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The Last One Standing

Stay true to you…the rest will follow!

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

‘Tis the Season for Tabatas!

holiday-party-picAs if the fact that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah collided on the same day wasn’t enough to get people in a holiday frenzy, now we’re faced with a shorter shopping season than usual before Christmas. Faced with this added hustle and bustle to the 2013 holiday season, I thought this Motivation Monday presented the perfect opportunity to touch on the importance of keeping your mental health in check throughout the last month of 2013. To me, there’s no better way to do just that than by breaking a good sweat!

Obviously, working out will help burn some of the extra holiday calories that come in all shapes and sizes ranging from homemade cookies to rich wines and sweet, seasonal cocktails. Weight maintenance aside, the endorphins that stay with you after a workout can also help you maintain a level of calm as you battle the crowds in overheated stores or spend extra amounts of time with the extended -and sometimes non-harmonious- family. (Bonus: if you’re visiting family for the holidays, there’s no better excuse than a run or walk to escape for awhile! Just don’t forget your sneakers!)

I bet some of you are saying, “Laura, between working, shopping, taking care of the kids, baking, cooking and going to all the holiday parties, there’s just no time to exercise.” Well, guess what? You OWE it to yourself to find 10 minutes somewhere in the day to get moving. Why? Simply because 10 minutes of anything are better than zero minutes of nothing! As some of you repeat readers already know, one of my favorite ways to make the most of abbreviated workout time is the Tabata.

Side Plank: One of my favorite Tabata moves Photo by Lauren Bachner

Side Plank: One of my favorite Tabata moves.                   Photo by Lauren Bachner

Need a Tabata review?  The four-minute high-intensity “formula” is pretty simple: eight continuous intervals of 20 seconds of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest. So if you truly only have 10 minutes today, why not give this a try. Bonus: You never even have to leave the house!

  • 60 seconds of jumping jacks
  • Rest only long enough to set your timer, then bang out one squat Tabata. (Need a timer? I use UltraTimerHD)
  • Rest for 60 seconds
  • Bang out one more 4-minute Tabata  (Choose from mountain climbers, push-ups, planks, side planks or crunches.)
  • Recover/stretch for 60 seconds or longer.
  • Congrats! You spent 10 minutes doing SOMETHING for your body!

(On the rare occasion the chaos dies down enough to give you a little more time, why not try to build a “Tabata Derby” by adding consecutive four-minute intervals and work your way up to a 20-minute total Tabata workout.)

While I love Tabatas, I realize they may not be your thing. So taking a power walk around the block a few dozen times, running up and down the stairs in your house or apartment building or dare I say meeting a friend for a group exercise class or game of basketball may be the fitness fix you need to feel a little stronger physically and mentally. Remember, while this is known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” don’t ignore your body’s need to escape some of the chaos so you can continue to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Movin’ It at Home

The Push-Up: one of many exercises you can do anywhere!

The Push-Up: one of many exercises you can do anywhere!

Last week, I got a tweet from my high school pal Kathy asking about ideas for home workouts. She reminded me that with the kids out of school for the summer, it’s not always easy to escape to the gym to break a sweat. So on this Motivation Monday, I offer some quick tips to keep you active all summer, even on the days when getting out of the house isn’t an option.

The secret to making a home workout work for you is using as many muscles as possible while quickly moving from one exercise to the next. This will keep your heart rate up and help you burn calories. All the exercises I present in this “one-minute-wonder” circuit use your body-weight.  The idea is to perform as many reps as possible of each exercise – with proper form! – in 60 seconds and then move directly on to the next one with no rest in between. The only “equipment” needed is a jump rope.

  1. Jump rope: if you don’t have a jump rope or not enough head room to use one indoors (and don’t have any outdoor space to work with), try jumping jacks or running in place
  2. Forward lunges: alternating legs
  3. Squats
  4. Push-ups (modified version is to be on your knees instead of your toes)
  5. Bridges (Click here for a refresher on some core moves)
  6. Crunches
  7. Mountain climbers
  8. Side planks
  9. Tricep dips: We do these in my Physique57 classes all the time seated on the floor – you just need to lift your booty off the floor and brace yourself and use your triceps to dip up and down without touching back down. If you have stairs at home, steps are always a sturdy base for dips.
  10. Jumping jacks (or jump rope again)

Once you’ve made it through the 10-minute circuit, take up to a two-minute break and then start again. Or if you happen to have any cardio equipment at home, bang out the 10-minute circuit and then hit the treadmill, bike or elliptical for up to another 20-30 minutes. Aim for banging out this total-body routine three days a week on non-consecutive days.  As you get stronger, work toward repeating the circuit two to three times. As you progress, you can also add more intensity to some of the exercises. For example, you can turn squats into squat-to-jumps where you literally jump off the ground with your arms extended straight over your head when you come up from the squat position. Push-ups can also be replaced with burpees. Of course, if you have any favorite summer stay-cation home moves, I’d love to hear about them!

Whether you’re working out at home, in the park or at the gym, be sure not to skimp on the stretching and allow your body time to warm up and cool down. Add plenty of water and sweet summer fruits and veggies to the mix, and you’ve got the perfect plan in place for a whole summer filled with endless opportunities to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

“Over the River and Through the Woods…”

The plank: No gym necessary!

The plank: No gym necessary!

Same with the push-up

Same with the push-up

Side Planks, too! Photos by Lauren Bachner

Side Planks, too! Photos by Lauren Bachner

‘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!

A Brisk & Exhilarating Workout Wednesday

Kicking off December with a brisk workout in Central Park

Kicking off December with a brisk workout in Central Park

It certainly doesn’t feel like December here in New York City on this first Workout Wednesday of the month! It’s been close to 50 degrees here the past few days, and I’ve enjoyed every breath of this balmy air on my morning walks to the office. However, it was nowhere near this warm on Saturday when I headed to Central Park for another great CrossFit UWS workout!

Armed with my Under Armour compression top, ear band and gloves, I was ready to go. Of course, after jump roping a few minutes and getting through one round of the warm up, my core temperature was adequately fired up and ready to push through another of Roberto Murichi’s killer workouts.

Here’s how it all broke down:

  • Static/Active Stretching:  After some static stretches for my calves and hip flexors, I spent between 5-6 minutes minutes jumping rope.
  • Warm up:  We had 10 minutes to complete as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of the following circuit:
  1. 50 m lunge walk
  2. 25 sit-ups
  3. 20 push-ups
  4. 15 back extensions (“Superman”s)

Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted part of my note on my iPhone and don’t remember how many rounds I got through. I know it was more than two and less than 10. Regardless, I was more than warmed up and ready to move on to the the heart of the workout. The key with any AMRAP it to remember you can stop and take a breather at any time when your body tells you to.

  • Workout: I’ll call it “Three Crazy Minutes x Five.”  The basic concept: we had three minutes to get through as many rounds of the following circuit as possible (yes, another AMRAP): 
  1. 25 m sprint
  2. Three burpees
  3. Six squats (I used the park bench as a guide to make sure I “sat” down far enough so that each squat count!)
  4. Nine box jumps (also using the park benches as our jumping on/off point)

We would work our way through each of the exercises listed above until the three minutes were up. Then we had one minute of rest before moving on to the next round. We did this for a total of five rounds.

I never made it through the circuit three full times in three minutes. The most I could bang out were two circuits and then an additional 25 meter sprint and three more burpees before the glorious sound of the buzzer went off to let us know we had 60 seconds to rest. When those five rounds were up, the endorphins were flowing and I felt great!

Despite the holiday hustle and bustle and Old Man Winter knocking on our doors, I’m hoping to get a couple more of these Central Park workouts in before the end of 2012. If you’re interested in getting in on the fun, click here for more information.

Wherever your workouts take you this month, remember to stay active so you can round out the year knowing you’re doing all you can to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Another Killer Outdoor Workout Wednesday

With CrossFit UWS Co-Owners Roberto & Ashleigh

Happy Workout Wednesday!

For this week’s installment, I gladly share another kick-butt workout courtesy of CrossFit UWS head coach Roberto Murichi.

I survived..I mean enjoyed…this workout with seven other Saturday morning warriors in Central Park. Here’s what we did:

  • Active stretching: included walking lunges, reverse walking lunges, side hops and knee-up hops.
  • Warm up: 200 m run followed by the maximum number of push ups we could do before having to drop to our knees. The alternative was to hold a plank as long as possible before dropping. Three rounds total.
  • Workout: Roberto put together another heart-pounding combination of exercises. This time, each of us was timed upon completion of the following three rounds:

Round one

  • 100 m run
  • 21 burpees
  • 21 squats
  • 21 push ups
  • 21 box jumps (using park benches)
  • 21 sit ups

For rounds two and three, we again started with the 100 meter run and moved on to the exercises in the same order. The only thing that changed was the number of reps. For round two, we dropped to 18 reps for each exercise and for our final round, we were down to 15.

Honestly, after 21 burpees, I had no idea how I’d make it through the rest of the exercises in the first round, let alone get through all three.Yet, thanks to the positive coaching from Roberto, shout-outs and high fives from the rest of the group, I somehow made it to the last sit up and heard myself shouting “Time!” I finished in 17:05.

Workout completed, I found myself covered in sweat, grass and dirt, feeling completely spent and exhilarated at the same time. Then, the heavens opened and we all welcomed the soaking rain as we sprinted out of the park to get to our next Saturday morning destinations.

It’s been great adding this outdoor workout to my weekly fitness routine. Being in the park offers a break from the ordinary, and having Roberto cheering us through the reps and rounds while keeping an eye on our form offers some great motivation. If anyone lives in the city and wants to give the workout a try, click here for more information about CrossFit UWS.

If you’re beyond the beginner level and looking to kick things up a notch, this kind of workout won’t let you down! Regardless of your fitness level, mixing up your exercise routine by venturing into the great outdoors is a  wonderful way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Workout Wednesday: Outdoor Edition

All Smiles After a Killer Workout!

Saturday in the park…

No, this isn’t a tribute to that old Chicago classic. Instead, it’s a post sharing one of the more intense workouts I’ve had in recent memory courtesy of CrossFit UWS head coach Roberto Murichi. I cannot in good conscience recommend this workout for anyone just starting a fitness routine. However, for all you seasoned fitness enthusiasts looking to kick things up a notch, I guarantee this will do the trick!

I was one of the nine brave souls who met in Central Park at 9 am for Roberto’s workout of the day. Here’s how it broke down:

  • Active stretching: included walking lunges, reverse walking lunges and bear crawls and monkey jumps. The bear crawls got some second looks from tourists out and about in the park as we literally crawled from one end of our grassy spot to the other with our glutes high in the air
  • Warm up: 30 seconds of squats; 30 seconds of push ups; 30 seconds of rest. Six rounds total.  (Yes, this was just the warm up.) Here’s what some of that looked like. I’m the one in the gray top. (Ironically, Roberto chose “Misery” by Maroon 5 to play from his iPad for this part of the program):

  • Workout: Nothing short of killer! Our mission was to complete the following in six minutes or less:
  1. 400 m run
  2. 40 squats
  3. 30 sit ups
  4. 20 push ups
  5. 10 burpees

Afterward, we got a three-minute rest period. We then did the workout two more times for a total of three rounds.

Done!

I’m happy to report I got it all done in about 5:20 in the first round, but I won’t lie, I didn’t get through all of it for the remaining two. For the second round, I made it to through everything but the burpees. On the last round, I only made it through the sit ups.

Along with Roberto’s positive coaching, we nine Saturday morning warriors kept each other motivated with high-fives, and a mixture of grunts and laughter when we heard the 10-second warning beeps or “dings” signaling new rounds for new exercises. At the end of the hour, I felt totally spent and exhilarated at the same time. A few of us went out for a healthy breakfast afterward. (I enjoyed an amazing egg white, avocado and Swiss cheese wrap along with a lot of water and a huge iced coffee.)

If anyone lives in the city and wants to give the workout a try, they happen every Saturday at 9am and also on Thursdays at 6:30 pm. Click  here for more info. I hope maybe I’ll see a few of you other in the park sometime! Trust me, mixing up some exercise in the great outdoors is an awesome way to kick off a Saturday -or any day of the week! – and the perfect way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Give Tabatas a Try!

Some of my Tabata Favorites: Single-Leg Bicep Curl

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)
  • Planks
  • Chin-ups (can always be done at a playground or find a tree branch – a strong one, of course!)
  • Front squat to overhead press

Side Plank

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
  • Burps

The Plank

The Push-Up – All Images by Lauren Bachner

A few important notes before you jump into one or more Tabatas:

  1. You must warm up! Try five minutes at a slow/medium pace on an elliptical machine, stationary bike or take a light jog.
  2. If you do more than one Tabata – you must rest for 60 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
  3. 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.
  4. Don’t forget to cool down and stretch when you’re done!
  5. 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!

Fitness & Footwear

Like many women, I love shoes. I love them even more when I find a great pair at one of the discount shoe paradises that have popped up all over the country. There is one type of shoe, however, that I will gladly pay full price for if I have to, and that would be my sneakers. Why? Because wearing the proper footwear while you workout is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself from exercise-related injuries.

Here’s a little trivia for you: there are 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons in each foot.  (No, I didn’t have those numbers memorized, I looked them up in AFAA’s Fitness: Theory & Practice, Fifth Edition.) That means there are 370 places vulnerable to injury in your feet alone.  Now consider that improper foot support can lead to compensations made by your knees and hips, and you are putting your body at risk for a world of hurt.

So, what’s the best footwear? It depends on your foot type.  If you have a high arch, you need sneakers with good shock absorption. If your feet are flat and/or “roll” inward or outward, you need a sneaker with stability. An “average” foot needs a shoe with both cushioning and stability.

I don’t know your foot type, but I can tell you what works for me.  Since my fitness routine includes walking, elliptical training, riding the stationery recumbent bike, rowing, and weight training, cross trainers keep me well-grounded and stable. I started wearing New Balance cross trainers five years ago (I currently wear the 1011s), and I get a new pair every six months.  I can honestly say if I wait longer than six months, I start to feel pain in my knees while I’m on the elliptical or while doing squats and lunges.   My current pair are two months old, and at the moment, I wear them with orthotics as I continue to recover from a stress fracture in my left foot.  (A subject for a future blog.)

While I am not a runner, most of my friends who are will only pound the pavement in running sneakers.  I also have friends who have sneakers specifically for when they’re on the tennis court. Many basketball players like high tops for the extra ankle stability. If there is one sport you play often, it’s a good idea to get a pair of sneakers specifically for that activity, and also have a more “universal” pair, like cross trainers, for days when you mix up your routine.

I look at it this way: I have far too many purses in my closet and most guys have more ties than they will ever need.  So why wouldn’t you spend the money to have at least one good pair of sneakers to protect you from injuries while you’re working so hard to stay healthy?

In the end, wearing the proper footwear is one of the easiest ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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