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The NYC Marathon

I can’t think  of a better way to end this work week than with a Friday shout-out to all those getting ready to participate in one of the most prestigious running events in the world: The ING New York City Marathon.

As a lifelong fitness enthusiast, I have to come clean and admit I’ve never been a runner.  A major growth spurt over the course of a few short months back in elementary school led to knee problems, which caused me to shy away from running in my tween and teen years. (I’m pretty certain, however, improper conditioning during my varsity tennis years put definite stress on my knees which I’m still trying to correct today.) Through the years, I became a fan of swimming, cycling and today, the elliptical machine remains my cardio machine of choice at the gym. So I’ve always had great admiration for anyone who’s turned their love of the “runner’s high” into the pursuit of crossing the finish line in a marathon.

Of course, making it across that finish line involves months of preparation filled with discipline and dedication. As in years past, I know many people participating in this years’ marathon. They range in age from the mid-2os to the upper 40s…and beyond. I’ve listened in awe while they described increasing their running mileage week after week, and working toward one, long 18-20 mile run as the “grand finale” of practice. (After that, they “taper off” to three to six-mile runs to stay conditioned for the big day.) All their hard work is about to pay off, and I couldn’t be happier for them. So, to all those participating in Sunday’s marathon, I wish you good luck!

A few tidbits of information about the ING NYC Marathon:

  • The first NYC Marathon took place in 1970. 127 runners paid a $1 entrance fee to participate and 55 of them crossed the finish line.
  • Since 1970, 700,000 participants have crossed the finish line in Central Park.
  • The course is 26.2-miles, taking runners on a five-borough journey around New York.
  • In 2000, an official wheelchair division was added to the marathon.
  • In 2010, 45,103 runners crossed the finish line.
Here’s to November 6th, 2011 being a memorable day for all those in a dash for the finish line, their families and friends and the amazing city of New York. Whether they’re 30-years-old or 80; a newbie or a five-time veteran, the thousands of marathon participants should serve as an inspiration to us all to never stop our pursuit to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Don’t Skimp When it Comes to Stretching!

An old friend, Shannon Palermo, posted the following comment on my LauraLovesFitness Facebook page:

So, what is the recommendation when it comes to cardio and stretching? I walk/run on a treadmill at home. Do I warm up then stretch or stretch first or stretch after? Also any suggested stretches? I recently pulled a muscle in my hip causing me to be sidelined with major hip and knee pain. I believe this is due to my lack of stretching and my need for new sneakers.

These questions raise several important issues, but first and foremost is the subject of pain.  Whether you’re a fitness novice or trained athlete, if you really listen to your body, you can tell the difference between muscle soreness from an intense workout and pain that indicates something is wrong. If you experience “major” pain in any area, you could be suffering from an acute or cumulative injury.  I’ve been the victim of many cumulative injuries because of one simple reason: I’ve ignored the warning signs and simply pushed through the pain.

If you experience pain that causes significant discomfort and doesn’t subside with ice and/or over-the-counter pain killers for more than a day or two, you should see your doctor.  When you let an injury linger, other parts of your body will compensate for the injury, throwing off your body’s proper mechanics and causing postural distortions. In the end, an injury to your foot will lead to compensations that create stress on other parts of your body’s kinetic chain – and you can easily end up with pain in your knees, hips or back. For my friend Shannon, if you’re simply guessing that you pulled a muscle and haven’t seen a doctor, please make an appointment soon.

As for stretching: the jury may still be out on when to stretch, but there is no debate about the fact that everyone needs to include flexibility training in their workout routine. As I learned through my NASM training, countless studies show a link between decreased flexibility and injury.  For example, decreased flexibility in the hamstrings and quadriceps significantly contributes to tendonitis in the knee.

NASM’s training model includes stretching as part of a warm up and again during the cool down period of your workout. The stretching-before-cardio-or-strength-training idea is stretch the muscles that may be tight so that you perform an exercise as optimally as possible and reduce the risk for improper movement and injury.  For a runner like Shannon, it’s optimal to stretch certain muscles like the hamstrings and hip flexors before a hitting the treadmill or the road. Here are two links I found helpful about stretching:

http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_1/126.shtml

http://www.stretchingworld.com/staticstretching.html

We’ve only scratched the surface and I look forward to writing more about injury prevention and flexibility training , but I hope the information in this post is a good  start to proving why stretching is a crucial part of our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Skinny on Walking

My friend Paula, the List Producer, offered up the following question for a blog topic: what IS the deal with walking anyway? To address this, I offer my personal experience along with input from Brent Brookbush, fitness guru and President of B2C Fitness, LLC; and throw in a link to an article I found particularly helpful about the subject.

These Streets Were Made for Walking!

Since moving to New York City four years ago, I can honestly say I have taken every opportunity to walk wherever and whenever I can: from home to work; work to the gym; the gym to someone else’s home – you get the picture.  I have always thought walking is better than no activity at all and it turns out, Brent agrees with me. However, he also stresses that while it can be a good starting point for beginners or those who fell off the fitness wagon and are slowly working back into a routine, it’s not going to do anything to improve actual performance. Why? Well, you’d have to walk ridiculously fast to get your heart rate up to just the first of three training zones – and how many of us can say that’s what we’re doing even as we try to pick up the pace on a walk to work?

To get some actual data to discuss the difference between running and walking, I searched the Internet and found this article by Rick Morris particularly helpful and hope you will, too. (It even includes a 1000 calorie fat-burning workout.)

http://www.runningplanet.com/training/running-versus-walking.html

So put this information together and what does it mean? While walking to work may not give you the same cardiovascular or calorie-burning benefits of a 30-minute bout on the elliptical machine or treadmill or a high-intensity 45-minute spin class, it’s still better than no movement at all.  Since I’m a big proponent of taking care of your body and your mind, if that walk to work helps you clear your head and makes you want to kick things up a notch with a run in the park or a bike ride over the weekend, then more power to you!

Remember, in the end, we all have to walk, run, ride or skip along our own path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

A Healthy Business Trip

L-R: Tom Brown, Wheelchair Games Co-Founder; Trish LaBar, U.S. Army Veteran; Doug Beckley, U.S. Navy Veteran

I just wrapped up one of the best business trips I’ve been on in quite a while. I had the privilege of producing a satellite media tour for the Paralyzed Veterans of America and helped them promote the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games going on this week in Pittsburgh. It is the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world and is co-presented by PVA and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

This year, there are more than 600 American veteran heroes with physical disabilities participating in 17 medal events including archery, power soccer, quad rugby, basketball and swimming. Each participant competes with athleticism and a true strength of spirit many of us will never achieve. I was proud to be a part of today’s media outreach efforts for the Games as I believe there will never be enough we can do for those who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us.

While the trip to Pittsburgh proved good for my spirits, it wasn’t too bad for my physical well-being either. Airports aren’t known for their healthy food options, but luckily, the JetBlue terminal at JFK offers more than burgers and pizza. I was able to find salad and even fresh strawberries for lunch.  Last night, our Pittsburgh studio liaison treated me to a fabulous dinner, where I was enjoyed sea bass with fresh spinach. (I did have one glass of Pinot Noir.)  I even managed to squeeze in 30 minutes on the elliptical, three sets of push ups (20 reps) and some core work on a yoga ball at the hotel’s fitness center.

So, for my fellow business travelers, here’s what I do to try to stay healthy on the road:

  • Pack healthy snacks. Even on overnight trips, I keep raw almonds and a couple of Fiber One bars in my bag. If I can’t eat for a while because I’m wrapped up in the project, or if the food options aren’t optimal, at least I have a satisfying snack to hold me over for a bit.
  • Pack workout gear.  If I find 30 minutes to spare, there’s no excuse not to go for a run, walk or quick workout in the hotel’s fitness center. (Breaking a good sweat feels especially good after sitting on a plane or train.)
  • Monitor portions. If meals are brought in for meetings or you’re going out for dinner, watch your portion sizes and perhaps choose to have a drink, but skip dessert or skip an appetizer and a drink but indulge in something sweet after your meal.

Pittsburgh Skyline

The key is to find what works for you. If you’re lucky enough to get a “natural high” from being involved in a project as rewarding as what I was a part of today, you’ll get the extra bonus of knowing you can be working and still have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Fitness & Footwear

Like many women, I love shoes. I love them even more when I find a great pair at one of the discount shoe paradises that have popped up all over the country. There is one type of shoe, however, that I will gladly pay full price for if I have to, and that would be my sneakers. Why? Because wearing the proper footwear while you workout is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself from exercise-related injuries.

Here’s a little trivia for you: there are 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons in each foot.  (No, I didn’t have those numbers memorized, I looked them up in AFAA’s Fitness: Theory & Practice, Fifth Edition.) That means there are 370 places vulnerable to injury in your feet alone.  Now consider that improper foot support can lead to compensations made by your knees and hips, and you are putting your body at risk for a world of hurt.

So, what’s the best footwear? It depends on your foot type.  If you have a high arch, you need sneakers with good shock absorption. If your feet are flat and/or “roll” inward or outward, you need a sneaker with stability. An “average” foot needs a shoe with both cushioning and stability.

I don’t know your foot type, but I can tell you what works for me.  Since my fitness routine includes walking, elliptical training, riding the stationery recumbent bike, rowing, and weight training, cross trainers keep me well-grounded and stable. I started wearing New Balance cross trainers five years ago (I currently wear the 1011s), and I get a new pair every six months.  I can honestly say if I wait longer than six months, I start to feel pain in my knees while I’m on the elliptical or while doing squats and lunges.   My current pair are two months old, and at the moment, I wear them with orthotics as I continue to recover from a stress fracture in my left foot.  (A subject for a future blog.)

While I am not a runner, most of my friends who are will only pound the pavement in running sneakers.  I also have friends who have sneakers specifically for when they’re on the tennis court. Many basketball players like high tops for the extra ankle stability. If there is one sport you play often, it’s a good idea to get a pair of sneakers specifically for that activity, and also have a more “universal” pair, like cross trainers, for days when you mix up your routine.

I look at it this way: I have far too many purses in my closet and most guys have more ties than they will ever need.  So why wouldn’t you spend the money to have at least one good pair of sneakers to protect you from injuries while you’re working so hard to stay healthy?

In the end, wearing the proper footwear is one of the easiest ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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