Tag Archives: Fitness

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

 

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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

 

 

 

 

Europe’s Eco-friendly Fitness Phenomenon

If your workouts are feeling stale or you’re in need of something to shake up the end of the season, might I suggest the latest exercise phenomenon spreading overseas? It’s a great way to stay active AND do right by Mother Nature. Curious? The workout is called plogging.

That’s right, I said plogging.

(Sounds kind of like jogging, doesn’t it?)

What on earth is plogging?!?

 

 

If you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about then your time has come. You’ve gotta check out this eco-friendly form of exercise that involves exercise and recycling. Here are my thoughts and safety tips for plogging shared with the Aaptiv team (link below). Aaptiv is a workout app that connects you with trainers who guide you through music-led workouts. (Think Peloton for yoga, running, boxing, weight loss and more!)

 

The inside scoop on plogging:

Plogging Is the Latest Workout Trend to

Benefit You and the Earth

 

PS – Here’s a fun, not-so-fun fact: Cigarette butts are the #1 littered item. (Ew.) And it can take up to 10 years for the plastics in cigarettes to degrade. So think about that before you flick yours to the ground. Or better yet, don’t light up at all. Cool. Thanks. 

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

8 Bad Health Habits I’ve Had to Shake

No one’s perfect and health professionals are no different – I’m certainly not perfect! Far from it. But through the years I’ve awakened to my bad health habits and have refined them through trial and error. In the spirit of keeping things real, here are the habits I’ve had to shake. Maybe they’ll make you feel less guilty for having a few of your own. 

 

 

To Do Lists

Alas, I’m ashamed to admit that my obsession with daily “To Do Lists” wasn’t given a firm kick in the pants until I became a mom. I’m not saying it’s bad to have daily goals and lists but what I would do is obsess over every last detail, staying up way too late to ensure every single little thing was checked off my list. I would run errands even though I was dizzy with fatigue. I would wake up in the middle of the night running through the things I needed to get done the next day. I’m telling ya: CRAY CRAY. Yet I’m astonished at how common this behavior is. 

When my son was born, I was due for a startling realization: I can’t do it all. There were lots of tears. I slowly relinquished control and loosened my grip on life’s minute details. As a result, I can now complete a mere fraction of my lofty “To Do” lists without freaking out. I can officially handle living “imperfectly.” I put my sanity over my task lists. (It feels good.) 

 

Overeating

I never thought that I overate until it hit me like a brick wall one day. I was fresh out of college and working to earn a commission-based living at the height of the recession. I was sitting in a side chair in my dining room stuffing my face with handfuls from a bag of Chex Mix even though I wasn’t hungry. I realized in that moment that I was emotionally eating and that it wasn’t all that different from overeating at dinnertime and finding it soothing.

I was able to “get away” with eating a lot while growing up (probably thanks to having a teenager’s metabolism and playing lots of sports). Even as a kid I didn’t feel like dinner was over until I was overstuffed. I ignorantly equated that overstuffed feeling to being full, even though it was overeating. Fast-forward to my 20s, when I got stressed about the responsibilities of the real world, and I craved to have that familiar feeling of fullness from my childhood. As though it made me feel more centered in life’s whirlwind. But I was wrong. I soon discovered that when I stopped overeating and started eating more intuitively that I had loads more energy and far less inflammation in my body.

 

 

Veggies, What Veggies?

I always ate veggies growing up (thanks mom!) but in college it was all too easy to forget about them. And then life as a recent graduate was a lot of buying veggies with the intention of cooking them before ultimately tossing them in the trash after they spoiled. It took me a solid few years to slowly integrate veggies into every lunch and dinner, but I soon found that it was worth the effort (and pretty darn yummy). Filling up my plate most lunches and dinners with a solid heap of veggies keeps me full for longer, doesn’t over-stuff me, and packs in nutrients that energize me and keep my immune system trucking along. I strongly encourage everyone out there to get creative with veggies and find options they can stay motivated to eat and enjoy on a regular basis.

 

No Time to Snooze

I’ve always valued sleep. Even my former college roommates can attest to this. And so can my husband. I’m pretty grumpy and blah without it. Even armed with this knowledge, I tried to convince myself that I could get by on 7 hours of sleep a night; 7-9 hours is the healthy range so I should be good on 7, right? One would think…but my body disagreed.

I spent a few years getting between 6-7.5 hours of sleep most nights and it just about killed me. I’ve never had a more bleary-eyed, exhausted, mentally unstable period of my life. When I finally respected my body’s screams for more rest, everything fell into order. I felt WAY better and acted like a human again. I’m officially an 8-hour girl. And 9 feels like a slice of heaven.

 

 

‘Twas a Nail Biter 

After my Junior year in college I traveled to Sedona, AZ for the summer to work as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at Mii Amo Spa. (Sedona is known for its positive energy and healing qualities.) When I ended the summer there, I noticed with surprise that I hadn’t bitten my nails all summer, something I had done my entire life! It made me realize that I would bite my nails out of nervous anxiety over nothing in particular, and that the habit never made me feel better – only served to kind of reinforce the stress. So, I don’t bite them anymore. Yay! Small victories are everything. 

 

Sit Up Straight

Mom – this one’s for you! Remember how you always told me to sit up straight as girl? “Don’t slouch!” was the exact wording, I believe. Well, you were right. Sitting and standing with better posture helps my whole body feel better. And I’ve noticed that slouching doesn’t just happen during the daytime – it happens at night, too! I notice that I feel better when I sleep straight instead of tucked into a ball. Give it a try!

 

 

Color Me Cardio

Once upon a time I was the cardio exercise queen. It was my mojo. I did cardio all the time. And I loved it. But to be honest, only doing cardio was kiiiinda a bad habit. It might not sound like it initially but constant endurance exercise can deplete your muscle mass and make certain parts of your body weaker. When I first became a personal trainer I had to adjust my mentality. I couldn’t only do cardio and coach other people to lift weights, could I? I had to start cross-training and weight training more regularly and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy at first. I can still remember the day when foam rolling felt difficult because I lacked upper body strength. I can still remember feeling like planks must be the devil’s favorite form of torture. And I can still remember the time when doing anything other than cardio felt forced. But that all slowly changed in an epic way. I’m pretty darn strong now and I love doing a huge variety of exercises. So, it’s okay if getting started with cross-training or weights feels like a chore. You may feel differently one day. Stick to it.

 

Sunday Fun Day 

This phrase is so common that it’s even a little sticker for Instagram stories! There’s something to be said about taking one day a week to truly relax – and I mean no chores, no work emails, no obligations, and for me, no exercise. I used to push myself hard all seven days a week and wondered why I never felt rejuvenated. Isn’t that just so ridiculous? I’ve really come to embrace the concept of “the sabbath” being a day of rest and encourage you to do the same, even if you’re not religious. We aren’t meant to go-go-go, ever pressing life’s accelerator down harder. What’s the point? Why are you doing it? Ask yourself these questions and the consequences of them. And then ask yourself the consequences of NOT resting. If you value your health, you’ll find that the consequences of not resting far outweigh anything else. We’ve all got one body to get through this life in. Let’s learn to honor it.

 

Life’s not about perfection. It’s about progress.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Perfect Health Doesn’t Exist

I opened my email inbox the other month and had a newsletter from a health professional in my network. I clicked through to read what she had to say about the germ-infused winter season and immediately felt my insides prickle. She said that we need to start pointing the finger of blame back at ourselves when we’re sick, citing that our immune systems aren’t doing their jobs because of physical and mental stresses that we aren’t keeping in check. I like this health professional and trust her a lot. I get her point. But I can’t agree with her.

Yes, it’s true that our immune systems are the foundation for our health. And we have a lot of control over how resilient (or not) our gut health is based on what we eat and how healthfully we live. But it’s also true that there are quite a few things out of our control from one season of life to the next. Take me as an example…

This past winter I cut way down on alcohol and caffeine, started sleeping longer every night, and replaced lots of household products with plant-based, plastic-free, fragrance-and-dye-free alternatives. I also dialed down my high-stress workouts and replaced them with some yoga and plenty of quality strength training for hormonal balance. Lastly, I’ve stuck to my routine of eating plenty of fruits/veggies, whole grains and lean protein, but added a boost of healthy fats to balance out omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in my diet. All of these lifestyle choices would suggest that my immune system should be fairly strong. Maybe even ironclad. Right? Wellll…

 

 

Ironically, winter 2017-2018 was not just a miserable flu season in America but also a miserable time in my household. I got sick more in the last few months than in the last 10 years combined. Three stomach bugs, countless colds and sore throats, and hormones responding to the inflammation by bouncing all over the place. Needless to say, my complexion went down the tank, too. I’ve been looking like I just hit puberty lately. Lol.

But I’m trying so hard to be healthy!” my mind has been screaming. “This isn’t fair!” Sometimes, it’s not enough. Sometimes, toddlers aren’t good about covering their sneezes and you end up with projectile snot literally in your mouth. Enjoy that visual. Sometimes, stressful life events occur like family deaths, job changes, seasons of travel, and physical injury. The list goes on. Sometimes, life just isn’t under our control. And that’s okay. Because nature didn’t intend for our bodies to be perfect. It intended for them to be flexible and resilient.

(Random aside: I took strange comfort in Lindsey Vonn’s reaction to falling short of the podium in the 2018 Olympics; she reflected on how one moment in life you’re on top and then things can change quickly. The fact that even the most impressive athletes in the world are not removed from struggle demonstrates how connected we are as humans in our plight. It’s nothing to badger ourselves over or feel shameful about.)

The idea that our health should be perfect sets us up for false expectations and failure. It’s the reason why people come into the gym and think they have to hold themselves to a lofty standard of exercising every day or else they’re falling short. And then they quit because of the fear of failure. If perfect health is as easy as following “all the right steps” then why do healthy and active individuals get cancer? Why do we get sick when we’re actually eating healthier than ever before? Why are we more prone to injuries and wrinkles as we age? We can eat all the health-food-junkie products on the planet and exercise every day, and we will STILL fall ill at times. We will still have moments of weakness and pain. And that’s okay, too. This is normal. I’m telling you: THIS IS NORMAL. Because perfect health doesn’t exist.

 

 

Our DNA isn’t stagnant. I’ve talked about this before. It ebbs and flows just like our gut health does. In this way, Mother Nature designed us to be able to respond to life’s inevitable challenges on a cellular level. You see, our DNA expresses itself differently under varying degrees of inflammation and stress. Sometimes, there’s little we can do to control the way that certain genes express themselves because we may be more predisposed to a health condition according to our genetics. While it’s true that there are lots of gene-testing services out there, many people are still unaware of their own situation and what they are more (or less) predisposed to. But we don’t necessarily have to know all the answers up front… if we’re willing to live in wellness.

When we’re dedicated to being flexible in body, mind and spirit, we open ourselves up to transformation throughout the lifespan. Staying active about self-care is all we can control. We get the privilege of choice in our lives! And I like to think that makes us a lot more powerful than perfectly-designed, stagnant beings.

One of my favorite quotes of all time by Michael J. Fox:

 

 

Choose a healthy lifestyle because it will help you through the inevitable challenges ahead, not because you think it will clear your path of all obstacles.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Find Healthy Fast Food Eats

Just to be clear, I’m not a raving fan of eating at fast-food establishments on a regular basis, buuuutttttt I’ve found that I have more lately. Why? I moved to a new area that has fewer grab-and-go, order-at-the-register, local eats and a whole lot more chain restaurants. Sweet Green, where art thou?!? I was pretty bitter at first, feeling like I only had two options: 1) eat at home or 2) go to a sit-down restaurant. But then I opened my mind a little, looked at the menus of restaurants I used to curse under my breath, and discovered a few really awesome, quick options for meals on-the-go or when I just can’t bring myself to cook salmon, broccoli and quinoa again.

So, here’s the roundup of fast-foody chains: Starbuck’s, Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, Tropical Smoothie and…drum roll, pleaseMcDonald’s.

Funny story. I spent three years living in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, exactly one block from McDonald’s. I swore when I moved there that I would never set foot inside it, even when occasionally stumbling back from bars in my early 20s. And I didn’t. A while later, my husband and I owned a town home near a DC metro stop, once again just a couple blocks away from the golden arches. In all five years of living there, I went to McDonald’s only a handful of times, typically to grab a quick breakfast and coffee when getting up early for a road trip. So, the fact that I’ve been to McD’s as many times in 8 months as 8 years…*gulp*… is a bit scary sounding.

I’m not saying fast food is ideal for your body’s health. But I AM saying that the eats I’ve found below aren’t too bad, either. In fact, these five little go-to’s have gotten me through moving with my family to a new area and adjusting from city to suburban life. And guess what? I’ve LOST five pounds since moving even though I don’t have easy access to lots of farm-to-table restaurants like I used to, and even though I don’t have to take my dog on twice-a-day walks to go #2. She has a yard full of squirrels and chipmunks to chase now! The point is: Even in a world full of fast-food chains, WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. We don’t have to choose the unhealthy stuff. Even when we’re in a rush. Even when we’re low on cash. Even when we are airport hopping due to work travel. We CAN find a way to be healthy. If we put in the effort. 

 

My 5 Favorite *Mostly* Healthy, Low-Calorie Eats at Fast Food Places:

 

 

Starbucks; Protein Bistro Box

“A hard‐boiled cage free egg, sliced tart apples, grapes, and white Cheddar cheese served with multigrain muesli bread and honeyed peanut butter.”

The Breakdown:

Calories: 370 | Total Fat: 19 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 18 g | Protein: 13 g

Likes: I love that this meal packs in meatless protein, making it a great option for carnivores and vegetarians alike. And since there are Starbucks on basically every city block and in every airport, this protein box is easy to find for a heavy snack or light meal. It definitely beats getting a scone. I even let my toddler eat half of it sometimes!  

Dislikes: I don’t love that this meal is 18 grams of sugar but, at the same time, it’s almost all from the fruit so the sugar is natural. Also, if you’re sensitive to gluten, dairy or peanut butter, this little meal probably isn’t a great choice.

 

 

Image result for chick-fil-a cool wrap

 

Chick-Fil-A; Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap

“Sliced grilled chicken breast, nestled in a fresh mix of Green Leaf lettuce, petite red and green lettuce, and shredded green cabbage with a blend of shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, tightly rolled in a flaxseed flour flat bread. Made fresh daily.”

The Breakdown:

Calories: 350 | Total Fat: 14 g | Dietary Fiber: 15 g | Sugars: 3 g | Protein: 37 g

Likes: This meal is FULL of protein for very few calories. Woot woot! It’s also packed with fiber and low in sugar. The mix of greens, flaxseed flour and grilled chicken mean it’s also nutritious. It’s a pretty stellar combination for a grab-and-go lunch, if you ask me.

Dislikes: The pros of the cool wrap can be easily outweighed when paired with french fries, soft beverages, and dressing toppings. Any time you enter a fast food establishment you must APPROACH WITH CAUTION.

 

 

Image result for chipotle salad bowl with chicken

 

Chipotle; Salad Bowl with Chicken

Make-your-own salad bowl topped with; romaine lettuce, chicken, black beans, fajita vegetables, fresh tomato salsa, and tomatillo-green chili salsa.

The Breakdown:

Calories: 380 | Total Fat: 8.5 g | Dietary Fiber: 10 g | Sugars: 8 g | Protein: 42 g

Likes: I appreciate that Chipotle comes with options. So while my husband woofs down a burrito, I have lighter meals at my disposal. This combo of ingredients for the salad bowl is my go-to when it comes to Chipotle. It’s full of vitamins A and C, and gives me a solid boost of iron. Not bad on calories either, right? This meal stays low-calorie by avoiding calorie-laden toppings like cheese, sour cream, queso, and rice. Heck, if you’re really hungry just throw some healthy guacamole on top for an extra 200 calories and stay satiated for even longer!

Dislikes: It’s extremely tempting to dive into the lime-salted chip bag of the Chipotle kingdom. They’re so good. But the salad bowl is already chocked full of sodium (1485 grams!), so tread lightly. And drink plenty of water.

*To calculate how your favorite burrito or bowl’s nutrients add up, check this out: Chipotle Nutrition Calculator.

 

 

Image result for tropical smoothie cafe detox island green smoothie

 

Tropical Smoothie; Detox Island Green Smoothie

“This smoothie is made with spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, banana, and fresh ginger.”

The Breakdown:

Calories: 180 | Total Fat: 0 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 29 g | Protein: 4 g

Likes: I love that this smoothie packs in power veggies like spinach and kale. The ginger gives it a zing and is great for digestion. Believe it or not, this smoothie is actually far lower in overall calories and sugar than the vast majority of the other ones on the menu. People love to think of any “smoothie” as healthy, but some of Tropical Smoothie’s drinks have up to 780 calories and over 100 grams of sugar! Yikes! Stick with this one or another lower calorie/sugar option. Your tummy will thank you for not destroying your gut health with sugar overload.

Dislikes: It’s important to mention that you don’t want added sugars or sweeteners with smoothies. Don’t forget this crucial step when ordering or you’ll end up with something that is less healthy than you planned. Also, if you want to make this low calorie smoothie into a meal, choose your wrap, salad or flatbread carefully. Calories can quickly add up, especially when a smoothie + sandwich combo results in a “free” cookie or bag of chips. They get me nearly every time with those Salt & Vinegar chips, darn it! 

 

 

Image result for mcdonalds oatmeal

 

McDonald’s; Fruit & Maple Oatmeal w/o Brown Sugar

“Our oatmeal starts with two full servings of whole-grain oats and a touch of cream. Loaded with red and green apples, cranberries and two varieties of raisins. And you can have it just how you like it, with or without brown sugar.”

The Breakdown:

Calories: 290 | Total Fat: 4.5 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 18 g | Protein: 5 g

Likes: This oatmeal really sticks to my ribs. It fills me up and was a lifesaver when we were moving into our new home this summer, kitchen cupboards empty and entering each day in a craze (plowing through as much work as possible while the toddler was under Grandma’s care).

Dislikes: When topped with brown sugar, this oatmeal quickly skyrockets in sugar; up to 33 grams! Also, the oatmeal is a mix of slow-cooked and instant oats, meaning it’s not *quite* as healthy as it could be…but that’s fast food for ya.

 

 

Again, I’m not saying everyone should live off fast food. I try to keep it to a minimum in my diet, but every now and then, it’s helpful to know where to find healthy fast-food eats. They’re out there. Just gotta find ’em.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Who Should Do HIIT? (and who should NOT)

 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been extremely popular in the exercise realm for the last five or so years. High-intensity interval training consists of exerting maximal physical effort for an exercise set or period of time (typically less than two minutes) followed by a period of active recovery. The back-and-forth cycling between tough exertion and lighter movements has been proven to be a time-efficient way to exercise. HIIT can be done for anywhere between 15-45 minutes, meaning you “get it done” in a short period of time. Most notably, HIIT workouts produce excellent results because they target lots of muscles and burn calories both during and after the actual exercise bout. Not too shabby, I must say. 

While HIIT workouts seem like a sure-fire answer for quick weight loss and time efficiency, they’re not for everyone. Let’s review who should do HIIT workouts and who should approach them with caution (or avoid them entirely).

 

 

Who Should Participate in HIIT?

HIIT is an excellent workout option for people of all ages who are in good physical health. Generally speaking, as long as someone doesn’t have an injury or medical reason to abstain from exercise, they can do HIIT.

Most of the time when people hear the word “HIIT,” it conjures up thoughts of doing box jumps, wind sprints, burpees and squat jumps. Ahhh, the glory days of every athlete. But HIIT encompasses a scope much broader than this. A”HIIT workout” may look very different for a 50-year old woman who is working with a trainer to get her heart rate up and down. She may power walk on a treadmill incline for her high-intensity portion and then do slow hip bridges lying on a mat as her active recovery. A 20-something group exercise participant may comfortably do lunge jumps with dumbbells for the high-intensity portion followed by sit-ups for the active recovery. Everything about HIIT, and exercise at large, is subjective.

What feels tough for one person is not the same for the next person. Just because HIIT can be modified for an individual’s personal level of fitness doesn’t mean it’s the best idea for certain people. I’ve seen too many folks walk into HIIT-style workouts and overexert themselves to the point where they risk injury. No bueno. I’ve also seen plenty of people come out of HIIT workouts hating life. Well…hating exercise, at least. Sometimes that’s just what people need to get jump-started in fitness and, at other times, that’s exactly why people walk out of the gym and never return. The point remains: HIIT is great, but isn’t ideal for everyone.

 

 

Who Should NOT Participate in HIIT?

The following groups of people should probably avoid HIIT workouts, at least until their health changes:

  • People who are injured
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who are in the first 3-6 months postpartum
  • People who are immune suppressed and/or sick
  • People who have a heart condition or have recently undergone cardiac surgery
  • People suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis
  • People with any form of incontinence, prolapse or pelvic floor weakness
  • *People who are brand new to exercise
  • *People who have no foundation of knowledge for how to perform exercise basics in proper form (ex: squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, etc.)

Most of these groups are relatively self-explanatory. The last two groups of individuals, marked by the asterisk (*) are up for a bit more debate…

People who are very out of shape or brand new to exercise can greatly benefit from HIIT programs. In fact, throngs of women line up to participate in Instagram-famous personal trainer Kayla Itsines’ Beach Body Guide (which focuses on HIIT workouts) and see fabulous results. More power to ’em! The challenge is that a lot of people will embark on HIIT workout programs that are overly grueling and unsustainable for the long-term. HIIT workouts must be done responsibly to avoid burnout and over-training. Trust me, I’m a professional AND I’ve overtrained! Unfortunately, too many people do too much HIIT, suffer the negative consequences, and subsequently get turned off from exercise.

The last group of individuals; “people who have no foundation of knowledge for how to perform exercise basics in proper form,” must approach HIIT workouts with caution. If the instructor isn’t giving cues for how to keep the body aligned and safe during each exercise and doesn’t offer any modifications to make exercises easier or harder, then it may be best to find a new instructor or workout. While it may seem like you’re getting a great workout if you sweat a lot, there can be long-term, significant repercussions from inappropriately stressing your knees, neck, wrists and back. Sweat is not the only indicator of an excellent workout. Can you tell that I’m the exercise world’s policewoman about proper form?! 

Just remember: Exercises done the wrong way break down your body. Exercises done the right way build it up.  

Stay strong, friends! Sweat hard. And treat your body with respect.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

PS – If you have more HIIT questions, please don’t be afraid to ask!