Sunday, May 13, 2012

Walking as Exercise? Train with Intention!

How many of us have heard the statement: "Walking is the best form of exercise."?  My first reaction is: "Well, no.  Walking is actually an essential component required for day to day life as humans.  In a relatively healthy or mobile individual, it is a non-negotiable."  As a strong advocate of strength training for EVERYONE capable, I'm always baffled by the fact that people think walking alone will get you in shape.  In my opinion, walking is only a SOLE form of acceptable exercise if you A) have been sedentary for a long time B) are extremely overweight C) are elderly D) are incapacitated in some way (amputee, paraplegic, extreme illness, restricted by a doctor E) are very pregnant.

But besides my personal opinion, let's look at some of the reasons that walking is simply not enough exercise for the human body:

1) Intensity and effort are missing from the "walking" form of exercise, therefore it will not produce significant changes or improvements in health and fitness unless you fall into one of the categories listed above.

2) We are meant to do so much more!  Think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors!  They had to run, climb, crawl, lift, and have serious mobility, to name a few.  As a species, we would have died off a long time ago if walking was the most we were capable of.  Cavemen didn't have grocery stores and drive-thru windows.  They had to work for their food.  We are, for the first time in history, in a position where there is an overabundance of food, hence the obesity epidemic.  We no longer have to work for our food.

3) Caloric expenditure and lack of muscle engagement simply cannot counterbalance food intake.  For example, a 140lb person walking at 4 miles per hour will burn about 288 calories in one hour.  That's the equivalent of say, 4 Oreos or half of a fancy Starbucks drink.

4) There's no "after-burn."  You know how after you've had an intense training session even after you've showered you annoyingly can't stop sweating?  That's actually a great thing because your metabolism is fired up and you're burning more energy both during your workout and at rest.  Try getting that from a walk.

5) Your muscles aren't getting stronger, your heart rate isn't elevated high enough, and you're not becoming more flexible.

6) If it's comfortable, it's not intense enough!  If exercising was "comfortable" everyone would do it.  If you challenge your body appropriately you will be sweating, out of breath, and tired by the end of your workout.  Do it enough times and you'll learn to love it!

***Fun Fact: Elliptical machines overestimate calories burned by up to 40%.  Keep that in mind!

Is walking better than nothing at all?  Absolutely.  But anyone who is able should be combining strength training, flexibility training, and cardiovascular training.  If you train smart, you can accomplish all of that in around 30 minutes, which certainly beats the 3 hour brisk walk you'd have to go on to burn the same amount of energy!

The human body is absolutely incredible in what it is capable of doing, whether lifting tremendous amounts of weight, running a marathon, or performing in Cirque Du Soleil.  We don't all have to be Olympic Athletes, but do I believe we should exercise with the intention of finding the best version of ourselves.  We cannot view exercise as a dreaded chore because we will never learn to be consistent with it that way.  When I train, I know I'm becoming stronger, moving more efficiently, and working toward my goals with each session.  Nothing has given me the confidence and awareness that strength training has.  Not the 20 years of dancing, 10 years of yoga practice, and all of the other forms of exercise I've experimented with.

To have a strong body and mind is worth every moment of muscle burning, every bead of sweat, and every extra minute of couch time you give up.  There are so many busy people in the world, but no matter what your work hours are like or how many kids you care for, exercising with intensity and INTENT is a non-negotiable. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nutrition and Exercise During Pregnancy: The Basic Facts

Given that the majority of people I know are either pregnant, have recently been pregnant, or will be pregnant soon, I figured that exercise and nutrition during pregnancy is a great topic to cover.  Most women fear the body changes that come with pregnancy, especially the idea that it is going to be difficult to lose the baby weight.  The key is to maintain a proper nutrition and exercise routine before, during, and after pregnancy.  Sure, many exercises must be modified during pregnancy, and it is certainly not a time for you to attempt to set any personal bests, but exercising during pregnancy is good for you and your baby.

When monitoring intensity of exercise while pregnant, it's important to use the "talk test."  This means that if you can talk comfortably while you are exercising, the intensity is just right.  Doctors used to recommend that a pregnant woman's heart rate not exceed 140 beats per minute, but that rule no longer applies.  The "talk test" is an easier and effective way to monitor your exercise while pregnant.  Depending on your stage of pregnancy, you might not be able to get into certain positions, like lying on your back or on your stomach.  In order to keep your core strong during and after pregnancy, planks are a fantastic exercise (see video in post Challenge #2 - Water & Exercise).  While you probably don't want to take up any new sports or try to learn a completely new way to exercise while pregnant, you can safely continue with your current regimen while modifying as needed (always check with your doctor!).  If you need extra help, seek out a pre/post natal exercise specialist in your area.  I also highly recommend checking out some pre-natal yoga classes!

You know your body better than anyone else.  Listen to it.

Your doctor will give you the necessary vitamins and supplements to take during your pregnancy, and typically these will include the following: Vitamin B12, Folate, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, and Fatty Acids.  During your second and third trimesters protein intake should also be increased by about 25 grams per day.  LOTS of lean protein and veggies are key.  In fact, a pregnant woman can easily follow the 5 Simple Tips to Eating Healthier I recently posted.  Always choose whole foods over supplements as a way to get all important vitamins and minerals.

WARNING!: You are not really eating for two.  Typically, a pregnant woman only needs an extra 300-500 calories per day, closer to 500 if you are exercising regularly.  Overeating or eating low-quality foods while pregnant is bad for both mom and baby and can have lasting consequences.

You are going to gain weight when pregnant, and the best way to ensure a quick bounce back after you deliver is to focus on high quality foods and to keep moving!  Sugars, transfats, fast foods, and all of those bad foods that taste good are bad for pregnancy.  If they are bad for you, certainly you don't want your baby to ingest them!  By eating a whole food based diet, most women should expect to gain the following amounts of weight (Precision Nutrition):

-Underweight/average women gain 25-35lbs
-Overweight women gain no more than 15-25lbs
-Women 5'2" and under gain 10-25lbs

Of course your doctor will give you the specific details on what you individually should expect out of your pregnancy with guidelines to follow.  It is likely that you can continue the same nutrition plan you were on while pregnant when you are nursing.

What are they keys to a quick bounce back?  Stellar nutrition focused on whole foods (lean protein, fruits and veggies, whole grains) and commitment to an appropriate exercise routine.  Take care of yourself better than you ever have while you grow your baby.  The reward is not only a quicker return to your pre-pregnancy state but also a healthy, happy baby!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Avoiding Exercise: What's Your Excuse?

This is a question that both perplexes me and that I can completely relate to.  Even those of us who LOVE exercising and watching our bodies become stronger drag our feet to our workouts on some occasions.  I feel amazing when I'm finished training; exercising gives me confidence, provides me with the body I desire, and I know exercising will benefit me as I age.  So why is it sometimes a struggle?

I completely believe that "getting old" is a choice.  Sure, you can't change the fact that your age is increasing in years, genetic factors, or sudden illnesses, but you can choose HOW your body ages.  There is a reason that my 80 year old, amazing grandmother still loves to hit the tennis court, never misses a day at the gym, and is as healthy today as she was in her 40's.  In fact, I'm not sure she's aged at all since I was a child (with the exception of lighter hair and extra wrinkles)!  There are 100-year-old marathoners, senior-citizen body builders and figure competitors, and 70-year-olds with 6-packs.  I think about these people when I don't feel like training, and then I realize I have no excuse.

                                                        My beautiful grandmother & me

I recently went to a fitness business conference and listened to a lecture by an Army veteran who had one of his legs blown off in combat.  The man was barely out of the hospital before he attempted to run a 5K with a prosthetic leg.  Eventually, he completed a marathon.  Talk about inspiring!

My point is that it is so easy to come up with excuses to not exercise.  I commonly hear people say that life is too crazy between work, kids, pets, travel, etc.  Personally, I feel that getting to the gym is the hardest part.  You have to drive there, change clothing, then drive home.  It takes valuable time.  What's my solution for those days?  I exercise at home.  All you need is space in your living room or backyard to give yourself the life-long benefits of exercise.

                                                  me doing double kettlebell swings at home

Precision Nutrition recommends 5 hours of exercise per week combined with proper nutrition for optimum health, body composition, and performace.  When you are busy, 5 hours can sound like a lot, and I believe you can receive incredible benefits from even less.  Challenge yourself to 15-20 minutes of high-intensity exercise 5-6 days per week...that's less than 2 hours a week!  If you can't find that amount of time in your schedule, email me with your daily schedule, and I will find it for you!

No amount of magazine reading, fitness video watching, or wanting to be fit will actually make you fit!  The drive and motivation has to come from within.  When you are 80 years old would you rather be active with your great-grandchildren or confined to a chair?  You can't prevent every medical condition that may arise, especially if it is genetic, but you can fight lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease NOW.  If there was a vaccine against those diseases would you take it?  I certainly would!  But there isn't, and it is up to you to live your best life and be the best version of yourself.

I shared my excuse (which ultimately just means that sometimes I am lazy!  I admit it!).  Please share yours.  You will see that you are in the same boat as so many other people.  Seriously take a step back and assess the benefits of taking a little bit of extra time out of your busy day to give yourself the ultimate gift of health.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Kettlebell Swing: A Tutorial

Want to burn fat, increase your cardiovascular capacity, train most muscles in your body and become more flexible with one exercise?  Well, look no further than the kettlebell swing!

If I was told that I would have to choose one exercise to be the only exercise I could do for the rest of my life, it would be the Hardstyle Kettlebell Swing.  The swing creates a powerful body, burns fat, provides cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility training, and can improve sports performance across the board--all in one exercise.  Strength progressions happen quickly when you swing with proper form.  The first time I swung a kettlebell it was 15 lbs, I believe.  Within a few sessions I was up to 12kg (26lbs).  Since then, I've swung 24kg (53lbs) and 28kg (62lbs) with regularity.  My personal best was swinging the 88lb kettlebell for reps (it's the heaviest I've ever had access to during a regular training session, and I've
wanted to attempt heavier!).

I've taught a lot of people how to swing a kettlebell.  I believe in heavy training for men AND WOMEN!  I've taken mothers and housewives from never having touched a weight to swinging 53-70lb kettlebells for reps.  I've watched obese women in their 50's melt away fat using the kettlebell swing.  What I'm saying is IT WORKS!

Swinging kettlebells (with good form) is suitable for anyone from young athletes who want to improve sports performance to moms that need to lose some baby weight to grandfathers who want to move better and gain strength.  Anyone who swings a kettlebell with regularity will become stronger, more flexible, better conditioned, and will achieve the athletic look most people desire (combined with proper nutrition, of course).

Many of my friends have told me that their gyms have kettlebells, but they don't know how to use them.  Or that they've tried to swing them with either poor instruction or without instruction at all and have injured themselves.  While highly effective, kettlebells can be dangerous when attempted without the instruction of proper form.  Although there is no substitute for having an RKC Certified Instructor train you one-on-one, I suggest watching my tutorial video below (several times!) if you are interested in swinging kettlebells.

Now, I challenge you to perform 5 sets of 20 repetitions of the kettlebell swing! Women start with 15-26lbs, men start with 35-45lbs (or whatever similar weight increments you have access to).  If you're feeling strong, go for 10 sets (200 swings total).

**If you ever decide to purchase kettlebells for yourself, there is no substitute for DragonDoor bells.  They will last you a lifetime.  Buy them here.

Pavel's Enter the Kettlebell will teach you all of the basics.

Monday, October 31, 2011

5 Simple Steps to Healthier Eating

People are always looking for simple solutions to the complicated issue that is fitness.  What does it mean to be fit?  While there is no exact definition, fitness does not equal being thin.  It's an intricate, lifelong process of pursuing physical, emotional, and mental health.  Diet, exercise, stress management, sleep quality, and work-life balance are just a few factors that affect your level of fitness.  Today we will focus on one of the big ones: diet.

In the Western World it's hard to know what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it.  Things were much more simple for our caveman ancestor when only whole, natural, unprocessed foods were available.  Not only that, but cavemen had to work really hard to get food by hunting and gathering.  Now, we don't even have to move from our car seat to grab dinner.  This pattern of easy access to low-quality foods has created devastating effects on the human body.  Do you think that cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack were as prevalent in ancient cultures?  Certainly not.

While diet is a very individualized process based on body type, energy requirements, food tolerances, and lifestyle, I can offer you five simple tips to help you make better choices each day.  Small positive dietary changes can have a major impact and lead to ultimately what most people in modern society seek: fat loss and better health.  The following are 5 habits recommended by Precision Nutrition that anyone can follow with a little bit of planning and commitment:

1) Eat small meals every 2-4 hours.  This will prevent snacking on empty calories since you are eating often.  Eating in regular intervals will keep your blood sugar balanced so you are less likely to binge and make poor food selections.  It also stimulates metabolism and helps your body maintain lean mass while burning off fat.  A great example of what a meal could look like is a grilled chicken breast, a cup of raw spinach with olive oil and vinegar, and an apple.  Remember, you have the choice to make your body better or worse with every meal.

2) Eat complete, lean protein with each meal.  Research shows that a protein-rich diet helps you achieve your best health, body composition, and performance.  Protein will keep you satiated longer, which means you're less likely to consume empty calories.  A serving of protein is the size of your palm for women or the size of two palms for men.

3) Eat Vegetables with each meal.  Vegetables and fruits are essential for physiological functioning, and they should be eaten in their natural form (ie: not covered in sugary syrups or cooked in meat fats so much that the color no longer is true to its original form.)  Shoot for 2 servings with each meal.  A serving can be a medium sized piece of fruit, 1/2 cup of raw chopped fruit or veggies, or 1 cup of raw leafy green vegetables.

4) For fat loss, eat "other carbohydrates" only after exercise.  In other words, if you want carbs beyond fruits and veggies, you have to earn them.  Any breads, potatoes, pasta, rice, or occasional junk foods and desserts should be eaten within 1-2 hours after your workout when the body can best tolerate them.  High-quality whole grains should still be prioritized.  Make sure your workout is intense!

5) Eat healthy fats daily.  Fat was given an ugly name in the 1980s and 1990s, but in actuality, your diet should consist of 30% healthy fat.  This can include olive oil, fish oil, flax seeds and oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado, meats, low-fat cheeses, dairy, and eggs.

By following these five habits, you will automatically make healthier food choices without the overwhelming task of counting calories or weighing food.  This is solid nutritional advice in its simplest form. 

I also wanted to share a recipe with you that has been a wonderful savior to me.  I have a killer sweet tooth.  I like sweet things for breakfast and after every meal.  Unfortunately, as I've previously discussed on my blog, sugar is deadly.  Literally.

This Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake is healthy, filling, and a well-balanced meal!  I have it for breakfast most days of the week, and it tastes just like a milkshake! 
This shake has protein, a serving of fruit, and healthy fats!  Take it to the next level by following it up with a glass of greens supplement (more to come on this).

1 Frozen Banana (break into 2-3 pieces before freezing)
1 tablespoon Cocoa Powder
1 tablespoon All-Natural Peanut Butter
1 Scoop Unflavored Protein Powder
1/2 c-1c Milk (for a thicker ice cream to eat with spoon, use less milk.  For a milkshake consistency, use more.)

Throw it all in a blender!  Sometimes I also add chia and/or raw cacao nibs for some fiber.

Over the next few weeks, I will be putting together a program where I will offer online nutrition consultations and coaching.  Goal setting, nutritional principles, eating for your body type, grocery shopping, and lifestyle coaching will all be included.  I will let everyone know when this is officially available.

Please don't hesitate to leave a comment if you have a question, or you can even shoot me an email!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Challenge #3 - No Fast Food + Exercise = Happier Heart!

Despite some soreness and adjusting to adding regular exercise into your daily routine, it seems last week's challenge was another success!  I'm ready to get started with week 3 (Monday-Friday), so here it is:


This week it's time to start looking at food labels closely.  There is a major difference between good and bad fats.  Good fats, like Omega-3s for example, are vital for our bodies to function properly.  It's important to eat good fats daily (ie: avocados, nuts, olive oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and salmon to name a few).  However, trans fats can be detrimental to our health.  Companies who produce highly processed foods like to use trans fat because it makes food last longer on the shelf, and it's a taste that humans seem to really enjoy. 

Unfortunately, consumption of trans fats can cause many serious health issues:

-Increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's
-Lowering of our good cholesterol
-Excretion of bile acids suppressed
-Exaggerated deficiency of good fats in the body
-Competition for fat uptake (the good fats may not win here!)

According to Precision Nutrition, "Even a single meal with a high "bad fat" content can diminish blood vessel function and elasticity!"  Therefore, this week we will not consume one of the greatest trans fat contributors, FAST FOOD!  I'm talking about the burgers, fries, fried chicken sandwiches, etc.  You can do pretty well with a fast food meal though; it's just about what you choose.  Until this past Thursday, I had been living in a hotel with no kitchen the last two months, and Chick-Fil-A became a lunch staple for me.  That sounds bad, but I simply ordered the Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich, removed the bread, and wrapped the chicken breast in lettuce.  If you're forced to swing through a drive through this week, think about what healthy choices you can make (or ask me if you don't know!!).  BEWARE: Fast food salads can be almost as bad as a fried meal once you add the dressing.  Read the salad dressing labels carefully and always opt for olive oil and/or vinegar whenever possible!

Fast food is not the only trans fat culprit.  Many packaged cereals and cereal bars, margarine or fake butter spreads, packaged cake/pancake mixes, soups, cookies, candies, dips, toppings, frozen foods, and baked goods all contain trans fat.  Read your labels this week to identify the perpetrators in your home.  We are only focusing on fast food in our challenge, but you can try to avoid trans fat across the board.


Just like last week, if exercise isn't already part of your daily routine, I'm giving you SIX new exercises to add to your tool box.  Repeat them 3-5 times each day.  You can complete these 3-5 rounds all at once, or you can break it up throughout the day.  Feel free to mix and match with last week's routine too!  See my video for a detailed explanation of how to safely perform each exercise.  Let me know how you're feeling throughout the week!

-50 Squat Pulses
-10 Plank to Pushup (5 right, 5 left)
-30 second V-Sit
-20 Jumping Lunges (or Front Lunges or Reverse Lunges)
-15 each side Bridge with Leg Lifts
-20 Mountain Climbers

I will also be posting a warm-up and stretching video over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Challenge #2 - Water & Exercise!

Great job to everyone who participated in last week's No Sugar Challenge!  The feedback I've received is that it wasn't that bad after all!  It's amazing how many foods we ingest mindlessly that can really add up to something bad of significant proportions.  How many times in a day or a week do we eat a piece of candy, a handful of chips, a couple of fries, etc?  Chances are that if you recorded everything you put in your mouth for one week, you would be shocked.  I hope you will continue without (or with minimal) sugar Mondays-Fridays at the very least.  This challenge was intended not only to increase health by eliminating sugar, a toxic substance, from your body but also to simply make you aware of what you consume.

This week we are doing a combination diet and exercise challenge, as they are equal parts in a successful fit and healthy lifestyle! 

Part 1: Water...we all drink it (hopefully!).  But do we get enough to support our body to function at its maximum potential?  This week we do!  Given that our bodies are composed of about 60% water, this is a very important challenge.  Water serves many purposes in our bodies to sustain life:

-It brings nutrients to our cells and carries wastes away from the cells.
-It lubricates our joints.
-It protects a fetus in the womb.
-It regulates our body temperature.
-It provides minerals essential to our body function.

The list goes on and on.  By the time you feel thirst, you have already lost 1-2% of your body weight in water.  This can cause lack of mental focus, reduced endurance, and increased strain on the heart.  The consequences of water loss become more serious with each percentage lost, so it's vital that hydration stays constant, especially if you're exercising (and we are!). 

There are complicated formulas to determine how much water you need each day, but we are going to keep it simple:


You will also aim to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, as they are high water-containing foods.  You should be getting another liter of water per day from your food.  It's also important not to drink too much water, as serious consequences occur when minerals become imbalanced by the abundance of water, although I don't think any of you will be faced with this problem.

To top it off, the only beverages you will consume in this challenge are water, coffee, or tea (not sweet, and preferably the herbal kind).

PART 2: Exercise

If you're already exercising regularly, please continue what you've been doing, as long as it includes strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility training.  As we age, degeneration of the body is not simply a result of just getting older but of lifestyle choices, so it's vital to move every day!  A lot of my friends tell me that they don't really know how to strength train, so every day this week, you will do FIVE simple body weight exercises:

-10 Pushups
-20 Squats
-30 second Plank
-10 Burpees
-25 Seated Bicycles

Repeat this sequence 3-5 times.  Don't forget to warm up and stretch after!  These exercises are meant to be done at home, so there are no excuses!  We are starting off very basic and will be able to progress week by week.  Of course, you should consult a doctor before beginning any exercise program.  Please see the video below for an explanation of these exercises.

**Side note: you can also do your pushup on your knees in the burpees or plank from the knees, similar to how I describe in the initial pushup explanation.

Any questions you have about this week's diet and exercise challenge, please leave them as comments!