pick wrong (or pick too often), and you'll end up consuming a load of calories and fat. It should go without saying that dark chocolate surpasses both milk and white chocolate as it contains more cocoa. And therefore, more flavonoids. WebMD recommends eating just an ounce per serving, which they equate to about six Hershey's Kisses. I'm incapable of telling you how much to consume in a week, but I'd keep it as close to one serving as possible. Yeah, I know. Sounds impossible. If you're like me (see bag of dark chocolate peanuts above), you're a chocoholic. It's tasty, but only meant to be a tasty treat on occasion. Remember little Augustus Gloop?

Though I envy his swim in the chocolate river, I embrace his lesson. Chocolate, like any other treat, is meant to be consumed sparingly. Only then can you truly appreciate it as a treat. Possibly even as a healthy treat. And with all that hard work you do at the gym, treats are definitely acceptable. On occasion, of course.

Question: What's your favorite way to eat chocolate? Your favorite scene from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Build your own gym.

I talk quite frequently about various pieces of equipment at the gym, but the truth is—you don't have to join a gym to gain access to excellent fitness equipment. Simply heading outside can lead you to a number of different options. All of which are free, but require Mother Nature's cooperation. If you live in a snow belt (as I do), then you know what I'm talking about. Enter stores like Target and Dick's Sporting Goods, both of which stock great selections of affordable fitness equipment. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting you run out and buy a treadmill, though they are worthwhile investments. I am, however, suggesting that you start with the basics and build up as needed. But before you head out, let's take a look at your humble abode.

If you stash fitness equipment in the corner of your bedroom, it'll stay there forever. Take a quick stroll through each and every room in your house or apartment and decide which area will be your own personal gym. Choose a room that's spacious, well-ventilated, and if you can claim an empty wall for a mirror—consider it the perfect spot. Give it a good clean, and find something on or in which you can store the goods you're about to purchase. You want your home gym to be inviting, because only an inviting spot is truly inspiring.

On that note, let's shop! I popped on Target's website to find the images in the following collage. Admittedly, this collage could have contained a hundred different items, but I stuck to the basics. And really, all you really need is the basics.

1) Exercise ball. Use it for abdominal work,
    as a chair or even as a weight bench.

2) Hand weights. Pick a light, medium and
    heavy pair to give yourself some variety.
3) Resistance tubes. They mimic machines
    you'd find at a gym and help you stretch.
4) Yoga mat. They make any floor comfy,
    and they keep sweat out of your carpeting.
5) Jump rope. It's the cheapest piece of
    cardio equipment you'll ever buy.

Question: What kind of exercise equipment do you have at home? Is there something on your wish list?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Necessary Ingredients for Fitness Success

I live in a place that hustles and bustles with tourists in search of sunshine and beach sand. Nestled above the beach itself is a quaint little downtown filled with sandwich shops, clothing stores, a five-and-dime and (of course) a few coffee shops. My husband's office sits just outside of this area and he needed to pop in yesterday, so I offered to drop him off with the intention of writing my blog old-school style on a bench overlooking the beach, coffee (plus a pen and some paper) in hand.

Needless to say, I got a little distracted by a new store—Sweet Seasons Orchards. It's essentially a farmer's market, and it will be open whether the sun shines or the snow falls. And I couldn't be happier about that for one main reason—they sell homemade nut butters! (If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm obsessed.) They also have a vast assortment of dried fruits and veggies, soup mixes, granola and, well...it's essentially a small town version of Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.

I looked around for a bit (because I'm weird and I love natural food stores), then I sampled each of the nut butters. I bought Honey/Peanut Almond Butter and Chocolate Peanut Butter. You can safely bet your butters I'll go back for the Cashew version at some point! So tasty, I'm a total fan (which surprises no one). The whole purchase got me thinking—could I live without nut butters? Which got me thinking even harder.

What else couldn't I live without, specifically speaking in terms of my fit life? So I put together the following list.

Tara's Top Five Ingredients for Fitness Success
1) Nut butters. The combination of healthy fats and protein makes me run for the nearest apple after a  
    good workout.
2) Ponytail holders. I will never understand how some women can exercise with their hair flopping in
    their face. I'd sweat like a pig. Even more than I already do.
3) Dri-fit clothing. It's super breathable, which minimizes sweat (and sweat stains). It also washes
    really well, so even the cheapest item is a long-lasting investment.
4) Comfortable shoes. I'm currently rocking my Adidas Supernova Glides like it's my job. Without
    them, I wouldn't be allowed to set foot in the gym—proper footwear required!
5) Deodorant. I don't always smell so lovely, believe it or not.

Now, you must realize that we all have different ingredients in our recipes for fitness success. But there is, however, a general yet overarching recipe for fitness success that includes a list of solid ingredients you're most definitely familiar with.

Necessary Ingredients for Fitness Success
1) Goals. They give you a reason to work hard, and they help measure your progress.
2) A combination of cardio and strength exercises. Because one isn't nearly as good without the other.
3) Stretching. It keeps your muscles long and lean, which promotes easier movement and minimizes
    the risk of injury.
4) Healthy meals and snacks. You wouldn't water your plants with toilet water, so why put crappy food
    in your body? Fresh water keeps a plant alive in the same way that healthy meals and snacks keep
    your body alive.
5) Confidence. You are an individual with unique needs. Learn to read your body, learn how to treat it
    right and most importantly, learn to accept it. When you do, you'll be stronger than ever—mentally
    and physically.

Question: What's on your personal list of ingredients for fitness success?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Make your ab workout a good workout.

It's funny, in the past week alone, I added two clients to my rotation—both of which want to focus primarily on abdominal exercises. Lucky for them, I love this particular muscle group and there are a gazillion different abdominal exercises out there. Google "abdominal exercises" and you'll get 448,000 links. Google "core exercises" and you'll get a whopping 14,700,000 links. I'll let you dive into the exercises as you see fit, but in honor of my new clients, I'd like to share a few pointers that will hopefully help you make your ab workout a good workout. (Some of which I've mentioned before, so consider this a bit of a review as well.)

1) Many say that practice makes perfect, while others say that perfect practice makes perfect. And I tend to believe them. Sloppy form gets you nowhere, especially when it comes to abdominal exercises. The core can be a tricky thing to engage, and only the best form will help you do so.

2) What's the rush? It's not about how quickly you complete your abdominal exercises, it's about how effectively you complete them. So take it slow. Or at least medium slow.

3) It's about quality, not quantity. You can do 100 crunches, but you'll probably lean toward improper form. 15 to 25 really good, solid crunches would be better.

4) Breathe. And avoid momentum. 'Nuff said.

5) Take a break. Just like every other muscle group, your abs need a rest day in between sessions.

6) Behind every set of abdominal muscles is a stomach, so mind what you put in that stomach because it ultimately makes or breaks your ab routine. Eat well, and you'll feature a whittled middle. Eat like crap, and your ab workout is a wash.

Question: How often do you train your abdominal muscles?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You might be a monkey if...

...you swing on trees to get from here to there.
...you speak "ooh ooh ah ah."
...you nit pick.
...you eat at least one banana every single day.

That last one gets me. I go bananas once a day. (Literally speaking, of course.) Which means that I might be a monkey. And while I realize that admission leaves me vulnerable to your jokes and jabs (dad), I remain proud of my monkeyness. Let me remind you, we're all part monkey.

Let me also remind you that bananas make an excellent addition to almost any diet. A small banana lacks saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium—but is a great source of fiber, vitamin C and potassium. Downfall? About 12 grams of sugar. But at least it's natural sugar, which means you can satisfy your sweet tooth without hitting the candy aisle. I found the bananas at left while driving the road to Hana on Maui. Bought 'em from a roadside stand and they were the best, sweetest, most delicious bananas I've ever tasted. Pretty sure we ate them all in one fell swoop!

Ever wonder why bananas are always available at post-race gatherings? Carbohydrates. One single banana has about 23 grams, which makes it a great source of energy. If you're at home, you should add protein to complete the snack. I like to spread some nut butter on a piece of whole wheat bread or a rice cake and then top it with sliced bananas. Or I throw a banana in my blender, add a dash of milk and some Greek yogurt, plus a spoonful of nut butter and enjoy.

I must, however, warn you against one banana concoction: banana splits from your local ice cream parlor can be major calorie bombs. If you're really craving bananas in this way, make the split at home with a few healthy tweaks. Choose Greek yogurt, or at the very least, the cleanest type of frozen yogurt you can find. Top with fresh fruit (don't forget the cherry) and chopped almonds, maybe even some dark chocolate shavings. Skip the whipped cream, though. Or at least make it yourself.

And just so you know, real monkeys peel from the bottom. Not the stem.

Question: Are you a real monkey? What's your favorite way to eat a banana?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Free yoga classes!

I'm still trying to decide if yoga is for me. I think I like it, but the strength trainer within me wants more. Which is why I like pilates. I feel the burn every time! But since I remain unconvinced that yoga isn't for me, I continue to give it a try. And with YogaDownload, I can do so without cost. This comprehensive yoga site offers a number of free 20-minute downloads, complete with vocal and visual instructions. I tested Core Yoga #1 and found it to be a burner—hooray! Longer sessions are available, but you'll have to pay the price (literally speaking). Poke around, see what you think.

Question: Do you like yoga? Why or why not?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On glycogen.

One of my readers recently submitted the following:

"I read something about how your body can use stored energy on runs. That is uses glycogen first and then fat (or vice versa). Can you teach it how to use the reserve when you get tired?"

Oh, well well. Glad you asked, dear reader! I'd be all too happy to discuss glycogen. Gly-wha? GLYCOGEN. It comes from carbohydrates, which your body breaks down into glucose, fructose and galactose. All of which are called upon as a source of energy that allows your body to function outside of exercise. What's left over is then turned into glycogen and stored in your muscles for later use. Like, for example, when you exercise. (I also read that glycogen is stored in the uterus of a pregnant woman, and that it helps nourish the growing baby within. But that doesn't really have anything to do with exercise. I just learned something new and thought I'd share, so back to it...) To understand how your body uses glycogen, you have to understand the difference between your aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Your aerobic system uses oxygen to find energy that's hidden throughout your body in the form of carbohydrates first, then protein and fat. It's typically activated during endurance-based workouts in an effort to keep the body at a place where it can sustain physical activity for a longer period of time. On the other hand, the anaerobic system works almost without oxygen as it relies entirely on the glycogen stored in your muscles to facilitate quick bursts of movement like sprints or jumps. Consequently, the anaerobic system kicks in first.

So, yes—your body uses stored energy. Even when you're running. And it does so naturally, so you don't have to worry about teaching it how to tap any energy on reserve. Your body is built to find energy wherever it can. First from carbohydrates appropriately stored as glycogen, which is why many runners choose to "carbo-load" before going the distance. As glycogen depletes, you start to hit the wall—a good sign that your body is using fat for energy. It also turns to protein, but protein isn't the best source of energy and we need it for muscle growth and repair (among other things). Needless to say, carbs are still the best source of energy which is why distance runners often rely on specialized sports drinks, bars, gels, beans and whathaveyou to up their carb count mid-run.

Essentially speaking, make sure you eat carbohydrates before, sometimes during, but especially after you exercise. Choose healthy carbohydrates and learn to eat the right amount—excess carbohydrates are stored as fat. So watch your fat intake, too. (I know. It's a vicious, never-ending thing.) 

Question: How do you typically "carbo-load" before a big race? And do you have a favorite healthy carbohydrate? Me, I love oats.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

EPIC FAIL (and a smoothie)

Yesterday morning sucked. (Pardon the language, but it really did.) It was Tuesday and I was scheduled to meet a client at the gym for a 5:45 to 6:30AM session. I woke up at 6:00AM to a phone call from the front desk staffer letting me know that my client was waiting for me. EPIC FAIL! What happened to my alarm? With no time to investigate, I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and was out the door in three minutes. So glad I only live two minutes away. I was there by 6:05AM and was able to condense the 45-minute workout I had planned into a shorter 30-minute workout. But, seriously—what happened to my alarm? I'll tell you. It appears as if I'm an idiot. Though I've been setting a stinkin' alarm for quite some time now, I failed (because I'm an idiot, remember) to distinguish between AM and PM. And, of course, my phone chose PM. BLAH!

Anyways, my client understood. (Love her!) All is good. And speaking of good, I had time to come home in between sessions. Of course I had to eat, so I made a smoothie. Let's call it the ABP Breakfast Smoothie. A for almonds, B for blueberries and P for a pear. Seriously, it's a winner. Filled with carbs (55g) and protein (13g), it made for a low-fat (4g) and delightfully decent 296-calorie breakfast. And I'm equally convinced it would make a delicious post-workout snack.

1/3 cup skim milk
3 oz. Greek yogurt
1 Bartlet pear, peeled and cored
1/2 banana
1/3 cup blueberries
1 spoonful finely chopped almonds

Throw it all in the blender and blend until it gets smooth enough!

It's that easy! I contemplated adding some vanilla and cinnamon, also a bit of wheat germ and ground flax, but I exercised some serious control—hich I have to do when I work with a blender because otherwise everything and the kitchen sink would end up inside it. It's just too much fun! You never know what you'll get...though I can tell you, you'll get complete and total vomit if you add spinach. Trust me. It's not good.

Question: Have you had an epic fail lately?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

If you like this, do that.

They say variety is the spice of life. I don't know who "they" are, but I tend to believe them. Especially when it comes to building a successful fitness routine. Do the same exercises for the same amount of time, sets or repetitions for too long and you'll eventually hit that infamous training plateau. You must challenge your muscles regularly, and implementing variety will do just that. Play with speed, incline and resistance on the cardio machines, and try finding new alternatives for your favorite ol' exercises. Some examples:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Precious the Bike

No, I didn't break up with Jamis. He and I are still on great terms. But—and don't you dare tell him I said this—I'm not quite sure he compares to Precious, the bike with a brain. Oh yes, there's really a bike with a brain. Livestrong Foundation partnered with Breakfast, an agency in New York that seems to invent things, to create a specialized bike for a three-month cross country trip that is currently raising money for the Livestrong Foundation itself.

From the official website: "Precious' brain is an on-board device that captures all of his experiences, combined with a cloud-based system that analyzes those experiences. Put this all together and you get a bike that's able to express itself in his own words." Check out the following video for more information.

Now, I can't help but think—What would Jamis say if he could talk? And tell me, what do you think your bike would say if it could talk??

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I survived the Snake River.

I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of going whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole. I'm not the strongest of swimmers,and I kept having visions of myself falling into the rapids and splitting my head open on a rock. Some of my friends had gone before and they insisted that sitting toward the back of the boat would keep me safe. That I wouldn't get too wet, and that my chances of falling out would be slim to none. Course, then someone at work told me that sitting in the back of the boat would get me bucked out. I had no idea who to believe, but I went into it with an open mind. And my fingers crossed.

Turns out, I had an absolute blast! I claimed my spot on the back left side of the boat for the beginning of the two-hour tour and proceeded to row my little heart out—what an arm workout! Core, too because you have to keep yourself balanced on the boat's edge. I eventually switched sides because the personal trainer in me wanted to pay some attention to the other side of my body. (Can't be lopsided now, can we?!)

The river itself was actually quite calm. At least at the beginning. We rafted past a bald eagle perched atop a branch in a pine tree. We rafted by some cliff divers, which we encouraged with shouting requests to see them jump (they did). And we even rowed hard enough to raft by some other whitewater boats. Feeling a bit sure of myself, I moved to the front of the boat. (Can you spot me in the photo above? I'm the second oar on the left side of the boat.) Of course, that's when the river kicked it up a notch.

And then it kicked it up a few more notches. Technically speaking, the Snake River is a Class III river with eight to ten sections of medium-intensity rapids. (Class VI is the highest rating, and that means the river would be virtually impassable and you wouldn't launch a boat anyway.) And we sure did hit those rapids, almost one right after the other! I survived the first one, and that pretty much wiped out any fears I had.

In fact, it literally wiped out my fears because we essentially went underwater (see photo at right). Amazingly enough, not one of us fell out of the boat. Good times—and a good workout—had by all! If you ever get the chance to do some rafting, I highly recommend it. If it's not an option, you can recreate the physical benefits in the comforts of your (dry) gym.

Grab a body bar and an exercise ball, take a seat on the ball and grasp the bar much the same way you would a paddle. Palm the top end with one hand, grab two thirds of the way down the bar with the other. Then, proceed to row as you would if you were actually in a boat on the water. Try 30 seconds per side to begin with, and increase as you see fit. Squeeze your abs for balance and call upon your arm and back muscles to move the body bar. And use that imagination of yours, too! Pretend you are floating down the Snake River with a group of your best friends—it makes the exercise even more fun!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Don't let social situations ruin your diet.

When you leave town for a few days, be it for a business trip or vacation, the biggest challenge you will face is not airport security. It's the potential for diet demise. At home, you've got a routine that involves structured meals at specific times of the day. On the road, all hell breaks loose as you venture into the unknown. And quite often, the unknown includes social gatherings that tend to center themselves around food.

You can combat some of the stress associated with the potential for diet demise by packing a few of your favorite snacks, which is what I did when I headed out to Jackson Hole for my friend's wedding. It helps, but it's not always enough (see photo, my dinner plate at the reception). But again, social situations do not have to ruin your diet. Try out the following tips next time you go on a business trip or vacation (or even if you're just going to a backyard party down the street).

1) Be a one-plate wonder at the buffet line. Grab a plate and fill it with appropriate portions of the healthiest options. Turn around and don't look back. Unless you forget to grab a fork.

2) Eat a healthy snack before you head to a cocktail or dinner party. Choose foods that contains protein and/or fiber, both of which can make you feel full. That way, you won't be tempted by less-than-nutritious appetizers. But if the apps ARE nutritious, by all means—taste one! (Key word: one.)

3) Drink lots and lots of water. Quite frequently, we humans have a hard time distinguishing between thirst and hunger. Especially when we lose track of time or when our schedules change.

4) Eat slowly. That way, you'll hear your body saying "yo, yo...I need no mo'!"

5) Wear clothing that fits a bit snugly. It will remind you not to eat too much. (I hate feeling like a sausage link, don't you?)

6) Get some rest. Only the sharpest of minds can stay alert to the temptations that bring a diet down.

7) Ask yourself: Do I really...REALLY need to eat that? Or do I want it. If you want it, maybe you don't need to eat it after all. Even if it does look like the greatest gift ever created for taste buds.

8) Don't worry about offending a host or restaurant by not eating your entire meal. Yes, there are starving children somewhere. But let's be honest, you really can't ship them your leftovers. And the cost of being obese far outweighs whatever portion of your meal you aren't finishing.

Can you add to this list of tips?

Friday, August 13, 2010

I'm not the only one.

Sometimes I feel a bit strange when I admit to working out while on vacation. As if it makes me a huge loser for not setting the sneaks aside for a few days in the name of relaxation. But then I remind myself that I find solace in my workouts. Though they stress out my muscles, they relax my mind—vacations themselves are meant to relax you, right? So it's only fitting that I work out while I'm on vacation. Perhaps it goes back to the endorphinal rush, or perhaps it has something to do with serotonin.

I recently read about serotonin in a blog post on The New York Times website. The article stated that serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in our brains, and that low levels of serotonin might be associated with aggression and other mood disorders. Now, I'm generally not an aggressive person, but every so often I succumb to bad moods. (Let's be honest, who doesn't?) But let's not talk about that. Instead, let's talk about rats. The article also states that scientists have completed a variety of tests on rats, only to conclude that lower levels of serotonin truly promote aggression (and possibly bad moods, though there's no true way to tell if a rat is pissed). But when those rats hit their rat wheels for a run, serotonin levels increased and the rats weren't as aggressive.

Getting back to us humans, if our brains work the same way (and they sort of do), then it means that exercise can have a calming effect. Much like a great vacation, you see. So it's only perfect to mesh the two. And just so you know, I'm not the only one that does so. Check out the woman below. I have no idea who she is, but I loved the fact that she was working out in the middle of all that is Jackson, Wyoming.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Jackson Whole Grocer

I do my best to make sure that my diet supports my exercise plan, which means I make an effort to choose food wisely—though I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect. (Cupcake girl, that's me.) (And I die for chocolate every time.) Given that there's a significant lack of natural food stores in my hometown, I was all too elated to drive by The Jackson Whole Grocer on the way to our hotel. With some time to spare after my run on Friday, I was able to pay a visit.

There's something about a natural food store that fascinates me. I love browsing the aisles one by one, checking out all of the interesting items that don't typically make an appearance at mainstream, budget-friendly food stores. You never know what healthy alternative you'll stumble upon! For example, I found this NuttZo PF (peanut-free) nut butter. It mixed cashews with Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds and flax, chia and pumpkin seeds to create something that I imagine would be absolutely delightful on any apple—but the $22.95 price tag made me vomit a little in my mouth. (There will come a day, dear readers, where I will splurge and try this wonderful item. And if you've already done so, please tell me how it tastes!)

Needless to say, I quickly moved on to the next aisle. And the next, until I walked out with a bag full of goodies.

Items include:
• carob energy nuggets
• wild rice
• yogurt
• green tea mints
• a zucchini-carrot loaf
• granola bars
• fruit leather
• rice protein

And let me just say—Siggi's Icelandic style skyr strained non-fat yogurt is quite possibly the best yogurt I've ever eaten. And it's not even Greek yogurt, which you all know is my absolute favorite. If you live near a natural food store, pop in for a look-see and pick up your own cup of Siggi's. Maybe some other stuff, too. Again, you just never know what healthy alternative you'll stumble upon when you forgo the budget-friendly food stores.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Monday was a day filled to the brim with travel, but Tuesday and today—filled with memories of the amazing time I had in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They are memories I won't soon forget, and today is the first of a few posts in which you'll read about my trip. I've much to show that relates to living the fit life. You see, Jackson is surrounded by the Teton Mountains, the Snake River and Yellowstone National Park. You can't help but find something to do that gets your heart rate up. Even if it's nothing more than walking about town, spending money in all of the touristy shops. (Best find: a fur-coated jock strap. The tail cost extra. Who buys that?!)

On Friday morning, I had some time to myself so I laced up my running shoes and covered some new ground. I really wanted to hit the trails, but thought better of it in an effort to stay safe in my solo state. (Never forget that safety is key when you're running by yourself—especially when you are covering unfamiliar territory.) The streets of Jackson did not disappoint. I headed through town, then came upon the foot of a mountain. It was the entrance to a national elk refuge, though no elk were in sight.

I followed the dirt road for a bit, stopping to snap a few photos here and there. The views were so inspiring that I began to harness my inner Forrest Gump, but it started to get a little secluded so I turned around. In an effort to get back into town without seeing the same thing twice, I detoured through a neighborhood. Someone shouted, "What are you training for?" To which I replied, "Nothing...just training." That's the other thing—people in Jackson are so friendly! There must be something in all that fresh mountain air.

And speaking of air, at first I thought it was the slightly inclined road, but then I realized all of my huffing and puffing was being caused by something else—the altitude difference between Jackson and my hometown. Whenever you run in higher altitudes, you need to give your body some time to adjust to the thinner air. There isn't as much oxygen to go around, which means your lungs have less to work with...which ultimately means your blood, and therefore the rest of your body, has less to work with. Once I found my groove, I couldn't even tell the difference. Though be warned, the higher you go, the longer your body takes (it could be days) to get used to things. And it will get used to things, as did mine. I eventually found my way back to our cabin at the Elk Country Inn where I did some brief strength training.

I found this bench, which made for some great inverted rows (which I mixed with pushups). If you have something like this at your park, position yourself in between two of the bars and hang with one hand on each. Keep your back off the ground, legs bent comfortably, then pull your chest to the bars using your arm and back muscles. If you don't have a bench like this nearby, your gym should have a smith machine—set it at chest height, then do all of the above to achieve the same effect.

I also did triceps dips on a swing before moving back inside and whipping out the exercise bands for bicep curls and side bends (to hit the obliques). Then I took a shower. I still had some time before my friends would return from their horseback adventure, and I wanted to check out The Jackson Whole Grocer...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You're sore...now what?

It's a blessing and a curse, isn't it? Sore muscles are literally a pain, but they also represent recent physical activity that challenged your muscles in one way or another. But there's a difference between being sore and being injured, so if your soreness prevents additional activity and lasts for days with extensive pain—you might want to seek advice from your doctor. If your muscles ache simply because you hit it hard at the gym, or participated in a sport that you haven't played in a while, then you're just experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness. Otherwise known as DOMS—pesky little side effect, sneaking up on you like that a day or two after the main event!

DOMS occurs when little tiny muscle fibers are torn because they've been pushed beyond what they're used to. No, it's not a full-blown pulled muscle, just normal wear and, well...tear. To fight it, make sure you munch on some carbs and protein after your workout to help your muscles recover. And if you anticipate soreness in a specific muscle, find some ice. It just might curb that soreness down the road. But topical ointments like BenGay, heating pads or an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofin or Tylenol can alleviate some of the pain when it pops up, but they won't speed up your recovery. (Always check with your doctor before you take an anti-inflammatory.) And if you're wondering whether or not to exercise with sore muscles, I say give yourself an extra day of rest if there's any question. It's not worth the risk of additional injury.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fartlek Training

I know, I know...it's a funny word. Stifle the giggles and listen up for a second. I'm about to explain another way to challenge your running game: According to the dictionary, "fartlek" is a Swedish word that means "speed play." And that's exactly what fartlek training is. Intense bouts of fast-paced running sliced into longer, slower runs.

There are many ways to implement fartlek training. The easiest of which is to give yourself a decent warm-up, then haul ass until you can't, at which point you'd bring it back down to your normal pace until you feel up for another session of hauling ass. Repeat as often, or as little, as you'd like. You can also map out your fartlek training by predetermining certain landmarks along your way that will be starting points for speed play. This helps you anticipate the additional effort, and can make it easier to recover in between.

Not only does fartlek training help increase your speed, it calls on more muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers, to be specific, which we use when our muscles must act quickly. On the other hand, slow-twitch fibers are built for endurance. So when you use both in a longer run, it challenges each and every aspect of your muscle to build a stronger, fitter muscle in the end.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dressing on the side, please!

It goes without saying (but I'll say it again) that diet and exercise are equal players in the health game. Particularly if you are trying to lose weight. But finding a balance between the two can often be a challenge—welcome to the diet industry. Meet it's friend, the food industry. Both of which so often promote mad ideas formulated by money hungry businesses. Be wise to the ways of such marketing techniques and sift through all the bad ideas and advice in search of the good. Remember, these businesses and their marketers know nothing about your health and everything about selling a product. Some are legit, some are not.

Ignore lofty claims and focus on the stuff that actually makes sense. For example, I read somewhere that you should always get your salad dressing on the side. Even if it's a healthy salad dressing. The point is to dip your fork into it, then dip your dressing-covered fork into your salad before enjoying the perfect amount of flavor—and a lot less calories. You'd be surprised how quickly certain salad dressings can spoil the health benefits of a decent salad!

And it's that kind of information you should be paying attention to—the stuff that teaches you how to eat correctly. How to make the right food choices (and hopefully lose some weight along the way) in a normal, everyday manner. It doesn't replace food with fancy bars and thick shakes that come with meal plans and/or far-fetched health claims. It doesn't eliminate entire food categories. All of that just might help you lose weight, but not in a way that's sustainable. And certainly not in a way that's any fun. In my opinion, fad/crash diets just make life stressful. As does an overabundance of food items in the grocery store, all claiming to be the healthiest item on the block.

The diet and food industries are huge right now and company seems to know everything, which is why it's really important that you pay attention to your sources. Why trust the cereal box that claims heart benefits? The cereal box just wants to make a buck. Learn, instead, about the ingredients and then learn about the different foods that promote a healthy heart. 

Good advice is out there, and when you take it in, it makes a difference in the way you eat. And certainly in the way you feel. So tell me—what's the best diet tip you've ever been given?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A "Fit"spirational Quote

I am a sucker for good quotes. Maybe it's the writer within me, or maybe I just love feeling inspired by what others have to say. Happy to report, I recently found a good one as I was flipping through a magazine:
As you read the above, recognize your ability to overcome fatigue, boredom, stress or any other excuse that keeps you from exercising. Memorize this quote. Write it down. It speaks a thousand truths that will come in handy on those days where you'd rather be lazy. Put it on your bathroom mirror or the dash of your car. Wherever you typically contemplate whether or not you feel like running or hitting the gym. Read it and remember that you are a strong individual. Then, go—enjoy your workout and embrace your powerful self.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Get more out of your crunch.

The verdict is out on whether or not crunches are any good for you. Some research proves they have the ability to sculpt your abdominal muscles, while other research suggests that the negative impact they have on your spine far outweighs the resulting six pack. It's my personal opinion that crunches can be safe and effective—provided you execute proper form throughout—but they will not by themselves whittle your middle.

Crunches primarily target the upper rectus abdominis muscles. Which is only part of the core abdominal group. So to really feel the burn (assuming you're a pro at keeping proper crunch form), you'll need to modify. And the easiest way to do just that is to hold an object in your hands with your arms extended above your chest (not your head). Keep your eyes on the ceiling as you push that object up toward it. Use a spotter if necessary. Potential objects include, but are not limited to the following: dumbbell, medicine ball, weight plate, bar, exercise ball, and my personal favorite—the BOSU.

You can even use an exercise band, but make it one that has handles. Grab a friend and sit yourself on an exercise ball. Recline slightly with your arms extended next to your ears. Hold one end of the band as your friend stretches the other end over your shoulder and behind you, creating enough resistance to challenge your abs as you crunch and release. Again, pay attention to your form throughout every crunch. Don't speed, use the entire range of motion associated with the crunch, and always...always remember to breathe.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I'm leaving on a jet plane!

A good friend of mine is getting married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming this weekend. By the time you read this, I"ll be at the airport in Chicago. Or better yet—somewhere in the air over the middle of this country, en route to a weekend filled with good fun and great friends. (Minus one husband, which makes me sad.) But first, I had to fill an empty suitcase with all the things a girl could possibly need when she's away from home. And that's usually not a simple task for me. But I'm happy to report I only brought four pairs of shoes. Well, five if you count my sneakers. I made a pretty conscious effort to pack a few items that would help me stay fit and healthy throughout. Up first, some snacks.

Items include fresh and dry fruit. A bag of almonds and hazelnuts, and few packets of various nut butters which can be used on the fresh fruit or the nifty little rice cakes. Some LUNA bars (of course) and a new granola bar I found at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago. I'm also going to bring my SIGG bottle—is it just me, or is bottled water ridiculously overpriced at the airport? I'm fine with fountain water, though it isn't always the tastiest—which is why I also packed some TRUE Lemon, Lime and Orange flavor packets.

Next, the toys. You already know that I packed my running shoes, which means I also packed some workout clothes and my iPod. Just in case there aren't any decent running routes, I threw in a jump rope. Our hotel has a gym, but hotel gyms can be sketch, so I brought my workout bands. And my workout journal. Finally, lovely Oxygen for some in-flight reading material—which I'll read after I've flipped through the SkyMall catalog. So the best!

When you go on a trip, do any of these items make it into your suitcase? How do you stay fit and healthy when you travel?

(In case you're wondering—you'll get your Daily Dose in my absence! I wouldn't leave you hanging now, would I? And I promise to share fit stories from my trip when I get back. We're going white water rafting. Kinda nervous!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I did something new and exciting yesterday—I taught my first exercise class! The usual instructor had a scheduling conflict, so I agreed to step in for her. And I was completely terrified despite having plenty of time to calm my nerves. I'm not necessarily certified to teach group fitness, though my personal training certification supplies me with enough background to teach safely. But would it really translate? I had no idea. But I certainly was not about to look stupid, so I put on a smile and harnessed all the confidence I could find. Then I gave it my best. Thanks to some detailed help from the usual instructor, I think it went well.

It was a Tabata class—intense interval training that consists of performing eight different exercises in a circuit for 30 seconds each, repeating it three times, which totals 12 minutes of consistent interval training. Sound easy? Oh, HO! Did I forget to mention there are three separate circuits in the class? And that we move right into the next circuit after we complete the previous? Not only did I have to teach this class, I had to participate. Needless to say, I was sweating bullets. And I think everyone else was, too. So that's good.

Now, I'm no expert on the history of Tabata, but a discussion with the usual instructor taught me that the Tabata method of training promotes increased performance benefits. Particularly when it comes to endurance. Tabata increases your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn simply to exist) for an extended period of time after your workout, more than strength training and long-distance running. Translation—it's the workout that keeps on giving, long after you've left the gym.

Does your gym offer Tabata classes? If so, take one and let me know what you think!

In fact, take any class every so often. It'll keep you from getting bored, or perhaps help you bust through a rut. Besides, classes can be really fun. I know I'm looking forward to teaching again soon. Sounds like I might be scheduled to teach a few come Fall. We'll see. And we'll share, too. Keep reading!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Scale Back

It taunts me at the gym and whenever I grab something from my husband's bathroom. "It" is the scale, which I so very rarely step on.  Not because I dread the number, which I don't (sort of), but because I've been at the same weight for some time now. Give or take a pound or two, of course. But I do, however, mentally weigh myself once or twice a week. For me, it's less about the number and more about how I feel. And honestly, I tend to get obsessive about things. So if I started standing on a scale too frequently, I am almost certain the scale and I would have an unhealthy relationship. And that right there is your Daily Dose. Make sure your relationship with the scale is a healthy relationship.

As it stands, I hop on an actual scale about once every other week. At best. But I think once a week is acceptable, more so if you're really on a mission to lose weight. And only if you don't have obsessive tendencies like me. Any more than that and you'll be more likely to record normal, temporary fluctuations. Be sure to weight yourself at the same time, on the same day each week for consistency's sake. And, going back to those fluctuations, be aware that there are certain things that can cause your weight to change overnight, sometimes even over the course of a day. Water and sodium intake, for starters. And if you're a lady, need I say more? Needless to say, stepping on a scale more than once a week can get tricky. At least in my opinion. It can shed light on those temporary fluctuations, and that light can cause unnecessary worry as we all tend to focus on the number alone. Not the bigger picture.

For example, muscle weighs more than fat. So if you strength train, you might see that number plateau, or even increase a bit. If so, ask yourself how you feel. Or how your clothes fit. Both might tell you that you are, in fact, losing weight. But you're gaining muscle. Which is good.

Bottom line, we all have different bodies and therefore, we all have different ways of keeping track of them. However you define your relationship with the scale, keep it healthy and realistic. Base it on your goals and don't, under any circumstance, obsess about the number.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Need for Speed

As I sit down to write this post, I can't help but think about the following scene from "Top Gun":

Which of course gets me thinking about the volleyball scene, but I digress. While speed may be entirely appropriate for fighter pilots in both movies and real life, it's not always appropriate for the gym. More specifically, when you're strength training.

When I teach someone a new exercise, and when that person gives it a try, they usually ask me how fast they should be going. My reply is always this—a medium pace that doesn't involve momentum. You see, when momentum is involved, it means that your muscles aren't having to work as hard. Speed becomes a driving force, rather than the power you've built into your muscles, and form is compromised. Which means you aren't getting the full effect of the exercise. On the other hand, if you go too slow, your muscles will exhaust rather quickly. Which is a completely different way to train. So again, find that happy medium when you lift weights. When you do, your last few reps will be difficult.

Also, I still haven't stopped thinking about "Top Gun." Such a great flick. When I was younger, my uncle would come over to the house specifically to watch the movie. And my dad would practically blow the speakers during the opening scene. They're fighter jets, right? So much better to hear it loud. The house would literally shake. To this day I firmly believe there's no better way to watch it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Super Supersets

I few days ago, I posted an interesting statistic from Oxygen about supersets—they burn 33% more calories than a program that allows you to rest in between sets. And after I posted said statistic, a friend of mine asked me to recommend a few good supersets. Remember, the goal of a superset is to work opposing muscle groups while eliminating lengthy rest periods, so pay attention to how much time you spend in between each sets. BUT...don't speed through your workout. (Notes on speed coming tomorrow!) Give these favorites a try (they're in no particular order) and see if you notice the difference, you'll likely recognize each exercise. If not, let me know as I'd be happy to explain.

1) Hip Adductions/Hip Abductions
2) Mountain Climbers/Crunches
3) Pushups/Pullups
4) Leg Presses/Dead Lifts
5) Chest Presses/Bent Rows
6) Concentration Curls/Single-Arm Triceps Extension
7) Leg Extensions/Hamstring Curls
8) Hammer Curls/Triceps Presses
9) Bicep Curls/Triceps Dips
10) Dumbbell Flyes/Cable Rows

One last note—feel free to vary any of the above to increase intensity. I kept it basic to illustrate opposing muscle groups. For example, flip over a BOSU and balance on it as you do Mountain Climbers. And when you crunch, hold the BOSU above your head for an extra bit of resistance.

Did I forget a super superset? Share your favorite if it isn't listed above!


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