Monthly Archives: February 2012

Workout Wednesday: Beyond the Crunch

It’s hard to find a fitness magazine or video series that doesn’t highlight moves or tricks for building a stronger core. That’s good, because core training should be a key component of anyone’s exercise program, regardless of his or her fitness level.

The core – made up of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, thoracic spine and cervical spine – is the region of the body where all movement begins. If you have a weak and unstable core, your body simply can’t move the way it’s supposed to. That’s one of the easiest ways to put yourself at increased risk for injury.

New core exercises seem to pop up all the time, but I’ve always been a big fan of some the classics. That being said, there are several core exercises beyond the crunch that I use in my client’s fitness programs along with my own.  Here’s the kicker: these exercises all fit into the stabilization endurance level of training. This is the level where all fitness newbies should start and all fitness veterans should re-visit to maintain core and joint stability. For this trio, my friend and photographer Lauren Bachner captured a snapshot of the start and finish position for each exercise. Aim for two sets of 12-20 reps:

  1. Ball bridge:Once you’ve mastered the two-leg and one-leg floor bridge, this is a great progression of a key core exercise. Training tips: make sure your feet are hip-width apart. Draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes to get your knees in line with your hips and shoulders. Once you’re established the bridge, hold the position for two seconds before lowering your pelvis.

    Hype Gym, New York, NY

    Photos by Lauren Bachner

  2. Prone Iso-Abs (Plank): This remains my all-time favorite core exercise.  Here, I show you the “basic” plank along with a progression, where you add a leg lift. Training tips: In either version, be sure to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes before you raise your body off the floor to form a straight line from head to toe.  Hold plank position for two to three seconds before dropping to the ground to re-start. 
  3. Side Iso-Ab (Side Plank): I admit, I need to perform this version of the plank more often – and you should too! Training tips: Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder and be sure to draw in your navel and contract glutes before lifting your hips and legs off the ground. Hold the plank for two to three seconds before lowering back to start position. 

I wrap up this Workout Wednesday post with another thank you to Lauren for taking these action shots and to the owners of Hype Gym for letting us use their awesome facility for the perfect backdrop. Stay tuned for more shots of my favorite exercises in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what’s on your list of favorites when it comes to exercises that help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Pushing Through the Pain

As American Heart Month 2012 comes to a close, I thought I’d touch on a health condition that temporarily altered my fitness routine at this time two years ago. It isn’t a heart condition, but it’s one that often mimics pain caused by a heart attack.

The condition is called costochondritis and it’s defined as an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone. This causes sharp pain in the costosternal joint, which is where your ribs and breastbone are joined by rubbery cartilage.

Chest pain is always scary, but what made my pain even more worrisome was the fact that I felt it on the left side of my chest and down my left arm. I experienced the sharp pain whether I was working out, climbing the stairs to street level from the subway or simply taking a deep breath. I also had difficulty breathing while working out even at lower-than-normal intensity levels on the elliptical machine.

The good news is after visits with several different physicians who ordered several different tests, I learned my ticker was in tip-top shape. In fact, the cardiologist who ran my stress test told me he doesn’t expect to see me again until at least my 50th birthday. As far as treatment, I took prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs for about two weeks and I altered my fitness plan. I had to give up boxing for six weeks. The repetitive jabs and punches put too much stress on my chest and shoulder region, which were pretty much in a state of constant, gnawing pain. I also avoided certain exercises like push ups and chest presses. Finally, I made a point of carrying my purse on my right shoulder instead of the left.

So, how does someone develop costochondritis? There isn’t one specific cause, but in my case my doctor believed it was most likely linked to resuming strenuous exercise too soon after being hit with a nasty cold and cough. Other causes include:

  • An injury such as a blow to the chest
  • Infection
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pain from other parts of the body, which is also called “referred pain”

Everything turned out okay in the end, but there is a lesson in all of this. I should have been smarter about this situation from the start. Ask any physician (my father included) and they’ll tell you chest pain should not be ignored. However, that’s pretty much what I did. I pushed myself to fight through the pain and exercise at the same high-intensity levels. That included weekly or bi-weekly boxing sessions with my personal trainer. In the end, I only aggravated the condition and ended up out of the fitness game for longer than if I had received a proper diagnosis and started the healing process sooner.

Part of being physically fit is listening to your body and not turning  a deaf ear when it’s trying to tell your mind that something is wrong. While we may not like to sit on the sidelines, sometimes rest and recuperation are necessary stops along the journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Flexibility Friday

It may have been a shorter work week than usual, but I say TGIF anyway!

If you’re like most people, you’ve clocked countless hours this week sitting at a desk crouched over a keyboard. Or maybe you’ve logged hours in your car on that daily commute or took a road trip for winter break. Regardless of your daily activities, chances are you suffer from an all-too common problem for modern-day Americans: bad posture. This matched with an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle for people everywhere make a recipe for disaster where your body is concerned. This is why incorporating flexibility training (a.k.a. stretching) is more important than ever. It is one of the best ways to decrease muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction and overuse injuries.

While I can’t assess how your body moves via this post, I can tell you about one of my biggest “problem areas.” When I’m not out in the field producing shoots, I spend way too much time sitting in front of my computer. Since I’m almost always on deadline, I tend to lose track of just how long I sit there. These extended periods of sitting unfortunately cause tightening of my hip flexors, which are made up of five muscles including the psoas.

Stretch & Smile! Photo by Leslie Hassler

What happens if I I don’t take the time to stretch my hip flexors and just get right into the “heart” of a workout?  There are plenty of terms in exercise science to describe the problematic results, including altered reciprocal inhibition, synergistic dominance and arthrokinetic dysfunction.  Here’s what those problems look like when it comes to performing one of the most popular exercises known to man: the squat. If I repeatedly perform squats with a tight psoas, the “wrong” muscles end up doing the work. The gluteus maximus should be the prime mover, but tight hips flexors inhibit the gluteus maximus from doing its job and getting strong. Instead, the workload gets picked up by the “B team:” the hamstrings and erector spinae. Not only does this make the butt-kicking exercise pretty much ineffective for actually toning my butt, but I’m also putting myself at risk for low back pain and potential injury.

Here’s a link featuring some good static stretches for the hip flexors. If you’re just getting started on an exercise program, your focus will most likely be on corrective flexibility in order to improve any muscle imbalances and altered joint motion.  To that end, static stretches and self-myofascial release should be the key components in your flexibility training program.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if I could go back in time and change one thing about my life-long love affair with fitness, it would be to incorporate much more flexibility training into my routine. It is truly one of the best things we can do for ourselves in order to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Your Workout Wednesday Following Fat Tuesday

No doubt I’ll be starting this Ash Wednesday in a bit of a post-chocolate haze.

Ever since my days at Northwestern,I’ve celebrated many a Fat Tuesday with millions of other people around the world in a bit of decadent indulgence.

Need to Un-Do Some Decadence?

Since I give up desserts and sweets for Lent, I tend to “stock up” on Fat Tuesday. In my 20s, that often meant enjoying a dinner of chocolate chip pancakes with extra butter and chocolate sauce and a thick chocolate shake to wash it all down. A decade later, while I don’t ingest all that richness at one sitting, I do enjoy a few sugary treats throughout the day and some kind of chocolate ice cream concoction as the grand finale.

However, there are three reasons I refuse to be consumed by guilt over this day of decadence:

  1. It’s a one-time event in a 365-day period.
  2. For the past seven years, Fat Tuesday has fallen on the same day of the week as my favorite group exercise class. I’m just sure to kick things up an extra notch at NYSC’s Club Strength on this specific Tuesday where I tend to throw moderation out the window.
  3. Workout Wednesday immediately follows Fat Tuesday.

So, if you went a little overboard yesterday, consider it some extra motivation to make today’s workout count! Not sure you need to be motivated? Consider this: pancakes rank at the top of the Fat Tuesday favorite-food list almost every year. If you enjoyed this crowd pleaser at a restaurant like IHOP last night, remember each pancake weighs in at approximately 180 calories and six grams of fat. According to CalorieKing, burning off the calories in just one fluffy combination of sugar, flour and eggs would require 50 minutes of walking, 21 minutes of jogging, 15 minutes of swimming or 27 minutes of cycling. If you enjoyed a stack of four or five…well, you can do the math.

All that being said, there’s another tradition I follow pretty religiously every year on this specific Workout Wednesday. It’s the perfect day for intense cardio training. I’m talking about taking things a step beyond a “typical” 30-minute jaunt on the elliptical. Click here for a refresher on how to take things to the next level with interval training. If you haven’t tried interval training before – it’s a good day to start!

I’ll end with a common LauraLovesFitness theme: life is simply too short to deny yourself the things you really enjoy. For me, that includes chocolate, cupcakes, ice cream and red wine. On the rare occasions I do splurge and enjoy one or more of those decadent items on the same day, I simply make it a point to get back on track with my healthy food choices the next day and add some extra time to my workout. Finding a balance for all the things that bring you happiness is a challenging but critical part of our journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Fitness Focus

Every time a national holiday comes around, I find myself wishing there were more three-day weekends on the calendar. If you’re fortunate to be off on this President’s Day, I hope you do at least one nice thing for yourself today. For those of you who are either wrapping up or about to embark on some quality time with family and friends thanks to February recess, here’s to a whole week’s worth of nice memories!

Knock Out Self-Doubt! Photo by Leslie Hassler

In light of this being a holiday weekend, I thought I’d keep things pretty light today. So, I offer this post as an opportunity for you to assess how your 2012 health and fitness goals are coming along. When I arrived at New York Sports Club for my cardio workout this morning, I was greeted by a sign advertising special membership rates to help people with their “re-resolutions.” That’s when I realized it’s about that time again: the time when you no longer have to wait in line to use a treadmill or elliptical machine after work or arrive ridiculously early to claim a spot in your favorite group exercise class. If you’re enthusiasm about working out is waning, it’s a good time to re-evaluate the reasons why you made the commitment to take better care of yourself in the first place.

I know from first-hand experience how things like weddings, college reunions and other special occasions can be great motivators to get your butt into gear when it comes to working out and eating healthy. However, when the party’s over (literally), you’re right back where you started. So, if you don’t find a long-term source of motivation, you could be setting yourself up to fall right off the health and fitness wagon for more than a day or two. Since it takes up to six weeks for a behavior to become a habit, you need to find a more meaningful reason to make the behavior stick so eventually packing a gym bag every night or leaving your sneakers near the door for a morning run will be just as routine as brushing your teeth. That being said, make sure the focus of your motivation always comes back to you. Yes, this is one time when being selfish really can be a good thing. Instead of saying “I’m going to exercise because of the kids,” why not try “I’m going to exercise because I want more energy to play with my kids.”

One final and important note: don’t let vanity be your only source of motivation. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to want to drop a jean size so you have more energy and feel healthier overall, it’s not okay to say “I want to be the same size as (insert name of friend or celebrity here).” Stop short-changing yourself and remember all the unique qualities that make you the person you are. Positive affirmations are an underutilized source of strength that can help all of us stay focused on the lifelong journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Give Yourself a Break

Stop and Take a Breath! Photo by Leslie Hassler

Wow! I can honestly say this is one week that couldn’t come to an end soon enough.

Between work and happenings outside of work, I felt like I simply couldn’t catch my breath. One thing in particular that got to me was the fact that for the first time since I started this blog, I wasn’t able to write a new post for Wednesday. Life got in the way, and I was actually angry with myself for not getting it done. Then halfway through that busy workday, I stopped and remembered a famous quote from John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Then I took a deep breath and got over it.

It amazes me how hard we can be on ourselves. We make never-ending to-do lists and get flustered when we can’t cross off the 30th item in a 24-hour period. When the fun things become chores, that’s when it’s time to step back and realize you may not be able to get everything done at the exact moment you want. And really, unless someone’s life is at stake, it’s not the end of the world.

For me, that means my love affair with exercise sometimes has to take a backseat to other things, like much-needed sleep. Yesterday, I set the alarm for 5:30 am hoping to get my heart pumping before a day at the office followed by a personal training session. There was no way I could workout afterward at a late hour, especially on an empty stomach! However, when the alarm went off, my body practically screamed at me to stay in bed. So I did. I’m convinced that extra snooze time helped me write coherent scripts and meet my production deadlines at the office and be a more focused trainer for Lauren at the gym afterward.

This week didn’t go as planned on many levels. So, I did the best I could to face the unexpected challenges with the energy I had to face them. All that means is during the weekend ahead, I’ll make a new list with a new plan for more workouts, more blog posts and hopefully, some more sleep. The reality is taking a deep breath and “forgiving” yourself for what you couldn’t get done can sometimes help you climb what feels like an uphill battle to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Fitness & Friendships

Events can often remind us of the many gifts in our lives. That’s exactly what Saturday’s girls’ night out did for me.

About a half-dozen of my gal pals carried my birthday celebration into the weekend by treating me to pitchers of sangria – which did include lots of “healthy” fresh fruit – and Cuban cuisine. Afterward, we took the party to “Culture Club” for more than two hours of dancing to tunes from the shoulder-pad-and-big-hair-filled 1980s. (It seemed only fitting that “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John welcomed this fitness blogger as I walked through the doors!) My calculations on the Internet show I burned roughly 715 calories during those 120 booty-shaking minutes on the dance floor. However, I couldn’t figure out how to add up the extra calories we must have burned thanks to the laughter we shared over still knowing the words to almost all of the “old” songs. (Which included everything from “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive to “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins.)

As the fun night continued into early Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I am to have such special people in my life. Some of these amazing women have been my friends since childhood. Some I met during the past decade. Yet, they all have one thing in common: they always have my back. They’ve supported my decisions, regardless of whether they’d do the same thing if presented with the same situation. They’ve encouraged me to pursue my dreams in the fitness industry and get this blog started. As an only child, I consider these women, along with a few others who couldn’t make it to this particular outing, my extended family.

I tell you all of this as a reminder to turn to your support network – family or friends – to help you tackle the challenges in your life. For many people, deciding to embrace a healthier lifestyle can be an uphill battle. If you’re one of them, lean on your friends. Lots of guys go to the gym together to spot each other while weight lifting and push each other to get those last reps in. We gals can do the same thing. Ask a friend to join a gym with you or sign up for Zumba or other group exercise classes at a local community center. If the gym isn’t your thing, make a date to meet a few times each week at a for a brisk walk or run. Knowing you’d be breaking a “date” by skipping a workout with your buddy can be a good motivator to stick with the plan for the day.

Whether it’s a Saturday night dance party or a mid-week walk in the park, don’t forget to lean on your friends to help you stay on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Birthday Reflections

What a difference a year makes!

As the celebration of my 38th birthday winds down, I can’t help but sit here and think about the plans I made on this very same date last year.

It was February 9th, 2011 when I made the phone call to reserve my spot for the National Academy of Sports Medicine‘s certified personal trainer exam. I started studying immediately following a weekend of birthday fun.  Three months later – May 21st, 2011 to be exact – I passed the exam. These days when I’m not busy with my full-time production job or writing posts for this blog, I brush up on my studies to create exercise programs for my personal training clients.

While I’ve thought about becoming a personal trainer since finishing my days at Northwestern University, there’s a whole other aspect of fitness I never expected to fall in love with in my 30’s. As a lifetime lover of dance and exercise, I’m not sure why I didn’t give Zumba Fitness® a try until November of 2011, but I guess that old expression really is true: better late than never. It only took one demo class to get me hooked, and a just last month, I became a licensed Zumba instructor. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to fit some practice and choreography time into my schedule along with my full-time job, personal training, blogging and the rest of life’s everyday hustle and bustle so I can actually start teaching Zumba in the spring.

For me, this is just the latest move in the you-can’t-plan-everything-in-your-life playbook. Even when you set a course, make a plan and list your goals – something may come along to throw things off course. And that something can be the best thing you never planned for.

Some birthday love at work

I’m excited about the start of a new year in my life. Like everyone else, there are trials and tribulations I’ve dealt with this past year that I’m happy to leave in the past. There are other challenges I’m struggling with today and will continue to grapple with tomorrow. But just like in years past, exercise will remain one of the few constants that can help keep my head on straight even on my most stressful days and lowest times.

So, I end this work week another year older. I’m not sure if that makes me another year wiser, but I am looking forward to discovering what lies ahead in the next 365 days and all the new opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Here’s to Another Workout Wednesday!

Happy Workout Wednesday!

Photo by Leslie Hassler

This week I offer some new exercises for your stabilization endurance routine. There’s something important to note about this level of training: it’s not just for workout newbies and those returning to exercise after a hiatus.

NASM teaches it’s also crucial for exercise veterans to re-visit the stabilization level after periods of strength or power training. Why? Because performing exercises that challenge the body’s proprioception is a surefire way to maintain your core and joint stability. I don’t care how much weight you can push with your chest muscles on a bench or curl at a seated machine with your biceps. After intense strength or power training, keeping your body in a bridge while performing a couple of sets of ball dumbbell chest presses offers a good reminder of how important it is to maintain your core strength!

Don’t forget to warm-up before jumping into this routine and cool-down when you’re done. For each exercise, aim for two sets of 12-15 reps.

Core:

Balance:

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but you need to visit and re-visit this training level throughout your year-round workout cycle to keep your muscles the way they’re supposed to. If you’re a “regular” here at LauraLovesFitness.com, you may know the following chain reaction by heart: when your muscles don’t work properly, your body makes compensations to keep moving. Those compensations eventually lead to muscle imbalances which lead to increased stress on the joints which can ultimately lead to injury.

As with the other workouts I’ve presented, your goal should to perform today’s program two to three days each week, but don’t perform the same routine on back-to-back days. Your muscles need time to recover and repair, which is accomplished through rest. So you could perform this program on Tuesdays and Thursdays and get your cardio on the in-between days. Whatever you do, never skimp on the stretching! 

So, what are some of your favorite stabilization exercises? You know I’m always looking for new ideas to help all of us on our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Don’t Skip the Workout Today!

I hope you all enjoyed a great weekend filled with football-championship fun!

It may not be a national holiday, but Super Bowl Sunday is an American tradition right up there with turkey on Thanksgiving and apple pie. In fact, I know plenty of non-football fans who look forward to this day. Why? Because the Big Game offers the perfect excuse to get together with friends and family and indulge in many of the foods most of us try and avoid on a regular basis.

Even I go a bit overboard on Super Bowl Sunday. Which is the main reason I’m on a mission this Monday to squeeze in a post-Super Bowl workout to burn some calories. (I’m pretty sure getting up off the couch to dance to some of Madonna’s half-time show club tunes didn’t do the trick.)

With some help from a great website called CalorieKing, I put together a rundown of how some of America’s favorite Super Bowl foods score on the calorie counter. Considering many or all of these items may have been on your game day menu, I’ll let you add them up based on what you did or didn’t eat and factor in how many pieces, slices or serving sizes you enjoyed.

  • Doritos’ Tortilla Chips, Cool Ranch Flavored (12 chips) = 140 calories
  • Lays’ Potato Chips, Sour Cream & Onion Flavored (17 chips) = 160 calories
  • 5 Pigs-in-a-Blanket = 470 calories
  • 5-wing serving of hot wings = Anywhere from 300 to 597 calories (depending on the sauce and dip they’re served with)
  • 1 Slice of Cheese Pizza = 240 calories
  • 1 Slice of Pepperoni Pizza = 298 calories
  • 1 Slice of Papa John’s “The Works” Pizza = 330 calories
  • Bowl of Chili = Calories range from 300 – 600 based on the recipe. (e.g. cheese v. no-cheese)
  • 1 Light Beer (12 oz) = 96 calories
  • 1 Regular Beer or Ale (12 oz) = 150 calories
  • 1 Regular Soda (12oz) = 140 calories

If this list didn’t give you enough of a reason to want to get up off that chair and start and go for a run or find the next Zumba® class in your area, maybe this great article from Friday’s Washington Post will give you an extra push to break a sweat.

Whether or not you cared about which team won, I hope you enjoyed Super Bowl Sunday! If that included going a bit overboard with the food and drink, no doubt you had your fun – which means there’s no time like today to get back on track with your plans to be fit and feel fabulous!

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