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Make 2016 Your Most FITASTIC Year Yet!

imageWe made it to the very first Motivation Monday of 2016! It’s a first of many kinds for me as I’ve never sent Happy New Year wishes from the Caribbean before today. Knowing how eager people are to kick their health and fitness resolutions into high gear, I didn’t want to let another day go by without sharing some tips to help your goals take shape.

When I get home, I’ll have to reserve my barre space at Physique57 a little earlier than usual and wait longer for an elliptical or to start a weight set at New York Sports Club. I love seeing so many new faces at the gym at this time of year, but I hate the fact that usually by March, many of those enthusiastic newbies are long gone. So, I kick off 2016 with a these ideas to make those fitness resolutions stick long after Old Man Winter has made room for Spring.

  1. Leave the past where it belongs: I know we all want to erase the “sins” of the holidays that came in the form of chocolate, cheese and cocktails. Don’t  waste your energy regretting the times you overdid it last year. I have my own memories of indulging in that second piece of lasagna and too many chocolates to count. Today is a new day.
  2. Adjust your attitude:  Thinking of exercise as a “chore” is a surefire way to put the brakes on your new routine. Instead, think of exercise as “Me Time.” No matter what’s going on in my life, the time I spend working out is the one time my brain goes into neutral and the only thing filling it is some good music. Use  exercise as a break from the ordinary, and before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to sweating out whatever ails you.
  3. Reality check: Saying you’re going to exercise seven days a week is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for failure. The first day you miss, you’ll be discouraged, and could find yourself saying, “Well, there goes the week!” A more realistic approach would be to aim for a minimum of three days each week for the first month. As you start experiencing the endorphin rush and other benefits from exercising, you’ll want to spend more than three days working out. Discouragement aside, everyone should take a  minimum of one day off  each week to let the body rest.
  4. Do what works for YOU:  You woke up Christmas morning to find Santa left the latest exercise program under your tree. Meanwhile, all your exercise DVDs have been hanging out with the dust bunnies under your bed since VHS went out of style. Why not return the program and put the money toward a new pair of sneakers and moisture-wicking workout wear? Grab a friend and start those power walks or sign up for that Zumba class at your local community center. Have no idea what to try? Splurge and hire a personal trainer to get you started on the right track.
  5. Avoid severe diet restrictions: If you deny yourself something you truly enjoy for too long, it’s only a matter of time before you break down and go overboard. So, the chocolate bar you could have had last week turns into five chocolate bars, washed down with a chocolate shake and a side of cupcakes two months later.

I leave you with this reality: there will be “off” days. Even as a lifelong fitness enthusiast, there are times I simply don’t want to workout and all I want to eat is cheese and chocolate. As you read this post, there’s a good chance I’m having my first high-calorie frozen cocktail of the day. Stuff happens. Just don’t let one bad day throw you off course.  Just wipe away the crumbs, prep your gym bag and remember tomorrow is your next chance to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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Don’t Give Up Now!

iStock_000018191976XSmallIt’s hard to believe this is the last Motivation Monday of February. However, I’m having an even harder time coming to grips with the fact that we’re nine weeks into 2014!

Unfortunately just like every other year at this time, I have less of a wait for the elliptical or chest press machines at New York Sports Club and there’s even a bit more space at the barre at Physique57. Why? Because this is the time when lots of people find themselves standing on the precipice of throwing in the towel on those health and fitness goals. If you’re one of them, I hope this post will help you stay the course. If you’ve become a bit discouraged, bored or burned out, now’s the perfect time to step back and assess the good things that have been happening since you made your New Year’s resolutions.

All too often in this hectic life, we can dwell on the negative. So let’s start clearing the mind of those self-sabotaging thoughts such as “I’ve been working out and eating better for almost two months and I still can’t fit into those skinny  jeans I bought five years ago.”  Step back, take a deep breath, give yourself a good reality check and turn your attention to the positive. Ask yourself if your healthier habits have caused any of the following side effects:

  • Increased energy throughout the day
  • Sharper focus at work and/or getting things done around the house
  • Healthier glow to your skin
  • Not feeling winded after daily activities like carrying groceries or one of your kids up a flight of stairs
  • Better posture
  • Better overall mood and less irritability
  • A stronger immune system kept the cold and flu bugs at bay or helped you feel better faster even if you did get sick during the peak winter months
  • More solid shut-eye

If you’ve experienced any or all of the above, then you have some tangible reasons to stick with your routine. Remember, the health and fitness journey is a road that stretches for an entire lifetime. Along that road, each and every one of us will encounter wrong turns, speed bumps and nasty potholes, but those are the times to remember there are smooth patches, too. If you experienced some dangerous curves just this weekend enjoying a few too many calories and slacking off on the exercise, don’t sweat it. This is a brand new day, the start of a brand new week and a fresh slate of chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Keep On Keepin’ On!

Stay Strong - You Got This! Photo by Lauren Bachner

Stay Strong – You Got This! Photo by Lauren Bachner

As a lifelong fitness lover, I always get excited at the start of a New Year. It’s wonderful to see a fresh crop of faces sweating it out on the elliptical machine next to mine at New York Sports Club or squatting away at the barre in my Physique57 classes. In the back of my mind, however, I can’t help but wonder how many of these glistening faces will disappear come March. I thought I’d use this Motivation Monday as a chance to encourage everyone to pause for a few moments and assess how things are going so far – and also forgive yourself for any slip-ups.

When I talk to people about why they abandon their fitness journey, most of their reasons can be put in two categories:

  1. Getting discouraged easily: Maybe these thoughts crossed your mind over the weekend “I’ve worked out every single day since January 1st. I haven’t had one piece of chocolate or even a glass of wine, but I don’t see the hint of a six-pack yet.” Well, consider this your reality check. First of all, I’ve never been a proponent of embracing extreme restrictions to make healthy lifestyle changes. Denying yourself the things you like for too long can only end in disaster, such as devouring a whole cake or pizza instead of one slice. Second, it’s important to remember it takes a minimum of six weeks for anything to become a habit. Whether that’s fitting those five servings of fruits and veggies into your daily diet or finding your groove in spinning class, be patient. Stick with your plan and focus on the positives you have experienced since making some healthy changes. (Don’t stop reading now, some of those positives are mentioned below.)
  • Doing too much too soon:  Similar to my mantra about restrictions, I’m also not a fan of over-the-top workout plans for newbies to the fitness world. Which of the following scenarios sounds better to you?:
  1. Banging out a series of squats, planks and even modified push-ups and feeling a healthy “burn” in the muscles afterward and being able to tackle another workout the next day or
  2. Plowing through 50 burpees and/or pull-ups in far-from-perfect form only to suffer lower-back pain and be out of the game for five days

Sure, it seems like a no-brainer, but unfortunately too many people take the less optimal choice and end up with plenty of pain and no gain. Choosing quantity over quality is a surefire way to put yourself at risk for injury…which leads to discouragement…which can ultimately lead to throwing in the towel on those fitness goals altogether. You already know slow and steady wins the race.  When it comes to running down your health and fitness goals, I like to think of it as more of a lifelong marathon.

Finally, it you’re plugging away with your workouts and healthy eating choices, keep it up and remember to focus on the positive! In fact, I’ll be so bold to tell you forget what the scale says and take stock of any of these positive changes:

  • A sharper focus at work or tackling that to-do list on the homefront
  • A new “glow” to your skin
  • Increased energy for everyday activities like playing with your kids
  • Not needing to catch your breath after walking up that flight of stairs
  • Getting a better night’s sleep

I leave you with one last reality: there will be “off” days. Even this fitness lover can admit there are times all I want to do is watch TV while sipping red wine and eating  chocolate. It happens. Just don’t let one bad day throw you off course.  Just wipe away the cookie crumbs, chop some veggies, prep your gym bag and remember tomorrow is your next chance 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!

Workout Wednesday: “Romper Room” Style

Laura_DeAngelis-8445

Smile & Remember:
Fitness CAN Be Fun!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

So here we are, four weeks after the start of 2013 and you’re sticking with those plans to make this year a healthy one. Way to go! If you’ve had a few off days, don’t sweat it. (Remember, this is the gal who abandoned her chopped veggies for a steady infusion of chocolate treats during a five-day vacation in Amsterdam!)

On this Workout Wednesday, I wanted to tell you about the new group exercise class I’ve become addicted to. If you’re looking for me on a Wednesday night, chances are you’ll find me front and center at the “UXF Burn” class offered at the New York Sports Club not far from where I live. NYSC describes the class as a 45-minute combination of cardio and strength training that can burn up to 600 calories in one class. However, I think the words of my high-energy instructor Lou offer a better definition of what makes the cross-training experience such a rush: “It’s Romper Room for adults.”

Lou starts us off with the necessary warm-up and then gets our hearts pumping with some killer cardio circuits for the first 25 minutes of class with a wide variety of moves including jumping jacks, ice skaters and high-knees. We then keep our heart rates up as we move through high-rep / moderate-weight circuits to work every muscle group with exercises ranging from squats with bicep curls to lat rows and kickbacks. Last week, instead of the whole class doing the same strength-training routine at once, she divided us into two sides for a “face-off.” Each side of the class had a series of six exercises to complete in 90-second intervals before switching sides. These included:

  • Bridge with chest press using a 15-20 pound weight
  • Jump rope
  • Double crunches
  • Dips using a step
  • Pikes

“Romper Room” indeed! The variety of exercises and the non-stop movement between each one makes this class fly by in record time for me. I can honestly say I have so much fun during this class I almost forget I’m actually working out, at least until the sound of my pounding heart fills my ears and sweat blinds my eyeballs!

I realize you may not have access to a class exactly like this one, and you may not even have any interesting in seeking one out. However, I hope telling you about my excitement over the addition to my routine serves as a reminder that exercise can be fun and even fitness veterans like me are always looking for new ways to enjoy working out. Whether it’s jumping rope or trying a new group exercise class  filled with moves that make you feel like a kid again, remember, variety is a key component to staying on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Finding Ways to Help

As someone who loves to write, it’s been difficult for me to really put my emotions surrounding the events of the past 12 into words.

As so many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut continue to try and literally rebuild their lives after Sandy and the added stress of this week’s Nor’easter, I’m providing a few links with  information on some of the ways the rest of us can help.

Whether you live in the New York area or around the country, hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these ideas to chip in and lend a helping hand.

  • The season may be over, but you can help the Yankees and Mets score big by helping those affected by Sandy:

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/mets-yanks-part-sandy-article-1.1197287

  • WCBS 880, the all-news radio station I listen to while getting ready for work every morning, offers this list of organizations that need help and ways to get involved with them:

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/disaster-relief-information-resources/

  • There are approximately 90 Modell’s stores throughout New York. Most  are accepting clothing donations along with toiletries in partnership with WPLJ radio and Goodwill of New York and New Jersey. Click the link below for a list of store locations and the items needed most, such as coats, scarves, gloves, toothpaste, toothbrushes and baby wipes).

http://plj.com/Article.asp?id=2567748&spid=25206

  • One fitness-related note, all New York Sports Clubs locations remain open to anyone affected by the storm who may need a place to shower, charge a phone or even de-stress a bit with a workout.

http://www.mysportsclubs.com/regions/

Thanks again to all of you who’ve sent me messages asking how my family and friends fared after the storms. Again, I was very fortunate throughout the storm and while my parents remain in the dark on Long Island, they’re safe. My prayers remain with those who continue to struggle and wish them some moments of peace in the weekend ahead.

To end on a lighter note, I also want to thank all of you who’ve supported me in the Face of Fitness contest for Fitness Magazine this week. Voting continues through Sunday and even if you’ve voted already, you can vote every day until November 11th. Click here to cast your vote.

To all of you who support this blog and all my efforts, I wish you a wonderful weekend filled with plenty of opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

A Strong Finish

We made it to the end of another work week, and I made it to the end of an intense four-week small group training class at New York Sports Clubs.

For the “grand finale,” our (awesome) instructor Roberto Murichi had us run through the same workout we did during our first week so we could measure our gains in cardio capability, strength and endurance. Here’s a look at the program. (Just like the 50-30-20 I wrote about earlier in the week, this isn’t a workout I’d recommend for a fitness newbie or anyone returning to an exercise routine after a hiatus.)

After an eight-minute warm-up which included 20-second bouts of six exercises including push-ups, squats, and sit-ups, we moved on to the heart of the workout. Roberto set up five stations for the following exercises:

  1. Burpee
  2. Kettlebell high pull
  3. Push-ups
  4. Jump rope
  5. Box Jump

The goal was to perform as many reps as possible in one minute before moving on to the next exercise. After completing the fifth exercise, we got to enjoy one minute of rest! Then we started the circuit all over again for round two. For the third and final round, we had to keep track of every single rep we completed from the first burpee to the last box jump. Those reps added up to our final score.

The first week of the class, my score came in at 180. Wednesday night, I made it to 242. Each of my classmates on “Team Alpha” saw their numbers improve, too. Needless to say, we were all happy with the results!

I’m happy I took Roberto’s class for many reasons, but mainly because it offered a needed jolt to my fitness routine and it also provided a new perspective on high-intensity circuit training. I look forward to one more class after work tonight to make up for some of the time I lost while sipping rum punch on the beach in Jamaica. There’s a very good chance I’ll be signing up for round two of this class which starts in April…so stay tuned for more intense workout ideas to help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

50-30-20…Drop!

My classmate was amazed I could still smile after the killer workout!

We made it to another Workout Wednesday!

I have no idea where the last four weeks went, but tonight actually marks my last Ultimate Fitness Experience small group training class at New York Sports Club. It’s been a challenging month, as my friend and fellow NASM certified personal trainer Roberto Murichi made sure each and every workout was a true butt-kicking experience.

What I’m about to share with you is not a workout I’d recommend for a fitness newbie or anyone returning to an exercise routine after a hiatus. However, for anyone looking to kick things up a notch – here’s the workout I sweat through on Monday night.

Our warm up consisted of 16 rounds of kettlebell lunges and kettlebell swings. We performed as many reps as possible in 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. We’d switch exercises every two rounds. With our heart rates up, it was time to get to the heart of the workout: the 50-30-20. The idea is simple. The execution, however, is a different story.

Roberto chose four “basic” exercises for us to perform in the following order: push-ups, squats, sit-ups and squat thrusts. (A squat thrust is basically a burpee without the jump at the end.) For round one, we had to perform 50 reps of each exercise. In round two the reps dropped to 30 and finally for the third and final round, we ended with the “easy” task of 20 reps per exercise. So yes, that meant 50 push-ups followed by 50 squats, 50 sit-ups and 50 squat thrusts. At the end of the workout, we’d completed 100 reps of every exercise. Of course, we were allowed to rest whenever we needed to catch our breath or get some water. It took me just under 23 minutes to complete the workout, and kudos to one of my classmates who nailed it in about 18.

The breakdown

Again, the 50-30-20 isn’t  for everyone, and it’s crucial to make sure you add some flexibility training before and after this kind of routine to take care of your muscles. One logistical benefit of this workout is that you don’t need a gym to make it happen. Aside from needing kettlebells for the warm up, the heart of the workout includes exericses that can be done at home or at the park.

I can’t wait to find out what Roberto has in store for us tonight in our last UFX session. I’m glad I took the class, as I learned some new techniques and definitely pushed my body to new levels. Even those of us who thrive on working out can get caught in a rut sometimes, and this class kicked me right out of it! That’s one of the things I truly love about exercise – there’s always something new you can do to 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!

Stabilization Before Strength

My friend Jared Morrison recently signed up for a membership at New York Sports Club. This being his first gym membership ever, we decided to turn it into a win-win situation for the both of us. Not only is Jared on his way to improving his overall health by getting on a regular workout schedule, but I am putting my NASM personal training studies into practice by helping Jared reach his goals. After meeting up with Jared for an assessment and kicking off a program, I was reminded of just how important the first phase of training is for anyone new to the gym or coming back after a hiatus.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s system for integrated training is called the OPT model, which stands for Optimum Performance Training. It is divided into stages and designed to help someone progress toward his or her individual goals in a safe and effective manner. The model is divided into three “building blocks:”

  • Stabilization
  • Strength
  • Power

The bottom line is you should not focus on strength and power before you’ve tackled stabilization. Training in the stabilization phase allows you to increase muscular endurance and establish optimal communication between the nervous system and muscular system. Multiple studies have shown inefficient stabilization can cause muscles to produce force incorrectly and increase stress on the joints. This is a surefire way to put yourself at risk for injury.

Basically, the key exercises in this training phase are performed in a proprioceptively enriched environment, which is a “fancy” way of saying controlled, but unstable. These exercises challenge the body’s balance and stabilization systems. Many times, they involve taking a “traditional” exercise off a flat surface and moving you to an unstable one, like a stability ball; or standing on one leg instead of two. These exercises have an added bonus: since the body needs to work harder to stay stable, you can end up burning a lot of calories.

Here are some classic examples of stabilization exercises for resistance training. Aim to perform two sets of 12-20 reps of each:

In addition to his resistance training, Jared’s cardio routine will be working on reaching his goal of maintaining a zone one heart rate for a minimum of 30 minutes two to three times a week. (How to calculate your zone one heart rate.) He also will work on his core. Finally, as for flexibility training: he has the green light to stretch every single day – and multiple times a day if he can!

I am looking forward to monitoring and sharing Jared’s progress. In the meantime, I hope you’ve learned about some key stabilization exercises that can help your body perform at its best so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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