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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!

A Not-So-Typical Workout Wednesday

In honor of this week’s Workout Wednesday, I’ll be….resting.

Why? Because despite all my efforts to take extra care of myself these past couple of weeks filled with travel, extra long  hours at the office and virtually zero days off, my body had enough and I came down with a cold. Now that I think about it, all the Yankees late-night playoff games probably served as the final straw in breaking down my immune system.

While my symptoms are mainly above the neck and I did get some cardio in after work on Monday, I could feel my body struggling even on the lower settings on the elliptical. When I finally got home, I was more tired than ever. So, it’s time for me to take a bit of my own advice and take it easy for a day or two. I’d rather be out of the game for a couple of days than risk running myself down even more and ending up with some sort of upper respiratory infection and then being sidelined for even longer.

Whether or not you’re feeling under the weather, rest is a crucial component to anyone’s health and fitness routine. If you don’t allow your body to rest and recover, you’re simply putting yourself at risk for overtraining. The following is a list of some of the symptoms of overtraining:

  • 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

Avoiding these symptoms doesn’t have to be difficult. Just give yourself a break now and then! A rest day allows for muscular repair and recovery of the central nervous system. For those who can’t imagine even one day without activity, you can still take a leisurely walk or bike ride, or maybe you can substitute that strength or cardio class with an extra-long stretch session.

On the other hand, if you want to enjoy a rest day curled up on the couch in your kick-around clothes reading a good book or catching up with your DVR, go for it! Remember, taking a rest day doesn’t mean you’re being lazy. It only means you’re giving your body the strength to get back in the game so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

A Not-So-Feel Good Friday?

Everywhere I’ve been this week – the office, the gym, the grocery store – I’ve found people sneezing, coughing and simply battling some kind of change-of-seasons cold. I’m actually struggling to keep the sniffles and sore throat at bay thanks to a recent “attack” by some of the top healthy-immune-system busters:

  • Mental stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor nutrition

So, I thought it was the perfect time to go over some of the general “rules” for modifying your fitness routine when you’re feeling under the weather.

The American College of Sports Medicine has outlined what you could call the “above/below-the-neck rule.” If your symptoms include the sniffles, runny nose and scratchy throat, studies show mild-to-moderate exercise isn’t harmful.  This could include a low/moderate intensity cardio workout that almost constantly keeps your heart rate in a range between 60-80% of your maximum heart rate.  (Reminder: to calculate max heart rate: 220-your age)  However, ACSM recommends you skip the heavy weight training or high-intensity cardio until you do beat your cold. Working out at too high an intensity when you’re fighting a bug puts extra stress on the body and can further compromise the immune system.

If you’re able to exercise and head to a gym, do your fellow gym members a favor. Wipe down any equipment you use with the anti-bacterial spray that’s sure to be made available by the facility. It’s just common courtesy!

As for the below-the-neck “stuff”: If you’re suffering from stomach issues including vomiting or diarrhea, or have a severe cough or fever, take a break from exercise until whatever’s ailing you has run its course. Also, if you’re knocked out by a serious bug for several days, remember to take it easy on your first day back in action. Your body could be recovering from mild dehydration and overall fatigue, so don’t jump out of bed and rush to your highest-intensity group exercise class the minute your fever breaks.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listen to your body! It’s true that one the benefits of exercise is that it boosts the immune system. However, what’s also true is that depending on what’s going on in your life, your body may need an extra hour of sleep one morning more than it needs to be pushed to the max at a kickboxing class.

Remember, a minimum of one day of rest each week is important, but when you’re sick, you may need two or more. Don’t sweat it. Just rest up, drink your fluids and before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet and back on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Laura’s New Fall Favorites

It’s hard to believe we’re on the brink of officially saying good bye to the summer of 2012. I thought it would be fun to welcome the fall with a new top 10 cardio playlist.

Not all of these songs are necessarily new, but they’re some of my most recent downloads and they keep me moving on the elliptical, pulling through my sprints on the rowing machine or pushing through a Tabata derby:

  • “Give a Little More,” Maroon 5
  • “New York City,” Paul van Dyk feat. Austin Leeds, Starkillers & Ashley Tomberlin
  • “Gangnam Style,” PSY
  • “The White Room,” Adam White, Andy Moor & Whiteroom
  • “All I Ever Wanted,” The Mystery (Vocal Mix)
  • “Turn Around (5,4,3,2,1),” Flo Rida
  • “Unconditional Love,” Amurai feat. Melissa Loretta
  • “Not Alone,” Gianluca Motta feat. Molly
  • “Pound the Alarm,” Nicki Minaj
  • “Too Close,” Alex Clare

I’m always looking for high-energy tunes for cardio, strength training, warming up or cooling down, so I’d love to hear what keeps your workouts fun! No matter what the season, having some good tunes to keep you moving is one of the best ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Find Your Focus

Knock Out Distractions & Make Your Workouts Count!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

I’m proud to be a native New Yorker and absolutely love living in the Big Apple. However, one of my biggest pet peeves about living and working here is walking down the street and colliding with someone engrossed in texting or checking his or her smartphone. What’s even more annoying than dodging a shoulder shove on a crowded city street? Seeing people waste their energy on their smartphones when they should be focusing on their workout!

As we kick off another Workout Wednesday, I offer a simple but important tip: focus on making your workout count!

I love the fact that my iPhone carries all the tunes I need to keep moving. However, the same amazing device also gives me 24/7 access to texts, emails and yes, my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, training my body has included training my brain to ignore all the distractions a smartphone has to offer.

You’ve made the effort to exercise, so remember, this is your precious time to focus on getting healthier and stronger. In our time-crunched world, many of us are lucky to get those 30 recommended minutes of cardio in on a near-daily basis. If you only have 20 or 30 minutes to commit to that power walk or weight training circuit, you owe it to yourself to get everything you can out of each of those minutes. That means focusing on what you’re doing. The text can wait, and you don’t need to tweet every time you complete a set.

Of course, I realize some people really do have to be “on” all the time, like those who work in emergency services or in the medical field and who may be on call during a workout. I also understand parents may need to keep an eye out for an emergency text from a spouse, partner or babysitter. For the rest of us, however, is the world seriously going to end if it takes another 30 minutes to respond to an email with a well thought-out response?

Working in public relations, I’m acutely aware of the fact that my job has nothing to do with saving lives. My boss knows I’ll check my work email eventually after I leave the office, but not while I’m focusing on my form or my breathing during an elliptical session or push-up Tabata and especially not during my all-time favorite Club Strength class. If taking a group exercise class will keep you from checking that smartphone, then find one you like and take it a few times a week. That way, you can truly focus on doing your body and mind some serious good during those precious minutes.

You made the effort to get to the gym, the park or the hiking trail. You owe it to yourself to focus on making that effort count so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!!

Mind Over Matter Monday

More Motivation to Move: Exercise & Peace of Mind
Photo by Leslie Hassler

Despite a hot and sticky weekend here in New York, I’m ready to face the work week with new energy. While that’s definitely due to a bit of rest and relaxation, it’s also because I made a point of fitting some fitness into my days off. So I thought it was the perfect time to address one of my biggest sources of motivation: exercise helps sharpen my mental focus.

For as long as I can remember, working out has helped me sort through what I like to call mental clutter. Clearing that clutter with a kick-butt cardio session, group exercise class or weight training circuit allows me to me to re-group and tackle whatever issue I need to spend time sorting out in my brain. It’s as if by sweating out the anxiety surrounding the need to address a situation, all I’m left with is an endorphin rush to actually sit down and sort things out.

Putting the serious “stuff” aside for a moment, I can simply say having an improved mental focus helps me get things done. Ever have a to-do list get all jumbled in your head? The tasks of the day, week or even month ahead seem daunting and overwhelming. For me, just 10 minutes in to a 30-minute elliptical session, things start to un-jumble. I listen to my favorite music, feel my heart beating and my breath coming faster and I feel as I’m gaining new confidence with each stride on that machine. Confidence that things will get done. Maybe not immediately following that workout, but I will meet my deadlines and somehow get it together.

It’s after these workouts when I return home, clean up and refuel with healthy food that I can then turn what was once a jumbled mess into a thought-out list on paper or here on my computer so I know exactly what I need to do. Having a plan is the first step in getting things done. Exercise helps me take that important first step.

On the “heavy” side, I can honestly say in times of worry, distress and grief, clearing the mind with a workout somehow helps my heart feel lighter, too. I realize exercise in itself can’t solve the big problems or make life-altering decisions for you. I also know it can take a burdened heart some time to catch up with a newly uncluttered mind. However, through the ups and downs of my life, exercise has always been a good place to start my search for emotional solace. (Okay, I won’t lie, chocolate helps sometimes, too!)

On Mondays, I know many of us look for motivation to put a fitness plan into action or to ensure we stay on course with the one we’ve worked so hard to make a part of our daily routine. So here are my two cents: Why not make this the day you start clearing the clutter so you can get back on track with your plans 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!

The Lunchtime Workout

I’m not sure where the weekend went, but here we are facing another Monday and the last two days of January! As my type A+ personality starts mentally preparing for a pretty intense work week, I thought I’d address a fitness-related question that has a work angle, too.

Aimee recently posed the following question via my LauraLovesFitness Facebook page:  Any advice for those of us fitting in 30 minute lunch workouts? I am typically doing 20-25 minutes of cardio followed by a quick core/weights. If you could recommend treadmill/arc trainer settings to get the most of it plus times – I would appreciate it!!! 

First of all, kudos to Aimee and anyone else who uses a lunch break for the benefit or his or her health! Regardless of what time of day you working out, I recommend getting a heart rate monitor as it takes the guess-work out of determining  just how hard your body is working. (Those silver heart-rate measuring “strips” on the cardio machines aren’t always accurate.)

Now as far as the workout goes, here’s the bottom line: it doesn’t matter what the incline or resistance settings on the machine say. What does matter is whether you’re working at a challenging  yet safe level within the appropriate heart rate zone for your stage of training.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll offer some parameters for anyone working out with a goal of body fat reduction. The Law of Thermodynamics teaches us that to reach this goal, you must burn more calories than you consume. Cardio is usually one of the first things people start doing to make those calories disappear.

If you’re a beginner or returning to the gym after a hiatus, you should be performing cardio within heart rate zone one.   Click here for a refresher on how to calculate your target heart rate for this zone.  (My zone one heart rate is 119-137.) NASM principles indicate a person shouldn’t advance to zone two until he or she can maintain a zone one heart rate for at least 30 minutes two to three times per week.

One you’ve built a good base (which can take more than a month), you’re ready for zone two, which is 80-85% of your maximum heart rate (HR max). Again, I’ll use myself as an example for the parameters:

  1. 220-37 = 183 (HR max)
  2. 183 X 0.80 = 146
  3. 183 X 0.85 = 156
  4. Laura’s Zone Two Heart Rate = 146-156

This level is extra fun because if you’re working in stage two of your overall fitness program, this is where interval training comes in. For those using treadmills, arc trainers or other cardio machines, you can now increase the workload (speed, incline, level) to alter your heart rate between zones one and two. So here’s how my interval training would look on the elliptical:

  • Five-minute warm up zone one (119-137)
  • One minute in zone two (146-156)
  • Five minutes in zone one
  • One minute in zone two
  • Five minutes in zone one
  • One minute in zone two
  • Three – five minute cool down in zone one

If Aimee’s ready for this stage of training, this would be a good approximate 20-minute cardio workout for the treadmill or arc trainer. Again, the key is to find a way to accurately measure her heart rate to make sure she’s working within the designated zones.

A couple of final notes: there is a heart rate zone three as well as a training stage three, but these are designated for advanced athletes. (I’d be happy to address these in a future post if anyone would like the information.) Finally, for Aimee or anyone who’s squeezing in some cardio, core and resistance training in a short period of time, please don’t skimp on the stretching! I know it’s tough to get it all in, but sticking with a well-rounded routine is one of the best ways to stay on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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