Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Fitness Enthusiast... or Fitness Newbie

Here are some hot holiday gift ideas for the fitness enthusiast in your life. Whether they're just starting to break a sweat or an avid workout fan, these tools and toys below are excellent additions to anyone's fitness routine. You might even find some things to add to your own holiday wishlist!

BOSU Trainer - This inflatable dome-shaped piece of equipment has a wide range of uses. By adding an unstable surface to your routine exercises, you engage your core, work additional stabilizing muscles, and enhance your balance. Flip the BOSU over (dome-side down) for even more exercise options.  Buying tip: sporting goods stores and Target also sell the BOSU, watch for sales!

Kettlebells - More fun, as well as functional, than a set of dumbbells. The range of movements available to do with a kettlebell are incredibly varied. Due to its' shape and handling, kettlebell exercises are more likely to utilize your whole body and engage your core. Buying tip: don't let the shape fool you, a 10 lb kettlebell will be a challenge for a beginner or intermediate-level fitness buff. For a great workout program - kettlebell + DVD workouts - check out Kettleworx (also sold at Target and sporting goods stores).

Heart Rate Monitor - For those looking to track their progress and monitor their workout intensity. This simple and effective tool will make sure you're training as intensely as you need to be to get results. Buying tip: there are several forms to choose from. While some heart rate monitors boast they can track heart rate through a touch screen on a watch, that's not always the most practical if you're in an intense workout. While it does take getting used to, a chest strap monitor with corresponding watch (readout) may be more efficient and effective.

Foam Roller - Myofascial release is just a fitness-nerd term for "wow, rolling on this thing really feels good." Available at Target, Walmart, and any sporting goods store, this simple piece of equipment is essential to any home gym. Use it before or after a workout to massage your muscles and enhance their recovery. Buying tip: there are a lot of fancy models of foam rollers emerging now, given the increasing popularity of them. You don't necessarily need a body-sized one or one with special nubs, but beware that low-cost rollers (<$15) often lose their form quickly, making it harder to roll on.

Fitness DVDs or Books - There are a plethora of fitness DVDs on the market today, which can enhance anyone's fitness routine. From yoga and dance to Jillian Michaels strength training and Walk Away the Pounds, there's something for everyone. As far as books go, Women's Health & Men's Health Magazines have a great series of books that offer effective workout/exercise ideas and you don't need a gym membership to use them. Each book is full of sound, safe fitness/nutrition advice, with great descriptions and pictures of each exercise.  Some titles in their series are:  The Big Book of Yoga, Big Book of Abs, Big Book of 15 Minute Workouts, Big Book of Exercises. Buying tip: you can get all of these at a great price on!

What fitness gifts would YOU like to receive this year? Please share below!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

First Timer's Guide to SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding)

By nature, I'm an armchair adventurer. I watch the Travel Channel and House Hunters International and ogle exotic places from the comfort of my couch. I skim Facebook and sit in awe of friends' posts discussing their camping adventure, Yoga retreat, or week long canoeing river trip in Utah. But I rarely ever have these experiences myself. So it was with quite a flair of spontaneity that when a Living Social coupon for a Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) lesson entered my email inbox, I marinated only 24 hours before booking it.

The 60 minute lesson from Maui B's Stand Up Paddleboarding (Orlando, FL) included a primer on equipment, paddle technique, getting on/off the board without looking like a klutz, and obviously how to stand up and stay up. We paddled on a relatively calm lake in downtown Orlando, Florida. Luckily, a lack of wind and minimal people/boats/jetskis on the lake ensured calm waters. The instructor had us start on our knees, and then tuck our toes under our feet, pushing ourselves up - SLOWLY - into a squatting and then eventually a standing position. I was on an 11 ft board, which is one of the larger boards in the industry. Larger = more stable = good for beginners. It was fairly easy to paddle around on my knees but when 5 minutes passed and the instructor said "Ok, let's get up," a wave of panic hit me. I mean, it would still be just as much fun to do Kneeling Paddleboarding, right?

I centered myself on the board, tucked my toes, looked to the horizon, and tentatively rose into a low squat. My legs started to shake a little, but I fired my glutes and quads and stood up. The board swayed beneath me, but I didn't fall. Behind me I heard a splash and a smile spread across my face. Some other newbie had bit it before I did and I knew things would be ok.

We paddled around the lake for the next 40 minutes, practicing turns and different paddle strokes. Some other paddlers fell or dropped to their knees to rest. My legs were frozen in place and I felt I was more likely to stay dry if I just kept standing. I am proud to say that I didn't fall that first time SUP-ing.

Looking out into the horizon and seeing the downtown Orlando skyline was amazing. Paddling back into the dock alongside a gaggle of ducks about 5 feet to my left was an almost mystical experience. I truly felt one with nature. The experience was a paradoxical mix of calming and invigorating. Needless to say, I fell in love and have been immersing myself in the SUP world since, even purchasing my own board.

For anyone considering SUP, here are a few first-timer's tips to help you have a good experience.

1) Take a lesson.  It is well worth the money to have an experienced professional guide you, plus they'll provide the equipment. If you're in the Central Florida area, Maui B's is a great company to help you get your feet wet paddleboarding. They offer a small instructor to paddler ratio and are very professional and friendly. or a simple web search can help you find an instructor as well. Some ski shops or sports shops also offer lessons. Companies often post deals on Groupon and Living Social, offering up to 50% discount.

2) Just fall and get it over with. I spent that whole first time so worried that I would fall, that it cost me a little bit of enjoyment and some very tense muscles. On a subsequent time out, I did fall and was able to relax afterward. I immediately thought to myself "wow, I wish I had done that sooner." I fell... big deal... it's easy to get back up! And as I read on a SUP website, "if you're not falling, you're not trying hard enough."

3) Keep your eyes on the horizon. Any good instructor will give you this hint right at the beginning. It helps you maintain your balance and stabilize yourself. Look at the water beneath you and that's where you'll end up. Keeping your paddle in the water will help with stability too.

4) Stay away from the weeds. This should be commonsense for Floridians, but anyone in the Southeast US should know that the weeds are where alligators and other wildlife tend to hangout. If you're worried about a wildlife encounter, steer clear of the weeds and lilypads.  Choosing to paddle on a body of water that is a popular watersport recreation site is also a good idea if you're nervous about gators.

5) Relax your toes/feet, keep your knees soft, and engage your core. My feet and toes cramped quite a bit my first time out. I think it's because I was using them like vice grips to stay attached to the board. A little bit of toe wiggling and lifting one foot up and then the other helped it feel better. Keeping a slight bend in your knee (not locking them) will help with muscle tension and stability. Lastly, SUP is known as a great core workout. If your arms are hurting from paddling, it could be you're not engaging your core enough. This is another reason to invest in a lesson or two; you'll learn how to engage your core and paddle properly for an excellent full body workout.

So get out there and get your SUP on!  If you enjoy the water, you'll have a great time. Stand Up Paddleboarding is amazing for the body, mind, and soul.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pareto's Productivity: The 80/20 Principle Applied to Fitness

I wonder if Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century economist, ever imagined how far his “law” would go. Originally written as a predictor of income distribution – 20% of the population own 80% of the wealth -  this principle is applied to many other facets of life, most popularly as a time management principle. In time management terms, we see it as 20% of the work we do constitutes 80% of our results. We can also apply this to other areas of life, including health and fitness.  How can we use this 80/20 principle to streamline our workouts and make them more efficient and productive?

In regard to fitness and health, we want to answer the following question:
Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of our desired outcomes and happiness? 


Which 20% of our workout is resulting in 80% of our increased strength, fat loss, and increased endurance?

The truth is, simply walking at a moderate pace for 30-45 minutes is not going to get you the results you want to see. Is it good for general health? Of course! Is it better than sitting on the couch watching TV? You bet! But it's not going to help you shed those last 10 pounds nor help you carve that sexy midsection.  The solution: INTERVALS. 

Take 20% of your normal cardio routine (walking, jogging, elliptical, cycling) and turn them into intense intervals.  For example, in a 45 minute workout, just 9 minutes of increased intensity intervals will pump up your metabolism and heart rate and get you a greater calorie burn. Throw in five 2-minute bursts of increased speed or incline into your workout and you'll feel - and soon see - the difference. So for example, walk 4mph for 4 minutes, then lightly jog at 6mph for 2 minutes; repeat this 5 times. Throw in a 5 minute warm up and a 5 minute cool down and you have a great interval workout that Pareto would approve of. 20% of your workout is going to give you so many benefits!

In terms of resistance training, the 20% that you should be focusing on are the compound exercises that move multiple muscles at the same time. Bicep curls are great, but if you're looking to lose 20+ pounds, they're not going to accomplish much. Spend less time at the gym by focusing on quality, full-body exercises such as medicine ball chops, squat jumps, push-ups, and planks, instead of isolation exercises like bicep curls, hamstring curls, and tricep extensions. I am in no way saying those exercises don't have a purpose, but a workout made up of entirely single-muscle resistance moves is not an effective use of time and will not lead to big results.  A 15-minute circuit training workout comprised of 5-6 full body, functional moves with minimal rest in between can yield more results than the age-old 3 sets of 12 reps at each exercise machine that solely focuses on one body part.

Another example of this 80/20 rule is that when it comes to weight loss and fitness training, it's often the things we don't even think about - that 20% - that affect our success.  When a person begins a new weight loss routine, how often do they think about their sleeping habits as a part of their success plan? Probably not often. However, studies show that sleeping 7-9 hours/night is crucial to weight loss, since poor sleep leads to hormonal imbalances, which can then trigger hunger. Those little things such as getting a good night's sleep, eating breakfast, and simply moving more throughout the day instead of sitting can have a profound impact on our weight loss success.

Working hard is pivotal to accomplishing any fitness goal, but it's also important to work smart! What 20% of your weight loss or fitness training plan do you need to focus on?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Motivation to Move: 7 Fabulous Fitness Quotes

If you read my last blog post, you'll know I'm quite fond of Twitter for staying up to date on fitness trends and information. It's also a great source of motivation for me. At least once a week, someone tweets a quote that makes me stop and marinate... and then wonder in awe at either the sheer simplicity and/or brilliance of that nugget of wisdom.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite fitness quotes that I've gleaned from Twitter. Here's hoping they motivate you to push a little harder on your fitness journey.

If your goal doesn’t excite you and scare you at the same time, you need a bigger goal.  - Charli Cohen
You can't outtrain a bad diet. - Todd Durkin
Methods are many, principles are few, methods often change, but principles never do. - Alwyn Cosgrove

Biceps don't grow on trees. - Fit Studio

I started thinking about exercise as an investment in myself instead of a chore. - Michelle Obama

You're only one workout away from a better mood. - Anytime Fitness

If you don't focus on your ass, no one else will. - Charli Cohen
Which quote is your favorite? What other words of wisdom motivate you in your fitness quest? Please share!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Twitter as a Fitness Resource: Top 9 People to Follow

Say what you will about social media... it can certainly be a burden to keep up with, but it can also be an excellent source of information and motivation and an efficient means of communication. My new favorite form of social media, especially for all things fitness, is Twitter. By following a handful of competent fitness "tweeters," you can have a plethora of fitness blogs, advice, workouts, and health tips delivered to you daily. And it's free! But as we all know, when things are offered freely and also not regulated in any way, we need to be wisely selective in the information we choose to consume. In other words, there are a lot of nuts out there who don't know what they're talking about in relation to health and wellness - proceed with caution!

To get you started, here are my TOP 9 Favorite Fitness Tweeters. They also happen to be very legitimate and professional. Most of them have blogs and/or websites that you can glean even more great information from.

9) Huffington Post's Healthy Living  @HealthyLiving
    Great health/wellness articles.

8)  @RevAct 
    Awesome website and app.

7) Kim Shand  @rethinkyoga
     Best mind/body connection tips.

6) Charli Cohen @TrainWithCharli
     Great quotes, links to good articles.

5) ACE Fitness @ACEFitness
    My certifying organization, so I'm biased. BUT, they always tweet links to quality blogs/articles and exercise videos.

4) Valerie Waters  @ValerieWaters
     Awesome celebrity trainer, PLUS she's the trainer of my most favorite actress ever (Sasha Alexander) and my 2nd most favorite actress ever (Jessica Capshaw).  So Ms. Waters could make the list simply because of that, in addition to the fact that she's who I want to be when I grow up. But putting aside my inner-13-year-old-fangirl, she actually tweets links to articles and shares fitness tips & insights, instead of always just trying to sell her products (unlike some other celebrity trainers on Twitter).

3) Anytime Fitness  @AnytimeFitness

2)  Women's Health Magazine  @WomensHealthMag
    One of my favorite women's health magazines... and they tweet links to good articles and interesting information.

1)  Alfonso Moretti  @AngryTrainerFit
    Mr. Moretti is the male version of who I want to be when I grow up. And he has the best fitness website you'll find! Great blogs/Q&As/product reviews and workouts - all FREE. And I absolutely love his fitness philosophy: very down-to-earth and grounded in common sense. Plus he just seems like a really nice guy. Like, who wouldn't want him as their trainer?!?

So what are you waiting for?  Get a Twitter account if you don't already have one, and start following a few of these folks. Who are some of your top fitness Tweeters?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Top 5 Things I Gave Up for Fitness

Last week, I read an interesting blog of a successful "weight loser" over on (which is a pretty good fitness website if you haven't checked it out... and it's free). In this blog, the author describes things she "gave up" in the name of health and wellness and I've been marinating on my own answer to that question over the past few days.

It is true... when you decide to commit to healthier living, you have to let go of a few habits and guilty pleasures. I gave up a weekly indulgence of chicken fingers and cupcakes. It was hard and my mouth does water a bit every time I drive by the local chicken finger specialty restaurant. I also have a 100 foot restraining order on myself from the local cupcake shop. But you also get to give up ridiculous mindsets and annoying habits that masqueraded as coping mechanisms. 

Here are the top 5 things I have given up in the pursuit of health and fitness and I don't miss them a darn bit!

#5 Stretching my t-shirts after washing them and having to hang-dry them so they didn't shrink. I'm sure many a large-chested girl has done this too. Cotton garments just have a way of losing a few centimeters when they get washed and then losing a few more in the dryer. If I wasn't the one on laundry duty that day, I would have to dictate to my spouse which shirts could be dried and which ones needed that special post-wash "stretch" in the bust area. It was embarrassing and time consuming.

#4 Worrying if I'll fit in the airplane seat.  It's enough to have to worry about if my plane is going to fall out of the sky or some lunatic passenger is going to put a bomb up some bodily orifice. Having to worry if the seatbelt would securely and comfortably fit around me was a headache I did not need.

#3 Worrying if I'll fit in the rollercoaster seat at the theme park. Same anxiety as the airplane seat. On a rollercoaster, I want to be locked in as securely as possible. And I want to be able to look at the person I'm sitting next to and not have my over-the-shoulder safety harness or safety lap bar sticking out 5 inches past hers.

#2 Buying the unisex or male version of clothing. Aeropostale and Old Navy have super cute shirts, but I could never make a successful purchase there unless I shopped on the guy's side of the store. That neon pink and teal t-shirt that looks like it escaped from the 1980s via the DeLorean? The largest female size wouldn't fit my thigh, so off I went in search of an XL in the men's section. There's nothing so humbling as having to find plus-size wear in a store that caters to the crowd that's 15 years younger than you.  

#1 Coming up yet with another creative way to say "not tonight, honey." I'm going to be blunt with this one. One of the top benefits of losing weight is that your libido and your confidence in the bedroom have an indirect relationship with the amount of weight you lose. As the scale drops lower, the libido and confidence get higher. Yes, there are those among us who might say "it doesn't matter what you look like, you should be confident with yourself and you should be with a partner who loves you for who you are, not what you look like." But having been there and weighed that, that trite aphorism is easier said than done. My guess is that most overweight individuals struggle with body image in all areas of the house, but especially the bedroom, regardless of how wonderful, loving, and supportive our partners are. It's just human nature. With that said, it's amazing what even a mere 5-10 pounds can do for the physical intimacy within your relationship. It's not so much about the changing shape of your body, although it is pretty darn amazing  when you realize you do have hip bones! But as we all know, confidence in oneself is sexy and when you work hard and achieve your weight loss goals, that pride and ego boost is immediately transferable to how you present yourself to others, including your partner.

What things have YOU given up in the name of health and fitness?  Please share!

Friday, April 20, 2012

5 Signs You Need a New Personal Trainer

Let's be honest for a second. Any yahoo can become a Personal Trainer. There are gyms out there that do not mandate any type of educational credential to work for them... though these are becoming fewer. And even if someone does have an educational background in exercise science, anatomy/physiology, etc or is certified as a Personal Trainer through one of the main organizations, it doesn't mean they're a good Trainer. Just because your poodle is AKC Certified doesn't guarantee it'll be a wonderful pet, right!?

So when it comes to Personal Trainers, as with anything, let the buyer beware. Here are a few signs that you may need to quit your Personal Trainer. Or you can reframe some of this information into questions to interview Trainers before you purchase training sessions with them.

The Basics
Your Personal Trainer should be:
  • CPR/AED certified - Accidents happen. Don't you want the person who's working out with you to have some understanding of how to revive you if need be? CPR/AED certification is just common sense whenever exercise is involved.
  • Insured - Again, accidents happen. Liability insurance is a sign of a trainer's legitimacy and commitment to their profession. If you're using a Trainer at a gym, usually the gym covers the Trainer's insurance, but it's always good to check. 
  • Certified - I'm sorry... I'm a snob when it comes to certification, although there are some out there who will disagree with me.  Yes, a piece of paper doesn't automatically make someone a great trainer, but it gives them an educational background and theoretical standpoint to develop programs and work with clients. Certification also demands keeping up with continuing education and CPR/AED certification. 
5 Signs You Need a New Trainer 

1) They don't exercise themselves. When I was going through my certification, I shadowed some Personal Trainers in order to "get in the trenches." When I asked one how he kept up with his own fitness routine while managing his business, he seriously said to me "yeah, I don't work out. I get a little exercise here and there when I show clients what to do."  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Now, personal trainers don't need to look like Jillian Michaels or Bob Harper nor work out 6 hours a week, but they need to be a good role model for the advice that they prescribe to their clients. How can you take someone seriously who's telling you to work out 4 hours a week when they themselves have no fitness routine?

2) They don't stay current with trends and research in fitness/exercise/health. Science changes all  the time. In order to keep clients reaching their goals, Personal Trainers need to stay abreast of new developments and insights. Certification helps with this as most organizations require 20 hours of continuing education to maintain certification.

3) They give you the same workout over and over. Yes, some program repetition helps build muscles and increases our endurance, but if you do the same exercise routine every other time you see your Trainer, something is off. There are numerous ways to tweak an exercise, from body placement to the use of "toys" (medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands, BOSU, etc). Incorporating different exercises or variations of the same exercise is good for our mind and body! Remember, our body is smart... when you give it a new challenge, it wants to conquer it. If you keep giving it the same routine, it no longer becomes a challenge and you'll plateau. A good Personal Trainer uses creativity to keep your body and mind engaged and enjoying the workouts!

4) They don't involve you in your exercise plan. Yes, the Personal Trainer is an expert and should design the majority of your plan. But a good Personal Trainer will ask you what exercises you enjoy, how the workout feels, if there is something different or new that you want to try. Now just because you don't enjoy pushups and tell your Trainer that doesn't mean s/he will cut them out of your program. But a good Trainer designs programs with their client's personality, strengths, limitations, and goals in mind. This is achieved through good communication. And a good Trainer is constantly tweaking their client's program as they continue to work together.

5) They don't include frequent assessments/challenges in your program nor revisit your goals regularly. You work with a Personal Trainer because you desire a certain outcome - lose weight, gain more energy, be able to run a 5K without falling over. You are paying them to help you make progress. A good Trainer will frequently complete assessments with you to see how you are progressing with your goals. The assessments could be measurements or physical challenges such as how long it takes you to run a mile or how many pushups you can do until you fatigue, depending on what your initial goals are. The use of these assessments shows you how far you've come and how close you are to your goal. If they're not frequently assessing your progress and your Trainer doesn't keep your goals in mind, what exactly are you paying them for?

What do you think? Have you worked with a Trainer who did (or didn't do) any of the above?
Any other signs that you need a new Personal Trainer?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Magic Pills for Weight Loss

In an effort to be completely honest and ethical, let me tell you right now that despite this blog title, there is no magic pill for weight loss. But this post will be inundated with hits from search engines driving individuals looking for a magic pill!

I am actually trying to debunk the notion that a magic pill even exists, despite the fact that numerous people fall for this fallacy, all in the quest for "the lose weight quick and easy way." Specifically, I'm talking about products that you ingest that claim to make you lose weight. With the plethora of legitimate information out there on how to lose weight, I am boggled by the fact that companies even make money by selling their "weight loss shake." But I guess love is blind, and so is the quest for weight loss.

Any follower of my blog knows that I've had my own weight loss journey. I did not take any pills nor supplements. I ate less and moved more. MANY people lose weight that way, and keep it off as well, I might add. But it's hard... you have mood swings and some days you want to throw your scale through the TV. It's also a long journey. You didn't gain all that weight in one week, you can't expect to lose it in one week. So I can see why so many people yearn for an "easy way."

I have recently had a few interactions with companies marketing weight loss shakes and "nutritional" products. I quote "nutritional" because let's be upfront and center with the fact that no government entity regulates the quality of supplements. That also means that a non-biased entity has not conducted independent research on them either. The FDA is hands off with them. So really, you do your own research and use at your own risk.

These companies have approached me because I'm a personal trainer and they think I should supplement my income by selling their products too. Due to the ethical standards of my certifying organization, I am not allowed to provide any nutritional advice or recommendations or sell any nutrition products since I have no nutrition education nor background. If I happened to be a registered dietitian or doctor, yes I could make those recommendations. But I am not, so I do not... nor do I want to. I stick to nutrition basics and the guidelines recommended by the government. Even if that ethical clause did not exist in my professional organization, I still wouldn't want the burden of recommending something that might cause harm to a client. What if they have a medical condition unbeknownst to me which is exacerbated by the chemicals in this product?

(Do personal trainers recommend and sell supplements all the time? Yes... more so than I ever realized. Perhaps they aren't certified and bound to any ethical standards of their organization, or perhaps they have educated themselves and feel comfortable promoting supplements, or perhaps they just don't care.)

When I explained the fact that I wasn't a registered dietitian/nutrition expert to one of the representatives of this weight loss supplement company, his response was "well, most of us have no nutritional knowledge either!"  And that is the point I'm trying to make. Why would anyone buy a product that is not regulated from someone who may or may not know what they're talking about?!?   Especially a product which has a direct effect on your health. Do you buy a car from someone who doesn't know the difference between a manual or automatic transmission? Do you buy a computer from someone who doesn't know the difference between RAM and GB? Probably not... why would you do any less with a product that's going INTO your body?

The product that I'm specifically referring to is one of those distributor type deals... they try to recruit individuals to sell their product. Think Avon or Mary Kay for weight loss supplements. So, you don't need any knowledge at all to push this product, you just need enough money to "buy in" to the deal and hopefully enough sales skills to make people buy your stuff.

In fact, I overheard one of these sales representatives talking about his own experience with the product he was selling. First of all, he was still a big guy... probably about 75 pounds overweight, which isn't his sales problem... you have to start somewhere. So he allegedly had been using the product a month and he said to an inquiring person "yeah I haven't lost any weight yet, but my clothes fit better. And I'm not even working out... I've literally turned fat to muscle just by drinking these shakes." First of all, he's a horrible salesperson admitting he's been on a weight loss product for a month and hasn't lost weight. (Though that's clearly an indicator of how well that product works!) Secondly, he's clearly exhibiting his lack of anatomical knowledge. Muscle and fat are independent entities... they cannot magically morph into one another.

I do not recommend weight loss supplements as a sole means to lose weight, I never will. If you want a magic pill to lose weight, I'll give it to you: track your calories, find out how many you need to consume each day to maintain your weight, eat less than that, and move more. If you need more help, use the $169 that company wants you to spend for a 21 day supply of weight loss products and consult a registered dietitian for a detailed nutritional plan. You'll probably still have money left over to consult with a certified personal trainer who can draw up an exercise plan for you. Here's the difference: that money spent on a consultation with a dietitian and a personal trainer will leave you with knowledge and a plan you can use for the rest of your life. The money spent on that weight loss supplement gets you a 21 day supply... what happens on day 22?

It is my hope that if you're even thinking about taking a weight loss supplement, perhaps this blog will make you investigate the credentials of the individuals selling you the product and research the product itself. Instead, find individuals who've lost weight (and kept it off) and ask them how they did it... I can guarantee you that the ones that keep it off have done it the old-fashioned way of smart eating and more moving. If you find a weight loss supplement you're interested in (that you hopefully want to use in addition to proper eating and moving more), I cannot emphasize enough the need to consult with a doctor or registered dietician. Even hit up the people at your local nutrition store and ask them questions. The individuals who work at a nutrition store make it their career to know about supplements and understand research related to them.... they're not just selling supplements on the fly as a half-baked "get rich quick and dupe as many people as possible" scheme. They want to actually help you, not just steal your money. (If you're in or near Minnesota, check out my friends at Power Source Nutrition. They are good, knowledgeable, and super helpful people.)

As always, if you need help getting started, shoot me an email or leave a comment here. I'm happy to help any way I can.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Are You Insane? (Or... how to commit to a healthy lifestyle)

The last post that I wrote (I Quit the Gym...) made me reminisce about my fitness journey and what motivated me to make lifestyle changes. Which made me ponder the question "what does it really take to commit to a healthier lifestyle?"

Some individuals are provoked into action by witnessing a close friend/family member have a health scare or having a health scare of their own. I use "health scare" in a broad sense, as it can include realizing that one's Body Mass Index (BMI) score is above the recommended range, being prescribed medicine to control hypertension/cholesterol/diabetes, being easily winded while playing with one's kids, or something as dire as having a heart attack/stroke. Other individuals may see a picture of themselves and are shocked into wanting to make a change. Anyone who's been on a weight loss journey has one of those defining moments, which propels them to make immediate changes toward moving more and eating better.

My defining moment was stepping on the scale in January 2000 and weighing 215 at the age of 21. Yes, it was my own personal Y2K moment: I stepped on it a few times to make sure my scale hadn't been affected by the turn of the millennium. The analytical side of me realized I weighed approximately 10 pounds per year of life that I had lived. What if I continued to weigh 10 times my age as I got older?!? It was a shock-and-awe tactic that was quite effective. The next day I borrowed a friend's Tae Bo videos, started cooking for myself instead of eating out every night, and I never looked back. The scale has never hit that high since then.

Even after someone has a defining moment, it doesn't mean it will last a lifetime for them. 50% of individuals who begin a fitness program quit in the first six months. Which brings me back to that original question of what does it take to COMMIT to that lifestyle?

When we live in a society that caters to instant gratification, it is hard to commit to a program that will take 3-12 months to see the final results that one wants to see. That's why weight loss and improving one's fitness is not for the faint of heart or weak-willed. That doesn't mean that some people can't succeed... EVERYONE can succeed. You just have to have - or find - the emotional tools within yourself to persevere and commit to the work that needs to be done.

I recently came across a tweet that said "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get the same results that you've always got." It's similar to the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

If you've been thinking about making a lifestyle change, eating better, losing weight, starting a fitness program, but you just can't find the motivation to start, you're not alone. But if you keep sitting around thinking about changing but still doing what you've always done, you're not getting any closer to the body and life that you want. So do this activity instead:

1) If you're looking to tone up or lose weight, find a picture in a magazine or on the internet of someone who has features that you aspire to have. What do you want? Strong, toned, Michelle-Obama-arms? Muscular, powerful, Venus-Williams legs? Solid, sleek, Jillian-Michaels-abs? Now, you need to be realistic here.... find someone of a similar height and body frame so that you're not trying to fit a yacht into a marina designed for a canoe. It doesn't need to be a Hollywood celebrity, in fact it might be helpful if it's not... because you don't know that all their body parts were with them when they were born anyway.

2) Cut (or print) out this picture and post it prominently in your bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen. Let it be an inspiration to help you make better decisions.  When you feel a temptation for that piece of chocolate cake, you can ask yourself "do I really want cake?" or "do I really want my goal body?"  When you have a visualization of a goal, you are more likely to accomplish it.

3) Make a realistic plan to get the body you want. And when I say realistic, I mean one that includes eating healthfully and exercising. Not doing some crazy fad diet where you eat tofu and drink kale shakes for 3 weeks straight.  If you need help devising this realistic, HEALTHY plan, consult a registered dietitian or a certified personal trainer. And no, the people selling you that protein shake that promises to make you lose 10 pounds of fat in 10 days as long as you drink two a day and eat a salad for dinner are NOT registered dietitians.

4) Give up the excuses. You will always be busy at work. Your family will always have pressing needs. You will always have things on your to do list that need to get done. But guess what? If you have time to look at Facebook or Twitter, find the latest deal on Groupon, or play Angry Birds on your iWhatever, I think you have some time you can devote to working out. Quit finding reasons why you can't and just do it. Take a walk after dinner. Don't buy the mac n' cheese at the grocery store. Don't eat the fries with that hamburger. It just takes one small *different* choice that will set off a chain reaction of more *different* choices that will get you closer to that goal.

As my brother says on a frequent basis, there are people who make things happen and there are people who sit and watch things happen. Which do you want to be?  Find your defining moment, visualize your body-to-be, plan your work, and then work your plan. I promise you, even when you're only halfway to your goal, you will realize it has been worth all the hard work and effort. The pride and happiness that come with accomplishing a goal is more satisfying than any piece of food could ever be.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I Quit The Gym...

I am a certified personal trainer. I love working out... and I mean LOVE it. It's a bad day if I don't get to exercise at least 30 minutes. Every time we visit Target, my spouse makes an obligatory trip down the exercise equipment aisle just to appease me so I can ogle the yoga mats, kettlebells, and other accoutrement. But this week, I quit the gym... and immediately upon sending in the cancellation form, I felt happier, empowered, and 10 pounds lighter.

My relationship with gyms has always been a rocky one, most likely as a result of self-consciousness and a lack of confidence in an environment where everyone around me always seemed to move easier, be stronger, and look better. Imagine entering the college recreation center at the age of 21 and weighing 215 pounds. I believe that feeling might be akin to what a Basset Hound must feel like walking into a dog park full of Jack Russell Terriers. While I was in college, despite the free membership afforded to students, I can count on one hand the number of times I went. So what did any young woman in the late 1990s who hated the gym do to lose weight?  She met with Billy Blanks several times a week. Yes, TaeBo is responsible for kickstarting my weight loss and my passion for fitness.

Thirty pounds lighter (thanks TaeBo), a few years older, and seeking to conquer my gym-aversion, I joined the fitness center at my first professional job: East Carolina University. To this day, the ECU Rec Center defines the perfect gym for me. It's actually probably the reason why I'm a gym snob now 10 years later... I have yet to find a fitness center that lives up to it's greatness. Perfectly laid out in a split plan with cardio equipment on one level, strength training equipment on another, the rec center also hosted a lovely indoor lap swimming pool, 8 racquetball courts, an indoor walking track, a rock climbing wall, basketball courts, and an amazing outdoor pool. Staff was friendly, the center was well-maintained, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, and they offered numerous ways to get involved (group fitness classes, intramurals, challenges/contests). My 4 year relationship with the ECU Rec Center helped me shed 45 additional pounds, nurtured some great friendships, and fueled my fitness passion that had begun with TaeBo. Even after I left ECU, I would pay for a day guest pass when I returned to visit friends in the area, just so I could workout in THE fitness center of all fitness centers.

I worked at several universities after ECU and joined their gyms as well, but they just did not compare to the ECU Rec Center and it wasn't a good use of my money. So my fitness journey returned to working out on my own, with various DVDs guiding me along the way. During the next 5 years my weight slowly climbed back up when I got married (yes, marriage adds weight), took a job I didn't enjoy (yes, depression adds weight), and reduced the amount I was exercising (yes, laziness adds weight).  When I finally quit the job I hated, I bought a treadmill and renewed my commitment to health and fitness. Within 2 years I was once again 45 pounds lighter and at the age of 32, in better shape than I had EVER been.

After I purchased a home in Orlando, FL and now having my Personal Training certification, I began to explore a gym membership at the local "box" gyms and the YMCA. "Box gyms" are the chains: LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, Lifestyle Family Fitness, etc. I felt a gym membership would allow me to get out of the house and socialize more since I work from home, it would help me improve my fitness by providing access to a greater array of equipment, and it might open some doors for part time employment as a Personal Trainer. (During an interview for a part time training position at a local box gym, I was looked upon with scorn when I told the interviewer - who resembled a bald Meatloaf by the way - that I worked out in my home gym.) After 4 months of investigating and taking tours of all the gyms within a 20 minute radius, I decided on one and became a member in October 2011. To remain professional, I will not disclose which facility I chose. It will suffice to say it is a nationwide chain.

My spouse joined with me and quit after 3 months... which really isn't a surprise. We knew going in that it may not have been a long term relationship there, but I certainly applauded the effort. (We are a case of opposites attracting: exercise-phobe with exercise-freak.) I, on the other hand, diligently went 2-3 times a week. Unfortunately, after only a month, disappointment was creeping in. I was barely acknowledged when I handed my membership fob to the staff member to be swiped as I entered the gym. When I asked a staff member at the front desk how to use a machine, I received a curt reply and no offer to SHOW me how to use it. When I went to the stretching area to cool down, the mats on the floor had puddles of sweat on them (yes, a sign of a disgusting and rude fellow gym-goer, but also a testament to the staff's attitude who clearly saw it as they walked by). Switching to an empty section of the gym to stretch and cool down, I noticed sand all over the carpet.  The next day it was still there. I guess they didn't own a vacuum.

About 2 months into my membership, one of the sales reps asked me how I was liking it. I don't think he expected me to give him my laundry list of complaints judging by his pale face and inability to make eye contact with me afterward. (I delivered my constructive feedback in a very nice way, I assure you.) I can say that after I expressed my dissatisfaction at the level of customer service offered by staff, I did notice an improvement in the friendliness during the check-in process. But I was no longer enjoying my trips to the gym. They had become a chore that I dreaded, merely going so that I didn't feel I was wasting my money. I didn't enjoy my workouts... I didn't get into the "flow," where you get lost in the movement and lose track of time, which commonly happened for me when I worked out at home or jogged outside. And I hadn't made any fitness improvements. The gym wasn't serving me any purpose. My trips to the gym lessened to once a week. But I hesitated to cancel my membership, wondering what that said about my commitment to fitness or my credibility as a Personal Trainer.

After a month of marinating, I made the decision this week to cancel my membership. As I sent off the form to the corporate office, I felt an immense sense of relief and my workouts this week - AT HOME - have been some of the most productive and enjoyable that I've had in the last 5 months. I still have 6 weeks left of membership, given that you pay for your last month when you sign up. I will probably go a few more times, just to squeeze the last few cents out of my membership dollar.

The point I'm trying to make with this lengthy blog post is that there is no requisite environment for a good workout. Gyms are certainly beneficial and some people may enjoy and need that environment in order to enhance their health and fitness. But for the population who doesn't like the gym, or even fears it, that's ok! You can get equally good results by working out at home or in the park/neighborhood. If I am judged because I work out in my home gym, so be it. My weight loss and strength gains are a clear indicator of the results you can get without gym machines. And my credentials as a Personal Trainer should not be based on where I do my own workouts, but the effectiveness of the workouts I design and the rapport I have with my clients. If only I could go back and tell that baldheaded Meatloaf interviewer to "suck it"... :-)  And yes, I still do Tae Bo.

Blogger's Note: Only a week after posting this blog, I came upon one of my favorite fitness experts (The Angry Trainer Alfonso Moretti) who wrote a blog on the Top 10: Ways to Spot a Bad Gym.  It makes me chuckle that my former gym met more than half of the criteria. Be sure to read that blog and if you're a fitness guru, bookmark The Angry Trainer Fitness site.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Future of Fitness: Online Personal Training

We do our banking online. We can get a degree online. Why not work with a personal trainer online? Just 15 years ago, we all would have laughed at the idea of pressing a button and making a car payment from our virtual checkbook. And we would have not been able to comprehend how anyone could take a class, much less get an entire education, solely by looking at a computer. But with the advances in technology, we do both of those things in addition to a whole host of other virtual tasks on a daily basis. Personal training can be delivered through the online medium as well. In fact, online personal training has been listed as one of the top fitness trends for 2012 (American Council on Exercise, 2011).

What are the benefits of online personal training?
  • Convenience - You train where you like on your own schedule.
  • Affordability - Most personal trainers charge $35-$50/session and recommend at least 2 sessions a week totalling $280-$400/month.  Most online training programs range from $15-$45/month.
  • Accountability - Most programs are set up where you need to log your progress so that your trainer knows you have completed a workout. You still have a professional monitoring your activities.
  • Private & Confidential - Some people feel uncomfortable in a gym setting. With online training, you're provided with a workout you can do anywhere you feel comfortable.
  • Accessibility - You have access anywhere there is an internet connection, so if you're travelling for business or pleasure, you can still track your workouts, access your account, or connect with your trainer.
  • Extra Benefits - Some training websites/programs also include meal recommendations, online food journals, recipes, and community networks (blogs, discussion boards, the ability to connect with other fitness enthusiasts).
How online personal training works varies by the provider. One option is to work with a virtual personal trainer through celebrity trainer websites and fitness magazine websites. While some degree of customization might be incorporated, those online training sites probably distribute the same workout to each person with minimal tweaks. And it might be a computer generating that workout, not a certified personal trainer looking at your specific goals, strengths, and weaknesses to create a specific workout for you. With that said, these sites are usually less expensive and you do have the popularity of the celebrity/magazine creating an effective online community of social fitness enthusiasts. If you choose a private online personal trainer, they will work with you one-on-one via phone/email and customize a workout just for you. You can also expect them to touch base regularly and make tweaks to your program as needed. This experience might cost an additional $10-$20/month, but it is still quite cost effective compared to meeting in person with a trainer.

While online personal training has numerous benefits, it should be noted that it is not suited for all populations. Individuals recovering from a recent injury or with any type health issue should begin with clearance from their physician and initially work with an in-person personal trainer. Supervised workouts to ensure proper form and mitigate any contraindications of exercise are imperative for those with any injury or other health issue.

Accomplishing any type of health and fitness goal, whether it be losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, or simply moving more and eating better, requires commitment, willpower, and motivation. Your online personal trainer will provide you with the knowledge and the tools and help you with the motivation, but you need to bring the commitment and willpower. Also, because you will be doing this online without a trainer in your face telling you exactly what to do for how long, you will need to be disciplined to log in to the website and do your workouts as prescribed.

With the economy still trudging along in a recession, we can't let financial woes keep us from improving our health and fitness. In fact, a little money spent now to improve our health will save us money on medical bills in the future. Working with an online personal trainer is a cost effective means to improving ourselves.

For an insider's look at online personal training, check out the Death to Jiggles blog. It chronicles one person's online training experience and fitness journey and is written in a frank and very humorous tone. Popular celebrity training programs include Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper. And most fitness magazines (Women's Health, Fitness, Men's Health) also offer an online personal training program. To learn more about online personal training through private providers, check out A Fitter Image and Workouts For You.

American Council on Exercise. (2011, November 07). American council on exercise cites increased obesity awareness and whole life training among leading 2012 fitness trends. Retrieved from

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shuffle the Deck Workout

Looking for an easy way to spice up your workout?  Doing a new routine not only revs up your muscles, it is also good for your brain to try something new. Not to mention, it breaks up the monotony of your fitness plan, can enhance your enjoyment of the workout, and give you a motivational lift. This simple workout involves body weight only, meaning you can do it anywhere! Since you'll be moving at a quick pace, this is a full body strength training workout with built in cardio! It's good for rainy days, days you don't feel like going to the gym, and for when you're traveling.

Shuffle the Deck Workout

Equipment required:  A full deck of playing cards, yoga mat (optional)

Instructions:  Begin with a 3-5 minute warm-up. Shuffle a full deck of playing cards really well. Place them face-side down in a stack. Flip over the first card and do the corresponding number of exercises for that suit. (Eg. a 3 of hearts = do 3 squats). After completing the required number of repetitions for that suit card, flip the next card and proceed with that exercise. Continue to move through each card in the deck, with minimal rest in between exercises.  Rest for 60 seconds after any Ace card. After completing all 52 cards, be sure to stretch each body part and cool down.

Follow the exercise guide below.  The number on the card corresponds to the number of repetitions to do for that exercise. For the diamond exercise (plank pose), hold plank for the corresponding number of counts (eg. 7 of diamonds = hold Plank while counting to 7).  Jacks, Queens, and Kings all count as 10 repetitions.  Aces are cardio cards and you should perform one minute of any cardio activity when you reach an Ace.

Spades = Push ups (feel free to do modified version if you cannot to a full pushup)
Hearts = Squats
Diamonds = Plank Pose (hold for the number on the card = eg. 4 of diamonds = hold plank for 4 counts)
Clubs =Glute Bridges

Jacks, Queens, Kings = 10 repetitions

Aces (of any suit) = perform 1 minute of a cardio activity (jumping jacks, jump rope, mountain climbers, jog in place). Remember to rest 60 seconds after any Ace.

Enjoy!  And feel free to post comments here after you've done the workout! Was it easy? Hard?

Disclaimer: Do not begin any workout program without clearance from a medical professional. If you feel pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath at any point during a workout, stop immediately and seek medical attention. The above workout is intended for individuals with no medical issues who are cleared for a fitness program by their doctor. The author assumes no liability for individuals who partake in this optional workout.