‘Tis the Season for those Winter Blues
Yes, it’s true. We’ve arrived at the last Motivation Monday of January. As we gear up for the second month of 2019, many of us are also bracing for some of the coldest temperatures on record around the country. If the extreme weather and sunlight-starved days are giving you a case of the winter blues, close your eyes, envision your sunniest memory and take comfort knowing you’re definitely not alone.
If you need a boost, never underestimate the power of breaking a sweat. Exercise is a natural way to lift your spirits thanks to all the endorphins that flow through the body when you workout. That energy surge stays with you long after the group exercise class or weight training session is done. Of course, bad weather can sometimes put the brakes on making that drive to the gym or lacing up for that daily run or power walk. The good news is there are plenty of exercises you can do in the comfort and safety of your own home. Here are 10 moves that require nothing more than your body weight (or some creative props) and a little space to call your own:
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
- Push ups
- High knees
- Squat thrusts or burpees
- Tricep dips (Use a stable chair or stairs for an extra challenge)
- Bicep curls (use cans of soup or laundry detergent bottles for weight)
Try doing each of the exercises nonstop for 30 seconds with no breaks in between. After you get through all ten, rest for one minute and start over again. Aim for three sets. With the rest built in, you can get your heart pumping and work virtually every muscle group in approximately 15 minutes. Feeling extra motivated? Try banging out three sets in the morning and another three at night. There’s 30 minutes of exercise split up for the day.
If you have any ideas for indoor sweat sessions to keep the winter blues at bay, I’d love to hear about them. With a little teamwork, we can all get through the worst of the winter season ahead and stay on track with our goals to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Work That Core!
Believe it or not, this Motivation Monday brings us three weeks into 2017. Know what that means? We’ve also reached the halfway point for those New Year’s healthy resolutions to start feeling like second nature. So whatever you do, don’t give up now!
The extra good news is there’s still time to tweak your routine to make this your strongest year yet. I couldn’t let this building phase of January pass without an important reminder about one area of training all of us need to incorporate into our routines regardless of where we are in our fitness journey. Whether your passion is power walking; running; cycling; dancing; swimming; weight training or boot camping, there is one area of the body no one should ignore: the core. My repeat readers already know I’m probably one of core training’s biggest cheerleaders. Why? It’s simple: without a strong core, the rest of your body can suffer. Seriously.
The core is much more than just those “six-pack abs.” It’s actually the part of the body made up of the:
- Thoracic spine and
- Cervical spine.
The core is where all movement begins and where we find our center of gravity. The muscles in the core are broken into two categories: the stabilization system and the movement system. If the stabilization system doesn’t work properly, then your body will make compensations to move, and those compensations can ultimately lead to injury. For example: you could have strong “abs” (rectus abdominus), external obliques and erector spinae, but weak stabilizing muscles in your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Without proper stabilization, extra stress is placed on your vertebrae when you move, and this can lead to low back pain and possible injury.
So, today I implore everyone to add my all-time favorite core exercise to your routine: the plank. The following photos taken by Lauren Bachner at New York City’s Hype Gym show the start and finish positions for a plank. (I also added a leg lift option for an advanced option.) Aim for two sets of 12-20 reps. Training tips: In either version, be sure to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes before you raise your body off the floor to form a straight line from head to toe. Hold for two to three seconds before dropping to the ground to re-start.
Another bonus when it comes to planks: they are a great exercise for Tabata training. Click here for a refresher on how Tabatas can take add some spice to your fitness routine.
So now I want to know what is YOUR favorite core move? As we continue to make our way through 2017, I look forward to learning what my readers of all ages and skill levels are doing to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Big Goals & Baby Steps
Way to go – you made it to the second Motivation Monday of 2016! So, how was your first week of the New Year?
I received many inspiring messages during the week from friends around the country telling me about their health and fitness goals for 2016. Not surprisingly, the majority of those goals had to do with losing weight.
Some had a specific target in mind for shedding those pounds. Karen, for example, wants to be 25 pounds lighter by June in time for her first cruise. With healthy weight loss clocking in at around two pounds per week, she’s set a realistic goal for a six-month period. And that’s the key – keeping it real.
So I thought this would be the perfect time to offer some tips on how to keep reality in check and not feel overwhelmed by your goals.
- Drop and give me a plank! You’re sticking to that resolution to add 10 minutes of extra time to your daily walk. Good for you! Now drop and give me some planks to attack your core strength. Click here for a refresher video on how to add planks and other full-body exercises to your routine in just four minutes thanks to Tabata training.
- Start your day with the right fuel. I believe in the power of a healthy breakfast. Aim for a “clean” meal of scrambled eggs with a slice of toasted Ezekiel or other sprouted bread. On the run? Grab a hard-boiled egg or non-fat plain Greek yogurt. Extra Tip: adding fresh fruit to your yogurt is a lower-sugar option to the flavored varieties. These protein-packed options will keep you full longer than starchy, sugary items like frozen waffles or pancakes.
- Never leave home without healthy snacks. There’s nothing worse than going grocery shopping with a rumbling stomach or being greeted at the shopping mall with the scent of cinnamon invading your nostrils from from the food court. What will you find in my bag? I love KIND snacks, especially the bars. They contain no artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols and provide a balanced combination of healthy fats, protein and complex carbs. The bonus? They’re yummy!
- Out of sight, out of mind. Yes, I’m all about moderation. But I also have a hard time not going overboard when certain temptations are lurking in my kitchen cabinets. That’s why I don’t keep things like cookies or candy in the house. I freely admit I’m incapable of eating just one cookie or one piece of chocolate. I envy those who can. If you’re like me, then seriously, just don’t buy it. For the parents out there, it’s never too early to get your kids started on healthy habits. Push the apple slices and peanut butter snacks on a normal basis and save the treats for special occasions.
- Steer clear of quick fixes. Any diet plan that’s too restrictive is bound to backfire. I would never tell someone not to enjoy their favorite indulgence every now and then. The key is training yourself to monitor portions and make whole food choices. If you don’t, once the juice cleanse or shake-diet is over and done with and you reintroduce real food into your life, you risk going right back to consuming too many calories and the weight can creep right back.
Remember, this is NOT a sprint. Healthy choices take time to develop into habits, and those habits will continue to become a part of lifelong marathon. Celebrate each and every healthy choice you make and active step that you take as part of your effort to stay the course on your journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Keep On Keepin’ On!
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:
- 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?:
- 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
- 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!
“Over the River and Through the Woods…”
‘Tis the season for shopping and eating, and for many, it’s also also a time for traveling. If this weekend’s plans take you “over the river and through the woods” to somebody’s house for a few days of holiday cheer, you don’t have to leave your commitment to exercise at home. Packing a few fitness essentials and making a few modifications can keep you on track.
- Sneakers. Having them along for the trip means there’s no excuse not to go for your usual daily run (weather permitting) or take a long walk with that relative or friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with since the last family get-together. It also means you’ll have an easy way to burn some calories pre- or post-feast time.
- Workout clothes. There’s always room for an exercise bra, a pair of shorts or yoga pants, a moisture-wicking top and two or three pairs of athletic socks. These items take up practically zero space in any bag and you don’t have to worry about them getting wrinkled!
- Fitness apps. If you’re traveling by train or car (and you’re not driving, of course), use the trip to download apps that give you exercise plans no matter where you decide workout. One of the most popular ones out there is FitnessPro. Being delayed at the airport is another perfect time for app downloads.
- Now get moving! You brought your “stuff,” so there’s no excuse not to hit the floor of the guest bedroom or the den when it’s not filled with the TV crowd. Here are just some of the exercises you can do anywhere: bridges, planks, crunches, jumping jacks, squats, lunges and push ups. (If you’re driving and have the room, throw your yoga mat in the car so you can do the core exercises on the floor with greater comfort.)
- Family Fitness Plan: If your family is willing to give you control of the remote for a bit, maybe you could all meet in the living room to give your Zumba DVD a try. If they happen to have a Wii, XBox 360 or PlayStation system, why not try a Dance Dance Revolution competition to get everyone moving and have a few laughs in he process!
The bottom line is even though you may miss your favorite group exercise class or one day of weight training at the gym, there are ways to stay active when you’re away from home. The bonus is you get to make memories while spending time with family and friends.
This marks my last post of 2012. I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with my family and friends on Long Island. I’m even more excited about starting the New Year with new energy and new strength to take on whatever this roller coaster ride called life throws at me.
I close the year with a big thank all my readers for supporting me through a year of ups and downs. I hope you’ll be back in 2013 so we can start the next part of our journey together on the endless road to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Workout Wednesday: No Excuses!
Yes, I know we’re smack in the middle of Hanukkah and only 13 days away from Christmas. I also realize we’re busy juggling everything from work or studying for final exams to taking care of the kids and managing the social calendar that’s probably chock full of holiday gatherings. Despite all this, it’s no time to skimp on getting your daily dose of physical activity.
If you’re saying, “but Laura, I can’t get to Zumba this week because my f avorite class is on the same night as my company’s holiday party” or “if I don’t go shopping after work tomorrow, I won’t have time the rest of the week,” listen up! That hour you normally dedicate to exercise might be filled this week, but if you have 10 minutes to spare a few times a day, you do have time to get moving! (Since 10 x 3 =30, getting in that half-hour of activity isn’t as tough as you think!)
Seriously, you owe it to yourself to find 10 minutes to move. It will help keep your mind healthy during the hustle and bustle of these frenetic December days, too! What can you do in 10 minutes?
- Climb stairs: If you have them at home, you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas in the morning to make this happen. Take the stairs at the train station instead of the escalator. If you work in an office building, take the stairs instead of the elevator as often as possible.
- Jump rope: This is a piece of workout gear everyone should have. You can pick one up anywhere from your local sports-gear shop to any Target or Walmart. Jumping rope on a soft surface like a carpet or low-cut grass will give your knees a bit of protection. If you’re brand new to jumping rope, try skipping over the rope alternating feet in 30-second increments and work up to more minutes as you go. Before you know it, you’ll want to keep skipping beyond those 10 minutes!
- Divvy up the DVD time: Have a favorite 30-minute workout DVD? Break it up into 10 minute segments.
- Transform your house into a gym: Any wall can be used for standing push-ups; stairs are great for calf raises and triceps dips and any floor is the perfect spot for planks and crunches!
- Walk, walk and walk some more: I always say one of my favorite things about living in New York City is I simply do my best to walk anywhere and everywhere I can. At this time of year, that includes leaving work and meeting up with friends for some holiday cheer. If you’re driving to work, the grocery store or the mall, park a little further from the entrance. At lunch time, spend less time checking email or social media sites and take a 10-minute walk outside the office. The fresh air will do your brain some good, too!
Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, if you’ve got 10 minutes, you’ve got all the time you need to do something that can help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Workout Wednesday: Back to the Basics
I said it on Monday, and I’ll say it again: what a difference a week makes!
I’m excited to tackle this Workout Wednesday with new energy. For me, getting back into my fitness routine has meant focusing on one of my lifelong addictions: cardio.
While I haven’t completely decided how today’s workout will break down, I do know there will be a combo of elliptical, recumbent bike and rowing machine training when I hit the gym after work. After my five-day hiatus, I started with a moderate 30 minutes and should have no problem hitting a full 60 minutes today. Adding a plank and push-up Tabata along with some SMR and stretching and no doubt I’ll sweat any work-related stress right out of my system. All of this will no doubt help me get back up to speed and ready to tackle another crazy Central Park workout.
So, today’s post is a reminder about the importance of cardiovascular exercise. In the simplest of terms, it’s crucial when it comes to reaching your goals of losing weight, reducing body fat or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of cardio activity include its ability to decrease:
- Daily fatigue
- Anxiety and stress
- Coronary artery disease
- Non-insulin dependent diabetes and
At the same time, cardio helps boost your:
- Sense of well-being
- Immune system
- Blood lipid profile and
- Overall physical performance at work and at play
While there are several levels to cardio training, for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on some guidelines for beginners and anyone who may be getting back into a fitness routine after a hiatus. (As usual, I base these guidelines using the what I studied through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.) Your cardio activity should focus on maintaining a zone one heart rate which is approximately 65% to 75% of your maximum heart rate. Here’s what that means for you:
- To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220.
- Multiply your max heart rate by .65.
- Multiply your max heart rate by .75.
To use myself as an example:
- 220-37 = 183
- 183 X 0.65 = 119
- 183 X 0.75 = 137
- Laura’s Zone One Heart Rate = 119 – 137
If you’re working within the parameters of zone one for cardio, it’s likely you are also in stage one of your overall exercise program. (NASM refers to this as the stabilization level.) If you’ve never worked out before, you may want to try to reach your zone one heart rate for a maximum five to ten minutes and then spend another 20 minutes simply walking at a good pace, climbing the stairs in your home or getting really dirty in the yard by cleaning up the garden. Your goal should be to eventually maintain your zone one heart rate for at least 30 minutes. This can take some time. A “newbie” may need two months or longer to meet this demand, but remember: there’s no finish line here. You’ve made a commitment to exercise and start taking better care of yourself, so while you don’t want to just dial it in, make the journey work for you.
I hope this brief session of cardio 101 will help get your heart pumping safely and effectively so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Another Workout Wednesday – Beach Edition
Still riding a high from my Montauk vacation, I thought I’d use this Workout Wednesday to remind everyone to soak up what’s left of summer by getting some exercise outside!
I know I’ve written a lot about my new obsession with Tabata training. Well, here’s another chapter in that love affair! (In case you forgot, the idea behind this four-minute high-intensity formula is eight continuous intervals of 20 seconds of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest.)
Here are two Tabatas I banged out four out of the five days during my recent beach getaway. There’s nothing particularly fancy about either of them. They just happened to be extra rewarding with the feel of the sun on my skin and the sand under my feet. Of course, let’s not forget the ultimate reward: being able to cool off in the ocean when the hard work was done!
- Plank Tabata: I got my mom to use my iPhone to capture me doing one. Enjoy!
- Beach Sprint Tabata. I know, I’m not a runner, but I actually motivated myself to use the beach as a distraction from an activity I normally don’t like to do. So, in true Tabata fashion, here’s how I worked it: For the 20-second max intensity portion of the interval, I simply ran as close to a sprint as possible while keeping good form on the uneven surface of the sand. Then for the 10-second “rest” period of the interval, I simply slowed to a walk. On the last two days of the trip, I managed to pull off a mini “Tabata Derby” by doing three sprint Tabatas in a row (with a minute of rest in between).
The kicker was that I got my “regular” elliptical and weight training workouts in at the fitness center each morning before 8:30. Then, usually just before or after lunch, I would use the beach for the Tabatas. Getting two workouts in on a day was another huge treat during my vacation!
Even if you’re not a beach lover, you can still do exercises like squats, lunges, side planks and crunches in a park or in your own backyard! Whatever the season, there are plenty of ways to take your favorite exercises to new places and find exciting ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Give Tabatas a Try!
As I sweat through these hot and hazy days of a New York City summer, I enjoy working out in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym. However, I realize there are many who take advantage of the season to get outside and get moving. Wherever you like to workout, Tabata training is the perfect way to get your heart pumping and muscles moving.
This high-intensity training protocol was founded by Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata in the 1990s. His studies showed his formula produced similar health benefits to traditional cardio workouts, but here’s the kicker: a Tabata can be completed in just four minutes.
The formula is simple: eight continuous intervals of 20 seconds of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest. Even better: you can create a “Tabata Derby” by adding consecutive four-minute intervals and work your way up to a 20-minute total Tabata workout. Another thing I love about this type of training is almost any exercise fits into a 4-minute Tabata. Here are some examples:
For fitness newbies or those getting back to working out: Start slowly! My very first Tabata was split into two exercises: front squats and push-ups. So, the first four 20-second rounds of work featured squats and then I shifted to push-ups for the last four rounds. Other ideas:
- Jump rope (can be done in or outside of the gym)
- Chin-ups (can always be done at a playground or find a tree branch – a strong one, of course!)
- Front squat to overhead press
For the seasoned fitness enthusiasts:
- Jumping lunges
- Side lunge to overhead press
- Treadmill sprints (make sure to safely straddle the treadmill during the rest periods)
- Overhead medicine ball slam
Feeling at the top of your game:
- Stationary bike sprints
- Squat thrusts
- Mountain Climbers
A few important notes before you jump into one or more Tabatas:
- You must warm up! Try five minutes at a slow/medium pace on an elliptical machine, stationary bike or take a light jog.
- If you do more than one Tabata – you must rest for 60 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
- While the idea is to push out as many reps as possible in the 20-second work period, you shouldn’t sacrifice good form. Better to do “perfect” push-ups on your knees with your stomach drawn-in and glutes squeezed nice and tight than risk injuring your lower back with sloppy reps.
- Don’t forget to cool down and stretch when you’re done!
- There are lots of apps out there to help you keep track of the work / rest intervals. I use UltraTimerHD on my iPhone. For non-iPhone users, one of my fitness friends really likes the Time for Tabata app.
One of my favorite, no-heavy-thinking, under-60-minute workouts at the moment:
- Warm up (includes SMR on my calves, TFL and lats)
- 30-minute elliptical
- 20-minute Tabata Derby (example: Front squats, side planks, push-ups and single-leg bicep curls – alternating legs)
- Cool down (includes more SMR)
If you have a favorite Tabata training combo, I’d definitely love to hear about it!
I’ll be forever grateful to fitness guru Roberto Murichi for introducing me to the Tabata. Trust me, if you’re looking to add some spice to your normal routine, Tabata training a great way to help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
More Core, Please!
Recently, I’ve gotten lots of questions from friends who also happen to be avid runners about what to do about hip or lower back pain. Since I’m not a medical professional, my first concern is to find out how long they’ve had the problem; if it’s affecting their everyday activities and if they’ve seen a physician for an opinion. Then I then move on to some questions about their training program.
One of the first things I ask: “So tell me about your core work?” That’s usually when I get the sheepish response that sounds something like: “Well, I could probably do more of that.”
You know what? We ALL could!
So, on this workout Wednesday, I go beyond the crunch to show you some of the other “classic” core moves I incorporate in my client’s fitness programs as well as my own. (I must give a special shout out to the talented Lauren Bachner for capturing the start and finish of each exercise.)
An added bonus: these exercises all fit into the stabilization endurance level of training. This is the level where all fitness newbies should start and all fitness veterans should re-visit to maintain core and joint stability. Aim for two sets of 12-20 reps:
- Ball bridge:Once you’ve mastered the two-leg and one-leg floor bridge, this is a great progression of a key core exercise. Training tips: make sure your feet are hip-width apart. Draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes to get your knees in line with your hips and shoulders. Once you’re established the bridge, hold the position for two seconds before lowering your pelvis.
- Prone Iso-Abs (Plank): This remains my all-time favorite core exercise. Here, I show you the “basic” plank along with a progression, where you add a leg lift. Training tips: In either version, be sure to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes before you raise your body off the floor to form a straight line from head to toe. Hold plank position for two to three seconds before dropping to the ground to re-start.
- Side Iso-Ab (Side Plank): I admit, I need to perform this version of the plank more often – and you should too! Training tips: Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder and be sure to draw in your navel and contract glutes before lifting your hips and legs off the ground. Hold the plank for two to three seconds before lowering back to start position.
Please note, I’m not picking on runners. In fact, as someone who isn’t a runner, I have great admiration for people who lace up and pound the pavement in all types of weather. However, a common mistake many runners make is not incorporating enough core work into their fitness program. Your core, the muscles connecting your legs to your hips, spine, and rib cage, works to stabilize your torso when you run and therefore has a significant impact on running form and endurance. A weak core can lead to injuries, particularly in your lower back.
The bottom line is whether you’re a runner, cyclist, dancer, swimmer, or just like to be classified as a “gym rat,” everyone needs a strong core. Why? Because the core is the region of the body where all movement begins. If you have a weak and unstable core, your body simply can’t move the way it’s supposed to. That’s one of the easiest ways to put yourself at increased risk for injury.
So what are YOUR favorite core moves? Let me know! I’m always looking to share different exercises and activities that can help exercise lovers of all ages and skill levels have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!