Monday, January 31, 2011

Official Product Review: Peanut Butter & Company

Peanut butter is a major part of my life. I eat it daily, usually on an apple. Sometimes on a slice of toast with (as of late) some homemade pumpkin butter. Do I ever get sick of it? Hecks no! There are so many great peanut butter companies out there that I can say with certainty that there will always be a different type of peanut butter to taste. Recently, I've been tasting from two jars sent to me from one such peanut butter company called, well...Peanut Butter & Company!

It's a classic story: one young entrepreneur had a dream, quit his job to pursue said dream, dream comes to fruition and success develops. In other words, what started out as one person's love of peanut butter grew into a peanut butter sandwich shop in New York City, which then grew into an entire line of peanut butter products. And here I am today, reviewing two of these products for you! So let's get to it.

I dove head-first into the jar you see at left. Dark Chocolate Dreams. Peanut butter blended with rich dark chocolate. HELLO, how yum. And it is. It's also gluten-free, certified vegan and certified kosher. But it isn't full of cholesterol, trans fats, hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup. High fives all around for that, right? Peanut Butter & Company recommends spreading some on a sandwich, or maybe drizzling it over some ice cream (naughty but nice). They also recommend spreading it on a banana, which brings me to today's breakfast: one piece of whole wheat toast with Dark Chocolate Dreams and a sliced banana. A truly excellent combination of carbs and protein. Much like the snack I had over the weekend:

Low-fat pretzel twists dipped right into it. Can't go wrong.

You also can't go wrong with Crunch Time, which is Peanut Butter & Company's version of an all-natural chunky peanut butter (minus the stir factor). Now, let it be known that I'm usually a creamy girl, but this stuff was good. In fact, I already had a fresh jar of peanut butter in the 'fridge, so I decided to make something of this sampler.

I found a recipe for Peanut Crunch Bars in my Gourmet Nutrition cookbook.  Easy ingredients found in almost any kitchen, plus a great number of nutritional benefits makes for one really good pre- or post-workout snack. A tasty one, too.

(Can you tell I took that picture at night without any natural light? Ugh and ugh. I need a light box.)

Let's make note that I tweaked the recipe a bit because, well...why not. The original calls for 125 grams of vanilla protein powder. I, for one, don't keep much protein powder in the house so I knew immediately that it would need to be replaced. And I hardly ever measure in grams, so I employed some math (translation: a conversion website I found on the Internet) to replace the powder with oats and ground flaxseed.  The following recipe resulted:

Peanut "Crunch Time" Bars
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup water
1 cup Crunch Time peanut butter
1 cup oats
1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup sliced almonds

(NOTE: Remember that oat flour can be made by grounding 1/2 cup of oats in a food processor. It's so easy!)

Combine the honey, vanilla extract, cottage cheese, cinnamon and water in your food processor and process until smooth. Set aside, then measure out your peanut butter.

(Looks good, right?) Pour it into a mixing bowl, then add the results of your food processing. Stir to combine before adding the oats and flaxseeds (or the protein powder if you prefer), stirring again until combined. Top with oat flour, stirring one final time until combined.

Line a 9-inch square baking pan with plastic wrap, doubling the length so that the wrap can serve as a cover as well. Fill the pan with the mixture, then press it down into the pan. Cover it with the rest of the plastic, then finish pressing it into the pan until the mixture is evenly distributed. Uncover, then sprinkle sliced almonds over the top. Replace the cover and press the almonds into the mixture.

Chill in a refrigerator for at least two hours before cutting into 12 bars. And finally, enjoy. (That's the best part, right?) These bars are super moist and ooey-gooey delicious, and I'm fairly certain the peanut butter fan within you will love them. Probably best to keep them in the refrigerator, though. At least until you need to pack one to go.

And with that, I leave you with what is hopefully a craving for some Peanut Butter & Company. I think you can find it in most grocery stores, however they have a variety of peanut butter flavors on their website that I've yet to see in my grocery stores. Check 'em out! (I am intensely curious about The Heat Is On, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl and White Chocolate Wonderful.) (Although that last one sounds a bit sinful...)

Question: Do you have a favorite Peanut Butter & Company flavor? Which one leaves your taste buds tingling? And if you happen to live in New York City, have you ever been to the Peanut Butter & Company sandwich shop? Tell me about it! I want to go.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

And the winners are...

Congrats, friends! I can't wait for you to experience PRO OATS in the flavor of your choice. (Let me know what you think!) If you didn't win, I thank you for participating—truly one of the biggest giveaways I've had so far! Keep reading, you know there will be more to come.

In the meantime, the gracious people behind PRO OATS gave me the go-ahead to offer Daily Dose readers an exceptional discount on all purchases. Fill your cart, then take $3.00 off your total! Just write "Daily Dose" in the "special instructions" section of the order form and PRO OATS will discount your total before completing the order. 

Sweet score, right?! I think so.

I also think I came this close to throwing my YakTrax down a dune during yesterday's run. Seriously...what was UP with them? They did not want to stay on my shoes at all. Especially during uphill jaunts. They'd flip up and over my toes, taking all of my traction with them and ultimately forcing me to stop and adjust. And that, I have no doubt, really slowed down the group at times. What a bust.

It truly affected my running game. I got all (pardon my language) pissed off inside my head, which ended up zapping my concentration. I spent a good part of the run focusing on my whack Yaks instead of focusing on the miles ahead of me and it showed in my performance. One of my fellow runners told me (in so many words) that it takes up too much energy to stress out. And I obviously was in need of all of the energy I could summon up.

And so here's your Daily Dose of Fit (pardon my language again): Shit happens, even when you are exercising. Deal with it, then move on. That which doesn't destroy you ultimately just challenges you in new and exciting ways. In the end, you'll be a stronger person for having endured. For example, in the case of my Yaks, I got to a point where I was stopping only when I absolutely needed to in order to adjust the slippage. Otherwise, I told myself that I just needed to work through it. I focused on the traction I still had from the parts of my Yaks that were still in place, and I moved myself along accordingly. Keep going, I'd say to myself. Keep up. The YakTrax were just a bonus anyway. And in the end, I survived to complete the run.

To the hills, snow and cold temps, and (most importantly) to my WhackYax:


Question: How do you overcome challenges in your fitness routine when it seems like all is lost? Are you good at pushing the negative out, or maybe there's a song that always puts you back in the game. Tell me!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New toys at the gym!

I'm feeling very short and sweet. Well, what I meant to say is that I feel like writing a short (but sweet) post. Because really, it's Saturday and I've got things to do. Places to go! People to see! Starting with the running group I've been meeting out at the dunes. Yep, heading out again for yet another cold run.  Although I anticipate warmer temperatures this weekend. Did I tell you about my near-frostbite incident? I had the biggest white blotch on my hip after running for well over an hour in near zero temps. Not smart. But yes—I survived. And not only did I survive, I'm braving the elements again (still looking forward to it, too). Call me crazy. But that's enough about me. We've got new toys at the gym!

What you see above is a group of TRX suspension systems. I now wish to be officially certified in TRX training, but until then, I've just had about an hour's worth of instruction from another certified trainer at the club. And I can't wait to implement what I've learned! Take a look at this promo:

Looks fun, right? I assure you that it is. So if you happen to be a member at my gym, stop by the front desk and ask about our TRX Bootcamps. Space is limited, and you really don't want to miss out on such an exciting workout. Trust me. If you aren't a member at my gym, there has GOT to be a gym in your area with TRX suspension trainers. If not, put in your request!

We also just got one of these:

It's a Power Wheel Ab Trainer. I haven't had a chance to test it out yet, but since I love ab work, you know I will at some point.

So much for being short and sweet! Time to run. Literally.

Question: Ever try a TRX class? Ever use a Power Wheel? Love to hear your thoughts on either.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Seating Arrangements

When I started working at the gym, I could tell almost immediately that it would profoundly affect my life. I was free—of the desk chair, that is. I no longer had to spend countless hours in front of a computer. Translation: Countless hours in a chair that was neither comfortable nor ergonomically correct. They take a toll on you, those desk chairs. And if you've ever had to sit in one, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Don't get me wrong, I still sit in a desk chair on occasion, but not for nearly as long as I used to.

We have a desktop computer, so I deliver your Daily Dose of Fit from a little tiny desk in our spare room. A room that contains a comic book collection, a life-size cutout of Michael Keaton as Batman, random pieces of exercise equipment and on occasion, a drying rack full of clothes. Consequently, there is also desk chair in this hodgepodge of a room. It's actually Jason's chair from his college days, and it squeaks and groans every time we sit on it. This chair is certainly not the most comfortable, but it can't be replaced. He's had it forever. I pick and choose my battles. (For example, I won the let's-pick-a-new-desktop-image battle as evidenced by all the pink. Valentine's Day is coming up, time to get in the spirit of things!) I switch out said chair for the exercise ball on occasion to give my posture a break—it's so easy to sink into an uncomfortable chair. And it's so bad for you.

We hunch, we tuck legs, we lean to the side. All of which, if you find yourself sitting at a desk every day, can take a huge toll on your body. Particularly your muscles. So get involved with your chair, check out your body in relationship to all of your chair's parts and pieces. Make sure you've got yourself set up for postural success. Some tips:

1) Adjust the lumbar support if you've got it. Make sure it fills the curve of your lower back. And if
    you don't have any lumbar support, consider purchasing a small pillow that might create it.
2) Scoot your chair forward so that you don't have to hunch toward your keyboard.
3) Keep your feet flat on the floor. If you've got shorter legs, don't hesitate to put a big fat book
    underneath your feet. (Do you really use your phonebook anymore?) And ladies, try not to cross
    those legs all day.
4) Pull your shoulders back. Keep your eyes in line with your screen. Sit tall. 'Nuff said.

To perfect your posture in a chair is to prevent your upper body muscles, particularly your shoulder muscles, from stretching out unnaturally. It can also help prevent your chest muscles from tightening up uncomfortably. And as for your core muscles, sitting tall forces you to use them in support of your lower back. Say goodbye to back pain! Nice knowin' ya.

Remember this: you can't always choose your chair, but you can choose the way you sit in it. And I know one thing, if I could choose my chair, I'd choose the Gymygym. It's the "world's first ergonomic exercise chair." Not only does it force you to sit properly, it brings the gym to your office. Sweet score! Take a look:

You can even work your legs:

Pretty cool, right? Well...except for the price tag. It's a hefty $599, but I guess if you figure the cost of a home gym, it doesn't seem that bad. Got a corporate card? Chuckle...

Question: What's your desk like? Do you sit comfortably in your chair?

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my PRO OATS giveaway! You just might be one of four to win a free bag of PRO OATS. (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, January 28, 2011).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Healthy Cookie Bites

BIG NEWS! I taught my first step class yesterday. What! I hate step. I've taken maybe two or three classes in my entire 30 years, so I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The usual teacher needed a substitute, and since all of the participants are in my Monday/Friday classes, I figured I couldn't go wrong. And I don't think I did, although I will admit that it wasn't non-stop stepping action from start to finish. I inserted jump squats, squat pulses, running, jacks and some mat work, too. Anything to keep our heart rates up. Don't get me wrong—we surely used the steps, and we ultimately got our heart rates to a good calorie-burnin' place, but I won't be callin' myself a step queen anytime soon.

I will, however, be indulging my sweet tooth with the following.

Because we all know that I have THE WORST sweet tooth. Seriously, it's out of control. I'd bake myself out of house and home if I could. I really would! But I can't. All that sugar, all those refined carbs in the form of cookies and cupcakes and ice cream—not good. Although it IS allowed in moderation, but this sweet tooth struggles with moderation. That's why I'm constantly searching for dessert recipes that call for the healthiest of ingredients. So when Angela of Oh She Glows posted a recipe for Healthy Cookie Bites, I promptly printed it. And I finally made them this past weekend.

I did, however, tweak her recipe just a bit. This girl right here isn't the biggest fan of coconut, and I honestly didn't have any on hand, so I substituted ground flaxseed which worked out quite nicely (and added a few omegas to the mix). My version:

Tara's Take on Healthy Cookie Bites
2 medium, ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp coconut (or olive) oil
1 cup oats
1/3 cup peanut flour
3 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Note that peanut flour can be made by finely chopping a batch of dry roasted peanuts in your favorite food processor. (Feel free to substitute another nut! Almonds, perhaps? Pecans?) You can also purchase a bag at Trader Joe's, which is what I had on hand!

Preheat oven to 350F. Mash the bananas in a large bowl, then add the vanilla and oil. Combine oats through powder in a second bowl. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix thoroughly before adding the chocolate chips. Once all ingredients are combined, form into bite-sized balls and place an inch or two apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes, then scoop them onto a cooling rack until they've dropped in temperature. Serve warm, serve cool...serve with milk or pop one in your mouth on your way to the gym. (Step class, perhaps?) However you eat them, they'll be delicious in your belly.

Question: How do you control your sweet tooth? And what's the one thing you will always indulge in, no matter what?

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my PRO OATS giveaway! You just might be one of four to win a free bag of PRO OATS. (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, January 28, 2011).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A "Fit"spirational Quote

It's hump day, which means the week is half over. As we strive to get through meeting after meeting, or errand after errand, I thought it best to keep today's post nice and short. And I thought it best to share with you the "fit"spirational quote I've got hanging on my refrigerator. I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and absolutely fell in love with this magnet from Quotable Cards. I can't get over their stuff.

Question: Is there a "fit"spirational quote that you live by?

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my PRO OATS giveaway! You just might be one of four to win a free bag of PRO OATS. (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, January 28, 2011).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ten Ways to Keep Your Fitness Resolutions

Alright, time for a check-in. How's it going? Are you keeping up with your fitness resolutions? January is flying by us at lighting speed, and my hope is that you're beginning to see small successes in terms of the goals you've established. If not, take a deep breath. All is not lost. This may be our last week in January, but it doesn't have to be the last week you attempt to uphold your fitness resolutions. Doing so involves a small learning curve. Learning how to perform exercises, learning how to incorporate exercise into your life, and most importantly—learning how to keep yourself challenged and motivated. And yes, I see how all of this can be very unmotivating. Even frustrating. But there are sneaky little tricks of the trade that can help everything, from your muscles to your attitude, fall into place. And today, I'm giving you ten of them.

1) Add five pounds. Doing the exercises but not feeling the burn? You're probably not lifting enough weight. Add five pounds and feel the difference. You want the last 30% of your lifts to really burn. If they don't, then you'll need to add five more. And more until you reach your individual burning point.

2) Add another set. It's not unreasonable to perform three sets of an exercise. So if you're only doing two, try adding another set to really get those muscles to fatigue.

3) Update your playlist. Yes, I know. A random suggestion, but if you're used to working out with ear buds in place, make sure you are constantly updating your music. Who wants to listen to the same song over and over and over again? Sounds boring. Create a party in your pod and get to gettin'.

4) Update your clothes. Not just any clothes, you want the kind made specifically for the gym. You know what it feels like to wear a sassy dress or suit, so do the same for yourself at the gym. Dress the part, play the part...and then you'll feel the part!

5) Try a new class. Even if you aren't a gym member, many will let you join classes for a small fee. Schedule too sporadic? That's just fine! Do your own workouts, and then when you have free time that meshes with a gym's class schedule, pop into one and learn something new. Your muscles will thank you for the change, and your exercise routine might change for the better as well.

6) Train with a trainer. At least once. Like the teachers in a class, a trainer will show you new and exciting exercises. Or ways to modify what you're currently doing so that you get better results more efficiently. And most importantly, a trainer will target YOU and YOUR goals.

7) Train with a buddy. Sometimes we need someone there holding us accountable for our actions. And sometimes we just need someone there to talk to. Whatever your reason for wanting someone at your side, run with it. It'll be more fun and it will make the time fly by! Plus, there are plenty of exercises you can do with a partner. Like the leg toss, which works your core. Lie flat on your back, have your partner stand with one foot on either side of your head. Hold onto their ankles as you lift your legs up toward them. Instruct your partner to push your legs to the ground, and then fight their push, using your abdominal muscles to keep your legs from hitting the ground again. Bring your legs back up, repeat, and then switch roles.

8) Subscribe to a magazine. There are TONS of fitness magazines on supermarket and bookstore shelves. And they're all fairly informative. I especially like Oxygen. (If there are any men out there reading this, let me know if you have any suggestions...I failed to come up with one.) Best part, the subscriptions are fairly cheap and they guarantee you a year's worth of monthly motivation in the form of new ideas, recipes and more.

9) Journal your progress. Whether you do so on a poster with others, or in a tiny little notebook tucked inside your gym bag or purse, keeping track of your progress can be extremely motivating. And it can also help you keep to a schedule. Sit down every week and decide what you're going to do, pencil it into the rest of your life, and then stick to it.

10) Ask questions. Never, ever hesitate to ask questions. The staff at your gym should be more than knowledgeable. And if the members at your gym are anything like those at mine, then they'll be just as ready and willing to talk you through an unfamiliar exercise or piece of equipment. That's the best part about joining a gym—you get an automatic support system of what could very well be hundreds of people! Let them inspire you, let them educate you. Even as a trainer, I can honestly say that I get some of my best exercises just by watching people at the gym!

11) Join a gym. Consider this your bonus advice for the day, because really—what are you waiting for? I know they can be pricey, but they can also be totally worth it. Would you rather work out in your living room, with last night's mess staring you in the face, or would you rather work out in a gym with all those fit people surrounding you. Translation: motivating you.

Now, go. Get back to your resolutions. You're doing fine. And when you feel yourself backing off, or hitting that inevitable plateau, revisit this list and then get goin' again!

Question: So tell me—how's it going? Are you keeping up with your fitness resolutions? 

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my PRO OATS giveaway! You just might be one of four to win a free bag of PRO OATS. (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, January 28, 2011).

Monday, January 24, 2011

WIN THIS: A deeeelicious bag of PRO OATS!

Whenever I go places, or whenever I do things, I'm always on the lookout for new and exciting products that fit the...well, the fit life. I have a little notebook in my purse and I'm constantly writing things down. Product names, websites, etc. But I also have my camera with me at all times. You just never know when Jason'll do something funny, and you never know when you'll find an awesome something on display. Such was the case a few months ago when I traveled to Chicago. It was a day of sightseeing, and on our way to "the bean," we popped into Chicago's Downtown Farmstand.

LOVE this place. It's full of natural and organic foods both fresh and packaged. A fit lifer's candy store. We looked around rather quickly, only long enough for the bag of oats at right to catch my attention. (You know me, can't get enough oats in my life.) They're PRO OATS, to be specific, and they're different because they've got added protein in the form of a whey isolate. It's a very concentrated, pure form of protein derived entirely from milk. (Interesting fact: we humans have it in our milk, too. Just like cows.) So as you know, protein is an essential part of the fit life. It builds and maintains your muscles, among other things, and although we can get most of our daily protein needs from food alone, some of us like adding protein powders to our diets. (I don't think it's a bad thing, but I also don't think it's a necessary thing. I digress.) The oats—they're delicious. They certainly make an excellent addition to any fit life diet.

And guess what? The people behind this product have agreed to give away a bag to one lucky winner. Oh wait, did I say one? I meant four. Yes, FOUR lucky winners will each receive a bag of PRO OATS in the flavor of their choice! What are the flavors?

They sent me a bag of the Apple Pie version to sample and I can't stop eating it. SO. GOOD. I've taken it to the gym with me twice now, and it keeps me full all morning. One of these days, I'm going to add a dash of almond butter to it. I love me some apples with almond butter!

But that's enough about me, let's talk about you and how YOU (yes, really FOUR of you) can win a bag of PRO OATS! Simply visit their website and read up on all the flavors. Leave a comment on this here post and tell me which one you'd choose. (Be sure to leave your email address or a link to your blog so that I can get in touch with you if you're one of the winners.) Bonus entry if you "like" PRO OATS on Facebook.

And of course, if you "like" Daily Dose or subscribe to my mailing list (if you haven't already), you'll get bonus entries that way, too. Tons of ways to win! And with four winners, the odds are in your favor!

All entries must be received by Friday, January 28, 2011 at midnight EST. The winner will be announced on Sunday, January 30, 2011. (Please note that I will contact the winner if, and only if, I have your email address. Otherwise, you'll just have to stay tuned and contact ME if you're the lucky winner. In which case, if I don't hear from you, I'll be forced to pick someone else! Rules, boring, but necessary.) G'luck to all my oat-lovin' friends!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

10-Minute Stretch Routine

When it comes to stretching our muscles, we are all very good at throwing a leg on a bench or step and calling it good. But that alone only targets your hamstrings, and you definitely use more than just your hamstrings when you work out. Even if it's just a leg day. Or even if you've spent your day running errands instead of, well...running. We use each and every muscle when we're physically active, so it's especially important to hit every muscle when you stretch. And you should stretch. Daily, in fact.

The following 10-minute stretch routine will take you through a series of poses that will ultimately stretch most of the major muscle groups in your body. Move fluidly as if you were in a Yoga class, holding every pose for 20 seconds. Don't bounce, breathe easy, let yourself relax. You'll love it, I promise.

Start on your back, legs straight and arms at your side. Bend your left leg, then bring your right leg up and toward the ceiling. Stop when you can no longer keep it straight, then pull on it ever so gently with your hands to intensify the hamstring stretch. HOLD. (Note: This leg series can also be done with an exercise band or towel, which would be hooked around your foot.) Let your right leg open to the side, but try to keep your left hip on the ground. HOLD it here for an inner thigh stretch, then bring your right leg up, ultimately taking it across your body and down to the left. Try to keep your right hip as close to the ground as possible, then HOLD the pose to stretch out your outer thigh. Return to start, then repeat with the left leg.

Roll onto your stomach, place your hands underneath your shoulders and gently press up to stretch out your abdominal muscles. HOLD it here, relax back down, then push yourself onto your hands and knees. Press your shoulders up toward the ceiling like a cat. HOLD it here, then drop your hips to your heels, stretching your arms out in front of you and HOLD.

Roll back onto your feet, then stand up slowly by stacking one vertebrae at a time. Lock your hands behind your back, then lift your arms up as you press your chest out. HOLD. As you release your hands, step back with your right foot, pressing your heel into the ground as you pull your right arm across your chest. HOLD for both a calf and shoulder stretch. Step forward as you take your arm up and over your head to stretch out your right triceps. HOLD, then reach over your head as you step out to the right for an oblique stretch. HOLD, then relax and repeat the sequence on your left side.

Next, find a wall and position yourself so that your left hip faces it. Hold onto the wall with your left hand, then cross your right foot over your left knee, creating the number 4 with your legs. Have a seat, then HOLD to stretch out your right glute. Relax, then move your left arm behind you, positioning your thumb against the wall, palm facing the ground. Twist away and HOLD for a biceps stretch. Relax, then repeat on your other side.

Move away from the wall and place your fingertips behind your head, standing tall while gently pushing your chin to your chest. HOLD. Relax, and enjoy your elongated self.

Namaste. Or whatever they say.

Question: What is your favorite stretch?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Let's talk about stretch, baby.

When I was little, I truly enjoyed watching "Inspector Gadget" and I wanted Penny's magical book in a mean way. But that's not to say that I wasn't impressed by the Inspector himself. When he released his go-go Gadget arms, I sat mesmerized. I wanted my arms to stretch like that. I wanted to be able to grab my Barbies from afar. But it never worked. Ever. (And I never did find a magical book like Penny's, but I digress.) While it's true that my arms have grown a bit since then, they still don't stretch on demand. I have to stretch them myself, and I do so every single day even though I still can't reach clear across the room. I've since learned I never will be able to, but I stretch on with my strechin' self because I know that it's good for me. Especially since I strength train at least three times a week.

When I orient new members at the gym, I explain to them the importance of a good warm up and cool down. Start any strength training session with at least ten minutes of cardio, I say. Get the blood flowing, warm up those muscles. We want them to be loose and limber, especially since we're about to tense and tighten them in the process of strengthening them. And then I show them how to use our Cybex equipment, after which I take them to what one of my clients continuously calls "the birdcage". And it really does look like one, no? Best part—it truly gets the stretching job done. Static stretching after a good session of strength training really elongates your muscles. Muscles that, as I stated before, are probably somewhat tense and tight. Tense and tight does not promote fluid movement. The more limber we are, the easier it is for us to move our limbs. If you have a TRUEStretch in your gym, learn to enjoy it. All you have to do is mimic the pics.

It feels good, I swear. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds, release and repeat if you'd like. (This, of course, is just a sampling of the images you'll find on the poster that should accompany your TRUEStretch. If it isn't there, as someone on-staff if they can either A) teach you a few moves or B) load you any manual that might have come with the TRUEStretch.)

If your gym doesn't have a TRUEStretch, have your fitness director contact TRUEFitness pronto! (I'm not even getting anything for that endorsement. I just really like the product.) And PS: the purple stretch above is my personal fav. It really pulls the lats, even the shoulders. The lower back, too if you round your bum toward the ground ever-so slightly. (I like the one in green as well, but I'm too short for it. Can't reach the bars above. Insert sad face here.)

Don't have a gym membership? No worries. Come back tomorrow and I'll outline a perfectly decent 10-minute stretch routine that you can do in the privacy of your own home. No equipment necessary. (Click the mailbox in the column at right and I'll automatically send you the article!) Until then, make some time today to go-go stretch out your muscles. Even if you didn't hit the gym. A bit of stretching every day is good for you, you'll see.

And now, I'm off to run in the dunes again. Yep, bitter cold out there. Holy hell, it's bitter cold. I'm going to let it motivate me to keep on keepin' on, which hopefully will give me strength on those gosh darn hills.

Don't forget about tomorrow's 10-minute stretch routine.

Question: Are you good about stretching?

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm naturally savvy.

How very pompous of me to make such a statement to you, dear reader. Am I right? You must think me to be extremely arrogant. Except those of you that know me understand that I strive to be anything but. I like to share my accomplishments, but I'd never throw them in your face. And never, ever would I wish to make you feel far less superior than I. Quite the opposite, actually. As a certified personal trainer (and as a good person), I strive to help people feel good about themselves. So let me rephrase the statement above: I am part of the Naturally Savvy community!

What is this community I speak of? Indeed, it's actually a website dedicated to natural, organic and green living. A resource for all things previously stated, and the people behind it feel as though my blog is a good fit for their site—they're going to feature my RSS feed on their news page! Naturally Savvy readers will now be able to read my blog, among others, right there on the Naturally Savvy website. I think that's fairly exciting! And if you're reading this because you've been linked by Naturally Savvy, to you I say one big and giant WELCOME! It's a pleasure to have you.

Now, let's talk "natural" and "organic" living. I think it's truly important to live as close to this way as possible. In this day and age, that can be an extreme challenge as our society as gotten very good at simulation. And imitation. Especially when it comes to our food supply. We are lucky to have such a great and abundant food supply, though somewhat unlucky at the same time because we've gotten away from Mother Nature's finest in so many ways. Our foods (and so many other products on the market) are filled with inorganic, unnatural ingredients—ingredients we can only hope aren't causing too much long term damage. Despite the fact that article after article, study after study suggests otherwise. Yes, choosing organic and natural can mean forking over a bit more money that you'd like. But it can be worth it in the end, based on the evidence that continues to pour forth. Don't you think?

I don't live a completely organic and natural lifestyle (there, I've said it). But I certainly do my best to go the natural and organic route whenever possible. Like in the dairy or produce aisles. Or when I run out of shampoo, conditioner or face soap. (LOVE me some Burt's Bees and Aveeno.) Why not, right? Small steps can mean big changes down the line, and I'm all for that in every aspect of my life. Especially when it comes to fitness, as you know. Here's a fun way to spin it: It's totally natural for us humans to be active, so why lead an inactive lifestyle? Get movin' already! Never too's never, ever too late.

And it's Friday. Oh, happy day.

Question: In what aspects do you lead a "naturally savvy" life?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I've taken up the gauntlet.

Back in the day—medieval times, really—knights in shining armor would wear special gloves to protect their hands during combat. However, not gloves like you and I know. (Like I know quite well right now, actually. Ugh.) Think shiny metal gloves that stand up against swords and other such weapons. Present day, you don't much see gauntlets, but we have been known to reference them. Ever hear the phrase "take up the gauntlet" or "throw down the gauntlet"? They're creative ways to say "accept the challenge" or, quite simply, "to challenge".

Obviously the latter is what Stairmaster was thinking when they named the beast of a step machine you see at right. Let me first say: I hate step machines. They're great, I just hate them. (You're allowed to hate certain things at the gym. Permission granted.)

I think I just might like this step machine, though. It's unlike any other because it makes you feel like you're actually walking up a flight of stairs. And we all know what that feels like. Tough, right? So why torture myself? I think it'll be a great way to cross-train for all those hills I will be encountering at Grand Mere. (Remember those hills I talked about?)

This week, my Tuesday/Thursday cardio training looked something like this:


Mind you, I was in my Vibrams the whole time which is why I didn't go the distance I usually do. Although it was 30 minutes of activity, followed by some planks and other fun core exercises. I was sweating, believe you me! And if you're wondering how the Vibrams held up, so good. I'm really liking them, despite the sore calf muscles. Still, to be expected.

Moral of the story: I've taken up the gauntlet and you should, too. Don't be intimidated by it as it's a truly great resource for burning calories. And trust me, it's a lot different than those other step machines.

We'll see how my hard work affects my dunes run this weekend. Yeah, I'm going again. Either I'm a sucker for torture, or I just really liked it. Once again, we'll go with the latter.

Question: What has your week looked like so far in terms of cardio exercise?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Create your own workout!

As a certified personal trainer, it is my job to create suitable workouts for other people. I reference a health history, listen to goals and concerns, assess fitness levels and from there I choose exercises and tailor them into a concise regime that will (if all goes well) meet the individual's needs. But in this day and age, I realize that my services (translation: my fees) don't always mesh with tight budgets. And that's alright, we're all making sacrifices in this testy economy. (Just remember to weigh out the pros and cons before writing off the price tag, that's all I ask of you! Because really, time with a personal trainer can extremely worth it. And now I'm putting my soap box away.) But remember, you can still get fit without a personal trainer—so don't use my fees as an excuse. You can do it, we're just here to help.

There are a variety of resources out there. It's like cooking. If you're putting a meal together, you research recipes and ingredients until you have a plan. And then you go grocery shopping. Do the same with your fitness routine. Check the fitness section at your library, I'm sure you'll find a number of books and videos that contain exercise options. Read magazines, surf the fact, head on over to the Fitness website. If you log into their system, you can create your own fitness video. It takes, like...two minutes. All you have to do is answer three questions. Here's what I did:

And it gave me the following, all compiled into one short video:

Notice the red "X" buttons? That signifies flexibility. You can delete exercises as you watch the video, you know...if you absolutely hate them or if they cause you any pain. You can also rearrange the moves and tweak the answers to your questions. All of which, of course, tweaks your video.

So...see! You can create your own workout! Now go, give it a try. And guys, never you mind that this is a women's magazine's website. You, too can create your own video. It's not a girly girl thing, it's a fitness thing. Have fun!

Question: What sort of resources do you use to create your workouts?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Love Handles

Last night, we hung out with some friends of ours that just had a baby. He's an absolutely pile of preciousness, and it reminded me of the product you see at right. Love Handles, that's what they're called, and they basically turn your stroller into an elliptical machine. I don't have kids, but I still think it's genius. You've seen them, right? The proud parents running or walking behind a stroller with a sleeping (or smiling) child inside? Well, when we run and walk normally, we use our upper body. And therefore our upper body gets a workout just as our lower body does. Not so when there's a stroller involved as it must be held on to.

Until now, thanks to Love Handles. Oh, and you can also attach the Love Handles to a wheelchair. Genius, right?

And yes, I'm with you: "Why didn't I think of that?" If only I had an inventor's mind, I too could make millions. Funny thing is, the inventor in this case is a young woman sans child. Must be a case of the inventor's mind. And really, she's onto something here. Ever use an elliptical machine? Same thing, really.

In fact, let's talk about the elliptical for a second. Do you use the mobile arms or do you shut them off? I tend to go without only because they sometimes aggravate my already testy right shoulder, although I definitely praise the benefits of using them. Why hold on when you can let go and get so much more out of your workout? And I'm not just talking about adding an upper body conditioner to your cardio routine, even though it is one of the benefits. The more body parts you move at once, the harder your body has to work. Translation: the harder your heart and lungs have to work. Further translation: more cardio bang for the buck.

I know, I know...but it makes it harder. And that's precisely the point. So next time you hop on an elliptical, give those handles a try and see if it ups your calorie burn. And don't just move your arms with the machine. Push and pull, push and pull. That's how you'll really get some work done.

Question: Has anyone out there ever used a set of Love Handles? Would you? If you could invent a fitness tool, what would it be? (And don't worry, I won't be stealing your ideas. Just trying to start a conversation!)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Six Beautiful Miles, One Tired Trainer

Consider the Yaktrax used! I wore them today for the first time, and for about six miles of what could possibly have been the most enjoyable winter run I've ever been on.

I met up with a group of people from the gym—serious athletes with impressive strength and endurance—at Grand Mere State Park. It's situated along the sandy (currently snowy and frozen) shores of Lake Michigan, and it's a truly beautiful place to be on a bright winter morning. Despite the low temperatures.

Back to the Yaktrax. It's amazing how much traction they provide in the snow! I guess that's to be expected since they virtually installed a series of coils along the bottom of my running shoes:

Yeah, I'll be the first to admit that my running shoes are severely lacking in the traction department (clearly you can see the worn out spots in the tread), but these are my old shoes. I like to keep my indoor shoes as pristine as possible, which is probably silly, but that's me for ya. A bit anal retentive, so help me. And really, with the Yaktrax on I hardly even noticed my lack of tread. I felt secure in my steps (as secure as one can be when you find yourself stomping through deep snow), so consider this my Yaktrax recommendation.

I also recommend running outside during the winter, most especially if you can access the trails at a state park.

Our six-mile adventure took us across a web of trails in the dunes and along the lake shore. The snow was fluffy in areas, which lead me to believe that I was on trails not usually traveled by the masses. This was nice, it truly put me in touch with nature—nice to be off the beaten path for a change, however it's a very good thing I was with a group of people so very used to running Grand Mere because, geeze. I got so turned around! Either I was too busy soaking up the experience to keep track of where we were running, or I was just too busy keeping up. Running in the dunes = running up and down hills. Now, I'm not the world's biggest hill fan, so I struggled a bit but ultimately hung in there. And I definitely enjoyed the occasional descent.

And the flat, wide trails where I could really sink into my stride.

I'll say it again: This was quite possibly the most enjoyable winter run I've ever been on. It took me out of my comfort zone for sure, and ultimately tested my fitness. And that's a really good thing. I now know that I need to work on my cardio as it pertains to hills. I need to push myself a little harder at the gym so that I can make it up hill after hill with ease. It's entirely possible, and I'm not far from it, but I'm not there. And that means more work for me.

I urge you to test your own fitness by going outside of your fitness comfort zone. Take that class you've been keeping your eye on, try that cardio machine you always see people on. Run with those people that keep inviting you to join them. You'll experience new things, and it'll show you where you need to improve. And it'll help you avoid that ever-dreaded fitness rut.

Question: Have you taken yourself outside your fitness comfort zone lately? Done anything new and exciting that truly challenged you to work harder than you've ever worked before? Tell me about it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations! Your concoction sounds especially delicious, and I love the name. To everyone else—thank you so much for participating, and thank you especially for reading Daily Dose! Believe you me that this isn't the last giveaway I'll ever host, so keep coming back for more! And to YouBar, thank you for donating a box of custom goodies to this here blog!! I enjoyed my samples very much.

I also enjoyed this bowl of oats for breakfast:

Mental note, kiwi is very delicious in a bowl of warm oats. It's been so...wintery up here lately that I needed a slice of summer in my life, and kiwi always reminds me of summer. As if my recent vaca wasn't enough, right? Speaking of, I never posted more pics! Sigh. I guess the moment has passed. This one is passing, too as I must head out the door. It's running-in-the-dunes-with-Yaktrax day. I'll let you know how it goes.

Question: What did you eat for breakfast today?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On venison.

One of my clients is an avid hunter, and he recently sent me home with a bowl of venison chili.

My dad is a hunter, too. Although I suspect he's in it more for the sport, not exactly the meat.

Perhaps I should have warned you before sharing that picture. There's something quite sad about it, and also disgusting. But I'm proud of my pops for snagging that 7-pointer. However it won't convince me that venison is all that. Despite the hunting, we never really grew up eating venison. It always got turned into jerky and summer sausage, which I'm not too big a fan of in beef form anyway. This always surprises people, my lack of interest in venison. They say it's a healthy meat, and I'm all about eating healthy, but still. Venison is Bambi and I'm not sure I'll ever get over the sadness of that one scene (don't make me describe it). But really, it goes beyond the movie. Venison is an unknown in the sense that it isn't a traditional meat. (And by "traditional," I mean that you don't typically see it on a menu and you have to look a little harder for it at the store.) And I think that's what gets me.

I won't dive into the ethics of it all because my blog isn't a platform for that, but I will share with you what I've come to learn about venison. Nutritionally speaking, of course.

When you're living the fit life, it's very important that you understand every aspect of your meal. It's all about consuming to live, because when we live to consume, we end up eating things that aren't good for us. So let's understand venison: compared to beef, it's true what they say. Venison is lower in fat. Especially the saturated kind, which is the kind you definitely want to avoid. Three ounces of cooked venison offers up about three grams of fat, only one of which is saturated. Beef...15 grams of fat, six of which is saturated. When it comes to protein, it's a wash. Both offer just about the same amount, but the fact that venison contains a smaller amount of fat makes it the wiser choice. (Source) If you still want to know where the beef is (chuckle), just make sure you pick lean cuts when you find it. The leaner the cut, the less the fat. I mean, if you're trying to lose fat—does it really make sense to eat it?

Whether or not you eat venison (or meat, for that matter), it all boils down to one thing: protein. Any good diet needs an accurate amount to sustain the growth and repair of our tissue within. Make sure you're getting enough of it so that all your hard work isn't for nuthin'! Reference the following chart, which comes to you from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Don't forget to check in tomorrow—I'll announce the winner of the YouBars giveaway!)

Question: Do you like venison? Are you getting enough protein? What foods do you turn to in order to be so sure?

Friday, January 14, 2011

My core hurts. No, does.

Am I the only one that actually enjoys feeling sore? I feel like I'm not, but you never know. Feeling sore = feeling pain. But it's a good pain that signifies a job well done. On this particular day, my core is exceptionally sore. I blame it on my friends at the gym. It's all their fault. Let me explain:

This group of people I speak of is at the gym every single morning. And that's no lie. I call them the triathletes because really, that's what they are. I see their Ironman tattoos peaking out from underneath their gear. They can't hide 'em. And they don't, really. This group of people is also one of the nicest groups of people I've ever met, which makes them more than willing to swap training tips and offer words of encouragement. They also like to rope people into their circle, and I think they've got their eye on me. They know I have a bike, they've seen me running. They are constantly inviting me into the pool on swim days. But alas, I do not swim. (At least not yet. I can barely dog-paddle. Sad, right? And I don't have a suitable bathing suit, but I digress...) I do, however, work my core.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I wake up early for two clients, after which I have some time before the rest of my shift to squeeze in a workout. I run, and then I work my core. This past Tuesday, I got an invite to join them during their core exercises. At least for one particular exercise. And it killed me, obviously. Otherwise I wouldn't be talking about a sore core. But it was fun, and I gave it another go just yesterday.

Yes, the trainer is getting trained—not for a triathlon, though. At least not yet.

So what did they make me do that left me so sore? Planks. But not just any planks. A series of planks interspersed with pushups.

I know, right.

Try it: Get into the plank position, down on your elbows rather than your hands. Hold it here for two minutes, then immediately push up onto your hands and proceed to complete 15 pushups. Upon completion, immediately return to your plank position and hold it there for another minute and a half. And yes, after that you'll get back up and do 15 pushups....and then get back down again for another minute-long plank. (Of course, if you're a beginner, limit your planks to 30 seconds each and build up from there.)

I have to mention that yesterday they started out with a 3-minute plank, rather than two. "Oh, didn't I tell you," said he who held the watch, "we're starting out with three minutes today." This, of course, was after I began sweating bullets all over my mat during the last minute of my first plank. In my defense, I had just run a 5K on the treadmill and was still catching my breath.

But anyways, I've come to love this little plank routine. It does wonders for the core, which is not to be confused with your abdominal muscles—although they are a part of your core. When it comes to your core muscles, you have to include your hip flexors. Also your lower back and your glutes, all of which work to keep you balanced during every move you make. That's your anatomy lesson for the day. Bonus for this exercise? It also works your chest and shoulders, thanks to the pushups. Learn to love pushups, I'm telling you right here—they're amazingly good for you. And there's nothing wrong with the knee modification. You have to start somewhere.

And I'm going to start running outside again. For those of you that know where I live, you're probably wondering if I've just consumed a crazy pill. Yes, my world is blanketed in snow right now, and it doesn't look like it's going away any time soon, but I made a purchase that's going to get me back out there in my running shoes—with good traction:

 YakTrax! Cari raved about them when I met up with her for an EcoTrek, and I'm pretty excited to find out what they're all about. I will be testing them out this weekend when I run through the dunes with— roped in again—the triathletes. Should be an experience. Hopefully I can keep up, so help me God. 

Question: What's the one core exercise that gets you every time? How often do you work your core? And if you've got any tips for a new YakTrax-er, leave them in the "comments" section below. Thanks!

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my YouBars giveaway! You just might win a free box of customized goodies. (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, January 14, 2011).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top Five Fitness Tips

Holy cow, friends! The gym is buzzing! All week long, we've had a steady flow of people. Lots of new faces have been added to the mix, which I can only assume is the direct result of our very new year and it's resulting resolutions. It's great, really. Of course, the usual crowd still exists. They work just has hard, new year or not. Is it like this at your gym, too? Are you one of the newbies? (If so, congrats to you for treating yourself to a membership!) My advice to you, dear newbie, is to stick with it. Don't let your attendance slowly diminish as the year goes on. Or heck, as January goes on. STICK WITH IT! You can do it. I promise.

To help you, and to help all of you dedicated fitness fanatics, I thought it'd be the opportune time to share with you my top five fitness tips. Some will be familiar, others might be new. Whatever you do, really seriously take note. I share them with the best of intentions.

I know, I know. You've heard it all before. But this time, I strongly encourage you to absorb every component of that equation. If you want results, you're really going to have to work for them. Now when I say "diet," I don't mean deprivation. I simply mean to pay attention to whatever it is that you eat. Take stock, make sure everything you put in your mouth is good fuel for all those hard workouts. And really, make sure it's good fuel for your body in general. Just like a car doesn't function without gas, your body can't function without nutrients. You wouldn't substitute orange juice for gas, it would ruin your car. So why substitute healthy and nutritious food for, well...all that other crap at the grocery store? It ruins your body. And besides, if you don't give your body what it needs, all that work at the gym will be for nothing, really.

Enough with the excuses! There is absolutely time for you to squeeze in a workout. Well, for the most part. I understand certain things come up. But what I don't understand is the "too tired after work to do anything" or the "too many errands to run" thing. Do you really enjoy flipping from channel to channel for an hour straight? Do you really, truly need to run out to that store tonight? Wouldn't your time be better spent on an elliptical, treadmill, or at the weight bench? Maybe in a fitness class? Debunk your own excuses, really take a look at what you're doing with your time and I promise you...I firmly believe you'll find some time to squeeze in a workout. (Our government recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week, including strength training twice a week. I'd say that's pretty reasonable. Kudos to you if you sneak in more!)

You might be lifting that big 'ol weight, but if your form is even the slightest bit off, it doesn't count. Proper form is always more important than how much you're lifting. You might be bench pressing more than you ever have been, but if your lower back comes off the bench as you extend your arms toward the ceiling—that means your chest muscles are needing some extra help, which means they aren't truly moving all that weight you've loaded onto the bar. It's not about the weight, it's about how your muscles respond to it. If they're challenged, and only if you can maintain proper form, only then are you doing everything right. And of course, only then will you minimize your risk of injury.

Take it easy. Don't feel like you have to hit the gym every single day of your life! Your body will need some rest. Especially in between strength sessions. When we lift, we break down our muscles. Their process of regrowth is what repairs the breakdown and ultimately makes us stronger, longer and leaner. Enjoy your rest days. Schedule a movie or curl up with a book. Give your body (and consequently, your brain) a day to simply just be. You won't erase your efforts at the gym, but you will help yourself return to it with gusto.

You were absolutely built to feel good. The gym isn't just for the big-and-bulky muscle types, so forget about that stereotype. It's not a place of judgment or intimidation. The machines aren't hard to use. They may look like torture devices at times, but really—they're fun! I promise. Now is the time for you to embrace YOU. I've had so many people come up to me and say "I don't know what I'm doing, but I want to learn" and it never gets old. I love newbies. I love their energy, and even the bit of intimidation and fear I can sense in them. Because as soon as they spend one hour or two in the gym, they wonder why it took them so long to pop in. So, really. Believe in yourself. You can hit the gym, you belong there just like everyone else. Regardless of what you look like, regardless of what you wear. Regardless of everything. Remind yourself of this each and every time you think you can't. Because you can. You can get fit. This is January, the start of the new year. So make it your year.

Tomorrow, I promise more trip pics. I fear this post is long enough!

Question: Is your gym as busy as mine? If you recently joined up, what did your first time on the fitness floor feel like? Were you intimidated? Excited?

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my YouBars giveaway! You just might win a free box of customized goodies. (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, January 14, 2011).


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