40 Weeks of Fitness

This blog has been dormant for some time.   Preparations for imagebaby and maternity leave have left me with little time to write which explains this post today, December 29th, my due date. The feeling I have today kind of reminds me of a Saturday spent rushing around preparing for dinner guests. You spend the day cooking and cleaning, hop in the shower, and have just enough time to dry your hair before their E.T.A. Just as you hurry downstairs ready to greet them you receive a call that they are running behind and won’t be arriving for another hour. Suddenly you have all this time you didn’t expect to have and it is both freeing and disconcerting at the same time. That is how I feel today except my little dinner guest probably won’t be arriving in an hour, the only food she’ll require is my breast milk, and instead of spending the extra time rearranging a tray of hors d’oeuvres I’m writing a new post.

Months ago I expressed my desire to have a “fit pregnancy”. I am happy to report that through a mixture of perseverance and good luck I think I’ve done it. It’s been 40 weeks and I am still running, lifting weights, practicing yoga, and feeling pretty decent overall for a big ol’ pregnant lady.

I’d been teaching fitness classes and training clients in much the same capacity until I started maternity leave on Wednesday and am pleased to report that all 7 doctors and the one nurse/midwife I’ve seen have been very happy with my progress and the progress of my yet to be born little girl. I am hoping all the hard work pays off in labor but if not it’s definitely paid off in pregnancy. I’ve spent way too much time looking at blog posts of active pregnant women for ideas on how to maintain fitness during pregnancy so on the off chance you stumble across this post while scouring the internet for inspiration here are some things I did to help me survive (and sometimes even thrive) during the past 9 months:

-Surf (the internet):  The ability to google any pregnancy related question that pops into your head is both a blessing and a curse.  However, on those mornings when I doubted myself and wondered if it’s really safe to run or stand on my head being x amount of weeks along doing a little internet research and finding numerous studies regarding the benefits of exercise during pregnancy helped calm my fears.  (Of course I also checked with my doctor at every appointment to obtain their blessing to continue with my desired level of activity.)

-Multitask:  There are numerous podcasts available on the topic of pregnancy and motherhood and best of all they are free!  Putting a few on my Ipod or phone to listen to while going on a run or walk proved much more enjoyable and beneficial than hunkering down on the couch with What to Expect When Your Expecting.  If there is a specific book you are interested in consider downloading an audio version so you can get a workout in and gain some knowledge at the same time.

-Submit to your inner stalker: There are many blogs out there devoted to the topic of having a healthy pregnancy and many bloggers that post week to week updates documenting their exercise, diet, pictures of their bump, and other interesting tidbits of their journey. Though this “blogger” spent much more time reading than writing this pregnancy I tip my hat to those ladies who put themselves out there for the rest of us. Google “fit pregnancy blog” followed by your current week whenever you want to get some inspiration and fulfill your social media stalker tendencies. I did this at least once a day (well, maybe actually multiple times a day….)

-Find a new release: You can’t counteract the stresses of working during pregnancy at happy hour (at least without garnering a lot of unwanted attention from bar patrons and co-workers) so why not explore a new form of release through yoga and meditation? You’ll feel better physically, learn some breathing exercises you can take with you into the delivery room, and relieve stress to benefit both you and baby. I’ve been retreating to the nursery (formerly my yoga room) whenever I feel the crankiness of pregnancy hormones, am looking to alleviate some pregnancy discomfort, have trouble sleeping, or find myself worrying about labor and beyond. Basically I’ve spent the majority of the last 9 months in the nursery doing yoga and meditating……

-Don’t be afraid to kick some ass (if you are feeling it): Every pregnancy is different but personally I needed a little Yang to go along with my Yin. I love long walks, yoga, and meditation but still felt like keeping up with some more intense forms of exercise in the form of heavy lifting, interval training, and running. That said I firmly believe in listening to your body. After getting the go ahead from your doctor only you can decide what feels right and if you can’t quite decipher what you body is trying to tell you consult a fitness professional.

I would go on but this little girl in my stomach is telling me to get up and move. In my experience one of the biggest benefits to maintaining an active pregnancy is that you grow your very own little personal trainer inside your body. This little one won’t let me be lazy for very long and shows her discontent with a few swift kicks to the ribs and forceful punches to the bladder. I am curious to see if this trend continues after her debut but until then I am off to celebrate this due date with a nice long (and hopefully labor inducing?!?!) walk. Wish me luck!

The Glass Woman

I found out I was pregnant for the first time right before New Year’s.  On New Year’s Day  my husband and I went to the book store and bought What to Expect While Your Expecting and a few other literary gems.  I spent the day pouring over these books and after a few hours was amazed at how many things could go wrong.  Consequently, I wondered if the best course of action might be to stay on that couch surrounded by pillows for the next 9 months to keep anything from jeopardizing the pregnancy.  Since my job requires constant motion this was a precarious situation.  I grew nervous about my own exercise routine as well as the classes I needed to teach that week.  Would I cook the embryo by raising my body temperature or shake it loose by standing on my head?  Did my run that morning already dislodge it?  A need for control and the fear of doing something wrong was overriding my professional knowledge, common sense, and intuition.  It took losing the first pregnancy after being extremely careful to realize that no matter what actions I take there are many forces beyond my control.  It is unlikely to lose a pregnancy by moving the wrong way.  Flash forward 6 months later to 23 weeks into my second pregnancy and I am pretty much keeping to my normal routine with a few modifications.  This time around I let listening to my body and good common sense guide me and (knock on wood) both the baby and I are healthy and right on track.  Here is what I’ve learned first hand about exercise and pregnancy so far:

1.) Do it!: Even on the days I felt pretty gross during the first trimester a little movement went a long way.  It was one of the few things that made me feel human again (that and TONS of sleep).

2.) First trimester=green light for activity: You can’t “shake the baby loose” “squish it” or in other words harm the baby with a reasonable amount exercise.  Most pregnant women aren’t up to killing it at the gym during this time but if you feel well enough to keep moving through your normal routine don’t feel like you have to downshift right away.  Rest when you need it , check in with your body more frequently, but don’t stop completely unless it’s a medical recommendation.

3.) Your body will tell you when it’s time to modify: I’ve learned this one the hard way a few times and lived to tell the story.  Your body will tell you when something doesn’t feel right.  There may come a point when you physically cannot lie face down on your stomach or exercising on your back starts making you feel faint.  You will eventually need to change the way you move to accommodate your changing body.  Your body will let you know when that time comes.

4.) Train in the second trimester for the third: Though you may not be training for the Olympics you are indeed training for one of the greatest endurance events of all time: giving birth!  Look at the second trimester as a chance to get prepared for it.  Strengthening your entire body while you have the energy and ability during the second trimester will only help when things get tougher in the third.

If you need further motivation check out this article.  You may want to print it out the next time you are working out and some ill-informed individual asks if you “really should be doing that”.   Yes, you really should.

Three Ways to Find Flow in Your Workout

The education of attention would be an education par excellence. —William James

The study of happiness has accelerated in recent years.  More and more scientists are finding that there are specific actions we can take to make ourselves happier.  Though our genetic set point plays a role (generally about 50%), a mere 10% of an individual’s happiness is dependent upon outside sources (big house, fancy car, lots of money, etc.) This leaves 40% unaccounted for and scientists believe it is within this 40% that our individual power lies.  You might be asking yourself what this has to do with health and fitness.  My answer is a lot.

When looking into the psychology of happiness,  it’s hard to overlook the theory of flow.  The two seem to be inextricably linked.  That which some other cultures have known for years is just beginning to become part of western pop culture.  It seems we are most at peace when we are fully absorbed in something that we can lose ourselves in, requires our complete and undivided attention, and gets us into the coveted state of flow.  Now comes the part about exercise.

Research has shown time and time again that physical activity makes people happier.  Our brains literally change when we workout, releasing “feel good” chemicals that promote energy and decrease stress.  So what if you could tap into flow at the same time?  The following are three ideas to make exercise as beneficial to your well-being as possible:

1.) Find something you enjoy: It goes without saying that it’s hard to become absorbed in something you hate.  Like any middle school student stuck in their least favorite class of the day knows, doing something you don’t want to do will only make you wish you were doing something else.  And daydream about doing something else.  And think about what you will do when you get this s*&t over with.  Don’t make your workout an exercise in escapism.  The more you enjoy what you are doing the more you will do it and the better chance you will have of finding flow.

2.) Turn off the T.V., Lose the Kindle: Let me first say that walking on the treadmill while watching your favorite T.V. show is a great idea.  The same goes for reading the Kindle (as long as you can keep your balance, that is).  However, if you are looking to find flow it is going to be impossible doing two things at once.  I get the whole getting your mind off exercise so you can burn through 60 minutes without even realizing it theory, but mindfully exercising is a totally different experience.  Try working out and noticing what muscles you are working, how it feels in your body, how deeply you are breathing, etc.  Maybe not every time, maybe just once a week….and don’t worry, listening to some music is fine, just keep it light so you don’t lose yourself in your tunes instead of your exercise.

3.) Try something non-repetitive: The rhythm of a run or a trail walk can definitely be relaxing in its own right, but repetitive exercise tends to cause the mind to wander after a while.  Though a run is great for working all that mind-stuff out, it’s tougher for most people to find flow doing repetitive tasks.  One trick is performing exercise that requires your full and constant attention.  Many sports are great for this, as are dance classes, some forms of tai chi and yoga, or even kickboxing.  Try to find something where you don’t have much “down-time” and where the varied movements force you to pay attention.  You won’t have time to think about anything else and just might fall into a little flow in the process.

Make your workout productive in more ways than one, find your flow!

5 Ways to Fit

The phrase “crash diet” is well-known in our society and its connotation has never been a positive one.  We all know that drastic changes may work once in a while to jump-start a transition to an overall healthier diet, but this style of eating rarely works for the long haul.  Dining on cabbage soup day in and day out is not sustainable.  Exercise works the same way.  Grueling, intense workouts have their place but by no means are they the be all and end all to fitness.

As we get older, wiser, and more in tune with our bodies we usually realize that the push till you puke boot camp class is great but continue with a boot camp only regimen and your body will eventually start to talk to you.  By understanding and implementing the five components of physical fitness you enjoy more variety in your routine and be and less prone to injury.  Keep your body in good working condition by making sure you touch upon each aspect in a manner that you can continue with for the long haul.  The five components are:

-Cardiovascular fitness:  Walking, running, dancing, biking…find what works for you and keep at it!

-Muscular strength: It’s not just for body builders, research has shown that the benefits of strength training are numerous.  Read more about these here and here.

-Muscular endurance: A side benefit of both cardio and strength training, muscular endurance allows you to work longer and stronger.  Interval training is great for building muscular endurance as are isometric exercises (think planks, wall sits, etc.)

-Flexibility: You won’t get very far in any exercise regime if you neglect stretching.  The red-headed step child of fitness, stretching is often overlooked and under appreciated.  Think of it as balancing out everything else you do.  Constant contracting with no release can wreak havoc on your body, especially in the knees and back.

-Body composition: Keeping your fat to muscle ratio at a healthy level is essential for a properly functioning body.  Exercise helps with this but you can’t out exercise a bad diet.  Keeping track of your weight is a good thing, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Paying attention to how your clothes fit and tracking body fat can help give you a better picture of where you stand.

Try implementing these five components and you will see marked improvements in the way you look, feel, and perform.  Exercise should be a part of your life, not something that gets in the way of it.

On A Roll

Need a massage but don’t want to spend the money?  It might be time to invest in a foam roller.  Known in the fitness world as “the poor man’s massage”, foam rollers have been gaining popularity with athletes and non-athletes alike.   They come in various sizes and densities, but no matter what type you use the general premise remains the same : find an area of tension (or knot), roll it out, repeat.  Since foam rolling breaks up the scar tissue on the outer lining of the muscle it is actually a form of stretching.  The beauty of foam rolling is that you can do it before a workout, after a workout, or while you are at home watching television.  There is no wrong time to foam roll.  When foam rolling with clients I generally concentrate on the lower extremities since that is where it usually does the most good.  Hamstrings are always key, as are the calves and quads.  One of the areas where a foam roll does the most good is the IT band (warning: this is a sensitive area for most and usually a bit painful, but in an it-hurts-so-good type of way).  That said, you never want to roll to the point of bruising.  If you find that happening, back off a bit or switch to a lower-density roller.


Trend Setting

January is typically a time of renewal, righteousness, and resolutions, many involving health.  While some people focus on the health of their bank account the majority of people in the US resolve to have healthier bodies.  Snacks of cookies become snacks of carrot sticks.  Evenings of caroling with family and friends are replaced with evenings of spinning with random strangers at the gym.  January is also known as the most depressing month of the year.  Coincidence?  I think not. You cannot expect to magically transform into a completely different human being as soon as the year changes and not end up completely disappointed.  If you didn’t like spin class last year what makes you think you will like it this year?  Getting healthier does not mean shunning everything that feels good for a lot of things that don’t.  Getting healthier should make you feel better about yourself and life, not worse.

If  you are having a hard time finding the workout that is right for you rest assured there is no lack of choice for the modern-day fitness enthusiast (or want-to-be enthusiast).  Every December the American College of Sports Medicine releases its top 20 fitness trends for the coming year.  You can access the full article complete with research statistics  here or the watered down but quicker to read version here.    Educate yourself on all that is out there and see what speaks to you.  Try one, ten, or all twenty options until you find a few you enjoy (or at least can tolerate for the greater good).  Fitness is a young and ever evolving industry that is constantly creating new and different ways to get people up and moving.  With a little research you can alleviate a lot of boredom and discomfort and ultimately find your path to a better you.  Release some endorphins to ensure a happy new year even after the champagne buzz subsides.

Workout Interrupted

Injury, illness, and erratic schedules are three common catalysts of a fitness routine down shift.  You are on a role, losing weight, getting stronger, and feeling great when life throws you a curve ball leaving you sidelined and discouraged.  With flu season rearing its ugly head and the holidays fast approaching it is highly likely that most of us will experience some challenges to maintaining our health and fitness levels in the coming months.  Don’t throw your routine (or treadmill) out the window just yet.  Check out these tips to keep yourself on track:

1.) Enjoy a fresh start – Rather than beating yourself up for taking time off, use the opportunity of getting back to exercise as a fresh start.  Use this time to reassess your fitness routine.  Stepping away from our day-to-day routine allows us to see the bigger picture and usually results in a paradigm shift.  If you are not excited about getting back it is usually a sign that it is no longer working for you.  Change it up and create a new routine, chances are you’ll see more results than you did with the old stale one.

2.) Hone in on diet – When you are unable to exercise as much as you’d like, shift your focus to diet.  Take this time to finally get a handle on portion size or start that food journal you’ve been meaning to write.  Try some new healthy recipes to nourish your body, speed healing, and increase immunity.

3.) Redefine your definition of exercise – When you can’t exercise like you usually do you are forced to think out of the box.  Traveling and unable to get to the gym?  Try doing bodyweight exercises in your hotel room or taking the stairs instead of the elevator to your floor.  Coming off an illness?  Build back up to your previous fitness level by taking the dog for longer walks or doing push ups and lunges  between household chores.  Recovering from an injury?  Utilize the muscle groups you are allowed to use and expand your repertoire.  You will come off your injury with a broader knowledge of workouts and strength in muscle groups you may have been neglecting, especially helpful if the injury resulted from overuse.

Remember fitness is more than the 30-60 minutes you spend at the gym.  Use a break in routine as a chance to realize that though working out is important, every day choices are the largest component to lifelong fitness.

Challenge to Your Balance

You balance your tires, balance your checkbook, and try to eat a balanced diet.  We all spend a great deal of time trying to find or maintain a sense of balance in our lives, but how about in our bodies?  Balance is a key component in any fitness routine.  From competitive sports to day to day activities, balance is key to all movement.  Adding balance training to your fitness routine can reduce your risk of injury, especially those that occur in the ankle or knee (and you thought those single leg biceps curls and Bosu step ups were just your trainer’s idea of a sick joke).  A huge side benefit to balance training is the increased calorie expenditure.  Because more muscles are recruited through balance training it has great potential for aiding in weight loss.  Check out the exercises listed below for ideas on how to incorporate balance into your routine:

Single Leg Balance: Though it seems simple, standing on a single leg is harder than it seems.  Try it.  Still unconvinced?  Try standing on a single leg while performing some routine exercises such as biceps curl or lateral raises.

Single Leg Hip Rotation: This is another great exercise to recruit those stabilizing muscles.  Want an extra challenge?  Try taking your gaze in the direction of the traveling knee.

Single Leg Step Up to Balance: Ready to move with your balance?  Try a step up to balance using a bench, box, or even a stair if at home.  Want more of a challenge?  Add a free weight overhead press to the top of the motion.

Aside from the exercises mentioned above, you can stand on one foot while brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, or waiting in line at the grocery store.  Try it a few times this week and see what you think.  Wouldn’t it feel good to be more balanced?

Comfortably Numb

Have you ever felt like a big change in your body happened overnight?  One day you were a high school football player or track star and seemingly the next you are sitting in a cubicle sluggish and overweight?  In an age of incredible technology where information moves at the speed of light and life does too it’s easy to get swept up in the current without paying much attention to the small things, like the state of your body.  I am a big fan of listening to music when I run,  am not opposed to treadmills with built-in TVs, and think those stationary bike/ video game combinations are pretty cool.  However, in any fitness regimen I do think it’s important to occasionally rid yourself of distractions and focus on your movement.  You may have heard the phrase “inhabiting your body”.  At first it sounds kind of silly (what other choice do we have, aren’t we kind of forced to do that?)  But think about it….how often do you really take inventory of every physical sensation?  How often do you notice the feel of the ground (or treadmill) beneath your feet or the way your muscles work in synergy on the elliptical?  The gym might not be the first place you think of to get connected and stop and smell the flowers (or dirty gym socks), but getting in the habit of really feeling your body can improve your workouts ten fold.  Here are some alternative ideas to help you start tuning in to your body:

1.) Yoga: I’ve mentioned yoga a few times in past posts, but this is an easy and fairly accessible way to start connecting to your body.  Find a class in your area, a DVD, or even free online videos to start becoming more mindful of your physical and emotional state.

2.) Laban Movement Analysis/Bartenieff Fundamentals: These classes might be a bit harder to find, but are usually available in college towns (they are typical in many college level dance/theater programs) or through some local dance studios.  They break down human movement into concepts, principles, and exercises to facilitate proper function and awareness.  You can learn more about Laban Movement Analysis here and Bartenieff  Fundamentals here.

3.) Alexander Technique: Alexander Technique is becoming more widely available in dance and fitness facilities or you could seek out a private teacher in your area.  Alexander Technique focuses on re-learning proper movement patterns and letting go of bad habits in our everyday activities.  Its primary function is to relieve unnecessary tension to allow an individual to move with more freedom and ease.  You can learn more about it here.

4.) Nia: Part martial arts, part dance, Nia is a movement class that focuses on healing and improving the body and spirit through fitness.  It has become more popular in recent years at local health clubs but is also available in dance and fitness studios.  You can learn more about it here.

5.) Egoscue: Egoscue was created as a way to relieve pain through proper body alignment.  With only 24 clinics in the US it may be a bit harder to find but you can search their website for practitioners in your area.  You can learn more about it here.

6.) Pilates: With a huge growth in popularity in recent years, Pilates has become a household name.  Though class levels and styles vary, Pilates focuses on strengthening the body through improved core strength.  It is widely available at gyms, studios, through private instruction, and on DVD and internet websites.

Find a technique that works for you and try it at least once a week.  If nothing here speaks to you, take a solo walk sans your Ipod or other distractions.  Be proactive in checking in with your body from time to time and you may save yourself pain, time, and money later on.  So go ahead, inhabit your body!

Hard Core

Chances are if you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade you are familiar with the fitness buzzword “core”.  You know you have one and you know it needs to be stronger but you don’t know how to accomplish this.  In order to be inspired to get that large inflated (or if you are like most people deflated) exercise ball out of your closet you might need some motivation.  Take a second as you are reading this and check your posture…does it resemble the seventh gentleman to the right in the picture above?  Did you straighten up as you read that last sentence?  If so then congratulations, your core is now engaged.  Unfortunately you may need to do a bit more than sit up straight at the computer to really activate and improve your core muscles.  The following are some exercises you can perform, no equipment necessary:

1.) Prone Iso-Ab (aka Plank)

2.) Side Iso-Ab (aka Side Plank)

3.) Quadruped Arm Opposite Leg Raise

Hold each plank for a minute and do 12 reps of the leg raise on each side.  Perform 2-3 sets of each exercise.

Now that you are feeling motivated, go rescue that exercise ball from the closet.  Resist the urge to sell it on ebay and use it for a seat instead.  Repeat daily.