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‘Tis the Season for Fitness!

You Must Chill!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

Hopefully you beat that turkey hangover, survived the crazy Black Friday crowds and are ready to tackle a new work week. As the holiday season of 2012 has also officially kicked into high gear, I thought this Motivation Monday offered the perfect opportunity to touch on the importance of keeping your mental health in check during the hustle and bustle of this joyous but chaotic time of year.

Now more than ever, getting those workouts in will help burn some of the extra holiday calories that come in all shapes and sizes ranging from homemade cookies to sweet, seasonal cocktails. Weight maintenance aside, breaking a sweat can also help you shake off some of the extra stress of the “most wonderful time of the year” including battling the crowds in overheated stores and spending extra amounts of time with the extended family. When you add online shopping and maybe some lo-cal recipe surfing to the everyday stimuli of  emails, texts, Tweets and status updates, it’s no wonder our minds are in overdrive.

With so much more than sugar plums dancing through our heads, it’s more important than ever to not only get those workouts in, but also steal some precious moments to disconnect and re-boot. Here a few tips to make it happen:

  • Focus on one thing at a time: If you set aside one hour to write holiday cards or wrap gifts, then for those 60 minutes, don’t deal with texting or answering emails. If it makes you feel better, you can alert your social network that you’ll be offline for a bit. Then put on whatever music motivates you to be a good elf and  get to work.
  • Step away from the computer: When December starts, I will be making a conscious effort to NOT turn on my home computer unless absolutely necessary when I get home from work and the gym. I will check my iPhone or iPad at least once before bed to make sure I didn’t miss any “emergency” correspondence, but it makes a difference not to have the desktop on with the Facebook tab taunting me to make my way back to the keyboard.
  • Turn off the TV: Try to establish one night where the DVR does the watching for you. Turn that night into decompress time with family or friends. Maybe play cards or a board game to forget about the holiday craziness for awhile. It may turn into a night of getting the Christmas gifts in order, but it’ll be time to tackle those holiday chores with fewer distractions.
  • Make me-time a must: If you’re making the commitment to find 20-30 minutes in your crazy schedule for a workout, take another five minutes to stretch. Then try and add five more minutes to a hot shower at night. When you’re out shopping, treat yourself to a lavender-scented body wash or moisturizer to turn that shower in to an extra calming experience. Sip some caffeine-free tea afterward, burn a candle with a calming scent and try to shut down that overactive mind before getting under the covers.

As you work through this holiday high-time and make an effort to workout, don’t forget the importance of standing still for awhile, too. Never underestimate the power of your mind on the journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Special Sunday Edition

“Stronger at 38 Than 28”
Photo by Leslie Hassler

First and foremost: Happy Veterans Day! Today, let us remember to take a moment and be grateful for all the men and women who’ve served our country and allowed us to enjoy the privilege of freedom.

For this special Sunday edition of LauraLovesFitness, I want to send a special shout out to all of you who’ve supported me in this week’s  “Face of Fitness” contest for Fitness Magazine. Whether you took 30 seconds every day this past week to click on my photo and cast a vote or spent extra time campaigning for my “Stronger at 38 than 28” entry via Facebook and/or Twitter, I am truly grateful for all the amazing support! 

Today is the last day to vote in the contest. If you’ve already voted this week, you can vote again once more today. After reading the rules extra carefully, I just learned any duplicate vote from the same person on a given day will be invalidated after it’s all over. So, while I appreciate the enthusiasm of some supporters, please cast your vote only once today!

Click here to go directly to my entry and vote.

Of course, I’ll be sure to let you know how it all plays out. Whatever happens, I’m so lucky to have such great people behind me. It’s because of you that I keep writing this blog. Here’s to continuing our never-ending 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!

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!

Balance is Key!

Photo by Leslie Hassler

I often write about the importance of incorporating flexibility and core training into your fitness routine. Now as we kick off the month of August with a Workout Wednesday, I wanted to touch on what should be another important component in everyone’s fitness regimen regardless of your fitness level: balance training.

Balance is the ability to sustain or return the body’s center of mass or line of gravity over its base of support. Basically, that means whether you’re walking down a staircase in stilettos or setting up to make a jump shot on the basketball court, balance is a key component to all functional movements.

From an anatomical perspective, The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) explains the purpose of balance training is to improve dynamic joint stabilization, which is the ability of the body to stabilize of keep the joints in proper alignment during movement. (One example: stabilization of the hip during a squat by the gluteus medius and adductor complex.)

Maintaining proper alignment or form while working out is one of the ways to protect yourself against exercise-related injuries. In fact, countless studies have been done which show a direct correlation between balance training and injury prevention. I’d like to think we all agree anything that can help decrease our risk of injury is worth spending some time on.

So how do you do it? The idea is to perform exercises that constantly stress a person’s balance threshold. This is the limit a person can perform an exercise without losing control of his or her center of gravity. In “big-word terminology,” the idea is to push that threshold in a proprioceptively enriched environment. This is an environment that challenges the internal balance and stabilization mechanisms of the body.

Photo by Lauren Bachner

In simple terms, balance training is typically performed on a single-leg and/or on unstable surfaces such as a half-foam roll, Airex pad or Dyna disc. Some examples:

One of my all-time favorite balance exercises is a single-leg bicep curl. It not offers proprioceptive challenge, but you can feel your core engaging to keep your body stable while working the arms. (Make sure to switch legs between sets.) As always, if you have a favorite balance training exercise, I’d love to hear about it!

I found this link very helpful in describing the purpose for balance training along with this one from the Mayo Clinic featuring examples of exercises. At the end of the day, balance training can be a challenging part of your exercise program and just one more way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Make it Count Monday

Make Every Move Count! Photo by Leslie Hassler

As we kick off another work week, I wanted to offer a shot of motivation for whatever workout you have planned for today and the days to come. It’s a simple concept: whatever you do, make it count!

I offer this bit of advice because it pains me to see people at the gym banging out push ups or lifting weights with poor form – back arched, head jutted forward, knees locked. While they may feel like they’re giving their bodies a great workout, I only see a picture of what the potential for injury looks like.

I’m a firm believer that it’s better to do 10 reps in good form than bang out 20 in a sloppy fashion. No one should start a fitness routine and say “I’m going to run 5 miles on the treadmill, then tackle 100 push ups and 100 crunches” on day one. You may actually get through all of it – but believe me – you’ll pay later. You’ll most likely be so sore from the extreme activity that you won’t be able to resume your new workout routine for a week – and that means you haven’t made any gains in feeling healthier or stronger.

The bottom line is you need to be safe and realistic. I say this a lot, but it’s worth repeating: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you shouldn’t expect to see results overnight. Building fitness into your schedule means making it a part of your daily routine, and that’s what leads to a lifetime of health benefits.

Two other things to keep in mind:

  1. Make it manageable: If the idea of spending an entire hour exercising overwhelms you, scale it back. That doesn’t necessarily mean jumping into a 45-minute “boot-camp” style class probably either. Instead, start with 15 or 20 minutes on a treadmill, elliptical trainer or stationary bike. Make sure to stretch and if you want to add specific exercises, work on your core. Planks and bridges are a great place to start. Trust me, once you start feeling the positive effects from the activity, you’ll want to add more minutes to your workout. Start with 10 reps and remember: make them count! In most cases, that means keep that navel drawn in and those glutes squeezed!
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others: Until I win the lottery and can hire my own personal trainer to kick my butt five days a week and pay a chef to take the guesswork out of making healthy meals that actually taste good, I remind myself everyday that in my reality, I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself. So, while I may never have legs like Jennifer Anniston, I do have a strong heart, strong spirit and strong desire to fit my workouts into even the most hectic weeks so I can get that rush where I feel like I’m on top of the world – even for just a little while.

So, leave the “sins” of the weekend behind (e.g. one-too-many margaritas or that second slice of chocolate cake) and use this Monday as a fresh start to your fitness routine. Try a new class, make a workout date with a friend and simply seek out new opportunities to have fun, feel fit and be fabulous!

Monday Motivation

Photo by Leslie Hassler

People are always asking what motivates me to exercise. I’ve offered a variety of reasons in past posts, but today I want to focus on just one. Exercise gives me strength.

In the fitness world, strength typically refers to how much weight you can lift when performing different strength training exercises. No doubt you’ve heard people comparing strength levels based on how much they can bench or press.

However, a broader definition of strength shows it’s also related to a capacity for exertion or endurance. Obviously, increasing that capacity can help in a countless number of activities that take place outside the gym. How easy or difficult is it to carry a few bags of groceries from the store to your car or even all the way home? How about picking up and holding a child? Are you winded after walking up ten flights of stairs, or only one? Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is a surefire way to gain strength and tackle the many facets of your daily routine with greater ease.

Now let’s move beyond the physical. There’s an old equation that goes something like this: a strong body = a strong mind. From a personal perspective, at times when I feel the weight of the world upon my shoulders, there’s nothing like some mind-clearing cardio or punching a speed bag to get some perspective. Some of my biggest moments of clarity have happened with sweat blinding my eyes and the sound of my pounding heartbeat filling my ears.

Instead of sitting around stewing over a problem at work or even worrying about a loved one facing an illness, why not give yourself a chance to really breathe? A long walk or a kickboxing class could offer your mind and spirit the boost of strength they need. The issue or issues you were stressing over will still be there when you’re done. However, based on my experience, a little oxygen can go a long way in helping me focus on how I’m going to handle the situation.

I want to close by sharing a quote I stumbled upon recently that deals with the emotional side of strength:

“Some people believe that holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go – and then do it.” -Ann Landers

Whatever the week has in store for you, I hope you find the strength to know whether to hang in there or simply let go. Whether you hope to make physical or mental gains in the days ahead, a little exercise can go a long way in the journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Help For Your Hip Flexors

We made it to another Workout Wednesday!

Photo by Leslie Hassler

For this week’s post, I wanted to concentrate on an area of training that should be a key component in everyone’s exercise regimen regardless of his or her fitness level. Unfortunately, it’s also an area that’s often tossed aside thanks to time constraints. I’m talking about flexibility training.

Whether you clock countless hours each week sitting at a desk, commuting or shuttling the kids around town, chances are you suffer from an all-too common problem for modern-day Americans: bad posture. This matched with an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle make a recipe for disaster and makes flexibility training more important than ever. It’s one of the easiest 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.

The good news is it’s not hard to find relief for those tight hip flexors. In my latest video (from the LauraDLovesFitness YouTube channel), I offer an easy stretching solution to this common problem area:

So 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.

The bottom line is this: if I had a time machine and could fix some of the fitness mistakes I made in my younger days, I’d try to make up for some of the lost time I didn’t spend on stretching. Making flexibility training a part of your daily routine is truly one of the best things you can do to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Makeover Monday

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time believing March is in full swing. As we all gear up for the official change of seasons, I thought it was a good time to offer some reminders on why there’s no time like the present to put a little “spring” into your step by adding fitness to your daily routine.

Strength is only ONE benefit of exercise! Photo by Leslie Hassler

There are so many benefits to exercise, but here are what I consider to be the top 10 reasons everyone should strive to move more often.

Exercise has been shown to:

  1. Increase energy levels
  2. Aid in weight loss and/or weight maintenance
  3. Decrease the risk of heart attack
  4. Decrease the risk of osteoporosis
  5. Increase strength and stamina
  6. Decrease stress levels
  7. Boost the immune system
  8. Increase mental focus
  9. Promote better sleep
  10. Add some fun to the daily grind!

Chances are you’ve seen the items on this list before, but it may surprise you to know exercise can do more for your appearance than simply help you fit into that killer outfit for your high school reunion.

Yisell Santos, a freelance makeup artist based here in New York City, recently asked if I could offer a rationale for exercise that relates to skin care. Click here to learn how exercise really can make you feel beautiful from the inside out! What could be better than a healthy glow to show the world you’re definitely in the game to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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