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Three Years Later….

FullSizeRender-2On this Motivation Monday, I find myself amazed once again about the passing of time. Here we are marching toward the end of April. It feels like just yesterday I was posting tips about setting realistic goals for those New Year’s Resolutions. Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for projects in my production world that I worked on one year ago and catching up with clients I met as many as five years ago.

Then one morning last week, as my jelly-like legs struggled to take me back home after a Physique57® workout, I was zapped with another time check: it was three years ago this month when I started the fitness program that changed my body -and my mental health! – for the better. In April 2013, my longtime gal pal Amy brought me to my very first Physique57 class, and I’ve been hooked every since. After hundreds of classes, I’ve never gotten bored thanks to an amazing group of instructors who never serve up the same workout twice. Despite being comfortable with the class format, my body is still sore as hell after a 57-minute barre workout that combines interval training, isometric exercises and stretches.

While I’d encourage everyone to try a Physique57 workout at a studio or online, the true purpose of sharing this “anniversary” is to offer proof that finding an activity you love is crucial to sticking with a fitness routine. Equally important is realizing your likes, dislikes and needs may change through the different stages of your life. During my Northwestern years and the ones that followed as I entered the working world, I had no problem working out solo and pushing myself to extremes in the weight room. As work and life grew more complicated over the years, I started gravitating toward group exercise classes. While I still do my own thing on certain days, I feed off the energy of a group dynamic. There’s something about being surrounded by the power of my fellow workout warriors pushing through seemingly never-ending planks and squats along with the positive vibes from my instructors and high-energy music.

I hope sharing my Physique57 journey to date encourages you to take stock of your own fitness routine. If you find yourself going through the motions this spring, it’s time to mix things up. If you’ve been ignoring certain muscle groups, now’s the time to get back into total body training. Sign up for a few personal training sessions so a pro can check your form and take your routine to the next level. Or do what I did and find a class that makes you feel like you can take on whatever the world throws at you. Sometimes, taking a moment to realize where you’ve been and how far you’ve come is all the motivation you need to take the next steps in your journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!


My Newest Fitness Addiction

Confident My New Fitness Addiction will Get Me Back in "Fighting Form" for Summer!  Photo by Leslie Hassler

Confident My New Fitness Addiction will Get Me Back in “Fighting Form” for Summer!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

You know that old saying  “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it”? Well, that’s exactly what’s happened to me when it comes to my fitness routine.

As a lifelong fitness lover, I’ve known about the benefits of traditional exercises like squats, lunges and crunches for years. While I’m not knocking the strength and conditioning benefits of these exercises, let’s face it. You do the same thing all the time and it’s bound to get boring. That makes it too easy to fly through the exercises with poor form or worse, simply skip them altogether. That’s exactly what was happening to me. While I hate to admit it, my glutes and legs haven’t been pushed to their maximum capacity for quite some time. That all changed thanks to three workouts during the past seven days.

For months, my friend Amy has been raving about some amazing workouts courtesy of Physique57®. Considering Amy lives a mere three blocks away and the classes are offered in her building, scheduling conflicts were the only thing keeping me from getting there. I finally had a free morning last Sunday and met Amy for a beginner class. Fifty-seven minutes later, I was 100% exhilarated and 100% hooked.

The workout is based on classical ballet and the Lotte Method and combines interval training, isometric exercises and stretches. This doesn’t mean you have to be a dancer to get hooked on this intense workout. Believe me, ballet was never my thing. (I’ve always said there’s a reason why Grace isn’t my middle name.) All you need is a desire to focus on your body movements while listening to great music and the motivational cues from instructors who push you to work each muscle to failure. Those exercises include everything from never-ending reps with free weights for your arms; leg and glute work at the bar; “thigh dancing” on the floor; hard-core core work; and plenty of push-ups, planks and tricep dips. They also incorporate stretching throughout the class to help the muscles recover after each leg-trembling set of moves.

I realize there may not be a Physique57 in your hometown and you may not even be interested in the idea of this kind of fitness-fusion class. The real point of writing this post was to offer a Motivation Monday nudge to take stock of your fitness routine. If you’re just going through the motions, it’s time to mix things up. If you’ve been ignoring certain muscle groups, now’s the time to remember the importance of total body training. Sign up for a few personal training sessions so a pro can check your form and take your routine to the next level. Or do what I did and find a class that takes you outside your “comfort zone” and pushes you to put all your energy into each and every rep.

During this past week, I’ve actually been happy about being sore in places that haven’t been sore in far too long. I’m excited to see how incorporating this workout into my routine can make my body stronger and leaner for the summer. Another buzz about Physique57 and similar programs that use the “Bar Method” concept is that they’re designed to improve your posture. As one of the millions of Americans who spend too many hours each day at a computer, anything I can do to stand taller and feel better about it is a huge plus! Stay tuned…and remember, it’s never too late in the game to introduce your body to new challenges to help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Lunchtime Workout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Skimp When it Comes to Stretching!

An old friend, Shannon Palermo, posted the following comment on my LauraLovesFitness Facebook page:

So, what is the recommendation when it comes to cardio and stretching? I walk/run on a treadmill at home. Do I warm up then stretch or stretch first or stretch after? Also any suggested stretches? I recently pulled a muscle in my hip causing me to be sidelined with major hip and knee pain. I believe this is due to my lack of stretching and my need for new sneakers.

These questions raise several important issues, but first and foremost is the subject of pain.  Whether you’re a fitness novice or trained athlete, if you really listen to your body, you can tell the difference between muscle soreness from an intense workout and pain that indicates something is wrong. If you experience “major” pain in any area, you could be suffering from an acute or cumulative injury.  I’ve been the victim of many cumulative injuries because of one simple reason: I’ve ignored the warning signs and simply pushed through the pain.

If you experience pain that causes significant discomfort and doesn’t subside with ice and/or over-the-counter pain killers for more than a day or two, you should see your doctor.  When you let an injury linger, other parts of your body will compensate for the injury, throwing off your body’s proper mechanics and causing postural distortions. In the end, an injury to your foot will lead to compensations that create stress on other parts of your body’s kinetic chain – and you can easily end up with pain in your knees, hips or back. For my friend Shannon, if you’re simply guessing that you pulled a muscle and haven’t seen a doctor, please make an appointment soon.

As for stretching: the jury may still be out on when to stretch, but there is no debate about the fact that everyone needs to include flexibility training in their workout routine. As I learned through my NASM training, countless studies show a link between decreased flexibility and injury.  For example, decreased flexibility in the hamstrings and quadriceps significantly contributes to tendonitis in the knee.

NASM’s training model includes stretching as part of a warm up and again during the cool down period of your workout. The stretching-before-cardio-or-strength-training idea is stretch the muscles that may be tight so that you perform an exercise as optimally as possible and reduce the risk for improper movement and injury.  For a runner like Shannon, it’s optimal to stretch certain muscles like the hamstrings and hip flexors before a hitting the treadmill or the road. Here are two links I found helpful about stretching:

We’ve only scratched the surface and I look forward to writing more about injury prevention and flexibility training , but I hope the information in this post is a good  start to proving why stretching is a crucial part of our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Fitting Fitness Into Your Vacation

Photo by Laura DeAngelis

This will be my last post for several days. Why? Because I’m getting out of the hot and steamy Big Apple for long weekend of relaxation in Newport, Rhode Island.  We all work hard, and we all need to get away now and then.  The good news is while you can leave reality behind for awhile, you don’t have to abandon your fitness regimen. If anything, a vacation gives you the opportunity to mix up your routine.  So, as a break from packing, I thought I’d offer some of my favorite ways to burn some calories while on vacation:

  • Walk, walk and walk some more!  Our hotel in Newport is about one mile from the beach, so we get some good strides heading to and from our daily hangout. Then there’s the 3.5 mile Cliff Walk, which offers such amazing scenery, you may forget you’re getting a good workout while you scramble on some rocks along the way.  Wherever you may be going, make the effort to leave the car behind and explore the town or neighboring area on foot. (Don’t forget to bring supportive footwear.)
  • If there’s a pool where you’re staying, do some daily laps.
  • Pack a Frisbee or paddle ball game to play on the beach. If there’s a beach volleyball game going on somewhere, don’t be shy – ask if you can join one of the teams.  No sand around? Find a park, claim your spot in the grass and have some fun!
  • Try something completely different.  If you’re near a lake, find out if you can rent a canoe or kayaks and paddle around for an hour or two. If you like it on your first day, you can go back for more during the duration of the trip.
  • Use the hotel’s fitness center. More and more hotels are offering some sort of workout space. Granted, it may consist of one stationary bike, one elliptical, one treadmill, some free weights and (if you’re lucky) a yoga ball.  Those options mean you can still get in some good cardio, and use the free weights as extra resistance for squats and lunges.  Then you can work the upper body with a minimum of bicep curls, lateral raises and overhead presses, and round things out with some core work.  All in the comfort of air conditioning!
  • If you’re lucky enough to be staying somewhere with a DVD player and some extra room, bring one or two of your fitness DVDs along for the trip.

Newport, RI

Whatever activity you jump on, remember to stretch the muscles you worked during that walk, canoe ride  or mean game of paddle ball.  Make sure you also stay hydrated, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Whether or not the coming weekend allows you the opportunity to get away from it all, I wish you some time to relax and re-charge your batteries so you can approach a new week with new energy to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Get Outside And Get Moving!

Welcome to the first installment of LauraLovesFitness!

It seems only fitting I am launching my blog during my favorite time of the year. Summer gives us 13 whole weeks to take our favorite moves from the gym to the outdoors.  This is your chance to mix things up and turn that next trip to the beach or park into some muscle-moving fun. As you pack up the sunscreen and healthy snacks, toss a Frisbee into your backback or beach tote.  Or you could give paddle ball (my all-time favorite beach game!) a whirl. Keeping that little rubber ball in the air provides a great workout for everything from your glutes, quads, calves, core muscles and your arms. For a real challenge, try “switch hitting” with your paddle. The best part? When it gets too hot, you can take a dip and cool off!

A note of caution: if you’re suffering from a foot, ankle or knee injury, remember sand is an unstable surface. While that creates extra calorie-burning opportunities as your body works harder to stay balanced, it puts extra pressure on an injured area.  I am currently struggling to recover from a stress fracture in my left foot and had to be extra careful on a recent trip to Florida.  What helped me?  Wearing my sneakers (along with orthotics) while walking on the beach. They may not look as cute as flip-flops, but they did help me maintain stability and also took some pressure off the injured metatarsal and inflamed joint.

If your idea of outdoor fun is more along the lines of a picnic in the park, Frisbee and paddle ball can be played on the grass, too. Or why not test your skills at whiffle ball or croquet? Check out your local sports store for plenty of portable games that provide fun for multiple skill-levels. You’ll also feel better digging into the picnic fare knowing you burned some calories beforehand!

Regardless of where you decide to play, remember a few basics:

  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, preferably water.
  • Don’t forget the waterproof, sweat-proof sunscreen. While sore muscles from a game of beach volleyball can be rewarding, a sunburn never feels good!
  • Finally – don’t forget to stretch! After giving those arms and legs a good workout, static or active-isolated stretches can help the body recover. Remember: static stretches need to be held for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Here’s to a fit and fabulous summer!

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