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The Last One Standing

Stay true to you…the rest will follow!

This Motivation Monday post follows the same theme as that old tale about the tortoise and the hare.

I was recently reminded how rewarding it can be to be like the tortoise. In one of recent kickboxing classes, I was the last one to finish the “pyramid” during a rather intense 12-minute warm-up. Rather than feeling defeated, I felt energized knowing I maintained the integrity of my workout. I didn’t cheat by skipping a rep while sweat poured down my face and my heart raced. As we all headed to the heavy bags, I felt extremely focused and ready to tackle the high-intensity  drills and combinations.

What is the pyramid? It’s a non-stop switch-off between squats and squat thrusts. You start out doing 10 squats, then one squat thrust. Next, you move down to nine squats, and bump up the squat thrusts to two. Then you bang out eight squats followed by 3 squat thrusts, and you keep the inverse actions going until you finish at one squat and 10 squat thrusts. Out of the eight warriors starting our day with a bang, I was the last one to finish the pyramid. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t care.

This is just another example that sometimes you just have to block out the noise of comparing yourself to others to focus on your own goal. Many of my classmates, mostly women, are at least 20 years my junior. I look to these fierce fitness chicks for motivation, and there’s definitely something to be said about friendly competition, but I stop myself short of wanting to be exactly like any of them. I’d rather push my body to its own limit, knowing I maintained proper form and did the best I could do. There’s no use pushing yourself so hard you end up hurt and out of the game for who knows how long.

The bottom line is whatever you choose for your exercise routine, staying true to yourself is the best way to stay on course with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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Happy American Heart Month!

iStock_000018172590MediumWhat better way to kick off American Heart Month than with a Motivation Monday?

If you’re still looking for a reason to stick with your healthy resolutions, this is a big one. There’s simply no time like today to take stock of how well you’re taking care of your ticker. That includes evaluating how much cardiovascular exercise you’re incorporating into your routine.

I’ve always been amazed at how people react to just hearing the word cardio, which is short for cardiovascular exercise. People like me can’t get enough, while others simply dread it. However, since cardiovascular exercise is defined as any movement that gets your heart rate up and increases blood circulation, that doesn’t mean you have to walk nowhere on a treadmill or clock miles on a stationary bike for an hour. Tabatas, other high-intensity training methods and circuit training done with little rest in between sets are all great ways to get that much-needed cardio boost for your heart and the rest of your body.

If you still need a good reason to find the right kind of cardio for your mindset, here are three:
  1. Burn, baby burn: The bottom line is cardio burns calories. If you’re looking to lose weight, the Law of Thermodynamics dictates you have to burn more calories than you take in. So, adding some cardio to your routine is a great way to burn calories, and ultimately shed some pounds. Similarly, cardio increases the rate of your metabolism which helps you not only with weight loss, but weight maintenance, too.
  2. A Tip-Top Ticker: Your heart is a muscle, so just like the others in your body, it gets stronger by doing work. When you don’t work a muscle, it weakens over time. So getting the heart pumping at a faster rate on a regular basis will keep it in shape. Medical conditions aside, when people get winded from walking up one flight of stairs or doing other simple activities, it can be a sign that the heart muscle is simply being neglected.
  3. Feel-Good Vibes Guaranteed: Cardio helps your body release the feel-good hormones called endorphins. These hormones help fight symptoms of depression and fatigue and can stay with you long after the sweat dries from your workout wear.
Still on the fence? While I’m not one for scare tactics, here are some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) that will hopefully get you off the couch:
  • Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. That’s one in ever four deaths.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease.

While your family history can put you at greater risk, there are lifestyle choices each of us can make to decrease our behavioral risk factors for heart disease. These include obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol  and diabetes. Guess what? Along with quitting smoking and following a healthy diet, getting exercise one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against heart disease.

I’m not saying you have to run out to a boot camp class or sign up for a half-marathon during today’s lunch break. I’m talking about 30 minutes of activity five days a week. Still overwhelmed? Try this: break those 30-minutes down into two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions.

If you’ve never exercised before, there’s no time like American Heart Month to get moving. Schedule brisk morning or evening walks around the neighborhood or get a fitness game for the kids’ video console. If you’re thinking of joining a gym, sign up with a workout buddy for support. Try different group exercise classes until you find one you like so you’ll look forward to sweating it out a couple of times a week. Treat yourself to a couple of personal training sessions so you learn to safely navigate your way through a fitness routine. This is your health we’re talking about. You’re the one who has the final word on any decision that can help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

New Month = New Me

March (L) & Today (R)

March (L) & Today (R)

I love when a brand new month kicks off on a Motivation Monday! The calendar basically gives us a boost to get things started in so many parts of our lives. So, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to share the positive health journey I’ve been on since March.

My repeat readers will know I’ve never been shy about discussing the slips in my own health and fitness routine. The injuries brought on by my own stupidity. Too many days off between workouts. The extended stints of chocolate and Prosecco-filled nights out. It’s all part of who I am. However, back in March I decided to do something to give my healthy routine a reboot. Three months later, I feel healthier than ever.

Before I get into my routine, let me say this: I realize I’ve never been what any medical chart would define as overweight. However, over the last few years, I simply didn’t like how I felt. When I turned 41 back in February, I was at my heaviest weight ever and my same old routine just wasn’t giving me the energy I wanted. Today, I’m back at the weight I feel most comfortable at and have more energy to do the things I love.

Never one for extreme measures, I was able to follow a 30-day nutritional cleanse that simply made me focus on the fuel I was putting in my body. I’ll be the first to admit the idea of a “cleanse” scared the hell out of me. However, it tuned out all I was really doing was following a program that helped remove impurities from my system. For 30 days, I simply cut out anything artificial or processed which was basically anything with empty calories.  Instead, I streamlined superfoods into my diet including fish, quinoa and eggs and I even discovered a new favorite pre- or post-workout snack: toasted Ezekiel bread with almond butter.

LauraBeforeAfter4I won’t lie, I still had a few “cheat moments” during the month. However, thanks to my new focus, I realized these treats didn’t need to be part of my everyday routine because I liked how I felt being fueled by superfoods. Finally, I believe I was able to better manage my stress levels because my body was getting what it really needed.

The result: at the end of 30 days, I was down 10 pounds and lost two inches from each thigh; 1 and 1/2 inches around the hips and a 1/2 inch in my waist and arms. Numbers aside, my skin never looked better and I had more energy at a steady level throughout each day.

Since then, I’ve managed to maintain a regimen that’s kept my weight at the level I feel good at and I can still enjoy my night’s out, Prosecco, chocolate and the other treats that simply make me smile. The bottom line is this: I always write about how working out is a part of healthy lifestyle and not a hobby. The same goes for nutrition. Eating good foods and the right nutrients is crucial to improving your overall wellness.

A couple of final notes:

  1. It’s never too late to start healthy habits that can make a huge impact on the rest of your life.
  2. Don’t let others keep you from going after what you want.

If you’d like to learn more about my journey, I’m just an email away! Whatever goals you set for yourself this week and this season, here’s to making them a reality with
some help from that ever-burning desire to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

 

Just Breathe…Seriously!

iStock_000018172590MediumAs this Motivation Monday has us inching closer to the most wonderful albeit hectic time of the year, I make a promise now to keep one thing on your to-do list simple: reading my blog!

We all have phases in our lives when for whatever reason, it’s harder to get a handle on the schedule or finish the items on that to-do list in a day or even a whole week. Well, that’s where I find myself two weeks into November. So to those of you sticking with your routine of reading my posts, I thank you. For those of you who miss me on Twitter, I ask for your patience as I try to catch up. For everyone else, your support is always appreciated!

For this short and sweet post, I thought I’d discuss the importance of something we do all the time without even thinking about it: breathing. This normal occurrence can make all the difference in a workout – especially when you’re pushing it. While most of us tend to breathe harder and faster when we’re in the midst of a cardio session, we sometimes do just the opposite when we’re strength training. Stop and think about the last time you pushed through some push-ups or pumped out that full-body conditioning class. Did you hold our breath while banging out one or more reps?

There’s a name for when people hold their breath during strenuous activity like weight lifting: the valsalva maneuver. The bad news is it can limit oxygen delivery to the brain and cause dizziness, a spike in blood pressure or even cause you to pass out during a workout. So, be sure to keep breathing. The general rule of thumb is to exhale on the exertion phase of the exercise and inhale on the easier phase. For example, while doing a crunch, you should exhale as you crunch your upper body forward and inhale on the way back down to the floor. With weights, you’d generally be exhaling as you lifted or curled a weight with your arms or pushed away on the leg press and inhale on the release.

In addition to making sure you’re getting enough oxygen in your system, focusing on your breath has another benefit. When things get tough, focusing on your breathing is a great way to take your mind off the burn and power through more reps! One final note: do not stress over when you should be inhaling or exhaling. I’d rather you breathe “backwards” rather than not breathe at all and end up fainting in the middle of your workout.

At the end of the day, sometimes the things we take for granted as part of our daily routines can make all the difference in our efforts to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Take Care of Those Tootsies!

photo-25On this Motivation Monday, I want to offer a reminder about two things you should never ignore in your fitness routine: your feet.

A few weeks ago, I started experiencing some knee pain halfway through my elliptical sessions. It wasn’t anything serious, but there was enough discomfort to warrant some ice-pack recovery time  after my high-intensity cardio sessions. Then I realized I hadn’t followed one of my own cardinal rules on footwear. I missed the six-month mark for replacing my sneakers and was about to cross the threshold into the ninth month.

That might not seem like a long extension, but if you workout almost every day like I do, those sneakers wear down a lot faster than you think. Knee pain can be a sure sign you’re losing the support you need in your footwear. Sure enough, after I got a new pair of Ryka cross trainers, the knee pain disappeared in just a few days.

Here’s a little foot trivia that can help illustrate why your feet deserve a little extra TLC: there are 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons in each foot. That means there are 370 places vulnerable to injury in your feet alone. Now consider that insufficient foot support can lead to compensations made by your knees and hips, and you’re putting your body at risk for a whole 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.

Since my fitness routine includes everything from elliptical training and rowing for cardio to squat Tabatas and strength training classes, I have always been the most comfortable working out in cross trainers. My friends who run will only pound the pavement wearing running sneakers. Many basketball players like high tops for the extra ankle stability. If there’s 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 things up.

I look at it this way: I have far too many lip glosses in my makeup drawer  and most guys have more gadgets than they’ll probably ever need. So why wouldn’t you spend the money to have at least one good pair of sneakers to protect you from getting hurt 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!

My Newest Workout Boost: “Stripping”

IMG_2745On this Motivation Monday, I’m excited to tell you about a new addition to my fitness routine. I tried it for several days last week and experienced the same positive results each time. What did I do? I “stripped” before each workout, and I “stripped” again halfway through each sweaty ordeal.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain exactly what I’m talking about: a rapid electrolyte replacement oral thin film strip made by Sportsfood, Inc. Just like the company’s website says, the strips are small and thin, and dissolve instantly in your mouth. Once dissolved, each strip immediately begins to replace the all-important electrolytes – sodium and potassium – your body loses when you sweat. The kicker: the strips contain no calories, no sugars, no carbs and no food dyes.

I admit I was skeptical when I first tried the strips. I took two strips about five minutes before my Physique57 workout started. (Note: the strips have a slightly salty taste, but they dissolve so fast, I didn’t find anything unpleasant about them.) I used another two after the warm up, thigh sprints and one side of the glute work was done. (That’s about 30 minutes into class.) While I still felt the burn from the intense workout, my muscles didn’t tire out quite as quickly and that means I banged out more reps than ever before. I used the strips again before a 60-minute cardio-only session at New York Sports Club the next day and I had the same results. I was able to extend my time on the elliptical machine, stationary bike AND rowing machine – which means I extended my normal workout by an additional 15 minutes.

IMG_2697The bottom line is while I will always drink my water before, during and after any workout, the strips definitely gave my body an “edge” I haven’t experienced before. Please note, this is not an “energy” strip – they don’t contain caffeine or stimulants. They are strictly made up of the electrolytes our bodies need to live. From an active standpoint, sodium and potassium help maintain water balance and prevent muscle cramps and fatigue.

Remember, being hydrated is the single most important factor in activities of any intensity level. That includes activities that aren’t strictly fitness-focused. I can’t wait to pack these strips in my beach bag to keep me moving during a long walk on the sand or even before some heavy lifting of yard furniture and other seasonal items at my parents’ house.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I don’t normally write rave reviews about products, but tend to discuss certain workouts or unexpected food finds that I find helpful. I hope that assures you that I’m only writing about this particular product because I do consider it a bona fide find for my diet and exercise regimen.

If you want to learn more about the product, please visit the Sportsfood website. If you’re interested in giving them a try, here’s a bonus for you LauraLovesFitness followers: use “Laura” as your coupon code and get 15% your order. Of course, if you do try them, I want to hear from you! As always, exchanging ideas on how we all stay active and healthy can only help on this never-ending journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

We Could All Use More Motivation to….Rest!

iStock_000010338713SmallOn this Motivation Monday, I’m happy to report I feel physically stronger than I have in several weeks. Want to know my secret? I took a few days off.

Unfortunately, one of the rest days arrived as the result of a minor injury. Last Tuesday, I strained my left pectoral muscle from either not executing proper form during a push-up sprint or gripping the ballet bar and leaning back a bit too during a “waterski” sprint at Physique57.  By Wednesday night’s “UFX Burn” class at New York Sports Club, every amped-up inhalation during our high intensity cardio drill and each rep of standing reverse flies were pretty painful.  So after icing the area and popping a couple of ibuprofen before bed that night, I took Thursday off. I even stayed away from the elliptical because I knew using the arm handles would or gripping the side bars too tight would have put unnecessary stress on my tweaked muscle. By Friday afternoon’s Physique class, I felt 90% better.  After enjoying another gal-pal catch-up day on Saturday, I decided to extend my rest time to cover the entire weekend.  In the end, I tallied four workouts in a seven day period. While that’s less than my typical five to six, you know what? My body is much happier on this Monday morning thanks to the extra TLC.

If you’re prepping for a competition or if you’re a serious bodybuilder, I understand there’s a strict schedule to follow to make gains in a certain amount of time. However, if you’re on a new health and fitness kick or if  you’re like me and you’ve been attacking your workouts at 125% to get through a rough patch in your life, it’s not a bad idea to pause for a moment and remember rest is a crucial component to improving your well-being. Whether you’re a runner, strength-training class or Zumba addict, it’s actually the rest days that allow those amazing muscles in your body to recover and grow.

The bottom line is by not taking at least one rest day each week, you can put yourself at risk for overtraining.  When you overtrain, the body is more prone to injury and instead of enjoying the typical endorphin rush from a great workout, you could find yourself feeling more tired than usual.  Here’s a checklist of overtraining symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Amenorrhea (when a woman stops getting her monthly period)
  • Overuse or stress-related injuries (e.g. stress fractures, tennis elbow and runner’s knee)
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Slower recovery of heart rate
  • Decrease in strength performance
  • Constant muscle pain or soreness when moving, bordering on pain

Remember, taking a rest day doesn’t mean you’re being lazy. It only means you’re giving your body the strength it needs to get back in the game so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Quick-Hit Motivation Monday

We ARE Stronger Than We Think! Photo by Leslie Hassler

We ARE Stronger Than We Think!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know one of the biggest reasons I’ve continued my lifelong love affair with exercise is that it keeps me balanced through times of stress. It never ceases to amaze me how breaking a serious sweat can set my mind straight no matter what’s being thrown at me. No doubt I’ll be relying on that outlet more than ever this week.

My father is having heart surgery tomorrow. While I’m confident everything’s going to be just fine, it’s obviously been a nerve-wracking time. So, on Saturday morning, I made sure I got a Physique57 class in before heading to Long Island to help my parents get ready for the week at the hospital. On Sunday afternoon, after Church, brunch and helping Mom get organized, I took myself to the gym for a 60-minute sweat session. The high-intensity workout on the elliptical trainer and recumbent bike followed by plank and rope Tabatas helped me shake off some tension and cleared my head. As I sit here and type away, I feel a bit lighter and the extended endorphin rush has only positive vibes running through my body. I know everything’s going to be just fine.

So on this particular Motivation Monday, I want to remind everyone that we’re stronger than we think. Life can throw a lot at us, and sometimes it feels like the toughest things hit us all at once. I learned my dad needed surgery two days after the company I worked for since 2005 filed for bankruptcy and let all its employees go. Since then, I’ve been getting up at the same time every morning, staying on a schedule, working out and leaning on friends and family for support. Sticking with that plan of attack is what will get me through the next two weeks, and the two after that and….well, you get the idea.

As a thank you to all of you who’ve been so supportive and left wonderful wishes for me here or on my social media networks, I offer this boost of confidence: Remember, whatever life throws at you this week, you can handle it. Focus on the positive, do what you can to stay healthy and remember, there are always brighter days on the horizon when it’ll be a little easier to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Exercise is Nothing to be Embarrassed About

Knock Out Any Thoughts of Slacking Off!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

Everywhere I turn, people are asking me for some extra words of encouragement to make sure they stay active during the hustle and bustle of the season. So on this Workout Wednesday, instead of posting a specific high-intensity workout, consider this an extra dose of motivation to make time for that favorite group exercise class or morning run.

I also want to address a related topic brought to my attention by one of my loyal readers, Toni (check out her blog at januarylace.blogspot.com). I thought she’d want to remain anonymous based on the issue she raised, but she said I could share her name. Toni recently told me she’s embarrassed to workout in front of her fiancé at home. My response? Exercise is nothing to be embarrassed about! In fact, my take is that her future husband would probably be impressed by her effort to do something positive and healthy for herself. Who knows, it could even motivate him to get off the couch and get moving, too!

Unless you’re a professional bodybuilder or fitness model, there’s no need to feel judged by your workout routine. Instead, be proud of yourself for wanting to add exercise to your life for a healthier and happier you. I can also tell you when I’m at the gym, I’m not looking at who’s lifting what and how many times they’re able to lift it. I’m also not looking at what the woman on the elliptical machine next to me is wearing. Sure, there will always be people more “buff” than me on a nearby treadmill or standing next to me in “Club Strength” class. There will also be people who are on a steady, safe pace to lose weight. However, they’re not the focus of my workout. I am.

Simply put, I say there’s no room for judgment at the gym. It’s a place to go to improve your cardiovascular health, strength, agility and endurance. It’s also a great place to find those much-needed endorphins. If you’re not comfortable in your gym, maybe it’s time to try a friend’s gym and see if it’s a better fit for you. If you simply “hate” the gym (and I know a lot of people who do,) then you should definitely find comfort in your own home. The real key is feeling comfortable in your own skin. Without that, it doesn’t matter if you’re working out in your living room in front of your family or a crowded gym full of strangers, you simply won’t stick with your routine.

So, leave the self-doubt at home. If you are working out at home, leave it in the closet. Focus on your breathing, focus on you form and focus on the fact that you’re dong something positive to continue on the journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Time to Kick Some…

Back in Fighting Form
Photo by Leslie Hassler

What a difference a week makes!

At this time last Monday, my body was making an unsuccessful last stand to fight off one of the worst colds I’ve had in recent memory. Today, I’m back in fighting form and feel ready to take on whatever the week throws at me. Why the drastic turnaround? I’m convinced it’s mainly because I listened to my body and took a break. I have no doubt I’ll face the rest of the season in better health than had I fought through the virus by continuing to push myself at the gym.

In all seriousness, for any bona fide fitness lover like me, it’s beyond difficult to force yourself to take a more than one or two days off from the gym. The cold I came down with last week kept me out of action for five whole days. However, on this beautiful sunny Sunday, despite some lingering congestion, I knew my body was ready to break a sweat again. I kept my workout on the moderate end: 30 minutes on the elliptical; 10 minutes on the recumbent bike; a plank Tabata and some SMR and static stretching to round things out. At the end of the hour, I felt great. I was totally refreshed and ready to come home, fire up the computer and write for a while. I was also revved up to take on the work week ahead.

So on this Motivation Monday, I offer another reminder about how important it is to listen to your body.  If it is telling you it needs a break, take one. The down time CAN do your body good. While I may not be ready to tackle one of my typical Central Park workouts for several more days, I know I’ll get there. So if you’re getting back in the game after an unexpected break, don’t sweat it. Take it one day at a time and remember,  you can always regroup, rebuild and regain your strength and endurance. Sometimes being out of the game can re-ignite the fire and the focus to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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