Category Archives: Fitness

20 Life Hacks to Move More

I was sitting on my couch shortly after the holidays, writing this list of life hacks in a note pad on my phone. I turned to my almost 4-year old son as he was playing on the floor and asked if he had any ideas for it. He replied that we should all “race around toy cars” if we want to move more. (Side note: It’s his favorite activity.) So yea, there’s that. But I’m guessing that’s not high on your agenda unless you’re a little boy or happen to have a young son of your own…

Here are some *other* ideas to help you keep your metabolism awake in between exercise sessions. I hope they help you kick off the new year on a healthy note and give you inspiration to maintain an active lifestyle outside of formal exercise time, especially since that’s where we spend most of our time.  

 

1) Keep a Local Bucket List

I love bucket lists. Most people think of travel when they think of bucket lists. Agendas for overseas adventures that seem to get longer and longer every year. But I personally adore local bucket lists! Make a list of local things you want to push yourself to do and you will be getting out and about before you know it! I like to try something new once a month. Even if sometimes this means a local brewery or something less “active,” other months it means a scenic hike or a fun exercise class across town. Either way, a person who is enthused about discovering and experimenting will be motivated to keep on the move for years to come!   

 

 

2) What Your Grocery Cart Habits Say About You

Answer this question in your head: “Am I the person who puts the grocery cart away in the cart receptacle – OR – am I the person who leaves it in the middle of the parking lot?  

This is going to sound random but I feel like grocery cart habits say a lot about a person. The way you answer that question might say a lot about your willingness (or not) to engage in basic movement and physical effort throughout the day. Consider turning into the person who walks the few extra steps to put the cart away. If you want to go the extra mile, you can grab other stray carts on your way. I routinely organize grocery carts in parking lots. Major pet peeve over here, haha. 

 

3) Don’t Waste Time Circling Parking Lots

One rule of thumb in life is to not waste time in your car doing what you can on your feet. That is all I have to say about that.

(Although when it’s raining and you’ve got multiple kids to haul in and out of the car, it’s a free pass to circle until the next day. I feel your pain.)

 

4) Grow a Green Thumb

I have a love/hate relationship with nature. I absolutely love spring blooms, mature evergreens, a manicured lawn, and tidy garden beds, but HEAVENS it takes a lot of work. The weeds in my mulch beds grow…well…like weeds. It takes a grand total of three sweaty hours every 3-5 weeks in the summer to pluck them all from the ground. I can’t stand it. I start weeding while cursing under my breath but somewhere in the midst of all the hard work I find my groove and it feels cathartic, kind of like a good workout. Same goes for watering and nurturing all 38 trees and plants we have put into the ground as a family in just 2.5 years. It’s tiresome work to weed and garden but it “keeps a girl young” and helps burn a lot more energy than you’d think. 

 

 

5) Get Physical About Property Management 

On the same note as #4, doing the manual labor around your property instead of paying someone for it will keep you honest about staying active. Anyone who owns a home on a semi-wooded property can attest to how long it takes to rake leaves just like residents of the Northeast know what it takes to keep their driveways and walkways cleared of snow in the winter. It’s a LOT of work…but it’s good for you! 

 

6) Play with Kids

Am I the only one who gets completely exhausted from a day spent shuffling the kids around town and playing with them in the living room? I mean, come on! It’s seriously tiring. By their afternoon nap time I’m a hot mess and talking myself out of having coffee because it will keep me up all night…and who can afford to stay up late when you have needy 6 am alarm clocks? Playing with children definitely burns energy and requires all kinds of movement (twisting, bending, rolling, reaching, pulling, picking up, getting kicked down and pushed off the couch, the works).

 

7) Burn Calories Cooking (that’s right!)

I do NOT believe in working to burn every calorie consumed. Exercise is NOT a punishment for eating. It’s a celebration of our health and a way to connect our bodies to our souls. All that said, a long day in the kitchen can truly burn a lot of energy. It’s kind of incredible. Ever tried hosting a dinner party for eight? Ever prepared homemade finger foods for a holiday party? Or spent all day making several dozen birthday cupcakes just right, frosting and all? Then you know how much your feet and back can ache after that effort.

But honestly, don’t cook for the sake of anything but the love of good food. Put your heart into it and enjoy! Many cultures believe the food will taste bad or have negative energy if you’re not joyful while making it. So, think back on those cute little dwarfs from Snow White and “whistle while you work.” 

 

 

8) Listen & Move

There are so many great podcasts and audio books out there these days. It’s not difficult to find them and they are usually pretty accessible (free or an affordable price). I love to put on a good audio book while folding laundry, getting ready for bed and doing chores. It motivates me to stay upbeat while I move through mundane tasks.  

 

9) Hydrate

Do you feel like getting moving when you’re tired and grumpy? Not so much. More like sit on the couch and zone out to reality tv or sports. Dehydrated adults self report higher than average levels of fatigue, anger and confusion. Even mild dehydration can impact our mood, cognitive function, and overall physical health. Do yourself a favor and carry water with you throughout the day so you can feel your best and stay engaged in an active and fulfilling life.

 

10) Treat Your Furry Friend to the Great Outdoors

Have you ever seen a dog’s entire body shake with excitement at the mention of the word “outside” or “walk?” Take poor Fido outside for some exercise and watch your pup leap with joy (literally). Enjoy the fresh air yourself, while you’re at it.

 

 

11) Eat Energizing Foods

That post-Thanksgiving dinner feeling…you know it, right? Eating too much or eating heavy foods can slow us down and crash our energy. Healthy, fibrous foods like vegetables and fruits rarely ever tank us. Lean, heart-healthy proteins like salmon and chicken also seldom make us feel like we can barely lift a limb from the couch. There’s a truth to the saying “you are what you eat.” When we eat energizing foods our bodies are given nourishment that boosts the metabolism and supports internal health, leaving us with plenty of energy to “get up and go.” If you’re struggling to fit in more movement then take a close and honest look at how you’re eating. 

 

12) Become a DIY Person

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it but the other month I made my forearm sore for a week after pressing down on a spray can for a DIY project. Our master bathtub jets were a dull yellowed color due to age and any time I walked into the room I couldn’t help but feel irritated by them. I know, I know…major first world problem here. I decided to take it upon myself to try a bright white plastic paint on them. The DIY project wasn’t very complicated yet it still took me a few hours. Holding the spray nozzle down for 20 or so minutes made my forearm seriously sore to the point that I couldn’t press down on buttons or turn knobs for days to follow. It was sort of pathetic…and sort of awesome because with all that effort I unintentionally gave my forearm the workout of a lifetime! In many cases, DIY projects require both creative and physical energy.

 

 

13) Take the Stairs

I made a commitment to myself that even though my gym is four stories tall that I would never take the elevator up and down. For the most part, I’ve stuck to that resolution – even during pregnancy! That’s right, I would trudge my big belly straight up eight flights of stairs (two per floor) to walk up to the cafe bar and breathlessly order my favorite post-workout smoothie. Walking the stairs is great for you! It trains your heart and glutes to be strong. 

Four years ago I made a similar commitment after having my first son. I decided that even in his infancy I would walk up the stairs to change his diaper at the changing table instead of doing it on the same floor. I was lucky that my delivery was uncomplicated so I could do this safely. Those early months whipped me right back into shape because I was going up and down the stairs allllllll day long. On days that I couldn’t fit in any formal exercise I knew that I was still doing plenty simply from moving around my own house. 

 

14) Actively Care for Others

Actively caring for someone can look a lot of different ways. It might be caring for an elderly family member or neighbor, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, coaching youth sports, performing acts of service for your significant other, or running errands for your children. When we’re caring for others we expend a lot of energy plus we address the needs of others in a selfless manner. If you want a thought-provoking article about the benefits of care giving you can read more.  Just don’t forget about self care. It takes a lot of energy to be caregiver and we must prioritize and refill our energy tanks too!

 

15) Keep Slip-on Shoes Handy

Keeping slip-on shoes by the door makes stepping in and out of your house or apartment much easier. It’s a simple thing we can do to make everyday decisions easier. For example, keeping slip-on shoes by the door might help you choose to walk outside to get the mail every day instead of only a few times a week. My husband rolls his eyes at me because I actually get upset if he checks the mail before I have a chance to. I’ve come to really enjoy taking a few deep breaths of fresh air on the way to and from the mailbox. It wakes me right up from my late afternoon energy slump! 

 

 

16) Organize Your Life

Organizing things is a great way to fit in more movement. Not only will you be bending, lifting and carrying but you will be clearing space for what’s important! A friend started her own home organizing business last year here in Richmond and she laughed one day that she “always sounds out of breath” in her video reveals of clients’ spaces following her services. I told her that it makes sense that she is out of breath – organizing requires a TON of energy! Which might be why so many people choose to use her!  

 

17) Make Things Inconvenient

Remember I mentioned taking the stairs to change diapers? Nothing screams inconvenient like that! But I must confess that for my second child I put a diaper caddy downstairs because going up and down the stairs all day while supervising two kids wasn’t feasible. But diapering aside, my husband and I currently make our recycling inconvenient. It would be much faster to toss recyclable items into a bin inside our kitchen but we opt to walk them out to the larger bin in the garage each time. It seems like literally every time we’ve taken a few things out there is something new that needs go. Suffice to say, it helps us get in our steps!

 

18) Shop

Online shopping sure is easy but it doesn’t get us moving, does it? Sometimes it’s refreshing to get out the old-fashioned way and shop on foot! Make a nice afternoon of it and pick an outdoor shopping strip or city street with a cafe or lunch spot that you’ve been wanting to visit.

 

 

19) Rest

Despite the fact that we aren’t moving when we are resting, it’s an essential ingredient for an active lifestyle. The two [rest and exercise] reinforce one another quite nicely. Daily exercise helps us get restorative sleep at night and adequate rest helps us feel energized enough to exercise. Some combination of sleep, rest, relaxation and restoration is crucial if we want the necessary fuel to stay active.

 

20 ) Find something you enjoy

Finding a hobby or exercise class that you enjoy is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. This sounds like a no-brainer yet so many people commit to things they feel they “should do” instead of what they actually want to do. It’s time to stop thinking about what kind of exercise class you’ve been told you “should do,” and start asking yourself which type you will enjoy the most. Trust the answer you come up with and go for it. If you hate every minute of exercise or movement then it will never serve you well. So, forget about “the rules” and just have some fun. Do it for you!

 

Cheers to a healthy year!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Benefits (and drawbacks) of Soul Cycle, Body Pump and Barre

 

 

Benefits of Group Exercises Classes

Group exercise classes are truly one of the fitness industry’s great gifts. They’re energetic and uplifting, not to mention an efficient use of time. Many gyms offer these classes for free with a monthly membership while other “boutique” studios offer options for people who don’t belong to big box gyms (think Pure Barre, Soul Cycle, OrangeTheory, SolidCore, etc.). Classes are a great way to stay in shape and ride the energy provided by the participants and instructor.

Common Challenges in Group Exercise Classes

There are drawbacks in group fitness too. Some instructors lack experience even though they outwardly appear to know what they are doing. This can lead to low quality coaching for participants. It can also be difficult to keep pace with group classes when you’re a newbie, sometimes making the exercises physically precarious and mentally intimidating. Overall, the benefits and drawbacks vary according to the studio/gym, instructor and format.

Three group exercise formats in particular have proven the test of time and have mostly positive participant experience; Soul Cycle, Body Pump and Barre. They are so popular that they have “cult followings” of people willing to pay top dollar to participate and attend class several times a week. It’s easy to get swept away in the results and excitement of these wonderful programs! But just as every class holds promise for results, each also has the capacity to wear down participants.

Let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks of each of these popular classes so that you can stay keenly aware of how to care for yourself when/if you participate.

 

 

Soul Cycle

I can still remember people in the fitness industry whispering about the increasingly popular Soul Cycle studio up in NYC. I was working in DC when Soul Cycle was just getting started up there and no one could believe the concept. Free weights on a bike? Candlelight during an energizing cycle class? And people are paying WHAT for it? It’s fairly ironic that Soul Cycle opened up in DC right across the street from the sports club that I worked at during my 20s. No one thought it could ever expand and transform the landscape of boutique fitness offerings in the way that it did.

Soul Cycle is incredibly fun and helps participants burn a lot of energy in a short period of time. It involves an engaging, full-body workout on the bike using upper body exercise equipment while pedaling away to loud music. It’s great to knock out exercising both the upper and lower body at the same time but when we step back from the excitement and think about it hard, we have to ask ourselves: Was the bike designed to be used for upper body exercise? Short answer: No.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with getting creative with exercise equipment. Switching things up can keep workouts fun and fresh. But when we use equipment in ways that it wasn’t designed to be used, contraindications can arise. In Soul Cycle, participants are at risk for low quality upper body movement because of the challenge engaging the core for stability without compromising the lower back. At best, the free weight workout will build a little bit of upper body endurance while helping people burn more energy on the bike. My professional preference remains keeping my hands on the handlebars and better utilizing the bike itself for energy burn (longer hills, interval work, heavier resistance, speed drills, in/out of saddle drills, etc.), but that’s just me.

Upper body exercises aside, Soul Cycle and many other cycle studios spend a lot of time out of the saddle (i.e. hovering above the seat). People tire very quickly in this position and tend to lose form, allowing their hips to drift forward in front of the seat. This creates a more upright posture and undue pressure on the knee joints. In a perfect world, instructors will correct form but more often than not, it goes unchecked.

Solution:

Enjoy Soul Cycle and pedal your heart out! Just remember to properly engage your core and do slower and heavier upper body exercises at another time too. And don’t forget – keep your rear in OR above the seat at all times!

 

 

Body Pump

Next year will be the 30th year of Body Pump’s existence in the fitness realm. It was developed by a man named Phillip Mills and his wife Jackie, a doctor and former gymnast. Phillip was inspired by his father Les Mills who was a former Olympian. Phillip created the Body Pump class and checked all the boxes for what can make a successful group fitness experience. For this reason, many big box gyms train instructors to teach Body Pump for their class offerings.

Body Pump is a full-body workout and it consists of the same exercises every class, with some variations here and there. There is a lot of technique instruction for squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, push-ups, rows and chest presses, to name a few. Each exercise is set to a song so there is plenty of time to focus on each move. The class creates an environment where dedicated participants get to master the moves and watch their progress improve as they place heavier plates on their bars.

Although Phillip created an amazing class, it does have its challenges too. In practice, a newbie walking into Body Pump can get easily overwhelmed if they rack their bar with heavier plates than they can handle. Many people feel peer pressure from the quick tempo of the regular participants and won’t stop to adjust their weights to what they can safely do. This creates a major injury risk for people doing several minutes straight of a single exercise without any breaks! It’s also challenging to get the full range of motion for the exercises in class due to the fast tempo. This can make some movements ballistic and contraindicated.

The endurance nature of the weight lifting in Body Pump isn’t for everyone, especially people who like to lift heavy and have rest intervals. A lot of people also mistakenly assume that Body Pump is strength training but it’s not…at least not according to the true definition of what strength training is: 10 or fewer reps until muscle failure. So while it will create definition and muscular endurance, it doesn’t create “strength” according to classic standards.

Solution:

Body Pump away! But remember to slow down and/or adjust the weights to your needs, even if this means pausing mid-class or setting your own speed to stay safe. Also, it’s a good idea to hit the gym for some heavier and slower weight lifting exercises from time to time. You will find that your technical foundation from Body Pump along with your improved endurance will make for success on the gym floor! 

 

 

Barre

Barre is a ballet-inspired format that utilizes – go figure – the bar! I’m guessing this isn’t news to you though. Barre tends to be a popular option for women, particularly those who have a dance or gymnastics background or who don’t love weight machines and classes focused on lifting. Barre classes can vary greatly depending on the studio and instructor but they typically involve time spent working the core and hips at the bar, and a free weights portion to incorporate more upper body exercises. Each class incorporates stretching intermittently through class or at the end.

Barre is a great way to challenge the glutes and lower body muscles. Rapid pulsing movements are used to get a solid burn in muscles being worked. The burn comes from the exercises being fast and endurance in nature, and also from focus on the “transition zone” of the muscle. This zone is where the muscle goes from shortening to lengthening. Exercising in it can cause muscles to be very sore  and can result in positive neuromuscular adaptations.

While the transition zone is a great sweet spot for exercises, it’s difficult not to become ballistic with moves in it. A good barre instructor will be quick to catch participants who are getting ballistic but unfortunately in many cases participants start to put work that belongs in the abdominal muscles into the lower back. Additionally, some barre classes instruct participants to keep a “C” curve in the core, which can actually heighten risk for the lower back because it’s being stretched for long periods of time before being worked in rapid contracting movements again.

Solution:

Be a Barre babe, if that’s what you want! Just remember that every studio and instructor varies on form critique and safety. So, if an exercise feels uncomfortable in any part of your core (and I’m not talking tired or burning because there IS a difference) then flag down the instructor and ask how you can do the exercise better or differently. Low back injuries are no joke. Don’t flirt around with them!

 


Conclusion:

Every group exercise class comes with inherent risks. It’s up to *you* to be proactive about your safety and health. Don’t hesitate to be brave and advocate for your own health by asking instructors for help or modifying for your individual needs. The world of group exercise classes should feel wide open for you to choose what you enjoy!

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home

Very pleased to introduce a blogosphere friend from the South Pacific today – meet Harper! She is from Auckland, New Zealand and is sharing her insights on how to create a zen at-home yoga and/or meditation space. Namaste! 

 

 

How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home

One of the great things about yoga is that you do not need much space in which to practice. That means that even in a small home you can create a special area that is exclusively designed to please you and to provide an ideal setting for meditation and yoga.

Here are some tips for creating your perfect yoga space at home:

 

  1. Where to create your home yoga space

If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate, creating an inviting outside space is ideal. Ensure the ground is firm and level in the outdoor space you choose, as this is vital to being able to perform your asanas correctly. If you do not have an outside space available, try to find somewhere within your home that has plenty of natural light and good ventilation. Alternatively, if you have the room, you can create a fantastic yoga area at home from an empty shipping container. These are perfectly suited for creating a hermetic environment where you will not be distracted by the outside environment. If you can place it in your garden and open up one side, you can create a perfectly peaceful and relaxing place to practice yoga. Whatever space you choose, make sure that family members will respect your privacy and the intimacy of this special place.

 

  1. Why have a designated yoga area at home?

Creating a designated yoga space will help you to maintain regular practice sessions. It means you won’t need to head out to the yoga studio or to have to rearrange the furniture to spread out your mat. Whether you convert the spare bedroom, create a whole new room, or just designate a corner in an existing room, having a dedicated yoga space lets you create an atmosphere of peace where everything you need to use is at hand to make the best use of your time for yoga practice. Also, practicing daily in the same space can increase your awareness by making you more conscious of subtle changes in your environment and in your own body and mind.

 

 

  1. Declutter

First, in whichever space you choose, remove everything that is not essential to practicing yoga or that is not beautifully inspiring. Getting rid of unnecessary distractions will allow you to be able to concentrate on your meditations and asanas.

 

  1. Color

If you are going to repaint, choose calm, muted colors and use non-toxic, eco-friendly paint. Pale blues and greens or warm tones of white that recede rather than call your attention, are ideal for creating a relaxing and calming environment.

 

  1. Decorations

Keep them minimal but inspirational. A plant or two, a handcrafted wall hanging, a dream catcher, a statue of Buddha. Only include items that you personally find exceptionally beautiful and pleasing to raise your spirit and to center your attention.

 

 

  1. Lighting

Natural light is best – but hang lightweight curtains so that you can control the level of light that enters. Dimmer switches are essential, and discreet soft lighting that can be changed to match your mood is ideal.

 

  1. Essentials

Make sure all the things you need for your yoga routine are easily accessible such as yoga mats and towels, or bolsters and meditation pillows. A strap, blocks, and a yoga sandbag can also be useful.

 

  1. Accessories

Scented candles, aromatic oil burners and incense are good accessories to create special atmospheres in your home yoga space. Our sense of smell greatly affects our mood and choosing different aromas can influence both your mood and your state of animation.

 

 

A little more about our guest writer:

Harper is a creative writer and adventurer who is fond of anything related to fitness, design, and travel. When she isn’t busy freelance writing, you’ll find her buried in classic novels or meeting up with friends in a neighbourhood café. Be sure come to say hi on her blog.

 

Happy Yoga-ing!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Forget About Weight Loss

This year, I want to encourage my readers to forget about weight loss. That’s right, just rid it from your line of thinking. There are so many other goals that can positively impact your wellness and, ironically, can take weight off effortlessly. These “other” goals propel us in the right direction for our holistic health and release us from the mental stress of focusing on the scale.

 

I recently shared my thoughts with HealthiNation for its article:

6 New Year’s Resolutions That Have Nothing to Do with Weight Loss

 

If you’d like to check out my favorite “anti weight loss” new year’s resolution then scroll to tip #5. That’s me. And, just for fun, you can watch the accompanying video for a quick, visual summary of the article. My tip [#5] includes entertaining visuals of a puppy, Obama and Ariel (yes, the little mermaid). Hope you get a good chuckle like I did!

 

Here’s to your health and well being this year and always!

Maggie

 

Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

Did you know that the #1 reason people take sick leave is due to chronic low back pain? Well, exercise has been proven to reduce sick leave for these individuals. Water aerobics also reduces sick leave for pregnant women dealing with low back pain. Exercise programs combining both high and low intensity activities have been proven effective for cancer patients going through chemo too. It helps these patients “prevent and/or minimize physical inactivity, fatigue, muscle wasting and energy loss.” Amazing!

But what about exercise during a head cold or following a stomach virus? Should we exercise when we start to feel sick or stay home and rest? And how soon following an illness should we try to get back in the saddle with our exercise routine? How quickly do we lose fitness when we’re inactive? Let’s discuss both scientific findings and common sense…

 

 

The Impact of Regular Exercise on the Immune System

Research on exercise immunology shows that there are positive adaptations in the immune system with moderate physical activity. For those who routinely exercise in moderation this results in overall fewer sick days, including fewer common colds and upper respiratory infections; however, more exercise is not always better for boosting immune function. There’s an upper threshold that most people’s bodies will tolerate.

Studies show that heavy exertion lasting longer than 90 minutes can have negative impacts on the immune system for the next 3 to 72 hours, meaning an individual is more susceptible to viruses and bacteria while recovering from intense exercise and over training.

 

General Recommendations for Exercise During Sickness

“In general, if symptoms are from the neck up, moderate exercise is probably acceptable (and some researchers would argue even beneficial) when an athlete is sick, whereas bed rest and a gradual progression to normal training are recommended when the illness is systemic.”

*If you’re looking to get rid of a head cold check out my former post: Quick Tips to Kick a Cold

 

The Grey Area of Exercising While Sick

Although general recommendations are helpful, they’re just that – general. Not specific to your unique situation and how your body handles illness. For me, a head cold is almost always improved with some light to moderate exercise. My husband is a different story though. I try to refrain from judgement. If he feels a cold or sickness coming on and tries to exercise he’s almost always achy and more sick feeling later that day, So, it’s important to do some trial and error with exercise and your health through the years to learn how your own body responds to things.

Let’s talk through some common sense approaches for figuring out whether you should exercise or not when you’re feeling sick…

 

 

Ask Yourself These Questions When You’re Ill

What kind of sickness am I fighting?

How tired and rundown do I feel at this moment?

How often do I typically exercise?

How do I feel after exercise when I have this kind of illness?

 

Give Exercise a Try If…

  • Your illness is “above the neck” – meaning a common cold or mild sinus infection
  • You don’t feel overly winded walking up and down the stairs
  • You’re getting good sleep at night
  • You feel that you can go to the gym and keep germs from spreading (i.e., washing hands, wiping down equipment, covering coughs/sneezes, etc.)
  • You have a normal appetite and are well hydrated
  • Exercise tends to energize you
  • You’re currently in a regular exercise routine and know how to modify its intensity

 

Types of Exercises to Ease in With

  • Your regular routine with more rest following exercise days
  • Your regular routine but lower in intensity (i.e. lighter weights, longer rest intervals between sets, shorter total workout time, etc)
  • Restorative or gentle yoga
  • Walking or light jogging
  • Low-impact cardio for 30 minutes or less
  • Light to moderate weight lifting
  • Dancing or aerobics class
  • Swimming
  • Biking

 

 

Hold off on Exercise If…

  • You’re contagious with a stomach virus or the flu (wait at least 48 hours after extreme vomiting and/or diarrhea before trying light exercise)
  • The virus or bacteria is systemic (i.e. impacting your lungs and oxygen transport)
  • The infection or illness has you feeling extremely fatigued and incapable of performing your normal daily tasks
  • You’re dehydrated
  • You’re unable to eat a normal diet
  • Exercise makes you feel worse, even after a light routine
  • You’re highly contagious and/or unable to control the spread of your germs

 

How Quickly Will I Lose Results if I *Don’t* Exercise?

A week or two off from the gym won’t do any major damage to your fitness results but you will probably feel more fatigued getting back into the groove for the first couple workouts before quickly resuming your former levels of strength and endurance. Generally speaking, cardiovascular capacity will begin to decline more significantly after two weeks and you may lose some muscle mass after three weeks of not doing any strength training.

As with anything, consistency is key so two weeks off from the gym will have a much different impact on someone who only works out once or twice a week versus someone who works out daily. Think of it this way: The person who is less active doesn’t have as much to hang onto for their fitness so will decline in fitness more rapidly. The person who is more active has stronger cardiovascular function and more muscle mass so will potentially have an easier time regaining ground in their workouts.

 

 

*Stay well this season and make positive, proactive decisions for your health. Cheers!*

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistakes to Avoid in the Gym

You’d think that January is the busiest time of year in the gym but I’ve found that it’s the fall. Approximately two weeks after Labor Day, to be exact. That’s when the momentum rises and gyms get packed. Everyone’s eager to kick-start the school year with a bang, tackle their fitness goals before the holidays, and shake the lazy feeling of summer. To help ensure you make the most of this season (or any, for that matter), I’m here to offer up some professional suggestions for mistakes to avoid in the gym. No one likes to look foolish…or get hurt!

 

 

Lack of Awareness of One’s Surroundings

The most surefire way to get injured in the gym is to be a space cadet and walk around in a daze. Heavy metal is being hoisted and dropped, people – pay attention!  I know this sounds so “duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many people walk directly into the path of someone who is doing reps. For example, I’ve had people saunter right into the space where I’m doing lunges, kettlebell swings, leg lifts and more, all while I’m exercising and at risk for hitting them! Most recently, I had a personal trainer and her client step directly into where I was working out. It was a major “for shame” moment in my book. She’s supposed to protect her client! 

 

Avoiding the Free Weights

It’s easy to get stuck in our comfort zones, especially if that’s on a piece of cardio equipment. But it’s of the utmost importance for our bodies that we move them functionally. That means putting your feet directly on the ground and moving! Free weights are a great add-on for functional exercises because they take up the intensity and allow you to get your upper body and core more activated. Full body workout in less time. What’s not to like?

 

 

Forgetting to Wipe and Wash

I’m a crazy person about personal hygiene in gyms. (I’ve seen people sneeze into their hands and then continue using equipment…gross.) Even in the most state-of-the-art facilities with full-time housekeeping staff there just isn’t any way to clean as quickly as equipment gets contaminated with microscopic germs. So, not only is it important to wipe off the equipment that you’ve used after you’re done, but it’s also imperative to wash and/or sanitize your hands upon leaving. If you want to go to the next level of paranoid (ahem, which I do), then switch out the water bottle or container you’ve used while working out with one that’s clean and use a phone-friendly cleaner or sanitary cloth to gently wipe down your phone since chances are that you were using it during your workout.

 

Improper Use of Momentum

Momentum is one of those things that’s tempting to rely on when working out but that ultimately takes away from pure strength. If you’re doing a plyometric or power workout then sure – use momentum per your training. But if we’re talking about gym equipment like lat pull downs and leg presses then it’s a different story. People using momentum to power through these exercises aren’t demonstrating proper control over the weight being lifted and are more prone to getting injured in addition to getting less bang for the buck for their muscular strength. It’s my personal theory that this is the issue at the core of many CrossFit injuries [over-reliance on momentum].  

 

 

Not sharing equipment

Remember the personal trainer I mentioned who dangerously stepped into my workout space with her client? Yea, I’m not done with her. She could have properly communicated with me and asked me to share the open/free space, to which I should agree. Alas, she made two mistakes; putting her client in physical harm’s way and not following one of the unspoken rules of the gym (taking turns between sets). It’s important to acknowledge that just because you have three sets to do on a shoulder press machine does not mean that it’s yours until you’re done. Gym etiquette 101 is to let people “work in” on machines. Aka preschool manners 101: SHARING IS GOOD!

 

Sticking to the Same Equipment

Changing up your routine is important for growth and accelerating results. If you’re a free weight person then try switching things up and seeing if one day a week of treadmill sprint intervals feels good. Or, you could change your workout game from 10-12 reps per set with free weights to working towards 3-5 rep max sets with heavier weights on machines where you’re stable and less likely to get injured. If you’re a cardio person then please, see the section above; “Avoiding the Free Weights.” Change is your friend.

 

Rounded Posture on Cardio Equipment

We’ve all seen it – those people slumping forward on cardio equipment, expressions of strain as though they’re working extra hard by leaning on the handrails. But that’s simply not the case. In the majority of these situations a person is working less hard, burning fewer calories, and hurting their necks and backs in the process. So, don’t be tempted to mimic this foolish posture. There’s not much good that can come of it.

 

 

Holding Your Breath

Holding your breath can be dangerous. Period. Especially if you’re doing an overhead maneuver or working at a hard pace. It may cause you to become dizzy! Nausea and lightheaded issues aside, holding your breath should be reserved for underwater swimming and athletes who have been properly trained in how to do this for power lifting maneuvers. The rest of us need the exhale breath to help get through the “sticking point” of an exercise and to help us engage our core. We need the inhale breath for…you know…oxygen.

 

Skimping on Core

It’s easy for a lot of people to skip out on core work or to hastily add it in at the end of a workout. But skimping on core work can hurt you in a number of ways. For example, did you know that runners who are prone to plantar fasciitis often have very weak cores? Did you know that a strong core can help you reduce back discomfort while also making you look taller and leaner? There are so many benefits that come with keeping our body’s center stable and strong. Finding creative ways to add core exercises into the beginning, middle and end of your routine will always be worth it.

 

 

Skipping a Warm-up

Please don’t give warm-ups the short end of the stick. They are an integral part of the workout, just as much as the “meat and potatoes” are your exercises. In fact, think of a warm-up kind of like the time when the meat and potatoes get warm and cooked so that they’re ready for you to eat! Weird analogy? I digress. The times when people are most tempted to skip the warm-up are when they’re pressed for time or running late, but even 3-5 minutes of limbering exercises and dynamic stretching is better than none.

 

Releasing too Quickly Through Eccentric Phase

The eccentric phase of a workout is when the muscle is lengthening. And it’s often rushed even though it has a lot of potential to benefit your strength gains when it’s approached with just as much attention as the shortening phase of the exercise. For example, many people take their time pressing dumbbells over their heads for a shoulder press but then allow them to quickly drop back down to shoulder level. Taking your time for both parts of the exercise is important for optimal strength and muscle building. The best way to ensure you’re doing this is simply to pay attention to what you’re doing and take your time in every part of the movement.

 

Happy Fall Y’all! 🙂

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Exercise Tips for the Flat-Footed

This may seem like a strange topic, especially if you aren’t sure whether or not you’re flat-footed. Unfortunately, statistics point to there being a strong chance that you fall into the flat-footed crowd, also called individuals who “overpronate.” Running Warehouse claims that between 50-60% of people overpronate and 20-30% do so severely. So forgive me for nerding out on you today…this science is important.

 

Pronation (also called eversion) is a desirable movement of the foot as it strikes the ground. The foot’s arch “collapses” in a controlled manner towards the ground and helps the body absorb shock and send the force up through the muscles of the body. This is an integral part of anyone’s gait cycle in both walking and running.

When someone overpronates their foot’s arch flattens excessively and their tibia (lower leg bone) is driven into unnecessary rotation that leads to torque on the knee, stress on the hips, poor utilization of the gluteal muscles and more (see diagram below). There’s a classic chain of muscular compensations that occur up through the body in response to overpronation. Unfortunately, this places excessive stress on the joints and causes some muscles to be overly tight and others to be inappropriately weak. Hence, overpronators are highly susceptible to running injuries, the formation of bunions, medial ankle sprains, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, MCL and meniscus tears, hamstring and hip flexor tightness, IT-band syndrome, lower back pain and more.

 

Image Source: http://healthlifemedia.com/healthy/what-foot-ankle-over-or-underpronation/

(Note: This is a basic diagram for a complex foot movement and does not accurately reflect what’s happening at the forefoot in addition to rearfoot.)

 

Traditional remedies for overpronation include getting custom orthotics, wearing supportive athletic shoes and kinesio taping of the foot to control pronation. These are all great and generally effective but I notice that they don’t solve the issue entirely. A lot of regaining comfort and function in the body comes down to awareness of how to intentionally correct misalignments and gait patterns, and how to appropriately strengthen and release muscles that are negatively impacted by this pattern.

I’ve taken people in their 60s and 70s and helped them correct overpronation simply by focusing on how they walk – and I’ve got to say, I feel confident that these corrections are going to keep them walking longer and without the use of aids like a cane. I’ve helped strengthen weakened muscles in young athletes who are overpronators and seen them take their performance to the next level – qualifying for the Boston marathon, passing military physical assessments with flying colors, and entering athletic competitions free of injuries for the first time in seasons. This stuff is powerful. It can mean the difference between daily comfort and function or pain and diminished performance.

 

Read on for how to correct overpronation and strengthen/stretch affected muscles in the body.

 

 

Gait Control

It’s very common for people who overpronate to walk with their feet “pigeon-toed” out, almost like a dancer in plie (though not quite so dramatic). Some people are only flat-footed/overpronators on one foot and thus, one foot finds a way to turn out while walking, running and even standing still. The problem with this is the asymmetry it creates throughout the whole body, leading to the aforementioned cascade of injuries, aches and pains. The nice thing is that it’s quite easy to correct for this turning out of the foot through active awareness. In other words, watch your feet while you move throughout your day and/or workout and make sure that both toes are pointing straight so that the feet are both in a neutral stance. You’ll be shocked at how unnatural it feels to walk with both feet straight at first but with some increased awareness and effort over time, this can do wonders for injury prevention and balanced strength.

(Fun fact – I’ve helped fix shoulder pain by teaching someone how to walk without turning out the feet. That’s how connected the muscles in our bodies are – that an issue at the foot can affect all the way up to the shoulder and neck!)

 

Go Barefoot

Walking and exercising barefoot (when safe and sanitary) can actually help overpronators. That’s because it forces people to avoid a heavy heel strike, which is something many flat-footed folks do without realizing it. You see, there’s not much soft cushioning in our heels but we can’t feel how much discomfort this causes when we wear heavy running shoes. By ditching the sneakers we can suddenly acknowledge that striking the ground heavy with our heels doesn’t feel so great. We naturally adjust our foot strike so that ground force is absorbed through the arch (which was “built” for just this purpose) and the muscles of the foot and leg.

Note: If a physical therapist determines that you have a bony alignment problem in your foot then going barefoot won’t help anything. So if barefoot work feels like it’s worsening the problem then go see a professional to get an accurate diagnosis.

 

 

Lace Up Those Shoes

This tip is pretty straightforward. To help correct overpronation you can lace your shoes all the way to the top eyelet and make sure the fit is snug. Many shoes come out of the box without being laced all the way to the top because it’s easier to try them on this way but don’t be afraid to lace farther up. You may decide you need to swap the shoe laces for a longer pair or you can try a few workouts with the current laces and tug on them to help them stretch out (which most do).

 

Roll Out the Foot & Lower Leg

Foam rolling or using a firm tennis or lacrosse ball can be very useful in helping tight muscles release. The flat-footed crowd is notorious for tight calf muscles and for shin splints, so applying gentle pressure (pressing upwards – not downwards – to avoid varicose veins) will help release fascial tissue and prevent/help heal shin splints. I also recommend rolling out the arches because as someone works to correct overpronation they are strengthening through the arch and causing new tightness that we want to be sure doesn’t become plantar fasciitis (again, this is all assuming the pronation isn’t caused by a mechanical/bony alignment issue that can’t be corrected via exercise).

 

Roll Out IT Band

Foam rolling the IT band in a combination of long and short/pinpointed strokes (like near the top of the hip) can help release this long band of fascial tissue. When the IT band is tight (which it often is due to the excessive rotation that’s happening with overpronation) then the knee is placed under undue stress and the glutes can’t function optimally. It’s common for foam rolling to be very uncomfortable due to extreme tightness of the IT band so it may help to start by having someone else move the roller up and down the sides of your legs while applying the amount of pressure you can handle.

 

Calf Raises

Although the calf muscles are generally tight for overpronators, they are often tight due to weakness, not strength. In my professional opinion, it’s important to work on calf raises and other exercises (such as practicing running on the balls of the feet while sprinting) to increase strength and thereby decrease tightness associated with weak muscles. It’s kind of a paradox, I know. But this is how muscles work – they can be tight from being over-utilized OR underutilized. *Pause for confused head scratch.* 

 

 

Balance Exercises

Something that’s highly interesting to the exercise science nerds in the world (ahem, like myself) is that overpronators overuse their big and second toes for balance instead of all the toes. While it’s true that the big toe’s primary role is to aid in balance, it’s detrimental to muscular balance to only or heavily rely on that for balance aid and “pushing off” the ground while walking and running. So, exercises focusing on using all the toes evenly for balance is a great start for strengthening neglected body parts.

 

Strengthen Quads (& VMO)

Many flat-footed individuals run with a tiny bit more flexion in their knees than their counterparts. Often there is also medial stress added to the knee thanks to the excessive rotation happening in the lower leg that drives rotation of the upper leg (femur). Thus, it’s important to strengthen the quads through isolated quad extensions and other functional movements such as squats and lunges. To help correct the medial knee stress, strengthen the most medial compartment of your quads (the vastus medialus oblique – VMO) by doing quad extensions with the feet turned out. This targets that medial muscle and allows it to activate. You can even try pulsing up and down gently to get this muscle to burn – which in this case, will be a very positive thing for your body.

 

 

Stretch Hamstrings and Hip Flexors

Tight hamstrings and hip flexors are routinely the result of glute (aka booty) muscles that aren’t working at full steam. Holding 60-120 second stretches will help release these tight muscles and any associated pressure they’ve created on the lower back and glutes. These long sustained stretches should be done at the end of a workout but you can do shorter stretches of 15 seconds or less to help them limber before a workout.

 

Glute Med Exercises

Think clam shells, side lunges and side lying leg lift series from Pilates. These exercises will help strengthen the “outer thigh” muscles located at the top and side of your legs. This area is a part of your glute muscle group and it helps decelerate rotation of the leg when walking and running. As mentioned, with overpronation there is excessive rotation and thus, these muscles are often stretched out and weak. When they’re strong we can better control overpronation and also decrease IT band tightness. Woo! 

 

 

Glute Max Exercises

The powerhouse muscle in the body (aka booty muscle) needs to be strong and in control at all times. The musculoskeletal system’s chain of command gets thrown off for the flat-footed crew so it’s important to place strength back where it belongs. Exercises can include hip bridges (see above pic with the modification of adding a leg lift – which makes it harder), squats, lunges, plie squats, side lunges, leg press, hip extensions, dead lifts, single leg dead lifts, incline work on cardio machines, and more. Don’t forget to do these with the toes pointing straight – not turned out!

 

Back Extensions

Last but not least, maintaining flexibility and strength in the lower back is important for preventing lower back pain that may result from excessive strain and ground-force impact associated with flat-footedness. Try back extension exercises on the mat such as supermans, roman chair back exercises, yoga extensions and chest openers, and more.

 

Cheers to moving better and feeling great!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie